in trouble for reporting a coworker for suspected child abuse

A reader writes:

Several weeks ago, I made a report to child protective services regarding suspicions of abuse involving a coworker’s child.  I’m pretty sure that CPS has found some information to corroborate my report, given the stage the investigation is at. By law, the report is confidential (I didn’t give my name, so it’s anonymous as well).

The coworker (we’ll call her Angela) is livid.  She’s quite sure it was someone at work who made the report, and has (with reason) settled on me as a likely suspect due to the things she had told me beforehand.  Angela has gone to our manager, as well as HR, to find out who did this and presumably punish him/her.

The weird part is that our manager agrees, and has bought into, Angela’s demands; she pulled several people in our group into her office and questioned us (one by one) about our involvement.  While our manager agrees that there are concerns with Angela’s home life, she is horrified that anyone would think to “betray” Angela in this way.  Late last week, I got a call that HR would like to discuss this with me.  I will meet with them next week.

I know that I did the right thing, and my anonymity (and immunity) is guaranteed by law.  I can’t imagine what my manager is thinking.  This is a large (multi billion-dollar) company with a presumably professional Human Resources department. What is my next step?  If you can guess, what is theirs?

Wow. This is horrifying. What are they thinking?!

I can’t even begin to speculate on why they’re involving themselves in this way, but I think you have three basic choices:

1. You can acknowledge that it was you and ask why on earth the company has a problem with someone performing what most people would agree is an ethical and civic duty. But I can’t see why this is any of their business or why they’re entitled to an answer.

2. You can refuse to indulge them in this wildly inappropriate line of questioning and instead say something like:  “I hope that anyone at this company would speak up if they thought a child was in danger, and that the company would support that. And given the nature of the issue and the privacy laws surrounding reporting concerns of abuse, I don’t think it’s appropriate for the company to be investigating something like this.” And if they push after that, you’d say, “I don’t think this conversation is appropriate.”

Frankly, you could also add, “And I would be really worried about the PR ramifications if it got out that the company was trying to squelch reports of child abuse.” Because, christ.

3. However, you know your company best. If this is the kind of thing that is likely to forever haunt you there, some people would tell you that you need to do what you need to do to protect yourself, which could potentially include say saying that nope, it wasn’t you. That pains me to say and I’m not advocating this course, but realistically speaking, it’s an option.

I should also note that I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t know what the laws surrounding anonymous reporting are. (Update: I just did a quick search and it appears that at least some states have laws protecting employees from retaliation by employers for reporting suspected child abuse.)

But is your company run by the devil?

{ 121 comments… read them below }

  1. Erica*

    Wow. That is horrifyingly sad on so many levels. And most likely, the person who loses out the most is going to be the kid.

  2. Cindy Lou Who*

    Another way to look at it is, you probably did that kid a huge favor. Might not seem that way now, but if you fully believed in what you were reporting, it’s probably true.

    I want to say that it’s easier just to deny making the report, but you’ll know you’re lying, and that tends to make honest people feel REALLY uncomfortable. I know I would, if I had to keep lying about something I felt fully justified in doing. It sounds as though you wouldn’t get support from your manager, so I’d only take a stand if I didn’t mind either getting fired or existing in a highly uncomfortable work environment.

    Maybe you could take the stance of, “I find this all highly inappropriate, and it’s affecting my ability to get my work done.” Maybe add that you feel harassed, or something to that effect. And if you could put it all in writing, all the better.

    1. Jamie*

      Oh, yeah, as far as practical advice I would lie and claim ignorance.

      I would look at it as protecting my anonymity.

      I would be uncomfortable, and if I could stand behind the “it’s inappropriate” and whether the fall out I would – but from the letter it doesn’t seem like that would work at your place.

      I don’t see any moral dilemma is lying about your involvement in this.

        1. Martin*

          I am not an American, and English is not my first language, but both option 1 and 2 seem to me as an admission to being guilty to the fact. So, I agree with everyone else here, act like anyone else and deny the allegations.

          The moment your answer is different than that of the other people interviewed/interrogated by HR, they may hone in on it, and starting an investigation on you.

          And nothing under a magnifying glass will come out not burned by the experience.

          So, deny anything.

  3. Jamie*

    First of all – good for you for reporting it. A child in danger trumps any work place issue any time.

    Secondly – run by the devil indeed. If this doesn’t warrant polishing up the old resume and seeking a less evil environment, then I don’t know what does.

    This whole situation is so sad and gross. And your manager and HR…what the hell does Angela have on them that they would be complicit in something so clearly wrong? Ugh.

    1. Lizzie*

      Speaking of run by the devil, who does run this company? Probably not the irrational manager getting involved in this situation!

      If you feel your job is on the line for something that is not only morally right but legally protected, then if needed, you can always push this further up the chain. This sort of behavior on the part of a manager and HR could cost this company a lot of money and create legal troubles. Any intelligent higher up would quickly put a stop to this witch hunt!

  4. Scott*

    Nothing to add, I’d just like to get in a preemptive request for an update once you have your meeting with HR. I’d love to hear if they go along with your manager or if they go with reason on this one.

    1. Julie*

      I agree with Scott. Original Poster, after you’ve met with HR, could you give us an update and tell us what happened?

    2. HR General*

      Yes please- update us on how this turns out. And thank you for reporting it- the world needs more people like you who do not ignore wrong-doing when they come across it because it ‘isn’t their business.” I hope your HR department uses the week before their meeting with you to come to their senses and tell your manager to back off…

  5. Beth*

    KUDOS to you. You may have saved a child’s life.
    I’m afraid number 3 is your best bet. If you made the report on your own time and from a non-company phone they can’t compel you to answer their questions anyway.
    I hope you ramp up your job search and find something better.

  6. LJL*

    I would certainly hope that your co-workers who are being interrogated would also be doing #2 even though they did not report it. Perhaps I think too highly of human nature.

  7. Heather*

    Wow. I’d go with option #2 and I too would like to hear an update. And seriously, wow.

  8. Eric*

    Maybe you were being too nosy into others’ personal lives and the company needs to crack down on it. Why did you report this Angela person?

    1. Lisa*

      Because this Angela person admitted to abusing her child, it sounds like?

