my boss blamed me for her mistake

A reader writes:

My boss and I have a standing weekly check-in where she is supposed to call my cell phone (she works remotely). Occasionally, she will just not call in to the meeting. At first I would ask to reschedule, but after this happening several times I eventually accepted that she just will sometimes not make it for that meeting. She didn’t call in this past week but the next day emailed me saying I needed to be better about keeping our check-in. I apologized and asked if maybe the time scheduled on our calendars just wasn’t a good/convenient time for her. She said it was and that she had called me at the scheduled time and left me a voicemail.

Except that she didn’t. At least I’m almost positive she didn’t. I don’t have any missed calls or voicemails from her and I sat by my phone the entire time. I also sit next to the sales phone so if she couldn’t reach my cell, she would typically dial that but that didn’t ring or receive any messages. I haven’t responded to her last email since I’m not sure if mentioning I didn’t receive a voicemail would come across as accusatory. Do I respond at all? If so, what should I say? Am I being crazy? Is there some way she could have recorded a message and I just wouldn’t have received it?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My boss has one foot out the door and is constantly complaining
  • Can my employer require me to use English when talking to coworkers?
  • I loaned a coworker money and she won’t pay me back
  • Can I bring notes into a job interview?

{ 188 comments… read them below }

  1. Biff*

    I’m not sure if I agree with the answer provided for “English Only” — I think it would make sense for management to require English only if they had received complaints that customers (or other coworkers) believed that employees were being rude or talking about inappropriate topics at work, using their shared language as mask. You never know who is perfectly fluent in even a rare language. I can see where the concern is. The best course of action, I think, is to speak in English unless the CUSTOMER requires the other language. I think this would show management that there is nothing to hide.

    (For the record here, if the customers and management all spoke another language, such as Spanish, I’d be okay with management saying “Hey, please always use Spanish unless the customer clearly needs help in your language. Otherwise folks presume that you are using your language to hide unflattering comments about the company, coworkers or customers.’)

    1. fposte*

      Alison’s summarizing takes on the EEOC here, though; the feds include language-based discrimination under Title VII. Employers therefore need to be really clear about the business necessity thing before limiting conversation in another language; I’m not sure that customer discomfort would meet that standard.

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        And it doesn’t even seem like it’s customer discomfort.

        Speaking in your non-native language requires additional effort, which is why a lot of people fall back to their native language.

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          Also, for younger people or those who might not have much chance to speak their non-English language, it can be good practice to keep their skills up to date.

        2. AMT*

          Right, and even customer discomfort might not be enough to justify an English-only rule barring communication difficulties or performance issues. Neither customer nor coworker discomfort can be used to justify discriminatory actions — in other words, if it couldn’t be justified without “the customers/your coworkers don’t like it,” then it can’t be justified, period.

          Not a lawyer, but case law is pretty firm on this one. See, for example, Williams v. TWA (racially-charged customer complaint used as a basis for firing a flight attendant, judge finds employer’s response to be racial discrimination) and Schroer v. Library of Congress (trans woman gets a job offer rescinded after revealing trans status, Library of Congress says it’s because people will be uncomfortable, judge disagrees and finds this to be sex discrimination).

      2. Barney Barnaby*

        Sure, it might not be legal for management to push the issue, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good move for the OP to not comply with the request.

        What likely happened is either that someone familiar with the language picked up pieces of the conversation and thought it wasn’t work-appropriate, or co-workers are worried that the speakers are gossiping about them (or the job) and using the language as a veil.

        Perhaps the OP can figure out some sort of “foreign language group” at the company, inviting to join those who speak her native language and those who would like to learn. That way, it comes across as inclusive rather than exclusive.

        1. Biff*

          That’s where I stand on the issue — what’s legal (continuing to speak most of the time in your own language) probably isn’t the smartest move, professionally.

        2. tigerlily*

          Neither of those suggestions warrant telling employees they can only speak in English. If the situation was the former (which personally, I feel is a bit of a leap from just the OP’s letter) than they should be disciplined for being inappropriate. If it’s the latter, than that’s a problem of OP’s coworkers being xenophobic and THEY should be reprimanded for it. Hearing a language other than English – or just other than something you personally speak – and jumping to the conclusions that you’re either being gossiped about or that the speakers are being inappropriate is immensely problematic.

          1. Jesmlet*

            It’s not necessarily xenophobic to not like being excluded from a conversation your coworkers are having during work. I think the discomfort is normal, just like it would be if you saw them whispering in each other’s ears.

            1. Emilia Bedelia*

              I don’t think it’s reasonable to not like being excluded from a conversation if there’s no reason for someone to be in the conversation in the first place. There are many conversations that may happen during the day that not everyone may be privy to, and that’s just the way that it works. It’s not reasonable to expect that every conversation that anyone has needs to include everyone around them. If there’s a deliberate exclusionary behavior going on, that’s different, but just the fact that two people are speaking a different language should not be an issue if there’s no business need for speaking English.

              1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

                This! I don’t expect to be included in every conversation make coworkers have!

            2. Anna*

              Except they aren’t whispering; they’re speaking and the only issue is a coworker can’t understand them. It’s the English-speaking paranoia. “If they’re speaking in another language, they must be talking about me.”

              The only professional issue here is the one where the coworker is worried about hearing something they might not understand.

            3. Anna*

              You are assuming you’re entitled to be part of every conversation if you want. You’re not.

              I don’t know if everyone commenting on this is white, but I do know there’s a weird white privilege associated with speaking English and this idea that people should only speak English when other English-only speakers are around because they should be able to hitchhike on the conversation at their whim. It’s bizarre to me.

              1. Anon for this*

                I would say it’s more the privilege of speaking your country’s most common language, which, like many other privileges in the US, does intersect with race and ethnicity.

                One side of my family was under pressure to assimilate when they moved to the U.S., and completely quit speaking their first language, even changing the pronunciation of their names for English-speakers’ convenience. They also passed as Christian. Those relatives were white.

                I agree that the entitlement to others’ conversations is strange! It’s nobody else’s fault I’m only fluent in one language – why should they all have to change what they’re doing?

              2. Fortitude Jones*

                Not just white privilege. I’m black, and my mom constantly complains when she overhears people speaking in another language other than English in public. I call her out every time saying the same thing you did – she’s not entitled to know what they’re talking about in a private conversation, but she still bitches all the same.

          2. Maya Elena*

            I don’t think anythinf sinister of the original letter. However, in answer to your comment:

            Depending on the context, switching to your own language can be pretty rude and can definitely be construed as hostile – especially when this occurs right in front of someone’s nose, and not overheard over a cubicle wall.

            I don’t think the manager should prohibit it, and I think the coworker whom it makes uncomfortable should have the courage to address it directly instead of covertly through management.

            But as to your more general ‘xenophobia’ comment (I’m taking this beyond the original letter btw) and speaking as someone who is a bilingual immigrant, I’ll say: enough people in my own linguistic group are pretty apallingly disrespectful of their adopted country, coutrymen, and culture – more than enough to make coworkers or neighbors feel uncomfortable and quite slighted, without being retrograde xenophobic vermin.

            1. Chinook*

              “Depending on the context, switching to your own language can be pretty rude and can definitely be construed as hostile – especially when this occurs right in front of someone’s nose, and not overheard over a cubicle wall.
              I don’t think the manager should prohibit it, and I think the coworker whom it makes uncomfortable should have the courage to address it directly instead of covertly through management.”
              This bears repeating. DH would often have colleagues switch from English to French whole he was sitting with them as soon as another (bilingual) person would join the conversation. Was the conversation work related? No but it is dang rude and I think it isn’t being oversensitive.another in French and di

              The flipside is that I have been in social groups where two Filipinos start talking in their dialect and I recognize it may be the only time they can talk in their mother tongue and, as long as they don’t speak about something I need to know.(8 years later and I am still angry about the one woman who said one thing in English and another thing in French that undermined me but didn’t realize I was bilingual)

              But, these same people shouldn’t then complain about feeling isolated within the larger group because, by speaking a language not shared by all, they are isolating themselves by keeping others out of their informal chats.

              1. Cobol*

                It appears the case law disagrees with you, and in fact makes it illegal for you (or a boss) to ask somebody to stop based on “it is rude.”

    2. leslie knope*

      ” folks presume that you are using your language to hide unflattering comments about the company, coworkers or customers.”

      assigning malicious intent to people just because they’re speaking a language you don’t understand is kind of messed up. as someone who speaks multiple languages, i would never assume i was being insulted; you can usually tell anyway, regardless of what language they’re speaking, because of physical cues and intonation.

      people who are uncomfortable with languages other than english tend to be so for particular reasons that i don’t really think merit accomodation, tbh.

