Looking at Age Discrimination Laws through a Global Lens

By Kapp, Marshall B. | Generations, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Looking at Age Discrimination Laws through a Global Lens


Kapp, Marshall B., Generations


A cross-national comparison of laws pertaining to age discrimination in employment provides insight into nations' attitudes and values about aging and the status of their elder populations.

American citizens who are employed by a U.S.-owned or -controlled company continue to be covered by U.S. anti-discrimination laws while working overseas. Laws of the host country, international law, applicable labor agreements and voluntary codes of corporate conduct may also protect them (Lowe, 2009).

By contrast to the almost five decades-long history of U.S. legislation against age discrimination in employment, most international human rights instruments, including the International Labour Organization's fundamental anti-discrimination instruments, conventions No. 100 and 111, do not explicitly list age as a prohibited basis for differential treatment (Bisom-Rapp, Frazer, and Sargeant, 2011).

Europe is a relatively late entrant in addressing age discrimination. Just two of the twentyseven European Union (EU) states, Finland and Portugal, prohibit age discrimination in their constitutions. Only in November 2000 did the EU adopt the Framework Directive on Equal Treatment in Employment and Occupation, Council Directive 2000/78/EC, acknowledging the problem of age discrimination by building on Article 19 of the 1998 Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Prior to this Directive, which was driven by specific demographic and economic pressures in Europe favoring the retention of older persons in the workforce (Lahey, 2010), few jurisdictions other than the United States had robust laws banning age discrimination in employment. One of those countries was Australia, where a federal Age Discrimination Act had been enacted in 2004 (MacDermott, 2011). Another was Canada, which created the Canadian Human Rights Act in 1985. (Paradoxically, though, the Canadian Employment Equity Act of 1995 does not address age discrimination.)

The objectives of the EU Directive included "the need to take appropriate action for the social and economic integration of elderly and disabled people." Referring to the Employment Guidelines of the European Council (EC), the Directive also refers to "the need to pay particular attention to supporting older workers, in order to increase their participation in the labour force."

The Framework Directive required each member nation of the EU to enact age discrimination laws implementing the Directive by December 2006 (although they were only given until 2003 to design legislation outlawing other forms of discrimination). Individual EU countries have reacted to the EU's Framework Directive with varying degrees of vigor, and not without some controversy (Palmore, 2006). Because of this, age discrimination laws differ significantly across jurisdictions, and often differ from the same country's anti-discrimination laws pertaining to gender, race, and religion (Lahey, 2010).

Until October 1, 2006, the U.K. did not enforce the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations promulgated by the Department of Trade and Industry to replace the previous Voluntary Code of Practice (Meenan and Broadbent, 2007).

In Poland, implementation of Community law (namely the Council Framework Directive) in 2004 complemented protections guaranteed (in theory) by the age-equality principle commentators and some courts had read into Article 32 of the Polish constitution (Zysk, 2006).

In 2003, Italy strengthened its age antidiscrimination protections by enacting Legislative Decree No. 216, amending the Worker Statute (Fois, 2010).

Finland, in 2004, passed a new Non-Discrimination Act; in the same year, Ireland amended its Employment Equality Act; in 2007, Belgium instituted its Anti-Discrimination Act; and in 2005, Spain updated its laws. In addition, EU members Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Austria, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovakia, and Sweden also formulated and implemented age-discrimination provisions to comply with the Framework Directive (Lahey, 2010). …

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