offering prayers to a coworker, employee falsely accused of attending a white supremacist march, and more

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

1. Offering prayers to a coworker

My office’s administrative assistant is currently visiting her family in Puerto Rico and is right in the path of Hurricane Irma. We’re all very worried for her and she’s expressed her fear in our Slack. I’m an intern but I’ve been working here since June and am friendly with her.

Do you think it’s okay for me to DM her on Slack and tell her that I’m praying for her and her family? I wouldn’t usually bring religion into the workplace but this is a situation where there is really nothing I can do to help her from New York. I don’t want to overstep or make her uncomfortable. Should I opt for a “thinking of you and your family” message instead?

If you don’t know for sure that she’d appreciate the mention of prayers, I’d stick with “thinking of you and your family.” Plenty of people don’t mind being prayed for, even non-religious people, but enough do that it’s better to avoid it — especially in a work situation — unless you know it would be welcomed.

2. Employee falsely accused a coworker of attending a white supremacist march

Recently, “Jane,” someone from another department (not the one I manage) requested bereavement leave to attend a family member’s funeral in another state. The bereavement days off were before and after the weekend of the events in Charlottesville. One of my reports, “Sarah,” told everyone Jane lied and really took time off to march with the white supremacists. She told people and said it on email more than once and also complained about Jane on social media.

Jane really did attend a funeral, but in West Virginia. She provided proof of the funeral to HR after they had began the termination process for her. I am at a loss as to what to do about Sarah. She had no evidence when she made these claims. She has not apologized or shown regret for accusing Jane and when asked she cannot point to a single time Jane was racist towards her or anyone else. Jane is understandably furious. As Sarah’s manager, what should I be doing to make this situation right?

Sit down with Sarah and ask her to explain what led to her making allegations against Jane that turned out to be false. It’s possible that it was a genuine misunderstanding — in which case she should apologize to Jane and show an understanding of the impact of her actions. If it wasn’t a misunderstanding — if it was intentional jerkiness — that’s a serious disciplinary issue.

That said, as wrong as Sarah’s actions were, you shouldn’t ignore the possibility that there are racial dynamics in your office that are bigger than this one incident. It’s worth educating yourself about whatever that larger picture might be (separate from dealing with the false allegation).

3. My colleagues are trying to force a retirement party on someone who doesn’t want one

A beloved friend and colleague of mine is retiring after 30+ years of service for the same organization! Jacaranda has been very clear: she does NOT want a party to mark her retirement, and if she gets wind of any party planning, she will call out sick or leave early to avoid the festivities. I am more private with my feelings, especially at work, so I get it. Jacaranda is an amazing friend and I am happy to respect her wishes.

Some coworkers would like to plan an afternoon tea party for Jacaranda, reasoning that a “tea party” is not a proper “retirement party” so it would be slightly more acceptable. Mainly they cannot imagine that someone would just walk out the door after 30+ years without any fanfare. They hope to plan this tea party in secrecy, quietly invite everyone at work, and then ensure Jacaranda’s attendance by accompanying her upstairs to some random conference room for a cup of afternoon tea. Surprise!!!

I think this is a bad idea, namely because Jacaranda has been clear about her wishes. Also, if the coworkers are the only ones who want to throw a party, then the party is for US, not for HER. My coworkers are warm and thoughtful people who want Jacaranda to know how much everyone loves her, but I don’t think a top secret tea party laced with deception and disregard is the way to go. Maybe they will listen to a workplace expert if they won’t listen to me. Please help!

They’re proposing directly disregarding her wishes. That’s not honoring or celebrating her; that’s dismissing and slighting her. Frankly, it’s a jerk move.

Jacaranda has been extremely clear that she doesn’t want any kind of event thrown for her. Someone who says that she’ll leave early to avoid a party is serious about not wanting a party. Trying to force one on her anyway is a really unkind thing to do.

If they insist on doing it anyway, I’d recommend that you insist that Jacaranda be informed ahead of time. You can point out that if she’d be okay with what they’re planning, there shouldn’t be a problem with telling her about it. And if they don’t want to because they know she’ll refuse it … well, that’s their answer and they should LISTEN TO IT, not run roughshod over a colleague because they feel like it.


4. Can I apply for a job if I’m not available until May?

I am due to graduate in May and do not yet have a job. An organization that it is my absolute dream to work for has just posted a job opening that lines up very (very!) well with my experience. But, of course, the job is posted now and the absolute earliest I could start would be the middle of May (I go to school very far from where this job is located, so working in between classes isn’t an option).

I’m wondering if it is even worth it to apply? On the one hand: dream job. On the other hand: I don’t want to look delusional for applying or like I have no grasp of how jobs/hiring work. I particularly don’t want to create a bad impression that would count against me if I applied for other jobs with this organization in the future. What say you?

In most fields, yes, it’s way too early. Most places are hiring for about one to three months out.

That said, there are some fields that are starting to interview next year’s graduates now. Those fields aren’t the norm and you probably know if you’re in one of them (but if you’re not sure, talk to someone who works in the field you want to go into).

And if you’re unsure, you can always apply and just state very, very clearly up-front that you’re not graduating and available for full-time work until May and that you understand that may be prohibitive. As long as you’re clear that you realize that’s a possibility, it’s not going to count against you in the future.

5. Thanking a professor who recommended me for a job

I graduated from college a little over three years ago. And like most graduates, I went on to find a job that was “close enough” to what I wanted to do. Now, three years later, I was contacted by one of my college professors who works for a company that does exactly what I want to do. The contact was totally out of the blue. I just came back from a meeting one day to find a text from my professor identifying himself and checking that he still had the correct phone number for me. And next thing I knew, I was applying for a job.

Apparently the hiring manager asked my professor if he had any students he would recommend and he got in touch with me. He even went so far as to connect me with the person leaving the position (moving on to bigger and better things inside the company) to give me a clear understanding of what the role was before I applied.

I obviously hope that the opportunity works out. But either way I feel very grateful to my professor for not only thinking of me, but putting me in touch with the right people. I’ve expressed as much in the email correspondence I’ve had with him, but is there something else I should be doing? I feel like the help he has offered me has gone above and beyond what I would ask of even someone close to me, let alone a teacher I hadn’t spoken to in three years.

Well, keep in mind that this wasn’t 100% a favor to you. It’s also a favor to the hiring manager. And he wouldn’t have recommended you if he didn’t genuinely believe you might be the right person for the job. So this wasn’t charity! But it was certainly kind of him, and expressing your appreciation is the right thing to do (which you’ve done). You should also let him know what happens — whether you get offered the job, whether you accept it, or whether it ends up not working out. And when you do that, thank him again for thinking of you. (Also, make sure these aren’t perfunctory-sounding thank-you’s; be warm and open in your gratitude.)

That’s it, really! No need for cards or gifts or anything like that.

{ 924 comments… read them below }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, saying “you’re in my thoughts” is also an acceptable alternative. In general, I think it’s helpful to avoid language regarding prayers unless a coworker has made it clear that (1) they are religious, and (2) would appreciate your prayers. I know this is difficult in scary circumstances like the ones facing your coworker, and I know the impulse comes from good intentions and thoughtfulness.

    Many people won’t mind language regarding prayer, but it can come across as especially painful for the ones who will mind. And given the potential intensity gap, anything you can do to minimize adding to your coworker’s emotional load at this time will be helpful to her.

    1. Amy*

      Agreed. If you know that someone shares your religious background, then sure, go ahead and offer prayers…but religion is such a personal subject, and depending on people’s background and experience, they may be very uncomfortable with prayer conceptually, or uncomfortable with someone from a different religious group praying for them, or just not find it meaningful. If you’re not 100% sure it would be welcome then stick to ‘You’re in my thoughts’, or offering help if you’re able.

      1. Alton*

        I’m glad you point out that there are multiple reasons why someone might not be comforted by prayer. I’ve found that people are sometimes dismissive of people not wanting to be prayed for because they take for granted that at the very least, everyone can agree that prayer is a nice sentiment. While I know people who say they’re praying for me mean well, I actually have some philosophical objections to prayer and have some negative associations with it from when I was younger, so for me it’s not just a matter of not believing it works.

        Though, as a religious minority, it can also be discomforting to be reminded that a lot of people where I live take Christianity for granted as the default.

        1. Frozen Ginger*

          +1 on negative associations. Unfortunately, the phrase “I am praying/will pray for you” can often be used passive-aggressively. So, yeah, OP, absolutely go with “thinking of you”.

          1. Alton*

            For me, it’s not even that (though a lot of people experience that sort of passive-aggressiveness). I prayed a lot as a kid when my dad was dying of cancer, and when it didn’t save him, I wasn’t bitter about it but I had to think about what I actually believed about prayer. I decided that if there’s a higher power that intercedes in our lives, I didn’t actually like the idea of some people being saved from misfortune only because of prayer. It’s not like my dad would have been more deserving of life than someone who was an atheist/whose family were atheists. I’m pretty agnostic now, but if divine intervention is real, I don’t really want to receive it. Even if it helps me.

            1. AnitaJ*

              I’m sorry about your dad, and I really relate to your experience. My 92 year old grandmother was recently ill, and my family emphasized prayer and saying Masses for her. She recovered, and they chalked it all up to the power of prayer.

              …Meanwhile, my other grandmother, 80 years old died of a brain tumor last year. And my 60 year old uncle died of cancer. They had people praying for them as well. Why didn’t it work for them? Did we all not pray hard enough? Were there not a sufficient amount of prayers said?

              I’m obviously still upset about this, but I guess all of this rambling is to say I share your thoughts, Alton.

              1. Ego Chamber*

                From where I’m sitting, the positive effects of prayer look a lot like confirmation bias. I see it as something people do to comfort themselves about situations affecting others that they can’t control or help with in a more substantial way—but I don’t thing there’s anything objectively wrong with that. I’m an atheist, and I don’t take offense if someone wants to pray for me, because I don’t see any reason to tell them not to use use a coping mechanism that has no real impact on me. (I know I sound like such an asshole here. Necessary disclaimer: My way isn’t the only way; this is all intensely personal and individual.)

                I’m sorry about the people you lost, and the turmoil it caused you.

            2. Kathleen Adams*

              I am a Christian and I believe in the power of prayer…but that said, I don’t think what I mean by “the power of prayer” is the same as what other believers in the power of prayer believe! Spirituality is very, very complicated.

              That said, I don’t think most people who believe in prayer would have a negative reaction to “You and your family are in my prayers” (I wouldn’t) so if the OP is *sure* the coworker shares those beliefs, it probably wouldn’t hurt. But if there is any doubt at all, “positive thoughts” or something similar is much safer.

        2. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

          Oh yes! I have some very negative associations with the “I’m praying for you” language. I was heavily involved in the church as a child/teenage and eventually realized that “prayer chains” (or similar language) was often (within my particular church, not necessarily overall) as a pretense for gossip or pasive aggressive judgement.

          That said, I really don’t take offense if someone says they’re praying for me. I remind myself that most people are expressing a kind sentiment and try to never assign malicious intent unless I have iron clad proof.

          1. Alton*

            I know that people mean well, so I definitely don’t assign ill intent, but for me, prayer literally goes against my belief system. So even when it’s meant well, it’s still kind of like, say, giving an ethical vegan a turkey sandwich. It’s not helpful, even as a “nice sentiment.”

          2. Julia*

            I don’t take offense in someone praying for me or anyone else, either, but I also have to wonder if there isn’t something more… useful they could do?

        3. TootsNYC*

          As a Christian, I find this concept annoying: “prayer is a nice sentiment”

          Um, no, it’s not a sentiment. If that’s how someone thinks of it when they do it–vague good wishes–it’s not really prayer.

          Now, I applaud the people who say, “I understand that there are powerful good wishes behind it, and I don’t need to have an argument with someone who wishes me well.”

          But if you consider what prayer is supposed to be–it’s not something that a non-believer would welcome.

          I just remind myself of how I feel when someone tells me they’ll pray to a different deity for me (very, very uncomfortable–I don’t want to accept something that means I am essentially denying MY God); and I find it easy to not talk about prayer with someone whose beliefs I don’t know.

          1. Thlayli*

            Thank you. This is precisely the point I am trying to make. A religious person is likely to be just as offended by a prayer from a different religion than an atheist is.

            Most of the comments here are saying “don’t offer to pray for her because of the tiny chance she might be atheist” when it should really be “don’t offer to pray for her because it is extremely likely she is not the same religion as you”, regardless of whether that means she is an atheist or a catholic or a Buddhist it’s irrelevant she may not want prayer from a different religion.

            1. fposte*

              No. It should be “Don’t offer to pray for her because you have no idea if it’s welcome or not.” It’s not about if she’s Protestant or atheist; it’s about the fact that there’s no reason to make your prayers public at all unless you have information that it’s welcomed.

              1. fposte*

                Though, thinking about it, even if it’s the wrong reason that keeps somebody off of their religious beliefs when I’m already under stress, I’ll still take it.

              2. Thlayli*

                Well some very religious people might be offended if you didn’t offer to pray for them. You can never please everyone, all you can do is play the statistics and hope you don’t inadvertently offend someone.

                What bugs me about the whole “don’t pray for her because the concept of prayer is offensive to atheists” is that it implies only atheists feelings are worthy of consideration. What if OPs coworker is extremely rel

                1. Thlayli*

                  Darn posted too soon

                  What if OPs coworker is extremely religious and would be offended if people DIDNT offer her prayers?

                  However statistically it’s very likely that OPs coworker is not of the same faith as op and so would not appreciate OPs prayers as much as someone of the same faith would. So it’s best not to offer at all in that case.

                  In general if someone is of the same religion as yourself I would say it’s ok to ask someone would they like to be prayed for – but telling them you will or already have when you don’t even know their religion and it’s probably not your religion is just plain rude.

                  However, I still think most people wouldn’t be offended either way.

                2. fposte*

                  Here’s the thing: prayers are the outlier for co-workers, not the default. If you want the outlier, it’s on you to make it clear that’s what you want, and even then, you don’t get to be offended if not everybody gives it to you.

                  I don’t think there really are many religious people who’d be offended if all their co-workers didn’t say they were praying for them, but any who fall into that category are out of line. It’s not a simple equivalence.

                3. Thlayli*

                  If you’re getting into what is the “outlier” then that’s just another way of saying what is the thing that fewest people would find offensive. Which is just another way of saying let’s play the statistics and do what is likely to offend the least people.

                  Anyway the point is moot now since the hurricane has now passed Puerto Rico. Op can do something concrete now which is donate to relief funds to repair the power infrastructure.

                4. Thlayli*

                  The point I am making Julia is that someone being that religious is so unlikely you should NOT expect her to be offended. Just as someone from a Puerto Rican family is so unlikely to be atheist that you should NOT expect her to be offended by the very concept of prayer. What you SHOULD expect is that she is a different religion from OP and there is a chance she may not appreciate prayers from a different religion.

              3. Elizabeth West*

                I usually go for “Sending good vibes” because all that implies is that I’m a dirty hippie, LOL.

                “Thinking of you and your family” or “Sending good thoughts” would probably work better than the praying thing. As would, “If there is anything at all I can do to help, please let me know.” If you use the latter, however, you must be willing and able to follow up on it.

              4. fposte*

                @Thayli–I don’t think it’s true that outlier and least offensive are the same thing at all, but I think we are on two very different ice floes in this conversation and I don’t think we’re drifting any closer together :-). So I’m going to drift along and see you on another thread.

                1. Thlayli*

                  Ok cheers I think you’re right we are just looking at it from such whoppingly different perspectives we will never understand each other’s POV. But that ok – life (and comment sections) would be very boring if everyone thought the same way

            2. Wintermute*

              And even if they’re of the same broad religion there’s more than a few that would, at least on a theological level, say that now you have some level of obligation to stop them from continuing their heresy because their sect is wrong and they’re praying wrong and you can’t allow them to consign themselves to hell for apostacy on your behalf.

              So to sum up:

              1– they might be athiest or non-religiously spiritual, and think you’re silly, stupid, ignorant or all of the above.

              2– Even if they are religious they may have a history of trauma, spiritual abuse or other issues that make them uncomfortable with the idea.

              3– If they are religious and don’t mind prayer they might still be upset by YOUR prayers. For instance, they might not be of your particular brand of religion and feel that there are theological implications of accepting prayers made to false gods on their behalf (especially a fun problem when Protestants and Catholics are involved, because of accusations of Idolatry). More conservative Christian sects especially, who use the Stumbling Block and blind men analogy from the bible copiously, may feel they have an obligation on a spiritual level to stop you from placing your soul in damnation because you are praying to the wrong god, No one wants to have the heresy conversation at the water cooler.

              4 — if they are of your religion, denomination and sect, they may not want to be “out” about that at work, or feel comforatobek

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            The “prayer is a nice sentiment” idea isn’t that prayer itself is a nice sentiment, it’s that someone taking the time to think of you in a way that is meaningful to them is a nice sentiment. It’s like getting someone a gift that ends up not being to their taste. It was kind of you to think of someone and to spend your time and energy doing something you intended to be a nice gesture, but it doesn’t change the fact that the actual gift isn’t something the recipient wants or needs.

          3. a different Vicki*

            It depends on the shape of non-believer. I’m an atheist, and I needed surgery several years ago. After I recovered, my girlfriend said that she hoped I didn’t mind that she had prayed for me. I told her that as an atheist, I don’t think there was anyone listening, but by the same token, if praying for me comforted her, it did me no harm. (If she had done nothing but pray, I would have felt somewhat neglected; if she wanted to pray in addition to talking to me and providing practical support, that was fine.)

            1. birchwoods*

              Yeah, I think your comment and NotAnotherManager! above make complementary points. This is the problem–yes, for many people praying means the same as “it’s the thought that counts” as if it’s a gift. But the situation is completely different. When you give someone a gift it’s not because they NEED something, it’s because you want to do something nice for them. Gift-giving is essentially about the giver, not the recipient–that’s why it’s the thought that matters and not the gift itself. But in situations where someone would be giving thoughts or prayers or actual help, like in your surgery situation, a person needs something. Then it matters what the recipient gets, not how the giver feels about it. It’s similar to this issue that always comes up with disasters about donations. People want to give things like old clothes and teddy bears, because it makes them feel good. But what people in affected areas really need is money to be able to get what they need. Praying in that case is the same as giving something that can’t be used to someone who really needs something. It’s useless and offensive when people pretend like they’re helping (and plaster their “support” all over social media) but are really just ignoring what the recipient really needs. Also as a sidenote, a lot of people have been actively harmed by Christian fundamentalists around the world, so just imagine offering prayers to someone who was sent to a gay conversion camp or abused by a priest. Or persecuted in their home country, or subjected to anti-Semitic graffiti, etc. etc. You have no idea what that person’s experience with any religion is, so it’s best practice to not bring it into situations where you can just offer condolences or actual material aid.

              Tl;dr: Trying to convey condolences to someone in a hard situation is not about you. Give them what THEY need and want, not what makes you feel good.

        4. Geillis D*

          I file “I’ll be praying for you” under “people who want to say something nice while offering zero actual help”, and leave it at that.

          1. ket*

            To be fair, that’s exactly what the letter-writer is saying: she has zero actual help to give and wants to say something nice. So, do you endorse the language in this case?

            1. Thlayli*

              Exactly. OP literally can’t to anything to help and is trying to be nice by offering the only thing she can.

                1. Thegs*

                  As a non-cynical answer, knowing that someone cares for you can be good for your morale. Just knowing that someone wants you to succeed can be the difference between breaking down and buckling down.

                2. Thlayli*

                  That’s a good point thegs. I’ve seen lots of OPs write in here saying they appreciate all the comments (when they were nice). And I’ve seen loads of people on tv who’ve experienced something horrible talk about how they really appreciated all the thoughts and prayers and good wishes.

                3. ExceptionToTheRule*

                  When my mom was dying this spring knowing that people were aware of her condition and providing me as her caretaker their sympathy & empathy actually meant more than the random crappy casserole that got left on the doorstep or the even more random package of crappy toilet paper. The former let me know we had emotional support; the latter was just more crap I had to deal with.

                4. Soon to be former fed*

                  Why does saying something meant to be no more than a nice sentiment get so much pushback? Ok then, lets all just quit it with the niceties and make this world an even colder, harsher, and unpleasant place than it already is. Geesh.

            2. Callie*

              If you’re not sure if prayers are welcome, then a simple “I’m thinking of you” covers the bases.

        5. MsChanandlerBong*

          I do not mind if people pray for me, but when I was in and out of the hospital, I got a little resentful of all the “praying for you” messages because NOT ONE of those people called me, visited me, offered to help me with anything, etc. At one point, I spent a week in the hospital, and the only people who visited me were my parents (my husband was there daily, but I don’t count him as a “visitor”). I know they were trying to be kind by offering prayers, but at a time when I had no income coming in because I was hospitalized and couldn’t work, and my husband was killing himself with OT to try to make up for it, a visit from a friend or a hot meal for my husband would have been a lot more helpful than nebulous prayers.

          1. Callie*

            Seriously. I was in the hospital for a week a year ago and not one person offered to pick my kid up from school (husband worked in the next town over which made things hard), bring food, give me a ride HOME from the hospital, or anything else. But they were “praying”. Real helpful.

      2. Liz2*

        I’d find it annoying, despite knowing full well the positive intentions. It’s the whole idea of “your god created this situation to begin with, why would you praying be useful?”

        Definitely better to just “keep me in thoughts” and offer substantive support as you can.

        1. Thlayli*

          To be fair, even If God exists, he/she didn’t create the poverty that makes hurricanes much more dangerous in poor countries than rich countries. People did that all on our own.

          1. Liz2*

            This is my final comment on the topic, both as it is off topic and as a philosophy degree person I could get way too lost in the weeds on this.

            Within the belief system being considered, nothing happens that is outside the will of god, anytime anyplace in any way, no matter how small. God creates hurricanes and god creates cancer in babies and plenty of people will die through zero possible “bad will choices” on their own.

            Which would be no big deal EXCEPT those same people want to also believe god is Always Good and that prayers in themselves can change gods decisions on who to kill. Which means now you somehow have to reconcile babies having cancer and innocents being killed by natural weather is not only “Always Good” but that some prayers are willfully ignored and some are not, with zero guidance.

            When all you want to do is let someone feel comforted, saying “pray for you” has so much loaded and implied weight it’s really not worth it unless you absolutely know they are in alignment with your beliefs.

            1. Thlayli*

              How do you know what belief system is being considered? There is a 66% chance op is Protestant (given she is American and religious) but that’s not a certainty. There is an 85% chance the coworker is catholic, again not a certainty. And what is relevant here is how the coworker would feel. IF the coworker is catholic then all of what you said above is irrelevant because Catholics absolutely 100% believe that people can and frequently do act in opposition to the will of God.

              It was people who sold thousands of other people into slavery in a carribean island creating a culture of poverty leading to housing that is inadequate and cannot withstand hurricanes. God didn’t do that, whether God exists or not. And in Catholic belief there is every possibility that people did that in opposition to Gods will, and given that Jesus was sent to minister to the poor there is plenty of evidence in Catholicism that Gods will is NOT to take advantage of poor people and make their situation worse off by transplanting them to a foreign country and forcing them into poverty for generations.

            2. Julia*

              If that’s the real logic, then why are so many people against certain medical interventions? Surely if God didn’t want them to happen, he wouldn’t have let them be invented?

              1. Thlayli*

                Again not something that Is relevant to Catholicism. Catholic belief would hold that:

                1 because God has granted people free will without his intervention people are free to invent medical interventions that God may oppose. The existence of a medial procedure does not in any way imply Gods support of it, any more than the existence of war rape, murder or poverty implies Gods support of those things because all of those things are caused by human acts of free will.
                2 Catholics in general are not opposed to medical intervention. There is no catholic rule against blood transfusion for example, or against pain relief. Perhaps you are thinking of jehovahs witnesses.

                1. Geoffrey B*

                  Not against blood transfusion, no, but Catholicism has several well-known prohibitions in the area of reproductive health.

          2. Gaia*

            See, and this is why I don’t want prayers for me. I believe that if their diety exists, they did create the poverty that makes hurricans much more dangerous in poor countries than in rich countries. They cannot claim their diety is all knowing and all powerful except to help people. I am really offended when people offer me prayers because I 1. don’t think they do anything and 2. if I’m wrong and their diety does exist, I want nothing to do with a diety that could make the world better and chooses not to do so.

            1. Thlayli*

              i don’t think any religion claims that their deity is all knowing and all powerful except for being unable to help people. Every religion that I know of has asked and answered the fundamental question of “why do bad things happens to people if God is all powerful”. Obviously not all the answers can be true as they contradict each other, and there is a wide variation in answers e.g. Christianity: “God gave humans free will and does not interfere in that even when they choose to do bad things to each other” -v- Hinduism “people who do bad things are punished by being reborn into poverty in their next life”. Some of the answers are clearly more palatable than others but to suggest that every religion simply hasn’t considered this blatantly obvious question is just demonstrating your ignorance of theology.

              1. Gaia*

                Yea nope. That answer doesn’t fly. What did a 2 year old do to deserve horrific, painful cancer?

                I’m not saying they haven’t considered it. I am saying their answers are gross and offensive.

                1. Ego Chamber*

                  Yeah, this. If the answer to the question “How do you reconcile this blatant paradox in your religious philosophy?” is just some version of “Because we said so,” I call bullshit.

                  No one is saying any religion outright claims this, we’re saying this is what the religion says if you follow its logic as it’s presented by the people who speak about their religion.

      3. Liz2*

        I’d find it annoying, despite knowing full well the positive intentions. It’s the whole idea of “your god created this situation to begin with, why would you praying be useful?”

        Definitely better to just “keep me in thoughts” and offer substantive support as you can

      4. Geoffrey B*

        I’m non-religious. In general I interpret “I’ll pray for you” as a religious person’s way of wishing me well, and I’m cool with that. However…

        Once upon a time, I had a dear friend who was also very religious. I was going through a miserable, stressful time in my life, and she told me she was praying for me. And that was fine and welcome, until…

        Several months later, she said (paraphrased): “You didn’t ask what I was praying for. I wasn’t praying for your life to get better. I was praying that these troubles would persuade you to turn to Jesus.” And then she told me a very messed-up and not actually true story about shepherds breaking their sheep’s legs:

        …and that was pretty much the last time we talked.

    2. Thlayli*

      In general most people would not be offended by good wishes whether they be prayers or not, but some people would be. However if she is the type to get offended by prayers then it is far more likely that it would be specific type of prayers she finds offensive rather than the act of praying at all.

      Puerto Rico is only 2% athiest so there is a very small chance that OPs coworker is NOT religious. However Puerto Rico is 85% catholic and the us is only 21% catholic, so it’s very unlikely she is the same religion as OP.

      I would be more concerned she would be offended by being prayed for in a religion that has oppressed her people for centuries, than being offended by being prayed for at all.

      However IMO it is very unlikely she would be offended as the type of “ultra atheist” or “ultra Catholic” who would get offended by a Protestant prayer is pretty rare in general (though surprisingly common on this site if the comments are anything to go by).

      1. Bagpuss*

        “However IMO it is very unlikely she would be offended as the type of “ultra atheist” or “ultra Catholic” who would get offended by a Protestant prayer is pretty rare in general”

        I think it’s probably much more common that you think, it’s simply that that people are much less likely to state they are offended, in person.
        Here, commenters can be open about how they feel.

        I am not ‘ultra atheist’. However, I would not want a coworker telling me they were praying for me, and depending on a range of factors including my relationship with them, their normal attitudes and the time of when/ what they said, I might be offended .

        Even if it comes from someone I like, and who is, and comes across as, sincere, I would much *prefer* they not tell me they are praying for me. (If they wish to pray for me, so be it. I don’t believe that it will have any effect, but they are free to pray for who or whatever they want, but it is unnecessary to tell me so)

        I think there are a lot of places and communities in the USA where speaking up to say you dislike it or are offended would be very difficult.

        1. BeezLouise*


          In this particular situation, I wouldn’t be offended, but I’ve had people tell me I was on their prayer list before, and it always rubbed me the wrong way.

          My sister in law said she was praying for me about something specific though, in a one-off, and it didn’t bother me nearly as much. In neither situation would I be comfortable saying it bothered me though.

        2. Thlayli*

          It may be common in America to be offended by prayer since almost a quarter of Americans are atheist but I highly doubt it’s that common in Puerto Rico, which as I said is only 2% atheist. It’s only a 1 in 50 chance that OPs coworker is even an atheist, let alone that she is such a committed atheist that she finds the idea of someone praying for her family’s safety to be offensive.

          As I said, if she is the type of person who would get offended by such a thing, it’s far more likely that would be expressed in offence at being prayed for by a protestant than being prayed for at all, since there is an 85% chance she is catholic and a 66% chance op is Protestant. (66% being the percentage of American religious people who are Protestant).

          but I highly doubt anyone in a hurricane zone is going to have the mental energy to spend getting offended at someone praying for them.

          1. Hrovitnir*

            But if the purpose of saying it is to be supportive, why would you choose to phrase it in a way that has the capacity to be uncomfortable to receive (most people don’t “spend energy getting offended”, they just find it distasteful to one degree or another) when there’s an alternative that’s supportive for 100% of people?

            1. Thlayli*

              Ok a lot of comments here I’m gonna try and address them all at once then I probably won’t have time for any more today.

              1 People can get offended by anything, someone below said they would be offended by someone saying “I’m thinking of you” but not offended by someone saying “I’m hoping you’re ok”. It’s impossible not to offend anyone ever. So it’s literally impossible to phrase something in a way that doesn’t have “the capacity to offend”. At the end of the day phrasing it in a way that is less likely to offend is probably the best you can hope for.

              2 I have no idea what percent of people would be offended by the way in which someone expresses their sympathy, but let’s assume for the purposes of argument that the coworker IS one of those people who will get offended by the wording of an expression of sympathy. as I have repeatedly said, there is a very big chance (66%) that the coworker is religious but if a different religion and a very small chance (2%) that the coworker is atheist. Therefore op should consider that in addition to the 2% chance of offending coworker by offering prayers at all, there is a 66% chance that she will offend coworker by offering her a Protestant prayer.

              3 I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being easily offended, I’m just saying if coworker IS easily offended she’s much more likely to be offended by prayers from Protestant oppressors, than by prayers in general.

              4 I do stand by my opinion that most people are not so easily offended. Sure some people are, and on this site it may well be the majority, but I highly doubt it’s the majority in real life. Most people in a life threatening situation would be perfectly happy to accept words of sympathy whether they be in the form of hopes, wishes, thoughts, blessings, prayers to Jesus, Yahweh, Krishna, Buddha or Allah.

              5 I’m not saying people choose to be offended. I’m saying when you are in a really genuinely life threatening situation your brain will generally not waste time and energy in getting offended. Your brain will prioritise for you. She probably won’t even really register the words op uses she will just see that there is an expression of sympathy and not even register any more detail.

              1. Thlayli*

                And in case it’s not 100% clear, I think op should NOT offer prayers because of the chance of offending by offering prayers from a different religion

                1. Bobbin Ufgood*

                  I have to raise this important distinction here, before this goes further:

                  Catholics, protestants, and Orthodox Christians are all part of the same religion, which is Christianity. Catholicism and Protastantism (and Christian Orthodoxy) are not “different religions.” There may be a very few Catholics (and, possibly Orthodox individuals) that feel that way, but this is not the official position by the major church bodies, nor by anyone I actually know who is a member of any of these denominations.

                2. TootsNYC*


                  However, interestingly, I am a Missouri Synod Lutheran, and we do not share worship with other Lutherans, let alone Methodists and Catholics and Assembly of God.

                  We don’t pray in concert with them, even. (The president of my regional district got in huge hot water for participating in a prayer service at Yankee Stadium after the Sept. 11 attacks. And a Connecticut minister got in trouble for participating in an assembly in Sandy Hook.)

                  We take those theological differences seriously. We regard joint participation to be endorsement–and we don’t endorse every tenet of the other Catholic sects.

                  Would most of us be offended? Not in the least; we do recognize the core commonality we share. But we don’t relax into fellowship either.

