(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)
I entered this world in 1965, so I’m not “officially” a baby boomer, which is the generation loosely defined as having been born between 1946 and 1964. But I’m close enough. And I’ll admit, baby boomers have a lot of explaining to do for their actions, let alone for the Carpenters. But even I couldn’t help cheering when Chlöe Swarbrick, a 25-year-old old member of New Zealand’s parliament, responded to the heckling by older members of her proposed zero-carbon environmental legislation by retorting, “OK boomer” back to them. Swarbrick lays the blame for the world’s environmental messes precisely on the shoulders of one generation and its “current political institutions,” which have “proven themselves incompetent at thinking outside of a short political term.”
Of course, I wasn’t alone in supporting her. The cheeky “OK boomer” response has become a rallying call for millennials and other younger generations across the world. It’s created memes, movements and other calls to actions. If you’re of a younger generation and you’re inspired by Swarbrick’s words, then good for you. But just a word of warning: Don’t use that phrase at work. It could get you — and me — into a lot of trouble.
Why? Turns out that saying such a thing is considered to be age discrimination under the Federal Age Discrimination and Employment Act. I guess what goes around, comes around. “If a manager said ‘OK boomer’ to an older worker’s presentation at a meeting, that would make management seem biased,” writes Naomi Schalit at The Conversation. “Even if that manager simply tolerated a joke made by someone else, it would suggest the boss was in on it.”
Thanks to a new generation of workers who rightly value and fight for inclusivity, fairness and equal treatment, employers like myself must be very careful about any behavior in our offices that may be considered to be derogatory, inflammatory or dismissive against any particular gender, race, religion, national origin, disability or sexual orientation. Usually, these infractions are committed by older workers who kind of grew up with this sort of thing and are trying, and sometimes failing, to fully grasp today’s reality about how one should behave in a professional environment.
But it seems that now the shoe is on the other foot. That’s because those very same younger workers who have fought so hard for equal treatment must also consider the feelings and rights of, yeah, the boomers. Drats! If you’re running a business, you’ve got to make this clear or otherwise face potential legal consequences.
“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.
Despite all the advancements in health, living conditions and economic prosperity many boomers have enjoyed, I admit that this group — my group — deserves a lot of blame for a lot of the problems going on in the world today. We deserve to be lectured, even called out, by young leaders like Swarbrick. But can we keep all these things out of the office, please? Our environmental problems are concerning enough. I don’t need a lawsuit on top of all that.