Older Canadians Still Face Age Discrimination

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The demise of mandatory retirement, low returns on fixed-income investments and a significant population over the age of 50 has led to more Canadians working past retirement age than ever before. A recent online poll found more than half — 57% — of mature workers wish to work later into life. Yet many find that employers are either unwilling or ill-prepared to retain their services.

Employers often find themselves unsure of what to do with an aging employee now that the law prohibits mandatory retirement. Those who either force the issue with critical performance reviews or gently suggest retirement may find themselves facing a human-rights claim. Unfortunately, age discrimination still exists, as many employment practices and attitudes are often based on misconstrued beliefs that older workers cannot keep up with new trends and/or will cost the employer more in terms of benefits. Yet, with population data suggesting Canada faces a significant labor shortage in the near future, employers may do well to consider the benefits older employees can offer — greater experience, more reliability and no child-care issues.

Even where employers are open to hiring older workers, many potential hires are deterred by significant gaps in employment policies that do not account for a more mature workforce. As a result, employers wishing to recruit and retain older employees should reevaluate their policies to make them more attractive to that particular demographic — i.e., extending health benefits past the age of retirement, providing employee assistance programs targeted to older workers, phased-in retirement options and flexible work conditions.

Whether employers wish to avoid liability or actively benefit from older employees, they need to address age discrimination head on. Policies that consistently apply performance measures to all employees and avoid discriminatory language and assumptions with respect to an employee's capabilities may help minimize age discrimination. Employers should also promote a level of awareness in the workplace by ensuring that their employees understand such discrimination is against the law.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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