“Ok, Boomer” and Age Discrimination in the Workplace
What began as a casual way for younger people to dismiss the perspectives of their elders has transformed into a cultural catchphrase that has sparked numerous debates and discussions on the topic of intergenerational relationships.
Some have claimed that the phrase is inherently ageist. Pundits suggest its dismissive nature prevents those who resort to using it from genuinely attempting to appreciate the points-of-view of those older than them.
Which begs the question, would using the phrase “Ok, Boomer” in the workplace be evidence of age discrimination?
Exploring the “Ok, Boomer” Issue
Age discrimination in the workplace may seem like a fairly simple topic but it is actually quite complex. According to the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, it “involves treating an applicant or employee less favorably because of his or her age.” That said, officially, age discrimination protection under Florida and Federal law applies to people who are 40 years of age or older. Therefore, members of the baby boomer generation may be the targets of age discrimination in the workplace.
One recent age discrimination case involving “boomers” reached the Supreme Court, and resulted in some discussion about the relationship between workplace age discrimination and the “Ok, Boomer” trend.
After being fired from her job, Norris Babb sued her former employer by claiming she and several other coworkers over the age of 50 were not given promotions they rightly earned due to their age. As the court listened to oral arguments from Babb’s attorney, Chief Justice John Roberts asked whether the use of “Ok, Boomer” (particularly in a work setting) would qualify as age discrimination.
Babb’s attorney, Roman Martinez, responded by suggesting that it absolutely could if the individual who was the target of the phrase was being considered for a position, and use of the phrase implied their age was a negative quality in some capacity.
This brief discussion does not confirm that use of “Ok, Boomer” and similar phrases in the workplace will now put someone at an immediate risk of facing an age discrimination lawsuit. Roberts did point out that there is a danger in regulating workplace speech to such a degree that people later risk losing their jobs simply because they made unrelated jokes that touch upon age. Should workers feel they can’t share jokes in a light-hearted manner because doing so may be misinterpreted or used as leverage in future legal proceedings?
There is no clear answer to this question yet. However, it is clear that age discrimination remains a significant issue. A recent study on the topic found that between 1990 and 2017, the number of age discrimination cases filed against employers by people age 65 and up doubled. Additionally, nearly half of surveyed employees reported knowing someone who was the victim of age discrimination at work.
These are important points to keep in mind when phrases such as “Ok, Boomer” are part of the popular cultural lexicon. While no one can definitely say whether the use of such phrases in the workplace should be off-limits entirely, their use may constitute age discrimination if they are part of an overall pattern of behavior that indicates an employee was not treated fairly because of their age.