Age Discrimination and Forced Retirement

October 18, 2019

Currently, there are approximately 1.5 million older persons in Ontario. By the year 2021, Ontario will be home to three million people over the age of 65. Older workers make a valuable contribution to this province every day.

The Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code“) states that it is public policy in Ontario to recognize the dignity and worth of every person and to provide equal rights and opportunities without discrimination. Employment is central to an individual’s financial health, sense of worth, dignity as well as their satisfaction in feeling able to participate fully in society and be a part of a community.

So, are People Age 65 and Older Subject to Mandatory Retirement?

The answer is no, with limited exceptions.

This article reviews when mandatory retirement is permitted in Ontario. We will review:

  • Some of the protection available under Human rights legislation;
  • Explore how courts evaluate age discrimination cases and cite a couple of tribunal cases where age discrimination was allowed; and
  • Finally, we will offer some pointers for employers and outline the steps employees can take to file a claim.

The History of Mandatory Retirement

Until December 31, 2009, the mandatory retirement age in Canada was 65. At age 65, an employer could terminate your employment for the simple reason of your being 65.

The Federal government prohibited mandatory retirement in 2009. However, the prohibition against mandatory retirement has two exceptions — Supreme Court justices who must retire at age 75 and judges, magistrates and justices of the peace in Provincial courts who must retire between 70 and 75.

Other than these two exceptions, there is no law in Ontario that requires persons to retire at any age. In theory, employees can work until they no longer wish to do so or are incapable of performing their jobs.

What is Age Discrimination and How are Workers Protected?

Imposing an employment decision (such as forced retirement) based solely on age and not on the ability to do the job, is age discrimination under the Code.

In Canada, both federal and provincial human rights law protects Canadians from age discrimination. Ontario`s Human Rights Code protects anyone aged 18 and over against discrimination in employment on the basis of their age.

The Code specifically prohibits mandatory retirement – protecting employees aged 65 or more from being forced to retire, except in cases where the retirement age can be justified as a “bona fide occupational requirement”.

A bona fide occupational requirement is an employment requirement or qualification that is necessary because of the nature of the employment.

One example of bona fide occupational qualifications is mandatory retirement ages for bus drivers and airline pilots for safety reasons.

Persons aged 65 and older who believe that they have been discriminated against on the basis of age, including through mandatory retirement policies, may file a claim of discrimination on the basis of age with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

The Bona Fide Occupational Requirement Test (BFOR)

The Courts justify discrimination through a test called “Bona Fide Occupational Requirement” (BFOR) which is a standard or criteria that allows an employer to “discriminate” based on an otherwise prohibited ground, if and only if there is a legitimate reason that is connected to the employee’s ability to do the job.

The “test for a BFOR” in the context of age discrimination was discussed in 1982 by the Supreme Court of Canada in Ontario v. Etobicoke. In this case, the complainant, a firefighter, was required to retire at age 60.  The Court set out a two-part test to determine whether a mandatory retirement scheme is justifiable:

  1. Subjective component: the employer must establish that mandatory retirement was imposed honestly, in good faith, and in the belief that the limitation is in the interests of the adequate performance of the work, and not for ulterior or extraneous reasons aimed at objectives which could defeat the purpose of the [Human Rights] Code.
  2. Objective component: the employer must establish that the retirement plan is reasonably necessary to assure the efficient and economical performance of the job without endangering the employee, his fellow employees and the general public.

What’s the Bottom line?

The bottom line is that it is contrary to law for employers to require employees to retire at a fixed age, whether it be 65, or older or younger, unless the employer can establish to the satisfaction of the court or the Human Rights Commission that the established age is based on a bona fide occupational requirement.  So it is the exception, not the rule, where mandatory requirement is allowed

Employers must be able to provide evidence that the retirement age is justifiable in law. This can be best achieved through the development and communication of a retirement policy that sets out the objective justification for the retirement age. Such policies can later be relied upon in the event of any claim.

Age Discrimination Tribunal Case Review

In Kearns v. Dickson Trucking Ltd. (1988), 10 C.H.R.R. D/5700 (Can. Trib.) a 69-year-old salesman was terminated despite excellent performance. The first time the alleged reason for termination was raised was in the termination letter. The reason given was that there would no longer be a need for his position. However the employee was not declared redundant and the position was filled by a younger person. A case of age discrimination was successfully made out.

In Salter v. Newfoundland (2001), 41 C.H.R.R. D/68 (Nfld. Bd. Inq.) [Hereinafter “Salter”], the tribunal found that the factor of being a pension-eligible employee was considered in making the determination to declare the claimant redundant and that this was synonymous with considering his age. Age discrimination was found in the case.

What these two cases tell us is that an employer cannot avoid the prohibition on mandatory retirement by trying to lay off employees based on redundancy, where the real motive is age related. 

Lessons for Employers:

Employers are bound by three rules in the Code as follows:

  1. They cannot refuse to hire, train or promote people because of their age;
  2. They cannot unfairly target older workers, or other age groups, when it comes to reducing staff or reorganizing; and
  3. They must make sure that the workplace is free from discrimination, is inclusive, and respects and supports the needs of all its workers, including older employees.

In our aging population, age discrimination is common and is on the rise. Claims of age discrimination due to forced retirement are becoming increasingly common and can be costly to employers

Employers can have mandatory retirement programs based on a certain age but these programs must be based on a bona fide occupational requirement for performing the job.

Employers can protect themselves by taking the following steps:

  • Have a retirement age in place which is fixed and communicated clearly to employees, along with the explanation for why this age has been determined to be a necessary qualification for the job.
  • Incorporate the fixed retirement age in a “retirement policy” that sets out the objective and justification for that “fixed retirement age”
  • Take measures to provide a workplace that is free of ageist stereotypes and that provides an environment where older workers are treated as individuals, assessed on their own merits instead of against presumed group characteristics
  • Ensure older workers are subject to the same performance management practices as every other worker
  • Define the eligibility criteria for any voluntary retirement program
  • Share the criteria with all staff, irrespective of age, through a neutral medium such as a written document

Tips for Employees:

If you feel you are experiencing age discrimination at work there are a few things you can do:

  • If you need human rights legal advice or help filing an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, contact the Ontario Human Rights Legal Support Centre at: 416-597-4900 or 1-866-625-5179 and speak with a Human Rights lawyer.
  • To file an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, visit their website and follow the instructions for how to file an application.
  • To learn more about your rights, responsibilities and options, contact/hire an employment lawyer

Justin W. Anisman

Anisman Law

Justin W. Anisman is an Employment Lawyer and principal of Anisman Law. Justin advises both companies and individuals in all aspects of employment law including wrongful dismissal, human rights and discrimination.

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Contact Justin W. Anisman, the author of this blog, about any employment law related questions or issues you may be facing.


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