boss keeps taking holiday gifts meant for the office, companies giving out work schedules to spouses, and more

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

1. Our boss keeps taking holiday gifts meant for the whole office

I work for a small office of 14 employees. Every holiday season, certain companies we deal with, as well as some clients, will send in or bring gifts to the office — things like gift baskets filled with goodies, cookies, thing of that nature. The people who bring the gifts to the office will announce that the gift is for all of us for our hard work, and they are cleary addressed to our company name and staff. But, after they leave, my boss will take the basket into his office and bring it home or re-gift to someone else. This bring down office morale tremendously. Should we say anything to the boss about him taking the gifts?

Does one of you have good rapport with him? If so, that person should tell him that he’s demoralizing everyone by taking gifts clearly meant for the whole staff. If no one really has a good rapport with him, you could speak up in a group (which makes it less likely that one person will be scapegoated if he’s a jerk).

2. Recruiter hinted that I should help her find white candidates

I work for an IT consulting company. As part of my other assigned duties, I’m frequently asked to screen potential hires as well as current consultants for openings at my client site. Said client is a European company that has made a decision to outsource more of their IT services with disastrous results for one project. Because of this bad experience, the U.S. managers in this area are copping an attitude toward offshore (read India).

I dropped in on our recruiter and she asked if I would help her screen some resumes for an opening at my client, adding that she’s looking for someone like John Smith. I assume she’s wanting someone with John’s skill set. Problem is, I don’t know what his skill set is. I probe and get a non-responsive answer. I probe some more and get “Does he look like John Smith?”

Duh. She’s telling me she wants to present white guys to the client.

Fortunately for me, none of the resumes presented really had the skill set we were looking for. Two of the resumes were so poorly written that they were rejected on that basis.

I’ve worked with this recruiter for seven years, and this is the only time anything like this has happened so I’m hoping it’s a one-off event. But what if it isn’t? Got any suggestions in case it happens again?

Ick. Tell her point-blank that it’s illegal to consider race or national original in hiring decisions (sex too, if that’s part of what she was implying). For example: “Obviously we can’t consider race or national origin in hiring decisions because that’s illegal under federal law. Can you tell me more about what skill set you’re looking for?”

If it happens again, either in that conversation or in another one later, say this: “What you’re asking is against the law, and I’m really uncomfortable with the request regardless. Please tell me we don’t make hiring decisions that way.”

You might also consider reporting it to someone above her and pointing out that she’s putting the company in legal danger, as well as simply sucking at life and at hiring.

3. Companies giving out work schedules to spouses

If a wife calls her husband’s employer and asks “What hours has my husband worked this week?” to try to catch her husband in a lie, is it legal for an employer to give her the information?

There’s no law against it, but most employers have policies against it (or no official policy, but just wouldn’t do it). There are too many potential complications with giving that information out. For example, they have no way of knowing you’re really his wife versus someone else who may mean him harm. Or, maybe you are his wife but you’re currently estranged and in the process of divorcing. Or, they just don’t want to get involved in a marital spat. Regardless, smart employers don’t release this kind of information.

For what it’s worth, if you’re at the point of trying to catch him in a lie, there’s a problem no matter what it turns out his hours were this week. Focus on that instead.

4. I got a job offer in my holiday card

I am currently a temp (long-term temp work with no end date on my contract). I have been in this position for about a year and a half. I enjoy my job and the pay is excellent for being entry-level. I have expressed that I would love to be hired on as a full-time employee, and the possibility has been mentioned by my manager before.

Today we had a Christmas party during the work day, and my manager handed out gift cards to everyone in envelopes. When I opened mine, in addition to the gift card, there was an offer of employment. Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled, but it is just so odd to me that a job offer would be considered a gift. I asked my manager if I could have the weekend to look it all over and to speak with the agency I am with before I gave a firm answer. I don’t plan on turning it down, but I have one week of vacation that I will lose when I terminate my contract so that needs to be organized. Is this weird or am I being weird about it?

It’s a little weird because a job offer is not a gift or an act of generosity; it’s a business offer that’s supposed to be of mutual benefit. That said, I wouldn’t get too hung up on that and would just take it in the spirit in which I’m sure it was intended — as good news offered in a warm, excited way.

5. My interviewer wasn’t there when I arrived for my scheduled interview

What do you do when the staffing center schedules you for a face-to-face interview with a person who is not even working on the day of the interview? When I arrived for my interview, I was asked to wait until the operations manager was done interviewing a candidate for a lumber position. I was then led to her office. I had interviewed with her in late October. She was not who I was supposed to see. She told me she would email my interviewer and that I would either receive a call to reschedule or I could come in the next day and wait for the correct interviewer to see me if she was available. I then was given a business card and told that maybe I should call her to reschedule the appointment no one even knew about. If I call the staffing center, won’t I be shooting myself in the foot?

No, the staffing center isn’t going to blame you for this; either they messed up or the person you were supposed to interview with mess up, but no one is going to think that you messed up (assuming you had the time and day correct). Contact the staffing agency, fill them in, and ask if you should reschedule through them or directly with the interviewer. (Or you could just do the latter, depending on how your staffing agency works.)

{ 402 comments… read them below }

  1. Pete*

    1 – Any employee making the presumption they will receive gifts is setting themselves up for disappointment. Management gets to decide where those gifts go. If he keeps them for himself so be it, assuming he’s following company policy. Even a gift directed to an employee, by name, from a vendor or customer may not be theirs depending upon the company policy.

    Of course, the value of the gifts cannot be worth the risk of irking a selfish manager.

    1. Vicki*

      “Management gets to decide where those gifts go”

      when the person who brought them announced that they were for the entire office? No, I don;t think so.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s true that if the gift arrived addressed only to one person, company policy might be to handle it differently, like in this letter. But it would be pretty unusual/unlikely for a company to have a policy that gifts addressed to the full office (as these seem to be) are to be annexed by the boss for his personal use.

      1. NotherName*

        If I gave a gift meant for an entire office, I’d be pretty mad if I found out that the manager was taking everything for their own use. Also, it sounds like he’s using them to regift to others, which adds to the ickiness factor.

        1. Marian the Librarian*

          I agree. While I definitely don’t have any expectation of receiving gifts at work, I think this behavior is really strange and I’d probably be pretty ticked if I noticed this was happening where I work.

          Our department has been receiving gifts from our patrons for the past couple of weeks, and they’ve all been food items, so our department head just leaves them in our work room for everyone to pick at throughout the workday. If she waited until the patron left, then put the presents in her office to take home, I think she’d probably get the side-eye from the other librarians.

          The fact that OP’s boss is re-gifting presents meant to share is bizarre and inappropriate. There’s probably no official policy about any of this, but it’s definitely weird and I don’t think OP and OP’s coworkers are wrong to be upset about it.

        2. catsAreCool*

          “If I gave a gift meant for an entire office, I’d be pretty mad if I found out that the manager was taking everything for their own use.” This!

      2. MoinMoin*

        Even if the policy did technically allow this, it doesn’t change the valid issue of employee morale.

    3. snuck*

      I’ve worked places where this happens too… Where gifts are technically for the group but the bosses (and boss’ boss!) wanders in and takes them home instead.

      And I’ve also worked places where the policy is that all gifts over a nominal fee are reported, and management decides what happens with them.

      When contract managing in procurement in an Australia wide well known recognisable bank this happened often and we’d just share the presents out and around a lot… procurement gets the mother lode of gifts at griftmas. I now am part of a family that owns a small business which gives gifts to the staff, and expects customer gifts to go to whoever they were intended for… which in our current industry is probably six packs of beer at best.

      I’d look at the wider picture of the boss – if it really is just this one thing that’s bugging you then speak up and say “Hey, look… a basket of goodies, let’s use it for a morning tea on Christmas Eve” or “Hey BossPerson, there’s a bit of grumbling, can we talk about this?”… but if it’s a workplace where the boss penny pinches, doesn’t like to provide quality coffee in the lunch room, gets twitchy about using the colour printer for the sign that tells you to wash your own cups and has cheap toilet paper… then you might just chalk this up to part of hte bigger picture.

    4. Artemesia*

      Misses the point. There is no law against being a horses ass. The issue is not ‘can he’; the issue is ‘should he.’ It is both unethical to take a gift given ‘for the office and all the work you have done for us this year’ home for his personal use and of course it is a moral crusher. It costs him nothing to be gracious. Whether anyone can do anything about it is of course another issue. Probably not worth speaking out against because jerks tend to act like jerks when challenged even gently.

      My husband’s small firm got gifts like these at years end. They were always either put out in the break room — or when it was many items in a basket, they were set out with the expectation that the partners and the staff would help themselves to an item such that everyone got something. Clients who wished to make personal gifts to partners usually sent them to the home. It is such a small thing to be generous and give everyone the pleasure of taking home a box of candy, a bottle of wine, a bag of nuts etc.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Thank you. I was picking my jaw up off the floor at the original comment.

        A boss who treats gifts for the whole office as his personal snack and refitting station is also, I would bet, not known for his generosity and consideration of employee morale in other areas.

        1. Random Lurker*

          Agree. I worked for this boss once. And his self absorption eventually began to manifest itself in unbelievable ways. Bonus money wasn’t distributed, comp time he was authorized to give never made it to us, all open positions began to be filled by his (unqualified) buddies or attractive women (also unqualified). It was an unpleasant place to work. With the benefit of hindsight, the hoarding of gifts really was the leading indicator of trouble.

          1. Artemesia*

            I almost took a job with a professional colleague and then decided against as it would mean a big move for my family. I learned from the person who did move there for the job (another colleague – we all lived in different states) that this person kept the bonus pool and gave it all to herself for 3 years in a row ‘because I have done most of the work and am most deserving.’ Finally the natonal level boss noticed and insisted it be distributed to others. There are people like this.

        2. Mickey Q*

          Yep my boss does this and it never occurred to him that it’s wrong. The only time he shares gifts if it’s something he doesn’t want and then makes a big deal out of giving it to someone. He uses company money to give gifts to people in other companies. So it’s pretty weird that he thinks all gifts are for him personally. He’s not even the owner.

      2. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        I remember during my very first job, my boss would get these beautiful gift baskets and goodie boxes from advertising firms and other vendors. She would take the card into her office, but everything was put out in the center area for us to share. I remember walking in with her one morning and she had brought it some of the ones that had been sent to her home! Her explanation was her success relied on all of us being successful, so even though she was the face of the department, any thank you was really for us.

        I’ve taken that lesson with me to every single job and make sure that everything I get goes to my team first, which I’ll admit was a little harder when it included pro hockey tickets.

        1. Xarcady*

          I had a boss like that once. She owned the small company I worked for, and many of the freelancers we worked with sent in holiday gifts. They all went into the break room, even those addressed directly to her.

          The one exception was the 5 pound box of Godiva chocolates that one freelancer sent in every year. The owner would open that, take 10 of her favorite chocolates and then put the rest in the break room for everyone to share. That seemed fair and reasonable, and only one person (the same person every single year) complained that the owner took a small part of a gift that was sent to her, before sharing it with everyone else.

              1. moss*

                we could totally share a box of chocolates! You can have all the orange creams and I will take the cherry and coconut and coffee ones :)

            1. JessaB*

              As long as she didn’t take the oyster shell truffles. I would fight her for those, those are really the only Godiva I’m willing to shell out the megabucks for.

            1. The Butcher of Luverne*

              I disagree. When gift after gift comes to the office FOR the office and the atmosphere is such that a little treat can really boost people’s spirits, it matters that Boss confiscates them all.

              1. Judy*

                I’m pretty sure this was in response to the description from Xarcady that their boss put all of the treats they received in the break room, except she took 10 pieces from the 5 lb godiva box before putting that box out. 10 pieces out of 5 lbs is not confiscating it all.

              2. Mallory Janis Ian*

                I wouldn’t at all begrudge this boss taking her ten favorite pieces of chocolate. She scrupulously shares everything else, even to the point of bringing in gifts to the team that were sent to her home address. So once per year she takes a little portion of something that she wants — she would be more than welcome to it, as far as I’m concerned!

          1. Serin*

            This is not really on-topic, but I used to work with a guy whose family got one of those huge Godiva boxes every Christmas from a distant relative, and he taught his kids to play the Cutthroat Candy Game with it.

            First everyone in the family took turns choosing one piece of candy until it was all gone. Then the trading free-for-all began. Everybody knew Mom liked the hazelnut shells, so everybody tried to get those first because they knew that Mom would trade ten other pieces of candy for one hazelnut shell. Teaming up and side trades were encouraged.

            His kids would be grown by now, and I’d love to know if either of them is a hedge-fund manager or a real estate investor or something.

            1. Nicole*

              Also off-topic, but can’t resist after seeing your post. When I was a student in a shared house we once got given a huge tin of Roses by one set of parents. We decided to divide them up completely fairly and on socialist principles, so everyone listed their three favourites in order. We then allocated each chocolate to each person using a specially designed voting system (well, we were politics students). Everyone had most of what they wanted and no-one got left with all the horrid ones.

              Needless to say, none of us are hedge fund managers or investors!

              1. Artemesia*

                my mother had a different way of assuring she got the chocolates she wanted — she would nick the bottom with her fingernail to see what it was and put it back in the box. As an adult I would buy her boxes of candy with maps so she wouldn’t have to do this and we could all enjoy them.

            2. Graciosa*

              I never heard of this, but I love the idea – what a great way to really get a lot of pleasure and family time out of one box of candy!

        2. Graciosa*

          I think that’s a great example. I had one executive at the company where I worked (not even my boss) give me an *enormous* box of imported chocolates that was addressed to him for the holiday. It was something like 2 feet by 3 feet (huge flat box) with two layers of chocolate candies flanking some musical gift (book? cd?) in the center.

          I didn’t care about the musical gift (something to do with opera?) but I was thrilled to be the recipient of that kind of chocolate. I was the most junior person in the department (a temp!) and I’m sure it meant much more to me than it did to him.

          1. neverjaunty*

            This is a great point. The value of a gift basket of random stuff is rarely worth the value of making your employees feel noticed and valued.

      3. OriginalEmma*

        I want to add “There is no law against being a horse’s ass” to the canon along with “Wow” and “No, it’s not illegal.” Thanks for the laugh, Artemesia!

      4. Pete*

        Except for the 1st 3 words of your post, Artemesia, I agree completely. I didn’t miss the point at all. Expecting management to be ethical is setting yourself up for disappointment. Don’t be disappointed when they don’t play nicely. Be happy when they do.

          1. Ineloquent*

            Dear heavens, yes. You don’t want to work in a place where ethics is a side thought – it leads to so much trouble later. I will say ethical does not always equal nice, but if a boss is willing to fudge a little on a holiday gift, I bet he’ll fudge on things like taxes if he thinks he won’t be caught.

