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Age discrimination at work

What is age discrimination

It's against the law for your employer to treat you worse than other colleagues at work because of your age, unless they've got a very good reason. It's also against the law for an employer to dismiss you or to refuse to employ you, just because of your age, unless they’ve got a very good reason. If your employer does this, it's called age discrimination. An employer is not allowed to discriminate against you either for being too young or for being too old.

It might also count as age discrimination if you are discriminated against because:

  • of the age of someone you know, such as family or friends, rather than because of your own age. For example, your employers can't discriminate against you for being the carer of an elderly relative. This is known as discrimination by association
  • your employer believes you to be a certain age, when you are not.

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Who does the law apply to

The law applies to you if:

  • you're in work
  • you’re applying for a new job
  • you're an agency worker. For more information about the employment rights of agency workers, see Agency workers' rights
  • you need to get a reference from a company you used to work for. Your employer isn't allowed to refuse to give you.

The law applies to you regardless of how many people work at your firm or how long you’ve been working for them.

The law doesn't apply to you if you're in the armed forces or if you're an unpaid volunteer.

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What does the law mean

The law means that:

  • your employer isn't allowed to treat you worse than other colleagues at work because of your age, or the age they think you are, unless they've got a very good reason
  • employers aren't allowed to refuse to employ you because of your age unless they can give a good business reason for this which has nothing to do with age
  • your employer isn't allowed to force you to retire or dismiss you just because you've reached a certain age, unless they’ve got a very good reason. If they do, you can ask a tribunal to decide whether you have been unfairly dismissed, and whether you have been discriminated against because of your age
  • your employer isn't allowed to have rules or practices which, although not aimed at you personally, would put you at a disadvantage because of your age. For example, they aren't allowed to say you need to have had 12 years experience to apply for a job. This puts younger people at a disadvantage and it's against the law. However, sometimes employers are allowed to have rules or practices which put you at a disadvantage, if they have a very strong reason for doing so
  • your employer isn't allowed to bully or harass you because of your age. They must also stop other colleagues, and in some cases clients or customers of the business, from doing this. For example, they must stop other people if they make offensive jokes about your age in the workplace
  • your employer isn't allowed to treat you worse because of the age of someone you know, such as family or friends. For example, if your employer allows parents with young children to work flexible hours, they shouldn't refuse to let you work flexibly so you can take care of an elderly relative. If they did, this is known as discrimination by association.

If you experience age discrimination, you can make a claim to an employment tribunal.

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When might your employer be allowed to treat you differently because of age?

Your employer can justify the treatment

In some circumstances, your employer may be allowed to treat you worse than other colleagues because of your age if they can show the reason for the treatment is justified.

Your employer would need to show that the reason for the treatment or for having a certain policy or workplace practice was a very good business reason and not just about age.

If they can show this, and that the treatment, policy or practice  was appropriate under the circumstances, it would not count as discrimination.

Here is an example of a policy which an employer would be able to justify. This means that  even though it might seem unfair to certain age-groups, it would not count as discrimination.

A building company has a policy of not employing under-18s on its more dangerous building sites. The aim behind this policy is to protect young people from health and safety risks associated with their lack of experience and less developed physical strength. This aim is backed-up by accident statistics for younger workers on building sites.

Here is an example of a rule that an employer could probably not justify and would therefore count as discrimination.

A haulage company introduces a blanket ban on lorry-drivers driving articulated lorries over the age  of 55. This is because statistical evidence suggests an increased risk of heart attack over this age.

Although the aim behind this policy is to protect public safety, it could be argued that a better way to do this than having a blanket ban, would be to have medical checks on individual drivers. This would be seen as less discriminatory.

If you think an employer is discriminating against you because of your age and they aren't able to justify why they are treating you this way, you can make a claim to an employment tribunal.

Other situations when employers can treat you differently

There are a number of other situations when employers may be allowed to treat you differently to other age groups and it won't count as discrimination. These are when:

  • there is a legal restriction on the work someone can do because of their age.  For example, bar staff serving alcohol must be at least 18, so you can refuse to employ someone under 18 for this job. When you advertise, you can say that only people aged over 18 need apply
  • an employer can show they need someone of a certain age to do a particular job. This is called  an occupational requirement. For example, a younger actress would be required to play the role of a female teenager in a film
  • your employer bases the amount they pay you and other employment benefits on your length of service. However, if this difference is based on you being employed for more than five years, your employer must be able to justify it
  • you are getting the National Minimum Wage (NMW).  There are different rates of pay for the NMW, depending on how old you are.  You get less money if you're under 21 and this is not against the law
  • you get redundancy pay. This can be linked to age
  • your employer provides  workplace nursery or childcare vouchers. They can limit access to these based on the age of the child
  • your employer makes rules about age in their workplace pension schemes. For example, if your workplace pension scheme says that you can't get your pension before you're 60, this isn't against the law. Your company can set the age at which you can get your workplace pension, as long as it's over 55.

