Many of us have been in situations at work where we felt the need to report something we saw or experienced, but some of us never found the strength to report it.
But when something particularly unsavory happens, it gives us little room to ignore what happened.
One woman found herself in this situation, as she explained in the “Am I the A**hole?” (AITA) subReddit, after her supervisor used the “n-word” during a company Zoom call.
And though Redditor notalotasleep knew she had done the right thing in reporting her supervisor, she still wondered if she was wrong for how she’d gone about it.
The Original Poster (OP) asked the sub:
“AITA? [I reported my] supervisor to HR for comment during Zoom meeting (which I recorded).”
During the pandemic, the OP’s involvement in company meetings has shifted.
“Earlier this week I had a zoom meeting with the senior management team.”
“Boring as ever, I’m working from home because ‘plague’ and I’ve found that I’m super easily distracted and not able to concentrate on anything whilst my kids and husband are skulking around the house (work area in the living room – total mistake and idiot move).”
Because of this, the OP has been recording the meetings.
“As a result I have blanket approval from my company to record my calls and do my work as and when I can. It’s been super useful to be able to reference from the recordings and I can upload them to the share point once I’ve used them which has negated the need for minutes etc.”
“The calls are usually pretty informal and the language at times becomes colorful. We don’t care about the occasional ‘f**k, s**t or b**tard’ slipping out.”
But the latest meeting included more than some colorful language.
“On the most recent call one manager had already made a slightly disparaging comment about a junior colleague who is from a different country. This particular colleague is one of my grad team.”
“I challenged his statement which was then framed as a joke.”
“I’m a manager but in this meeting, I was the most junior grade, so for the sake of getting through the meeting, I accepted the excuse and moved on but was kind of alert to him and was actually listening rather than zoning out as I usually do.”
“During a talk about a large opportunity it got heated and he used the phrase ‘n****r in the woodpile’.”
“The call kind of went silent and he just kept talking, nobody pulled him up or seemed offended, it was more awkward like an unfunny joke.”
The OP decided she couldn’t stay silent about the comment.
“After the call, I was brooding on the language and the dismissive attitude and I couldn’t not say something but I was too scared to do it face to face so I reported it to HR and attached the recording.”
“Anonymously via the whistleblowers route. The people on the call are on multiple calls together usually and nothing pointed to the call I was on (to the rest of the team and wider depts – the ones involved definitely know who reported them).”
Because the OP was on a junior management level, she was the only one to not be suspended.
“The fallout is that everyone on the call except me has been suspended pending some further training.”
“Guy who said it is in serious bother but has promptly gone off sick so they’ll have to wait for his return.”
“My colleagues are speculating on how HR found out and that it was a s**tty trick reporting them when they are completely oblivious rather than discussing face to face and keeping things unofficial and undocumented.”
Now the OP wonders if she should have handled things differently.
“Should I have done it in person even though they were all several grades above and dismissive during the call? AITA for reporting via whistleblower route?”
“I was 100% right to report it. I have no doubt about that. Was how I did it a sly and sneaky b***hy trick; as my colleagues seem to think?”
The OP also came back to further clarify the suspension situation.
“Edit: People are asking why I wasn’t suspended alongside the rest of the people in the call, given that WB is anonymous.”
“I’ve had a look on our intranet today as I was also confused and worried about it being obvious it was me complaining.”
“The ones suspended are upper management and it’s corporate policy that any serious complaints about management above a certain grade are instant suspension (don’t know if with or without pay) of everyone involved while an investigation is done.”
“Everyone in my unit got an email scheduling virtual refresher training on discrimination and sensitivity.”
Fellow Redditors commented anonymously, rating the OP’s report on the following scale:
- NTA: Not the A**hole
- YTA: You’re the A**hole
- ESH: Everybody Sucks Here
- NAH: No A**holes Here
Some confirmed the OP had done nothing wrong and placed the blame on the supervisor and her quiet coworkers.
“Honestly, you deserve an award. The reason they’re in shit is that they didn’t do anything about it. You did the right thing.” – ScottIespre
“Seriously, they could have reported it. Like they want to not have gotten in trouble, and have it be ‘unofficial and undocumented,’ but how would the guy have gotten the training then?”
“These people want to do nothing about the racism, but then if something is going to be done, they want to have a heads up so they can get out of the line of fire, which is absolute s**t.”