          2. AnonAnalyst*

            Exactly. It shouldn’t be seen as a nice surprise when you find out management is ethical. I know that in some companies that’s unfortunately not the case, but I’m not sure that adopting the view that we’ll expect the worst is the best perspective to take.

          3. Pete*

            I hold management to a high level of ethics, but I don’t expect them to be so concerned. I expect management to be concerned with what is good for (1) the company, (2) themselves, (3) employees, … and (127) ethics, in that order.

            Taking the goodies at year-end is merely a symptom of a bad manager. He’s likely doing far worse things his manager should be concerned about.

            For the employees, the goodies are absolutely not worth the trouble that would be caused by raising this issue.

            1. Anna*

              Hm. As a manager I find that incredibly offensive. I know the people I work on the management team would also be appalled that anyone would think that about them.

            2. A grad student*

              But being ethical is good for the company in the long run though. High employee morale is good for business. This guy is putting himself before the company/employees.

        1. CMT*

          You are so wrong. It is absolutely normal and correct to expect human beings to behave well and politely and well, humanely. Being disappointed when that happens is not the fault of the person with the expectations. It is the fault of the person behaving poorly.

      5. Agile Phalanges*

        Yeah, at my last company, these sorts of gifts were frequent. Even if they were addressed to the CEO personally (but sent to the office–not sure whether stuff was sent to his home), they were community property. Gift baskets with multiple small items were made available for people to scavenge, and singular items, or more valuable items from the gift baskets, like bottles of wine, or things like totes or briefcases, were saved for the year-end party and raffled off (well, everyone’s name went into a hat, and whoever was drawn first got to pick from the pile first, but everyone walked away with something). Seemed fair to me.

    5. MashaKasha*

      I would imagine he’s not required by law to share the gifts. However, in a situation when a client presents a gift to the entire office, explicitly states that it is being given as thanks for everyone’s hard work, and the boss squirrels the gift away as soon as the client leaves, if the boss does not realize what that does to his employees’ morale, then he’s possibly not qualified to be a manager.

      Of course, the value of gifts cannot be worth repeatedly sending everyone in the office the message that their hard work is not being appreciated; and possibly losing talent over that. They’re not the only employer in town, you know?

      And may I add, the boss knows damn well that what he’s doing is not kosher. Otherwise, he’d take the gifts to his office right away, in front of the client, rather than waiting for the client to leave.

      1. Myrin*

        Can I also add that as I client, I’d be really annoyed to find out that a gift basket (or whatever) I’d intended as a gift for an entire office was confiscated by the owner? I totally wouldn’t get any gifts for this office after that!

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          The wife at my previous boss’s firm would do this. Client gifts meant for the whole office would arrive, but she would examine them first to see if she wanted to take them home. If she didn’t want it for herself, she would put it out for everyone to share, but if it was ‘too good’ for her to pass up, she would gleefully cackle, “Oooh, I want this one!” and take it for herself.

        2. ThursdaysGeek*

          It seems like I’ve read something like this here, but a solution is for the office to send a thank you note to the vendor: “Thank you for thinking of us. Bad-boss took the gift basket home, but we really appreciate you thinking of us anyway.” Either send it unsigned, or signed by all, so no one person takes the fall.

          The fall-out would probably not be worth it, but it’s still nice to contemplate.

        3. Former Office Gifter*

          This. For years as a small business owner I sent baskets to all my clients at the holidays. When I found out one of the owners was taking home the baskets for his family when I’d clearly marked them for the office staff, I marked him off my list and quietly gave individual gifts directly to the people I worked with. I later found out he was also weird about his staff’s pay and bonuses and benefits: and, when I asked to rent his vacation home which he’d rented to me once before, he said sure as long as I did all the housekeeping from the prior tenants. That did not leave me with a good impression of his ethics.

      2. Miss M*

        Similar to this topic, but differently slightly, I worked in a very short-staffed editorial department (i.e., two people doing the job of four) where the new editor said that we should give our media invitations to her to go. (And never getting the salary to reflect that.) After said editor left, a colleague of mine was told by a PR person that it was assumed that my editor did all of the work (we two were thought of as freelance writers).

    6. chocoholic*

      I am ashamed to say that I once took a ~5lb box of almond roca that was a gift from a vendor, home and ate it all by myself. I did not even share with my husband. I was 36 weeks pregnant, and well, my judgement lapsed the day that came. I have never forgotten it and 10 years later still feel guilty about it. :o :o :o

      1. Ad Astra*

        This is completely forgivable, provided that you didn’t make this your standard operating procedure when gifts showed up at the office. It’s definitely the repeated confiscation that kills morale.

      2. MashaKasha*

        I’ve been 36 weeks pregnant, twice, and would have no problem giving you a break for that one box. Just as all my coworkers had no problem giving me breaks when I was there! You have my permission to stop feeling guilty now!

      3. Snork Maiden*

        I just want to say, I am pretty sure you can put “Iron-Tummed” on your business card because that is an impressive feat.

        1. chocoholic*

          Haha, I did not eat it all at once. It did take me at least a couple of days.

          It may explain my son’s super ability to find sugar whenever he is within a mile of it.

  2. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)*

    Interesting, I read #3 as if it was probably from the husband, but Alison’s answer is as though it’s from the wife? In any case, there are definitely deeper issues at play here whether the information’s given out or not =|

    1. A Non*

      Yes, OP #3, if you’re the husband in this equation, you have much deeper issues than whether or not your place of work can legally say what hours you were in the office. Please tell use you’re dealing with the issues directly rather than playing a game of gotcha with your spouse.

      If you’re the employer, holy crap, immediately make a policy (unwritten, informal policy invented on the spot if necessary) not to give out that information. You don’t want to be part of this drama if you don’t have to be.

      1. OriginalEmma*

        Totally. We’ve discussed domestic violence here before and how the workplace should be a safe space. That includes policies that don’t divulge workplace information (including hours and locations) to unverified callers and callers without a business need to know.

      2. Case of the Mondays*

        The one exception I would make to this policy is if there is a concern that someone has gone missing and they need to know when they were last seen. The police often require a 24 or 48 wait to file a missing persons report for an adult. The family can really use that information in the meantime.

        As a personal example, I was working shift work as a corrections office and got off work at 2 pm. I was supposed to meet my husband in a completely different city at 7 pm for dinner with some of his new colleagues. I never showed up and wasn’t answering my cell phone. We didn’t have a home phone. He thought I was in a car accident on the way or something. Then he thought maybe I had forced overtime and forgot to call him. So he called my work. They told him I had left with everyone else at 2 pm. He sent someone to our house to check on me. In the meantime (around 9 pm) I woke up. I had taken a “nap” before dinner, forget to set an alarm, and my system was so messed up from working three different shifts all month my body had just gone to bed for the night.

        It made me realize though that if something really had happened to me, it would be crucial to know what hours I had worked that day.

        1. OriginalEmma*

          Sure, but in that situation, I imagine your husband was listed as your emergency contact? That’s a legitimate reason, though not captured in my post.

        2. Steve*

          It’s a myth that you have to wait 24 hours to file a missing persons report. Most or all police departments will accept one immediately, depending on the missing person’s normal habits.

    2. Mallory Janis Ian*

      I couldn’t tell who it was from, so I read it as being potentially from the wife who wants to spy on her husband, or the husband/employee who hopes his employee information is secure from her, or the poor office manager who’s just trying to figure out how to do the right thing amidst all the drama.

    3. Uyulala*

      Or maybe it’s from the mistress! ;)

      In any case, it isn’t a good sign to feel the need to check up on someone like that.

    4. Shell*

      I read it from the wife as well, but I don’t think it matters who it’s from. The only answer is that wife and husband need to sort this out among themselves and the employer needs to stay far, far, far away from the drama.

    5. Not a Real Giraffe*

      I read it as from the person who answers the phone and receives the “where is my husband” question! But that could be my own experience coloring my perspective. (I used to work at the front desk of a hotel that had a lot of weeklong regulars, and I’d often have to deal with spouses looking for their partners. Even if I was looking right at their husband in the lobby, I had to say “I’m sorry, I am not sure of Mr. Smith’s whereabouts.”)

    6. Sunflower*

      I read it as from the husband. However, I think the advice can be applied across the board. If you’re the wife, husband, the mistress- obviously there is a problem going on.

  3. voyager1*

    LW1: That is terrible. I can’t see any reason why a manager would take gift baskets and then decide who gets to take it home.

    LW2: I am confused what role you a really doing. But a company not wanting to deal with a foreign call center isn’t unreasonable. I work in a field that actually pays to have things kept in the USA. I am not willing to jump on the racism bandwagon without more context because your letter reads like you are not actually hiring anyone but just referring resumes for a service your not actually providing. If your client really don’t want foreign candidates then you may need to re-evaluate if you want their business if your not willing to do that. I guess just follow your conscience.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      I think it is how the requirements are levied. The real issue is fluency in a language, especially in technical support. If the tech support person has only basic fluency in a language then chaos reigns in IT. If they can’t go “off script” then problems arise. National origin, race, etc. don’t have to enter the mix if the language fluency requirement is met. This is also true of technical competence, etc.
      It’s not unreasonable to say “I want to communicate easily with my IT team”. That isn’t copping an attitude.
      I’d suggest that the person find out what requirements aren’t being met by the offshore team that created “disastrous results”. That’s the thing to work on.

      1. voyager1*

        That’s a really good point. The call centers I have to interact with are all domestic probably for that reason.

      2. snuck*

        Another thing could be the product that’s being supported.

        My elderly parent and inlaws both are struggling to hear on telephones now (and are turning into grumpsters) and frankly don’t like to talk to people they can’t understand readily. If there’s a strong accent they find it too hard to balance the problem their trying to resolve, the hearing issues (either hearing aid feedback or refusal to use hearing aids), the fast paced new fangled thinking that goes with computers/online billing/ modern banking, and the unfamiliar language, sometimes delivered rapid fire fast.

        It’s easy to say it’s racist, that older people are being something-something by this, but it’s a combination of annoyances I think and one that companies targetting specific audiences could be more aware of.

        1. Knitting Cat Lady*

          I’m genuinely curious here:

          There are many English accents.

          Some are harder for me to untangle than others. I’m ESL, though, with excellent hearing.

          The limited sound quality of phones makes a difference.

          E.g. someone with a very pronounced southern US accent or northern English accent is difficult for me to understand over the phone.

          Is it similar for your parents?

          1. Christy*

            I know it’s true for my future father in law–he can’t understand any accent, including southern US.

            1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

              My bff works for a company that has domestic call centers and they very carefully route people’s call by regions because of regional accent issues.

          2. OriginalEmma*

            As an American, I never thought I’d encounter a regional American accent that I couldn’t comprehend. Then I heard an interview (on a local radio station when I was visiting Atlanta) featuring a young woman from rural Georgia. It took every ounce of concentration to parse her speech.

            1. the_scientist*

              I was once in line at a coffee or sandwich shop in Newark International Airport behind a man who had an incredibly thick regional American accent. I can’t even begin to hazard a guess as to where he was from- somewhere southern-ish, and probably rural, is as close as I can get. I could not understand a damn word the man said, and evidently neither could the people working in the shop, who must have asked him to repeat his order seven times. I was surprised because I consider myself pretty good with accented English (I’m Canadian, though, so I guess we do have fewer distinct regional accents).

                1. the_scientist*

                  It very well could have been. It was kind of twangy, but not drawl-y (like a Texan accent). I was actually coming from a vacation in Atlanta and it didn’t sound like the cosmopolitan southern accents I’d heard there. I’ve never heard anything like it, before or since.

              1. OriginalEmma*

                My English friend was in line at Starbucks in the U.S. behind a man from Glasgow, Scotland. The poor barista could not understand this guy, and the customer was getting frustrated as well. That is, until my friend piped up from behind and translated the order.

                1. Apollo Warbucks*

                  Some accents are hard to understand. I worked with a Korean who heard me speaking to someone from Liverpool and when they had left the Korean came and asked if they were speaking English they didn’t understand a word of the conversation.

                2. Elizabeth West*

                  I usually don’t have trouble with any accents, unless people are speaking really fast. They really have to be pretty mush-mouthed for me not to get it. I will ask them politely “Could you slow down please; I’m not used to your accent.” That makes it about me, not them.

                  Though the first time I ever heard a really heavy Cockney accent, I was completely lost, LOL. But that was at eighteen and I had only listened to Midwestern speech up to that point.

                3. Mallory Janis Ian*

                  I babysat for a couple from Bangladesh several years ago (I’m in the southern U.S. and have a southern accent), and the wife and I were pretty chatty with each other. I could understand her perfectly well in person when I could look at her face while she was talking. It was more difficult to understand her over the phone, but I found that it was easier if I just relaxed into the call instead of trying very hard to understand. It seemed that any struggle to understand or anxiety over potentially not understanding would interfere with my actual listening, but if I just cleared my head and let the conversation flow naturally, paying attention to the context, I could understand most of what was said.

                4. Mallory Janis Ian*

                  Also, when watching the movie Billy Elliot (set in Northern England) for the first time, it took me at least a third of the movie to understand a single thing the characters were saying. Once I got used to the accent, I could understand everything, but at first it didn’t even sound like English to me.

                5. Cath in Canada*

                  When I moved to Glasgow, it took about three weeks to be able to reliably understand everything that people said to me, and I’m from the very Northern most part of England! My ESL colleagues took several months to adapt.

                6. Pixel*

                  I had a co-worker from Glasgow and it took a while to figure out her accent. If there are any Terry Pratchett readers out there, every time I read a Nac Mac Feegle dialogue I hear it in my head in my co-worker’s voice.

                7. Ad Astra*

                  Most of the drink names at Starbucks and other coffee shops are Italian words (or they contain Italian words/sounds), so I imagine hearing an unfamiliar accent pronouncing foreign words would really confound the situation.

                  The only time I have trouble with accents is at my nail salon, where the entire staff is originally from Vietnam, and some are quite new to this country. I can understand most Indian customer service/tech support reps just fine.

                8. A grad student*

                  One guy I knew from Glasgow took a month to be able to understand him at all. Very difficult accent for American ears!

            2. Biff*

              To be fair to yourself, remember that it’s not just HOW people say it, but what words they use. I can speak perfectly clear ‘newscaster’ american English and still say a phrase that is absolutely impenetrable due to local jargon.

              1. Mallory Janis Ian*

                One of my brothers-in-law is from Trinidad, and he speaks perfect textbook English when interacting with Americans. However, when his family comes to visit the U.S., they sometimes lapse into sort of a pidgin dialect that they speak only at home, and I can’t understand a word of it.

