Rebel Honey Badger
The phrase "OK, boomer" has become a catch-all put-down that Generation Zers and young millennials have been using to dismiss retrograde arguments made by baby boomers, the generation of Americans who are currently 55 to 73 years old.
Though it originated online and primarily is fueling memes, Twitter feuds and a flurry of commentary, it has begun migrating to real life.
As the term enters our everyday vocabulary, HR professionals and employment law specialists now face the age-old question: What happens if people start saying "OK, boomer" at work?
Evidence of discrimination
A lot of the internet fights over "OK, boomer" revolve around whether the phrase is offensive or not. But when you're talking about the workplace, offensiveness is not the primary problem. The bigger issue is that the insult is age-related.
Workers aged 40 and older are protected by a federal statute called the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which prohibits harassment and discrimination on the basis of age.
Gen Xers protected, too
And it doesn't matter if the target isn't even a boomer.
Gen Xers were born around 1965 to 1979. That makes them older than 40 and covered by federal age discrimination law.
"Just a joke"? Good luck with that
One of the most famous age-discrimination cases — which made its way all the way up to the Supreme Court — involved a manager who described an employee as "so old he must have come over on the Mayflower."
Revenge of the "snowflakes"
To millennials who have suffered through years of being called "snowflakes" by their elders, protests of age discrimination can seem a bit rich.
Why didn't HR ban all those millennial jokes about avocado toast?
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act only kicks in for workers who are 40 or older, which means millennials aren't covered. For now.
The oldest millennials will turn 40 later this year. So fear not, the millennial jokes may eventually become a legal problem for companies as these workers age.
Why older workers need protections
Boomers might seem really powerful, and yes, they might be your boss's boss's boss.
But older workers are more vulnerable than they seem. Older workers are expensive — by the time they've worked their way up the corporate ladder, their generous salaries start to weigh on the balance sheet.
And management may have trouble envisioning spectacular growth and innovative ideas from them years into the future, even if they are ready and willing to deliver.
That's why Congress thought it was important to extend protections to those workers. It wanted employers to treat them as individuals who shouldn't be dismissed out of hand because of their age.
And in many ways, that's what young people seem to want as well: a little respect for what they bring to the table. After all, that meme didn't make itself.
This article originally appeared in The Conversation.