The BBC was recently accused of ageism by, among others, Labour's Deputy Leader and Equalities Minister, Harriet Harman, when they replaced Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips with Alesha Dixon, a young woman half her age. The BBC responded to complaints by stating that Phillips was replaced as a result of a review process, "with the balance and flavour of the [judges] panel in mind and nothing else".
The fact the BBC received so many complaints (over 1,350) demonstrates what a minefield this area of law can be. If you own or manage a company you are responsible for the behaviour and actions of your employees, managers and third-parties such as customers and suppliers. The main danger areas to look out for are when hiring, promoting or dismissing people or selecting them for redundancy however you could also get into trouble over a thoughtless comment made by a member of your staff.
This can be a tricky area of the law so if in any doubt always seek the advice of your lawyer. However, to avoid problems in the first place it is a good idea to:
- Have a code practice – make sure it is widely and clearly displayed, makes breaches a disciplinary offence and that you take disciplinary action before poor behaviour becomes established.
- Educate and train all employees, especially those who recruit or manage employees.
- Establish and publicise a channel for complaints.
- Review your policies and practices regularly.
For more detailed guidance read our set of FAQs, Age discrimination: 29 FAQs on the Law Donut website.