we give our interns free housing — and there are problems

A reader writes:

I train and manage a team of young (22-25) paid interns who, as part of their compensation, have free housing in a shared living space owned by my organization. Recently, one of my female interns told me (in tears) that the male interns repeatedly use the word “bitch” in their shared living space, despite multiple requests from female staff to stop. This is not acceptable to me, and I am definitely going to address it.

How do I best approach these young men constructively without causing retaliation against my female interns? There’s no way for me to know about this unless I had been told, and I’m worried that it will become a bigger issue behind closed doors if I intervene. It also borders on controlling my employees’ behavior outside of work hours, so how do I make it clear that this is still a work-related issue even if they’re not “at work”?

You are bringing back terrible memories for me! Years and years ago, I worked for an organization that provided free housing for its interns — they purchased a huge old house, and had a staff member live there rent-free in exchange for making sure the house ran smoothly. For about a year, I was that staff member. (I was 25-ish and traveling all the time, so it seemed like a good deal! It was not.) I dealt with so much weirdness in that house, including having to talk to a guy who refused to flush the toilet for environmental reasons (not okay when you’re sharing a house with eight other people in it), food thieves, a woman who tried to insist on total silence after 8 p.m., interns who thought I was their mom and would drive them places, someone who liked to pee outside, and so much more. And for some reason, they could not be trained to lock the door when they left — which resulted in the house being robbed a few months after I left. (And when the robber came in, they made him tea! They assumed he was a new intern. Then they all headed out, and when they came back, the “new intern” and all their electronics were gone.)

Anyway, your question.

You’re providing living space and housing them with other interns; you absolutely have standing to insist that they not harass, degrade, or otherwise create a hostile environment for the other people in the house. You’re right, though, that you can’t address it without it becoming clear that someone reported it to you, but that’s okay — because as part of addressing it, you can make it clear that any kind of retaliation against people for talking to you will be even more of a problem than the original behavior.

Say something like this: “While you’re sharing living space with other interns, we expect you to be respectful. I’ve heard reports that you’ve been asked to stop calling people ‘bitches’ but you’ve continued. Can you tell me what’s going on?” Then you follow up with, “It does need to stop. We have an obligation to ensure that the living space we’re providing is livable for everyone in it, and we’d be legally liable as an organization if we heard people felt unsafe or harassed there and didn’t act. In general, if someone tells you your behavior in the house is unwelcome, assume you need to cut it out — or come talk to me if you think you shouldn’t need to.”

Then say, “I hope this goes unsaid, but part of treating the other interns in the house with respect means that there can’t be any retaliation against them for telling me what was going on. That’s something we would take very seriously, to the point of reconsidering your internship here. Do you feel like you’ll be be able to treat them normally and respectfully going forward?”

And then talk to the women who talked to you, let them know that you’ve addressed it and it shouldn’t be happening anymore, and that you want to know if there are any further problems. Tell them that you made it clear that it would unacceptable for anyone to retaliate against them for talking to you, and that they should let you know immediately if that happens.

You should also inquire more broadly about how things are going in the house — do they otherwise feel comfortable there and have there been any other problems? — and reiterate that if they feel unsafe or harassed in the future, they should come to you or another employee right away and you’ll help them, and it’s okay if they need to do that. In doing this, be open to hearing that they may not be super comfortable living with these dudes at all, and be prepared for the possibility that you may need to make changes there.

And then check in a few times with them in the weeks/months to come. People won’t always approach you when there are problems, so assume you’ll need to go out of your way to find out how things are going there and how comfortable people are feeling.

{ 673 comments… read them below }

  1. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Is it all the male interns or just a few? Because I think you should talk to *everyone* individually and make them aware that this behavior is not acceptable and if they witness it, they need to speak up.

    Men who don’t call out other men for this kind of behavior are just as culpable for creating this environment as the ones behaving badly.

    1. LKW*

      Yes, I would recommend talking to EACH member, male and female, to reinforce that retaliation is absolutely unacceptable. In shared living quarters that means respect for property, privacy, personal time, no shunning, etc. People need to understand that retaliation is not just the reporter and reportee – it is the entire group of interns and those in the office too. If one of your coworkers made it difficult for any of the interns involved that would be unacceptable.

        1. Denise*

          There’s a reason MTV execs thought it’d make for great TV to throw a bunch of random young people together in one house and watch what happens. Drama.

      1. Doc in a Box*

        My medical school used to send students out to satellite clinics (anywhere from several miles to several states away) and provided housing for the duration of the rotation. Because there’s nothing more sensible than sticking a group of highly strung, competitive 20-somethings in a small shared space where they are together literally 24/7. (My satellite rotation was primary care in the suburbs. I opted out of that house-share in favor of taking 2 buses and a train every day. Long commute, but so so worth it.)

    2. Genny*

      Yeah, and I think part of this conversation needs to be about how it’s not okay to use those terms even if you’re not using them to refer directly to one of your fellow interns. My reading of the letter is that some guys (all?) are using the word generally, some women (all?) have asked them to stopped, it hasn’t stopped (maybe because the guys don’t feel like it’s a big deal if the word isn’t being directed specifically towards one of the other interns). When talking to them, I would include a sentence or two about why using abusive language isn’t okay (especially after you’ve repeatedly been asked to stop) even if it’s not directed against people in your immediate vicinity.

    3. Trout 'Waver*

      Men who don’t call out other men for this kind of behavior are just as culpable for creating this environment as the ones behaving badly.
      Not really. I mean, yes men should call other men out on problematic behavior. But there are all sorts of situations where someone might feel they can’t call out others’ bad behavior. To create a moral equivalency between a person in that situation and the asshole doing the bad behavior is absurd.

      1. Poppy Weasel*

        Yeahhh, this is like saying if a woman is raped and she doesn’t report the rapist and he goes on to rape another woman, that the first woman is just as culpable in the crime as the rapist.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          You’re drawing a false equivalency. Your example blames the victim for not acting. I am blaming the bystanders.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            So bystanders are generally culpable in crimes they witness? Or is it just in this particular instance?

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              If you witness a crime and don’t do anything, you are not a good person. I’m not saying you have to interject bodily or anything, but at least call the cops.

              But this is still a false equivalency.

              1. Trout 'Waver*

                What’s the threshold for this? Surely you’re not calling the cops for every crime you see. That would be exhausting and waste their resources as well.

                Also, I think it’s a perfectly valid analogy to compare bystanders in the context to bystanders in other contexts. You’re free to disagree, just like you’re free to choose whatever definition of “false equivalency” suits you.

                1. Not myself today*

                  Heck, yes. I hardly ever see any crime (like, twice in my lifetime) and each time I called the cops.

                  Ok, that’s not counting speeding tail-gating drivers or people smoking pot. I guess those are where my thresholds are – the first because it’d waste cop time and the second because I don’t agree with it being a crime.

                2. Marthooh*

                  “I think it’s a perfectly valid analogy to compare bystanders in the context to bystanders in other contexts.”

                  It is not valid to compare the victim of a crime to a bystander. That is the “false equivalency” that worries Detective Amy Santiago. And me.

                3. Trout 'Waver*

                  @Marthooh “False Equivalency” refers to the logical fallacy of insisting that two things are equally bad because they are opposite to each other. I think what you and Amy are going for is “Bad analogy”

                  Also, I’m specifically talking about bystanders and not victims. Hence my use of the word bystanders and not the word victims.

                4. Marthooh*

                  @Trout ‘Waver – “False equivalency” is the logical fallacy of assuming that if two things have something in common, they must have everything in common. A false equivalency is a particular kind of bad analogy.

                  Looking back over the thread, though, it was somebody else who drew the victim = bystander comparison. Never mind!

                5. Former Employee*

                  “Surely you’re not calling the cops for every crime you see. That would be exhausting and waste their resources as well.”

                  Where do you live that you are witnessing crimes on such a regular basis that it would be exhausting to call the police every time?

                  I live in a medium size city outside of one of the largest cities in the USA and I can’t recall witnessing crimes.

              2. Anonymoose*

                “If you witness a crime and don’t do anything, you are not a good person” That’s incredibly subjective and context dependent.

                1. pcake*

                  One late night while walking my dog, I saw a guy breaking into car after car by smashing the side windows or windshields and stealing their stereos. I called the police. They found me, asked which way he was and then arrested him. And then they brought him to me right there on the street where he could see me clearly and asked me to I.D. him as the thief. And while it might not have been their intention, he got a very good look at me.

                  I was afraid after that. The guy could have gotten out of jail on bail, but he also could have asked someone to dissuade the chubby 40ish redhead with the big black chow from talking further to the police. A very similar thing happened to us years before when I reported a group of teenagers who I knew were breaking into people’s houses and stealing their stuff. And it did lead to them retaliating against us by destroying our property over and over.

                  Things like this make reporting a crime a scary thing for those of us who do so. I think twice now before reporting.

              1. Trout 'Waver*

                Good Samaritan laws are laws the protect people who do intervene from being sued by the people they try to help. They generally apply to medical situations and not criminal occurrences.

                I don’t know of any laws that require a bystander to intervene in the moment a crime occurs.

                1. Annabelle*

                  Idk how widespread this is, but in my county, anyone over the age of 18 can be charged with a misdemeanor if they witness child abuse and don’t report it. So there’s at least some legal precedent for this type of thing.

                2. Luna*

                  I think there are two different types of laws, those that protect helpers from getting sued and those that require bystanders to take some sort of action (even if that action is just calling the police).

                  Though I admit my knowledge in this area is in large part informed by the Seinfeld finale, so…might not be very accurate! :)

                3. Trout 'Waver*

                  @Annabelle In the United States, those are generally called mandated reporter laws.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Yes, really.

        If I am in a group of 5 men and one of them calls me a bitch and none of the others speak up to defend me, I am going to assume that means the other 4 either agree with him or don’t see a problem with what he said.

        Unless you’re dealing with a physically unsafe situation, which I don’t think would be the case in a workplace.

        1. NaoNao*

          I agree, and while it may not hold up “in a court of law” I for one am super tired of “well I didn’t say anything because that guy was scary” He’s scary *to women who are being harassed too*, guys. More scary, if anything.
          I realize I’m drawing a pretty wide generalization here, but many men will listen to and respect the requests of other men much, much more quickly and seriously than they will women. I am a big proponent of holding men accountable when they stand by while men cat call, harass, insult, stalk, abuse, and/or otherwise make women’s lives miserable while they do nothing.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            I realize I’m drawing a pretty wide generalization here, but many men will listen to and respect the requests of other men much, much more quickly and seriously than they will women. I am a big proponent of holding men accountable when they stand by while men cat call, harass, insult, stalk, abuse, and/or otherwise make women’s lives miserable while they do nothing.


          2. HRH the Emperor Kuzco*

            It is a pretty wide generalisation but one I have seen tons of first hand evidence with. There have been multiple times I have been witness to a group of men acting like jerks, but the second one of the group (or even a man outside the group) pointed the behaviour out they stopped.

            Not only that, but one thing told to me once in a leadership class has always stuck by me: if you see something wrong and you don’t say something, you have now created a new standard. I feel this needs to be applied to this level of behaviour as well. If you see something and don’t say something, you are okay with that standard of behaviour.

              1. HRH the Emperor Kuzco*

                It does, however I feel that just walking by something and saying, “it’s not my job to fix that,” creates just as many problems. Peer pressure is a hell of a thing, and knowing your peers would not be okay with a certain type of behaviour does a lot. Tacitly being okay with it (just walking by) at the very least is a neutral affect, if not positive. This can be from anything such as a coworker just tossing peanut shells on the floor, to being the one that doesn’t reload the copier, to catcalling women at the workplace.

                1. Trout 'Waver*

                  I think if you lack the ability to fix something, it’s OK to sometimes say “it’s not my job”. The leader does generally have the most authority or ability to fix things.

                  This is also why it can be so damaging to have a terrible boss. If you push back too much, your boss is going to make your life tough. But people looking in from the outside see you not pushing back and think you’re OK with what’s happening. It can be very difficult on workers who are in a situation like I describe. And it’s even worse if people make assumptions about your character because of it.

          3. STG*

            He’s scary *to women who are being harassed too*, guys.

            That doesn’t make him any less scary to the men either though. Just saying. It’s not one or the other.

            1. Librarygeek*

              He’s less likely to harass, stalk, or assault a dude for saying “Not cool” than a woman for pushing back against being harassed, though.

                1. ket*

                  You know what? Most of the time what I see from bystander men is not fear. It’s just laziness and complacency. This false equivalence between, “I didn’t tell him not to call her a bitch because I just don’t care that much” and “I didn’t tell him not to call her a bitch because I know he carries a weapon and has a hot temper” is just bs.

                2. Preppy6917*

                  Not sure why I can’t reply to Ket, but it sure is amazing how they know exactly what’s going through the minds of people other than themself

                3. whingedrinking*

                  You know the quote, “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them”? In my experience, men are afraid other men will call them a wuss.
                  Sometimes they’re afraid of being punched, which is fair, but women are afraid of being punched too – and on average, women are at greater danger in a physical altercation.

                4. ket*

                  @Preppy, nesting runs out at some point so replies aren’t possible.

                  To the point, though, would you argue that there is an equivalence between “I don’t care” and “I’m afraid for my safety”? Of course there are other reactions: I don’t know what to say, I bet she doesn’t want me to say anything, I’ll let her handle it because it’ll be fine, etc. But in this thread there are a lot of people arguing that when Fergus says, “What a bitch!” about Nancy in accounting who asked for an extra receipt, Wakeen is totally out of line for saying “cut that out.” I’m sorry that you think I’m making a lot of assumptions about what is in peoples’ heads. To the contrary, I’m arguing there’s a lot of room between voluntary silence (which you seem to prefer) and being afraid to speak because of consequences like harassment, violence, stalking, or assault (the fear STG and Librarygeek were discussing).

            2. tangerineRose*

              We hear from people who say they didn’t know what to say when someone else says something offensive. Maybe we should give bystanders the benefit of the doubt.

            3. Anion*

              But apparently it is indeed the responsibility of men to protect and rescue women.

              I happen to agree with that, but I also don’t put men down or complain about them or insist I’m no different from them.

              1. Hrovitnir*

                Riiiight. “People who are in the same group should call out gross behaviour from their peers” =/= “men should protect women.”

                Men should call out other men being sexist or harassing women. White people should call out other white people for being racist, and straight people should call out homophobia.

                It’s typically much more effective than people from the marginalised group saying something, and absolutely silence can encourage bigots to think everyone around them agrees with them.

        2. Trout 'Waver*

          That’s interesting. I would assume that the other 4 men are only associating with the asshole because they were forced to and not because they wanted to or agreed with him. None of this happens in a vacuum, though. I’d look at the context before writing everyone off as assholes too.

          I’m also thinking that there are contexts where a woman might want the situation to be over as quickly as possible instead of litigating it on the spot or risking escalation.

          1. logicbutton*

            The situation might be over quickly *for the other men* if they don’t say anything. For the woman, until she knows for a fact that she has allies, the situation will never be over.

            1. Pomona Sprout*

              ^^^ This. Effing THIS. ^^^

              Seriously, how hard is it to understand this? The complete lack of comprehension of the realities faced by women demonstrated by some of these comments is appalling to me. So much so that I don’t dare comment further for fear of saying something ban-worthy.

          2. ket*

            How hard is it for a guy to say, “Not cool, bro,” or “Hey man, cut it out.”? You don’t have to litigate it on the spot. You don’t have to say, “I’m sorry, acquaintance, but it seems you have wittingly or unwittingly engaged in an act that can be construed as sexism.” You don’t have to make it confrontation or a discussion. Just indicate your disapproval and move on.

            1. Trout 'Waver*

              Honestly, it depends on the context of the situation. Personally, if something like that happened, it would be because I was with complete strangers or with people I hated that I was forced to be with. I wouldn’t voluntarily be just chilling, working with, or associated with people who thought that was acceptable behavior.

              I’m pushing back against the notion that every man is always in a position to speak up immediately about sexist behavior. That’s just not reality.

              1. Detective Amy Santiago*

                But we are specifically referring to the context of a workplace situation here.

                1. Trout 'Waver*

                  Nothing I’ve said doesn’t apply in a work situation. But, I’m going to leave this here.

          3. Zombeyonce*

            A woman may want it to be over quickly, but she’d also like it never to happen again and would probably consider a denouncement of it worth a bit of extra discomfort.

            1. Trout 'Waver*

              In general, I would think so. But I’m pretty sure it’s not a 100% black and white thing.

              1. Cat Herder*

                Well, ok, but is it going to harm you (general you, not necessarily you in particular) if you speak up and it bothers the target of the offensive/sexist/racist/homophobic language because “they can take care of themselves” or whatever their reason is? Really, what is the harm? When most of the time, you are (1) doing the morally right thing and (2) the target is going to be grateful that you did it. Unless you’re genuinely afraid yourself, I don’t see why you wouldn’t speak up.
                If it does offend the person who’s the target, then just apologize. Otherwise, I think it is best to err on the side of doing the right thing.

          4. Archaeopteryx*

            It’s pretty much generally accepted that if a friend/acquaintance uses a racist term, it’s important for you to say “Hey, not cool” in some way. The same applies to sexism. Just a little resistance to show you don’t agree goes a long way.

        3. Preppy6917*

          You can make that assumption, but that doesn’t make it true. I’ve been called names plenty of times on the street (thankfully not at work), but nobody has ever stepped in to defend my honor (nor do they need to).

          In fact, the only time I would *consider* intervening is in a physically unsafe situation. Otherwise, as far as I’m concerned one person calling another person a name, while incredibly unprofessional, is between those two individuals and management and I would immediately remove myself from the situation altogether.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            On the street is VASTLY different from in the workplace. Women have the right to expect and demand respect in the workplace.

            1. Preppy6917*

              So demand it. But the expectation than someone else is supposed to act on your behalf is way off base (and there’s a good chance it wouldn’t be welcome in my liberal west coast city).

              1. Detective Amy Santiago*

                If a man stands by silently while another man disrespects a female colleague, then he is also disrespecting her.

                1. Trout 'Waver*

                  What if the female colleague explicitly asked to let it slide because she has to work with the asshole in the future and everyone knows he’s an asshole anyway?

              2. Former Employee*

                I live in a fairly liberal, west coast city.

                Would you react differently if a white person called a black person the “N” word?

                1. Preppy6917*

                  Nope, because name calling, while it can be terrible, isn’t worth escalating into a much more serious confrontation in the moment.

            2. Teclatrans*

              And to take it further, this is not just the workplace, this is roommates. You can’t just tap out in a roommate situation, especially if you are a man observing male housemates using harassing language.

        4. RUKiddingMe*

          “…assume that means the other 4 either agree with him or don’t see a problem with what he said.”

          Exactly this.

      3. bodazaquizaquozitory*

        nope, nope – it’s their fault as well, and mine and every man…always is, always will be.

    4. Triple Anon*

      I would talk to everyone individually about how they think the house is running. Remind everyone to be respectful, and ask if there are any issues. The “bitch” thing might not be the only problem.

    5. RUKiddingMe*

      “Men who don’t call out other men for this kind of behavior are just as culpable for creating this environment as the ones behaving badly.”

      Bears repeating.

    6. A*

      I really hate this black and white thinking of “if you’re not with us you’re against us”. There’s all kinds of reasons a bystander might not intervene from “didn’t know what to say” “said something later” “wasn’t sure if it was their place to speak up” to other, more nefarious things like “actually agrees with it”. It’s not like all men get training on how to defend female coworkers that some of them just conveniently decide not to use.
      Yes it’s worth making it clear to men that they can make a difference and generally it will be appreciated if they call out bad behavior (vs derided for taking away someone else’s autonomy) and even just a “whoa, bro!” can be enough. But saying they are the same is both not true and needlessly alienating to everyone who saw something and didn’t act in time. I would guess that is most of the populace; I certainly have seen things and not realized I should have done something until after the fact. I remember and try to do better if it happens again, but for me at least it always came from a place of surprise/not knowing what to do until the moment had passed. (think, driving and noticing something; hearing something uncool but not really realizing hey, I can actually say something! until an hour later. Etc etc)

  2. MuseumChick*

    This doesn’t help the current situation but might help cut this kind of thing off early on in the future. If you don’t already, could you implement a sort of orientation for interns that covers basic house rule and standards of behavior making it clear what to do if someone feels harassed and the consequences for not maintaining a basic level of decorum?

    1. Naptime Enthusiast*

      I like this, if they’re getting the benefit of rent-free (!) company-provided housing they need to be held to higher standards of behavior, spelled out somewhere for everyone. If they can’t live up to that then they need to find their own housing, and if they don’t adhere to the standards then their housing and potentially their internship is in jeopardy.

      Maybe that feels too much like living in a college dorm for some interns, but I think the convenience and cost benefit is too high for most to ignore.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        Just to be clear they are not paying rent but it is not “free housing,” if the organization is following the law the housing provided is considered part of the overall compensation to the interns for tax purposes based on a fair market rate for the area they are located in.

        The company should address the issue of harassment against the female interns, but on a side note how much can or should the company be involved in policing other behaviors at home based on others being uncomfortable? What if some interns were just cursing in general and some people were uncomfortable by it, or if people were smoking weed and others did not like it?

        I know the company would have the right to address those issues but should they?

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          If the home is part of the professional package, then it should be treated like an extension of the workplace. There’d be an expectation that the employees try face-to-face resolution of normal problems, and then pull in mgmt if that doesn’t work. And yes, there should be an expectation of courtesy to the roommates. They don’t have much choice about the living situation, unless the company is willing to give a stipend or other alternatives.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            If you do that you are choosing to prioritize one persons comfort in their own home over another persons.

            1. SarcasticFringehead*

              I would be comfortable prioritizing the comfort of people who don’t want to be exposed to harassing behavior over people who want to continue harassing behavior.

            2. Detective Amy Santiago*

              If you live in a dwelling that you do not own, you follow the rules set forth by the person who owns it.

              No different than my landlord banning smoking or pets in my apartment.

              1. Indoor Cat*


                I’ve been in living situations where both of the things CmdrShepard4Ever mentioned (swearing in general and smoking weed) were banned, as well as drinking alcohol on the premises, smoking cigarettes, owning a cat or dog, lighting candles, playing loud music without headphones, and breaking rules regarding water and electric usage. Doing something banned would result in eviction.

