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UK Age Discrimination in the Workplace

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Kate has over eight years of experience as an employment and personal injury legal executive. She runs LawCat, a legal explanations website.

It has been estimated by ACAS (The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) that in the United Kingdom, by the year 2020, over a third of the workforce will be made up of people over the age of 50. This will change the way our workforce appears and functions and it can raise a lot of questions both for those over 50 and for those just starting out in the working world.

Are you an older worker? Do you feel like you might not have a place in your workplace anymore? Are you a younger worker? Worried that you’ll never get your foot in the door? Confused about what your rights are? This article should clarify some issues facing both older and younger workers.


Can You Be Forced to Retire?

There is no default retirement age; you cannot be forced into retirement because of your age. You can only be taken out of your employment if it can be proven you are no longer able or fit enough to do your job e.g., a job where you have to have a certain level of fitness to be able to manage the work, such as roles found in offshore work. When this is considered, employers should always look for alternate roles for you before moving on to the possibility of a settlement agreement/retirement/dismissal.

Employers cannot dismiss you because of your age, nor force you to retire.

The Equality Act of 2010 makes it unlawful for you to be discriminated against on the grounds of your age. This means you cannot be removed from a position you are already in, or denied a different position based on your age, only on your ability to manage to role.

Your employer should also consider any reasonable adjustments that could be made to your role to allow you to continue in it. These adjustments do have to be reasonable and should not be excessive. The purpose of the law is to make the situation fairer for employers as well as employees.


Can You Be Denied a Position Because You Are Young?

Like the above, you cannot be denied a position because of your age.

However, employers may prefer a candidate with more experience. When you're young, getting experience can prove difficult at times. While it is not illegal for you to be refused a position because of lack of experience, which can be connected to age, employers must be able to show that their interviewing system was fair and non-biased to younger applicants.

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Always consider the role you are applying for; the job market is very competitive and you need to make sure you are applying for a role that suits your skill and experience level. Do all in your power to get as much experience as possible, including, but not limited to, work experience, part time roles, apprentices, and trainee roles.


Can You Be Promoted?

This question effects both the younger members of the workforce as well as the older members. Promotions should not be influenced by age but by performance. You are never to young to be promoted, if you feel you have what it takes to work at a higher level then discuss this with your employer. If you feel you were passed over for promotion in favour of someone older, then raise this calmly with your employer. But you must be confident that the reason you were passed over is age and not performance. The work place is a results driven environment and that must be taken into account.

There is also no cut off point for you to receive training or promotion. You cannot be denied a deserved promotion because of your age. You also cannot be denied any type of training because of your age. Discussions to identify your training needs can include questions about where you see yourself in the future as well as discussion regarding your future with your employer, but you cannot be denied training based solely on your age.

Can you Request Flexible Working?

For younger and older workers alike, if you have worked for the same employer for longer than 26 weeks, you are legally allowed to request flexible working hours. Your employer is under no obligation to provide this, unless it is considered a reasonable adjustment to a role.

If you are a grandparent you are not in a position to request paid or unpaid time off to look after your grandchildren. Although, if you have adopted a child you are entitled to parental leave regardless of your age (although this may not be paid, all employees have a right to time off to take care of dependents in emergencies or unforeseen circumstances, such as if you are let down with regards to childcare).


In conclusion, it is illegal in the UK for an employee to be discriminated against because of their age. This means they cannot be forced to retire unless they are physically unable to do their job, and they cannot be denied a position based on age.

All employees are equally entitled to promotion and training regardless of age. Flexible working can be requested, although there is no guarantee that the employer has to provide this.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Jennifer Lynch from Stowmarket, Suffolk. on February 23, 2019:

It would be nice if people could enjoy retirement from the age of 60, most people feel 67 is too old to retire. It is lovely to have the option of course but in reality, I don't know anyone who isn't a little disgusted with how long they have to wait until they receive their old age pension. The fact it is so low will undoubtedly force people to work more years then they intended.

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