            3. Windchime*

              Believe it or not, I had trouble in Boston. It’s the first time I’ve ever been anywhere in the US that I couldn’t understand people on the first try. It was mostly clerks in stores; between the fast speech and the unique Boston accent, I always had to ask them to repeat. I have coworkers from all over the world and can usually understand their accents just fine, but Boston was hard for me.

              1. I'm a Little Teapot*

                Haha, I live in Boston (grew up about two hours outside it, though) and once had a phone conversation with a woman from rural Mississippi in which neither of us could understand the other. People here often ask where I’m from, though, because my accent is rather idiosyncratic.

          3. Shannon*

            I wonder if it has to do with where and how you learned the language? I am an American and English is my first language, but, I have such a hard time hearing the accents of people who actually live in England. Cockney and Queen’s English accents are so difficult for me to understand that I can’t make sense of them unless I turn on closed captioning.

            1. OriginalEmma*

              It’s probably also due to exposure. The first time I met my Scottish uncle, I could not understand him. I needed my relative to “translate.” Nowadays? I don’t need every ounce of concentration to understand him. Exposure to different accents can help with listening comprehension!

              This is where, if you have Hulu, Netflix or some other streaming service, watching a variety of English language TV shows can help. There are some British sitcoms featuring the rich tapestry of British English.

              1. Nethwen*

                Or a library, which is free. My library’s DVD collection is mostly BBC shows because that’s what people around here like to watch.

              2. Pixel*

                I recommend “The IT Crowd”. It’s the perfect mash-up between brushing up on your accent comprehension and AAM.

            2. MashaKasha*

              Ugh I know. I studied British English in school, for nine years, five days a week. Our first year, they gave us mirrors and the 8-year-old myself and my classmates spent the whole year just making sure we have the exact tongue positioning, open our mouths exactly the same, to produce the exact same sounds the British do. Our teachers had interned in England for 1-2 years each. Now I live in America and have to have the subtitles on when I watch Doc Martin. Like, why? what happened to my British English?

          4. TootsNYC*

            It would probably be influenced by the unfamiliarity of the individual accent.

            So, I sometimes have to work harder to parse an accent from the American South, but not an accent from Pakistan–bcs I live in Queens, NYC.

            And then there’s the mushmouthed-ness of whoever is speaking. Some people with strong accents are easy for me to understand because they enunciate; and some Americans w/ no particular accent are hard to parse because they don’t.

            1. Agile Phalanges*

              Totally agree with your last paragraph. We have a few Spanish-speaking employees here, most of which are at least passably bilingual. My boss is pretty sure that one of the guys doesn’t speak English very well. His English vocabulary is fine. He has a bit of an accent, sure, but the thing that makes it hardest to understand him is that he mumbles terribly! Doesn’t help that my boss is pretty hard of hearing, too. After the second “huh,” I’ll just “translate” for him, speaking loudly and clearly.

          5. snuck*

            Yes, pretty much.

            When you think about the fact that most of communication is tone, body language etc, the words that are spoken are a small part of the whole message package… and the telephone reduces the physical aspects down to just the aural… and then… with hearing complications tone and pitch are altered… and you suddenly get only about 30-40% of the message – words… and those words are coming through in a complicated to understand way (due to having to decipher accents)…

            My parents are actually first generation Australians – from the UK… and can understand the deepest Welsh accent but struggle with some others… my in laws are multi generation Australian and struggle with anything that’s considered broad/deep/unusual… they’ve always lived in the one small town and not been exposed to a lot of accents – a factor of exposure / experience is at play too.

            Another point is word usage. People with different first languages (or in different countries) often have different sentance structures and word usage. Local colloquialisms aside (what are ‘thongs’ to you hrm? In Australia depending where you are swimming clothes are referred to as swimmers, bathers, cozzies etc), there’s a lot of local language understandings that get missed and sentance structure can chew up a lot of brain processing power.. “Wait… did they just say ‘in the next week the problem will be solved when the account is sent in the mail’… why can’t they just say “we’re posting you a copy of the bill’????” etc.

        2. MsChanandlerBong*

          Thank you for bringing this up. I was born with nerve-based hearing loss, but it’s not severe enough to qualify for any help paying for hearing aids, and I don’t have thousands of dollars lying around to buy a hearing aid out of my own pocket. I do okay when I am talking one-on-one with a person in a quiet room, but if there is even a smattering of background noise (like there is when I call tech support and they have a bunch of reps working from cubicles in an open room), I have a terrible time hearing. It’s worse when I speak to someone who has a pronounced accent, whether the person is from India, the Bronx, or the southern part of the U.S. It really isn’t a racism thing; I just can’t hear.

          1. Traveler*

            Read my comment below about TTY – you can use the TTY line through the internet without buying any equipment.

        3. Temperance*

          I’m not a senior and I would prefer CS agents to be easily understandable to me, too. It’s not because I dislike India or Indian people, it’s because I don’t have a ton of free time and if I’m calling CS, it’s because I have a problem. I can understand a variety of accents, but I’ve lately run into a problem where an agent can’t understand *me* because they don’t have a good grasp of English. It seems like they’re just reading off of a script, and they can’t deviate or answer questions because they don’t know how.

          I have a young-sounding phone voice, apparently, which has led to some non-US customer service agents to assume that I’m a child. (One memorable agent, who I called about a known defect in my laptop keyboard, asked me whether “my little sister might have spilled some milk or water onto my keyboard”. I guarantee she never asked an adult woman that question again after what I said to her in response of that ignorant and frankly stupid comment.)

        4. Traveler*

          If they are struggling to hear on phones – they could use TTY or the computer through the TTY line. The agent then relays the information back and forth for them, and a TTY call is slower by nature – and it becomes the agent’s job to parse out all of that stuff, and they are typically used to it.

      3. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

        Requiring fluency, where it’s a genuine requirement of the role, would be absolutely ok (at least in the UK – I imagine the US must have a similar ‘genuine requirement’ clause though?) but you don’t do that by asking for John Smith. “Does he look like…” is a term that should apply to no hiring ever but modeling. I agree that OP should focus on fluency requirements and try and ignore suggestions of how a candidate looks unless it goes far enough that OP has to rely on Alison’s script.

        1. Kimberlee, Esq*

          Yes! Actually, America has a sort of “genuine requirement” for virtually every protected class and every job. The standard is definitely higher in some cases than others, but if you can make a strong argument that this job needs to be filled by a Black person, you can sometimes get that legally cleared (tho I’ve never heard of an instance of that working where the requirement is that the person be White, and I’m having a hard time thinking of one that you could make an argument for).

          1. Naomi*

            Acting jobs are often designated by race. White-only casting calls are common (too common in my opinion but it’s legal).

            1. Case of the Mondays*

              I suspect this will start to change in the future. There will still be BFOQ for roles where race really does matter: true stories where you are trying to depict actual people, historical pieces where race would matter to be accurate. But for a modern day saga in suburban America, a role for say “high school teacher” shouldn’t be allowed to have a race qualifier on it.

              When I worked in a jail, they posted a position with prime hours that everyone would want to apply for. Such jobs went on a seniority basis. However, it was posted as female only and it caused a huge ruckus. The reason was probably the clearest BFOQ imaginable. The facility housed male and female inmates (separately) that there always needed to be a minimum number of female staff on shift to perform female strip searches, medical runs, suicide watches (where you would see the inmate shower/use the bathroom). Men could work with the women and women could work with the men but some roles of the job required a same sex officer. Seemed like a “duh” moment but there was still a big fight.

              Oh, and this was a juvenile facility. I put a stop to it one day when I looked the biggest complainer in the eye and said “so, are you saying that you would like to handle the strip searches of 13-17 year old girls?” He quickly back peddled. Um, well, ugh, I guess that would um, not be a desirable outcome.

              There were still a few people who continued to push back, noting that doctors of the opposite gender see pediatric patients. It should have been obvious that there is a difference between choosing who you get your medical care from and being institutionalized against your will (even if you did something really bad to get there).

              1. Wendy*

                There’s been a hullabaloo (sp?) today because the producers of the new play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child cast a young black actress to play Hermione. However, JKR tweeted that she’s totally supportive of the casting choice. And aside from brown hair and brown eyes, Hermione’s race isn’t actually ever mentioned in the books!

                Also when Rue was cast for The Hunger Games (forget her name, but she did a beautiful job!) people were protesting the casting of a black girl. THOSE people obviously had not read the books because Rue is clearly described as dark skinned.

              2. KeepCalm*

                I don’t think it will. Hollywood has a weird thing about casting white actors when Black/Brown actors would be historically appropriate. Think most movies like Cleoparta.

              3. Evan Þ*

                “But for a modern day saga in suburban America, a role for say “high school teacher” shouldn’t be allowed to have a race qualifier on it.”

                Yes, I agree, things should change! But even there, I can see some plays where the teacher’s race absolutely would be important – racism still exists, and plays can incorporate characters’ racism as part of the plot, which makes other characters’ races significant.

        2. OriginalEmma*

          Is that true, though, that requiring fluency is OK in the UK? I’ve been reading about an Eastern European physician with the NHS whose colleagues reported him to NICE (or whomever the medical safety body is) because they felt his English comprehension and communication skills put patients at risk.

          1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

            Requiring fluency indirectly discriminates against those from outside English speaking countries, who are less likely to speak fluent English; the Equality Act says this is not discrimination if it’s a proportionate way of achieving a legitimate aim – I.e. if it’s necessary to the role (aim) and there’s no other reasonable way of achieving it (proportio Nate). So in your example, it’ (probably) reasonable to require fluency to protect patient safety, and there (probably) isn’t a more reasonable way of achieving it, so it (probably) isn’t discrimination.

            Fluency is fine for customer facing roles like OP, so legally the aim is OK, but requiring white applicants isn’t a proportionate way of achieving it. Requiring fluency probably is. It’s certainly a less offensive requirement.

      4. Mookie*

        The thing is, anybody of any ethnicity can speak fluent English (either because it’s among their first languages or because they’ve acquired it in school or through professional training). It’s not obscure and it’s spoken throughout the world and is well-represented in countries where it’s otherwise considered foreign. If fluency is, in fact, what she’s getting at with this looking-like-John-Smith routine, the recruiter is making an enormously illogical error — one that suggests either incompetence and inexperience, or unexamined xenophobia — and someone should say something. Surnames are not and should not be regarded as reliable predictors of language skills*. Likewise, if she’s trying to filter out candidates who might possess an unwieldy accent, an accent that may or may not hinder good communication, the only means to do that is (1) read each and every CV for substantive content rather than rely on algorithms or racial and gender profiling and (2) interview self-identified English speakers in order to further assess their skills. Anything else is lazy and irresponsible and will exclude capable and experienced candidates. The client is not being served well here, and even if she’s parroting their demands, it’s her job to explain why those demands are counter-productive.

        *Barack Obama is not John Smith, to take the obvious and timely example. Barack Obama is a native English speaker with exceptional oratory skills.

        1. blackcat*

          You know, I’d be really tempted to go find some European guy who didn’t speak any english and present him as the ideal candidate. Particularly if I could find one named “John Smith.”

          “You wanted someone who looked like John Smith! I found him! Unfortunately, he only speaks German and a bit of French. But since looks are the important thing, that shouldn’t be a problem!”

          1. OriginalEmma*

            Here’s John Smith who only speaks Welsh, another one only speaks Gaeilge and a third one who only speaks Scots Gaelic. Which would you like?

      5. JessaB*

        I think also it’s one thing to say “no foreign off shore call centres,” which is reasonable and completely legal. But “no foreign workers in the US or UK call centre site,” is not in either area, legal. And it’s completely legal to insist on a specific language fluency, but again that’s not about nationality or colour or gender. You can ask them to cold read a script into a recording device and if they pass, they pass. Particularly if the script you ask them to read is your actual call centre required language. That’s “can they do the job.” Also if you have your screening people do this and not label the tapes as to who is who, you can do it blind and take out any discriminatory information. But I can’t tell from the OP whether the company is asking for “no foreigners/persons of colour,” or asking for “not outsourced, we prefer to work in our own country.”

        1. Case of the Mondays*

          I came here to say the same thing. I think it is fine (and often encouraged) for a company to say “we keep all of our jobs here in America.” But, they can’t discriminate on who they hire for those American based positions.

          1. JessaB*

            Exactly. Perfectly fluent people have accents, or sometimes voices you can’t understand on a phone. It’s not only legal but sensible to screen those people out (even an ADA claim cannot be made for “job requires me to talk on the phone but my voice is not understandable/useable on the phone.” That’s the whole reason why “can you do x” is an acceptable question in an interview. Blind readings is the best most sure way to go.

            A symphony was hiring and was told they did not have enough women so they held blind auditions. After they still skewed male they realised that they were hearing high heels on the stage and that was biasing the listeners, so, shoes off auditions and lo and behold plenty of persons who present as female were hired. So seriously if there’s worry about bias, do it in a way you do not know which candidate is presenting.

      6. Terra*

        It can also be a factor of time zones. Even someone fluent in the language tends to be more likely to have communications issues late at night. When you outsource IT to a country where it’s late and night during your normal business hours can create an issue.

        If the issue is a desire for citizens for fluency reasons or just because the client prefer it then it should be easy enough to note on the application that you must be a resident of the state/country/etc. and/or that you won’t be sponsoring visas for the position which might solve the issue.

    2. snuck*

      Re your “I can’t see any reason why a manager would take gift baskets and then decide who gets to take it home.”

      If it’s a small business, then the owner might see it as part of his perks or rights. In some businesses (or roles) select people get a lot of outside vendor gifts and others don’t, and redistributing those gifts might be considered more fair. Another option is that the owner sees certain people as more deserving and uses the gifts to reward staff that might have earnt them.

      Fair? I don’t know… I really don’t. Ask the boss why?

    3. RKB*

      “Pay to keep things in the USA” is NOT the same thing as “I want him to look like his other white colleagues.”

      I am Indian. I was born and raised in Canada. I am obviously brown. I speak English far better than some of my colleagues. My skin colour does not espouse my proficiency, and that is what OP 2 was insinuating.

      I’ve had job interviews where I’ve heard “oh, you’re Canadian!” or “oh, you speak English very well!” I’d bet my entire career on those people never saying it to anyone white.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        Exactly. If they want candidates who are highly fluent in spoken English, both colloquial and technical, and speak with a broadly understandable accent, they can say that right out. If they’re trying to screen out anyone who isn’t white, that’s illegal. Not to mention not very bright – there are a lot of very white people out there whose native language isn’t English, and a lot of not at all white people who are native speakers.

        It could be worse – when visiting my husband’s home country, he’s been complemented on how well he speaks his native language, based solely on the fact that he’s married to an obvious foreigner.

