updates: the poor work ethic, the misgendering employee, and more

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

1. How do I talk to my husband about his poor work ethic and bad attitude?

The update is.. it’s a work in progress.

After the letter got published, and reading through the comments, I decided to have a frank conversation with Jim about how his behaviour and attitude around work was negatively impacting me, and I asked him to consider if this job was right for him. He acknowledged that the pandemic and our extended isolation, as well as his health problems, has been getting to him, and the stress was bleeding out at work. He sought out a new doctor who was able to prescribe some effective treatments for his chronic health concerns that have resulted in significant improvement of his symptoms. He’s been exercising more and getting back into his hobbies. It’s really helped him feel more positive about life.

Back at work, Jim took a good look at the company’s tuition reimbursement policy and realized he still qualified for partial reimbursement under their program. He’s started his courses, completed one successfully this summer, and is taking two more this fall. He is still habitually late for work (and insists that it isn’t a problem), but has been taking far fewer sick days. He and his direct manager clash, and Jim regularly feels micromanaged and disrespected. Jim insists that he enjoys his job, but ultimately would like to transfer within the company to a different city that he and I have wanted to relocate to for a long time. Once he has completed his courses this will be more within the realm of possibility, as he will need to be fully qualified in order to move into a new position within the company, or receive a promotion.

We are working together to have a more positive relationship and overall things are looking up. Thanks to you for publishing my letter, and to the commenters for their insight and advice.

2. My employee refuses to use her coworker’s correct pronouns

Jane instigated another confrontation with Alex. Rather than submit to a suspension for this behavior, she resigned. As far as I can tell, this outcome was a relief to everyone involved.

Some context I did not include in my first message: we are in a unionized environment and the employer has some past history of ignoring employment laws, so our administration wanted to handle this situation “by the book” (read: very slowly and deliberately). This was difficult to bear because it was clear that immediate action would have been a better signal of our “no tolerance of intolerance” stance.

I was saddened by the commenters who called me transphobic for trying to empathize with Jane even though I deeply disagreed with her. I knew that more urgency was required, but I didn’t have the power to address the situation any differently. I think partly my question and my fixation on changing Jane’s mind at the time I wrote the letter came out of my frustration at continuing to have to manage Jane while observing she had no interest in learning, growth, or changing her behavior. Alex was not the subject of my question, and so I didn’t discuss the supports they received throughout this process from their union, coworkers, and management.

This experience, alongside your clearly articulated advice, has helped to solidify my stance that building an inclusive culture at work requires being willing to show the door to people who double down on disrespecting others.

3. Team-building treasure hunt (#5 at the link)

My office moved to a new area and I ended up on an unexpected 4 mile treasure hunt on an office team-building day. Well, my partner and I had been looking for a house for a couple of years at that point. We were primarily looking in the area he grew up in (I’m from a different area) and not finding anything we wanted. After that walk I started looking around the office, my partner thought the area would be too expensive but in 2018 we found our perfect forever home and bought only a mile away from my office. I had just over a year of walking to work then lockdown came and I was working from home. But it was that treasure hunt that really introduced me to the area and set me on the path.

4. Should I wait to leave my job until I’ve improved my performance? (#4 at the link)

Reading back this letter made me smile. When I wrote it, I was paralyzed with stress and fear about how much I disliked my job, how badly I was messing it up, and how desperately I wanted to take the new job despite all the reasons not to. And there were plenty of reasons not to! That job was on the other side of the planet in a country I’d never even heard of, it was an internship (a big step down from my big-girl job), and the pay was really low. But I was so passionate about the work, I took it, and I have never been happier!

After six months I was offered a full-time contract with a higher salary than I’d ever made before. My coworkers are amazing and the work is challenging and rewarding. And thanks to the performance review process at my old job, I finally took the initiative and got diagnosed with ADHD. Getting medicated has made my personal and professional life so much easier and would never have been possible if they hadn’t been so open with me about where I was falling short. I should never have worried about burning bridges when I left – they were so kind and supportive of my new venture and I can’t thank them enough. Long story short: if you feel drawn to a risky new opportunity, take it, and if work stress and challenges are taking over your life, please talk to a doctor or psychiatrist to see if there’s another explanation!

{ 173 comments… read them below }

  1. Falling Diphthong*

    #4, I’m so glad it worked out. I think it’s great to take these kinds of risks when you don’t yet have a spouse, mortgage, etc to consider in relocating–If you’re unhappy, try living somewhere new!

    1. Artemesia*

      It is also a good example that when you are not doing well, leaving is likely to elicit more supportive attitudes and behaviors than you expect. She worried about burning bridges before improving performance. But her boss was obviously impressed that she took the feedback seriously, recognized a change was a good idea and supported her decision to seek a new opportunity. When you are a bad fit, they are GLAD when you gracefully leave and you are likely to get more support and be yourself GLAD that you made the jump. They probably have a positive impression of you as a result of your professionalism. ANd congrats on taking a scrary leap and finding it what you hoped for. Not fitting one place doesn’t mean you are not terrific.

    1. Alanis*

      Thank you! It really was perfect, including the timing. We’d been in a small flat for almost a decade and both of us have been working from home full time from March 2020. Lockdown would have been impossible. We were so lucky to move to a house a year before the pandemic. The only drawback is that I now have a new job so I’m no longer within walking distance from my office. Still, it’s close to public transit and still a great location.

      1. Artemesia*

        We moved just before the pandemic from a small apartment where in retirement we spent our days in one room to a larger place where he has his own office and I only see him at dinner and the evening — WE feel so lucky to have done that when we did. Also went from a blocked view to a huge view of the lake. Has made such a difference during pandemic to have a nice place to be holed up. Glad you lucked out on that too.

  2. Silver*

    #2 – even if you couldn’t fire the bigot, you did have agency to stop humoring her (instead of “I respect your opinion, try to respect mine etc” you could’ve said “Alex’s identity is not your concern and you are not to initiate further conversations about it”). You also likely could have taken steps to prevent Alex from having to work with Jane, whether that’s putting Jane on tasks that don’t intersect with Alex’s or switching shifts around… Mostly you should’ve been conveying that you whole-heartedly supported Alex and their right to their identity instead of repeatedly centering Jane and her pearl clutching

    1. L*

      Honestly, I would have immediately told the employee – that they were never getting another raise or promotion again if it was in my control. You may not be able to fire them, but you can totally – continuously block their career from growth. “Your inability to treat coworkers like human beings is the reason I won’t consider you for a raise or promotion, ever again … but because you are in a union – here a laundry list of other reasons that justify me not giving you one too.” Then that person can self select out.

      1. Lisa*

        In my experience, saying those things in a union environment would lead to a very serious grievance process and would put the LW’s job at risk. Reading the original post and update make me think that the LW was doing exactly what was possible at the time.

        1. Cheap Ass Rolls*

          This. Managing in a union environment can be constraining, and especially if the company is working very hard to go by the books as the LW said, they were likely very limited in what they could do or even say.

