After applying unsuccessfully for two jobs at a South Island
electricity distribution company, a 62-year-old man asked to view
the CVs, applications, employment history, listed qualifications,
experience and other information relating to the people appointed
to the roles.
The man was a former long-term employee, having spent 33 years
with the company between 1975 and 2008, and argued that he had more
skills and experience than the successful candidates and had been a
victim of age discrimination.
According to research by OCG Consulting, as many as 60 percent
of older workers believe they have been subjected to or have
witnessed age discrimination through the withholding of promotions,
training and assignments or tasks.
The risk of discrimination, though, is not limited to senior
members of the workforce. Just as some applicants can be deemed
"over qualified", others can be considered under
qualified because of their age.
In the case referred to earlier, the Human Rights Tribunal held
that the 62-year-old man was entitled to view the CVs,
applications, employment history, listed qualifications, experience
and other information relating to the applicants.
It is an example all employers, when they are reading through
applications and CVs, and meeting candidates in the interview room,
would be wise to remember. Not only are situations like these
stressful for all concerned, they can be damaging as discounting a
candidate on the basis of their age is unlawful under the Human
Rights Act 1993.
With an ageing population and the growing tendency for people to
keep working in some shape or form beyond the traditional
retirement age, it is a potential issue many employers could
As a starting point, no assumptions about a person's
physical or cognitive capabilities should be made on the basis of
their age – whether they are a prospective or current
employee. There are some 70-year-olds who are physically fitter
than some 20-year-olds. And any suggestion that older workers do
not adapt to technological change quickly can be strongly
Every person should be assessed on the basis of the requirements
of the job and their capabilities, regardless of age.
That is not to say that age-related performance or safety issues
do not arise. In some cases, older workers can struggle to perform
some of the tasks they once could, and this can be detrimental to
their own wellbeing and the organisation or company they work
If an employer has concerns about a staff member's ability
to perform the tasks involved in their job (whether seemingly
age-related or otherwise), these should be raised with the employee
and they should be given a full and fair opportunity to address any
In some situations, a "fitness for work" assessment by
a doctor or occupational therapist can be useful as it can
impartially identify any limitations and provide recommendations as
to how they might be accommodated.
Employers should take the time to review their hiring and
employment practices and processes to ensure they are not looking
at things through a biased (and unlawful) age lens.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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