        1. Shell*

          And if they were concerned about a candidate’s English proficiency and technical knowledge, the best way to suss that out is to quiz the candidate about the knowledge in English. Looking for white candidates does not guarantee proficiency in English or technical competency. We’ve all known examples that prove otherwise.

          And yeah, “pay to keep things in the USA” is not equivalent to “does he look like John Smith”. You can make an argument about stimulating local economy or whatever with the former (I’m not sure how convincing that theoretical argument would be, but it’s at least possible), but I can’t defend the latter.

          1. Shell*

            Typed too fast. Having a local team (as opposed to offshore) can definitely be a sound business decision and I didn’t mean to sound so skeptical about it. But even if they did come back with “we want to keep jobs in USA” (or whatever the locale is) I’d be hard pressed to take that at face value given what they’ve already said about “does he look like John Smith”.

            1. Serin*

              Right. I wouldn’t have a job if it weren’t for companies that write “U.S. citizens in U.S. locations only” into their contracts. But when they do that, they get me with my Southern accent, and my co-workers from New York and Chicago, and my co-worker who’s a citizen but spent most of her childhood in Australia, and my co-workers who were born in Cameroun or Vietnam or Belarus and are naturalized citizens … “keep jobs American” very much does not mean “keep jobs homogenous and white.”

              1. JessaB*

                This, in spades and doubled. Companies can want language fluency. They can want citizens so they don’t have to deal with enormous visa hassles (or at least legal aliens with proper standing,) but seriously visa stuff is a royal pain. But skewing for white is a no go.

        2. Engineer Girl*

          The real question is what the company wants. Are they just being ham-fisted in how they state their requirements? “I want John Smith” could be their poor way of saying they want someone that speaks English clearly and at native-speaker levels. Or not. I think some digging is in order.

          1. Shell*

            Even if “does he look like John Smith” was actually supposed to be “I want someone who can speak English clearly at native-speaker levels”, I admit I would find a rather vicious irony in the lost-in-translation aspect considering the nature of the request.

            Doesn’t help the OP, I know.

            1. Freelance Vandal*

              The recruiter in question frequently uses language like you suggest which is part of why this incident made me uncomfortable.


              1. Observer*

                Then you need to nail the recruiter to the wall – and kick it upstairs, if you need to. There are legitimate reasons to not want to off-shore, and it’s not just about language. But, addressing those is very different than “Looks like John Smith.” That’s true even if the issue is cultural competency rather than pure English skills.

                So, you shouldn’t get sued for filling genuine needs, and if you do you’ll win. But, you are likely to get sued if word gets out that you are looking for “People like John Smith” and you WILL lose such a suit.

          2. INTP*

            That seems like a stretch to me. “Does he have an accent?” is a much, much less awkward thing to say than “Does he look like John Smith?” (And people can be white and have non-native English accents, or non-white and not have them, so it would be a silly way to go about finding someone with a standard local accent anyways.)

            1. Allison*

              This! There are Europeans who don’t speak fluent English (plenty of Europeans learn it in school, but let’s face it, how many of us speak the languages we studied in high school?) and there are people in the US of Asian descent who were born here and speak English fluently. Don’t be the jerk who assumes someone who doesn’t “look American” doesn’t speak English and treats them accordingly.

              1. Myrin*

                Ugh yes. I’m German and we have to learn English in school for at least six years and many people here are generally uncomfortably obsessed with using English words or phrases because it makes you sound “cool” and “modern” and “worldly” – but in the end, that doesn’t really mean anything with regards to people’s actual grasp of the language. There’s a good general base-knowledge of the language among our population but the absolute majority of people I know couldn’t hold a conversation to save their lives. (I also keep meeting a surprising amount of people here at uni who have basically no idea what to do with an English sentence. Granted, I study German so most literature you’ll need during your uni time won’t be in a foreign language but I did not see the sheer number of people who aren’t comfortable with even simple English coming.)

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  I have quite a few German online friends and they struggle sometimes–our chat room is English-only because it’s a common enough language that it pretty much covers everybody. But chatting actually has helped some of the members, not just from Germany but elsewhere, improve their conversational skills. We’re a nice bunch, so we don’t mind helping out. Anybody who made fun of them would get flamed pretty quickly.

          3. Sunflower*

            I totally agree with everything you’ve said 1000x. I do think phrasing it ”i want someone who looks like John Smith’ is a hella weird way to ask for someone who speaks English clearly but that’s why I agree some extra digging is in order.

            1. INTP*

              But it sounds like the OP DID dig, and asked the recruiter what she meant (assuming it was regarding John Smith’s skill set), and all the recruiter was willing to clarify was whether the candidate “looked like John Smith.” I think it’s fair to assume the OP’s interpretation is correct at this point.

          4. neverjaunty*

            “I want somebody who speaks English clearly and at native-speaker levels” is not a difficult or confusing way to phrase that requirement, if in fact that’s the actual requirement; there’s no sensible reason to pussyfoot around with “looks like John Smith” as a substitute. Especially since plenty of native-born, English-only speakers in the US do not ‘look like John Smith’.

      2. Dan*

        I’ll take the bet. One of my friends is dual German-us citizen, with a very German last name. He’s also very white. He gets variations of “you speak excellent…. Where did you learn it?” From time time to time.

      3. MashaKasha*

        Your story reminded me of a teammate I used to have at an old job. He came here from China, got a college degree here, got married, had two kids, bought a house here. After something like 12-15 years in the US, he packed up and moved to China with his whole family. The reason he gave me was “your children will be seen as Americans, but mine never will. My children will always look like the odds ones out.”

        I honestly think he could’ve just moved from the Midwest to one of the coasts to avoid this problem, but nonetheless, I consider this one of the saddest stories I’ve ever heard. This is so weird and depressing and unacceptable that people like my coworkers’ children, or you, have to go to extra lengths to prove that they belong.

      4. Biff*

        I am white. About 5 years ago I walked into a grocery store in the town I was BORN IN. I couldn’t find something and approached a clerk, and then asked about it. She stepped back and said, very incredulously “you speak English?”

        Small things can trigger people to assume you do or don’t speak English. I don’t know what happened here, but rest assured, when you are white, all sorts of assumptions are made.

        1. The Artist Formally Known as UKAnon*

          Yes, positive ones. Not so much when you are non-white. And that’s exactly what this recruiter is doing, and it’s called racism.

          1. Terra*

            Any assumption inherently based on race can be racist. Yes that includes people who are “white”. If you don’t believe me ask someone who appears asian how much they love it when people assume that they’re naturally great at math and science.

    4. Apollo Warbucks*

      I don’t see anyone jumping on a racism bandwagon the OP points to a a clear conversation that happened where they thought the person was talking about skills and probed further before coming to the conclusion they were being asked to find applicants with a certain background or

      If the company have decided that offshoring doesn’t work and they want to keep their IT department in the U.S. that’s a fair business dession, if they take the bad expireance of offshoring as indicative of the level of skill to expect from all candidates from that country and screen them out based on that then that’s sounds like an awful lot like racism to me.

      1. Helka*

        Yeah. The fact that the recruiter the OP was talking with gave repeated vague answers before the “must look like John Smith” line is really what gives it away there. They were trying to drop dogwhistle racist comments and the OP wasn’t playing ball, so they got more explicit.

        “We need someone who is readily understandable to our clients from [linguistic region]” is not something that needs evasions and vaguetalk. I’ve gotten turned down for a job for that exact thing — I’m a fluent Spanish speaker and lived in Spain at the time I was interviewing, but the job would have been mostly talking to folks in Argentina. It’s waaaaaaaaaaaay different. And the interviewer was open in saying “Look, we really need someone who is comfortable with Argentinian Spanish in particular.” They didn’t have to say “We need someone who looks like Marcos Galperín.”

        1. S*

          Yes. This. The grammar and vocabulary of British English differs from United States English which differs from Canadian English which differs from Indian English which differs from Nigerian English etc. I’ve known people of color who are native English speakers from countries like Nigeria and India who say they’ve been told by native English speakers from North America that they have horrible English/incorrect grammar. They don’t. They are native English speakers who just speak a different dialect. Even within the US I’ve heard some really nasty things said about African American Vernacular, which is recognized as being its own thing, rather than ‘bad English.’

          When I was in high school I had the opportunity to be an exchange student. I am from the US. They said the biggest conflict between US students and people in the UK was over ‘incorrect’ grammar/slang/spelling. Really, the two are just different.

          All this is to say that if you talk to a person on the phone while getting tech support, they might have an accent that you think is South Asian, AND they also could very well be a native English speaker. If this company wants people who can be understood by people in the Northeastern United States or whatever, they should say so.

          Of course, I haven’t even started on how the above statement about New Englanders makes assumptions about who is a New Englander, since plenty of people there would have an easier time speaking in some other language than American English….

          1. I'm a Little Teapot*

            +1 from a New Englander. The region is stereotyped as very white (and rural areas generally are) but a lot of the cities are “majority minority.” Aside from all the white Russian immigrants, etc.

            1. I'm a Little Teapot*

              Oops – should have remarked further that most people of color here are native English speakers, but that there are hundreds of thousands of people here who speak Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, Chinese, Vietnamese, or a whole lot else, with all degrees of English proficiency.

      2. MashaKasha*

        they take the bad expireance of offshoring as indicative of the level of skill to expect from all candidates from that country and screen them out based on that

        I’ll bet money that this is exactly what’s happening. And they’re not even interviewing offshore candidates. They don’t even sound like they’re interviewing H1B candidates. They are looking at local candidates who have permission to work here. I guarantee you it’s not the accent – it’s definitely not the communication issue because, come on, English is an official state language in India – cute local expressions like “please do the needful” aside, communication should not be an issue at all. I guarantee you that they just picked the cheapest offshore company on the market, got burned, and jumped to the weird conclusion that all LOCAL job candidates who look like the people from whatever crappy offshore company they’d hired, must be equally bad. smh

        1. Observer*

          I guarantee you it’s not the accent – it’s definitely not the communication issue because, come on, English is an official state language in India – cute local expressions like “please do the needful” aside, communication should not be an issue at all.

          That’s actually not true. There are some significant differences in accent and usage between Indian English and almost anywhere in the US. So, there really COULD be a real communications issue. (Churchill’s joke about two countries divided by a common language was based on real experiences.)

          The reason I don’t believe that that’s what is going on here is because of the rest of the conversation. As others have said, the communications requirements could have been addressed far more directly, had that been the whole story.

          1. Guy Incognito*

            I know what you mean about being divided by a common language. I heard the epic sentence

            “Chuck a uey we’ll pick a slab at the bottle-o and I need some durries too”

            I mean I speak English but what the hell?

              1. periwinkle*

                I can actually translate this! “Make a U-turn now, we’ll pick up a case of beer at the beer/wine store and I need some cigarettes as well.” It’s Australian slang although I’ve heard “chuck a uey” in the US as well.

                1. Anonsie*

                  I grew up on the west coast and would say “pop a U-y”. You can say “make a U-y” or “do a U-y”, too. Pretty sure you can any-verb a U-y. :)

                2. Dr. Johnny Fever*

                  I’m so boring. “Hey, make a u-turn at the light! We’ll pick up a six-pack at the liquor store – oh, I need smokes, too!”


            1. OriginalEmma*

              Let this American try *ahem*: Let’s make a U-turn, go to the liquor store for a case of beer, and I need some cigarettes too.”

              How’d I do?

          2. MashaKasha*

            Yeah, I should’ve been more specific about why I don’t believe it – like you, it’s because of the rest of the conversation. As many people pointed out, it makes no sense for the recruiter to drop semi-illegal hints when she could just say “I am looking for people with strong communication skills and a good command of the English language”. Unless, that isn’t what she meant at all.

          3. MashaKasha*

            Also, re this: There are some significant differences in accent and usage between Indian English and almost anywhere in the US. So, there really COULD be a real communications issue.

            Yes, there could be if we were talking about an offshore team (where do you think I first learned about please do the needful, lol). But they are looking at local candidates who have permission to work here, i.e. either a green card or a citizenship. They might have some leftover Indian English sometimes leaking into a conversation, but on the whole, given that they came into the country already knowing English well (albeit with some significant differences in accent and usage), and have lived in the US for some time, I would assume that their communication skills would be good.

            1. Observer*

              In my experience, not necessarily. Some people have a surprisingly hard time adapting, linguistically. And, it’s sometimes harder for native English speakers to adapt. I know people who have been here for decades, and still sometimes use words in ways that would throw off an American. And some of the do “look like John Smith”, which goes to show how little one has to do with the other.

    5. Freelance Vandal*

      In this particular case the service being provided provided by my company is software testing. The problems that led up to this were on the development side of the project. My role at the client is managing user acceptance testing. My role within the consulting company I work for is that of a middle level manager.

      For all but entry level positions we will typically hire on a contingent basis. I.e. we make you an employment offer based on placing you at a client. This isn’t a 1099 type situation and in fact once we hire you we continue to pay your salary if you’re between clients. Having had my share of bad experiences with call centers I can fully understand a desire to keep that in country.

      To be honest there seem to be several schools of thought at the client. One of them sees the problem as a failure of their bidding process.

      Another sees it as a communication (process) problem and thinks they can solve it by having the dev team onshore because that will permit face to face communication and quicker resolution when problems arise. By the way, this as been enough of a problem that they’ve required all their FTEs to take trading on when/how to have face to face conversations.

      A third school of thought sees the issues as exposing the flaws of the industrialization of software development.

      Truth be told, all three schools are right.

      Having said all that I was completely gob smacked by what she said and aware that if I said the wrong thing I could turn an awkward situation into something worse.


      1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

        It sounds like the most important requirement (besides competency) is being onshore, and then the second English fluency. I can’t believe anyone would need it pointed out how many native speakers of american english aren’t also white, but I suppose it would be the right thing to do, businesswise, to point that out before your boss shoots off both of her feet.

      2. Dr. Johnny Fever*

        All software development is flawed. We are people, therefore we make mistakes in build and test. Failure is to be expected and welcomed. Many clients, especially business ones, don’t understand this and expect technology to be flawless. If it were, we wouldn’t have a test industry.

        Bidding is more art than science, especially for Fixed Bids vs. straight time and materials. Some clients struggle with this.

        Communication is key. Not sure if the client or if your company is moving into Agile where face to face communication is often seen as key, but some business managers jump to this solution without thinking it through.

        Hiring on a contingent basis is quite common. Many companies want a short-term contract for a first-time vendor, or will want temp-to-hire, and in some cases, the companies are aware that some roles, like entry level analysts and engineers, will be filled with new recruits and recent grads. That’s how the world works now – gone are the days where someone like me with “gumption” and “passion” can work her way into a shop.