          1. CoveredinBees*

            With them being a public library, I assume that they’re municipal employees. This can add another few layers of bureaucracy. I speak from experience. Multiple HRs (agency and for the municipality) and multiple layers of managers. Also, people in elected or appointed positions wanting to avoid publicity.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Agreeing here. The rules in union environments are different and you can’t in most of them say that you will be blocking all training/advancements/raises/etc for just one person – even if that person is a “problem employee” because it violates union policy.

          If you get yourself fired attempting to protect another employee you loose the ability to protect that person.

        3. Wisteria*

          Yes, a better way to send the same message is to make respect part of job performance in a standard way for all employees. Maybe there are corporate values that one can lean on, maybe there is something in the employee handbook, etc., where a manager can point to the wording and tell the employee that they are not meeting expectations. Then you can make it something they need to improve on, just like any other part of their job.

          1. Silver*

            ^ this. I understand you can’t always take strong action but you can be a vocal ally for your marginalized coworkers. As Desmond Tutu said – a mouse whose tail is being tread on by an elephant won’t thank you for your neutrality.

        4. kittymommy*

          Hard agree. If they didn’t have buy in from the higher ups based on past experience then I think they probably did the best they could in the environment that the place was in at the time. I may be being unfair but Jane was probably also vindictive as hell.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            And given that Jane quit as soon as she was going to finally be disciplined for her bad behavior – I’m betting she was a bully and a rules mechanic who was good at dodging consequences. Hoping wherever she lands next has less room for her to work the system like she did here.

        5. Antilles*

          Indeed it would. The union would treat this as OP attempting to circumvent the collectively-bargained disciplinary process – forcing Jane into either quitting or accepting punishment, but without the usual protocols.
          And since the union would be essentially correct, you can rest assured that OP’s boss would apologize profusely to the union rep and have no choice but to discipline/reprimand OP over it. Which would then make Jane even more firm in her “I am not using they/them pronouns for Alex” stance.

        6. LQ*

          Yeah, this is going to stop all progress on getting the person fired and now they have a grievance that you have it out for them that you’ve explicitly stated. This is not the thing to do to get someone fired in a union environment.

    2. Wants Green Things*

      If you go back to the original question and read the first update, the LW *did* do everything she could to limit Jane’s interaction with Alex, including ceasing all direct communication between the two teams. And LW *did* check in with Alex to make sure they were supported and had the resources they needed – and Alex trusted the LW to handle things with HR.

      Maybe next time double check original posts *and* updates before chastising LWs, hmm?

      1. Silver*

        First update? I don’t see a link for another update but could have missed it. I did reread the original question, which informed my comment.

        1. Wants Green Things*

          I apologize. It appears that the link got removed. It was maybe a week, two weeks after the original. LW took the comments to heart, realized that she had underestimated the scope of the problem, and took as many steps as possible to correct things while still being limited by poor upper management.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              I think they’re referring to the one where the person was insisting on using a deadname’out of respect for their mother’. That one had an update that fits the criteria.

      2. bowl of petunias*

        I can’t see any of that related to this letter. Are you thinking of the other pronoun-related letter we had at some point, where the bigot was claiming she couldn’t use her trans coworker’s correct name and pronouns out of respect for his mother?

    3. AGD*

      I’m a cis person with a gender that fits into one of our current societal binary categories, but for the sake of analogy, I’m also Jewish. If someone at work were harassing me about my religion/ancestry and I complained higher up and then heard that the response from above to the perpetrator had been, “We understand where you’re coming from, but…” then I’d probably seriously consider quitting, and definitely file a complaint with HR. It wasn’t very long ago that my workplace didn’t even hire Jewish folks. This kind of thing feeds off benefit-of-the-doubt. I get wanting to be nice and not-extreme, but to Alex, Jane’s behavior already was pretty extreme.

      1. Amazed*

        Even if the rest of it was “this is your first and final warning, this absolutely cannot happen again, if it does we will have no choice to fire you immediately”?

        1. FridayFriyay*

          Yes. There is no reason why the “understanding” comments needs to be made at all. What you wrote is sufficient by itself.

      1. Beth II*

        Yikes – reading both letters this comment makes no sense at all. If you are not in a Union, you really can’t understand how you need to tread so so carefully. Also, Because someone has empathy for someone doesnt mean they support them or think they should not be fired or don’t think they are absolutely wrong or they wont stand up for someone they are hurting. I feel empathy for people who have committed terrible crimes because clearly there is something in the environment or biology that brought them to that place. Still need to be dealt with and others protected from them.

    4. CoveredinBees*

      The comment about centering Jane is strange. Jane is the problem that the LW is trying to fix so that is where the focus of the letter was. As mentioned in the update, Alex did receive support from everyone else involved. “lex was not the subject of my question, and so I didn’t discuss the supports they received throughout this process from their union, coworkers, and management.”

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Yeah, I got zero tolerance for people using ANY excuse to be an arsehole. Religion, disability, personal experience etc. It doesn’t matter.

      1. Lucy Skywalker*

        I’m with you, however, it’s important to recognize the difference between:
        A. A person using their disability as an excuse for being an asshole (i.e., “it’s okay for me to call someone else the R-word because I’m disabled!”)
        B. A person who does not pick up on social/subtle cues due to their disability, and as a result, engages in problematic behavior (i.e., “When you said I didn’t need to be at the meeting, I thought you meant that it wasn’t a requirement to be at the meeting but that we were welcome to come anyway. I didn’t realize that you really meant that I wasn’t allowed to be at the meeting because you were discussing confidential information.”)

        1. allathian*

          Yes, this. Especially as the apology in B actionable feedback on how to avoid that sort of situations in future, by communicating more clearly. There’s a reason why many neurodivergent people tend to do better in low-context, direct communication cultures.

  3. Loulou*

    I just want to say union environment doesn’t = no way to take immediate action. The immediate action might look different, but union environments can and should have clear discrimination and harassment policies and ways of enforcing/disciplining staff who violate them. If OP’s organization doesn’t now, they should make some immediately so that they’re prepared if a similar situation arises.

    1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      It’s true that a union environment shouldn’t mean there isn’t a way to take action, but a lot of times, especially if the union and management have antagonistic relationships (which, a union formed due to an employer often struggling to abide by labor laws is likely to have with management), management becomes gunshy after a few findings in favor of the union. Often this is because they weren’t documenting things beforehand, and couldn’t prove their point to an arbitrator/mediator, and now they’d rather make sure they win a greivance, rather than move quickly.

      It’s very bad for company health, and also usually means management is being slow to actually produce the documentation of what is on going (which is just absurd on their part, but if they weren’t absurd, they wouldn’t have been violating labor laws).

      1. Loulou*

        That’s my point, though! They need policies on the books now specifically so that next time this happens, they’ll be able to document everything the right way from the start.

        Also, Jane is not the only unionized employee here. Alex is also in the union and it sounds like the union was defending them. Library policy could have made that easier to do.

        1. Curious*

          In a union environment, management may well not be able to implement policies on employee behavior — such as discrimination and harassment — without first bargaining with the union. The union may well prefer a policy with a high burden of proof before discipline can be imposed.

