employee dressed up as coworker for Halloween to mock her, fending off a colleague’s dinner invitations, and more

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

1. My employee dressed up as a coworker for Halloween to mock her

My office had a costume contest on Halloween. Dressing up was encouraged (but not mandatory). I was out of the office that day so I did not see the costumes at the time, but I saw photos afterwards. One of my reports dressed up as a “basic girl” (fabric boots, leggings, Starbucks pumpkin spice drink, etc.). The costume itself was fine, but she also wore a name tag, with the name of another one of my reports.

The name is not common. I had never heard it before my report started working here. The costumed employee wore a blonde wig in the same cut and style of the person whose name she used, as well as blue contact lenses and the same color nail polish she normally wears. I also heard she acted absent-minded and airheaded as part of the costume.

She was voted the winner of the costume contest by the other employees. My report with the uncommon name came to me the next day and she was upset about being made fun of. People were calling them twins or had said the costumed person looked more like her than she does. The costumed report swears she wasn’t dressed as her colleague and it was all a coincidence and the other employees say it was just some fun. My report with the uncommon name said she had a hard time saying anything because the costumed employee is slightly senior to her (she has worked here for four months and only finished college this year, the costumed employee has worked her for almost five years) and because my boss voted for the costumed employee in the contest.

I understand why she is upset, but as a manager I’m not sure if I can address this now The day has passed and my manager was on board with everything. Is this worth addressing or do I just acknowledge my report being upset and move on?

Your manager and other employees were on board with this?! What your employee did was cruel, and I’d be seriously considering firing her for it, especially since she’s clearly lying about her intentions rather than owning up to it and apologizing. The fact that no one else in your office appears to see a problem with this is a little mind-blowing.

I think you have to sit down with your manager and try to get her to see reason. Point out that the costume was clearly mocking a new employee, that it was cruel and bullying, and that you’re horrified that other employees voted her the winner. Say that you’re deeply concerned about the costumed employee’s judgment, as well as her ability to be kind and respectful to colleagues, and that at a minimum you want to treat this as a serious disciplinary issue.

If your manager thinks it’s no big deal, at that point you’ll need to decide how far you’re willing to push it. Personally, I’d push it pretty far.

And regardless of the outcome of that, tell the employee who was mocked that you are really sorry that happened, that you don’t think it’s okay, and that you’re going to be speaking with the coworker who did it. And you don’t need your manager’s okay to have a serious “this was very cruel and you owe your coworker an apology” talk with the other employee.

(For readers who don’t know the “basic” reference, there are good explanations here and here.)

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Fending off a coworker’s dinner invitations

I work in a friendly setting but my colleagues still maintain boundaries on private questions. However, I have a colleague who is very helpful to me but very nosy and it turns out she wants access to my professional network. I recently moved from a very large city to a smaller city. She wants to move to the large city that I came from. Therefore, she constantly wants to hang out with me. She even asked me why I moved. She interrupts me during the work day just to say “what’s up.” She “happens” to leave at the same time I leave for home. And she ended up adding me on LinkedIn day five of the job while I noticed none of my other coworkers are in her network. To top it all off, she invited my husband and I for dinner with her boyfriend and her. That’s too intimate for someone I don’t know well (I’ve been at this job for one month now).

Her dinner invites are persistent, and I am running out of excuses. This is a bit delicate situation as she is a colleague, but I don’t want to get close to her. How can I handle this?

It it possible she just genuinely likes you and wants to be friends? I realize there might be more details than you’ve shared here about how you know she’s just in it for access to your network, but none of this sounds particularly egregious. Either way, though, if you’re not interested in hanging out with her, you don’t have to. I think you’ll be better able to put a stop to the dinner overtures if you stop dealing with them one by one and give her a broader “no.” The next time she asks, say something like, “It’s so nice of you to try to find ways to make it work, but let’s give up on dinner — my schedule makes it hard to do.” Or, if you’re wiling to be more up-front about your reasons, you could say, “It’s really nice of you to invite me, but I actually try to keep work and off-work time separate.” To soften it, you could add, “I’m old-fashioned that way!”

3. Should I apply for a job that requires relocation if I’m not willing to relocate?

I found a great job in communications for a teapot company that I love and does fantastic work. I’d love to be a part of the organization and I have unique experiences in the teapot industry that would make me an exceptional candidate. The issue is the job description says candidates “must be willing to move” to Teapotsville, Florida. I live on the other side of the country and have absolutely no desire to move, even for a great job. I have a home and life where I am. I am great at working remotely and am more productive working from home and I’m willing and able to travel so could potentially be in Teapostsville every month for a few days. My question is, should I even apply if I know I’m not willing to move? I feel like this maybe in the “you don’t need to check every single box perfectly in order to apply” category but it might also be rude and inconsiderate if I take up the recruiters time knowing I don’t fit that one piece. What do I do?

It’s true that you don’t always need to check every box perfectly in order to apply for a job, but this kind of thing isn’t in that category.

They’re being really up-front that you need to be willing to relocate. You know that you’re not, so you shouldn’t apply. It wouldn’t exactly be rude and inconsiderate to apply anyway (as long as you disclosed your unwillingness to move right up front in your cover letter), but it wouldn’t make you look good and they’re very unlikely to consider you. At absolute most, you could send your resume in with a note saying that you’d love to talk with them if they’re ever interested in someone with your skills working remotely.

4. Employer set up phone interview with me, then didn’t tell me they’d already filled the job

This happened to me years ago, but it’s bugged me ever since. During my junior year in college, second semester, I started applying for summer internships in hopes of starting something when I finished my study abroad program in May.

A potential employer, John, reached out to me via email and asked to set up a phone interview. I asked if he could postpone it a week since I was still abroad and had no access to a phone for international calls (I’ve since realized we could have skyped but neither of us thought of it then). John said that was fine and we set a future date and time. Fast forward to the day for the phone interview, and I’m ready and waiting … and waiting for an hour and a half past the set time.

I called John’s company and not-John answered. I said I was looking for John and the employee said he was on a business trip. I said (thinking it was a last-minute trip), “Oh, well I’m calling about my phone interview for the Teapot internship and did he leave a message for me?” Not-John said that position had already been filled. Embarrassed, I thanked them and hung up.

I fumed for a day and debated informing John I felt what he did was very unprofessional but then I let it go thinking that was the reality of interning. Was I right about that?

It’s the reality of job searching in general, not just internships. It’s rude, yes, but incredibly common.

5. Writing a resume when my most relevant experience isn’t my most recent

I am a certified teacher with almost 10 years of experience. I am currently updating my resume to prepare to apply for a new teaching position for the next school year. I have read a lot of your advice about formatting resumes, but I could not find an answer to this particular question. I have always listed my license, then my education, followed by my professional teaching experience in reverse chronological order, which is standard for a teaching resume. For the past two years, however, I have been working but not been teaching. My husband’s job took us abroad for two years, but due to the restrictions of my visa, it was illegal for me to take a position at a local school. Instead, I was able to work at my husband’s company in an entry-level role performing tasks that I can relate to my teaching career (preparing training sessions, working with families, teaching ESL classes to local employees). I also worked with a day camp for the employees’ children planning all of their activities and training their counselors.

My problem arises when I add these two recent jobs to my resume: all of my strongest teaching experience gets pushed onto the second page. I have read your advice on resume formatting, and you make it clear to use reverse chronological order, but how do I best highlight my teaching experience when it’s hidden on the second page? Should I condense the bullet points for my two more recent positions, or would that look like I didn’t accomplish much? Should I list my teaching experience first and my other positions in a separate section on page two? I don’t want to look like I’m hiding my more recent positions or that I have an unexplained gap. I have written a cover letter explaining the situation and connecting the skills from the other positions (which I loved and were great experience!), but is a good cover letter enough to push a hiring manager to hunt around for the teaching experience? If it matters, the first position I’m applying for, and my top choice, only asks for a cover letter and a resume, so the whole application package is only three pages.

Start with a section called Teaching Experience, and put all your teaching experience there, reverse-chronologically. Then have a section called Other Experience, where you put the rest of it (again, reverse-chronologically). That’s a really common way to do it and you won’t look like you’re hiding anything.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 606 comments… read them below }

  1. Sami*

    OP#1: Wow. That’s really horrible. I’d pushback HARD with your manager. And offer as much support as you can for your report-with-the-unusual-name.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Seriously, what is wrong with people?! It’s bad enough to dress as a coworker, but to suggest you’re being “basic” and airheaded/ditzy when you’re clearly referring to that employee? How could anyone who has survived junior high be on board with this??

      I’m so sorry your employee went through this and that you’re left as the only adult in the room, OP#1. I’m in the “push hard” camp. Honestly, I would escalate the complaint, too, if my manager refused to acknowledge how hurtful this stunt was.

      1. Lars the Real Girl*

        And when you do push hard with this (which you absolutely MUST do on behalf of your employee), reframe the idea that “I’m not sure if I can address this now the day has passed”.

        Disciplinary issues don’t have to be dealt with the moment they happen. Ideally this would have been and she would have been sent home immediately and reprimanded. But you can bring this up today, tomorrow, or a month from now (please make it today or tomorrow) and it’s still a valid issue because the offense was so drastic and mean-spirited that I think anything short of a firing is unacceptable.

        1. Lars the Real Girl*

          And maybe some sweeping sensitivity and “don’t be an a**hole to your coworkers” training is in order for everyone else.

          1. Steve*

            Yes, the entire office needs a talking to and some anti-bullying training. If you had some way to know a) who voted for the costume and b) which of those people had seen the nametag(*), then, sure you could discipline just those people. But you probably can’t get the former and certainly can’t get the latter. So this may be one of those rare cases where an office-wide reprimand is in order. And by definition, you know more than half the employees deserve it.

            (*) The nametag is the most damning part of the costume. It doesn’t matter how common the name is. It was the name of one and only one of the people in the office. It’s disingenuous for the soon-to-be-fired bully to claim it’s just a coincidence.

            1. Miri*

              Is it possible that the other colleagues assumed that this was something the two had agreed on and that the colleague being humiliated had in fact OKed it, and that the longer-standing employee was playing up characteristics that nobody actually associates with the younger employee, bar that she’s young, blonde and female?

              This really depends on how the other woman tends to interact with others and her reputation, but the OP doesn’t seem to indicate that this sort of maliciousness is something she would just expect as standard from her – so it’s possible that the other employees and managers, who didn’t have experience of this side of her character, assumed it was good-natured fun? I can definitely see people not jumping to the conclusion that somebody they have known for years, without issue, is being a bully…

        2. Mookie*

          And when you do push hard with this (which you absolutely MUST do on behalf of your employee), reframe the idea that “I’m not sure if I can address this now the day has passed”.

          Yep. Like, how often is bad behavior necessitating disciplinary action immediately addressed? These things take time and there is such a thing as a reasonable deadline here. A day or two or even a week is nothing. Bullying like this requires a serious response backed up by the LW’s manager and executed according to a mutually agreed-upon plan. You’ve not missed your window to make sure everyone knows this is unacceptable (and they know, that’s why they joined in on picking on a colleague with less clout and fewer allies).

        3. Escapee from Corporate Management*

          If this employee stole from the company and no one discovered the theft for a week, I am 100% sure management would not be saying “the day has passed”.

        4. Nobby Nobbs*

          Addressing the offense in the moment is important with animals and very small children, but we’re talking about an adult with the mental development to understand cause and effect here, not a puppy who peed on the carpet.

          1. tigerStripes*

            This!!! I was going to say something about addressing it in the moment works well for dogs…

        5. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          #1 – I don’t know if you can fix the damage. It’s already been inflicted on your employee. With senior management’s approval.

          Do you honestly think that your management team will reflect back and say “you’re right, OP. This was completely the WRONG thing to do. Bring the (new report) in, we will apologize to her. Profusely. And then we’ll give her a day off. And during that day off, we will deliver a**whuppins to the staff, collectively and individually. And during that session, Big Boss is going to get up and address the staff, discussing the error of our collective action.”

          You think that’s gonna happen? As I say, only in the movies. OP #1 – start looking, and get out. You could be the NEXT victim. And if you land somewhere else, take the new employee with you. Don’t worry about the “manager’s unwritten code on poaching”. JUST DO IT.

          1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

            I might also add – she was humiliated by and in front of the entire staff.

            A 1-on-1 apology won’t cut it. It won’t fix things. If there isn’t “global” correction, sadly, it’s going to happen again – and then you might face legal action, depending on what’s in your employee manual about having non-hostile work atmosphere.

      2. Specialk9*

        Some people don’t know what the insult “basic” means, so explain to the manager that the Mean Girl told people her costume was “white trash” and then wore a name tag. Oh, now you see why this is cruel bullying, right?

        If you want help, each out too HR. “My subordinate dressed as a co-worker, including wig as name tag, and told people her costume was a socioeconomic insult. Her co-workers laughed, awarded her top prize, and are dismissing the mocked co-worker’s repeated statements of hurt and embarrassment for public mockery by the whole office. How should I handle the subordinate, and what do you recommend for counseling the office about bullying?”

        1. Specialk9*

          Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that not only is “basic” a socioeconomic insult, it has strong racial and gendered elements. (I think – and I’m old so take this with a grain of salt – that a woman of color would be called “bougie” for the same behavior. A guy would not be called basic.)

          1. Landshark*

            It is rather racial and gendered. The longer form for that term is basic white girl or basic b*t ch.

            I’m not sure if bougie is a perfect analog, but it’s similar enough to make the point.

            1. Specialk9*

              Thanks for accompanying! My comment, on reread, seems like I was saying basic means white trash, but I was making an analogy – in the same way that this racial/socioeconomic phrase is really insulting, so is this gendered/socioeconomic insult insulting. Not sure if anyone needed that clarification. :D

            2. TrainerGirl*

              Is it? I think this is a term that was co-opted and Columbused from hip hop, and the definition has gotten completely turned around. Not my understanding of it, but it seems as if it has a new meaning now.

          2. Snark*

            As with a lot of slurs like this, it’s really context-dependent and it can be anything from amusingly self-deprecating to really insulting and racial/gendered. My old coworker and I got gingerbread lattes and then amused ourselves singing “‘Tis the season to be basic, fa la la la, la la la la.” But an older, more senior person would be way out of line calling a younger, white, blonde, female coworker that, because it has teeth that way.

            1. Sue Wilson*

              It’s 100% not a slur. Slurs are by their very nature NOT very context dependent. Let’s be very clear about what are and aren’t slurs. It can certainly be an insult however.

              1. Snark*

                Hard pushback on that. Slurs are, in fact, very often co-opted and appropriated by the slurred and used by them – in context – in un-insulting ways. My sister self-deprecates using a common slur directed at lesbians. African Americans appropriated the N-bomb. Certain handicapped folks embrace, and use, the word “cripple.”

                1. Karen D*

                  +1. “Girl” is another very common example.

                  Me to my sisters: “Come on girls, let’s get it in gear.” No problem there.
                  My boss about me, in my hearing: “I’ll have my girl get back to you.” My response would be: “You BETTER be talking about that secret 10-year-old daughter you have.”

                2. Sue Wilson*

                  I did consider reclaiming which is why I put “NOT very” there. And it’s not very because reclaiming is by no means universal even within a social class, and no amount of context is going to stop a person from catching hands, part of the slurred group or no, friendly or no, when they say it to the wrong person.

                  And no offense, but your understanding of reclaiming doesn’t really apply. Slurs are the things people typically say are reclaimed sure, but the implication from the concept and those specific examples you mentioned is that those people are taking back a word created and given power through a violent social disparity underlying its use. That’s not true with “basic” as used towards white women, and let’s not pretend it is. It’s not a slur, and a hard brick wall to people deciding that a word used to denote a certain class and racial privilege within a minority group has the same status as at least two words you won’t even type.

                3. LBK*

                  It’s not a slur, and a hard brick wall to people deciding that a word used to denote a certain class and racial privilege within a minority group has the same status as at least two words you won’t even type.

                  I’m reminded of a Fox News screen grab I saw once with a chyron that said “Which is worse: ‘cracker’ or the n-word?” and the poster had captioned it something like “If you won’t actually write one of them, that one is probably worse.”

                  “Basic” is definitely levied at young white women most frequently, but it doesn’t have the historical context or associated vitriol that would put it on the level of “true” slurs. No one is saying “you’re a basic bitch” to a white girl as they beat her to death for her race/gender so it’s kind of insulting to put it on the level of truly hateful language.

              2. Specialk9*

                I know your argument about the word “slur” is specific to your discussion with Snark, but since this is threading under my comment that pointed out the insult has gender, racial, and socioeconomic implications (without using the word slur)… My point was that HR sometimes comes to attention for gendered and racial insults in a way they don’t, sadly, for bullying. It is a phrasing I recommend to make them see it as not “just a joke” but a serious situation that needs to be resolved with a firing!

                1. Sue Wilson*

                  I’m not sure I agree with you on the exact nature of this particular insult, coming from the racial groups who it got stolen from, and I’m not sure I would want to perpetuate to HR suspect narratives about insults w/r/t some social classes (I can see it more with the insult as gendered, though my feelings on that are complicated also), so to speak, when the fact of the matter is that this isn’t something that should be done at a work, either toward a specific co-worker or frankly, as an insult generally, so if I were going to mention those implications I would say that it could be making people from those groups uncomfortable in a way they shouldn’t be at work.

          3. We're all pretty basic*

            Basic isn’t a socioeconomic insult unless you mean the middle class and it’s most definitely not the same as bougie, which isn’t always an insult. It can be used by black women to describe themselves positively or used toward black women by other black people to denote a woman who is “stuck up” beyond her station or “stuck up” because of a higher station. It is not used wholesale against “women of color” and women of color is not a synonym for black women. Nothing against you, but a lot of people make that mistake when it’s an all roses are flowers, but not all flowers are roses situation.

            Basic is an insult toward women who engage in stereotypical, trendy things. It’s basically (no pun intended) calling them boring, bland followers who lack creativity. Anyone can be basic. White women can be basic. Black women can be basic. Asian women can be basic. Latinas can be basic.

            All that to say, employee is an ass and needs to be reprimanded at least and fired at most. It’d be a bit harder without the name tag, but that pushes it into, “Do something now!”

            1. Jesca*

              Wait. Black women can be “basic” in what way? What stereotype is a black woman meeting to be considered “basic”? Does that mean a black woman who wear ggs with leggings and drinks lattes is then “basic”? This is more like creating a really vague rules around when it is OK to use stereotypes in a demeaning and rude way. Sure, lots of people embrace stereotypes and hold “pride” in them, but really all they are doing is embracing really shallow archetypes of their broader selves. Mostly people do this to combat the stigma associated with them. But I guarantee to you, anyone aside from the person who attributes those shallow attributes of themselves is using BOTH of these terms in a negative way to demean those individuals. Stereotypes can be funny, but they can be extremely damaging as well. So lets not continue the whole “well its OK when its this phrase or is said by this person” ideas.

              1. JB*

                I’ve heard women of all races called “Basic,” and I’ve also heard it used as a non-insult descriptive term (both by women about themselves and about others). As I understand it, it just means “likes mainstream, trendy, stereotypically-feminine things.”

                It doesn’t become an insult unless you expand it to include “being stupid and ditzy,” or otherwise attempt to specifically mock someone for it.

                1. Hotstreak*

                  It sounds like it could be used in place of “goth” or “punk” (or whatever kids call each other these days) to describe someone’s chosen style. I suppose dressing up as Basic is especially bad because of the negative connotations, where as if the employee wore a 3 piece suit and dressed up like Randy, the overly formal mailroom clerk, that would be crass and rude but probably not a fireable offense.

                2. Delphine*

                  It’s meaning is more akin to being average and unremarkable/unsophisticated. When non-black people appropriated it, it became about stereotypically “white girl” things, like UGGs and pumpkin spice, for no discernible reason whatsoever. This appropriation is also why a lot of people have never heard it used as it’s meant to be.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  It’s true that WOC have used “basic” as a joke or insult, but in my experience, it’s overwhelmingly used to refer to a very specific idea of white women.

                4. JS*

                  Yeah basic is a term exclusive for white women. If WoC refer to other WoC that way it is to say you are acting that way but they aren’t part of the definition itself.

              2. We're all pretty basic*

                It appears you misread that because I didn’t say black women WERE basic and I didn’t say it was okay to stereotype or call anyone anything. I said:

                “Basic is an insult toward women who engage in stereotypical, trendy things. It’s basically (no pun intended) calling them boring, bland followers who lack creativity. Anyone can be basic. White women can be basic. Black women can be basic. Asian women can be basic. Latinas can be basic.”

                I said that because as I responding to bougie being compared to basic I saw that someone just below that said, “It is rather racial and gendered. The longer form for that term is basic white girl or basic b*t ch.” when I’ve heard women of every stripe called basic.

                1. Jesca*

                  Then we must live in completely different areas, because I have only ever heard it referred to white women. I have only seen a time or two women of other ethnicities referred to as this, but that was after they were called out for saying it in the first place. I think its OK that while SOME people may use that way, we can all recognize and agree who this term is mostly used for and in what context. And it is bad, unfair, and should really stop being cited as “not as bad” stereotype than others. It is ridiculous.

                2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I think the reference to “bougie” was to explain that it has socioeconomic overtones.

                  I disagree with you on the racialization, but I also think that that experience (racialized use of “basic”) can be really community-specific.

            2. Specialk9*

              Thanks for adding your experience of this slang word. I’ve extrapolated based on how I’ve heard it used, but as said above in old and frankly not cool at all, so I’m no expert.

              As an aside, Urban Dictionary does not disappoint in making me sigh (and to show how very clearly an insult it is, protesters here aside). But then came redemption with #7.


              “Yet another term used by society to judge women and their lifestyle choices. Because, honestly, what would we do with our time if we didn’t have socially accepted ways to demean and denigrate women for choices they make, even though those choices have nothing to do with ourselves or our own choices?
              (Generally used by someone who sees the female in question as somehow less than worthy of their attention/admiration, usually because the female has decided not to have sex with them.)”

              “This female fits into stereotypes that we have pressed upon her for most of her life. It’s no longer socially acceptable to hate fat girls, skinny girls, gay girls, or girls who have healthy sexual appetites, so let’s make fun of those basic bitches.”

              “She likes the same things as a lot of other girls. Such a basic bitch.”

              “She won’t f–k me. I know I’m perfect, and a “nice guy” to boot, so it must be her fault. She must be a stuck-up basic bitch.”

              “That basic bitch thinks she’s special. She’s so unoriginal. Unlike me, the hipster of all hipsters whose every thought and action is so f-ing original and innovative that I might as well be a god.”

            3. Specialk9*

              “women of color is not a synonym for black women. Nothing against you, but a lot of people make that mistake when it’s an all roses are flowers, but not all flowers are roses situation.”

              I did not use the term WOC to mean black women only but to mean, well, women of color. I didn’t make up the term.
              Black/African American, Hispanic/Latina, Pacific islander, Native American, Middle Eastern, Caribbean islander, etc. (Probably forgetting some groups, apologies if so!)

              I’m wondering, based on your comment, if you think bougie is a term used only by black people, and not by any other group? That wasn’t my understanding that it was *only* used that way, but again… Old… Uncool. :D

              1. We're all pretty basic*

                It’s obvious I know you didn’t make it up I said it’s common for people to use “women of color” in place of black women when they mean black women. If that wasn’t what you were doing it doesn’t apply. Great.

                I “think” bougie is a term used only by black people because I’m a black woman who has lived on this earth for almost 40 years in 10 states and six countries and 1) never heard “bougie” used by anyone who isn’t black or 2) heard it used almost exclusively to describe a black woman.

                1. We're all pretty basic*

                  I’ve heard black men called bougie, but that’s very, VERY recent and always in jest.

