update: my coworker keeps calling me his “work mom”

Remember the letter-writer whose younger coworker kept calling her his “mom,” even after she’d told him to stop? Here’s the update.

I followed your advice and the advice of the commentators. I sent the email back that had “Mom” in the subject line and said “I didn’t know your mom worked here, you sent this to me by mistake” and that was enough to shut that down. I talked to my coworker (Fergus) and said very firmly, “You will not call me mom any more. It is not acceptable in any circumstance. I don’t care about your reasons or your excuses. I am not asking you, I am telling you, it stops immediately or I will escalate this our direct supervisor and HR. I need to know if you understand this.” He was very resistant and kept telling me it was a compliment and that I should lighten up. I held firm and since the conversation kept circling, I told him that I was escalating the problem because he was rejecting my request.

I immediately went to our boss and laid it all out for him. He was horrified that it had been going on and immediately talked to Fergus. Fergus was pretty weird about it. He kept saying stuff like “she is such a cool lady, I wanted to compliment her,” “She does so much for me, like a real mom,” and the doozy, “It’s not like it’s sexual harassment.”

Fergus is now in sensitivity training with HR, boss man put him on a PIP and he is very passive aggressive in his interactions with me. I just keep it professional and don’t talk to him about anything personal. I still don’t get the creepy vibe from him but I see why some of the commentators were concerned.

I want to thank you and everyone for helping me with this situation and making me realize that it was not my actions but his that were causing the problem. Once I was able to stop feeling like I was going to hurt his feelings, it became very easy to assert myself.

{ 569 comments… read them below }

  1. RVA Cat*

    “He was very resistant and kept telling me it was a compliment and that I should lighten up” – says every harasser ever when called out….

      1. babblemouth*

        A compliment is supposed to make someone (the complimentee?) feel nice. It’s literally all about the complimentee’s feelings. If that person feels bad, then it’s not a compliment *by definition*.
        It drives me crazy that so many people don’t understand (or choose not to understand) this very basic definition.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          “It was intended as a compliment.”

          “Well, it failed to accomplish that goal. You’ve been told point blank that it’s offensive. When you continue to do it after being told it’s offensive, you are being offensive on purpose.”

    1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      Actual quote from Harvey Weinstein: “In the past I used to compliment people, and some took it as me being sexual.”

      What Fergus is doing is not sexual, but it is harassment and he is following a well-worn path of excuses.

      1. Snark*

        Somehow, Harvey, men who are not garbage manage to compliment people without the use of their genitals.

      2. QuiteContrary*

        I don’t know, it could be some sort of Mommy fetish. People have weird sex kinks. I’m so sorry this OP is going through this garbage, it is unbelievable of Fergus to keep insisting there’s nothing wrong with it. So gross!

      3. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I think this is a new style of harassment and one that seems to be geared towards older women from younger men. Gross.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Boy did this line stand out in electric pink flashing letters.

      This reminds me of a distinction re genuine socially awkward people–if they find out they have transgressed a boundary, then they are horrified and apologize and try to make sure they stick within the boundary now that they know about it. When someone discovers they are stomping all over a boundary, and their reaction is to insist that the boundary has to go away and the person with the boundary needs to lighten up and learn to see it as a compliment, bystanders need to drop the “Oh golly this poor person, beset with Social Awkwardness! Everyone needs to be extra accommodating of them, for they Just Can’t Help It.”

      1. Zephyrine*

        Yep. I’m a fairly socially awkward person. I feel terrible when someone tells me I’ve made them uncomfortable and stop doing whatever that thing was immediately. Harassers aren’t socially awkward, they’re just jerks.

        1. Amber T*

          YES. I’m very awkward and I try to be very aware of what I say or do, and I realize I sometimes cross boundaries, but the moment I realize it or it’s pointed out, I make a mental neon flashing sign that says “DO NOT CROSS” and I try my best to not do it again.

        2. Annabelle*

          Same! I’ve definitely said weird things and instantly regretted it, but doubling down on something like this is just a whole other level of awful.

          1. Anon anon anon*

            Exactly. I am at times that person who makes offensive jokes, teases people, and tells people to lighten up. Outside of work. When they haven’t told me that it bothers them. If someone says, “Hey, I really don’t like that. Please stop,” I stop. And apologize. This guy has issues.

      2. blackcat*

        Yeah. One time, I had to tell a young male TA that he could not say “hey ladies” to his students. He was mortified that he had actually said that out loud and has not done it since.

        I have since told our department chair about how we should, perhaps, actually include things like this in our TA training. The sciences can have a higher than average proportion of awkward, and the vast majority of people take correction just fine after some embarrassment.

          1. Grad student*

            Not blackcat, but I think it’s that even if you say it in a neutral tone, “hey ladies” has a connotation of “heyYyYyY ladies ;)” which is very very important to avoid if you’re a TA talking to students.

          2. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

            I think this is a tone thing. There’s a “hey ladies” in a normal neutral tone, a “heeey, laaadiiies!” in a Jerry Lewis tone, and a “heeey, ladies” in a bad pickup-line tone.

          3. blackcat*

            I don’t believe it’s appropriate in a workplace in general, at least when coming from a male superior to a group of female subordinates. Why use a gendered term when “hey team” would suffice? Also, “hey ladies” has a flirtation connotation.

            It is definitely not appropriate from an older male TA to a group of 18 year old women over which he has grading authority. There is no reason to call attention to the students’ gender, and it should not be done in general, and certainly not in male-dominated spaces. Both for the students’ comfort and for stereotype-threat reasons. Female students are less likely to be comfortable if they think their male TA sees them as “ladies” first and students second.

            1. JokersandRogues*

              Well, and if they aren’t female or aren’t all female, the phrase is commonly used as a gendered insult whether he means it to be or not.

              1. blackcat*

                Yeah, it was easy to communicate to the guy that the intent didn’t matter at all.

                If you’re not going to bring up gender in the classroom in an intentional way (eg discussing an article on classroom dynamics and gender), just… don’t bring it up at all. I don’t think that is a complicated rule to follow.

                I admit, though, to struggling to remove “dude” from my teaching vocabulary. I am a Californian. All people, regardless of gender, are “dude” when they do something either cool or stupid (“Cool, dude!” “Uh, really, dude?” or just “Dude. No.”). Sometimes, lab equipment is “dude.” My middle ground is that I let the habit slide for inanimate objects but do not call people dude. Students find this to be a funny quirk. I suppose one could write a paper on the inherent misogyny of calling scientific equipment by a male pronoun, but that is a bridge to far for me. At any rate, if I can strike “dude” from my teaching vocabulary, other people can strike “hey ladies” from theirs.

                1. Kathleen*

                  Strangely (or perhaps not), “Ladies and gentlemen” isn’t at all off-putting. It’s the single-gender “ladies” thing that’s so….iffy.

                2. Hallway Feline*

                  Fellow Californian here! I definitely struggle with the dude issue. I’ve even said it to my direct reports in the same way you indicated above. Let’s just say that the people I managed in Maryland didn’t understand =P

                3. Kate 2*

                  I grew up, in an east coast state, with “dude” being an everybody thing. Remember that Keenan and Kel song from their movie? “He’s a dude, she’s a dude, cause we’re all dudes!”

                4. Hey Nonnie*

                  I personally wouldn’t mind if we reclaimed “dude” as a gender-neutral term, as we have been doing (to some degree of success) with “doctor” and nurse. It doesn’t seem to me to be an inherently gendered term in the way “ladies” or “bro” would be. At least it hasn’t in my memory been used in a gendered way, but has been the equivalent of “folks.” Or else is a general exclamation of dismay/excitement, like “Dude!” or “Oh duuuuuuuude…”

                5. Properlike*

                  I use “Dude” constantly, and guess I picked it up in California. What I wish I could use instead is “all y’all” because it is perfect, but alas, not anywhere that isn’t the south.

                6. Tiny Soprano*

                  Yeah it’s one thing that my D&D group calls the bottle-opener “the boy” (as in, I wanna crack my bev, can you pass me the boy?), but it’d be inappropriate to do that in a professional context. It’s one thing when it’s a close group of friends where you’ve all agreed that gendered language is funny in a given context, but at work is another matter.

                7. Magenta Sky*

                  I live in southern California, where “dude” is a state of mind. It’s not about who you say it to, it’s about who says it.

                  I’m curious, though: Is “Hey, gentlemen” equally offensive? How about “ladies and gentlemen”?

                8. teclatrans*

                  Fellow Californian here. In college, my BFF got me a birthday cake that said “Dude!!” (translation: Happy Birthday!!”) We…um, well, let’s just say we used Dude a lot. Even more than like, or totally.

                9. Misc*

                  Ugh, I hate “ladies and gentlemen”. Im left standing their feeling awkward suppressing snarky comments like “and the rest to us too”.

            2. Mabel*

              I really hate it when people at work (men and women) refer to people in a meeting as “ladies.” No one calls men “men” or “gentlemen.” Why does gender need to be a factor at all?!?!

              I often have a strong opinions about things (like this), but I’m not good at being able to back up my opinions with facts and reasoned, logical arguments, and it makes me so frustrated! I’m so glad that there are commenters here who feel the same way I do about certain things, so I can just agree with you (and possibly steal some of your well-written arguments).

              1. blackcat*

                I do actually see groups of all men called “gentlemen” or “guys” frequently, most often by other men. I am not a fan of that either, but it does not carry the same dismissive connotation as “ladies.”

                As a firm believer in equality, I advocate for the “leave gender out of it all together” stance. As a happy side effect, it is more inclusive for non-binary individuals, too.

                1. Serin*

                  For generations, in a professional context, “gentlemen” meant “people.”

                  Best interpretation is that men who address groups of women at work as “ladies” are just trying to follow the old rules with updated vocabulary. I think most of them don’t mean any ill by it, but you have to image them coming into a room and doing a quick head-count of all the people there: “Hm. All female. OK, I’ll address them as ‘ladies,’ then” — in other words, the very form of address they’re using FORCES them to pay close attention to everyone’s gender, in a context in which it’s just irrelevant.

                  What on earth is wrong with “Hello, everyone”?

                2. oranges & lemons*

                  Yeah, the “gentlemen” address always give me an old boys’ club feeling. Also, I work in publishing and weirdly, some people will send in an email with “Dear gentlemen” or “Dear sirs” used as a generic form of address, despite the fact that a significant majority of people who work in publishing are women.

              2. Snargulfuss*

                I volunteer with a women’s group and one of the other volunteers frequently refers to the membership as “the ladies.” It makes me feel like we’re talking about a bunch of elderly widows in a quilting bee…not that there’s anything wrong with elderly widows quilting, but that’s not quite the group we work with.

              3. Scott*

                We’re a looooong way from society never acknowledging our gender in the workplace ever… even before you work there, there’s often a box that you check if you’re a woman (for employment equality purposes).

              4. TL -*

                I am from Texas and I refer to groups of men as gentlemen. I’m most likely to do it for a group of older men or if I’m addressing a group of boys/young men and they’re not behaving quite well, but I will absolutely use it to say, “Hello, gents/gentlemen. Let’s get started.”

                1. Anion*

                  Yes, I call groups of men “gentlemen,” and/or address them as such, all the time–regardless of age or what they’re doing.

                  But then, I don’t see “lady,” as some kind of insult, either. I *am* a lady, and not only do I assume the men I’m addressing are gentlemen, I believe that addressing them as such reminds them to *behave* as such.

                2. LeRainDrop*

                  I’m with you, TL. I would occasionally use “gentlemen” or “gents” to address a group of all males, and also use “ladies” to address a group of all women. There is no disrespectful intent, nor any strange tone, and I’ve honestly never heard feedback before now that it’s not okay. In my experience, this language is quite normal in the workplace. FWIW, I’m in Georgia but also work with colleagues throughout the US and some international.

                3. Serin*

                  Anion’s comment above: not only do I assume the men I’m addressing are gentlemen, I believe that addressing them as such reminds them to *behave* as such.

                  That is exactly my issue, actually. Acting like a lady involves keeping your voice down and your clothes clean, expecting people to rise when you come into a room and remain standing until you’ve sat down, etc.

                  Acting like a lady is not appropriate for work. At work we act like professionals.

                4. NorthernSoutherner*

                  Well said, Serin. I like the all-purpose ‘guys’ for both genders. However, I’m also originally from the South, so I grew up with ‘all y’all’ or the more genteel ‘you all.’ Whoever said ‘ladies’ sounded like a quilting bee, yes! I get the same ‘time for tea’ impression of that word. Another point — from the royalty standpoint, the male equivalent of lady is lord, not gentlemen. Of course, gentlewomen doesn’t work either. So guys it is!

            3. Koko*

              This just came up in another group I participate in recently and I was led to conclude that the relative offensiveness of the words “lady” or “ladies” seems to vary wildly by region and age.

              1. Chalupa Batman*

                That’s the reason this conversation has always been so interesting to me on this site. I often catch myself changing “ladies” to “everyone” in e-mails going to several people because I learned here that there’s a WAY bigger variation than I’d thought on how it’s perceived. I’m female in a female heavy profession, so I’m often addressing several women at once. I’d already cut “guys” from my professional vocabulary, but I hadn’t thought that to some of them “ladies” might be just as bad. Knowing that could bother some people enough to impact their opinion of me, even though they would be unlikely to say something because it’s so “small,” led me to just err on the side of caution.

          4. Jenny P*

            Ladies has connotations that some feminists (including me) do not like. My coworker summed it up best when she said, “Ladies do what they’re told, women do what they want.”

            1. bearing*

              The term “ladies” drives me crazy (except as part of the archaic term “ladies and gentlemen” to refer to an audience)… and I mostly hear it from women talking to a group of women.

              I guess I wouldn’t say I’m offended by it exactly, just irritated. Like, you may think of yourself as a lady, woman, but I don’t think of myself that way, so speak for yourself.

                1. Agatha_31*

                  That’s a pretty passive aggressive way of getting to say by implication something you don’t think fits your definition of lady while still trying to maintain your self-imposed label of lady and the implied superiority lying behind it.

                2. NGL*

                  And because you think of yourself as a lady, you are behaving an a passive-aggressive, condescending and rude manner while still getting to pretend to yourself that you are above such things. How classy!

          5. Close Bracket*

            People who say “ladies” are typically people who don’t understand why they can’t say “girls.”

            1. LeRainDrop*

              That’s your experience, but it’s definitely inconsistent with mine. There is no doubt in my mind that “girls” used to address adult females is NOT okay, but “ladies” does not seem to be unusual or problematic at all where I am in the southeast US, nor with my colleagues across the US and some international. FWIW, I’m a female in my 30s.

          1. Not a Lady*

            My primary objection to the word “ladies” is that it implies that there are women who are NOT ladies. And therefore not deserving of respect. Growing up, I was sometimes told to “act like a lady,” that sort of thing, which generally meant I should sit down, shut up, and not argue. Ladies are a particular sub-set of women, and it’s not a sub-set I want to belong to. I think all women deserve respect.

            I am not a lady. I swear on occasion, I dress casually, I don’t wear makeup or pay much attention to my hair or to fashion, I’ve never had my nails done (and I never will), I don’t take guff from men, and I’m the straightforward (but not rude) sort. I’m not what most people would think of as a “lady.” And I don’t like being addressed as one. The word is judgy, and when it’s applied to me it’s not accurate.

