Employment law: how to avoid age discrimination in your salon

We know the beauty workforce is mostly female, has a high staff turnover, and that many are lost to the industry after maternity leave. In these circumstances, you would imagine that retaining experienced staff and welcoming them back to work would be high on everyone’s agenda. Too often though, older workers or flexible working requests are seen as a burden for salon owners.

Age discrimination is unlawful, and there are as many claims from young workers as older workers. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) recently updated its advice to employers:

• Ageist remarks are likely to be discriminatory, whether or not they are meant to be insulting

• Make sure applicants are not discriminated against because of age. Recruit on ability and skills

• Don’t make age-based assumptions about what applicants and employees are capable of or how they will behave

• Remember that, generally, the law doesn’t state a fixed retirement age 

• Don’t base pay just on age (but do acknowledge the minimum wage age-related bandings)

• Don’t assume there is more value in training younger staff

• Treat employees consistently when assessing performance and setting goals

• Make sure policies and practices in the workplace don’t put an employee at a disadvantage because of age. 

The above seems logical but this is not always the case. I frequently hear that employers assume someone older won’t fit in, or won’t be enthusiastic enough. Often, this is based on little or no evidence. 

Age-related myths 

Often, discrimination takes place because of ignorance of the facts. For example:

 • Older staff are more likely to be off work ill - there is no evidence for this whatsoever 

• Asking employees aged over 50 about their work plans could be considered age discrimination – this isn’t true; an employer can ask any employee about future plans

• An employer looking to fill a demanding position can interview only people aged between 30 and 45 – applicants must be selected based on the skills, knowledge and experience necessary for the role

• Older employees are less able to learn new skills – there’s no evidence to support this

• An employer is unlikely to get investment back when training older employees – staff under 25 are just as likely to leave as those aged over 55 

• Performance decreases with age – Acas research shows there’s no deterioration for most types of work until at least age 70

• You should exclude applicants who don’t have three years’ experience – an applicant might have spent two years in a busy salon or three providing limited services to a handful of clients.

Lawful discrimination

The law does allow, and in some cases require, age to be considered. For example, minimum wage rates differ with age, employees aged over 41 get more redundancy pay, and employees under 18 get longer breaks.

Some areas are less clear. For example, you may improve pay or benefits for an employee who has longer service (so is usually older). The standard advice is that benefits should reflect skills, not length of service, because an employee might have five years’ service but have a terrible performance and sickness record. 

David Wright is a consultant in all aspects of employment practice and law. He is the main employment law consultant for Habia and provides a personalised support service for UK salons.