For more information about the National Minimum Wage, see Rights to pay.

For more information about redundancy pay, see Redundancy pay.

For more information about work pension schemes, see Workplace pensions.

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Age discrimination and retirement

Your employer is not allowed to dismiss you or make you retire just because you have reached a certain age, unless they have a very good reason for doing so.

If they don't have a good reason for dismissing you or retiring you because of your age, this may be unfair dismissal and age discrimination. You can make claims to an employment tribunal about both unfair dismissal and age discrimination.

An employer used to be able to make you retire at the age of 65 by following a procedure called the ‘default retirement procedure’.

If your employer started this procedure by 5 April 2011, you will still have to retire on the date agreed with your employer.

You must have turned 65 before 1 October 2011 and your employer must have followed the correct procedure.

From 6 April, no employer was allowed to start the default retirement procedure.

What if you reached 65 before 1 October 2011

If you reached the age of 65 before 1 October 2011, you may be under notice of retirement under the old default retirement procedure. This could mean your retirement might take place as late as October 2012.

You should only be under notice of retirement if all the following points apply to you:

  • you reached the age of 65 before 1 October 2011
  • your employer gave you notice by 5 April 2011 at the latest that they wanted you to retire. If you got the notice after this date, your employer can’t force you to retire under the old default retirement procedure
  • your employer followed the proper default retirement procedure - for example, the notice letter must have included some very specific wording. If your employer didn't follow the proper procedure, they may not be able to force you to retire.

If you think your employer did not follow the proper notice procedure, or include the correct wording in the notice letter, you should get legal advice.

The latest date that anyone who reached the age of 65 before 1 October 2011 can be forced to retire under the old default retirement procedure is 5 October 2012. This is because, under the old rules, your employer could give you up to twelve months' notice of your retirement date and you could ask your employer to extend your retirement for up to six months beyond this date.

So, for example, you might have got one year’s notice of retirement on 5 April 2011. This would have expired on 5 April 2012 but, if you asked for a six month extension and your employer agreed, you could still be working up until 5 October 2012. You would then have to retire.

Retirement and unfair dismissal

Before 1 October 2011, it was possible for your employer to force you to retire without it counting as unfair dismissal. As long as they followed the correct procedure, your employer could dismiss you once you had reached retirement age, without having any other reason.

Under the current law, your employer can’t dismiss you just because they say you have reached retirement age. This will apply to most people.

However, there may be some jobs where your employer can say you have to retire at a certain age. They will need to have a really strong reason, for example, because of health and safety. If employers want to make you retire at a certain age, they will need to be able to justify their reasons to a court or to an employment tribunal. Courts and employment tribunals will consider these types of cases very carefully to decide whether forcing someone to retire because of their age is fair or not.

Problems with age discrimination and retirement

If you think your employer has tried to force you to retire when they shouldn't have done, you can make a claim to an employment tribunal.

If you're a trade union member, get help from your trade union with how to deal with your employer or talk to an experienced adviser.

You can get help from your local Citizens Advice Bureau to deal with a claim of unfair dismissal or age discrimination. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

If you want to retire by a certain age

If you want to leave work at any age, you're allowed to do so by giving one week’s notice, or more if your contract asks you to give more. If you want to ‘retire’ early, you won't get your State Pension or any other pension payments any earlier than the scheme rules allow. The age when you can get your State Pension and other pension payments depends on how old you are and not on when you retire.

You should check if you're entitled to any workplace pension if you retire early. For example, some workplace pensions will make payments if you have to retire early because of ill-health.

For more information about when you can get your State Pension, see State Pensions.

For more information about workplace pensions, see Workplace pensions.

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Age discrimination and job applications

I’ve just applied for a job and the form asks for my date of birth.  Do I have to give it?  I’m 62 and I’m afraid the company won’t look at my application if they realise how old I am.

