What is age
Everybody wants a fair go in life but discrimination means that some people are denied opportunities or are treated badly. This is unfair, unnecessary and against the law. Anti-discrimination legislation makes it easier for everybody to get a fair go in life by telling us about our rights and responsibilities as well as establishing processes for making a complaint about discrimination and for resolving complaints.
The Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 says that it is against the law to discriminate against people because of their age (whether they are young or old). It is also against the law to discriminate against a person on the basis of their association with or relation to someone of a particular age.
The Act also makes other forms of discrimination and sexual harassment against the law. For more information please refer to the ADCQ’s anti-discrimination and sexual harassment information brochures.
What is age discrimination?
Age discrimination occurs when someone is treated unfairly or badly compared to others because of how old they are. This happens because people have unfair, old-fashioned, stereotypical or prejudiced ideas or beliefs about older people or young people in particular.
Age discrimination can also happen in a more indirect way. Sometimes a condition, rule or policy which seems to be fair or neutral can actually have a greater negative impact on people of a particular age. For example, a job advertisement specifying that applicants must have at least 10 years experience would disadvantage young people. Unless this was a reasonable requirement of the job it would be indirect discrimination and against the law.
When is age discrimination against the law?
The Anti-Discrimination Act says that it is against the law to discriminate against people in particular circumstances, including when they:
Not all discrimination is against the law. The legislation is very specific. Particular exemptions mean that not all forms of discrimination are against the law in all circumstances.
The Anti-Discrimination Act provides a range of exemptions that can be argued. It is also possible to apply to the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal for the granting of an exemption.
What are some examples of age discrimination?
After finishing high school Lauren got a well paid job and decided to move out of home. A real estate agent told her that he felt she was too young to be a reliable tenant and he was worried that "all her young friends and parties might damage the property". Lauren complained about age discrimination and as a result of conciliation received an apology, assistance from the real estate agent in finding suitable accommodation and an undertaking that the agency would implement an anti-discrimination policy in order to avoid similar age discrimination in the future.
Ahmed applied for and was interviewed for a job as manager of a new fashionable cafe. Although his many years of experience were considered favourably Ahmed was told that he didn’t get the position because he was "too old". He was told that because it was a new modern cafe only bright young people who would project an exciting contemporary image were wanted. Ahmed submitted a complaint and as a result of conciliation he received an apology and an agreement by the employer to reconsider his application on merit.
Helen had been working with a marketing firm for many years and applied to undertake internal training in new information services being developed by the company. Her application was denied because management thought she was too old to learn new information technology like Internet and World Wide Web marketing. Helen was directly discriminated against on the basis of her age and could complain. Possible outcomes from conciliation might include an apology from management, an opportunity to undertake the training and the establishment of an appropriate training policy for all staff.
Fred wanted to advertise an employment vacancy and specificed that applicants should be at least 25 years old. The publisher refused to accept Fred’s advertisement because it was discriminatory and against the law. Publishers can be complained about and even fined for publishing discriminatory advertisements.
What are some examples of age discrimination exemptions?
In education it is lawful for educational institutions to select students on the basis of a minimum qualifying age, eg. setting aside places for mature age students.
In employment it is lawful to offer a youth wage for people under 21. Exemptions also apply for genuine occupational requirements, eg. selecting an actor for a dramatic performance on the basis of age for reasons of authenticity, or requiring only people over 18 to work on licensed premises. However, except in very limited circumstances, it is against the law to make employees retire once they reach a certain age or to ask an employee to sign an agreement that they will retire at a certain age. People cannot be asked to enter into unlawful agreements.
Age based benefits and concessions, such as pensioner and child discounts at cinemas and for travel, are also allowed under the legislation. Welfare or equal opportunity measures designed to benefit or promote equal opportunity for people of a particular age are also lawful, eg. training programs restricted to unemployed youth.
In relation to superannuation and insurance it is lawful to refuse to provide a service or to impose certain reasonable conditions because of a person’s age, eg. limiting life insurance benefits for a previously uninsured 80 year old person.
Who is responsible for age discrimination?
Anyone who unfairly discriminates against another person because of their age can be complained about and may be liable under the law. Because employers are obliged by law to protect staff and clients from unfair discrimination an employer or organisation can also be liable for age discrimination done by their employees or agents. To minimise such vicarious liability reasonable steps must be taken to prevent age discrimination.
An employer or organisation cannot avoid vicarious liability simply because they were not aware of the age discrimination done by their employees or agents. In practice, vicarious liability means that a complaint against an individual may also be sent to their employer.
The ADCQ can provide more detailed information and advice about vicarious liability and reasonable steps to minimise it.
What can I do about age discrimination?
The Anti-Discrimination Act says that everybody has the right to be treated fairly and to take action if age discrimination occurs. The legislation establishes processes for making a complaint about age discrimination and for resolving complaints as quickly as possible, usually through conciliation.
If you believe you have been discriminated against because of your age you have the right to lodge a complaint with the ADCQ. Complaints can be submitted up to a year after the time of the discrimination. If you have had a complaint lodged against you the ADCQ will provide you with the substance of the complaint, explain why the complaint is accepted and allow you a fair opportunity to give your side of the story. The ADCQ may also conduct further investigation into the complaint.
The Anti-Discrimination Act also says that everybody has a duty to ensure that age discrimination is minimised or prevented. This means that everybody has a responsibility to treat others fairly and to take responsibility for their own behaviour.
There are a number of ways to prevent or minimise age discrimination. The ADCQ can provide detailed information and can help with the development and implementation of appropriate anti-discrimination policies and practices. Confidential advice about particular situations can be provided by the ADCQ on request. Staff of the ADCQ are available for workplace and organisational training and education. Fees are charged for some training. Please contact the ADCQ’s community relations team for information about education services.
What happens if a complaint about age discrimination is accepted?
The purpose of the ADCQ’s complaint handling process is to help everyone work out a solution which both sides can agree on. This is called conciliation and is an informal, impartial and private process. Conciliation is used to resolve complaints by bringing together the people involved in a dispute to talk through the problem and try to fix it in some way. The ADCQ employs conciliators to help with the complaint process. Conciliators are impartial and do not take sides, impose a settlement or decide guilt or innocence. Their role is to ensure that the complaint process is run fairly and that everyone involved is given a fair chance to have their say. Complaint and conciliation services of the ADCQ are free. For more information please refer to the ADCQ’s complaint handling information brochure.
Importantly, the Anti-Discrimination Act also prohibits victimisation. Victimisation happens when someone who has been complained about threatens or harasses others involved in the complaint. This is a serious matter and strong penalties can be imposed for victimisation. If you think you are being victimised you should contact the ADCQ immediately.
How can I get help in relation to age discrimination?
Whether you think you have been discriminated against because of your age or want to find out how to minimise or prevent age discrimination the ADCQ can help. One of the roles of the ADCQ is to inform and educate everyone in Queensland - including individuals, employers, goods and services providers and government - about their rights and responsibilities under anti-discrimination law. Please contact the ADCQ for information, assistance and advice.
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