Recruitment and age discrimination – avoiding legal pitfalls

Age Positive explain why you need to get ready for this year's anti-ageism laws

From this year, it will become illegal for small businesses to overlook job applicants because of their age. Arthur Phillips, of the government’s Age Positive campaign, explains why entrepreneurs should start looking beyond birthdates when recruiting.

Legislation outlawing age discrimination will come into force in 2006. It will cover both employment and vocational training. It will cover both the private and public sectors and every other organisation.

It will include every member of your workforce, young and old. It will apply to everyone you employ, whether that’s one, 100 or 1,000.

Employers will have to adopt age positive practices. This means you will no longer be able to recruit, train, promote or retire people on the basis of age unless it can be objectively justified.

Many people over 50 want to work but are prevented from doing so by ageist practices. But remember, the new legislation doesn’t just concern older people; it covers young and old alike throughout their working lives.

Skills, experience and the ability to do the job are what’s important, not someone’s age. This will require a major cultural change in businesses throughout the UK. That’s why it’s important to start planning now.

Small businesses could benefit from reduced staff turnover, higher morale, lower recruitment costs, better productivity and increased profits. If the benefits of an age-diverse workforce including older workers are so obvious, why would any business hold back?

The fact is, certain employers have been hung up on myths and stereotypes as to what a young or old employee can do for a business. It’s time to stamp out misguided and outdated attitudes that people are past it after 50 or incapable of doing a responsible job when they are young.

That’s why the government has been running its Age Positive campaign to tackle workplace age discrimination.

The tide is turning. With skills shortages hitting many sectors, businesses are waking up and realising that if they’re not recruiting the best people for the job, sooner or later it will start affecting the profit margin.

Employers are saying that including older people in their team not only makes for a motivated, reliable and flexible workforce, it makes good business sense too.

Let’s face it, we have an ageing population and any business that isn’t taking that on board and reflecting it in their recruiting policies is storing up problems for themselves.

Increasingly, employers of all sizes are recognising that both older and younger workers can bring to the workplace a mix of experience, reliability, flexibility, enthusiasm and ideas.

Another hurdle to overcome is inertia. Individuals may agree that an age-diverse workforce is valuable, but claim they do not have the time to do anything about it. Now is the time to stop the excuses.

Businesses of all shapes and sizes are already changing the way they work and gaining the competitive edge. Every business needs to begin reviewing their business now and open up the workplace to the variety of talent and experience that different ages bring to a job. Top tips

  • Remove age limits from job adverts. Avoid using words like ‘young’ or ‘mature’.
  • Use a mixed age interview panel in the selection process.
  • Promote on the basis of measurable performance and proven potential rather than age.
  • Offer employees of all ages the opportunity to train and develop themselves. Encourage reluctant older and younger workers by using, as role models, employees who have benefited from training.
  • Base redundancy decisions on objective, job-related criteria. Automatically making workers over a certain age redundant, or operating a last-in-first-out system, will only lead to a loss of key knowledge, skills and corporate memory.
  • Consider flexible retirement options: winding-down, part-time working, reduced hours or responsibilities.

For a guide on how to make the most of employees of all ages, go to



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