A recent BBC report has indicated that the government’s Universal Jobmatch website is publishing adverts using terms that could be breaking anti-age discrimination laws, the BBC has found.
It also found similar jobs ads posted online by Reed – one of the UK’s biggest employment agencies.
On both sites, hundreds of employers say they want “recent graduates”, which lawyers say implies they are looking for younger applicants.
Many older job seekers say they are being frozen out of the jobs market.
A typical example of wording used in job adverts reads: “My client is recruiting a recent graduate to join their extremely busy team. You should be looking for a career, have good customer service skills and good administration skills including data entry.”
The BBC showed some of the adverts to James Davies, a solicitor from law firm Lewis Silkin, who specialises in age discrimination cases.
“A recent graduate obviously favours younger candidates,” he said. “It would be lawful if it could be justified, but it’s difficult to see why an employer needs a recent graduate when someone who graduated 10 or 20 years ago wouldn’t be equally suitable.”
‘Ambitious young people’
One advert on Universal Jobmatch, which is used by millions of job seekers, was even more blatant.
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We really do need to change our attitudes to older workers ”
Government business champion for older workers
“We are always looking to recruit talented, ambitious young people who may fit well into one of our progressive thinking departments such as media, including social media, TV, press officer or other departments such as office administration,” it read.
According to Mr Davies the company responsible, Leisure Leagues, based in Warwick, which says it is the UK’s largest provider of five-a-side football leagues, could be breaking age discrimination laws with this wording.
“Here we have a company which is clearly opening itself up to problems,” he said. “An older person applying for a job with this company who fails to get it will be able to point to the term ‘young’ in this advert and will be some way down the line to a successful claim against them.”
The BBC contacted Leisure Leagues to ask them why they were seeking “young people”.
A spokesman said he could see nothing wrong with it because in the leisure industry people needed to be young and fit. He said occasional refereeing duties might be required, although the job advert did not mention this requirement.
The company later emailed to say the advert had been withdrawn and an employee had been disciplined. But a week later, the job advert was still posted on Universal Jobmatch.
On Reed’s website, more than 800 jobs specified “recent graduate”. There were even a dozen adverts looking for a “young graduate”.
Reed told the BBC it agreed such terms were “inappropriate” and as a result of the BBC investigation would be changing company policy to ensure similar terms would not be used in future. Reed also said it would be re-training its staff in equality laws.
However, the Department for Work and Pensions, the government department responsible for Universal Jobmatch, said it did not think terms such as “recent graduate” were discriminatory. “We have thorough checks and balances in place and remove anything which doesn’t meet our standards,” it said in a statement.
The government is trying to encourage people to work longer and retire later, but older jobseekers say they often feel ignored by employers.
Simon Silvie, 57, a former senior manager for a national IT firm, from Barrow, Cumbria, said he had applied for hundreds of jobs after being made redundant 18 months ago, but had rarely been invited to an interview.
“I would say it is age discrimination,” he said. “However, it is so hard to prove. I think that the people who are perpetrating this don’t even realise that they are doing it. It’s an unconscious bias against age.”
Ros Altmann, the government’s business champion for older workers, said there should be clearer instructions for people posting job ads, and possibly sanctions.
“We really do need to change our attitudes to older workers,” she said. “There’s no reason why you can’t have talented, ambitious people of any age – they don’t have to be young.”
The government has phased out the official retirement age, and raised the age at which some workers can get the state pension to 68.
The average retirement age for men is 64.7 and 63.1 for women. The Department for Work and Pensions said this week it would like the average retirement age to rise by as much as six months every year.