who gets the miles for business travel, boss has one foot out the door, and more

It’s fast answer Friday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Who should get the miles for business travel?

If you travel for work, do you think it is okay to collect air miles, airline rewards points, or hotel rewards points in your personal account? Or should these points be collected on behalf of the company, and used? This is assuming that the company does not have an explicit policy governing this (I know some companies do).

I used to travel heavily for work, and always kept the air miles and hotel rewards points for myself; what do you think?

If your company allows it, go for it. If they don’t allow it, they’ll tell you.

Personally, I’m a fan of letting people keep the miles they earn for business travel, because business travel is something of a hardship — you’re dealing with airline delays, and being scrunched into your seat on your flight, and that guy who keeps coughing on you from the middle seat, and being away from your home, and so forth. So I think it’s a nice gesture to let people keep the miles and points earned from their trip, in recognition of the fact that they’re the ones bearing the burden of being away.

2. My boss has one foot out the door and is constantly complaining

My boss is ready to quit with one foot out the door. I’ve really enjoyed working with her, but she’s not getting along with her boss at all and it’s just not working out. I’m struggling a little with how to best react to “I hate my job” statements like “I won’t be doing this much longer” and how to not get dragged down a bit by them. She’s already been told she shouldn’t talk like this in front of me by a peer, and she apologized and briefly slowed down, but the comments have picked up again. I plan on asking her for a recommendation, so staying professional is necessary. Additionally, any tips on how to best be prepared for what at this point seems inevitable would be greatly appreciated.

It’s worth noting that her boss is a bit of a monster, and not someone I can go to. She is fairly punitive, and places no value on professional development. Beyond my direct team, the office culture is pretty great — I don’t mean to make it out to be like I work in a dungeon.

I’d just try to see it as what it is and no more: someone increasingly miserable, to the point that she’s letting it get in the way of acting professionally. But if it’s really bothering you, you can try saying something to her in the moment like, “I’m sorry you’re so unhappy. Since I’m here for the foreseeable future, I’m trying to focus on what I like here, and it can be hard when we’re so frequently being negative.” (Note the we there; it’s softer than saying you.)

But if she’s unprofessional enough to still be venting to you even after realizing that she shouldn’t, this may not work, and you might need to just wait it out.

3. Talking to an employee who asked to work from home because she was out of gas

I work from a company that officially has a no-work-from-home policy. We are allowed, however, within our pyramids to make discretionary decisions for individual circumstances. My circumstance: A salaried direct report sent an email at midnight asking if she could work from home. The reason was because she had no gas and couldn’t afford gas until payday.

I’m in quandary on how to handle this, as we don’t have strictly defined rules on what constitutes okay to work from home. For example, another employee had a family member in the hospital pending decision on a surgery and was approved to work from the hospital because it was unclear when the decision for the surgery would be made. Often weather circumstances also come into play.

My issue is how to follow up with the employee without seeming too insensitive. I feel that it is the responsibility of the employee is to make sure that transportation to work is available–I think this shows a lack of critical thinking. In addition, I feel the individual should have brought this situation up the day before rather than sending an email about it late at night. However, I’m not sure how these competes with other reasons if working from home is occasionally allowed. I know I need to have a follow up conversation, but am not sure how to approach it. Thoughts?

I agree with you that that’s not a good reason in the context of a workplace where working from home is discouraged. It’s reasonable to expect employees to be prepared to get to work each day. I’d say something like this: “As you know, I can sometimes grant permission to work from home under very occasional circumstances, but in general we do expect you’ll have transportation to work each day. Is that something you’ll be able to do going forward?”

And I don’t know what her salary is like, but if you have any reason to think that the can’t-afford-gas situation might represent bigger problems in her life, it might be kind to talk with her about whether everything is okay, if that’s something you’re comfortable with.

4. Can my employer require me to use English when talking to coworkers?

I’m Filipino and I have a coworker who is also Filipino. We talk sometimes at work in our dialect, but now we are being told by our manager that we can’t do that anymore, because it seems to be bothering someone there. Is this legal or do you have any input in this matter?

Your employer can prohibit you from speaking other languages if the rule is justified by a business necessity — such as when waiting on English-speaking customers, group assignments in which an English-only rule will promote efficiency, or to allow a manager who only speaks English to monitor the performance of staff members whose job involves communication with others. However, your employer cannot prevent you from speaking another language in casual conversation with another coworker, even if it’s making coworkers around you uncomfortable. (That said, it’s worth noting that most people do consider it rude to speak in front of others in a language that they can’t understand, so you might want to voluntarily take that into consideration if other people are in the room when you’re speaking to each other.)

5. Can I call the hiring manager before applying to ask about how long they’re accepting applications?

I have a question about contacting a hiring manager prior to applying. I saw that my dream company posted an opening for which I am well-qualified approximately two weeks ago. Since I am transitioning from academic to applied work, it has taken me a long time to prepare a resume and cover letter. (The anxiety of trying to make everything perfect didn’t help.)

Yesterday, I called the company to ask for the hiring manager’s name and was told, in addition to the name, that the post would be up for about another two weeks. That said, my contact within the company, a vice-president, heard that they were not looking at any new candidates and were in the interview stage. The post is still online.

Should I call the hiring manager to tell her of my application and ask about the hiring timeline or would this diminish my chances? I am very well qualified for the position and hate to think that my resume would not be reviewed.

Do not call. That will be annoying and yes, it could certainly diminish your chances (in part because it’s like announcing “I’ve been planning to apply but still haven’t managed to do it,” which doesn’t reflect well on you). Finish your application and send it in today. If they’re interviewing people, they could make a hire at any time. Delaying means you could miss the window to be considered.

(Maybe it will help your anxiety to realize that you have no idea whether this is your dream company or not.)

6. Asking to push a start date back by months

After receiving a job offer (to start in July) and finishing my degree, I’ve been backpacking through Europe. However, I’ve realized since that I had over-prepared and my funds could last me the rest of the year. I’m actually rather looking forward to the work, but I would dearly love to keep traveling for the rest of this year.

The company I’ll be working at is quite a large firm, and they have two intakes in a year — one in July and another in March. I was considering therefore the possibility of emailing them to request a start in the March intake if they hadn’t assigned me to a project already. Would this be presuming too much considering I’m just a graduate? As a secondary consideration, I’ve also been informed that the March intake is the main one, and is better for getting to know the rest of the graduates. Also, if this isn’t too frivolous a matter to bring up, how best should this subject be approached?

Is the July “class” very small or is it large? If it’s small, no — you got one of a small number of places that could have otherwise gone to someone else, and you should honor that. But if it’s big, then yes, probably (but only because they have two formal intakes; otherwise definitely not; that’s normally way too long to push a start date back by). I’d say something like: “I’m currently slated to begin in July but wondered about the possibility of starting in March instead in order to extend my current travel. I’m really excited to begin work and I’d be glad to stick to the July date if that’s better on your side, but I thought it worth checking with you in case March is a possibility.”

One thing to consider: There’s a slim chance that pushing your start date back to March could increase the chances of at some point having the offer pulled altogether, if they do cutbacks between now and then; some people have had offers with distant start dates pulled in that situation, so you’d want to factor that risk into your thinking.

7. Letting my company pay for future classes when I might leave at any time

I’m doing excellent work at my current job (so my supervisor tells me) and have expressed my desire for a promotion/increase in responsibilities. I have been told that there is “nowhere to go” from my current position and a raise is not possible, so I’ve started looking elsewhere for a new opportunity.

My current company is trying to retain me, though, so they have offered to pay for outside training/classes that I’d like to take, and it’s been implied that the material doesn’t even have to be relevant to my work. It’s basically “free money” to take any kind of course anywhere that I’m personally interested in. They’ve offered to pay up to $1,000/class for this, and it seems like I can continue taking courses indefinitely.

I’ve taken them up on this offer, but it’s not a long-term solution for me so I’m still looking for a new job elsewhere (though not with the same sense or urgency as before). If I do happen to get new job and if it happens to line up so that the company has already paid for a course that I am going to take (no refunds), am I obligated to pay the company back for these funds if I leave before the class starts?

If they haven’t asked you to sign a repayment agreement (in case you leave before X months are up, or whatever), then no, you’re not legally obligated to repay the money. That said, ethically, I don’t feel great about you signing up for future classes on their dime when you’re actively looking to leave, especially since you know that they’re paying for it in the hopes of retaining you, and that’s particularly true if they’ve treated you well and didn’t misrepresent your job. You’d also want to consider whether it’s likely to harm the relationship if this happens, since a great reference is generally worth more than any class.

{ 307 comments… read them below }

  1. Jasmine*

    Re: Who should get the miles for business travel?

    The fact that you’re even eligible to collect air miles means your company made you pay for the tickets on your personal credit card rather than buying the tickets for you. So they’re tying up your personal credit line for the company’s convenience and then forcing you to go through the hassle of getting reimbursed, possibly at a much later date (maybe even after you’ve already had to pay the credit card bill). I think that’s another reason in favor of your keeping the air miles.

    1. LondonI*

      Not necessarily. Lots of companies issue Amex cards to their employees. It doesn’t tie up anyone’s credit line

      As someone who is too low down the totem pole to travel for work and watches her better-paid employees (a) travel either first or business class at the company’s expense and
      (b) keep the airmiles for personal use, I do feel a little resentful.

      1. the gold digger*

        I travel for my job, but I am not well paid. I certainly don’t fly anything but coach. (Not even the CEO flies above coach).

        But if I am going to spend 16 hours on a plane in a middle seat, have two weeks of horrible jet lag (while I’m there and then when I return home), and have to lose my weekend because they work on Sunday where I am going, then I darn well better get to keep those miles.

        1. Judy*

          Our corporate policy states that you can fly business class on your FOURTH or more international trip of the year. Domestic flights must all be coach.

          I’ve never done more than 2 international trips in a year.

      2. Brought to you by the letter "S"*

        my job is 50% travel and i spent my birthday last year alone at an applebee’s in middleofnowhere, usa. i love my job, not here to complain or seek sympathy. however, as AAM said, there are some aspects of frequent travel that most people would consider to be a hardship. letting me keep my points/miles is a nice gesture from my company, but there is no frequent flier club that will completely make up for time you miss at home.

        1. Rob Aught*

          Feel your pain. I thought flying on 4th of July might be neat but fireworks really lose something from the air, even if you can see multiple shows.

          On the other hand, if you fly Superbowl Sunday you might actually get to spread out. Silver linings and all that.

          Glad to hear the job is good though. If my old consulting gig had only been 50% travel I might still be there. Loved the job, hated being away all the time.

          1. twentymilehike*

            On the other hand, if you fly Superbowl Sunday you might actually get to spread out. Silver linings and all that.

            I used to LOVE flying on Superbowl Sunday … every year we attend an event that weekend, but I always leave Sunday afternoon before everyone else to open up the office on Monday. LOVED it. SO quiet at the airport and I don’t care about football so it was great for me. Well, this year, ALL of the flights were overbooked to the point where they had to start rescheduling people for later flights.

            Guess they got tired of flying empty planes around.

        2. TrainerGirl*

          So true…I spent Valentine’s Day this year in Buffalo eating wings (and having $4 martinis). Not ideal, but the fact that I got to keep the miles during travel season made being away sting less.

      3. Katie the Fed*

        I have a government credit card. I get my miles, but if I miss a payment on my government credit card, it goes on my credit record, not the government’s.

        I always fly coach, FYI. Even 14-hour flights. Urghhh.

      4. former business travelr*

        I used to travel a lot and as others have stated, it’s not as exciting as it may appear. We always traveled in coach class; the only time I traveled in business class was by using the miles I had earned to upgrade. Your co-workers may be upgrading in a similar manner.

      5. Victoria Nonprofit*

        Oh, yikes, yeah… don’t resent business travel. Seriously. For all the reasons AAM mentioned, plus a bunch of things you don’t think about until you start doing a ton of travel for work (at least, things I didn’t think about):

        – It’s hard to manage a home when you’re away all the time. If you’re single, who takes the trash to the curb/picks up the mail/etc. You can’t always just swing by the hardware store on your way home. If you’re not single, is your spouse just stuck with all the home and life maintenance without you?

        – It’s hard to be in a routine (for things like groceries, cleaning, etc.) when your schedule isn’t routine. I’m constantly running out of food because it’s hard to shop for three days here, four days gone, six days here, ten days gone, etc.

        – It’s next to impossible to do anything that happens on a weekly schedule. Want to sign up for a writing class? Sure, but you’ll have to miss three of the eight sessions.

        – If you’re single, it’s going to be rough on pets (and your wallet!) to have you coming and going.

        – It’s so, so hard to manage friendships and relationships. You have to cram all your socializing into the days that you’re in town. As an introvert, that’s exhausting. But the alternative is to go weeks without seeing your people.

        And these days the airline miles don’t add up to all that much. I’ve traveled 50% since September I’m, like, halfway to a domestic ticket. Me and my stupid short flights! (Long enough to keep me away from home all week; short enough that it doesn’t add up to much).

        1. The IT Manager*

          This is one of the areas that lots of married people think is so much easier for single people because they’re single, but its not. It’s just an entirely different set of problems. A married person misses their spouse and togetherness and does stick their spouse with all the household upkeep while they’re gone, but a single person has all kinds of logistical issues because there’s no one to do the household upkeep but them.

          1. former business traveler*

            I don’t think I could have done it if I was single. I felt bad that I stuck so much of it on my husband, but can’t imagine what would have happened if I was single.

        2. former business traveler*

          Thanks for mentioning all of those. I had forgotten much of that, as it’s been over 10 years since I left the frequent-traveling job. But yes, my spouse was resentful at times because he had the large burden of managing our home and family. Our relationship was very strained and we came close to splitting up over that. I lost touch with friends that I dearly miss – we worked crazy long hours when on the road to cut down on hotel and car costs and I was exhausted when I returned home. My health suffered – which finally caused me to leave that job.

    2. Revanche*

      I experienced scenarios where either I booked my own business travel on my personal card, booked it on a company card, or had a company travel agent book and at all times, I was able to put it under my own mileage program.

      In the case where the company pays for the hotel, sometimes we weren’t be eligible to earn points but that was usually when the company had booked through a travel discounter.

      Otherwise I’ve always gotten the points from my travel.

    3. PEBCAK*

      Nope. I have acquired miles when the company travel department booked the flight on their credit card. It matters whose butt is in the seat.

      1. tcookson*

        It matters whose butt is in the seat.

        That’s how I understand it, too. At my office, whoever the traveler is gets the miles. I book travel for our internal people and for incoming guest lecturers and critics, and I always ask our guests if they have frequent flyer miles that they want to apply.

    4. SunshineDC*

      It is IMPOSSIBLE for your company to earn miles for your flights and ONLY possible for you the traveler to earn and use them, per the policy of all airlines. It makes no difference who buys tickets, the earning of the miles only go to the traveler.

      There may a few rare exceptions such as when a huge corporation may have a huge account prepaying biz/first class seats, etc. – at least there used to be some similar option.

