I said something profane to my boss, should I tell my manager my coworker is in jail, and more

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

1. I said something profane to my boss

About a month ago, I got a job at a small company. This is my first job out of college, and my first time working in a fairly informal environment; there is no dress code, and judging by the way my coworkers talk, foul language isn’t just acceptable — it’s the norm.

I’m not used to such relaxed rules, and in a poor attempt to fit in, I made a pretty raunchy comment to one of my supervisors, who was definitely shocked by my choice of words. (I’m totally cringing writing this, but she was warning me about her bluntness with delegating tasks and saying that she hoped I wouldn’t get offended. I told her not to worry, and that “it’s not like I need you to suck my dick every time you tell me to get something done.” Meaning, I don’t need her to do me any favors or soften her delivery when delegating tasks. For the record, I am also a woman, so she knew I couldn’t have meant that literally. I knew I shouldn’t have said that the second it came out of my mouth. Ugh.)

She later told me that another coworker had overheard what I’d said and was surprised/put off that I’d said something like that in the workplace. My supervisor said that she understood that people my age are used to talking in the way that I did (I’m the youngest person in the office, though not by much) but that I shouldn’t say things like that at work.

I apologized for what I’d said and thanked her for telling me, but I’m now afraid of saying the wrong thing again. When boundaries and expectations aren’t clear, how do I ensure that I’m following them? And if a situation like this one happens again, how do I deal with it in a way that shows that I’m sorry and puts it behind me?

Ten years from now, you will find this hilarious. I hope.

But now, yes, you’re mortified! Which … is warranted. But it really can be hard to know exactly where the line is when you’re working in an office that has relaxed a lot of them, as yours has. One thing that might help is to think of swear words as separate from truly raunchy language; you can probably see the difference between “this printer is shit” and what you said.

When your boss talked to you about it, you handled it perfectly: you apologized and thanked her for telling you. That’s exactly what you should do. If you’re corrected about something in the future, you could also add, “I will definitely correct this going forward” or “I’ll make sure I don’t handle it that way again.”

Going forward, I would err on the side of caution — meaning stay toward the very light end of the profanity spectrum, and don’t do it at all around your boss or other people senior to you, even if you hear them doing it themselves. And it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to cut it out entirely; in most places, that wouldn’t stop you from fitting in (although if it would in your office, you could drop in an occasional low-grade swear word if you feel you must) — plus then you won’t be stuck having to re-train your mouth when you move to your next job. (To be clear, some amount of profanity is fine in many offices, but it sounds like yours might be on the extreme end of that.)

2. Should I tell my manager my coworker is in jail?

I have an ethical dilemma. A coworker was arrested two weeks ago. She has been in jail the whole time, because the bail is high and she cannot raise it. I found out about it through another coworker. I was able to find the affidavit for her arrest online, and she will be gone for awhile. She had told my coworker that her ex was “messing with her.” The reality is quite different. She is charged with grand theft, scheme to defraud, cashing checks with intent to defraud, etc.

I am torn about what to do. One thought is that she has been arrested, not convicted, and I should mind my own business. The competing thought is that the affidavit shows a lot of evidence, and she admitted to some of the charges when speaking with the police prior to her arrest. We work in accounting (bad enough), but we also have secret government clearances to allow us to work on certain projects.

The first day that she missed work, her father called our manager and stated that she would be out for a “family emergency.”

It takes around two months to interview and place a qualified candidate. In the meanwhile, her work is being handled by the rest of the department, and the longer this goes on, the more stress and strain it places on already full workloads. The thought of telling … or of not telling … neither feels completely right. Do I have an ethical obligation to tell me employer? Or do I leave it alone, because at some point my manager should terminate her for no call/no show?

I would share with your manager what you learned. But all you need to share is that she appears to be in jail charged with financial crimes. (You don’t need to pass judgment on any evidence the affidavit shows; there are a jury and a judge to do that, so you don’t have to.) You’re not gossiping here; you’re passing on information that’s relevant to your team and to your manager — that she’s in jail and that the crimes she’s accused of are ones with implications for your work and her clearance. Your manager can decide how to handle it from there.

This is going to come out at some point anyway, so you’re not divulging some huge secret that would otherwise be kept (or, given the nature of your work, that should be kept), and it sounds like it would be significantly better for your team if your manager were aware of the situation now.

3. Not labelling an interview an interview

I’m “interviewing” at a very large global company. I’m really excited! My professional network all says it’s a great company and would be a great opportunity, and my own research indicates this as well.

However: they’ve yet to call any of the steps in this process an “interview.” It’s been called: a chat, a conversation, meet the team, etc.

Is this a new strategy in the hiring/recruiting world to put candidates at ease? (It definitely worked for me.) It’s a very large, corporate company, so I don’t *think* it’s part of the culture (I could be wrong because the interviews were very conversational). Are they trying somehow not to lead me on by being so casual about it all? (Like theoretically, they have someone else in mind but are going through the motions with me to fill some applicant/candidate interview quota?)

I’ve treated the process no less formally, but like I said above, I appreciate the terminology because I felt like I was really able to shine and give my best when I thought of it as a conversation and not strictly an interview. If this is a new trend, do you have any resources/articles you could refer me? I tried googling it but nothing really came up.

I’ve occasionally noticed people who do this too! I don’t think a particularly deliberate strategy with specific goals attached to it, but it might reflect a general trend toward less formality in some aspects of work in general. I suspect the people who do it just feel more comfortable with that terminology themselves for some reason, like it somehow lessens the pressure for all involved. And really, it’s perfectly accurate; there’s no reason it must be labeled an interview. (That said, I usually say “interview” because I don’t want to inadvertently signal to the person that it will just be a free-roaming chat, as opposed to a relatively structured conversation with lots of questions coming their way. I want them prepared and not taken off-guard.)

4. Can my employer delay our paychecks for not doing a required training?

I just found out my company is considering holding paychecks if we don’t complete some required training on time. I’ve completed it so I’m not personally worried, but is this legal? I’ve read up on the FLSA but I’m a little confused if the requirement of being paid on the next scheduled payday is for non-exempt employees only, or applies to everyone. We are all (I think) exempt.

No, they can’t do that. Your state law should specify how frequently you must be paid, and I don’t know of any state that makes an exception to those rules for exempt workers. To be sure, here’s a great site that lists employment laws for each state; click on your state and then on “frequency of wage payments.”

You message to your boss could be, “Hey, we’d run afoul of state labor law if we did that. The state requires that we pay people (insert frequency here) and we can get fined if we violate that.” You’re especially well positioned to say this since you’ve already completed the training that he’s threatening people over, so you’re not impacted by his threat.

{ 566 comments… read them below }

  1. KarenT*

    #1 You have my sympathies! That sounds like a mortifying moment and you handled the aftermath really well (as did your boss– that could have been much worse). I would definitely be on your best behaviour from now on, even if you see others swearing or saying profane things.

    1. Knitting Cat Lady*

      If you’re unused to swearing learning what is and isn’t acceptable in what places is a minefield.

      1. Coffeelover*

        I think the safest rule to follow is to never swear. I swear a lot in my personal life but I can probably count the times I’ve sworn at work on one hand. Even if others swear I try not to because it really is unprofessional regardless. I’m in my mid twenties for what it’s worth.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          Me too – midtwenties at a company with no dress-code where my coworkers and higher ups swear like sailors and I just… don’t. Quite honestly, I’ve heard people say basically what you said and it’s totally fine here.

          I swear a lot at home and with friends, but I was the youngest one starting out and have to proofread for and train people who literally have kids my age – so I chose to dress up a bit more than normal (like a nice blouse with my jeans versus a graphic t-shirt) and keep my language clean.

          At this point, coworkers literally make a big deal of it if I swear because it happens so very rarely (And even then it’s like “this printer is sh!t” or “that coffee is fuc3ing amazing”).

          1. Specialk9*

            OP, yes you’re mortified and you just learned one huge lesson… But you’re not even remotely alone in finding this hard to navigate.

            I did the exact same thing in my first job out of college, in a school. People cussed like sailors in the staff room and out of school, and were ***really** raunchy – but I learned the hard way that there were rules I didn’t get. I still squirm thinking of the silence that descended the one time I said something profane and a little raunchy.

            I had years to reflect that wasn’t really my style, and I was trying to fit in rather than being authentic. And I paid attention to how my estimation of someone was impacted when they said certain things. It was a lesson that I still reflect on, particularly the one on being authentic and not trying hard to be liked or cool.

            1. Anonymoose*

              Thank you for bringing up authenticity. I think this process is a large and complicated effort when you’re just getting out of college. I remember being at an interview for a waiting tables job and the manager gave me advice that I still use to this day. He said basically that it’s easiest to make big tips when you’re being authentic. I now apply this to my professional work and it still works. I’m less anxious, awkward, and much less frustrated when I’m being myself. So don’t pick up new bad habits just to fit into a new culture (totally sounds like the high school peer-pressure talk, and it should – it’s good advice!). You’ll be much more successful, and find greater satisfaction, being embraced in their culture as good ‘ol you.

              ps. OMG I can’t believe you said that! I giggled hysterically. ;)

            2. Sarah*

              You have to pay your dues before you get the privilege of swearing. The same rules do not apply to the older and the younger people.

        2. Samata*

          I find the older I get the *more* I swear at work. Nothing out of hand, but a “shit” or a “damn” isn’t uncommon out of me but it’s generally in the context Alison used – “well damn, I missed that cue didn’t I?” or “shit, the printers out of ink and I need this stat”. Not in meetings or to my boss, but in my 20s I couldn’t imagine it. I am in my late 30s fwiw.

          1. Koko*

            Yeah, my office is pretty casual and there’s a reasonable/moderate amount of swearing, but it’s quite context dependent. I’ll casually swear when I’m chatting with my boss in the hall or at happy hour, but I wouldn’t dream of swearing while giving a presentation or asking questions about one I was listening to. Pretty much the same for everyone else here as far as I can tell.

            And it’s definitely just “vulgar words,” not vulgar topics. I hesitate to discuss certain sexually-tinged sitcom plots even at happy hour because I am really committed to the ideal of workplaces being asexual places.

            1. myswtghst*

              I think your first paragraph is key. When I’m venting / chatting with a coworker in my office with the door closed, swearing happens (sometimes a lot). When I’m on a call with just my manager and I’m frustrated, it might (but usually limited to stuff like “crappy”). When I’m leading a training class or out and about in the call center, those words are not in my vocabulary at all, because I’m expected to set an example for the people I’m training.

        3. Amber T*

          This. I’m the youngest on my team, and there are a handful of coworkers who drop the occasional (or not so occasional) f-bomb. Now I will happily and creatively create new curse words while sitting in traffic, or just overall not watch my language when hanging out with friends, but I try really hard not to let it slip at work. I noticed that when I let a few loose at work around coworkers who honestly don’t care, I tend to let them slip around coworkers who *might* care, and those coworkers also tend to have a say in things like my bonus or raise at the end of the year. And sure, while me saying “fudge” instead of another favorite F word when the printer jams on me for the umpteenth time that week doesn’t actually affect the quality of my work, I recognize that it could affect how the uppers perceive me, however unfair that may be.

        4. OP #1*

          Honestly, that’s what I’m going to try to do going forward. I don’t think anyone is going to accuse me of being too “proper.” Don’t think anyone will notice!

          1. Boo Berry*

            I agree with Alison that many years from now this will make for a hilarious story to tell friends over drinks but in the moment and immediately afterwards, I think we’re all cringing in sympathy for you, OP.

            I also work in a cuss friendly office but I typically rely on the idea of general cussing is fine, anything mentioning genitalia is vulgar and that mindset tends to keep me in the clear for most scenarios.

            However, if, like others have mentioned, you’re personally not used to cussing and we’re attemtpting to adapt to the company culture, I really don’t think your coworkers with more spicy language are going to notice you not cussing. Most cussers don’t even notice they’re cussing themselves really, let alone when those around us do.

            I think you’ll be fine. This is definitely not as bad as the woman who called her boss’s daughter a whore.

            1. Koko*

              I also feel on the fence about “shit” – it’s not sexual but it’s still a bit more graphic than damn or hell. It’s somewhere slightly more acceptable than the sexual/genitalia swear words, but still iffy. I have mostly trained myself to say, “shoot” when I’m expressing dismay and “doo-doo” when I’m describing how I feel when I’m sick or the quality of a product we’re evaluating.

              Oddly enough, I don’t substitute for the f-bomb at work – I just avoid it – and still use it pretty liberally in my personal life. But training myself to say a substitute word for “shit” became a full-time habit I couldn’t break. And none of my friends, who also swear liberally, have ever side-eyed or commented on my choice to use “doo-doo” instead. Nobody really notices or cares if you don’t swear.

              1. Amy2*

                This might work for you but I wouldn’t recommend this widely… if a colleague, friend or really any adult used the word “doo-doo” in front of me I’d find it bizarre and it would definitely make me think twice about them. It’s basically baby-talk in the workplace. It comes off as really weird. Why not just avoid the word entirely, or use a more common replacement like “crap”?

                1. Just Employed Here*

                  Or learn the word for “shit” in a foreign language, one that you are pretty sure no one in the office speaks?

                  I swear (ha!) my printer jams less now that I’m cursing it in Russian… :-D

                2. Former Employee*

                  Yes to foreign language. “Merde” is a good replacement for sh!t, but you have to pronounce it correctly. It’s sort of “meh” with an “rd” at the end; remember to pronounce the “r” with the appropriate French roll. (Or just be eating a French roll when you say the word which should make it more difficult for others to determine if you pronounced it correctly.)

                3. SimonTheGreyWarden*

                  I confess I’ve started saying Kakamora (like from Moana) because it has nice strong fricatives and that vocal drop on Mora.

                4. Koko*

                  I could see how it could sound like baby talk, but I feel like baby-talk has more to do with intonation. Nobody reacts to, “This tool is a big pile of doo-doo,” or, “I was out yesterday because I felt like doo-doo,” like I’ve baby-talked to them because I say it in a flat, low-register adult tone of voice, not a cooing baby-talk voice.

          2. Observer*

            You are so right. As long as it’s just you not swearing rather than you silently passing judgement, most people won’t think about it at all. It doesn’t sound like you’ll ever come off as “Miss Disapproving Prim and Proper.” That’s really all most people care about.

            1. Kala*

              I work in an office with lax rules on profanity. There’s a line, but it’s not where it is in most offices. I used to work in training, and it was common that some new employees would misinterpret where the line was, and go over it (sometimes way over it). We made a point to jump on it pretty quickly to address it, because it was better for us to do that than to let it become a pattern until the wrong person to be offended, leading to real consequences. As long as it didn’t happen again, everybody pretty much forgot about the faux pas. The safest route is to back way off and avoid profanity for a while. If you want to add a little back in later, do so after you’ve figured out where the line is. If you never do, that’s fine — no one will notice or care. I work with plenty of co-workers who never swear at the office, although I personally do.

              fwiw, in my office the comment in your letter would be over the line. I think it has to do with it being a direct reference to a vulgar action, and also being targeted at the person you’re talking to, rather than oneself, or an inanimate object like a printer. Your office norms may vary.

          3. AKchic*

            When it comes to cussing – it’s all about timing. Sometimes, it’s not a good time to drop that creative invective or f-bomb. Other times – let ‘er rip!

            There’s also a difference between colorful invective and sexually explicit “what did you just say?!” Generally speaking, if it can be considered innuendo or thought of in a sexual light – it does not belong in the workplace, period. That runs afoul of sexual harassment P&P’s and laws. When in doubt – don’t do it.

            Also, don’t be afraid to shake it up a bit. Shakespearean insults are wonderfully creative, insulting, amusing, and not exactly “cussing” in modern parlance. It can also confuse people. As an added bonus, you might even start an office competition on who can be the most creative and get some mental juices flowing (and a small pot/award system going).

          4. SheLooksFamiliar*

            OP, everyone I know has had a moment like this, myself included, and I promise you’ll be able to laugh about it someday. You handled the situation well, and know what to watch for. Every office has its own ‘language’, and you’ll figure it out. Don’t beat yourself up, please!

          5. One of the Sarahs*

            If it helps, here’s the advice my partner gave her apprentice about swearing: there’s a difference between swearing at/about things, and at/about people you work with. So in a lot of offices, saying “the f-ing printer’s out of paper again” and “which arsehole used the printer last and didn’t change the paper?”, even though the latter is technically less profane.

            And while I’m not being exactly grammatically correct here, there’s a difference in using swearwords as adjectives/exclamations than as nouns and verbs, if that makes sense. So it might be ok to use the F word in some ways, but not when it makes someone think of actually f-ing!

            I totally get that this whole thing is mortifying (& I hope writing in has helped exorcise that!) but I’m sure Future You will be laughing about it, when the topic gets onto work blunders.

            1. Rana*

              I agree with that. I’m fine with people dropping something and saying “Oh, Fk!” or “Shit!” but if someone says “F him” or “You shit” I find that offensive.

              1. teclatrans*

                As a teenager I discovered (the hard way) that this was my parent’s line too. And it really was a discovery and a lesson, one I still turn to today.

        5. Amadeo*

          Same. At the last small, locally owned business I worked at, most of the staff, including the owner/boss were potty mouths and comfortable with it. I didn’t really care, never corrected them on it, but never swore myself, either. I noticed after a while that most of the other staff I worked closely with began to censor themselves or apologize when swearing in conversation with me. I have no idea why. Only the owner, who was so self absorbed he wouldn’t notice what kind of language I used anyway didn’t pick up on the habit.

          OP, if you are mindful of your language, sometimes people start to follow your lead (not always, but definitely sometimes). Who knows, you could start a trend!

          1. Chameleon*

            Well, as an inveterate swearer myself, I guarantee they were still swearing. Just not around you. They probably thought you were horribly offended by swearing, which is fine if that’s the impression you want to give. But I doubt it will change the office culture.

            1. Amadeo*

              I did qualify that with ‘around me’. I don’t think I gave the impression that I was horribly offended, at least not intentionally. I never said a word about the language they liked to use, I simply didn’t use it myself.

            2. Bleeborp*

              I know as a swearer I will only swear at work with people I’ve heard also swear. I didn’t realize until just now that that’s what I do but I think it’s just generally a good idea to try and modify based on your audience. I don’t assume the coworkers who don’t swear are deeply offended by curse words or anything but if they aren’t doing it at work, I won’t do it around them either. I don’t feel like I’m being oppressed or anything, it’s good to be able to express oneself with and without that kind of language! Same goes for crassness- some of us are more crass than others -I could reasonably say the “suck my dick” line around some coworkers but definitely not my boss, who I’ve barely heard curse and it’s definitely something I’d say in my personal life because I’m just like that (I’m a woman as well.)

            3. Specialk9*

              Chameleon, you sound more judgy about Amadeo not swearing than they were about people swearing. Kinda interesting, that.

              1. Chameleon*

                Yeah, I think I was doing that thing where you accidentally map your experience with one person on someone else because they share a trait. Sorry about that.

                In my case, this comment just really reminded me of a woman I worked with once who Did Not Swear Or Take Our Savior’s Name In Vain. She made it quite clear that she thought herself very morally superior because of it (and because she went to church, and only wore modest skirts with pantyhose, and was married early so avoided fornication, and was properly home on time to cook her husband dinner…she was, um, interesting). I swear a fair amount without thinking much about it, which was very normal for that work culture. But I and other co-workers definitely started to censor ourselves because we didn’t want to deal with her “y’all little heathens are going to burn for eternity” looks she would give to anyone who swore in her hearing, regardless of whether we were talking to her.

        6. Goosela*

          Exactly my thoughts as well.

          Sometimes when I am alone in my closed office I’ll let the occasional “Shit!” out when I realize a mistake somewhere or if I misplaced something, but I don’t think anyone in the company has ever heard me swear.

          I swear a lot in my personal life, but I would really have to force it at work. I have to meet with execs at my company weekly. They constantly say things like “bastards, assholes, dickheads, shit-stirrers” about clients, vendors, and even some employees. I probably could get away with letting out some swears easily, but I prefer to err on the side of professionalism, keeping my work persona separate from my social persona.

