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The UK, like many other states, is to introduce laws against age discrimination in jobs

By unknown | Jan 04, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Julian Knight

Julian Knight

LONDON - Age discrimination laws are to be introduced in the UK for the first time on October 1.

Many other countries around the world have introduced age laws before the UK.

BBC News examines what has happened in these early introducers and what lessons they may hold for the UK.


Denmark introduced age discrimination laws in 2004.

The Danish law is very similar to that set to be introduced in the UK.

The reason for the similarity is that both pieces of legislation are inspired by the European Union's Employment, Equality (age) Regulations.

In Denmark, it is against the law to discriminate on the grounds of age in all aspects of recruitment, dismissal, training and retirement prior to 65.

Like the UK, in Denmark employers have a get-out clause if it can be shown that it can be "objectively justified" that there is good business reasons for the discrimination.

However, there is one major difference between age rules in Denmark and the UK. Danish employees do not have an automatic right to request working beyond 65. From October 1, UK workers will.

According to Viv du-Feu, international head of employment at law firm Eversheds, if the Danish experience is anything to go by, October 1 will not lead to a rush of tribunal claims for age discrimination.

"There have been a grand total of two age discrimination tribunal cases in the whole of Denmark in the two years since the age laws were introduced.

"Partly, I think this is because Denmark is a more liberal society with a history of not discriminating.

"So few tribunal cases also indicates that workers have not yet caught on to what the age laws actually mean to them. All this could change, though, following a couple of high-profile cases."

United States

The US has had federal age discrimination laws since 1967, some states enacting their own laws as long ago as the 1920s.

The US law is much narrower in its scope than what is set to be introduced into the UK.

Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act it is unlawful to fire or fail to hire someone on the grounds of age if the employee is over 40.

This still leaves employees under the age of 40 unprotected and offers little in the way of protection in some aspects of working life such as training and benefits.

And despite having the longest standing age discrimination rules in the developed world, all is not well in the US. In fact, since the 1960s, like many Western countries, employment among the over 50s has fallen, not risen.

"It has become increasingly difficult to sustain a working life," Dr Kerry Platman, senior research associate at the University of Cambridge, said.

"The workplace is a tough place to be as you age, downsizing and managers failing to galvanise their staff properly."

But stateside there seems to be growing awareness and anger over age discrimination.

"There are now more claims against employers on the grounds of age discrimination than sex or race," Du-Feu said.

"The age laws are not as extensive as they are or soon will be in many parts of Europe.

"We now have a few states such as California trying to actively change attitudes. For example, all managers in California now have to undertake a few hours training on age, race and sex discrimination," Du-Feu added.

But the potential economic fallout of ageist hiring and firing is being masked by the fact that the US population is expanding and birth rates are high.

In other words, there are more young people entering the workforce in the US than Western Europe.


In many respects Ireland offers the closest parallel to the UK. But Ireland's law, introduced in 1998, predates the EU's Employment Equality (Age) Regulations.

In many respects Ireland's law has been a blueprint for other parts of Europe, including the UK.

But, it seems, age laws alone have little impact on the ease with which people in their 50s and 60s find work.

"The lesson to be drawn from Ireland and around the globe is that legislation isn't enough in itself. To bring about changes in behaviour needs an attitude change," Dr Platman said.

"It can be very difficult to prove age discrimination and win a claim."


Australia has long had a patchwork of state and federal age discrimination laws.

New South Wales was the first state to legislate against age discrimination in 1977, other states followed suit during the 1980s and 1990s.

On a federal level, laws were passed to combat age discrimination in 1996 and then again in 2004.

With such a plethora of laws, Australian workers are well protected - in a legal sense - from age discrimination.

A Joseph Rowntree study, published in 2001 found that Australian age rules had had an effect on some forms of overt discrimination, for example employers advertising for "young" staff.

However, the study concluded that there was no evidence of a "significant shift in the attitude of employers and society to older workers".

Legislation can only help to change attitudes if it is combined with employer education and other policies to promote equal rights for older workers, the study added.

Finally, the study concluded that getting rid of ageist employment practices was a "long term process".

lJulian Knight is a personal finance reporter for BBC News


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