Preventing age discrimination in the workplace

Ageism in the UK workplace appears to be on a well-established upward trajectory. Rest Less recently analysed quarterly tribunal statistics* from the Ministry of Justice.  The data showed that from January – December 2020 there were 3,668 age discrimination Employment Tribunal claims. This compares with 2,112 in the same period in 2019. That’s an increase of 74%. Indeed, age discrimination witnessed the largest year-on-year increase of all other jurisdictional complaints. It appears that employers are not preventing age discrimination in the workplace.

Age discrimination is rising

Jurisdictional Complaint 2019 2020 % Increase 2019 vs 2020
Age discrimination 2112 3668 74%
Transfer of an undertaking (failure to inform & consult) 698 1028 47%
Written pay statement 705 938 33%
Unfair dismissal 21377 23057 8%
Public interest disclosure 2788 3007 8%
Written statement for reasons of dismissal 319 341 7%
Race discrimination 3858 4008 4%
Part-time workers regulations 313 323 3%


Data from Rest Less analysis of Ministry of Justice tribunal statistics. *Issued on 11 March 2021

The quarterly data wasn’t a blip. Ageism tribunals were up 30% during the pandemic and more than 90,000 over 50s were made redundant.

Examples of age discrimination in the workplace

Throughout the pandemic, it’s been common to hear the media use the terms “vulnerable” and “old people” together, as if everyone considered old is also vulnerable. COVID-19 is more dangerous to people over 70 and it’s absolutely right to protect those people. But what makes someone old? At what point does middle-age end and you become officially old-aged?

As the world of work has tried to get back to normal (or find a new normal), perhaps it’s been easy to think of older staff members being ‘more of an issue’ than their younger counterparts. Wrongly, employers may have thought that the older the person, the more protection they require. Maybe the thinking was someone of more senior years would struggle to adapt to changes in working practices.

Anecdotally, I’ve seen examples of this manifest in different ways. From companies furloughing everyone over 50 to others not informing some members of the team about the office reopening – misplaced concerns about the safety of older employees. Many companies are confusing protection for exclusion.

Ageism in the workplace is something that I am particularly interested in fighting. There are so many misunderstandings about older employees that need to be addressed to have a fully diverse, rounded workforce.

So, as an employer, how do you go about preventing age discrimination in the workplace?

Preventing age discrimination in the workplace

Age is a protected class. Like sex, marital status, disability and race, discriminating against someone for their age is illegal. Making sure your organisation isn’t acting in a discriminatory fashion is incredibly important to protect you and your business legally.

I’ve have often heard the excuse, “they are that much closer to retirement”, but with little evidence for it. Of course people are going to retire – we all hope to (in my case, to a lovely island filled with good books and cocktails with little umbrellas in them…). Being slightly closer to that age isn’t a negative trait.

The benefits of an older workforce

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, staff aged 50 – 64 stay with their current employers for 10.1 years. This compares to an average of 2.8 years for workers aged 25 – 34. If you want to reduce your recruitment overhead over a long period of time, an older workforce is a better bet.

Diversity in a workforce is a great benefit. Older staff have a wealth of experience from their previous employers. Perhaps they worked for a competitor in the past, or once ran their own business before seeking employment. They will almost certainly have trained or on-boarded new staff in the past. This makes them a great asset to a training pool. Younger staff can be taught and learn from older staff members, helping them grow and gain new perspectives.

Tips for avoiding ageism in the workplace

  1. Communicate. Talk to your employees, create time and places to engage with them one-on-one about this. It could be as simple as asking them in for a chat, or setting up an anonymous survey. Take concerns seriously and communicate how you will address them. Communicating with staff is absolutely vital to solving many instances of discrimination


  1. Check for ageist language in policies. This cuts both ways; you can’t refer to people as ‘young’uns’ and ‘oldies’. Make sure the language you use is inclusive. If you’re not sure about the language to use, I’m happy to help!


  1. Encourage mentoring. There is such a divide between the generations, it can feel like they are speaking two different languages. By introducing a mentoring scheme with a focus on people of different ages and backgrounds working together, you can start the fabulous process of knowledge-sharing and transfer that can transform a business. In my experiences of mentoring, I’ve found every mentor invaluable. I have always learned something from my mentees

A reminder of the retirement age

There are actually several different ‘retirement ages’. These depend on when you were born and your gender. It can be anywhere between 61 and 68. It’s been 10 years since the mandatory retirement age of 65 was abolished, but the attitudes to hiring older staff haven’t changed much in that time.

If you need help to combat ageism or discrimination in your workplace, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you and help you to improve your business.

Read my guides to flexible working and ‘How to deal with absenteeism in the workplace‘.

How to deal with difficult staff