                In those situations, I was not the homeowner. I was either a renter who signed the contract which explicitly stated the rules and the consequences of breaking them, I was living free of charge with a family member, or I was living free of charge in exchange for volunteering at the non-profit organization.

                I think people are getting thrown because this is a for-profit company (presumably), but there is a ton of precedent for homeowners being allowed to set whatever rules they want. Tenant rights are limited, generally to the right to a proper eviction notice timeline as recommended by the state (in the US). Unconditional quit notices (aka 24-hour eviction notices) can be given if a person violates a state or federal law, such as physical or sexual assault, arson, felony vandalism, illicit drug use (including weed), sexual solicitation on premises, etc.

                Tenants also have the right to housing that is up to code.

                And while many tenants (whether renters or living with family or a non-profit) might bristle at this dichotomy, I definitely appreciate the ability to set and enforce the rules of my own home. That’s a freedom that’s vital, to my mind. Currently, I don’t have any relatives or sub-letters, but I’m more open to the idea of taking someone in knowing that I have rights to make my home as I choose while accommodating other people.

                1. Sarah*

                  Yeah, I mean, I’m fairly certain smoking pot has been against the rules in EVERY place I’ve rented, including in Denver and Berkeley. Not to say it was always enforced, but…

              2. CmdrShepard4ever*

                I don’t question the authority of the company to impose the rules, I am asking should they.

                Particularly because this is company provided housing it blurs the line between business and personal. If my landlord banned smoking, pets that’s all acceptable. But if a landlord tried to ban swearing or drinking in an apt I would think they were off their rocker. Again the landlord could do it but I would think they were crazy and shouldn’t do it.

                1. KHB*

                  When a landlord is assigning (formerly) complete strangers to share living space with one another, he has a different set of responsibilities than if he’s leasing complete apartments to individuals or groups of people who already know each other. In the latter case, he has an interest in preventing damage to the premises – hence the restrictions on smoking and pets – but in the former case, he also has an interest in limiting the harm the tenants can do to their roommates.

                  That doesn’t mean jumping straight to “ban everything,” but it might mean having a stricter and more comprehensive set of house rules than if he were leasing complete apartments.

                2. Mad Baggins*

                  I read recently in the comments (somewhere?) about housing in Utah that follows Mormon rules–no smoking, drinking, swearing, immodest clothing. I think it’s a little silly to ban swearing but that’s why I don’t live there (and interns have the right to live elsewhere too). It’s not really different from a landlord (company/bank/private individual) banning pets, or saying people not on the lease can’t move in (like a S.O.). I think my landlord /should/ allow pets but when I want a dog I’m going to have to move.

                3. Indoor Cat*

                  “I don’t question the authority of the company to impose the rules, I am asking should they.”

                  Yes. They should enforce the rule about not calling another tennant a “bitch” and refusing to stop even when she’s to the point of tears. That is an ethical rule and it should be enforced.

                  And the thing is, it doesn’t matter if you or I believe my landlord / grandma is “off their rocker.” There’s a hierarchy of values, and the value of respecting the rules of an authority who provides for my well-being trumps the value of exercising the freedom to drink and smoke and swear and burn scented candles.

                  It doesn’t trump the value of, say, abiding by my other responsibilities, or the value of doing no harm to others– if my landlord demanded that I forsake my responsibility to tend to my aging parents because they wanted me to do so much landscaping I never had time, or if, for some bizzaro reason, mandate that I poison cats or, I dunno, harass my neighbors to pressure them to move out, that’d be unethical (although only the cat-poisoning would be illegal). I’d push back on those instructions because they go against my values, but if I ultimately couldn’t, I’d accept eviction and try to live elsewhere.

                  Maybe values are a matter of opinion, but to me, the order of values is as follows:

                  1. Do compassionate things / Do not do harmful things
                  2. Hold to my promises and be responsible with what is entrusted of me
                  3. Seek justice and fairness, especially for those whose wellbeing I’m entrusted with (see #2)
                  4. Respect all people as people, and respect the authority of those who give me aid, shelter, and food, and justice. Respect the traditions of the house I am in, even if I don’t understand them, and engage with them unless they violate the first three values.
                  5. Remain loyal as a default, and only break a familial bond or bond of friendship if keeping it will put me or someone else I love in harm’s way, or if it will lead to injustice or irresponsibility.
                  6. Do the things that bring me joy, catharsis, clarity, or peace, unless these things conflict with 1-5.

                  Perhaps an external value is to constantly seek truth and wisdom, so that I know what is truly the most compassionate, responsible, and just choice is, and so that I can see options that allow me to hold to all my values.

                  You probably have different values, or your values are a different order. Maybe doing the things that bring you joy is #1 or #2 for you, which is why “arbitrary” rules grate so much. Or maybe not! I don’t really judge people who place joy at the top of their lists; it *is* a good thing, after all.

                  So, whether or not a landlord is doing what they should do (by your standard or mine, not the law’s), the question eventually comes back to the individual. This is what the landlord *is* doing, so what am I going to choose to do about it?

            3. Luna*

              Not really. Someone not being allowed to smoke or use slurs might feel inconvenienced by it, but that isn’t the same as feeling uncomfortable.

            4. Mobuy*

              Maybe I don’t understand. You aren’t saying the manchild who called women “bitches” should have the “comfort” of using that word, right? I mean, my right to not be harassed should be prioritized over someone else’s right to call me sexualized names.

              1. Roja*

                No, I think they’re talking about policing behaviors in general. They mentioned the company should deal with this harassment, but that it opens up a broader question of how much should the company deal with other issues. At least, if I’m reading it right.

                1. Luna*

                  What other issues? As far as we know there are no other issues that the company is being asked to intervene in. People are using a theoretical problem to excuse not dealing with an actual, real problem.

              2. CmdrShepard4ever*

                Correct the use of the b word should be stopped, I am talking about other swear words that are not directed at anyone in particular. If someone is cursing at a coworker even if it isn’t the b word that is not okay. But is

            5. Jesmlet*

              I think that’d be a much stronger argument if the language being used wasn’t so widely considered inappropriate. If they wouldn’t say it in the office, they shouldn’t be saying it at the office-sponsored home.

            6. KHB*

              The thing is, not taking action is also choosing to prioritize one person’s comfort over another’s.

              Sometimes there is no “not taking sides.” If you have the power to intervene in a conflict and you don’t, that just means you’re taking the side of whoever’s currently prevailing.

        2. Engineer Girl*

          It’s not technically home though. It’s company provided housing which means they are on company premises.
          Same standards apply no matter where the employee is. It would be gender based harassment even if they were both at the grocery store. The issue isn’t where it is happening. The issue that it is happening between employees. And the interns are employees, just intern class.

          1. TootsNYC*

            and, if it *is* home, someone who feels unsafe in their home (the place where they sleep) trumps someone who feels uncomfortably judged for using profanity, burping, farting, going shirtless, whatever.

            The use of the b-word by men would make me feel unsafe. (it makes me deeply uncomfortable and a little unsafe when -women- use it)

      2. Phoenix Programmer*

        I lived in one of those houses and not saying all orgs do this but mine definitely used it as an excuse to severely underpay us all.

        The house was very old and not well kept. It was actually a legal grey area as to whether or not we had any of the standard renters protection. Not to mention you were afraid to complain about the house for fear of work repercussions.

        Seriously, we had no heat up stairs in the late fall and winter of Maine. We were paid barely enough to afford to eat.

        Shudders. Intern housing.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Agh, that’s even worse. The house I was in was actually really nice. They’d renovated it and had it professionally cleaned once a week and stocked it with lots of staples. It was definitely far nicer than anywhere I would have been able to afford on my own then, which was part of the draw.

    2. Lynca*

      I think this is a good idea. Pretty much the basic standard code of conduct for work (like don’t call co-workers derogatory names!) isn’t a weird or onerous expectation for people living together.

      How are they going to deal with people they don’t like at work? Calling Jane from Accounting a derogatory name is going to get you in serious trouble, if not outright fired. This seems like a life lesson THEY SHOULD HAVE LEARNED BY NOW.

      1. Yorick*

        I was under the impression they weren’t cursing at their fellow interns, but using the word generally to refer to women.

        Still wildly inappropriate and something to address, but the approach will be different.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I suspect they might be using the word, regardless of gender (and possibly without using it to refer to coworkers).

          But how does that change the approach that Museum Chick provided? Instead of saying, “don’t call your coworkers derogatory names,” would it be something like, “don’t use language that can be seen as harassing” or “when asked to stop using an expletive, please attempt to accommodate your coworkers”?

          1. fposte*

            I also think there’s an element of “While you’re in work-provided housing, we expect you to retain professional standards.” The tradeoff for this kind of housing is work gets some say over how you conduct yourself in it; it’s not acceptable to talk about what a bitch your girlfriend is in the office.

            1. Marillenbaum*

              Or your eight-year-old daughter, as I heard from one former coworker at another coworker’s engagement party (!)

              1. Foreign Octopus*

                I’m not a fan of children in general, but hearing an adult call a child a bitch or a little shit or something like that gets me worked up real fast. They’re a child, for Christ’s sake.

                1. Myrin*

                  Right? I saw a video yesterday about a woman doing Thing and her family watching her (think, a gymnastics tournament or a piano recital) and several times, the camera zoomed in on her little son. He was clearly happy with his mum’s success and made some goofy faces and fidgety gestures. And then there were several comments going “I hate her son” and I was completely aghast – he was maybe five or six years or and very clearly hyped by his mum’s performance. Get a grip, man, no need to bash a little child like that!

          2. Yorick*

            Right, you’d have to discuss that it’s inappropriate to use the word in general and it makes coworkers uncomfortable. That would be different from addressing someone’s behavior that was directed at a coworker.

            If you say, don’t curse at your coworkers or don’t call them derogatory names, the person would just argue they don’t do that and the coworker is overreacting or lying.

      2. FTW*

        Just a note that he may not have been directly calling the other intern a b****. He could have been using it to refer to a girl he went out on a date with.

        It’s a very different lesson that you shouldn’t call a colleague by the word vs not using it to describe anyone. Not saying that the 2nd is ok, but it’s murkier to legislate at work.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          It is not remotely murky to require that people not use derogatory language in a workplace.

          1. TootsNYC*

            also–using derogatory language around your female roommates who have asked you to stop is out of line as well, even if work weren’t involved.

        2. Phoenix Programmer*

          Not really. In general harassing language and slurs which are repeated and in which the perpetrator was repeatedly asked to stop yet persisted is legally fairly tight!

        3. MCMonkeyBean*

          You do not personally have to be the target of sexual or offensive comments to complain about a “hostile environment.”

          If it’s just getting frustrated and yelling out a general “ugh, son of a bitch!” that would probably be fine imo. But if they are using that word regularly to actually describe a woman or women, whether it is the coworker or not, and the coworker is uncomfortable with that–they are absolutely within their rights to report that behavior.

          1. TardyTardis*

            Maybe the guys are trying to get the women to quit so they can have a company-paid bro house. After all, we keep being told that women and blacks Simply Aren’t Qualified.

    3. Barney Barnaby*

      I was going to suggest exactly this.

      You can also tell them that workplace levels of respect are expected in the house – if you wouldn’t pee outside, degrade women, steal food, etc., at work, don’t do it at the house.

    4. k.k*

      That’s a great idea. Basically everything Alison says here would be helpful for all the interns to hear. I can pretty much guarantee that there have been other issues in the past that OP didn’t know about, because they were afraid to report it (or didn’t know if they were supposed to report it).

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I love this idea, because it sounds like they’re operating under the (false) assumption that because they’re doing it in their “home,” it’s somehow ok. I think explaining that an employer can impose standards of conduct outside of work (generally), and especially when you’re living in communal, employer-owned housing with other employees.

      And, if you need to, you can always incorporate those provisions into the housing agreement. (You are making them sign a housing agreement to live there, right OP?) If they want to opt out of the standards, they can opt out of comp’d housing.

      1. Academic Addie*

        Agreed. When I was in undergrad, I had several sponsored housing arrangements for short-term internships. We always signed an agreement, and were given reporting instructions for unacceptable situations. I only ever had to use it once, when a male intern kept coming into the female housing uninvited because it was “intern housing,” and he thought all of it counted as his “home.” Because there was a clear reporting structure, that we had all agreed to, the employer was easily able to speak to the intern and get it sorted.

      2. Yvette*

        “I love this idea, because it sounds like they’re operating under the (false) assumption that because they’re doing it in their “home,” it’s somehow ok. ”

        Totally agree. That attitude is the same one that causes people to drink too much and act inappropriately at office parties and other work-related functions. It is still a work function and you will be judged/held accountable for your actions.

      3. Safetykats*

        Yes. Company-provided housing should definitely come with an expectation of professional standards enforced within the housing, and it should be clear that an intern can be dismissed (evicted from company housing or dismissed from the internship) for behavior within company housing.

        That said, this kind of housing sounds like a terribly bad idea. I had company subsidized housing in an internship, but they were two-person apartments, shared with another intern. If this company is putting a slew of interns together in a house, rent-free, it’s not surprising that some of them think it’s a reality tv show. It’s also not teaching them any life skills, and it’s a bad idea for that reason too.

        Besides which, I think the company is taking on ridiculous amounts of liability in this setup. What happens if one intern assaults another? Has legal thought this through? Because if my kid was assaulted in company housing by a roommate who was assigned by the company, you better believe I would be suing the pants off the company.

        1. Wintermute*

          As far as the legality goes as long as the company exercises reasonable steps, they should be fine (of course anyone can sue for any reason, but it would be a hard case to win if they have exercised due caution). The liability here is likely to simply be “don’t be negligent”. You wouldn’t have grounds to sue if someone was assaulted, as long as they weren’t negligent in assigning them (didn’t do a background check, for example) and even then it would be potentially narrow odds.

          That said, that’s another reason that they should be very clear about expected behavior and what the company expects regarding this housing, because that’s all part of taking reasonable precautions to ensure there’s no danger.

    6. nonymous*

      I acted in a supervisory capacity for undergrads in a summer academic role and the issue that LW described came up as well. The approach I took (which was effective but did not endear me to anyone) was to sit them all down and point out a simple fact – the internship, including housing, was a paid work experience. And while leadership would do everything in our power to make the process enjoyable and personally valuable to all the interns, ultimately they were expected to be professional and courteous at all time, at a higher standard than is normal at college dorms.

      The students hated me for quashing their “freedom”. The academic advisers hated me because they really wanted to maintain a fiction that all the interns were happy to work 24/7 and exceed expectations out of pure love of work.

      1. Academic Addie*

        I appreciate your work in communicating these expectations to students. Anyone who wants to have pleasant working interactions, grad students who understand professional conduct, postdocs who don’t act like the person in letter one of this morning’s round-up, should appreciate what you’re doing by having these conversations.

        So thank you.

        1. nonymous*

          I doubt I had any impact to their perception of the world. Either I or the undergrads were simply “not dedicated enough” and NSF regulations regarding overwork were onerous. The current iteration of the program (now 5+ years later) states “Students who need to be away from the [School Redacted] campus regularly during the program are discouraged from applying” specifically because they don’t want students going on weekend overnights.

          It’s definitely a harder sell than the programs in Portland or Boston, b/c this school is hours away from anything with tourism. The students don’t have the chance to go be a tourist for a half day on weekends and still sleep in + put in extra work hours.

      2. Purple Puma*

        Thank you for this. My org may (or may not, I don’t know yet) be taking our interns on a field trip at the end of the summer which would involve at least one night in housing paid for by the org, and while I’ve happily volunteered to transport and chaperone the kids, I’m worried that they may think that because we’re not on the org’s property, they can do whatever they want. If the org ends up doing the field trip, I will be using this language. (I honestly don’t care if they end up disliking me for it.)

        I’ll also be letting them know that even though the field trip is at the end of the summer and therefore the end of their internship, if they misbehave I will have to report it to the intern coordinator, who will keep it in mind when she has to write recommendations and/or report back to the interns’ professors (from whom they are receiving college credit for the internship).

        1. Jesca*

          I think this is a good idea and to do it ahead of time. I would approach as you are all interns and one of the main reasons you intern is to learn professional norms. This “field trip” is actually a business trip, and your behavior not only reflects poorly on our school, but also the company we are representing. And then put in about how these all are things that will be expected of them IRL within the working world while traveling for business.

    7. thesoundofmusic*

      Yes, housing is part of the compensation so the organization can and should implement standards of conduct. If they don’t want to abide by it, they can find other housing.

    8. Triple Anon*

      I agree! A policy would be the easiest and most fair way to address this. Write a list of rules for living in the house. Have a group meeting where the interns can discuss it and suggest changes. Also invite private, optionally anonymous feedback. And have consequences for breaking the rules, like losing the free housing and/or being let go from the internship.

    9. LilyP*

      I’d even suggest that you provide them with a code of conduct before they even agree to live in intern housing. That way anyone who’s going to find that restrictive or be a pain about following it will hopefully do themselves a favor and find somewhere else to live.

    10. AmeriCorps Manager*

      I too have managed this type of housing and I would recommend these things: beyond having the formal code of conduct and/or lease with roles take the time to go over all the rules saying them out loud either individually or preferably as a group. Have the team set goals (ways to treat one another, things to do as a group, general work goals.)This allows them to own the norms of the group. Let them know the things that cause the most conflict in the past (I’m looking at you washing machines) and seek consensus. We charged rent and made sure to include cleaning of common spaces in the rent cost. Encourage traditions that build community (weekly dinners for instance.) We did occasionally have issues but they were rare and folks knew I would handle them and so that alone was helpful for hard problems but also encouraged folks to not just treat me as a person to gossip to. Also folk’s behavior in the apartments could and did impact their ability to be hired and we made that clear too.

  3. Naptime Enthusiast*

    Please, please, PLEASE follow-up with the interns that came to you and let them know it is being handled. I reported a coworker a few years ago for inappropriate comments being made in the office, even though other people heard them nobody else would say anything. I was terrified of retaliation, especially because of the nature of the comments. What made me feel better was our manager and HR manager coming to me afterwards to check in with me and letting me know I did the right thing by reporting it. I knew it was the right thing, they weren’t telling me anything I didn’t know, but knowing that they had my back lifted a weight off my shoulder about the whole situation.

    1. Reba*

      I think it’s great that the young woman spoke up *and* that they’ve already tried setting the boundary on their own (since that’s often the first step recommended here).

      1. Naptime Enthusiast*

        Yes, good on them for trying to deal with it themselves first! It’s a hard conversation to have with anyone, but it’s even more difficult when it’s someone you could possibly see all day, every day at work AND home.

    2. Emmie*

      You did the right thing! Also, OP should be concerned about retaliation against both male and female residents. Although the OP knows the reporter was female, the residents could falsely assume that it was a male reporter. OP may not need to tell the interns the gender of the reporter.

    3. LouiseM*

      +1. These young women need to know they have an ally in you. Especially because, in my experience, many of the companies with enough funds to offer interns pay AND housing tend to be in the hard sciences or financial services (ie fields where it can be very hard to be a woman to begin with). That may not apply to your company, OP, but if it does it may be inspiring for them to know that they have the power to change the culture for the better.

      1. Emi.*

        And on the flip side, if you don’t crack down on this nonsense they may leave the field. (Misogyny in free housing is why I decided not to study engineering.)

    4. Artemesia*

      Be careful how the follow up is done. I’d be inclined to meet with all of the women together so no woman is singled out (and people will notice if Celia is called in privately or the supervisor drops by her cube — not to speak of people overhearing). The women don’t need to know WHO reported it, but they could all be informed of the standards and how it was handled and that if there is any further harassment or retaliation ensues, they should let you know immediately, because we are not having any of this. I can see meeting with all of the men in a group or individually, but with the women, it should be in a group to protect the informant.

  4. Cassandra*

    Real charmers, these young men. You will be doing them and everyone they interact with a signal service by shutting their garbage down.

    To that end, I might add immediate and irrevocable consequences to Alison’s suggested wording: any recommendation/reference from this program will discuss this behavior. Up to them whether the rec/ref says they cleaned up their act… or not.

  5. Roscoe*

    So what I’m wondering, is it that they are using it at all, or is it that they are directing it at their housemates. Because I do see a bit of a difference. If someone’s girlfriend cheated on him, and he called her a bitch when talking to his friends, I think that is very different than calling a roommate that because she asked him to be quiet at night.

    If it is just a general thing, then do you have to ban certain words for everyone?

    This seems like there are a lot of variables at play.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Nope. There is no excuse for using that language in a shared living situation with colleagues.

      1. Maya Elena*

        Does the same apply for every other swearword? F***? Substitute for swearwords? “Witch”?

          1. LKW*

            Precisely, extend it to any slur and it becomes no more acceptable. Try any example of a derogatory slur and explain to me how that’s “different”. Tell me how Kike is worse than or not as bad as Bitch. I’m all ears.

            1. Artemesia*

              And in some ways ‘witch’ is worse as clever smug parsers are very clearly hostile misogynists whereas it is possible for clueless gits to just be sloppy about language when using the term ‘bitch’ to refer to women. Of course that assumption is moot when they have been asked and still use it. But to then skate as close as possible is a very aggressive act. And of course any slur is off limits.

            2. Yada Yada Yada*

              …um…are you *#%* kidding me? One is definitely worse and you know which. To use your own words: tell me how “dick” is worse or not as bad as “jerk.” You can’t, can you? Doesn’t change the fact that jerk is generally acceptable to say while dick is not. Same way that “bitch” and the other word you use, which I won’t dignify here by repeating it, are not the same at all. I’ve heard some pretty oversimplified-bordering-on-offensive arguements since starting to read this blog, but yours takes the cake.

                1. Yada Yada Yada*

                  I think a case could be made for dick. Definition: “an insinuation or allegation about someone that is likely to insult them or damage their reputation.”

                  But that’s not even my point. Did you see the two words LKW was trying to pass off as equal? I’m shocked I’m the first person to call WTF on that one

              1. Mad Baggins*

                Yeah, I’ve heard some OK uses of the b-word in casual (non-work! non-work-housing!) circumstances. I don’t like to describe people using it as a noun (though I’ve seen it reclaimed as “bad bitch” etc), but I’m not really offended by it as a verb (“Want to get drinks and bitch about work?”). But the k-word is always a slur, has only the worst connotations, and I’ve never seen anyone try to reclaim it.

                Your point about all slurs being not OK in the workplace is completely valid, but I think “bitch” is not as harsh to some people (as the c-word or p-word, for instance). If someone ranks it with the f-word/s-word group of non-slur swears, I can see them getting confused about where to draw the line. Some education and clear policies would help.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          If someone tells you that they are offended by what you are saying, absolutely. Being a decent human being doesn’t cost anything.

