Recently, the phrase, “Ok, Boomer” has become a catch-all response from millennials and Generation Zers to older people who have expressed an opinion. What might have started as a harmless meme online has grown into a worldwide phenomenon.
And the patronizing response is not making “boomers” happy. This is especially true when said in the workplace, where many older employees already face discrimination.
What does it mean?
Saying, “Ok, Boomer” is essentially a sarcastic and patronizing way to dismiss an older person and their opinions. As this article describes in more detail, the expression conveys a messaage that the older person is irrelevant, uninformed, or out-of-touch.
Someone who uses the phrase may intend to it as a way to avoid the escalation of an argument, essentially shutting down any further discourse. However, many people see it as an offense and a way of marginalizing the thoughts and opinions of people over a certain age.
So, is it discriminatory to say “Ok, Boomer?”
Using this phrase in the workplace is inadvisable. Its tone is one of disrespect and condescension, which can cause tension among employees.
Further, because it targets people who are at least in their 50s (and sometimes 40s), it could violate federal laws protecting workers over the age of 40 from adverse treatment based on age. And while saying it once may not seem concerning, the prevalence of the expression can bolster a discrimination case by illustrating an environment where an employee is disparaged or mistreated because of his or her age.
What about comments about other generations?
Because federal law only protects workers 40 and older, younger people do not have the same protection from discrimination based on age. That said, harassing someone of any age is unwise, and employers should strive to keep their workplace free from such behaviors.
Understanding age discrimination
Harassing or treating someone differently because of his or her age can lead to discrimination claims against an employer. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 specifically prohibits discriminating against people because they are over the age of 40 when it comes to hiring, promoting, compensating or enjoying various privileges of employment.
As such, employers would be wise to immediately address and stop any discriminatory behaviors or statements targeting older workers.