updates: former coworkers still vent to me, the racist coworker, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are five updates from past letter-writers.

1. My coworkers at my toxic former job still vent to me about how bad things are there — and it’s draining

I really appreciated the advice that you and the commenters gave me – it helped me put things into perspective and realize that I was expending emotional energy that I didn’t have to spare worrying about these former coworkers and a problem that I had no hope of fixing for them. However, I really only had the chance to put your advice into practice a few times before the situation at my former job imploded.

Without going into identifying details, a few months ago, Cersei threatened to fire one of her favorite scapegoats during one of her routine tantrums; that individual walked down to HR with a 10 page document listing all of the inappropriate comments Cersei had made to them, as well as all of the non-work related tasks they had been required to do for her over the past year or so. Apparently that document was damning enough (I glossed over some things in my initial question to avoid identifying information, but suffice to say that Cersei frequently made comments that did meet the legal threshold for workplace harassment, even if the tasks she was assigning didn’t) that HR finally felt compelled to act, and Cersei was placed on indefinite leave. The writing on the wall was clear enough for even an unhinged narcissist like Cersei to read, so she has since moved on to another organization. Cersei’s departure took the wind out of Septa Unella’s sails (I don’t doubt she’ll cause problems in the future, but, as I learned, that’s not my circus), and my former unit is now answering to a higher up in the org while a hiring search is conducted.

I am happy to report that in the instances prior to Cersei’s departure, I was able to communicate a need for boundaries that my old coworkers understood and respected. A few told me they “got it” and that they sympathized with how draining it must be to be dragged back into old office politics. After a few of those conversations, the emotional unloading pretty much ended. As many commenters anticipated, I speak to most of my former colleagues less frequently now that our shared problems have mostly been resolved, but I do still remain in regular touch with a select few. Thankfully, our conversations now revolve around sharing pet pictures and discussing best practices in our industry, which is the best possible outcome I could have hoped for. I am thriving in my current position, and feel free of the survivor’s guilt that was giving me such anxiety. Thanks again to you, Alison, and to the amazing comment section for all the help!

2. My coworker used a racist word at work (#2 at the link)

I eventually got the courage to address the issue to my manager. She and I had a good discussion on race and how to approach discussing language with older folks. She opted to not address my coworker, as you guessed. But as it was Black History Month, she used that as an excuse to send out a staff-wide email linking a few articles about race/diversity and terminology. Basically “how not to be a jerk to people unlike you 101.” Maybe I take for granted my “wokeness” but none of it was particularly enlightening or helpful, and it definitely did not address the issue head-on. We discussed it a little among ourselves, but there was not formal training or management-lead discussion.

A few months later Pam was let go. It was for a variety of reasons and to be honest I do not feel like she was given much in way of explanation. My boss and her managers were really worried about getting accused of age discrimination. But they never seemed to dedicate time to helping her understand her failings. But I think it was all for the best for both parties.

On another note, during a recent staff training day we had a diversity panel which I had high hopes for. Several members of the panel were excellent resources for our predominately white, straight female staff, and gave us a lot of insight and knowledge. I say several because one was jaw-droppingly obtuse – the straight white woman who multiple times referred to another non-binary panel member as a woman and “she,” when this person had opened the panel up by sharing their pronouns and gender identity. The offender is an employee of ours, though in another department.

Needless to say, my workplace needs some adjustments before it becomes a welcoming environment for POC and LGBTQ folks. I was recently promoted, so I am hoping to be a part of that change. Overall I think most people are conscious of their privilege, we just have some management that needs to catch up.

Thank you again Alison for you insight on this matter and many others!

3. My boss is burning out

I have an update on the situation for you. I was hoping to wait for something more positive, but today was a complete game changer. Today they announced the majority of our department was going to be moved to a new department out of the country. It’s technically not outsourcing since this department is still part of our company. Those of us with high-maintenance accounts were told would be safe from the lay offs. Luckily, I am one of those people. I already had my ear to the ground for a while, so I had a sense this was coming and had been job hunting since right before your posted my question. I felt very reassured I was doing the right thing when you said it might be best for my boss to get out.

Since the announcement from great-grand-boss this morning a lot of the earlier situation and signs have made a lot of sense to me. They knew these lay offs were coming and believed Boss could handle the extra reports for the remainder of the year. There was no use back-filling the position they were just going to eliminated in a few months. Boss was up to 30 direct reports at our highest. Once the lay offs happen in February, she will be down to about 10-12. All of us survivors self-manage really well and have a good rapport with Boss. I feel a lot of sympathy for her right now as she knew this was coming and has to give the bad news to everyone individually today on the process is going to go down.

As for me, this situation with all the signs had burn out levels increase. I’ve had four job interviews alone this week. So, I think my future is looking good. Whether I stick it out with Boss or not is in the wind. I hope to have something better for you next time.

4. Am I obligated to ensure employees aren’t driving without a license(#3 at the link)

I have an update and figured I’d share even though it’s not terribly exciting. To clarify one of the questions that came up in the comments, I am an external recruiter.

