Is this age discrimination – or school of hard knocks?

You often hear about job discrimination in Australia in terms of our aging population. Older Australians are falling into poverty at an alarming rate – and single females are the most at risk.

What we don’t hear as much about is younger Australians being discriminated against.

Recently I was chatting with a friend of colleague, who I met at a networking event. She was raging about the “discrimination” her 22-year-old son had received during a job interview.


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“At the interview they asked him his age, and when he told them he was 22, they said ‘we’re sorry, we’re looking for a junior to fill this position as we don’t want to pay adult wages’,” she said.

That was the end of the interview, then and there. He was understandably miffed. He went home and told mum, and she became apoplectic with anger. By the time I was chatting with her, two days later, she was ready to report the company to Fair Work Australia.

Let’s be clear: she has every right to report this company, because asking someone their age during an interview is illegal.

My question is: should she really bother?

The company was clearly hiring for a junior role – one with junior responsibilities and a junior pay packet attached to it. There are legitimate operational reasons for wanting to hire a younger person (and the fact that they got to interview stage without checking his age reeks of a sloppy employer to me…).

I remember a similar scenario happening to me when I was a student, aged 18. I applied for a casual weekend job working at a retail shop at Pacific Fair; the assistant manager and I had a quick chat and she said my availability perfectly fit with what they needed.

She asked me to come back the next day to interview with the manager. When I turned up, the manager said: “I’m sorry we won’t be going ahead with the interview; we’re really looking for someone 16/17 years old.”

Even at 18, I could read between the lines and knew they wanted someone “cheaper”. I didn’t think of it as discrimination; just one of those things that happens in life.
I moved on pretty swiftly and got an even better job at a company that didn’t penny-pinch.

Situations like this make you resilient, right? They remind you that things aren’t always fair and they don’t always go your way.

But if this family does decide to push ahead with reporting, I reckon mum should butt out and let her son report it himself. This is the stuff that grit, learning and growth is made of – and he’s 22. More than old enough to fight his own battles!

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