Age equality overview

This part of Work45+ covers

“Young, old and everyone in between – Australians of all ages have the right to be treated fairly and to enjoy the same opportunities as others.”
– Australian Human Rights Commission1

Age equality is the law.

This means employers and recruiters must not discriminate against a person on the basis of their age.

An employer may ask a job applicant their age or date of birth for statistical or validation purposes, but cannot use that information in the recruitment decision. If you believe you have been denied employment due to your age, this would amount to age discrimination. Because age discrimination is unlawful, you are able to make a complaint if you believe it has occurred.

It’s unlawful to discriminate against older job seekers and employees

The rights of older job seekers and employees are protected by Acts of Australian and Tasmanian parliaments.

  • According to the Commonwealth Fair Work Act 2009, one form of unlawful workplace discrimination occurs when an employer takes negative action against an employee or prospective employee because of their age.2
  • According to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998, a person must not discriminate against another person on the ground of age in regard to employment.3
  • According to the Federal Age Discrimination Act 2004, “it is unlawful to discriminate on the ground of age in respect of…employment and other related matters.”4

Some exemptions are outlined in the legislation. For example, the Age Discrimination Act allows for positive discrimination in some limited circumstances.

Except for the legislated exemptions, employers must not discriminate against older people either in the recruitment process or during their employment.

Despite this, research by the Australian Human Rights Commission indicates that too few employers and recruiters understand their responsibilities.

“The Commission’s Willing to Work report, published in 2016 makes it clear that many older Australians are willing and able to work but are prevented from doing so by age discrimination and lack of positive policies and supports.”
– Australian Human Rights Commission5

It’s unlawful to discriminate in ads

According to legislation, employers and recruitment agencies must also be careful how they word job ads so as not to discriminate against older job seekers. Equal Opportunity Tasmania gives the following examples:

Young, enthusiastic receptionist
Insisting only young people can apply may be unlawful. Instead, use ‘enthusiastic receptionist’.6

Junior position
This should be replaced with ‘position offering junior wages’, as it is against the law to prevent an older person from applying for a position just because it has a low pay grade.7

Job seekers can make a complaint

If you’re an older job seeker and feel you’ve been overlooked for a job or made to feel bad in a job interview because of your age, you can make a formal complaint. We give more information about this on the Work45+ web page called “Making an age-discrimination complaint”.

“It is unthinkable that people who lose their jobs in their 50s may live up to another forty years without paid employment.”
– Australian Human Rights Commission8

Ageism is not okay

True age equality is impossible in a workplace where there is ageism.

“Ageism is the stereotyping and discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age; ageism can take many forms, including prejudicial attitudes, discriminatory practices, or institutional policies and practices that perpetuate stereotypical beliefs.”
– World Health Organization9

Ageism is unlawful and may be the subject of a complaint or report to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner.

For information about how to create a workplace free of ageism where older workers will thrive, visit our web page “Fostering age diversity in the workplace“.

Take the EveryAGE Counts Pledge

To show you’re opposed to ageism in any form, why not sign the EveryAGE Counts pledge and display it prominently?

You can find the pledge on the EveryAGE Counts website here.

EveryAGE Counts is an advocacy campaign aimed at tackling ageism against older Australians. Its website also has a wealth of videos, tools and research that can be used to help avoid ageism anywhere, including in workplaces.

While you’re on the EveryAGE Counts website, check out the video narrated by actor Bryan Brown. Just scroll down the home page to find it.

Share this article

  1. Australian Human Rights Commission, Age Discrimination, accessed April 2020
  2. Fair Work Ombudsman, What is Workplace Discrimination, accessed April 2020
  3. Anti-discrimination Act 1998
  4. Age Discrimination Act 2004
  5. Australian Human Rights Commission 2012, About Age Discrimination
  6. Equal Opportunity Tasmania, Guidelines When Publishing and Advertising, accessed April 2020
  7. Equal Opportunity Tasmania, Guidelines When Publishing and Advertising, accessed April 2020
  8. Australian Human Rights Commission 2020, Willing to Work Report Implementation
  9. World Health Organization 2020, Ageing and Life-Course