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Age is nothing but a number

There are many things on which we can be judged in society – race, religion, and physical abilities, to name but a few. But the one thing that none of us can avoid is age.

With several high profile age discrimination cases, including Channel 4’s John McCririck, BBC’s Moira Stewart, and Countryfile’s Miriam O’Reilly, the ageism row is not confined to us mere mortals, but reaches into all organisations, at all levels.

It has been unlawful for employers to discriminate by age since 2006. An employer is guilty of age discrimination if it treats an employee less favourably because of age compared with others who are not of the same age or age range.

And since the default retirement age of 65 was scrapped in October 2011, employers have had to be even more careful that they are not discriminating due to age.

But age discrimination can be deeply ingrained in the workplace, and employers may need to take steps to tackle this and ensure that they are complying with the law.

The first step in tackling ageism is to ensure your recruitment practices don’t discriminate, so phrases such as ‘ten years’ experience’, ‘enthusiastic young people’ or ‘ recent graduates’ are out (although you can ask for date of birth to check candidates are over 18, but this information should be kept separate from the application itself).

It’s also worth considering your social media policy when it comes to recruitment – do you check out potential candidates online? If so, you could be running the risk of inadvertent age discrimination, as you may see information about a candidate’s age and family situation that you would not otherwise be privy to. Once you have seen it, it’s hard to prove whether or not this influenced your decision, so the safest bet is to steer clear.

Careful performance management will also be a vital tool in managing a workforce with no set retirement age – both supporting employees who may be struggling but also in establishing robust evidence to protect employers from discrimination claims, should the need arise. A key part of this will be ensuring accurate, well maintained, job descriptions – that should form the basis of any appraisal or objective setting exercise (undertaken on a regular basis) and which should be clearly communicated to the employee.

And finally, make sure you bring your workforce along with you – have clear policies against of discrimination of all kinds, make it clear that it’s against the law, empower your managers to take a strong stance against ageism, and speak out when cases arise in the wider world – making it clear that discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated.

Only through more and more employers taking such action, will we being to win the battle against ageism – which, one day, you may be thankful for.

If you would like assistance with reviewing and updating your policies, job descriptions, performance management, or recruitment, contact TurnstoneHR on 01229 615 280 or email us at for a free consultation.

“There is evidence to suggest that good HR practice and people management in SMEs are key factors in strong business performance and can lead to increased productivity.”

- CIPD people Skills Project 2017


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