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If an employer turns you down for a job because you are too old or too young, this is ageism in recruitment and it is unlawful. Discrimination laws protect you when you apply for a job as well as while you are working.
Previously, an employer could refuse to consider candidates for jobs if they were over 65 (or the firm’s normal retirement age). Since the default retirement age was abolished under the Equality Act 2010 and started being phased out in April 2011, this can no longer be used as a justifiable reason.
Employers can’t include age limits in job adverts, and should avoid using words which could suggest they are looking for applicants from a particular age group – for example, by using terms such as ‘ten years’ experience’, ‘enthusiastic young people’ or ‘ recent graduates’. They can ask for your date of birth – for example, to check you are over 18 if necessary, or to see whether they are attracting a wide range of candidates – but they should keep this separate from the application and mustn’t use it as a deciding factor in whether to give you the job.
Agency workers now have the same rights as permanent employees. Agencies mustn’t discriminate against you because of your age. For example, they can’t deny you access to their services or to particular job placements based on your age.
Ageism during the recruitment process can be difficult to prove, as the employer is unlikely to make their reasons obvious. If you think an employer discriminated against you when you applied for a job, there is a questionnaire that you can use to get information from them to decide whether to bring a claim against them. The questionnaire can also help you to gather evidence if you decide to go ahead. You can download it from the Home Office website.
Positive action is now lawful in certain situations, to help to ensure that groups of people with protected characteristics (see The Equality Act - what it means for you) are not disadvantaged. For example, an employer may in some circumstances be able to justify their selection of one candidate over another who is equally well suited to the job because they are older or female, and the workplace currently has a lack of older or female employees. However, there are strict guidelines that employers must follow. Positive action can also be used in providing access to education and training facilities.
End age discrimination in employment now! The Age and Employment Network are petitioning to end age discrimination in employment. Sign the petition.
For more information about the Equality Act and the different types of discrimination, see The Equality Act - what it means for you.
Download the guide Your rights at work (PDF 1,088 KB)
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