In this day and age, you would hope that people would know enough to treat each other with respect and dignity without the law having to intervene. By and large, this appears to be the case. However, to protect us when people don’t act properly, each jurisdiction has enacted legislation setting out the fundamental protections that each of us have from discrimination in various aspect of our lives; from renting an apartment to shopping in stores to getting and holding a job.
In British Columbia, the legislation that sets out these protections is the BC Human Rights Code. The Code is a relatively comprehensive document that outlines our protections from discrimination in major aspects of our lives.
One of the most important protections contained in the Code is the protection from being subject to discrimination because of our age.
In my experience, most concerns with age-based discrimination occur because of increasing age; not because my client is too young to be allowed to do certain things. Two common complaints I hear are:
When an employer starts to recruit and hire younger and less expensive talent; with more experienced and older employees being the first to be laid off or dismissed. Or, when an employer starts to press employees to retire as they near 65.
While these two types of situation are somewhat common, they are examples of ageism, which is illegal.
While many individuals relish the thought of retiring to spend more time with family (or drinking cocktails on a yacht!), mandatory retirement is a thing of the past. No one can force you to retire and you cannot be fired or forced to leave the workforce because of your age.
Under Section 13 of the BC Human Rights Code, your employer cannot fire you, or discriminate against you in any way, because of a whole host of factors including your race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, political belief, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, gender, sexual orientation, age, or criminal or summary conviction offence unrelated to your employment. These categories are called “protected grounds.”
Likewise, no one can deny you services, generally available to the public, because of your age (unless there is a reasonable and good faith reason why the service cannot be offered to people based on age, such as alcohol or tobacco sales).
In my experience as a Human Rights and Employment lawyer, people in our society are become increasingly aware and respectful of their legal requirements not to discriminate. Many of us avoid discrimination simply because we stick to the “Golden Rule” and treat each other with dignity and respect. However, for those who do not always do so, the Code has a mechanism to enforce basic Human Rights.
The Code protects you from discrimination. If you face negative treatment because of your age, you have recourse. You can made a complaint to the BC Human Rights Tribunal, which enforces the Code (www.bchrt.bc.ca).
The Human Rights Code is more than lip service. The BC Human Rights Tribunal actively fields and adjudicates discrimination complaints on a regular basis in all facets of the lives of British Columbians.
The Tribunal’s process is complaint-driven in that a case is opened only once an individual files a complaint and seeks recourse relating to alleged discrimination. The Code also only gives you six months from the date of discrimination to make a complaint to the BC Human Rights Tribunal and, once a complaint is made, the Tribunal has rules that facilitate the exchange of evidence and a fair adjudication of the complaint.
When deciding a case, the Tribunal has wide powers to correct the discrimination including ordering that the discrimination stop, making the person whole for any financial losses suffered as a result of the discrimination, and awarding damages for the injury to one’s dignity that arises as a result of being discriminated against.
I am pleased that increased media attention and social media have improved matters for many senior and experienced employees. The increased exposure has shed light on the potential liability that companies and individual face for engaging in racist, ageist or other discriminatory behaviour, which improves life for all of us.
The Human Rights Code and the Tribunal exist for everyone. They provide a safety net to protect us against discrimination when others fail to act in accordance with basic decency and respect.
The more that we all learn about our rights, the better we can prevent discrimination before it impacts our lives.
Stay tuned for Part Two of my Human Rights series, when I discuss some steps you can take if you suspect you are facing ageism.
For more information, visit the BC Human Rights Code website: (http://www.canlii.org/en/bc/laws/stat/rsbc-1996-c-210/latest/rsbc-1996-c-210.html).
november 2016 INSPIRED senior living
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