my vendor fired my son, I don’t want to do the outdoors volunteer work my manager planned, and more

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

1. My vendor fired my son unfairly

I know you are strongly against parents interceding in their kids’ jobs, but what about when the kid’s job is with the parent’s business contact? And the kid got fired for a misunderstanding?

I use a service vendor for a high-end specialty service. I was there one day on a production check, and I asked the production manager if they were hiring in a part of production that is notorious industry-wide for high turnover, as my young-adult son needed a job. He said they were hiring and my kid should get in touch with him. He did, and was hired. (I kept all the way out of it other than telling my kid to go down and apply.)

One of the managers in this high-turnover area of the business where my kid was working sounded like a nasty bully. My kid complained about that manager to the big boss. The big boss told him to put up with that manager because he was under a lot of pressure from the business owner, an immigrant from China. (This is important.) In the conversation, my kid referred to the owner as “a Chinese man.” The big boss instantly told him that was racist, and though my kid tried to explain that saying someone is from China is not the same as a racial epithet, my kid was fired.

He was horrified, really horrified, to be fired for using a racist term. He admits that saying the owner was from China was perhaps not relevant to his conversation with his supervisor was not wise, but the supervisor would not let him say anything else.

So, my question: Should I send an email to the manager, who is a person I deal with fairly regularly in my own business and from whom my company buys services? I want to say that while I respect their right to hire and fire as they wish, my kid didn’t use a racial epithet and, I don’t know, change the record? Or is it too late, and this is none of my business?

Well, it’s possible that there’s more to the situation than your kid relayed (not necessarily because he’s intentionally distorting anything, but it’s possible that he missed some context). It’s true that saying someone is from China is not a racial epithet, but defining people by their ethnicity when it’s not relevant can indeed come across as racist in some contexts. That on its own isn’t typically something you’d fire someone on the spot over, so it’s possible this was part of a pattern or that there’s just more to what happened. It’s also possible there’s no more to it than what your son told you, of course. We just can’t know.

In any case, in theory this isn’t your business and you should stay out of it. You wouldn’t want to send an email that implies that you expect them to do something differently since your kid is involved (or even that you know for sure what happened), and you shouldn’t insert yourself where you don’t belong.

That said … because the manager is someone you talk to pretty regularly, there’s more of an argument for you to say something than there normally would be. I think it would need to be something like, “Cecil told me things didn’t work out. I talked with him a bit about what happened, but I realize I don’t have the full story and I don’t want to second-guess your decisions as a manager. In any case, I was sorry to hear it and hope our working relationship won’t be affected.” But don’t call it a misunderstanding or try to set the record straight, because you really don’t have the full story and can’t do that. This would just be about closing the loop so there’s not this awkward thing hanging in the air that no one has talked about.

2. I don’t want to do the outdoors volunteer project my manager planned

I’m really, really not athletic or outdoorsy. My gym teachers either hated me or would make it a mission trying to find some fitness goal I might actually meet (thank you to those kind teachers!).

My team’s manager is unfortunately obsessed with Habitat for Humanity and keeps scheduling it for our team as a bonding experience each year. Our company gives us two paid days off to volunteer and we would have to use one of them to attend. I do not want to go and definitely don’t want to waste a volunteer day on it! I went to the event with everyone two years ago and got assigned to dig a deep hole with a shovel for the whole day. I didn’t have work clothes and at one point my boss had to come over and tug my shirt down to my waist and when I was neck deep in the hole so I wasn’t exposed, which was so embarrassing. I wanted to cry, I was so miserable.

I swear I’m not a selfish jerk normally. I love community service and devote a considerable amount of my free time to organizations that I love and like to save my volunteer days for them. I may be a dunce with physical activities, but I have a lot of other skills that give a whole lot more value to a charity for the same amount of time as I’d waste trying not to drop a hammer on someone’s foot or carrying dirt one tiny bucket at a time (pathetic upper body strength). My manager knows I haven’t requested to use my two days yet and is scheduling this month’s in advance, offering us the choice of four days to ensure we can all make it. Is there any polite way out of this? It’s embarrassing to be so bad at this sort of activity when you are on a team of marathon runners and baseball coaches so I feel embarrassed giving the real reason — “Hi, I’m really out of shape and uncoordinated.”

I’d quickly figure out what you want to do with your two volunteer days this year so you can tell your boss that you’ve already planned for them. It might be enough to say, “I’ve actually got my volunteer days slated for the fall — I’m doing X and Y.”

But if you’re comfortable with it, it might help ward this off in the future if you’re up-front about not liking this particular type of activity. You could say, “I gave it a shot last time, but it really wasn’t for me — I’m not outdoorsy or good at that type of physical activity and I was pretty physically uncomfortable! I’ve concluded I can do way more good for charities if I pick something else, so this year I’ve planned to do X and Y in the fall and I’m really excited about it.”

Read an update to this letter here.

3. Is it okay to abstain from signing a collective grievance against my manager?

Colleagues at my office are planning to collectively document a number of grievances against a VP at our organization, who has been inappropriate and verbally abusive. Most staff in our branch office will be signing and/or contributing to this.

However, I am one of two direct reports to this VP. Their other direct report is not participating in this process. I’m considering abstaining from the process as well. I support my colleagues, have witnessed the abusive behavior, and recognize how detrimental it has been to our workplace. However, I worry that this will directly impact my ability to function in the organization and my relationship with my supervisor. I have personally had the opportunity to verbalize some of my concerns directly to this VP and talk them through constructively in the interest of strengthening our working relationship, but most other staff do not have this level of access to the VP.

I’m torn between supporting my colleagues in their advocacy for a better workplace and not wanting to torch my relationship with my supervisor. We’re a small office so if the VP even finds out the number of signatories it’s going to be pretty clear whether I was in or out. Any advice?

I’d love to tell you to go ahead and sign it without reservations to support your colleagues and because it sounds like you agree with their take on the situation, but you’re right to think about your own interests here as well. There’s a middle ground option that might work, which is to decline to sign but offer to meet privately with whoever the grievance is going to in order to share your perspective (and presumably back up your coworkers).

That might feel like a cop-out, but you’re not required to sign on to an action that you wouldn’t have initiated on your own. And by offering to be truthful about what you’ve seen if called upon to do that, you’re still helping, and that allows you to tell your manager, if asked, that you answered questions honestly but weren’t part of an organized effort against them.

4. Can I tell coworkers not to socialize with me until I’m less busy?

This isn’t about a specific situation or issue, just wondering if there’s a polite way to tell chatty coworkers who I’m normally friendly with “I’m busy and stressed right now, please restrict any communications to strictly work-related until further notice”?

Sort of. If you’re saying it to a group (not one individual person), you can say, “I’m swamped, so I’m going to be entirely work-focused today. I wanted to give you a heads-up so no one thinks I’m ignoring them!”

If it’s going to be for longer than a day, you can say, “I’m in a really stressful period so I won’t be very social for a while — I’ve got to stay entirely focused to make all the deadlines I have right now. Please don’t take it personally if I seem distracted or not chatty.”

That doesn’t exactly say “do not talk to me unless it’s work-related” but reasonably polite people will get the message, and if they forget, now you’ll got the framing to more easily say, “Sorry, can’t talk right now — need to focus.”

But if the problem is one boundary-oblivious coworker, be more direct from the start: “I’m swamped this week so can’t chat about anything that isn’t about work. I’m going to be in a cone of silence for the next few days!”

5. Should I send a thank-you for a get-well gift?

Is it expected to send a thank-you note if your company sends you a get well gift? Four weeks after I joined my company, I underwent emergency back surgery. During my convalescence, I received an edible bouquet from the company. It had a computer typed message to the effect of, “Get well soon, Company.” My mother insists I should have sent a thank-you note in return, but I don’t agree. Am I a callous jerk?

If it makes a difference, our company is massive (40,000 people) but our office is small (50ish people). I suspect (based on experience at other companies) management regularly sends stuff out like this as a matter of habit for illnesses, funerals, etc.

P.S. I used to think edible bouquets were brilliant — till I received one. There’s only so much melon a person can eat before it goes.

You don’t need to send a formal handwritten thank-you through the mail, but a short thank-you email is a gracious thing to do. I’d send it to whoever in your immediate office is most likely responsible, and if you’re not sure who that is, then to your manager and the office admin (the two most likely to be involved).

I think you’re thinking of this as “this is a massive company so this is basically done automatically,” but it’s still someone’s job to realize you’re out sick and put this in motion, and thanks for a kind gesture never goes amiss. As a general rule, when in doubt, err on the side of thanking.

{ 658 comments… read them below }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Ooo, OP#1, definitely use Alison’s “smoothing it over” script. This is a situation where it’s impossible for you to know how this all went down. Assuming your kid’s narrative is true, we have no idea what the context or tone entailed. And if your kid’s narrative is not entirely complete (including that his manager may not have been a nasty bully), then there’s a risk that you go to bat for him when he may have said something racist.

    Because there’s no way you could correct the record, the only thing left is for kid to pivot and move on, and for you to smooth your relationship with your vendor and let it go.

    1. MommyMD*

      Kid may have taken on too much too soon and too many complaints. Not staying in his lane and learning the ropes and how to coexist with others at work. It’s a lesson with maybe something to be learned. Parents staying out of their grown kid’s job is the best advice.

      1. valentine*

        definitely use Alison’s “smoothing it over” script.
        The script sounds like fishing, though I’m not sure anything wouldn’t, especially if Son’s a minor, and I’d expect disaster without body language and if OP1 cannot avoid defending Son, especially if the manager shares that it was far worse.

        Is it the production manager OP1 wants to contact? If it’s the possible bully, I’m curious OP1 thought he was a bully before suggesting the business hire their son or just from Son’s description.

        1. Imaginary Number*

          I agree that I felt like Alison’s script could come across like fishing for information. I kind of think a simpler version (removing the “I only have one side of the story” bit) would be better. I personally think it would be better to simply acknowledge that it happened. “Sorry it didn’t work out” and move on.

          1. Anna*

            I think it’s okay to fish for some more information. No matter what, the OP is the kid’s parent and it would make sense they might want a little more information on what happened. It’s part of the smoothing over process because the OP is asking to hear the vendor’s side to get a fuller picture of what happened.

        2. Observer*

          Not really. It makes sense for the OP to acknowledge that they would of tend to take their son’s side, but know that they can’t really do that without hearing the rest of it.

    2. Annette*

      Agreed Princess. Parents arguing about a situation they did not witness don’t look good. This is the time to protect your neck. A lesson for your son too.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Agreed. And unfortunately, in my experience, new employees / young workers tend to hide or gloss over what happened when fired (especially when telling their parents). It’s bad policy for OP to intervene, regardless of the circumstances, but it’s especially risky and fraught in this circumstance.

        1. Devil Fish*

          $10 says OP’s kid said (or his supervisor thought he said) “Chinaman,” not “Chinese man.”

          I’m ashamed to say I grew up in a place where people said this kind of shit like it was okay and no one told me otherwise until I moved away to go to college, where I was immediately outed as racist and had to work hard to unlearn a disturbing amount of my upbringing. (Good god I hate that I think this is still happening.)

          1. TechWorker*

            I mean – it’s perfectly possible to be racist without using a slur. Really depends on the rest of the sentence!

            1. J*

              Yes! Refering to to people by their ethnicities when it’s not relevant to the conversation (and there’s nothing in the OP’s letter to indicate it was relevent to the conversation between the son and the big boss) is super othering.

              I’ve known white people who will *always* mention the race of a person of color when telling a story ….and never do the same when talking about other white people. It’s jarring and makes me wonder why they’re highlighting race or ethnicity that way. If I had an employee who had that habit, I would question their judgment.

              1. RUKiddingMe*

                Yeah when people are telling me something and mention a person’s race, ethnicity, religion, etc. I am at that point listening for how it’s relevant. I’d bet (I’ve never done the actual math) 99% of the time it’s not at all relevant.

              2. Jerm*

                But other races do that, too, when speaking to others within their group. Black folks refer to the “white lady.” Asian folks do the same. Everyone does it. In the United States, in West Africa, in Egypt, in Mexico, in Jordan – all places I have lived and worked.

                That said, it probably wasn’t necessary in this situation. If the kid needed to refer to the owner, he should’ve said the owner’s name.

                1. Ethyl*

                  But “everyone” doesn’t exist in a vacuum, absent hundreds of years of racism, colonialism, oppression, etc. A POC referring to “the white lady” exists in a completely different context than a white person saying “the Chinese guy.”

                2. doreen*

                  It’s fine to refer to someone’s race if for some reason you need to distinguish someone in a group and race is part of the description – in that example, race is relevant ( and gender , height, hair color etc might also be relevant) It’s not fine if you include race in your complaints about an annoying driver – race is irrelevant to that complaint ( and if you think it’s relevant, that’s even worse)

                3. Decima Dewey*

                  If someone complaining about me calls me “the white lady” it’s because I’m the only woman working at the branch who is not a person of color. And if they call me “the white lady” it’s likely that I’ve said or done something objectionable, and I have to listen to what they are saying.

                4. Gumby*

                  One of my sisters was regularly called “white white girl” in junior high. The school was roughly half “white” (from various backgrounds many of which were second generation immigrants) so it isn’t like she stood out in the group. Maybe it is because she had blond hair? No idea. She found it distressing but also felt she couldn’t say anything.

                1. Observer*

                  True – but it’s like everything else. There is a time and place for everything.

                  If I’m trying to create an identifying description of someone and I refuse to say anything about race or ethnicity, you would be right to suspect racism. If I refuse to consider race, class, or country of origin when looking at responses to police, you would be completely correct to suspect me of bigotry, because those are factors that significantly affect people’s experience of the police.

                  On the other hand, if you mention race in evaluation of an employee’s performance, or in looking at their resume, then odds are that you are racist unless you have a very specific reason for that.

                2. Akcipitrokulo*

                  Yeah… but that isn’t talking about bringing up race in irrelevant situations, much less one where you’re complaining about a manager and unhappy that nothing will be done!

              3. Anononon*

                It’s because “being white” is a default setting in many societies. Same reason why we have doctor vs female doctor (or the ever so slightly better woman doctor) or female/woman attorney. Male is default. It’s very frustrating.

              4. Cat Fan*

                I came here to say the exact same thing. Feeling the need to characterize a person by their ethnicity when there is no need for it is is sort of a definition of racism, is it not? It is meant to define him in some way to affect the narrative and I’m guessing it was not meant to be positive.

                1. Decima Dewey*

                  It’s wiser not to bring up someone’s race or ethnicity when complaining about them. Someone disagreeing with my boss, Mr. Lastname? They may have a point. Someone disagreeing with Mr. Lastname and saying he “should go back where he came from” (in this case, Puerto Rico) or that “he thinks he’s white”? Congratulations, you just guaranteed that your point will be dismissed.

                  I’d stay out of it. It’s a hard way for OP 1’s kid to learn this lesson, but it’s best to consider it a lesson learned. The chances of reversing the decision seem to be nil.

                2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

                  Ugh. That reminds me of the time I was mugged at gun point on my way to work. Kid you not, 9 out of 10 people asked me if the man was black. Now, I would directly ask, “Why, does it matter?” but at the time I just ignored the question.

              5. Hey Nonnie*

                I honestly can’t imagine a scenario in the context of that conversation, as described, where the business owner’s ethnicity is in any way relevant. Why not just refer to the business owner by his name? Or even his title? It’s what psychologists call “distancing language,” which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like — intended to create a (social, psychological, emotional) distance between the speaker and whoever they’re speaking of. If that’s not othering, I don’t know what is.

                So yes, bringing up his race apropos of nothing is racist. This is something that should be addressed with the kid, actually, or he’s going to keep dropping microaggressions like this blithely unaware that he’s being an a$$#@!&. Now’s the time for parents to nip that in the bud. “There there, it wasn’t your fault” is not the right response to this. It’s a valuable lesson, if he’ll learn it.

            2. min*

              Exactly. To be honest, I’m struggling to think of a conversation in which it would be appropriate to refer to the owner as “a Chinese man”.

              The only two instances I can think of would be either correcting someone who had erroneously assumed he was a different ethnicity or maybe if a customer asked who the owner was and her son was pointing him out – “He’s the Chinese man in that group over there.”

              Any other context would make me uncomfortable and squicky and I would not want to work with him, in all honesty.

              1. Darren*

                I am also struggling to find a single non-racist sentiment/statement that could come during a conversation where you have just complained about your manager, and your boss has mentioned you have to deal with it because he is getting pressure from the business owner and couldn’t afford to remove the manager at that point in time.

                Every single sentence I can think of might not have a racist intention behind it but it comes off as racist and belittling on the owners skills and abilities (i.e. something like saying he is out of touch with norms in the US, etc). Without the Chinese man part of the sentence you can definitely raise such concerns but as soon as you put that in you are intentionally or not making your complaint based on the owners race.

                1. RUKiddingMe*

                  I’m envisioning the kid saying something about not having to listen to a “Chinaman” or some such because naturally even though the guy owns the business the kid in the entry level job is “better” than him because…racism

                2. Asenath*

                  My first thought was that the boss as well as the owner was Chinese, and the son thought that the owner wasn’t going to take the boss’s actions seriously because of that connection. Second possibility was that because the owner was a Chinese immigrant, she might be using management techniques from her own culture (someone who immigrated a child would not usually be identifiable as an immigrant as an adult). Either way, even if there was a reason to refer to the person as Chinese, it’s best if the parent stays out of it except for smoothing over things for herself.

                3. Akcipitrokulo*

                  Only thing coning to mind is big boss says “which one is your manager again?” and when kid says “name” big boss says “I’m bad with names, which one are we talking about again that I know really well and am aware of his reputation and the reasons why I can’t do anything?”

                4. Rusty Shackelford*

                  I am also struggling to find a single non-racist sentiment/statement that could come during a conversation where you have just complained about your manager, and your boss has mentioned you have to deal with it because he is getting pressure from the business owner and couldn’t afford to remove the manager at that point in time.

                  “He’s a Chinese man so he’s gone a lot, visiting his family in China, and this causes me X problem.”

                  “He’s a Chinese man, and he and the owner speak Chinese to each other, and they forget I don’t understand Chinese.”

                  That’s the best I could come up with. And they’re very, very unlikely to be the case.

                5. Works in IT*

                  Veering vaguely into political territory, China is one of the countries which has large numbers of wealthy people looking to generate revenue streams and jobs for their friends and family outside of the country, so “he’s Chinese so he isn’t going to reprimand the friend/family member who needs the not in China job” could be perceived as racist when it’s not MEANT to be racist (emphasis on “meant”, I’m certain that if this scenario occurred with an owner from Canada, the boss would not be “man from Canada”).

              2. wittyrepartee*

                Even in the scenario you’re giving, it’s awkward. “Actually, he’s Filipino.”

              3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

                Let’s see…..he gave you a red envelope on Lunar New Year and someone asked you if he was Vietnamese? Aside from that, I got nothing

              4. smoke tree*

                Yeah, I can imagine some innocuous workplace chit-chat where people are talking about vacations and travelling to visit relatives in other countries, or whatnot, but I can’t really imagine anyone using the phrase “Chinese man” in that context. As you say, the only non-problematic scenario I can think of for that one is something like “he’s the middle-aged Chinese man over there with the paisley tie.” It makes me feel like the son may be rules-lawyering in his explanation.

            3. Washi*

              Yep. As far as I can tell, even only hearing things from the son’s side, the only problem with what the manager said was using “epithet” when it didn’t 100% apply to the situation.

              …which is exactly the kind of rules-lawyering you tend to see from people upset about being called out on racism.

              One thing I’ve been working on for myself is, if I hear something I know on a gut level is racist, to say SOMETHING, anything. Because if I get hung up on having the perfect explanation, I won’t say anything at all. My guess is that the manager was in a similar situation.

              OP, the manager fired your son for making a racist comment. Quibbling on the definition of what was wrong will not make things better for your son and will only make it seem like you are trying to cover for him. Use Alison’s script, then leave it alone.

              1. Akcipitrokulo*

                Yep… and also reading it I didn’t get impression boss used the word epithet.

                Kid “says something referncing owner’s ethnicity”
                Boss “that’s racist”
                Kid “what? I never used an epithet!” (or maybe “slur” or even the word itself.

              2. Claire*

                I would argue that “epithet” absolutely applies to the situation! An epithet is not necessarily derogatory, just something you call someone other than their name based on their characteristics. Technically speaking, “the tall woman” or “the blond man” are both epithets. That said, “epithet” does tend to have a derogatory nuance, even if the epithet itself is not inherently derogatory. “A Chinese man” is an epithet in that it’s describing a person without using their name. It also isn’t inherently derogatory, but has a nasty flavor to it when used in a context where nationality isn’t relevant. It’s not a slur, sure, but it is an epithet.

            4. wittyrepartee*

              The rest of the sentence, or how unrelated to the rest of the topic the fact of him being Chinese is.

            5. Winifred*

              Or if it was said in a “funny voice” that mocks the supposed accent of someone from China.

          2. Zip Silver*

            Chinaman isn’t particularly different than Englishman, Irishman or Frenchman. I’m assuming you’re also from the South? You’ve got to put things in context. Northerners tend to get bent out of shape over language that’s not meant to be derogatory.

            1. TechWorker*

              Um no. ‘Chinaman’ has an explicit history as a derogatory term (aside from anything else your alternatives are not ‘franceman’ or ‘englandman’). Google it.

              1. RUKiddingMe*

                Well I am from California and I can guarantee you that unless ‘recently’ means 1970 forward it was considered racist and offensive even way back then.

                Maybe people not othering people would be a good idea. My son was half Vietnamese and half me (basically a whole bunch of stuff primarily Northern European) and he was always asked if he was Chinese or Japanese … because obviously there are no other countries in Asia.

                He was asked if he could speak Chinese (no…he was born in California, native English speaker), told to “go back” to where he came from*, etc. All because people hadn’t had experience with immigrants (note, again, Son was not an immigrant) from Southeast Asia and didn’t “intend” to be racist.

                *Son was fine with this. We were living outside of Baltimore at the time, which he hated and he wanted to get back to California and the beach (he was a surfer)…even though he understood what they were actually saying.

                1. LunaLena*

                  [quote]he was always asked if he was Chinese or Japanese … because obviously there are no other countries in Asia[/quote]

                  Ugh, I used to get this when I was a little kid living in a small town in upstate New York. This was before the 1988 Seoul Olympics, so a lot of people didn’t know much about Korea, and I was one of three Asians in the entire school. In between telling me I should “go back where you came from” (I remember puzzledly saying “but I was born here, go back where?” in response) and taunts of “Chinese, Japanese, look at these [uses fingers to slant eyes or pull front of shirt to make it look like they have boobs]”, some kids told me “well, my dad has never heard of Korea, so obviously it doesn’t exist. So what are you, Chinese or Japanese?”

                  Fortunately the Olympics happened not long after and I experienced the biggest feeling of vindication ever. I remember talking about it non-stop for a while because I was just so happy to be proven right.

              2. Sylvan*

                I’m a Southerner in an area with a small number of Chinese immigrants. We don’t use that term here. I’ve actually only heard it from one person in real life, who was a huge racist yelling slurs at people.

              3. Language Matters*

                Hi Zip. I’ve lived in the Mid-Atlantic, New England, the South, the Pacific Northwest, California, and the UK. “Chinaman” was a racist term everywhere I’ve lived for as long as I’ve been aware people used racist terms. In the UK, “Englishman” and “Irishman” were outdated, but “Chinaman” was simply racist.

                The question I ask: why are you defending a term that dictionaries and Google cite as racist?

              4. lawyer*

                …I’m from the south and would definitely consider “Chinaman” to be derogatory.

              5. CanuckCat*

                Canadian, and of an age where ‘Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, more please’ was still a playground chant (with corresponding eye gestures) and even we knew that ‘Chinaman’ was not something that you ever called someone.

              6. Yorick*

                I’m from the South and now live in the Midwest and I can’t imagine a young adult thinking it’s ok and not racist to say “Chinaman.”

              7. Whip Lash*

                Google isn’t going to give you the context, history, and connotations without some serious deep diving. This isn’t the kind of thing you can do a quick fact check on.

                You seem to acknowledge that you lack the cultural awareness to grasp this, so please listen to those better informed than yourself, and don’t try to use “but Google…” as a defence. It’s shoddy thinking. You are better than that.

                1. TechWorker*

                  Sorry – it was me who cited google not Zip Silver. I agree google isn’t perfect – but Chinaman is so broadly offensive that even Wikipedia agrees.

              8. wittyrepartee*

                Hey! I’m from an area with a lot of Chinese immigrants and have a lot of ethnically Chinese friends. If someone were to call my friends Chinamen, we’d have BIG trouble. If I were to call my friends this, I’d lose my friends and/or they’d think I had a stroke and rush my to the hospital.

