Age Discrimination in the Workplace – UK Law

It is against the law for an employer to discriminate against you due to your age. This discrimination may be a refusal to employ you, or generally treating you more poorly than other employees due to your age.

What is Age Discrimination?

Age discrimination can be:

  • Being discriminated against for being too young or too old.
  • Combined with gender discrimination. For example against young women in their twenties due to a fear they will have children and take maternity leave.
  • Discrimination by association. This can be due to the age of someone you know, such as having caring duties for an elderly relative or young child.

Age Discrimination & UK Employment Law

It is illegal to discriminate against employees or potential employees due to their age. This law applies to:

  • Those searching for work or applying for a new job.
  • Those in work.
  • Agency workers.
  • Those seeking a reference from a previous employer.

The law is applicable no matter how long you have worked for an employer, and the size of the company does not matter.

Your employer must also stop bullying in the workplace by other employees because of your age. If other employees are bullying or harassing you because of your age, even if in the form of a jest (e.g. Calling you ‘Grandma’), you should tell your employer who must take action to prevent this.

Exemptions to Age Discrimination

There are exceptions to the law, as listed below:

  1. You are in the armed forces.
  2. You are an unpaid volunteer.
  3. Your employer has good reason to treat you differently or not employ you due to your age.

What is ‘good reason’?

The law does not expressly define ‘good reason’ and so this depends upon common sense and can vary from business to business. However here are some examples of when discrimination may be allowed:

The potential employee is of ill-health (partially due to their age) – The issue is therefore health related (e.g. Working in a club which uses a lot of dry ice, when they clearly have breathing difficulties).

The potential employee is unable to perform the tasks required – in the job they have applied for (partially due to their age). The issue is therefore that they have applied for a job they are unable to fulfil (e.g. A role in a warehouse or construction site that requires a lot of manual lifting).

The potential employee is unable to fulfil the role – they have applied for without breaching other laws or regulations (due to their age). The issue is therefore that they are prevented from carrying out the role due to age restrictions. (e.g. A 16 year old can legally work, but cannot sell alcohol at a restaurant or bar if they will not be supervised).

The employer sets a requirement of needing previous experience. – Clearly this means that they will not then hire 16/17 year olds. This is allowed if necessary for the job (e.g. Running a legal department). However an employer cannot insist on an unnecessary amount of experience, as this would be discriminatory against younger employees.

Pay Entitlements Based on Age

The National Minimum Wage is set by the Government. This lists different minimum amounts of hourly pay, depending upon an employee’s age. The National Minimum Wage changes annually (usually to increase with inflation).

The current rates (from April 2021) are aged:

  • 23 and over – £8.91
  • 21 to 22 – £8.36
  • 18 to 20 – £6.56
  • Under 18 – £4.62
  • Apprentice – £4.30

Whilst the National Minimum Wage brackets are directly affected by your age, it is not discriminatory for your employer to pay you a lower amount than other, older employees, (as long as this amount is above the hourly minimum amount).

Job applications and Interview Questions

An employer can ask for your date of birth on an application form or during an interview. They cannot however refuse to employ you on the basis of your age, as this would be discriminatory (unless they have good reason as detailed above).

Why can employers ask for your date of birth?

There can be many good reasons for needing to know your age. Lots of work places have regulations affecting your workers. For example alcohol sales, or using hazardous machinery. So your prospective employer will need to know what requirements they will need in place for you. Employers may also want to know your age so that they can work out if there are any gaps in your education or employment which they may wish to ask you about.

Age Discrimination and Retirement

Your employer cannot dismiss you or force you to retire just because you have reached a certain age (e.g. 65 years) unless they have good reason for doing so. If they try to force you to retire without good reason, this would be age discrimination.

The law now states that your employer cannot force you to retire at a certain age. This will apply to most people, though there are some exceptions For example,due to health and safety. Your employer should be able to clearly set out their reasons for forcing you to retire, so if you are unsure why you were made to retire, ask them to explain their reasons in writing.

Some employees choose to retire early. You are entitled to do so at any age, provided that you give your employer the amount of notice required in your contract. If you choose to retire early, you will not be entitled to any state pension until you reach the retirement age applicable to you. You may also not be entitled to any workplace pension payments until you reach the right ag. However check the rules for any workplace pension you have in place, as some do allow earlier payments if you retire early due to poor health.