There’s nothing to stop an employer asking your date of birth on an application form.   But if you don’t get the job and you think it’s because of your age, you can use the fact that they asked you for your date of birth as possible evidence of age discrimination.

It is generally against the law for employers to refuse to take you on or to refuse to promote you because of your age, unless they have a very good reason.

This means that, in most cases, employers should not advertise jobs aimed at certain age-groups.

However, there are some things an employer is allowed to do when they take you on or promote you, which don't count as discrimination.

What doesn't count as age discrimination if an employer refuses to employ you when you apply for a job

It might not count as age discrimination if:

  • an employer is able to justify why they can't employ you because of your age. For example, there may be a legal restriction on employing people under a certain age to do a certain job, or there might be an occupational requirement for employing people of a certain age

Is an employer allowed to ask about your age in a job application

An employer is allowed to ask for information about your age in a job application.  However, if you think an employer has used this information to discriminate against you, you can complain to an employment tribunal.

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Age discrimination and unfair dismissal

If you are sacked because of age discrimination, you may be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal.

You may be able to make a claim for both age discrimination and unfair dismissal.

You can make a claim for age discrimination no matter how long you have worked for your employer. To make a claim for unfair dismissal, you must have worked for your employer for at least one year if you started before 6 April 2012 or at least two years if you started on or after 6 April 2012.

I am only 42 but my boss says he's got to get rid of me because I'm too old – he says my image isn't right for his firm.  Can he do this?

No he can't sack you unless he has a very good reason for doing so. Simply being 42 isn't a good reason. If you're dismissed, you may have a claim for unfair dismissal as well as age discrimination. Get advice as soon as you can.

If you think you have been unfairly dismissed or discriminated against, you should get advice as quickly as possible, as there are time limits for making a claim to an employment tribunal.  Your local Citizens Advice Bureau should be able to help. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

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Age discrimination and redundancy

If you’re made redundant, you can get redundancy pay regardless of how old you are – there is no upper or lower age limit.

You must have worked for your employer for at least two years to be able to get statutory redundancy pay. This is  the amount set down by law that you should get when you're made redundant. You may be able to get redundancy pay before you've worked for two years if your employment contract allows for it. This is known as contractual redundancy pay.

When they're making staff redundant, employers aren't allowed to discriminate against older or younger employees. If they do, you may be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal

However, employers are allowed to choose people for redundancy based on how long they’ve been working for them.

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Age discrimination and harassment

Your employer is not allowed to harass you because of your age. If a colleague harasses you, your employer is held responsible.

Harassment counts as age discrimination if you find someone’s behaviour offensive, frightening, degrading, humiliating or distressing in any other way because of your age.

Example

My manager is constantly trying to make me look small because of my age. He calls me things like ‘stupid old fool’, ‘stick in the mud’ and keeps saying I must be going senile.

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What you can do about age discrimination

If you are being treated unfairly or bullied at work because of your age, take action as quickly as possible.

Talk to someone

You could try telling the person who's harassing you or treating you unfairly to stop, but only if you feel it's safe to this. You may find it helpful to have a work colleague or trade union representative with you when you do this.

You should tell your manager about what's happening and also talk to your personnel department or trade union, if you have one. Put it in writing and keep a copy. Your employer is required by law to try and  prevent workplace bullying and discrimination, whether it's coming from another colleague, a manager or a customer. If the person involved is your manager, you should tell someone higher up in the organisation.

Collect evidence

It is useful to collect evidence of the discrimination you are suffering. This could include keeping a diary or record of the time, date and location of any incidents, what was said or done, if there were any witnesses and evidence of any similar incidents against colleagues. You might want to record the names and jobs of those you think are treated more favourably than you, or of the rule or policy that puts you at a disadvantage, and explain why.

If you are thinking about making a claim for age discrimination to an employment tribunal, the law allows you to ask your employer to provide information through a questionnaire procedure. This can help you get information to support your case. Get advice early on as there are strict time limits for this procedure.

You can get advice about age discrimination from your local Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

Raise a grievance

If talking to someone hasn't stopped the harassment or unfair treatment, you could raise a written grievance with your employer. They should have a formal procedure for raising a grievance, but if they don't, you should follow the Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures.

If  you think you might go on to make a claim to an employment tribunal, you mustn't miss the time limit for making a claim, even if  you're raising a grievance.

For more information about raising a grievance with your employer, including the Acas Code of Practice, see Dealing with grievances at work.

Make a claim to an employment tribunal

If your employer has discriminated against you because of your age, you may be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal.

