AREAS OF PRACTICE

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Age Discrimination 

 

Ontario's Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination and harassment in areas such as employment, housing, services and facilities, contracts, and membership in trade and professional associations. The provision of 'services' includes privately or publicly-owned services including health care, insurance, restaurants and shopping centres, to name but a few. Housing is also a broadly-defined category and includes private rental housing, supportive or assisted housing, and co-operative or social housing. 

 

The test for discrimination, including age-based discrimination, involves differential treatment based on an enumerated ground (e.g. age) which results in a burden being imposed upon, or a benefit withheld from, an individual. Age need not be the primary motive for the differential treatment; it need only be one factor which may be inferred from circumstantial evidence. Age-based discrimination may be further compounded when combined with other barriers such as disability, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, culture or language.

The current shift in Canadian demographics means that more older adults are vulnerable to exploitation, mistreatment, isolation or abuse. Apart from older individuals whom people know well, such as a grandparent, people's attitudes toward other older adults in the broader community can be quite different.  

Ageism is commonly understood to be the stereotyping of, and discrimination against, individuals or groups on account of their age. Ageist attitudes can portray older individuals as being frail, unable to work, mentally or physically disabled, or helpless.  Ageism is a form of abuse, and abuse and neglect often increase with the victim’s age. While age discrimination is seldom taken as seriously as other forms of discrimination, discriminatory practices toward older adults can have a significant impact on their physical, economic, psychological and social well-being.

Age discrimination in employment may take the form of urging older workers to retire, laterally transferring rather than promoting them, or denying them opportunities to retrain or upgrade their skills. Ontario human rights law prevents an employer from terminating a person’s employment due to their age, or from refusing to promote, interview or hire a person based on age. Employers also have a legal duty to accommodate, which means that they must take measures to eliminate disadvantages experienced by an employee resulting from a rule, practice, policy or service. Measures could include offering flexible workplace or job-share arrangements, or adapting equipment to reduce performance barriers (such as providing larger computer monitors or adaptive phones for hearing impairments). Employers are required to do whatever is necessary, short of undue hardship, to accommodate an employee. Accommodations are addressed on a case-by-case basis and it is up to the employer to prove that accommodating an employee’s needs is impossible without 'undue hardship.'

 

It is vital that older adults have access to information, resources and services that enable them to have a greater awareness of their rights and to make informed decisions. Older individuals should be aware of the various recourses that can be taken in the event they are experiencing discrimination, whether overtly or implicitly.  Aging is a highly individual experience and it is important to dispel common myths and prejudicial attitudes about an older person’s skills and abilities. Indeed, older adults are an immense repository of knowledge, wisdom and experience, and make an important contribution to the workplace and to our communities.