      Geez. Child abuse is not a part of your personal life that you have a right to keep private. If you want to keep your private life private, don’t abuse your kid, and if you do, don’t confide in a coworker about it. Not so difficult.

      1. Anonimous*

        I didn’t read anything about admission of child abuse. The OP simply says, “…I made a report to child protective services regarding suspicions of abuse involving a coworker’s child. I’m pretty sure that CPS has found some information to corroborate my report…”

        So the OP was “suspicious” and now she’s “pretty sure” she was right.

        Without more information, I don’t see a smoking gun.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s not her job to find a smoking gun. She reported concerns based on what I assume was genuine reason for worry, which is the right thing to do, and now CPS is investigating.

        2. Lisa*

          “She’s quite sure it was someone at work who made the report, and has (with reason) settled on me as a likely suspect due to the things she had told me beforehand. ”

          Angela told the letter writer something that was scary enough to make her report it to CPS. That’s serious.

    2. Mike C.*

      Maybe because the OP suspected that a child was in danger? Did you read the article at all?

      Are you so clueless or are you simply hellbent on blaming the OP for their troubles? Why do you think that this sort of activity is warranted by the company?

    3. Anonymous*

      This is exactly the kind of attitude that allows child abusers to get away with abuse – “It’s none of my business.” When you have a good suspicion that a child is being abused, it becomes everybody’s business, and duty, to report it.

  9. Lisa*

    I think this is one for a lawyer, TBH, if you can afford the consultation fee or spend a few hours calling around for a kind hearted one (they DO exist, sometimes) who will give you a free consult in light of the situation and in exchange for your promise that if you have to sue the employer they will get to represent you. Figure out if your state is one that legally protects you from employer retaliation for reporting child abuse. Then act based on whether or not they can legally fire you for this.

    Ask for written documentation of the meeting and the reason for it. If you end up job hunting as a result of this you’ll get asked what happened with your last job and if you choose to honestly say “I was terminated for reporting child abuse after a coworker disclosed to me that she had harmed her child,” you can then say, “I know that sounds outlandish, but here’s the documentation.”

    1. Lizzie*

      Very good point. You definitely want to try to get something in writing (even an email) about the purpose of this meeting. If you choose to speak out against it, I’d note it in a written format not just verbal.

  10. Diane*

    Option 4: “I’m not participating in a witch hunt.”

    But that could probably get you in a different sort of trouble. This company’s reaction makes no sense.

    1. AGirlNamedMe*

      I actually think this is the better option..maybe phrased a little differently.

      “I’m not sure what’s going on here, I’m just trying to stay away from all of the drama and focus on my work.”

      But..when HR gets you into a meeting and they are digging for information, they will likely not let you go with such a simple answer – so you may need to find a dozen creative ways to say the same thing.

      Be prepared for them to ask, “Did you call CPS?”

      I hope you update us with what’s going on. What a wild situation.

      1. Ashleigh*

        The answer to the question “Did you call CPS?” is “I don’t see how that is relevant to my work or my job here and I feel that having these meetings with the staff over what is clearly Angela’s personal life is very inappropriate. Now, if you would like to discuss my work I am all ears, however I do not feel comfortable discussing a coworker’s personal life.”

        They do not have the right to make you answer that question. Stick with the “this is inappropriate” line and shame them into dropping this line of inquiry.

      2. Ev*

        I agree with this one. “I won’t participate in this witch hunt. This is none of the companies business.”

  11. Option 5*

    “Wow!!!!! Angela abused her child! Really!!! I am so sorry to hear that you let her go!”

    “What, you didn’t let her go?”

    “You mean that you are actually going to try to find the person who did their civic duty and in the process associate the good name of XXXX company with child abuse? Wow, but the CEO will love that when the person you discipline for helping a child being abused decides to sue you for violations of the law of this state!”

    “What’s that, you want me to go back to my desk while you decide how to get yourselves out of the mess you are in? OK”

    Seriously. Any company that fires a worker for notifying authorities about violations of the law is just asking to have their name dragged through the mud. Does your city have a consumer activist news guy? You know, the kind who goes to the door of the jiffy lube asking them if they are planning on making it right for leaving your oil plug out? I bet he or she would love to get the story of XXXX company disciplining an employee for turning in a co-worker they had evidence had abused their child.

  12. Catherine*

    At a previous job, my position was one that is mandated to report child abuse. But our agency also had policies to be as open about that fact as possible, so as not to seem underhanded toward our clients. Generally, this meant being very clear about what would happen if the client self-disclosed abuse (“It sounds like you might be talking about child abuse here…if you tell me that you’ve abused your child, I am required by law to report it”) and warning the client before making a report and encouraging the client to self-report instead. The idea was not to avoid reporting abuse–actually, we were disappointed that so few of our reports resulted in action–but to maintain our reputation of trustworthiness.

    So I’m really glad that the person with the question reported the abuse, and I agree she is within her rights to remain anonymous. But it also sounds like choosing anonymity didn’t make anything go more smoothly. If it were me, I’d go with AAM’s suggestion #1 and go public.

  13. Samie*

    I have to agree with what a lot of people have said. Maybe it’s time to start looking for another job. Perhaps wait until after the meeting with HR, and perhaps look into legal action if you think they may actually be trying to crack down on all of it.

    This is simply horrifying that they would even think about getting involved.

  14. Ask a Manager* Post author

    One thing to keep in mind is that we don’t actually know that there’s even a possibility that they’d fire her over this. It’s perfectly likely that — as abhorrent as this is too — they just want to give her a talking-to about not getting involved in her coworker’s affairs, causing tension in the office, or whatever. (Which kind of sounds like where the boss might be going with this.) It’s also possible that the HR manager wants to meet with her to tell her that her boss is being a loon and they’re going to put a stop to it.

    I could be wrong, of course — but I don’t think we should assume that this is going down a firing or other punishment path, especially at a large corporation which probably has fairly bureaucratic procedures for warnings, etc. (But if they do take action — holy crap, the bad publicity.)

    1. Anonymous*

      I dunno…anytime HR requests a meeting with an employee, usually that ends up with a black mark in your file “that follows you forever” like they told you in high school. In this case, it may for the OP’s career at this company. I really liked AAM’s Option #2 and the posting option #5.