      But otherwise, it’s important for readers (and companies) to get clear on how mileage programs work. Who flies gets the miles, period. Who buys, if not themselves flying, get no miles or points and are not entitled to them by airline practice and policy.

      1. Brandy*

        That’s actually not true either. I used to work for a company that did all the travel planning, and all the points went to the company. It was a $hitty place to work.

        1. SunshineDC*

          I hope that was what was actually happening, and not otherwise – as I am often shocked to find colleagues who never bother to sign up for or give the airline their flyer numbers, thus never earning anything. When I’ve asked them, they say “Oh, my company books the travel so whatever is earned goes to them.” Au contraire! I’ve done a lot of “rescues” for friend then (I’m a super-elite level earner in my programs and know every rule and loophole.) Your company can get points on what it books through its credit accounts probably (some airlines have a pre-pay account with companies where the company earns some points IN ADDITION to the flyer, but never instead of.

          Even on the biz travel expert and frequent flyer websites, like Flyertalk, I’ve never even seen a post of someone who had a company who could get their mileage points. It must be an extreme case where your company has a muti-million dollar account and special arrangements. It is far outside any norm, for sure.

          I urge you, next time you travel, to give your account # to the agent as you check it.

          1. SunshineDC*

            Sorry, what I meant to be clear on was that, if your company uses its company credit to book your flights, they earn any points on the *dollar amount* of the purchase, of course.

            But only the person whose butt sits in a seat can earn points. In fact, if you purchase your own flight then don’t show up for it, you earn nothing – because you actually have to prove you took the flight! (No matter if you spent $1000+ for it or not.)

    5. Brandy*

      This is not the case. I have a corportate buisness card and collect my miles. The miles are tracked by frequent flier number, not credit card.

      In fact, our company allows us to participate (our cost) in the corproate card’s rewards program, so I actually get to keep the points earned on my corporate card as well, provided I pay the annual fee. The fee is like, $90 but I easily do more than $10,000 of travel each year, so I get $100+ cash back.

    6. FD*

      Yeah, you see a *lot* of company issued credit cards for business travel. You still get hotel points in our chain at least as long as the name on the card matches the name on the reservation. (Or if it’s directly billed to the company.) It’s normal for employees to be allowed to keep the points, for the reasons AAM mentioned.

      1. Brandy*

        Agree. I work for a travel-heavy company. It’s one of the ways the company keeps us sane– at least if we have to be on the road all the time, we get the points. With the hotels etc., all my frequent flier/stayer/etc. numbers are stored in our travel booking system. So all reservations get booked with my #s and I get the points.

        1. FD*

          Exactly, where companies have administrative assistants or travel agents, they almost always have the guest’s frequent stay number handy to give out, so it’s definitely not under the table or anything.

          1. Chinook*

            The frequent stay and frequent flier numbers are also useful to have as an AA because they often have the traveller’s preferences attached to it. This means that if Wakeen prefers a non-smoking king-size room and a particular newspaper in the morning, then the hotel knows this too.

      2. SunshineDC*

        Yes, the company that owns the card gets CARD points, the person who flies gets the FLIGHT points.

    7. AP*

      This is actually not true – I regularly book air travel for my co-workers on my corporate Amex. When you book more than one airfare, the airline asks you to input everyone’s frequent flier miles individually. You can use their personal ones, or work-supplied accounts, or whatever – but it doesn’t matter which card you’re booking under.

    8. Jubilance*

      Not always true. I’ve booked travel using a company issued credit card that had my name on it, along with the companies, and I was always eligible to keep all my travel miles for air/hotel/car rental. However I never paid for any of this travel with my personal credit card.

    9. Ruffingit*

      This may not be the case. My father has paid for air travel that we’ve taken together, putting my name on the tickets. I’ve collected the air miles from this very easily. I’ve requested them to be applied to my account post-trip or requested them to be applied when I get the boarding pass at the airport. Never been a problem to have them granted to my air miles account even though I did not pay for the ticket itself. My name is on it therefore the miles are mine.

  2. Jen in RO*

    #4 – not the same situation, but similar. I work in an Eastern European branch of a British/American company. At some point, TPTB decided that we should use English in all written communication, just in case we ever needed to forward the e-mail to an English speaker. This felt ridiculous and we never did it – I can’t speak my language to a person if I meet them at the coffee machine and then switch to English when I send an email 5 minutes later, they’ll think I’m either pretentious or crazy. So we never did it, my boss kept insisting, we still didn’t do it… and in the end he let go.

    I think that, if you’re not including a third person in the conversation, you should feel free to speak in your common language.

    1. Angelina Retta*

      What. Your boss told you to do something and you completely ignored his instruction? That’s ridiculous! I’m shocked -you- weren’t let go.

      1. Y*

        Not everyone is a) in a country, and/or b) in a job where they will be let go for something like this. I suppose I could easily do something like that without repercussions.

        1. Y*

          (Where “in a job” doesn’t just mean the type of job, but also the company’s culture and the type of boss – my boss would probably just roll his eyes at this)

      2. CatB*

        Angelina, let’s rehash the situation: a remote office with several (perhaps tens) of workers, all speaking one (foreign) language, is ordered to switch to English because maybe, perhaps, a small percentage of the written communication might one day be forwarded to an English-speaking manager.

        Leaving aside the fact that this decision might be perceived as arrogant (though I venture to guess it was more about carelessness in researching the remote culture of the office you supposedly manage), this is plainly bad for business. I can’t really know how proficient everybody there is in English, but miscommunication (in everyday work and affecting everybody) is way more probable if you force a whole remote office to use a non-native language all day every day.

        Should the decision have been to have any outgoing documents and messages written or translated in English, that would have made sense, and disobeying it would have deserved your indignation. But that was not the case.

        1. Anonymous*

          I worked for a global European company that was based in a country where nearly everyone spoke very good English, but English was not their native tongue. English was the official language of our company and I wish we had had a rule like this. It was very frustrating to receive forwarded emails that originated in other languages. We would use Google Translate to try to get a feel for what the email was saying, but I have to think that may not have been wise to do given that we competed with Google in some respects. It would have saved so much time if everyone just wrote in English. I am not being “English only” here – it had been designated as the common language of the company. You had to be fluent to get hired in the first place.

          1. Jen in RO*

            English is a requirement here too, and of course we communicate in English with people in the other countries (from US to Western Europe to China), but I will not use English to send a 3-sentence email to my coworker who is 4 desks behind me. That is ridiculous. (And no, of course I wasn’t fired over this! I guess Angelina is speaking from previous experience, but I am glad I ended up here and not Angelina’s workplace. Also, there is no “at will” employment here and firing someone is not as easy as it seems to be in the US.)

        2. Jen in RO*

          We have 300 people here (actually more than the people in the US office) and my boss is a reasonable person, just sometimes misguided.

          In case it wasn’t clear, of course everything was translated – or rewritten – if any of the information had to be used by an English speaker.

          1. Judy*

            Having been copied on emails where it was a forward of an email in another language, with the forward notice just saying “What do you think of this?” I would say some people don’t realize the languages spoken by everyone on the list, or don’t context switch between people very well.

            Our business communication is supposed to be in English, but I get people even forgetting to use English, and send me IMs in Portuguese or Italian, and I’m barely fluent enough in those to ask where the bathroom is. I can read some Portuguese, but not lots. Unfortunately, we don’t have offices in a French speaking country. Our company has English as the official language, and at least within the engineering ranks, it’s a requirement to speak it. (Funny thing is we also state all code variables and comments must be in English, and I’ve never seen any in another language.)

            1. Judy*

              Just received an email that states “Here are the requirements for another chocolate teapot handle module we need to develop.”

              The forwarded email from another group is in Portuguese, there is a spec in English attached. But when I put the text of the email into google translate it says “Here is a spec how Europe handles X & Y, base the changes to our existing chocolate teapot handle spec on this description” Not develop a new module, but update our module based on 2 sections of the European module.

              And the person who forwarded it was a native Portuguese speaker.

              1. CatB*

                Sounds like bad business habit to me. In dealing with international co-workers, the sender should always use the language everybody in the recipient list knows (the least common denominator, so to speak).

                That’s why I said outgoing messages *must* be translated.

            2. Jen in RO*

              I agree with you that this shouldn’t happen. Everyone in my company is very good at switching languages where appropriate and translating/rewriting emails that were originally in another language. I can’t understand why someone would IM you in another language, how can they forget that?

              For a specific example related to your second comment, a manager in our local office forwarded my boss an e-mail that was not in English. I quickly ran it through Google Translate, saw that it was mostly accurate, and I replied to my boss privately with a note that Google Translate conveys the correct meaning and that if there’s anything unclear I can translate the whole thing for him.

        3. Anonymous*

          Another argument for having all correspondence in the same language is the potential for audits from outside agencies. They are taxing enough to prepare for without having to deal with language.

          As for conversation, karma eventually takes care of those people who say what they should not, because sooner or later they slip up and do it around someone who does know the language.

      3. Tinker*

        Depending on the situation and the personalities involved, sometimes doing that is a viable strategy.

        I had a boss awhile back who was big on grand pronouncements and not so big on follow-through. He singled me out among the other people on my team and told me not to work in the electrical panels because I had not yet taken the company’s electrical safety course that did not exist. So I asked the obvious question about how Bill and Joe and Larry could be working in said panels at the very moment, given as since the electrical safety course did not exist they obviously could not have taken it either. He responded that it was okay for them because they had the training at their previous employer. I responded that I had the training at my previous employer, multiple times actually, and asked if I should call up the head of safety there and see if the records could be sent over. Nope, just don’t work in the panels until you take the training. Which doesn’t exist.

        This lasted about two weeks until it became clear that a) the classes weren’t going to happen anytime soon and b) I was going to have to work in the panels or be completely ineffective, so I filed the directive in the appropriate orifice and cracked into the panels. Nothing more was said, and no safety courses ever materialized (which rather bothered me, actually, since I’d come from a place with a very aggressive safety culture).

        So, yup, I totally disregarded my boss’s instructions, and in a matter related to the “safety program” besides. It arguably wasn’t the cleanest solution for the problem, but it preserved my ability to do my job without causing my boss to lose face (he was also not big on retractions) and it saved me from the burden of having to directly acknowledge the distinction he was drawing between me and Bill, Joe, and Larry.

        1. FRRibs*

          Whoever is in charge of the company insurance company and standards auditors may not think so much of this solution. I wonder what would happen if there was an accident, and somewhere it was documented (email?) that you were not supposed to work on the panels.

    2. Y*

      I can easily see how this would work out the same at my place of work. It really does feel ridiculous to switch to English just because you have to even though everyone would understand us writing in our native language.

      For work, I get forwarded quite a lot of mail that originated in other countries (China, Mexico, etc.) and usually the bottom messages are in the country’s native language. As long as someone summarizes the conversation in English or German, I am good.

  3. snuck*

    #1 In Australia you can be obligated to pay Fringe Benefits Tax on the loyalty rewards you receive, or the points that could be used for a future reward. Re Jasmine’s comment about it being on the employee’s card – in Australia it’s very possible to have the miles/points on an employees personal loyalty program as the hotels or airlines offer them to members vs the ticket being paid for on a company card.

    1. Esra*

      How do they calculate that? At least in Canada, pretty much all of the points etc you collect cannot be claimed for cash and it’s stated they don’t have a cash value.

  4. Jessa*

    I think the language issue depends on the circumstances, if you’re just sitting chatting that’s one thing, if it’s clearly excluding someone, no. But merely being in the same room as someone to me doesn’t qualify.

    I think if the communication is business related and it’s on the work floor, it might be an issue, but if it’s just personal then no.

    As for gas money person – I would definitely have a conversation that has to do with discussing the fact that there needs to be a valid reason – unexpected expense happened or something and an understanding that this can’t be a regular thing.

    Because a lot of people even salaried people live cheque to cheque nowadays and one big thing (broken appliance, flat tires etc.) can totally ruin a person for a period of time. I also agree that this should have been mentioned the day before unless of course the lack of gas is “I put my gas in and my kid ran my car out without warning or filling the tank and I just found out.”

    1. Felicia*

      I used to work in an office where most people spoke Hebrew, and I didn’t speak any at all. If I’d be in the lunch room and let’s say 4 people who speak Hebrew as a first language were there also, they’d say hi politely and then start speaking Hebrew to each other . It made me very uncomfortable because they may not have meant to exclude me, but that was exactly what they were doing. They spoke English perfectly, and I wouldn’t want to forbid them from speaking their language, but I think it’s polite to most of the time, try to include everyone in conversation. They also spoke to each other during work time in Hebrew, about business things judging by the random English words they would insert, and I had no idea what they were talking about. I’ve also received forwarded emails where part of the email thread was in Hebrew. This was a company that did business 100% in English. I’m happy I don’t work there anymore.

      1. Ash*

        It’s only polite to include everyone in the conversation if you’re actually in the group that’s speaking. If you’re at a different table, or not trying to engage them in conversation, why should they have to engage you? I say this as a person who specifically does not want to be engaged, and hates it when people feel as though they have to talk to me just because I’m there.

        1. Parfait*

          I’m with Ash. I live in Southern California. I have a lot of Spanish-speaking coworkers. Why should they switch their animated lunchtime conversation from Spanish to English just because I happen to come in to heat up my lunch? It’d be different if it was a conversation I needed to be involved in.

        2. Felicia*

          The thing with that is I was constantly trying to engage them in conversation then they’d respond briefly and then go back to speaking Hebrew. I’m fluent in both French and English, although English is my native language, but maybe because I would speak French if that made everyone included. it bothered me because it was an every day thing and it was literally everyone but me (it’s not a common language around here, it was just that company) . And that it was at the same table. It’s kind of hard to explain why it bugged me, but i just wanted to be included in the animated lunch conversations from time to time.

  5. EngineerGirl*

    #3 it’s one thing if it is due to an unplanned emergency – sudden sickness, broken water line, battery failure, etc. it is quite another if the emergency is due to poor planning. It really warrants a conversation.

    #4 speaking another language in front of others is exclusionary, divides the team, and has no place in a group. If you worked for me we would be having a conversation about disrespecting others. Speaking in private is quite different. Chat away.

    #6 you made an agreement with the company to start work on a certain date. That’s a promise. You can ask, but it will make you look like you only keep your word if something better doesn’t come along. That’s a bad place to start a job assignment from. On top of that, July is almost here. They most likely have started planning for you.

    1. Jen in RO*

      For #4 – How do you define “private” in this case? Just the two of them in an office? The two of them in an open space, talking to each other while coworkers are doing something else? In my office (open space) there *is* no private space unless you book a meeting room, so that would not give OP a lot of options…

      1. jesicka309*

        I would say in any room where there is another person.

        It’s incredibly rude to speak in another language in the workplace. Because while you may be chatting away about your weekends, the other people are forced to believe that a) you’re intentionally excluding people you dislike or b) you’re being rude/gossiping. Otherwise why not use the language you conduct business in?

        It’s tantamount to whispering behind people’s backs. Sure, it could all be innocent chatter, but you are using an obviously exclusionary form of communication, so it’s natural for anyone (coworkers, superiors, subordinates) to assume there’s a reason for it.