          I almost liken language to wardrobe. I ran into my CFO outside of work once and he said he was surprised I owned jeans (I work in a business casual office…emphasis on the casual, but I dress as if I work in business professional…) I am in my mid-twenties and rose very quickly in my company. Working with all 40+ year old men…I feel like I’ll be judged negatively if I get too lax in my communication or dress.

        7. ouinne*

          I have found that the safest thing is never to swear, too. I swear like a sailor at home so if I don’t have a strict no swearing rule at work I’m always afraid I’ll go too far and make people blush.

      2. Nita*

        Yeah. I feel really bad for OP. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with cursing in some situations, but feeling like you have to constantly use foul language to fit in… ugh. It almost feels like a form of hazing for those who don’t enjoy it.

      3. Your Weird Uncle*

        My stepson just turned 13 and as one of his ‘presents’ his father and I are allowing him to use one curse word in front of us this year. It’s on the milder spectrum of cursing (think ‘crap’ or ‘damn’), he’s only allowed to use it at our house (we don’t want to hear about him using it at his other house or school, etc.), and he’s not allowed to use it front of his little brother, even at our house. We think learning the appropriate and not appropriate times of cursing is a big part of becoming an adult!

        Actually, come to think of it, we gave him the option when he turned 13 but I still haven’t heard him use it, so chances are he’ll just never be a swearer. :)

        1. Who the eff is Hank?*

          I’m 28 and still don’t swear around my mom, ever. I don’t know why but it’s ingrained in me that you don’t swear around parents. At home or with friends, I probably unconsciously drop a curse word every other sentence.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I do but I’m trying to break myself of the habit. I tried to break myself of using the F word on Twitter, but so many outrageous things happen that “fecking” just isn’t strong enough sometimes. At least I can try to use it more judiciously. I’ve worked in places like this too, where people toss expletives around like candy. It can be done; you just have to be really conscious of what you say before you say it.

            There’s a character in my book who has a habit of dropping curses, so it’s a comedy of “Oops, sorry.” I included it because I can really relate to it!

          2. Mallory Janis Ian*

            I read a quote somewhere that said, basically, that parents and kids are both trying to avoid cursing in front of each other. Like, the parents curse, but not in front of the kids; and vice versa for the kids.

            I curse pretty freely at home, but I hardly ever curse at work. Never with superiors, and with my peers, only when we’re in a friendly/casual situation (going to lunch, etc.), but not when we’re doing actual work.

            The other day at home, I slammed my finger in a door and I later said to my son, “It hurt like an M.F.!” (using the initials and not saying the actual word). He said, “Wow, it really must hurt; you never censor your words in front of me!” Which is funny, because he noticed I was more conservative with my language when I was actually in pain versus how freely I speak when I’m fine.

            1. Rainy*

              You can generally tell when I’ve really hurt myself versus minimal damage because I will swear like a sailor if I stub a toe or get a papercut, but, e.g., when I fell in the tub a few months ago and pulled every muscle I own, I said “oh, man” and then “poo”.

              1. SC Anonibrarian*

                me too. my husband was really worried when i slammed my finger into his truck door and very quietly and calmly asked him to come open the door and spot me so i could sit & lie down before i passed out. That was one of those ‘it hurts pretty bad now and I have literally about 5 seconds before it starts to hurt sooooo much worse; no time to spend being dramatic here” moments.

                It’s weird the difference between ‘ow i hurt myself’ ‘f*ck that hurts’ and ‘huh, i have just seriously damaged myself, shit just got real’

                I cursed a whooole lot more in the weeks afterward.

              2. Rana*

                Same. And same for my young child. Minor frustration = giant yelling fit. Genuine emergency = quiet gasp and silent tears.

                I wonder if it’s some instinct to protect oneself when vulnerable?

              3. SignalLost*

                Heh, I do something like this. What OP said would be mild next to some of my “I moderately dislike that person” or “this machine is frustrating me” swearing. I tend strongly to expressions that code as hyperbole, whether swearing or otherwise. And yet, the worst possible thing I can call someone is tacky. If I call you tacky, you are preeetty close to irredeemable in my eyes. Doing something tacky is a clear warning that you are about to become tacky.

                I’m pretty sure I have one for situations and one for inanimate objects but I can’t think what they are.

          3. Anna*

            I swear more liberally around my dad than my mom, but I do swear around my mom. And at work, but only in front of coworkers/peers/my boss. But…raunchy is a bit different than swearing and raunchy is not okay, really.

            1. Windchime*

              I try not to swear around my parents. My mom is almost 80 and doesn’t curse except to spell S-H-I-T. She won’t say it, but she will spell it. Exceptions are made for extraordinary circumstances, but only when combined with “bull-” at the front.

              My dad never swears other than Hell or Damn.

              1. DecorativeCacti*

                Around my family it’s called “the snow word” because anytime you would tell my grandma it was snowing, she would just say, “Shit!”

                So, if you bump your knee and are trying not to swear: “Ah, snow word!” “Oh, snow!”

                1. Not a Morning Person*

                  i LOVE this. Snow is “snow”. And with the snow we’ve been having and the mess it makes it’s really “snow”. I think you’ve given me a new favorite expression!

              2. Typhon Worker Bee*

                My Grandma never swore ever, but wanted to express her extreme dislike of someone once. She ended up calling her a B-I-C-H because she really didn’t like the woman, but couldn’t quite bring herself to even spell a bad word properly.

          4. Annabelle*

            Yeah, I generally try not to swear in front of my parents. My mother, who has sworn like a sailor my entire life, gets incredibly upset if I utter so much as a “damn” in front of her. It’s so odd to me.

        2. Traveling Teacher*

          I think this is brilliant. You’re teaching him how to use adult-type words contextually and not making a huge deal about saying a mild one, so he’s likely to actually think about what he’s saying and not just let a torrent of words flow in any situation. And, anthropologically, we tend to swear around people we’re trying to relate to or feel comfortable with (at least once we’re grown ups and not teenagers!) I wish more parents would intentionally teach their kids directly about swearing–would make my job a lot easier!)

        3. AKchic*

          I have a similar approach. Once my kids hit junior high, they are allowed to say “damn” and “crap” because I know they are going to say it in school anyway, so I might as well get them used to saying it *in context* and saying it appropriately.
          Once they hit high school the other words get thrown in the mix. Again, they have to use it in context properly. I’ve never done baby-talking (oh the fights I had with my inlaws about baby-talking!). My kids are articulate (even without the “sentence enhancers”), well-read and know how to walk and chew gum at the same time. They know when it’s appropriate to cuss and when it isn’t.

        4. BeautifulVoid*

          A while ago on another forum, I read about how a poster and her husband allowed their similarly-aged kids to curse in front of them one time per month without consequences. (The one exception being that it couldn’t be directed AT someone, like no calling your sister a shithead, etc.) Their reasoning was 1) as someone else said elsewhere, if they were limited, they had to really think about what they were saying and not drop it in every other word, aka, if you’re going to use it, make it a good one, and 2) sometimes, like when you stub your toe on the door and it REALLY hurts, just saying “oh, poo!” doesn’t cut it. I like it.

        5. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian*

          I was that kid who just never swore. No particular reason, I just didn’t.
          And then in college, I was on the ROTC Ranger Challenge team. With those folks, it was F-this, F-that, F-every third word (very conversational use of the F-word, really).
          Suddenly, I was all-in on the casual cuss-train! It wasn’t even a conscious thing!

          After realizing the change in my speech patterns, I made more of an effort to dial it all back, and since then I curse problem about as much as your average person that uses such invective. In the workplace though, I keep it minimal and only about objects/feelings at situations, not about people, and only for emphasis.

        6. Thursday Next*

          We’ve had these conversations with our 10-y.o. about music. For instance, talking about the meaning and context of LMM rapping “Meanwhile, Britain keeps shittin’ on us endlessly” vs. the man on the subway calling someone else a “shithead,” or why someone saying “f- it all” is different from someone saying “f- you, bitch.” These are interesting discussions and I enjoy having them.

        7. Chameleon*

          I actually swear in front of my three-year-old all the time. She repeated the words once or twice, but I just explained to her that some words were Mama and Dada words, and not Little Girl words. She hasn’t used them since (except once she shyly asked me if she could say a Mama word, and when I answered yes she quietly whispered a swear. It was about the cutest thing ever.)

          I look at it like drinking, or sex. Societies where these things are looked on as Bad Things that only grown-ups do and they should be ashamed of doing it, and that they should never be even discussed around children, tend to have much worse rates of teenage alcohol abuse and unsafe sex than societies where they are treated normally and children are taught from an early age how to have a decent idea of what is appropriate and what isn’t.

        8. Gloucesterina*

          As an English teacher, it does my heart good to hear about folks talking with their kids about how language use is contextual: there is no single one way to write or speak that is correct for all situations :)

        9. Leah*

          I don’t think I’ve ever sworn in front of my mom! I *never once* heard my parents swear (my mom even now) as a kid but my dad started in my twenties. He still didn’t hear me swear until one time he really enthusiastically went to hug someone (arms outstretched but almost in fist-like form) and he accidentally clocked me in the nose. It was pretty hilarious (both the attempted hug, punch, and the f bomb) once the pain subsided.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      OP#1, you have my sympathies and fremdschämen, as well.

      I think it’s important to remember that there’s a difference between swearing and vulgarity regarding sex acts (or sexual behavior). Of course there are workplaces and industries that seem to prize vulgarity as the only vehicle for verbal communication, but in my experience, the majority of workplaces are going to have real problems with salty references to sex acts and sexual behavior. So maybe dial it down a bit for now, excise the sex-related references entirely, and be judicious when swearing. And honestly, this is probably useful, anyway, because it can be hard to switch from a swearing-heavy context to non-swearing contexts.

      I have faith that this will be a hilarious story in 5-10 years.

      1. KarenT*

        Agreed regarding vulgarity vs swearing. I also think there was a timing issue (with perhaps just a hint of insubordination). OP, If your boss was telling you she’s blunt while giving instruction, that sounds like a training convo, which even in a causual environment isn’t the time for swearing/jokes.

        1. Kathenus*

          PCBH, I agree fully on being very aware of this differentiation. Two young direct reports were regularly using similar phrases to each other in jest, in front of other employees and interns. One of the interns was so offended she quit, which is when I first found out about it. Then followed numerous meetings with each of them, one including the head of HR, about this as a violation of both appropriate behavior and our sexual harassment policy. There was no follow-up discipline in this case, but more of a ‘Scared Straight’ approach to dealing with it. So OP, even in a workplace with a tolerance for foul language, hard agree to making sure it’s never sexual in nature. Sounds like you got a good lesson, and handled it well when your supervisor addressed it.

          1. turquoisecow*

            Oh, that’s a good point. Any sexual overtones could be construed (or misconstrued) as sexual harassment on the point of either the intended listener or any other onlookers (on-listeners?) who overhear the conversation. A lot of workplaces are probably rethinking their sexual harassment policies (I know mine is) in light of recent events, so even if swearing is okay, things with sexual overtones may not be.

      2. TL -*

        Not to mock the OP but it definitely gave me the first laugh of a very long and crappy day.

        As my mother would say, OP, you have brass ovaries!

      3. anon scientist*

        In addition to the difference between swearing and vulgarity, I also think there’s a difference between swearing about something versus about/to someone. My office is pretty casual, and it would be normal to swear about having to finish the f-ing teapot status report, but not OK to swear about F-ing Fergus not getting me the information I need.

        1. Peggy*

          I work in a casual environment and my personal rule about swearing is that it’s fine to occasionally use a swear to express frustration or humor regarding a process, a task, a system, or my f-ing laptop… but I steer clear of using them in any context when talking about colleagues or clients! My coworkers all seem to unofficially follow the same rule I do – respectful to each other, not sexual or vulgar, but plenty of “this meeting is f-ing BS!” comments shared around.

        2. boo*

          Yeah, I think it’s when it’s directed at a person that it crosses a line, not just the sexual part. (By the way, OP I’ll be honest, I might have laughed before telling you never to do that again. It will be a horror-hilarious story in two years and just plain hilarious in five, I swear. I mean promise.)

          So yeah, I think even if your office goes further, “Not sexual, not at a person” is a good rule to get used to, because it’s the habit you will eventually need. (Or you could just not swear but f*** that.)

          “F***ing teapot status reports again. They’re teapots, have their feelings really changed since the last one?” OK
          “F*** you, you f***ing teapot-f***er!” Not OK
          “Why don’t you bring that teapot over here and f*** me with it?” Not OK, also sexual harassment.

          1. Catalin*

            “Teapot-f*er” is definitely going in the annals of this site.

            Also, for what it’s worth, using sanitized versions of words are just as effective (and more fun!). Examples:
            What the Actual!

            1. AnitaJ*

              I come out with “What the Fudgsicle?” all the time when I’m by myself at my desk, so if anyone overhears it won’t be terribly offensive, but also, I’m sure if someone overheard they’d think I was really weird.

              1. Tiny Orchid*

                An immature newt is also called an eft. I make a lot of use of “What the immature newt?!?” (or used to, especially when working for an environmental education organization).

              2. Lindsay J*

                I’ve heard people use that before! (Maybe on a tv show or something?)

                So I wouldn’t think it was weird, just that you were trying to avoid cursing for some reason.

              3. BeautifulVoid*

                Years ago, I had a manager who liked “Shut the front door!” The first time she used it, I thought it was hilarious, because once she started the phrase, I was obviously expecting “Shut the F(something else)!”

                1. Specialk9*

                  I was told that’s the point of the replacement terms. You’ve already started the curse, your brain kicks into gear, you can change it midway. “Sh—ut the front door!”

                  Whereas “Stone of a peach!” is just a straight-up switch from the beginning, useful for the plosive sound that feels so cathartic.

                2. Nobby Nobbs*

                  Out of nesting, but Emi., did you know the reason they put that one in Spy Kids is because someone used it on set to avoid having to feed the swear jar?

                3. Emi.*

                  I didn’t—I actually didn’t know it was from Spy Kids, I just learned it from a friend in college. Thanks!

                4. One of the Sarahs*

                  I never understood a woman I know when I was a kid, who’d do the explosive beginning of a word, drawing it out and then swerving half way through. So it was all SHHHHHHHugar and JEEEEEEpers, and so on. Everyone knew the word she was going for, and what she meant, and it seemed a bit pointless – like she was trying to draw attention to the fact she didn’t swear, even though the intention was there.

                  (A long time ago I worked with kids, and we’d all make up words that weren’t technically swearwords, but sounded like them – and then the kids would pick them up, thinking they were swearwords they didn’t know, and use them. It really made me think about the intent, because ultimately it didn’t matter that our nonsense words didn’t have meanings, they just sounded filthy in context.)

            2. Specialk9*

              Teapot fucker is making me cringe but laugh, because it seems roughly possible, but oh so inadvisable.

        3. LQ*

          In addition to this rule, I also aim for a 1 word rule. Nothing that is a complex swear or takes multiple words (even if several of the words are inoffensive on their own). It helps keep it out of the land of vulgar for the most part.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            That’s a good distinction–there’s a difference between “Verb! Why won’t this printer work?” and “I will verb if this doesn’t work!” or “I’m going to verb this printer!”

              1. Decima Dewey*

                Back in the day, the publisher of Hemingway’s novels changed all the curse words to “obscenity”.

                The story is that the editor wrote down the specific words he wanted to discuss with those higher up on his desk calendar. A higher up saw it, and joked that if the editor had to remind himself to do those specific things, maybe he was working too hard.

                I try to keep my swearing internal at work.

        4. Hurricane Wakeen*

          This reminds me of the time an overly rigid high school teacher disciplined me in class and mentioned it to my parents at PT conferences because I called a stapler a “poopyhead.” She was….strange.

          1. ZuZu's Petals*

            I once got a detention in high school because a teacher overheard me complaining about my dad. I said he was “so freaking annoying.” It was 5pm after a basketball game, and there was no one else around. 15 years later and it still bugs….

            1. Lindsay J*

              I got in trouble with a gym teacher in high school because they overheard me using the word “asinine” and assumed that it was a profanity.

        5. Anonyna*

          Same here. We’re pretty casual around here, particularly for a federal government office, and dropping f bombs in casual conversation is a terrible habit we all have. However, if I were to toss one in the direction of say, my boss or coworker or any person really, there would be problems and meetings and just a giant mess. So no. Swearing at my work is directed at systems and situations, but not people.

        6. SheLooksFamiliar*

          True story: decades ago my first job out of college was with a very small ad agency. My final interview was with the owner, who described the pressure cooker environment and the occasional displays of temper. He said, ‘What would you do if I came to your desk and said, ‘What did that G** damn m***** f****ing son of a b**** tell you about our mailing lists?’ I said, ‘You forgot a**hole.’ He laughed, I got the job, and that’s how I learned to swear. Really.

          1. Specialk9*

            Hysterical! That’s the kind of quick-witted response I think of the next day.

            I had an interview once where the interviewer told me “we like to tell off-color jokes a lot here, I hope you’re not offended easily”. I kinda got the impression that he wasn’t talking about cursing, but sexism and racism and such.

            I noped out of that job, and he was *so mad*. He hadn’t realized that I had any power in that transaction, he thought I was begging for a job and he could stomp on my toes with impunity. It was such a weird and unsettling situation.

            1. SheLooksFamiliar*

              I don’t know if I was quick-witted as much as young and dumb, but it worked. Thankfully, this boss wasn’t a sexist or racist jerk, he was just sweary when angry. I could handle that.

              Also, I’m glad you took yourself out of the running for that particular job, and this guy’s response is exactly how I imagine a racist and/or sexist jerk with self-esteem issues would react. How dare you turn him down? Don’t you recognize his elevated status? How can he feel good about himself unless he has underlings begging for his favor? Maybe I’m imagining too much here, but you get me.

    3. Casuan*

      OP1, I’m curious: Is the profanity in your office on par with what you told your manager or do you think you went overboard? I mean, evidently you went overboard, I guess I’m just curious as to how far overboard.
      And no indications of a lax atmosphere during your interview process? If the office uses words do freely, I’d think that at least some mild curse words would have been said, although I can see how maybe not.
      Seriously, thanks for the courage to write to AAM & to detail what you did. That couldn’t have been easy!

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I also think there are different standards for different employees. We have some casual employees here who seem almost deliberately outré, as if they are purposely flouting convention. They are some of the most valuable people in the office (big salespeople, basically), so I almost feel like it’s a status thing. The same thing would not be accepted at all from junior employees or non-rockstars. Unfortunately that’s exactly the kind of nuance a junior person would be likely to miss.

    4. bridget*

      Also sympathetic! When I was younger I remember trying to fit into a culture of salty language and occasionally going WAY overboard in cringeworthy ways because I wasn’t a practiced hand at the particular level they were operating on. I also had the immediate reaction of an internal
      “WTF just came out of my mouth?!” I’ve since learned the lesson (as it sounds you have) to just … not :) I didn’t ever do something like this in front of a boss to this degree, but only by the grace of god go I.

    5. Tuesday Next*

      OP, ouch, I am cringing for you.

      In my experience – in an environment where swearing is acceptable and even expected to an extent, it’s also okay not to swear. People may notice and (bizarrely) comment on it at first, but the novelty wears off. It will only across as stuffy or overly conservative if your other behaviour backs up that impression.

      You also don’t want to train your brain to think that this normal office behaviour and then have to train yourself out of it when you move to another company.

      1. Morag*

        Yes, it’s easier to just train yourself not to swear or use vulgarities at all, ever, than to be constantly sussing out what the line is. And really no one will ever notice that you don’t swear “enough”.

      2. Antilles*

        This is a really good point. Even if your company/industry is fine with swearing or vulgarity, it’s absolutely fine to still watch your tongue.
        It’s also worth noting that even if swearing is fine, it’s not necessarily the best look. Maybe nobody will be offended if you curse in irritation so there’s no negative consequences…but if you don’t lose your cool and instead just calmly address the situation without getting irritated, that’ll win you respect about how “Jane was really impressive in dealing with that jerk vendor. I know I would have been telling that bleepity bleep what for”.

    6. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

      I’ve worked in kitchens were the swearing and insults could have blistered the paint off the wall. Everyone took part and it was understood that nothing was personal. Some were pretty original and profanely funny. Then I moved on to a school kitchen and I quickly learned to swear like Ned Flanders.

