update: coworker keeps calling me “baby mama”

Remember the reader whose coworker kept calling her “baby mama” after she returned from maternity leave, even going so far as to refer to as another coworker’s “baby mama”? (And that other coworker was simply another person he disliked, not the father of the letter-writer’s child.) Here’s the update — and it doesn’t end up where you think it will!

So, I went to HR about this once Fergus REALLY crossed the line (he called me a “know-it-all c- word” at a work function). My manager and this jerk are friends, so going to my boss isn’t going to help.

I was called into a 1.5 hour meeting with the local HR rep and the area manager after my complaint. They spent the first five minutes telling me that this “has been addressed” and will not happen again. The remaining hour and 20 minutes was spent reprimanding me for things I’ve been doing for the whole three years I’ve worked here that were never a problem, and have never been raised as an issue until now. It was all small things, and 99% of these things were done at my boss’s’ request or with his written permission. (Example: coming in to work early Monday-Thursday to make up for having to come in late Friday because of a prenatal appointment.) I protested when they gave me a formal write-up, and asked to see any documentation that I was ever told any of these things were a problem. (Company policy requires a verbal reprimand before a written reprimand.) They were unable to present anything. Not only was I written up, but my job duties were so significantly decreased that I went from being an office manager to a receptionist.

I took my case to the corporate VP of HR, claiming hostile work environment, retaliation for filing an HR complaint, sexual harassment, etc. He ignored me and my emails for three months and only responded when I threatened to get a lawyer involved. I was offered a job in a different state (I was looking to relocate anyway, but the offered job was not anywhere near where I was trying to move to), and pretty much told that I could either take the job, take two weeks severance, or quit my whining.

I now have a child and my husband recently lost his job, so unfortunately I’m stuck in this nightmare workplace.

However, now, almost a year later, I have had all the tasks they took away returned. Not to sound cocky, but no one else could handle them, so they had to give them back! The manager has been ordered to leave me alone and has not spoken to me since. He still runs his mouth behind my back, but I just can’t be bothered to care.

I did recently speak to the VP of HR again (he was visiting our site), and he asked me how this situation was going. I flat-out told him that I will NEVER being contacting HR for anything again. He seemed surprised. I told him that all HR did was make the entire situation drastically worse, and I’ve learned my lesson. He apologized for about 10 minutes, and I just got annoyed, stopped him, and walked away.

He was so upset that he complained to his boss. His boss reviewed the whole file, and I received a formal apology from his boss the next day. He personally fired the local HR rep and the HR VP. The lovely d-bag that was making the “baby mama” comments now has to attend a two-week sensitivity training course, and had to write me an apology. So, long story short, it almost a year but finally was resolved.

{ 249 comments… read them below }

  1. fposte

    Wow. That was a long wait for justice there, and I didn’t think it was ever going to come. And good for you, OP, for reporting to the VP how useless HR had been!

    1. esra

      Was coming to say just this, good for you OP! It took way too long, but I’m glad to hear you stood your ground and there was eventually a proper resolution.

    2. Apollo Warbucks

      Justice delayed is justice denied, there’s no way the should have taken so long to get to that out come.

    3. Elizabeth West

      Yes yes yes! I’m glad she said something. Hopefully they have hired better HR people now. Even if OP doesn’t stay there, that will help her coworkers.

      And Fergus is [nasty word] himself. Too bad they didn’t fire HIM.

      1. Laurel Gray

        Impossible for me not to believe Fergus isn’t a piece of shit outside of work. If you can get away with being this level of creep at your place of employment for so long, I bet he does similar in social settings. How many butts has this guy grabbed? How many other women has he called the C or B or whatever else words? I know I am making some major assumptions here but I’m so used to hearing and seeing examples of people carrying themselves professionally at work and misbehaving outside of work, that I can only imagine how a creep would behave at work if management’s ways allow him to be a creep there.

        To borrow from Wacko Jane in the earlier letter, I would “destroy” Fergus if he called me a c word . :/

    4. J.

      Wow, seriously. So many undesirable twists, but I’m so glad it finally worked out. Good for you, OP!

    5. KMS1025

      But wait, does this read that the VP of HR complained to his boss, who reviewed the entire situation and fired both the local HR person and the VP of HR??? Wow!!!

      1. annonymouse

        Considering the HR VP basically ignored a sexual harassment/discrimination and HR retaliation law suit and their solutions were
        “To take the job (in a different state), take two weeks severance pay or stop whining”

        They should have been fired. Imagine if she went to the press with this.

        And does the HR VP even understand what their job is? It’s not to protect Fergus the jerk…..

  2. Dr. Johnny Fever

    This ending is so glorious this should be made into a movie! How rare to see poetic justice applied so beautifully to real life.

    I think this might be my favorite update ever.

    1. Anlyn

      Same here. We so often want to see this kind of thing resolved with a clear understanding that the OP was wronged and justice is provided, and it’s so rare that it actually happens.

      Congratulations, OP, I’m so glad things worked out, and HR was reprimanded for their actions.

    2. Isabel

      Yes, best update ever! I am astounded you had the strength to persevere and work under those conditions. The whole story is just amazing.

    3. LadyCop

      Wow. Yes. Encouraging to know that sometimes in life things really do work out for the best, no matter how dark they get.

  3. AMG

    Thank God you finally got vindication! Does anyone else wonder how many of the same companies all our OPs are working at?

    1. Tara

      When reading these things I always find myself wishing that all the OPs are just working for one mega-terrible company that I could just avoid. Sadly, this is clearly not the case.

