how should I handle outside emails about our employees that seem vindictive?

A reader writes:

I’m a manager in the marketing department for a health care system that employs about 3,500 people. Because I manage the company website, I am also the person responsible for checking the general email address, e.g.

Every few months, I receive what I’ll call a “vindictive email” about someone who works for our system. They seem to fall into a few categories:

* Employee ripped them off in some way on a deal, owes them money, “stole” money from them, sold them a boat that didn’t work, etc.

* Employee posted something on social media that was racist, sexist, inappropriate in some way, or just generally expressed a view that came off as very “uncaring” for someone working in the health care profession.

* Employee is “harassing” or “stalking” someone.

* Employee exhibits behavior outside of work that doesn’t reflect well on us as their employer or is illegal — e.g., drinks too much, smokes pot, got in a bar fight, was seen cussing out someone else’s kids at a park, anything like that.

I typically delete these emails without response and do not pass them along to anyone. Sometimes I go as far as to google or to look up the people involved on social media (just out of morbid curiosity of why our employee has a petty enemy), and in most cases I can find evidence that it is often a slighted ex “tattling” on their old partner, or sometimes an old partner’s new partner, etc.

I think it’s disgusting that anyone with a personal grudge against someone would try to get them in trouble with their employer.

Am I making the wrong call here and should I be sharing these with HR or the employee’s manager, etc.? Or is it a case by case basis?

If someone ever reported something that seemed relevant to work, I would certainly pass it along through the proper channels. For example, when I received an email saying an employee had posted something on Facebook that referenced a specific instance of patient care, I did report that to our HIPAA compliance officer to investigate. And if someone ever said that an employee was coming to work drunk or high, had stolen something at work, or harassed someone at work, I would think I would report that.

In the case of accusing an employee of theft or harassment outside of work, those just seem like matters that should be taken up with the police, not an employer.

But I do sometimes feel like I’m making judgement calls on who to “tattle” on based on my own views of right and wrong. When I deleted an email from an ex-boyfriend of an employee’s new girlfriend (Facebook stalking pro level here) who wrote to “let us know that Fergus in patient scheduling should be drug tested because we would certainly find THC in his system,” I was quick to roll my eyes and delete. But I later questioned if my own marijuana pro-legalization views influenced that decision. If they had said they had knowledge that Fergus was using meth or heroin outside of work, would I have told someone? And even in that case, I questioned if Fergus worked as a nurse treating patients, instead of answering phones, would that have changed which drug accusations I’d think needed to be passed along?

Or in the case of social media posts, I did once share with senior leadership when someone sent a screenshot of some inappropriate comments that one of our doctors posted on Facebook, but I ignored an email that accused one of our janitorial staff of the same. I think my thought process was that the doctor should for some reason be held to a higher standard because of his more prominent and customer-facing role.

Am I overstepping by making these calls and should I just send any email that has to do with an employee to HR? I just find myself thinking that, while I don’t think I have any mean-spirited, boundary-ignorant enemies, I would hope that if I did someone would ignore an email disparaging my character if ever sent to my employer (as long as it didn’t relate to my performance at work). Thoughts?

Well, there’s what I think you should do and what your employer would want you to do, and ultimately only the second one matters … so regardless of what I say, the right next move here is to talk to your employer and make sure you’re aligned about how they want you to handle this.

That said, my own take on it is that you’re right to be ignoring most, but maybe not all, of this.

Your employer certainly doesn’t need to get involved in whether an employee sold someone a boat that doesn’t work. But allegations of stalking or harassment could indeed be something your employer should know about. It might not be, but that’s probably a call that should be made by someone else, not by marketing. The same is true for, racist remarks on social media. Obviously there’s a wide range of what that could be — anything from supporting a politician who the emailer believes has racist views (which isn’t something your employer generally should be involved in) to posting truly vile and hateful things (which many employers do want to know about, particularly if the employee is publicly associated with the company). If it’s in the second category, that’s not a call you should make on your own, unless you’ve been explicitly authorized to do it.

The fact that you’ve found signs that some of these complaints seem to be from vindictive people with grudges is reason to be skeptical … but you won’t always know when that is or isn’t the case … and even when it is the case, people with grudges can still sometimes tell the truth and it can sometimes be about things that truly matter. It’s absolutely gross if they’re only doing it to try to get an ex in trouble — but again, you shouldn’t be in the position of adjudicating that without your employer at least knowing that you’re doing that.

So I’d talk to your own boss about what the system should be for handling these overall. It might turn out that your employer is just fine with you continuing to delete all of these, or most of them, or maybe they’ll have specific categories of things they want forwarded. But they should be involved in that decision, rather than you making it on your own.

{ 374 comments… read them below }

    1. Jenna Maroney*

      I’ll expand: don’t protect people from the consequences of their actions (when it’s a legit complaint, of course).

    2. Kiki*

      Agreed. I have emailed people’s employers when they posted racist things online, especially when the person works directly with the population that they’re biased against.

        1. Jenna Maroney*

          If appealing to their better nature doesn’t work (and lbr bigots don’t have a better nature to begin with) then maybe hurting their wallets will make them pay attention!

          1. Nana*

            There are different levels of racism and sexism and it really doesn’t help your cause to say that bigots never have a good side. In fact, bigotry is the natural state of being, people need to work on overcoming it. There’s a natural human tendency to get into “us vs them” mentality and to cling to your own kind. I’m not saying racism is justified but that racists might not be all bad people, just people (as long as they’re not violent)

          2. Engineer Girl*

            This kind of black and white thinking is absolutely terrifying.

            You are essentially saying that no one can be rescued from bigotry because they have no good in them.

            1. Ender Wiggin*

              What changes it from terrifying to amusing is the racist remarks she herself made. “sounds about white” and “typical of white moderates”.

              The lack of self awareness is what tips it from sinister to silly :D

              (and before people start on with the “you can’t be racist against white people” crap, please consult an actual dictionary – not urban dictionary – and look up the definitions of racism and oppression. White people are not oppressed but you absolutely can be racist against white people – as Jenna had just demonstrated).

              1. Leslie knope*

                Dictionary definitions are written with bias, so the dictionary definition is going to be meaningless when it comes to actual social issues.

                1. Ender*

                  Even if you believe that racism = oppression, you can’t possibly believe that bigotry = oppression. There has been no campaign that I’m aware of to change the meaning of “bigotry”, and it continues to be universally accepted that bigotry means holding negative views about someone on the basis of their race / gender / ability etc.

                  Do you think it is possible to be bigoted against white people? Do you think it is acceptable to be bigoted against white people? Do you think making comments like “sounds about white” is acceptable, leaving aside whether it fits your personal opinion on the meaning of racism or bigotry?

                  In my experience when someone says “it’s not possible to be racist against white people” what they mean is “I think it’s acceptable to be racist against white people”.

              2. Gaia*

                Oh honey, just stop. You’ve already shown yourself with your claims that racism is just a normal, natural thing. It isn’t. It is deplorable. Most of us have evolved beyond that. I suggest the rest begin working on catching up.

                1. Ender*

                  Rape and war are normal natural things. Acknowledging something is normal and natural is not the same thing at all as saying it is acceptable. I don’t think racism, war or rape are acceptable in this day and age, and will continue to argue against them, but I do acknowledge that they are all normal and natural things.

            2. Nana*

              Exactly. If you label everyone with even mildly racist/sexist views as bad (many people) how are you going to change their minds?

              1. ThatGirl*

                While there can be value in dialogue it is no one’s job to change racists’ minds, and in fact that sort of thing is usually said disingenuously, in an attempt to make offensive views seem more viable.

                1. Engineer Girl*

                  It’s everyones job to change their mind. If they are hurting others we need to talk them out of it.

            3. buttercup*

              Maybe they can, but in the context of this letter (the LW works in healthcare), I would *absolutely* want anyone betraying any flavor of bigotry fired ASAP. This person is not going to change their stripes overnight, and I would not want someone capable of discriminating against patients working in a healthcare institution. The stakes are too high.

              Bad people (or – sorry – people who are SOMETIMES bad) can change, I guess, but it’s not their victims’ job to put up with them.

    3. Roscoe*

      So I don’t have sympathy for them. At the same time, I think its a bit much for someone to go to the trouble of contacting their employer about it.

      1. Kiki*

        I don’t see why that’s “a bit much”. I once contacted a lawyer’s office to let them know that one of their attorneys had posted multiple very racist remarks about African Americans on her Facebook page. The city we live in has a high African American population and if that lawyer was in charge of the fate of an African American client then her biases could very much get in the way of representing that client fairly. I think that’s something an employer should know about.

        1. Roscoe*

          I guess my problem is that there are often varying degrees, and also what is racist or sexist to one person isn’t necessarily racist or sexist to someone else. Of course there are cases where it would be extremely hard to argue that something racist. But I feel like very often there is a level of context involved.

          Take something as easy as comments on a message board or news story. If they are dropping n-bombs, sure, that is racist. But if they are saying something like “That’s why I don’t go into X area after dark”, if that area happened to be predominantly black. Well is that racist? To some people it is, to others its just avoiding a high crime area. Or if they use the term “thugs” to describe a group of Latinos who attacked someone. But should that person be reported for making “racist” comments. Like I’m not saying don’t feel free to attack their argument, but I feel like you need to be REALLY sure of these things before going to someone’s job and attacking their livelihood, and I don’t know that a single facebook comment is enough.

          Just my opinon.

          1. ASE*

            I’m quite happy to let the employer decide if they feel the situation is racist “enough” to warrant their action. If I find their actions or comments racist, I’ll report it. What happens then is not up to me, but I’m not willing to ignore stuff because it’s not 100% explicit. That’s how these racists get away with their hatred, and I’m not going to be complicit in letting that continue.

            1. GetReal*

              You sound pretty hateful for wanting to tattle and jeopardize someone’s job in the off chance that someone’s comment is actually meant to be racist.

              1. strawmeatloaf*

                Tattle? What are we all 3rd graders or something?
                What, so reporting things is wrong? No one should report anything because they could be snitches or “tattle”-tales?

                1. Roscoe*

                  While I wouldn’t use that word particularly, I do think that to many people, going out of your way to report someone to their employer is going too far. Unless it was literally putting someone’s safety at risk, its not something I would do just to do it. I may not agree with something someone says or does, but that doesn’t mean I would report them to their company for it. Clearly everyone isn’t like that, but to those of us who feel that way, it just seems like you should mind your own business.

          2. pleaset*

            ‘if they are saying something like “That’s why I don’t go into X area after dark”, if that area happened to be predominantly black. Well is that racist? To some people it is, to others its just avoiding a high crime area. Or if they use the term “thugs” to describe a group of Latinos who attacked someone’

            Generally, yes that stuff is racist.

            Not intentionally so perhaps, but it’s part of a racist environment in which we all live. I wouldn’t jump on those things if said once, but if they’re part of a pattern of “reasonable” explanations that tend to reflect on black people as particularly violent or stupid or whatever, then yeah, they’re racist statements. People have been covering up systemic, embedded racism with those kinds of explanations for decades and I’m done with it.

            Just like we don’t have to say “women are fragile and less decisive and should stay home” to be sexist. There’s all kinds of cloaks we can throw over these “reasonable” observations. But as a whole, they’re bigoted. If the standard of racism or sexism is only explicitly nasty stuff, we’ll never make progress.

            That said, if a guy making widgets in a factory or even a clerk in a store is racist on their own time to their own contacts on social media, it’s not really my business as a citizen. If it’s someone in a position of public trust – a police officer, a judge or perhaps even a teacher, then yeah, I care. Or if they start pouring it on members of the public – by how they treat customers – then yeah I care.

            And let me make it real – a young black man I was often followed around stores as a potential shoplifter, when similar young white men were not. Even if it is true that black men *in general* might be slightly more likely to shoplift (and I don’t know if that’s true BTW) the behavior is still racist because it is treating me differently based on the color of my skin.

            1. Nana*

              But not allowing people to hold any opinions other than the accepted ones and making people lose their jobs for saying non-nasty and non openly violent or nasty stuff means that employers are regulating your private opinions. I’m a feminist woman and I would never ever report someone for thinking that women should stay at home and never work. This is their own opinion and their source of income shouldn’t be jeopardized by me finding their opinion distasteful. People are entitled to their own views.

                1. scribblingTiresias*

                  The problem with this is that if there’s a group who is utterly Bad and Evil and Unworthy of Rights- no matter what that group is- people with power will try to cast everyone they hate as members of that group. If being mentally ill makes you an unperson, for example, the people in power will cast their enemies as ‘crazy’. If being of a specific racial or ethnic group makes you an unperson, then the people in power will cast their enemies as being secretly part of that group.
                  … and if that group is “racists”, the people in power will cast everyone they dislike as racist, regardless of whether or not they are.
                  And no, I don’t just mean this in a “Bill from Marketing is a Republican and keeps posting creepy memes about the Obamas, but he hasn’t actually used any racial slurs…” way. Imagine for a second that management does not like a particular employee for daft political reasons, and this employee happens to be black. Employee says something uncomplimentary about white people on social media. Management fires her and claims that she was ‘racist against white people’, and since racists do not deserve jobs or livelihoods, they had every right to can her. Meanwhile, Bill from Marketing continues to get away with his bull, and if anyone calls him on it, management defends it and says he was ‘only joking’.
                  I think you will agree that this is errant bullshit. But that’s how this kind of thing works. If there is a way to call a specific group of people irredeemably evil, the people in power will take full advantage of it. The people without societal power are the ones who get burnt every single time.
                  …Like, I’m not saying “you should never ever fire someone for being racist”, but having “racists don’t deserve nice things” as a blanket rule is kinda dangerous. Giving people with privilege a tool they can use to ruin other people’s lives is not a good idea.

              1. OhGee*

                And if they’re in charge of hiring or promotions at a company, that opinion might affect the source of income of many other people, right? That kind attitude is how women are passed over for consideration for jobs, promotions, and raises. If that person was in charge of hiring at a company that provided a huge amount of employment in your region, would it concern you that they think, say, half of their potential candidate pool should be staying home with the kids?

              2. Lavender Menace*

                What if they hire people? What if they discriminate against women in their hiring because they believe women shouldn’t work?

                I’m not saying that someone absolutely should report someone, but opinions don’t exist in a vacuum. They have real world consequences for people in marginalized groups.

          3. smoke tree*

            Ideally, I think the email would give the employer a heads up to investigate further, and it should probably be fairly obvious if the claims didn’t have any substance behind them.

          4. Fergus, Stealer of Pens and Microwaver of Fish*

            An acquaintance of mine had to fire an employee who showed up in pictures marching with the tiki torch brigade in Charlottesville. It made the news, got lots of “what about free speech” attention, all that jazz, but I don’t see how one could in good conscience keep that person in a customer facing job after that kind of thing. Yes, that is an extreme case but it’s a pretty much inevitable consequence of that kind of public behavior.

          5. Sunshine*

            Problem is that most racists are smart enough nowadays not to go round dropping n-bombs. They use phrases like ‘those people’ and ‘safety threat’ and ‘would you want your daughter’ etc.

            If they’re saying they don’t go into a particular area because there are black people there, then that is really, really, obviously racists.