Age Discrimination and Redundancy

If you are made redundant and have worked for your employer for over two years, you will be entitled to statutory redundancy pay. This is an amount of compensation set by law:

  • If you are under 22, you will get half a week’s pay for each full year of employment with your current employer.
  • Those aged 22 to 41, will receive one week’s pay for each full year of employment with your current employer.
  • If you are aged 41 or older, you will receive one and a half week’s pay for each full year of employment with your current employer.

There is a redundancy pay calculator at which will help you calculate your statutory redundancy pay entitlement.

If you have been made redundant and not worked for your employer for two years, you may be entitled to contractual redundancy pay. This is for an amount set by your employer in your contract. They may also offer those entitled to statutory redundancy pay a larger one-off payment.

You are entitled to any redundancy pay regardless of your age; there is no upper or lower age limit for redundancy pay. Employers may select employees for redundancy based upon how long employees have worked for them. Employers can’t directly discriminate based upon age, but clearly if their process for selection is those who have worked for the shortest time period, this may affect younger employees.

If You Think You’ve Been Discriminated Against

First of all, speak to the person or persons you feel have been discriminating against you. Particularly in the case of colleagues making jokesor comments, they may not realise how these have made you feel.

Always tell your manager about what has happened, and also contact your personnel department if you have one. Put this in writing and keep a copy. Your manager is required by law to prevent age discrimination against you by your colleagues, another manager or customers. If the person concerning you is your manager, you should tell someone higher up in the organisation.

If talking to your manager does not work, raise a formal written grievance. Your employer should have a procedure for raising grievances. At the same time, collect evidence to support your complaint. Evidence may include:

  • A record of the date, time and location of any incident.
  • Copies of any written discrimination (letters / email).
  • A log of any witnesses to incidents.

The Employment Tribunal

If you are unable to solve the problem using your company’s complaints procedure, you can take your employer to an Employment Tribunal.

An Employment Tribunal can:

  • Determine your rights.
  • Award compensation (there is no upper limit on this).
  • Make recommendations to your employer.

It is important that you act fast if you wish to make a complaint to the Employment Tribunal. Even if you are using your company’s own complaints handling procedure, you have three months from the date of the last time you were discriminated against to make your claim.

To start your claim at the Employment Tribunal, you will need to fill in a ET1 form, or you can fill in the online version. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau will have copy paper forms and be able to assist you with your claim. The Employment Tribunal public enquiry line (0845 795 9775) will also be able to assist you and provide ET1 forms in alternative formats.

Age discrimination is a serious problem, so do not suffer in silence; speak to your employer and if necessary, refer your problem to the Employment Tribunal.

23 thoughts on “Age Discrimination in the Workplace – UK Law

  1. Deck says:

    I have worked for same company for 43years I have not had a pay rise for 4 years another member of staff female has had one every year she is now on same wages as me and I the manager and key holder is this discrimination

  2. AJ says:

    I am 26 years old working in a hotel. My manager had done a rota with only me working the next 3 nights. As the hotel is not busy this would be fine. However the number of guests staying has went up and someone else was needing to come in to help me. But the receptionists were told it has to be one of “The young ones” because “they are cheaper.”

  3. Carol says:

    I am 57, in retail and a very hard worker. They laugh at me because I am constantly looking for jobs to keep me busy. Since we reopened I have been positioned at the bottom of the stairs to direct customers to follow the one way system. I do one eight hour shift one nine hour and two six hour shifts. I have to stand at my post for my full shift except for a thirty min break. My shoulders and neck are in agony, I am using deep heat creams and pain killers constantly. I am trained for lots of other jobs in store But my main job is a host therefor they are saying it’s my job guide customers. Surely this is not legal

  4. Chester2001 says:

    Hi I am currently 19 years old and I’m on £7 an hour which I am aware is above national average but upon request of a pay rise my employer stated that I dont need more money because I am already above the national average and said that for my.age that is good money. After a long heated discussion my employer then stated if I wanted to earn more money I should of gone to uni

  5. Richie says:

    I am 50. Until a couple of years I was offered overtime shifts when we were short staffed. We took on new staff, aged under 25, who are paid a lower hourly rate. Since then, all overtime is offered to the younger, cheaper staff and I am not considered for overtime. My employer has stated that cost, not age, is their reason. How do I stand?