                3. the gold digger*

                  Catholics, protestants, and Orthodox Christians are all part of the same religion, which is Christianity.

                  Nope. According to some Christian denominations, I (Catholic) will be left behind and/or am going to hell because I am not saved.

                4. Thlayli*

                  Fair point, but replace “religion” with “denomination” and my point is the same.

                  There are plenty of places in the world where the history of Catholic-Protestant relations is just as awful as that of white-black relations in the US. Irish Catholics were sold into slavery in the Caribbean right alongside black Africans by the Protestant white English.

                  It may be the same overall religion (and Christians pray to the same God as Jews and Muslims also) but there is a lot of very turbulent history there. There is also a long history of mainly catholic latinas being oppressed / discriminated against by mainly Protestant whites in USA /Carribean.

                  If OPs coworker is the type to be easily offended the OP should consider this context before offering Protestant prayers.

                  Of course OP could be Catholic but then there is the 13% chance that coworker is not catholic and would find catholic prayers offensive, which is still higher than the 2% atheist possibility.

                  so again, I think OP should be more concerned about the possibility of offending by offering prayers to someone from a different religion, than offending by offering prayers at all

                5. Gazebo Slayer*

                  @Thlayli – actually, no, Irish Catholics were NOT sold into slavery alongside Africans, that’s a well-known urban legend (often repeated in right-wing email forwards and the like). They often did enter indentured servitude as an attempt to escape poverty, but that’s not the same thing as kidnapping followed by sale into intergenerational slavery.

                  (I am from an Irish Catholic background myself.)

                6. Thlayli*

                  I actually did not know this (and it seems from what I can see online that this myth was only publicly debunked this year so not surprising i hadn’t heard). However having read an article about it I will correct myself to say accurately

                  “Irish Catholics were sold into indentured labour and forced to work for no pay for the remainder of their lives while being treated in a manner extremely similar to the black slaves whey worked alongside to he extent that most people thought of them and treated them as slaves and many of them died before their period of indenture was up so from heir perspective they had literally the exact same experience as a slave had”.

                  Still a good reason not to want patronising prayers from the people who oppressed your ancestors and treated them as slaves even if technically there was a tiny legal difference between them and an actual slave.

                7. Ego Chamber*

                  “and treated them as slaves even if technically there was a tiny legal difference between them and an actual slave.”

                  Nope. I suggest you read a few more articles because this kind of doubling down on your original point while pretending you’re posting a correction is really gross.

                  (In case it matters: I’m of Irish decent and I’m well aware of the brutal history of my people, but we need to stop perpetuating this false equivalency with the African slave trade, especially when it comes from emails forwarded around between white people to downplay the tragedies experienced by another group by saying “Hey, us too!” We all have blood and violence and subjection in our past, but there needs to be more empathy all around and less of this sick one-upmanship.)

                8. Geoffrey B*

                  Another person of Irish heritage seconding Gazebo Slayer and Ego Chamber here. My Irish kin had it tough*, but please do not equate their condition to the slavery inflicted on blacks. The “Irish slaves” myth is propaganda spread mostly by white supremacists in an attempt to minimise the historical significance of actual slavery – “if we got over it, why can’t black people?”

                  Indentured servants were worked hard, and not all of them survived to the end of their term, but at least they had the possibility to hope for, and their children didn’t inherit their status. They also had legal protections which shielded them from some of the truly horrific atrocities inflicted on black slaves.

                  Some material on the myth here:

                  *well, some of them did. And some of them were plantation owners who kept black people as slaves :-/

                9. Geoffrey B*

                  (apologies if this duplicates, my previous comment appears to have been eaten)

                  Irish indentured servants certainly had it tough, but the “Irish slaves” thing is a myth propagated by white supremacists attempting to minimise the historical significance of slavery – “if the Irish got over slavery, why can’t the blacks?” As somebody of Irish heritage, I’d very much appreciate not seeing my family’s history fictionalised in the cause of white supremacists.

                  Some reading here:

                  As Hogan notes, while indenture was harsh, it was significantly different to slavery. Indenture was for a fixed term, it wasn’t hereditary, and indentured servants were still covered by the legal rights of servants, whereas black slaves were subject to some of the most hideous atrocities imaginable without legal redress.

                10. Thlayli*

                  I am well aware that some unscrupulous Americans are trying to use the fact that white people have been slaves in the past to somehow dismiss the mistreatment of black people in the present.

                  1 That’s not what’s happening here I am utterly opposed to all forms of mistreatment of all human beings and I think the mistreatment of blacks in America was and is appalling
                  2 the answer to that sort of stupidity is to say “it’s irrelevant, the fact that Irish people have been treated badly doesn’t make it ok to treat black people badly too”. The answer is NOT to rewrite history and say “oh the Irish weren’t actually treated badly because their legal definition wasn’t technically being a slave”

                  Call it what you like, but Irish people were outright kidnapped or otherwise forced to travel to the carribean where they were bought and sold, separated from their families, forced to work for no pay or charged more for room and board than they earned so their debt to their owner/employer continually increased, and were often physically abused in much the same way as black slaves. It may not technically fit the legal definition of slavery, but legal terminology makes feck all difference to the person being physically abused and raped while being held captive and forced to work for no pay until they die.

                  Yes there were some ways black slaves had it worse, but that’s really really really not the point. There were also some black slaves that were treated well – that does not make slavery (or indentured servitude) acceptable.

                  Revisionist history is wrong when bigots use it and it’s wrong when liberals use it. Be honest and accept that whatever the legal definition, someone being forced to work for no pay and not allowed to leave for another job is what most people understand by the term “slave”.

                11. Geoffrey B*

                  “The answer is NOT to rewrite history and say “oh the Irish weren’t actually treated badly because their legal definition wasn’t technically being a slave””

                  Please don’t put words in other people’s mouths. Nobody here has been claiming that “the Irish (indentees) weren’t actually treated badly”, only that conflating their mistreatment with slavery is inaccurate.

                  “and were often physically abused in much the same way as black slaves.”

                  I’m not aware of any Irish indentees being subjected to treatment like “Derby’s dose”. (Note to anybody considering googling that term: you will regret it.)

              2. Else*

                I don’t think it’s actually offense people always feel in this case, barring those occasions where it’s obvious that the offer of prayer is really an offer of disapproval; it’s more that they’re potentially going to be put off instead of comforted. I am not offended by people offering to pray for me – other than when it’s obviously meant that really they’re going to pray that I change or repent my wicked ways – but I’m kind of repelled by it. My religious feelings are my own, and I don’t want to share mine or be bothered with responding to yours. If you’re trying to offer support and closeness to the person, don’t risk doing something that will push them away when there’s such an easy way to avoid that.

              3. Risha*

                I feel like you’re doing a lot of projecting of how you think to how others think (which is entirely natural, so please don’t take that as an insult!). I getting the impression that you’re a reasonably devout Protestant of some variety, yes?

                I was raised as exactly nothing – I was taught about religion, we talked about religion, etc. because it’s part of the world around us, important for understand how people act and think, and understanding literature and movies and all of that, but it was an entirely intellectual exercise. (I do have personal monotheistic religious beliefs, but since I came to them myself, they don’t slot into any particular religion, and especially not any variety of Christianity, since my brain appears utterly unable to grok the whole Jesus thing and I resent the power some extremist branches hold over US politics.) As a result, religion is something I literally never think about unless given a reason to, and organized religion as a whole I tend to treat (probably vastly inappropriately) as a mild vice, like drinking a glass of wine. Good for the health of many/most people, but some people use it too much or can’t handle it at all.

                I’m not offended to be offered prayers. What getting offered prayers does do is bring me up short, as my brain needs to suddenly swerve from whatever it was doing to suddenly bringing religion into it, calculating whether or not the person meant it well (almost always the case), registering and dismissing possibly that it’s from a variety of religion I disapprove of (which doesn’t matter if it’s meant well, but my brain still stops to do the calculation), and other such thoughts, layered with an edge of resentment that the person felt the need to bring something as inconsequential as religion into the problem. And in the end, I will graciously (and in the case of someone like my grandmother, gratefully) accept the offer in the spirit it’s intended, but it’s mental energy that I need to extend that I shouldn’t have had to.

                You seem to be working under the, probably natural for a rather religious person, perspective that a person needs a REASON to be put off by a well meant offered prayer. When the reality is for some people, the offer itself is inherently offputting.

                1. Thlayli*

                  Is that directed at me? Strange I’m very surprised I’m coming off as a devout Protestant when I am neither. I was raised Catholic in a country that suffered massive amounts of oppression from Protestants. I became an atheist for many years and now I would consider myself more of an agnostic but still a bit of a “catholic-lite”, but definitely not devout. I think Ive been to mass once since my wedding.

                  What on earth did I say that made you think I was A Protestant or B devout?

                  I’ve simply been pointing out that statistically op should be more worried about offending a catholic by offering them Protestant prayers than offending an atheist by offering them any sort of prayers. Becaus statistically the former is far far more likely.

              4. academic escapee*

                I wouldn’t be so quick to equate ‘people who are uncomfortable at getting prayed at’ to ‘people who are easily offended.’ Plenty of people have very real reasons to feel uncomfortable or worse about this kind of thing, however well meant it is. Some people have very bad experiences with religion and/or with specific religious communities.

                And I guess you could assume that it’s not likely that this would be true for THIS particular person… but 1) you never know, and 2) it’s not a bad thing to keep in mind, as a rule of thumb. If the goal is to support someone, why risk putting them in this position when there’s an alternative that works better?

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            According to Pew 3% are atheist. 4% identify as agnostic. Most of the unaffiliated (16% out of 23%) identify as nothing in particular. (That’s vs 71% Christian and 6% other faiths.)

            From various beliefs, a problem can arise when people suggest that disasters, large or small-scale, amount to direct hits from God, and people can have a problem with hearing that their parents’ neighborhood was just not godly enough to be spared. (As Ray Blount Jr put if when someone made this argument re Katrina, “But… God missed the French Quarter!”)

          3. Bagpuss*

            “but I highly doubt anyone in a hurricane zone is going to have the mental energy to spend getting offended at someone praying for them.”..

            which implies that you think people re sitting there making a conscious decision to be offended.
            The reality is that people will have an emotional reaction. It’s the difference between what you think (mostly, “this person is intending to show sympathy, so I will acknowledge the intent”) and what you feel, which is not usually something you plan or control.

            If your aim is to be supportive then surely you don’t want to risk saying something which is potentially distressing.

        3. MashaKasha*

          I would not as much be offended as I would find the situation, and my position in it, rather awkward. I never know what to respond to someone who tells me they’re praying for me. Being atheist, I cannot reciprocate and pray back for them… I say thank you, but don’t know if they expect a more elaborate response, which I cannot give them.

        4. Karo*

          I’m never offended when a friend offers to pray for me (or a loved one), but I’m always uncomfortable. Like I don’t know what to do or say, I don’t know whether I should remind them that I’m agnostic (do they really want to ask God to intercede on the behalf of a heathen?), etc. And I know that’s not their intention but it adds an extra layer of suck to a situation that’s already so bad they feel the need to pray for me, in a way that “you’re in my thoughts” wouldn’t.

          1. the limit does not exist*

            Yes, this. I’m an atheist and it makes me uncomfortable to hear that people are praying for me. Especially in a circumstance like a hurricane, it’s like they’re saying, “I’ll pray for the hurricane to miss you but hit other people.”

            1. Artemesia*

              I have a vivid memory of sitting in a Nashville church decades ago (a friend was going to be singing later in the service) and hearing the pastor go on and on and on about his prayers that an elderly (and rich and important) parishioner would get the heart he needed for a transplant to save his life. On and on and on. And all I could think was ‘which of the teens and 20s sitting here in this church are you praying will die so he can have their heart? Or is it okay if it is someone else’s 20 year old?’ Praying for safety in a hurricane isn’t quite that obtuse and obscene or course, but there is something creepy about ‘thank God for saving me’ in a situation when many are not saved.

            2. bird*

              “I’ll pray for the hurricane to miss you but hit other people”
              “i’ll pray that the hurricane changes course and goes into the ocean, I’ll pray that any evacuation goes in an orderly + quick fashion, I’ll pray that rescue efforts are as organized as possible and that people have access to basic needs, I’ll pray for everyone endangered by this”

              Pretty sure praying for people to get hit by hurricanes isn’t kosher for any major religion.

            3. MashaKasha*

              Right? I’ve had a group of people in one of my social circles tell me a story about how someone told them they’d prayed for a hurricane to miss, and “the Lord heard our prayers and the hurricane changed directions and is now heading towards (another city)”.

              My friends just sat there speechless.

              Even when I was religious, attended church, taught Sunday school etc. I was VERY uncomfortable with this line of thinking.

          2. Else*

            + 10
            Yep. It’s creepy feeling. My religious feelings and beliefs are mine, and nunya. Yours are yours, and they are none of my business, and don’t ask me to respond to them.

          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            This is me, as well. Not offended, but certainly uncomfortable.

            Re: Thyali, I also think it’s risky to project how someone with family in Puerto Rico might feel based on statistical information (we also don’t know if the coworker is born/raised in Puerto Rico, which may not make a difference in response, but it could if we’re going to assume Puerto Ricans on the island feel X way based on statistical data). We don’t know the coworker’s background, and if it is easy to avoid offending someone, why stubbornly insist on a message that has a known likelihood to offend or cause discomfort when a less problematic alternative is available?

            1. Thlayli*

              Why on earth are people acting as if I said op should offer to pray? I said no such thing! I said the opposite! I said op should NOT offer to pray because there is a 66% chance that op is Protestant and coworker is catholic and it could be offensive to her to receive Protestant prayers (if she is the type to be easily offended).

              I was simply pointing out that this 66% chance is so much much higher than the 2% chance she is atheist that is should be more of a consideration.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Thank you for clarifying—the distinction was not clear to me (I reread a few times but clearly was not understanding).

              2. academic escapee*

                I think that your point is getting lost because bringing statistical likelihood into this in the first place seems to suggest that statistics matter at all when negotiating this kind of thing: that if the numbers look good enough, go ahead and pray. As if it’d be okay, for example, if there were a 90% chance that the co-worker shared the exact same religion/denomination/etc with the OP. But the only statistical thing that matters here is that there’s a chance this form of support won’t function as intended.

        5. Chalupa Batman*

          Your mention of the relationship mattering jumped out at me. I consider myself religious (though in a way that most people wouldn’t-I’ve given up on trying to justify my lack of want for a “church family”…), but it makes me much more uncomfortable when someone I don’t know well says they’re praying for me. Part of my religious framework is that prayer is highly personal, and it almost feels like an intrusion or even a judgement for someone who I don’t think of as a friend or family to inject religious sentiment into their well wishes toward me. I don’t mind being prayed for, but I do mind talking about prayer with people I don’t know well, even briefly.

      2. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

        As a “mild Catholic” I’ll chime in to say I wouldn’t be offended by an offer of prayers, but I would be fairly annoyed (in private, I’d thank the person and keep my annoyance to myself). I’d also be uncomfortable, as my own personal feeling is that wish fulfillment type prayers are kind of sacrilegious in a way.

        Also I think it comes off as preachy – whenever an acquaintance has said that to me I have always felt it comes with an implication that I should be praying for myself too. And I really don’t like to be told how to practice my own religion.

        1. Thlayli*

          I’m a bit confused what you mean by “wish fulfilment” prayers and how they are sacrilegious. I was raised catholic and I don’t really understand what you mean by that. Not trying to start a row or anything just genuinely confused.

          1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

            I was raised that you don’t pray for a certain outcome – you pray for God’s will to be done. I could be wrong, but I’m thinking that’s what Buffay is saying.

            Also, Buffay, I love your name :)

              1. Thlayli*

                Never heard of that. I was taught you pray to specific saints for specific purposes. Anthony for lost keys etc. How strange that we have such different experiences of Catholicism. Never have I even heard of praying for Gods will to be done.

                1. Kirk Tentaprice*

                  My tongue is firmly in my cheek for this one, but you’ve never heard a line like “..thy will be done..” in a prayer?

                2. LJL*

                  Interesting. I thought praying for God’s will to be done was a Protestant thing. I’m Protestant but married to a CAtholic. :-)

                3. Kirk Tentaprice*

                  I’m also considering the possibility it was a finely crafted joke that I wasn’t smart enough to get.

                4. Thlayli*

                  Yeah I grant it’s in the our father, but the words of the prayer are not what you are praying FOR. You offer up prayers for something: forgiveness for a sin, to get someone into heaven, to help someone get better etc. You say 10 our fathers and 10 Hail Marys to GET something’re not praying for the words in the our father, that’s just the words you use, like an incantation.

                  At least that was my experience of Catholicism. I’m not saying your experience is right or wrong, I’m just intrigued by the difference.

            1. TootsNYC*

              Or, you pray for strength to get through the trial; you pray for peace of heart and mind; you pray that God would guide the surgeons.

              You pray for “a good outcome.”

            2. Elizabeth West*

              Yeah, I left that one behind a long time ago, haha. Along with a lot of other things in the Catholic Church. However, if someone offered to pray for me in the middle of a disaster, I’d probably just say thanks, I appreciate it.

              It’s situational. If they offered it in a context of “You poor thing; I’ll pray you find Jesus’s light,” and I know it means “You’re not doing your religion right/you’re a godless heathen,” then I would say “Don’t bother.” This was the context of growing up Catholic in a town full of Baptists. I have definitely heard what the gold digger mentions above, the whole you’re-going-to-Hell-because-you’re-not-saved thing.

          2. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

            Yeah, I can’t articulate it well. But, like, I see a big difference between prayer of asking God for strength to get through a rough patch and prayer of a “Please God let this hurricane not break any windows in my house” type. I feel like the latter kind of reduces your relationship with the Lord – which should be this awesome, humbling thing – to a prayer in -> good things out cosmic vending machine.

            1. VintageLydia*

              I was raised Catholic and this is similar to how I was taught. You don’t pray for specific outcomes because God gave us free will and he won’t intervene. Praying for strength and guidance is OK, though.

              1. Piglet*

                I was raised in a “Christian Church” so strict women didn’t have long hair or wear shorts. They also didn’t believe in wish fulfillment prayer. Prayer was supposed to be done to show worship and as a form of contemplation of God’s will.

                You also didn’t go around publicly praying and you didn’t tell people you’d pray for them. That was viewed as a violation of Matthew 6:5-6

                I’m an agnostic now. I hate it when people try and force religion on me.

                Don’t tell me you will pray for me. It it’s important to you, do it. Telling me you are doing it is about YOU, not about me.

                The simple, universal, nonoffensive way of dealing w situations like this is to say “I am worried about the situation there and wanted you to know that we are concerned. Please let us know if you need anything from us.” If the recipient is religious and wants to be in your prayers, you’ve given the, an opening to tell you.

                1. Gaia*

                  Interesting. I’ve always thought in very strict Christian churches women had long hair, not short hair!

        2. MakesThings*

          So this is clearly veering off topic, but… as an atheist raised completely without the influence of religion, I’m having a hard time grasping this.
          Isn’t an omnipotent/omniscient God’s will *always* done? Like, is God ever sitting there thinking “darn, I was meaning for that hurricane to go in the OTHER direction”?

          1. TootsNYC*

            As a Christian, I have that same thought.

            I always think of it as more of an acknowledgement that I might not get what I want. That the concept is more of a reminder for me that God has His own plans.

          2. Chalupa Batman*

            From my belief system (and I’ll keep it brief, since we’re a touch off topic but I think your question is relevant to the discussion on why someone would care about being prayed for), God’s will isn’t the only influence on events. God’s will tells things what to do, but not people. People choose whether they want to seek and follow guidance from God or not, so, for example, God may will the hurricane to go in a certain direction, but the applicable authority may decide not to comply with His will, causing unplanned outcomes. When I pray for God’s will, my hope is that God’s will is a situation that works out well for the people affected, and that if His will is disrupted by our choices, that He’ll make it right eventually. Sometimes God’s will might not be what I want, and I have to have faith that He knows something I don’t. That’s just me, but I think trusting God and the wildcard of free will are common themes in that type of thought system.

          3. Elizabeth West*

            As someone who was raised with a pretty strict religion, I have to say it’s all a matter of interpretation. You can definitely accept a faith’s teachings as they are or work around it in your own head. I’m more the latter than the former. For instance, I don’t think God controls things that much. Assuming God is omnipotent or omniscient, that wouldn’t necessarily mean he’s all that interested in a natural process like weather. We have the brains to figure out how to avoid it or mitigate its effects–that’s on us, not him.

            Maybe he made the physical universe; maybe he didn’t. Maybe he just happened to be around for its inception and observes it with with an occasional jot of interference, like that Living Tribunal thing in the Marvel comics, or the God in my novel. Who knows? We don’t. We don’t know. We can’t. At least not while we’re in mortal bodies, because our perception is limited by our experience of the bodies and to the dimension we live in. To understand that limit, see Carl Sagan’s excellent explanation on Cosmos of why we can’t really grasp the fourth dimension –

            That’s my take on it, anyway, at least right now.

      3. fposte*

        1) this person doesn’t live in Puerto Rico; she’s visiting family there and 2) demographics don’t tell you how people feel about other people’s religious expression.

        I think you’re operating from a position where it has to be proven that a statement about prayers *isn’t* welcome, when what has to be proven is that it *is*. You can always pray without telling the person, after all, since presumably the point is the praying, not the telling.

        1. Thlayli*

          I’m not actually suggesting that op should tell her she’s praying for her, My original intent was just to point out that it’s more likely she would be offended by the specific prayer than the act of praying itself. All the comments here are “don’t tell her you’ll pray for her, she might be an atheist and offended by the very idea of praying for her.” I was more just trying to point out “don’t tell her you’ll pray for her because there’s a very good chance your religion has historically oppressed her religion for generations so she might not want your specific prayers”. I was just offering OP an alternative/ additional reason not to do it, not saying go ahead.

          However I do stand by my opinion that it is extremely unlikely someone from a Puerto Rican family would find the concept of being prayed for offensive at all. Not saying it’s impossible, just pointing out that it’s extremely unlikely. The risk of offending with the “wrong” prayers is way higher statistically than the risk of offending with any prayers. So op should also consider that risk.

            1. Thlayli*

              Again, I am advocating op not offer to pray for her. I don’t understand why people are acting as if I’m saying the opposite.

              All I’m saying is “while there is a tiny chance she is an atheist and may be offended by the very idea of you praying for her, there is a far far greater chance she is a different religion to you and would be offended by you praying for her in your religion specifically”.

              And I am then qualifying that by saying that there’s probably a good chance that she wouldn’t be offended at all, but if she IS offended it’s more likely to be because you’re a Protestant, than because you’re religious.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Most folks aren’t saying “she’s an atheist and might be offended.” They’re saying, “when you don’t know someone well enough to know how they would respond to an offer of prayers, and when the risk of causing emotional distress is greater from offering prayer than offering another way to convey your sympathy, opt for the choice that is least likely to cause emotional distress.”

            1. Thlayli*

              Actually almost everyone IS saying somthing along the lines of “she might be offended by being prayed for” followed up by an example that implies atheism. I’ve seen only one other commenter raise the posibility that she might be offended by the prayer being in a different religion, even though that is more than 30 times more likely to be the cause of any offence taken.

                1. sap*

                  Yep, this. A lot of people who consider themselves secular explicitly do not identify as atheists and don’t like being called athiests, even though maybe they don’t believe in God–they just don’t give a lot of thought to religion either way (that’s me). Personally, I see most manifestations of atheism in the U.S. as a form of religious belief, and am always very annoyed when people lump me in as an atheist because I don’t have any particular belief about God and religion because I just don’t really care.

      4. Lora*

        I think of it more like the Southern US not-an-insult insult, where “bless your heart” really means “eff you”. It’s an inflection thing and obviously the person’s sentiment in the event of a hurricane is sincere, but there’s still the “I’ll pray for you honey” meaning “because otherwise you don’t HAVE a prayer/snowball’s chance in heck” in the back of my mind.

        1. Not a Morning Person*

          I completely agree with the comments about not wanting to offend anyone, particularly anyone who is experiencing potential disaster. I tend to assume good intent, but I really think too many of the comments on this topic are about how normal, conventional, empathetic sayings are veiled insults intended to express contempt, and that the recipients of those expressions will be so surprised and discombobulated by the format of these expressions of concern that they will take umbrage. Almost any phrase can be said in a tone that is completely the opposite of the words. So, yes, choose the least objectionable form of concern you can come up with. But don’t beat people up for their kindness in trying.

    3. Foreign Octopus*

      “You and your family are in my thoughts” is perfect.

      I agree with Princess. Unless you know for sure that they share your religious background and would appreciate it, you run the risk of offending them.

      I know that it means a lot for people to say “you’re in my prayers” and to actually pray, but as an atheist I would be annoyed by it. I’d never say it! I’d say thank you and move on but I’d internally be annoyed. From my point of view (and I don’t want to start a debate, this is just my opinion and my feelings) when someone says that they’ll pray for me, I think “fantastic, they’re not even doing the bare minimum”. Unfair, perhaps, but that’s how I would feel if you said that to me given the circumstances even though you’re giving it with the best will in the world.

      Always best to steer clear of religion unless you know for sure how the other person feels about it. It’s a minefield.

      As a side note, I do hope everyone’s okay with the Hurricane. I’m watching the news in Spain and it’s awful to see the pictures and videos coming in. I’ve never seen anything like it.

      1. Here we go again*

        Interesting…. As an agnostic, my strong objection to people praying for me is not because they are doing the bare minimum, but because my problems are paltry compared to others. With children dying of AIDs in Africa and kids starving to death in India, IF there is a God, he/she/it should be focused on those people, not me.

        1. CMart*

          Well, if it makes you feel any better, most people who believe in the Abrahamic God believe Him to be infinite and omnipresent. Therefore God doesn’t have attention that can be divided. Praying for your struggles isn’t taking away any focus from people with much more dire circumstances.

          Even humans are capable of caring about more than one thing at once, I think an all-powerful God can handle it too :)

          1. Here we go again*

            I know that you are trying to help, but it doesn’t make me feel better. I still feel like there are more important issues in the world and people should not waste their time praying for me. I believe my problems are minor and it is selfish of me to think otherwise or to expect “God” to intervene. Religious people are free to believe otherwise, but they should respect the wishes of those who do not want to prayed for.

            1. Else*

              Those are often the people who think it’s totally cool and effective to pray for themselves to get a parking space when shopping, so there’s that. Prayer is often a very small and ever-present thing for them. They’ll pray for the smallest things and the largest with no difference – there’s no weight of meaning to a prayer for someone like that.

              1. bird*

                Prayer isn’t supposed to be small or trivial, you’re right, but (according to Christian beliefs) it’s absolutely supposed to be ever present. 1 Peter 5:7 says to “Cast all your anxiety on [God] because he cares for you.” Christianity is a personal relationship. You’re not just supposed to save that for when the sky is falling.

                Whether you believe prayer is effective is a different thing. But God (at least the Christian God, idk about others) doesn’t think “meh, this isn’t as big as Syria, so why bother?”

      2. Piglet*

        Also, if she adds a line about “let us know if there’s anything we can do for you” and the other party is a power of prayer type, the they will let her know to pray.

        I was raised in an American strict Christian Church, but am now agnostic. I also hate the “I’ll pray for you” types bc so many pray but do nothing else. Others include it as part of a “I’m superior bc I’m Christian”

        There are also others with relative advantages and privileges who puvlically talk about being blessed. The flip side to that is the implication that those not as prosperous are not blessed and those that suffer…

        A former friend used to post on FB about how God had blessed her. The problem? A mutual friend has a young daughter w terminal cancer. She cried in my arms bc she can’t understand why God has blessed her friends but cursed her.

        Before anyone “not all Christians” me, I know there are people and groups not like this. I like the Quakers, for example. I have lived all over the USA and am an old. The religiousity and the

        1. TootsNYC*

          Also, if she adds a line about “let us know if there’s anything we can do for you” and the other party is a power of prayer type, the they will let her know to pray.


          Though, if the friend doesn’t know that OP is religious, she may not ask for that in order to not offend her.


        2. AKchic*

          This. Totally.

          I am all for “Please know that you and your family are in my thoughts. If there is anything I can do for you from here, please don’t hesitate to reach out and let me know.”

          My family is all “prayer warrior” Baptists. I can’t stand it. I mean, seriously – praying loudly to “Sweet Baby Jesus” to help you poo because you’re constipated? Openly writing out prayer missives invoking “dear lord and savior sweet jesus” on Facebook to help your self-published book sales? (Oh, you “sold” ONE book that was being given away for FREE today as a promo – wow, Jesus works in mysterious ways indeed) Sending money to those idiots like Joel Osteen? *shudder*
          No thanks.

          But I’m the bad guy for not following their line of (un)thinking.

          1. Lora*

            “praying loudly to “Sweet Baby Jesus” to help you poo because you’re constipated”
            OK, that’s kinda hilarious. Jesus is a glass of prune juice now?!?

            Agree w/ the upthread post about offering material help – I was taught that you don’t have to worry about praying for someone if what they really need is a casserole, a martini and free babysitting.

          2. Been There, Done That*

            My mama raised me to be respectful of everyone’s religion (God will get you if you don’t, and if he don’t I will tee hee), but she was also a woman with a wild sense of humor. Sounds like you were blessed with a hell of a lot of material for a stand-up comic. If God didn’t mean us to laugh, he wouldn’t have created people.

    4. INTP*

      I agree with this. Personally, I’m not offended by “I’ll pray for you” (and I’m an atheist). But some people of various religions are uncomfortable hearing it for various reasons. “You’re in my thoughts” isn’t going to make anyone uncomfortable, yet conveys the exact same sentiment. I think it’s a good principle to always go with the more inclusive, less potentially offputting option when you can say the same thing multiple ways. Something doesn’t have to be fundamentally offensive to not be the best thing to say.

    5. Sfigato*

      Also, you not telling her that you are praying for her doesn’t preclude you from praying for her, and really it’s the act of praying for someone that is important, not the telling them about it.

      1. TootsNYC*

        well, between believers, it can be comforting to know that other people are praying for you–I know that happened for me once during a rough patch (nearly suicidal–that kind of “rough”). There was a tremendous comfort in knowing that two neighborhood away, the lady from my church was holding me up in prayer. And when I prayed, I remembered that she was praying for me, and it made me feel more confident and stronger.
        And held, in a loving way.

        But…that sort of emotional support is at its most powerful when the prayer is absolutely genuine, and not some sort of platitude.

        1. Rachael*

          I agree. Too many Christians use “I will pray for you” as just something to say to the person. I am an atheist and I’m not offended if people tell me that they are praying for me (in the right circumstance: like when my grandmother died). However, it really annoys me when I can tell that, no, the person is not going to give me a second thought when they leave my presence and they only said it to sound like they care. Don’t tell me that you are going to “pray” for me if it is an empty promise. How about donating to my grandmother’s favorite church or showing me with your actions (like a card) if you REALLY cared. If you are just saying it to fill in the silence or awkwardness of speaking to someone in crisis don’t bother because you will literally get an eye roll and a sarcastic “thanks”.

    6. QualityControlFreak*

      Boy, you are spot on here, Princess. I honestly had no idea of the wide range of reactions to the idea of prayer. And I should have. Religion and other cosmological frameworks are a deeply personal thing.

      In my own life, I have never been offended by someone offering to pray for me or mine in time of need. But that is due to my own internal belief system. We have friends and associates with a wide range of religious and other belief systems. When we say we are praying for them, or vice versa, we know that the prayers are going to be within those belief systems, which obviously don’t always align. However, I have always felt this kind of prayer was about extending ones own energy to appeal for help for a person or persons, and in that sense is almost always well-intended.

      Reading through the responses here has really enlightened me that there can be a wide range of responses to offers of prayer, some of them very uncomfortable. Stick with “thoughts.”

      1. fposte*

        I wouldn’t exactly say I was offended, but it doesn’t provide me with comfort and it leaves me about 50% annoyed/50% appreciative. I’d like to have less annoyance in times of stress, so I would prefer people not add to it.