            1. Roscoe*

              So my comment wasn’t saying “don’t go to X area because there are black people there”, its saying “don’t go into X area because its not safe”. I’m speaking specifically to the city I live in. It is, for the most part, a safe city. But there are a few areas where the violent crime rate is ridiculously high. As a black person, I would never suggest going there after dark. My family would never suggest someone going there. Not because it is a black neighborhood, but because of the crime. There are plenty of nice black neighborhoods I’d have no problem sending people to. But my point is, its not “racist” all of a sudden when a white person suggests not going there because of the crime. Thought, as you can see, some people will try to claim it is.

      2. Nita*

        It depends, I think. HR doesn’t need to know that “Dr. Scalpel is a jerk,” but they may want a heads up about him being biased against a certain group. It may be affecting the care they get. Considering that medical care is vital and expensive, it’s really not small change when you go to a doctor and get blown off and told that it’s all in your head – only to find out several months and doctors later that it was never in your head and that you should have been getting treatment weeks ago.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I also think the OP’s line between a doctor and janitor comes into play here. A doctor or administrator has a public face of the company aspect, and makes decisions that affect outside people’s health and lives, while a dishwasher with some unusual theories about what’s hidden in Area 63 could maybe just be left to theorize away.

          1. Solo*

            There’s also a distinction in expectations around professional ethics… a doctor generally has a certification / professional board to answer to, whereas a janitor generally does not.

        2. MM*

          I knew someone whose mother died–a black woman in the deep South–because the doctors told her to walk off the pain in her leg. Turned out to be a blood clot that went to her brain.

          1. MostCake*

            I am someone whose grandmother died – a white woman in the deep South – because the doctors told her she was anorexic because she said she couldn’t eat without vomiting. Turned out to be a cancerous tumor in her esophagus. Never occurred to me she was misdiagnosed because she was white.

            1. Kel369*

              Well. There is misogyny and there is also racism, and there is the intersection between misogyny and racism. The existence of intersectionality doesn’t mean that your grandmother was treated appropriately. She was misdiagnosed because she was a woman. Black women are marginalized because they are black and women.

      3. PhillyRedhead*

        Are you a member of a class that is typically targeted by racist/bigoted views? If not, consider how someone who IS typically targeted would feel about working with that racist/bigot.

        1. Roscoe*

          Actually, yes. I’m black. I would not want to work wtih someone with racist views. That said, I think people are being busy bodies who decide to seek out a persons employer to report them. Its one thing to report someone for behavior while on the clock. Very different to report them for things they say and do outside of work, especially if its like a private conversation you overhear or something.

          I’ll ask you a question. Do you think its fine for ALL people to be reported like this, or just people in the dominant group with good jobs? Because I can tell you, I’ve heard some awful things from other black people against whites, Asians, and Latinos. Would you support reporting them as well? Because I think its easy to say “this white male doctor said X racist thing about black people, he should be fired from his medical job”. Very different to say “This black guy said X thing about white people while on the bus. I saw him leaving his minimum wage job and I’m going to go in and report him”

          1. Jenna Maroney*

            Racists deserve nothing and should get even less. If financial hardship can be seen as a legitimate consequence of being a piece of sh!t racist, perhaps that’ll deter some people from being piece of sh!t racists.

            1. ThursdaysGeek*

              What if they are a POC who is fine with all races, but don’t like gay people? What if they are prominent in working for gay rights, but don’t like Asians? In other words, people are not 2 dimensional, and it is very true that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

              1. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

                I have never heard that quote before and it’s really struck a chord with me. Thank you for posting this.

              2. Sunshine*

                Then they are homophobes / racists. Being part of an oppressed minority isn’t a free pass to oppress other people. A black doctor who’ll leave a gay man to bleed out because he ‘doesn’t agree with that lifestyle’ isn’t any better than a white doctor who provides substandard care to a black patient.

          2. SophieChotek*

            (Not trying to start or derail with political discussion), but in your last example, Roscoe, wouldn’t that seem a racist action on the behalf of the reporting person (i.e person reporting the minimum-wage black guy saying X”…? (Might depend on the race of person reporting…?)

            1. Roscoe*

              I don’t think it is. If your issue is that X person (of whatever race) is making disparaging remarks about another group of people, I think you should have that problem no matter the race/gender/whatever. I think saying you wouldn’t report a black person for being racist against latinos, but would report a white person for being racist against black people is just odd. Like if your problem is the behavior, then you should condemn the behavior no matter who it comes from.

            2. Nana*

              How so? The black person is acting like a bigot and holding bigoted views. They should be treated the same as any other person expressing bigoted views. I think they should usually be left alone but if you’re a busy body reporting people to their employers for stuff they do in their personal life then at least be consistent

              1. Thursday Next*

                You’ve mentioned elsewhere that you’re not American. I think it would be helpful for you to know that there is historical specificity to the way racism operates in the U.S., and without adequate knowledge of that, your comments are going to seem off-base to a lot of people.

          3. PhillyRedhead*

            I don’t think reverse racism is a thing. I think it’s about members of the dominant group who openly express racist views and commit racist actions felt some financial consequences for their hateful views.

            1. Roscoe*

              I’m not getting into the reverse racism argument. But I also don’t fully buy into the argument that only white people can be racist. So my point is, if you are fine reporting a white person for saying certain things, shouldn’t you also have a problem with any race saying it about another group?

              1. Jenna Maroney*

                That’s not the argument? The argument is that you can’t be racist towards a white person, not that a non-white person can’t be racist.

              2. Nana*

                People can be racist against anyone. In Nigeria, for example, they’re pretty racist against certain tribes.

                1. megan*

                  leave us out of this, thanks. our issues aren’t racism- we’re all the same race. what ur describing about nigeria’s issues goes into classism, tribalism, and lots of other nuanced areas. leave us out of the racism bigger picture, cause that’s not our circus.

                2. Femme D'Afrique*

                  AMEN, megan! Nana’s comment actually made me laugh out loud. So simplistic, so wrong…

            2. PhyllisB*

              Philly, I heartily disagree with your statement that reverse racism is not a thing. When I worked at the phone company one of our African American operators made the statement, “I don’t like white people. I don’t trust them.” Well, I couldn’t let that stand. I said, “We’re people just like you. Some are good, some not so good. How would you feel if I told you I didn’t like black people, didn’t trust them? You would be up in arms.” She didn’t say much, and I didn’t really expect her to, but I hope I gave her some food for thought. Now before everybody jumps on me and says how white people have oppressed blacks for centuries, I understand what you’re saying. But to write off a whole race just seems wrong. It’s just like men saying they don’t trust women, all they want is your money, or women saying I don’t trust men, all they want is sex. We all need to learn how to look at people as individuals and not discount them because of sex, race, ect. Does that mean you are going to like everyone you meet? Of course not!! But maybe it’s because they’re jerks, not because of classification.

              1. Kel369*

                But cant’ you understand why someone of color in the US (you used the term “African-American”, so I’m assuming you are in the US) would make that statement, given all that has happened in our country’s history and that continues to go on today? Can you understand why a knowledge of that history and the lived experience of being marginalized would lead someone to believe that white people can’t be trusted? Do you genuinely believe that your co-worker’s statement, given that history plus lived experience, is the EQUIVALENT of a white person saying they don’t like or trust black people? Really, truly equivalent?

              2. Laini*

                That’s bigotry, not racism. Racism implies power. A black person not trusting white person can’t make systemic choices that impact the white person, other than making them feel bad. Prejudice against black people, by white people, has very real results–police brutality, a greater likelihood of going to prison, etc.

                1. Yorick*

                  An individual black person absolutely could make choices that hurt a white person. Black people are doctors too, and people giving out loans at banks, and admissions people at universities.

                  I’m not saying that white people are oppressed in these areas, but a black person’s bigotry absolutely could affect white people.

          4. pleaset*

            I’m black and my view is different.

            If on the clock – for sure report them.

            If they are off the clock but being racist in public, it’s on. If it’s egregious, I applaud people who call them out to their employers.

            Also, it’s very hard for black people to be racist – esp the poor black guy you mentioned as an example. Actual racism involves power and oppression, not just insults.

            1. bonkerballs*

              I don’t think it’s that simple. Those comments may be coming from a poor, black man, but if they’re perpetuating racist stereotypes against other people of color (whether black or a different non-white race) then they’re contributing to our country’s current systems of racism and oppression.

            2. Roscoe*

              Sure, but lets say that poor black guy works at at Target frequented by Latinos and he made negavie comments about Latinos, is it a problem then?

              And I’m not trying to excuse racism, I’m condemning it coming from ALL sides. When my black step father made racist comments about other races, yes even white people, I called him out on it. I don’t think you should be able to give one group a “pass” for making horrible statements about another group.

            3. Green*

              I think Ibram Kendi’s work is clear that black people and other minorities can and do hold racist ideas about their own group and other groups. I think you’re right to be more concerned about disproportionate *impact* of that behavior, but I don’t think it’s hard at all for someone to hold racist views and act in racist ways, no matter their skin color or ethnicity.

          5. Mad Baggins*

            This is a good point. I think we should absolutely call out, for instance, when a white person in a public-serving position reveals their hateful opinions about black people on their Facebook page. But should we report when a Latino/a person in the same position makes remarks against Asians? Or when an Asian person says something about black people? Does it matter if what they said was overtly racist vs. subtly racist, or if they were on/off the clock, or if their job is public-facing or serving people of the targeted group?

            I think when we treat this like a black-and-white, “if you say a racist thing you don’t deserve a job” issue, we risk pushing a performance of diversity and inclusion, not actual acceptance. Even on this thread some people are so concerned with appearing the most not-racist and taking the most extreme anti-racism views, and have to attack people on their own side in order to show how anti-racism they are (I haven’t seen anyone arguing in favor of racism, just varying degrees of racism-is-bad). Of course people who espouse racist views should face social backlash for them, and of course companies should reconsider hiring people with these horrid views. But at the same time I don’t think the answer is encouraging people police each other and report social/moral transgressions to employers. We are searching for an authority figure to punish racists and jerks, and I don’t think that authority is necessarily that person’s boss at their current job.

            1. Data Wrangler*

              Um, WHAT? Of course we treat Latino/Asian racism the same as White/Black racism. Racism is racism. You can’t discriminate against some forms of it. Report ALL racism, as it’s preventing people from obtaining opportunities they would otherwise receive or earn.

              I agree with every single other thing you said :-) We don’t need authority figures to enforce our social behaviour.

              1. Mad Baggins*

                I wasn’t bringing it up to mean that we shouldn’t report it, but that I think many commenters are falling into the hole of “Well what about minorities being racist to whites”->”You can’t be racist against white people”->”You can be prejudiced though” etc. etc.

                I think it’s relevant when you think about the goal of reporting racists to their employers. If the goal is have a zero tolerance policy for all racism, we should treat all bigoted comments the same with the same punishment for everyone=everyone gets fired. But if our goal is to dismantle unjust systems that disenfranchise women and people of color, then white people making sexist/racist comments gets highest priority. This matters if we decide that any racist/sexist comment requires action by the employer. Because then employers have to decide how to handle POC being sexist, or racist against other POC–should these people be fired because NO RACISM, or would that be counter to our goal of supporting POC? This question is not something I want to trust individual businesses to decide (do we really trust capitalism to enforce this fairly?), which is why I think commenters advocating “Report all racists to their boss so they get fired” should reconsider placing this authority with businesses, of which the commentariat is usually quite distrustful.

            2. Green*

              FWIW, according to Ibram Kendi’s view, being anti-racist means acknowledging that you hold racist ideas/stereotypes and grappling with them. Same with every “unconscious bias” training ever. The people most trying to distance themselves from racism (sexism/ethnonationalism/-isms) are often the ones who avoid confronting their own internal biases or, when they recognize their own biases in others, engage in the kind of performative anti-racism described above.

              1. ChimericalOne*

                Thank you. Every person on here saying all racists should be fired: the implication is that you’re zero percent racist. To which I say: Really? You’ve rooted out every iota of unconscious bias in your brain stem? If not, then you’re the racist you’re saying to fire.

                And if that *is* your claim, that you’re perfectly free of any flicker of racist impulse (and presumably, sexist, transphobic, etc. thoughts), it’s a pretty ludicrous one. And if your response is to say, well, you acknowledge your imperfections but you’re talking about “real” racism, well, I don’t see why you (or any person) should get to exculpate yourself & say, “This applies to their kind of racism but not mine.”

                Yeah, if your employee is marching with tiki torches, you should know. But if your employee opposes affirmative action or thinks the whole gentrification thing is overblown? That’s pretty unlikely to have a significant impact on their day to day customer interactions.

                1. Mad Baggins*

                  +1 to you and Green above.

                  We need to rout out racism and systemic injustice without discouraging honesty and intellectual diversity.

                2. Marlowe*

                  That is a relevant argument — no one is free from bigotry. Unconscious bias exists in every human brain, and because we live in a society where racism, sexism, homophobia etc. are ingrained, none of us can claim to be completely incapable of incidental bigoted thought.

                  But. There is still a massive difference between someone who is aware of this and reacts to these subconscious subtextual prejudices with conscious, thoughtful action and deliberation, by examining their own biases and actively working on rehabilitating their thinking–and someone who cheerfully spouts racist bs and endorses bigoted viewpoints under the cover of ‘well, hey, everybody is a little bit racist anyway, so I might as well be a lot racist and call everyone else a hypocrite for daring to tell me to shut the hell up’.

                  In other words, subconscious bias matters and we should all strive to examine our deep-seated prejudices, but behaviour matters too. And behaviour is what gets studied by others and leads to consequences like, say, being fired from one’s job because you hold power over others and could easily discriminate. (It should also be noted that one’s reaction to being called out on one’s prejudices is also in play. If the person in question realizes the problem, apologizes, and works to correct it, it’s a different case altogether from someone who doesn’t care one bit and continues on without pause.)

                3. Laini*

                  “The whole gentrification thing”? I’m not sure how to respond to this except by recommending Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race…

                4. Green*

                  Again, some of you guys are nitpicking here.

                  There is blatant racism–where the person knows they are being racist–that nearly everyone would object to and the vast majority of companies would not want to be associated in the market with anyone who held those opinions, even if those opinions are on a platform disassociated with the company. And in part the concern in that situation is both the public face of the company and the assumption that nobody who *openly states* those views could possibly be acting in accordance with company expectations at work. (For example, someone using the N* word or ethnic slurs, arguing on Facebook for that [blacks/Asians/Muslims] are inherently [untrustworthy, more criminal, whatever].) In that vein, I’ve reported someone who called the kid in my profile picture a n***** to their employer.

                  Then there are *policy* differences, where we disagree as to the mechanism by which we should achieve a common goal, or the relative benefits of a common goal. So she doesn’t really mean “the whole gentrification thing is overblown”; she means that somebody who believes that the benefits of economic redevelopment outweigh the concerns of gentrification or acknowledges that the issue is more complex. (Is the answer not to redevelop areas? Because two decades ago, many people who lived in neglected downtowns were complaining that the houses were decaying, that there was crime in those areas, that there were no jobs or stores nearby, and that public services were ignoring those areas. Acknowledging that the issue is complex is not inherently racist.) You can report people to their employers for policy differences or microaggressions (but they’re called “micro” for a reason), but companies are highly likely to just ignore those. They may represent an opportunity for growth or education or compassion (or they may just be differences of opinions among anti-racists, as we have seen here!), but they do not cross a bright red line for most people as having clear racist motivation and knowingly expressing clear supremacist views.

