Age discrimination

Age discrimination is against the law and is defined by the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board (ADB) as “when you have been treated unfairly because of your age or because you are the relative, friend or colleague of someone of a particular age”. Indirect discrimination is also against the law. This is when there is a rule or requirement that is the same for everyone but unfairly affects people of a particular age or age group.

In 2015 the Australian Human Rights Commission engaged research firm EY Sweeney to conduct research to explore the experience and impact of employment-related age discrimination amongst older Australians.

This study revealed four key types of age discrimination from being ‘shut out’ at the point of recruitment; ‘pigeon holing’ and being stuck in a role; being targeted for redundancy or during a restructure and the culture of a workplace and its managerial practices. Some of the behaviours that clearly presented overt age discrimination included the intent to manage out an older individual despite their performance and expertise.

The global non-profit organisation Catalyst produced a ‘trend brief’ in 2019 about gendered ageism. Authors Sophia Ahn and Amelia Costigan identified that ageism in the UK affects women earlier and harder starting around age 40 for women compared to age 45 for men. They found that older women face marginalisation based on “lookism,” or gendered youthful beauty standards in addition to the unfounded societal biases that older employees are less innovative, adaptive, and generally less qualified. In one study, women managers reported feeling pressure to adhere to societal beauty standards and ‘maintain a young look’.

Associate Professor Alysia Blackham, University of Melbourne, published an analysis earlier this year on the likelihood of women to make an age discrimination claim. She acknowledged that ageism and sexism are nothing new, however, countries are increasingly reporting on age bias, particularly against women. Blackham reports that ageism is the most common type of discrimination in the UK and Europe and in the US around 61 per cent of workers aged 45 or over reported witnessing or experiencing ageism in the workplace.

Blackham found that in Australia women also report experiencing high levels of age discrimination at work. This research identified that women were more likely than men to report that their experience of discrimination affected their self-esteem, mental health or stress levels. Blackham concludes that a more proactive and preventative approach to address any organisational failings is needed.


As the Australian Human Rights Commission study found, a fundamental requirement to eliminate age discrimination is the necessity to shift the stereotypes and misconceptions around older workers. It is vital to recognise “their capacity and capability and inspire a more positive understanding and appreciation of the older worker”.

If you are subjected to or witness age discrimination do not allow the situation to continue. Federation’s information leaflet on TR8 — Discrimination provides advice on how to act, including:

  • tell the person that their behaviour is inappropriate and that it must stop
  • document the dates and circumstances of the perceived discrimination
  • obtain advice about how to lodge a formal complaint.


  • Federation Professional Support, phone 1300 654 367
  • Federation information leaflet TR8 – Discrimination
  • “Menopause can lead to discrimination”,