        1. AutomagicallyExcommunicated*

          fposte, you’ve pretty much nailed my reaction as well. It’s not comforting, reassuring, or helpful. It makes the person saying/praying feel better, not me. Yeah, it’s nice that they care, but if all they’re doing is praying, that also says they don’t care *enough* to take action that actually helps me at a stressful time. Salt in the wound, really.

    7. Wolfram alpha*

      Yes. Every time I got sympathies with text like ” your mom is looking down on you!” And other religious mumbo jumbo from coworkers it took all my drained and grieving resolve not to quip “mom is a box of ashes in my basement actually”.

      Look at it this way – if your goal is solace avoid religion unless they have told you they are religious. Oftentimes you just cause pain and anger otherwise.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        For me it’s “everything happens for a reason!”, told to me brightly as I deal with a particular family health issue, that makes me want to scream in the person’s face. (I don’t, I bite my tongue and sometimes even smile before I completely change the subject.)

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Oh, I don’t have a problem with a nasty retort to THAT sentiment. I’m not offended by someone saying that they are praying for me – I’d find it kind, regardless of the religion – but people who react to tragedy by telling suffering people that it’s all for the best need to learn exactly how offensive that particular sentiment is.

        2. Been There, Done That*

          Totally with you on that one. A former coworker (and zealot of a religion not mentioned here) said that when I was let go in the great recession. I was shocked at her callousness and said I didn’t believe there was some divine reason for me to lose my livelihood. She blew up at me for “insulting her religion” (that’s when she told me what it was). Months later she sent me a friend invite to her new Facebook page. I replied with a nice “how are you” message and received a prompt response that she’d invited me by accident, I was a terrible person, and she wished me well. Apparently she’d invited her whole contact list without reviewing it. My bad for still being on it.

          Maybe the reason I lost my job was to teach me how awful somebody in her religion could be; the few others I knew in that sect were pretty decent folks.

    8. Kate the Teapots Project Manager*

      OP –

      I think a more appropriate solution to this entire problem for the workplace than prayer would be “I very much want to help, but since I can’t really do anything directly for you personally, would it be okay if I donated a few dollars to the Red Cross or another hurricane relief charity of your choice on your behalf?”

      Pick a SECULAR charity, and don’t mention amounts.

      Given that you are a church person I assume that you practice tithing, so this fits in with your spiritual beliefs as well – and for most good kind secular people this is a good gesture too.

    9. Schnapps*

      At the risk of offending everyone (because I come from the really twisted side of the family), what about “May the odds be ever in your favour”? :)

  2. Cocobean*

    #1 – Why were you starting termination proceedings on someone based on an unverified piece of gossip without asking for proof from the employee who went to the funeral? That makes me seriously question how things are run in your office.

      1. Helen*

        OP isn’t Jane’s manager. I can’t see how OP would have any say in whether or not someone who doesn’t report to them loses her job.

      1. Cocobean*

        I originally missed the part about her not being the manager, so I see the OP she has no power over this. My question as to why a company would start the termination proceedings based on a piece of unverified gossip still stands, though.

        1. Nisie*

          That struck me as odd, but given the social media frenzy I can almost understand… the almost is because it was mostly men there.

        2. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms*

          One wonders if perhaps it is not the office environment we are maybe imagining, but something more hourly or tenuous. The kind if place where your manager “has” to write you up because a client complained, even though they were there and you did nothing wrong. I also second Nisie that maybe they got caught up in the doxxing/firing frenzy. And honestly, maybe just couldn’t imagine that someone would actually lie about something so heinous! I mean, would you?

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Still, can we please not? This is going to turn into a really unhelpful and annoying experience for the letter-writer if that’s what gets all the focus. I agree it’s bad, but let’s consider it noted and move on to her question.

        4. Thlayli*

          IMO Sarah should be fired and so should whichever person in HR who took the decision to fire someone on the basis of unsubstantiated gossip should also be fired.

          It makes no difference IMO if Jane thought she was telling the truth or not. You cannot spread gossip that bad without having some actual evidence to back it up. What if she accuses someone of being a paedophile? Or a wife beater? Or a rapist? She is a danger to have around if she thinks it is ok to accuse someone of something so heinous with zero evidence.

          1. Lilo*

            I do think it is relevant to OP because it suggests their work has some serious serious problems. If they would do that to Jane based on gossip but Sarah goes unpunished, it is time to polish off the resume. It is just as fair as your point of asking if the workplace has racial issues.

          2. Runner*

            It’s so shocking that this hasn’t already started. And I understand AAM’s suggestion to consider broader possible racial tensions in the office. But this is so beyond the pale, and AAM really didn’t even address the OP’s question of how to make this right for Jane. I would be so out of there. It’s defamation at the least. It could destroy her personal and professional lives.

            1. Trillion*

              I agree. I’m kind of shocked at the suggestion of just sit Sarah down and ask why. Like she’s going to say ‘because I don’t like Jane and knew they would fire her’. No she will probably give a load of baloney excuse. Unfortunately I don’t think they can fire her for this because Sarah can claim she was acting in good faith but at the very least suspend her without pay and demand a formal apology.

              My gosh a relative close enough to warrant berievement leave died and she comes back accused of being a Nazi and nearly fired. I feel terrible for Jane.

              1. MashaKasha*

                Right. When I come back from a bereavement leave, what I expect is condolences from some of the coworkers and perhaps a sympathy card. Not this insanity.

              2. Hills to Die on*

                I would fire her so fast she’d be in the parking lot before she realized it happened. The HR person who was ready to fire over an unsubstantiated claim as well. That’s just nutty.

                1. NacSacJack*

                  To use company resources to slander a fellow co-worker is a justifiable cause to fire someone. Once the truth came out and Sarah couldn’t prove her accusations, I would recommend Sarah be fired, considering how much damage she did to Jane’s reputation.

              3. Jam Today*

                They absolutely can fire her for gossip, “good faith” is not a justification for spreading malicious rumors about your coworkers. There was a pretty notorious case in New Hampshire where four (I think) women were fired for gossiping about a woman who got a promotion in the company. They got some really bad legal advice to sue the company for wrongful termination, and naturally lost the case (but not before their terrible behavior was made public in all the newspapers!)

                1. Here we go again*

                  I also cannot believe that AAM’s advice is just to ask Sarah why she said what she said. Maybe there is racial tension, maybe there isn’t, but you do not go and spread unsubstantiated rumors like this about your coworkers. (You shouldn’t be spreading rumors anyway, but this is worse because it was untrue). This situation also probably qualifies as slander.

                2. Trillion*

                  I would hope they’d be able to but I guess I’m linking it to my experiences with safety. Like you can stop a job if you think it’s being done in an unsafe manner with no repercussions because you acted in good faith.

                3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

                  Sounds like their lawyer gambled and lost. If it had been this company, the woman slandered would’ve have been fired and they’d have gotten a settlement. Like the situation where the guy’s cop wife was fired but he wasn’t notified. He was reprimanded and the other guy got leave with pay. The world is crazy.

                4. Anion*

                  And there’s no way to read “good faith” into numerous emails saying that another employee has taken work leave to go march for white supremacy. That’s not even privately commenting that you suspect Jane is racist, that’s an outright falsheood that you’re deliberately spreading far and wide.

                5. Steve*

                  Why is it bad to fire Jane for an unsubstantiated rumor it’s OK to do to Sarah? You definitely have to talk to her, find out what she actually said (it might have been nothing more than “I wonder if she went to that white supremacist rally” and that message got telephone-gamed into an accusation).

              4. JamieS*

                Based on the OP’s account Sarah went on a public smear campaign she didn’t file a complaint with HR/management that can be further investigated. I’m not sure a malicious smear campaign backed by zero evidence falls under good faith.

              5. Meh*

                Agreed! Sarah needs to be gone yesterday. The fact that she’s not even sorry about her “mistake” implies that she knew exactly what she was doing (and nearly succeeded in getting Jane fired!). Sure, ask her what the heck she was thinking (to see if it is an honest misunderstanding) but if she tries to give the run-around and spin it like it’s not her fault then she’s a liar and can’t be trusted and needs to go.

              6. Sfigato*

                Well, Sarah could say, “I saw a picture from the event and it totally looked like Jane” or “A friend was counter-protesting and recognized Jane” or “I overheard her tell another coworker that she was going to go to the protest.”

                Sarah could also say that Jane has a history of being awful or dismissive to her non-white coworkers, and has clear white supremacist leanings.

                Or sarah could come up with an obviously BS excuse that could give more ammo to getting her fired.

                1. TootsNYC*

                  “Sarah could also say that Jane has a history of being awful or dismissive to her non-white coworkers, and has clear white supremacist leanings.”

                  Except that she didn’t.
                  From the OP: “when asked she cannot point to a single time Jane was racist towards her or anyone else.”

                2. Managed Chaos*

                  Even if Jane had a history of being dismissive to non-white co-workers, there is a HUGE jump from “I think she’s a racist” to “She lied about a funeral to go to a Nazi rally.”

              7. Trillian-with-an-a*

                Someone who truly acts in good faith and gets it wrong will exert themselves to undo the damage. Public correction and public apology, and making sure everyone they gave false information to hears, from them, the correction. They will take the hit to their own reputation. Someone who dismisses the harm they did or doubles down cannot claim good faith.

                1. JessaB*

                  This. Precisely. Always. That’s what people of good faith do when they’ve screwed up. If they saw a grainy photo of a video and thought it was Jane then they should own up to it.

            2. One of the Annes*

              What Runner said: what Sarah did could indeed destroy Jane’s personal and professional lives. Alison, I was really surprised that you dismissed Sarah’s actions as “jerkiness.” This is well beyond jerkiness.

              1. MissGirl*

                Thank you. This has the power to destroy her career. Beyond a jerk move and worthy of termination. She had no proof but flung these accusations around. There is no good reason why.

              2. Sylvan*

                Yes, I agree, and I was also surprised. Starting gossip that someone is a domestic terrorist while they’re away for a funeral is, like, above and beyond jerkiness. It’s such an incredibly nasty thing to do.

                1. Chinook*

                  And I thought the woman and who told my friends at Church that I had moved away with no notice/no good-bye/no handing over my volunteer duties when I had suddenly left for a week to visit DH’s grandfather was hitting below the belt. At least all I had to do was show up the following Sunday and say she lied to prove my innocence. (For the record, I never felt welcome there again because they believed her and only one person bothered to verify it with me).

                  Jane’s reputation has a stain on it that can never come clean because it is impossible to prove a negative. Everyone will wonder what she did to make Sarah think this was possible and that there must have been a grain of truth if HR was looking into firing her. To me, this is the reason we have libel/slander laws.

                2. Chinook*

                  As for what the OP can do – support Jane in every way she can and make a point of speaking up and defending her every time she gets a whiff of gossip.

                  As for Sarah, I would take a hard long look and see if there are any other times when she threw someone under the bus or quietly knifed someone in the back. Her word has been proven untrustworthy and this is probably not the first time it has happened. It probably is also not the last. She probably knows how to cover her tracks to the higher ups and look very innocent to her manager.

                  For example: the woman who lied about me was all sweet and polite while talking to our Bishop in French and then would lie to my face about the information being passed on (i.e. not telling me about a change in practice times), not realizing I understood every single word.

                  That being said, I would also investigate to ensure that there aren’t any racial tensions going on in the office. If there weren’t before, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are now because Sarah has shown that it is a hammer that can be used to squash opponents because the only reason it didn’t work was Jane had photographic proof of being elsewhere.

              3. paul*

                Yeah…I think AAM really missed the boat here.

                The situation was handled *horribly*.

                I’m all for shaming neonazi’s. But you have to actually, you know, be right when you make the accusation that someone’s a neonazi.

                1. SenatorMeathooks*

                  Yeah, the gossiper needs to go. I’m going to have to disagree with AAM on this one, regardless of the gossip being true or not. That doesn’t matter – what matters is the way the co-worker felt she should disseminate the information throughout the office- it’s a liability.

                1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

                  How much on a par with abused woman who framed her coworker for embezzlement? Larger because of the result or equal/lesser because of intent?

            3. Perse's Mom*

              OP is not Jane’s manager; ultimately, all she can do to help Jane is to figure out what Sarah’s deal is and take action there.

                1. Not a Morning Person*

                  Oops, OP is Sarah’s manager, but not Jane’s manager. Sorry!
                  And Alison does suggest managing Sarah and disciplining her for spreading lies. Maybe termination for continued jerkiness is in her future.

            4. Anion*

              I completely agree, and I was stunned by the idea that if there are maybe racial tensions in the office, that makes it okay for Sarah to tell such a monstrous and disgusting lie (which, btw, would in no way improve any potential racial tensions, but would and probably did make them much worse). That’s a stain that Jane is unlikely to ever be able to remove from herself, and she did nothing wrong.

            5. Kate 2*

              Yep! There was a guy I read about who was accused of being there when he had like 3 friends and his wife who were with him when it was happening, and people refuse to believe him. Luckily he hasn’t gotten fired yet, but he and his wife got death threats and they were scared to leave their house for a while. I hope things have gotten better for them, but I haven’t read any updates in the news.

          3. MashaKasha*

            Yes to all of Thlayli’s comment. This is what I came here to say too. I think it is very relevant that HR has started the termination process based on nothing but hearsay, and did not stop until the accused person gave them proof. I understand needing to investigate Sarah’s complaint, but shouldn’t they have asked for proof first? It sends a terrible message to everyone working there. I would honestly be afraid to continue working with someone like Sarah AND with someone like the HR person who started the termination. I’d come into the office every day expecting to be fired based on some wild story someone made up behind my back, because that’s how things are done in this office. I’d probably start looking for another job pretty much immediately.

            1. Anion*

              Another supervisor and I were once accused of racism at work, for the “crime” of asking a Quality Assurance person to do a check on a minority employee. That employee had simply not been checked up on in a while and it was his turn. We were both shocked and horrified, and felt betrayed and hurt by the complainer since we had thought we had an excellent relationship with him. Luckily our manager saw quickly that there was no racial bias behind our request (and luckily our employees, who were a pretty racially mixed group, all said when casually asked that they didn’t believe that of us at all), but it was a really upsetting experience. I can’t imagine how I would have felt if termination proceedings had been begun without anyone even asking any other employees for their thoughts or talking to us first. (I know I would have contacted an attorney, though.) And I can’t imagine how I would feel if I was Jane, knowing that Sarah was allowed to go on with no consequences for her lies and defamation.

    1. Karyn*

      I was coming here to say the same thing, except what Alison said – that it’s not the LW who initiated the termination proceedings, so we shouldn’t jump on her for that. However, I, too, want to know why a company would start termination proceedings without even asking the employee for her side of the story – particularly when there’s been no evidence offered from the accusing party. I’m assuming there’s been no history of Jane lying about time off in the past (e.g., saying she was at a funeral when she was, I don’t know, skiing or something). So, I’d be interested to know if the LW has any idea why they would have done that.

      1. Kayla*

        Even if Jane had a history of lying about time off, Sarah is not her manager and doesn’t work on the same team or group as her. It is none of Sarah’s business. Jane also provided proof she was at the funeral and not in Virginia. I agree with your point and everyone else as to why they started the process to fire Jane based on gossip that turned out to be a lie. Sarah could have ruined Jane’s life making the kind of false allegation she did. She is the one who needs to be terminated.

        1. Karyn*

          I agree that it’s none of Sarah’s business at all, but I’m just trying to wrap my head around HR’s thinking here, prior to getting confirmation that Jane was in fact at a funeral. The only thing I can think is that they have documented evidence that Jane has lied about time off in the past (kind of like those kids in college whose grandmother dies every time they need an extension on a paper) and they just assumed that this was another instance of it. But there’s nothing in the LW’s question that suggests that. I realize Sarah is absolutely in the wrong here, but I really don’t understand HR here.

          1. Runner*

            There is no reason to assume that! This very forum featured a column on why it’s okay to fire employees who participate in racist activities — it might have been written about the firings surrounding this very event. All we know the company definitely had was one employee making multiple accusations against another in email and on social media. Social media attempts to identify the participants really drove the headlines about firings.

            1. Trillion*

              So it’s justified that an innocent employee who had proof she wasn’t involved in a racist group was caught up in this and the perpetrator receive no discipline? I’m really not understanding your point here. Social media and accusations are not enough to justify ruining someones life. Especially when the accused’s own social media shows nothing to support the accusations.

              Yes I agree employers should be able to use their judgement and remove employees who share and encourage all kinds of hateful rhetoric. I disagree that they should do it blindly. There still needs to be enough to support that decision otherwise anyone can accuse coworkers of racism knowing they’d get fired. It’s crazy. Like McCarthy’s red scare tactics.

              1. sfigato.taylor*

                Yeah, I’m all for holding people accountable for their shitty views and actions, but it is really disturbing when people are essentially unpersoned because of vague or unsubstantiated allegations.

              2. Elizabeth West*

                Same. You just don’t immediately start termination based on gossip. Shitty, shitty action by the company. The last place you want to see a knee-jerk reaction is HR.

              3. BaristaBandit*

                I don’t think Runner is saying there’s any justification. Just that it’s possible there was no prior incident of lying and HR could have just been caught up by the accusations of neo-naziism. Funny thing about the mind, it can jump through so many hoops to reach a pre-conceived conclusion. It connects dots that aren’t really there.

            2. JM60*

              Firing someone for participating in racist activities is usually justifiable, so long as there is good evidence of their participation. The problem with this company is that they started the process of firing someone based only on hearsay (unless there’s more to the story).

      2. JamieS*

        Even if Jane does have a history of lying about sick time I don’t think that justifies labelling her a white supremacists without evidence and starting termination proceedings.

        The only reasonable justification I can think of is if there have been prior racial incidences/accusations involving Jane and this was a final straw situation or HR believed there was evidence (such as a Charlottsville rally photo of Jane’s doppleganger) until Jane provided evidence to the contrary. Otherwise my guess is the company had a hair-trigger response in their quest to avoid being associated with the wrong side of racism.

        1. Observer*

          Which makes me wonder about the point Alison made about look at the bigger dynamics in the company.

          I think that the question of why the company moved to termination proceedings before doing an investigation is a valid one. It’s also relevant, because it might provide some insight into the situation. Or not. But worth looking at.

        2. Blue*

          To reiterate Alison’s suggestion, OP should make a point to learn more about the dynamics at play here, because I would not be surprised if “there have been prior racial incidences/accusations involving Jane and this was a final straw situation” is at least somewhat accurate. This is a serious accusation to pull out of thin air, and while there are some people who would do such a thing, I think it’s far more likely that there’s something bigger under the surface.

          1. Runner*

            I have to point out too the possibility of ignorance and bigotry the other way — Jane went to a funeral in West Virginia. Charlottesville is in Virginia. Not all white people from Appalachia are racist or KKK or neo-Nazi.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              Yes, I think the–can’t remember the term, root cause analysis?–needs to allow for a lot of different backgrounds. It could be that Sarah is the sort of person to make wild accusations and this is just the first time the results went so far. Could be that there are tensions with Jane or with Sarah or with both that have to do with race, or have nothing to do with race, or are more complicated than that. (The whole idea that our emotions come up with things, and then our logical brain looks for a socially acceptable logical reason that it’s rational to feel that way.)

              I remember from the Things I Learned When I Started Managing thread, a common theme was to always get the other side of the story before acting–so often, the added context completely changed what the reasonable response would be. This is complicated for OP because some aspects–Jane, HR’s itchy trigger finger–are outside her purview, but figuring out what to do with Sarah probably entails figuring out some broader office dynamics that she can’t actually affect.

              1. BeezLouise*

                Right, on this note, I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly could have prompted Sarah to go this far. I think there are at least a few things where the context could change our perception of Sarah. Like if her online posts were saying “How do you respond to a co-worker who went to Charlottesville to march?” That’s “posting about Jane online” but it’s clearly not the same as saying something like “My co-worker, Jane Smith, marched in Charlottesville, and …. ”

                It just feels like there has to be more to the story here. It’s such a huge leap from Jane is gone for a few days to she’s gone because she’s marching in Charlottesville. Especially if there hasn’t been anything like this from Sarah before. If there was some history of Sarah accusing people of things this story would make a whole lot more sense. Out of left field though it feels bizarre.

                1. fposte*

                  Though I wouldn’t be surprised if Jane went to Charleston, WV and there was some name confusion going on.

                2. Kelly L.*

                  That reminds me, when my BF’s mom visited relatives in WV, I’m pretty sure her flight was to Charlotte, NC, and then relatives drove her the rest of the way.

            2. Stop That Goat*

              I lived in WV for a few years. You’d be surprised how many people don’t understand that it’s not part of Virginia.

              1. Floundering Mander*

                I lived in New Mexico for several years. I think I feel an analogous pain. (Yes, I had multiple people in other states ask me if I had to speak Spanish in order to live there…)

          2. Mary*

            Yup. I kind of want to know more about “when asked she cannot point to a single time Jane was racist towards her or anyone else” and how exactly the asking was done and in what circumstances.

            We all know how hard making concrete allegations of racism or any other kind of harassment or hostile environment can be, and it is a possibility that Sarah does have reasonable-ish grounds for her accusation, but if she’s being asked in the context of “you’ve just made a massive fuck-up and you need to justify yourself”, she’s decided it’s just not worth the hassle of engaging or cooperating with management.

            “Sarah is just a massive shit-stirrer” is one explanation for what had happened, but IMO it’s not the only one.

            1. Observer*

              and it is a possibility that Sarah does have reasonable-ish grounds for her accusation, but if she’s being asked in the context of “you’ve just made a massive fuck-up and you need to justify yourself”, she’s decided it’s just not worth the hassle of engaging or cooperating with management.

              Given that she’s just nearly had someone fired for no good reason, that’s really not acceptable or in any way reasonable. If she had destroyed a $1m project, would you find this kind of response reasonable? If she had been filmed taking money out of someone’s pocket, would this be reasonable? Why would it be reasonable here?

              1. Mary*

                I think “actually nothing I’m going to say is going to make any difference so I’m not going to bother” would be a pretty normal human reaction in either of those contexts, yes.

                1. Observer*

                  Perhaps normal, but neither accurate nor acceptable. Also, if you are sorry and are a decent human being, you say so.

          3. eplawyer*

            I wouldn’t assume racial/bigotry in the office. Just because that is the climate right now to check these things out does not mean they are always there. It has too much potential to turn into a witch hunt. Well, Jane was accused so there MUST have been something and we will keep digging until we find it.

            Sarah needs to be talked to as to why she did this. She might have heard it from someone else and been so worked up after Charlottesville she wasn’t thinking straight. She needs to be talked to and educated about thinking first. Or it could be a pattern of behavior on Sarah’s part that she just spreads gossip unthinkingly because she likes the drama. In which case she needs to be told to knock it off or she will be terminated. Gossip like this has serious work consequences and should be treated like any other integrity issue.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              It doesn’t need to turn into a witch hunt. But the fact is that there are OFTEN racial issues in a work place that go unaddressed because the kinds of things that are said are of the microaggression type, which, frankly, a lot of white people don’t see as a big deal. So sure, the OP shouldn’t assume that’s what’s going on–she shouldn’t assume anything before investigating. But she should certainly look into the workplace dynamics/culture and find out if something is going on that she’s missed.

              1. TootsNYC*

                Having been the target of intentional microaggressions when I was a bullied middle schooler in a small all-white Iowa town, I have always totally understood the concept.

                And also the idea that some stuff you don’t complain about because you just sound stupid when you do. “He rolled his eyes at me” is not the kind of thing most teachers worry about, and yet it can be a conscious part of a campaign of bullying. And it can also be instinctive, not thought out–and still be part of a definite discrimination.

                And it’s possible Jane does the sort of “plausible deniability” digs to people of color, and that Sarah has observed this (either as the target or as a witness).

                So, I would want to try to get as much info as I could.

                But to make that sort of allegation without proof?

                1. JB (not in Houston)*

                  Oh, no, I agree. I think there are two separate issues here. What Sarah did wasn’t ok, but that doesn’t mean the OP can’t take this opportunity to explore whether there’s an underlying dynamic in the office that needs to be dealt with. I was just addressing eplawyer’s comments that we can’t assume there was bigotry in the office and looking into whether it’s there “has too much potential to turn into a witch hunt.”

                2. Mary*

                  Yup. The assumption in a lot of comments seems to be that most workplaces do not have a racism problem and that it’s dangerous / divisive / ill-advised to investigate whether that might be an issue after a massage be weird racially-charged false allegation. I start from the position that most workplaces do in fact have a racism problem, and a massive weird racially-charged incident would be a good indicator to look at that if you are t already.

                  I mean, either way, I don’t think Sarah can continue to work there. But you might want to do something to avoid another massive weird racially-charged incident.

            2. Anonimouse*

              +1 there have been serious witchhunts at my workplace in the past. My city’s democratic mayor was arrested for corruption and a coworker was talking about it, as in she was happy the charges had finally stuck. Another coworker overheard and assumed she didn’t like the woman due to her race and started spreading rumors that Coworker A was a racist. Despite the fact that Coworker A was BIRACIAL and had zero history of discriminatory behavior in the past, it became a major HR issue.
              Luckily, many other employees of all races backed A up. Coworker B was eventually let go for constant trouble making, and promptly filed a complaint with EEO.

              1. Jesca*

                The thing is, people don;t understand their own biases. That is why in this situation, while it is best to discuss with Sarah and others whether there are racial tensions, the caveat here is that A LOT of people do not know how to separate what is actually racist and what is not. A LOT of people believe that if you disagree with them, that makes you suddenly racist. If you can remain objective, you will see that this is very heavily prevalent in all view points right now. I would proceed, but proceed with this understanding. This is why I make the arguments I do. A lot of people react with emotion first. A lot of people are susceptible to conducting witch hunts. And a lot of people don’t know where to draw clear lines.

                The best approach I think is to view it this way: even if Sarah believed a coworker went to a rally, why in the hell did she feel it was appropriate to approach that in this manner especially considering she had absolutely no concrete proof? That behavior is so outside the norm of appropriateness that it is beyond just being a “jerk”. It was reprehensible and needs to be approached that way. It doesn’t matter what she was accusing the other party of (murder, child molestation, fraud, etc.) as her response to her belief was pretty crazy.

          4. RVA Cat*

            I am thinking there is an existing conflict between Sarah and Jane, because this is just too nuclear to come from nowhere.
            Maybe Jane is an office bully who happens to be a vocal Trump supporter and she and Sarah have been clashing for months, possibly years. Maybe Sarah is a woman of color who feels disrespected, especially by Jane, and lashed out with this inappropriate accusation on social media/casual conversation, then HR got involved and the lie snowballed from there.
            I think the OP needs to have a serious conversation with Sarah about false accusations, and how she has now wrecked her credibility at this company, and potentially made it more difficult for anyone else there to get justice if another employee really is racist.

      3. Drowning-in-paper-Anna*

        I do, kinda, sorta, maybe understand starting termination proceedings without talking to Jane first.

        It’s about the timing. I read this is that Jane did not come back from her bereavement leave until a couple of working days *after* Charlottesville. If that is the case, and Sarah started her campaign bright and early Monday morning, HR may have seen the need to get out in front of the situation before it turned into an even bigger mess. It is possible that HR was simply trying to err on the side of caution knowing that if Jane was indeed at the march on the Nazi side, they had to act right then and there. I am sure you could find where Allison has advised someone planning to fire someone for cause to have their ducks in a row and paperwork all filled out and printed except for the address to send the last check and the employee’s signature.

        Since Jane was still out on Monday morning, there was time for Sarah to whip the office into a frenzy.

        It sounds like Jane’s termination came to a complete stop once she provided documentation for bereavement, so I am inclined to cut HR a *little* bit of slack. I *do* know of several bereavement policies that require some kind of documentation from the employee. An obit usually covers that.

        OP needs to find out if htere is something underlying all of this that made it that bad that fast. But, she also needs to come down on Sarah with both feet and golf cleats.

    2. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms*

      Seriously! How could you even guard yourself against a work culture like that?? One person doesn’t like you, and after a single “I saw Goody Sunnybrook with the devil!” it’s all over, with potentially horrible references!!

        1. Mookie*

          And just to be clear, there’s a reason that distinction matters. You can’t prove or disprove that someone is a witch. You can prove someone is or isn’t a white supremacist. An example of evidence is the one the LW provides: someone attended a white supremacist rally as a supporter. Evidence against: someone didn’t attend that rally as a supporter. The evidence isn’t generally fool-proof, but you’re using the same criteria you would if someone claimed someone else called them an asshole. You try to find witnesses, you examine previous behavior of both parties, and you judge what is or isn’t most likely. That’s what the LW’s workplace did here. They investigated and found the accusation false. The system, in fact, works, and is not trial by drowning at all.

          1. Hornswoggler*

            Careful now. The Wiccan religion has been revived and is growing, and many people I know would indeed describe themselves as witches.

            1. Mookie*

              Quite. The accused witches being referenced weren’t Wiccan and what they were accused of was not real and so the accusations could not be disproven (though in the ensuing centuries many have been pardoned).

            2. many bells down*

              I’m a Pagan who has actually been accused of the “consorting with the devil” type of witchcraft – once at work, and once by a roommate trying to get out of the lease. It does, sadly, actually happen. Fortunately there were no lasting repercussions other than a couple of weird and uncomfortable passive-aggressive letters.

          2. Halls of Montezuma*

            But in this case, Jane is having to prove she didn’t go to a white supremacist rally. It’s hard to prove a negative, and once a witch Hunt starts there is major reputation damage to overcome even if it gets cleared up.

            Personally, this why I hate the idea of doxxing/firing people/Mccarthyism for political activism – it’s really easy to get it wrong, and to catch innocent bystanders.

            1. sunny-dee*

              Yep, and this is why I disagreed with the position Alison took on firing people for being racist. It’s too easy to make a jump from punishing actual bad behavior (“Joe said X” or “Phyllis did Y”) to guessing at bad thought, and that’s what creates the frenzy of a witchhunt — to prove that you are more virtuous than this bad Unperson.

              1. JB (not in Houston)*

                Yeah, I’m 100% comfortable with firing people for being racist because there is a zero percent chance that won’t affect their behavior in the workplace in at least a subtle way, and if their racist beliefs become public knowledge (and how can we fire them for it unless their beliefs become public), they make the workplace uncomfortable for minorities who work there. This isn’t firing someone for having a political opinion like, say, supporting a flat tax. This is firing someone for having a toxic, oppressive mentality that has no place in the workplace, especially in this world where systemic racism permeates all levels of society and the working world. And you don’t have racist beliefs and not have them affect how you interact with/hire/promote/fire racial minorities, at least in some way.

                1. sunny-dee*

                  The problem, though, is as people are discussing in this thread, that there may be some justification for Sarah’s actions because of microaggressions (which weren’t even necessarily done by Jane). So an action which Sarah cannot identify and which non-POC are apparently unaware of, done “pervasively” by people who are not Jane, justify the summary termination of Jane.

                  See the problem? Something which no one saw or could name are being attributed to Jane. And those unknowable things at least make Sarah’s actions a little less bad because Jane deserves them.

                  That’s the slippery slope that I cannot tolerate. It’s the “are you now or have you ever been a Communist” philosophy.

                2. Jessie the First (or second)*

                  “So an action which Sarah cannot identify and which non-POC are apparently unaware of, done “pervasively” by people who are not Jane, justify the summary termination of Jane.”

                  Well, I think the point is that if such things were happening, Sarah *can* identify it. Those of us targeted by microagressions can identify them. That the people who target me might be “unaware” of it isn’t much of a defense (Oh, you are not aware you interrupt me and every single other women mid-sentence in every meeting? And your lack of awareness should matter to me…how, exactly?) But if Jane herself has not been doing any of it, then Jane should not be held accountable for other people’s aggression.

                  Also, I may have been skimming too fast, but I don’t think people are saying that Sarah’s totally unfounded accusations are justified if she was on the receiving end of micro-aggression. They are not justified. But from a management perspective, it is important to dig and see what is going on. Sarah is still in the wrong whatever turns up, since Jane was not at the march and Sarah had no reason to think she was. But the accusation was serious, so just shrugging and moving on makes zero sense. Dig – is there racial tension that needs to be addressed (again, Sarah = wrong in her action, even if there is, but for company health this matters)? Is Sarah unhinged?

