Age equality in employment
It is against the law to discriminate against anyone in employment based on their age. This is set out in the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015, which covers discrimination in the workplace.
The law on discrimination only applies to people aged 16 and over. However, there are some exceptions to this. You can read more about the rights of young workers.
The law on young workers is set out in the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act 1996.
What is discrimination?
Discrimination is when an employer treats you less favourably to another employee or job candidate on any of the nine protected grounds specified below. This is known as direct discrimination.
As an employee, you are protected against discrimination under the following grounds (reasons):
- Civil status
- Family status
- Sexual orientation
- Membership of the Traveller community
This is outlined in the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015.
Types of discrimination
In addition to direct discrimination, there are several other types of discrimination. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has examples of these.
This is when practices or policies do not appear to discriminate against one group more than another, but actually have a discriminatory impact. This can also happen where a requirement that may appear non-discriminatory negatively affects a particular group or class of people.
Discrimination by association
This happens when a person is treated less favourably because they are associated with or connected to another person who comes under one or more of the nine grounds.
Discrimination by imputation
This is discrimination against a person because they are incorrectly assumed (imputed) to be a member of one of the protected groups.
This relates to:
- Equal pay
- Access to employment
- Conditions of employment (excluding pensions)
- Training or experience
- Promotion or regrading or classification of job positions
Where might you encounter discrimination?
You may experience discrimination from different groups and organisations. The law bans discrimination by:
- Employment agencies
- Providers of vocational training
- Trade unions
- Employer organisations
- Professional bodies
- Trade associations
Discrimination in job advertisements is also banned.
When is it not considered discrimination?
There are certain situations where an employer may have to set age restrictions in work.
An employer can:
- Set a minimum age requirement (up to 18 years) when recruiting
- Set a maximum recruitment age where it would not be worthwhile financially for an older person to apply for the job. For example, where training is involved and there is not enough time for the employer to make back the costs of the training before the person retires
- Offer a fixed-term contract to a person over the compulsory retirement age once it is objectively justified
For an occupational benefits scheme (also known as company or employers’ pensions), an employer is allowed to treat employees different on the age ground in certain circumstances.
The Pensions Authority has detailed guidance and examples of equal pension treatment (pdf). Section 6.7 covers the age ground and allowed exceptions.
Positive action is where an employer takes specific steps to improve equality in a workplace by employing a person from an underrepresented group.
The law also allows for positive action on a number of grounds including age. For example, a company could use positive action statement in recruitment ads to say they welcome applications from people over a certain age.
If you think you've been discriminated against
If you feel that you have been discriminated against on the grounds of age, there are several steps you can follow.
- Talk to your employer to try and resolve the problem.
- If this doesn’t work, make a complaint to the WRC using the online complaint form. You must make your complaint within 6 months of the last act of discrimination. The time limit can be extended by a further 6 months, but only if there is valid reason why you could not make the complaint sooner.
You can read or download a free guide to taking an employment equality case from the Community Law and Mediation (CLM) website. CLM also offers free legal information, advice and mediation services.
Get more help
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Workplace Relations Commission work to ensure equality at work.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC)
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission works to promote human rights and equality. You can contact IHREC for help If you believe you have been discriminated against.
The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC)
The Workplace Relations Commission can investigate or mediate disputes about employment equality.
If you make a complaint about age discrimination, an adjudication officer will investigate and try to resolve the issue.