      1. Nina

        Right? Between this and those awful “dog friendly” a-holes from yesterday’s update, it’s just downright depressing.

        So glad the OP got some vindication, though. I would totally savor that written apology.

      2. KVaren

        I know! If I ever (maybe accidentally) end up working at a dog-friendly company, my co-workers are going to get serious side-eye from me until they prove themselves innocent.

      3. GS

        This just randomly reminded me of one of my favorite books: “Company.” It’s fiction, about a mega-terrible company (as in, “The numbers in the elevator are in reverse because the CEO’s office should be number one.”) and it’s wonderful in its insanity and likeness to real life.

  4. AshleyH

    Oh my gosh. I’m glad it’s somewhat resolved now but what a TERRIBLE HR department! I’m a former HR person (current recruiter) and it’s HR people like that who give us a bad name.

  5. Roly Poly Little Bat Faced Girl

    My mouth literally fell open when I read the VP of HR’s boss personally fired the local HR rep and HR VP. Sad that it’s shocking to me that such definitive action was (justifiably albeit belatedly) taken, but hooray for you, OP! I love a happy ending.

    1. Artemesia

      To clarify — the VP of HR that complained to his boss in the story here was also fired? And he was complaining about the OP not being accepting of his apology? Am I reading that right? I cannot believe that calling someone the C word is not a firing offense on the spot. B — well not good in the workplace but not nuclear — C — that is nuclear IMHO.

      1. JessaB

        I think that the VP OP complained to not the one that apologised. The one she originally escalated to.

        1. Zillah

          I think the one she complained to and the one who apologized were the same person – she mentions seeing him “again.”

          If I’m reading that right, I love it so much.

          VP: Boss, OP is awful and negative and walked away from me when I was talking to her! Can’t we DO something?
          Boss: Er, let me look at the file. [reads file] Wait, what the hell? Yes, we can do something. You’re fired.

  6. Snarkus Aurelius

    HR serves to protect the company, not you.  If ever an example of this in action, your experience would be it.

    This isn’t a happy ending, and I hope you know that.  Getting your duties back because no one else could do them doesn’t address the problem.  The manager in question was told to leave you alone instead of addressing his behavior.  (Do understand that the sensitivity training course is so the company can prove it took action in case this goes to court. This has nothing to do with his behavior as he knows it’s wrong.)  

    The only silver lining I see here is the two HR people getting fired, but even then I have my doubts.  What type of people are going to replace them?

    Band aid solutions are only going to fix problems in the short term.  This workplace needs long-term, permanent change that comes from above, including a harassment policy that’s fairly enforced.

    You probably already know this but you need a new job.  I’d also look pay a visit to your local EEOC office as well as an employment attorney.

    1. BRR

      I’m not sure I understand your second sentence. If they were protecting the company they would have fired the guy because he was a liability for the business.

      1. Crossed My Mind

        I agree, he was a liability so in that context the second sentence doesn’t quite add up. Then I recalled that the horrible ineffective manager who let the bad behaviour (maybe participated) is still there and “not talking to her”-that is beyond ridiculous. That the organization left that person in charge is troubling. Working with anyone who refuses to talk to you is stress inducing. When that person is your boss it is unacceptable. This sounds like a good outcome in many ways and hopefully it turns out to be true. I just hope the awful manager changes his behaviour.

        1. KMS1025

          In my own experience, if a manager is leading a money-making location for a big corporation, they get verbally slapped around a little bit, but not fired. There often seems to be a handy scapegoat. If, on the other hand, said location is a money pit…its an excellent excuse to take drastic action against the manager (even if its his/her undlerling that is actually guilty). Corporate politics…meh :-[

      2. Snarkus Aurelius

        They protected themselves when they demoted and wrote up the person threatening legal action instead of the troublemaker.

        The troublemaker wasn’t threatening legal action. He liked the status quo just fine.

        1. Adonday Veeah

          As an HR professional (kinda embarrassed to say that I’m in the same line of work as these bozos) I have to disagree with you that they were protecting the company by their actions (although I agree with you that that is HR’s primary function, and a well-protected company treats its employees with respect). They were protecting each other, and threw OP and the company under the bus as a result.

          Had they ACTUALLY been protecting the company, this would have gone very differently.

          1. Winter is Coming

            Agreed!
            These HR generalizations need to stop. They’re not accurate or fair. There are obviously some really bad apples out there, as in any profession, and this is a prime example. However, most of us are doing our jobs well, and bring a lot of value to our respective companies.

            1. Honeybee

              This. I think of HR kind of like public health – unfortunately, when it’s working well people tend not to notice because nothing happens. Which is what’s supposed to happen – nothing. It’s all happening behind the scenes. The problem is that when something does go wrong, *that’s* what becomes visible, so people have this skewed perception of HR being incompetent or self-absorbed.

              1. knitcrazybooknut

                Absolutely. I have years of experience working in Payroll, and I can tell you that the only time I get a phone call about a paycheck is when it’s wrong. I do not get six thousand other calls saying thank you for getting my check right.

              2. Michael

                Is there an opportunity for HR departments to regularly communicate their positive work and achievements to combat the “you only see us when there’s a problem” situation?

            2. F.

              Another HR manager here, and I agree! I do my very best to represent the company AND the interests of our employees in a legal and fair manner. However, in the end, HR still takes orders from above, and I have no power (short of leaving the company myself) to do anything about it. I am very glad these two unprofessional HR managers were fired. Unfortunately, in some companies the rot goes clear to the highest levels of management. At least this company wasn’t one of them.