                3. JB (not in Houston)*

                  As Jessie said, i don’t think anyone is saying that Sarah’s actions are justified. We’re saying that it is possible that there may be an issue in the workplace that needs to be addressed, and it’s possible that Sarah’s behavior was in some way related to that, and if so, that may affect how Sarah is disciplined or fired (but not prevent it from happening). And people aren’t saying that *Jane* should be fired because somebody else at the office has been racist.

                4. Mary*

                  >>The problem, though, is as people are discussing in this thread, that there may be some justification for Sarah’s actions because of microaggressions (which weren’t even necessarily done by Jane). So an action which Sarah cannot identify and which non-POC are apparently unaware of, done “pervasively” by people who are not Jane, justify the summary termination of Jane.

                  Literally where has anyone said that terminating Jane would have been a reasonable or acceptable thing to do? I think absolutely everyone agrees that not terminating Jane’s role is the right thing to do.

                  The debate is whether it’s worth doing more investigation into whether Sarah’s actions came completely out of the blue or whether there’s something going on in the organisation more generally that warrants more attention.

                5. Been There, Done That*

                  “people being racist…uncomfortable for minorities”

                  Speaking of racism generally and not any specific incident, “people” come in all colors, and it’s not exclusively white people who can have racist attitudes.

              2. JM60*

                Being completely against firing people for being racist on the grounds that you may punish someone innocent is a bit like being against outlawing murder because an innocent person could be convicted. I think a better approach is to be open to firing someone for being racist, but only if you have really good evidence, and to punish people who distroy reputations with gossip.

                1. NotAnotherManager!*

                  Random tangent: I chuckled ruefully a little at the analogy because I’ve been listening to wrongful conviction podcasts, and it sounds like there are a lot of murder trials that could use the “really good evidence” standard just as much as workplace investigations could. (I’m not at all suggesting we stop prosecuting murders, but we do convict innocent people more than we might like to think and getting them out is not easy nor can the damage be fully repaired.

                2. sunny-dee*

                  I didn’t say I was completely against it — I did say that I believe people should be punished for punishable actions, and a lot of these issues tend to take a hard swerve from actions to thought-crimes.

                  So, making a racist comment? Fired. Hearing a rumor that someone maybe attended a protest that I object to? Not fired.

            2. paul*


              If I was planning a vacation in, say, Santa Fe, and there happened to be a racist rally there during my vacation, how would I prove I didn’t attend?

              In this case it worked out–she was in a different state–but if I’m in a random city and XYZ bad thing goes down and I’m terminated because I can’t definitely prove I wasn’t involved…yikes.

            3. Thlayli*

              That’s. Very good point. It’s absolutely shocking that the onus was put on Jane to prove that she WASNT a Nazi, but there was no effort made to get Sarah to prove that Jane WAS a Nazi.

              So much WTF!

          3. Forrest*

            No they didn’t. They had already started working on terminating her until Jane gave them a reason to stop.

            1. Jesca*

              And by that token, her rep was already damaged. Basically, she didn’t end up floating while she was being drowned. Yeah, it was a witch hunt and may turn into a bigger one is the OP doesn’t proceed with extreme objectivity when investigating if racism exists in her work place.

          4. Rusty Shackelford*

            That’s what the LW’s workplace did here. They investigated and found the accusation false. The system, in fact, works, and is not trial by drowning at all.

            They “investigated” AFTER they had already begun the termination process. And it doesn’t sound to me like they actually investigated at all. From the way it’s described, Jane provided proof of the funeral after they said “we’re terminating you because of what Sarah said.” The system didn’t really work all that well.

          5. MashaKasha*

            No, they SHOULD HAVE investigated first and they didn’t. They generously (/s) agreed to stop the termination process, which was already underway, when Jane showed them proof of the funeral. They should have asked for it before starting anything.

            1. gmg*

              This is to me the most disturbing aspect of this story. Yes, the OP needs to have a serious talk with Sarah about the inappropriateness of using office gossip as a weapon, and yes, this company may need to look more seriously at how nonwhite employees feel about their work environment and whether there are problems there to address. But the immediate and by far most serious question is why on earth HR would begin the process of firing Jane BEFORE she was given the opportunity to provide evidence that her reason given for time off was legitimate and Sarah’s allegation was untrue. If that’s for some bewildering reason just their procedure (“we get an allegation, we assume guilt and start termination, then the employee has to prove otherwise”) … uhh, well then that’s a terrible, unethical, morale-draining, possibly future-lawsuit-inducing procedure.

          6. EvanMax*

            My brother and his wife went to Charlottesville during the rally. They had had their vacation planned out months in advance, before the rally was a news story, and being Jews (and my brother being the grandchild of Holocaust survivors) they didn’t want to let the KKK & Nazis win by allowing them to ruin their planned vacation to a nice town. They avoided the rally, and went about their business down there, but the key is that they did indeed travel to Charlottesville specifically that weekend.

            Imagine if my brother or his wife had been accused of participating in the rally at work. Yes, the fact that they are Jewish would probably nip that in the bud, but what if they weren’t? It’s impossible to prove a negative (that they didn’t participate in the rally) and records of their travel to and from the city do indeed exist.

            It shouldn’t be upon the individual to prove that they are innocent. It should be upon the other side to prove guilt. For governmental/judicial matters, that is enshrined in our constitution. That doesn’t apply to private businesses and individuals, but it should still be the ideal standard with which we try to live our lives.

            1. Lissa*

              +1000 to you and the other comments. This is exactly why people are worried about “thought policing” and so on. I realize that often people create strawman arguments here, but there are, IMO, real dangers to having to prove a negative. I am hearing a lot of comments around this issue (not just here) that seem to me could lead bad places . . “where there’s smoke there’s fire” type stuff. Not always. When an accusation is assumed to be true because of what it is it can lead to bad places.

              1. Aeon*

                Where there’s smoke there’s fire, is true. But one always has to keep in mind who lighted the fire.

            2. Floundering Mander*

              Yes, it’s easy for this kind of thing to happen. I was in San Francisco two weeks ago for a weekend, and I found out on Friday morning that there was a huge white supremacist rally planned there on the Saturday. In the end it was cancelled but a group of people traveling from another city just for that weekend could be viewed as suspicious, especially since we traveled from a notorious “red” city (and most of my family are trump supporters, from a small town in the Midwest). But the weekend was the last leg of a two-week journey and we had an international flight leaving from there on Sunday. It would not have been possible to cancel our weekend trip.

          7. Observer*

            Well, actually the problem is that HR did NOT investigate. Fortunately, they have a termination “process”, at which point Jane had to prove that she was elsewhere. That is NOT how the system is supposed to work, and it’s only Jane’s good luck she had proof that HR deemed acceptable. Under many perfectly legitimate circumstances, she would not have been able to provide proof – and it’s that “You’re guilty unless you can immediately prove the un-provable” that is the problem in common with the witch hunts.

          8. Gadfly*

            Well, sort of. You can maybe prove you weren’t at a rally. Harder to disprove being a white supremacist. For the same reasons it is always tough to prove a negative, plus high emotions. Lack of proof isn’t proof of lack and all of that…

      1. JC Denton*

        You walk on eggshells until you get out of dodge.

        I’ve worked at a place like this and I hated that particular bit of “culture.” If a coworker didn’t like you, they could actively lob false accusations about you to HR and get you written up or outright terminated. Their standard was “less than” reasonable doubt. So if they felt like you did it, you clearly did it. You lost your job soon after with no severance. Even if evidence was discovered that the accusation was fabricated, they didn’t retract any disciplinary measures they had taken. This was for fear they’d be sued for issuing them in the first place.

        I’m not sure any amount of benefits or “cool work” outweigh the kind of fear that being “unpopular” brought there.

        1. AndersonDarling*

          I was once at a completely dysfunctional company that had this kind of “culture.” Crazy, crazy gossip that could be mistaken for a soap opera script was everyday conversation. People HATED each other and would say whatever wack-a-do garbage that popped in their heads. So it doesn’t surprise me that Sarah would say something this hateful. This is common in some workplaces.

          1. Lora*

            Yeah, had a college summer job that was like this. The insanity was really confined to one department that wasn’t properly managed – the other departments were fine – but the unmitigated crap that used to come out of that particular group was like…what are you idiots DOING over there? How do you get anything done what with it being Heathers all day long? They couldn’t even hang onto temps for more than a few weeks.

            OP, this really indicates some kind of huge work culture problem going on, that HR would be all “oh OK” without your input. I would speak to the other managers to get a sense of what the heck is going on in terms of work culture that this is considered normal and acceptable, and get consensus on a plan to do something about that. I don’t know what, it’ll depend on your specific situation (I doubt Jane is the only problem child), but something. And get really clear with HR and your boss with what they imagine an investigation looks like, because you may need to manage up on that point; there’s a depressing number of people who cannot think through logical consequences, or who play innocent when they’ve really been fomenting the shenanigans all along, or who simply don’t care enough to do their job well, or who are very squeamish about having tough conversations with a-holes, there’s lots of reasons people are terrible at it and lots of ways to remediate that.

      2. Zip Silver*

        OP needs to cut Sarah loose, and make it explicit that it’s because of the gossiping and false accusations. That’s how you stamp out this stort of he-said she-said culture.

        1. Scheduler*

          I agree, Sarah needs to be fired. Jane almost lost her job and OP’s letter doesn’t say if Sarah has been disciplined. If not outright fired, I think OP should have a very serious talk with her, do a formal write-up and let Sarah know making heinous, false accusations against a coworker is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          Seriously, if they were going to fire Jane based on no evidence, then surely they have enough to justify firing Sarah. And the moron in HR who thought that starting termination on Jane based on a rumor was acceptable.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Exactly. There was no evidence against Jane, and yet they were preparing to terminate her. There is, on the other hand, very clear-cut evidence that Sarah both libeled and slandered Jane, and yet nothing is happening to her.

      3. Luke*

        These days, the difference between an accusation of racism and an accusation of witchcraft is that in the olden days they at least had the due diligence to dunk you the river to see if you’d float before pronouncing you guilty.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I have a sinking feeling this is going to become a 200+ posts before 8 a.m. (PDT) and 600+ posts in 24 hours kind of letter.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I had not last night when I made the above comment. Since then I’ve made approximately 19 comments, including this one.

    4. Two sides*

      Why surprised? A lot of you advocated doing just this a few weeks ago. Her company did what y’all wanted done to anyone suspected of being in Charlottesville. And were mocking anyone who said not to, calling them racist.

      This is what those of us said would be the result.

  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, I’m a little puzzled. If Sarah made up this story about Jane without any basis, then her behavior seems really out of line (and if it’s intentional, then it seems pretty horrendous). But if there are logical reasons for why she may have jumped to conclusions—like a pattern or culture of hostility in your office around race and racial issues—then some pretty intense introspection and an action plan for how to remedy those issues seems in order. That doesn’t mean Sarah’s off the hook for spreading a really foul rumor when Jane was in mourning, but it might significantly change your approach.

    I’d also gently push you to take a step back to see if things could be progressing in a racially hostile way without being Governor-Wallace, tiki-torch-Nazis-marching-level racist. You could probe that by asking Sarah to try to explain why she kept saying Jane was participating in a white supremacist march. Please don’t ask Sarah to enumerate all the racist “acts,” though. [I worked at an organization with massive institutional racism problems, and the management doubled down by asking for “proof” of each time someone treated a staff member in a “racist way,” alluding exclusively to individual racial animus and not taking into account issues like pay disparities for people of color, differential work and professional development opportunities, and a pattern of more extreme/severe discipline exclusively for people of color while minimizing much more egregious misconduct, including professional malpractice, by white employees. This really shut down a productive conversation and emphasized to POC and white allies that the organization did not understand racism and was not interested in addressing its racism problems.]

    1. Kayla*

      OP clearly says that Sarah was already asked and could not provide any examples of Jane’s racism towards her or anyone else. Not even one. OP also doesn’t mention any other employees complaining about Jane or backing Sarah up. I’m a POC and Sarah’s actions set back the cause for everyone. Even now that the truth is out Sarah still refuses to apologize and hasn’t shown any remorse. She slandered Jane and those kinds of allegations ruin lives. Jane is the victim here. Sarah has shown herself to be a not so great person based on the actions OP described.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I don’t think asking Sarah about specific acts of Jane’s racism is the right question, as noted in my post. So although I fully believe OP, what OP is describing doesn’t sound like the kind of evaluation an organization needs to make before it completely shuts down any self-evaluation related to sustaining a potentially racially hostile organization. We have no information on whether other employees have complained about Jane or racial hostility, so that’s kind of a red herring. Also, as I noted, conducting an internal organizational evaluation doesn’t let Sarah off the hook for spreading this kind of vicious lie, but it might make the difference between termination and severe (non-firing) discipline.

        I’ve had people ask me the same kind of question (point to specific acts of racism), and that framing was mostly used to delegitimize, minimize, or otherwise attack people (self-included) who were raising legitimate institutional racism and micro-aggression concerns (the microaggressions weren’t the problem—they were indicative of a broader culture of racial hostility at the organization). We don’t know how the question was posed to Sarah, but simply asking when Jane has been racist is not really a useful question.

        It’s 100% possible that Sarah was just being an awful person who willingly spread lies for no reason except malice. But there’s also a slim possibility that there’s a legitimate underlying problem, and that needs to be probed more carefully before deciding that Sarah is the unqualified evildoer. And regardless of Sarah’s reasoning, basic human decency requires that Sarah apologize sincerely and fully to Jane.

        1. Kayla*

          Respectfully I disagree. OP can certainly look into whether or not there is a racism issue in the office. But Sarah posting on social media, telling and emailing people that Jane marched with the white supremacists has been proven to be false. Sarah almost got Jane fired for something that never happened. The type of allegations she made can ruin lives. She committed libel against Jane.

          Even if there were other issues in OP’s office, Sarah lied and even after the truth has come out has refused to apologize or show remorse. She made a very specific allegation against Jane that was not true and she cannot even give a reason for why she said what she did. She was wrong and she needs to go or at the very least be given a SERIOUS talk and disciplined.

            1. Hills to Die on*

              +1. At a minimum Sarah and the HRperson should be fired. Why on Earth would you kindly accept this instead of just assuming the absolute worst? So inappropriate. Mind boggling.

          1. Trillion*

            Very well put.

            While I think all hatred needs to be stamped out especially in the workplace there are appropriate and justifiable ways to go about doing so. This was not one and can hurt crediability of further claims.

          2. TootsNYC*

            “Even if there were other issues in OP’s office,”

            Those issues are important for the OP to know about.

        2. neverjaunty*

          Yes, there could also be a legitimate underlying problem. That does not change the fact that Sarah’s behavior was reprehensible and awful, and “falsely accusing your grieving co-worker of going to a Nazi march when really she was at a funeral in another state” is 100% not possibly within the realm of appropriate ways to address a legitimate underlying problem.

          Sarah has already shown she doesn’t have the basic human decency to apologize to Jane.

        3. Observer*

          To be honest, even if there is entrenched racism in the organization, there simply cannot be any excuse for what Sarah did and no matter what, it’s pretty much a firing offense.

          Beyond that, I hear what you are saying but I disagree with the application. Sarah could have come up with a pattern, or she could have come up with something that the OP disagreed with, rightly or wrongly. That’s different from what you are describing.

          Not that I think that it would be a bad idea for the OP and the organization to take a good hard look at the racial situation at the organization. But not because it in any way exonerates Sarah, nor because her behavior is likely to be a symptom of the racism she is accusing people of.

          It’s like the conversation around doing a root cause analysis that came up regarding the guy who broke a supervisors cheekbone. The original suggestion was couched in concern that this might be a situation where a “good person was pushed to the edge”. I, and others, strongly objected to that. But some people made the point that what you need to look for is not about things that would “push a good person” to something like this, but things that would make reasonable people leave, and the possibility that there were signs that the organization should or could have seen the this person was trouble.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I want to be very clear that I am not suggesting that a racially hostile climate justifies what Sarah did. I explain further, below, but I am not saying that Sarah’s behavior is excusable or that a possibly hostile climate “pushed her to the edge.”

            I think there are two distinct issues: (1) Disciplining Sarah; and (2) Figuring out workplace climate concerns. I’m not arguing that Sarah gets a free pass. I’m saying that under very narrow circumstances, #2 might militate against firing (but not against discipline, full stop). In 99% of circumstances, firing is the appropriate outcome for Sarah’s conduct.

            1. Aurion*

              Genuine question: what kind of very narrow circumstances would mitigate the firing?

              Because I honestly can’t think of any. Maybe there is entrenched racism at the office, maybe there isn’t. But even if there is, accusing a colleague of attending a white-supremacist rally without basis, to the point of slandering her on social media, is beyond the pale. If Sarah had just (“just”) kept it to HR and HR was beginning termination procedures, everything could have been kept internal and it would have been easier to smooth over. But by publicly slandering Jane, Sarah has outright damaged Jane’s reputation, and it’s a lot harder to smooth that over with the social media mob and random acquaintances.

              I think Sarah needs to be fired, period.

              1. neverjaunty*

                Exactly. Because what Sarah did makes it HARDER to address any underlying isuues about race credibly. It’s not even crying wolf.

                I am also, frankly, floored at how cavalier this is toward Jane. She comes back from a funeral to find out a co-worker has been lying to everyone who’ll listen that she was really at a violent Nazi rally, and that she’s about to lose her job? And the response ought to be “thanks for proving that you weren’t a lying Nazi after all; we’ve decided to let things slide because as a side effect we finally decided to examine our own institutional bias”?

              2. Aurion*

                And Sarah has not shown an inkling of remorse. That’s not a sign of someone acting in good faith. Her slander of Jane was deeply detrimental to Jane’s reputation, and waving that away as “eh, social justice” without so much as a sorry is…extremely disgusting and vile to me.

                I’m vaguely reminded of yesterday’s letter in which Wakeen didn’t want to pass on a message about a colleague’s cop wife being injured because “eh, police brutality”. It’s missing the point so hard you can’t see it from here.

                There should be a separate investigation about possible racial tensions in the workplace (though given this HR department’s actions, I have little faith in them able to conduct such an investigation appropriately). But Sarah needs to be fired immediately and the public record of opinion needs to be amended.

              3. sap*

                Here are some circumstances I could imagine citrate against firing Sarah:
                -Jane has argued that the white supremacist rallies are actually about something completely different and positive in the past (I don’t think they are marching for white supremacy but free speech and I’m for free speech!)
                -Jane has mentioned that the Charlottesville rally is happening and thinks all the bad press is unfair
                -Jane then mentions that she is going to Charlottesville for a funeral
                -Jane also made comments about not being that bereaved in fact that Sarah overheard (this doesn’t seem totally implausible to me, as I have relatives that I wouldn’t be particularly upset at their passing but would still attend the funeral to support my family, though I have the good judgment not to discuss that at work if I need time off)

                That wouldn’t at all make what Sarah did OKAY, but it would make it less “horrific and malicious” and more “incredibly bad judgment based on a not entirely unreasonable conclusion.”

          2. sunny-dee*

            This. I worked in a department where I truly began to suspect sexism in the upper management (and I cannot emphasize how I do not generally leap to sexism as an issue), but I had specific things that management did that I could point to. They were small and I’m sure they would argue that they were sexist, but things were there — verbally shushing female coworkers, promoting less-experienced men to team leads or management, telling female that project issues were related to personality, calling female associates “abrasive” or “unlikeable.”

            If you can’t point to anything, not even one minor thing, then it’s hard to believe there is a pervasive enough atmosphere of seething racism to justify falsely accusing a coworker of going to a violent protest WITH THE INTENT OF GETTING HER FIRED BEHIND HER BACK.

        4. Lilo*

          The problem is, Sarah has established she has no problem making up a vicious lie. You cannot trust anything she says about Jane at this point. So asking Sarah why at this point is not really trustworthy.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            Yeah, but you still ask. You aren’t asking because you believe they will definitely have a truthful explanation that makes everything they did ok. We’ve had lots of situations here on this site where an employee did something awful, and we all agree that there’s almost certainly no reasonable explanation that would mitigate what the employ did, and we all agree the employee will probably lie. But you still give them the chance to explain. If they lie, that gives you valuable information about that employee–and will probably lead to them being disciplined or fired. On the 1% chance they have an explanation that makes it slightly less awful, that will probably affect how you handle it. Yeah, you should almost certainly still discipline or fire them, but the way you handle that will be affected by what they say when you ask them about it.

          2. Amazed*

            You still want to ask, because A) if you don’t, Sarah can truthfully say you didn’t care to get her side of the story, and B) even a lie can reveal something.

          1. Eleanora Farmsworth*

            Sarah making a horrific assumption about Jane isn’t necessarily indicative of systemic racism.

            Let’s rephrase this: if a Muslim person were wrongly accused of terrorism, would Allison advise that the entire office should be monitored for radicalized behavior?

            1. Mike C.*

              “Radicalization” is not, in any way, shape or form a fair comparison to systemic racism or sexism in the work place.

            2. Trillion*

              Interesting comparison. I think there’s been a shift in American culture to see racial motives around every action.

              Another parallel could be going back in American history to McCarthy and his red scare. People were accused with conjecture and their lives ruined for no just cause. Now instead it’s the court of public opinion.

              1. JB (not in Houston)*

                More accurately, there’s been a shift in American culture to start–barely–to face the existence of racial motives (sometimes/often not even realized by the actor) behind a lot of actions.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  I just read an article in this month’s Atlantic about this. Well it was about you-know-who, but it addressed the deeply entrenched cultural racism that led to the shitshow happening now.

              2. Mike C.*

                Whoa dude, there’s a massive difference between hundreds of years of systemic racism and the red scare in the 1950s.

                1. Trillion*

                  Not talking about ‘hundreds of years of systemic racism’ I specifically was making a parallel to how it’s now being dealt with in the workplace. Instead of going through a verified process to correct these behaviors employers are allowing social media, or in this specific case a smear campaign including both social media and a loud mouthed employee, to make their disciplinary decisions for them.

                  Sure if the employee has tons of hate rant visible on their social media and poses in front of the camera brandishing hateful rhetoric; by all means disassociate yourself from them. But if my employer jumped the gun, went from 0 to termination based on a squeaky wheel with no evidence heck yeah I’d feel like I’m back in the 1950s red scare again. I’d be holding my breath waiting to be called out for any perceived racist action.

                  There’s a big difference for being made aware of racism and working to correct thoughts and behaviors and actively looking for it around every corner. As a society America seems to be seeing racism in every action and it makes me wonder how much is blown out of proportion like this claim was.

                2. BuildMeUp*


                  I think in a time when white supremacists feel comfortable marching in public places, the fact that you’ve come to the conclusion that incidences of racism are more likely “blown out of proportion,” rather than that racism is entrenched in our society and exists in a lot of places and ways that the average (white) person might have been unaware of or in denial about in the past, is very interesting.

                3. name*

                  Trillion, considering that race and racism are thoroughly woven into the fabric of our society, we need to start being more aware of and on the look out for instances of racism. As long as we continue to default to wondering if accusations of racism are “blown out of proportion” we’ll never really be able to address racism.

              3. Iris Eyes*

                This gives voice to something I’ve been feeling. Racism like communism or religion is a pattern of thought, I’m not saying that they are equal in any other way. But I did find the whole doxxing campaign very unsettling, as it made me think of other periods and places in history where the simple accusation of unorthodox belief was grounds for all sorts of retribution.

                Perhaps a more pertinent comparison would be an allegation of sexual harassment rather than religious extremism.

                1. Thlayli*

                  Speaking as someone looking from the outside America seems on the brink of a civil war. And I’m not exaggerating at all. I genuinely believe that a civil war is a serious possibility in that next decade. The whole place is a powder keg waiting for a match. It’s crazy.

          2. Mike C.*

            It’s not justification. Further analysis and investigation is not an exercise in trying to find excuses for bad behavior.

            1. Hteb*

              I agree, Mke C. But I think the OP needs to take two separate actions:
              1. Remove Sarah from the company – what she did was inexcusable, no matter the dynamic or other things going on
              2. Then find out what else is actually going on and address any issues that are found.

            2. Colette*

              “But if there are logical reasons for why she may have jumped to conclusions—like a pattern or culture of hostility in your office around race and racial issues—then some pretty intense introspection and an action plan for how to remedy those issues seems in order. That doesn’t mean Sarah’s off the hook for spreading a really foul rumor when Jane was in mourning, but it might significantly change your approach.”

              “Also, as I noted, conducting an internal organizational evaluation doesn’t let Sarah off the hook for spreading this kind of vicious lie, but it might make the difference between termination and severe (non-firing) discipline.”

              Those seem to say that institutional racism should change how Sarah is dealt with, which to me sounds like it partially justifies her behaviour.

              1. Yorick*

                Allison seems to say that Sarah’s explanation might make it clear that she jumped to conclusions rather than outright lied. I think that makes a difference in how you respond to her.

                1. Trillion*

                  I don’t think it should. Jumping to conclusions can be just as devastating as outright lying and it doesn’t mean that the intent to cause harm to Jane’s reputation wasn’t there.

                2. Emi.*

                  To me it’s a distinction without a practical difference–either she jumped to conclusions, in which case she’s a ninny and should be fired, or she lied, in which case she’s a dastard and should be fired. I guess it could change the reference you give her, but I think she should be fired either way, and that if she isn’t, whatever broader investigation into “racial issues” you do isn’t going to have much credibility.

                3. Mike C.*

                  @Emi – if the latter you’d also need to fire HR for following a ninny without doing any checking on their own.

                4. TootsNYC*

                  if you jump to a conclusion and then SPREAD THAT CONCLUSION, you are outright lying.

                  If you’re going to state something, you need to be absolutely certain it is fact.
                  And putting “I’m pretty sure,” or “I think…” is not enough.

                5. fposte*

                  @TootsNYC–no, it’s still not lying if you think it’s true; lying isn’t just spreading of something bad. People who spread urban legends and passalong “that happened” memes aren’t automatically lying.

                  I think we’ve got people using “lie” to mean “damaging untruth.” And maybe one day it will mean that, but I think it’s a problem to use it to mean that and leave us without a word for when people say something *knowing* it’s not true.

                6. JM60*


                  Presenting something as if you know it to be factually true, when it’s only jumping to conclusions, is a lie in and of itself, even if you believe the conclusion you’ve jumped to. At very least, you’re lying about it being knowledge vs a belief with varying degrees of certainty.

          3. Ask a Manager* Post author

            How would an institutional racism problem, serious as it is, be justification for accusing someone of walking with white supremacists?

            It’s not. The point is that there are racial issues in loads of offices (to the point that you’re probably more likely than not to find them in most offices, even if under the surface and even if your non-POC staff doesn’t realize it … which they probably don’t because it’s usually not overt), and this may be a flag that the OP’s office needs to look at that. They can do that separately from dealing with Sarah.

            1. neverjaunty*

              They really have to do it separately; otherwise it comes across as trying to cover for their almost-firing Jane.

                1. Creag an Tuire*

                  Frankly, I’d go so far as to say the organization really can’t do a serious investigation into racial issues until at least a couple of months after the Sarah Incident, because otherwise it’s going to look a lot like “We’re all geared up to Fire A Nazi, and we won’t rest until we find one.”

                  Which sucks and is unfair if there really is a cause for such investigations. Nice Job Breaking It, Sarah.

            2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              I’m so glad that you mentioned this, and that you’re explaining/pushing back on some of the comments. This is really, really important.

              I think we can start with the presumption that all institutions struggle with racism. This event can serve as the impetus for a(nother?) reflection/investigation into how the organization can be more racially just.

            3. Fifty and Forward*

              That is a false statement and we can thank a certain political party for pushing this ridiculous notion. I will not visit your web site again Allison.

              1. Geoffrey B*

                It is a true statement and there’s a ton of research to support it, independent of any political party. For example, a job application that suggests the candidate’s white is about 50% more likely to get a callback than an otherwise-identical application that identifies them as black. Racism is a real and widespread thing.

                1. Amazed*

                  It is. There’s this divide in how people think about it. Understanding that the ideas that led to the South’s involvement in the Civil War are horrible is one thing, but it left a huge mess either way that some of us are still living in, and cleaning that up is another thing entirely.

                  We have a word for the injustices resulting from the latter – privilege. We should be calling it that exclusively, and do away with the phrase ‘institutional racism’, because that wording conflates it with the former in a way that gets people instantly defensive and ensures no one listens to anyone. That’s my thoughts, anyway.

    2. neverjaunty*

      ANY manager should be keeping an eye on the racial dynamics and inclusivity of their workplace and teams, period. That has nothing whatsoever to do with Sarah’s conduct, which was lying about a co-worker and accusing her of being a Nazi while she was attending a funeral, for crying out loud.

      Since this workplace apparently has no problems firing people on a dime, OP should have Sarah bounced out the door so fast she leaves speed lines in her wake. If there are actually other issues in the workplace to address, by all means dig into them without Sarah’s counterproductive, toxic ass around.

      1. PollyQ*

        Yes, 100% agree. Maybe give Sarah one last chance to explain herself, but unless she comes up with something really good (which seems unlikely, since she’s had the opportunity to do so and hasn’t), I would bounce her right out.

        And if I were Jane, and Sarah wasn’t fired, you can bet I’d be job-hunting pronto.

        1. la bella vita*

          I would be looking anyway at this point if I were Jane. If I thought my employer thought so little of me as to start termination proceedings against me without any upfront discussion because a) they actually thought I might be a white supremacist and b) thought I had so little integrity that I would lie about attending a funeral as cover to attend the rally, you can bet I would be updating my resume.

      2. Thlayli*

        Yup. If you can get someone fired on the basis of gossip about them participating in what I understand was actually a legal activity, it shouldn’t be too hard to get them fired for actually breaking the law and committing libel.

        1. Music*

          Libel isn’t a criminal act, and going to a nazi rally may be legal but that has nothing to do with losing your job as punishment for going. The constitution protects you from unreasonable government influence. Employers are fully able and capable of firing someone for going.

          1. Piglet*

            Not in the USA. But there was, up until very recently, such a thing in the U.K.

            Also, some other countries still have it on the books.

            -just an FYI bc not all readers are American

          2. Thlayli*

            Libel isn’t illegal in America? Wtf? Evry thing I learn about American law just boggles my mind!

            Either way if you can fire someone for no evidence whatsoever then you should still be able to fire someone for spreading lies about their colleagues.

              1. Thlayli*

                So then why did music reply to my comment about libel being “breaking the law” with “libel isn’t criminal”? Oh never mind.

                From what I know of American employment law they absolutely 100% would be able to fire sarah without repercussion for committing the “illegal but not technically criminal” act of libelling her coworker. Which they should do immediately.

                1. nonegiven*

                  Libel is not criminal, it’s civil. Someone lies about you in print, you can’t file charges with the government and get them arrested, you have to get a lawyer and sue them.

            1. Geoffrey B*

              Libel/defamation is a complicated thing: usually it’s handled through civil law (the defamed person sues the defamer for damages) but occasionally it can also be considered a criminal offence.

              By my understanding, quite a few US states do have criminal defamation laws on the books, but they’re rarely used these days and might be ruled unconstitutional under recent precedents. Summary of those laws here:

              Doesn’t mean that you can defame somebody willy-nilly with no legal consequences, just that it’s handled through civil law rather than criminal law.

        2. neverjaunty*

          What Sarah did is not “breaking the law and committing libel” – not necessary to turn this into an is-it-legal to justify firing her

          1. gmg*

            A good distinction re the question of criminality/legality. Jane would, however, appear to have some grounds for filing a civil libel action against Sarah, thanks to the social media posts.

      3. Been there*

        Agreed. Sarah needs to go and the OP needs to understand that whatever the reason that Sarah started this campaign against Jane it could just as easily be aimed at the OP.

        Really that’s what this was, it wasn’t an accusation. It was a campaign. It was designed and executed to ruin Jane’s reputation and career. It was malicious.

