How should UK businesses legally address age discrimination in the workplace?

Businesses across the United Kingdom need to value the diversity of their workplaces and aim to foster an environment of inclusivity and respect. A diverse workforce enriches a business with different perspectives, experiences, and skills. However, one issue that often undermines the benefits of a diverse workforce is age discrimination. Age discrimination, known legally as ageism, is a serious violation of employment equality laws in the UK and it poses a significant challenge to the dignity and rights of employees.

This article provides comprehensive insights into how UK businesses should legally address age discrimination in the workplace. It will explore the legal framework governing age discrimination, practical steps for prevention, the role of retirement and service age, and the importance of promoting age equality.

Understanding the Legal Framework

To address age discrimination effectively, it is crucial that businesses understand the legal provisions in the UK that prohibit such practices. The Equality Act 2010 provides the most relevant legal resource in this regard. This law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or job applicants due to their age.

Understanding this legal framework is the first step in combating age discrimination. It allows businesses to implement policies that adhere to the law and gives employees confidence that their rights are being protected. It also helps employers understand the liabilities they may face if they fail to comply with these laws.

Implementing Steps to Prevent Age Discrimination

Once the legal framework is understood, employers must take concrete steps to prevent age discrimination in the workplace. For example, businesses should develop and implement a comprehensive policy that explicitly prohibits age discrimination. This policy should clearly define what constitutes age discrimination and provide guidelines on how to handle such cases.

Training is another crucial aspect. Employers should provide regular training to all employees to help them understand the company's policy on age discrimination. This training should also include information on how employees can report suspected cases of discrimination.

Navigating Retirement and Service Age

The issue of retirement and service age is a thorny one when it comes to combating age discrimination. While the Equality Act 2010 abolished the default retirement age of 65, it is lawful for an employer to set a retirement age, provided they can objectively justify it. Therefore, businesses should carefully consider the implications of their retirement policies to ensure they do not inadvertently perpetuate age discrimination.

When it comes to service-related benefits, the Equality Act allows these to be offered up to five years of service. After this, employers need to justify the need for continued service-related benefits. Employers need to strike a balance between rewarding long-serving employees and not disadvantaging newer, potentially younger, employees.

Promoting Age Equality in the Workplace

Preventing age discrimination is not just about avoiding legal penalties. It's also about promoting age equality and fostering a culture of respect and inclusivity. Employers should aim to create a workplace environment where employees of all ages feel valued and respected.

One way to promote age equality is to ensure diversity in recruitment and promotion processes. Employers should avoid age-biased language in job adverts and should opt for age-neutral criteria when selecting candidates for interviews or promotions.

Another effective strategy is to implement mentoring schemes that pair younger and older workers. These schemes create an opportunity for knowledge and skills exchange, fostering mutual respect and understanding.


While age discrimination remains a pervasive issue in many workplaces, employers have the capacity to instigate significant change. By understanding the legal implications of age discrimination and taking proactive steps to prevent it, businesses can create a work environment that is inclusive, respectful and, above all, legal. Not only will this protect the rights of older workers, but it will also empower all employees, promoting a culture of equality and respect. Remember, age is just a number and, in the workplace, everyone has the right to be treated fairly, regardless of that number.

Addressing Mental Health and Flexible Working

Addressing the topic of flexible working hours and mental health can be quite challenging, particularly with the different age groups in a workplace. It's vital to understand that older workers might require more flexibility in their working hours due to various reasons such as health issues, caregiver responsibilities, or a desire to gradually transition into retirement. On the other hand, younger employees might request flexible working hours for furthering their education, starting a family, or maintaining a work-life balance.

Mental health is a topic that should never be overlooked in the workplace, regardless of age. The pressures of work, combined with personal life challenges, can lead to significant mental stress. Employers should strive to provide a supportive environment that addresses mental health issues without stigma, discrimination or bias.

Implementing flexible working policies can contribute to improving the mental health of employees by reducing stress and increasing job satisfaction. Notably, a one-size-fits-all approach to flexible working may indirectly lead to discrimination, as the needs and circumstances of different age groups vary.

Employers should strive to promote a culture of openness where employees feel comfortable discussing their mental health and flexibility needs without the fear of being stigmatised or discriminated against. They can do this by offering resources, training, and support for mental health and incorporating flexible working provisions into their policies in a non-discriminatory manner.

Handling Age Discrimination Claims and the Role of Employment Tribunals

The final step in legally addressing age discrimination in the workplace involves dealing with claims of age discrimination. When an employee believes they have been a victim of age discrimination, they have the right to take their case to an employment tribunal.

If an employee brings forth a claim, the employer must be prepared to show that they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent age discrimination in their workplace. This includes having a clear policy, providing training, and dealing with complaints promptly and seriously.

If a claim is successful at the tribunal, the employer could be ordered to pay compensation and make changes in their practices. Therefore, it is in the best interest of employers to address any issues of age discrimination promptly and effectively to prevent claims from escalating to this level.

However, an employment tribunal should ideally be the last resort. Employers should strive to foster an open and respectful environment where disputes are resolved internally through established processes. This not only saves resources but also preserves the morale and cohesion of the workplace.


In the battle against age discrimination, understanding and adhering to employment law is critical. However, it is equally important for employers to go beyond the legal minimum. Fostering a culture of respect, inclusivity, and fairness for all age groups is an integral part of a thriving, successful business. A workplace that values diversity and equality, and respects the dignity and rights of all its employees, irrespective of their age, is a positive and productive space.

The fight against age discrimination is an ongoing process, not a one-off event. Businesses should regularly review their policies, practices and culture to ensure they are not inadvertently falling into discriminatory habits. Training, communication, and promoting understanding between different age groups should be continuous efforts. Remember, age, unlike experience, wisdom, and skills, is just a number and should never be a barrier to equality in the workplace.