                I’m not sure what your implication is when it comes to where and when the term became offensive, but of course the term became offensive in a place where there were lots of Chinese immigrants, that’s how slurs work. If a group of people feels a term is offensive, it’s offensive- and you stop using it once you find out.

              9. Zillah*

                I think that if the term’s implications are not something you were aware of from history class/pop culture, it’s probably worth examining what other things you may have missed. I don’t think I knew the term was racist because I came across it IRL.

              10. Rusty Shackelford*

                wasn’t deemed offensive until rather recently

                By whom? Who decided that it was okay until recently, but *now* it’s offensive?

              11. L.S. Cooper*

                How’re we defining recently? My great-grandfather had sisters who went to jail in Illinois for “fraternizing with Orientals”. Barf.
                Both sisters wound up marrying Chinese men, and one of them has descendants living in NYC. Now, I’m a pretty young person, but this was not a *recent* thing, not by a looooong shot. Chinese people have been being mistreated and being faced with racism all across this country since they started arriving.

              12. Holly*

                I am struggling to imagine somewhere on the East Coast that has zero Chinese immigrants. That said, in New York it would be racist as well.

              13. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                I’m from California, and it’s been considered racially offensive in California and NYC since at least the early 1870s. It’s been considered offensive in the United States, writ large, since the 1880s (see: Chinese Exclusion Act), and it mainstreamed as a nationwide slur no later than the 1960s. Its social history in the United States ensures that it is in no way analogous to “Frenchman” or “Englishman.”

                Please don’t advocate that this was not a slur or that the term was benign in regions with “almost no Chinese immigrants.” Not only has it been a slur for folks of Chinese descent (including non-immigrants), it’s often misapplied to anyone of East Asian or Southeast Asian descent.

                I would hate for folks reading the comments to think it’s not “offensive until rather recently” and make the mistake of repeating your argument. They would rightly be perceived by their peers as ignorant at best and incredibly racist at worst.

              14. tinyhipsterboy*

                Sure, but that’s not the case here. The term is a racist slur in the United States; Zip specifically mentioned the South. This isn’t about a totally different dialect or a lack of awareness of a term being a slur in one country when it isn’t in another. It’s about the United States and the use of an outdated term that is now a slur in this country.

              15. Jen in Oregon*

                That term has always been racist. If anything, it’s racism that hasn’t been “deemed offensive” until rather recently.

              16. CmdrShepard4ever*

                It was always offensive, but at the time when Chinese immigrants were working on the transcontinental railroads they did not have the social capital/power to speak up and make their voices heard. Similar to the “n word” and use of “boy” people did not use those terms to be endearing, but rather to dehumanize people, at the time society in general that it was okay but it was still offensive. Society didn’t just deem certain terms offensive one day, but rather minorities were able to finally speak out and have society actually listen.

              17. Dust Bunny*

                Texas. Definitely racist here. I’ve never heard anybody use it unless they were using it in definitely-racist situations.

            2. RUKiddingMe*

              Oh yes it is. There are so many racist connotations that you just don’t get with “Englishman,” “Irishman,” or “Frenchman.” And intention doesn’t matter. It’s 2019. No way does he not know this is racist. There is no excuse.

              1. Jules the 3rd*

                It is entirely possible for people to not know the history of racist (or otherwise offensive) terms especially in areas where those terms are uncommon.

                How people react when you tell them the term is offensive is the important thing. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know, I will stop saying that” gets a pass from me. “Oh, you’re being too sensitive, I didn’t mean it that way” (minimizing the fact that you have hurt someone) does not.

            3. Sylvan*


              Also, not sure if it’s in play here, but the trope that “people who criticize racism are Yankees who don’t get our culture” is super tired.

            4. Thursday Next*

              Exactly. Zip Silver, saying people are “too sensitive” is a pretty poor defense for racist language.

              I’m also looking askance at any one using a North/South divide to defend racist language.

              1. Goliath Corp.*

                Unrelated comment just to say that I often comment as Thursday Next! Maybe I’ll change to Jack Schitt now. (Fits my mood today!)

              2. Thursday Next*

                @Goliath Corp.Yes, we need some disambiguation! I haven’t been commenting much lately, so I haven’t noticed.

                Jack Schitt is a good one, even if autocorrect doesn’t approve.

              3. RUKiddingMe*

                “I’m also looking askance at any one using a North/South divide to defend racist language.”

                Well you know we have to continue a war that ended 150+ years ago…

              4. Dust Bunny*

                Let’s not exchange it for regionalism, then, ok? I have relatives in the Northeast and no matter what language they use they are at heart fully as racist as anyone I’ve met in the South. They’re just less honest about it.

            5. Lizzy May*

              It is absolutely different. It is a slur. Please look into the history of Chinese immigration to the US and Canada. Head taxes, exclusion acts etc make it very different.
              In terms of what is meant by someone, I actually don’t care. The impact is what matters and normalizing slurs has a negative impact regardless of the user’s intent.

              1. Traffic_Spiral*

                I was scrolling down going “no one’s said it yet? Well, guess someone has to.”

            6. Thursday Next*

              WTF. You read this recently? As a defense of recent usage of “boy”? Holy motherforking shirt balls.

              1. Jules the 3rd*

                Yes, racism is alive and well in the US. Now, today. That conversation about “boy” could easily have been in reference to a statement from a (white) Democratic US Presidential candidate, who doesn’t see the problem in “[white southern racist] didn’t call me “boy” he called me “son”.

                The US leadership has encouraged people who have held and passed on this belief system to express it, but there’s also still a lot of people who don’t get it more passively.

            7. RUKiddingMe*

              Never heard that “joke.” Not feeling like I missed anything.

              As an aside it’s interesting how people change when it becomes personal.

              My dad, objectively mostly a good person but kinda (ok a lot) racist who used [common slur for any Asian person] very casually, suddenly became rather militant about policing other people using it (yay Dad) when his first grandchild (my son) was born.

              Suddenly people of Asian ancestry were actual people not just caricatures…

              1. Artemesia*

                There is a very huge subset of people in this country who literally cannot empathize with anything that doen’t affect them personally. Find a politician of that stripe who supports gay rights and voila, they have a gay child or sibling. In your case suddenly, have an Asian grandchild and Asians are people. Glad at least this changed him.

                1. Claire*

                  Sorry if this is too off-topic, but I read an interesting article recently that argued that one of the reasons why the gay rights movement has moved so relatively quickly, compared to other civil rights movements, is that people can unexpectedly discover that their friends and loved ones are gay. If you are racist, you might end up with a grandchild of color, like RUKiddingMe’s dad, but your beloved child won’t tell you when they’re 23 that actually, they’ve secretly been Asian all along, so you won’t be forced to reexamine your prejudices in such an abrupt and decisive way. That’s why Harvey Milk pushed for gay people to come out of the closet, to show homophobes that they might actually already know and like some gay people.

            8. Artemesia*

              I grew up in the PNW and literally never heard ‘boy’ used to denigrate black men so as an adult I might refer to a teenage black person as a ‘boy’ because, well he is a ‘boy’ to me. I didn’t know the nuance of referring to white people as Mr. and black people with their first names, refusing to use Mr. or Mrs either. But the first time someone pointed out the history of ‘boy’ in the US south was the last time I did it. And that has probably been 40 years at least. You would really have to have lived in a cave to not know these things in 2019 and if by chance you didn’t, when you find out, you stop doing the offensive thing.

              Chinaman was a slur I grew up with (along with ‘Ching chong Chinaman’ as a sort of playground chant) — and it has been racist all my long life. ‘Chinese man’ is a bit awkward to say — I wouldn’t be surprised if the kid said ‘Chinaman’ or was thought to have said it. But a newbie complaining about the boss and referencing him this way — can imagine how well that went down.

              Mom needs to cool it and let the son learn a lesson here.

              1. Clisby*

                Yeah, I grew up in the US South (I’m 65), and by the time I was out of college knew enough not to call a black kid “boy”. Well, maybe if he was a really young kid and I told his mother how cute her little boy was, but definitely not a teenager. I called my own son “boy” all the time (still do, and he’s 17), and I know black people who call their own teenage sons “boy” because it’s an affectionate term – but for me to say it would be crossing a line.

              2. Clorinda*

                Yes. As a white teacher in a majority Rican American school, I am very careful to call my teen students young men and young women, not boys and girls, and when addressing them as a group, ‘folks’ or ‘young people’ but not ‘you people,’ even though would easily use boys, girls, and you people in a class of white kids. The white person in the room does not get to decide what is or is not offensive.

                1. Pomona Sprout*

                  “The white person in the room does not get to decide what is or is not offensive.”

                  This is worthy of being cross-stitched on a pillow!

                2. Nuss*

                  Agreed, but adding that the white person in the room does get to decide what’s offensive if it’s a comment about white people (generally) or specifically about them as a white individual.

            9. Artemesia*

              I lived in the south for 35 years — and all those expressions, particularly things like ‘boy’ are MEANT to be derogatory; that is their fundamental purpose to put black people in ‘their place.’ No southerner is not aware of that or thinks otherwise.

            10. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I wouldn’t let Zip off the hook so easily (although I agree 100% with your thoughtful and patient comment). There have been folks of East Asian, South Asian, and Southeast Asian in the American South since at least the 1850s.

            11. 4Sina*

              Dogpiling at this point, but “Chinaman” is absolutely a racist epithet and anyone in 2019 who uses it is just willingly acting in bad faith about it.

            12. Clisby*

              I’m from the south and have never even heard anyone use the term. I’ve seen it in old novels, but never heard it IRL. (Maybe it’s different in other parts of the US, where young adults be familiar with this usage?)

              However, this is almost a derailing, since nowhere did the OP say her son used the word “Chinaman.” That was purely a commenter’s speculation – one that seems unlikely to me.

              1. hayling*

                I heard someone say this in New Orleans (by someone who grew up in Southeast Louisiana) and I nearly fell on the floor.

            13. Dust Bunny*

              Honest to god, I have distant cousins who, until the 1980s, used the term “chink” casually. Not meaning it to be racist, but also having no clue that, in the outside world, it’s super, duper, exceptionally, nineteenth-century-grade racist. They have since learned not to say it in public, but I’m not convinced that they ever internalized how bad it really is since they grew up using it as just another noun/adjective.

              They’re from a smallish (very white) town in the Midwest. Not even a border state.

            14. MFKD*

              I couldn’t believe no one had said this yet! Big Lebowski came out in 1998, so… this has been an obviously racist term for 20+ years.

            15. Let the jokes die*

              Please consider not posting your grandfather’s jokes. While you’re calling them out as racist, continuing to tell them simply perpetuates their existence. Let them fade into obscurity, where they belong.

            16. Ask a Manager* Post author

              It’s widely considered racist is the U.S. I’ve removed much of a 78-comment thread about this that was derailing the entire comment section. Please leave it here.

            17. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

              Holy crap, I live about as Deep South as you can get and there is absolutely NO ONE I know who would openly use that very racist term (and definitely not AT WORK).

            18. Richard Hershberger*

              This is what is known in linguistics as the etymological fallacy: the idea that an analysis of a word’s etymology tells you what it means, or should mean, today. A common example is the word “decimate.” Use this as it is nearly always used on modern English and someone will come along and lecture you about Roman army disciplinary methods. This is all very interesting, but largely irrelevant to how the word is used today. (Or, for that matter, how it has ever been used in English, but that is another discussion.)

              So as a point of etymology, you are right. The word is indeed formed analogously with other words that have no negative connotation. There is an interesting discussion, moving from etymology to cultural history, about why this word has acquired such connotations. None of this is relevant to the question of its suitability for use in present day English.

            19. tamarack & fireweed*

              Uh, no. The first is a racist slur. The others are the normal dictionary words for “person from country X”.

            20. Pomona Sprout*

              “Northerners tend to get bent out of shape over language that’s not meant to be derogatory.”

              Wow. Seriously?

              This issue has nothing to with north v. south.” Certain language just IS derogatory and therefore NEVER appropriate, period, full stop. Whether it’s “meant” to be that way is COMPLETELY irrelevant.

              Furthermore, so-callled “good intentions” do not cancel out the negative effects of such language, and disclaimers such as “I didn’t mean it that way,” “I didn’t mean anything by it,” etc., are NOT acceptable excuses (much less “Get Out of Jail Free”) cards.

              Yeesh, I really HATE that I just had to state all of that in so many words, almost TWO decades into the 21st century. *facepalm*

            21. Cassie*

              Aside from the historical context, the words themselves are not the same – “Chinaman” isn’t the same as “Englishman” or “Frenchman”. Now “Chineseman” would be somewhat on par with Englishman or Frenchman, or if you’re going to go with Chinaman, then it would be Englandman and Franceman. Which is of course ridiculous when you hear or read it.

          3. Dragoning*

            This was definitely my gut reaction, but either way, it was inappropriate.

            However, a lot of kids (especially white kids) tend to learn about what’s racist first from their parents and if the son is still young yet, I can see how a kid might’ve said or done something unintentionally racist that OP had taught them was okay and OP thinks is with pushing back on.

            OP, this isn’t one to fight.

          4. Clisby*

            That’s what I thought – how many young adults today would even have heard of the term “Chinaman?” I’m 65 and have never actually heard anyone use it – just read it in older books.

          5. Green*

            Kudos to you for recognizing that your learned “normal” behavior was inappropriate. Unfortunately, some people double down or blame it on “PC culture”, etc., and it only winds up hurting themselves and others.

      2. Janet*

        We all love and support our kids, and most of us know that young people sometimes don’t tell the whole story if it puts them in a bad light. Many teens (mine included) have a heightened ability to feel like a wounded, innocent, misunderstood party in a dispute where it is clear they carry a significant p0rtion of the blame. I think this parent should lean toward believing there is another side to this story. Even if the scenario is completely true, there is no way to reverse it and it is unlikely that anyone’s mind will be changed by anything a mother says after the fact. I say the parent should suggest to the child that the silver lining here is that this is a good life lesson about professional communication in a work place, and then everyone should move on to new things as a wiser person.

    3. JSPA*

      whether he said “Chinese man” and they heard “Chinaman” or whether he was making an over – broad statement about social norms or work norms in China (even if sociologically true!) or tried to make a comparison between workers rights in the US vs China, and it landed funny with someone who has strong feelings about “people who talk about rights at work,” really isn’t relevant. Kid should do due diligence before taking the job; kid should not therefore start work life there by complaining / having to complain; and kid should take to heart that sociological assessments and statements touching on race at work are intrinsically fraught. Just as it is problematic to say “the lady in the wheelchair” as an identifier, there are precious few reasons to bring up the boss’s nationality or ethnicity. Any chance your son is hung up on the concept that a term has to be racist or the intent has to be racist for a comment to be problematic at work? Because even if it is statistically true that bosses from China are more likely to [whatever], and even if [whatever] is not an objectively negative attribute, it’s not work – appropriate to be discussing or alluding to that fact at work. And anytime you randomly mention someone’s race or ethnicity without a deeply relevant reason, there’s a risk that someone will hear allusions to [whatever].

      1. Czhorat*


        I’m a bit concerned about thr LW’s assertion that this was over a “misunderstanding”. Their kid used, at best, inappropriately racial language and then got defensive when called out on it.

        If you approach it, it should be with humility and, I would think, an apology for your child’s behavior. If you approach it with the thought that the firing was unjust you’ll do further damage to your reputation with this vendor.

        1. BRR*

          Yeah I don’t like the language describing it as a “misunderstanding” and that it was “perhaps not relevant,” and calling it a “high-turnover” industry several times. I strongly urge the LW to not try and defend their son or “change the record.” Its really hard for any language to not hint at, or sound like, there’s some ill will but I would try and send an email in the spirit of continuing a smooth working relationship.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          The worst is that if OP tries to explain this was a “misunderstanding,” it’s going to drop OP’s reputation in the vendor’s eyes. Because if I had fired someone for saying something racist and their parent tried to convince me it wasn’t racist, I would think, “Well, now I know where it comes from.”

          Better to coach son with the very thoughtful points folks have made about how even “Chinese man” can be a racist turn of phrase, why it’s important not to complain about the owner/manager with one’s boss, etc. There were a lot of mistakes made, here, but the benefit is that OP’s son is young enough to learn, grow, and move on if he’s given support on how to do that (instead of latching on to the “misunderstanding” rationale).

          1. Akcipitrokulo*

            Absolutely this. I wouldn’t necessarily think of parent less favourably from the incident (depending on what else I knew of them) but if they tried to call it a misunderstanding? Our relationship just nosedived.

        3. RUKiddingMe*

          I’m kind of leaning towards the kid is rules lawyering because he learned it from OP who seems to be doing the same (or close to the same) with “misunderstanding.”

      2. Yorick*

        And this happened in a meeting where he was complaining about a manager “being a bully,” and something inappropriately racial may have been super inappropriate in that context.

      3. Genny*

        I think this is a good summary. At best, son didn’t do anything wrong and has learned an important lesson about why a place might have high turnover and now he knows to do some digging when he encounters another such job opportunity. Hopefully, he’s also learned how to constructively bring problems to management’s attention. At worst, son said something he shouldn’t have said and has learned an important lesson about what is and isn’t acceptable at work. Hopefully, he’s taken that message and applied it to life more broadly. Either way, there’s no intervention for mom to take on son’s behalf. Chalk it up as a learning opportunity and move on.

      4. Works in IT*

        This. Though the news articles that have been published in the last few years seem to have primed people to expect “Chinese people are rude and belligerant” (caused by tourists who are unfamiliar with customs from outside their country, China is HUGE and has so many people that odds are very high that most rude tourist articles are going to be about Chinese tourists), that’s still not an excuse to bring what country someone comes from into it. If the problem is that the big boss is friendly friendly with the horrible manager, why not just say that? Or if they’re family. Or if they’re otherwise being influenced to not discipline the bad manager (could even be as simple as they’re paying below market wage and this manager is the only one willing to work in those conditions).

      5. JessaB*

        Although “the woman in the wheelchair” might be useful in a room with three standing women, two on crutches one on a frame and one in a chair…still unless you need it in order to identify a person out of a group, you don’t need it.

        I should have actually used it once. The first time I went to meet Mr B on a blind date, I flew into his home city from mine in Florida, and the jetway started to get empty and I was looking around and suddenly it dawned on me that the one guy left, looking over the head of the gal in the wheelchair had to be Mr B. And I had neglected to tell him I travel airports sitting down. So all the bright colours I wore did no good.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Absolutely there is sometimes a reason. When I need to describe my husband I say “the giant (6′ 6”) Arab guy. I say “Arab” instead of “Moroccan” because he is ethnically Arab and most people (shockingly to me) seem to not know where Morocco is or that most of the population is ethnically Arab and/or Berber ergo it’s just simpler. If I don’t need to specifically identify him, his ethnicity and/or height isn’t relevant to anything.

    4. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      Hard agree with PCBH. Get the other side of the story before you make a final judgment and take action. If your son did anything that can be construed by a neutral third party as racist and you rush to support him, YOUR reputation will suffer.

      1. Busy*

        Yeah, I agree with PCBH to a degree. But I take even a less hands-on stance here. The OP knows her son. She knows if her son makes racist comments even implicitly. If her experience shows he doesn’t normally *mean* to say racist things, then that is her answer to that whole mess.

        The broader, and I think, more important action to take here is to talk to your son in this situation. Explain to him that racism exists and many forms, and like with anything else, we have to parse our words carefully when speaking to others. This is just life. And the crux here I think is to hit home with him that his INTENTION is irrelevant, it is his responsibility to literally think before acting, be clear with communication, and be distinct in language. Put this on your son as a learning situation on how to conduct himself, and don’t even bring it up to the vendor unless it effects your business relationship. And then, just apologize.

        And then maybe even go a step further and put it into perspective for him. He kept complaining. The manage is eventually going to wonder WHY he keeps complaining about the same things. And once he even remotely sounded like he was racist, that was answer enough. Intention doesn’t matter. Not legally and not morally. Teach your son the lesson that he needs to think before he speaks ALL THE TIME (which is arguably something white men have traditionally never been expected to do before – hence the current culture shock in our society).

        1. Goliath Corp.*

          “The OP knows her son. She knows if her son makes racist comments even implicitly.”

          Hard disagree, especially given the son’s presumptive age. Her son’s behaviour around this mother is likely very different than his behaviour out in the world.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            Mom of a son here, she knows, even if it’s only in the ‘sometimes he doesn’t think about implications and impact’ sense.

              1. Busy*

                Just to respond to all of you – I think it is wise, to instead parsing so closely my phrasing, maybe consider why you are so focused on that? It is not even the important part of my post?

                And yes, unless the child is a pathological liar or the mother lives under a self-formed rock, she knows darn well her son makes comments. And even if he learned them for her, she still knows. And if she doesn’t? Well I just told her that it doesn’t matter what she thinks about that.

                (I also thought I was getting away with So Much as a teen – found out I wasn’t. My parents knew. Your parents knew.)

                So I hope we all learned a valuable lesson today.

                End of snark (but seriously guys, this crap is bordering on breaking site rules and in literally exhausting so please stop doing it. And you know what I mean too.)

          2. Thursday N*

            She may not recognize things he says as racist, though. Look how OP is arguing about this known incident.

            I agree with Busy’s advice to think carefully, learn when to drop a complaint, and avoid thinking of intention as a defense when called out on something.

          3. RUKiddingMe*

            This. Also have we considered that OP may say racist things herself without thinking them through? Not saying she does, but most of us have these things in our heads we were raised with/around and sometimes say stuff without thinking it through. Conscientious people try to not do that and when they screw up recognize and correct it, but it’s possible OP says things she thinks are innocuous that…aren’t, and Son has learned them at home.

            It’s shocking how many people don’t think through “Chinaman,” or closer to home for me insults towards Arabs/Muslims. I love when they use “Haji” as an insult though…to a Muslim being Haji is a good thing. But…I digress.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          The OP knows her son. She knows if her son makes racist comments even implicitly.

          Or, the OP makes the same racist comments without considering them racist. Because she doesn’t seem to have any issue with what her son said. The worst thing he’s done, in her opinion, is use a perfectly acceptable term that someone misinterpreted as racist. Someone who doesn’t, for example, understand why “and then this Chinese man comes in and…”* is racist is very likely to say their child is free of racism and has never made a racist comment.

          *I know this isn’t what the son said. I’m just giving an example of the casual use of this kind of “what, me racist?” talk.

        3. Holly*

          I suppose, but it’s likely that OP has all of the best intentions but also is not aware that a certain phrasing or reference to ethnicity could have been racist.

        4. Clisby*

          I wonder whether the complaining/disagreeing was the major factor in the firing and not necessarily the reference to a “Chinese man.” The boss might have decided this was a brand-new employee who wasn’t worth the trouble.

        5. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Part of the problem is that as white people, we’re conditioned to see racism as a binary condition. Either you’re a good person or you’re a racist. So when you tell a person they have just said a racist thing, they respond with “but I’m a good person!” But good people get stuff wrong sometimes, and the way you become a better person is by acknowledging the places where you’ve messed up and committing yourself to doing better in the future.

          OP, that’s how you frame it to your son. The world isn’t split into good people and racists. And sometimes you might say an ill considered thing that hurts people. When you do that, you apologize, learn from what this person is trying to tell you, and do better next time.

    5. Emily K*

      I was honestly thrown by this phrasing, which is maybe a typo or maybe not?

      “He admits that saying the owner was from China was perhaps not relevant to his conversation with his supervisor was not wise…”

      So the son admits… saying the owner was from China was not relevant to the conversation… was not wise?

      Maybe she meant to write not relevant or wise? but the wording given suggests that the son was the one telling the boss that the owner being from China wasn’t relevant, as if the boss had somehow brought it up first? idk, it doesn’t really make sense so probably just a typo.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I parsed this as the son admitted that saying the owner was from China wasn’t relevant to the conversation. And that it was not wise for him to make this admission. (Which opens a big can o’worms.)

      2. NerdyLibraryClerk*

        I can’t tell from this: “The big boss told him to put up with that manager because he was under a lot of pressure from the business owner, an immigrant from China. ” whether the big boss brought up that the owner was from China. If so, then that phrasing makes perfect sense – he told the big boss that it wasn’t relevant that the owner was from China. (Or, considering the letter at large, it wasn’t relevant that the owner was “a Chinese man.”) If the big boss just said he was under pressure from the owner, then I’m as confused as you are.

        But the whole situation is suffering badly from being third or fourth hand at this point.

          1. Indigo a la mode*

            Agreed. I doubt the manager would have said “Look, our immigrant boss is really pressuring me” and then also fired someone for racist “Chinese man” phrasing – people who are racially insensitive are less likely to notice something racially insensitive from someone else. Given that the OP immediately wrote that the boss being an immigrant from China was important, I think that note was hers.

  2. Laura H.*

    OP2, another option-at least to avoid outdoorsy work- or lessen it- might be asking if they need admin help or something less physically demanding but still helpful?

