Age-based discrimination: an underestimated reality

30 May 2016
Area of action: Employment
Grounds of discrimination: Age

A company was prosecuted for rejecting a 59-year-old man's application because of his age.

If you are 45 years old or older, you are far more likely to be the victim of discrimination on the job market. For instance, a 59-year-old man's application was explicitly rejected because of his age. The labour tribunal of Ghent judged this to be a pure case of age-based discrimination. Unia welcomes the prosecution of a case that is symptomatic of a serious social and generally underestimated problem.

Following a report from a 59-year-old man, Unia decided to take the case to court after an attempt at conciliation. This man was an unlucky applicant in a recruitment procedure launched by a Belgian company. He was clearly told, in an e-mail, that his application was refused because of his age.

At court, the company argued that older employees had more difficulty mastering certain software programs; an argument that was thrown out by the court. The judge ruled that this was a case of age-based discrimination and ordered the company to pay EUR 1,000 for every new offence. Furthermore, the victim was awarded damages of EUR 25,000 – a judgement that will also have to be visibly displayed in the company.

According to Patrick Charlier, director of Unia, age-related discrimination is still underestimated. In 2015, Unia opened 80 files concerning age-based discrimination. More than half of the files (56 %) related to employment. It is especially the 45-55 (29 %) and 55-65 (20 %) age groups that are affected.

But this type of discrimination is much more frequent than these figures would lead us to believe. According to a study, one respondent out of three considers that age-based discrimination during recruitment is justified. And it is applicants/workers over the age of 45 who are the most often discriminated against[ii]. For Unia, this shows that age-related discrimination isn't taken seriously enough, and so it is even less reported, despite it being a real problem.

"Furthermore, we must all keep in mind that the aging population is a reality in Europe, and the number of people over 65 will double in the next 50 years[iii]. In Belgium, the over-45s group will increase by 20 % in the next 40 years[iv]. If this growing section of the population is facing a major risk of discrimination in the workplace, then we are confronted with a real social problem."

Unia also draws attention to the employment rate, which is only 44 % among the over-55s, compared with 78.5 % in the group of 25-54 year olds. [v]

Stereotypes play a major role in the low employment rate. "Older people are perceived as less flexible, not up-to-date with new technologies or suffering from health problems. This prejudice was quite rightly emphasised by the court and is also a signal to our society."

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