Is “OK Boomer” Really OK?

January 16, 2020 - Pierce T. MacLennan

If you haven’t heard the phrase “OK Boomer” yet, you probably are a boomer – a baby boomer. And if someone said it to you, it was just under their breath. For the uninitiated, the phrase is an ironic, dismissive expression used by younger generations to mock the perceived outdated ideals of the baby boomer generation.

Example:

Veteran Salesman: “You will never get ahead in this business if you aren’t putting in the extra shifts on the weekend.”

Millennial Director of Sales: “OK Boomer”

The phrase started as a viral sensation/internet meme and is often humorous in its application. But, the phrase’s popularity reflects something more culturally significant – an uneasiness between the perspectives of different generations, which often clash in the workplace where different generations are working more closely together than ever before. Statistics show that many boomers aren’t leaving the workforce, compounding the potential for ageism at your company.

The phrase may also be prima facie age discrimination, depending on the context. Chief Justice John Roberts of the U.S. Supreme Court recently asked a litigant whether uttering the phrase to a job applicant would be significant enough to show age discrimination. Without more, maybe not, but it definitely would help an employee’s case.

Federal law prohibits discrimination against workers over 40 years of age and claims are on the rise according to the EEOC. A 2018 EEOC Report on the Age Discrimination in Employment Act provides detailed information on the requirements of the law and statistics and can be found here.

As always, choose your words carefully.

If you have questions about this topic or other employment law matters, please contact Perry or the HSB Employment Law practice team.

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