How do I HR this?
May 23, 2014 3:37 PM   Subscribe

Had an argument with a colleague last Friday that had homophobic undertones. I want to report this to HR just to be on the safe side, what's the best way forward?

This is a bit of a long, convoluted story so I'll try and keep it short. Last Friday I ended up going out drinking with some people from work - leaving do. While out me and another colleague M were invited to a houseparty, also with people from work. M is not someone I work with directly but is well implanted socially with a number of my direct team and is married to a woman who is not my boss but is senior in my department. The house party was fine and fun, only point here is that during a game of never ever haver I ever (I know, never would have played it I'd been sober and I remember not really wanting to them) it came out that I was gay. I don't mind being out at work but I wasn't until then - not because I think anyone I work with would have a problem with, just that it's a personal matter not a professional one.

As M and I were waiting for the lifts after the house party, door down the corridor opens and out steps two guys who invite us into theirs for a drink. Fair enough, go along. Inside are about 7 guys who were all from Saudi Arabia. We're talking to them and to be honest M was being kind of obnoxious, giving them English lessons (its vs it's, pratice vs practise) but more importantly repeatly nudging me meaningfully and saying lowly 'don't bring up the fact that you're gay'. This was not, as far I could tell and my sense was collaborated later, to avoid any trouble for me, but because mentioning it could make things awkward. He was fine bringing up women's rights and berating them about it, I did join clumsily in here, but don't mention the gay. Should note that these guys were drinking, smoking and playing cards - they did not seem strict Muslims or anything similar.

We left together and out on the street I told him that I really did not appreciate him saying when and how I could bring up the fact that I was gay. This turned heated pretty quickly - I don't remember if I started aggressive but I definitely ended aggressive when he told me that I was making an issue out of nothing, that I was making everything about me being gay. This one rankled particularly: he didn't know I was gay until hours ago despite knowing me for about 4 months. He repeatedly would not listen to me when I tried to explain to him why I did not like someone else dictating how to be out, that it had a lot of bad echoes for me. I may have also told him to go fuck himself that I was being too sensitive or something equally patronising and dismissive, after I had been really trying to patiently get across where I was coming from.

To his credit he did apologise, but this was given arms folded with a 'I don't get this' look and radiating that he was just saying whatever to end the conversation. I'll take it though.

(Just to be clear, my issue here is not someone not recommending bringing up that I'm gay in a room full of potentially hostile strangers. My issue is someone telling me not to because they would find it awkward and then pointedly ignoring where I'm coming from when I try and explain why that's not cool.)

My bigger issue is, more importantly, that I don't want this to bite me in the ass later. At several points I walked away from the argument and at one of them as I was walking away he said 'Don't walk away, you'll regret it'.

What's my move here? HR of course, but how and how to present this? I don't think I'm blameless for a second and I can see in the sober light of day that I should have just said it and, seeing that he wasn't going to listen, left it.

Cheers for reading this though, much appreciated.

Also, as a separate issue, if there's any tips on how I could have handled this better that would be appreciated. My main concern is for work, but I'd like to avoid this kind of fallout in future.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
For future situations: don't get drunk with people you work with.

As to what to do now...I don't see why you should bring this to HR. It sounds like this occured outside of work hours in a non-professional context. You were both drunk, and both of you acted unprofessionally. I think it will all blow over as long as you do not raise the issue again and don't get yourself in drunken situations with coworkers again. Of course, if the other individual brings this up at the office or continues to harass you about it, you may need to take action, but as of now I would let it go as a drunken argument.
posted by rainbowbrite at 3:43 PM on May 23, 2014 [46 favorites]

This happened off work hours. I think your move is to drop this.

I can only see taking this to HR as being more likely to bite you in the ass if the other guy is well connected.
posted by pseudonick at 3:45 PM on May 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

I cannot think of a single good reason to approach HR about this drunken, outside of work argument with a coworker.

If you do want HR to know that you're gay and you are worried about disparate treatment at work, you could just ask to talk to someone at HR about coming out at work? So, if you're worried about being treated poorly by M/M's wife/people M is associated with, you will have on record at your workplace that you're gay, and you'll have done so in a way that isn't confrontational and doesn't bring off-work stuff into the workplace. It's unclear to me in which jurisdiction you live, but not all jurisdictions and workplaces, sadly, have terrific protections for gay employees.

