my boss uses an offensive slur

A reader writes:

I have a tricky situation that I’m not sure how to navigate. My boss keeps using the word “retard” as a derogatory term. She doesn’t use it to describe people, but she does use it to describe things and ideas. We don’t work in the same office, but we often travel to client sites together. She did once say it in front of my client, which was really awkward for everyone but her, it seemed. She’s an otherwise great manager, but I’m not sure how to approach this. Some people think being offended by this word is just being too sensitive. How do I ask her or tell her not to use this term tactfully without causing resentment or making things awkward? Or is this just something I should ask her manager to handle?

I answer this question — and four others — on the Ask a Manager podcast today. Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • How do I handle a job offer when I’m waiting for a different one?
  • My coworker who quit without notice wants a reference
  • How do I set work/life balance expectations with a new boss?
  • My office requires us to donate to United Way

The show is 27 minutes long, and you can listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts (or here’s the direct RSS feed). Or you can listen above.

Or, if you prefer, here’s the transcript.

{ 178 comments… read them below }

  1. Cordoba*

    I’ve found some folks genuinely don’t know that the language has moved on from the days when that was an acceptable adjective.

    Starting from the assumption that the boss is one of these folks, I’d be inclined to mention it to her along the lines of “Some people are really pretty offended by that word, you might want to reconsider using it so casually.”

    That is, don’t tell her to stop. Just tell her it’s not regarded as OK any more and let her decide what to do with this information.

    Best case she learns something and adjusts her behavior, worst case she doesn’t and LW learns something important about their boss.

    1. LGC*

      That’s pretty smart, actually – especially depending on how old the first caller’s boss is! (I’m listening to the podcast right now, and I (a 30-something guy) grew up with that word not being that terrible! I mean, about 15 years ago, there was a hit song that used that word in the chorus and title.

      I’m also in agreement about not telling her to stop just yet – although I’m not quite as sure, because she’s using it in front of clients! (And to be quite honest, that’s probably the more concerning thing – she can be technically proficient and compassionate, but she’s also using somewhat vulgar language in front of clients. And the r-word has always been somewhat derogatory.)

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I’m 41 and it was definitely in common usage when I was a kid. I don’t think we even thought of it as referencing the disabled (we were kids. A lot of stuff escaped us). And I’m sure I must have used it back then but I haven’t since and OMG it would be a shock to hear somebody use it in a professional setting. Or anywhere, really, but especially at work.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I’m the same age and I rewatched Reality Bites last week and cringed because they used it several times in the movie.

          That being said, it is something I will always speak out against if I hear it, I don’t even care who you are. It’s personal for me. I actually spoke out about my team using that and ‘gay’ as pejoratives a few years ago at toxic old job.

          1. kristinyc*

            I’m mid-30s. It was always meant to be offensive, but for a long time, it was pretty common to use it BECAUSE it was offensive. Teen movies for my generation still used it widely. I’ve noticed though – when MTV and other channels play movies like Mean Girls, the censor it out the same way they would other words, so hopefully the next generation does better.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              It was always offensive, but I don’t think folks realized it was a slur, if that makes sense. It’s like the first time I found out “dumb” did not mean “lacking intelligence or reason.”

              1. Dust Bunny*

                It was always offensive, but we used it as a general insult, not to imply somebody was disabled or somehow less intelligent, specifically.

                I don’t actually recall using it. I’m sure I did, because most of us did, but I haven’t in decades and obviously wouldn’t now.

                1. Jules the 3rd*

                  Not in the 80s when I was growing up. It was always specifically targeted to someone’s intelligence.

                2. Sylvan*

                  Hm, I’m in my late 20s and it definitely meant “stupid” or “disabled” when I was growing up. I’m not sure what else it could be used to mean as an insult.

                3. Screwdriver*

                  My understanding of its implied meaning has always been “as slow/unintelligent/nonsensical/other negative quality as someone with a disability.” Aka the Michael Scott rule: “You don’t call r— people r—ed. You call your friends r— when they’re acting r—ed.”

                4. Sapphire*

                  I was in middle school in the early 2000s and people my age would use the “r-word” coupled with other references to disability or disabled people. I think people regarded it as less offensive as, say, the n-word. Still means it’s a slur, still doesn’t make it okay.

              2. LGC*

                I feel like it might be slightly different, just because the two meanings of “dumb” are pretty far apart when you think about it. (If you call someone “deaf and dumb,” you probably don’t mean that they’re an unintelligent Deaf person.) “Retarded” (in the sense that caller 1 was talking about) is probably more like…”colored” or “Negro,” where the meaning hasn’t shifted much, but the terms are associated with appalling acts in our history. (For example, we systematically institutionalized and even sterilized the “retarded” because of their disabilities.)

                1. P*

                  I thought that was part of why “dumb” used to insult intelligence was particularly problematic; it stemmed from assumptions that someone who couldn’t talk was unintelligent

          2. Clorinda*

            My high school students still use ‘gay’ as an insult, and yes I do tell them not to and explain why, but I’ve never heard one of them use any form of ‘retarded’ or related words, except ‘dumb.’

            1. Forking great username*

              I’m a first year high school teacher and have heard it several times, despite the fact that my students know I have a son with disabilities and that I HATE the word. It is now banned from my classroom, but I’ll have someone slip up and use it about once a week. =(

              1. Clorinda*

                Is it a different regional culture, maybe? I’m in the Southeast. I was surprised to hear ‘gay’ used so often, to be honest.
                Anyway, civilizing the youth is part of the job, so whichever unacceptable terms they use, we have to call them on it.

        2. ThankYouRoman*


          I’m 35 and growing up my best friend was develop mentally delayed and in special education classes…it was absolutely used to torment him and others with disabilities.

          It reminds me of the vile gut churning comedic line of “you never go full r*****” when speaking of actors portraying a develop mentally delayed person.

        3. Anon Anon Anon*

          I’m about your age and I didn’t know it was considered offensive until I moved to the west coast a decade ago.

    2. Smarty Boots*

      I would say — best case, she stops. Worst case — now you do need to say something more. Such as, Griselda, that word is really offensive and I’d like you to stop saying it in front of me. Or, Griselda, that word is really offensive and it makes you and [employer name] look bad.

      Because if you don’t say anything more, you are tacitly agreeing with her. Unless you fear she can get you fired or make your work life truly terrible. I do think people have an obligation to speak up. It’s *hard* to do that, it’s awkward and scary, but it’s right and necessary. Just had this convo w my undergraduates…

      1. Smarty Boots*

        BTW, I’m pushing 60. That word was offensive when I was 10. People said it a lot, but it was still offensive and everybody *knew* it was offensive. Like a lot of other words that were ok in mainstream culture, but were in fact offensive, demeaning, disrespectful, and cruel.