    7. Snowglobe*

      It wasn’t clear to me from the letter – does the employee normally swear, or was she just trying to add this type of language to her speech in order to ‘fit in’? For what it’s worth, I don’t think there is any reason to swear just because everyone else does. Most people aren’t going to notice that you *aren’t* swearing; they’re going to notice if you say something that is far more graphic than they are used to hearing.

      1. Penny Lane*

        There’s a difference between swearing and vulgarity. If I drop something on my toe and say “F-bomb! This hurts!” that’s not vulgar. What the OP said was pretty vulgar, though.

          1. Sigrid*

            I’m reminded of Gordon Ramsey, famous for his swearing, saying “bleep” every other word when he was guest-staring on the Muppets.

    8. What's with today, today?*

      I cant imagine ANY scenario ever, in or outside of work, where that kind of comment is acceptable.

      1. LilyP*

        That’s a little much. As a twenty-something who’s comfortable with swearing, I’d find that comment inoffensive and pretty funny (especially coming from a woman) in a friendly setting. It was obviously too much for OPs office but it’s not really *that* shocking

        1. Bananka*

          I tend to agree, the comment was so shocking due to its hostility – it was directed against the manager, and that’s what made it bad. The words themselves were probably fine for that office.

        2. Elizabeth H.*

          Same. I am 30 y.o woman and have definitely said totally analogous stuff in casual settings. I don’t have a particularly “edgy” personal style if that makes sense (I wear pink all the time, have a high pitched voice, have an enthusiastic/positive affect style in conversations) so I feel like I have some runway for dirty language I think!

        3. grace*

          Yeah I’m a female and have definitely told my friends they can suck my imaginary … ;) But the difference is that’s outside of work, not inside.

          OP, don’t let it get you down too much! Finding norms when there aren’t any clearly defined is hard for everyone, regardless of professional experience.

        4. Samata*

          I do have agree with that. I’d find it pretty funny if, say, my best friend said it to me (both females) but quite shocking if a co-worker said it to anyone.

            1. Anna*

              Okay! Then you wouldn’t use it. Cool. What people are saying is that blanket statements about never using it in any setting anytime or anywhere is overkill unless you personally don’t want to use it.

        5. Millennial Lawyer*

          I’m in an office where there are many young people who curse openly and some of us discuss more personal things including sex between ourselves. Our supervisors openly swear and are hilarious. If I said what OP said to my supervisor though – it would be an ISSUE.

        6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Eh, I’m in the “never ok” camp, but I’m apparently also stodgy. You should see the disagreements I get into with my sister over her prolific use of the term “butthurt.”

          1. Elizabeth H.*

            I hate that term! I don’t know why, I just do. It seems crass and not even especially apropos of whatever.

      2. Helpful*

        I agree. It’s joking about sexual favors at work, which is super gross. Even in a casual atmosphere, it could be building up to sexual harrassmeny territory.

          1. Anna*

            That doesn’t matter. It’s about creating an atmosphere and you can do that whether you have the specific organ referenced or not.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            It’s still pretty bad, especially in the workplace. The literality doesn’t matter, except that it would have been much worse if a man had said it to a woman.

            It’s a textbook violation of sexual harassment policies (not saying it’s enough on its own for a lawsuit, but saying it’s the kind of practice that could easily get an employer in trouble if left unchecked). I get that there are industries where that kind of vulgarity is seen as no big, but I would argue they’re the minority of fields in which that kind of thing is ok.

      3. LurkNoMore*

        In the movie ‘Arthur’, the butler – the amazing late John Gielgud – it talking back and forth with Arthur, who is taking a bath. At one point the butler mutters ‘Perhaps you would like me to come in there and wash your dick for you, you little shit.’
        I can’t tell you the thousands of times I have silently uttered that to myself when co-worker/boss asked me to do something that they were completely capable of doing themselves. But again, all internal monologue.

    9. Thursday Next*

      You handled the situation well, and it doesn’t sound like this will have lasting negative repercussions for you.

      I think it’s fine to be a non-swearer among swearers—I moved from a high-swear workplace to a very formal one, language-wise, and even after leaving that job, kept my workplace language swear-free.

      If I had been in conversation with you, I would have responded differently to your profanity if you had been a man, and it seems from your comment that you recognize that possibility. I have to say that I’m in favor of all of us purging gendered profanity from our discourse, especially gendered anatomical profanity, but this isn’t a view I’m actively pushing on anyone (except my own children).

    10. Pine cones huddle*

      I think the advice is good. I tell people this all the one. Say the f-word all you want, doesn’t bother me at all. But vulgarity is another matter. I guess it’s like this in my office too. Everyone has sworn, some more frequently than others. But no one has ever said “suck my d”. Or like my brother in law… fine to make a joke that uses a bad word, but really vulgar jokes are a horse of a different color. Or I’d use profanity around my parents and I’ve heard my father drop the f-bomb my whole life, but I have never heard him say something vulgar.

  2. Knitting Cat Lady*


    This is important for your manager to know!

    This could have huge consequences for your employer. And if I were a higher up in your company I’d want to start an internal audit immediately.

  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, it’s ok to share this information, but try not to pass judgment or make your own suppositions about whether your coworker actually committed the crimes she’s accused of committing. First, it’s above your paygrade from a business perspective, and second, it’s really not related to the problem you’re experiencing, which is an increased workload from an unexpected and extended coworker absence.

    [Also, I can rant about money bail but will try to refrain—instead, I’ll say that being stuck in jail because of it wreaks all sorts of havoc on people’s lives.]

    1. Engineer Girl*

      Oh my. I’m adding to this. If you have a secret clearance you are REQUIRED to notify your boss. This is adverse information. You need to notify your boss NOW.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        BTW, your entire facility can lose access if this is mishandled.
        This is super serious. You have to report it.

        1. SpaceNovice*

          +10000, this is a really bad situation in every way. And hiding this information I think can even land you in jail in some cases. The fact that your coworker has been charged with financial fraud and you have a financial system makes this a potential Worst Case Scenario.

          Thank you EG for adding the link. Everyone should read that if they’re a federal contractor. For those not in the know, FSO means Facility Security Officer. They’re generally tasked with security of a facility, hence their name.

      2. Casuan*

        OP2, before I read about the clearances I was going to tell you that even though your intentions are good, it isn’t your place to tell your employer.
        The clearances change everything. You need to tell your boss.

        1. Tuesday Next*

          I don’t understand the nuances of the clearance issue (not in the US) but I’m not sure I agree. Someone is away from work for an unspecified time, there’s been limited communication from her, and it’s impacting on OP and the team. A family emergency suggests that the person will be back at work in the short term (unless they communicate otherwise) and that’s clearly not the case here.

          1. Irishgal*

            I was involved in a case (sort of) like this is 10 years ago. A GP note came in via family advising us the employee would be off for 9 months. Occupational Health referral was made as standard practice for advice and however no-one could make direct contact with the employee. Turns out it wasn’t illness keeping him from work but the locks,10 foot wall, guards and razor wire of a prison where he was on remand for attempted murder. He was promptly removed from the occupational sick pay scheme and suspended pending outcome of the trial. If he had RTW he would have been investigated for attempting to defraud company for claiming sick pay (they got 6 months full pay) scheme.

            1. Foreign Octopus*

              What the hell?!

              This is insane. A person was in prison for attempted murder and his doctor wrote him a note to say that he’d be off sick?

              I want to say this sounds like something that would happen in America (no offence, Americans) but judging from your username, I guess not.

              1. Marlene*

                That actually is kind of offensive. Americans aren’t the only citizens to scam employers. Plus, using a doctor’s note to cover up prison for nine months would be very unusual here because the doctor would face charges.

                1. LeRainDrop*

                  Yeah, this really doesn’t sound like something that would happen in America. I’m with Marlene.

                1. Penny Lane*

                  No, he insinuated that it’s a crazy enough story that it’s likely it would happen in America, because we seem to have a lot of crazies, which is kind of true. And before everyone gets all outraged, I’m using crazy in the colloquial sense, not Making Fun of People With Diagnosed Mental Illnesses.

                2. Lora*

                  Penny, I thought immediately of Florida Man…

                  Note for non-US people: there’s a lot of mandatory reporting of police blotter information in Florida specifically, so we have an unusual number of “wacky criminal” stories coming out of Florida, and the more amusing ones get picked up by the national news. Hence, Florida Man…

              2. Red Reader*

                And even barring the rest, being sick for nine months wouldn’t get their job held for them in America. (And here’s the part where someone complains about that too.)

                1. Falling Diphthong*

                  That was my first thought–your job doesn’t get held for you for nine paid months of six leave in the US. Not unless “the owner’s son” was the person in jail and we enter the wacky world of the small family run business.

                2. Jeanne*

                  That varies as well. My last company allowed you to come back within a year. Not legally required but very generous. They also still paid the employer’s share of health insurance for those whole 12 months.

                1. Kms1025*

                  Lol to Narise…preparing to be all pissed off at the America comment and then yours made me laugh out loud ; )

              3. LCL*

                It is less likely to happen in this American office because of how our RTW program is administered. Even if you are off for a specified length of time per the doctor, you have to bring in a form restating this every month.

                Interesting side tangent-a notorious serial killer, the BTK killer, was a municipal employee when he was arrested. His employer chose the most expedient route to fire him- he was fired for the no call/no show rule. He couldn’t call or show because he was in custody.

              4. Observer*

                There’s an old rule that applies here: If you need to say “no offense” then you ARE being offensive, and you know it.

            2. Tuesday Next*

              Holey moley. That’s some chutzpah right there.

              Also, where I live, you would not get 9 months of sick leave based on a GP note.

              1. sssssssssss*

                I dare say NO insurance company would accept a nine-month note from a GP.

                Most insurance companies would put this to a month by month or if you’re lucky, two months tops, basis, unless there was a very specific condition/ reason and in that case, a note from a GP (instead of say, a specialist, surgeon, etc.) won’t cut it.

                The GP who wrote that note, what kind of doctor would write up a note like that? Makes you wonder if he was fake.

                1. Samata*

                  I am thinking along the same line as Temperance. I dated a guy in college who’s mom was a nurse. She would write his brother doctor’s notes to get out of school all the time. Which, yes, I realize is illegal, but just saying it happens. All you need is one sheet from a pad.

              2. Nita*

                I am in the USA. I couldn’t even *get* a GP note when I came to the doc telling her my mental health is in the gutter and I need help like right now. It was work stress-related, and I would have given an arm or a leg for a note saying I need to be off work for a couple of days. After much begging, she just threw a card for a psychologist she knows at me – never saw that psychologist either, since their office never picked up the phone and took two months to return my voicemails. Now this is “like something that would happen in America.”

          2. UK Civil Servant*

            Clearances aren’t just a US thing; most countries have some system. This is a huge problem and the OP needs to pass the info to their boss.

            1. Super Secret Squirre*

              Yeah, this is a big deal. You can lose your clearance for all kinds of things — DUI, bankruptcy, etc – but this one is a no-brainer.

              An acquaintance lost her clearance because she had to declare bankruptcy, after a medical emergency that came out of nowhere. (Uniquely American situation, I know.) She was blameless but lost her job anyway.

              The base reasoning is that needing money can make one vulnerable to bad decisions (based on spies who have been caught).

              It’s no way to live, actually. It’s why I left that world.

          3. Engineer Girl*

            TuesdayNext – You left out the most significant detail – the arrest affidavit. How can you ignore that, especially since it lists details. Details such as:

            The competing thought is that the affidavit shows a lot of evidence, and she admitted to some of the charges when speaking with the police prior to her arrest.

            This takes it from rumor to highly likely.
            Per the document I linked to, it must be reported and then thoroughly investigated.
            It’s up to the investigators to decide if this is a problem.

                1. JB (not in Houston)*

                  Ok, first of all, I don’t have to “justify my position,” on this or anything else, though I’m always happy to provide more information if someone respectfully asks me to. In any case, my “position” is that your comment wasn’t clear that you were referring to the arrest rather than the likelihood that the employee was guilty, particularly because you said this: “especially since [the affidavit] lists details.” To me, that made it sound like the details in the affidavit made it more likely that the person committed the offense because I don’t see why more details in an affidavit for an arrest warrant makes it more likely that the warrant was carried out and the person was arrested. I’m not trying to nitpick your wording, just saying that I didn’t read your comment the way you apparently meant it. The existence of the affidavit made it more likely that the person was arrested (though I’ll disagree with you that more or less details in the affidavit have any bearing on the likelihood of the arrest happening, unless there are so few details that no magistrate would issue an arrest warrant), but it doesn’t make it more likely that the person committed the offense alleged.

                2. Engineer Girl*

                  JB – if you are in a discussion you must provide evidence for your assertion. Otherwise it is merely opinion and carries no weight.
                  The arrest details are specific enough that it makes it more likely that the coworker was arrested, not some other Jane Doe. The OP stated that the details lined up with other information she had about the coworker.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  JB is right, and it’s dangerous and problematic to draw the conclusions you’re drawing, EG. It’s one thing to say that the arrest is reportable. That’s true, and the affidavit, her incarceration, etc., are ample evidence that she’s been arrested. But that’s not evidence that she actually committed a crime, which I think is what JB is pushing back on.

                  An arrest affidavit and suggestions that the coworker admitted behavior to the police are not pieces of data that prove bad behavior. It’s extraordinarily common for even innocent people to admit to conduct that they didn’t even do when they’re arrested and/or interrogated without access to a lawyer.

                  An arrest affidavit is the bare minimum required to arrest someone (and don’t get me started on how often affidavits contain misstatements that lack an evidentiary basis just to provide reasonable cause for an arrest). Even an indictment is not proof that someone did it. This is why the presumption of innocence matters.

                  JB is pushing against OP’s suggestion that there’s enough “smoke” to prove that their coworker actually committed the crimes she’s accused of. JB is right that OP doesn’t know if their coworker engaged in any wrongdoing. OP only knows the charges are adequate to trigger reporting requirements under the clearance policy. Thus, OP should limit their commentary to the fact of arrest and refrain from speculating on their coworker’s guilt.

                4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Yikes, can I pull back on the “dangerous and problematic” language? EG, I apologize—I misread your argument, and I regret suggesting that you were arguing that the coworker is guilty. You’ve only argued that she’s been arrested, which is fair, imo.

              1. Engineer Girl*

                In short, you have several pieces of data pointing to an arrest. That is a mandatory reportable incident.

                1. Natalie*

                  Are you saying the affidavit makes it extremely likely that the coworker was arrested, or extremely likely that they are in fact guilty? I think the OP is suggesting the latter, but this comment makes it sound like you are suggesting the former.

                2. Engineer Girl*

                  I am saying it is extremely likely the coworker was arrested. And than means that it is a reportable incident.

            1. Observer*

              It doesn’t really matter how likely the underlying accusations are. The FACT is that the CW is in jail and has been arrested for crimes that are relevant to what they do.

              The rest is for the management to deal with.

          4. paul*

            With a security clearance it absolutely matters. I’ve never held them (not likely to), but I’ve had friends and family that have. Add into that that they’re a financial institution and these are financial crimes?

          5. Genny*

            Tuesday, because clearances give you access to classified information and classified settings, it is incredibly important that any potential threats are reported. You are required to report a divorce, bankruptcy, certain medications/diagnoses, or criminal charges because they all represent certain kinds of vulnerabilities. LW doesn’t need to give her own commentary (I don’t think she was planning to), but she absolutely does have to report the coworker’s criminal charges to the supervisor

            1. UK Civil Servant*

              Thinking about it, the fact the coworker has lied about it is a bigger problem for her clearance than the arrest (which may or may not turn into a conviction). Clearances are about assessing the individual’s risk of compromise (by bribery or blackmail etc): if someone is trying to hide something they’re a bigger risk than someone who is open about all their mistakes/ mishaps/ misdeeds.

                1. Anna*

                  Yeah, they’re going to be more concerned about the blackmail. It’s about what someone will be willing to do to avoid having a secret revealed. Integrity is an issue, but on the wider damage control scale someone can do more if they’re willing to give information in exchange for their secret being kept.

          6. Safetykats*

            Tuesday Next – as the OP also has a clearance, they are legally obligated to report any suspicion of a security problem. If they had no reason to believe this was anything but a coworker out sick, they would be in the clear. But since they do have reason to believe it’s a security issue, they need to report it – not just to the manager but to security as well. Not to do so makes them complicit in covering up the issue.

        2. Observer*

          The clearances make it more important, but even without that it IS the OP’s place to share the information. Not her conclusions, but the FACTS? 100%

          The facts of the matter are totally relevant to the work that they do and to their current and future ability to get their work done. It’s not like the OP cam across her information by doing anything illegal or unethical.

      3. Lynn Whitehat*

        Agreed. While I was reading the letter, at first I was on the side of “sure, let’s temper justice with mercy and pretend she is visiting her sick aunt or something”. But the clearance is a game-changer. She has to report it, whether or not the accusations are true, or whether or not she will eventually win.

        1. Chameleon*

          I think even without the clearance, the fact that she works in accounting and was charged with financial crimes is worth reporting. I mean, if she got in a bar fight and was charged with assault (or even if she was charged with..say, assaulting her ex), that might be a “let the courts handle it.” Or if it was a financial crime but she worked far away from any possible money handling. But the financial angle plus her job position definitely makes it information your boss needs to know.

          1. turquoisecow*

            Exactly. Regardless of whether or not the coworker is guilty, the fact that her alleged crime relates to her job – in this case the handling of money – means that the employer should know about it.

          2. Statler von Waldorf*

            Absolutely. I work in accounting, and If one of my employees was arrested for financial crimes, and I found that another employee knew and said nothing, I would fire both of them on the spot.

      4. OperaArt*

        Absolutely! Arrests, not just convictions, must be reported within a couple of days when you have a security clearance. The details may vary a little depending on the kind and level of clearance.

          1. No one knows I’m a cat*

            I’ve never had a security clearance, but I find it surprising that there’s no system that notifies the employer. Which only shows that we see things through the lens of our own profession (education) — if I were to get arrested for any reason, my employer would know very quickly. At least that’s what I’ve been told by a former supervisor who did appear to get such a report she was quite unhappy about. I have no personal experience on either side of that.

            1. Ani are you okay*

              You have way more faith in the abilities of our various law enforcement agencies to communicate with each other, let alone outside parties like school systems, than I do. But I would like to think you are right!

            2. Safetykats*

              Employees with security clearance are required to report these kinds of things themselves – including certain levels of offenses that don’t result in jail time (like traffic citations over a specified fine.) There is no system in place for local law enforcement to do so – even in education. Maybe you live in a town where there is some informal communication, but I assure you that law enforcement isn’t spending time every day calling the employers of everyone they have taken into custody, and has no requirement to do so.

            3. Doreen*

              There sometimes is a system – my job will be notified if I am arrested , at least if it happens in this state. But that’s because I work directly for the government and to get this job I had to be fingerprinted which gave me a state ID number and if I’m fingerprinted again (such as after an arrest) that number will pop up and my employer will be notified. It’s exactly the same system that notifies parole or probation officers that their clients have been arrested. Also, licensing agencies will be notified for people who hold certain licenses- not ordinary driver’s licenses for a non-driving related arrest, but the licensing agency will be notified if someone with a real estate license or security guard license or a license to drive a cab is arrested.
              I don’t know if it works that way for contractors or Federal employees with security clearances.

      5. Liane*

        I think coworker was required to report her arrest ASAP. Husband had clearances for a previous job and he told me quite seriously that if he ever got arrested, no matter how minor, I needed to call his boss and let him know ASAP because of the clearance.

      6. KTZee*

        I was coming in here to note the same thing – this is an adverse event and it must be reported due to the security clearances in play. If OP does not report promptly, her own clearance could be at risk.

        Also, if OP holds a clearance and doesn’t know this, she may want to suggest to her employer that they up their game on training/policy guidance. At my employer we’re trained on this stuff annually and must demonstrate that we understand reporting requirements. They are also posted all over the place both physically and virtually.

      7. Safetykats*

        I would definitely notify your boss – but I would also (and probably first) notify your company security organization. Your coworker would have been required to do this as well, but if her family is lying about why she’s out it’s possible that hasn’t been done. Security will decide what’s appropriate – as security issues are an entirely separate thing from personnel issues – but the likely outcome is that your coworker’s clearance and access (possibly including any access to the workplace) are suspended until this issue is resolved. It’s important to note that while you probably want to reserve judgement for a coworker who has been charged but not convicted, federal security works entirely differently.

