1

Some of my coworkers complain about their children and how horrible their lives are because of their children. I find this behavior to be very offensive and disgusting for a variety of reasons.

How should one proceed when co-workers express offensive opinions? If it is pervasive enough would that constitute a hostile work environment?

  • When your colleagues complain about how horrible their lives are because of their children, exactly what offensive opinions are they expressing ? Because if it's just you who find complaining about that subject offensive for reasons of yours, that's your problem. The link between complaining about that and expressing offensive opinions is not automatic at all; if there is one, it should be explained. – SantiBailors May 27 '16 at 13:50
22

Since your coworkers are not you, they are going to have different beliefs, different values, and different coping mechanisms than you do. Part of being a member of society - part of being a good coworker is being able to deal with these differences in a polite and constructive manner. Indeed, these differences are the key to productive work environments since diverse people yield diverse solutions to the problems your company faces.

What can you do?

You can talk to these people. Say that your kids are great, and add so much to your life. Either they will get the hint that you don't care for their conversation, or maybe they'll rethink how much their kids add to their lives. It also might get you ostracized.

You can even ask them to explicitly cut it out. Hopefully they can be respectful of your feelings and cut it out. They may just exclude you from the group and then talk about it when you're not around.

You can bring it up to your boss. Good bosses have good advice that will help you deal with these people in particular. Bad bosses will order everyone to not talk about their kids, which sucks.

But please, do not call CPS on these poor people. CPS is required to treat these warnings seriously, and may inadvertently ruin people's lives out of an abundance of caution. If you value your children so much, hopefully you can relate to how those people would feel if their children were taken away from them, regardless of their water cooler banter.

  • 10
    Calling CPS all but guarantees that these people will do whatever they can to hurt you back in whatever way they can. – gnasher729 Feb 9 '16 at 21:01
  • 4
    I'd like to add on to the "do not call CPS on these poor people" point: Even if you're so incredibly heartless that you want to ruin their lives, falsely reporting someone to CPS is illegal in 48 states, and you can get sued for any damages or even thrown in jail in some places. If you honestly don't mind paying up to $15k, spending up to 5 years in jail, and still being held liable for however much the family can get away with, enjoy never getting a good job again and having your kids taken. – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Feb 17 '16 at 16:58
  • @QPaysTaxes: To be clear, that report actually says that 48 states impose penalties on mandatory reporters for failing to report child abuse, but only 29 states impose penalties for false reporting. – Robert Harvey May 13 '16 at 0:28
  • @RobertHarvey Whoops! I guess I misread the report. Yeah, on rereading, I messed up. Shame I can't edit comments after so long. – Fund Monica's Lawsuit May 13 '16 at 0:41
13

On what accusation would you base your report to Child Services? Your religious beliefs?

These people may be acting in a way in which you find offensive, and displaying a completely classless attitude, but that is hardly illegal.

That being said, I understand that you find their conversations distracting. If they are taking place in the office - especially during working hours - then you have a case to make that they are being unprofessional and maybe loud.

You can speak to the people in question and ask them to take their conversations somewhere else, or you can go to management/HR and ask that they do so on your behalf.

If these conversations are taking place during lunch time, or in the lunch room, however, then you're simply out of luck. These people have the right to discuss their families, even if they express views you disagree with, and that's simply the way it is. At that point you may seek to remove yourself from their presence in order to avoid overhearing the things which are causing you such distress.

Ultimately, if this attitude is pervasive in the office, and if you seriously do find it offensive then you may want to seek a new job.

11

Is it a hostile work environment? Possibly, if the comments are about you:

Kids, what kind of utter moron would have a kid? [Or more than one, or some other category that you are in and the speaker is not.]

But not if the comments are simple disagreement with your own ethical position:

I wish I'd never said ok to a third kid, my wife tricked me, it's the most awful thing ever, I can't stand it

I can see how these comments would be upsetting. Perhaps the people saying them really mean them, that's sad. Perhaps they're "just venting" or exaggerating for effect. That doesn't make them less upsetting. There's no reason to report them as bad parents (it's what they do that matters) or go to HR for a work complaint. But you can put a stop to such conversations. If it's an optional situation - lunch, people hanging around at the end of a meeting in the meeting room, anything you can just leave, then you can say

You're bringing me down with the anti-kid stuff. Mine are amazing and it's sad that you don't get the joy from yours that I do from mine. I'm going back to my desk.

