Age discrimination within the workplace

Recent research undertaken by recruitment firm, Robert Walters, has revealed that two thirds of people over the age of 55 believe that they have been overlooked for promotion. On the reverse, more than third of people under 30 had received promotion opportunities.

The over 50s make up a significant and growing proportion of the UK workforce, particularly since the abolition of the default retirement age of 65 over 10 years ago. There is now no automatic age at which someone must retire and indeed, many people continue working well in to their 70s.The Office for National Statistics estimates that 50-64 year olds will soon account for almost three quarters of the UK's economic inactivity, adding to fears of what some are referring to as a 'silver exodus' of older workers leaving workplaces at a faster rate than usual and not chasing further employment opportunities. Under the Equality Act 2010 it is unlawful to treat someone less favourably in the workplace on the grounds of their age. This includes everything from recruitment, through to provision of terms and conditions, promotion, training opportunities and dismissal. A key factor in older employees being overlooked for promotions could be that older workers generally tend to receive higher pension contributions as a key workplace benefit compared to younger generations, meaning they cost employers more money. However, unconscious bias within organisations could also be playing in to incorrect assumptions about the intentions and career aspirations of those over 55, resulting in them being 'written off' in an employer's longer term resourcing and progression plans. In addition to concerns surrounding equality of opportunity in the workplace for older employees, many workers continue to suffer more direct acts of age discrimination and harassment. A recently published Employment Tribunal decision in the case of  Mr D Finch -v- Clegg Gifford & Co Ltd (ET 3212890/2020) revealed that the Claimant, a 66 year old long serving insurance worker, had been told he had been around 'as long as pontius pilate' and advised to take his holiday 'now' in case he was not around later in the year - the intimation being as he was shielding from covid, that he was going to catch it and die from it. The Tribunal held that Mr Finch had been harassed and victimised on the grounds of his age and found that he was justified in resigning from his role and claiming constructive unfair dismissal. It remains as important as ever for employers to treat all staff fairly and to communicate with all staff regarding their development and professional objectives, irrespective of their age. Furthermore, discrimination awareness and training is key and should be provided by all employers to ensure that staff at all levels are clear on what amounts to discrimination and the consequences of conduct of the type in the aforementioned case. Compensation for injury to feelings is uncapped, which means an Employment Tribunal can award limitless sums in the most serious cases of age discrimination.

If you require any advice on the topic discussed in this article, please do not hesitate to contact Melanie Morton or your usual Freeths contact.


The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.