It turns out that a valid driver’s license is a requirement for this position and it wasn’t communicated to us. Not only that, but we are required to pull a motor vehicle report to ensure they have a clean driving record. We only found this out after we’d been trying to set up interviews for our candidates. The person who told me that he had a car was not happy when I told him that we couldn’t move forward with his candidacy and said he would be contacting the client directly because “he knows people who work there without a license.”

5. Manager won’t reimburse conference travel as promised (#4 at the link)

First of all, thank you for answering my question — I got some good ideas from your wording, as well as what was suggested by some of the commentators. I went to the manager in question to talk with her using your script, but she shut it down and said I needed to go through the formal reimbursement procedure for the organization. So I went to those people, and as I expected, since the charges weren’t pre-approved by the company, they were declined. I appealed (which was quite a process in itself!) but in the meantime my training program ended and I joined a different organization, so everything got delayed. Earlier this week, about 6 months after the conference, the reimbursement did post to my bank account.

My new workplace has a much more clearly defined and reasonable structure for conference time and funds. It’s also a more functional department in general. Thank you again for your help and the resources on your site.

{ 139 comments… read them below }

    1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

      Yes, it is a slur. It is anachronistic, and is not used in polite company any more. I’m an anthropologist–it is no longer a word that is used.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This was thoroughly discussed in the original thread. Let’s please not derail by trying to reopen that debate.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          It’s ok! I apologize if my comment was terse—I just didn’t want to draw attention away from the updates, themselves!

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          And the question is incredibly derailing and has been thoroughly discussed in the original post.

          1. Mommy MD*

            Are you a moderator now? I truly don’t know. If so you have the standing to make these decisions.

            1. CynicallySweet*

              Does it really matter? I make these types of comments all the time. I can’t speak for PCBH, but for me it’s because I used to really value and love the comments section, and watching it become what it has is really really depressing. It’s generally understood not to re-hash the original comments so that the new things brought up in the updates can be discussed. That general understanding was part of what made this site great

                1. CynicallySweet*

                  Thank you! It took me a minute b/c I’m still reeling from the baby update and wanted to make sure it wasn’t too aggressive

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Alison has always allowed commenters to flag when issues are derailing or violate the commenting rules. She’s not omnipresent, and she has enough on her plate without having to spend considerable time shutting down long derails.

              There have been several updates—see this morning’s post on grad school and infants—where folks use the update to relitigate issues that were thoroughly discussed before. Alison has asked us to refrain from doing that.

              I tend to only flag comments that are unkind, highly likely to derail, provide incorrect information about the law, are copy/pasted verbatim across multiple threads, or on rare occasions, are sandwichy. I do that because reading accusatory/judgy comments is painful, and reading 400+ derailing comments is a slog for all of us, especially for the OPs.

              If I flag a comment as problematic, you can certainly disagree with me. IME, flagging problematic comments is the social equivalent of trying to redirect a dinner party conversation that is about to go awry. Asking “are you the moderator?” when someone flags a thread that violates Alison’s long-standing commenting rules and norms is not helpful to creating a constructive space for OPs or commenters.

              1. Forrest*

                >Asking “are you the moderator?” when someone flags a thread that violates Alison’s long-standing commenting rules and norms is not helpful to creating a constructive space for OPs or commenters.

                Clearly there’s a disagreement if the comment actually violated this long standing rule.

                You think it’s off topic and said so in authoritative, MommyMD disagreed, and instead of agreeing to disagree or saying “well, maybe Alison will chime”, you proceeded to double down and write another comment as if you have any authority of the comment section. So yea, asking if you’re a moderator is a valid question since you’re acting and talking as if you are.

                Also, the whole “I don’t want to distract from the Updates” is bs. The Updates are in the post itself and no one has to read the comments to see these Updates. Meanwhile, the comments are in a completely different area and are collapsable if someone doesn’t want to read them.

              2. The Dread Pirate Buttercup*

                “Sandwichy”? Google comes up with many shops and “of, like, or pertaining to a sandwich.” Misogynistic? Shoving your personal issue between relatively OT comments? Relating to a certain tinned meat? From an earldom in Kent?

                1. Natalie*

                  It’s a reference to this rule from the commenting guidelines:

                  Don’t aggressively shoot down suggestions just because they might not work in one particular circumstance. For example, don’t do this:
                  Person 1: “I’m having a problem that could be solved by easy things to bring for lunch.”
                  Person 2: “Sandwiches are easy and delicious.”
                  Person 3: “Not everyone can eat sandwiches! Some people are allergic to them. Thus, your suggestion sucks and you should be more considerate.”

                2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Thanks for clarifying, Natalie. I definitely was not trying to insert weird misogyny!

              3. Natalie*

                Someone apologized to you the same way people generally apologize to Alison when they don’t see a specific request from her. You might be coming across more mod-y than you realize, and YMMV but I think it’s worth paying attention to.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Thanks for the heads up! That wasn’t my intent, and I’ll try to be more mindful re: tone so that my impact isn’t harmful.

    3. Cassandra*

      Google is… how to put this mildly… not an authority here. Google search rankings are a popularity contest, not a truth gauge — and there’s plenty that’s popular that ain’t true, opinions on race/ethnicity hardly least.

      Strongly recommend Dr. Safiya Noble’s 2018 book Algorithms of Oppression for those interested in search-engine bias.