          I swear like a trucker and if I was with someone who told me my repeated use of the F word bothered them, I would censor myself when I was with them.

          1. MLB*

            Same here. I don’t break out my potty mouth with new people until I get to know them and know it won’t offend them.

            1. LKW*

              But you’re allowed to say that! I have a friend from work who doesn’t curse. She just doesn’t like it. So when I’m around her I try to curb myself. Why shouldn’t I try to make spending time together pleasant for both of us?

            2. Detective Amy Santiago*

              If we hung out a lot, I’d probably pick up on the fact that you didn’t like it even if you didn’t say as much and self censor.

          2. HRH the Emperor Kuzco*

            I also have a salty mouth, but I also am friends with people who practice multiple religions that don’t appreciate some of the language. As you said, being a decent human costs nothing. It doesn’t hurt me to not use the language around them.

            When people complain about having to not use language that is degrading to somebody else it causes me to ask why they feel they absolutely need to use it. The only thing that it’s doing is showing you’re a jerk.

          3. Nacho*

            Maybe with some of the more offensive stuff, but a certain amount of swearing is to be expected in a casual setting, and placing a blanket ban on common swear words during off hours like this is seriously over the line.

            1. Daria from Cleveland*

              Swearing = not slurring. Besides, the company offering the subsidized housing can paint as many lines as it wants. You cross those lines at your own peril.

        2. Natalie*

          I mean, we’re talking about people who are both their coworkers and roommates. I don’t think we have to map out every acceptable and unacceptable word to say that if someone you both work and live with makes a request that isn’t unreasonable on its face, you should do your best to heed it. Or, at an absolute minimum, have a conversation with them rather than just ignoring the request.

          1. Myrin*

            Natalie, I just wanted to say that I always really enjoy your comments! I often liken them in my head to those by our dear fposte because they are equally as kind, well-worded, and wise. Thanks for always providing me with gentle yet firm language to use in all kinds of situations!

        3. Ainomiaka*

          There are swear words where it’s an accurate reading of threat to say it matters who they’re talking about but even so they should still stop when asked. For example “This fing printer” is different than “f you Wakeen.” But bitches doesn’t work that way. I can’t think of a usage that doesn’t use being female/feminine as an insult.

            1. Yada Yada Yada*

              I want to +1 you a lot Penny! A lot of people would probably still say that’s derogatory because of its origin, but I disagree. Language evolves. “Idiot” used to be a slur for the intellectually impaired, now it’s typically considered a pretty PG insult.

              1. Thor*

                But women still get called bitches! A lot. I don’t think I can recall anyone using “idiot” to refer to an intellectually impaired person.

                1. Yada Yada Yada*

                  Do you spend much with intellectually impaired people? They get called lots of things, including idiots. So do people with mental illness. Do we ban “crazy?” I’m not saying these dudes in the letter should keep calling people bitches-they should absolutely stop and their boss should say something! But this whole “nobody should ever use any derivative of the word bitch in any context, ever” in the comment section has gone way off the deep end into Mirror-mirror-on-the-wall-who’s-the-wokest-of-them-all territory

              2. Thor*

                Women still get called bitches, pretty constantly. Idiot has drifted way more away from referencing an intellectually impaired person.

            2. SignalLost*

              I mean, I see your point, but I also don’t. While the subject of the slur is something that cannot be harmed by the slur, because it has no feelings (or material existence) it’s still using a gendered slur to refer to it, and I don’t think the genderless nature of the object removes the gendered nature of the slur. It’s still saying that the commute existed in a (negative female) way.

              1. Mad Baggins*

                I think Yada Yada Yada’s point was that in some contexts the gendered nature of the word is farther away from its intended usage than others. “Homework is dumb” is saying homework existed in a (negative, mute/otherwise impaired) way. But people choose to interpret that slur without the connotations nowadays.

      2. Naptime Enthusiast*

        Yes. If they’re living in company-sponsored housing, then they should be behaving the same way at work and at home. If they don’t like those rules then they are free to find their own housing arrangements, with or without their colleagues.

        1. k.k*

          Exactly. In company-sponsored housing there needs to be a higher standard of behavior that with typical roommates. These are your colleagues, not your buddies or craigslist randos.

          1. Jesca*

            Agreed. And the reason why is that everyone is quite literally stuck there. As in, if a group of people keep using what another group or even person considers a slur, where is that offended party to go? Their choices should never be to stay and grin and bear it. Everyone should show the utmost respect and professional decorum in this environment. As in, be as inclusive as possible.

    2. Q*

      The word they’re really really isn’t appropriate to use for any woman. It’s extremely derogatory. There are, sometimes, some words you just shouldn’t use at all, and this is one of them. I don’t see a lot of difference in calling your ex that or your roommate that…especially if the roommate can still hear and knows you think of women that way.

      Saying, “oh, but I don’t think of you that way” is unlikely to be convincing at all.

      1. MLB*

        I don’t find it that offensive personally. It depends on who is saying it and in what context. Regardless I keep my potty mouth in check when I’m in mixed company and it seems these people need to remember they’re in a house full of colleagues, not at a frat party.

        1. Yellow Bird Blue*

          I remember one youtuber tried that line of defense once. His channel was geared towards women and yet he used “bitches” in some video or other. When his viewers complained, he doubled down and said that even his own mother didn’t mind being called a bitch, and how unfair and hurtful the complaints were to him, because he respected women A LOT.

          1. Wehaf*

            Ah, yes: “I respect women so much I refuse to listen to them or consider their opinions at all.”

    3. Jessie the First (or second)*

      There are actually some words that are not okay to say. Not okay to say AT someone directly, or ABOUT someone else. Calling a different woman this word (but not a specific housemate) is not okay – “but I wasn’t calling *you* this sexist insult, I was calling a different woman a sexist insult” is not a justification for the word. Say it all you (the general “you”) want, if you really feel an intense need to use derogatory, sexist slurs, when you are entirely alone. It’s not okay to say in a house full of people.

      We can surely agree there are in fact words to insult people of various races or genders or nationalities that you simply do not say in polite society and so therefore you do not say them when you are an intern sharing living quarters with other people.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I would say that maybe I could make an allowance if they were using an utterance like “son of a bitch” when they dropped something on their foot/slammed their hand in a drawer/etc. Because that isn’t being directed *at* a person.

        But other than that, I completely agree with this.

        1. Parenthetically*

          Yeah, I agree — in that case it’s being used as a vague expletive in the way any other expletive would be used. It’s employing sexist language but that phrase has lost a lot of its coded-sexist meaning, IMO.

          1. KHB*

            I largely agree. I’d like to see the word retired completely, but in some contexts it’s a lot worse than in others.

            But it’s worth noting that whatever the details, something happened in that house that prompted one of the female interns to come to the manager in tears. Whether the men were using the word as a slur to refer to their female coworkers, or whether they were using it in a way that’s slightly more benign but got aggressive and hostile when asked to stop, or whatever else.

            1. Parenthetically*

              Yeah, I absolutely don’t think that’s what’s happening here — a loud “sonofabitch!” when Fergus McJagweed hits his funny bone on the corner of the counter isn’t going to make someone come to their manager in tears.

        2. Jaguar*

          Yeah. “Son of a bitch” or “I’m having a bitch of a time” or whatever. The letter doesn’t say that that people are being called “bitch,” just that the word is being used. But if it is instances like SOB, and the company demands that they not say it at any point in the household, that seems pretty puritanical to me. What about “God damnit,” if there’s a Christian in the household? Same rules apply?

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            If someone tells you that they are uncomfortable with your language in a work related setting, then yes, you change it.

            1. Q*

              +1 Honestly, why is it so hard to conceive of not saying words that offend your coworkers just because you, personally, like saying the word?

              1. professor*

                because in this case, you are literally in work mode 24/7 and have no space to let your guard down ever? That sounds awful to me. I mean, I swear in my home. I don’t at work. I really don’t want to ave to mind my language 24/7 cause someone doesn’t like the word S%^t or F%&. Slurs are different of course, but jeez.

                1. Student*

                  There is nothing stopping the interns from renting a room for the duration of their internship so that they can freely use vile slurs against 50% of the world population without having to deal with complaints about it at work.

                  They choose to use a perk to keep their expenses down, then they live with the consequences. It’s not like the internship will fire them if they say, “Eh, got my own place, but thanks anyway.” Yeah, it’s probably a good deal monetarily. They could try to negotiate a housing stipend instead, or forgo that part of their benefits, or find a different job. It’s not like a permanent position – you’d think that if the perk was so valuable to them, they could suffer through 1-3 months of not being able to throw slurs around at will.

                2. Cat Herder*

                  Eh, we’ve read on this very blog a number of instances of people getting into hot water at work, or even being fired, for bad behavior outside of the workplace. The inappropriate or offensive behavior may not be illegal and yet the employer can still impose a consequence for it. Isn’t this why we warn young people about social media? because it can have consequences outside of their personal lives?

                  Additionally, these are interns. Part of OP’s job as their manager is to help them learn professionally appropriate behavior and to understand the consequences of breaking those expectations and norms.

                  Alison’s response is excellent. I would only add that the OP should also ensure that all of the interns get a training on sexual harassment. That way they will all know what it is and will know what to do when they encounter it. (Let’s not argue about whether the “bitch”ing qualifies as sexual harassment or not — it can plausibly be seen as heading in that direction, the young woman who reported it clearly feels it is, and it’s a teachable moment if nothing else.)

            2. Jaguar*

              So what about people that expect everyone to be referred to as xhe, and find any use of he or she offensive? Or calling something stupid? Or joking about something controversial? People get offended about a lot and a blanket rule stating that if anyone takes offense, you have to oblige that both when these interns are at work and at home, seems like an abdication of the responsibility to think critically. Being inoffensive isn’t a particularly valuable virtue. It’s nice, but making people self-censor in the work environment when the work environment involves work and home seems like an extraordinary price. I totally agree if they’re actually insulting people, but not if they’re simply offending people, and the letter doesn’t clarify which one that is.

              1. Marvel*

                Re: the he/she issue–no one person gets to define everyone else’s personal pronouns, and people who prefer he or she should be referred to that way, so this is a non-issue. Please don’t drag trans issues into this as a strawman; it’s offensive and it makes you look silly.

                Re: calling something stupid… if I had a housemate who is really sensitive to the word stupid, yeah, I would try to substitute something else. “Ignorant” or “silly” make good options.

                Joking about something controversial… well, that really depends on what the controversial thing is. I can think of a LOT of things that would be gross and inappropriate for work.

              2. Nephron*

                No polite requests dictate the pronouns of another person. If a coworker is asking for specific pronouns then they are making a request that should be honored, if they are attempting to dictate the pronouns of someone else they are being rude. Calling a coworker stupid is rude, so no you should not be rude to your coworkers or your roommates.
                Joking about something controversial is rarely funny as the punchline is often the silent “and that group has been miss-treated for generations” so should be avoided because joking about a segment of the population is rude and you should not be rude to your coworkers roommates.
                You appear to be advocating for no blanket rule because of the need for critical thinking then ignoring that the situations you describe should be understood to not fall under that rule if you think about them critically.

              3. Jules the 3rd*

                It boils down to ‘do you respect other people enough to accept their view of themselves’ or not? If someone *tells* you ‘I don’t like x’, do you respect them enough to stop x? If you don’t respect them, ok, but they or others may call you out for the lack of respect, depending on the basis of it.

                For example: Someone who wants to be called xhe or they / them? Ok, yes, I will respect that. Someone who expects me to call myself xhe? No, thank you, I get to choose that for myself.

                Also: ‘Joking’ about controversial things doesn’t make it ok. Jokes hurt even if it’s small enough, or has been repeated around you enough (normalized) that you don’t notice the pain. I am currently helping my 10yo understand this. I consider myself lucky to have a chance to show him the impact before he gets it normalized to the point of denying it. All too often, ‘it’s just a joke’ is used to *stifle* critical thinking about the real impact of words, so use it carefully.

              4. Detective Amy Santiago*

                If someone wants you to use specific pronouns to refer to them, then you should oblige. If they try to say that you cannot use he or she to refer to other people, that’s a problem because it isn’t their decision.

                Why are you so against the idea of treating people with basic respect?

              5. KHB*

                You know, critical thinking actually is the answer here. And in this case, the OP – who may know more about the facts of the situation than she mentioned in her letter – has engaged in critical thinking, and she’s come to her conclusion: “This is not acceptable to me, and I am definitely going to address it.” Her only question is how to address it.

                If she were faced with a different situation – a Christian objecting to “goddammit,” someone playing the pronoun police, or whatever – I have no doubt that she’d think that through too, and arrive at whatever conclusion fits the situation.

              6. LKW*

                I’ve never heard anyone call someone out for saying something is “Stupid” but I have heard them called out when then refer to something or someone as “retarded” or “gay” – so yeah, it’s not hard to listen to someone’s concerns and make an effort to adjust. And if your personal style is so wrapped up in using terms and words that are on the line or over the line of crass /insulting – then maybe you’ll have a harder time in the professional world overall. 25 years ago I worked in heavy construction – you get used to curse words and people calling one another assholes. But when someone used the term “jewed down” I very quietly told that person they were NEVER to use that phrase in front of me again. Ever. And he never did.

                1. Jesmlet*

                  I’ve heard someone get offended at the words ‘stupid’ and ‘dumb’ because they’re ‘ableist’. It’s really not that much of an imposition to just listen to people and make an effort to not offend them. I’ve thought critically about it and determined that until the pendulum swings that way, I’ll continue using the word stupid, just not in front of the person it offends.

                  I might get some flack for this, but conversely, my friends regularly throw around words like ‘chink’ and ‘guido’ or some portmanteau of them because that’s culturally who I am, they know I don’t care, and I’m of the personal opinion that the intent matters far more than any past historical usage. Just know your audience and respect people – it’s not difficult.

                2. Guacamole Bob*

                  I have to laugh, because my daughter’s daycare teacher took me aside at pickup last week and said that my 4 y.o. had been “using a lot of strong language” like “calling things stupid” and “saying she hates things.”

                  So yes, someone out there has been called out for using the word “stupid”.

                3. Detective Amy Santiago*

                  I’m of the personal opinion that the intent matters far more than any past historical usage.

                  @jesmlet that’s all well and good, but you don’t get to decide that for anyone else.

                4. Guacamole Bob*

                  @ Tardigrade, I did talk to my daughter about it, but in a low-key way. Her teacher suggested that we suggest other ways to talk about things instead of using overly strong words – I don’t like that food instead of I hate it, that is silly instead of that is stupid, etc. But I’m mostly trying not to make a big deal of it. She’s in a phase of trying out anti-social behavior in other ways that I’m taking more seriously (“you’re not my best friend!”), and she sometimes says she hates things while looking at me visibly gauging my reaction. I’m trying to show her that hating something is serious and saying it can be mean in some contexts, but I think it would be weird and invalidating to tell her she’s not allowed to hate things.

                  The stupid thing probably comes from a line in an audiobook where a character says “I look stupid in this hat” that she thinks is hilarious because of how the narrator says it. As long as she’s not calling people stupid, I have a hard time getting too worked up about it – focusing on it too much will just make saying it more attractive to her.

                  Preschoolers are hard, y’all.

                5. TootsNYC*

                  I’ve never heard anyone call someone out for saying something is “Stupid”

                  You’ve never met my children!

                  That was a huge, huge no-no. Even if you weren’t talking about a person (this stupid toilet; I felt stupid). As was “shut up.” And they have held to that for a long time.

                  I will say that I totally see their point! Those are harsh words. The world doesn’t need more harshness.

                6. Sleepy teacher*

                  This is a rule on the Captain Awkward forums: the mods there are very strict about the use of ableist slurs like stupid, crazy, etc.

              7. LilyP*

                If you feel this strongly about your home life being separate from your work life then you shouldn’t live in work-provided housing with your co-workers.

              8. Devoted Lurker*

                “So what about people that expect everyone to be referred to as xhe, and find any use of he or she offensive?”

                Those people don’t exist, so that shouldn’t be a problem

        3. Not a Blossom*

          I was thinking something like, “Man, my commute was a real bitch this morning.” If that is how it’s being used, it changes the conversation. There will still need to be a discussion because the language makes other people uncomfortable and it is company housing, but that’s not the same as calling a person (housemate or not) a bitch), so the script would be different.

          1. Kat Em*

            I can’t imagine someone going in tears to their boss because of someone complaining about their commute.

            She didn’t come crying because of “fuck.” She didn’t come crying because of “shit.” And I have no doubt both of those get used in the house. She came because of “bitch.” And that tells you something about the usage right there.

            1. BeautifulVoid*

              She didn’t come crying because of “fuck.” She didn’t come crying because of “shit.” And I have no doubt both of those get used in the house. She came because of “bitch.” And that tells you something about the usage right there.

              After thinking it over, this is the conclusion I reached, too. I’ll admit that I did ponder some “whatabouts” like “my commute was a real bitch this morning” or “sonofabitch, I stubbed my toe!” or “I can’t believe there’s another storm coming and I’ll have to listen to Bob bitch about shoveling out his car again”, or so on. But if those were the only ways the word was being used, I really don’t think she would have been driven to tears when she finally decided to report it.

              And you know what? Even if she didn’t want to hear the word used in those slightly more benign ways, she’s well within her rights to ask them to stop, and the right thing for the men to do would have been to knock it off, even if they didn’t agree.

              1. Q*

                Reading that word being used in quick succession even in those “benign” ways is off-putting to me. Frequency is definitely a factor.

          2. Marvel*

            I agree–the real issue here, I think, is derogatory language being used towards others that includes the use of sex-based slurs. That would be the case no matter the slur in question.

          3. Jules the 3rd*

            Yeah, I wouldn’t be ok with that usage, personally. I would totally be clapping back with dog based comments, like ‘oh, your commute licked your face and wagged her tail?’

            All of the dehumanizing slurs bug me a lot, even when not directed at a person.

      2. Allison*

        Yes, I do feel uncomfortable around men who call other women bitches, even if I don’t identify that much with the women he’s cussing out. Like, I may not know his ex wife at all and maybe the divorce and events leading up to it really was rough, but the second he rants about what a bitch his ex wife is I’m out, I don’t wanna be anywhere near him. I wonder what he thinks of me, since I’m not exactly a flawless angel myself, and if he doesn’t think I’m a bitch now, I could easily do something “bad” that changes his whole perception of me, and what might that be? What would be the consequences if he thinks I’m one of those bad women he hates so much? What are his standards for women? What makes a woman okay and what makes her a piece of trash, in his eyes?

        And if I had to live with a guy like that, where there’ll probably be conflicts about housework, I’d be really uncomfortable and I would appreciate knowing that whoever is in charge a) knows about the behavior and b) doesn’t condone it.

        1. Spider*

          +1 — even when “bitch” is not directed at us in that moment, it’s a red flag for misogyny that will will (almost certainly, IME) be directed at us at some point.

          1. the Viking Diva*

            YES! It’s a term that is derogatory to women. Whether you’re saying about me, about someone else, or about your commute, it has that loading to my ears and I hate it. It doesn’t belong in a professional setting. I heard someone do it at a conference recently – it was even on his slides (!!) – and I wrote to him to ask him to stop for this very reason.

          2. Washi*

            Totally agreed. When I hear a man referring to a woman as a bitch, I don’t think “she probably did something to piss him off,” I think, “I have to watch my back around this guy.”

            1. Q*

              Yup. Just because they aren’t saying it around you doesn’t mean they don’t condone that kind of behavior.

              And that’s not behavior I’m interested in exposing myself to.

    4. g*

      If it’s been reported it’s probably frequently being used, which is not okay whoever it’s being aimed at.

      Agreed, if it was a one-off that probably doesn’t need resolving.

    5. NW Mossy*

      Any time you continue to use offensive language after someone’s already asked you to stop, you’ve lost the benefit of the doubt. I’m guessing this guy can get through life without calling his grandmother derogatory terms she dislikes – it’s not a big lift to ask him to do the same towards his housemates.

      1. Reba*

        Yeah, for me the “reconsidering your internship here” would already be happening now, not going forward, since they’ve already been asked to stop and didn’t. (Once the already asking has been corroborated through the supervisor’s investigation.)

    6. Squeeble*

      In this context, it should be considered a slur that shouldn’t be used *especially* when sharing a house with women.

    7. Temperance*

      Misogynist slurs are not acceptable. If he wants to insult his girlfriend, fine, but by calling her a “bitch”, he’s de facto insulting all women, including the ones unfortunate enough to live with him.

      I don’t understand why, as a society, it’s generally considered acceptable to use the b-word or the c-word to describe women or people we don’t like. It’s not.

      1. Penny Lane*

        That is so weird. If I say that the clerk who waited on me was a real bitch this morning when I asked for X, I am not “insulting all women.” That’s really an odd take.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          It’s not an odd take at all. The reason ‘bitch’ is considered a slur is because it’s historically used against women. When it is used to refer to a man, it’s generally implying that he’s “being a woman” and that’s a bad thing.

          1. NaoNao*

            Agreed. It’s not an “odd take.” When you gender your slurs, or in this case, you use a dehumanizing, gendered slur to refer to a woman, you reduce her to her reproductive organs as a means of insulting her. “You’re the same as any animal that is female biologically. You’re not human.”

            If you think about it, the connotation of similar slurs to male humans is completely different. You don’t call a woman a d*ck to humiliate her, it makes no sense. Aside from a handful of “male reproductive organ” slurs, that actually mean “arrogant” or “pushy/jerky”, there are NO corresponding slurs that you can use on a woman that refer to male reproductive organs. But you can insult a man deeply by implying that he has female reproductive parts or that he’s acting like a woman.

            There are dozens of crude, ugly slurs that can be directed at both men and women to humiliate them and demoralize and dehumanize them. Using them in casual conversation adds to a culture where being a woman is, by nature, a “lesser being” on par with domestic, “service” animals.

        2. Natalie*

          I mean, it’s fine to disagree (plenty of women don’t find “bitch” derogatory, myself included) but it seems disingenuous to claim to be completely unaware that plenty of people do find it derogatory. It’s not an edgy new concept.

          1. Jesmlet*

            Okay so devil’s advocate… is calling someone a dick a slur too??