            3. LBK

              I don’t think “HR exists to protect the company” is necessarily an unfair generalization, it’s that people have an skewed idea of what “protect the company” means. Done correctly, that doesn’t mean sweeping things under the rug or ensuring the big wigs never get in trouble. I agree with the others here saying nothing the HR rep or VP did “protected the company,” because the OP still had grounds for a lawsuit pretty much all the way until the very end of the story.

            4. Kyrielle

              HR is awesome. And unless someone’s having problems that HR directly resolves, that fact can go quietly, silently by. (Have had the joy of working with three wonderful HR departments over the years, and I was I’m sure a headache to the one at the company that bought $PreviousJob for $ReasonsNotMyFault – but they were nothing but professional and polite in handling my particular circumstance.)

              Of course, a bad apple in HR can be a truly horrific thing, which I think is the other reason why it’s very visible when they do happen – they make spectacularly good/bad/upsetting stories.

        2. BRR

          How as it protecting themselves when they demoted and wrote up the person threatening legal action? If I had to make a choice to act in the company’s best interest, it wouldn’t be to punish the person threatening legal action.

          1. F.

            They were trying to push her out or at least intimidate her into keeping her mouth shut. Basically “shooting the messenger”, so to speak.

            1. LBK

              But that’s the opposite of protecting the company because that only gives the OP more ammunition for a lawsuit. Nasty comments are hard to form into a discrimination lawsuit, but being demoted in response to reporting those comments? That seems extremely clear cut to me.

              1. Beancounter in Texas

                I think Snarkus Aurelius’ point was that the intimidation game that the local HR pulled works. Quite often. It’s the Godfather approach to “protecting the company.”

              2. Specialk9

                It worked though. The OP wrote into an internet advice column instead of getting a lawyer, sucked up a demotion and then meekly took back on ask the prior duties, and made no waves. From their point of view, they won.

        3. neverjaunty

          They actually opened the company up to a very ugly lawsuit. Protecting the company would have meant bouncing Fergus sooner rather than later, and certainly by the time somebody is pushed to the point of involving lawyers.

        4. catsAreCool

          “They spent the first five minutes telling me that this “has been addressed” and will not happen again. The remaining hour and 20 minutes was spent reprimanding me for things I’ve been doing for the whole three years I’ve worked here that were never a problem, and have never been raised as an issue until now.”

          To me, the above isn’t protecting the company; it’s more like giving LW incentive for a lawsuit. To be treated that way for reporting on something wrong is just awful. If the local HR rep and the area manager cared about protecting the company, they would have at the least put Fergus on probation and would have thanked the LW.

          In the long run, Fergus is clearly a time bomb waiting to go off and cause a lawsuit or something bad at the company.

    2. fposte

      And I’m not sure I understand your last sentence. The offender has been disciplined, HR has been fired, and the OP is doing awesomely. Why does she need a new job and a lawsuit?

        1. SL #2

          I understand involving the EEOC as, “my coworker Fergus harassed me with sexist slurs + HR retaliated against me because of my gender when I reported Fergus for using sexist slurs = this is a discriminatory workplace.”

            1. Snarkus Aurelius

              Not in my judgment at least. Resolved in that the OP got her job back and no more direct harassment.

              Besides this constitutes sexual harassment. Even if it’s over, the EEOC may still want to look into it or at the very least advise her.

              1. fposte

                The end of harassment *is* a resolution. If there are other damages–to the OP’s promotional track, for instance–that are a consequence of the harassment that aren’t resolved, that’s another matter, but it doesn’t sound like there are.

                I get that you want them to suffer more for allowing it to happen and not intervening for some time, but the fact is they did eventually intervene and took some very clear action.

                1. Katie the Fed

                  Yes, this. The point of an EEO complaint is to remedy the situation, not get rich off a company’s incompetence. The issue has been resolved.

                2. Camellia

                  Joining late but…isn’t her boss still not speaking to her? *Some* harassment and retaliation may have ended, but not all.

              2. LBK

                I’m not sure what else they’d be expected to do at this point, though. At most they could levy damages, but she’d have to show that there was significant physical or mental harm as a result of the situation (which there may have been, but I’m not sure just from the letter).

                1. LBK

                  (As a side note, I was reading some EEO digests to confirm my understanding of the kinds of rulings they give out. If you really want to be enraged, read the “breach of settlement” section – absolutely galling what some people will still try to get away with after they’ve already been brought before the Commission.)

          1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

            And it would appear she’s looking for money. A little too late. OP rode the situation out.

      1. neverjaunty

        She doesn’t need a lawsuit. She needs to consult with an attorney so she knows how to get her ducks in a row if (when) the company and/or Fergus retaliates.

    3. AMG

      I took your comments to mean that the company is ultimately only doing a CYA and not getting rid of deplorable behavior (the manager) and there is a culture of that going on–is that what you are saying?

    4. Green

      It’s sad that it took this much effort from OP, but I think firing two HR people (including a VP), requiring an apology and training a year later for the colleague and a written formal apology is a significant step in the right direction…

      1. LBK

        It’s the “a year later” part that scares me – is it going to take that long to get any kind of traction on an extremely serious issue going forward? And will it require involving the head of HR every time?

        1. VintageLydia USA

          Presumably the replacements for the people who were fired won’t be so terrible at their jobs.