    1. MissGirl*

      Yeah, I wouldn’t dismiss volunteering out of hand, especially if this is something the entire team will be at. Wear the proper clothes and feign a “bad back” to get paint duty or keeping the site cleaned up. There’s a lot you can do that doesn’t require athleticism or outdoor skills. Trust me, I am a fellow gym dropout.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Sure, if the manager pressures them or it becomes clear it’s going to be an issue for the OP to opt out. But plenty of managers would be fine with hearing, “This just isn’t my cup of tea.”

        With stuff like this that isn’t about someone’s actual work role, people don’t need to default to looking for a way to do something they really don’t want to do, especially when they haven’t even tried to opt out yet.

      2. Artemesia*

        I like the idea of identifying volunteer work you want to do as a graceful way of sidestepping, but never get pushed into this kind of situation again. I was once a keynote speaker for lunch at an organization committed to community service and the morning activity for the conference was volunteer activities in the community. This was a great idea as we could build on these experiences later in the day. BUT as a 60 year old keynote speaker I got assigned to weed a huge garden in 90 degree sun for 3 hours with no opportunity to return to my room to shower or change clothes before lunch where I would be speaking. I was of course wearing a suit. I can’t imagine what they were thinking, but no way I was doing this and so I attached myself to the group going to the nursing home. You really do have to look out for yourself because the world at large won’t do it for you.

        1. valentine*

          never get pushed into this kind of situation again.
          OP2, there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to do physical labor, for Habitat, or outdoors. It’s wild and inappropriate that your manager was okay with you digging hole all day, adjusted your shirt, and didn’t tell you what clothes you’d likely need. I think you can honestly say you can’t go because you need to avoid injury. Only offer to do non-building/yard work if you can really say no, even to your manager, especially if she wants to touch you again.

          1. YetAnotherUsername*

            Yes this is crazy. I volunteered for habitat once and it was great fun. No one had to dig any holes. It was towards the end of the build so it was mostly painting. And we were briefed on wearing old clothes that we didn’t mind getting paint on.

            Even on paid building sites you wouldn’t assign someone to dig a hole with a shovel all day – that’s crazy. The fittest person would have difficulty with that! Not to mention digging neck-deep holes with basic equipment in a way that they don’t collapse in on themselves is a specialist task. Having an unskilled person do it is not likely to give good results.

            OP if the habitat site is run by the same people this time then definitely stay away from that – it seems very badly run. But if you did want to give it a try again be aware that there are better run habitat sites out there!

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Yeah, I am not getting why OP was set digging a hole all day. I would have given up after the first hour, “I have to go home. I don’t feel well.” Which probably would not be a lie.

              Some of this work is very strenuous. My friend does a lot of contracting work. I have helped him with projects here. There is a huge difference between what my friend can do after spending his life doing this type of work and what I can do given my background.

            2. Pommette!*

              The hole digging is pretty shocking, as far as dangerous make-work activities go, and a pretty good sign of bad planning/management. We… have machines that do that for us. We invented those because digging big holes by hand is a waste of time and energy.

              1. Dahlia*

                But it builds character! You take a bad boy, make him dig holes all day in the hot sun, it turns him into a good boy. That’s our philosophy here at Camp Green Lake – I mean, Habitat for Humanity.

            3. Archaeologist*

              As someone who has literally been employed digging holes all day, if you’re just digging one really big hole (aka a “trench” or a “unit”), you need to switch off and take turns. Nobody should dig a single hole alone all day without breaks for paperwork, screening, actual food and water breaks, etc.

      3. Seeking Second Childhood*

        It also depends on what has been promised to the Habitat for Humanity site manager.
        My husband’s office also works HFH day — and at the last one they simply didn’t have anything for his co-worker with a foot injury to do. She’d shown up expecting to paint or turn screwdrivers — but the site was still in rough prep stage.

      4. Rainy*

        My office does a volunteer opportunity every year, and I just don’t do it or comment on it. If someone asked directly I’d just say I wasn’t interested. Information beyond that isn’t necessary, in my opinion.

        I don’t like volunteering. I understand that there are people who get something out of it, but I don’t. My workplace gives volunteer days. I don’t use them. If something did come up that I wanted to do, I’d do it without comment, notify my supervisor and take my volunteer day for it, if approved, and that would be the end of it.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      That’s super true, and Habitat has volunteer needs that are non-physical or outdoorsy (i.e., desk-style volunteering). Not saying OP has to stick with Habitat, but it may make it an easier sell if it’s still part of this big team effort but allows OP to contribute in the way that feels best for OP.

    3. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      I agree with all of this. But what if the OP Tries to participate in a way that is comfortable for her but gets pushed back with “but we’re a TEEEEAM!!!”? Some co-workers and managers are real team shamers. How would OP deal with that?

      1. JessaB*

        And how often this stuff makes people have to disclose disabilities. I hate this, being disabled, I do not want to have to trot out “Breathing problems, allergies, all kinds of things I cannot do physically but being outdoors at a temperature higher than around 60 is a total no go. Not happening. Not ever.” And the amount of times I have at the last minute of an unscheduled thing had to be the Eeyore of the joint and downer the whole concept without having friends in the woods who actually supported me like Eeyore did.

        It happened in a training class, trainer was “ooh lets go outside.” I’m like it’s Florida, it’s 80, it’s not happening. Oh did I get dirty looks and people being nasty about it. I was there to learn a job, and you were about to hold an entire lesson session that I could not attend. Not on.

    4. Leslie Knope*

      Hi OP 2! I am often a volunteer team lead on Habitat projects. There are plenty of non-physical volunteer needs on workdays, helping set up meals, helping hand out helmets and tool belts. You could ask to be the photographer for your group! There IS a solution for this. Your Habitat contact wants you to have a positive experience. Just go to the build and talk to your Habitat coordinator there, and tell your boss ahead of time you’ll be onsite but not building because it’s not your thing.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The subject line of the OP’s email to me was “I don’t want to go outside even if it’s for charity or team bonding” — so it might be that they don’t want to be on-site at all (assuming on-site means outdoors). But that’s really useful for other people to know who might have concerns about the physical labor part of it!

      2. JSPA*

        If habitat still runs a ReStore (sells donated used and odd-lot building materials and goods) in the area, or maybe at the warehouse, would OP be able to volunteer for a day INDOORS? Or participate in financial counseling for recipient participants, if OP has the training and background? Or are there planning, information and duty packets that would be prepared in advance, that OP could compile? Or even packing PB&J bagged lunches early that morning, inside? “I’m doing my volunteering for habitat in advance, to lay the groundwork for everybody else’s volunteering” might be a way to thread the needle.

        1. Anononon*

          My work has volunteered at a Restore and somewhere else indoors (involved a walk-in refrigerator?), and both activities were more on the physical side – assembling ikea-style furniture and moving goods. So, this is just an FYI for the OP that don’t assume that indoor work would be less manual labor.

          1. WellRed*

            yes, retail in general can be physical. At any rate, I think the OP’s boss likes the idea (and the photo ops) of getting down and dirty on the job site. I’m appalled though that OP was asked to dig. a. ditch. Nope!

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            That’s a good point. I’d specifically request something indoors because summer weather and I are not friends, but the OP mentioned a lack of upper body strength.

          3. JSPA*

            they have cash registers too; and someone has to sort the outlet covers by color and size (e.g.). Just saying, if you approach them ahead of time with a, “I have Reasons to not do hard labor or outdoor things, can you find a gentle way I can be useful,” there’s a good chance they’ll find something.

      3. OP 2*

        Thanks for the information, though I’m not sure it will work for me. From what I saw on the event I participated in, those tasks were handled by the site manager and didn’t take enough time to constitute an actual role for someone. That could be due to the size of that site – it was small and our team of volunteers were less than 15 people.

        1. Rainy*

          The other option, if you are being voluntold, is to come down with a violent migraine or stomach flu day of and call in. My all-office retreat is always held in high summer, and my experience on the two years thus far that it’s been held outside have been awful. After the second “outside in the sun for hours” retreat that I went home from sick, I decided that for future outdoor retreats, I was going to come down with a flu and be too sick to leave the house.

        2. Leslie Knope*

          It sounds like below you have found a solution but I promise even if it’s a small site your Habitat lead doesn’t want you to have a negative and crappy experience so if you still end up going just talk to the Habitat contact there. I would make you my partner for doing the stuff mentioned, even if I don’t really “need” the help.

        3. JSPA*

          Eh, combine those tasks and (if you drive) being a gofer for the site manager…or doing tasks at two sites…it’d work.

          Don’t presume that all the others are suffering, so you should, too. Lots of people who are in an office most of the time sort of relish getting dirty in the sun occasionally. I do that sort of stuff for fun even when it’s not volunteering, because it combines exercise, real-time 3-D problem solving, new skills, and being able to point at something physical at the end of the day and say, “I did that.” So it’s no harm to someone else if you set your boundaries at a different spot.

          (Even if that were not true, it really is OK to set limits on what’s OK for you.)

          On the one hand: you have every right to try to avoid the whole thing if the thought revolts you–I support you in that. On the other hand, it might be worth deciding that, as H4H and you both have nothing to lose, you’ll try once more, to see if it’d be a much better experience if you set (and stick to) clear boundaries. Basically, your boss may be working under the kind but misguided misconception that people all blossom under those sorts of experiences, and generally have a great time. They’re not mind readers–this isn’t work–you don’t have to suck it up, if it’s not a good experience for you.

    5. BRR*

      If this is more of a requirement, which to me sounds plausible at a minimum, I like the idea of throwing in something about still participating in some way.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Or bring some syrup of ipecac, for use about half an hour into the project.

        1. Dahlia*

          I don’t think they actually sell ipecac anymore, because it almost always caused more harm than it prevented. (Exceptions being back in like 1890s when diptheria was a thing but I won’t get off topic.)

    6. Anne Elliot*

      One other minor point I’ll just mention: I think describing the preferred attributes as being “athletic” and “outdoorsy” sounds a little weird in the context of H4H. You’re building a house, not orienteering. I might instead describe my deficiencies in terms of being uncoordinated or “not good with tools.” I only mention this because my initial reaction to the LW’s use of those terms was to think “but you don’t have to be either of those things to participate.” “Outdoorsy” especially sounds to me perhaps a bit more – I don’t know, dismissive? tone deaf? – than I assume the LW intends. Just a thought.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        Yeah I’m not outdoorsy or athletic either and had a good time volunteering for Habitat once. I was asked to hammer nails and when I realized I wasn’t very good at it and didn’t want the person to live in a crooked house, I asked to do something else. I’d do as Alison suggested and find other things to volunteer for and explain that H4H just isn’t OP’s thing.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          On the flip side, I am athletic and outdoorsy and you don’t want me near any tools or building anything. I’m a DIY disaster and no one should have to come near, much less live, in anything I had to do with constructing. LW, maybe just tell you manager that you are not skilled with tools and don’t feel safe in or around construction sites and then offer alternate activities or to do something else with HFH.

          1. JessaB*

            This, painting, sure, hanging curtains on existing rods, sure, laying carpet, okay, but hammer? saw? power tools? Oh nooooooo. Not me, makes vampire fingers, bad idea. Stay away from me I’ll get hurt or hurt someone or there’d totally be a crooked house. Heck my father taught me to spackle a wall. But doing the cutting and the nailing and that stuff. Nope.

      2. Emily K*

        I think it’s more what LW alludes to feeling uncomfortable blurting out bluntly: she’s not in very good shape. Our society is really judgmental towards people who aren’t fit and “not athletic or outdoorsy” is frequently a polite euphemism for “not fit enough to keep up with people who have active lifestyles [like sports and outdoor activities]” that tries to sidestep the awkwardness by making it about the activity instead of the physical demands of the activity. So you don’t get, “oh, you’re not fat!” or, “oh, you’re just as capable as anyone!” as the well meaning but completely unhelpful response that nervous people who have been taught “fat” is an insult will often offer without realizing that it’s unhelpful.

        1. Erin*

          This is true, and I would also suggest that the LW not be so hard on themselves. I realize the situation highlights some issues with what you perceive as weaknesses, but be kind to yourself! This activity isn’t for you and that is fine, no need to diminish yourself while asking for advice.

        2. Holly*

          That’s very possible. But H4H – at least the kind I’ve experienced – offers activities like painting or like moving light things around. Hammering a nail. Things that I never felt I’d have to be in shape for.

          1. JSPA*

            I have friends who could get a blister and a sore arm from hammering one nail. Not to count the ones with actual named medical conditions that would make that too taxing. I love them dearly all the same!

        3. OP 2*

          Ok yes, I was trying to find a way around saying I’m really fat now and out of shape and landed on “not athletic and outdoorsy” to convey it. Not sure why that is considered tone deaf, as I would love to be in shape, athletic and outdoorsy as I see those as positive attributes, but it takes time to build up stamina and to be less self conscious and I’m not there yet.

          1. Thursday Next*

            I understand that this can be a sensitive subject, but I think it’s important to state clearly: “I am not physically able to perform those tasks/work in those conditions.” And specify those tasks or conditions. You don’t have to share health information beyond that.

            Using words like “outdoorsy” or “athletic” doesn’t really convey the seriousness of the situation. Plus, people might feel compelled to argue that a task doesn’t require “athleticism,” which most people understand to mean how fast someone runs, how high they can jump, aim, coordination, etc.

            1. Holly*

              I worry that could be seen as a misrepresentation, or relying on harmful stereotypes – being out of shape or gaining weight does not preclude anyone from physical activity (in fact, a friend of mine is plus size and killing it at crossfit). OP shouldn’t have to be forced to do anything they are not comfortable with, I just wonder if it would hurt more than help to make it about ability.

              1. JSPA*

                Nobody has to represent some class of people, let alone one that they’re perceived as being part of, rather than claiming membership in. OP can’t make “fat people look bad” anymore than a random woman can “make women look bad” or a random man can “make men look bad.” OP can 100% make a statement about OP’s ability.

              2. Tobias Funke*

                Right, but a plus size person “killing it at crossfire” by nature is not out of shape. OP is. I am. I think the in-peak-physical-condition among us tend to underestimate how hard some stuff can get physically when you are not in good shape.

              3. Dahlia*

                Hi I’m actually fat, and I’m assuming you’re not?

                OP is not stereotyping by saying that they are not physically capable of something. And yes, being out of shape does prevent you from doing things? Are you confusing “out of shape” with “thin”?

          2. Anne Elliot*

            It came across as tone deaf to me (and perhaps only to me) because “outdoorsy” to me is like camping or rock climbing or kayaking — things a person might do for fun in a recreational way. To me, it’s not a super descriptor for an activity that that is not oriented around enjoying the outdoors, but rather just happens to occur outside. I freely admit I may be over-thinking this. But I personally really disagree with the thought that you need to say anything like “I’m not physically able to do this” — I don’t think you need to do that at all. I just think it might be better to frame it as “not being good with tools” or “not being coordinated,” as opposed to casting the activity itself in terms that seem a bit frivolous, which is what “outdoorsy” does for me. (And maybe only me! Opinion offered for what it may be worth!)

            1. Thursday Next*

              How about, “I’m not able to do this” or “I won’t be able to participate in this”? My concern about offering “not being good with tools” is that someone will try to counter this with “It’s just a shovel” or whatever. I think it would be best if OP could say something nonnegotiable. Maybe that would be the statement that OP will be volunteering at a different place, as RU Kidding points out below.

              Building on another point RU K made, I’d personally use “not physically able” precisely because people underestimate the varied physical demands of lots of things. There have been times in my life when I have been fairly fit in terms of cardiovascular endurance, but would have noped out of the activity OP describes because lupus flares can be triggered by sunlight and heat. People shouldn’t have to reveal the specifics of their medical conditions, but I think it can be important to push back against the mistaken idea that anyone can do X task.

          3. RUKiddingMe*

            Just tell your manager you will be using your volunteer days to volunteer for your pet causes. You don’t have to use your physical attributes as a reason, at all. They had you dig a ditch? WTAF anyway? I’m not fat but I am massively out of shape and have about four immune disorders. Even hammering for more than a few (literally a very few) would cause me pain for the rest of the day and likely the next day, not to mention trouble breathing, etc. Unfortunately these physical activity types rarely think it through for those of us who … aren’t.

          4. Dahlia*

            I had a feeling you were fat! To be clear, I’m very involved in fat activism so I don’t mean that in a bad way at all, but I could feel it in the undertones of your post, you know?

            As a fellow fat person, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying, “I can’t do this” or even “I don’t want to do this”. You’re supposed to be volunteering – things being voluntary is kind of a key factor.

            Feel free to throw out your back a day before, too, imo.

      3. Beehoppy*

        As someone who is outdoorsy but not athletic I’m taking outdoorsy to mean – doesn’t like to get sweaty, doesn’t spend a lot of time outdoors so maybe doesn’t have the appropriate clothes/shoes/hat/sunglasses to be comfortable outside and working all day, possibly has pollen allergies, gets uncomfortable not being able to sit down, etc… and I’m not sure how else to describe that than not outdoorsy.

        And if you’re out of shape, it can mean you get winded very easily, have difficulty lifting or carrying moderately heavy things, etc.. I don’t think I have the physical skills to dig a hole for a long period or do much of the work required in building a house and I would probably phrase it as not athletic.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          Yeah, I think “not outdoorsy” means: “Look, I’m Eva Gabor from Green acres. I’m more than happy to do paperwork or set up your big donor dinner. I don’t want to build houses.”

          I’ve known a few people like this. PSA: Don’t take them on camping trips, it makes them sad.

            1. Clisby*

              Yeah, but Lisa Douglas actually adapted to the farm better than Oliver. That was one of the great things about that truly bizarre show.

        2. Artemesia*

          The only habitat project I ever worked on involved hammering together sides of buildings that were being pre-fabbed flat in a giant parking lot in the sun in 98F weather. The work was not beyond me, but doing it in the sun for more than an hour was in that weather.

          1. Emily K*

            Yep, I traveled in the Caribbean one summer with someone who was maaaybe just barely overweight by BMI but was definitely out of shape as she has a very demanding/high-pressure office job that doesn’t leave a lot of time for physical activity. I’m very pale and burn incredibly easily even when I think I’ve properly sunscreened up, the protection fades or sweats off and it’s like I can feel my skin cooking like a steak on the griddle, and at that point in my life I was working out about 5 days a week so I was in great shape.

            It ended up creating this sort of unfortunate scenario where I wanted to walk everywhere relatively quickly to minimize my sun exposure, but she would get easily winded or tired and not be able to match my pace. I felt like a jerk for leaving her behind or making her feel like she had to walk faster, but I also felt like she was a little bit the jerk for making me more vulnerable to burning. (Obviously neither of us are really a jerk, it’s just a crappy situation with no great solution, but you get the point.)

            We weren’t carrying any more with us than a purse and even though I was wanting to walk faster, it was still a walking speed and not jogging, but because she isn’t used to walking long distances at all, she just fatigued much faster than I did for very understandable reasons.

        3. emmelemm*

          Yeah, I’m in moderate physical condition such that I could paint or carry light-ish things around or do other decent physical labor (probably not dig a hole though!). But I can’t be outside in direct sunlight, even with sunscreen/sunglasses/hat/water, for more than about half an hour without feeling sick.

          Not outdoorsy, me!

      4. CheeryO*

        I agree. I think the LW could definitely try to get out of it by saying that they have already planned their volunteer days for the year, but I don’t know that I’d bring outdoorsy-ness into it. Part of the point of H4H is that you might get a little uncomfortable – even in-shape people are probably going to struggle with a full day of manual labor, but the idea is that you’re doing it for a greater good, so you sort of suck it up. I don’t say this to shame the LW – I’ve done H4H and did not enjoy it or feel that my contributions were that meaningful – but they should keep in mind that their manager might give that line of reasoning a bit of side-eye.

        1. OP 2*

          I hear what you are all saying. I will follow the advice to submit my volunteer day requests so that my manager can see that they are used. I’ll keep my reasons for preferring not to use them for this event to myself. I agree that the real reason isn’t a great one from a moral standpoint, so I wasn’t all that keen on sharing that at work anyways and why I wrote in for advice to see what others think. Thank you for giving feedback!

          1. Akcipitrokulo*

            Your real reason is fine. You don’t want to do that volunteer activity and are willing to do another which will be more useful. Your moral standpoint is doing great!

          2. EnfysNest*

            I don’t think there’s anything morally wrong with your reasoning at all! You just don’t want to do physical or outdoors work – there’s nothing wrong with that! If someone said they would rather do administrative/indoor volunteer work because they had a trick knee or they overheat too easily or they are clumsy with tools or they don’t like to be sweaty or they’re saving up their energy for something else they want to do or any other reason, it’s really no different – you get to decide what you’re comfortable committing to. Volunteering is already a work of sacrifice no matter what the activity is and you get to choose the way that you want to offer your own time, if at all! Please don’t feel like there’s any shame in your reasoning – you have every right to select out of this, *especially* since you have plans to volunteer in other ways.

          3. LSC*

            Hi OP 2! I just hope you’re not too hard on yourself for the real reason “not being great from a moral standpoint”. I don’t really think what this is about. H4H is a very physically demanding activity and even people who are somewhat fit might still have a hard time. Moreover, given that it’s about building houses someone will actually live in, it’s actually counterproductive to have people there who are not in a position to adequately perform the activities. You will be giving a much bigger contribution through your volunteer activities doing something that you enjoy and feel able to adequately do.

            I think the point of the advice to not bring outdoorsiness or athleticism to it and just mention your prior volunteering commitments is that it would be more effective with your manager, not to ascribe any morality or lack thereof to your reasons for being uncomfortable doing H4H, which really isn’t for everyone.

          4. Tobias Funke*

            Your reason is completely valid from a “moral standpoint”. Your physical fitness is not a moral issue.

          5. RUKiddingMe*

            Of course it’s fine from a moral standpoint. There is nothing immoral about it. Don’t think like that! “I don’t want to do X…” (whatever X may be) is perfectly moral even if X is “feeding caged refugee children through the chain link.”

            That’s an extreme example to be sure, but I want to emphasize that even just not wanting to do something, much less not being physically up to it is in no way a moral failing. We all have our reasons and can’t all be all things to every body/cause, no matter how noble all/every time.

        2. Arts Akimbo*

          But it’s physically dangerous for some people to take on that kind of work, which is what the side-eyeing people need to be more aware of.

        3. Former manager*

          I’m going to push back on this. No one is obligated to do something they are not good at or comfortable with just because it’s for a good cause. People who aren’t good at the tasks involved in building a house should not build houses. The people who are going to live there deserve a house that is built well by people who were able to accomplish the tasks properly.

          “I’m not good at construction work” is a perfectly valid reason not to do construction work. OP does not have to suck it up just because it’s a good cause. There are lots of good causes, and everyone should be free to serve the ones they’re best able to serve.

      5. Old and Don’t Care*

        Yeah, I would just say I can barely change a light bulb and this is not for me. People think “anyone can paint”, but that is not true and I am a disaster with paint. I agree with Alison and would find another volunteer opportunity.

      6. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I think “not outdoorsy” is a good reason not to participate in H4H, because at certain points in the build process, you will in fact be outdoors. Some people can’t spend long periods of time outside without suffering some ill effects, and that seems like a solid reason not to participate to me.

    7. smoke tree*

      The LW also pointed out that there are other ways they would prefer to spend their volunteer days, though. I think it’s fair to want to prioritize helping an organization that’s meaningful to you rather than the one your manager prefers. I can’t imagine the manager seriously objecting to an employee wanting to give their time to a different organization that needs it. If so, the manager is a loon.

  3. MommyMD*

    Mom, stay completely out of it. Your son is an adult who got fired. He now needs to find another job. Let him do this on his own and learn what being a grown up means. Let him learn how to manage/tolerate coworkers and managers. You can’t teach him this lesson. Meddling now won’t look good on you.

    1. MommyMD*

      The only thing I would do is what A said about smoothing it over with vendor. Not defending your kid. The whole thing does sound kind of mouthy for a new employee.

    2. Annette*

      Yes MommyMD. Everyone thinks the no-meddling rule doesn’t apply when it’s their ‘kid.’ It still does.

      I would just add – you don’t want to be tarnished by association. The less your business contact thinks of his problem child and you together = the better. Sorry to say.

    3. Kimmybear*

      I found it interesting that you assumed it was Mom where I assumed it was Dad. I don’t think it matters which parent it was but it does show how two people can view the same situation so differently. One sees it as an unwise comment and the other sees it as racist.

      1. Jaybeetee*

        I believe there’s a default on this site to assume letter writers are women unless otherwise specified. So many regular commenters will default to “she” if the gender is unclear.

    4. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Yup. Meddling could risk your professional relationship with this group. Don’t do that.

      1. C*

        Not really, as the LW states they “have witnessed the abusive behavior, and recognize how detrimental it has been to our workplace”. LW doesn’t deny that the VP’s behavior is toxic, just that they are at a level where that toxicity doesn’t really apply to them and don’t want to risk changing that by signing on with their colleagues.