“The company is putting them through training because they were complicit and need training. If they had also reported it, then they wouldn’t have to be in the training because if they had reported it, then they wouldn’t need the training!”
“‘Just talk to me about it face to face’ is management code for ‘s**t I need to do damage control and it’s easier to wiggle out of it when it’s unofficial.’ Good instincts OP and don’t second guess yourself.” – solarisink
“All this. OP is NTA at all, but the other people on the zoom call were TA as clearly was the senior manager who blithely used racist words and demeaning statements about a junior colleague.”
“He seemed to expect he’d get away with these things, and without OP he would have. Which reflects very badly on everyone else, who are either cowards or don’t disagree with racist words and vibes.”
“Not only is this stuff just morally/ethically wrong, it will otherwise one day get the company in a mess with a client or other employee when it goes unchecked internally.” – farsical111
“They’re a**holes because they’re mad at OP for approaching HR and not going the ‘unofficial’ route.”
“The ‘unofficial’ route is code for ‘we don’t think it’s a big deal, but HR would, so let’s keep this on the DL (down-low).'”
“If the people above OP were really so offended about the use of the N-word, they should be glad that someone said something – not harassing OP about going through the correct channels.”
“I don’t know that they all should have been suspended as a rule, but too many people are too complacent about racism and that’s why it continues.” – sukinsyn
A few commended the OP for speaking up and said that was what the HR was there for.
“NTA and you used the anonymous line EXACTLY as it is meant to be used. I work in HR. While we appreciate knowing who reported an issue so we can follow up with them and let them know an investigation is complete we’re just happy people are comfortable using the line.” – livingdream111
“Nta. I’ve worked in HR and am an employment attorney. The anonymous line is set up for exactly these reasons. Especially since everyone in the meeting is described as above your level.”
“Imbalance of power in the workplace and inability to call out superiors when things happen (as in when you describe the reaction of ‘it’s a joke’) is why companies have hotlines and complaint processes.”
“Even if you didn’t go the anonymous route, you still would not be the AH. His peers should have called him on his inappropriate comments.” – legal_bagel
Some pointed out that this word doesn’t just “slip out.”
“NTA That wasn’t a slip up. That’s word you don’t use ever.” – lacyjacobs
“Exactly. I HATE when people say ‘it just slipped out’ like…. I live in the Deep South & the moment I hear a non-PoC use the N-word, it irreparably alters the way I view that person. I’m 32 and have managed to never ‘slip up’ and say it – much less in a work environment! There is no excuse.” – UsagiVino
“They slip-up bc it’s part of their everyday vocabulary and they’re used to saying it so often that it has become ingrained in their speech. Someone who never uses that word wouldn’t slip up simply bc they just don’t say it. It’s simple as that.” – niristars
“Words only ever ‘slip out’ when someone uses them so frequently that they forget they’re not supposed to say them.”
“My father – and later me – used to say the word ‘f**k’ a lot. And it got used so often that we occasionally forgot we weren’t supposed to say it in front of kids, which made for several embarrassing moments when my nephew was born!”
“Anyone who ‘accidentally’ uses the N-word is someone who has no problem using it in private company and does so with enough frequency that their brain forgets to filter it out.” – RedWestern
“I personally think NTA because of the extent of the language used. You didn’t report him for swearing, you reported him for using a racial slur. That is very different and totally unacceptable.”
“I’m glad you reported him and that the other colleagues are also facing some sort of training due to this. Someone should’ve called him out earlier or during the meeting, that type of language is not okay.” – puja314
Others agreed and said the entire phrase was horribly problematic.
“When I was a kid, I heard the neighbor say that word and my mother yanked me into the house and told me, ‘If I ever hear you say that word, you will wish you were never born.’ I’m 41 and somehow managed to go my whole life without saying it.”
“How does one ‘slip up’ like that? And WTF is that phrase? How does that come up on a company Zoom? He’s in deep s**t because he deserves it.” – Beginning_Friendship
“It’s not just the word. That phrase is linked to so much violence. It’s a reference to runaway slaves and bringing fugitive slaves back to the plantation. It’s also a reference to looking for African Americans after emancipation to perpetuate a regime of terror.”
“It’s just not a way to talk about people.” – smughippie
Though it can be difficult to speak up at work, there are instances when it is practically impossible to stay quiet. Hearing someone use this term, and this phrase, surely qualifies.
It’s unclear if further training will actually help individuals who are willing to use this term in the first place, but it’s worth a try.