I overheard a coworker making hateful comments, I’m having trouble focusing in a shared office, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. I overheard a coworker making hateful comments about Caitlyn Jenner

Today at lunchtime, I overheard the front desk worker in my office discussing with a member of our HR team the Arthur Ashe Courage Award that is being presented to Caitlyn Jenner. The front desk worker was complaining that the award was being given to “a freak” instead of the runner-up, Noah Galloway, who is a veteran and an amputee. I didn’t hear the entire conversation but enough that the context was clear. (Ed. note: As a commenter has pointed, that rumor wasn’t even true.)

I was upset by this incident but I’m at loss on how to proceed. Initially I intended to go through established channels for reporting this sort of behavior (an anonymous hotline) as our (large, international) company specifically calls for nondiscrimination based on gender identity and has harassment policies in place. Others have encouraged me to speak to the person directly instead. I am not particularly good at confrontation. I’m also not sure what’s sort of penalty a corporate investigation might result in or how severe it might be.

I respect the right for someone to have whatever opinion they like on this or any subject, but no one should hear that sort of hateful comment at work. I don’t want to just let this go, as that would be a disservice to others who might be hurt by this person’s remarks. So what do you think I should do?

Please speak up. Say something like this to your coworker: “This has been bothering me for a few days, so I wanted to speak to you about it. The other day, I overheard your conversation with Jane about Caitlyn Jenner, and what I heard was disrespectful and unkind. I can’t make you think differently, but I want to ask you not to make comments like that in the office.”

I’d base your decision about whether or not to report it on her reaction. If she’s defensive or hostile about it, then I’d be more inclined to report it. Someone spewing hate in your office, and in an office that specifically calls for non-discrimination around gender identity, is reasonable to speak up about.

Also, the person she was talking to was from HR? HR people in particular should know better than to stay silent at this kind of thing, so I hope that person spoke up. if they didn’t, that would be another nudge in favor of reporting.

2. I’m having trouble focusing in a shared office

I work for a growing organization that’s already in distress because of a lack of space ( it’s basically a nonprofit; we get by with the resources we have).

When I started the job, I knew that the office situation would be rough. I currently share a 6×10 closed-off office with two other people. The fact that I’m an introvert, a highly sensitive person and dealing with a chronic medical condition doesn’t help. I’m extremely distracted by noise and visual interruptions (people coming into the office to speak with coworkers). Even the presence of my office mates distracts me and creates stress. Headphones don’t help unfortunately. My office mates are aware of some of these things and are very courteous and supportive, though the lack of privacy and quiet is still a constant struggle for me. I’m sure they struggle sharing space, too, even though one shared that he’s not bothered by sounds or any of the things that bother me.

The reality is there’s not really anywhere to go, and my boss shares an office too. My job requires deep concentration and a focus on creative projects, including writing. My office is the last place I feel like I can do good work. I have a laptop and want to work remotely or from home more often to focus better, but our organization has a history of people abusing that privilege and seems to look down on not being physically present.

How do I explain my concerns to my boss in a way that doesn’t make me sound like I’m an exception? Would you ever recommend sharing personal information to build understanding or is it too risky? Do you think working from home or asking to explore other options is ok given that I’ve been with the organization for less than a year?

Ugh, this sucks. If they love your work and they’re reasonable people, you might have a decent shot at just laying out the problem and asking about working at home a few days a week. (If they don’t love your work and/or they’re not reasonable people, you could still give it a shot, although the chances aren’t as high of succeeding. Doing great work and working for rational people are both very helpful when it comes to quality of life requests.)

3. I was supposed to be co-leading the department, but have I been demoted?

I started a job I considered my dream a little over a month ago. Throughout the extensive interview process, I was told this position would co-lead a department, as the current manager is planning to phase out in the near future, and that I would then take over completely. This was a big move for me and my family. I had been a department #2 for the past few years, so this was a step up on the career ladder.

Since I started, people have been referring to the co-manager as my boss. I fluffed it off and figured they have been used to this person for years, I’m new, etc. But today at an all-stall meeting, the CEO passed out a new org chart that has me below the co-manager, not in line. They went a step further and changed the other manager’s title to senior manager, which was a surprise to the other manager. They cemented to everyone else that I do NOT co-lead my department. It is a blow to my ego, but it also makes me feel cheated. It also makes it awkward for me to communicate the way I need to with other department heads at times.

What they did here is effectively demote me, making this a lateral job move. I switched jobs to move up in my career. This was not the deal. What do I do?

You say something, immediately! As in, “My understanding when I accepted the job was that I would be co-leading the department with Jane, and it was a big reason that I accepted the position. This org chart has me below Jane. Can you help me understand the discrepancy?”

Is it possible that by “co-lead,” they meant that you’d be helping to run the department as Jane’s second-in-command? Or were they explicit that the two of you would be peers? If the latter, you’ve got to speak up right away — the longer you wait, the harder it’s going to be to get it addressed.

4. Should my resume label my internships as internships?

I’m fairly new to the job market and I want to work in media. I recently sent my resume off to be critiqued by someone who’s been working in the industry for a while. When I got my resume back, the internship positions weren’t in their own section or labeled as internships. I’ve tried to ask this person why they didn’t identify my internship experience as such, but they’ve been busy and haven’t gotten back to me. I’ve assumed that maybe they did it to make me look more experienced, but I’m afraid if prospective employers call my internships to ask about what kind of employee I was they’ll feel lied to, and my former internships will be annoyed with me.

I’ve been told people in the media do things so maybe that’s it, but I feel uneasy. Are you familiar with this practice at all? Should I just label my internships as internships?

Your internships don’t need to be in a separate Internship section; it’s fine to have them in your regular Work Experience section. Usually the title of the role will make it clear that it’s an internship — the title is “intern” or “media intern” or whatever. If that’s not the case, you can add it in parentheses after the title, like this: “Communications Assistant (internship)”

5. Required attendance at an inconvenient “staff appreciation” event

Our smallish company has decided to make our next staff appreciation event a requirement. If you do not attend, you will be written up. Our job is one where someone is always working, every hour of the day, and it is impossible to schedule these events so that everyone may come. Those who are scheduled at that time will be excused. My problem is I work the night shift, and I would typically be sleeping during the event. I have asked to be excused, and was told no. My counterpart on nights has to come in on her off week and pay her sitter extra, all in the name of staff appreciation. We don’t feel appreciated. Are we wrong, or is this just crappy?

You are not wrong. It’s crappy, and it’s extraordinarily wrong-headed to treat people badly in the name of “appreciation.”

Given the night shift issue, I’d say, “In order to attend, I’d need to have the day before and the day after off, or I won’t get any sleep. Would you like me to do that, or does it make more sense for me to skip the event?”

{ 582 comments… read them below }

  1. Artemesia*

    RE #1. The idea that Jenner beat out another candidate who was an amputee is apparently a made up right wing meme. Someone tweeted that Noah Galloway should have won and it got picked up by Fox etc as him being the ‘runner up.’ It is just an example of the phony outrage machine. EVERYTHING as to be a cause for high dudgeon from people who need to be angry all the time.

      1. AMT*

        As a trans guy and regular reader, I just want to (a) thank you for writing about trans workplace stuff and (b) marvel at the cultural shift that has taken place on trans issues. Even as little as ten years ago, when I first came out, the idea of widespread protections for trans people in the workplace or non-LGBT people being offended by slurs against trans people would have been ridiculous!

        1. Anna*

          The Department of Labor is putting a lot of energy around the issue of discrimination against transgendered people. I work for one of the DOL’s programs and they’ve written an entire new policy around it and laid out some very specific rules on how program participants are to be treated, including that hormone treatment is to be considered part of their medical coverage while in the program. I’m really curious about the shift.

        2. AnonaMoose*

          My institution now has an Out List, which is basically a webpage listserv of folks within the (huge higher ed and health services) org that are either LGBTQ themselves or supporters, so that if anybody needs some support all they have to do is contact any of these folks and they’ll come running. The List got a huge roll out this spring for Pride-related events within our institution.

          Large strides are being made and it makes me happy, too. (I’m CIS) It’s a very exciting time. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next couple of years federally.

      1. Cruella DaBoss*

        AGREED! Personally I am tired of hearing about “the athlete formerly known as Bruce . ” I have an opinion about the whole situation too. And I am entitled to have that opinion. I would hope that the OP would be brave enough to come directly to me and tell me that they were offended by something that I said while voicing my opinion.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Well, there’s a difference between having an opinion (even one that labels you as a bigot) and referring to someone as “a freak.”

        2. JB (not in Houston)*

          And if your employer has the same corporate policy as the OP’s employer does, you should keep that opinion to yourself while at work.

          1. Lionness*

            In general, these sorts of opinions should always be kept to oneself while at work.

            1. LJL*

              Precisely. I have found that repeating “not in the workplace” to others (and, occasionally, myself) helps to refocus.

            2. JB (not in Houston)*

              I totally agree. But if your employer has this kind of policy, then you already know you are doing something that your employer would get you in trouble for.

            3. ITPuffNStuff*

              unfortunately the “not in the workplace” does not really work, if the implication is that people are free to express themselves outside of work. the legal department at my company holds a mandatory training every year, and one of the points they make clear is that you can be fired for anything you say, anywhere, at any time. if i were to say something in the privacy of my own home that a coworker found offensive, they could still report me for harassment, and i would still be terminated.

              the reasoning offered is that if a person feels offended by outside of work, that feeling doesn’t magically evaporate when they walk through the doors of the office. this extends to any kind of self expression, anywhere, any time, when in the presence of any employee, customer, or supplier, or anyone who may know them. so essentially, there is no time or place in which you can express any opinion without fear it will jeopardize your job, because:

              1. *every* opinion, no matter how innocuous, is offensive to someone. if i say i like the way the ham sandwich in my lunch tastes, i’m sure a great many people find that offensive because i’m deriving pleasure from the slaughter of a defenseless living being.
              2. any statement can be taken out of context, and an eavesdropper can project any meaning they want onto it.
              3. you never know who may work for or know someone who works for a client or supplier.

              of course, the company doesn’t explicitly state “you may never express any opinions without risk of being fired”, but they have framed the policy in such broad terms that the only way to be safe is to never express any opinion.

              the worst part about it is that at the end of the day, they don’t even care about trying to make the work environment more pleasant, prevent or resolve conflicts, or make sure people are free from harassment. all they care about is reducing their own risk of liability, and the financial impact to the stock price.

        3. neverjaunty*

          As wiser people than me have said, if the strongest thing you can say in favor of speech or an opinion is “I have the right to say/believe that” – in other words that it’s not actually illegal – well, it says volumes.

          If we’re talking about “rights”, also, OP has a “right” to decide to follow workplace procedures and talk to HR rather than getting into a pointless argument.

          1. BelindaGomez*

            The OP overheard a private conversation and was offended? How does this person get through the day? What workplace regulation was violated?

            1. Kelly L.*

              This one:

              as our (large, international) company specifically calls for nondiscrimination based on gender identity and has harassment policies in place.

              1. neverjaunty*

                This. Also, by “private conversation” you mean “two fellow employees having a discussion in the workplace during working hours”, no?

                1. AnonaMoose*

                  AT THE FRONT DESK no less. That’s not exactly a private convo. (or they were in the kitchen since it was lunch, whatever – it’s not private unless it is outside the office, in my opinion.)

            2. John*

              So if two guys were standing around discussing how they like their women built, that wouldn’t be a problem because it’s a “private conversation”? They’d be creating a hostile environment.

            3. Brandy*

              I kinda agree with you. The OP was eavesdropping. It wasn’t a convo for her and this was between two people not a whole group. They could’ve both felt the same way and they have that right. They weren’t being spokepeople for their company and weren’t shouting from the rooftops, just having a private convo that was eavesdropped on. And even if we don’t agree with their stance in life they have that right to believe whatever they want.

              1. Sue Wilson*

                Yeah, who cares about the people they might hurt during their public conversation at work!

              2. Kelly*

                There’s no such thing as a “private conversation” at work if other’s can easily over hear what you are saying. If you are behind closed doors and someone has their ear pressed against the door to eavesdrop, that’s another story – but in the general office area – it’s just not acceptable.

              3. AnonaMoose*

                They do, but according to work policy they do NOT have the right to share that opinion in such a hateful way in front of a bunch of people. ‘

                And since when is water cooler talk ‘private’??

      2. Allison*

        so much this! I fully agree that people who put their lives on the line as soldiers, police officers, and fire fighters, or people who simply step in and help in critical situations because it’s the right thing to do, are very courageous and brave and they deserve acknowledgement. However, they are not the ONLY courageous, brave people out there. Courage takes many forms.

        1. Pill Helmet*

          So, I’m confused. Courage takes many forms so we shouldn’t recognize it when we see it? I don’t get why it’s a problem to say to someone “hey, that was a really courageous thing you did!” Without tacking on that other people are courageous too. Some people are, yes, but most people are not brave enough to do something that will make them a pariah. What Caitlyn Jenner did took guts and she’s setting an example for many people out there who aren’t able to do this or feel they can’t because society doesn’t allow it. While I agree that anyone who puts their lives in danger is courageous, it’s an acceptable courage that is also much more common. Deciding to change your gender is neither common or acceptable to a lot of people so I find it especially courageous to do it at all, let alone in front of the whole world.

          1. Kelly L.*

            I think you and Allison are on the same side here! :) What she’s taking exception to is the idea that only members of the military can be described as brave, which is a meme that drives me up a wall. I absolutely believe it’s brave to come out as a member of a group that is the target of a lot of prejudice.

              1. Kelly L.*

                It’s not a meme in the same sense of “picture getting passed around facebook.” It’s a meme in the older sense of a popular idea that spreads around. I’ve seen it before. Somebody does something and gets some adulation for it, and next thing you know, 100 people are commenting “BUT OUR TROOPS!” In my experience, this is usually done by people with no connection to the military, and actually annoys the daylights out of the actual vets I know.

                1. Allison*

                  Yep, I see it too. “how can we be talking about this when soldiers are dying in Iraq!” or “this is nice and all, but my brother is putting his life on the line in Afghanistan, where’s his award?” or “you wanna talk about courage? my dad lost his leg in Vietnam!”

          2. Allison*

            “so we shouldn’t recognize it when we see it?”

            Where did I imply that? What I was trying to say was that YES, soldiers and police officers ARE courageous and should be acknowledges, but some people who ARE NOT soldiers and police officers are also courageous sometimes, in ways that don’t reflect the bravery of soldiers and police officers, but are nevertheless still courageous, and they ALSO deserve to be acknowledged.

            My sister’s boyfriend, and a good friend of mine, are in the “police officers and soldiers are the best people ever and superior to normal people” camp, and drives me nuts.

            1. Pill Helmet*

              Sorry. I read it the opposite way since you agreed that courage shouldn’t be a competition. I thought you were saying there are a lot of people who are courageous so we shouldn’t make a competition out of it and give someone an award. But I can totally see how I read that wrong. My apologies.

      3. Pill Helmet*

        It’s not competition, it’s recognition. Because, let’s face it, not everybody is courageous, and those who are should be recognized for it.

      4. LongTimeFan*

        (Prepare for a novel)

        First, I’d like to thank you all for sharing your opinions and making for a productive discussion on this topic! Obviously you can see where I stand regarding this news story based on my first comment, but I do respect everyone’s differing viewpoints.

        I don’t disagree with awards for courage and bravery and do agree with one of the comments on this thread that the award is more about recognition of a brave/courageous act rather than a competition on who is more brave/courageous. While not clear in my first comment, I’d just like to make the distinction between that and the situation with Caitlyn Jenner and the award. What we have here is a fake news story, which has misconstrued the whole point of the award (which is to recognize courage and bravery), making the award into a competition about who is more brave in order to express the opinion that Caitlyn Jenner is not brave. I respect the opinion of those who feel this is less brave than a veteran or soldier, however I think that bravery/courage comes in all shapes and sizes and isn’t relegated solely to veterans/soldiers.

        I feel we as a society stigmatize gender and gender expression (and hell, this news story is itself a clear example of the stigmatization of gender identity and expression). In the face of people creating a fake news story to deride her and treat her as less than and to stigmatize and criticize who she is and how she expresses herself, I think this fake news story only supports Caitlyn Jenner winning such an award. I can see how others would feel differently (and to be clear, I’m not criticizing those who think differently, I’m criticizing those who disagree and have made derogatory/disrespectful statements), but it just personally bugs me that someone disseminated false information to diminish her transition, which to me only illuminates why her transition into a more comfortable gender identity for her is so courageous.

        1. Connie-Lynne*

          It’s even worse than that if you look at the initial tweet from the “humorous” guy, it’s pretty clear that by saying “runner up” he was mocking Noah Galloway’s injuries and prosthetics.

          So the dude was simultaneously hating on trans people and people with physical disabilities.

    1. Juli G.*

      I don’t get the outrage over an ESPY. They might be the most ridiculous awards of all, which is saying something. They were originally created to fill the void between football season and baseball starting and in my opinion, they came up with them because they worried about a possible NHL and NBA strike in 94 (they started in 93). Now they’ve moved them to the lull when all that’s happening is baseball.

      We don’t need a “Best NFL Player” award. We have that – it’s called the MVP.

      ESPYs are just a ratings ploy, as are most things on TV. Why do people pretend that we’re talking about something with prestige?


      1. Ad Astra*

        I made the mistake of reading the comments on the Washington Post article Allison linked, and one of them was something like “The award no longer has any meaning.” Since when is it a prestigious award anyway? Sure, the past winners were all very courageous people, but I’m not sure we need to protect the sanctity of the ESPYs.

        1. Kelly L.*

          I doubt any of the outraged even gave half a thought about this award (assuming they even knew it existed) until the false meme went viral.

        2. alter_ego*

          I’d literally never heard of the ESPYs until this years outrage so…yeah. Not the most meaningful award out there.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            Nor had I, and my editor’s brain keeps reading it “espy.” So, it’s an award for something that was glimpsed?

        3. Dasha*

          Also, it’s not like Caitlyn Jenner asked for this award, she was chosen. Why get mad at her?

        4. Pill Helmet*

          I agree with you that it’s not prestigious to begin with. But I did think it was kind of great that a sports org thought Caitlyn Jenner was courageous and not a “freak” and decided to award that. I don’t think the sports industry in general is particularly accepting it inclusive of these kinds of issues. But I guess if it’s for ratings that’s kind of gross and I hadn’t thought of that.

        1. Anna*

          Well, clearly it does matter because someone has to decide who to give it to. And I’m pretty sure the Razzies don’t mean much to the people who win them, because they exist solely to highlight bad acting. Whose opinion matters in that case?

  2. Chriama*

    #5 — If you’re going to be written up for not attending, they need to pay you for this time (assuming you’re hourly, which it sounds like, since you talk about shift work and weeks off). And given that you work the night shift, it could put you over the allowable working hours within 24 hours or some other regulation — or at least incur overtime pay obligations of your employer. If you point that out to the event organizers, they might decide it’s not necessary to force everyone to come after all.

    This is a totally stupid way to ‘appreciate’ your staff, but could it be that the meeting is actually something substantial that’s being promoted incorrectly? Will it be half hour of important housekeeping info followed by an hour of mingling and eating crappy finger foods?

    1. UKAnon*

      I’m not sure if it equally applies in the US, but depeneding on the work you’re doing, might there also be laws/unoin rules about the number of hours you’re allowed to work without a break or in any 24?

        1. UKAnon*

          Ah well – I just throw out suggestions, I hope nobody minds! My concern would be if OP was in a factory or similar environment that lack of sleep would lead to health and safety concerns; even if there’s no firm laws on it, perhaps they could raise that as a concern?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Absolutely. “I don’t feel safe driving on that little sleep” is a reasonable thing to say. But then, it’s worth noting that this is not a company that so far has shown itself to be a shining beacon of reason. (Which is not a reason not to try, though.)

            1. Number5*

              I like this one. I don’t know why I never thought of it. We also have a monthly training that works like this. It is either the beginning of someone’s week, which isn’t awful, you just start your week on a sleepy note. It is truly awful on the other person, because you get off work at 8 or 9 am, and have to attend training at 12 or 2. Neither is a fun option. I will try this!

              1. Worker Bee (Germany)*

                Can’t you gang up with other peers who ll face the problem and point out as a group that you don’t feel appreciated by being forced to attend and missing out on sleep that youll need to do your jobs?

          2. Traveler*

            I’ve worked at a 24 hour place. The only rule, and it’s been awhile so I am not sure how it was mandated, was that we had 8 hours off in between shifts. If you felt too tired, or wouldn’t get sleep because say your house was an hour away, and you also had to eat in that time, they didn’t care. You could use your PTO or take points, but those were your only choices. They did have a generous point system though, to make up for it.

          3. HR Recruiter*

            My husband works in the medical field and encountered this daily when he worked 3rd shift. I always said to him isn’t this a safety risk to you and your patients! He would work from about 7 pm to 9 or 10 am then be required to attend meetings from 12 pm to 2 pm. With showering and eating he wouldn’t have time to sleep for days. Some of his coworkers would do this 10+ days straight so that they could get overtime. There is currently a lawsuit against one of our local hospitals because a nurse fell asleep driving home after being forced to work insane hours.

            On the flip side I work in a field that doesn’t pose many safety risks and we (management) bend over backwards coming in at all hours of the night to make sure they get the same treatment as the other staff without having to come to work during the day.

        2. Artemesia*

          If someone is non-exempt is not any required work event on the clock? I thought that is what it means.

      1. Number5*

        Our policy is 17 hours in a 24 hour period. This tends to be broken on a regular basis, depending on staffing needs.

          1. kt (lowercase)*


            I really hope “benevolent firm” and “caring capitalism” in that article were sarcastic. In fact I’m just going to choose to believe that. Otherwise I just can’t cope.

    2. Jeanne*

      I would assume if it’s mandatory that the employees would be paid. I would be hesitant though to use the suggestion of saying you need the days before and after off. That’s trading an hour or two of meeting pay for two days of lost pay.

      I would be tempted to go for the write-up out of spite. But that’s a very personal decision and I don’t know how miserable the OP’s life would be after.