            1. Anastasia Beaverhausen*

              I agree! And the fact that she WON AN AWARD for this nastiness does not say anything good about this company. She seriously needs to go.

          1. Beancounter Eric*


            Also, you need to ask yourself if you care to be part of that team – I see them being vile people who, for any protestations they oppose bullying, actually revel in it.

            1. Ann O'Nemity*

              Especially for when the manager’s boss explicitly and publicly approved the behavior. That makes the situation a lot more complex.

          2. JS*

            That seems super extreme. Honestly if all the other employees thought it was fine and so did senior management it was probably fine and not meant to be bullying (unless the work place is a gossipy high school and horrible all around all the time I doubt that many people have a seriously off moral compass). The thing about work that can get blurred is if there is a culture of teasing, ribbing, making fun of, etc, co-workers because everyone is buddy-buddy then it can cause problems. Work is work and you shouldn’t have to conform to any clique to do your job well but if that is the work culture environment then people have to decide if they want to work there or not. The coworker could have felt not in on the joke and the joke and her feelings are valid, the talk should be to lay off the ribbing with her and also a reminder that it is a workplace and you need to be more considerate, sensitive and professional.

            However what she should get reprimanded for is lying, which isn’t ok.

          3. Linden*

            The thing is, she won best costume! And LW’s boss was on board. There is obviously a bigger issue here. While the employee who did it can take the blame, I think any time you have a hierarchy you have to look up and see whether that behavior was condoned (clearly, in this case, it was!) and if so, the superiors have just as much, if not more blame than the lower-level employees who actually did the Bad Thing. If leaders are rewarded when things are done right, they also need to take the fall when things go awry.

        2. Snark*

          And if OP needs to get through to Boss, maybe “Okay, so imagine that someone dressed just like you, down to your preferred brand of watch and so on, and then told everyone they were dressing up as a corporate drone. Or a rich jackwagon. You see how you might feel singled out and humiliated?”

          1. YpsiGuy*


            *And* what makes this all so completely beyond acceptable is that the bully turned around and told the “basic bully lie” to the OP: “The costumed report swears she wasn’t dressed as her colleague and it was all a coincidence.”

            That is the exact instant when she should have been fired: when she told a blatantly obvious lie to her supervisor and expected to get away with it.

            1. many bells down*

              Right because even if co-worker’s names wasn’t THAT unusual, if you dress up as a nonspecific character and include the name OF SOMEONE IN YOUR OFFICE as part of the costume, they’re going to think it refers to them! This wasn’t a case of her dressing up as, say, Maude Lebowski and the co-worker was also named Maude.

              1. Koko*

                Yeah, she needs to get out of here with that nonsense. At the very least OP could say, “Even if you didn’t MEAN to dress up as Felicia, you are more than smart enough to have noticed that you looked exactly like her and were wearing a nametag with her name on it and therefore people might think you are dressing up as her.” Come. on.

        3. Annabelle*

          I would say “basic” is sort of the opposite of “white trash.” It was initially coined by WoC – though obviously anyone and everyone uses it now – to describe trendy/girly white women. Like, pumpkin spice lattes, loose curls, ugg boots, and infinity scarves.

          The meaning has a evolved a little and I’ve seen it used to describe girls and women of all races. But generally the things it’s describing are or can be moderately pricy, so it would be disingenous to act like it’s an insult to poor white folks.

          1. fposte*

            I don’t think people are saying it’s an insult to the poor–they’re saying it’s a socioeconomically inflected insult, which it is. Poor is not the only socioeconomic status.

              1. fposte*

                Well, it’s only punching up if the user is demonstrably of a lower SES and less privilege.

                But it’s work. There shouldn’t be any punching at work at all.

                1. Jesca*

                  Even as a side note, as I have seen sadly in this comment section on more than one occasion people resort to “its only misogynistic” like this is some how not a dangerous mindset that hasn’t result in the brutal murders of millions of women world wide since … well … forever? – allow me to point out that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in fact not include ANY (yes you read that right) rights for women at all. It actually had to go through several rounds for the rights based on sex to even be added.
                  I also didn’t see only WOC in all the Hollywood scandals happening now either.

                  So when we all think we are punching up at any woman of any color and think it some how makes you OK, you just remember that misogyny affects all women and it doesn’t see color. A person can be racist and misogynistic – or they can just be racist. Or they can just be misogynistic. Stereotypes hurts. Punching up causes discord and anger within a society. Stop.

                2. Natalie*

                  Yeah, disagree. “Discord and anger in society” are not caused by mocking the powerful, and in fact subversion in comedy and art (“punching up”) has been a big part of social change movements historically. I’m a middle class white woman, I’m certainly aware of and affected by misogyny, but my ego is not going to deflate if, say, women of color want to take the piss out of me.

                3. Anna*

                  Well, it is. Read Natalie’s comment. If you’ve ever laughed at The Daily Show or John Oliver, you have laughed at punching up.

                  The problem here is that the coworker in her Halloween costume was not punching up. She was punching down by making specifically about the new employee.

              2. Marthooh*

                A senior coworker and the boss encouraging everyone in the office to mock a new hire is definitely not an example of “punching up”. Please please please don’t tell me that’s not how you meant it. It’s not an acceptable insult even if this one particular girl has more money than anyone else at work, and there’s no indication that that’s the case.

                1. Indoor Cat*


                  Someone else brought of socioeconomic status, and honestly, it can be easily assumed that the employee’s grand-boss and the senior employee bully have higher socioeconomic status. Not to mention social status at the company.

                  Additionally, a “joke” that boils down to, “this person may as well be a stereotype!” isn’t an incisive takedown of the kind that makes dark comedy culturally relevant. Louis CK began his new standup special with a bit about abortion, and rather than stereotype pro-lifers or pro-choicers, he had a very funny, insightful monologue that concluded with “you should be allowed to kill someone who’s in your body; you’re allowed to kill someone who’s in your house!” and “life is overrated.”

                  Obviously, Louis CK’s monologues aren’t workplace appropriate, so there’s a whole other layer of difference between an R-rated comedy special and a workplace party. But, my point is, while he uses his comedy to “punch” the pro-life agenda (he is pro-choice, clearly), he doesn’t use a stereotype of a pro-life protester to do it, even though it’d be easy.

                  The whole concept of “punch up” identifies comedy as a destructive force, and encourages people to use it for good. Using it for good means attacking or destroying harmful systems, beliefs, ideologies, and so on. It doesn’t mean using it to attack or destroy an individual person, even if the person is “above” you (like a celebrity). It also demands precision, because a lazy joke, like an ill-targeted punch, can harm people you don’t intend it to.

                  It certainly doesn’t mean destroy relationships and self-esteem of your co-workers under the guise of, “it’s just a joke and I should be allowed because I’m ‘punching up’.”

                2. fposte*

                  I’ll also accept a hell of a lot in standup comedy that isn’t acceptable at work. “This joke is okay because” doesn’t always mean “This joke is okay at work.”

            1. Specialk9*

              Thanks, that’s exactly what I meant. Since lots of people don’t know what basic means, but they know what a different insult based on socioeconomic status means. And it very clearly is an insult – check out Urban Dictionary for “basic bitch”.

              And perhaps technically it’s “punching up”, it’s not really. Is it nice when hip art school students mock suburban women? No, it’s mean, though like “basic” the root of the insult is either envy or entitlement.

              1. Lil Fidget*

                Thank you for saying this! I feel like I’m in a bubble where it’s considered okay to mock suburban white ladies, but … it’s not really that cool either, actually, and it’s kind of arguable if that’s punching “up” or “down” or what, but I’d rather there be no punching at all thanks.

          2. MashaKasha*

            It is punching down in terms of intelligence. Basic = dumb, as indicated by the costumed coworker acting airheaded for her role. In the white-collar workplace, where we essentially get paid for not being or acting dumb, that’s one hell of a blow to the target in my opinion.

          3. Optimistic Prime*

            I know that this is serious business but I have to chuckle every time I hear the description of a “basic” woman on this thread because I’m black but it kind of perfectly describes me. I love UGG boots and infinity scarves and Starbucks holiday lattes and I do. not. care.

            But folks are right in that I am more usually called “bougie” (and, in fact, have been called bougie by many in my life. I still do. not. care.)

          4. JS*

            Agreed “basic” is the self-important and pseudo-individual term for “hipster”. Its more about calling out privilege. It’s an insult but like the term “nerd” there is a positive connotation as well (like nerd also meaning the person is smart, basic likely means the person is well-off).

            1. Linden*

              I don’t think this means the person is well-off, I think it means they are medium-off, in a certain segment of society. If basic means you cannot afford Uggs and a Starbucks every day, then yes, it may mean well-off to you, but to a lot of people Uggs are not “in” or cool, and they’re certainly not what the celebrities, fashion-forward, and wealthiest segments of the population are wearing now. Going back to the term itself, do you think if that were the case, it would be called “basic”? It has connotations of being uncultured, and the fact that it is associated with white people who aren’t poor is part of what makes people think it’s ok to use that kind of snobbish insult.

      3. Plague of frogs*

        One of my coworkers dressed as another one for Halloween a few years ago, and also won the costume contest. Here’s why it was fun rather than mean-spirited:
        1) The coworker being imitated had been at the company for 20 years and was admired and liked by pretty much everyone.
        2) The coworker being imitated was higher on the food chain than the person imitating him.
        3) The coworker being imitated had a number of marked idiosyncrasies that he already knew about himself (like carrying an unlit cigarette around), and didn’t mind other people commenting on.

        And most importantly, the imitating coworker did not pretend to be dressed as something else! Especially something that is derogatory! The whole *wink, wink* plausible deniability of calling it a “basic” costume is hugely offensive.

      4. Kasia*

        Honestly, I’m not really cool with the basic girl costume either for work. A couple years ago a man in my office dressed as a “basic bitch”, complete with a sweatshirt that said that on there. He was told to turn the shirt inside out. I still may be a bit sensitive to that costume so maybe it’s ok if it’s as described here, but I don’t like it.

        Obviously totally beyond the pale to mock a specific coworker.

    2. Lumen*

      OP #1: I have actually seen something like this before. At my last job, an employee dressed up as the President/co-owner. She didn’t behave in a derogatory way or go around play-acting, it was just dressing in his usual style, carrying a bag similar to his, and as far as I know, that was about it. At the time I thought it was a dicey move that could be interpreted as really disrespectful, even though I didn’t much care for our boss. Frankly, I think it speaks to the unprofessional, boundary-less culture of that workplace that it was all shrugged off as not a big deal. I can easily imagine that even if our boss was bothered by it, he wouldn’t speak up for fear of being a buzzkill.

      In other words, OP: Allison is right. Shrugging this sort of thing off, especially when it sounds like it was cruelly motivated and very pointed, would only mean that some toxic attitudes are taking root in your company culture. Push back hard and nip this in the bud. This costume sounds extremely specific (the wig? the nail polish? THE COLORED CONTACTS???) and the nametag should be more than enough to pin it down.

      1. HA2*

        I’d say doing it to someone lower down in the hierarchy is a heck of a lot worse than doing it to a boss… power differentials and all that.

        If you dress up as your boss or a company bigwig and misjudge whether that’s gonna be taken well or not, that’s gonna come back and bite you. Fine, if you’re that sure they’ll take it well, go ahead, risk your relationship with them if you think it’s not much of a risk. So just by itself, your story doesn’t raise the kind of massive red flags that OP#1’s story does – if you dress up as someone more junior, a new employee… you’re hurting them and they may not have any recourse. And the derogatory nature of the costume makes it even worse.

        1. Czhorat*

          Exactly. THis is the “punching up” versus “punching down” discussion there sometimes is about comedy. The boss, is, at the end of the day, still the boss. Harassment flows downward; given the power differential there are few meaningful ways in which you can harass your boss because, especially in an at-will state, they can fire you.

        2. Akcipitrokulo*

          Agreed. If you’re at the top of the pile, a bit of fun at your expense *might* be ok. Punching down is not.

          1. Specialk9*

            I agree about the wig in the same cut and style, and colored contacts showing a clear commitment to cruelty – those are expensive!

            1. Plague of frogs*

              If the mean coworker claims that she wasn’t dressing as the other coworker, the wig and contacts coupled with acting like an airhead take this to a place of racial/gender harassment. “Blonde girls are so dumb” etc.

        3. BirdyNumNum*

          I agree that imitating or making fun of any colleague, especially someone new or lower in the company hierarchy is never, ever appropriate, especially without their informed, expressed, and non-coerced consent.

          In this case, the Halloween-Bullying-Costume co-worker was egregiously inappropriate and cruel, and I’m glad this LW manager sees the issue as something that needs to be addressed. I wish her or him luck in negotiating that tricky, thin ridge of a path between supporting the bullied employee and maintaining a positive, drama-free work environment among his/her staff and own manager (who voted for this BS?WTF?)
          Dressing up as a boss I believe can sometimes turn out well, but only in an extremely limited set of circumstances:
          1. The company culture in general has to be friendly, in which most people know and have interacted casually with the boss, and the boss knows most of them by name.
          2. The imitated boss has to be someone who is generally well-liked among the rank-and-file.
          3. The imitator needs to pick things to imitate about the boss that are mostly exaggerations of relatively innocuous but amusing characteristics, such as their favorite plaid shirt or certain meaningless favorite phrases they use – and stay far, far away from his or her physical characteristics or work issues.

          1. Overeducated*

            Yup. A colleague dressed up as my husband for Halloween once and it was hilarious. The differences were that 1) they were friends and equals and 2) it was low key and harmless, the costume hinged on wearing a particular type of shirt my husband wore that people commented on a lot. You can do this kindly but this clearly wasn’t kind.

            1. boo*

              Yeah, I’ve had friends threaten to dress up as me for Halloween, but (a) *friends* not coworkers, and (b) with a basic (ha) outfit and bright wig, it would be easy to dress up as me, with only gentle mockery implied.

              If someone showed up in my habitual clothes and hair, that would be amusing. If they also imitated my most cringe-inducing traits the whole evening, and everyone I know laughed and applauded, and *voted them best costume* I would feel humiliated, and like there was a consensus about just how awful I was. This is a really, really mean thing to do.

              (Oh yeah, and (c) no one has ever actually done the gentle mockery version of this to me. Cause even that walks a fine line, even among friends.)

            2. Iris Eyes*

              One of the most memorable costumes was two coworkers who dressed as each other. Someone dressing up as you can be a way to communicate “I see you, and I know you so well that I can imitate you, I appreciate what is distinctive about you.” This was definitely not that. While I’m sure some of the voting coworkers saw it as funny and maybe didn’t see the undercurrent of nastiness the person who dressed up did.

              1. fposte*

                Yes, coupling it with the “basic” moniker and the airheadedness thing is what makes it clearly mean. You could absolutely fondly parody a co-worker who’s known for her love pumpkin spice lattes and Ugg boots, as long as those aren’t qualities the office treats as signs of inferiority and the co-worker is okay with it.

            3. Linden*

              Yeah, I think a defining difference here is that in this situation, the employee claimed to be dressed as an insult/stereotype (“basic”). It’s one thing to wear a plaid or Hawaiian shirt with the name tag “Bob” and claim to be dressed up as Bob; it’s another thing to wear a plaid or Hawaiian shirt with the name tag “Bob” and claim to be dressed up as a “redneck” or a “dumb American tourist.”

          2. Queerty*

            Yup–a group of us all dressed in black t-shirts/gray jeans and carried Apple products and notebooks for a Halloween costume at an old job of mine, which the boss found HYSTERICAL. We all loved the guy, and it was a super bonding experience for all of us.

            1. Anony McAnonface*

              We were going to do that this year – my boss has a signature accessory that’s easy to source – but the group decided not to bother since we weren’t sure he would be in. But it was considered in a lighthearted way, and wasn’t mean or derogatory. And I know for a fact the boss would have got a kick out of it. What this employee did was not that. How cruel and juvenile.

            2. KTB*

              My client’s work group did that for her boss a few Halloweens ago. Her boss wears short sleeve, plaid button down shirts and slacks as a general uniform, so his staff decided that they would all show up on Halloween in that outfit. He found it HILARIOUS, and it was all in good fun. Even funnier was that he chose to wear a different style of shirt that day, so the group photo wasn’t quite as good as they had hoped.

          3. RVA Cat*

            This comes does to the whole punching up vs. down. OP#1’s employee clearly and unforgivably punched down.

            TBH, if I were the OP I would be helping the mocked employee move on, and also thinking seriously about leaving Mean Girls Inc. This is a toxic culture.

            1. Matilda Jefferies*

              This is where I land as well. OP needs to talk to the boss, and to have a serious We Do Not Behave This Way conversation with her other direct reports. The point here is for OP to stand up for the bullied coworker – any sort of apology or disciplinary action would be nice, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Because honestly, if the boss can’t immediately see how wrong this was, then I think it’s probably a bigger issue than OP can take on alone.

              If the outcome of all this is anything other than a) boss is mortified, apologetic, and committed to culture change, AND b) Mean Girl is severely disciplined; then I think OP and the bullied coworker need to start job searching. OP, definitely offer your support to this person, up to and including being a reference for her if need be.

              1. Steve*

                OP would have to really, really, really carefully word any suggestions to the the bullied coworker that she start job searching. Otherwise s/he could very easily give the impression that s/he wants the victim to leave. Even if it’s not legally a hostile workplace, it could be interpreted by the victim as the opposite of giving support; one more person piling on.

          4. my two cents*

            I dressed up as my coworker this year, and even though I was the only one ‘in costume’ at the office…it was a total riot.

            I’m at least a decade his junior and female, and we’re the only two in “tech support” as engineers. I trimmed a little goatee with an elastic band, but otherwise wore his normal go-to office attire: work polo, cargo khakis, glasses, and hiking boot-shoes. The only ‘poking fun’ I included was that my cargos were capri length, because his near-threadbare pants are always notably flapping in the breeze above his ankles.
            He’s one of those who wears the work-shirts as his standard rotation, and most of his long sleeved button-downs have blown-out elbows. It’s certainly not for lack of funds – he’s just the stereotypical bachelor-dude-engineer who loathes shopping for new stuff.

            1. Landshark*

              I think the big difference here is that you were doing it lovingly and the OP’s report was definitely being malicious. That’s really cute, though.

          5. C Average*

            I think this example and all the similar examples below are more homage than mockery, and EVERYONE can tell the difference.

          6. Half-Caf Latte*

            I’ve done this, and it was successful enough that the peers of the person I dressed like (my grandboss), dragged me into her office to take pictures at her desk to text to her as she was off that day.

            1) We had a friendly relationship, and a culture in which it was appropriate.
            2)Even though I thought it would land well, I checked with boss.
            3) I stuck to a few defining accessories (shoes, coffee mug, earrings), not personality traits. I also made it clear I was complimenting her style.
            4) It was clearly punching up, not down.

          7. seejay*

            Yeah, I can see a time and place where it’s ok and done in the spirit of *fun*. I have a friend who’s a cross-dresser and he came dressed as his female manager, including a wig and an exact leather skirt/shirt outfit she was known to wear. His coworkers found it eerily creepy how exact he looked to her. But he had also cleared it with her if she was ok with him dressing up as her.

            And a few years ago, all our account managers chose a corresponding account manager to dress up as so they each came as one another. None of them did it to make fun of each other, but to do it as a group effort and it was hilarious and fun and we loved it. No one did anything to exaggerate or even did anything racially insensitive (even though there was some cross-cultural costumes that happened). They just picked clothes, hair/wigs, mannerisms and accessories to make sure they looked like each other and it worked perfectly.

            Dressing up as someone below you and making fun of them in the process is cruel and horrible. :(

          8. Joan Callamezzo*

            Exactly. I used to work at a hospital that held a “graduation night” celebration for the interns who were closing out their first year of post-medical school residency. They would have a fancy dinner at a downtown hotel, hand out gag awards and the interns themselves would put on a variety of sketches poking fun at themselves and other hospital personnel, but primarily the attending physicians.

            I still have a VHS recording of the sketches from one year–the surgical residents’ sketch was memorable. They picked out 1 or 2 broad characteristics of each attending surgeon, but the mimicry mainly depended on the use of oft-repeated sayings and catchphrases. Without any other identifiers, it was crystal-clear which surgeons were being roasted, but the ribbing was very good-natured; all of the docs in question were respected and well-liked. It went over very well and no one’s nose was out of joint afterwards.

        4. Samiratou*

          Agreed. For those at peon level to dress up as someone at the top of the food chain, that’s a very different animal than someone dressing up, in a derogatory way, of a peer of someone lower on the hierarchy.

          That reminds me a bit of back in the day at my company, someone would always dress up as the founder (in a hoodie with a 2 liter of Mt. Dew), but that was generally acknowledged as all in good fun. He’s no longer with the org now, and I wonder how many people would get that reference if someone did it today…

          1. Wendy Darling*

            I’m reminded of the comedy concept of “punching up”.

            It’s really hard to poke fun at someone below you on the food chain and not have it be just straight up bullying.

          2. VermiciousKnit*

            We had a whole group of people in our office dress-up as their well-beloved manager. It was a bit teasy, but it was definitely good-natured and not mean. It can be done! It just has to be well-thought out and done in the right context in a company that welcomes a bit of whimsy.

        5. Artemesia*

          Dressing as the boss COULD be good natured if the moves that go with it are not demeaning. Dressing up as a junior person in a way designed to ridicule (basic) and then acting like an airhead. No question that person should have been sent home within the hour and should be fired and if not possible should be on probation.

          1. fposte*

            Dressing like the boss is more likely to be good natured since the consequences to doing it meanly are much more likely.

            1. Lil Fidget*

              Yeah I think that’s the point of why this is cruel: the mocked employee couldn’t do anything to defend themselves, especially after the whole group piled on, and was no doubt left feeling hurt and helpless. That was no doubt what the mocker intended. While a boss has some really good options if s/he doesn’t like an employees behavior.

      2. Kalamet*

        There’s a coworker on my team that shares a lot of physical characteristics with me – we’re roughly the same height, same age, similar hair style (but dyed different colors), both wear glasses, and we sit right next to each other. We get mixed up a lot in conversation.

        Before Halloween we joked that it would be funny if we dressed up as each other and switched cubicles for a day. We didn’t go through with it, but I sure as heck wouldn’t have dressed as her without her consent.

        Also, can we agree that getting colored contacts to dress up as another employee, even as a joke, is going waaaaay too far? I can’t imagine those are cheap. That detail makes it seem creepy to me.

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          Getting coloured contacts, and a wig in the same style/colour is making a hell of a lot of effort to bully a co-worker. Maaaaaaaaaaybe there was a scenario when they had *one* they could borrow? But not both, no way!

          1. GreyjoyGardens*

            I used to wear colored contacts — though this was 20 years ago. and things might have changed. But when I wore them, they weren’t cheap, and while it wasn’t a huge PITA to order the colors you wanted, you did have to special-order a color (because clear is the default) and you had to wait a week or so until they came in.

            Maybe things have changed, but it was an outlay of money and time for me to wear colored contacts. It’s not like going to Target or those pop-up Halloween superstores or online where you can get cat ears or a witch costume the next day. Costumed Coworker knew just what she was doing and planned it.

            1. Snark*

              Yeah, there’s a level of commitment here that makes it worse. Matching someone’s fingernail polish is also pretty….effortful.

            2. seejay*

              There’s a lot of cosmetic lenses you can get these days that aren’t that expensive, like… $20-40 a pair. Usually they’re not normal colours (blue, green, brown) but strange/odd colours and they’re not prescription. My black ones were expensive but I got them about 15 years ago and had to order them online. Stores around me now sell the exact same time for half the price and I can just buy them immediately. I’ve been looking at getting white ones. I haven’t bothered looking for normal coloured ones since that’s boring and I wear prescription ones normally but I’m sure they’d be pretty easy to locate too.

