Getting Rid of Mandatory Retirement is Just the First Step – Action is needed to prevent age discrimination in the workplace

Some businesses are already seeing the benefits of such approaches. HSBC bank of Canada is a good example of a business that has foresight. Several years ago, they began surveying their senior staff’s attitudes and plans for retirement.

“Looking forward, we found that 82 per cent of our branch managers in Western Canada will be eligible for retirement in 2015, with a further 53 per cent of branch managers in Eastern Canada eligible that same year,” said Pat Brosseau, Vice-President, human resources, HSBC Bank Canada. “In addition, 72 per cent of senior managers working in head office were also eligible for retirement then.”

They immediately began to think of ways they could retain these workers and surveying employees to understand what might motivate them to stay on a little longer. This approach is proving to be very beneficial for HSBC. Knowledge transfer can take much more than a few weeks and when an individual leaves a company the organization looses that individual’s expertise and knowledge of social collaboration as well as structures and procedures.

Unfortunately not all organizations have the same foresight as HSBC. A Kelly Global Workforce Index found that more than a third of Canadians believe they have experienced discrimination and the leading course of discrimination identified by respondents was age (15%).

International Examples of Workplace Protection Legislation

The United-States has made strides in their fight against age discrimination. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was enacted in 1967. It protects workers over 40 from age-based work-related discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency in charge of interpreting, implementing and enforcing federal employment discrimination law. In 2009 during the largest ever age discrimination class-action lawsuit, the EEOC ruled that Allstate Insurance had to pay out $4.5 million in damages to 90 former employees for having applied a hiring moratorium and a restructuring that had a disproportionate impact on the company’s over 40 employees. In 2006, the United-Kingdom implemented the Employment Equality Regulations. While these regulations have their failings in that they allow mandatory retirement to continue, they also have their merits since they are forcing many organizations to review their policies and procedures.

The regulations apply to workers of all types except unpaid office holders and the armed forces as well as trade unions. They prohibit direct (when a person is treated less favorably than another on grounds of age), and indirect discrimination (applies to a policy or practice, which on the face of it has nothing to do with age but which in its practice operates to the detriment of people of a particular age group). Examples of indirect discrimination might include: service related benefits, lack of flexible work shifts or a requirement for IT qualifications which older workers might be less likely to possess than younger workers.

The regulations also prohibit harassment on the grounds of age, this could include comments or banter that associates older people with ill-health or incompetence or conducts that might associate younger workers with irresponsibility or unreliability.