Acas has recently launched new guidance to help prevent age discrimination in the workplace. Numbers of older workers are increasing, with over-50s now reported to make up almost a third of the UK workforce.
Age is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, so it is against the law for employers to discriminate against someone on this basis.
In 2018, an 88-year-old medical secretary became the oldest person ever to win an age discrimination case after successfully suing the NHS for unfair dismissal.
Mrs Jolly worked for the trust from 1991 to 2017, but was then put on ‘special leave’ due to concerns over her capabilities. She was 86 at the time and suffering from arthritis and a heart condition.
The tribunal, however, found no evidence that there were any issues regarding her capabilities. It also emerged that comments had been made by colleagues alluding to Mrs Jolly’s frailty due to her arthritis and fears over her ability to be able to walk the length of the building. These comments were not investigated by the manager investigating the capability issues.
Additional training for Mrs Jolly was also dismissed due to the idea that she was “stuck in old secretarial ways.”
As this case shows, there can be a tendency in some workplaces for assumptions to be made about employees based on their age.
By assuming that older workers are ‘set in their ways’, more likely to be resistant to new ideas and technologies, and at greater risk of health problems and sickness absence, employers are on dangerous territory – and potentially losing out on skills and experience that could be an asset to their organisation.
All employees should be treated as individuals. No one should be treated unfavourably due to assumptions and misconceptions about their abilities, driven by social stereotyping.
Referring to their new guidance, Acas Chief Executive, Susan Clews said that, “assumptions such as older workers not knowing how to use the latest tech or younger workers spending all of their time on smart phones […] can have a detrimental impact on staff and employers.
“Age stereotyping can make people feel demotivated at work or quit their jobs which can cost businesses through a loss in productivity or talented staff.”
Having an age-diverse workforce can also bring many benefits to an organisation. For example, age-diversity allows for increased knowledge sharing, access to different perspectives and experiences and many potential benefits to the customer too.
A workplace with a range of ages is likely to have a wider range of different skills and experience at its disposal.
Age, like other protected characteristics, such as gender and ethnicity, should not be used as an indication of a person’s capability in their role. Remember that employees should be treated consistently and age is no exception to this.