      8. Bean Counter*

        Engineer Girl: I did report to my manager this morning. It turns out that because she has a secret clearance, our security office was informed the first workday after she was arrested (she was arrested on a Friday night). Management had already held a meeting on this. So I’ve done my duty by reporting it, and I have no further obligations. Thank you for adding the link also, great information to know!

    2. Thlayli*

      I want to add make sure you are absolutely 100% certain it’s the same person and not just someone with the same name for example.

      1. Natalie*

        Given the clearance issue I think that’s probably something for the employee to figure out, not the coworker.

      2. Temperance*

        I disagree here, because this advice basically makes it so that you can only report if you’ve gone to jail to see for yourself that it’s your Jane Smith, not just a Jane Smith.

        LW is going to look horrible to her bosses for her own breach of ethics if she fails to act.

      3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Nah, when it’s something this serious at stake, reporting it to the employer is the 1st priority and the employer can take charge of confirming.

      4. Fiennes*

        Given that the employee dropped off the radar/out of work at the moment of arrest, I’m pretty sure the LW knows.

        1. Safetykats*

          It’s really clear in the training we get that it’s not your job as a regular employee to verify potential security issues – only to report them. Security has investigators who are paid to figure out whether there is an actual security issue. However, the reasonable suspicion of a security problem absolutely obligates you to report it.

          1. Bean Counter*

            Safetykats: Thanks for the clarification! I am so squeaky clean, I was listening with an ear to “How would this information apply to me?” (thinking it would snow in hades first) and did not extrapolate to what should I do if this happens to a coworker?

            And if I had thought of the problem knowing I should go to security first (not my manager), I would have been less leary of it.

    3. Tina Belcher*

      For clearance, she has to report it to follow the clearance protocols.

      That said, my work does not have clearance. Because we have children’s programs, HR has an active database scan that pulls reports of employees interactions with law enforcement. HR will then notify the supervisor that a) their employee has had an interaction with law enforcement and b) if the person can continue working or is suspended effective immediately.

      So when we had an employee get arrested, and everyone knew about it because gossip, the supervisors specifically refused to listen to the details. They could only follow the directions given by HR. They did not want to know any more than what HR told them, because that was the HR procedure and it was designed to protect the employee’s confidentiality in situations where the accused did not pose a danger to others when returning to work.

      If someone was unsure what to do, I would call HR for a clarification on the policy, ex: “What is the policy for reporting if we know another employee has been arrested?” and then follow what they say. This way you are covered either way, because they will direct you what to do and cannot be accused of withholding information or violating someone’s confidentiality.

    4. Bean Counter*

      Princess Consuela, I’m not trying to pass judgment (she is a good work buddy), but I was shocked at the level of detail that was given in the warrant. I had assumed the warrant was the claim by the state on behalf of the plaintiff. Instead it laid out the complete investigation, and the results of the investigation. Yes, I agree the bail amount is wrecking havoc on her life.

    5. Anion*

      Yes, and aside from anything else, it is possible that the manager knows something about the situation that could help the co-worker. Like, maybe it *is* the co-worker’s ex setting her up (remember the LW whose coworker set her [or another employee?] up for fraud so she could talk to police?), and maybe the mgr. knows something about the ex or the situation that could prove that or make some kind of difference.

      I doubt it’s the case, but it is *possible.*

  4. KarenT*

    #3 As an employer I would be wary of doing that as I could see people under preparing, since some might take chat or conversation as meaning no formal or typical interview questions. But hey, maybe I’m an old fuddy duddy and that’s the point!

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      I would just be really confused. I appreciate the word ‘interview ’ because it’s more unequivocal.

      1. OP3*

        Oh good I’m not alone. I was worried my question was going to look silly, but in all my conversations it seems like the word interview is deliberately avoided. It actually has helped me not to be so nervous, but at the same time the language makes me wary.

        1. CoveredInBees*

          I had this happen to me! I knew someone at the company that had posted an interesting position and it was related to her work so I emailed her. She was enthusiastic and set up a time for me to “chat with” her colleague who worked with that position. I only found out during the chat (in a local cafe) that I was being interviewed! Apparently, my acquaintance had put in my info as an application. It was a bit of a disaster but things improved a bit when we realized what was going on.

        2. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Hello, OP – corporate staffing here, and you are not alone or silly! I hear ‘chat’ and ‘discussion’ and ‘call’ and ‘session’ and ‘exchange’ and ‘interaction’ and ‘gabfest’ – really! – and ANYTHING but ‘interview’ from both my hiring partners and candidates. Some people think ‘interview’ sounds authoritarian and one-sided. Others want to appear informal and put the candidate at ease. I can see that. I also get that candidates are trying to connect with employers, and ‘chat’, ‘discussion’, etc., frame the exchange as a friendly one. As long as they treat our chat, er, interview like an actual interview, I can deal with different terms.

          But I’ve had some candidates get WAY too informal during what they called ‘our little chat.’ One candidate started a question, ‘Girl, you’re gonna think I’m crazy for asking this…’ Whew. I’ve reminded people that they were in an actual interview…you know, a business meeting for the purpose of exploring an employment opportunity, and their fit for same. Some people were miffed, others embarrassed, but at least they stopped acting like I was their drinking buddy.

      2. AdAgencyChick*

        Ditto. A “chat” would make me wonder whether there’s an actual job opening to be discussed, or whether the company just wants to keep me warm, so to speak, in case they have something in the future.

    2. Crochet Touché*

      Nope, this happened to me. Miscommunication led to me totally blowing an interview.
      After a few rounds of a casual interviewing with a startup that was just outgrowing that nomenclature, I was invited to the home office for a “chat” that was going to just be briefly with the CEO so he could say he met me. It was portrayed as a casual flyby for his stamp of approval. And my chat with him was exactly that.
      What I wasn’t prepared for were the 4 other panel-style interviews that I hadn’t been told about or prepared for. Yeah, it wasn’t my finest moment. There was a lot of scrambling.
      Later, looking through my correspondence with my contact at the company, I never did find mention of a marathon of in-depth interviews; just reference to a “chat” with one person.

      1. Casuan*

        Crochet, do you mean that the other interviews were the same day as the chat with the CEO?
        If you were literally told you needed to meet with the CEO so he “could say he met” you… which is what happened before four panel interviews…?
        That’s some bizarre form of interview bait & switch & it’s wrong to assume the candidate magically has free time just because one is job searching… it’s wrong in other ways, too, although the time factor is what vexes me. It’s reasonable to assume even a quick meeting with the CEO is part of the interview process. It is not reasonable to predict there might be other literal interviews as well.
        How much time did all that take?

        I can’t decide which is worse: the interview that becomes an impromptu [for the candidate] multi-hour ordeal or the surprise telephone interview.
        The former, I think, because it can cause the most havoc with me.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          Impromptu multi-hour interview is definitely worse. At least with a surprise phone call, you could not answer the phone, or tell them you only have a few minutes, or something… I don’t know how you could graciously escape from the conference room mid-interview!

    3. Tuesday Next*

      Totally agree. I wouldn’t prepare for a “chat” the same way I’d prepare for an interview, and I wouldn’t expect a candidate to do so either. Be clear about what’s going on so that people know what to expect.

      1. Puffyshirt*

        This is true. However, I have had a few candidates who are incredibly stiff and nervous during formal interviews. Very occasionally, I’ve set up a lunch or a coffee “chat” off campus to try to help them loosen up and give them a Chance to shine before cutting them loose. Some people are overwhelmed by pressure and if the job doesn’t require much grace under fire, then I don’t mind trying to help them out.

      2. Julia the Survivor*

        I’ve never been good at picking up on unexpressed meanings, and I would be very put off by a company that doesn’t say what they mean. Probably to the point of deciding not to work for them.

    4. Legalchef*

      At my old job, there was a reorg in a few depts and a number of high-level positions were created to be filled internally. We were assured there would be a formal application/interview process, but those of us who the CEO thought would be interested in the positions all got emails from the CEO asking if we “had a few minutes to meet.” This was apparently the interview we got without even applying, but no one knew until after the fact.

    5. Truffles*

      This happened to me, too! Several recent interviewers called it a ‘chat for a few minutes,’ and ‘a few minutes’ turned out to be quite a bit longer. Luckily, I’d erred on the side of caution and prepared, but I was still a bit thrown off when my interviewer launched straight into questioning. OP3, you are definitely not alone.

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      I could see one employer meaning “We are thinking about expanding the team and doing some informational interviews while we explore possible configurations” and another “We use more relaxed terminology for interviews, in line with our flat organization.” Either you bluntly ask someone who knows, or you go along and hope the answer becomes clear. (The outcomes “job offer” and “ghosting” are both on the table with either meaning, so it’s particularly amorphous.)

    7. Amber T*

      This just happened to a friend of mine. She was invited in for a “casual conversation” with the team (the one she would be joining if she was offered the job), a tour of the office, and a lunch. The first hour or so was a technical interview/test, which she said she did all right in, given it was her area, but she felt she would have aced if she had prepared for it.

    8. FCJ*

      It sounds like misguided corporate-speak to me. “Oh, here at Teacups Ltd. we don’t do *interviews*. We do chats. We find they really help us create synergy with our potential talent before onboarding.”

  5. This Daydreamer*

    #3 I think it’s better to call an interview an interview rather than come up with a less formal word, simply because interview has a very clear meaning that’s pretty important in the context. Is this part of trying to get a job/hire a new employee or is it lunch with a new acquaintance? I wouldn’t call it a red flag but I think I’d be annoyed by a company that gets cutesy like that when you’re trying to make an important decision and also have the pressure of making the kind of impression they are looking for.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Just to be clear, I don’t think people are generally trying to be cutesy when they’re doing it. They’re just being informal. Saying “come meet the team” is a correct description, just more informal.

      1. This Daydreamer*

        You’re probably right, but I still find it annoying and would probably be thinking “is this an interview or not?”. Or I could just be grumpy from lack of sleep.

      2. Kiwi*

        Ye-esss. One of my first job interviews was for an intern-like job and was worded as “come in and meet us”. The contact came through my course and the tutor gave me the impression the company was taking interns based only on the tutor’s recommendation. I didn’t realise it was an interview until the end when the hiring manager told me they’d be in touch if they were going to offer me the position.

        I’d have thought more about my answers if I’d realised it was actually an interview.

    2. JamieS*

      I prefer interview too but I don’t think there’d really be a problem with ambiguity assuming the candidate has some measure of common sense. If, for instance, I applied at a company Alison was the hiring manager for and she emailed me to set up a time to “chat” I’m not going to think she saw my resume and/or cover letter and decided she needed to talk to me in order to get my opinion on Game of Thrones (OT – not a fan). I’d assume, as I think most would, that it’s an interview or at least a preliminary phone screen.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, I think where it can get murkier is where it’s less of a traditional “see job/apply/be called for interview” situation and more like a contact reaches out to you about a possible position at her firm and it progresses into an interview but no one is calling it that and it’s not clear when you’ve transitioned from “just chatting” to a formal interview.

        1. Chocolate Teapot*

          I tend to err on the side of caution and treat “Come in for a chat” as an interview. I have had several “chats” when it turned out there wasn’t an actual job at the end. (The company was maybe thinking they needed somebody like me, but the budget wasn’t certain, or the person currently doing something similar was thinking about leaving but hadn’t actually left)

          Although my experience with a large multinational mega-company was that there were various levels of chat; phone chat with HR, phone chat with hiring manager, chat in person with HR, chat in person with hiring manager’s team, possible chat in person with hiring manager before a formal interview.

        2. JamieS*

          Unless a plausible argument can be made that the “chats” aren’t going to factor into their decision in any way, something I’d argue is very unlikely, I’d assume any chat about a job is part of the interview process since you’d still want to put your best foot forward.

    3. Amber T*

      Honestly this whole thing reminds me of casual dating – “So are we a thing? Are we dating? Are we seeing other people? Where do we stand?? DEFINE THE RELATIONSHIP!!”

      But seriously, there’s enough frustrating ambiguity in the dating scene. I don’t need it in the job scene, too.

      1. Autumnheart*

        “Just because we interviewed you three times, took you around to meet the team, showed you where your desk would be, and made a verbal offer while saying that a written one would be sent out by Monday, doesn’t mean you actually get the JOB. God! Take a hint! If we don’t call you back then we’re not actually interested!”

  6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#4, this is almost certainly illegal (unless you’re someplace like Alabama, which does not have a rule re: pay period frequency or timing), although not under the FLSA. Alison is right that you should look to state law to double check.

  7. SFsam*

    Regarding #3, I think this can definitely backfire. I had a scenario where I kept having “chats” about a potential job and didn’t realize they were serious until I had an offer in hand—and pressure to lake a decision. I accepted, and shouldn’t have—and 90 days later, we all agreed it wasn’t working and I moved on. If they’d actually called it an interview, I would have asked more questions and paid more attention to the “pink flags” that were more worrisome in an interview context (tardiness, for one).

    Also, #1, you have my sympathies. I have a FOUL mouth and, for the first time ever, am working where any bad language is extremely discouraged. I have begun bleeping myself, which my coworkers find amusing, because they know I don’t think things are a “flipping isht-show.” I should really incorporate Good Place style swears into my repertoire!

    1. This Daydreamer*

      Whoa. Maybe I’m not being too picky about language after all. I hope you were able to move on pretty painlessly.

    2. LadyL*

      I have a foul mouth as well, and want to start incorporating Good Place style swears into repertoire just for the fun of it. There’s something about saying, “Well that’s bullshirt” and “Motherforking shirtballs!” that’s almost more fun than the original phrases.

      I’m actually kind of having the opposite problem as you. I have two jobs currently, one with kids and one in customer service, which is a new job. Due to the kids, I use a lot of doofy sounding words in replace of what I actually would say off the clock, and I can tell my new coworkers are laughing at me/think I’m a bumpkin (it doesn’t help that I just moved to my current very large city from a small town). The other day I growled “gorsh durndit!” and I saw two coworkers side-eye each other and repress giggles. I need to get back to my sailor-talk roots!

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        My previous career in the media has left me trying to unlearn my habit of swearing all the forking time. It’s a work in progress.

      2. Foreign Octopus*

        I get terribly British when I’m swearing in front of tiny humans or in my old office where I was the youngest by a good twenty years.

        I once caught my thumb in the door and instead of unleashing the torrent of swear words I wanted to, I just sighed and went “well, golly gosh”. I also employ a lot of “nerfs” for some reason. I’m not sure where the last came from.

        #1 you totally have my sympathy here.

      3. Nic*

        I work at a place where profanity is generally okay on night shift, but day shift has phone calls going on and so they try to keep it cleaner. But all day shift folks worked night shift once. So we get such gems as: Shut the Front Door! and OLD Mother Hubbard!

        Personally, I really get a kick out of them.

        1. Autumnheart*

          I used to work with someone who had the most creative not-swearing I ever heard. My favorite was, “I don’t give a flying hot jacuzzi!”

        1. Beatrice*

          My husband says that one all the time, and it’s like nails on a chalkboard to me. The idea of so much pus that a bucket is necessary just grosses me out. I don’t mind profanity a bit and would MUCH rather he said the words he’s trying to dodge saying, than to say that. *shudder*

      4. JeanB in NC*

        I had my friend’s husband convinced I didn’t swear because I’d use old-fashioned curses like dadgummit, or blast it. I need to go back to doing that because I actually work at a school (not with kids, though) and I can’t let a curse word out just in case.

      5. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        I use “Good Grief!” a lot at work.

        When called on it, I tell people I learned to swear from Charlie Brown.

      6. TheCupcakeCounter*

        Kind of in love with Motherforking Shirtballs
        I use a lot of “muckatucka” and “charlie foxtrot” at work and my coworker got me a little wooden sign for my cube that says “Swearing: because sometimes gosh darn and meanie head just don’t cover it”. PITA gets used in emails (the casual kind when we are trying to work through a problem or figure out a new process).
        Since I have an 8-year old at home we have a few others we need to figure out.

      7. Specialk9*

        I have a friend who says in all seriousness “heavens to Betsy!” and I found it so funny I adopted it ironically… but then it because a habit, and suddenly in a new job this pottymouth self (watching my language bc new job) got a reputation for being very conservative, don’t swear around her! It was hysterical.

      8. phyllisb*

        We used to have a good friend who was always saying he had a bad case of CRS (Can’t Remember S-t) my kids were young at the time and asked me what it meant. I told them it meant Can’t Remember Stuff. That was fine until one day one of them told their teacher they had a case CRS. I got called to a conference with the teacher and the principal and had to do some fast talking to keep him from being suspended.

    3. Cussing*

      One of my co-workers is trying to swear less in general so his kid won’t pick it up and has started replacing every swear word with “cuss”. It has caught on wonderfully at our office. We have pretty hilarious conversations about things all the time like what the cuss needs to be done now that those mother-cussers changed our cussing tax laws. It’s fantastic.

      1. NYC Weez*

        “The Fantastic Mr Fox” did that as well, and gave me one of my favorite phrases: “a complete clustercuss”

      2. JessaB*

        An author that I love, and I cannot remember which anymore which annoys me like crazy had one character go “Bad words, bad words, BAD WORDS!!!,” when someone annoyed her beyond standing. (I don’t think it was McMaster-Bujold, but it was someone in the very same genre. Might have been Elizabeth Moon.)

        1. SignalLost*

          Elizabeth Moon! Lady Cecelia says it in Wiining Colors, iirc. I think it only happens the once, during her court battle, but I’m not positive on the events around it.

          1. JessaB*

            Thank you I wasn’t sure which of them it was and I adore both of them but I loved it as a way of “not cursing” people who well deserved a cussing out.

        2. SusanIvanova*

          Another SF writer I can’t remember had a far-future where “bleep” had been used to replace bad words for so long that it had become a bad word itself.

      3. Red Reader*

        My Jabber logs are full of things like “Oh, EXPLETIVE. The expletiving system is locked up again.” and “Bleeping Cerner, what is the bleeping point of a bzzt update that removes bzzt functionality.”

        1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

          I once used “Insert profanity of choice here.” on our company Slack channel. Yes, literally that sentence.

          (Given the situation, the profanity of choice could reasonably be assumed to be completely inappropriate for work.)

        1. Beatrice*

          I once saw an edited-for-TV Die Hard movie, where Bruce Willis’s character said, “Yippee ki yay, melon farmer!” Melon Farmer is still one of my favorite faux profanities.

          1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

            In the edit I saw of that scene, the dialog was “Yippee ki yay, Mister Falcon!”

            You’ve got to admit, it synced nicely to the lip movements.

          2. LBK*

            I don’t think anything tops the Snakes on a Plane TV edit, which includes the delightful line “I’ve had it with these monkey-fighting snakes on this Monday-to-Friday plane.”

            1. k8page*

              LBK, my husband saw the Snakes on a Plane tv edit on a late-night showing last week and was so delighted by that phrase that he woke me up at 1:30am to tell me about it!

          3. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

            I really like the Back to the Future dub of “You caused 300 bucks damage to my car, you son of a butthead.”

          4. chewy’s mom*

            on brooklyn 99 charles once said “yippie kayak, other buckets!” which of course irritated the hell out of jake.

      4. Old Admin*

        When I was working overseas and teaching English to younger colleagues, I explained the US culture of (usually) not swearing in an office. This was in a country where people routinely use (in English!) f**k, s***t and far worse as a sort of verbal interpunction.
        We instituted speaking English in our little group for practice, and I taught them the hilarity of euphemisms, replacements, and acronyms.
        We had a great time shouting “Whisky Tango Foxtrot!”, “Holy Moley!”, “Jesus Harry Christmas” and other silliness made up on the spot. Fond memories and a culture lesson for them. :-)

    4. Katniss*

      On The Good Place:

      I’m “head mod” of an active pop culture site. Our mod panel allows us to replace words with different words on every post, a power we NEVER use. However, on April Fool’s we’re making all swears Good Place swears. I’m so forking excited for this!

      (If any Avocado members see this, KEEP IT A SECRET!)