            1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              ^^ This.

              ‘Lady’ to me implies a certain kind of behavior, whereas ‘woman’ is simply age+gender.

      3. Annie Moose*


        Let me tell you the story of two people I know. Jamie is diagnosed with autism, Wakeen has never been formally diagnosed with any anxiety/social/emotional thing as far as I know. (not to armchair diagnose, but I would not be surprised if he were on the “high-functioning” end of the spectrum)

        Jamie is almost painfully concerned about accidentally misreading people and being rude or insulting to them; as a result, they’re one of the nicest people I’ve ever met and it’s hard for me to imagine them being genuinely and intentionally mean to someone.

        Wakeen couldn’t care less about boundaries or how you feel; if you mention that he makes you uncomfortable or that he’s doing that thing again where he makes assumptions about what you think, he dismisses you and makes excuses about how he’s bad with people and possibly throws in some Dead Mother Guilt and refuses to change his behavior.

        Both of them probably do have a lot of trouble reading other people’s emotions and understanding where boundaries are. But Jamie works hard to respect people anyway, while Wakeen thinks it means he doesn’t have to. Needless to say, I’m no longer friends with Wakeen.

        1. Close Bracket*

          Lots of neurotypical people get high scores on the Autism Quotient Test. That’s one very good reason not to armchair diagnose, including when you do it but say you aren’t, based on social behavior.

          1. Anon anon anon*

            And, as a side note, no one is neurotypical. It’s fair to differentiate between people who are autistic and people who aren’t, but we are all a little different. Many people have unusual or interesting neurological / behavioral traits without meeting the full criteria for any kind of diagnosis.

      4. Oranges*

        I will say that I used to do a dance of “What about” when someone told me a boundary. Just so I could be 100% clear about said boundary. I stopped when I realized that it read as me pushing back against the boundary.

        Funnily enough I found this out when asking someone about why they don’t like open water. I was all like “Is it because you can’t see the bottom? You have a fear of sharks/fishes? Is it just when scuba diving/swimming under the water?” They thought I was trying to talk them out of their fear when really I just wanted to know exactly what about the situation was scary for them so I could better understand what activities they could/couldn’t do.

        1. Specialk9*

          One way to get the understanding you want is to acknowledge and commit, then ask if you can clarify so you can respect their boundary. Eg: “thanks so much for telling me this. I wasn’t aware you dislike open water. I will make a very firm mental note not to put you in this situation again. So ok, no open water for (Name). Do you mind if I ask a couple questions, so I can be sure I’ve got it right?”

          That’s very different from peppering someone with questions that sound like you’re trying to get around them.

            1. JulieBulie*

              Yes – I have similar trouble with people misinterpreting the motivation behind my questions.

              (And for the record, I don’t like open water because it induces a sense of agoraphobia that I don’t experience in other kinds of open spaces. Like I’m afraid that the horizon is actually the edge of our flat Earth.) (Also, it’s wet. Yuck!)

              1. teclatrans*

                I have trouble eith open water because I am afraid of heights. …yeah, I don’t know how that works, either, but there you go.

                1. Jadelyn*

                  That actually makes perfect sense to me. The water comes up to your level so you’re not “above” it very far in that sense, and you don’t seem to be “high up” visually – but the land below the water is way the hell down there, and so you are significantly “high up” compared to the seafloor. So that’s probably what’s tripping the phobia part of your brain into going “THIS IS WAY TOO HIGH I DON’T LIKE IT” – you’re not high above the water, but you’re high above the literal surface of the earth.

                2. JustaTech*

                  I often feel like what is generally called a “fear of heights” is really a fear of “downs”. I read it in a Terry Pratchett book years ago and I fell like it’s a much better description, and explains why deep water can elicit the same feelings.

                  (I’m not bothered looking *up* at something very tall, I’m bothered by looking *down* at the ground far away.)

          1. Cobol*

            I think I’m the one failing was talking about in the parent (a mischaracterization of what I was saying, but I digress). This is a good script, but also a real good look into how those with reduced soft skills process the world. Alison gets a lot of letters where the OP writes they said or told somebody something, but then it comes back to them actually indicating or hinting at what they wanted (I want to specifically call out that this is not the case in this letter).
            Really that’s not such a bad thing, because most people will get the hint, but we need to feel comfortable talking to those who don’t, because it’s really that they can’t.

        2. Say what, now?*

          I get your impulse. I also get the need to ask follow up. Like, so is it when you’re in the water or if we were to hire a boat would that be an activity you wouldn’t want to partake of either? Because you don’t want to inadvertently put them in a situation where they’re afraid. Unless you’re a terrible person.

          But yeah, Specialk9 pointing out that you could tell them why you want to know is probably a good stopgap.

        3. TootsNYC*

          ooh, I had this with my daughter when it came to buying clothes.

          I would try to find out why she didn’t like a top, and she would take it as me trying to talk her out of it, or argue with her. (To be honest, there might have been a little bit there.)

          Once I got myself squared away, and realized that I might have been pushing a little bit, I had to do some serious work to earn her trust. First I gave her the speech about “I’m trying to build a database of what you like so that I can be of use to you when we’re shopping.”
          And then I did a lot of demonstration: “This is a blue you like, but it’s got that gathering you hate–so it’s a no, right? I should put it back, I’m guessing.”

          We finally got to a slightly better place. (I remember this with my own mom, actually.)

          1. Indoor Cat*

            Ha! Oh man, that takes me back.

            I think I was about thirteen (8th grade) where I finally won the four-year-long argument re: mom gives me the clothing budget, and I go out with my friends and pick the clothes I want without going over budget. And if I wasted half the clothing budget on the Avril Lavigne jacket from Hot Topic and anime cat ears, I had to live with making my three-outfit wardrobe last a whole week by doing my own laundry and ironing, etc.

            Actually, it worked out surprisingly well. I learned how to take care of my own clothes and do some pragmatic cost-benefit analysis (“okay, I know these pricey jeans are trendy right now, but will I myself still like them in three months?”) while at the same time figuring out what I actually enjoyed wearing vs. what other people thought was cool [my friends] or a good deal [my mom]. Turns out I enjoy jewel tones, art-deco prints, dresses with pockets, cargo pants, tight t-shirts, sweaters that open in the front and long hair scarves. Whereas I don’t like fedoras, floral prints, neon-and-black color palettes, pullover sweaters, or any heels ever. But that took a lot of trial-and-error, and I hated feeling judged for wanting to try something new and then realizing I actually disliked it later.

            Also, sometimes I feel like half my friends (now all in their mid 20’s) don’t know how to take care of clothes.

            1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

              Wow, you just transported me right back to 1994 (minus Avril Lavigne). I had kinda forgotten about the first clothes-shopping spree sans Mom. But now that I think about it, I remember feeling so responsible with my purse (denim, natch) full of $20 bills. Pretty sure I spent it all at the Limited, Too. Does that place even exist? Thanks for the flashback; made my night.

          2. Starbuck*

            My mom would try to do this too, with food and clothes but it just ended up being this endless cycle of frustration because she’d assume my tastes were fixed when they were actually changing all the time as I tried new things. So she’s come up with things she thought I’d like based on information I’d given her months ago that she’s written down or committed to memory… and it would be something that I wasn’t excited about anymore. I hated the constant pressure of having to account for the whims of my taste and would start refusing to give suggestions or input, which in turn increased her anxiety about trying to find things that I liked… ugh.

            1. Jo*

              God, this. I was mildly obsessed with glitter and glittery things when I was 14 or so (part of that late-’90s/early 2000s glitter craze) as part of a phase that lasted less than a year, tops, and decade later when I was in my mid-twenties my mom was still trying to buy me glittery things. Sigh.

            2. TootsNYC*

              Tastes certainly change! I was able to buy clothes as gifts successfully for a few years because of that research. (I think that helped her feel less pressured, to see me successfully channel her tastes, and to also see me say, “If you don’t like it, the receipt is in there, and one of us can return it.)

              Then she went off to college, and I told her, “I almost bought you clothes for Christmas, but I haven’t seen you wear those clothes when you come home. I realized I’m not confident in knowing what you like anymore.” I asked if she could codify what her current tastes were, and it didn’t seem she could, so that’s not a gift option now (gift cards are, but they aren’t a lot of fun to give).

      5. madge*

        YES. I’m pretty socially awkward and sometimes at 2am, my brain replays every time I’ve said something inappropriate, then I’m mortified all over again.

        1. Say what, now?*

          Every time I have to talk to a direct report about quality I have the same damn thing. Was I too soft? Too direct? Where is that life-giving middle ground?

          1. Koko*

            I still struggle a bit with this. My general approach is to just stick to the facts: “I noticed X. It was supposed to be Y.” But then I feel the need to end with a summary statement or action item of some kind. In some cases it’s easy, like when it can still be corrected and I can tell her to do so, or with ongoing/repetitive work, I can say, “Going forward, keep an eye out for that and come to me if you have any questions.”

            But if it’s a project that is now over and can’t be retroactively corrected, and it’s not clear this situation will ever come up again, I know I still want to flag the mistake for her but just pointing out the error without summing it up feels incomplete. It ends up being really tempting to want to end it with, “It’s not a big deal, just wanted to bring it to your attention,” or something else soft and I end up rewriting the feedback a dozen times trying to come up with a neutral, matter-of-fact concluding sentence.

      6. Dust Bunny*

        OMG this.

        I’m a super socially awkward person and when I realize I’ve messed up, I’m MORTIFIED and will do anything not to make that mistake again.

      7. HRish Dude*

        God, when I make that kind of mistake I’m not only horrified but I tend to dwell on it for months and wonder if I’m actually just a bad person.

        1. College Career Counselor*

          This probably means that you’re NOT a bad person. The bad/obnoxious/evil ones just don’t care enough to wonder this about themselves.

      8. Kate 2*

        Love, love, love this! I am high-functioning autistic, so I *always* preface things with “I hope it is okay if I (thing)” BEFORE I say or do the thing. I always err on the side of respect and not forcing the issue, for example handshakes and hugs. I never initiate hugs, I don’t like them myself, and I wait for the other person to initiate handshakes generally. If I raise a hand and they don’t I just lower mine.

        If I think I might have violated a boundary at all I apologize and ask. In that order.

      9. A*

        Are you a psychiatrist? I don’t think one would make a generalization like that. Who are the “genuine socially awkward people” you treat as one coherent group? Are genuine geniuses always good at chess? Are genuine good people always religious? Are genuinely sick people always in a wheelchair? If you actually believe this, you will never see it contradicted because if a socially awkward person who was supposedly genuine doesn’t behave in the way you expect, they’re now false and actually evil.

        “He comes from a very sheltered background and is not very worldly. When he first started, the entire team took him under our wing to show him workplace norms and professional behavior.”
        “and he said that I take such good care of him that he has a hard time calling me by my first name.”

        Sounds to me like he has a real mental disability like autism. And he has rarely interacted with women his mother’s age other than his mother. And he was homeschooled. And he believes you call your mother “mom” to show respect, because you would never call her by her first name. He simply did not understand where she was coming from, and for others to project their own social competence and ability to reflect on their social behavior onto him is extremely unempathetic. And I really doubt his “sheltered background” included an education in everything you know about Current Liberal Social Values (doing this is not an argument, it just signals to the reader that you may be someone who mocks rather than engaging ideas).

        Everything he did was wrong. And he needs to learn it was wrong, or at least refrain from doing it if he’s going to work. That doesn’t mean he was evil, and intentionally doing it even though he understood it was wrong. You don’t know that. Both these interpretations are valid.

      10. Vicky Austin*

        I used to have a friend who was both socially awkward AND a harasser. She made inappropriate comments and crossed boundaries because she genuinely didn’t know better. However, she also had a problem accepting criticism and corrections, and when people told her, “Hey, can you please stop doing that as it makes me uncomfortable,” her response was that they were oversensitive and needed to toughen up.
        Needless to say, this person is no longer my friend.

    3. Jesca*

      OMG. Yikes! All I have to say is thank god/the universe/heavenly being or whatever is out there for managers who take action like this!

    4. No Parking or Waiting*

      Well, after all, like Fergus explained, “it’s not like it’s sexual harassment.”
      Because, well, words.

      1. You're Not My Supervisor*

        Right? He might as well have said “come on, it’s not like I’m a serial killer.” So it has to be okay then right??

        1. Fact & Fiction*

          Haha this made me giggle because I started rereading my second book today (not because I’m conceited and reread my own books a lot ;) — I’m thinking about writing more in the series) and it features around a serial killer. And indeed that is a very low bar to set.

          Also, I kind of feel like if you SAY “It’s not like it’s sexual harassment” even after being ASKED and then TOLD and then ORDERED BY YOUR BOSS to stop but refuse/get defensive…you know darned well there ARE elements of sexual harassment to it.

        2. Traffic_Spiral*

          Since you’ve got an Archer avatar.

          Krieger: “I’m not a… serial killer.”
          Archer: “Wait, why’d you emphasize ‘serial’?
          Krieger: “I did whaaaat? Are we doing–? Did I mention I have a surprise for you?”

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        It also probably was a combination of sexual harassment and agism. So remedial HR training sounds exactly like what Fergus needs.

        Next time he gets mugged, you can let him know that it’s not a big deal because at least he wasn’t murdered. /sarcasm

        1. Anon anon anon*

          It sounds like boundary testing to me. He’s trying to find out what you’ll put up with and how you’ll respond to different situations. At first I thought it was something more harmless, like he’s kind of sheltered and has mostly been around people who wouldn’t mind this kind of thing. But the fact that he’s so persistent makes me think that he’s trying to be a creep.

    5. many bells down*

      It is SO hard for some people to understand that if you don’t LIKE something, it’s not a compliment. It’s not “nice” to keep doing a thing you’ve been asked not to do.

      I tell people “If you tell me you hate bananas, and then you come to my house and I’ve made you a banana cream pie, did I do a nice thing? After all, I made you a pie!” A pie that I know you hate isn’t a nice thing, and being called something you’ve said you don’t like isn’t complimentary.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        So much this! Another variation of this is the people who would, when being introduced to me, immediately attempt to use a shortened version of my first name. (My actual first name is one of those that has a bunch of nicknames associated – and I loathe being called any of them).

        When I would reiterate that I go by “Name,” not “Nickname,” a number of them would get offended and start going on about how they were “just trying to be friendly.” Or “but that’s so FORMAL.” Or (my personal favorite) “Well, what does your mother call you?” To which I always wanted to say “Why does it matter – you are not my mother?” (My actual mother, by the way, calls me what I want to be called.)

        But the main thing is – to them it was “friendly” and “informal.” To me it was presumptuous, disrespectful, and boundary trampling. But I kind of think that, since it’s MY name, I get to decide. Amazing how many people had an issue with that. It’s not friendly if both people involved aren’t happy with it. Fortunately it doesn’t happen so much now that I’m a little bit older. Which is also kind of interesting, when you think about it.

        1. Pebbles*

          Agree 100% with this.

          I trained a coworker who I don’t believe meant anything bad by calling me , I just hated , and he had a wife with which is common for . I just kept telling him “I am not your wife” until he finally got into the habit of calling me , which is what I was asking him to do all along.

          1. Pebbles*

            Dang, it stripped out words. Try this again:

            I trained a coworker who I don’t believe meant anything bad by calling me “nickname”, I just hated “nickname”, and he had a wife with “nickname” which is common for “name”. I just kept telling him “I am not your wife” until he finally got into the habit of calling me “name”, which is what I was asking him to do all along.

