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Thread: Work Place Situation - Pressure to Donate to Charity

  1. #1
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    Work Place Situation - Pressure to Donate to Charity

    One of my fellow coworkers is upset about a situation his wife is in at her work (I'll call her Jane). She works at a private university in a neighboring town.

    The university participates in an annual charity thing with United Way and highly encourage 100% support from their employees. Jane already donates money to several charities that are near and dear to her, and would rather donate her money to those charities. She prefers to give her money to charities that are more local to her area and ones whose administrative fees are significantly less than United Ways. Last year she declined initially but after being called out by upper management and subject to a high pressure meeting, she relented and gave the minimum of $5, more so out of fear of the consequences if she did not.

    This year, same story, she has declined to participate and now she has an afternoon meeting with upper management.

    Does Jane have any legal rights in this situation? She is afraid if she doesn't donate she was eventually be fired or denied promotions/raises. Is the University breaking any work place laws by using these forceful and high pressure tactics? What should Jane say or do?

    Ironically, many years ago when my husband still lived in Ohio and worked as a machinist he had the very same thing happen to him - when he refused to donate he was called in behind closed doors and subjected to the very same tactics. What is the deal - is there some major kickback a company gets from them if they have 100% participation?

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    How can they possibly know whether she donates or not? Isn't that information private?

    I work for a state university and there is a good deal of pressure to donate to United Way here too but nothing to that extreme (at least not in the departments for which I've worked). That kind of pressure surely isn't legal. I'd talk to the HR reps.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shugness View Post
    Does Jane have any legal rights in this situation? She is afraid if she doesn't donate she was eventually be fired or denied promotions/raises. Is the University breaking any work place laws by using these forceful and high pressure tactics? What should Jane say or do?
    IMHO, Jane should contribute a meager amount so that she won't have to worry that her inability to move up and get decent pay increases is related to her lack of participation.

    IMHO, I wouldn't go to HR. They are on the side of the company and UW and not on the employee's side.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gumbeaux View Post
    IMHO, Jane should contribute a meager amount so that she won't have to worry that her inability to move up and get decent pay increases is related to her lack of participation.

    IMHO, I wouldn't go to HR. They are on the side of the company and UW and not on the employee's side.
    I totally agree with Gumbeaux.

    As my father used to say when he was teaching me to drive -- You can be DEAD right (this was in connection with teaching me to assume that other drivers will not yield and/or will otherwise fail to observe the "rules of the road").

    In the scheme of things, better to not make waves -- just like one generally donates money to birthday gifts or takes people out to lunch in the workplace -- consider it a cost of doing business as they say.
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    When I worked for Wachovia, there was a United Way thing going on every year, but if we did not want to donate, all we had to do was to sign up on their site and leave our work email address. Just leaving our name there was considered as showing support. However, neither was enforced or mandatory.

    I would definitely think that is illegal and totally unprofessional. I really do not respond well to pressure of that kind and I would go to HR.

  6. #6
    Agreed with the 2 previous posters. I understand it's the principle of the thing...but is it really worth the $5? Either in money spent, or mental energy invested? Are funds truly so tight that the $5 would be a huge sacrifice? Is the United Way a charity that she is opposed to on some level, even if they aren't her first choice?

    If the amount were higher (say, $100), I'd feel differently. But for $5 - eh.

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    I agree that this degree of pressure is unpleasant.

    I work in a major univ and lots of other companies also do the United Way thing in the fall. Here's the scoop:

    You don't have to donate to "United Way." You can specify one of hundreds of specific organizations that work with United Way. They are all "local/regional" and the money goes straight to that org. If the charities she supports aren't on the list, that's one thing, but most major ones and a lot of minor ones are. So, her two primary objections to participating may, or may not, be valid.

    Having said that, she shouldn't be pressured to participate. Still, even though we don't experience anything like that sort of goading, there is goading at the dept level for "100% participation." It's a point of pride/team spirit sort of thing. Obviously the mgrs/directors at her univ take it a lot more seriously than mine do.