      1. Politrix*

        I think that’s an unfair assumption. I also speak multiple languages, and find them very convenient for conveying information that I don’t want everyone to be privy to. It’s not polite, but it’s useful. And I can certainly see how it would rub co-workers the wrong way if done consistently (Which is why I don’t do it much at work, but it’s very handy in my personal life). Communication is key to fostering positive relationships whether you’re at work at home, and excluding someone from your communication (whether deliberately or not) can risk making others feel alienated.

        1. Brogrammer*

          Eh, it does happen – I’ve been there with coworkers gossiping about me in Spanish, blissfully unaware that I could understand them.

          But I think that someone feeling excluded from a private conversation is less of an issue than that person thinking they’re entitled to someone else’s private conversation.

          1. blackcat*

            I had students who did this once in my classroom–making fun of my shoes or something like that. So I shot back a snarky comment about their shoes, in Spanish.

            I do think that it’s often *rude* to speak another language in a settling where it’s weird to exclude someone. For example, if there are 5 people at a dinner and 2 speak a common language that the others don’t, I think it’s weird and rude for the 2 to speak in the other language.

            In a workplace, if there are three people in an office where friendly chit chat is allowed, but two of the people speak to each other in a language that the third doesn’t speak, I think that’s rude. I don’t think that anything can really be done about it, but it does send a clear message of “I’m friendly with this person and not with you.” You can send that message (maybe you have good reasons for sending it), but it’s rude.

            I don’t think it’s rude in a larger group of people or if it doesn’t happen all the time. And “rude” and “behavior a manager can or should correct” do not really overlap in this case.

            1. blackcat*

              Oh, and the students were so surprised because I had never commented on their spanish speaking before. But in all of the previous times they had spoken spanish to each other, it was either on topic while they worked on something together or normal student to student chit-chat. I was fine with either. It was only when they crossed over to assuming I couldn’t understand them that I called them out on it. But part of that was also teaching them a lesson that these days in the US, A LOT of people speak spanish. That includes people like me–I’m pale w/ red hair. I’m definitely not fluent, but I am proficient and can hold my own in basic conversations.

              (The few times people *have* assumed I’m a spanish speaker have always puzzled me. It has happened several times, always here in the northeast where I live now and never in CA where I grew up.)

              1. Candi*

                Hah! At my doctor’s office, the most fluent Spanish-speaker was the blond and blue lead assistant on the front desk.

                One time a woman and her -sister, I think?- were waiting with three kids. Their body language and tone indicated what they were saying wasn’t very polite; they kept tilting their heads toward the staff and speaking in a snide tone.

                Then the lead politely interrupted in a quite professional tone -I think the word paper was in there. They both jumped a mile and looked really embarrassed. I admit to being amused.

                Whether speaking in a language others can understand or not is appropriate is heavily context-based.

        2. Tequila Mockingbird*

          That’s incredibly rude behavior, not to mention childish. You routinely use a language barrier to discuss “secrets” in front of others, both in the workplace and in your personal life?

          Also, I’m not sure what to make of your hypocrisy – admonishing others not to exclude/alienate others from your communication, while admitting that you do it all the time.

          1. Politrix*

            Speaking a different language to tell your husband something important and urgent, but inappropriate for children, when your five-year-old is at the table is “childish”? Okay, then.
            Informing the maintenance guy at your job that there’s a clogged, overflowing toilet in his own language so that a) he understands you and b) you don’t gross out your co-workers is “childish”? Right.
            I guess you completely missed the part where I said I knew it wasn’t polite, but sometimes it comes in handy, as long as it’s not done excessively. And that I don’t do it often at work, but sometimes it’s helpful (like when you don’t want to gross out your co-workers or you need to tell your husband that your kid’s BFF can’t get together for a playdate because his grandmother just died.)
            Are you going to tell me you’ve never talked in a low voice or whispered when you didn’t want to share information? Please get off your high horse.

            1. Anna*

              You’re arguing both sides here and it makes no sense. On the one hand, you see the benefit of using a language other than English. On the other hand, you don’t think the OP shouldn’t do it unless it’s for dire situations? That’s bizarre.

              1. Politrix*

                “You’re arguing both sides here and it makes no sense”

                Most people are actually capable of seeing two or more sides of a situation, but maybe you need some help. Let me explain:
                Both sides are valid, and I agree with many posters here who might share different views on the issue.
                People who speak more than one language do so for many reasons, and it is indeed a gift to be bi- or multi-lingual. However, when you abuse that gift, by excluding others who don’t speak your language — either by choice or by accident — you are being rude. I like using my gift, and I try to do it only when it’s necessary, but sometimes I get carried away and I get called on it. (Yes, I’m rude sometimes. I suppose you are the very model of modern etiquette?)
                When I get called on it, though, I don’t clutch my pearls and shriek, “Xenophobia!”, I try to see the other person’s perspective, which is usually legit, and I try to tone it down. In the same way, I don’t expect the person who calls me on my rudeness to automatically assume malicious intent.
                I think the whispering/low voice analogy is a pretty good one — sure, there are times when you need to have a private conversation, or discuss something extremely sensitive, so once in awhile is ok. But to constantly do it with the same person or persons in front of your co-workers is RUDE. Fullstop. And if your supervisor or colleagues cal you out on it, rather than write it off as them being “self-absorbed,” maybe you want to check your own behavior.
                Just my two cents.

                1. Anna*

                  Apparently rudeness for you is endemic no matter what language you’re using! Thanks for playing, though!

        3. neverjaunty*

          And then there’s that time when you find out the hard way that ‘surely nobody else in earshot speaks this language’ is incorrect.

      2. Alienor*

        Yeah, I think that’s a bit paranoid. I married into a family where the older generation’s native language is not English, and when they’re speaking their own language, I just assume they’re talking about something that doesn’t involve me. (If my name does come up in the course of a conversation in the other language, they’ll switch to English and say “Hey Alienor, Auntie was just asking if you still work at the same place,” or something like that.) Anyway, if people really want to talk about someone, forcing them to speak English won’t stop them from doing it – they’ll just go and do it somewhere else, so what does it matter?

        1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

          Yup! I understand Spanish much better than I speak it, so my older family members will switch back and forth if they nee a direct answer from me :)

      3. Tequila Mockingbird*

        “people who are uncomfortable with languages other than english tend to be so for particular reasons that i don’t really think merit accomodation, tbh.”

        I completely agree. In California, where 27% of our population is foreign-born and 40% speak languages other than English at home, “English-only” requests almost always seem motivated by xenophobia.

        1. sunny-dee*

          Well, except (presumably) English is the common language for all of them. Intentionally speaking a language excludes everyone else around them; while it could arguably be paranoid to assume that they’re talking about their coworkers or company, they are excluding alienating their coworkers.

          There doesn’t seem to be an indication that this is because of limits in their English fluency, just personal preference.

          1. Anna*

            Only if you assume you are entitled to be part of every conversation that’s happening around you and guess what, you’re not.

            1. doreen*

              Of course you’re not entitled to be part of every conversation. But there’s also a big difference between two or three people having a private conversation and the sort of conversations that have happened at some of my workplaces, where a larger group of people are having a conversation open to anyone in the room. And while I wouldn’t say for a minute that the employer should stop 7 people from speaking in Spanish because the three non-Spanish speakers feel excluded, I don’t necessarily think they’re wrong to feel excluded especially if everyone speaks English to some degree. Imagine, for example, that you were in some non-work situation. Maybe you went for coffee with other members of the block association or there’s a wedding in your spouse’s family. And there you are , sitting at a table of ten people all of whom speak your language to some extent- and you know they do because they speak that language when specifically speaking to you. But instead , for whatever reason , they choose to speak in a language that you don’t speak or understand at all. Aren’t you going to feel excluded ?

              1. Anna*

                But you’re talking about an entirely different situation. This is not a bunch of people who can speak English going out for a social event with one person who only speaks English and then conducting the entire conversation in their first language. This is two people who speak Filipino as their first language having a conversation with EACH OTHER (no one else) and being told they can’t because someone can’t understand them. It’s not even in the same ZIP code much less the same state of situation.

                1. doreen*

                  I may have lost track of the thread, but I didn’t read your comment as only applying to a situation where two people were having a conversation. That’s why my second sentence contrasts that situation with another that has been common at my workplaces , where a large group of people are having a conversation open to anyone in the room. Because I’ve seen that happen too, where a group of people are in the same place (maybe in a break room or waiting for a meeting to start) and the conversation excludes only one person because of language. It doesn’t feel any different than the social situations. I specifically said that I don’t think the employer should prohibit it , but that person isn’t crazy to feel excluded.

