Is your business age positive?

As every business owner knows, any form of discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of race or gender is unacceptable, whether it is among staff or in company policy.

It is also important to be aware of the issues surrounding the problem of age discrimination.

The Government introduced new anti-age discrimination laws as part of the Equality Act in October 2010, replacing the previous Equality (Age) Regulations. These make it illegal for an employer to discriminate against someone on the grounds of age.

Most significant in recent years, is the abolishment of the default retirement age of 65 in October 2011. Employers are no longer allowed to dismiss employers on the grounds of retirement using the DRA procedure, or force retirement or set a retirement age unless it can be objectively justified.

The anti-age discrimination laws cover a wide range of workplace situations, and like the above, there are certain circumstances in which an employer can justify discrimination on grounds of age, providing they can demonstrate an objective business reason.

As well as complying with the law, there are a number of ways your business could benefit from having an age-positive policy.

Here are some steps you can take now:

Judge people on ability, not age

  • Remember that ageism works both ways, especially when recruiting. If a job involves IT, it does not automatically mean that a younger person is best suited to it. But similarly, a job that involves supervision of other people's work may be equally well performed by a young person as an older one. The key thing to remember is that if a person has the required skills and abilities, they are the right age.

Beware when advertising

  • As well as avoiding placing job advertisements which specify that a new recruit must be above or below a certain age – don’t use such phrases as ‘candidates should be aged 25-35’ or ‘mature’ – you should also be aware of less explicit forms of age discrimination. Requiring ‘GCSE maths’ automatically excludes everyone old enough to have taken O-Levels.

Promote staff on merit

  • If a person is an obvious and capable candidate for promotion, it is against the regulations to refuse to promote them solely on the grounds of age. If employees are told they are too old they will feel that there is little point in doing more than the minimum, while if told they are too young they will feel that their efforts may go unrewarded, however well they perform.

Training opportunities

  • Employers cannot offer or withdraw an entitlement to training on the grounds of age. It is wrong anyway to think that training and development are wasted on older employees. Research shows that turnover is significantly lower among older workers, so if you want your long-term staff to stay up-to-date, be prepared to invest in skills training.

Make redundancies with caution

  • In cases where companies have to make a number of redundancies, age is all too often used as a simple criterion for selecting candidates. Not only is this a breach of the regulations – redundancy decisions must be made on the basis of business needs not that of age – it can lead to a sudden and significant loss of skills and knowledge, and can damage customer relations.

At a time of skills shortages in the employment market, and with age demographics shifting in favour of an older workforce, being 'age-positive' is more than just political correctness: it is good business practice.