Age discrimination at work

What is the extent of age discrimination in Australian workplaces? What can you do if you experience this? Susan Ryan has the answer.

The National prevalence survey of age discrimination in the workplace report recently released by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has revealed the prevalence, nature and impact of age discrimination in our workplaces.

This report is the first of its kind in Australia, and the results are disturbing. Over a quarter of Australians aged 50 years and over indicated that they had experienced some form of age discrimination in the workplace in the last two years.

Age discrimination can take a variety of forms. The most common types of age discrimination reported in the study were:

  • limited employment, promotion or training
  • opportunities (52 per cent of people)
  • a perception that older employees have outdated skills, are slow to learn new things or will deliver an unsatisfactory job (44 per cent of people)
  • jokes or derogatory comments from managers or
  • colleagues based on age (42 per cent of people).

At the AHRC, we regularly hear from members of the public who report experiencing age discrimination in the workplace, or in the recruitment process, and describe the negative impacts this has on their health, finances and family life.

The results of this research indicate that 60 per cent of people who experienced age discrimination found that it affected their self-esteem or mental health, or caused them stress. Others also reported that it had a negative impact on their family or career, or made them consider changing their occupation or retraining.

Aside from the disastrous effect it can have on people’s lives, age discrimination is also a huge waste of human capital. Our report found that many people who experience age discrimination in the workplace subsequently give up looking for work or think about retiring or accessing their superannuation.

With the latest Intergenerational Report projecting that the number of Australians aged 65 and over will more than double by 2055 and that life expectancy will continue to increase, we simply cannot afford to waste the talents of people who are willing and able to work.

So, what can we do?

The key to removing age discrimination from Australian workplaces is for employers to overcome negative stereotypes of older people and realise their value as employees.

The AHRC has also recently launched a ‘Willing to Work: National Inquiry into Employment Discrimination against Older Australians and Australians with Disability’. You can visit our website for more information.

Contact the AHRC for advice or to make a complaint if you feel you have experienced age discrimination at work.

Phone: 1300 656 419 or 02 9284 9888

Email: [email protected]

Written by susanry



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