    5. boo*

      At some point in my adult life I became someone who swears a lot. Then, I was living with a family member who I didn’t want to swear in front of. Fortunately, that was right about when I was watching Battlestar Galactica, and fortunately my favorite curse word is the one they use most.

      Once I was living alone again, it took almost a year before I stopped saying “Frak!” all the time. If The Good Place had been around back then, I could have ended up with a much more interesting and persistent vocabulary.

    6. Rusty Shackelford*

      I haven’t watched The Good Place yet, but the movie Johnny Dangerously is also a treasure trove of alternative swear words. Mr. Shackelford and I regularly use “farging iceholes” and “bastiges.”

    7. Chameleon*

      One of my favorite ways to express frustration in front of my students is “Son of a Monkey!” A friend has her own “son of a biscuit maker!” I have no idea why a biscuit maker.

      My husband can literally, in his words, “edit himself for Fox.” He is a high school teacher and he has trained his brain to actually shut off his vocal cords in the center of a swear word. His mouth will continue to make the word but no sound will come out, so he will say things like “get your f—-ing homework done!” where the — is literal silence. No idea how he does it!

      1. Tina Belcher*

        And “Son of a Monkey” is loaded if you have any African-American students (obviously, in the US) because it is an ethnic slur.

      2. SusanIvanova*

        I sing in my car. There are a few songs where I’m so used to the radio version that I sing “f—” with the silence just like the song does.

      3. Specialk9*

        My in-law is that way. He is so crass and profane and vulgar (and coming from me that’s something), but apparently never around his students. It’s kind of impressive.

  8. Casuan*

    OP1: The bad news is that what you said was quite vulgar & those words from a woman are… an interesting choice,
    The good news is that you’re appropriately mortified, your manager dealt with the situation in what seems to be kinder than you might have deserved in that situation- also what she said about her tendency to be blunt is impressive because most people wouldn’t bother, as Alison said you handled it appropriately, you’re determined to learn from this & move on… and you wrote to AAM to ask for help & I’m assuming you know that the comments will give you a range of thoughts & advice.

    Have you asked your manager for her expectations & boundaries? You could also ask her to help you be aware if you get too close to these boundaries &or cross them. Hopefully she won’t need to because you should err on the side of little profanity. For many reasons do not want this habit to become your new normal. Even if you hear it, you don’t need to respond in the same vernacular. Every so often is okay, although that should be the exception rather than the norm.
    Also, if it makes you feel better, apologise to the colleague who overheard you: say you went too far & you don’t know what came over you to do that & that you’re quite mortified.

    My educated guess is that even when you’re laughing about this in the distant future, you’ll still be mortified… Just remember that we all have such stories & be thankful that your manager was understanding, as well as what you’ve learnt from the experience.
    Good luck & Welcome to the World of I’m-Mortified-How-Will-I-Ever-Recover?!?*

    *You will recover!!

      1. Bea*

        Yes. I was so angry for the split second before the part where it mentioned she’s a woman. If a man said that to a woman ever, work or otherwise, he’d be out of there.

      1. Cambridge Comma*

        It’s not gender so much as whether the person actiually has the appendage in question. It makes the image a bit too literal for the office.

        1. Casuan*

          That’s what I meant.
          I didn’t mean that a woman shouldn’t say such things. It was her choice of words, given that she doesn’t have “the appendage in question.” That’s why I thought it was interesting.
          Now that I think of it, it isn’t as interesting as I thought when I wrote my original comment.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Oh, I get that it’s worse from a man. I’m trying to understand why it’s “interesting” coming from a woman.

          1. TL -*

            I would find it somewhat unexpected to have a woman tell me to suck her traditionally male appendage. Interesting is as good a descriptor as any, honestly.

            1. all aboard the anon train*

              I’ve actually heard it from women a lot. I think it was a popular enough phrase at one point – for me, in the 2000s – that it just slipped into a lot of people’s vocabulary.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Yeah, I think this is why I was confused. Not trying to start an argument, just trying to understand. The phrase is super common among most of the women I know who are my age (or slightly younger), although only in social contexts and never in professional/work contexts.

                But as Autumnheart notes, I also love other work-inapprop Heathers‘ quotes.

                1. turquoisecow*

                  Yeah, I’ve heard lots of women use it. It was kind of a thing when I was in college – one of my somewhat crass roommate’s crass statements. She used to say “shocking” things to peers to try to get a reaction from them; eventually we got used to it and just moved on. Someone would often point out to her that she doesn’t have the appendage in question, so her suggestion of what to do with it was literally impossible.

                  She’s definitely not the only woman I’ve heard use it, though none of them in a workplace context.

              2. Elizabeth H.*

                It’s the kind of thing I would shout at somebody who had said something really rude to me in a traffic dispute, and I think that’s because of all the curses there are, this is the most “display of dominance” type one. I was reflecting on the gendered associations that go into this and how we kind of lack a female version . . .
                There is this throwaway moment from Orange is the New Black, in a scene where Aleida is arguing with some other women in the bunk room, and as her parting shot she makes this gesture of a diamond shape over her crotch with her index fingers/thumbs and goes “Eat it” and walks off. I LOVED this, but wonder if it works more in the all-women environment.

                I also may have practiced this gesture in case I ever get the chance to deploy it situationally.

            2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              I use it frequently, and so do most of the profanity-prone women I know. Often, when we’re being lighthearted about it, we’ll add something to the phrase to acknowledge we don’t possess that anatomy, at least in a traditional sense. (My favorite is ‘suck my entire drawer of dicks.’)

              1. boo*

                “Suck my entire drawer of dicks”
                Hahahaha! (But seriously though don’t, or I’d have to sterilize them!)

            3. Arjay*

              I haven’t heard it frequently used by women (I may be a bit older than you guys), but I well remember Demi Moore telling her sergeant to “suck my dick” in GI Jane.

        3. Falling Diphthong*

          Yeah, I was thinking “If you were a woman this might not be so awful…. oh good you’re a woman, your boss is much more likely to take this as not a literal image you have in your mind of her while she’s training you.”

      2. Penny Lane*

        It changes the impact because a man saying “you don’t have to smd” has a sexual harassment vibe to it that a woman using the same phrase doesn’t. Because, you know, a man could ask a woman to SHD, but a woman can’t ask it without being, obviously, joking in some way.

    1. bridget*

      “Have you asked your manager for her expectations & boundaries?” About … whether it’s okay to say this kind of thing to her boss?

      In this context, I think that would go poorly. If someone junior to me said this, it would make me feel like they were asking me to do a lot of work to define what “good judgment” is and is not. This was clearly outside of the spectrum of acceptable (which the OP realized the moment she said it, so it’s not an education problem, it’s a problem where humans blurt things out they shouldn’t sometimes). It wouldn’t have been helped or prevented by clearer instructions.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, and you don’t really want to ask your boss to instruct you on the finer points of vulgarity :) It’s better to just err way on the side of caution on this from now on.

        1. Casuan*

          …you don’t really want to ask your boss to instruct you on the finer points of vulgarity :)

          Paradigm shifted & I stand corrected.

          OP1, bad idea. Don’t do that. :)

          1. Casuan*

            I’ve rethought this & I stand by my original suggestion.
            Normally one shouldn’t ask one’s manager to help censor one’s use of profanity, however it could be warranted in this case. I don’t think this situation is much different than other scenarios where someone missteps & asks for guidance to correct the issue. Profanity is part of the office culture & it probably isn’t the norm for her industry. OP1 has already had an issue with this. It could affect her relationship with colleagues. If OP1 stays on high alert so she doesn’t make the same mistake again then it could also affect her work. Ideally, OP1 could ask a colleague; I suggested her manager instead because the manager is already aware of it & because she’s able to kindly educate her staff on what is & isn’t appropriate in the workplace.

            If the variables were different then I wouldn’t be suggesting this [eg: if the manager had reacted differently or didn’t know of the gaffe, if OP1 was further in her career, or other]. Nor does my suggestion imply that the manager should be monitoring everything OP1 says. My thoughts are more of asking the manager to tell her new employee if she steps out of the office norm, especially if it would somehow be affecting her work.

            If Manager heard OP1 tell a client “Yes, that is a sh**y problem. I’ll get it taken care of.”
            Manager would tell OP1: “Words like that are acceptable between colleagues although they are never acceptable to say to the clients.”

            This is the first & probably only time I’ll suggest for someone to ask one’s manager for help with profanity. :-)
            OP1, as many of us have said, it’s best to avoid using this language at all.

            1. Safetykats*

              Yeah, I still think asking your manager ti help you out with something that should really be about observing and modeling reasonably acceptable behavior is potentially more problematic than being unable to figure it out yourself. Everybody makes a mistake sometimes – and frankly, deciding you will use profanity to “fit in” qualifies as a mistake, even if you don’t ask your boss to (or not to) suck your d*ck.

              However, as the manager, I would have way more doubts about someone who thought it was reasonable to burden me with explaining something like this, and potentially with policing their communication style, than about someone who screwed up once.

              This is the kind of question you can ask your coworkers, if you can’t figure it out yourself just by observation.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Eh, I’m still a no go on this. It will not reflect well on OP to ask what her boss what kind of profanity is ok at her office.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          you don’t really want to ask your boss to instruct you on the finer points of vulgarity

          I’ll take ‘Sentences I Never Though I’d See on AAM’ for $1,000, Alex.

    2. Temperance*

      SMD from a woman, depending on context, can be hilarious and light. Maybe not at work, but I totally have muttered SMD under my breath after an annoying call.

      From a dude, it can kind of threatening and sexual.

    3. Lora*

      Oh boy. So, most of my jobs have not had much cussing involved (in one case, radio DJ – no cussing ever), and I had to learn to replace it with something.

      One of the more successful things that I replaced it with was generic religious comments: the Southern “bless your heart,” but also “may you be forgiven,” “God is still there,” “may the lord have mercy on you/us all,” “god help us,” “I’ll pray for…” “…as you feel the lord leads you…” and of course, “well, thoughts and prayers.”

      I’m not remotely religious. The area I live in, also not remotely religious. This generates more surprised silence than actual cusswords.

      1. grace*

        Haha as a Southern person, this is hysterical. I said ‘bless her whole heart’ the other day and my co-worker, who is from NY and very much NOT Southern, blinked at me for a minute before saying that he was very glad he wasn’t on the receiving end of that.

        I have a filthy mouth outside of work, but here I’m -very- Southern — OP, this may be a good way to get your point across without sounding a bit out of touch! (As I sometimes do when I say ‘oh, sugar,’ instead of just swearing like an adult.)

      2. Emi.*

        I’m a huge fan of “Saints preserve us!”

        My old roommate, when something went terribly wrong (or when her parents asked about her grades) would smile beatifically and say “The important thing is that we have our health.”

      3. Specialk9*

        You would make me really uncomfortable with that. I hate when people get religious in everyday conversation, it feels creepy and oppressive and boundary creeping. Worse, usually they’re being *Christian* religious, but assuming it’s just “religious” or (ugh) just normal.

  9. BRR*

    1) I have a foul mouth in my personal life and work at a laid back office. Instead of trying to find the line and pretty much guranteeing I’d mess up, I just don’t cuss (some slip ups have occcured). I don’t think it has hindered me in any way because I don’t have a reaction to when others do it. I also know I won’t be here forever and don’t want to have to break the habit (I also secretly hope I can shift the office to being slightly more formal which defeniniley isn’t happening).

    1. sacados*

      Seconded. My office is also very casual and my direct boss is a frequent f-bomb dropper (tho the profanity thing is really just him, no one else in the office does it). But even when speaking to him I try to avoid it.
      Sort of the same way that I would still feel odd about swearing in front of my parents.

    2. Jenny D*

      Likewise for me. It was harder for me to learn because, as with #1, I started out working in an environment where raunchiness was very much the norm and I adapted my demeanour to that norm. It cost me the permanent position I was applying for. I wish my manager at the time had talked to me about it instead, so kudos to #1’s manager!

      Amusingly, a while back I spilled an entire cup of coffee on my laptop. I let out an expletive and ran for paper. My ex-manager was at the desk next to me and came to help clean the mess up; he said that he realized something was very wrong because I wouldn’t normally say something like that. When I told my friends from my private life, there was loud laughter… so apparently I’ve managed to compartmentalize my swearing sufficiently!

      1. K.*

        I’ve had people at work apologize for cursing in front of me because since I do it so rarely, they assume it offends me. I always laugh inwardly at this.

        1. EddieSherbert*


          I get the “ooohhhhhhhhh Eddie said the F word – it just got serious!” kind of reactions when I swear at work because it’s not a common thing.

          1. phyllisb*

            Yeah, my adult kids get speechless if I ever utter a cuss word. My usual expletive is on the line of dadgum it, or (sometimes) dammit. We they hear me say something stronger, they’re all, “Take cover, y’all. Mom’s seriously pissed.”

    3. Emmie*

      Swearing might not be authentic to who OP is. You can still fit into the culture without buying into the non professional norms. It’s swearing now, but might be excessive drinking in the next job or something else. Practice being professional, relate-able, and approachable. It will serve OP well in future jobs. Like AAM said, avoiding the swearing has another added benefit – you won’t have to change your ingrained behavior for the next job.

    4. Mabel*

      Me, too. I accidentally said “piece of crap” about our remote meeting software into the phone (as I was rebooting said piece of crap). About a second after I said it, I thought, “I’ll bet I’m still connected on the audio, and they can hear me.” I was right, but fortunately, the people who heard me thought it was funny.

    5. Q*

      I suspect a lot of “laid back office culture” is a product of “people who swear outside of work trying not to swear and slipping up occasionally” not a casual attitude toward swearing.

    6. EA in CA*

      I was brought up in a household that did condone profanity or swearing of any type and it carried on to adulthood. I am not as uptight as my parents, but I do make a conscience effort to not use that language in the workplace. It can become a hard habit to break when you transition to another environment that might be more formal. I went from working in trucking, an industry notorious for their creative use of profanity, to working for a fortune 500 company. I am one to two EAs to a high powered exec and was recently told the reason I get taken to more high profile events and meetings than my counterpart is that she can trust that what comes out of my mouth won’t embarrass her or the organization. Better to learn those lessons at this stage, then have it hinder your potential down the road.

  10. Junior Dev*

    It probably isn’t the case if people are just using swear words casually, but if you find yourself constantly feeling like you’re walking a tightrope of exactly how offensive to be at work, it might be a sign you have a toxic work environment.

    I worked somewhere people would make awful “un-PC” jokes that involved ableism, racism, and violence against children, which I found really upsetting. But one time I made a morbid joke involving dead body parts and someone got really really upset. I don’t think any of those jokes are appropriate for work, but it was extra stressful for me that other people’s idea of edgy, transgressive* humor was considered ok, whereas mine was not.

    *Actually just ignorant and cruel

    1. LouiseM*

      THIS. Sometimes people just want to see what kind of boundaries they can push. Do that at the open mic night, not in my office!

    2. Nanani*

      Yeah, this occurred to me too. There is a difference between swearing and being a giant bag of -ist shit. It isn’t worth it to try to fit in with the latter.

  11. LouiseM*

    OP #1, I’m agreeing with others that you handled this situation well and that you should try to give yourself a break. I don’t doubt that it was extremely embarrassing in the moment, but I’m sure your boss appreciated your reaction and apology.

    Speaking more generally, I have worked in offices where profanity is considered appropriate and normal (even part of “the culture”) and I don’t know if it’s a good thing. It seems like the freer people feel with s-bombs and f-bombs, the freer certain men feel to use sexually-coded language that sometimes crosses the line (yes, I’m talking about #metoo). Not saying this is universal, just something I’ve noticed. Plus, some religious groups consider swearing a sin–the majority of Mormons, Muslims, and ultra-Orthodox Jews I’ve known would have been too polite to say so, but they don’t like when others swear in front of them. Swearing in the workplace can lead to an unintentionally exclusionary environment even if it’s not your intention.

    1. anonagain*

      These are good points.

      There are also some words that lots of people consider to be slurs that many other people consider to be ordinary swears. In my experience trying to draw those lines is really difficult and gets more resistance than just having the expectation of no foul language.

    2. Espeon*

      Yes. A culture like this has been allowed to breed in my workplace – I’ve not been here a year yet, this was in place when I got here – and now a newer employee (male) is (rightfully!) in deep trouble for saying something utterly disgusting and sexual to a (female) colleague because he “got carried away”. There are a few people (men) being carefully monitored here now because it’s all gone on for so long and so far that they think they can say whatever they like and bear no consequences – not any more, boyos!

    3. Jenny D*

      I quite agree. I mentioned in another comment that my first job was in a workplace with quite raunchy language. Part of the reason my temp job there didn’t become a permanent one was that I, a very young woman, was considered too flirty with the older men. But those older men were the ones who set the tone in the office, and they were never reprimanded – I was the one who didn’t get the position, while they kept theirs.

      Now, nearly 30 years later, I have a very different view of the situation. At the time, the raunchiness and coarse language made me feel like “one of the boys”. But the price was that when I was uncomfortable with it, I couldn’t speak up for fear of losing that comradeship. And the female interns/temps who didn’t go along with the jokes didn’t get extensions or permanent jobs either, only then it was because none of the older men would recommend them to stay. In effect, that office was one where as a female intern/temp, you had to stay on a very fine line of being raunchy enough that the coworkers liked you, but not so much that the manager disliked you. Very few managed it.

    4. Old Admin*

      ” I have worked in offices where profanity is considered appropriate and normal (even part of “the culture”) and I don’t know if it’s a good thing. It seems like the freer people feel with s-bombs and f-bombs, the freer certain men feel to use sexually-coded language that sometimes crosses the line (yes, I’m talking about #metoo).”

      Oh yes, same here.
      The same office I described above with the liberal swearing all over was the same one where a higher manager in one full meeting suggested I hide my boyfriend now my husband was returing from a trip, and in another full meeting suggested I had been a wh*** in his employ the night before. Even my colleagues next to me groaned.
      I reported the manager, and was told “boys will be boys” and “he just was joking!!”. Nothing happened to him.

    5. Serial Swearer*

      As someone who swears on a pretty regular basis (including at work), I am starting to agree with this – mainly because of things that have been happening in my office recently.

      A lot of people here swear and tease each other. Recently, I’ve noticed the bar of what’s acceptable feels like it keeps being lower. It’s now at the point where people are teasing each other by calling each other slurs (particularly a slur for gay people). When I (younger female) called someone out for it recently, another (old male) coworker says “What about (very profane term typically used for lesbians involving flooring)? Can we say that?” It’s probably the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been at work.

      I don’t necessarily think swearing is a gateway drug to that kind of language, but I think if you’re not careful about it, the lowest common denominator for what you’ll allow can become the norm.

      1. KitKat*

        Yeah I think swearing in the workplace is fine as long as everyone is respectful, committed to excluding discriminatory language, and agrees on appropriate boundaries…but how many workplaces fit that bill? And as LouiseM says, sometimes you don’t even know when you are inadvertently creating an exclusive atmosphere.

      2. phyllisb*

        Lesbians? involving flooring??? I don’t think I’ve ever heard that. My husband just home and I asked him if he knew that one, and he was just as puzzled as me. We decided we have led a sheltered life, and we were fine with that. :-)

    6. Mike C.*

      Plus, some religious groups consider swearing a sin–the majority of Mormons, Muslims, and ultra-Orthodox Jews I’ve known would have been too polite to say so, but they don’t like when others swear in front of them.

      Whoa, hold on here. I think the sexually coded language is one thing, but I shouldn’t be walking on eggshells at work because I might inadvertently say something that a particular sect or religion believes is sinful. I already had a supervisor ban me from mentioning my undergrad research (evolution) because a coworker turned out to be a creationist even though it was a job dealing with restoring and maintaining native ecosystems.

      If someone doesn’t like what I’m saying, they can ask me to refrain and I’ll be more than happy to but this idea that I should have to preemptively conform to the strictest of religious practices feels way overboard.

      1. LouiseM*

        You don’t see how refraining from a totally unnecessary linguistic quirk is different from avoiding mention of an entire branch of science?

        FWIW, commenters here very often see the value in being sensitive to others or avoiding triggering them even if you don’t know for a fact they’d be offended. It seems like you’re pretty anti-religion and maybe that is skewing your reaction. What if I had suggested avoiding cursing because people who are survivors of abusive relationships might find it triggering? Would you have a different reaction?

