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Tesla adopts straightforward and firm stance on employee language and respect

A Tesla employee at the company's facility in Fremont, California. (Credit: YouTube/RoadShow)

Tesla VP, People Valerie Capers Workman recently published a note for employees returning to the company’s offices this month. The VP’s message was clear: Tesla is very particular about how employees treat each other, and it will not tolerate any form of derogatory language or expressions. 

Workman explained that Tesla is committed to building a work culture that is safe, respectful, fair, and inclusive for all its employees. With this in mind, the VP reminded employees that some of the language people use outside of work should not be used while they are in the workplace. Her note referred to epithets and slurs that were initially intended to demean and dehumanize targeted communities but were later reclaimed and transformed into terms of endearment.

The VP gave several examples of such words, such as the N-word, which is derogatory but has since been reclaimed by the African American community into a term of endearment or a way to punctuate self-aware humor. Workman cited other negative words that have since been reclaimed, such as the B-word for women, which is now used as a friendly quip among friends, or the Q-word, which is used similarly among the LGBTQ+ community. 

But while it could be empowering to redefine negative and derogatory words into something positive, Workman noted that using such words in the workplace is still a slippery slope. “It can be empowering to take what was meant to harm you and instead redefine and own it on your own terms. This is by no means limited to one group of people—every community has ways of communicating to and about each other that if used by someone not in that community, would cause pain and offense,” she wrote. 

With this in mind, and considering the complicated nature of the social issues associated with the use of reclaimed words, Workman noted that slurs, epithets or derogatory expressions — regardless of their intent or whether they were used appropriately amongst community members — would not be tolerated at Tesla. 

“This is a complicated social issue. But at Tesla, it’s a distraction away from our mission to try to debate the acceptable and prohibited uses of these words. So we don’t. Tesla expressly forbids all such slurs, epithets or derogatory expressions based on any characteristics a person may have. Regardless of intent. And per our longstanding policies, we will take immediate disciplinary action if we find that any employee has used these words towards anyone at our work locations,” Workman wrote. 

Tesla is quite progressive in the way that it ensures that virtually every employee can own part of the company. This is one of the reasons why the company has received a perfect equality rating for LGTBTQ workers for six consecutive years. The Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index dubbed Tesla one of 2021’s Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality. Workman highlighted Tesla’s achievement in her post. 

“We are accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy and producing the most exciting and innovative vehicles and energy products on Earth. At the same time, we must do all we can to ensure that Tesla continues to be an inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone. This means leaving exclusionary language—no matter how well-intentioned—at our workplace doors,” Workman concluded. 

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Tesla adopts straightforward and firm stance on employee language and respect
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