          1. AnonEMoose*

            I think for some people, it really is a power thing, and a way of expressing their own perceived superiority. Unfortunately for them, this was an issue on which I wasn’t going to give in…I wasn’t going to be called something I hated just for their ego-boo. I’m so thankful that this has diminished as I’ve gotten older (which I think does support my thesis that it really was a power thing with some of the ones who were most obnoxious about it).

        2. LKW*

          Growing up we never had nicknames. My step brother was Robert. He was never Bob, Bobby, Robbie, etc. Someone called him Robbie once and I had no idea who she was talking about. If a family member or anyone in the office (family business) called him anything but Robert… complete confusion.

          1. Dawn*

            My husband’s name is Robert, I started calling him Bobert, I am the only one that calls him this, and people just think I’m weird. He loves it though.

            1. ENFP in Texas*

              My brother is Robert – he was “Bob” growing up, and “Rob” once he graduated high school.

              Except to me (I’m his kid sister). To me, he is “Bobert”. :D

          2. SaraV*

            My MIL has five different versions of her name that are common to use. (Her formal name, then four nicknames) I’ve known her 20+ years, and I’m still not sure what she really prefers.

            This is why she gave her three sons names that can’t be “officially” shortened to nicknames.

            1. Feline*

              My father really wanted to name my sister a longer name that he would then never use and only use a nickname, but it was a less-common nickname for that name (think Christoper and Topher). My mother, who had dealt with various shortened versions of her own name put her foot down. My sister is named the actual nickname my father wanted to call her. My name can’t be shortened to a nickname. Thanks, Mom.

        3. TootsNYC*

          I think sometimes people double down because they are trying to avoid retroactive blame. They don’t want to be labeled rude, but they’ve ALREADY called you the name. And they feel they have to defend that to the death, or else they’ll be awful people, retroactively.

          they can’t say to themselves, “Oh, Id idn’t know, therefore it wasn’t horrible when I did it, but I won’t do it again.”

          Sometimes you can get them to let go by saying, “Oh, I understand that your intent was good, and I appreciate that. I’m only talking about in the FUTURE. Now that you know, I’m sure you’ll want to be friendly to me by using the name I prefer.”

          1. AnonEMoose*

            I think that’s probably true in some cases. In others, it really felt like a power thing, like they couldn’t believe that a “sweet young thing” (as I was – or at least appeared to be – at the time) was standing up to them. I didn’t so much mind the ones who said “Do you go by…” or “Do people call you…” because at least they asked. And mostly they’d abide by my wishes without argument.

            It was the ones who did the “I’m going to call you…” or “You look more like a…” or “that’s so formal, I’ll just call you….” Because they were the ones more likely to double down, and more likely to be so upset that I wanted to determine my own name.

            They’d also try acting surprised/superior that I “cared so much” about it. Which always made me wonder “If I shouldn’t care so much, why do you?” And led me to believe that, for them, it wasn’t really about my name, it was about them “winning,” and thus being superior to (as they perceived it) lowly little me. And they were super pissed that I wouldn’t go along with their script.

            1. Tiny Soprano*

              Ugh I hate the “I’m going to call you…” line so much that I always respond with “huh, ok, just be aware that I don’t answer to it.” And then when they call me the thing they’re determined to call me I literally don’t answer. And if they get stroppy, well I warned them, didn’t I! A bit pass-ag, but it does the trick usually.

            2. whingedrinking*

              It was the ones who did the “I’m going to call you…” or “You look more like a…” or “that’s so formal, I’ll just call you….”
              I saw a play a while ago where Character A called Character B by a nickname (implied to be one that no one EVER called her), and Character B responded sarcastically, “I so love it when men decide to name me,” and I almost burst into applause at the pure and beautiful truth of it. Who the *hell* are these people who think they get to say what someone else’s name “should” be?!

            3. Mad Baggins*

              I LOVE “you look like a…” I’m so flattered I look like whatever you associate with that nickname. Unfortunately my name was chosen before I looked like anything and can’t be changed every time I get a hair cut or new outfit!

            4. Relly*

              I ask “do you go by –?” a lot at work, because I tutor, and kids tend to be listed by their full, formal names in our system. So I’ll see that I have Christopher Lastname, but when I introduce myself, I’ll see what he refers to himself as. And if he just says hi, I’ll ask.

              1. AnonEMoose*

                Another way of asking, that makes it feel more like you want to know what they want is: “What do you like to be called?” or “What name do you like to use?”

        4. Kimberly*

          I have a similar problem in that my name is often shortened by people that don’t know me. I don’t respond to the shorten versions because there were 5 – 8 people with the same name in my grade K – 12 and several more either side of my grade. I was always the one that went by the full version of our shared name. If you call out the short versions – it goes right over my head. If someone gets my attention while still using the wrong name I correct them with just the name and continue the conversation.

          I don’t get much pushback on it. I think it is because I’m lucky and have generally good people around me, but I don’t really give them a chance to argue.

          1. SusanIvanova*

            I’ve got a double first name. If you call out just the first half, it also goes over my head, same as something completely different. It just doesn’t register as “me”.

        5. twig*

          I’ve probably told this story here before — I think of it whenever these topics come up. BUT, I’m going to tell it anyway.

          My grandma was a receptionist in a Dr.’s office in the ’70’s. Her first name is a nickname: Virgie. not Virginia, but Virgie. The Doctor that Virgie was too informal. Virginia, on the other hand was too formal.

          So they called her Ginny. WTH?

          1. Serin*

            Dr. Pulaski: “Thank you, Dah-ta.”

            Data: “Day-ta.”

            Dr. Pulaski: “What’s the difference?”

            Data: “One is my name. The other is not.”

    6. Amber Rose*

      I feel like maybe some people forget that even if you take the word sexual out, harassment is STILL BAD. Like, it’s not somehow better that it’s regular harassment instead of sexual harassment. WTF. I hope someone explains this to him!

      1. Polaris*

        We just had a whole training session at work about this! It was centered around recognizing all types of harassment, not just just sexual harassment. Fergus sounds right out of one of the cringeworthy scenarios we had to analyze. (Not that I doubt he’s real, it just makes me headdesk even more.)

      2. TootsNYC*

        And they forget that “sexual harrassment” isn’t restricted to sexual intercourse; it’s also harassment based on one’s sex.

    7. Junior Dev*

      If you’re insisting on doing it even though you know it bothers them, it’s not a compliment.

  2. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Good for you, OP. I’m glad your manager took your concerns seriously and that Fergus is getting sensitivity training. I hope it helps!

    1. Hills to Die On*

      I love the posts with Hope for the workforce in them. Please God, let me end up in one of the places with normal people in it this time around (I mean, there will always be a Fergus, but I just want people to address the Ferguses of the world the way they are supposed to).

    2. Shiara*

      Yes! It sounds like OP handled it beautifully, both with Fergus in person and the e-mailer, and I’m so glad the manager had her back and understood immediately how absurd Fergus’s behaviour was.

      1. Specialk9*

        I was mentally standing and applauding OP for just the most beautiful handling possible. This update is a thing of beauty. OP, for what it’s worth, a stranger on the internet is proud of you for how awesomely you handled that.

  3. Inspector Spacetime*


    What a bizarre thing for Fergus to care so much about that it had to get escalated all the way to a PIP.

        1. No Parking or Waiting*

          That was the exact thought I had. He was going down, gun firing in a blaze of ignominy. “But I was being NICE!!!”

          1. Anony*

            It is very weird. I could see “I never intended it to be taken that way and THOUGHT I was being nice” followed by an apology, but he does not seem to understand that there comes a point where intentions don’t matter. He made someone uncomfortable and therefore he should stop doing that thing. Not stopping means that he DOES intend to make her uncomfortable because she has explicitly told him that that is what will happen.

            1. Observer*

              Not necessarily. Because in his head that fact that he thinks it’s compliment means that SHE needs to stop feeling what she feels. In some ways that’s an even bigger problem I think.

                1. Starbuck*

                  Yeah, I think it’s either laziness or denial. Maybe selfishness? It’s so much easier to only have to pretend to care about other people’s feelings while you just go ahead and do what feels good for you and assuming that’s enough to make you a decent person, without having to do the mental or emotional effort to figure out how you’re coming across… nice way to avoid the scary and uncomfortable work of having to improve yourself.

            1. Mad Baggins*

              Thank you for summing up so succinctly why this is wrong. I’ve had men (boys…) call me “mom” when I act authoritative and I couldn’t put my finger on why it made me feel so icky. This is it!

          2. TootsNYC*

            I’m wondering a bit about why it escalated. Why the response to him wasn’t, “Yes, you certainly were intending to be nice. We do understand that; we don’t need to discuss anymore about why you did it, that’s a waste of time. However, going forward, do not do this anymore.”

            It’s not always necessary to get people to acknowledge that They Were Wrong; it’s the future that counts.

            HOWEVER: It sounds like he kept saying, “I’m going to keep calling her Mom.”

            1. Dove*

              I’m guessing the initial response *was* “you’ve been told twice to stop doing this, it doesn’t matter that you were intending to be nice. Going forward, don’t do it and we’re sending you to a course on how to not harass your coworkers so that hopefully this doesn’t happen again”.

              And then Fergus doubled down on it, insisted that he hadn’t done anything wrong, and the manager didn’t have a choice but to put him on a PIP because otherwise this is going to be an endless cycle of Fergus insisting on dying on this hill.

          3. JulieBulie*

            “I was being nice” in this context is like “but I was only joking” in a lot of the letters we’ve seen here. It is not NICE or FUNNY to hurt people!

        2. Adlib*

          I think recently a Twitter thread went around about the pettiest hill you would die on. I think we should do this on an open thread. (Unless that wasn’t Twitter and that was here. I can’t keep track!)

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Alison did something like this a few weeks ago! It was about coworkers reacting disproportionately, which included a lot of petty molehills.

        3. EddieSherbert*

          My thought exactly – THIS is what you’re going to push back on? THIS is what you’re willing to get PIP for?! Really? Whyyyyyyyy Fergus?

          So. Strange!

          1. AnotherAlison*

            I’ve seen people defend their right to work whatever hours they want, call out when they want for whatever reason, and not use the right software program. Sometimes it seems that it is when people cross into PIP territory. We can deal with the dumb moves, but we can’t deal with them defending them to the death.

            1. Alli525*

              I worked at a theatre box office in college (work-study job), and after freshman year got promoted to student manager. As such, I was responsible for training newbies on our CRM/ticketing software. We switched systems between freshman and sophomore year, so I got a couple weeks of extra/more intensive training so I could teach it.

              One coworker (we actually started the job at the same time but I got promoted and he didn’t, for reasons in 3, 2, 1…) straight-up refused to learn the new software. He just… didn’t want to, and you couldn’t make him. There’s no possible way to do any job in that office without interacting with the software. So, for some reason, he was just allowed to sit in the back with his headphones on, reading his Bible, and judging other people’s religious choices. (We got into a fight because I converted to Catholicism, which obv meant I was going right to Hell.)

              I’m still bitter, 10+ years later, that he never got fired or even put on a PIP. It was a fun job though.

              1. Snarkastic*

                This story is so crazy. I just had to acknowledge how ludicrous it is that he got to keep his job, without actually having to DO his job. WTF?

        4. Trout 'Waver*

          He has to defend the hill to the death or admit to himself that he was being really creepy.

          1. TootsNYC*

            But it’s also not necessary to make him admit–to himself or to others–that he was being creepy, or that we was wrong.

            I don’t know if he just refused to ever give up the “mom” stuff, because HE didn’t want to have to admit to himself that he was wrong.
            Or if the OP, boss, and HR are trying to get him to admit he was wrong (hopefully not–what a waste of time).

            1. bunanza*

              It really doesn’t seem like OP wanted him to admit he was wrong–just to agree not to call her ‘mom’ anymore. I mean:

              “‘I need to know if you understand [that you will not be calling me mom anymore].” He was very resistant and kept telling me it was a compliment and that I should lighten up.”

            2. SignalLost*

              I don’t read it as anyone trying to get him to admit he was wrong. They wanted him to agree to stop, which didn’t happen, but no one sought for him to say he was wrong.

        5. Observer*

          That’s part of the problem. He doesn’t seem to realize that the issue is HIS behavior, not the OP or their manager.

      1. Emi.*

        This isn’t inexplicable at all. He cares so much because what he cares about is doing and getting he wants.

        1. TootsNYC*

          yeah, I think this is more it. That it’s not so much that he would have to admit to himself that he was creepy (because he could just say, “Oh, I misstepped”).

          He wants his way. He wants to control these interactions.
          In a way, his using the term “mom,” etc., is a way of trying to exert control.

      2. Mazey*

        Not at all. Men do this to women all.the.time.

        It’s the entire foundation of cat calling: “learn to take a *compliment* b¡**¥ !!!”


    1. Fiennes*

      It’s such an odd thing to hang onto that I’m guessing he’s either (a) stubborn to the point of ludicrousness or (b) dealing with a unique configuration of emotional issues that make him desperate to latch onto a maternal figure, whether the maternal figure likes it or not. Neither of those attitudes belongs in the workplace.

      1. Jesca*

        Yeah, I was going with either extraordinarily stubborn or obsessive to the core. Unfortunately, I think he is obsessive.

      2. AMPG*

        I suspect it’s (b). I actually feel a little bad for Fergus – I think there’s something going on with him that some professional counseling would really help. But that’s not an excuse for bringing the LW into it and forcing her to deal with his issues.

        1. No Parking or Waiting*

          I felt bad until he pushed back on the woman he purported to respect, admire and be grateful toward. Then it got into the “why won’t you let me love you!?” type of scene and I lost sympathy.

          1. Nea*

            He’s been pushing boundaries from the beginning. The moment OP told him to stop, he negotiated a way for him to… not stop, just not do it in front of clients. A self-negotiated limit that he himself then promptly forgot.

            Dude claims to respect her but does not respect that she has boundaries at all. I’m still getting creep-shudders just from knowing he exists.

            1. Oranges*

              Yes! If I say “Don’t give me any dead birds” after you put one in my shoe (looking at you cat) and you immediately say “okay I’ll only give you dead birds on the front step” that’s… not really stopping is it?

              I need zero dead birds in my life and you are using the social contract to make me think you’re an okay person who listens to my needs while simultaneously ignoring my needs. Because you think your want of giving me dead birds outweighs my want of not being grossed out by them.

              1. Marthooh*

                I’m pretty sure cats invented the social contract for the simple pleasure of subverting it whenever they like.

          2. EddieSherbert*

            *snort* hahaha, that’s exactly what is it. —> “why won’t you let me love you!?” type of scene

        2. Hills to Die On*

          I felt like he was being defensive and didn’t know how to get out of it. Someone with parents who rejected him or be critical of him might react this way. Regardless, I agree that it was handled correctly and hopefully he will stop sulking and learn about professional boundaries from this. Yikes!

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            Yeah, that’s what I thought, that he was being defensive and didn’t know how to get out of it without losing face, so he just kept defending and defending.