                  (Separately, I had someone report me to my company because I posted online advocating for “illegals” and “trans bathrooms,” accused me of supporting criminal behavior, and also accused me of being racist against African Americans because undocumented immigrants take jobs from African Americans… my company forwarded it to me as an FYI because the person seemed crazy and included threats against me.)

                5. ChimericalOne*

                  Marlowe, it’s interesting that you should suggest that someone is having the thought process, “well, hey, everybody is a little bit racist anyway, so I might as well be a lot racist and call everyone else a hypocrite for daring to tell me to shut the hell up.” It makes overt what others have been suggesting elsewhere in this comment section: the idea that those of us who advocate for nuance and caution on this front are in fact simply disingenuous & seeking cover for our supposed blatant racism.

                  It’s frustrating and appalling to me that that’s the assumption so quickly leaped to. I think most folks who have a sufficiently sophisticated understanding of unconscious bias to make the arguments that Green & I are making are also well aware of the effects of subtle racism, the history (and modern reality) of discrimination in our country that has led to unequal outcomes, etc. You’d have to be pretty evil to have a thorough grasp of the causes of racism, the effects of it, and so forth & still espouse racist ideology. I’d thank you to not assume we are doing so.

                  Rather, the point is that many, *many* people who do not study these issues hold plenty of racism-fueled ideas from ignorance. And that that is not something that should be escalated to one’s employer, who (after all) is neither guaranteed to have a firm grasp of these kinds of issues nor guaranteed to be terribly interested in going through a fair examination of them, and who has, while not exactly the power of life or death over an employee, an extreme power, nonetheless. (I know someone who lost her job unexpectedly immediately following a medical crisis & is now facing the threat of homelessness, for example. With as threadbare as our social safety nets are, the potentially destructive power of job loss is undeniable.)

                  Also, in addition to the above, someone without a sophisticated grasp of the issues might think you’re being racist when you’re merely attempting to call attention to racism. And again, your employer has little incentive (and no requirement) to parse the nuance of this.

              2. ChimericalOne*

                Laini, not trying to make an argument here, myself. Just giving examples of attitudes on the spectrum that could be denounced as racist but which are also unlikely to impact your day-to-day interactions. I don’t want to derail, but I will say that, while gentrification is a devastating problem in some cities (for example, New York), in other cities (such as Baltimore), the problem is less that white people move into black neighborhoods & more that black neighborhoods are starkly divided from white Baltimore, which has little desire to cross those lines (and those neighborhoods are starved of resources, in part because of it).

            3. Sunshine*

              “We are searching for an authority figure to punish racists and jerks”

              Sometimes that’s appropriate though. Case in point; Tyra Hunter, African American trans-woman left to die in the street because the EMTs were racist and transphobic. If someone had reported their ‘racist things’ and their vicious comments to their employer, maybe Hunter would be alive today. And I bet those guys think of themselves as decent men, and their mates think they’re ‘just a bit racist’ or have views that are rude, but morally acceptable.

      4. Gaia*

        I think it really depends. Do they publicly associate with their company? The company has a stance in not having people say “I work here and I think Group X is Terrible Thing Y!” Or could it impact their job or they way they treat customers? Or their coworkers?

      5. OlympiasEpiriot*

        There is extensive research showing Black people are treated far more callously than White people in hospitals and have poorer health outcomes due to a sweeping group of racist behaviour on the part of providers.

        Given the huge amount of unconscious, implicit bias that happens, if someone is stating or posting overtly racist things I would most definitely want them out of a job in a health organization.

    4. Just Another Attorney*

      Allison makes a great point that the employer may want to know about racist/sexist comments in order to protect their brand/image. Also, some of these may have legal implications (harassment/stalking) so it is quite possible that an employer would want to run certain reports by its legal department. As a more general note, sometimes people confuse as a general “whistleblower” type e-mail address so they may indeed send important information there that an employer would very much want to see. When in doubt, I would err on the side of finding someone to forward it to just in case.

    5. Anon for this one*

      I can’t think of a better way to turn an ignorant Archie Bunker into a foaming-at-the-mouth racist than getting him/her fired. Seems like a Pyrrhic victory to me. It also seems way too easy for someone to create a fake Facebook account for an enemy and post inflammatory stuff to try to get them fired or harassed.

      1. Jenna Maroney*

        I see your point, but I also think it’s good that there be tangible consequences for racism/bigotry (which would hopefully deter people from uglier acts of racism).

        1. Hotstreak*

          There’s no clear definition of racism, so even if you think you are punishing a racist, what you are actually doing is imposing your personal definition of racism on to others. Affirmative action is an example where, if you’re against it, you might be viewed as racist, but you can be opposed to it for other valid reasons. See also, being against compulsory hiring of women to meet diversity targets, etc., which is controversial but not necessarily misogyny.

          1. Jenna Maroney*

            I would call both of your examples subtle bias. And I’m wary of the “personal definition” argument, as it’s just another way for racists to weasel out of consequences.

              1. Green*

                Yes; many women oppose mandatory numerical quotas for women, etc., because they view it as harmful than helpful to the status of women. Many people have the same goals (more representative boards of directors, more representative employee base, reduction of the wage gap) but have very different *strategies* of achieving them. Jenna demands that you agree with her on all policy positions for strategies to achieve those goals or face punishment.

                1. Constanze*

                  So what if some women oppose quotas ? Being a woman if not a get-out-of-sexism free card. Women can absolutely be sexist. I would argue that they absolutely are, being a product of a structurally and systemic sexist society (lots of s…).

                  Jenna is right.

          2. Sarcastic Fringehead*

            So what’s the alternative? Because it sounds like you’re arguing that nobody should ever be fired for being racist, because someone somewhere might be able to find a non-racist reason for their actions.

            1. Nana*

              People should be fired because of their work performance or stuff they do at work. Work is not the place to make judgment about social justice. Employers should treat people fairly, not decide what’s appropriate social behavior outside of work. If someone does stuff socially then they should have only social consequences.

              1. Gaia*

                Nana, if someone is posting racist comments online I don’t – for one hot second – believe that this will not creep into their work. It might be subtle, but it will be there. They might treat coworkers differently, it could impact their interactions with customers. For that matter, someone who holds racist views in light of all the evidence that they are absolute crap could very well be said to not make good decisions based on fact. I trust them to make no decisions in the workplace on balance.

                Racists and sexists deserve consequences. We all face the consequence of their beliefs every day. Why should they get away with it?

                1. Nana*

                  People hold all kinds of views despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This is actually normal and natural for humans. It’s very rare that people change their minds when they see conflicting evidence. This doesn’t make them bad employees.

                2. ket*

                  My view then is that they should be fired based on what they do at work. If people are expressing racist or sexist views off the clock, scrutinize their work on the clock. But fire and hire based on actions.

                  One reason I feel strongly about this is that I’ve worked with colleagues who hold views I find repugnant but don’t act on them at work, like guys with a Christian headship relationship in which they and their wife have divided decisionmaking power based on genetics/sexual characteristics instead of aptitude. Some of these people have treated me (a woman) fine — they have figured out how to compartmentalize their extremism. I’ve also worked with people who say all the right buzzwords and talk the talk forever, but don’t hesitate to subtly use sexism to grab the credit from their women colleagues and use racism to throw other colleagues under the bus. I’d rather work with the person who treats me right than the one who gets awards for being work while betraying his actual colleagues. Hire and fire based on how people actually act at work.

              2. megan*

                this just seems absurd to me, to act like you can only be held responsible for your actions if you happen to do them on the clock. if you molest kids in ur spare time, you shouldnt be a teacher. if you post on forums saying women shouldn’t be allowed in the workplace and they’re dumb and awful, you shouldn’t be involved in hiring. if you attend nazi rallies, you shouldn’t be a doctor with people of all races lives in your hand.

                i’m struggling to understand why you think an employee should be able to say whatever they want, when they can be identified as affiliated with a job, but the employer can’t fire them. you have no right to racist or sexist or awful speech. and if ur argument is that everyone’s a little bit racist (which is…..yike) then my response to that would be ok it sounds like maybe you/everyone you know is a little bit racist but u know what it doesn’t even matter because this is my company and i don’t want you here. so you can do what you want and i can do what i want and everyone is happy :)

            2. P*

              It’s really not all or nothing. That weird lawyer who went around and berated people for being immigrants or whatever (often they weren’t) to the point it went viral? Employer probably wants to know about that, and totally deserves to be fired vs go into some kind of hefty remediation. People say something mildly ignorant or insensitive online? Really not worth it. But it depends a lot on exactly what is being reported.

          3. Thursday Next*

            I think there is a great deal of clarity around what constitutes racism.

            Affirmative action is a red herring of a topic to introduce as an example of “personal definitions of racism.” Thoughtful debates over affirmative action center on questions of how best to address systematic, historical racism. It’s a complex topic, so of course thoughtful people can disagree on specific measures.

            But people reflexively dismissing affirmative action based on a personal anecdote? I leave it to you to determine whether that is thoughtful debate.

          4. Oranges*

            Racism is everything from full on KKK (conscious) to implicit bias (unconscious). The
            “acceptable amount” of racism for society has thankfully been getting lower and lower. We change this by degrees. By slowly eroding the amount of racism that’s in our society.

            All definitions around social concerns are by nature “soft”. How we define it changes what it is and how we think about it. That’s why how we speak and what words we use matter.

            To have the exact same discussion with *much* lower stakes we could have fun discussing when the color “blue” changes to “purple” and what room in your house you want to paint the color (whatever label it ends up being).

            *For those following at home that would be the same as discussing when implicit bias crosses the line to conscious hate. And then what to do about the behavior in question.

          5. PhyllisB*

            Well, in response to this Hotstreak, I have to say I have experienced both of these. When I was with the phone company I tried for numerous promotions and got the letter “due to affirmative action override…” I understood what they were trying to do, but some of these candidates didn’t even pass the test!! I had one woman who got a promotion over me tell me she left the last half blank because she didn’t understand what she was supposed to do.
            On the other hand, they were trying to recruit women to become installer-repairmen. I got an invitation to apply, but I turned it down, because I knew I was not capable, and I thought it was unfair of me to take a spot that a knowledgeable man (or woman) could have. We had several women try out for it, and a couple didn’t make it, but some were great.
            I’m just saying, look at the person assess their abilities (and how they do on the skill tests!!) Not just give it to them based on sex or other reasons not related to ability/skill.

      2. Kiki*

        I think it’s pretty easy to tell a fake Facebook page from a real one. I say this as someone who had a school bully make a fake page for me and said a lot of mean things about other classmates while posing as me. Not one person believed it was my page because the tone of the posts didn’t sound like me, there weren’t many pictures, info was wrong, etc.

        Also, reporting someone’s racist behavior won’t “turn” them racist. They already ARE racist if they are doing/saying racist things. People need to be held accountable for their behavior. The best way to not have racists actions come back to bite you is to not do them in the first place.

      3. Bea*

        That’s why you investigate. You don’t just fire someone because you can’t track if the page is connected to the person. It’s about examining the evidence.

        I’m not too worried about racists being made more racist by getting canned for their actions. I would rather clean my house and let the trash company deal with the dumpster on the curb. It’s not about teaching them to be a better person in the long run, it’s about who you choose to do business with.

      4. Sarcastic Fringehead*

        It’s not about changing the racist person’s behavior; it’s about ensuring that employees and clients of the company don’t have to deal with a racist who doesn’t have the self-control to keep their views private.

        1. Thursday Next*

          And about distancing the company from anyone publicly espousing those views, to show the company doesn’t endorse them.

      5. madge*

        Those “ignorant” Archie Bunkers can be just as harmful as their vociferously racist counterparts, in part because people are willing to give the Archies a pass in the hopes they won’t make a scene. That’s a bargain we shouldn’t make.

        1. Gaia*

          This right here.

          I’m 100% over “but I’d never hurt anyone even though I hold racist views” being an acceptable counterpoint. Holding those views IS HARMFUL in itself. It is actively hurting huge groups of people just by accepting those views as valid. Just because you aren’t physically violent doesn’t mean you’re “one of the good ones.”

            1. Gaia*

              To expand: yes. It shows there are consequences to racist views. The alternative is basically saying racism is acceptable. It isn’t and I, for one, refuse to twiddle my thumbs and say “gosh golly I sure wish this wasn’t a thing but there’s nothing to be done!”

      6. Tabitha*

        That person was already foaming-at-the-mouth racist, they just weren’t displaying it as publicly.

      7. Anna*

        This is an argument made by people who think it’s easier to maintain the status quo. Calling out racist behavior doesn’t “make” someone a racist. They were a racist and maybe faced consequences for being a racist. That’s it. I’ll never buy the whole, “Well NOW you’ve done it! I dabbled in racism before, but now that I’m facing consequences, I’m going Full Racist!” It doesn’t work that way.

        1. Zweisatz*


          People may act like being fired “turned” them, but why on earth would a person who harbors no ill will against minorities make a sudden 180 turn?
          If it is there after the firing it was there before.

        2. Oranges*

          It’s a way of holding us hostage to their racist behavior. Yay? No… Wait, the opposite. BOO! Seriously go have a temper tantrum over in your corner.

      8. Lavender Menace*

        I don’t think the goal is to try to prevent an “Archie Bunker” from turning into a more virulent racist. I think the goal is to prevent harm to the company, to the company’s customers, and to the public by not giving Archie a free pass to continue to spew his invective at people. In the short term, a few Archies may use this as an opportunity to blame the marginalized group for their misfortune, rather than their own bigotry and loose tongue.

        In the long-term, though, as a society we send the message that being bigoted is Not Okay and that holding and expressing those views publicly comes with consequences. That’s how social change works; that’s how the United States and the world got to the place where we are with race relations today. It’s honestly not okay to be an Archie Bunker, either.

      9. Starbuck*

        Well that still seems a better option than letting them stay in any position of power, especially if they might have power over the people they’re bigoted towards.

      10. Sunshine*

        But you’re acting like it’s just words. Racist cops shoot unarmed black people. Transphobic EMTS let people die. Homophobic doctors refuse to treat gay people. This isn’t about ‘being mean’ it’s about protecting people’s lives and welfare. For a milder example, how do you think a mildly racist teacher treats her pupils of colour?

    6. Emi.*

      But even if that’s the principle (and I think trying to get people fired for being wicked is generally wrong), that doesn’t mean that an anonymous email claiming that an employee is racist is actionable for the company. OP definitely needs to get some guidance here.

      1. PhillyRedhead*

        Why is it wrong? Would you want to work with that person? If it were your business, would you want that person representing your company?

        1. Thursday Next*

          Of course some investigation would need to be done—nothing can happen on the basis of one email. As the LW points out, there’s a lot of email from aggrieved exes, for instance, so it wouldn’t be responsible to act without checking out the complaint.

    7. Nana*

      I think everyone is entitled to their own views even if they’re unpleasant. Unless they advocate for violence, I don’t think their personal beliefs should make them lose their jobs.