          1. Loulou*

            I mean, I’m in a union and my employer has a policy like the one I’m describing. I’m not suggesting anyone ignore collective bargaining or whatever contractual discipline process is currently in place. Just that “there’s a union” doesn’t mean “we have to tolerate harassment (of union members)”

        2. LQ*

          Policies on the books mean nothing if you don’t have the support to back them up. A policy is only as good as the people who enforce it. Policies are cheap, action is expensive.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I’m really wondering if this was the case. Skittish management who had cut corners in the past now having to deal with a blatantly obvious problem, but slow walking the solution because of past experience. Makes for a crappy work experience for all but the “problem.”

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Like the cat who learned to avoid hot pans, but also cold pans. You can learn too much from an experience.

      3. The Prettiest Curse*

        Also, it seems that much of the time in union workplaces, management will use the union as a convenient excuse for not doing things (like firing bigoted employees) that they probably wouldn’t have the guts or management ability to do anyway.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Yup, we’re heavily unionized here and while there is an absolute ton of paperwork to go through to get someone booted for bigoted behaviour it’s very possible and has been done.

      That woman was revolting and frankly I hope she doesn’t get another job till she grows up and learnt some manners. There is no reason, none, that excuses bigoted behaviour. Not religion, not past experience, not mental illness.

    3. Public Sector Manager*

      I manage civil service attorneys here in California and the conduct of the co-worker in OP 2’s letter would not be tolerated. But not every state prohibits discrimination against transgender workers. Last time I looked there are only protections in California, Iowa, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, D.C., Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, Maine, Oregon, and Washington. I don’t know where OP 2 works, but OP 2 might be in a jurisdiction where the coworker’s conduct would be treated the same as the coworker just being a jerk to someone else. Much harder to discipline someone when the law and policies you have to work with don’t give protections for coworkers who are being discriminated against because of their gender identity.

      From my experience, when you don’t have a blatant violation of an office policy or state law, it takes about 2 years to counsel, document, and get to the point of being able to terminate someone who is in our state civil service. I do it because it’s important. I sincerely want OP 2 to do that too. But my old agency head undercut me multiple times with progressive discipline on out of control employees simply because my old agency head didn’t want to “look bad” at an administrative hearing and didn’t want to embolden others if we didn’t win 100% of the time.

      In the public arena, management is often just as bad or worse than the offending employee when it comes time to protect other coworkers.

      1. Science Liege*

        This is no longer true. Bostock v. Clayton County established federal protections for gay and transgender workers. Jane was violating federal worker protections and so was LW for letting it continue.

  4. Nanani*

    #2 – just because the book doesn’t have a chapter on dealing with bigots doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to deal with the bigotry itself while following the book.

    I’m glad things got resolved, and while I hope this sort of thing never happens again, I also hope you and anyone else in a similar position will have learned from this and do better for the more margnialized people in your space.

  5. Wisteria*

    OP1 — your husband will not be able to transfer if he has bad reviews in his employee file. He needs to work on repairing the relationship with his manager even if his manager is micromanaging him and disrespecting him.

    Welcome to the white collar world. I’ve been in it for nearing two decades, and I don’t fit in any better than your husband does. Best of luck to him.

    1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      Huh. This does not match my lived or anecedotal experiences at all. Transfers for troublesome employees often seem to go through just as smoothly, or even more so, than transfers of rockstars.

      I think it’s the sort of thing which is highly dependent on the company you work for, and the internal politics and structure of it.

      1. Wisteria*

        It probably depends on who initiates the transfer. I’ve seen managers successfully convince another group to take an employee that they didn’t want. Heck, I was in the “stupid people” group that other groups dumped the people they didn’t get along with into. I have never seen somebody successfully transfer of their own initiative when their manager is giving them bad reviews, though.

      2. Herbie wants to be a dentist*

        Our workgroup is at a remote location compared to the rest of the company and we were historically the dumping ground for troublesome, poorly performing employees. It was seen as easier than firing them – just send them to the remote site with what was seen by the PTB as less desirable work conditions (that part not true). We formed a cohesive, efficient work unit after the real malcontents usually quit on their own.

        We referred to ourselves as the Island of Misfit Boys. We are physically on an island.

        1. Wisteria*

          You make my point. How many of those “troublesome” employees have been successful in applying to other groups, either before or after they got “dumped”? My money is on none.

          1. sometimeswhy*

            Also a lot where I am. We call them “hot potatoes.” We see them so frequently that we have a descriptive shorthand for them.

      3. Artemesia*

        When I managed a department, the rule was employees could not transfer if they were on PIPs or similar warnings. So when I had an insubordinate AA when I took over the department, whom I didn’t want to fire given her longevity and reasonable level of competence and the specificity of the issues — she was essentially allied with a disgruntled faction of a newly merged department and I was the new boss, I let her know that I would initiate dismissal in two weeks but during this period she could attempt to transfer within the larger organization (huge organization). There are always AA positions open and she was able to find a new job without losing her income, insurance etc. If I had initiated the dismissal then she would have been blocked from transfer. FWIW she had done several frankly insubordinate things to undermine the new merged department and my leadership and I really could not continue to have her in the department. One of those that was the final straw is that after thefts of office equipment (and we were ‘self insured’ i.e. not insured and had no budget for replacement) and I had the place rekeyed and specifically told her that no one besides full time employees would have keys, she distributed keys to her part time buddies and interns from the old department that had been merged into ours. The whole point of re-keying was that all sorts of people who didn’t need keys had them. The new policy was only the full timers were to be issued keys to our suite and anyone else who might need access on a weekend or evening for a particular purpose would check on out and return it.

        1. Don P.*

          In sports, this is called “shooting your way out of town”; make yourself unappealing enough that your current team approves a transfer, but without pre-alienating potential new teams. It’s a fine line.

      4. feral fairy*

        I think it depends on how internal transfers work. If there’s competition between other potential transfers or the manager in the other location is choosing between the LW’s husband and outside applicants, that might pose a problem for him. I think there are work transfers where upper management will just decide to send someone to another department or location, but from my understanding, there are other times when the new potential manager needs to at least buy-in. Also, if the husband’s current manager works at all with the manager at a different location, it could really backfire on the current manager if he unloads a problematic worker onto the other manager. I think of it as similar to when someone gives a glowing reference for a direct report who is applying to a job at a different organization and it turns out that the reference lied about the applicant’s abilities or work quality. In some cases, it might not be a big deal but if the applicant’s new job is at an organization in the same industry, that could harm the reference’s reputation and credibility.

    2. Important Moi*

      Do you think it is impossible to create good relationships with others to facilitate a transfer despite bad reviews?

      I guess I am feeling charitable- based on my own experience. Does a bad review mean I am punished in perpetuity? I don’t like that.

      1. Wisteria*

        “Do you think it is impossible to create good relationships with others to facilitate a transfer despite bad reviews?”

        I don’t have enough information to say whether that will be possible for OP1’s husband or not.