    4. Heina*

      Even if it weren’t a slur or insensitive, um, how did the person know for sure that the children were mixed-race? Very strange assumption to make about people you don’t know.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          No, sorry, I have to disagree with that. If an uninformed person learned a word in childhood and it wasn’t a slur then, or they didn’t realize (as a child) it’s a slur, and they use it with benign intent, it’s not intended as a slur and should *not* be taken as one… the best way would be to explain to the person the word is seen a slur by many people, so they know not to use it again.

          1. pancakes*

            Disagree all you like, but none of us get to choose how other people feel about things we say or do. In contrast, we do all get to choose whether things we learned in childhood continue to serve us well, as well as when & how to update our post-childhood knowledge of the world. We don’t have to wait for other people to point out, for example, that our vocabulary or etiquette is out of date.

    5. Femme D'Afrique*

      Is “Not So Sure About Anything Anymore” the same person as “Old and confused” who posted below? Just wondering.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I wouldn’t be surprised.

        And I feel like they are either (a) trolls or (b) not frequent AAM readers.

      1. Anon for this as well*

        I live in North Carolina and am a person of color (not African-American, though) and I can tell you that anyone using an antiquated, antebellum term like that around me is going to get some massive side-eye.

        I mean, you’re right, it’s descriptive in that it describes the person using it as massively out-of-touch with 21st century norms.

        1. ChillFarLeft*

          Your experiences do not erase mine. I am a person of color that grew up around people of color and that term has never been received or said in a derogatory way. I find white women to be the ones most offended.

          1. neeko*

            Cool, I’m a black woman who has heard that term used in a derogatory way – not a white woman. Yeah, your experience is your own.

      2. Liet-Kinda*

        Ah, yes, the South, a region which is historically a leader in pioneering new and less hurtful norms in race relations.


    6. JamieS*

      I think it’s more of a term that’s currently considered offensive but may not rise to being almost universally considered a slur and could plausibly not be considered offensive in the future.

      I find it similar to the term “colored” in that growing up in the 90s-early 2000s colored was definitely offensive, then there was a shift and it became an acceptable term (not sure exactly when – I learned about it in mandatory sensitivity training in 2009), and now I think it’s back to being considered mostly offensive.

      1. neeko*

        Colored has never returned to being an acceptable term to call a Black person. Perhaps they said “person of color”?

        1. JamieS*

          No, the word was specifically colored. I never personally used it because it reminds me of segregation era South with the “whites” and “colored” signs but it was considered acceptable. At least it was when/where I went to college (Mid-West around 2009).

          I worked in residential life on campus and all the res-life student workers were required to attend sensitivity training where it was discussed at length one day (literally over 4 hours). I was surprised to learn it but the consensus from most if not all the black attendees and presenters was that it was considered acceptable and many people preferred it.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            Where I live “black” was changed to “African-American” about 25? years ago… so “black” hadn’t been offensive but now was… In my lifetime it’s been “negro”, “colored”, “black”, “African-American” and now I see people saying “black” again…
            The only other time I’ve seen “mulatto” was in old-time books I read as a child, written before about 1930? or 40? and I asked my mother what it meant and she said it was a person of both black and white ancestry. Now called “biracial”…

    7. Phoenix Programmer*

      Does everyone agree that…

      Dogs are cute?
      The sky is blue?
      Eggs smell bad?

      … well no but thankfully universal consensus is not a requirement.

    8. Markus Polio*

      I think it depends on a lot of factors on if it’s good or bad. Such as there’s even a young female artist who calls herself Miss Mulatto who is of mixed race and some could say she’s reclaiming it and some could say its inappropriate regardless of the fact she’s mixed race.

      1. FD*

        For me, when it’s a group I don’t belong to, I feel that the best way to approach it is to avoid using the term unless it starts becoming the generally accepted term over time. (Generally, I look for consensus when it’s a term I’m not sure about by checking a few different sites written by people in that group, and discussing their feelings on the term. If something like 50% seem for and 50% seem against, I generally try to avoid that term because I can’t know who will prefer it and who won’t. If more like 95% seem for and it seems to be starting to be used in print media, I’m more likely to use it.)

    9. myswtghst*

      My general strategy is that if someone from the group being described tells me (or a broader audience) that a word is a slur, it costs me nothing but a little bit of mental effort to find another word to use instead, so I do that and move on with my life. I might do a little research to satisfy my own curiosity, but I just can’t imagine feeling the need to go to the mat defending a word I use rarely, once I’ve been told it is offensive to a marginalized group I don’t belong to.

  1. Observer*

    #4 – That’s just nuts. It does take care of the matter for you. But it’s just so stupid. I guess in the future you’ll ask about this kind of stuff more explicitly.

    As for the person who is going to contact the company directly, not your circus, not your monkeys.

    1. Antilles*

      #4: I liked the guy threatening to contact the company directly. You want to talk to them? Yeah, I’m sure that’ll go great – they’ll love to have a candidate sneak around their process, cold-call them, and tell them that they’re wrong about their own job requirements. Good luck with that one, buddy.
      Fortunately, OP can just ignore the comment and move right along. The guy is looking for you to respond so he can explode at someone, don’t give him that opportunity.

      1. Rainbow Roses*

        I’m sure the company will thank him. Sounds like he’s going to name names of those who don’t have a valid drivers license. LOL.