              2. Ann O.*

                No, I am not going to feel excluded if they are clearly more proficient in the native language that they all share. Or rather, I am going to feel excluded because I am excluded, but I am going to understand that it’s not personal. It’s also not reasonable to expect a large group to choose to speak in a secondary language that is not as comfortable for them just so I can be a part.

                This is not hypothetical for me. I have been on both sides of the large group example. When I was the non-language-speaker, I generally did the same thing I do in any large group situation where the large conversation isn’t of interest to me–try to engage one or two people in a different conversation.

                However, the letter writer describes having a single co-worker, so I think the reality is more the two people having a private conversation rather than the large group conversation any way. This is also something that I’m often around (many co-workers who are not native English speakers) and have never considered a big deal.

      4. Anon for this*

        Yeah, as someone who’s only fluent in English, I don’t really see why I should be bothered by people speaking other languages? Unless it’s intentionally exclusionary, it’s just… kind of what I get for only learning one language.

        1. neverjaunty*

          By which you mean, what you get by not growing up in a household with people who fluently speak a different language? Not growing up with relatives who were desperately trying to “fit in” and therefore never taught you their native language? Because that’s how an awful lot of people end up bilingual, and it’s kind of crappy to act like they have moral superiority because of it.

          1. Anon for this*

            It sounds like you might have read my comment a little differently than I intended it, and I’m not sure what’s up. Could you explain?

            If something’s not clear, I’m trying to say this: I had relatives who were trying to “fit in” and thus didn’t speak their first language. I did poorly in language classes in school. Maybe it’s because I have a learning disability, maybe I wasn’t a good student, who knows. I haven’t made much progress as an adult. So, when I don’t understand overheard conversations in another language, that’s on me, and it’s nobody’s responsibility to switch to English for my benefit. I haven’t meant to bring any kind of moral judgments into this.

      5. Artemesia*

        I understand several languages at a modest level and speak two and in my experience when people speak in a language most around them don’t understand they are OFTEN commenting on those other people. I have observed this over a dozen times — the hair dresser trashing a client in the next chair because she assumes that neither I nor she speaks Italian, The French woman in a trailroad compartment who trashes us in French to the other French person because have heard us speak English with this man assumes we won’t understand the French. Waiters who make remarks to other personnel making that assumption. The intake person at an ER who assumed my husband couldn’t speak French and made anti-American comments until the Pompier corrected her and stood up for my husband. American making rude comments about locals assuming they can’t understand English. It happens all the time. I fully understand how lonely and paranoid a couple of workers can be if their peers are constantly chatting in a language they don’t understand and some of the time those conversations are going to involve slagging peers whom they assume don’t understand.

        Just because the law says workers can exclude other workers from conversation by conversing in their first language doesn’t mean those other issues don’t exist e.g. using that to talk ‘behind the back’ of others or simply isolating them from the social life of the office because they don’t speak the second language.

        1. EmmaLou*

          This. Entirely this. I’m really surprised at the number of people who don’t find two people talking in a language others can’t understand rude. I’ve actually thought that was one of those commonly held basic manners things. If you can’t say it so that everyone can understand it, perhaps it shouldn’t be said then and should be saved for later. I don’t know. This just, as I said, surprised me and continues to.

    3. hbc*

      If someone overheard that they were saying inappropriate things, that’s what should be complained about: “Those two are saying degrading things about their colleagues. Most people won’t pick up on it because they’re doing it in Tagalog, but it’s still inappropriate.”

      If other people are just assuming it’s awful, there’s something wrong with them. Seriously. I would need a fair amount of ignorance, self-absorption, and negativity to assume that the only reason someone would speak in their native language is to talk about me. It’s one thing to indulge that from customers, but no way should a manager cater to the paranoia of an employee by restricting the speech of another.

      1. ReadItWithSpanishAccent*

        I feel the same way. I regularly speak three different languages in my workplace, and nobody feels excluded or attacked, they just assume it is something that does not really matter to their work. It happens to me too when people speak in another languages (we are pretty international). I don’t assume somebody is badmouthing me simply because they came by and are taking to my German co-worker in German. I assume is a) personal or b) work-related, but does not involve me.

      2. Biff*

        I’ve worked in environments where it would have been assumed that people speaking in a different language were up to something, and I’ve also worked in an environment where it was not assumed. I really feel like the best course of action here is to understand which working environment you have and cater to it. It’s not ideal, but neither is every workplace.

        1. hbc*

          Yes, but the environments where people think you’re up to something are toxic, and and they should be treated the same way as places where they’ll assume younger women are just going to quit when they have babies or that you’re just a picky whiner if you check whether there are peanuts in the catered lunch.

          This is an important enough subject that the EEOC has a rule about it. We shouldn’t just shrug our shoulders like this is equivalent to whether you get to wear jeans or not.

    4. Feline*

      This discussion is interesting because I sat through a HR orientation at a large (55k employee) company about 5 years ago, and there was an orientation section specifically asking people not to speak in other languages so that coworkers didn’t assume you were talking about them or feel otherwise excluded.

      Not that anyone actually followed the directive, but is this a norm that has changed?

      1. Nanani*

        Assuming that people speaking a language you don’t understand are saying mean things about you is increasingly recognized for the discriminatory-leaning nonsense that it is, so yes.

        1. sunny-dee*

          Uh, except (as someone else has pointed out) while not *every* conversation is mocking, a lot of people do speak in another language to mock their coworkers or complain about work, unaware that other people also speak their language. My husband catches employees doing that in Spanish all the time, since they don’t know he also speaks Spanish.

          And while in some areas, there may be fluency issues where using another language is acceptable, using a language intentionally to exclude your coworkers is itself a toxic behavior.

          1. TL -*

            a) I mock people all the time in English in America, so it’s not like it doesn’t happen anyways.
            b) my coworkers speak in many, many languages and I really do assume they have better things to talk about than me (as, sadly, most people do.) But I don’t care if they say something about me or about the weather or discuss a complex problem as long as I know they’ll communicate to me kindly and with respect when it’s needed.

            1. neverjaunty*

              I’m not sure what that has to do with sunny-dee’s second point. The issue isn’t ‘should I be upset?’ but ‘is this behavior rude’? And yeah, it’s kind of crappy to act indignant that anyone could POSSIBLY think that people use a second language so that they can say things openly that they don’t want anyone else to understand. I’ve done it (around children, as somebody mentions upthread) and it happens all the freaking time (as mentioned elsewhere).

          2. Tau*

            Then he should address the behaviour, not the language. Mocking people is inappropriate and unprofessional, and it doesn’t matter if it’s happening in Spanish, English, in conversation, in e-mail, by IM or whatever. Forbidding foreign languages isn’t really addressing the issue, and forbidding them out of “well people use non-English languages to be nasty” is frankly insulting to those of us who are multilingual and are professional and mature enough to keep our conversation appropriate no matter the language.

            1. sunny-dee*

              I think you and TL missed the complaint from the OP’s coworkers. They feel that OP and Friend are intentionally excluding them and possibly mocking them. People here were knocking them for being paranoid xenophobes, and, at least a little, that’s unfair.

              1. Ann O.*

                I don’t think it’s unfair if the only reason for thinking OP and Friend are mocking them is because they’re speaking a shared language. I do not think every time co-workers are whispering or go into a space with a closed door or decide to take a walk or decide to get a coffee is so that they can gossip about me/be rude. However, it is true that sometimes people do whisper, go into private spaces, take walks, etc. in order to gossip. Heck, I’ve done a version of that–not to be rude but to talk privately about work-related issues. But I’ve also often done those things for nothing connected to work.

                Basically, just because something CAN be used a certain way doesn’t mean it’s ALWAYS used a certain way, and it’s generally paranoid to assume the worst absent any other reason.

              2. TL -*

                It is, though, because people who are asses are going to be asses in whatever language they use and people who aren’t, aren’t.

                If someone is laughing and pointing at you or speaking about you badly in a language you understand and can overhear, or clearly keeping you from joining in a business-necessary conversation via language, you absolutely have the right to say something. But if they’re speakign in a language you don’t understand, why does it matter if they’re complaining about your smell or comparing gardening techniques? They’ll have the same conversation behind your back if you forbid it in person and you won’t know what they’re saying either way.

          3. Banana Sandwich*

            I understand the argument of being paranoid that the conversation being had in a different language. I have had this happen to me and told to me by the other party and it is not a nice feeling to know that someone was being nasty within earshot in a different language, and I couldn’t do anything to stop it…because I didn’t know. BUT, at the end of the day…different language or not…that person is going to do what they’re going to do anyway. I think he bigger picture here is, is it any of my business what other people think of me? No! And if you take that stance, people speaking in another language around me is a non issue.

      2. TL -*

        Hopefully. Imagine being denied the chance to speak your native language (the language in which you are probably the funniest, most insightful, and most able to convey complex notions easily). Even just switching to your native language for a funny commuting story would be quite different, and probably more rewarding, than telling it in your second language.