    If I were in her shoes, and my charities were not on the list, I would just continue to give the $5 every year and be done with it. No, it's not right, but her *fear* of retaliation vs. there being any actual retaliation for not participating would be hard to prove and frankly not worth the hassle.
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  8. #8
    This gets my dander up. Who you donate to, or for that matter if you do, should be private. And though I see Jane's point about not wanting to make waves or burn bridges regarding promotions, etc, I believe what the University is doing is ILLEGAL. I would go to HR with a complaint of harassment/hostile workplace and if there is retaliation in the form of termination, denial of promotion, etc. to her filing a complaint, that too, is ILLEGAL and I doubt the University would want to get caught up in litigation.

  9. #9
    Is it every year or every pay period?

    Obviously I did my math wrong before, but $5 a week is still $260 which is a good sized chunk of change for a charitable donation.

    Of course when my work place did it there were 100's of charaties to pick from.
    Last edited by 2HUNGRY!; 10-28-2009 at 11:15 AM.

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    As I recall it was every pay period, but if it were me I would pay the $5.00 and be done with it. Yes, it's $120.00/yr., and I would resent it everytime it was taken out of my check, but it would be worth it for the peace of mind. I wouldn't want to be worrying about losing my job, being passed over for promotions, etc. over $5.00 a pay period.

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    If it's a one-time donation of $5, I'd just pay it and move on--though I'd resent the heck out of being forced to participate. I agree that resisting or putting up a stink isn't worth it. But seriously, being called into the boss's office for not contributing? Really? That just seems so strange. "Come on, let's bully our employees into giving to charity." It's just so wrong and very much against the spirit of doing good for charity in the first place.
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2HUNGRY! View Post
    Is it every year or every pay period? $5 a week would be more than a drop in the bucket for me -- over $1000 in a year.
    Even if one got paid every week, the maximum amount would be $260 per year -- nothing to sneeze at depending on percentage of salary.

    However, for the original poster, it's a one time contribution of $5.00 and I wouldn't make waves over $5.

    I think most of us have spent more than that amount in terms of workplace expenses in a year to appear to be a good corporate citizen.

    I am pretty cynical about HR in terms of having worked with them in various companies.

    Also, it might be wrong, but I would also begin to wonder if I found out an employee had wasted that much energy on $5 -- even though I recognize it as a *principle.*
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    Quote Originally Posted by blazedog View Post
    Also, it might be wrong, but I would also begin to wonder if I found out an employee had wasted that much energy on $5 -- even though I recognize it as a *principle.*
    The flip side of that is I'd begin to wonder about management that wasted that much effort in getting the $5 Seriously - do THEY not have anything better to do than harass employees?

    And it is the principle of the matter - I would feel the same way Jane feels - which is it's HER money and she doesn't like someone else telling her where she should spend it.

    Jane makes around $21,000 a year, according to her husbands math. $5 isn't the end of the world, but she'd rather give it to her church's food drive.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shugness View Post
    $5 isn't the end of the world, but she'd rather give it to her church's food drive.
    Again, I'd make sure the church's food drive isn't already on the list of orgs that the donation can be targeted for. If it isn't, then pick a similar charity such as another food bank.

    The question is, is this a hill she wants to die on? If it were me, the answer would be "no." I would state my objection, and state WHY I'm participating despite the objection, then be done with it and go on with my life.

    If she really is concerned and wants to continue to fight against it, call the state labor board. They can tell her what is and isn't allowed and what she can do about it. Otherwise, everything is speculation.


    ETA: If her charities are NOT on the list, then she can spend the next year encouraging them to get ON the list, so next year she can donate directly to them through this program.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shugness View Post
    The flip side of that is I'd begin to wonder about management that wasted that much effort in getting the $5 Seriously - do THEY not have anything better to do than harass employees?

    And it is the principle of the matter - I would feel the same way Jane feels - which is it's HER money and she doesn't like someone else telling her where she should spend it.

    Jane makes around $21,000 a year, according to her husbands math. $5 isn't the end of the world, but she'd rather give it to her church's food drive.
    I've worked in more toxic environments than most. You know what happened to Cool Hand Luke or McMurphey -- the warden and Nurse Ratchet prevailed. That's what tends to happen to employees because a toxic environment is stronger than an employee -- and employers can make one's life miserable LEGALLY.
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    My former employer also did the United Way thing. We had the option of payroll deduction or a one-time gift; the one-time thing allowed you to give exactly as much as you chose.