  6. Queenleo says:

    My MD who I report to for the past 3 months has not spoken to me unless I have spoken to him and then it is a yes or no answer. I work with girls ranging fro 18 to 31 and he is always laughing and joking with them. They are all slim and very pretty where as I am overweight and not ugly but not a stunner. I cannot approach him without him snapping at me quite aggressively yet his girls can ask him whatever they want and it is all jokey jokey. There is little point going to HR as they are very close to him as well. On some occasions I feel very isolated other times I try not to let it bother me. I am considering looking for a new job because sometimes I feel sick with the thought of coming into work. I have been here a year and like the staff and the job but being treated like this is proving very difficult.

  7. Dade says:

    I am 16 and have been working in a bowling alley for 7 months now. I started doing childrens birthday parties but the general manager has complimented my maturity and made me a receptionist. They also offer me training on the pinsetters. Which is working on the lanes with the machines. I trained for 3 months doing very well. Then she said no cant do it anymore as the owner has decieded he doesnt want anyone working on them under 18 years old. Is that discrimination? The owner said he doesnt believe under 18s are mature enough to do it although they already believed I could do the harder receptionist job.

  8. Sam says:

    I am 34 and I applied for an apprenticeship which was advertised as being geared towards recent school leavers. I applied anyway because I thought they would still consider my application. Instead I was automatically rejected because the application had a mandatory tick box question asking if I was a recent school leaver which I answered no. As soon as I submitted my application I was automatically rejected because I am not a recent school leaver. Is this age discrimination or is it justified? I emailed them to clarify and they said that this job is only for school leavers but they offer another experienced apprenticeship for people with some previous work experience.

  9. Batha says:

    My daughter is 16 and has worked in her local shop since she was 13 she has had her hours dropped but they have took on about 5 other students I think she is being unfairly treated any advice on what to do next she has spoken to owner and they won’t give her a answer

  10. Carole says:

    I was employed by a large insurance company and worked there for 7 years but due to my age, they didn’t start providing a pension for me until I was 22 meaning I only have 2 years of a pension even though I worked there for 7 years. Surely this is age discrimination as others that were older than me when they started the job at the same time have benefited from an extra 5 years worth of pension that I am owed too?

  11. Mrdene says:

    I’m 62 and have no plans to retire. I have recently discovered that operations manager, junior in rank to me, has been discussing my retirement with a member of my team as part of his career progression. Is this permissible

  12. OnAMission says:

    My husband has been put on ‘short term’ working hours, he was given less than 3 hours notice. This is written in the contract. The director stated that the production team will ALL be working 3 days a week. It has now transpired this was a lie and he is the ONLY person in the whole workplace and the oldest (aside from the directors) to have hours cut. He has now been placed on 2 days a week, whilst everyone else works full time. He has worked with supporting another department where they have a casual worker who isn’t on a contract. He’s young and on minimum wage and they’ve kept him on yet this is a job my husband could do. He feels like he’s been put out to pasture as the oldest member of staff. He’s 49 years old. He’s only been employed for 10 months so not entitled to any redundancy pay. This is a totally unfair situation but I guess employers can do what they want for 1 year 11 months! 🙁

  13. Al says:

    I was interviewed last week my a large corp who I previously 4 years ago worked for nearly 4 years with a good track record. It’s a sales/ business development role in capital equipment and software. I left them for a new higher salary. I took a 6 months out of employment to support someone though illness and had started to job hunt. The HR manager contacted me thro Linkedin and an initial interview was arranged with the Regional Manager. The interview went well I have done the roll before and was successful. It lasted 1 hr 20 mins and went very well. Near the end I was being breifed what the next steps would be and suggested the HR Manager spuld be back in touch in a couple of days. I was then asked my age, a straight question “what age are you” not wanting to lie or be seen as ova dive I told him 61. I am normally taken to be about 53/54. The interview then seemed to go a bit cold. I have been turned down. What are my rights Ta

    • Safe Workers says:

      @Al – An employer is allowed to ask you age/date of birth, but is not allowed to discriminate against you because of your age. If you feel you were turned down purely because of your age, follow the steps advised in the article from the section entitled “What to do if you think that you have been discriminated against” onwards.

  14. michael says:

    I am 15 and I have been searching for a weekend/holiday job for around 8ish months now but I have not had any luck at all. I have tried every local takeaway place, restaurants,book stores but I still haven’t found anything. I believe that I am being discriminated against even though the type of job that i was applying for was just either delivering leaflets for the takeaway places or working on the shop floor in places whsmith which do actually say that they are allowed to hire 13-16 year olds.