      Also remember a good defense is a good offense. When questions come up about this, ask HR why the co-worker is sharing such personal information at work, I assume the fellow workers have been uncomfortable with being subjected to her disclosures and personal problems in the workplace, and does HR feel the manager’s reaction is helping the morale of the division? (In addition to the good PR/inappropriate line of questioning/company supporting a civic & moral duty type of questions mentioned earlier.)

  15. Interviewer*

    I would play completely dumb with the HR manager, and protect anonymity at all costs. Angela won’t find out who reported anything from an investigator, and she won’t find out it was you unless you somehow tell her. She’s raising a stink to see whose tires she can feel better about slashing. I’m sure she’s doing the same thing in her neighborhood, at her church, possibly even her child’s daycare or school.

    Angela may assume you have reported her, but if it is going on, I’m sure everyone in contact with her or her child is relieved that someone has taken action. If DHS has acted reasonably quickly, this could be one of several reports. You did a good thing, OP.

    Be sure to let us know what the HR Manager had to say in the meeting.

  16. Phyr*

    I would say try for #2 and be documenting as much as you can.

    If you feel it necessary check to see if there is anything protecting you from retaliation. If ‘Angela’ had no problem hurting her child I wouldn’t trust her actions that could be directed to you. Especially since she has you in her sights already. Passive aggressive harassment is almost imposable to protect yourself from though.

    1. Naama*

      Not impossible — as you say, documentation really helps! Any suddenly negative performance reviews, denials of raises, cuts in scheduled hours, etc. that did not exist before this whole issue came up, as well as potentially what is said in this meeting with HR, may be evidence for retaliation…if this is really a case of retaliation, rather than the company hindering a child abuse investigation, or exactly how OP as an employee is protected.
      3 reasons why I may be wrong: I’m not a lawyer, I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not a lawyer. (I will be one in 3 years though!)

      1. Anon*

        Does the OP have the right to notify and record her conversation with HR, or is that up to the company?

        1. Natalie*

          She may have the right to make a voice recording without notifying HR, depending on the state (1- or all-party consent). However, the company would be completely within their rights to terminate her if they found out.

          1. Nichole*

            Donna Ballman gives a list of which states you can record with one party consent in her blog at (you may have to dig through her archives a little, but it’s there). Her blog is a good read and I know it’s a source that AAM trusts, so that’s a plus.

  17. Mike C.*

    Look, as far as your meeting is concerned, deny everything. There is no reason to have to discuss this issue with the people that write your paycheck. It’s between you and the authorities and no one else.

    Furthermore, you did the right thing. “Betray” my ass, you did what few are willing to do – you stuck your neck out to help some stranger.

    Take this as a lesson that while it’s not always easy to do the right thing, ordinary people can really make a difference in the lives of others.

  18. Liz in a library*

    Very obviously not a lawyer, but my understanding in response to your first point… I received training as a former state employee who worked with children that there is a legal duty to report child abuse or suspected child abuse. We were also told that the legal duty extends to anyone with a connection to the child, such as neighbors, etc. We were told that we could be held liable for harm that happened to the child after the fact if abuse was known about but wasn’t reported. This was in SC.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Not a lawyer either, but I think the legal obligation to report covers medical professionals, school employees, social workers, and others who come into contact with children as part of their jobs. I don’t think it extends beyond that, although it might in some states. Regardless though, legal obligation or no, there’s no question that there’s a moral obligation to act. Unbelievable that this manager doesn’t see that.

      1. Liz in a library*

        That makes sense. It was a state-funded children’s camp out of the local university system, so I imagine we fell under the heading of childcare workers? Thankfully, I never had a kid who I suspected of anything like that, but I’m glad to have been warned and prepared.

        I completely agree that there’s an ethical duty to report at the least. I cannot imagine how the OP would have felt had s/he kept quiet and something happened to the child.

      2. karyn*

        Perhaps the “public policy” argument could work if the employee is fired? This is assuming they’re not in a state that doesn’t have this exception. Just a thought from a soon-to-be lawyer.

  19. Annr*

    My large employer had a confidential ethics hotline.

    It wouldn’t be particularly confidential to call them and gripe about HR dragging you in about this, but I think I would be considering doing just that.

    However I think playing dumb and making sure the interview ends quickly is the best thing to do.

    If the co-workers child had died or was harmed you would never forgive yourself.

  20. Never OK to lie*

    So far, OP has done nothing wrong. Even if the company hears that OP turned Angela in, they are dumb to do anything about it. Now if they try to tell her to keep her nose out of another employee’s business, then proper response would be “So you are asking me to just sit there and allow an innocent child to be abused as a course of policy of this company, correct?” If they are really dumb enough to say yes to that, ask for that policy in writing. They will not give that to the OP. And they will not discipline the employee without something in writing.

    But on the other hand, if the employee lies and the company finds out, then that is cause for firing. And then you get no unemployment. Because you are not being fired or disciplined for turning in the child abuser but for lying at work. I would say the best option is to divert and refuse to answer while trying to remind them that a child was being abused and are they actually saying that it is OK to leave kids in danger. They of course will not say child abuse is OK, so then you ask them why they are on a witch hunt.

    1. Mike C.*

      A company doesn’t have cause to fire someone for lying about a question that never should have been asked in the first place. Can you imagine the fun an employment lawyer would have talking to the media about how her client being fired for protecting an abused child?

      It’s not morally wrong to lie to your company when it’s not material to their business. What someone does in their private life is their own business and if that means going to CPS to protect the life of a child then so be it. Posts like yours simply gives up power from employee to employer that the employer has no right in having.

      In any case, wouldn’t dodging direct questions like you suggest be insubordination?

      1. fposte*

        A company doesn’t have to have cause to fire, though; they just have to avoid firing for the handful of illegal reasons. This isn’t an illegal reason everywhere, and we don’t know where the OP is.
        If there isn’t a law protecting the action, a lawyer’s pretty limited, whether there *should* be a law or not. That’s even if you want to go through a lawsuit. I think this is a case where publicity would be quicker and more effective anyway, if you felt you needed to take action.

        Fortunately, things don’t seem to have gotten this far, and hopefully they won’t. But when a company’s this weird about what they’re getting involved in, I’m with you in thinking about possible eventualities.