        It really sounds as though your client thinks it comes down to communication, hence the “John Smith” request.

        How big is this client to your billing? Is it possible to explain that you cannot engage in biased hiring practices and withdraw your services? If the client is too big for you to cut off, perhaps you need to speak with someone higher up on damage control. Vendor practices get out across the industry (I work with 7 big ones) and word on the street can influence a client’s decision to pursue a contract with that vendor. As one person mentioned, you don’t want your vendor firm to get smeared by this other companies’ illegal preferences.

    6. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

      I just…. you don’t have to be foreign to not look like John Smith. We are talking about the United States of America here, not some Aryan island somewhere.

      And good luck to the employer who, in the IT field especially, wants people with white skin only. I’m more offended by the business stupidity of narrowing the qualified candidate pool than I am by the obvious racism in such a request. (But pretty offended by that also.)

      1. MashaKasha*

        Right, it’s absolutely ridiculous to narrow the candidate pool like that. My son worked at a Silicon Valley startup, in his own words “we have the best programmers in the world working here.” Out of the company’s several hundred employees, maybe a handful looked like John Smith. Does this recruiter (or the client, who I suspect was the real mastermind behind this genius request) really want to rule out world-class candidates because of how they look? more power to them, personally I look like a Jane Smith and I don’t want to work there already.

        1. Sigrid*

          I was just about to post something similar. I know someone who is actually named “John Smith”. He’s black.

    7. INTP*

      I assumed that the client only wanted white candidates for ONshore positions. It would be one thing if they only wanted local candidates who are already in the US. It’s another if they want those candidates to be white.

      When I worked in IT recruiting, the vast majority of the local candidate pool was Indian, many of whom speak English fluently (even as a first language) and have green cards. Not wanting Indian candidates isn’t some sort of valid business decision that’s independent of racial or cultural discrimination and it’s certainly not about onshore/offshore models. There is specific anti-Indian sentiment at a lot of companies simply because they want to keep the culture of their companies overwhelmingly American and it’s illegal. (In the case of my agency’s more racist clients, I don’t think it was about skin color so much as culture. They didn’t care if you were white, black, Asian, Middle Eastern, etc, you just couldn’t be Indian in culture.)

      The OP also doesn’t specify that this person will do any sort of external-facing role, or customer service at all. And there’s a big divide between “Make sure the person can speak to people who may have difficulty with accents other than standard Academic American English” and “Make sure the candidate looks like John Smith.”

      1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

        I’ve been working alongside local-Indian candidates for over 10 years and it kills me to see this kneejerk reaction. I mean, I’ve worked with 1st and 2nd generation Americans, citizens who traveled the world for decades before setttling down here, those who are here for the first time, and in between. It’s a whole new perspective of learning and applying technology (not to mention just thinking, living, looking at life, etc.). I can’t believe how many peers and willing to forgo such an experience because of some stupid prejudice.

    8. Karowen*

      Re #2 – that’s not what the client is asking. The client is trying to find someone who looks like John Smith, she is not explicitly trying to not offshore her stuff. Someone who looks like John Smith can work in an offshore office, and someone who doesn’t can work in the same country.

      There’s a HUGE difference between not off-shoring and ensuring that everyone is a particular color.

    9. CMT*

      Your comment is so frustrating. So many people, when they hear of instances of racism or sexism, want to make the people making those claims prove to some ridiculous standard that it’s actually racism or sexism. Instead of, you know, just taking at face value what people are saying. The OP in this letter was asked to find white people, how is that “jumping on the racism bandwagon”?

      1. Zillah*

        +100. I really don’t understand how what the recruiter said can reasonably be translated to “I want a native English speaker.” There are a lot of mental gymnastics you have to engage in to get to that interpretation.

    10. Bob*

      As someone who works in IT, when I heard “they want someone white” I immediately thought, no, they just mean non-Indian. I’ll bet if OP found a qualified US citizen who is black or Hispanic (or female), there would not be an issue. This is a common prejudice in IT. Part of it probably is racism (from some) but a lot of it is because of the language issues. Another common group I interact with often in tech support is Eastern European. They are usually white but the language issues are just as much of a barrier.

    11. Camellia*

      For me, it’s not necessarily accent but volume! Some cultures are very soft spoken and I’ve found that, the more I say I’m sorry I can’t hear you could you please speak up, the softer they talk. It is very frustrating because I deal with this every day. And it is also very tiring; some days I’m just drained by noon.

  4. Vicki*

    #4 – then again, gift cars (and pretty much everything at work) are also not “gifts” in the same way that presents from friends are gifts and they are rarely acts of generosity.

    Would you consider a bonus check to be “odd”?

    It’s holiday time and the manager probably thought this was a cute way to “present” the job offer. Take it the spirit in which it was offered.

    1. Pat*

      Have to 2nd this….the OP is over-analyzing things. I think it’s a nice way to tell you good news…nothing more.

    2. Artemesia*

      This. A bonus is not a ‘gift’; it is part of compensation. I am sure they thought it would be a happy surprise to receive news of a permanent job in the Christmas card/bonus envelope.

      1. OP #4*

        OP 4 here. I have a bit of an update already! At the end of the day my manager asked to see me in his office. He told me that he had to honest and felt a little weird presenting the offer as a gift but that his assistant convinced him it would be a nice creative way to give me the offer and he hopes I was not offended because “you earned this.” I told him I wasn’t offended and we could talk more about it Monday. I know that this is my issue but I do feel like I earned the offer and that is why I thought it strange. To me it would be like getting your paycheck as a gift, not a bonus.

        1. Apollo Warbucks*

          That’s nice of your boss to think about how it looked to you. I think I can see where your boss’s assistant is coming from not that the offer is a gift but that a permanent job comes with more stability and benefits and is something to feel good about around the holidays.

          Good luck for Monday hopefully it will work out well for you

        2. BadPlanning*

          I would feel it was strange because it’s not a guaranteed delivery — what if you hadn’t opened it right away? Then there’s a job offer hanging out that you don’t know about.

          But it sounds like a Good Intentions, Bad Result sort of operation.

          However, it’s nice to know that your boss has a high level of self awareness and can admit to a possible mistake.

  5. Biff*

    I got a rather different read off #2. I took it as “he or she needs to look and sound American.” I don’t think that’s illegal. It also might indicate someone who dresses more stylishly or more business-y than most call-center IT people. I wouldn’t assume malice when a misunderstanding seems more likely.

      1. Mando Diao*

        Just curious: is it illegal to make hiring decisions based on an accent that English speakers may have difficulty understanding? On the customer end, I’ve stopped giving my money to businesses that outsource IT to countries whose accents are difficult for me.

        1. voyager1*

          It isn’t illegal. Those non USA call centers are contractors to the company. US law doesn’t apply to India or where ever.

          1. De (Germany)*

            While that is so, it does not necessarily follow that “it isn’t illegal”. There’s more countries with laws against discrimination in hiring than the US.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s perfectly legal to have requirements around language fluency or communication. It’s not legal to, as the OP’s coworker seems to be doing, give preference to a specific national origin, ethnicity, or race.

          1. LBAUTHOR*

            Is there any way to distinguish accent level? Like you can pass a fluency test, but your accent makes you difficult to understand? You, obviously, being general you.

            1. Helka*

              “Possess clear English communication skills both verbally and in writing.” Boom. Not discriminatory. No mention of racial or ethnic background.

              1. Katie the Fed*

                Although it does have to be necessary for the functions of the job. Because if you were hiring, say, low-skilled workers for this, you could bump into disparate impact if you’re only hiring people with impeccable, native-level English skills, especially if they’re not part of the job requirements.

            2. StudentPilot*

              Part of the Canadian government language tests do assess fluency, as well as vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation and comprehension. Someone could have excellent grammar and vocabulary, but be hard to follow on pronunciation and fluency, and that would be reflected in their final assessment.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I’m guessing if someone mumbles and slurs their words, that would count? That’s usually the only time I have difficulty understanding people (or when they talk too fast).

                1. Tau*

                  If we’re talking language proficiency examinations, I’m not sure it does, and would argue it shouldn’t. I have a speech disorder and would be up in arms if I got marked down on fluency or pronunciation because of it. Even without the disability aspect, there are native speakers who mumble or have terrible enunciation, it’s not a matter of language proficiency.

        3. Artemesia*

          Me too. Outsourcing ‘customer service’ is mostly a way to avoid offering customer service at all. I am so sick of trying to get help from people who don’t understand the product and whose only response is obviously from a script. If it isn’t on the script they can’t respond. If it were that easy, I wouldn’t need to call in the first place. It took us a couple of hours to get straight answers about using T-Mobil on an international trip with our current plan. The web site and the information from the overseas ‘customer service’ site was inconsistent and no one could give us the answer we needed. We finally went to a stateside office and found a person who actually could understand our questions and find an answer. If someone can answer your question from a script then, put it on line and drop ‘customer service’. (and boy is this a tangent — of course you can’t set out to hire ‘white people’ for a US job. choosing to offshore or not is a different thing.)

          1. Freelance Vandal*

            I wonder if you tried to do this when T-Mobile first changed their international roaming a year or so ago? I had questions about it that the local store was unable to help with but the phone customer service handled well. The phone rep mentioned that training is sometimes a little behind in the stores.


            1. Artemesia*

              It was recently. The store person was able to help. The offshore probably Indian customer service reps were totally clueless and could only regurgitate scripted answers that didn’t come close to answering our questions. Worst customer service ever. And the consequences of us misunderstanding might have been a several hundred dollar phone bill as we were traveling for 2 months. We did eventually get it figured out with a stateside store person.

              1. Freelance Vandal*

                That’s disappointing. I’ve been a T-Mobile customer since they came to the States have always had good experiences with their phone support.


          2. NJ Anon*

            Gah! I was on the phone with Amazon customer service 3 times on Friday. Twice the person had an accent that was somewhat difficult to understand. To make it worse, there was yelling in the background so I couldn’t hear her either. She kept apologizing saying there was a celebration going on. What???? You’re in customer service, um providing service to customers! Tell them to shut up or move the party elsewhere. I couldn’t believe it. (Sorry, slightly off topic but had to vent.)

            1. Helka*

              To be fair, the call center reps very rarely have any control over this. My company throws a yearly “Customer Service” celebration week, which involves noisy parades proceeding through the building at random times. It drives the actual phone reps crazy, but they’re really low folks on the totem pole in the building and have no standing to ask a parade of people who outrank them both in actual hierarchy and in unofficial pecking order to shut the [bleep] up.

              Pin that one to the company, not the individual.

              1. Jenna*

                The actual call center reps rarely have control over anything at all, and that does include the noise level around them. The place I worked had the call center people in tiny, tiny half cubicles, and I hear many places are going to open plan offices with no sound or visual buffers between the desks at all. It gets noisy fast.
                On my own part, I hate getting sales calls, and I have found it has gotten really easy to identify a sales call by the noise levels in the background. I’m not going to buy, so I don’t waste their time. Maybe the fashion for noisy open plan offices will eventually fade?

                1. Temperance*

                  Email works best, phone is the worst, web chat is in the middle. I have a young-sounding voice, so dealing with phone CS is always a bit dicey for me. Amazon doesn’t seem to train or educate their offshore CS agents very well; the good ones are second-tier support, the not great ones are the ones who answer calls and web chats.

                  I once had a web chat with someone who clearly didn’t understand English very well, and it was massively frustrating for me. Our interaction left me extremely angry, and it didn’t solve my problem, either. (My issue was that I accidentally used one-click for an expired CC on a Pantry order, and was advised to reach out to Amazon CS to fix (by Amazon!). CS agent kept saying I needed to call my bank regarding the card, even after I explained many times that the card was simply expired and the bank had replaced it already. )

              1. Bekx*

                Their chat support just made me look like the rudest person on earth on Friday when I tried to return a gift. It was a duplicate of what I already have, and I told them to refund me not the person who bought the gift for me.

                Guess who got the email confirmation of the return, the refund, and the shipping label. Ugh.

                1. Temperance*

                  Yikes. You can escalate that and reach out to CS again. Their second level support is much better and not as inept. How awful that they did that.

          3. AnotherAlison*

            Oh dear God. I lost my hard drive a couple months ago, and had to reinstall Office. I got a new version of it from my job’s home use program. The link to download the program, which was emailed to me by MS, went to a webpage that said “This website is not currently available.”

            5 phone calls and ~7 hours later, I finally got MS Office installed. I was dealing with overseas offices, and apparently it was a situation no script was written for. I am fairly certain the first person I dealt with just “transferred” me to a dial tone. The support people kept telling me “you should have received a link. . .” I repeatedly said, “Yes, but it is no good.” I’m not so sure it had anything to do with the nationality of the CS folks, but really just that they can’t understand the problem! (I had a similar incident with Whirlpool & stateside support a few years back.)

            1. Kelly L.*

              Yep, I’ve had this with T-Mobile and some other companies, and it doesn’t even matter how good the person’s English is. Sometimes their English is perfect. The issue isn’t so much the English as it is that people are not being trained about the product at all, and if your issue is outside the box at all, there’s nowhere they can go with it. Emailing PayPal is about the same.

            2. MsChanandlerBong*

              Sounds like my experience with Straight Talk. The service usually works great, but every time I’ve had an issue, it is very difficult to get it resolved. Their CS reps have no ability to go off-script and do any problem solving that doesn’t involve turning the phone off and back on.

            3. Elizabeth West*

              It’s like folks who work in big box stores–they don’t get paid enough to go off script and are not trained to do so. Back when Circuit City had actual sales reps and trained their people, you could ask someone a question and get a real answer. Then they went to part-time labor at slave wages (and finally of course closed completely). I would ask a question and they would read off the product box, which was frustrating as hell because I had just done that and the box did not answer my question!

              Now if I’m in a big box store and I have a product question, I just google it. Thank God for smartphones.

              1. AnotherAlison*

                Gah, I know! I tried to buy some running shoes from Dick’s and lived that nightmare. I clearly knew about 100x more about running shoes than the employee did, but it didn’t stop him from dragging me around the store and telling me things that anyone with more sophistication about running shoes than my mother would know.

                I ended up not buying shoes there, going to the local running store, following their recommendation, and then HATING the shoes. Can’t win. . .

              2. Xarcady*

                At my current retail job, I do know a lot about the stuff in my department. However, let enough people call out, and they throw me in to say, Men’s Wear, and I barely have a clue where the ties are and the socks, and the shirts. And then someone will ask which tie goes with which shirt, and I have no clue.

                But ask me about types of cotton and thread counts in sheets, and I can bore you to tears for half an hour. But I will add that I came into the job knowing quite a bit about fabrics and household stuff. I got almost no on-the-job training.