        I’ve worked in many entry level jobs where there’s been a clique of foreign language speakers (who speak English perfectly fine). It was absolutely awful to sit in the breakroom while Chinese/Vietnamese flowed all around me, unable to join in on any discussion and make friends. Or to be supervising workers who were talking agitatedly about something (at McDonalds job), and not know whether they were angry at something work related (me? a customer?) or fighting with each other, and whether I needed to step in or not. It made my job harder, and it was rude.

        1. JamieG*

          People aren’t obligated to help you make friends, though. Would you argue that it would be rude if a group of your coworkers were all talking about some obscure movie or hobby that you had no interest in? Or that if they all went out together socially, they shouldn’t be allowed to talk about it on premises in case someone else felt left out? It sucks when you want to be social with people but can’t find an opportunity, but that’s not generally something that management should be getting involved in.

          People like to talk, generally, in the language they’re most comfortable with. It’s not like they’re hosting a meeting and refusing to speak English, or responding to questions in a language the asker can’t understand; they’re having a conversation between the two of them in the language they prefer. If they were having the conversation while pointedly staring at or gesturing towards coworkers or something, then that would be a problem. But if you feel like just because you don’t know what someone’s saying, they’re probably speaking ill of you… that’s a problem that you need to fix, not your boss.

          1. Jesicka309*

            The making friends thing was just an example. The fact is that management shouldn’t have to get involved, just as they shouldn’t have to make rules like no tank tops at work, because common sense says its not appropriate. But not everyone can sense what’s appropriate, and that’s when management create rules.
            Sure it might be more comfortable to speak their own language. I’m more comfortable when I’m in my pajamas and slippers, watching TV and cuddling my dogs. However, if I did any of those things at work, it would make everyone else in the room uncomfortable.

            1. Natalie*

              As already mentioned, managers *cannot* prohibit employees from speaking languages other than English in the workplace, unless they have a business necessity for that rule.

          2. CatB*

            While I’m not disputing your stance, I would say that lines are blurry at best on this matter. It’s a personal choice, what language you speak in at home or in a mono-lingual group; but with just 1 non-speaker present, many cultures tend to consider rude letting that person out of the general conversation.

            In a professional setting it makes business sense to have everybody speak one language, at least in situations that aren’t clearly private. The watercooler chit-chat is very much personal usually, but you can also have business issues discussed over a coffee or a sub, so the lines aren’t that clear. More so in bustling, customer-facing environments or where “private” can easily impact “business”.

            1. the gold digger*

              Just be careful with what you say. You might think you are having a private conversation in your language, but you never know.

              A friend who was in the Peace Corps with me now speaks Spanish fluently. She has very fair skin, blue eyes, and very north/western European facial features.

              She was conducting a training session for a client. On the break, with just my friend and a few of the students in the room, two of the students were talking in Spanish about their boss and not being very complimentary.

              My friend finally said, in Spanish, “You need to be careful. You never know who might speak Spanish.”

              1. OliviaNOPE*

                THIS. Two women at my job speak to each other in Spanish and they have zip zero clue that I understand them. I am waiting for the day when I can bust this out! It’s so rude.

                1. CatB*

                  At least you might overhear some candid feedback!

                  I had once a Sales Rep allocated to a minority-speaking territory. He knew the language (was, in fact, a native) but never-ever gave away any sign of it. He told me that the buyers were speaking freely in their language and he always had clues about how to sell the products.

              2. Meg*

                I have a friend who is Caucasian and speaks fluent Vietnamese (her husband is Vietnamese, and she was over there as a teacher teaching English… which is how they met, blah blah blah). She goes to this nail salon to get a pedicure and manicure, and overhears the manicurists speaking rudely about her and other customers in their language. She doesn’t say a word.

                As she’s paying for her services, she doesn’t leave a tip, and tells them in Vietnamese that she doesn’t tip people who badmouth her or other customers.

                1. The Other Dawn*

                  I love it! I often wonder what’s being said about me or other customers when I to get a pedicure. I would have loved to see the look on their faces when she spoke in their language.

              3. 22dncr*

                HA – have so had to do this! Just did it last week at Kroger to the checker and bagger. So stupid in Texas because a lot of us gringos are from here AND bilingual! They weren’t saying anything bad YET but were well on the way to it. Just not professional. Save it for your lunch hour

              4. Anita*

                That’s awesome. Something similar happened to my mom and her friend. They were at a store and saw a non-Asian man who had long hair and painted nails walking in front of them. My mom’s friend started saying rude things about him in Taiwanese. The man turned around and said in perfect Taiwanese, “So what part of Taiwan are you from?”

              5. annie*

                Ha, I think actually this happens more than people think. Growing up in a large US city I was lucky to have many friends who were first generation Americans whose parents were from countries all over the world, so we all picked up words from other languages when we were playing at each other’s houses. I was a good kid, but even I knew the first words kids teach each other in other languages are swear words and bad names! So, even today, I may not know all the languages but I generally always pick up when someone is swearing or calling me a bad name in Italian, Polish, German, Irish, Filipino, Spanish or ASL. This has definitely happened in the workplace, mostly in my lower wage part time jobs, and of course it resulted in problems.

                All that said, I do agree it is rude to speak in another language in front of other people. Likewise I also wouldn’t, say, go on and on about my love of Doctor Who, if the other people I was eating in the lunchroom with had never seen the show. It’s just being considerate and not excluding others.

        2. Daisy*

          It seems incredibly self-centred to assume that anyone speaking another language is talking about you or doing it to avoid talking about you. I always tell friends who complain about this to grow up and get over themselves, since other people’s conversations are absolutely none of their business.

          1. Xay*

            Exactly. I grew up in a multilingual home and have a lot of friends who speak languages that I don’t understand. It may be uncomfortable when someone speaks a language that you don’t understand, but it’s not always (or even usually) about you.

            1. Chinook*

              I agree that a conversation in another language is not necesarily about you, that is just being paranoid. But, at the same time, my DH has been in situations where we were talking in English with someone, their friend comes along and they switch to their second language without any consideration about the inital language used and whether or not DH can join in. Essentially, he is pushed out of the conversation because he doesn’t understand. Sometimes, a friend would realize what happenned, give a brief summary of the current conversation and then go back into the 2nd language. DH learned to just walk away to such rudeness.

              1. Felicia*

                I’ve been in the same situation as your DH and I know they’re not talking about me but they’d just forget about whatever we were talking about as soon as someone who speaks their native language would come in.

              2. Anita*

                My husband is South American and ever since we moved to LA, it just happened that all our new friends are native Spanish speakers. When we get together with them, I am the only one who does not speak Spanish. The parties are excruciating for me because they will often forget to speak English, and I’m too shy to insert myself into conversations so I just sit there like a log. Then suddenly someone will remember and they all switch to English, but then I end up feeling guilty that everyone has to make that effort just for 1 person.

                1. Ash*

                  So…learn Spanish? It would benefit your future kids (if you have any) to raise them in a bilingual household.

                2. Anita*

                  Ash, sorry, I couldn’t reply to your comment so am replying to mine. Yes, I do plan to learn Spanish and in fact I do understand some of what they say because I studied French in school and there are a lot of similarities. I think part of the problem is that our friends have learned that I can understand a little bit so they don’t try as hard to speak English.

                  However, whenever my husband starts to badger me about learning Spanish I get hung up on “then why don’t you learn to speak Taiwanese [my language]?” But I get that Taiwanese is nowhere near as common so it’s not the best comeback. =)

                3. Ash*

                  So he should learn Taiwanese too, then you’re potential kids will know three languages. I personally would try to learn whatever language my partner knew, but I love learning bits and pieces of other languages anyway.

          2. CoffeeLover*

            People are self-centered and snoopy. The fact that you have to tell you friends to not react like this shows that people feel this way. This isn’t an issue for people that are exposed to a variety of languages, but I think it is for people that grew up in rural Kansas (sorry Kansas).

            I think it would be a smart professional move for OP to stop speaking Filipino in the office because there are people out there who think it’s rude. I myself think it’s unprofessional because it makes you less approachable. You don’t know if someone is talking about movies or talking about a dying parent.

          3. Ellie H.*

            Of course almost nobody is ever thinking or talking about you when you are paranoid they might be, but it still is rude because it makes you feel uncomfortable.

            I am really, really used to being around people speaking foreign languages I both do and don’t understand (my field is Slavic Languages and Literatures, and I speak Russian and Serbo-Croatian, but maybe people around me are speaking Romanian or Bulgarian or Polish none of which I speak) and it makes even me feel weird sometimes. Almost everyone I know switches to English in order to be inclusive in a casual conversation. People do this for me even in Serbo-Croatian where I do understand it, bc I’m not a native speaker. It’s not “necessary” but it’s most polite.

          4. BCW*

            Its still rude regardless. Again, if there were 5 people in a room, and 2 of them started whispering and giggling, its rude. If what you have to say is that private that you don’t want anyone else hearing it, go to a private place. I don’t really care about the topic of your conversation in general, but there is common courtesy

          5. Tinker*

            Usually when I hear a conversation going on near me in a foreign language I figure that it’s a private conversation that I shouldn’t be eavesdropping on, and that it has nothing to do with me.

            Of course, if I understood what was being said, maybe I would lose that idealistic notion, so arguably it might be best for me not to learn any additional languages.

            1. Windchime*

              Yep, same here. We are an English-speaking office in the US, but there are many people here whose first language is not English. I don’t think anything about it when the two men from Vietnam start chatting in their native language; they aren’t whispering and giggling and pointing, they are just a couple of guys who are having a chat. Same thing with the guy who sits next to me and conducts telephone conversations in Turkish.

              My hometown is a place where roughly 30% of the population are native-Spanish speakers. It’s nothing to go to the grocery store and be surrounded by people speaking in a language that I understand very little of, but I assume they are just talking about the tomatoes or whatever. If they are indeed being rude, well…..sometimes people are rude, and that’s something that happens regardless of language.

          6. HR Pufnstuf*

            I agree with Daisy. We aren’t nearly as important or interesting as we’d like to think.

          7. Cassie*

            Agreed. We have groups of coworkers who speak the same foreign language (Spanish speakers, Korean speakers, Tagalog speakers, etc) and believe me, no one is switching to a non-English language just to talk about other people.

            We do enough gossiping and talking about others in English (Just kidding!).

        3. Anonymous*

          I have a coworker who sits directly across from me who often converses in other languages with the few others who speak them (and fluent English). I have never once considered that he might be intentionally excluding me (or that he dislikes me) or that he’s being rude or gossiping.

          I assume that he is comfortable in that language, he is maintaining his fluency (which is good for the organization), and having a conversation.

          If I stood up and asked him a question I know he’d switch to English because I don’t speak his languages.

          It isn’t rude, and I think Carly Simon may have something to say about it.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It’s a standard etiquette rule. It’s great that you don’t consider it rude, but it’s common for people to feel that it is, and it’s long been a tenet of etiquette rules.

            1. Ash*

              If I am directly involved in a conversation, then yes, switching to a language I cannot speak and not translating is rude. But if I happen to be in a room with two other people, and they decide to speak in their own language, that’s their business.

              I feel like when this situation comes up, a lot of it stems from the American “me me me” attitude. You can’t speak a language I don’t speak, that’s not fair, what if you’re talking about me, I’ll tell on you! There can also be a very subtle (or not) undertone of racism or xenophobia in some comments to.

              1. EngineerGirl*

                Wow. It isn’t about me, me, me. It is about inclusion Vs exclusion. If you are speaking with someone in a language that another person present doesn’t understand, then you are excluding the non-speaker. That’s not nice.

                And etiquette is all about social interactions and smoothing out things, making others feel comfortable. It can sometimes be over the top, but the first rule is to include everyone and make them feel comfortable.

                1. Ash*

                  Oh no, the dreaded “not nice”. If I am in a room with two other people who are not engaged with me in any conceivable manner, why should I care if they start speaking in a language I can’t understand?

                2. fposte*

                  Nobody’s saying you have to care about what they do. They are saying it’s good to care what *you* do.

                  Socializing at work is admittedly grayer than socializing in social situations, and there’s no one-size-fits-all rule that will automatically make clear when you it’s not impolite to speak to your friend there in a language the rest of your workplace doesn’t understand. Running into your friend in the hall? Klingon is fine. Joining other people at a lunchroom table? Klingon is impolite. Most of us can figure those out, but it’s the stuff in between that gets complicated; I think it’s good to be aware that there’s a distinct impolite possibility here when making your call.

              2. Anonymous*

                *sigh* I knew someone was going to pull the ‘stereotypical American’ card. As has been pointed out numerous times throughout this thread, many people (including Americans) speak a variety of languages that you may or may not know. When you are in an office surrounded by other people, speaking a shared language is just common courtesy.

                1. Ash*

                  I said that as an American. *sigh*

                  If you look at most people’s objections on here, it basically amounts to “BUT WHAT IF THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT ME?!” Who cares? I love listening to other people speak in a non-English language, it’s fascinating and I wish I spoke a second (or third or forth) language myself.

                  It would be the same as if two people are having a hushed conversation in the cubicle next to mine. Maybe they’re talking about something private they don’t want others to hear. Should they be forced to speak loud enough so that everyone can hear their business?

                2. SW*


                  Just because you’re American doesn’t mean you’re not capable of stereotyping other Americans.

                  If you don’t mind it, good for you. But it’s still impolite and exclusionary to speak a non-shared language when in the same space as someone else. And your comment is like saying, “I’m Asian and I don’t think X is racist, therefore it is not racist.”

                3. Kimberlee, Esq.*

                  This. Even if particular people don’t find it objectionable, it’s a common courtesy. It’s not an unreasonable expectation.

        4. Natalie*

          “the other people are forced to believe that a) you’re intentionally excluding people you dislike or b) you’re being rude/gossiping. ”

          The only person “forcing” you to believe options A or B is yourself.

          1. mirror*

            As a native San Diegan, I disagree. It is still rude! I worked in one small business that was 90% Mexican and fluent in Spanish. Of course, they talked in Spanish all the time with each other. I didn’t mind because they would still include me. If they made a joke, someone would explain it in English, if they were talking about a show, they would switch to English to ask my opinion and then when the conversation naturally waned they would switch to Spanish again to talk about something else.

            The whole argument about “aww, did we hurt your feewings? Get over it.” attitude just doesnt fly. Etiquette is there to guide people so we dont make other people feel bad/uncomfortable. You can hate it, disagree with it, but that’s the way it is and if someone is being excluded from most conversations where they could be included, that would make most anyone feel bad.

            If you know the other person doesnt want to chat/doesnt care about Star Wars/etc then by all means chat away in your native tongue. But if they could be involved in your convo, give them the opportunity to join in by speaking their language. Unless you like to purposely exclude people for the hell of it.

        5. Darcie*

          The other commenters didn’t agree with you here, so I will! Being able to socialise with your coworkers builds a stronger team, so I’d argue that while its not per-se a management issue, it’s probably better for cohesion and bonding if you all speak the same language. Plus you had a good point there as their supervisor that it impeded your ability to do your job.