        1. IL JimP*

          exactly what happens if nothing comes of this letter of grievance, then she’s definitely in a bad situation if she signed and frankly so is everyone else who did

          1. Mike C.*

            Yeah, it’s amazing how many labor protections over time were earned through the technique of “never rock the boat and don’t stick your neck out”.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              The OP is not obligated to sign on to an action that she wouldn’t have initiated herself and that she’s not comfortable undertaking, particularly when it could mean risking her livelihood. There are other ways to support her coworkers.

              1. AskAnEmployee*

                Just because someone does not have a legal obligation to do something, doesn’t mean it’s right. Worker solidarity is a good thing and should generally be encouraged.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I’m not talking about legal obligations. I’m talking about ethical ones. As I wrote in the post, there are ways she can support her coworkers that don’t endanger her job if she’s not up for that.

                2. Tristan*


                  Alison: How bad would an employer’s behavior need to be before you felt there was an ethical obligation to speak up against it, regardless of potential impact on their employment?

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  It depends on details we don’t have here, including things like how precarious the person’s financial situation is. I’m not going to tell anyone some jerk’s behavior obligates them to put their housing and safety at risk.

                4. Mediamaven*

                  Worker solidarity is a great thing but no one should feel bullied or peer pressured into joining an effort they aren’t comfortable with – full stop. There are plenty of other ways to show you agree with a situation. We had a somewhat similar situation where one senior person sort of served as the point person and spoke with me candidly about a bad manager. I dealt with it swiftly. If they had come to me with some sort of written grievance, frankly, that would have irked me. She doesn’t agree with this direction and she shouldn’t be forced to participate in it.

              2. JSPA*

                I’d go with, “I’m much more useful to you if I don’t sign.” It’s true! If fact-finding is done, OP is officially above the fray, rather than, by default of their position, seen as leading some sort of internal coup. De facto management is often sympathetic to worker demands, and that’s lovely, but it’s very rarely in anyone’s best interests to have them join in on a worker-level grievance.

            2. Tristan*

              “British Colonialism is pretty bad, but hey, I’ve got a good thing going here” – Mahatma Gandhi

      2. tinyhipsterboy*

        idk, there’s a difference between a unified pushback by interns or super-new employees on an inoffensive rule and an organized attempt to curb toxic/abusive management behavior.

      3. Tristan*

        Yes, asking to wear sandals in the office as a college intern and asking for protection from abusive and inappropriate behavior by a company Vice President are basically the same thing.

    1. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

      I think the last one like this the person writing in had been at the job a month or so and all the other coworkers wanted her to join the pushback.

      Similar, but not exact. I am wondering what happened to that letter writer, though. Hopefully we find out during update season.

  4. JR*

    Ooh, the Habitat question is an interesting one. I firmly agree that OP #2 shouldn’t be forced to do a physical activity that is unrelated to her job and that she isn’t comfortable doing. But I wonder if the answer would be different if it were a different kind of volunteer activity, that was more widely accessible/palatable.

    On the one hand, paid time off for volunteering is typically positioned as an employee benefit, to be used at the employee’s discretion, and of course the manager should no more tell the employee how to use those days than how she should use her vacation days. On the other hand, for companies, one of the major benefits of volunteer programs (and thus one of the major drivers behind offering paid time off for volunteering) is the team-building opportunity that volunteering together provides. As I think this through, though, I think this is where I land – if it’s truly opt-in, then great, have employees use their volunteer time. But if it’s an activity that the manager is essentially requiring, for the good of the department, it should count as work time and shouldn’t count towards the paid time off for volunteering. What do others think?

    1. blaise zamboni*

      It’s interesting to me that one of the factors in providing volunteer time is to foster team-building exercises. My guess was a totally different vein: companies want to have bragging rights about how involved their staff is in the community. That’s a major factor in my current company and my previous company, and neither of them even offered volunteer time…they just take credit for the good their employees do. So TIL.

      But I agree, if a company provides volunteer time for the sake of a specific team-building event during the year, I think that should be pretty specifically outlined. I.e., the benefit is that you get 2 days of volunteer time, plus, if you choose to participate, a 3rd day of volunteer time for Company Team-Building Event. I volunteer a lot in my spare time, and although I am outdoorsy and support Habitat for Humanity’s cause, I would honestly be pretty salty if I had to ‘choose’ to use 50% of a benefit for an org that I don’t typically work with. Especially if that ‘benefit’ included all my coworkers. That’s just work.

      OP — you absolutely do not come off as a selfish jerk for wanting to use your benefits for your own passions. I like Alison’s phrasing, and I might add a little more emphasis on how much you enjoy the benefit for your own work-life balance. “I tried X event in the past and it really wasn’t for me, but I value these volunteer days so much because it gives me more opportunity to work with Y and Z orgs that I already contribute to in my spare time” or something.

      Go forth and spread good, however you like to do it!

      1. JR*

        This varies tremendously company to company, since each company has its own strategies, needs, etc. but I’d say, on average, companies’ #1 goal for volunteering is fostering employee engagement – that is, improving the company’s relationship with the employee by ensuring the employee feels valued and supported, increasing the likelihood that the employees sees something in the company to value and respect, feels like part of something bigger than their own role, etc. #2 is building culture, building community, team-building. Fostering recruitment and retention are both key and I’d say those fall into both #1 and #2. I’d put PR at #3 – not that it isn’t important to companies to show their customers and their communities that they care and are part of the community, to reinforce their brand, etc., but volunteering isn’t usually the top tool they use for that, and #1 and #2 here are more directly impacted by volunteering and other employee-facing programs like that.

      2. Quickbeam*

        My company loves the photo op possibilities and often errs on the side of PR than team building. I’ve been required to attend and participate in events I have zero aptitude or ability for. Often the activities are the enthusiasm of the manager, not the skills or desires of the employees. It’s paid time so not the hill to die on but not always the goodwill gesture people hope it looks like.

      3. Artemesia*

        We were not provided with ‘volunteer days’ although salaried employees had the flexibility to manage their time including a volunteer event, but the organization wanted us to fill out detailed records every year about our work in the community (even at our own kids’ schools or our own church projects) so they could brag about the number of hours donated to the community by employees.

      4. Richard Hershberger*

        Worth noting that as a team-building exercise this absolutely sucks, unless you manage to find an activity that literally everyone hates so they combine in hating you for making them do it. Put Joe Do-It-Yourselfer next to Bobby All-Thumbs and they end up hating each other by the end of the day, even if they were best friends at the beginning.

    2. Beleaguered Grad Student*

      I agree! Additionally if it is going to be a required event (in which case it should count towards work time) I think whoever is organizing the event should be very thoughtful about selecting a volunteer opportunity that is going to be accessible to all and palatable to all (where palatable means “is something non-controversial/inoffensive” e.g. sorting food at the community food bank rather than volunteering for an organization whose mission or associations could make people uncomfortable, not “is something fun/actively enjoyable”).

    3. DAMitsDevon*

      I also think that if a volunteer event is required, it should be covered by work time, not any sort of PTO, even if that PTO is specifically for volunteering. My company doesn’t do any sort of team building volunteering (we’re a nonprofit though), but if I was in the situation that OP was in, I would probably want the team building volunteering to count as work time, so I could use my 2 volunteering PTO days for the volunteering I do outside of work. The organization I volunteer with does some lobbying at the state government offices a few times a year, and I’ve haven’t gone with them yet because unlike other volunteering activities, lobby days happen during business hours. If a company I worked for offered volunteer days, I’d want to use them for volunteer activities that I know I am passionate about, not something I may just be doing because I need to for work.

    4. Akcipitrokulo*

      Old Job gave us the option of 2 volunteer days – they’d make suggestions, and advertise things our chosen charity was doing that needed warm bodies, but it was up to you what (if anything) you did. And you got paid for it, so company was actually contributing, not just taking the credit.

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

    Why would you show up to a Habitat build without work clothes?

    1. Engineer Girl*

      You haven’t done it before and you don’t know what it really takes?
      The OP states that they are not outdoorsy or athletic at all.

      1. JSPA*

        Many team building volunteer efforts include t-shirts and habitat’s team builds visible online often show people in habitat t-shirts… so while I is a person who lives in t-shirts, shorts and flat, robust shoes would naturally bring my own, i can see OP not expecting to have to do so. Or not wanting to borrow shoes and a T shirt, if they honestly don’t own that sort of clothing.

        1. Anne Elliot*

          Or they were provided with a T-shirt and it didn’t fit properly, which is why it was also riding up. Not an uncommon problem when “team building” shirts are handed out and no one consulted the team members in advance to make sure they all received proper sizes.

      2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        If I knew nothing of something I was volunteering for, I’d ask questions. No, OP shouldn’t be made to do something she’s uncomfortable doing, but going in blind and not knowing anything about what was involved is a little irresponsible on their part.

        1. Emily K*

          Irresponsible is really a stretch when we’re talking about unknown unknowns. You have to know that clothing is going to be relevant to think to ask about clothing.

          Speaking as someone who has coordinated a lot of events, if certain clothes are required that is absolutely something I would publicize, not just expect everyone to assume the right dress code and assume they would ask if they weren’t sure. Logistics fall on the planner to communicate, not the attendee to chase down.

          1. GR*

            Yup. And if the organization isn’t good at doing logistics and planning for what might go wrong, I really don’t want them building houses tbh. Especially not with untrained volunteers, which I think is a really strange practice anyway.

          2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

            Yes, and if someone isn’t sure about what clothing to wear in a work environment, they’re likely to default to their office dress code. Lest we get an email, “Dear Alison, my direct report showed up to the Habitat dig in leggings and an old oversized T-shirt…”

          3. CupcakeCounter*

            Agree – we are going to volunteer this Friday and the informational email and invite very clearly stated to wear long pants, casual t-shirts, closed toe shoes, and no dangle jewelry. I probably would have figured most of those out (humane society) but probably wouldn’t have thought about the earrings and long pants (probably would have worn jean capris and my usual hoops).

            1. Ramanon*

              Fortunately, dangling earrings and kittens is a combination that you only need to have happen once.

            2. Hope*

              I would make those long pants jeans if possible–if you’re dealing with kittens, they sometimes like to run up people’s legs, and those tiny, adorable claws are needle-sharp.

          4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

            I don’t think it;s much of a stretch. It’s not 100% on the OP and I agree that it’s the responsibility of the coordinator to relay the necessary information. But if I was given no specifics, I wouldn’t make assumptions, I’d ask questions. The responsibility lies with me to be prepared for the situation.

          5. ket*

            Agree with you that it’s on the planner to communicate clothing, Emily K, and agree that “irresponsible” is not a good characterization. What if the writer has a boss who says things like, “Oh, just wear something comfortable!” If the writer’s boss always wears polos and khakis and tennis shoes, but the writer’s wardrobe is mostly wrap dresses and heels, there’s gonna be a mismatch in useful advice. Likewise, if the work has been misrepresented (“You can just hammer some nails or hand out water bottles” -> digging a large hole), one could easily show up in a bra whose straps repeatedly slip off if you’re doing manual labor, or a shirt that rides up when you bend over, even though you thought you’d be fine for the actual work.

        1. Marthooh*

          “what should i wear to a habitat for humanity volunteer gig”

          Usually we don’t ask our new volunteers to bring anything except a great attitude and a willingness to be flexible.

          We try to be specific about beginning time and ending time and provisions for lunch. We stress dressing for the weather, such as sunscreen and a hat in summer. We discourage jewelry, loose-fitting clothing and items that could contribute to an accident. Safety is always priority no. 1.

      1. Observer*

        I was going to say the same thing. I do not own clothes that would be appropriate for a session of literally building buildings, including digging holes in the ground.

    2. MommyMD*

      More forced stupid team building under the guise of charity. The whims of the company. I’m paid to perform my duties proficiently not spend the day fulfilling someone else’s vision. I have my own charitable things such as pet rescue. If my company sent me to dig a hole I would not show up in work clothes nor dig a hole. My company understands this. And would never force this on us. It’s outrageous.

      1. Annette*

        Outrageous = too strong a claim. These things are common and it’s easy to find out what Habitat entails. I know from movies. LW doesn’t have to do it – but boss is doing nothing wrong here. No one is tossing anyone in a ditch.

        1. MommyMD*

          They kinda did lol. OP does learn to speak up. And Boss is pressuring for his choice of volunteerism.

          1. MommyMD*

            It is outrageous to assign an employee to dig a ditch outside his job, especially when she or he is not physically up to it. Very outrageous. Dangerous even.

            1. Rebecca*

              I totally agree! “Let’s take an office worker who sits at a desk 8-10 hours a day, who admits not being athletic, and give them physically demanding manual labor to do for 2 days, outside, in the heat, lifting literally tons of dirt from the ground”. Gee, what could go wrong?? I am literally shaking my head at this.

            2. Scarlet2*

              Exactly. People can get injured if they’ve never done that sort of thing before and they don’t know how to do it properly.

            3. Liza*

              Yeah, I’m a little surprised that this sort of thing would be considered appropriate for corporate volunteers. I mean, lighter duties, sure (we’ve had teams of volunteers from our big corporate sponsor pop down and paint our day centres and common rooms in residential units) but building work?? Hard labour? I mean, who’s training these people? Why are they not being provided with adequate clothing or at least warned prior to? Digging by hand is HARD. You do it wrong and you can do permanent damage to your back. These are not jobs you just throw Jo(e) Bloggs into for the day because you were fortunate enough to have a spare pair of hands. Somebody could get hurt, and/or some of those buildings may wind up not being up to spec. The mission sounds like a noble one, but participation should be VOLUNTARY and activities advocated thoughtfully and appropriately and above all SAFELY.

              1. Myrin*

                Right? I’m an experienced and avid gardener and have dug a hole or two in my life and it is such hard work and takes so long. After I dug a (comparatively shallow!) hole for the first time, I had to think of all the times I’ve seen movies or TV shows where characters, IDK, go to the graveyard to dig up a suspicious coffin or go digging for an alleged treasure chest, and it always seems to be done in a matter of, well, maybe not minutes, but certainly quite a short amount of time. And I’ve been wondering ever since if anyone involved in such a scene has ever actually manually dug a hole before.

                1. Barefoot Librarian*

                  Right?! I once had to fill a pool that was up a small hill and not reachable by dump truck. Fill dirt was deposited about five feet from where it was actually needed. It was 44 tons of dirt being shoveled IN not OUT and it took about three weeks with four people doing it for hours after work every day. Moving dirt (even loose fill dirt) is HARD work. I always scoff at the digging-up-a-grave-in-a-night trope too. It’s laughably ridiculous.

                2. RUKiddingMe*

                  In one of the later seasons of The Americans (might be the last season I can’t remember) they have to dig up a coffin. There are like eight of them alternating and they have the time pass so that it’s like several hours…with eight people digging.

                  Don’t we have machines to dig holes now? Why would HFH have people digging by hand?

              2. JSPA*

                Habitat used to be very good at teaching people new skills / how to do it right, and not presuming familiarity with tools or a certain level of athleticism. Divergence from that norm should probably have been flagged in the first place, and it may not be too late to do so. Especially as digging in a deep hole (which can collapse) is far, far more dangerous than using a nail gun or similarly challenging tools.

                I’m also actually amazed that someone could dig a hole that deep without getting terribly blistered and too sore to move; bringing this up as a negative impact one one’s work-readiness might be another tack to try.

                1. Artemesia*

                  I am surprised that anyone would actually do it. Even in my most insecure and obsequious days, ‘hell no’ would have come rapidly to my lips if they wanted me to do that.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            Wow, you completely misread that.

            It’s obvious Quickbeam thinks that people who do not have children also deserve safe homes.

          2. Aunt Vixen*

            I’m sure what Quickbeam means is that people without children also deserve safe homes. Let’s not do this, shall we?

            1. Peacock*

              It’s an extremely weird premise on which to boycott a charity. It could be that in their particular region, there are way more vulnerable families with children that without so they choose to prioritise them. It just seems a little misanthropic. Especially considering the amount of “why should people with kids get special treatment” comments on the recent pregnancy and kids related letters.

              1. biobotb*

                But no one owes Habitat for Humanity their time. There are nearly endless ways to contribute to one’s community. If it’s Quickbeam’s priority to find a way that benefits everyone in need, it’s their prerogative; their time isn’t endless, so they have every right to use it to support a charity that best aligns with their priorities.

        2. LCL*

          An open ditch would be safer than being in a hole neck deep. Especially on a construction project being overseen by people who have little to no construction experience.

          1. JSPA*

            Right? This is an absolute no-no; trench collapse kills people regularly. Deep holes and trenches have to be professionally braced and reinforced.

    3. LilyP*

      More like, why would the company organize the trip and not spell out the expected attire beforehand? Or not provide a less physical alternative?

    4. Leslie Knope*

      I’ve done dozens of builds with Habitat and I’ve never not been given a Habitat t-shirt during orientation so that’s an odd one to me.

      1. Bagpuss*

        But a T-Shirt isn’t the same as having suitable work clothes. If someone is being asked to do hard physical labour like digging holes then appropriate work attire means more than just a T-Shirt. And not everyone is going to have things like sturdy shoes or boots, comfortable trousers or shorts they can work in, a sports bra or equivalent etc.
        And if you aren’t into that type of work or activity, you may not know what to wear that will work for you.

        I don’t think that OP or anyone should be forced into doing volunteer work of a kind they are not comfortable with, bt I think the onus is very much on the company to ensure that they give very clear guidance about what will be expected – e.g. what type of work is involved, what type of clothing would be appropriate and so on. And have options for people to opt out.

        1. JSPA*

          It is relevant as far as not having the right sort of shirt so that one ends up exposing oneself to the point that anyone would think of intervening? Presuming the shirt really was falling so problematically that a “grab it now” seemed necessary. The OP doesn’t seem to be outraged by the “help,” which I suppose means they agreed that the shirt was badly displaced, and considered the intervention helpful??? (Though as others have said, that’s also a potentially relevant side issue; even if my hands were grubby, I’d generally prefer to pull at my own shirt, thankyouverymuch.)

        2. LCL*

          Exactly. I can totally picture someone who has never done any kind of outdoor work being instructed to wear things she could get sweaty and dirty. So not-outdoor person shows up wearing athletic leggings and a running tank and old running shoes, which are not what she needs for the work, but are all that she has that is close to the description.

          1. Ann O'Nemity*

            Yes, this. Workout or athleisure is the closest I have to manual labor clothes. Not appropriate for building homes.

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        I once worked with Habitat through a school organization when I was in law school and I got no t-shirt and no training. There was no orientation. There was no information other than “sign up of a shift and appear at the site at the right time.” I honestly had no idea what to expect going in.

    5. KoiFeeder*

      I can absolutely see someone hearing or reading “work clothes” with no other information and coming to the conclusion that they need to wear the clothes they wear to work. People, as a general rule, are pretty terrible communicators if they haven’t taken classes on how to do it.

    6. Half April Ludgate, Half Leslie Knope*

      Yeah, this feels off to me. I manage employee volunteerism at my company, and Habitat is very good at laying out ALL the details about a job. Expectations, attire, etc. I suppose it’s possible to have a volunteer coordinator at the company who didn’t share, but Habitat’s pretty well known – what did OP think they’d be doing on a build site?

      Speaking to the whole concept, this is one of my pet peeves at work – teams who don’t consider their employees interests and capabilities, only their own personal passions. Part of my job is making sure all employees have opportunities to give back that suit them.

    7. OP 2*

      I work jeans and the t-shirt they provided and then some tennis shoes that I soon learned weren’t as enclosed as I had thought (mud started seeping in). The t-shirt was shorter than I need for my shape and my jeans, as it turned out, were too loose for moving around as much as I was and in the ways that I was, so it kept slipping down. It was an unfortunate error on my part.

      1. CM*

        Ugh, that sounds humiliating and I can see why you wouldn’t have to go through it again! I hope your followup puts an end to the speculation about you showing up to a work site in a business suit.

      2. DaffyDuck*

        Mud boots vs. tennis shoes/enclosed shoes for a dry area are hugely different. I would not have worn my mud-defying boots to a Habitat build unless specifically requested, they are hot, not especially great for foot support, and uncomfortable to drive in. Jeans vary so much in the stretch, support, waist, etc. you don’t really know what they will do in a situation until you try them out. I have been to numerous events where the larger t-shirt sizes run out early on (sometimes due to poor planning but often to smaller-sized folks who want to make sure they can move easily and don’t get hot in fitted shirts). Unless you do construction as a business most people do not have appropriate clothing to be on a work site. My hobby is “outside work” and I will definitely say that none of this is your fault!

      3. LeighTX*

        I wore something similar the one time I worked on a Habitat site; the only instruction was to wear closed-toe shoes. I figured out really quickly that if they wanted a house built so that people could safely live in it, they did NOT want me working on it! I ended up laying sod all day and ended up with a very sore back and scratched-up arms.
        I agree with Alison’s advice to come up with an alternate plan for your volunteer days very quickly.

      4. JSPA*

        If the neck-deep hole was muddy, this is worse and worse, as far as safety.

        Habitat may differ by region and by local managers’ training; this sounds like something that simply should not be happening. With this additional information, I’d take a hard pass on volunteering again.

        “We care enough to die on a job site that cuts corners while using volunteers too clueless to know the danger” isn’t a good slogan for any company.

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          Yeah, this whole incident is really, really sketchy to me. That particular chapter/volunteer manager was really taking chances with safety. Someone could have gotten hurt and someone could have sued, or, at the very least, Workers Comp would be interested in finding out how someone threw out their back on a “volunteer” outing.

  6. MommyMD*

    I always tell my colleagues when I’m too busy to talk. “I’m buried. I can’t talk”. They get it because they’ve been there many times as well. Every day most of the day I’m too busy to socialize. No one holds it against each other.

    1. ACDC*

      One place I worked did something really interesting to let coworkers know if they were in the mood for chatting. Each person got a green tag, a yellow tag, and a red tag that went on their computer. The green tag implied “come on over whenever you’d like!” Yellow meant, “I’m pretty busy but if it’s urgent come on over.” Red was “super slammed, please don’t talk to me.”

  7. WoodswomanWrites*

    OP #1, Alison’s advice is solid about a conversation with the business associate who fired your son. That said, I think it’s important to understand that if things played out as your son told you, his comment could be perceived as racist.

    Assuming you are in the US, my experience as a white person is that the dominant culture has language norms that can come across as racist. Here’s an example. Let’s say I’m describing someone I work with, explaining that we were talking about a movie we saw at work, and the conversation goes like this. “I was talking to the Chinese man I work with and I found out we both like science fiction movies.” Compare that to: “I was talking to the Chinese man I work with to see if he could teach me his language since I only speak English and I’d like to learn Cantonese.” In the second instance, the man’s ethnicity is relevant to the conversation.

    In the first sentence, the man’s ethnicity is irrelevant to the conversation and in my experience, it’s typically used by white people for the sole reason of pointing out that someone is not white. They wouldn’t say, “I was talking to the white guy I work with and found out we both like science fiction movies.” In that context, there’s no reason to bring up someone’s ethnicity other than for the sake of pointing out that it’s not the same as the person speaking. I think that cultural norm is racist, even though many people don’t notice they’re doing it. I certainly didn’t for much of my life until it was pointed out to me.

    1. Grand Mouse*

      It’s even worse if someone is talking them in a negative context and brings up race, even if it doesn’t have to do anything with race, because it implies something nasty. And given the conversation, it does sound like the son was in fact not singing praises about him while calling him Chinese.

      (For example, I am Indian and at my previous job people would complain about customers while bringing up that they are Indian and I felt… unwelcome)

      1. Avasarala*

        Exactly what I pictured. Something like
        Son: My boss is such a jerk, can’t you do something about it?
        Big boss: Sorry, he does really good work for the owner so there’s not much I can do.
        Son: I don’t get why I have to put up with him just because he’s nice to a Chinese man.
        Big boss: What?! That’s racist! You’re fired!
        Son: But he IS Chinese, that’s not a racist word!

        If it was an exchange like that, yes the word “Chinese” in isolation is not positive or negative. But its usage in context insinuates that a Chinese man is not worth being nice to. You can hear this in the intonation if it was spoken aloud. So I imagine this kind of misunderstanding is what is happening here, and your son either genuinely doesn’t understand why what he said sounds racist, or he is misrepresenting to you what he intended to say by relying on the literal words he said. This is called the “holding your finger one inch from someone while claiming you’re not touching them” maneuver.

    2. Mouse*

      I agree. It can be seen as a shorthand way of identifying somebody a la ‘the red-haired woman’, the ‘guy with the British accent’, the ‘really tall guy’ but it’s interesting how sometimes people use ethnicity as the sole identifier.