      1. Number5*

        Believe me, I thought about taking the write up, for exactly the same reason. It is troubling that it was promoted in every way as an appreciation event, except in making it mandatory and calling it “training”. Our trainings are always held on the same day, the last week of the month. They insult our intelligence by calling it one thing, and requiring another. The information given could have been presented at the monthly training 8 days later. That training will have the same issues time wise for us, with the same repercussions, but at least it is not being promoted as staff appreciation.

    3. KJR*

      I doubt they would be willing to do this, but they should have at least two meetings to meet the needs of the shift workers. When I was HR in a 3 shift manufacturing plant, we held one appreciation event per shift, and it was held during work hours. It’s an inconvenience to management to have to come in at all hours, but it sure made a positive impact on the people we were appreciating.

      1. Number5*

        They tried a 4 pm training one month, and out if 12 overnight staff, 10 came to that training. I feel like that was a good sign that it was needed. It was only two hours later for trainers, once a month. They have never done it again.

        1. KJR*

          That’s too bad…it sounds more like they are trying to “check a box” vs. really appreciating people.

        2. Connie-Lynne*

          That’s so crummy!

          When I ran a 24/7 team, our weekly team meeting rotated through three different times. The only person who had to be awake and attend each one was the manager. Everyone else was expected to attend 2/3 of team meetings.

          It’s better to have one person be occasionally inconvenienced than to do it to multiple team members.

  3. GlorifiedPlumber*

    #5 – Classic “The Beatings Shall Continue Until Morale Improves” situation.

    I’m flabbergasted and I cannot think of anything you can do if the powers that be are set on it. Does being “written up” carry any actual consequences? Would they make good on their threat, or is it bluster?

    The poster above me is suggesting that a “mandatory” work party with consequences for not showing is in fact “work” and would be paid. Seems like a reasonable argument to me! How would the powers that be respond to the question, “So, if participation at this event is mandatory, with consequences for not showing, will it be paid?” Maybe they get the hint? Does asking cause you grief?

    I am just amazed this happens at some places… I cannot fathom my company doing it.

    1. L McD*

      Yeah, this gave me hives. (Almost literally – I can’t actually blame the question as I suddenly started feeling itchy before I read it, but who’s counting?) I used to work nights. It’s bad enough without having your schedule involuntarily disrupted for “employee appreciation.” My old job sucked (retail!) but at least they understood how to do employee appreciation: lots of free food, and leaving us alone to do our jobs.

      1. Number5*

        We did get paid. They have written people up for not attending mandatory monthly training, so I don’t doubt that this would happen. They don’t seem to mind paying the overtime, because we are so short staffed, it seems as if everyone is hitting overtime every week.

    2. AnonForThisOne*

      The poster above me is suggesting that a “mandatory” work party with consequences for not showing is in fact “work” and would be paid.

      Is this true? Does anyone know for a fact? I am being made to go to trainings offsite without pay. I did not know if this was in the “illegal” or “unfair” catagory.

      1. Lionness*

        If you are in the US and not exempt, you must be paid for mandatory work. This is anything that you are only doing because of your job. Training is definitely work and this has been reinforced by the courts.

        If you are exempt, you are already being paid for this and are not entitled to additional pay.

          1. Lionness*

            Then you need to point out to your employer that you need to be paid for this.

            I’d take the approach of “employee concerned that the company might be on the wrong side of the law” as opposed to “outraged employee over employer trying to screw them out of pay.” Something like “I am concerned that we might not be completely in line with labor laws if we don’t make sure everyone records their time for this training, since we are non-exempt and need to be paid for the mandatory training hours.”

    3. KJR*

      Personally, I would be very tempted to take the write-up. What would the long term consequences be? Most write-ups allow for an employee to add their part of the story. I would put a sentence or two under my signature. This whole situation is just stupidity.

      1. Number5*

        Our company is going through a change in management, so we aren’t sure how exactly things would work. In the past people have been let go for less.

  4. Green*

    #1 – I’d weigh in favor of reporting, and it is definitely better than doing nothing since it makes you uncomfortable and upset and is a policy violation. You should be able to take advantage of the anonymous hotline if you’d like, and that’s why the company has them set up — so that people don’t stay silent when they’re worried about social or work-related repercussions. While I can’t say what the protocol for your company would be, the most likely outcome is a reinforcement with this employee of the company’s harassment policy rather than a firing, and it helps the company document this issue in case there are subsequent problems.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      I would weigh in favor of talking to the person. A single remark made in a half-heard discussion – by itself – isn’t egregious enough to qualify for either harassment or discrimination. It isn’t even a part of a pattern. While you may find it offensive, I’m not sure anyone can do anything at this point. As the OP stated, she didn’t even hear the entire conversation in context.
      A gentle approach may cause the person to think twice about the remarks being hurtful. Reporting anonymously removes any meaningful discussion.

      1. Cheesecake*

        I absolutely agree with you and prepare for a bunch of hateful comments in my direction. By all means OP must talk to the colleague and it doesn’t need to be a confrontation; OP can simply ask “i overheard you were saying xyz about the case, why do you think so?” and go from there.
        I am confused by the advice to report this. This is not directed at actual employee. If we report overheard discussions about celebrities and drive conclusions from these, there would be noone in the office to work. Having your own opinion, no matter how stupid, is still allowed by the law.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Making bigoted comments can create a hostile workplace in the legal sense, whether or not the comments are directed at you. And this wasn’t celebrity gossip; this was a disgusting comment about people who are transgender.

          (I’m not sure why you’re bracing for hateful comments in your direction and don’t love the implication that I’m running a site where hate is spewed. People here are generally quite civil.)

          1. Cheesecake*

            Because the other day (last week?) i dared to mention Bruce’s name (that was before Caitlyn story) and it created a string of “how dare” comments. The comments on your site are never hateful and these were not calling me names. But judging me by assuming what i meant (and that was not true) is not particularly nice. So when i say “let’s back off for a second and first let OP talk to the person” i am waiting for guilty by association comments. And i consider these hateful. Think Patrik Stewart and bakery that refused to make wedding cake for gay couple. He did not support what they have done, but he said we all have a right of opinion and speech.

            1. Lenticular Focus*

              I am unclear on why you think the OP ought to ask the person responsible for these hateful and bigoted remarks to expand further on them. That is the opposite of the desired result here.

              The coworker can have whatever opinions they like. They do not have a right to spout hate and bigotry in the workplace. Freedom of speech does not mean you get to say anything anywhere.

              1. Cheesecake*

                And you think reprimanding this employee based on overheard piece of conversation will make him change his mind and be more respectful towards transgender people (in case he hates them that much)?

                1. Kristin (Germany)*

                  But who cares what people think? The issue here is with their words. Hold whatever opinion you like, but when you say something in the workplace, it could have an impact. This isn’t “you may only believe what we have decided is acceptable,” this is “you may not openly say things that create a hostile working environment.” It’s not about changing minds, it’s about the behavior, and that is absolutely a thing that can be changed. Certain words and behavior are not acceptable in the workplace.

                2. No Longer Passing By*

                  I’m sorry that you felt attacked in your own situation relating to Bruce Jenner/Caitlyn Jenner. I don’t read everyday so I didn’t see it. And I do understand your point about speaking to the coworker directly. But I also have seen Alison advise writers to directly speak to their coworkers first instead of management so the deviation here is significant. That’s because in the other situations she was proposing a change like stop talking to me about social media, please turn up the heat, etc. This situation is different because it relates to speech that is discriminatory as well as contrary to the office’s printed position. And as the front desk person should be seated at the front desk, I’m going to assume that this took place in the lobby or the waiting room where visitors and other coworkers can hear, ie VBD. If the OP should talk to anyone, it’s the HR person involved to find out their role in the conversation. And then to report it all. I smell liability all over

                3. Allison*

                  No one’s saying OP needs to reprimand their coworker, or have them reprimanded. We just think it should be brought to someone’s attention. Most likely, the coworker will be brought in for a conversation with HR, which will include a chance to tell their side of the story, before being told that they need to be careful when talking about heated topics in the office.

                4. Koko*

                  Depends on whether the goal is to reform a bigot (probably unlikely no matter what) or make it clear that the workplace is not going to be a place he can spout off his ignorant comments (in which case a call from HR will probably work).

                5. Lionness*

                  No, but neither will the OP talking to the bigot. But reporting it might get them to shut up due to the company having a nondiscrimination policy.

                  We have no way of knowing whether or not a transgendered person may have overheard these horrible comments. Would you also recommend they directly approach the person?

                6. LJL*

                  It probably won’t cause a change in the employee’s thinking. But it will remove that kind of speech from the workplace, which is the goal.

                7. Another HRPro*

                  You do not have to change their mind about transgender people. But you can and should require that they keep their bigoted believes to themselves at work.

                8. Ezri*

                  I imagine the goal of reporting isn’t to change the coworker’s opinions, it’s to make it clear that those kind of comments need to stay out of the office. If a company makes a point of being accepting of gender identity (and it sounds like OPs does), they probably don’t want their employees expressing hateful opinions about transgender people.

                9. neverjaunty*

                  If by “more respectful” you mean “follow workplace rules”, yes.

                  It’s not OP’s job to be a missionary of tolerance.

                10. Tyrannosaurus Regina*

                  Nothing to do with changing the coworker’s mind; it’s about changing her *behavior* in *the workplace.* She can hate all she wants on her own time but needs to keep that stuff out of the office.

            2. nona*

              The other day, you made a comment along the lines of whether someone was “male, female, or Bruce Jenner.” Come on, that wasn’t just happening to innocently mention her name.

                1. Zillah*

                  Right – and people found that comment offensive for reasons that were pretty clearly stated with, IIRC, very little hyperbole.

                2. april ludgate*

                  I don’t understand how you can construe nona’s comment as hateful. I saw your comments a few weeks ago, and all the responses I saw were politely trying to explain how your comment was hurtful. I could understand making that joke and not realizing that it was insensitive, since many people are still learning about the proper way to discuss transgender people, but at this point you’ve had numerous commentors explain why those types of jokes and comments are not okay. Please show some empathy towards anyone who is transgender who may read/overhear such comments.

                3. neverjaunty*

                  And you’re presenting an excellent example of exactly why “can’t you just TALK to the person?” is bad advice. Because the person will flail around about their “innocent” remark, accuse OP of overreacting, claim they said something completely different than what they actually said, and otherwise turn it around to reflect their feelings that they’re the real victim here.

                  So, thanks for that.

                4. Cheesecake*

                  suggesting i have no empathy towards transgender, while i didn’t call anyone a freak, seems hurtful to me.

                5. Cheesecake*

                  neverjaunty: there are two things here. again, as i said i would talk to the person firstly to make sure i understand what i have heard, i would never report on hearsay without gathering a bit more.
                  second thing is i personally claim to say something different because i did. if i called anyone a freak, it would be hard to wiggle. at this point you do twist around what i said to pile on

                6. nona*

                  Cheesecake, I summarized/tried to quote without backreading (lol) your comment in which you used her as the butt of a joke. My comment was two sentences long.

                7. april ludgate*

                  I never meant for my comment to be hurtful. You may not have called anyone a freak, but you did use “Bruce Jenner” as part of a joke on a comment thread a few weeks ago (and you also reminded everyone of that comment). Treating someone’s gender as a joke and not apologizing for it is not showing empathy. Empathy is understanding that when someone stands in an office, where anyone could walk by and overhear, makes a derogatory comment about Caitlyn Jenner it is hurtful to anyone in that office who is transgender, or who cares about someone who is, because those types of jokes, even when directed at a celebrity, can feel very personal if you share parts of your identity with that celebrity. It wouldn’t be okay in the workplace to make fun of a celebrity’s race or their sexuality, the same rule applies here.

                8. Oryx*

                  Cheesecake, you seem to be approaching this from a belief that because you didn’t outright call Caitlyn Jenner a freak or use an overt slur or anything like that than it means that what you said couldn’t be deemed hurtful or inappropriate or offensive. I suggest you spend some time reading about microagression to come to understand part of what is wrong with taking that attitude as it relates to any issue.

          2. ground control*

            I don’t see how this comment is that offensive/bigoted (meaning to the point of causing action-rousing alarm), especially given the half overheard context. Lots of people called Michael Jackson a freak throughout his career; does that make all of them racist? Without more context, it seems just as likely to be a strong personal distate for Jenner vs a sweeping hatred for all trans gender people.

            Offensive, like right vs wrong, isn’t always a black and white scenario and trying to push it as such, imo, inhibits freedom of speech and breeds far more resentment and outright hatred than someone ending up with a stupid sound bite. E.g. “nappy headed hoes” = clearly offensive; so and so is a freak = immature word choice, and more often a demeaning judgment of the individual versus a cross-spectrum hatred; “all lgbt people are freaks of nature” = clearly bigoted; “well hello pretty lady! ” and etc = very much context dependent.

            Which leads ultimately to my point; it’s not usually the word itself, it’s the intent and attitude behind it, and it’s that latter piece that needs to be addressed when a pattern of offhand comments is established.

            1. Helka*

              Without more context, it seems just as likely to be a strong personal distate for Jenner vs a sweeping hatred for all trans gender people.

              I find this highly unlikely. What is it about Caitlyn Jenner — apart from her transition — that would make someone hate her deeply or call her a freak? Is that normally a term we throw at former Olympians? She’s not physically deformed (which would still be discriminatory, btw; calling someone a freak for a medical condition is no more acceptable than calling them a freak for their gender identity), she hasn’t committed morally repugnant crimes the way Michael Jackson did… does being married into the Kardashians normally excite that level of hatred?

              Offensive, like right vs wrong, isn’t always a black and white scenario and trying to push it as such, imo, inhibits freedom of speech and breeds far more resentment and outright hatred than someone ending up with a stupid sound bite.

              Freedom of speech is irrelevant in this case. It gets said over and over, but freedom of speech has to do with what will have the police showing up at your door, not what will get you disciplined at work. You do not have the right to spout whatever disgusting nonsense you want at your job and continue on your way consequence-free. And frankly, this isn’t about changing the opinion of the individual spouting off disgusting comments; this is about giving other people a place to work free from an atmosphere of judgment and fear. I don’t care if my cube neighbor secretly thinks lesbians are disgusting; I care that I don’t have to hear hateful comments about people like me while I’m trying to work.

              it’s not usually the word itself, it’s the intent and attitude behind it, and it’s that latter piece that needs to be addressed when a pattern of offhand comments is established.
              Intent is not provable; action is, and it’s action that gets addressed with discipline. How many hateful comments should someone have to endure at work before it’s decided that action should be taken? And how many people will have heard the hateful comments leading up to that point and decided “oh, this must be acceptable at this workplace” and mimicked them? The difference between a useless and toothless non-discrimination policy and one that actually has value is enforcement; bigotry breeds more of the same because people decide it’s “safe” to air their hateful opinions.

              1. ground control*

                I think you missed my point. Please refer to the examples above and my additional comment below.

                1. AnonAnalyst*

                  I have to agree with Helka. I’m usually all for giving people the benefit of the doubt and letting them explain what they meant when I may be missing key context, but quite frankly, it seems we have all the context we need here. I don’t see how this comment is possibly not related to Caitlyn Jenner being transgendered — the coworker even provided the additional context that she didn’t deserve the ESPY award, which, to my understanding at least, was awarded to her because of her courage in making it public that she is transgendered. I’m really struggling to see how there might be additional context that OP missed that makes this comment acceptable.

              2. Jerry Vandesic*

                “What is it about Caitlyn Jenner — apart from her transition — that would make someone hate her deeply or call her a freak?”

                I’m not sure about this. Many would consider any member of the Kardashian clan a “freak,” or at least a sign of a decline in American society. Regardless of and prior to her transition, Caitlyn connected herself with a reality TV family that exhibits some pretty atrocious behavior.

                1. Steve G*

                  Can I second this?! I am surprised this wasn’t raised earlier….granted Jenner was usually the brunt of their rudeness, at least in the few episodes I saw on the screen at the gym when it was on…..

                2. Bangs not Fringe*

                  How about that the entire transition, like the rest of Kardashian life, has been so public? I’m not insinuating that it’s something that should be hidden. Perhaps if there were no Kardashians it wouldn’t be a thing, but the apparent constant and dire need for media attention makes them all “freaky” in my book.

                3. A*

                  Partially agreeing.

                  I always take celebrity LGBTQA matters with a grain of salt because their celebrity status puts them on a different level than normal, non-famous and non-rich LGBTQA individuals. That’s not to say that Caitlyn isn’t courageous for transitioning, but she also has a safety net of money, fame, and support that a lot of people in similar situations don’t have.

                  I have noticed people who call anyone associated with the Kardashian clan “weird”, “insane”, “needy for attention”, etc. have been purposefully avoiding using those same terms now that she’s transitioned. Whether it’s because they don’t want to be accused of transphobia or because they’re following the trend of “LGBTQA people can do no wrong!” (which is problematic within its own right considering the bigotry within the community), someone’s personality doesn’t magically make them less of a jerk because they transition or come out. The difference is calling someone a jerk/freak/etc. because of their personality or because they’ve transitioned, the latter of which, obviously is wrong.

                4. August*

                  If the OP had overheard employee stating that Kim Kardashian was a freak, would she get offended the same way and complained about discrimination based on gender?

                5. August*

                  I am not missing the point. I am stating that just saying “Caitlyn Jenner is a freak” doesn’t mean the employee’s intent was to hurt LGBT community people or disrespect them. Caitlyn Jenner has a lot of history with people who are who are widely considered to be freaks for their wild behaviour and attention seeking antics. If some one said Tim Cook was a freak then I would agree that it was hate speech, because there is no reason for him to be called a freak and if some one calls him a freak, it should be due to his gender identity. With Caitlyn Jenner and with partially overheard conversation, I would let it pass as she and people with whom she was associated have reputation for being freaky even if she had not come out as a transgendered person.

                6. AnonyManager*

                  Agreed. Any negative feelings I may have about Caitlyn Jenner have nothing to do with her transition and everything to do with her (and all of her clan) being attention seekers that somehow manage to leak into my “never-watched-a-reality show” world on a regular basis. Gah! If I never hear the names Kardashian or Jenner again…

              3. Kelly L.*


                People didn’t call Michael Jackson a freak because of his race. They called him that because he molested children. To then call Caitlyn Jenner the same thing is to say she’s just as bad as he was, even though she hasn’t committed any such crime. And that’s not without context, because there literally are people who really believe all transfolks are out to molest their kids (see the restroom debates). It’s disgusting.

                It’s not because, as someone mentioned below, the Kardashians are annoying, either. This person wasn’t bashing the whole family as attention seekers or whatever. She was bashing Caitlyn in particular, and bashing her based on this specific award situation that became a meme.

                1. illini02*

                  No. Michael Jackson was being called a freak because of the plastic surgery he was having. This was far before the molestation claims came out.

                2. Kelly L.*

                  Maybe I’m misremembering then. If he was called a freak because of his surgeries, that wasn’t right either, and doesn’t make it OK to say the same about Jenner.

                3. Helka*

                  Agreed. And the people who made fun of Michael Jackson’s race or gender identity (ie “Michael Jackson grew up from a poor black boy to a rich white woman”) were way, way out of line, especially given that they were mocking him in part for having a skin disease.

            2. ground control*

              In my workplace this would arouse a “hey, what did you say?” type of interjection, which I think is the best course. It either stops the person in their tracks by causing them to reflect or clarifies the situation in one way or another.

              Eg my manager overheard me discussing “she” and “lost a few pounds” and interjected with a “what??”. I clarified that my cat has lost weight and I’m working with the vet.

              Imagine if he’d instead jumped straight into addressing that I shouldn’t be gossiping about coworkers vs gathering the context that I’m worrying that my cat may have cancer since she tested negative for hyperthyroid.

              1. Elysian*

                Are you suggesting that the OP doesn’t know what she heard? We didn’t hear the conversation, but the OP seems to believe she heard enough to understand the context. I don’t think there’s a reason to doubt her judgment regarding what she heard or felt.

                1. ground control*

                  No I’m saying that asking if what you either know or think you heard is what was said can be a good way to broach the issue of what’s appropriate in the moment.

              2. Zillah*

                Calling Caitlyn Jenner, and Caitlyn Jenner specifically, a freak seems far less open to interpretation than your comment about your cat. Equating them doesn’t make sense; just because you were asked for context on a potentially offensive (though not necessarily hateful, even in a different context, which is also important) comment doesn’t mean that we need to know the full context of all offensive comments to judge whether they’re hateful.

                1. ground control*

                  In my original post I clearly stated multiple examples of what I would deem definitely over the line vs what would need context. I think politely asking for context is a good path to broaching the issue of appropriateness and that was my only point in my second post.

                  I’m feeling like I’m being lambasted for suggesting that we rationally and unemotionally seek to identify and deal with the core issue. At no point did I say the coworker should have said what she did with impunity.

                2. Cheesecake*

                  If you feel being lambasted, i am with you, Ground Control. Just can’t add anything – all well said

                3. Zillah*

                  Yes, you did – and I don’t agree with them or think that you’re drawing parallel comparisons. That’s not because I’m not reading what you’re saying, it’s because I don’t agree with what you’re saying.

                  Here’s the thing: people who advocate approaching emotionally charged issues “rationally and unemotionally” tend to be missing the fundamental problem with hateful language and the damage it does. You’re arguing that it’s “just as likely to be a strong personal distaste for Caitlyn Jenner vs. a sweeping hatred for all trans* people.” I’m not sure how you’re coming to the conclusion that those are equally likely, particularly given the timing of the remark.

                  Frankly, it doesn’t matter what people called Michael Jackson throughout his career, and you don’t get to unilaterally decide that “it’s not usually the word itself.” I’m not trans*, but I do know that there are many sexist and ableist slurs and words for me in which, yes, it is the word itself. I can’t imagine that that’s all that different for people who are trans*, and while “freak” is certainly used in other contexts, it’s pretty common to see it aimed to queer people in particular.

                  Though you’re taking issue with people, presumably other commenters, creating “a black and white scenario” – and I’d like to point out that insinuating that people – again, presumably other commenters – always see situations as black and white just because they don’t see this situation as black and white is pretty offensive – I think that you’re doing the same thing by drawing a line in which the only hate speech that’s worth judging harshly is the most obvious hate speech. Microaggressions are actually, IMO, often more harmful that obvious hate speech. I’m not sure why you’re ignoring that.

