According to a cross party group of MPs, too little is being done enforce age discrimination laws.
In a report critical of the government and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the panel of MPs said that more than a million older workers are out of work due to age discrimination.
Maria Miller, the Conservative MP who chairs the committee, said: “As a country, we face serious challenges recruiting and retaining an experienced and skilled workforce. Until we tackle discrimination against the growing number of over 50s, they will continue to be consigned to the ‘too old’ pile instead of being part of the solution.”
She added: “The business case for an age-diverse workforce is clear. Despite this, employers continue to organise workplaces around an outdated, inflexible model that this inquiry and our past inquiries into fathers in the workplace and the gender pay gap show no longer works.
“It’s time for a mandatory approach, with flexible working being the default from the time jobs are advertised onwards.”
Discrimination due to a person’s age is illegal, as it is one of the ‘protected characteristics’ under the Equality Act 2010. However, the committee said it had found widespread failings in its enforcement, saying the scale was “alarming and totally unacceptable”.
What employers can do
About a third of workers will be over the age of 50 by 2020, while nearly a quarter of the UK population will be aged 65 or over within two decades.
As this is such a large demographic, it makes good business (and legal) sense for employers to avoid inadvertently discriminating against older workers and to embrace their experience and skills. Here are some tips on how to do so.
The panel warned that older workers have been neglected by government education polices while focusing on training for younger workers.
Don’t assume that older employees aren’t be interested in learning new skills. Training should be available for anyone who wants it without the implication that it is only for certain people, and made available in a format accessible to all.
For example, interactive eLearning may be the preferred choice for younger employees. However, older employees may respond better to traditional methods, such as printed slides. Try to make provisions to provide their preferred format.
Promote flexible working
The report says women tend to be hardest hit by the lack of flexibility offered by companies for older workers when many people over the age of 50 need to reduce their working hours to care for loved ones.
It called on the government to introduce a statutory entitlement for five days’ paid leave for carers, and a longer period of unpaid leave, to help older workers balance work with caring.
Employers can be proactive and embrace flexible working from management level downwards. This will show that working flexibly wouldn’t be frowned upon if requested.
Review your recruitment process
It can be surprisingly easy to accidentally discriminate during the recruitment process. Be careful with the words you use in job advertisements – don’t advertise for a “recent graduate” or for someone with “youthful enthusiasm”, simply state what the job requires.
Also be careful of where you advertise. For example, posting a job on social media alone could be considered discriminatory against older jobseekers, due to the demographic of social media users being generally younger.
Introduce an equality and anti-discrimination policy
Your policy should clearly state the organisation’s aim to provide a workplace where discrimination, bullying and harassment will not be tolerated and outline a commitment to adhering to the terms of the Equality Act 2010.
The policy should be communicated to all members of staff, so everyone is aware of what is and isn’t acceptable. Regular staff training will also educate both managers and employees on their roles and responsibilities in making the policy work effectively.