        Let me pose a question back to you: Do you think it’s impossible to repair a relationship with a manager who you don’t get along with? I can see how it would be unpalatable, but it’s one way to avoid being punished in perpetuity.

        1. PT*

          This sort of thing is entirely on the whims of the office, though. I’ve seen terrible employees get promoted into plum jobs because someone “liked” them and excellent employees get blocked/demoted/pushed out over something stupid because someone didn’t “like” them. Their job performance was entirely tangential to their success. His manager may or may not have the clout to be the one blocking him; his manager might decide to transfer him to get rid of him, his manager could be the jerk no one likes and who doesn’t get what he wants. You can never tell.

          1. Wisteria*

            So much push back to the idea of repairing a relationship! Interesting.

            I do want to comment on a couple specifics.

            I’ve seen terrible employees get promoted into plum jobs because someone “liked” them and excellent employees get blocked/demoted/pushed out over something stupid because someone didn’t “like” them. Their job performance was entirely tangential to their success.

            Getting along with people is part of job performance.

            A manager who sees in somebody’s past reviews that they have problems with timeliness, absenteeism, and general attitude is not likely to embrace that employee for their own department. That’s not punishing somebody for bad reviews, that’s a natural consequence tied directly to the choices Jim is making about being on time, taking days off, and how he responds to his manager.

            I’m going to avoid fan fic about whether Jim’s current manager is blocking his transfer or whether Jim is able to build a relationship with the other group. What we know is that Jim has a bad review, clashes with his direct manager, and continues to come in late. I advise repairing his relationship with his direct manager. Again, getting along with people is part of job performance. If Jim wants to look like a good candidate to a new manager, he will address that part of his performance with all the seriousness that he is currently pursuing his certifications (and much more seriousness than he is addressing his timeliness).

            1. Important Moi*

              A couple of things:

              As a personal philosophy I think the “worst possible” outcome should always be considered when evaluating choices.

              Everyone isn’t obligated to repair a relationship or consider repair as an option. Please note, I didn’t you said that. I don’t think anyone else said you said it either.

              Every relationship isn’t repairable. It doesn’t matter who is at fault. I think in this case, that should be one of the options when options are being considered. “What happens if the relationship isn’t repairable and what can I do despite that?” are valid questions to me.

              I have no data, but I do feel like fewer people are interested in repairing bad relationships.

              1. allathian*

                Yes, but in this case I think Wisteria has a point. In this case, it would probably be in Jim’s best interests to eliminate the absenteeism. I’m lucky, I can set my working hours pretty much as I see fit, as long as I show up to meetings I’ve agreed to attend, but we have no way of knowing if that’s the case for Jim, or if he’s expected to work during set times. Given that his manager is micromanaging him, I’m guessing that his working hours have little flexibility.

                Sounds to me like Jim would like to stay at the company, but work for another manager.

            2. Ori*

              A manager ‘liking’ an employee sometimes has very little to do with that employee’s ability to ‘get along with people’. IME, it can be more to do with race, gender, weight, looks, shared interests and social class.

              Jim, obviously has performance issues. But let’s not pretend that all managers are saints who always make neutral decisions.

    3. DJ Abbott*

      Sorry I’m late to this thread, but I might have something helpful.
      I worked in the deli at a grocery store and my manager seemed so awful. She is very rude, intimidating, and hurtful and I had to work to get past my PTSD and hurt feelings to deal with her.
      As I learned more about the big picture I came to understand she is under tremendous pressure and expected to handle a workload that would be fair for two people. Her words are rude, but her actions are mostly fair and she gave me everything I asked for a while I worked there.
      I ended up appreciating her and feeling a lot of sympathy for her situation. Maybe your husband could get past what’s going on with his boss in a similar way.

  6. Catwhisperer*

    I really appreciate that #4 highlights the benefits of clear and direct feedback about negative performance. So often managers avoid it because they’re worried about hurting people’s feelings, but if it’s handled in a kind manner it can really help someone move forward.

  7. EventPlannerGal*

    Aw, I love #3 – belated congratulations on finding your forever house, OP! What a sweet update.

  8. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP2: I’m really sorry it took yet another attack on Alex for your management to wise up and threaten to boot that bigot out, but having worked for some really inept firms it shouldn’t surprise me.

    I hope that bigot hiding behind her religion doesn’t have another job to go to and takes the time to maybe, maybe, consider that their actions aren’t going to get them anywhere. A long time unemployed can really make you see clearly what you’re doing wrong…

    1. squirreltooth*

      The bigot isn’t going to change or do any reflection. She’s just going to revel in feeling martyred, which is exactly what she wanted.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Hell, in some cases and places, getting fired for transphobia would be considered a plus by bigoted employers. The whole anti-cancel culture/woke thing is pretty strong in many places

        1. Pippa K*

          Yeah, Jane is definitely going to tell this story as “I basically got fired for being a Christian” and that narrative will play very well in a lot of places. I agree with Squirreltooth; Jane will be proud of her ‘martyrdom’ rather than ashamed to realise she’s been a bigot.

          1. Rainy*

            My experience with bigots also indicates that telling them anything that isn’t directly disapproving of their speech/actions (and some things that are) leads them to a conclusion that the lurkers support them in email. If you say “I understand how you feel but” all they hear is that you agree with them.

  9. roll-bringer*

    #2, if Jane calls on y’all for a reference or if a future employer asks you about her, be sure to mention her discriminatory behavior and bigoted harassment. And if that costs her her career… well, it’s the very least of what she deserves (:

  10. Karate Snow Machine*

    For #2 I think a lot of commenters are being harsh on LW. Having empathy for someone else doesn’t mean that you have to agree with them in any way. I think people are mistaking empathy with agreement. In fact, having empathy for someone you disagree with is the best way to deal with them. To try to change someone you must understand how and why they think and feel what they do. If anyone has read Never Split the Difference, a book about winning negotiations, the author dives deeply into how important this is. The author was a hostage negotiator for the FBI and then went into business and said the tactics are essentially the same. Having empathy for the other viewpoint was a very important step. Fortunately the employee resigned but overall I believe LW took the correct course of action.

    1. Batgirl*

      I think it’s quite dangerous to never try and empathise with others of opposing views, but there’s a difference between feeling empathy and showing it to a zealot. Unfortunately, the OPs work environment created a situation where she felt she had to openly tolerate the unacceptable. Conversations in which this person was told that they understood her perspective, can’t have been sincere, and gave mixed messages, however this person was so myopic that I doubt shorter, more to the point messages would have helped anyway.

    2. Paris Geller*

      Maybe, but people like Jane *always* get the empathy. That’s why were so tired of it! Let’s interview the bakers who won’t bake cake for a same-sex wedding, let’s have known transphobic authors host open forums in public venues, let’s run an interview with Jan 6 insurrectionists about their “economic anxiety” in the NY times. People of color, those of us on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, people with disabilities–we.are.tired. of being told over and OVER and over and over and over again to approach bigots with empathy.