                4. Heather*

                  I think that you’re doing the same thing by drawing a line in which the only hate speech that’s worth judging harshly is the most obvious hate speech

                  See also “I didn’t use a racial slur; therefore what I said cannot possibly be racist.”

              3. No Longer Passing By*

                GC, your manager investigated your comment which that same manager overheard. That’s a manager’s job. OP’s job isn’t to investigate. Plus I can see how approaching someone about a divisive issue like this can deteriorate into a screaming match. Perhaps OP could have stepped in when she overheard the comment but she really needs to let management know about it so that, at minimum, they can ascertain how HR handled a conversation that they were involved in.

                1. ground control*

                  I suggested that broaching with a question is a good option, because I find that a direct “that’s not cool” puts everyone on the defensive whereas a question causes most people to reflect (those who still bristle are often darn well aware that they said something inappropriate)

                  I never disputed taking it to a manager or HR, but I think in most cases a conversation between people in the moment makes far more an impact.

                2. lawsuited*

                  A conversation in the moment can definitely be impactful, but approaching a co-worker in a moment when they are saying/have just said something offensive/hateful is understandably difficult for many, which is why HR and Managers exist to help employees navigate such issues.

              4. Ad Astra*

                I’m not sure these situations are a good comparison, but I agree that it could be helpful to start the conversation with a question to clarify the comment, which I think is what you’re trying to suggest. It helps to go in assuming good intent (or appearing to, anyway) instead of just launching into someone. It seems unlikely that the OP misunderstood, but it may help the coworker feel less defensive, which gives OP a chance to explain why the comment wasn’t OK.

              5. Lionness*

                Your example of gossiping about coworkers is incredibly different that discriminatory comments.

                For example. I am part of a protected class. You would never know this by looking at me. Most people do not know this. If I overheard someone making discriminatory comments at work (and oh buddy, I hear it daily! People really love to discriminate against my PC) I would not feel comfortable approaching them. Why? Because 9 out of 10 times, I would be met with even more vitriol and that is something I shouldn’t have to endure in the workplace.

                So, even if I was unsure that what I heard was exactly what I heard, I would report it if it made me uncomfortable and let someone else figure it out. I would especially report it if HR was part of that conversation because I would now never feel safe going to that person in HR until I knew it was clarified and addressed.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  This–the HR thing bothers me more than the ignorant coworker. If the HR person told the coworker quietly that her comment was not acceptable and the OP didn’t hear that part, then fine. But if not, I’d have a real problem with that, especially given the company’s policy of non-discrimination.

                  I’ve avoided talking about Caitlyn at work because I know there are people who would Jesus all over it and I can’t bear to listen to that claptrap.

            3. Lionness*

              I want to comment on a lot that you said, but I’ll stick to this:

              You do not have freedom of speech at work. You just don’t. Freedom of speech only applies to the federal government censoring you or the media. Your employer can censor you all they want and never be in violation of your rights. They can even censor you when you aren’t actually at work if they think your words, actions, posts, activities could possibly impact their business.

              Therefore, reporting this bigoted comment (and it is bigoted. No one called Caitlyn a freak before her transition. They called her a former Olympian, they called her Bruce, they called her “him.” But they never called her freak) is not impacting freedom of speech – because no one is reporting it to the federal government for arrest and censorship.

            4. neverjaunty*

              We’re talking about the workplace. Your ringing defense of, e.g., the right of dudes to say “hey pretty lady!” to direct reports (as long as they are pure of heart and aren’t like, SEXIST sexist) because free speech is falling a little flat.

            5. kt (lowercase)*

              Yeah, no. There is no context in which “well hello pretty lady” is ok coming from anyone but my partner. Certainly never, ever at work.

              Not even going to touch the rest of this mess as others have already done a better job.

          3. ITPuffNStuff*

            not an attorney, but based on the training provided by my company (which is written and delivered by the company’s attorneys), harassing behavior is that which satisfies 2 criteria:

            1. based on a legally protected class.

            so, it is legally impossible to harass anyone who doesn’t belong to a protected class. my takeaway from this was that the company doesn’t actually care about workplace harassment; they care about avoiding the cost of being sued.

            2. is “objectively” offensive.

            the attorneys’ definition of subjective was “what one person thinks”. their definition of objective was “what most people would think”. that sounds a lot more like “majority rule” than “objective truth”. objective is what can be measured, proven, or disproven. the ruler is 12 inches long; the bananas weigh 1.3 pounds. these are objective statements. using the attorneys’ definition, the belief that cholera is spread by air pollution was objectively true in the 18th century, because at the time this was what most people, including the predominant medical experts of the day, believed true. additionally, “what most people would think” is not determined by a neutral 3rd party with expertise in polling and a statistically significant and diverse population, but rather the arbitrary opinion of whatever company officer is assigned to respond to a harassment claim.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              That’s the legal definition, not your company’s own definition (they’re just sticking to the law). It doesn’t come down to the opinion of the person investigating; if sued, a court would determine whether most reasonable people would find it offensive or not.

        2. Oryx*

          I’m unable to tell if you’re being facetious with the “allowed by the law” comment, but either way keep in mind that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. This is especially true when that opinion is hate speech.

          1. No Longer Passing By*

            I don’t know if people realize this or not but freedom of speech in the US only applies to public entities, ie the government. No freedom of speech in private employment

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                State and local governments can’t make laws abridging freedom of speech either. But it’s such an important distinction that it only applies to the government; your employer and other private entities can absolutely abridge it.

            1. Oryx*

              I am aware yes, but thanks for pointing that out. I didn’t make that clear in my original comment.

            2. Cheesecake*

              But out of curiosity, if an employee openly says “i think Jenner is a freak” (in the kitchen in front of say 5 others). What are the consequences in the US? In Europe you can’t discipline employee based on this.

              1. Helka*

                It depends on the company. The US has very strong free speech protections when it comes to what is legally penalized, but companies have a lot of leeway to discipline their employees based on policy. A company that actively promotes nondiscrimination will probably pull the employee into an HR meeting and possibly write them up; a company that doesn’t really care won’t do anything. Gender identity is not protected from workplace discrimination on a federal level.

              2. UKAnon*

                In the UK you can – and arguably the Equality Act 2010 says you must. You’d certainly be on shaky legal ground not to.

              3. No Longer Passing By*

                In the U.S., you can’t discipline speech about workplace conditions, like salary, benefits, environment. But you definitely can discipline for hate speech no matter where. But the level of discipline can vary between just a conversation that isn’t put in personnel file (it’s called “counseling” and not discipline), or a verbal warning which is a written note placed in personnel file about an oral conversation that’s disciplinary in nature, and go upwards to suspensions and/or terminations. This usually is based on context, frequency, and severity. You also can send someone for additional sensitivity training. That’s why management, and not the OP, should investigate. Reporting doesn’t necessarily lead to harsh consequences, which is why I was confused about your hesitance. But I realize now that you’re outside the U.S. and follow different norms. I get it.

                1. No Longer Passing By*

                  I’m going to add that this conversation in entrance of office is borderline of verbal warning/counseling territory. Your example about lunchroom may be counseling territory if first offense. If has been an issue before for any one of the speakers, step up in progressive discipline

                2. Kyrielle*

                  And your last comment is another reason to mention it to HR, unless OP chooses to talk the person and they are calm and indicate they won’t do it again. Because this could be part of a pattern that OP hasn’t seen the previous parts of.

                3. neverjaunty*

                  It’s not “hate speech” so much as speech that violates a company’s policies and/or the law.

                  If the front office person at a conservative law firm started greeting every male customer who walked in the door with “How’s it hangin’?” or “Get any lately?” I doubt the free-speech-grow-a-thick-skin crowd would be coming out of the woodwork here. Similarly, that company has the right to decide it doesn’t want employees to violate its nondiscrimination policies through disparaging remarks about gender identity.

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I’ll also add that in many cases the company would have a legal obligation to discipline an employee over bigoted speech, so as not to allow a hostile or discriminatory workplace.

              4. De (Germany)*

                Europe is far from homogenous in that regard. For example, you can absolutely be fired for sexist comments in Germany. Whether a single comment is enough for that, I don’t know.

                1. De (Germany)*

                  (The Allgemeines Gleichbehandlungsgesetz might even *force* employers to do something about such conditions, by the way)

                2. Cheesecake*

                  For sure, i but i am not talking about age/race/gender. I am talking about this particular case.

                3. De (Germany)*

                  Are you questioning this because it is about a transgender issue or because this was a comment about a celebrety instead of a co-worker?

                4. Cheesecake*

                  to De (Germany) Both: transgender and the celebrity (not targeting an employee). I guess you can fire the employee and build a case, based on whatever. But once this employee files a case for unfair dismissal, i highly doubt employer would win it.

                5. UKAnon*

                  @Cheesecake: I hate to pile on, but as I said upthread, and as De said, that really depends on where in Europe you are. Some European equality laws mandate taking action over these things. In the UK, transgender is a protected status, which means you treat bully/harassment/hostility exactly as you would sexism or racism.

                6. Cheesecake*

                  UK Anon, i am dealing with the region and i agree with you. Usually when you see a trend (if you can) UK is different and is faster in protecting employee groups. For example transgender; i can’t tell in every or most, but in a lot of countries this so far is not protected or not protected enough. Where sexist comments will get you into massive trouble pretty much everywhere, i am not sure transgender will, simply because it takes massive amount of time to change law

                7. Zillah*

                  @ Cheesecake –

                  Both: transgender and the celebrity (not targeting an employee).

                  I think that’s where you’re missing the fundamental problem many of us are having with this.

                  Hate language does target an employee. I guess it’s worse if you’re applying it directly to that employee, but referring to celebrities (or anyone else) using slurs is targeting people who belong to that group by creating an environment for them that doesn’t feel safe, even if you never use it toward them directly.

                  My supervisors at one of my first internships tossed ableist terms (e.g., anyone who was violent or irrational was a “psycho” or “psychotic”) around all the time. Those terms were never applied to me – they had no idea that I had a mental illness. But those words don’t exist in a vacuum, and the fact that they weren’t being applied directly to me in no way makes them irrelevant.

                8. Kelly L.*

                  Agree with Zillah. This absolutely targets any trans people who already work there, and in this particular case it also breaks a specific company policy.

                9. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Cheesecake, I’m curious why you have a problem with disciplining people for making bigoted comments about transgender people. Assuming you don’t have that same problem with disciplining people for making racist comments (for example), why is this different?

                10. Elizabeth West*


                  Well, you don’t have to be transgender to be offended by the comments or complain about them. For example, bullying isn’t illegal, but if it were, I could have nailed Bullyboss to the wall even though I wasn’t the target of his crap because listening to him berate his target all day was very distressing.

              5. Glod Glodsson*

                As others have noted below, this isn’t really true. In the Netherlands people can be disciplined for this. In my company people would, although not after a formal warning.

              6. Allison*

                There are no legal consequences, but if someone says that at a normal workplace, they could expect a firm talking to from HR and/or their manager, and possibly a warning not to do it again. It’s unlikely they’d face any real discipline from one comment unless it was egregiously obnoxious, but if someone makes a habit of going around the office saying racist/homophobic/transphobic things, their employer has the right to fire them.

              7. Hlyssande*

                You can absolutely discipline employees for hateful speech like this, especially if it goes against the company policies.

                There’s an XKCD comic that completely explains the US policy of free speech. You can’t legally prosecute someone for their speech for the most part, but that doesn’t mean you’re free from consequences. When you get banned from something, kicked out, disciplined…what it means is that people don’t agree with you, are offended by what you say, and they’re showing you the door to get out.

                I think discipline is a perfectly reasonable response in this case, or at least noting it in case there is a pattern of this sort of thing in the employee’s behavior.

              8. Koko*

                I mean, in the US, your boss could generally discipline or fire you for saying, “Grape jelly is gross, I only like strawberry jelly,” in the kitchen.

              9. kt (lowercase)*

                There are many countries in Europe. I highly doubt this is true in all of them. (Actually I highly doubt it’s true in any of them. Free speech laws in the US do not, ever, apply to private entities, and free speech as a concept is much more an American than a European thing.)

        3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          To color this another way, as a boss, I would absolutely want someone to tell me this had occurred, provided it was in the workplace and within general hearing.

          First of all: we believe in inclusion and don’t want an environment that isn’t inclusive.

          Second of all: I don’t want fodder for lawsuits brewing in the midst, me unawares.

          People can have all the opinions they want, but this isn’t just celebrity gossip. Comments about anyone’s (including celebrity): race, sexual orientation, transgenderism, religion, don’t belong in the workplace. Don’t put your employer at risk by bringing them to work. There’s a million boards on the internet to type away how you really feel.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*


            My action would be to tell the original speaker to cut it out. It wouldn’t have to be a big deal, but they need to be informed that’s 100% not acceptable. Leave it at home.

          2. No Longer Passing By*

            “Second of all: I don’t want fodder for lawsuits brewing in the midst, me unawares.”

            Yesss!! So much this.

          3. Kyrielle*

            Yep. I don’t agree with the viewpoint, I do agree with their right to hold it, I don’t agree they’ve a right to express it in the workplace. That’s up to the workplace (and I don’t want to work where that would be okay, but again, that’s me).

            Now, if they’d said the initial part and instead of talking about a freak just said they thought the other person should have gotten it instead…I don’t think there’d really be anything to discuss. (Other than the fact that it’s a rumor that he was runner-up! Heh.)

        4. Colette*

          The comments may it have been directed at another employee, but there could be other employees who are transgender or love someone who is and who will be personally offended by the comments.

          1. Apollo Warbucks*

            A couple of months a go someone I work with made an off colour remark about homosexuals, it was more stupid and juvenile than outrageous but still wasn’t acceptable, so I said as much. A bit later my co-worker messaged me to say thank you for speaking up, and told me his son is gay, which i hadn’t know.

            He felt to close to the issue to address it himself without either looking overly sensitive or over reacting. A simple “hey that’s not cool” from me put a stop the remarks without it being a big deal.

            1. Sunshine Brite*

              +1000 for your actions :)

              I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself in an uncomfortable position where coworkers who overall have more political power and experience making comments that are more coded than outright hateful. Often, as the only person of color in the room, female, and younger I haven’t spoken up as often as possible, more non-committal light disagreement as to not get labelled a troublemaker.

            2. Tagg*

              This happened just recently at my workplace. A coworker shared a derogatory meme about Caitlyn Jenner and when I said “That’s not cool,” she tried to laugh it off, like I was joking. I repeated, “Seriously, that’s not cool,” and she stopped at least.

              1. Hlyssande*

                I had to tell a coworker earlier this week that it wasn’t appropriate conversation for work after he said something along the lines of “and that thing about what’s his name, Bruce Jenner?”

                He’s…well, that particular coworker is a horrorshow.

              2. Artemesia*

                I think this is great. Saying something AND not making a federal case of it because it is pretty acceptable in many parts of our culture and some people are just getting the message about how inappropriate it is. A lot of these comments are thoughtless and when people get the feedback that it is ‘not cool’ then they are in a position to think about what they have said and modify their behavior.

                Lots of people don’t think they ‘know anyone’ but most everybody does and those anyones are less and less likely to keep quiet about their orientation. High time to make this kind of thoughtless language off limits.

                Just as being gay turns out to be a lot more common than people thought back when many people struggled a lifetime hiding it, I think being transgender is a lot more common than people think. I am a fairly conservative person with an ordinary life and yet I have known pretty well three people making this transition: the father of a child in my scout troop made the transition, one of my daughter’s brothers in law (in both cases these were married men with children who came to terms with their identity late) and a friend of my son’s is currently a transgender man about to get married to a woman we know quite well. I can’t be that unusual.

                1. Tagg*

                  Exactly. It also helped that in this situation, I knew the coworker well enough to know she didn’t mean harm, and also didn’t realize that what she shared actually was harmful. In fact, when Caitlyn first publicly announced her name, this coworker and I had a conversation about how awesome and brave she was to do so.

                2. Heather*

                  Excellent comment!

                  And to inject a little humor – I read “scout troop” as “trout scoop” at first. It was quite a mental picture.

    2. Tyrannosaurus Regina*

      I agree. Unfortunately, it sounds like someone needs to establish a paper trial on this person. (At minimum they need to be sat down and Spoken To about not saying this kind of garbage in the workplace. And that conversation needs to be documented.)

      There’s someone like this at my husband’s old job, someone who has—for YEARS—made inappropriate comments. Some were egregious, many were relatively tame (and easily glossed over by non-confrontational types), and for various reasons it took forEVER for anybody to start documenting. Honestly, he should have been fired for being creepy and it should have happened a long time ago, but because every individual who would overhear one or two weird/awful things would minimize each occurrence, he’s been able to get away with doing a lot of damage to morale—and probably contributed to an actually-hostile-hostile work environment.

      These kinds of comments are almost never actually isolated incidents of poor judgment. They’re usually the tips of really gross icebergs. :(

      1. Cheesecake*

        The other day we were discussing GoT in the office and one of the colleagues said when Stanis decided to CENSORED BECAUSE SPOILER, he was thinking if he would do the same “for the greater good”. And for a second he agreed with Stanis. Should we consider this employee a dangerous maniac and suspend him from his customer service job? Should we report him to the CENSORED BECAUSE SPOILER authorities?
        If we talk about hateful comments towards real employees, this should be stopped. Post about “baby momma” made my blood boil. But drawing conclusions from discussions like we had is a little over the board.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Why is it overboard? Is it okay to make racist comments at work if no one from the race you’re talking about works there? Why is this any different? (And really, we have no way of knowing if anyone transgender works there or not — but it doesn’t matter because it’s offensive anyway, just like other types of bigoted comments would be.)

          1. Cheesecake*

            Because this was overheard. Before doing something as serious as reporting, i’d collect evidence and talk to the person.

            If the colleague said “i don’t support these transformations, she doesn’t deserve the award” would you report? Or it is the “freak” key here?

            1. BRR*

              When you say overheard, is your issue that it wasn’t a conversation the OP was a part of or that it was hearsay?

              1. Cheesecake*

                Kind of both, but i’d say the latter. I agree with Chuchundra bellow about policing private conversation based on hearsay. We had fair share of reports, based on overhearing some stuff out of context, 99% were not true but still potentially dangerous to people’s careers. So i personally don’t agree on officially reporting this under circumstances described.

                1. Saurs*

                  How is the OP endangering their colleague’s career? The colleague chose to have an ambiguous and public discussion about a divisive topic. If they don’t want to be misinterpreted, they shouldn’t have conversations like that at work. The onus should be on the manager to reinforce that policy.

                2. Zillah*

                  If this is the only instance of the coworker saying something like this, I have a very hard time believing it’s likely to be “dangerous to their career” – and I find it odd that you’re so worried about their career and not at all worried about the careers of other employees who may be made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or even unsafe by the comment – which IMO is far more likely than “danger” to this person’s career.

                  And yes – just one comment that goes unaddressed, particularly by someone in authority like HR can absolutely have that effect, if gender identity is anything like disability or sexual orientation (which I have more firsthand experience with).

                3. JB (not in Houston)*

                  Wait, you think a manager should only ever act on something they themselves heard? Because otherwise I don’t know what you mean by not policing conversations based on hearsay (and that’s assuming you mean the layperson’s definition of hearsay and not the legal sense of the word).

              2. lawsuited*

                Let’s not get wound up in concerns about hearsay. Hearsay doesn’t apply in this case for a couple of reasons. First, the OP was a witness to the conversation and actually heard the words herself. Second, the OP is not using the words she heard and proof of their contents, only as proof that the receptionist said them. Put another way, she is reporting to her manager that the receptionist called Caitlyn Jenner a “freak” , a fact which she was a witness to and has direct knowledge of, rather than reporting to her manager that Caitlyn Jenner is a freak and relying on the statement of the receptionist as proof of that fact.

                1. HB*

                  Thank you! I was wondering how hearsay worked its way into this conversation. OP overheard the comment.

              1. LBK*

                Yes, we’re once again running into the “reporting anything to anyone = that person will be immediately fired” fallacy that’s been running rampant in the comments lately. Someone will investigate, someone will address it, odds are no one will be fired.

                1. Oryx*

                  +1 — I’ve been called in on very similar instances. Someone overheard something, they made a complaint, I was in the area around the time this happened and was called in and questioned.

            2. Saurs*

              Hateful and divisive speech is still hateful and divisive when it’s couched in dogwhistles or memes, and managers have a right and a duty to discourage explicit and implicit bigoted speech. Colleagues are not paid to “reconstruct” or educate one another. Reporting the incident to the manager is the correct procedure, and makes the situation less about the OP’s personal discomfort and more about their colleague’s inappropriate behavior.

              1. Allison*

                Exactly. Just because the coworker didn’t explicitly say “being transgender is WRONG AND BAD!” doesn’t mean they didn’t say something hateful. Calling someone a freak isn’t always wrong, but calling someone a freak for being transgender is.

                To be fair, I’m on Caitlyn’s side here, but if she was chosen over the veteran, I wouldn’t necessarily agree with the decision. But I’d be peeved at ESPN for making that decision, rather than harbor ill feelings toward her for being chosen. So I get that OP’s coworker was mostly just mad about the supposed decision, throwing in a hateful dig at Caitlyn wasn’t okay.

                1. Kelly L.*

                  Well, as mentioned above, it turned out not to be true anyway. There was no announced runner-up and we have no idea who else they may have considered or why.

                2. Allison*

                  Kelly, I saw the article debunking the myth. But if someone *was* under the impression that this was happening, and it’s likely that even in light of that article people will either a) disregard as biased, liberal reporting or b) still assert that there are more courageous people who deserve the award over Caitlyn.

                  Either way, saying that you feel a veteran should have gotten the award is okay. Calling a trans person a freak, even if that isn’t the main focus of your rant, isn’t cool.

            3. CAinUK*

              Yes, “freak” IS key here. That’s the hate. That’s the difference between saying “I disagree with her transition” and instead labelling that person a derogatory term.

              It’s no different than “fag” or other hate speech. I have had plenty of co-workers who have said inappropriate things to me out of ignorance, but not malice. I can forgive those comments and often let them slide depending on context. But, in the context the OP describes, this was not (just) an uneducated employee voicing her opinion. This was an employee using a hateful term about a (potentially) protected class. That’s a problem for the employer, and a problem with undermining the workplace culture according to the OP.