      2. Anon*

        Mike, you raise a good point about what’s material to the business; and in this case the issue is personal. Just the same as if you reported a peer for drunk driving or burglary.

      3. Never OK to lie*

        But their argument would be that it is material to business. Your turning her in would then cause a conflict in your interaction with her which could foreseeably cause an increased cost in employee pay as you both work through the conflict. Not saying it is right, just pointing out that the lie would give them cause. as for dodging the question, no it would not be insubordination until the question became “direct yes or no, did you turn Angela into CPS?” Anything else, even though you know that you are avoiding the question would not be insubordination. If they ask “do you have any knowledge of who turned Angela in”, you reply back that “I think that CPS is there to protect children from abuse, why do you think Angela should not have been reported if someone had reason to believe her child was being abused?” It is not insubordination, it is deflecting their question back to them.

        1. Jamie*

          If a co-worker dented my car in the parking lot and wouldn’t pay – my reporting it to my insurance company and the potential legal issues would cause conflict at work.

          Would the company have the right to come down on me for proper reporting of the accident? Should I just drive around with a big dent in my car because I don’t want to rock the boat? Nope on both counts – and that’s just a car.

          To imply that the company has a legitimate interest in any and all issues between co-workers outside of the job is a fallacious and dangerous argument.

          If the OP went to HR instead of CPS about her suspicions it becomes a company matter. If she didn’t report it and just spread gossip throughout the office about the abusive Angela that would be a company matter. There is nothing in this situation which calls for any company involvement whatsoever.

          1. Never OK to lie*

            Believe me, I am not saying she was wrong for reporting it! Far from it, I wish more would report these things. I am explaining why her lying about something that the company should not be asking would be well within rights to fire someone for lying about the answer to the question. If you cannot trust the employee to tell you the truth, they do not need to be working for you.

            It is possible that the company wants to know if you called CPS not to punish you, but to figure out how to heal the employee dynamic. Not likely, I give you, but possible. Plus I have a real problem with lying.

            1. Natalie*

              Yes, they would be within their rights to fire her for lying. They’d also be within their rights if they fire her for refusing to answer the questions. Depending on the state, they might even be able to fire her for answering the question honestly!

              Given how few legal protections US workers have against being fired, your not making a very persuasive argument.

  21. Anonymous*

    I would play it dumb. You are speaking in the condition of anonymity so you technically wouldn’t be lying. Plus, whose to ever find out it was you? I think eventually this will all go away in time. Plus they don’t even have the proof. It could even be the co-worker’s own family members that had done this.

  22. jt*

    I find it very hard or impossible to lie, and don’t know how I could deny it in a believable way. The only approach to hiding the info would be to stick to the “wow, that is none of your business” approach and get indignant, and generalize it that you hope they aren’t questioning other people either.

    But for sure talk to an attorney and document any change are work.

  23. Chris*

    Well, if there is a reasonable cause for concern, I would be honest. There are plenty of ways the company will pay if they fire you. As AAM said, there is always the PR fallout and possible legal action. If you work for the devil, they might fire, but most companies are just trying to cover their own backside.

    Please make sure of abuse before you call, because the consequences are still long lasting in false cases. I have been through the system and my parents did not abuse us. The state’s care can be abuse.

    1. fposte*

      Chris, I take your point about the effects any investigation you have–people do tend to forget that even in legitimate removal cases, kids get seriously disrupted by the process in a way that’s hard to get over–but I think “be sure” is too high a standard for most people to meet and leaves you back in the bad old days with nobody saying anything because people outside the home are rarely going to meet that standard. (And, as noted above, it’d be illegal with mandated reporters, who are legally required to report suspicions of child abuse.) How about “understand the import of what you’re doing”?

    2. Lynda*

      First, there’s no way to “be sure” about abuse unless you’re a witness to it. Even mandated reporters have to report if they have reason to believe there’s abuse. I’d also like to suggest that if Angela was dumb enough to admit abusive behavior to a coworker, there’s every chance in the world that other family members know, too. In that case, Angela might just be bluffing to see if she can scare OP into admitting she reported the abuse, and she might be doing the same thing with her other friends, family members, and acquaintances.

  24. Jennifer*

    I am a mandated reporter through my profession, and I make anywhere from 2-20 reports every year. I have never had my confidential status placed at risk, despite being told by parents I reported that they knew it was me (or they knew it was someone else when it had been me), I am confident they were bluffing and my anonymity was secure. And I do give my name when I report.

    If it is somewhat common knowledge around the office that this investigation is happening, (so it wouldn’t seem odd if you already knew about it before meeting with HR) I might try something else. “I talked to my cousin/sister/friend who is a teacher/medical professional/day care worker and they said that all CPS reports are confidential? Is that not true? I guess I should warn him/her because they sometimes make reports and I would hate for them to lose their job or have someone seek revenge for trying to help a child. Yikes!” Then see what they say. Because they either deny that reports are confidential or they acknowledge it, and it goes from there.

    Good luck, and thanks for helping a child! I would also love an update.

  25. Kat*

    I find it funny that although this is clearly an issue between Angela and CPS once she was reported, the company is dragging other people – people who may not have even known about the allegation but do now due to this witch hunt – into this. Angela seems so hell-bent on finding the ‘Culprit’ that she has completely lost her privacy in the matter.

    OP I’d totally go for AAM #2 suggestion. I would actually say no, but I also know that I’m not a good liar after the fact.

  26. Wilton Businessman*

    “Angela is having problems at home? Huh, never would have guessed that…”

  27. Anon y. mouse*

    “Angela” sounds like a classic example of an abuser. Some of them have amazing skills at convincing everyone that it’s not their fault and winning people over to their side. I’m so sorry to hear that management has apparently fallen for it – even if you believe someone’s been falsely accused of child abuse, the correct answer is to sit back and let CPS investigate, not help hunt down the person who made the report! I know there are horror stories (I’m so sorry, Chris), but in general I’d trust them to get to the real bottom of things.

    Good luck. I have no idea what route I’d take in your shoes, aside from documenting it nine ways from the middle. (Unless you decide to lie about your involvement, you might even ask to record the meeting with HR. Just say you find the company’s actions on this topic to be bizarre and worrying, and you’d like your part of it to be very thoroughly on the record . Don’t record without telling them, though, in some states that’s a crime.) I would operate on the assumption that if you tell anyone at work that you made the report, it will eventually get back to “Angela”. And, thank you for reporting. I know people who wished someone would have made the call for them when they were kids.

