The battle of the generations is alive and well, as a new meme can attest. And it may soon have implications in the office.
The catchphrase “OK Boomer” has become a weapon of choice for young Americans to shoot down baby boomers, the generation ranging in age from 55 to 73 years old. After going viral online, the phrase has crept into other parts of society, including on t-shirts–just in time for ugly sweater season.
As former employment lawyer and current professor at the University of Oregon School of Law Elizabeth C. Tippett points out, “OK Boomer” even recently found its way into the halls of congress in New Zealand, when a lawmaker used the phrase to characterize an older colleague who disagreed with her stance on climate change.
“As the term enters our everyday vocabulary, HR professionals and employment law specialists like me now face the age-old question: What happens if people start saying ‘OK Boomer’ at work?” Tippetts asks.
Regardless of whether the phrase is offensive, “OK Boomer’s” legal implications lie in the fact that it is age-related, given that workers aged 40 and older are protected against age-based harassment and discrimination by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
This more senior slice of the workforce is often more vulnerable to getting the short end of the stick during boardroom decisions around layoffs and promotions. Their plump salaries can be low hanging fruit when a company is desperate to lighten its balance sheet in hard times. And they’re seniority necessarily shortens the projected horizon for generating innovative ideas for the company.
While saying “OK Boomer” just once in the office may not meet the legal threshold for a lawsuit, a pattern of such remarks can represent harassment and discrimination.
Discrimination charges of all types against employers in Washington state are on the rise, in part because of the Puget Sound region’s fast-growing economy.
If you have an age discrimination or other employment law claim, call Emery Reddy. You won’t get better advice.