Ontario teacher fights for right to benefits past 65

‘People shouldn't be discriminated against because of their age,” he said

Ontario teacher fights for right to benefits past 65
When teacher Steve Talos chose to continue teaching past the retirement age of 65, it was a choice borne of passion. He didn’t realize that it would put him among a growing cohort of working senior citizens who lose their employee benefits – until he received a letter for human resources saying his benefits had been terminated.

“I was shocked by it,” said Talos, a teacher with the Grand Erie District School Board for 44 years, in a report on the Brantford Expositor. “I had never thought about it.”

It could have been disastrous: shortly after the school’s decision, Talos’s wife developed ovarian cancer and required costly drugs. Had he not gotten approved under Ontario's Trillium Drug program, he would have “soon gone bankrupt.”

While the Ontario Human Rights Code no longer requires mandatory retirement, employers can still choose to cut or reduce benefits or insurance for workers who hit 65, even if they choose to continue doing the same job. Challenging the status quo, Talos has brought his case to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, alleging discrimination on the basis of age.

“When the union negotiates for wages, benefits become part of that. I shouldn't be treated differently than others,” Talos said. “People shouldn't be discriminated against because of their age.”

From a legal standpoint, however, employers still have a say. “Employers are permitted to differentiate benefits for employees after the age of 65 as a result of the definition of 'age' in the Employment Standards Act and the Ontario Human Rights Code's reliance on that definition,” said Jamie Melnick, Talos’s lawyer in his tribunal case.

The Ontario Employment Standards Ace prohibits age-based discrimination, but only for employees between 18 and 65 years old. “Our argument is that the differential treatment of workers over the age of 65 purely on the basis of age… constitutes ageism in the workplace,” said Melnick, who tried Talos’s case before the tribunal for two years ending last September. “Such practices should not be protected … as a reasonable limit under the law.”

The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal is expected to arrive at a decision within weeks. While Melnick is prepared to try the case up to the Supreme Court of Canada, he said he’s not sure how large an issue it will become since the vast majority still retire prior to or at the age of 65.

The average retirement age for a secondary school teacher is 57. In 2016, Statistics Canada reported that the number of Canadian employees over 65 was around 750,000, compared to the 2012 record of 580,000.

“If people want to work past the age of 65, they will undoubtedly feel slighted if the benefits they enjoyed at 64 are stripped or eliminated at age 65,” said Melnick. He said he expects insurers are aware of the issue, and will create products to address it.

Related stories:
Workers over 65 unaccounted for under anti-ageism legislation
Employee plan must cover pot prescription, rules human rights board