  28. maddy*

    I applaud you for being so brave and doing the right thing. It is so sad to know that there are so many others who would just stand by and watch a life crumble right in front of them. What in the world are your HR and manager thinking- you did the right thing. It may not seem like the ideal situation now, but in the long run it will pay off. Like they say “this too shall pass”. Good luck and hang in there.

    You should ask your manager if they rather have the case get so bad that the child ends up dead… would they be able to live with themselves then?

    Man, is this what they mean when they say “no good deed goes unpunished”? Makes you not want to do the right thing sometimes huh.

  29. Anonymous*

    I really wouldn’t know what to say to the OP since “Angela” is suspicious of her already. I’m sure Angela might do a witch hunt of her own if HR’s doesn’t reveal anything.

    I am curious though about the suspicions the OP had about child abuse and what Angela said. It seems weird a parent would admit to child abuse.

    1. Anonimous*

      I’m curious about that too. What exactly was said or how was the OP convinced that child abuse was going on. Everyone here seems to have taken it for granted that the child was in danger, but I really don’t see how anyone can know that based on the information in the OP’s letter.

      Am I missing something?

      1. Anonymous*

        You’re not missing something, the OP is vague about it. However, it’s not that strange for (alleged) abusers to admit to (allegedly) abusive behavior. In many case, the (alleged) abuser either doesn’t think his or her behavior is a problem, assumes he or she is above the law, or feels entitled to treat others with disrespect. It’s part of what makes them abusers.

    2. Lynda*

      Parents sometimes admit behavior because they don’t believe it was abuse. They believe it was justified. They tell the story with themselves as the hero, indicating what a good job they’re doing controlling their child’s inappropriate behavior. Weird, but true.

      1. Anonymous J*

        …Or there is drug use involved, and “Angela” referred to that, not making the connection to “child endangerment.” Depending on the type of drug use, there could be all kinds of creepy situations that come up around the child. Addicts don’t always make this cognitive leap.

        If there IS drug use, the other people involved–manager, hr people–may be participating in it or simply may be enablers.

        1. anonymous*

          yes, we had a co-worker show others the bong she bought her teenage son for Christmas – does not have a clue how inappropriate this is

  30. Joe*

    Pay the money and go to a GOOD employment attorney. NOW. Google on attorneys who have been quoted or used as sources in “Channel X on YOUR side” reports (see below). Game plan your meeting with HR beforehand with the attorney, including the question of whether you should even meet in the first place.

    Then, be ready to go immediately to the media after you see what’s what coming out of the HR meeting, presuming that you attend it. The attorney can lay the groundwork off-the-record with an Arnold Diaz-type, in case the result is anything other than a written statement stating effectively that “the supervisor is a fool, we know what’s going on and we’re dealing with it. CPS investigations are confidential, and you should never have been questioned about anything.”

    1. wits*

      Google? People show up on google based on how many times their name appears on the web, not how well they practice their profession. Instead, find your local bar association and call them and ask for a referral.

  31. CPS Employee in CA*

    It sounds like Angela is likely telling people that someone made a “false” report about her to CPS, which is a crime. Perhaps this is the angle that the company is trying to explore despite the fact that this is a legal matter to be investigated by law enforcement. The company may be looking to punish the “criminal” who made the “false” report to CPS. However, it seems that the OP made the report based on a reasonable suspicion that some type of abuse or neglect is taking place. If that it the case, then as previously stated the OP’s anonymity is protected. Angela sounds like she is in a very desperate situation and is trying to blame others for the circumstances that she has created for herself. Angela was obviously sharing the details of her personal life in the workplace and is the real “criminal” in this scenario. I hope Angela’s child or children are in a safe environment now.

    As for mandated reporters, you are only legally obligated to report if you come across the abuse/neglect in the course of your job. If the perpetrator is a neighbor/relative/whomever, then you are not legally obligated to report it (although morality is a separate issue). Also, a mandated reporter cannot make an anonymous report because you have to provide your relationship to the child. Mandated reporters will also receive a letter regarding the general outcome of the report (i.e. case closed/no abuse, family stabilized, case opened, etc.).

    1. Anonymous*

      I know the OP already has updated once, but I wonder if she knows any details about the result of the CPS investigation – if it was deemed a false report or if the children removed, etc.

      1. Erin*

        I just read through all the comments again… When did the OP update? I find this mess to be fascinating, so I didn’t think I would miss something like that!

      2. OP*

        From what I understand, the report was followed up on within 24 hours with a home visit, followed later by meetings at his school, and an interview with the child’s grandparents (her parents).

        I am not aware of any official determination at this time, but Angela is not talking about it much at work since the fallout. The child is still at home, as far as I know.

    2. Anonymous*

      Making a false report to CPS is not a crime, though if an administrative law judge feels that the report was made maliciously the name of the reporter can be given to the person that was reported.
      As for mandated reporters, at least in my state, they have to report -any- suspicions of abuse of -any- child, not just those they come in contact with through work. All DSS personnel in my state are mandated reporters.

  32. Henning Makholm*

    If the manager is really using words like “betray” here, then she is a loon, no doubt about that. But it’s not clear that HR should be tarred with the same brush.

    If Angela came to HR saying something like “I spoke up against OP’s racist wisecracks, and now he’s falsely sicced CPS on me in retaliation”, then I think the employer would need to start some sort of internal investigation to figure out what the hell happened. It could be argued that they should wait until the CPS investigation completes, but would that necessarily be of any use? Suppose CPS find no cause for further action. They probably wouldn’t be allowed to disclose whether they found the initial tip to be clearly frivolous or “honest, reasonable suspicion which our investigation could not substantiate”.

  33. Anonymous*

    Posting as an anonymous lawyer:

    Deny, and here’s why:

    1) You have no legal obligation to discuss this with your company. This is a good starting point. If your company could require you to talk (which they can’t,) then the anonymous nature of the law would be dispelled. Since the law overrides your company’s interest in being nosy, they can’t make you answer. They can’t even make you talk about it.