          2. TychaBrahe*

            Colored contacts that only change your iris color as opposed to also correcting vision are not particularly expensive. They’re $19.95 at Wicked Eyes.

            1. Q*

              That is way more than I’d spend on a costume that would only make sense at work. Not including the other items…

            2. Alton*

              Yeah, they’re pretty easy to find for cheap. Though, a lot of eye doctors strongly discourage it because you don’t know if what you’re buying is really good for your eyes.

              1. Landshark*

                Yeah, I bought some for a costume (I do cosplays at conventions and go all-out on Halloween at home) and they worked, but they hurt like hell in ways that my regular contacts don’t. Unless I need a crazy, unnatural color, I’ve since decided that, if the eyes aren’t a focus of the costume, I’m not getting colored contacts. They’re not worth it, and I’m amazed that the malicious costumer was willing to go to such lengths for a nasty joke.

                1. Falling Diphthong*

                  The contacts are weird because barring a really striking effect, like Gifted’s Blink with the huge pale green irises, we actually don’t notice eye color much. For all its emotional weight (fictional characters usually have their eye color mentioned if they get any physical description beyond size), you usually have to be pretty close to someone and looking at their eyes (at a level beyond ‘make eye contact’) to note the color.

              2. GreyjoyGardens*

                20 clams and possible eye damage? No thank you. I like seeing. And I have lots of other places to spend $20. This goes to show that Costumed Bully deliberately planned all this. It was a premeditated effort, not any kind of spontaneous fun.

            3. Observer*

              So, $20 and bit of planning. If you really think that that’s “coincidence” I have a bridge to sell you. Especially combined with everything else.

          3. Sfigato*

            The bullying employee clearly has some major issues if someone being a mainstream white lady elicits such hatred from her.
            I feel really bad for the employee, and I can’t believe she didn’t get called on her ish.

              1. Fiennes*

                So true. If you’re determined to be the opposite of the mainstream, you’re still defining yourself by that mainstream.

            1. Specialk9*

              I know, right? It’s such foolish immaturity, based presumably on envy.

              You like brunch?! Eating French toast with maple syrup after sleeping in on a weekend?! WHAT KIND OF A MONSTER ARE YOU?

              Don’t even get me started on drinking coffee with cinnamon and a tiny bit of nutmeg sprinkled on top. The rage is overpowering me.

        2. Serin*

          Two girls who lived in my college dorm did this. One of them dressed boho style and the other was very preppie, and it wasn’t until Halloween that we realized how much they looked alike.

          It hardly needs to be said that these things are funny because they were both participating in the joke.

        3. oldbiddy*

          One of my colleagues at another site is my doppelganger – same coloring, height, hair, weight, build, glasses and general build. She’s about 10 years younger but we’re both the type who looks mostly the same from 30-50. I would totally suggest switching offices on Halloween if we worked in the same location.
          As it is, we see each other once a year at a large meeting that she organizes/coordinates. The caterers, etc always mix us up.

      3. copy run start*

        The only time I ever saw anything like this was in high school. One of the students dressed up as our not-popular principal. (Actually fooled a few teachers he did it so well.) And grade school is where this type of crap should stay.

        I strongly feel this employee should be fired, and everyone else seriously reprimanded for participating.

      4. brighidg*

        I’ve seen it done before two, one guy dressed up as his boss. Which just meant wearing a jacket he did and a funny toupee and fake mustache and saying hi to everyone the way he did. His boss thought it was great and they took pictures together.

        However, they’d been working together for several years and respected each other a lot.

      5. MidwestRoads*

        This happened at my old company — years before I was there but the story lives on. An entire team dressed up as the Board Chair in his very distinctive style — think bowties and Birks with socks — and the result was not only embarrassment for the poor Board Chair (a very nice and very smart gentleman), but a complete ban on Halloween costumes henceforth. (I do not know if the team was disciplined but I hope they apologized to the Board Chair!)

      6. saffytaffy*

        In an acting class, we all drew straws to imitate one another, and I drew the straw of the kid who, if I met him now, I would understand was on the spectrum and just doing his best. At the time I thought he was affected and obnoxious. I imitated his walk, his jutting jaw, his nervous tic of thrusting his elbows out, and everybody laughed, and he was so upset he threw a folding chair at me.

        1. Indoor Cat*

          Whoa. That…seems like a serious lack of judgement on your acting teacher’s part. Even if this was a community theatre class for adults, it should be obvious that some feelings are going to get hurt in that kind of game. I mean, obviously you yourself own your behavior, but you were also following your instructor’s lead, so I hope they also learned their lesson.

          1. saffytaffy*

            You know, I always thought the teacher was being kind of sadistic, because we were all college freshmen and it wasn’t like we were supposed to go imitate someone else and then bring that imitation back to class. I remember I felt sick when I was imitated, and couldn’t watch.

    3. Anon Accountant*

      Exactly. I’d push hard and escalate this complaint. Suggesting the employee is ditzy or airheaded?! With the great lengths went to so she could resemble the other employee this wasn’t a coincidence.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if the mocked employee started job searching over this. Action needs to be taken immediately.

    4. Engineer Girl*

      So let’s list the “coincidences”
      • Unusual name
      • wig that is same cut AND color
      • contacts to match eye color
      • matching nail polish
      • acting like other employee

      Sorry, too many matches.

      And “it was just fun” is right up there with “can’t you take a joke?” in passive agressive bullying denibility.

      If you do nothing you’ve not only lost an employee, you’ve helped to create a toxic workplace. This is fairly agressive bullying. Please don’t let the employee get away with this load of bull.

      Frankly, this deserves an unpaid suspension or firing.

      1. Helen*

        The letter said that the person dressed in the costume acted like an airhead, not that they acted the like their coworker (or that the coworker is an airhead). Big difference there. It would be wrong no matter what but there is nothing to suggest the coworker who was mocked is an airhead like the person who dressed up implied.

        1. The Principal of the Thing*

          I think that makes it even worse, though: it goes beyond mimicry and into outright cruelty and undercuts Newemployee heavily. This could have a long term impact on Newemployees potential to advance in the organisation and how she is perceived by others. It also puts people into a position where due to the costumed employee’s seniority people may be under pressure to join in the bullying. This is a horrendous abuse of power.

          1. Anon for this*

            “This could have a long term impact on Newemployees potential to advance in the organisation and how she is perceived by others.”

            This is unfortunately true. We’ve seen that play out in real life – large numbers of people thought something Tina Fey said on SNL were the actual comments of the person she was portraying. And although *that* person was in a public position, that situation should help this LW’s workplace see the problem with Bad Coworker’s act.

          2. Kalamet*

            Everyone else in the office seemed to think the “airhead” act was funny and in-character, so unfortunately it sounds like they already had zero respect for New Employee. This is a horrible situation for her.

          3. Jesca*

            No to mention the fact that she was playing up a freaking stereotype and calling herself *literally* this other employee BY NAME (name tag)! This wasn’t even just mocking an employee’s personal personality or quirky style (which would have been bad enough!!!), but was calling her a damn stereotype!

            If this happened to me, I would pretty much think well this is the way these MFers see me, and I am going to have to peace-right-the-hell-out of here! How demoralizing!

            OP needs to do something Right Now. I would definitely sit down with your boss and have a long conversation, and I hope hope HOPE you have a strong, coherent HR department!

          1. Elsajeni*

            That suggests more that they looked very alike than that they were acting alike — I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say two people who looked different but behaved the same were “like twins.” The whole insulting point of the costume is that, by dressing like the coworker and then acting like an airhead, she implies “acting like you = acting like an airhead”; that doesn’t mean she actually was acting like the coworker, and in fact it’s worse than just copying her actual quirks would be (although that would still be pretty nasty!).

        2. Not Australian*

          “there is nothing to suggest the coworker who was mocked is an airhead”

          True, but it’s a reasonable conclusion that the mocker *thinks* the mockee is an airhead.

          1. Myrin*

            Exactly. If you clearly and obviously dress like another person (as seems to have been the case here) and alter your usual behaviour while wearing said costume, you’d usually do that to imitate the person you’re dressing up as (whether that imitation is factually correct is another story).

        3. Jule*

          Ah, the middle school you’re-insulting-YOURSELF trap. “Sure, I was acting like an airhead. Why would she assume that’s about her? Does SHE think she’s an airhead?”

      2. Agatha_31*

        Either she’s lying and absolutely did do this to mock a co-worker, in which case she’s an asshole and should be fired for being a monumental asshole, or she seriously managed to come that close to an actual co-worker and it never occurred to her how co-worker and/or others might take it in which case she’s up there with the record holders for bad judgement on this site, and she should be fired for a monumental display of her lack of judgement.

        I mean, we all know which it is, but c’mon, even if that is her defense, it’s a terrible defense that is just as much against her as the first. Ugh. That poor girl that was mocked. Shame on everyone else involved for deciding to go along with this real life performance of a scene from Mean Girls.

        1. Bagpuss*

          yes, and if it had been a mistake a mistake then she could have reduced the impact it by taking off her name badge and making a new one in a different name, as soon as she got to work and realised “Oh crap, I totally forget new hire’s name was [unusual name]”

          1. Kalamet*

            This. She kept the costume on all day. She clearly didn’t care about New Employee’s feelings.

          2. Justme*

            The costume totally would have worked if the name tag were “Becky” (assuming there was nobody named Becky in the office). But the name thing shows me that it was intentionally cruel.

            1. fposte*

              It wouldn’t be individual bullying, but it’d still be a pretty gross costume, and I’d probably have had a conversation with its wearer that would have taken the fun out of it for them.

              1. Anna*

                Because it would still be mocking the employee? Or because it would be mocking middle class white women? As a middle-aged, middle class white woman, I think we can come down a peg or two.

                Sorry, but it’s still punching up and it’s still acceptable. It’s a concept that was started by WOC for a pretty good reason.

                1. Fuzzyfuzz*

                  What possible ‘good reason’ is there to perpetuate a stereotype? Especially in the workplace?

                2. Koko*

                  Yeah, it’s the work setting that makes insults inappropriate in either direction.

                  Just like you can go home and call your boss a petty tyrant and a jerk to your s/o and you haven’t violated any social norms, but you can’t come to work and call your boss a petty tyrant and a jerk and expect that not to impact your standing with him. You can tell your s/o that Carlton is a weirdo who can’t dance but you can’t come to work and tell Carlton he’s a weirdo who can’t dance.

                  Insults have no place in the office. (The obvious exception to any of these is if it’s playful ribbing between two employees who have a good relationship, but I’m speaking to when it’s being used as an insult.)

                3. Agatha_31*

                  People voted for that costume – people that included at least one superior. So that’s at least one example of a costume that may be ‘punching up’ for the person dressed up as that person (which is still in question) but is still a ‘punch down’ when viewed in the wider context of how it’s being perceived and who’s being mocked by whom. It’s still a costume that perpetuates harmful stereotypes against women that are still very much alive and well in too many places today – and which very clearly specifically still exists in this workplace culture, making it a stellar example of why even if it wasn’t specifically of that employee, it would *still* be a bad costume idea for an office environment.

                  Of course, this is coming from someone who’d look sideways even at a friend who used “basic bitch” as a costume idea even in a casual setting. Just because a class has *some* privilege doesn’t mean that sexist bullshit is suddenly given a free pass.

                4. Amazed*

                  “As a middle-aged, middle class white woman, I think we can come down a peg or two.”

                  No. You make that judgment on your own behalf. Not on mine.

                5. DArcy*

                  Dressing up to mock a generic white “basic b*tch” is making a point of social commentary that punches up; it’s totally outside the workplace, and *should* be acceptable in most workplaces as well.

                  Dressing up to mock a specific coworker who is substantially junior to you is using your position to belittle, mock, and bully them. That’s not okay.

        2. eplawyer*

          that’s what’s blowing my mind — everyone else thought it was great too. This is already a toxic workplace if someone can openly mock a co-worker and it is not just considered okay but rewarded. A Halloween costume contest does not excuse this action. The boss should have disqualified her immediately. Everyone else should have been embarrassed and upset on the co-workers behalf. Instead they applauded and found it funny.

          If pushing back hard does no good, both you and the young lady need to get out of there ASAP. And tell them why in your exit interview.

          1. eplawyer*

            addding if you think you can’t discipline because it’s more than a day later because you are new to managing, well you learnedyou can. If you think you can’t discipline because that is the office culture, you already in a toxic workplace. Places that think you can’t discipline except in the moment think you there is nothing that can be done and just spiral down.

          2. K.*

            Exactly. The costume was wrong and I think she should be fired for it, but the bigger issue is that this workplace culture dictates that this kind of behavior is OK. The fish rots from the head – the boss thinks this is appropriate and encourages this behavior. If I were the mocked employee I’d file a formal complaint, get my resume together, and start job-searching hard because this problem isn’t likely to go away if the culture stays the way it is.

            1. Else*

              First of all, you are absolutely right. Second – I love that phrase! The “fish rots from the head” is so fitting; I’m picking it up

          3. Alton*

            This is what surprises me, too. I can imagine a single person being a bully or thinking this would be funny. But she wondered the costume contest! And I think it’s likely they realized the costume was meant to be the co-worker. Best case scenario, maybe not everyone picked up on stuff like the airheaded behavior or that the point of the costume was to look “basic,” and they just misjudged the situation. But this could be a warning sign about the office culture being toxic. And if people realized the costume was mocking the co-worker, that shows very poor judgement.

          4. Fiennes*

            Did we learn nothing from “Ugly Betty”? Then again, when Marc dressed as Betty, Wilhelmina gave him a raise. But they were the show’s villains at the time!

            Basically, if your workplace is turning into Mode magazine, you’re in trouble.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        I think the name tag removes all possible doubt.

        The rest, you could have an argument about plausible deniability and coincidence and it’s just that you dressed up as an archetypal Goth Chick or Corporate Drone or IT Nerd, and Wakeenita dresses that way as her style. Once you slap on a “Hi, I’m Wakeenita” name tag, the deniability stops being plausible. No one in the office, manager included, should be giving that excuse the time of day.

      4. Samiratou*

        I got the impression that costumed coworker wasn’t acting like the other one, so much as acting like a stereotype (or more than one stereotype) of a category younger coworker fit into. Blonde, Millenial, whatever.

        Which makes it all the worse, as coworker likely fights those type of stereotypes all the time and it’s hard enough for young women to get taken seriously in the workplace as it is. This type of behavior is part of why we keep having to fight these battles over and over again and the fact that most people at that office don’t think it’s a problem is a sign of just how hard this stuff is to unravel.

          1. Natalie*

            I think Samiratou is talking specifically about the “acting like an airhead” part, not the physical mimicry. That is, Mocked doesn’t actually act that way, but it doesn’t matter because Costume was physically imitating her plus behaving in a way that is stereotypically “correct” for Mocked’s demographic.

      5. cold brew raktajino*

        Way too many “coincidences” (even putting aside the “acting like the other employee”). The only way I can see the name being an actual coincidence is if the mocked employee was named Becky.

      1. Specialk9*

        Except OP! Their instincts are totally right, but it sounds like there’s a bit of “I’m not crazy, am I?” given that everyone else is totally cool with Mean Girl workplace bullying.

    5. Myrin*

      Yes OP, I agree with this (and thank you for wanting to fight the good fight). Frankly, if I were in the report’s shoes, as someone who’s been bullied badly as a child this would be so triggering for me that I’d hand in my resignation immediately unless I had the full support of my direct supervisor and they’d also speak to other employees about how horrible such behaviour is to hopefully make them see the light.

      1. Jesca*

        I don’t know if this company would be able to salvage itself for me (because the company does need to salvage itself to the employee). The fact that so many people, including my grand-boss, voted for this! I would never ever be able to get it out of my head that this was how they saw me. How sad. Not only is this mean, but people clearly do not think of the long-term damage they can inflict on other people. We would all be remiss to think that this employee will not carry this experience with her through the rest of her working relationships.

        1. The Strand*

          Yeah, I’m with you on this. I would never see my coworkers or managers the same way if I was treated that way, or if I saw others being bullied.

      2. Queerty*

        Was coming in to say this. I’m the owner of a very unusual first (and last) name and was ostracised and bullied pretty badly through elementary and middle school. Something like this is one of my very very worst nightmares. I’d never show my face at the place again.

        1. C Average*

          Me, too. I’ve pretty much made peace with my unusual name, but I have many memories of being targeted by junior-high bullies for (among other things) that name. A stunt like the one described here would definitely open some old wounds for me.

      3. Floundering Mander*

        I would probably have walked out if I were the employee. I was also mercilessly bullied and mocked as a kid and it would be so utterly soul-destroying as an adult in the workplace that I don’t think I would tolerate it. Especially not when the boss has shown that they have no respect for me or concept of what is acceptable by endorsing this cruelty and finding it funny.

        Nope, nope, nope.

        OP, I hope you and the employee are able to find a new job very soon. This company does not deserve you.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          Yeah, I would not have made it through the day. It would be super difficult for me to come back, like, ever. Quitting with no notice would definitely be on the table.

        2. Kix*

          This reminds of a time in OldJob when the Executive Director spent an entire staff meeting trying to justify the promotion of a youngish and not-quite qualified employee to the rest of the program staff WHILE the employee was sitting in the meeting. As the ED started to go into excruciating detail about the employee’s salary, etc., I stood up and said, “This meeting isn’t germane to anything I’m working on presently,” excused myself, and left. I was surprised that any of this was anyone’s business other than the ED and the promoted employee, and to bring it up in a staff meeting?! Ack! The level of shaming that goes on the workplace astounds me.

    6. Bagpuss*

      op#1 – I agree, You can and should address this now. Make it clear to the person who dressed up that by choosing their colleague’s highly unusual and distinctive name they made clear that this was bullying and not a coincidence. make it clear she owes her colleague an apology and that you will be keeping close tabs on her to ensure that there is no further bullying (I would use that word) and that if there are any further incidents you will treat it as a very serious matter which could result in her being fired.

      Since your manager didn’t do anything, it’s tricky for you, but possibly you could approach it with her on the assumption that either she wasn’t aware that the junior co-worker’s name was used, or that she was choosing not to interfere as this was your report not her own direct report – i.e. rather than asking her why she didn’t take action, when you speak to her , do so on the basis that *of course* she is/was just as shocked as you t the inappropriate and bullying behaviour. It would probably be easiest to do this on the assumption that she did not see the name badge (or of your org. is large enough to make it plausible, that she didn’t know that the name picked was that of a recent hire) . That way, you don’t have to have a conversation about your manager’s poor judgement. Alternatively, if you have an HR department then loop them in but consider giving your manager the same ‘out’ if you need to – e.g. “New Employee felt unable to say anything at the time as she was aware that manager had voted for costume as ‘bests costume’. I assume that manager had not realised at the time that Costumed Employee used new hire’s name, and was deliberately mocking and humiliating her”

      1. FormerEmployee*

        Except that the OP’s manager voted for this as “best costume”.

        I wouldn’t want to be around any of these people on a day to day basis.

    7. Fake old Converse shoes*

      I had the worst high school flashbacks while reading this. I was given the Worst Dressed Award back when I was at high school, because I didn’t wore evening dresses or clubwear for any 15-year-old birthday party that I was invited to that year (15 years later, I still don’t wear that stuff). And then people ask me why I’m not on speaking terms with any of my high school classmates.

    8. Isla*

      Not to be “mean” too, but if the employee is basic, it’s not mean to refer to her as… basic. That’s just her style.
      It was a costume contest, people are allowed to have fun. If the costumed employee makes fun of the employee with an unusual name, sure address it. But I don’t think management should get involved in possible drama between employees over a halloween costume that’s very common (basic girl). If the employee with the weird name is basic, she can either take the jokes (because some ppl find it ridiculous) or rock it and ignore it.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        I don’t agree – I think this was mean-spirited, deliberate bullying. Nobody has an obligation to “suck it up and laugh along” with bullying or attacks. I hope we’ve gotten beyond the old-school thinking that bullying builds character.

        And I think that “basic” is a misogynist insult. I have never seen it as a costume where I live and I hope it doesn’t become common.

        1. Specialk9*

          Exactly. Using “basic” (short for basic bitch) as an insult is immature and classist, with unpleasant racial and sexist tones.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          “It was just a joke” is used as a defense for really awful behavior regularly.

          It is not actually a valid defense.

          If your joke harms someone, you need to apologize and work to make it right. At least, that’s what I’m teaching my kid. Too bad so many adults don’t know it.

        2. Specialk9*

          I read it as mean. Defending bullying isn’t ok. “But she IS fat and ugly” is not a good defence.

      2. One of the Sarahs*

        I think you’ve misread the letter. This isn’t a case of “I dressed as a common stereotype (nerd/basic girl) and someone else is offended because they have some traits of that stereotype” – this is absolutely dressing as a co-worker (down to coloured contacts and a specific wig to mimic her hair) and wearing a name tag to make sure no one missed what she was doing.

        And then on top of that, co-worker spent the day acting in specific ways that were clearly meant to be negative traits of her colleague.

        Everything about this was making mean-spirited fun of a colleague, and that’s not something most people would find easy to shrug off.

          1. Else*

            Exactly – and “basic” IS an insult. It’s one of the ones that can be used by people about themselves self-deprecatingly, but it CANNOT be used about someone else without being insulting. You’re essentially saying that they are not a valuable or unique or independent person, and in American culture that’s really insulting.

      3. Code Monkey, the SQL*

        Calling it “drama” suggests that there were two people participating equally in a conflict. This was not that. This was someone junior who was blindsided by someone more senior dressing up as a caricature of her for Halloween, without her consent, and was clearly uncomfortable with it.

        And ‘basic’ or not, she shouldn’t have to suck it up and be made fun of because someone else thinks her name/hair/nails/clothes/attitude/style/coffee choice etc. are “ridiculous.” Work is for work, not “OMG, I can’t believe how redic she is about Starbucks. Sooo basic and lame.”

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          *This*. You don’t have to like someone’s fashion or coffee choices. You don’t have to drink Starbucks at all. But you do have to be professional and respectful at work.

      4. fposte*

        “Basic” isn’t an objective reality. It’s a demeaning cultural lens. Nobody “is” basic.

      5. Observer*

        You mean it’s ok to mock people for being airheads? If she’s really an airhead who can’t get things done, that’s a management problem. And if she’s NOT an airhead calling her one is just rude, at minimum.

        And calling someone unsophisticated and shallow is just rude. Period.

      6. Mike C.*

        So you’re cool with perpetuating a toxic workplace? Because this is how you get a toxic workplace.

        1. Koko*

          Yes. The only things an employee should be doing at work is activity that furthers getting the work done. Positive social interactions with coworkers generally count as work-related activity because they promote cohesion and good morale, which are helpful for getting the work done.

          Much like bikinis, there may be settings where calling someone basic is fine, but work isn’t one of them.

      7. Serin*

        “Basic” exists to be a pejorative. It’s like saying, “If she’s a spaz, she should just own it” or “If she’s a snot-nosed brat, she should just own it” or “If she’s a doofus, she should just own it” or “If she’s pig-ugly, she should just own it.” Because people are allowed to have fun, right?

      8. C Average*

        Every single one of us, when viewed through certain lenses, is some kind of cliche. Calling out our observations about who is what kind of cliche is the behavior of kids who haven’t yet been educated that a) it’s rude and b) you probably wouldn’t enjoy having it pointed out that you, too, are some kind of cliche to people who haven’t bothered to get to know you and have pigeonholed you instead.