        1. Mike C.*

          You don’t see how refraining from a totally unnecessary linguistic quirk is different from avoiding mention of an entire branch of science?

          I’m not sure where you’re getting this, comparisons are made all the time between two or more ideas that share similarities but are not exactly the same. Of course I see that there are differences between a field of science and a specific set of words. Why wouldn’t I?

          FWIW, commenters here very often see the value in being sensitive to others or avoiding triggering them even if you don’t know for a fact they’d be offended.

          Commenters like me, when in the very post you’re responding to I said, “If someone doesn’t like what I’m saying, they can ask me to refrain and I’ll be more than happy to…”?

          It seems like you’re pretty anti-religion and maybe that is skewing your reaction.

          Uh, wow.

          Why are you conflating “having to follow the rules of someone else’s religion” with “being pretty anti-religion”? Since we’re talking about comparisons, don’t you notice the distinction there?

        2. Fiennes*

          This seems like something of a reach, Louise. Every single person on this board seems to see that (a) you have to know your office and (b) it may be good to not push as far even as your office allows, bc different people feel different ways. So assuming that someone is “anti-religion” because they wouldn’t want to worry about every phrase or topic any religious person found objectionable seems like a stretch. This board is pretty good about recognizing that religious beliefs deserve some protection in the workplace (yes, you should provide kosher meals for Jewish employees at the office do), but that pandering to any arbitrary objections is unnecessary (like the person who thought it against her faith for a coworker to be called “King,” I.e. his name).

        3. anonagain*

          “FWIW, commenters here very often see the value in being sensitive to others or avoiding triggering them even if you don’t know for a fact they’d be offended.”

          I think when it comes to religion though, it’s also important not to fall in trap of stereotyping.
          I was raised in one of the religions mentioned. If I had a swear jar, it wouldn’t be a jar, but an offshore bank account. And I’m on the less swear-y end of the spectrum! More importantly, of the people I know, I’ve not met anyone who feels that swearing is disrespectful of their religious beliefs.

          That doesn’t mean there aren’t people who with a similar religious background who are sensitive about swearing. Obviously there are since you (LouiseM, if I’ve messed up the nesting) know some.

          I mention this mostly because there’s a tendency to assume greater homogeneity and devoutness among members of minority religions and that can be very marginalizing in and of itself–particularly when coupled with the belief that we’re all invested in policing what other people do.

          I definitely agree with your point about sexualized language and overall I favor a workplace with no swearing for all sorts of reasons.

          I do also think it’s worth respecting people’s religious beliefs about swearing (I think Mike C. does too), I just don’t think we should assume without being told what those beliefs are.

    7. Reba*

      Yeah, Alison has drawn this nice distinction between swearing and vulgarity, that is, using “curse words” versus saying things that are actually offensive.

      But out in the world many people don’t have that kind of nuance.

      As an aside, I find non-swear swears (Mormon youths have many creative ones) to be hilarious. Like, we all know the word you are elaborately not saying!

    8. Not your mother*

      Thank you for this comment. My former boss had a habit of dropping the F bomb on a regular basis. I would cringe but not say anything. One day she called me and my direct supervisor in to her office to discuss “my problem”. It was awkward at best. Going forward, she tried harder to watch her language around me, and I eventually got used to it.

    9. Specialk9*

      I too have noticed this. Some men keep it buttoned until the woman says *one* curse, and then all bets are off.

      If I say damn, they don’t think ‘oh ok I can say damn too’, they think ‘great I can say c+#@t and say terrible awful things without any filter’.

      So I’ve learned not to curse until I can trust someone. (Which, SURPRISE MOTHER FORKER!!!!)

      It’s actually become instinctive enough that I sometimes realize that I have decided I trust someone when I realize I just let 3 f-bombs go, and maybe I should dial it back in.

  12. Casuan*

    OP3: Don’t lose focus that however the discussion is phrased, it’s an interview & however relaxed the environment, it’s still an interview. You should be in interview mode from the moment you arrive on campus unil you leave. Often interviewers will be paying attention to how you treat others & your overall demeanor &or they will ask others [eg: the receptionist] for their impressions.
    Chat… discussion… Isn’t it cool how a simple shift of words can change one’s perspective?

    [signed, The Quantum Word-Shift Paradigm Geek]

    1. OP3*

      Thank you for the tips! I can see where this has misled a few posters so I appreciate the advice. I have to say I’m happy not to have to answer a bunch of behavior or scenario related questions, though I’m expecting more of these in the “meet the team” phase.

  13. Diamond*

    I’m not a swearer, and I don’t understand intentionally trying to swear to fit in! I don’t care if others swear around me, and I’ve never been shunned because I don’t swear. Plus, what if you do get into the habit of swearing at work and then move to a workplace where that isn’t ok? Just speak how you would normally speak.

    1. Cambridge Comma*

      In some offices it is an important part of the culture. A friend worked in a office where the morning meetings were known as the Vagina Monologues because of the boss’ preference for the c word. People complained to her that she was stuck up. I let her practice swearing at me at the weekend until she could do it without covering her mouth in shock afterwards.

      1. Betsy*

        I’m also in the minority, in that I think fitting in with a swear-y office culture is fine, but maybe tone down the overtly sexual comments. In places I’ve worked in ‘shit’ and ‘crap’ are generally OK and ‘fuck’ sometimes is. ‘Asshole’ would probably be acceptable, depending on the context. ‘Motherfucker’ and the C word would pretty much never be appropriate in most offices. Swearing in general is a lot different to directing swearwords at people. Perhaps it’s that the ‘suck your dick’ comment was a little too personally directed. Then again, I’m Australian, and our whole culture is mainly swearing. You also shouldn’t feel like you’re expected to swear to fit in; just do whatever you’re comfortable with.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Man, I’m super potty-mouthed and I don’t think I could handle working in that environment.

        You’re a good friend though!

      3. K.*

        … That office sounds terrible and like one I would leave rather than try to fit in. Folks can think I’m stuck up all they want, I’m not using the c-word. You’re a good friend, though.

        1. Reba*

          Dunno where Cambridge Comma is located, but the c-word is way less fraught/more common in UK, Australia, and NZ contexts than in the US, where it is pretty radioactive. I’m not sure about Canadian usage, they seem polite!

      4. Specialk9*

        Wow that’s a terrible workplace and your friend needs to get the fork outta there. I use the f-word like a beloved seasoning (garlic salt or salt-n-vinegar perhaps), but if anyone uses the c-word I get so angry. It’s really offensive!

    2. Nobby Nobbs*

      Sometimes it can be necessary, like say you’re the only woman at your location and your coworkers are apologizing for swearing in front of you. A few well-timed f-bombs can help head off the impression that you’re delicate and therefore incapable (ask me how I know)!

      1. Naptime Enthusiast*

        Agreed, I’ve cheerfully reminded the male managers in my area that my dad is a retired electrician, there are VERY few things they can say that I didn’t hear growing up!

      2. Lynca*

        I still get that attitude but I’ve never had to swear to deal with it. I don’t like to swear at work (not going to say I haven’t ever). I just remind them that I don’t care as long as they’re not swearing at me. I’d probably give them kudos if they could come up with a combo I hadn’t heard before.

        Even if I do get sworn at I generally just follow up with a deadpan, “Are you done? Good let’s actually talk about this problem.”

        1. CheeryO*

          Yeah, I get that sometimes (but less than I used to), and I try to just say “You don’t have to apologize” in a neutral tone and then get right back on topic before they can turn it into a conversation about my delicate female ears. I don’t think you should have to swear to get your male colleagues to respect you.

        2. Nobby Nobbs*

          Yeah, I probably should have said “useful” instead of “necessary.” It worked for me because I was already comfortable swearing.

      3. Oxford Coma*

        I like to address that directly by saying with false seriousness “Yeah, watch my delicate f***ing ears”. It gets a laugh, and breaks any tension.

        (I wouldn’t do that if I wasn’t already a fan of swearing, though.)

  14. Scotty_Smalls*

    #4 In my experience what your employer can do is say you can’t work until you complete the training. At my job, if you don’t submit timesheets on time, you can’t work until you do. Apparently people were being blasé about late timesheets but the company really doesn’t want to put itself in the position of breaking the law.

    1. Queen of Cans & Jars*

      So they’re too lazy to turn in the document that gets them paid? I have heard similar things before, but seriously, that’s nuts!

    2. youngprofessionalanalyst*

      That’s legal right? I was coming down to the comments section to ask – they can’t not pay but they can say you can’t work, correct?

  15. Jiya*

    OP2, if your coworker hasn’t disclosed to your office that she’s been arrested, she’s already put her clearance in jeopardy – you’re supposed to report any run-ins with law enforcement like that right away. You’re not going to damage your coworker’s career; the damage has already been done.

      1. Super Secret Squirre*

        Yeah. If they had notified and then been cleared of charges, they would likely be fine. But conviction means pulled clearance, and failure to report charges means pulled clearance.

        Of course, we don’t know she didn’t report, though the relatives lying seems to indicate that’s unlikely.

      1. JessaB*

        I think maybe at very first the employee thought they could muddle past it very quickly and never have to say anything (they should it’d be found out on their next clearance review, and if they were innocent that’d sink em anyway for not reporting at the time,) and then realised that they were had dead to rights, and were going nowhere and was then against a wall and had no idea how to backtrack out of the mess they made.

      2. Naptime Enthusiast*

        Or that the relative lied on her behalf to try and protect her, not realizing that it would make everything worse.

      3. Jiya*

        In terms of what’s going to happen to her clearance? Yes, but not hugely. I’m by no means as knowledgeable on this as some of the other commenters in this section, but the chief sin the coworker has committed here is not disclosing her arrest immediately, which you have to do. That alone has ( believe) pretty much lost her her clearance. The fact that she sent a relative to lie about it is another straw for an already-broken camel.

    1. CorporateQueer*

      Came here to say this. Also, if you don’t report what you know, might you potentially be putting your own clearance at risk? Personally, if I was a supervisor and found out that someone had this kind of information and *didn’t* pass it along to me, I’d have serious qualms about their judgement (and I’d be legally bound to say that in subsequent clearance investigations.)

      1. JessaB*

        Yep. You are totally putting your clearance at risk. One of the things management in secure places does NOT like is people who don’t get what’s important and not. Having a clearance kind of means you’re expected to know what to report, otherwise why bother?

  16. Old nerd feels old today*

    OP1: if it makes you feel less alone, I recently told a coworker that the reason why [minor thing he was complaining about] was “because you touch yourself at night.” And I haven’t been new to the work force for a long time. He was very surprised (but not offended, he and the other guys say as much or worse between themselves), I was very embarrassed, but I apologized and explained that it was an internet meme and I wasn’t implying anything personal about his nocturnal habits, and we laughed it off. I’m sure that your coworkers have already forgotten what you said, or will very soon.

    1. seejay*

      I’ve said that one to coworkers, but they’re used to me saying off-colour things like that… but it was also decidedly *not* to a higher-up, not within earshot of anyone and constrained to just my teammates that I knew would find it hilarious, including the one teammate that found it both shocking yet funny. A lot of it is definitely “know your audience”.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, I eff and blind at work all the time, but I wouldn’t say anything that involved the direct address in a sexual joke; this would be over the line to me the same way the OP’s comment was.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I do too. Love it, in fact. Sadly, having it trigger moderation has been a good way to filter out a lot of really unpleasant stuff. (And man, there’s been a real increase in legit comments that say “fuck” here in the last month. Something is happening in the universe.)

    2. Shiara*

      Agh. This reminds me of coming back from a two week work trip with a bunch of coworkers discussing weekend plans and what comes out of my mouth but “Well, I haven’t seen my husband in two weeks so-” In context I was more referring to just general lack of plans in favour of spending time together than any specific activities but my (all male) coworkers in the car at the time about died laughing and I about died of embarrassment.

    3. Nonprofit worker*

      I have another embarrassment solidarity story. At my first job I was the youngest worker. I was 18 and straight out of high school and my coworkers were all in their early-mid twenties and seemed infinitely cooler than me. One particularly cool guy was Fergus who was probably 25-26 and he was really into the outdoors. He went camping a lot, and dressed in what I considered an outdoorsy/mountain man type of way. We were not close, just coworkers.

      He invited a group of coworkers to his birthday and I was really flattered to get invited as well. I didn’t have a lot of money at the time and I remember going to a local store and deciding to get him a unique shot glass as a present because it was a) in my price range and b) I knew he drank alcohol.

      Well after looking at the options I saw one that said “I hunt beaver” and I was so sheltered that I had never heard the vulgar double-meaning of “beaver” and I just thought I had found a random shot glass that involved hunting and wild animals. I took it at face value…

      I gave him that shot glass in front of all my coworkers and he looked really confused and slightly horrified. And later when another one of them told me what it meant I was beyond mortified. I would have never ever bought it if I knew the true meaning. It still makes me shudder a little bit when I think about it.

  17. Birch*

    #1, I think the general good advice for navigating informalities in the workplace (and in social situations!) is that you don’t want to stick out on either end of a spectrum. So don’t drastically either underdress or overdress, try to hit the middle point, and err on the side of least problematic based on the situation–in workplaces, you should often err on the more formal side. In terms of language, in this type of office you don’t want to be the stick in the mud who makes a huge deal about other people swearing, but you also don’t want to draw negative attention to yourself by competing for the most transgressive joke, which is what you were doing. You could work on being more perceptive about what the average looks like, and adjust yourself down to that. Don’t push yourself up to that if you naturally don’t talk like that–people who don’t swear a lot trying to swear more often make the same overstep ou did. Maybe allow a few “ahh shit”s to slip through when you’re really frustrated about something. But there’s never a need to perform transgressiveness in the workplace, which is what people who make long raunchy jokes are doing. It’s unprofessional even in an informal workplace, it’s a power play, and it’s shitty behavior in any situation to make other people uncomfortable as a joke. Don’t strive to be like them. Err on the side of more conservative language and you’ll be fine.

  18. Ruth (UK)*

    1. When I worked in fast food, people would swear constantly in the kitchen but it was a no no when out front (on tills etc). I once accidentally said ‘oh fuck!’ really really loudly on front tills at a time when. Some sort of lull in noise etc caused it to be more widely heard than I might have otherwise. I was very embarrassed and got talked to by my manager who was actually very kind and noted that it was out of character for me (I wasn’t typically rude and usually swore less than others generally).

    Anyway, I decided to cut swearing out entirely from my vocab. I have no problem with other people doing it (especially if it fits in context) but I realised it’s not something I can remember to turn off at some times if I’m using swears at other times (my parents were commenting I swore too often too). So, I now frequently express my frustration with things like ‘oh dear!’ ‘ for flip’s sake!’ or maybe ‘oh poo’ or ‘shoot’. ‘for crying out loud!’ and ‘what on earth’ work for me too.

    Also, as others have noted there’s a difference between swearing in terms of saying an expletive in frustration Vs using sexual language. And there’s also a big difference between swearing and swearing at someone eg. ‘oh f—‘ Vs ‘f— you!’ (which I’m not saying is what you did). But in general I think if you’re concerned about the potential to make another error or bad call with language, it might be best to ‘play it safe’ and cut that type of language more generally from your vocab so it’s less likely to slip out at s bad time etc.

    Also, I did cringe in second hand embarrassment for you, and hope this one can be lived down quickly.

    1. Em Too*

      Yeah, profanity is different to vulgarity. I wouldn’t care about profanity but I really wouldn’t want the mental images that vulgarity from coworkers would bring to mind.

    2. EA in CA*

      I typically substitute f-bombs with “for fudge sakes”. Apparently I was using it a lot recently and my daughter asked me is something wrong with fudge because I keep saying it when I was mad.

  19. Drama Llama*

    LW3: When we had a particularly strong candidate or when we were the ones reaching out first to ask someone to apply, we’ve had an initial “informal talk non interview” meeting. The purpose was to give them plenty of info about the job, meet some of the team, and give them an opportunity to ask questions. We already knew we wanted to progress them further into the selection process so it was a way for them to get to know us and hopefully make them want to work here, too.

    1. OP3*

      Ahh- now I’m wondering if that is what’s going on here? I haven’t actually applied for this role, I applied for a different role, but during my first chat, the person I was speaking with said they thought I had a strong profile and they had another position open that they thought I’d be a better fit for. The other position was posted after I applied, and had been open for only a few days before the first chat. Fingers crossed!

  20. michel*

    #1 my office also uses very rough language, its pretty common to say things as `Shut your mouth fat farmer`, or when someone needs something and ask for it one of them might say you know where you can put that while several others will shout `in your ***`

    the team works well tighter and it always stays very friendly there is no animosity at all.

    anyway my point is this, it feels unnatural for me to talk the same way and I just don’t.
    I say please and thank you, I am always friendly and this doesn’t hurt my position in the group one bit, just be yourself don’t try to live up to some forced group style.

    You might notice that often the “style” of talking is propagated by a few very vocal very alpha like people while most join in just to be popular. There is no need to do that in the end people will judge you on your work and how they preceive you as a person. using rough language has no impact on this at all and can -as you have seen- only add negativity.

    1. Specialk9*

      That sounds awful!!

      So – in addition to the unkindness – here’s the problem with that: it sets someone innocent up to be the bad guy. People say terrible unprofessional things at work as a bonding mechanism, but nobody is offended so it’s seen as fine. A new team member arrives, is offended, and suddenly they (often she) is blamed for robbing the dire unprofessionals of their fun dire unprofessionalism. So the new person pays the price for others acting badly, and the unprofessional never pay for their actions. That sucks.

    1. Liane*

      Not so sure. Alison did have a letter from an employee who, in a conversation with their (male) boss, insulted the boss’s teen daughter because she was–clutch those pearls!–allowed to date.

        1. MommyMD*

          Not sure I believed the happy tone of the update. No one doesn’t feel a bit taken aback if their daughter is called such a slur esp just for dating. I think she was just mitigating herself.

    2. Lady Phoenix*

      The OP that called his boss’s daughter a whore and saw no problem with it would polite disagree (and then judge you for your “sinning” lifestyle… especially if you are queer).

  21. Mary*

    Swearing stories which are hilarious fifteen years later:

    In my first job after university, I worked in undergrad recruitment going out to schools, higher education fairs, careers fairs and so on meeting prospective students. At one school I was put in a classroom with about a dozen students and no teacher. I was 23 and although I did lots of presentations, I obviously had never been taught behaviour-management. The students were 16-17 and there was a group of girls who sat at the front listening politely and then there was a group of four or five boys in the back corner near the window who just chatted all the way through.

    I glared at them a few times, but it didn’t have much effect. I got more and more irritated. Eventually, without missing a beat and without knowing I was going to do it, I said, “And in Campus we’ve got amenities such as – WILL YOU SHUT. THE FUCK. UP. – a hairdressers, a Co-op, several bars—“

    The effect on the boys was magic: the shut the fuck right up and sat staring at me in open-mouthed amazement for the next ten minutes. But I was absolutely mortified and panicked that the kids would tell their teachers, and they’d tell my boss, and I’d get knackered. Fortunately it never happened!

    1. Shortie*

      Hahahaha, this is hilarious! Sometimes a well-placed f bomb will do the trick. This reminds me of the time I accidentally called my neighbor’s pre-teens/early teens and their friend group m-f’ers after I caught them doing something dangerous on my property. Their eyes got huge and they got scared and ran away. They never told on me or came back. I am a very small woman, but the m-f bomb seemed to sort of change me in their eyes. It was so embarrassing at the time to lose my cool, but looking back, it was effective and I would do it again. :-)

    2. HannahS*

      That’s hilarious, and many times in working/volunteering with teenagers have I been tempted to do that!

  22. emwllms*

    For #3, I’d treat every ‘chat’ as an interview. I really hate when companies do this – when I was fresh out of uni and looking for internships (which I made explicitly clear), I was invited in for a ‘chat’ with a company. When I turned up to discuss internships it turned out to be actually quite a rigorous interview for a full time role, which completely threw me, and during the course of the interview I clashed with the interviewer (coincidentally, we clashed about using profanity). It was a horrible experience all round and completely turned me off of the company.