                The stores don’t pay enough to keep good people long-term, unless they are unemployed and desperate, like me.

              3. Windchime*

                If I’m in a big box store like Home Depot or Lowes, I always look for an older person of my dad’s generation. I’ve found that they are usually retired craftspeople who know their business. The other people might know, too, but my best luck has been with the retired folks.

          4. Colette*

            When I worked in a high level of customer service, we commonly got complaints about our (not outsourced) call centre in India, usually phrased as “I’m an American, I should be able to talk to an American.” The second most common complaint that had nothing to do with the customer’s actual problem was that our prices were too high. Those are not unrelated.

            If you (as a consumer) prioritized price, the businesses you buy from are going to prioritize price – and the average salary in India is lower than the average salary in the US.

            1. baseballfan*

              Agree. The accounting firm I worked for used a shared service center in Bangalore extensively. Most of those folks were hardworking, smart, and dedicated – and their lower salaries enabled us to offer more competitive fees to fee-sensitive clients.

            2. Apollo Warbucks*

              I’m from the UK and worked in a call centre in Australia for a few months on a temporary visa there was a guy originally from India who was an Australian citizen sat next to me who spoken perfect fluent English the number of people who thought the call centre was offshore and were really abusive to him about it was unbelievable, I’d hear him say “no no, I’m not in India I can see the Opera House from my desk” and there was a Swedish guy who had someone tell “I can’t speak to you, I need to talk to someone that speaks English”

              The customer were being jerks but what was really dumb about the way my coworkers were treated was they were both objectively better at the job than me, there was a very strict quality control process and calls were listened to and reviewed regularly and marked out of 100 against a pre set criteria, not customer satisfaction.

              1. Case of the Mondays*

                I had a funny opposite experience. We were trying to track down my father-in-laws bag that had been lost by an airline and was supposedly at x airport. We had called x airport and were talking to the people who were supposedly the local baggage people. I said something to the effect of “can you please just go double check that it is in the office because we have to make a 2 hour ride to get to it and the last time we were told to come to the airport it was still in transit.” The gentleman responded “ma’am, I’m actually in India so I can’t go down to the carousel and check.” They also claimed to have no way to reach a local person who could check.

                Bizarre solution. We called a friend that worked for the police department in the town with the airport. He called his buddy working at the airport. Buddy checked the carousel and it was there.

                (I always like to counter bad customer service with some good. Shout out to Jet Blue. I had a very bizarre experience where I was stuck on a bus when the driver had a personal break down. No, the bus didn’t break down, the driver did, and we couldn’t get off. I was going to miss my flight. Once we were re-routed onto a new bus, I was on the phone with Jet Blue and they connected me to local staff at my local airport and had someone waiting for me at the bus stop to get me through security as a priority so I wouldn’t miss my plane. I was amazed.)

          5. Traveler*

            To be fair if you’ve ever worked in a call center in the US, for the most part, they can’t go off script either. If they are, its because they’re more senior and comfortable with taking a risk.

          6. Kat M2*

            I’ve had a customer service rep mistake my name for that of a famous pop star, whose name is not at all similar to mine. My computer was then registered to that name.

            It made calling tech support at a later date quite a fun experience…..

          1. Allison*

            The other day I was on the phone trying to reschedule an appointment, and the woman’s English was so bad it took 3 tries just to find out what time the place closed.

            “what time do you close?”
            “we’re open every day!”
            “no, what time of day do you close?”
            “we open at 10 in the morning”
            “no, what time in the evening do you stop working?”
            “oh, we close at 10PM.”

            I don’t get annoyed when someone isn’t a non-native speaker, and because English is hard to learn I don’t get mad when someone doesn’t immediately become fluent the second they come here. That said, it’s reasonable to say that someone working in customer service, and serving an English speaking customer base, needs to be good enough at speaking and understanding English to be able to work with those customers, and understand their needs. If someone is sticking to a script or a list of phrases they’ve learned and memorized, that’s rarely sufficient and likely to cause frustration for both parties.

            1. BethRA*

              Yes, but as a recruiter/hiring manager you can address that by asking about someone’s language skills, not whether they look like “John Smith.”

              1. Allison*

                I . . . didn’t say anything to the contrary in my post? I was reiterating why it’s bad for business to have people in customer service positions who don’t have a good command of the language their customer base speaks, not that people who don’t look like they don’t speak the language shouldn’t even be considered for the job.

        4. INTP*

          If it’s truly relevant to the job, it’s legal to require a specific level of fluency in a specific dialect, as far as I know. Many people in India, of course, speak English as a native language, and you would need to demonstrate not only that English is a requirement for the job but why speaking English in a particular accent is a requirement.

          We also have no indication, as far as I saw, that the position in question is public-facing IT phone support. A lot of offshored IT has nothing to do with IT support, but is work on the back end of the company’s IT systems just like onshore IT workers often do. You have less of an argument in favor of accent cherrypicking if it’s just that the coworkers (who work for a global company and can be expected to adapt to the global world) don’t want to deal with a person with an accent, rather than that they might need to communicate with external customers who have little contact with people outside their own linguistic communities.

      2. Biff*

        I didn’t say she meant that John Smith was American. I said that they needed to present candidates who looked and sounded American. Big difference. Think Hugh Jackman — he looks and sounds American. He’s Australian.

        1. blackcat*

          But what does “look American” mean? Most people who use phrases like that (think “real American”) seem to view “American” as “of European decent and not recent immigrant.” That is not the reality of this country and it’s a pretty racist attitude, too.

        2. Kate M*

          Um, look American? There is no way to “look American” because America is made up of tons of different types of people. People who wear tailored suits to work can look American, because they are. People who wear hijabs to work can look American, because they are. You can be any different ethnicity and still be American. You can wear any type of clothes and still be American. Therefore, there is no way to “look American.”

        3. LabTech*

          Yes, there is a big difference. Saying, “You must look American to be considered,” is blatantly racist: “American-looking” means white. Obviously this definition excludes Americans who aren’t white, but the people who say these sorts of things aren’t very interested in making that distinction.

          Saying, “You must be a US citizen to be considered,” on the other hand, isn’t as completely awful.

          1. LabTech*

            Addendum: “The people who say these sorts of things aren’t interested in that distinction.” Not directed at you, specifically, Biff – I mean people who use “look American” outside of the context of discussing just what that phrase means.

          1. Biff*

            No, I’m quite literally saying I don’t think that we should crucify the coworker. It sounds to me like she used a vague phrase that could be a poorly-worded attempt to explain something really much less nasty than what has been presumed. Again, I’m assuming a mistake, not malice.

        4. Ad Astra*

          Well, ignoring the fact that there’s no real way to look American, Hugh Jackman only sounds American when he fakes an American accent. When he’s at home in his jammies or ordering a latte, he sounds Australian.

          1. Biff*

            My friends in other contries insist that we look particular. To them it’s obvious. *shrug* It seems to be that whatever it is that clues Europeans into that fact is something this company is putting a premium on. And that may have been very poorly conveyed to the OP.

        5. Oryx*

          I suggest you pop on over to YouTube and look up videos of Hugh Jackman interviews to hear what he really sounds like and not just when he’s using an American accent for a film.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      It’s to early and I haven’t had my coffee yet so my struggling to think I the word I want to use, but if your hiring practices impact a protected class even inadvertently then it’s srill illegal. Also you’d ever end up with any diversity in the office if you only hire people who look and sound similar to people already working their.

      1. Observer*

        No, it’s still ok to have these requirements on two conditions: 1. You can’t be catering to people’s prejudices (eg “Our customers don’t want to deal with cashiers of x ethnicity”) and 2. It needs to be a bona fide occupational qualification (that’s the legal qualification.) That’s why the pizza chain that had a requirement for their delivery people to be clean shaven lost their case. They couldn’t prove that it was truly necessary for the job. On the other hand, if you can prove that ability to lift a certain amount of weight is really necessary, then you can do that even though it has a disparate effect on women. (But, you really need to be able to prove it.)

      1. Engineer Girl*

        In radio and TV is was the Chicago accent. That’s the accent that everyone from any part of the country could understand, so that became the standard.

          1. Mookie*

            Right, RP functions as something else entirely. Standard American’s more like estuary (if you pretend nothing exists north of Essex and conveniently forget about the West Country).

        1. Mookie*

          Hmm, it used to be California / Okie-inflected Mid-Atlantic, but now it’s defined as General or Standardized American, more distinct from Chicago, Greatlakes, and Inland North than ever following the mid-20th century vowel shift.

        2. Ad Astra*

          The Chicago accent? I’ve always heard that said about the accents in Omaha or Kansas City. A Chicago accent is pretty distinct.

      2. Anonymous Educator*

        “American” can look like anything. There are also many regional accents, but generally if you’re looking for the accent most Americans can understand, it’s whatever news anchors are using.

    2. MK*

      Biff, when a person takes it for granted that “someone who looks and sounds American” means “someone who looks and sounds like a John Smith”, that’s pretty blatantly racism. Oh, and whatever self-perception U.S. Americans may have, the rest of the world does not think of a John Smith when thinking of them; if you come into contact with a lot of them, you quickly learn that someone from the U.S. may look and sound like pretty much anything.

      And that goes double for equating “american” with “stylish and bussiness-like”.

      1. Tanaya*

        Ha, the image that pops into my head when I think American is a hell of a lot less flattering than “stylish and business-like”.

      2. Biff*

        I didn’t equate american with stylishly dressed. I said that it could be that the person meant that “John Smith” sounds and looks like the kind of American the client company imagines. OR (used in the colloquial sense) that perhaps she meant “oh, let’s send them more candidates like John Smith — they really went gaga over how well he dresses.”

        1. Observer*

          Do you make is a practice to “believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast?”

          Honestly, this just bears no relation to what the OP said, to start with, and with the subsequent additions, I think this really falls into that category.

    3. Katie the Fed*

      “Look and sound American?”

      Oh hell no. I need my coffee before I can handle reading something that ignorant.

      1. Tanaya*

        Mmm I’ve met Americans who look and sound so many different ways, I’m puzzled by somebody suggesting you can screen for that.

      2. Mpls*

        Would that be North American, Central American, South American, Latin American or Native American? What flavor of American would you like?

    4. Juli G.*

      No. What isn’t illegal is to exclude someone from consideration if they don’t have US work authorization. Note that this isn’t citizenship – just authorization to be employed in the US.

    5. MashaKasha*

      I’ve worked in IT all my life, and due to the nature of my geographical location I guess, most of my coworkers have been white, Angl0-Saxon/Irish/German guys. I’m cracking up here at the “dresses more stylishly” comment. Is this a joke?

      A misunderstanding was indeed likely here; this is why OP asked the recruiter multiple questions to narrow down what exactly she was looking for. This was also why OP gave the recruiter the benefit of the doubt and started out by asking bout a candidate’s skillset. I think the recruiter’s response has cleared up any misunderstandings pretty nicely.

    6. Observer*

      “Looks American” – possible. But, that’s illegal – especially since it really means “looks like a certain type of American” (or “THOSE people aren’t really Americans, even though they may even be citizens”).

      “dresses more stylishly” etc is just not at all credible in any way shape or form.

    7. Windchime*

      And besides, what does “look and sound American”? I can think of a half-dozen Americans who are also immigrants. They are 100% American and have the citizenship documents to prove it, but they could not look or sound more different from one another. They are natively from India, Kuwait, Russia, China and Viet Nam. They are male and female, white and brown, and are all Americans.

      By “look and sound American”, do you mean white male? Because that’s a totally different thing.

  6. HardwoodFloors*

    For #2 The LW could suggest that the other person Google or use linked in to figure out for herself if the people behind the resumes had the “skills” she was looking for.

      1. HardwoodFloors*

        My comment about LinkedIn is misunderstood. I meant it was a way to see what the applicant felt their strengths were. Types of technical skills that were picked for endorsements and the order that they put them on the site. I was talking about a fit for the job and what the applicant showed for interests. Rather than a resume written for the job.

  7. Polabear*

    I work for a company where we are not allowed to take anything from a vendor. That includes things like notebooks and plastic pens. It either gets sent back or donated, depending on the relationship we have with the vendor. Most of our vendors know the policy, but every now and then something will show up and is a bit of a bummer

    1. Katiedid*

      I work in government and we obviously have the same restrictions. We send out letters to all of our vendors/contractors in October reminding them of this policy (most have public and private clients, so they don’t always think of it). We missed a vendor one year and they send us five boxes of chocolate chip cookies. Because they were local, I was the designated “returner.” It was a very sad drive over there (and it was a real test to not have one of them “fall off the back of the truck,” so to speak!).

      But, I do think that’s easier than in the OP’s case – at least this way, no one gets anything. I would have been pretty annoyed if they got taken home by my boss and no one else ever got to enjoy any. It’s especially true when in many cases, the boss isn’t the one doing the day-to-day work with the vendor and then the boss swoops in and take the spoils!

      1. Elizabeth West*

        At Exjob, if a vendor sent something to a specific employee, they got to keep it, though if it were a food basket, we appreciated sharing. :) If it came to the company, it was shared no matter what.

        And we tried to be fair to the shop personnel as well–we always got a big ham and sandwich fixings from one vendor, and ice cream from another. It went out there first, because the office folks got most of the popcorn, cookies, etc. simply by virtue of proximity. The ice cream was only a limited amount. I never took any. But I would be all over that ham as soon as they had some. :)

  8. katamia*

    Ooh, something similar happened to me once, OP5, although there was no staffing center involved–a local bank contacted me for an interview, we scheduled, and then when I got there my interviewer was out. I didn’t know this at the time, but judging from what I’ve read about here on AAM, I think it may have been the required time off that people in certain financial fields have to take.

    I actually was interviewed when I came in, by a few other people at the branch, but it really pissed me off. It’s been years and I’m still a little mad about that even though I don’t usually get upset about interview shenanigans–how hard is it to check your calendar when you’re scheduling an interview? It’s different if you’re sick or something, but in my case, it was clearly planned time off. Harrumph.

    I would call the staffing center no matter what just to let them know that something went wrong with the interview scheduling process. Don’t be accusatory about it or anything, just keep it factual. It’s information that could help them do a better job at what they do, and they should have it, especially if it turns out there’s some sort of pattern, either in their interactions with this particular company or in their scheduling process in general.

  9. SCR*

    Confused a bit by #2… It sounds like it’s not the recruiter making that decision but the client has requested a certain profile. And if they’re a European company then they wouldn’t be subject to US laws right? It’s still icky and wrong for sure, but the letter is not totally clear.