        Normal people who feel like their workplace is experiencing racism will approach their manager, HR, or the EEOC (if in the US). Obviously this company takes reports of racism seriously if they were about to fire someone with no proof and no investigation (WTF?!?). So I’m very confused why, if we are to believe that Sarah is experiencing racism, this only came about for one coworker at a convenient time.

        I know this wasn’t the OP’s question, but I’ll answer it anyway. If I were the OP I would be looking for another job. There are some huge red flags about this company based on the description of how this was handled. I would not be confident that I wouldn’t be the next target for Sarah.

        1. Mary*

          Normal people who feel like their workplace is experiencing racism will approach their manager, HR, or the EEOC (if in the US)

          This isn’t actually true. Normal people who feel like their workplace is experiencing racism will keep their heads down because they need the job to live.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author


            I’m not sure where to put this so I’ll stick it here: To be clear, because I think I’ve caused a lot of confusion in this post — I’m in no way saying that racial issues in the office would justify Sarah deliberately lying about Jane! Of course not. My suggestion was that it’s possible that underlying racial issues in the office have created an environment where Sarah was more prone to genuinely believe this about Sarah or to be too quick to misinterpret something she overheard, etc.

            I have no idea if that’s the case or not. Maybe it’s not! But so many workplaces have racial issues simmering under the surface (which non-POC employees are often totally oblivious to, and which POC employees are generally not reporting for a ton of reasons, including that it’s often not taken seriously, especially when it’s not the kind of overt bigotry that’s easier to articulate or prove) that it would be irresponsible not to raise the question and take a look at it.

            If it turns out that’s the case, it doesn’t mean that what Sarah did was okay. Of course it’s not. But there can be multiple layers to a situation, and all of them can be worth addressing.

            1. AthenaC*

              FWIW I think you were perfectly clear in your original response. I don’t want to uncharitably assume that so many people are only seeing what they want to see … but that’s what it looks like.

              1. neverjaunty*

                It really is possible for people to disagree in good faith about whether a post was clear, or even – and I know, this is so out there, but bear with me – that AAM may occasionally not be 100% correct.

          2. a1*

            “This isn’t actually true. Normal people who feel like their workplace is experiencing racism will keep their heads down because they need the job to live.”

            I know this is true (and applies to sexism and homophobia, too -and any other “ism”). I will say though then they would not also send in office emails to random people and post it on Social Media. If you’re scared to say anything, or don’t want to “ruffle feathers” you tend to only complain to your friends over drinks or dinner, or in private emails and PMs, etc. At least that’s been my experience.

    3. Nursey Nurse*

      I agree that the OP should investigate this incident thoroughly. I think she should ask Sarah whether she thinks there is a problem with racism in the office, whether she thinks Jane is part of that problem, and why she publicly accused Jane of being a white supremacist. I think that if OP finds that there is a problem with racism in the office, she should do everything possible to remedy that problem, up to and including disciplining or firing employees who engage in racist behavior.

      That said, unless the investigation demonstrates that Jane herself actively engaged in racist behavior in the office, I also think the OP should fire Sarah’s ass.

      Racism in society, including workplaces, is a real, serious problem. People have the right to be pissed off about that, and to express that anger. If Sarah had made general statements about the office being racist or having coworkers who were probably white supremacists or something like that, then I think firing her would be excessive. But she didn’t do any of those things. Instead, she singled out a grieving coworker, spun a story about that coworker *actually participating in a white supremacist march* out of whole cloth, publicized the lie around the office and on social media, and then failed to apologize or even acknowledge that her behavior had harmed the coworker. This is a big deal. Jane could sue Sarah for slander and libel tomorrow, and probably win.

      If Sarah’s behavior was a response to a history of racist behavior by Jane, then I can see the argument for discipline short of firing. But if she singled Jane out for some other reason — professional jealousy, personal enmity, whatever — then I don’t think she gets to say that her behavior should be dealt with less harshly because there is racism in the office and the lie she made up about Jane happened to be one of racism. If she had accused Jane of sleeping with the CEO or kicking puppies, the issue of racism in the office wouldn’t be an excuse. If Jane isn’t being racist, why should this accusation be treated differently? Why should Sarah get away with trying to ruin Jane’s life because of the existence of a problem that Jane plays no part in?

        1. Nursey Nurse*

          I don’t think we do, at least not in any major way. I guess I wasn’t sure to what degree you thought that the existence of a serious underlying problem would militate against firing Sarah? I wanted to express that I totally agree with you on the need for a thorough investigation and remediation of racist behavior, but also say that I think unless Jane was involved that issue is separate from the issue of how Sarah should be punished.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            In my mind, the only way there’s mitigation against firing is if there’s indeed underlying racial hostility or discrimination problems, and Jane has had a direct role in creating or sustaining those problems. And even under those circumstances, Sarah should be disciplined at the “one step away from firing” level for her actions. I think the odds of both of those things happening (hostility + Jane’s direct involvement) are pretty slim. In all other circumstances—e.g., racial hostility but Jane had no direct role, or no hostility and Jane has no role—Sarah should be fired.

            I think you explained the issues I was trying to raise much better, and much more effectively, than I did :)

            1. Jesca*

              hear you. I really do. I have worked in a lot of different places. A lot of those places have been poster child for dysfunction and crazy on the levels most people have never seen. It is the nature of my work. (think being hired to develop and transition staff of failing companies into new production processes to try to save the business for various reasons). And I have seen IT ALL. Unfortunately too, though, I have also seen both sides of racism being abused, so I am not immune to assuming that every complaint is valid or not valid. It requires investigation. But what was so upsetting to me and still sticks with me to this day is when a very good friend of mine who I worked very closely with was fired because of the racist manager. It was so blatant and obvious to everyone (most people didn’t care because ya know that is the culture). Even looking at the situation from afar it was obvious. BUT because home office saw the place as so batshit, nothing was done. I filed complaint after complaint and nothing. Racism like this like does absolutely happen. Where I work at now does not employ African Americans and there are very few managers who are women. In our 300+ office, there is not one single African American (many people from other countries but none from the US) and like two female managers! None on a VP level at all!!!

              But with that said, I have worked at places where the opposite was true. Where racism was used as tool in the opposite direction. People were stifled into silence to such a degree that defective medical products were being shipped to customers so that no one at the company would be accused of racism by pointing out what said department was doing! So yes, I get it. But I have seen both and I don’t think I am alone in those experiences. And whereas it may seem intuitive to believe racism does exist, it very well may not. Its best to go into any investigation with that assumption as opposed to the alternative. Because if not, then you run the risk of people never believing when racism is being brought up. Its like when Rolling Stone did that article about rape that turned out to be a lie, and people were like see! It only takes one time to be wrong on this for people to use it as an excuse to justify racism. It can also backfire and become a way to scare people into to silence.

    4. Mookie*

      I worked at an organization with massive institutional racism problems…

      The dynamic you describe is dead-on. I’ve seen this, as well. It’s Circumlocution Office territory, milking the bureaucracy to enable bad behavior, out of both listlessness and willfulness.

    5. Mike C.*

      Yeah, I’m really with you here on this sort of approach. I would normally be down with simply “fire her and be done with it”, but this sort of issue is both too serious and too common to ignore.

      At the same time, I think it’s also clear that the HR department is too incompetent to lead such an investigation so best of luck trying to accomplish that.

      1. Purplesaurus*

        I think it’s also clear that the HR department is too incompetent to lead such an investigation so best of luck trying to accomplish that.

        Oh geeze, that’s a good point.

      2. Mary*

        The HR office is what’s giving me pause and thinking there might be something to Sarah’s story. They’re either incredibly incompetent OR there was an intervening step (Sarah didn’t “spread a rumour”: she discussed it with a few people and then made a report to HR which HR found credible enough to act on, possibly even with some evidence that LW isn’t privy to) that isn’t in the letter.

        1. gmg*

          If that’s so, then why couldn’t Sarah offer any concrete example to LW (her manager) of racist conduct? If the answer is “because HR is investigating and has asked that this be proprietary info,” she should have said that.

    6. Where's the Le-Toose?*

      I apologize if this has been brought up above, but for the OP, have you actually had a sit down meeting with Sarah yet? Your letter reads that Sarah “had no evidence when she made these claims” and I’m not sure whether you gained this information directly from a conversation with Sarah or if it’s just general office information. If it’s the latter, then you definitely need to sit down with Sarah and confirm her lack of evidence about Jane. That’s always the first step in a reprimand or firing–give the employee an opportunity to explain their actions. And as PCBH points out, your existing office culture will help frame what sort of action you need to take against Sarah.

      Also, when it comes to managing and reprimands and firings, you do have to be on the same page as your HR department and executive management. Once you meet with Sarah, you need to meet with both HR and your boss to see how to proceed, and the right thing to do may not happen right away. I had an employee transferred to me who was insubordinate, performed below standards, and was bad for morale. Executive management thought that there wasn’t enough documented proof to justify a termination or reprimand, so I basically had to start at square one and document this employees bad behavior before the employee was let go. It took me 2 1/2 years before I had enough evidence that satisfied the corner offices.

  4. Kayla*

    For #2 I respectfully disagree Alison. The OP of that letter says that Sarah can’t name a single time she witnessed racism from Jane, either to her or anyone else. OP also doesn’t mention anyone coming forward to complain about Jane. Sarah also has not apologized or shown remorse even though Jane has proof she wasn’t at the rally marching for with the white supremacists. The type of allegation Sarah made can ruin lives. Sarah didn’t just say this once at work, she told everyone, emailed everyone AND put it on social media. By all accounts Jane did nothing wrong. Sarah needs to be fired or at the very least disciplined and given a serious talk. If I were Jane I would be taking screen shots of those social media posts and copies of those emails to a lawyer and suing for slander.

    1. Jerry Vandesic*

      The social media posting is a big deal. Libeling a fellow employee in public is well over the line of acceptable.

      1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

        My big issue here is if they have done anything to counter Sarah’s lies. Does everyone at work still believe that Jane was at a racist rally? I think OP and her company need to be looking at several things here:

        1) Why their procedures allowed termination to begin without an investigation
        2) What is being done to mitigate the damage to Jane
        3) What is being done to let employees know that Jane has been cleared
        4) What VERY SEVERE consequences will Sarah face for this (IMO it should be termination)
        5) What is happening throughout the company that created a culture in which this would happen and be taken seriously without confirmation

        MANY things need to be done on many fronts. And need to be started, frankly, yesterday.

        Investigating 5 does not excuse what Sarah did – like I said, I think she should be fired. But if this is an indication of larger things at play, getting to the bottom of that and working to address it will be key to moving forward after this heinous event.

      2. Lady Phoenix*

        Social media and workplace email bombarding.

        The company has to do some seriously deep-ship cleaning to clean this mess.

    2. Artemesia*

      I can’t imagine Sarah not being seriously disciplined for this. Firing her doesn’t seem entirely out of line, but some sort of write up, notice or whatever seems mandatory. This is heinous behavior since she can’t point to any specific reasons to think it is true or that show Jane being racist in the workplace

      1. SignalLost*

        Or, evidently, even unspecific reasons. I’m in agreement with Allison and some other commenters that there may be a different issue at play, so I don’t think focusing on specific examples is a great way forward; they’re too easy to minimize. But overall, I do lean toward firing Sarah for libel and potentially causing harm to the business. The fact she evidently repeatedly doubled down, then didn’t apologize, says a lot about her character and integrity.

        1. Mary*

          I don’t know. I’m kind of imagining a situation where Sarah is Black, Jane is white and someone who has joked about white supremacy or made racist comments in a difficult-to-put-your-finger-on-it kind of way, and it’s a white-dominated company. Sarah makes an allegation in the belief that Jane actually is at the rally and it turns out to be wrong.

          The context in which Sarah is asked about it is “you’d better apologise to Jane and justify yourself”. Sarah’s pretty sure that every example she’s got of Jane’s racism is going to be explained away as “Oh, but that’s not RACIST-racist” or “she didn’t mean it like that” or “you’re being oversensitive!” or any of the other million things that white hierarchies say to excuse and justify racism, and she doesn’t see any value in co-operating only to have her evidence dismissed. It’s not doubling down, it’s just refusing to compromise yourself.

          1. anon for this one*

            I’ll bet you anything Sarah is white and just doing this to make a big, self-righteous public show of what a Good Person she is.

            1. Mary*

              Also possible! We don’t know either way.

              I am kind of surprised at the number of comments taking it at face value that if Sarah hasn’t / can’t provide evidence that Jane is racist or has made racist comments then that means they don’t exist. I feel like it’s pretty obvious that “prove your co-worker is racist” is a nearly impossibly hard bar to reach. I think it’s legitimate that the burden of proof is on Sarah here, but I don’t think I’d assume that absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

              1. Emi.*

                Yeah, but Sarah didn’t say “Jane is racist.” She said “Jane went to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville,” which the LW has said is false. Whether Jane is racist is irrelevant to what Sarah’s manager should do.

            1. Frozen Ginger*

              I think any degree of “unspecific” examples can be dismissed in the same way. If by unspecific example you mean “in general Jane does x” or “often Jane will y”, Sarah can be still met “You’re reading too much into it.” or “That doesn’t mean Jane’s racist.”

          2. NaoNao*

            Well, and the other horrible angle here is that many, many of the attendees at the rally (on the White Nationalist side) say things like “I’m not racist!! I’m just supporting “Western Culture” (whatever that is!). They honestly, if you gave them truth serum, believe they are not racist. They just don’t want to live, work with, intermarry, or anything else POC.

            So it’s certainly possible that Sarah’s actions, while reprehensible, have some basis in truth, in the scenario that’s being proposed: Jane *is* a racist or White Nationalist, but she doesn’t make racist remarks or actions directly. Perhaps Jane’s social media feeds are full of dog-whistle racist remarks, she voted for a Certain Candidate, etc. Now that *does not* excuse going off the pan handle here and accusing Jane publicly of something she didn’t commit. But again, many people who are White Nationalist believe it’s “not racist!”

            1. gmg*

              Understood — this possibility is why Allison correctly pegged that this company is going to want to take a look at racial attitudes throughout the office and do some hard thinking about whether POC employees feel comfortable. (That goes specifically for the LW as well, as a manager — if stuff is going on that makes your POC employees feel that they are in a hostile workplace, you need to know about it, and you need to let them know that you are ready to listen when they let you know about it.)

              The way this is presented to us, though, is that Jane was going to be fired until she proved that she was not at the rally. That’s it. We have no other info — what her previous relationship with Sarah was, whether she has in fact expressed racist views, or anything.

            2. Anion*

              “Voted for a Certain Candidate” =/= “Nazi,” unless that “Certain Candidate” was Adolph Hitler.

            3. Conservative POC*

              I don’t support the people who were there during that mess however I do think you are being over simplistic and quite frankly very dismissive of an entire swath of people who are feeling pushed towards that side due to dishonest politics.

              Do you know what its like looking at america from the outside? What it looks like anyone who flies an american flag is labeled a white nationalist? When a black person identifies as a nationalist they are labeled an uncle tom? Like it or not that entire mess was a reaction to the antics of Antifa and other extreme groups, you’ll notice there were no violent “white nationalist” marches before antifa started knocking peoples heads in, on top of that what do the police do? They stand back and watch!

              I really don’t get how you guys can condemn one side and give the other side a complete pass. At the end of the day violence to further a political cause is anti democratic and anyone involved in it on either side should face consequences.

              “Western Culture” , go live in asia or the middle east for a while, you’ll understand what is meant by western culture.

              1. Anion*

                +1, Conservative POC. Beautifully put; especially this line: “At the end of the day violence to further a political cause is anti democratic and anyone involved in it on either side should face consequences.”

                Thank you. I find it increasingly distressing how casually and confidently commenters here equate “conservative” or “pro-American” with “racist/Nazi,” and how they fail to even consider that such an equation is neither true nor just (but is bigoted and unfair). There’s lots of talk here about the shame of “othering” people–and I agree that is wrong–but people with even fairly mainstream views are regularly othered here and dismissed simply because, say, they were forced to consider their own financial security above other issues when voting, or because they have enough faith in the American people to not be convinced that everyone outside of a major city is a heartless, hateful bigot desperate to injure anyone not exactly like them. This idea has been proven untrue over and over again, but it’s still a popular (and destructive) narrative, one I am increasingly seeing here.

          3. BeautifulVoid*

            This is the most charitable view of Sarah one can come up with, I think, but even if it’s accurate, I don’t see this inept HR department being able to tackle these complex issues. Even if it is accurate, I don’t know if it justifies the untrue accusation about Jane, even if Sarah truly believed she was there. Like PCBH said upthread, something like this might be the only reason for discipline vs termination, but if it’s not the case, then I agree that Sarah needs to go.

    3. Trillion*

      Totally agree with you here. One thing I wonder did Sarah make these accusations before or after the rally was all over the news?

      If it’s before then hmm that’s a bit more suspicious for a couple reasons; 1. Either Jane was going to the rally, which is highly unlikely due to the evidence given or 2. Sarah hunted out something so atrocious to accuse Jane of and took the time and effort to set her up and actively accuse her.

  5. Drew*

    OP3, if I were in your shoes, I’d be very tempted to take part in all the planning and feed information to my colleague on the sly, including the explicit warning that when I tell you to leave NOW, that means it’s party time and you should leave NOW.

    This assumes that your other colleagues will not be dissuaded by the very clear wishes of your retiring coworker, which they damn well should be. If this party happens and you aren’t able to warn her, they’ll deserve the cold “I told you I didn’t want this. Goodbye; this will be my last day” they’re going to get.

    But before any of this, perhaps she needs another advocate who has been around awhile and is well respected in the office — hoping this is you! — to say, bluntly, “What you are doing is RUDE. She doesn’t want a going-away party or a retirement party, so why are you ignoring her wishes and doing it anyway?”

    I’m sorry your coworkers are so insensitive. Perhaps it will take a loud, angry scene for them to realize they’re not behaving kindly at all.

    1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

      I agree. If they didn’t tell her about the party, I would. No way is it cool to seal someone’s career with a bow of “your wishes don’t mean Jack”

      1. CarolynM*

        Yes – if they won’t listen and insist on the party, please ruin the surprise at least!

        I dislike being the center of attention and I loathe surprises … when my friends threw me a surprise party for my 16th birthday I walked in, they yelled surprise and I walked right back out. I was lured there with promise of a movie with 2 close friends … my introverted self needs to get in the right mindset for a big party and I was not in that mindset! I did go inside after a few minutes, once I had caught my breath and mentally shifted from fun quiet night to draining loud party mode, but those friends never threw me another surprise party.

        When I was getting married one of my friends was tasked with luring me to my surprise bridal shower by claiming she needed me to go bridesmaid shoe shopping with her and that only THAT day would work, but I kept insisting that “You are a grown woman with a PhD – I told you the shoes just need to be silver, I don’t care about anything else, I told you I am busy that day and can’t shop with you – you are acting helpless and weird and that is not like you, what’s up??” She started crying and begged me not to tell the rest that she ruined the surprise for me – I told her that she should ALWAYS ruin surprises for me, because surprises upset me.

        Why don’t people believe me and others like Jacaranda when we say we don’t want a fuss? If you want to honor someone, do it in a way that makes them feel honored instead of disregarded!

        1. LawPancake*

          I’m so glad I’m not the only one that feels this way. I loathe surprises. Even if I would normally enjoy whatever the surprise is, it will be completely ruined for me if it’s presented as a surprise. My wife on the other hand adores being surprised and it has taken years to finally convince her that I don’t enjoy or appreciate the same.

          1. LawPancake*

            Which is to say, LW should absolutely tell the coworker about the party if they insist on disregarding her wishes.

        2. Anon333*

          “Why don’t people believe me and others like Jacaranda when we say we don’t want a fuss? If you want to honor someone, do it in a way that makes them feel honored instead of disregarded!”

          I totally agree! At a past job, I knew that they liked to get birthday cakes and cards, so when asked what kind of cake I wanted, I explained that I hate being the center of attention and really did NOT want a cake and card. They said that was fine and they’d skip my birthday, then got a cake and card anyway. I felt humiliated and betrayed.

          My current job also does the cake-on-birthdays thing, and I hate it. I feel like I can’t say I don’t want a cake because my wishes will likely be ignored, so I just end up being miserable around my birthday, waiting for my “surprise” cake.

    2. who?*

      I agree, it seems to me the party planners won’t listen to reason and I would 100% warn Jacaranda of the plans.

    3. SarahKay*

      OP, please try one last time to tell your co-workers very clearly that Jacaranda does not want a party of any sort and this should not happen. And if they still don’t / won’t stop, then just warn Jacaranda quietly beforehand so she can go.
      Also, good for you for recognising that Jacaranda’s wishes are important and relevant and shouldn’t just be ignored!

    4. LQ*

      Super on the warn her train.

      We had a coworker who wanted to retire quietly. Someone tried REALLY hard to get him to agree to a giant party. He refused and refused. They continued plans. He just took that day off once they were far enough down the path that it would have been hard to change days. (He did say it was ok to have our usual birthday potluck (which was like a week before his retirement) which made the planners happy.)

      I’m super for warning the retiree and then giving them the chance to not showing up. You go ahead and party, I don’t care. But don’t make it about me. If you want a party, just have a party.

    5. CJ Record*

      And one more agreed. It might also help to remind the planners that “No” is a full and complete sentence, and weaseling their way around the no makes them the rude and ungrateful persons that are fully deserving of Jacaranda walking into and immediately out of their “party”. (Encourage Jacaranda to enforce her preference, too!)

      Also, I don’t know if it was the LW’s choice or Alison’s, but can I express my appreciation for “Jacaranda” as a placeholder name?

      1. OP#3*

        Thank you – I thought the pseudonym very much in keeping with the colorful assortment of names posted to AAM. Much love to “Fergus” and “Sansa” but my name starts with J and my coworker’s does too : )

    6. OhNo*

      Agreed. If the coworkers can’t be dissuaded from putting on this party, at least you can warn your friend about it so she has a chance to bounce before she’s escorted to it against her wishes.

      It might help to offer alternatives for your coworkers to express their appreciation. It sounds like they really want to, but the only way they can think of to do so is to throw a party. Maybe you could suggest some other options that you think Jacaranda would appreciate – a card with a thoughtful message from each person, a bouquet of flowers, a gift basket of her favorite items, or a gift card to someplace she really likes. It sounds like you’re a close enough friend that you might have an idea what would actually be meaningful to her.

      Heck, you could arrange something like that even if they go ahead with the party planning. Just give her the meaningful item the day before, so she doesn’t miss out on a parting gift she would appreciate because she ducks out of the party.

    7. Else*

      Yeah – if they want to give her a happy send-off, do a collection and get her a visa gift card, or a spa visit certificate, or even a beautiful flower arrangement or vase or clock if that’s the kind of thing she will better appreciate. Get a pretty card or autograph book and write nice things on it. Dig around in the company archives for pictures of her, if they exist, and make her a photo book of her 30 years. There are a million things they could do to show her that she’s appreciated and will be missed that don’t involve surprising her or making a stressful fuss.

    8. paul*

      agreed. Give them a heads up, let them opt the hell out. I hate hate hate big parties so I strongly sympathize with your coworker here :)

    9. Liz2*

      OK I am all about respecting the wishes of the honored guest, really really, and it’s awful they would secretly plan anything.

      However…I do know there was a retiree who genuinely didn’t want anything but the grandboss had a series of long talks with them and ended up doing a low key party- essentially a sit down meeting with cake where people shared stories. It was important from the company perspective to show they would do that for its people and to make sure future retirees would know they shouldn’t feel bad about getting a celebration.

      1. Drew*

        The difference here is that the grandboss met with the retiring staff member, explained why the company wanted to recognize their retirement, and then worked out a mutually acceptable compromise. This is how a functional work environment handles it. What OP3 is discussing is ignoring clearly expressed wishes because they don’t gibe with what other people think “should” happen, and that’s shitty.

  6. AutomagicallyExcommunicated*

    #1, Alison is spot on. As a former Christian, I find people telling me they’re praying for me or my family when things go badly more irritating than anything. I understand you believe differently, but I see zero chance that prayer will save my family from difficult circumstances–only their choices and random chance can do that. Honestly, the way I see it, when it comes to disasters, ‘thoughts and prayers’ is a worse than meaningless gesture, because it makes no difference in the outcome, but it lets you feel better without putting in any real effort of time, energy, or money to improve the situation. ‘Hoping for the best’ doesn’t imply the same level of perceived influence on the situation and therefore doesn’t offend me–you can hope for something without pretending your actions are causing it to happen.

    Now, if you were a coworker who told me you were praying for my family, no, I wouldn’t say the above, but I’d sure be thinking it.

      1. JohnnyComeLately*

        I’m in agreement.

        My favorite image of the day was of an empty semitrailer with the caption, “First shipment of thoughts and prayers has arrived in Houston.”

    1. SignalLost*

      Eh. I think this is too varied to call. I’ve never been religious in my life, and in fact I’m pretty anti-religious, but I wouldn’t have your reaction to a coworker who could literally do nothing else saying they were praying for my family. It would be pretty nice to hear. It’s an offering of kindness (in this case) in the speaker’s own “language”, where someone else might bake a cake or something.

      1. Bookworm*

        I’m openly atheist and feel similarly to you.

        I certainly can imagine a scenario in which it would come across more condescending than kind, but I don’t see OP in particular danger of that.

        1. Clewgarnet*

          But as you don’t know the co-worker’s feelings, probably safer for OP to just say they’re thinking of her and her family and hoping for the best.

          (My father lives on a yacht in Anguilla and, understandably, nobody’s heard from him since Irma hit. The first person to offer to speak to their invisible friend in the sky on his behalf will get a very short answer.)

            1. WPH*

              I actually prefer this sentiment to “thoughts and prayers” or even just “thoughts.” Hope comes across as more active and also more generic. “I hope you and your family are okay, ” “I hope you are safe from the storm”, etc. It expresses concern and awareness which is really what people want in these situations, to me. And I say this as someone who is unabashedly religious and would eyeroll “prayers” (who says we’re praying to the same God?) and thoughts (gee thanks, I guess).

          1. AutomagicallyExcommunicated*

            That’s super scary. I hope your dad is okay and able to get in touch with you or someone who talks to you ASAP.

      2. Misc*

        It can easily be a tone thing as much as anything else. ‘Praying for someone’ can be a generic ‘I wish you well’ phrase, or it can come with an implied ‘and this will actually help’, which is the bit that raises hackles.

        It can be very difficult to tell the two apart, and even if you know it’s the former, you may be so sick of the latter that it still brings up reminders and is more annoying that heartwarming.

      3. AutomagicallyExcommunicated*

        I definitely understand that it’s meant well. I’d appreciate it as a shallow well-wish, but I’d still be annoyed at the particular phrasing and underlying assumptions.

        But the difference is that the coworker can’t “literally do nothing else.” A cake is less useful, but the funeral and serious family illness tradition of making meals for the bereaved/caregivers relieves some of the everyday pressures of someone dealing with major stress and the planning associated with those events. In another thread, Relly gives some great examples of tangible actions that could help the coworker, if not their family, such as helping with pet care or errands. Some people like to talk out their concerns–if coworker is one of those people, OP could invite them to lunch and listen. If they prefer to avoid thinking about it, hey, lunch is still a great option as a distraction! If they work in the same role, “let me know if you need help with anything on the X project/me to take over anything on the X project, I’m sure you have a lot going on.” Coworker’s manager could be very clear that if the coworker needs time off to help with cleanup, that it’s totally acceptable and encouraged because family is important; heck, if OP has a relationship with that manager, nudging her in that direction (like “coworker is so worried about their family, I hope they aren’t also worried about taking time off to help afterwards”) might even be an option. Take five minutes to research organizations that will be providing cleanup help to the area, pick one that seems good, and make a donation of any size to help their efforts. Suggest that your organization do a fundraiser or a donation match, if that’s part of company culture. Heck, grabbing coworker a coffee when you get yours and asking after their family later this week is more proactive than “praying for you” and signals, “I’m thinking of you, and I know I can’t fix it, but I’d like to make your life a little more pleasant during this stressful time.”

        OP can, in fact, do something that affects the coworker in a positive way. Having a conversation with an unrelated party (who may or may not exist–doesn’t really matter here!) doesn’t make the coworker’s life or her family’s better in a tangible way. Actions can.

        1. SignalLost*

          Coworker is actually currently in Puerto Rico and OP is currently in New York. Different circumstances call for different reactions, and I don’t think we know anything other than to say “unless you know this would be welcome don’t do it”. I would not be comfortable being a listening ear for someone who drives me crazy at work, for example.

          My comment was intended as a counterweight to the original comment in this thread, because it’s a very personal statement, as is mine, and probably neither are actually helpful to OP, who could use some general guidelines about religion in the workplace.

          1. AutomagicallyExcommunicated*

            Thanks, Yorick and SignalLost, I apparently misread before my coffee this morning!

            And yes, absolutely different reactions, but that’s why I suggested several options, some of which involve spending money and some of which don’t, but all actions rather than just words. OP clearly wants to express her concern. Those are just some of the other ways that aren’t “I’ll pray for you.” :)

        2. Blue Anne*

          But the difference is that the coworker can’t “literally do nothing else.” A cake is less useful, but the funeral and serious family illness tradition of making meals for the bereaved/caregivers relieves some of the everyday pressures of someone dealing with major stress and the planning associated with those events.

          Yes. When I was 16 and my dad died, lots of people told us they were praying for us. No one brought us food. Friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, no one.

          I had thought that bringing food to a grieving family was some kind of tradition. I felt kind of abandoned. It would have been really nice, especially being the recently-bereaved teenager who was cooking spaghetti every night because dad was dead and mom was understandably out of commission.

          1. AutomagicallyExcommunicated*

            What the fresh hell. It’s definitely a tradition in my communities (New England towns where I’ve lived, as well as the queer communities of choice).

            I’m so sorry that it sucked extra hard when your dad died and people didn’t support you. You (and your mom!) deserved so much more.

      4. lawyer*

        I think that varied reaction is probably why it’s safest to stick with “I’m thinking of you.” I’d describe myself as a very devout Christian, albeit of the extremely liberal variety, and I only expressly reference prayer with someone that I know is also religious and would feel comfortable with the sentiment (note that this isn’t dependent on someone sharing my Christianity – one of my best friends is Muslim and we pray for each other all the time – but more on knowing that they are a religious person and that based on their personal faith, they’d welcome it). It’s not like Jesus said, “you should pray for people and you should also make sure they know you’re doing it or it doesn’t count” – I pray for people all the time who don’t know I’m doing it. Most people I pray for don’t know I’m doing it, in fact.

        I mean, being a Christian doesn’t spare you from being on the receiving end of some unpleasant “I’ll pray for you” comments (especially, in my case, from people who think that me and all my parish are going to hell for having women priests/marrying LGBT couples/discussing the Bible in historical context/etc.), so I get it.

      5. Jaguar*

        Yeah, this describes me (except being “anti-religious”). I honestly wonder, if someone saying “you’ll be in my prayers” gets your hackles up, does anything roll off your back?

    2. Mookie*

      Agreed. As an atheist, I don’t really care either way when it’s directed at me, because it’s conventionally offered not as an imposition but a well-meaning, if knee-jerk* gesture**, but my perspective in all matters of faith is essentially one of ignorance and I don’t like the idea of other people being made uncomfortable by such things for no reason. Erring on the side of caution is advisable here, if you don’t know the person well enough, and also because in multicultural societies it’s important not to behave as though the values and practices of one community are universal unless explicitly told otherwise.

      *I think all of us sometimes grasp at weird clichés that don’t even represent our own beliefs. I catch myself in conversations with near or total strangers describing people as having “passed,” or other such euphemisms that don’t really tally with how I conceive of death, probably because I instinctively feel that more explicit language can be taboo for some people.

      *as an example of the former, I remember American television journalist Wolf Blitzer interviewing a woman who’d survived a tornado, and he would just. not. stop. asking. if she “thanked the lord” for her fortunes. She eventually had to tell him she was an atheist.

      1. Mookie*

        Also, the language used to offer such prayers really is coded and specific to a particular religion, even if it’s invisible to the people doing the offering, and thus it’s just not neutral. That’s not necessarily terrible, but people who do this should be aware of it and aware that, for that reason, some people will be justifiably irritated by the presumption behind the gesture.

