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age diversity and ageism

ageism and age discrimination - managing age diversity positively - interpretation and implications

Ageism, age diversity, and age discrimination legislation are now significant aspects of employment, retirement, and life beyond work.

Age diversity offers positive advantages for healthy organisations, just like any other sort of diversity in work and life.

Treating people fairly, regardless of age, is central to the principles of ethical business and ethical organisations.

Ageism and age-related issues are especially relevant in the UK given the 2010 Equality Act, which extended and superceded the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations of 2006. This aspect of age equality at work is consistent with legislation across Europe.

If you are a UK employer you need to be aware of, and act upon, the implications of these regulations, which are explained in detail in the excellent ACAS website (ACAS is the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service - an agency public body of the UK Government).

Understanding these issues will also be helpful for you as an individual, to understand your rights (for example relating to behaviour of an employer, or pensions or retirement) and your personal responsibilities.

Responding to age discrimination legislation is not difficult for good organizations; the UK regulations do not challenge any employer-organization already treating its people fairly and ethically.

As such these principles provide a helpful model for adopting age equality provisions for any organisation anywhere in the world.

As a worker or employee or manager, etc., you are also affected individually by age discrimination regulations.

As well as giving people protection, the UK age discrimination legislation also places certain responsibilities on individuals:

The regulations allow for individuals to be held responsible for certain types of discriminatory behaviour against others (and to be pursued for compensation), aside from the responsibility of the employer or organisation.

A general summary of equality, discrimination law and diversity responsibilities is provided on the Equality page.


uk age discrimination regulations - a quick summary

Here's a brief practical summary of the UK Age discrimination regulations and their implications, initially effective in 2006, later updated and superceded by the Equality Act of 2010.

1. The regulations protect employees and other workers (partners, agency staff, etc) from discrimination, harassment and any other unfair treatment (for example relating to recruitment, training, pay, promotion, retirement and pensions) on the basis of age.

2. Age means any age - not just older people - any age, including young people.

3. People protected by these regulations include:

4. The regulations apply to:

5. The regulations make it unlawful on the grounds of age, (unless it can 'objectively justified' - see point 7 below), specifically to:

6. The implications of the legislation particularly affect and extend to:

7. The regulations are not designed to force unreasonable or unsafe changes on people and organisations, and so the rules provide for 'objective justification' to be used where any age discrimination can be proved to be proportionate (appropriate) and legitimate (truly necessary) for the purpose or aim of the organisation. In such cases the onus is on the organisation to provide evidence of the 'objective justification', which is capable of withstanding scrutiny at a tribunal. Simply 'saving money' is not generally a legitimate reason for exceptions to the rules. For discrimination to be lawful the organisation must be able to demonstrate that its actions have been based on proportionate and legitimate reasoning - rather than an arbitrary or unthinking or unfair treatment of a person because of the person's age. Beyond this guideline, absolute interpretation of 'objective justification' is difficult to express in just a few sentences. Where issues entail such judgements you should seek expert qualified information. ACAS is generally a good place top start.

8. Here are some examples of specific implications of the age discrimination and equality regulations. Good ethical organisations will be complying broadly with most or all all this already. Less good employers will maybe have a few more changes to make. Again, any exceptions must be considered and justified via the system of 'objective justification'. The examples below are not an exhaustive list of implications of anti-age discrimination. Employers should follow the ACAS guidelines for checking and planning full compliance.


N.B. Age discriminantion legislation does not make it impossible to treat people differently because of age-related issues at work, instead the law makes it unlawful to treat people unfairly purely and arbitrarily because of their age.

This is perhaps best illustrated by the example of an employer which (pre-legislation) could lawfully refuse to hire someone purely on the basis of age, or compulsorily retire someone purely on the basis of age; these actions are no longer likely to be lawful. Refusal to hire, and compulsory retirement, must now (post-legislation) be based on reasons of (legitimate, proportionate and so legal) organizational policy and/or the candidate's or employee's competence/cabability.

These principles of equality are consistent with running an ethical organisation. An ethical organisation (amongst other things) does not discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on grounds of age, gender, race, religion, disability, etc.

As with any matters of employment law it's important to understand the details and to seek appropriate qualified advice to help you interpret the issues for your own situation. ACAS (The Arbitration and Conciliation Advisory Service) are especially well positioned and able to provide this (UK) support. ACAS is a publicly funded body run by a council made up of leading figures from business, unions and independent sectors to academics.


age diversity - positive benefits for healthy organisations

Age Diversity represents the range and mixture of ages in workforces and organisations, and the challenges and opportunities that employers face in managing it.

Having equality philosophy and policy in place - and fully understood by all staff - is consistent with ethical business, and good modern ethical organisations.

Equality means treating all people fairly: valuing everyone for their strengths, capabilities, experience and potential.

When an organization values its people in this way, people respond positively, with loyalty, commitment and enthusiasm.

Some organizations regard age diversity, and other aspects of equality, as mostly a difficulty. Where diversity is not embraced by an organization's leadership, this tends to mean that people are not treated fairly and equally, and then quite understandably they lose faith in the employer. Poor employers then blame their people for a lack of motivation, but actually the fault lies with the organization and its leadership, not the staff.

Good organizations regard diversity and equality as huge opportunities to improve and develop organizational quality and performance.

Treating people fairly, and valuing everyone, promotes cohesion, unity and loyalty in a workforce.

For an additional and useful perspective on age see Erik Erikson's Psychosocial Theory.


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