Suggestions for handling it better basically involve not getting into drunken arguments with coworkers; if you can't avoid arguing when you're drunk you could at least avoid getting drunk with your coworkers, and if you can't avoid getting drunk when you drink with coworkers, you could stop drinking with coworkers.
posted by MoonOrb at 3:46 PM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

What's my move here?

You were unprofessional by getting drunk at a work event. You were unprofessional by going to a house party unrelated to said work event (?). You were unprofessional by playing "never have I ever" at a house party unrelated to said work event while drunk with a coworker (??). You were unprofessional by meeting some Saudi Arabians you found outside an elevator for drinks (????).

You need to reconsider your professional life, because you are absolutely not blameless here. Stop doing what you did last Friday. Don't go to HR. Don't speak to M unless necessary for work reasons (either for an apology from you or asking for one from him - either one will go badly).
posted by saeculorum at 3:47 PM on May 23, 2014 [15 favorites]

In my experience, involving HR is a last resort. Although the evening sounds unpleasant, it did not take place on work premises, and your employment was not threatened. So what you would be bringing to HR would all be open to interpretation of overtones and highly debatable. I'm not saying your perceptions are wrong; I'm saying your perceptions are hard to document for HR.

My advice would be to start keeping a work diary where you document any workplace fallout from the evening's events. Are you bullied at work? Denied assignments? If you find a pattern of behavior tracing from this evening, bring your diary to HR and complain about specific events that happened on work premises.

Maybe try to keep workmate socializing in public places like drinks after work rather than private homes where sometimes people feel too free to cross workmate boundaries.
posted by egret at 3:48 PM on May 23, 2014

I'm not sure that going to HR and describing the events of this particular night is going to have a positive outcome for you. This seems like your basic argument with someone you're hanging out with that probably wouldn't have happened if people hadn't been drunk (including you), and although I respect where you're coming from, the distinction you're drawing between suggesting you not bring it up for your own safety and suggesting you not bring it up because it will be awkward is kind of a fine one, for me? It just seems like people getting drunk and having a disagreement that ends with an apology, even if you don't think he meant it enough for you. I fear that going to HR would turn out differently, and reflect upon everyone involved differently, than you intend. I would never tell anybody not to seek help if they truly feel discriminated against, but I'm not sure I understand the story as you're telling it.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 3:55 PM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Considering this happened off workplace premises at a non-work sanctioned event where alcohol was involved, I would probably let it go. Especially since you don't work directly with M, anyway.

Look, I really really feel where you're coming from, here. I'm bisexual and closeted-by-omission at work. I have this one coworker who is a raging homophobe. He doesn't know I'm queer, and honestly I'm afraid to be out at work or get closer to him as a person outside of work specifically because of him and his constant homophobic "jokes". I have considered going to my workplace's version of HR about it in the past, and have decided not to since I just can't figure out a scenario where that works in my favor on a pragmatic level.

So, I don't know, maybe I'm just a shit person who should be standing up for what's right and getting this guy disciplined for his obviously inappropriate behavior. And maybe I'm giving you terrible advice when I say to let it go. But, from one person in this shitty situation to another, I'll tell you that my response has been to let it go.
posted by Sara C. at 4:04 PM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

HR is not going to touch this, because he has done nothing to make your workplace the vaguest bit hostile for you. Leave it alone, and if he does start bringing this into the workplace, then document it and go from there. But what happened last Friday? Chalk that up to "lesson learned" and watch who you party with.
posted by Etrigan at 4:07 PM on May 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

HR's job and legal responsibility isn't to stop you from having to work with bigots, it's to stop you from having to deal with discrimination at work. Someone who is a raging homophobe in their free time but treats everyone in their office fairly and with respect is a-okay to them (for better or for worse).

M is a low-grade bigot at worst and he's not yet done anything that HR is obligated to or would likely act on.

Make a note of it and let it go.
posted by toomuchpete at 4:16 PM on May 23, 2014

Just drop it. If something happens at work deal with it. But there is nothing really substantial here. And for it to be harassment it would need to continue anyway.
I'd also never admit to HR I went to a house party with Co workers. That would raise more red flags then somebody said something stupid while drunk then apologized after an arguement.
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:25 PM on May 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

nthing what everyone else has said. But just to address something that no one else has. From what you've described, it's not at all clear that anything "homophobic" even happened.