If it's a situation you can't leave, like the start of a meeting, or people who are supposedly working right next to your desk, but chitchatting instead, then you just need to change the last sentence:

You're bringing me down with the anti-kid stuff. Mine are amazing and it's sad that you don't get the joy from yours that I do from mine. Can you change the subject? [Or: How about a change of subject?] [Or: Let's just get this meeting underway.]

You may need to amass a collection of first-two-sentences for this speech. Things like "This complaining about children really bothers me." "I hate hearing parents say they don't like their children." And so on. This first sentence specifically addresses and names the behaviour, saying bad things about their own children. The second sentence reinforces that your belief and philosophy is that your kids are great and you get happiness from being a parent. "Mine are great." "I wouldn't trade being a parent for anything." And so on. Then the third sentence is the call to action, announcing that you're going, asking them to change the subject, asking them to start the meeting, or whatever.

Repeat until they at minimum learn not to trot out that particular conversational topic around you.

  • My boss said he doesn't like working mothers and I am one so is that a hostile work environment? If someone doubts your performance because of your protected status is that a hostile work environment? – user1261710 Feb 9 '16 at 23:56
  • 1
    It could contribute to a hostile work environment. But that's a question for a lawyer, not this site. – Kate Gregory Feb 10 '16 at 1:37
  • I'm not in the US. And anyways it's certainly isn't a nice thing to say. – user1261710 Feb 10 '16 at 18:11
  • 3
    Big deal, lots of people say unkind things to other people. Happens every day. That doesn't make it harassment or legally actionable. It seems as if you dislike your current co-workers and boss. If so then go find another job. – HLGEM Feb 10 '16 at 19:58
8

How should one proceed when co-workers express offensive opinions?

You should realize that you're an adult. You should realize since the comment was not about you, that "offense" is your own personal emotional reaction, and not the other party's.

Then you should realize that it has nothing to do with the job at hand, dismiss it, and get back to work.

2

Misery Loves Company It sounds like you've discovered a group that decided to share their contempt for their children. Constant venting about any subject can wear on you after awhile, but maybe you're taking these comments too far?

We'd like to see everyone engage in unconditional love in all thoughts, deeds and comments. In the US there is a history of adversarial relationships between parents and children, spouses, in-laws, brothers protecting sisters from boyfriends. Of course no one likes their boss.

It's annoying, but try not to take the comments too literally or seriously. You seem to think the children are not in danger which is good. You may find the same people will protect their children like a mother bear if someone else were to say something negative about them. Take solace in that.

1

Most organizations have policies that may, I stress may, apply here.

First, when you say "offensive comments", do you mean profanity or threats?

If they are using profanity in the workplace, Management and HR might be interested and want to put a stop to that. Now, with that said, every office is different, and if a person let's a few profane words slip out now and again, it might not be enough to warrant any sort of intervention. You should really consider what are the normative behaviors. In other words, is what these people say within the norms of your workplace? If yes, then move along on this point.

Threats can be analogous to profanity in that they are something no one wants to hear, but in the course of day to day language they are much more acceptable than even profanity.

"I could kill my dry cleaner. He ruined another suit."

"This idiot driving in the slow lane today should be shot, and I'm willing to do it."

"For all the money my wife spends on clothes, I should divorce her. No kill her first, then divorce her."

People have these sorts of outbursts that can be very commonplace. Once again, if what the people in question are saying fits within workplace norms, move along.

A second line of thought is whether the offensive comments are creating an undue workplace interruption for you. If so, then both Management and HR are more likely to take an interest because that impacts the bottomline if the work isn't getting done. As with profanity and threats, you must consider whether the behavior fits within workplace norms. Do they talk about their rotten kids for a few minutes at a time a few days out of the month at their workspace? Do they talk about their rotten kids for two to four hours at a time each and every day at their workspace? In between these two extremes lies the reality. If it's closer to the former, move along. If it's closer to the latter, then you definitely need to raise it up to Management and HR under the context of workplace interruption.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.