Employers can significantly benefit by retaining and hiring older employees who may offer considerable knowledge, experience and insight, along with dedication and work ethic. All of these benefits are accompanied by a unique set of human rights considerations related to our aging workforce, including age discrimination and age related disability. As the Canadian population ages, so does our workforce. Mandatory retirement programs have generally been outlawed (with few exemptions), and many Canadians now choose to work into their 60s and 70s for various reasons including: fulfillment, financial gains, longer life spans, lack of savings and failed pension plans.
With respect to age discrimination, employees may experience ageism within an ongoing employment relationship, or when trying to secure a new job later in life. Older employees may feel like they are being forced to retire or may be passed up for deserved promotions on the unverified assumptions they will not be working too much longer. Older employees may also be targeted for termination, when they had intended to work for several years more. Persons seeking new jobs later in life may experience age discrimination during the recruitment process.
With respect to age-related disability, older employees may experience medical issues, and employers must accommodate age-related health issues in the exact same way that any other disability is accommodated. Some disabilities are far easier to accommodate than others. A defined physical limitation may be readily accommodated on a permanent basis by using an assistive device, whereas an invisible disability and/or cyclical disability may require a more flexible accommodation approach. For instance, an employee experiencing certain forms of arthritis may feel significant pain and require time off during flare-ups; however, the cyclical and sporadic nature of the required accommodation could present scheduling challenges. Far more challenging is understanding and accommodating a brain disorder (such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia). In such situations the employee may not even be aware of their own health issues, and the employer will be tasked with determining if any medical conditions even exist and if so, if such can be accommodated.
The aging population may also result in increased requests for family status accommodations, when children or relatives request time off to assist in the caregiving needs of their elders.
This article will explore some key human rights considerations and interesting case-law related to our aging workforce.