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Know your rights: Age discrimination

Know your rights: Age discrimination

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Getting older (and wiser) is usually something to be celebrated, but there’s little doubt that ageism is a real form of discrimination in the workplace.

And while the year on your birth certificate shouldn’t have any impact on your job, it’s worth knowing what counts as age discrimination, as well as your rights if you’ve been discriminated against – either at work or during the hiring process.

Why does age discrimination happen?

“Age discrimination occurs because of negative assumptions about people's age,” says Andrew Jewell, principal lawyer with Jewell Hancock Employment Lawyers.

“So it might be that for a younger employee there’s an assumption about their preparedness to work or their experience.

“For older workers, there might be an assumption that they don’t want to be at a role for a particular period of time, or they won’t be able to grapple with technology or they won’t be willing to learn.”

Jewell says while many of these assumptions are outdated, they are unfortunately very common in both society and the workforce. But if age discrimination does happen to you, it’s not something that you have to accept.

How do I know if it’s age discrimination?

Age discrimination occurs if you’re treated less favourably or not given the same opportunities as others in a similar situation, because you are considered to be too old or too young.

Examples of age discrimination can include:

  • Being dismissed from your job because of your age.
  • A workplace enforcing a particular retirement age.
  • A workplace not employing younger workers because of assumptions that they’re not serious about career progression.
  • Being harassed or bullied because of your age.
  • A workplace not employing certain people because they won’t ‘fit in’ due to their age.

I think I’ve been discriminated against due to my age. What now?

The Age Discrimination Act 2004 (ADA) and the Fair Work Act 2009 each prohibit discrimination in employment on the basis of age. It applies to workers of any age.

According to Jewell, there are four steps to follow if you think you’ve experienced age discrimination:

  1. If your workplace has an anti-discrimination policy or grievance policy, look at these to help you clearly state your complaint.
  2. Report the matter to your manager.
  3. If it doesn’t get resolved with your manager, lodge a formal complaint to HR.
  4. If the situation doesn’t get resolved to your satisfaction, you can make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission or contact the Fair Work Comission for assistance.

What if age discrimination happens when I’m looking for a job?

If you’re a job seeker who thinks you’ve been discriminated against because of your age during the advertising, recruitment or selection process, Jewell recommends going directly to external agencies.

“For candidates, it might be harder to take those informal steps and go to the employer directly or to access the HR department,” he says. “There’s the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Fair Work Comission, and you can make a complaint or an application to each of those bodies if you feel you’ve been discriminated against on the basis of age.”

Not being given the same opportunities or being treated differently because of your age is discriminatory. If you’re concerned that you’ve been discriminated against, it’s your right to try and resolve the issue with your workplace, lodge a complaint with an external organisation or contact an employment lawyer.

Information provided in this article is general only and it does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. SEEK provides no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability or completeness. Before taking any course of action related to this article you should make your own inquiries and seek independent advice (including the appropriate legal advice) on whether it is suitable for your circumstances.

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