Age discrimination

There are laws to prevent age discrimination in the workplace. These laws should make sure that you're not denied a job, training or a promotion because of your age. You're also protected from harassment or victimisation because of your age.

Who is protected from age discrimination

Age discrimination at work is unlawful. All employees and workers of any age are protected from age discrimination including partners in firms, contract workers and anyone in vocational training.

All aspects of your employment (or prospective employment) are protected from age discrimination including your:

  • recruitment
  • employment terms and conditions
  • promotions and transfers
  • training
  • dismissal

In some cases, different treatment of a worker or employee because of their age, can be justified. For example, when an employer makes special provisions for younger or older workers to protect their safety and welfare.

Age discrimination protection doesn't cover the provision of goods and services.

Protection against age discrimination

Redundancy procedures

Your employer must make sure that a redundancy policy doesn't directly or indirectly discriminate against older workers.

For example, indirect discrimination could occur if your employer only selects part-time workers for redundancy, when a large number of these may be older workers. The only exceptions are where an age requirement can be 'objectively justified'.

There is no upper or lower age limit on the entitlement of statutory redundancy pay. Your employer will have to pay you the statutory minimum redundancy payment even if you are under 18.

Retirement rights

Retirement age is when an employee chooses to retire. Most businesses don’t set a compulsory retirement age for their employees. Your employer can only make you retire if they can justify it in the particular circumstances.

Working after State Pension Age does not affect your right to the State Pension. However‚ you can choose to delay drawing your State Pension while you’re still working. This will entitle you to a higher annual income or a lump sum payment when you retire.

Unfair dismissal claims

There is no upper age limit on making an unfair dismissal claim.

Training

Training providers (including employers, further or higher education institutions, private, public or voluntary sector training bodies and adult education programmes) can't set upper or lower age limits for training, unless they can objectively justify the need.

Service related benefits

Many employers use service related pay and benefits to motivate staff, reward loyalty and recognise experience. If your employer uses ‘length of service’ criteria to increase staff pay or benefits, they can continue to do so as long as the period of service is not more than five years.

If your employer uses a period longer than five years they must be able to justify their decision with a business need. For example, they must provide information about recruitment and retention.

Refused a job for being too young

If you apply for a job, an employer can ask your date of birth. They can't use this to discriminate against you. Older people experience most age discrimination. However, it also takes place against young people.

It is unlawful for an employer to impose a lower age limit when recruiting, unless this age restriction can be 'objectively justified' or is imposed by law.

Objective justification

If challenged, your employer must be able to justify that any direct or indirect discrimination is a 'proportionate' way of achieving a 'legitimate' aim.

What is proportionate

Due to the nature of the work, an employer should have no reasonable alternative other than to introduce an age-based practice.

For example, a construction firm may need a good level of physical fitness. They might have a case for setting a maximum age for their onsite workers for health and safety reasons.

What is a legitimate aim

A legitimate aim is a reasonable need for an employer. Economic factors, such as a business need and efficiency may be legitimate aims. It isn't valid justification for an employer to say it could be more expensive if they don't discriminate.

For example, a high street fashion store that wants to employ young staff to complement their brand image is unlikely to be able to objectively justify this because it is not a valid aim.

If you think you've been discriminated against

If you believe you're encountering age-related recruitment criteria or promotion policies, or think you're suffering age discrimination, you should talk to your employer. You should explain when you experienced age discrimination in the workplace.

If this discussion does not provide a satisfactory outcome, you could complain through your employer’s internal grievance procedure.

At the same time you could contact the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) for advice. They may advise you to complain to an Industrial Tribunal about the age discrimination you experienced.

There is a time limit on making a complaint to an Industrial Tribunal. You must complain to an Industrial Tribunal within three months of the date when the age discrimination occurred.

Industrial Tribunals

Industrial Tribunals are independent judicial bodies in Northern Ireland that decide claims about employment, including complaints about discrimination in the workplace.

Industrial Tribunals deal with discrimination claims related to:

  • age
  • sex
  • race
  • disability
  • sexual orientation
  • part time working
  • equal pay

The Office of the Industrial Tribunals and the Fair Employment Tribunal (OITFET) provides information about tribunal publications, explains how the tribunal system works and answers general queries about tribunals.

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