Accounting for Law
Employment & Labour

An end to legislated age discrimination?

By Nicole Simes

Employees in Ontario are retiring later than ever. Life expectancies have consistently risen and people now work into their sixties and seventies in order to support themselves as they live into their eighties and nineties. Gone are the days of “Freedom 55.”

Older employees are not, however, often receiving the same benefit coverage as their younger counterparts. Age discrimination is legislated in Ontario. The Human Rights Code in conjunction with the Employment Standards Act provides that employers are legally allowed to cut-off and/or modify benefits such as health and dental plans, life and disability insurance, and pension plans of employees over the age of 65. Without private coverage, Canadians over the age of 65 can expect to spend $5,391 out-of-pocket a year on medical costs, which are on the rise, according to the 2014 BMO Wealth Institute Report.

A recent landmark ruling, however, successfully challenged this aspect of the Code. In this casethe Human Rights Tribunal ruled that this section of the Code discriminates against able, qualified, and willing older workers. It also ruled that this section in the legislation was based on faulty information. It is financially viable for most employers to continue employee benefits until the age of 79.

Lessons

While the ruling does not change the legislation, it is a complete game-changer for the many older working employees who rely on their employers for benefits. Older workers now have an opening to claim discrimination if their employers cut off benefits at age 65.

Employees should review all benefits plans and talk to their employer to discuss continuing benefits past the age of 65. If an employer refuses, the employee can bring a human rights claim.

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