Social media platforms are ripe with content criticizing different generations. Insults like "snowflake" and "OK, boomer" can be found in memes, Tweets, videos, message boards and more.
These phrases seem to appear on every online platform and some people are even using this language in their every day, face-to-face conversations. What happens if someone uses these insults at work?
Older workers are the more typical victims of ageism
Because the phrase, "OK, boomer," targets someone's age, it could be an example of harassment. Harassment often includes offensive or derogatory comments about someone's age. It is illegal when it happens with enough frequency or severity that it creates a hostile work environment or impacts an employment decision.
Federal law protects workers who are age 40 or over from harassment or discrimination based on age, as long as their company has at least 20 employees. Oregon law protects workers who are 18 and older who work for companies that have at least one employee. These protections are in place at all stages of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, benefits and others.
The baby boomer generation includes those born between 1946 and 1964. Because "OK, boomer" targets those over age 40, it may run afoul of both state and federal laws.
Younger workers still receive some protections
Similar to older workers, a younger worker who is regularly called a "snowflake" or other age-related insults could be experiencing age-based harassment. However, this situation is a little different.
"Snowflake" typically refers to someone of the millennial generation, which include people born between 1981 and 1996. Because the millennial generation is still under age 40, these workers are not eligible to receive federal protections against ageism, even though they do receive these protections under state law.
However, it is important to realize that it is the age of the employee that matters for federal law, not the age of the generation typically targeted by the comment. For example, someone who is part of Generation X might be called a boomer by younger coworkers or a snowflake by older ones. If this individual is over age 40, he or she may be protected under federal and state laws.
The social media feud between baby boomers and millennials may be ongoing, but it shouldn't interfere with someone's employment. If you have experienced harassment or discrimination at work because of a protected characteristic, like your age, it is important to understand that you have options.