        1. AKchic*

          Really, the OP has no skin in the game on that score, and neither will the applicant. The applicant won’t be hired for a driving position with no license. What s/he will be doing is getting acquaintances/friends/family that s/he knows who are working there fired for driving without licenses if indeed they are doing so.
          However, most likely what is happening is that the applicant was bluffing in hopes that the OP would continue letting them through the vetting process. The ‘ol “but you let someone else do it, so let *me* do it too” gambit.

    2. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

      I’ve had a bunch of interviews in my life where an external recruiter has been involved in the process and done the first round of interviews. If I proceed from there to the next round with the actual employer, there’s always, ALWAYS been something about the job that is different from what the external recruiter has told. Sometimes it’s minor and doesn’t bother me, sometimes it’s been dealbreaker stuff and I would never have applied if I had known the truth, including very basic things like work times and how long the contract is. But in both cases it seems that companies don’t give very good information to external recruiters about what they want and what the job actually is. I don’t know why – I would think it would save their time too if they did things properly to begin with.

      1. Observer*

        Yes, why any company would not give the recruiter the correct information just boggles the mind. Just, WHY?

        1. That girl from Quinn's house*

          I am thinking recruiters omit information so they can place as many people in interviews as possible, hoping that the tiny details get overlooked so they can get their commission.

          1. Observer*

            Well, that’s clearly not what’s happening here. The OP only wrote in because they didn’t want to place the candidates there even without knowing that it was a requirement. And the OP explicitly says that they were not told about it.

          2. Antilles*

            As a general thing, that definitely happens for minor differences or judgment calls. And that’s actually a reasonable position for recruiters to take in many cases – when companies say “3-4 years experience”, that’s more of an indication of the general level of experience they want than a hard-and-fast requirement. So a recruiter really should be offering up good candidates with 2.5 years of experience even though it technically doesn’t meet the requirement.
            That said, “driver’s license” is a pretty black-and-white thing: I need someone with a license because part of the role requires driving; if you can’t legally drive, you cannot perform the duties. Offering up candidates who fail to meet *that* requirement is just a waste of everybody’s time.

      2. Jadelyn*

        In my experience, the trouble is on the recruiter’s side. Earlier this year I had a situation where I’d been suuuuper clear with an external recruiter that this is a temporary position only, covering for someone on leave, it will not be turning into a permanent position ever at all in no uncertain terms…and then had the temporary employee ask me what they would need to do to make the position permanent. I, confused, explained that this was coverage for someone on leave, that if any other positions were open when they left they were welcome to apply, but this position they had been placed in was not going to become permanent. They said “Oh, but the recruiter said this was probably going to be temp-to-hire.” Like, sorry bud, that recruiter lied to you. And that’s not the only time I’ve had that kind of thing happen. I’ve had candidates expecting FT hours for a position where I’d explicitly told the recruiter it would be 30 hrs/wk, one time where a candidate had been told it was a loan officer job when it was actually a teller job that might be asked to help cover the loans desk once in awhile, etc.

        So at this point I take anything said by an external recruiter with a truckload of salt. Their job isn’t necessarily to find the best candidates who will stay with you for years; it’s to get you to hire someone through them. They not only have no particular reason to be truthful with candidates, they’re practically rewarded for stretching the truth to get more candidates in the door. Sometimes it’s probably just genuine misunderstanding. Sometimes I think it’s willful misunderstanding on the recruiter’s part.

        1. Observer*

          The rule on this site is to take letter writers at their word. There is NOTHING in either the original letter or this follow up to indicate that the OP is lying. And they are explicit that they were not told about this qualification.

          1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

            That was a comment to my comment about my experiences with external recruiters, not about OP specifically. Even if it’s common that external recruiters lie or stretch the truth, there can still also be cases where they get wrong information from their clients or misunderstand something. I would actually think that misunderstandings would be common, because it’s so common that the client gives a ridiculous timeline to the recruiter and they obviously work in a lot of hurry.

            1. CynicallySweet*

              I’m confused. Instead of trying to respond to the OP you bash recruiters. Then when you get called on it u say it’s not really their fault?

              1. MCMonkeyBean*

                NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter’s previous original comment here wasn’t bashing recruiters at all, it was saying that they have frequently received different information from employers versus recruiters. In fact their comment seemed to assume the issue was usually on the employers side.

      3. miss_chevious*

        As someone who is working with an outside recruiter currently to fill a position, I can tell you that it’s not always the company that makes mistakes. We just had to insist on a change in recruiters, when the one we were dealing with could not understand why we were not interested in candidates who did not have law licenses, even though the position we are hiring for requires a law license. She sent more than one candidate through to me that was a complete waste of time on both sides because she choose to ignore the law license requirement. When we brought it to her attention, she said we were taking too narrow an approach. It was *infuriating*.

      4. ChachkisGalore*

        I think its one of those things that can’t really be attributed to one side or the other (though maybe individual people have experienced more of one or the other). There’s so many different reasons for why a candidate might show up to an interview, that was setup by an external recruiter, with misinformation.