      1. PhillyRedhead*

        Racism goes beyond “unpleasant.” And racism causes harm, even if it doesn’t leave a physical scar.

        1. Nana*

          Racism can be violent, like advocating for genocide, or it could be mild, like believing that people from a certain ethnicity are unattractive or lazy. And yes, racism causes harm but is firing people over mildly racist or sexists views helping anyone? Is this the way to fight racism? By forcing people to comply and getting employers involved?

          1. Marlowe*

            By indicating firmly that their views are unacceptable in a modern society? Yeah, I’d say that’s one way to fight racism. Letting bigotry run unchecked, on the other hand, will only allow it to multiply.

          2. Gaia*

            “is firing people over mildly racist or sexist views helping anyone?”

            Yes. It is helping the people who are subject to those views. It is helping the people those views advocate against. It is helping women. It is helping minorities. It is helping people who have the ability to change realize that their views have ACTUAL consequences.

            Is not taking action helping anyone? Yes. It is helping the sexists and the racists. Is that really the group you want to be advocating for helping?

          3. Lavender Menace*

            Yes! It helps the people they are racist against. If there’s a hiring manager who believes black people are lazy, and I apply for the job, maybe they pass over me because they think I’m going to be lazy.

            And yes, this is exactly the way to fight racism. This is the way racism was fought and how the civil rights that marginalized groups currently have were won – by imposing real consequences for racial discrimination. Institutionalized racism is perpetuated by dismissing certain types of racism as “not a big deal.” Fighting against racism isn’t just about keeping people from minority racial groups alive – it’s making sure they have equal opportunities in society.

            I don’t think someone assuming I’m lazy because of my race is “mild”. It’s hurtful and hateful and has real potential to derail my career.

          4. Sunshine*

            How do you think a teacher treats the pupils she believes to be from a ‘lazy’ race? And yes, Nana, that’s pretty much exactly how you fight racism. Heck, holding people accountable and enforcing consequences for bad behaviour is literally how our society functions.

      2. Gaia*

        Sure. No one is saying they aren’t allowed to hold that deplorable view. What we’re saying is there can (and should) be consequences for choosing to hold deplorable views. Also, racist views are violent. They may not be physically violent, but they are violent.

        1. Nana*

          And employers should have the power to impose such consequences? Employers already have way too much power over employees. Now you want to let them be the judge and jury on whether someone’s views are acceptable.

          1. Lavender Menace*

            I mean, it’s not like they’re getting fired for preferring Caesar salad over Cobb. We’re talking about people who are disparaging an entire race of people or think that they’re beneath them. I am totally okay with employers not wanting to hire or maintain employees who believe that.

          2. Bea*

            Yes. A business owner has the right to fire anyone they want. They can’t discriminate, why would the want staff who do?

            You can go open up a company and hire all casual racists. Nobody is stopping you.

          3. Gaia*

            Yes. I do. Employers have an obligation to protect their employees from racism in the workplace. If they have evidence someone is racist and do nothing, they’re failing in that obligation.

    8. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

      I’m struggling to see how this is particularly helpful to OP, or anything but a prelude to…well, the discussion that ensued, which was as far as I can tell a total waste of time and comment space.

      1. Mad Baggins*

        I agree. It just indicates to everyone that now is the time to perform how anti-racism they are, instead of actually helping OP decide what to do.

    9. Kay*

      I mean I feel like there are so many shades of grey here. So much of racism and sexism is ingrained I think writing off every person who has ever said something prejudiced is stupid. My grandmother once said to me ‘I had an Asian doctor and I loved her!’ And I had to explain that though she thought she was being complimentary she wasnt. Shes not a bad person shes just 90 and decades of institutional racism has taken its toll.

      I also think more relevant to this post, we dont know what these comments are actually referring to. Some people in this thread have suggested saying ‘that’s so white’ is racist. What if someone posted #blacklivesmatter and some MAGA wrote into their employer saying they were racist? Do I think that’s the most likely scenario? Of course not. But I think it’s less black and white without the OP having a clear understanding of what these comments are and who is reporting

        1. Kay*

          She said it in a surprised tone because she had assumed the Asian doctor wouldnt be very good because she assumed they wouldnt communicate very well.

  1. Art3mis*

    I had an eBay buyer threaten to contact my employer about a sale that didn’t go as they thought it should. I had to let my manager know he might hear about it but that was as far as it went. Still, annoying. Glad that guy lived in another state.

    1. Ms Cappuccino*

      How could he know who your employer is ? I used to be an Ebay seller and never had to disclose name of my employer.

      1. A person*

        With name, email and city anyone can look sellers up on the internet. Lots of people list their employer on Facebook.

        1. Gaia*

          I would recommend anyone reading this do two things

          1. Make your personal social media private so people you aren’t connected to can’t see your details and
          2. Take your employer’s name off Facebook!

      2. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

        Plus, lots of professionals require some sort of credentialing, so even if you’ve got no social media presence at all, googling name + state will pull up your credential. NPI numbers for medical professionals, bar numbers for lawyers, licensed contractors, etc.

  2. Monty & Millie's Mom*

    Good advice here. I think my own actions and reasons are totally correct, of course, but I’m likely not the best judge of that in a work setting. Maybe I’m totally aligned with my employer, but maybe they’d prefer something different. Best to double-check for guidance.

  3. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I think my thought process was that the doctor should for some reason be held to a higher standard because of his more prominent and customer-facing role.

    I can understand this logic, but I think a better question would be if there is a direct and obvious tie to your organization that can be discovered from the post. If I see something horribly racist/sexist/homophobic that I feel compelled to report to the person’s employer, then there is likely some connection that others can also find.

  4. Alli525*

    Assuming OP is in the U.S.: I think in the current atmosphere, where businesses are being held accountable for the actions of their employees who spout hateful things or engage in illegal behavior in public forums (while listing or proclaiming their affiliation with their employer in some way), it is OP’s responsibility to escalate the majority of these reports. I’m actually quite alarmed that she’s just been discarding them, except in cases like “they overcharged me for a boat” – any social media manager or general counsel’s office would at least want to be aware of anything that can reflect badly on a company. It only takes one person with a big social media network or a friend at a news outlet for something small to snowball.

    It’s not OP’s job to decide what to do with these emails, but she shouldn’t just be discarding them without telling anyone that they exist. That’s a powderkeg.

    1. RedPsycho*

      What’s alarming to me is that she took it upon herself to just delete them without ever checking to see if there was any protocol she should be following. She could get into a lot of trouble if this was found out.

      1. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

        If there wasn’t a process, I’m not sure that’s likely, but it’s possible. More likely is the org would have an issue.

        1. RedPsycho*

          Maybe she wouldn’t get into trouble. But I would definitely never just delete complaint emails without asking if there was some kind of system in place for dealing with them. That’s just my personal take on it though.

    2. MK*

      Also, even if what is being reported is none of the company’s concern or there is nothing the employer can do, they might decide it’s bettet for PR to give some kind of response to the complaint.

    3. Thus Spake Zaso*

      Yes, I would be so angry at a health care company if I used their website to report that one of their staff members — some of whom presumably are often in contact with vulnerable patients — had stalked or harassed someone, expressed bias against a class of people, or (ahem) often became belligerent and rapey after drinking beer… and got no reply because the marketing person monitoring the email account decided to delete my message!

      1. Hills to Die on*

        Yes, I do agree that there should be some acknowledgement, even if it’s just for the relevant emails.

      2. McWhadden*

        I really don’t think the typical company is in a place to do an investigation into whether someone stalked or harassed someone or became belligerent after drinking beer (the federal government has the FBI at their disposal) if those things aren’t work related. Unless there is a criminal investigation.They can’t subpoena witnesses or gather evidence especially if the others involved aren’t employees.

        Stuff like Social Media comments can be more easily investigated. There is always the potential for someone impersonating the employee on a site but that wouldn’t be the typical case. But it’s not reasonable to expect a company to look into stalking charges where there is no criminal process.

        1. LKW*

          Actually the typical company is totally in a position to do this. Any company that has an HR staff and Legal staff is equipped. An investigation doesn’t need to be excessive, it needs to be focused on “Did the person do what they are accused of doing?” and “Did this person behave in a way that is contrary to our policies?”

          In the US – your work emails and anything sent on work equipment can be reviewed. Most companies have established social media policy. You could reasonably tie this up in a few days.

          1. McWhadden*

            As I already said, if it’s stuff on social media then yes. But otherwise absolutely not. I’m in-house in a legal department. Absolutely not.

            There is no way to ascertain whether a person did something like harassing and stalking or belligerent beer drinking without being able to gather evidence or talk to witnesses.

            1. LKW*

              Good point, perhaps the better question is – “is this something that we need to investigate further and take action?”

              If someone is accused of harassing someone while at work – using work tools or on work time, that’s one thing. If they are accused of following someone home… all you can do is determine if they were working at that time. If not, then what action are you required to take/should you take based on policy and ethics?

      3. fieldpoppy*

        There is history in this province (Ontario) of a nurse being murdered at work after being stalked by her ex-partner. Stalking and harassment can escalate quickly and seriously and if I were the HR/Legal/leaders of a company I’d sure want to know about anything that had even a hint of it.

    4. Sales Geek*

      Do NOT delete these emails regardless of what action you decide to take. As part of my last job I got a close look at how my employer handled these when they received a 12-page (really, like 1/4″ margins and 8 point type), single-spaced letter of complaint that started with me and went up through four lines of my management. It was addressed to the CEO and we got to talk with the team that handles these things; my old employer had 400,000+ employees and they actually had a small department for this purpose.

      I later got to deal with this team when another senior manager threatened to have me fired because of a complaint about a defective product we purchased on our employee discount plan. He actually left a voicemail with this threat. I contacted the CEO’s team and they promptly sent me a replacement product via FedEx overnight, apologized and disciplined the manager.

      Regardless of disposition, all of these types of emails/letters/voicemails were retained on advice of in-house counsel. You’ll never know when a grumpy letter author turns angry and moves to physical threats (we got bomb threats at our Chicago office “weekly” according to security there).

      1. PhyllisB*

        Besides, even if she deleted them unless she’s cleared out her deleted folder they’re all still there for her to retrieve. (It’s amazing how many people DON’T do that.)

    5. AnnaBananna*

      I would agree that reporting them is correct for a couple of reasons:

      1. You don’t/shouldn’t have the time to play detective each time.

      2. Their manager should be aware that this is happening since it’s affecting the company.

      3. Their manager should know so that they can seek to understand/coach through the problem (say a billing issue is stated as someone stealing from them) or ignore it to THEIR own judgement.

      Don’t take ownership of this. You really are just a flue, or one of those coin sorters: receive the email -> send it to its new owner. Play hot potato, if you feel worried about something’s urgency (stalking, etc). It really shouldn’t be your call whether these are important communications or not, you’re just the ‘mail carrier’.

      1. Oxford Comma*

        Everything AnnaBananna just said. All of it.

        I’m not going to touch the racism bit because that seems to have been commented on thoroughly, but I find it alarming that the OP is not passing on the emails about harassment/stalking. Because OP is making a judgement call and well, what if the accusation is accurate? I don’t think that’s anything to mess around with. Plenty of people out there who seem totally fine who turn out to be beating the crap out of their spouses and kids, who stalk and harass people who leave. That’s a very big deal.

        I would strongly urge you to talk to your boss about a procedure for these emails and not take it on yourself to judge what is and is not a credible accusation.

    6. Nana*

      Isn’t telling employees not to list their employer on social media and to make sure that they’re not representing the company when they express their private views enough?

      1. Gyratory Circus*

        My employer forbids it because they don’t want employees to become phishing/social engineering targets by people who would want to try to hack into our systems by using an actual employee’s login info. For that reason we also have alpha-numeric login usernames that aren’t in any way tied to our actual identities, so even if you could figure out that my email was GTCircus@companydotcom it wouldn’t do squat to get access to our servers.

    1. GreenDoor*

      I would also suggest getting some training from your in-hosue security people. I wonder if OP is paying attention to trends that could signal a problem. Like multiple complaints from an employee’s ex that could signal a stalking situation. Or complaints from the same person that get increasingly aggressive or angry that could signal someone about to blow. I’d also want to get some training on how to respond to something like a bomb threat or a threat to come in and do something violent – especially if the OP’s organization has no in-house security people.

      In all cases, if OP is going to make decisions about what to delete and what to refer elsewhere, she needs to be way more consistent. Holding the doctor to a different standard than the janitor isn’t right. ANY employee could damange the company by posting something inappropriate. ANY employee could cause legal hassles by violating HIPPA. Set standards, apply them to all, then let someone else get the referral and determine if discipline is warranted.

      1. AnnaBananna*

        That’s actually a wonderful point. Perhaps it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to keep a log of incoming emails to watch for trends/CWA before forwarding or deleting them.

        1. Observer*

          No, let IT + Security keep those logs.

          This is not for marketing to manage. The OP is making a lot of decisions that are not in their domain to make. This would be one of them.

  5. FD*

    I do feel, in general, like there probably should be a formal mechanism in place to handle these kinds of things rather than just coincidentally being handled by whomever the marketing person is.

    To me, it seems like there are a lot of potential landmines here for the employer. What if the hospital was tipped off that the person was harassing others outside of work, and then went on to harass staff/patients? What about the problem of unconscious bias affecting what does or doesn’t get reported?

    I’m not trying to catastrophize or say the LW is doing anything wrong here–I just feel like there probably should be some sort of consistent process in place to handle these emails. LW, if it was me, I would talk to my manager, but I might also draw up a suggested procedure for how I’d suggest approaching them.

    1. A person*

      Agree. If there is no policy in place for how to handle these emails, this is the perfect opportunity for the letter writer to suggest developing one, making sure to loop in HR and legal to make sure all bases are covered.

      And don’t forget IT. Deleting email from your inbox doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gone forever. That depends on the retention policy for the company email server.

    2. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*


      This is really important. OP, your org needs a set of guidelines on how and when to act on emails like this, and it can’t be up to you. There’s a liability potential here, and even if it doesn’t rise to that level, there needs to be a consistent process for what gets archived, what gets forwarded to security, what gets forwarded to legal, etc.

    3. Observer*

      Totally. Most of the deletions the OP is doing are not really in their domain. Also, even when there is stuff that doesn’t need to be acted on immediately, the history could be important.

  6. RedPsycho*

    I agree with you for the most part but not on the doctor/janitor thing. IMO every employee should be held to the same standard no matter their title or how public facing they are.

    1. RedPsycho*

      Let me clarify. There are some instances where higher ups would be held to a higher standard. But when it comes to company rules, laws, and just being a decent person, I don’t think it’s right to say one person has to act a certain way, but this other person can say/do whatever he wants because he’s lower on the totem pole.

      1. boo bot*

        I actually saw this as an instance of appropriately holding a higher-up and public-facing employee to a higher standard. The doctor has a public-facing role, and has power over both patients and employees.

        1. RedPsycho*

          I disagree. When it comes to being a decent person(i.e. not being racist, sexiest, etc.), I don’t think job title or being public facing matters. All employees should be held to the same standard of treating other people with respect.