    5. Vicki*

      Please note that there is nothing in this letter to indicate that there are customers anywhere in the picture.

  2. SJ*

    re: #5 — I always bring my notes to an interview to review while I’m waiting, etc. I usually never pull them out during the interview. However, back in the spring I had an all-day interview where I had maybe 7 different interviews and met with approximately 17 members of a president’s council, all with distinct roles and different units they each managed. I researched each person and unit beforehand on the org website and came up with questions for each of them (as well as general questions about the council and the role I was interviewing for) to ask at the end of each interview. I had so many questions written down that when it came time for the “do you have any questions for us?” portion at the end of each interview, I said something light like, “Do you mind if I pull out my notes? I jotted down questions for everybody I’m meeting with today, and there are a lot of you!” I got a chuckle and the go-ahead from almost everyone that day, except for one person who seemed to do a double-take and looked at me with clear disapproval as I pulled out my notes (though his colleagues in the same interview said it was totally fine).

    If I’m ever unfortunate enough to be in this sort of position again, is there a way I should handle it differently? I want to ask thoughtful questions of everyone instead of really general ones, but it would be such a waste of time to try and MEMORIZE all of those questions. I get the feeling I handled it right, but the disapproval from that one person has stuck with me.

    And I did not get the job, though I believe that was unrelated :)

    1. HR Pro*

      My two cents: When someone asks if I have any questions, I don’t even ask if it’s OK to pull out the questions I have written down, I just do. I hope the person who gave you a disapproving look was a real anomaly – I don’t understand what the problem was. ESPECIALLY because you had an all day interview with 7 people!

      I think it’s fine for you to ask if it’s OK to pull out your notes, and I would assume that 99.5% of people are going to be fine with that.

      1. James*

        Honestly, I’d take an interviewee having notes ready as a very positive signal in an interview. It means they prepared, thought about what they wanted from the company, how they would ask, etc–in other words, that they treated the interview as a professional activity and took it seriously. I can’t understand the mindset of someone who thinks that taking their professional life seriously is a bad thing!

        1. Whats In A Name*

          I was thinking the same thing! I am much more interested in preparation and than the ability to memorize questions.

      2. Hollygohardly*

        I actually had an HR person recommend that I bring notes to an interview. It was really refreshing and is part of the reason why I’m really gunning for a job with her company.

    2. Crazy Dog Lady*

      I interviewed a candidate recently who pulled out his notes to answer questions, and I loved it! He had some very thoughtful questions for me on the role, the firm, and the team. I would much rather a candidate refer to notes than have a candidate who had no questions at all.

      1. Crazy Dog Lady*

        Ah, he referred to his notes to ask questions, not answer them. My coffee hasn’t kicked in yet!

    3. zora.dee*

      My system is I always have a notepad and pen out during the interview, it helps me to jot things down while the interviewers are talking, especially when they are telling me things about the company, how it works, etc. I don’t look at it intently while I am answering questions, but I have it there to take notes.

      Then I have my questions on later pages of the notepad, so when it’s my turn to ask questions, I flip to those pages, and start asking my questions. It’s much less of an interruption then getting out a notebook in the middle of the interview, and I find it really helpful to have some notes after the interview when I’m contemplating whether to take the job. Or on developing questions for later interviews if there are multiple interviews.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Same here. I come from a journalism background where note-taking was vital, so to me having a pad and pen handy is like, obvious – even though I don’t usually end up writing much down, it’s helpful and gives me a place to have my own notes too.

    4. Kelly L.*

      My first instinct is that bringing a question apiece for each of 17 people might be overkill, though I admit that initially I thought you were asking them all, one after the next, in one big group session, rather than a series of separate interviews. So that was a reading mistake on my part.

    5. sarah*

      I had a similar sort of interview (but more like 10 people than 17, yours sounds even worse!). I did the same thing you did and no one got upset about it (and I did get the job!). So, I think maybe you just got a weirdo for that one guy who didn’t like it. :)

  3. BePositive*

    The English. The issue is really excluding people. That person doesn’t know if he’s the subject of the conversaction or not (some people are like that). My work requires English only because we have so many different cultures working together. It’s acceptable to clear up a understanding between two native speakers but English is the main language my company wants us to use. Exception are of course personal time during lunch and breaks but it is requested if people sit together and one doesn’t know the native language speak English to include that person even if it’s casual topics. Overall everyone accommodateseems this request and no ethic group that excludes anyone and builds relationships. Example as Chinese speaker, I learned so much from Spanish Speakers about their culture just because we communicate and they don’t exclude me when I sit with then on breaks

    1. Tad Cooper*

      This. I’ve been the non-speaker in a group of three waiting for a meeting to start and the other two were speaking a language I do not speak. This – along with a host of many other things – made me feel so not wanted in the group I was in.

      1. TL -*

        Okay, but here’s the deal. I work with a lot of people are ESL in varying degrees. If you’re living in the USA, the grand majority of your nonfamilial conversations are going to be in English, which can be a mixture of embarrassing, exhausting, and/or excruciating, depending on your proficiency.
        At work, where you have to talk a lot and spend a great deal of time, if you find someone who can speak your native language, you’re probably going to revert back to that whenever possible, not to be rude, but because it is, at the very least, less exhausting. Most people aren’t doing it to be rude or to gossip; they just miss the ease and particular attributes of their native language.

      2. Anna*

        That isn’t the same situation, though. If you are one of three people in a room, yeah language can be used to exclude you. If you are chatting with one other person and are not in a room with another person who can’t understand you, that’s just chatting.

    2. Jaguar*

      Excluding people is important. When people speak in languages in front of or around people that don’t speak that language, they need to be aware that they’re choosing to exclude that person or persons. However, it’s also worth noting that the paranoia surrounding whether the person or persons are the subject of that conversation is not the speaker’s problem, it’s the listener. It’s similar to when you hear whispering or giggling or anything else that sets off that paranoia. “Are those other people talking about me?” is a narcissistic thought. It’s not the same sort or narcissism as the conventional stuff we describe as narcissistic (excessively talking about one’s self, pre-occupation with one’s looks, etc.), but it is nevertheless a narcissism that other people shouldn’t have a responsibility to accommodate. We wouldn’t ask people not to laugh among each others when other people in earshot don’t know what the joke is because they might think it’s about them (although, the same cautions about excluding people apply), so it’s unfair to ask people not to speak in unfamiliar languages for the same reason. That paranoia is unhealthy and, in my opinion, leads to a lot of the “they should learn our language if they’re going to live here” sort of bigotry we all hear.

    3. MyFakeNameIsLaura*

      But what’s weird is that people consider English “normal” and any other language use as exclusionary, without considering that English language proficiency is exclusionary. It’s why a very common taunt or insult is “speak English!” – you’re saying that English is inclusive when it’s really more forced assimilation via language. You’re telling other people that they aren’t wanted because of the language they’re speaking (not English) so it’s really weird to proclaim that you’re just trying to make everyone feel included. It’s like “you’re being divisive by not doing things the way my culture says is correct!”

      1. Jesmlet*

        But these people can speak English so they’re the ones excluding others by choosing to speak Filipino. It’s not the same thing.

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          Except to me it sounds like they’re doing it when working side-by-side, I assume at desks, and are the only two people who are involved in any potential conversation. If two co-workers in a different aisle have a conversation in low voices so as not to disturb anyone, I don’t expect them to speak up so that I can hear whether they’re talking about me. It’s the same situation, only with a language instead. Maybe the OP and her friend should just speak more quietly.

          FWIW – I do have some coworkers who speak pretty loudly all the time, except when they’re gossiping. That’s when their voices become murmurs.

          1. Myrin*

            That “speaking in low voices” thing is a really good analogy, IMO, as well as your “[they] are the only two people who are involved in any potential conversation” point. I’d definitely say that it’s rude and exclusionary to have a conversation with two other people and then suddenly switch to a language only one of those others speaks. (Which reminds me of a weird situation I was in a couple of years ago – my Italian neighbour and her daughter drove me somewhere and we stopped at an ice cream parlour also owned by Italians. My neighbour was acquainted with the owners and they all [four people!] started talking exclusively in Italian. For at least half an hour. While I just sat there awkwardly and wanted to quietly float away. I do think this behaviour – having lengthy and quite intimate talks while completely ignoring one person at the table whom they’d actually invited to come along – would have been rude even if I’d understood them well enough but at least then I’d have been able to chime in at one point or another which wasn’t possible in this situation.) But if it’s just the two of you anyway and it’s only by chance that someone not familiar with a language overhears you? I don’t find anything wrong with it, just like I wouldn’t support a “never talk at low volumes!” policy.