          2. TootsNYC*

            I thought this might be true as well; it’s a tossup, for me, between not knowing how to drop the issue and being controlling.
            I found as a parent that it was important to model how to end the interaction. And saying, “You don’t need to apologize; we understand that it came from a positive place. But now that you are aware, we expect you to never do this again. And now let’s stop talking about it, and you can show us that you’ve heard the directions.”

        3. Observer*

          I hear you. The best case here is that this is a wake up call to him that he has an issue that he needs to deal with. Unfortunately, I don’t think he gets that. And while I can have sympathy for people with issues, putting your issues on someone else and refusing to deal with your own issues is seriously NOT ok.

        4. Tuxedo Cat*

          I don’t because his insistence to both the OP and their boss is creepy. It’s bizarre thing to do and it’s even more bizarre that he keeps insisting that what he’s doing is fine.

      3. JulieBulie*

        Ew, I shudder to imagine when he decides to start referring to one of his coworkers as his OneTrueLove despite that unlucky person’s protests.

      1. FD*

        Unfortunately, probably some variation on “Man, you can’t even compliment people without getting written up these days, it’s such BS,” accompanied to knowing nods at the unfairness of the PC police from all his friends.

        1. Oranges*

          I want the “PC police” phrase to die in a fire mainly because we’re only asking them to understand that people other than hetro/white/male/christians exist in the world.

          1. FD*

            I hear you. To be 100% fair, I do think there are some cases where terms start getting used in cases where it’s likely not appropriate (e.g. the use of the term ‘unsafe’ in the nearby post). I think sometimes that the good uses of a phrase start getting lumped in with the hijacking in that case, and get tarred with the same brush.

            1. Oranges*

              That “unsafe” also made me go “whaaaa?” So yes, I do agree that the idea it embodies of “walking on egg shells so we don’t offend anyone ever” is a necessary one but I think that any saying/phrase that is coined will immediately get co-opted by the MRAs (ugh). It’s a problem.

              1. FD*

                Yeah, definitely.

                Something that I read once (I can’t track the citation down at the moment) is that people inside a group tend to judge the group as their average, while people outside a group tend to judge them by their most radical members.

                So for instance, if you’re an atheist, you probably think of atheists as generally sane, rational people, who just happen not to believe in a deity, and may be willing to discuss/argue with you, but mostly just want to go about their lives. But someone who is religious and hasn’t met many atheists is much more likely to view them as radicals who want to outlaw religion altogether.

                1. Oranges*

                  Question, are you implying that MRA groups are misrepresented because of their most radical fringe element (which to me is a fringe of a fringe)? All of the things I have read have convinced me that the range of MRA goes from “clueless but maaaaybe well meaning” at one end to “complete and utter scary person” at the other.

                  If not, I’m sorry but it appeared so to me.

                2. Elizabeth H.*

                  @Oranges, I don’t think that’s what FD meant at all; I think FD was agreeing with you and simply continuing the conversation in the same vein – a continuation of above-posted thought that “good uses of a phrase start getting lumped in with the hijacking in that case, and get tarred with the same brush.”

                3. grace*

                  This is actually such an interesting thing to keep in mind (and maybe I’ve been doing too much stats at work, but it makes me think of normal distributions… :-) ) I know I’ve often fallen victim to it, in that I used to dislike the word ‘feminism’ because for me, it conjured the crazier side of that movement. It’s easy to write off “other” movements because one doesn’t agree with them, and the more radical side of things gets more media/social attention, but it’s always important to remember that they rarely represent an entire movement.

                  Also, Oranges, I think FD was talking more about “PC” people rather than MRAs, though even there a distribution happens. (FD, sorry if I’m putting words in your mouth!)

                4. Oranges*

                  Thanks for your reads @Elizabeth H and @grace! I was hoping I was wrong and my brain was just linking things up incorrectly. It usually links things up correctly but text sans voice/body language is especially hard for me since I lean on them so much.

                5. FD*

                  @Oranges: I apologize for being unclear. I wasn’t specifically talking about MRAs at all. My comment was more on the subject of people who are accused of being the ‘PC police.’

                  HUGELY OVERSIMPLIFYING. Let’s say Group A is the people who are sometimes accused of being the ‘PC police’. People in Group A agree that some terms are hurtful and shouldn’t be used. People in Group A have also developed certain terms that describe some things, such as ‘privilege,’ ‘discrimination,’ and ‘systematic injustice.’ These terms have technical meanings that better describe specific problems. A small number of people in Group A take this very far, and use some of these terms in cases where they don’t properly apply (e.g. the use of ‘unsafe’, or the person who claimed they were being discriminated against because their workplace wouldn’t refer to their partner as Master).

                  Group B hasn’t really thought about these things. They mostly just use the terms they were raised with. When they hear Group A talking about the issues important to them, Group B focuses more on the fringe elements of Group A, rather than on the message of the larger portion. Thinking that everyone involved with Group A is like that, Group B reacts strongly against anything associated with any of the terms that Group A uses.

                  This can sometimes result in further differences between the two groups. Most members of Group A feel that what they’re asking is reasonable and benefits everyone. They see Group B as being selfish and fixated on their own needs. They may react more strongly to the backlash against them. This makes Group B push back even harder because those crazy Group A people are trying to push everyone around, etc.

                6. Oranges*

                  @FD Yes! That is definitely a thing. Thank you for taking the time to explain. If you do find that study I’d love to read it. But if not that’s cool. I can look up the terms that bookishmiss gave me!

                7. BookishMiss*

                  @Oranges, it’s a really interesting field of study. I try to keep it in mind at my job all the time because the people there are textbook examples of those phenomena. Keeps me grounded in reality until I can get out =)

                1. Oranges*

                  Yep. Most still in the “movement” are angry people who want women to not be perceived as people. The normal ones have mostly self selected out by now.

                  They started as a movement to equalize things like the custody defaulting to the female in a divorce but that is not where they ended up.

                  The blog we hunted mammoths(?) has a good overview if you want to learn more about them.

                2. Big City Woman*

                  Oh, I’ve been well aware of the men’s rights movement since the early ’90s, so I know what it is. I just didn’t know the acronym. A lot of different acronyms people use in the comments here are unfamiliar to me because I tend not to think in acronyms ever. So, thanks for spelling it out.

                  Actually, a lot of terminology that people use on this blog often has me scratching my head, not just the acronyms. I’m always googling words and phrases people use here. I never thought I was that out of touch until I started reading here, but then I don’t watch TV and I’m not on Fakebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, or Twitter, et al, so most pop culture terminology and “memes” (ugh) usually make no sense to me. Like the whole “basic girl” Halloween outfit post – first time I’d ever heard of that. This blog educates in more ways than one!

                3. Marthooh*

                  Replying to Big City Woman’s comment: I find Urban Dictionary frequently helpful — and just as frequently horrifying.

            2. Emi.*

              Tarred with the same brush, or people only mean the misuses when they complain about the PC police, and then other people react as though they’re also complaining about valid uses.

          2. Liz*

            Agree, sick of hearing the phrase ‘PC gone mad’ just because those at the top of the privilege pyramid don’t see themselves benefitting.

        2. Rainy*

          When someone says something about “so much PC” to me, I always wait for the gap where I’m supposed to agree and then say “ah yes, political correctness, or as I like to call it, RESPECTING OTHER PEOPLE”.

          Be sure and stand back a little so you don’t get sputtered on.. ;)

          1. Alli525*

            I was reading a Dear Prudence recently where LW was frustrated that someone in her family just loooooved to blurt out the meanest thing in her head and then pulled the “well at least I say what I mean!!!!” BS.

            Like, sure, you DO say whatever comes into your head regardless of its merit or kindness, but why on EARTH is that inherently a virtue? (Spoiler: it’s the opposite of a virtue.)

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              This is like people bragging about “telling it like it is” and “just being honest.” Your “honesty” is not a license to behave like a jerkwad.

              1. Oranges*

                Oddly enough they’re never responsive when you honestly tell them they’re being a jerk… [/s]

              2. Mallory Janis Ian*

                I mean, they’re putting it all out there “honestly” so that other people can decide whether they like it or not, and then they act as if not liking it isn’t an option.

              3. kittymommy*

                Exactly. Many people deem to think they can justify their behavior because their just stating what they thinking or not being a liar. Sure, okay, you’re not a liar, but you are a dick. Every thought does not need to be vocalized and if someone wants your opinion theyll probably ask you. It’s is allowed to keep thoughts to oneself.

                1. SheLooksFamiliar*

                  ‘Occasionally allow yourself the luxury of an unexpressed thought.’ Everett Dirksen. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage with that quote.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          He has friends, and they’re warming up their letters that read, “My poor friend who has never done anything wrong except (Huge Thing Done On Tape), got fired. Granted Huge Thing was technically wrong. I have ginned up a miniscule issue with the person tangentially involved…”

          (I can think of two letters from here, and it’s got it’s very own geek catchphrase, the Missing Stair Fallacy.)

      2. Midge*

        What does he tell *potential future employers*? “I was put on a PIP and fired because I refused to stop calling my coworker mom?” I mean, that’s not going to go over well.

        1. LKW*

          That’s exactly what I was thinking. How do you explain “So why did you leave your last job?” “Well, I called a coworker mom. I meant it as a compliment but she made a big deal because I wouldn’t just stop calling her mom. At work. When she was not my mom. But I thought of her as a work mom! I don’t understand what’s so wrrrrrrooooonnnngggg!”

          1. Cordelia Vorkosigan*

            Even if she was his mom, it’s weird to call her that at work. I have literally worked with my mother (different offices in the same organization, but doing similar work so we sometimes interacted professionally), and I called her by her first name while at work! It was a little odd to call her by her name because I had always called her Mom before that — but it would have been so much weirder to call her Mom at work that I got over it quickly.

        2. Femme d'Afrique*

          Or if he’s ever asked, “tell us about a conflict you had at work and how you resolved it.” I’d pay money to hear the answer to one.

        1. JulieBulie*

          I think this one is weirder than the bumper sticker one, but the bumper sticker one is dumber because he paid $150 for that thing.

            1. whingedrinking*

              Some guy wrote in complaining that his boss told him to remove/cover up a sticker that he’d had professionally applied to his lifted truck and wanted to know what he could do about it.
              The sticker said, “Lift it! Fat girls can’t jump.” (He justified this as some kind of revenge on his ex-girlfriend. Why he didn’t see that most women would take that as further proof that they were right to get the hell out of Dodge, I’m not sure.)

      1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        Oh wow, now that is a post I want to see: “Strangest Hills People Have Died On”. This one obviously makes the list, but I bet there are even weirder ones

        1. Rainy*

          I had a (female) coworker who was extremely angry when our boss told her she had to stop referring to anyone as a “slut” in our workplace, yes, even before or after you’re on the clock, yes, even if you’re referring to a customer, yes, especially not when you’re referring to your coworkers, no, you can’t use the word.

          The “hill to die on” bit comes when she insisted that the definition of a slut was a woman who had sexual relations outside of marriage or with multiple people over the course of her life, and that as such she was taxonomically correct in using it to refer to every one of her coworkers plus any customers she judged to be lacking morals, and it wasn’t an insult, it was a “classification”, so it wasn’t offensive.

          1. Oranges*

            My brain. The cognitive dissonance. Her policing of what goes on in other people’s bedrooms and thinking that’s a GOOD trait.

            I have to think that she had so many other issues also because of my previous experience.

              1. MasterOfBears*

                That joke took me far too long to get, and then I nearly spit coffee all over my keyboard. A++

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            This is someone who relishes behaving in a socially unacceptable way for the shock value of it.

          3. Jaydee*

            Wait, how could she determine that a person (woman) was a slut to know if she was accurately classifying them? Was she asking everyone about their sexual history?

            Also, I initially assumed this was going to be someone trying to “reclaim” the word and therefore using it as basically synonymous with “woman” but in a neutral-to-positive way. That would be entirely inappropriate, but the reality is so, so much worse.

            1. Rainy*

              She just assumed. (I know, you’re super shocked.) It was one of those things where she had probably always felt like that about us, her coworkers, but she kept a lid on it until we got a new coworker who was sixteen and married and had a toddler. Apparently it was All Too Much for Sally Slutshamer, and from that moment on she was reading the Bible on her breaks and lecturing us about sin. We were all pretty young except Sally–well, at the time I was 20, tops, so Sally seemed older but she was likely not older than 30. Sally had converted to a very gender-conforming conservative evangelical Christian sect as a young adult, so she wore long skirts and covered her hair and submitted to her husband and was pretty much a horrible person.

              1. Thunder Hammer*

                I still find it bizarre she was upset about a *married* 16 year old. I don’t get how that is “slutty” in the technical sense.

                1. Can’t remember what name I used before*

                  Yeah, 16, married, and already a mom seems very much in line with the teachings of conservative, patriarchal, “keep the women submissive and in their place” type of religions/cults.

          4. LKW*

            So you could call just about anyone at work a F**ker, but i don’t think I’d advise anyone wave at the CEO and call her that nickname.

    2. Artemesia*

      Yeah any excuse you can make i.e. naive, confused, awkward etc goes out the window when someone makes it this clear and they STILL RESIST not doing what you find offensive. Good for the boss for recognizing this and putting him on a pip. YOu handled this perfectly.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      I am convinced that there is no topic on Earth that someone, somewhere, doesn’t feel it is worth escalating and Being Right About.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I refuse to believe that. I’ve never experienced it myself, so it must not be a thing that has ever happened to anyone else.

          1. Jake*

            That is my father in law. He once argued with me that nobody on the planet weighed more than 350 lbs because that’s the largest person he’s seen.

            He also tried to convince my wife that there was no such thing as a male nurse, in spite of the fact that she was actively working with several.

            1. the gold digger*

              I’ll see your 350 lb limit and raise you to five times negative five is zero.

              Yes. My FIL insisted that 5 x (-5) = 0.

              I got to tell him he was wrong and it was so, so sweet.

              1. Oranges*

                I went wait… dug back to high school math (since simple arithmetic isn’t used in my day to day job) and was proud of myself for remembering the correct answer: -25. Now that I’ve typed this I’m going… wait what if I’m wrong. I love being human.

      1. Your Weird Uncle*

        Yep! Especially if that topic is Never Being Wrong Ever. (I happen to know a few of these people.)

    4. dawbs*

      Control and it’s illusions being the motive?

      I’m not a trained armchair psychologist, I am just an armchair theorist…
      But ‘I’m making you work-mom, I can squish you into this box of people who are overlooked/underappreciated so I can dismiss you as ‘just mom” feels about right to me.

      1. No Parking or Waiting*

        Which does explain why he threw a figurative temper tantrum, pushing boundaries and stomping his foot – expecting tough love.
        “Now you sit at your desk for ten minutes and then we will talk about this again.”
        “Fine, you’re so mean!”
        “Now Fergus, do you understand why I don’t want you to call me mom in front of clients?”
        “Yes.” (no, I don’t but I want my cookie)
        “Are you going to stop doing that?”
        “Yes.” (no, but I’ll claim I forgot, etc.)

    5. kittymommy*

      I know. I think I’m more weirded out by his utter insistence on calling her Mom than I am by him actually doing it. Why care so much??

  4. Second Lunch*

    So glad he’s doing sensitivity training now. It boggles me how he still thinks that “Mom” is a compliment.

    1. MasterOfBears*

      I can get how a sheltered kid could see it as a compliment initially, but to keep pushing back even after it escalated all the way to a PIP?? There is something very, very odd going on in his head.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I called my college roommate’s parents Mom and Dad (they lived nearby; my parents lived far away); I can’t imagine continuing if they’d ever intimated that they didn’t like it.