    By the way, I live in a different county from my former employer, and specified that my donation was to go to my local chapter.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BarbaraL View Post
    By the way, I live in a different county from my former employer, and specified that my donation was to go to my local chapter.
    That's great, because if you look at United Way on Charity Navigator some of the local chapters garner as low as one star. I wouldn't give one of those chapters a dime. (I always refuse to participate anyhow, but never experienced strong-arm tactics.)
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shugness View Post
    The flip side of that is I'd begin to wonder about management that wasted that much effort in getting the $5 Seriously - do THEY not have anything better to do than harass employees?

    And it is the principle of the matter - I would feel the same way Jane feels - which is it's HER money and she doesn't like someone else telling her where she should spend it.

    Jane makes around $21,000 a year, according to her husbands math. $5 isn't the end of the world, but she'd rather give it to her church's food drive.
    She can do all this, but as I mentioned before, winning the battle but losing the war won't help her. Branding herself as a "non team player" by non participation will cost HER money in the long run.

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    You're right Blaze, although I don't think I've seen that movie I was hoping for her sake what they were doing would be illegal, as would any of the repercussions. It's obviously a toxic environment and one she wants out of, but in this economy she has very limited options. I guess she should just grin and bear it.

    I did google "United Way" and pressure to donate and found a lot of people complaining about similar forceful tactics with their employer. I'm disappointed UW would condone that, like someone previous said, forcing someone to donate completely ruins the spirit of donating.

    Makes me thankful I work in state government, because this situation would never happen where I work.

    BTW, Funniegrrl, I'm not sure if that's how it is working at her university or not, but I have to ask, why bother with the middle man? Is all of Jane's $5 going to the end charity or is UW keeping a portion of it for "administrative costs". I'm pretty sure if she gives $5 to her church's food bank, then $5 worth of food is being purchased. Not $3.50 for the food and $1.50 is for "advertising expenses" or whatever.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shugness View Post
    Is all of Jane's $5 going to the end charity or is UW keeping a portion of it for "administrative costs". I'm pretty sure if she gives $5 to her church's food bank, then $5 worth of food is being purchased. Not $3.50 for the food and $1.50 is for "advertising expenses" or whatever.
    UW is notorious for absurdly high administrative costs and created a huge scandal some years ago with their books were opened. That's why I commented on Barbara's giving to a specific chapter. Each individual chapter is rated on Charity Navigator.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Canice View Post
    UW is notorious for absurdly high administrative costs and created a huge scandal some years ago with their books were opened. That's why I commented on Barbara's giving to a specific chapter. Each individual chapter is rated on Charity Navigator.
    I have heard that before and ran into some comments about that scandal you speak of in my search. I wouldn't personally donate to UW - I don't even know what they do, or where the money goes.

    I prefer to donate to a smaller charity - my favorite one is a local canine rescue group. No one in their group gets paid a salary - they're all volunteers who foster out of their own homes. I'm sure there are expenses with their website and printing up flyers for upcoming adoption fairs, but for the most part the donations I make go straight for the food and medical care of the dogs they take in. I like to get a lot of bang for my buck, and I feel like they make the most out of my donation as they can. It helps that they're a group on my facebook page and they're constantly updating it with picture of dogs they've taken in and adopted out to forever homes - so I get to see what my donation did.

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    Going to HR is always a waste of time. In my experience they're either completely management-centric, incompetent or both and if upper management is practicing strong arm tactics to force employees to direct their philanthropy to a specific charity then HR isn't going to do anything about it. Unless she really wants to burn her bridges for her principles she's going to have to donate to get along there. It stinks but there you go. I'm sure that this 100% participation is showing up in the organization's marketing materials somewhere which I would find even more galling: "Our employee participation in the United Way campaign is 100%! Whether they like it or not"
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shugness View Post
    BTW, Funniegrrl, I'm not sure if that's how it is working at her university or not, but I have to ask, why bother with the middle man? Is all of Jane's $5 going to the end charity or is UW keeping a portion of it for "administrative costs". I'm pretty sure if she gives $5 to her church's food bank, then $5 worth of food is being purchased. Not $3.50 for the food and $1.50 is for "advertising expenses" or whatever.
    I'm not sure why you're trying to argue with me about it ... I'm not saying it's better/worse, I'm just explaining how it's set up. Your statement htat "I'm not sure if that's how it's working" is the crux of this entire thread. You DON'T know how it works, no one else that's posted here seems to have been part of this yearly drive either, and I have, yet the points I'm making and questions I'm posing are mostly being ignored. And now you're asking me to justify/defend. As to WHY someone might choose to give via the UW program vs. independently, or why an org might align themselves with the UW drive, I can make lots of guesses, but it's REALLY beside the point.