      1. Karate Snow Machine*

        There is often a confusion between empathy and sympathy. What you are describing sounds more like sympathy and i agree that sympathy for close minded people is harmful. When I say empathy i mean this definition- “Intellectual identification of the thoughts, feelings, or state of another person.” There is no need for agreement or sympathy for this point of view, simply to understand it. The LW perhaps strayed into sympathy a bit which was a mistake. The initial idea of having empathy for Janes position was not a mistake. People are extrapolating that empathy and a bit of sympathy make the LW transphobic.

          1. CoveredinBees*

            In general, yes, this is a shitty problem and I’ve been frustrated about it too. Sometimes, I think this comes from the assumption that we already have empathy and/or sympathy for their victims.

            In this case, Jane is the problem and as such, is the one discussed. Trying to understand her point of view isn’t condoning it but there are different types of transphobes so understanding it can help with addressing it. Especially if they happen to be in an area where cries of “religious freedom” would be met with sympathy.

    3. EventPlannerGal*

      I see where you’re coming from, but I think there’s a huge difference between trying to actually change someone’s personal beliefs and outlining what they can and cannot do in a work environment. LW’s place as a manager was to focus on the latter, and Jane was doing things (cornering and harassing Alex about their gender identity) that are simply not acceptable. She needed to cut it out. That’s it.

      Empathy is important but you can’t let it paralyse you, and I think that’s what happened here – it sounds like the LW had sort of got stuck overthinking the situation in these emotional, philosophical terms when really it was just a matter of basic workplace conduct. I’m glad that things worked out in the end, at least.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I think this is fair.

        There’s a rule about how to be effective as an adult you need to be able to shut down empathy and deal with a crisis: If blood is spurting, you aren’t feeling their pain–you’re applying pressure while snapping out orders to shocked bystanders to call an ambulance.

        A lot of the time, empathy to all sides is a reasonable starting point. Because in a lot of cases, helping everyone feel heard, compromising, etc is the key to moving forward. It can especially make sense as a starting point since so often when you get the other side of the story things are more nuanced, or you have a completely different problem than the one you thought, etc. But sometimes the act is egregious–like defenestrating the head of marketing, or making direct attacks on coworkers for gender, ethnicity, etc–and the first stop needs to be coming down hard and getting rid of the person.

        If the company or union believe that according to The Rules they can’t fire the person who just defenestrated the head of marketing, they need a better understanding of those rules, and possibly to amend them. (But often, just to actually understand them.)

        1. Lucy Skywalker*

          “If blood is spurting, you aren’t feeling their pain–you’re applying pressure while snapping out orders to shocked bystanders to call an ambulance.”
          Which is exactly why empathetic people are often squeamish.

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        This is a great distinction. Ideally we’d like to convince every bigot to stop having bigoted beliefs, but this isn’t the role of a manager/employer. Their job is to prevent bigoted behavior in the workplace, not change minds, so empathy doesn’t matter as much. What matters is having clear standards and clear, enforced consequences when those standards are violated. There is no need for managers to understand where the Janes of the world are coming from, what managers need to do is make the Janes understand that acting on their bigotry in the workplace isn’t allowed and has consequences.

        1. Lucy Skywalker*

          Exactly! If an employee keeps their bigoted views to themselves while at the office, there is no need for the manager to take action.

      3. Hippo-nony-potomus*

        That’s exactly correct. Setting guidelines for conduct also has the benefit of being inherently even-handed. You aren’t saying that it’s more important for Alex to express a non-binary identity than it is for Jane to express her Christian beliefs; you are saying that you expect professional, respectful conduct.

      4. Karate Snow Machine*

        I reread the original letter and the update. I agree that the LW was a bit clouded by her desire to have respect for Janes point of view. I dont agree that she was paralyzed by that, especially with the additional info that it is a union position that makes it extremely difficult to fire someone. Since taking over as supervisor there was all staff training and LW issued a written warning to Jane for her actions. She fell short in what was needed due to her desire to have empathy but she was not doing nothing about Janes behavior.

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          The union thing certainly clears up a lot of questions that I had, yes!

          Well, I think it’s really the LWs thinking that strikes me as paralysed (or hindered or tied up or whatever you like) by empathy. She took action and Jane seems to have ignored that and continued her misgendering of Alex, and yet even after that the LW’s letter was STILL concerned with demonstrating that she respected Jane’s views, Jane’s learning journey, “holding multiple truths” and so on. That strikes me as someone really tied up with trying to empathise with this person to the point of overlooking the actual situation, which was that Jane was doubling down over and over.

          1. Science Liege*

            But why are people like LW always tied up with empathy for people like Jane and never for people like Alex? Why is it more important to empathize with Jane’s bigotry than with Alex, who is having real harm done to them?

            I always see handwringing about how we need to respect and empathize and understand people who are causing this kind of harm, but so rarely do I see the same empathy for the target of the harm. Alex deserved an immediate response to Jane’s behavior from management; THEY were the one being harmed.

    4. Critical Roll*

      Nope. We don’t negotiate with terrorists. Unionized or not, there *had* to be a way to fire Jane after the first time she cornered Alex an subjected them to a highly illegal discriminatory diatribe. Would Jane have been permitted to stay for months afterward if she had, for example, refused to stop using a racially insensitive term to describe someone? I doubt it. Alex was subjected to MONTHS of further discrimination and harassment, and (although the blame is certainly shared upwards) there’s really no excuse for that.

        1. Critical Roll*

          That’s… literal of you. It’s a very common turn of phrase, and the commenter above referenced a book from a former FBI negotiator.

        2. Quack Quack No*

          How about this. For once in this kind of discussion let’s try having some empathy, not for the bigot, but for the bigot’s victim.

          Imagine being Alex. Every day you get ready for work knowing that you’re going to have to face a coworker who disrespects your identity, constantly and deliberately misgenders you, and claims that her religion forbids her from respecting the person you are. And ever single time she misgenders you you can feel the upset twinge inside you. You have already faced your own conversations with yourself and with other people important to you about being trans — now you have this intransigent coworker who actively refuses to believe you about who you are. Your company says they must proceed ‘slowly and carefully’, and you look at all your coworkers and wonder who else agrees with this coworker that they know your identity better than you do.

          It doesn’t involve bombings or taking hostages, but yes, Alex is working under a reign of terror.

          1. Quack Quack No*

            Also, no, this is not fanfiction. I just described how it felt when I went to a job where people were constantly racist and fatphobic towards me, how it felt when a friend of mine was being recurringly sexually harassed by a coworker and their supervisors couldn’t care less, and yes, when another friend of mine was being persistently misgendered by her professor and some of her fellow students in grad school. This kind of daily bigotry wears a person down and causes every morning to be an exercise in dread and, yes, terror.

          2. Karate Snow Machine*

            The opening of this comment seems a bit misguided. Everyone has both empathy and sympathy for Alex, the bigots victim, and they have since the beginning. I dont see any evidence that Alex has not received empathy from the comments section. I also dont see anyone having sympathy for the bigot, Jane. Empathy does not mean to sympathize or agree. It is an attempt to seek to understand the behavior so you can change it.