    2) However, it’s not in your interest to fight that battle. You will probably expose yourself as the one who did it, and you’ll be subject to retaliation or possibly firing.

    3) Because the company is responsible for putting you in an untenable position (you can’t refuse to talk because you may be fired, but they have no right to ask you those questions) you should lie. Not incidentally, this is similar to the common cases of lying about your future child-raising plans, or about whether you’re a Yankees fan. If the subject matter is irrelevant to the job, you can say whatever you want.

    4) You FUNCTIONALLY can’t be terminated for lying, because you can’t get caught out: unless you confess, nobody will know that it was you. I would never suggest that you perjure yourself in court, or lie to a police officer. But I’ll clear up a common misconception: LYING IS NOT ILLEGAL. And a good thing, too, or we would all be in jail. So you should not feel uncomfortable about it.

    5) You possibly CAN get fired if you confess. And no, you wouldn’t necessarily have a wrongful discharge claim. Unless you’re what is called a “mandatory reporter” (doctors, nurses, teachers, etc.–read up on this online) then your decision to report was discretionary. And if you’re making unwanted discretionary decisions (especially on work time) then they can fire you. To use a different example: If your boss arrives at work drunk, or has three martinis before she leaves for the day, then you could call the cops and file a drunk driving report. This is discretionary (you don’t have to do it,) true (she is drunk and driving,) and relevant to third parties (drunk drivers kill people.) But as you might expect, you could probably be fired for that.

    5) So I would probably ignore AAM’s advice. Mount a plausible denial. I would simply say “No, of course I didn’t report. Why are you asking me? What has happened?” Stick to your guns.

    6) That said: The company is off its rocker here. I STRONGLY advise that you blow a couple of hours to speak with an employment lawyer (find one on the plaintiff’s side.)

    7) For SURE, you should place an (anonymous) call to DCF and explain what happened. “I made an anonymous referral regarding _____. It seems to have resulted in an investigation. Now my employer is on a witch hunt to find the referrer. Is this legal? What should I do?” (you may want to white lie a bit and say that you’ve already been interviewed once, so that you’re not easily identifiable.) If DCF were to call your employer and read them the riot act, the interviews may stop.

    1. Anonymous*

      Perfectly stated. I would think lying is the ideal solution in this situation, because if you confess, your employer can fire you (remember, they can fire you for ANY reason).

  34. Joanna Reichert*

    Wow, wow, and wow. Aren’t people just the greatest?!

    I’m SO looking forward to the OP’s post-HR interview reply. I hope she’s read everything here, there is some excellent advice – so sad that she has to defend her morals!

  35. OP*

    I had the meeting yesterday.

    Prior to the meeting, I did get some advice from an attorney relative, which was very similar to what AAM suggested in #2 (with a bit more of a “deny” edge). On his suggestion, I confirmed the phone call via email to the HR rep, with a request that HR rep send me a meeting invite to hold the time slot. She replied, a day later, with a vague invitation and no further detail.

    Present at the meeting were my manager and an employee relations type from HR (non-lawyer). There was no grilling and no demanding to know if I was involved; in fact, the specific situation wasn’t even discussed and they did not mention the coworker’s name. Instead, the HR rep said they just wanted to talk to me about “concerns” related to employee guidelines, and gave a very general reiteration of our company policies on resolving issues directly with our coworkers, how we shouldn’t use confidential information or gossip we learn on the job in a negative way, or take personal issues into the workplace (or vice versa).

    It was all very weird, lawyered, and defensive (on their part). I asked if I had done anything wrong, and was told that this was just a “general policy discussion.” I asked for a specific example of the “concerns,” and the HR person said she could not share confidential personnel information. When I asked if this was related to the issue with Angela that my manager had questioned me about — and that the HR rep had mentioned in the original phone call — HR person flinched a bit but repeated the same line about confidentiality.

    My manager did not say anything besides “hi” and thanking me for coming, didn’t even really look at me much throughout it. There was no paperwork, and I was assured that this was not an official action against me. I told them I was confused by the meeting and unsure how to reconcile it with my understanding of the company’s stated beliefs on transparency and how it treats employees, but that was the extent of my soapboxing — I didn’t really want to get into it more if I wasn’t even being accused of anything.

    I’m not really sure what to say; between last week and this week, my manager and her HR contact apparently backed way off from their original approach. While relieved that my job is not at immediate apparent risk, I’m still furious that it got to this point, and it’s somehow even more galling that they would now take this approach of confronting me without actually doing so.

    I haven’t talked to my manager about the situation since. I don’t know how to work for someone who thinks the way she does, and highly doubt our relationship is salvageable. She’s always been a little unpredictable, but overall we’ve had a great relationship — granted, her loyalties to Angela go much deeper. I have absolutely loved the company and the people I work with, which makes this all incredibly strange.

    Sorry this is so long — I’ll respond to a couple other comments momentarily. I very much appreciate all the great advice, especially as I’ve felt a bit like I’m in bizarro world at work.

    And I’ll be reworking my resume this weekend.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wow. Thank you for checking back in and updating us! This is very interesting, and it sounds like they at least figured out that they couldn’t sustain your manager’s initial aggressive approach. This is still inappropriate and over the line though.

      Do you have the type of relationship with your manager where you could go to her and say, “Hey, I’m really confused by our meeting the other day. It sounded like you guys were trying to give me some sort of message without really saying it, and since I’m sure the company would never discourage people from reporting honest concerns about child abuse, what was that about?”

      1. OP*

        In the past, I would have said yes, we do have that kind of relationship, but I also wouldn’t have expected anything at all like this out of her. She, too, had had serious concerns about Angela’s home life, which were openly discussed with other me and a couple others on the team. (In hindsight, it had turned into a rather gossipy and unproductive situation, but there was genuine concern on all sides for what Angela was going through.)

        I’m hoping someone has talked some sense into her, and if that’s the case, perhaps I will broach it with her early next week. I think I need to calm down a bit too for that discussion to be productive. Thank God for weekends.

        Again, appreciate the advice. I’ve been given a lot to think about.

        1. Anon*

          Perhaps your manager and/or the HR rep also read this blog and realized they were on dangerous ground.

  36. Eric*

    Same Eric as post 8. Looks like my analysis of the situation was dead on.