            I seriously need to revamp my lexicon of insults…

            1. Q*

              Not really. Slurs are used to degrade marginalized and oppressed people. Men (or at least, most people with dicks)…aren’t that.

              1. Jesmlet*

                Is that actually the definition though? I always thought it was just a derogatory term referring to a group of people.

                1. Annabelle*

                  That might be the dictionary definition (a derogatory term used for any group of people), but it’s also the one deeply conservative people use to argue that cishet white men are deeply oppressed by our culture. I think the marginalization factor is what actually makes something a slur.

                2. ScienceTeacherHS*

                  That’s why nobody cares about the word “cracker” but they do care and get upset about derogatory terms for other races.

                3. Anonymous Pterodactyl*

                  @Q (because nesting ran out): I know one! It’s “douchebag” and I love it. It is like… THE slur for privilege-in-general.

              2. Vegan Atheist Weirdo*

                However, I don’t think it helps our argument at all to use a male-oriented gendered slur while calling out the female-oriented ones, which is why I’ve tried to eliminate them from my language and point them out to others using them as well.

                1. Jesmlet*

                  I guess this was kind of my point (which I did qualify as devil’s advocate because tbh I don’t feel strongly about any of this). If the goal is to argue against the use of slurs in general, then terms that are meant as insults and based in someone’s immutable identity should be done away with regardless of how oppressed that group of people have historically been.

            2. NaoNao*

              A slur is a word or phrase used not just to insult someone, it’s to remind them of their “proper” place in the “social hierarchy”–which is usually “lower than me, the person who used the slur.” Which is, incidentally, the “reason” that marginalized groups are “allowed” to use certain slang/slur terms in their in-group and it’s not considered offensive.

              When someone who could be described with that slur or word uses it, it changes the connotation.
              Many people who seem to have a stumbling block understanding or accepting this seem to get stuck on the “dictionary definition” part. “Well if we use the word “p*ssy” as a slur, then in that case “d*ck” must be one too!”

              It doesn’t work like that. Sociology, culture, history, and power structures come into play when considering what terms are slurs when used by certain groups.

              For me, an insult is “corrective behavior”. It’s meant to shame and scare/anger people into changing.

              If you want to achieve the same goal, you can simply use the “disappointed parent” tone/words. “So and so! That’s not like you! I expect more from you.” Or, radical idea, you can draw boundaries that describe how you want to be treated or what behavior hurts, angers, or alienates you.

              “Please don’t raise your voice to me” vs. “don’t be a B–”
              “Please ask me before you X” vs “friggin’ idiot!”
              “Wow, Mom, that’s not like you! When you ask if I’ve gained weight, that hurts my feelings!” vs. “Mom, stop being a d*ck”

              Describe the affect the behavior has on you and ask for change. Don’t insult.

              1. Jesmlet*

                More like, “Wow, Mom, that’s exactly like you. In fact on the car ride home, I predicted you’d ask me if I’d gained weight and despite knowing it hurts my feelings, you did it anyway!” Literally me, last Thursday, after my mom came back from a month-long vacation.

                Yeah, sometimes it just feels better to vent to your friends about what a bitch your mom was (of course I’ll try to replace bitch with a word that’s not gendered I guess? Which is what I meant by insult, not so much about saying something to someone’s face) But bitch is so…. concise? I could describe her as an insensitive egocentric asshole but too many words…

                1. NaoNao*

                  Then describe the feelings. “She hurt me.” “That upset me.” Describe what you wished she would have done. “I wish she would ask me about my work instead of grilling me about my weight.”

                  Are you friends charging you for “data”? Are you sending telegrams to them? Communication isn’t always about the most efficient word possible! It’s on your priorities. If you want to communicate someone was hurting you, say that. If you want to say they insulted you and made crappy choices, say that.

                  Calling names is actually very ineffective because it can mean so many things. In what way was so and so a B? Covers a lot of ground.

                  “Mom asked me about my weight again. Man, that stings and I hate it.” Pretty exact.

                2. Jesmlet*

                  @NaoNao – I get your point but I think we’re going to have to just leave it at that. Some people prefer to communicate that way but it (meaning emphasis on feelings) is just not common to the culture or the regional subculture I grew up in and it’s not something I’m going to take up any time soon. Those two forms of communicating the same event simply don’t accomplish the same thing for me.

                3. Teclatrans*

                  It is exact because it invokes a societal hatred if women that those other words just can’t.

              2. Isben Takes Tea*

                This is a beautiful comment and summarizes what I couldn’t quite articulate. Thank you!

              3. Penny Lane*

                “A slur is a word or phrase used not just to insult someone, it’s to remind them of their “proper” place in the “social hierarchy”–which is usually “lower than me, the person who used the slur.” Which is, incidentally, the “reason” that marginalized groups are “allowed” to use certain slang/slur terms in their in-group and it’s not considered offensive.”

                The whole concept that only certain groups are “allowed” to use certain slang/slur terms – or that only certain groups are “allowed” to wear their hair in this hair style / listen to this kind of music / eat this kind of food / wear this kind of clothing is kind of why Trump won. (And I’m a Trump-hater, to be clear.) Do you not understand how sick and tired people are of the concept of assigning people “approved” and “disapproved” behaviors based on gender / race / ethnicity / etc.? Do you understand how sick and tired people are of playing the Oppression Olympics where you get points for being marginalized?

                My God, we had a post in here a few days about someone wondering whether a white girl with frizzy hair would be “culturally reappropriating” if she wore a head covering, despite the fact that head coverings are not owned by any one culture. You guys have got to stop taking the SJW to the nth degree on every single topic. This is why you can’t get traction against moderates.

                1. Annabelle*

                  It’s really unsettling that you’re essentially arguing that everyone should feel free to wantonly use whatever slurs or otherwise demeaning language they use without any social ramifications.

                  Also, I think it’s worth pointing out that what to you may be “taking the SJW to the nth degree” is actually just marginalized people wanting to be treated like humans.

                2. Detective Amy Santiago*

                  Do you understand how sick and tired people are of *being* marginalized?

                  Asking for basic human decency and mutual respect is not “taking the SJW to the nth degree”.

                3. NaoNao*

                  That’s why I put “allowed” in quotation marks. What I meant is “it’s culturally acceptable and there’s not going to be any backlash of any kind”.

                4. NaoNao*

                  Also, I care more about treating other people with respect than catering to a population that doesn’t care about hurting other people directly and indirectly.
                  It costs me nothing to stop doing or saying things that insult others’ cultural and humanity.
                  I don’t care about getting traction with groups. I care about doing the right thing.

                5. Jesmlet*

                  @Penny Lane – Oy vey this is not the most productive way to argue your point. I probably would agree with some of your arguments if you laid them out (coming from a triple minority) but you’re not going to get people to see things from your perspective this way.

                  @NaoNao – We should care about doing the right thing, but we should also care about getting others to do the right thing. You either change peoples’ minds or you wait till they die off and the latter takes way too long.

                6. Penny Lane*

                  No, Annabelle, I am not “essentially arguing that everyone should use whatever slur they like without ramifications.”

                  But I am tired of the Marginalized Olympics, and the Woke Olympics, and the Oppression Olympics, which seem to be what so many AAM readers engage in. What prevents the woman in this scenario — or the manager in this scenario — from saying to the offenders — “Hey, we’re all professional colleagues in this house and we need to treat one another with respect. Using profanity towards one another or in referring to other people isn’t cool.* Cut it out.” Take back the power.

                  No, better to paint “marginalized!” on one’s forehead and wait for others to legislate it for you because you couldn’t possibly have the power to express your own self to a (gulp) White Man.

                  *With the obligatory caveat that this doesn’t refer to expletives associated with dropping something on your foot

                7. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Penny, there’s nothing to indicate that didn’t happen. In fact, the letter says that the women did talk to the men and tell them to cut it out. It’s still happening though, and it’s in their living space. It’s appropriate for them to escalate it.

                8. ket*

                  People today are really taking this discussion in bad faith! What is this about Woke Olympics etc? There’s a lot of extremism and black-and-white thinking taking over the comments. It feels like some commenters are trying to exacerbate divisions between people, rather than discuss common ground. Can we follow the commenting guidelines and try to give people, including the letter writer and those involved, the benefit of the doubt?

                9. C Baker*

                  If you decided whom to vote for based not on what the candidates support but on whether or not other people voting for those candidates think it’s okay to use slurs then you are a bad person and you should feel bad. And you’re certainly not a “moderate”.

                  And frankly, if that is “why Trump won” – which I doubt, but let’s run with that – then we have bigger problems. “Don’t use slurs!!!” is hardly a far-left position to be examined with extreme caution.

                1. Daria from Cleveland*

                  Oh gosh, my comment came late and its meaning got dispersed — I was bravo-ing NaoNao:

                  “When someone who could be described with that slur or word uses it, it changes the connotation. Many people who seem to have a stumbling block understanding or accepting this seem to get stuck on the ‘dictionary definition’ part. ‘Well if we use the word ‘p*ssy’ as a slur, then in that case ‘d*ck’ must be one too!

                  “It doesn’t work like that. Sociology, culture, history, and power structures come into play when considering what terms are slurs when used by certain groups.”

        3. KellyK*

          It’s a specifically gendered slur. Presumably, male clerks can make the same screw-ups, and yet your specific choice of slur emphasizes the clerk’s gender and strongly implies that her being a woman has some relevance to her crappy service or bad attitude. You could say the clerk was a jerk or an a-hole or any number of things that aren’t gendered to get your point across.

    8. yup*

      Generally speaking, I agree with you, but if the person has been asked to stop, they need to respect that.

      I swear quite a bit, including at work because our work environment doesn’t take offense to swearing. I don’t direct it at people and no one has ever mentioned offense to it. However, context is key and if someone mentioned they were bothered by it, I would make every effort to stop, regardless of how I was using it….

      1. pope suburban*

        Agreed. I’m sweary too, but not at work, at least not until I have gauged company culture and what is and isn’t acceptable. I also have a tendency toward blasphemy in my swearing, which I know bothers some people. I would make a concerted effort not to say things like “goddammit” around a roommate or coworker who believes, if they said it bothered them. Not because there’s anything obscene about the concept of a deity (It’s a Monday, let’s be gentle to the comments section and avoid that particular nest of tangents), but because a mutually respectful relationship is important where you work and where you live.

    9. Elizabeth H.*

      I use the word all the time. It doesn’t seem misogynist to me. I realize it does to some people and I can appreciate that. I do think I use it almost exclusively to refer to situations (“That drive home from work was such a bitch, there was an accident on Storrow”) or behaviors (“That was such a bitchy thing to say”). If I used it around someone I was living with and he or she said it made them uncomfortable and asked me not to use the word, I’d stop using it. I feel like that’s the issue rather than using profanity in work housing. I think it’s understandable that people will use more colloquial language in their home space even if it’s company provided housing. The important thing is to be respectful of those you live with, and also probably hold yourself to a greater degree of politeness and respect because you’re living with colleagues not just roommates.

      1. Allison*

        Hey, fellow Bostonian! I feel you on that Storrow traffic! And hey, I’m not entirely against calling my commute a “bitch” because sometimes it is in this city (and other cities of course), I think personally, calling a person a bitch is not fine but calling something a bitch is kind of fine in familiar company, but I’d still stop if someone asked me to.

      2. Delphine*

        It’s also important to recognize that just because it doesn’t seem misogynistic to you doesn’t mean that it’s not a misogynistic slur. There are a lot of slurs that “don’t seem” like slurs because people grow very comfortable using them, but that doesn’t change what they are.

        1. Penny Lane*

          Of course it’s a slur. It’s a slur against the person I’m using it against. Not all people of the same gender.

          1. Poppy Weasel*

            Let’s say you’re dealing with a female clerk who is rude to you, and you thinking, “What a bitch”, how is that different than dealing with a black clerk who is rude to you, and you thinking, “What an N-word”? If you had a dealing with a rude male clerk, would you also say, “What a bitch”? Or would you use the gender-neutral, “What a jerk” or “What an asshole”?

            1. Jesmlet*

              Use asshole. Everyone has an asshole. The word jerk may or may not have origins in male genitalia.

          2. CheeryO*

            So if you call someone the n-word, you’re not racist because you’re only using it to describe that person and not all black people? I’m failing to see the logic here.

            1. Penny Lane*

              No, that was a weird jump. There’s no comparison in terms of calling someone a bitch vs calling someone the n-word. The n-word is far, far more vulgar and far more insulting. (Hint: That’s why decent people use the n-word as opposed to writing out the real word.)

          3. Falling Diphthong*

            That is not remotely the meaning of ‘slur’ as used here. The problem isn’t that someone is calling someone a ‘pumpkin spice latte’ and clearly means it to be an insult, and someone else got upset on behalf of pumpkin spice food items everywhere. Words used to demean subgroups, based on gender, race, religion, etc, are slurs. And using one is different from calling any one of those people a ‘poopy head,’ and people are allowed to not be cool with “When I use that slur for group X, I obviously don’t mean YOU. I don’t get why you are choosing to be offended by my rhetorical use of a well-known derogatory term for your group, when it was clearly cool and funny.”

            1. Penny Lane*

              There’s still a difference in my mind between “I interacted with a clerk this morning [describing interaction] and I thought she was a bitch” and “women are all a bunch of bitches.”

              I handled a difficult situation recently and my sister described me as “HBIC” which she then translated as “head bitch in charge.” It was a compliment. I hardly think she was misogynist for applauding how I got some shit done from a bunch of people who don’t wish to get shit done.

        2. Elizabeth H.*

          By the same token, there are slurs that started out NOT being slurs but have become slurs through usage and connotation. I feel pretty strongly about this but I think I will probably not convince anyone and vice versa. Like I’ve said, I really think that the biggest problem is continuing to use language that someone else has asked you to stop using because it bothers them. There’s plenty of stuff that fits in that category.

        3. Washi*

          Exactly. A lot of people have made this argument about the r-word (they don’t mean it that way) but I feel pretty strongly that an individual’s intent in using the word can never outweigh the cumulative discriminatory history of the word.

    10. Observer*

      None at all. *IF* the story were that someone said this ONCE and the intern came to the OP right away, then maybe there could be some discussion about your questions. This is NOT the case here.

      1. This is repeated. Even if he’s talking about the nastiest piece of work of an ex-girlfriend, there comes a point (and it’s a VERY early point) where you need to get your language under control.

      2. It’s OFTEN – AND he has been asked to stop. At that point, he needs to stop! Period. Full stop. It’s not like he was asked to stop using a common English word because someone has a hangup. He was asked to stop using a derogatory word – which even under your scenario is MEANT TO BE DEROGATORY! No chance of misunderstanding here.

      Please don’t try to justify ridiculous behavior. Especially when you need to twist into a pretzel.

      1. paul*

        I kind of wonder if the offending interns ramped it up after a request to stop? I can see that happening.

        1. pope suburban*

          Oh man, you’ve made me think of the intern that kept making “your mom” jokes and calling his supervisor the b-word. If we’ve got another one of those on our hands, yeah, I could totally see him doing it more in retaliation.

        2. Annabelle*

          Yeah, this is what I’m guessing happened. Lots of people double down like crazy if you asked them to change their language.

          1. sap*

            It’s remarkable that so many people hear “you’re being kindof mean by doing this thing,” and their mind immediately goes “I’ve been accused of being mean. I’d better do MORE OF THE MEAN THING RIGHT AWAY or more people might think I’m mean!”

    11. Rusty Shackelford*

      So what I’m wondering, is it that they are using it at all, or is it that they are directing it at their housemates. Because I do see a bit of a difference.

      I am perhaps not the most woke person out there, because if I were watching this guy was playing video games with a friend and he said “ha, I owned you, bitch!” I would not actually have a problem with it. But referring to his girlfriend that way would be Not Cool. So yeah, to me, context is important. But the bottom line is, if your language reduces your roommate to tears, either she’s super-duper sensitive, or you’re being a jerk (possibly in non-language-related areas as well) and you need to stop. And it’s almost always B.

      1. Natalie*

        I feel like frequency probably matters, too. One tossed off “this dishwasher is such a bitch!” is one thing, living with someone who’s copied their speech patterns from Jesse Pinkman is another.

      2. A no no mouse*

        I agree- to have such a strong reaction as crying over the use of one word, it makes me think there are other offenses possibly going on as well. I would check in to see how they are getting along in regard to housework, etc. Frustration may be coming out as crying over a word, but may be building up over other things.

      3. Siaynoq*

        Would you have an issue with someone using a homophobic slur towards a straight person?

        To me, they are comparable. They are both bigoted insults. Just because it’s more acceptable to use gendered ones doesn’t make it okay.

        Unless you are someone who works very closely with canines, there’s no context that makes the word okay –
        *especially* after someone has raised an objection to it.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          To me, they are not comparable. As Amy Santiago and Falling Diphthong say below, context and code-switching make a difference. I do think that if someone objects, you should not use it around them. But I’m not going to consider Amy Santiago a bigot for greeting her friends with “what up, bitches?”

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            But my point, and the one Falling Dihthong also made, was that you have to be aware of when it is and isn’t appropriate. And the workplace is never appropriate. By extension, neither is housing owned by your workplace.

            It’s also different when women use it with each other than when a man uses it. Women are able to reclaim the word.

          2. TootsNYC*

            no, but I won’t think she’s a person with class.

            That’s a very hostile term, and I don’t like to hear it ever.

            I also make similar judgments about blacks who use the n-word. Intellectually, I get that it’s their word, and perhaps they are reclaiming it.

            I’m white, so I don’t have quite the same personal risk of racial violence, but the hostility and violence I have seen or heard associated with that word frighten the shit out of me, and I am deeply, deeply uncomfortable with hearing it, ever. For any reason.

    12. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      The “general use” of the term doesn’t change the approach, imo. I also wouldn’t be ok with people using the n-word (or other slurs) or calling people the r-word when referring to a third person or people generally.

      The trade-off of living in employer-owned housing, especially communal housing, is that an employer can impose standards of conduct and other rules while you are a tenant.

    13. Sara*

      I tend to swear a lot, so I understand the point you’re trying to make. This intern might not see using swears as part of his speech as being hostile or see a problem with it, because he’s not directly talking TO them or ABOUT them.
      But the difference is, they asked him to stop. And he ignored them and isn’t trying to remain polite. Knowing people are offended and not doing anything to change your behavior is a huge problem in a shared living space.

    14. Sarah*

      I was also wondering, but that’s such a sexist term anyhow, I’m not sure it matters. There’s a third option, which is that the interns are using the term “bitch” about women in general, which would also be a situation I’d hate to live in. (I can think of other instances where a housemate might use a different term about either someone not in the house or a group in particular that *also* would create a hostile environment.)

    15. Goldensummer*

      I also suspect from the way this is written it is less like ‘oh what a bitch my ex is’ and more like ‘hey bitch’ or ‘those bitches’ context is important and can change the way people experience a swear word. I curse all the time but don’t like when the word bitch is used as a substitute for ‘woman’ it becomes less an interjection or personal insult and more of an insult to an entire group and when you venture into the area it becomes a whole different ball game.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Context is critical. I wouldn’t walk into a room of people I didn’t know well and greet them with “what’s up, my bitches” but I certainly have greeted a group of close friends that way.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          This seems like something where 90% of the populace can understand both that things can be okay in one context and not in others (aka code switching), and that if you guessed wrong and someone asks you to stop using a term, you add that data point to refine your understanding of ‘context’ and go on about your life. But there will always be that small percentage who insist on going the “You’re not the boss of me!” route and need to be reminded that, actually, OP is the boss of them.

    16. LBK*

      I agreed with you originally, but I thought about it further and realized I would be pretty angry if I had to listen to my roommates constantly use the word “f-g,” even if it weren’t directed at me, especially if I’d already asked them to stop. The word “bitch” doesn’t rub me the wrong way to the same degree, hence why I was originally feeling like the employee was maybe being a little overly sensitive, but assuming it’s being used to describe women and not situations (eg the “traffic was a bitch” many people have mentioned) I think it’s fair for the employee to not want to have to hear that while she’s at home.

      I think that would be valid even if they were all just roommates, but being roommates *and* coworkers living in housing paid for by their employer, she definitely has standing to ask that it stop.

    17. Relly*

      I feel as though you are conflating two issues, whether the company can bad all swearing outright (it can, it may not choose to) and what’s going on here.

      The problem is that certain words are directed at certain groups. Calling someone an asshole is an insult, but it’s a neutral insult. Some insults are -ists: sexist, racist, homophobic, etc.

      If these interns were dropping the n-word, that’s unacceptable AND racist. What these interns are doing is unacceptable AND sexist.

      The company has the right to say “no swearing on our property,” but even more so when the comments are slurs pointed at specific groups.

    18. TootsNYC*

      I’m sorry–I don’t see a difference.

      I see the b-word as akin to the n-word. And I don’t care how you’re using it, or what your own sex/race is.

      Many people *do* care what your own sex/race is–and so MEN should never use that word. In any sense. See Ta Nehisi Coates on why white people shouldn’t use the word “nigger,” even when quoting lyrics. (link one level down)

      But me, personally–I don’t care if you’re a girl; I don’t like it. I would ask female roommates to not say, “what’s happening, bitches?” I don’t want that word around me.

      It’s a word associated with violence, and I don’t want to be around it. It’s unsafe. Especially when men use it, it indicates hostility and the removal of personhood.


      1. TootsNYC*

        the link to Coates’ comments. He exactly sums up why I, as a person classified as “white,” have never felt comfortable using that word, even if it’s in someone else’s lyrics. It’s also why I don’t feel completely comfortable singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in church; I have to do some serious mental gymnastics to cast myself as a sister to my black brethren, and not as an individual worshipper.


  6. Sara without an H*

    Your company may want to rethink the idea of shared housing for interns. I know it seems like an easy solution, given that you own the living space, but the odds are strongly in favor of the whole thing going sideways.

    If you don’t believe me, please reread Alison’s story.

    1. MT*

      Agreed, someone not wearing a shirt in a common area could be grounds for a hostile enviroment. Somone sitting at the kichen table drunk, could be as well. If i hear someone engaging in other adult activities in their rooms definetly create a hostile enviroment.

      Even though the company is paying for it, this is still these people’s home.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        Just to clarify someone just sitting at the kitchen table drunk not doing anything or eating food would create a hostile environment? If so could you elaborate why you think it would hostile?