            I have to disagree with the previous commenter who said we dont negotiate with terrorists. You do negotiate with terrorists, you just dont give them what they want. Absent the ability to immediately fire Jane LW was forced to negotiate with her. One of the negotiation tactics to get what you want is tactical empathy. Jane had received both a written and verbal warning and the behavior had not stopped. Jane knew this behavior was not tolerated. Unable to immediately fire Jane the LW needed to employ various tactics to stop the behavior. A Verbal warning, written warning, and mandated training all failed to yield the desired result. The LW then tried tactical empathy. My original point was that criticism of LW for this tactic was harsh.

            1. marvin the paranoid android*

              I would take issue with the assumption that everyone can empathize with Alex as a non-binary person who is being harassed at work. My read of the original letter was that this letter writer really doesn’t want to be seen as transphobic, but doesn’t truly feel for Alex or have an emotional reaction to Jane’s behaviour. Even if you don’t have the power to let Jane go, she wasn’t the one who needed support and understanding in this moment. To be honest, I feel like this letter writer found it easier to empathize with Jane than with Alex.

              1. Karate snow machine*

                I have a hard time seeing that. LW said Jane was living in a different reality. Not sure where LW offered support to Jane either, I saw no mention of offering Jane support

              2. allathian*

                I’m not so sure about that. The original question was about what to do with Jane, 3rd paragraph in the update:
                “I was saddened by the commenters who called me transphobic for trying to empathize with Jane even though I deeply disagreed with her. I knew that more urgency was required, but I didn’t have the power to address the situation any differently. I think partly my question and my fixation on changing Jane’s mind at the time I wrote the letter came out of my frustration at continuing to have to manage Jane while observing she had no interest in learning, growth, or changing her behavior. Alex was not the subject of my question, and so I didn’t discuss the supports they received throughout this process from their union, coworkers, and management.”

        3. Batgirl*

          It’s a decent metaphor if you think about it. Probably why it’s a common phrase. Terrorists use violence, yes, which is not attributable here so you wouldn’t use the term literally. But terrorists also use intimidation and an intolerant stance to make people feel their way of life is always going to be under attack.

      1. Observer*

        Unionized or not, there *had* to be a way to fire Jane after the first time she cornered Alex an subjected them to a highly illegal discriminatory diatribe.

        In a more perfect world, you would be right about the. In the world we live in? No.

        1. Critical Roll*

          Not all unions are the same, so we really don’t know if this one is Police-union toxic strength or barely-there weak sauce. But beyond that, Alex is presumably a union member too, so does the union not have any obligation to them?

          Additionally, as I mentioned above, I doubt someone openly displaying racial bigotry who racked up multiple documented incidents and then cornered her coworker and demanded they accept that bigotry because it was God’s will would have taken additional months to fire while still working with their victim. The mechanisms are there, if people have the will to use them and take the harassment seriously from the beginning.

    5. un-pleased*

      As a social scientist, you are mistaking “understanding” someone’s perspective for having “empathy” for it. Those are vastly different things, and behaving out of empathy toward a bigot is different than behaving from empathy.

    6. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      There is so, so, so much said to members of marginalised groups that we need to have ‘empathy’ and ‘understanding’ and be open and friendly to those who disagree with our very existence.

      We’re tired of this.

      1. Paris Geller*

        I’m so, so tired of being told to have empathy and understanding for bigots. I understand better than many know–as an exvangelical I know alllllll the talking points and the logic.

      2. Science Liege*

        Yep. Also tiring? Being told we have to be “patient” and put up with bigoted behavior toward us while the other person “learns.”

        It’s so gross and unfair that we’re expected to sacrifice our own well-being in the name of “empathy” and “understanding” for bigots. We’re human beings, not walking talking life lessons.

    7. Not So NewReader*

      From my own experience, I think there is a tendency as a new supervisor/manager to try to salvage *everyone’s* job. A person can stay in that mode for quite a while. It was disturbing to me that not everyone wants to be rescued and it was even more disturbing to me to find myself relieved when an obstinate person left the company. My situations were tamer than OP’s but there was no AAM in those days. I had to work it through myself.
      [Notice: I am not saying it’s right. I am just saying it can happen. Companies can really leave their management floundering.)
      I am a big fan of taking situations like this and hammering out a sharper plan with the boss(es) so things do not drag on and on and on. Some situations only need to happen once to show that there is a need for an SOP and quicker action.
      One good question I asked myself is, “Would I react the same to ANYONE here who did X?” This added a lot of clarity for me. I found with people who were problematic I slowed down because I was concerned about being fair. (This happens when there is no clear guidance from above and a supervisor is always told how wrong they are.) I knew I had decided that I did not care for the way the person was acting and I was concerned about being heavy handed. Of course the next step is to realize there are times where being heavy handed IS the exact thing to do. There are somethings that should not be tolerated ever. Clear company policies and procedures can eliminate this type of over-thinking. If the company does not have clear policies and procedures then OP can advocate for getting some.

    8. anonymous73*

      Certain behaviors don’t deserve empathy and this is one of them. Jane’s behavior should have been shut down immediately and dealt with, no empathy required. Full stop.

      1. allathian*

        In an ideal world, yes. But we have to deal with the real world here, and in an unionized environment it can be very hard to fire people, even when there’s cause to do so. I do think that unions are basically a good thing, and I’m glad they stop managers from firing people arbitrarily, but I also think that unions need to modernize, to ensure a safe and equitable working environment for all of their members.

        There’s nothing inherently wrong in trying to intellectually understand why someone is behaving and feeling the way they do (empathy), to try and get them to change their behavior. That’s what negotiators do all the time, including those who negotiate with terrorists, but also executives in boardrooms, and anyone who’s ever successfully worked in sales. But it’s also important to recognize when you’re dealing with a lost cause, and the job of a manager is to stop unacceptable behavior at work, not to change bigoted minds. That said, I’m glad Jane decided to leave, because I seriously doubt that Alex would’ve ever felt comfortable working with her again, even if she stopped treating them badly.

        1. pancakes*

          There is something wrong with that if trying to figure out what’s behind someone’s behavior takes precedence over or becomes a distraction from getting them to stop. The letter writer acknowledged that their incredulity that Jane was indeed the person she consistently appeared to be became a bit of a distraction: “I think partly my question and my fixation on changing Jane’s mind at the time I wrote the letter came out of my frustration at continuing to have to manage Jane while observing she had no interest in learning, growth, or changing her behavior.”

  11. Turingtested*

    #1: I could be off base, but I work up front in a factory and there are stereotypes about working in the office. I’d say the most pernicious one is that every office person makes more than every factory worker. The admins and CSRs make less than highly skilled workers and about the same as general laborers.

    There’s an idea we’re in meetings 8 hours a day sipping coffee without any real responsibilities or deliverables.

    If your husband has bought into these or other myths I can see him having a really hard time adjusting.

    To be clear, there is no company without the factory and their work is vital I’m just surprised at some misconceptions.