              Now, I understand your approach of having a direct conversation before running to HR in most circumstances and I’m not trying to pile-on here! I’m trying to explain why I think opinion divides. I’m less inclined to offer benefits of a doubt with terms like “freak” or other hateful speech in the workplace. I doubt she doesn’t know her speech was inappropriate.

              1. Cheesecake*

                Thanks, i don’t think anyone is piling on, we just have different opinions, otherwise we had no discussion if everyone agrees. And it is not that i disagree on the fact it is hateful. I would jump into conversation to understand or chat to the employee after. Also, what makes it difficult for me is chat was about celebrity and that fact that the chat was actually with HR.

                I know reporting does not equal firing, but in my experience, this throws shade and keeps employee under radar no matter what, again, might be different in other companies/countries. In the US this is more wider used and taken better. Since i have hands-on experience, i am more mindful of “reporting”. And one thing i noticed, it creates tension between employees as “they are watching me”. Everyone knows we are watched, but the investigations cast different light on it. Here is where my caution is coming from.

            4. HB*

              Why would anyone ever need to share their thoughts about “supporting these transformations” at work? I would consider that just as offensive.

          2. Isabelle*

            You have to be extremely careful when you only overhear part of a conversation. For all OP 1 knows, the ‘freak’ comment was that person repeating what someone else said and doesn’t necessarily mean they agree with it.

            There’s something about OP1’s statement that makes me deeply uncomfortable, I can’t quite put my finger on it. Something to do with immediately jumping to report part of an overheard conversation with no idea of the broader context and without giving the person being reported an opportunity to explain themselves.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              If that’s the case, though, the coworker would simply explain that when someone speaks with her about it (whether that person is the OP or HR), and that would be the end of the problem.

              1. ITPuffNStuff*

                we hope that would be the end of it. if there were no bad business managers, this blog would not exist. it’s entirely reasonable to think that at least some bad business managers happen to work in HR.

            1. LBK*

              Can I just say how much it tickles me that in a comments section where you rarely edit anything, GoT spoilers rise to the level of necessitating an edit?

    3. Chuchundra*

      So, now we’re all OK with policing people’s private conversations and reporting them to the appropriate authorities if their overheard comments are outside the bounds of acceptable thinking?

      1. Cheesecake*

        I am surprised we all advised OP with “should i ban private conversations in the workplace” letter to ditch this draconian rule :)

        1. Zillah*

          I’m not sure how “ban hate speech” and “ban private conversations” are at all equivalent. I manage to have private conversations all the time without using hate speech.

          1. Helka*

            It’s like the guys who claim that if they’re not allowed to ask women invasive and sexist questions, they’re obviously being banned from talking to all women at all ever.

          2. Tyrannosaurus Regina*

            For real. If a person can’t have a “private” conversation (at work) without hate speech, that’s a problem.

      2. Loose Seal*

        I’m absolutely ok with that. This wasn’t an opinion like saying chocolate is the best cake flavor. This opinion-giver called a person a freak, which implies they think all trans* people are freaks. This is a large, international company and there is bound to be some trans* employees or employees with trans* partners, maybe even within the OP’s building. The opinion-giver needs to, at minimum, be talked to by someone with authority over them about how comments such as these are unwelcome in the office.

        For me, personally, the word “freak” in the conversation made the comment hate speech (as opposed to the opinion-giver saying that they think Noah is more courageous without using a derogative word to describe Caitlyn).

        [It is super early in the morning and insomnia has me in its grip. I hope what I typed is understandable.]

      3. Macedon*

        Let’s get something straight: this isn’t an opinion. It’s hate speech. If you exhibit it on office premises, you get reported. It’s how racist, sexist and other brands of comments that prejudice oppressed minorities have always been treated – and no, no context is needed. Reporting something doesn’t guarantee a response or a sanction. That’s what investigations are for, and presumably HR would look more closely into context and intent.

        I don’t find reporting particularly effective and prefer confrontation in these kind of cases, but if OP wants to report, it’s within their rights.

        1. No Longer Passing By*

          “Reporting something doesn’t guarantee a response or a sanction. That’s what investigations are for, and presumably HR would look more closely into context and intent.”

          Thank you!!! I couldn’t understand if people thought that reporting something automatically led to discipline or what. This also was the position in the post about the HR staff member being terminated for theft at another job. Reporting shouldn’t be a big deal. It’s asking for an investigation to be conducted. I don’t see anything wrong with this. I’ve conducted investigations before. I’ve seen investigations. It can be as simple as speaking to the HR staff member who was involved here to ascertain what was done and then speaking to the employee to confirm.

          Quite frankly I’m more interested in HR’s role in the situation than the employee herself. Because you need to know how HR, who may be inexperienced, is dealing with these surprises. So there are 2 interrelated causes of concern here and definitely should be reported. It may result is HR’s discipline and a don’t do that here to the other EE

          1. UKAnon*

            “Because you need to know how HR, who may be inexperienced, is dealing with these surprises.”

            That’s actually a really good point. Even assuming that no ‘damage’ was done in the sense of nobody offended, hurt, upset & no reputational damage to the company, this is a really good opportunity for a couple of people to learn more about how to behave professionally and what their roles entail in a collaborative, working-through-it-with-a-manager way.

          2. Green*

            I think the word “investigation” also worries people. It’s interviews. Which is talking to people. That’s generally what an investigation is in this context: they just talk to people.

        2. GenderCritical*

          Well, what constitutes gender and whether you can change your gender or not is an OPINION.

          Some feminists find it extremely problematic and some religious groups find it against their beliefs. Simply referring to Jenner as Bruce should NOT be hate speech.

          1. Helka*

            Opinions are not sacrosanct. Some of them, in fact, are bigoted, hateful, or ugly, and don’t belong in the workplace.

            1. Zillah*

              Yep. I really don’t understand how anyone thinks that it’s more harmful to prohibit people from espousing hate/bigoted speech at work than it is to force people who are deeply affected by that speech to hear it at work.

            2. ITPuffNStuff*

              i think it’s problematic to refer to another person’s opinions as “hateful”, because there are 2 meanings being attached:
              1. i *feel* hated when exposed to this person’s opinion. your feelings are your own and you have every right to them.
              2. the person expressing this opinion hates me. this is where the problem is introduced, because you project your feelings of being hated onto the other person, and declare them guilty of hating you. i don’t feel that a person disagreeing about gender identity means one can presume they hate those with whom they disagree.

          2. thelazyb*

            and what about people who have conditions whereby neither gender is actually correct? genetic disorders. I can’t remember what any of them are called right now :/

            That’s not opinion.

            I don’t think being trans is a totally different animal.

          3. De (Germany)*

            “Simply referring to Jenner as Bruce should NOT be hate speech.”

            I thought we were discussing calling her a “freak”?

          4. Macedon*

            Transgender individuals constitute an oppressed minority. This is not a matter of opinion. If purple balloon-shaped individuals were widely understood to be an oppressed minority, derogatory comments that display prejudice against them and their class would be hate speech.

            It doesn’t matter that your opinion is that these balloon-shaped people are red or blue and not purple – your right to express a damaging ‘opinion’ does not trump their right to not be subjected to prejudice.

            1. Warren*

              But respecting trans people shouldn’t mean you have to accept a certain line of thinking about how the world works. If I don’t think that gender is something one decides on and can change I am still supposed to pretend I believe those things to be true.

              We wouldn’t want someone to be disparaging towards Catholics in the workplace, but that doesn’t mean anyone has to believe the pope is infallible. But in being accepting toward trans people we are supposed to accept- or pretend to accept- certain things as facts. Trans people shouldn’t be subjected to prejudice or discrimination, but they shouldn’t be able to force others to go along with their views.

              1. Kelly L.*

                Then can you at least just shut up about trans people in the workplace? Say anything you want at home. Nobody is forcing you to address the issue at work. The situation in the OP didn’t come up as a part of the workday; it was someone spouting off about something they read on the internet about something that happened on TV.

                (And if you do work with a trans person, one hopes you would be polite to her or him, but that’s not even what we’re discussing.)

                1. Katie the Fed*

                  Seriously, this.

                  Does it affect you? No? Then STFU about it, especially in the workplace.

                2. HB*

                  Completely agree. I suppose I’m just not understanding how this conversation needs to be happening at work. You have your opinions, that’s completely fine. I doesn’t matter if I agree or not. However, why are we discussing this in the workplace? How is anyone forcing you to state your opinion or tacit agreement with Jenner?

                3. Nichole*

                  Yes. Even if one doesn’t believe that it’s possible to change one’s gender, they can accept that “The person I know as Fergus would now like to be called Jessica, and will be uncomfortable if I use masculine pronouns.” They can feel however they want about Jessica, but the only thing relevant to the workplace is that in order to make Jessica feel respected at work, we call her she now. It’s just like if Fergus now wants to use his middle name or Kelly Smith got divorced and now wants to be called Kelly Jones. Maybe I think we all know her as Smith and it’s stupid to change her name, but that choice isn’t up for debate in the workplace. She says she’s Jones now, so we call her Jones, and I can think of her as Kelly Smith all I want, but she has a right to be called Jones at work free of my opinion on the matter.

                4. ITPuffNStuff*

                  silencing those who disagree with you, no matter how offended you may feel about disagreement, is the basis of monoculture, not diversity.

                  it never ceases to amaze me how rapidly those who claim to support diversity act to silence any whose disagreement triggers strong feelings.

                  put differently, if you can’t disagree and simultaneously respect your opponent, perhaps it is you who has the problem.

              2. Ad Astra*

                I’m not sure how you can believe gender is something you can’t change when Caitlyn Jenner and scores of other people have indeed changed their genders. Whether you think they *should* change is a matter of opinion, but someone who undergoes gender reassignment surgery has absolutely changed their gender.

                They haven’t changed their chromosomes, but those determine sex, not gender. They’re two different things. It just so happens that YOUR biological sex and gender identity are (presumably) the same.

                1. ITPuffNStuff*

                  perhaps splitting hairs here, but i’m guessing transgender people probably don’t feel like they changed gender … more that they were always the same gender, and the ‘change’ was more a matter of ceasing to outwardly present in a way commonly associated with the biological sex.

              3. Zillah*

                Trans people shouldn’t be subjected to prejudice or discrimination, but they shouldn’t be able to force others to go along with their views.

                I hear this sentiment all the time, usually from people in a position of privilege regarding people who lack that privilege.

                It makes my blood boil, because here’s the thing: it’s very, very rare for people in those groups to try to “force others to go along with their views.” Mostly, people in those groups are pushing for being treated with respect and decency on a social level and for equality under the law. They’re not trying actively trying to convert the world, let alone “forcibly.”

                1. LBK*

                  Yes yes yes. This is not about forcing you to “accept their views” – it’s about forcing you to accept them as a human being that has rights and doesn’t deserve to be fired or killed for who they are.

                2. Book Person*

                  Thank you for this. What does “force others to go along with their views” even mean here? The only thing others are being “forced” to do is accept that trans*people deserve to be treated with respect and decency. Oh, the horrors, being asked to treat a person like a person by not saying nasty things in the workplace.

                3. Heather*

                  Thank you for this.

                  Ironically, the people who say that are the ones who really are trying to force the world to go along with their views.

                4. Elizabeth West*

                  Yeah, and calling it a view sounds to me like calling being gay a lifestyle. I think it’s already been established that being gay is not a lifestyle.

                5. Green*

                  Well, in the workplace, you can “force” everyone to go along with your views. If I get divorced and change my last name back to my maiden name (or a random name), you can’t continue calling me my married name because you disagree with my divorce. You don’t have to like people’s identities or choices, but you also have to go with the identity they’ve chosen for themselves *at work.*

                  (And the *at work* part is critical because people seem to have trouble separating their internal thoughts and things they can say on their own time with their external actions and things they can say at work.)

                6. ITPuffNStuff*

                  i think the “forcing people to go along with their views” element is that merely expressing a different viewpoint tends to result in social exclusions and ad hominem attacks … many examples of which are present in this very discussion.

                  is it ironic that this very discussion is about treating everyone with the respect they deserve, and yet the very points about that respect are being expressed with hostility?

                  put differently, one of the most important tests is whether you can continue to treat your worthy adversary with courtesy even while your blood boils, and recognize that the strong emotions triggered are a reflection of your personality and past, and likely have little or nothing to do with your debate opponent.

              4. Bertie*

                Thank you.

                Tolerance seems to be sacrosanct but only for those who agree with the majority view. How your respectful disagreement with that majority view lets others think they can tell you to shut up still leaves me scratching my head.

                1. Book Person*

                  How your respectful disagreement with that majority view lets others think they can tell you to shut up still leaves me scratching my head.

                  Well, calling trans*people freaks isn’t respectful for one, but even if it were couched in respectful language, when the minority view is disagreeing with a person’s right to exist/be treated decently, said minority view of intolerance shouldn’t be tolerated.* Gay people exist. Trans*people exist. That’s just…factual, not a “view.”

                  *in the workplace. This isn’t a referendum on people’s right to their own opinions; no one will be arrested for expressing this opinion online/in their homes/in public with friends.

                2. Zillah*

                  Both you and Warren are arguing with things that people haven’t actually said, and it feels like you’re doing so because you want the conversation to happen on your terms. But your terms aren’t what we’re talking about. No one is trying to dictate what you believe. People are only saying that the workplace isn’t the place to do so and that not exposing vulnerable people to hurtful speech and prejudice should take precedence over expressing your beliefs.

                  I’m not sure how you disagree with that, tbh.

                3. Bertie*

                  (Looks like I reached the limit on nested replies; hope this shows up in the right spot.)

                  Helka – I thanked Warren for pointing out the irony that respect for differing beliefs on this subject is tremendously one-sided. I did not in any way condone calling others names.

                  Book Person – denying that someone exists is a far cry from disagreeing with the morality of their lifestyle. I just checked again to make sure I did not miss anything and confirmed that Warren, to whose statement I was replying, did not call anyone a freak. I simply thanked him for pointing out calmly and peacefully that disagreement does not equate with disrespect.

                  Zillah – Arguing? I am not sure where you got the impression that I was arguing with anyone. I was thanking Warren for articulating a point that many seem to forget: civilized disagreement is not at all the same as disrepectful name calling or hate speech.

                4. Book Person*

                  Again out of nesting, Bertie; I’ll try to explain my position a bit more clearly/thoroughly:

                  denying that someone exists is a far cry from disagreeing with the morality of their lifestyle

                  I don’t see why the issue of morality (and, specifically, your definition thereof) is relevant: personally, I’d say living honestly is the more moral choice, so it’s completely solipsitic (as well as irrelevant). To call someone’s state of existence (and being a trans*woman is a state of being–medical transitions come with a battery of psychological tests to determine that one’s psychological gender is out of alignment with one’s physiological sex) “immoral” is to deny their selfhood, in my view, because it implies a “moral,” alternate way of being that said person SHOULD live.

                  I guess it boils down to “lifestyle” (which, to me, is where and how you live) vs “life” (who you are). Telling someone that their LIFE is immoral is denying who they are.

                5. Book Person*

                  standard caveat that probably isn’t needed for this website (fortunately): the morality is irrelevant because being trans(/gay/whatever) doesn’t impact anyone but the person whose life it is.

                6. Bertie*

                  Book Person – the point Warren brought up seems to be getting lost, and I think it is important enough to bring it up again: it is reprehensible to disparage a person simply because they decline to laud/condone something they find reprehensible. People should treat each other with respect simply because they are people, not because of how closely their beliefs, opinions, or lifestyles align with those that are socially popular.

                7. Zillah*

                  @ Bertie – I find it pretty reprehensible to use slurs and disparage people who are trans*, and I refuse to laud/condone that.

                  Funny how that works!

                  It’s completely disingenuous to equate protesting discrimination and prejudice with holding discriminatory and prejudiced views. The group being discriminated against is far, far more affected than the group voicing its “disapproval,” and to call members and allies of the first group for disparaging members of the second is absurd. Members of the second group are disparaging the first group simply by denying the validity of their identities, relationships, and families. They have a right to their opinion, but let’s cut it out with the “it’s reprehensible to disparage them.”

                  And, regardless: there’s nowhere I’ve seen on this thread that any commenters said that people who hold these bigoted and hurtful beliefs should somehow be barred from holding them or treated like second class citizens because of them, so I’m not sure why you’re championing a point here that no one has really argued with, unless you’re claiming that it’s totally cool to say bigoted and hurtful things about trans* people at work.

                8. Bertie*

                  Zillah – no, I will not silence my plea to treat everyone – yes, even those with whom you may disagree – with respect. You may hold a different view than I do. However, that does not mean I will use slurs and disparaging names when I talk to and about you, nor will I tell you are “absurd” and to “cut it out” just because I disagree with you. You may choose to react with disgust and contempt, but that is your choice and at this point I will leave you to it.

                9. Zillah*

                  It would be nice if you’d respond to what I actually said, but barring that, sure – have a nice day.

                10. Bertie*

                  Okay, since you asked, I will address this: you say “They have a right to their opinion, but let’s cut it out with the “it’s reprehensible to disparage them.””

                  Do you truly think it is okay to disparage people who disagree, even when they do so in a peaceful and respectful manner? I don’t. I really do find it reprehensible to treat people who hold dissenting opinions as lesser than ones self simply because they do not agree.

              5. Macedon*

                No one’s saying an atheist has to believe the pope is infallible. But refrain from calling Catholics ‘freaks’. There are alternatives to name-calling: you can choose to not discuss the topic. You can say you have a different (or, depending on the workplace, unpopular) opinion. You can even say, “I am afraid I don’t subscribe to Jenner’s view on gender, and I would prefer not to discuss that here.” You’re acting as if you have to be either vocally supportive or inflammatory.

                Let’s not pretend we’re getting hunted down by the PC police when the mandate’s as low as “Let’s be decent to each other.”

                1. Warren*

                  I was certainly not advocating calling trans people freaks. There is a lot at issue here, but mainly I was bothered by the suggestion that using the “wrong” pronoun to refer to trans people constitutes a form of hate speech. This includes using “he” to refer to Bruce as he was before the operation. This is loaded- it’s not demanding just that people use this pronoun, but that they accept the premise behind it.

                2. Warren*

                  @Macedon: On second thought, I don’t see any need to carry on an argument, and I agree with everything you wrote here. Just know that I was not in any way shape or form saying that calling trans people “freaks” is okay.

            2. ITPuffNStuff*

              i think it’s problematic to define hate speech in this way, because there are 2 dimensions at work:

              1. what the person receiving the prejudice feels. this is their experience and something they have every right to.

              2. what the person receiving the prejudice *presumes* about the motives and feelings of the person expressing it. this is where it becomes problematic. it’s something along the lines of “i feel hated, therefore you are guilty of hating me”. what if i don’t actually hate you? the very fact a person belongs to a persecuted group means they will tend to project every persecution they have ever experienced in their lives onto anyone who disagrees with them. it’s not up to others to decide arbitrarily that i hate them simply because we disagree about a controversial topic.

              this type of binary situation eliminates the possibility of both liking and respecting someone, and simultaneously disagreeing with them. it’s akin to the difference between how adults think, recognizing and accepting infinite complexity, and how children think, dividing everything into 2 polar opposites. “you don’t agree with my politics, therefore you hate me and we can’t be friends”.

          5. Oryx*

            Calling Caitlyn Bruce is context heavy, I think. Caitlyn is Caitlyn. Caitlyn wants to be called Caitlyn. She also wants female pronouns used.

            For people unfamiliar with trans* issues, it can be challenging to adopt new language in this situations so if someone calls her “he” or “Bruce” once or twice, no, I don’t think it’s problematic. But, if they are corrected on their usage and continue to do it then we have a bigger issue that needs addressed.

            1. Tagg*


              I will forgive someone once, maybe twice, for ignorance in gender situations that can be complicated, especially for someone who is not used to thinking of gender as anything other than set in stone at birth. However, if I correct you more than twice and you continue to use the wrong pronouns or name, then you are being deliberately hateful and a jerk.

              1. Oryx*

                I unfriended someone on FB over this and he messaged me and continued to argue and STILL used male pronouns and STILL did not understand the issue. Then he pulled the “I can’t be transphobic, I have LGBT friends.”


            2. Steve G*

              But not everything is about either being accepting or being hateful. Some of us are just stuck in the past in terms of celebrities and things. CB is a celebrity. Not everyone is reading People magazine every week and keeping up with (insert celebrity here). It’s going to take more than 1 or 2 tries to get this right for most people. Unlike a coworker, friend, sibling, Caitlin Jenner is just a celebrity to most people that we’re never going to meet and really don’t invest emotional energy into.

              Also, this one is different than Chaz Bono. Most of us didn’t have a history with Chaz as Chastity unless you were old enough to remember the Sunny&Cher show (I guess late 40s + now?). So starting with “Chaz” was easy.

              But most of us have a history of Bruce as an athlete and reality star. This poses linguistic issues even if you refer to Jenner as Caitlin from here on out. When recalling when Caitlin was Bruce decathloning in the Olympics, one is recalling a man – not a women – in their head. So do you say “when he was in the Olympics” or “when she was in the Olympics.” Because a HE was in the Olympics at the time. This is confusing

              1. LBK*

                I’m no expert but I believe it’s still considered correct to refer to the person by their preferred pronouns when speaking about their pre-transition self; even if they were still presenting as their birth gender, they were already mentally transgender at that point. In other words, Caitlyn has always been a woman, even when she was still publicly appearing as a man, because you don’t “turn trans”. You are, and eventually you may transition, but you’re still trans before and after.

              2. Oryx*

                What LBK said about Caitlyn always being a woman, so, yes, SHE was in the Olympics. She just looked like a man at the time.

                I liken it to Miley Cyrus and Hannah Montana. Some people (mistakenly) believe Caitlyn is Hannah — she’s some kind of costume that Bruce is wearing. In fact, the opposite is true: Bruce was the costume that Caitlyn was always wearing. If Miley-as-Hannah ever won a Grammy and then Miley *stopped* being Hannah, no one would continue saying “When Hannah won the Grammy,” they’d say “When Miley won the Grammy.” Because Miley *did* win the Grammy, just as Caitlyn *did* win the decathlon.

