Can Young People be Discriminated Against at Work?

Anita North
National Head of Employment

What would they know, they’re too young.” “How can they do this job; they have no experience.”

Yes. Young people can be discriminated against at work because of their age.

It’s easy to assume that age discrimination in the workplace tends to affect just the older population. The media is filled with reports about older workers losing their jobs, being passed over for promotions, or missing out on new roles because they’re ‘too old’.

But, three-quarters of 25-to-34-year-olds feel like they’re discriminated against at work for being 'too young’.

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What is Age Discrimination?

Age discrimination is when you’re treated unfairly because of your age. As an employee, you’re protected from age discrimination by the Equality Act 2010. The Equality Act protects you from age discrimination in all aspects of your employment, including recruitment, promotions, training and dismissals.

There are generally four different ways that you might experience age discrimination at work:

Direct Age Discrimination

Direct age discrimination is when someone is treated less favourably because of their age.

For example, if your employer says they can’t promote you because you’re too young, this could be a form of direct discrimination if they cannot justify the reason why.

Indirect Age Discrimination

Indirect age discrimination happens when a working practice, policy or procedure that applies to everyone in the workplace puts someone at a disadvantage because of their age.

For example, an employer could be recruiting for a new member of staff and in the job description it states that they will only hire someone with over 10 years of experience. This could put younger applicants at a disadvantage because they won’t have had the chance to have worked for long enough to get that experience.


If someone makes derogatory comments about someone’s age or behaves in a way that makes them feel isolated, uncomfortable, violated or intimidated because of their age, this could amount to harassment.

For example, your colleagues constantly make offensive jokes about how young you are and this creates a hostile and degrading environment.


Victimisation happens when someone suffers detrimental treatment because they’ve made a claim of age discrimination, or they’ve supported someone else who has brought a claim.

For example, you’re refused a promotion that you’d previously been promised, just because you gave evidence to support to a colleague who was suffering from age discrimination.

3 Signs You Might be Experiencing Age Discrimination at Work

Age discrimination can be difficult to spot in a working environment. It’s easy to brush comments off, think you’re overreacting, or even just accept how people are treating you. But everyone should be treated equally at work, regardless of their age.

Here are three key signs of age discrimination to look out for:

1. Unfair criticism or disciplinary action: Your manager or supervisor is repeatedly making unreasonable demands or giving you a hard time in comparison to other, older colleagues.

2. Unequal pay: You’re being paid less than your older colleagues for doing the same job, and your employer can’t justify why that is.

3. Left out of opportunities: You feel you didn’t get the job, the promotion, the transfer or the opportunity to apply for the new job, promotion, or transfer because of your age.

How to Deal with Age Discrimination at Work

If you believe you’re being discriminated against at work because of your age, you could try and resolve it by talking to your employer.

If this doesn’t make the situation better, the next step would be to raise a formal grievance. Raising a formal grievance means your employer must investigate the complaint and take steps to try and resolve the problem.

If you feel your employer hasn’t sorted the issue following your grievance, then you might want to consider seeking legal advice.

Talk to our team of specialist Employment Lawyers to see how we can help if you want to bring an age discrimination case against your employer.

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