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The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to treat an employee, or potential employee, less favourably on grounds of his age.

Recently I read an article on young CEOs. We’re not talking 21 year old whizz kids here; the article was actually about CEOs under the age of 12! The youngest started at nine years old. By selling hot cocoa and cookies he hoped to get together enough money to buy a car for his mum so he did not have to get the bus to school each day. One 15-year-old started making apps for the iPhone and iPad aged 11. Since then he has designed his own 3D printer which is awaiting patent approval.

I have been lucky enough to meet one or two extraordinary young people. For example, during my year as Mayor’s Consort, I met Luke Cousins a local entrepreneur based at Markyate in Bedfordshire. Luke, who is dyslexic, started up online company, VioVet, when he was only 16. The business now has an annual turnover of £6.5 million and employs 40 people. The company was founded in 2006 as an experiment to help the family’s veterinary practice sell medication and feeds online, following a change to the laws governing the sale of prescription medications.

It just goes to show you can assume nothing about peoples’ abilities at any age.

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to treat an employee, or potential employee, less favourably on grounds of his age. The youngest a child can start part-time working is 13, with exceptions for areas such as acting and modelling. Once a child has reached the minimum school leaving age he can work up to a maximum of 40 hours per week. In recent years the school leaving age has changed. Any child who was born after 1st September 1997 must now stay in education until the age of 18. Once someone in employment reaches the age of 18, adult employment rights and rules will apply. There is no upper cap on what age someone must stop working.

There can be a lot of stigma around age in employment, whether it is about someone being too young to take on a role or too old to learn the ropes. Whether this is true will depend on a case by case basis of the individual. It has very little to do with age. Some young people are great at taking on challenges, whilst others are not, but the same could be said about older generations and likewise regarding learning the ropes of a role.

For some roles age must be taken into the consideration, for example, an employee must be at least 18 years old to work in a pub/bar due to laws around age restrictions on selling alcohol.

There is a difference between age and experience. You can ask a candidate to have relevant experience in a role as long as you do not ask for a given number of years. When you think about it, the number of years under a person’s belt doesn’t mean that the candidate is any good; there are plenty of people with years of experience who are frankly rubbish at their jobs. What you should be looking for is a demonstrable skill set and this can be associated with some length of experience. For example, you would expect that a director would have experience in managing a team and have some business experience. Asking for both is acceptable.

But as soon as you put a number of years needed on the experience there is a risk of age discrimination. By asking for six years’ experience in managing a team, a candidate would have to be at least 22 (generally most people start working from the age of 16). This puts younger people at a significant disadvantage and would open you up to claims of discrimination.

Both a younger and older workforce can bring different things to the table. By having a diverse workforce you bring a range of skills which can benefit the company greatly.

Kate Russell  provides expert knowledge in HR solutions,employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK. Check out her tool kits and guides in our HR shop.