      Also, it’s hard to tell from the story if immigrant means a) somebody who immigrated very recently or 2) somebody who has been in the country for a very long time. From personal experience, it can be a bit frustrating to be continually called “the [country] person” if you’ve lived here for most of your life. Of course – we don’t know the exact circumstances of the story.

      1. Old Biddy*

        Ugh. My mom is 81 and does this and it makes me crazy. In addition to it being racist, it’s not even useful since she lives in a diverse area and she isn’t even consistent with people’s ethnicities. I’ve told her it comes across as racist and she apologizes but then goes back to doing it.

        1. Artemesia*

          My mother did this too. I remember a story about some neighbors having a BBQ in their front yard and I kept waiting for the punch line (like ‘and the dog stole the steak from the grill’) Turned out the punch line was they were eating in this visible spot (front rather than back yard, WHILE BLACK) She was not ugly to minorities and didn’t use racial slurs but she was hyper aware of race and it often was racist. My mother if she were alive today would be 103. The time when we can blame it on generational differences is drawing to a close. I am old and I came of age during the Civil Rights movement — no one under 80 today has any excuse at all related to ‘how we grew up.’

    3. Chriama*

      Absolutely agree. And doubling down when the big boss told him it was inappropriate , in the middle of what sounds like a contentious discussion about another relational conflict, makes it seem like OP’s son was just really being a squeaky wheel.

      Big boss already made it clear that OP needs to get along with the manager. Pushing back on that and inadvertently being racist was just two conflicts too many.

      1. Fieldpoppy*

        Yes. I hear this as the kid getting fired for being argumentative as much as anything else.

    4. Tetra*

      I’m very curious about the exact context of how and why and when he said ‘Chinese man’. Because I can’t imagine it being said in an instance where it’s not obvious whether it’s being used as a slur or not.

    5. oes*

      I had a situation in which I was introducing a new colleague to other members of the faculty and I said, “This is X, she’s a Chinese historian.” I immediately back-tracked, because although she is Chinese (immigrant), what I meant is that her field is the history of China. Apologies all around for seeming to make a comment on her ethnicity.

      1. Foreign Octopus*

        I’m sorry, but that is actually very funny.

        The important thing here is that yours was definitely a misunderstanding, and you immediately apologised for it. I hope the historian didn’t take any offence.

    6. MuseumChick*

      This is a really good break down. It seems the LW’s kid did bring race into the conversation when it was irrelevant to do so. People often forget the racism exists along a spectrum from the most awful extreme on one end (hate groups, physical violence, etc) to the other end where it is extremely subtle and where the person truly believes they hold no racial biases.

    7. Kimmybear*

      Absolutely. To take it a step further, I wonder if the letter writer would feel the same way if the conversation was about the employee saying something about “a black man”. Unfortunately my experience has been that even in situations where racism is seen as not ok towards one group, it’s still considered acceptable towards another. On this topic the recent New York Times article on people being told to “go back” to where they came from hits some of these points for anyone that wants a heartbreaking read.

    8. CM*

      I’m guessing that’s not what happened here — I would be very surprised if this type of “default whiteness” assumption was a firing offense. It is so common.

      But I appreciate and totally agree with WoodswomanWrites’ comment — it’s unnecessary and categorizes the non-white person as an “other” to bring up their ethnicity when it’s not relevant to the topic at hand.

      There’s another, less benign, example that may be closer to what happened here, where you mention someone’s ethnicity combined with a stereotype about their ethnicity. Like “I was talking to the Chinese man I work with and he speaks English better than I expected.” In this example, the speaker often isn’t aware that they’re stereotyping — to them it’s just a neutral statement of opinion or preference.

      1. LunaLena*

        It often amazes me how many people don’t realize that your example is a good example of casual racism. I’ve gotten into arguments with people who flat-out told me that it’s not offensive when people tell me “wow, you speak English really well!” (English is my first language) or “so where are you originally from?” (I was born in the US) One person insisted that the latter was a compliment, because “no one ever asks ME that, and I would be honored if someone showed interest in my cultural background!”

        1. Washed Out Data Analyst*

          Oh, goodness. I “love” it when white people white-splain to me that I should enjoy randos coming up to me and demanding to know where I’m from, because THEY would totally appreciate it if it were them and it’s “fun conversation”.

        2. Sleve McDichael*

          I find your comment really interesting, because it’s a really common question where I live. People here will often ask me where I’m from (as in, three times this fortnight) and I’m so white as to be almost translucent. Because I’m used to it, and the question has lead to some interesting conversations about travel, I can definitely see myself asking someone this without stopping to think about the way that might come across to someone of a different background. I’m honestly expecting most answers to be something like ‘Big City 200k North’, so I can then make a comment about the traffic or the weather. But I’d never ask ‘Where are you originally from?’. That aside, based on your and Washed Out Data Analyst’s visceral responses to the question, it looks as though I need to remove it from my small-talk repertoire entirely.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            Yes, you do. It’s almost always exclusively a question aimed at ethnic minorities in an attempt to “other” them.

    9. rageismycaffeine*

      At my first office job, in my early 20s, we worked with an office in the Philippines frequently. One day my supervisor had been having a particularly difficult time working with this office, and was talking about it with myself and another coworker. My coworker made a joke about how testy our supervisor was being, and I said something along the lines of “go easy on her, she’s been dealing with Filipinos all day.”

      My supervisor immediately told me that was not okay. I did not remotely understand it at the time – to me, it was akin to saying “dealing with French people” because in my head, I was referring to the fact that they were in another country, not their ethnicity. Years of hindsight have taught me why that was so inappropriate. I suspect OP’s son might be in a similar situation.

      1. Pippa*

        This is a great example of how time and context teaches us these things, if we’re willing to reflect.
        (Also I love your user name)

    10. Washed Out Data Analyst*

      Yeah. With the kid in #1, it’s possible that he may have used the term in a genuinely ignorant manner and it could have been a teaching experience. If this is the case, I feel like firing him may have been a little harsh. (People who grow up in extremely homogenous regions/towns don’t know how to talk about people of different cultures/nationalities because they don’t have much practice at it.) However, it is possible more went down than he is admitting to.

  8. Edith*

    #1: It sounds like you think your (adult) kid was fired because his manager thought he called the owner a Chinaman. It sounds like you think that it’s all a misunderstanding and if only he’d been given a chance he’d have explained that what he really said was Chinese man.

    Yeah……no. Sure, one is a slur and the other is not, but the act of pointing out a person’s minority status when it’s completely irrelevant is problematic in and of itself. Your son didn’t get fired because people thought he used a slur. He got fired because he committed a microaggression.

    1. Alphabet Pony*

      You make some valid points here but you cannot know why he got fired because you weren’t there.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Except that OP says in their letter that the stated reason for firing OP’s son was that OP’s son made a racist comment.

    2. wittyrepartee*

      Depending on the rest of the sentence, it well could have been a straight up aggression that didn’t involve a slur.

      Imagine this sentence: “That blonde lady has asked me where the pencil sharpener is 3 times!” The person didn’t actually say “dumb blonde”, but why else include her hair color in that sentence?

    3. tamarack & fireweed*

      I’m not sure we (or even the OP) have enough clarity about the situation that we know the exact thought process that led to the firing of the son, but several of the options have more or less blatantly racist elements to them. So I’d be extremely careful as the OP in their “smoothing over” efforts not to call it a misunderstanding. And to be aware that smoothing over a racist incident could possibly not be well received.

      (I also think that the OP should not be taking that attitude with their son, but to make clear that saying something racist can happen without conscious racist intent, and that this would still be received as racist. This may be beyond the scope of this site, but it’s also important in setting up young people for a good professional future.)

  9. Weeping Willow*

    I’m on the board of directors for my local Habitat for Humanity affiliate. We actually have special “board build” days. I haaaaate working on construction projects. Not my gig. I’m have no clue how to properly wield a hammer, would never touch a power tool for fear of hurting myself or someone else, and wouldn’t even know what to do with a shovel. I hire out projects in my own home – cleaning, painting, lawn work, and renovation/repairs.. There’s no way I’d be an asset on a construction site. But Habitat speaks to my soul. Affordable housing is my passion. And there are dozens of ways to contribute to Habitat that don’t involve hammers or shovels. Ask if you can bring lunch or treats, volunteer in the office, make phone calls, organize tools, stuff envelopes, pick up the mail, volunteer on a committee if that’s your jam. It’s a huge organization with varied needs. Or volunteer somewhere else that speaks to your soul.

    1. Crystal*

      Yep, and even on build days there’s non construction things to do. I’ve volunteered at dozens of build days and have never wielding a hammer. I’m not construction savvy at all.

      1. MatKnifeNinja*

        HFH is a huge deal at my sister’s work place. To avoid it is almost impossible. Death works. Heart attack. Food poisoning. Active labor. You get the picture.

        My sister has shown up in a pencil skirt and heel because she hates the outdoors and hates to sweat. Was hoping to be sent home. Nope. The boss had brought his air conditioned 5th wheeler and she did envelope stuffing and that type of stuff the whole time. Oh was she mad. Lol…

        It’s like dodging the United Way fund raiser. Yeah, you can push back and say you give to another charity or you don’t like HFH because of xyz. Both are big PR deals more than team building. My sister’s boss is an petty tyrant who remembers who doesn’t participate. You may get your 3rd pick of vacation time because of it.

        Her boss finesses the “I hate outdoors” people why having enough non construction stuff to do, that not showing up isn’t an option.

        1. Mannheim Steamroller*

          [My sister’s boss is an petty tyrant who remembers who doesn’t participate. You may get your 3rd pick of vacation time because of it.]

          I would still not participate, and then cover the vacation issue by listing my real preferred time as the “3rd” choice.

    2. Kat A.*

      Alternatives don’t help the OP when the boss pressures him to do something physical and laborious.

      1. Anne Elliot*

        Sure they do. A tried and true way to get out of doing something you don’t like while pleasing the authoritarian over you (parent or boss), is to present a feasible alternative that supports their goal but is more palatable to you. In this case, I think it’s a great idea to arrange to volunteer the same amount of time to the same organization but doing something else: “Have you signed up for ditch digging?” “No, ditch digging isn’t really my thing, but I’ll be spending [X] hours on [specific day] updating their website/adding tools to their inventory/answering phones/whatever.”

        1. Mannheim Steamroller*

          That won’t work when the physical aspects ARE the team-build and the boss requires everyone to do the same tasks (dig holes, carry cement bags, set joists, etc.) or be fired.

          1. Artemesia*

            I can see that. The person who organized me to weed in a hot field in my suit and then give a speech at lunch was put out that I attached myself to the nursing home group; even when it was obvious how inappropriate it was to have the keynoter sweating in a field in the sun before making a speech to 200 people. He had no power over me besides badmouthing for not being ‘committed’ — if he were my boss I would have had problems.

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              Ooh! Weeding! I could totally apply the principle of constructive incompetence there! What, after all, is a weed? It is simply a plant that someone doesn’t want in that particular place. Was I given a list of what plants should go where? I doubt it. And even if I were, I’m not a botanist. The trick is to start pulling out the daffodils while someone running the operation is watching, then be mortified afterwards.

          2. Richard Hershberger*

            I know not everyone agrees, but I think there is a place for constructive incompetence. When given a BS task that has nothing to do with your actual job, be spectacularly bad at it. If you can fake enthusiasm as you send that hammer flying (after having carefully check that no one was in that direction) then pretty soon they will be gently taking the hammer away from you and sitting you down, while struggling to console you about it.

            Then there is my syrup of ipecac idea which, while not entirely serious, was not entirely not serious. Keep it with you as a fallback.

    3. Lora*

      Oh gosh, I can think of lots of things to do even on a construction site that don’t need steel toe boots.
      -Drawing updates and creating as-builts
      -Scheduling the occupancy permit walk-throughs
      -Punchlist management
      -Walking around making sure everyone is taking sufficient Gatorade breaks
      -Coordinating utility tie-ins
      -Someone who sits around watching the gas monitoring in trenches and confined spaces. Literally, watching a bunch of monitors bleep green LED lights at you, and yelling at the person to get out of the trench if anything turns orange or red.
      -Directing traffic for trucks bringing building materials to the site
      -Checking off goods receipt from materials shipments, i.e. making sure everything you paid for arrived on the truck in good condition
      There’s lots of things that need done, none of which involve shovels or power tools.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        Ok, almost all of those are done by professionals, not the volunteers. There are some non-physical things that can be done on a Habitat site, but it is pretty limited. Even if you’re a professional engineer, you might not be able to volunteer for much of that. There’s a reason they call part of the future owner’s contribution “sweat equity”.

      2. OP 2*

        I guess I didn’t realize how different the experience is depending on when you go. On the site I was at, the main structure was already built. They had most of the team climb up to the second level to finish winterizing the unfinished home so that it would be protected until it could be completed. There were no trailers, monitors, or admin tasks that I could see as the lot was tiny and in the middle of an established neighborhood. It was just my team and two site workers who supervised. I was handed a bucket and a shovel and asked to dig a hole because the first hole they dug and put support for a porch into was in the wrong spot. I knew at the time that there was no way this would normally be done by hand, but everyone else seemed to be having such a great time with the winterizing and scaffolding that I felt I would come across as high maintenance or unhelpful if I didn’t at least try. It is possible I just had bad luck that day, but as I do have my own causes that I love and already contribute to, I think I’ll follow the advice to direct my volunteer days there so that I am no longer eligible for this event.

        1. Warm Weighty Wrists*

          Oh my goodness, I feel so much empathy for you in that situation! For what it’s worth, H4H would be a hard pass for me because I’m allergic to the sun. I can do all sorts of outdoorsy activities with proper preparation and accommodations, but in a situation like this the probability of seeming high maintenance or unhelpful as you say would be too high. I would simply decline to be in the situation, and volunteer under circumstances where I knew I could be helpful and wouldn’t get hurt.
          I guess my point is that there are all sorts of reasons that sort of volunteering isn’t for everyone, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking care of yourself by opting out. I hope your manager/coworkers are decent people and cool about this, but even if they aren’t, here is Official Solidarity from an Internet Stranger. You’re not selfish or a prima donna by taking care of the body you have, and nobody even needs to know the specifics of how you’re taking care of yourself. As previous events have shown, there is too high a chance of H4H volunteering being physically harmful to you for you to participate.

  10. Alphabet Pony*

    #4 In this sort of situation I would always go with talking about what you can/ can’t/ will/ won’t do. Partly because it comes across more diplomatically, and also because you’re the only person you can control – so this is an easier way to set boundaries, as you can announce it rather than asking for it.

  11. Alphabet Pony*

    Think we’re going to need a sticky about not speculating about why LW#1’s son was fired, as everyone seems to think they know.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      No one is speculating so far. From OP’s letter (emphasis added):

      In the conversation, my kid referred to the owner as “a Chinese man.” The big boss instantly told him that was racist, and though my kid tried to explain that saying someone is from China is not the same as a racial epithet, my kid was fired.

        1. Antilles*

          Sure, but even what the son told his parent is enough to say that he was in the wrong. Straight from the OP:
          In the conversation, my kid referred to the owner as “a Chinese man.” The big boss instantly told him that was racist, and though my kid tried to explain that saying someone is from China is not the same as a racial epithet, my kid was fired.
          There’s no speculation required. The son’s own statement is that he (a) referred to the owner as a “Chinese man” and then (b) doubled down on it by trying to explain his position.
          Maybe there’s other factors at play where the son had work issues in other ways, but those two alone are firing-worthy at a lot of companies.

    2. hbc*

      You’re right, he could have been fired for chronic lateness or relieving himself on the carpet. But the main issue is, OP seems to think the story her son told her means that he was wrongly fired for acting racist. The point that everyone else is making is that the son’s words (as the son reports them, which is probably going to paint him in the best possible light) *do* seem pretty racist. Maybe not deliberately derogatory, but unnecessarily bringing race or national origin into a conversation.

      1. Artemesia*

        And then arguing about it rather than apologizing. It is the arguing that got him fired. And note as a newbie he was already slagging the boss, also likely to get someone fired.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      People are just trying to explain how his seemingly non-racist comment could be taken as racist. Regardless, there are 3 sides to every story – the sides of the 2 involved and the truth. The bottom line is that mom needs to stay out of it, and ONLY discuss with the vendor contact is she feels their working relationship is in jeopardy.

      1. bonkerballs*

        To be fair, there’s a large swath of comments above that are doing quite a bit of speculating that the kid used the term “Chinaman” instead of Chinese man. So there’s a lot more happening than people taking OP her kid at their word.

  12. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    #1 What do you have to gain by flushing your business relationship down the toilet by bringing this up to your vendor rep?? Are you hoping to leverage your relationship or threaten to pull your business? It doesn’t make sense to ever bring it up unless you’re just ready to flush your goodwill. It will only cause your vendor to think negatively about you moving forward for meddling.

    He was fired for being seen as racist. You may in turn be viewed as the one who taught him that behavior if you push the issue. There’s nothing good in that hole, please don’t go digging around, you will harm your business if mouths interrupt things poorly.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      To be fair to the OP, she says, “I want to say that while I respect their right to hire and fire as they wish, my kid didn’t use a racial epithet and, I don’t know, change the record?” I think she might be thinking she’s not trying to challenge the decision but she also doesn’t want someone she works with regularly to think her kid’s a racist (hence the “change the record” part). And I can understand that! She can’t do that exactly, but I can definitely understand what she’s thinking there — and she *can* try to smooth it over, just not quite like that.

      I think that’s what makes this question so interesting, and different from a lot of the “can I contact my kid’s employer” questions that we get here. She works with the employer regularly, and she has an interest in them not thinking her son is a racist. So it’s not fundamentally wrong in the way a lot of the questions on this theme are.

      1. Darren*

        See I read this as wanting to get the vendor company to change the reason for firing for any subsequent reference checks. Which are going to lead to some tough conversations for her son in his search for a new role if the vendor does in fact say, “He was fired for a racist remark” if approached for a reference. A reference like that is going to close a lot of doors.

        And whether intentional or not it sounds like he did in fact say something that was interpreted as a racist remark (and as I said further up I honestly can’t think of any sentence given the context that wouldn’t sound like one with indicated words). Her bringing this up in anyway that isn’t completely supportive of their actions could given the behaviour of this manager so far cause the vendor to blacklist her company as a client (unless they let her go which given the nature of the service this vendor supplies might be the best option for her company).

        It sounds like this particular manager is very against racist behaviour and I don’t blame him/her for that, and I think they would probably be quite willing to play hardball over an issue like this. Especially if it sounds like she wants them to walk back the details of the reference to gloss over the racist remark.

        1. Scarlet2*

          “See I read this as wanting to get the vendor company to change the reason for firing for any subsequent reference checks”

          I read it that way too. And since LW is a client of that company (if I understood well), I’m concerned it could be construed as trying to pressurize a vendor.
          I think Alison’s wording of “trying to understand what happened” is good, but I’d say it’s probably better for the son to leave that job off his resume altogether rather than expect the company to change their minds about it.

          1. EnfysNest*

            I was already surprised by OP asking about open positions and recommending her son in the first place, which already feels like a power imbalance to me just by bringing it up. Granted, I’m a government employee and do a lot of work with contracts, so anything that could even distantly be construed as pressure of any kind is a big deal and you have to be really careful about what you say even casually or jokingly. Maybe it’s less of a big deal with vendors in the OP’s type of situation, but I’d still be really uncomfortable with anything that could be interpreted as asking for a favor (with the underlying worry that saying no might impact future sales).

            And then to compound that by not only asking for a job for a family member, but then later raising any kind of a fuss when they get fired – that really makes it feel like it could be seen as the OP using their business position for this personal favor.

            At most, if OP wants to address this, I would go the route of previous letters we’ve had where someone the LW recommended for a position didn’t work out, like this one: Make this as non-personal as possible and make it very clear that you didn’t expect any special personal favors just because of your business relationship.

      2. Czhorat*

        If your children are perceived as racist that also reflects badly on you. If the letter writer’s child were fired for poor work performance that would be bad enough; for them to be fired for a character issue might put their own views and character into question.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Oh I totally understand the letter writer’s idea behind it in their mind however there’s a huge risk of ever fighting someone on what they have viewed as racist behavior. The parent has no idea that the son didn’t actually say something absolutely racist but perhaps more in ignorance than malice.

        It would be the same if they were defending allegations of sexual harassment. “My son respects women and would never do that, he told me all about it, and it’s a misunderstanding!” kind of issue.

        We know that racist actions/comments doesn’t only manifest after embracing the bigotry and joining hate groups, lots of people are racist and swear that they aren’t after all.

      4. JSPA*

        Proving the absence of racism is like proving the absence of….

        OK, not opening that can of worms.

        But really, mom can only know that she has not known son to be racist, that she believes she raised him not to be racist, etc. In that we all have blind spots conditioned by our own experiences (and given that people have been known to edit their vocabularies and philosophies in front of their parents) this counts for very little. It also opens up some risks, if it turns out that she’s got any sort of blind spot, herself (whether about her son, or about freely using racial identifiers in the workplace).

        If she wants to apologize, I’d stick with, “I’m sorry that didn’t work out. It sounds like I may need to have some discussions with my son about how workplaces differ from school and the internet, as far as mouthing off.”

    2. Lexi Kate*

      I saw it this way too. If I was the manager and the mom came and talked to me about how her son is not a racist after I fired him for racist comments I would forever consider the mother a racist as well. For me that would validate where the racism was learned. At that point unless my contract was very lucrative with the moms company I would consider if I could drop it or at least talk to someone that wasn’t the mom in the future.

      In my perspective the kid was complaining about their supervisor to the manager and then the kid was angry and called the big boss a “China Man” in that context I see that being racist, why else would you call your big boss by his race when your upset. You clearly know the name of your big boss, referring to them by their race in anger is racist.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I wouldn’t necessarily terminate the contract, unless it was especially egregious. However I wouldn’t be nearly as willing to do much for the account other than the required fulfillment of orders. Oh you need a sample ASAK, okay, I’ll work on it with the standard pace, no scurrying to try to help you out. Oh you forgot to add that to your order, yeah we can add it and yeah it will push the lead time out because I don’t have any reason to do you any favors to get it out sooner. It would be a very bland quiet relationship of business. I’ll probably let their credit reference requests sit for a few days if they’re using me as a credit reference as well.

        I’ve seen former employees lash out in racist ways multiple times over the years, having had a few immigrant bosses of my own. So I’m extra sensitive to casual racism that slips out.

        1. Zillah*

          Right – not active hostility, but not friendly or actively helpful, either. It’s kind of like cleaning out your fridge or something – I mean, it’s gotta be done, but most of us don’t relish it or jump to do it, either.

    3. CM*

      I would not bring it up either. I would just ignore the whole thing. I think bringing it up at all, even to say, “Hey, sorry it didn’t work out with my son, I hope this doesn’t affect our relationship,” potentially sounds like you either want to defend or minimize your son’s behavior, or rehash the whole thing and advocate for your son.

      I DEFINITELY would not say the stuff about “I don’t know what happened, and I’m sure there’s more than one side to the story” because it is absolutely none of your business what happened or what the story was. You have no stake in this, you are not entitled to know any part of this story, just let it go. I think any statement like this implies that you’re questioning the manager’s decision or inserting yourself into the situation.

    4. Lora*

      being seen as racist”

      To me, this is the crux of it. As my OChem prof told me and 150 of my classments many years (decades) ago, “it is not just your responsibility as a student not to cheat, it is ALSO your responsibility not to appear to be cheating. You must not only behave with integrity, but you must be seen to behave with integrity. I don’t have time to get into the details of whether anyone actually cheated, if it LOOKS like you cheated, you get an F for the course. ”

      Think of all the people who witnessed OP’s son’s interaction: some may feel it was racist, some may not, but if there are going to be rumors about “Dude said a racist thing and nothing happened to him,” it’s going to reflect badly on the management, who will be forever stuck saying, “but it wasn’t ACTUALLY racist” to anyone who cares to listen…and a non-zero number of people will roll their eyes and say, “sure it wasn’t…..suuuuure.”

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Thank you for this addition.

        That’s really the whole point in the end. Your reputation is fragile and can be damaged with poor perceptions.

        This is often why people have a “public” face and a “personal” face, you don’t mix those two. Just like you don’t speak to acquaintances with candor the way you’d speak to a best friend.

        Yes, this can boil down into that whole mini-crusade against the “PC Police” in some groups of people. It’s the reality though. Your intention is irrelevant if your delivery misses that mark or your words land wrong to the next set of ears.

        1. JSPA*

          Eh, if it comes with a strict list of do’s and don’t’s, it’s not so bad.

          For some profs, we knew to take our tampons out of our bookbags and stick them in our pockets, because if we and our bags went to the toilet together, they’d presume cheating.

          We were seated with two empty seats between test takers; if we looked far enough left or right to be reading someone else’s answer, our time in the test room was finished. So if you needed to stretch your neck, you looked at the ceiling, then left or right, or whipped your head left-right-left–rather than taking a long look far left or far right.