    Accusations such as this hurt and you probably had nothing but gossip to go on. I’m still wondering what evidence you had to go on to make the report. Most posters here seem to assume that this Angela person told you she beats here child with a closed fist and has to conceal the bruises so the teacher doesn’t see. Because, you know, casually sharing that at work is so normal.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wow. I do not see that here at all.

      Based on the info we’ve been given here, the company was in the wrong. And people do share all kinds of personal info with their coworkers that they shouldn’t be sharing, including info on abuse and other illegal activities. It’s not uncommon at all.

      Whether the OP is ultimately right or wrong about her coworker, reporting honestly held concerns that a child could be being abused is the right thing to do. No, CPS isn’t perfect and people absolutely have had awful things happen as a result of false reports, but the alternative is worse. I know a couple of people who wish someone had spoken up for them when they were kids.

    2. Anonimous*

      Sorry AAM, I’m with Eric in the minority on this.

      Almost everyone here is assuming a child’s life was in danger, when in fact we really know nothing other than the OP was “suspicious”. What exactly made them suspicious?

      I’m a parent and I know that people without kids seldom understand the difference between discipline and abuse. For example, the other day I slapped my son’s hand when he reached for the stove a forth time after being told three times not to do that. He didn’t reach for the stove again.

      Did I teach my son a valuable lesson? Definitely – he knows that no means no and that he needs to stay away from the stove. Did I get physical with my 4yr old? Yes. Am I an abuser? I centainly don’t think so, but I suspect some folks here would dissagree and would feel justified in dragging me and my son through a CPS investigation.

      Given the follow up from the OP, I’m “suspicious” that their assesment of the company’s initial reaction was blown out of proportion. It sounds more like the boss may have over-reacted and HR was never part of it and was just trying to straighten him out

      As Eric said, these accusations cause damage. Anyone making a report should be cognizant of that fact and should make sure that they have something more substantial than gossip to go on.

      You can’t push someone off the roof because you suspect that maybe he can fly. You need to be sure.

      1. Nichole*

        Eh…I get what you and Eric are saying here, but I don’t see reporting an honest suspicion of abuse as “pushing someone off the roof.” Calling CPS is a heads up that hey, something might be wrong here. It’s up to the investigators to determine if you’re right or not. From what I understand, these cases are sometimes closed without the parent in question even knowing it happened (don’t quote me on that though, it’s just something I’ve heard). The reporter is just saying they noticed something that may be of concern, and we have no idea what Angela said to kick off those concerns. If the OP had swooped in and taken Angela’s child to the police station demanding that they put her in jail because she said she “swatted” him, that would be pushing her off the roof. What the OP did was equivalent to shaking a sleeping police officer and saying “Is that lady supposed to be up there?” If she has nothing to hide, then this was an oops on the OP’s part. If she does have something to hide, it needed to be done and she gets what she gets. Either way, the OP can sleep at night. Calling CPS isn’t a decision to make lightly, so if the OP thought it was important enough to do so, from our perspective all we can do is give the benefit of the doubt and go from there.

        1. OP*

          Yes, this was a situation I agonized over for some time — I wasn’t tattling on someone for a smack on the butt here.

          I did want to point out too that it was not Angela, but her new husband I suspect of abusing her child (and I am quite positive he is abusing her; she told multiple people at work this directly, and acknowledged that the child had witnessed some of it). I apologize for initially leaving that out.

          There was enough additional information from her to make me think abuse against her son had occurred: increased absences (both Angela & her child), her child had told his her that he was afraid of her husband, he refused to spend time with husband alone, was pulled out of sports and other activities, had reverted to wetting the bed and sucking his thumb (he is way too old for that). I interact with the child every once in a while, and found his change in behavior striking (withdrawn, afraid, where he had been a happy, outgoing kid before).

          When Angela didn’t show up for a couple days and was unreachable, multiple people (including my manager) seriously wondered if her husband had really hurt and possibly killed her – and not as an idle question. That was the day I made the report.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I hope these details convince the two or three skeptics here — these are all classic signs of abuse. You undoubtedly did the right thing.

          2. Never OK to lie*

            Good golly! Those are more than enough reasons to report it. Heck, just a few of those scream child abuse, as a whole the sound is deafening! What do you want, a dead body before y’all report it!

            Way to go, OP! I am proud of what you did.

          3. Lynda*

            Good for you, OP. You responded bravely to a frightening and personally difficult situation.

          4. Emily*

            OP—You’re on my mind this week! I don’t know you, but I’m really proud that you did what you did. You did the right thing (and I believed that before all these additional details; none of this has sounded like it came about on a whim or a lark). Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

      2. Jamie*

        Obviously when people comment here it’s based on the information given in the initial letter, and subsequent follow ups from the OP, when available.

        If each scenario needed to be vetted personally the comments section would be nothing but crickets chirping.

        The information given was that she was suspicious of child abuse. Her opinion was that the child was in danger of being harmed. Given those facts she did the right thing in reporting it to the proper authorities – because the alternative was for her to think a child was being abused and to do nothing to stop it. That would be unconscionable – she did the right thing which couldn’t have been easy. Easy is not getting involved.

        We don’t know the specifics or if it would rise to every reader’s definition of where discipline crosses the line to abuse. We also don’t know that it was something minimal as the swat on the hand in your example, either.

        That’s the point. Every reader of this post would probably have a different standard for what rises to “abuse” – some standards closer than others, I would expect. That’s just a statistical probability. That’s why there is a system in place, albeit imperfect, where CPS determines if it rises to the legal definition of abuse and they proceed from there as it is their charge to protect the welfare of the child.

        The OP cannot be the deciding factor, nor can she intervene. She had concern for the safety of a child so she voiced that concern to the authorities and it is now in their hands.

        If they determine the child is safe with the mother she still did the right thing, because she erred on the side of protecting a child.

        If she called because someone swatted a toddler’s hand then she has issues – but there was nothing in the letter to indicate that she was either vindictive or crazy.

        Yes, sometimes the system sucks and in my opinion fraudulent claims of abuse is the most horrific form of slander. But every day children do die at the hands of their families and countless others live in horrifying situations.

        In a perfect world there would be no erroneous claims and the system would work perfectly. But the reality is better that 100 claims get investigated and dismissed than one child slip through the cracks and is harmed because no one cared enough to say anything.