You should have tried to sort your problems out first by taking out a grievance or going to mediation.

You can make a claim to an employment tribunal for age discrimination and, in some cases, you may also be able to claim unfair dismissal.

An employment tribunal can:

  • decide what your rights are
  • award compensation. There is no upper limit to the amount of compensation you can get for age discrimination
  • make a recommendation to the employer to put the problem right.

Important!

Time limits

If you want to make a claim for age discrimination or unfair dismissal to an employment tribunal, there's a strict time limit. Usually you've only got three months minus one day to get your claim in to the tribunal. The three months start from the date of the last time you were discriminated against or harassed, or from the date you were dismissed. This time limit still applies even if you're raising a grievance.

For more information about making a claim to an employment tribunal, see Employment tribunals.

If you are thinking about making a claim to an employment tribunal, you should get advice from an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

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Work pension schemes and age discrimination

Employers are allowed to include rules about age in their work pension schemes. This does not count as age discrimination.

For example, if your work pension scheme says that you can't get your pension before you're 60, this isn't against the law. Your company can set the age at which you can get your work pension, as long as it's over 55.

For more information about work pension schemes, see Workplace pensions.

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The National Minimum Wage and age discrimination

There are different rates of pay for the National Minimum Wage, depending on how old you are. You get less money if you're under 21 and this is not against the law.

For more information about the National Minimum Wage, see Rights to pay.

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Other types of discrimination

As well as suffering age discrimination, you could be treated unfairly for other reasons, such as because you're a woman or gay or disabled.

For more information about other types of discrimination, see our discrimination pages.

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Further information

You can get more information about age discrimination in England and Wales from the Department for Work and Pensions through their Age Positive information. You can have a look at this online at: www.businesslink.gov.uk.

In England, Wales and Scotland you can also find out more about age discrimination from Age UK.

In England and Wales, go to: www.ageuk.org.uk.

In Scotland, go to: www.ageuk.org.uk.

The Age and Employment Network works with older people to promote job opportunities for them. Go to www.taen.org.uk.

Is that discrimination? is a website produced by Advicenow. It has information on how to tackle discrimination in the workplace. It also features a problem page and case studies about discrimination. Go to www.isthatdiscrimination.org.uk.

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Further help

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

England, Wales and Scotland

If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.

More about the EASS helpline

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

England, Wales and Scotland

You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website at www.equalityhumanrights.com.

Equality Commission for Northern Ireland

You can get advice from the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. The contact details are:

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland
Equality House
7-9 Shaftesbury Square
Belfast
BT2 7DP
Tel: 028 9050 0600
Textphone: 028 9050 0589
Enquiry Line: 028 90 890 890
Fax: 028 9024 8687
Email: information@equalityni.org
Website: www.equalityni.org

Law Centres

Law centres can offer free legal advice to people who want to take action about age discrimination. If you are represented by a solicitor from a law centre, you may be entitled to legal aid. Details of the nearest law centres are available from:-

In England and Wales

The Law Centres Federation
PO Box 65836
London EC4P 4FX
Tel 020 7842 0720
Fax 020 7842 0721
Email: info@lawcentres.org.uk
Website: www.lawcentres.org.uk

In Scotland

Scottish Association of Law Centres
Secretary
c/o Govan Law Centre
47 Burleigh Street
Govan
Glasgow G51 3LB
Tel: 0141 440 2503
Email: m@govanlc.com
Website: www.salc.info

In Northern Ireland

Law Centre NI
124 Donegall Street
Belfast
BT1 2GY
Tel: 028 9024 4401
Fax: 028 9023 6340
Email: admin.belfast@lawcentreni.org

Free Representation Unit (England)

The Free Representation Unit (FRU) is an organisation which can provide representation for people in the London area on a low income. However, it can only act for people who have been referred in writing by another agency which is an FRU subscriber, for example, some Citizens Advice Bureaux (CABx) in the London area. The contact details of CABx can be found in the local telephone directory or on the Citizens Advice website at www.citizensadvice.org.uk. The FRU can be contacted at:

Ground Floor
60 Gray's Inn Road
London
WC1X 8LU

Tel: 020 7611 9555
Fax: 020 7611 9551
Email: available through a form on the website
Website: www.thefru.org.uk

Free Representation (Scotland)

There is some free representation available in Scotland for tribunals and courts. It is only available for certain cases and for people on a low income. It is only available through a Citizens Advice Bureau.

To search for your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

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