        Maybe the company did give the external recruiter bad info (or incomplete info) – we know some companies are terrible at drafting job postings so it stands to reason that some will be terrible at judging what info is necessary to give to a recruiter. Maybe something changed in the job requirements btwn the time of engaging the external recruiter and the candidate interview and they forgot to update all of the external recruiters they’re working with. Or maybe the recruiter is playing fast and loose with the requirements in an effort to get bodies to the interview (and hoping that it gets overlooked and they’ll get the commission). Maybe the recruiter got two of their roles mixed up and gave the candidate info about a different role. Or maybe its the candidate. Maybe the candidate got two roles mixed up in their head. Maybe they know full well that what they’re saying is untrue, but are hoping to press their luck (I’m thinking of the temp/perm situation mentioned – the recruiter might have been completely clear that it was temporary, but the candidate decided to test the waters by saying they had been told it might turn perm).

  2. voyager1*

    #2 Unless you are privy to what your management said to Pam and why she was let go, don’t make assumptions. Secondly sending out an email like your manager did was so they could have a record, maybe the email wasn’t woke enough for you, but that was probably not what it was about. The email was for having a record of communication to the staff about expected and appropriate language for the staff. At least that is jist I am getting from your update, but then again I wasn’t there.

    1. Augusta Sugarbean*

      Yeah, and if you want to sway people’s opinions, OP, look hard at your use of “helping her understand her failings” and “jaw droppingly obtuse”. I’m one of those “older folks” and if I felt like someone was talking to me as though I was morally inferior in some way or stupid, I’m not going to be very receptive to what that person is saying.

      1. Holly*

        Maybe it comes off a little harsh, but being in a public facing position, it is part of the job to not say anything that could be construed to be offensive, insulting, let alone a slur – it’s a performance failing beyond any personal failing that applies at any age. The example OP describes as “obtuse” is calling someone by the wrong pronouns *after they already talked about their preferred pronouns.* That’s not a mistake due to old age if it was already discussed unless that person was, well, being obtuse! It’s an extremely disrespectful thing to do, and it will come across very very poorly for the organization the individual is representing.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        It is not the responsibility of oppressed people to cater to the feelings of someone who is doing something that causes harm.

      3. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

        “Obtuse” is a relatively kind way to describe one panelist repeatedly misgendering another–because it implies, or assumes, that the person who misgendered someone was clueless rather than malicious. Where I’m clueless or mistaken, I want to improve. On the other hand, if I was insulting someone on purpose (which I wouldn’t do by misgendering them), you wouldn’t convince me to stop by reminding me that calling someone something like “a cancer” was insulting. (I don’t know what “those ‘older folks'” means here, but I’m in my mid-50s.)

        I think most of us will occasionally say or write unkind things (such as that someone didn’t understand her failings) about a person who is unlikely to ever see or hear those comments.

      4. Observer*

        I’ll admit that “helping her to understand her failings” does come off as sanctimonious. But there is nothing these to say that AGE is her failing.

        As for the “jaw droppingly obtuse”, why are you conflating it with age? The OP was quite explicit as to why they used that term. It may not be the most effective way to change someone’s mind. But making random accusations (of ageism or anything else) is even LESS effective. And, there is no trace of ageism in saying “doing X when you have been explicitly asked to do Y is stupid.”

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            She wasn’t judging Pam based on age. She was guessing that Pam’s problematic comments may be a consequence of Pam’s upbringing and “another era” in which terms that are currently racist may have been benign.

            1. CatMom*

              Yes – frankly, mentioning her age there is cutting her some slack (implying that she simply may not have kept up with changes in terminology, as opposed to simply being a racist jerk).

              1. voyager1*

                I disagree and I think we are just reading the first paragraph of the original letter differently. It would be great if LW can weigh in on why she thinks Pam has trouble working with people 30 hrs younger then her. But with the way that paragraph is written it comes off as very judgmental to me, much like this update. And from judging the responses, it seems I am not the only one pinging on it.

      5. Augusta Sugarbean*

        Regarding the ageism, OP said “She and I had a good discussion on race and how to approach discussing language with older folks.” That’s why I said that I’m in that demographic. The OP was talking about the Pam the older employee and used the term “her failings”. I’m not sure what you mean. The OP talking about two different employee problems. I just talked about them in one sentence.

        My point of course is that this is a workplace performance issue and should not be addressed from the perspective of it being a moral failing or stupidity on the part of the employee (whether or not that’s the case). If a manager wrote in and talked about an employee in those terms, I feel certain that would get addressed here. A great deal of the advice around here (and dealing with racism, etc. in general) is that it is more productive to address the behavior not the…personality (can’t think of a better term).

        Gollux, that’s a fair point. There’s a certain amount of venting that goes on here. I just think that if the OP comes across as thinking so poorly of the staff when they try to address the pronoun issue, they aren’t going to achieve their goals with that staff member. People tend to get defensive when criticized.

        And Detective, I’m directing my comments to the OP who wants to improve the *workplace*. It sounds like the OP got a promotion to some sort of management position. To me this is a different situation than if in a non-work situation, a man told me women were weak. In that case, no, I’m not going to worry about his feelings. I’m going to tell him to pound sand. But if one of my direct reports did the same thing, I need to make it about performance and keep it professional.

        (Sorry for the long winded comment. Seemed easier than individual responses.)