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      For what it’s worth, the situation I described was a pain for me, but at least while I was there, the interns were pretty happy with the arrangement and actually seemed to enjoy the chance to get to know other interns at what was otherwise a pretty large organization. They had a lot of camaraderie. (When I was writing this post, I actually reached out to someone who lived there who I know well and she agreed with that.) You do need to really pay attention to what’s going on, though, and make sure people know they can come talk to you and that you’ll get involved. (And in a case like mine where I was traveling a lot, they need to have a back-up contact in case you’re not around.)

      They also weren’t required to live there; it was an option that they could take or leave (and the org did house people separately who requested it).

      1. Snark*

        I’m just imagining the inevitable sexy outcomes of a bunch of young people of both sexes, in a house together, feelin’ the camaraderie, and all the ways those sexy outcomes could end badly, and yeeeesh.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          You would think! As far as I know, no pairings-up happened from that house. Which is surprising. We did once have a married couple living there though.

          1. Snark*

            The residents of every mixed house I’ve seen ended up pairing off like crazy, but then those were not connected to an employment situation, so my guess is that’s the differentiator.

            1. SignalLost*

              I lived in mixed housing at uni and no one in any of the three houses I was involved with ever even hooked up, except the one married couple of course. I think it’s reasonable in a professional context to emphasize that’s not recommended, following whatever the company’s policies are generally.

        2. Anon Marketer*

          Not sure if this is what you meant, but…

          As someone who was in a shared living situation for work for a lengthy period of time in a multi-gendered “household”, I can tell you none of us had “sexy outcomes” with each other. None of us were interested. Sure, sharing a single bathroom for males and females was a little awkward during certain times of the month, and hearing one of my co-workers and girlfriend at night was unsettling, none of us were really concerned, or interested in, having relationships with each other simply because I was one of two girls out of five co-workers.

          …Though it is something to definitely bring into consideration when giving shared living quarters to co-workers…

        3. Marvel*

          I work in an industry where shared housing during a contract is very common (theatre) and this actually happens much, much less often than you’d think.

        4. Anon for this one*

          A former employer offered an apartment to their two law clerks every summer but they had to share the apartment. The employer decided that both interns had to be of the same sex. They would hire male interns one year and female interns the next year, alternating. They never made this public and it drove me nuts that people of the “wrong” sex would waste their time applying each year. It seems like they didn’t even consider the possibility of a non-hetero intern.

          1. sap*

            It’s also appalling that an employer who was legally savvy enough to need two law clerks each summer thought this was an acceptable way to decide which law clerks would be hired.

    3. Iris Eyes*

      Agreeed, if you treat them like college students (shared living space with people they don’t choose) expect that level of professionalism inside and outside work. Better options would be a housing stipend or transition your housing to single occupant, possibly partnering with a local apartment complex. Allison’s examples are probably not even on the extreme end of the scale of what’s possible.

      Providing a place to live is great but…

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Agreeed, if you treat them like college students (shared living space with people they don’t choose) expect that level of professionalism inside and outside work.

        This is a really good point. Nothing says “you’re still in college” like “here’s your Jersey Shore style house full of people you don’t know!”

        1. Fiennes*

          You’re allowed to set and enforce different standards, though. I might not blame the intern for assuming a lower level of formality is okay…but the company sets the rules, and once they’re made clear it’s part of the interns’ job to follow them. “Acting like a polite professional” is hardly a burdensome requirement for free housing.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Yes, but those standards need to be set explicitly, instead of just assuming people will understand. Because we’d all love it if every college-age person understood that what’s appropriate with your buds isn’t appropriate with strangers who are stuck living with you, but there is ample evidence that this is not the case.

      2. Observer*

        If someone is old enough to be an intern, they are old enough to behave with minimal decency. My grandson is 7 years old. He is already being taught that you don’t use certain words and then when you say something that offends someone, you stop saying that to / around someone. He’s only 7 and he’s getting the message. So are most of his classmates.

        If you can expect little kids to understand the concept, then it’s a bit of a stretch to say that “college housing” excuses, or even “explains” this kind of behavior.

        1. Iris Eyes*

          Most people also know how to clean a toilet by the time they graduate high school but one of my college roommates still had to be taught. Common sense and common decency are taught and caught not innate. Young men may have skated through school getting away with this kind of nonsense, shoot some retirees still get away with this kinda gross behaviour. So good on you for the 7 year old but that doesn’t mean other parent/grandparents/teachers/coaches have held their charges to the same standard of human decency. Unfortunately in those cases it can come down to a boss being the first reality check.

          1. Observer*

            Sure. The point I was trying to make is that claiming that being in college style housing somehow explains this kind of behavior is not viable.

    4. Naptime Enthusiast*

      Our company provided summer housing at a nearby university. Interns lived in dorms or apartments with same-sex roommates. It was far from perfect but it was a relatively safe alternative to interns from across the country trying to find housing in a nearby city with some very unsafe areas. The “safe” and “unsafe” neighborhoods could be only a block apart, and unless you had someone familiar with the area guiding you through the housing process you could end up in pretty terrible housing situations.

    5. hermit crab*

      Depending on the location, providing housing may be more or less necessary if the organization wants interns at all. I had one summer job (technically a paid internship) located at a relatively remote Forest Service ranger station, and if you didn’t want to stay in the seasonal staff bunkhouse, pretty much your only other option was to sleep in a tent all summer.

      Since it was government housing, though, it was easy to enforce strict house rules, and the only problem we had was when someone left a big window open overnight and a bear broke in.

          1. Specialk9*

            The cup of tea!!! I DIED at them fixing tea for the robber. I’ve been paging through hundreds of comments to get to this!

            The tea… (Giggling to self)

        1. hermit crab*

          Haha! Nobody served him tea, as far as I know (I slept through it, somehow!!), but he did a pretty good job on our pantry. I think granola and bananas are more valuable than electronics to bears, anyhow. :)

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Ha! I remember a tale from tourists at Yosemite about terrorists blowing up their car (door wrenched off), which the rangers had to explain was a bear noticing the yummy yummy food they had left on the seat.

      1. Science!*

        I work for a rural institution that has a competitive summer internship. We have students come from all over the country for 10 weeks in the summer to study, learn and do small research projects. But the location has a dearth of affordable summer housing (touristy area so most people rent out their apartments for short term weekly rentals for $$$ in the summer and $ in the winter). There was no way to house the interns anywhere close by, the only affordable options were ~40-60 min drives away. My institution has a large hotel like property and so all the interns stay there along with a Resident Advisor and usually a rotating group pre-docs and post-docs who stay for a night or two to help out.

        There are rules they are required to abide by, and they agree to these rules when they agree to the internship. The RA helps maintain order. As far as I’m aware it works pretty well, the internship has been going on for over a decade. There was one guy who worked as the summer RA every year, for I think 7 years? Brought his whole family to stay at the intern house as well, including 3 children.

    6. Roscoe*

      I totally agree here. Especially for co-ed housing. I just see so many issues at play. What if super religious person and party animal can’t decide what is or isn’t appropriate. Drinking can also bring out these issues.

      I did once live in company sponsored housing, but not c0-ed, although we did have next door neighbors in the building that were all women. We all got along, but I can see how there would have been problems if we were mixed up in the apartment.

      1. BPT*

        Well I don’t think it’s necessarily up to the tennents to decide what’s appropriate. It should be up to the workplace to decide. As long as people are following the rules put in place, it shouldn’t be a problem. Say the rules include: (1) No parties in the house; (2) Interns over the age of 21 can have alcohol, under 21 cannot; (3) no loud music or noises after 10 PM, and; (4) no harrassment. Then interns would have to follow these rules, regardless of their personal feelings. Super religious intern who wants to live in a sober house? Great, you can go find one. Party animal who wants to live in a house that throws parties every night? Go find one. But you don’t necessarily get to live in free housing and impose your rules and preferences on others.

        1. Roscoe*

          Sure, thats fair, I can just see certain things that are a bit more arbitrary, if that makes sense. Like “no parties” is on its face easy, but is having 5 friends over to watch a football game a party? harassment is theoretically easy, but different people can see harassment differently.

          1. BPT*

            You can definitely address these with more specific rules – plenty of dorms/intern housing facilities do. You can say no visitors. You can say no visitors after 7 PM. But again, as long as the rules are being followed, it doesn’t necessarily matter. And the workplace can have some say over it, obviously. Some rules are always going to be arbitrary because you have to draw a line somewhere. Someone feels harassed? They take it to the person in charge. If they view it as harassment, they tell the other person to stop. If they don’t stop the behavior, they’re out. The workplace can make a rule that you can’t say the word “potato” if they want. If you want free housing, you put up with it.

          2. Observer*

            but different people can see harassment differently.

            The perennial excuse for not addressing harassment.

            It’s not that complicated. It really, really isn’t.

    7. AnotherAlison*

      Depending on what the nature of the owned housing is, maybe the company could rent it to someone else to help offset costs of renting apartments from a 3rd party.

    8. LawBee*

      Shared co-ed housing would be a big negative for me if I were considering this internship. No thank you. Shared housing in general would bug me, but co-ed where I didn’t get to choose who is living with me? Nope.

    9. Saradactyl*

      I wonder if this is some kind of service corps work? My ex was in a service corps program for a year after we graduated and he and his housemates were referred to as “interns,” and part of their (otherwise pretty slim) benefits and compensation were free housing, but they all lived together in one house. Being in an “intentional community” situation was actually part of the program.

    10. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I’m a little torn on this, because in some contexts it allows lower-income students/people to participate in a program in a place with exorbitant housing costs and in others it allows people to live in a geographic area with limited housing stock—for example, housing in NYC/SF, or rural housing, or short-term housing rotations for AmeriCorps.

      But you’re totally bang on that it’s important for employers to be aware of all the risks and ways this can go sideways. In addition to the issue described here, there are a bunch of legal liability and risk management concerns that can unfold.

      I think of my OldBoss who housed a summer intern from hell, and the stories are so appalling that it’s hard not to believe that the BadIntern was possessed by demons.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I feel like this needs to be the subject of the next “Ask The Readers” post because I want to hear these stories and I am certain Alison has more to share as well.

      2. Genny*

        Agreed. Employer-provided housing allowed me to take the unpaid internship that led to my first job. My company wouldn’t have been able to provide multiple houses for their interns (their funding structure wouldn’t allow for it). The situation worked out fine because we are all reasonable people (having our own bedrooms really helped too, especially since it was a co-ed set-up). I appreciate that shared housing can create awkward situations, but I wouldn’t want the takeaway from that to be you either put everyone up in different places (or two places divided by gender) or do nothing.

    11. Beth Jacobs*

      It’s such a tough call!

      I would also be very nervous about sharing with coworkers, but on the other hand a company owned house really is extremely cost-efficient. On the commercial market, if you only want a room for two months, you’re going to pay much more per month simply because of your short stay – even in flat shares (not to mentions deposits). I imagine that if the company rented the house and used the money to provide a housing stipend to interns instead, it would either provide a stipend too low to cover commercial rent or would have to subsidize it further.

      I mean, most people in their early-to-mid twenties are going to have roommates either way and if you’re in a new city, you often don’t have the benefit of living with friends you know well. So if it’s a choice between a shared house with total strangers and a free house shared with other interns in the same field then at least it’s free and sorta networking.

  7. MT*

    Wouldnt everything be a super liablity in the house? If the company is going to police someone’s speech while they are athome, then the company should also police what people are wearing in it, or if they are drinking it in as well. If speech alone is liable to create a hostile workplace, then anything can as well.

    1. Pine cones huddle*

      A friend of mine worked with a company that provided apartments for employees while they were out of town long-term and sometimes these were shared apartments and sometimes co-ed. I don’t think my friend ever felt “policed” but there is a certain amount of common sense that you have when essentially living with co-workers: boundaries, politeness, cleanliness, sharing TV time, not getting into religion and politics… etc.

      Perhaps these interns are too young or inexperienced to realized that part of the bargain with “free” housing is that you really do need to be on your best behavior and treat your co-workers with respect. It’s not as loosy goosy as a dorm or your typical roommate situation. That doesn’t mean you can’t get comfortable or blow off steam, but you certainly can’t make other people uncomfortable.

      1. MT*

        The issue with policing speech as if you were in the office, means you need to police all the same things at the house as you would in the office.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          And that is absolutely the way it should be if you are living in company provided space with other people.

        2. Leatherwings*

          Why? Why can’t you say “there are certain standards of civility you must meet, but you don’t have to wear a suit” at the home. This is arbitrary.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It really doesn’t. You wouldn’t let people wear pajamas at the office, but it’s fine for them to be in the TV room in their pajamas in the house. You can say “don’t harass, degrade, or make people feel unsafe in this house” without enforcing every office rule.

          1. MT*

            Agreed, but these issue could create a hostile work enviroment, that the company would need to address if the concern came up.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Wearing pajamas in the living room (assuming it’s not, like, a negligee) isn’t a hostile work environment. You enforce the potential hostile work environment stuff, but it’s not the same as “you must behave at home exactly as you would at work” because there are differences. You just can’t make people feel unwelcome, unsafe, harassed, etc.

          2. MT*

            In the letter, the person just used to word bitch, and there was no indication, that they called anyone in the house that word. That is just too much policing at home.

            1. Leatherwings*

              No. No it’s not. That word is a slur and it’s not appropriate to use, particularly when someone has expressed discomfort with it.

            2. Natalie*

              Not quite, it’s multiple male interns, saying it repeatedly, even after their colleagues asked them to stop.

            3. KHB*

              I’d say that “Don’t treat your coworkers in such a way that they go to the manager in tears” is a reasonable amount of policing. Because that is a thing that happened.

              (I’m assuming here that OP knows the intern who complained well enough to know that she’s not so sensitive as to run to the manager in tears every time someone looks at her funny – because otherwise the letter would have looked very different.)

              1. Falling Diphthong*

                This! It’s not “your own home.” Any more than it’s “your own cubicle” or “your own seat on the company bus to the work site” where you ought to be allowed to do whatever and the comfort of those around you must fall to every urge you have.

                This experience is supposed to motivate the interns to move onward and upward into a life where they don’t have to share housing with random people.

              1. Lance*

                This. You can say they ‘just’ used that word, but frankly, we don’t know the whole story.

          3. MT*

            Would it be different if people were consuming media out in the open that used offensive language?

            1. Genny*

              Common decency says keep it PG-13 or less in shared common spaces, though that’s not a hard and fast rule. I’m not going to watch Game of Thrones, an R-rated horror film, or probably even something like Schindler’s List in a shared common space unless I know everyone else is okay with that. I don’t want to offend, disgust, or traumatize the people I live with.

            2. Falling Diphthong*

              Watch porn in your own room. With headphones on.

              Just because you can watch porn in the living room without headphones when you live alone doesn’t mean it’s okay once other people are there.

              It’s like being the nudist on the night shift. If you’re the only one in the space, you can do what you like short of running a bioweapons program. If you’re sharing the space, your arm-waving needs to end short of their noses.

          4. LBK*

            And I think you’d still be expected to maintain a higher standard of decency in shared work housing than if you lived in a your own place – eg if you sleep in just boxers, you need to at least throw on some sweats and a t-shirt before you go out into the living room.

        4. Jessie the First (or second)*

          “If you do w then you have to do x, y, and z too” is not really true. Like, ever. You’re allowed to distinguish between different behaviors and different settings.

          The rule that would be enforced here is “do not use slurs and do not harass or intimidate your coworkers at any time.”

          I don’t see any basis for the argument that laying down that rule means now you have to forbid people from wearing pjs at bedtime. Come on now.

          1. MT*

            The letter writer said, the person says the word bitch, not that they called anyone in the house the word.

            1. Parenthetically*

              Repeatedly using the word bitch, in spite of being asked repeatedly to stop by the female residents. That crosses over from “says sonofabitch when he stubs his toe” to “is deliberately choosing this word despite the fact that it makes people angry/threatened/uncomfortable.”

              This is a weird hill to die on, MT.

            2. fposte*

              The thing is, if it’s that important to the guys doing this to do this, they can go pay for their own private apartment and say “bitch” to one another all they want. They don’t get to make their co-workers cry and insist that the co-workers have to suck it up on the company dime.

              1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                In a way the interns are paying for this apartment even though it is “free” the fair market cost of the housing is taken into account for tax reporting purposes and overall compensation. If they get paid $2,500 for the summer and housing would cost $1,000, the total compensation on a W-2 should be reported as $3,500.

                1. Natalie*

                  Eh, they pay taxes on their cash income as well, but that doesn’t mean they’re “paying for” their job or their wages.

                2. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  @Natalie It is more direct that, it is not really diffrent then if the company paid them an extra $400 a month, then charged them $400 a month for rent. Instead of going through all that admin process they are just being more direct about it.

                  It is not that they just pay taxes on it but that the interns income is reported as much higher then they are actually paying.

                3. LBK*

                  This feels a little pedantic; they aren’t paying rent, even if it’s not technically “free” in the sense that they never have to pay a dime to anyone to live there. Where this is a casual work advice blog and not a tax law Q&A, I think we can all understand what each other mean by the colloquial use of “free” housing.

                4. Jessie the First (or second)*

                  If we are going to be pedantic about tax law, remember these are interns and so there are a number of ways the housing allowance could be tax-free. At any rate, I think it’s needlessly nitpicky to take issue with people using the term “rent free” because I’m not seeing any way in which a substantive discussion of the realities of tax law as they relate to employer-provided housing for temporary workers affects the answer here.

            3. Allison*

              I’m gonna guess that because the LW took issue with it, they were using it to describe people, not things. Even if they were, it would be reasonable to ask someone not to do that, and a bit ridiculous for someone to double down and refuse to change a habit that makes other people uncomfortable.

            4. biobottt*

              The LW didn’t specify how the word was used, so we have no indication that they *weren’t* calling that word. If you call someone a bitch, have to say the word.

      2. LKW*

        I had a similar set up years ago. The 22-25 year olds had no problem maintaining the appropriate boundaries. If someone had an issue, they spoke up and the issue was resolved pretty quickly because everyone knew that if the leads had to get involved to resolve this stuff -it was mostly going to look bad for the aggressor, not the complainer (some situations did make the complainers look bad -mostly because they didn’t try to address it directly in the first place).

        You can work and live with people just fine -it’s done in a lot of other circumstances than this, but expectations of behavior need to be clear and there is an expectation that at all times you are showing respect for your fellow humans (not just co-workers).

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I really think 80% of the time this situation would be fine, 10% it would be great because they lucked into a meshed group of roommates, and 10% of the time you get this letter, or the person who declares that never flushing the toilet is the hill on which they will expire.

    2. Leatherwings*

      This is… really not true. I don’t see why the company can’t say “hi, please don’t use derogatory words for women in company provided housing” without having to make a “no tank tops” rule too. Basic rules of politeness and professionalism can apply without having to restrict everything

    3. Parenthetically*

      I STRONGLY object to your phrasing here, MT (“policing someone’s speech”) as it makes it sound like it’s just eye-rollingly ridiculous to insist interns don’t belittle their housemates with sexist abuse while in a house paid for by the company. This house is a work perk, and management absolutely has the right to require a basic code of behavior that includes “don’t use misogynistic slurs.” I mean, they have the right to say “no alcohol” as well, though I wouldn’t recommend it, but “no ragers” might be reasonable, as would “confine nudity to private spaces.” You might snarkily call that policing what people drink or wear, but I’d call it ensuring a comfortable and safe environment for all housemates. If people want to be crappy housemates, they can do it on their own dime and not the company’s.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I don’t mean to be rude in being so blunt, but this is really a false equivalency. If the concern is limiting behavior that can give rise to employment- and tort-related legal claims, then OP actually has fairly clear guidance on when to intervene and when not to intervene. That’s additionally true when a complaint has been made—as it has, here.

      This isn’t about policing speech in a private home, although I can understand why it may seem like it. If someone underage was drinking at their employer-owned home, the employer absolutely has a right to intervene then, too. It’s not about policing the entire universe of bad behavior; it’s about addressing specific conduct.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Oh god, you are making me remember that I also had to police under-age drinking. (Most of the interns were over 21, but not all of them.) It was truly the worst of times for 25-year-old Alison.

        1. Lora*

          The whole thing just sounds like the most thankless task ever. Like being HR 24/7. It should be, in an ideal world, a short and straightforward conversation: “Intern, you have been told to stop using That Word and being an a-hole to other residents once. I am telling you again to stop. You will not get a third telling, you will get a pink slip and a bad reference and help packing your bags. Retaliation against your colleagues will similarly result in termination and a bad reference. Clear?” And anything less than perfect agreement would be, “okay, you’re all done, get your crap and go.” But you just know it’s not going to be that simple, because if it were that simple Intern would have knocked it off already.

        2. paul*

          It would be truly amazingly awesome to have an actual full length top level post about this experience sometime :D Pretty please?

        3. CmdrShepard4ever*

          Just curious hen you say you had to police it what did that entail? Not letting the under 21 interns drink in front of you (like college RA’s if I don’t see it I don’t know about it) or random room check to make sure they did not have alcohol hiding away?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            No random room checks! Just that if I knew about it, I was supposed to put a stop to it (and make it clear in general that they couldn’t do it in the house).

          2. JamieS*

            Ah the life of an RA. When I was in college most of the RA’s would be unable to see any alcohol in a resident’s room unless their own supply was low in which case the booze would be “confiscated”. In hindsight it was highly unethical.

        4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I am so sorry and so sympathetic :( Having also had to police underage drinking (and some recreational drug use) when I was barely of age (22/23), it is the absolute worst. It sucked when I did it as an RA, but at least it’s an expected part of the job in that context (also, I was underage, and so were 99% of the residents, so it’s easier to draw bright lines).

          Having to do it as an adult in the context of your workplace is the worst. Sometimes I wished small gnomes would just bash my skull in with tiny hammers instead of having to have One More Discussion about why you can’t do illegal things in employer housing.

          1. paul*

            Can I ditto my request about a post on the upcoming Friday thread? The issues of employee owned communal housing is apparently fascinating to me (I never knew this until today). I can just kind of imagine the messes it involves…are there any legal checks about what employers can/can’t do with group housing? It seems like a weird mix of labor law and tenancy issues.

        5. LBK*

          I assume this was before you had been in any management roles – do you think having to deal with policing people’s personal behavior, not just professional, at a relatively young age helped shape you as a manager? I imagine there’s plenty of actual managers who have never had to have conversations with their employees about their drinking or other illegal activities. It certainly sounds like a baptism by fire.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Hmmm, good question! I’ve never thought of it that way, but yeah, it definitely threw me right into having to have potentially awkward conversations with people. I do know that at the time I felt like my employer wanted me to be too involved and I thought some of that was silly (and now I have a better appreciation for some of their concerns).

