December 9, 2019

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“OK, Boomer!”: Not Okay In the Office

As recently highlighted by the New York Times, a new phrase emblematic of the real or perceived “War Between the Generations” has gone viral: “OK, Boomer!”  The phrase, popularized on the Internet and, in particular, Twitter by Generation Z and Millennials, has been used to dismiss baby boomers’ thoughts and opinions, sometimes viewed by younger generations as paternalistic or just out of step.

And, the phrase isn’t just living in Twitter feeds and the comments sections of opinion pieces.  There is “OK, Boomer!” merchandise and, just last week, a 25 year-old member of the New Zealand Parliament used the phrase to dismiss a fellow lawmaker’s perceived heckling during a debate about climate change.

While many may find “OK, Boomer!” a harmless way to point out generational differences, the phrase’s popularity could lead to problems once it creeps into the workplace.  Age (over 40) is a protected category under both California law (i.e., the Fair Employment and Housing Act) and federal law (i.e., the Age Discrimination in Employment Act).  Whether the speaker is well-intentioned or not, dismissive attitudes about older workers could form the basis of claims for discrimination and/or harassment.  And, as one radio host recently opined, the phrase “OK, Boomer!” may be regarded by some as an outright slur.

Generation Z and Millennial employees understand that using derogatory or dismissive comments related to gender, race, religion, national origin, disability and sexual orientation are inappropriate.  Yet, for some reason, some may not have made the leap with regard to insidious/disparaging comments about a co-worker’s age.  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.

© 2019 Proskauer Rose LLP.

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About this Author

Anthony J Oncidi, Employment Attorney, Proskauer Rose Law Firm
Partner

Anthony J. Oncidi heads the Labor & Employment Law Group in the Los Angeles office. Tony represents employers and management in all aspects of labor relations and employment law, including litigation and preventive counseling, wage and hour matters, including class actions, wrongful termination, employee discipline, Title VII and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, executive employment contract disputes, sexual harassment training and investigations, workplace violence, drug testing and privacy issues, Sarbanes-Oxley claims and employee raiding and trade secret protection....

310-284-5690
Associate

Philippe (Phil) A. Lebel represents employers in all aspects of employment litigation, including wage and hour, wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, whistleblower, trade secrets, and breach of contract litigation, in both the single-plaintiff and class-action context, at both the trial and appellate level, and before administrative agencies. Phil also represents employers in connection with labor law matters, such as labor arbitrations and proceedings before the National Labor Relations Board. Additionally, Phil counsels clients to ensure compliance with federal and state labor and employment laws and assists a variety of companies and financial firms in evaluating labor and employment issues in connection with corporate transactions. Phil also has experience assisting employers with sensitive employee investigations.

Phil has assisted clients with labor and/or employment issues in a wide array of sectors including in the entertainment, financial services, fitness, retail, telecommunications, healthcare, insurance, education, media, high-tech, biotech, manufacturing, transportation, professional services, and staffing industries, among others.

Phil regularly speaks on emerging issues for employers and has been published or quoted in Law360, the Daily JournalBusiness Insurance, and SHRM.org regarding a variety of labor and employment law topics.

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Cole Lewis Employment Attorney
Associate

Cole Lewis is an associate in the Labor & Employment Department.

Cole graduated from UCLA School of Law, where he worked as a law clerk for Public Counsel of Los Angeles and advocated for benefit recipients in the Department of Public Social Services. He has also previously worked as a summer associate in Proskauer’s Labor & Employment Department.

Prior to law school, Cole received his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism at Indiana University, where he graduated cum laude.

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