For some of us a birthday can be a reminder of another year passed and our career goals yet to be achieved. The subject of age can also be a sensitive topic in the workplace and in everyday life. I have sometimes found when going to open evenings at law firms or researching into law firms that there is a slight preference for younger graduates as trainees who will be easier to mould into the image of the firm. I should say this is not indicative of all law firms and many recognise the contribution and experience that older trainees can bring.
Last month I attended an event hosted by the Law Society on how to get a training contract. I was encouraged by the talk given by Martin Jordinson a solicitor in the Government Legal Department. Before a career in law, he worked in accountancy, media and communications and managed his own business. He also spent 11 years with the Crown Prosecution Service. He encouraged those who were either changing career to law or getting into law at an older age that it is possible and even advantageous due to the work experience and transferable skills you can bring. The idea I had of getting into law being for the 20 somethings was quickly dispelled and renewed my belief that age is no barrier to getting into the career you want to be in.
It then got me thinking more broadly. What can employers do to ensure the policies they have in place avoid age discrimination? Age is a protected characteristic under s.4 of the Equality Act 2010. To put it simply, it is unlawful to discriminate against employees, job seekers and trainees because of their age. From my research, I have come up with seven tips for employers when considering what to do or what to be aware of in relation to age discrimination.
The wording of the job advertisement
It is important the wording of the job advertisement does not discriminate against people of a particular age or age group. By doing this an employer could receive a claim from an unsuccessful job applicant who is protected from age discrimination by the Equality Act. An employer should be mindful of using words such as ‘young’ or ‘mature and ‘old’. Also, an employer should avoid using age, specific qualifications or period of experience as the criteria for recruitment, unless it can be shown that it is necessary for the person to be able to do the job. There can be no substitute for giving your job advertisement a thorough check before publishing to potential employees.
What information are you asking for?
An employer should make sure that a candidate’s date of birth is removed from their application form or that there is a system in place which can do it for them. If the applicant gets through to the interview stage, an employer must be mindful of the sort of questions which could give an indication of the applicant’s age.
Make sure that policies do not discriminate, especially the recruitment and employee benefits policies. Employees must be provided with access to copies of the equal opportunities and harassment policies. The policy should include examples of the types of behaviour that can be classed as age discriminatory and outline the consequences for employees of discriminating or harassing individuals based on their age.
All staff should be trained in avoiding age discrimination in the workplace. But it should not just be a single one-off event. Refreshers on age discrimination should be made available to all staff so that everyone is up-to-date on what they need to know or on changes to the law.
Flexible working is becoming increasingly popular and it is important that employers take flexible working arrangements into consideration when dealing with individuals with disabilities, women who are pregnant and age. Employers should have a policy that provides for flexible working and that the policy does not discriminate against a specific age group. Flexible working should be open to employees of all ages without any judgement being made about why people want to take it.
Promotion based on merits
In some countries and cultures age is coincident with seniority. However, in the UK age should not be a factor when considering the promotion of individuals. It should be based on merits and the requirements of the business. There are exceptions where age may be taken into consideration i.e. where the age requirement is a genuine occupational requirement for the job. But overall, promotion must not be based on age but based on merits.
Personally, there is nothing wrong with a bit of banter every now and again, provided there is a line drawn when it is clear it would be inappropriate to continue and it does not discriminate against a protected characteristic in the Equality Act. All staff should be aware that age discrimination comments against young or older employees are not acceptable and that disciplinary action could follow if employees do not comply.
I feel it is worth mentioning a few people who achieved great things at an older age. Stan Lee created his first hit comic, “The Fantastic Four”, short of his 39th birthday in 1961. He would later go on to create the Marvel Universe, whose characters include Spider-Man and the X-Men. Henry T Ford was 45 when he created the revolutionary Model T car in the early 20th century. Finally, Harland Sanders, better known as Colonel Sanders was 62 when he franchised Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1952. He later sold the franchise business for $2 million, 12 years later. All these examples show that age whether you are in work or setting up your own business is no barrier to your career or your success.
06 November 2016