                1. Helka*

                  That is a great analogy! And it’s very true — Caitlyn has been very clear in interviews that even back in the 70s, 40+ years ago now, she was very clear that inside, she was a woman, she just had no safe avenue to express it in anything other than the tiniest of ways. So Bruce was indeed a costume for the Caitlyn that has always been there.

                2. Green*

                  I haven’t researched this at all, but based on the communities I travel in, it’s OK to use the Miley-as-Hannah naming convention for drag queens who are performing as X but live their daily lives as Y (and switch to “she” for the show or when speaking about drag queen persona, and then use “he” for other aspects of that person) but never OK to use the Miley-as-Hannah analogy for trans people.

                3. Oryx*

                  Green, I’m not using the Miley-as-Hannah for trans people. I’m doing the opposite, I’m saying Bruce was Hannah and Caitlyn is Miley. Caitlyn has always been there, that’s why it’s appropriate to use female pronouns, even when referring to past events.

              3. Heather*

                Pretty much every article I’ve read about Caitlyn’s transition has a note explaining that the proper way of referring to her is “Caitlyn” and “she.” They even put examples such as “When Caitlyn Jenner won the decathalon.”

                It’s OK to be confused at first, but it takes almost no effort to find out how trans people prefer to be addressed. It’s no different than finding out that the guy who’s listed as Richard in the company directory prefers to be called Rick. You make a mental note and if you accidentally call him Richard next time, you apologize.

                1. ITPuffNStuff*

                  it’s problematic to refer to any subjective world view as “proper”, because of the implication that all other views must be “improper”. attaching a value judgment to a matter of subjective opinion leaves no real room for diversity or respect for the differences among individuals there. the fact that a controversy even exists shows the subjective is divisive … there are many opposing views. if this were not the case, any who dissent would be viewed as a tiny and largely irrelevant minority, more akin to believing the earth is flat, something that most people would dismiss and not find worthy of debate.

                  with all of the above said, if someone really wants to be called a different pronoun than their biological sex, okay, i can do that. i’m not used to it, and it conflicts with my personal (and subjective) definition of gender, but is that battle really worth fighting? as long as i can acknowledge ‘this isn’t something i’m entirely comfortable with, but out of respect for you i will use the pronoun you prefer’ without being attacked, i don’t see an issue.

                  where an issue can (and sometimes does) come into play is when i cannot even acknowledge that this definition of gender feels awkward without being value labeled and attacked. at that point, the person launching the attack is not even seeing me — they’re seeing a distorted version of me created in their own heads by projecting their worst fears and experiences onto me. that, paradoxically, is exactly the bigotry they wish to be shielded from. it never ceases to amaze me how many people who express strongly their own needs for respect and acceptance are so prepared to disrespect and reject those who posses different world views.

            3. Katie the Fed*

              I feel the same way when people are outraged that they get in trouble for using the n-word. Um, don’t call people things they don’t want to be called. How hard is that?!

          6. Saurs*

            “Some feminists find it extremely problematic and some religious groups find it against their beliefs.”

            Again, if someone identifies as a TERF (or a white supremacist, or a person who finds homosexuals troubling or “problematic,” etc), it’s up to them to refrain from having conversations about those topics at work. They’re more than welcome to flaunt their bigotry to friends and family.

            1. Steve G*

              Well, as a gay and Catholic gay male, when people say God is anti gay, I tend to go to the Book of Leviticus. There you will get the real deal. The Bible here is also talking about wizards, forgiving debts every 7 years, how to treat slaves, what you should eat (nothing from the sea without fins, for example), hot to handle lepers, the gay section is 2 sentences long section 18:22. It isn’t longer or highlighted in some way to be more important than the hundreds of other rules, some of which are longer relevant, and some of which I’m sure anti-gay people also ignore.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I like to point that out too, and also that the Bible is an INTERPRETIVE text, not an absolute. I know this is the wrong story, but if a bush suddenly erupted in flames and started talking to me, I’m not sure I’d totally understand what it had to say. Imagine trying to get that down on paper after hundreds of years of hearing it repeated in many different ways. It’s like a huge cosmic game of Telephone. Like if each decade were an equals sign, it would look like this:

                God =======================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================someone finally writes down what God said

              2. UKAnon*

                Totally off topic, but I once watched an excellent speech called something like ‘debunking myths about homosexuality biblically’. That was one of many points it raised to show that, at the very least, the Bible is specifically not against homosexuality.

                (Or, if it is, you’d better watch out if you’ve ever eaten prawns or are a man with a ponytail)

          7. Nashira*

            Trans-excluding feminists, especially trans-excluding radical feminists, do NOT speak for feminists as a whole. Their beliefs are transphobic and often involve horrifically egregious hate speech. I’m sick and tired of them being used to justify transphobia, like somehow it’s more okay because a splinter of an anti-oppression group believes it too.

            If you were actually familiar with feminism as it stands now, you would know that quite a lot of feminists will call radfems to task if they open their fool mouths and hatred falls out. Women are women.

              1. Kelly L.*

                +1,000 more. This is a very small minority of feminists, and it just so happens they’re a loud minority.

            1. Tinker*

              “Gender critical” is one of the things that trans-excluding feminists prefer to call themselves, incidentally.

              1. Anna*

                I didn’t even know that. Now I know who to avoid. And man, now I want to launch in to a LOOONG and irritated diatribe about what being gender critical is and what it shouldn’t be and if you’re really critical of gender, that means you should be critical of it in all forms and that gender is a social construct and if you don’t think gender can be changed, you’re basically agreeing with essentialism, which is crap and…


              2. Nashira*

                Thank you, I appreciate being alerted to code phrases like that. I’m agender and pass for cis at work, so I’m not hurt as directly as trans people are… but it still hurts and I still want to avoid them, when I don’t have the strength to shout louder.

          8. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            Nobody was talking about referring to Jenner as Bruce.

            Saying that transgendered people are freaks, that little people are freaks, that black men are thugs, that gay people are crimes against nature, that women are the weaker sex…….. any of that and more:

            Does not belong in the workplace.

            It’s really, really, REALLY easy and not nuanced at all.

            Keep it out of the workplace.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*


              If you want to think trans people are freaks, think it. But don’t say it at work. It’s very, very easy.

            2. ITPuffNStuff*

              agreed 100%, but i would add one more point: it’s just as offensive when black men refer to themselves as thugs, as if that were a label to be proud of

          9. CAinUK*

            IMO it can be hate speech if it’s meant to be hate speech.

            If I legally change my name and gender, it doesn’t matter if YOU agree with my decision or not. If I have legal documentation that says my gender and name are now different, guess what? You don’t get a say in the mater at all. You don’t have to AGREE, but if you continued to refer to me as a different gender and not by my name, yeah I’d say that was hate speech. It’s at least hateful; I’m not a lawyer, so I have no idea if it’s classified as actual Hate Speech.

            TL;DR: there is a difference between saying you don’t agree with Caityln’s decision to transition vs. calling her Bruce. One is an opinion, the other is antagonistic.

            1. KJR*

              Thank you for articulating this! I always have a hard time with people with say they “disagree” with so-and-so’s decision to “be gay” or whatever else. I always think, “who asked you?” Do you care that I “agree” or “disagree” that you did whatever in your life? For some reason some people think their opinions about others’ lives are so important, when they just aren’t.

              On a somewhat related note, my 18 year old daughter shut down a twitter post from a classmate about raising a transgender child. He said something offensive, and she very deftly deflated his entire argument. It was tastefully done, she didn’t attack him or his opinion, but made it very clear that his stance was harmful and unacceptable. Her response was favorited and retweeted many times. I’ve been proud of her many, many times in my life, but that one was probably my proudest moment.

          10. Anna*

            Most scientific communities agree that sex is biological and gender is socially constructed. Gender isn’t the same in every culture; even homosexuality isn’t the same in every culture. So while groups may believe you can’t change gender, and gender is immutable, it’s not. And if they’re basing their opinions on incorrect facts, then how valid are those opinions?

            1. ITPuffNStuff*

              as a social construct, is it then fair to acknowledge different societies have constructed it differently? (for reference, PBS did a map of gender-diverse cultures here:

              if different societies have constructed gender differently, was one of them right, and the others all wrong? it seems to me that gender construct is not capable of being inherently right or wrong, therefore there can’t be one correct ‘version’ of it that everyone must agree on.

              what we must agree on is to respect and accept, and sometimes even love, each other despite those differences.

          11. aebhel*

            No, not really. Some feminists are transphobic; some churches are as well. There are plenty of churches that think homosexuality is a perversion; should we say, well, they’re allowed to call gay people perverts because that’s just their belief?

            Legally, federally, sure. They do it all the time in the news. That doesn’t it mean it isn’t homophobic, or that it isn’t hate speech. If you call Caitlyn Jenner ‘Bruce’ because you don’t believe that transgender people are real, then (a) you’re being transphobic and (b) I have to wonder if you insist on calling everyone who’s changed their name by their birth name. I mean, I think that women changing their names when they get married is a regressive, sexist tradition, so clearly I should be allowed to continue calling married women by their birth names, because that’s just my OPINION.

        3. Case of the Mondays*

          I’m in general agreement that the comment at issue is offensive. However, whether it is something HR has to legally care about and whether OP is protected for reporting it will depend on his/her states. For example, sexual orientation is not a federally protected class currently but it is in many states. If it is not in yours and you report someone for making homophobic comments, not only does HR not have to act, but you wouldn’t likely be protected by your whistleblower laws because you weren’t reporting anything protected in your state.

          OP might want to investigate whether gender identity is protected where she works before complaining. If it is not protected and your views don’t mesh with the majority you can find yourself on your way out with no legal recourse. Only you can decide if that is a chance you are willing to take for this situation.

          1. Case of the Mondays*

            ETA that I now see the company does have a policy on gender identity issues. That changes my comment though it is food for thought for others in similar situations. Not everything that should be protected is protected unfortunately.

            1. Green*

              Large, international companies may also have other considerations beyond state laws (there are lots of cross-jurisdiction statutes, and they often choose to use the rules of the most conservative states for setting a higher baseline, etc.); and suppliers often have to agree to non-discrimination policies for their clients, etc. So enforcing workplace policy isn’t always clear based on the law of a state.

        4. ITPuffNStuff*

          wait — hate speech is not an opinion?

          i hope i’m not mincing words too much here, but yes it’s an opinion. if it’s not an opinion, that makes it what — a fact? it is an opinion because it is subjective and cannot be objectively measured, proven, or disproven. that doesn’t make it any less anti-social … it just makes it a hateful, anti-social opinion.

      4. INTP*

        It sounds like these comments were outside the bounds of company policy which makes them fair game for reporting. If OP overheard then a transgender coworker might overhear and feel unwelcome in the office. If you’re going to say something that is against company policy and deeply hurtful to many people and you want it to be respected as your private conversation, say it in private.

        This is not the same thing as someone saying something outside the bounds of socially accepted thinking but professionally inoccuous like “I believe in UFOs.”

        1. ITPuffNStuff*

          if a member of a protected class finds UFOs offensive, don’t presume that opinion can’t get you fired

            1. ITPuffNStuff*

              hello Miss Green, and thanks for replying!

              you’re absolutely right that it would not result in any action in a reasonable work place. my comment was meant to point out that not all workplaces are reasonable.

              have a great day!

            2. ITPuffNStuff*

              i thought about this a bit more and realized there probably are a great many people who find any discussion of life on other planets to be offensive on religious grounds.

              so, someone finding this offensive and taking it to HR and/or an attorney is not entirely inconceivable. some theological belief systems revolve around earth being the only place where life exists.

      5. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        It is not okay to talk about a huge number of things at work.

        It’s not okay for a guy to hold court talking about how he got some p*ssy last night. It’s not okay for a woman to complain about the negro who must be a thug who waited on her in the convenience store and was rude. It’s not okay for someone to go off about homosexuality is unnatural and a sin against god.

        At work. In general hearing. Absolutely not okay.

        1. Judy*

          I believe I have a career BINGO. (All more than 15 years ago, and not using the word thug, but the n word.)

        2. ITPuffNStuff*

          agreed, none of these things are okay, but all of the examples you’ve chosen demonstrate the not-okayness of disrespect when it is aimed at a member of a legally protected class.

          there’s a contextual implication that disrespect is okay as long as the target is not in an oppressed group. perhaps paradoxically, the implied social permission to disregard the feelings of the non-oppressed becomes in itself a form of oppression.

      6. Helka*

        Yes, actually. Policing people’s conversations in a public place at the office and reporting them if they contain speech that is likely to make other people in the office feel unsafe, discriminated against, or threatened is pretty a-ok in my book.

      7. Xay*

        I’ve spent most of my career in government workplaces where discussion of politics, religion, and other potentially hot button issues were defacto forbidden because of the field I work in and the potential controversial nature of those topics especially as perceived by the public. We found plenty of other things to talk about and enforcement was not a problem because in our case, there were broader implications. There are plenty of workplaces where conversations, emails, phone calls are monitored and not considered to be private as a general rule – this isn’t a novel idea.

      8. Kyrielle*

        If they are held in the office? Yes, absolutely. Some opinions should not be expressed in the office, including to like-minded individuals. You just don’t say that where other co-workers could overhear, and overhearing, be (reasonably!) hurt.

        NB that if the same conversation had simply expressed that they didn’t think Caitlyn should have won the award, without saying ‘freak’ or otherwise implying being transgender was bad (just that it didn’t rise to the level of this award), my answer would be totally different.

      9. Ad Astra*

        It’s not really a private conversation if your coworkers can easily overhear it, and especially not if you’re sitting at the office’s front desk, as a “front desk worker” is likely to do.

        1. Green*

          You don’t get “private conversations” in the office that aren’t subject to the policies. If it’s at work, work policies apply.

          There are a few issues with the “private conversations where everyone is OK” argument: (1) people often “go along” with conversations without agreeing with them and still feel uncomfortable and only later decide they need to do something (i.e., a man says something sexist and another man doesn’t immediately speak up. Second man can still report the comment, even if he laughed at the time.); (2) It doesn’t matter if you’re directing the comment to someone specific in the office or if there are even any trans (or LGBT or whatever) people in the office (and you often don’t know who is gay or trans or a certain religion or unmarried with kids or whatever), and (3) “Overheard” comments can still contribute to a hostile work environment (or a policy violation) (i.e., two men are in a breakroom talking about hot chicks and their chest size preferences on women and a third man walks in. Third man can still report, even if they stop talking about it as soon as he walks in.).

        1. Natalie*

          That’s a really great straw man you’ve constructed. How do you get the eyes like that?

        2. kt (lowercase)*

          Or, you know, nobody should have to hear hateful slurs at a place where they have to be all day every day. Think you could try to grok it that way?

          Empathy, people, it’s a really basic human skill.

      10. neverjaunty*

        No, of course not. Everyone should be free to say whatever they like at work, and management should have no right whatsoever to do anything about a manager who tells his direct report he’d like bang her like a screen door, or a receptionist who asks Asian customers if they’re great at math, because FREE!!!!SPEECH!!!!!!! and the only alternative is a hellish dystopia of thought control.


      11. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Most workplaces (at least in the U.S.) do ask people to report hateful, bigoted speech, so that they can have a workplace that’s inclusive and doesn’t invite lawsuits.

        It’s not about policing people’s thinking. It’s about ensuring that their actions don’t create a hostile, unwelcoming, uncomfortable environment.

        1. ITPuffNStuff*

          i would argue the true motive here is to protect business profits from expensive liabilities.

          i’m pretty sure businesses are completely fine with hostility so long as the victims are not in a good position to sue, which in this case means not members of a legally protected class.

      12. ITPuffNStuff*

        wow, i’m not at all comfortable with the phrase “acceptable thinking”. who defines what thinking is acceptable? the larger social context? in north korea, the larger social context demands a form of thinking that i presume most westerners would find intolerable. in an ISIS camp, the larger social context defines an “acceptable thinking” that is even more extreme, and probably unacceptable to most people.

    4. Stranger than fiction*

      I’m in favor of reporting as well. After all, they have this policy, and an anonymous hotline (awesome). Also, if she speaks with the coworker, they throw attitude, and then she reports, then the coworker will totally know who reported them, so the anonymous call is no longer that.

      1. voyager1*

        Lots of comments, but I am going to go way out there and disagree with AAM and most of you… ;)

        I would not report it OR talk to the offending person. And I sure as heck wouldn’t do both since that defeats the purpose of an anonymous phone line.

        The thing that jumps out at me in this story and none of the comments seem to ask or mention is:
        Did the two people having this conversation see or know if our LW overheard this comment.

        For me without knowing that I can’t say 100% reporting is a good idea. But either way talking to this person who made the comment… yeah no good is going to come of that more then likely.

    5. Green*

      My take is that, if OP doesn’t care to compromise her anonymity or doesn’t feel like having an awkward conversation with the person directly, she is under no obligations to further clarify the comment. It doesn’t matter that the comment wasn’t directed at her (and for whichever commenter said you can’t report on “hearsay”, there are no evidentiary rules against “hearsay” … i.e., something you heard someone say in real life).

      I think people also misunderstand what it means to “report it to HR” in most companies. The OP said her company was large, international. Typically there are SOPs and all kinds of stuff for these and HR follows a routine, investigation (i.e., just talking to a few people) and has a progressive punishment scale. Like I said earlier, given the context, this is the most likely outcome:

      HR receives a report (anonymous or not, but if anonymous it should include as many details as possible — who else heard, time of day, etc.). HR goes to the other HR person who the lady was talking to and confirms the context and the comments. HR then talks to the person who made the comments to find out what she said and the context. Then they probably sit down with front desk lady, remind her of the non-retaliation policy, ask her to keep the matter confidential and not to discuss it with others in the office, and say “I know you say that you meant X, but we want to remind you of the Our Non-Discrimination and Harassment Policy 1.01 and Standard Operating Procedures. Let’s review that together. Do you have any questions? OK, please be sure to follow that policy in the future.” There are likely to be no consequences for the employee at this point. And if there are problems in the future, HR has already talked with them about it once and can use a progressive discipline matrix to go up the scale as necessary.

      That’s HR’s job — to be sure that employees are aware of and understand policies and to help intervene in these situations. If OP is not a person who is comfortable with confrontation, “going to HR” is a perfectly reasonable way to deal with it. I am fine with confrontation, so I’d be speak up and say something to the person, but not everyone feels comfortable doing that which is exactly why there are anonymous reporting hotlines.

  5. The IT Manager*

    For LW#3, separate from the problem of either being mislead or misunderstanding, does anyone else think the idea of the department co-leads sounds terrible and confusing for everyone? It might work for two people with a very close relationship, but it sounds like a setup for failure between the old hand approaching retirement (I hope that’s what his being “phased out” means) and the new guy excited to be in charge.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Agreed. I could see it for a very short period of time during a transition, but not beyond that — not unless they’ve cleared divided up responsibilities in a transparent way that everyone is aligned on and people aren’t truly reporting to both of them.

      1. OP*

        The co-manager is planning to start a family within the next year and move on. My position was originally posted because she thought this would happen sooner, but unfortunate events happened to in regard to her pregnancy.

        1. The IT Manager*

          Ah! That makes sense. IMO the logical solution would be for you to be the deputy/second-in-command until the lead becomes pregnant (or a set period of time) and you take over, she steps back but is there to provide guidance for the first few months of you tenure as lead.

          But given the unfortunate situation with the lead what you need now is a clear timeline for your succession.

          1. The IT Manager*

            What I described worked for my dad. He was the director of a small government utility for 30+ years. He gave lots of notice before retirement. They create a new position and hired a new external guy with no experience with the utility (not his personal pick). The new guy was his deputy for a couple of years and learned the ropes enough to take over when my dad left. In this case though, the timeline was clear to everyone.

            Your situation LW, is a problem with giving lots of notice about a planned departure that is dependent in external factors outside people’s control. There may come a point where someone must make a hard decision. Co-lead leaves even if she’s not pregnant. Your management asks your co-lead to leave because the company doesn’t want the co-led situation to drag on. Or you leave because you’re not being given the responsibilities you were promised for in the job.

            Obviously no one wants to talk about what if someone miscarries or can’t get pregnant, but there should have ben contingency plans in the situation before you are hired. Since no one else is doing it, you and to prove you are management material by being willing to have the hard conversations with your management about them fulfilling their agreement to you. That’s the one spot where you might have done a bit better. Instead of fluffing it off when you were introduced wrong, you could have brought the problem earlier but overall you seem to have done well.

            + Sorry for any typos. having terrible problem today with characters being “lost” and keyboard lagging.

          2. Jerry Vandesic*

            This is what I was thinking. Co-manager if probably not what is happening. Second in command, with a succession plan for the OP to move up if/when the current manager leaves. In the meantime there might be some additional authority given to the second in command, but not necessarily. In addition, the succession plan might not be shared with others in the company/group.

            At this point it is a waiting game until the current manager leaves. As others have said, this might not happen as quickly as the OP expects.

          3. Stranger than fiction*

            That makes sense, but then why didn’t anyone think to clarify this with the Op before handing out the org chart?

        2. Kiryn*

          This is actually how “co-leads” were invented at my previous workplace. Our QA department needed a lead for a new project, and one tester was the favorite for the job, but his wife was pregnant and due to have a baby at more or less the same week that the project was scheduled to be released. It was decided that two co-leads would be hired to share the duties so that the second could take over seamlessly in the event that the first had to leave suddenly at a crucial time. This is how I ended up in the position. It actually worked really well for us, with him managing the team and schedule while I focused on the technical aspects. (And as expected, his wife had the baby, I kept the project running during launch, and I ended up being lead of the next project that was started up soon after.)

          It worked so well, in fact, that all future projects from that point on would have two people in charge rather than one — though by then it had morphed so that the “co-lead” who dealt with the technical stuff really should have more accurately been called an “assistant lead”. The position became strictly subordinate to the lead with less pay and fewer responsibilities, though there was a lot of turnover in our department, and being picked as the next co-lead usually guaranteed you a promotion to a lead position within a year.

          As far as HR was concerned, they were a “QA Specialist”, but in the local shorthand, it was always “my co-lead told me about x” or “my co-lead will be staying late tonight to help with y”. I’m sure the terminology there was confusing to people who were new to the company, but it was too hard to change at that point.

