What’s your age again? The AHRC has released a report on ageism in Australia

Discrimination takes many forms. When we think about “age discrimination”, discrimination against “older” workers is generally the first thing that comes to our mind. However, the reality is that young people are also subject to this type of discrimination.

In the workplace, older and younger workers experience ageism and discrimination of different kinds, which has diverse impacts on their ability to find a job and keep it. The Australian Human Rights Commission has recently released a report into ageism, which has found that young adults are most likely to experience ageism in the form of a condescending tone or being ignored, particularly at work, while middle-aged people are most likely to experience ageism in the form of being turned down for a job or position (35%).

Ageism and age discrimination are connected but are different concepts. Ageism can manifest through stereotypes and attitudes that affect individuals and can underpin behaviours that lead to age discrimination. For example, a stereotype that young people are “tech savvy” or older people are “frail”.

Age discrimination can occur in different stages of employment and include situations where a person, because of their age has been:

  • refused employment;
  • dismissed;
  • given less favourable terms or conditions of employment;
  • selected for redundancy;
  • questioned about retirement or an expectation that the employee will retire; or
  • bullied or harassed based on their age.

As we know, discrimination can be direct or indirect. Direct age discrimination happens when a person is treated less favourably because of his or her age than a person of another age would be treated in the same or similar circumstances. For example, it could be direct age discrimination if a person is selected for redundancy simply because of their age.

Indirect discrimination can be less obvious. It can happen when employers put in place conditions, requirements or practices which appear to treat everyone the same way, but which actually disadvantage some people because of their age.

A recent example that gives rise to consideration around potential indirect age discrimination is a growing new recruitment practice using an online video job application that can be made and submitted using the social media app Snapchat. Snapchat users can open the app and record a 10 second video about themselves and why they want to work for the employer.

The use of Snapchat could be argued to target young people. Most Snapchat users are aged between 17 and 34. This practice may raise questions around ageism, age discrimination and unconscious bias.

Key takeaway

Organisations need to be mindful when making decisions about employees that may be regarded as discriminatory or give a perception of discriminatory behaviour. Age discrimination is unlawful and employers are encouraged to take proactive steps to address age discrimination which may include putting in place policies and procedures to create a discrimination-free environment and have a workplace culture that embraces and promotes having a diverse workforce.

If you would like to discuss this further and the implications for your business please contact our Employment + Workplace Relations Partner, Erin Lynch or Lawyer, Rocio Jamardo Paradela.

The contents of this publication do not constitute legal advice and are for general information purposes only. You should seek legal advice regarding your particular circumstances.