        1. Mimi Me*

          Yeah, I was going to say the same. I’m 44 and like you, have always understood the word to be an offensive insult. I currently have a co-worker who uses it – and continues to use it even when others have told her that the word is considered offensive – and I cringe every time I hear it, in much the same way as I did when I was little and my aunt would say it.

        2. Hills to Die on*

          I am 43 and I didn’t know it was offensive when I was a kid. I really didn’t that is what the special needs kids were called and nobody ever corrected me or anyone else. Only knew not to about 20 -25 years ago. My husband was in his 30s when he heard it was not okay. He is 51 now.


          1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

            Yeah- I’m 26, and when I was growing up, probably *because* nobody ever referred to the special needs kids that way, that word didn’t seem offensive, if that makes sense? We only used that word in neutral contexts, like “that chemical retarded the growth of the plant”, so it really didn’t seem offensive. I probably only found out that people found it seriously offensive my last year or two of high school.

            1. Cordoba*

              I would absolutely not hesitate to use “retard/retarded” in a technical sense like you mention here, and do it frequently for the elements of my work that deal with flame propagation and extinguishing. It’s the correct industrial term for the processes under discussion and not at all related to human cognitive development.

              My opinion of a colleague would go down if they revealed themselves as unable to make this distinction and objected to *any* use of the words “retard/retarded” regardless of context and intent.

              1. Clorinda*

                In music, ritardando means slowing down and it is often abbreviated in rehearsal as ‘ritard’ but everyone knows the difference!

              2. So long and thanks for all the fish*

                Oh absolutely- adults *should* know better now- I still think it’s not a remote possibility that the manager just doesn’t realize how offensive people find the term.

          2. Artemesia*

            Retarded when it was first used for mentally disabled people WAS a euphemistic and positive phrase when it was introduced. Calling someone mentally retarded was not insulting and it was the correct term for people with developmental delays. It replaced words like imbecile, moron and idiot which were technical words to describe various levels of disability as well as insults.

            It was not insulting to call someone who was mentally delayed ‘mentally retarded’ — of course it quickly became used as an insult just like the previous words were and so new descriptions like ‘developmentally disabled’ were substitute. You still see ‘mental retardation’ as the descriptor in a lot of the older literature.

            1. Artemesia*

              It is of course entirely inappropriate used as an insult or in the way the OP’s boss is using it. And no longer appropriate for use talking about people with disabilities. But it was not always so.

        3. Anon Anon Anon*

          I got called that when I was a kid because of a variety of things – physical differences, socioeconomic differences, etc. But it was so commonplace in my experience up until the past decade, it seemed to be accepted in society despite being wrong.

      2. Lissa*

        Can you generally get away with saying “I’d like you to stop saying it around me” to your boss? If it were a coworker I’d have no compunction, but with a boss I’d be way more hesitant. I know that for some people the issue is important enough they would do it anyway, of course.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          It *really* depends on the boss, and your relationship with them, and how well you can get the message across, and how generally accepted as offensive the word is.

          Reasonable people will accept ‘that is unpleasant’ and stop doing it, no matter the power differential in the relationship. Unreasonable people may or may not, depending on how unreasonable and how you put it. Invoking the authority of Customers! gives you a lot of leverage.

          1. Lissa*

            Yes I think I would be really unlikely to ever make it about my own personal discomfort with the term with a boss, but more about customers/optics etc! WHereas with a coworker I would just say “I don’t like the term, can you not say it around me.”

    3. Lwieox*

      If this doesn’t work, I think the LW really should say something like, “It makes me uncomfortable to hear that word used. Please don’t use it in front of me.” And then every time the boss does use it after that, make an obvious grimance or other show of discomfort. I mean, it’s super uncomfortable to hear a slur used at work! I think it’s fine to let that discomfort be obvious.

      1. Cordoba*

        Sure, but in this scenario the boss is the sort of troglodyte who will continue to knowing use a slur after being clearly told what they’re doing. In that case obvious discomfort from an underling probably won’t do much to melt their evil heart.

    4. Sabine the Very Mean*

      Yes I agree. My very wise, educated, kind, experienced wonderful therapist uses the word still. I know she would never intend to hurt anyone and simply still uses it colloquially without realizing society has become so offended by that word (rightly so).

      Now, I work in public transit and there is the sect that believes the term “Engine Retarders” is offensive so the pendulum swings wide.

      1. ...*

        Well mental retardation is a diagnosable state. It was turned into a put down for anything people think is stupid, ugly, or don’t like. If it were a mental health professional I’d assume they’re saying it in the way of “that person is mentally retarded”. that’s a diagnosable mental condition (iq and abilities are under a certain threshold). At least this is what I was taught in college getting a psych degree, and I graduated only 3 years ago? referring to retardation in the MH world is much different than calling a dumb work rule “Retarded”

        1. motherofdragons*

          You probably learned about it in college if you were using the DSM-IV or ICD-10, because in those versions, the diagnosis did appear as “mental retardation.” But in the most recent versions of both of those diagnostic manuals (2013 for DSM-V and ICD-11), it has been replaced with “intellectual disability” and “disorders of intellectual development,” respectively. So it’s no longer officially a diagnostic term, even though it’s still used by some practitioners. Also, in the United States, the term “mental retardation” has been legally replaced in many federal statutes with “intellectual disability.” I’m not sure if you meant MH as in mental health, or if that if you meant to type MR as in Mental Retardation, but as someone who’s worked in both of those fields, “mental retardation” is an inappropriate term to use.

          1. Stinky Socks*

            This. Mom of a kid with Down Syndrome. Mentally retarded and mental retardation are both considered obsolete terms.

        2. Sabine the Very Mean*

          Eek! I’d be suspicious of that professor. Not acceptable to most in or out of the mental health field.

      2. ofotherworlds*

        I wouldn’t say that “engine retarder” is in any way offensive, but more people will know what you’re talking about if you call it a “Jake brake” instead!

    5. MattKnifeNinja*

      I grew up in the 70s. That word and another was used for ” situation is so stupid/undesirable.” All.the.time. I have relatives my age who still uses both like that. I cringe. Mention it to them, and they start screaming about snowflakes and Millennials (?).

      I had to tell my boss that neither word is used in polite/work environments anymore. He’s my age. Had to do it because he kept using retarded in business emails. I couldn’t say stop, but I did bring up the fact people will not look favorably on him using those adjectives. He too chirped about the PC crowd and people being too sensitive. At least it’s now going out in emails anymore.

