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Types of Age Discrimination in the Workplace

Employment law in the UK depicts age discrimination as an instance when an individual is subjected to an unfair disadvantage for reasons relating to his or her age, without any objective justification. Age discrimination has been illegal in the UK since 2006.

Moreover, people of all ages can be affected by this form of discrimination, including older workers and young professionals. Let us take a closer look at age discrimination and its various types that exist across workplaces in the UK.

What Is Age Discrimination?

Whenever an employer puts an employee to an obvious unfair disadvantage on the basis of their age, without objectively justifying the act, it is termed as age discrimination. Furthermore, such discrimination can:

a-unfavourably affect an individual and his or her employment opportunities, regardless of their age;
a-result in a failure to consider skills-based potential, abilities, and experience in the workplace;
a-end up in significant legal costs, settlements and compensation paid to avoid defending the age discrimination claim

A recent government survey reported that discrimination and obsolete work practices continue to exist across organisations in the UK, despite having been made explicitly illegal since 2006. If we talk about age discrimination, evidence suggests that older workers are discriminated against on a regular basis in the jobs market and are disproportionately prone to be selected for redundancy.

Employers must avoid basing employment decisions on the variable of age because it is an inadequate predictor of performance. Furthermore, age of an employee can mislead any evaluation that tries to equate their age with their physical and mental ability. Instead of age, therefore, employers must focus on an employeea's competencies, qualifications, potential and skills, whilst making decisions about the job requirements and whether the individual fits into the role.

Furthermore, employment decisions based on age are legally allowed only when such decisions can be objectively justified as a means to achieve a legitimate business objective.

What Does The Law Say?

In the UK, legal directives to address age discrimination were first introduced in 2006. Subsequently, the law has been included under the Equality Act 2010. Key points of the legislature against age discrimination include:

a-The provisions contained under the law protect people of all ages in their employment regarding recruitment, redundancy, promotion, vocational training, reward and recognition;
a-The legal directives apply to all employers, trade unions, providers of vocational training, professional associations, managers and trustees of occupational pension schemes, and employer organisations;
a-The legal provisions do not affect state pensions

Additionally, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published comprehensive guidance material covering all aspects of the Equality Act, including an Employment Code of Practice. While these documents arena't legally binding, the codes provide insights on good practices to be introduced into workplaces.

Types of Discrimination

The Equality Act 2010 describes different kinds of discrimination, which apply to some protected characteristics, including age. They are:

Direct Discrimination

This form of bias refers to all protected characteristics. Under this category, all types of behaviour that treat an individual less favourably than another, because of their age is covered. For example, denying promotion to an older candidate regardless of his or her experience, or making an employee redundant on the grounds of his or her age.

Indirect Discrimination

Indirect discrimination is said to occur when an employer introduces a provision, practice or criterion into the workplace and the criterion puts a group of employees with a protected characteristic at a clear disadvantage against their peers. Further, indirect discrimination is also said to occur when:

a-an individual is put explicitly at a disadvantage;
a-the employer fails to show that the policy was introduced as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim

For example, if an employer implements a criterion for a promotion that an employee must have a minimum working tenure of 10 years to be eligible for promotion. This would mean that any employee under the age of 26 years would be sidelined from being promoted.

Associative Discrimination

This type of discrimination involves unfavourable treatment of someone because of their association with an individual with a protected characteristic. For example, employers treating someone less favourably because they are part of a group of young employees, despite being older themselves.

Perceptive Discrimination

This form of age discrimination happens when an individual is treated less favourably because it is perceived that he or she has a protected characteristic, regardless of whether they do or not. For example, if an employer refuses to appoint someone because they wrongly thought that they belong to a particular age range and would not be suitable for the role.


Victimisation involves instances where a person is treated less favourably because they have raised an age discrimination claim under the Equality Act 2010 or supported a complaint. Victimisation is also applicable if it is thought that that the individual made a complaint. Moreover, a claim of victimisation doesna't require a comparator.


One of the most commonly known forms of age discrimination, harassment is depicted under the Equality Act 2010 as an a€˜unwanted conduct related to a specific protected characteristic, which in turn, has the effect or purpose of violating a persona's dignity or creating an intimidating, degrading, hostile, offensive or humiliating environment for that individual'.

While there is no longer any specific legislation to hold employers liable for harassment coming from a customer (a third party), however, an employer can still be held responsible for several other legal duties, including direct discrimination, breach of contract, and under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

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