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The True Cost of an Age Discrimination Work Tribunal

Treating someone poorly because of their age isn’t just illegal, it’s also a big business risk. Any employer found guilty of age discrimination is facing an eye-watering financial hit.

James Marsh
James Marsh
A published author, as well as a corporate and lifestyle media professional, James works across content, marketing and consultancy.

£340,000 Awarded for Using Age as a Reason for Dismissal

In October 2023, a 62-year-old scientist was awarded £340,000 for age discrimination by his employers.(1) The company, PetroTrace in Surrey, had shockingly written internal emails describing the scientist as “expensive” and “a pensioner”. The court agreed that it was a clear case of ageism and ruled “age was the reason why the claimant was singled out for dismissal and then dismissed.” And then they hit PetroTrace with that massive fine.

It’s a sobering reminder that ageism in the workplace doesn’t just hurt the employee suffering discrimination, it also hurts the employer – hitting finances and damaging their reputation. Plus, preparing a defence for an upcoming tribunal increases workloads as employees are pulled away from their day-to-day work by legal teams who need to know all the background. Of course, staff morale also takes a tumble when word gets out, especially among other older employees. The thought is there: “Who wants to work for a company that behaves like that?”

Huge Increase in Workplace Complaints About Ageism

PetroTrace was an extreme case, but tragically employees being treated adversely because of their age is far from rare. Between March 2020 and March 2021, there were 15,336 cases that included a complaint of age discrimination(2) – an all-time high. This was a sixfold increase on the figures for 2019. Yup, there’s a whole lot of ageism in Britain’s workplaces.

And as the number of older workers increases, it is likely the risk of age discrimination will grow – unless workplaces take action to stamp out ageism, now. After all, age is a legally protected characteristic, just like disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or sex. There are nine Government protected characteristics(3) – but many people still think it’s OK to laugh about “the old timer needing a nap.” It’s a joke that will go very sour when it goes to court.

Firms Can Expect to Face a Bill of at Least £30,000

Worryingly, the officially recorded cases are probably the tip of the iceberg – they’re just the complaints that make it to a tribunal. Most age discrimination allegations are settled before the case even gets to court. In fact, it’s estimated that fewer than 1% of all discrimination cases reach a work tribunal.(4) That means there are probably many more cases of ageist behaviour towards employees than we realise.

According to Government figures for 2022-23, the average award for age discrimination claims is £14,210.(5) That doesn’t include legal costs, which are typically around £15,000 per case but, as we’ve seen, can be much more. For companies that lose just one case, the combined court award and legal costs mean they’re typically looking at an unwanted bill of around £30,000. Even if they are covered by insurance, their premiums will be facing a hike the next year.

Colleagues arguing and looking stressed
Multigenerational team talking to eachother

Sectors Where Ageism Is “Rife”

As long as ageism is seen as OK by some, age discrimination will continue to cost employers money and damage their reputation. It’s no surprise that some sectors seem worse than others. Three industries where ageism is frequently described as “rife” are (6):

• Manufacturing

• Technology

• Finance

And not far behind are:

• Retail (7)

• Media, Marketing and Advertising (8)

• Hospitality

If you’re in one on those sectors, have you witnessed colleagues being ageist or noticed that there’s institutional ageism? If so, now is the time to do something about it, before you’re making that unwelcome trip to court.

Sense Check if Your Organisation Is at Risk

Ultimately, Age Discrimination is an unnecessary threat to business that no company needs to risk. But how can a manager perform a sense check on how their organisation is doing?

One of the easiest and most-cost effective ways is through a R/AGE Readiness score. This unique tool takes companies through some simple step-by-step questions that provides a snapshot of age inclusivity, based on a globally tried and tested inclusivity methodology.

It helps managers understand where they are on their journey to become an age-inclusive employer and what steps they need to take to retain over-50s talent. And it’s a lot more rewarding (and significantly cheaper) than going to court.