      2. Hornswoggler*

        I have a couple of very religious friends. If something horrid is happening to me, one of them says: “I know you don’t believe in it, but I’m praying for you”, to which my reply is always “That’s very kind”. She is praying for me because she wishes me well. I feel that I want to acknowledge her way of showing sympathy, even if it’s one that I wouldn’t participate in. I treat them as I would a foreigner – for example, if a Russian host were to offer me bread and salt at their door, I’d take it and thank them, even though it’s not my custom.

        If someone were to start praying ‘at’ me because they thought I was straying from the path of righteousness, that’s a different matter, and one which earns the most brusque of responses.

    3. Bryce*

      Yeah, this. Prayer is a great personal motivator and inspiration, but when applied to others it tends to get wielded as a weapon and feels invasive. Even if not meant that way, it’s best to keep God out of it and just say “I’m rooting for you guys and I wish I could do something to help.”

      1. LJL*

        Precisely. I consider myself a Christian and often pray for others’ well being. At work, though, unless I’m certain it will be received well, I always say “sending good thoughts” or “your family is in my thoughts.”

        1. Web Developer*

          Same for me. I pray for my coworkers and other people I know all the time, because I think it’s important (and it’s certainly not a replacement for helping them in other ways)–but I generally wouldn’t say that. I mean, it’s not like I’m praying so I can tell them and earn some brownie points or whatever.

    4. Shop Girl*

      I am not in any way religious but I have to disagree. My spouse is not an openly religious person but she says prayers for her family and others close to her as she is falling asleep each night. To be part of the last thoughts of a person before they sleep is to me beautiful. If someone was to include me in their personal thoughts, whether or not they choose to call them prayers, I would be touched.
      I don’t believe in a gods personally changing my circumstances but if this is someone’s way of keeping me in their thoughts I would not be offended.

      1. Nox*

        Same. I don’t participate in organized religion but I think getting upset with people for being well intentioned creates bad energy.

        Not all of us are able to just ship items or money for every world disaster that occurs so sometimes people wish others well in their own unique ways. (Hopefully in a respectful manner)

      2. blackcat*

        Yeah, as an atheist, I definitely don’t get offended by this particular instance of “I’m praying for you.” It’s a one-off expression of sympathy and concern regarding a particular event.

        It is not the same as my grandmother “praying for me” when I was living in sin with my now husband. That was a passive aggressive and mean thing to say, because it was about my behavior. I did not mind when a coworker told me, after I had an accident near work, that as soon as they saw me by the road that they “said a prayer that you were going to be alright.”

        So I while I recommend staying away from telling someone you are praying for them in general, I think this particular moment is less likely to cause offense than something more broad.

    5. Trout 'Waver*

      The phrase ‘Thoughts and prayers’ has been ruined by politicians who are in the position to pass legislation to help victims but do not do so.

      But, I encourage you to view people praying for you a bit differently. Prayer for many people of faith is more reflective than it is beseeching a higher power for divine intervention. Someone who is actively praying for you is actively thinking about your situation and putting it into their subconscious. In doing so, they may eventually figure out a way that they can help. Routinely thinking about others and their needs also encourages empathy and compassion.

      Everyone has had bad experiences with smug self-righteous religious folk. Don’t let those experiences color your interactions with sincere compassionate religious folk.

    6. Sylvan*

      I agree.

      Not an atheist, but faith is extremely personal to me (not a performance). I also feel a bit uncomfortable about being involved in someone else’s religious experience, and about being expected to be thankful for their personal religious experience, which I think has nothing to do with me. Don’t tell me what you pray about, tell me what you do.

      But this is, of course, what I think but don’t say. Christians who believe differently are the vast majority where I live and I don’t want conflict.

  7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#3, if I were Jacaranda and my coworkers pulled this on me, I would be pretty upset. Can they do something more low-key? Like instead of throwing a party, passing around a card with thoughtful/heartfelt messages, or creating a scrapbook of memories of work and best wishes for her retirement, or having a very small group (5 or fewer) take her to a lunch that doesn’t make a big thing out of her retirement (but still feels “special”)? If there’s any way you can convince them that this is an awful approach, though, you’d likely be doing them and Jacaranda a huge favor. If quoting the platinum rule would be helpful, then I think it’s worth gently reminding them that this is about celebrating Jacaranda the way she wants to be celebrated, even if that means not having a party.

    1. Uncivil Engineer*

      One of my staff recently retired and was adamant that he didn’t want a party. The rest of my staff kept bringing it up to me. They could not believe that someone would just want to leave without fanfare. I tried to come up with something really low-key to keep the rest of my staff from planning something bigger. I brought in donuts on his last day, put them outside my office, and sent an email to the rest of my 20 person team saying: “As a reminder, today is John’s last day. Come get a donut at my office and then go by John’s office to say good-bye.”

      1. Competent Commenter*

        How funny–we’re doing the exact same thing shortly (come get a donut and say goodbye) but it’s for an employee who wasn’t working out, quit preemptively pretty quickly, and is leaving under a bit of a cloud. Donuts: the solution to everybody’s last day at a job.

    2. BuildMeUp*

      I was about to suggest getting a card or other more low-key farewell gift – it seems like it may help fulfill her coworkers’ desire to thank her for her tenure without going against her wishes.

      1. Em*

        I was going to suggest something like this. Obviously it’s inconsiderate to throw a party for someone who clearly doesn’t want one. But I can also see the co-workers side where they want to show appreciation to their colleague before she goes. If there is something that Jacaranda WOULD appreciate — e.g. a card or maybe everyone write a memory or funny story about work for her — then it gives the coworkers an alternative to the party, rather than just telling them no party and leaving them hanging.

        1. Triplestep*

          I WISH it was obvious that it’s inconsiderate to throw a party for someone who doesn’t want one! But somehow people second-guess celebrants all the time.

          I married my first husband after we’d lived together more than a decade and had two children. We made it official at a courthouse so he could get on my health insurance and said we didn’t want a wedding or any kind of party. Some friends of ours (who’d been his people originally) second-guessed us and made a “low key” dinner party. This not only caused discomfort between then-husband and me, but it made other friends – the ones who had actually honored our wishes – really upset after the fact. I’m pretty sure none of this was at all obvious to the party throwers!

        2. Been There, Done That*

          They could have the party AFTER she leaves, if THEY want a party, with banners wishing her a nice retirement, and send her some snaps. :)

      2. Triplestep*

        Yes, a card … one that is either handed by Manager to Retiring Employee, or mailed to her home. Even the donut solution mentioned above sets up a scenario where people may go by John’s office in groups, thereby subjecting him to *multiple* small situations he finds awkward or uncomfortable.

        1. Yorick*

          A retirement party is not just for the retiree, it has an emotional significance for the coworkers too. They will miss her and want to mark the occasion of her leaving. She doesn’t want a party and they should respect that, but they should be able to have some kind of special interaction with her on her final day. She could sneak out by leaving before her stated last day, but IMO that’s actually selfish.

          1. SarahTheEntwife*

            Why can’t they just stop by one at a time and thank her, wish her well, whatever they need, over her last day or two at work?

            1. Yorick*

              I think that’s perfectly fine. I thought Triplestep was saying that shouldn’t happen, but I see now that I misread it.

            2. Beancounter Eric*

              Better yet, why can’t they simply leave her alone, and abide by her wishes?

              As for not wanting recognition, how is that selfish? As far as I’m concerned, they have absolutely NO claim to force recognition upon me for retiring, for performance, for anything.

              1. Alli525*

                Beancounter Eric – OP’s coworker isn’t asking to be left alone, she’s just asking for no-party.

          2. Not a Real Giraffe*

            I’m not understanding how it’s selfish of her to honor her own retirement in whatever way she prefers?

      3. Future Homesteader*

        We recently had someone leave who had been here for 30 years, and also didn’t want a party. Instead, we all wrote thank-yous and compiled them into a binder (for his eyes only, not for public consumption) that was quietly given to him by someone in his office on his last day. Also, the emails that went around telling people about this repeatedly stated that he had asked to not have a party so everyone knew that this was in place of it, and no one got any bright ideas about surprising him. It worked out beautifully and I know he was very happy with the binder (and the lack of party)!

    3. Foreign Octopus*

      I’ll never understand why people think forcing parties/social events on people is a good idea. I need at least 48 hours to prep myself mentally for such things and I’m similar to Jacaranda. I want to leave with the least amount of fanfare as possible.

      I think situations like these come from people feeling that this is how things ought to be done and can’t shake the convention of it.

      OP could try telling Jacaranda. Just drop her an email or a text, or a quick conversation, so that she’s at least forewarned here. I know I’d appreciate it.

      1. fposte*

        I think the problem is the not-inconsiderable number of people who say, “Oh, no, please, no fuss” and who really want a fuss. People think every demurral is just a protestation they’re supposed to see through.

        1. Myrin*

          People like this drive me up the wall, to be quite honest. There’s no shame in saying “You want to throw a party for me? That’s awesome and very kind of you, I’m looking forward to it!”. Like I said in another comment – and I believe we’ve actually talked about this briefly in the past, fposte! -, I’m a very literal person, both because that’s just my personality and because I can’t stand that kind of “oh please I’d rather not” when the actual meaning is “yes please do” (I’d go absolutely bonkers in cultures where it’s considered polite to refuse things for like three times before you come out and say what you really want). Thankfully I’m also the kind of person who has zero problems telling someone that I’m not a mindreader and that I’m taking people at their word so if they say they don’t want me to do something then I won’t do it, but I know there are many who do feel shy saying something like this and who are then at the mercy of the “please no fuss” people you mention. Infuriating! >:(

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I hate this too. Just be straightforward, people.

            I once left a job where the leavers (retirees and others who left voluntarily) got a food day. As in, a huge potluck. I thought it was very nice, but of course, I knew it was coming. I don’t know how I would have done if it had been a surprise. At most parties like this, people take pictures, and I’m very self-conscious about getting my picture taken unexpectedly (I’m screwed if I ever become famous, LOL). I like to know ahead of time so I can make myself presentable, in my eyes at least.

    4. Government Worker*

      I was also wondering if you could re-direct your coworkers’ energy to something that Jacaranda would like better, like a collection of notes from coworkers. If they want something that seems “bigger”, maybe take up a collection for a charity in Jacaranda’s name, as long as you can be confident about what sort of organization she’d support? For people who really hate attention and gifts, that can sometimes strike the right balance of allowing people to feel that they’re marking the occasion without the honoree having to feel the (to them) awkwardness of receiving.

      Or these are people who just really like cake, and you can promise to bring in cupcakes the week after Jacaranda leaves if it will make them lay off the party.

    5. a Gen X manager*

      Agree! When I left my job after many years the staff gave me a custom photo mug of the team (a photo they took specifically for this). All in it probably cost $20, but it brought tears to my eyes when I opened it and I cherish it now 10 years later! I am extremely introverted and I loved that they made this custom gift and didn’t make me go through a goodbye party!

  8. The blanket of Linus*

    OP#4 No harm in finding out. If you’re an undergraduate, it might be worth checking with career services if they can put you in touch with an alumna or two in your chosen field to gain a sense of when they and their classmates did their applications and interviewing. I was an accounting major, so August – November of my senior year is actually when all my interviews took place, because my internship with a state office didn’t have budget to hire me.

    1. Just Another Techie*

      I had the same thought. In my field we do all our interviewing of college seniors and final-year grad students from late September to November. We really like to have our “fresh out” hires locked down before winter holidays.We don’t always succeed at that and sometimes have to keep interviewing through February or March.

  9. Uncivil Engineer*

    #3: In the end, it may be you who has to tell Jacaranda a surprise party is being thrown for her. Don’t feel bad about it either. You’ll be saving her from a very uncomfortable situation that others tried to force her in to.

    1. Annie Moose*

      Yeah, I agree. If you can’t get people to drop the idea of the party, don’t feel any guilt about warning Jacaranda ahead of time. (maybe don’t tell people you did it, though, if they’d be upset)

    2. Cassie*

      Agreed. If it were me and I knew for certain Jacaranda doesn’t want a party and would hate a surprise party, I would just tell her. Who cares if it “ruins” the surprise?

      I have a coworker friend who doesn’t like celebrating her birthday at work. Even though everyone knows this, a group of people planned a surprise party for her. I told her because I knew it wasn’t what she wanted. She played along and pretended she didn’t know, but she was grateful that I told her so she was prepared.

  10. Jerry Vandesic*

    #4: See if you can find out the hiring manager. Send an email to them, asking about the position and whether the current posting would work for someone graduating at the end of the school year. If not, ask them to keep you in mind if they do open a req that aligns with your graduation timeframe.

    1. SignalLost*

      Another thing to ask (and you may know this, OP, based on the job title or other factors you’re familiar with), might be how often this kind of position comes available.

      I think I’m leaning a bit towards an informational interview here rather than an application, myself.

  11. CC*

    #5–I mean I guess there is never a *need* for a thank you card, but I’m of the opinion that you honestly can never wrongly send a thank you card. People will usually be appreciative, everyone once in a while people feel snubbed if you don’t do a card.

    I would say no gifts though.

    1. Foreign Octopus*

      Careful you don’t overdo it though.

      I think your email was plenty if it was gracious, which I’m sure it was. Maybe another email at the end of the process, thanking him for recommending you if you get the job or thanking him for the opportunity if you don’t.

    2. LA*

      Professors really do appreciate a simple thank you card. It’s almost never expected, but I don’t know any professor who wouldn’t like getting one. It’s also something they can include in their yearly performance review folder to show positive impact on students. It’s hugely beneficial for professors going up for tenure or promotion.

      1. Sarah*

        Agreed. I would never expect a student to write a thank you card or hold it against them if they did not, but those heartfelt thank you cards are truly treasured!

    3. TootsNYC*

      I would say, send a LETTER, not a CARD.

      Cards come across to many people like gifts (not to me personally, but to others).

      This is a professional thing, so I’d vote for printing out a business-style letter on regular paper and mailing it to him.

  12. catsruledogsdrool*

    #2: I cannot even imagine being falsely accused by a coworker of marching with nazis while grieving a loved one. Unless Sarah literally begs for Jane’s forgiveness she should be terminated, “misunderstanding” or not. Period.

      1. Thlayli*

        Agreed. I don’t understand why OP is in any way conflicted. She committed libel, she made a concerted effort to ruin a coworkers life, she almost succeeded, she had zero evidence, and when asked she couldn’t even point to any example of racist behaviour that could have led to her actually believing her bizarre claims. Sarah is a liability. Who will she accuse next?

        1. JessB*

          I got the impression that OP is more confused than conflicted – OP knows that was Sarah did was very wrong, but does not know what to do about it, in the absence of that acknowledgement from Sarah.

          1. WellRed*

            This and yesterday’s letter about Percival. What is up with coworkers being jerks and then doubling down and not admitting they were wrong and refusing to apologize?

            1. Alli525*

              So, not to get political, but when our government leaders refuse to do it, it’s easy to say “well why should I?”

    1. Beatrice*

      I can’t imagine getting into the termination process for an employee over such a baseless accusation, and forcing the employee to produce evidence of her loss to retain her job. Sarah’s behavior is unquestionably wrong, but the company failed Jane bigtime.

    2. Jaguar*

      Yeah, this is where I fall as well, generally speaking.

      Letter Writer, you should consider that Sarah has tried to do harm to Jane. She may have truly believed Jane was a Nazi and believed that trying to destroy someone for their beliefs is an ethical thing to do (both debatable), but she also didn’t give Jane the benefit of the doubt before trying to ruin her, which I think is completely indefensible rising to the level of being fairly described as dangerous and evil. That puts all the rest of the people who work for you, and you, and all the other people in the organization you don’t manage in danger by having Sarah around. She’s like a untrained rottweiler that’s kept off leash: maybe nobody gets hurt by it, but its unpredictable and dangerous and why would you want that around?

      You should sit Sarah down and give her the chance to explain. Maybe there’s some explanation that exonerates her (I have no idea what that could possibly be, but who knows?). You’re looking for some explanation that makes what she did to Jane forgivable as well as that she now understands what she did wrong to the point that her coworkers can trust her not to go nuclear on them. That’s an extremely high bar to clear, and if she doesn’t, she’s someone that people won’t feel is safe to work with – I certainly wouldn’t.

      1. Jaguar*

        And, if it’s within your power and you’re willing to spend political capital on it, see if you can hold your HR department responsible for their reckless behaviour as well, because they’ve acted really concerning and reactionary as well.

        1. Jaguar*

          And one more thing that just occurred to me is that if I were Jane, I would immediately be looking at a wrongful termination suit against your company, so this is another liability that Sarah and your stunningly incompetent HR department have opened your company up to. Given that, I think the most important thing to do is to be pressuring your company to fix its HR problem, because, at least in this instance, they’re failing at their core reason for even existing. It’s like a plumber who makes a leak worse.

          1. fposte*

            That’s not likely to meet the definition of wrongful termination in the U.S.; it’s wrongful if it’s termination for an illegal reason, not if it’s because you fired them for something that turned out not to obtain. (Would it in Canada? I know you all have stronger protections.)

            Aside from that, I like your summation of the situation.

            1. Jaguar*

              I honestly don’t know, but I’d be surprised if employers could get away with this, given what little I do know about employment protections here. Maybe I’m off base. I’m surprised it wouldn’t qualify anywhere in the US.

              1. fposte*

                I can’t speak to specific states–California would be the classic exception state to examine–but in all of the US states save Montana the at-will doctrine means that the employer doesn’t need a reason to fire an employee; they just aren’t permitted to fire an employee for a limited number of illegal reasons. Therefore firing an employee for the wrong reason isn’t illegal unless it’s a wrong *illegal* reason.

                1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                  Yes – and the “wrong *illegal reason[s]” are few here (you can’t be fired because of your race or religion or gender, for example…But you CAN be fired because your boss thinks you chew too loudly, or thinks you said a mean thing to a coworker but it turns out you didn’t, or because your boss is in a bad mood and wants to Assert Her Authority, or because you microwaved popcorn until it burned in the work kitchen….)

            2. Lalaroo*

              She could file an EEOC complaint for discrimination based on race – something like, “because I’m white they didn’t even investigate these allegations against me.” Get some examples of allegations being made against employees who are POC and you have disparate treatment. It might not win (IANAL), but it could be a huge pain for the company.

              1. Lalaroo*

                Sorry, I meant to say examples of investigations being done when allegations were made against employees who are POC, not just allegations being made.

  13. CivilStooge*

    Sounds like Sarah has an issue with Jane, and figured these claims would get her dismissed. Scary, but not surprising, that the company was in the process of firing Jane based on malicious rumors and innuendo.

    1. Lilo*

      The reaction where people are assuming Jane did something racist to make Sarah lie about her is scary too. Sarah can’t provide any examples and she is already established that she is a liar.

      1. Nox*

        As POC myself I wasn’t really keen on the response the post received. A person who makes unsubstantiated claims of an employee’s activity both publicly and privately is not someone you keep around.

        They are toxic to the environment and are greatly at risk of creating a hostile work environment (literal definition more so than the proper legal one)

        If there are racial issues in the office a separate investigation should occur but these would be 2 very different issues that need to be addressed fairly and correctly. I’m usually the one who side eyes certain commenters on this site when all they ever seem to suggest for various LWers is to fire people, this I think is an example of the exception.

        1. lawyer*

          Strongly agree with your last comment – in fact, I think an investigation is way more likely to be effective if it’s separated from Sarah’s conduct, which is inexcusable under the circumstances.

          Although this office doesn’t sound too functional, so I am doubtful of their ability to thoughtfully look into this, given that it takes a lot of effort to do well…

        2. Thlayli*

          Yeah the comments are pretty scary on this one. There seems to be a lot of “well it’s very likely Jane may have been racist”. The OP says clearly there was no evidence whatsoever but the commentariat seems willing to believe any accusation of racism.

          I also recall the comments on an open thread a couple weeks back where some people were implying that if anyone you know or love has any different political beliefs than you at all on any topic you almost have a DUTY to cut them out of your life entirely. Sorry but no. I have siblings who are prolife and siblings who are prochoice I’m not cutting anyone out over that.

          Then there are multiple times ive seen people on here claim that it’s ok to insult people for being part of a majority rather than a minority (slag off Christians, white people, men, that’s all aok apparently.)

          Frankly there are people commenting on this site who probably think they are the epitome of being liberal and open minded and don’t even realise that they aren’t. The comments on this post are a pretty stark reminder of that.

        1. Granny K*

          True that! I would also send a ‘cease and desist’ letter to Sarah, copying HR, about slanderous statements made In Writing about me. Stating in a break room that someone may be racist is one thing, but multiple emails over the company server about something that is blatantly false? Sarah needs to understand the concept of ‘consequences’.

  14. Ramona Flowers*

    #3 Right, that’s it. I’m opening a theme park, it’s called Surprise-You-Land, and it’s somewhere people who compulsively want to surprise others can go to throw parties for people who don’t want them. Paid staff will dress up as the unwilling recipient, complete with a mask featuring a picture of their face, and ooh and aah appreciatively. Maybe that will stop them from tormenting others who don’t want a party.

    1. Relly*

      Hee! I give it three weeks max before someone drags a loved one along because it’s their party, silly, they can’t miss it!!!

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        There will be an ‘I don’t like parties, get me out of here’ button for those people to press while queuing.

        I mean, I do like parties and fuss but only for people who want them!

    2. Annie Mouse*

      That sounds like one of the lands at the top of the Magical Faraway Tree!! And is a great idea!!

  15. Michael*

    #2: I realize Jane probably doesn’t read Ask a Manager, but to imply that Sarah’s slanderous accusation might have had any merit just continues the slander. Investigations like that are humiliating and career-damaging, and they *need* to have some actual cause for concern first. A coworker provably lying wholesale who can’t point to any hint of wrongdoing isn’t cause for concern.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I don’t think that’s entirely true. The suggestion is not to investigate Jane (which I agree is damaging and sounds completely unwarranted), but rather, to evaluate whether the employer as a whole has problems in how it’s dealing with people on the basis of race.

      1. Kayla*

        There is no evidence there is a problem. I’m a POC and I am all for ending racism and calling out white supremacy. But Sarah lied about Jane and it has been proven. Sarah can’t even say why she would say what she did or name any instances of racism by Jane. Anything other than firing or disciplining Sarah is hurtful to Jane and gives the false allegations merit. It sends the wrong message and as POC if I worked there I would be appalled if the management took that route.

        1. So Very Anonymous*

          I agree with this. There’s a difference between calling out institutional racism and making very pointed claims/accusations against one specific person. If Sarah can’t provide any justification for making accusations about Jane, Sarah is the problem. If there’s a culture of institutional racism, then yes, that needs to be investigated, but this is such a specific and focused accusation that I think they’re two separate issues.

          1. Myrin*

            I agree, especially about the two separate issues.
            I don’t know about others but my deal with lumping them together is that that makes it seem like Sarah has been dealing with inequality based on race in this office – which might very well be! – and now finally had enough and fabricated this whole story as a mix of a cry for help and revenge.
            And I just don’t know how likely that really is. One would think that in that case, she’d, IDK, spray-paint “F U you Nazi-loving company” on the office walls, not concoct this really specific and tailor-made-to-Jane campaign. It only makes sense if Sarah had been dealing with race-based harrassment from Jane day in and day out but in that case, wouldn’t she be able and willing to talk about these issues when questioned and not just stay silent?

            1. fposte*

              I don’t know that people’s psychology works that neatly, though. Anger often doesn’t get splashed out on the cause of that anger–that’s why customer service jobs can suck.

              1. Myrin*

                Hm, I see what you’re saying but I do think there’s a difference – customer service stuff usually means short interactions, even short interactions of anger, not the apparently prolonged campaign started by Sarah in this case.

                I’d say anger getting splashed out (love that phrase!) on someone who’s not the cause of that anger is usually more of the “someone snapped” variety, where someone is already in a sour mood because of Thing (maybe even Constant Thing, like racial microaggressions) and then explodes all over someone who crosses them in some way (or whom they perceive to be crossing them). But I don’t think that’s the same as what happened here, where clearly coming up with this story, posting about it on social media, telling everyone about it etc. must have taken some time and thought, and time and thought spent specifically on Jane; it’s not like Sarah was fed up with the racial bias in her office and then one day it all became too much and she punched Jane in the face because Jane said something unkind about [race].

                I do see your general point, though!

            2. Lissa*

              Yes,I think….and I want to be careful to say that I don’t think most people are saying this outright or mean it directly….that it’s important to avoid any hint of “if Sarah has experienced racism in the workplace, making up a story about Jane being at the rally was excusable.” However, if Sarah had an actual reason to believe this, that should be investigated. Hell, investigating it could mean “Hannah hates Jane and knows Sarah has a hair trigger about this stuff so she gave Sarah fabricated evidence”…I realize that TV movie style plots are unlikely though. I think the problem is some people are assuming that people mean “Sarah experienced racism=it’s OK that she lied about Jane” which I realllly don’t think anyone means. I hope anyway!

            3. nonegiven*

              OK, now I’m wondering. Is something else going on that Sarah hopes will be found out? Like that woman that framed someone for something hoping the police would show up? Am I remembering that right?

        2. K.*

          Agree. I’m a Black woman, I deal with institutional racism every day and have since birth. I do not respond to it by publicly accusing any of my white colleagues of being Nazis and attending white supremacist rallies every time they’re out of the office.

          The frustrating thing is, if Sarah is a POC and there IS a culture of institutionalized racism in this company, she has ruined any chance of it being addressed in a constructive way, at least for a while. If I worked at this company, I’d be livid with Sarah.

          1. Zombeyonce*

            “if Sarah is a POC and there IS a culture of institutionalized racism in this company, she has ruined any chance of it being addressed in a constructive way”

            This is a really great point and I’m sad Alison missed it.

        3. fposte*

          To be clear, it hasn’t been proven that Sarah *lied* about Jane. It’s been proven that Jane was at a funeral when she said she was. It hasn’t been proven that Sarah told a deliberate falsehood, and it’s possible she didn’t–that she genuinely believes what she said.

          1. serenity*

            She did lie about Jane being at a white supremacist rally, though. Whether she “believed it in her heart” or not – it’s a lie.

            1. fposte*

              No, it’s not. What makes it a lie is the conscious awareness of untruth. We don’t *know* if she knew it was untrue or not.

              People believe all kinds of things, and sticking to the belief it despite opposition is no guarantee that they’re deliberately falsifying (see any internet comments section :-)).

              As I said, I don’t know that it matters hugely except to the characterization people are drawing of Sarah. But if it turned out that Jane’s lookalike sister went to the rally instead of Jane, would you still call what Sarah claimed to be a lie?

              1. palomar*

                Yes. Because the issue is not that Sarah said “hey, I think Jane was at a white supremacist rally”. The issue is that Sarah flat out accused Jane of making up a death in the family to get time off to attend the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville — she said it verbally in the office, she said it in company email more than once (opening up the company to potential legal issues for defamation, perhaps?), and she posted it on social media in such a way that her coworkers were and are aware of it. Even if someone who looked like Jane was there, that doesn’t change what Sarah did, which was to smear her coworker’s reputation not only among their colleagues, but among anyone who could access Sarah’s social media posts about it.

                Yes, Sarah lied. There’s a world of difference between mentioning privately to HR or management that “I think Jane might have been at that rally” vs what Sarah actually did.

                1. Ann O.*

                  Yes, so much this! Sarah made a very specific allegation. Given how quickly some of the identified marchers lost their jobs (correctly, IMO!), she had to know the probable consequences for identifying Jane as a marcher. If Sarah had solid reason to believe Jane was at the march, bringing the evidence to HR privately was fine… good and necessary even! But it was not okay to spread the news wide without giving Jane a chance to prove it false because of exactly what happened… it was false!

                  And it doesn’t sound from the OP’s letter like Sarah ever provided an explanation for why she was so sure Jane was at the march, although I’d like to believe there was at least something for HR to have started termination proceedings.

              2. Amazed*

                What bumped it up from believing bad intel to an actual lie was her double down when confronted.

                If this was a not-lie Sarah told because she genuinely believed that Jane was at the rally, her response to learning the truth should have been mortification. Which it wasn’t.

      2. Mookie*

        As you say, I think this is just good management and risk-mitigating strategy, even and especially if doing so demonstrates that all is well and that Sarah is an isolated cause of unethical douchebag. There’s no real benefit to trying to quash something like this, a rumor that has probably spread throughout this workplace, privately and with little fanfare. Applying light exposes bigotry, but it also exposes people willing to tarnish other people’s reputations without cause. There needs to be a zero tolerance policy for both, and launching a transparent investigation, including counseling and training where appropriate, will only improve morale, whether this workplace is actually harboring racists or not.

    2. Kayla*

      +1. Sarah cannot give a reason as to why she said, posted and emailed what she did about Jane, nor can she same a single instance of racism that Jane has committed against her or anyone else. This was not a slip of the tongue. She lied multiple times verbally and online, all publicly. Jane is the victim. Sarah is an awful person who is 100 percent wrong and to imply anything else is hurting Jane. Jane almost got fired. Her life could have been ruined. She could have been exposed to physical harm and other repercussions. I’m a POC and false accusations like what Sarah did only hurt the cause. Jane should sue Sarah for libel and slander.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Kayla, I understand you feel strongly about this, but do you realize you’re posting a nearly identical comment multiple times throughout the thread?

        1. Helena*

          Princess Consuela Banana Hammock you have also posted comments along the same lines more than once. Kayla can reply to whoever she wants unless Alison deems it an issue.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I actually haven’t posted identical comments, and I’m mentioning it because several lines in Kayla’s posts are nearly verbatim repeats of her other posts. The verbatim commenting is a commenting rules issue, which is the only reason I flagged it.

            I’m not trying to police or shut down Kayla, but rather, trying to avoid a situation where every comment on issue #2 is followed up with a nearly identical comment. Several readers have pointed to that kind of repetition (i.e., nearly identical or verbatim posts, not several posts discussing different aspects of the same letter) as resulting in an over-abundance of comments that discourages them from participating in the discussion.

          2. Ramona Flowers*

            Alison is potentially asleep now. For everyone’s sake can we all just agree to disagree and end this line of conversation now?

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I didn’t suggest that her accusation might have merit. I said that sometimes things like this reflect larger issues in the office, and it could be worth exploring whether there are racial issues there that need to be delved into, separately from dealing with Sarah. Sarah’s actions were outrageous, but you can deal with those AND not turn a blind eye to larger issues that it might expose (if in fact it does).

      1. Lilo*

        But LW has to be really really careful about not linking the two, because then it implies that Jane is at fault for it, which is completely unfair. Especially given that this seems to be a gossipy office, LW should definitely not publicly announce anything or go around asking people explicitly.

        1. Lalaroo*

          Exactly. And it seems like blaming the victim to me, to be quite honest. There have been multiple comments on this thread to the tune of “Well, maybe Jane actually is racist, you know? The company should look into that! Where’s there’s smoke, there’s fire, right?” These comments don’t ever say that what Sarah did would be okay if Jane was racist and had been microaggressing, etc, but they definitely imply that Sarah would not have chosen Jane if Jane wasn’t racist and her specific behavior should be investigated to see if there’s any “there” there. And that would absolutely incense me if I was Jane, and I think it’s unjust.

          It reminds me of how people treat rape victims. “Yeah, he shouldn’t have raped you, but let’s take a look at what you were wearing. And did you drink a bit too much? Maybe you were flirty and led him on? There must have been something you did…”

          Blue @ 9/7/17 7:07 am
          “I would not be surprised if “there have been prior racial incidences/accusations involving Jane and this was a final straw situation” is at least somewhat accurate. This is a serious accusation to pull out of thin air, and while there are some people who would do such a thing, I think it’s far more likely that there’s something bigger under the surface.”

          Mary @ 9/7/17 7:59 am
          “I would not be surprised if “there have been prior racial incidences/accusations involving Jane and this was a final straw situation” is at least somewhat accurate. This is a serious accusation to pull out of thin air, and while there are some people who would do such a thing, I think it’s far more likely that there’s something bigger under the surface.”