          Not to mention, as someone else pointed out, whoever reported the janitor obviously knew what company he worked for, and not addressing it with him could make the company look really bad. Plus if someone found out the doctor got in trouble but not the janitor, it looks like they have double standards.

          Honestly, I think that the OP taking it upon herself to decide what to do with these emails spells all kinds of trouble for her and the company.

          1. Thursday Next*

            I agree that employees should be held to consistent standards of treating people with respect.

            The thing is, a doctor interacts with far more people, and has direct authority over their health. So his/her biases will impact people in a way that a janitor’s wouldn’t.

            If we’re talking about a janitor interacting poorly with his/her coworkers, of course that’s a problem. But if there were a solo night janitor on the late shift, that’s such a different situation from a doctor.

          2. Mad Baggins*

            I agree everyone should treat everyone with respect, but the number of people who will be affected by actions to the contrary varies. A bigoted doctor could disregard patients causing deaths, disrespect colleagues and subordinates derailing careers, and turn away business. A bigoted janitor could… piss off their colleagues, I guess? Maybe not clean certain people’s rooms as well? The level of risk is different.

            1. Sue Wilson*

              If this is a hospital, effective cleaning can mean the difference in the spread of an infection or virus, so the level of risk may be closer that you think.

        2. OfOtherWorlds*

          I agree. People with power need, in general, to be held to a higher standard. I also think that a health care org needs to hold employees who are directly involved with paitent care to a higher standard, whether or not they have power. For instance, I’m more worried about the CNA assinged to me being a homophobe than I am about the receptionist or lab scientist, even though the latter two positions are more powerful.

          1. RedPsycho*

            Yeah, I understand that logic. I guess I just wish people in general would just be decent humans but what are you gonna do?

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Agreed. The janitor and doctor should be held to the same standard when it comes to racist conduct, especially when that person is easily connected to the company and/or violates the company’s principles around inclusion.

    2. RedPsycho*

      Also, despite the fact that I agree with you for the most part, I don’t think it’s up to you to decide what to do with these emails. They may have a protocol in place, and you need to find that out before you take it upon yourself to make these decisions.

    3. buttercup*

      We all want people to be good, but I think a lot of the comments on this post are conflating justice and “being a good person” with “what this employer should do about these complaints regarding their own interests.” Employers care about profits – so, large-scale impacts, public image, client and customer satisfaction. Janitors rarely affect these aforementioned categories unless they say or do something offensive when in the same room as an employee or client, so employers aren’t going to go through the trouble to investigate them.

  7. animaniactoo*

    Apart from needing the boundaries of what to pass on and when to be set by company standard vs your own yardstick, the main thing I see here that’s problematic is that you’re deleting these e-mails rather than filing them somewhere accessible in case anything becomes a later issue. At some point, you might need the reference of when that e-mail was received and exactly what it said. Deleting it means you’ll never be able to have that. If your e-mail system can’t handle that much storage, you can download, store, and delete. But somewhere, somehow, you need to have a record of complaints that were received.

    1. teclatrans*

      This. Maybe it’s because my early career was in a legal setting, but the part about deleting these messages leapt out at me. Archive the messages, put them into a “petty complaints” folder, but don’t delete them. You never know what might turn into stalking or harassment or worse, or blow back on the company. Don’t erase the ‘paper’ trail.

      1. Someone Else*

        Yeah, every role I’ve interacted with that dealt with that sort of generic email box only ever deleted obvious spam. Everything else got filed to a folder structure that categorized them. One of the categories would be something to the effect of “no response needed”. Compliments went in one bucket. Complaints another. They don’t need to use exactly this system, but if there were things that were genuinely believed to be someone trolling, or a bot, they might go into the “NRN” folder. However allegations of stalking, racism, or anything that might be credible if investigated would not go there. That sort of thing gets pushed for higher ups to review. Still the deleting because you don’t intend to reply is a weird default.

    2. Mystery Bookworm*

      Right. And also deleting them means that there’s never a chance to detect a pattern of complaints over time.

    3. Holly*

      THIS THIS THIS. I agree with Allisons advice generally but one thing is for sure – do NOT continue deleting these emails! You may need a record of it in the future. That is a very troubling practice.

  8. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I also answer the generic email at my government agency, and I’m truly surprised at the weight people assign anonymous or “tattling” emails. The bulk of the people who write them clearly think that’s all it takes to fire someone when it’s much, much more complicated than that.

    If those listed scenarios are of *sincere importance* to the complainer, the complainer would take those disputes to the *proper authorities* that can actually do something, not someone’s boss.

    I have nothing to add to what AAM said, but here’s an amusing story of the best anonymous complaint I ever got.

    This was when I worked for a public health regulatory agency, and I got this anonymous note. Guy A was in AA with Girl A and Guy B. Guy A wrote me an anonymous note. According to Guy A, Girl A and Guy B were getting along very well, maybe seeing each other outside of AA, and possibly romantically involved. Guy A informed us that Guy B was bad news, and my agency had a moral responsibility to warn Girl A and dissuade her from dating Guy B. Girl A “needed to be protected,” and it was my agency’s job to do that. The note included a “dossier” of sorts on Guy B. I can’t remember what it said, but everything came from Google. (I could have done that myself?) Nothing stood out in this “dossier” that I remember except a divorce and parking tickets. But Guy A really thought my agency was going to interfere in a private AA meeting and the relationship of two people who may or may not be into each other romantically.

    I wonder if Guy A ever confessed his feelings to Girl A or if he continued to stalk her via AA meetings.

    1. OhNo*

      Goodness gracious, that’s a particularly epic level of convoluted attempts to interfere. Was Girl A also an employee, or did this guy just think that your agency was the overseer of AA meetings for some reason?

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Nope. No one was an employee. I think Guy A sincerely thought that’s what a public health government entity could do, i.e. be the hero in the John Hughes movie he thought he was in.

        I chuckle about it now, but at the time, I really wanted to contact this woman and tell her that her AA meetings were not a safe environment for her. And I could have because Guy A gave me all her contact information, including her work number!

        1. Eddiesherbert*

          Oh my gosh, I laughed out loud at that… I didn’t realize NONE of them worked with you!! Hahaha. That’s too funny.

        2. Environmental Compliance*

          As someone who used to work in a public health department, it’s amazing what people think public agencies can do. Often while simultaneously thinking that the public agency *can’t* do something they are legally bound to do.

    2. Oranges*

      Aaaaand again I’m grossed out by the idea of protecting a grown up woman from another person without her consent.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Plus it was clear that Girl A was getting something out of AA. Recovery is tough, and I terrified all that was in jeopardy.

        Way to piss all over it, Nice Guy!

        1. Sunshine*

          Eh, maybe he thought Guy B was a 13th stepper? It’s pretty standard for older members to intervene in that sort of case because 13thers will use then dump their prey, which jeopardises their sobriety more. However the correct protocol is supposed to be that Guy A pulls Guy B aside for a manly chat, and gets a woman to talk to Girl A. Not that Guy A randomly emails a public health board.

          It’s patriarchal and irritating, but the guy could have had good intentions.

  9. Bea*

    I believe these judgments may be outside your scope and paygrade. I would consult with your manager. They may say to use your judgement or they may want any and all reports to flow to HR or Legal etc. You expose the company to liability issues by making the decision yourself without checking off the “asked my supervisor how to handle this random stuff.”

    Better safe than sorry when you’re dealing with complaints.

    It depends greatly on so many factors. Including your company policies for drug testing and employee conduct.

  10. KatnissOfTeapots*

    It’s kind of alarming to me that OP seems to think “Bob owes me money” and “Sue was horrendously pushily transphobic” (or other bigoted) are the same category.

    If I knew my medical providers were hand waving away bigotry, particularly bigotry along health care disparity lines, I’d be super not ok with that. It would hurt the business, because I’d leave and make sure other people effected by bigotry did as well.

    And stalking and harassment are pretty big deals too.

    Not all these emails are in at all the same category, treating me as such is a big mistake.

    1. Jamey*

      I totally agree. If I, as a trans person, have had a bad experience with a health care professional because I’m trans, letting someone know about that is not tattling and it’s not because I’m a “petty enemy.” I’m questioning OP’s judgement on this.

      1. Rosemary7391*

        Would you be using the generic company email address for this though? I would have thought such complaints would go through the normal complaints procedure, which almost certainly doesn’t start with emailing details to the generic email…

        1. Mystery Bookworm*

          Not everyone is familiar with those procedures though, especially people who don’t spend a lot of time working within larger bureaucratic organisations.

          Ideally there should be a system for redirecting these, or OP should respond with information about the proper complaints procedure.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          Sometimes people who complain have good reasons to remain anonymous. And sometimes they only think they have reasons to remain anonymous. Either way, a lot of people will choose the generic email rather than going through official channels.

        3. Observer*

          What the others said is true. And many times it’s surprisingly hard to find the right person to talk to. It’s not unreasonable for someone to decide to send their issue to the “info” address and expect the person who gets those emails to figure out who needs to see the emails.

          Which is why I think the company is being stupid for having a random marketing person filtering these emails.

        4. buttercup*

          Most companies only publicly publish their marketing/sales and press email addresses. An outsider won’t know the address for HR or legal dept.

      2. Roscoe*

        So, just to kind of defend OP a bit here, I don’t think these were complaints that patients were making about people. More that they were taking social media posts or other out of work things and reporting them. I think overhearing a conversation on a bus is very different than experiencing bad patient care.

        1. Antilles*

          That was my read as well – it wasn’t actual complaints about Doctor X did something at his job; it’s complaints about something they did in their private time or on social media unrelated to the job.

          1. Antilles*

            To be clear, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s OK or that OP should wave everything off…but it does mean that it’s a bit of a different situation than something actually happening in your company as part of his professional capacity.

            1. San*

              If I’m trans and my doctor is posting transphobic stuff online during their non-work hours, that is absolutely something I expect their employer to care about.

          1. Roscoe*

            that is exactly what I was thinking about. Like even if you see someone text some vile things, its still a private conversation. I’m not comfortable saying that its ok to report that to an employers

            1. LarsTheRealGirl*

              But the OP isn’t deciding whether or not they’re going to send a private conversation they saw to the employer. In this instance, they ARE the employer. They are the recipient of the public-facing communication channel of the employer. Their actions are as an agent of the company.

              They wouldn’t be making a decision to share private information, they’re just trafficking info to the correct departments.

              1. Roscoe*

                I know. But it was going to what Youth commented on. I was just agreeing to that.

                My point in general is that I’m not a fan of reporting people for this. It makes people too much of busybodies in my opinoin. Its like those stories you here of parents reporting teachers for being in a biking while on vacation or drinking wine on a friday

            2. MuseumChick*

              Even if it is a “private conversation” it can still be hugely relevant to a employer. If a male doctor say, “joked” with his buddies about sexual assaulting female patients will they were knocked out from medication.

              The point is the OP probably should not be the one making the call of what is or isn’t worth looking into.

              1. Youth*

                I think Roscoe was defending the OP only in the sense that he understands why they were initially dismissive of the anonymous complaints and would find them distasteful–but I could be wrong.

        2. Ender*

          Yes she was petty clear in the letter that these were tattling about something someone was doing outside of work, not actual complaints about poor service or poor treatment during service.

          There’s a big difference between “Bob posted a joke on his personal FB page about transpeople” and “Bob insulted a transperson when he was providing medical services to them” or “Bob refused to provide medical services to a transperson”

          1. Bea*

            No. This isn’t at all true. Blanket jokes about entire groups of people who exist within your client base are not harmless. It will go towards claims of his bigotry when he does start treating trans patients in a sub par manner down the road.

          2. Detective Amy Santiago*

            FYI, there should be a space after trans.

            But you’re also wrong. If you are in a position of power over people (providing medical treatment, influencing hiring decisions, etc) and you espouse harmful and bigoted views in a public way, then your employer absolutely needs to know that.

            1. Mad Baggins*

              But also there is a difference between actionable and not actionable for the employer.
              There is a connection in the bigoted person’s brain between actions on and off the clock, but the employer is not responsible for what the employee does on their personal time. They can choose to keep a close eye on it but I wouldn’t feel safer in a world where your boss can fire you if you tell an off-color joke at a party. Because that’s the same world where you can get fired for cheating on your spouse, talking about smoking weed back in college, having a tattoo, mentioning you’re gay or in an open relationship… I don’t think companies should be trusted as the moral arbiter of society.

              1. Observer*

                You don’t see a difference between making an “off color joke” and a “joke” that denigrates a whole group of people.

                Keep in mind that in the case of doctors especially these type of attitudes can (and DO) have literal life and death effects.

                1. Mad Baggins*

                  I do see the difference. But I also don’t know who is making a joke about a group they belong to/have intimate knowledge of. Or someone who doesn’t know the etymological background of words like “gipped” and would be horrified if they found out. I don’t think the answer to social transgression is always to track down their boss and demand their job, or to send anonymous letters, which in general don’t go well. I’m afraid of letting my livelihood be swayed by how strangers interpret what I say off the clock, or by what unhinged weirdos and dedicated stalkers can do with an anonymous email account.

                  There should absolutely be repercussions for being racist, but I don’t think the solution is empowering anyone with a grievance to email businesses and put those repercussions in the hands of people like OP. That’s not OP’s job, and there are and should be limits to what businesses/employers can do regarding employees’ personal beliefs and what they do outside of work.

                2. Ender Wiggin*

                  This. What Mad Baggins is saying is totally the point. People interpret things through their own lens. I’ve been accused on this very site of being racist, ablist, homophobic and of mansplaining. I know I’m not a racist, an ablist, a homophobe or a man, and I’m confident that any investigation my employer might mount would find no evidence that I am any of those things, but I find it pretty scary that people think it’s ok to contact my employer to make a complaint about my supposed bigotry, based on nothing more than their misinterpretation of a comment I posted on the internet.

                  If someone is openly posting actual hate speech towards a group they have power over in their job, then yes that’s something I would be ok with them bringing to their employers attention. But if someone reposts a list of jokes they found funny, and that list includes one joke that could he interpreted as transphobic, that’s a big difference. Humour is weird and includes a lot of sarcasm. Lots of people will sarcastically say a bigoted thing as a way of sending up bigots. Unless you know them personally you can’t know if they are being sarcastic, or self-referential, or even just quoting a movie you haven’t seen. I really don’t think it’s ok to make the jump from “bob posted a joke about trans people” to “Bob should never be in a position where he interacts with trans people ever” and it’s even worse to say “bob should not be employed at all even if his job does not involve interacting with trans people”.

                  Also, people mean and interpret jokes in very different ways. For example, I find some of the “did you just assume my gender” memes to be hilarious. I’m sure some people find them funny because they dislike trans people, but I find them funny because anachronistic societal norms are funny. Same reason I thought “Kate and Leopold” was funny – because societal norms from one era don’t fit into another era and I think that’s hilarious. Yet there are plenty of people who are 100% convinced that the only possible reason someone could find a joke like that funny is because they are transphobic. So someone could see me reposting a joke like that and mistakenly think that means I am transphobic. And while I don’t really care if random strangers on the internet think I’m transphobic, I don’t think it’s ok for them to spread rumours to that effect to people I work with.