            1. Kelly L.*

              Yep, I think it would be rude to talk in Filipino at length while a non-Filipino speaker is ostensibly part of the conversation, and it would be rude to suddenly switch to Filipino while pointing and laughing at the third person, but if two people are just speaking Filipino to each other and the offended person isn’t even part of the conversation, no foul IMO. A random passerby doesn’t have the right to know what was being said anyway.

            2. Tau*

              I sometimes feel like I have a complicated flowchart involving situations, participants, environmental context, etc. in my head for working out whether it’s okay for me to speak German in a given situation. I’ve noticed other multilinguals tend to have different flowcharts from me – ex there was a German lecturer at uni who’d start speaking German with me when I’d have stayed in English, and right now there’s one German senior coworker who will NOT speak German with me if anyone is even remotely in earshot which makes me vaguely worry about my company’s attitude towards foreigners. (I tend to assume the senior person gets to pick what language is spoken and go along with them even if I’d do it differently. Code-switching is a complicated beast!)

      2. sunny-dee*

        This is (I am assuming) in America, where English fluency is a requirement for permanent residency or citizenship and is usually required for employment using a work visa. So it’s not exclusionary to expect people to use a language that everyone in the office speaks rather than one that only one other person speaks. It is, in fact, the opposite of exclusionary because they are trying to find a middle ground where everyone can meet together.

        1. IrishUp*

          This is absolutely not true.
          The Dept of Labor disagrees with you, and the Code of Federal Regulations specifies that to require English only all the time in a work setting is descriminatory. There are many classes of work & study visas that do not require English fluency. There are also paths to citizenship that accomodate those who may for various reasons, not be particularly fluent in either spoken or written English.

          The supposition that speaking another language is exclusionary, but prohibiting people from using languages other than English, is NOT exclusionary reveals an implicit bias you might want to unpack for yourself. Or not.

          1. sunny-dee*

            It actually reveals that I heard the part of the OP’s letter where other people were complaining about being excluded. The manager is responding to a complaint about the OP and Friend being a jerk to their colleagues.

            We don’t have a lot of context, so I don’t know the situation. If the OP and Friend are occasionally talking together in the breakroom, than whoever is complaining is kind of being a jerk. But if the OP and Friend are actually doing work in their native language and excluding or disrupting their coworkers because of it, then the OP is wrong.

            1. Chinook*

              Exactly. When my two Chinese colleagues are speaking Mandarin in an office where there is just the row of them, why would I complain? But, if they did it repeatedly in our lunch area where we all socialize by jumping in and out of small talk conversations, it would make think they don’t want to be part of the larger group.

        2. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

          But why does every coworker need to be privy to every conversation?

          They are not conducting meetings in another language, they are having a conversation. At most these coworkers are being excluded from eavesdropping on someone else’s conversation.

        3. Anna*

          Fluency has a specific meaning with language. People who are going through the process of becoming citizens do not have to be fluent. They should have a conversational ability to speak English, but that’s not the same as being fluent.

        4. Marcela*

          It’s not true that English fluency is a requirement for the permanent residency (i.e. green card). We got ours about a year ago and at no point of the process we were asked to prove our proficiency in English. Even more, given our particular way to get the green card, probably I could have gotten one without speaking a single word of English, because all they cared about was my husband.

        5. justcourt*

          Fluency is absolutely NOT a requirement for permanent residency. Permanent residents who are trying for citizenship do need to pass an English exam; however, there are exceptions.

    4. Vicki*

      “That person doesn’t know if he’s the subject of the conversation or not (some people are like that).”

      That person is paranoid. Conversations that do not include you are not about you.

  4. Ann Furthermore*

    #3: I work in IT, which means I work with many people from India. My company has offices in many different countries as well. Everyone speaks English, and is always very considerate about using English when talking about work and business matters. It’s rude to talk about things in another language when not everyone in the conversation understands it.

    That being said, there are times when it’s necessary for people to speak to each other in their first languages. In Germany a few years ago, we were talking through a process for dealing with different currencies and exchange rates. The German people in the room had a pretty long, drawn out conversation about it in German, and then when they were done, the manager apologized to me for leaving me out of their talk. I told her it was no problem, because foreign exchange is a very complex and complicated thing to talk about even in the language you’ve been speaking your entire life, and needing to talk through it without the added worry of wondering if you’re translating to English correctly was completely understandable. She summarized their discussion, we got things figured out, and moved forward.

  5. Newby*

    #1: It is possible that the problem is with the phones or the connection. I have had it happen before.

  6. Jesmlet*

    I think speaking in a universally understood language is just better to avoid making coworkers feel uncomfortable about why you’re using a different language. They’re probably assuming you’re trying to hide something or talking crap about them. Legalities aside, it’s never good to exclude other people and that’s sort of what you do when you speak in another language at work around your coworkers.

    1. A Large Cantelope*

      Can you say more about why? If you walked in on two coworkers speaking a language you don’t in the break room, why would you jump to “they’re trying to hide something/talking about me?” I’m trying to follow the thought process (and notice commenters keep saying how hypothetical people would feel instead of using “I” statements), and I can’t figure out a reason that isn’t based in unfounded paranoia or discrimination.

      1. Anna*

        It’s the infamous “well, SOME people” or “they.” No, you mean you feel that or think that.

      1. Artemesia*

        Well aren’t we judgmental and smug. People do this quite often. I have observed it many times as I understand several languages at some level that I don’t speak and I speak one that people are often unaware of. And I travel a lot. I am typing this in a European country whose language I don’t speak but have a fair amount of understanding of when I overhear it. It happens all the time that people feel privileged to slag others whom they don’t think understand. I have observed it when it was about me and when it was about other people in the room. I have more than once startled the person doing the mocking by responding in their language.

        1. Mae North*

          Wow. I feel that the opening to this comment was unnecessarily snide, and something of a personal attack since Anna was talking in generalizations (as you went on to do yourself) – she did say that *most* people do not, not that every single non-xenophobic person definitely does not.

      2. De*

        What? I’m in Germany and have coworkers who can speak German. I switch to English even when talking to other Germans when they are around so they don’t feel excluded, and quite frankly, I feel like they’d be right in feeling excluded if we didn’t.

    2. DArcy*

      If you’re upset at two coworkers having a private conversation in their own language while at work, then you’re being nosy (upset that you can’t eavesdrop), you’re being racist (upset that they dare speak another language), or you’re being paranoid (upset that they MIGHT be saying something about you). Fortunately, as Allison has pointed out l, this is specifically protected by EEOC regs and your company is required to tell you to STFU.

      1. Artemesia*

        And if there are three of you and your peers chat all day long in a language you don’t understand you feel excluded and isolated and you are right that you are.

  7. Trout 'Waver*

    In regards to #5, notes are fine. But I’d be careful with lots of suggestions. It may come across as a bit arrogant to propose “a lot of great ideas about improvements I would like to make to policies, procedures and marketing for the department,” when you don’t have the insiders’ perspective on the challenges faced. I’m not saying don’t have ideas, just be careful with your phrasing and make sure your opinion on how things should be run is solicited.

    1. AMT*

      I agree. I’d refer to Allison’s excellent response to the whole “pain letter” idea:

      “[I]t requires you to guess at what the hiring manager’s problems are, which can be hard to do from the outside and carries a high risk of coming across as insulting or uninformed or both. It is true that you should frame your application in terms of what the hiring manager needs, but you don’t need to go guessing at what problems she may or may not have.”

  8. Murphy*

    #1: I’ve had voicemails or texts not show up right away (just the other day, a bunch of random texts didn’t come through, and then they all came through at 3am) but to not show up at all, or for it to not be there if you call in to your voicemail seems weird. I probably would have told her that I didn’t get any call, confirm that she had my number correct, and otherwise chalk it up to a phone issue. I would be apologetic, even though you didn’t do anything wrong.

    1. Ama*

      I kind of wonder if the boss has the number wrong somehow. The OP says it isn’t the first time the boss has not called, but the way the boss’s complaint is worded sounds like it’s not the first time *she* thinks she’s left a voicemail. If it went to a voicemail message that just states the number, she wouldn’t have any way of knowing she was reaching the wrong place.

      I acquired a new boss once who got mad at me for not responding to certain emails and it turned out she just assumed I had the firstname.lastname email without asking me. I had a different format for my email because someone with my name had beat me to the standard format — so she had been sending random messages to someone else (who apparently just ignored them and didn’t tell her she had the wrong person).

