The OK, Boomer meme has become a popular rant for younger generations (Millennials, Generation X, Generation Y) to blame contemporary social ills, economic uncertainty, and even climate change on the Baby Boomer generation.
The meme, which emanated on the heavily censored social media site “TikTok,” may seem like harmless name-calling. In the workplace, however, an argument could be made that saying “OK, Boomer” in response to an older worker’s suggestions or instructions may be a form of unlawful harassment under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which prohibits workplace discrimination based on age against individuals who are over 40.
By the same token, offensive comments by Baby Boomers about younger workers could violate local and state employment discrimination laws. The New York State Human Rights Law prohibits employment discrimination based on age (18 and over), for example, and the New York City Human Rights Law applies to individuals of all ages. While the OK, Boomer meme has yet to become the subject of employment litigation, it takes a skilled employment lawyer to protect all workers from age discrimination.
What does “OK, Boomer” mean?
The OK, Boomer trend is based in part on the notion that Baby Boomers are remaining in jobs too long and blocking younger workers from advancing. While it is true that the American workforce is “greying,” many older workers don’t have sufficient funds saved for retirement. Therefore, they are working longer than previous generations, which puts them at odds with younger workers. On the other hand, Baby Boomers frequently gripe that Millennials have a sense of entitlement and job hop too frequently; however, younger workers often need to move on because there is no room for advancement with their current employers.
Meanwhile, older workers frequently experience age discrimination in the workplace, whether by being passed over for promotions in favor of younger workers or being wrongfully terminated. In addition, workers over 50 years of age are frequently denied employment opportunities, particularly in the tech sector where age discrimination against older workers is pervasive.
What is age discrimination?
Generally, it is unlawful for employers to make employment decisions based on the age of an applicant or employee. Of course, workplace discrimination against older workers is far more common because employers perceive that younger workers are more energetic and tech-savvy, and also believe that they are willing to work for less money. Nonetheless, proving discrimination based on age, rather than some other factor, can be difficult because this form of discrimination is typically very subtle, and employers have wide latitude when making employment decisions.
Why This Matters
Whether the OK Boomer meme will persist or fade like many other internet trends remains to be seen. In the meantime, navigating the contemporary employment landscape can be difficult for younger and older workers alike. Nonetheless, all employees have a shared responsibility to treat each other with dignity and respect, while employers are obligated to create positive work environments. If you believe you have been treated less favorably at work because of your age, consult an experienced employment attorney.