      1. boop the first*

        “That word and another was used for ” situation is so stupid/undesirable.””

        Which is funny, because “stupid” is meant to be offensive in the exact same way for the same reason. I had a teacher who would really blow her gasket if anyone said that, yet people still say it all the time. I try to catch myself, but it’s still difficult.

        All offensive, ableist words that people use every single day without nary a glance. They will probably be stricken off the list of semi-acceptable common words eventually.

    6. sfigato*

      One of the weird things about aging is that things that were considered progressive when I was 20 are now considered offensive. That takes some getting used to.

      1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

        This reminds me of the time my dad (who came of age in the 1970s and left the US permanently for East Asia in the 1980s) used the word “Negro” in a (positive) comment about Barack Obama when he was running in 2008. I cringed so hard! I had to explain to him that no, that is not the appropriate or remotely progressive term for an African American person. His mind was blown that it was actually preferable to use the word “Black” to describe someone.

      2. Alienor*

        My late grandmother used to say things like “I was talking to a sweet colored lady at church last Sunday…” It made me wince, but she’d been taught it was the polite thing to say when she was a child in the 1930s (considering the era, I’m sure it probably was a lot more polite than some of the words people used casually at the time), and she never moved past it. I’m trying to do better with keeping up as I get older.

    7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I like this approach, in part because it takes the wind out of defensiveness and encourages the person to actually hear your feedback.

      When I was a kid, folks used the slur OP is talking about often, but I don’t think any of us really knew it was a slur (i.e., we never used it to refer to people). I’m not saying it wasn’t a slur—I’m saying we were unaware, much in the way that “that sucks” has become somewhat divorced from its original context and meaning.

      When I was in junior high, someone let me know that it hurt them when I used the term and that it was a slur. I think the word has slipped 1-2x, max, since that conversation, and I was so grateful that they told me I’d been thoughtlessly using a slur. This happened a few months ago on AAM, too, when I used a term that I didn’t know was widely considered to be an ableist slur (especially outside the U.S.). I find that most people want to be seen as good people, so playing to that instinct is usually more effective for changing behavior.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        Yeah… which is the difference between acting like decent person and being conplete lamp-post – it’s all in the reaction to learning that a word you use isn’t cool.

    8. beepboopin*

      Millennial here. The word was offensive while I was growing up but I didn’t understand the full weight of it until I realized my best friend in high school had a brother with developmental disabilities and would get very upset when someone used the word around her. These days, the use of the R-word makes me cringe when I hear others say it. I have learned to politely ask someone to please not use that word in the future. It can be awkward but if you calmly remind them, they eventually get the hint. My husband gave me push back at first but later when he was at previously mentioned friends wedding and casually used it in conversation and received ice-cold silence in return, he has not used the word since (my friends and her hubs are very involved in Special Olympics along with care of her brother). The point it, you never know who is affected by the inappropriate use of that term and to have your boss use it in business settings, could cost you professional relationships.

    9. Jules the 3rd*

      In case anyone here is not aware, ‘stupid’ is also moving into the ‘offensive slur’ category. My kid’s school banned it, and according to other parents, this is not the only school.

      1. fposte*

        That’s got a pretty long history, actually, not so much because the word itself is an offensive slur (it actually is one of the rare insults that doesn’t come from disdain for a disabled group, in fact) as because it’s a direct and inflammatory insult. I had teachers in the 1970s who forbade it, too.

        1. Screwdriver*

          I’m sorry, that rule is stupid. I’m all for getting rid of actual slurs but I’m afraid people, especially children, won’t take actual slurs seriously if “stupid” is treated the same as “r—-.” How are kids supposed to insult each other without being accidental bigots? They’re gonna call each other names, might as well give them options that aren’t *-ist.

            1. Screwdriver*

              That’s pretty unreasonable to expect children to already be perfect kind little angels.

              We insult people here all the time. We call them jerks, or cruel people, or ignorant a-holes. These are OK to say about someone who is rude to you, but some words aren’t. If we want to draw a line we need to leave some options.

              Maybe you have never spoken negatively about anyone, but the rest of us need to be able to express anger and frustration.

    10. KR*

      This is the approach I used with my former supervisor who really likes using that word. There were several phrases or word that my younger coworker and I just said, “Oh Fergus, that word isn’t ok anymore because X” or “I heard recently that that word is offensive to X people because of X.” He just genuinely didn’t know and didn’t regularly read up on social or racial issues.

    11. jd*

      So I recently tried something similar with my (much older) boss who has a picture with racist imagery (caricatures of Black people) up in her office (the setting is a nonprofit). It didn’t have any effect–she took it in as “oh, interesting what will offend some people!” and then left it up. So I sent an email with links to resources explaining why such imagery is offensive and harmful. No reply, image still up. I’m contemplating another step of being more direct, “This is really uncomfortable imagery to have up in your office”, but I’ve gotten conflicting advice about whether this is worth it and whether being direct will make her shut down.

      This has been going on for months. My contract is ending soon (it was always a temporary position) and I’m not interested in renewing it. But I feel frustrated that this picture is still up and like I haven’t done enough to push back. I worry that being too assertive about it will blow up in my face (she’s basically head-boss in this setting too, though it’s an offshoot of a parent organization) and still not end with the picture coming down, or it coming down and just going back up again as soon as I leave. Also my contract is ending with the culmination of a huge project and she’s going to be a big part of signing off on things I create for that, so I worry that sparking conflict here would torpedo the project, which would have implications for other people who’ve invested a lot of work in it.

      Should I try anything beyond the soft approach? Given my lack of leverage and standing here, is a more assertive approach even worth it?

      1. Not A Manager*

        I think you’ve done all you can. You’ve given her the information she needs, and you can’t MAKE her take it down. Ultimately, it’s her decision.

      2. Akcipitrokulo*

        One option could be, after sign off, send a direct “this is not OK because of reeasons I sent you on (date). Please remove it” and cc higher ups and/or HR.

      3. A Tax NERD*

        I think it’s totally worth it to be a little more assertive and go one step forward to just asking her to take it down. She’s gotten the information of why it’s offensive and obviously reasonable people would connect the dots and take it down, but others might need a little more. You could say something like “Hey I think that picture might give others the wrong impression of our organization – I for one am uncomfortable seeing it – would you mind putting it somewhere more private?”