      1. Venus Supreme*

        Yeah, I worked at a place where OldBoss accidentally saved the organization’s number as my cell number. He was texting a landline for six months before he asked why I never answered his texts…

    2. MsChandandlerBong*

      My husband called in sick the other day. The procedure is to call his supervisor’s cell phone and leave a message. So he called and left a message. His supervisor called here in a panic a few hours later–she never got the message. She was driving when he called, so she knows that he didn’t just show up without calling, but she said the message never showed up on her phone. This is the first time he’s called in since he started seven months ago, so they worked out a plan for next time. If she doesn’t answer, he is to leave a VM and send her a text. (His start time is the same time the office opens and the receptionist shows up, so calling the main office wouldn’t help.)

  9. Nicole*

    #1: I love Allison’s suggestion for handling it. I also want to add that you might check out the book “The Gaslight Effect,” especially if your boss continues to believe and/or insist that you must have been in the wrong, or has a strong reaction to the actions Allison has suggested. I had a boss once who did things like this and I worried I was crazy, and if I did ever give feedback she acted as if I was being accusatory even when I gave it in a very neutral fashion, and the more this happened, the more stressful it became working for her, because I never knew when I was going to do something she thought was wrong, since none of it corresponded to my reality.

    I ended up seeing a counselor and reading this book which is designed to help recognize and manage relationships like this (I also found a new, better job with a new, better boss). You might read it and think, “oh – this is totally not related to what I’m experiencing,” but I wish I’d found the book earlier, so if it does sound interesting, check it out.

    1. Dynamic Beige*

      The boss may not be doing this intentionally, in a malicious trying-to-injure-you way.

      One of my clients is a busy person. She has a lot of responsibilities from small children to elderly parents etc. There has been more than one occasion where she has called me and said referenced some other conversation we supposedly had… except we hadn’t and I said so.

      Eventually I came to see that she was having these conversations, with herself. In the sense that she would be in her car/wherever and be thinking “when I get to $WhereverI’mGoing, I have to call Dynamic and tell her about the teapot handle updates the client wants for next Tuesday.” But I’m pretty sure that when she got to $Wherever, there was a metric shit-tonne of stuff that happened that pushed it out of her mind. It then became a memory that she *had* done it, rather than actually doing it.

      So OP’s boss could be getting mixed up with dates/times/phone messages. Not intentionally, just because she’s got too many plates spinning and that one drops.

      What I would suggest in this case is that OP e-mails or texts her boss on the morning of the meeting with a short reminder. Whether it’s a “are we still on for our meeting today at 2?” Or a “here are some documents I need to discuss with you today during our meeting at 2.” Even better if there’s some sort of report that has to be filed every week. Then don’t wait for her to call you, call her. Leave a message or send another e-mail. “Hi Boss, I just called in for our meeting and you weren’t available, so I left a message/thought I would reach out. I need to $DoThisThing right now, can we reschedule for $ThisTime?” Because that way, there’s a record that you were available and made every effort to be there for the meeting.

  10. ArtK*

    #1 is apropos a comment I made in a recent thread about “throwing under the bus.” This is exactly what that term is meant for. The boss threw the LW under the bus, placing the blame where it didn’t belong. Sometimes people misuse the term and end up shielding incompetent people because they don’t want to be seen as throwing the other person under the proverbial bus.

    If Fergus is responsible for X and he fails to do X, it’s not throwing him under the bus to say “Fergus failed to do X.” Fergus climbed under the bus of his own volition.

  11. Miss Brittany*

    Regarding that last question about notes in an interview, I think Alison missed an important part. Having some notes to jog your memory about your past accomplishments is great, and as an interviewer I’d probably be impressed that you appear to have so many you need to jot them down.
    However, for the love of Pete, please don’t bring a laundry list of improvements you think you can bring to the company! There’s no way to bring these up without sounding critical, and that’s a bad impression to make in an interview. I once interviewed a guy for my small business who showed up with my logo and business card completely redesigned. And I was a graphic designer! I was so put off by his hubris (and the toe shoes he wore to the interview!) that I ended it early.

    1. Former HR Admin*

      I’ve often seen applicants come in with questions and notes written on index cards. They’re small and discrete and not terribly noticeable or distracting.

    1. LawLady*

      I’m unable to open it, but I’m assuming that has something to do with the widespread DDoS attack outages today.

  12. Anont*

    Why do I need to login to Inc all of a sudden? I’ll be skipping this one, seems like bad practice to force a signup on a blog post/article.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It’s not eww. They’re dependent on ad revenue to run their site. If you’re denying them that with an ad blocker, they’re asking you to do something else that will be of value to them. It’s not free to produce this stuff, even though the internet has made it easy to forget that on the consumer side.

            It’s also how I get paid for my work there.

    1. hermit crab*

      I think Alison’s said that Inc. requires a login from people who are using an adblocker and/or who are outside the U.S.

        1. Sousine*

          Except that I am both outside the USA and using AdBlocker and I have never had to login to read articles there (thank goodness, as I so would not be bothering with that), so whatever they are doing is inconsistently applied at the very least.

      1. Hrovitnir*

        Ohhhh. That is ridiculous in as far as – if they asked me to turn my adblocker off, I would. As I do here. I will never log in to read things.

        (I also get the “log in” inconsistently, weirdly. I wonder if it’s based on a certain amount of visits or something?)

          1. Chaordic One*

            I have more than one browser on each of my computers to deal with such situations. I mostly use Firefox with Ad-Blocker, but I also use Chrome, Opera and Edge to get around these kind of situations. When I can’t read the story using Firefox, I copy the URL of the blocked paged and then paste it into a different browser that does not have the Ad-Blocker and it will let me see the story.

            I have also found that when when I’ve reached the number of free stories that I can read on a website, (like say the New York Times), often I can get around that by looking at the same story in a different browser.

  13. M from NY*

    For the deadbeat coworker file claim with small claims court and present judgement to HR to have money deducted from deadbeats paycheck. Then never ever loan money again. Threatening to call HR when they know they owe the debt erases any sympathy I may have had for delay in repayment.

    1. Tequila Mockingbird*

      Except that it would cost the OP *more* money to file the small claims court action, then hire a lawyer to file a motion to enforce the judgment (which is required to garnish someone’s wages). That’s hundreds, potentially thousands, more $$ that OP would have to spend to get her money back.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        IANAL, but filing fees and motions to garnish vary widely from state to state and sometimes even county to county. In some places, it’s cheap and easy. In others, it’s cumbersome and expensive. I don’t think it’d be worth going through the process though even in a cheap and easy jurisdiction if you didn’t have some sort of promissory note.

      2. M from NY*

        In the US small claims is specifically designed for actionable suits without a lawyer or large amount of money. Judgements are also filed with court which can not be ignored by a job. Actually going through with filing in small claims would cover any perceived upper hand coworker thinks they have by going to HR as HR would not be able to ignore an enforceable judgement. The standards are not as high as court with jury so lack of a formal promissory note shouldn’t deter writer.

    2. Belle*

      It also my depend on what proof the coworker has of the loan. Did they have any kind of written agreement? Did they give them a check and specifically say loan on the memo? The court will often ask for validation of the loan and amount to be actionable.

      1. Candi*

        As Judge Judy/The Texas Judge/People’s Court/Judge Joe Brown/etc. say: Get it in writing!

        My favorite Texas Judge ep was a guy who didn’t think he owed his ex money because the notes she had were on a (clean) paper plate and a brown paper bag, and he thought they didn’t count/weren’t legal. Oh yes they were! (The 50% interest rate, not so much. She got the highest legal rate in her state at the time.)

        If you do have proof, LW, check small claims in your area and decide where to go from there. You can sue for reimbursement of court cost as well.

  14. Not So NewReader*

    OP1, This is FWIW. Did she leave the voice mail on a cell phone? I live in a rural area and I see this problem here frequently. It does not matter if the caller is standing in our area or standing in a good cell phone area. We lose calls here all. the. time. It’s like the cell phone randomly decides “Oh a voice mail! Nope! Don’t feeeel like voice mails today so I won’t.” One friend used to chuckle, he would track when the call was made (people would tell him) and when it finally ended up in his voice mail box so he could hear it. It can take up to three days for us to find a voice mail. Some voice mails never arrived. Walking and carrying a hand-written note would be faster.

    Keep an eye open for problems with the technology. It’s very easy for people to blame each other for things when the actual problem is the tech is failing in some manner.

    Tell your boss you are devastated by the failure to connect with her and that you are going to back up all missed calls with an email stating the date and time. Let her know that you are striving to be the best employee possible and it bothers you when you and she do not connect. You are wondering if there is some type of technical fluke that is interfering here, so you are going to be redundant about your contact points until you figure out what is going wrong.

    What I like about this is that it puts you in a place where you are sincere and you are working at things. If you have a bad boss, which it looks like you might (we can’t tell yet), it will become very apparent to you as you go along. Be sincere and work at the problems as best you can.