          It saved them from having to prove intent.

      2. Gumby*

        I mean, I get the whole “avoid even the appearance of impropriety” thing but to put someone’s grades on the line? No proof needed? All you need is one classmate who is willing to lie “it *looked* like so-an-so was using her book during the exam” and boom: instant F?

        No. A thousand times no. I am so so happy that the honor code at my school would have prevented that type of misuse of power.

    5. Pescadero*

      Eh… it’s a vendor.

      Someone selling THEM stuff and dependent on their business. Vendors are mostly replaceable, and are unlikely to toss a customer over something silly like this.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        That’s not necessarily true. Some supplies have very few choices and if you’re small beans, you’re easy to toss to the side. So I mean sure, if you’re a mega corp, you get away with a lot more than if you’re Joey’s BBQ shack who buys $1000 a year in take out containers, or whatever.

        I say this as someone who has refused to sell to customers for their egregious behaviors before.

  13. Cassie*

    Letter #1 If the son admits that the owners race wasn’t relevant to what he was saying, why did he mention it at all? My guess would be that in the moment, he did think it was relevant based on stereotypes of that race, either consciously or unconsciously. Then in hindsight, he realize that this came off very poorly and defaulted to “I was just saying that he was from China!” The context of what was being discussed is super important here and I wonder if it’s telling that it was left out.

    1. A white person*

      Yeah, given the context and the exact quote she provides, I can only think of it within a phrase like “…and I’m over here taking orders from a Chinese man…” or “I have a Chinese man telling me to…” a phrasing which is suggests someone from another country is less-than by default, and is bigoted. I’d be interested if someone had a different take on the likely phrasing, though.

    2. YetAnotherUsername*

      It might have been derogatory as you say, or it might have been intended as identifying someone eg “the Chinese man said/did x”, in the same way you might say “the tall man said x”. Inappropriate for work but not actually racist.

      A lot of the speculation here is really pushing the opinion that op’s son is racist. Which is probably hurtful for the OP to read. We simply don’t know because we weren’t there.

      OP – your son has now learned that referring to someone as “the Chinese man” can often be interpreted as racist, which in a really racially charged society like the US is a good lesson to learn. Getting him his job back would undermine that valuable lesson.

      1. Washi*

        I mean, the OP’s son himself admitted there was no reason for him to bring up the owner’s ethnicity. That alone points very, very strongly to the comment being racist.

        And as for the hurtful thing…people are racist all the time! I have been racist before! I have been sexist and ableist. It doesn’t mean I’m a terrible person beyond redemption, it means that it’s really hard to live in a racist society and not let that influence the assumptions you make about people. I mess up, and those moments point me to the places where I have more work to do.

        Racist is not a random insult, it’s a description of inappropriate behavior.

        1. Jules the 3rd*


          And how someone responds to ‘hey, that’s racist’ is really important. “Oh, huh, yeah, his race is irrelevant, I’m sorry for including it’ is hugely different from ‘I just meant he was from China. I didn’t intend any harm so you can’t blame me for any harm.’

          It’s hard to remember in heated exchanges of course, but having cooled down, OP and son have an opportunity to reflect on that difference.

          1. JSPA*

            Exactly–the lesson to take home isn’t, “I will always be fired if I say the wrong thing by accident, so screw the world.”

            If someone is offended, say, “I’m so sorry, that came out all wrong.” Don’t double down on your intent.

            As wiser people have said, if you step on someone’s foot by accident, you don’t explain that you actually intended to step on something else; you apologize.

        2. JR*

          100% this. I can understand how being fired for racism seems to OP and son like an intolerable slight to their identities, but racist behavior/thinking doesn’t automatically make you a bad person – unfortunately, we all do it some times, thanks to being raised in this society (or most societies). But it’s our responsibility to own it, grapple with it, and learn from it.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        It’s a context where it makes sense to refer to people either by name or title. If you could call someone “Bob” or “my supervisor” but instead go with “that Chinese man” people are going to look askance at your “totally not thinking any racist thoughts when I said that.”

      3. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        I don’t think the commentators are saying OP1’s son is racist. They are saying that citing someone’s ethnicity unnecessarily–especially when describing the person negatively–is a behavior is widely considered racist, not simply inappropriate for work. Even if this were done out of ignorance instead of true racism, the net result is the same.

        1. YetAnotherUsername*

          There’s literally no indication whatsoever that the son said anything negative about the owner (other than mentioning that he was from China, which I don’t think is insulting). I have no idea where you are getting that from.

      4. Onyx*

        “It might have been derogatory as you say, or it might have been intended as identifying someone eg ‘the Chinese man said/did x’, in the same way you might say ‘the tall man said x’. Inappropriate for work but not actually racist.”

        Not really…If we were talking about general circumstances, that might be plausible, but here it was clearly stated that the “Chinese man” in question was the *owner of the business* in which both the speaker and the listener work. First of all, either his role as “the owner” or his name would uniquely identify him far more clearly than a vague description of his ethnicity and gender. Second, it sounds like the identity of the person being discussed was already well established when the son’s comment was made, since it was the big boss who brought up the owner. (And third, it seems very doubtful that the new employee would know the owner’s ethnicity when the big boss didn’t, so even if the guy being Chinese *were* relevant, it would be rather odd for the kid to feel the need to point it out that he’s Chinese to someone who already knows.)

      5. CG*

        A few people have mentioned that OP’s son might have been using “the Chinese man” as an innocent identifier to make clear who he was talking about, but… 1) from the letter, it sounds like the big boss was the one who brought up the owner, so it seems likely that it would’ve already been conversationally clear which owner of the business was being discussed, and 2) even if big boss hadn’t brought the owner up in conversation, it seems kind of implausible that there would be any conversational need for a junior staffer to use race/national origin to help a senior leader at the company understand which owner of the business son was talking about.

      6. YetAnotherUsername*

        A lot of poeple saying there’s no plausible scenario in which he might have meant it as an identifier. One really obvious way it might have come up is if the son didn’t realise that “the chinese guy” was actually the owner. I’ve definitely worked places and not known who the owner was when I started out. I don’t think it’s implausible that he simply meant it as an identifier.

        I also don’t buy this idea that mentioning somones nationality is inherently racist. It’s not racist to say “the Polish guy” or “the Irish guy” to identify someone. The only reason saying “the Chinese guy” could be racist is because “Chinese” can mean either a race or a nationality. I think it is entirely plausible that he meant it as an identifier when talking about someone who he didn’t know.

        I’m not saying the son ISN’T a racist. It’s not at all implausible that he WAS being racist. I’m simply pointing out that it’s not certain either way. I posted this comment in response to people speculating above that he was saying things like “I’m taking orders from a Chinese man” or similar, because theres no other way the phrase could be used. There’s simply not enough info to say that.

        People seem to be REALLY keen to believe that the son must be racist and there’s no possibility that he meant “the chinese guy” in the same way you might say “the English guy”.

        I don’t think all the insistence that the son MUST be racist is helpful to the OP. And it’s probably quite upsetting for her to read.

        1. Yorick*

          But they were already talking about him as the owner, not as some random Chinese guy that Son had seen and needed to identify to Manager.

          1. Yorick*

            There is no way, in this context, that Son was using “Chinese man” as an identifier. He and the other person in the conversation were both fully aware of who was being talked about (and it was the owner of their company, so they know him by name)

          2. YetAnotherUsername*

            That’s not stated in the letter. All it says in the letter is that the kid was talking to “big boss” and referred to the owner as “a Chinese man”. It doesn’t say that they were talking about the owner before the kid mentioned him. That’s your assumption. We don’t know because we weren’t there.

            I couldn’t tell you the name of the owner of my company or pick him out of a line up and I’ve worked there for over a year.

              1. bonkerballs*

                The whole point of this particular thread is the suggestion that the kid didn’t know he was the owner.

                1. Yorick*

                  But this particular thread is wrong. The owner is being discussed in the conversation *as the owner,* not as some random person that the son doesn’t know.

                  Son: *complains about manager*
                  Big Boss: “Sorry, you’ll have to put up with it, because I’m under a lot of pressure from Owner to keep Manager.”
                  Son: *says something where he references that Owner is Chinese*

            1. Akcipitrokulo*

              It is stated in letter. Big Boss referenced the owner first, citing them as a reason for being unable to act against manager.

              AFTER the owner had been identified – going by the letter – the kid referenced his ethnicity.

            2. Yorick*

              In the meeting, the boss said he couldn’t do anything about the bad manager because of the owner. Then the son brought up the race of the owner.

              The owner was not there. This is absolutely not the case that the son was giving information about the owner, didn’t know he was the owner, didn’t know his name, and could only identify him as a Chinese man.

              I haven’t seen anyone here say that any example of identifying someone as Chinese is racist. But you have to consider the context here. It sounds like you’ve missed that context and you should read the letter again.

        2. Zillah*

          But that’s not really a great way of looking at racism – it’s not an either/or where either you are A Racist or you never do a racist thing ever.

          1. Akcipitrokulo*

            Exactly. I don’t think kid is a complete horrible racist evil person. I think he unthinkingly did something racist and was called on it.

            What you do then is stop, take it on board, apologise and do better next time.

            You don’t start arguing semantics.

          2. Indigo a la mode*


            White woman here, for context. Most of us white folks have racist impulses or thoughts even if we don’t realize it. (No matter what group we belong to, we all have “othering” thoughts/feelings – that’s a reptile-brain thing where we’re naturally more comfortable with things that are like us. But in terms of racism in America, white folks are the perpetrators.)

            There have been some really interesting studies on this, and unanimously they show that bias happens. It’s not each of our fault independently and doesn’t make us bad people, because embedded racism is a product of a lifetime of both unintentional and overt societal teaching. You can be a decent, tolerant person and still make a thoughtless comment that is racist and/or a microaggression. I know I have.

            This kind of comment can absolutely be borne of ignorance, but your reaction to being called out makes the difference. In this case, the son doubled down on what seems like it was indeed a comment needlessly defined by a person’s race. We don’t have any information to say he is A Racist and A Bad Person, and most of us are not asserting that, but he does need to take the lesson and do some self-educating.

        3. Rusty Shackelford*

          The only way your reasoning could POSSIBLY be correct is if there are two owners, one Chinese and one not, and the son doesn’t know either of their names, so the only way he can identify them is by “the Chinese man” and “the insert-other-nationality man.” And that seems unlikely.

        4. Czhorat*

          I woldn’t say “The Polish/English/Canadian/American guy” either.

          There are other, better ways to identify people. By name, perhaps. I can’t imagine a scenario in which the name hasn’t already been stated.

          “You need to be careful, because he’s friends with McSweeney”

          “What does his relationship with the Chinese guy have to do with anything?”

          In any event, it was not a smart thing to say. The other sad reality is that an entry-level employee has much less leeway in questionable situations like this one; it IS questionable, and one that might lead to a serious discussion if it came from someone with a valuable and hard to replace skill. A recent hire in an area with high turnover? THey’ve not earned benefit of the doubt yet, and there’s not enough value to outweigh the risk of keeping them.

        5. LunaLena*

          As others have pointed out, using “the owner” or Owner’s Name would have been a much better identifier, if that’s what Son was going for. I once worked in a small business where I was the only Asian employee. Like all of the employees, I wore a uniform shirt and name tag, and all of my communications were signed with my name. After I’d been there a year, it was a bit demeaning to learn that several customers knew all the other employees’ first names, but consistently referred to me as “the Asian girl.” Apparently that was the only thing about me that was worth remembering for them.

          Quite honestly, I don’t think any of those customers thought of it as being racist, and I’m pretty sure they were nice people who normally weren’t. But knowing that really didn’t make me feel much better about it. I’m not saying that OP’s son MUST be a racist because of this one incident, but both OP and Son should be aware that it’s not a nice thing to do either and why.

      7. Yorick*

        But the person they’re talking about is their boss. There’s no need to identify him by his ethnicity the way you might identify, say, a customer as Chinese.

      8. Kelly L.*

        My speculation is that he might be another Asian ethnicity, and that son is mistaken about him being Chinese. Calling, for example, a Korean man “that Chinese man” is rude because (a) it’s wrong, (b) it shows that the speaker thinks they’re interchangeable, and (c) in some cases there are hostilities between the countries that makes it extra fraught to be thought of as the other ethnicity.

  14. CM*

    #2 — Super extra backup plan: no one can force you to dig a hole. I would do the advice first, and tell your boss you have other plans for your volunteer days but, if the company is really insistent that you HAVE TO go to this one, go and don’t try. Hand someone a bucket and stand there. See if they even bother to challenge you. If they do, point out that you didn’t volunteer for this. Pretend to pick up a shovel and put it down again when your boss walks away. Pretend you literally don’t know how a shovel works.

    My main message is, no matter whether or not they agree that you can volunteer another way, you have the power to make sure you never end up in that exact situation again by just refusing to do it.

    1. PollyQ*

      I would think that would look far worse than asking to be put on some other task, or even claiming a sudden stomach bug and going home. Behavior like that might very well make the LW look lazy, sulky, or passive-aggressive — hardly how you want to colleagues to see you.

      1. valentine*

        No one wants to be shamed by their colleagues or Habitat-obsessed manager (who was concerned about how much skin OP2 had showing when they were down a hole!) for saying no to anything for charity, especially when paid and while at the charity.

    2. Suggestion*

      By this same token, can’t you just say no one can force you to volunteer and just not show up? That way you’re not getting in the way of people who are actually there to work (and then if you do feel inspired to volunteer, you can use your time productively elsewhere rather than doing nothing at all).

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      That’s some really bad advice. Don’t say you’ll go and then act like a defiant toddler. Refusing to do it means not going at all, and making sure they’re aware that you’re not going on the day of the build. If boss is insisting on H4H as the charity OP needs to volunteer for, there are other things they can do that don’t require wielding a hammer. They need to do some research and figure out what they’re comfortable doing and go from there.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        Yes. In this context, it’s basically a work assignment. You can’t just refuse to do it and expect no consequences at work. Much better to find something you are willing to do.

  15. SS Express*

    My reading of #1 is the son called the owner a “Chinese man”, the big boss said “don’t use ethnicity to refer to people when it’s not relevant, that’s racist”, then the son countered with “no it’s not, he really is from China so it’s totally fine” and THEN he was fired. Not just for what he said, but for “explaining” (aka arguing) why it was okay to say it.

    1. MommyMD*

      I think the whole thing. Complaining as a new employee instead of trying to fit it and get along, referring to the “Chinese” guy while probably making a disparaging remark, and then arguing back over it. He’s young. He has much to learn. Mom needs to stay out of his employment issues. Including from now on, referrals. I think I’d be a bit irritated at my adult kid for this behavior. Especially with my vendor.

      1. OhNo*

        Agreed. The unnecessary racial comment (especially when he admits it wasn’t relevant to the conversation at hand) might have just led to a stern talking-to if it was on its own. But combined with complaints about a supervisor, especially one that sounds vital to the operation, and defensiveness when called out… Yeah, I can see the employer just giving up, branding the kid a trouble employee, and washing their hands of him.

        More importantly, OP, why do you think it’s important to set the record straight? What purpose would it serve? It’s safe to assume that this place wouldn’t give your kid a great reference anyway, so it might be safer to just let it go. Smooth things over with the rep you work with, as Alison suggests, and if your kid is still upset, maybe talk with him about how, sometimes, the way a statement is perceived is given precedence over how it was intended. It might not be fair, but sometimes fairness doesn’t matter as much as preserving harmony in an otherwise good working relationship.

    2. Chriama*

      I suspect it was more like the boss said “that’s racist” without being able to explain why it was a microaggression, son tried to argue, and boss fired him for the arguing.

      To me, the difference is that if boss had been more articulate, son might not have argued back. Boss’s incomplete explanation somehow had son thinking he needed to clarify that he hadn’t said a slur, rather than understanding that he had indeed been racist by referring to race when it wasn’t relevant to the topic at hand.

      Bottom line is, intentional vs unintentional racism is something that many people are still unaware of, and son should take this as a learning experience.

      1. Patty Mayonnaise*

        Putting the comment aside, it doesn’t seem like the son should have been arguing with his boss in the first place – and it’s on the son that he talked back and kept arguing instead of taking a step back when his boss escalated the conversation (by saying he made a racist remark). I agree with others above that the son being argumentative might have been an equal factor in the firing.

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        All of this discussion is making me think I need to do some roleplay with my son on how to react if someone says ‘that’s racist!’ His (and my) default needs to be, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know that, I will work on it.” and that needs to be automatic.

        If there’s any chance (ie, ‘I didn’t *mean* it as racist but maybe it was’) then he doesn’t bring it up with them again and works on it.

        Maybe after reflection and research, if he thinks there’s a real misunderstanding (ie, he said ‘I like Wedgewood china, man’ and someone only heard the last two words) then he can go back and say ‘the full sentence was x; do you still have concerns that it was racist?’ If they do, then he apologizes again and doesn’t bring it up with them again, but keeps it as a thing to think about.

        We live in a racist society; we absorb racist norms. It takes a lot of work to un-practice them.

        1. Indigo a la mode*

          I really appreciate that you’re taking away a teaching moment from this. You’re a good parent helping shape a better society. From an internet stranger, thank you. <3

        2. JSPA*

          Yep. Even if you privately think the person is full of sh*t. I’ve been shut down in talking about my own group(s) by someone not of those group(s) where they were…just plain wrong. “Even google and urban dictionary have not heard of such a thing” level of wrong. “Sorry” was still the right answer in the moment.

          (By the third time they did it, on behalf of a different group, each time, making sure I didn’t volunteer on the same shift with them was the better long-term solution. The last time was a medical term–tinnitus, maybe?–and i don’t even remember what group it was supposed to be against. I just said something like, “oh gosh, it’s amazing how many words have double meanings that can hurt people, I’m so sorry” and eased on out of there.)

    3. Akcipitrokulo*

      Yeah, arguing didn’t help. If son had said “sorry, didn’t mean that. About the bullying manager…” it wpuld probably have gone no further.

      (and this is taking the kid’s story at absolute face value).

  16. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    I’m not sure why LW5 would *not* send a thank you? A quick email seems like a no-brainer here.

    1. Kiki*

      I don’t know LW’s reasoning, but I could see being confused who specifically to thank, especially since LW was fairly new to the company when this all occurred. The card was signed from the company as a whole, which is a bit confusing in regards to sending thanks. If the card was signed specifically from, say, LW’s team at work, it would be more obvious that they should send thanks via group email or Slack post or what-have-you. Since it was signed from the whole company, which is large, who to thank is obfuscated. Once you’ve been at the company for a while, you know who is sending those things out, but as a new person, it is very confusing!

      1. LW5*

        This. All of this.

        Silly as it sounds, if I had considered a thank you email to be an option (as opposed to a card) it would have felt less awkward.

        It’s also a bit of an odd culture here that I’m still trying to navigate.

        1. Dana B.S.*

          I once worked for a gigantic corporation before and things were pretty automated for these situations. However, the managers usually knew in general what things the corp would do for employees. I likely would have emailed/texted my manager and said that it was received & appreciated (the thought anyway, not the excessive amount of melon!). A “thank-you” card would likely have gotten lost somewhere and not made it to the intended recipient.

          However, it was not until just now that I remembered that I sent flowers to an employee in the hospital earlier this year and I did not get a thank-you note. I currently work for smallish organization and the employee knew I sent them. He texted his manager who sent me an email as “thanks”. And I’m okay with it!

        2. JSPA*

          email the admin to say it was a lovely gesture, and could they either tell you who to thank, or pass your thanks along to the office. (This is also the ONLY time that you can add an emoji string to a work email, if so inclined, for a little nod to it being a “thank-you card” email.)

    2. EPLawyer*

      This literally just happened to my husband and I. He broke his leg, the company sent a fruit basket with a typed note. We had no idea who to send the thank you note to since it was generic and not even from his team. Husband even said he had no idea who to thank and he is BIG on thank you notes. Now I know who it should go to.

      Query: This was about 6 weeks ago. Is it too late to send the note now?

      1. londonedit*

        My first thought would be to email his boss (or, if he is the boss, the person he interacts with most on his team). You could just send a note saying something like ‘Sorry it’s taken me so long to get in touch with you about this – everything’s been up in the air since I broke my leg – but I received a lovely fruit basket from Company just after my accident, and I wanted to say thank you. I’m not sure who was responsible for organising it, so if it was you, thank you very much, and please do pass on my thanks to the rest of the (company/bosses/team/whatever)’.

        1. Myrin*

          That’s a great script! I especially like that it includes everything a recipient might wonder about – like “Why does this come in several weeks after the fact? Why is it addressed to me even though I didn’t organise anything? Etc.” and addresses it in a very polite and warm manner.

      2. Iconic Bloomingdale*

        It is never too late to thank someone or an entity for their generosity. I say send the thank you note/card/email.

      3. Kiki*

        It’s never too late to send a thank you note, but I think people are especially understanding when they send something for someone who is ill, injured, grieving, etc. It’d be a jerk move to demand thank you notes immediately from people having a rough go of it.

  17. MommyMD*

    Yes, you were sent a nice gift, and should have acknowledged it in some way. Not only did you not, you criticize the gift here. Your Mom is right.

    1. Orange You Glad*

      Have you ever gotten an edible arrangement?

      It’s A LOT of melon. And pineapple & strawberries.

      I don’t think it’s a “criticism” to acknowledge that it’s a challenge to eat all the fruit before it goes bad.

      Just like acknowledging that it’s great if everyone sent you flowers…to the point that you’ve run out of vases & flat spots to put them!

      That’s very different than “edible arrangements suck” or “how dare they send me flowers!”.

      1. Boobookitty*

        My advice about giving flowers is to give flowers if they won’t create work for the recipient. That means a thoughtful giver can either send flowers that already come in a vase, or the giver can deliver them in person to the recipient’s place and handle what needs to be done:
        – find an appropriate size vase
        – fill it with water
        – unwrap the flowers
        – remove any rubber bands or strings
        – find an appropriate cutting tool
        – cut the flowers to the right length
        – put flowers in the vase and add flower food
        – dispose of flower and other waste in appropriate ways (where I live we’re required to use compost for plant matter, recycling for plastic wrapping, and trash for strings etc.)
        And it also helps to find an appropriate location for the flowers (can they be in direct sunlight? are they potentially poisonous to pets? etc.)

        As for edible bouquets, I only want them if they’re cookies!

        1. Boobookitty*

          P.S. This isn’t advice for you Orange You Glad. I just posted it under your comment for anyone else thinking of giving flowers.

      2. LW5*

        This. I’m definitely not criticizing the gift – it was gorgeous! I was just laughing at having to deal with it hands on. I denuded the “branches” of their fruit and then had a bunch Tupperware containers of fruit I was trying to eat myself and also pawn off on friends and family. Apparently no one I know likes melon.

        1. JJ Bittenbinder*

          Lol, as soon as I read that part of your letter, I had to scroll down until I could agree. An edible arrangement is a very thoughtful gift…and an onerous one as well. Not to mention the time the delivery person left it outside because no one was home, and it was covered in ants by the time we got to it.

          I read your “criticism” as a funny comment, but it’s also a good head’s up to anyone whose job it is to arrange such gifts.

        2. Robbenmel*

          Just a thought in case you get another edible arrangement: frozen fruit = yummy smoothies!

        3. GreyjoyGardens*

          There was an article in, I recall, the New York Times talking about why honeydew melon, and sometimes cantaloupe, is so ubiquitous in fruit platters and edible arrangements, when few people actually want to eat it. (The answer: cheap, sturdy, bright color, readily available) It’s not just you who thinks “OK, now what do I do with all this unwanted melon?”

    2. EPLawyer*

      Yes you shouldn’t criticize a gift. But if its the thought that counts not a lot of thought goes into these things. We got a lot of fruit we don’t eat. Just not what we prefer. If they thought about, a card would have sufficed.

      With my Lions Club I knew to head them off at the pass and say don’t send anything at all. Because I know what the Club sends and I know my husband’s position on these things.

    3. MagicUnicorn*

      I read that as a PSA rather than a criticism or ungratefulness towards the company. Edible arrangements are pretty, tasty, expensive, a nice thought, and yet way too much melon.

      1. Allypopx*

        ^ yes. I think that was more for our benefit – I don’t think the OP is going to go out of their way to tell the company this! I appreciate the commentary, as someone who has never received an edible arrangement but has always thought “huh, neat idea” when walking past the store.

      2. WellRed*

        Me too, it’s a PSA! I’d appreciate the thoughtfulness, but be overwhelmed having this big fruit thing I can’t eat.
        (Still cringing over all the fruit that went to waste after my Dad died and received a fruit basket).

      3. LW5*

        Exactly. :) If someone I know ever suggests an edible arrangement again, I’d either try to head ’em off or suggest something like, like at least a non-perishable edible bouquet or a gift basket or something.