        1. Matilda Jefferies*

          Heck, I still call my college roommate’s parents Mom and Dad, and that was over half my life ago! But the difference is, they actually were in a sort of parental role to me at the time, and more importantly, I knew they liked it.

          It’s not that hard, Fergus.

        2. Anon non non*

          I had a friend in high school who used to call her friends parents mom and dad. She called my mother Mom once. My mom shut her down. “I’m not your mother. I don’t like that.” My friend pushed back with that “but it means I think you’re cool” crap, my mom pushed back harder and my friend never called my mother Mom again. Actually…she never really came over again after that, but looking back on how she didn’t take no for an answer right away I think that was a good thing.

          1. Anony*

            It is one of those things that someone can do once and it is completely benign because lots of people do like it or are ok with it. But once someone tells you they don’t like it, you don’t call that person “Mom” again or argue about why they should like it.

          2. TootsNYC*

            I can see the defensiveness that might make a teen push back a bit–none of us like to admit we got it wrong. And defending how the rebuke was delivered, it may have felt like a rebuke (“you should have known that”) and less like guidance for the future.

            1. Anion*

              Yeah, that would have felt really, really hurtful to me as a teen. I mean, I’m imagining now how I would have felt and my eyes are starting to sting; it would have felt like a really harsh rejection, like my friend’s mom was saying she didn’t like me at all–which would have been especially devastating considering that I liked her enough to want to call her “mom,” and thought she liked me enough/that we had a good enough relationship that she’d think it was sweet or nice or even just okay if I called her “mom.” I wouldn’t have gone over there again, either, and I probably would have found an excuse to leave right away when it happened.

              And I quite possibly would have tried to defend my usage of it just because I was so hurt and humiliated. I would have wanted to try to explain because I wouldn’t have wanted to offend her, and I would have wanted to explain hoping that she would say something to indicate that she didn’t actually hate me and hadn’t meant to be so sharp or hurt my feelings. In other words, I wouldn’t have been arguing to try to convince her I was right, or to be allowed to call her mom–it wouldn’t be about “not taking no for an answer,” at all–I would have been arguing trying to clarify and hoping she would say something that would make it less hurtful.

              (I once had dinner at a friend’s house and the mom made hamburgers for dinner. I thought they were really good, and I was like eight or nine, so I said they were great, “as good as McDonald’s.” Her mom rolled her eyes and said, “Oh, thanks,” in this really sneering, sarcastic tone, and then–I guess because I probably looked totally confused–her dad said, “We prefer Wendy’s.” Which made me feel a little less embarrassed, I guess, but even then I was like, I’m *nine.* Isn’t it obvious that I intend it to be a compliment? Can’t you just take it as such, without getting all “Screw you, you little jerk, don’t you know my personal hamburger preferences well enough to compliment me properly?” I felt uncomfortable all through dinner, like they all hated me and thought I was an idiot, and never went over there again when her mom was there. And as an adult now, dealing with my daughters’ friends, I can’t imagine being so rude and nasty to one of them, and crapping on their well-intentioned compliment because it wasn’t phrased exactly the way I would have preferred. Yes, my own feelings are my business & responsibility, and it’s not the mom’s fault she hit such a nerve with me, but it *is* her fault she was so ungracious to a guest in her home.)

              1. Can’t remember what name I used before*

                “Yes, my own feelings are my business & responsibility”

                But anyone who would expect you to be fully aware & in control of that at NINE is beyond my comprehension. That woman was a flat out asshole.

        3. tigerlily*

          Same, I always referred to my high school best friend’s parents as Mom and Dad. If they ever told me they didn’t like that, I would absolutely stop, but considering they often referred to me as their daughter when we were like out to dinner or something I think they were okay with it.

        4. Allison*

          When I was a kid I’d been convinced that a “good girl” called her elders “sir” and “ma’am,” so that’s what I’d call my parents, especially in public so others would see how respectful and well-raised I was (I thought pretty much all adults saw all children as annoying, disrespectful, spoiled brats so I worked really hard not to seem like one), but my parents hated it and kept telling me to just call them “mom” and “dad” like a normal kid. The fact that I insisted on calling them one thing when they didn’t like it was actually disrespectful as hell, and it took me a long time to realize that.

          1. Oranges*

            Well, in your child mind it was easy.
            1) You hear about “disrespectful kids these days”
            2) You want to be a respectful kid
            3) Calling someone “ma’am”/”sir” is respectful

            You just fell into the common mistake of children: situation is king in all actions. Eg. Calling my SO/dom “Master” in our bedroom = good. Calling them “Master” at thanksgiving in front of their grandma = not good. The only difference is the situation.

          2. Oranges*

            PS I would argue that most of our socialization is learning in what contexts our behaviours are viewed as good or bad.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              Almost all behavior is defined by its context–the same action is good in some contexts, bad in others.

              I was recently boggled by a radio interview in which one member of the panel tried to argue that this harassment stuff is all about what people are thinking, like the concept of ‘consent’ was created sometime this year to trip up men trying to be complimentary. Rather than it always being the case that if I’m driving off in his car, whether that’s grand theft auto depends rather heavily on how he feels about it. Or that if someone bends my arm around my back, digs their fingers deep into my back muscle, and yanks my arm around in a moderately painful way, whether I give them a tip for the great massage or file assault charges depends on the context.

          3. Elizabeth West*

            I let kids call me by my first name, if I’m not their parent, although I’d prefer to be Mum or whatever if had my own kid. All the kids I skated with called me Liz, which was fine since technically we were on the same footing. But I’ve run into parents who are training their kids to do the so-called respectful thing and call me Miss Liz (mostly religious folks).

            I don’t really like it that much, honestly; I’d prefer they just called me Liz, but the parents pushed back. What do you do in that instance?

            1. SAHM*

              See, I’m curious about this too. Growing up I called adults by their first names, unless they were introduced as Mrs./Mr., but neighbors and mom’s friends I called by their first name. So it kinda threw me when my neighbor insisted her kids call me Ms. SAHM instead of just SAHM. Does that mean I have to have my kids call her Ms. Neighbor instead of just Neighbor? I’d prefer to be just SAHM to the kids but I also don’t want her to feel like I’m disrespecting her training her kids up to be polite or whatever. Prob should ask this on Sat thread…..

            2. whingedrinking*

              I’m a teacher in a multicultural environment. I…rather profoundly dislike being called Teacher, but in many of my students’ cultures of origins, it’s a mark of respect. Some of them are very uncomfortable with calling me by my first name. My standard compromise is that I will accept “Teacher FirstName”. (I could live with Ms. LastName, but none of the other teachers at my school follow that format, most of my students are adults, and my last name is much harder to pronounce for most of them anyway.)
              Every so often we’ll get a batch of teenagers who have been attending an English immersion school in China or Taiwan, and they’ve all been drilled to call their teachers “miss” or “sir”, like in most British schools. This, I find utterly charming for some reason and happily accept.

      2. aebhel*

        This. If it was just the initial misstep, I would find it a little weird but basically understandable for an awkward, sheltered young person who might feel a little overwhelmed at their first adult job and who decided to glom onto a friendly mentor figure.

        When he got this stubborn about it after pushback, though… yeesh. Not at all okay. Even if he was embarrassed about the initial misstep and is pushing back because of that, this is just so unacceptable.

        1. Anion*

          Yes. I had total sympathy for Fergus in the initial letter, but the pushing back and refusal to agree not to call her that even after the bigger boss stepped in? Sheesh.

      3. Annabelle*

        Yeah, this is the thing that boggles my mind. I can understand why someone might see designating someone a “work mom” as a compliment, but the doubling down is so odd to me.

    2. Millennial Lawyer*

      I know it’s SUPER common for kids to call someone they really admire (i.e. celebrities) mom or dad in social media in a fawning away – if you look an instagram comments it’s everywhere. BUT in the workplace, where the person you’re calling mom has voiced their discontent with that? That’s very very very odd behavior.

        1. Specialk9*

          I don’t do Instagram, but people have mentioned this trend, and ugh. Especially in light of that celebrity thread, which just made me pity famous people.

        2. Millennial Lawyer*

          It is – I can’t imagine celebrities like it, but it’s at least meant well, and in a social environment as opposed to professional.

        3. aebhel*

          Eh, it’s like people calling a particularly beloved character or actor ‘my son’; as long as they’re not doing it in conversation with the person in question, it’s a weird little social media culture quirk, but I don’t think it’s especially creepy if you’re familiar with the context.

          1. LBK*

            I think of it as more equivalent to “my queen” or something like that. People aren’t really pledging loyalty to Beyonce as their monarch, and similarly they don’t really think someone is their mom.

          2. Delphine*

            It’s very often sexual within context too, so…it’s one of those things that people should probably stop using for real people. Beloved characters, go for it, but tweeting “DADDY” endlessly at an actor is a bit much.

            1. LBK*

              Calling someone “daddy” is completely separate and has been around forever. I’ve never seen someone use “mom” in the way we’re talking about in a sexual context.

      1. Second Lunch*

        Now I’m imagining his defensiveness being a kind of “You old people just don’t get it!” things. That might make it even more cringy and bad.

      2. Mints*

        Yeah, with celebrities, I think people who are into pop culture will categorize celebrities into some categories like “attracted to” “would like to be friends with” “aspire to” and one of those categories is “mom/dad” which means they’re a lot older, were in media for decades, seem wise/organized. I get why a celebrity would be uncomfortable with it (and then it’s disrespectful) but it doesn’t jump out at me as a red flag to call Carrie Fisher “space mom”

    3. Canton*

      My boss, who is more than twice my age, has called me her mom on several occasions. People are weird.

    4. OverboilingTeapot*

      And…if you want to think of someone as your mom (and, naturally, eeeewww) why would you double down on making her loathe you? If he really wanted to think of her as a mom, wouldn’t there be some inclination to not have her hate him? I don’t get it.

      In conclusion: creepycreepycreepycreepycreepycreepycreepy

    5. MerciMe*

      “Work moms” seem to be a younger-crowd thing. It can be a sign of genuine affection, but I think it’s also because they misunderstand the nature of a mentoring relationship. I do wonder if it is somewhat an effort to balance the equation – “You are doing so much to help me succeed, I want you to at least know how much I value you, even though I don’t have the skills and experience to reciprocate.” But it also feels like it puts them in a mental space of still needing that kind of close support, when I want them to be working on developing their personal strengths and independence, so I dislike it on that account too. (I agree with “no, not at work,” and especially with “when someone says no, you listen to them, you do not double down trying to convince everyone you were right after all.”)

  5. Q*

    Duuuuuude, Fergus. Calling someone something they’ve asked you not to on several occasions is not a compliment. It is never a compliment.

    I suspect he’s gaining nothing from the sensitivity training if he hasn’t apologized and is acting passive aggressive to OP.

    I suspect, honestly, he may never learn.

    1. Master Bean Counter*

      Having dealt with my own Fergus. You have to be pretty blunt and turn it back on them, and even then they don’t always get the hint.
      Former co-irker of mine would not stop calling me “young lady.” She finally stopped they day this happened:
      Her-“Hey Young Lady!”
      Me-“What old Woman?”
      Her-“That’s rude. Why would you do that.”
      Me-“Oh I thought you were okay referring to people by their age and gender.”

      I kept my tone nice and conversational. That was also the last time I heard her call anyone young lady. So win for the whole office.

      1. many bells down*

        I’ve done a version of this to men who insist on calling me “dear” or “hon” or “babe”. I just call them by another random name. If they’re going to call me things that aren’t my name, I get to do the same.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              OMG I did this with someone who kept calling me by a common (and very incorrect) name associated with my ethnic community. I just returned the favor. It was amazing.

              1. RabbitRabbit*

                Have you seen the Twitter thread from Tora Shae and how she trolled her white male coworker who called her “Laquisha” instead of Latora, and said he wouldn’t bother to try to say her name right? (Googling should bring it up because her Twitter thread went viral.) She basically called him different Generic White Dude names every time she dealt with him, drove him nuts.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Yes! That twitter thread and the video of an Asian-American woman returning fetish-y comments to a random white guy are two of my favorite pieces on dealing with low-grade racism. :) Although sadly, unlike Tora, I couldn’t get all of my coworkers to troll him with me.

          1. As Close As Breakfast*

            Hmmm… I dunno, “cantaloupe” sounds too endearing. Since most of the accurate random names, like jackass, aren’t work appropriate I’m going to have to vote in favor of “coat hook.”

            1. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

              Now I’m thinking of Senor Cardgage from Homestar Runner, who would call people by completely random, non-existent names. “Excardon me, Grendolyn!”

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I did this to an older male attorney who suggested I was being “over-emotional” about the fact that he had not filed his response to a motion to dismiss (it had been 5 months past the deadline). My boss had asked me to check, so I was being very professional and straightforward, and I had nothing wrapped up emotionally or otherwise. He kept calling me “sweetheart” and being patronizing. So I told my boss, who then referred to the attorney as sweetheart. When the attorney became offended, my boss said, “So stop being dismissive and patronizing to my [PCBH].” It was AWESOME.

          1. Fiddlesticks*

            Oh my God. I just fist punched the air. How did you manage to keep the glee off of your face!!

          2. Undercover Lady Lawyer*

            The sweetest moment of my career came after opposing counsel said to the court, “this lady lawyer….” Not only did I manage to come up with the perfect thing to say I, for once, actually said it right then. It was the best burn I’ll ever deliver and I still love thinking about the smug sob’s reaction. But, the absolute cherry on this sweetest of sundaes is that the ruling of the court was, “Mr. X, I suggest you go home and do whatever it is she wants you to do. It’s her money.”

            My Christmas wish for all of you is that if you haven’t already, you get to know the joy of landing the perfect comeback. It’s only really happened to me that one time, but 10 years later it still makes me smile.

                1. Undercover Lady Lawyer*

                  Oh, I wish I could! I love telling the story. But, I would be outing myself big time. I practice in a really small community.

        2. MasterOfBears*

          It’s like the work-safe version of responding to unsolicited dick pics with a bigger, nicer dick.

      2. Hills to Die On*

        God, I HATE being called young lady. I’m 40-fricking-2 years old so there’s reason enough anyway. I will remember this though if it ever happens again!

        1. Amelia*

          I hate this! It feels like you’re bringing up my age to suggest that I need to respect you more or that my age somehow makes me less worthy of my position. Also it feels unnecessarily gendered – the same ones that call me “young lady” never refer to men of the same age as “young man”.

        2. AnotherAlison*

          “But you’re all young to me because I’m 60something.”

          That’s what the person who does that here says. NOPE.

          1. If you really think that, you’re crazy. If you’ve got a job, you’ve got adulthood and problems. “Young lady” should be reserved for 13 year olds.
          2. If you don’t really think that, it’s patronizing and I don’t need someone to call me “young” as a compliment. Who says it’s a compliment?

          1. AnonAndOn*

            I hate that when people do that to me. A woman who followed me on social media said that I was a “kid” because I’m young enough to be her daughter. At the doctor’s office a few years ago, the nurse noticed that I recently had a birthday and referred to me as a “birthday baby.”