  2. Lazy Line Painter Jane*

    Professional fundraiser here – DO NOT CAVE into any pressure to give to charities. It’s antithetical to the entire spirit of charitable giving. Your charitable giving should always be 100% your choice: which organization, how often, and how much. Definitely push back as a group! Also, Alison’s reminder about organizational practices for charities like United Way is important. Boards and high level officers of major charities often get the same cushy benefits as their corporate counterparts, and their audits often reveal that this is achieve by not allocating resources in ways that actually help people. This was a major story about the Red Cross and and their lack of impact in Haiti a few years ago. If possible, find local charities that deal directly with community programs and give to them. They’re the people who really know what needs to be done.

    1. Rebecca*

      I worked at a company that required 100% participation via payroll deduction to the United Way. They said it made them look good. I have issues with charities like this, and because I was pressured heavily by management and felt powerless to push back (everyone else seemed to not have any issues with it), I gave the minimum possible – $1.00 per paycheck. Although not a fan of extra laws or regulation, I really feel that it should be illegal to pressure employees to donate to charities against their will. It’s a lot of pressure to put on a low level employee, as in “you’re the reason we can’t say we’re 100% participating”.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        And this employer is requiring a minimum of $4/week as an employment requirement, and even wants more! It’s crazy.

        At places where they wanted 100% participation, I would donate $5 on a one-time basis to let them check that box, or use directed donation to choose a particular UW charity beneficiary. (Yes, I know that’s not foolproof, those charities can’t get more than their capped donation amount.)

      2. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Thanks to AAM, I’m now highly suspicious of organizations that claim 100% employee participation. I assume that almost all of them bullied their employees into doing so.

        1. Bleh*

          Once worked for a company that required us to fill out the form for UW (not actually donate) to get their 100% participation. I refused. Just no. They didn’t fire me, but I was willing to be fired over it.

          1. Rebecca in Dallas*

            Same, I turned mine in with $0 selected for my contribution. My boss voluntold me that I was a captain one year and I made sure to tell people that all I needed was their form back, if they wanted to donate $0 that was fine, just fill that out and hand it back to me. I didn’t get asked to be a captain again.

      3. A Teacher*

        Yep. High School teacher for a large district. Our superintendent sits on the UW board in our area. We are really pressured to give. I sit on the BOD for a non-profit–I give of my money elsewhere and won’t be pressured to give to a specific organization.

      4. kristinyc*

        I worked at a United Way chapter, and they also required 100% participation…in donating BACK THE TO ORG THAT WAS PAYING US TO WORK THERE.

        I work at a different nonprofit now, and they strongly encourage (but don’t require) giving to our annual campaign. It’s an organization full of people who are incredibly passionate about our mission (which is hopefully true of most orgs), so I get why we would be a logical target, but it feels icky.

        As an employee of non-profits – I feel like I’m giving them my brain every day, which is way more valuable than any monetary donation I could give. Non-profit employees also typically take lower salaries than they might be able to get elsewhere, so requiring employees to give is weird to me.

        1. kristinyc*

          One more thing – if you’re in a situation where you feel like you can’t get out of a UW campaign, you should still be able to pick that your donation is directed to a local agency that’s more meaningful to you. Most UW chapters have a long list of agencies they support.

          The UW I worked at had a lot of great local programs around literacy, and we were able to specify our donation to those specific programs. So I donated to the reading programs and Girl Scouts since those were things I wanted to support anyway.

          1. Teapot librarian*

            Our UW campaign is voluntary and I dislike the entire concept, but I donate to make my office look better, and I give 100% to organizations I would give to otherwise and none to the UW itself.

        2. Snarkus Aurelius*

          I worked at a charity when the recession hit. At a staff meeting, we were talking about budget reductions to programs.

          The CEO’s executive assistant was visibly horrified at this discussion. She stood up and said she’d take a permanent paycut to prevent budget reductions. The CEO, who made $450,000 and was the only person to get a raise that year, thought this was a fantastic idea. The rest of us were so shocked that we didn’t say anything.

          1. iglwif*

            This speaks to something that makes me uncomfortable about all those charity-navigator-type charts (the ones that record how much of an org’s donations go to the beneficiaries): there’s a big difference between “only 40% goes to the beneficiaries because the CEO is making a buttload of money,” as in your example, and “only 40% goes to the beneficiaries because the org is making a point of paying all its staff fairly”.

            I once worked at a not-for-profit where the exec team talked a lot about our “mission-driven” staff. I thought that was great until I got far enough up the org chart to realize that “mission-driven” can mean “willing to work for really shitty pay”.

            When I donate to a local food bank, for instance, I would like to know that not only are my donations helping people in need, they’re also helping to pay the food bank staff enough that they themselves aren’t reliant on food banks.

            1. kristinyc*

              Thank you. People expect nonprofit employees to work out of the goodness of their hearts and take low salaries, and we’re expected to to spend nothing on operational costs. While I absolutely believe it’s important to be responsible with donor money, underpaid/unhappy staff usually means low quality product.

            2. lazuli*

              Yes! I also think that a mission-driven organization willing to exploit its staff is not living up to its own values and ethics, and I worry about how ethically they’re actually serving the people they’re supposed to serve.

      5. MsChanandlerBong*

        I have hated the United Way since I was a kid because they always used to send us home from school with UW fundraising forms. Well, a) I was poor. b) I lived in a rural area where I would either have to walk several miles to go to a total of 15 houses, or one of my parents would have had to use gas to drive me around to solicit. c) I always felt left out when other kids got their prizes for fundraising (a lot of their parents worked at white-collar jobs where they could collect money, while my dad had a blue-collar job and my mom stayed home). Maybe it’s unfair, but I still do not like the United Way to this day. Every time I think of the organization, I remember feeling less than.

        1. Anon Anon Anon*

          I had a similar experience. It was always a stressful thing where my whole family was reminded that we we had less money and fewer social connections while kids from better off families got a bunch of extra recognition.

      6. TardyTardis*

        In ExJob, we had the same kind of goal, but you could designate your contribution to just one of their group of charities, some of which were local, and I found one near and dear to my heart.

    2. 1.5 years til Retirement*

      At my former place of employment we were STRONGLY encouraged to give to United Way as well. I did not want to for a number of reasons, but realized that on the back of the signup for was a place were I could specify where my donation went. I then chose a charity I did believe in and had the money go there. It counted as participation and my money (mostly) went where I wanted it to. This is in Canada.

      1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

        Years ago if I recall correctly there was a big blow up between United Way and public service unions over which organizations and charities got the donated money. So it was changed to allow people to direct who their dollars went to. Recently Red Cross Ottawa region has been in the news for not dispensing monies raised for local tornado victims in a timely manner.
        Sorry, if this is off-topic but it speaks to how fraught mandatory donations can be.