    One more time:

    If she wants to know what is and isn't illegal here, she can call the state labor board.
    If she fears retribution for not participating, that's a decision only she can make.
    If she chooses to participate she should try to make a one-time donation of a small amt to HER charity through the program, or a similar charity. I've never seen an UW donate-at-work program that didn't allow you to target the donation.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shugness View Post
    I prefer to donate to a smaller charity - my favorite one is a local canine rescue group. No one in their group gets paid a salary - they're all volunteers who foster out of their own homes.........I like to get a lot of bang for my buck, and I feel like they make the most out of my donation as they can.
    Yeah, but people that are homeless, starving, and lack basic medical attention would hardly call this a good "bang for your buck" (administrative costs are just one thing to consider).

    I donate a significant amount of the money that I give to animal shelters but I donate most of my money to other charities.

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    Quote Originally Posted by funniegrrl View Post
    I'm not sure why you're trying to argue with me about it ... I'm not saying it's better/worse, I'm just explaining how it's set up. Your statement htat "I'm not sure if that's how it's working" is the crux of this entire thread. You DON'T know how it works, no one else that's posted here seems to have been part of this yearly drive either, and I have, yet the points I'm making and questions I'm posing are mostly being ignored. And now you're asking me to justify/defend. As to WHY someone might choose to give via the UW program vs. independently, or why an org might align themselves with the UW drive, I can make lots of guesses, but it's REALLY beside the point.

    One more time:

    If she wants to know what is and isn't illegal here, she can call the state labor board.
    If she fears retribution for not participating, that's a decision only she can make.
    If she chooses to participate she should try to make a one-time donation of a small amt to HER charity through the program, or a similar charity. I've never seen an UW donate-at-work program that didn't allow you to target the donation.
    I wasn't arguing with you - as you pointed out, you're the only one in this topic who seems to know how their program works, I figured you'd know the answer to my question, being does the full donation go to the end charity or does UW take part of it.

    How it works is really beside the point as my original question wasn't about that but whether or not an employer using forceful tactics to secure donations to a charity is legal. I wanted input from the CLBB as I know there are peoples from all walks of life, including lawyers and HR reps, who would have helpful insight, beyond what the labor board has to say.

  26. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shugness View Post
    whether or not an employer using forceful tactics to secure donations to a charity is legal.
    Probably yes. Private employers can get away with a lot when it comes to its employees. "Forceful tactics" is somewhat ambiguous - being sat down by upper management and asked to donate is one thing, but being threatened with your job if you refuse is another. If she were to suffer some kind of *tangible* adverse job action (getting fired, not getting a raise, not getting a promotion, etc.) because she chose not to participate, that would likely be illegal under state law (most states have statutes or common law that prohibit termination for public policy reasons), but it doesn't sound like that's what's happening.

    FWIW, I have been getting a lot of pressure at my new (federal LABOR BOARD) job to contribute to a combined state/federal charity campaign. I too already contribute to a number of charities that are near and dear to my heart, but it was important to my employer to have full participation, and it wasn't hard to find a charity in the long list of organizations that are part of this campaign that I felt good about donating to. I probably wouldn't have otherwise, but I'm sort of in the camp to go along with the masses when it doesn't have a significant impact on my life.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gumbeaux View Post
    Yeah, but people that are homeless, starving, and lack basic medical attention would hardly call this a good "bang for your buck" (administrative costs are just one thing to consider).

    I donate a significant amount of the money that I give to animal shelters but I donate most of my money to other charities.
    I'm the opposite - I give a significant amount of money to human related charities, but I give the most to the canine. It's a cause that's VERY special to me. My county animal control took in 8,000 animals last year, and they only adopted out 1,200. That means they euthanized 6,800.

