On January 21 2020, the Facebook page “Inhumans of late capitalism” posted the following screenshot of a purported letter from a human resources department at an unidentified company that appeared to be haranguing an employee for the condition of his older vehicle:
An attached status update said, “Corporations tell employees how to spend their money,” and the partly-redacted letter read:
Sent: Tuesday, January 21, 2020 12:11 PM
Subject: Personal matter
As you may know many companies still use credit checks as part of their hiring process. This is to ensure that the employee can be trusted to make sound financial decisions, has the maturity to manage his/her own financial affairs, and to show signs of financial distress that might indicate risk of theft or fraud. While we do not conduct these checks at this time the gist of the check is valid to us.
We have noticed for some time the condition of your vehicle and wanted to discuss the matter with you. We will follow up this email with a personal meeting but wanted to document the discussion beforehand.
Since of course your annual salary is known to us and a newer and more appropriate looking vehicle should be within your financial reach, it is our concern that perhaps you are having a difficult time financially. Frankly the concern is that if you cannot afford a newer vehicle then either you may be susceptible to fraud or that you are not responsible for the position you maintain. To be even more frank, it just looks bad.
Please let us know if there is a reason that you have not upgraded your vehicle before now. If it is a financial matter then we will need to know the details of the problems you are having. Perhaps it is as simple that you did not know the concern you are raising. Otherwise please address this situation as quickly as possible. We will be happy to refer you to dealerships who we have worked with in the past.
Vice President, Human Resource Management
Vice President, Finance and Administration
An original source for the claim appeared to Reddit’s r/trashy, from a post on the same date with the title, “This email my coworker received today. He drives a 2005 Camry. It’s not wrecked, just old and fading paint. He never has to meet anyone that they would ever see the car. It’s literally just another car in the garage.”
As of January 23 2020, the post featured what appeared to be flair added by a moderator (not the original person who posted the claim.) That read, “Prob fake but w/e,” meaning “probably fake, but whatever.” The post, which was submitted by u/dorf-1, received more than 50,000 upvotes. In the comments, fellow redditors predictably debated the legality of the purported email, such as:
- Whether its recipient could retain a lawyer;
- Whether further action on owning a vehicle that was not reasonably new was “legal” in any state with at-will employment;
- What constituted a “protected class” in terms of HR reprisals;
- Generally that “driving a shitty car … was not a protected class.”
A top comment on the thread advised the original poster to cross-post the image to various finance-related subreddits, where a very well-regarded piece of advice is to pay for a “beater” in cash and “drive it until the wheels fall off,” eliminating a car payment from your budget. Many others chimed in with their own anecdotes:
Oh my fucking God, you should share this on r/personalfinance r/financialindependence or r/daveramsey and watch people lose their absolute shit. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a beater commuter car. It’s one of the easiest ways to begin hoarding money for investing.
Honestly, keeping a fully paid off functional car for as long as possible is one of the most financially responsible things a person can do.
Perhaps the second most common theme in the comments involved assertions that the letter was “fake,” “never happened,” or that it was a blatant attempt at “karma farming” (baiting fellow redditors with compelling and sometimes fake content solely to accrue upvotes.)
When one commenter asked the original poster if they had possibly been taken in by a phony email, they claimed to have seen it on a work computer:
It’s legit. I personally saw the email on his screen, and he clicked the from name to show the email address under it. Knowing those two VPs, I totally believe it.
A January 23 2020 article about the viral letter on car-focused site Jalopnik (which, incidentally, maintains a strong editorial stance in favor of owning and maintaining older vehicles) noted in its headline that the claim might be fake. A piece titled “That Awful Email About An Employee’s Old Car May Not Be Real But I Still Cannot Abide” begins:
I should preface this all by saying that I’ve yet to be able to absolutely confirm that this absurd email is real, though the original poster insists that it is. Fundamentally, it’s just a boring email from an HR department to an employee, but the content of the email is deeply insulting, reflecting the worst aspects of modern life, socioeconomic realities, culture, and perhaps even capitalism itself. And, of course, like all things that really matter, it’s about a car.
Its author, Jason Torchinsky, goes on to explain that “after seeing this posted and re-posted all over the place, in car-centric sites and otherwise, I’m not sure if whether or not this email is real or not is what matters … [w]hat’s important to note here is the reaction it’s generated, which speaks volumes about our relationship with our cars.” Torchinsky maintains that the screenshot could be a hoax for the sake of Reddit popularity, but adds:
What’s especially remarkable about this email is how well it enrages both people who couldn’t tell a Toyota from a toenail and genuine hardcore gearheads, who chafe at the very idea that anyone should tell you what to drive.
Everything about this email is revolting. The suggestion of enforced conformity, the mindless adherence to idiotic concepts of socioeconomic status and wealth displays, the inherent fear and distrust of people who may be less financially sound, the unsolicited advice, a company trying to police someone’s private life, this whole thing is just a colossal shit cocktail with a turd on a toothpick as a garnish.
Given that the original poster did not provide any verifiable details and was unlikely to do so, there was no way to determine whether a company’s HR department emailed an employee about their 2005 Toyota and pressured him to unnecessarily purchase a new vehicle. As others noted, it seemed possible but perhaps not plausible a company would commit such an ethically dubious request to writing. What’s more, the post’s many upvotes demonstrated motive to falsify the story for karma. The purported recipient of the email had not, as of January 23 2020, stepped forward to attempt to corroborate the claim.
The fact that this is realistic enough to be at all believable, however, speaks volumes.