Your Office, Some Other Guy’s Politics

May 20, 2022 · 372 comments
ArtM (MD)
Displaying the cross and guns is a question of numbers. Coworkers may be uncomfortable with the display but management will likely do nothing as long as it is one employee. The dynamic will change when other employees express their religion and interests also. Picture this - crosses, crucifixes, Star of David’s, etc. on multiple desks. Nothing said, just displays. Does anyone think management will not find this disruptive? They will. As long as that does not occur and employees do not complain or express their own beliefs it will be tolerated. Time bomb waiting to detonate. CEO and family? Go tell the CEO and see how you are treated with upcoming assignments, promotions, reviews, etc. What sort of family will you be part of during a downsizing? This is business. Family has nothing to do with it. Your obligation is to yourself. Give proper notice, be professional and don’t burn bridges.
Pottree (Joshua Tree)
Oops, my prejudice is showing! To the Exec at the small electronics company that its CEO styles a “family”: This is clearly, as pointed out, a management strategy to manipulate employees that will not survive the scrutiny of hard times. Does the CEO pay his teenager to be his child the way he pays you to work? One clearly is family, the other a workplace ruse. It’s quite possible that the CEO of an electronics company, who is perhaps even its founder, is an engineer without much in the people skills department, who has latched onto the “family” idea to make up a management deficit. Maybe he read it someplace. If your valued service does not even deserve a written contract, your employer does not deserve the courtesy of your revealing your interest in changing jobs any time prior to submitting notice of your impending resignation. What the CEO is after in this situation is a mechanism for avoiding making your current job more appeal to you, using guilt as a mechanism.
TheniD (Phoenix)
To the person with a gun/religious enthusiast in the next office, I would go the HR and at least give them a heads up. If HR thinks it is no issue, then let it go. At least someone of authority knows and can handle it the way they like. At my workplace, people are categorically told not to display religious symbols at the office and cars parked in the company parking parking lot cannot have political slogans.
Di (California)
Ten bucks says the guy is purposely being over the top with the extra large cross and the gun photo hoping to get a reaction, whether to sue or just to complain and feel self-righteous about being "persecuted." Annoying as it is, don't take the bait and give him the satisfaction. I used to work at a church and nobody had a jumbo cross on their desk. Nobody *needs* a jumbo cross on their desk. You going to forget what religion you are?
DavidK (Philadelphia)
The CEO may be getting too cozy with his talk of family but you seem genuinely friendly with him and genuinely valued as an employee. If the reason you want to leave is something he might be able to fix (salary? responsibilities?) then talking with him before you take another job might be to your mutual advantage. You don’t need to tell him you’re looking, just explain what you’d like to be different and see how he responds. I suspect that the feelings of betrayal the CEO was talking about were because someone left without ever expressing their dissatisfaction. He’s entitled to his feelings so long as he doesn’t take them out on anyone
Anne-Marie Hislop (Chicago)
re CEO and the "family" - I'm glad you suggested that he needs therapy. Not only is it inappropriate and unhealthy for him to speak as he does (obviously wanting to tie employees in), but it is also personally unhealthy. Real loving family would understand a person's need to grow, change, and, yes, move on to another job - then celebrate what they did for the company and send them off with good wishes (i.e., NOT feel betrayed and resentful).
ArtM (MD)
There is nothing innocent nor unambiguous about the large wooden cross. It transmits a clear message. I’m less concerned about the picture. I know lots of people who love to hunt, for example. While it may not be my thing I cannot object. I do admit the two together suggest something more, especially what arose from the interview process. The writer indicates he is a more senior manager. Your bad for not following up during the interview process. The candidate thought it important enough to include his affiliations on a resume. Think ahead- how will you react if other employees start prominently displaying Crosses, Crucifixes, Stars of David, or symbols supporting atheist, agnostic beliefs, etc. You need to involve HR and they may need legal advice.
Alfred (Canada)
The picture of the guns doesn't really matter, but the cross absolutely does. That kind of overt display of faith IS proselytizing.
George & Veronica B (Near DFW)
This past week, I was working with four associates from different parts of the country. We got onto the topic of spelling/pronouncing names. One person is Italian and two others (me included) are Polish. The other is named Ford. He looked at us and said on different occasions, he had to spell his last name or say "Ford, like the car". Alisha - you are not alone!
Jeanne De Pasquale Perez (NYC)
@George & Veronica B - My mother- who had a long complicated Italian name decided to call me Jeanne because she thought it was simple and couldn't be misspelled or confusing. I have been called everything from Joanne to Janine to Gee-Anne and Joan and Joanie and my name has been spelled Jean- Gene-Genie- Jeanny- My favorite is because of the French spelling Jeanne I have been called Jeannie throughout my otherwise smart adult people !
LapsedGrammarian (Va)
LW#1's problem is that theyve assumed so much, without actually getting to know the young man. Pre- judging is, of course, the very definition of prejudice. Talk to the dude, get to know him, and you might be surprised. Some young people are in need of voices different from the ones they've been raised hearing and kind mentoring from a supervisor early in their career can be life altering.
Theo (NYC)
A prominently displayed gun, far right ideology (remember January 6th?), the photos - it all contributes to a hostile work environment and is reason to be concerned about a potential workplace shooting. The NRA and gun extremists might want you to think that guns are a religion (with the attendant protections) but they are not. Why would any employer - other than Smith & Wesson - allow this?
Jwyly (Denver)
Anonymous, you have reaped the benefits of allowing the CEO to believe that you too think you are part of the family. I suggest that you first decide why you want to leave. As an executive in the company, “wanting a change” after four years seems shallow, what is it that is making you feel unhappy? Can you address the issue with the CEO? Flagging this is allowing him or her to create the change you want. If that doesn’t happen and when you give notice the CEO can’t complain you didn’t give any indication you weren’t happy. And I will add that you should know filling an executive position in a company isn’t like replacing a junior staff member. If your CEO realizes you are looking for a job you two can come up with an exit strategy. I have only worked for small business owners so I know the pressure that being “part of the family” creates. Just do the right thing.
Brian (Baltimore)
Ponder this. 1. Should people that wear a small cross on a chain (as in jewelry) be told not to wear it. 2. Should Yamahas be ban from the office. 3. Should people that have a charcoal cross on their forehead in recognition of Ash Wednesday be ban. 4. Should someone wearing a Turbon be ban. I think not.
Susan (Los Angeles)
In my opinion (having worked in many offices, with any number of strange people), Cross Boy, with his prominent religious object and gun fetish photos, is creating a hostile work environment. If you, the LW, are not his direct supervisor, then whoever is needs to speak with him and let him know that the message he’s sending is one of hostility. This is not the way to work in what was a collegial environment. He’s feel to believe what he believes, worship however or whatever, but that stuff needs to stay outside of the workplace.
abj slant (Akron)
@Susan I agree. Religion and responsible gun ownership are two hot-button political issues in our nation right now. Whether the statements they convey are intentional or not, they need to be removed from the workplace environment.
Jp (Ml)
@abj slant :"I agree. Religion and responsible gun ownership are two hot-button political issues in our nation right now." Hot-button political issues? That would also include BLM.
abj slant (Akron)
I can relate to the angst of the first letter. As I was leaving work yesterday, I noticed a Bible on a table in a common sitting area. I threw it away.
Etienne (France)
@abj slant I can understand there being a little something troubling about a Bible lying in a common area, but there's a huge difference between "putting away" the book and "throwing it away". While the former is acknowledgment that it might have belonged to someone and/or that you respect people's beliefs as well as the value of books in general, let alone the peculiar value of this one, the latter is utter disrespect and shameful.
CJ (Oakland, CA)
I think some may be conflating the photo for this article with the story’s example of a photo of hunters. I think there is a difference. And perhaps the attempt can be made to get to know him as a person which would give better insight into his character. Maybe a breakthrough in liberal/conservative relations could be achieved. And if he is in fact a MAGA shooter in the making it will become quite apparent. But not solely from a photo and a cross. Odd maybe, unless you’ve been to the Midwest and south and I work with people who love shooting, hunting, go to church every Sunday, but would give you the shirt off their backs if they had to. Judge by the content of their character…a wise man once said.
Call Me AL (Hawaii)
Regarding “The Case of the Misspelled Name”, I’m always disappointed when learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, are not mentioned as possible reasons for spelling or grammar errors. Dyslexia is a common neurological quirk that is unfortunately under-recognized, especially in professional and academic settings. If kids don’t receive early and intensive intervention, and many do not, these problems with written language can persist into adulthood. While I certainly sympathize with the letter writer, I often sense that there’s an assumption that maliciousness or carelessness is the underlying cause of the misspelling. In the case of dyslexia, English language learners, and other situations, this is unlikely to be the case. The advice to let it go and continue to sign her name correctly is reasonable. Just wish we could all be a little more understanding about why these misspellings might happen in the first place…
msmaven (Brooklyn NY)
@Call Me AL very good point. I know little about dyslexia but decades as an editor have taught me that for whatever reason, many people simply don't see printed words correctly. I don't think this necessarily involves ill will or deliberate negligence. So if you want to correct the misspelling, do so gently, assuming good will.
Lin (Toronto)
LW4 I come at the issue of misspelled names from a number of angles: I'm a freelance editor with a master's in education, a dyslexic daughter, and a first name—though short and simple—that is frequently misspelled. Admittedly, I too occasionally misspell the names of colleagues, clients, potential clients, and friends. Who cares? Unless the misspelling is intentional and meant to diminish the recipient in some way (which I very much doubt), just let it go. If it's an ongoing relationship, the issue will right itself in due time.
Chip (Greenville, North Carolina)
My advice, gleaned from more than 50 years in the workforce, to young people starting their first jobs is that the minute your boss starts referring to the business as "a family," start looking for another job immediately. The author's excellent point about how "the family" aspect conveniently evaporates when downsizing occurs is spot on. When my administrative job in the real estate business was eliminated during the Crash of 2008, I was informed on a Monday morning by the CEO, who began his speech by saying that he had no doubt I would walk across the busy boulevard outside our office blindfolded if he told me to. He meant it as a tribute to my loyalty to him and "the family," but after he had delivered the bad news, I asked if I could stay on, even at a lower pay rate. He demurred, of course. As things have worked out since then, I was able eventually to land on my feet, but no thanks to him. He had an outsized ego and no doubt saw himself as the benevolent leader of a devoted group of employees who idolized him. Not working there any longer was, in retrospect, the best thing that could have happened to me.
Bryant (New Jersey)
I would say that unless the company has a policy against the coworker displaying all this stuff, you need to accept it. It's funny how so many people manufacture all these "rights" when they work for someone else. Other than following those rules mandated by law (anti-discrimination, etc) employers can allow whatever they want. If you don't like it, then start your own company.
Char (Atlanta)
He’ll ya! I’d promote him for being so patriotic and showing his appreciation for what his great country has given him!
TannaC (coasttocoast)
Sure, those are great reasons to overlook his mediocrity.
And Another Thing (USA)
Employment law regarding religious expression in the workplace applies to question #1. For exactly the reasons the letter was written - some expressions make others uncomfortable. A cross on the desk is the just tip of the legal iceberg in terms of potential religious symbolism, clothing, jewelry and behavior. As for non-binary pronouns in the workplace, the required pronoun scene puts those who are not out in a strange position. Someone can be non-binary but not want to make that front & center at work. Having to publicly avow one’s pronouns is like being dared to come out before one is ready; one has to either visibly co-sign the cis version, or stick one’s neck out literally and then become associated in the workplace with the current state of trans activism. It’s a strange opportunity and to be honest I don’t think it’s all good. The non-binary coworker may have decided to take the dare, but be uninterested in becoming the workplace non-binary ambassador, especially as the only person in the office stepping up. Asking the co-worker privately how they’d like to be addressed is probably good - “hey, I noticed your pronouns and wanted to double check, how would you like me to refer to you.” If they have spent every day regretting listing their pronouns but not wanting to edit it back in order to not be a quitter, they will welcome the question. If they really do want to be out, and encourage you to use “they/them,” you can do so confidently.
Tess (Indiana)
@And Another Thing the person who wrote in the pronoun question actually specifically said that including pronouns in the email signature at work is VOLUNTARY. as you can see above, the writer says at the beginning of their letter, "my organization approved the optional inclusion of pronouns in email signatures." if the nonbinary person put that they use they/them pronouns in their signature, it is because they want people to know, and not because they are being forced to come out. it's a little weird and defensive that you went on this whole subject about required pronouns based on an assumption that is actually disproven in the letter. 🤔
Boston Brahmins (Kendall Square)
A colander and Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster iconography should be prominently displayed. One mythology deserves another.
Linda Hoquist (Topsham Maine)
For the offensive cubicle decorations I’d suggest contacting the HR department and suggest they review appropriate material for the workplace with all employees. I worked in an environment which did not include permanent cubicle assignment so no personal Knick knacks, political, or religious gear was allowed. An employee who parked in the company lot was required to cover the confederate flag decal on his truck if he chose to park on company property. In this diverse work world no one should be made to feel uncomfortable with a co-workers personal philosophy, it just does not belong at the workplace.
Marcy (DMV)
I was on a vendor selection call, cameras on, where one of the partners had this glass display bulletin board of like NATO .556, in addition to radio equipment. Really, Zelensky would have welcomed his ammo. There was nothing in his background about military experience, so I can only conclude he's some right wing podcaster and cosplay warrior. But, we compartmentalized and ended up selecting them because they were most responsive to our business needs. In any case, the partner isn't our day to day contact. So yes, unless the new hire is proseletyzing focus only on his performance. I know it's a tight labor market, but if your company can only find employees with red flags or who are potential nutcases, that might say something about what your company is offering. I used to work for one such company, where after some bad hires left, we were only grateful they didn't come back and go postal.
jgm (NC)
“You need to let this go.” I must say, I was shocked at the ignorance contained in this insipid response. Regardless of whether this individual is making a cultural, religious or political statement or whether he’s simply clueless, makes no difference: he’s not a person that should be in a contemporary work environment. I’d say the sooner he’s gone, the better. 
eric (Boston)
@jgm she's right. One's opinion is not the only one. I've found that many right wingers, when you actually get to know one, that's up to you, are people people. They can be counted on to be good, reliable co-workers. They relate to birth, death, happiness, sadness (with some grudging acceptance). They like talking about TV. They don't like to be told how to act, bathe, screw, etc. Saving deeper convo. for those who share my opinions, I avoid politics with family members, too. 2 cents
Flâneuse (Portland, OR)
Way, way back when Democrats won some Presidential election I realized that some of my colleagues were probably not too happy about it and decided to encourage the rest of us to tone down the volume of our jubilation. Our company policy was not to display political material in "public" places, but the inner walls of our cubicles (ah, those days of visually private work spaces) and desks were fair game. It was very meaningful for me to be able to work with people of different political and ideological stripes, who were mostly in the minority here in what's sometimes called the "PRP." Professional respect goes a long way towards breaching our personal bubbles, because at work we put our expertise on display and work towards common goals. We have our unique personalities, but the etiquette of the work place provides a common ground where we can learn to appreciate each other as fellow humans. (But it's too bad that the writer has to share a desk. Yet another reason for firms to find ways to give people their own "territory.")
Justin (Fly Over Country)
A picture of a guy with some friends holding guns, isn’t anymore disturbing than if they were holding beers, except that alcohol kills more people than guns. Let it go and worry about your own desk.
David Robison (Friday Harbor, WA)
Comparing guns to beers is just silly.
rural farmer (central NY)
In my workplace, we are not permitted to post personal pictures in any shared workspace. In those situations where desk is used part of the week by one person, and part by another, it is expected that personal items will be locked in one's drawer when one is not at the desk. If the new hire has his own office I agree, the writer should let it go, but if the office is shared, perhaps a policy like at my organization could be enacted.