        1. Observer*

          You’re conflating several different things that OP mentioned.

          One is how to discuss language with “older folks” (a demographic I’m probably in). It’s a legitimate discussion as people who have grown up with certain usages being considered acceptable need to e told that those usages are not acceptable. On the other hand, you don’t want to assume that they are intentionally racist or stupid.

          The issue of the panelist has nothing to do with age, and there s nothing in the way the OP discusses it that links that in any way. The OP does make it EXTREMELY clear what the problem is – and in describing the demographic of that person makes no reference to age! And let’s be clear here – misgendering a person who has been explicit about their pronouns is a pretty big deal. When the person doing it, is doing it while on a panel to foster ,b>diversity and inclusion, “jaw dropping” is a pretty good description.

      6. miss_chevious*

        It was my understanding that the “obtuse” woman and Pam, the older woman, were not the same person.

  3. dramalama*

    #2 I may be over-reading your update, but it sounds to me like you have a different cultural issue than you wrote in about: the management you describe seems to have a real issue with addressing problems in an open and honest way. IMHO, even if they become the wokest of the woke, your office is always going to be a frustrating place for anyone (not just POC and/or LGBTQ+) to work.

    1. Oof*

      I’m curious if anyone corrected the woman using the wrong pronouns. It is so much harder than I thought it would be (in writing easy! Verbally? DANG!), and while I correct myself as much as possible, I would certainly welcome anyone pointing it out in the moment.

      1. CatMom*

        As a non-binary person who uses they/them pronouns, I can say that it is easy to tell the difference between someone accidentally calling me “she,” either because they don’t know and are making assumptions or because they have forgotten, and someone who has chosen to ignore my wishes. I’ll trust the OP here that this was something other than a mistake made in good faith.

        You in particular are obviously someone who is sensitive to these things, so I’m sure that people would be more willing to correct you! And forgive you if you make an error. It just sounds like that might not have been what was happening in that situation.

      2. dramalama*

        Speaking from experience, correcting a moderator during a sensitivity training can be intimidating. 9 times out of 10 I’ll just assume I’m the one who’s wrong and continue to sit quietly. But just totally projecting here (not knowing any context or what OP could/couldn’t do) moments like that are great for teaching that correcting someone over their language doesn’t have to be some dramatic “J’acuse!” experience.

  4. animaniactoo*

    A few months later Pam was let go. It was for a variety of reasons and to be honest I do not feel like she was given much in way of explanation. My boss and her managers were really worried about getting accused of age discrimination. But they never seemed to dedicate time to helping her understand her failings. But I think it was all for the best for both parties

    I don’t really think that was the best for Pam. If somebody tried to explain it to her and she just wasn’t getting it, then yeah… that was the best for Pam in these circumstances with a company that wasn’t happy with her performance. But without explanation or opportunity to improve, and not knowing how badly she needed this job or was counting on it to be able to do X, Y, or Z? I think it’s a bad way to view it, and the potential she might have had to move beyond the issues she had if she was aware they were things that specifically needed to be worked on.

    1. Yikes*

      Had the same response. As someone who was once fired out of the blue (to me) under mysterious (t0 me) circumstances, I certainly did not feel it was the best thing for me to suddenly be unemployed with no warning.

      1. Mommy MD*

        It’s not for the best to be fired out of the blue, no reason given. It may be legal, but it’s not for the best. I thought that was kind of a harsh view.

      2. Borne*

        Particularly, as she is older. Due to age discrimination it is very challenging for older job seekers to find a new job.

        1. Liet-Kinda*

          That does not need to be a factor in one’s business decision to end an employment relationship, though. If there are legitimate performance or conduict issues, that’s pretty much the deciding factor.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            The problem is they never told her what she was doing wrong, so she didn’t get a chance to improve.
            I’ve been there too. When I was young I often got fired with no feedback. Just “it’s not working out”… I considered turning to crime. :(

    2. ChachkisGalore*

      Hmmm – based on context – I took those sentences to mean that that the LW did not believe that being fired with no explanation was not for the best, just that the ultimate separation of Pam and the library was for the best. I thought that the LW was criticizing how it was done (the lack of explanation), but acknowledging that the issues probably could not be overcome so Pam’s termination would have been the likely (and for the best) outcome regardless.

      I’m not in the LW’s head so I obviously can’t know for sure… Just saying I had a different take on what was written.

  5. Old and Confused*

    I stay confused. We’re not allowed to label people by race, appearance, gender or…anything else? But we CAN label them with acronyms that are meaningless or at the very least confusing to the non-woke. I have no idea was POC is, but I’m also not allowed to Google it because of search engine bias. So, I guess I’ll count on the culturally sensitive non-labeling comment mob to enlighten me.
    By the way, age DOES matter. People have different frames of reference. you kids with your long hair, pedal pusher and rock & roll music need to understand that.

    1. animaniactoo*

      POC is “Person/People of Color” – it’s shorthand for minorities who are normally visually different and treated worse because of it.

      The issue with gender in this case is that the person being referred to was a different gender than they were being referred to, and had made that explicitly clear at the opening of the panel discussion. So to ignore that is to ignore that person’s living identity. Much like calling women girls when men are being called men. It diminishes and ignores their “personhood” as it were.