    3. ballpitwitch*

      I’m wondering if the caller knew about the mandatory donations before they accepted the job or not? The way they phrased it sounded like they did, in which case it feels weird to try and push back on it after being hired under that condition.

      I don’t approve of a company requiring mandatory donations, but if you knew going in and didn’t negotiate beforehand, that’s not really on the company.

      1. Mandatory donation OP*

        I had no idea that this was mandatory until way after I started working there so your assumption is wildly incorrect. I didn’t even know we did United Way. It didn’t come up once during the hiring process.

        1. ballpitwitch*

          I qualified all my statements by saying they only applied *if* you knew about it beforehand. Since you didn’t, I think you are totally justified in pushing back.

    4. fposte*

      What do you think of assessment groups like GiveWell? It seems to go beyond the Charity Navigator approach to talk about ROI, and I was curious about its validity.

    5. Quickbeam*

      For years I worked at a place that required United Way contributions. When I complained they allowed me to pick a single charity designation. I contacted the charity and they never got a dime. Now when anyone leans on me to give to a corporate sponsored charity, I just say my giving plan is private or through my faith based organization.

    6. FuzzFrogs*

      Thiiiiiiis. My current organization organizes an entire all-staff meeting around a United Way presentation, and they distribute forms internally and keep track of who’s turned them back in. One year, I had a manager who was a United Way organizer for within our organization, and while she was friendly, she was insistent, and I felt so much humiliation when I had to turn in my form directly to her with the “thanks but no thanks” part checked. The worst part is that this is better than a previous workplace (cough DISNEY cough) where the managers called us to a computer one by one to log onto our intranet system and commit to a donation, openly telling us that they needed everyone to donate because there were “rewards” (for the managers) for 100% participation from locations.

      United Way does real good in my area, and I can afford to give now, but they DO NOT get my money.

    7. Kelly*

      I’m another who really side eyes United Way. I work in the public sector and until this summer, we had gone over 2 years without a raise. Last fall, we had someone from the local United Way give their spiel for our annual end of year/holiday giving campaign. Depending on your perspective towards our admin and their push for more participation, her presentation was tone deaf to say the least. She was likely making more as an outreach person for UW than most of us in the room. Also her example of a personal act of charity towards one of our city’s professional panhandlers, giving her leftover pizza to them on her way to a concert, was incredibly self serving and virtue signalling at its finest.

      I don’t give through work. I give privately to causes closer to me and for one, a local animal shelter, food and supplies throughout the year.

      1. Artemesia*

        My Dad’s employer gave out forms with the % already printed in as his ‘fair share’ — it used to enrage my Mother and my Dad never had the guts to stand up to this nonsense. We give a fair amount to charity every year and also to political organizations; I always refused to do it through the company United Way efforts.

    8. Anon Anon Anon*

      Slightly related – what about non-profits that pressure and guilt trip volunteers into fundraising at their workplaces?

  3. ElmyraDuff*

    We have a couple of people in my department who still think “gay” is an okay adjective to use when they don’t like something. I’m usually the only one who reacts to it, and I always say, “Mm, yeah, I don’t think expense reports have a sexual orientation.” Then they get annoyed and don’t say it for a day or so.

    1. Lwieox*

      Same here. When people do this I say very matter-of-factly, “Please don’t use ‘gay’ as a negative term around me, I don’t like it.” I’m not telling them never to use the word or calling them homophobic – simply requesting they don’t do it in front of me. Although I’ve heard from others that this often stops them using it at all.

    2. Katniss*

      Are they somehow stuck in 1990?

      I ended up going to HR over a coworker who kept using a slur when talking about Caitlyn Jenner, and refusing to correctly gender her. Coworker got a talking to, then worked from home exclusively for about six months.

    3. kristinyc*

      Oh wow. When I was a teenager, that was a common phrase, but I haven’t heard it in a long time.

      I remember asking my little sister why she was using that word when she was in 7th grade, and she genuinely thought it meant “stupid and annoying.” I corrected her then, and she stopped using it. I could understand a 12/13 year old not understanding and thinking it’s just slang, but an adult should know better, especially in this day and age.

    4. Holly*

      Wow. Maybe it’s where I’m from but using “gay” flippantly like that has practically disappeared. I can’t believe some people think it’s still accepted.

        1. Pam*

          It’s meant both for a long time- people using it as a slur- “That’s so g**, etc.”- are certainly not using it as a substitute for happy.

      1. FaintlyMacabre*

        My ex (and ohhh, yeah this is one of the reasons why he’s an ex) would use that all the time (he’s Gen X). His defense was that he didn’t say it around gay people. Good luck with that, buddy.

    5. Elizabeth West*

      I called someone out on it at OldExjob and he answered with, “Well my brother is confused about what he is, so I should be okay to use it!” Dude, if anything, that makes it even worse, you blathering homophobe and all-around horrible brother.

      1. anon today and tomorrow*

        That’s almost as obnoxious as people in the LGBTQA+ community who use slurs about other LGBTQA+ identities and think it’s okay because they’re also queer. No, it’s not okay, and it’s even worse coming from a member of your own community.

        But I’ll still put the “my friend/relative/coworker is a marginalized group, so I can use this bad language too!” above that. Ugh.

      2. Tinker*

        From that phrasing, it kind of sounds like “oh, it’s okay, I’m bigoted against trans people too”.

    6. Gazebo Slayer*

      “I don’t think expense reports have a sexual orientation” is my favorite sentence of the day.

  4. Trout 'Waver*

    Ugh at the last one. When I give money, I do so anonymously because the focus should be helping the person receiving the gift. It shouldn’t be about me bragging about giving however much.

    I’m also curious about how the deductions are handled in regards to taxes? Does the company pool the money and then claim a deduction on their taxes for giving it? If so, that’s really gross.

  5. HailRobonia*

    Don’t even get me started on my old co-worker who thought the term “gyp” (as in to cheat someone) is perfectly acceptable.

    1. Teapot librarian*

      Not to excuse your co-worker at all, but that was one that I didn’t realize the origins of until someone taught me (I thought it was its own word, maybe spelled “jip”), much more recently than I’d like to admit. (That said, once I learned the origin, I stopped saying it!)

      1. Holly*

        I am as left leaning as they come and I just learned that maybe a year ago? I also thought that it was “jip” and thought it was like a cutesy word for ripped off, not like, based in racism. I agree I think it’s a little different than slurs where the origin is clear.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Same. I’d say I learned this sometime in the past decade from someone online. And I definitely spelled it “jipped” so never would have put it together on my own.

      3. MrsCHX*

        Same. Almost 40, educated, mid-level manager and I did not know the origins/that it was a slur. Had no clue.