Haudi (MA)
Re the name thing: I get called 'Harold' instead of 'Howard' from time to time, even by those who know me a bit. No idea what's that about and I've encountered it over my adult life. When they realize, either because they are corrected by me or someone else, I make light of it, along the lines of " can call me what you like -- just not 'late for dinner'." That usually does it.
Doug (aka Dough) (New Jersey)
@Haudi I had a customer whose opening in every email was "Hi, Dough" (well, close enough to Doug). I would often reply with a bread or cake reference ("I'll see if I can bake up a solution for that" or "I will rise to the challenge," nudging him toward correcting the spelling the next time. But it never helped and, given the guy's curmudgeonly personality (with very occasional moments of humor) I was never sure if his constant use of Dough was meant to be funny or just a continuing oversight. I just laughed it off. That guy retired a few months ago and, quite honestly, I miss the "Hi, Dough" emails.
Lucas (New Jersey)
"If he is as mediocre as you suggest, the problem will, indeed, resolve itself" Yes, he'll be promoted. I agree that it should be let go based on the description. I'm irreligious and have coworkers that display religious symbols - if anything, I find them useful to prevent myself making a fool with casual sacrilege or a hurtful comment given that most of my colleagues are proudly irreligious and irreverent. To me, it would have to be rather outlandish to be worthy of a comment - say, near-life sized crucifix with realistic gore. I sometimes find these displays annoying, but no more than any of the others things people do in our shared spaces. Chances are, the author does something to annoy their colleagues, as well. As for the hunting photo, it sounds innocuous, but unlike the cross that one may be worth a conversation. I don't hunt or shoot/own guns, but people have their reasons and I respect that. I might ask about the photo, and unless it's from some sick, twisted fascist group it might have a very human story to it - who knows, it could be the guy's brothers or some friends where that just happens to be their best picture together. I'm far less disturbed by a photo of people holding guns than an office mate who talks about them a little too much. Unless the author has some trauma brought up by the subject, personal photos of common, legal activity are none of their business.
barbara (santa cruz ca)
i like to decorate my workspace. given his giant cross and militia gun pics i probably would not be likely to invite him to dinner but hey he might not like my creature from the black lagoon figure and pics of rush in concert and siamese cat calendar either so what the hey. how someone decorates a work space is none of my business as long as clients don't see it.
Dave (Spain)
The non binary point strikes me as a large distraction to be introducing to the workplace. If people wish to be formally referred to by a pronoun that is their absolute right, but expecting everyone else to constantly pay attention to how they address them in informal communications such as emails or messaging apps etc strikes me as a little selfish and attention seeking. The business environment is about to get a lot tougher - there are more things to worry about. People should be professional and assume good intent. If there is clear harassment or deliberate disrespect then that’s a different matter.
blueberryintomatosoup (Houston, TX)
I disagree with the advice given regarding the items displayed on or near a coworker's desk. What if one of those items was a confederate flag or one of those ghastly calendars with photos of women in bikinis? It sounds to me like this co-worker is trying to be provocative, daring someone to say something about his "decorations", which tracks with the red flags on his resume. Displaying items that make others feel uncomfortable is one way to create a hostile workplace environment.
Atticus1 (Pittsburgh)
@blueberryintomatosoup I agree. He is either looking for a fight or just trying to make people uncomfortable.
Robert Roth (NYC)
I remember which doesn't mean i remember correctly the Knicks had two players named Houston. One pronounced their name like the city, the other like the street. I know they both played on the Knicks. But I am not sure they played at the same time.
Alfred (Canada)
@Robert Roth can you help us understand what the difference in pronunciation between the street and the city is like?
Pamela McCarthy (Murphys)
The city -HEWston The street (in NYC)- HOWsten
nana (everywhere)
@Alfred House-ton (the street); Hew-ston (the city).
Marie (Highland Park, IL)
If someone in the cubicle next to me had a cross on his desk and pictures of himself and some friends with guns, I couldn’t care less. It’s hard for me to understand why people get so upset over relatively unimportant issues. The woman in the apartment next to me can hardly walk because of a bad hip. A person I like is dying of pancreatic cancer. I know several children who suffered emotionally because of remote learning. People are starving worldwide because of food shortages. Covid has killed millions of people. There are far more important things going on than how a person chooses to decorate their cubicle.
JB (Washington)
@Marie Perhaps. But I would be sorely tempted to counter-decorate my space.
Robert (Out West)
I’m moving in next door, and will be flying a banner from the balcony that says: LET THE WEAK DIE That be okay by you?
Mary (NC)
@Robert yes. It would be OK. I recognize the right to express yourself. Would not bother me. And neither do weapons in real life or pictures of them. Or crosses. And being offended is not an argument.
CatPerson (Columbus, OH)
Frankly I think it would be better if people would come around to the fact that work is work and home is home. I mean, I wouldn't want to see any dog people all barky and yappy if I post photos of my beautiful cats.
barbara (santa cruz ca)
@CatPerson figure it as a way of saying who you are and finding like minded people. i had a co worker with afgan hound pics on display and we had a nice afgan hound and sight hound conversation.
Sean Cairne (East Coast)
On the 1st letter, something it doesn't seem is commented on is that letter writer is made to feel uncomfortable by the new hire. They state it is a small firm. Also, the letter writer points out that basically not many people applied so they were stuck with the new person. It doesn't really matter what the majority or minority of comments suggest because the letter writer is uncomfortable with several things before they were hired and now their choices for what they display in their office has caused so much discomfort the letter writer writes to NYT for advice. Consider the climate of today, this isn't the 1950's, as there is news of a new mass shooting just about every day and most often the shooters profile matches this new hire's. (read the article) A large wooden cross is without a double out of place and I'm a devout Christian. Not even on the wall unless the firm is actually a church. I grew up learning to shoot and had my own rifle before I was 8; my retired marine cops Dad had an assortment of weapons, mostly rifles in the gun rack -- locked -- in our family room. In the West Texas we lived people had their rifles on a gun rack and their hand guns in the glove box. My Dad had is own business and he never had any weapon in the office or pictures of people with fire arms on the walls or displayed. Dad was a devout Christian but there were never any large wooden crosses anywhere.
Di (California)
@Sean Cairne My husband is a target shooter and ammo reloader. People at work know that and he has even had coworkers join him at the range a few times. But he wouldn't post a picture with firearms in his office to save his life. Why do something that you know darn well is off putting to a fair number of people just to stand on your right to do so? Kind of petty if you ask me.
CatPerson (Columbus, OH)
I have a very unusual first name and if I got my nose bent out of joint every time it was misspelled or mispronounced, well...why be mad at people who mean you no harm?
Buddy Hoffman (Incline Village)
What if the images were of women in bikinis and groups of people smoking marijuana and drinking liquor? What if the women in the photos were his wife? How can an employer determine the principles of what is acceptable? And is context a component when evaluating whether something complies with rules meant to enforce acceptable policy? To be successful at a company, one needs a sponsor, a person familiar with one’s work, who has power within the company, and has a seat at the table, and who will speak on your behalf behind closed doors with credibility. Whether it’s permitted or not, offending coworkers with personal items, or in any other way, is a recipe for a career that languishes, at best. Sponsors expend political capital when they support someone, and few sponsors and will not want to waste political capital on extraneous issues like objectionable personal displays.
Thomas Mac (Iowa)
Does it occur to anyone that the office decor might not be a political/cultural statement but rather cherished items from friends or loved ones whose significance is more emotional than symbolic? Maybe if the writer actually took the time to get to know his neighbor...
barbara (santa cruz ca)
@Thomas Mac i figure on decoration and fashion you don't have to look. but if it can be viewed by others no kill...fill in the race or sex or ethnic or sexual group . fans of friday the 13th are very devoted but if a worker were posting pics of jason kills if i were boss i'd say this is scaring people can you just post them in your locker or just stick to the jason figure.
Tristram Shandy (AZ)
@Thomas Mac Cherished cross straight from “God”?
ayse (Alaska)
Oh honey the name thing will never work out!50 percent will mutilate it and rest won’t spell it right. My name? Only in turkey would anyone pronounce It right. I give up. I don’t correct people. If I’m Alice or ace or Alisha…. It’s not worth getting upset about.
Thankyouphilly (Philadelphia)
Re Desk Decor We really need to see the two items, because size, style and actual content of the photo are real factors here. What’s a “large” cross? 6 inches? 12? 18? Wood, gold leaf, stone Celtic replica, or crucifix in painstaking color? Are the men in the picture at a skeet shooting competition in the Berkshires or pointing their ARs at the camera? And again, is this a 5x7 on the desk or a 24x36 wall poster signed by Donald Trump? Unless we know these details, we fill them in with our favorite fears and righteous outrages, and then argue about it. That doesn’t teach us anything, seems to me. Mildly entertaining at best.
Pet Peeve (Somewhere in the general vicinity of NYC)
You know what's fascinating? I didn't actually count but it seems like 50% of the people who are commenting about workplace displays are focused on the photo with guns and 50% are all about the religious symbols. And I think the allow/don't allow split for each of them is pretty even too.
Marc Grobman (Fanwood, NJ)
I don’t mind people claiming any non-specific gender term they choose, and will always try to use whatever words they prefer. But I wish folks who want to be identified as something other than he/her/him/she/women/men/female/male, etc. would adopt or invent a less awkward and confusing gender-neutral term than “they.” Example: Q. How can I spot Jane in the crowd when they is getting off the plane? A. They says they will wear a red cap. Q. How many they are registered for the Breastfeeding Made Easy seminar? A. So far only one they is registered. But they says they [insert word to replace “sister”] might come. Help!
Pet Peeve (Somewhere in the general vicinity of NYC)
@Marc Grobman Q. How can I spot Jane in the crowd when they are getting off the plane? A. They will be wearing a red cap. Q. How many people are registered for the Breastfeeding Made Easy seminar? A. So far only one person is registered. But they say their sibling might come too. See? Fixed. Easy! There's no reason to try to make a bogus point by doing a "search and replace" and putting the word "they" instead of every other appropriate but gender neutral noun (eg person, sibling)
Marc Grobman (Fanwood, NJ)
Hi @Pet Peeve, I concede your point with my second example, but not in the first example. I had written: "A. So far only one person is registered. But they say their sibling might come too." You suggested: A. "So far only one person is registered. But they say their sibling might come too." But you appear not to have noticed that the query was asked by "one" person, rather than several people saying their sibling might also attend. Hence, in the lingo of a few years ago, the reply would have been: A. "So far only one person is registered. But *she* [not "they"] *says* [not *say*] *her* [not "they"] sibling might come too." Yes, it's possible to rework the language with non-gender-specific terms, in a graceful manner, or give up and revert to using "his or her" and "she or he." But it's awkward, confusing, and conveys less information. So when I become president, I will establish a a bipartisan committee to recommend non-gender-specific terminology. After that's done the committee will overhaul spellings in the English language, to make its spellings synchronize with pronunciations, for example: Arteechoq, not artichoke Sinthehsyz, not synthesize Fyoochur, not future Pryvit, not private Kayas, not chaos Ahmenus, not ominous Uhpropreeit, not appropriate Soshillize, not socialize...
Jeremy (WA)
@Marc Grobman This seems like it could possibly be genuine confusion instead of a deliberately inflammatory comment so I'll attempt to help. It's not nearly as awkward as you fear, just envision that the person in question is somewhere whose gender is unknown to you. We do this all the time. Notice how when I fix your plurality all the sentences are things you have probably said hundreds of times in your life without thinking about it. Q. How can I spot [our new coworker] in the crowd when they're getting off the plane? A. They say they will wear a red cap. Q. How many people are registered for the Breastfeeding Made Easy seminar? A. So far only one person is registered. But they say that their sibling might come.
LW 1 - the first thing I did was look at the location of the LW. Though I regrettably don't live there anymore, I was raised in New England. There, such an ostentatious display of "religious" iconography would be viewed, most charitably, as tasteless, and at worst, a deliberately provocative message of "I'm-holier-than-thou" or "I-aggressively-want-to-convert-you-to-my-brand-of-Christianity." This is the same in the various other regions of the country I've lived; though, I admit, I've never lived in the South or the Midwest. My New England upbringing would have me judging, harshly, anyone who plopped a big cross on his/her desk at work, and I'm a Christian myself. The regional differences in this country never fail to astound me.
Global Charm (British Columbia)
LW1 needs to get management on the cross-and-AK47 guy immediately. It is astonishing how stupid young men can be about these things. At one point in my life, I worked in a downtown NYC office were one of my co-workers had developed a bad case of Ayn Rand disease, to the point where he started displaying signs for his favorite right-wing fringe candidate for President. His supervisors had left him alone in the past, reluctant to intervene effectively. All went well until a real Presidential candidate came on a tour of the company, which unavoidably passed though our area of the back-office on the way to the C-Suite. Jack the Libertarian was gone in a flash. LW1 is not doing her co-worker any favors by ignoring his right-wing nutjob display. This should be taken into account, along with the feelings of the others in the office. Give him a warning, and if he doesn’t shape up, let him go.
Pottree (Joshua Tree)
Hope she doesn’t work at the Post Office!
S B (Ventura)
Nope Roxane, you're wrong. What a person does or says in their own home is their business - when it's done in a shared space, that is the business of those people sharing that space With a mass shooting happening more than every day in the USA, concern over person like this in the office is everyone in that offices business Do your whole office a favor, and get this guy fired. Not worth the hassle to deal with people like this that can disrupt the whole office, bring down productivity and moral, and potentially lead to violent interactions
Benjamin Teral (San Francisco, CA)
My experience is that company execs, owners, and HR people who talk about the company being family don't have families with whom they are close, else they would know how false that rings to those of us who are fortunate enough to have real families. I do some work at a small tech company run by a guy who thinks he's the father of the family; of course it's a disfunctional family, and for keeping the lazy nephews, nieces, uncles, and aunts around (and paying them the raises and bonuses that should go to produtive staff) he's roundly despised by the folks who do all the work. And of course it's manipulative. Under no circumstances tell that CEO that you're looking for other work. As Roxane (with one n) Gay says, when it's time for layoffs, family won't mean so much.
Andrea (Alexandria, VA)
@Benjamin Teral It looks to me like the LW is also treating the company as a family. "I have even taken advantage of this atmosphere to arrange temporary employment for a few of my family members. "
Jeff (West US)
”a person who does not like the celebration of gun violence is not a protected class” Changing this in the law would be a great response to some of the mass murders that come and go without any meaningful action.
Christopher Slevin (Michigan In)
We are in a different era than the 60s. Even though most of the violence at that time was rare and regular firearms were used, not military style weapons. No child deserves to die because of a disturbed or deranged individual. Given the rate of gun violence deaths of recent times this should not or cannot be allowed to continue. Regardless of what organization is supporting this serious political measures are needed to put an end to this. Children must have the expectation of getting an education and not have to fear risking their lives to do it. Those authorized with the responsibility for keeping children safe, including school administrators must be held responsible for identifying disturbed or troubled kids. All threats of violence whether joking or serious must never be ignored as was the case In Ohio. It’s too easy to make excuses for not acting but deaths and injuries of so many individuals can’t or shouldn’t be excused. Heads should roll regarding this in addition to the perpetrator. This is the least the students deserve. Accountability in addition to responsibility is needed here
A. Stanton (Dallas, TX)
I fired a .22 rifle at a carnival once when I was 13 years old while trying to win a 20 gallon galvanized steel trash can full of groceries for my mother. I didn’t win the groceries for my mother, and the experience remains one of the major regrets of my life. The reason for this was threefold. First was my disappointment in not winning the prize for my mother. Second, I developed a greater interest in girls than guns. And third, I have never felt in need of a gun for protection or for killing an animal or for shooting at targets or for helping myself to feel good about myself.. Shooting animals and shooting at targets are not things I am interested in. Making myself feel good about myself is not something I need any help with. Protection is something I get from the police department, my neighbors and my mailman who these days keeps an eye on me; and from good dogs like the one in the picture here; and by staying in the house at night; and by staying out of rough neighborhoods, which is not a problem for me. The primary reason people keep guns today is not a desire to hunt or shoot at targets or gain protection from criminals or terrorists. Guns make people feel powerful, less vulnerable to the uncertainties of life and help them to feel better about themselves and more in control of their lives. The gun problem in our large cities will never be solved or improved, in whole or in part.
