Age is the new battleground

Jan 04 2008 by Nic Paton Print This Article

For the past year, Britain's ageing workforce has been protected by tough new age discrimination laws. But don't think for a minute that this means that employers' attitudes towards older (or younger) workers has improved.

In fact age-related grievances continue to rise sharply and, it is predicted, could in time overtake sex to become the most common type of discrimination case.

A study by HR consultancy Croner has suggested that, little more than a year on from laws banning age discrimination in the workplace, age is increasingly becoming the number one grievance between UK employers and employees.

Its poll of nearly 2,000 British workers found that more than a fifth felt they had been discriminated against because of their age.

This was three per cent more than those who felt they had been discriminated against as a result of their sex.

Similarly, age and sex were pinpointed as the most prominent forms of harassment among those who experienced such aggravation at work, said Croner.

The number of cases going to employment tribunal has also increased sharply, rising by 15 per cent between 2006 and last year, it argued.

The survey also suggested that age discrimination was now the most common form of discrimination experienced by employees, though whether there was actually more discrimination or simply more recognition of discrimination remains a moot point.

While sex claims currently remain the most common claims, Croner argued that age claims could in time overtake it and other forms of claim, such as race, sexual orientation, disability and religion or belief.

Croner's research echoes findings by the UK Employers Forum on Age which last autumn concluded that there had been a sharp increase in awareness of age discrimination on the back of the new laws.

Its survey found more than eight out of 10 Britons now knew it was illegal to discriminate on age at work yet, worryingly, some 16 million workers had witnessed ageist practices at work in the previous 12 months.

Gillian Dowling, technical consultant at Croner, said: "This form of prejudice has quickly become one of the more prominent forms of workplace discrimination defined by employment law.

"With 28,153 sex discrimination claims lodged between 2006/2007, sex remained the leading discrimination-related grievance of employment tribunal claims during this period.

"But with Croner's survey results showing that age discrimination has been experienced by more employees than sex discrimination, there is a very real risk to employers of increasing tribunal claims on the back of age prejudice," she added.

Employers needed to ensure that "too young" or "too old" were simply no longer a factor in any employment decision making, such as hiring and firing, she argued.

Other findings of the survey included the more optimistic conclusion that nearly three quarters of those polled had never been the victim of discrimination on the grounds of age, sex, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or disability.

Similarly, more than eight out of 10 said they had never been the victim of harassment on the grounds of age, sex, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or disability.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many more women than men said they had experienced sexual discrimination at work Ė a fifth of women compared with four per cent of men.

Age discrimination was experienced by almost equal numbers of men and women, 11 per cent against 10 per cent respectively, it found.

Just three per cent of those polled felt they have been discriminated against because of their race or disability, falling to two per cent when it came to discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or religion or belief.