It's hard to tell because it almost seems as if you were the one escalating many things:

I don't remember if I started aggressive but I definitely ended aggressive

I may have also told him to go fuck himself

Honestly, the whole situation just seems bizarre, and these judgments

He was fine bringing up women's rights and berating them about it, I did join clumsily in here...

they did not seem strict Muslims or anything similar.

are pretty off-putting for the two of you, and really just makes me think that M isn't generally very tactful when dealing with subjects, which might explain his remarks about your sexuality in a more innocent manner.
posted by SollosQ at 4:42 PM on May 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

An important thing to remember, before you involve HR in anything, is that they are not there to protect you.

Oh, they might, but only as a side-effect of what they are there for -- to protect your employer's interests.

Nthing everybody else -- raising this as a work issue has little potential upside and (if you have misjudged) significant potential downside. Don't do it unless you have an issue which is much more clearly work-related to point to and even then consider first what remedy you think they might reasonably offer.
posted by Nerd of the North at 4:42 PM on May 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

I agree with the comments upthread recommending you not bring this to HR.

I strongly disagree with saeculorum's comment that you are unprofessional for drinking with people you work with after work. It is not unprofessional to have drinks with--even get DRUNK with--co-workers at a non-work event while you're not at work. It's like a damn temperance movement in here.
posted by anthropomorphic at 4:51 PM on May 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

I don't understand

1) what M said/did that was homophobic


2) what you want HR to do about a drunken argument you had outside of work

so...I would vote for not bringing it up to HR.
posted by aviatrix at 5:28 PM on May 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

At several points I walked away from the argument and at one of them as I was walking away he said 'Don't walk away, you'll regret it'.

Did you feel like he was threatening you any type of future harm when he said that? Over the internets here it is hard to discern what his tone was, but nevertheless, I can understand your instinct to seek out some help with this issue. You know the man better than we do - does he make credible threats? Are you afraid of him?

What would be the actual harm in going to HR with this? This is worth some thought. Would you like to come out to someone in HR so that you can be "on the record" as someone in a minority status should M ever make good on his vaunted "threat"?

We don't know what state you're in, but folks in this thread are making some big assumptions here about what HR can and cannot do based on some misperceptions about HR's "jurisdiction" so to speak. Sometimes the law lets HR be the boss of you outside of work. (But IANYL.) There have been loads of cases where employees have been held accountable for actions against another employee outside of the immediate scope of the workplace. At Wall Street firms, for example, employees have been terminated for going to strip clubs with clients, among other activities, and you can often find that type of behavioral policy in the Employee Handbook, so go check your company's employee handbook out.
posted by hush at 5:28 PM on May 23, 2014

Talking to HR about a night of drunken arguments is going to reflect badly on both of you. Ultimately, you're also in a more vulnerable position than he is, because he's well-connected. You run an even greater risk of creating a public conflict with him if he actually is both vindictive and homophobic, because then he's likely to escalate that conflict. If I were you, I'd just drop it.

Also, I'd avoid drinking with him just because it sounds like you both tend to mouth off and get a little wild and confrontational while drunk, and that's probably not a great thing if you don't get along all that well in general. Next time, you're probably just going to fight more angrily and get into it even more, and that's a dangerous situation for you seeing as he's so well-connected at your work (because of his connections, I think senior people at work are likely to take his side over yours in a conflict, and that could end badly for you).
posted by rue72 at 5:32 PM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Basically, my advice is not to start a public feud with someone as well-connected at work as this guy is. That could have serious blowback, especially if he's actually an ass.
posted by rue72 at 5:35 PM on May 23, 2014

anthropomorphic -- By and large, I don't think anyone is suggesting that one should never have a cocktail after work with some collegues. But it is definitely unprofessional behavior to get sufficiently drunk that you are playing 'never have I ever' (!!!!) and getting into drunken arguments with coworkers, unless this is a college job at the downtown pizza joint. Since the question writer mentions things like 'teams,' 'departments,' and 'HR,' I think we can assume he has a position where a certain level of professionalism is expected.
posted by rainbowbrite at 5:38 PM on May 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

