Employers must curb their demands for fixed amounts of experience from job applicants to avoid falling foul of discrimination legislation, an employment law specialist has warned.
The caution comes after a secretary won a case against her former employer for dismissing her because she was too young.
Catherine Barker, an employment law specialist at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, said that advertising jobs as being for people with a fixed number of years of experience could also discriminate against the young.
"Ideally, employers should stop this, unless they think they can objectively justify it," said Barker. "It has to be taken on a case by case basis, but employers will have to sit down and think about why they require that experience."
"Do they genuinely need this number of years of experience? They should also create a paper trail to show that they have thought about it," said Barker. "They would also ideally carry out an age review of all policies and procedures to look for age bias."
Megan Thomas was a 19-year-old membership secretary at the Eight Member Club in London but was dismissed after she was told that she was not mature enough to deal with the club's members.
An employment tribunal ruled that Thomas had been discriminated against on grounds of her age. It is thought to be the first time that the UK's age discrimination legislation has been used to protect a young, rather than an old, worker.
The Eight Members Club said it would appeal the ruling.
Barker said that the case would raise awareness the potential pitfalls of age discrimination against young, as well as old, people.
"I think as awareness of the age regulations sinks in we'll see more of these types of claims," she said. "Regulations do cover discrimination against people of all ages, they will cover younger as well as older workers. Undoubtedly there is discrimination. I think people make presumptions about younger people and their abilities and experiences in same way as they do for older workers."
Barker said that employers would have to review all their staff policies to weed out discriminatory practices. This, she said, could include advertising for staff of a fixed number of years' experience.
"How to avoid liability generally is make sure that through your whole employment process from recruitment to promotions to selections for redundancy you have clear, objective criteria," she said. "There should be a job description and a person specification based solely on the skills required to do the job, avoiding references to so many years' experience."
Barker said that the law allowed for recruitment based on specific periods of experience, but that an employer would need to satisfy strict criteria in order to avoid discrimination claims.
"[You can do it] provided you can objectively justify that the experience required achieves a legitmate aim and that there is a proportionate means of fulfilling that aim," said Barker. "For example if you're an aircraft pilot and the employer can demonstrate that only when pilots have achieved so many hours flying time can they fly safely unaided, then that may fulfil the defence."
"Employers need to ask themselves is there any less discriminatory way to achieve the same result?" said Barker.