                3. Mad Baggins*

                  At first when I saw those tiki-torch rally pictures, I thought, “find their faces, tweet their employers and take them down!!” But I am also horrified by the idea that cruel people can dox women and POC and drive them from their homes in fear. This tactic can be used for good or evil. It’s mob action. If we don’t see nuance in encouraging its use, I’m afraid people like Ender would be doxxed and fired. I would probably be doxxed and fired for “defending a racist.” Or anyone with a grumpy ex could risk losing their job.

                  All this to say, this is why OP has not taken these random emails seriously–they could be from anybody for any reason. We should not encourage OP to take some seriously and not others, not because fighting racism isn’t important, but because that puts OP–one person at this company–in the position of judge and jury, which is not good compliance for the company; we should not encourage companies to police their workers’ morals via anonymous complaint; and we should not consider a company’s “Contact Us” button to be the best or only way of righting injustice.

          3. Observer*

            If “Bob” is a doctor treating patients, then NO, there is NOT a “big difference”. As an Orthodox Jewish woman, I don’t want a sexist or antisemitic doctor handling my patient care. By the same token, I think that no person should have to be treated by someone who is *phobic or *ist about their group.

            If Bob is the janitor, then yeah, it’s a different issue. The floors will be equally clean (or not) regardless of the views this person has.

          4. Sunshine*

            No there isn’t. If Bob is making public jokes about transpeople, how do you think Bob is treating his trans patients?

    2. Emi.*

      I don’t think OP thinks all the categories of misbehavior are the same, but that all the emails are most likely to be made up by cranks and vindictive exes.

  11. MK*

    OP, my experience from 18 years of practicing law/working in the judicial system is that there is very little correlation between the motives of the person providing information of wrongdoing and the validity of the complaint. More often than not, the vindictive ex isn’t making up false accusations to get back at their former partner, they just have lost all insentive to cover up their behaviour after the break up and feel free to speak.

  12. MuseumChick*

    I think anything accusing someone of harassment, stalking, causing physical harm, racism, sexism, homophobia etc should be looked into. Those are very serious matters and even if 90% of them turn out to be untrue you would still want to know about the remaining 10%.

    Talk to your manager and see how they want you to handle this.

  13. Sara without an H*

    I agree with most of OP’s decisions on these, BUT she really needs to talk with her supervisor about how the company wants it handled. There may not be a clearly-articulated policy, but from the emails OP describes, they need one, or will very soon.

    If I were OP, I’d collect some representative samples, set up a meeting with my supervisor, and ask for some rubrics for managing this stuff.

  14. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    How are there not established protocols? A canned response stating that the message has been received and appropriate action will be taken will satisfy most people anyway. Also, the deleting. What is every truly deleted? Are their laws governing your industry (like mine) where, yeah, I delete it, but it’s saved on a server for 7 years. Anything is available for audit. Including the messages that one marketing specialist with no official guidelines, chose to delete. That cannot be good.

    1. MC*

      Yes, this would be very bad for both OP and her employer if anything came of one of these complaints and there was a resulting investigation that found deleted emails.

    2. Anon From Here*

      Rolled in to say something very similar. This workplace needs guidelines and procedures for LW to follow, and policies giving notice to the employees as to what in their social media lives may come to light.

    3. Temperance*

      I would advise against a message that “appropriate action will be taken”. That will just encourage some annoying folks to follow up, when that’s not what you want. You don’t want to encourage wackos.

  15. Atlantis*

    I wonder: do your employees know these are coming in? I worked at a city park once, and one day our boss came in with a series of Facebook posts that had been made about our section (namely that the bathrooms weren’t clean). I was working the day of the complaints, and knew exactly why it hadn’t been done, and I was able to tell him that. He knew as well that we all did our jobs well, and told us that he knew how hard we worked, and that he showed these to us just so we would be aware. He did end up making a change so that we could at least point to a rotation that the bathrooms were getting cleaned reguarly, but it was nice to know why he was doing that.

    Basically, as an employee I would like to know if those kinds of things are being sent to my employer. Regardless of whether or not you plan to act on the information, I would appreciate knowing that random strangers or even ex’s are contacting my employeer in a vindictive manner. Others may disagree with me on that, but that’s just my $0.02.

    I agree completely with Alison’s advice to talk to your supervisor about how to handle these emails, but I would also recommend you don’t just delete them. Store them in a different email folder, but don’t get rid of them. They could be useful later on for a whole bunch of reasons, from protecting yourself and your organization in case of an employee doing something wrong, to an employee needing evidence to help stop someone whose been harassing them.

    1. Georgia M.*

      “to an employee needing evidence to help stop someone whose been harassing them.”

      So much this. I work in Trust & Safety in online communities and in my experience, if it’s happening on one place, it’s very likely happening elsewhere in the real world and online.

      I think the questioner is doing a disservice to the employees by not letting them know what’s going on if there are allegations against them. It could be material that can be used to enforce a restraining order, etc.

      Also, I feel for the questioner in having to deal with this. Please make sure that you have the support that you need from your manager and company for dealing with this on an ongoing basis. It’s very hard to deal with this and remain sane over the long term.

  16. Ames*

    Just wanted to say that OP sounds very level headed and self aware. Hopefully OP’s employer will be able to create some guidelines as to how these will be handled moving forward.

  17. MC*

    I actually just emailed a major health system in my area because one of their employees (not someone I know personally) was posting multiple anti-vaccine comments on a news article that encouraged people to get vaccinated after a recent disease outbreak. The person’s employer was listed on their public Facebook page, and the comments were made on Facebook. The person worked in patient services or something like that which sounds like they had direct communications with patients, as opposed to being in a back office or maintenance function. I thought the health system would want to know that one of its employees was publicly spreading an anti-vaccine message. But maybe my email was dismissed as a personal grudge!

    1. Jaybeetee*

      Not to derail, but there’s apparently some debate as to whether/how for medical centres can/should handle anti-vaxxers on staff. I think the lines in the sand right now are: No HIPPA violations (a nurse was fired in Texas not long ago NOT for posting an anti-vax rant on a forum, but for disclosing patient information in said rant), no withholding/discouraging vaccines on the job. Medical establishments are wary of reprimanding/firing people for their personal beliefs or non-criminal internet activity (even if they seem antithetical to their profession). I do hope the medical establishment you contacted does take your complaint seriously, but in terms of action, may not be able to do much other than keep an eye on her and make sure she’s not preventing people from getting vaccinated.

      1. MC*

        Interesting, thanks for info! It was definitely more concerning because there was an outbreak, health authorities were encouraging certain people to get a vaccine and her comments were encouraging people not to be vaccinated. Not just generally talking about her beliefs. But it’s definitely a tricky area for employers.

    2. Ms Cappuccino*

      I think everyone is entitled to express their opinions. If her comments are made from her personal account she shouldn’t get any trouble with her employer. It’s not even their business.

      1. Ender*

        This. The concept of free speech exists for a reason. If she does her job as required and she’s not claiming her employer agrees with her opinion, then her opinion is none of her employers business. Anti vax rants and opinions are not hate speech.

        1. Marlowe*

          The concept of free speech exists, sure, but it only protects you insofar as you can open your mouth and say what you like. It doesn’t mean people can’t judge you for your opinions or decide to cut you out.

          I have a serious bug with the running idea that because free speech exists, and because people are entitled to their own opinions, other people aren’t themselves entitled to act in consequence of these opinions being expressed. No one should have to entertain bigotry just because hey, people have different opinions.

          1. KTB*

            I totally agree with Marlowe. Free speech only means that the government can’t come after you for having an opinion. It does not protect you from the consequences of your own actions by private citizens. And a company has every right to dissociate itself from employee opinions that are made public in some forum.

            1. Ender Wiggin*

              That’s exactly why i said “the concept of free speech” rather than “the law on free speech”. I’m well aware of the limitations in the American law that “protects” free speech (in reality it does nothing of the sort). Thankfully I don’t live in America and my employer could not legally fire me because of a rumour that I Said something that someone else disagreed with.

              I agree with the CONCEPT of free speech – that people should be allowed to say whatever they want so long as they are not inciting violence or mistreatment against others. I frankly don’t care if the receptionist in my doctors thinks I’m a bad mother for giving my kids vaccines, so long as she still books me in for the appointment. If she told me to my face I shouldn’t give my kids the MMR because vaccines are evil, I probably would mention that to the doctor. But if she booked me in cheerfully and then I saw later that she posted a meme about unnamed kids being forced to have poisons injected into their bodies I would just roll my eyes and move on. It’s none of my business what she does in her spare time.

        2. Bea*

          Only free speech doesn’t apply to the business world. So it doesn’t matter how important that is to whomever is concerned.

        3. Mary Connell*

          Yeah. Free speech limits what the government can do, not what private businesses can do.

        4. ArtK*

          Totally disagree here. Those public comments, which can be connected to the employer make it absolutely the employer’s business. Given that the employer is a health system, they have a vested interest in seeing that false information is *not* being distributed by people associated with them. This is not a difference of opinion, it’s a matter of facts.

          By the way, free speech has *nothing* to do with what a private employer does. You do *not* have any right to free speech as far as your employer is concerned. The 1st Amendment protects only against government consequences.

        5. Mad Baggins*

          I agree. I think it’s ridiculous and wrong, but I also think that people who believe the Bible is real and evolution is not should not be in science-based fields. So if we’re not going to weed out religious fundamentalists from the sciences based on their beliefs, we should be careful in choosing what beliefs are worthy of getting someone fired (ie not mine!)

          1. Ender Wiggin*

            This. Free speech was invented for a reason (again the concept, not the useless American law which is irrelevant – we have no reason to believe OP is even in America).

            Freedom of belief, opinion and speech is absolutely fundamentally necessary for democracy to survive. Policing people’s opinions is fundamentalism and is the first step on a slippery slope that leads to dictatorship.

            1. Marlowe*

              Not really, no. Protecting people’s right to free speech is important, yes. But that doesn’t mean that any opinion is sacred, or that other people can’t actively disagree with you, work to disabuse you, or simply cut you out of their life for espousing bigoted views. You don’t express an opinion in a vacuum. You endorse or refute societal views, which has an actual social impact.

              There are plenty of countries where hate speech comes under the law and is punished in various degrees. These countries are not ‘on the road to dictatorship’ because they put clear lines between what is acceptable and what isn’t.

              1. Ender Wiggin*

                Did you mean to put this comment on a different thread? This thread is about reporting people to their employer for non-hate speech opinions like anti-vax ear opinions. I’ve posted elsewhere that I think hate speech falls outside the definition of free speech.

                Personally I think targeting people because of their opinion on vaccines is getting dangerously close to hate speech and bigotry. I do honestly think that if you live in a society where you cant express an optinion about the perceived dangers of vaccines without risking the loss of your job, then you are pretty close to living in a dictatorship. It’s really scary to see people who probably think of themselves as supporting social justice espousing reporting people to their employers for posting antivaxxer memes. That’s really quite chilling.

                1. Sunshine*

                  I grew up in an era where no-one wore seatbelts, and it was considered ‘health and safety gorn mad’. We were forced by law to wear them and as a result less people died. I don’t consider it bigotry to point out that the anti seatbelt lobby were a) wrong b) killing people.

                2. Isabel Kunkle*

                  As a potential employee, I don’t want to work in an office with someone who might give me polio or measles. As a potential customer, I don’t want that person handling my food, and frankly, I don’t want someone with that level of critical thinking ability handling anything else of mine.

                  Which I think illustrates part of the “no, it *is* the employer’s business” stance. Antivaxxer idiocy is a public health issue; I don’t trust people who post homophobic/racist/whatever stuff on public forums to keep it to themselves in the workplace*; and as a customer, I will absolutely switch my patronage to a different place, when possible, if I find out that one of their employees is a horrible person and the company backs that.

                  * In the return-of-Louis-CK thing, a bunch of concern trolls were like “so he just can’t ever work again?” and (aside from pointing out that the scumbag in question has more money than most of us ever will, so whatevs) a lot of us replied that he was welcome to get a job at Burger King…but not as a manager. Or someone involved in training new employees. And never as the only person on shift with a woman. And everyone should be warned about him before taking jobs at that franchise.

                  And that’s the thing, really. What you do and say is who you are, and the people who might have to work around you deserve to know who you are before they decide to do so.

  18. I Was the Victim of Vindictive Anon Email*

    More than a decade ago, when fandoms were mostly confined to “web rings” and “journaling sites” and conventions were things that “weird nerds went to,” I was a “BNF.” (Big Name Fan). I organized fan outings, contests, text-based-chats, and I indulged in creating fanworks.

    One other fan did not like me for whatever reason. I never had much contact with her, but was still polite when our digital paths crossed. She would often ask me to “spotlight” her fanworks on my blog, and I responded that I chose the items for the blog based on merit and personal preference, not requests, but I would consider her works in the future. Her works were literally Not My Cup of Tea, and she was a bit of a challenge to deal with in that she was known to be pushy and creating “shipping wars.” She was famous for bragging about how she had a fanfic removed from a site by claiming that it violated rating rules. It did not; she just didn’t like the characters in it.

    Anyway, this lovely person decided that I wasn’t acting fast enough in “promoting” her stories. She found out my real name and cyberstalked me back in the days where Facebook wasn’t really a thing. Due to my work in academia, I had quite a bit of web articles and biographical information out there.

    This person decided to email my employer that I was really a pervert who wrote erotica and was publishing erotica and erotic art online. This was complete with links to stories and art, all anonymous of course. Now, most companies would brush this off, but when you work with children, this is quite a charge. My life was turned upside down while I had to defend my hobby of writing fanfic and creating fan art to my employer. (Of which, none would be above a PG-13 rating).

    I banned this person from my life on every system I could think of, but she is still out there. And that, friends, is the reason I abandoned fandom and my love for writing and art.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I don’t think this is remotely comparable to the kind of thing the OP is talking about. Accusations of stalking or overtly racist/homophobic/sexist rhetoric has the potential to be a lot more harmful.

      1. Teacher Lady*

        Uh, being called a pervert and being accused of engaging in sexual media is an easy way to get fired in the American Education System…especially in a non-union state.

      2. Dee*

        Fear of being fired or losing custody of children is absolutely a concern in fandom, especially for people who write/draw/read explicit stuff, double-especially if it’s same sex. I think it’s less worrying now than it was 20 years ago, but I can still easily see someone trying to use this against an ex in a custody hearing.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Sure, I get that. I’m involved in fandom stuff too. But to compare voluntary involvement in a hobby to -isms or potential violence is not great. Getting an email from someone that says “Person writes f/f erotica” is fine to disregard. Getting an email from someone that says “Doctor posted a meme that LGBT should not be permitted to adopt” is not. OP should take the latter seriously.

          1. voyager1*

            You are assuming that the person investigating is going to make that distinction. There is a good possibility in some fields people won’t and justify it with “don’t want to deal with it” and push the person (good chance in education a teacher) out of job.

      3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        I think this look at the other side of what OP is writing about illustrates potential crises that ignoring messages could bring. OP is describing receiving emails comparable to this and having no guidance or protocols to determine action. OP decides whether to keep, comment, kick up stairs or delete. In a case like Victim’s with such a vindictive loon, ignoring it could have brought on more problems for the company/institution if she did not get any results from her first email. Investigations following subsequent emails or her contacting the company another way would uncover, “oh, yeah, they didn’t sound credible so I deleted them,” and would affect the person who made the decision, that person’s supervisor and on up the chain.
        PS: I don’t determine whether this is right or wrong. I simply stipulate emailer is a loon and would not stop until she got something from the company.