Tristram Shandy (AZ)
I kept on shooting at the target, I mean.
Jeff (West US)
The gun enthusiast’s behavior is deliberate and provocative. I am not surprised that his performance is poor… his real agenda is to be confronted so he can claim he is being cancelled. He wants to intimidate. It is certainly passive aggression. He is not there to work.
A. Stanton (Dallas, TX)
A man with a large cross on his desk and a picture of himself on the bulletin board with men with rifles is maybe looking for trouble. I myself would not be comfortable sitting beside him and would be looking for a transfer to another office, or maybe working from Zoom.
joshie (san francisco)
i had a simliar many years ago with an office colleague at work. he had his religious symbols and some political swag proudly displayed at his desk. i simply brought in a gay pride flag and a pentagram, (even though i am neither gay nor a disciple of satan,) and displayed them on my desk right where he would have to look at them. the message was understood without any debate or conversation, and all such symbolism disappeared from our office. we're actually still pretty good friends, although we disagree on just about everything except the cluelessness of upper management decisions.
cylin (Houston, TX)
For those objecting to the cross on a desk, what are your thoughts about religious symbols in clothing and jewelry, wearing of head coverings, and invocation of deity or religious gestures (pointing skyward, kneeing with heads bowed, or crossing themselves) in professional settings or workplaces?
barbara (santa cruz ca)
@cylin i'm an atheist. my problem with christians is their weird need to try to give me tracts, tell me about their christian gods, bang on my door, try to control my medical care. i had one who made a pest of himself even after being told no thanks more than once and walking away. if they want to put up their god pic or cross i don't care. they want a cross i want a metalunan mutant and a56 chevy bel air car model. but if the gun guy started spouting conspiracy theories i would start to wonder if i needed a kevlar vest.
me (OV AZ)
There is no need to snitch on this colleague who hasn’t done anything to you except have different political beliefs. Snitch? Why would bringing the display of guns and crosses to management's attention be snitching? The most the letter writer can do is not mentor this person and hope his underperformance and perhaps an unexpected below-average performance review will get him to depart, and soon.
me (OV AZ)
I was taught how to use pronouns correctly before I graduated from high school. Regardless of one's sexual orientation, I will not use a plural pronoun in reference to an individual. There are alternatives ("one", "it") that are grammatically correct and I believe not disrespectful and don't make me feel like a fool who never learned proper grammar.
Tristram Shandy (AZ)
@me Well ain’t you staunch.
Tahlia (NYC)
@me And now you're being taught again. That's how learning works. I didn't go to high school to just refer back to my elementary school textbooks. Not sure why that changes in this context? Would you turn down a modern medical technique just because it wasn't around when you were younger? I sure wouldn't. Pronouns have nothing to do with sexual orientation. I find it interesting that you are more concerned with how YOU feel then how the other person might. I think that says a lot. Also "it" can definitely be disrespectful. I'm not an "it". If a person tells me their name, that's what I'll call them. It would be quite rude to call them by a different name, wouldn't it? Same concept for pronouns. Are you confused about how many people I've been talking about in this paragraph?
st louis (stl)
@me Plenty of times when they refers to a single person, both in casual use and formal poetry (Chaucer, for example). I, for one, am glad to have kept learning since high school.
Steve Mann (Big Island, Hawaii)
My name is Stephen-with-a-PH, but except for legal documents I never explain that. I had a Chinese landlady once, who expressed great frustration with our name-spelling issues - the letters, she said, had no meaning, unlike the characters that represent Chinese names and Japanese names, so why did we care as long as we got the sound right? I think she was right to wonder. My name is anciently transliterated from Greek; the spelling is a historical accident, entirely without meaning.
Rupert (Alabama)
An office policy banning the display of personal items of any kind, perhaps with the exception of one or two small framed photographs that face inward (toward the worker), is a good policy, I think. It avoids all sorts of issues.
barbara (santa cruz ca)
@Rupert if i have to be someplace between the work and the commute i'm there longer than i am at home and a few decorations make it more comfortable for me and likely others. if i dealt with the public obviously a cleared desk would be better.
barbara (santa cruz ca)
@barbara looking at the sticker on his computer a large warning and a that i had not noticed that it raises issues with me and were i the boss i would look into it. a band sticker or product sticker or some group is one thing but that shoot to kill bit goes over into threatening. what kind of job is this?
Meg (Midwest)
A small cross may be a mark of deep religious belief. A large cross is an in-your-face ostentatious display. They don't belong in the the work place for the same reason that Christmas trees and other religious holiday displays are commonly banned in large companies.
Too much internet (Columbus OH)
@Meg I think there is a difference between displaying religious items in a common area of the office and a person displaying such items in their own office or on their desk.
Meg (Midwest)
@Too much internet In my office they are banned in "personal" workspaces - and if you think about it, these are company workspaces where you are assigned to work, not your car or your living space. Airlines commonly also often ban displays of religious objects on one's person as well, with certain exceptions for clothing or hair that are required by certain religious groups (as do other workplaces as well).
Tristram Shandy (AZ)
@Too much internet Will they forget they’re “Christians” if they don’t jam it in everyone’s face all day?
Bobbie (Prospect Park)
A picture of friends with riffles for hunting is not hostile or offensive (in and of itself). People need to open up their mind. Similarly, A cross or inspirational quote is likewise not hostile or offensive in and of itself. Context matters and that commenters are jumping to conclusions and showing their prejudices in their responses.
Ruth (Upstate NY)
100% disagree on first item. No religious items belong in the workplace. Okay to them wearing a religious symbol on their body, a yarmulka, a head scarf, etc., etc. BUT a hard NO for religious objects on their desk or anywhere in their workspace. As to pictures of guns - depends. If it’s the focus of a photo is a group of friends and guns are there, I guess that’s okay. But any pictures of weapons by themselves, no. Also no political posters. Their workplace is not their home. It should be not uncomfortable for the other folks who share the workplace. In this case, there obviously at least one person made uncomfortable, the writer. HR should make rules that make this clear, you shouldn’t have to depend on the fellow doing a poor job
Robert_ (Como)
Pronouns. Ug. I consider myself a pretty liberal and tolerant guy. But contorting centuries-old gender specific pronouns into new non-binary service is a bridge too far for this 62 yo. My wife is a math prof. Her Calc 1 classes might have 300 people in it. Is she supposed to remember to use the "correct" and often non visibly obvious pronoun for each of what could be 300 students? e.g. "They" always meant "two or more". But not now apparently. So the word has lost all meaning. If non-binary pronoun terms are that important then proponents of same should invent and promulgate usage of new words instead of trying to shoehorn new meaning onto long-established and very frequently words.
Pet Peeve (Somewhere in the general vicinity of NYC)
@Robert_ "My wife is a math prof. Her Calc 1 classes might have 300 people in it. Is she supposed to remember to use the "correct" and often non visibly obvious pronoun for each of what could be 300 students?" Why does a math professor need to use pronouns (or title, which is what is often meant in these conversations) in the classroom? Students do not expect or even want to be addressed as Ms./Mr./Mx. Use first names, or the complete name if calling on someone when there's more than one person with the same first name. By the way, did you even notice that I didn't use any gender-specific language in my comment? It need not be onorous or awkward!
Dan (Lafayette)
@Robert_ Agreed. I’m glad I retired before this became a thing. I’m not so much against using preferred pronouns, but the proper, non gendered third person singular pronoun is “it.” The proper third person singular pronounce is not the third person plural pronoun. I can get on board with making language more accommodating of differences among us. I am not in favor of tearing up the language.
Tristram Shandy (AZ)
@Dan Shakespeare and many other authors disagree with your prescriptivist bunk.
Eirroc (NY)
One of my most esteemed colleagues, who is a known animal lover, let a large group of us know on a Zoom call that she had recently returned from an African safari with her husband. Not the kind where you go to learn about, and admire and gawk at majestic bests, but rather to pay for an organized hunt to KILL majestic beasts. You could hear a pin drop and the tone of the call took an obvious downturn, and the meeting host ended the "participant introductions" portion of the call, promptly changing the subject to the workshop material. Some of the participants private messaged me to let me know they were surprised and disgusted that such a self-professed animal lover would participate in such an activity, and I know that most of us on the call will never be able to interact with her ever again without thinking about her killing majestic beasts for pleasure. I believe is best not to reveal too much of your personal life – including, but not limited to, personally held political and religious beliefs. and controversial hobbies – in a professional workplace, unless of course the work is affiliated with/related to your beliefs and hobbies...
Pet Peeve (Somewhere in the general vicinity of NYC)
@Eirroc I fully agree and I share very little personal information with my co-workers. I have also formed opinions on co-workers who revealed things they probably shouldn't have. The question is whether a person who has chosen to share details is completely out of line. If the behavior is legal and prohibiting it is not illegal, a company can choose to set policies on things like workplace decor. If there is no policy or we object to how the policy allows people to display or say things we find offensive, we are free to react, comment or to find other employment.
barbara (santa cruz ca)
@Pet Peeve i have always kept my personal opinions and political ones to myself. nor do i solicit them for any cause. work is work home is home.
barbara (santa cruz ca)
@Eirroc i confess the pic of the trump son next to the corpse of a poor murdered elephant of which he was holding the tail made me gag and if i received such a zoom call i would turn it off and send an email saying i do not want to see this or hear about it.
Abby (NJ)
As a Midwest transplant to the east coast, remind me to never mention at work that I grew up hunting and shooting guns, goodness. This is Ohio. Guns are a very common hobby, and there is nothing wrong with being responsible gun-owner.
S.P. (MA)
@Abby — Some folks would agree with you, and go on to wonder whether you are a responsible gun owner, or the other kind. Would it surprise you to hear there is nothing wrong with that either? So maybe, given that guns are a big-size controversy, re-framing the question would be wise. Figure out what personal proclivities push people's buttons, and do not emphasize those in the workplace.
Dan (Lafayette)
@Abby The picture that accompanied the headline may be the problem. A decal threatening to shoot coworkers who mess with his stuff is not responsible gun ownership. Responsible gun owners do not need to advertise such. It looks more like threats and compensating.
Tristram Shandy (AZ)
@Dan You can’t possibly believe that’s a picture of the actual desk, can you?
Chris (10013)
This willingness to allow "self-expression" in the workforce strikes me as a very contemporary (and wrong) approach. Businesses should be able to establish cultural, political and policy parameters for the workplace and for how workers present themselves. I realize that this worker may not have been front-facing nonetheless, religion, 2nd amendment, abortion, BLM, politics and any number of items are not for the workplace. Regardless if you are a 2nd Amendment, Trump-first, pro-life, Evangelical or a neo-Socialist, AOC, gun control, atheist, pro-choice, I dont want this as a part of the workplace or to have your views be on display
John A. (New York)
There are many workplaces where the guns and cross would be wildly out of bounds. E.g., pretty any public sector office, any public school office or classroom, any non-profit whose mission is explicitly non-political. In many other workplaces, it might be against rules or policy to have large displays that have (OBVIOUS!) potential to bother co-workers, of even just stuff that goes against office decor. So right off the bat, the blanket advice that this is fine and none of the letter-writers business is absolute nonsense. There are lots of places it's not fine, and the fact that the letter writer is freaked out by it proves that point. The letter-writer also states that it's the co-workers first job. So let's give him the benefit of the doubt and say maybe he doesn't know any better than to flaunt his love of guns and religion (and association of violence with religion) in the workplace? In a sane world it would be completely OK to take the kid aside and tell him he's entitled to his beliefs about both religion and politics and those are not at issue, but in general it's to leave advocacy of either at home for the sake of keeping controversy and discord out of the workplace. So, yeah, the advice given is atrocious.
Pet Peeve (Somewhere in the general vicinity of NYC)
@John A. If any of the display is prohibited because of the examples you mention, it's up to the supervisor and HR to address it right away. They probably would know about it already. I don't think that's what's going on here. The letter writer doesn't like the decor and doesn't like what the person stands for. It's a miserable situation to be in and I don't wish it on anyone. But that doesn't mean they get their way on this.
College Dad (Westchester)
Re: The Case of the Misspelled Name I work in a multi-national firm. My "going in" assumption is that I will misspell your name in an email. That is why our email system has a full list of everybody's name and spell checks it along with the rest of the message. Spel chek (sic), use it!
SCLib (South Carolina)
My last name ends with “ie” and is frequently misspelled with either “y” or “ey”. My last name is also frequently mispronounced. After 40 years of living with this married name, I ignore it unless the mistake is on a legal or medical document. I also answer to all the mispronunciations and just let it go. But I understand that some people are really offended by these type of mistakes. Part of my sister’s name is “Anne” and people frequently drop the “e”. It really bugs her. When her daughter recently had a girl, my sister advised to use “Ann” instead of “Anne” for the child’s middle name.
David H (Northern VA.)
Reading horror story number one makes me realize how lucky I am to be retired. Ditto reading horror story number 2.
Quiet American (Offshore)
Regarding the first case, the God ‘n Guns employee, he has clearly and intentionally made a provocative, political statement. This has understandably made the business manager and probably other people in the office uncomfortable. The time to address the issue is now, not some time in the future. Have a chat with the employee, affirm his right to his beliefs, but advise him that not everybody in the office feels the same way or comfortable with his displays of his beliefs, and that they don’t belong in the office. Then ask him kindly to remove the items. Either this guy is the kind who can get along with people or not. If he complies, great: job done and maybe he learned something himself. If not, and he refuses, ratchets up his public expressions of his political and religious beliefs, or goes public as being victimized because his “constitutional rights” are being infringed, then another counseling session, warnings of possible dismissal, and documentation of the meetings are in order (because he”ll lawyer up, of course). This reaction is a real possibility and you need to be prepared. Get some legal advice on your rights as an employer.
Robert (Out West)
Absolutely. And if I may add: 1. You do NOT have an absolute right to free speech in the office or at work. Employers may, and often do, impose rules on dress, speech, behavior, and display. As long as the rules are there for a good reason, and are imposed equitably, and aren’t written in ways that discriminate, this has been upheld in court again and again. 2. No employer in their right mind wants to get anyplace near a lawsuit over hostile work environment. Their HR people, and their lawyer, are going to tell them that weekly. And if something goes way wrong and a guy like this comes in shooting, well, your business is over and your bank account is gone. 3. There are also semi-spoken rules of behavior at work, and among these is: Thou Shalt Not Be A Loud Jerk, Especially During Thy Probationary Period. Because among other things, the boss is going to come around and ask your colleagues what they think about you. 4. And, it’s just plain dumb to cheese people off.
Nancy (Great Neck)
Your Office, Some Other Guy’s Politics His beliefs, and desk decorations, aren’t really your business, even if they’re in your joint place of work. [ Nonsense, complete offensive nonsense. ]
Ng Ha (Vermont)
The work place should be neutral. He knows his gun photos and large cross are offensive. It’s deliberate. He’s not a team player.
