It is illegal for employers to discriminate on grounds of age.
This is an important new development, as it is already illegal to treat people differently on grounds of gender, race or disability - yet ageism has traditionally been regarded as OK, leading to a situation where some 2.8 million people over 45 in Britain are without paid employment.
The demographic shift that we are currently undergoing, with a declining birth rate and ever-increasing life expectancy, means that we will probably need to work for longer anyway, in order to pay for pensions and other social benefits, so it makes sense to remove obstacles to continued employment, and gradually change the negative attitude that is prevalent in many industries.
The main areas are:
• Terms of employment
The rules apply to all employers, both private and public sector, as well as trade unions and professional organisations, employer organisations, vocational training providers, trustees and managers of occupational pension schemes.
They cover employees of any age, as well as all other workers, partners in firms and office holders.
• Recruitment advertisements will no longer be able to specify age, and employers will no longer be able to deny somebody an interview or job offer on the grounds of age. Although most discrimination is experienced by older workers, this law applies equally to lower age limits, unless they can be justified on objective grounds. Indirect discrimination - for example, specifying qualifications which older workers are less likely to have - is also illegal.
• Redundancy policies must not discriminate against older workers either directly (by selecting older workers for redundancy) or indirectly (for example, by selecting only part-time workers for redundancy, when many of these may be older workers). The only exception is where an age requirement can be justified in objective terms.
• Employers will no longer be able to compel people to retire below the age of 65, unless it can be justified objectively as necessary and appropriate.
• The upper age limit is removed for both unfair dismissal
and redundancy rights. Until now, there has been no right of
appeal against unfair dismissal for people older than 65, or above their
employer's normal retirement age if this is lower. Equally, there was
until now no requirement to pay statutory minimum redundancy payment to
workers aged under 18 or over 65 (or normal retirement age). Both the
upper and lower age limits for redundancy pay are removed.
• Training schemes must be equally available to employees, irrespective of age. Many older workers have been automatically screened out of training opportunities, due to a rather widespread assumption they are slower to learn and acquire new skills.
• Opportunities for promotion can no longer be denied on grounds of age.
• Employees now have a statutory right to ask to carry on working beyond compulsory retirement - and the employer is obliged to give the request serious consideration.
• Employers must give at least six months' written notice to employees of their intended retirement date, which should enable them to make better retirement plans.
Anybody who feels that they have been disadvantaged at work because of their age, or has been harrassed or discriminated against, can bring a claim before an Employment Tribunal.
Before taking this formal step, however, it is best to try and resolve the situation informally, by talking to your boss. You do not need to do this alone - you have the right to bring an employee representative to any meeting.
You can get free, confidential advice from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas). You can call the Acas helpline on 08457 474747 from 8.00 am to 6.00 pm Monday to Friday or visit their webesite www.acas.org.uk (it will open in a new window)
The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) can also provide free and impartial advice. The local CAB office will be in the phone book, or you can find your local CAB on-line (it will open in a new window)
Trade Union members can get both advice and support from their union.