Is age discrimination unlawful?
Yes it is unlawful in most circumstances Whether you’re young, old or somewhere in between, everyone has the right to be treated equally. The ACT Discrimination Act 1991 makes it unlawful to treat a person unfavourably because of their age, just as it is unlawful to discriminate on the basis of a person’s sex, race or disability.
Stereotypes and negative attitudes towards younger or mature age people can affect their opportunities and be very discouraging. Individuals should not be disadvantaged just because of their age where age is irrelevant to their needs or abilities.
Example 1: A supervisor told a man he was passed over for a new employee because he was “too old for a promotion”. The Human Rights Commission investigated and conciliated the complaint and the employer agreed to pay compensation for his humiliation and distress and gave the man a new supervisor.
Example 2: Eight flight attendants aged over 36 won an age discrimination case against a leading airline. The company said it had not hired older cabin crew in a two-year recruitment drive because mostly young women had applied. One woman was told she didn’t have the right “flair”. The Tribunal found that the selection process was biased towards younger people, and the airline had discriminated on the ground of age.
For information about what young people can lawfully do at different ages, see the pamphlet “When can I?” published by ACT Legal Aid at www.legalaid.canberra.net.au/info.net.htm#publications
Direct and indirect discrimination
Direct age discrimination occurs when a person is treated unfavourably because of age.
- For example, an older job applicant is denied a position where the employer assumes that, because of the person’s age, he/she would not have the necessary computer skills.
Indirect age discrimination occurs when a requirement (or rule) that appears to be neutral and the same for everyone has an unfair effect on someone of a particular age, and is not reasonable in the circumstances.
- For example, if an employer requires an older person to meet a physical fitness test that younger people can meet more easily, it may be indirect age discrimination unless the fitness standard is reasonable for the job in question.
The Discrimination Act provides for exceptions, for example where there are genuine health and safety reasons. It allows for age limits to apply in relation to benefits and concessions. It also allows for positive discrimination or ‘special measures’ to meet particular needs. For details of exceptions please contact the Human Rights Commission.
Discrimination in public life:
Age discrimination is against the law when it happens in public life. For example
- Employment – a person aged 46 enquires about a “position vacant” notice, but is told the shop was looking for someone aged 17 21.
- Access to services – a superannuation fund does not provide online internet services to clients over 65.
- Accommodation – a family is refused rental accommodation because they have young children.
What can I do about discrimination?
You may choose to lodge a complaint of discrimination with the Human Rights Commission. The Commission investigates and tries to resolve complaints by conciliation. Where conciliation is successful, the agreement reached is put in writing and can be enforced in the same way as if it were an order of the Discrimination Tribunal.
Does the ACT Discrimination Act cover Commonwealth Agencies?
No, but the federal Age Discrimination Act 2004 applies. To make a complaint against a Commonwealth Department or agency and for further information about federal laws see www.humanrights.gov.au. You can contact the federal Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in Sydney on 1300 656 419.
Under the Discrimination Act 1991, discrimination is unlawful on grounds that include the following*:
- Race, including national and ethnic origin
- Status as a parent or carer
- Relationship status
- Religious conviction
* This is not a complete list of grounds. See our Information on the Discrimination Act for a complete list.
In the following areas:
- Goods, services and facilities
- Club membership
- Access to premises
- Access or membership of professional or trade organisations.
The Act also makes unlawful:
- Aiding and abetting discrimination
- Sexual harassment
- Victimisation because of making or supporting a discrimination complaint
- Advertising an intention to discriminate
- Vilification on the grounds of race, sexuality, gender identity or HIV/AIDS
ACT Human Rights Commission
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