          1. Cassandra

            I’d place a bet that this situation, hypotheticalized, will be a how-would-you-handle-this interview question for both hires.

    5. hbc

      “Do understand that the sensitivity training course is so the company can prove it took action in case this goes to court.” Yes, often, but it’s also so they can point to the training when they write the guy up or kick him out and he claims “Oh, I didn’t know I couldn’t fling around sexist slurs.”

      1. neverjaunty

        Kind of a silly CYA in that regard, in that “being a sexist d-bag” is not actually a protected category.

      2. Artemesia

        A guy who calls his subordinate ‘baby mama’ may need sensitivity training although not after being asked to stop. A guy who EVER calls his subordinate the C word does not need sensitivity training. This is not insensitive or a mistake — this is hostile aggression and he should have been fired. He should still be fired. It is a limited victory.

        1. Green

          I agree that he should have been fired after the C-word incident, but I don’t think I feel the same way about about firing him a year later for an incident the company has known about the whole time. Even more conflicted about that if they have a progressive discipline policy. Ultimately HR and leadership set the “tone” for the office about appropriate behavior and the seriousness of various issues: HR’s inaction (and, in fact, their retaliation) is the far more egregious problem in the workplace than the bad actor coworker.

          1. OhNo

            I agree that since it was a year later, firing may not have been an option. Even in this letter, we’ve seen that higher ups bringing up events from way in the past is viewed as ridiculous at best (HR bringing up events from three years ago in the “meeting” the OP mentioned). Given the time lapse, they may have viewed this as the only option for now.

            I do wonder – is this manager older or a member of another protected class? Perhaps HR is worried about a discrimination complaint from the manager if they tried to fire him a year after the initial event.

            1. neverjaunty

              As AAM has pointed out before – everybody is a member of a protected class (except for people over 40 and disabilities).

        2. hbc

          He apparently stopped that exact action when he was told, though. The point of the training is “you don’t understand social norms, so here are *all* of them” so you don’t have a chain of asking him to stop specific actions and him finding new insulting words or actions. (“What, now B word is off the table?”)

    6. VintageLydia USA

      Part of protecting the company is protecting them from lawsuits–and she probably could have legitimately brought one up, if not for the original harassment, then for the retaliation (which is often easier to prove regardless of whether the original complaint was founded.) The HR department all the way up to the VP explicitly were NOT protecting the company in this instance. Firing the VP and the local HR person IS a long term solution to the problem. Presumably the boss will then hire an actually competent HR VP who would then hire an actually competent local HR person.

    7. Swarley

      “HR serves to protect the company, not you.”

      Aside from the fact that this statement is false, how are the actions (or inactions in this case) protecting the company? None of what happened before the big boss stepped in protects the company, in my opinion.

      1. Dan

        “HR serves to protect the company, not you.”

        How is this statement false? That’s a common message that gets delivered here.

        1. AnotherHRPro

          HR (like all employees actually) serves the company. Many employees and managers have the misconception that HR is to be their advocate, there to help them. While being an employee advocate is not necessarily outside of our scope of responsibility, the company is our focus. HR advocates for employees when it is in the company’s best interest. After all, jerk managers are generally not in the company’s best interest. They can cause turnover, decreased productivity, possible lawsuits, etc.

        1. BRR

          Maybe a post how HR can both protect the company AND serve in the best interest of employees. I feel bad for the good HR people who get associated with the schmucks in the letters.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Those two things won’t always go hand in hand though. Very often, they do. It’s certainly in the best interests of both the company and employees to have HR ensuring that the company acts legally, hires well, provides competitive salaries and benefits, doesn’t overwork people, etc. But sometimes the interests are in conflict at the individual employee level, and in those cases it’s HR’s job to advance the company’s interests.

            1. F.

              Sometimes it is also a matter of educating the employees on what their actual rights and responsibilities are. I see many circumstances in this forum and others where employees cry, “It’s not FAIR!” when the employee does not have the full picture or understanding of what is legal or necessary in the workplace. With the exception of grievous offenses, I nearly always try to educate the employee first before any disciplinary action is taken.

              1. LBK

                Well, just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it is fair. In an HR context, you’re likely most concerned about the law, but when we’re speaking generally on this site I don’t think it’s wrong to say that something is unfair even if it’s legally allowed (and there are many things that are, especially in the US).

          2. Gandalf the Nude

            I just roll my eyes and follow Alison’s example by using them as “a model of what not to do.” Maybe I’ll write an Ode to the Bad HR People of Ask a Manager, in honor of what they’ve taught me.

        2. Swarley

          Fair enough; I took it as an all encompassing statement. But I completely disagree with Snarkus Aurelius that the OP’s experience is an example of HR protecting the company. Protecting the company would have been responding to the situation by objectively investigating the situation, taking appropriate action, and following up with the OP and, at the very least clarifying that this type of behavior is not acceptable at work, not sweep it under the rug as they initially did.

          1. Awkially Socward

            I’m not sure what’s missing here.

            HR acts to protect the company. No-one said that they always act *competantly* to protect the company, nor did anyone say that their actions always results in actual protection.

            Acting to sweep it under the rug and make sure the original complainant learns to not rock the boat would be well-within the *intent* of protecting the company. Further complaints from the complainant would just look like sour-grapes over the demotion and poor review.

            The fact that the VP was so shocked with the LW response, and the ease with which the Boss of VP managed the firing, suggests to me that the VP and HRPerson have been doing this for a while as their go-to response, and that the paper-trail was clear once someone actually looked at it.