      Sorry to tell ya, but the pedalpushers were a generation or two ago. Now you’re looking at cargo pants and capris (same thing, new terminology…)

      Google is not necessarily a bad place to start, but the thing to do when Googling is to check into the reliability and trustworthiness of the source – which may be very very different from its popularity, and check multiple sources to make sure that you have a good grasp of who is saying what. When in doubt – lean towards how most of the people who the label would apply to feel (or seem to feel) about the label.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’m not buying into this “you meddlesome kids!” nonsense. I’m a millennial with boomer parents. My dad’s a Vietnam vet and also a hippie from the middle of frigging no-where. He taught me that everyone is important and to watch how you treat others, if they say “ouch that hurts”, you say “oh goodness gracious, I’m sorry. Teach me more, how can I be a better person and more understanding?”

      My parents aren’t perfect and have gotten caught by moments of “That’s an outdated, unacceptable term!” They listen to me, they listen to others, they change their ways and don’t play the “I’m old!!!! I don’t know better!!! Everyone is so offended so easily these days!!!!!!” malarkey.

    3. Corrvin*

      Generally if someone says “that’s not the right thing to call me” it’s polite to stop using it. If someone says “my name is Max” it’s understandable if you call them Matt. But when they correct you, change what you’re saying and try not to sound petulant about it. (Look, it can be tough to change how you say things. I sympathize, we’ve all been there. But it’s not cool to complain to the people on whose toes you inadvertently stepped while finding your footing.)

    4. The other Louis*

      Now *I’m* confused. Who said “we’re not allowed to label people by race, appearance, gender or….anything else”?

      When a person gets informed that they’re using a *derogatory* term, why is the response something about not using *any* labels? Can you quote someone who says we shouldn’t use any labels?

      1. myswtghst*

        Right? I always love when “please don’t step on me” somehow turns into “but now where will I walk? you just don’t want me to be able to walk at all, do you? you darn *insert group here* just don’t want anyone to be able to walk!”.

    5. Heina*

      It’s actually very strange to label people by a racial label that might not even apply to them regardless of offensiveness or lack thereof. How could Pam have known that those children are mixed-race in the first place?

    6. Glad it's almost over*

      I’m old but I’m not confused, sorry this is crap. I would never remain willfully ignorant by not googling something.Age doesn’t matter worth a damn, open-mindedness does.

    7. LQ*

      The good news is simple old fashioned polite manners covers a huge amount of this. If someone says, “Excuse me you’re standing on my foot.” You say, “Oh no! I’m ever so sorry.” and you pick up your foot that is on top of their foot and stand somewhere else. That’s it. That’s not proactive. Proactive would be knowing you’re in a crowded elevator and looking down to make sure you aren’t on someone’s foot. But honestly step one is if someone says you are standing on their foot, or calling them the wrong name “It’s Sally, not Suzy please.” or the wrong pronoun “It’s they or their, not she or her please.” you say “I’m so sorry I missed that the first time round, Sally, I’ll absolutely make sure I get it right next time.”

      That’s a very simple frame of reference that worked for my grandmother before she passed away, and my grandfather as long as he could remember anyone’s name (and when you don’t recognize your kids anymore, well yeah, no one should hold you to remembering the right anything, that’s just incredibly hard). Politeness covers a lot of very basic things.

      Once you get that well at hand my grandmother could have given plenty of people a lesson about learning about others and how they wanted to be treated and respected long before woke became a hip cultural thing, long before pedal pushers and rock and roll too.

    8. Lady Phoenix*

      I feel that any person that blames or brags about their age, as if the actual number showcases their maturity… tend to be the most immature, close minded and bratty bunch of folks compared to those that close their mouths and just listen to the people around them.

    9. Holly*

      It sounds like you’re willfully staying confused, here. It’s pretty straightforward. “Mulatto” is an offensive term. I’m pretty sure you’re aware of other terms that were more common decades ago that are not said anymore due to changing norms/voices being heard that were previously shut out. Noting that someone is a different race/gender/appearance is not offensive and nobody has said that.

    10. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

      The only frame of reference you need here is that if you’ve just met someone, they know more about themselves than you know about them. Which in this case means that if someone says that their pronouns are “they/them” you should use that, rather than assuming you know better and saying “she” or “he.”

      1. 1jmim*

        it only sucks when that person gets super angry if people keep messing up. anger isn’t the way to solve things.

        1. myswtghst*

          You know what else sucks? Being misgendered, and continually having to politely correct people. So while it may be an honest mistake, it might also be an honest mistake that’s been made 100 times that week, and one that negatively impacts that person’s mental health each and every time it happens, and one that drains their energy every time they have to give yet another gentle reminder about who they are. Which means maybe they have good reason to be angry, and we have good reason to focus on doing better (instead of taking it personally and re-centering the conversation around our hurt feelings).

        2. neeko*

          It’s not your job to dictate someone’s feelings when they are being misgendered or any other slight. And actually, anger quite often is the way to solve things.

    11. neeko*

      It’s REALLY not that hard to refer to people by terms that they choose to identify by. Get over yourself.

    12. Michaela Westen*

      In this instance there was no need to use race or gender terms. She could have said, “there were only three children”.

