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Ageism and the rules for after-work drinks

Dear Corporate Governess
After a recent reorganization at work, I noticed that a disproportionate number of the downsized workers were over 50. At 47, I'm worried that age discrimination is spreading here. How do you prove something like that—and avoid it?
—Bryan H., Toronto

Dear Bryan
In the 1976 film Network (a boomer classic), Peter Finch as Howard Beale exhorts viewers to shout out their windows, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this any more." Televisions rain into the street. If you want management to at least pause and look at what they're doing, somebody needs to get mad here—preferably armed with a lawsuit (TV-tossing optional).

"Proving discrimination takes some effort," says Barbara Jaworski, CEO of the Workplace Institute in Toronto and a consultant for developing older-workforce strategies. "It really is on a case-by-case basis depending on what's happening within that company. You have to be looking and measuring to see if there's something systemic going on. If there is, there may very well be a case." Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, Jaworski explains, you can't discriminate based on age, but it's a tricky thing to prove. A lot of organizations look at the cost of older workers and cut without regard for their value. But while no one has the right to be guaranteed a job, an employer can't just let people in their 50s and 60s go without a real business reason.

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Not giving them a reason is the best way to avoid being cut. You need to be seen as a good employee rather than one stuck in a rut. Jaworski suggests that you focus on your worth to the organization, and understand how you contribute to the business—be helpful, flexible and open to learning. Look like you care by staying fit, and consider updating your style. Managing your cynicism wouldn't hurt either.

If you do get pushed out, I'd challenge it. With the demise of mandatory retirement, the odds of winning are better than you might think. Take the 2013 Ontario case of Filiatrault v. Tri-County Welding Supplies, where the two former owners (who were over 80 and still active employees) were fired without cause by the purchaser of their family-run business. The pair got $1.16 million in damages as severance pay after winning their case for wrongful dismissal. Would that you could be so successful.

Dear Corporate Governess
A co-worker has started inviting her boyfriend to our after-work get-togethers. The guy doesn't fit in and makes it awkward to discuss business-related issues. How can we tell her to leave him out?
—Morgan J., Calgary

Dear Morgan
You can't. Anything designated after-work is precisely that. The lines are already so blurred between work and personal life that we're answering our e-mails between bites of broccoli at the dinner table because the client can't wait until tomorrow. So if you want your colleague to join your social occasions, and she invites her boyfriend, just shove over and make room. No eye-rolling allowed. It might expand your horizons to get a point of view from outside of your industry. If that's too much for you, think of it as networking.

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