      4. Hobbert*

        Yep, same here. I thought it was it’s own weird little word and it never occurred to me that it had anything to do with any group of people. Now that I know, I’ve stopped using it but I definitely think this is a slur that most people truly have no idea about.

      5. hayling*

        Yep, I do know it’s a slur but when I hear someone say it, I usually gently correct them and say “hey you probably didn’t know this, but that’s actually a slur…”

        Except once I had a (black, gay) coworker use that word, and I replied using that phrasing and she said “Oh I know, but Gypsies are horrible dirty people and I meant what I said” and I just stood there with my mouth open.

        1. Cordoba*

          I had a similar experience with a colleague who was originally from Romania. He really, really hates Romani people and was not shy about letting people know it.

      6. Rebecca in Dallas*

        Yeah, I didn’t know that until I was an adult! It wasn’t a word I used often but once I learned what it really meant (and I, too, thought it was “jip” so I really didn’t make the connection to “gypsy”) I stopped using it.

    2. help is on the way*

      My parents came to visit me and we went to a flea market. I spotted an item I liked, inquired about the price, and it was too much. I walked back over to my parents and told them the price, and my dad said, “You didn’t try to jew him down?”

      I was horrified and told my dad to never say that around me again.

      1. Meliza*

        I remember when I was about 19-ish and working as a waitress, and one of the other servers came up to me and started complaining about a table she’d had who “jewed” her on the tip. I was so visibly stunned that she awkwardly tried to back out of it when she saw my face.

      2. Sophia Brooks*

        I thought it was “chewed” until at least my 20s. I asked my mom, and she was saying chewed! We both stopped using it.

      1. ThankYouRoman*

        That’s normal. It’s one that’s only recently been outted as an offensive word. Especially in North America where we’re less aware of the persecution of the Romani (aka Gypsies).

        1. Linguistics Major*

          That also has to do with language migration and borrowing/loan words. Often when taboo/offensive/swear words are borrowed into another language, dialect or culture the associated cultural meanings/taboos are lost. For example, the wordy “bloody” is, if I understand correctly, a much stronger swear in the UK than it is in the US. The US has borrowed the word but the cultural context and understanding of it is missing and so its usage changes. As you say, most people in the US are unfamiliar with the persecution and history of the Romani people and don’t understand how offensive the term “gypsy” is or its derivatives (“gypsy cab”, “gypped”). When I was a kid I literally thought the term “gypsy” meant “fortune teller”.

          All that being said and understood–once you are informed of the meaning and cultural baggage around something like this you should make an effort to respect that and stop using the term!

          1. ThankYouRoman*

            Thank you for the much better explanation!

            I too thought they were just fortune tellers and such. I imagined them as traveling circus folks.

            So many common “cutesy” words from yesteryear are of derogatory origins. “Paddy Wagon” comes to mind.

          2. londonedit*

            ‘Bloody’ isn’t a particularly strong swear word in the UK these days. Maybe it was in the past, but presenters on the BBC’s slightly more alternative radio station, 6 Music, occasionally use ‘bloody’ and it’s fine (and the BBC is the national broadcaster so usually very careful with which words are and aren’t used on-air!) You might not use it in extremely polite company, but generally it’s considered pretty mild.

            1. Audrey Puffins*

              I believe “bloody” is derived from “by our lady” so it’s about as offensive as “oh my god” is, meaning I wouldn’t say it around my weirdly conservative dad or at a retail job, but it’s not a massive faux-pas if I say it in front of a child and it’s absolutely fair game for an office job.

              1. Audrey Puffins*

                (Citation: I’m a UK person with a keen interest in Shakespeare, ask me about “zounds” some time. ;) )

    3. Sally*

      And there’s also “paddy wagon.” Most of my friends are aware that it’s not OK to use any of these words/phrases, but I recently had to tell my (Irish-American!) friend not to use “paddy wagon.” Until someone points it out to you, sometimes you don’t realize.

  6. Teapot librarian*

    I actually had a conversation with my boss after she used the R word. She didn’t thank me for enlightening her at the time, but at the least, I haven’t heard her say it anymore.

  7. Koivu*

    As a mother of the sweetest child with Down syndrome, I beg you to speak up whenever you hear someone use the r-word. I truly wish I could develop thicker skin, but every single time I hear that word, I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach and I have to hold back my tears. I get that most people think it’s just a word and they don’t mean any harm by it- I was once one of those people, too. I had no idea how hurtful words could be, but I sure do now.

    1. School Inclusion Specialist*

      I don’t think you should have to develop a thicker skin. I’ve worked with people with intellectual disabilities and watched their challenges accessing a world that doesn’t value their abilities. The R word is deeply bound in the history of mistreatment of people with disabilities. We should not make ourselves immune to that history.

      1. Anon Anon Anon*

        And have more tangible consequences. Because the way we act is based on the way we communicate.

    2. Redshirt*

      My (very kind decent partner) once used the word Mongoloid in a sentence. Only once. My face was an expression of horror.
      Me: “I don’t think you know the history of that word….”
      He did not.

  8. Cat wrangler*

    I’m 46 and “retard” has always been an insult when applied to someone or something that doesn’t work as anticipated. I came across a use of the word in a book set in the 1950s, using the language of the day for a child with learning difficulties, although written recently, and it took me aback. It’s a really horrible word. Please advise your manager that it’s not used nowadays.

  9. Holly*

    Re: the How do I set work/life balance expectations with a new boss? question, I thought the concerns of the caller was very reasonable but I was really shocked by the wording, something about how she had to “lay down the law.” I can’t urge the caller enough to rethink that attitude! It’s not the norm to come out swinging against a brand new manager you haven’t interacted with yet.

    1. Susie Q*

      Seriously, that’s a great way to get on the trouble employee list. I wouldn’t want to manage this woman. She sounds like a PITA.

  10. Mrs. B*

    Where I worked they had the “mandatory” United Way donation policy too, but some pushback (and union intervention) showed that it was not something they could legally enforce , they amended it to state all staff were “required” to fill out and return the form, even if the amount is zero. I refused to do so, and nothing ever came of it. Pushing back could be effective, but take into account that if you are new to the organization, and don’t have a union to back you up, this might not be the way you want to make yourself stand out.

  11. Totally anonymous for this*

    I am in my 50s and have a developmentally disabled family member. Outside the past clinical usage that has shifted, the r-word has always been offensive to me. I have fought this battle, literally with my fists as a child, all my life. I have had my family member taunted with that slur. It is harmful.