          TootsNYC @ 9/7/17 11:17 am
          “it’s possible Jane does the sort of “plausible deniability” digs to people of color, and that Sarah has observed this (either as the target or as a witness).”

          RVA Cat @ 9/7/17 8:49 am
          “I am thinking there is an existing conflict between Sarah and Jane, because this is just too nuclear to come from nowhere.
          Maybe Jane is an office bully who happens to be a vocal Trump supporter and she and Sarah have been clashing for months, possibly years. Maybe Sarah is a woman of color who feels disrespected, especially by Jane, and lashed out with this inappropriate accusation on social media/casual conversation, then HR got involved and the lie snowballed from there.”

          Princess Consuela Banana Hammock @ 9/7/17 12:21 am
          “OP#2, I’m a little puzzled. If Sarah made up this story about Jane without any basis, then her behavior seems really out of line (and if it’s intentional, then it seems pretty horrendous). But if there are logical reasons for why she may have jumped to conclusions—like a pattern or culture of hostility in your office around race and racial issues—then some pretty intense introspection and an action plan for how to remedy those issues seems in order… I’d also gently push you to take a step back to see if things could be progressing in a racially hostile way without being Governor-Wallace, tiki-torch-Nazis-marching-level racist. You could probe that by asking Sarah to try to explain why she kept saying Jane was participating in a white supremacist march.”

          Mary @ 9/7/17 8:13 am
          “I don’t know. I’m kind of imagining a situation where Sarah is Black, Jane is white and someone who has joked about white supremacy or made racist comments in a difficult-to-put-your-finger-on-it kind of way, and it’s a white-dominated company. Sarah makes an allegation in the belief that Jane actually is at the rally and it turns out to be wrong.

          The context in which Sarah is asked about it is “you’d better apologise to Jane and justify yourself”. Sarah’s pretty sure that every example she’s got of Jane’s racism is going to be explained away as “Oh, but that’s not RACIST-racist” or “she didn’t mean it like that” or “you’re being oversensitive!” or any of the other million things that white hierarchies say to excuse and justify racism, and she doesn’t see any value in co-operating only to have her evidence dismissed. It’s not doubling down, it’s just refusing to compromise yourself.”

          Mary @ 9/7/17 9:49 am
          “I am kind of surprised at the number of comments taking it at face value that if Sarah hasn’t / can’t provide evidence that Jane is racist or has made racist comments then that means they don’t exist. ”

          NaoNao @ 9/7/17 12:53 am
          “So it’s certainly possible that Sarah’s actions, while reprehensible, have some basis in truth, in the scenario that’s being proposed: Jane *is* a racist or White Nationalist, but she doesn’t make racist remarks or actions directly. Perhaps Jane’s social media feeds are full of dog-whistle racist remarks, she voted for a Certain Candidate, etc. “

      2. Fifty and Forward*

        You did not say sometimes, you said more often than not there are such issues in an office. That is simply not true.

  16. Kim Zarkin*

    As a professor who regularly connects current and former students, Alison is right that I’m helping out both parties. I regularly get comments from alumni “I don’t have time to train someone from Other Local College. I want one of ours.”

    I can tell you what would matter to me is a hand written note. Those are things I save and it feels more “real” than even an email.

    It’s not unusual to get gifts when someone gets a job that I helped with – but totally unnecessary. But if you feel like you want to do more, how about buying the professor coffee? We love it when our students are grown up and stable enough to treat for coffee and a nice conversation about what you’re doing.

    And don’t forget alumni donations. Alumni giving rates are hugely important to a school. And you can usually find an area to give related to your major or other tie to the college. Even $10 helps.

  17. Ramona Flowers*

    #2 The LW is Sarah’s manager and needs advice on managing her, so how about we focus on that?

    Talking to her is a good start. I’m wondering how other staff have reacted to the whole situation?

    1. Helena*

      I agree Ramona.

      If I worked there and Sarah was not let or harshly disciplined somehow, given the serious nature of what she said, I would be looking for another job. No way I would want to work with someone like that. I feel for OP. She needs to consider her other staff too.

      1. Thlayli*

        Absolutely. No way would I put myself at risk by continuing to work alongside someone like Sarah. I bet everyone on OPs team is actively job searching right now. The HR person who made the decision to fire someone based on gossip should also be fired and OP if you have any standing to call for firing a hr rep then I recommend you call for that along with firing sarah.

      2. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        Honestly, if I didn’t know what was going on, I’d feel like Jane and Sarah were both landmines (is she a white supremacist? is she a list?). Think about it, Sarah says Jane went to a racist rally, then Jane gets back (and maybe or maybe not tells coworkers about funeral), then Sarah gets disciplined/fired. Without information, employees are going to fill in gaps and it might not be pretty. Right now only you, Jane’s manager, Sarah, Jane, and HR know what really happened.

        LW, if Sarah spread this disinformation widely, you are going to have to do some damage control. This will require very clear and very plain language (no HR speak). Make sure employees know that the accusation was investigated and rejected, and further disciplinary action might follow. Don’t let the gossip mill run.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          This. This is no time for confidentiality or CYA, no time for any implication that there might have been substance to Sarah’s false accusation. You need to be absolutely unambiguously open about what happened. Even if you wouldn’t normally discuss why an employee was fired, you need to do it this time to clear Jane’s name.

      3. BizzieLizzie*

        Yes – I agree – I would love to see an article or debate on how to manage a lying team member who spreads malicious items that are not true:)

    2. Tuxedo Cat*

      I wonder how well the situation was explained to others who work with Jane. If I didn’t know the truth, I’d think that my workplace didn’t care that Jane attended that march. As a woman of color, that would worry me. If I knew the truth, I’d want to know how such complaints were going to be handled because I wouldn’t want to be the victim of libel. I also would hope that Sarah’s accusation wasn’t going to make any claims re. racism any less credible.

      I don’t know much of this is within the letter writer’s purview, but I think it would be helpful for the rest of the team.

      1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        Me too. This is definitely something the LWs org should get ahead of. Otherwise it could end up looking like the WOC was fired/disciplined and the white supremacist given a pass. It isn’t true, but if all people have to go on is the gossip and the outcome for Sarah, that is what it will look like.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yep. And you bet your sweet bippy THAT’S the story Sarah’s going to tell everyone once she gets canned. Possibly even in a very public manner that leads to a horrible public relations disaster for your company, which will be both emotionally and financially devastating. Someone who’d falsely claim that her newly bereaved coworker is a Nazi would also very likely claim after being fired for this that her company fired her because they’re racist and take the story public.

          I’ve known people like Sarah. I was once the target of someone like Sarah, though in that case the lies weren’t about racism. Be prepared to defend yourself.

      2. Emi.*

        Yeah, since Sarah’s accusations were so public, you’ve gotta publish something about how they were handled–for everyone’s sake.

    3. Foreign Octopus*

      I would be interested in hearing about the staff’s reaction if OP sees this.

      In a way, this letter feels linked with yesterday’s letter about that awful employee not passing on an urgent phone message. Both were personally damaging, both didn’t show any regret, and both have created a hostile work environment.

      I’m also curious (I might have missed it) as to whether there’s a racial difference between Sarah and Jane because if there is, I feel that it changes the nature of the conversation.

      1. Goya*

        If there is a racial difference, it would change the nature of the conversation, but in reality it SHOULD be no different than if Sarah spread a rumor that Jane was misappropriating sick days because she saw her driving on one of the days. There are plenty of reasons Jane would be driving on her sick days and even if Sarah is correct about the misappropriation, it should be dealt with privately with those who are actually concerned with the matter (Sarah tells Mgt., Mgt. deals with Jane). No reason to bring the whole organization into it.

    4. IvyGirl*

      Right. Like, has the LW talked to Jane’s manager? To HR directly about why they made that decision path without having all of the facts?

      Sarah needs to be fired like yesterday.

  18. KimberlyR*

    #1: if a coworker specifically says something like “In the path of Irma. Thoughts and prayers appreciated!” I would extend them. In absence of anything that blatant, I would steer clear of religious tones and go with a secular message.

    #2. Sarah should be gone if she cannot prove conclusively that she had reasons to think this of Jane. Independently, is there an outside source or company that your company can hire to investigate race relations and see if there is an issue. It would have to be a 3rd party unbiased opinion but it may be worth taking a deeper look into the culture. Either way, Sarah was so far out of line and shows no remorse that I can’t see how her coworkers can trust her.

    #5. A sincere thank you note is all that’s required. But don’t over thank, over and over again. Sounds like you did it once verbally. I would maybe do once more in a card, then let it go.

  19. nnn*

    For #1: if you feel that prayer would be useful or helpful, you can still pray for her without telling her that she’s in your prayers. That way she’d get all the benefits, but none of the potential discomfort.

    1. Isobel*

      Yes, this! Tell your colleague you’re thinking of her, offer any practical help possible, and if you want to pray for her, great. My understanding is that prayer is generally between you and God; the subject of the prayer doesn’t need to be told about it (see Matthew 6 v5 for pertinent Bible reference).

  20. KimberlyR*

    #3. I would tell the party planners in plain language that she doesn’t want a party and will feel uncomfortable. If they do it anyway, I think it’s worth it to tell your friend. (If it was a random coworker, maybe not. But since the friendship is there, it makes sense to me.) How horribly uncomfortable for your friend to say “No party!” and have one forced on her anyway.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Can someone make a flow chart?

      Should I throw a party for my coworker / friend / aunt / dog / whoever
      Do they want a party?
      Yes – Okay then

      1. Relly*

        I wonder if part of the problem* is that there are a number of people who will say “goodness, no, I don’t want a party! I wouldn’t want to be the center of attention. I certainly don’t want gifts, at all!!” And then sulk over not getting a party because apparently no one cares, SIGH. I’ve been burned by that in the past, so I’m always left going “okay, level with me, because if you say you don’t want one, you’re not getting one, and that’s final.”

        *PART of the problem. The rest being the number of people who go “pssh of course she wants a party, who doesn’t like a party?!?” and need to be slapped.

        1. Ramona Flowers*

          Sorry you’ve been burned by that, but it’s so not your problem to fix. I think your approach is good and I also think anyone who sulks over that is just reaping what they themselves have sowed!

          1. Myrin*

            Exactly. I’m an intentionally very literal person – as in, I usually get it when people try to subtly guilt me into something or, like here, actually want me to throw a party, but I deliberately ignore it – and it’s beyond satisfying to tell people that, well, that’s not what they said so I did thing this way and not that. Don’t even try that crap with me, seriously.

            1. Bryce*

              I describe it as a self-imposed naivete. I take people at face value because I’ve found that if I try to second-guess them it feeds off depression and various other issues and turns into something far divorced from any reality and resembling paranoia. Not a good place to wind up, I’d rather be a bit gullible.

              1. Allison*

                Same here. I tend to overthink and overanalyze, and sometimes wondering what someone *really* wants, or means, or wants me to understand by reading between the lines can cause a lot of anxiety for me, so I don’t bother. I’ll assume you mean what you say, and if there was some hidden message, too bad, you should have been clearer.

        2. Foreign Octopus*

          I once dated someone who thought that whenever I said I didn’t want something, I was being coy and of course I wanted it because that was how he had been raised to think women acted. He couldn’t seem to wrap his head around the fact that when I said I didn’t want something, it meant I didn’t want something.

          That relationship ended fairly quickly.

          1. Allison*

            Reminds me of an article about this I wrote for my school’s sex week magazine, about how guys often assume women mean “yes” or “maybe” when they say “no,” because women are socialized to be indirect with what we want, and to turn down what we want because we’re not supposed to want it, and men are trained not to listen to women’s words because women don’t mean what they say.

      2. OP#3*

        OP#3 here — thanks for this hilarious flowchart and really all the encouraging feedback. I feel like a tree trying to stand tall in the path of a raging river : )

    2. TootsNYC*

      I would actually tell Jacanda now that a party is being planned, and that Martha is the ring-leader, so she can go tell Martha directly, “I do not want a party.”

  21. Tuxedo Cat*

    I don’t understand what Sarah was thinking. At all. Making accusations like that against someone on social media is dangerous to Jane/Jane’s family. I’m stuck on whether Sarah blatantly lied or whether she actually believed Jane was attending the white supremacist march. If she blatantly lied, wtf? And if she actually believed in her heart that Jane was at that march, why didn’t she go to HR or the OP to ask what was going to be done? I’m baffled that she doesn’t want to apologize- an apology makes up for it, but not apologizing makes it sound like Sarah doesn’t care how harmful her actions were.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      That’s why it’s important to investigate. I’m sure Jane is traumatized by these events. If Sarah had reasons – even if pathetic – it would help Janes recovery. That way it would seem less of a random evil from out of the sky.
      But Sarah needs to be fired.

      1. Lilo*

        The thing is, if Sarah gets wind she is going to be fired over this, I would expect some odd behavior out of her. I would take anything she says at this point with the biggest grain of salt ever. Extinction bursts are common, and OP already knows she makes stuff up.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          Sure she may say anything. She may also say a partial truth.
          Usually these types will say wild things that expose how far they’re willing to go in lying. It will help seal the deal on the firing.

    2. Thlayli*

      It sounds like she did go to HR though … and managed to convince them too with absolutely zero evidence.

      1. Tuxedo Cat*

        I could be wrong, but I interpreted the post as Sarah got everyone riled up by gossiping and then HR felt that they had to do something.

  22. Sheena B.*

    If were Jane, and the company started trying to investigate me and the wider office for racial issues when Sarah made up things about me with no proof, and when asked can’t say why she made up things about me or give an example of my racism I would find a new job and split the second I did. If Sarah wasn’t fired I would leave too. If I wasn’t Jane but someone else who worked there I would consider leaving if Sarah was not fired.

    OP you need to do whatever you can to deal with this before it gets out of control and affects morale [if it has not already]. I know you might feel like you are stuck and firing someone is never fun and usually not easy but you need to consider it in this case. Good luck!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No one has suggested that the company investigate Jane. I suggested that they might take this as a flag to explore whether or not there are broader issues around race in the office, separate from dealing with Jane.

      1. Thlayli*

        Jane and others will probably interpret any investigation leading from this as taking Sarah’s claims seriously. It will have the effect of making people think that sarah must have had some evidence against Jane that wasn’t announced publicly, because why else would there be an investigation? It will have the effect of making some of the mud that sarah has slung stick to Jane.

        1. Mike C.*

          With that sort of reasoning, a company could never investigate any number of serious cultural issues. This isn’t quantum mechanics here, I think there has to be a way to look at what’s going on without such an examination changing anything as it’s happening.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            Yes, thank you. Nobody is suggesting the company needs to start having public investigation hearings and start off questioning people with “As you know, recently Jane was accused of attending a white supremacist rally.”

            1. Creag an Tuire*

              But the allegations are already public news, because Sarah took them to social media. It’s unrealistic to expect people not to connect the two.

          2. JamieS*

            A self aware company will already be cognizant of issues and/or proactively be on the lookout for issues. Thinking people won’t connect an investigation that’s a direct response to an unfounded allegation to the allegation isn’t realistic.

            1. fposte*

              I think a company that started firing an employee first and asking questions second is probably not big on self-awareness, though.

      2. Foreign Octopus*

        This is interesting.

        How would a company go about investigating the broader issues around race in the office? And how could OP suggest such a thing to her company?

        It strikes me that it would be a difficult thing to investigate and measure.

        1. Mary*

          There’s lots of good HR practice around this sort of thing, although none of it is perfect. Company-wide anonymous surveys, staff networks, audits of where your white staff and staff of colour sit and the kind of influence they have on culture and policy decisions, that sort of thing.

          Looking around and seeing whether your upper hierarchy is entirely or overwhelmingly white is a very good place to start. How many Black staff or staff of colour do you have in senior positions? Does it reflect your local population? Is it different at lower-levels? If there was a problem, would your staff of colour feel empowered to speak out, or would they be the only dark face in the room?

      3. Anion*

        In order to mitigate the appearance of “Jane did a bad thing, so we’re investigating,” could the company say something like, “We recently had some allegations made which were proven to be false, but we thought we’d take this as an opportunity to see how people are feeling with regards to this issue, and whether there are any problems people would like to discuss?”

        Acknowledge what happened, but make clear that the investigation is only tangentially related. Would that be a way to handle it, to keep people from suspecting that there *is* an issue with Jane but the company just doesn’t want to admit it?

    2. Snarky*

      #2 – If nothing serious happens to Sarah, what does that mean for those that have to work with her? If I knew that she did this to Jane, I’d steer clear of Sarah as best as I could particularly because the lies were nearly effective and Jane was fortunate enough that she had proof. I get that there has been a long history of inequity in this country and I’m all for examining it to make sure that we aren’t unknowingly perpetuating those things, but this is less of an issue about race and more of an issue about a lie that happened to be about race and I’d treat it as such. I’d talk to Sarah, make sure she understood how severely damaging her actions were, how awful it was for Jane to experience this while mourning the loss of a family member, and ask why she chose not to use any of the normal channels people use when they have interpersonal conflicts with others at work. If I heard anything but serious apologizing and understanding of how wrong she was, I’d fire her.

  23. Relly*

    OP #1, you say there’s nothing you can do from New York, but that may not be true.

    You can’t change the path of Irma, no — but maybe your coworker is especially worried about being stuck in Puerto Rico longer than expected, and needs someone to go feed her pets. Maybe the dry cleaner will toss her stuff if she doesn’t pick it up on time, Irma or no Irma. Sometimes people in a crisis have a thousand little problems along the several big ugly ones, and clearing up any of them makes a difference.

    You might try messaging her with a “if there’s anything I can do that might help, just let me know” and see what she says, if that doesn’t seem like overstepping.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      This is a really lovely idea. I’d include some of these examples, so she knows it’s the kind of thing you mean.

    2. namelesscommentator*

      I really like this – and might even suggest some specific chores like “relieve the dog walker for a day, water the plants” so she knows you’re not just saying platitudes.

    3. Delta Delta*

      This is really good. The LW indicated she’s an intern (I think). This makes me think she may not know the coworker very well or for very long. The offer of assistance and/or good thoughts says “I care about you because you’re a person in a bad situation. I’d like to help.” Offering prayers sort of says the same thing, but unless LW knows how that’ll be received, I’d stay away. But privately, if LW wants to pray, she can certainly do that.

    4. Mary*

      “if there’s anything I can do that might help, just let me know”

      I agree with this, but I strongly recommend making it more concrete. “If there’s anything I can do…” isn’t always that helpful in a crisis because you have no idea how genuinely the other person means it and how much you can reasonably ask. Something like – “if there’s anything I can do from New York – pets to feed, people I can contact for you, any laundry that needs picking up, anything you need posting out, that sort of thing – let me know. Happy to help.”

      It lets the other person know the kind of favour you’re thinking of and can be super helpful.

      Further down the line, there might be stuff like writing to congresspeople or organising fundraising where you can show your concern.

    5. ForeverAnon*

      Relly – I came here to say the exact same thing! My company has a satellite office in Florida and I sent the “well wishes” email and also let them know they’re welcome in the NY office anytime. It’s not much but they were grateful for the email.

    6. Grits McGee*

      Having me as the designated information-disseminator was very helpful for my flood-stricken parents. People’s first instinct is to check to make sure that disaster-affected friends and family are okay, but landlines/cell reception/wifi/internet are often one of the first things to go. My parents were already overwhelmed with trying to deal with the flood waters, and having a single person that could update everyone else took a lot off their plate. Coworker might already have someone doing this, but might appreciate having someone from work helping to field communications from other coworkers.

      1. Veronica*

        When my father died and I had to travel out of state to his funeral, a number of people offered “thoughts and prayers,” which (as a religious person) I truly appreciated. But I also remember the guy (truly, just a slight acquaintance) who said that if I needed someone to feed my pets or water my plants, that he could do that. I had those things covered, but I will never forget the kindness.

  24. Managed Chaos*

    #2, I agree with several other posters that Sarah should be fired. I don’t think there is a way to effectively manage someone who spreads vicious rumors about a co-worker with no proof to back it up.

    1. Anon Accountant*

      I worked with a woman who spread vicious rumors about coworkers and management didn’t fire her but waited until she retired. Her last 3 years at the company any were awful. If she didn’t like you she would tell half truths, outright lies and tarnished reputations of several all because she didn’t like them.

      The result? The company developed a reputation as a poor place to work with a toxic culture. They’re struggling to recruit qualified hires. Just a point of view from coworker who witnessed the results of malicious rumors.

      Poor Jane. I can’t even imagine how she feels or OP with trying to navigate how to proceed.

      1. Anonymous Poster*

        This woman sounds like my father-in-law. Are they related?

        (Feel free to delete. I wish we could fire relatives.)

        1. Sylvan*

          I wish we could fire relatives.

          You can! I recommend it! In fact, my whole family does.

          (Derailing hard. Feel free to delete, also.)

        2. Anon Accountant*

          They might be related! She was a truly awful coworker. Very toxic

          I wish we could fire relatives too. Fire them and get new relatives. :)

      2. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

        The company could state in their ads “Toxic person free since 2016!”. Seriously, I left a workplace because of the toxicity of several persons. The attitude was, “Well, they’re going to retire soon”. Meanwhile there was a revolving door of people being hired and leaving within a few months. At last count 7 persons left a job within an 8 month period. To this day I still see their ads trying to fill the positions.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          This happened to my friend’s ex. Ex worked for a city organization and her coworker was like this–lied all the time, generally unpleasant, troublemaker who thrived on drama. She was due to retire but her behaviour in the interim was so bad Ex finally had to quit to save her own sanity.

      3. Samata*

        I also worked with someone who did this, and turned a lot of people in the office against one another because she had the DOS in her back pocket. I’ve told the story before so I won’t again. Basically she alienated the entire office and finally left on her own ~ they would not fire her and if it hadn’t of been 2006 we would have lost a LOT more people because of managements inability to manage this one. We lost several anyways.

        I say all that to say to OP: If you can’t fire Sarah you need to have a frank discussion with her about the damage her actions did and encourage her to not to present assumptions as fact. Even if her lies had no malice she needs to understand what a seemingly simple misunderstanding can do to one employees reputation and an entire companies culture. Who is going to trust Sarah after this?

  25. Artemesia*

    #4 Strong students often have jobs lined up for after graduation by the end of fall semester. It is expected that students will be applying for and interviewing for jobs during the senior year and many companies actually have hiring cycles where one will have missed the boat if they wait till spring as they have a formalized process with application deadlines long before graduation.

    You can apply and indicate graduation date and availability and if that doesn’t work because the job must be filled quickly, they will reject you or you won’t hear back (more likely) But there is nothing odd about doing this. And it is possible they will put you in a ‘graduates’ pool if they will be considering new grads later.

    1. Purplesaurus*

      Agreed. My workplace is hiring right now, and I know of someone (through another connection) graduating in May who would probably be great. If I could contact that person, I’d urge them to apply. The worst we would decide is that we can’t wait that long.

  26. Amy*

    #2: In regards to Sarah, I think it’s worth pursuing disciplinary action. Even if we assume the best of intentions, she still showed terrible judgement and introduced a lot of tension into the workplace. Her social media posts may have also impacted the company’s reputation. Creating such a serious situation will likely also impact her relations with her other coworkers–who would trust her after something like this? I’d be worried about who she might go after next!

    However, I’m also concerned that the problem might be bigger than Sarah here. A single unsubstantiated, easily-proven-false rumor almost got a person fired. OP, this isn’t a criticism of you personally–I absolutely get that you aren’t Jane’s manager and probably didn’t have a say in how this was handled. But in your shoes (or the shoes of your reports), I’d be worried about my own job security, given how your employer handled this. I would have thought there would be steps like ‘get other sides of the story’ or ‘follow up on rumor to see if there’s anything solid behind it’ before jumping to termination procedures. Do you have any pull when it comes to company policy on this stuff? If you do, maybe you could use that to get some kind of guidelines in place for this kind of situation.

    Since you’re not Jane’s direct manager, it’s probably not your job to handle her anger over this situation. That said, if you take steps to address Sarah’s poor behavior and the company takes steps to prevent this from happening again, I bet that would go a long way towards fixing things. If you haven’t done so, maybe also consider explicitly telling your team something like, “I’ve heard these rumors going around, and I want you to know they’re not true.” That might help mitigate the impact of this on Jane’s work relationships, which could also help.

    1. Thlayli*

      Absolutely. As someone said above it’s like a witch hunt. If you can get someone fired by gossip that is not a good company to be in.

    2. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

      If Jane can be fired based on rumours, the Sarah can be fired based on real hard evidence (her emails and social media posts).

  27. Amy*

    #4: When I was applying to jobs my senior year, I sent in applications to whatever I was interested in, and just made sure my graduation date/availability to work was clear in my resume and cover letter. It’s pretty normal to be hunting before graduation, I think. Some positions won’t be able to accommodate a delay and won’t bother interviewing you (I also made sure to mention my availability in phone interviews when I got them, just in case, but it was never a problem, so I think the resume/cover letter approach was enough to weed out poor fits). Others will be fine with it. You’ll never know which this is unless you try–just be upfront about it and see what happens!

  28. Not Australian*

    Re: #2 – I’m not in the US, so there may be cultural differences I’m not aware of, but I’m appalled that the organisation actually started the termination process on Jane without investigating Sarah’s claims properly beforehand. While most of the blame for the situation is rightly falling on Sarah for instigating it, there are definitely questions to be asked about what seems like a very rushed and uninformed decision-making process. If I were Jane, I’d be pretty upset that my employer hadn’t delved more deeply before pressing the ‘fire’ button; they seem to have been willing to swallow Sarah’s allegations without requiring so much as a single shred of proof.

    [To be clear, I understand entirely that Jane was able to prove the allegations weren’t true. I’m saying that the employer seems to have moved towards termination at far too early a point in the process – zero tolerance policy or not!]

  29. Traffic_Spiral*

    LW#1: Yeah, unless the person specifically said they wanted ‘prayers’ – don’t. Honestly, even a ‘thinking of you’ is kinda empty in this situation. Either send a ‘let me know if there’s anything I can do to help’ or keep quiet.

    LW#2: Ooh, yeah, fire that loon. Investigate first to make sure there isn’t some huge misunderstanding, but if there was someone like that in my office and they weren’t fired, I’d be sending out resumes the next day. No one wants to spend time in an office wondering when the crazy lady will turn on them.

  30. Oscar Madisoy*

    In response to 2. Employee falsely accused a coworker of attending a white supremacist march, specifically:

    Jane really did attend a funeral . . . . . She provided proof of the funeral to HR after they had began the termination process for her.

    (boldface added)

    The OP asked “As Sarah’s manager, what should I be doing to make this situation right?”

    I think the only thing the OP can do is fire Sarah. Immediately. Sarah’s actions almost cost Jane her job. And because Sarah “had no evidence when she made these claims[,] has not apologized or shown regret for accusing Jane and when asked she cannot point to a single time Jane was racist towards her or anyone else,” Jane should be given the opportunity to be present when Sarah gets fired, so she can see that the company has her back.

    On the other hand, the part about the company having her back part may be too late. If the company was willing to fire Jane because one person said she did a bad thing, without any evidence and without getting Jane’s side of the story, Jane might want to seriously consider finding a new job with an employer who doesn’t have a “guilty until proven innocent” mindset.

    And Jane should definitely look into suing Sarah for everything she’s got.

    1. LS*

      Oscar, I completely agree with everything you’ve said except for this: “Jane should be given the opportunity to be present when Sarah gets fired, so she can see that the company has her back”. That’s unprofessional, and sets a precedent for public shaming.

      1. Thlayli*

        Well sarah didn’t have a problem with public shaming when she was doing it to Jane. But yeah I agree, two wrongs don’t make a right. It would be childish of the company to allow Jane to witness the firing.

        I agree with everything else oscar said tho

        1. LS*

          The company has an obligation to maintain professional norms regardless of how poorly their staff behave, I can’t see that this is even up for debate.

      2. Lady Phoenix*

        I agree. The company should INFORM Jane that Sarah/The person responsible for the rumors has been fired and that the company will support Jane.

      1. Amy*

        Are you referring to the possibility of actual underlying racial tensions? I think that’s really a concurrent concern to disciplining Sarah, not an either/or. It would be good for OP/the company to look into whether there are broader problems; that’s something I would hope most managers keep an eye out for anyways, especially in times when racial tensions are flaring nationwide. But that doesn’t change the fact that Sarah’s behavior here was pretty outrageous and inappropriate; even if she legitimately believed what she was saying and there are racial problems in the workplace, spreading untrue and unsubstantiated rumors to get someone fired isn’t an acceptable way to handle that.

    2. Isabelle*

      I’m astounded that the company was willing to terminate one employee merely because another employee accused her of attending a nazi march, without providing any proof. Something is terribly wrong with OP’s HR department.

      If I was back from a funeral, still grieving my relative and I had to provide proof I really attended the funeral and not a nazi march(!), I would not be providing that proof but go straight to a lawyer instead. And yes, Sarah needs to go. The fact that HR let her get away with unfunded accusations scot-free is once again, astounding. They are grossly incompetent and put the company in danger of being sued.

      For what it’s worth I feel it’s really unfair that OP has to deal with this mess which Sarah and HR created.

  31. GermanGirl*

    #4 please apply! We’d take a great fit in 9 month over a maybe fit today (almost) any time. We’d interview you and if we decide we want you, we’ll offer you a contract with the starting date you want.

    This might be field dependent but if you use Alison’s script about being aware that the starting date might not work, it can’t hurt to try.

  32. LS*

    OP2, I usually agree with Alison in this case I really disagree.

    1. If Sarah had gone to HR or her line manager and said that she had suspicions but no proof, that’s acceptable.
    2. Falsely accusing Jane to HR or her line manager is worse and there should be consequences for that.
    3. What Sarah actually did, spreading baseless and defamatory gossip via email and social media is really and truly awful, and I would fire her, unless there were significant mitigating circumstances (and I can’t think of any).

    And HR started the termination process without any evidence? WTH??? Whoever did that should also be subject to disciplinary action.

    I haven’t had time to read all the comments, so apologies if I’m repeating what others have already said, but this really angered me and feel that I need to comment.

    1. Thlayli*

      You are repeating what others said but actually you’re doing it very eloquently – much more so than I!

  33. hbc*

    #2: Since it sounds like she’s not being fired outright, I would make crystal clear to Sarah that her continued employment depends on three things:

    1) Some explanation of what she did that mitigates what looks like a clear cut case of slander and libel. It doesn’t have to be good enough to excuse the lies, but all there is now is a malicious lie that nearly got someone fired. If (as an unlikely and extreme example) Sarah woke up to a burning cross in her yard the morning that she started the rumors, it would still be inexcusable, but at least there’s a reason she was off-kilter.

    2) An apology to Jane, in whatever medium Jane prefers. In person would usually be better, but if I were Jane, I wouldn’t want to be in the same room with Sarah for a good long while and would prefer an email.

    3) A retraction and apology by Sarah over social media and by email to everyone who was told the lie. Whatever mitigation was offered in #1 will not be mentioned.

    Without those three, I don’t see a way forward with Sarah on the team. I would lose all respect for my company if my coworkers could throw provably false accusations, nearly get an innocent person fired, and skate by with no visible consequences.

    1. Anonnyish Today*

      Yeah. I find myself wondering if the whole thing might have started as a mistake (to be clear, the way it was escalated and broadcast still means Sarah probably needs to go and that OP’s company should be side-eyeing their HR pretty hard).

      Maybe I’ve noticed it more since I live in that part of the country, but I’ve seen a lot of misnaming of Charlottesville in the wake of the violence—even on political blogs, i.e., people paying close attention to the protests. Mostly I’ve seen “Charlotte,” but I’ve also seen “Charlotte Town” and “Charleston”…one of which is in West Virginia, and has an airport. Sarah may have seen that Jane was headed to Charleston and drawn an incorrect (and maybe convenient for Sarah, I don’t know) conclusion.

      Even if that’s how it started, though, things obviously took a turn for the evil.

      1. SusanIvanova*

        Even if the funeral had been in Charlottesville itself, that’s still no excuse for broadcasting her suspicions on social media.

