Part 2: Just Google it – Age discrimination and technology in the workplace

In the modern day workplace, employers are becoming increasingly reliant on computer systems and introducing new forms of technology and equipment to increase productivity and output. It is often therefore a requirement that employees be proficient in certain computer programs or, at least, that they undergo training to become proficient.

Unsurprisingly, many employers (either consciously or unconsciously) shift their focus to investing in the training and development of younger employees, assuming that they are more receptive to technological changes.

This mindset has the potential to expose employers to discrimination claims by those employees who feel that they are either not given the same opportunities as younger employees or, in some cases, unreasonably directed by their employer to do something that they are not able to do by virtue of their age. A recent study by the Benevolent Society found that over half of the people surveyed who were over 65 years old had experienced some form of age discrimination in their employment, whether it be in the form of a joke, being patronised or simply being ignored.

Consider, by way of analogy, a 75 year old gentleman in Adelaide who made news headlines recently after his grandchildren gifted him an iPhone for his birthday. In an effort to embrace the new technology but with no idea how to use it, the gentleman approached his local Telstra store for instructions. The rather abrupt response from the staff at Telstra was that he should “just Google it”. Later that day, an Aldi employee, upon hearing this gentleman’s struggle whilst at the checkout, offered to give him some quick and helpful assistance.

If this gentleman were an employee who was directed to use a new piece of technology by his employer and, every time he sought assistance from management, was ignored or told to “just Google it”, the risks of that employee becoming disengaged and feeling indirectly discriminated against because of his age are increased.

It goes both ways

Whilst employers should take all reasonable steps to ensure that employees are provided with an opportunity to learn and understand a new process, it can be equally said that an employee must be willing to learn and adapt to these changes. Businesses will inevitably undergo technological upgrades and will introduce new systems and machinery to improve efficiency. It is also inevitable that employees will have to undergo training and development when these changes occur – any resistance to this aspect of a job leaves an employee at risk of becoming superfluous to the operation of the business.

Shane Koelmeyer is a leading workplace relations lawyer and Director at Workplace Law. Workplace Law is a specialist law firm providing employers with legal advice, training and representation in all aspects of workplace relations, employment-related matters and WH&S.

02 9256 7500 | sydney@workplacelaw.com.au

Information provided in this blog is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Workplace Law does not accept liability for any loss or damage arising from reliance on the content of this blog. Where applicable, liability is limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

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