What is age discrimination?

Too often we are told there are oceans dividing Boomer, Gen X and Gen Y – a generational tribalism which breeds presumptions about different age groups. Age Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Ryan, discusses how this can result in damaging stereotyping.

Age discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favourably than another person in a similar situation because of their age. Age discrimination also occurs when a rule or policy is the same for everyone but has an unfair effect on people of a particular age.

Discrimination can be experienced directly; particularly in the workplace. Our research shows that employers?often feel older workers are resistant to change, have difficulty learning new tasks and prefer not to use technology. Age discrimination can also arise indirectly. Older people can feel ‘invisible’ in many retail and social situations, while jokes can create environments where older Australians feel unwelcome and inadequate.

All Australians now have the right to be free from age discrimination under the federal Age Discrimination Act 2004.

If you feel you may be the victim of age discrimination, you should not remain silent. You may want to deal with the situation by raising it directly with the person or people involved, or with a supervisor or manager. You can also make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

In 2013, we received 157 age discrimination complaints: 57.5 per cent about employment, and 23 per cent about goods, services and facilities. Forty-five per cent of complaints were substantial and went to conciliation. Of these, 76 per cent were resolved successfully.

For example, Nora, a 60-year-old woman employed as a casual for two years with a club, was made redundant. She alleged this was because of her age, and claimed a younger person was later employed in her position. The club said that Nora’s employment had been finalised for operational reasons. The complaint was resolved through conciliation at the Australian Human Rights Commission. The club agreed to reinstate Nora to her former position, pay financial compensation and provide her with a letter of apology.

The bottom line is that people should?be treated with respect and dignity, irrespective of age. In most circumstances, discriminatory treatment based on age is not acceptable.


You may like to read the Australian Human Rights Commission’s guide Your Rights At Retirement. Limited stocks of hard copies are available on request (ph 1300 369 711).

If you experience age discrimination, you may make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission. Complaints are confidential and free of charge. Phone the National Information Service on 1300 656 419, or email [email protected]

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