            No-one suggested that either was actually good at their job in all instances.

    1. ITChick

      I know! I was like oh god no, no no no and feeling so awful for the OP and them BAM super happy perfect ending. That was a wild ride.

      1. AndersonDarling

        Me too! By the time I got to the end I was screaming with delight…in my head, of course. I want to keep a link of this update on my desktop so I can reread it when I need a pick-me-up.

      2. mirror

        I honestly don’t find the ending satisfying. OP is still stuck with the 2 people who started this whole thing: Guy Who Thinks It’s Ok to Call Women C*nt’s, and Boss Who Tried To Get Harassed Woman Fired And Now Doesn’t Speak to Her. Instead, 2 people OP had waaaaay less interaction with and who don’t affect her day-to-day work life were fired.

        Boss is never going to promote, support, or help OP grow in any way. I can imagine him making her work life a whole lot harder (denying vacation, leaving work early for an appt, piling more work on, etc). And there’s no way I believe the other guy is going to suddenly be a pleasant co-worker.

          1. Izzy

            Me too. I thought maybe the ending seemed so awesome because what came before it was so awful. When someone has been kicking you for a while, it feels so good when they stop.

        1. catsAreCool

          Maybe the “two-week sensitivity training course” is a step toward kicking Fergus out – he can’t act like he doesn’t know better after that.

          1. KMS1025

            Thats how I view that training too…a precursor to “we told you to knock it off, now you’re fired”.

        2. Zillah

          In some ways, I agree. However, the fact that the boss took fairly drastic and immediate action – particularly without the OP approaching him at all – says to me that he either cares about his employees, the company’s liability, or both. Regardless of which it is, I suspect that a closer eye will be kept on the situation, because every indication is that it’s being taken seriously.

    2. Prismatic Professional

      I was on the edge of my seat with horror…then I fell off at the amazing ending (literally – my chair scooted back and didn’t take me with it). This update made my day much better!

  7. BRR

    I was wanting blood until the last paragraph where at least something good happened. I really admire how you stuck it out. I wish the d-bag was also fired because I doubt the sensitivity training will actually help him, I bet he’ll see it as basically a punishment along the lines of detention.

    1. Observer

      I think you have a point. But one thing that makes a difference here is that the HR people that propped him up got fired. That is significant enough that I would think he would be careful about at least the most outrageous stuff.

      1. Elizabeth West

        In my experience, people like Fergus aren’t careful. Or at least, they are for a while but they tend to backslide. Here’s hoping that if he does, they’ll boot him out at once.

        1. Accounting Manager

          That’s why the sensitivity training (documented), as well as the name calling should have been documented also. One step closer to getting him out the door.

    2. Jessica (tc)

      I wonder how many people who attend mandatory sensitivity training because they have been major jerks actually learn anything. I’d be interested in seeing research on change in behavior for these people, but I’m with you and doubt it’ll be anything other than him getting paid to be bored for two weeks.

      1. VintageLydia USA

        I think at most (and this is a total guess so don’t quote me) is they don’t learn that their thoughts or feelings are wrong, they just learn they can’t behave a certain way in the office/in front of coworkers which frankly is the bare minimum you can expect from the type of person who you call someone a “know it all c-word.”

        1. TB

          Yeah, they don’t learn “it’s bad to say/do things like that.” Because they spent a life time learning “things like that” are perfectly fine. What they learn is “some people have no sense of humor, so I can’t say/do things like that in front of people who aren’t cool.”

        2. Ham Sandwich

          I agree. His outward behavior might change, but he’ll probably still be a jerk. To quote The Racist Tree, “And so, social progress was made.”

      2. Lizzy

        I imagine sensitivity training might help someone who is well-meaning but ignorant; however, an intentional jerk like the OP’s coworker? It probably makes them even more spiteful. At best, he’ll curb his behavior for awhile since he knows he is is being watched, but I doubt it does anything in the long-run. He’ll be back to his old tricks. And if not at the OP’s expense, he will find another target.

      3. ElCee

        Oh I’m sure he will just see it as an annoyance. But then people like him deserve to be annoyed. Every day. Preferably by the Chipmunks.

        1. Jessica (tc)

          Ha! The next letter will be “Ever since I got back from sensitivity training, my coworker has been playing the Chipmunks Christmas album all day (on double speed nonetheless!), because I was a misogynistic jerk to her. I can’t report her to HR, because they are the ones who made me go to the sensitivity training, and my boss doesn’t care. (I think he likes the Chipmunks.) Is this legal?”

      4. Accounting Manager

        It’s a step that protects the company, by sending a wayward employee to xxx training.

        If another incident occurs again, it is in his file that xxx occurred, he was sent to xxx training, and still we have a problem. So if I terminate him for a repeat of the issue, I have documentation that this was for cause.

  8. Liz L

    WOW! I didn’t see that ending coming. I’m making triumphant air punches from all this unexpected secondhand satisfaction!

  9. Lily in NYC

    OP, if you are here – did HR VP complain to his boss because he was upset that you walked away from him (as in, he was complaining about you) or he was upset about how HR handled things (which seems weird since he ignored you for three months)? Either way, I’m glad they were let go.

    1. SL #2

      I re-read the update and it sounds like the HR VP was complaining about the OP walking away/not letting him apologize/not accepting his apologies (oh no! how dare she!!!) and when he opened that can of worms by involving the big boss for the first time, that’s when the firings started. Including his own. Heh.