    2. Tobias Funke, Analrapist*

      I have been watching a “co-director” situation go up in flames for a while now. It reminds me of Scrubs and the co-chief resident, except worse.

      1. Hlyssande*

        I can’t do it all on my own, no I’m no, I’m no superman!

        Thanks for getting that song in my head again.

    3. Seal*

      Having been a co-lead years ago, I can assure everyone that it is a very bad idea. In my case the other co-lead was a lazy slob who went out his way to be everyone’s friend, while I wound up doing the bulk of the work. All of our employees hated me because I expected them to do things like show up for work on time and actually work while they were there; my co-lead laughed off absences and encouraged people to goof off on company time. Worse, our manager refused to believe there were any problems with that arrangement; he considered himself a visionary who wasn’t afraid to try new things, consequences be damned. To this day, the mere thought of co-leading a department give me palpitations.

      1. Artemesia*

        And if you think this is grim try co-authoring a book with someone who really doesn’t like to write.

        This is a fundamentally unworkable arrangement — and those people who are ‘planning to move on’ have a nasty habit of sticking around indefinitely. The OP got sold a bill of goods. It is also possible, although it doesn’t sound like it here, that the opinion of management about the OP’s future leadership role has changed when they got to know him on the job. I know we once hired someone with the idea that they would be taking over a major program in a few months when the team lead retired. Within two weeks, this person had convinced everyone that she would be the last person to put in charge.

        1. OP*

          It has felt like this from day 1, but was only made clear when the new org chart was released. I did speak to HR about it, as well as the co-manager (who is great by the way), and the issue is being looked into to. Ugh.

          1. Book Person*

            I’m glad they were at least open to “looking into” things? I hope that isn’t code at your office for “go away now, go away fast,” but otherwise at least it’s a start.

        2. Liane*

          “Those people who are ‘planning to move on’ have a nasty habit of sticking around indfinitely.”
          Some time ago, last year I think, we had a post about just this problem. The poster had taken a Co-leader position created because the incumbent was retiring in a few months, but was still there ages after that. In an update Poster wrote that the Co-leader fainally moved on but this was well over a year later.

    4. Al Lo*

      I was a co-manager for my first two years at my job. The job I applied for was actually an assistant position, but my qualifications were more in line with the management position, and my comanager was more comfortable sharing the load then actually supervising me. We managed a department, but didn’t really have direct reports on staff. I work for a nonprofit, so we supervised volunteers, and oversaw staff members, but they didn’t actually reports directly to us. It worked quite well. There were the occasional things that fell through the cracks with two people managing, but overall we worked very well together, and our styles complemented each other.

      He resigned a year ago now, and wasn’t replaced. Instead my company hired an assistant for me, and I manage the department myself. It’s smoother in many ways, and I do prefer it in general, but we were definitely functional and effective overall as co-managers.

      1. Monodon monoceros*

        It’s probably like most things, where if two reasonable people are involved, it can work (e.g., your situation). The problem is that it seems exceedingly hard to get two reasonable people in any given situation (e.g., most jobs I’ve had).

      2. OP*

        The co-manager is really great to work with onboard. She didn’t have anything to do with the new org chart. Ugh, this is a mess.

        1. Artemesia*

          I’ll have to say I am stunned with a plan to create a co-manager for someone leaving to have a child who is NOT EVEN PREGNANT. What were they thinking. She may never be pregnant; it may take years. If I were you I would be coming to terms with the fact that this was not a well thought out plan and you are highly likely not to be moving into this position.

          1. Sleepyhead*

            From a post the OP made up thread, it sounds like she was pregnant but miscarried or had complications that led to termination. OP said:

            “The co-manager is planning to start a family within the next year and move on. My position was originally posted because she thought this would happen sooner, but unfortunate events happened to in regard to her pregnancy.”

            1. Sleepyhead*

              Oops – saw another update and it appears the miscarriage happened before hiring took place. Very unfortunate handling of things.

    5. No Longer Passing By*

      I wonder how much OP’s own retinence to establishing himself/herself as a leader led to this. I don’t believe in co-anything unless it’s a job share but I have seen management implode when the new person becomes scared to manage. Im dealing with that right now with an employee who allowed her subordinates to believe that they’re equals by not stepping in and controlling when necessary. So my perception of that manager has changed greatly and I no longer view her as management. But I wouldn’t alert her by distributing a new organizational chart. That’s just foul

      1. OP*

        I think the opposite is true. I have come in and acted as a leader from day 1, and I fear that people who should be my peers think I have been overstepping my bounds. That makes it tough to do my job the right way when I am looked at as a subordinate to those I work with regularly.

        1. No Longer Passing By*

          Me projecting. You did the right thing by approaching HR about it. Your management team probably helped to diminish your authority before you arrived and, now that your co-manager had the unfortunate incident with her pregnancy, they may be second-guessing your role with the company. Either way, alarm bells are sounding. I believe that it’s so foul that they are marginalizing you publicly without even giving you prior notice. It’s a terrible way to manage

          1. OP*

            The thing that bothers me that the miscarriage and all that was already done and clear when I started interviewing. It did not change the job I was hired for. Between the interviews and me starting, no circumstances changed. I’m upset that I now need to be promoted into the role for which I was hired.

            1. Sleepyhead*

              I hope you’ll update us on the outcome. Sounds like a terrible mess of a situation.

        2. Finally Getting Out*

          I felt that awkward pressure of “why are you in charge” when I changed roles in my company. I joined what was realistically a one-person department, because that person wasn’t great at several aspects of the job. I was told (by my old department boss) that I would be in charge of the new department so I could guide the current employee into a role that fit his abilities. I took charge, but too gently, and when we hired a new operations manager, I was informed that I was supposed to be co-whatever with the existing employee, and that we were on the same level. I should have pushed back at that point. I muddled through until I moved out of state and happily went back to my old department, because that was easier to do remotely. You should definitely push for the job you thought you were getting if you still want it. Don’t just try to put up with it.

          Side note, the operations manager was a major factor that helped push me to get a local job. My last day at this one is in 2 weeks. :-)

  6. Cambridge Comma*

    #2, could you maybe stagger your working times with your colleagues to give you some time alone in the office? E.g. If they start at 9, you start at 7 and finish earlier?
    If working from home for an entire day is a no-no, how about leaving the office for a few hours and going to a quiet local space such as a public library to complete a defined piece of writing or other task that you can show to your boss when you get back? Not ideal, but maybe with time you can build up the trust that previous employees have damaged.

    1. Jeanne*

      Maybe she can sign up for the conference room every day like the workers in yesterday’s post. j/k Staggered hours might help.

  7. Lucy*

    #2, is your chronic medical condition something that impacts concentration/distractability, and if so could you request an ADA accommodation to help you focus, e.g. quieter working space?

    1. No Longer Passing By*

      I definitely thought that it was ADD/ADHD. You need to say something to management and to get an accommodation. This is affecting your ability to work!! [i hyperfocus so I’ve trained my staff to move me into other projects. Do what works for you].

    2. JHS*

      Came here to say the same thing. Also, working from home is definitely a reasonable accommodation under the ADA in this situation.

      1. Elysian*

        Working from home CAN be a reasonable accommodation. We don’t know enough about the OP or the OP’s job to claim that it IS – reasonable accommodations are all extremely situation dependent.

        1. JHS*

          While what you say is true, very few situations where working at home would not be one, if he actually qualifies under ADA.

          1. Elysian*

            I mean, I think think of a giant list of reasons working from home wouldn’t be a reasonable accommodation, so I don’t think it would be “very few”: If you’re a receptionist. If your job involves security and your company doesn’t already have a system for dealing with work-from-home and security issues. If you have to meet with clients. There are lots of reasons either (a) your job would need you to be in the office to do it successfully or (b) it would be an undue burden for your employer to set up a work from home system just for you. While these may not be issues for the OP, it doesn’t mean that work from home is automatically “a reasonable accommodation” under the ADA. Like I said: it is fact-dependent.

            1. JHS*

              Yes, but we’re talking about a specific situation, which is the OP’s. I understand the ADA quite well being a labor and employment attorney. Have a good weekend!

              1. Elysian*

                Great! Then we’re on the same page, since I am also a labor and employment attorney, and have seen work from home not be a reasonable accommodation on more than one occasion. Without knowing the OP’s situation in specificity, it just doesn’t seem right to advise the OP that work from home WOULD be a reasonable accommodation for her, because we just don’t know. Worth asking for though, if a disability is at issue!

    3. Op #2*

      Thank you for your suggestions. My medical condition is mostly physical in nature, though it makes me mentally foggy at times. No ADHD as far as I know. You bring up a good point about ADA I should look into. My job requires a lot of web work, writing, and attention to detail. I like the idea of working “elsewhere” nearby, but even then, it’s not the same as having a private space, quiet, and a desk to spread out on. The library is probably the closest I can get to that other than at home, so I appreciate that suggestion. Does anyone have experience sharing this personal of information with their boss to start the conversation? Did it make them think differently of you in a negative way?

      1. UKAnon*

        I know this may not be of much help to you now, but it seems that you are nervous/scared of talking to your boss about your condition (forgive me if I’ve misunderstood) so I just wanted to share something with you for the future. Somebody close to me has a medical condition which would have negligible but possibly obvious impact on their work and when they were job-hunting (from a role they knew they could stay in indefinitely and in a job-seeker’s industry, so I know it may not be as “easy” for everyone) they took the approach of simply being open in interview and explaining then asking how the company would help to accommodate. Undoubtedly they must have lost a couple of job offers through this approach, but they ended up accepting an offer from a company whose response in interview was “here’s the policies relevant to you, here’s the support we offer, it’s no big deal” which has been a huge bonus for them in working there.

        All of which is to say a) I hope that might help you in future job-hunting and b) I also hope it helps you raise this with your boss. We all know there are bad bosses out there, it’s why Alison exists. But there are some good ones too, and even mediocre ones won’t hold asking against you. Good luck.

      2. GOG11*

        I have gotten accommodations from my workplace for asthma (coincidentally, I do have ADHD which definitely impacts my focus, and received accommodations in college – I work at a University – but I haven’t brought that up). I emailed my boss and outlined the difficulty I was having and proposed a couple of potential solutions. None of those worked for my employer, but they came up with some ideas of their own. I tried those and they didn’t really work, but I ended up just going off of the combination of meds I was on so I could stand to do my job. At one point, I did get a note from my doctor stating that coming in contact with certain things significantly and negatively impacted my health, so I think that helped them understand the extent of the problems I was experiencing.

        TL;DR, I speak to your boss about the negative impact sharing the office is having on your ability to concentrate and get your work done. In that conversation, include potential solutions and, when applicable, how those solutions meet your needs and allow you to meet the company’s needs (by getting your work done). I got some good ideas from a website called askjan . org.

      3. LizNYC*

        Not to scare you off of sharing your medical info with your boss, but I have a similar condition. I have not told my bosses at either of my last two jobs for fear of being labeled “different.” At my current job, I’ve worked here long enough that they know my work product is good, so I’m less fearful, but I see no reason to let them know, since I outwardly look “OK” most of the time. I also know the pain of a shared office. Over time, my head stopped swiveling every time someone came by, but for writing, it is the worst :/

        Personally, I would:
        –Offer to work “shifted” hours (like an above commenter suggested)
        –Ask to WFH, but propose it be a 3-month trial to ensure it works for both sides. After 3 months, and assuming a positive review, would like the opportunity to expand to 2-3 days/week (I’m assuming they won’t go for 100% WFH.)
        –Offer to write a daily log of the projects you worked on to delivered via email to your boss the same day — like “WFH Day: –Drafted grant proposal for Company B –Uploaded new content to Website C –Confirmed with She-Ra about conference next week.”
        –Note that when you are WFH, coworkers can easily reach you through your landline(opt), cell or email (and then be super responsive to those). If you’re going out for lunch, you can shoot a quick email saying “out on my lunch hour. Will be back at 2 p.m. Call the cell for emergencies.”

        1. LizNYC*

          (forgot) Even if your boss understands about your condition and doesn’t treat you any differently, someone else at work might not. (Sorry for being a downer). I know at my office, even the smallest tidbit of news — the more “top secret/do not spread,” the better — spreads like butter on a hot stove.

  8. Not Today Satan*

    #2 ugh, I feel your pain. I have misophonia and am a highly sensitive person as well and really need some quiet (visual quiet as well) to concentrate. My last job had 6 people in an office and it was hell. At my new job I have an office and I love it so much. One day, I was moved to a cubicle so a visitor could use my office, and even though I’ve worked in cubes or shared offices my whole career, I was amazed at how distracting it was. I don’t know how anyone gets any work done in shared space.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      I’d kill for a cube the last three offices I’ve worked in are all open plan. I sit on a row of 4 desks that all run together.
      Each desk is about 125cm long, seriously I could reach out and tap either of my co-workers on the shoulder without moving.

    2. puddin*

      I just learned about misophonia last week and this is the fourth or fifth time someone has brought up since then!! Isn’t there a word for that phenomenon?

      1. Dawn*

        The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. Which, interestingly enough, I heard about for the first time last week and have run into a couple more times since then.

      2. Suo My Nona*

        I’ve never heard of Baader-Meinhof before; thanks for the new research term. I thought the word for this was synchronicity. Is it both? Is there a difference?

    3. Anonicorn*

      I completely sympathize with OP2 as well. Among other noises, people talking drives me out of mind but I realize it’s a perfectly reasonable thing that happens in the office, and my job is writing and paying attention to detail. (I’m starting to wonder if there’s a link between misophoniacs and writers or that ilk.) Sometimes I think deafness might be a sort of blessing, but headphones work nicely too.

      1. Mimmy*

        I wear hearing aids and have thought about turning them off if it got too noisy (I can still hear without them, but would need to strain). However, I’d be worried that I would miss someone trying to speak to me. Same with the headphones idea.

      2. Gladys*

        Personally, I would start looking for another job.

        The problem with headphones is that it gets uncomfortable using them all day. If the OP is someone that is sensitive to sound, light, etc., he/she may also be sensitive to appendages. I say this in all seriousness, in my last job I couldn’t use headphones for more than an hour or two at a time.

        Now I have a job that’s a little less glamorous, but I have an office with a door that I can close. Given the choice between decent job + privacy and sexy job + no privacy, I would choose decent.

      3. Talvi*

        Yeah, people talking drives me up the wall as well. I’m usually okay if I’m listening to music (of my choice, often movie soundtracks – radio is a nightmare), but conversation? There’s no way I’ll be able to concentrate. My brain seems to think that the conversation is the thing it should be focussing on…even when the language being spoken isn’t one I speak! (Tangentially, how people manage to fall asleep in front of the tv is mind-boggling to me! Again, it’s the conversation/people talking thing. I cannot tune it out no matter how hard I try…)

    4. Elizabeth West*

      I have a cube, but I’d love to have an office (I don’t merit one). My job involves a lot of editing and it’s SO hard to concentrate when people around me are on phone calls and/or having conversations. I don’t want to work from home all the time or I’d go stir crazy. So I have to use noise-reduction headphones and music to block it out. My headphones recently crapped out (I can’t afford the really nice ones). We got gift cards for Admin’s Day, so I’m going to use that to buy new ones.

  9. BRR*

    #2 I would try asking to work from home part time. There are several posts on here about doing it right. If your duties require concentration I think that might help. At my last job, the sole grant writer would often work from home as her job required concentration to write but everybody else wasn’t allowed to.

    I have to go over the usual aids just in case though. Have you tried a white noise machine? What type of headphones did you try? I’m also extremely distracted by sound, I have in-ear ones from sony that cost $15 at Target. Sometimes I put them in and don’t turn music on (music also distracts me), they just block out sound better than the drug store ear plugs I got. Next step is I’m tempted to buy the ones people use at shooting ranges.

    1. OP #2*

      I haven’t tried a white noise machine. I’ve been trying to keep the headphones on a yoga or spa Pandora station. I’m a little wary of going all out with larger headphones because then my boss would have to physically tap me on the shoulder or wave a hand in front of me to get my attention (my desk faces a wall with my back partially to the door — another thing that stinks). If I didn’t have a constant audience, I would love to wear the headphones at the shooting ranges ;)

      1. mskyle*

        If you’re concerned about people sneaking up on you while you have your headphones on, you could try putting a mirror behind your computer screen (although that also might be distracting depending on how much is going on behind you!). I used to do that in an office where I was facing the corner and one of my coworkers had a weird habit of standing silently behind me for as long as it took for me to turn around, until one day I blew up at him in a very unprofessional outburst :(

        1. mdv*

          I would have blown up at your coworker, too — standing behind you for a long time without saying anything is beyond creepy!

          1. Cath in Canada*

            I had someone once grab my chair and yank it backwards when I didn’t respond to his “hello” (I wear earbuds at work).

            I have a mirror on my monitor now.

      2. GOG11*

        I have shifted my work station so that I’m no longer facing out into the lobby of my building and I really wish offices had a visual door bell that could be installed, like someone could press a door bell type button that would turn on a light near me when they want my attention. I’ve developed noise blinders as a way to cope with the constant distractions and it can be difficult to get my attention with sound, but a light would work perfectly! If such a thing exists, perhaps that could be an option?

        1. BeenThere*

          Yes there are, there are plenty of light alarm/doorbells out there, look for something designed for the hearing impaired.

      3. Parfait*

        There are white noise apps if you have a smartphone, or there are white noise generating sites on the internets. I like simplynoise and noisli.

  10. Fish Microwaver*

    Did no one pick up that the discussion in #1 allegedly took place between the front desk person and a member of the HR team?

    1. No Longer Passing By*

      I did up thread. It’s sooooo bad And I hope that HR nipped it in the bud.

    2. Colette*

      The issue with overhearing conversations is that you don’t have the whole context. It’s possible that the HR person protested or talked with the offending employee but the OP didn’t hear that part of the conversation. It’s also possible she didn’t, which is one of the reasons speaking up is important.

    3. GigglyPuff*

      Yes. Reading through the comments, I’m really surprised no one discussed that it was the front desk person.

      1. k*

        I’m surprised no one wondered if the front desk person was talking about someone else to hr.

    4. nona*

      Yeah, I was pretty concerned about that.

      The company has established channels for reporting this sort of behavior (an anonymous hotline) as our (large, international) company specifically calls for nondiscrimination based on gender identity and has harassment policies in place

      But an HR person is having this conversation?

      Maybe that HR person talked to the front desk person about it. Still… um.

      1. nona*

        Failed italics. Let’s pretend the second paragraph has quote marks after the third word and at the end.

    5. Another HRPro*

      Exactly! If the HR person did not say something to the employee at the time, I really hope the OP reports the conversation and makes it known who the employee was talking to. HR people are subject to the same rules as everyone else and if this HR person did not stop this conversation in a way similar to how Alison recommended, that needs to be addressed as well.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Not only subjected to the same rules, but have responsibility to set an example.

  11. Allison*

    I know people have a right to their opinion, and we live in a country where the government can’t pass laws prohibiting you from sharing those opinions, but y’all, there are some things you just don’t say at work. You don’t say racist things, or transphobic things, or sexist things, or ableist things, or really any negative thing about any socially disenfranchised group of people. It’s probably best to just avoid discussing these hot button topics at work, you’re just asking for trouble.

    1. Sunflower*

      This is what confuses me the most about letters like this. I consider myself a pretty open person and respect every person’s right to an opinion but WHYYY do people feel the need to say controversial things at work? What is the point? I’m all about having open conversations about controversial issues but not in the work place. I already have enough problems trying to work with my co-workers on actual work related issues!!

      1. Sunflower*

        FWIW I’m confused by why people(like the coworker) say the things they say, not why the OP is writing in

      2. Helka*

        It kind of ties in with one of the reasons why it’s really important to stomp on this kind of thing when it does pop up — for whatever reason, they don’t think that what they’re saying is unacceptable. They expect that whoever they’re talking with is going to sympathize and agree. And the more people do say it, the more it becomes an acceptable thing to say in that environment.

      3. Allison*

        Some people seem to get a kick out of saying things they know people don’t agree with. They like getting people riled up, they live for the chance to debate people – oh, sorry, the chance to “engage in an intelligent, spirited discussion with people of opposing viewpoints.” It makes them feel powerful and smart and important. My guess is they do it at work because they can’t do it anywhere else – maybe the people they live with have already put the kibosh on it, or they live alone, and maybe their hate speech already drove away their friends. Sure, they could say it online, but there’s something extra exciting about saying it out loud and seeing the look on people’s faces. You did that, you shocked that person. Yeah, that’ll show the mean, mean world with its rules and its PC police!

        At least, that’s what I think is going on here.

          1. AnonAnalyst*

            Yeah, I think there is also a sub-segment that genuinely believes that most people agree with them so what they’re saying isn’t offensive or controversial and there’s thus no need to filter it in certain contexts. In my experience, these are the ones that get really nasty when confronted. It’s like they’re disappointed to discover you’re one of “the enemy.”

        1. I'm a Little Teapot*

          So, basically meatspace trolls?

          I’ve known a fair number of people like that and your observation that it “makes them feel powerful and smart and important” is spot-on. Also, it makes them feel ~brave~ and ~special~, like they’re some kind of lone hero standing up against the world.

  12. Shortie*

    #1 – I like Alison’s advice to speak directly with the person first and gauge how that goes before deciding whether to formally report. Additionally, I would clearly separate the issues so you two don’t end up arguing about whether transitioning people should receive courage awards. :-) It is fine for the co-worker to have an opinion about who should or shouldn’t receive an award; it is NOT fine to call someone a freak. (I realize the award rumor is false, but the person might be focused on that anyway since she is human and may want to call attention away from the “freak” comment.)

  13. Copper*

    I have a question related to #1; is there an appropriate way to deal with coworkers who aren’t necessarily consciously transphobic, but just… kinda ignorant about trans issues? I overheard a group of older coworkers discussing Caitlyn Jenner the other day, and while they didn’t say anything as overtly mean as “freak,” they kept referring to her as “Bruce” and “he/him.” As a trans person myself, this bothers me, but at the same time I don’t think it’s quite appropriate to give these people a lesson on trans politics in the workplace. Should I just try to let it go?

