Call someone at work “fat”, and you may have to pay a visit to your human resource office.
Call an employee too old to get a promotion, and you might be charged with age discrimination.
But what if you are joking around and you use the popular putdown phrase, “OK boomer” with a colleague?
The expression started online by Generation Z’ers and millennials in dismissing statements made by baby boomers (persons aged 55-73 years old).
But the Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects workers 40 and older.
So, workplace comments about a baby boomer’s age, especially by a manger, could lead to an accusation that the organization has a bias against older workers. Even if a manager allows another person to make a comment like that, one could argue that management condones that type of harassment. That also applies to comments like “hey old man” or “you old fart.”
Even asking someone about their retirement plans could be construed as being inappropriate because a person could be hinting that you are too old to do your job.
You think its funny, but someone on the receiving end may not.
Most labor lawyers will advise against making any age-related comments at work.
The US Supreme Court even heard a discrimination case in which a manager described an employee as “so old he must have come over on the Mayflower.”
“Given the prevalence of age discrimination lawsuits, employers should take heed and consider reminding their workforce about the impropriety of this and other age-related phrases and train their employees to leave the generation wars at the door,” writes Anthony J. Oncidi in the National Law Review.
Back to the “OK Boomer” phrase: A 20-year-old interviewed by the New York Times said that the phrase isn’t about age. He said it is usually directed at someone who doesn’t accept change.
No lawyer would want to use that as a defense. So be smart about the language you use.