            In both cases I told them that my being younger than them did not make me a kid, that I was still an adult. The woman on social media continued to argue with me (I said “we’ll agree to disagree but I am still not a kid”) and the nurse said, “I have a son your age and I see him as a baby.” I said, “I may be younger than you but I am not a baby, I am an adult.” She got quiet. Having that conversation while half naked in a hospital gown laying on an examination table was awkward but necessary.

            Don’t get me started on “young lady.” It is patronizing. I’m in my late 30s – I’m not a “kid,” “baby,” “little girl,” or “young lady.” I’m a damn adult. Show some respect.

            1. Julia*

              Someone did that to me in grad school. It was a creative writing class full of non-native speakers of English (me included), and we somehow ended up discussing the use of the word “girl”. One woman (whose story also had some really misogynistic) undertones) insisted that she would call me “girl” because she was over 30 and I was only 28 and thus, to her, I was “only a girl”. Never mind I’ve been a legal adult for ten years and apparently have better manners than her. I was sooo furious, but in the end, if she keeps doing it to the wrong people, she’ll end up in trouble at work or friendless, so it’s her loss.

                1. Soon to be former fed*

                  Some people. I’m 62 and don’t engage in any of this bullshyte. I hate being called ma’am, it makes me feel a hundred years old.

              1. whingedrinking*

                I used to work as a tutor at a centre geared towards Korean kids. At one point I had to chew out a girl for hitting her little brother. Her argument was, “BUT HE CALLED ME BY MY NAME.”
                Note for anyone going, “WHAT?!”: in Korean culture, you are pretty much always supposed to defer to anyone older than you. Younger siblings always call their older siblings “older brother” or “older sister”; using their name is considered rude. (Let’s not even get into what a horrifying breach of respect calling your *parents* by their names would be.)
                I told her that yes, he had done something that wasn’t okay for them to do at home, but we do not hit people here. She could tell a tutor, or my boss, or her parents, and action would be taken, but hitting was not okay. She did not take this well, but perhaps ironically, disrespecting someone who is your teacher as well as being older than you is very bad news. So she put up with it. *shrug*

          2. TootsNYC*

            actually, I don’t think 13yos should be called “young lady.”
            I’ve really never heard it without hearing a scolding behind it. I suppose, “I’m helping this young lady; I’ll be with you in a moment” wouldn’t feel like a scolding.

          3. aebhel*

            I mean, sure, to someone twice my age, I seem young. Sure. I’m the same age as their kids. For some of the people on the board, I’m the same age as their grandkids. But that doesn’t mean you get to say that at work. It’s completely inappropriate in context.

        3. Sara without an H*

          I think Judith Martin (aka “Miss Manners”) once defined the expression “young lady” as a female child who has just done something awful. Other uses are rude.

          1. Jaydee*

            I think it can also be legit to use “young lady” and “young man” as a polite descriptor for people in the roughly 12-20 age range. People too old for “girl” and “boy” but not fully an adult yet. As in “Jane, there’s a young lady here to see you about a Girl Scout cookie order” or “Oh, Wakeen is a very bright young man. If he keeps his grades up he won’t have any trouble getting a scholarship to Llama State University.”

          2. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

            Hilarious. When I got called “young lady,” I was in trouble up to my eyeballs. Didn’t know Miss Manner was behind it.

        4. afiendishthingy*

          Same. I don’t mind so much if it’s like “oh this young lady was ahead of me in line” but I used to have an older male church choir director who addressed me as “young lady” when I asked questions or came in late to rehearsal. I’m in my 30s, not that it really matters. He’s part of why I stopped going to that church

        5. Sara without an H*

          I think Judith Martin (aka “Miss Manners”) limits use of the term “young lady” to female children who have just done something dreadful.

        6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I hate this, too. When used against adult women, it’s infantilizing and undermines their presence (it’s like the converse of “Mom”-ing someone).

      3. GG Two shoes*

        The clientele I work with is nearly all a volunteer army of 70 and 80 year olds. I get called young lady or young woman, or girl on a semi regular basis (I’m 29). I have dreams of one day saying “thanks for calling old man!”

        Probably doesn’t help that after my grandboss retired, he started calling me his “granddaughter.” Because he never did it when we worked together, I’m not offended or upset. It’s a term of endearment for him.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          I always have to stifle the urge to respond “thanks sport!” or “hey champ!” or something when men call me young lady (or honey or dear).

          Related: when guys do that “hey gurllllll” thing (to hit on women), I DO respond “hi boy!”

          1. Teal Green*

            I had a vendor once who always called me “kiddo.” He stopped after I responded to “Thanks kiddo” with “No problem, buddy boy.”

      4. AKchic*

        I had this happen in my current office. We have a boss here who is um… well… “special”. I can’t go into details without potentially giving away particulars about us since our group is small and so is our location.

        I am one of three women in the office, and the youngest woman. In a field of men. I am also union. This boss is not, but he is the contractor so I have to play nice. He is also the only one to ever address me, a 34 year old mother of 4 (3 of them teenagers) as “Young Lady”. Every time he says it, I shut him down. “I have a name”, “do not call me that”, “do you have a memory problem, my name is X – use it”. Nothing would get him to call me by name until finally, in front of a group of government officials, he did it again and I snapped and said “look, if you can’t remember my name, perhaps a union grievance will help you remember it.”
        Not a single “Young Lady” since.

      5. Trig*

        Yep, I’ve got a coworker who I think is roughly 5-6 older than me… who for a time called me “Trig dear” and occasionally “young lady” on chat. It didn’t help that I started as an intern fresh out of a post-grad program.

        I know he means absolutely nothing degrading by it (intentionally), and is generally respectful/kind/understanding and a good coworker, so I didn’t let it get to me too much. But I took to responding with a “Wakeen darling” or “grandpa” when he did it.

        He doesn’t do it much anymore.

      6. Emi.*

        When I was in highschool I knew a boy who would address me as “woman,” usually in the context of trying to tell me what to do. When he raised his voice to tell me “Don’t mock me, woman!” I finally snapped “I’ll mock you if I want, boy!” He … crumpled. And that was the end of that.

      7. Elizabeth West*


        I had a coworker who called me “Baby Girl” sometimes. I’m older than she is–I think it was a Southern endearment. It should have annoyed me even though I liked her, but I honestly didn’t mind it that much, and I’m not entirely sure why.

      8. This Daydreamer*

        Oh, God’s. “Young lady” brings up a vomit-inducing flashback from retail.

        I had this one coworker who always worked cash register. Every time he rang up a female coworker, EVERY TIME, he would say, in a loud voice, “Are you old enough to be buying this stuff, [name]?” Revolting.

        I shut him down by going full ice queen. I’m sure he’s convinced to this day that I am a feminazi with no sense of humor. Oh, darn. I missed his “joking around” so freaking much. Other women refused to let him ring them up, despite his insistence that he “didn’t mind helping them”. For some reason, his behavior was never seen as bad enough to fire the bastard and he never faced any consequences.

    2. Mints*

      Yeah, he’s a lost cause but I’d be tempted to ask him “What do you think the point of a compliment is?” It’s supposed to be about the feelings of the complimentee not the complimenter. It’s the same logic street harassers use

  6. Foreign Octopus*

    Can’t believe that Fergus dug in so deep but good for you, OP. I’m happy that things are working out now.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Should be “boss llama.”

        (Finders, there is a rule about not nitpicking people’s turns of phrase.)

        1. Amber Rose*

          Of course!

          Also I’m now going to be fighting the urge to call my manager “boss llama” all day. =P

      1. NW Mossy*

        I’m reminded of that old Chris Rock bit about wanting praise for things you’re supposed to do – “What do you want, a cookie?!”

        1. Teapot Librarian*

          My mom would ask “what do you want, a medal or a chest to pin it on?” I have to confess that I was probably in my early 20s before I realized the “chest” the question referred to was the upper part of the body, and not a toy chest.
          On the other hand, when my mom did things herself, she would say “can I get a gold star?” My dad got her a really nice gold star necklace one Christmas (in what might be the only romantic gesture my father has ever made) and my mom made him return it because it was “too expensive.”

    1. bridget*

      As if there are no common sense or social rules about not being a completely rude weirdo who refuses to respect boundaries. Either it’s technically sexual harassment, or it’s 100% fine and nobody should ever give you trouble about it?

      1. Jesca*

        Haha and why is sexual harassment the level to base all actions on? Its like people who are like, “well with all his faults, at least he never hit me!”

        Raise the bar people!

    2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Yeah, it’s also not arson, or grand larceny, or deliberately infecting everyone in the office with headlice. But none of that is relevant to whether it’s unacceptable.

      1. Artemesia*

        But let’s leave this unsaid and not give him any ideas (she said, noticing her head was suddenly itchy).

        1. Merci Dee*

          I know. I read that comment about head lice, and suddenly had to reach up to scratch. Bleh. Now I’m going to feel the creepy-crawlies all afternoon.

            1. Anion*

              Va-Mousse, y’all. It works.

              (We had *constant* lice issues where we lived before, because lots of parents just didn’t care, or would do things like take the kid swimming in the public pool figuring that would get rid of them, or wait until term break to deal with it, or do just one treatment with whatever cheap stuff they bought and not follow up. So we had to deal with lice a lot. We combed them out every weekend, but all it takes is missing *one bug.* Cetaphil works too, but is messier and takes longer, and requires a follow-up treatment. Va-Mousse doesn’t.)

              /public service announcement

      2. Ella*

        I’m a new supervisor and I hope I remember this on the day that I have to have a conversation with somebody about their unacceptable behavior, whatever said behavior is.

      1. OverboilingTeapot*

        Yeah, I actually read something kind of fetish-y in it. If a young female subordinate called an older male superior “daddy,” it would definitely not be an innocent compliment…

    3. mrs__peel*

      “It’s not sexual harassment, it’s just weird harassment that happens to be gender-based! That’s way better!”

        1. Teapot Librarian*

          “Ladies first!”
          “No, you go ahead.”
          “No, ladies first!”
          “You’re right there, it’s fine. I wish you wouldn’t insist like this.”
          “Why are you being rude to me??”

          Bear in mind this was probably the 8th elevator in an hour and a half when this exchange happened. But no, it can’t be sexual harassment because it’s chivalry!

        2. Observer*

          Well, you gotta admit that keeping his pants up is a good thing. But so is the fact that he hasn’t burnt the building down.

      1. NutellaNutterson*

        This is why power-and-control harassment is the term I try to use – even when it’s explicitly sexual in content, it’s still done from a standpoint of attempting to assert control and get/keep power over someone.

  7. AnonToday*

    This guy sounds really dumb. Even if he does feel like it isn’t a big deal and he was somehow “complimenting” her, why wouldn’t he just drop it as soon as she threatened to escalate the issue? Is defending your actions really worth getting in trouble at work? The smart thing would have been to just apologize, drop it, and secretly hold onto his insensitive viewpoint.

    1. Q*

      If I tried to compliment someone and they threatened to report it to our boss, I would be so embarrassed and apologizing constantly and never, ever, ever do it again.

      Fergus–just another creepy dude who thinks he matters more than the woman involved…

      1. SarahKay*

        “Fergus–just another creepy dude who thinks he matters more than the woman involved…” – oh, yes, so much this.

        1. Malibu Stacey*

          This is what I think is up is with him – he doesn’t think calling the LW “Mom” is a big deal and he didn’t really care that she was going to tell their manager because he (wrongly) assumed the boss would not care or that he’d able to talk his way out of it with the boss.

          1. Muriel Heslop*

            Agreed. I see this a lot with my middle schoolers who have never really experienced any real consequences for their actions. They cannot imagine that their actions will have repercussions of any kind.

            I wish I could put a few students (and their parents) on a PIP.

          2. Observer*

            You have a point. But it’s weird that even when the boss told him to cut it out he wouldn’t back off.

      2. Shiara*

        Right? I once had a brief conversation where someone asked me to please not use that nickname because he found it inappropriately familiar of me (I had heard someone else use it who was apparently a longtime family friend) and I felt utterly mortified and never did it again.

        1. AnonToday*

          And even if you thought “wow you’re being overly sensitive”, as it seems Fergus was thinking in this instance, you gotta be smart enough to just drop it to not make the situation worse!

    2. Sylvan*

      I wonder if he is, after realizing he is being inappropriate with a woman, dead set on insisting that he is “not like that.” He has a mental image of what a harasser or a sexist is, and he doesn’t want to be that.


    I don’t understand why some people get so bent out of shape about changing their behavior! At a previous job I worked with a few women who had the same name, and all had different variations of that name (think a name like Elizabeth and nicknames like Betty, Beth, and Liz), and after I figured out who wanted to be called what, I stuck with it. Why make something like this the hill you want to die on? I’m not going to insist on calling Liz Beth if she wants to be called Liz, FFS.

    1. TootsNYC*

      because they don’t understand forgiveness

      I think this is a huge thing wrong with our country. People want to BLAME!!!!1!! others. They want to MAKE PEOPLE BEHAVE!!1!

      It’s one of the things that pulled me to this blog, is that Alison is kinder than a lot of people. Even to people who are wrong. And even -about- people who are wrong. And the commentariat is -generally- nicer too.

      But once you become so blamey, you have trouble cutting yourself a break (and saying, “well, I got that wrong. I’ll change it”).

    2. Elizabeth West*

      There was a creepy guy at my college who used to insist on calling me Beth. I don’t go by Beth. No one has ever called me Beth. Not anyone in my family, not any of my friends, not anyone ever. I think he just wanted to be special.
      Fergus seems to think he already is. And special people get to do what they want and never have to be sorry about it.

    3. aebhel*

      I think some people really can’t deal with the idea that they could be in the wrong, so they dig in and make the situation a thousand times worse when a simple apology would have fixed it.

  9. SallytooShort*

    The mom thing by itself is offensive and weird (although I do know it’s a thing with kids on Twitter to call cool celebrities mom and dad, which is super weird.)

    But even if it was totally fine stop calling someone a nickname they don’t like no matter what it is! Even if she just didn’t like being called Beth when her name was Elizabeth. Just stop. They don’t like it. The end.

    It’s like a weird power play.

    1. LKW*

      When I meet new co-workers I ask “Do you prefer full name or ?” I look at how they sign their emails. It’s not hard. Margaret may prefer Peggy and Rosalin may prefer Rose. And Jonathan may prefer Jonathan. I don’t understand why people insist on making a stink about not being able to call someone Chuck or Chaz or whatever.

      1. Midge*

        I also try to take my cue from how people sign their emails. It seems to be particularly common for people in academic to sign their emails just with their initials. Which doesn’t help at all, especially give that academics can be *very* particular about what they’re called. So when Professor Wakeen the Fancypants signs his emails WtF, I don’t know if he wants me to call him Professor Fancypants, Professor Wakeen, or just Wakeen. It’s a small thing, but come on, help a staff member out!

        1. JessaB*

          This, back in the day when things were more gendered in official correspondence and stuff, I had to do invites for a major big deal thing at our institution. So I got on the phone and called the secretaries of the big name invites and asked “How do they want to be addressed in the invitation and what do they want me to put in the programme?” And I had people whose job it was to deal with this time and time again tell me they had no clue if it was Professor Sam Jones, or Doctor Samantha Jones, or what the heck.

          I became a very valued member of the admin team because once I went through this chazzerai I kept a book on this. So everyone else called me and read me their invite list.

