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Tips and Tools to Deal with Ageism

In my last piece, I discussed the protections that we all have in BC against discrimination.

Ageism is one of several types of discrimination prohibited by the BC Human Rights Code. We are entitled to protection against discrimination because of our age. This protection exists in several aspects of our lives and protects us when we purchase goods, when we obtain services or rent an apartment, and in the course of our employment.

If you are being discriminated against based on your age, then you have the right to file a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal (www.bchrt.bc.ca).

Now that we know we have a tool to protect us from discrimination based on age, let’s talk about when we should use that tool.

Is Ageism Occurring?
In some cases, age discrimination is obvious. For example, perhaps you have been the subject of jokes about your age, or perhaps your boss has told you that they need a “younger” person for the upcoming promotion.
In these cases, you can reasonably assume that discrimination is occurring.

However, in many cases, the issue is not so clear. Perhaps you have been passed over for a promotion, or are being asked about your retirement plans in casual conversation. In such cases, it is less clear whether you are being placed in a negative position because of your age and, therefore, it is prudent to get some further information before making an allegation of discrimination.

The Law
If you are confident you have faced discrimination, then you can do something about it.
You have six months from the date of the discrimination to proceed with a Complaint to the BC Human Rights Tribunal. The Tribunal has a wide berth to decide on complaints, and make orders and award damages to right the wrongs that you have faced. One of the most frequent damages awarded are general compensation for the insult to one’s dignity that comes along with being the subject of discrimination. If you have lost wages as a result of ageism, the Tribunal also has the power to award damages for lost wages as well.

You may have other legal claims such as severance, which can be pursued through the Courts, so it is best to get legal advice. However, know that a complaint to the Tribunal is a first step. The process is straightforward and it is a tool that is available to you, if and when you need it.

Practical Tips
If you are less certain if discrimination has taken place, here are some practical next steps/questions to help flesh out the issue:
* Ask yourself whether the “discriminator” (i.e., your employer) is aware of your age. In the employment context, your employer can only be responsible for discrimination if he/she knows how old you are;
* Are there any reasonable explanations for what is happening? In some cases, there may be valid and good faith reasons why age is a relevant consideration. For example:
* When renting or purchasing a condo in a 55+ building, age is a perfectly relevant consideration; and
* Likewise, age is relevant when dealing with pension and when pension money can be accessed.
* In many cases, it is important to first put the other party on notice of your concerns. While you may want to get legal advice before you document your concerns with your employer, raising your concerns with the other party can sometime correct the problem and any potential misunderstandings. In other instances, putting your concerns on the record clearly but appropriately helps show that, in fact, discrimination is taking place; and
* Act quickly. Since the BC Human Rights Code requires that a discrimination complaint be filed within six months of the discrimination, it is your obligation to move quickly to raise concerns with your employer and, if they go unaddressed, file a complaint within the deadline.

Many clients come into my office with a sense that the way they have been treated is not quite right. I am always pleasantly surprised that people instinctually know when they are being treated unfairly. My job is then to label the unfairness and provide guidance about the tools that we, as British Columbians, have to ensure that we continue to live and work in a fair and just province.

Richard B. Johnson practices employment law in Vancouver. This article is intended for information only. If you have questions about your specific situation, seek professional advice from your lawyer.


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