Erica Pinsky



The Recessionary Reality of Age Discrimination

“Jim” was psyched for his latest in a long series of job interviews. He was eminently qualified for this position. This would be the one that would turn things around. He could feel it in his bones… right up until the recruiter came out to call him in. He could see it in her face. She took one look at him and decided he was not going to work out.


Discrimination in hiring is nothing new.

What is new, however, is the personal characteristic that is currently responsible for an alarming increase in complaints of discrimination being filed on both sides of the border. Although we have abolished mandatory retirement in many jurisdictions in Canada, the grim reality of the current recessionary economy is that the older you are, the harder it will be for you to find a job if you lose the one you currently have.

Individuals over the age of 45 comprise a majority of those within the “hard luck” recession category, referred to as the long term unemployed, having been out of work six months or longer. While workers of all ages are being laid off, older workers are having a much harder time finding new jobs than their younger colleagues. The fact that you have hit your fifties means that employers will be less interested in hiring you, regardless of your Ivy League education, stellar experience or glowing references. These days, growing numbers of hard working, high achieving boomers are experiencing the reality of age discrimination.

Human rights laws are intended to eradicate discrimination.
Human rights laws are intended to eradicate discrimination. Discrimination is about disadvantage – disadvantage which occurs because of assumptions we make about others on the basis of personal characteristics like race, gender and increasingly these days, age.

Older workers are too expensive.
Older workers tend to get sick more and will cost more in benefits and lost time.
Older workers won’t be able to keep up with the latest technologies.
Older workers will be too set in their ways.
Older workers may take a job that pays less than what they were earning, but they won’t be happy and will grumble and complain to anyone and everyone about it.
Older workers can’t get along well with younger workers.

Are these facts or assumptions? Are they true for all older workers, some or none?


The law is very clear with respect to hiring practices. We are supposed to be hiring individuals solely on the basis of their ability to do the job, to fulfill the “bona fide” or legitimate occupational requirements of the position. Everyone is supposed to get a fair chance. Employers are legally obligated to structure hiring practices that are respectful – which means practices that ensure equality of opportunity and equality of outcome for all who apply.


But of course the reality is that things never seem to happen the way they are supposed to. Rather than eradicating discrimination in employment, it seems that we are just shifting the disadvantage from one group to another. Women were the first group to dominate employment discrimination claims. Then it was members of visible minorities and after that, individuals with disabilities. Now it is anyone that is fortunate enough to live into middle age.


Bottom line is that discrimination in employment benefits no one, neither employees or employers. A truly effective employment process is one that is designed to ensure that you get the best possible candidate for the work that you have. For that to happen, your recruitment process must be one that is fundamentally respectful to all candidates.


In my book Road to Respect: Path to Profit I refer to that kind of recruitment process as one that is values based. When respect is embraced as a core cultural value, your recruitment process must, by definition, be one that is structured in a respectful manner. This means that the design of that process must include frank and honest discussion about discrimination and how the assumptions we make about others on the basis of their personal characteristics can result in flawed decision making, and the loss of potentially great employees.


We are starting to see some signs of economic recovery and one day soon many businesses will be facing labour shortages. Those older workers that are now being discarded to the junk heap may soon be badly needed. Whether or not you can offer someone a job, you can always offer them a positive experience with your organization. A recruitment process that is fair, open and respectful to all candidates will enhance your corporate reputation as well as the viability, growth and long term success of your business.

"Erica Pinsky’s book, Road to Respect: Path to Profit approaches a range of difficult topics in an honest, direct and non-threatening manner. This book will stimulate readers to think about their own values and behaviours and to question those that are operating in their workplaces. Erica shares personal stories and best practices to clearly show why adopting respect as a core value is a requirement for any business interested in being designated as an Employer of Choice in our multi-cultural workplaces.  I highly recommend this book!"

Susan Rubin Mulder,

Principal - McKinsey & Company