The phrase “ok boomer” is seen by many as the retort of Millennials and Gen Z to dismissive older generations in all sorts of disagreements from climate change to gender identity to musical tastes. In essence, this retort implies “you’re too old to get it.”
While the phrase may be used in jest, it is simply not acceptable within the workplace. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination based upon, you guessed it, age in the workplace. Any employee over 40 is protected from discrimination or harassment because of their age.
The ADEA, just as other statutes prohibiting discrimination and harassment in the workplace, provides that an employee who is the victim of age-based discrimination or harassment can sue their employer for the resulting damages including lost wages and benefits, liquidated damages. and attorneys’ fees. Moreover, under corresponding state law, an employee suing their employer may be entitled to recover compensatory damages for emotional distress and punitive damages as well.
Just as you would not allow employees to throw around a phrase that negatively referenced race, gender or national origin, you should not allow employees to use age as an insult regardless of the context. It is understandable that a workforce that now employs five generations of employees will have differing perspectives. However, it is important that employees address any differences in a respectful, non-discriminatory manner. If employees are not able to do so, then their conversations should stick to the weather.
And, while there is technically no federal or Pennsylvania law that provides similar protections to employees under 40, it is strongly recommended that employers likewise ensure that age-based comments directed to younger employees are equally prohibited.
DISCLAIMER: The foregoing does not constitute legal advice and has been prepared for informational purposes only. Please contact us directly with questions about how these and other laws and procedures relate to your specific situation.
Prepared by GKH attorney Jeffrey J. Worley. Attorney Worley practices in the areas of Employment Law, Corporate and Commercial Law, and General Litigation.