          I love sitting on the train listening to all the diverse languages all over the place, but in thee workplace, it’s totally not appropriate. Why use another language if it could create tension with your coworkers? Sure, it’s not ideal, but I do agree that it’s exclusionary; humans are social creatures, we’re sensitive, and we want to know what is going on around us. It just seems to me like the whole thing creates unnecessary stress.

  6. Sissa*

    #4, We have a similar situation at the office, but the other way around. We work in an American company, but in their office in the Netherlands. We then have a number of international (non-Dutch) colleagues who get mighty peeved that everyone (/majority) is using Dutch to communicate. Moreover I can see that some people are hired to the company with elementary knowledge of English even though it IS the official company language.

    This causes for massive strains in interpersonal relations between staff (“I can’t communicate with person X so I need to go through person Y even though it’s not their job to do Z”). Luckily I understand and speak both languages fluently in addition to my mothertongue, Finnish. This makes me a translator between the non-Dutchies and Dutchies in my team and frankly, gets really annoying really fast.

    1. Anonymous*

      I worked for a Dutch company and found that nearly all Dutch people spoke excellent English. I was once catcalled by a bunch of construction workers in Amsterdam – in English!!!

      1. Sissa*

        Amsterdam, Den Haag (The Hague) and Rotterdam are really international and one could probably live there and not have to learn a word of Dutch for the rest of their lives. We’re in the wild south, Eindhoven area. :)

        But yes, regardless, most Dutch have an excellent grasp of English (and German) but some never get comfortable with a second language. Or are too shy to speak English, or whatever. I know it took me ages to speak English openly (when I was studying in upper secondary), heh!

        1. Parfait*

          In Amsterdam, one can almost get the impression that the Dutch language is just a pretend language that they keep around for laughs, especially in train stations and the like. Announcement on the loudspeaker in Dutch first: Nobody moves. Announcement repeated in English: Everyone shuffles off to the new platform.

    2. Lily*

      I often hear that it is rude for people to speak a language which not everyone understands, but this seems to apply only to minority languages. Generally, people who speak the majority language don’t seem to think it is rude to speak the majority language in front of people who don’t understand it, like the international co-workers in your example. What’s worse is that there can be pressure on the one/few international person/people to leave, so that no one feels obliged to speak a minority language.

      1. Esra*

        I think what you’ve said here is revealing. I live in Toronto now but grew up in a small town where people would get very offended by non-English speech. It was just bigotry and honestly my back gets up a bit now when I hear people talking about how rude it is for other people to talk in a language other than English, even when it’s a conversation they aren’t involved in or complete strangers!

        1. Chinook*

          Esra, I think you hit the nail on the head about why it is hard to explain why it is rude to speak a 2nd language around others. Like you, I am hyper aware that it come off as bigotry to insist that someone speak MY language. But, as AAM pointed out, the flip side is that it is rude to pointedly exclude someone from your conversation in the same way it is rude to hand out invitations to only some people in front of others. Since some of us grew up in unilingual/unicultural communities or in communities where one language/culture was a minority but has political clout, we always question whether or not our reaction to them is based on our bigotry or their rudeness. Sometimes it is one or the other and sometimes it is a combination of both.

          I find it interesting to hear the Europeans, who by definition live short distances from other cultures and languages so the mixing is more natural, react to this situation as it helps me clarify if I am just being a redneck or if someone with different experiences would react the same way.

          1. Jen in RO*

            Well, see, *pointedly* excluding someone would be offensive to anyone – European, American or Asian. I just don’t think that’s what the OP meant.

            I’m going to Paris in 2 weeks and yes I will speak Romanian to my coworker who is traveling with me, not in English or French, if it’s just the two of us involved. If we’ll be in a conversation with others, we will switch to English (or really bad French).

            Slightly off topic, but I do know the feeling of being all alone with people who speak a different language – my best friend lives in Austria and, while her friends speak great English, they usually speak German when we all go out. I feel left out, but I’m not offended.

            1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

              I would say that being just around, in public, especially as a tourist/visitor is very different than being in a workplace. In your final paragraph, I think you put it nicely. But when asked to describe your friends’ behavior, you would probably not describe it as “offensive,” sure. But you would probably describe it as “discourteous,” correct?

              1. Jen in RO*

                Sorry, wasn’t clear – we’re going there for work and we’ll be staying in our company’s office, populated by French and British people :)

                Yes, it is somewhat discourteous of them to speak German when I’m around, but it’s also something I fully expect. The situation is very similar to what mirror in San Diego wrote earlier – they will speak in German, translate, switch back to German etc. It would be great if all the conversation would happen in English, but, really, if they’re talking about someone I’ve never met, I don’t really care as long as I’m included when the topic is different.

                1. Jen in RO*

                  I think the conclusion of the thread should be: “It varies from situation to situation, use your language however you want, but also use common sense and think of how the other people will react”.

          2. Layla*

            I live in a country where everyone knows 2 or more languages.
            For office environments its English and another one.
            It’s not rude to talk in “the other language ” when someone else is merely in the same room
            It is probably rude if we’re at the same table – so we keep it to a minimum if so.

      2. Darcie*

        The comment about majority/minority is interesting. In Canada, we have a largely french-speaking province. When you visit, you’re expected to at least TRY to speak French there. If you open with English, people are rude to you, but if you open with some shitty French, people will be more accommodating.

    3. Chinook*

      Sissa, there is a world of difference, though, between people switching to their first language when that is the language of country and the majority of the room speaks (and those who don’t are probably learning to atleast adapt to it because that is where they are) and switching to your first language when that is not the native language of the country you are in and the majority of the people in the office don’t speak it at all.

      Now, if the 2 languages in question are both the official languages of your country but one is the majority language in the city but the other has more political/cultural clout in that city but there are not many opportunities as an adult to learn it, then you learn to keep your mouth shut.

  7. Anne*

    #7 – I’m in a very similar situation, and I’ve taken the training. It’s for professional certifications which are very relevant and important for my career. As a result, I’m planning to stay at the company at least until I finish the courses, and see if the situation has changed. If not, I’m probably going to leave – but yeah, I’ll feel quite bad about it as well. It’s such a fine line.

    1. Adam V*

      The problem with the situation is that if you say “thanks for the training offer, but I’m not interested” it’s a huge “I don’t plan on being here much longer” red flag. You either need to take the training anyway, or have a very good reason why you couldn’t (so as not to arouse suspicions)… or you turn them down flat and deal with the repercussions of them knowing you’ve probably got one foot out the door.

      1. ()P #7*

        I agree with you, Adam V. And if it’s not seen as a red flag, it’s seen as laziness (who would turn down a free opportunity to learn and expand your abilities?).

        I have a much harsher view than Alison’s advice. I think any organization that doesn’t offer opportunities for growth within the company cannot expect anything but high turnover. And offering additional training opportunities and *still* not offering a path for promotion is really just asking people to leave, isn’t it? It’s like they are freely equipping you with the skills to get a job elsewhere since there’s no chance to use them at your current position.

        I actually don’t have any ethical qualms whatsoever about taking them up on the offer of outside training while I’m looking for a new job opportunity…like it’s been said on this blog many times, job searches can take forever and it may be a year or more until that time comes. My only possible ethical qualm is if I do get an offer, and I haven’t begun a scheduled class, do I pay them back? I’d actually be fine with paying them back as I only plan to take courses would be worth paying out of pocket for me in the first place.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I can’t tell if you’re blaming the company for not offering advancement opportunities, but if you are, consider that not every role and not every company can reasonably offer advancement opportunities. If it’s a small company, there may be nowhere above you to go, not without a completely different skill set and background. That’s not blame-worthy; it’s just how things sometimes are.

          1. Catbertismyhero*

            Exactly this! We have only 120 staff. We hire bright, ambitious people who envitably rise to a point where I have no positions to promote them into. We gladly provide training and development opportunities knowing full well that we are trianing them for their next position at another organization.

            1. ()P #7*

              Catbertismyhero — do you expect those individuals to repay/pay back any fees you’ve spent on their training when they leave for a new job?

          2. ()P #7*

            This could be true, but I made it clear when I first interviewed for this job that I was looking for a place where I could grow and make my way up a ladder. In fact, that is the reason why I left my job previous to this one–there was no room for growth, and that is what I told those who interviewed me when they asked why I was looking for a new job. They enthusiastically agreed with/supported and said they offered that kind of environment, which turned out to be a lie. I’ve had many interviews and I always make sure to ask about the possibility of movement, and the answer is always “Yes, of course!” when it’s simply not true. Only once was a hiring manager honest with me and said that no, there isn’t really a pattern of promotion here, and I withdrew my candidacy.

        2. Anne*

          Doesn’t actually seem like much of an issue, then? If they wanted you to pay them back, I’m sure they’d let you know. And you’d be happy to do it. So… go for it?

      2. Ruffingit*

        This, exactly. It’s really a no-win kind of thing. Given that, I’d say take the training and look at it as a sort of compensation for not being able to move up in the company since, as the OP stated, there’s no way to go further in her current job.

  8. rw*

    Unless the law, job, or special circumstances necessitate otherwise, I expect employees to use when working whatever language they used when applying. Here, that’s English.

    1. Lindsay J*

      For #4 we always had a rule that all communication could only be done in English. The rule was so that supervision could monitor all communication going on as we were handling hundreds of thousands of dollars on a nightly basis. Communication going on between two workers unmonitored could have been them discussing a way to pocket money without us noticing, or them saying something triggering the beginning of an armed robbery attempt.

      In this situation, however, no cell phone use was allowed in the building either and employees did not have the ability to use the computer system. (And somebody passing notes would have been noticed and checked up on). All communication was monitored, which I believe made the English only a business need.

      1. -X-*

        “them saying something triggering the beginning of an armed robbery attempt.”


        I could set that off in English with code.

        “Gee, these pretzels are making me thirsty” means “It’s a go – pull out your guns”


        “Their names were Marcia, Jan and one I forget” means “Hold off the robbery today – they may be on to us.”

        1. MovingRightAlong*

          True, but look at it from the perspective of the investigation after the incident. I think it would reflect rather poorly on you if employees planned out a robbery in front of you simply by speaking another language. Additionally, a workplace with that much security would likely be on the lookout for suspicious conversations, but can’t pick up on those if the conversation is in another language.

        2. Chinook*

          I had a field trip devolve into mass hysteria all because we teachers weren’t able to understand that student conversations in Cree went from general chatting to someone possible making a derogatory comment. Now, we Canadians know that teachers should never again ban students from speaking their native language (we made that mistake once as a culture and the results are long lasting), so the only way we could have seen this problem happen is if we teachers spoke Cree as well. Not because we thought the students were plotting something nefarious but because sometimes innocent conversations can turn non-innocent quickly and a good supervisor should be able to monitor the room passively.

          If Lindsay J works for a company where there are multiple languages that could be spoken, in order to monitor the workign conditions appropriately, they would either have to hire a supervisor who is able to listen to multiple languages at once (a rare skill in N. America, I beleive) or ask that employess stick to one language. It isn’t due to a lack of trust of the employees but because of what could go wrong if they are not monitored appropriately.

          1. Ruffingit*

            Just hire Ioannis Ikonomou and be done with it! ;) For those who don’t know Ioannis Ikonomou is a translator in the European Commission (EC) in Brussels and he speaks 32 languages.

  9. Mike C.*

    From OP #3:

    I feel that it is the responsibility of the employee is to make sure that transportation to work is available–I think this shows a lack of critical thinking.

    Given that you don’t know the full story, I think this sort of judgement is incredibly harsh given that it’s only happened once.

    1. Construction HR*

      She ran out of gas at midnight (or at least made the communication @ midnight, thus asking for forgiveness instead of permission) and doesn’t have gas money to get to work.

      1. Mike C.*

        The OP made it sound like the issue of not having the money was due to a lack of critical thinking, not the lateness of the communication.

        Even still, my point that the full story isn’t known and making that sort of personal judgement is unwarranted at this time.

        1. AnonAgain*

          Having been in that situation myself (hard to imagine how awful it feels if you’ve never had the joy of THAT experience . . .), I think the OP is being harsh as well. I have had to scramble for change and sometimes there just aren’t enough pockets in the closet to go through. Could just be that her embarrassment made it seem like a last minute communication.

        2. Cat*

          And actually, running out of gas at midnight doesn’t strike me as implausible at all. If you were budgeting gas for the week then had an emergency crop up late Thursday night that required either money or driving, you might well realize at midnight you didn’t have the money to get to work the next day and it was too late to do anything about it.

          I don’t know what OP should do about it, but I wouldn’t be inclined to dismiss it as nothing other than irresponsibility.

          1. MaryTerry*

            Or perhaps someone else in your household borrowed your car that evening and used up the gas you had allocated for work.

        3. Anonymous*

          I drive an old car where the gas gauge no longer works, so running out of gas is a possibility. However my trip odometer works, and I just fill up when it gets to a certain number, one which it’s about 3/4 empty, but I have enough gas to get anywhere local I want to drive. But, my spouse in his old car were the gas gauge also didn’t work, ran out of gas one time, because of an unexpected situation came up.

        4. FYI*

          Then you need a credit card. It is worth going $20 into debt to maintain the thing (job) that helps you pay all of your other bills.

          I know a lot of people are tight right now, but you can’t make your personal financial problems your employer’s.

            1. FYI*

              If you can’t get a credit card, you’ve probably already made some bad financial decisions. Which are also not the employer’s problem.

              FWIW, I am often required to front expenses for work that are subsequently reimbursed–sometimes up to $25,000 in one month. They wouldn’t be impressed if I went to them and said that due to my poor financial management, I was unable to get a line of credit.

              1. CathVWXYNot?*

                Well, not necessarily. People can have a bad credit record due to the actions of their current or ex partner – this happened to a friend of mine – identity theft, etc.

                When I first moved to Canada 12 years ago, I couldn’t get a credit card due to a lack of Canadian credit record. Never mind that I had a perfect credit rating in the UK (and was applying for a card issued by the exact same company as my UK card) and was only asking for a $1,000 limit to start with. My bank told me that I had to either take out a loan I didn’t need (and pay the interest on it) to create a Canadian credit record, or get a secured credit card (where you put the amount you want the limit to be into an account you can’t access so your balance is always covered, earning less interest than in a savings account). I chose the latter, but the minimum amount I had to secure was $2,000 at a time when I was fresh out of grad school, had paid my moving costs to a new country from my own pocket, and was not making enough as a postdoctoral researcher to have $2,000 just lying around. It took me a year to save the required amount and another two to actually get a good enough credit record to be able to get a normal credit card. The two employers I had in that time were thankfully very understanding when it came time to book my flights etc.

                I guess you could count a research career or moving to a new country as bad financial decisions, now I come to think about it…

              2. Jessa*

                Or have been unemployed or had a bad illness (a great percentage of bankruptcies in the US are due to medical expenses EVEN of people who have insurance.) You might not have poor financial management and you might still be unable to get credit because you’ve had BAD things happen to you.