  8. AnotherAlison*

    Ugh, OP, I feel for you. My son is a college student, and while not in the “intern housing” situation, he is in the “baseball house” situation. I won’t derail with the specifics of the issue they had last fall, but bottom line: The quicker college-age adults get it through their head that their behavior matters 100% of the time when they are in the company of colleagues or representing the company, the better. Any role you can play in that will be great for the all of us in the future. I’d also consider smaller housing units with pairs of interns, possibly of the same gender, if possible.

    1. TootsNYC*

      you know what? Even if it’s not work-related housing, treating other people with decency is important. Because you are shaping your reputation NOW.

      So you apply for a marketing job 7 years from now, and they spot that you were on the baseball team at Random University. There’s a guy in their engineering department who played baseball there–“what did you think of him?” they ask. The engineer replies, “Oh, that guy? He was a bleeping slob. and he weaseled out of the dishes at every turn, and when you complained, he swore at you. But that was 7 years ago.”

      What do your chances look like now?

      1. TardyTardis*

        Oh, so true! In a related matter, several members of our town went on a highly-publicized trail ride, and one of the members didn’t understand about filling the wood bin as they left each station. That word got around right when the person was running for county commissioner. Oops.

  9. Friday*

    Perhaps some sort of standards of conduct contract is in order for all of the housemates? It’s sad that these are adults and shouldn’t need such a thing, but those dudes sound absolutely horrible. I hope they get the boot immediately if after the serious talk, they make any more gross comments.

    1. mimsie*

      I think this is a great idea, if not for this set of interns, at least implemented for future rounds. It sets a strong and positive message about your company and expectations, along with clear consequences laid out before there are any problems.

    2. Friday*

      ETA so that if this sort of thing arises again in the future, there’s no “stern warning” period – you can just get rid of the gross guy(s) right away.

    3. TCO*

      Yes yes yes–some kind of housing agreement/lease could provide important protections to both the interns and the employer. It should cover normal stuff like damages and maintenance but also address behavior expectations.

  10. lady bird*

    This makes me so happy that my internships were more hands off in terms of housing, as in “here’s some money, do what you want”

  11. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

    God, free intern-housing sounds like it would be the Bad Place for me.

    (It’s a great perk, and a good way to equalize the unfairness of internships! I just… am not cut out for it.
    I HATE living with other people and I value being alone SO much. I’m not a bad roommate, I just… don’t like it. I need my space.)

    1. Naptime Enthusiast*

      After 2 terrible roommates in college, I’m with you! Learning to get along with different types of people is a valuable life skill, but I like coming home to my own space to decompress.

      1. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

        But I’m with you, I just… would never relax if I lived with people all the time.
        Living in dorms and sharing bathroom and kitchen was bad enough for me.

        I’m ok living with my family but even then, I relish the moments when no one’s home.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Hear, hear! I lived in a student dorm for five years and in a… I don’t know how to describe it… employer-sponsored shared housing(?) (not in the US, obviously) for another two. It’s been (does the math…) 27 years since I moved out of there and into my own place, and I still break out in hives at the word roommate.

      The workplace shared housing was the worst. Like the situation described above, but on steroids. Picture four floors, maybe 20-25 rooms on each, with either 2-3 single people or a family living in each room; ages 22 to 40s. Most of the families had kids: mainly infants through preschoolers, but some were teenagers. My room was next to a common area that also served as a playground for all the younger kids in the building. You could hear the screaming from a block away when coming home from work. (How I went on to willingly have two children of my own after two years of that is beyond me.) I was not on speaking terms with one of my roommates, and she was scheming with the third roommate behind my back, to move out and leave me in the room “because I liked living alone” (I would’ve been assigned two new random roomies the moment they would’ve moved out. Thankfully her bf proposed and she moved out to live with him and I never saw her again.) I was engaged to a college sweetheart and my fiance visited me a few times a year on school breaks and long weekends. Nonetheless I was propositioned by a number of the men in the building, and received one marriage proposal from a resident alcoholic in his 40s (whose big selling point was that he made good money, “even though I have to pay most of it as child support, and then I also drink a lot”). I once had a drunken older guy barge into my room several times in a row when I was in my room alone on the weekend. First few times he said “sorry, wrong room”, which was probably why I didn’t lock the door after he left. Then he came back and was “screw it, this is my room, I live here and I’m not leaving and who, by the way, are you?” His friends eventually came and took him away. Oh what else? Everyone shared the communal showers on the first floor. The stalls had no doors. I am now a middle-aged woman who’s had a full life, and I still blush when I remember the stares my roommates and I used to get from the preteen girls in the shower.

      And then you’d come to work every morning, and half the people from your building would be there as your colleagues. I remember everyone being very professional though. The housing-situation drama never spilled into work that I know of.

      1. JeanB in NC*

        That sounds like my idea of hell. I had panic attacks when I tried to go in the service from never being alone – I think I would have had a full-blown nervous breakdown at this place.

      2. Serin*

        I have to admit, it makes a great story. I’m imagining the guy across from me, who asks me every couple of weeks to give him lessons in very elementary aspects of Word formatting, and how I would feel if he and I shared a kitchen and I also had to show him how to use a crockpot.

      3. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

        My skin started itching reading that.
        It just sounds like my worst nightmare

    3. Lindsay J*

      I am a bad roommate. I try not to be, but I’m just kind of naturally sloppy, (and that’s not to say that I make a mess, shrug my shoulders and go, “Oh, I’m just naturally messy. It’s okay”. I really really try not to be messy and when I do make messes I try to clean them up. But I’m not observant in general, and especially when it comes to neatness. So I’ll think that I used the kitchen and then cleaned it up, but I’ll have left grease all over the counter where I missed wiping it up. and rice grains in the sink or something.) I make noise while I sleep, and tend to default to night-owl if I’m not really strict with myself on my schedule. I also don’t like going out and doing things so I’m always around.

      The roommate experience all through college was difficult and unpleasant for me. Living with fellow interns afterwards sounds like torture.

      1. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

        At least you know it! And avoid it!

        I imagine living with a real pedant would be pretty much as stressful as living with a very messy person.

        And you sound messy but not unclean, which is where my line is ;)

  12. Snark*

    “And when the robber came in, they made him tea! They assumed he was a new intern. Then they all headed out, and when they came back, the “new intern” and all their electronics were gone.”


    1. Clorinda*

      Dying even more: The robber apparently walked into a house full of people. What was his plan? What was anyone’s plan? Do any of these young people have a plan?

      1. Snark*

        I know! It’s just charmingly hapless on so many levels.

        Some friends of mine in grad school lived in a cooperative house, and the same thing happened minus the theft. Dude showed up, said ‘sup dudes, they all had a beer with him, showed him his room….and then their actual new roommate walked in and was like, oh hi.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Ever since hearing that story, I’ve thought that if anyone ever breaks into my house while I’m home, I’m going to pretend I’m expecting them so they don’t freak out to find me there (and so they have an incentive to behave before I make it out the door).

        1. Businesslady*

          You can also just yell at them and hope that it triggers some kind of obedience instinct. (Do not actually do this, obviously, it could be incredibly dangerous. But when my mom encountered a burglar in her bedroom, she was so shocked that she just yelled “get of my house!” and amazingly, he complied! Only afterwards did she get freaked out about the reality of the situation.)

          1. Yellow Bird Blue*

            This reminds me of that 99-year-old lady who told a home intruder he was making a mess in her house. He actually stopped.

          2. Serin*

            There was a story in my dorm about a visitor who got naked and drunk and belligerent, and no one could get rid of him until someone learned that he was a Marine and got him out of there by shouting orders at him like a drill sergeant.

            1. Businesslady*

              Ha, I will pass that along! She’s very Midwestern Nice but with a steely core. During the police interview she was like “his sweatshirt was velour…I touched it!” at which point she realized she’d actually pushed him down the hallway and out the door. He was so chagrined he just kept apologizing and calling her “ma’am.”

              (Also, this happened the one and only time she accidentally left the door unlocked during the day, so it’s yet another endorsement for basic security measures!)

      3. LizB*

        I’ve heard that it’s common for burglars to knock on the door of a house they’re targeting to check if anyone’s home (I assume they have an excuse ready if it turns out someone is). I wonder if it was knock on door > intern opens it > “Hi, are you a new intern?” > quick-thinking burglar goes “Yep, that’s me!” and the rest is history.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Apparently he just walked in. (That’s why I kept telling them to keep the door locked!) I guess he was assuming no one would be home, but some of them were there and they just … greeted him and made him comfortable.

            1. Snark*

              Adorable in the manner of a six-month-old Great Dane, who doesn’t realize he weighs 85 pounds already and just leaves a trail of unwitting destruction in his wake.

            2. paul*

              Maybe it’s my streak of paranoid but my first thought was “thank god all he wanted to do was rob the place”. Yikes!

          1. Myrin*

            As if that story weren’t already hilarious enough on its own, you just somehow have a way with words that always makes these wild experiences you share here ten times as funny.

      1. Junior Dev*

        Right, like, instead of leaving the “new intern” alone they take him to work with them, and he starts getting trained to do the job, and before he knows it he is one of them!

      2. Oxford Coma*

        It’s almost an episode of Seinfeld. I’m picturing Kramer in a cat burgler outfit, sipping tea, saying mildly “I don’t even live here!”

    2. fposte*

      I feel like there are a couple of people who still wake up sweating at 3 in the morning and say “Oh, my god, was that a dream, right?”

    3. Kittymommy*

      I soon need to hear more about this, the intern who kept peeing outside and the one who wanted complete silence after 8!!
      Actually a whole book on the stories would be great!!

      1. Snark*

        Complete silence after 8 was amazing, but I’m still flummoxed by offering the robber tea. TEA! The mind reels.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I know! These interns tended to be very earnest, well-meaning young people, so the tea part never surprised me. They would totally want to welcome and be hospitable to a new house member.

          1. Snark*

            I’m experiencing the urge to gently hug and tut-tut over people I’ve never met, and it’s really weirding me out.

      2. InfoSec SemiPro*

        I’ve lived with the complete silence after 8 roommate.

        I survived the year, but we were pretty sure we weren’t compatible after that. And I’m not a partier! I’m a knitter who goes to bed at 9:30! But I still want to do some laundry or watch a show or walk around after 8.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I dated the no-flushing guy for two years… It’s easier when he’s an SO. You get used to it. Though when he finally ended things, it was a relief to know that I’ll never see any dude’s #1 again.

          PS. I even asked him early in the relationship if he wanted me to stop flushing too, for the planet’s sake (I’m nothing if not a team player). He stared at me like I had three heads, and said “What are you talking about? I flush” then continued not flushing for two more years, and we never spoke of it again.

    4. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

      Honestly, the tea makes it, especially if they’re not British or in another country where tea is A Thing. This is legitimately the best thing I’ll read all week.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I’m assuming it was in the States, probably the DC area, since that is where Alison is based.

  13. Observer*

    Please loop in HR and whoever has the authority to fire. Besides being just gross and hyper aggressive – who uses such language to people and then continues after they have been told to stop?! – it’s also a huge liability for the organization.

    It is also a bit of a red flag to me. Allison is completely correct about checking about broader situation. As bad as the name calling is, the fact that the intern was in tears about it, not just steamed, tells me that there is a real possibility that there is more going on there than she reported. There are a lot of reasons for this, but it’s quite possible that the other stuff is less clear cut, so the intern felt like the “couldn’t” complain about it, but the insult was a clear issue she could come to you about.

    You might also want to look at your organizational culture. Is there something that might make these guys feel like this kind of behavior would get a pass in your organization?

    1. Naptime Enthusiast*

      Great points all around. I know that some people are just Not Nice people and will behave terribly no matter the situation, but they may see their colleagues or mentors in the office get away with this kind of language and think their housemates are just being stuck-up.

    2. tangerineRose*

      Maybe, but when I’m really, really angry, that’s when I’m most likely to end up crying (embarassing but true).

  14. Librarian Ish*

    I am SCREAMING at the interns making the robber tea.

    I definitely second having the bystander intervention training. And house rules. And a lot of things in place that emphasize you’re in charge. You know how interns in a workplace need more handholding because they don’t have much experience? This is that situation on steroids.

    1. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

      I mean, at least they were friendly and inviting? Point in their favor ;)

    2. Sara without an H*

      Yes, I imagine the robber has been entertaining cell mates with this story for years.

  15. CM*

    It seems like they need a wakeup call that when they live in employer provided housing where they do not get to choose roommates, their behavior can and will reflect on them professionally. If that doesn’t work for them they should find their own housing where they can control who they are living with.

    1. Decima Dewey*

      When you live in a communal situation, be it a dorm or free intern housing, there are rules you have to abide by. If you live on the quiet floor of a dorm, you don’t get to do the rebel yell in the stairwell, or play music full blast after midnight. If you live in free intern housing, if one of your housemates asks you to stop doing something, you do it.

    2. TootsNYC*

      your behavior will reflect on you even in non-employer housing.

      You never know when your reputation will be called into view. Make it a good one. Always.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        See: the letter from the dude who was rude to the CEO’s wife on the tube

  16. Cedarthea*

    I’m a Camp Director so part of our compensation is housing and my staff are always 17-23ish. My best advice is setting standards and expectations for living in the house. Doing activities like a “Full Values Contract” where everyone goes through and shares what they expect from the living environment and have an open conversation about what is okay and what is not okay and then in the end have everyone sign off that they will be held to this agreement. I would suggest the manager should be there so that it is a respectful and appropriate list.

    It’s hard to unring the bell, but it’s not unreasonable for our manager to have a well facilitated conversation about norms in the home. Individual debriefs may be necessary so that it can be made clear that retribution is not okay, but I think everyone needs to own up and reset to go forward.

    I’ve found that the young people I employ (and me myself) do better when they have a sense of the parameters and expectations, so that when in appropriate behaviour is happening there is a system for dealing with it that everyone has agreed to in advance.

    1. Reba*

      Interesting process! I could imagine that people pay more attention to the established rules when they are created interactively like this, not just handed down and skimmed over.

      But I could also see the opposite happening, that is, some people wouldn’t respect rules made by their peers, just things that come from someone with authority.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Not saying it can’t happen, but I’ve never seen peers refuse to respect group-defined rules whenever they go through the process Cedarthea has described. Although, if someone did flagrantly disrespect or ignore those rules after being warned, they were often voted off the island.

      2. Artemesia*

        I took a group of college juniors on a week long service oriented alternative spring break; we had that kind of a session to set norms and also raise concerns they had. This was an AIDS outreach service project where we worked with people living with AIDS to access housing, medical care, assist fundraisers etc and it was at a time when AIDS was still mostly lethal and very frightening to many people including the parents of these students. It was extremely useful to organize this way and we had no behavior problems on the trip even living in close quarters (you haven’t lived till you sleep as a middle aged woman on a 1956 shag carpet that had probably never been cleaned in the decades it had lain on the floor of the Baptist church basement for 9 days with 15 adolescents. My eyes swelled so much from the dust and mold I had to get up at 5:30 every morning and put ice packs on them to face the day eyes open). The students organized and did the cooking and did a super job on the community projects. It was fabulous. But the process meant they worked out a message to share with their parents, that we as a result of the student fears and concerns arranged for training from a local agency on safety and appropriate behavior with clients, and that they were very considerate and supportive of each other. People do tend to own what they create. Alas the OP is a bit further down this road, so some top down direction will be necessary, but engaging them is also likely to be useful.

      3. Jennifer Thneed*

        It’s amazing though — the peers will shut stuff down! Whereas if all the rules are from the top, individuals won’t feel they “have the right” to remind someone of a rule.

    2. KHB*

      Hmm. In this case, I could easily see some jerkweed getting everyone else to agree that “we will uphold the value of free speech” (which seems like a great idea if you’re blissfully unaware of what jerkweeds mean by “free speech”) to preempt anyone else from raising the idea that certain words/slurs might be unacceptable.

      1. paul*

        I don’t think there’s any process immune to rules-lawyering and abuse though, and this sounds infinitely better than what they have now.

  17. MuseumChick*

    Anyone wanna take bets on if the male intern tries “But FREEDOM OF SPEECH!” When spoken to by the OP?

    1. Nita*

      Ha! They’re welcome to try, and they would be in for a surprise because Freedom of Speech doesn’t work that way!

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      If he does, it’ll be a great teaching moment on how freedom of speech doesn’t mean what he thinks it does.

    3. Liane*

      The future will be much better for these interns to learn these lessons now: what Free Speech applies to as well as how to speak to, about, and in front of coworkers.

    4. Observer*

      Of course that’s going to happen.

      OP, please be VERY,VERY clear in your own mind that this is absolutely OK! This is not a “free speech” issue, and you most definitely DO have absolute standing to regulate what goes on in the housing you provide!

    5. Artemesia*

      And he will want everyone to explain it to him and justify it repeatedly and ‘engage in dialogue’ and expect people to provide references and citations.

    6. Jennifer Thneed*

      Obligatory xkcd: https://xkcd.com/1357/

      The mouse-over text is so excellent: “I can’t remember where I heard this, but someone once said that defending a position by citing free speech is sort of the ultimate concession; you’re saying that the most compelling thing you can say for your position is that it’s not literally illegal to express.”

  18. Katniss*

    I’m just baffled that a 22-25 year old could be so immature/foolish as to think it’s okay to continue using that word, in housing shared with fellow employees, AFTER BEING TOLD TO STOP.

    1. I'm A Little TeaPot*

      I’m not. There are some REALLY immature 22-25 year olds out there. And then there are some REALLY mature and greats ones too.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I’m surprised this hasn’t come up before. I wonder how long OP’s company has been providing this housing for interns.

    2. Fake old Converse shoes (not in the US)*

      As someone who shares an office space with a bunch of childish young adults (the kind that would empty a trash can and upload it to Snapchat while on the clock), I’m not that surprised. TBH, they’re being pretty tame.

    3. Ice and Indigo*

      Some people, especially young men, actually ramp up use of a word if someone complains about it, just to prove they’re not to be dictated to / shouldn’t have to feel bad for using it first time around. Escalators are never fun to live with!

  19. Laura H*

    Ok, question.

    Would it be possible to have that group talk on basic house etiquette now with this current group? On the grounds that they’re interns and new to the working world- although sharing work-provided accommodations isn’t common in an internship-it’s common in the working world via business trips and conferences etc. This needs to be your first step. But if you’ve had that etiquette talk already”- this would be a great time to assess its effectiveness.

    And in this talk, I wouldn’t bring up individual instances. In theory at this age, they should know certain words are very frowned on in pleasant company! However, if this still happens afterwards by all means call em on it.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I think having someone in tears over the behavior warrants one on one conversations.

      But I do think that the OP should take what they learn from this situation and have that expectations conversation up front in the future with the group as a whole.

    2. Observer*

      No, this has gone well beyond that point. You don’t need to have a “general” conversation with the group about what someone MIGHT do, when you know that someone has been contravening a basic rule of decent behavior ie using a derogatory and deliberately offensive word after being repeatedly asked to stop.

  20. Amy Pond*

    Ugh, these situations are the worst. I hope you follow the scripts given to you and that you follow up with the woman the brought it up.

    When I was in university I was an RA and had to share a bathroom and microwave with someone who refused to take any responsibility for shared spaces. I had multiple conversations with them. They started ignoring me, would not look at me at all, and as time passed they would get aggressive.

    It got to the point they threw silverware across the room in after I asked them to confine their dishes to one sink. I kept reporting them to my supervisor cause I couldn’t do more than that.

    My supervisor kept trying to give them chances, even hiring them on as a information desk assistant. They got fired for being rude, yelling at people, and trying to sell their shifts after being warned about being a no-call no-show. I kept telling my supervisor I felt unsafe and kept getting told there was nothing they could do. There were only a couple months left in the school year and they won’t live on campus next year. I started sleeping at my partners apartment and avoiding the floor. I only showed up when my responsibilities demanded it.

    The kicker is this resident didn’t leave the building at move out. They moved all they’re stuff to the basement and tricked people into signing them into the building so they could sleep in the basement. They pulled this off for a month and avoided getting kicked out for another week because the staff couldn’t figure out where they were hiding their stuff.

    I still panic when I see someone that looks like them.

    So yeah, please make sure your staff feel safe in their living situation. It could save you and them a lot of grief.

  21. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    As several people have said, I recommend talking to everyone individually as well. Not only will it make it crystal clear that retaliation isn’t okay, you might root out how toxic of an environment it is or isn’t.

  22. Bostonian*

    I think the chances are pretty high that the male interns will deny everything. What’s the response when you get to the “What’s going on?” part of the speech and they start acting like they have no idea what you’re talking about?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You actually don’t need to settle whether they’ve done it in the past or not. You just need to make sure it doesn’t happen from now on. So if they deny it, you say something like, “We don’t need to debate whether or not it happened. I want to make sure you’re clear that it can’t happen, etc. etc.” and then you continue with the rest of what I outlined.

  23. LawBee*

    “That’s something we would take very seriously, to the point of reconsidering your internship here.”

    KEY. Consequences are everything.

    1. Reba*

      I wondered if “reconsidering your internship here” is even a bit too vague. If the person seems to not be getting it I’d say, “We will end your internship immediately and you will have 2 days to move out if you do this again.”

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I don’t think it’s too vague, especially because OP doesn’t want to get into a debate over whether the interns actually continued to use the b-word.

        Being more specific in this context is likely to get the person to be defensive and combative, whereas being clear that There Will Be Consequences should be enough to set them straight. Being told someone is “reconsidering” the person’s internship is basically saying “we’ll fire you.” If the intern can’t parse that language, they’re in for a lifetime of professional difficulty around warning signs that mean you may be fired, soon.

        1. Reba*

          Your first point is great — don’t invite rules lawyering. On your second point, I agree but was actually thinking of letters #onhere in which people genuinely did not grok that they were about to fired.

      2. Genny*

        I would use the slightly vaguer language because I wouldn’t want to box myself into a corner and I would want them to know that all options are on the table (immediate firing, negative reviews to school, kicked out of the house, but retained as an intern, etc.) This would be doubly true if I were unsure how much support I’d get from the powers that be at work (i.e. I wouldn’t want to explicitly mentioned firing if it turns out that boss wants to keep jerkwad around or if HR is incapable of terminating interns).

        1. Reba*

          Great points!