        Too much melon for one person to eat, and then I discovered no one I know likes melon and I hate food waste.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Or a wee bouquet of chocolate covered strawberries. Putting in my request now.

        2. fhqwhgads*

          Yup. Last time I had surgery I planted a word with a trusted co-worker that iff the boss tried to send me something (presuming coworker found out in time) to talk them out of it, but if they couldn’t be talked out of it, that it not be food, especially not quickly perishable food because I was not sure exactly when I’d be able to eat solid food. Day of the procedure I received fancy chocolate pretzels from “companyname”. I apparently did thank the wrong person because I emailed a thank you to the few higher-ups I assumed were behind it on my first day back, but then a few days later someone else (who I would never have thought was involved) casually asked me if I’d received the thing. I think I reacted well and tactfully in the moment but in the back of my head I felt bad because the thanks didn’t reach the right person. But I don’t think anyone holds it against me.

      4. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah, maybe a good idea for someone who’s going to having a lot of company? (Like if they are sitting shiva or having people over after a funeral, etc.)

      5. a1*

        They have lots of options, though. Telling people it always has lots of melon is a disservice, I think. In fact, I’ve never had, or sent, an edible arrangement that included melon. And I love melon! But I also love their pineapple and strawberries and apples, especially the chocolate dipped. And on top of that, they come in different sizes. I have sent just 12 dipped strawberries, for example. And no, I don’t work for them. :-)

        1. sunshyne84*

          Yes, it was probably just the sizing. I’m greedy though and love fruit so I can’t imagine having too much. lol

      6. L.S. Cooper*

        I took it as a bit of friendly ribbing, honestly. My grandmother died two years ago, and my mom is currently on hospice, in confusing condition.
        When my grandmother passed, I was an intern at the company my dad works for, and went back to work before he did (he took more bereavement leave, because A. it was his mother and B. he’s salaried). The office manager asked me what I thought would be a good thing to order for him as a gift, because she figured we would be inundated with flowers. (We were.) I looked at the list of options she was considering, pointed her in the direction of Harry & David, and we were very happy.
        Right now, I actually (jokingly!) told my coworkers to please not send me anything– I appreciated their thoughts, but holy moly, we have so much food (much of which is weird stuff that my dad and I don’t eat) and SO MANY FLOWERS. For about a week, everyone who came by brought muffins. You get overwhelmed, and it’s a lovely problem to have– to have so much care poured out to you that you can’t deal with it all.
        But… it’s still overwhelming.

        1. WellRed*

          When my boss went on maternity leave, another coworker wanted to organize us to send her meals. I headed them off at the pass, which boss was grateful for. which I suspected she would be.

        2. A Non E. Mouse*

          PSA for those wanting to help the grieving: instead of food, bring supplies.

          When my FIL died we had a wonderful friend bring paper plates, plastic forks/knives/spoons, toilet paper, napkins, coffee + filters, etc.

          We’d been overwhelmed with food at that point, and dishes (THE DISHES) plus we were staring down a run to Target for supplies. It was like Santa Claus showed up. We all fussed over her, thanked her profusely, offered up kidneys should she ever need one.

          I’ve done it ever since (instead of flowers or food) and every single time the recipient is like YES YOU LOVELY WOMAN BLESS YOU AND YOUR DESCENDANTS.

          You just cannot imagine the volume of plastic silverware you need when family is descending on your home from out of town.

      7. Aunt Vixen*

        I am allergic to pineapple. Edible Arrangements are (a) lovely and (b) almost entirely wasted on me, alas.

    4. Moray*

      Who the hell cares if you criticize a gift as long as it’s not to the person who gave it?

    5. Parenthetically*

      Oh come on. She didn’t compose a company-wide email saying, “Thanks for nothing, jerks, nobody likes that much honeydew.” She said in the letter she was grateful for the gesture, and was seeking input solely on whether or not a thank-you note was needed, or if it would just be bothersome.

    6. Mediamaven*

      Reminds me of why I stopped giving my mom flowers. Every time she would complain that they were in bad shape and thought I should know, instead of just appreciating it!

  18. HA2*

    #5 -in my experience, this sort of stuff does NOT happen automatically. It’s not necessarily in anyone’s job description to send get well gifts, and if nobody did the Company wouldn’t necessarily notice.

    It’s likely that your manager or admin or a coworker took initiative and organized it, and sending them a thank ypu email would be polite. (My guess is that if it was signed with the Company name then its an admin, since a manager or coworker would sign their own. But thats just a guess!)

  19. Jo*

    #4 – Simply don’t engage in more than a line or two of small talk. It’s just a matter of being friendly and maintaining social conventions. Exchange greetings, give them ten seconds of your attention since you’ve been chatty with them so far, and then simply drop your side of the conversation. Don’t ask questions, don’t offer new bits of info/chatter. Just say “hm, sounds interesting/nice/fun” or make agreeable noises. Most people are going to take the hint. And if that’s not enough, add “gosh I’m busy today, I’m going to have to ignore you now.” A few days of that will do the trick.

    I have to admit that questions along these lines tend to puzzle me. It’s all about keeping in touch with your co-workers and keeping the social wheels greased. A few minutes of chatting a day and a friendly greeting/goodbye makes you appear open, engaged and polite to them and you leave a favourable impression. It’s just part of being at work, like picking a suitable outfit every day. If you don’t like it, try viewing it like dress code requirements. Must wear black shoes, must wear ties, must talk to coworkers for 0.5% of the work day.

    1. Hrovitnir*

      I find it incredibly difficult to believe you’ve never experienced or witnessed people being overly chatty and difficult to put off. Particularly if you are someone who’s comfortable with being warm and open to conversation.

      Frankly, there are more than enough letters that directly evoke this constant argument about whether the bare minimum of work conversation is really needed, it doesn’t need to be dragged into a pretty normal question about stopping people being distracting.

  20. RUKiddingMe*

    I’d rather be at work than be forced to participate in someone else’s pet volunteer thing.

  21. Reality Check*

    #1 It’s hard to tell without full context of the conversation, but if the son truly got fired for nothing more than referring to the guy as a Chinese man, this might explain, in part, at least, the high turnover.

    1. Rebecca*

      The OP states the company is “notorious industry-wide for high turnover”, and yet apparently no one in this company is concerned about it. Probably the OP isn’t the one to pose this question, but it always amazes me when companies experience high turnover they don’t want to address the possible root causes, like low wages, skimpy benefits, nickel and diming their workers, outright abuse and bullying, things like that.

      1. FairPayFullBenefits*

        OP said it’s the “part of production” that’s notorious, which made me think it’s that type of job that has high turnover, not this specific company.

      2. MsM*

        It could also just be that most of their workers are teenagers and young adults who don’t understand workplace norms yet and don’t take well to being asked to adjust.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Nah, their high turnover is because they are a production facility. That’s the life of production in most situations.

      It’s mediocre pay, shift work. Unless you dig in and can climb into machine operation and perhaps a facility management kind of job, you’re stuck putting caps on toothpaste like Charlie’s dad.

      It’s also a job you easily get fired from for attendance problems or attitude problems because we work so closely together, I’m not putting someone on the line with someone with an attitude problem, it’s a recipe for disaster.

  22. Piper*

    I wonder if the big boss brought up the owner’s ethnicity first because honestly saying ‘you have to put up with it because the owner is a Chinese immigrant’ is just as racist … so the kid could ha r taken his lead from the boss?

    Also ethnicity could just be an identifier. For example if someone doesn’t know the people you work with but maybe has seen them in passing and you said ‘I got lunch with mike, the Chinese guy’ it’s just so that the person can identify who you are talking about since it’s the quickest way (in this case) to identify someone by sight.

    1. Scarlet2*

      Sure, but in this case it looks like there’s just one owner, so it wasn’t necessary to mention that he’s Chinese…

    2. Indigo a la mode*

      I suspect someone comfortable with saying something thoughtlessly racist would be unlikely to fire someone for saying something thoughtlessly racist.

  23. Cat Beloe*

    I’ve been on the receiving end of parental interference in my managing a direct report (their child). It was an incredibly difficult situation with my employee (job performance issues) made even more complicated by her father, who felt the need to advise me on how to manage his daughter. And her father works at our company in a different department and is senior to me.
    I didn’t want to hire his daughter initially because I had concerns that she didn’t have the right skills/experience. Another manager did hire her and after some department shuffling before she started she ended up in my department.
    After a month of her father emailing and calling me about what I needed to do to help his daughter (he even called me on my personal cell phone outside of business hours!) I had to go to HR to get him to stop. Eventually, his daughter quit because she couldn’t do the job.
    After this experience I will never again hire any employee’s adult child. Parents need to stay out of their adult children’s work problems no matter how unfair it seems. You are not doing your child any favors by interferring and will most likely make it worse.

      1. Cat Beloe*

        No, I didn’t tell her. I thought she would be mortified if I had. And I didn’t even know what I would say. I role played all the possible ways to tell her and they all sounded ridiculous. I was really embarrassed for her. If my parent had done that to my employer I think I would have quit due to humiliation.

        I figured the best way to handle it was to let HR know and let them deal with it since he was violating about ten company nepotism rules. She was struggling to do the job anyway and I didn’t want to add anymore stress to her plate. I was trying to leave her with some dignity because her confidence was completely shot due to her performance issues.

  24. Sled dog mama*

    Is no one else bothered by #2’s manager adjusting her shirt? I’m having a really hard time imagining a situation where that occurs in a appropriate way. Plus why couldn’t OP adjust her own shirt?

    1. lurker*

      I’m thinking the employee didn’t realize her shirt was hiked up. But yes, the manager should probably have let her know rather than grabbing the shirt themselves.

      1. Rachel Greep*

        I read that as the OP was dressed inappropriately for the activity, was moving around in such a way that she was exposing herself, and was grateful that her boss stepped in to pull her shirt down. She wasn’t embarrassed because the boss did that, but because the boss needed to do that.

        1. Kelly L.*

          She has clarified that she was in a t-shirt, which is perfectly appropriate. I wouldn’t want my boss calling attention to my shirt riding up either.

          1. Dahlia*

            They also clarified it was a too short shirt, and their jeans were too loose. So possibly their underwear or actual crack was on display, which I would personally appreciate not having happen.

    2. Booksalot*

      Going by the context clues throughout the letter, I’m getting a disdain for larger-framed people from the company/boss. Employees are assumed the be sporty/athletic, LW is given a task that requires heavy labor with no possibility for an alternate option, and LW struggles to avoid exposing him/herself in a shirt unsuited to said heavy labor.

      Also, if the LW did not have a suitable shirt for this jobsite, I’m going to go out on a limb and also assume a lack of proper PPE. This entire project sounds seriously mismanaged and unsafe.

    3. OP 2*

      I was bending over and into the hole I was digging and my hands weren’t free. I was very grateful that she came over and tugged my shirt down when she noticed as our whole team had just walked around the corner behind me :(

  25. Reality Check*

    Exactly. And I’ve seen many companies that expect instant perfection from new hires, don’t want to train or correct them, etc,and then fire them. THEN complain about high turnover. If there is a high turnover at a company, there is a reason.

  26. voyager1*

    Not all habitat build days are construction. Tell your manager you are okay with doing painting. The last bank I worked did Habitat as a volunteer day and many of folks who couldn’t do construction went on days they are doing painting. This is totally something your manager can fix for you if she wants too.

    1. Dana B.S.*

      Painting as house is still very physical work for someone with little upper body strength.

      1. voyager1*

        The times I saw it done, it was a large group of people painting indoors. Didn’t look hard and the folks had a good time doing it. Painting is much easier then the framing work or landscaping.

        Either way the manager can work with the LW and Habitat to find something she is comfortable with. The key is the manager has to want to.

        1. Anon for now*

          The OP has to want to as well. It is fine for her to decide that it really isn’t for her and she would rather volunteer elsewhere.

        2. CanuckCat*

          There’s a difference between something not looking hard and not being hard though. I painted my apartment recently and even though all I did was two bedrooms, the day after I couldn’t lift my arms above the level of my shoulders, and I’d like to think that I’m someone who is young and in reasonably good shape.

        3. Justme, The OG*

          As someone who has painted homes (interior and exterior) many times, it’s not as easy as you are making it out to be.

          And the real issue here is the letter writer being forced into volunteering that they do not want to do.

        4. Observer*

          “It doesn’t look hard” is the bane of my life!

          Don’t assume that the OP has the right clothes, the interest or the physical ability to do the job. Painting walls can take a fair amount of upper body strength.

      2. Jaybeetee*

        That said, even painting can be mishandled with volunteers. I did a Community Action Day awhile back that had teams of volunteers painting the hallways of a social housing apartment complex. The coordinators in this case seemed fairly new, and it turned out they wanted EVERY floor painted by the end of the day, of a high-rise. On top of that, there seemed to be some equipment shortages, stuff kept getting moved to other floors (including water bottles, which people were leaving on carts – except then some other floor would need the cart and take it, and the person wouldn’t be able to find their water – and there was no communal water either, except on the bottom floor…).

        We actually did get it all done, like riiiight at the end of the day, after various people and teams had already left, but most of us were pretty exhausted by that point. It was a *lot* of work. I’ve done other projects through that organization, and usually the unspoken rule is that the volunteer teams wrap up slightly ahead of schedule.

    2. Parenthetically*

      “Tell your manager you are okay with doing painting.”

      No, come on. Tell your manager your volunteer days are already scheduled with Org A and Org B and simply can’t be adjusted, sorry, but you hope everyone has fun, and you can’t wait to hear about it when you get back.

      There’s just no reason for LW2 to drag herself along on a volunteer outing she’s dreading. Book the days with other organizations and be done with it.

      1. voyager1*

        Reading the letter though getting out of Habitat doesn’t really sound like a choice though. That is why I encouraged the LW to find something there she feel comfortable doing. She needs to talk to her manager who can then talk to Habitat.

        Honestly the manager should pick up on the cues that the LW isn’t really cutout for this kind of labor, but managers don’t pick always pick up on things or forget that kind of thing all the time.

  27. Policy Wonk*

    #5 – when I was in a similar situation (flowers, not edible bouquet) I took a photo of the gift and posted it with a nice hand-written thank you note on the office bulletin board in the break room. Several people commented that they appreciated seeing the flowers. Some people send e-mails, some post thank yous like I do, but yes, you need to send a thank you. (Note: the computer-generated message is on the company that provided the edible bouquet – not on your co-workers.)

  28. Hiring Mgr*

    On #4, I agree with Alison’s responses other than the last one–I wouldn’t mention being in the “cone of silence”. This is because the original cone of silence from Get Smart (RIP Don Adams) often (always) malfunctioned, leading to hilarious misunderstandings.

    So if you say you’re in the cone of silence, your colleagues might take that to mean you’re in the mood for hijinks, which is the opposite of your intended meaning. Just some food for thought

  29. CanuckCat*

    I’ll note that this entirely depends on the culture of your office, but OP #4, I have actually had a surprising amount of traction at my last work place sticking a sign on the back of my chair (or alternatively somewhere where people might see before they see you) that explains the situation. The last time I had to do it, my co-worker and I were producing an exhibition brochure – something that normally takes several weeks but that we had three days to do – and really could not afford to make small talk, which was hard in a very social (and open concept office). My sign read like the following:

    “How are you?

    How was your weekend/evening?
    Also good.

    What are you working on?
    [Exhibition name] brochure.

    When will you be done?
    [X deadline]

    Can I ask you a question about work?
    If it’s urgent, please ask [Manager]. Otherwise I’d be glad to talk to you about it in [X] days.

    Hot out there huh?
    Too hot, but yay summer.

    Thank you all for your patience and understanding!”

    1. Lucette Kensack*


      Whether you can pull this off depends so much on your overall demeanor at work. Are you friendly and considerate, in general? Or are you the office snark, or that guy who always thinks he’s busier than everyone else?

      Thinking of my own colleagues, I would have totally different responses if different people had this on their chair. If one of my unpleasant colleagues had it, my response would be to roll my eyes and add it to the list of their rudeness.

    2. Jackalope*

      I was coming here to add something about a sign as well, although not quite like that. At my office I have some coworkers who have made signs along the lines of “interviewing, do not disturb!”, or “short deadline, do not disturb!”, etc. (The interviewing comment meaning that they are interviewing possible new employees, not trying to find a new position themselves). It’s effective and gives them quiet time without people being offended by a brusque brush off.

    3. Gumby*

      Yes, there is someone at work now who has had a white board outside her office asking to not be interrupted. I have no idea why because the sign doesn’t say and I’m obviously not going to ask her until the sign goes away.

  30. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP1 – as well as the good advice that it’s still a hands off situation (with smoothing for your relationship) – I wonder if it might be useful for your son, and your relationship with the vendor, if you helped him explore why what he said was wrong?

    I accept 100% he did not use an actual slur. But he did reference the person’s ethnicity as an identifier where it was not relevant, and in a charged situation involving complaints.

    There are very few instances where referring to someone by their ethnicity when it is not relevant to immediate point is not a racist act.

    This does not mean your son is a horrible raciat that should go to racist people hell! It means that, on this occasion, possibly unintentionally, he did something racist.

    Helping him to realise that simply refraining from the actual slur does not mean he was free from racism, and that he now has a chance to examine the situation and his own assumptions to do better next time is one of the most valuable ways you can help him as a parent in this situation.

    If he is willing to contact the vendor himself and give a real apology – saying he didn’t realise it was harmful at the time, but has now reflected on it and would like to apologise for causing offence and will endeavour not to repeat the error (NOT apologising if they were offended – that would be bad with a capital bad) then it would go a long way to repairing any damage.

    If not, then part of smoothing over could be your apologising/saying how mortified you are about the comment.

    But it was racist. Arguing over semantics will not help him in his future.

    1. Eleanor Konik*

      Yeah this is really one of those cases where the correct response was an apology and a sense of trying to figure out why one got in trouble, not a doubling down on how it’s unfair.

      Reminds me of the letter from the lady who shared confidential information, tbh.

    2. Yvette*

      Yes, and if he was only there a short while he should probably leave it off his resume.

    3. mf*

      “Helping him to realise that simply refraining from the actual slur does not mean he was free from racism, and that he now has a chance to examine the situation and his own assumptions to do better next time is one of the most valuable ways you can help him as a parent in this situation.

      If he is willing to contact the vendor himself and give a real apology – saying he didn’t realise it was harmful at the time, but has now reflected on it and would like to apologise for causing offence and will endeavour not to repeat the error (NOT apologising if they were offended – that would be bad with a capital bad) then it would go a long way to repairing any damage.”

      Excellent comment. The best thing the parent (mom?) can do in this situation is help her son understand why he got fired and coach him on offering a gracious apology. It will be beneficial for her relationship with the vendor and it will be a great learning experience for her son.

  31. PretzelGirl*

    #2- I feel your pain! I am the same way. My ILs used to volunteer for a week helping people, who couldn’t afford to make repairs to their home. They would drive for several hours, then work all week in the blistering sun and the sleep every night on the floor of a gym of a local HS. Sorry that’s a big NO THANKS from me. I will gladly support monetarily, send food, buy supplies etc. They use to look at me, like I was crazy for not wanting to attend. Thankfully I had a baby and could pull the “I cant leave my kid” card.

  32. musical chairs*

    OP 1, your urge to set the record straight is a curious one. I get this situation is more complicated and involves multiple overlapping dynamics and that I, internet commenter, do not have some special insight into your son’s exact conversation and the context of it. I won’t pretend to.

    I do wonder if there is some value into interrogating your own motives to get involved. I know when it comes to racism and other collective social ills, I’m often dismayed by how much more it seems like folks want to to feel like they and their loved ones are good people, want to feel like they are not any more racist than most, compared to how many people continually work to root out racism in their own lives and communities.

    Do you want to be the parent of someone who simply hasn’t been accused of racism or do you want to be the parent of someone who is actively anti-racist? Is sorting out the perception of your son at least part of why you want to call? It’s worth thinking about honestly and often!

    I think know you shouldn’t interfere here, I can tell from your good instinct not to participate in son’s hiring. And you’ve gotten similar advice. The next steps might be to really drill down on what it feel like to close to someone who may be, at best, unwittingly racist, to think about your own role in that outcome if you raised him, to consider the ways that result and intent are different and meaningful, if the results you and your son are seeing are matching the intent you have and what concrete actions you can take to make them align better.

    This isn’t about whether or not your son is a good person or whether or not you feel like you raised a good person or whether you’re a good person. It’s about what you do going forward and who you continually choose to be.

    You have good instincts and I wish you well!

    1. Allypopx*

      I think there’s also a business component to think of here, not just the urge to protect her son (though I agree that seems to be the main motivation). It’s perfectly reasonable that the OP wouldn’t want someone she works with to think that she raised a racist child, or condones racist behavior herself. It can reflect on her own reputation and interactions with this vendor. That’s why I think Alison’s smoothing it over script is important – it doesn’t try to dismiss or excuse the behavior itself, just tries to preserve the business relationship.

      1. musical chairs*

        I think an end goal of not wanting their vendor to think the letter writers’ son is racist is predicated on him not exhibit racist behaviors, which is unclear at best here, even giving him the benefit of the doubt.

        I completely agree the business interest further complicates the situation. Damage control for the letter writers own reputation looks very different in either case.

    2. Reba*

      I don’t think it’s “curious” — it’s totally understandable that OP feels there is something awkward hanging between her and someone she regularly does business with! I think she should acknowledge it. But it’s tangled up with her desire to defend her son, which really should not be a part of the conversation.

  33. CupcakeCounter*

    I agree with Alison that you need to get your preferred volunteer activities on the books ASAP. My work also does quarterly volunteer work but we (the employees) have a say in what the charity is. Friday we are heading to the local humane society (I GET TO SOCIALIZE NEW KITTENS!!!!!!) and all last year we worked with the local homeless shelter. some of us helped prep and serve lunch and those who were able helped organize donations to their food pantry and resale store.
    Normally I would also say maybe look into pushing back about getting other charities in the rotation but it sounds like your coworkers are all into it (although if you hear otherwise maybe bring up your favorite organization to volunteer with to see if any of your teammates are interested).

  34. Yi*

    I am a Chinese American and I do not speak for anyone but myself. However, I want to say that I feel disturbed by the handful of commenters throwing the term “Chinaman” back and forth here. I understand why it is being brought up, but does it need to be continually repeated throughout the discussion? I don’t know why I find it jarring but I do.

    1. MsM*

      I think it’s entirely understandable that you find it jarring, and your reaction just illustrates that it’s best avoided even if your intentions are good (like, say, trying to explain why it’s insensitive). Thanks for speaking up.

    2. Lucette Kensack*

      I’m sorry that it’s happening. I suspect nobody here would spell out the “N word” — most folks are uncomfortable typing it, even when discussing that it is racist and shouldn’t be used. It’s upsetting that people aren’t giving the same consideration to this slur and the impact it has on people.

      1. Dahlia*

        I’ve found people do this with g***y a lot, too. You can say “hey that’s a racial slur” and they’ll come back with a comment that uses it explicitly five times.

        1. JediSquirrel*

          Are you referring to the group that is properly called Roma? Because that one REALLY bugs me, as I am part of that group. And nobody seems to think there’s anything wrong with it, alas. :(

          1. Dahlia*

            Yes, I am! I’m white but it makes me so freaking uncomfortable. People are way too casual with some racial slurs.

    3. CanuckCat*

      As one of the commenters who did use it, I would like to apologize. I wasn’t thinking how it could be disturbing for other people to read, and if I could edit my comment, I would remove it or censor it. Thank you for pointing it out and my apologies again.

    4. Aunt Vixen*

      I’m with you, friend. There’s a K word that makes me flinch every time I see or hear it, even when it’s being discussed as a word rather than used in discourse. I’m sorry you’ve had to sit through so many rounds of overt analysis of this particular slur.

  35. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

    Regarding the “volunteering” in the second letter: if your manager is organizing, requiring you to use one of your designated volunteer days for a project of their choice, and styling it as “team building”, it’s not really volunteering, is it?

    I hate this kind of thing. Volunteering is doing something of YOUR choice. If it’s tied to team building, etc, it’s a work-related activity. To call it anything else is insulting.

  36. Grumpelstilzchen*

    As the person who has to send out the flowers, fruit baskets, and condolence cards—yes. Send a thank you. It’s so frustrating to be uncertain if the basket was delivered or not because there was no acknowledgment! And while he’s it’s part of my job, it’s difficult to keep track of these things, get the right address, strange the delivery, write something not cheesy or trite, and then get the sign off to send it… and it’s always appreciated to be recognized.

  37. LW5*

    As mentioned in some other comments, I’m NOT criticizing the edible bouquet. It was gorgeous and fun. But it was too much melon for one person, and apparently none of my family/friends like melon. Also, to keep it fresh, it took over my fridge (even after I put all the fruit in containers).

