News Story

Michigan health department offices ban the term “field work”

Two offices will stop using the term “field worker,” supposedly due to its ties to slavery. The dictionary tells a different story.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has sent out a memo to tell its employees they can no longer use the phrase “field worker,” saying it is tied to slavery.

The Jan. 4 memo was addressed to staffers of the Children’s Services Agency and the Economic Stability Administration, two offices of the health department. The memo says:

Recently, staff and stakeholders have raised concerns about the use of the term “field worker” and its implication for descendants of enslaved Black and Brown individuals. While widespread use of this term is not intended to be harmful, we cannot ignore the impact its use has on our employees.

The department then notes its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. The memo says it will no longer use the phrases “field work” and “field workers.” It will replace those terms with “community office,” “local office” and “community/local office staff.”

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “fieldwork” as “work done in the field (as by students) to gain practical experience and knowledge through firsthand observation.”

Lynn Sutfin, spokeswoman for the Michigan health department, did not respond to a request for comment.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.