Benefits Coverage for an Aging Population

Canada’s aging population is not a new or unknown phenomenon—as of 2016, the proportion of Canadian citizens aged 65 and older has grown to 16.9% of the national population (Stats Canada)—and while the Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits employers from imposing mandatory retirement policies, it does grant employers the right to renounce certain group benefits for workers who are aged 65 and older.

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario case of Talos vs. Grand Erie District School Board in May 2018 was a precedent case challenging this policy. It argues that an employer’s decision to suspend health and dental benefits at the age of 65 is an act of age discrimination in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that cessation of benefits coverage for older workers should be based solely on ability and performance, and not on age.

There are many implications that organizations must consider when providing coverage for older workers—mitigating costs being just one of them. The tribunal in the Talos case ruled that the suspension of benefits was unconstitutional, and that continued provision of benefits is not cost-prohibitive, nor a financial disadvantage. The tribunal further disputed provisions could have been tailored to preserve the viability of workplace benefit plans without the “carve out” that left older workers vulnerable to a lessening of their compensation based solely on age [288]. All of this is under appeal and/or possible mediation.

Employers must consider the cost impact of having extended coverage past 65. The tribunal’s decision does not mean that employers must immediately amend their contracts to equate with the ruling, but perhaps continued coverage for older workers will lead to a future change in group benefits sponsorship.