      1. AndersonDarling

        That is the best part! The HR VP was such a jerk that he got himself fired! If he just let it go he would still be there doing a terrible job. It’s like a Disney ending where the villain brings about their own demise and the hero stands back and watches.

      2. TootsNYC

        And or course complaining that she criticized HR and said she’d never come to them ever again.

        So the HR Big Cheese said, “Hmm, why does she feel that way?”

      3. INFJ

        Yes, and that’s the best part. HR VP got all huffy that OP wasn’t all smiles and rainbows to him so he complained to his boss and his boss fired him for not taking action against a clear case of retaliation. BOOM!

    2. hbc

      I had a hard time following the VP thing as well. Was the guy really that clueless that he ignored her for three months, then told her “Take this job elsewhere or suck it up”, and was actually surprised that she didn’t tell him that everything was peachy keen now? He couldn’t have possibly thought his “solution” would be well-received. But if he was just being an ass, why the ten minute apology?

      I guess if he ran it up to his boss, he didn’t know how bad he’d messed it up a year ago. (“You mean she didn’t appreciate the offer of a transfer to Siberia?!”) That’s almost worse than being a deliberate jerk–at least they’re predictable.

    3. Liz T

      I read it that he was upset about how HR handled things, but your version makes more sense with how the VP initially handled things.

      1. Awkially Socward

        Yes, I initially read it as there being a ‘corporate VP’ and a separate ‘VP of all the corporate VP’, like one VP for the company and one VP for the company group.

        This interpretation makes a lot more sense.

    4. AnotherHRPro

      My guess is that the HR VP told his boss because OP’s reaction would indicate that this is still a problem that might escalate. The HR VP was FYI-ing his boss to cover his a$$.

  10. K.

    I wish y’all could have seen my face when I read “he called me a ‘know-it-all-c-word’ at a work function.” My God.

    1. Sunshine

      Eyes bugging, mouth open, slight gasp for air? Yep. Me too.

      I can’t even say how that would have ended for him if I was in the OPs shoes. Slight bruising at a minimum.

    2. kk

      Ditto! If someone called me that, especially at a work function…I don’t even know what I’d do. Scream and make a scene probably, real mature like.

      1. Lizzy

        Same. I always try to remain calm in these scenarios, but the c-word is a trigger point for me. It would be hard not to get adversarial with the name caller.

      2. INFJ

        No kidding, and then when you go to report it, get demoted and written up for saying something. Holy Hell!

  11. BadPlanning

    Did Fergus write a decent apology or was it all, “I’m sorry you took my jokes the wrong way”?

    I hope that Fergus doesn’t retaliate after the class.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger

      No no no, a proper non-apology would be: “I’m sorry you took such offense at my harmless little jokes, you humorless [more language that should get Fergus fired]!”

      I hope the big boss cleaning house might serve as a warning to Fergus to keep his trap shut.

    2. Liz T

      You forgot the “if.” “I’m sorry IF you took my jokes the wrong way.” Crucial to a non-apology.

      1. esra

        I love the “if.”

        I’m sorry if I offended anyone.

        You’re apologizing because you did offend someone, you did it! No if.

        1. Kristin (Germany)

          You need to take this one more step: I’m sorry if anyone was offended. Puts the whole thing in the passive voice and doesn’t even definitively say that offence was in fact taken, let alone take direct responsibility for it. Bonus points if you can continue the sentence to imply that you were being funny and light-hearted and anyone who did take offence is too thin-skinned, humorless, and uncool. Ooo! Ooo! Try to imply that they’re being PC and that you are the true victim here!

  12. justcourt

    Wow! That was really a surprise ending.

    It’s nice to see that the head of HR had your back (even if it was just to protect the company).

  13. WhiteBear

    I thought my head was going to explode from anger, but at the very end I threw my hands up and cheered!!

  14. Former Retail Manager

    I had all but given up hope until the last paragraph. Great to see that action was finally taken, but unfortunate that it took so long. Amazing that you were able to hang in there for such a long time. Best of luck in the future!

  15. LBK

    I hate to be a downer but I’m not quite as excited by this update as many other commenters seem to be for one reason: the OP’s manager seems to have gotten off scot-free, and I think he’s the weakest link in this whole chain of events. Where the hell was he in addressing the problem from the second it started? Where was he when HR unleashed an unexpected barrage of complaints? I’d guess he was actually the one that passive aggressively fed them all the info about the OP’s supposed “work problems” since I don’t know where else they would’ve gotten that from (unless they made it up?).

    It’s great that HR’s apparently getting a makeover as a result of this issue, but HR shouldn’t be so involved in day-to-day problems to begin with – it should’ve been possible for this whole thing to be handled within the OP’s department, and if both the jerk coworker and the boss that’s friends with him are still there, I’m skeptical that this is really totally resolved.

    1. fposte

      Yeah, you’re not wrong there. But if the OP’s happy with the outcome and a head actually rolled (which almost never happens), I’ll take it as a W.

      1. LBK

        Fair enough – I do think sometimes going from “hellish nightmare” to “not ideal but manageable” is enough if you’re the kind of person that can happily persist in that situation, at least for the foreseeable future.

        1. fposte

          Well, and I glossed over the “nightmare workplace” comment, so the OP really isn’t as happy as I was thinking.

          I’m still happy somebody got fired, though.

          1. Kyrielle

            I thought this at first, but then I went back to the old post and found that the first part of this update is a quote of a previous update, from June, which quote ended at “nightmare workplace” (though there’s more to that older update). OP may still view it as a nightmare workplace since it was included, but the exact phrasing was from six months ago, so…maybe the upbeat tone after that line means it’s more better than that implies? I’m not sure.

