The National Senior Games begin in Cleveland today. For those who don’t know, it’s essentially the Olympics for U.S. athletes 50 and older. The Plain Dealer has been previewing the Senior Games all week, and today posted an article entitled “National Senior Games Athletes Obliterate Myths About Aging and Fitness.” In reading it, we noticed that some of the myths about older athletes are the same ones we see about older employees in age discrimination cases.
For instance, take this myth from the Plain Dealer article: “Seniors can’t compete with younger athletes.” Replace “athletes” with “employees” and you’ve got a typical ageist stereotype seen in the workplace. It’s not uncommon for age discrimination cases to involve employers who believe older employees can’t “keep up” with younger ones. This myth is especially prevalent in the sales field. Fortunately for victims of age discrimination in that field, an older employee with sales numbers that beat younger employees can prove this myth false, either during employment, or to a jury.
Or consider this myth: “Senior athletes use outdated equipment.” Replace “athletes” with “employees” again, and replace “equipment” with “methods” or “strategies” and you get another common age-based stereotype. Age discrimination cases frequently revolve around an employer’s unfounded belief that older employees are “set in their ways” or “can’t adapt” to evolving technology and practices. Comments along those lines may follow suit. Comments about “retirement,” “slowing down,” and of course nicknames like “grandpa” or “old man” are also typical indicators of age bias.
Myths about what older employees can and can’t do may well turn into unfavorable treatment of older employees, such as demotions, pay cuts, taking away customers or job duties, and even termination. As with any employee, older workers are entitled to be judged on their actual merits, not based on myths and stereotypes. Employees of all ages should keep an eye out for evidence of these myths and stereotypes about older employees in order to stop to age discrimination in the workplace before it starts.