As of December 2006, the Ontario Human Rights Code was amended to abolish mandatory retirement. However, the provincial government intentionally did not make corresponding revisions to the Employment Standards Act or the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act. As a result, the law prohibits employer-initiated termination of employment because an employee has reached the age of 65. Voluntary retirement remains acceptable and common. However, employees who work past age 65 are not covered for work-related injuries and need not be covered by group benefit plans. The maximum period for which loss of earnings benefits will be paid under the workers’ compensation system is two years after the date of injury if the employee was age 63 or older on the date of injury. While some employers have arranged for benefit plans to cover employees over age 65, given the increased premium costs, this can lead to a decrease in benefit coverage for all employees or other types of trade-offs. In addition, some unionized employers have been required to provide group health benefits to employees over age 65 due to the wording of a collective agreement – typically a benefits clause which describes the benefits for all members of the bargaining unit.
It was foreseeable that this hybrid status of a worker over age 65 – legally protected from mandatory retirement but not legally protected to receive continued benefits – would lead to litigation. Such an employee would face difficulty succeeding with a complaint under the Employment Standards Act, Human Rights Code or Workplace Safety and Insurance Act since these provincial laws all permit this differentiation.
The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) is currently hearing such a case. The employee is a unionized teacher who is representing himself. His union cannot bring forward a grievance because it has reached an agreement with the school board in exchange for lump sum payments to teachers over age 65. Nor is the union appearing at the HRTO proceedings. So far, there have been a number of Interim Decisions and Case Assessment Directions issued in the case and the teacher has been unsuccessful in alleging unlawful age discrimination. The final argument, which continues to proceed through the HRTO process, is whether the Human Rights Code of Ontario contravenes the equality rights provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a significant legal challenge for a lone, unrepresented employee.
We will be following this important case as it continues to unfold.