    • Safe Workers says:

      @michael – Most employers prefer to employ those over 16. If you wanted to claim discrimation you would have to be able to prove that an employer was turning you down purely because of your age and that it was a role that could be given to 15 year olds.

  15. Bill.e says:

    Hi, I have worked for the same company for 11 years, without complaint or problem. Recently I went to a wrong location for a job which was around 2 miles out of my way. A colleague did the same but went 60 miles out of his way. I was sent to Occupational Health by my company to check my memory. I was found to be ok and was told I was fit enough to do my job. Early this week I was called into the office and because of this incident was either to be monitored for 3 months or take a £7000 payoff. When I asked if the other party was disciplined, I was given no reply. I opted to stay at work, is this legal, what are my rights in this respect? I also overheard one of the managers say to an outsider, whilst on site, that “You would have a job if it wasn’t for him”. I am 59 and very fit for my age, I have no physical barriers which prevent me from doing my job.

  16. Mitzi says:

    My daughter has been employed in a child care establishment after School and during holidays-since she was 14. When she reaches 16 she has been told that her employment will be terminated. Is this legal?

  17. Pam says:

    I have worked for the BMA for just three years and I am nearly 60. I joined in Jan 2012 and in March 2012 I fell badly damaging my ankle, in the July I fell in the train station whilst on a work related project. Then in the December I fell on a work outing and partially dislocated my shoulder, Ive had flu twice and various bladder infections caused through kidney stones also newly diagnosed, resulting in 140 days off in 3 years which keeps getting raised at every opportunity. This year (ends 1st April) I have had 55 days. I work 4 days per week. It has now become apparent that they are finding fault with my work. I have had two appointments with the Centre Co-ordinator following my PPM review and I was frank in stating that there are no formal procedures in place for my role – I was taught in little pockets of 1:1 30 minute meetings. My experience isnt great most employees being there 10 years or more. my main query is can they keep reminding me of 3 years sick leave and now I have a document listing for example – Pam didnt track one email on 8th January (I tracked about 40 others and missed one)and various other minor things, which I feel are really trivial. No mention of what I can do well. I feel as if some sort of process has started without it being officially stated to me. They also have asked me to go to O/H again when Ive been back at work two weeks after 7 days off with a bladder infection causing incontinence, which is strange I feel. I would welcome your advice as some of the written statements in the document are incorrect, I havent been asked to sign it as a true record either. Many thanks for your help

    • Safe Workers says:

      @Pam – All employers are entitled to monitor absenteeism and to make decisions about the cost effectiveness of continuing employment with staff who spend a lot of time off sick. The organisation has sent you to O/H so they are obviously looking at ways to help as well. Why don’t you simply ask what the procedure is and what your options are?

  18. leobaby says:

    I have been in my employment for almost 30 years. Last year a grievance was brought against me by another member of staff. The stress of this on top of personal issues contributed to a complete breakdown. I have returned to work, however I feel as though I am being treated differently. My company gives half a day off work for all its employees to do christmas shopping and it is planned in. My line manager completely forgot to plan me in, and whilst its only half a day its the principal as everyone else got there time. All the holiday forms were handed out early last year and again whilst I was away sick I did return in October. I had to ask my line manager to let me have a form. I received that form this week. It is 16 January 2015. All the other staff have there holidays booked. Two weeks ago I received a text from her telling me I needed to work one in four saturdays with immediate effect and then today I received another text telling me that I have to work one late shift a week Monday or Tuesday and which one would I prefer. No consideration for my current circumstances is being thought about. I am having counselling once a week for the way that work and other issues have affected me. I am being forced to do things I have no control over but its the way my line manager is going about it. I have been a work all week so why could she not discuss this with me at work. I feel unimportant enough without this attitude as well. I have done everything asked of me on my return to work and that included a retraining period. I was told there would be a weekly get together to see how things are going but that has happened once. I am so fed up I could cry. I feel discriminated against and treated like a fool but I am scared to rock the boat.

    • Safe Workers says:

      @leobaby – You need to sit down and talk about this with your line manager or if you’re not comfortable about that, with a senior manager (or HR department). Do you have a trusted colleague in whom you could confide? They may be able to offer you some much needed moral support to get you back into the swing of things. If talking to your line manager does not work, and you feel you are being discriminated against because of your age, then make a formal complaint, citing the Equality Act 2010.

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