    1. Tagg*

      If you feel comfortable with it, I would absolutely say something. It can be as simple as, “Hey guys, I heard you talking about Caitlyn Jenner yesterday, and I just wanted to point out that she uses female pronouns and doesn’t go by “Bruce” anymore.”

      A lot of times, comments like that really do come from a place of ignorance, not deliberate hate. And nine times out of ten, people will be like “Oh! I didn’t know, sorry.” If no one tells them they’re doing something incorrectly, they’ll never know.

      That being said, if you don’t feel comfortable, you absolutely don’t have to take this upon yourself.

    2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      ugh, I’m sorry.

      I’ll give you my two cents and take that for what it is worth, two pennies only.

      I think it’s probably too much to ask your coworkers to only refer to Caitlyn as Caitlyn and as “she”. If you feel comfortable enough to have an educational conversation, I guess why not, but they might hear you out and still choose to call her Bruce. For older people especially, that’s a big change to an all american sports icon.

      If the conversation bothers you and it’s overheard again, I think explaining how it is hard for you to overhear is fair. I’d hope what they would say next is “I’m sorry, wasn’t thinking, understood.” You’re not asking them to change something deeply held, just to not discuss it where it can be distressing to you.

      Is my two penny thoughts.

      1. Tagg*

        Depending on the situation, though, it might be difficult to explain why it’s hard to overhear. For example, I am genderqueer, but due to the conservative nature of my employment, I present as traditionally female while at work. I’m fairly open about my beliefs on gender issues with most of my coworkers, but I don’t get into the “why” of it.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*


          As a run of the mill cis woman, I can think of half a dozen situations where I’d feel comfortable saying something and half a dozen where I’d just let it slide. I can’t project the extent of “more complicated” that would come from being trans or gender queer myself.

    3. Steve G*

      I think you should let it go. Your being transgender is a different thing than Jenner. You are right there in person if front of your coworkers. Jenner has been a public figure since the 70s as an athlete, and in recent years did 7 seasons of reality TV in Keeping up with the Kardashians. It’s going to take people more than a few weeks to start referring to him/her as a new name. It’s not insensitive for people to still think Jenner is a guy, this is the first time people seeing Jenner as a woman. You need to give people time.

      I am surprised how quick the word “transphobic” was used during this story, I saw it used in comments to the very first Caitlin Jenner articles where people asked questions made comments. Part of people coming to accept this is that they are going to ask questions/make comments that people who are aware of trans issues and the sex change process are going to find dumb. If they don’t ask questions or raise the issue at all, they aren’t really going to learn about the process. And in the long run, you probably don’t want people to just say “great, I accept it,” without really knowing what “it” is, besides a change in appearance. You actually want them to know what is involved in the change, and it’s a learning process.

      Also, there are just the logistics of a celebrity changing their name. The name is going to take longer to stick than if a person close to you changed their name. I mean, did Prince becoming the man-formerly-known-as-Prince really stop people from calling him Prince?

      1. LBK*

        We don’t have enough context in this particular story, but I’ve seen a lot of comments on my Facebook and heard them elsewhere about people who are deliberately still using he/Bruce. While I agree there’s certainly a lot of ignorance about this topic still (I only know most of what I do because I’ve done research and talked with a trans friend that was comfortable answering questions for me) there are also plenty of people who know they’re using the wrong pronoun/name and don’t care because they think being trans is stupid/fake/a mental disorder/wrong/etc.

      2. Elizabeth*

        did Prince becoming the man-formerly-known-as-Prince really stop people from calling him Prince?

        He didn’t. His record company did. They had legal rights to the name, and when he ceased his association with them to sign with another company, they kept the name. He recently was able to get the rights to the name back, so he is once again Prince. And yes, if someone used Prince to refer to him publicly and they found out, they got a legal smackdown.

          1. Elizabeth*

            He wasn’t exactly forthcoming to the public when it all happened, because he was apparently quite angry about it . It has only really since he got his name back that he’s talked about it.

        1. Ad Astra*

          Isn’t Prince his legal first name? I would be heated if someone tried to tell me I couldn’t go by my actual name because I changed record companies.

      3. Zillah*

        Your being transgender is a different thing than Jenner.

        Sure, but from the way you’re talking, each trans* person exists in their own special little bubble, independent of each other and the rest of the world. That’s not the way it works, and Copper isn’t grasping at straws in being bothered by this. If someone at my work repeatedly made comments about how Robin Williams was weak for suffering from depression (for example), they’re talking about him, not me, but I’m still going to be bothered by what they’re saying as a person who suffers from depression.

        I think that you’re also not getting the fact that while educating people about these issues is absolutely important, it can be very exhausting to have to play the role of the patient teacher all the time, and not everyone has the energy to do so, particularly given the frequency with which they’re met with hostility. It can also be doubling intimidating to do so in the workplace.

        1. Steve G*

          I was talking about the difference between familiar-person-in-real-life vs. a celebrity you most likely will never meet and have 0% investment in, and may not even know well.

    4. Traveler*

      I wouldn’t let it go, but I would see how long it persists. When it’s come up in conversation, I’ve accidentally said “he” and “Bruce”. I’ve corrected myself immediately but even as someone who knows better and tries to do better, I’ve been making mistakes.

      As far as them being older, I don’t think we should just let that be a pass. I think it should still be addressed. It may go nowhere, but I know I feel better at the end of the day for having attempted to correct it. It gives them a fair chance to correct their behavior if they are indeed ignorant.

    5. Ad Astra*

      This depends a lot on your relationship with your coworkers. Do they know you’re trans? If they know you’re trans and use the correct pronouns for you, it could be an easy paralell to draw.

      If not, you might try explaining that trans people prefer to be called a certain name with certain pronouns, and the polite thing to do is call people what they want to be called. Just like it would be rude to call someone Margaret if they ask to be called Peggy. It doesn’t matter that you *know* the name on her birth certificate is Margaret; you let people define their own identities. That sort of explanation has helped me a bit with my in-laws.

      1. Tagg*

        That’s a very good way to explain it. Especially since there are two Margaret/Peggys in my family, including my great-great-grandmother (95 and still sharp as a tack!)

        1. Steve G*

          But then again you are a real person to your coworkers, as would be the Margaret/Peggy combo. Jenner is just some celebrity that most people that most people are going to forget about very soon anyways after the media shock about her transition is over and she no longer appears on Kartrashians. I think addressing it is just going to elicit a “I don’t care what she calls herself” type response, and is just going to frustrate you.

          1. Tagg*

            Celebrities are human too, they’re not just concepts that float about in some astral plane.

            Yes, they are put up on pedestals, but at the end of the day, Caitlyn is a living, breathing, thinking, feeling human being and deserves to be treated as such.

            1. LBK*

              I understand Steve’s point, though – that for a lot of people, celebrities DO kind of float in an astral plane. The odds that anyone involved will ever have to speak to Caitlyn Jenner face to face are low. It’s not the same as someone you know personally standing in front of you asking you to call them by a certain name or pronoun.

              Knowing someone personally who’s LGBT is far and away the most impactful way people’s opinions about LGBT people are turned. While I think a high profile figure like Caitlyn Jenner absolutely does a lot to create safe space and confidence for trans people, I think the number of people that were deeply transphobic before she came out isn’t going to change much. They’ll just turn to hating her rather than turning to realizing that trans people are just people.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        That’s a great way to explain it. I might have to try that with someone who insists on calling me by my first name even though I haven’t used it in years. It always rankles me that she doesn’t make the effort.

        1. mdv*

          I agree! Although my problem is the opposite — people shorten my name into all sorts of nicknames without bothering to ask if I have a preference. For example, when I was 20, I had a boyfriend who insisted on calling me “Maggie” instead of my similar-to-Margaret name, and introduced me to people that way. Now, I am still friends with one of those people (although not him), and I finally said to her “hey, you know, I never went by that name, would you mind using my actual name?” She was quite embarrassed, and does.

    6. LMW*

      I’m with the people who say that if you feel comfortable, a gentle lesson would hurt. I think it’s important to remember that this brand new language for most people — until very recently, I doubt most people have had a conversation where they’ve even had to consider how to refer to a trans person before. It’s going to take a while for the right language to become commonplace knowledge, so if you feel you’re up to being a teacher, you’d be helping make it more common — but it’s also fine to decide that it’s not your job to educate the masses. Unless they really veer into the negative though, I’d try to keep in mind that lack of awareness doesn’t necessarily mean lack of respect or compassion, just for your own sake and sanity — I have to remind myself of that sometimes so I don’t get internally ragey when people say dumb stuff.

  14. AndersonDarling*

    #5 We have “mandatory” meetings at my org, but people who work the prior shift are excused. When I started, I thought it was strange when a person would be recognized at the meeting and their manager would stand up and say “they are sleeping now.” It took awhile to realize that is the nature of on-call positions and everyone respects that people need to sleep.
    We also have a car service for employees to call if they have been working long hours and don’t feel safe driving themselves home.
    OP, I hope you can press this issue. Management may not realize what they are asking of their staff. Or ask if there is a dark corner where you can sleep at the meeting because you cannot stay awake 20 hours.

  15. I'll Say What I Want*

    #1….as someone who was accidentally HR for 3 years, I learned that HR ladies make some of the most inappropriate comments themselves. Sadly I’m sure the HR person they were talking to wasn’t even phased by the comments. Like I said, I spent 3 years cringing as I heard HR ladies make sexual comments about male employees in other departments (fire men) and use the term “retarded” on the regular.

  16. The Cosmic Avenger*

    OP #5, can you suggest that the awards be held multiple times, once for each shift? Maybe you can explain to management how that would make the employees feel much more appreciated and looked out for than any award!

  17. bopper*

    We just moved from 2 person offices to completely open plan (no cubicles)…but there are quiet rooms if you need to work in quiet or “telephone booths”. Also my boss is flexible so I work from home 2 days a week.

  18. Ad Astra*

    Can I just point out one thing about bigoted language? Comments that are transphobic, homophobic, racist, or sexist aren’t just “offensive,” they’re hurtful. The people you say bigoted things about are real human beings, who want the same safety and comfort you want, and these comments cause real damage.

    Odors are offensive. The f-word is offensive. Lawyer jokes are offensive. Hateful comments are hurtful. (This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t describe bigotry as offensive, just that there’s more to it than that.)

    1. neverjaunty*


      I mean if somebody tells lawyer jokes, I can reply with “thanks for making sure you’ll never get free legal help from me” and that usually results in an outpouring of apology (because nobody likes to give up the opportunity to mooch), but it’s also not like lawyers face actual discrimination in this country. Nobody throws their kid out on the street for wanting to go to law school. Nobody decides lawyers need “corrective” rapes or beatings, nobody tries to forcibly convert lawyers to accountants with “pray the JD away” therapy, nobody put lawyers in chains.

      Free speech doesn’t have to mean “say whatever damn fool thing pops into your head, even at work”.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Free speech doesn’t have to mean “say whatever damn fool thing pops into your head, even at work”.

        If you put this on a t-shirt, I would buy it and wear it.

    2. Colette*

      I’m not sure hurtful is a helpful way to think about this in the workplace (although I agree that that type of language is hurtful). People are hurt when their coworkers ask them to turn down the radio or turn up the thermostat or get to meetings on time or a million other things. That doesn’t mean their coworkers should stop that behaviour.

      If a reasonable person is offended, on the other hand, the behaviour needs to stop.

      1. ITPuffNStuff*

        very reasonable people are often offended for reasons not related to the present circumstances. i subscribe to the notion that the feelings triggered by our present situation have more to do with who we are and where we’ve been than what the present situation is. this is why i see different people in similar situations experience very different feelings.

        in any case, who defines what is “reasonable”? is there any way that can be made objective? if the definition is subjective, which subjective definition do we choose? is it just majority rule? given that history is rife with circumstances wherein the majority was composed primarily of bigots, i’m not comfortable with attempts to label things “right” or “wrong” based on subjective presumptions of what is “reasonable”.

    3. Helka*

      Yes, thank you.

      I see a lot of people talking about how someone “decides” to be offended, but you’ve hit the nail on the head — no one gets to decide whether or not something hurts. You can’t just determine that a punch feels like a tickle, and having bigoted, hateful comments flooding the place you spend 40 hours a week trying to earn a living means pretty much living in a state of quiet pain.

      I had that experience a few jobs ago; our universally-loathed boss came out as gay, and my coworkers seemed to feel that “he’s an incompetent, inconsiderate jackash” and “he’s gay” were pretty much identical statements, and the “vent about Jerkboss” chats turned into “heaping piles of homophobic gossip” chats. Well, I wasn’t Jerkboss, but I sure am gay. A conversation about “oh my god Jerkboss is such a nincompoop” had me nodding in agreement. A conversation about “ugh ugh remind me to never ever work with anyone gay again, they’re terrible, just look at Jerkboss” told me to never trust these people with any information about myself.

      1. ITPuffNStuff*

        you’re absolutely right that you can’t choose what feelings are triggered by your circumstances (whether those circumstances include others’ behavior or not), but we all must choose what we do with those feelings. one of the hardest things to learn (and i’m terrible at it — but slowly improving) is to choose to do something positive with those negative feelings.

        understand, none of this is intended to justify or defend knowingly triggering negative feelings in others. we must all be responsible for our choices, and that includes choosing not to deliberately inflict pain upon others. with that said, there will be times when a person demands you do something / refrain from doing something in order to make them comfortable, and you choose not to respect their wishes. depending on the context and how reasonable the request is, sometimes not respecting their wishes is still a completely productive choice. put differently, only a complete doormat complies with *everyone’s* wishes, and doormats may respect the needs of others, but they don’t respect their own.

  19. An Alternative Question*

    Are you positive that the conversation was on Caitlyn’s transition and not the fact that she recently killed someone in a traffic accident?

    1. Kelly L.*

      Because “freak” is the insult you usually use when you want to criticize someone’s driving?

        1. Zillah*

          Seriously? I have literally never heard “freak” used to describe someone who killed someone in a traffic accident, and I’ve frequently heard it to describe trans* people in particular and queer people in general.

        2. Tara*

          “Freak” has been applied to trans people for *decades*. It goes right alongside the “it” pronouns and idea of the average trans woman as the killer from Silence of the Lambs.

    2. ITPuffNStuff*

      i guess this is a tangent, but the wording here makes the collision sound deliberate, or at least extremely negligent (as would be the case if a DUI were involved).

      the details are not super clear about what exactly happened, other than jenner drove the 3rd (rear-most) vehicle in a 3-vehicle rear-end collision. granted, those facts alone do stand pretty strongly against jenner, but we don’t know all the details and the investigation is ongoing.

      if there’s any takeaway from something like this, it’s don’t drive an escalade as if it were a civic. the stopping distance just isn’t there. you need a huge following distance with that much mass, particularly on wet roads. the rule of thumb i suggest to most people is that at highway speeds, 1 second of following distance per 1000 lb of vehicle, which means an escalade should be 6 seconds back. i know this is 3 times the “2 second rule” most people are familiar with, but the reality is the 2 second rule sets the same following distance for every vehicle, ignoring the gross disparities in different vehicles’ stopping distances. of course, keeping your tires correctly inflated, and replacing them before the tread is too shallow, is equally critical. ABS and airbags are wonderful things, but grippy tires and your own good judgment are still your most important safety features.

    1. Kelly L.*

      My point is, it’s not an insult people generally use when they’re talking about driving. It’s an insult people use when they find someone “icky,” and often has a sexual connotation.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        Exactly. I’ve heard people talk about car accidents plenty of times, and I’ve heard them say all kinds of bad things about the driver who caused the accident they were speaking of, but I’ve never heard them describe the driver as a “freak” unless they were talking about something else other than causing the accident. That’s not a word people commonly use for that purpose. If you hear someone say X caused a car accident and X is a freak, you don’t think the speaker is saying X is a freak because X caused the car accident.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, and given that people regularly use “freak” as a slur toward transgender people and rarely toward drivers caused accidents, that seems like a bit of a stretch.

        2. Kelly L.*

          I guess maybe An Alternative Question is confused about the term “freak accident”? If that’s the case, then to clarify, a “freak accident” is not an accident caused by an unusual person, but an unusual accident that could not have been predicted or prevented. Like having an anvil fall on your head or something.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            Yes, exactly.

            Now, if I heard that anyone–celebrity or otherwise–had been in a car accident caused by a falling anvil that appeared seemingly out of of nowhere, then even though that’s not work-related, I’d very much want to hear about it. And yeah, they could call that a freak accident.

  20. Observer*

    I haven’t read the comments yet, so it’s quote possible that someone has said this alradey:

    Re: “Staff appreciation”. This reads like “The beatings will continue till morale improves.”

  21. Rebecca*

    #1 made me remember something that happened years ago. I was in the break room at work and so was one other woman. I was a manager, but she didn’t report to me. She and I were friendly enough, I always thought she was pleasant and we exchanged small talk and work-related talk when needed. Well, the tv was on and I forget what show it was, but it was talking about a gay couple and the woman remarked (to no one in particular), “Oh, that’s disgusting.” I was really just so shocked that she held such a bigoted belief that I didn’t know what to say or if I should, so I stayed quiet and then left the room shortly thereafter so I wouldn’t hear anything else she said about it.

    Thinking back, I wish I had said something to her, even if it was just, “Wow.” I don’t think I would have changed her mind on the topic, but I think I should have made it clear that saying something hateful like that was not ok.

    Somewhat related, after I left that job I became Facebook friends with another manager. (I don’t friend anyone on FB that I work with unless we are friends outside of work, but sometimes I’ll use it to stay in touch with former coworkers.) Again, she was perfectly pleasant and we worked really well together but WOW she posted some bigoted things! Anti-gay, racist (including using the n-word), I was so shocked! I unfriended her almost immediately.

      1. Zillah*

        While I understand the point of the article, I also think that you’re massively oversimplifying a pretty complicated issue – and you’re also making the assumption that Rebecca is heterosexual, which is a bit of a leap. I also think that the first comment to the article is absolutely on target.

        1. You can do better*

          No one is saying that engaging with racists on Facebook is a magical cure for racism, but it’s a far cry better than doing nothing, which is what unfriending is.

          1. Zillah*

            I disagree with your premise and think that you’re oversimplifying something quite complicated. That said, I don’t want to get into this, because it’s a complete deviation from the letter.

          2. Cath in Canada*

            Is unfriending someone really “doing nothing”? I’d equate “doing nothing” in the Facebook context to be more like unfollowing someone so that you don’t see their posts but they don’t know it, or simply ignoring them. Maybe not everyone would notice if someone unfriended them, but plenty of other people sure would, and to some it would be A Big Deal that makes a statement.

            Not on the same level as racism, like, at all, but: I’ve unfriended someone who’s a recreational arguer, because I find confrontation stressful, to be reserved only for when it’s really important, and he would confront everyone about every single thing they posted, just for the fun of it. He definitely noticed when I unfriended him, and I told him to his face why I did it. Other people in the same group of friends/acquaintances have said to me that they’re glad I did it – they want to unfriend him too but are worried that he’ll confront them about it!

            I’ve unfollowed other people whose endless anti-vax posts were pissing me off; I tried arguing with them at first, but it didn’t make an iota of difference to their views or to the frequency of their posts. I simply removed the aggravation from my newsfeed without potentially harming my husband’s decades-long friendship with this person’s husband, which might have happened if I’d unfriended her.

            TL;DR – too much Facebook drama in my life, apparently.

          3. Kyrielle*

            If you have the strength to deal with it, that’s a great thing to do, especially if you know the person and think your words might even influence them.

            But there’s no *obligation* to endure a barrage of negativity in order to reply.

            Also, bear in mind that replying will surface those hateful things for all your friends – so you’re adding to their stress loads. (Although if you have a few recreational arguers on your list, that can really get going….)

      2. Kelly L.*

        Why would she want to stay friends with her? We can always choose whether someone has crossed a line beyond which we don’t want to associate with them.

        1. You can do better*

          Because Rebecca has the opportunity to engage her horrible Facebook acquaintance, and maybe, just maybe, make her less horrible.

  22. illini02*

    What’s interesting about the Caitlyn Jenner topic is that as a society we are quite selective about what is approrpriate when. I can guarantee that if someone was overheard calling Tom Cruise crazy or a freak for his Scientology beliefs, this wouldn’t be generating the same amount of passion. People wouldn’t be calling the offender a bigot. But fundamentally they are the same thing right? But today we decide that the Caitlyn Jenner issue is super offensive. Let me be clear, I’m not at all condoning what this person said. I just think people pick and choose what issues to be mad at

    1. LBK*

      There is a world of difference between criticizing someone for choosing to join a dangerous cult and criticizing someone for their gender identity.

      1. illini02*

        To them its a religion though. I’m not a scientologist and don’t pretend to understand it. But not understanding a religion doesn’t mean its ok to openly mock it. But fine, lets not say scientology. If someone was overheard somewhere (outside of Utah where there are many) mocking the Mormon beliefs or saying how ridiculous the people are on Sister Wives, I still don’t think there would be this level of outrage.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Power and oppression are not irrelevant here. Scientologists are hugely well-financed, which means they don’t exactly lack power. And they’re not being beaten, raped, or killed for being Scientologists. The same is not true of more oppressed groups. Those differences matter.

          1. illini02*

            So with the mormon thing I mentioned. Its ok then to mock the religion of rich people, but not minorities? I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to justify anything, to me its just that wrong is wrong, so to try to put conditions on the fact that its “more wrong” to mock one group that you don’t understand but less so to mock another group because they aren’t targeted just seems kind of hypocritical.

            1. Ad Astra*

              It certainly wouldn’t be ok to mock Mormonism at work, though, regardless of what you think about their religion. And the folks on Sister Wives are part of a religion that’s not affiliated with the LDS church.

            2. Zillah*

              No one should be mocked at work for belonging to a certain group.

              A good rule of thumb in general, thought: You can punch up. You shouldn’t punch down.