    1. Meep*

      Yeah. Factory work is seen as “unintellectual” by office workers while office work is seen as “prissy and weak.” His attitude and annoyance at someone who had been with the company for TWENTY years having a bit of flexibility and (eek gasp!) more vacation days is eye-rolling to say the least.

      That is how it works, good sir. You get more flexibility as you become more senior and people trust you with that responsibility. Just like you wouldn’t trust the rooky to know what the heck he is doing with a forklift on the first day.

    2. Chria*

      The vacation thing surprises me too, because I thought that factories were typically unionized places with highly specific benefits tied to seniority. So it would make perfect sense that someone with 20 years of tenure would have more vacation time than your husband. Being upset that his coworker has more schedule flexibility makes sense though, since being able to shift your hours as you please is less likely in a factory where everyone working a specific shift starts and ends at the same time.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I am not clear on where the problems are. Jim has trouble with his boss and says the boss is micromanaging him. But I am not sure what else is going on that isn’t written here.

      Has Jim always been like this? Jim may just have rebellion in his blood. I married a rebellious type of guy. And I think I come from a long line of rebellious type of people. There’s actually good uses for rebellion, health and safety issues come to mind. I look at the mistakes my father made at work (don’t die on every hill) and I thought about the importance of channeling those rebellious feelings. And that’s a lot of what it is- kicking at something whether or not it needs to be kicked. One place I hit the roof because the work area was filling up with diesel fumes and NO ONE would do anything about it. I finally got action when I started talking about the use of diesel fumes to exterminate people in WWII.

      –So channeling that energy is important.
      –It’s also good to understand why certain policies and procedures exist. Oddly, my father was the person who INSISTED I take accounting. He felt that if I learned accounting I would get a good inside look at the hows and whys companies do things. He was right about that one. But there are other ways to get a deeper insight.
      –Talking points are important. One has to be able to explain to a boss why something needs to change and how it will BENEFIT the company to change. Sometimes we have to provide the boss with the words to argue effectively for that change.
      –Hubs may actually have a toxic boss. We dunno. In this case it might be good for Husband to learn how to realize quicker and get out quicker. Don’t stay there. People have to see that something better actually exists before they will try to go find it. If I was in that much misery at a job, I’d have to move on for my own mental and physical well-being.

      I am glad he is doing better, it’s sounds like he has taken huge steps forward. I am optimistic that the positive changes will further encourage him to think about how to improve his life.

    4. Artemesia*

      my carpenter, fisherman, farmer uncles all disrespected my rocket scientist father because he just ‘sat on his ass all day and pushed paper.’ (and was in charge of one of the aspects of the engineering of the successful US moon shot). He ‘never got his hands dirty’; he just sat around all day; he didn’t do any real work.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Lol – I saw that with my father – his cousins (most of whom were coal miners or farmers) didn’t think much of him (chemical engineer who specialized in water treatment). He shut them all up once by asking them if they liked clean water and the fishin pond not being full of sewage. They all responded in the affirmative. He slapped a picture of the builder’s plaque – with his name as the lead engineer on it on the table.

        They sill thought he was a sissy for not working with his hands – but they at least stopped calling him that to his face.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Sorry – the builder’s plaque was for the water and wastewater treatment plant that provided all the water for the local community.

  12. E*

    Oh god a 4 mile treasure hunt sounds absolutely miserable. To any managers reading this, please do not do this. Even if there’s an “opt-out”, please please please.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      The thing is, that can be said about absolutely anything: Some people don’t like it. If the rule is that the company can’t offer anything that someone somewhere might possibly not like, soon they won’t offer anything.

      I agree with Alison’s original advice, which was that the walking was a bit long for this sort of thing, but it seemed like people had a good time and knowing your office is most important when coming up with this sort of thing.

      1. anonymous73*

        This. When I was on a committee for my department a few jobs ago, we would get complaints all the time about fun things we planned. The last thing I helped with was a “decathlon” with teams and 10 different types of events spread throughout the year. Most people enjoyed it, and some complained about ridiculous things. You’re never going to find an activity that everyone likes. The best option is to make it optional.

        1. JustAnotherKate*

          Good call on that! The final straw for me in leaving one of my jobs was a mid-January, mandatory all-day scavenger hunt in 25 degree(F)/5 windchill weather as a “teambuilding” exercise, where the senior management all opted to stay in the warm office and “keep score.” (I believe there was technically an opt-out if you could get a doctor’s note saying you could literally die if you took part.) Not only did I leave the job, I left the state for a warmer climate! In this case, as far as I know, no one was excited about it or thought it was fun…but if they’d had it in May and made it opt-out, I’m sure some people would’ve thought it was fun and the rest could’ve just skipped it.

      2. Quack Quack No*

        So how would you write up an employee with, say, sciatica, or who uses a wheelchair, for refusing to walk for four miles?

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          Oh my god, who said *anything* about writing anyone up?

          Sorry to sound impatient here but the LW, who is the person who actually participated in the event, said nothing about it being compulsory, said it was a cool event and had a good time. The commenter you replied to literally said “know your office” and that the distance seemed long. There is no suggestion that anyone wants to send disabled people on a compulsory 4-mile forced march. It’s so dispiriting when people on here literally invent scenarios out of thin air to guilt-trip people.

        2. Observer*

          So how would you write up an employee with, say, sciatica, or who uses a wheelchair, for refusing to walk for four miles?

          Were you trying to respond to JustAnotherKate? Because THAT employer might have written up a wheelchair user.

          If not, please skip the “when are you going to stop beating your wife?” gotcha questions. Because making up accusations from whole cloth and pretending that it’s actually a follow up to something someone said is quite ugly.

        3. Falling Diphthong*

          I would not write anyone up for anything, because that would be silly.

          Physically I, personally, would probably not be able to put in the full four miles–it would depend on exactly how my neuromuscular condition was doing that day and the terrain. And yet! I can see where it would be a pleasant activity for many people, and a nice casual way to familiarize yourselves with the new neighborhood, in a way that got people talking and sharing.

          If an office treats employees reasonably well (so the activity isn’t trying to fix 70 hour weeks with pizza), and they are reasonably friendly with each other, then a couple of times a year having some sort of friendly get together is a thing many people enjoy.

          Some people don’t like other people. Some don’t like brownies. Some don’t like the idea of flexible hours for anyone.

    2. Alanis*

      OP here. We were warned about some outdoor walking and one person did opt out. I’m a fat 50ish woman so a 4 mile unexpected walk was on the outer edge of what I was comfortable with. 2 miles would have been fine. However, it was a beautiful sunny day (not at all guaranteed in the North of England) and a number of us were saying gee, what a nice area, what a nice park, oooo look at all the cute shops. The upside was that people were introduced to the new area so were comfortable going out to the shops and restaurants and, you know, buying a house in my case.

  13. Bananas*

    OP #2, people were calling you transphobic because you seemed to think it was so important that Jane felt seen and said you “respect where she was coming from.” If that saddened you, imagine how Alex must have felt. Hopefully you’ve learned a lot if this kind of situation should come up again.