        It has no place in a grown-up office where there’s actual work to be done and where, presumably, people have learned that the appearance of gratuitous meanness, even when not expressly prohibited, isn’t a good look on humans, let alone so-called professionals.

      9. Matilda Jefferies*

        And I’m going to jump in here and call you our for the phrase “weird name.”

        “Unusual” is an objective term, it means there are not many people with this name in this part of the world.
        “Weird” is judgmental, as it implies both unusual and wrong. It’s not a polite thing to say about someone’s name.

        Commenting rule #1 is “please be kind.” Starting a comment with “Not to be mean…but…” is the same as saying “Not to be racist, but…” or “No offense, but…” Essentially, you’re saying that you know you’re not supposed to be mean, racist, or offensive, BUT… you’re going to do it anyway.

        1. M from NY*

          I think the OP used the term weird to make it clear that the name tag with coworkers name was deliberate and not a “give benefit of the doubt” coincidence.

          1. zora*

            The OP didn’t use the word “weird”. The OP said it was “not common”, this commenter Isla is the one who used the term weird. That is definitely a not-kind way to refer to an uncommon name.

      10. Galatea*

        I’m a lesbian. I look like a lesbian. I dress like a lesbian! I own the fact that I look like a lesbian. If someone were to dress up as “a lesbian” for Halloween — well, that would be wildly offensive and and of itself, but if it was also clearly directed at me, to the point of wearing a wig and contacts to look like me, and acted “like a lesbian” as a “hilarious” “joke”, I would be extremely upset. There’s no amount of “owning” targeted cruelty that makes it less cruel!

        1. Else*

          Same to all of this! I can make jokes about lesbian stereotypes and myself, but nobody else can, and I certainly don’t do that at work. If my coworker did something like this, it would be straight to HR. Whether HR would do anything I can’t begin to guess, but I’d sure try to get them to. It’s exactly the same. You DO NOT make personal remarks about people, and you certainly don’t do it about people junior to you.

      11. Shirley Keeldar*

        We actually know that the costumed employee was not just having fun. We have direct evidence to that effect. Here is the evidence: She dressed up as a coworker and then DENIED that she had done so.

        If it was all in good fun it would have sounded like this: “Sure, I dressed up as XXXXXX. She didn’t mind, did she?” But this employee wore a wig, colored contacts, and a freaking name tag, and then she claimed she wasn’t actually dressing up as her coworker. Clearly she knew that what she had done was both mean and wrong.

      12. SignalLost*

        No. Adding the name tag is what crossed the line in the final analysis. Even the wig and contacts could be excused, if one was in a generous mood, as playing to the basic stereotype and it’s just coincidence that Coworker fits that stereotype (I am not, nor will I ever be, in that generous a mood, for the record) but the name tag is what makes it very, very clear this was extremely targeted bullying of the new person. It was not in fun, and it cannot be considered in that light, end of.

        If I were the bully’s supervisor, I would definitely be considering going to firing right the hell now. In my city, we have workplace bullying laws, and this would violate them big time. If OP is in an area with similar laws, OP may *need* to take action. And the rest of the office needs to be educated on that law. (Also, all jurisdictions need to be considered – if the city has no law, the county might and it would supersede the city.) This is not to say that taking action isn’t the right thing to do, because it is. It’s to acknowledge that on top of the moral issue there may also be legal ones.

        1. Half-Caf Latte*

          I disagree that the wig/contacts can be excused as playing to the sterotype. Sure, there’s a blonde/ditzy trope, but basic b’s have been clearly depicted as white girls with all hair/eye colors. It’s clear from these, and the nail polish, who she was intending to be. Even without the nametag, this is clearly a scenario for discipline/firing.

          The name tag is over the top, but frankly is probably a favor to the OP, because it removes any plausible deniability that the bully could claim.

          1. SignalLost*

            Right, but without the name tag, a workplace willing to turn a blind eye to the overall mockery has that “plausible deniability” excuse on lock, so while you and I draw the line much earlier than that, and healthy workplaces should, I think this one might not, and the commenter I was replying to seemed to agree that this was all in good fun even with the name tag. Like, we’re all side-eyeing the wig and the contacts and the nail polish, and this place didn’t even raise an eyebrow at the name tag; that suggests that the name tag should be the clear marker of a problem for people who are that good at buying into plausible deniability, because the moment the name tag is added, even the most dysfunctional workplace SHOULD be able to recognise that this has gone too far. I think this much bullying takes a real sense of groupthink and a real sense of refuge in audacity to take this much hold, and the name tag crosses that line in a way anyone should see.

        2. Koko*

          I would also be ready to fire the bully, or at minimum put the bully On Notice that their behavior is cruel and wholly inappropriate, they need to apologize to their coworker, and their one get-out-of-jail-free card has now been cashed in and if they are found bullying anyone else again at any point in the future they will be fired immediately.

          1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

            I would insist the apology be open / public.

            A 1-on-1 doesn’t cut it. Sure, Bully #1 won’t do it again (under penalty of hittin’ the bricks) but a 1-on-1 won’t prevent someone else from doing something similar in the future.

            Remember, the big shot boss sat back and had a ho-ho over the incident with the rest of the staff. That sent a general message to people “hey, this is OK!”

      13. Specialk9*

        You aren’t being “mean”, you’re defending group mockery of a co-worker, ie bullying, which just plain old IS mean.

        “But she IS fat and ugly, so it can’t be mean to say so” is a poor defence, and it’s the exact same logic as your attempted defence. Don’t be that person.

        1. Observer*

          But is you are fat and ugly, your only redeeming quality is having a “sense of humor” (read accepting jokes about your weight and obviously piggish eating habits as hilariously funny)! Didn’t you KNOW that? Sheesh!

          I mean, you ARE fgat and ugly. Own it! And let everyone mock you, because that’s how you “own it”.

          And, in case this is not CRYSTAL CLEAR – I am being SARCASTIC.

      14. Leenie*

        My favorite part about this comment is the implication that there’s some objective, measurable standard of “basic” that’s become generally accepted after extensive, peer reviewed research.

      15. Marthooh*

        If there’s anything more stereotypically “basic” than the Queen Bee attacking the New Girl, it’s all the Basic Bees joining in.

  2. NotoriousMCG*

    That costume story makes my heart hurt.

    Also, I realize they were making fun of the girl for immature/ditzy tendencies – but she’s a recent grad and this person has 5 or more years of professional experience – who is the immature one???

    Reminds me of one time I was in a large group of people and we were playing a game called psychiatrist – essentially someone goes out, everyone decides on a pattern for answering questions, and the person questions till they figure out the pattern. One time I was the ringleader and suggested we answer as if we were the person who was the psychiatrist that round – a not well liked guy. Lots of mean spirited answers followed.

    The difference? We were 14 and I quickly recognized that I was being a big ol jerk.

    1. diaphanous*

      My high school group played that as well. After one game went particularly long and the imitations got more and more exaggerated, we realized how cruel it was and never played again.

    2. No Longer Lurking*

      Exactly! This is not only cruel but staggeringly immature!

      OP, I have to say, the reaction of your other co-workers and boss suggests that your workplace is pretty toxic. This “Mean Girl” made sure that it was entirely obvious she was (1) dressed as a specific co-worker AND (2) disparaging the co-worker in question. That’s bullying 101. That everyone else is essentially applauding this needless cruelty is making me wonder what else this co-worker has been subjected to…

      The sad thing is that, in the proper context, dressing up as a co-worker could actually be a cute idea; obviously the co-worker would need to be in on the joke and possibly even lend an outfit for maximum effect.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Yes, it makes me think that the new employee has been the target of a lot of unpleasantness that became openly manifest on Hallowe’en… to the applause of the group’s senior manager, who thought it was great. That’s pretty bad.

    3. a Gen X manager*

      Totally agree, Notorious. I literally feel sick to my stomach after reading that post. The worst part in my mind is the pack of jerk co-workers who voted for it and had zero insight into the fact that this was hurtful / that no one stood up for her!? How did she ever get through the day? That is one amazingly strong individual!

      1. fposte*

        I can see it being more complicated than that for the bystanders–some of them might think New Hire is in on it, some of them missed the more demeaning aspects of the performance, and their grandboss is approving the whole situation.

        1. SignalLost*

          And there’s also groupthink – that letter a while back about the manager who was doing extreme sports for team building, which the OP could not participate in; when OP finally called it out, it turned out many of the coworkers that had been participating also didn’t like the activities but hadn’t felt comfortable speaking up. A lot of us can identify when something is wrong, but it takes a special person to push back and call it out. Many of us will go along despite discomfort. (I am not the caller-out as often as I would like to be.)

          1. Specialk9*

            I’ve always been the caller-out, and have been burned enough that I try not to be unless absolutely necessary!

        2. GreyjoyGardens*

          It might also be that grandboss is something of a bully or tyrant or toxic person, especially since LW was so hesitant to confront their grandboss and Toxic Costume Lady. Sometimes, in situations like that, bystanders are afraid to speak up because 1) it might not do a lick of good and 2) it might make *them* the next target, especially if the bully is also a manager’s pet. That’s not an excuse, just an observation.

          In situations like that it’s often better if a whole group sticks together and speaks up, rather than one lone person. If I’m being charitable, maybe there were dissenting voices who thought that Toxic Costume Lady was being cruel but were afraid to speak up. If I’m being uncharitable, then Grandboss and Toxic Costume Lady are the ringleaders of a gang of bullies and the poor woman who was targeted is their usual scapegoat. In any case, this needs to be nipped in the bud ASAP.

  3. Etak*

    Op #2, it’s also very possible your coworker might want to discuss the large city you just moved from, without some larger plan of just using your network. I live in a large major city and I often get requests from people I know tangently or from my hometown thinking about making the move to ask about transit, neighborhoods, etc. I know most information is available online but people often want a personal opinion on things like that.

    1. CostumeHater*

      ^This. I moved from a big northern city to a small southern suburb. I get asked all the time about why I moved. They’re not trying to hone in on my professional network. They’re just making conversation, or, genuinely curious about why someone would leave friends and family for a whole new location. If they had ever thought about living in big northern city, they would ask about school districts, big employers in the area, etc. Totally normal stuff.

      OP, it sounds like you’re very much in the “work and personal life has a strict boundary” frame of mind. I get where you’re coming from, but not everyone feels that way. It sounds like your coworker is just being friendly and trying to make the new person feel welcome. I’d give her a break, and Alison’s suggested language is excellent.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        I grew up in the Los Angeles area and particularly the brief time I spent on the east coast, people were aghast that anyone would ever leave. I got asked why I moved all the time. (The answer is it’s too hot, the traffic is terrible, housing prices are terrible, air quality is terrible, the godforsaken drought is terrible, and the job market in my field is mediocre.)

        1. Th*

          Op#2 Here. It is possible she is just curious. But there were a few things she did that made it Feel sneaky. For example, NONE of my other colleagues are on her LinkedIn network and they have been around for months now. She keeps asking me “Why would you move from X city. People are so complacent in Y ciyu.” I told her ” a city is what we make of it. I’m looking forward to the change here”.

          1. Susanne*

            I think you’re overreacting to the LinkedIn thing. Some people do LinkedIn and others don’t. Inviting / adding a coworker is hardly over-the-top.

          2. Trout 'Waver*

            As long as she isn’t contacting your contacts through LinkedIn, I wouldn’t think of it as using your network. People use that site in a lot of different ways so I wouldn’t read anything into it. That’s just my personal opinion, though.

            1. Antilles*

              Yeah. There’s a whole *spectrum* of how people use LinkedIn.
              On one end, you have people who treat it like a mid-2000’s Facebook, where you literally add everybody you’ve ever met in your entire life even if you haven’t talked to them in years.
              On the other end, there are people who treat it like a true old-school professional network, where you only add people that you know/trust well enough that you’d put your own reputation on the line to recommend them.
              And basically everything in between. There’s also people (I’m one!) who use the site very rarely, so whenever I add people, it’s basically whoever I think of in that 5 minute-span between “deciding to check LinkedIn” and “I get bored and do something else”.

          3. Detective Amy Santiago*

            The LinkedIn thing is a weird thing to focus on.

            As for the questions about big city – a lot of people from smaller towns are fascinated by stories of big city life. It’s the whole “grass is always greener” phenomenon.

          4. NOT Missy*

            Even if she does want to use your help and LinkedIn with you for that, why is that such a bad thing? Why are you so against it? Is she a really bad employee?

            Sounds like a smart thing to do on her end. You don’t have to recommend her for jobs or use your professional collateral but you can give her some advice and tips.

            1. Pink Basil*

              This. You’ve been there for a month, she’s reaching out to you possibly for insight into her next move and possibly because she’s friendly or likes you. If you were in her position wouldn’t you want someone to give you the down low about a place you were interested in moving to? What if six months from now you realize she’s a great co-worker and you’ve heard about a great opportunity that she’d be perfect for? That’s what a professional network is about — getting and giving.

          5. Antilles*

            I wouldn’t think twice about the LinkedIn thing. If she’s only been there for five days and feels like she’s connected better with you than the others, it’s entirely reasonable to add only YOU and wait on your colleagues until after she feels like she’s connected with them a bit better. Or maybe you’re right and she views you as a useful connection but not your colleagues. Maybe she just messing around with LinkedIn on her phone and added you first, was fully intending to add your colleagues but then she got distracted by something else and just hasn’t gotten around to adding your colleagues yet. There’s just too many potential interpretations here to really try to figure out what it means.

          6. Natalie*

            I mean, it sounds like she’s not super thrilled with where she lives and is impressed with where you used to live – I could see someone wanting to be friends on that basis alone. It might not be the most satisfying friendship, necessarily, but it’s not sinister.

            And lots of people are lazy or inconsistent about how they use LinkedIn. I know I am.

          7. Q*

            Maybe the others don’t really used LinkedIn. Maybe she requested them, too, and they never use LinkedIn so they didn’t accept.

          8. SarahTheEntwife*

            I’m not sure what’s so sneaky about asking about the city and finding some professional contacts there if she’s potentially interested in moving. It sounds like she’s being maybe kind of heavy-handed about it and not hearing your soft-nos about dinner, but otherwise is doing totally normal networking things. Just tell her outright to stop if it’s bothering you.

          9. Beatrice*

            I moved from Florida to the cold, cold midwest years ago. Every time I meet someone new here, and mention where I grew up, the response is some variant of “WHYYYY would you move HERE?”

            I usually don’t mind – most people are just being friendly and small-talky, and I have friendly and small-talky stock responses that I rotate through. But slight wording and attitude shifts can turn a small-talky question into a VERY annoying conversation where someone questions a major life decision that I obviously put a lot of thought into, based on really superficial values that may or may not have been factors for me at all. It sounds like she crossed over that boundary for you…she sounds like she’s really unhappy and lonely where she is, and she’s looking for a way out and maybe a partner in “not liking Y city” while she’s there. You definitely don’t have to be that person for her! But finding a way to feel a little empathy for her at the same time might help you be a little less annoyed, while you’re setting boundaries.

            1. Important Moi*


              Wording and attitude shifts do indeed change small talk to an annoying conversation probing into how I manage my affairs

            2. Jessica*

              I live in the cold northern tundra of the Midwest, and though I love living here, I still totally ask people why they moved here, especially if they did so from an area commonly recognized as a vacation destination. Part of it is just curiosity, part is about wondering what attracted them to *this* area as a place to live. I know why I like it, but I didn’t choose to live here, per se–I grew up here. I choose to live here *now* (I’ve also lived in other states), but that’s because I had decades to acclimate, and work around the super-cold winters, the variation in daylight, and so forth. I know plenty of people who hit their limit and moved to warmer climates.

              So yeah, I’m totally curious as to why people *do* move HERE. Chances are they’re probably a kindred spirit in the bud! Let’s find out. Maybe they’re not really prepared for their first winter here, and now I can gleefully regale them with ominous stories about what 20 below feels like. (Talking about the weather, the official state conversation topic!) Maybe they moved away years ago and are returning. Maybe they’ve always wanted to live in the land of flannel shirts and log-cabin decor and food on a stick! It’s always a fun topic that serves to, excuse the pun, break the ice.

            3. Geillis D*

              I made a BIG MOVE followed by a BIG CAREER CHANGE. I had lots of conversation where I felt like I had to explain myself.
              Funny how this can teach you a lesson about talking to people who have gone through similar things. My stock small-talk to people who tell me they have changed career from cowboy to stock broker or moved from Maui to Manitoba is “wow, that sounds like quite an adjustment”. It’s my Swiss Army Knife of conversation and lets the other side reveal as much or as little as they are comfortable with.

            4. Th*

              This is exactly what has happened to me and i couldn’t point out. Now that you mention it my own feelings surface. There’s two aspects I’m dealing with – one is her attitude and two is the constant dinner invites. Her attitude conveys superficial thoughts to me over a decision I have been planning for a year now.

              Thank you for this insight, I cannot express how much impact it had on my own mind.

          10. LadyL*

            Is she young? To me that just reads like someone who is tired of their small town life, and sees you with stars in their eyes because you’re from the Cool Big City. When I was a teen I attached like a mythical status to people from New York City, because to me it wasn’t that far off from talking to someone from Narnia. I would have wanted to talk to you all about the city and to show you how Cool and Sophisticated and Not Like The Rest of this Small Town I was. Luckily I grew out of that (and moved to a city), but if she’s young/immature maybe she’s still there.

            1. Th*

              Precisely what is happening here and for the record I moved from NYC to a little smaller city for multiple reasons.

      2. Specialk9*

        This was such a strange letter! “Help, I’m new in town and my co-worker is being nice to me! AaAaAahhhh!”

        So strange. OP, they’re being kind, and possibly networking, not plotting to overthrow your kingdom. Being new in town is hard for most people. It’s a special, kind person who reaches out to the new kid.
        She stops by to chat, added you to LinkedIn, made conversation about your life, and leaves work at the same time? But hey, go ahead and be really really rude and curt to the friendly lady in the small town you just moved to… From a big city.

        1. zora*

          Um, this is pretty harsh.

          We’ve talked about this a lot, but sometimes people get a vibe that is a subtext to the things a person is actually saying. Sure, on the surface it seems like the coworker is just being nice, but if the OP is feeling like she is being too pushy and it’s frustrating her, let’s take her at her word. I don’t think it’s a good idea to tell people to ignore their gut feelings about someone making them feel uncomfortable.

        2. R2D2*

          I had the same reaction, Specialk9. I feel like OP is being overly suspicious of this friendly coworker. Maybe she’s been burned in the past?

    2. It's all Fun and Dev*

      Exactly, people can want two things – she might want to get to know you as a person/friend, and she might also be interested in your career path/where you came from. When I was applying to NewJob (across the country) it turned out I would be moving to the hometown of one of my newest coworkers at OldJob. I used the opportunity to get to know her better – I took her to lunch to ask about her experiences living there, but it also became a genuine friendship and we’re still in touch even after we’ve both moved. It wasn’t some nefarious plot to use her for her insights, it just so happened that one of the things we connected over was talking about this city.

      It’s 100% fine if you want to keep coworkers out of your social life, but please don’t think she’s trying to pull one over on you. Lots of people are very generous with connecting people in different realms – I know I’d be happy to connect her to people I knew in Old City, because I like helping people and I was in a position to do something nice. It’s ok if that’s not you, but don’t think less of her because of it.

      1. Specialk9*

        What you said. Few things in life delight me as much as helping a nice person get where they want in life. Kind new co-worker who is making me feel welcomed in this close-knit small town? Happy to talk about the big city you want to move to, and make social introductions for you.

  4. CostumeHater*

    OP#1, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. Your mocked employee must feel so awful and humiliated, and knowing that your boss voted for the costumed worker? Ugh.

    I’ve been in that situation (I actually looked at the date to make sure this wasn’t an old letter that was reprinted), so I understand what that feels like.

    On Halloween a few years ago, a coworker dressed up as me, complete with white powder to make her skin paler and a black wig. In case there was any deniability that she was just being a vampire or goth person (that’s my natural coloring), she wore an Egyptian cartouche necklace, which I’ve worn every day for 20 years, and a green jacket (We live in a rainy area, so I always wore a green trench to work). She spent the day “acting like me”, saying she hated drinking and that people who drank were frat trash and that she was soooooooo fancy and soooooo educated. (For context, I do not drink at work functions. I do not bring it up or get preachy, I just quietly decline beer or wine and carry around a ginger ale with lime, but it seemed to aggravate my coworkers. I was the only one on the team with a master’s degree, and they teased me mercilessly about it.)

    Everyone laughed, including my boss, and I felt so humiliated and small. I cried the whole way home. My boss couldn’t understand why I was upset when I tried to speak to her about it.

    I ended up job searching right away. When I handed in my notice, they were genuinely shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, that I was leaving.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I am so sorry this happened to you. It’s not ok, and I’m sorry your coworkers/boss didn’t have the empathy or compassion to see why it was wrong.

    2. Isabel*

      Wow peopld can be so cruel… And shocked? This shows low emotional intelligence / lack of empathy. I’m glad you opted to move on to a hopefully better environment.

      1. Knitting Cat Lady*

        When I was in grad school my supervisor was a micro manager and a bully.

        When I left after a year to work for a decent wage in industry her reaction was typical.

        She was shocked, totally shocked I tell you, because we had been getting on SO WELL! The reason for that was that I had totally checked out and was more or less working to rule.

        She also tried to guilt trip me with ‘What will your parents think?!’. I told her that I had the complete support of my parents.

        Some people…

        1. Lance*

          She actually asked what your parents would think? She wasn’t close friends with them or anything, was she? Because that’s reaching really far otherwise.

          1. Knitting Cat Lady*

            Yes, she actually did ask that. And nope, she had never even met my parents!

            The year under her really messed me up, the way toxic work places tend to do.

            She was a really horrible boss. And cruel. I went to cry on the loo many times.

            And it’s really fun working for someone who wants to dictate every single pen stroke you make. And complains about your lack of initiative in the next breath.

            No matter what you do, you will get yelled at. And called names. And cursed. And threatened with violence…

            Man, I’m so glad I got out!

            1. Geillis D*

              It takes an active detoxifying to get rid of the nasty baggage.
              Two months into AwesomeNewJob, and I’m still amazed by the fact that people say “good morning” and “have a good night/weekend, see you tomorrow/next week” and make small talk rather than look at me like I’m an alien when I dare to ask them how was the drive on a cold snowy morning. At ToxicOldJob I was frozen out by my manager who essentially ignored my unless a mistake needed to be pointed out. It does a number on your confidence.

    3. Sami*

      Oh my gosh- that’s just so awful. That’s really horrible and I’m so sorry it happened to you. Good for you for getting out of there.

    4. Agatha_31*

      Good for you getting the hell out of dodge when it became clear that making fun of someone = hilarious & A-OK, but having a serious discussion about bullying? This is soooo confusing and irrational to us! I really really hope that you found something far far better than that (‘far far because just ‘better’ is a ridiculously low bar in that case).

    5. CoffeeLover*

      Your story broke my heart. I’m so sorry you had to go through that. You’d think we left this kind of behaviour back at the playground, but people can be really cruel. These people were clearly intimidated by you and chose to lash out in a really immature way. It reflects their insecurities and shortfalls more than it says anything about you. In fact, I think you took the high road here. I’m really happy you were able to move on from that place.

    6. Demon Llama*

      Oh wow. Just – wow. I am so sorry that happened to you.

      And FYI – even if you had been more vocal about not drinking at work functions or about your education (and I’m not for a moment suggesting that you were) – no matter what your behaviour, they were 100% in the wrong. IT IS NEVER OK to humiliate someone like that. There is literally nothing you could have done that would have meant you deserved that behaviour. Nothing! They were so, so wrong.

      I hope that you’re in a much better work environment now where people respect you and where your colleagues don’t assume bullying and mocking is appropriate behaviour.

