Age discrimination occurs when you are treated unfairly because of your age. Age is one of the protected characteristics within the Equality Act 2010 and refers to a person of a particular age group. So, it is unlawful to discriminate on the basis of age unless the practice comes under one of the exceptions, as specified in section 197 of the Act, or if a good reason can be shown for differential treatment. However, the Equality Act doesn’t apply in some circumstances, for example, students are not protected from discrimination by reason of age in a school setting. The protections under the Equality Act cover:
Direct Age Discrimination
This occurs when Person A/an organisation treats Person B less favourably because of B’s age. However, the Equality Act specifies that this is not discrimination if A can show that A’s treatment to B to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. So, A needs to have a good reason for an age-based policy. Direct age discrimination also occurs if:
- You are treated less favourably because of the age that someone thinks you are. This is called discrimination by perception.
- You are treated differently because you are linked to someone of a specific age group. This is called discrimination by association.
Indirect Age Discrimination
This occurs when a policy of practice treats everybody the same but has the effect of disadvantaging those within the ‘age’ definition compared with others who do not share this characteristic. Indirect discrimination can be permitted in the person/organisation can show that there is an objective justification for the policy. Again, A needs a good reason for the policy or practice.
Age harassment is unwanted conduct that is related to age that has the purpose or effect of violating the person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, degrading, hostile, humiliating or offensive environment for the individual. Under the Act, harassment can never be justified, and claims can be made against the harasser. However, if an organisation or employer can show it did everything it could to prevent people who work for it from behaving like that, then you cannot claim against the organisation.
Thisoccurs when person A victimises person B because they have brought a complaint under the Equality Act.
Circumstances when being treated differently due to age is lawful
There are limited circumstances where differential treatment is lawful.
- An occupational requirement may mean that being a particular age group is essential to the role. For example, a film studio is looking for a young child to play the role of Billy Elliott in their production
- An organisation may take positive action to encourage or develop people in an age group that is under-represented or disadvantaged in a role or activity.
- An objective justification, for example a compulsory retirement age that it can justify with a legitimate reason.
- Circumstances that fall in one of the exceptions of the Equality Act.
- A service provider is making age-related concessions, such as cinema offers for over 60s.
Information and Support
Older People’s Commissioner
Children’s Commissioner for Wales
Return to our main page on protected characteristics.