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Background

Today at work, I got a talking to from my superior about something on my Skype for Business account being too political. Below is what caused the issue:

[Skype profile showing location as "Xinjiang "Reeducation" Camp"[1]

My location was set to Xinjiang "Reeducation" Camp as an (admittedly) edgy joke. I understand this is unprofessional, but our work tends to be informal (we have rubber chickens in my work area). The thing is, I have seen other people put up funny things as locations like "Where we are going, we won't need roads" or something like "Iraq" as their location as a joke. Regardless, this is what my superior stated to me:

  1. At a meeting my superior was at, someone at the meeting had me as their contact.
  2. They saw that I had "Xinjiang "Reeducation" Camps" as my location.
  3. They (presumably) told my manager to tell me to take this down as my location.
  4. My manager meets with me one-on-one and tells me to take this down as soon as possible and "be as bland as possible, we need to act in accordance with policies", the typical schpiel. She mentioned she meant to told me earlier when I had "Saudi Arabia" as my location, but that she didn't get to it because it didn't stay up too long.

Solution

I took this down as requested, since this was a direct order from my manager and replaced it with a Star Trek reference (Romulan Empire Outpost). However, I don't understand why this is political. At my job, you are required to be a U.S. citizen. The Uighur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019 passed unanimously in the senate (meaning bascially all U.S. citizens are on board). The place I work also refers to Taiwan as Taiwan, not Chinese Taipei as the PRC is so apt to call it. When she asked me to explain I said "it is a joke but is meant to refer to the Xinjiang Province concentration camps that China is using to oppress the Uighur minority". She then asked me what word (Uighur) I used. She didn't even know what it was, but yet she came to me saying it was political.

Question

Apologies if this reads like a rant, I really just don't understand the fundamental issue with a viewpoint that most U.S. citizens hold. What reasonable recourse of any kind do I have here given the situation above?

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    @Kilisi to be fair rubber ducks are often used by programmers to do "rubber ducking", so most software developing places I've been has rubber ducks. (Actually I tihnk all I've worked has had them) – Sander Skovgaard Hansen Oct 25 '19 at 8:08
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    How important is this to you? If you find it very important then I'd say it would be fine to argue "no, this is real, important stuff that I want to bring attention to, I will face the consequences" and then do so. Of course you have to actually be willing to face those consequences if you want to make a stand. The choice is yours, and its about what you are willing to live with. – Stun Brick Oct 25 '19 at 9:17
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    "She didn't even know what it was, but yet she came to me saying it was political." Well with an name like "reeducation" camp, my best guess would also be that this is political. – Laurent S. Feb 19 at 9:15
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    If I make a joke about the Holocaust and people get offended, it’s probably not because they’re pro-holocaust. – AffableAmbler Feb 19 at 20:56
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    You're confusing the concept of professionalism within a team and professionalism within a company. Your local environment may have a fair amount of relaxed attitudes towards certain things, and that's an agreed upon standard of behavior for that locality. When something of this nature is visible to the entire company, the degree of professionalism required for the exchange is significantly increased. More than that, your lack of professionalism in this arena reflects directly on your manager. This is very clearly not the place for this kind of "humor" or activism. – Joel Etherton Feb 19 at 22:57
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I'd like to point out a few things here, that I think are a little off in your assessment of the situation. (Edit: All of this is assuming that your Skype is used for official work)

First

It seems like you think that a joke on concentration camps (Especially one downplaying them like calling them an education camp) can be equated to a silly joke like "Where we are going, we won't need roads". This is not the case at all. One is harsh and should always be kept to a more private setting where you know it won't offend. The other is... well, just silly, non offensive. With humor it is always advice to use non-offensive humor in work-settings, unless you specifically know that harsh humor is accepted by everyone at your work place.

Second

You talk about the relaxed setting at your work with rubber ducks. This is great and shows that humor is acceptable. Keep in mind that rubber ducks are also innocent in nature, so it doesn't show that everything goes, just that humor like "Where we are going, we won't need roads"is fine.

Third

You talk about human rights and US citizens. This has nothing to do with the situation really. Because even if you are a US citizen, you can get offended by stuff. Someone obviously did here, the human rights act of 2019 has nothing to do with this.

Fourth

You say that your workplace Taiwan as Taiwan. This is fine, but keep in mind that there's no reason to assume that the person was offended by the pro Taiwanese opinion. They might as well just be offended by the joke because of it's dark nature.

Fifth

You mention your manager didn't even understand the joke as if that means she can't ask you to stop. Someone complained about a dark, out of place joke that was political. She probably knew there are no rules specifically stating "No dark jokes" but there's one saying "keep political opinions to a minimum" so she took the route that the rules allowed, to help this person.

TLDR:

You made a joke that was not appropriate. It doesn't matter how many arguments you try to find that supports it being okay, because your manager told you it was not. Keep your humor more light and innocent.

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    "It seems like you think that a joke on concentration camps (Especially one downplaying them like calling them an education camp)" The quote marks between 'education' have the same effect as air-quotes in real life conversation, with the air-quotes meaning "This is the official term, but is totally not what this actually is". China have officially called these concentration camps 'education camps' in the past. – 520 says Reinstate Monica Oct 25 '19 at 9:08
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    Yes, I realize what they mean. They are exactly what makes it a joke that downplays them. Without them, it would just be a cruel observation. – Sander Skovgaard Hansen Oct 25 '19 at 9:27
  • I'd like to add a comment that whether it was a manager or not is irrelevant. If even one person makes a comment that it's not ok (because of the public nature of it), it's not ok. – Joel Etherton Feb 19 at 22:58
  • @JoelEtherton I wold certainly be inclined to agree with you there. – Sander Skovgaard Hansen Feb 20 at 6:36
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No one has pointed this out yet. That sort of behavior is child like.