    7. Lora*

      I’m sorry this happened but not surprised.

      Ethically, morally, human life is generally a Good Thing. In reality, people are horrible a-holes depressingly often.

    8. MissDissplaced*

      Wow, that’s horrible. It seems the Mean Girls don’t stop after high school, and what a bunch of Btches.

    9. Teapot Librarian*

      Oh man that’s terrible. My stomach is churning with anxiety and humiliation on your behalf. People suck. I’m sorry that your boss didn’t understand and I’m very glad you were able to find another job.

    10. R2D2*

      I’m so sorry this happened to you, CostumeHater. Inexcusable and cruel. I’m glad you were able to leave that work environment!

    11. Specialk9*

      I’m so sorry you dealt with that. How cruel, of her and the other envious people on your team. Some people can only feel good about themselves when the drag others down.

      1. LilFidget*

        I can only wonder if they meant it to be good natured teasing and it just went completely off the rails? Still, it seems clear that they weren’t close enough to you to understand how you would take this. Thoughtless and cruel. There are many other examples here in the comments of “lovingly” dressing up as coworkers (or even gently mocking bosses, which doesn’t present the same problem although you might get canned for it) but clearly something went wrong here since it ended in tears!

        1. fposte*

          I’m reminded of the post (from a regular commenter, I believe) who came home from the hospital and was given a get-well gift from her co-workers that was a bag of garbage.

        2. Trillian*

          The person on the receiving end knows the difference between good natured teasing and bullying. They really do.

  5. Jeanne*

    #1, I feel bad for your mocked report. Bullying is still extremely common since there really isn’t anything illegal about it. It is found in all levels of management. I am not at all surprised the way Alison is. I have experienced way too much. I appreciate that you are willing to try to change the culture of at least your group. Be aware it could take a lot of your political capital if you try to push back to your own manager and you may well be the next bullying target.

    1. Seal*

      While this may well be true, it shouldn’t stop the OP from standing up for her employee. Sadly speaking from experience, the only thing worse than being publically bullied by your coworkers is having a boss that knows it’s happening but does nothing about it.

      1. Gadfly*

        Really, if it takes too much capital or makes OP a target, it is a good reason for OP to be thinking ahead and keeping an eye out for places to apply as well.

        When things are that boundary crossing cringeworthy and not dealt with, you have to consider the chances of it getting worse. Be it that it focuses on you, or gets broader/more general, or crosses a line into illegal. When bad judgement is already proven, and steps to remedy it are rejected, it usually means that more stupidity is coming.

        You have to ask yourself if you really want to be involved in the next time or if it is worth looking at your options to be elsewhere.

        1. Natalie*

          It also gets in your head and warps your idea of how a workplace should function and how colleagues should interact. And that conditioning can be hard to undo.

          1. Seal*

            Agreed. It’s been over 15 years since I left a job where I was regularly bullied by people who insisted they were “professionals” and I still occasionally struggle to identify “normal” workplace behavior from my colleagues. On the other hand, I am hyper-aware of bullies and what bullying looks like. What happened to the OP’s report is definitely bullying.

        2. Samiratou*

          This was my thought, too. OP should definitely go to bat for her with the boss(es) but should also be polishing up her resume and encouraging her report to do the same, offer a great reference, etc.

          The type of office culture where this is all seen as totally OK is not one that’s going to be good for their mental health long-term.

    2. Kms1025*

      OP #1. Don’t allow fear of retribution stop you from being brave and standing up for this woman, and common decency in general. Bullies only succeed when everyone else allows them to. Don’t be one of the everyone else. You know this was wrong. Perhaps some of the others in your office knew it too but felt intimidated because no one seemed to be putting a stop to it all? Just seriously such a grade school jerk move to make. Your whole office needs sensitivity training and anti bullying awareness. WTH?!*%#!?

  6. Mephisto*

    OP #1 – Ouch! There is a line between mocking someone and teasing someone in fun (mostly that the other person has to actually think its fun), and wow that is massively over the line.

    One year my coworker and I dressed up as each other for Halloween, but it was friendly and we planned it with each other beforehand. Now I feel like I have to go back to him and double check I didn’t push it too far and that it was indeed friendly!

    1. Paquita*

      One year at Halloween another department ALL dressed like a coworker. Khaki pants, polo shirt and name tag “Name”. That was her ‘uniform’. She was honored! It was lots of fun and she retired shortly after that. She had been there forever. No mocking, no bullying, just good fun.

      1. Colette*

        Yeah, I agree that this kind of thing isn’t always inappropriate (although in the OP’s case it clearly was). I had a coworker dress up as me one year and it was all in good fun.

  7. Hunger Games Summer*

    OP1 – what a horrible thing to do to another person. If I was the mocked employee I don’t think I could have made it through the day. Also, I would have updated my resume and started trying to leave that day. Any work place that appears to not only allow but encourage bullying is not somewhere most people want to work. If your mgr doesn’t see the gravity of the situation, I would consider going higher or to HR. My work place has anti-bullying language in our employment manual and I could use that as justification.

  8. LadyCop*

    #1 Defintinatly can’t call it a coincidence. Because why else would a “basic” girl need a name tag? Also, contacts are a BIG step in mimicking someone… I have to agree with Alison that the lying is worse than the act…as bad as the act is. In my job, lying can do a lot more than cost me my job. I would rattle a few cages, but be mindful of your personal work environment. At least, a very serious discussion with costume person is needed.

  9. Mike C.*

    OP1: Fire this person immediately. This is textbook harassment and has no place at work.

    It’s clear that your other employees are wrong about what is and isn’t acceptable and this sends a clear message about what happens to people who bully their coworkers and then lie to their bosses about it.

    Either then or you’re going to have a toxic workplace on your hands. Hand that person a box and tell them to gtfo first thing. Deal with your own manager later. They might need some convincing, but you’re acting in the best interest of the company and reasonable people will understand this.

    1. Nursey Nurse*

      I totally agree with you on this. It’s pretty clear that the bully thinks there aren’t going to be any consequences for her nastiness. She felt comfortable enough to give up any claim to plausible deniability by wearing a *name tag*, for god’s sake. She’s cruel, the rest of OP’s staff who voted for her are cruel, and OP’s boss is both cruel and stupid. I would have been mortified if I were the mocked employee. OP needs to fire the bully and have a firm chat with the rest of the staff about appropriate professional behavior.

      OP, I wonder if it would be helpful to point out to your boss that the optics of this story, were it to end up on social media or otherwise be made public, are terrible. Most people aren’t jerks, and they’re going to see this incident as bullying and the company that took no action after this incident as condoning bullying. That’s going to cost you customers and make it hard for you to attract good applicants for open positions. Who is going to want to work for a company at which their coworker may end up dressing as them for Halloween?

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        “OP, I wonder if it would be helpful to point out to your boss that the optics of this story, were it to end up on social media or otherwise be made public, are terrible.

        If it was in my power, I’d order clueless boss to sit down and read the comments on this post. Maybe that would open their eyes just a little bit…and make them realize how lucky they are that none of us here has any idea of their identity or that of their company.

        O.P., I really do hope you push back hard on this and escalate as needed. That employee’s behavior was inexecusable, and your boss’s reaction was offensive and horrifying.

        I REALLY hope we gst an update on this one, and that it includes a mention of costume wearing mean girl’s ass getting fired.

        1. RVA Cat*

          I’m really hoping the mocked employee finds a better job soon and then *shreds* this company on Glass Door.

      2. Engineer Girl*

        It’s pretty clear that the bully thinks there aren’t going to be any consequences for her nastiness. She felt comfortable enough to give up any claim to plausible deniability by wearing a *name tag*, for god’s sake.

        This is one of the more disturbing aspects of the story. The mocker felt so powerful in this dynamic that they think there will be no consequences.

        1. Tuesday Next*

          So far the bully has been proven correct in assuming there’d be no consequences. The boss voted for her. WTH.

          1. Wily C*

            Yeah, to me the worst part is that she thought this would be fine with her colleagues – and she was right! One jerk employee is one thing, an office full of them and a culture that not only tolerates but actively welcomes this (they VOTED for her?!?!?) is so much worse.

          2. hbc*

            I’m really, really hoping that he was out of the loop on the details and thought that this was enjoyed by all parties. I can see him thinking that no one would do this if they weren’t really close to the mimicked person. I’ve been caught once in a similar situation that was completely obvious in retrospect, but I just wasn’t considering the level of cruelty people are capable of.

        2. Nursey Nurse*

          Exactly. How horrifying is that? My profession is notorious for being plagued with horizontal violence, but I have never worked in a place where someone would feel comfortable doing something as egregious as this. I would be curious to hear whether this was an anomaly or whether OP’s workplace is usually this cutthroat.

        3. Kalamet*

          The name tag excuse would hold zero water with me. You don’t *accidentally* match the clothes, hairstyle, nail color, and EYE COLOR of a coworker. If she did manage to trip and fall into the wardrobe of another employee, she sure as heck didn’t have to enter the costume contest like that. This was intentional, and she thinks she’s getting away with it.

          OP, please please please stand up for your new employee! This was bullying, pure and simple.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      So I’m a little clueless on the “basic” moniker. A google search yields the term “basic white girl”. So wouldn’t that be a racist thing? Sure, whites are dominant in the professional work world. But isn’t it still an issue if someone is mocking another for their stereotypical cultural traits? Wrong seems wrong to me, even if it goes in the other direction.

      1. Jemima Bond*

        I wasn’t very clear either but the links Alison gives at the end of her advice are helpful.

      2. Mookie*

        “Basic” originates from AAVE and has been adopted and slightly altered by white people to use amongst and exclusively against one another (generally embodying the stereotype themselves), as is their wont. The Patient Zero of Basicness was not a white woman, though, no.

        1. Delphine*

          And it’s important to recognize that appropriation when discussing these types of incidents. The idea that this term was somehow coined to mock white women and is therefore racist always crops up (with the underlying assumption that a black woman said it)…when it wasn’t for or about white people at all and only began to mean white women when white women started using it as such.

        2. Specialk9*

          Whoa, no way! Thanks for the education. I never know where these things come from (so not cool), and thought that was exactly how it was used.

          What’s AAVE?

        1. Lady Phoenix*

          While I guess it can be… it isn’t consider an offense that can be penalized (since White people are both the majority AND the dominant/privileged majority). Those protections are geared towards marginalized majorities. That is why some comedians have this rule on “punching up”.

          1. Jesca*

            Except when you start “punching up”, you eventually start punching down. Equality isn’t about tearing other people down, but lifting everyone up to equality.

            That said, this is just a continuation of the whole “dumb young blonde” crap, but where the hair color doesn’t matter. It is just the 21st century of generalizing women by how they dress. And while some may embrace this as some people do really embrace their own stereotypes, “Basic White Bitch” is never said in the positive.

          2. Lalaroo*

            This is inaccurate, at least in an EEOC sense. White people are still protected from discrimination in employment based on their race. I actually think the bullied employee has a pretty good employment discrimination complaint here, since “basic bitch” has really come to be a race-specific and gender-specific insult.

          3. Indoor Cat*

            @Lady Phoenix —

            Actually, at least when it comes to sex / gender discrimination, men can sue for sexist discrimination, or harassment / hostile work environment based on their gender. There was recently a successful hiring discrimination lawsuit against Ruby Tuesday that proved they were only hiring women for certain roles. Nicole Pasulka wrote an interesting article about it, making the case that the suit would ultimately help both men and women employed at Ruby Tuesday. Similarly, 16% of workplace sexual harassment charges are brought by men, and it has been shown that when this happens, sexual harassment decreases across the board at a workplace.

            So, from a strictly lawful standpoint, if someone faces harassment or discrimination due to their gender, race, or religion, in many states it doesn’t matter what specific race, gender, or religion they are. Generally, this has had net positive results.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        From the link, I think the idea is “this person is normal and predictable and dull.” It’s like mocking someone who dresses inexpensively, or conservatively, or is a nerd, for just not knowing how to be hep to the jive.

        (I’d only heard “Ya’ basic” on The Good Place, where we have established that the speaker is a jerk and the target is an immortal demon, so it’s really funny.)

          1. fposte*

            I think that culturally speaking it does involve race in some complicated ways, but I don’t think in the workplace it’s going to rise to an EEOC level on either race or gender, if that’s where you’re going.

            1. Lalaroo*

              I actually disagree. The insult is so specific to white women, to both whiteness and womanness, that I think an EEOC complaint would at least make it far enough that the company is likely to feel the need to conciliate.

                1. Engineer Girl*

                  As horrible as it is, it isn’t egregious enough for a single incident. And it isn’t pervasive since it’s only a single incident.

                2. Lalaroo*

                  Well, the thing about EEOC is that they accept and investigate 100% of complaints. That results in a lot of cases that wouldn’t win in court being settled, so the complainants get something out of it.

                3. Lalaroo*

                  Also, just to add a bit, I totally agree with Engineer Girl that this does not rise to the level of severe/pervasive harassment, since it was just one incident and that bar is almost unethically high. However, this is apparently an area that’s not necessarily clearcut, since our state agency recently had a similar case where the singular incident was one coworker who dressed up in a racially-offensive Halloween costume. The agency found cause to believe discrimination had occurred based on that one incident. So it seems to me that this is an area where you might get a different result based on who is reviewing your case.

          2. Specialk9*

            I don’t know if you could win a suit, but that’s not in OP’s hands… but pointing out to HR that someone both openly mocked a co-worker but also used a sexist and racially coded insult in the process, could make them pay attention in a way that just “bullying” wouldn’t. It’s worth a try.

        1. fposte*

          Yes, absolutely. The link to The Cut is a pretty good overview of what’s wrong with it and not just its definition–it’s about liking popular things that are associated with women. Because god forbid you like things that other women like.

          1. Jesca*

            Yes, exactly. It is just another negative stereotype of women. And yes, to what you said above, there are pretty complicated racial undertones of this as well, but the more offensive parts lie in the misogynistic message behind it.

            1. fposte*

              It always strikes me as recursive–the concept of “basic” and its use are the most basic things of all.

              1. Jesca*

                Haha it is. And its so dumb. Its like wow that person is so just… normal. How can they even be allowed to exist? Its like describing the whole basic idea of using really arbitrary concepts to debase another group of “others”.

                1. fposte*

                  I think it’s a cousin of the Cool Girl honey trap–“I’m not like those girls, who *want* things and *like* things.” There’s often a fear of vulnerability there as well as misogyny.

                2. midsouthmouth*

                  It’s all fun and games until you unpack which groups have been marked as normal and given undue privileges …

      4. Nephron*

        It is seen as part of the overall mockery of young women. How dare they order a drink Starbucks makes and sells, they should not like seasonal drinks and only drink flavorless coffee. How dare they wear clothing they like? I don’t like uggs but seriously why do we fixate on the footwear of other people?
        It comes together as an offshoot of mocking millennials specifically targeting millennial women. Honestly I would not find it okay for someone to dress up as a generic basic girl because it is rather close to dressing up as a leprechaun and spending the day acting out Irish stereotypes. The manager should tell the employee that wearing a costume meant to mock an entire group of people is not okay even if she was not targeting the coworker and maybe the manager that voted for her should be told “basic girls” spend money and would really not be impressed with that story getting around.

        1. Specialk9*

          I mean, I’m a woman and aesthetically offended by UGGS. If one is going to wear warm but shapeless sack-like boots that don’t stay on so one shuffle-clomps around, could they at least be waterproof so the snow (for which warm boots should be designed, FFS!) doesn’t leave gross blotches and salt stains? Ugh, so very ugh.

          But really what’s wrong with a really bitchin pair of sleek boots that *fit*, with a warm fuzzy liner? (But maybe I’m just basic that way.)

          1. C Average*

            I agree with anyone who says that Uggs aren’t pretty, but I wear them anyway and live with being judged for it.

            I have really wide feet, and for years I walked around in uncomfortable shoes that hurt (and constricted my poor feet, leading to bunions and other problems, which makes it even harder to find shoes that don’t hurt). When Uggs came along, I rejoiced, because there was finally a semi-socially acceptable footwear option that didn’t hurt.

            I know that ideally a shoe would not only not constrict my feet but would offer arch support and other features, but with feet like mine, I have to pick and choose which problems to deal with. Shoes that don’t pinch will always win. Uggs, ballet flats, and flip-flops are pretty much the only things that work for my poor hobbit feet.

            Sleek boots that fit? I’d have to have them custom-made, and I don’t have the income for that.

            (Someone mentioned in another comment that “basic” clothing and shoes are often expensive and that it’s therefore a label with a strong socioeconomic gloss. I tend to dress basic, but I get my gently worn Uggs and eternity scarves and leggings at secondhand stores, where they cost a whole lot less and serve my purpose just as well.)

      5. GreyjoyGardens*

        I don’t think it’s racist, but it sure as heck is *misogynist*. Tee-hee, women are so frivolous, amirite?

        1. Lissa*

          If anything, using the “you can’t be racist against white people” idea against women specifically. “No! I’m not insulting women! I’m insulting *white* women! Totally different and punching up!”

          1. Fuzzyfuzz*

            Agreed. The term I can think of for white men that’s the closest is ‘bro.’ But I don’t think that carries the same baggage. Somehow it never does (eyeroll).

    3. Colette*

      This isn’t harassment in the legal sense – although I agree it’s wrong and merits discipline.

      But unilaterally firing her without the boss’s agreement/knowledge is a bad idea, and could result in the employee keeping her job and the OP losing hers.

    4. GreyjoyGardens*

      I agree with you. Nip this in the bud, *now*, or wind up with a toxic workplace. You know who wants to work in a toxic workplace? Toxic employees! They will drive away all the good employees and you will wind up with a whole toxic workplace because good people won’t want to work there. They’ll all quit, and when you try to hire good people with options, they will run away.

      It sounds like the unfortunate employee who was being mocked is someone not well-liked at the workplace if everyone else voted for the bully as best costume. It sounds like she is being gang-bullied and I feel sorry for her. Do everything you can to help her and push back against the bullies.

      1. RVA Cat*

        I think this incident is where that workplace officially crossed the Toxic Event Horizon. It may now be beyond saving.

  10. JamieS*

    Not to get OT but the best part of that first link is it included a link for a “most basic bitch” contest that included a saint and the wife of one of the most evil men (arguably most evil) in modern history.

    As far as the employee’s explanation goes I have to question exactly how stupid she thinks OP is? Personally I wouldn’t have bought that BS even if the name was common but especially not when it’s unique. “Oh no! It’s just a coincidence the name tag said Parthenia and I looked exactly like her.” Give me a break.

    I have no additional advice just commiseration and seconding pushing back with your manager and the employee. Also sensitivity training for your office as a whole doesn’t sound like it’d be remiss.

    1. Nursey Nurse*

      “I was dressing up as this other girl I know named Hepzibah who happens to look just like our Hepzibah!” Seriously, she either thinks OP is a moron or she just doesn’t give a crap because she thinks she’s untouchable. I vote for option 2.

      1. Jemima Bond*

        Even if the name hadn’t been unusual it is terrible – as someone commented above a name tag of any sort destroys any plausible deniability – it shows that you are targeting someone in particular even if the name is Jenny or Kate or Laura (or whatever is a very common name in the US). It demonstrates complete arrogance that you can treat your colleagues as badly as you like and it won’t be addressed.
        If I were Hepzibah (I like this imagining of her name – iirc it means “the lord delighteth in thee” which is sweet) I’d have been crying in the loos until I was calm enough to start drafting my grievance to HR for bullying.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          Hepzibah is so new to the workplace (4 mo) that she probably doesn’t know her options. OP1 has a great opportunity to help make this right for Hepz

          1. Specialk9*

            I love the nickname Hepzibah for the poor bullied co-worker.

            OP, please share this thread with Hepzibah so she knows how many strangers are outraged on her behalf.

    2. Agatha_31*

      I volunteer to give the sensitivity training. It’s a one page manual titled “Stop Being Assholes, Assholes!” There are no pages, I just roll up the cover and smack any employee over the head with a “no! BAD!” whenever they’re an asshole. Sounds like I might need at least one assistant for this job though, if I don’t want to risk repetitive strain injury.

      1. Jemima Bond*

        An acquaintance of mine has an imaginary weapon for this called “cluebringer”, for hitting people over the head when they are so wrong they haven’t a clue. Also known as a “clue by four”.

        1. Sualah*

          One of my favorite webcomics (called “Basic Instructions,” actually, but it’s not this kind of basic, it’s things like “How to Answer a Question” or “How to Turn Down Food You Don’t Want”) has a logo of someone getting hit with a 2×4 of knowledge. Link to the website in my name, you can see the logo in the Store.

        2. Floundering Mander*

          I sometimes pretend that the phone is ringing (by making brrriing! brriing! noises), pick it up, and then hand it to the person being stupid by saying “clue phone, it’s for you!”. Generally only to people I’m friends with, though, of course.

      2. SignalLost*

        I gave my students readings from the Book Of Shut The F*ck Up as needed. I feel this qualification suits me for your assistant role, and would like to be considered.

      3. willow*

        I’ll be your assistant. I will experiment with different types of paper to find the ones that hold up for numerous smackings!

  11. Abby Gail*

    #4 Ugh I’m sorry that happened to you. I have had the same thing happen to me before and it sucks. It is a common part of the job hunting process but that doesn’t make it less awful when it happens to you. Sending good luck your way re: your job search.

  12. Jenny Garofalo*

    Wow for #1. I wonder if the mocked employee is younger, perceived as more attractive etc. That costume was a direct passive aggressive hit below the belt by the costume wearer. While a few employees may innocently thought it was funny the costume wearer and a few employees had to know it was a hit and bullying. Bullying in the office is a no. I would stop this NOW and punish as much as necessary.

    What sucks is even if it is dealt with the costume wearer and the cronies she has (if she has any) will always have something else to complain about the person when the person is the innocent in the situation.

    God I hate bullies and passive aggressive people.

  13. Abby Gail*

    LW #1 You need to deal with this immediately. I realize you were not present when it occurred and had no hand in it happening but the actions of the employee who wore costume was completely unacceptable and so is the apparent support of your boss and the other employees.

    I know you just said a blonde wig and blue contacts, but was there a chance the employee in the costume was imitating someone of another race/culture? I don’t know why but I am getting that vibe from your letter. Of course it is isn’t as egregious as someone appearing in blackface or another kind of racist costume but it is still pretty awful if the employee in the costume did this. Either way, you need to speak up about this and show support to your bullied employee. I feel so bad that this happened to her.

    1. Helen*

      +100. It was terrible behavior on the part of the person who dressed up and wrong no matter what, but it is even worse and more of an example of bullying if there is a difference in race/age/other factors of appearance.

  14. kindness matters*

    OP #1, thank you for wanting to do right by your employee, and not assuming since you were not there on Halloween, it is too late. The meanness and the lying by your report are both ugly, and I agree with others that the lying about the cruelty to a colleague should be a fireable offense.

    I am curious why HR hasn’t been mentioned. Would that be the next step if OP’s manager does not get persuaded of the facts of how serious this bad judgment by employee was?

    Also, my heart hurts for the mocked employee. That she stuck it out for a full work day says something about her internal fortitude. This was just plain nasty behavior by everyone around her.

  15. Landshark*

    OP1, push hard or go above your manager’s head to HR or a grandboss. That’s messed up, not okay, and needs addressing. I’d also raise it with the team who was complimenting the costume that, while it may have seemed like a joke that Report-with-unusual-name was in on, it was not, and any attempts to do similar things in the future shall be dealt with swiftly.

      1. Lissa*

        Can you write up your reports for something the boss also did? (I agree it’s all horrifying but I am actually curious if that would work . . .)

