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How Age Discrimination Can Affect You, And Your Rights

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 4 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Age Discrimination Retirement Employees

Age discrimination legislation in the United Kingdom has been driven by rapid changes in demographics and the resulting economic burden. People are living longer and requiring medical care while they do so, and the number of people entering the job market is dropping as we have smaller families.

These two factors reinforce each other, so the amount of tax brought in by those still working is dropping, while the cost of care for retired workers is increasing. Pension contributions, whether private or public, are unlikely to be able to cover the shortfall.

Cost of Caring Rising Fast

Estimates show that by 2050 there will only be two working people to support each retired person. This means that people will have to work for longer, and therefore pay tax and pension contributions for longer, in order to redress the balance.

In some ways this is no bad thing, as many people who reach retirement age do not want to retire, as they enjoy working. And with advances in healthcare and fitness, people are much better able to work past 60 and 70 years old.

However, a survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in 2004 suggested that workers were only free from age discrimination at work between the ages of 35 and 40. Below 35 they are often considered too young for a job and after 40, too old.

Enter Age Discrimination Legislation

Age discrimination legislation, introduced in 2006, made it illegal to put lower age limits in job adverts and refuse jobs on the basis of age. Employers cannot treat people differently because of their age, for example in situations of redundancies, by selecting all the staff over a certain age. The upper age limit for Workers' Rights such as unfair dismissal and Redundancy Rights was removed and all retirement ages below 65 were banned, unless they could justified, for example on Health And Safety grounds.

The age discrimination legislation also introduced a responsibility for employers to listen to employees' requests to stay on after retirement age as part of workers' rights, and to notify them of retirement dates at least six months ahead to give them time to plan.

Will Age Discrimination Make a Difference?

Of course, some aspects of this age discrimination legislation will be very difficult to police. As an example, agencies often won't put people forward for jobs on their books because they know the employer, their customer, won't look at them. Technically this is illegal and goes against all workers' rights if it's done on age discrimination grounds, but who can prove that's why it happened? A myriad of reasons could show why the person wasn't put forward rather than age.

Taking your age off your CV won't help much either, because most employers request you to fill in a form which asks for details of your education and qualifications, including the date they were obtained. As soon as someone looks at the date of your schooling then they know how old you are.

Removing the Default Retirement Age

More recently the landscape of age-related legislation has changed as politicians try to get to grips with this growing problem. The change, phased in throughout 2011, abolished the default retirement age (DRA) which allowed any employer to retire employees once they had reached a certain age. This had been 60 for women and 65 for men for a long time, but had been changed to 65 for both sexes as a result of European Union intervention.

Default Retirement Age Challenge

This was considered effectively firing people for an arbitrary reason and the government needs people to be able to stay in work past those ages, now more than ever. People often remain healthier with work to drive them on and they will of course contribute more tax.

But many large employers were concerned that this would leave a lot of incompetent, aging worker on their hands who they couldn’t get rid of without going through disciplinary procedures. It led some to put older workers on new, short-term renewable contracts in 2010 in the hope that this would make it easier to terminate employment. It looks likely that this could cause more claims of age discriminations against employers.

What To Do

If you consider that you've been a victim of age discrimination and want to take it further, then take a look at the AgeUK website for further help with this matter.

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