Robert (Out West)
Uh, if it would be inappropriate to stick up pix of blondes in lingerie, why would a buncha gun pix be okay? This guy’s not just putting up a picture or two, or keeping a small statue of Jesus on his desk. He’s kinda shoving Jesus and boomsticks in faces, at least as described. An employer does NOT have to allow anything and everything to go on display. There’s nothing wrong with somebody senior politely telling a newbie that it’s all a bit much. And I have to say, I’ve never bought the gun-waver claims that it’s all just harmless. It’s menacing, and meant to be.
stuckincali (l.a.)
@Robert If he shoots soneone, I wonder if people would question the employer about signs…
Robert_ (Como)
Bad advice regarding #1. We live a hyper-polarized political climate. Make no mistake -- displaying a cross and pictures of firearms is a political statement far more than a religious one (regarding the cross). It's also a form of explicit intimidation whether the new worker believes it or not. Maybe 40 years ago not so much. But today -- absolutely. So, given it's just "desk decorations", is another worker free to adorn their workspace with, for example, sex toys, lewd photos, and other erotica? Some companies have strict policies regarding workspace personalization and decoration -- and for good reason.
Pet Peeve (Somewhere in the general vicinity of NYC)
@Robert_ Sexually explicit material is often prohibited by sexual harassment laws and policies. Other things are not despite how much more offensive they may be.
Dan (Lafayette)
@Robert “So, given it's just "desk decorations", is another worker free to adorn their workspace with, for example, sex toys, lewd photos, and other erotica?” Probably not, as women are determined to be a protected class, and as such those display items you suggest would be considered a hostile work environment. Ironically, a person who does not like the celebration of gun violence is not a protected class The religious symbols issue might be more fun. If the argument is made that religious symbols at work are protected by the constitution, then perhaps the rest of the office should put up their favorite religious symbols. Crescent moons, stars of David, whatever are the symbols for Hindus and Sikhs (sorry to be culturally ignorant) are good things to put on surrounding desks and walls. To make it really fun, include a few prominent Satanist icons in the mix. Be sure to include a framed print of Serrano’s famous painting, perhaps on the desk right next to the gun nut’s. When he complains, just shrug and tell him he opened that door all by his precious little self. But do be prepared for the fact that he is obviously a gun nut, one perceived slight away from killing someone. (Responsible gun owners generally know better than to announce their status as such.)
M Davis (USA)
The cross doesn't bother me, particularly. Many people wear jewelry with religious overtones. Gun photos are another thing. This seems like a thinly veiled attempt to intimidate others. I'd take him aside and ask him to remove gun photos or other souvenirs showing weapons.
Too much internet (Columbus OH)
@M Davis How is a group of friends going hunting intimidating? I am probably far more progressive in my politics than many of the folks here but I have friends who hunt--and some of them are politically liberal! Stop painting people with such a broad brush. One of the reasons that we are so divided is people do not bother to talk to people as fellow human beings but prefer to stereotype.
dap (San Marino, CA)
@M Davis An intimidating gun owner can do much worse, if confronted; ditto, unfortunately, if he gets fired!
Ray (USA)
So many people seem to think that both the gun picture and the cross are both unacceptable. Not sure if the company's policies state no show of religion or not. Seems to me if you get offended by a cross, assuming its not some huge, overbearing size, maybe you have a discrimination problem and don't even realize it. Would you be offended if it was a pride flag? What if it was a country flag depicting ethnicity? Would that be offensive? Would you also be offended if you are a Mets fan and I put up a Yankee banner? Did you wear a BLM button or put up something showing support for that? Do you have a cause or charity that you support and ask others to support also? Raising money for diabetes or anger or MS? Maybe others find it offensive when you ask to contribute. We need to back down off this whole "offensive" concept. "Offensive" is a word with very strong connotations but it gets thrown around like an every day term. Did your mother tell you not to use the word "hate" because its such a "strong" word? I realize I digress and am rambling but the way we throw around the terms "offends me" and "offensive" is ridiculous.
Stephanie Wood (Bloomfield NJ)
Years ago, this wouldn't have been offensive. Now, with the far right becoming religious fanatics, trying to change our laws, innocent people being shot, it is offensive. Sorry! But nowadays it is. I wouldn't say anything to the colleague, I would remain professionally cordial, but I wouldn't spend much time in his office.
S.P. (MA)
@Ray — Nope. Lots of people believe in religions which are not actively conducting social offensives against everyone else. Those are fine. Some Christians, many of them, actually, are also fine. Too bad for them. Because they get disadvantaged by an all-too-active lunatic fringe to which everyone has a right to react with repugnance. It may not be that big a problem, though. The normal Christians are likely just as repulsed as anyone else.
Dr. M (SanFrancisco)
@Ray I'd say no to either. Personal jewelry or head coverings are one thing. A cross, menorah, prayer rug - or images that portray weapons are not acceptable, period.
Fox (Texas)
Is everyone in the comments section living in San Francisco and Manhattan? Crosses and photos with a gun are not hostile. I'm an atheist liberal in Texas and at the fortune 100 job I worked before the pandemic, a number of desks had crosses or inspirational sayings. Many desks had personal photos. Guns are not rare or seen as inherently evil in many parts of the country. At worst, this is someone who knows they may be a minority in opinion somewhere and is not ashamed of their hobbies or religion. What happened to tolerance in this country?
Bobcat108 (Upstate NY)
@Fox: I come from a family that hunts & I do enjoy target practicing. Unfortunately, in my neck of the woods, pro-gun decorations are just as apt to be the word KILL spelled out w/an AK-47 standing on its stock end, a pistol spitting out a bullet, & two military-type boots viewed sideways as they are of a group of hunters during deer season. The latter's fine; the former's not.
Communist Woodsman (Oakland, CA)
Definitely here in SF I keep my mouth shut about hunting and shooting, and the comment section here is a good reminder of why. Lots of completely irrational responses to anything that even suggests guns. Maybe the asker's colleague is a competitive sharpshooter or accomplished hunter? Maybe they should ask instead of assuming it's about politics or intimidation. I have one colleague I know who shoots (and is always careful at work to say "Yeah I'm going to the range this weekend.... the golf range!"). He's a non white immigrant who practices Baha'i and also has a side business training competitive snipers. I guess that doesn't neatly fit into the culture war assumptions though.
S.P. (MA)
@Fox — People like you came along, with an aggressive, pro-gun, grievance-laden style, and alienated folks like me, who were previously super-tolerant about guns. Forty years ago, I lived in the rural northern Rockies region. Hunted a lot, owned multiple guns. Discovered one day that the very best way to get picked up hitchhiking was to carry a rifle, and display it prominently in one hand, while sticking your thumb out with the other. First pickup by stopped every time. That was then and there. I am not foolish enough, or socially obtuse enough, or mean and aggressive enough, to suppose norms which work in the rural Rockies ought to apply alike in New York City. Social context matters, and would-be gun wielders would be wise to keep it in mind. To flaunt local customs to make a point is always rude, always unwise, and sometimes dangerous.
StopTheMadness (Manhattan)
I never believed in desk decorations, even family or dog pictures. Sort of why we do not like people decorating their apartment doors in luxury buildings. But I started my corporate career in 1980, somewhat more rigid era.
Slo0079 (SD)
When people misspell my name, I do the same to them. Funny how some people revert so offended sometimes... then act in horror when I call out they did the same. 99% of the time it never happens again.
Kristin (Seattle)
@Slo0079 After a contractor I was working with named Dennis kept spelling my name Kristen, I threatened to add an "e" to the end of his name (thus making it a woman's name). He never spelled it wrong again.
Holiday (New England)
It's time for this company to write rules about what can and cannot be displayed in an office. As our country becomes more divided and more violent, it is more important than ever.
Stephanie Wood (Bloomfield NJ)
As irritating as these values are nowadays, maybe it's better to know what kind of person you're dealing with.
Juliet Lima Victor (Central NC)
Displaying pictures of weapons at work creates a hostile work place. There is no room for it in light of work place shootings. A reasonable gun owner would not feel the need to promote his/her love for guns at work with photos others may find intimidating. Maybe they would chat about them at the water cooler; but pictures? That's a flag. I'll bet dollars to donuts, it is an attempt to make co-workers think twice about firing him for any reason job related.
Ruby44 (Two states)
Re: pronouns. When this policy was instituted at my place of work, the only ones who posted them were cis-gendered. I heard quietly from someone who didn't post them that they hadn't done it because they didn't want to be forced to out themselves to the world.
Tess (Indiana)
@Ruby44 the letter writer states their "organization approved the optional inclusion of pronouns in email signatures." optional.
jazmarm77 (Merced, CA)
I'm afraid I have to disagree with Ms. Gray about the new employee's work displays. In this day and age, displaying firearms is provocative and is likely to make others uncomfortable. If he wishes, he can display an NRA bumper sticker on his car, but showing pictures of himself with guns is unprofessional and likely to provoke colleagues. I would add I don't keep my needlework (also a hobby) on my desk when working in offices.
Jjk (Phoenix)
@jazmarm77 Common sense, common sense, and courtesy please.
J (US of A)
@jazmarm77 He is not displaying firearms - that's a provocative (effective apparently) photo from the times, he has put up a photo of himself and friends with rifles.
Charles (Boston)
@jazmarm77 Some people are extremely fond of sex toys, could be described as a hobby, but i'm sure the sight of a massive pink vibrator on a desk top or plastered to a wall would be considered inappropriate workplace behaviour.
Lynn in DC (Here, there, everywhere)
LW1 - what is your employer's policy about office decoration? If there are no written policies on this matter, you will have to let it go or he might file an HR complaint about you. LW2-??? LW3 - There are no friends or family in the workplace just strangers crammed together in an actual or virtual space for 8 or more hours. Your CEO is trying to control everyone, don't let it affect your job search. LW4 - Be petty in return by repeatedly misspelling the names of coworkers who can't get your name right. It breaks up the day, provides a laugh and keeps you from being upset. If anyone complains (!), know they are misspelling your name intentionally and you can then get saucer-eyed and say you had no idea you misspelled their name.
Robert (Out West)
Uh, employees do NOT have a right to display whatever at work. You can’t, for example, stick up obscenities or girlie pictures or racist images and so on; schoolkids certainly can’t display even toy guns. About the only stuff that’s “protected speech,” would be union images and political stuff, but even that has strong limits: you can’t proselytize during working hours. I would take gun pictures as creating ye olde hostile work environment, and just say no. It’s also bad manners, and way, way, way out of mainstream behavior. I mean, I’ve worked since the late 1960s, and never saw this stuff at work.
MLMcR (Vancouver Island BC)
I’ve been thinking about why the advice about the pronouns is yes, get involved and the one about religious items and guns (religious in the US it seems) is mind your own business. It seems strange and just emphasizers how little I understand you, America.
ray (wi)
@MLMcR We don't understand it any better than you.
Stephanie Wood (Bloomfield NJ)
I don't understand the US, either - may I move to Canada?
MLMcR (Vancouver Island BC)
The world seems to be all in an uproar, doesn’t it? Canada has its own demons. You’re welcome of course. I miss visiting the States but the weirdness around religion, guns, abortion is becoming overwhelming.
Austin (Atlanta)
Whether it’s work appropriate is one thing…but is someone really *offended* by a picture of someone holding a rifle? Really?
Ray (USA)
@Austin My reaction exactly. Apparently the definition of the word "offensive" has been changed and they forgot to tell the rest if us.
Charles (Boston)
@Austin So if it's not appropriate in the workplace, as you suggest, why wouldn't someone be offended by a picture of someone holding a rifle. There's a time and place for everything - the workplace is for working surely?
Lisa vS (Northern California)
@Austin depends on photo. dude & friends w/ rifles - is it obviously hunting situation? Otherwise I'd take it as saying me & my guns could overpower you so don't mess w/ me. its like open carry in public spaces, threatening.
Merlin (Minneapolis, MN)
There are plenty of rules in most workplaces around what can and cannot or should not be displayed in work areas, desks, etc.. Little of what is described here would fly in almost any modern corporate setting. This company simply needs to update its employee guidance and rules, or create them if they don't have them. The guy knows he is pushing limits, or he's emerged from a hole in the ground for the first time in decades.
@Merlin or he's looking for a payday. Wrongful termination, interview on Hannity, ghost written book, run for office as the "God and Gun loving Family Man Christian being pushed out by Woke Politics" Never mind any facts, though, because those don't matter any more.
Johaz (AZ)
I have a last name that’s been misspelled my whole life. It’s not a difficult name, but a variation of a more common spelling. I am now on the board of a local organization and have spent three years reminding them in every way possible of the correct spelling. WHY is this so difficult?
penelope (florida)
@Johaz it could be because of autocorrect/autotype - whatever it's called -
M Davis (USA)
@Johaz My name was published as a byline for years. People who read my column still regularly misspelled it when sending me notes. Spelling's not their thing. No big deal.
PhillyMama (Seattle)
The misspelled name reminded me of a great story about Katharine Hepburn. I can’t remember which major Hollywood player had written her a letter misspelling her name (as often happened, given the a where an e usually occurs), but her pithy response was to misspell his name in future correspondence after he told her to get over it.
CatPerson (Columbus, OH)
@PhillyMama Well yeah but most people aren't Katharine Hepburn.
LIChef (East Coast)
In today’s world, I would be concerned about anyone tone-deaf enough to put a cross on their desk in a non-religious setting and to post photos of gun use. At best, the employee is woefully unaware of the world around him, something that could affect his performance. At worst, it could be something a lot more serious. Maybe 20-30 years ago, the none-of-my-business advice may have been fine, but not today. Too many people have been killed or wounded in mass shootings because people didn’t pay attention to signals that seemed insignificant at the time. HR should simply ban all personal items on desks and in cubicles. It also makes me wonder about the kind of judgment that would recommend ignoring this particular situation, but advise others to pay microscopic attention to use of personal pronouns in the workplace. Talk about misplaced priorities . . .
J (US of A)
@LIChef Consider that you might be the one unaware of your surrounding... 72% of Americans have you , presumably, are in the minority. 50% of Americans consider Religion very important in their life. If someone was wearing a cross as a chain around their neck, would you be so offended as to ask them to remove it...time for you to expand your social circles.
lovepnw (washington)
@J Hmmmm.... if there had been MANY less mass killings in public places with guns, and the rise of those with religious beliefs telling women what they should do weren't so concerning, I MIGHT be able to see your point. But nowadays.... NOPE! No one is advocating ripping cross necklaces off, just making sure the workplace is reasonable for everyone. This guy knows what he's doing; being provocative. The owner has the right to establish workplace rules and is negligent in not doing so. Hopefully the situation will resolve itself with no problems. Wanna show off your toys and iconography? Join a club.
Robert (Out West)
Try thirty-two percent, dude. What IS it with the Right and crowd sizes?
Amanda U (UK)
Ex-pat here. I had an officemate whose entire side of the office was Christian themed. Never said a word. If I, as an atheist, put up signs denoting my beliefs I would bet you money she would have complained to management. Ostentatious displays of any religion/belief system are inappropriate in a workplace because we all have different beliefs. The guns…sigh…
Michele (Philadelphia)
I have co-workers that I have been working with for 10+ years that still insist on typing "Hi Michelle" in every email. I just make a point to sign my name AND include my signature block in my response.