        1. Mike C.*

          Just because the boss did it doesn’t mean it should go unpunished nor does it mean that if you cannot punish every party that you should punish no parties.

  16. upinalather*

    With this god-awful Halloween post, the one from a couple of weeks ago in which the coworker dressed up and “trick-or-treated” in a big client meeting, and the one where the boss decorated the office like a gory haunted house, can we all just collectively agree that Halloween “fun” needs to stay out of the workplace?

    1. misspiggy*

      I’d guess that the people who ruin Halloween for everyone are going to ruin everyday office life as well, if in less spectacular ways. Having said that, these events do seem to bring people’s inner monster out, when you’d think everyone would be happy with a few pumpkin decorations and some removable cat ears.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I was thinking of Tiana, and how if it’s okay that, “People innocently don’t know that you don’t wear costumes in some offices” is it also okay that, “People innocently don’t know that you don’t mock your subordinates by dressing up as them”? At some point, I think we should be past sensitivity training and into territory where people don’t want to train you in basic social norms, they just want you to either know them or have the common sense and compassion to pick them up without a seminar.

        (My daughter does diversity training for incoming freshmen at her college (where she is also an undergraduate); these are people leaving home for the first time, encountering a much wider range of people than they did back in high school, and I get both the desire for the training and why they put it up front, rather than waiting to address problems only once they’ve gotten rolling. “How can we explain to the 27 year olds in our office that mocking the new employees is not acceptable?” seems like a quite different category of problem.)

        1. Fiennes*

          These things aren’t equivalent. Tiana was clueless but clearly meant no one any harm. “Basic” here was clueless and clearly meant to ridicule a younger coworker in the most public way.

    2. Oryx*

      No, we can’t all agree on that because some workplaces can have Halloween fun and still be professional.

    3. kas*

      I kind of agree, mainly because I’m not a fan of Halloween. However, my coworkers seem to have common sense as their costumes are always work appropriate.

    4. Not Australian*

      I almost agree, but then I remember that a tie with a pumpkin design or bat-shaped earrings or cupcakes with spiders on can be just as effective for celebrating and hopefully nobody gets hurt. I think a ‘no costumes’ rule would be a good place to start, though.

    5. Nervous Accountant*

      Not at all, disagree. I agree w everyone here that the person who did it is awful, but one idiot shouldn’t ruin the fun for everyone else. Our office has had many halloweens that were celebrated drama-free so it is possible.

      1. Kalamet*

        Yeah. If the costumed coworker from #1 is a saint the rest of the time, I’ll eat my boots. It’s just too personal and nasty to be a one-off.

    6. Adaline B.*

      Meh like others have said there are plenty of people who can keep it professional. IMO, this is one of those situations you deal with people individually who act stupid around Halloween just like any other time they break the rules/norms, etc. No blanket policies, just individual disciplining where necessary. That way the people who can handle it don’t get that privilege taken away.

    7. a1*

      Agree with the rest. The assholes and idiots and clueless people are assholes and idiots and clueless outside of Halloween. The holiday just means they express their asshole tendencies with a theme rather than other ways.

  17. Tuesday Next*

    OP2, you say that “it turns out she wants access to my professional network” but I’m not seeing that from the information you’ve given. It could be that she’s being friendly because you’re new in town. That doesn’t mean you have to be friends though. If you’d rather keep her at arm’s length, just tell her you prefer to keep work and personal friends separate.

    1. Emily Spinach*

      I agree. The examples given don’t scream “trying to abuse LW2’s network” to me. Not the the LW is necessarily wrong, but it’s worth considering whether she’s assuming ill intent unnecessarily here.

    2. Graciosa*

      I’m seeing a lot of comments arguing that the OP is incorrect in this conclusion – but isn’t this contrary to the basic site rules regarding how we treat the OPs? There may be more background that the OP knows – and we don’t – that led her to this perfectly reasonable conclusion.

      I had a friend in high school whose mother tried to cultivate mine because she thought she was of higher social status. It was silly – we lived in the same area in comparable circumstances and still to this day cannot figure out what on earth led her to either a) form this weird conclusion or b) care. But we were all (including the daughter, my friend, who didn’t understand it either) absolutely certain that was what she was doing.

      You can tell when someone is sucking up to you and, with a little time, you can usually get enough clues to figure out that person’s purpose.

      Can we assume that the OP is correct in her assessment and turn our attention to how to help her?

      On that note, I’m a little leery of using the keep-work-and-personal separate as a rule excuse because the OP may some day find a legitimate work-friend. I would suggest using Alison’s suggested language which does not provide an excuse (remember, you don’t have to justify not being socially available to anyone) but tries to make it clear that repeated requests will not change that answer.

      1. Th*

        I did leave out a few details as I realized they may be too small. I don’t want to think low of any one. It’s just that when I’m new to this city I have my own lists of tasks and a lingering dinner invite with a colleague and with some one whom I’m not interested in socializing is getting exhausting.

        I do think work friends can become close friends. Many of my recent friends are from my work place.

    3. Thlayli*

      I’m kind of confused about the LinkedIn comment too. Isn’t the entire point of LinkedIn to use your contacts’ networks to find opportunities for yourself? If coworker doesn’t want to stay in the llama grooming business in smallville it makes sense that she wouldn’t add her coworkers since all their contacts are likely to be in an area she doesn’t want to get into. But OPs contacts are all in the llama styling business in metropolis – which is exactly the area that coworker wants to move into. So of course she wants to join OPs network in LinkedIn. This is exactly what LinkedIn is for. I’m confused by OP apparently not wanting coworker to use LinkedIn for its intended purpose.
      Granted repeatedly asking OP to dinner does show an inability to take a hint, but that’s hardly a crime.

    1. Jemima Bond*

      Isn’t it? A nice dose of public humiliation to add to the bullying, just to make sure the maximum hurt is caused. Cases like this just leave me thinking, how does she think this is ok? How is she not ashamed to deliberately hurt someone in this way? I hope disciplinary action is taken – LW1 please do update us!

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Yeah, this place is beyond toxic and OP needs to do something now or it’s just going to get worse.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      That was like putting a special neon sign over the bully “Yes, she really is untouchable. Don’t complain.”

      (For some reason I’m thinking of the family-run company that was going to make a place for Young Bob once he got out of jail for literally murder, and how the non-family employees had lots of reason to think that any complaints about Bob’s behavior would be decided in Bob’s favor by his unbiased relatives.)

      1. Jennifer*

        I’d like to see a bully who IS touchable for a change. It seems like they all can get away with whatever they want.

    4. Bostonian*

      My eyes bugged out of my head when I read that.

      OP, since the mocked employee received zero support from anyone else, please make extra sure you let her know she has your support.

      And definitely be on the lookout for other Mean Girl-ish behaviors happening at work.

  18. Emily Spinach*

    For the teacher, I think it’s pretty common to do as Allison suggests and have “teaching” and “other,” and I’ve even seen ones with a little subsection that lists the teaching non-chronologically to make it even more clear. In my area we’re allowed more pages, though, so this advice might not help! It might look basically like this, though:

    Teaching Positions
    Wayside School, 2011-2015
    -Grades 3, 5, 6, and music

    Bayside High, 2008-2011
    -Grade 10 math, music, theater
    -Grade 9 music, theater, advising

    Courses Taught
    3rd Grade: classroom teacher, music specialist
    5th Grade: classroom teacher, music specialist

    1. blackcat*

      Yes, having both looked for teaching jobs and interviewed people for teaching jobs, I’d say something like 50% of resumes are divided into “Teaching Experience” and “Other Experience.” Maybe 10-20% are divided into “Teaching Experience” “Other Experience” and “Volunteer Experience” (in that order, if the volunteer experience is relevant in some way). It’s what I was told to do, too, and it parallels what often happens in academia (teaching is generally given its own space on a CV).

      It’s totally normal, even among people whose recent jobs all fall under the “teaching experience” umbrella.

    2. OP #5- teacher*

      Thanks! When I’ve applied via online systems, they ask for teaching experience and other experience separately. With a resume as my only application item, the format matters, so I wanted to make sure my teaching experience was visible enough.

  19. Tuesday Next*

    OP1. For me the worst part (and there are so many things wrong here) is that this costume must have taken considerable planning and effort. It wasn’t a spontaneous thing that could be put down to a moment of bad judgement and poor impulse control. She must have spent weeks planning her colleague’s humiliation. And I’d be very surprised if none of her “gang” knew what she’d planned and egged her on.

    1. Daria Grace*

      Indeed. It’s possible she had a few suitable outfit items around, but it is very unlikely she just happened to have the right wig and contact lenses left over from her last dress up party

        1. SignalLost*

          If it was one of those stick-on ones, which it sounds like, that’s the easiest part. Every office I’ve worked in has had boxes.

    2. Foreign Octopus*

      What you say reminds me of a comedy sketch I saw recently (I think it was John Mulaney but I’m not 100% sure) where the comedian was talking about how cheating was a series of small decisions. First you meet someone in a bar, then you talk to them, then you tell them you’re single, etc, etc. It’s a thousand little decisions so when someone says that they didn’t mean to cheat, or it was a mistake, or an accident, then they’re obviously lying because they’ve already made all those decisions before that led to cheating.

      It’s a bit of a rough analogy but like Tuesday Next says, it wasn’t a spontaneous thing. She made a series of decisions that led to her arriving at the office dressed as her coworker. This wasn’t a mistake. This was days, possibly weeks, of planning.

      Don’t let her get out of this with “I didn’t mean to” or “it was just a mistake”. She 100% knew what she was doing.

  20. Ann O.*

    Unless the name is “Becky,” the idea that it’s just a coincidence that the name tag matched the colleague’s name is so ridiculous as to be insulting. (on the off chance, that it was Becky, then it actually may have been a coincidence as a Becky name tag, blonde wig, blue eye contacts, and acting air headed are pretty reasonable choices for a basic girl costume.)

    That’s a hard situation with everyone else supporting the costume. I think you should push back, but I think it’s very rare for a single person to be able to change a broad workplace culture. If I were the mimicked employee, I would be low key job searching now. If I were you, I may also consider it (depending on how out of left field this was).

      1. MCL*

        Being dressed as a “Becky” would mean something very specific. I think it’s extremely unlikely that this was actually the case, though! What a jerk of a set of co-workers.

        “Becky” explanation article linked in reply.

      2. many bells down*

        Right the whole point of the “basic white girl default name” being “Becky” is that it’s a … common name. It might as well be Jennifer (I am named Jennifer). And like Julia says, if you ACTUALLY had a co-worker named Becky, the nametag would be a terrible idea anyway.

    1. Julia*

      But wouldn’t anyone with common sense refrain from using that name if it was also the name of their co-worker? And maybe also re-think their whole costume. I think this was intentional.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      It’s been my experience that you can change the culture with severe consequences. We had a dysfunctional little group try to take over our test group. It persisted until one person was put on a PIP and another was fired. The rest either self filtered out of the group or straightened up.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Humans are infinitely adjustable to what we perceive of as the social norms, including in the really bad ways. It doesn’t have to be deep-seated hatred, just going along with what The Madisons indicate is the expected social norm in your subgroup.

    3. fposte*

      It’s obviously a different kind of offense if she was being a basic Becky rather than being a specific co-worker, but I gotta say that costume would still make my skin crawl.

    4. Sue Wilson*

      I don’t have the skin-crawling response as @fposte does, and I actually think that reaction interesting, but I 100% would think it’s inappropriate to bring a costume even obliquely referring to a term usually denoting some type of racial tension in the office. A Becky costume is not okay.

      1. fposte*

        It wouldn’t literally make my skin crawl :-). But my reaction is a combination of it being inappropriate to mock people at work and the misogyny of this particular characterization. And of course just at the moment it’s mentally entangled with the use of it in this letter, which does it no additional favors.

  21. Ramona Flowers*

    #3 Sorry but as Alison says this isn’t the kind of thing where it’s okay to apply if you meet all the other requirements. That might apply to an extra certification or experience of a certain kind, but this is a clear line in the sand. You will look strange if you apply.

    I hear that you’re productive working at home, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to work for every employer – being on-site immerses you in the day to day in a way that’s hard to replicate from afar. That’s more important in some places than others.

    Story time. I once advertised for a freelancer to work in-house. The role would not have been possible remotely for reasons that aren’t up for debate – and it would also have created more hassle than it solved to manage someone remotely on this kind of work. Despite being VERY clear that I needed someone who could work in-house I had a number of people apply anyway. I rejected them (which some argued with) and did not keep them on file for future remote opportunities as I was concerned they either couldn’t follow instructions or had attitude problems. Or that they thought I was stupid and wouldn’t notice. Either way it told me nothing good.

    The person I DID keep on file was the one who said: I’m not able to work in-house like you want but I’d love to be considered if you ever have any remote opportunities.

  22. Jen S. 2.0*

    For OP 3, to me not checking every box perfectly means that: you likely will be able to check those boxes after a couple of months in the job and a little training (say, you’ve worked with the similar competing software package for 10 years, but not the one they called out in the ad), or you have some very relevant parallel experience to what they’re asking (your masters is in finance, but not an MBA), or you’re missing a very minor element but have all of the major ones (they said fluent in Spanish is a plus. You have everything else in buckets but haven’t taken Spanish since 6th grade), or you are so close that the almost is good enough (they asked for a PhD, and you are ABD but have worked in the field for 15 years), or you have something so wildly unique and helpful that it will make up for missing even a couple of major elements (it’s 15 years in the future, you’re applying at a music marketing company, and you are Blue Ivy Knowles-Carter). All of that is in tandem with being a strong candidate.

    It doesn’t mean missing the exact thing where they tell you up front, “You absolutely positively must have this thing, which we realize will be an issue for much of the candidate pool, where nothing else will substitute, where you won’t get hired without it, and where it will be an easy way to weed you out.”

    1. CoffeeLover*

      I think this is a really great way of looking at it. Some requirements are flexible and others are not. Overall though, you have to realistically consider your strength as a candidate given the job description.

      I live in a non-english speaking country but only speak English. I don’t bother to apply to jobs that require the local language (most require english and local language). That means I only apply to 4 jobs a week. I know a guy who ignores the language requirement and applies to 10 jobs a day. I have 2 final interviews this week and he hasn’t heard back from a single job.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      “You absolutely positively must have this thing, which we realize will be an issue for much of the candidate pool.”

      And kudos to the company for putting it in the ad upfront, rather than as something to float in the third round of interviews.

      1. paul*


        I figure if companies are really upfront about a requirement like that, the least I can do is make sure I meet it if I’m applying.

  23. Corvid*

    For #1, I’m not sure about the organizational structure here. Is OP the manager of the mocked employee as well as the bully, and the manager mentioned in the write-up is her grandboss? Or do the OP and her reports share a manager, but the reports are supervised by OP? I’m wondering what authority the OP has, and if she could possibly reprimand the bully by herself. The manager mentioned in the write-up seems utterly unhelpful, to say the least.

    1. Myrin*

      I’m not a native English speaker so I’m not 100% sure but I believe if I say “my report” that means I’m their boss/manager, right? So in that case, the structure would be: Unhelpful grandboss who thinks mockery like the one displayed here is okay –> OP –> uncommon name employee and basic employee.

      I’m also generally wondering if OP has already addressed this whole thing with all of her reports or not. The sentence The costumed report swears she wasn’t dressed as her colleague and it was all a coincidence and the other employees say it was just some fun. sounds like she did but it could technically also have been mentioned by uncommon name employee when she complained about everything that happened to OP. Just know, OP, that even if you have already spoken with basic employee and the clueless gang, it’s not inappropriate or strange or too late to do so now, again, in a much more serious and reprimanding manner.

      1. Corvid*

        Agreed, I’m strongly in favor of taking some disciplinary action with the bully and addressing the behavior with the other participants as well. Some of them might not even have wanted to join in but may have felt the need to (and they’re complicit too, don’t get me wrong, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily irredeemable). It’s up to the OP to set a good example, and it seems they’re headed in exactly the right direction.

        As for the structure, I’m not sure… “my report” suggests some oversight, but I think I’ve heard the term used in a more ambigous fashion before.

      2. Specialk9*

        Up thread we’re calling the bullied lady Hepzibah. Because calling her basic is just adding insult to injury, and awesome nickname!

    2. CoffeeLover*

      I would guess OP is some kind of team lead/supervisor. She probably helps manage junior employees although they all technically have the same manager.

      1. Samiratou*

        This was my take, as well. At my company some teams have “team leads” with non-manager individuals who manage day-to-day tasks and such for a group of direct reports, but they’re not officially managers in the HR system and wouldn’t have firing authority. Not sure about authority for formal reprimands, but at the very least she should be able to address it with the Mean Girl.

        Without their manager’s backing, though, I don’t know how effective it will be. It will be awfully easy for MG to roll her eyes and continue on as before, since it seems like LW and the younger coworker are in the minority as far as not being assholes.

  24. fun fact*

    Oh goodness OP1, what a horrible, toxic, bullying workplace culture. I wouldn’t be able to look at the head bully after this, let alone manage her. That’s pretty obvious harassment that’s exposed the company to a lawsuit, if you want to give HR a reason you fired her.

  25. CoffeeLover*

    #1 – This is horrible. All I can say is what’s wrong with people. I think it’s common sense not to make fun of “real life” people on Halloween. Halloween should be reserved to dressing up as fictional people or heroes (like firefighters). Don’t turn a fun holiday into a “Mean Girl” charade. I wonder, who’s really the Basic one here?

    #2 – While your co-worker may or may not want to use your network, I do think this perception is colouring your view of her. Whether or not you want to hang out with her is up to you, but try to forget about the network angle because it will impact the way you interact with her.

    #4 – I’m surprised Alison said this is really common. I’ve never experienced it or heard of someone else who’s gone through something similar. He should have cancelled your interview and not doing that is really rude and inconsiderate (candidates are people too). I wouldn’t have been embarrassed, I would have been seriously annoyed. I would also have been happy to dodge a bullet because you don’t want to work for an inconsiderate manager.

    1. Yorick*

      #4 – I agree that this isn’t super common, and is incredibly rude. You often don’t hear back after the interview when they hire someone else, but it’s not ok to not show up/call for the interview because you’ve hired someone already.

      Still, OP4, it’s never a good idea to contact an interviewer/potential employer and tell them you don’t approve of their behavior.

      1. Kathleen Adams*

        Blowing off an applicant is super common – it shouldn’t be, but it is – but blowing off a job interview can’t be that common. I mean, can it? Regardless, the guy’s an absolute jerk.

          1. Squab*

            When I was about to graduate I had an in-person interview blown off – I took a two-hour train ride into NYC for a job interview and called for instructions to get into the building, only to get a very embarrassed answer that they’d already filled the job and had forgotten I was coming. They paid for my train ticket. I spent the day walking around the city in a borrowed blazer and interview heels. It was a bummer.

      1. Kathleen Adams*

        Wow. I’m really sorry to hear that. I’ve had some fairly lousy interviewers in my time, but who knew that I was one of the lucky ones?

  26. Corvid*

    For #2: I don’t think your colleague’s behavior is as egregious as you make it out to be. She could just angle for general information about the area you’re from or like you on a friendly level. Until she actually asks for contacts and tries to pressure you into networking (just asking would be fine in itself, imo), I’d treat her requests as innocuous. You can distance yourself from her, of course, but I don’t think a friendly ‘what’s up’ should justify an angry response. ;-)

    1. Foreign Octopus*

      I agree with Corvid.

      I don’t there’s an ulterior motive, so to speak. She just sounds interested but it’s coming across as a little pushy.

      I’d feel exactly the same in your shoes though. I once had a colleague text me every day we worked together, sometimes at 6am to tell me about his day (he’s gay, not interested in me), and who he had sex with, and that sort of thing. He was just lonely but I eventually had to tell him to stop texting me because I couldn’t keep up, and I wasn’t particularly interested anyway.

      Best thing to do is to follow Alison’s script of keeping work and private life separate. If you were so inclined, maybe suggest grabbing lunch, or coffee together while at work. That way it’s within work time and if she is after your network, then you haven’t wasted any personal time.

      1. Th*

        6AM texts? I’d block the person after mentioning a few times that the texts are putting pressure on me.

    2. Th*

      I just have a “feeling” about her actually. The way she tries to hear others in the office (eavesdropping into their conversation) and then overhearing me. It just feels sneaky to me. The very first day of my job she tells me “I’m trying to move where you came from.” There’s a lot of these things that annoy me as she is not being upfront. I would like it if she says “hey, this is my profile and do you know anyone that can help me in city X?”. And I would gladly help her.

      1. Corvid*

        Yeah, that doesn’t sound so good. If you don’t like her, then you’re definitively not obliged to hang out with her

      2. Long Time Lurker*

        Hey, OP this sounds ro me like either a difference between ask and guess culture or you are higher up in the organization chart. For some reason your co-worker isn’t comfortable bluntly asking for your help. If you are actally okay with helping them then go say “hey I think you want my help moving to big city but am not sure because you never said so. If you do want my help I am willing to do this, this and this but nothing else because reasons.” You can also say “I don’t normally get hints and find them really annoying because they feel passive agreas I’ve so if you want/need anything from me in th he future than ask/tell me explicitly. Thanks.”

      3. Natalie*

        The very first day of my job she tells me “I’m trying to move where you came from.”

        Does this not read as upfront to you? It does to me – she explicitly told you she wants to move to the city where you used to live. Where I’m from, being sneaky is much, much sneakier than that, so this may be a communication culture difference as someone else mentioned.

        Regardless, *even if* she does have some kind of ulterior motive you probably won’t do yourself any favors by treating her like a spy or whatever. Have whatever level of contact you prefer to have with co-workers. Second guessing her motivations just doesn’t help you in any way.

        1. Someone else*

          This reminds me of what Allison said last week though, about contacting someone and not telling them what you want from them?
          “I’m trying to move where you’re from” is sort of equivalent to “hey I applied where you work”. If you want advice on moving to said city, ask for it, don’t just name drop the city. If the coworker wants LW to do something, she should ask for that thing. So far, she’s made it clear she wants SOMETHING but isn’t saying what that thing is (other than apparently, dinner). That seems like it’s leading to this general impression of “sneakiness” because she has so far succeeded in conveying only “I want something” but has failed to communicate anything else. I can see how that can rub one the wrong way, even if it were unintentional and having more harmless intentions behind it.

          1. Natalie*

            I would say the networking example and this letter are different because the former is a business communication and the latter sounds more like social communication. Presumably in the networking situation, you aren’t in routine contact with this person and the sole and exclusive reason you have contacted them is because you want them to do something. The co-worker, on the other hand, is just as likely to be clumsily making small talk or trying to bond over how cool New York is as they are trying to pump the LW for tips.

            The power dynamics are also a bit different. The LW is a brand new employee in a brand new city. It’s probably not a great idea for them to treat their co-worker with significant suspicion without pretty good reason.

            Also, to be a bit clearer on cultural communication differences – I grew up in high-context, indirect communication environment. LW mentions elsewhere that they lived in New York, which is essentially the polar opposite of my home city. People are more direct in business communications here than they are in personal ones, but still probably not as direct on the coasts and a lot of Alison’s scripts as written wouldn’t fly here. I find it super annoying, actually! But it doesn’t mean other people are being duplicitous. It’s just the cultural standard they were raised with and it doesn’t really help to get angry about it. YMMV

    3. Kalamet*

      Captain Awkward has some good scripts for saying “No” to social requests. It’s easy to get sucked into trying to be polite, to the point where you’ve never actually said “No, I’m not interested in that.”