      4. Reba*

        This poster isn’t making that claim. They are sharing their own experience. And maybe the accusation leveled at her wasn’t as dire as it could have been, and her real publishing activities not harmful to others — but she still had a really negative experience based on a vindictive email, which is relevant to the letter.

      5. ket*

        This is totally what the OP is talking about! It falls under points 2 or 4 of her bullet points. I think it’s important, in being useful to the OP, that we commenters remember that these really all are a range of emails, from “I think Bob is racist” to “Bob was singing along with a rap song and said the n-word” to “Bob writes dominance/submission erotica” to “Bob smokes weed on the weekends” to “Bob smokes weed right before coming in so he can make it through his unutterably boring shift” to “I’m Bob’s ex and I want you to know he’s a domestic abuser.”

        As a commentariat, we’ve decided we are most interested in discussing -isms, but that’s only one point that the OP wrote in about.

        1. voyager1*

          This. Many times the first commenter(s) usually set the tone of the comments. And boy howdy did the first commenter set the tone.

        2. Mad Baggins*

          Exactly! OP has no way of knowing how real these emails are and shouldn’t be tasked with differentiating them. It’s not OP’s job to sort through “real” racism claims vs. weird personal vendettas like posted above, that’s why OP should check with their employer.

      6. Oxford Comma*

        I think it depends what kind of position you hold and where you work. I could see this being a huge issue to someone who is tenure track. I could also see this being a huge issue if you work at a private religious based college. I have friends who’ve had to sign pledges that they would not drink in public or private who have been accused of violating that.

        There was someone in a fandom I’m quasi active in who got outed as a fanfic writer. I felt horrible for her. It was a huge deal for her and while I believe she kept her job, it created a lot of negative stir.

      7. Mad Baggins*

        This is exactly what OP was talking about. OP gets two emails, one says “Fergus posted the n-word on his Facebook” and one says “Fergus is writing gay pron online”. OP doesn’t have any additional info as to whether these are made-up or real. The answer is not “OP, you should only treat the racism-based ones as real,” the answer is “OP, you should ask your employer to put a policy in place to deal with these emails.”

      8. Observer*

        Actually, it’s exactly the same thing.

        The accusation had serious consequences for the I Was the Victim, even though they were cleared. And that was because in that particular context, the accusations were are serious as a doctor in practice being a bigot, etc.

    2. Bea*

      I’ve seen this happen to a few people over the years. Not so ironically to a friend who worked in healthcare. They took it seriously as well and launched a formal investigation.

      Yes, sometimes it’s a troll.

      Other times it’s a legitimate issue.

      All needs to be investigated to the fullest.

    3. Hills to Die on*

      That’s awful. I am so sorry you had to go through that. I hope you find your way back to writing, art, and fandom.

    4. Holly*

      Obviously this person is disgusting and I am so sorry that happened to you. But if you work with children and you’re accused of “perverted” behavior, your employer HAS to at least investigate and do their due diligence. In OPs case she’s deleting emails based on her own judgment without managers or legal knowing. That’s it’s own issue – the hope is that a vindictive false allegation would be dealt with as such after an investigation

      1. Nacho*

        I understand that schools have to investigate any accusation of perverted behavior, least parents raise a fuss about it, but fuck those parents for raising a fuss in the first place. Teachers are people too, and America has a bad habit of holding them to impossibly, hypocritically high standards. OP was accused of anonymously writing fictional stories and drawing racy pictures. It doesn’t matter how many kids they work with, those should not affect their work in any way, and there was no reason for the school to get involved.

        1. Kenneth*

          “It doesn’t matter how many kids they work with, those should not affect their work in any way, and there was no reason for the school to get involved.”

          Often schools get involved at the behest of complainants, because there “may” be a problem, and “what if we don’t investigate?” CYA type thinking.

          Such was the case of Judy Mays, an erotic author and the pen name for a high school teacher. Back in 2011, somehow Mays’ real name was uncovered, and her … “extracurricular” activities were reported by parents to the school where she worked. This despite no indications of misconduct by anyone connected to her work. No former students or anyone alleged any misconduct or raised any kind of concern.

          But because she liked to write about… (I’m trying to keep this PG)… parents took offense and reported her. It seemed largely due to “what if”-ism, with one parent saying: “And I don’t want my son sitting in her class thinking, is she looking at him in a certain way…”

          One of her supporters said, “She’s one of the best teachers in the district in my opinion and she has been writing for 20-something years. I don’t see why its an issue now.”

      2. OfOtherWorlds*

        In some places having been the subject of a formal investigation can be harmful. Certainly a public investigation will harm your reputation. While I think that OP should ask for a formal policy rather than deciding what to delete on her own, I also think that someone should be able to dismiss obviously malicious or unfounded claims without a formal investigation.

        1. Holly*

          Investigation would uncover what is or isn’t an unfounded claim. Investigations result in a finding of whether the claims are substantiated or not

    5. buttercup*

      I think this is the challenge that the OP is describing, though. Some people have very legitimate reasons to e-mail someone’s employer (it would be terrible if a harassment case could have been stopped and wasn’t because the email went ignored)…and then you got the crazy, vindictive people. It’s hard to tell which stranger is which.

      But Alison struck the point, OP needs to escalate these emails to the professionals.

  19. Roscoe*

    I agree with most that you should talk with your bosses about it. Just bring the same categories to her that you asked here, and find out her thoughts. Its very possible you are already doing what she would want you to do.

    I’ll admit, I’m in general a bit more on your side that “anonymous complaints” to a persons employer deserve next to little weight, but since I don’t own a company, its not really my call to make.

  20. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    OP, you need to work out a formal process with your team and HR for routing these emails to an appropriate HR person for review. If an email amounts to negative commentary about an employee, it should be directed to someone appropriate internally (not you).

    OP, a large organization like yours should have a written policy that addresses employee use of social media and prohibits usage that either directly purports to be on behalf of the organization or may reasonably be attributed to the organization, unless such usage is pre-approved by the organization. This type of policy is actually quite common with large companies and publicly-traded companies.

    1. Lucille2*

      “a large organization like yours should have a written policy that addresses employee use of social media and prohibits usage that either directly purports to be on behalf of the organization or may reasonably be attributed to the organization, unless such usage is pre-approved by the organization”

      THIS! So many companies do have a policy like this and some of the reports OP is receiving might actually be terminable offenses. I would think a manager would like to see this stuff before something blows up and the company is needing to some serious damage control.

    2. Cassandra*

      OP, if your workplace has a records-management or information-governance person or committee, that’s a place to go for advice (or to escalate this problem, if there’s no policy in place).

      Records managers can figure out whether your company is legally responsible for retaining any of these messages, and if so, for how long. That’s baseline knowledge you definitely need! An IG group, which will generally have representation from legal counsel, will likely go beyond that to the “ugh, how to respond/document” policy issues.

      Good luck — and definitely escalate this problem; you shouldn’t have to face it all by yourself!

      1. LKW*

        Legal and Compliance too. They will have policies outlining what information must be retained as they relate to potential legal cases. If an employee is accused of harassing someone then the lawyers need to determine what kind of investigation they will undertake (or not).

  21. blink14*

    I worked a temp assignment for a major regional religious office complex, and part of my job was to answer an open line that was essentially a complaint line. Out of all the calls I received, I only alerted my manager of 2-3 calls. We were required to a keep a log with the person’s details (if they felt like giving their name and number), and their complaint.

    The calls I reported to my manager were ones that I had a gut instinct that something was very wrong. I would alert my manager, who would have me transfer the call to a private line that was answered by a religious official to counsel the person. Once, we did have to call the police for a very strange situation, but that was one call out of probably several hundred I answered in my time there.

    Mostly, people who called in, like a lot of “customer service” situations, simply wanted to vent and didn’t want a follow up call when I offered. Once they got their anger and frustration out, they went about their day and never called again. I would imagine working at a health care company is going to attract a lot of angry, upset, and vindictive customers who want to “get back” at the system, and this is how they choose to do it. Anyone can say anything online and not have to confront even a customer service rep on the phone nowadays. I would say stick to your instincts – if something feels really off, report it. If it doesn’t, let it go and see if the person continues to make the same types of claims or tries another way to reach the company. Talk with your manager and see if creating a log, or saving these emails in a private folder would be the best course – it might be good to have a record of contact if someone gets out of control.

  22. Anon for this*

    I find OP’s casual dismissal of some of these concerning. I once worked in customer service for a large, global internet company. The kind of platform where people communicate directly with one another via this website. Every email or chat that came into our customer service dept that made threats or reported threats made in any way to employees, other members of the site, or to themselves was reported to a security department who was tasked with handling these. Everything was taken at its face value and reported. No exceptions.

    We often received responses of, “Why the hell did you send the cops to my house? I wasn’t serious!” I’m willing to guess that 99% of the threats were fake. But we did have an angry customer show up at our office with a bat once. For the one in a million that is valid, I think it’s worth taking some precaution.

    1. Temperance*

      I only once received a call that I thought could merit police intervention, but he wouldn’t tell me where he was calling from and I had no idea how to get in touch with him. He was basically trying to extort free legal help out of us by telling me that he was going to have to “take some action” against his stepmother, and then basically said that he would have to think about killing her if we didn’t represent him.

      Since he was obviously dangerous and unstable, I wasn’t going to touch his claim with a 10-foot pole, but I had no idea how to report him, since I had no name and he was calling from what I assume was a burner.

      1. Anon for this*

        We had some of those as well unfortunately. Our customers were required to register accounts with their actual personal information, but of course, some of them didn’t. In all cases, we reported them and it was up to law enforcement to determine if they could take any action based on the info we had.

        But having a pretty clear set of guidelines that employees at all levels of the company understood helped mitigate some potential security issues. Especially in cases where unstable people were showing up at one of our offices (happened more than once).

  23. Matt*

    It’s sad to say, but this is becoming more and more common for ex romantic partner’s to try and work dox people. One of my close friends is experiencing this, and has been fired from multiple jobs because his ex was sending in false customer service complaints accusing him of sexual harassment. Finally he landed a job and was able to warn his employers about it, and his ex sent his boss nude photos of him. The legal process is slow and is a nightmare to go through. I don’t know exactly how this author should handle these cases, but at some point I think more companies should be progressive in starting a more formal process of protecting their employees from people sending in false allegations of these sorts of things.

    1. MuseumChick*

      That is awful for your friend. I hope he gets some justice in the future for having to go through all that.

      I think most of what the OP is describing falls into the “Listen and take seriously” category. A complaint comes in that an employee has made racist comments on Facebook. Ok, you don’t immediately believe or disbelieve that. You listen to the complaint, look into it, and then make a determination.

    2. Temperance*

      Not legal advice, or what have you, but the restraining order process is generally much more quick than a suit for revenge porn, and will have immediate legal consequences should she step out of line.

  24. LovecraftInDC*

    As someone who works in compliance, PLEASE forward these along to somebody. I work in finance, and so we’re required by law to maintain a database of all customer complaints, ensure that they are addressed and reviewed properly. They’re sent along to our regulators. I’m sure this is true for healthcare too, in one form or another.

    But ultimately, I don’t think these should be coming directly to you. They should be coming into some group mailbox somewhere which is accessible by legal, as well as marketing, HR, etc. And I would also be seeing if IT can undelete any of the emails you’ve already deleted. It’s probably just my post-compliance-stress-disorder, but the idea that a large number of customer complaints have just been deleted without being reviewed gives me an amount of panic.

  25. MuseumChick*

    Reading other comments I just thought of something, I would not delete the emails purely because you want to know if a pattern emerges. If you start getting multiple complaints across time, it’s likely something your employer will want to look into.

    1. Bea*

      And the employee may want to know. If you’re coming at it in a way to protect these professionals, they need to know they’ve got people invested in hurting their livelihoods.

  26. Jennifer*

    Are these all about the same person or are they slandering a lot of different people? Are these complaints coming from obviously different people (like, different typing/spelling styles), all the same person, or what might be the same person using a bunch of different e-mail addresses?

  27. Temperance*

    I handle a lot of unsolicited/unwanted outside contact, but not complaints about employees, so I’m going to partially answer your question.

    When I get phone calls from people who are asking for something unreasonable or that I don’t/won’t do, I simply don’t call them back. I have a generic “will not represent” letter that I send to clients who reach out via postal mail, and I’ve adapted it for email. I’m as unhelpful as possible while still covering myself, basically.

    I’ve learned that responding to this nonsense just invites more nonsense into your life. Your org might want you to send a generic “message received” response, but I wouldn’t personally reply to any. I would forward any emails with accusations of employee misbehavior to HR, though, just in case your org has some sort of policy about handling these.

  28. Ann O'Nemity*

    Am I the only one surprised that *marketing* is getting these emails and discarding them? I guess it makes sense as it’s the generic company email address, but I’m still really surprised they’re not being forwarded to another dept – HR, compliance, legal, *something* other than marketing.

    1. Holly*

      I’m not surprised that marketing is handling emails, I’m surprised that there isn’t already an existing policy of when to loop in HR/legal on an email

    2. Holly*

      For example, most emails are going to be customer service related – not something HR or legal would know how to answer

      1. Observer*

        But that’s also not something marketing should be handling. What really needs to happen is that this goes to someone who can actually able to figure out what emails go where – and to have a set of policies and protocols!

        1. Holly*

          I wasn’t disagreeing with that – HR/legal should come up with a policy that marketing follows since marketing should be maintaining any customer service email

    3. Temperance*

      Not really. I can imagine that at least some of these sound unhinged, and I would probably feel strange forwarding something I knew was a time-waster.

    4. Manders*

      It’s pretty common for marketing to be the team that handles the info@ email account for a company, especially if it’s small enough to not have a dedicated customer service department, and they’re often given pretty much free reign to ignore anything that doesn’t seem like an emergency.

      I don’t love it either, but it’s better than the alternative of companies never checking that inbox at all (which I’ve seen happen!).

    5. MissDisplaced*

      Nope! I used to do similar for my former company. At some places the marketing person wears a lot of different hats.
      But get some guidelines in place!
      And, I might add, you should slso have a crisis communications plan in place.

    6. buttercup*

      It’s not surprising marketing is getting these emails, but I agree that there should be guidelines in place as to when to forward emails and to which dept. I handled an info email address before, and it was part of my job to know how to handle all types of emails. Remember that these are random people – not clients or employees – who are emailing a company based on publicly available information. In my experience, this is always a marketing email address and a press email address.

    7. Observer*

      Actually, this was one of my first reactions. I was going to comment, but because it’s so late, I figured I’d read the comments first.

      Marketing is the worst department to be handling this stuff, imo. Especially if the web site doesn’t have a specific address for all of the other types of issues that could get mailed.

  29. Lissa*

    The main thing I see here is that this is *always* going to be subjective, and it’s important to know who is making that subjective decision. If it’s you, proceed as you were, but if not figure out who you need to send them to so they are making that subjective decisions. It’s hard though and I’d be inclined to make some similar calls to you especially since it sounds like you’re doing some research.