Global Charm (British Columbia)
@Michele You might be a victim of automated spelling correction. But in any event, your low-key responses are probably the most sensible. It doesn’t make sense to get upset about this. Michel and its feminine equivalent Michèle have variants in many languages. Your correspondents have the essentials correct, even though they’re wrong on the details. I worked for a long time in a bilingual office, where we had our business cards printed with English on one side and French on the other. It was quite common for men (say) to have John Paradis on one side and Jean Paradis on the other, along with their titles in the relevant language. It’s just easier that way, especially if the French variant takes an accent, like Michèle does. If you have a name like Moslem or Benafsha, this doesn’t work, at least with English and the other European languages. However, I’d be very surprised if there weren’t equivalent forms in their original languages and their close neighbors.
Walter (Los Angeles)
Good lord, but that is bad advice to letter writer one. No, weapons and crosses on your desk are NOT OK. Especially in a country so beset with gun violence. A lot of it right wing gun violence. Bad hiring decision.
J (US of A)
@Walter There are no weapons on desks..on a photo of friends with guns, something the majority of Americans enjoy
DavidD (New York)
I just googled Alisha/Alicia because I would have thought they were pronounced the same. Turns out I've been mispronouncing Alicia my whole life.
Edward B (Virginia)
@DavidD - you haven’t necessarily been getting it wrong. I have two colleagues both called Alana: one has a stress on the first syllable, the other has a stress on the middle syllable.
Jake (Rochester MN)
Q1 seems pretty straightforward to me (admittedly someone without corporate workplace background): If personal effects are allowed in work spaces, and those personal effects are evidence of criminal wrongdoing or blatantly offensive or inappropriate, then they can stay whether they depict your leisure choices or not. If you're genuinely made uncomfortable, maybe it's a question for HR, but if it's just "I don't like guns" then don't look at this person's pictures.
Pottree (Joshua Tree)
From the first query, I got the impression this office is in a very small outfit with no HR Dept. They had a hard time filling a job, even hiring someone with no prior work experience. It doesn’t sound like much of a job and I would not expect they have management like a big corporation does either.
Jean Cleary (Mass.)
Regarding the workplace displays, does your office have a policy that forbids personal items on desks?
Frank (USA)
I'm an employer. If we'd accidentally hired the subject of letter #1, I would fire them immediately. It's not illegal to discriminate against hiring people who make poor decisions. Besides, if they make such poor decision in their personal life, what makes you think they'll do any better in their professional life?
Robert (Out West)
Well, I’d warn them verbally once, then write them up, then can them. Unless they’re in a probationary period, in which case I might just say something like this isn’t working out, bu-bye, and not even get into it. I certainly wouldn’t put up with what sure sounds like a belligerent display, no matter what it was.
Ellen (Maine)
@Frank Are you saying that being Christian (which is what I presume the cross implies) and being a hunter (which is what the guys with guns photo sounds like) are poor decisions? Or is it just using these symbols as workplace decor? I have a small office in a rural area with 5 employees plus myself. I'm used to people being hunters and owning guns, including my employees and their families. While I do neither, I don't find their pictures of successful hunts or knowledge of gun ownership by them to be disturbing or poor decisions. I do, after all, eat meat now and then. And while I do not practice a religion, I respect others right to do so, as guaranteed by our constitution.
Matt D (Brooklyn, NY)
@Frank I think these discussions are so helpful. But really I agree with the author--upon what grounds would you fire them? Read the details. The guy has only indicated that he's a republican, a Christian, and that he hunts. That isn't illegal. That's not even uncommon! The reason I feel that these discussions are SO important is because I feel like people on the left are so cloaked in self-righteousness that they're so out of touch as to the perception of them from the other side. People bandy about the concept of a modern day civil war. While many on the left dismiss this notion immediately, many on the right are very much in tune to the idea. I recently moved from NYC back to my hometown of Charleston, SC. I was at the bar at a restaurant in the suburbs ordering food and overheard a man (Not in any way disrespectable, yet I could assume he was on the right) intone to a few others that he thought Civil War was getting increasingly likely. And do you know what he said afterwards that has stuck with me? "Well, it would be over fast."
Jennifer (Denver)
Actually spiritual displays are generally not acceptable at work. This seems to be an issue every Christmas and people have been asked to remove religious displays. The guns would bother me more than the cross but people have a right to their hobbies. I agree that this guy is a big red flag but now you know who to avoid in the office.
Bobbie (Prospect Park)
@Jennifer The war on Christmas is back
Frances Grimble (San Francisco)
When you are working at a company you are helping to create their corporate image. Not only for clients but for everyone who enters the office. Highly controversial personal items are inappropriate. Pictures of guns, religious items, sexy pictures, etc.
Frances Grimble (San Francisco)
@Frances Grimble I will add that this is similar to a corporate dress code. Do you need to wear a suit to work effectively at a bank? No! Do you like wearing suits? Maybe, maybe not. But banks think suits project an image of conservative affluence, urging clients to trust that the bank will do a good job of handling the money.
Vincent (SF Bay)
Poor advice to Columbus. Once again the writer confuses regulation of expression with prohibition of belief. Employees do not have a right to display whatever they like in the workplace because they do not own it. The employer has the right to establish rules about what may be displayed. In no way does this deprive the employee of the right to believe whatever they like.
Bboon (Truckee, CA)
I am a bleeding heart liberal, but I grew up with male brothers (I'm female) and cousins in a rural area. We ran around with BB guns and went to gun school to learn to shoot a bolt action 22 rifle. My uncle shot deer and made venison jerky. That jerky makes the stuff sold at 7-11 taste like salted cardboard. We also fished and rode horses everywhere. I consider it a bucolic childhood, and probably fairly typical in some areas. So the idea of guns and hunting I don't find offensive in the least. Fast forward to 2022, and I am working as a physician at a VA hospital. More than once, I have had patients (always mad over not getting narcotics when they didn't need them) threaten to come back with a gun and shoot me. Once the weapon referred to was an M16. Now that offended me, and I reported it. But to take umbrage because a colleague has pictures of guns up? That seems like an over-reaction. It IS an American past time and hobby for plenty of law-abiding citizens. I would be happy if assault weapons were banned, because no civilian needs one.
m (ny)
@Bboon I personally would be more offended by the large cross he put on his desk. I believe that you are not supposed to put things up stating what your beliefs are. Plus, it is a private corporation.
Matt D (Brooklyn, NY)
@Bboon Amen. Completely agree. We need to start understanding the people we disagree with; not just firing them. A love of hunting, republicanism, and christianity, though not my personal tastes, are not damnable traits.
Nick (NYC)
@Matt D Try telling that to the "in this house, we believe..." types.
noguns (Earth)
On guns. The answer is striking. When displaying oneself with guns, war guns even according to the absolute way the answer is formulated, is a personal belief or political accepted opinion everywhere including at work, it probably tells much about a society. Is it OK to display oneself with war guns? Well, as war guns have no nonviolent use, the display itself is a show of violence. Is it acceptable at work? Obviously not! Or at least it should be obvious that it is not acceptable a display. That it does not seem to be for someone writing in the nyt is probably an indication of the depth of the gun problem. But of course, it's not as if you lived in a country with several mass murders of innocent citizen a week. If you did then such an publication would at the very least appalling Noguns.
Humanist (AK)
@noguns There are many people -- I am not one of them -- who like to collect what you call war guns, and who enjoy target shooting with them. As long as the employee is not threatening violence, he apparently has a Constitutional right to own guns he's acquired legally and registered in places that require this. The company can (and probably should) ban personal firearms on company property, including the parking lot if privately owned. The warning sticker on the laptop depicted in the illustration accompanying this article may, however, cross the line, especially if the laptop is company owned. If the company doesn't already have a policy, it may want to prohibit affixing personal belief stickers to company property. Presumably this would bar Ster Trek stickers as well as warning labels with guns on them.
noguns (Earth)
@Humanist I would have gotten your point if you had said there are collectors of historically relevant weapons and its legitimate. The fact that you fail to see the problem of enjoying shooting even the likes of uzi and displaying pictures of you doing so in public, is exactly, in my opinion, of problem. I am aware of the constitutional right to endanger everyone in one's vicinity. It doesn't make it a reasonable thing.
Humanist (AK)
@noguns Where in my reply do I say anything about being troubled, or not, by the sight of people shooting their Uzis? The subject of this article, and of my comment, is whether it's OK for an employee to decorate their work space with religious icons or with photos of personal property, including guns. I think it might be difficult for an employer to come up with fair rules about what kind of photos or religious objects people have on their desks, as long as the photos aren't pornographic, don't advocate for violence against other humans, or cruelty to animals, etc., and their religious items aren't intruding into other workers' space. And I actually don't happen to agree with recent SCUSA decisions that appear to ignore the 2nd Amendment's words "a well regulated militia," but again, at issue here is whether it's OK to post pictures of legally owned firearms in one's workplace. You seem pretty upset that I don't join you in condemning the "public" (actual issue is private work space) display of photos of weapons, but even if I thought I had to right to do this, I don't think it would solve the problem of gun violence.
Analisa LaMoe (Cali)
What an awful answer in light of today's world. After every mass shooting, people who knew the shooter are asked, "What did you know?" If you had any inkling and did nothing about it, you or the business might get sued.
Analisa LaMoe (Cali)
@Thomas. You provide nothing to support your statements, just empty words. From the American Bar. org: "Litigation over mass shootings. Mass shooting incidents also can lead to significant and unique litigation exposures... including: --Owners and operators of businesses where the shooting occurs --Event promoters --Security firms --Parents/relatives of the shooter --Employers --Retailers or gun shops where the assailant acquired weapons (if acquired illegally) --Organizations that fail to report information to authorities --Anyone in a position to know of and/or intervene in the shooter’s plan"
The Surf (California)
I've never seen this column before? Lot's of interesting responses. In terms of letter #1, displaying one's values or sentiments or fervor for what can be easily construed as symbols of proud aggression (guns) is not cool if you're the new person. What does the manager of that department say when you discuss with him or her your concerns in private? Is there a company culture of people bringing in Nazi memorabilia or Hello Kitty lunch boxes part of the norm? Mementos are one thing (family photos, vacation souvenirs, etc.), symbols of beliefs with cultural stigmas attached can be spooky to others (crosses, big crosses, cradling AR15s and such). To me this is a company culture issue, however, if you take offense and if the new hire is making an entrance with a new standard where the previous standard was "we don't broadcast controversial values at work" - of which I strongly believe you should not do - then it should be discussed with however many manager's it takes to get a working policy established at your job site. Where does it stop is always the question and what is acceptable should be defined by all the employees in a civil fashion, however, it is management's job to enforce the guidelines so all employee's are focused on their tasks at hand not on other people's personal values. Remember why you're all there, to generate revenue so your employer can afford to keep you. Just my thoughts after reading the letter and some of the responses.
SR (New York, NY)
To the reader whose officemate had the gun among other items, I lived that for the past 2 years. I will no longer work somewhere where religious items are displayed. You don't need to display your religious objects for yourself. Guns do not believe in the workplace unless you work for the police, etc. Conservative environments are not for me.
Molly Bloom (Tri-State)
The photo accompanying this article is interesting. There's an obvious use of camouflage. The pseudo-commando Mass Murderer, like the recent Buffalo killer, is often in camouflage gear. Also: I find the large wooden cross display interesting. How is this different from the cross displays I see dangling around people's necks?
m (ny)
@Molly Bloom That is on your private person. That is different than displaying a cross some people may find that pushing his religious beliefs onto to others.
Molly Bloom (Tri-State)
@m On a private person for public consumption... Still, pushing religious beliefs onto others.
Pet Peeve (Somewhere in the general vicinity of NYC)
That photo accompanying the article really needs to be taken down. It depicts an actual a gun in the workplace, not a photo of a coworker with a rifle. Big difference.
Jennifer Lynn (Colorado)
@Pet Peeve I concur. Thanks for noticing and sharing this.
S K (LA)
Roxane-with one N-I so disagree with your response to letter #1! With all the gun violence in this country, why have any pictures of guns in your cubicle at all? It’s his first job-he clearly doesn’t know what to do at work/how to behave! No matter that clients or customers aren’t in the workplace; it’s still uncalled for. Also, as a Jew, those large crosses are a big turnoff. He’s not at home or in church. For an illuminating and finally sane response, read The Guardian from yesterday. A Christian leader in NYC calls out this horrible connection between faith and guns in this country. Again-finally.
Viktor (Left Coast)
I have an employee with a lesser common spelling of her name. I take care to spell it correctly but my computer's spelling dictionary keeps wanting to change it. You might want suggest to people how to change the settings for that word in Outlook.
Jennie (WA)
From the headline picture I thought the co-worker was hanging guns in his cubical. I would worry that he might have a concealed gun or do a workplace shooting if he was nearby.
Charles Becker (Politically Non-binary)
@Jennie, The headline picture is inaccurate. The article clearly states the worker displayed a PICTURE of himself and others holding guns. You can shoot someone with a gun. You CANNOT shoot someone with a picture of someone holding a gun. This type of inaccurate depiction is what is causing division in our country
DW (Philly)
@Jennie In the United States, there's guns in probably every workplace of any size (say, more than a few employees). I guarantee you, any large office building, if you could turn it upside down and shake it, many guns would fall out. It's not remotely crazy (as some commenters are implying - not you) to worry that a co-worker will shoot people.
Stephanie Wood (Bloomfield NJ)
It's crazy that we live in a country where there are guns in the workplace.
Alyce (Wa)
I'm a Christian but I think that ostentatious displays of religion at work are inappropriate. I'm pretty sure that workplaces have, or could institute, a code of conduct which includes personal decorations.
Charles Becker (Politically Non-binary)
I am really curious about this pronoun business in business communication. Who decided that the new law of the land is that everybody gets to pick their pronouns, however misaligned they may be to their publicly visibly persona, and everybody else needs to learn this and memorize? Who has time for this?
Betty (Germany)
I do.
Massachusetts Mom (MA)
@AAACT But you had no problem with the letter writer who wasn't addressed by their proper name. Seems like being called by the right name and the right pronouns are pretty similar. Sure, they're easy to get wrong and make mistakes, but as a courtesy, I try to get them right. Don't you?
Emily (Queens, NY)
@AAACT Well, most of us have decided that people are free to choose their own nicknames and that people who can't remember them are jerks. So, same logic. If you wouldn't call someone by the wrong name, why would you call someone by the wrong pronoun? You have no idea what their backstory is.
VPM (Houston TX)
I take issue with the columnist's advice about the cross. Religious objects that are displayed so that they "confront" the viewer's line of vision are not appropriate in an office, especially if they are large. The only purpose that I can see for them is to proclaim the owner's faith to the rest of the world. Why is that necessary in an office setting? Is the owner trying to ward off in advance some types of behavior that could be offensive to his sensibilities? It's pretty easy to establish in very short order that one is intolerant of swearing or dirty jokes, although that shouldn't even be needed in a business setting. I really can't see any other reason that it would be necessary to remind everyone who comes into the office of the beliefs of the owner (unless indeed some confrontational or provocative motivation is at work). The owner should be secure enough in his/her faith not to have to have it recognized daily by the rest of the office.
Pet Peeve (Somewhere in the general vicinity of NYC)
@VPM "are not appropriate in an office, especially if they are large" How large is "large"?
VPM (Houston TX)
@Pet Peeve When it's among the first three things that a visitor notices when entering the office space, it's too large. Although I don't really see why it needs to be there in the first place, as I said in my original comment.
Pet Peeve (Somewhere in the general vicinity of NYC)
@VPM We don't know how large the item in question really is. Your "first three things" criteria make sense, except when someone else is more bothered that they see it when up close, even if it's not "large". That's the the problem. If the workplace has standards for decorating, they need to be consistent, applyed everyone, not just about religious displays, and clear to the point of listing exact dimensions of the allowed and disallowed items. There are lots of things I don't want to see at work. If they are not illegal or disallowed by policy, I look away.
