Obsession With Youth Makes Experience A Liability

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The Law Of... protecting older workers

An increasingly aging population has meant people are now expected to work for longer, but finding work once you've reached a certain age can be a lot harder than people realise, particularly when the spectre of age discrimination rears its head.

The Law Of... protecting older workers

Zee Hussain, Head of Corporate Services at Simpson Millar, looks at ageism in the workplace and discusses why it should be treated with the same gravity as other discriminatory practices.

A Hidden Discrimination

Just because it is illegal in the UK to discriminate against employees and jobseekers because of their age, it doesn't stop it from happening. To accompany this, proving a case of age discrimination isn't always an easy feat.

For instance, somebody over the age of 50 might find themselves turned down for a job they are qualified to do due to the employer seeing them as a short-term prospect because of their age. Regardless of the experience and value they could bring to the company, they find themselves cast aside in favour of a younger, less seasoned candidate. But short of somebody at interview saying: "No, you're too old," how could the older applicant prove they were discriminated against?

A Face That Fits

Unfortunately, there appears to be an obsession with youth in the UK that disproportionately bars older people from an already overly-competitive job market. Knowledge, capability and a positive attitude to work that has been shaped over a lifetime of employment, is eschewed in favour of relative inexperience but a 'face that fits'.

All of this at a time when, due to the higher cost of living, some people have to continue working beyond retirement age because the state pension fails to make ends meet.

The UK Workforce by Age

As of May to July (2016), there were 31.77million people in the UK in work. Drilling down deeper into this figure reveals the makeup of the workforce to be as follows:

  • Aged 16 to 49 – 22million
  • Aged 50 to 64 – 8.6million
  • Aged 65 or over – 1.2million

With recent figures estimating there to be around 12million people in the UK between the ages of 50 and 64, this leaves around 28% of them unemployed. Compare this to the next comparable age group between 35 and 49 – which estimates put at 12.7million – 15.75% of who aren't in work.

Age Discrimination and the Law

The UK's Equality Act makes it illegal for anybody to discriminate against somebody else on the basis of their race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religious belief or age. The latter being defined as falling into one of four categories:

  • Direct discrimination – Treating a person unfavourably because of their age, their perceived age or because of the age of somebody they associate with
  • Indirect discrimination – Disadvantaging a certain age group through universal workplace policy, procedure, rules or practices
  • Harassment – Creating a hostile, degrading, or humiliating environment for somebody to work in because of their age, or engaging in conduct that violates their dignity
  • Victimisation – Treating somebody unfavourably because they have made – or supported someone else who has made – a complaint regarding age discrimination

The act sets out to protect everybody in the workforce, regardless of how old or young they are.

Any employer actively discriminating against somebody because of their age, or failing to prevent age discrimination from taking place, could find itself facing an employment tribunal or a claim in court.

Zee comments:

"Ageism is a big problem in this country, even with the laws in place to protect workers and jobseekers from it. One of the main problems is that it isn't perceived as being as serious as racism, sexism or other cases of discrimination, an attitude sadly reflected throughout society as a whole."

"A survey undertaken by online job board, Totaljobs, revealed some interesting findings. Of those who responded in the 51-60 age group, 20% had been unemployed for at least 2 years; this was in contrast to just 8% of 18-24 year olds. A massive 88% from the same age group said putting their date of birth on a CV made it harder to get a job; and, perhaps most tellingly, 73% of 51-60 year olds and 83% of those aged 60 or over believed they had been rejected for a job because of their age."

"Unless we start to tackle age discrimination as a society, the problem will remain. It is only through a shift in attitudes towards the elderly, through education and campaigning, that it will begin to sink in that older people are not 'past it', 'useless' or a 'burden' and that they have not only the value of experience to offer, but also a lot more."

"As has been the case with other social movements that have achieved great things in fighting discrimination, we need to come together as one and let it be known that we won't tolerate ageism in the workplace or elsewhere, and if we do see it, stand up to it. After all, nobody knows what the future holds, apart from the fact we all, one day, will be older."

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