  27. The Outsider*

    Concerning OP #1, I’m as shocked as all that have posted here. Also, I applaud the advice given. But I do think it speaks to the culture at that office in general. I mean not only did the employee dress up as “Basic” which is apparently a new way to make fun of another human being, but the office voted her the winner of the contest. So the news media and this blog had stories last week on how to be racially and culturally sensitive when picking out a Halloween costume, but its still okay to pull some kind of “Mean Girl” shit and make fun of people for how they dress and what they drink. This office culture as a whole thinks its okay to stereotype people into a little boxes and point their fingers cruelly at them. THEN with this underlying mindset, they thought it okay to encourage the costumed employee in her very obviously bulling stunt. I’m always amazed at what society decides to care about and what they think it culturally acceptable. What kind of people get their entertainment from cruelly making fun of others?? So glad I don’t work there.

  28. Some sort of management consultant*

    #1: Oh my god.
    Tiana was fired but not this girl?

    I wasn’t entirely sure about how I felt about Tiana’s firing but now I feel sure, Tiana didn’t deserve to be fired, this girl did.

    1. Susanne*

      The Tiana story has nothing to do with this. It’s completely orthogonal. It’s possible both that Tiana deserved to be fired, and this woman here (not the OP! the one who dressed as the coworker) deserves to be fired as well. These are two entirely different circumstances.

      1. Some sort of management consultant*

        No, I know.
        But I can still FEEL that they are connected and that after reading this, I feel like Tiana shouldn’t have been fired.

    2. another Liz*

      I think both should be fired, or at least written up and warned they’ll be fired immedately if they step out of line again. Tiana at least wasn’t deliberately malicious, but that was extremely poor judgement from someone who was probably still on a probationary period. Basic was deliberately malicious, but having 5 years of (assumed) acceptable performance + the boss’s OK makes her logistically harder to fire. Having that written warning on file would make firing her easy the next time Basic steps even slightly out of line. And Basic’s behavior is more likely to repeat itself. Couple the written warning with an office wide announcement that this behavior is unacceptable, add a firing down the line, and that’s pretty clearly stating your expectations for the remaining group as a whole.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Yes, they’re orthogonal except both taking place on the same day. Different backgrounds, different actions.

        It would be interesting if Mean Girl, basking in boss’s upvote, had marched herself over to the C-suites and aggressively trick-or-treated a client meeting so they could enjoy her costume, too.

    3. Seriously? No, seriously?!?*

      This was my first thought. If Tiana can get fired for an embarrassing mistake this woman needs to have been gone a week ago.

      Especially since it was so clearly and disingenously mocking. A name tag on a “basic girl” costume, let alone one that just happens to match a coworker? Gimme a break. We’re not that stupid.

      As someone who was bullied and mocked in school, to see this kind of jr high crap show up in my workplace, well, they’d have a hard time getting the scorched smell out of the furniture.

  29. Foreign Octopus*

    OP1 – it amazes me that people can be so cruel. This is a woman with at least five years of professional experience under her belt making fun of a recent grad who is still learning the ropes and (presumably) trying her best. I get where you’re coming from that you think the time has passed to say something but that’s not true. Say that you’ve taken some time to think about it and you are shocked/horrified/appalled that something like this was allowed to happen and then encouraged.

    I agree with Alison. You need to push back hard. I guarantee that the employee in question who was mocked will appreciate knowing that someone is in her corner, and it’ll also demonstrate to her that these are not workplace norms. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was job hunting already. I know I would be. Pull her aside, tell her how sorry you are that something like this happened, and ask her what she needs/wants to move forward. Then talk to your manager, express everything you said in your letter in a way that makes it clear any other reaction than absolute horror is wrong.

    Finally, talk to the employee who dressed up. I would come down hard on them. A serious dressing down (no pun intended) is in order. She needs to be made to understand that her behaviour was in no way acceptable. Don’t let her pull “it was just a joke” line. That’s no defense. She’s a grown woman. She knew what she was doing. She needs to apologise sincerely to the person in question and I would be keeping a very, very close eye on her from this point out. If she put another toe out of line, I’d be showing her the door.

    Good luck with this and please let us know how everything works out. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for you and the unfortunate employee.

    1. Nea*

      Then talk to your manager, express everything you said in your letter in a way that makes it clear any other reaction than absolute horror is wrong.

      Reading the letter, it doesn’t look like OP has actually addressed it with OP’s manager yet, just is aware that Manager was on board with the bullying. In OP’s situation, I would very likely feign ignorance of that last part and send a message to Manager along the lines of “I was shocked and distressed to discover that Mean Girl chose our Halloween contest for targeted bullying of Prisencolinensinainciusol. I am sure you are equally upset about this breach of Office Handbook Bullying Code (page, number). These are the steps I am taking to deal with the situation (PIP, official warning, notification to HR, demand for an apology, etc.)”

      In other words, act as if this is SO shocking and SO out of line that of COURSE Manager agrees. This leaves Manager with only the choices of:
      1) Yeah, you’re right, this is awful, There Will Be Consequences
      2) Screw the company manual, I’m a total glass bowl and want everyone to know it

      While this puts the manager on the spot without aggressively confronting them, this whole culture stinks and OP – run fast, run far, and take poor Prisencolinensinainciusol with you!

      1. Foreign Octopus*

        This is an excellent point, and I encourage OP to do as Nea suggests. Feigning ignorance about the manager’s role in this might just help.

        1. Nea*

          Have you heard the new version? Look for the 6-minute YouTube video. (Now you, like me, can get TWO versions stuck in your head!)

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        +1 Act as though the decent thing is the only reasonable thing and that they will of course be on board with the decent thing, and 9 times out of 10, people will do the decent thing.

        1. Specialk9*

          “I’m very concerned that we opened ourselves up to a hostile workplace / gender harassment lawsuit. I’m sure most people weren’t aware that basic is short for basic bitch, and is a sexist insult. We should talk to HR on to protect us.”

      3. Thursday Next*

        I think this is really good framing. Also, OP, I think the fact that you weren’t there to see the costumes and contest actually puts you in a better position to approach this now (i.e., you can exploit your absence strategically). Since you weren’t there, you can impute the best of motives to your own boss when talking to him/her–*obviously* (said in all wide-eyed sincerity) your boss is just as shocked and upset as you are about this.

        Your absence also means you can have a carefully thought-out talk with the costumed employee; it’s often hard to say everything you want to say when you’re on the spot.

        I’m glad you are outraged by this situation–please let the mocked employee know that you find this whole thing unacceptable, and that you are speaking to both your boss and your report. Knowing there’s someone on her side may be very helpful to her, even if the jerk employee doesn’t get fired.

        1. The Strand*

          Those are some great points. I would use that wide-eyed sincerity very specifically in describing what “basic” means. I have a feeling the manager had no idea that “basic” often comes with the tail-end of “bitch”, and that it is often used cruelly.

  30. vaMoose*

    I hope LW1 sends an update. I frequently find myself wondering how some people end up in positions of authority.

  31. Sandra Stout*

    Regarding OP#1, I agree with everyone else (tinted contacts? A NAME TAG?). Part of me wants too understand why anyone would be so cruel, but, really, I’d fire her. Character matters.

  32. DG*

    #1: Go to work tomorrow in your best suit, sporting a nametag with ProblemEmployee’s name on it. Hand out resumes to everyone in the office. When ProblemEmployee asks what you’re doing, tell her you’re in costume as a job seeker, and HR can explain the joke to her.

    I mean, don’t actually do that. If you have firing authority, exercise it, otherwise explain everything to HR and let them do their thing. The bigger problem is that your manager seemed to be on board with everything, so you need either to fix their flawed understanding of the situation, or to recognize the signs of just how toxic this workplace is.

    If ProblemEmployee were very young (both in the company and in real life), I might suggest some kind of “this is why what you did was totally unacceptable, now explain to me why we shouldn’t fire you” talk, but it seems that she’s old enough to know better, and if she were going to change, she would have by now.

  33. Sandra Stout*

    Another thought for OP#1 – you already have a toxic workplace. If your boss cannot understand this, that is an even bigger problem.

  34. I am good at dealing with people*

    Re: #1: Are there pictures of the “Basic” Halloween costume? Because HR needs to see them.

    Personally, if I were one of that poor girl’s colleagues, I’d like to think I would have politely excused myself from the party and told HR what was going on. I was teeased and bullied as a child, and stories like this infuriate me.

    1. R2D2*

      Yes, thankfully there are photos! The LW wrote, “I was out of the office that day so I did not see the costumes at the time, but I saw photos afterwards.”

  35. OHCFO*

    #3– Your letter really put me off and I’m trying to put my finger on why. As a hiring manager, I get really frustrated when it feels like a candidate is jerking me around. For example, when I’m hiring for a senior position and we’ve been going months working extra to cover the duties and we’ve clearly communicated the salary range (from day one) and the finalist who we’ve now invested a lot of time and energy in changes their salary expectations to something outside of our (legally defined, public sector) pay range. Yes—I’m bitter. But what i’m getting at is that I’m frustrated with a sense of entitlement that I see in some candidates—more in recent times than in the past. Applying for a job that the employer has clearly stated requires in person work and expecting that you know better than them what they need and expecting that they’ll give you—an unknown and unproven quantity—a special pass strikes me as entitled. When I post a job, I think very carefully about my requirements. OP, I’m sure you are well intentioned, or else you wouldn’t be writing in to AAM—so please, please take a deep look at your own assumptions and attitude about your job search and be careful not to let hiring managers get the impression that you think you know more about their organizations’ needs than they do, or that the rules don’t apply to you. By all means, stretch and grow. But please don’t waste a hiring managers time doing a bait-and-switch.

  36. JadedDisneyCharacter*

    “The costumed employee wore a blonde wig in the same cut and style of the person whose name she used, as well as blue contact lenses and the same color nail polish she normally wears. I also heard she acted absent-minded and airheaded as part of the costume.”

    Wait – What???? How does anybody have the thought process and time to be so mean?! I have literally just read an article from a Teen Magazine where this happened to an (early years) high school kid.

  37. Amy*

    The Halloween caricature happened to me once! A co-worked dressed up as an exaggerated version of me, down to the “My Name is ___” badge and wig. But the difference was he was a friend and it was in good fun. Though yes, there was some inherent mocking and I doubt it was completely work appropriate.
    The really strange thing was that he picked up his future girlfriend later that night at a bar, still dressed as me. So the GF and I sometimes joke that we’re dating.

  38. WeevilWobble*

    OP1 Is it possible your manager thought the New Hire was in on the joke? If the New Hire stayed and seemed to laugh along the manager could have gotten the wrong idea. If it were me I would have stayed and pretended to think it was funny rather than cry in the bathroom like I’d actually want to. She’s new and probably thought it would be unprofessional to react or speak up.

    If that’s the case your manager could have a glass shattering moment when you tell them the reality.

    To be clear, I’m not suggesting the New Hire remotely actually deserved it or exacerbated it or was in on it. I’m suggesting this four month out of school girl is actually the most mature person there (except you LW) and waited to complain in a proper venue. Just that the manager may not actually get the extent of the bullying here.

    If not and you can’t do anything then at the very least tell the New Hire how sorry you are and you’re in her corner. She probably feels really isolated right now. Like if she orders the wrong coffee drink she’ll be mocked behind her back.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I just wanna give that poor girl a hug. That was probably one of the worst days of her life.

      1. WeevilWobble*

        Me too! It may be wishful thinking but I hope grand-manager didn’t realize and will be pissed he or she was roped into bullying.

    2. Doodle*

      Since the OP didn’t mention that she works at an absurdly toxic workplace, this was my thought as well. I taught a group of students where one year a couple of them came dressed as each other for Halloween — think shirt-and-tie kid dressed in plaid shirt and cowboy boots and vice versa — it was 100% consensual (they each did it and were best friends) and everyone loved it. If the OP’s manager isn’t as close to the situation and didn’t witness the “ditzy” behavior, it might make sense that she’d think, “what a well-executed costume” instead of “wow, this is egregious.”

      At least, if I’m the OP, I’d go into it assuming that and hope that when explained that it was cruel, her manager will be horrified to have participated.

      Separately, I once accidentally participated in bullying. A group of high school students I was vaguely friends with became obsessed with a song that was popular when we were little kids (think Disney or some such.) I thought it was amusing and joined in until I learned that they were using it to mock a peer who they thought was a “princess.” I felt terrible and apologized to the other student. I *still* feel terrible thinking about it almost 20 years later!

    3. BlueWolf*

      This was my thinking. I want to try to give people the benefit of the doubt (not the one who dressed up obviously, she was being horrible), since we don’t know the whole context. It’s possible the manager didn’t realize that the New Hire wasn’t in on the joke and didn’t witness the mocking behavior that went along with the costume. OP should definitely go to the manager and/or HR if possible and point out how extremely inappropriate and hurtful this was.

    4. Bye Academia*

      Yes, I hope it’s something like this.

      My other charitable thought is that the grandboss may not know the new hire yet. If she’s only been there four months and they don’t work closely together, he may not realize that the costumer was going after a specific employee.

      Either way, hopefully grandboss will be just as horrified once they hear more details.

      1. Someone else*

        If the grandboss didn’t know the costume was going after a specific employee, then I can’t come up with a plausible reason why that costume would win. It’s not just the the employee wore it, or that the boss voted for it, but it WON. This is not some elaborate outfit that would read well to any ol’ group. Even if I’m familiar with the concept of “basic”…I just can’t fathom how that as a costume could win a costume contest unless it was some sort of lack of participation and the others were realllllllllllly bad costumes. The vote for this person only makes sense if they understood the internal reference. That makes it a lot worse, for everyone.

    5. Specialk9*

      Even if that wasn’t how the manager actually read the situation, it’s a great way to approach and frame it – when pointing out that the boss really f’ed up, it will only work if there’s a face saving out.

    6. R2D2*

      She may have been too stunned to speak up. How is one supposed to react, especially when there is peer pressure to treat it as “just a joke”?

  39. Nervous Accountant*

    #1–that is MEAN!! That’s just awful…I mean it’s one thing when ppl r on board and can make fun of themselves but this instance isn’t OK at all.

    Personal story—I was joking around w a cw that I’d go as him, and he shrugged and said “go for it, you’d be one fine mofo”…I didn’t but I know it wouldn’t have been this situation. And some ppl were saying they’d go as one of our coworkers who’s a jerk. They didn’t but that would have been glorious to see.

    But this wasn’t very nice at all.

  40. Murphy*

    I feel so bad for the employee in #1. What a horrible position to be put in, especially with higher ups seeming totally OK with it.

  41. Florida*

    #5 – Alison’s suggestion is great as far as two separate experience sections. I do that on my resume. You might also consider moving the education and certification to the bottom of the resume. Your experience is probably more impressive than your education. Also, it might make things fit on the page better.
    You said that in your field people usually put education on the top, so I might be giving terrible advice –It depends on how common the practice is. If 99% of the people put education at the top, you should too. If 60% put it at the top, you could safely move yours to the bottom. I don’t work in education, so I don’t know what the norms are. If this is completely out of the norm, then carrying on as you have been.

    You mentioned a concern about people thinking you have a large gap in your work history. I use the method that Alison suggested. I have been asked before, maybe once or twice in my life, “What were you doing for these two years?” I just say, “I was working at Teapots Inc. You can see that is in the next section right here.” This question usually comes from someone who is sitting in on an interview, but is not the hiring manager. They are looking at the resume for the first time right then.

    1. blackcat*

      Certification/licensure should always be at the top if applying to public school jobs. Being licensed in the appropriate area is generally qualification #1.

    2. OP #5- teacher*

      Thanks for your advice! I’m on the edge of the age/experience where putting my education and license at the end may work. The job posting specifies pretty clearly that I need a specific license for the position (it’s an international school and they want US-based teaching licenses), so I feel like that still needs to be front and center. Searching for teaching resume examples on line a bit, it seems like leaving the education towards the top is still the norm.

      I’m definitely prepared to answer the question about the relatively short gap in my teaching experience in an interview, and I think I explain it well in my cover letter, but I need to get an interview first! My reference for the most recent position has also agreed to draw out my skills that relate to teaching. I’m an elementary-level teacher, so years in the classroom is a huge factor in getting an interview at all. I’ve sat in on interviews before, and if someone only has a year or two in the classroom, they definitely have a different interview experience than someone with 5-10 years, thus my concern with having a gap at all.

  42. GreyjoyGardens*

    Re LW #1: The fact that Costume Lady was so very brazen about mocking another, lower-level employee, *and* her manager went along with it, *and* the rest of the department voted her costume the best (!) makes me feel very, very bad for the woman who was mocked. It sounds like she is the department scapegoat and/or outcast. I think she’s probably being bullied and/or excluded in other ways and this is just the tip of an ugly iceberg.

    You need to do whatever you can to hold Costume Lady and her minions accountable – go to HR, go to the grandboss or great-grandboss, whatever it takes. Now is not the time to be cautious or worry about expending social capital. If standing up for a bullied employee really does mean calling in a bunch of favors and spending a lot of credibility, well, you have a toxic workplace. And from what we’ve seen of toxic workplaces on AAM and other sites, the good employees leave, people with other options won’t want to work there, and you’re going to be left with bottom-of-the-barrel people who have no other options or who thrive on toxicity. Who wants that?

    1. Jennifer*

      I’d really like to see a column sometime about how to deal when you’re the office buttmonkey/abuse victim, or (for the managers) if one of your reports is hated by everyone else like this poor girl is, what would you do?

  43. Narise*

    Not sure if anyone will get this reference but years ago on tv show The Practic Bobby crossed a line. One of the judges that he had worked closely with told him that she no longer respected him because of what he done. I think if I addressed OP1 situation I would address it with my manager and with that employee that I no longer respect you therefore I can’t keep you on my team. I would talk to the employee who was mocked and ask her if she ever felt uncomfortable before or treated differently by anyone on the team prior to this instance. While the company may not be willing to fire this employee for dressing up as coworker if there is enough of an ongoing pattern of hostility they may take a different stance. And if there have been other instances the company needs to address immediately. If no one is willing to address it, as her supervisor you need to watch her closely and document any questionable behavior.

  44. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

    OP1, this is her first job out of school, and she trusts and respects you enough to tell you how she feels about the situation. Presumably this means she trusts you to have her back. How you react is going to leave a big impression on her. Your reaction doesn’t have to be ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ just because the day is over, because it’s not all water under the bridge – if an employee gets away with openly mocking a colleague, it sets a precedent. You can’t let that be normal for your team. Also, don’t let the dressing-up employee get away with lying to your face. She had a damn nametag to remove any reasonable doubt. If she tells you it’s a “coincidence” again, tell her you’re not an idiot.

    You have a choice here: you can validate your new employee’s bet that you’ll stick up for someone who’s being openly mocked on your team, or you can validate your dressing-up employee’s bet that you’ll roll over and do nothing. Whose opinion do you want to live up to?

  45. Lady Phoenix*

    Since this was a costume contrst, my bet is that they took pictures that you can compare with the employee in question when you take this to the manager and HR.

    Honestly, I am all for saying “Fuck the manager” and taking it to HR. Manageer hasbshown their lack of judgement and should be punished too

  46. KC*

    #3: Some things in a job ad are negotiable. Other things are not. If an ad clearly states that relocation is mandatory, what makes you think you’re so special that they’ll bend the rules just for you?

    I was looking for a graphic designer a few years ago. The ad clearly stated that relocation to the area was mandatory. All the applicants had to fill in a mini form when they submitted their resume (highest level of education, salary expectations, preferred graphic design tools and willingness to relocate). Within a week, I got over 100 resumes. Over 50% of them stated that they did not want to relocate. All it told me is that they lacked reading comprehension, or were incredibly entitled.

    I made a short list of 5 and contacted them all for interviews. In my invitation, I reminded them where the role was based, and that the successful candidate would need to relocate. 2 of them responded and asked if the job was really, really, really based in and if they really, really, really had to relocate. I pointed out that the ad clearly stated as such, and they indicated in their application that they were willing to relocate. They both asked to no longer be considered for the job.

    The third candidate and I did an interview, and we talked a lot about the lifestyle in . She seemed keen, but I told her to give it some thought before we went to the next stage. Of course, a week later, she tells me that she derives most of her inspiration from her current city, and please, pretty please, could we reconsider our mandatory relocation requirement? Especially since she promises to work extra hard? Nope. In the end, we ended up hiring a perfectly capable local graphic designer.

    I don’t think candidates know how expensive “traveling to the office for a few days every month” can be. Flight ($1000), hotel ($500) , rental car ($250), food ($250) add up quickly. That monthly trip will end up costing the company an additional $2000 every month. I don’t think the candidate would want to pay that out of her own pocket. So why should the company?

    Also, you can’t just “hire” someone who works in another state. Allison did an article about it before: https://www.askamanager.org/2016/04/why-its-complicated-for-your-employer-to-let-you-work-from-another-state.html

  47. J.*

    OP #3, This has come up a couple of times recently here, but if you live on the west coast, it’s pretty likely that local labor laws are going to be strikingly different from Florida’s. Beyond the day to day logistics of working remotely, the company is probably not set up to deal with that. If the posting says the job requires relocation, it’s probably for a reason.

  48. Guy Incognito*

    I dressed as a co-worker one Halloween. Of course, he dressed as me, and we had a lot of communication beforehand. He even drew on the tattoos I have on my arms and I shaved (I have a beard and he doesn’t.) That was funny shenanigans. LW sounds like evil shenangians, and the people who participated should be disciplined.

  49. rosiebyanyothername*

    #1 is pretty shocking. I’m really surprised that other employees didn’t raise objections. The “basic girl” costume already has some misogynistic overtones, but dressing up as a specific employee is WAY too far. I hope we get an update on that one.

    1. McWhadden*

      Yeah, I think the whole costume is inappropriate for work even if it wasn’t bullying. Because it is definitely misogynistic.

      Of course, it’s not a fireable offense to do this if they are just mocking stereotypical young white women as a general concept. But I’m already questioning the person’s judgement for wearing a fairly blatantly misogynistic costume (yes, women can be misogynistic.) Then to actually be bullying on top of it? Forget about it.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Yeah, there’s not really an equivalent way of mocking say, middle class white dudes who just wear khakis and like ordinary boy things. Well, I guess there’s “bro”? but that’s kind of a specific subclass, and still probably not a terrific costume idea for work. Especially not if you’re a specific Brad or Chad who works with you!

  50. Xarcady*

    #1. How awful. Once that costumed employee put on that name tag, there was no doubt she was imitating (or thinking that she was imitating) the other co-worker. She is lying if she says otherwise.

    I would pull the bullied report aside and ask if there was any hint of bullying before Halloween. Stuff like this usually doesn’t happen in a vacuum. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the costumed co-worker had floated the idea to colleagues and they had egged her on to do this. Not when everyone voted for her.

    And if the costumed co-worker faces any consequences for this costume (and I think she should), be prepared for a backlash of further bullying, if not from the person who wore the costume, then from her friends. And a lot of “Can’t you just take a joke?” type remarks addressed to the bullied co-worker. She is the one who will be blamed for the costumed co-worker getting consequences–because clearly in the hive mind of the friend group, the costumed co-worker did no wrong.

  51. memboard*

    OP 1: That behavior could be interpreted as Psychological Harrasment: http://www.cnt.gouv.qc.ca/en/in-case-of/psychological-harassment-at-work/index.html and is illegal in certain jurisdictions.

    Now, in this particular case since it occurred only once, probably doesn’t meet the standard of “repeated” so in this case it wouldn’t be illegal WRT to the act above but it does meet all other criteria.

    Now this is unlikely to be a statute in your jurisdiction but you can certainly model your behavior as an employer following what the act suggests.