          When I’ve taught university classes, in my syllabus there are lines like “X offense will, at a minimum, receive zero points and be reported. Further discipline is possible.” So your point about the flexibility of consequences on the employer side is well taken.

    2. AMT*

      Yes, I’m glad someone mentioned this. Being fired or losing the company housing benefit should be explicitly on the table.

  24. TotesMaGoats*

    1. What Alison said and for your next batch of interns I suggest a behavior contract/conversation as suggested above.
    2. Alison-You need to write a book about that job experience. I’m sure you have a book worth of material. Or maybe just pitch it as a TV sitcom idea.

  25. Lumen*

    This is good advice. Addressing sexism in the workplace isn’t really a one-and-done, each-instance-individually issue. It has to be ongoing, and it has to be done in context. And there have to be real, serious consequences for failing to respect your coworkers like this.

  26. Q*

    Related to this: I had a couple coworkers use this word in a meeting and thought it was a very funny way to refer to us (one of whom was a woman, but so what). This meeting was the three of us, and I was deeply uncomfortable…but the woman is my senior coworker and the one who started it is my direct manager.

    What on Earth can I do about that?

      1. Q*


        I guess I sort of faltered when they said they’d just avoid writing it down so they wouldn’t get in trouble with HR and then continued to repeat it verbally.

        1. Nita*

          If you’re taking detailed enough minutes that you need to discuss not writing that down, use that as leverage. Maybe say “I don’t like to get into the habit of leaving things out of minutes, so let’s just keep our language clean!”

          1. Q*

            Ah, they were joking about greeting us that way in unrelated emails in the future as some sort of weird in-joke.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          OMG they sound horrid—they’re clearly aware their behavior is n0t ok. Put them on notice the way Alison said, and then report it to HR. It sounds like your HR department may be competent, if they’re actually concerned about getting in “trouble.”

          (Seriously? They think writing it down is the problem?? Are they hellacious in other ways, too?)

            1. ANONforthis*

              Sure you can. HR should know what the company’s employees are doing or saying that is inappropriate. Of course, you may choose not to contact HR because the offenders stopped and don’t do it anymore or because of worries over keeping the job, but it should be absolutely okay to report inappropriate behavior.

              1. Q*

                No, I don’t have their number or anything. That entire section of the company website is blocked on my computer. I have no way to contact them.

                1. Marthooh*


                  This sounds like the setup for a bad horror movie, where the new governess gets locked into the east wing of Flinchly House every evening after supper: “It’s simply a precaution, Miss Q — no need to feel alarmed…”

                  Cue wolves howling in the background.

  27. Denise*

    I know many will disagree, but I think that mixed-sex housing is not a good idea here–where a part of compensation is living in this particular space. It doesn’t give individuals a choice in what they feel comfortable with. And people have different values and expectations about what is appropriate. Been there–both with single sex and co-ed housing for summer work. Any time people are put together who wouldn’t necessarily otherwise choose to live together, there will be challenges. Gender differences (assumptions, expectations, norms, etc.) just add another layer on top, with worse potential issues.

    1. Eliza*

      I don’t think single-sex housing gets to the root of the problem. People with the poor judgement to use sexist slurs in this context could just as easily use racial or homophobic slurs later on, and that’s not a problem you can solve by splitting people up. For that matter, you could get a male intern who’s not happy about the others calling women “bitches” either. The solution is to hold everyone to the standard of treating others with respect, not to quarantine those who don’t.

      1. Denise*

        I think the main issue is that in a housing situation, people are on their off hours. People have different values. It’s easier to tell people to restrict how they express themselves when those hours are 9-5. But when you turn 9-5 into 24-7, you will invariably have more conflicts. In this instance, the gender difference adds another layer to the issue in that a guy taking offense at his peer’s coarse language is a couple of steps lower than a woman’s offense at being called a *B* by her male co-worker, and in an environment that she cannot easily remove herself from.

        Yes, single-sex situations also have their drama. But again, the co-ed nature of the housing complicates and worsens the potential for problems.

        1. Eliza*

          In this instance, the gender difference adds another layer to the issue in that a guy taking offense at his peer’s coarse language is a couple of steps lower than a woman’s offense at being called a *B* by her male co-worker

          I get your point, but I think there are a lot of other things that could similarly add another layer, and you can’t split up housing by all of them, so it’s better to make it clear that you expect people to act with decency in the first place.

  28. Matilda Jefferies*

    I would actually skip the part about the organization being legally liable if the behaviour doesn’t stop. For the people being harassed, you risk them thinking that you’re only acting because you’re legally required to; and for the people doing the harassing, they probably don’t care about consequences to anyone but themselves.

    The message you want to send is “We treat people decently because they are human beings and worthy of respect. Period.” We don’t people with respect because the law requires them to, and you’re not intervening because the law requires you to. You’re intervening because people you care about (at least in a professional sense) are being treated badly, and that needs to stop. For the harassers, keep the focus on their own behaviour as individuals, and for the victims, keep the focus on their own worth as individuals.

    1. Observer*

      I hear, but I think it’s important for the “bros” to hear it. Because if it’s “OP just doesn’t like it” they will think that they can get away with it, get someone higher up “on their side”, or just chalk it up to an organizational quirk without learning the broader lesson.

      “This is a legal liability to the organization” says that “It’s not about me and my preferences, even though you’d like to believe this, the higher ups will back me, and you had better learn how to behave because other places aren’t going to accept this either.”

      1. Matilda Jefferies*

        Hm, that’s a good point. Maybe there’s a way to split the difference, something like “Not only are you treating another human being badly, but YOU could also be in trouble with the law if this continues?” It might be a bit of an exaggeration, in that they’re not likely to get in legal trouble under these particular circumstances, but it’s certainly a possibility if they continue or escalate the behaviour.

        I still think it’s more important to stress individual consequences than organizational ones here, but there’s certainly room to say “other people care about this kind of thing a lot too.”

        1. Natalie*

          Although I don’t think the interns could be in trouble with the law. Laws against harassment and discrimination attach to the employer as an organization, not to the individual employees.

  29. Boredatwork*

    I wish OP had specified if the intern was calling another intern a “B”, or if it was more a general comment used colloquially. I’m mentioning this because, as someone who really likes curse words, I would be very annoyed if I was being word policed.

    I agree with Allison and the other posters, you need to have a conversation. Maybe make this less about the word and more about the intention. We do not say hurtful things to our co-workers and as a company our values express that we do not use foul language or derogatory phrases period. The men can’t call women the “B” word and the Woman can’t call them F***boys, ect.

    1. Q*

      I think your right to “really like curse words” is overruled by your coworker’s right to “not be in tears over this.” No matter what context you were using the word in.

      1. boop the first*

        Yeah that’s the weird part about this “but I like to swear” discussion. I swear a lot too, but if someone’s actually crying over it, there’s no reasonable doubt here.

      2. Undine*

        +1 The whole point of curse words, the only reason they have any force or power, is that there are situations where they are unacceptable. This is one of them. They’re offensive because it’s their job to be offensive, and you like saying them because of that. You can’t have it both ways — have them be curse words and have them be acceptable in every situation that’s convenient to you.

      3. Audrey Puffins*

        Yes. Absolutely. I love to swear up a storm, but I can self-censor when I’m around people who I know don’t like it.

      4. BBJ*

        I had a coworker once who was driven to tears every time I put mustard on my lunch. We were great friends, but whenever we had lunch together at work and mustard was an option, she would start screaming and crying if I used it. She wasn’t allergic. She just thought mustard was gross.

        Was my right to a lunch I liked overruled by her right to “not be in tears over this”?

    2. Leatherwings*

      Eh, I swear a lot too but I don’t do it around coworkers. At the point someone is living in company-paid-for housing with female coworkers, you have to clean it up a bit.

      I actually think it’s the wrong approach to talk about intention; intentions don’t matter nearly as much as impact. Lots of people aren’t intentionally racist, but that’s not an excuse for making microaggressions, and if you make it about intention it opens the door for them to talk about why they didn’t mean for it to be derogatory or drive someone to tears – it puts the onus of the reaction on the person who is offended (and this is always women and minorities).

      No matter what, the impact of that word is negative in their house, so they can’t use it. Period.

      1. Natalie*

        Right? I swear a lot, too, but I’ve always watched my language at work, even at places that allowed some cursing because it’s easy for me to go overboard. (Mostly with fbombs, the English language’s best contribution to humanity.) It doesn’t seem crazy to me to expect people to watch their language generally, and slurs or other problematic/potentially problematic words specifically, if they are living with coworkers.

    3. Snark*

      I feel like that has the effect of shielding people who have actually used foul and derogatory language by making it a problem shared with the people they’re offending. We have no evidence that calling people f*ckboys is actually a problem, but we do know that dudes are using the word bitch in mixed company in shared housing. I think that merits dealing with the problem that actually exists.

    4. Temperance*

      There’s really no equivalent word for “bitch”, though. It’s not just a curse, it’s a misogynist, anti-woman slur.

      1. Reba*

        Yeah, there is a useful distinction to be made between cursing and using slurs.

        No matter how you use bitch in a sentence, it’s misogynist at the core.

        1. Q*

          I’m working on dropping even the “harmless” uses like SOB from my vocabulary, too, because, well, it’s still a slur. It’s a process, but there are other swear words I can use.

          1. JokersandRogues*

            Yes, a friend and I have agreed and support each other in NOT using gendered insults of any kind. It’s not always easy, because it is A) a habit, and B) sometimes there’s a nuance to how you use it that isn’t easily substituted. But, my ability to precisely insult someone is not important. At all.

          2. sap*

            I’ve never thought of SOB as a particularly harmless instance, because the whole insult is that a misbehaving dude’s misbehavior is because his mom is THE WORST, which is not exactly the model of a gender-neutral allocation of personal responsibility.

      2. Elizabeth H.*

        Not everyone feels it’s a slur. I feel like it’s just a curse word. So I’m not sure it’s a useful distinction here. I think that some people are offended by different language. There are some things that bother me that don’t necessarily bother other people. I think it’s a know your audience thing. Like, I use profanity in front of my boss one-on-one because she does and we have pretty casual conversations, I use a LOT of language in front of my boyfriend because we’re super colloquial with each other, and I don’t use profanity in front of other colleagues because it’s not really appropriate in my workplace generally speaking.

        1. Observer*

          Come on! The entire history of the word is as a slur. Claiming it’s not is to deliberately close your eyes to the actual use of language. And while SOME people SOMETIMES use the word in the place of a curse word, the general usage is most definitely a slur. That’s why it’s a noun.

          1. Elizabeth H.*

            I don’t know if it’s regional variation but I hear the word used to describe situations or inanimate objects a lot more than to describe a woman in a negative way (although I do hear the latter too) and I probably would use the word “bitchy” to describe something a man said that I found obnoxious, as often as I would something a woman said. It could be regional – I’m from the Boston area and I feel like people use the word “bitch” and its various adjectival/verb/etc. forms as a general curse word all the time, way more often than calling a woman “a bitch.” For example, I think I say “bitching about” to mean “complaining about” on a near daily basis. Mostly about myself. Like I might say to my boyfriend, “OK, I’ll stop bitching about the mismanagement of recycling at my office, and let you get back to work” It just doesn’t carry the connotations of a slur to me. That doesn’t stop me from understanding that other people regard it differently, even though I don’t feel the same way. I definitely wouldn’t argue with someone who asked me not to use the word because that would be disrespectful.

            1. Lizzy May*

              But “bitchy” only means something because it’s associated with a specific behavior tied to women and how women talk. Just like using bitch to describe situations only has meaning because of the association to women and how “awful” we are.
              I had to campaign at a workplace to get my coworkers and boss to stop using the r-word at work. They might not have been calling a person that word, but the word itself carries a negative meaning because of how people associate it to a person with some sort of disability.

            2. Jessie the First (or second)*

              No, if it is regional, it’s not “a Boston thing.” I’m from the Boston area, and I don’t hear it that much at all. It’s a slur to me, and to the people I know.

              Yup, there are people who feel that B—- is not at all like N—– or F–, that it’s just a curse word. But the actual history of the word contradicts the idea that it is “just” a curse word. It was first used 500 years ago as a slur specifically against woman. Old dictionaries define it as an insult to women (it used to have the connotation of, well, a female dog in heat – “loose morals,” s.l.u.t.).

              People who use it now and insist it isn’t a slur ignore the history of it. And I get it – in your head, it isn’t attached to any of the history of it. It’s just a word to you. But it’s not really debatable that for hundreds of years, it *was* absolutely a gendered insult. So it’s not some edgy new concept, to use Natalie’s phrase from above, that the word is a gender-based slur. It’s got the weight of history. While you and others you hang out with might not think of the history of the word, that does not actually erase the history of the word. Eventually, maybe the word will be reclaimed, but we aren’t there yet. It is still an offensive word to lots of people, and saying “oh come on, it’s just a swear” is, well, kinda just demonstrably not true.

              To you, in your head, it is divorced from its history. But it’s a little much to insist that the word has objectively become divorced from its 500+ year history in the last decade or two.

              1. Elizabeth H.*

                Ok, I feel like this reading of the word and its storied history is overdramatic. I do feel like I hear the word bitch all the time in casual conversation and it seems pretty neutral to me. I’m not denying it’s a gendered insult but it doesn’t seem like a slur to me or especially offensive. Others feel the same way I do, and many people feel like you do. Fwiw I don’t find the C word offensive either so I think I have a pretty high bar to start with.

          2. JSPA*

            Not to be pedantic, but there’s a parallel etymology from french (and to underworld slang via Creole). That usage comes from biche (french for female deer) where “ma biche” was and is a term of endearment. That usage then collided with the good anglo saxon word for female dog. It’s led to some real regional differences in usage, especially in the possessive “my b-tch” form. The adjective also carries very different weight than the noun. It’s also a word that was claimed by gay male subculture (and by actors and others in the biz) for self-identification. And it’s been strongly “reclaimed”–again, this will differ by subculture and location–by many women. The problem with reclaiming a term, of course, is that you can’t reclaim it for someone else. If you feel good about self-identifying, then more power to you (and you’re in some strong company). But you can’t magically gift someone else that power surge, nor protect them from feeling belittled. That “reclaiming” stuff is inside your own head, not in some thought bubble floating along behind you, readable to all.

        2. Delphine*

          You don’t get to decide it’s not a slur. You can personally reclaim it, if you’re a woman. You can use it knowing it’s a slur. But you can’t change the fact that it’s a misogynistic slur, like you can’t decide a word isn’t a racial slur or an abelist slur.

        3. Artemesia*

          When guys are talking about that ‘bitch they went out with Saturday night’ or ‘those bitches in accounting’, it is all about the slur. SOB — yeah, curse. Or ‘quit bitching’ a clear quit complaining reference. But most uses of ‘bitch’ are in reference to people. I doubt if women would feel harassed by these other uses unless they started being used a lot after they were told to stop referring to women this way.

      3. neeko*

        The term isn’t always used as such. It’s often reclaimed (as many many slurs are) and used as a term of endearment or empowerment by women. That might not be your cup of tea and most definitely not what the intern in question is doing but it’s not always used as an anti-woman slur.

        1. Delphine*

          It’s reclaimed *because* it’s an anti-woman slur, like the n-word has been reclaimed by some black people. And even then, reclaiming means turning it into a positive word *and* recognizing that you can reclaim it personally, but be aware that not every woman wants to hear that word, use that word, or have it applied to her. Reclaiming a slur certainly doesn’t mean men using the word bitch in general or anyone using the word bitch as a negative is okay, just like it doesn’t mean white people can say the n-word.

          1. neeko*

            I didn’t say the reclaiming of the word bitch means that it’s all good for everyone to say it. I was just pointing out that it wasn’t always used as a slur. I pretty pointedly said that it can be used as a term of endearment BY WOMEN and that it was DEFINITELY NOT what the male intern was using it as. I’m a queer woman of color. I assure you that I’m well versed in slurs.

                1. neeko*

                  And this has deviated pretty far from the topic so I’m going to bow out of this linguistic debate.

                2. Q*

                  I use queer because that’s what I am.. Everyone who uses queer knows it was a slur. Heck, the people who don’t like the word tell us that ten times a day.

                3. neeko*

                  @Q I guess my point is that with the reclaiming of a slur, you are changing the intention of the word. Yes, queer has a history of being used as a slur but when I call myself queer or when someone is taking a queer theory class, it’s not being used in a pejorative sense. If that makes sense. But I guess that is a very personal thing.

                4. Eliza*

                  Even then, I know there are a lot of other LGBT people who don’t like the word “queer”, and if someone asked me to not use it around them, I’d stop in a heartbeat. The fact that the OP’s interns are ignoring a reasonable request to stop doesn’t speak well of them.

                5. neeko*

                  @Eliza I am by no means defending the behavior of the intern here. I made that clear in my first post.

        2. Temperance*

          Sure, but a bunch of assbag bros using it isn’t reclamation. I’m honestly bewildered at the number of people here who are trying to make excuses to make it cool for dudes to use bitch as an insult, or to use the word in general.

      4. Penny Lane*

        No, it’s not. If I were to describe someone as a bitch I’m describing HER, not women in general. To be clear – it’s rare that I would do so and I absolutely agree that the interns need to stop using it in shared housing.

        But the word has also gotten reclaimed and women use it to describe themselves or girlfriends. Obviously that’s not what the intern is doing, but it does happen.

        1. Delphine*

          You couldn’t use that word to describe her at all if it didn’t have all of its derogatory anti-woman history. There’s a reason it’s such a go-to against women. You may think you’re using it against one woman, but you’ve shown that you think a misogynistic slur is appropriate if a woman does something you don’t like.

          Replace bitch with any other slur and see if your reasoning still works out.

          1. Elizabeth H.*

            Saying “replace bitch with any other slur and see if your reasoning still works out” presupposes that “bitch” is a slur and not a curse word, so you’re begging the question and this doesn’t really work.

        2. TootsNYC*

          I will say that I do not like the “reclaiming” of that word. And if I asked a housemate to stop using it that way where I could hear, I would expect her to do so.

          Basically, unless you are with your nearest and dearest–don’t be crude. Speak as though every one of those people might be asked for a reference for you someday.

        3. Temperance*

          But it’s still gendered, because it’s an insult specifically about being a certain type of woman.

    5. Detective Amy Santiago*

      You can use your curse words on your own time.

      When you’re on company time, you follow the rules. And living in company provided housing means you are always on company time.

    6. TootsNYC*

      also, if you live in the same house as me, I don’t want to hear a ton of profanity in the common spaces. “Not swearing” is the default; apply it.

      Swear when I’m not around.

    7. Plague of frogs*

      You seem weirdly reluctant to swear, for someone who really likes cursing.

      I am a frequent-swearer. That includes at work, because I work in a place where it’s acceptable. If someone tells me it offends them, I shut the fuck up.

  30. Nita*

    OP – when you say “female staff,” do you mean other interns, or is there someone who’s responsible for dealing with all house issues? If you’re worried about retaliation, it may help to point out that you got this information from staffers, part of whose job it is to flag conflicts in the residence. In any case, it doesn’t really matter whether the troublemakers know who the complaint came from, as long as you make it clear to them that if the behavior escalates, they will be out. I hope you have the authority to make that decision, or take the problem to HR and have them act on it.

    As long as the housing is provided by the employer, what goes on there is the employer’s business and the employer’s liability.

  31. Parenthetically*

    Honestly, I’d go even further. “Hey, Fergus McJagweed! Your coworkers have asked you repeatedly to knock off the misogynistic language and you keep on using it! That’s a hella aggressive and 100% unacceptable response to a really reasonable request. Being professional with coworkers is most definitely part of the job requirement. You are being extremely unprofessional and borderline abusive. As of now you are on probation, since apparently requests for basic decency from your peers haven’t sunk in. Any reports of further misogynist abuse or backlash against the women in the house will result in your internship being ended immediately.”

    The more I think about this, the madder it makes me.

  32. boop the first*

    This is a thing? I get that getting paid in money instead is just an illusion of freedom and that they will probably be stuck with roommates anyway and kids just think it’s a fun sleepover and blah blah blah, but why not just PAY them like adults? How annoying would it be to have to claim this on income taxes, how does that work?

    1. fposte*

      It isn’t necessarily taxable. If it is, the interns should be issued a W-2 or 1099-MISC.

      Having housing included can make an internship accessible to young people who otherwise couldn’t afford one; there are definitely facilities (like my university) where providing housing would be easier than creating a budget line for hiring.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      The letter states the interns are getting in paid in money. They are also getting partially compensated through housing.

      It’s really not difficult to claim your housing on your income taxes (no more annoying/difficult than reporting all other non-wage-related income tax issues).

    3. LBK*

      Why do you presume this is in place of a fair wage instead of on top of it? The whole concept of a benefits package is that it consists of things that your employer pays for as part of your compensation; this same argument could be made for your employer subsidizing your health insurance or putting matching funds into your retirement plan. Why do those things instead of just giving you the equivalent amount in your salary?

  33. Lindsay Gee*

    So the laws are probably different where you are, but we had this setup with a company i worked for. We were kindof remote and so provided a staff house for summer students to live in. A big part of training these employees, was that legally, the staffhouse, social media etc. was an extension of the workplace. If it was inappropriate to call someone a dick during work, it was inappropriate to call someone a dick outside of work house while at the staffhouse. The “extension of the workplace” may be a useful wording to use with these employees to help them understand this isn’t a dorm, this isn’t an apartment they’re renting and therefore there are different rules for acceptable behaviours. A lot of our staff genuinely didn’t understand that until we spelled it out for them: not cleaning up after yourself/using inappropriate language/poor behaviours in company provided housing has ramifications which WILL follow you into work because you work with these people.

  34. jk*

    Because your company is providing FREE HOUSING to these VERY LUCKY interns, you have every right to impose behavioural standards upon them. If they want to act like buttheads and walk around saying bitch all day they can be big boys and get their own apartment and pay rent.

    I would also stress how important their relationships are in the house in relation to work. They might not be able to achieve anything anymore due to their fractured relationships or work well on a team together. It’s really just negative for them overall and you should let them know this kind of thing could come up in reference checks.

    It amazes me really. I would have loved an opportunity like this when I was younger and these dummies are throwing it away.

    1. J.*

      It’s not FREE HOUSING, it’s part of their compensation package for being interns, and the attitude that they should consider themselves VERY LUCKY is not a great attitude.

