In today’s economy, many very qualified people are unemployed and many others are underemployed. More and more people say they have been searching for a job but are constantly told they are ‘overqualified’ for any open positions.
Over qualification affects both the young and old
From recent University graduates to those returning to the workforce in order to supplement their pension, they are all rejected for being overqualified. The most worrying situation when an employee terminated from one position who cannot get a job at the same level due to the economy, hiring freezes and cutbacks also seems unable to get a job at a lower level due to ‘over qualification’.
Although extremely qualified people are very eager to work in any position, employers refuse to hire them because of their previous work experience. This ends up in a ‘catch 22’ where there are no jobs at their level and they cannot work at jobs below their previous level because of this ‘over qualification’.
Hidden age discrimination
Over qualification can actually be age discrimination, that is, discriminating against older workers. This principle has been found in American courts for instance in Taggart v. Time Incorporated, No. 549, Docket 90-7318, United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, the court states at paragraph 18: “Denying employment to an older job applicant because he or she has too much experience, training or education is simply to employ a euphemism to mask the real reason for refusal, namely, in the eyes of the employer the applicant is too old.”
In the recent Ontario Human Rights case of Reiss v. CCH Canadian Limited, 2013 HRTO 764 a lawyer who was denied the ability to follow up on a position with CCH due to concerns about his resume and qualifications because of his perceived over qualified for the position. The lawyer was given a $5,000 award in compensation for injury to his dignity and feelings by the actions of the employer.
However, the mere use of overqualification as a reason for not hiring someone does not automatically prove age discrimination, the complainant must have solid facts to back up this proposition (Williams v. Ceridian Canada, 2011 HRTO 433).
Advice: Hire the best person for the position
Employers should be very careful to rule out employees merely for being overqualified. If you are worried about employees leaving and not staying, then it is worth discussing with an employment lawyer what terms you can put in a contract to assist with these concerns without eliminating the chance of having effective, dedicated employees.
Employees who are attempting to get jobs for which they are overqualified: it is often best to be upfront with why you are applying in your resume and cover letter. Make it clear that you are willing and interested to work for the company for the long run. Also, explain how the job fits into your career path. If an employer does appear to be using discriminatory practices it is important to consult an employment lawyer.