                Not every broke person with bad credit has done anything wrong. It doesn’t take long unemployment or medical problems to go through even a few months of back up money/credit.

                In this economy it’s no longer okay to presume automatically that the person is irresponsible.

                1. FYI*

                  (1) said “probably” and in a down-thread post note the possibility of illness in creating bad credit.

                  (2) Not having $20 is almost always as a result of bad financial management. Even “in this economy”. Anyone here who doesn’t have $20 for gas can give me their credit card bills and banking records for the past month, and I will tell them exactly where they can find $20. OP’s employee is prioritizing other expenses over getting to work, and that’s a mistake.

    2. anon o*

      I don’t want to be harsh but I wonder about alternate forms of getting to work – could the person have taken the bus, or gotten a ride? Maybe not, I don’t know, just pointing that out.

    3. marty*

      “I think this shows a lack of critical thinking.”

      I’m with you, OP. And Mike – It also shows a lack of money, which is very common in the low-wage, part-time economy everyone seems to love. Juggling two such jobs with the added commuting time left me very close to this situation more than once.

      Not saying this is OP’s situation, but your smug dismissal is unnecessary.

      1. marty*

        Mike- Sorry – I misread the chain of responses- Apparently we are in agreement on the harsh judgement being unwarranted

        1. Malissa*

          I don’t think the judgement is all that unwarranted. Even when I was flat broke I always made sure I had enough money or gas to get me to work.
          I may have been down to eating saltines and margarine, but I made sure I could get to work so I would get that next paycheck.

          1. FYI*

            +1. Financial management is about choices. It seems to me that maintaining the paycheck should be a pretty high priority.

      2. ThursdaysGeek*

        Yeah, but the OP mentioned that she was salaried, which implies a higher level of pay and probably not part time. And doesn’t working from home require a certain level of premeditation? You have to take your laptop or work home with you the night before, or there is no work to do from home.

        1. KellyK*

          A lot of people take their laptops home routinely, so they can check email or work in the evening.

        2. The IT Manager*

          I take my laptop home every night, and usually don’t use it. which came in very handy yesterday when unexpected TS Andrea dumped enough rain to cause localized street flooding near my house and I decided to work from so avoid what would have been a much longer than normal commute.

          But, yes, there is something about a salaried employee capable of working from home doesn’t sound low wage.

    4. Sabrina*

      I tend to agree. I’ve been in this situation and what I bet happened is that she knew full well she didn’t have enough gas to get to work the next day and spent the entire evening trying to scrape money together and it didn’t happen. She then felt horribly guilty and worthless and after working up the courage to email her boss about something so embarrassing, it was then midnight.

    5. EngineerGirl*

      I’m not sure it is harsh. The issue is **not** that she ran out of gas at midnight. The issue is that there is no apparent backup plan if this type of emergency happens. That would mean no emergency fund, not alternate transportation to work, etc. In short, a lot of links of this chain had to break, not just one. In that case it may indeed be fair to assume there may be issues with critical thinking.

      Running out of gas is a normal event. We do that all the time, then go fill up our cars. It can’t be linked into the same category as emergency surgery or the water main breaking. I should also point out that the recovery from this problem is around $20 (not thousands). So why so close to the edge?

      Look, I’ve been there. I had to work my way through school, couldn’t afford a winter coat, went hungry more than once. Even when first starting out I had to pace which bills got paid when. But I also started making sacrifices so I could populate an emergency fund (and sometimes that wasn’t enough).

      But getting to work is such a basic expectation that it is worth having a conversation about it.

      1. OP#3--She reports to me*

        From a critical thinking perspective: If in an interview someone said, “If I didn’t have gas money to get to work, would I be able to work from home,” I would not have hired her. And I would have said, (1) She does not have the critical thinking skills necessary to determine that work should be a priority and (2) She does not think of alternatives to problems outside of what is immediately presentated (like alternative forms of transportation) and (3) she doesn’t realize that regardless of one time incident or not, it still makes a bad impression.

        I believe if the employee had the option between coming to work or not getting paid, she would come to work. That’s what makes work from home decisions so hard when it is allowed in certain circumstances.

        Personally, if it were between taking a PTO day versus telling my boss anything about my personal finances I would do PTO before disclosing such a person reason. I think this opens the door to allow others to examine what one spends money on, whether it’s intentional or not.

        And she makes a good living as a salaried employee. Most people outside of IT or construction wouldn’t work hourly at this rate.

  10. Anonymous*

    4. I cannot see how it is rude to speak to someone in your own language, unless you are doing it to deliberately exclude people. I think it is rude in fact to not allow others to use their shared first (or preferred) language when speaking together.

    Also, depending on how strong you and your workmate’s English is, you may feel better able to express yourself in Filipino. It would be very unfair for your manager to insist you both use a second language when speaking together, when you share a first one.

    I often am around people who speak a language I don’t understand and it never bothers me. I shared a house with 2 French housemates the other year, and then with a Spanish girl (whose Spanish girlfriend often visited and stayed over). They always spoke in their respective first languages with each other. If I was part of the conversation, they would move to English.

    At work, I work with 2 Czech guys who refrain from speaking in Czech to each other for fear of offending someone. I think it is awful for them to feel can’t use their own language, in one of the few opportunities they have to be able to have someone to speak to in it!

    Funnily enough, I did study language policy in the usa at one point (I did a degree in linguistics, and one of my lecturers was an american) but I am having trouble remembering much about it now. I do believe it is illegal for them to stop you using a certain language at work (though they can insist you speak english to customers.. obviously). In some countries they are allowed to enforce language rules though (eg. in Israel some work places have hebrew-only policies).

    But from a non legal standpoint, I think it is ridiculous to take offence to you speaking Filipino with someone else at work. If they went to the Philippines to work, and met an English person there, they would hardly go and discuss casual matters with them in Filipino.

    1. Chinook*

      “If they went to the Philippines to work, and met an English person there, they would hardly go and discuss casual matters with them in Filipino.”

      I wouldn’t be so sure. Once my Japanese was to a point I could hold a conversation, I used it with my few international friends as well. At a certain point, the only time I spoke English only was when I was at work as an ESL teacher (which unfortunately led to my English becoming stilted and sometimes having a Scottish accent as the only fluent English I was interacting with at the time was Diana Galbaldon books).

  11. Rob Aught*

    #1 – Keeping Miles

    In all cases where I’ve heard of the company keeping miles, the policy was always stated upfront.

    As someone who used to travel every week I can tell you that I frequently cashed in a lot of travel miles and perks from the various airlines, hotels, and rental companies I used to do business with. I never felt the slightest twinge of guilt as I was often flying out Sunday evening and flying back Friday evening, which left some very short weekends.

    That doesn’t even cover the time I spent waiting around in airports.

  12. Anonymous*

    4. I think it’s rude to speak to your coworker in a different language while you’re working and everyone is there. If you’re on your break, go for it! If you’re with another filipino customer, go for it! It seems rude because you have the ability to speak English and you don’t.

    Being the only non-khmer speaker in my home, it’d be nice to know what’s going on once in a while :(

  13. De Minimis*

    #6–it probably won’t hurt to ask, but don’t be surprised if they say no. I used to work for a similar employer who had two hiring classes per year, and they usually changed start dates for specific reasons that had some type of business purpose [it was public accounting, so they often were fine if new grads wanted to wait for a bit and try to pass some sections of the CPA exam before starting…] They were pretty good to change dates for people if they did have a good reason, but I don’t know if just wanting to take a little more time off before starting work would be one of those.

    If it’s a larger company I don’t know if you have to worry too much about getting an offer pulled, at least not these days. In 2009, it was a different story.

    They did change my start date, but for a different reason–I had to re-take a class that I did not do well in the first time, so had to delay my graduation by a semester.

  14. Mimi*

    #6, as someone who currently manages just such a program, I’d tell you this: I have had very similar situations occur. Your job starts in July. It’s now June. With all the prep work involved, it’s short notice. They’ll likely have to scramble to find a candidate to fill your slot; at this point, many candidates have already gotten other positions instead.

    There’s no harm in asking, with the understanding that they might say, “Nope, it’s July or never” or “Well, you’ll have to reapply for consideration to the March group”. Good luck!

    1. a*

      I was about to post the same thing. If you wanted to switch from September to March, it’d be a different story. Asking to move the start that’s only a month away is somewhat nervy and could really rub people the wrong way regardless of whether the request is granted or not!

      1. a*

        OK, not exactly the same thing as I reread! I do think there could be harm in asking as you could be perceived as flakey or not committed to the job, neither of which are perceptions you want to have when starting your job/career.

        1. Mimi*

          That’s true; it does make me question their commitment. I try to give some leeway, but there are times when candidates will just say “I won’t be coming” and think that it isn’t a big deal.

          1. De Minimis*

            Yeah, I re-read as well, it is not nearly enough notice. I think the only way it would be okay was if it were an emergency situation, such as a sudden illness for either the employee or a family member. And I think if a new hire did tell me they had that type of emergency I would have doubts whether they were coming in at all…

            1. a*

              Completely agree, De Minimis. I think the poor perception come from the fact that the change seems totally motivated by a desire and ability to travel for a longer period of time. If, instead, the situation was that a family member was ill or something similar, I think it’d be totally fine to ask and the employer would likely be sympathetic (even if they may be concerned about whether you’ll be able to start in March).

  15. Calla*

    4. What a timely question! There’s a story from just yesterday about a Whole Foods supposedly punishing employees for speaking Spanish among themselves.

    This may not be the case for everyone, but to me: they’re probably not talking about you and thinking they’re rude and talking about you just because you can’t understand it is paranoia. I grew up in Texas, and we had many immigrants, and my mom would go to the store and get angry when she heard families speaking in Spanish. She was convinced they were talking about her!

    If they are having their own conversation, why should you, a third party, need to be able to understand it? If they were speaking quietly and you were across the room, and you demanded they speak at a noise level you could hear and understand, people would probably rightly think that was silly.

    What’s more, I think this completely disregards the comfort level of those speaking the non-majority language. Someone may be functional or even fluent in second language, but their first language is probably always going to be more comfortable to them. Why should they be restricted from using that because some people think the world revolves around them?

    1. Y*

      “What’s more, I think this completely disregards the comfort level of those speaking the non-majority language.”

      Or just how awkward it feels to talk to another native speaker of your language in a foreign one even if you are both fluent in the “common” one. I did my MSc in a very international group where several people didn’t speak German, so we spoke English a lot. But talking English to other native speakers when nobody else was around, or the others were occupied with something else just felt ridiculous.

    2. Runon*

      “What’s more, I think this completely disregards the comfort level of those speaking the non-majority language. ”

      This is very important, it says that the majority person’s comfort is more important than the minority person’s comfort. We have words for that.

  16. fposte*

    #3, just how far away is/was payday? Does she have to work at home for a day or for three weeks? (And do you have any idea about the public transit situation where you work and where she lives?)

    My response would depend to some extent on the answers to those, the employee, etc. However, I’d also be concerned that the late-night change meant that there was a real problem going on–that there was abuse, or a family issue. So I’d be inclined to approve the WFH for the moment and then talk to her when she’s back, and the talk can be a combination of “If there’s some factor that we don’t know that’s causing upheaval, we have some resources” and “we won’t be able to give such permission again,” with the balance to vary depending on the situation.

    1. Ruffingit*

      Agreed, this is how I’d handle it as well. There’s not enough time here to sort out all the possible issues so I too would go with “let her WFH, then discuss.”

  17. Joey*

    Whoa Alison. Why exactly is it rude to speak another language around people who don’t understand it? Frequently its a comfort thing. It makes you feel like you belong when there is someone else on the team like you.

    I don’t buy the “because they might be making fun of us or don’t want us to know what they’re saying.” Thats insecurity and ignornance. Because nine times out of ten its merely to connect with someone on a more personal level.

    1. fposte*

      That’s a pretty standard etiquette rule; it’s not something Alison invented. It’s under the same umbrella as “don’t hand out invitations in front of people who aren’t invited.”

        1. Joey*

          Not following etiquette doesn’t equal rude. Etiquette also says you should eat with specific forks and when using it in conjuction with a knife there are rules that dictate which hand each utensil should be in, but most people don’t consider it rude when people don’t.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            There’s an entire branch of etiquette that deals with consideration for others (as opposed to forks); this is a standard tenet there. It’s fine to disagree with that, of course, but it doesn’t make sense to be surprised that huge swaths of people consider it rude, given how common a principle it is.

            1. Joey*

              Why is it proper etiquette to speak only in English? Why isn’t it proper etiquette to learn a little or accept the languages being spoken around you? Wouldn’t that be true consideration for others?

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I believe the reasoning is about not excluding people (since learning just a little won’t be enough to make you understand a whole conversation).

                1. Joey*

                  That might have been practical a long time ago, but in today’s world with so many people around us that speak other languages it seems sort of rude to expect people to accommodate your outdated beliefs.

                2. Joey*

                  So you think the uncomfortableness of hearing an unfamiliar language outweighs a persons desire to speak in the language in which he thinks?

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I’m not weighing in on that at all. I’m stating that it’s commonly considered rude, and it’s important for the OP to know that as she decides how she wants to proceed.

                4. KellyK*

                  I haven’t read Emily Post’s or Judith Martin’s take on it, but I would think there would be a lot of grey area depending on how exclusionary it is. For example, if six people are sitting around the lunch table and the 5 who speak French are using it exclusively and basically ignoring the one who doesn’t, that’s pretty rude. On the other hand, if a group of people are walking around a store chit-chatting in their native language, I can’t see that as rude to the other shoppers.

      1. Jamie*

        It’s under the same umbrella as “don’t hand out invitations in front of people who aren’t invited.”

        Yep – also don’t whisper in front of people is similar also.

        1. the gold digger*

          Oh man! The two people who work behind me are even more annoying when they whisper than when they speak full voice! They almost never bother to whisper, so I always wonder what has prompted the desire not to be overhead.

          Ideally, they would never talk at all. Or eat noisy foods.

    2. Mimi*

      While for you, it might be comforting, for someone who doesn’t understand what you’re saying, it could be uncomfortable. You can understand that, right? It makes you feel included, but it could also make someone else feel excluded.

    3. CatB*

      I don’t buy the “because they might be making fun of us or don’t want us to know what they’re saying.” Thats insecurity and ignornance.

      I’m really glad your life so far has been sheltered from historic inter-ethnic tensions. Alas, that is not true for many, be they in their homeland or abroad. There are times, persons and situations where a language you don’t understand is spoken not in your presence but at you. And this doesn’t necessarily happen only in third-world countries.

      1. Chinook*

        “There are times, persons and situations where a language you don’t understand is spoken not in your presence but at you. And this doesn’t necessarily happen only in third-world countries”

        Canadian history is full of this type of issue around langauge whther it be the French/English divide or the treatment of native languages in the school system.

      2. JamieG*

        I’ve been in both situations (speaking a language I don’t understand around me vs at me); the latter is pretty distinguishable, in my experience, from tone and body language. Whether people are saying something nice or something not-nice, it’s really uncomfortable to have someone talking about you when you can’t understand it. But it’s just… self-centered to assume that anyone speaking in a language you don’t understand is doing it in order to talk about you.

