Age Discrimination is Incidious
You are the manager of a non-unionized call centre and 5 out of 15 customer service reps have to be let go because of a shortage of work. Or you are interviewing candidates for a Supervisory Accounting position and the final choice is up to you.
You think of yourself as a liberal, fair-minded person. You would never dream of discriminating based on anyone’s age, sex, colour, creed or any other prohibited ground und the Ontario Human Rights Code. On the other hand, your job is to look out for the long term interests of that call centre. The operational performance in the long term affects not only the security of your job but your bonus. Since all the 15 potential victims make about the same money, their salary is not a deciding factor in who stays and who goes. But 3 of the 15 are over 60 and probably won’t be with the company that long any way. Because they have all been there a long time, the severance packages will be more costly than the junior, younger employees but you have your eyes on the long game. Afterall, the long term vitality of the call centre is a bonifide business concern. It is not about their age, you tell yourself, it is about their prospects for contributing in the long term. Not a lot of people work past their late 60s. Those are the facts of life.
As for the Accounting Supervisor candidates, they are applying for a tough job. It is fast paced and includes constant multi-tasking. It takes energy and you want enthusiastic, dynamic and proactive leadership. Unlike the call centre manager you are not as focused on how many working years are left in the candidates as you are on their energy level. The best 2 candidates are 35 and 55 years old. Without ever consciously thinking about it, you choose the 35 year old that your brain told you had a bit more spring in their step.
Age discrimination is an insidious and corrosive disease in our society. They cannot prove it, but those 3 senior call centre workers and the 55 year old accounting supervisor candidate know why they ended up at the wrong end of the stick. Those people have sat in my office repeatedly over the years. The effect upon their sense of dignity and self-worth is debilitating. They feel absolutely helpless. Notwithstanding their achievements and history of service the lines on their face are the only thing anyone sees. And it's not like I can do anything about it. In the absence of a smoking gun, if age discrimination is alleged, a myriad of excuses and justifications will be proffered; the three call centre workers performed below average on the latest performance matrix being used by the company. The accounting supervisor candidate answered some of the interview questions less persuasively.
Few people are stupid enough to send an email to another manager confirming they chose the younger candidate or fired the older workers. There is no evidence trail.
For those readers hoping that I would be able to conclude this article with some ray of hope or possible remedy, all I have to offer is this: Remember, their time is coming. Age discrimination is a table that inevitably turns.