There is nothing here for HR, and further the fact that you got so drunk outside of work, and then told someone to go fuck themselves would definitely raise as many questions about you and your behaviour as this guy.
posted by smoke at 6:03 PM on May 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Don't worry about it, don't go to HR. He sounds like a bit of a dick, but your remedy was basically to tell him to go fuck himself, which you did. I understand still being kinda pissed about this, but still, fuck 'im. If you start getting actual shit at work, then worry about that. Until then, you got your end point. Accept it and move on.
posted by klangklangston at 7:25 PM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

So, here's what I'm reading:
  1. you and M are both drunk
  2. in a strangers apartment
  3. outnumbered over 3:1 by seven drunken strangers
  4. seven drunken strangers that have such a backwards view of equal rights for women that M finds it (drunkenly) appropriate to berate them about their views
Now I understand that you
"did not appreciate him saying when and how I could bring up the fact that I was gay",
but these people
(let's put religion aside as it's a bit of a red herring)
these people, these drunken people who had such backwards view on equal rights...

...what do you suspect their view on homosexuals might be?

Thankfully, I don't know many misogynists, but I'm guessing that there aren't too many of them that are very accepting of homosexuals. And I would wager that those who are opposed to homosexuality don't somehow get less violent about their views when they're drunk.

So when M cautioned you, mightn't he have been more concerned about both of your safeties, than him somehow trying to silence your freedom of speech? I could well see his thought process being
"Hmm... Anonymous came out at the last party we were just at.

If he does that here, we may have some trouble/violence on our hands...

...trouble/violence that we will be on be on the losing side of...

You know what, we've both had a lot to drink tonight, I'd better just check in with him so he doesn't say anything..."

Lastly, as people have noted above,
HR does not care about you,
they only care about keeping their employer free from harm. You go in their and complain, what they're going to think is
"Oh, I used to know nothing about anonymous employee--he was a problem-free employee as far as I knew--but after that ill-advisedly-told story I now have the picture of him in my mind as someone who gets drunk, makes poor decisions about entering into bad/dangerous situations, and then gets in public fights with his co-workers... Wow, this person could definitely be a liability to this company..."
posted by blueberry at 12:15 AM on May 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

What do you want the outcome to be if you do take this to HR? Do you expect M to be reprimanded at work for his behavior outside the office? Consider the likelihood of that happening before making your move.

In a just world, yes, people like this would get their comeuppance, but more likely what will happen if you report this guy to HR is that you and he will be sent to the principal's office for a long, useless talk about what happened, which will give him an excellent platform to defend himself and underscore how you misunderstood him, and you will have to accept his explanation and half-assed apology or look like the aggressor. You'll both be required to shake hands and agree to let this go so you can continue your professional relationship without this issue interfering. Of course, that is never going to happen – now you know more about your coworker than you ever wanted to – but you'll have to pretend.

HR is not your mom. HR is like corporate peer mediation. The only time going to HR might help you is if your boss is doing something illegal or otherwise detrimental for the future of the company, and you can prove it. Otherwise, if it's a dispute between Human Resource A and Human Resource B, HR doesn't really care who was right and who was wrong. They don't look into the nature of the conflict much at all; for their purposes, you may as well be fighting over whether or not bananas are better than apples. All they care about is making the conflict go away ASAP so you can both get back to doing your jobs. At best, HR will "resolve" the conflict by making all parties agree not to let this be an issue again. At worst, you will be noted as a troublemaker by management for getting into conflicts outside of work that interfere with your job.

You're going to hate this, but I think the best thing to do would be to approach this coworker on your own time, probably right after work, and apologize for the conflict, give your side of the story, ask him to kindly not repeat what he did, listen to him give his bullshit back-pedaling explanation for the "misunderstanding", agree to just let it go, and call it a day. Why capitulate to this guy who offended you? Well, mainly because it's exactly what HR is going to ask you to do. And honestly, HR might be right in this case. You were both drunk, you were both probably not in an entirely rational state of mind, but you still have to continue to work together, and unless you at least pretend to be putting this behind you, this incident will make your working relationship more difficult. I don't suspect, anonymous, that you will ever trust this M again, or that you two will be best buds following this incident, and I personally find that kind of behavior unsettling, but I cannot imagine any other way this is going to play out. I think you'd be better off taking matters into your own hands for the sake of your professional career and your quality of life at work.
posted by deathpanels at 6:03 AM on May 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

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