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I'm very often one of the last people to leave the office in the evening. As I was leaving on Friday, I noticed that a sticky note had been attached to a co-worker's cubicle next to their name card which said:

DEPORTADO

The cubicle is typically occupied by a worker who is Puerto Rican.

I know a little Spanish, but even without that I felt most people could make an educated guess at what that might mean. Based on what Google suggests to me, it says 'DEPORTED' OR 'EXILED'.

To my knowledge, my co-worker has not seen this note as he has been working from home through the pandemic. Regardless, this appears like a threat towards him with a strong anti-immigrant slant which I consider wholly unacceptable.

Most everyone in the office has notes they've written to themselves on their desk. As I was one of the last ones in the office, I went through most everyone's office and reviewed their handwriting and have a strong suspicion for who the guilty party might be. Unfortunately, the person I suspect is also someone who I have been arguing with about the need for the Black Lives Matter protests.

I have two questions:

  • Is there any way that I could have misconstrued what was posted on my coworker's cubicle? I am not fluent in Spanish and I don't know if there's a cultural reference in play that might suggest this as a light-hearted thing.

  • I believe this is a threat that has been made towards an employee by another and I wish to report it to management. In the interests of avoiding being accused in a retaliatory manner, I want to be as anonymous as possible on the matter as I don't want the person that I suspect to know that I am the one reporting this lest they try and suggest that I did it to frame them. Should I report the matter completely anonymously or have a discussion with my manager and request my name be withheld as the reporting party?

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    @JimClay Regardless of whether he can be legally deported, there have been plenty of stories of ICE committing actions regardless of whether they're legal to do or not. If you're a white person, this is a meaningless threat because it's so unlikely to happen to you, but if you're the wrong shade of brown, this is a real threat. – Pyrotechnical Jun 28 '20 at 4:37
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    vtc this is opinion based. also is a... weak case. – bharal Jun 28 '20 at 8:55
  • but it's not on your door, and you don't know context? why not just talk to the duderoo whose door it was on? – bharal Jun 28 '20 at 15:41
  • Just curious, is the victim and the alleged good friends? I and my colleagues can be racially offensive to each other, whether it's about their race/religion or mine, all in laughter. It's bad in taste, but could it possibly be a bad joke between two friends? As much as it might be bad in taste that others can find offensive, it can make the day go quicker. – Monstar Jun 28 '20 at 20:23
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    @gnasher, my point was that maybe to some spanish speakers (many dialects, right?) deportado means sent home (in fact, it basically does mean that). Never did I recommend posting an offensive phrase. – Jimmy Fix-it Jun 28 '20 at 22:59
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Yes, this is likely racist harassment. (Source: Live in Texas with Hispanic relatives). Joking about someone being deported is right square in the set of “inappropriate activity in the workplace.”

People turning a blind eye to it is why it persists in professional workplaces, and I commend you for your concern. It's "your business" and your place to report as much as seeing any other kind of HR or safety violation. So yes, I would certainly report this specific incident, but with just the facts not your guesses/“investigation” of who and how. That’s HR’s job not yours.

Trying to be completely anonymous is probably not a great idea, since it puts you a risk of being investigated as the person who did it! Consider whether anyone has seen you nosing around a lot recently as you’ve been “checking handwriting” and such, you’re probably top of the suspicious-characters list in the office right now yourself. Best to simply stand behind your concern.

I’d take a picture of the note and take it to your manager, explaining your concern and asking him to take it to HR because you’re not sure if it’s a problem or who did it but it seems sketchy to you. If he declines, you can decide whether to take it to them yourself.

I would not involve the person whose cube it was - for one, they could probably use less racist actions in their life, and for two, it's not relevant whether they want to complain or not, this is about creating a discrimination-free workplace. Them being bullied into not complaining is not a material improvement from anyone's perspective.

Obviously doing the morally correct thing can have drawbacks, as others are more than willing to tell you; you have to decide whether possible blowback is worth knowing you’re helping to create a workplace that doesn’t tolerate harassment or not. Because when bullies see that other people will get involved, they tend to scuttle off and at least keep their racism to their private time.

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    Agreed. Also, it seems unlikely that an individual punishment is forthcoming, at least based on OP's observations (handwriting can be imitated, motives can't be guessed...). The best outcome I would hope for at my organization would be a short, no-nonsense memo: "A note was found, etc. We wish to be clear that whether meant to be taken seriously or lightly, sending such a message is unacceptable here as it undermines our unity by implying that some members do not belong. Further instances will result, etc." – Luke Sawczak Jun 28 '20 at 15:59
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    Exactly. "Hey, FYI this happened and we won't tolerate it and you'll be fired if you do stuff like that" is a powerful statement that meaningfully contributes to this kind of nonsense stopping, whether this one offender is caught or not. – mxyzplk Jun 28 '20 at 18:06
  • There's "inappropriate" and there's "inappropriate". This one is at the extreme end of "inappropriate". – gnasher729 Jun 28 '20 at 22:53
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    I would not involve the person whose cube it was - for one, they could probably use less racist actions in their life, and for two, it's not relevant whether they want to complain or not, this is about creating a discrimination-free workplace. Yeah to hell with victim point if view, he might in the end be the one push out, all that happening without his own consent when he's the most concerned. So no big -1. -1 because it is also a typical form a racism that some white people make themselves heroes of others without their consent, and big because you don't want to even try to ask the victim. – Walfrat Jun 29 '20 at 7:24
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    Making racism the problem of the victims deliberately ensures its propagation. This kind of workplace-unacceptable behavior affects everyone and it’s everyone’s responsibility to prevent it. Insisting that those being racially harassed, sexually harassed, bullied, etc in the workplace be the only ones to do something about it means that you condone that behavior, pure and simple. – mxyzplk Jun 29 '20 at 12:30
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If you want to make a stand, stand tall, standing halfway up is called squatting and bears do it in the woods. It shows a lack of confidence and commitment and should be avoided.