    1. Misty Melody*

      Thank you! LW felt bad for being called transphobic on an online forum. Can you imagine how bad Alex felt having to deal with a bigot on a regular basis at work and their supervisor was trying to “see both sides”

      Yes, let’s see both sides of racism, homophobia, transphobia, and bigotry.

    2. Liz T*

      I thought the “saddened” line was very odd. In which way were you saddened OP? Were you saddened because you realized you were wrong? Or because the mean commenters were wrong?

  14. Lucy Skywalker*

    #2. Jane is a bigot using her religion as an excuse. I’m a Christian, too, and as far as I know, there’s nothing in the Bible that says what Jane claims it says. I suppose she could be referring to the part of Genesis 1:27, that says “God created humans……male and female God created them.” But it’s a huge jump to go from “God created male and female” to “it’s against my religion to use your proper pronouns.”
    Jesus did say, however, to treat people the way we want to be treated. Jane would not like it if someone insisted on referring to her using a pronoun other than “she” and then justified it by saying, “My religion believes that there is only one gender.” Jane is not treating Alex the way she wants to be treated, and so she cannot use Christianity as an excuse.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Church goer here. The problem with arguing the bible with some people is that they strip away the context and use the quote for whatever purpose they have.
      As a supervisor I could not be talking religious stuff with anyone. And that is where I went to, “I am not here to discuss religion. I am here to inform you of [company policy, current laws, whatever].”
      I have seen instances of people avoiding work at some companies because of religious reasons. So Jane is not without options, she could go find another company. (It might take a while, if ever.)

      1. Lucy Skywalker*

        I know. I’m not saying that the LW should have cited the Bible while dealing with Jane. I was merely pointing out why using Christianity as an excuse to be a bigot is hypocritical.

    2. anonymous73*

      I ‘had” a friend who used the bible to explain her beliefs when she disagreed with something, like gay marriage. I can’t stand people who pick and choose Bible verses to advance their own agenda. Kind of ironic considering she was a white woman married to a black man and was very intolerant of others, when not too long ago they would have been committing a crime.

    3. pancakes*

      It doesn’t seem that anything stood in her way from using it anyhow. It also doesn’t seem at all likely that the employee handbook or union bylaws that apply in this scenario require employees to adhere to the Bible.

        1. pancakes*

          I did. It was there when I wrote mine. There seems to be nothing in Christian teachings, Christian practice, or Christian communities that stands in the way of millions of people being hypocrites in this same way, and the self-soothing technique other Christians invariably reach for — simple denial, “she can’t do that” — seems to me to be a poor substitute for changing the aspects of Christian pedagogy, Christian practice, and Christian communities that enable it.

    4. Hippo-nony-potomus*

      That’s not how Christianity works, Lucy, nor is it how the law works.

      The heart of Christianity is the belief that we ALL fall short of what God asks of us, which is why we are all in need of salvation. Furthermore, the Constitution does not require that people perfectly adhere to their faith; judges, after all, aren’t priests or theologians who can perfectly interpret when someone is properly Christian or Muslim or Hindu, and “perfect compliance” is not a legal standard. To say that Jane is falling short in one area and therefore cannot “use Christianity as an excuse” is wrong on both a theological and Constitutional basis.

      As another issue, you presume that Jane is not treating her coworker as she would want to be treated. Many people of faith have the belief that it is a good thing to (kindly) point out someone’s sins to them, and would feel that their community failed them if it let them persist in deliberate sin. Jane’s problem is that she’s being a complete (expletive) to Alex about this – and not coincidentally, that’s the area that a supervisor actually has control over.

      1. Observer*

        Many people of faith have the belief that it is a good thing to (kindly) point out someone’s sins to them,

        This is where your argument falls down. There was nothing “kind” in the way Jane was handling the situation. So, if Jane supposedly believes that it’s a good thing for people to kindly call her on her sins so she can correct herself, she’s STILL not acting as she would want to be acted towards.

        1. pancakes*

          If you don’t think this is a good forum for discussing Christianity, that’s something you and I agree on, but I’m not sure why you made a point of bringing it up.

  15. Observer*

    Many people of faith have the belief that it is a good thing to (kindly) point out someone’s sins to them,

    This is where your argument falls down. There was nothing “kind” in the way Jane was handling the situation. So, if Jane supposedly believes that it’s a good thing for people to kindly call her on her sins so she can correct herself, she’s STILL not acting as she would want to be acted towards.

  16. Alex (they/them)*

    As a non-binary person myself, I’m honestly very uncomfortable with people arguing that LW#2 is some terrible person. While I really wish we could just smite these kind of people, doing so often leads to far more negative consequences in the long run, often for the people who were actually affected by the bigotry in the first place. I’m closeted at my job specifically to avoid this shit.

  17. Marvel*

    #2 – LW, I know you were put in a tight spot, and I’m sorry for that. But yes, you were transphobic in your original letter. Significantly less transphobic than the broader society we live in, because said society is MASSIVELY transphobic–but that doesn’t make you not-transphobic by default. Most people are, to one level or another.

    I’m not saying this to be mean. I’m actually trying to be kind: I am a trans person, and I believe that you want to treat me well and respect me as a fellow human, but I also believe that you are suffering from the same mild transphobia that afflicts many people who fit that same description. I want to call attention to these few lines in particular, and encourage you to reflect on them further:

    “the pronouns have been challenging for all of us to varying degrees” – Why?

    “Jane cornered Alex and repeatedly demanded . . Alex felt harassed” – Alex WAS harassed.

    “I am at the point where I feel like I have given Jane ample opportunities to improve, and have shown her a lot of grace, trying to remember that everyone is on their own learning journey.” – I appreciate that this perspective is coming from a place of kindness, but it’s important to realize that allowing space for everyone to have their own “learning journey” on their own time is not really something a workplace can or should strive for. Especially not when them having said learning journey precludes others from being safe, comfortable, and effective at work.

    “I want to address Jane’s behavior clearly and directly, but also demonstrate that I see her and respect where she is coming from.” – Do you respect where she is coming from? Why? Why is this a priority?

    1. bowl of petunias*

      Yeah. I don’t respect where Jane is coming from. Where Jane is coming from makes me want to puke.

      1. bowl of petunias*

        And really – I don’t usually care for comparing X oppression against Y oppression, but maybe we can illuminate the problem somewhat by asking whether LW would try to grant grace and respect to a hypothetical racist Jane if it took a whole ‘learning journey’ for her to stop openly using slurs against a new Black coworker. Some positions do not deserve compassion, respect, space, or to be ‘seen’. They just don’t.

    2. Just Me*

      Thank you, I’m a trans woman and I agree.

      I personally have experienced transphobia and was even fired after coming out a few years ago.

      LW#2 – I think you were trying your best in a bad situation but your actions and your excuses are extremely transphobic. Marvel makes excellent points and I would have probably cried or broke down if I was in the situation Alex was in.

  18. GeorgiaTheCountryNotTheState*

    #4 — so curious what country?! I too took a job in my early 20s in a country I’d never heard of at the time (Georgia).

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