Bucketomeat (The Zone)
The new employee is (perhaps with put realizing it) letting his colleagues know he is armed. Many of us have out outside interests and feel quite passionate about them, but when’s the last time any of us has seen a picture of a co-worker wielding a pastry bag piping dough, or a spade digging an asparagus bed? The choice to display this particular interest is telling and bears watching, perhaps reporting.
Atticus1 (Pittsburgh)
@Bucketomeat He totally knows. That is the purpose.
Bloomington Cook (Bloomington, IN)
I'm inclined to agree that displays of guns in the workplace are implicitly threatening, particularly if it is not a picture on the desk, but a display on the wall. I'm wondering if the mediocre employee isn't using the implicit threat to avoid the consequences of his(?) mediocrity. As a supervisor, I'd think twice and very carefully when giving a less than stellar performance review to an employee who had such a picture on the wall. And no, it isn't the same as a picture of someone fishing. No one kills other people deliberately with a fishing rod.
Sammy Zoso (Chicago)
How simplistic. No one needs to display pictures of guns or people with guns at work. Could be interpreted in today's gun crazy culture as future use of guns - on the job maybe. Farfetched? Hardly. Would a display of pornographic pictures be my business? It's all our business, all of it.
Charles (Boston)
@Sammy Zoso Agreed. Pictures of cock fighting or fox hunting - would they be appropriate in the workplace? In some country's these 'hobbies' are legal.
Thomas B (St. Augustine)
All personalization of the workplace should be ended, then nonsense like this gun thing wouldn't come up. Work is a place for putting the nose to the grindstone and should be utilitarian. This goes for big shots in publicly traded companies too: if they want a fancy office and art in the building they should start and own their own company, not gild their nest with the stockholder's money.
Kristen (PIttsburgh, USA)
@Thomas B LOL!!
Adam (LA)
We truly live in a country where no one is allowed to mind their own business. The person from Columbus really needs to take a good hard look in the mirror.
Stephanie Wood (Bloomfield NJ)
We live in a country where other people try to shove their values down other people's throats, whether it's taking their rights over their own bodies away or taking away their lives with guns.
Brian Levy (New York)
I think guns are a unique situation. Guns kill people and are frightening to many. It's ok to let people know that. That said, guns are the pastime of choice for a lot more normal, reasonable everyday people than your typical New York Times reader would care to admit. Most people just think guns are cool and that being able to defend yourself from a home invasion is good. Shooting them is fun. It's not even political. It becomes political when democrats start talking about taking away those guns. I want guns to be taken away a lot but we can't and we won't. It also becomes political when people use guns to carry out acts of violence and one party decides that that's a sacrifice we're all supposed to be ok with when it would be more reasonable to pass common sense gun control legislation BUT that said, an interest in shooting sports is not alarming or political any more than an interest in wine parties is alarming or political or going to the Paris Theatre on a Sunday afternoon is alarming or political. Roxanne may be painting with a wide brush here, but liberals should be getting more comfortable with guns, not less. (There was a time when this pained me to admit, but I get it now.) They're not going away and they're fun as hell to shoot. People need to understand this. People going postal isn't that common, folks.
nerdrage (SF)
@Brian Levy People going postal may not be that common, but it happens, and why should workers in a workplace tolerate even the tiniest chance it will happen, especially when the threat in question doesn't even sound very good at his job?
C. Mack (San Diego, CA)
@Brian Levy Not that common? Seems like we're hearing about a mass shooting every single week, and sometimes more than one per week. Common-sense gun legislation isn't going to happen until the Republicans (and some of the Dems) stop being owned and operated by the NRA.
Mick hayman (Covington, LA)
@Brian Levy Rubbish. It’s an act of intimidation, probably intentional. the figurative chip on the shoulder.
cynthia (florida)
Misspelling (not a typographical error) a name when it's clearly printed in front of you is a sign of sloppy thinking. I'm confident that that sloppiness is reflected elsewhere in the individual's work.
TrueKansan (Colorado)
I find it unprofessional to have religious displays at work. At most, I would prefer to see only discreet jewelry or similar on the person. We are not at work to bring our personal selves so obviously into the space, even if it's a private, not shared office. As far as guns, many of my former colleagues hunted and had a few photos from a productive hunt. But photos of people simply displaying their weapons is intimidating. What messages are being sent? Huge cross--I'm super-religious and possibly bragging about it? Display of weapons? Don't mess with me? Religious symbols and weaponry photos (and the weapon itself) are items that are very polarizing. Leave them at home.
Pet Peeve (Somewhere in the general vicinity of NYC)
@TrueKansan "At most, I would prefer to see only discreet jewelry or similar on the person" How discreet is "discreet"? Something on the desk stays at the desk. Something on a person goes with them everywhere. How dare they!
TrueKansan (Colorado)
@Pet Peeve a good point. Not everyone has a private space, however. I see I should expand on my thoughts. There should be latitude for customary attire associated with a religion. Some people at work wore necklaces with a small cross. Venturing into forbidding the jewelry opens a big can of worms: what about Muslim head wraps or scarfs? Mennonite women may wear a bonnet. Wearing customary attire is very different from setting up a religious display at a desk. I view it as unprofessional.
DW (Philly)
@Pet Peeve What part of inappropriate at work do you not understand.
AJP (Seattle Wa)
Dear Alisha, people spell my name your way all the time. In solidarity, Alicia.
Candace Kalish (Port Angeles)
To all the posters ranting about the cross: this isn't France. In the US, employers are required by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to make reasonable accommodations to employees' religious beliefs. There are times when accommodation is not reasonable, or even possible. This is not one of them.
Stephanie Wood (Bloomfield NJ)
Accommodation for religion is allowing a person to take a day off to celebrate a religious holiday, or to wear a yarmulke, hijab, etc.
Steve (Idaho)
Dismissing the letter's writers concerns is not giving good advice. How big is the cross? Could they find out more about the situation. What steps could the letter writer take to improve the situation. They are clearly concerned and uncomfortable. Toxic workplaces end up costing employers. Telling the letter writer to 'let this go' is in fact simply terrible advice. As an advice columnist your job is to provide the people who are concerned enough to ask for your help to provide them with helpful advice. Not dismiss their concerns and tell them 'you need to let this go'.
Justin (Fly Over Country)
We used to go shooting as a work team event. My wife, a public school teacher, had a school sponsored party for the staff and their families, that involved coworkers bringing their guns (one teacher brought their working civil war era cannon) and having a picnic and target shooting event. A picture of a guy with some of his friends, holding guns means absolutely nothing. Just leave it alone.
Rick (NE)
Looking at my background growing up poor homeless as a child in various states in the midwest, raised in a ultra conservative home and church, owning weapons, being a combat infantry veteran, living in Nebraska etc most people assume I am so MAGA Trump Supporter, nothing is further from the truth. Granted I work for a fairly conservative company and while I dont have any pictures up since we have returned to the office part time, I have had pictures of teammates from former teams shooting my weapons at a range. I also have pictures of myself driving both my Corvette and various supercars on a race track. My weapons are a hobby that I enjoy and yet I pray daily that I never have to use a weapon in anger again. As for my Vette and driving supercars I also drive a Highlander Hybrid in the winter and anytime the weather looks bad. It is completely possible to have views that seem contradictory i.e. owning multiple weapons but praying that I never would need to use them. Driving a sports car that gets horrible MPG and pollutes but being very excited to eventually purchase an electric vehicle.
Dog lover (America)
I wonder if the first letter writer would find a picture of the employee fishing with friends upsetting. There are people who hunt and eat what they hunt. I cannot object to that as I am a meat eater and a skilled hunter puts an animal to death more humanely than an abattoir does (note I said skilled). I have eaten fish caught by friends. This is a rural/urban divide. Now if the employee shows mental problems, that is different.
Jennie (WA)
@Dog lover Very few people die from fishing pole rampages.
Phil (Boston)
@Jennie You're opening a can of worms with that one...
Rugosa (Boston, MA)
My last name is non-Anglo-Saxon, my first name has common alternate spellings and pronunciations. I've heard many clueless remarks, like "That must be hard for Americans to spell!" I learned a long time ago to correct people with a smile and a little sympathy. "Yeah, it's a tough one." It's better than being irritated all the time.
Patricia Fonseca (Cambridge)
Totally agree. My surname is almost always misspelled (and mispronounced) as Fonesca. Why should I get upset? I just have to make sure it is correct on official forms, that's all. There are more important things in the world to worry about. I do try to spell correctly names I am not familiar with, particular when I am dealing with clients, but sometimes you are in a hurry, the spell corrector messes up etc. Unless someone actually insults me I am not going to bother with my name's spelling in an email.
Stephanie Wood (Bloomfield NJ)
In other countries, people can't figure out Wood, in Italy I said "Come' bosco," and they said, "Oh, Wood!"
Anonymous for obvious reason (Southeast)
Re: Different Strokes Having worked with several rabid gun enthusiasts, I have an issue with this new person at work. He is advertising his love for/facility with guns. No one had best ever let him go because of mediocre work product. What is the policy of carrying a gun in this particular workplace? It is entirely possible and likely that this man has a gun in a concealed carry holster. So, no, letting this go is the wrong thing to do.
Mickela (nyc)
@Anonymous for obvious reason i agree with you.
MattL1 (Dallas, TX)
I have a red Swingline stapler on my desk. I hope nobody takes it as I sign that I'm going to set the building on fire. Even if a coworker gets my name wrong, which happens frequently and, after correcting them once, I take as a serious sign of disrespect.
Andy (va)
Whenever I hear someone refer to their business as family I think of The Godfather, wonder what kind of family business they mean, and remember the line about it not being personal, just business.
LN (Newport Beach)
Guns and religion are not the same. Religions typically advocate for a set of virtues, at least in their core texts. (I see commenters coming for me with the 'what about cults?' and the 'some churches or strains of religion advocate for non-virtuous things' but let's not). Displaying one's membership in a group that our best interpretations should assume is virtuous seems fine. Prayer rug, cross, head scarf, yarmulke - fine to have at work. Guns...well, guns are different. I do not own one, but many people I know, love, and/or respect do. One of my colleagues at a previous job often used the phrase, "That really took me off safety" to describe being angry at vendors' or politicians' behavior. I never said anything because I trusted and respected him and knew it was a turn of phrase not a veiled threat. I probably should have found a way to share my cringe-feel that language which valorizes gun violence could make it harder for him to gain the trust and respect of others. His response to that would have been telling (in his case, I know he would have been reflective, open, and likely willing to change). I might recommend trying a conversation like that around the new-hires gun imagery (definitely NOT the religion). This will require the OP to get to know the new guy first, which could be good for both of them.
Ponk (Philadelphia)
How would you know about the co-worker's interest in guns? If you are hearing about it at work, you have a reason to report it or be concerned.
Andy (va)
@Ponk read the letter - the co-worker has photos in his workspace of himself holding a rifle.
Andrew (Colorado Springs, CO)
RE: different strokes My guess is the dude's trying to use "barely contained threat of violence" kookiness to establish a social position he's not qualified to hold by dint of job performance. I'd suggest simply being professional and otherwise avoid interacting with the dude when possible. Disengage from non-professional interactions politely but quickly - he doesn't need to know about your kid's wedding, you don't need to know about his trip to the gun show. I doubt there's anything in the company manual stating Mx. Anonymous needs to attend the dude's wedding, hang out at the bar or go to church with them, or even discuss anything not work related. Keep it to an exchange of bland pleasantries. My guess is the dude will find others to interact with soon enough As an additional tactic (I read this somewhere sometime - might be good to double-check), if the dude tries to draw Mx. Anonymous into a dominance establishment situation, don't lock eyes (a challenge) and don't drop the gaze (submission). Look at a spot an inch or two over the top of the head. This isn't a part of our species's hierarchy establishment instincts and discombobulates bullies. And I have to think I'd be trying to find another office.
JCallahan (Boston)
All we read is that the work colleague had a picture in his space of he and friends with rifles. Is it just a hunting trip with friends? You might not like it but nothing really wrong there. Is he posing in tactical gear at some sort of militia rally? Yeah that might be cause for some alarm. Nuance matters.
David (Vermont)
@JCallahan Agreed. A better description of the photo would have helped.
Johannah S (Mpls)
@JCallahan Nuance could matter a lot in how HR approaches this employee, but I don't think the details matter for deciding whether to address it: he's displaying pictures of weapons in the workplace.
Cyba (The Un-United States Of America)
I had a poor performing colleague who was having all sorts of conflicts at work with many different people, e.g. he was transferred to a different Division b/c his previous director thought he was incompetent and then got into the same type of problems in the new Division. I recall him bringing up his gun hobby apropos of nothing happening in the conversation, it made me uncomfortable, like he was signaling a warning. I don’t think displaying pictures with firearms at work is appropriate at all and it absolutely creates an uncomfortable work environment. If a colleague has pictures of himself with firearms, I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving him feedback/criticism (or even interacting with the person) b/c I would be afraid that he would snap and shoot up the place. We have yearly workplace violence training so maybe I am paranoid.
Mary Bullock (Staten Island NY)
@Cyba A paranoid is someone who is in possession of all the facts.
Martine (Texas)
When I worked for Nameless Huge Bank they did not allow desk decorations of any kind. No family photos no religious folderol, etc. It was actually one of the few things I liked about working there! And I bet the cleaning crew enjoyed not having to clean around all that personal clutter. One of your team members uses nonbinary pronouns I think it is your team leader that needs to lead on this one not you as an equal team member. You need to talk to your leadership and not bypass the chain of command. It might be easier to change your name than to get people to spell it right. Losing battle.
knbonerh (skdlngd)
@Martine The letter writer says that they are the supervisor.
Elizabeth (New Jersey)
I know this doesn't directly answer the questions about professionalism but for the life of me I can't figure out why guns and crosses go together - often in ostentatious display. Looking back at 12 years of catholic education, I venture to say that Jesus would be the LAST person carrying an assault rifle. Do these people ever read what Jesus actually said? You know, love thy neighbor, turn the other cheek. The hypocrisy would make me insane on a daily basis!
Molly Bloom (Tri-State)
@Elizabeth Google :"Jesus" and "Guns" Then look at the Etsy Page. Be prepared for an awakening.
Tristram Shandy (AZ)
We don’t know what he actually said. While someone named Yeshua almost certainly existed, the books are just fairy tales.
Martine (Texas)
@Elizabeth The religious right wing has very little to do with the teachings of Jesus.
Paul (California)
Totally appreciate Roxane's firm response to the letter re: pictures of guns. There are a hundred million gun owners in the U.S. Very few of them use the guns to commit crimes. Hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. are religious. Atheists are increasing in number but remain a minority of the population. Would the person who wrote the letter be upset with a co-worker who put up a rainbow flag or a "Black Lives Matter" sign? Of course not. Americans have the right to express themselves at work unless a specific workplace rule prohibits it. And if such rules exist, they must be entirely unbiased, broadly based and for the most part, based on safety or customer-relations concerns. The writer is an intolerant liberal who clearly lives in a bubble of people who share their own views. They need to get out more and meet some folks who don't agree with everything they believe. Maybe they can start by getting to know the new co-worker instead of trying to get them fired.
Matthew (Burlington, Vermont)
@Paul The difference here is the co-worker openly put working with a "far-right" politician on their resume (or otherwise informed the employee about it). The American far-right is defined by intolerance and bigotry directed at non-white people, women, and LGTQ+ folks. Knowing this man endorses and/or tolerates these beliefs and is also in possession of deadly weapons, is more than enough cause for concern, especially if the asker is a member of those of those targeted classes.