      Yes, the problem interns need to get their act together, but the “you’re lucky to even have this opportunity” point of view tends to cut strongly toward employees being taken advantage of in all different kinds of ways.

      1. LBK*

        If we were talking about a standard form of compensation like salary, I’d agree that “you should feel lucky that you’re even getting that” would feel like an abuse of power. But finding a job that provides housing *is* actually a pretty big deal, especially when you’re young and affording housing (likely on top of student loans) can be a challenge. I do think that merits some consideration, not that the interns need to be groveling at the feet of the employer, but certainly should be a little more respectful of the benefit they’re being offered here.

  35. Audrey Puffins*

    A lot of the above discussions are getting slightly off-topic. The issue here really isn’t that the male interns said ‘bitch’, the issue is that the male interns have been asked repeatedly to stop using the word ‘bitch’ and are refusing to do so. It would be the same if the unwelcome word were based in race, religion, or sexuality; having used the word isn’t a problem. Continuing to use the word when you’ve been informed that it makes people uncomfortable IS.

    1. Audrey Puffins*

      So it doesn’t matter if the male interns are calling people bitches, or if they’re using it to refer to objects/situations, or if the word is misogynistic, or if people should/shouldn’t swear. When you’ve got an intern in tears because they’ve repeatedly and unsuccessfully asked for a boundary to be respected, “bitch” isn’t the problem.

      1. Temperance*

        No, the usage DOES matter. If I set up a boundary asking people not to say “moo juice” instead of milk, because I find it annoying, that request would be ridiculous.

        I do not understand the large contingent here hell bent on separating an anti-woman slur from other, worse slurs.

        1. Anonymous Pterodactyl*

          I mean, yes, that’s kind of a silly request. But I think you’d still reasonably be upset if, in response to being asked not to use that term, your housemates/co-interns deliberately took every instance they could find to use that term around you and did so, just to upset you. Because the issue there isn’t the specific term they’re using, but the fact that their goal is to be hurtful – that’s not an okay goal!

    2. Observer*

      I agree and disagree. It WOULD absolutely be the same if the slur were based on religion, race etc. But, the issue is that someone used a word that is *ist – in this case it’s sexist. I would have the same reaction of the word that had been repeatedly used with racist, ableist, etc.

      1. Audrey Puffins*

        You’re absolutely right, my apologies. I rather talked myself into circles there, and that bit came out not as I’d intended at all!

    3. LBK*

      Hmm, I do think it matters a little what the word in question is. Yeah, if you’re asked to stop doing something that’s really easy to stop doing (eg to stop using a word that’s by no means difficult to avoid using) you should probably do it. But I think this would be different if it were, say, someone who really hated hearing the word “literally” used liberally/in places it didn’t belong. It would be nice of you to make an effort to stop saying it, but at the same time, maybe that person just needs to chill out a little bit. It’s specifically because “bitch” is a loaded word that I think the person asking for it to stop has the clear high ground here, whereas if it were a word that didn’t have sexist/otherwise offensive connotations, it might not be so clear.

      1. Lindsay J*

        I agree.

        I hate the idea that all people’s feelings and boundaries are equally valid and must be dealt with equally.

        Like, sure, in this case the request is completely reasonable. But not all people are, not all requests are, and not all boundaries are.

        Like, say, this was the girl who was crying for 5 hours over being asked to use blue pen instead of black from the letter last week. If she stated that her boundary is that nobody is allowed to ask her to change the way she does things, because that makes her feel upset, judged, and uneasy. And sure, her feelings are valid to her. But setting a boundary that nobody is ever allowed to ask her to do anything differently, or ever give her constructive criticism, is unreasonable, and not something other people should have to entertain.

        Similarly, if she were to say that she did not want to hear anyone say the word “blue” because it reminded her of that incident and made her upset all over again, that is not something that her housemates should reasonably be expected to accommodate. It’s a completely innocuous word, and if it upsets her she either needs to find a way to get over it or through it, or she needs to find a housing situation where she can either pre-select people who will agree to the stipulation that they are not allowed to say the word “blue”, or she can live alone.

        Same for other housing requests. Asking people to be quiet after 9PM and before 7AM? Probably reasonable. Asking for complete silence from all people whenever they are in the house? Probably not reasonable.

      2. paul*


        Part of why group housing horrifies me is my college experience: in a large enough group there’s always at least one person with unreasonable ask of everyone else (like not opening or closing doors after 8pm or having 24/7 quiet hours or wanting everyone to be fully dressed going to and from any common area-god I don’t miss college). That’s definitely not the case here, but when the company sets out rules for shared housing it’d be good to keep that in mind and try to build in a way to handle that.

        1. LCL*

          Um, I would be the one to insist on everyone being fully dressed. Nightclothes OK if they covered as much as shorts and T-shirts. I didn’t realize that requirement made me that person. Drinking beer in the common area? Fine, as long as you share.

          1. paul*

            Context matters; if you flip your lid over someone in their boxers and a bathrobe running to the bathroom (the dorms had a communal bathroom where I was) then I’d find that annoying AF. OTOH, if you were just hanging in the lobby in your boxers, I think most people in that dorm wouldn’t have been OK with it either.

  36. LawLady*

    Ugh, I lived in one of these situations one summer in college. On the one hand, it was a really great benefit since finding reasonably-priced sublets from across the country would have been difficult. And there is great camaraderie.

    On the other hand, the problem with doing this with interns is that it’s SUCH a bad lesson on workplace boundaries for people early in their careers.. The interns went clubbing together, formed weird group dynamics, and just generally behaved more like friends/social acquaintances than coworkers.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes! That was very true with the one I lived in.

      I think the organization’s leadership saw it as a way to make it more likely that people would temporarily move there to work — it was an area that wasn’t super appealing otherwise, and I think they thought facilitating this kind of easy social circle would help people adjust. And there were some positives to that … but yeah, it made it a little more like camp than work in some cases.

      1. LawLady*

        I’m actually still friends with some of those interns, so I definitely don’t regret it.

        BUT one of the interns who shared my apartment was terrible. This girl had decided to live on less than $2 a day in some sort of bizarre solidarity with the developing world. And she would not google “purchasing power parity”. She succeeded in living so frugally by not buying anything and eating my food, using my toilet paper, etc.

        Since it was just a summer and I was working with her, I just chalked it up to “life is a rich tapestry” and didn’t bring up at work, but it was definitely a weird relationship to have with a coworker.

        1. Lindsay J*

          Lol, it’s off-topic, but that reminds me of people who post about having a budget wedding but where they had a friend donate their historic mansion to use as a venue, their sister-in-law is a professional baker who was willing to bake the wedding cake for free, etc. Other people giving you things with monetary value for free is not the same as pincing pennies, and holding your experience doing that up as equal to most people with the same budget, or as a how-to for other people aspiring to do the same is kind of disingenuous.

          1. LawLady*

            This drove me bonkers when I was planning my wedding! Clickbait-y title like “I planned my dream wedding for only $5000!” Gorgeous photos of perfect decor and venue. Then it turns out they got everything for free, but it really should have been a $50,000 wedding. Not helpful.

            Agreed on that being grating in the same way. It’s such an out-of-touch statement to make. I’ve also seen an annoying variation which is like “I paid off $80,000 in student loans in 3 years while only making $40,000 in salary!”And then it turns out that they lived in their parents’ “extra house” rent-free or somesuch.

  37. Elizabeth West*

    Haven’t read all the comments, but if this is a shared living situation, YOU NEED HOUSE RULES. And sanctions for breaking those rules. Something like, “Failure to comply with the house rules will result in expulsion and possibly termination of your internship.”

    Make them sign a copy before they can live in the shared space. Post the rules in the house where everyone can see them.

    Also, Alison—WTF THEY MADE HIM TEA o_O

      1. Anonintheuk*

        A friend of mine did not lock his door one Saturday night and on Sunday found an unknown woman asleep on his sofa. She was as mystified as him, though they think she drunkenly wandered away from a party on a higher floor to get some quiet

  38. memyselfandi*

    Isn’t there a standard intake process that includes sexual harassment policies, etc? I know those videos are not always the best, but it is a starting point.

  39. Ann Nonymous*

    Why are the interns using the word “bitch” still employed by you?? I would have no problem with immediately terminating them. Would your company like to have to deal with a sexual harrassment/unsafe work environment lawsuit in the courts and public? I will not stand for misogyny, no matter how minor, and neither should anyone else.

  40. Jess*

    I honestly cannot believe you attract any interns, AT ALL …. who would want to live with all their co-workers? Zero boundaries between work and home life. Beyond bizarre …

    1. LBK*

      FWIW, if they’re just out of college, at first blush this probably doesn’t sound that different from living in a dorm. Plus if you’ve got student loan payments to take, eliminating your largest/second-largest expense probably sounds amazing. Someone who’s in their early 20s isn’t in the same place in their life as most people here probably are where the idea of living with even one of your coworkers, never mind many of them, sounds abominable.

    2. LawLady*

      I lived in one of these situations for a summer. When you’re a college student with limited funds and limited time, finding housing can be really tricky. You’re generally looking to sublet from someone, but usually the dates don’t work out quite perfectly, so you’re paying for an extra month, or you’re couch-surfing for a few weeks. Also, I had a friend who gave a guy she found on Craigslist a deposit to sublet for the summer, moved all the way from California to DC, and then discovered it was a scam and there was no apartment. Total nightmare.

      From that perspective, housing that is cheap (or free!) and guaranteed to work with the job and not be a scam is a really appealing offer.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Right after finishing undergrad, my then-fiance was working at a lab in a different state with his research group. The university had rented a house for them, which they shared. It was pretty non-eventful.

    3. medium of ballpoint*

      It’s fairly common in some fields, particularly if the cost of living near the job site is not something an intern could afford. A lot of my students have had these kinds of internships.

  41. nnn*

    Is it nominally feasible for interns to live somewhere other than the shared housing? (By which I mean other housing is available in the general geographical area – even if it’s unworkably expensive for an intern – as opposed to a scenario like a camp where all the housing is on-site and there’s nothing else.)

    If they could theoretically be living elsewhere, in the future you could make living in the shared housing nominally optional, and then set whatever rules you want without regard for whether they’re too strict, like no swear words in the house or no making tea for visitors without first checking their ID.

    You could present it as “The internship pays $X, you have the option of living in this shared house with these rules at a cost of $Y, or you can find your own housing in the community.” If you want the interns to live in the house for specific reasons, tweak the value of Y until it becomes a no-brainer.

  42. Karen*

    >Say something like this: “While you’re sharing living space with other interns, we expect you to be respectful. I’ve heard reports that you’ve been asked to stop calling people ‘bitches’ but you’ve continued.

    The original letter says they used the word bitch, not that it was directed at anyone specifically.

  43. HR Caligula*

    My industry commonly provides housing for many of it’s workers and rules and expectations start early part in the on-boarding and is written into the employment agreement.

    We do have a very diverse workforce and stress that the company is responsible for the safety and welfare of employees not just while they’re working but when they’re in our housing facilities too. Everyone must be treated with courtesy and respect. We are also clear on the reporting process when concerns/issues arise.

  44. Will!*

    I would like to formally request one (1) thread of people’s war stories from living in this sort of living situation because it sounds amazing. Obviously it will be difficult to top making tea for the burglar, but certainly there will be people nailing treatises about the cleaning schedule to the front door and other petty antics that would make good reading.

    But on-topic, companies that do this really need to be clear that the living space is a workplace adjacent space, and anything you wouldn’t do at, say, a conference or trade show, you shouldn’t do in the house. That’s awful and restrictive, but that’s why I don’t want to live in housing owned by my employer!

  45. else*

    UGGGGGH. I also suggest that you are very, very clear with them all about what retaliation looks like – they are young enough that they probably genuinely don’t know that refusing to work with someone, ignoring them at work, setting up projects to bypass them, and gossiping about them to others is retaliation, too, and not just physical attacks or yelling.

  46. Chris*

    This may have been covered in a previous comment. Up here in Canada, providing housing like that would be considered a taxable benefit, and as such, would form part of the ‘compensation’ the company offers. (Your mileage may vary, depending on your tax laws). In some cases, people would have to expect to pay tax on the market value received, whether it was received in cash or equivalent. If this applies, it’s very clear to say ‘this is a benefit offered by the company that comes with the following requirements’, and treat that living space as an extension of your workplace, with accompanying expectations that it will have an atmosphere you generally find acceptable in the workplace. This should not have to be an awkward conversation; after all, if someone doesn’t want to abide by those expectations,they’re perfectly free to find alternate housing with no impact on their employment otherwise.

    1. Thlayli*

      I think this is really a tenancy issue, not a work issue. These are paid interns, so it’s not housing the company is letting them live in for free, it’s part of their compensation for working. They’ve earned it. It’s the same as taking rent out of their salary.

      Honestly I think the OP needs to consider herself as a landlord rather than a boss in this situation. It’s not during work hours. What they do at home is irrelevant to their work for the most part.

      As a landlord, you definitely have the right to evict someone if they are abusing their housemates, so if these guys are actually calling the girls they live with bitches, then they should be told that verbally abusing people is unacceptable and will result in eviction.

      But if they are just using the word among themselves, either when talking about other people, or in the style of Jesse from breaking bad “what’s up bitches?”, said to a gang of men rather than women, then I don’t know if a landlord would really have standing to tell them not to. It’s a slur yes, not a nice word, but it’s not generally considered completely unacceptable. Not in the way that the n-word is for example. I don’t know that a landlord would have the legal right to tell someone not to use the word bitch in casual conversation in their own home.

      I think OP needs to firstly find out if it’s actual verbal abuse (eg “you are a bitch”) or not (eg the complainer just overheard the guys saying it to each other in a conversation that didn’t include her or her female housemates and wasn’t about them either). If it is actual verbal abuse, then OP definitely can tell them to stop, because being abusive to housemates is definite grounds for eviction. Buying abusive to coworkers outside of work would be grounds for firing them also.

      If it’s not actually verbal abuse, I think OP should look up the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants in her jurisdiction, and consider them thoroughly before deciding what to do. Policing people’s language in their own home is pretty extreme if they aren’t actually being abusive to anyone. OP would want to make sure she’s on pretty solid ground legally.

      But then again, I’m not sure how this interacts with the “at will” employment thing. Perhaps I’m wrong and OP can basically make up any rules she wants. She can demand that they have lights out at 7pm or lose their jobs, she can demand they all bring lightsabers to work every Friday or lose their jobs, in that scenario she can probably demand that they don’t use the word bitch in their own homes or lose their jobs.

      1. Eliza*

        I disagree that this can be looked at as just a tenancy issue. How coworkers interact with each other outside of work is the OP’s business because there’s so much potential for it to affect the work environment. It’s the same reason why it’s a problem for a manager to date a subordinate even if they don’t breathe a word about it while they’re in the workplace.

  47. weho*

    Sadly, I think the chance of retaliation here is 100%. But it likely will be more passive-aggressive than open. And who knows it may be open as well.

  48. Michaela Westen*

    Boys like these are the reason I live alone in a secure apartment building and have never married.
    I won’t marry until I can be absolutely, positively, 100% sure I won’t be treated like this.

  49. TootsNYC*

    You know, people just shouldn’t be crude. Not around other people who aren’t in your closest of circles (and I’d argue, don’t be crude then, either; the world does not need more “crude”).

    And that’s a crude word.

    That might be one of the things I’d be spelling out for “standards of behavior”: Crudeness is not acceptable. So no fart jokes, no b-word ever, no n-word, no insults, no sex jokes, no fat jokes.

    Be refined. Be polite. Treat all your housemates as though someday they might decide whether to hire you (because they might). Or as though someday their boss will say, “Oh, you roomed with him/her? What were they like?”

    Your reputation is on the line. Act like it.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Think how safe you’d be from lots of sexual-harassment accusations, etc., if you just weren’t crude.

    2. Nacho*

      But is it reasonable to expect people to be on their best behavior 24/7, even in their own apartment?

      1. TootsNYC*

        this is not “their apartment.” It’s a living space they share with people they don’t know well.

        And yes, they can not be crude, even in their own home. Because they don’t live alone.

        I don’t know–it is to hard to not be crude? Is that really “on your best behavior”? Or is it just default behavior? “On your best behavior” might be more like wearing a tie; and “not being crude” is keeping your polo shirt on.

        I think it takes effort to be crude.

        1. Roscoe*

          It is their home for the time being. I do think that there is a bit of give and take that has to be allowed.

          And “crude” varies based on the person. Something one person find crude I could find funny.

  50. Anon for this*

    As someone who currently lives in company housing, I am surprised that there do not seem to be specifc rules/procedures set in place for such cases. As an example, here is how it goes in our house:

    – Every employee has to sign an “Accomodation agreement” upon moving in, which details all the rules.
    – One of the tenants is “house manager” and thus the point of contact for both the housemates and the company. Any issue that does not concern moving in/out needs to be taken up with them.
    – House manager usually deals with infractions according to severity:
    — Anything that actually damages company property or violates the law (such as smoking in the house, using drugs, etc.) leads to immediate eviction. No exceptions. HM contacts the person in charge of moving housemates out/in and they are expelled from the house within the week.
    — All other infractions, such as refusing to participate in the cleaning rota, having non-company guests stay over for the night, hostile behavior towards roommates, etc. will lead to one (1) warning, which goes something like this: “It’s come to my attention that you did X. This is against the house rules you signed when moving in here. Please make sure that it does not happen again or we will have to evict you from the house.”
    — Repeated infractions (read: twice / 2x or more) lead to immediate eviction.
    — Infractions that only become known after the person moved out (such as: smoked in their room and left ash/tobacco all over the place, did not clean room before leaving) lead to the employee being blacklisted for future company housing and potentially even for hiring in general.

    Actions have consequences. Nobody is ever too young to learn that lesson.

        1. paul*

          If there’s shared bedrooms I can get it, but the very idea of shared bedrooms is just…bleeruuugh to me in the first place. Literally never having real downtime from my coworkers even in my own bedroom would not be good.

      1. Eliza*

        “No overnight guests” is a reasonably common term in lease agreements in the US. However, a complete prohibition might not be legally enforceable in a typical tenancy situation; I’m not sure how the fact that it’s company housing interacts with that.

        1. Not a Mere Device*

          My spouse and I rented an apartment in the Seattle area whose lease included that we couldn’t have a guest for more than seven days at a time–that was clearly intended to avoid someone arguing “Zenobia hasn’t moved in here, she’s just visiting for a few days” about someone who had been staying there for a month or more. (I think they would have tried to increase the rent if we had invited someone else to move in with us.) I have no idea how enforceable that one-week rule, or a general rule against having more people move in, would be–it probably varies from one jurisdiction to another.

          1. TootsNYC*

            If someone lives there for X length of time, they can claim legal tenancy (even if they didn’t sign a lease, and even if the landlord doesn’t know about it), and the landlord will have trouble getting them out.

        2. paul*

          Every apartment I lived in after the dorms had a clause about no more than X nights in a row (I saw as few as three and as many as seven). But none of them said no overnight guest at all.

        3. Thlayli*

          It’s common in the USA to not be allowed have people sleep over? As an adult? Paying rent?

          Every sitcom I’ve ever seen is a lie!

          1. paul*

            I think you need to distinguish between an overnight stay and protracted stays.

            No group of apartment mates ever is happy when someone starts having someone stay over days or weeks on end, and landlords are (I think) nervous about the guest being able to claim tenancy. So they limit the number of days someone can stay over without violating the lease. I’ve literally *never* seen a lease that flatly prohibits someone having a guest over for a night or two.

            1. Wintermute*

              I have one but it’s likely to be not legal where I live, I put up with it because it’s a really good price otherwise, but I could probably challenge it in court if I wanted to.

            2. Thlayli*

              It completely makes sense to not allow someone to live with you without paying rent. But Eliza and Anon for This are saying they aren’t allowed have overnight guests AT ALL. I can understand that if you are in shared bedrooms, but I don’t understand it if you have your own room.

              1. Wintermute*

                Yes that is correct, I am not allowed any guests including overnight ones. As I said such a clause is probably not legal but 800 bucks a month all utilities including internet in Chicago… I put up with it.

          2. Jessie the First (or second)*

            “It’s common in the USA to not be allowed have people sleep over? ”

            No, it isn’t common. You’re responding specifically to a comment about company-provided housing, which is a different animal entirely. I don’t know where Eliza is getting her contention that “no overnight guests” is a common feature in rental agreements – I have literally never seen that. I have seen prohibitions on long-term guests, to avoid the problem of having a guest transformed into a legal tenant, but when I used to rent, that meant, for example, no guest may crash for more than 2 weeks.

            1. Denise*

              It’s uncommon in leases (and also would be considered illegal in many if places as a violation of privacy), but it is not uncommon in a shared housing type situation for roommates to agree not to have overnight guests.

  51. Indoor Cat*

    Okay, I know this is a serious topic, but suddenly I want to know more about the interns who wanted to pee outside (???) and make tea for robbers! What is the whole story there? Because I have some popcorn on hand…

  52. Nyltiak*

    Ugh. I lived with That Person Who Requires Absolute Silence After 8pm. She got mad at me once for folding clothes. Not even putting them away and opening/closing drawers. I was literally standing next to my bed folding things into piles. I don’t wear chain mail, for pete’s sake. She was unwilling to try earplugs or a white noise machine to try to make things work, and thankfully moved out after a few months. But seriously you can’t move into a shared house and expect absolute silence.

  53. Anony McAnonface*

    Not sure if anyone said this already, I’m still making my way through all the comments, but if you get push back like, “Oh, I didn’t mean it that way/I wasn’t talking about a person/etc etc” there’s a really easy way to shut it down: Tell them, “We don’t do that here.”

    That’s it. There’s no argument to that. “We don’t use that word here.” And if they continues, you can enforce the rules and boot them out on their ignorant asses.

  54. RUKiddingMe*

    OP please take a very hard line on this.

    Not just “bitch(es),” but any other word they might use to demean or denigrate women, any action they might take, or behavior in which they might engage. Oh, and don’t let them pull the “everyone says it/it means woman/it’s slang, etc.” bull.

    That even one single woman in that house should feel disrespected, threatened, unsafe, etc., etc., etc. is not only unacceptable but obscene. These young men need to understand that this is not going to be tolerated and the days of getting away with this kind of crap are over.

    Ok, sorry rant over. I’m serious though…

  55. bodazaquizaquozitory*

    didn’t say they called anyone a “bitch” – said they used the word “bitch”. could be used in many contexts.

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