NewsWhy it's not just crazy to discriminate against older workers — it's also illegal

Why it's not just crazy to discriminate against older workers — it's also illegal

Getting older is one thing but being denied access to work because of your birthdate is quite another, and illegal to boot if it amounts to discrimination.

But how aged does an older worker need to be, in order to either feel or be discriminated against? Not as ancient as you might think.

The question has inflamed FiftyUp members ever since we launched in 2013 and as ever depends on who you ask.

Some people in their forties, let alone their fifties, feel left on the shelf by HR departments. It's ironic the assumption you may be discriminated against can be more debilitating than the actual act.

Last week, the issues reignited when the Federal Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones highlighted the plight of jobless older Australians before the aged pension kicks in.

📻 Christopher Zinn talks to Radio 2GB & 4BC about jobs and the over-50s 📻

He said there needed to be a much better solution for those aged 55-64 around employment as well as for two other enormous subjects - super and housing - that we will return to another time.

"We've got this silent crisis going on in policy for older workers, and it seems to be invisible, and our policy responses are inadequate," he said. It's an understatement.

My initial reaction was why stop at 64 apart from it being the pithy title of a Beatles song?  Access to the age pension is 66 years old and by the way, increases to 66 years and six months on July 1 2021.

There are plenty of Australians who need to keep working to prop up their retirement savings or who want to keep engaged in the world of work for other reasons.

It's well known if work can be flexible in terms of timing and location, it's more attractive to mature workers.

It's also well-known thanks to some research by the Human Rights Commission, which targets discrimination against older workers that various myths are just that.

For example, older people can be cost-effectively trained to use new technologies and are the fastest-growing IT users. And it will come as no surprise to readers that experience is a better indicator of productivity than age.

You can read and delight in the HRC's full list of myth-busting facts here to encourage older workers back into the fray and for employers to give them a go.

In the meantime, there have been government interventions such as the Restart wage subsidy to incentivise business to the tune of $10,000 to employ or retain workers aged over 50.

But it's hardly been a roaring success, and COVID wage subsidies have been aimed at much younger workers.

But the pandemic might yet drive some positive change in this area. If we will be working more remotely and from home surely age, apart from grey-hair on Zoom calls, should be less relevant?

Also given the flexibility this new world of work offers, perhaps it will prove more attractive to older workers too?

Aged discrimination around work is illegal, and while it can be hard to prove and prosecute, employers would do well to realise the risks.

The extension of life expectancy and health in general means many older Australians can and even want to work longer, and the message needs to get through powerfully.


Any information is general advice, it does not take into account your individual circumstances, objectives, financial situation or needs.

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Why it's not just crazy to discriminate against older workers — it's also illegal

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Anonymous from QLD commented:

People over 50s with extensive experience in the work force at all levels not only are discriminated against finding a new job but they are also asked to retrain or to study some silly subject just to keep them occupied, knowing very well that whatever they do, employment will still remain a remote opportunity because of their age. I have a typical example in my family where a fully qualified accountant with years of experience at high level of responsibility in Government (Head of Dpt/Chief executive) and private business (CEO) cannot even find a job as a bookkeeper. For two years he's been applying for all sorts of jobs, even in the most remote areas of Australia, with the usual result. Maybe politicians over 50's should all be placed on the job-seeker list. 

Anonymous from QLD commented:

Maybe for this fellow in my opinion would be setup and run his own practice given his experiences at CEO, accountancy, executive and so on. Maybe the interviewers don't like his government back ground. He would find it rewarding not having to bough to a younger lesser experienced on a power trip. 

Ron from VIC commented:

From the age of 50 it goes down. How can you hide your age when every time you apply you have to put your date of birth ... that should be eliminated for older people. My husband who is 62 had a long interview on zoom which he researched said everything right, has a lot experience and got told the reason he didn't get the job was he was too layback from the Agency feedback. What does that mean (maybe once they saw him realised he was OLD 

Anonymous from QLD commented:

I am sorry if I don't feel sorry for some of these people now left without jobs. Perhaps some of them are those who discriminated against me 25 years ago when I finished my degree & they wanted me to work for nothing for 3 months ^ then I could work in aged care. I would not be dictated to & left the workforce. What a waste. I actually wanted to go into palliative care, which I loved. 

Anonymous from QLD commented:

Not sure who you direct your comment to, However it seems you are saying that people now expressing their experience of aged worker discrimination deserve it because you’ve concluded they did similar to you as a younger worker?! 

Anonymous from QLD commented:

As a fit correct weight for age male performing physically demanding field employment I can say from my experience of over 3 decades with a well know organisation in Qld that workplace injuries and old age workers are at risk. Younger managers backed by upper management of similar age group to me get away with unconscionable “bullying” with comments like”well if you can’t do the job as per your job description”, which in my case all I wanted was to work within my limits of recovery time after serious surgery. In other words they have no respect for experience, years of reliable commitment and most certainly knowing the business, was all sanctioned by Managers protecting their own via HR. Loyalty is not a 2 way street I had discovered. I now don’t trust younger business “leaders” with a question mark every time. Cheers. 

Anonymous from NSW commented:

No question this is a growing issue and companies prefer to turn the other way and just dismiss it as "it's the way the tide is flowing so we are aligned with the mob' ! I work for a major international firm and in the last 10 days alone I have listened to three comments (in open meeting forum) specifically stating that older workers were not really desired and in one case a senior exec colleague was of the view that the company felt that males in their 40s were a category to be avoided for hire ! I have warned our HR team that this issue is building and no doubt that legal cases are looming. More publicity of the matter is required 

Anonymous from QLD commented:

Age discrimination is a silent poison.. My husband needed to leave his job because of a health crisis at the time.. Once he recovered & was good to go again, he couldn’t even get passed the front door in most places.. Disgusting considering even tho he knew a lot of people in his industry they never returned even a phone call.. It made him feel worthless.. He was 62 at the time.. Even when you think you know a lot of people, there is still the silent discrimination going on with the younger bosses of today.. Most big companies make younger people bosses before they are 20yrs old.. These young people haven’t even known life let alone understand people have the right to be able to make a living.. They are also told by higher up HR Department’s that tell them if they ring back that they wish them every success in their future endeavours but they have picked out a suitable candidate for the job.. Industry know.They know how to word things & how to get away with it.. While we continue to see big business with this mind set, illegal or not, you will never see change.. 

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