    1. Update #3*

      I help roll up some of their reports to her, and we’re down to 26 that I can actually name at the moment. It is INSANE. She actually took a vacation this week which is a miracle.

  6. Calliope*

    If you Google “POC,” the third result defines the term (it’s obviously not being used to refer to a bicycle company, in this case.) If you Google “mulatto,” the first definition that appears notes it as “dated” and “offensive.” If you Google “non-binary,” the first result defines it appropriately. This isn’t as hard as you’re making it out to be.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’m too tired today…

      It is almost 2019 and we’re talking about how to find information on the internet…

      Weren’t we all just chuckling and making memes out of the horror show over Congress misunderstanding Google, iPhone, Apple and the Faceybooks?

      Yessssss just Google it. Wikipedia things too while at it. You’ll be better for it.

      Maybe you find weird things and then you go “oh that’s certainly not it, let me back up outta this internet rabbit hole and down the next.”

  7. LQ*

    I really appreciate the update on #3. I’m not quite sure what about it, but I am really glad to see it. I’m glad that it doesn’t seem like it will be forever, but that it was likely some hard, but correct decisions. It sounds rough, but hopefully it will work out (for the boss and the OP!)

  8. MissDisplaced*

    OP #1 I had a similar, but not quite as bad situation with my former work. I got out, but some good friends stayed on for about another year or so. My one good friend would text me all the time to vent, and I’ll admit, I sometimes did enjoy hearing about it all. But fortunately, that former coworker also found another role and moved on a few months ago as well. I find we don’t text as often, but we do remain friends.
    I’m glad someone at that place did finally stand up to Cersei, and their workplace improved as a result.

    1. It’s me, OP (#1)*

      Good for you for getting out, and for your friend for eventually following suit. Leaving a toxic department can be just as draining as trying to stay afloat in one!

  9. Observer*

    #1 – The outcome gives me hope. Something finally DID push even poor HR to take a stand. And, it appears that good documentation does make a difference. At least some of the time. So, that’s a win.

    Overall, good update.

    1. It’s me, OP (#1)*

      I’m definitely happy for my old crew! It sounds like there’s been a remarkable improvement in office morale since Cersei’s departure. And if I’ve taken anything away from this experience (apart from maintaining healthy boundaries with coworkers!), it’s the importance of documentation! The little things that don’t feel significant enough to make a fuss about individually sure add up over time.

  10. AnnaB*

    I don’t want to go off track but does anyone else feel a little put off by the insinuation in #2 that the use of the inappropriate term had to do with the co-worker’s age? I’m in my early 60’s and would never consider using that word. Or even feeling it necessary to bring up the subject in the first place. I don’t think it has to do with age as much as where and how someone was raised. I know we all tend to generalize, e.g. millennial = snowflake, gen x = slacker, baby boomer = entitled, computer-illiterate and ‘UN-woke’, etc., etc., but I think we can all agree that the generalizations are just that and that none us really like being lumped under these ridiculous media-created labels. Anyway, as I said, this is a bit off-topic but I feel better getting it out there.

    1. 64651*

      i mean i learned that word in school and i’m a millennial and din’t know it was “technically” racist until this letter published. not like i know any of those type of people (what should you call them?) so i wouldn’t use it in daily life anyway.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        “Any of those type of people”…

        Lord Jesus…grant me strength. You need to get outta whatever podunk shanty town you’re from. This is unholy and you’re oozing more racism right there.

        I’m sure you probably do know someone but it’s a long held family secret.

    2. Observer*

      Well, it actually probably does. Because at one point it was used pretty commonly, and not in a necessarily racist way. So, if you are of an age where you grew up with that word being used, you might really not realize that it is (or is considered) racist and shouldn’t be used.

      I really don’t want to get into whether it “really” is racist or not. If it’s seen that way by a significant proportion of the people who it applies to, it’s easy enough not to use it and it’s rude to use it. But, if you don’t KNOW about the problem, you just don’t know.

  11. Emma*

    In semi-related news, I successfully used Alison’s tactic to deal with offensive jokes in my online local college alumni group. Someone posted a meme that was supposed to be a dig at a rival school that involved comparing them to a transgender person. I commented “I don’t get it” and several people liked my car comment. Next thing I know, the post was removed. Not sure if it was the admin or the person who posted it. Either way, success!

  12. boop the first*

    1. It’s wild that we’re staying in lousy situations for at least a year, giving abusers a polite two weeks notice, and killing ourselves with kindness out of the fear of burning bridges, losing references and otherwise tainting our work histories… When ALL of these “offensive coworker/boss” stories seem to end with “so-and-so moved on to another company much to our relief.”


    1. miss_chevious*

      It’s bizarre, isn’t it? A man at my last job had a known reputation as the office creeper, to the point where female new hires were explicitly warned about him and he had a number of HR complaints in his file, and he lasted for *years* before they removed him as part of a downsizing, and yet we’re walking around on tiptoes about providing adequate notice and how to handle pushy mentors. Maybe at the end of my career, I will see how far I can push bad behavior before I’m let go! :)

      (Kidding — I wouldn’t do that to co-workers — but it’s a fun thought.)

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s the curse of being a well tapped in civilized professional among offices full of untamed, perverse yetis masquerading as humans.

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