      3. Anonymous*

        I really have to disagree with you, but not because I think that the child is in imminent danger of death. Unlike Eric, I don’t think that the posters are assuming that the kid is coming to school with visible bruises everywhere.

        However, I have been a teacher of abused children (in a different country). It’s heartbreaking to work with kids who’ve been taught to fear adults; they automatically block the blows that they expect to come. Also, I’ve spent time in a domestic abuse shelter working with abused survivors. I can tell you that none of those kids are at the shelter because their parents slapped their hands when they were reaching for the stove for the 4th time.

        I had a friend who did discuss her own case with CPS while we were in high school. Her father occasionally beat her and frequently held knives to her mom’s throat after any kind of argument (cell phone plans, unpaid bills, class choices, etc.). CPS didn’t do anything because he did not beat her all the time, just occasionally.

        I would hope that anybody who sees a child in what could be real danger would report it. If the OP saw a situation so terrible that she called in CPS and CPS is doing something about it, I’m guessing that the call was a good one.

    3. A. Nony Mouse*

      The OP felt she had enough information to warrant CPS involvement, and she made the call. She hasn’t given us any details, and quite frankly it’d be inappropriate for her to divulge them. This stuff really is supposed to be confidential.

      We’re on this blog to discuss ways to deal with tricky situations, not to try and second-guess people’s motives. Trying to judge whether the OP’s reasons for calling CPS were ‘good enough’ is not a useful fight. I’d rather give the people who submit questions the benefit of the doubt, and work from there.

      1. Anon*

        Hear, hear! Well said, and about time! This blog is not about bashing the OP’s who write here, but to help them navigate the waters. Thank you for pointing this out – maybe you should re-post it in ALL CAPS.

    4. Anonymous*

      I think the issue here is that this post wasn’t about whether she had enough suspicion to call CPS, the issue is that her company was trying to discipline her for something that was not work-related, and furthermore, was confidential. They were getting involved where they had to right to.

      We shouldn’t be questioning the evidence the OP had to call CPS, we should be questioning the practices and actions of the company, the manager, and the HR department. The question was essentially, “How do I react when my company interferes where they shouldn’t be?”

      I whole-heartedly disagree with Eric, but that’s not the point here. We have to base our suggestions on the information we are given, we can’t fill in information where it’s not included. Based on what we know, the company and manager were in the wrong and the HR department handled it poorly by skating around the issue.

  37. Mike*

    Anonimous, you’re asking for benefit of the doubt, when you’re extending none to the OP. She didn’t specify what was in her report, nor should she have to. It’s not your business, it’s not my business, it’s nobody’s business but the Protective Services in her … state, province, canton, whatever.

    I don’t know about where you or OP live, but around here, it is a crime to not report child abuse, real or suspected. OP did the right thing, and her manager and HR should *not* have reacted the way they did, *regardless* of whether or not Angela abused her child. The situation would be the same if OP and Angela were neighbours; this just happens to be a workplace.

  38. Cindy Lou Who*

    Yeah, the issue here really isn’t whether or not Angela really abused her kid. The issue is the reaction by management and/or HR when this type of issue creeps into the workplace. We can all go on and on about whether or not the OP should have called CPS, but it’s really not our call.

  39. Eric*

    It’s now about how the OP will get a long in her work environment.

    Her professional relationship with Angela is shot.
    Her relationship with her manager is strained.
    Her credibility around the company is shot.
    She’s now going to go on the job hunt.

    Instead of calling CPS I would recommend bouncing your concerns off of a spouse or friend to see if they get the same vibe you do. There are tremendous consequences even if you think you are protected by anonymity and law.

    1. L*

      We don’t know that the OP didn’t bounce it off their spouse or friends. They said they agonized over it before making the call. There is no way that you are going to accept that the OP made a called based on their legitimate belief that Angela’s child was in an abusive situation, is there?

      It is too bad when parents are visited by CPS and they have done nothing wrong. But the focus should be on the witch hunt perpetuated by the OP’s management company and not your belief that no one should ever interfere in anyone else’s life.

    2. Never OK to lie*

      You wanted her reasons, well look above. What exactly do you want: find a body with duct tape over the mouth and nose and then I guess you would still not believe that the parent did it!

  40. Anonymous*

    It’s the co-workers fault. The co-worker brought all of this upon herself. If she had kept her mouth shut instead of going on and on about her personal life, then this wouldn’t have happened.

    1. Never OK to lie*

      DO WHAT?!?!?!?! Did you read what the OP posted had happened. The co worker should have gotten the !@#$!@#$ out!!! She put her son in danger and herself. It is not the co workers fault or the OP’s fault! The fault lays squarely with the scum who uses them as a punching bag!

    2. Marie*

      Wow! The co-worker should have kept her mouth shut??? “Anoymous”, I’m assuming you’re an online troll.

  41. Chris*

    Yes, with the OP’s further comments, there is reason to report abuse. We didn’t have all her story when it was originally reported.

  42. Anonymous*

    This is absolutely crazy! Why would the company even want to go down that road is beyond me. Maybe she is a stellar employee and they don’t want her life to be upended? I don’t understand.

  43. Anon*

    I work in call centers. We were told at most of them that we would be FIRED if we called 911 if we ever overheard any sort of abuse during a call.

    Screw that. If I heard someone abusing a spouse/partner, child, parent, pet, etc, I will damned well call 911 as soon as possible. No job is worth the life of another living being.

  44. JW*

    Some states also consider it a crime to NOT report suspected child abuse, in which case, OP could have been held criminally negligent for choosing to ignore the signs. Kudos to you, OP, for doing the right thing.

  45. Anonymous J*

    OP, I don’t know where this whole situation is at now, but I want you to know that, no matter what has happened, you did the right thing.

    I sincerely hope that little boy is OK!



  47. Stacey M*

    There is something called the “Freedom of Information Act”… Please do not assume your anonymity is protected under the law. My question is, if you suspected something in her home life, was this your first course of action? Because if you were incorrect, you have no idea the unintended consequences for your co-worker and her family. Truly, if you thought there was a “situation” and you are her friend, I’m sure there were other routes to investigate first, before involving an uncaring and

  48. MY NANA*


Comments are closed.