James A. (NJ)
@Paul Liberals aren't committing mass shootings in the name of intolerance and white supremacy.
Molly Bloom (Tri-State)
@Paul "Would the person who wrote the letter be upset with a co-worker who put up a rainbow flag or a "Black Lives Matter" sign? Of course not." Are you familiar with the phrase that begins "“When you assume..."?
Dot Beech (Albany, NY)
Ms. Gay's advice about ignoring personal work place decoration is absurd. If her co-worker's personal style choices included posting magazine centerfolds of naked women, I suspect she would not find that something she personally had to ignore, "however repugnant" she found them. Guns in a work place are obviously hostile. Pushing particular religious imagery onto co-workers is another obviously hostile act.
Amrie (DC)
@Dot Beech Well, that would be illegal, so I'm sure Ms Gay's advice would indeed be different.
Gerry L (Oregon)
Many years ago, the company where I worked fired an employee I supervised. It was “with cause” (i.e., lying about work product) but she was a new hire still on probation so they just told her they would not be keeping her on and added “and you know why” in case she was thinking of calling a lawyer. I was angry that she had been lying to us and cheating and was glad she was gone. The next Monday, the big news story in town was the start of a trial of a guy who had returned to the company that had fired him with a gun and shot up the place and his former boss and coworkers. I was a bit jumpy for several days. If she had been someone who decorated her cubicle with images of firearms, I might have been calling in sick … for weeks.
Pet Peeve (Somewhere in the general vicinity of NYC)
@Gerry L She didn't post pictures at work of herself with guns, but she might well have been a gun enthusiast. You would never have known. At least with the employee mentioned here, the coworkers have some information and can choose how they want to be interact with them.
Graham Hackett (Oregon)
The first letter makes me want to put a giant upside cross on my desk and see what happens.
Bucketomeat (The Zone)
@Graham Hackett I’d buy you the beverage of your choice.
Charles (Boston)
@Graham Hackett Exactly. How about some Satanist paraphernalia, would that be appropriate in the workplace?
Dawn (KY)
@Graham Hackett How about voodoo effigies of coworkers? ;)
Molly Bloom (Tri-State)
When You’re Here, You’re Family-Is the CEO Michael Scott?
Jonas Kaye (NYC)
Hearing about this kid with such extreme beliefs is really sad. Why he feels the need to signal so clearly to his colleagues that he's a violent Christian fundamentalist is a mystery to me. Putting photographs of yourself with a rifle in your workplace is absolutely threatening behavior.
Fshapiroip (Miami Beach)
I think this comment is unfair. The photo with a group holding rifles is more likely something the guy has to remember some pleasant event-the hunting trip his dad took him and his brothers on when he graduated high school. His dad has since passed from Covid-but he still has that picture to remind him of happier times. That is admittedly a fantasy I just made up-but a lot likelier than your fantasy about veiled threats. As for the cross-maybe his mom have him that to remind him to be kind to others-to always give them the benefit of the doubt. Another fantasy-but still more likely than your spooky one. These alternate explanations make clear the wisdom of Ms Gay’s advice.
MattL1 (Dallas, TX)
@Jonas Kaye Seems like a hunter. I have a lot of family members and friends who hunt, and many are Christians. I would describe exactly zero of them as "violent Christian fundamentalists." Not everyone is the worst stereotype you can imagine based on very limited information.
Lisa Watters (Brisbane)
@MattL1 I'm not a hunter or a Christian but I couldn't agree with you more. What Jonas Kaye calls 'extreme beliefs' are the norm for many Americans and to demonise them does nothing but put a further distance between us all.
pjc (Cleveland)
Crucial point is no clients will see. That gives broader leeway. If clients, I'll keep my signed picture of Bill Shatner to myself. If no clients, come on! It's my work space, as Ms. Gay points out. Have a little mercy! I ... beg
Elaine Taylor (Olympia, WA)
@pjc But it's not YOUR workspace. It belongs to the company.
diana collins (charlotte)
No, religious displays at work are not professional!
Pet Peeve (Somewhere in the general vicinity of NYC)
@diana collins There is freedom of religion in this country, remember? That means that individuals may express their religious connection at work and elsewhere. It might be through a head covering or a cross on their desk. Unless the person is imposing their religion on others or the workplace is a public institution where it might seem as if one religion is being favored or promoted over the others,let it be. The gun imagery may be more "triggering" but if other people are allowed to have their personal flair on display this must be permitted too. If someone puts their creepy clown or doll collection all over their space, I might be less charitable.
Karl (Pa.)
@Pet Peeve No it does not. People always forget that the Bill of Rights ends at the threshold. The employer has every right to ban religious icons at work and the cross is just that. I am so tired of people who want to rub my nose in their religion. Clothing is a little different. This is why company policy should be set up ahead of time so all these things are worked out. If people want to talk about their religion during breaks or lunch that is their prerogative. But they should not be surprised when no one wants to sit with them.
Nick (NYC)
@diana collins Would you say that to a Jew in a yarmulke?
alexander hamilton (new york)
Re: the new hire, shooting is an Olympic sport, and hunting is legal in all 50 states. "Anonymous" over-generalizing much? Maybe "Anonymous" could try speaking to the new co-worker instead of reporting him to HR, learning about him and making him feel welcome in his new place of employment. As for the cross, must we prohibit all women who do so from wearing one on a chain around their necks? They're just as visible. I once had a co-worker who joined us from another company. He was VERY religious, and it came to his attention at some point that I had no use for organized religion. We had many interesting conversations, as he was no more "threatened" by my views than I by his. One day, he asked me if I believed in heaven. I said no. The next day I gave him a set of CDs by Francois Couperin to listen to. I explained that even though I didn't think heaven existed, well, if it did, I had a fair idea what it might sound like. Why is civility so hard for some people?
northlander (Michigan)
Offices, cells, cubicles, prisons.
Observer (NYC)
RE: Different Strokes - I'm old enough to remember, as a female employee, being in the office of male employees and enduring Penthouse and Playboy nude centerfolds on the walls, under their desk mats, etc, and being extremely uncomfortable, not knowing which way to look while discussing work related issues. This was apparently their "hobby." Does that make it ok? Re-think that terrible answer while you contemplate that coworkers of today will feel every bit as anxious, uncomfortable with other colleague's symbols of their so called "hobbies."
@Observer So my hobby is protesting, and my symbol is a BLM sign. Can the company force me to take it down if someone complains that it makes them feel anxious? Or will you decide that it's the complainer who has the problem? People unhappy with the cross and the guns likely come from a demographic that would have no issue with the BLM sign (just as a demographic that would have no problem with a cross or the guns might not like the sign). Rather than turning this into a 1st Amendment/2nd Amendment debate, if you're really bothered by it, then the request to HR should be to set a policy that says no personal effects at all on your desk. Because otherwise any line drawing is just going to suppress the minority view in favor of the majority. (And trust me, there's a reason why a lot of businesses have exactly that "no personal effects" policy. It's to avoid situations just like this one.)
Pet Peeve (Somewhere in the general vicinity of NYC)
@Observer Sexual harassment laws in many places specifically prohibit displays of nude or sexually provocative photos in the workplace . Other offensive material may have to be tolerated. If I worked in a place that allowed something I couldn't personally tolerate though not prohibited by law or policy, I would reluctantly seek other employment.
Jeremy Bounce Rumblethud (California)
Why not be a traditionally open minded liberal and ask your new colleague to take you to a range and introduce you to firearms? You will discover that the many shooting sports are huge fun and great exercises in mindfulness. You will also discover that firearms enthusiasts are perfectly decent, ordinary people, and very welcoming to interested newcomers. Along with abortion, guns are the biggest divide in our fractured American society. Talking to 'the other side' is the only way we can start to heal the divides, and because shooting sports are so engaging and wholly unrelated to violent crime, this is the easiest one to tackle.
Johannah S (Mpls)
@Jeremy Bounce Rumblethud I'm a liberal who hunts. Good for me! That doesn't mean displaying pictures of weapons at work is appropriate. I'd be happy to talk to this employee about hunting over lunch, but I would also ask him to take down the gun pics.
Jeremy Bounce Rumblethud (California)
@Johannah S As am I, and I also agree with you about being unnecessarily provocative at work. Our society is riven by enough strife and outrage without going out of our way to whip up more.
Stephanie Wood (Bloomfield NJ)
I notice that "the other side" doesn't take our point of view into consideration, that maybe the 2nd amendment doesn't include the right to possess assault weapons, and that freedom of religion doesn't mean imposing your will on a woman's body.
Colin (Canada)
"You need to let this go. Your colleague has every right to his affinities, however repugnant you find them." Anonymous definitely should not let this go. You may be able to live with yourself Ms. Gay when the new employee goes postal, but Anonymous deserves to know that they have done everything they could to prevent the next daily massacre that the US is experiencing.
Observer (NYC)
@Colin glad you shared this which was also my take-away. I'll go further and hope the organization in question has covered themselves by establishing IT network log scans of his activity on their owned computers/devices to track what he looks at on their time.
Amrie (DC)
@Colin This is a ridiculous reply. Do you know how many Americans own guns? There is no reason whatsoever to suspect that the person in the letter is crazy.
JL Clarkson (Palm Springs, CA)
I once worked with a non-religious colleague who objected to a lower-level employee in another department closing her emails with the salutation "have a blessed day." I'm also non-religious and thought the salutation was a bit unprofessional, but basically innocuous and well-intentioned. The employee using this salutation was someone who wouldn't be interacting with people outside the company, so I didn't see any harm. To my surprise, the company made her stop using the salutation.
Kathy (SC)
@JL Clarkson The phrase "Have a blessed day" is used quite commonly in my area of the South. I doubt folks around here would give it a second thought. I'm not particularly religious myself but I find it rather sweet and harmless. I imagine the company didn't want to irritate an employee over something fairly minor though.
Thomas B (St. Augustine)
@Kathy When people tell me to have a blessed day I reply that I'm doing my damnedest to avoid having one.
Bucketomeat (The Zone)
@Kathy Wouldn’t “have a lovely” suffice?
Betty (Germany)
I find it important to get people's names right. If you can't even take the time to learn their name, what does it say about everything else in your relationship? When contacting someone new whose name I haven't heard before, I take the time to google it and find out wether it's male or female, so I can adress this person right (as far as I can know, pronouns would be helpful!). It really doesn't take much to be kind to people. Everybody can make a mistake and in my experience most people are sorry when corrected. Just be nice about it, perhaps do it with a little joke, and hopefully, people will learn to do better.
Khal Spencer (Los Alamos, NM)
If a company discriminates against workplace imagery, it should be content neutral. So no guns, fine. No conservative causes, fine. In that case, no bicycles, motorcycles, flowerpots, liberal causes, etc. Otherwise, this descends into pettiness and content based discrimination. Grow up. I had a Los Alamos Sportsman's Club sticker on my personal fridge, which I donated to the team I was with when I retired. Last time I wandered by, it was in the conference room, sticker and all. Live and let live. You don't like guns? I am sure someone else doesn't like puppies.
Null (TX)
This is accurate. I work in a diverse office where people of differing faiths proudly display religious imagery. Everyone is ok with it. The same goes for hobbies, politics, etc.
LL (Oakland)
@Khal Spencer My workplace (in liberal San Francisco) DID ask me to remove liberal political imagery I displayed at my work station during the 2016-2020 presidential administration. The reason I was given was that someone might "walk by, glance over and be offended." The only way anyone could have "glanced over" would have involved a severe neck twist or leaping over a partition. But I complied.
Paula (New York)
@Khal Spencer When was the last time the news reported people dead after a dog lover took a puppy into a grocery store? They are not the same thing and you're using a false equivalence. Having up pictures with guns at work comes across as a potential threat towards your coworkers.
jrk (new york)
Does this boss expect anyone to believe that his assessment of performance is completely separate from the political views he held? That if the cubicle were decorated differently the employee wouldn't suddenly become more competent? The employee may or may not be good. The boss is an HR nightmare setting his firm up for lots of trouble.
SB (SoCal)
@jrk yeah that letter was full of clues. a letter from a busybody, the kind that sucks the air out of every workplace leaving it dull, and putting everyone on thin ice for little infractions
Karl (Pa.)
@jrk He did not say he was his boss and from the letter I think he is not given the fact he did not hire him.
kmarker (Austin, TX)
My employer also refers to the organization "family." It's not a family, never was never will be. People who were integral to the success of the organization were fired at the start of the pandemic without notice. I watched as others were fired without cause as well, and without notice. "Family" tries to work things out so that members are protected, not pushed out the door at the first opportunity. I agree with what you wrote: "When employers suggest that the company is a family, they’re trying to garner your emotional investment so that you overlook everything else. When it’s time for layoffs, I can assure you that the word “family” will disappear from the company vernacular."
Karl (Pa.)
@kmarker Just say that for personal reasons at home it is time for me to move on. Don't explain anything. I have heard of people who 'loved' their job. Giving all there time to it,even sleeping there in their office. They are always bewildered when they are fired.
Pam Shira Fleetman (Acton Massachusetts)
I'm very disappointed at Ms. Gay's answer to the first question about the work colleague who displays a cross and photos of rifles. From working in office environments, I know that staff are often admonished about behavior that's considered "unprofessional." I saw a staff member reprimanded for eating curry at his desk (in an office where many people ate lunch at their desks). Apparently some people don't like the aroma of curry. And at a different company, I knew of a female staff member who was reprimanded for wearing "unprofessional" clothing. Admittedly her clothing was more low cut than usual, but I don't think it was so inappropriate as to be commented upon. When working, if I had posted anything on my cubicle walls that offended people, I'm sure I would have been asked to take it down. And blatant religious symbols have no place in the office. I think this new employee should be asked (in a polite way) to take down the materials in his cubicle.
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
@Pam Shira Fleetman I worked as a salesman for a small company that made lots of a miscellaneous steel product found in nearly every industrial facility. One of the firms I called on was a large engineering firm in the Pasadena area. The staff were housed in a large building furnished like the entry way of a luxurious mansion or hotel with the buyers in a below ground level corridor lined with glass partitioned offices raised a step higher than the floor providing egress and ingress. Each was dressing in dark suits with white shirts and dark ties. All brought their lunches in brown paper bags.
Livonian (Los Angeles)
@Pam Shira Fleetman "And blatant religious symbols have no place in the office." Why is that? Would you demand that a Muslim woman remove her hajib, or ask a Sikh to shave his beard? These are, after all, "blatant religious symbols." Finally, please remind me: it's religious people who are intolerant ones, right?
Jeff (Buffalo)
@Pam Shira Fleetman Do you differentiate between a cross on a desk and a cross on necklace worn every day at work?
"You need to let this go." No, you don't. This is offensive imagery. Not something, say, like cats you're not thrilled about. Tell HR. And, if you get no action, think of some other place of employment. This is not an okay message. It's gives off a dangerous vibe and you need to consider your own safety before anything else. The workplace is not the place for political views to be shouted out.
Brian Levy (New York)
@TSV Liking guns isn't as political as you think for most Americans. They're problematic and wanting gun control wouldn't be controversial in a perfect world, but most people in this country just kinda like to shoot and enjoy the perceived assurance that they're able to defend their property if needed.
Nick (NYC)
@TSV Trying to silence or reprimand a coworker for their perceived political affiliations sure sounds, to me, like "shouting out" your own politics.
@Nick OMGosh. Are we getting into the pot calling the kettle black?? For heaven's sake. This is the line in the sand. Guns kill. And, when we go to work, we should not have to be reminded of their lethal potential.
