The Silent Taboos of Recruitment

Part Three: The Over-50 Factor

Age discrimination Employers are aware that the Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees and job seekers because of their age. However, behind closed doors – with the pressure of meeting the objectives of the organisation as cost effectively as possible – the temptation to write-off anyone over 50 as ‘past it’, or just ‘too expensive’, appears to be common practice.

The latest report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) informs us that almost 20% of workers aged between 50 and 64 are self-employed, and 37% of those aged over 65. However, for some this is an enforced situation brought about by redundancy or a career break; disconcerting when you put this alongside another statistic, the fact that those who lose their job aged 50 or over only have a 10% chance of being re-employed.

Fiona Stewart, with 50s almost upon her, is totally frustrated with her current employment situation and believes ageism permeates her industry in the UK. After taking time out for a few years to raise her children, Fiona started her own business after feeling she was left with no alternative and “backed into a corner”.

“It was certainly not my first choice”, she explained, “I’d been trying for six months get back into full time employment.”

“I’ve now applied for over 500 marketing jobs and really believe my age is getting in the way, along with the fact, of course, I’m more expensive than your average intern.”

“Working for myself with the label ‘marketing consultant’ I became aware of being viewed from another perspective; my maturity is appreciated because of assumed knowledge and experience. But why is this not the case in the workplace? I believe one of the key strengths of an employee is age; the over 50s have a real contribution to make. Primarily it appears to me that employers have lost their way as to what is important.”

“In my area of speciality – marketing – it could be down to the misconception that an 18 year-old intern is better at social media, and the assumption that the over 50s lack the ability to embrace new technology. Certainly not true in my case – I have taught myself new skills to keep up with technology; in addition I have a deeper understanding of strategic marketing, along with knowledge of the fact that in marketing the customer is at the heart of everything you do so it’s crucial to understand what people want – and sometimes that knowledge just comes with experience. Sending relevant information direct to the right person – JTW are a perfect example of this. It’s all about “right here, right now”.

“I just want to be a great role model for my sons demonstrating the importance of the disciplines involved in working – if I’m not considered employable how is that going to affect their preconceptions of the workplace? Working for BA for 10 years was learning in hands on way – worth, as much, if not more than a degree; sadly this counts for nothing it would seem.”

For employers, age discrimination will certainly become a growing dilemma, not only when considering those applying for jobs – with an estimated 25 million people over the age of 50 by 2020 – but also for those wishing to remain in their roles after the removal of the Default Retirement Age [DRA].

Compensation for age discrimination is uncapped and so the financial consequences of a finding of discrimination when firing someone can be significant. As a result, employers cannot afford to ignore the issue of age equality in the workplace. Creating Your Retirement Policy Any policy should be inclusive, addressing all levels of employees from directors, managers, office and shop floor staff; it should ensure that it clearly states what constitutes age-related harassment or victimisation with examples.

More importantly is communicating to, and the training of your staff to ensure all are familiar with the company’s policies and culture, promoting the fact it highly values its multi-generational body. Subtle and often unintentional slights at work should be nipped in the bud. Having a robust internal policy and taking careful steps to implement it will put employers in a legally secure position. On the other hand, any refusal by staff – no matter what their age – to move with the times should be quickly understood and addressed. For example, a fear of new technology, which is a common factor today in the workplace.

Employers should ensure they have policies in place designed to prevent discrimination in: recruitment and selection; determining pay; training and development; selection for promotion; discipline and grievances; countering bullying and harassment.

Age discrimination – Key Points

ACAS has 30 years of experience in helping committed employers create effective policies and strategies. They cite four types of age discrimination:

1. Direct discrimination: treating someone less favourably because of their actual or perceived age, or because of the age of someone with whom they associate. This treatment can only be justified if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim which means it must be appropriate and necessary, (economic factors such as business needs and efficiency may be legitimate aims).

2. Indirect discrimination: can occur where there is a policy, practice or procedure which applies to all workers, but particularly disadvantages people of a particular age. For example, a requirement for job applicants to have worked in a particular industry for ten years may disadvantage younger people. Indirect discrimination can only be justified if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

3. Harassment: when unwanted conduct related to age has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.

4. Victimisation: unfair treatment of an employee who has made or supported a complaint about age discrimination.

Further information

For the different types of discrimination and the protected characteristics, see guidance on The Equality Act – what it means for you. More information on the incomes of the self employed: Tax Research LLP (Nov 2013).

Want a good business case?

Take a look at B&Q’s over 50s recruitment policy. They were the first British company to adopt an active over 50s recruitment policy in 1989. They employ more thatn 30,000 nationwide, more than a quarter of whom are over 50 with a similar number under the age of 25, priding themselves as having a diverse workforce reflective of the UK population.


The Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise supports business creation by the over 50s have a wealth of resources to help you on your journey, such as courses and online resources.

For olderpreneurs looking to start their own business more information can be found here

Words by: Sally-Anne Rogers
Original content: JobsTheWord

Part One in the ‘Silent Taboos’ series: ‘The Ex-offender’

Part Two in the ‘Silent Taboos’ series: ‘Working Mums and Dads’

Mike Sandiford
Head of Partnerships
0207 193 9931

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