    As an aside, this happens all the time where I live (Middle East). It is definitely not illegal. I am a Western (American) white woman and have been told by recruiters that they have requests for “Westerners” a lot so I get shuffled to the top of the pile. When I was chatting with a recruiter about this, I was a bit appalled, but he says that he’s had people come right out and claim they only want certain nationalities or races or whatever. Or will specify, “men only.” Sometimes it’s warranted because if the job requires travel to Saudi then it’s hard for women to go there. But yeah, this doesn’t surprise me in the least that it happens.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      European employment law offers what I understand to be similar protection to protected classes, some of it country specific but some of it applies to the whole of the EU.

      1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

        Bottom line is any EU country will have anti-discrimination laws, including race. And I would assume that non-EU countries would too. And this is so blatant that it’s going to fall foul of even the most badly worded anti-discrimination laws, because “we only white candidates” is racism straight up and down.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      My reading of the letter may be incorrect (OP, can you clarify?) but I read it to mean that it’s a European company with U.S. sites, and the hiring in question is for those U.S. sites (since the OP refers to needing to cater to “U.S. managers copping an attitude toward offshore”).

    3. Katie the Fed*

      So, you do see this in the Middle East and Asia, but usually it’s to give the appearance of international legitimacy for the company. So it’s not so much that they have a white person there, it’s that they have a foreigner there – it looks more multinational. There’s an article somewhere about a guy who makes his living in Japan going to corporate events as “the American”

      But….none of this has anything to do with the question above, which was either UK or US, who have very different labor laws. I mean, I’d far rather have the protections here than being in a Gulf state like Qatar where hundreds of foreign workers will die in the preparations for the World Cup because labor laws are so terrible. We can do better than that.

      1. SCR*

        In the instances I am aware of, it is very much racism. Usually to South Asians or people from certain other MENA countries. I’ve seen more casual, persistent racism here that’s fully accepted and integrated as a part of life here than anywhere else I’ve lived.

    4. Cambridge Comma*

      But in many countries in the world, protections against discriminiation are stronger, not weaker than in the US. I wouldn’t assume that non-US means anything goes.

    5. Observer*

      The people who are telling you this are idiots. This is most definitely illegal.

      I’m also pretty sure that an American branch of a European company needs to comply with American labor law.

      1. SCR*

        Um… different countries have different laws, you are not aware of what country I’m in. We just got a law against hate crimes this summer, seriously. Workplace discrimination hasn’t caught up.

        1. Not me*

          I think Observer is saying that an American branch, in America, will need to comply with the local laws. As applies to the OP’s situation. I think?

          1. Observer*

            Yes. I have no idea what the laws are in the Middle East. But, in the US it’s illegal, and they do have to obey US labor laws in the US.

            I should clarify that if this is an American company with a branch in the ME, then they are idiots or a ME company working in the ME, because in both of those scenarios, it would be illegal. But, if it’s a ME company in the ME, then I wouldn’t know.

  10. Leeza*

    I would open the basket as soon as possible and start digging into the goodies before the manager has a chance to steal it. What an ass!

    1. starsaphire*

      I’m with you on this! LW#1, what would happen if you guys just opened up one of the boxes of candy/cookies/pears/etc. and started eating them? If there’d be nasty blowback from the boss, then yeah, it’s not a good idea, but has anyone tried it?

      1. blue_eyes*

        I like this idea. Plus it comes with a healthy dose of plausible deniability. “The client said it was for everyone, so I opened it and put it in the break room.”

    2. Valegro*

      We used to do that with the jerk boss at my last job in a small vet hospital. There were no rules about gifts and he thrrew a fit when we opened a gift basket addressed to the office because he planned to regift it to a client whose loved one had died. It was just a symptom of a MAJORLY dysfunctional workplace. I had job PTSD from that one.

      1. Traveler*

        If he was that sympathetic to the client whose loved one died, you’d think he’d be willingly to bust open his wallet for it. Wow!

    3. Cheeto*

      That’s what my office done. We’ve had a new basket of cookies or crackers or box of chocolate every day for the past 10 days, and whoever actually receives it at the front desk immediately opens it and puts it in the break area.

  11. Lee Ann*

    I’d send an anonymous note to the gift-givers; if I’d dropped off a gift intending it to go to the employees who’d been really helpful, I’d be pissed if it went to their boss instead. Rather like when Gordon Ramsey found out that restaurant owner was taking the tips and turned around and asked the customers what they thought about it – they were understandably not pleased at all.

    1. Mookie*

      I mean, I have an inordinate and probably unhealthy love of tattling (I really do and sometimes I’m really good at it), but I don’t see how doing so would resolve the thing. I can’t imagine a client who wants to remain cordial with the OP’s company phoning up the boss to rap his knuckles over this. I can’t even picture how a conversation like that would happen without it being the stuff of absurd, naked-at-the-podium nightmares. And if the anonymous notes should prompt some of the clients to stop giving gifts altogether, the office will be no better off. There’s no tactful way for that to happen, as far as I can tell, so it’s up the boss’s staff to broach the issue if they decide collectively to do so.

      If anyone deserves an anonymous note, it’s the dude re-gifting a gift basket designed for other people. [enter Charles Lavoie New Yorker caption here]

      1. Lee Ann*

        If I were the client who got that note, I’d just drop a “so how did your staff like the gift basket?” into the conversation to see how the boss would react – if the company I’m working with is operating at that level of petty dishonesty, why would I even want to remain cordial with them?

        1. Mookie*

          Oh, interesting! You’re good at this. Yes, this would work and now I want one of the clients to do it.

    2. HRish Dude*

      This doesn’t accomplish anything. The vendor wants the company’s business and is not going to get involved with pettiness going on at the company providing it with money. In fact, the manager is likely the one with final say (or the closest one to the one with final say) in the vendor’s contracts and in the utilization of the vendor, so his happiness is really the only happiness they care about.

  12. Katie the Fed*

    #1 – if the boss doesn’t personally accept delivery of these things, I would unpack the gift basket and spread the goodies around before he even sees it. You could even send an email out to the team like “Enjoy the goodies that Skilcraft just sent over for all of us!”

  13. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    OP #5, I just want to sympathize with you for this:

    “I could come in the next day and wait for the correct interviewer to see me if she was available.”

    This employer, or at least the person you talked to, is not being very respectful of your time. Unfortunately you might just have to deal with that…

    1. Erin*

      Yeah, exactly. It’s not clear from the letter whether this scheduling snafu was the fault of the company she’s interviewing at, or the staffing agency, but either way the company did not respond correctly. They’re basically saying, “I guess you can come in tomorrow and maybe see if she’s possibly available.” What the heck.

      I think the company sent a message to the OP that they don’t really value her time and don’t have a great interest in meeting with her. If I were you OP I would call the staffing agency, explain there was a mix up somehow, but that you’re not interested in scheduling a follow up meeting with this particular company.

  14. Katrina*

    #3: not really to the LW, but just thoughts that popped up when I read it – I once had an employer give my schedule out to my stalker. I also had an ex who demanded to know my every move, which made it logistically impossible to buy him gifts or plan any kind of surprise.

    1. INTP*

      Yeah, when I worked at a staffing agency and we had people calling in to request their spouse’s work placement and schedule, we refused to disclose for the same reason. Usually they had a very sketchy and aggressive way of speaking anyways, but also, if someone hasn’t told their spouse where and when they are working, there is a reason. That’s not a normal thing not to share. Maybe sometimes it’s because the employee is cheating, but it could also be because the spouse is abusive or a stalker or not a spouse at all. I’d rather a few employees get away with cheating than anyone be put in danger.

  15. Anon the Great and Powerful*

    It’s disappointing that so many commenters think there’s nothing wrong with the situation in #2.

    1. INTP*

      I agree. It seems like people are trying really hard to justify why that might be acceptable. In what world is there an innocent excuse for making sure candidates “look like John Smith?” Come on, no one asks whether someone speaks English fluently that way. (And it wasn’t even specified that this was a tech support position. I hope people just don’t realize that offshored IT do all kinds of things besides phone-based tech support, and aren’t just connecting Indian candidate with IT customer service.)

      1. Allison*

        There’s a part of me who wants to think that by saying “we want someone who looks like John Smith” what they mean is “we want someone whose resume resembles John Smith’s resume.” I have recruiters show me benchmark candidates and say “find someone who looks like this” (which is completely unhelpful, tell me what specifically on the resume you like and I’ll find that), but I have a gut feeling that’s not what’s going on here . . .

        1. INTP*

          Yeah, if it was that phrase alone with no other context, there might be an explanation. But in this case the OP probed for more information, gave the recruiter an opportunity to clarify what she meant, and the recruiter clarified that she meant John Smith’s appearance (i.e. race), not his resume or skill set. Trying to read good intentions into that, or worse, justify why it might be “just good business” to not consider Indian candidates for this position, is…not okay.

      2. Christian Troy*

        I completely agree with you. If they were worried about language competency, then the recruiter could have said something about making sure the have intermediate proficiency in writing, speaking and reading English (or whatever question makes sense). They don’t want to hire Indian people.

    2. Laurel Gray*

      Extremely disappointing. But I have been pretty puzzled by what gets explainified and rationalized or devil’s advocated in these comments as of late.

      1. Anon the Great and Powerful*

        True, the comments have been getting worse lately. Sometimes I wonder why I bother reading them.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Well, this is a large group of strangers from many different walks of life. It’s not surprising to me that we’d end up with lots of varying viewpoints and that some of them will sound off-base or outright offensive. The alternative is a much smaller, closed group (which isn’t something I’d want, but it might be useful to consider the trade-off).

      3. Traveler*

        Well, as AAM mentioned, everyone sees the world through their own lens and through their own experiences. Plus we don’t always get a lot of context in the letters – and I see a lot of people trying to fill in the gray areas or question them. Having that variety though, makes the comments interesting even if I don’t agree with them ( – if everyone were as smart as AAM or some of the commenters here we probably wouldn’t need a site like this!). We’re still a long haul away from a lot of the other dark parts of internet comment sections. I still hope that people who don’t see things like above as blatant racism learn something – either from AAM’s response or by reading the comments and reactions.

      1. Myrin*

        I agree. Skimming the comments above this one, I see only three that don’t really seem to see anything wrong with #2. There are many people saying “well, if they actually meant xy by this, that’s a reasonable thing to ask for, but that needs to be done with different wording/but that doesn’t seem to be what’s going on here” but that’s not the same as agreeing with the racist recruiter.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes — this has been a real frustration for me recently: A couple of commenters will say something that’s clearly an outlier from the majority viewpoint, and then it will get characterized as “all” or “so many” when it’s like 1%. It’s really frustrating to me, as someone who really cares about the quality of the community here.

    3. neverjaunty*

      I don’t know that it’s many commenters, but unfortunately there are people who will desperately search for any explanation, no matter how implausible, rather than admit racism or other bigotry is a thing.

  16. Allison*

    2) Oh boy . . . I work in tech recruiting myself, and sometimes I send the recruiter a candidate who’s from India or China, and the recruiter’s hesitant to even contact them because they might need sponsorship, or they might have problems with English. It’s like . . . yes, those things could be true, but they have the skills we’re looking for and there’s nothing on their resume that indicates they’d need a visa; you can’t make an assumption about a candidate based on their race, and then write them off because of it.

    I get that offshoring is a nightmare. Even without a language barrier, the time difference alone is enough to wreck a project. But just because you’ve had bad experiences working with offshore teams or foreign contractors doesn’t mean you get to discriminate against fully qualified candidates based on race.

    Also, I wonder if it’s the recruiter or hiring manager who doesn’t want to talk to non-white candidates. It’s a problem either way, but sometimes the recruiter puts additional limitations on who they’ll talk to, because they’re convinced that even if the hiring manager didn’t specify a certain background, they’re likely to be most satisfied with candidates from that background.

    1. Temperance*

      Because I honestly don’t know how this works – do you ask ahead of time whether the candidate will need sponsorship, or do you refer them to the company first?

      1. Allison*

        we’re all on an internal recruiting team for the company, to be clear, neither myself nor the recruiter works for a third party agency or RPO service. so when I source a candidate I’m just putting them in our internal system for the recuiter to look at, I’m not submitting them to the company.

        the way I works where I am (and I get that recruitment sourcing works differently at other companies) I find passive candidates and put them in the system, and if the recruiter likes the candidate they give me the go-ahead to contact the candidate. generally, once I’ve been given the green light to contact the candidate, I do, and if they say they need sponsorship I ask the recruiter if it’s something we can provide, which we usually can’t, and if we can’t them I tell the candidate we can’t move forward with their candidacy.

      2. INTP*

        In both internal and external recruiting, we always asked everyone during the initial phone conversation (including people who had Anglo names and American accents, it was just part of the standard questions). IT and engineering people are used to it and it isn’t awkward or secret. The phrase I was taught to use is “Are you able to provide documentation of your right to work in the US without sponsorship?”

    2. INTP*

      When I worked in tech recruiting, I had the same experience with a lot of recruiters, but then, many of our clients DID have a subtle or explicit preference for non-Indian candidates. We worked with a lot of smaller startups with “brogrammer” culture, and based on the demographics of the talent pool, they did have to be quite racist to keep their culture that way (still wrong and illegal, of course, but I assume that’s why they refused to hire people from India and cared less if someone was from, say, Mexico, as long as they had a prestigious education). And most of the clients wouldn’t sponsor H1-Bs, which is definitely limiting, but then some of my fellow recruiters would literally spend more time agonizing over whether someone might not be eligible to work without sponsorship than it would have taken to call them and ask. I get that if you have 300 resumes and time to make 150 calls, you’re going to start with the people who are most likely to meet the basic requirements of sponsorship and language fluency (I usually looked at which country they attended college in), but sometimes it got into weird territory where I couldn’t tell if someone was being unconsciously xenophobic or just letting their anxiety about the visa conversation make them procrastinate.

      1. Development professional*

        I’m totally with you, and this attitude definitely perpetuates “brogrammer” culture, which is gross. BUT. It’s worth noting that for many employers it’s not just that they “won’t” sponsor H1-B visas. Often, they can’t because they can’t get their hands on them. This will continue to be a problem if there’s no meaningful immigration reform. More info here:

        1. INTP*

          Oh, I know that not sponsoring H1B visas is not always the company’s choice. I just meant that as far as recruiter behavior went, I could understand, say, calling the people with evidence of green cards/citizenship on their resumes (long-term work histories in the US, educated in the US, etc) before the people who are clearly recent immigrants working with clients that don’t sponsor visas (for any reason), but sometimes it went beyond time efficiency and a couple of the recruiters (not the majority by any means) would sit around and agonize and make excuses about not calling a particular person for far longer than it would have taken to just call and ask. I don’t know if it was racism or just anxiety about dealing with an accent and a visa conversation though. (I never dealt with anyone who reacted badly to being asked about their work status, but maybe they are out there.)