Just because 'everyone else' is putting something stupid as their location, doesn't mean you should follow them.

Set your location to your actual location.

Funny stuff in the office will not impress anyone who matters. You are putting yourself in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

unless you're a comedian and your office is actually a stage

See how rubbish my crappy attempt at a joke looks there... that's how you will be coming across.

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There is an old saying that the best way to lose friends is to talk about religion or politics. Throw in the aspect of human rights abuses and the fragile ego of the CCP (as demonstrated by their banning of various western franchises that have been used to criticise them) and you have a joke that is guaranteed to piss someone off.

  • The company (or its clients) might have ties to China or want to play in the Chinese market. Can't really do that if they get banned.

  • Someone at the company might have relatives that have been victims of CCP's misdeeds and don't want a reminder in the office. This might be especially true in Taiwan

  • Someone at the company might buy the CCP's version of events hook, line and sinker.

  • Someone simply might not want a reminder that the CCP is screwing Taiwan over.

As a general rule, jokes that are likely to offend/annoy have no place in the workplace.

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    Clients in Taiwan? Perfect reason to avoid comments regarding the conflict – Ripstein Oct 25 '19 at 11:23
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    "Someone at the company might buy the CCP's version of events hook, line and sinker.". That's the core of why I am being any degree of obstinate. I think it's super chilling that a PRC apologist can just silence others using the system like that. I have very vocal 2nd amendment folks and Trump supporters in my area. The 2nd amendment person even said "you will have to take my guns away over my dead body" after the Dayton shooting...where my brother was at a few days before she made the comment. I could have chosen to be offended but didn't. I disagree strongly with them, but they can say it. – isakbob Oct 25 '19 at 11:44
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    Regardless, I totally understand the other reasons, and see the error of my ways. – isakbob Oct 25 '19 at 11:46
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    @isakbob - If you understand the error of your ways, stop defending your actions, because it makes you sound like your making excuses – Donald Oct 25 '19 at 17:02
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Apologies if this reads like a rant, I really just don't understand the fundamental issue with a viewpoint that most U.S. citizens hold. What reasonable recourse of any kind do I have here given the situation above?

The company owns the system. Therefore they have the right to enforce policies regarding how you present yourself on that system. They can dictate the words on a business card, the greeting on the voicemail, the words in a signature block, and how you present yourself on their systems.

They care because those words can be seen by co-workers, teammates from other companies, and potentially customers.

You crossed somebodies line. The best approach is to go back to an acceptable location description.

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It sounds like you misunderstood the "openness" of the office culture. It's typical for a tech company to promote various humor in relation to technologies and pop culture references like Star Trek or Star Wars quotes. That doesn't mean you can bring in political humor into the office at all, even if it is a popular meme on technology sites or video games.

My advice is to drop the political humor. I do agree that if your office has international ties it might hurt their business as they can get banned. Also several people may have escaped China to a better life. I heard a story from a neighbor whose brother's wife was killed while they tried to escape and how hard it was to leave her body behind in a field as they had to escape for their lives. So yeah, I can totally understand the sensitivity of the topic and why it's just best for you to apologize and drop it, never bring it up again.

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Work is not a place to discuss or joke about religion, politics, gender/ sex, violence.

This has nothing to do with the culture being open or not or with whether such jokes are generally ok or not.

The problem is they are divisive. E.g. I don't want to hear that "men always" do something or "Christians are funny because..." at work even if I'm not a man and not a Christian. It's bad to stereotype or exclude anybody and such comments do. Your comment was similar in that it made fun of a highly violent phenomenon (reeducation camps), which could have made someone uncomfortable.

In your free time you can just leave if you're not happy with the company. In the workplace you don't. So don't mention religion, politics, gender/ sex, violence in the workplace unless in 1:1 conversations with close friends.

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One unalienable option is to quit. Depending upon your jurisdiction you may also have the ability to sue or threaten to sue.

But not to put too fine a point on it, why would you want to? Standing up for your right to continue telling a joke that you consider insignificant in the office seems rather pointless. Your manager told you to stop, assume that there was a “get out of manager order card” that cost 5¢, what would you gain that would be worth irritating your manager (assuming that the manager continues to believe that changing your location was appropriate)?

I think you need to understand why you want to do something about this, and then determine what consequences you would consider acceptable to get the order rescinded or some other acceptable outcome (as well as identify such an outcome).

There isn’t a “make my manager happy that I got her order overridden” button.

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  • "Depending upon your jurisdiction you may also have the ability to sue or threaten to sue." Can you give an example of a juridiction where that would be the case? – Studoku Feb 21 at 12:43
  • That doesn't seem plausible to me that you can sue on the grounds that you made a joke about Chinese concentration camps and potentially causing the company to get banned from China (who is known to ban companies that talk about the government in whatever capacity) and/or offending coworkers who may find the subject a bad taste. – Dan Feb 21 at 16:45
  • @Studoku: you would be able to threaten to sue in a lot of places, successful suing (as in winning the case would be harder), but if you call it workplace harassment because of political beliefs it might fly in Australia or even the US. – jmoreno Feb 22 at 0:37
  • @Dan: you wouldn’t be suing for the bad joke or it’s potential consequences, you would be suing for hostile workplace and harassment on the grounds that you were treated badly because of your political beliefs, which just so happened to be made known via the joke. – jmoreno Feb 22 at 18:24
  • @jmoreno Political beliefs are a protected class in the US now? That's new. – Studoku Feb 23 at 22:46

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