Someone putting a sneaky postit note and someone tattling on incomplete evidence while wanting to remain anonymous are not much different. Especially since it's against someone you have been arguing with.

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  • For the record, I appreciate the straightforward stance. But a substantial part of my concern is whether a native speaker would view this is a funny joke or something because I don't get the cultural reference. Given the magnitude of the accusation, I very much want to be sure of that first. I've never made a complaint like this, but I feel like I should know that before raising the issue. – Pyrotechnical Jun 28 '20 at 4:34
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    no way of telling, I've taken much worse things with a laugh. Some people wouldn't care some would. Nothing to do with ethnicity or language. In my youth I could easily see myself putting something like that on my own desk for a chuckle. – Kilisi Jun 28 '20 at 4:41
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    A native speaker will say that they can't know if this is an awfully bad joke or intended as harassment. But they will also tell you that whatever it is, it has to stop, and the perpetrator will be told in no uncertain terms that you can get fired for making jokes crossing a threshold. – gnasher729 Jun 28 '20 at 22:50
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    @gnasher729 a bit harsh, if someone put a notice on my chair with the local language equivalent of 'banished' while I was working from home I'd laugh as loud as anyone. – Kilisi Jun 29 '20 at 12:39
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You discovered a piece of paper with the word DEPORTADO written on it and attached to a coworkers cubicle. You don't know the context of why it was written and attached to this persons cubicle. You snooped through everyone's offices and cubicles and you think that you've identified the person who wrote it. Can you prove that? Can you prove that they not only wrote it but attached it to the cubicle? How will you explain your snooping?

While we should all be vigilant in our fight against racism and discrimination, you have a very weak case here. If it were me, I'd move on and not proceed with any actions regarding this.

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You need to play out how this ends

Back in school, I did things similar to this a few times. I was that kid who always followed the rule of “if there is a problem, tell the teacher.”

I didn’t achieve anything by reporting these things for the victims in most cases. Sure, they hauled in people and they investigated, they might assign a few detentions, and then they promptly gave up, with the victim left to deal with the fallout. What happened to the students? They were bullied further over it all.

Now, school is a very different dynamic from the workplace, but the core question remains. What benefit for the victim can reasonably be achieved here?

I am very sympathetic to the argument that action should be taken on problems. But does it lead to a decently better outcome for this case or are you just causing more issues for the victim?

Is your company responsive to these sorts of this or do they usually want to just clean it up and make it go away?

Is your company known for its discretion or does the gossip network keep you well informed?

Who is more junior/replaceable? The victim or the potential harasser?

Is there any actual evidence beyond a guess on handwriting?

How closely does this person need to work with the other members of the team? As when the other members of the team are called in, they are going to be avoidant of the victim.

Is your company the type of label people as problematic (whether or not it is their fault)?

I don’t know your company, so you will need to answer these questions yourself.

Based on what you have here, I would just wait to see if more evidence/harassing behaviour pops up. The risk of reporting leading to something useful seem low as there is so little evidence, but the risk of further harming the victim remains.

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  • A thought I'd had was instead of showing the information to management, but rather to the targeted employee and ask if they wanted me to file the complaint. For the record, I am more senior than the employee in question (in terms of responsibility, not tenure with the company). Have you done something like that before? Did that tend to have a more positive result? – Pyrotechnical Jun 28 '20 at 5:10
  • @Pyrotechnical I have been there when things of this nature have been discovered and once handled an anonymous complaint filing for someone. But most of the time the impacted person wanted it cleaned up and ended right there. Do you know this person well at all? – Matthew Gaiser Jun 28 '20 at 19:55
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    While I appreciate that this answer is concerned with the thoughts and feelings of the harassed person, I wholeheartedly disagree that the outcome of this line of thought should be to not report such instances of harassment and racism in the workplace. There are ways to handle this without putting the harassed person in the spotlight (or even letting them know about it) - but simply letting the harasser get away with it is certainly not helping anyone. – fgysin Jun 29 '20 at 6:50
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    @fgysinreinstateMonica To me this statement seems naive. The harasser will eventually get called by HR. He might not guessed that someone else than the victim reported it, so what are you sure HR will do their job properly ? Are you sure they'll fire him ? That will really set up an exemple that everyone will follow and not instead push the victim out of the company by any means ? – Walfrat Jun 30 '20 at 11:00

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