          Nowadays if it’s business I just outright ask how they want to be addressed in person and if I have to do correspondence to or from them, how to address them in that. If it’s a personal introduction I presume they’re being introduced correctly unless they get all frowny face at the person doing the intro. Then when I get where I can ask privately I do.

          The problem is I think that people get weird about names and the custom of simply outright asking “what should I call you?” is for some reason socially fraught. I have no idea why this is, because if it was less socially weird to just say “What do I call you?” it would be a lot easier.

        2. pandop*

          Oh I hear you on this. We have had training on pronouns, but nothing ever touched on knowing if it was a first name is fine, or you’d better call me Professor or else kinda deal.

  10. Fiddlesticks*

    I just kept whispering, “What the WHAT” under my breath the whole time while reading your update. Thank God it looks like your management is supportive and has taken appropriate action, but I’m still sorry you’re dealing with this, and man, I hope Fergus gets his head on straight soon, because his behavior and handling of this situation is a bad omen for his future professional prospects, geez.

    1. JessaB*

      Yes but now Fergus is being passive aggressive with the OP and that’s a separate issue that needs addressing, he can’t be allowed to behave like he’s a 3 year old having a tantrum and running around in a snit either.

      I’d love to see a second update on this once Fergus (if Fergus) completes the PIP.

    2. Not a Lady*

      The LW reports he’s now being passive-aggressive w/her.

      I hope he gets canned. He sounds like an intractable jackass.

  11. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    What a strange hill for Fergus to die on. I hope the boss pointed that out to him — how completely bonkers it is to take something like this to the point of major discipline, when it’s really, really easy to NOT call someone ‘Mom’!

    1. Lumen*

      Seeeeeriously. This sort of ‘resistant’ response is such a huge red flag to me. It says nothing good about someone’s character when they think that not only should they be permitted to do and say whatever they want, they should also get to dictate how other people feel about it!

    2. Wendy Darling*

      Seriously of ALL the things to double and triple down on… THIS?

      The sane response to “Do not call me mom” is “Oh okay sorry!” Like I’m completely bewildered about why he is so attached to this. It makes me wonder if it’s a weird power thing. Or just an authority problem thing — I’ve met a few people who basically cannot handle being told to do anything and will completely freak out and self-immolate rather than do what someone told them to do.

      Either way… fix your heart, Fergus.

      1. nonegiven*

        Mom must be the person that when she tells him to do something, he’s ok with saying, “Yes, mom,” and then doing whatever the hell he wants, anyway.

  12. Lady Phoenix*

    Dude sounds like an asshat and I hope he gets fired. It is obvious sensititve training and PIP isn’t helping him, so he is as good as fired.

      1. Lady Phoenix*

        Or if he tries to use the conpany as a reference.

        “Yup, he called his female boss ‘mom’, kept calling her that against her wishes, said it was not sexual harassment, and kept acting bellirgent towards her pip and senstivity training.”

  13. The Supreme Troll*

    I am definitely glad you held firm, asserted yourself, and didn’t back down. By all means, continue keeping your interactions with Fergus to as minimum as possible; he is definitely not worth wasting your time with. And, I want to conclude with, that you seem to have a great, caring boss. I am wishing you all the best!

    1. Annie Moose*

      Came to the comments to say the same thing. OP handled this so awesomely! Another victory for sensible, firm conversations. Of course it would’ve been better if Fergus knocked it off–but under the circumstances, it sounds like things turned out as well as they could.

  14. SarahKay*

    OP, congratulations on what sounds like a masterful handling of the whole situation. And I’m so glad your manager and HR are capable of applying common sense and dealing with the whole situation properly.

  15. chocolate lover*

    I’m glad OP stood her ground with Fergus, and escalated it when necessary.

    I did consider the possibility that telling Fergus “because I said so” (like my parents often did) or putting him in a “timeout” might be entertaining, since he really wanted to dig in on the parental thing. Not professional, but mildly amusing in light of his ridiculousness.

    1. Not Yo Mama*

      Oh I would have loved that.

      However, I’m pretty sure that in the past I got some kind of ‘mom’ comment from a young male coworker, so I licked my thumb and reached for his face saying “Oh, you’ve got a little smudge…”

      He reared back immediately (I would not have actually wiped my spit on him, gross) but never pulled that crap with me again.

      1. Not Yo Mama*

        (Just FYI: that WAS a really unprofessional and bad workplace that allowed a lot of inappropriate behavior and I know that warped my idea of how to deal with things. The attitude was that everyone should handle stuff by themselves instead of ‘complaining’ to their bosses, so appropriate ways of dealing with conflict were discouraged and playground squabbles were the most acceptable option. I don’t work there anymore though and would not handle things like that in a sane workplace.)

        1. Matilda Jefferies*

          Eh, maybe not – but it sounds like it was both effective and appropriate for the environment you were in at the time. I’m glad to hear you’re out of there!

  16. Caboodle*

    I’ve been waiting for this update. I just wanted to say that I’m so glad it worked out ok. And OP, I’m just so gosh darn proud of you! :-)

  17. Caitlin*

    When someone tells you they don’t like something and would like you to stop, you apologize and stop. Little kids learn that.

  18. Lumen*

    OP, your script of what you said to Fergus gave me LIFE. Way to lay down the law and leave zero room for confusion. Well done.

  19. Matilda Jefferies*

    OP, can I just say how much I love that you shut him down in the middle of the first conversation.

    You: Knock it off, or I will escalate to HR.
    Him: But, but, but…compliment!
    You: Yeah, never mind. We’re done here.

    As my kids would say, BAM! That was awesome. I’m with the others in not understanding why he picked this particular hill to die on, but whatever, it’s his hill. Good for you for shutting it down so effectively.

    And also, after hearing updates from the people who work with Percival and the Halloween bully, I’m really glad to hear that your employers had your back on this one! I was beginning to lose faith in humanity over here. It’s good to know that sometimes the bad guys actually do get their comeuppance.

  20. R2D2*

    Bravo! That took courage and persistence. I’m glad to hear your HR department is taking appropriate action!

  21. LeisureSuitLarry*

    Why is it that some people can’t accept that others don’t want to be called something other than their name? Call a person what they want to be called. If they want to be “Mary”, call them Mary. If they want to be called “Captain Underpants” call them Captain Underpants. Identity is very important, and you need to respect that even if you don’t like it.

    1. Scott*

      Well… Up to a certain point I think. There was a letter about someone’s coworker who wanted everyone to call her boyfriend “Master”.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      Yeeaahhh, I’m not calling anyone Captain Underpants unless it is their legal name. I don’t care how much they like it. I will call you Larry, heck I’ll even call you Butch or Bubba or LJ, even though your name is probably Lawrence (once had a coworker who insisted on using full first names), but I’m not calling you Captain Underpants.

      1. Oranges*

        When you’re not comfortable with someone’s name (because common societal mores about saying underpants*) then working it out like “Would you accept Captain U? Hmmm… on second thought that doesn’t work either… Captain UP?” would be where I would go next.

        *This is obviously not in case in 99.9999999999% of the time. Usually it’s just jerks being jerks.

      2. Can’t remember what name I used before*

        If someone goes by Captain Underpants 24-7-365, and that’s how everybody knows them? Then that IS their name, even if that’s not what is on their drivers license or birth certificate. And I will call them by their NAME.
        Same with Master, if that’s what they actually go by, and not their partner trying to drag me into their kinky games.
        I would call them Hey Asshole if that’s what they went by and preferred.
        I think a person’s personal identity and right to name themselves outweighs my feelings on it 100% of the time.
        I tend to run in the kind of circles where even professionally, having going by a non-legal name is so common as to be unremarkable (think artists, musicians, etc), and even “scandalous” names don’t bat an eye, so maybe it doesn’t seem as big a deal to me, but I really have a hard time imagining a situation where I would refuse to call someone by their preferred handle no matter WHAT I thought of it. Perhaps if they went by a name I could not learn to pronounce correctly, and mangled every time I said it, but I would still defer to their preferred alternative.
        I know a lot of people as well, with real, legal, bestowed by their parents names that are unusual or quirky, who love them, and end up with them butchered or turned into nicknames they dislike by people who don’t want to even try to remember or pronounce them correctly (when they are easy to pronounce). So therefore, my rule. It’s not up to me to decide what to call someone else NO MATTER WHAT.

          1. Can’t remember what name I used before*

            If someone went by those names 24-7-365, personally and/or professionally, I would consider that to be their real name, and call them that.
            If they went by Fred or Carol with everybody else, but wanted just me or just a few people to call them (whatever)? Then I might question it, but I would do so even if the new name/nickname were something completely innocuous.
            I think a person’s personal identify trumps my feelings on what they prefer to be called 100% of the time.

    3. Anonymouse*

      Agreed. I go by a nickname both personally and professionally; not even my parents have ever called me by my “real” name. But due to our email system, my full real name shows up in emails. The first time? Sure, honest mistake. But my signature says my nickname and people continue to call me by my real name? Very annoying.

      This whole scenario seems so misplaced, though. This isn’t even a name, this is a term that – in this context – is insulting and weirdly unprofessional! I would have (slightly, though not a whole lot) more sympathy for the guy if it had been, “My name is Elizabeth and he keeps calling me Liz after I told him to stop”. Rude, sure, but this is several shades past that.

      1. Sarianna*

        Your nickname is absolutely your real name. If you go by it, it’s your real name. Just because that doesn’t happen to coincide with your legal name, well, that’s another matter entirely!

      2. Julia*

        I guess for some people – and I am sometimes one of them – it seems rude to just call you by a shortened version of your name without explicit permission. I understand that we should use what your signature says, but I would feel some trepidation. Do you usually say “please call me XY” in your first email?

      3. aebhel*

        I don’t ever go by a nickname professionally (although I do outside of work), and since my full name is pretty long, a lot of people do ask. But there’s not an obvious way to shorten it, so mostly people don’t.

    4. aebhel*

      Lol, this just reminded me of a story my dad tells about when he was young and working at a printing press. My dad is a towering tall beanpole of a guy, and his boss decided it would be funny to call him ‘Lurch’. And then kept calling him that, no matter how many times he was corrected. To the point, I suspect, that he actually forgot my dad’s real name. ‘My name’s Bob, stop calling me that.’ ‘Yeah, whatever, Lurch.’

      This became a real problem when the press jammed one day, and the manager came running in waving his arms and yelling ‘Lurch! Turn that off! Turn it off right now!’

      And my dad, who is both petty and pretty short on patience, just stood there, watching the press spectacularly jam, to the point that they were out several hours worth of productivity by the time the manager got there to shut it down. So the manager starts yelling at him, like ‘Why the hell didn’t you turn it off when I told you to??’

      And my dad says, ‘My name isn’t f***ing Lurch.’

      I mean, I think he did get fired, but given that he tells the story with immense satisfaction even thirty years later, I suspect that was worth it, to him.

  22. Notthemomma*

    Interviewer: So why did you leave your last job?
    Fergus: ‘Well Mom had me put in a PIP and sent to sensitivity training for giving her a complement.’
    Interviewer: So you worked in a family business?
    Fergus: No, why would you think that?
    Interviewer: *blink. blink* We’ll be in touch.

    1. Foreign Octopus*

      I just snorted gin out of my nose and it now burns. Thanks for that!

      (FYI, it’s 9pm here in Spain. I’m not drinking in the middle of a work day.)

      1. Specialk9*

        We don’t judge.

        Ok fine, that’s all we do here. But whatever. Boozy octopi get a free pass.

        1. Merci Dee*

          Fun fact for the day —

          When people think of more than one octopus, they usually go with octopi for the plural. But did you know the plural form of octopus is actually octopodes (oc-TOP-o-dees). Turns out that “octopus” is from the Greek language — but by trying to change the plural to “octopi”, Latin language rules are being imposed on the Greek.

          To be clear, octopi is perfectly acceptable, as is octopuses. But from a language standpoint, octopodes would be the form using the Greek plural. Kind of makes sense, when you think about it from the perspective of using “podiatrist” for a foot doctor.

          The things you learn when your kid has a science project . . . . :)

          1. LadyKelvin*

            While this is technically true, the standard English plural of octopus is octopuses. Octopodes is an accepted usage but the Oxford dictionary lists octopuses as the correct spelling of the plural.

        2. Foreign Octopus*

          Can I just say that I love the turn my perfectly normal evening drinking took? You guys are so weird and I love it!

      2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        No need for excuses. For many of AAM’s letter writers, a midday gin seems to be the only solution to their workplace disasters. ;-)

  23. beanie beans*

    Well done OP! Thank you for giving us courage to stand up for ourselves! If Fergus actually gets his head out of his butt and learns something from this, all of his future coworkers thank you!

  24. Girasol*

    Twenty years from now when one of the AAM commenters asks, “what stupid things did you do when you were first starting out that make you cringe now?” Fergus will write in, “I can’t believe I actually called her Mom! I’m glad they told me off so I could be more mature in my next job!”

  25. Amber Rose*

    Woooooow. *slow clap*
    Most impressively terrible reason to end up on a PIP this year, I think. Maybe he’s not creepy LW, but he has serious issues with boundaries and an incredible resistance to introspection, which is… not great.

    Your script was incredibly badass though, so if anything good has come out of this, it’s that I am now picturing you with a studded leather jacket and wicked sunglasses. Also the whole thing about your boss and HR having your back, which I know should be and is normal in many workplaces, but after a while you read AAM just expecting management to throw gas on the fire in every situation.

  26. This is my Spout*

    Curious OP…Did you practice a script, have to hype yourself up? It is soooo easy to talk yourself out of or procrastinate those conversations.

  27. Adlib*

    Yeah, Fergus is as good as fired at this point. Passive-aggressive after all this? He’s not going to learn.

  28. Rusty Shackelford*

    And look who just proved that he wasn’t interested in making the OP feel good AT ALL. ABOUT ANYTHING.

  29. CatCat*

    I’m shocked and dismayed that Fergus would double down on something so pointless, but pleased that the employer is taking appropriate steps to correct him.

  30. AKchic*

    Sheesh, this says so much about him and his upbringing. None of it good. Almost pitiable. Almost.

    I admit that in my volunteer life, I am “Mom”. But it is also an official role I play. Literally. The other actors call me “Mom” because with 400 actors with real names, stage names, and we’re only together for 2 weekends a year, it is sometimes easier to remember “Mom” or “Mother” than my actual character name.

    At work? No. Nobody gets to call me that, regardless of if I act as a mother figure to a person or not. Generally I do not. I have my own kids and don’t need to be mothering grown adults.

    I have a feeling this Fergus is going to have other boundary issues, and *this* particular boundary issue is going to flare up again. He may not call LW “mom” again, but the passive aggressive issues, the insistence on being mothered, the wanting to be treated like a child (including scolded as a parent/child relationship), and generally latching on inappropriately.

    1. many bells down*

      A couple of years ago, the museum where I volunteer had a costumed cartoon character at an event. I was assigned to be their “handler”, because they can’t see out of the giant costume head very well, and someone needed to watch the time so they got all their breaks, etc. Since then, one of the other staff working the event has referred to me as “[Character’s] Mom.” But … in the break room. Not on the floor.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      Don’t blame his actual mom! He is an adult, and at some point, we have to quit blaming our parents for our actions and take responsibility for our own thoughts and behaviors. This guy has had plenty of time and exposure to the world to figure out what is appropriate and what things he learned at home that may be incorrect.