  18. Chinook*

    I have lived in bilingual situations where due to my name and origins, people rarely realized I understood the second language. As a result, I have heard a casual conversation between a colleague and out boss in the second language go from chit chat to making plans to meet up for a rehersal for an event that we all should be rehearsing for. When I later asked the colleague if there was information we (meaning those of us who didn’t speak the 2nd language) needed to know, she said there wasn’t. I then asked her specifically about there being any last minute rehersals and she said no. I called her on the lie and she said she didn’t realize I didn’t speak the 2nd language. I said it was my mother’s tongue (literally – mmy mother and grnadmother used to talk about christmas presents in front of the kids in it and, when asked, would tell us we were getting “littel blue nothings”) and was able to get her to admit that there was a rehersal that we maybe we would to go to.

    So, if you are speaking a 2nd language around your coworkers, a) realize that they might understand what you are saying and b) understand that some have been bitten in the past by those who use language as a secret code and may be wary of those who do it even if it would never cross your mind.

    1. Mimi*

      Daenarys Stormborn used this exact scenario to her advantage. Just throwing a little GoT reference out there. :-)

      1. Chinook*

        I did learn to use my 2nd language to my advantage a lot. I also educated my coworkers about the fact that there are francophones outside of Quebec (my family left that province over 100 years ago and I am a first generatino anglo only because my father doesn’t speak french), you can’t tell someone’s language ability from their name and that Alberta has quite a dynamic French language education system that goes all the way up to unviersity (my cousin took her Bachelor of Education at the Faculte St Jean with french as the language of instruction). Before pointing this out, my colleagues never asked their national volunteers what language they spoke and just assumed it based on location and last name (i.e. – Jean ValJean from Montreal obviously speaks French but Shuvon Smith from Cold Lake Alberta does not).

    2. EngineerGirl*

      Agree. My father (very Caucasian) spoke fluent Japanese. He worked at what was then the world’s largest auto company. The company hosted a bunch of executives/engineers from a Japanese auto company. As my father led the tour, he could hear two guys in the back talking about how one would slip away and basically take pictures of the new cars (highly competitive and restricted) and the manufacturing machinery (also competitive and restricted). My Dad stayed quiet. At the point of the tour the fist guy created a diversion while the 2nd guy tried to split off. My father then announced in perfect Japanese “Please stay with your tour group”. He said he really enjoyed the looks on the 2 spies faces.

      So no, it isn’t always innocent.

  19. B*

    #1 – Most companies will allow you to keep the miles, points, etc. even if you pay with a company credit card. If they don’t, they will let you know.

    #4 – If other people are around, and you have already been asked not to speak in another language because it is making others uncomfortable you may want to consider that. I also think you need to take into account, are you doing this on lunch break or when there is an office full of people and you two just want to chat. If it is an office full of people I would really consider what your boss has asked otherwise you rise alienating more of your coworkers.

  20. Natalie*

    #2 – Have you tried acting overly sympathizing? The whiner will often be put off balance with just how much sympathy you are showing, get uncomfortable, and stop. We have a really depressed manager at my company who is talking a lot about leaving and how stressed she is with our new overall boss and this seems to be working on her! That and some casual avoidance has done wonders for our sanity.

    1. #2 poster*

      I tried that too! Unfortunately, it just eggs her on. At this point, I try to just ignore as much as possible. Which can be tough, since we sit next to each other.

      1. Natalie*

        Yeah, we use headphones a lot for that reason too. Good luck! With luck she will follow through and be gone soon!

  21. Lily in NYC*

    #4 (language) – It doesn’t matter if your boss can or cannot make you speak English in the office – he’s the boss and if people complained then you should probably just suck it up and save speaking your own language for lunch hour or breaks. I understand that it’s annoying. But look at if from the other side – we had two very senior women here – one brought the other one aboard – they were best friends and often spoke Cantonese in the office. Everyone hated them – they were truly awful human beings. They had no idea one of our VPs spoke Cantonese fluently (married a Chinese guy and lived in Hong Kong for a few years). After a few months, she told their boss how they were bad-mouthing him and the president’s office and constantly gossiping about their staff. He asked her for specifics and it did not end well for them. One quit out of embarrassment and the other one got fired the first time she made a mistake – they were just waiting for her to screw up so they could get rid of her.

    1. Jen in RO*

      Yeah, but these are people using their common language to hold inappropriate conversations. Who is it hurting if two people talk about their weekend in Tagalog instead of English? If they badmouth someone and get caught, it’s their fault, but it shouldn’t be straight out forbidden because of that.

  22. Katie the Fed*

    #3 –

    I would suggest that if you have an Employee Assistance Program you encourage the employee to use it. Nobody should run out of gas at the last minute unless there’s some kind of weird domestic situation (her boyfriend took the car without her knowing), or she needs some serious help on finances and budgeting.

    Whatever it is, it’s a sign of a much bigger problem. I would encourage her to address whatever the issue is.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit*

      This is obviously a crappy situation for the employee (if she’s telling the truth), but I don’t think the only options are “weird situation” and “needs help with finances.” She may just be poor; she may have juuuuuuust enough money to live on, and if something crops up (like, a traffic jam on the way home which turns her 30 minute commute into a 90 minute commute) there’s no give in her budget.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Yes, but she’s obviously close to being in trouble if she’s living this close to the financial edge. There’s no harm in a boss saying “if there’s something else going on that’s impacting your situation, I encourage you to take advantage of our free EAP – it’s a great resource for all kinds of issues.”

      2. FYI*

        She is really inviting a lot of scrutiny into her personal financial choices. And when you start making your own financial problems your employer’s it really DOES become their business.

        Barring catastrophic illness, etc., there are really not that many people who make good financial decisions who find themselves in this position, with no access to credit or savings. There are only three solutions to financial problems–spend less, earn more, or both.

  23. 7*

    On the language thing: I think when you are working and earning a living in an (predominantly) English speaking country, you should speak English at work. You can choose to speak how you want when you clock out.

    Safety: I work around ALOT of foreigners for a huge company, in the IT dept. I would feel much safer if I knew what they were saying. Before you say I am being “racist,” I am a minority and the foreigners are from all around the world (not just one group). Never know what people are plotting these days (my fellow Americans included). Thoughts anyone…?

      1. 7*

        And you sumized all that from one little comment I made? Maybe you could have asked why I feel that way. I would have told you I had family in the Trade Center on 9/11 and a friend a the Boston race. We also had a potential scare at work related to a non native.

        1. Calla*

          I also knew people at the race and live in Boston, not far from where the manhunt took place, and yet I don’t want to monitor every single thing anyone who crosses my path says.

          (Also, at this point I feel I should add: minorities can still be xenophobic.)

          1. 7*

            “xenophobia, a fear or hatred of strangers or foreigners …” What? I don’t fear or hate any race. My gosh you all go so deep. It’s not that serious.

            “……and yet I don’t want to monitor every single thing anyone who crosses my path says.” Good for you. Where did I say I want to monitor every single thing/everyone that crosses my path? I specifically made mention of work related conversations…not the mall, gym, grocery store etc.

            1. Calla*

              You have said you want workers to speak only in English because you think they, particularly “foreigners,” are plotting something. That sounds like xenophobia. If you don’t want people to take it that way, don’t say it that way.

        2. Katie the Fed*

          I mean this in the most gentle, helpful way possible. I’m not saying your feelings are unjustified. However, they’re not typical. You’re expressing a level of fear that SEEMS disproportionate to the issue (people speaking in foreign languages around you) based on personal ties to the Boston Bombing and 9/11. You might want to consider talking to someone to help sort that all out, because I don’t think it’s a healthy way to live to be afraid of foreigners speaking foreign languages. People are trying to tell you this, not to label you, but to give you some perspective.

    1. Calla*

      Do you want to monitor all conversations that take place behind doors? Do you suspiciously listen to any and all conversations that happen in public because (as someone else pointed out) they could be terrorist discussions happen in English code? After all, you never know what someone’s plotting.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      “Safer?” “Plotting?”

      I think you have bigger issues than foreigners speaking foreign languages at work, in my opinion. This is unnecessarily paranoid.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Oh but I do suspect my housecleaners talk about what a ridiculous slob I am. That’s ok. I am.

      2. 7*

        Oh girl please..lol @ “bigger issues.” So quick to lable. I was just throwing my thoughts out there. Some of you can be so self righteous. I assure you I’m not paranoid.

          1. 7*

            All of our interactions with life have been diff. See my reply to one of your readers. I normally ask questions if I think someone is looking at things diff b4 I label.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Perhaps you should look more closely at the words you’re using, then. When you say things like “never know what people are plotting” and “I would feel much safer if I knew what they were saying” that sounds very paranoid, particularly since you don’t specify a basis for those concerns. If you intended a different meaning, use different words.

          1. 7*

            Typing on my phone and dont have time to write a book. I am quite fond of this blog so I read on the go.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I think the point, though, is that if you’re not using words that accurately convey what you mean, it’s not surprising when people react differently than you expect!

  24. Katie the Fed*

    Regarding #4 and all the comments. Keep in mind that “national origin” is a legally protected class and you cannot discriminate for it. That’s why Alison is clarifying that there need to be legitimate business reasons for the request to speak English.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Well, I should say I ASSUME that’s why she said that.

      Just bear in mind that if you ask a native speaker of another language to only speak English, you may be treading in some dangerous legal waters.

      1. Chinook*

        I would think that, since the US doesn’t have an official language (or has that changed?), that this also covers what an employer can/can’t insist you do in the workplace. As a result, the language of the workplace could change overtime as the demographics change.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          The US does not have an official language. But I don’t think that has any bearing on what you can do in the workplace.

          1. Chinook*

            Having an official language(s) for a country would have bearing in what you can require someone to speak in the workplace. For example, in Quebec, it is required to speak French in the workplace (and yes, there are language police). The owner can be fined, I believe, if his employees are not speaking French and these employees can be fired. It can also be required that you be fluent in the official language in order to have professional standing.

            Now, if I were to go to the US and be told that I was required to speak English at work and yet know that English is not the official language of the country, I could honestly be wondering if it is legal to make such a requriement or is this a case of discrimination, which is what the OP is asking. As it turns out, AAM says it is not legal to ask someone to keep to English only unless there is a business reason, which makes sense. Whether or not it is polite to those around you, though, is a different kettle of fish.

            1. fposte*

              There are some cultural issues, too, which the Quebec issue and the Romanian discussions show up. I was just at a minority languages literary conference in Iceland, and it was absolutely fascinating; one of the things discussed was the tendency, in a lot of multi-lingual situations, for the presence of a single English-only speaker to result in an entire group in a non-Anglophone country changing its language to English to accommodate. So I’m not crazy about the backdoor linguistic colonization there, but I also think that’s a different scenario than the OP’s.

              1. Jen in RO*

                Sorry for monopolizing the conversation, I just really like talking and learning about other cultures and languages!

                1. fposte*

                  You weren’t remotely monopolizing–I think it’s cool that we have such a significant Romanian contingent, and I think the discussion is enhanced by having people coming at the language issue from different experiences.

  25. Christine*

    #4 – I’ve always been mixed about the language issue. I think it really depends on the setting and the situation.

    In my first two jobs, I was surrounded by Spanish-speaking coworkers, many with very limited English. Also, in my second job, most of my coworkers (i.e. who had the same function I did) were Spanish-speaking. Their English was generally much better; I was not getting along with two of them, so I was beginning to get paranoid that when they were speaking in their language to each other, they were talking about me (one Spanish-speaking woman from a different department did in fact confide that she’d heard unkind things said about me).

    In general, while I think customer-facing workers should make every effort to learn and practice English, since many Americans are English-only, I think people do have the right to speak to each other in their own language. At the same time, it is a little unnerving (it was for me, at least, at the second job I mentioned above) when that occurs in actual work spaces.

    It is taking forever for me to write this post because it’s one of those issues that has many, many sides to it, so I think I’ll stop here :)

  26. BCW*

    #4 It amazes me how many people don’t see it as rude to speak in front of others in another language. If I was in a group at lunch, and I wrote a note, passed it to someone, and they started laughing, I think most people would find that rude. No, what I wrote may have nothing to do with the rest of the group, but its still purposely excluding people from the conversation. If its that important, there is nothing wrong with excusing yourself and having a private conversation. Same thing if 2 people just start whispering while in a group.

    I think many people don’t necessarily think they are being mocked, but when others feel the NEED to publicly communicate in a way that excludes others, it just doesn’t sit right with many people.

    1. Calla*

      Is there a reason in this scenario where it’s more convenient or comfortable to communicate via a note?

      1. BCW*

        If they are fluent in english (which it seems is what we are discussing), conveniences isn’t an issue. As far as comfort, I don’t see that as valid either. It may be more comfortable for me to wear certain things into like shorts and flip flops into the office, but that doesn’t mean I should do it.

        1. Calla*

          Fluency is not on the same level as a native language and so they may be able to better communicate ideas, etc. in their shared native language.

          FTR, re-thinking your comment, I do think it would be a little odd if you were in a *group conversation* that everyone was participating in, and suddenly two people switched to another language only between the two of them, but that’s not what’s being talked about by the OP. What it sounds like is they are conducting conversations by themselves but other people happen to be in the same area/room and think they’re entitled to understand everything being said even when it presumably doesn’t involve them.

        2. Joey*

          Let me help you out a bit. Its hard to be truly fluent. And by that I mean its hard to be fluent enough to think in a second language. If you learned another language well and had to speak it everyday to function wouldn’t you cherish opportunities to speak the language you think in and are comfortable in without people being offended?

          1. BCW*

            I understand that. I do think though that in a work situation, its a bit different. Its like if they were trying to communicate, and they just said a sentence or 2 in the native language because they couldn’t figure out how to express it, I get that. But entire conversations that a small number of people have that most people can’t understand? Totally different.

            1. Joey*

              Not really. If you worked in say Mexico where you had to speak Spanish everyday would you think its right for someone to tell you you were not allowed to speak English to the few English speaking employees working with you? I just don’t understand why people feel the need to dictate to other people what they should and shouldn’t do just because they’re uncomfortable with it.

              1. BCW*

                If no one else spoke English, and I could express myself clearly in Spanish, I could see why people would be annoyed by me speaking English to my friend. Again, I’m talking about in a work situation. If you are out in public, I think you do whatever the hell you please.

                Again, its also similar to the thought that you shouldn’t make plans in front of other people if you aren’t including them. As someone said, its not discriminating against them, its them excluding other people from whats going on.

                1. Joey*

                  So does that mean I can’t talk to my spanish speaking co worker about my carne guisada, cochinita pibil, or molé without translating my conversations to my non Spanish speaking co workers?

                  That’s Mexican food by the way.
                  Doesn’t that sound pretty ridiculous?

