Age discrimination: has it hit you?

Dec 01, 2009

By Dale Goldhawk

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Are you an older Canadian who has applied for a job recently to top deflated savings or just to keep active? Did you get it? Were you turned down for reasons that sounded suspicious? Are you, in fact, a victim of age discrimination?  Don’t be surprised if you have been tagged with the stereotypical view of the older worker – too old, too tired, too stuck in your ways, too ignorant of technology. According to experts, this view is typical among people who do the hiring in today’s workplaces.

I say this view is nonsensical and the people who hold it are short-sighted and bigoted.  And they’re violating the spirit of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Are older workers prone to absenteeism, unable to upgrade their skills or less able to handle physical labor or high levels of stress?  Baloney.  I’m an older worker, holding down three jobs and a demanding volunteer position with a great deal of physical activity, travel, and high stress and I feel great.

Yes, I could get hit by a bus tomorrow but all the dire things that could happen to me could strike anyone in the labor force. I can’t remember when I was last absent from work. I’m up to date on the latest technologies I need in broadcasting including running a web site and Twittering daily. I’ll bet I know a heck of a lot more than any 30-year-old in my line of work and have more than 40 years experience from which to draw on as needed. 

The bottom line is that I am only one of several million older people in this country willing and able to do anything thrown at us including work for pay, volunteerism, household chores, looking after the grandkids or anything else imaginable. I’m not special among all the Zoomers out there. 

Age discrimination is as bad as racial, religious or gender bias. It should not exist in hiring, promoting, keeping a job, or getting training, benefits or pay. It shouldn’t exist in any venue. Age discrimination does exist, however, in many places including the workplace. And it is costing Canada a great deal of money; Zoomers are one of the fastest growing groups in Canada; they hold a great deal of the nation’s wealth in money, experience and skills. To bar the door to anyone over the age of 50, 60, 70, 80 or older based simply on the calendar is to rob the country of one of its strongest resources. 

Age discrimination in employment is also illegal. Many labour agreements between employers and employees include anti-age-discrimination clauses. It can be illegal just to ask a job candidate his or her age. 

Of course, legislation and labor agreements don’t really protect older people from discrimination because prospective employers can simply ignore job applications with resumes that mention previous employment back to 1960 or earlier. Employers can think up excuses for not hiring older people after seeing a few lines in faces of people they interview. It is very difficult to prove a complaint of age discrimination. Government ombudsmen won’t even take on such complaints despite the fact they are called “ombudsmen” (or ‘persons’); they simply refer the complainant to the provincial human rights commissions who are so bogged down in many issues, they may get around to age discrimination when we turn 100 (a young 100, mind you.) 

It has been said that as Zoomers leave the workforce, they leave behind huge holes that can’t be filled by new workers. They take with them skills and experience that cannot be replaced. If this is true, then employers should be doing everything they can to retain older workers and to hire those who do want to continue in the workforce. 

Here is a bit of heresy. Perhaps, because of their importance to individual companies and to the country at large, it should be made illegal not to hire older workers who exhibit the needed skills and experience in the job posting. It should be up to the employer to prove beyond a doubt that there was a good cause why an older person was not hired. It should not be up to an older person to make a complaint that will never be adjudicated. If anyone has, we have earned the right to first place in the job lineup. 

Let’s face it, proportionately not that many of us want to or have to work for a living but those of us who do should not be abandoned just because of a few wrinkles.

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