    Finally, my teeth are very sensitive to cold, so cold fruit is hard to eat. :)

    1. WellRed*

      I think most of us understand how you meant it but thanks for this! Those bouquets take up a lot of space! Personally, I think sending perishable food is always risky.

    2. Moray*

      A vendor at my old job used to send us edible arrangements, and there were a lot of sarcastic “so, who wants to eat half a pound of honeydew, the melon that nobody likes” and “under-ripe berries, my favorite” comments.

      You don’t need to feel bad for disliking anything as long as you appreciate the spirit it was sent in.

      1. Parenthetically*

        Half a pound of under-ripe honeydew, like as not covered in cheap candymelts-esque “chocolate.”

        I HATE edible arrangements.

    3. Serin*

      I made a mental note of that — I always used to think edible bouquets were a good idea, too, but I see your point.

      (The Smitten Kitchen blog just posted a recipe for mojitos made with frozen cubes of watermelon, though, in case anyone else is looking for that sort of melon-usage tips.)

      1. Arielle*

        True story, I saw that recipe on Instagram and I literally cried because it looked so good and I’m pregnant and can’t have it.

        1. Damn it, Hardison!*

          Make it without the rum – still delicious! (why yes, that is a bag of frozen watermelon in my freezer)

      2. GreyjoyGardens*

        Luckily, I DO love watermelon – really the only kind of melon I like! It’s a perfect summer fruit.

        1. Pebbles*

          Watermelon juice + cucumber vodka. I made this for a friend and her comment was “it tastes like summer!”

    4. JediSquirrel*

      I would be very happy with a basket filled with different types of dried lentils. Never gonna happen, though.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      When in front of a large audience like AAM, you get a few people who will always find something to find offensive or rude. It’s pretty obvious that you were saying “Now that I’ve seen them up close and personal, woah melon tho.” Not “we should never ever use these again, these are trash, I threw it in the trasssssh. Such a trash gift!”

    6. Bebe*

      I laughed when I read your PS because something similar happened to me. I had surgery and took medical leave, and my supervisors thoughtfully sent an edible arrangement. But what they didn’t know (because they rightfully never asked) was that my surgery was stomach-related and I was on a liquid diet for weeks afterwards so that edible arrangement just went to my partner.

  38. TerDickison*

    As the office admin whose job it is to send those flowers, get-well gifts and yes, edible bouquets, it’s always nice to get a thank you from someone. It does take time to find out where to send things to, what to send and then staying within the budget you’re given. It might seem automatic and that the company doesn’t care about you but when you’re the one having to arrange it all, it’s not, trust me.

    1. Decima Dewey*

      It would also be useful for the admin to know that Clothilda appreciated the thought behind the gift, but she lives alone and has to limit the amount of fruit she eats for health reasons, so maybe not an edible arrangement for Clothilda next time.

      1. Rainy*

        My office periodically has supervisors check in with their reports, stuff like How do you like to be recognized? If we get you a gift, do you like flowers? Plants? Food? What kind of food? Are you allergic to roses? Do you hate chocolate? Etc.

        It’s actually really nice, and means that, for example, on my birthday no one gets me a cake I can’t eat and a bouquet of flowers that makes me sneeze.

  39. HailRobonia*

    Volunteering… Ugh. In our office we are ~encouraged~ to volunteer to staff an annual free orchestral concert our office sponsors (we are not a music/theatrical/performance organization). I now have to spend 6 hours after work staffing this concert (no extra pay, of course). Every year I want to refuse but the big boss is so emphatic about it I worry about repercussions.

    1. Mannheim Steamroller*

      Ask your company’s HR if this is proper. If promotions or firings are decided based on non-participation, then it should count as WORK. Are non-exempt employees being paid overtime? Is the company covered if you slip and fall?

  40. sb51*

    OP#2 — do any of your preferred organizations to volunteer with have volunteer activities that are suitable for groups the size of your office one? If they do, offering to set up a day for your whole group with them might go over well. Habitat is really, really good at setting up for office groups, and that’s why they’re often the choice for managers who just want “a team-building volunteer effort” and don’t really care what it is.

    Obviously, you don’t have to, and can just follow Alison’s scripts, but if the general idea of a group volunteering team-building day doesn’t horrify you on principle, offering to organize it might give you a chance to share the things you care about with your team.

    1. OP 2*

      I do fundraising, bottle feeding/foster, and event planning for a local animal welfare organization. I usually use my days for daytime events or emergency foster relief. We are pretty small (minuscule in comparison to HFH) and haven’t had large volunteer opportunities yet, but I had actually been thinking of starting an adoption day event at our building for local rescues. That might be something our team or department could be involved in :)

  41. Imaginary Number*

    OP #2: Corporations LOVE habitat for humanity for service projects. The problem I have with them is that they’re terribly ineffective from a cost/benefit standpoint. It’s significantly more cost/time effective to pay for actual skilled workers to build the homes. They don’t actually need volunteers to do any of the work, except that those volunteer stories are much better PR and thus more fundraising dollars.

    One outdoorsy team-building activity I’ve done is hiking trail repair and cleanup, usually done in the spring. It’s something that provides a benefit to the community, but actually uses skills that almost everyone can provide without any training like raking leaves, painting markers, moving sticks off the trail, etc. There are more physical tasks for those that want the challenge. There’s also usually several jobs available that don’t require even going out on the trail like coordinating supplies.

    1. Pommette!*

      Better PR, plus the fact that people are way more likely to care about and support organizations they have volunteered for.

      I used to be a regular volunteer at my local community garden (growing produce for food banks and soup kitchens). Over the years, we came to rely more and more on one-time help from large organized volunteer groups (schools, offices, churches and other organizations), and less and less from long-term individual volunteers. Work was done so much less efficiently. Thirty people would spend an entire day doing something that ten people could have done in a few hours; badly done work had to be redone; etc. Developing activities that would be useful but could be done by unskilled people, with no training, was not easy. We had to dedicate long-term volunteers’ time and energy to managing the groups. As a result, there was a huge turnover in long-term volunteers, as people who came to garden were replaced by people who came to manage public relations with volunteer groups and people who oversaw volunteers. (This was my cue for leaving).

      Still, it was arguably worth it. Volunteers feel proud of their contributions. The gardens have way more donors and advocates than they ever did before, many of them people who were never involved in food security/justice initiatives before their or their kid’s awesome field trip got them talking about the gardens. The extra visibility has brought a lot of resources, including land.

      It’s a weird tradeoff. It takes way more work to produce the same amount of produce, but the end result is still a net good (more fresh produce for people who need it). At the same time, we could produce so much more food if the money spent by volunteering organizations (on buses, salaries, etc.) was just donated directly, and used to hire actual agricultural workers to do, or at least oversee, the work.

      1. Ellen Ripley*

        Same thing with food banks. People want to donate that weird can of sardines they never ate and volunteer to move a few boxes, but what the food bank really needs is a cash donation so they can buy staples in bulk. But volunteering makes people feel connected to the charity and more apt to donate money in the future. So they have to hire a full-time person to organize volunteers and coordinate with corporations who want the good PR. *shrug*

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          On the subject of food donations: I have a dear friend who works at a company that encourages volunteering, and one of their “pet” volunteer projects is the local food bank. So Friend does her volunteer time sorting offerings, moving boxes, etc. and every year when she is there we get to hear some rants along the lines of “the food bank is NOT your expired food dump!” Like half-opened bags of pretzels and canned food that expired around the time “Lost” ended. What they really needed and wanted was MONEY, and not-expired, not-opened staples, the kind YOU would be willing to eat.

        2. Imaginary Number*

          I do get that bringing in volunteers from the community makes them feel connected and thus more likely to promote the charity, but I still hate that that’s how things work. You have to wonder how much of program costs are actually really going towards the mission and how many are just really there to make potential donors feels good about themselves. The whole thing is gross.

          I remember doing disaster response training with the Army and them talking about how important it was that everything was coordinated through the incident commander. Because they had so many problems with random charities and churches showing up to hand out totally unnecessary or non-priority supplies and using up limited resources to do so.

          1. Pommette!*

            It’s as if providing well-off people and big organizations with opportunities for entertaining volunteer work was ultimately a form of outreach/information campaigning. I get it, but it is also frustratingly backwards and ineffective.

      2. just a random teacher*

        I used to work at a lower-income-area public school that a church in a nearby (wealthy, would probably stop our kids “on suspicion” if they decided to go hang out in their parks/shopping area) suburb decided to “adopt” as their project. The local media was involved and a columnist in the local paper would write about this whole thing regularly.

        Most of us prepared for their “volunteer days” about how you would prepare for a plague of locusts. (NO, I don’t want my classroom painted by enthusiastic amateurs who will probably get paint everywhere and may stand on my desks to reach the high parts and break them too. Especially if they decide to leave “inspirational” quotes or something else exhausting on them.) The problems we were having (and the school had many) were just not the kind of problems solved by people from out of town throwing paint around and calling it a day. We could definitely have used people interested in a long-term mentoring relationship with some of our students, helping them see a wider variety of post-high school options and using their business/college alumni connections to help our kids get some of the same advantages that their kids did, but what we got was hasty paint jobs and gardening help. (Many of our students had families who worked in things like painting and landscaping, and probably would have done a more professional job at those tasks anyway.)

        I wish our society would re-think these one-day volunteer efforts. They’re good for a few things, but most groups need an infusion of (a) money and (b) volunteers who are able to work regularly enough to be trained in and oversee specific needed tasks rather than the One Day Volunteer Swarm model.

        1. Gumby*

          The activities that can use a one day volunteer swarm (love that phrase) effectively are few and far between, true. By far the most fun I’ve participated in are staffing the Boys and Girls Club outdoor fair thingy and decorating Rose Parade floats. Short term things that need a high number of helpers.

        2. Pommette!*

          That sounds frustrating and (frustratingly) typical. The “I wouldn’t want to associate with you in real life but aren’t I great for helping you” thing is a real risk of the One Day Volunteer Swarm model. (I like that expression!). Done badly, it can perpetuate stigma against would-be beneficiaries. And even when done well, it doesn’t really foster the kinds of real human-to-human connections that can lead to social change.

          That’s not to say that Swarms aren’t sometimes super useful (as well as a lot of fun – Gumby and Imaginary Number have great examples). But it’s frustrating that organizations like the church that partners with your school can’t break out of that mold to find more sustainable, effective, and respectful ways of working with their partners.

        3. Imaginary Number*

          I think the worst offenders are those “visiting orphans” trips where people fundraise thousands of dollars from their friends and family to pay for a flight overseas so they can hand out clothes and toys to orphans. Because they’re convinced that the only reason there’s poverty in those countries is because no one is willing to pass out clothes and toys that someone else has already bought.

    2. Alanna of Trebond*

      I’m glad somebody brought this up. There are a lot of commenters on this post trying really hard to figure out ways that LW2 can contribute on the building site without having to do any (literal) heavy lifting, but this could also be an opportunity for her company to reconsider how it conceptualizes volunteering to make more of an impact through an in-kind donation of time. I don’t know what LW’s company does, but presumably people there have skills with real market value (rather than doing a construction job much worse than a skilled construction worker does) that could be donated to other good causes, or even to Habitat in other ways.

      1. Alanna of Trebond*

        Also, beyond her physical limitations/preferences, it’s actually a good instinct for her to want to donate her time and energy in a way that can be the most useful. I can swing a hammer (badly) if you tell me what to swing it at, and I’d probably enjoy building a house (badly) under direction as a volunteer, but I can be of much greater help to my community by doing the things I’m good at rather than things I’m bad at.

      2. GreyjoyGardens*

        I mean…honestly, judging by the mail I get and the mail that still comes addressed to my mom (dead since 2010! and yes I do ask to be taken off mailing lists…) a great place to use volunteers would be “cleaning up mailing lists!” That’s a sit-down job that someone who has database experience or even Excel experience can do.

        There must be hundreds of small office tasks like that which are more suited to volunteer labor than construction work.

        1. Imaginary Number*

          But sitting at a computer doing totally necessary data entry doesn’t make for the awesome photo op of twenty people in matching t-shirts who are holding hammers and looking slightly sweaty.

  42. Jerk Store*

    #1 I hope this isn’t speculating too much, because the LW is familiar with the business and may know for a fact that the owner is Chinese, but is it possible the owner is Asian but not Chinese?

    As a white American, I have noticed it’s not unheard of for white people to assume all Asian people are Chinese or that all Hispanic people are Mexican.

  43. But Why*

    OP2 — I don’t like to be forced to volunteer either. I pick the organizations that are meaningful to me. Alison gave great advice as usual, but I *am* curious as to why you would show up to Habitat for Humanity, knowing you were there to build a house, without wearing work clothes? Were you hoping that since you weren’t properly dressed they would let you man the snack table? It seems like a passive-aggressive move.

    1. OP 2*

      I was wearing jeans, tennis shoes, and the t-shirt they provided which is what they asked us to wear (except for the shoes – they said boots were preferable, but I don’t own any). The t-shirt wasn’t long enough and my jeans turned out to be looser than I had realized (usually not moving around the way I was to dig the hole when wearing them) and basically the tshirt rode up, the jeans slipped down. I was bending over and into the hole when my manager rushed over and pulled my shirt down.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        And they didn’t stop you and put you on something else? “This work could cause an injury, and an untrained and not-in-shape volunteer is *really* at risk, but welp, watchagonnadoo?”

      2. BadWolf*

        Jeans, tennis shoes and a t-shirt seem like a fine thing to wear for that event. I’m guessing that’s what I wore the last time I did a Habitat project.

        My coworkers enjoy picking the most “forest clearing”related volunteer even from our bank of options. I like gardening, but cutting down trees with chainsaws with my coworkers isn’t really my favorite. Frankly, I was happy that our group of choices last year were mostly limited to helping at the food bank.

  44. RussianInTexas*

    The owners of my company are from China, and I can’t imagine a conversation with a coworker or a manager in which I refer to them as Chinese man or woman. I don’t know how this would come up.
    I call a bit of a BS on son’s story.

  45. nnn*

    Depending on personalities, a useful framing from situations like #2 might be something like “I’m a liability on a building site.” Less emphasis on “I don’t like it” and more emphasis on “I don’t serve the cause well” might go over better with some people. (You know better than I do if this would apply in your workplace.)

    This might pair well with Alison’s suggestion of having your volunteer commitments already locked down. “I learned last time that I’m a liability on a building site, so I’ve already signed up for volunteer projects where I know I can be of use.”

  46. Phillip*

    If the son was fired after doubling down, how would it do anything but harm to effectively triple down? Racist statement > no it’s not > fired > no it’s not > ?

    1. Phillip*

      And you can’t really say you respect their hiring and firing practices by leading with “but the reason you fired my son for was wrong”.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I mean, you could legitimately say “I respect that you fire people who don’t do the job or are rude to customers, but my son did neither of those so here I am to smooth things out…”

        1. CM*

          No, you can’t. Unless you think it’s OK in general for parents to talk to their child’s employer about their child’s job performance.

          Also, I think the way OP#1 asks this question — it was a misunderstanding, it was unfair, the son was horrified — it’s very clear that OP#1 has an opinion on this matter.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Sorry, I didn’t mean it was a legitimate thing for a parent to do. It’s not. I just meant that it’s a true, not contradictory statement (as per the post I was responding to.)

  47. Buttons*

    I think the biggest issue with the kind of volunteer work OP is describing, is that so many people take for granted being fully physically capable of such things. There are so many people who may look able-bodied who may be able to perform their job, but not able to be out in the heat, lift things, walk far, stand for long periods, etc. These are not things they need to disclose to their work, because it isn’t a disability that needs accommodations for them to do their job.
    If a company wants to sponsor that sort of activity, wonderful, but do not make it mandatory for people. Allow people to sign up for it.

    1. Shan*

      Yes, exactly – I’ve seen a few people offer up painting or twisting screws as “easy” options, and dude. I have rheumatoid arthritis. I’m very fit and can do all kinds of physical stuff, but those types of tasks leave me in pain for days. Let people choose to participate, and don’t penalize them if they don’t.

  48. Mannheim Steamroller*


    Basically, the boss (and others cut from the same cloth) will say, “But, but, but… You should WANT to spend an entire day digging holes and carrying supplies and setting rafters. Why else does anybody go into accounting (or other desk-bound profession)?”

  49. Birdman*

    Does anyone else think that he was fired for composing about his boss or that contributed to his firing?

    1. Clisby*

      Composing? Do you mean complaining? I think it’s entirely likely that was the main offense.

      1. SurprisedCanuk*

        I think he means complaining. If someone complains about their boss to the big boss. Little boss will be pretty upset.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Sure, complaining when you’re new and seemingly not having a great argument behind what you’re complaining about can contribute to being terminated.

      However I think that the throw in off a racist remark really just made it go from “argh this person is annoying AF” to “you’re annoying and you’re racist, this is over, dude.”

  50. Rusty Shackelford*

    I’ve recently called two coworkers out for inserting race or nationality into a conversation where it didn’t belong. The first person said “I’m a writer, so I’m just very descriptive.” (But your writing skills only compelled you to describe the person in this scenario who happened to be Black? Oooookay.) The second person said “oh” and continued the story without the unnecessary info. Some time later, they came to tell me something else and said “this family was from Mexico, and I know you think I’m a racist but that’s actually part of the story,” and it turns out they were right. So. I’m 1 for 2, I guess.

  51. Kristine*

    #2 – I find the emphasis on “charity” lately by workplaces could be sending a covert political message that our government should not be providing basic fundamental services for its citizens and frankly, that makes me uncomfortable. If businesses want to do something worthwhile, a sponsored walk for diabetes/MS/etc. or an event to raise awareness/fight stigma of mental illness, illiteracy, etc., is more appropriate than requiring its employees to stand in the gap for a government that is helping America fall behind other developed nations on so many fronts.

  52. Jennifer*

    #1 Yeah, I’m thinking there was more to this than your kid conveyed. When I got fired when I was around that age, I definitely glossed over some of the details when I told my parents. It was a good learning experience for me. I ended finding another job right away. I’d encourage you and your son to move on from this and learn from the experience.

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      I agree. Honestly, I think that parents should generally assume that if their kid comes to them with an odd, nonsensical or gap-filled explanation for why they got fired (“I just said that he was Chinese and I know it was bad but I felt really bad and then they fired me instantly just for that!”), there is probably a lot more to the story. Moving on and learning is the best bet, and I doubt “changing the record” will be of any importance – a short-term job held as a teenager is the kind of thing he can probably just leave off his CV entirely.

      1. Jennifer*

        Yeah, the story just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Pretty typical for someone of that age. I hope mom doesn’t double down on “the big bad boss treated my son unfairly” and encourages him to learn from this.

  53. Robin J*

    #3 should sign the letter. It’d be different if they didn’t agree with what the letter says, but as they do, OP is letting their colleagues put their necks on the line for OP’s benefit.

    1. CM*

      I think in this situation, where the VP only has two direct reports and the other one is not signing, this could have bad repercussions for the OP. Other people are stepping up to hold the VP accountable so I think in this case OP#3 doesn’t need to stick their neck out on principle if they think it will threaten their job.

    2. Mediamaven*

      Does not mean she has to sign a letter about it. That may not be the approach that she feels comfortable with.

  54. Observer*

    #1 – I haven’t read the comments yet, so I may be repeating something. But I’m going to take the chance because I think what I am going to say bears repeating.

    I’m assuming that your son isn’t leaving out significant context here. Nevertheless, it’s highly likely that if there was a misunderstanding it was on the part of your child not the supervisor. True your son didn’t use a slur. But that’s not really the point – that’s not the only way to be racist, as you know. And bringing up the fact that the owner is Chinese could easily be seen as racist, no matter what words you use to describe it.

    The real question here is why did your son even bring up the owner’s ethnicity? What made it relevant. Notice that when you first mentioned it in your letter you specifically note that it is relevant to the story. There is a reason for that – In most cases this kind of information is truly NOT relevant, so bringing it up creates at least an appearance of prejudice.

    I am not accusing your son of being racist. But he admits that the information is not relevant. What he should learn from this experience is that bringing in irrelevant information when trying to deal with a difficult people situation is not a good idea. When that piece of information has historically been used, and continues to be used, in derogatory and discriminatory ways, it’s a very, very bad idea.

    1. mcr-red*

      Yeah I keep coming around to what in the world was the context here? Unless you are describing someone, I don’t know how anyone’s looks or race is relevant, and why in the world would you bring it up?

      “Bob is the boss of here.” “Which guy is Bob?” “He’s the tall/short, brown hair/blond hair, Hispanic, Asian etc. man standing over there.”

      “Bob has an unique insight into immigration law.” “Why is that?” “Oh, Bob immigrated here from China three years ago.”

      Small possibility? “I’m sorry, but I sometimes have trouble understanding the tasks Bob assigns me because of his accent, he’s from China.”

  55. Polymer Phil*

    #2 – I’d be overjoyed if I got roped into a Habitat for Humanity corporate group event where I actually did construction work. When I’ve volunteered for Habitat in the past, I’ve either sat around all day waiting for instructions, or gotten sent home because they have too many people on the site and nothing for them to do. At best, you’ll be doing interior painting and cleanup type stuff if you’re not a regular.

    If your company is paying you for a day of work and not arm-twisting you to do mandatory volunteering on a weekend, suck it up and do it as if you were being given an unpleasant office task.

    1. Kristine*

      The OP was made to dig a hole with a shovel for an entire day when doing this for work earlier.

    2. Observer*

      It’s nice that you actually WANT to do this – the OP does NOT, and actually has physical difficulty with it.

      Also, telling the OP that they WILL NOT have a problem is not a good look. *ESPECIALLY* when the OP explicitly describes a situation is which they most definitely DID have a problem – was required to dig a hole in the sun.

  56. NewGlassesGirl*

    Isn’t “china man” a racial slur of sorts? I’ve been told this before. Perhaps the son was heard saying this or did actually say this in which case it would be perceived as racist. I would fire someone for using a slur even if it was just once.

  57. Cat Beloe*

    No, I didn’t. I thought she might have been mortified to know that. She was already going through enough stress trying to learn a job she wasn’t ready for or able to do (in spite of me putting a lot of time training her). I really wanted her to succeed but it was clear the role was too much for her abilities. Her dad wanted me to change the job duties to something she could handle. I was blown away that he could violate our nepotism policy in such an obnoxious way. It was like he didn’t care.

  58. Mia*

    I’ve lived in the Deep South my entirely life and it is 100% common knowledge that this is a slur.

    1. Mia*

      Ugh, ignore me! This was meant to be a reply to someone above but ended up being a nesting fail!

  59. Blue Dog*

    #4 – The terms “In the Weeds” and “Cone of Silence” have become such a part of our workplace vernacular here such that they are both commonly used without the need for further explanation. Everyone has been there; everyone understands; and it is wonderful. As long as you provide an end-date, everyone is happy (i.e., “I have a 3:00 pm deadline on Friday on the Pensky file and I’m really in the weeds. Please hold all questions until then and I will respond when I emerge from the Cone of Silence.”).

  60. CS*

    OP#1: I am a Chinese man so I will weigh in.

    I used to deal with a lot of Chinese customers in my role in banking, and even then, my subordinates, my peers, and my managers never referred to me as “a Chinese man.” And I’m talking about speaking exclusively in Mandarin when dealing with the aforementioned customers — and they formed the majority of people I dealt with — so that *everyone* knew I was “a Chinese man.” They might allude to me being Asian when trying to identify me in a crowd of people (e.g. “that tall Asian man over there”) but otherwise, no one referred to me as such during conversation.

    The one boss who made a big deal out of it — new manager — got the bank sued for discriminatory behavior after I left. The thing about these kinds of people is that they don’t know boundaries and/or what’s appropriate to say out loud. So, I am doubtful that it was an innocent remark about “a Chinese man” taken out of context.

    1. Shelly574*

      Yes, I think you are probably right and I appreciate your insight as someone whose been in these situations.

  61. volprofessional*

    Maybe someone already addressed OP 2 from the other side of the house, but I manage volunteers for a non profit and get corporate volunteers regularly, and nothing is worse, or more obvious to me, than folks who have been ‘voluntold’ they have to be present at these events. Volunteerism (corporate or otherwise) should be for a cause you are invested in, and duties you’re comfortable doing, always. Finding a gracious way to bow out will not only serve you personally, but I’m sure Habitat would be grateful knowing you self-identified as not their ideal volunteer and removed yourself from the situation.

  62. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

    #2: You managed to dig a neck deep hole with a shovel? Even if you had help and are really short, that is totally impressive. Either you are stronger than you give yourself credit for, or you have a REALLY impressive pain tolerance.

    Either way, I think you have already donated a more-than-sufficient share of suffering towards the cause, and may blithely decline to give any more.

  63. Jen*

    Story from LW#1 seems so vague – why would he describe the boss as a ‘Chinese man’ if he wasn’t using that as a reason for something? As Alison said, we can’t know, but definitely not worth going to bat for the son over this.

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