    3. Ad Astra*

      It’s totally fine to require mastery of English or be unable/unwilling to sponsor a foreign candidate. If that’s what’s going on here, the recruiter needs to articulate that instead of using racist assumptions to justify racist hiring practices.

  17. Temperance*

    Re: #2: wouldn’t saying no outsourcing/no H1-B be sufficient to get the point across? I understand why a company wouldn’t want to do either, but her wording made it come across as racist rather than expressing a legitimate business need.

    1. Kelly L.*

      I don’t think the recruiter’s even talking about outsourcing anymore. I think she has her racist hackles up so high over the outsourcing that now she doesn’t want to hire any nonwhite person for anything, no matter what the position is and no matter how fluent they are.

    2. INTP*

      I think the issue is that the team (or manager or recruiter or someone) no longer wants to work with Indian people (or possibly any person from any non-western country or with ancestors from any non-western country) at all. There are many non-white, non-American-born people who are fluent in English, hold green cards or citizenship, live in the US long-term, and otherwise cannot be filtered out by anything other than racism.

  18. TotesMaGoats*

    I honestly can’t figure out where #3 is coming from. The question seems to be past tense, so it’s already happened, thus the “is this legal”. So, if the OP is the wife why does she care if it’s legal? She’s gotten the info she needed. If the OP is the husband, it doesn’t matter if it’s legal. Go to HR and say don’t tell my spouse this information.

    Honestly, I thought the question seemed pretty 3rd person. Maybe someone in HR or in the husband’s office overheard the call. Maybe it’s a sibling of the wife or husband. Still, Allison’s response is right. You aren’t going to be happy with the answer on where your spouse was. And if you are trying to catch your spouse in a lie, why do you care if it’s legal or not? Unless your goal is to get your spouse in trouble by getting the company in trouble? IDK. Sounds like time for some honest conversations (possibly with a counselor) that don’t involve anyone’s employer.

    1. Kelly L.*

      I don’t think OP is the wife. The way I read it, the wife called the OP to check up on him, and the OP’s trying to figure out whether or not she can give this out.

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        That’s why I’m thinking that the OP isn’t the husband or wife at all, it’s someone either at the company or someone else unrelated.

        Ok. So OP, if you work at the company with the husband, while there may be no law saying you can’t give it out. You shouldn’t , without asking the husband.

          1. TotesMaGoats*

            I think I could go either way on that one. If anyone called asking about work hours, I’d probably want to give the person the heads up. It could be crazy stalker. It could be bitter ex-spouse. I would want to know if someone called my boss and asked what hours I’ve been working.

            Although I can see the other side as well.

            1. Observer*

              On the other hand, it could be that your employee is the one who is off the wall here. You just don’t know, and therefore should stay out of it.

              Of course, if you DO know that there is an issue, then that’s different and you should give the person a head’s up. But, absent that, I’d say to stay out.

    2. INTP*

      And if the question is from a third party, it still doesn’t really matter whether it’s illegal or not, because it’s a really bad thing to do. You could be giving that information to an abusive spouse, a spouse that will show up and disrupt the workplace, a stalker pretending to be a spouse, etc. The safety of your employees is more important than helping the spouses catch them cheating.

    3. LizB*

      If OP is the wife, it’s possible she called and her husband’s manager said “I can’t give you any information about our employees, that would be illegal,” and now she’s hoping for a “no it isn’t” answer from Alison so she can go back and ask again.

      Either way, though, I think Alison’s response is spot on. Employers shouldn’t be giving out that kind of information, and this couple clearly has some problems to work out between the two of them that they shouldn’t involve either of their workplaces in.

  19. Erin*

    #3 – I love how this is phrased so we don’t know if you’re the wife or employer (or husband!).

    If you’re the wife: Yes, they could give them to you, but they’re not obligated to. Aside from the obvious reasons why it’s a bad idea, who’s to say they wouldn’t “tell on you” to your husband? Way too risky.

    If you’re the employer: As Alison said, it’s legal for you to tell her but you don’t have to, and furthermore, shouldn’t.

    If you’re the husband: Clearly you’re not doing this whole sneaking around thing right if you think your wife is calling to check up on you.

  20. BethRA*

    LW 1 – if directly confronting Greedy Guts isn’t an option, maybe you can try having the person who accepts the gifts unwrap and unpack them as soon as they come in, and then send an all-staff “help yourself” email about it.

    (fwiw, if it were me sending a gift to a whole office, I’d be po’d to know one person ran off with the whole thing)

    1. Erin*

      It would have to be on a case-to-case basis, as the gifts don’t always arrive in the same manner, but I like this.

      Client comes in with basket, announces it’s for everyone, receptionist jumps up, “How lovely, thank you so much! I’ll put it in the break room right now so everyone can enjoy!”

      Then, she sends out an email. “Fresh cookies in break room, help yourself before they’re all gone!”

      1. peanut butter kisses*

        I like this solution. You can also have various employees go up to the boss and say “Hey Boss, Client Smith and Jones told me that they sent a basket of joy for the whole office to share. Do you know where it is at? I can’t wait to see what they sent us!” or some variation of that. It would make the boss look each person in the eyes and tell them what a horse’s ass they have been.

  21. Observer*

    # 3 – I haven’t seen any of the other responses yet, so I could be repeating what others have said.

    I agree with Allison. If you are trying to catch your husband in a lie, you need to deal with the bigger issue. And, which Allison didn’t address, if you are the husband whose wife is trying to catch you in a lie, you need to deal with that. Either you need to change your behavior, you need to get out of your marriage or you both need some serious counseling.

  22. Mimmy*

    I’m a little confused by #5 – At first I read it to mean that the interviewer was out that day unexpectedly, but then realized maybe the interviewer wasn’t even scheduled to be in that day. Either way, it sounds like the employer wasn’t prepared to meet with the OP.

  23. Mockingjay*

    #1: Your boss is The Grinch.

    Hopefully your office staff includes Little Cindy Lou Who to teach him the error of his ways.

  24. Grey*

    #1: I’d let the client know what’s happening. Do it in a subtle way so it doesn’t look like you’re ratting him out. You could say something like, “Hey, just wanted to let you know that Bob and his family loved the gift basket that you sent to them.”

  25. Eliza Jane*

    #2, It doesn’t affect the fact that this is immoral, unethical, and illegal, but it might change the steps to be taken if you knew whether this was the recruiter’s idea independently, or if it’s coming from the client in some way. If the client is complaining that she keeps submitting unsuitable people with a lot of racist undertones, then she may be in an awful situation right alongside you. If so, someone at a higher organizational level might need to get involved to talk about handling the client, especially if their European site is somewhere with significantly different discriminatory hiring laws.

    1. MashaKasha*

      Agree, I said something similar upthread as well. I, too, suspect that the pressure to hire an Aryan brotherhood of a team is really coming from the client, and the recruiter is caught in the middle.

  26. MM*

    #1 I’d go for the more subtle approach first. If it was a fruit basket, I’d come in when boss was around and say loudly in front of everyone, “hey, where’s that fruit basket?” and see what the boss says. Then I’d throw in “oh it really sucks they keep disappearing, I wanted a banana/chocolate/whatever”. It might embarrass boss into stopping the behaviour. Then I’d go with Alison’s suggestion if that tactic failed.

  27. Employment Lawyer*

    It’s actually pretty common. The boss probably figures that the company “earns” the gifts by hiring good people, paying them well, providing good service, etc. The company is therefore entitled to things which show up at work. You can make a fuss about it if you’d like. Or you can ask yourself “do I like working here? Do I get a bonus (which you are NOT entitled to get?) Is the boss generally nice?” If you’re OK with it then let it go.

    It’s probably illegal. Just do a blind phone screen instead. It will knock out all the accents you don’t like without regard to race. There are plenty of non-whites with a New York accent. (that could theoretically be illegal as well, so talk to counsel before you finalize.)

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Saying New York accent reminds me of a teacher I had in middle school. He was from New York and talked so fast nobody could understand him when he got going. We were in the slower-paced Midwest, and he actually had to modulate his way of speaking for us. Sometimes, we would ask him to “talk New York” and he would rattle off something for our amusement. :)

      1. Anonsie*

        I had a history teacher in grade school who would, once a year, read to us in a Louisiana accent. We thought this was wonderfully exotic, because we were in the Northwest.

    2. neverjaunty*

      But it’s not “the company” taking the gifts, it’s the boss himself.

      The bigger issue is not that the boss is eating all the See’s candy, the bigger issue is that the boss is a clueless ass, and that rarely shows up in just one area of work.

  28. tango*

    Well when one of those gift baskets comes in, why doesn’t someone pop up and say to the giver , “oh those chocolates, popcorn, whatever looks so wonderful and I’m starving, do you mind if we break into your gift basket now”? More than likely the giver will not object and be flattered. And the boss will really be a horses booty if she said like “no, it’s for me” when you asked the giver if you could raid the basket right away. I expect the giver would give the boss a WTF look. I know I would! Then you all gather round and take stuff. By the time the giver has left the office and your group has picked through the basket, whatever is left is free for the boss. Now the boss might say something along the lines of “oh no, we’ll go through it after so and so leaves” and that’s fine. Just move the basket to one of your desks or a common area and as soon as the giver goes to leave, swoop in like vultures. You know what your boss is like, why just stand by and hope he does the right thing.

    1. TootsNYC*

      was going to suggest that as well!

      Just immediately say, “ooh, let’s open it now!” You can do that in a way that makes the giver feel good (“look, they liked it!”), by saying stuff like, “We’re always so glad to work on your account,” and “It feels really good to be appreciated; thanks for the goodies!”

  29. Student*

    #2 – What your recruiter said was awful. The problem that motivated the request is (presumably) real. There are non-awful solutions available. You should absolutely tell her that her suggestion is out of line, as AAM said. However, it would probably help to point her towards a legitimate, non-discriminatory solution to the legitimate problem that motivated this request in the first place. If you show her how to address it in an appropriate way, then maybe that will help keep her from trying to discriminate to solve her problem in the long term.

    I see two ways to address the underlying problem of unqualified IT employees. One is with a competency /skills test, possibly as part of the application stage instead of as a second-round interview step. I don’t think this is necessarily going to work. The second is to screen people by education much more aggressively. Foreign universities operate on a completely different set of systems than US universities, and naturally these systems vary as much as the countries they are in. It’s no secret, nor discriminatory, to recognize that a degree from some universities is not automatically equivalent to a degree from other universities. In some countries, a college degree is more like a a US masters (much of Europe), and in others it’s often closer to a US high school diploma (many third-world countries, frankly including much of India). So, start putting together “white lists” and “black lists” of universities for specific skill sets from countries that you get many applicants from.

    Make sure you do due diligence and actually look for well-regarded schools from India; don’t just blacklist every school in India because that would be a proxy for discrimination against Indians. There are plenty of brilliant Indians, many of whom study abroad, and I’m sure there must be several good Indian-based schools. But if a school anywhere has a track record of putting out sub-par candidates, it’s legitimate to start blacklisting candidates from that school (or requiring an extraordinary resume from those candidates). There are plenty of US for-profit schools that I’d put on a blacklist, and probably several US not-for-profits that I’d blacklist for a specific professional context. As long as you have a reason for the blacklist, and it’s a legitimate reason you aren’t ashamed to write down and be asked about (and re-examine every few years), there’s no need to pretend that every school is equal to every other school.

  30. girasol*

    1: If you face the manager in a group, be sure you’re ready to deal with him alone. When someone says “We all feel that you should not take gifts meant for all of us” the boss will ask, “Whose idea was this?” It’s unfortunately likely that the people, especially those most supportive of taking this to the boss as a group until this point, will get a deer in headlights look and say loudly “Wasn’t my idea! It was her!”

  31. IMHO*

    Three tech giants of silicon valley have Indians leading them.
    Ceo of Microsoft – Indian born Indian
    Ceo of Google – Indian born Indian
    Ceo of Adobe – Indian born Indian

    Can anyone really doubt the competency or linguistic abilities of Indians (as a group, not individuals) without sounding ignorant?

    1. MashaKasha*

      So that company would’ve turned down CEO of MS and CEO of Google.

      You’re right, they’re so adorable.

        1. Traveler*

          Right, but I don’t equate having a campus as being where they’re from or what defines them. If anything Seattle’s east side might as well be Microsoft Valley. Though I suppose half of Seattle would probably happily see them shipped off.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Well, it’s not like Silicon Valley is Silicon Valley anymore, since it got its name from the semiconductor manufacturing industry and that’s long gone.

        1. Traveler*

          Well my point was Seattle and the Bay Area are pretty different culturally speaking IMO – both within the tech world and outside of it (even demographic wise, Seattle is much “whiter”). In fact the last time I was in Seattle there was a lot of hate for H1B holders among the tech people I knew. It seemed much less so in the Bay Area. So while I get what OP was getting at, you could also see it as pretty significant.

  32. Agile Phalanges*

    We have an employee and spouse here similar to #3. It started out just mostly her asking us to have him call her. He has a call phone, but this is a blue-collar job around machinery, and I’m sure he can’t hear the phone ring, or probably even feel it vibrate, when he’s working. I don’t know if he’s not good about checking for messages on his break, or if she’s just anxious and/or controlling, because you’d think she could just text him, and he could text her back on his next break, but whatever.

    Then she started calling to ask when he’d be getting off work, or if he’d left yet. I don’t want to get in the middle of THAT, so I’d usually just say I wasn’t sure, and she’d hang up, apparently fine with that answer. Weird. Then there was a day where we’d told the crew not to come in the next day, but then ended up getting some orders, and called in a skeleton crew, including the employee with the nosy wife. A bit after he got here, she called asking if we’d really asked him to work today. What the WHAT? I’m guessing he’d come home the night before, told her he had the next day off, then she got suspicious when he told he her did have to work after all. Wow. I think I did end up telling her that yes, we had called him in, that time, out of sheer stunned-ness, but generally I try not to get in the middle of it.

    Now that I’ve met her a couple times, she doesn’t seem as suspicious, since I’m a good foot and a half taller and probably outweigh him threefold (and her even more so). I’m no threat. ;-) We finally have our second female employee though, so it’ll probably start all over.

  33. Milla*

    The passive aggressive, non-confrontational method to dealing with the gift baskets:
    Open them upon receipt.

    Whomever receives the delivery can open the basket to set out the goodies in the break room or common area, then call everyone’s attention and read the card. The boss can’t regift something that’s been opened and, unless he’s horrifyingly bad, he won’t start shoveling it all back into the basket to take to his office in front of the crowd.

    Or make a loud comment like “Ooo! Let’s open this up!” in front of everyone when the item is delivered, but before the delivery person leaves and the boss can take the basket.

Comments are closed.