              1. ITPuffNStuff*

                seems this rule of thumb could carry some unintended / unanticipated consequences. a better rule may be just to avoiding punching altogether.

                the problem with ‘punching up’, and presuming it’s safe to do so, is that you can never really be sure if you are, in fact, punching up. for example, going after a middle-aged white heterosexual male should be fine, right? this is presumably a person who has lived a life of advantages and privileges not shared by women and minorities, so they should be able to suck it up and deal with whatever you throw at them. unfortunately, this approach carries 2 distinct disadvantages:

                1. you may discover too late you were actually punching down. you don’t really know that person’s circumstances. maybe he’s an adult victim of childhood sexual abuse. maybe he’s been homeless or a drug addict. maybe he’s clawed his way out of poverty. maybe he is going through a divorce and about to lose both his family and his home. maybe he is dealing with severe physical or mental health problems. it’s never fun to listen to people lecture you about all of the unfair advantages they presume that you’ve enjoyed, particularly if the real picture of your experiences has been far bleaker than they presume.

                2. even if you really are punching up, there’s an implication that a person who enjoys privileges must trade the basic dignity and consideration to which all human beings are supposed to be entitled.

          2. CA Admin*

            Good lord, how many times do we need to have this conversation? Power and privilege matter. Context matters. These incidents don’t happen in a vacuum and shouldn’t be treated as if they do.

            It seems like every single time one of these discussions comes up, you feel the need to play devils advocate and try and rationalize the whole thing. I’m not sure if you actually believe what you argue (and have just ignored the dozens of times you’ve had these concepts explained to you by people much more patient than I) or you’re just doing it to piss people off.

            Bottom line: by pursuing this line of drivel every time one of these issues comes up, you contribute to the toxicity and bigotry in our culture. You’re saying that your right to make a bad argument is more important than others’ feelings.

            Personally, I’m sick of it.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I don’t think we’ll ever reach a point where these discussions don’t happen here, because the mix of people here is always changing. It can feel like “ugh, why we do have to cover this again?” (on many topics, not just this one), but it’s often incredibly useful for people who didn’t see the earlier discussions.

              That said, when a particular commenter is causing the same points to be rehashed over and over each time, that draws a disproportionate amount of people’s energy and has a disproportionate impact on the feel of the comments section.

              illini02, given that you know what the answers will be in response to these comments and questions because you’ve engaged on the same topic frequently here in the past, I’m going to ask that you remove yourself from discussions here about power and privilege. At this point it’s just causing the same points to go round and round, and it’s not productive.

              1. illini02*

                Fine. Its your blog, you do what you like. This comment probably won’t even get posted. But the problem I see, and that many of these people getting all pissy are avoiding, is that I’m NOT saying anything is ok in these situations. Just because I don’t see something as black and white and others do doesn’t make my view invalid. I’m just pointing out a pattern. I do have to say though, that to tell a black person that his views on racism aren’t allowed because they don’t line up with the mock outrage other groups feel “for” my group seems a bit ridiculous. Also, lets be real, I NEVER personally attack people on here, just speak my mind. However you seem to have no problem letting people hurl all kinds of insults at me because we have different points of view. If you want a place with civil conversation, maybe enforce it both ways.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I don’t see people hurling insults at you (but I also don’t read every comment so it’s possible I’ve missed something; if you point something specific out to me, I’ll take a look). And I don’t think your views are invalid, far from it. The issue is solely that you’re causing the same points to be rehashed over and over, with basically the same group of people, as with gender a year ago, and it’s having a disproportionate impact on the site. As much as I appreciate discussions with dissenting viewpoints, I am not willing to allow one person to have such a dramatic impact on every thread where issues of power and privilege come up.

                  Ultimately my priority is the site as a whole, and at this point I’m making the call that this is hurting more than enhancing it.

    2. Helka*

      Oh my god, can we stop with this idea that people decide whether or not to be offended? As opposed to… you know… being hurt by things that are hurtful?

      1. illini02*

        People do decide to be offended. Thats why as a black man some things that offend some other black people don’t bother me. I don’t tell them they are wrong for being offended, nor should they tell me I’m wrong for not being offended. But you choose how you react to things. Period.

        1. neverjaunty*

          “But you choose how you react to things” – which has absolutely nothing to do with how the workplace should react to things, and nothing to do with whether certain behavior or comments are or aren’t OK in the workplace.

          1. illini02*

            I never said it was ok in the work place. I do think though that you CHOOSE whether to be offended by something. Whether or not its appropriate for it to be said at work is a completely different thing. I’m black. My best friend is white. We make pretty racially charged jokes at each other. I don’t find it offensive. That doesn’t mean that if we worked together I would think its ok for him to say at work. Very different things.

            1. Helka*

              You’re still not addressing the “choosing” part, though. Things that are not offensive from one person are offensive from another, for a whole host of reasons including place, comfort, friendship, etc, because context can matter. That doesn’t mean that when your boss makes a racist joke, you don’t experience any emotions about it until you’ve sat back and pondered and gone “Hmm, was that offensive? I don’t know, I like Boss, but he didn’t give the raise I want… ah yes, I think I shall find that offensive and hurtful today!” At least, I highly doubt it.

              1. illini02*

                I’ve addressed the “choosing” part. You just didn’t like my answer. When there are jokes, comments, whatever made, I choose whether or not I will find them offensive. You are correct that it varies from person to person. I don’t tell people they are wrong to be offended, but its not an automatic response.

            2. neverjaunty*

              If some random drunk dude takes a swing at somebody who turns out to be The Rock, it’s not going to go well for random drunk dude, and the chances of The Rock actually getting hurt are near zero. That changes nothing about the fact that the guy took a swing at him and tried to hurt him. If the dude tried to excuse himself by saying “but I didn’t manage to connect!” or “he’s such a good fighter, there’s no way I could have hit him unless he LET me hit him!”, nobody would buy that nonsense for a minute.

              So I’m not really following the ‘choose to be offended’ argument in this context. It’s a distraction from the issue of whether certain behavior is OK.

    3. AnonAcademic*

      Scientologists are not as sympathetic as trans* folk but mocking Cruise’s religion would indeed be workplace inappropriate. The difference to me is that Scientologists are actually a fairly privileged group monetarily and don’t get murdered for their religion, whereas trans* folks are legitimately targeted for hate grimes often. So yeah, the trans* issue holds more gravity to me.

    4. illini02*

      Let me be clear, I’m not saying ANY of this is ok. Its just that people really do choose what causes are worthy of outrage and which ones are just more of an eyeroll. For example. If someone in an office asked a black person where the best fried chicken in the city was, that would be met with far more outrage than someone asking an Asian person if they knew the best place for sushi. Neither is more or less racist, but in many situations the question toward the black person would be met with far more disapproval.

      1. Helka*

        Because the ‘fried chicken’ stereotype is couched in specifically derogatory stereotypes (iirc the first time it was made a “Thing” was in Birth of a Nation) whereas Asian people -> sushi, while also stereotypical, isn’t derogatory in the same way, I would guess.

        1. illini02*

          I’m black and I love fried chicken. Every black person I know loves fried chicken (in fact, I know very few people in general that don’t like it). So to me, while I get that its a supposedly harmful stereotype, I don’t get why that is. Honestly, if you asked a person of Korean descent about good sushi I think that would be more of a harmful stereotype. But its just not treated that way because as a society we have decided that stereotyping certain groups is “worse” than stereotyping others, even if they are essentially the same as in this example.

          1. AnonAcademic*

            The oppression Olympics are a game everyone loses. I don’t see the point in trying to keep score here other than some sort of resentment over trans* issues being at the forefront of the current discussion.

            1. illini02*

              Where do you get resentment? I’m all about equality for everyone, I just made a comment that its interesting what people choose to make a big deal of and what things they decide are ok because they aren’t harmful.

              1. CA Admin*

                Because there are people who feel like they’ve got to play devil’s advocate or explain why the OPs shouldn’t be offended. It’s tiring, especially when it’s always the same people doing it.

                1. CA Admin*

                  @Katie the Fed

                  God, I am so sick of this nonsense. This guy has been pursuing these same bullshit arguments about how context doesn’t/shouldn’t matter when dealing with racism/sexism/etc. for years now. It got so bad, Alison had to ask him to take a break and change his name because his old username became synonymous with “I like to argue with women”.

                  Well, dude’s back to his old tricks and it makes me wonder whether he’s dense or just likes pissing people off.

                2. CA Admin*


                  Haha! Yes, I love XKCD so much.


                  Thanks. I’m happy to engage with new people on these topics, but was getting frustrated with how a single commenter was causing all this angst. I appreciate the culture you’ve fostered here of inclusion and exploring difficult topics, while also trying to maintain a space free from racism/sexism/homophobia/transphobia/etc. It’s one of my favorite places on the internet!

                3. LizB*

                  @CA Admin

                  Whoa, it’s the same person as before with a different name? That makes everything make so much more sense.

          2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            Here’s a Quora the addresses a lot of your question:

            “The first wide-scale* racist depiction of blacks and fried chicken was in Birth of a Nation, a 1915 Ku Klux Klan propaganda film.”


            There’s loaded, really loaded, and then really really really loaded.

            p.s. who doesn’t like fried chicken? Lilly white as they come and I can tell you where the best fried chicken is in my area. I wouldn’t think twice about getting in a fried chicken conversation with anyone at work, black or white, but I’m not going to go up to a black person (out of the blue) and ask if they are bringing fried chicken to the office pot luck. (Unless I’m an idiot . Who also thinks blackface Halloween costumes are cool, what’s the big deal man? )

            1. Ad Astra*

              It’s so odd that this stereotype has persisted when pretty much everyone loves fried chicken.

          3. LBK*

            There’s a lot more context to what you’re discussing than just something as simple as associating a race with a food, though. For one thing, the fried chicken stereotype is part of a larger caricature of black people that’s used to mock and demean the race as a whole. It’s one element that’s used to paint a stereotype of black people that’s then associated to being rowdy, unlawful, uncivilized, etc.

            There’s also a lot more historical context in the US for black vs white than other races vs white – we definitely haven’t always treated Asian people well either (definitely not during WWII) but discrimination against black people has been entrenched in the entirety of US history. Our only major conflict was fought largely for the rights of black people. Our biggest civil rights movement centered around rights for black people. The racial tensions, prejudices and inequalities that still exist are largely black vs white (although we’re doing a great job of also being super racist against Muslims now too, so there’s that I guess).

            It’s not about deciding that prejudice towards one group or in one form is more offensive than another. It’s understanding where the rope is already pulled so taut that there’s less slack to give to minor offenses. Trans people have almost no protections under the law and no affordable access to the medical care they need; an alarming amount attempt or succeed at committing suicide, if they aren’t killed in a hate crime first. Even with all her resources, Caitlyn Jenner said she had a moment where she actively considered suicide and was basically only saved by realizing she had the platform to help other people get through what she’s been through. Trans people deal with enough horrible things in life without people laughing at their struggle, so you’ll have to excuse me if I’m not able to just brush off jokes at their expense.

            1. Katie the Fed*

              Thank you, Wakeen and LBK for being voices of sanity here, and especially when others just don’t have the energy anymore.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I was just coming here to say thank you to Zillah, LBK, and others who have been patiently responding to comments on this topic today and for saying what I would have wanted to say, and saying it better and more eloquently than I could have. I’m grateful for it.

              2. CA Admin*

                Thank you from me too. This pisses me off so much that I’m seeing red–I can’t really be trusted to comment and not start getting really rude in response.

            2. Zillah*

              It’s not about deciding that prejudice towards one group or in one form is more offensive than another. It’s understanding where the rope is already pulled so taut that there’s less slack to give to minor offenses.

              This is a great way of putting it.

          4. Elsajeni*

            I don’t think it’s so much that we consider one “worse” than the other; I think it’s more just that, in the U.S., we tend to think of racism as exclusively “white people who hate black people” and aren’t great at noticing or recognizing racism outside that dynamic. Especially racism against Asians, where the “model minority” concept comes into play — a lot of people have the idea that, because the most prevalent stereotypes about Asians are positive (hard-working! polite! good at math!), they can’t as a group be victims of racism. We’re also not great at recognizing racist acts that are less huge and obvious than, like, joining the Klan, the kind of thing people call microaggressions, which I’d say is the category that asking your Korean officemate “Hey Jane, you’d probably know, where’s the best sushi in town?” would fall into. But I do think that’s changing, and there are an increasing number of offices where people would find the sushi version of your question just as offensive as the fried-chicken version.

  23. Liz*

    Is there space for some sort of folding screen in your office, so you could create a visual barrier as well as an aural barrier (headphones)?

  24. ITPuffNStuff*

    #5 — as a night worker myself, I can imagine a manager tone-deaf enough to demand people attend things when they should be sleeping would also be tone-deaf enough to expect them to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on the 2 shifts bookending (before and after) the event. also, businesses don’t usually pay someone to be at work in the middle of the night unless it’s critical that their job role be staffed 24×7, which means if the OP isn’t there, someone else will have to be there — and that someone else would likewise have been expected to be at the “appreciation” event during the day. so there’s really no way around this — it’s a terrible manager completely out of touch with the realities of working nights.

    it’s also super weird that the manager can’t simply imagine themselves trying to go home at the end of their work day, sleep for 3 hours, get up, get dressed, drive to the office, attend a party (and try to appear sociable and at least marginally intelligent while half asleep), stay for an hour or two, then go home, sleep for 3 more hours, and get up and go to work. then, during the work day, you get to try once more to appear at least marginally intelligent while half asleep, as getting two 3 hour naps with 2 hours of awake time in the middle isn’t remotely restful.

    seems a manager this tone-deaf would be bound to be causing other problems. poor judgment seldom limits itself to just one area.

    1. Number5*

      Trust me. There are tons of further issues. Thank you. Yes, someone will always be missing the events because at the minimum 6 employees would be missing, alt any given point.

  25. Oh This Situation :)*

    OP #5: It sounds more like an event for employees to show appreciation to the employer :)

    Is this some item from an Undercover Boss checklist-“Show appreciation”- oh, we have to force in an unreasonable manner all to attend this event so we can check it off the list?

    That demand that all attend unless scheduled to work is absolutely unreasonable and bizarre. Is there someone rationale in the organization with authority that you can talk to about this? Maybe someone that will see that it doesn’t make sense and relax the order to attend to be more reasonable? Anyone?

  26. anon123*

    To be honest, I think Western society has taken this whole minority-appeasement thing too far. Calling Jenner a freak may not be the best choice of words but a person’s voice shouldn’t be “squashed” because of this – which is exactly what is being suggested by Alison. I think Jenner is still a “he” even with all the chemical and physical changes because at the root of things, his DNA says he’s male even if he’s pumped full of estrogen and had his male private parts inverted. If I were to voice this as a statement at work, I can now get in trouble for it? Freedoms and rights are fickle – you keep people from exercising it or restrict them and those same rules and restrictions will one day turn around and bite you in the backside.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Do you also think your employer should be a-okay with you making racist and other bigoted statements at work? We’ve pretty much agreed as a society that it’s reasonable for employers to choose to ban that kind of thing. That falls under that umbrella.

      1. anon123*

        No, I respectfully disagree. Free speech is free speech – even if people don’t agree with it. By imposing restrictions on it, new problems will be created. In Canada, we now have bill C-24 and people here aren’t happy about this new law. But at the same time, they also cannot complain because the majority was implicit on permitting restrictions of free speech and expression. You can’t complain about government restrictions on free speech and expression when as a society, you’ve permitted restrictions of free speech to begin with (and even sought out government intervention to prosecute those that “violate” those restrictions). This is what I mean that it comes back around in ways you might not imagine it to.

        I think that the better advice you could have provided to the letter writer is that if the individual really wants to approach the person, they should do it in the tone or intent of creating conversation but not in the manner of implying, “I think what you said is wrong or hurtful.” Because that doesn’t create conversation, it just shuts it down because it’s all about feelings. Rather, something along the lines of, “I overheard your comment and I’m genuinely interested in why you think Jenner is displaying abnormal behaviour?” And when the person replies intelligently, say “That’s a different perspective that I haven’t really thought about much.” That does more than “It’s a hurtful comment and you shouldn’t say it.” In fact, I would even say that this approach is better than the approach that you tend to recommend – confront and tell the person that it’s inappropriate. This, in my opinion, is much more effective and mature.

        It’s one thing to tell someone about feelings, it’s another to turn it into an intelligent conversation and actually accept that they may have a point without necessarily agreeing, even though the individual may not have expressed it in an elegant manner.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Free speech refers only to what the government can and cannot do; it doesn’t abridge the right of private entities to make their own rules.

          1. anon123*

            But it does bridge it. Government is made up of regular people like you and me. On paper it doesn’t, but in reality the people making the laws and rules are people that live in this world and in this society.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              The first amendment free speech protections — the ones guaranteed by law — only apply to what the government can and can’t do.

              1. anon123*

                I’m not American so I’m not clear on whether there are any differences compared to the Canadian ones. But even if it there aren’t, I get the feeling that you are still holding on to what’s stated on paper as opposed to what happens in practice. If the government is made of regular people living in society then laws and rules they create are based on the societal values of the day. Those laws can curtail what private entities can and cannot do. If a company wanted to, can a company have a policy that says it’s ok for people to speak hate speech? The answer is no because the law does not permit it.

                1. LBK*

                  There’s a clear power differential between members of government and those who aren’t, though, even if government is made up of “regular people living in society.” On the literal side, they have influence over lawmaking and can otherwise direct the legal system in ways not available to an average citizen. On the less concrete side, they generally have more influence and means, even if they aren’t written into the powers of the position. The spirit of the free speech amendment (in the US, at least) was to prevent those put in power by the government from censoring those they governed over. This in no way relates to what consequences someone may incur from a private entity such as their employer. The purpose of free speech isn’t to make everyone invulnerable from the consequences of what they say, nor should it be.

                  And I just want to be totally clear here, because your comment didn’t really address it – you believe that people should be allowed to say openly racist things at work without consequences? While we’re on the subject of maturity, I think it’s a lot more mature to just not say hateful, bigoted things in the first place than to expect others to give an undue level of respect and patience to those making the comments (although I certainly try to when I hear them, but I don’t feel obligated to by any means).

                2. anon123*

                  @LBK – I’m only going to respond to your second paragraph as I think the first has been discussed thoroughly already…

                  That is the ideal situation but the reality is, there are those circumstances that people just don’t follow that. This blog certainly illustrates all manners of strange behaviour from people! The other issue is where do you draw the line between hateful/bigoted with not hateful/bigoted? As a random example, if you happen to say that religion is illogical would that be considered “ok” because most people agree with it? Because then that would be might is right. Or would it be considered bigoted or ignorant? Because I’m sure someone hearing that and happens to be religious might not necessarily see it in the same light. Take ISIS as an extreme example and what happens when you draw caricatures of Allah or Muhammad. Drawing the line is very difficult when we live in a society that embraces relativism with open arms. That is why I suggest a different approach than simply telling someone that they’re wrong on the basis of a person’s feelings. Because what I feel can be very different from what someone else feels. At a very minimum, I think we can agree to that.

                3. LBK*

                  The existence of a potential grey area doesn’t mean we should give a pass to the cases that are black and white.

    2. ITPuffNStuff*

      bearing in mind that what you’re talking about is biological sex, not gender. i think any sane trans person would agree that their biological sex is different from their gender — in fact, that difference is the very root of the conflict they feel.

      so yes, jenner’s biological sex is male. surgery doesn’t change a biological sex — it just makes the body appear more like the sex that matches a trans person’s gender. i presume everyone involved in the discussion can agree on that point. surgeries and hormone treatments and so forth change the appearance of the body, but not the DNA as you pointed out. possibly we could get embroiled in the semantics defining what biological sex actually means, but the semantics are not important as at a minimum we can agree trans gender individuals are born with one biological sex, and wish to present as another. if given the choice, most would presumably have chosen to be born in a body that matches the gender they identify with. but they were not given that choice. cis gender folks are very fortunate not to carry the burden of that struggle.

      gender, on the other hand, has no objective definition. it is inherently subjective, and therefore there is no “right” or “wrong” definition of it. if your definition of gender is different from someone else’s, you don’t have the right to force your definition on them, and they don’t have the right to force theirs on you. you both agree to treat each other with kindness, respect, and consideration and accept that your disagreement on a subjective matter doesn’t preclude a positive relationship.

      now, do trans gender people sometimes claim their interpretation of gender is objectively right, and anyone who disagrees with them must be objectively wrong? yes, sometimes this happens. do cis gender people sometimes do the same thing? yes. i wish people could accept that gender is an inherently subjective thing, incapable of being right or wrong, and accept their own definition while not trying to force it on others. people have even gone to the extremes of physical violence just because they couldn’t resist the urge to force their definition on someone else. it is our human nature to be sometimes guilty. if someone tries to force their definition on you, regardless of what definition that is, try to forgive the person. try to remember that they are responding to their own fears, not out of hatred for you. if they persist, choose not to relate to them any more than your job responsibilities require. you’re not obligated to take them out to the pub after work.

    3. Lurking*

      When you are at work, you are representing your employer. And your employer does get to control your speech while “you are on the clock.” For example, your employer might forbid you from wearing shirts with political slogans or obscene words on them.

      If you are really concerned about free speech, you might want to consider the fact that people have been fired for what they have posted on their private Facebook pages while they are off the clock.

      1. ITPuffNStuff*

        this has been stated before (earlier in this very thread, in fact), but it bears repeating: freedom of speech, if we’re talking about the American constitutional 1st amendment, is the government’s legal agreement not to criminally prosecute you for expressing yourself in ways that don’t otherwise abridge the legally protected rights of others.

        this agreement does not mean there won’t be non-legal consequences for your choices, such as losing your job. it just means you won’t be criminally charged. you may be sued, if your expression causes some harm (this is a civil legal matter, not criminal — and the complainant is obligated to prove both that harm was done and that you were liable for it). your reputation may be damaged. you may find it hard to find future employment. the 1st amendment isn’t a magical force field protecting you from the consequences of your choices. that would be total unrestrained anarchy.

        even criminal charges are possible if your means of expression violates others’ legal rights. ‘causing an audible alarm’ (shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater, presuming there isn’t an actual fire) is a criminal offense. saying just about anything to a TSA agent can likewise land you in jail. burning a cross in someone’s front yard … well burning any thing really (obvious endangerment event without the racial overtones and implied threat of violence) … is likewise a matter of criminal law. technically every choice you make — and every choice you don’t — is an expression. so every criminal law could be interpreted as a limitation to your freedom of speech. ‘freedom from criminal prosecution for otherwise non-criminal means of expression’ is probably a more accurate description, but such a wordy phrase is unlikely to catch on.

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