            I still think this place has more work to do before it could even approach a pure win, but it’s a lot better than I feared.

        2. Charityb

          I agree. A lot of the times the updates are like, “Well I reported the harassing messages to HR and long story short I ended up losing my license and forced into hiding.”

          It’s a relief seeing the good guys come out on top for once!

    2. justsomeone

      I agree because of this line “I now have a child and my husband recently lost his job, so unfortunately I’m stuck in this nightmare workplace.”

      The LW is still unhappy enough to call it a nightmare workplace in their update…. I am happy at the resolution of firing some people who were definitely problems, but it sounds like ultimately it hasn’t been completely resolved. And I agree that the LW’s manager is a big problem here.

      1. catsAreCool

        I think this means that the LW is sane and well-balanced. Still having 2 awful people to deal with is bad. Then again, bad HR people are gone, and maybe the big boss is thinking of other changes.

      2. Zillah

        I think that the workplace nightmare bit was from the previous update (which the OP sent in over the summer, IIRC) – so before the heads rolled.

    3. I'm Not Phyllis

      I agree with you here. Yes it’s great that the HR mess got sorted out in terms of their staffing, but the original offender and the manager are still there with only a slap on the wrist each? Nope. Not on. And plus OP knows full well that the comments are still happening but is choosing to ignore them (which is taking the high road I suppose but OP shouldn’t have to deal with that on a continuing basis).
      Still, OP, if you’re happy I’m happy for you.

    4. Sunny With a Chance of Showers

      I wasn’t that excited to read this outcome, either. (Although I love updates more than chocolate.)

      This took A YEAR? and the D-bag still works there?

      OP, I’m glad things are better but… I wish you hadn’t gone through all this.

    5. Macedon

      I agree. Can’t help feeling OP won her happy ending through sheer luck, after pursuing every available appropriate channel kept worsening her situation. The entire system that generated this episode is still in place — it’s just replaced a few low pawns.

      1. LBK

        Yes, I think you nailed exactly why it makes me uncomfortable – it feels like the final resolution was all based on the fact that she happened to run into the HR VP when he was in her building. Prior to that, the involved parties had pretty much put the issue to bed (ie told the OP to shove it).

        1. Macedon

          Earlier restitution too – she only got back the duties of her role by year-end because no one else at the workplace could handle them, not because anyone (from HR to her supervisor) sat down for five to think, actually, this is a completely foolish and inappropriate thing to do.

    6. Kathlynn

      “Where was he when HR unleashed an unexpected barrage of complaints? ”
      I agree who else would have access to enough information and has a friend who’s in the frying pan? (I mean, sure HR could have gone around asking about her behavior, but most people wouldn’t remember enough for +1 hours of small infractions)

  16. SL #2

    So glad to hear this worked out for you! I see from some of the comments that people don’t feel like this was a satisfactory resolution to all the problems, but if it works for you and if it’s the outcome you wanted (keeping the job, getting the formal apology, sensitivity training), then hooray!

  17. Minister of Snark

    I am struck by the delicious justice that the guy who handled your complaint so badly was hung out to be fired by his own complaint.

      1. RVA Cat

        Me too. Sometime it reminds me of the people who call the police to say somebody stole their drugs….

  18. Observer

    The thing I like best is that what finally got these guys in trouble is that the HR VP needed to get that last piece of juice and couldn’t let it be or learn any lessons.

    1. Jessica (tc)

      I can’t even imagine what he said to his boss. “I was spoken to inappropriately by an employee at X office when I visited. We need to do something about her attitude.”

      Boss: “What did she say?”

      VP: “She complained that my resolution to her HR issue a year ago made everything worse for her and she’d never approach HR again for any reason. The nerve, right?!”

      Boss: “What was her complaint?”

      VP: “She complained that one of the managers is harassing her, calling her names like “c***” and stuff.”

      Boss: “What was the resolution?”

      VP: “Oh, we talked to him and demoted her.”

      Boss: !!!!!!!! “Let me see that file!” *looks through file* “Yeah, you’re fired.”

      VP: “But we offered to let her move to another state or even leave with two whole weeks of severance pay if she didn’t like it! I don’t understand what the problem is here…”

  19. KVaren

    I had to pause while reading because “he called me a ‘know-it-all c- word’ at a work function” literally has me clutching my imaginary pearls.

    I cannot imagine being spoken to like that anywhere in my life, let alone something associated with work.

    1. Old Admin

      Oh, *I* was called a hooker by the team leader during a full group meeting, and with gestures he implied I had slept with him – and had been paid – the night before.
      Absolutely nothing happened to him when I complained. I left the group.

  20. INTP

    What a bizarre HR department! I am a realist and know that retaliation over complaints happens even though it’s not allowed. However, I’ve never heard of HR leading the charge! I don’t even get the reason for that. It only created work for themselves to put together such a comprehensive write-up. If they were just lazy, you’d think they would be uselessly dismissive, not painstakingly aggressive.

    This update and yesterday’s have made me afraid to change jobs ever again…

      1. catsAreCool

        Because yeah, it’s weird that HR would go to so much trouble to do something mean that also put the company in danger of being a liability.

