Editor's message: With the rise of the state pension age, an increasing number of older workers are choosing to remain in work for longer, resulting in an ageing workforce.
Dismissals based on an employee's age, for example compulsory retirement, can amount to direct age discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.
Unlike any other type of direct discrimination, direct age discrimination is unique because it can be justified if it serves a legitimate business need that cannot adequately be met in some other, less discriminatory, way. However, in the context of retirement, the reality is that you will be able to justify compulsory retirement at a particular age only in exceptional circumstances, for example for health and safety reasons.
You may worry that having conversations with older workers about their plans for retirement could amount to direct age discrimination. While using these conversations to pressurise an older worker into retiring is likely to amount to direct discrimination, having an open discussion with an older worker about his or her plans is unlikely to be discriminatory.
Younger workers are also at risk of age discrimination, particularly in the context of recruitment. For example, a requirement for job applicants to have at least four years’ experience may amount to indirect age discrimination against younger applicants. You should word job adverts carefully and focus on the skills required, rather than a person’s experience, unless a particular level of experience is justified.
Fiona Cuming, employment law editor
Updated to include information on Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice v McCloud, in which the Court of Appeal considered whether or not transitional provisions for judges' and firefighters' pensions were justified.
In Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice and another v McCloud and others; Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Welsh Ministers and others v Sargeant and others, the Court of Appeal held that the Government's view that "it felt right" to protect older workers with transitional provisions when making changes to pensions for judges and firefighters was insufficient to defend direct age discrimination claims.
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In Matier v Spring & Airbrake Ireland Ltd, a Northern Ireland industrial tribunal awarded £3,155 for age discrimination to a jobseeker who was told that a prospective employer was "looking for a younger person".
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Updated to reflect the average compensation awarded for age discrimination in 2017/18.
A table listing the age discrimination awards made by employment tribunals in 2017/18.
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HR and legal information and guidance relating to age discrimination.