The Age Discrimination Act 2004 is a Federal law that applies to everyone. Under the Act, Australians can lodge a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission.
In July 2011, the Government appointed its first Age Discrimination Commissioner, the Honourable Susan Ryan AO, to advocate for the elimination of age discrimination.
Individuals and employers can obtain information and advice about abolishing age discrimination in the workplace and compliance with the law from the Australian Human Rights Commission. The Commission can also mediate on disputes about discrimination in the workplace.
Age discrimination occurs when a person is unfairly treated or denied an opportunity due to their age. The Age Discrimination Act covers all types of employers and employment relationships, including the private sector, Commonwealth and State Governments, charities and associations, as well as contract and commission based work, and recruitment and employment agencies.
It also applies to all types of employees including apprentices and trainees, staff on probation, casual and permanent employees, and part-time and full-time employees.
Workforce age discrimination can arise in many situations including during the recruitment process, during redundancy, and opportunities and access to skills enhancement and further career progression.
Once unemployed, people aged 50 years and over are more likely to remain unemployed for longer periods of time compared to younger people. The type and prevalence of discrimination varies depending on the characteristics of individual workers, their jobs and the industry in which they are employed.
Employers need to ensure they have policies and programs in place that aim to prevent discrimination of all workers, including both young and mature age employees in the workplace. To begin, it is important to establish a clear definition of age discrimination in order to set unambiguous boundaries.
To date, there is an overall low incidence of employers who actively monitor their recruitment procedures and outcomes for age discrimination, while fewer monitor their promotion practices for direct discrimination or indirect discrimination or review their pay rates according to age.
Common manifestations of age discrimination
Age discrimination can be manifested in overt and covert forms. Overt age discrimination is open, observable and generally easily recognisable such as being directly told ‘you are too old for this job’.
Covert forms of age discrimination are often hidden and difficult to prove such as being left out of work meetings or not being invited to work social functions.
Common manifestations of age discrimination in the workplace may include but are not limited to:
During the recruitment stage
Older workers are often ‘screened out’ of the recruitment selection process. They may also be inadvertently discouraged from applying for positions due to the language used in job advertising (i.e. ‘dynamic’, ‘fast-paced’).
For more detailed tips outlining inclusive recruitment practices, go to the Recruitment section.
Access to education and training opportunities
Some employers may not consider older workers to be a good return on investment. Consequently, older workers are frequently denied the same access to education and training opportunities as their younger colleagues.
For more detailed tips ensuring equal access to education and training opportunities for all workers, go the Training and Lifelong Learning section.
Access to promotion and career advancement opportunities
Misperceptions held by some employers may include that older workers are close to retirement or will soon exit the workforce.
These often erroneous beliefs mean older workers are overlooked for promotion and career advancement opportunities. In addition, due to being denied access to further training, older workers’ skills may become out dated and redundant. This inadvertently excludes them from being competitive for promotion and career advancement opportunities.
For more detailed tips ensuring equal access to promotion and career advancement opportunities for all workers, go the Career Advancement Opportunities section.
Tips for abolishing age discrimination in the workplace
The Australian Human Rights Commission has prepared guidelines on how to develop anti-discrimination policies which should include:
- A strong opening statement on the organisation’s attitude to discrimination and harassment
- An outline of the organisation's objective to eliminate discrimination and harassment
- A clearly worded definition of discrimination and harassment
- A clear statement that everyone has a role in ensuring workplace harassment and discrimination does not occur
- A description of the likely consequences of discrimination or harassment
The Human Rights Commission also gives helpful tips on how to communicate and promote the anti-discrimination policies throughout your organisation.
For a full list of resources outlining further information on abolishing age discrimination in the workplace and compliance with the law, click here.