    1. NYC Weez*

      Even if the meeting truly is an informal networking chat, there’s still an element of wanting to put your best foot forward, so being over prepared would always be a better option.

  23. OP3*

    #1: Hopefully you can laugh about this someday like Alison said. If it makes you feel any better, this kind of language wouldn’t be out of the norm in my own office and a private setting. It sounds like something my own boss would say (also a woman) just behind closed doors.

    1. MicroManagered*

      I think this is a really great point. I work in an office where some unwhispered F-bombs are not the end of the world, and you could even get away with what OP said with certain people (I’d be one of them lol) and in the right context, but that would never be where it could be overheard.

  24. Oxford Coma*

    LW #1, in my experience working in a foul-mouthed industry (construction-adjacent) I’ve found a good rule of thumb to be that you can safely swear about things, but not people.

    So, you can call a situation “a real bitch to deal with” but you shouldn’t refer to a difficult colleague that way. You can say that the jammed-up printer is “being a dick”, but you shouldn’t refer to an actual person’s body part. And so on.

    1. Lynca*

      Yep. I work in construction-adjacent and this is the rule of thumb I’ve seen. Generally only swearing to refer to objects and situations.

      But I still don’t swear in front of contractors or supervisors just because it’s not professional. (Situations where I bang my head or something equivalent are exempt.)

    2. Bea*

      Good explanation! I came from a lumber mill and flinched at the story. It’s off putting to swear at someone instead of simply around or to someone.

      “ef this” is not the same as “ef you”, is my rule of thumb when gauging how insulting a person is being.

  25. LKW*

    OP#2 – it’s nice that you want to be loyal to your coworker, but don’t sacrifice your own well being under the guise of “loyalty” – especially someone who, based on the charges, may be defrauding people. If the company doesn’t take appropriate action it could result in loss of business, external investigations and other actions that could result in reduction in force.

    Your coworker likely wouldn’t put your needs first – you need to put your needs first here.

    1. Temperance*

      This. Plus, helping to conceal this is a kind of fraud to the employer. Since this org deals with financials and they have clearances, not reporting is dishonest.

  26. Queen of Cans & Jars*

    #3 totally reminds me of the person who won’t say you’re on a date. “Oh no, this is just hanging out.” Or, “I bet you Dustin Hoffman was in ‘Star Wars’, and if I’m wrong, I’ll take you out to dinner.”

  27. Boredatwork*

    OP #1 – I love to swear, and talk like a sailor in my private life. I find the best way to navigate “bad” words is the intent behind them. When you said that to your boss, even without the “bad” word, it could come across as a bit snippy. Also, typically in a work setting, as Allison mentioned, you should always swear at inanimate objects and not people.

    As an example, say Fergus is annoying you, commenting that your day has been a “bad” word vs saying that Fergus is a “bad” word, totally changes the intent. Hope this helps!

  28. Gaming Teapot*

    OP1: Speaking as someone who swears like a sailor and thankfully works in a very, very casual office, I recommend picking two or three common swear words and sticking to those. My go-to words are “sh*”, “f*ck” and “damn”. They are common enough not to raise eyebrows with most people while still achieving the emotional venting swearing is for me. Also, as mentioned by other users before, don’t ever swear at people.

    OP2: Definitely speak to your manager! Even if this was not a job for the government, pretty much any company that is serious enough to have an NDA or other kind of clearance will also have regulations regarding co-workers committing criminal acts. I work in a country where every employee needs to have a signed contract and not once in my professional life have I seen a contract that did not include “Any employee arrested or sentenced for a criminal offense, whether on or off company time and property will be terminated immediately.”

    OP3: Always assume it’s going to be an interview. No matter what language they use. When in doubt, coming across as a little “stiff” and a little “too formal” is better than looking like you’re completely clueless. Personally, I prefer direct honesty. Call a chicken a chicken and an interview and interview.

    1. LKW*

      I swear a lot. But never at people, just exclamatory. I have been known to type “MOTHER TRUCKER” in IM chats with coworkers as an expression of extreme frustration with a situation.

    2. Catalina*

      Why would an arrest trigger being fired? People can be wrongfully arrested and found innocent. Are you sure it’s that strict, for all jobs across the country, or did you mean that being found guilty is grounds for termination?

      Also, I’m very curious about the country if you can share it :)

      1. Gaming Teapot*

        @Catalina: Because all industries I’ve been active in so far place huge emphasis on maintaining an image of absolute integrity (which is necessary, because our clients trust us with tons of sensitive data). If an employee is arrested or, even worse, sentenced, this could reflect negatively on the company, not to mention it could create an unpleasant atmosphere among the rest of the employees. I remember having had a colleague once whose wife called the cops on him because of domestic abuse. She didn’t end up filing charges and by all accounts this guy had never shown any signs of being abusive to anyone in the office and may have been completely innocent, but the moment we found out about the call, you could feel people, especially women, tip-toe around him. It’s the same reason why colleges sometimes expel students who post questionable stuff on their private Facebook. Doesn’t matter if you were hacked or if you are just a jerk. Doesn’t matter if you did it on a private or corporate account. Either way, you are damaging the company’s/school’s image.

        As for locale, I’ve worked in several countries over the last ten years, currently in Ireland.

  29. Guitar Hero*

    #2 You were able to find arrest information online. It’s not a secret, so you shouldn’t feel any guilt in divulging the basic facts you were able to find.

    It would be inappropriate to participate in gossip around whether she’s guilty or whatever, but the truth will come out eventually.

    1. Roscoe*

      I don’t know, I feel that logic is a bit too much leeway. If you dig hard enough, you can find a lot of dirt on people online. Doesn’t mean you should always divulge that information to your employer about others.

      1. Guitar Hero*

        If you google someone and find out they write weird fanfiction, no that’s not something that you would bring up to your employer because it’s not relevant to the workplace.

        This employee’s absence as a result of her incarceration has a direct effect on what’s happening in the office, making it relevant to report.

      2. Observer*

        This wasn’t some covert surveillance video that someone took and the OP dug up.

        Arrest records are public records. You don’t have to do that much digging to find them.

    2. Bean Counter*

      Guitar Hero: Yes, this occurred in Florida, where we have very broad public information laws. It’s the reason for the trope “Florida Man.”

  30. Bekx*

    #4, Huh, I think my company was going to do something similar. We had required sexual harassment training that all employees needed to complete by Dec 31, 2017…I think they were going to dock pay though if you didn’t complete it. Is that legal? Docking pay vs not giving paycheck?

    1. Observer*

      Docking pay is even worse. There if you worked you MUST BE PAID. Beginning and end of story. No exceptions.

  31. Bookworm*

    #3: I agree that it’s to make it seem less rigid and formal, especially if it’s over the phone since some of those phone interviews serve as “screeners” as to whether a candidate is brought in. You are probably are on the right track by treating it as an interview but it may also mean you should listen/read for cues that make it perhaps a little more casual. Which is not to say you should be sloppy and use slang in every sentence or whatever but there’s always the possibility they could see you as too uptight.

    1. OP3*

      Yes I agree! I have been treating it as an interview- focusing on qualifications and aspects of the job and asking relevant questions about the job, but I’ve also been able to let the stiffness or formality go a little bit. From some of the tips and suggestions I’m reading on here I’m thinking it is both an interview and a screen for a cultural fit. I realized my assumption that it being a global corporate company doesn’t necessarily mean the cultural is absolutely formal all the time. I’m hoping I can get a better feel for
      The culture when I meet the team.

  32. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    #2 – I was really on the fence with this until you got to the ‘accounting’ part — let alone the security clearances! — but that takes the cake. In any kind of finance, financial malfeasance is a Big McFrickin Deal, and your employer needs to know. The higher levels will have the most information on how they, as a firm, are expected to respond — how much research is their burden of proof, how they need to handle an arrest vs an indictment vs a conviction, and so forth.

    While yes, this is something they could also probably find out by googling, the potential consequences both for your firm’s clearance and reputation are severe enough that I would absolutely not sit on this.

    1. Temperance*

      LW’s rep is on the line, too. Not sharing this information makes her look terrible and might be jeopardizing her own clearance and job. It’s not your problem that a colleague is in jail.

    2. Alton*

      Right. It’s not like the coworker was arrested for something that has no real bearing on her job. I’m a big believer in not always assuming people are guilty and not automatically holding arrest or conviction histories against people, but there are cases where it’s relevant to consider, and this is one of them.

    3. Nita*

      I’m not even sure how this situation is happening, and why it’s on OP to decide whether or not to report the arrest. I mean, a doctor’s note would be fine for a week out sick, but we’re talking about a much longer time here. I assume this is something that would require FMLA medical leave, which requires more than a note from a doctor – there are forms to be filled out by the medical office, the doctor’s signature, possibly a stamp… so unless the arrested employee’s family brought in a whole stack of faked documents, the arrest may come to light on its own soon enough.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        It’s on the OP to report the arrest because it is a condition of her security clearance. If she fails to report it her own clearance could be revoked. Her work area could lose permisssion to handle classified information.
        You are required to report this information immediately, like within 24 hours of knowing it.

  33. EmilyAnn*

    OP #3, that happened to me in the job I have now. I was told there was an opening and I was coming in for “a chat” to meet the team. Then I walked into the whole team giving me the opportunity to ask questions, like a panel interview. I just asked a lot of questions during the interview. I was dressed appropriately, but I hadn’t even seen a description of the position. I told them that towards the end of the interview and they seemed very impressed that I answered the questions as well as I did and that I asked good and relevant questions.

    Then there was a follow-up chat with the head of the division, which was much more of a “chat”. Then I was hired. It happened this way because the hiring process was unorthodox (direct transfer for a government job).

  34. OP 4*

    Thanks so much for answering my question! Unfortunately I’m in Florida which has no requirements on frequency of paychecks. I did however send an email to my direct supervisor (not the one considering withholding paychecks, he’s a few levels up) vaguely citing the FLSA. He replied saying something along the lines of “I’m sure he’s not REALLY considering it, the message probably was misunderstood.” I’m hoping he at least elevated the messages that I was pushing back.

  35. J.B.*

    OP 1 – I would recommend training yourself not to swear. I used to curse a lot and practiced not doing so (due to children!) I’ve found that an occasional bad word will come out and more often that I’ll say it silently, but its much less overall. Swearing is a really good thing to avoid in many offices.

  36. Tafadhali*

    Wait, you mean I gripe all the time about being paid only once a month and I actually *have legal standing* to gripe?

    (I mean, I’m salaried and may have “consented” at some point but I really, really, really hate being paid once a month, so I think I would remember agreeing to it.)

    1. OP 4*

      From the research I did, if the law has a frequency requirement it may not matter if you consented or not, so check out your state laws anyway.

    2. SallytooShort*

      There are a few states that allow employers to pay monthly. And then there are states (like Connecticut) that allow exemptions to pay monthly if approved by their equivalent to the department of labor.

    3. FD*

      Some states allow you to be paid monthly and some don’t. Check with your local labor board. You can’t usually waive that right, just like you can’t waive your right to overtime if you’re non-exempt.

      1. Tafadhali*

        I did check my state law — it allows monthly, but only with employee consent. We’re getting a new business manager for the first time in 30 years next week, so maybe something to bring up with her.

  37. Anonygrouse*

    OP #3, something similar happened to me in landing my current job. I reached out to a former grad school professor (adjunct working in the field I hoped to move into) to meet for a networking/coffee conversation. In scheduling that, he said “oh, by the by, there is a position open on my team, take a look,” but stuck to the casual language. Afterward, he brought me by the office and introduced me to a couple people, and we set up a time to “talk with the team” later in the week. I felt similarly to you, where I was probably more relaxed, at least initially, than I would have been in a typical job application to interview situation. Ultimately, though, it reinforced for me how important it was to take any kind of networking conversation seriously — you never know when something will turn into an interview!

  38. buttercup*

    My manager and some higher ups swear all the time, but my team members and I never do. I think there is an implicit assumption that it’s okay for higher-ups but not subordinates. There is some low-key swearing when we talk amongst ourselves, but nothing truly raunchy. I once let an “oh, crap” slip out around a supervisor and was really embarrassed about it, though he didn’t react at all. I was trying to fix his computer so I think he was just grateful.

  39. essEss*

    In my opinion, if the culture is full of sexual innuendo and c-word swearing, it is NOT the employee that should change to fit in. That is an atmosphere just waiting to get hit with sexual harassment lawsuits at some point in the future. Vulgarities and comments about sex acts have NO place in the office. I can understand an occasional swear word or two, but not a constant atmosphere of profanity.

  40. FD*

    #2- I imagine you’re thinking, “Well, what if it turns out they’re innocent and they loose their job because of it?” This is understandable! Not everyone who is arrested is guilty.

    But assuming you’re in the US, there’s going to likely be a fairly protracted period between now and any trial, yes? And this person likely can’t do any work with your company before then, due to the arrest (even if they are eventually found innocent). So at some point, your company needs to have a realistic timeline so they can determine what to do. Maybe that’s put the person on leave until the court case is settled. Maybe that’s not reasonable for your company. But either way, this is going to be a longer-term problem, and your team and your company needs to know that.

    #3- I’ve usually seen it in cases where the people doing it aren’t going through what they think of as a ‘formal’ interview. For example, they may think of an interview as a formal list of questions they have to ask, a specific vetting process they do before hand, etc., whereas they’re doing more of a casual meeting that’s almost more like a business coffee. This often makes sense if both parties think they’re interested but want to learn more. For example, a contractor who has done work for a company for years is considering coming on staff. Doing a formal interview process with the classic questions feels…odd when you already have worked together.

    1. Bean Counter*

      FD: Exactly! I didn’t want to throw her under the bus. But as Alison & other posters have pointed out, the security clearance I have requires me to report the information.

  41. Alex*

    I try to go with the rule “swearing is OK with your peers, tread carefully with your boss.” My boss swears to me, but I don’t think she swears much with HER boss. I swear with my work BFF all the time, less so with people I know less well. For me, swearing conveys a level of intimacy and comfort with someone, and you should make sure you are keeping appropriate work boundaries in that regard.

  42. The Ginger Ginger*

    Op #1 (apologies if this has been said before I only skimmed the other comments) – I would also say – no matter the level of comfort with profanity/swear words in this or any future work place, err on the side of not referencing sexual acts/conduct in the work place. That’s what struck me as most dicey about what you said. It’s not that you swore necessarily, it’s that you explicitly reference a sex act while talking to your manager (or really at work at all, the manager thing just makes it a bit more squicky). That’s way different than if you’d used the same word to – say – call someone a dick; I have a feeling that wouldn’t have caused as much of a ruffle as what you actually said.

    Basically, even when profanity is common or accepted in your workplace, sex still has no place in the conversation. That said, it sounds like you handled it the way you should have. Don’t beat yourself up too badly; you’ll do better going forward. Give it a few months, and this will absolutely not be what your boss or coworkers thinks about when they think of you and your contributions to the office.

    1. LeRainDrop*

      Totally agree with this. I would have been absolutely shocked (and honestly a little triggered) to hear that phrase directed at me in the workplace.

  43. jk*

    op #1

    Well I guess because you’re a woman this is fine. Imagine if you were a guy and said that… the response would be so so different and probably really bad.

    It was socially awkward. The thing is though, you shouldn’t be saying this to anyone. Most importantly it was vulgar and work is not the place to say things like that, even if you’re trying to ‘fit in’. I’m all for casual chat and silly insults myself but what you said was pretty gross and degrading to your supervisor.

    1. anon4now*

      It’s also kind of interesting to note if a guy had also referenced a female’s genitalia in his response (not just his own genitalia), the situation would also be different. I doubt the advice for help with this would include “hilarious in 10 years” and instead paint him in a completely different light.
      The OP is lucky there is a such a double-standard regarding vulgarity for women in the workplace.

  44. Rusty Shackelford*

    One good thing about the non-interview is that it allows you to truthfully tell your current employer that you’re not taking a day off to go on a job interview. ;-)

  45. Oilpress*

    OP#1 – I enjoy it when my employees use profanity. They reserve it for rare occasions, but when they let it out, I know exactly how they feel about the topic. It’s a great communication device when used in this manner…and it can sometimes be really funny when the super-calm stoic person lets one loose.

  46. Roscoe*

    #2 For me is tough. In general, I wouldn’t bring it up, since I definitely think its not my place to divulge that info. Even if it will come out eventually, I don’t want to be the one to bring it up. However, I think I would do it in this case. Not necessarily because of the company, but because it is severely impacting the workload of you and your co-workers. While I do believe in minding your own business, once it does start to directly affect your ability to do your job, its a bit different. So I guess, if you weren’t on the same team, I’d say stay out of it, but since you are, I say tell your manager.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      Roscoe – the OP stated she holds a security clearance. She’s required to report something like this as a condition of holding that clearance. This one is a really black and white situation.

    2. SpaceNovice*

      Seconding EG. Clearances change everything. People holding security clearances are, theoretically, held up to the same standards or higher than law enforcement. Adding in the fact that that, depending on the position coworker had, she could have STOLEN federal funds, and you have an absolute nightmare. While the coworker may be innocent, she CLEARLY LIED about what is called “adverse information” and didn’t report it to her company as required, therefore making it necessary to yank her clearance. Had she not lied, things would be different. Now she needs to be fired and her clearance terminated immediately. Companies can’t protect you from false adverse information if you create adverse information by LYING about its existence.

      But even in a commercial financial company situation, I would report it to my manager.

  47. Amber Rose*

    OP 1: It’s more fun to be the non-swearer in an office where everyone curses like truckers. On the odd occasion my self control slips and I curse, the reactions of the people around me are pretty funny. And I work in an office where once upon a time when a coworker asked how long 12 inches was, another coworker offered to whip it out and give him a look.

    Rule of thumb: leave the cursing for when you’re frustrated and aim it at inanimate objects (one of our managers let loose a blistering string of anatomically unlikely suggestions at his phone once, it was amazing), and you’ll be fine.

    Don’t beat yourself up. People will more or less forget and it will become that funny drinking story in a couple years.

  48. lnelson1218*

    Sometimes it is hard not to swear at the work place. One time I was on the phone with a vendor and was getting frustrated at not being able to locate something I had just prior to the phone call, I knew that I shouldn’t drop the f-bomb, so used a favorite of my grandmother’s “where the dickens did that file go?” The vendor laughed.

  49. AnonMinion*

    OP#1 I feel you. I have been there and Alison is right, some day you will find it funny. My first professional job out of college was back during “The Simple Life” days when Paris and Nicole ruled the world. I called IT and after he resolved my problem I casually said “Thanks Bitch” before hanging up. I thought nothing of it until I looked up from the phone and everyone around me had their jaw hanging on the floor. Still makes me cringe then laugh! It was a fairly small organization there were only two IT guys so they definitely knew who I was.

  50. Lady Phoenix*

    Op1: Cursing at objects is better than at people.

    Op2: Let your boss know. Whether she is innocent or not is irrelevant, the bigger concern is that there is a missing cog in your conpany’s machine that will affect the workflow. Your boss can decide how they want to deal with it.

  51. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    One of the offices I work in at the moment is a ‘sweary’ office – but it’s in tech so people tend to swear at THINGS (as in, ‘this f-ing printer is f-ing shit and I’m f-ing sick of the bloody network f-ing up again’ rather that at people, which I think is the right way round!

  52. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    OP #1 – Well, you surprised me with that one! Ha! I have only worked in corporate office environments (but I’ve worked in a lot of them) and my personal policy for office language is: no swearing, no sexual references and no discussion of religion. I suppose I am trying to keep it professional and polite. You just never know how your audience might receive swearing, because a workplace is usually a network of people (co-workers, vendors, customers, etc.) of varying ages, personalities and tolerances. It’s hard to imagine going wrong with keeping the language relatively clean.

  53. Alex*

    #3 I’m from a governmental agency and there is a really good reason not to call it an interview. In our union environment, we are not allowed to interview the candidates more then once.
    The first one is usually a panel interview with the hiring manager and 2 others at the same level.
    The panel will then arrows it down to two candidates (or sometimes just one if we had a definite winner) and the director will make a decision on who to hire based on their recommendations. The second interview is usually called “chat with the Director”. Technically, not an interview, no set questions, no scoring. As such, totally allowed!