    1. nonegiven*

      This happens to DH all the time. A couple of weeks ago he missed a call because he couldn’t answer and got a voice mail from a friend right away. Hours later he got a voicemail from another friend that was 3 days old.

  15. Whats In A Name*

    #4: A co-worker once wrecked my car and did $1600 worth of damage. Unfortunately I paid for the repairs and I never saw the money after repeated attempts. Learn by Burn is my life motto I always say. I now only loan out money I am ok with not seeing again, as Alison mentions.

    In the company’s eyes this likely falls under not our problem unless it does affect work output. But even in that case I don’t think they would do any more than tell you to not ask about it at work.

    Since your co-worker owes you, but is threatening to go to HR I would tread lightly. She might be going to file a harassment complaint, which could set off an entirely different course of action.

  16. FD*

    #1- I have a prepaid phone (Boost Mobile), and this absolutely happens to me periodically. People I trust will swear they left a message, and it’ll show up days later, or not at all. So, it’s possible your boss is right and it’s some sort of weird issue between your phones.

  17. GreenYogurt*

    Wow, I totally disagree with your response about the person speaking Filipino. Everywhere I’ve worked (which is in America) it is frowned upon to speak in any language other than English because it’s exclusionary behavior. If the only way to ask someone something so they’ll understand is to speak in Spanish, that’s fine. When we had a client in Germany we got someone to speak in German to her. But in general, whenever English is possible during work hours it’s common courtesy to speak it.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      This actually isn’t up for debate; it’s a matter of law.

      From the EEOC: The EEOC has stated that rules requiring employees to speak only English in the workplace violate the law unless the employer can show that they are justified by business necessity. A rule requiring employees to speak only English in the workplace at all times, including breaks and lunch time, will rarely be justified. An English-only rule should be limited to the circumstances in which it is needed for the employer to operate safely or efficiently. Circumstances in which an English-only rule may be justified include: communications with customers or coworkers who only speak English; emergencies or other situations in which workers must speak a common language to promote safety; cooperative work assignments in which the English-only rule is needed to promote efficiency.

      Link in a follow up comment.

    2. Anna*

      Well, no. It’s been deemed “exclusionary” in quotes because people who only speak English tend to think they *should* be included in every conversation taking place in their vicinity. There are a lot of xenophobic and paranoid reasons around why Americans (which I am and live in the US) don’t learn second languages and why they are offended by people who speak in other languages around them.

      Just throwing this out there, but the US doesn’t have an official language and there’s a good reason for that.

      1. catsAreCool*

        I’m an American, and when I was in high school, the teachers said that we needed to take classes in another language if we planned to go to college.

        1. blackcat*

          There’s a big difference between taking 2-4 years of a foreign language and actually being able to speak it/understand it verbally. It depends on the way the class is set up and how easily the student learns languages. But I’m also with you on pushing back on the whole “Unlike the rest of the world, Americans don’t know foreign languages.”

          When I was in high school, I did an exchange with a French girl. My 6 years of school French was very good–I was remarkably fluent when I showed up, able to have almost any conversation I wanted to have (I did do a lot of asking “what’s the word for this?” but it was words like “equivocate” and “coniferous” not like “umbrella”). My exchange partner had had English in school since the equivalent of the 3rd grade, and she could barely speak or understand anything in English. She could read and write in English better than I could in French, but her verbal abilities were way below mine. It didn’t matter that she had had more years of instruction. So “learning” another language in school can be highly variable. This is true both in the US and abroad.

          I’ve traveled around a lot in France since then, and it’s generally been my experience that French people in rural areas don’t speak anything other than French. That seems pretty similar to the US in a lot of ways. I did generally find that in urban areas, most French people spoke at least one (English if they are in Paris, Italian if they are in Nice, and, oddly, Russian in some towns outside Marseilles). That is different than the US. When people compare the US to other countries in this regard, they’re often comparing urban, educated people between countries.

      2. JKP*

        I think the biggest reason Americans don’t learn a second language is that the school system doesn’t introduce foreign language until way too late. There is a window of brain development during which children are wired to easily acquire language, and that is when foreign language classes should start. But the US school system misses this window by many years. When I was in school, we didn’t get to start learning a foreign language until 7th grade (12 years old), at which point it is much more difficult. So that means that children who come from homes that already speak another language, or who are privileged enough to pay for additional early foreign language classes, are much more likely to become bi/multi-lingual (and have an easier time learning additional languages later as adults). I was always jealous of people who were bi/multi-lingual and wished I could have become fluent in more than one language, but it was always a struggle for me.

        1. Politrix*

          Some languages are easier for a native English-speaker to learn than others. There are lots of online communities and meetup groups devoted to help each other become more proficient in a second language. (Studies also show that once your brain gets that “Aha” moment, when you’re able to transition more easily to the second language, learning a THIRD language is even easier.)
          I know a guy who came to the US, in the 6th grade, who told me he learned English by watching TV. It helped him understand the common expressions, tonality and context of the language, and recommends it to others as well. (I really miss the ’70s when there were lots of bilingual children’s shows on TV!)
          Good luck if you decide to learn a second language. And keep in mind, like a Ukranian man once told me, “Don’t be shy to practice a language with a native speaker — if they want to understand you, they will.”

  18. Adam*

    #4. Sorry about the money. That sucks. Has she had any sort of conversation with you about when she expects to be able to pay it back? I could understand if it would take her a while but if she were deliberately avoiding the issue altogether that would frustrate me. I think if you could have a simple conversation about expectations regarding paying it back, maybe in installments over a period of time, that might be easier than looking it as one lump sum.

    This varies depending on the person I’m considering of course, but my personal rule on lending money is to treat it the same way I do gambling: only bring out as much cash as I would be ok never seeing again.

  19. Moonsaults*

    With the coworker who owes you money, woah I hope you got that in writing and if you really want to pursue it, you need to go to small claims court. Hounding her at work will only get you into trouble, even though you’re justified in asking where your money is.

  20. KimberlyR*

    #1-I would be a bit miffed if my boss sent something like that to me, without first checking into why I didn’t answer the call. Every so often, I won’t get a call or voicemail until a few days later, but I would think the boss would either assume you were unavoidably busy at that exact moment and try to call back or send a quick email saying, “Hey, I just tried to call for our check-in. Call me back, please!” Thats a much better way to handle it, IMO. But since you can’t correct your boss’ behavior, I would just let her know that for some reason you didn’t get her call, and call her at your regular check-in time from now on. And if you don’t get her, follow up with an email as a CYA, in case she says she didn’t get your call.

    #3-I’m disturbed that a coworker complained about 2 fellow employees speaking in another language. I would have no problems with 2 Filipino coworkers speaking to each other in Filipino casually, just like regular watercooler talk. Of course, if it happened all day long or was something pertaining to work, that is a different story. But if they’re just catching up on weekend plans or whatever, why should it bother anyone what language they do it in? (I am assuming OP is also chit-chatting with his non-Filipino coworkers as well, in English. I’m assuming he is not deliberately excluding everyone else from any casual conversation with him by only speaking Filipino when not work-related.)

    p.s. I don’t actually know much about language from the Philippines, so I may be saying the wrong language or dialect. Sorry about that!

      1. Jennifer M.*

        It’s actually a little more complicated than that. The official languages of the Philippines are Filipino (Pilipino) and English. There are well over 100 languages or dialects spoken in the Philippines. Tagalog is the first language of about 1/3 of the population and it is the second language of about twice that number. The rest have one of the other dialects as their first language. Filipino is the “standardized” version of Tagalog (which ironically does not have an “f” sound – hence Pilipino is also used).

        1. Jennifer M.*

          All this to say, the OP said they were Filipino and speaking in their native dialect, so it may not have been Tagalog, it could have been Cebuano or Bikol or, or . . .

          1. Connie-Lynne*

            Thanks for pointing this out. I’m always frustrated when people assume the only Pilipino language is Tagalog.

    1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      Exactly! It’s really common for some of my coworkers to speak casually in Spanish to each other, especially for those where Spanish was their first language. I really don’t understand why it bothers people.

  21. Moonsaults*

    I’m so out of my element reading the responses to “English Only” because I work for someone who speaks two languages, he frequently speaks his native language with his family since it’s the easiest for them to communicate in. Then again it’s an industry with a high Spanish speaking population as well, not in that “they could speak English if they wanted” kind of way either, so I don’t ever have a second thought when I hear guys speaking among one another.

    When it’s about “making others feel comfortable and not excluded”, it goes both ways. If someone struggles and is more comfortable speaking to their colleague in their native language, who am I to say any different or to be so self centered to think that they’re talking about me or something inappropriate. We’re adults, they’re taking a gamble talking about things that they aren’t supposed to, there are plenty of people and stories out there about getting caught doing exactly that since a lot of people do know enough pieces of the other language to speak up about it in that case.