      (Not to say that as a mom of boys I don’t do what I can to make sure they are not sexist weenies, but even if I didn’t, that doesn’t excuse them.)

      1. AKchic*

        I’m not saying “this is his mom’s fault”. I’m saying this screams of abandonment issues. Whether he was actually abandoned or not, we don’t know. For all we know – his mom could have died at birth and he was passed from foster home to foster home his entire life. Or he could have had a distantly cold mother who showed no affection whatsoever. Or he could have grown up with June friggin’ Cleaver. Whatever the fact – he acts like he has serious abandonment issues, and he has latched on to the LW as a maternal substitute and got very upset when she not only flipped the script that he wanted, but completely shut down the script he wanted and got outside intervention.

        This guy is going to continue to be trouble. Whether for the LW and the company, or somewhere else, at least until he grows up and learns how to deal with his personal mommy issues; whatever they actually are.

  31. Aphrodite*

    I’m going to make a prediction: Fergus will sulkily listen to HR, grudgingly meet a few of the PIP requirements and then, within a month, blow up and slam out of there.

    OP, please let us know what happens because this is not going to work out in any positive way for him.

  32. Observer*

    “It’s not like it’s sexual harassment.”

    If you needed any proof that this is not an issue of his being “unworldly”, there it is. He knows what goes on in the world is trying to game the system.

    This is not “sexual”, but it is pretty clear that it IS sex based.

  33. Higher Ed Database Dork*

    Fergus reminds me of a coworker I had years ago. He would do things like this – do weird things and then double down on them when asked to stop – and I think he just enjoyed exerting dominance over others. Like one time he brought a Costco vacations brochure for a coworker who was getting married and planned to go somewhere for a honeymoon. Instead of just leaving it with her and maybe asking once or twice if she had checked it out, he badgered her about it for weeks and would not let up about booking a vacation through Costco. Any time he was called out on his badgering behavior, he’d play the “oh I was just trying to be helpful and friendly!” card and act like he was hurt, and then complain to other people that “Susie doesn’t like me anymore, I was just trying to be helpful.” He would badger people about EVERYTHING, just to see if he could get them to do what he wanted. It was mostly “innocent” stuff, like the vacation, or admitting you liked a certain hobby/food/show (even when clearly stating that you didn’t), but all of it was unwelcome and he would not respect even direct requests to stop. I could definitely see him saying something like “at least it wasn’t sexual harassment.”

    Never put on a PIP or anything that I’m aware of, but he’s also never really advanced (he’s still in my higher ed system but very far removed from me, thank god). He complained about that as well, but never did anything promotion-worthy (like his basic job duties…).

  34. Former Hoosier*

    We have an extern in our office currently who started giving everyone nicknames and not like Jim for James (although that is still inappropriate if the person prefers James) but like AeroJim or other weird things. She was stunned when told it was unprofessional. She was doing it for clients, staff, and people in the C Suite.

    1. BadPlanning*

      I once made the mistake of calling a new coworker with the same name, “New Wakeen.” Of course, it implies that first Wakeen is “Old Wakeen” no matter how much you try to swing it as “Wakeen Prime” or “Original Wakeen.” Nope. I’ll never do that again.

      1. Ponytail*

        Or worse – having two Julies at work, and calling one Nice Julie to the OTHER Julie’s face.

        True story.

        1. PB*

          Oh, dear. My brother and step brother both have the same name. They’ve been “Big Fergus” and “Little Fergus” for years, even though “Little Fergus” is now the same height as my brother.

  35. The Rock's mom*

    As someone who is socially awkward, I take offense that this nitwit is lumped into my category. He’s not socially awkward, he’s entitled. Socially awkward people do not argue when someone calls them out for being socially awkward. Because we already know we’re socially awkward. This guy thinks he’s Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson cool. He’s not. He’s a brat and apparently has lived a life where very few people have told him as such (or he’s been taught that other people’s feelings don’t matter as much as his). Either way, y’all dodged a bullet I think. Calling OP “Mom” is unprofessional at best and I have no doubt that time would have proved other hideous lapses in his professional judgment.

  36. Massmatt*

    Congrats to the OP for following through and taking care of the situation. And it’s refreshing to have a resolution where the company/boss etc actually responds and takes action.

    That Fergus was so oddly insistent on continuing to do this after being told to stop, and became passive-aggressive with you afterwards, says lots about his character, none of it good.

    1. afiendishthingy*

      “And it’s refreshing to have a resolution where the company/boss etc actually responds and takes action.”
      I know – it’s a shame that this isn’t more commonplace.

    2. Scubacat*

      It’s uplifting to see a workplace act with logic and decency.

      The OP was fantastic in standing up for themselves.

      Oh Fergus…. Fergus…….*sigh*. Avoiding sexual harassment is a fairly low standard to set for yourself. It’s like saying,” Yes, I pushed my brother into a woodchipper. But at least I didn’t set him on fire!” Both actions are terrible.

  37. NaoNao*

    I have a small side gig and I’ve encountered this same attitude in customers.
    I had a pair of expensive shoes I found at a second hand store and photographed and put up for sale. The soles of the shoes were leather and had some water stains on them and weren’t in great shape, so I didn’t show them. (This was faulty thinking I later corrected, but that’s where the fault ends). A customer contacted me through the sales site and asked me (in a super condescending tone) if I could measure the shoes and let her know the measurements. I did so, all the while kind of knowing this wasn’t the end of the unpleasantness.
    Lo and behold, I was correct.
    She then emailed me and asked for more photographs.
    I didn’t answer, and thought I would simply let the listing expire (again, a mis-step) and then that would be that, as it was less than a day from expiring.
    She then purchased the listing.
    I got an email saying “Now that I’ve purchased the listing can I PLEASE have my photographs?”
    I immediately responded and cancelled the order, giving a polite explanation that upon second looks, the shoes really weren’t in salable condition.
    Four emails to me followed, berating me, giving me condescending advice on customer service, the whole nine.
    I finally told her
    “I’m not sure what you want from me. I have cancelled the order and you didn’t pay for it. You’re not out any money and you didn’t receive a sub-par product. I really don’t know what else to tell you. Can we please drop this?”
    I told this whole story to a lawyer friend and she sent me an article on “The High Conflict Personality” that really opened my eyes.
    The lawyer friend was like “She wants her PHOTOGRAPHS!”
    Her point being; this woman asked you for something and you didn’t give it to her and now that thing is the ONLY thing on EARTH that’s important.
    My whole point is, the world is full of very odd folks who think in stubborn, not helpful, even self-destructive ways and cling, cling, cling to something everyone else is like “Um, move on? Who cares?”
    So Fergus wanted one thing: to be able to call this person “Mom” whether or not she liked it or wanted it. (UGH. Later on Harvey Weinstein: the Early Years….)
    “Mom” declined in no uncertain terms.
    Now it’s “war”.
    His excuse of “it’s nice!!” has no meaning. It’s the flimsiest fig leaf that allows him to go to war, because to him, that’s what this is.
    Someone didn’t give me something I want/deserve/am owed.
    I must defeat them. Even if it means 100% utter defeat for ME.

    …that’s the High Conflict Personality in a nutshell.

    1. Kiki*

      I sell things on eBay from time to time and I’ve definitely encountered some of these. Once I had a blouse listed that, upon further inspection, had a small oil stain on it. I took the listing down. Someone who had been watching the listing sent me FIVE messages in one day asking why I’d taken it down, she wanted it, what’s wrong with it, can she have more pictures. I sent her a short message about the oil stain and then she reported me to eBay for a fraudulent sale. Even though she never bought anything. I am still baffled.

      1. NaoNao*

        I actually wound up pretty much leaving eBay over these types of buyers. I only have a handful of listings there for items that were very high end “scores” from thrift stores or my personal collection. I used to have a thriving second store on eBay and honestly, two encounters from very unpleasant people (one person tried to cancel her order after 3 days, and sent me an email (one of many, it would turn out) saying she doesn’t have “weeks” to wait for shipping.
        That back and forth lasted forever.
        In both cases, I thought about it and it was either a HCP, *or* both items were hard to find, expensive, high quality items that I had substantially under-priced to move. I think it’s possible that they had already promised the items to future buyers or were really bent on “flipping” them, and were *also* HCP.
        But in short, yes, these customers are everywhere. Especially on ebay tho.

      2. ToxicityRefugee*

        I bought a dress from eBay that on arrival had a small oil stain that hadn’t been visible on the photos. I complained and the seller gave me a (substantial) partial refund and was apologetic. I wasn’t thrilled as I’d bought the dress for a particular event but she had been reasonable and I left positive feedback.

        I then tested a stain remover on the off-chance and it got rid of the stain like magic, good as new. So I contacted the seller and told her that I’d sorted it, was happy therefore to pay the original price (since in the end I received what I wanted and was paying for) and sent back to her the partial refund. It just seemed the fair thing to do to me but she was so effusively grateful and surprised that I can only assume that is very much not the norm for ebay buyer behaviour.

    2. blackcat*

      So I googled that term, which lead me to an article that said the main features of the HCP include:

      “All or none thinking;
      Unmanaged emotions;
      Extreme behaviors;
      Blaming others.”

      I read that last bit as “biting others” and thought “Wow, biting is a bit extreme, but I guess I see how it’s a high conflict move…”

  38. afiendishthingy*

    Fergus sounds insufferable. I’m glad that at least your boss and HR recognize his f*ckery for what it is.

  39. anonanon*

    What?! I can see how he may have thought it would be endearing, but as soon as she said she doesn’t like it he should’ve stopped right away.

    In fact, I have a coworker whom I refer to as my “work mom,” BUT… we knew each other for two years before establishing that relationship and we only did that because her son was going off to college and she was sad about it. I would also never dream of actually calling her “mom” in front of a client (WTF?!). It’s just an internal joke between us and only comes up during times when we are trying to cheer each other up….

  40. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

    I wasn’t surprised to see that one of the “You Might Also Like” links was the letter about the guy who was obsessed with his co-worker’s prosthetic leg and kept commenting on it even after being told to knock it off many times. There’s something creepily similar about the two situations.

  41. MCM*

    I bet he’ll be a doozy to work with on the long term. If he’s told not to do something, and is determined to continue it, and gets defensive when called out on it. This was a frustrating form of harassment. But what if got called out on other things at work, would he choose to die on them also because he’s always right. Suspect he’s one of those that things he can do no wrong & is always right. My father was like that, would hate to work with someone with his characteristics. And the passive aggressive thing of saying something hurtful, or mean; than comes back with I’m kidding. The “I’m kidding or joking” is said to backtrack of the trouble they’ve made for themselves.

    It’ll be interesting to see if he’s still working there six months down the road.

    1. Can’t remember what name I used before*

      I used to be a person who said mean things to be funny (think middle & high school years), but at the time I was dealing with severe, undiagnosed, untreated executive function & learning disorders combined with a quick wit. So the opportunity would come up for a pun or zinger or hilarious put down and my brain would have thought it up and sent it flying out the mouth before any kind of consciousness had time to intervene and say “hey, maybe that’s not a good idea!” I’ll add that I never spared myself one iota from the cuts of my rapier wit, which doesn’t excuse it, but it wasn’t personal and I never meant to be harmful…I thought we all got a good laugh out of it.
      Until a friend told me that it actually really *was* hurtful to her. I was MORTIFIED. And I had to work HARD to overcome it, because I was dealing with Actual Disability, without any knowledge or support. And I STILL managed to learn not to do it, because being good to people was way more important to me than being the resident comedian of the bunch.
      Those that refuse to stop under the guise of “just joking” are absolutely full of it.

  42. H.C.*

    I’m already wishing for an update to this update to see how Fergus fared with this PIP & training

  43. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    I love Fergus’ insistence that he’s being complimentary. It’s like a six-year-old who thinks Jedi mind tricks are real, “This is not the insult you think it is.” (hand wave) “You WILL be my surrogate care giver.”

    1. Can’t remember what name I used before*

      Hahaha! What a great comeback to someone who tries to pull this crap.

  44. SpotTheDog*

    I had the reverse of this situation happen to me. I worked for a VP who was very supportive of me while I was going through a tough time. Unfortunately in the middle of it all she started saying that I was like one of her kids and kept saying she was my mom. I finally pointed out to her one day that she wasn’t that much older than I was (7 years difference), and that I had dated women that were closer to her age than to mine in the past, so it was a little awkward that she kept saying she was my mom.

    She got a horrified look on her face as that sunk in and that was the end of it. She stayed a great boss and very supportive, but stopped speaking to me as if I was one of her children.

  45. Umvue*

    “Once I was able to stop feeling like I was going to hurt his feelings, it became very easy to assert myself.”

    This seems like a candidate for a book-jacket blurb promoting this website. Well done, OP!

    1. LeeGull*

      Yes!! I was coming here just to quote that line. It’s perfect for weird coworkers, sexual harassers, pretty much everyone without an appropriate view of boundaries. I want to frame this quote and give it to all the young women I know!

      1. Can’t remember what name I used before*

        In many respects, I am really glad that I was raised to believe that if someone is acting in an inappropriate, harassing, or boundary pushing way, it’s OK to assert yourself in any way you need to, whether the perpetrators feelings get hurt by it or not. Protecting yourself comes first.
        My mom learned this the hard way (…an understatement ☹️) so she was adamant on teaching her kids this by both word & deed.

  46. Serin*

    I have a theory about why he pushed back so strongly — maybe the OP can observe and let me know if I’m right — I suspect that at that point it wasn’t so much trying to hang onto the privilege of calling a co-worker Mom, but more trying to control other people’s opinions of him by continuing to argue until he had convinced everyone to agree that he meant it as a compliment and didn’t do anything wrong.

    Still sucks, of course, but it means that his hill to die on is not the nickname “Mom” but his reputation as being a nice friendly guy who never did anything wrong ever.

    1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      Yes, he’s could be in big denial about a lot of things. He doesn’t want to believe that he might be sexist; he doesn’t want to believe that the title “Mom” could be anything except an honorific; he doesn’t want people telling him what to do/think; he doesn’t think this interpersonal “difference of opinion” with a coworker should have any impact on his job.

      1. Oranges*

        He wants someone to pander to his needs and cannot accept that he is an adult with responsibilities and consequences.

  47. lowercase holly*

    “she is such a cool lady, I wanted to compliment her”

    if he really thought that, then he would respect you and do what you ask so i call BS on his motivations. good luck with that PIP!

  48. HannahS*

    Good for you! You did the right thing, and I’m so glad that your higher-ups are being supportive.

  49. Katie the Fed*

    Fergus needs his ass fired. How many times does this need to be explained to him?!

    But man, OP – you handled that well!

  50. miyeritari*

    a) so glad management had your back on this.
    b) i am hope fergus will take a valuable lesson from this based on how he got put on a PIP (!), but … I’m not holding my breath.

  51. frostipaws*

    Wouldn’t Fergus’ actions be considered bullying? Why are there campaigns to stop bullying in schools and on the Internet, yet it’s tolerated in the workplace, where adults spend much of their lives?

    1. Observer*

      Given the power differential, I wouldn’t call it bullying. In any case, his ridiculous behavior is NOT being tolerated by this workplace. He’s on a PIP for a reason.

  52. Anna*

    This reminds me of a weird situation at work where I kept hearing this older worker refer to a younger coworker as his “work daughter.”

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