                2. BCW*

                  You have to see what the difference is in this situation. Again, I’m definitely not one of those “This is America, speak English” people. I think other languages in public are fine. Again though, I do think that there are certain things in the work place that just shouldn’t be there. The fact that even on this board, we seem to be split about 50/50 on whether or not its rude says a lot. I’m sure you are a nice person who would never intentionally do anything rude to someone. So if you know there is a good chance that half of the people would take it that way, why do it? Just because you can?

                3. SW*


                  But we’re talking about entire conversations, not singular nouns and pronouns.

                4. Joey*

                  Your rationale defies logic. Was it rude that minorities thought they had the right to be around whites? Whites sure thought so, at least a lot of them did. How is this different? How is it rude to speak in your native language? How is it rude for the world to know you’re gay? In short, how is it rude for people to be themselves when it harms no one else?

                5. Joey*

                  Its really not exclusionary either because not learning another language is a choice

                6. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  It’s a major commitment that isn’t reasonable to expect of people (particularly when they may have multiple languages they’d need to learn in order to take that suggestion — should someone really learn 4 languages and for what may be a limited-time situation?) and isn’t going to solve the problem in the short-term.

                7. Joey*

                  In the literal sense maybe, but its also exclusionary to prevent people from speaking the language they want

                8. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  But I haven’t said they should be prohibited from it. I’ve said that people should be aware that many others do find it rude and then make their choices accordingly.

                9. Joey*

                  The short term solution is to stop listening to other people’s conversations if they bother you.

                10. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I actually think there’s an interesting discussion to be had about whether people shouldn’t be bothered by it or not, but I think what’s relevant for the OP is that a significant portion of people are (including plenty who aren’t raging xenophobes), and it’s worth her knowing that and making her decisions accordingly.

                  This whole conversation has made me think that maybe I’ll brush up on my Spanish since I’m marrying into a family with some Spanish speakers. Somehow four years of high school Spanish has left me with only about nine verbs.

                11. BCW*

                  @Joey, clearly you have your mind made up and thats fine. Its not about listening to other peoples conversations. It is about being aware of your surroundings and how things may come across. By your logic of “don’t listen to other people’s conversations”, if I have a friend and we like to tell racist or sexist jokes to each other, and neither of us are offended, then no one else should be able to go to the boss and say they were offended by what we said because we weren’t talking to them. But we know that isn’t the case. Something like sexual harassment can be brought up in the workplace just by dirty stories being told, even if they weren’t about someone in the office. Thats how the work place operates. So to say “just don’t listen” doesn’t work

                12. Loose Seal*

                  Alison, try Duolingo for your Spanish brush-up. It’s helping my high school Spanish come back really fast.

        3. Jen in RO*

          I’ve been learning English in one form or another for 25 years and my job is centered on writing in English, so I would consider myself very fluent… and yet there are still things that I can’t express accurately in a language other than my native one. Those things probably wouldn’t come up on a work environment, but fluent is not equal to being 100% comfortable in a language.

          1. Chinook*

            Jen in RO, if it makes you feel any better, you shouldn’t judge fluency on your ability to express acurrately everything you do in your native language. Somethigns just do not translate well. Though I speak English only right now, I find myself using French and Japanese terms to express ideas that I just can’t verbalize in English but those languages have the perfect word for. A gallic shrug or a Japanese “shoganai” so much better express some of my feelings some days than “what can you do” ever would in English. And, frankly, I have never found a word that describes feeling “genki” just right. But, if you can communicate your ideas in a way that is understood and understand a conversation between two (fast talking) English speakers, I think that would make you fluent.

            1. Jen in RO*

              Oh, I’m sure I’m fluent, it’s just the deeper conversations that feel a bit stilted or ‘fake’. Then again, I don’t really have a lot of deep conversations! And I definitely get what you mean – there are many great words in English that just can’t be translated properly in Romanian. I don’t know if people still remember the old audio file about the versatility of the word ‘f**k’, but I thought it was spot on.

      2. CathVWXYNot?*

        “Is there a reason in this scenario where it’s more convenient or comfortable to communicate via a note?”

        We do this at work on Monday lunch times when those of us who’ve read all the Game of Thrones books want to talk about what’s going to happen next in the TV version without giving away any spoilers for people who haven’t read the books. Except we do it by text messages instead of notes. But we do apologise for it and tell people why :)

  27. Dana*

    #4. Just from all the comments on here regarding this you can tell this is a divisive issue. Really you have two choices:

    1. Continue speaking your native language with your fellow Filipino coworker when others are around and risk alienating yourself from the rest of the group. As a result you may find yourself excluded by your English only speaking colleagues…which may not be a bad thing depending upon your office.

    2. Speak English when others are around and save the Filipino for times when you have privacy or outside of work. As a result, you may find yourself more included in the office social scene…again, this may not beworthwhile depending on who you work with.

    1. The IT Manager*

      If you do #1, you are defying your boss which could be problematic even, though, AAM said that it’s probably not legal for him to do this to you. Do you want to fight that battle? I think that’s worth your consideration.

    2. Darcie*

      Another commenter noted that it’s probably a good move professionally for OP#4 to speak English. It’s not ideal, but I agree.

  28. OP#1*

    OP#1 here,

    For clarification, my current company is deliberately silent on the issue – meaning it is up to individual departments to decide(whoever is paying for the travel). It actually IS possible to create frequent flyer and hotel rewards accounts in the company name, if we wanted to. We don’t do that – we allow people to keep points for personal use. Also, wherever possible we travel during work hours (so we are “paid” to travel), and if we do have to travel on a weekend or there is a particularly long international flight, we get to track that time and take a day or two off later.

    I brought this up, because it seemed to fit with all of the recent ethics/morality type questions that were being discussed. I am actually a little surprised that no one considers keeping the mileage/points as a form of “stealing”, or that ethically the points should be collected on behalf of the company. Just to play devil’s advocate, even though I do feel that keeping the points myself is appropriate.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      I think it’s so common for employees to keep the miles that no one would bat an eye. I would ask your manager and get the response in writing so nobody can question it later.

      I love being able to keep my miles. Mainly for status. Having United Premium status is the bomb diggity. I hate waiting in line.

    2. EngineerGirl*

      I think it is different. The employee actually earned those miles for the company by being in numerous uncomfortable situations: Getting up at 3 am to catch a 6:30 am flight, getting home at 1 am after working all day in a remote location, traveling on weekends when it is a normal day off, cancelling and rescheduling evening appointments because of sudden travel to a remote location.

      I would *not* use these points for my own personal travel. I would however, use the points to make future travel less painful.

      1. Cat*

        I don’t know that that’s common. Most people I know who travel regularly for work use those points for their own personal travel and their companies don’t have a problem with it.

  29. Amy*

    However, your employer cannot prevent you from speaking another language in casual conversation with another coworker, even if it’s making coworkers around you uncomfortable.

    Alison, in general, under the law, employers can make any rules they want in the workplace unless there is a specific law forbidding such policies (for example, an employer can have any policies they want about meal breaks unless your state has a specific law about how many and what kind of breaks they are required to offer). Can you cite a specific law that prohibits employers from having rules about what language can be used in the workplace? This strikes me as akin to policies about dress codes in non-client facing roles or about refilling the coffeemaker if you take the last cup: not specifically justified by a business necessity, but the employer can make the rule, and you can be reprimanded for not following the rule. Plus, I think that “because everyone deserves to be comfortable” is a legitimate business purpose. I think you are wrong on the law about this, and I think that if you’re going to say that an employer is not allowed to do something, you need to cite the law that says that.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Did you try looking this up? There’s lots on it. For instance, from the EEOC website:


      “The EEOC has stated that rules requiring employees to speak only English in the workplace violate the law unless they are reasonable necessary to the operation of the business. A rule requiring employees to speak only English in the workplace at all times, including breaks and lunch time, will rarely be justified.
      An English-only rule should be limited to the circumstances in which it is needed for the employer to operate safely or efficiently. Circumstances in which an English-only rule may be justified include: communications with customers or coworkers who only speak English; emergencies or other situations in which workers must speak a common language to promote safety; cooperative work assignments in which the English-only rule is needed to promote efficiency. Even if there is a need for an English-only rule, an employer may not take disciplinary action against an employee for violating the rule unless the employer has notified workers about the rule and the consequences of violating it.”

      1. Amy*

        Thanks! I did look it up, and I didn’t find that. Perhaps you should add a link in your answer, so that we can understand where the prohibition comes from.

    2. Joey*

      Language discrimination without a legitimate business purpose is national origin discrimination under the civil rights act of 1964. The courts have found that mere preference for a particular language is not enough to qualify as a business necessty.

    3. Joey*

      Do you remember reading about when whites only felt comfortable around whites? Same thing.

      1. SW*

        No, it’s not the same thing. It’s about communication and being inclusive, not about skin color or national origin or majority race. People have the right to speak Klingon or Dothraki to each other, but if they would to be considerate of others, they would speak the company’s shared language (let’s say it’s High Valyrian) when sharing a space with coworkers.

        Doesn’t matter whether you’re gossiping or not — it’s just considerate of your coworkers (of any race, who just happen to not understand your language).

    4. Katie the Fed*

      This is/should be drilled into your head in EEO training (which you should be getting). Discriminating against any protected class is illegal, and that includes race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, disability, and genetic information. Telling people not to speak their native language amongst themselves, without a clear business reason, constitutes discrimination on the basis of national origin.

  30. AML*

    You will have to pry my work-travel earned frequent flier miles from my cold, dead hands.

  31. Little Miss Miffed*

    “I’d say something like this: “As you know, I can sometimes grant permission to work from home under very occasional circumstances, but in general we do expect you’ll have transportation to work each day. Is that something you’ll be able to do going forward?””

    I ask, to what good end will doing this serve? This boss ultimately is only going to say yes or no; what will this do besides embarass someone who is probably already humiliated?

    Speaking from personal experience, having to beg your boss in the eleventh hour for help because something horrible or unexpected happened and now you can’t afford rent or food this month much less fuel is humiliating enough without being told “no, I won’t help you, because the fact you are in trouble says you’re an irresponsible person who needs a lecture about personal accountability.”

    So BEFORE doing as Alison suggested, or asking this poor person about their reasons, ask YOURSELF if their answer would have even made a difference in your decision. Furthermore ask yourself: sensitivity issues aside, do you really care?

    Because honestly, reading your letter it doesn’t sound like you do, and from the sound of things, the answer will not affect change anything, so why bother? You are better off saying “no you can’t work from home, I am sorry,” and leaving it at that.

    If this person is like me, and had an emergency which they could not disclose to their boss and desperately needed understanding this one time, being served a dish of sanctimony is not something they’ll forgive or forget anytime soon.

    Frankly if I were in that situation again, I would rather hear: “find a way to work everyday or you are fired,” from a boss who is honest about not giving a gosh dang, than what I quoted above by someone who doesn’t think I am capable of figuring out “no reliable transportation = no way to work = screwed”.

    I am sorry, but apparently where Alison read “lack of critical thinking”, I read: “last ditch desperation.”

    OP #3 go ahead and have that talk if you feel that you must. I am constantly told the boss isn’t your friend, and managers aren’t paid to be liked; it’s not like anyone can prove that wrong.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      wow…this is hostile. Not all managers are jerks, you know. Some of us are legitimately concerned about the people who report to us, and want to make sure they’re getting the help they need if they’re having severe problems that could impact their work eventually. THat’s why things like Employee Assistance Programs exist. I suggested above encouraging the employee to use the EAP.

      I personally would like to know if there’s something going on, and maybe I can help the employee come up with some solutions too.

      1. Little Miss Slightly Soothed*

        You bet I am hostile. But not towards you.

        If a manager is only interested in knowing the sordid details of someone’s misfortune while at the same time having no intention of helping their employee or even caring if a bonafide crisis is in play, I most certainly have a problem. I have NEVER asked for an accomodation that could inconvenience someone else just to see what I could get away with and it is insulting when people just assume that is the reason.

        Anytime I have asked for help when experiencing a personal issue, it was because I was desperate and my boss was my last and only hope, because if the company asks that I do not discuss work at home, I feel I have the right not to discuss my personal problems in the workplace.

        One night at home, I answered the phone and was met with what was rapidly becoming a life and death situation. I was faced with a choice: hang up and go to work the next day and say nothing, knowing full well I could help but was choosing not to, or phone my boss at 8:00 Friday night and beg him to please excuse me from attending a non-mandatory company event for which he’d volunteered me the next day.

        I choose the latter option (something I regret to this day,) and was at first told if I had a good reason, he would consider excusing me. So I gave him a quick run down. He needed more details he said, and asked at length about things I didn’t feel at liberty to divulge. After spilling my guts (he made it clear this was required for his consideration) he turned around and told me afterwards that the answer was “No” regardless of any reason I had, and he had known before I’d even explained anything that nothing was going to change his mind. He then decided to keep me on the phone for the next ten minutes, to detail a list of character flaws he imagined I was hiding to have found myself in such a dilema.

        I am sorry, this did not compel me to pray for his soul in the least. If I had asked, and said “I am sorry, I am not in a position to help you, please find another way,” I would not have held it against him. To have him then go on to frame the situation to HR as an ongoing performance issue the following week, when other salaried exempted employees were allowed to skip volunteering to stay home and watch any given sports event…
        Yeah, I’ll never forgive this man for doing that to me. My call and crisis should not have been an invitation for him to pass judgement on my personal life, infantalize, and humiliate me.

        HR for their part, told me that while my situation was regrettable, I had to understand my boss had his job to do, and I shouldn’t be upset because he put the needs of the company first, rather than “kow tow” to a last minute employee request. Furthermore if I took the time to “learn something called personal responsibility” maybe my boss wouldn’t feel the need to lecture me for weeks (in public no less) about the virtue of preventing my personal life from interfering with work. (Just a helpfull suggestion!)

        If you are a truly caring boss I commend you. I commend all of the truly caring people in the corporate world and beyond. I just ask the others: PLEASE PLEASE don’t ask vulnerable people to expose themselves, if there is no constructive reason for doing so. If you already know you have no intention of even trying to help, you will only humiliate what might have otherwise been a good worker.

    2. Lynn*

      There are people out there who just can’t or won’t come to work regularly. If the manager doesn’t know yet whether or not she’s dealing with one of those, I think it’s fine to say “this once you can work from home, but please don’t make a habit of it.”

    3. fposte*

      It certainly *can* be “last ditch desperation,” just as it can be “lack of critical thinking.” (It can also be outright lying because you don’t want to come in hungover–or because you don’t want the boss to see the bruises your partner just inflicted on your face.) If an employee isn’t willing to tell me what it is, I’m going to cover all the bases. It doesn’t involve sanctimony, just stating what might occur–the loss of a vacation day would seem likely, given that this is a salaried and quite likely exempt employee.

      But in general if you’re not prepared to trust somebody they’re less likely to trust you, and that seems pretty reasonable.

  32. Anon reader*

    The only time I’ve ever heard complaints about speaking another language being “rude” is when it’s either a person of color or a non-European/western language being spoken. It’s a pretty political issue, and more people argue about this sort of thing in regards to what languages people speak in public or at schol, let alone at work on their own time, in private conversations.