  28. #28
    I need to speak up for the HR people. As a former HR professional, we are often called "incompetent" when we don't do what someone wants. HR is the rule-enforcer. That is a huge part of our job- *whether or not we agree*. So, in this case, if the boss is out of line, then HR could talk to the boss. But, my guess is that someone very high up decided to get 100% participation, and HR is also being forced to both donate, and support the policy. So, while HR might be furious about having to donate, they certainly can't tell that to employees. It is kind of like supporting your spouse when s/he disciplines your child. You agree with him/her in front of the children, and tell him alone that you did not agree.

    If this is not a company-wide policy, and the boss is doing this out of his/her own desires, than HR could step in and talk to him/her. But again, the employee is not going to be told how their boss is disciplined. Let's just say that is the scenario. So, the employee is angry because they feel that the boss was not disciplined. The boss is angry because s/he was disciplined. So, who does everyone in this scenario get upset with? HR.

    While this whole thing sounds annoying, it does not sound illegal. I will agree with Eva. It would have to be something bigger like them threatening her job. I also like the person's comment who likened it to giving money for people's birthdays. It just is what it is. Like it or not, it is the cost of doing business.

  29. #29
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    Disclaimer: I have no idea how closely one UW organization resembles another. I can only speak for the one in the SC upstate. Doing a search for the specific organization should be able to answer all your questions.

    If I remember correctly, you can specify any donation to go to a specific organization...as long as it's a 501 (c). There should be a donor card where she can specify where her funds be sent. At our local organization, if you specify $5, that $5 will go to the specified agency. There will likely be a list of the agencies supported by your UW organization. We have agencies from YMCA, YWCA, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, various LOCAL health-related agencies, agencies that support child development centers, etc. etc. etc. I think we have about 55-65 choices if we want to specify. Surely there's SOMETHING on the list that your friend supports. (Yes, I realize it's the principle, but as most people have stated, I'm not sure it's worth it. Just find an agency she likes and hand over the $5. This is going to happen every year. I certainly wouldn't want to stress over this for 11 months of the year dreading October and campaign season!)

    Different agencies definitely have a higher ratio of admin fees/expenses, etc. Shugness is in NC where there was a huge UW scandal recently...I can't remember if it was in Charlotte or elsewhere. I'm a firm believer in our local organization. If you look for the information, you can find that they do major discussion/research to determine how they will best spend their funds each year. Every agency they support, along with the amount provided to the agency, is selected because it matches one of the primary goals. It's not a free-for-all...it's not equal payment to all agencies. The agencies also have to apply for funds with proposals and plans...and they have to account for the spending of the funds afterward. The whole process is very controlled.

    Finally, the $5 contribution can be exactly that. A $5 contribution. Put a $5 bill with it. Put a check with it made out to that amount. Don't sign the automatic payroll deduction form. It does not need to be a multiple payment...just the single donation.

  30. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by Melman View Post

    Finally, the $5 contribution can be exactly that. A $5 contribution. Put a $5 bill with it. Put a check with it made out to that amount. Don't sign the automatic payroll deduction form. It does not need to be a multiple payment...just the single donation.
    Well, that assumes you have competent people coordinating your program within your organization and the local UW chapter. I did precisely that last year -- wrote a check to the Brown County Salvation Army (where I live and work) and sent it to my internal person (who lived and worked in Dane County) for delivery. Sometime in January, I started receiving harassing phone and e-mail messages from the UW staffer in Milwaukee County (where our HQ is located) asking me to pay up on my pledge. (I had a thank you from the Brown County SA in hand.)

    So to get to the point of previous posters, why go through UW when you can contribute to your favorite charity and spare the admin expense (and associated SNAFUs) by doing the group UW thing? As someone who works in corporate communication, "100 percent participation in United Way" is not a selling point in our marketing materials. We provide real-life examples of living out environmental stewardship, corporate citizenship, etc.

    I could go back to the beginning of my career in the federal gov't when I was appointed the coordinator of my agency's local Combined Federal Campaign program. I was not asked if I wanted to take on the role; my boss told me it was my assignment, and all I had to do was go to a meeting and hand out forms. I objected to the whole thing, but did as I was told. I was chewed out by the woman who was overseeing the entire effort in our city for all federal agencies after I made it known I wouldn't be contributing because Planned Parenthood was not on the list of recipients, and I would be making my contribution outside of the CFC. I think my boss, the coordinator and I all learned a lot out of that experience. This was back in about 1982, if I recall. I'd hope we'd be beyond that by now.
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