Nobody (Nowhere)
For Leading by Example, I would NOT send an email to the entire group mandating pronoun use, unless you are sure that is what your employee wants. Even if you don't mention your non-binary colleague everyone will know it is about them. Instead, just ask the employee in a casual setting if the status quo bothers them? Simply letting them know that *you* are making the effort and are being supportive will mean a great deal. You could express some sadness that the rest of the team is not following your lead and ask if they would like you to send an email reminding people to do so or if they prefer that you not call attention to it. Trying to mandate compliance could cause a backlash and stir up more problems for your employee. There is an important distinction between the careless substitution of 'he' or 'she' for the prefered 'they', which is simply due to habit or inattentiveness, and the deliberate mis-gendering of a colleague (eg substituting 'it' instead of 'them'). Deliberate misgendering is an insult and therefore a form a harassment. It is grounds for an immediate rebuke and escalation to HR if it doesn't stop. Let your employee know that you have no tollerance for that and would like to know if it happens, but folloe their lead when it comes to deciding how much of a fuss to make over more benign errors.
Christopher Slevin (Michigan In)
Where did you come up with this notion? Have you not been following the gruesome murders over the past few years. The number of mass killings using military stile weapons is unique to the USA. I am 79 years old and never held a weapon in my hand. This is not to say that responsible adults should not be allowed to possess weapons for hunting and self protection. That right is enshrined in the constitution which I respect. However there’s no justification for possession of deadly high power weapons specially when they are so easy to obtain. It’s my belief that that if there was a ballot initiative to allow or not to allow civilians to possess these dangerous and deadly weapons the majority of the electorate would vote to prohibit the possession of military style weapons by civilians
Amy ODowd (Ithaca)
@Christopher Slevin - the post didn't say they were military rifles. They could have been hunting rifles. It's the photo that the NY Times used for the story that suggests an affinity for military-style weapons.
Christopher Slevin (Michigan In)
Regardless automatic or semi automatic weapons have no part in the hands of civilians. Further unstable individuals should not be allowed to have weapons period. His comment about wanting to kill people as only been a joke should have been a red flag to both the school and the police. Ten families have been robbed of loved ones as a result of the failure of our system to protect them
Stephanie Wood (Bloomfield NJ)
That right is NOT enshrined in the Constitution, which permits firearms for "a well-regulated militia." Does anyone who owns a gun belong to a well-regulated militia? That could be interpreted as The National Guard. By the way, slavery was also "enshrined in the Constitution." Other countries no longer live under governments established by stupid, 18th century men.
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
This discussion over guns and who if any should be allowed to have them is not about public safety nor the risks of violent death, it's about group thinking where those affiliated with one group sees those not affiliated as others who are strangers and likely adversaries, even existential threats. Before the assassinations of great leaders in the U.S.A. during the 1960's, most people knew people who owned guns and did trust them to be responsible with them. There were clear exceptions where people committed suicide or homicide or had accidents due to foolishness but nobody thought the guns were the causes. But then both Kennedy brothers, and even Gov. Wallace were shot by random gunmen, as well as a number of Civil Rights leader including Martin Luther King. That was when the blame for gun violence became linked to any who owned and used guns in their private lives. Since that time gun owners are all seen to be survivalists or anti-social types who pose a clear and present danger. The response has been refusal of gun owners to approve of any measures that might prevent gun violence by anybody because they become a means to identify who have guns so that they can be found and removed at any time. It's a primary issue in culture wars, now. So if one does use guns and shares that interest with others it's not like fishing but seen as a threat.
Paul (California)
@Casual Observer In many states/areas, most people still know people who own guns. This entire piece is representative of how intolerant Americans have become of people with other interests and opinions. Liberals want everyone to respect diversity, but only when they get to define the term "diversity".
Elizabeth (Philadelphia)
@Paul I am exceptionally tired of people who consider themselves conservative labeling “liberals” (meaning all liberals) complicit in whatever activity is being criticized. I am liberal and while I believe “diversity” as a goal is necessary to the health of our nation, I do not feel that only means liberal attitudes. I think only when we all stop attributing blanket impulses, reactions and motivations to groups will we be moving in the right direction.
zarathustra (VA)
@Paul Nice try, but no cigar. Workplaces only function when people put their individual tastes and inclinations aside so as not to offend. What if I put up Playboy centerfold pics in my cubicle next to a devout Christian...they are certainly (hopefully) less threatening than you think HR would tolerate it for one minute. It's funny that we live in a culture that is more offended by breasts than they are by guns. Maybe a Freudian analysis of gun culture is not so off base after all.
navamske (New Jersey)
I worked at a place with a terrible boss. She criticized my work and at one point put me on "probation," saying we would revisit the issue in three months. At the three-month point I asked if we could discuss the situation, and she was like, "Oh, I don’t have time for that now." That was when I started looking for another job. I got one and gave my resignation to her boss, because she was on vacation. My last day was her first day back, and she said, "I wish you had been honest with me about what you were doing." That was thirty-five years ago, and to this day I regret not saying, "Oh come on, you know it doesn’t work like that."
Michael R (Northeast USA)
We are in disagreement about what "behaving professionally" means. A large wooden cross on your desk? Fine, if you work in a church! Otherwise, no absolutely not. The coworker's personal beliefs became everyone's business the moment he put a "large wooden cross" on his desk. Part of being professional generally means no dramatic displays of one's life outside of work, especially when it comes to religiosity, sexuality, and violence.
music observer (nj)
@Michael R Curious, what do you mean about dramatic displays of ones sexuality outside the office in the office? Does that mean someone partnered with a same sex partner shouldn't have pictures of their spouse..and if so, then why are pictures of a husband or wife in an opposite sex marriage "displaying their sexuality" if that is what you meant?
Paul Lagarde (Greater Boston)
@Michael R that sounds great until Florida passes a law about public school teachers discussing sexuality and using their own orientation as a basis or example, right? It feels like your definition of professional is pretty narrow and excludes a lot of territory that I imagine most readers of this newspaper would support?
Caledonia (Massachusetts)
No yarmulkes allowed? Seriously?
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
The efforts to normalize natural behaviors that really are different from the norms by introducing new pronouns or repurposing old ones to be used with all previous versions is well intended by it tends to increase confusion in the use of words that require knowledge of the context to understand what is being conveyed. English is full of such written and identically pronounced words. Pronouns are meant to refer to some already known to the listener proper nouns. The gender based pronouns become a source of micro-aggressions to those who feel that they are not the gender which their bodies present. So to avoid that affect of being so affected, all others must wait for the disclosure to know the correct pronoun. That means the vast majority who identify with their bodies' gender must query everyone to find the few who do not. The use of the plural third person, "they", is to be used regularly as the first person when referring to someone who does identify with the body they have, or to use new words like, "zie" or "zir", greatly complicates the deciphering of what people are saying to each other.
Gorg (California)
@Casual Observer The singular "they" doesn't really exist. In most settings with more than two people, especially a group email setting, it pretty quickly becomes useless or outright confusing. If there are two or more people who prefer "they," it absolutely fails to do anything except confuse. I have several non-binary coworkers and the end result is that they end up just being referred to by name repeatedly in most communication. I'm open to solutions, but "they" doesn't really cut it, and even fairly accepting folks don't seem to take proposals like Zie or Xie seriously.
Jeff (Buffalo)
@Gorg If there are two or more people who prefer "he," it absolutely fails to do anything but confuse. Likewise for two or more who prefer "she." The rule is still a third person pronoun is understood to refer to the nearest antecedent. And the rule is still if the use of a pronoun is confusing as to its referent, don't use a pronoun. And Shakespeare disagrees with your claim about the singular "they."
Morgan (Alberta, Canada)
There’s Per and Person, I was hoping for that from “Women on the Edge of Time” by Marge Piercy who wrote that in the 1980s, I believe; so none of this new.
joseph smith (hawaii)
Why should you keep quiet and this new person in the office be allowed to "show off his passions"? Tolerance is a great quality but looking the other way does have consequences. A cross at work? How about you displaying pictures of every mass shooting victim that has occurred this year?
AN (Austin, TX)
@joseph smith cross: Is there a policy forbidding display of personal religion? If not, move on. Or feel free display your own religion symbol. mass shootings: false equivalence - displaying photos of mass shootings has nothing to do with any of the employees. The employee is displaying photos of activities he participates in. Other employees are free to do the same as long as there is nothing illegal about their activities.
Paul Lagarde (Greater Boston)
how about it? until the unnamed conservative and Roxane Gay both object to displaying images of mass shooting victims, there's no hypocrisy; and until the writer displays those images, there's no virtue in the idea. Backing someone into a corner by assuming they'll object to an action that no one undertook is a shoddy way to live life.
Lawrence (Long Island)
@joseph smith I find the intolerance you are advocating very strange. My office has pics of my family and friends, a pride flag, and some magnets that relate to hobbies. Maybe my pride flag offends somebody. I've never heard any of the 100+ people working in my building complain about my stuff or about anyone else's stuff. I'm grateful to work at a place where everyone is relaxed and decent to each other regardless of affiliations and interests. What happened to live and let live?
Penn (Pennsylvania)
Being the Life Cereal Mikey of advice columns, I read these problems and answers, not expecting to agree with the responses. I agree 100%. I'm going to go lie down now.
NETransplant (NEast)
Sorry no. Guns make some people understandably uncomfortable. There's no place for that in workplace
AN (Austin, TX)
@NETransplant Person didn't bring a gun to work. There are lots of people that own guns and do hunting (I am against most gun ownership). Do employers require employees to not own guns or hide the fact that they own guns? No.
aamike (New York)
@NETransplant Strong perfume, stupid conversations, Disney World photos with only adults ... all make me "uncomfortable" (let's leave aside the part as to who should judge what is understandable). Ban them all to accommodate the overly sensitive person that I am?
Matt (Ohio)
@NETransplant In whose workplace? I know many places where that would feel completely appropriate, eg, the Cabella's corporate HQ. To put it mildly, there are a lot of offices in the country. Must every place adhere to your standards of comfort?
Kate M (Atlanta)
It’s so easy to get annoyed by things like folks misspelling your name, but I think the author will find herself much happier if she makes like Elsa and lets it go. Someone else’s misspelling isn’t about her, it’s not on purpose - heck, it might not even be their error! Autocorrect is a blessing and a curse.
L Wolf (Tahoe)
@Kate M The issue of misspelled names has been around forever, and is certainly neither intentional nor something to take offense at. My parents had very odd names, and went to great lengths to try and make sure ours were common ones that wouldn't need explanations. Never works. As for last names? We have family names that include Hayes (Hays, Haze) and Smith (Smythe, Smyth). And with the new "creative" spellings of names (Courtney, Kourney, Courtnee, Kortnee) it's only going to continue.
vreme (Lubbock, TX)
@Kate M -- I agree. I have an actual (not invented) name, that has nonetheless been unusual in the US for most of the 57 years I've had it. I spell it in its standard spelling. I have had every variation, pronunciation, and spelling of it over the years, and frankly, it is really not worth getting upset about. It's usually pretty clear if someone is talking to me! I especially do not understand people with common names with invented spellings becoming upset on this point, as confusion in that case is quite predictable. In the great scheme of things in life, this is very very very inconsequential.
Thomas B (St. Augustine)
@vreme Yeah, if people misspell their own (common) name then that's their problem, not mine. The Irish name Sean is often mispronounced in America and that has led to a variety of comical misspellings and even new names. Only Harps should use Sean.
mhmercer (Alameda, Ca)
Respond by posting signs in the office like: "Anthrax for the home? Ask me how.", and "Pol Pot was right".
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
The inappropriately possessive C.E.O. is going to learn of the interviews whether the questioner wants him to or not. The word will get out whether it's through checks into backgrounds of applicants to idle talk between acquaintances in competing firms. Since the C.E.O. has brought it up and explicitly said that he wants to be advised of his employees efforts to interview for other opportunities, do so. He is likely to try to offer incentives to stay but at the least retains his desire of a trusting relationship.
teresa (Eugene, Oregon)
@Casual Observer I agree with Roxane on that one. The CEO will only mistreat him or create strife if he tells him. It is the CEOs problem, not the employee's. I've worked for private employers who want this "family" atmosphere ... what they really mean is that they want you to be loyal. It doesn't mean they won't fire you. It doesn't mean they'll pay you well. And, it's naive and self-serving, in my opinion, for a CEO to think they've created "family" ... unless they've given the company to the employees and it's now a cooperative - THEN, you can talk about family! : ) Until then, you are the one holding the power and pretending it's not so is a bit insulting.
Ashley (Canada)
@teresa I totally agree with you. If OP is actively looking, there's absolutely no benefit to telling CEO. They will be first on the list for cuts because they "already have a foot out the door".
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
@teresa It's the old fear of seeing what one does not wish to see, pointless. If one cannot avoid the scrutiny, then face it with eyes wide open. At least you will know what to expect.
DW (Philly)
Good answers to all questions. Re: the dude proudly displaying his cross and his guns (in pictures) in his cubicle, I do personally feel that imagery glorifying violence or weaponry should be considered inappropriate in the workplace. It's potentially threatening. Perhaps HR needs to announce a policy. My job now is mostly remote, and while there are some things I miss about the office, worrying that a co-worker was going to snap and come in shooting is no longer one of them, and for that I'm grateful.
Amy ODowd (Ithaca)
@DW - The picture could have been of this employee and friends on a hunting trip. That doesn't make him a potential mass shooter.
Alex (Los Angeles)
@DW Oh, come on. So you think displaying that famous photo of Cassius Clay standing over Sonny Liston would be inappropriate? How about a photo of my child competing in an archery or martial arts competition? Or a football game?
J (US of A)
@DW Bad news, millions of Americans enjoy firearms on a daily basis and they are not "glorifying violence" or being "threatening". If someone in passing discussion said they liked the movie "gladiator" would you accuse them of glorifying violence and notify HR? The Times photo of course is triggering because it shows an office with a gun on the wall which would pretty much be illegal in most places but its more upsetting to the leftist readers here. Millions of your fellow Americans use and enjoy guns; they have no desire to hurt anyone.
david (outside boston)
it drives me out of my mind when i meet someone for the first time and they say "Nice to meet you, Dave", after i introduced myself as "David", because that's my name. Miss Manners wrote a solution to this which i tried once. she wrote that one should say, "I know it looks like it's pronounced "Dave" but it's really "David." well, i tried that at work one day and there was a sharp indignant intake of breath around the lunch table and at least one person got up and left. so much for that. it might have been the way said it. i still struggle with the issue.
Mls (usa)
@david That was such a good line from Ms Manners... Perhaps just practice delivery a bit more to bring out the funny-ness of it rather than the sarcasm? On the other hand these co-workers seem a bit sensitive - it's okay not to use the name you have introduced yourself as, and you shouldn't be so touchy, but they get bent out of shape when you mention (again) how you should be addressed? Maybe "it's David, actually" is enough of a statement. Good luck!
chrisinroch (Rochester ny)
@david It seems like quite a dramatic response from the lunch table. I'm guessing that it was the way you said it. I wouldn't ever take Miss Manners advice on what to say; she's known to be pretty snarky, just for fun. Can you just say, in a friendly way, something like "No one has called me Dave since my Great Aunt Ethel when I was two. Everyone calls me David."
CT Resident (Waterbury, CT)
@david When I interviewed with my current boss, I asked him, Do you prefer Mike or Michael? Later, when I was interviewing prospects for an assistant position, I similarly inquired, Do you prefer Steve or Steven? Myself having a name that is often mispronounced or misspelled has, perhaps, made me particularly sensitive to others' preferences in this regard.
See also