In 2011, employment for people aged 55 and over grew by 3.4% (+102,000).* This statistic confirms what many of us already know: the workforce is becoming older.
With an aging workforce comes a host of issues and challenges, including rising benefit costs due to increased usage of benefits and growing number of disability claims and requests for accommodation due to disability, especially amongst older workers in physically demanding occupations.
In addition, more people are postponing retirement because of financial need or simply because they can – every Canadian jurisdiction except New Brunswick has or will abolish mandatory retirement. As a result, many employers are exploring the previously uncharted territory of working with employees over the age of 65 or even 70.
If a 72-year old employee who has been with the company for 25 years comes to you tomorrow and asks for financial assistance to bridge the income gap created by his pending surgery and time off, how would you respond? Your short term disability insurance carrier tells you that the employee is not eligible to participate in the STD plan or receive benefits because of his age; but the employee is in a difficult spot financially and the company is under considerable (moral and/or employee relations) pressure to provide assistance. Do you go ahead and grant this request as a “one-off”? If you do, are you prepared to do the same for the next employee who comes to you for assistance? For the next 10 employees?
There is no quick, easy or obvious answer in that scenario, or to the many issues and challenges raised by an aging workforce. An effective response must, of course, be legally compliant. Equally or more importantly, from a practical and business standpoint, the response should also take into account the possibility that similar situations will arise in the future. A “one-off” approach may resolve the immediate issue, but the employer may find that it is back at “square one” the next time a similar situation arises, or worse, that an undesirable precedent has been set. In summary: gather the relevant information, identify your options, seek the appropriate advice, and consider the ramifications of your decision beyond the immediate situation and issue.