    As long as everyone speaks a common language (in this case, English) at meetings, with clients, and other business communications, there shouldn’t be a problem with employees speaking another language on their own time. I’ve even heard complaints about this when it comes to accents! Just because you don’t understand doesn’t mean you’re being talked about or excluded. That would be if you were actively being ignored, or if the people talking got up and walked away, etc. Many times, I’ve seen or had people speak in another language easily and often include other people and then just switch to the common language of the group. To me, it reeks of suspicion and xenophobia to think “I can’t understand this person” = “they’re rude ecause thy’re definitely saying something bad, right?”. It’s no better or worse than whispering or closing a door when you go have a conversation with a co-worker, and I don’t see any rules against that.

    1. Anon reader*

      To clarify my first point, I mean when the person speaking another language IS a person of color, not the person complaining.

    2. BCW*

      Well I have an example. I used to teach at in an all Mexican school (and it wasn’t all Latino, literally all Mexican). As teachers, we didn’t let our students have conversations in Spanish to each other. Why? First off, we didn’t understand it, so we couldn’t be sure it was appropriate. Also, their peers didn’t understand it.

      Now I understand as adults we should be able to make our own choices, but its kind of the same type of thing. If my manager can tell me that my conversation isn’t appropriate for work, why should non-english speakers not have that same thing hovering over them?

      1. Anon reader*

        As far as speaking in a classroom setting, I’ve heard debates about that as well, and in the school I grew up in, it was allowed and wasn’t considered an issue, so there’s no one set rule there.

        As far as the work place, why do you think they’ll be having inappropriate conversations? This argument, and variations of it, are always brought up, as if people need to be constantly policed in order to be appropriate at work. At my work place, everyone has a single office at work, and no one thinks I’ll go in my office and do inappropriate things in there or have conversations I shouldn’t, and no one can hear me or “hover over” me. There’s no reason to think that just because someone is speaking in another language that they’re “up to something”. In that case, you might as well ban any kind of single conversations between workers that isn’t about work; they could be talking in some kind of “secret code” made to look like they’re only talking about sports scores.

        A workplace is about trust. If you can’t trust someone to not to things that are inappropriate, don’t hire them. otherwise, if they’re just talking with another co-worker in a causal conversation, just let it be. Or you could even join in the conversation. Seriously, has no one ever been like “Hey, you guys sounds really into what you’re saying, what’s so interesting?” and just join in? Just like you would if it were a conversation in English? Or even better, be invited into a conversation that started out in another language?

        And even then, as adults, we can have private conversations if we want to, even if other people around us speak the language we’re speaking in the conversation. I’d never think two people near me having a conversation behind me were excluding me just because they didn’t call out my name and ask me to say something as well, no matter the language. That’s their conversation and their business. The language isn’t the problem, it’s actions (do they ignore me if I speak to them? yes? then I’m being excluded).

    3. Elizabeth*

      Seconding the underlying xenophobic aspect to this issue, especially given that prioritizing niceness is frequently a way that we silence marginalized populations. I live in an incredibly multicultural city and the only time I hear people get upset about people not speaking English is when it’s a POC / non-Western language, as you described.

      1. Anon reader*

        Exactly. You go to a restaurant and the staff speak in French, and you hear comments like “Ooo, isn’t that so cool!” Go to another restaurant and the staff speak Spanish to one another, and you hear comments like “Why can’t they speak the language? Learn English!”

        Someone isn’t doing it AT you to harm you. From my past experiences, I’ve never been offended by people speaking other languages around me. I’ve had group conversations, and it’s not uncommon to have a few people speak in another language just to clarify something that came up in the conversation in English to make sure they understand. And like I said, I’ve heard this sort of thing even about accents/dialects, with comments like “We can’t understand you, speak like normal!” (and this is about an English Carribbean dialect). I’ve just never heard these types of complaints come from anywhere except a place of ignorance and unacceptance.

        To say it’s “rude” doesn’t sit well with me. There’s a lot of outdated, classist, sexist, and racist things that used to be considered “etiquette” that have become outdated, and I think this is one that should be considered outdated as well.

        I can maybe get how it makes someone uncomfortable, but guess what else feels uncomfortable? Being told “Don’t speak that way, don’t speak that language, I want to know what you’re saying.” All you can think to yourself is, “Thanks for letting me know you don’t trust me, and also that you’re ignorant.” That in itself feels exclusionary, like you can’t belong unless you do it on everyone’s terms, and goodness forbid you ever show any difference from the “norm”.

  33. Cas @ #4*

    #4: To me, the workplace language is a matter of manners, not race or national origin. I can see why the issue is polarizing, since it can be hard to draw a line between what’s okay and what’s rude. My rule of thumb is, if you’re in a situation where everyone may have an interest in being part of the conversation, it’s the nice and considerate thing to do to give them the chance to understand and join in.

    It’s not about the non-speaker being paranoid or xenophobic; I think people would be better off not giving a shit whether they’re being talked about or not. But it’s polite to the people you work with to not shut them out, whether or not it’s intentional.

    I’ll split it up into different scenarios to illustrate. In these examples, Klingon is the company’s shared language and Latin is the minority language:

    (keep in mind that this is just one person’s opinion)

    Not Okay due to business needs:
    1. While checking a guest into a hotel, the front desk clerk says something to a fellow employee in Latin, then they both laugh.
    2. Salesman asks his manager something in Latin right in front of you before naming a price. Ideally, the salesman would excuse himself and talk to his manager in whatever language once they’re out of earshot.

    Not Okay because it makes coworkers feel excluded, self-conscious or uncomfortable:
    1. Alice, Bob and Czernobog are in the conference room, waiting for other executives to arrive so they can start the staff meeting. Alice and Bob have an animated conversation in Latin. (What if Czernobog wanted to talk about last Sunday’s episode with them too?)
    2. Prudence introduces the new girl Paige to her coworker, Piper. Piper says something to Prudence in Latin before switching back to English.

    1. The five Latin-speaking people in the company occupy one table in the employee cafeteria and talk to each other in their native tongue. I think this is okay even with other people present because the table is their space, and they’re off the clock. If one of them invites her non-Latin-speaking friend to lunch, it would be nice of them to speak in Klingon.
    2. Ai-Ai and Bongbong talk in Latin in the hallway when nobody else is nearby.

    I’d also like to share that I had two Filipino coworkers (in different offices) who would only speak to me in Tagalog when they wanted to talk shit about other people. So, no, sometimes people aren’t “just being paranoid.” It’s not usually about you, but that doesn’t mean it’s never about you!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I agree. (With the caveat that the examples in the 2nd group probably can’t be legally prevented because they’re not about business need, but it’s a “shouldn’t do because of manners” rather than a “can’t do.”)

  34. Elizabeth*

    I know the language issue is today’s hot topic, but I’m surprised by the lack of response to #6 as that one was the one that really pushed my annoyance button as a manager. Only if the candidate was heads and shoulders above the other candidates would I even begin to consider the request to defer the start date; otherwise, I’d say thanks but no thanks and move on.

    Besides the fact that it’s inconsiderate, as others have mentioned, it’s more the whimsical, breezy “I want to keep travelling!” that doesn’t make me feel remotely confident about this person. I think it’s okay to value travel over work if you can afford to do it (in terms of both money and time); what I don’t like is backing out of a commitment or the lack of awareness that the day-to-day working world does not operate on this kind of schedule (at least not in M-F, 9-5 jobs in North America).

    Something I’ve encountered in hiring people of high school / college / recent graduate age is a lack of understanding of what a job entails in terms of time commitments. I mean, it makes sense that this age group can take off for months at a time due to school schedules or gaps between college and getting your first “real” job, but I’ve met a lot of people who seem to think you can do both, e.g. I’ve had a high school student take a summer job that they know is full time for the duration of their two-month contract, only to ask to take two weeks off to go to Europe. I mean, sure, go to Europe, but do not expect that your job will be waiting for you when you get back.

    1. fposte*

      The two-intakes thing made me wonder if it was an internship or a non-American company, which in either case means that customs can be different. But it does seem like it’s being treated like deferred admission to a university, and the work world I know doesn’t operate that way.

      1. Elizabeth*

        “But it does seem like it’s being treated like deferred admission to a university, and the work world I know doesn’t operate that way.”

        Yes, I couldn’t put my finger on it as precisely as you did, but that’s it exactly.

      2. De Minimis*

        Big Four accounting firms have a two-intakes system….a large group of people start every summer, with a somewhat smaller group starting in January [often people who graduated in the fall.]

    2. Cas @ #6*

      I agree. I wonder what #6 would say if the company asked her why she wanted to defer the start date.

  35. Laura*

    I work for a large international company, and travel to locations in Germany, Sweden, and Poland on a regular basis. In addition, I work in IT and therefore work with many people from India.

    Everyone I work with is very considerate about speaking in English when discussing business-related issues. But sometimes, they need to converse in their own language to discuss an idea or concept. Right now I am in Gdansk doing some software testing and training for financial software. The users I work with all speak pretty good English, but they do lapse into Polish frequently. Then they always translate for me. I have no problem with this, because discussing complex topics like exchange rate accounting and tax regulations is difficult enough in your native language, never mind trying to translate it to another.

    I did IT consulting work for a large government agency years ago, soon after 9/11. The agency shall remain unnamed, but its function is something that affects everyone’s paychecks. There were quite a few Indian consultants on the project, and they were all very considerate about always discussing business related things with each other, other members of the team, and the client’s employees in English. But sometimes, they would speak with a family member on the phone in Hindi or whatever their local dialect was. Then we all got an email from the client stating that the “accepted language” in all US government facilities is English, and therefore English must be spoken at all times by everyone. I am sure that the fact that the people targeted in this email were Indians was no coincidence, because I’d heard plenty of members of the building cleaning crew speak with each other in Spanish, and no one seemed to get bent out of shape about that. It was such blatant bigotry and xenophobia that as an American I was very embarrassed.

    As long as someone makes it a habit to not exclude anyone by speaking in a different language when discussing business related topics, then there should be no problem. And the way to make it not a problem is to take great pains to translate discussions for people, and make sure that no one is feeling left out of the loop.

    1. Anon reader*

      I agree with this. If I were going to go abroad for a job, and I was told “When you go, you’ll only be able to speak [language] in the office, and don’t speak English, not even if they’re also a native speaker or if it’s a private conversation and not in a meeting/with a client”, I would turn down the position. It’s a bit too much to ask, and most people wouldn’t feel comfortable with it. But then we turn around and require it of others.

      And again, I’ve personally only see this done in regards to people of color (in regards to US race/ethnic definitions) speaking another language (or another English dialect). Two people speaking French or German? That gets no comment. If they’re speaking Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian, or a Jamaican dialect? You get complaints like “Why can’t they speak normally, why do they exclude themselves?” Sounds like the old “Why do -they- always sit by themselves at the lunch table?” argument, and it’s just as racist an xenophobic in a professional context as it is in a school. Funny enough, I’ve seen this exact thing happen in a work context (both with workers from another country and workers of color). Whenever anyone from another country (Mexico in this instance) and/or of color would sit at a lunch table, the other co-workers would literally get up and leave. And then a senior staff member would come over every time and say “How come you’re isolating yourselves?”

      1. Jen in RO*

        Oh wow. The behavior is your last sentences is appalling. I get all sad when I read about stuff like that – I would love to live in the US exactly because of the fact that you can meet people from everywhere!

  36. BW*

    Re: #4. I think it’s somewhat telling, that everyone saying that yes it is rude seem to be English-speakers. I haven’t seen any complaints from people who speak another language say that they think it is rude when co-workers speak English around them.

    The view also seems to vary depending on where people live. I’m willing to bet that the majority of people who think the behavior in #4 is rude don’t live in Texas, New Mexico, southern California or the like. Because living in those places, I guess you either have live in a constantly pissed-off state due to other people’s “rudeness” all the time, or you have to just decide eh it doesn’t matter that much to me after all.

    1. BW*

      Having said that, I do see Alison’s point is that for OP#4, the ship of “SHOULD people find it rude” has sailed. The question is “Now that we know for certain that many people DO indeed find it rude, what do we do going forward?” I get that.

    2. Layla*

      ” I haven’t seen any complaints from people who speak another language say that they think it is rude when co-workers speak English around them.”
      That’s because we all understand English around here.
      Interesting to know what non English speaking people think.
      I think my grandmother was not happy when we spoke English excessively around her. She only understood a few words.

      It must be upsetting to only know one language.
      As I mentioned upthread , almost everyone I know knows at least 2 languages. If co-worker one excludes me by using the “other” language , I could thereotically do so by using *my* other language.
      So we’re even.
      If you only know English , then – what can you do but stew.

    3. Jen in RO*

      What Layla said. Given that we’re here commenting and reading AAM, all of us foreigners know English :) The reactions might be different if you asked people who did not speak English at all…

  37. short geologist*

    I went to a very international school as a grad student, and in certain ways, it was a lot like a business environment. We had what I considered to be a reasonable standard – at parties that were not monolingual (i.e. when you’re being social), you need to speak English (or some other language that everybody knows). Because you’re interacting with a big group of people, and it’s exclusionary to have side conversations that some people can’t understand. We had gigantic keggers punctuated by “no fair! You need to speak [some other language]!”

    If you’re not in a big group or everyone speaks a particular language, have at it. But once someone comes into the group who’s handicapped by not knowing the language, the fair thing is to switch to the language everyone does know.

    1. Cassie*

      My boss tried to institute (informally) “English-only” in his lab. We have many foreign students, and most come from countries that speak a specific language. Speaking English would not only help them with their English (it was a second language for most of them) but also help them collaborate/interact with each other and not just limit them to other students who spoke the same mother tongue.

      That said, there are times when he talks to a student in their mother tongue. I don’t know if it’s because it’s easier for both him and the student to communicate or what, but it makes me feel a bit bad for his students who don’t speak his mother tongue. Maybe they would feel that they are missing out on some connection with him? (He speaks English when addressing students who have varied language backgrounds – it’s just the one on one or small group settings that he’ll use his mother tongue).

      1. Anonymous*

        If you work in a lab, it really needs to be mostly monolingual. As do every potentially high-risk situation. There are just too many things that could go wrong, or hazardous situations that need to be known to everyone who is working with you. Explaining what a certain word is? Not a problem. Telling your friend you just spilled ethidium bormide in the hood? Everyone needs to know that. (and something that has actually happened where I work).

  38. Vicki*

    #4 – Do be sure not to use another language as a way of having “private” conversations. I have a friend who tells the story of some co-workers who thought their “not in English” conversations were a private language. My friend (who knew that language) delighted in these eavesdropping moments.

    You never know whose parents might be Norwegian, neighbors Filipino, spent a few semesters in Japan…

  39. Jen*

    I asked question #5 and I ‘d like to thank you for the reply! I wish I had found this website ages ago. Many other career sites recommend contacting the hiring manager directly, but that always struck me as intrusive. I’m glad I asked here before following their recommendations. Also, the dream job post is spot-on and I’m glad you directed it my way. Thank you for your help!

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