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“Guard Thy Tongue or Beware the EEOC” Cover Image

“Guard Thy Tongue or Beware the EEOC”

There is a story that I've told no one. Until now. It’s a life lesson that all supervisors should heed.

This saga stretches back decades. Yet the memory of the incident remains as vivid as if it had occurred yesterday. Despite its age, it stands relevant. I felt a lot of anguish then, but it subsided with time. The matter mortified me, which is why I never discussed it.

As a fundraiser, I managed all four pillars of fundraising — annual giving, capital campaigns, endowment funds, and planned gifts. During that period, I recruited a wonderful team that helped us achieve financial success, and we also started a legacy-giving program.

The concept of establishing a planned giving program is akin to planting seeds. For the initiative to grow, clients need to be patiently nurtured with a focus on their unique needs, as well as a multitude of tax advantages. First gifts might also take a long time to wrap up.

Back then, we promoted charitable gift annuities with very competitive interest rates. Donors and charities enter into a charitable gift annuity contract. With cash, securities, or other assets, you contribute significantly to the nonprofit organization. In exchange, the benefactor is eligible for a partial tax deduction. As an added benefit, you receive a fixed stream of tax-free income from the fund for the rest of your life. The annuitant's interest rate increases as he grows older, making it an attractive deal.

 

At the time, we hired a young woman who was "wet behind the ears," but well versed in charitable gift annuities. She also showed great promise. Our system was designed to give her the experience she needed to excel in her field.

I always greeted the staff cheerfully as they arrived in the morning. At the end of the day, I also bade them a cheerful farewell. My approach was sincere. I relate to people in this way.

Before taking off for the weekend, I wished our crew a “Good Shabbos.” However, our newly hired employee advised me that while she was Jewish, she was not observant. So, my wish for her Friday afternoons was to enjoy a "Great Weekend." I should have remembered Proverbs 13:3: “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life….” (20:20 hindsight: I should’ve asked what she would prefer to hear).

A story on June 7, 2018, in The Jewish Link of NJ, gives us some insight into the term “Good Shabbos.” Jon Kranz wrote,

“Many scholars believe that the phrase “Good Shabbos” derives from the Yiddish “Gut Shabbes” but that does not explain the usage of the word “good.”  He continues, “It should be noted that the word “good” has special significance in the Torah. In Bereshit (Genesis), the word “good” is used [often] throughout the creation story to describe each miraculous development, thus elevating the word “good” to otherworldly levels.”

Kranz also quotes the Shulchan Aruch (307:5) that

“One should not speak words of Shabbos like the words of a weekday. Thus, on Shabbat, instead of greeting someone with “Good morning,” “Good Afternoon,” or Good Evening,” one should greet them with “Good Shabbos….”

We can conjecture that the idea of wishing people a Good Shabbos on Fridays, or even before, evolved from this beautiful custom on Shabbos.

Back to my story.

Sadly, our brand-new staff member's performance was mediocre and not up to the task. With time, it became clear she wasn't the right person for the job. We invested our resources in helping her succeed but to no avail. Mentoring sessions were not even fruitful.

A summons from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) arrived a week before she was dismissed. “What’s this?” I asked myself, scrutinizing the legalese. The essence was that I had discriminated against this employee because I wished her a “Great Weekend” but bid the others a “Good Shabbos.” The irony of ironies was that there would be an EEOC hearing the following Friday afternoon.

A few hours later, the Director of Human Resources assured me that the charge had no substance and was likely to be thrown out. As it turned out, the EEOC rejected the grievance the following week, after each party appeared before the commissioners.

This was a valuable lesson in sensitivity. Watch what you say to your employees and be consistent in your approach. But, don’t forget that Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), 4:20 and 1:15 teach us “Be the first to greet every person…” and “… receive every person with a pleasant countenance.”

Furthermore, always remember this adage: “Words are free. It’s how you use them that may cost you.”


© 2022 Norman B. Gildin. All rights reserved.

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