      2. Anion*

        Yes, but. For me, if I heard a co-worker went to a town where a Nazi march and large counter-protest took place, I’d assume said co-worker was attending the counter-protest, because I assume goodwill. I wouldn’t immediately decide my co-worker must be a white supremacist, and be so certain of that assumption that I thought it was a good idea to spread that news far & wide.

        And let’s not forget that if Sarah’s place of work is linked to her social media in any way, her actions have now resulted in people online seeing that an employee of X is a supporter of Nazis. It’s not just Jane she libeled here just because she couldn’t be bothered to check her facts or behave like a reasonable, responsible adult–she’s also libeled her employer.

      3. Sarah*

        I mean, even if Jane were attending a funeral in Charlottesville, you can’t exactly control where your relatives died and the funeral is being held. I can imagine that if it happened to be the case that the funeral were held at the same time as Nazi marches were going on, that would be extra depressing/difficult, because your relative is still dead but now you’re grieving in this extra awful context. Honestly I don’t understand how a comment of going to Charlottesville — even if that WERE where Jane were headed — would immediately translate into “to attend a Nazi march” — obviously Jane could also have been going there for the large counter-protests, or for an unrelated reason! It’s not enough to start a massive rumor like this!

  34. Philosophy Prof...*

    On thanking the professor… As part of your correspondence, you could offer to participate in events for the department when they need alumni — as a recent grad, you’d be a great representative for recruitment events etc..

    1. Cassandra*

      Staying in touch with the department/school may also be a low-effort/high-impact way to give back. Our career-services person relies heavily on a nationwide network of alumni willing to take a quick call or email along the lines of “hey, we have a new graduate moving out to your area, their specialty is X and they’re amazing at Y and Z, any employers or local professional groups they should connect with?”

      We wouldn’t have the high placement rate we do without our alumni. I (instructor) work hard at rec letters, reference calls, connections, and the like, but one person’s network can only ever be tiny compared with many people’s networks.

    2. Ghost Town*

      Especially if you are staying in the same geographic area and/or are able to get back in town with relative ease. Finding alumni who are willing AND able to participate in events can sometimes be tricky.

  35. lamuella*

    #1 yeah, keep it to “thoughts” unless you know this person is religious. Prayer is a very personal matter, and reactions to it can be just as personal.

    #3 planning a surprise party for someone who has expressed their wish not to have one is a really horrible disregard of their feelings. As someone who gets socially anxious, I dread the time around my birthday at work in case someone does a Mandatory Fun Event. For something like this, where wishes have been clearly expressed, I would genuinely walk out if someone tried to do this to me. With all the embarrassment and hurt feelings that doing so would cause. if they disregarded my feelings over not wanting a party, I would feel no obligation to play the role of guest.

  36. MuseumChick*

    Sarah needs to be let go. She has already been unable to think of one instance for Jane doing or saying anything that would cause Sarah to think Jane was a racist.

  37. Lady Phoenix*

    #2: i dispise Nazis. I think the are worthless with this heir constant need to stew on hatred and brag about it. If a Nazi lost their job, home, whatever…. I am not gonna care.

    That being said, I understand people can be mistaken for something they are not. The I understand that in the wake of this ugliness, there might be people out there that might be mistaken for these cretins just be of racial similiarities. There is a saying about how there are at least 3
    People who look like you walking this Earth so… yeah, this is when these companies need to do their research.

    The fact that Sarah lied about this accused Jane who was in grieving, almost got Jane fired, has not apologized, and has not stated a reason to accuse Jane… shows a rather ugly side to Sarah that will hurt your company.

    Gire Sarah. She is a dishonest person. If there is a racial disparity problem in the office, I would investigate through other means and not trust the word of a liar. And if Jane decides to file a libel suit, she should have the freedom to do so.

  38. Miss Elaine e*

    I’m no lawyer, but couldn’t Jane sue Sarah and the company for libel, slander, defamation of character, hostile work environment, etc.? (Yeah, I know, it takes time and money and the only ones who win are the lawyers, but if I were Jane I’d certainly consider it. Perhaps the OP could suggest the company consider that aspect.)

      1. Observer*

        No, she’d probably recommend that the workplace should look into whether there is an issue of islamaphobia.

        Unlikely – she wasn’t almost fired for membership in a protected class, or perception thereof, either. Outside of government agencies, political affiliation is not a protected classification.

    1. Lilo*

      She could probably sue Sarah, the company is iffier depending on some factors. Acutally going to court in these cases is rare. The cases are a bit difficult because she would have to calculate the cost to her reputation and recovery from someone like Sarah may not be worth the financial cost. However having a lawyer draft a letter demanding action to the company and Sarah might be effective for Jane. If I was Jane’s friend I would have her speak to someone specializing in employment law.

      1. who?*

        Yes, this is what I would do. Talk to a lawyer, draft a letter. Even if you don’t intend to/can’t sue due to the costs at least you’ll be taken seriously. I could not imagine being Jane in this situation and having Sarah face zero consequences.

      2. fposte*

        If you’re interested in a defamation suit, you don’t want an employment attorney; that’s a separate area of law. (It wouldn’t seem from what’s described that it was an illegally discriminatory action, so it wouldn’t be a wrongful termination or a hostile work environment.)

        1. fposte*

          To clarify, I think it’s fine for Jane to consult an employment lawyer in this clusterfudge and would have recommended it if she’d been fired; it’s just that that’s not where you want to take a defamation suit.

        2. Lilo*

          I suggested an employment letter because I think how the employer handled this wa the bigger legal issue. Suing Sarah for libel is not likely to go anywhere.

          1. TootsNYC*

            Not a lawyer, but I think the opposite is true.

            The libel / slander is a slam-dunk win. And a big issue.

            The company has retracted and may not have widely disseminated what their actions were, so there’s probably not actual damage. And political views, even wrongly ascribed ones, are not a protected class.

            1. Anion*

              I’m pretty sure political views are a protected class in Washington DC (just as a brief aside and not disagreement with your comment in general–the OP is unlikely to be from there, of course).

          2. gmg*

            IANAL either, but we had to study libel law in journalism school. The standard to show libel is if the person who made the claim (in this case in print — written words on social media would meet this) did so either knowing it was false and would harm the object (malice) or with reckless disregard for the truth (negligence).

            If what we are told here is accurate, I’d say Jane has a case. The allegation was clearly harmful to her reputation (her employer almost fired her), which is the other standard that needs to be met.

      3. Brandy*

        This sounds like the company yesterday, supporting Perciviel over Wakeen. “Lets fire Jane with no proof and support this liar”

        1. TootsNYC*

          That’s not fair to yesterday’s company! They DID fire Percival.

          In fact, they may have acted too quickly to fire him, because the UNION was able to get him reinstated.

  39. I Herd the Cats*

    #3 — I’m the person who plans parties or lunches for people who are leaving/retiring. There are a surprising (unsurprising?) number of folks who absolutely do NOT want any attention paid to them via such activities. When I find out from HR that someone will be leaving, I ask the person how they would like it handled. Everyone in the office knows that if there’s no festivities announced, that person didn’t want any. There’s a company-wide announcement from the CEO regarding the departure, with praise and best wishes, etc., and folks are free to stop by the person’s office to pay their respects. Throwing a party for someone who has clearly indicated they don’t want one baffles me.

  40. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

    No. 2 Sarah told, wrote and constantly repeated unfounded lies about a co-worker. She was confronted with evidence refuting her claims and refused to own her malicious actions. She needs to be gone NOW before she permanently destroys someone else’s life. Her co-workers will treat her like Wakeem who refused to notify his co-worker of a family emergency. For the sake of decency get her gone ASAP.

  41. val*

    OP#5 — I agree with a handwritten note for followup, and maybe even followup again in a year or so to update and thank again. This professor may be a lifelong connection for you. And the other great thing you can do is pay it forward. Someday you’ll be in a position to think of someone who would be good for an opportunity. Be the person who hears of a job opening, thinks, “Oh, that would be right up Jane’s alley,” and then follows through.

    1. east*

      Another thing that could be done and be certainly kind is mention it to whomever supervises /manages / could have a meaningful impact on the professor’s work. When someone goes far beyond what’s expected, it’s a good idea to bring it to the attention of those who could use that information to recognise the extra effort.

      1. attie*

        Tenured professors don’t really have supervision any more. It changes a bit by country so I’m not 100% about how it works in the US, but where I come from the only people that have the power to punish or reward professors in any significant way is the facilities admin staff that can prioritize other people on office space requests!

        The other thing professors are dependent on is funding for PhD and post-doc positions, but these are assigned by the university by a points system based on how many papers and PhD theses you publish – or funded on external grant money.

        It’s a big factor in why there’s so often a “unless you’re in academia, then all of this crazy stuff is normal” disclaimer on discussions of professional norms here!

  42. Employment Lawyer*

    1. Offering prayers to a coworker
    Do you think it’s okay for me to DM her on Slack and tell her that I’m praying for her and her family?

    No. If you don’t know her well enough to have her cell number and tell her personally, this is unwise.

    2. Employee falsely accused a coworker of attending a white supremacist march
    Fire Sarah, the accuser. She lied, she inserted herself into something that was none of her business, and she almost got “Jane” fired. You don’t want people like that working for you; they are toxic. You also don’t want your employees to start lining up and assuming you’ll fire people because they hold political views which are unpopular–yes, nazis are an exception but it is unlikely to stop there.

    3. My colleagues are trying to force a retirement party on someone who doesn’t want one
    Ask a question: “Jane has made it clear she does not want a party and that she would find a party uncomfortable. It would be highly disrespectful to ignore that, and it would force her to end her career on a sour note. What makes you think that would be a good idea?”

      1. The Other Dawn*

        I agree. If they keep pushing it, I think it’s fine to call them out on it and question WHY they’re pushing it so hard. I suspect it’s a combination of wanting to feel good about doing something for someone else, and the tiniest of doubts that maybe the retiree really does want a party and doesn’t want to say so. (The latter is something I have to keep in check myself, as I’m always wondering if maybe, just maybe, Susie really does want a party and if we don’t do anything she’ll feel really bad and they it’s my fault.)

        1. Anon Accountant*

          Yes this. They may think “everyone else had a retirement party and she may feel like we didn’t care enough about her retirement” or be seen as “you can have parties for everyone else but didn’t for her. Was this due to a personal conflict”.

          I think a signed card and a small gift without a party would be nice. A plant, personalized coffee mug or something. Skip the party but a nice retirement gift and card would be nice.

    1. Elsajeni*

      Oh, I really like that as a test for #1. You’re exactly right, it’s one of those things that might be fine with someone you know well enough to know that they’d appreciate it — but it sounds like the OP and her coworker aren’t there.

    2. Sorin*

      As someone who does not know much about non-continental travel, do US coverage plans typically cover Puerto Rico?

      1. Candi*

        From one angle, Puerto Rico is a US territory, so it’s likely it’s covered by cell “US & Canada” plans. “All North America” plans may or may not apply.

        From another angle, it depends on the infrastructure to support cell/internet communications to send wired or wireless signals. That can be hit or miss -especially with a hurricane thinking about a night on the town.

    3. nonegiven*

      We need cake! We deserve to spend two hours in the break room eating cake and drinking punch and not working.

  43. Anecdata*

    OP4 : If it’s listed as a new graduate position, it would be very common that they don’t want someone to start until Summer 2018 – the conventions on hiring timeline are just different, and many companies interview and make offers during the fall semester. Same thing if it came through your university career services, or if they attended on-campus career fairs, or are doing on-campus interviews, etc.

    If it’s generically “entry level”, that’s ambiguous – some of these are meant to be filled immediately, and some are open to waiting until next year.

    Either way, I think this is common enough to apply in this circumstance to not worry about what impression you’re giving. Just make it clear in your cover letter or resume. A common way of doing this is to put “Bachelor’s of Teapot Studies, expected May 2018”, in your education section, and maybe “I am graduating in May 2018 with a Bachelor’s in Teapot Studies from Spout State University, and …” in your cover letter.

    (at least, I hire for entry-level positions – and sometimes I can wait for graduation and sometimes I can’t – but it’s never given me a “that’s weird” to get applications from current seniors. It would only get into weird territory if someone were applying more than a full academic year from their anticipated graduation date).

  44. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I think OP#2 should have a serious conversation with Sarah about why she thought Jane would march with white supremacists.

    However, something that no one has mentioned yet is that it appears Sarah is a POC and the optics around punishing a POC for calling out white supremacy could get very sticky even if Jane didn’t actually participate in a march. I think Alison is correct that OP should take a good look at the racial dynamics in the office. Just because Sarah couldn’t name any specific overt racist actions doesn’t mean there aren’t microaggressions happening.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        The letter says when asked she cannot point to a single time Jane was racist towards her or anyone else.

        That reads to me like Sarah is a POC.

        1. RVA Cat*

          This. I could see there being long-simmering tensions, though, if say Jane is vocally anti-immigration and Sarah is Latina. Maybe Jane is ranting about undocumented immigrants and doesn’t count Sarah as one of “those people” because she is a citizen, however Sarah may know and love people who are undocumented.

        2. Jubilance*

          Actually that reads to me like Sarah isn’t a POC – as a person of color in the corporate world, I can give you numerous examples where I’ve been given feedback that was clearly biased, or treated differently. POC who have been slighted by casual racism/bias/microaggressions don’t forget that.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            That’s a good point. My reading was solely based on the reference to “racist against her” which implied that Jane could have been.

          2. Foreign Octopus*

            Reading your comment, I have to agree with you.

            I’m going to have to compare it with sexism because I don’t have the experience that you’ve had with racism (me being the whitest of white) but I vividly recall every instance of casual sexism, bias, and microaggressions that you speak of.

            I also think of this in the context of men saying “I’ve experienced sexism as well” in order to derail the conversation from actual problems.

            When it’s part of your life like that, you remember it (and I hope you don’t mind that I used sexism as an example but, as mentioned, I can’t speak to experiencing racism).

            That being said, how do you handle instances like that in the corporate world? Do you call them out on the spot? Or is it more insidious than that and harder to call out?

          3. Observer*

            Either that, or Jane actually doesn’t act in a racist manner, nor does she commit microaggressions on a regular basis.

    1. Emi.*

      You wouldn’t be “punishing a POC for calling out white supremacy,” though. You’d be punishing someone for making false and baseless accusations, which is totally different. From an optics perspective, it’s important to make sure people know you investigated the accusation (which should have been step #1, jeez) and fired Sarah based on finding that she made it up (or jumped to wild conclusions), but you can’t keep her around just because she’s a POC complaining about alleged racism. That’s both nuts and condescending.

      1. LadyPhoenix*

        Not to mention she has proven her dishonesty. Would you trust abything she said or reported after maliciously and unremoursefully tried to get someone fired to the point of making a smear campaign.

    2. neverjaunty*

      I’m really struggling to see here how falsely accusing a co-worker WHO WAS ATTENDING A FUNERAL of actually going to a Nazi rally is “calling out white supremacy”. Or, indeed, how it does a damn thing to address white supremacy in the office, other than making people less willing to hear about it because of Sarah’s false accusations, which apparently aren’t even backed up by “well I assumed Jane was doing that because she always talks about how the white race is in peril”.

      We also don’t know that either Sarah or Jane were women of color. White people can say racist things to one other, and sadly do.

      1. Aurion*

        And I’ll add that if the company fires Sarah (and I really, really think they should), it should be accompanied with an explanation of why–which would completely mitigate the issue of bad optics of “POC fired for calling out white supremacy” if Sarah is indeed a POC.

        Sarah made this public with emails to colleagues and social media. Company can’t redact Sarah’s personal social media accounts, but they can, and should, correct the public record of opinion in the company.

    3. Nonprofit Chicago*

      I think this is a good point. I think Sarah should be terminated for all the reasons laid out above. But when doing the termination, it will be important to clearly document the causes, in case Sarah tries to pursue legal action against the company for wrongful termination or an EEOC complaint (this could happen regardless of whether or not Sarah is a POC). Sarah isn’t being terminated for calling out white supremacy, she’s being terminated for making an egregious allegation that later proved false, not following company policy in reporting it to HR, but instead sharing it with her coworkers and on social media that risked reputational damage to her colleague and the entire company.

      You’ll want to consult with legal, but I do think you should meet with Sarah along the lines Alison recommends, and then document the conversation carefully. You’ve already have a lot of information needed to build the case – you have evidence the allegation was false, you have social media posts that Sarah shared about Jane, you may have already spoken to Sarah because your letter mentions that she couldn’t speak to why/how she thought Jane would attend the march. Investigate and figure out if Sarah went through normal company procedures for reporting this type of thing, and if she didn’t, include that in the documentation. Once you have that put together, you can proceed with the termination. Since Sarah uses social media and appears vocal about her thoughts, maybe consider offering severance in return for signing a non-disclosure. The goal is to remove Sarah from the company as the behavior is unacceptable, and minimize reputational risk to Jane and the company writ-large.

      Agree that there should be an investigation into the culture, but that should be separate from Sarah’s actions.

    4. Gazebo Slayer*

      Yeah, I mentioned above the risk that Sarah might react to being fired by going public, doubling down on her false claim that Jane is a white supremacist, and crying that her company fired her and kept Jane because they’re racist. Which could lead to an epic shitstorm.

      However, making up a lie that your coworker who was attending the funeral of a relative was marching with the Klan is not “calling out white supremacy” – it’s vicious and disgusting slander regardless of Sarah’s race. Actually, it will have pretty much the opposite effect from “calling out white supremacy” – it will discourage her coworkers from believing people of color about *actual* racism. Such a lie is an act of cruelty not only to Jane but also to every single person of color who works at or will ever work at Jane and Sarah’s employer. (In fact, it could even have repercussions beyond the company by making Jane and Sarah’s white coworkers more inclined to think people who point out racism are liars, which could negatively effect OTHER people of color they know.)

      I could see *not* firing Sarah if she was honestly mistaken – if she saw pictures circulating on social media of a marcher who looked amazingly similar to Jane, if someone else originated the rumor and Sarah innocently believed it and wanted to warn her coworkers that Jane was a potentially dangerous person – but even so I’d be having a VERY serious conversation. But if Sarah made it up? No. If she made it up, she absolutely needs to be gone no matter what, for the sake of Jane and everyone else at the company who doesn’t deserve to be a potential target of Sarah’s next smear campaign.

      The company – and Jane – need to be ready to defend themselves with proof that Jane was at the funeral, not the rally. They need to be careful of the optics, yes, and they need to be aware that they may have actual problems with institutional racism (which may or may not have something to do with Sarah’s motivations). But they shouldn’t keep an utterly toxic walking slander suit employed there out of fear of what it might look like. Sure, Sarah might make a public stink if she’s fired. But if she’s NOT fired, the company might start hemorrhaging employees because no one wants to be her next victim.

  45. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #1

    I agree with Alison. It’s better to avoid saying that OP is praying for the coworker when she doesn’t know her well enough to know whether that would be welcomed or not. Many people are uncomfortable with it for many different reasons.

    I’m not religious at all. I guess I’d call myself agnostic, leaning a little more towards atheist as the years go by. When someone tells me they’re praying for me, it annoys the crap out of me. Yes, I really do know that they mean well and that’s their way of expressing it, but I feel like they’re pushing their beliefs on me. It annoys me most when it’s a stranger or acquaintance. You don’t know me well enough to care THAT much to pray for me. (Same goes for a certain person dating a family member, who tells me how proud she is of me, that she loves me, the family, etc. You don’t even really know me! How can you be proud of me and love me?? I digress…) It doesn’t bother me really when one particular cousin says it, though, because I know that she’s religious and that’s how she expresses her love to friends and family.

    1. TootsNYC*

      You are not alone.

      And speaking as a Christian, I agree with you that when someone says “I’ll pray for you,” they ARE “witnessing,” which is “pushing their religion on you.” Same as when people say, “Have a blessed day.”

      And I also really hate the “I’m proud of you” phrase. Like, you have to have STANDING in my life before you get to be proud of me. I may say “I’m proud to say I knew her when” if a colleague goes on to bigger and better things, but I don’t get to be proud of her.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        “Like, you have to have STANDING in my life before you get to be proud of me.”

        Yes! This particular person just gushes and it comes off very fake. I think that’s part of the problem I have with hugging. When someone I love or care about wants to hug me, fine. But when someone I barely know “loves” me and wants to hug me? Nope. Fake City.

  46. Blueberry*

    #2. OP please give Jane the advice to see a lawyer about a slander lawsuit against Sarah. This is a serious accusation and even now that it was proven false Jane will probably still have to fight to keep her reputation intact.

    I don’t usually just jump to lawyers and lawsuits but this can really affect her professional reputation in ways she can’t even see yet.

    1. Menacia*

      I was just coming here to say this! I was wondering if Jane had a case against Sarah for slandering her because regardless that Jane had the proof for her company she was attending the funeral, not everyone Sarah notified (on social media!) would know and so her reputation may be irreparably damaged.

      I would love to know Sarah’s perspective and why she felt it necessary to do this to Jane.

  47. Yorick*

    #3 – maybe Jacaranda could plan whatever tiny retirement thing that she’d be comfortable with (donuts in break room, etc.), and then the coworkers would have to go along.

  48. caryatis*

    WTF is up with LW2’s workplace? I would be extremely worried if I were in a place where HR would “start the termination process” based on an unfounded rumor spread by one wacko with zero evidence.

    1. Brandy*

      this reminds me of the Catholic school on Judge Mablean, that fired a teacher for getting pregnant. She had a long term boyfriend and could have been married, but keeping it low key. They fired her without proof she was unmarried. They never confirmed anything.
      Confirm stuff before firing over it. What if she had had no proof. I couldn’t provide prrof when my grandmother died. There were no programs.

  49. MC Bennett*

    “you shouldn’t ignore the possibility that there are racial dynamics in your office that are bigger than this one incident. It’s worth educating yourself about whatever that larger picture might be”

    Thanks for saying this, Alison.

  50. Brett*

    #2 Several of my friends have been participating in Nazi tracking facebook groups and websites. Locally, Nazi tracking facebook and twitter groups have made the news several times (just yesterday even), because they were right and uncovered people who participated at the Charlottesville rally or other racist actions.

    It is entirely possible that Sarah participates in one of those groups or at least has friends or family who participate in such a group. Using social media as a tool to out Nazis is a common part of what the tracking groups do.

    One of the things the groups have been tracking is people who took time off around Charlottesville and went silent on social media during that time, and use that as a start to build evidence of the person’s activities. If this is how Sarah built up her evidence, I could definitely see her refusing to tell the company about it to protect the group while also still firmly believing that Jane attended the rally. (And may still believe that Jane attended the rally and used the real funeral to cover it.) Why protect the group? Because plenty of other people have made threats of violence and other retaliation against people participating in the tracking groups.
    I don’t know how you deal with that, but just want to express that it is entirely plausible Sarah believes Jane attended while also not wanting to turn over evidence to her manager because of the source of the evidence. (Maybe even HR has “proof” she provided, but it is not flowing downstream to Sarah’s manager?)

    1. Been there*

      I’m going to stay away from the vigilante tracking topic other than to say that while I think they are well intentioned I believe they are dangerous. But will comment on the last few sentences. I would have to believe that if Sarah produced credible proof to HR that didn’t make it to the OP then wouldn’t Jane’s termination have gone through.

      If she had credible evidence, then why would Sarah have gone off on the campaign via social media and email to coworkers? That doesn’t strike me as a person who is concerned about a racist coworker, it leads me to believe this was an intentional smear campaign.

      1. Mary*

        It depends if it was actually a campaign and how it came to HR’s attention? Like, I could easily read this letter to say “mentioned it to 2-3 people and a locked post on Facebook in the context of “what do you think I should do about this” and then went to HR. LW says “told everyone” and “told people and said it on email and on social media” – I mean, “everyone” and “people” is pretty vague. One possibility is that Jane told a ton of people and HR acted on a widespread rumour and no evidence, or another is that Jane discussed it with a small number of people in her immediate team and made a formal report to HR that HR decided was credible.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I can’t easily read the letter that way, and I think it’s really a stretch that you’re attempting to do so. Everyone might be vague, but there’s absolutely no rationale to interpret it to mean “2-3 people.” Complained about Jane on social media doesn’t get into a lot of detail, but it certainly doesn’t sound like “posted a question on a locked post asking for thoughtful discussion about what she should do regarding her suspicions.”

        2. Observer*

          The OP mentions that Sara not only mentioned it on social media but also made the complaint several times in various emails.

    2. Observer*

      If this is the standard of “proof” these guys use, then they have ZERO credibility. Which is to say that your explanation does nothing to make Sara sound better, but only stands as accusation of these groups as becoming the new McCarthy.

    3. Ramona Flowers*

      Well it sounds like they should all be a bit more careful, given people take time off for other reasons, like funerals.

    4. Thlayli*

      Your friends are either stupid or not very nice people. This method is so extremely likely to catch innocent people in their net that only an utter moron wouldn’t realise that.

    5. Rubies*

      You can’t use a real funeral in West Virginia as a cover for a rally in the SEPARATE state of Virginia. Charlottesville, VA, is located over 100 miles from the WV state line. WV is a big state, so you could go hours past that to a funeral.

      1. Brett*

        No, not always. Facebook groups of politically like-minded people, regardless of the politics, can create vicious echo chambers of justification. (That has been going on since the days of online bulletin board systems.)
        I have taken a hiatus in talking to some of these friends, though.

        1. Anion*

          Good for you–they really can be vicious echo chambers, and that kind of unpleasantness can spread into all areas of someone’s life and affect others.

        1. Anion*

          Okay, so what would you call people who spend their time sifting through the communications of private citizens in an attempt to publicly shame them and permanently damage their livelihoods and lives for the “crime” of having opinions of which they disapprove? Not because they committed criminal acts, but simply because they *think* the wrong thing? The ACLU defended the KKK’s right to march back in the 80s; those 500 or so disgusting white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville were engaging in constitutionally protected speech, whether we like it or not.

          People who spend their time policing the thoughts of others and seeking to damage those who don’t think the way they do most certainly are fascists. It doesn’t matter how abhorrent those thoughts may be to you or me or any other decent person. Thoughts are not crimes. Statements of opinion are not crimes. Marching for a revolting cause is not a crime. Attempting to crush other people’s freedom of thought, attempting to destroy the lives of those who do not think the way they do, attempting to silence others and enforce “correct” thinking through fear and intimidation, is what fascists do. That is true regardless of motives, and people who claim to be against fascism absolutely can engage in fascistic behavior/become fascists themselves (and have done so).

          If the thought of one of these groups deciding you have said, thought, believed, or written the “wrong” thing, and publicly doxxing you and dragging you through the mud because of it, if the thought of only being allowed to express certain “approved” thoughts or ideas, doesn’t terrify you (someone who claims to be a writer?), and if that behavior doesn’t qualify as fascism to you, then I don’t know what to tell you.

  51. CMDRBNA*

    Re: #2, wow. If I were Jane I would hit Sarah with a defamation lawsuit. That is a very, very serious accusation to make and I find it mind-boggling that the company began termination proceedings without making an effort to find out the truth, which was pretty easy to confirm!

    Sarah needs to go, sorry. This goes beyond employees sniping at each other, which is bad enough. She’s actively working to destroy someone’s reputation in a really vile way.

  52. Menacia*

    OP #3 – One of my biggest anxieties when I leave my job is that they will want to have a farewell party for me. I barely made it through my wedding as I absolutely hate being the center of attention. I’m an introvert by nature and get overwhelmed very easily, to the point where my mind just goes somewhere else and I can’t keep up with what is going on around me. It’s not a good feeling, and it’s worse when others “with good intentions” insist on having one for someone who does not, and has even made it crystal clear to everyone. I also hate the whole “let’s keep it a secret” perspective because it’s just made more apparent to the person who does not want the party that their wishes are moot.

  53. Big10Professor*

    #5 — As a college professor, the biggest favor students can do for me after graduation is stay in touch and help subsequent groups of students. It’s always helpful when I can connect students to recent grads (3-5 years out), not necessarily for specific job leads, but for general mentoring and advice in the field. I have lots of big execs that want to come to my class as guest speakers, but my undergrads really appreciate talking to entry-level alumni who can give them a real picture of their career path.

  54. Xarcady*

    #2. Sarah lied about a co-worked in order to get that co-worker fired. That’s fact. Temporarily taking the racism aspect out of the picture, what would the LW’s company do to discipline an employee who lied in order to get a fellow co-worker fired? That’s what needs to be done to Sarah.

    It is possible that Sarah’s actions were the result of racism. But there should be other channels within the company to deal with that–and Sarah chose not to use them. Sarah should be fired for her actions, not what prompted those actions.

    I realize the racial aspects of the situation are a cause for concern and would urge the LW to follow up on that aspect of the situation. But bottom line, Sarah lied with malicious intent, and that’s what needs to be dealt with.

    #3. If someone doesn’t want a party, they do not want a party. And will be pretty upset at having the party forced upon them. Instead of the surprise party, is there any way to channel the party-planning energy into something Jacaranda might actually like? Fundraising a donation to her favorite charity? Officially naming something in the office the “Jacaranda Memorial Coffee Pot/Flagpole/Stairway/Help Desk” and putting up a plaque? Designing a huge “We’re happy you’re retiring but we are sorry you are leaving us” card and having tons of people sign it? Have everyone in the department give predictions of what Jacaranda will do with her new-found free time?

    There are a lot of fun things that people could do for Jacaranda’s last day that don’t involve a party. I suspect the party planners just want a party, any party, and are using this retirement as an excuse for one, at Jacaranda’s expense.

    1. fposte*

      I think it’s reasonable to guess that Sarah lied, but we really can’t say “That’s fact.” She could absolutely believe she’s correct and simply be mistaken. I don’t know that it changes what you do, but it’s worth considering rather than leaping to conclusions about motivation that make Sarah a total villain.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        If accusing someone of attending a literal Nazi rally when they’re really attending a funeral (and have proof) isn’t lying, what is?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Lying means you’re deliberating telling a falsehood. If I misunderstand what you say to me or form a wrong belief for some other reason — but I genuinely think I got it right — and I share that with others, that’s not a lie. That’s a miscommunication.

          We have no idea what led Sarah to say what she did. Maybe it was a deliberate lie. Or maybe she genuinely believed it. If the latter, maybe she was incredibly reckless to believe it, or maybe she actually had decent cause. We have no idea from the letter because we don’t know what happened.

          1. serenity*

            Can I add something to this? In addition to a possible “miscommunication” – which would be Sarah taking comments from Jane wildly out of context or misunderstanding them – there’s also the possibility that Sarah is entirely projecting and has not misunderstood anything from Jane and is simply ill-informed and feels free to share her wildly incorrect interpretation of Jane’s activities and motives.

            And, of course, it could be a deliberate lie.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            And I should add — “miscommunication” doesn’t cover all the possibilities in my first paragraph there. It could be a miscommunication, or it could be someone not paying enough attention, or someone who failed to grasp crucial details, or so forth. But lying means you’re aware that what you’re saying is wrong.

          3. Trout 'Waver*

            That’s one definition of lying. I think that even if that definition doesn’t come into play (although I do believe that Sarah knows she had no evidence), the definition of using deception or mistaken impression certainly comes into play.

            Either way, Sarah intentionally and deliberately tried to recklessly harm Jane using demonstrably false allegations.

            1. fposte*

              There is no “mistaken impression” version of lying, though. Lying requires conscious knowledge. Are you thinking about the libel category of using deliberately using facts to create a false impression?

              I think your second statement is reasonably true, but it’s also reasonably true for other people announcing the identify of Charlottesville participants and getting them wrong (like that poor Arkansas professor), or the Redditors who hoped to help track the Boston marathon bombers and dragged innocent people through the mud. And maybe you’re with me on that, but there seems to be a thread of assumption of intent running through some comments that would exculpate those people but not Sarah.

          4. JamieS*

            I understand lying with malicious intent isn’t the only possibility but hopefully you see Sarah is getting an astronomical amount of benefit of the doubt considering how she went about her accusation. The chance of a miscommunication is always there but I don’t think that possibility would be given nearly as much weight in nearly any other circumstance.