    These things are always going to be a judgment call, so it’s about who gets to make that. It’s not always clear, and people will make different decisions as to how serious something is along the “charged too much for a boat” and “stalking” continuum. For instance most commenters here are like “racist posts on social media=fire-worthy” “drug use=not” but loads of employers would make other calls. If it’s up to you, OP, to decide what goes up then it’s probably best to figure out what the guidelines are.

    I also think keeping the emails is probably a good idea, maybe with some kind of notes like “followed up, found no evidence that this was true, Peter Smith seems to be Maria’s ex-boyfriend” or whatever.

  30. What’s with Today, today?*

    Similar, I guess. I had a billing dispute (to the tune of $35k, Crohn’s disease)with the local hospital that was headed toward litigation. As I’ve said, I’m a radio personality in a small town. The hospital CEO sent me a letter at my home telling me they were going to cancel their advertising package with the radio station I work for if I didn’t drop the pending law suit. I told my boss and he said he’d handle it if they followed through with the threat. They didn’t and it settled in my favor. It did freak me out though.

    1. What’s with Today, today?*

      Interestingly enough, the billing dispute stemmed from an error that the hospital billing director tried to cover up. She sent me a letter saying one thing, and sent the CEO a letter saying another thing. When he brought up what she’d told him, I was able to disprove it(because she put it in writing and I keep all records). She was demoted and eventually quit. I’ve actually emailed our local adult probation department director(whom I know well) when I found out she was in consideration for a job there (my husband is a defense attorney). I provided proof that she’d lied to her former boss about my billing issue, then tried to cover it up, and then provided screenshots of her saying nasty things about me on our radio station FB page. She did not get the job.

      1. Close Bracket*

        > When he brought up what she’d told him, I was able to disprove it

        And this is why managers need to talk to their people and get both sides of the story.

        1. What’s with Today, today?*

          Yeah, she actually provided him with a dated bill settlement offer she’d supposedly sent me. She’d fabricated it. I had the actual settlement offer she sent, with the same date, and the postmarked envelope it came in, all of it. Many months had passed, and she just didn’t think it through enough to think I’d kept the original.

    2. Bea*

      That sounds like extortion. You had a pending lawsuit, over billing errors. They just pulled out “well pay us or we will hurt your employer!”. What’s to say they won’t refuse to treat your mom if she ends up in the same hospital, holy crap.

      1. What’s with Today, today?*

        Their reasoning was that they didn’t feel they could trust I wouldn’t go on the air and speak negatively about the hospital. Of course, I would never do that, I would get in big trouble, probably fired, for something like that, but that was CEOs excuse in the letter.

        1. Bea*

          You can bad mouth them with or without their marketing dollars. These imbeciles.

          Hospital billing is a joke and riddled with errors, of course the crummiest ones would have that kind of clown as CEO.

          1. What’s with Today, today?*

            Yes, they were notified. The CEO called me on a Friday afternoon and apologized. The bill was settled by the next Friday (NDA). He wasn’t disciplined to my knowledge. He and I had a cordial relationship after that. I interviewed him a few times and he’s retired now. The former billing manager still bad mouths me when she can. We have a lot of mutual friends. It’s a small town.

  31. Ashlee*

    We had an employee who had their Twitter account hacked. This employee did not identify their employer on that account and never posted anything work-related but made the mistake of posting a picture of themselves with Andrew Lincoln when he visited our facility (no logo or anything was visible, just him & Andrew Lincoln). Somehow, people used that photo to track down where the employee worked and marketing got a bunch of tweets about it. That’s how the employee found out their account had been hacked. They did what they could to get the account closed but the damage was done. The hacker made a bunch of inappropriate comments on a tweet a female about posted about her vagina. Anyone who knows said employee knows he would never say anything like that and the language and style of writing was completely different.

    Four days later, the employee got written up for the remarks without even being asked about them. He got called to the manager’s office, they had printout of the tweets and the write up sheet. He was never given a chance to explain about anything. He did write down on the comments section that his account had been hacked and he had no control over the content of the messages. When he tried to explain he was told they were not interested in his explanation, just sign the sheet and go back to work.

    I know this person and I know they did not write those tweets. As a matter of fact, if they had checked the time stamp on those tweets, they would have seen that they were posted when the employee was work. They could roll back the security footage and seen that the employee was working, not on his phone. We have cameras everywhere so it be easy for them to view this but they didn’t care. They took the word of complete strangers over an employee of 6.5 years. He is trying to find another job but he has a chronic medical condition that requires a specific type of working environment so it has been very tough on him.

    This is why I think people need to be more careful about contacting employers.

    1. Jennifer*

      I second this, especially since I’ve been anonymously attacked by someone trying to get me fired.

    2. Bea*

      It’s so easy to see an account has been hacked, I’m incredibly sad your employer can’t handle these things properly.

    3. MuseumChick*

      This is why there needs to a careful process of investigation when there is an accusation.

    4. all the candycorn*

      This. I’ve worked at places where a customer complaint against an employee is considered serious misconduct. Even if the employee did nothing wrong and was behaving within the expectations of their job, a false or exaggerated customer complaint could still result in termination.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        So because some businesses have bad practices, we should let people who are actively harming others get away with it? If there is a possibility that any of these emails are accurate, LW and her company need to investigate them and there needs to be a process in place to allow that so that things like you’re talking about *don’t* happen.

      2. Jennifer*

        Yeah, that’s what I’m concerned about too. Some places will legit fire you for anything whether or not it’s true.

    5. Observer*

      True. And that’s why the advice to the OP is not to decide that someone did something bad, but to forward stuff to the appropriate people. Those people should MOST DEFINITELY do an appropriate investigation.

    6. Westfold*

      The problem there is not the reporting, which was appropriate given the behavior the account was engaging in. The problem is that your company failed to investigate the problem in a responsible and reasonable manner.

      It is not on me to decide against reporting something on the chance that the employer is unreasonable.

  32. Mbarr*

    I was a tech writer for a major smartphone company and sometimes looked into the feedback customers left for us on our help docs (y’know, those “Did this page help you?” fields at the bottom of internet pages).

    The random stuff that would appear was amazing:
    – Someone once posted an entire ballad in Arabic (I google translated it for my own amusement)
    – Another person accused us of being communists (I don’t know what prompted that)
    – Vitriol that the page they were looking at didn’t help them… And I could tell that they were looking at the entirely wrong product page.

  33. Close Bracket*

    Accusation story time!

    Wow, I wish I could give details, bc they are super juicy, but it would be really outing. In brief, Fergus (married) was having (multiple) affairs with (at least one married) women in his social activity circle, and one of the husbands managed to send an all hands email to my employer. I don’t know how that would have worked, but that was the story I heard. He also showed up at the plant. The accusations were completely true, and Fergus was way more of a turd that this brief description gives. He was transferred to a branch in a different state to protect him from the disgruntled husband(s).

    I don’t know what the initial action on the email was. All this was before my time. I don’t know if there was an actual threat of stalking in it or not. Of course, “Fergus sold me a bum boat” and “Fergus sold me a bum boat, and I’m going to show up at your plant” are two different sorts of disgruntling, but sometimes, action is necessary (even if it’s not the action the disgruntlee desires).

  34. Shelly574*

    I can understand feeling overwhelmed by the number of these types of emails and simply not being in a position to know or investigate every complaint you get. So, I would encourage you, OP, as you have been already to speak with your manager about what sorts of emails to forward onto people and what sorts to discard. You need a policy in place on how to handle these. I monitor our public email at work and occasionally get my share of strange emails. Most of them I can handle, but I have a checklist of things I pass onto my boss or HR, depending.

  35. AliceBD*

    I handle social media for a larger health care system and get these fairly regularly via social media channels. I send the text and any pictures to a contact for that location, who can then pass it on to the appropriate HR person. I don’t do Facebook research but they like to send me screenshots, usually where the employee looks a lot better than the person reporting (if you’re trying to get someone in trouble, make sure the incriminating evidence doesn’t incriminate you more). I tell the person who sent it that we take accusations seriously, appreciate their notice, and that appropriate actions will be taken. “Appropriate actions” is nice because sometimes that means ignoring it but the person reporting thinks it means they have succeeded in getting in trouble.

  36. BookishMiss*

    I’m kind of taken aback on two fronts, first that the emails are being deleted, and second, that the OP has been investigating the emails to determine their validity. The first has been addressed at length, so I’ll leave that be.

    But it sounds like you’re putting in a lot of time investigating these emails and the people involved, when that’s not really part of your job. Depending on how long you spend investigating, the cost in payroll hours could be more than your employer is willing to pay for you to Google and Facebook search. It also seems an inappropriate use of work time to become so intimately involved in these emails and your co-workers’ social media lives when you really can’t take any action on what you learn.

    In the end, my advice is the same as the other commenters: talk to your hierarchy and get a protocol in place that delineates how these messages are handled, and who, if anyone, is the appropriate party to evaluate and investigate them. But stop deleting them, yesterday.

    1. Lissa*

      I kind of wish that was my job…social media sleuthing about this type of thing. It’d be like..paid to dig up gossip.

  37. Jules the First*

    When I looked after public-facing email, I used to keep a “COTW” folder (short for “Crackpot of the Week”) where I filed the anonymous accusations and vaguely threatening messages. If something came up three times, I raised it with my boss. Otherwise, it stayed safely in the folder in case we ever needed it. Which we did, a couple of times.

    I was always torn between being depressed that people sent us hate mail and impressed that they took the time to send hate mail in their second language…

  38. voyager1*

    I am generally not comfortable with work doxing people, unless something is really solid. Videos of course would be the best, such as the Chicago Trump lady that went viral a while back . But wearing a MAGA hat and being a vocal Kavenaugh supporter on Facebook videos isn’t (personal example though I have “muted” her).

  39. pcake*

    At very least, I’d save those emails in a separate folder, just in case. And I’d definitely talk to at least my manager and hopefully legal. I absolutely would not want to decide on what to do about these emails myself.

  40. Kay*

    Having fielded complaints for a superannuation company (with MANY upset people) most of these seem harmless and not worth escalating, however I probably wouldnt be deleting the emails and I’d probably check with either HR or legal/compliance to find out what exactly they want to do. It may be that the company is happy to leave it to your judgment, or wants to escalate all complaints, or complaints related to drugs etc. If they dont have one I would strongly suggest them creating one as just deleting them may get them in trouble later

  41. Leslie knope*

    These types of posts are always so disappointing, tbh. So much “but there are DEGREES” (not in any way that matters) and “work is separate from that stuff!” (No, I guarantee you they don’t turn it off at work.)

    Bigots being held responsible for bigotry is only a good thing, people. Come on now. Are we really going to handwring and derail and pull out excuses like “dictionary definition” and “being nice is better for getting your point across ” (sometimes people don’t want to be nice to bigots and that’s fine)

    I know this is a workplace blog but these things DO affect the workplace, so it’s somewhat disheartening to see so many “don’t rock the boat” comments.

    1. Kay*

      Uhhh probably because there ARE levels of degrees and everyone will have a different answer for what language is acceptable and then what to do about it. Obviously bigots should be held responsible but the whole reason why there is this discussion is because many people disagree on what response of behaviour merits. Do I think its racist to ask a POC ‘where they come from, no REALLY, where do you come from?’ Yes. Would I personally think that merits contacting someones employer and lodging a complaint against them? No. Do I like it when guys tell me to smile? No. Would I find out where they work and try and get them disciplined? No, at least partially because that would take up a great deal of my time.

      The problem here is that without trying to investigate themselves the OP has no way of knowing what kind of ‘bigotry’ is being complained of, and considering that there seem to be a fair amount of vindictive complaints it’s more than likely that at least some of them are probably not worth escalation. Now I think deciding this is probably above the OPs pay grade. However I think its disingenuous to say that people commenting on levels of insult and the appropriate responses are just trying to avoid rocking the boat

      1. Gene Tierney*

        The issue I have with all these extreme reactions is that it allows the rest of us–white people who didn’t vote for Trump, who “have black friends,” who travel outside of the country–to sit back and not examine our own racist tendencies. If you’re white in America, you have racist tendencies–there’s no way to avoid it. That’s not to say you shouldn’t educate yourself and change your behavior, on the contrary! We also need to take responsibility and not just blame the bad people.

        1. Mad Baggins*


          “Bigots being held responsible is a good thing” of course, but is sending an anonymous letter to the bigot’s boss really doing that? Or is it a way for Well-Meaning White People to pat themselves on the back for Doing the Right Thing, after all, “I voted for Obama and saw Get Out, I’m not like Those Racists.” Is anyone here calling their Aunt Deborah’s boss with a screenshot of her latest Facebook rant, demanding she be fired? Let’s not turn on other progressively-minded people for choosing to fight racism in other ways than sending anonymous letters to racists’ bosses.

      2. Isabel Kunkle*

        “Do I like it when guys tell me to smile? No. Would I find out where they work and try and get them disciplined? No, at least partially because that would take up a great deal of my time.”

        That last is really the only reason I don’t. Then again, our misguided justice system is the only reason I don’t set them on fire. I’d smile plenty *then*.

  42. buttercup*

    This is kind of tangential, but sometimes I get asked if I ever complained about a service employee (like a waiter at a restaurant) to their manager. I have received a wide range of service quality throughout my life, but no one ever pissed me off enough for me to call their manager and rant about them. I imagine I would only ever do this if I felt like I was getting scammed by the employee or if I thought the employee was somehow hurtful or dangerous. I think the same applies to contacting someone’s employer.

  43. Angeldrac*

    I work for a major public healthcare provider as a clinician. Both my employer and the governing bodies with which with which I am registered have all sort of codes of conduct etc., that states my expected behaviors when respresenting the organisation, when in the public in my uniform and my comments on social media.
    I am alarmed that OP, working in a marketing department, has taken it upon themselves to decide which of these complaints are deleted and which are not. These need to go to HR – complaints about personell and disciplinary action is their job. I am also pretty alarmed that OP doesn’t even seem to have bothered to investigate as to whether there are existing policies and procedures for dealing with these complaints because I am 1000% certain there are.

  44. RoadsLady*

    I recall once being party to a FB discussion over Heartfelt Issue with Opposing Sides. Someone became so enraged she threatened to send another lady’s photos of her children to a child porn company. Yes, her employer was contacted and the report was she was fired.

  45. Wheels*

    I write as someone working in a healthcare organisation dealing with professional registration matters. I would say yes, escalate them all so that they can be considered and a decision made whether to act.
    For those staff with professional registration it is possible that the same complaint will be made to their professional body who would contact the employer for input. My boss would be livid if he found out we had received a complaint and it was deleted.
    The only circumstance I could imagine not sharing the complaint is if it was obviously kooky e.g. alien abduction.

  46. HR in the city*

    The next email you receive (& any in the future) I would send it to HR and let them decide what emails are ones to investigate and which ones aren’t. HR will know policies, procedures, and local, state, fed laws that would apply to these emails. It sounds like there are ones that are obviously not going to be investigated but others might be depending on the circumstances. & I can tell you that we would not give someone a drug test just because there was an email that said “I guarantee there is THC in X person’s system”. So most emails will probably get ignored but really you shouldn’t make that decision.

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