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Ask Jack: Is "Okay, Boomer" Okay To Say In My Workplace?

By Jack McCalmon, The McCalmon Group, Inc.

Dear Jack:

During a meeting, there was a heated argument about the budget. One of our younger employees said, "Okay Boomer" to one of our older employees. Some laughed after it was said, but I thought, by the tone of how it was said, that is was disrespectful…what say you?

Signed: Joe

Dear Joe:

"Okay Boomer" is a phrase that expresses contempt toward the opinions and views of older people and, perhaps, of older people, in general.  Basically, as described by those who post in the Urban Dictionary, "Okay Boomer" was started as a meme that evolved into a common phrase that younger people can use or share to shut down speech of older people online or in-person.

According to those who approve of the phrase, it is a way to address what they believe is the narrow-mindedness and ignorance of older generations, especially when older people are discussing or relating their experiences to today's society. https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Ok%20boomer

So, for example, if an older employee says that he had to fax invoices in the past and that was so much more difficult than today's automated invoicing, a younger person, if he disagreed or did not care, would say" "Ok Boomer", dismissing the older employee's perspective. So, instead of a discussion, the younger person, by saying "Ok Boomer" is telling the older person that their experience means nothing. Because one of the values older workers bring to the workplace is experience, this dismissal of experience devalues the contribution of older workers, in general.

So, yes, to answer your question… it is very disrespectful. It is a form of ageism and if left unchecked could lead to charges of a hostile environment for employees age 40 or older. As testimony, it would be considered persuasive to demonstrate contempt for older people the same way the use of other uncivil words are used to prove racism or sexism.  

Obviously, not all younger workers are disrespectful to older workers, and many value their experience and mentoring. It is ironic, though, that one of the hallmarks of younger workers is their desire for a fair and open workplace free of discrimination, but unfortunately, "OK Boomer" and those who invoke it run counter to that very positive narrative and to the contributions that young employees are bringing to the workplace.

Jack McCalmon and Leslie Zieren are attorneys with more than 50 years combined experience assisting employers in lowering their risk, including answering questions, like the one above, through the McCalmon Group's Best Practices Help Line. The Best Practice Help Line is a service of The McCalmon Group, Inc. Your organization may have access to The Best Practice Help Line or a similar service from another provider at no cost to you or at a discount. For questions about The Best Practice Help Line or what similar services are available to you via this Platform, call 888.712.7667.

If you have a question that you would like Jack McCalmon or Leslie Zieren to consider for this column, please submit it to ask@mccalmon.com. Please note that The McCalmon Group cannot guarantee that your question will be answered. Answers are based on generally accepted risk management best practices. They are not, and should not be considered, legal advice. If you need an answer immediately or desire legal advice, please call your local legal counsel.

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