    Thank you to the OP for caring enough to be an ally. But one thing that Alison didn’t mention is that some clients may decide to pull their business in retaliation. If I were a client in that situation, I would clearly explain to that boss why it is so offensive to me. If I got anything but an abject apology that was genuine? I would do my best to not only pull my employer’s business from your firm, but tell everyone in my network far and wide exactly why. Because I am sick and tired of being nice to ableist bigots. And if I have the power to screw them over after not getting an apology or minimal decent behavior? Too bad, not sad. That boss would deserve it IMO.

    Yeah, that’s not nice of me. But I’ve risked being fired to call my own bosses out on this over the years and at this point I am all out of patience and charity on the subject. If the OP’s boss can’t learn that lesson, maybe getting fired for client and employee complaints will teach her.

    1. ThankYouRoman*

      Showing others that there are consequences to being open about their crude beliefs or poor vocabulary choices is not unkind or not nice. You’re very nice for standing up for others who cannot fight for themselves

      You are happy to give them the chance to apologize and see the error of their ways. Destroying them without giving them a chance to fix themselves is where it would be treading into “not nice” territory!

      1. Totally anonymous for this*

        Showing others that there are consequences to being open about their crude beliefs or poor vocabulary choices is not unkind or not nice

        That’s a good point, thank you. I admit that the temptation to destroy them without giving them a chance to fix themselves is almost overwhelming some days…

    2. DKMA*

      I actually think you’re being too apologetic for this. Treating clients with basic decorum is a reasonable requirement for a service provider. Depending on the company asking to have a new person assigned to your account would be acceptable whether you got an apology or not. If you are firing a service provider without giving any warning, you’d probably need organizational approval to make sure you’re not disrupting business needs, but otherwise no need to pay people to treat you badly.

      This is also the reason why OP has standing to take a firmer stance in my opinion. The best time to do it would have been immediately after the awkward client meeting, but she can reference that meeting even after the fact. Something like “Boss, please don’t use that word in front of me any more. I’m sure you don’t realize, but it’s a slur targeting the developmentally disabled, and it’s not appropriate. You’ve used it a few times, including once with client X, and it makes me uncomfortable and puts our firm’s reputation at risk, so please don’t use it in front of me in the future.”

      1. Totally anonymous for this*

        Thanks for the reframing, and the reputational risk comment is really good.

        OP, to be frank, if I were a client in that situation and didn’t get an apology and a new account person or whatever else made the most sense given your business context and I couldn’t pull my account? If it wouldn’t jeopardize my job to go scorched-earth, I would consider the social media name-and-shame tactic about the company not apologizing for their slur-hurling employee. Or alerting the appropriate disability rights organizations about your company allowing this person to use the slur without repercussions. Or writing to the CEO with a reporter on blind cc. Or…etc.

        If it would jeopardize my job to go scorched-earth, I would just then tell my entire network what happened, naming names. And I doubt I am the only person who would do any/all of those things.

        So the reputational risk is real. If your boss is too much of an a-hole to understand common decency, maybe she’ll understand losing money this way could get her fired.

  12. Lisa*

    Alison, your advice is on point as always, and I have a small clarification to add:

    Not only is it possible that people in your workspace have friends/family members with cognitive or developmental disabilities, it is possible that some of your coworkers themselves belong to this category.

    It’s a small point, but the next step after purging the r-word from our vocab is to stop assuming that disabled people aren’t out in the world doing many of the same things non-disabled people are.

    1. Susannah*

      Coming to post that! Folks with developmental disabilities/cognitive disabilities are EVERYWHERE! You as an ally (presumably) are in a great position to stand up to your boss without having to face the sort of repercussions/relive potential past traumatic experiences that a person with a developmental disability might face were they decide to stand up for themselves. Also, I’m so far from an expert but I’m pretty sure someone who continues to use slurs/hostile language against people with disabilities might be faced with a hostile workplace lawsuit at some point?

    2. Iona*

      I came to post that! I never really comment here, but I was going to, purely because I find it very grating when people talk about people with intellectual or developmental disabilities as though they couldn’t possibly be in the room. As the segregation of developmentally disabled people (too-slowly) decreases, more people with developmental disabilities are going on to higher ed., and working jobs. I’m one of them. If she works in a remotely large company (say, sixty employees), I would honestly be very surprised to learn that not one of them has a developmental disability.

    3. Anon Anon Anon*

      And that word gets used against people with all kinds of disabilities. It’s related to the idea that if you look or act different from most people, you must have a cognitive disability. That’s widespread.

  13. HailRobonia*

    My Big Boss who is supposedly an expert at cross-cultural/international communication has said some incredibly offensive things without realizing it. My favorite was when he was interviewed on a South African news show; at our staff meeting he showed us a recording of the interview and then told us how impressed he was with the Black African woman who was interviewing him. “She was so articulate!”

    There were massive eye-rolls all around. Of course she’s articulate! She’s a #*%&$ professional television journalist who probably speaks at least three languages including English fluently. For someone who is supposedly well-versed in cultural communication he is woefully ignorant about the long history of “articulate” being used as an “unsult” to Black people, as if the ability to string words together in a coherent manner is somehow difficult for them.

    1. VictorianCowgirl*

      Ohhh, the articulate comment is so so hateful. Heck I would feel extremely offended if anyone was surprised to see I was articulate. It’s just nasty thinking, and on top of the ingrained racism that’s faced, his use of it was inexcusable. And I’d like to add another pet peeve term steeped in racism “gentrifying”. I think it is disgusting. However, I am getting off topic here, and grouchy.

  14. Elizabeth West*

    I had the exact same situation as #2 when I was waiting for Exjob to get back to me. A company I’d interviewed with who didn’t choose me offered a temporary position covering for a receptionist who was going on mat leave. I didn’t want to do it, unless I didn’t get the other job, so I asked them if I could have a couple of days to get back to them. They said sure, and I emailed the manager at Exjob and told them basically what Alison suggested. They got back to me very fast and sent me an offer, which I accepted. Then I called the other place back and told them I had accepted another position and thanked them for thinking of me.

    I’ve since interviewed twice more with that other company but they won’t hire me for some reason. Fine, since I saw Faux News playing on the TV in their lobby last time I was there; maybe I’ve dodged a bullet anyway.

  15. Aphrodite*

    I hate the United Way. H.A.T.E. Loathe, abhor, detest.

    They are the worst sleazebags imaginable with their interest-free mortgage loans to executives, heads paying for mistresses and other assorted crap over the years. This is not to even mention the commissions their “sales” reps earn when they pressure people to give during work presentations.

