Spreading Rumor I Am Gay

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about gay gossip: My manager is spreading rumors about my sexuality.
I work for a fast food restaurant. I’m 17. Two of my co-workers, a drive-through girl and a cook, who don’t socialize with each other, both told me the exact same story that my much older female manager is spreading rumors saying I’m gay. This could cause many co-workers to have a different attitude toward me. When the cook took up for me saying he’s not gay, she replied, “Well I don’t know that he is, but I think he is.”

What is there I can do? I’ve told my general manager, but I’m afraid she isn’t very strict when it comes to punishment. I’m worried it won’t be dealt with properly. What should I do?

Signed Worried

Dear Worried:
Talk about your sexual orientation is not appropriate in the workplace. You and your coworkers are employed to prepare for and to serve customers. Yet we know that gossip about many topics and especially about sex does happen. When this talk focuses on one’s own or another’s sexual orientation that is out of bounds.
Should your general manager, whom you told about spread of this rumor, investigate and take corrective action? Yes. If the evidence shows that “older female manager” spread a rumor you are gay, she should be advised that was wrong to do so and to stop it. If you hear more such gossip, you have a right to ask your manager if she ordered such talk to stop. It is your general manager’s responsibility to make a reasonable effort to stop talk that might result in anyone feeling disrespected. Your older woman manager might not have meant for her opinion to be disrespectful. If she meant it that way, she is wrong and uninformed.

How might this gossip be best handled? Quietly or Openly? A general manager must decide which is best.

Quietly–To ignore it is a one option. Let it die or assume those below will handle it individually by you asking the individual if she spread this rumor, and if so, to not do so again. In your case, since you have already reported it to your general manager, if it occurs again, you would report it again to your general manager and ask that her advice on how to handle it. If she says that she will handle it, wait. If she suggests you speak to this older manager, you can say you will or that you don’t want to.
How might you speak up for yourself? You might say to this older woman manager that you are disappointed to have any such talk about you, “Alice (or whatever is this older female manager’s name), I’ve heard you are saying I’m gay. Perhaps, what I’ve heard is wrong and you don’t have to admit if you did, but I don’t want to hear such gossip again. Do you understand?”
For example we’ve gotten questions similar to yours before in one case, I advised:
Rumours I Am Gay or Bisexual http://workplacedr.comm.kent.edu/rumours-i-am-gay-or-bisexual/ To this individual among other things I advised I wrote:
Short of biting your tongue and steeling yourself with a grin and bear it demeanor, you can fight it solo with humor and telling yourself that those who intentionally or naively spread this rumor are misinformed and you can set them straight. You have a voice and you have the right to be called by your correct name. You can say, “I was told (or overheard) that someone said I am gay or bisexual. I hope you will not pass that on. Whoever told you that is wrong and even if it were true, we are hired to do a job, not to spread personal rumors. Can you understand how hurtful such a rumor can be when it is false? Will you help stop such talk?”

Openly. If your general manager cho0ses to deal with this rumor openly, at the next staff meeting or in a work group huddle, she might say, “I’ve been told that some gossip has stated that Jan is gay. If he is, we will treat him respectfully. He should not have to tell us his sexual orientation. It’s none of our business. And whether or not that is true, please know that talk here about anyone sexual orientation is out of bounds. We are here to serve our customers, not to gossip. Such gossip must stop. Is that understood?”

Your general manager might also propose, “The kind of talk that I want to hear is talk about how to better serve our customers and talk about how to cut wasted supplies, how to prepare our food most safely, and how to be the most friendly place in our town.”
You can allow this gay rumor to cause you to be angry and see yourself as a victim. Or you can see learning how to cope with gossip as one of the important lessons to learn. One day no matter what is your career path, you too may one day become a manager, and because of this experience will realize how hurtful and inappropriate is sex talk in the workplace.

Please let me know if these thoughts help you hold your head high and to focus on being the best at what you do. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.
Follow Up:
Yes, it has. I confronted her today and she admitted what she has said– that she thought I am gay and that she loves gay people. She said that she only brought It up to look out for me if I was gay. But when I first asked, she ignored me and had that “oh crap” look on her face. She apologized if anything that was said offended me, and we are working on keeping a professional relationship at work. Hopefully what I talked about to her sticks because I have to work with her tomorrow for 10 hours. Your advice was very helpful. I’ve decided just as she and my general manager told me it doesn’t matter what my sexual orientation is that’s my private business. I can hold my head high knowing that I can cope with any and all employee drama.

Second Opinion: I expect that you have resolved the frustration you felt by reporting it and confronting it directly. But in addition to my advice, I sent your question to a manager-owner of a cluster of restaurants in Texas and now who is starting a new group in Florida, Craig Tengler. He sent this information below that you might keep in mind if your current situation doesn’t improve. Here it is:
My opinionated reply to your question below. Simple: EEOC has a lot to say about this (see below), But & And….to the point, if she or he is a good worker and a good person – quit. They can get a job at another restaurant in a heartbeat. There is no need ever, ever, to be treated without mutual respect.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces Federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. These laws protect you against employment discrimination when it involves:
• Unfair treatment because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.
• Harassment by managers, co-workers, or others in your workplace, because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.
• Denial of a reasonable workplace accommodation that you need because of your religious beliefs or disability.
• Retaliation because you complained about job discrimination, or assisted with a job discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

All the best, and communicate soon!–Craig
This is the kind of information that your manager might already know. But now you too know it and can store should you need it in the future.