  52. drpuma*

    OP2, what would happen if when you refused dinner outright, you also asked this coworker to lunch or coffee? If you are correct, this could provide you with a “one and done” opportunity to answer questions about the city where you used to live and how willing you are/not to connect the coworker to your network? If Alison is correct and your coworker truly just believes you could get along, it should become obvious pretty quickly whether a friendship will work out. Either way you are tearing the bandaid off quickly. Especially if there is not usually much interpersonal drama in your office to serve as a distraction, it sounds like you could become your coworker’s great white whale. Just spend some time with her once to cut things off at the pass.

  53. Applesauced*

    #2 – can you meet her halfway with a day meeting (lunch or coffee) instead of dinner?
    “Dinner is hard for us, but there’s a new sushi/burger/salad place near the office; want to get lunch next week?”
    That way you can feel it out a bit before cutting her off completely – worst case your suspicions are confirmed and and you say no going forward and you’re only out an hour; best case you have lunch with a potential work-friend.

    1. Th*

      Yes I absolutely wouldn’t mind lunch or coffee. Great idea. And when that won’t work I have Alison’s language memorized :)

  54. McWhadden*

    This is a case where I wish people at work would catch wind of the AAM column. The details have to be obvious if anyone from the office saw it.

    Because I think (hope?) if the employees and the grandmanager saw it reframed like this they’d realize how horribly they behaved and feel genuine shame. I can’t imagine there is any hope for the actual bully but everyone else may realize.

    I also think it’s quite possible everyone else thought the employee was in on it. The LW says the employee was understandably afraid to say something at the time. It’s definitely worth discussing with the manager. I’d go so far to say it’s your obligation to do so.

  55. Lauren R*

    LW1: Quick question: Do you work in a middle school, and are your direct reports students at the school? That’s the only scenario I can wrap my head around, and I’m simultaneously concerned at the possibility you’re violating child labor laws and concerned at the possibility you somehow may not be.

    Thank you for standing up for this employee and trying to help! She had to go through a whole day reliving the horror of a childhood bully in the form of a fellow adult coworker. And your manager was on board with this too?? Wow. I hope you can help these employees to understand how hurtful and wrong their behavior was, or at least find a way to make sure they won’t risk pulling anything like it at work again. I honestly don’t think I could have made it through that whole day if I were that poor woman being mocked like that. Especially being new to working there and then having it be made so clear the low opinion of her these people feel comfortable announcing to everyone, including their grandboss who was laughing along! Oh I would have stood up and walked right out of there and spent the rest of the night crying. It’s definitely brave of this woman to stay and face it down but I really hope she gets justice for the whole ordeal. How appalling.

    1. McWhadden*

      “and I’m simultaneously concerned at the possibility you’re violating child labor laws and concerned at the possibility you somehow may not be.”

      Hahaha “I work for a large Northeastern Tea Pot factory in 1852.”

  56. imaskingamanager*

    #1 Everyone in this office was complicit about this horrible act of bullying. They should be ashamed of themselves. You can definitely address it. This entire office needs some sensitivity training.

  57. Designer*

    #5 – Resume Format

    Why not do a two column design, where education and licenses are in a less-wide side column and then you fit more experience on the main page? This is how I designed my S/O’s long resume, was still able to use the right size font in a clean easy to follow design with the information in the right layout and he landed a role with a HUGE pay increase.

  58. Jules the 3rd*

    OP#1: Yeah, this sucked, and yeah, as a manager you have the right and the obligation to work on it. Both for your ability to sleep at night, and for your company’s ability to attract and keep talent.

    If it helps your discussion with your boss at all: If I had the opportunity to work for your company, this would make me walk away, fast, and this kind of thing has a way of getting around (eg, Glassdoor), especially if it’s not addressed. I’m a successful professional in a fortune 50 company – not an exec, but an MBA with 15 years experience, several top-notch reviews, and regular bonuses / raises. My company is really committed to diversity and to professionalism in the workplace. This is because it gets them the best candidate pool, and makes their employees happier / more likely to stay.

    And if my mgr participated in something like this, I would be up the HR chain so fast….

  59. BethRA*

    I think the manager in #1 owes the poor woman an apology as well. Not stepping in would have been bad enough, but to VOTE for the a**hat’s costume?

  60. madge*

    My god, OP#1, that’s so hideously cruel, I want to take the mockee out for coffee and assure her the working world is not supposed to operate that way. Alison’s advice is spot on.

    What I find most sickening is that they thought it was appropriate to mock someone straight out of school and new in the workforce (four months). So possibly a young adult, just because like millions of other people, she likes comfy boots and Starbucks? Either way it’s horrid but if it’s a young person with no experience, way to hit someone when they’re vulnerable. I hope your company doesn’t have an intern program.

    1. McWhadden*

      ” want to take the mockee out for coffee and assure her the working world is not supposed to operate that way.”

      And if she wants a Pumpkin Spice latte get her one! Because who the hell cares what other adult people drink? If she’s not drinking alcohol during the work day (and that’s not allowed in your office) or poison leave her alone.

      I agree that her newness both to the office and the working world make this much worse. It’s the punching down rather than punching up thing. The employee didn’t have the guts to mock a manager or even someone there for a long time. They intentionally went after someone they knew would have close to zero power to complain (and the newbie did feel uncomfortable saying anything at the time.)

      The employee like most bullies is also a coward.

      1. Jemima Bond*

        That’s it, in distant support of the poor bullied person, next time I go to work (I’m off sick atm with some sort of plague) I’m going to get a Starbucks pumpkin spiced latte (I have no objection to them since I found out they aren’t actually flavoured with pumpkin…in my defence “pumpkin spice” isn’t a thing in the UK) and tell the barista an unusual name! I could probably also wear leggings although I haven’t any ugg boots.

      2. many bells down*

        I mean, they make pumpkin spice lattes because people love them and they sell a billion. If everyone turned up their noses at it they wouldn’t sell the darn things.

        (Me, I’m all about the eggnog lattes and ’tis the season yay!)

        1. Jemima Bond*

          I like the eggnog ones too. We don’t really do actual eggnog over here; maybe I should request a recipe on a forthcoming open thread?
          And yes. Cliches are often cliches because they are true, and a lot of people buy/wear certain products because they like them. Why drink coffee you don’t like or wear clothes you find uncomfy (subject to dress codes) for the sake of being different? I like Starbucks and I cannot lie…

  61. Observer*

    #OP 1, Please re-read what CostumeHater wrote. It’s just such a good explanation of the issue. And if your employee is any good, she’s looking for a new job.

    This reminds me of the letter from the supervisor who drove an employee out with what sounds like similar shenanigans. She not only wound up losing her job, so did the whole department, except for the one person who reported one of the more egregious examples of bullying.

    What I’m saying is that what happened indicates a very toxic environment. Either it’s your entire workplace, in which case you should start looking for a new job. Or it’s just your department, in which case going to HR should help start turning things around – hopefully before too much (more) destruction happens.

    Also, one of the things that you should point out to your boss is that the dress up employee is clearly lying to you and in a fairly disrespectful way, because it’s so obvious. Can you really trust someone who lies? And if she’s lying, she clearly knows that what she was actually doing was wrong, and the “it was just a joke” is no more valid than if it were something that had clear legal consequences.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I was thinking about that letter too. This sounds like it has the potential to be a similarly awful workplace (if it isn’t already).

    2. AW*

      Between that letter and this one maybe there should be an annual Worst Workplace poll.

      Actually, I hope that letters like these are too rare for it to be annual but perhaps an honorable mention of them during the Worst Manager poll results.

  62. Elizabeth West*

    #1–If this happened at my work and my bosses did nothing about it, I’d seriously consider looking for another job. I hate office bullying. HATE it. I doubt I’d be alone in this, so if the company wants to risk losing good workers over it, then they will have to live with the consequences.

    This SUCKS.

    #3–I did apply for a job in an area of Arkansas known for being super racist. Despite some awesome natural beauty, AR is a state I never want to live in ever. I was willing to drive in every once in a while. The job was totally something that could be done remotely, and the listing didn’t specify. So I applied. And I got a call from their recruiter.

    They wanted someone in the office, so I turned it down. I was bummed, because the job could have been a turning point in my career, but I just could not stomach the idea of moving there. I just could not. Where I live is bad enough.

    I felt like it was worth a try–if the company were amenable to remote employees, it could have worked out. But if the listing is specifically saying “You have to move here,” and you have no intention of doing that, then you’re wasting your time and theirs, frankly.

  63. C Average*

    Letter #1, if you haven’t already, please check in with the employee who was the target of this stunt. You say she expressed to you that she was “upset,” but as some of the other bullying victims who have chimed in here can attest, “upset” might be the tip of the iceberg. She may be feeling as though the whole office is mocking her and looking down on her, and questioning her own work and even her own worth as a person. Being reduced to a catty stereotype would be painful to anyone, but I’d think it would be especially painful to someone young and new to the professional world.

    She needs to hear from you that a) this is not normal office behavior, b) in your opinion it’s not okay, c) you are interested in how she is doing and whether there’s anything she needs from you in the way of support, d) her work is fine and she is fine, and possibly even e) you would understand if she might be looking for a position elsewhere after this experience, and you would provide a good reference for her if that were the case.

    (Ideally, she would also hear from you that f) you think there ought to be some consequences or at least a frank discussion about what happened for the perpetrator and the other people who enabled this stunt, and that you’re working to determine the best channels and processes for making that happen. But don’t say that unless it’s true.)

  64. Willow Sunstar*

    I must not be too basic, since I’ve never heard of that insult before today. Either that, or my co-workers are at least somewhat professional…

    1. Xarcady*

      I’ve never heard it before, either. Although looking around my workplace, there are more than a few young women here who might fit the stereotype, based on their leggings and the Starbucks. If I think about their style of dress and habits, which I don’t do often, it’s mostly to remember how when I was their age, I wanted to fit in, too.

      1. Emi.*

        It’s not even necessarily about fitting in. Like, leggings are really comfy! Blanket scarves are warm! Ugg boots are cozy!

        1. fposte*

          Right–these are mostly things that are popular for a reason (it might be no accident that all these things are literally non-edgy). And then there’s the circular element of the popular things being the only things available in most stores when you want a scarf, or boots.

          It goes to that whole complicated psychology of what you buy being a statement about yourself, and ironically the people who just buy Uggs and blanket scarves from the front of the mall because it’s the first thing that fit may be more don’t-give-a-damn than people who carefully curate their purchase of a band t-shirt.

    2. Lady Phoenix*

      I have, but mostly cause I spend anlot of time on the internet.

      Just replace the valley girl with orange tans and “omigods” with leggings and “selfies”

      1. The Outsider*

        I was explaining this letter and what “Basic” means and my 50 year old husband says – Oh its Millennial speak for Valley Girl – toooo funny – different generation – same stereotypes.

  65. Greg M.*

    everybody has voiced their opinion on how mean the dressing up was so I’ll go to the other part that also really bugs me.

    The bold faced lie, the “I’m totally doing this thing but I’m gonna deny it to your face even though we both know I’m full of crap” god I hate that.

    1. Sarah*

      Yeah – to me, that’s the much more fireable offense. I would not want an employee who I know is willing to lie to my face about something that blatant. An employee who had a cruel lapse in judgement but who understands what they did was wrong and owns up to it? Not great, but forgivable. One who doubles down lying? Nah… even if they have otherwise been a good employee, that really makes me question their integrity.

      1. Observer*

        It’s kind of hard to see this as just a “lapse in judgement” – it took a fair amount of planning and some expense. That’s NOT momentary, that’s for sure!

    2. GreyjoyGardens*

      Yes, I agree with you. It seems to be a kind of dare on Toxic Costume Lady’s part: I am going to blatantly, obviously lie to your face and I triple dog dare you to call me out on it!

    3. Observer*

      Yes, I totally agree with that. And, I think it’s something that the OP should highlight when she goes to HR.

    4. GreyjoyGardens*

      I just thought of something – Toxic Costume’s lie is not just a blatant dare, it’s a gauntlet thrown down. If she can get away with a bald-faced, pants-on-fire lie, one that is easy to refute, and her manager (or anyone higher up) won’t acknowledge the lie and call her on it – well, Toxic Costume has just determined that you are gullible, spineless, or both. She will gaslight you, run right over you, and disrespect you. Nip this in the bud, like, *now*.

  66. Bow Ties Are Cool*

    LW 1, please send an update when this issue reaches its conclusion, whatever that is.

    If I were the employee who was the subject of this bullying, I would 1) immediately begin to work exclusively from home, 2) report the whole thing to HR myself, and 3) job search. I would want my manager to 1) beat me to HR and 2) do their damndest to fire my tormentor. I might stay if that happened.

  67. Colorado*

    OP #1: I’m horrified and feel sorry for your employee. I guarantee she is job searching right now. I hope you do the right thing and reprimand if not terminate the sorry excuse of a person immediately. Please give us an update on this! I know we all work in different offices/cultures/settings but dressing up for Halloween in the office just seems so juvenile to me, unless you work in a Halloween store or places that focus on working with kids.

  68. Elisabeth*

    Obviously this was mean-spirited and nobody believes it was a coincidence. But even if you WERE to go out on the longest limb & believe the employee, then why wasn’t her reaction: “Oh my gosh, I feel terribly that she was hurt! It was never my intention! Where is she, so I can apologize immediately ? The absence of that reaction says it all. What a horrid bunch of people.

  69. Kali*

    I have just learned what the word ‘basic’ means (in this sense), and I am now proud to be basic and a chav and a slut.

      1. fposte*

        Weirdly, “normcore” isn’t usually pejorative. It’s unpretentious. (Or it was–I think maybe it’s come and gone already.)

  70. clow*

    OP 1 – If i were the unusual name employee I would look for another job. I would hate the idea of working for a company that condoned and championed this sort of bullying. Working with people who thought this was funny would be enough for me, regardless of what happened with the person that made the costume, everyone else laughed about it and the manager rewarded her for it. That speaks volumes about the character people you work with.

  71. Fresh Faced*

    “She was voted the winner of the costume contest by the other employees”
    I want to give this employee a hug, shame on your office.

  72. Ann O'Nemity*

    For a second, I thought #1 might be from my workplace.

    One of the employees, “Joffrey,” dressed up for Halloween as another employee “Sansa.” But that’s about as far as the similarity went. Joffrey’s costume was basically a women’s suit and a very distinctive wig; there wasn’t any additional insult like calling Sansa basic. Still, Joffrey faced disciplinary action for it.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      What kind of disciplinary action? Was Sansa aware of it? Or was the issue that he was a guy wearing women’s clothing?

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        Sansa saw the costume at the Halloween party, got upset and left.

        Joffrey received a written warning for being unkind to a fellow employee. It didn’t have anything to do with wearing women’s clothing.

  73. Delphine*

    If I was the employee in Letter #1, I would be looking for a new job. Not only was she mocked, but her coworkers and her boss all joined in on the cruel fun.

  74. Sue Wilson*

    Wow your employee and perhaps your boss are jerks. Good lord, that’s cruel. And there’s a certain type of irony in being so invested someone else’s supposed basicness. Costumed employee needs to be fired, and you need to get down to the reason no other person stepped in. Jesus.

  75. C Average*

    I’m finding I have a whole lot of feelings about this whole “basic” conversation, especially after a recent experience, and at the risk of both oversharing and veering off topic, I’m going to plunge on in.

    My sister and I have had an objectively hard couple of years. She survived cancer and made a cross-country move for a new job, and I’m dealing with the demise of my marriage (and with it, the difficult work of restarting a career that had been on pause while I dealt with my sister’s illness and other family issues).

    Last week we met up in Nashville and made the last-minute decision to see a show while we were there. We saw Sheryl Crow at the Ryman. I’ve been a fan of her music since her heyday in the ’90s; my sister could take or leave her, but wanted to experience the Ryman. My sister’s kind of a hipster, and I’m unapologetically pretty basic.

    As we entered the venue, my sister began making catty comments about the crowd, particularly the white women. Their clothes, their hair, their makeup, their mannerisms, their enthusiasm for a musician well past “cool.” In her social media posts, my sister was careful to use irony to distance herself from Stuff White Women Like, making jokes about reliving the ’90s. It made me really uncomfortable, because a) I was unironically excited about attending the show and b) I thought maybe all those other white women were, like me, maybe more than just cliches, and maybe they were just excited to see the show. They weren’t hurting anyone. Their basicness wasn’t hurting anyone. Why was it necessary to make fun of them? It felt gratuitously unkind.

    People in certain demographic groups CAN act entitled and privileged and clueless, and it’s fair to call out that stuff when it’s the issue at play. But making fun of the way people look–even suburban white women of a Certain Age–is just not productive. And I vowed in the moment not to participate or be complicit in that sort of thing going forward, because it feels icky.

    (The show was wonderful. Yeah, I’m basic.)

    1. nep*

      Love this.
      I’m about as basic as it gets. And wouldn’t change a damned thing. Mind-blowing how much stock people put in such superficial meaningless crap.
      Basic on, C Average.

      1. nep*

        (I know — I’m not using basic in its ‘correct’ trendy sense here. Anyway — big +1 to this post.)

  76. S. Ninja*

    Yeah, OP1: One of my supervisors dressed as the other one for Halloween, but it wasn’t meant to be mocking and she *asked* him first if he’d be offended. This situation you’re in sounds awful and gratuitously mean.

  77. ladycrim*

    The first letter is an “Ugly Betty” episode come to life. (And even then, Betty didn’t see her co-worker making fun of her.) Incredibly cruel.

  78. Gina Linetti*

    That first letter is… WHOA!

    Going forward, this particular workplace should institute a “no costumes ever, ever, EVER” policy, since it appears their employees (and managers!) are incapable of behaving like adults.

  79. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #1 situation again – just think – if said mocked employee suffered such emotional trauma that she had to quit, and then needed therapy for it… man, that is a contingency lawyer’s dream!

    Which may make apologizing difficult from a legal standpoint….

  80. Th*

    OP 2 here

    Thank you Alison and thank you everyone for your thoughts and suggestions.

    I have rehearsed Alison’s language and I’m ready to go should the need arise. I also think the comments here helped me see the other side (hey, may be she genuinely likes me) and want to give her a chance. I do generally mingle with work colleagues and many of my work.colleagues become close friends eventually but I don’t feel it with this person. I’ll definitely give her the benefit of doubt and also suggest coffee or lunch so I don’t know her off totally.

  81. TootsNYC*

    I think it’s important to NOT say, “Target Coworker was upset.”

    Stick to the third person, and to their reactions—”That is an insulting and upsetting thing to do”—and do not talk about the Target Coworker’s feelings.

    “Anybody would be upset” is the closest I would come.
    “I can’t have the people who work for me treated that way.”
    “It was mean enough that we’re going to be lucky if we don’t lose her.”

    Some scripts might be nice. Those are the best I can do right now.

    Oh, and remember this response, useful whenever someone tries to justify something that’s at heart unjustifiable: “Nevertheless.” It’s a paragraph all by itself. Just let it stand out there. (say it firmly)

    But if anybody’s going to talk about the impact on Target Coworker, it should be her, should the occasion ever arise.

    (The time I let me temper and impatience get the better of me, and I yelled at a colleague, I got no detail about him, and plenty about how my actions were unfair to him, professionally wrong, and upsetting for everyone to here. The most they might have said about him was that he was upset. In the meeting where I apologized, HE told me that he’d felt so humiliated, he didn’t want to even come on our floor for days. That gutted me. But it was so much more powerful coming from him.
    And in my case, I wasn’t trying to be mean, so if I’d heard that from someone else ABOUT him, I’d have felt bad. W/ these folks, I’d worry that they’d gloat. Don’t give them that, at Targeted Coworker’s expense.)

  82. JS*

    OP1- I would be super curious to know the culture of the job in general. I highly doubt that everyone voted the costume to maliciously bully this girl. Unless your job is at North Shore High School and this is actually Mean Girls its likely:
    -It actually wasn’t a big deal and the similarities were coincidence (basic girl outfit is pretty basic lol) but the co-worker parody was still offended (their right to be offended but intent here matters in terms of punishment of offender).
    -OR if the co-worker lied – was that it wasn’t malicious during the contest but later/likely around watercooler they mocked the girl to others and she found out.

    It could also be that giving your co-workers a hard time is part of the culture there since everyone is friends. This comes with its own set of troubles since people are there to work and this risks alienation of new coworkers who don’t fit the culture or don’t want to be a part of it (both valid). I would just be hesitant to stir up issues with your boss if he/she thinks this is OK and tells you to drop it. I would not push this. I would evaluate this work environment and if it is a place you want to be and a culture you like.

    1. M*

      > It actually wasn’t a big deal and the similarities were coincidence (basic girl outfit is pretty basic lol)

      If it wasn’t malicious then there was no reason to wear the wig, contact lenses and name tag.

      1. JS*

        I said before the blonde air and blue eyes is like text book definition of basic girl. The name tag is the only thing that makes it seem not a coincidence. But she could have dressed up like a basic girl, someone was like “oh hey you look like ____” and then they ran with it. Not that its OK but I do think theres a big difference in terms of punishment of a gag that escalated and something meant to be bullying especially if the entire/majority of the office was in on it.

    2. One of the Sarahs*

      I genuinely don’t understand the “maybe it was a coincidence” side when the outfit included a name badge with the co-worker’s very uncommon name, on top of a wig like her hair, and coloured contacts.

      1. JS*

        Blonde air and blue eyes is like text book definition of basic girl. The name tag is the only thing that makes it seem not a coincidence.

  83. nep*

    These trendy meanings of words make my head spin. ‘Basic’ — Cringe.
    Like nouns as adjectives. That is so dope. GAG ME.
    Alison is of course spot on — push this one. (I think the employee with the horrible ‘costume’ should be fired.)

  84. Out of the box thinker.*

    Regarding Opt1. A co worker in my department dressed like one of our senior team leads. However 1 permission was asked first, 2. team lead even lent a specific mug and it was meant as homage. Id never heard the term ‘basic’ like that before. So that was new for me.
    When speaking to your manager, I would point out that this is a serious issue that potentially has opened them up to legal liabilities and is one reason you will be dealing with this decisively.
    My only question would be how was voting done? For us, a photo is taken and is part of an album so its easy for things like name-tags to not be readable. If people voted just on the photo without seeing the other behavior. I can see them thinking it was just a cool employee costume.
    But the bad behaving employee needs to be talked to, and I would be checking with HR to see what is the policies/write ups for bullying.

  85. Elbe*

    Is it possible that the department thought that the mocked employee was in on the joke? Especially if she smiled and went along with it in order to save face, I can understand other people thinking that it was good-natured teasing among friends as opposed to blatant, completely unprofessional bullying. Otherwise, I have a hard time believing that the OP wouldn’t have noticed THAT toxic of a workplace before now.

    Still, the costumed employee and the manager – the ones who for sure know she wasn’t in on the joke and still think it’s okay – seem like lost causes. The OP should go over their heads, without question.

    1. AW*

      Is it possible that the department thought that the mocked employee was in on the joke?

      Even if they thought that at the time, the OP questioned everyone about it because they said, “the other employees say it was just some fun”. They have to know there was some sort of problem because they wouldn’t be getting asked about it otherwise and they wouldn’t have to defend it as being “fun”.

      Otherwise, I have a hard time believing that the OP wouldn’t have noticed THAT toxic of a workplace before now.

      The OP could have missed it if:

      1a) Their employees don’t engage in this behavior in front of them and

      1b) OP’s boss isn’t telling the OP about any other incidents because they also think it’s OK.

      2) Their employees didn’t have a target to gang up on until now. This new employee only started four months ago. If the other employees are all friends (like the group of employees in the “is this a clique” letters) then they weren’t bullying each other.

      Maybe this level of awful should have been obvious in other areas but I can see them not realizing they’re managing a bunch of bullies if they didn’t have someone to bully before now.

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