    My college does it but fortunately does not force anyone like the OP here. That said, they do apply a lot of pressure–gotta get that 100 percent participation, ya know–and when I first came here several co-workers were astonished that I wouldn’t do even a penny. I was warned that the college wanted the 100 percent, but I adamantly refused–and when nothing happened to me four of them stopped their “donations” too.

  16. Ellen N.*

    The office manager/HR person in my old office used to call anything he didn’t like retarded. I told him that there were employees who had children that had developmental disabilities. I said that hearing the word retarded used as he was wont to might cause these employees emotional pain. He slipped a few times, but he stopped saying retarded.

    I also had to point out to him that the terms gypped and dragon lady are ethnic slurs.

    1. Fluff*

      Can you explain dragon lady? In some sci-fi circles the Dragon Lady is none other than the great Anne McCaffrey (author) and being compared to her is a compliment.

        1. Ellen N.*

          Yes, Dragon Lady is a slur against older East Asian women. It’s not only racist, it’s sexist as it’s used against women who have strong views and voice them.

          In my old office the term was mostly used by an employee with liberal political views against an older manager of Chinese descent who had conservative political views.

  17. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    Astonishingly, I heard someone using ‘retarded’ at work this very morning – towards an inanimate object rather than a person, but I was still shocked. That said I’m not sure it’s quite as violently offensive in the UK as perhaps it should be.

    A word which makes my skin crawl is the use of ‘handicapped’ or ‘handicap’ (as in ‘handicap stall’ for ‘accessible toilet’ or ‘handicap space’ for ‘disabled parking’). In the UK the phrase has become extremely rude, and to describe someone as handicapped is very offensive, yet it seems to be commnonplace in the UK and in English-speaking Asian countries.

    1. Flash Bristow*

      I totally agree – being a disabled person in the UK – but I grudgingly accept that “handicapped” is “just a word” in the same way that my American friends ask for the bathroom, not the toilet or the gents’. I don’t like it, but I know they don’t mean insult by it.

      The worst to my mind is “spazz”. So many people – especially Americans – seem to say “OMG I spazzed out!” meaning they had a brain fart or similar. Since it derives from spastic / spasticity and these people don’t have that condition, I really hate it – particularly when I gently explain why it might cause offence and just to be aware, and the response is “I don’t care!”

      Good luck getting the use of “handicapped” reduced outside of the UK :(

    2. Magenta*

      I agree, “Handicapped” really grates on me when I hear it on US shows or read it on US based forums, particularly when they are ones with “progressive” values. It is just really unexpected and jarring.

      Recently I was horrified to hear and had to ask a friend to stop using “mong” before that I hadn’t heard it for about 20 years and didn’t expect anyone would think it was acceptable but she genuinely had absolutely no idea where it came from or what it referred to.

  18. SnapCrackleSloth*

    My husband is in the professional motorcycle racing industry, and in their field there is some technical terminology that uses the verb form of ‘retard’–literally to delay or decelerate part of the propulsion process. It still absolutely shocks my system to hear it used in a professional setting, even though I understand the context.

    1. Close Bracket*

      In physics, “retarded” describes various things that are delayed; for example, there is a retarded potential. Maybe this is an overly picky distinction that is really just a technicality, but in this usage, the adjectival form is actually pronounced with the stress on a different syllable. Does that make it easier to hear?

  19. Episkey*

    I’m in my (mid to late) 30s and there was a person in my grad school program who routinely used “retarded.” The kicker was we were getting our masters in counseling psych. We interned together at the same place and she even said it in front of our supervisors! I was shocked. I mean, yeah, at the time we were in our very early 20s, but we were literally learning about developmental disorders and such. She is now a guidance counselor at a middle school and I *really* hope she has learned to purge that word from her vocab.

  20. Molly*

    Do mandatory deductions come out before or after tax? If after, are employees paying taxes on a portion of their pay they’re not allowed to receive?

  21. Duchess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Alison, I would love it if transcripts showed up in the regular feed/on the homepage. I check AAM every day, but I’m unlikely to remember to check the transcripts tag regularly.

  22. Susie Q*

    Am the only one who finds it unfair that is considered rude to quit without notice? But a company can get rid of you at anytime without notice, without severance or anything? I understand that this is a professionally accepted standard in the US but I find it insanely unfair and just another way for employees to be abused. We’ve had so many letters about people being abused and mistreated during their notice period. It feels incredibly unfair and I wonder if we can’t push back this standard and somehow make it more equal.

  23. Shock & Naw*

    I know that I am late to the party, but I just heard the podcast today. I am really dismayed by the question regarding United Way and the comments here. In all transparency, I am a current United Way employee. A few things to keep in mind:

    (1) There are more than 1,200 United Ways in the US alone. And each operates autonomously. While I am saddened to hear that there are still some United Ways that operate under outdated, unpopular, and widely criticized practices, it is entirely unfair to paint all United Ways with the same brush stroke.

    (2) Companies that choose to run a workplace giving campaign also have a right to choose how that campaign will be run. If a company forces its employees to donate, then that is a company decision, not a United Way decision.

    (3) I advise anyone who gives to United Way to do their research to learn more about how the United Way operates and where the money goes. Many United Way donors designate their dollars to specific charities. Undesignated dollars support programs and services provided directly by the United Way and/or programs and services offered by charities in the community. Your United Way should be able to provide you with information on how your undesignated dollars were used and what was accomplished with those dollars.

    I know that I am biased because I work for a United Way that DOES NOT force anyone to give and allows its employees to change their contribution at anytime with no penalty. We also encourage companies to use best practices in soliciting contributions from their employees and are FIRMLY AGAINST coercion. I regret the caller is in this situation and hope they are able to come to some kind of resolution. But I would be remiss if I did not point at that not all United Ways operate in this manner.

    1. sometimeswhy*

      Did you really mean to #notallUnitedWays?

      There aren’t just “still some” there are enough that either continue that pressure or don’t communicate that no pressure message to employers effectively that the broad brush you feel you’re being painted with has some justification. believe you when you say that you and your chapter(?) don’t hold those values but maybe consider turning your admonishments back toward the larger organization and their tactics to solve the problem where it grows and not the people who have communicated their justifiable negative impression of it.

  24. Joe in Frederick*

    Oh, absolutely. I’m an adult, and at some point over the last 10 years I dropped the R bomb from my vocabulary, along with Gypsy and some other stuff. I’m no snowflake, but I know I can do better than those outdated and hurtful terms.

    And I really do try to remain open about hearing feedback on anything I might have missed. Being better about a couple of words doesn’t make me beyond reproach, I’ve got lots of problems. ;)

Comments are closed.