    1. Bob Barker*

      Yeah, I had a boss who spent a month overseas at a time, and whose overseas servants all spoke Hindi or Gujarati as a first language. So I… went on the internet and learned how to say, “Hello, is boss there? Thank you!” in Hindi, as it was clear not all the servants understood English very well.

      (That’s all the Hindi I know! But as a gesture of goodwill, it really worked.)

    2. Anna*

      Agreed. Considering a lot of people first learn the curse and sex words first in any second language, it would be risky to use those words in a work setting. And there may be plenty of other people around who understand enough to take it to your boss or HR if you’re being offensive. So…be a gross jerk at your own risk, no matter language you use.

    3. Emma*

      When it’s about “making others feel comfortable and not excluded”, it goes both ways.

      This. And frankly, if your default assumption when hearing others speak in a language you don’t understand is “oh, they must be talking shit about me,” that says a hell of a lot more about you than them.

      I also think it’s darkly amusing that a good half the people I hear who complain about others speaking in languages other than English either 1) get pissed off at the suggestion that they should speak x language if they ever go to x country, or 2) vastly overestimate how quickly one can gain fluency in a foreign language.

      1. Ninja*

        One of the best bosses I ever had was a native English speaker who spoke multiple other languages reasonably well – and insisted on using them. So, he spoke to the Italian sales guy in Italian; the Dutch office admin in Dutch, etc. He put himself at a disadvantage to make them feel comfortable – and he was the big boss; he didn’t “need” to do it. But his staff really appreciated the effort.

    1. Mianaai*

      Copy-pasta’ed from the post text:

      “I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them).”

    2. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      “I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.”

  22. kc89*

    It was entirely ignored but my previous job did have a policy about only speaking English when at work unless you were translating for a customer. Unfortunately we did have a big problem of people talking sh*t directly in front of people who couldn’t understand them, but there were other people around who could understand them and then they would tell the employee what the others said about them. It was a big mess.

    1. Anna*

      Yeah, but that’s about shitty people and a crappy culture. Telling people to only speak English doesn’t get at all to the root of what was clearly a toxic environment.

  23. Undine*

    I work in an office that has a lot of Russian and Ukranian speakers. There are plenty of conversations in their native language. Usually what I’m hearing is something like “blah, blah, blah Spring Security” or some other work-related topic. I can’t think of any reason why they should have to talk in English on the off-chance that I want to eavesdrop on their work conversations. Admittedly, there are enough people around who speak the same language that it can’t just be a code between two people. But basically, people who are professional will be professional in any language. People who aren’t professional will be unprofessional regardless of language.

  24. Japan Anna*

    I work in an all Japanese speaking office and currently no other English native speakers are around me. If there were a native speaker near me, I would definitely want to speak with him or her in English once in a while. Because, as you might expect, speaking in English is a lot easier than speaking in Japanese no matter how long I’ve been speaking it. If my workplace told me not to speak in my own native language because it made other people uncomfortable, without a concrete reason, like: “someone heard you saying something inappropriate,” I would be really upset because there is nothing intrinsically wrong with speaking another language. It absolutely is not meant to exclude other people.
    If there are three people having a conversation, then using a language that one person doesn’t understand is rude. But two people having a conversation between themselves don’t need to accommodate every other person in the room not involved in the conversation.
    I see conversations between people who speak languages I don’t understand all the time. My Chinese friends speak to each other in Chinese, and I can’t understand Chinese, so I just enjoy watching them enjoying the conversation. If I were in a room with my Chinese friends and an English native speaker, I might sometimes want to speak in my own language and I’m sure they wouldn’t take it personally.
    When people speak in a language you can’t understand, it is not something they’re doing directed at you. When I speak to my mom in Skype in English, I’m not doing it to exclude my husband. And saying, “don’t speak x language” without a real reason is tangled up in a lot of value judgments about what languages are good or appropriate for a workplace.

    1. James*

      “If there are three people having a conversation, then using a language that one person doesn’t understand is rude. But two people having a conversation between themselves don’t need to accommodate every other person in the room not involved in the conversation.”

      A fantastic point! Our culture seems to have forgotten the idea that when someone is speaking, they are speaking to some specific group of people 9 times out of 10. If you’re not in that group, you don’t get a say in how the conversation is carried out. I’ve seen a similar issue with technical discussions–someone with no business getting involved objects because we’re using words they don’t understand. That’s not OUR problem; we weren’t talking to that person. The same happens with languages, with books, with lectures, etc. You DON”T have the right to have every form of communication geared towards you. Other people CAN talk around you without specifically including you.

      Unless you’re the boss, it’s extremely egotistical to think that everyone not speaking your language is talking about you. Seriously, most of us aren’t that interesting. If you ARE the boss, people are going to talk about you when you’re not around anyway, so suck it up; it comes with the paycheck. Or you can learn the language; there’s absolutely nothing wrong with expanding yourself in such a way!

      “And saying, “don’t speak x language” without a real reason is tangled up in a lot of value judgments about what languages are good or appropriate for a workplace.”

      Again, very well said. I work with a lot of construction companies, and there is a VERY clear divide between the Spanish speakers and management. It’s hardly the only one, either. We do not need to increase the perception that English is the language of the ruling elite while Spanish is the language of the low-class workers. There’s already a very strong sense of that in the USA (my parents objected to me taking Spanish for exactly this reason!).

      1. Japan Anna*

        Interesting about the technical discussions. It is maybe kind of an entitlement thing–“all discussions in my vicinity have to be open to me, without me adjusting to the content.”

        It also reminds me of open offices, which is another thing about my workplace. TONS of conversations between other people happen, and whether or not you can/should join one of those is another thing and probably depends on rank.

        Also, aaaauuugh on value judgments of languages, classism and language. I know I got the long end of the stick being an English speaker for many reasons, one being that no one is likely to actually ask me to not speak it because it vaguely “doesn’t sound professional” or “makes people uncomfortable.”

        It blows my mind reading comments that clearly see English as normal and the default, and other languages as unnecessary and abnormal. Maybe that value judgment bleeds into what is assumed to be said: unprofessional statements.

    2. Candi*

      Ow. I have an online friend from Oz who spent several years in Japan, teaching and working daycare. We had a discussion about counting one time -my compliments on anyone who can learn to speak it! (She also learned that the mild-mannered gentleman who runs the daycare can be more then he appears, and can have gathered an epic network and amount of influence in his long life.)

      The only problem I see with speaking a language another cannot understand is if the speakers are deliberately excluding someone who must be included in the conversation, whether it’s work, a school assignment, or helping with disaster relief.

      I really wish I knew what the actual complaint said, and how much is the manager.

  25. Kate*

    I’m a little surprised that anyone is condoning speaking in a language others can’t understand in front of them. De facto excluding them.

    Some are suggesting that it is “silly” or “unrealistic” to expect to be included in every conversation. It would be. But it is not silly or unrealistic to expect to be able to be included in every conversation happening in FRONT of you.

    It has been, for over a century, an established fact that excluding others from a conversation is rude. Whether it is done by whispering or by talking at length about people they don’t know, etc.

    Not only is it rude and unkind to exclude people, you also lose a chance for connection and strengthening a relationship. Talking about cats in another language? Maybe your coworker is a cat breeder, but because they are monolingual they weren’t able to join in and didn’t even know what you were talking about.

    Finally, the suspicion about what people are talking about when they are speaking in another language is, I should think, understandable. After all, what would you be talking about that you don’t want others to hear, and that can’t wait until the two of you are in private? The natural thought is that it is something mean or work-inappropriate. Personal matters are best left for home or outside work hours, complaints about the company you don’t want your bosses or coworkers to hear, or complaints about your coworkers!

    Some people are suggesting that it is because it is easier for the bilingual people to speak in one language than another. That is understandable, but that doesn’t make it any less rude to exclude others by speaking in a language they can’t understand in front of them.

    There are those in the United States who object to anyone at anytime speaking a non-English language, and these people are definitely xenophobic. That is not the case here. It is just as rude for two Filipino people in America to have a conversation in their language in front of their English monolingual coworkers as it would be for:

    two French speakers with English monolingual coworkers
    two English speakers with French monolingual coworkers
    two Punjabi speakers with Hindi monolingual coworkers.

    It is always rude to exclude others from that which is happening right in front of them.

  26. saminrva*

    #1 – (I know I’m late here, but wanted to add this in case it helps the OP or anyone) Earlier this year I had a situation where someone said they left a message for me and I never saw it — but I played around with my phone and realized I’d changed a setting that I didn’t realize would override a bunch of other settings and I had accidentally told my voicemail program that it wasn’t allowed to send me any notifications. Sure enough, the voicemail was there, along with some older ones — just hadn’t received any notification.

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