  54. Gwen*

    OP #1 – as someone who’s pretty foul-mouthed and prone to quoting favorite pieces of media in my private life, I did accidentally once say “Surprise motherfucker!” to a coworker lacking any context. Thankfully she is also a Dexter fan…

  55. A. Ham*

    #1- Finding the line between “TOO relaxed” and “stick in the mud” can be really tricky, and I can definitely sympathize.
    My 2nd job out of college was my first full time job and was with a company I adored and I was SUPER nervous about doing a good job and acting appropriately. But, it turned out it was a pretty relaxed environment and it threw me for a bit of a loop (especially since I was among the youngest, except for the interns). Like for example, we would often have evening events with Board members and donors, and for a long time, i would be the only employee who wouldn’t drink, (I’m not talking tying one on, I mean like a glass of wine during the event) even though i am not in any way opposed to drinking. Or I would seem a bit shocked/surprised at bad language or a slightly inappropriate joke (even though in normal life, that doesn’t bother me at all either).
    Meanwhile, after a few months there, I was increasingly getting the impression that I wasn’t really clicking with my new co-workers. I found out later it was because I seemed uptight and like I was judging them. Then, about 6 months in I let down my “this is work, I have to be super duper professional all the time” facade for a moment, when I let slip a “that’s what she said” (it was a particularly excellent opportunity… it was out of my mouth before I had a chance to think about it.) I was mortified. But wouldn’t you know, everyone laughed and from that moment on I was able to be (a little) more relaxed at work and actually started making some friends.

  56. Sarasaurus*

    OP #1, I sympathize with you so much. In my first post-college job, one of the execs was in the habit of asking me the same questions multiple times. At the time, I thought he was kind of a flake, but I obviously realize now that he was much busier and more important than I was, and that it was my job to remember all the little details he didn’t have time to deal with. Anyway, it was a pretty low-key workplace and we had a friendly, casual relationship. So, when he said “sorry, I know I’ve asked you this before, but I can’t remember….” I responded (in what I thought was a joke-y and good-natured way) “yeah man, maybe you should get your shit together.” I think he was more surprised than offended, but he looked positively SHOCKED.

  57. Delphine*

    #1: Perhaps this has been mentioned already, but even in workplaces where swearing is permissible, I would stick to words that aren’t misogynistic slurs (so no b*tch or c*unt; there’s nothing like hearing men in the office use those words liberally when you’re the only woman there) and words that aren’t body parts (no dick, I wouldn’t even use asshole). And definitely wouldn’t use any swear against another person.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Aw, there goes my recent favorite, “oh, balls”.

      I’d say an occasional mention of a body part is okay, as long as it doesn’t paint a vivid picture with another person in it. And boy, did OP1’s example paint a picture. (I exhaled in relief when I read to where OP said she was a woman.)

    2. Emi.*

      I am patiently waiting for the new hire to learn not to say that our software is a pain in the dick. That’s as may be, sir, but I don’t want to hear about it.

  58. Echo*

    OP #1, I agree with Alison that you handled this really well! One thing I would add, that might help you feel more confident going forward, is that I tend to put my foot in my mouth a *lot*, and it helps to practice correcting myself in the moment. So in that example, I would try to say “Oh wow, I’m sorry, I guess I forgot where I was for a moment” immediately after making the comment. It helps smooth things over without having to come back to it and make it a big deal down the line.

  59. Narnian*

    #2 If your co-worker has a clearance, you have an actual obligation to report this, and a time limit within which you are required to do that. Your co-worker also has a legal obligation to self-report on being arrested and has to do it within hours of being arrested. Your boss, if he manages cleared people and/or has a clearance, has an obligation to report it within a couple days of finding out.

    They take this very, very seriously. It’s better to report something and let them decide they don’t care about it than to not report it. Not reporting it can jeopardize your job and your boss’s job. There is no ethical dilemma – you should’ve read the paperwork you signed more closely, because you and your boss and your co-worker have all sworn to report exactly this kind of thing.

  60. SpaceNovice*

    Alison, please please PLEASE make sure that you get this information to OP #2. Cleared work is different than commercial work, and there’s protocol in place on how this should be handled. OP #2 must not have been given enough information about how to handle adverse information by their security officer, else they would have never written in. Writing in to you means that they could have just saved their company, no joke.

    OP #2: You absolutely MUST tell your boss and security officer immediately, no ifs, ands, or buts. And yes, that includes not just about the arrest but about the affidavit. (Tell your boss first so that they have time to quickly process the fact that they’re about to have the flaming wreckage created by your coworker getting arrested dumped into their lap.) Your coworker has a clearance. Getting arrested for any major crime is adverse information. Your company needs to do an extreme amount of damage control immediately. They not only need to inform the federal government of this but they need to do a thorough check of your systems to make sure that she didn’t defraud you as well. Or, even worse, if she was a foreign agent or insider threat. It’s the reports of coworkers that often catch people like this (even though she’s already caught).

    This information WILL get back to the federal government. Your company WILL look incredibly poor to the federal government if they aren’t handling it and aren’t the ones to tell them. Your company WILL lose contracts if this is not handled immediately and completely (and still might, sadly, but handling this will make it infinitely less likely). You MAY lose your clearance as well (and might be questioned as to why you didn’t tell management if someone knows you knew). Not only is your career on the line but the careers of literally every single person in your company. I don’t know if it’s possible for all of your coworkers to be kept in the dark to give her privacy. You’ll have to do a thorough review of any system she formally or informally had access to. There will probably be a formal investigation.

    You do not need to protect your coworker. She already lied about why she was out of the office not to protect her privacy but to hide adverse information that would jeopardize her clearance. She is no longer eligible to hold a clearance. You’re supposed to self-report adverse information like this! She did not. Therefore, it doesn’t even matter if she’s found out to be not guilty: her clearance absolutely 10000% MUST be pulled immediately.

    Now the good part: your curiosity and follow through means that this will only be a trash fire or a dumpster fire rather than an entire garbage dump on fire. If your coworker didn’t actually do those things, then she should be cleared eventually; clearance paperwork does have ways to handle situations like that (except she lied, so uh, she’s not gonna have a clearance anymore, sorry, her job is toast). It will be a DEFCON 2 situation instead of a DEFCON 1 situation. You may have just saved the company you worked for from being set on fire. Also, congratulations, you just gave your security officer a case study to use when explaining an insider threat (this statement is accompanied by the saddest of laugh and a sigh).

    If you need more information, do some searching around for adverse information online. It’s pretty common for people to not want to tell on their coworkers, but federal guidelines don’t care about personal feelings towards someone. Tell your boss, then your security officer, first, before you do anything else. Please.

    (Long story short: in anything where clearances are involved, if you have any doubt, share the information immediately with your boss. If it’s your boss the information is about, share with THEIR boss and the on-site security officer. If you cannot trust anyone in your company, there are hotlines to call in. You absolutely do not want to risk imprisonment or fines as well as the loss of your clearance. And yes, I know it sounds way overblown, but this is Serious Business and you want to be WORKING WITH the federal government to clean up this mess rather than making them into an adversary by not handling it. I know this situation sucks horribly, but the feds do not mess around with this sort of stuff. Save your ass, she chose her fate by not self-reporting, and you don’t want to suffer the consequences of her actions. There’s no more important task on your plate today than reporting this immediately; everything else is canceled. Good luck, OP #2!)

    1. SpaceNovice*

      Also wow, this does read like an overreaction to outsiders. But this is the sort of situation that can end up on at least local or even national news in worst case scenario, and this is the exact sort of scenario that can absolutely ruin a federal contractor. It doesn’t matter if the coworker is guilty; the company will have to act that way in order to confirm that the system has not been tampered with or money hasn’t been stolen (or is still being siphoned somehow). And if the company doesn’t, OP #2 has to contact a federal hotline for it. (Which might cost OP their job and career but it’s better that than risk jail time and fines.)

      I do not envy those that will have to deal with this situation in the slightest. What an absolute nightmare. This is the thing that keeps security officers up at night. OP #2 has my deepest sympathies. Again, good luck!

    2. AKchic*

      All of this.
      This is no overreaction. In my opinion, this is a little underdone, but that’s okay because not everyone works with security clearances (of any type).

      1. SpaceNovice*

        Yeah, I can’t expect anyone who hasn’t had security training of this nature to know just how bad this situation actually is when security clearances become involved. Seriously, my soul exited my body through my mouth and is currently following the trajectory of the Roadster upon realizing the arrested coworker and OP had security clearances.

        Also, I am happy to see everyone else who is in the know give the same answers I did. Had a little laugh in how it’s almost like I summarized other people’s comments. Talk about consistency!

    3. Bean Counter*

      Space Novice: Thank you for the very detailed advice!

      I did tell my manager today. It turned out that due to the security clearance, arrests are flagged and our security office knew the first business day after the arrest (which was at night). Management had already had a meeting, and “dealt” with it. (Thank goodness!)

      You were also correct about the seriousness. We are a federal government contractor with thousands of employees, the needs of the many outweigh her desire for privacy.

      1. SpaceNovice*

        You’re welcome! I believe it’s better to give someone too much information than too little. :)

        I’m glad it wasn’t necessary for you to tell your manager, but still very glad that you did. You did exactly as you were supposed to do. You are the type of person worthy of a security clearance. Also, that’s pretty cool that there’s a system flagging that sort of thing! (I agree–thank goodness that they knew already! I’m sure they appreciated you making sure that they did. I would have for sure if you had been one of my direct reports.)

        I figured as much from the questions. Being a bigger contractor at least means that your security office is experienced and knows how to handle this situation. There’s probably even standard operating procedures. A big relief, really.

        Thank you for getting back to me, too! I was seriously worried about the worst case scenario there. Looks like that will be avoided, which means I can breathe easy, haha.

  61. Traveling Teacher*

    To OP 1: Working in a non-native English speaking country, I’ve done the same thing, to my great embarrassment, in my second language. It’s so much harder to register profanity when you’re using language in real life rather than the classroom (it sounds like any emphatic word, right?).

    Once, I said, “Ca me fait chier!” thinking that “chier” meant “to annoy.” People said it all the time around me–colleagues, French friends of many different ages.

    It actually means “to shit”…. So, to my seventy+ year old fellow choir member, I said, “That makes me shit!”

    So embarrassing!

  62. V*


    Im in my late 20s and went through something very similar when I started my current job where swearing is the norm. My rule is I never swear *at* people. If I spill my coffee I’ll say damn it, but I would never ask a coworker what the hell they were thinking.

    It’s worked for me so far.

  63. Aphrodite*

    OP #1, I personally like to be seen and thought of as in control, having class, and being a lady so I do not swear beyond an occasional “damn.” I don’t shout or berate cashiers or salespeople or other drivers in a massive traffic jam (such as I encountered this morning on my way to work). I like to hold myself to certain standards, and to me that means, among other things, using my words carefully. I don’t always succeed but at least no one will ever hear those ugly words coming from me.

    Those who use it, do. I ignore it because I don’t have the right to tell anyone else what language choices to use (though my personal preference would be that society go back to keeping this language out of the public ear). I also think your chances for success go up if you don’t use it even though others might argue that point with me.

    1. The Supreme Troll*

      I definitely do swear (lightly & sparingly whenever possible amongst my friends and close co-workers/never around my boss, and mostly under my breath to myself)…but you’re on a right path here and I see where you’re coming from. I definitely don’t swear at cashiers, restaurant servers, etc. because I know that they are not in the same environment that I and my team are settled in, just as I’m assuming the OP wouldn’t. Other drivers…well I know to control that now as I am “maturing”, unless they really, really do something so boneheaded!

      That being said, it would be great if people in general cut down on the cursing and stuck to more proper words, but we are human, and swearing can be an immediate, although very brief, stress reliever.

  64. LPUK*

    I didn’t swear much until I moved into a sales manager position. As one of the few females in the management team, and handicapped by being small, slight, blonde, soft-voiced and a non drinker ( in a really work hard, play hard culture), it turned out dropping the f-bomb was just what was needed to be taken seriously! It had more impact because apparently I really didn’t look like the type of person to swear at all – Ok, so one particularly public school type fell off his chair in a meeting once, but my boss just laughed uproariously!
    Trouble is, having used it successfully in that role, I haven’t been able to kick the habit since, and I slipped up in front of my niece and nephew and instantly became ‘Naughty Auntie L” – a title I retain to this day. Oh well, if I can’t be a role model, i’ll Have to settle for being an Object lesson instead!

  65. AKchic*

    Security Clearance – It should have been reported already. I cannot stress enough that this should have already been reported. I don’t know if you are a gov’t agency or a contractor with gov’t clearance, or just a run-of-the-mill agency with clearance to see gov’t or personal information (like medical stuff, or just financial stuff of everyday people or gov’t employees, whatever).
    What’s compounded here is that we don’t actually *kn0w* if management knows the true nature of what’s going on. Maybe management said that the father said it was a “family emergency” to keep people from gossiping (this is quite possible). Maybe not. I would cover my bases and have a face-to-face with the manager and say a quick “hey, I don’t mean to pry or overstep, but I know X about Ophelia’s arrest. It seems pertinent considering the nature of our work and I wasn’t sure if you were aware since Coworker B had made a comment about [cover story reason].”
    Maybe reassure the manager that you’re not going to gossip about it, but basically a heads up that if anyone had actually done a google search, they could have figured it out and may have the same apprehensions and might be concerned about security and the clients/contracts.

    1. SpaceNovice*

      All of this. At worse, your boss already knows and tells you not to tell anyone else. At best, you alert them to something that can keep your employer from being eaten alive when word finally gets back to the federal government. But the fact they don’t already have people combing through the system (unless coworker didn’t have the right sort of access or if they’re doing it discreetly) makes me suspect management doesn’t know.

  66. Bean Counter*

    OP#2 Update:

    I’ve replied to a few people, but didn’t want to post the same thing on every answer. There were a lot of very helpful posts!

    Some clarification on the situation
    #1 This occurred in Florida, which has very strong public information laws. I actually found out about it from another employee, who found out because the arrested person’s father was trying to round up bail. The jailed person has her picture on the sherriff’s website, which lists the charges, case number, etc. The clerk of court lists all the different court documents (which again, is public, and how I saw the affidavit for arrest warrant).

    #2 When I reported it, my manager let me know that clearances are flagged, and our security office is notified of arrests, so management was already aware of the issue. They knew the next business day after the arrest.

    #3 The arrest warrant listed in excruciating detail the investigation and proof collected of the crimes (31 pages worth). In the warrant, the person admitted some of the charges outright. I wasn’t quick to judge, this was a work friend, and I would much prefer the evidence was not so clear.

    #4 While there was no way for her to divert company funds in her position, to hold a secret clearance, you cannot have issues like this. We cannot even wear our badges outside of our offices, or list our job/company on social media, because they believe it opens you up to possible bribes or foreign influence.

    If I missed anything, just ask.

    1. SpaceNovice*

      Nope, that’s more than enough information, thank you! Glad to hear that it was handled well by everyone involved: the sheriff’s office, your company, and you. That’s 100% how it should be handled. (You replied to me, but hey I wanted to reply here too.)

      Your company has a good policy over not putting their name on social media. If you’re in a big company, you’re a big target. Definitely a good to only divulge that as necessary. Standard operating procedures for hiding badges, too. Your security office is doing everything right from what you’ve said.

      While I’m glad that she didn’t have access to funds, it still sucks you had to deal with this. When you think you know someone….

    2. Observer*


      You did the right thing. The fact that your company is set up for this, and had the information is great news, but doesn’t change the fact that you did the right thing because you couldn’t know it in advance.

      As for the rest, that’s tough to deal with. So much works on trust…

      As for the father, may it’s just the stress of dealing with the issue, but he’s not being terribly smart. Why did he lie about where she is? I’m guessing that he didn’t know about how your place is set up to be informed about stuff like this. But, still – he’s collecting money for her bail so he should realize that people will figure out that he lied about where she is. The lie has to make things worse, even if this job is irretrievably lost.

  67. Leah*

    True, but you can always err on the side of caution until you know. I didn’t start swearing until I was in my twenties. I know people at work that don’t swear at all even though it is common. I also know people who I am quite certain swear but haven’t (yet) done it in front of me our of professionalism (but will, as time goes on – that’s more common with managers who will swear behind closed doors but reign it in in front of subordinates, which is a good thing).

    I think a good rule of thumb is that describing a sexual act is never really acceptable and is more vulgarity than profanity (for instance, ‘dick’ is not really profane, but the statement ‘suck my dick’ is very vulgar).

    Same goes for any references to or words for body parts/genitalia – there’s no context or example I can think of where that won’t be somewhat offensive/not really acceptable (even if your coworkers do it – they are pushing boundaries).

    Swearing to yourself, at an object, or at a situation (not created by the person you are talking to) – not directed at a person – is also far more acceptable. For instance, “what the f*ck were you thinking?” to pretty much anyone in the workplace is not okay. “This is frigging ridiculous” because your phone cut you off from 4 consecutive calls – more acceptable. I get ridiculous deadlines at work (through no fault of my boss or really anyone… it’s media so sometimes I get a call and they want a formal, vetted, approved response in an hour) so “are you f*cking kidding me?!” is commonly heard at my desk. Even though everyone damn well knows I’m gonna do it on time anyway, haha.

    My suggestion would be to google some awesome swear word replacements and start throwing those in hilariously from now on. “Shut the front door!” “Holy fork that’s amazing!” If you use them ironically, people will love it. If you want to venture further, words like “frigging,” “freaking,” “shoot,” “darnit” are probably better to start with. People won’t really notice.

    A few caveats for your current and future places of employment, though: always be aware of your audience, always tone it down when you are with someone you notice does not swear often or at all, and my mindful of religiously-toned swearing and language around people you know or suspect may be very religious. They won’t always say something, but you don’t want to make someone uncomfortable with “oh my God” and “goddammit” all the time. Oh, and as previously mention, always tone it down a bit with your subordinates until you’ve had a chance to gauge their level of comfort, because they might not feel comfortable telling you profanity offends them.

    Off my soap box now :)

  68. B*

    #3 – There is one aspect of this that I’m confused about and makes me a bit uneasy here. Has the OP actually applied for a position there, or is this an “I sent in my resume just in case” sort of situation? As in, is it possible that this is actually, well, not an interview at all? Maybe they just want to get to know OP to see if they would be a potential good fit if something opens up? I may completely off base here, but the fact that they seem to be so studiously avoiding the word “interview” is setting off all kinds of alarms with me.

  69. soon 2be former fed*

    #1, it’s not the swearing but the dick reference that find odd. You don’t have a dick to suck, so what did you mean? Probably best to avoid both cussing and genital references in the office.

  70. frogs and turtles*

    On the coworker in jail: The “my ex is messing with me” comment caught me and I am wondering if there is actually something to that. Maybe that was just an excuse — however, economic abuse is absolutely a form of domestic violence. I used to work with an agency that specialized in helping abuse survivors with this. (The stories I heard were unreal — the lengths these guys would go to in order to control every aspect of their partners’ lives was jaw-dropping.) Women lose their housing, the contents of their bank accounts, and have their credit destroyed by boyfriends/husbands/exes more often than you might think. They get fired because they are stalked at work, or because of absenteeism caused by abuse. Women are evicted because their abusive boyfriends/husbands break things, make noise, promise to pay the rent and then don’t, etc. In some cases the abuser often takes control of all financial transactions in the household — makes her sign her paychecks over to him, refuses to let her have access to bank accounts, etc. There have been cases where the guy makes sure the house is in her name while also taking control of the payments, and then he just stops paying the mortgage without telling her, resulting in foreclosure (while wrecking her credit in the process).

    The coworker’s ex, for instance, could have stolen her identity and committed all the fraud himself in revenge for her breaking up with him, assuming that she would take the blame. He also could have blackmailed her or threatened her in some way to get her to do it.

  71. thesoundofmusic*

    I think a general rule of thumb is not to use any swear language at work at all. I don’t think anyone will find it odd that you don’t swear, but some–and many many–will find it odd if you do.

  72. RB*

    Re #1: Is anyone else reminded of the Seinfeld episode in which Jerry is trying to talk dirty to his girlfriend and gets it horribly wrong?

  73. Beentheredonethat*

    You have a clearance you have a contractual duty to to the government to report adverse information about coworkers to your security officer otherwise you can get in serious trouble.

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