  21. Kyrielle

    I’m not sure I can call it a happy ending for the reasons given, but I have to admit it’s a much happier ending than I was expecting given all that came before it. At least some of those who deserved it got kicked out. I hope whoever replaces the local HR and the HR VP are good and much more serious about this – if they are, that boss and that coworker are going to have to shape up or they will eventually get themselves in (further, in the case of the coworker) trouble.

  22. Nervous Accountant

    How is it even possible that the VP can be fired (rightfully so!) but not the one making the comments??????

    The more and more I read these horrible stories, the more depressed I get! People get fired for such such such smaller issues/reasons and others like this guy and Jane in the last letter seem to get away with murder!

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Actually, I’d argue the VP’s actions were worse. The person making the comments is a horrible person and absolutely deserves consequences, but the VP of HR’s job is to deal appropriately with situations like this and the fact that he didn’t means that he can’t be trusted to be in that role at all.

      1. The IT Manager

        I agree with this explanation. Fergus is just now getting the first sign that his actions will no longer be tolerated. If after his sensitivity training he doesn’t improve, he can be fired and can’t claim he had no warning.

        As for the two HR people, well, clearly they failed in their job (of dealing with situations like this to protect the company by keeping it within the law, etc) and they got fired for being incompetent and untrustworthy.

        Yes, all parties should know that this wasn’t okay but HR people really should know better.

      2. AMG

        this, and I think a higher title (especially an exec one) means greater responsibility. I agree that Manager should be fired, but if I could only pick 2 of the 3, I would have gone after the people with the most power and responsibility here.

      3. Nervous Accountant

        That makes sense….I totally agree that he should be held to a higher standard…..I’m just wondering why the original commenter (Fergus?) wasn’t let go either. There is no context in which calling someone a cunt at work is NOT grounds for dismissal. All the players involved (save ofc for OP & the boss who fired them) are POS.

      4. SCW

        Yes–and from an HR/liability angle it is much worse for a company to have people not taking complaints of harassment seriously than to have a harasser on staff. As in if someone is sexually harassing coworkers, and they go to HR and HR deals with it following clearly set out appropriate guidelines than they are in a much better legal position. At my place of work if you hear a complaint and don’t deal with it promptly you will be disciplined, even if the complaint is found to be without merit.

    2. J-nonymous

      What Alison said, plus it’s entirely possible that the original HR team *did* respond to Fergus and make it clear the behavior was intolerable and even started/went through with some sort of progressive discipline. They also engaged in (what would definitely appear to be) retaliation against the OP for reporting it in the first place. That is a much more serious and egregious issue that would likely warrant immediate termination.

      1. AnotherHRPro

        Yes, HR appears to have not appropriately addressed the issue and then not only allowed but participated in retaliation. Retaliation can often be much worse of an offense than the original action. Especially for HR, which is supposed to be protecting the company when what they did was the exact opposite.

    3. Zillah

      I see it differently; the VP absolutely needed to go. If it were solely about addressing the situation with the OP specifically, I might agree with you, but since this is a workplace situation, job performance is an integral part of the equation. The VP wasn’t necessarily fired for exposing the company to liability; he may well have been fired because it’s his job to protect the company from liability, and he’s proven himself incapable of doing so.

  23. Dave

    Sadly, this has been my experience with every HR department in every industry I’ve ever worked: subtle retaliation tactics that only serve business interests. If your HR department isn’t like this, consider yourself lucky.

  24. olympiasepiriot

    Glad it has finally become bearable. I am really sorry both for the thjngs that happened and that you had to stay through it all.

  25. HRish Dude

    How – in a corporation large enough to have a “corporate office” – did the updater know the details of multiple employees’ terminations outside of her own department?

      1. HRish Dude

        I should throw out that I realize this could have been read two ways. This wasn’t an “I don’t believe this story” – it was a “Here’s another thing that’s potentially wrong here.”

    1. JessaB

      Possibly the fact that a notice was sent out with info/email/contact notes for the new HR person and VP. I mean you have to tell people that they shouldn’t contact Joe Schmoe @ corporate dot com, but contact Joanna Doe instead. You might not know why they were fired, or if they quit but you certainly would sooner or later know they’d been replaced, even if it’s only when the new company phone list posted.

    2. Kyrielle

      I’m not sure I put it past the local HR dude to have complained to the boss, resulting in the OP hearing about it that way. Or the HR VP’s boss came on-site to handle it and local HR was walked out glaring at the OP, or….

  26. Bio-Pharma

    Great (but as others mentioned, not perfect) update! It’s too bad that it took the OP’s necessity (and strength) to STAY for something to change. Usually, the employee leaves and things stay the same for years, and years, and years as the cycle repeats itself…

  27. Minion

    Oh wow, what a great (final) resolution!! An apology and firings all around! Good grief, I’m almost in tears here I’m so happy to see an update that ended up this way. (Turns out, the older I get, the more I cry over weird things. Is this a “getting older” thing??)
    I’m so happy for you and I’m so sorry you had to go through the whole situation to begin with. Very rarely do we get to see people when their uppance comes.

  28. neverjaunty

    OP, I know you feel stuck, but please, when you get a few minutes to breathe, talk to an employment attorney. Fergus will be back in two weeks, your manager who’s his buddy is still there, and so are a lot of other people who tolerated this climate. (Nobody *else* complained about Fergus using that language at a work function?!) You will want to know your rights to protect yourself from this nightmare workplace going forward.

  29. Cucumberzucchini

    I don’t think this is a great outcome. It’s barely an acceptable outcome. I’m glad that the people were fired but the time delay is absurd and the guy making the comments should have been fired as well. I know it’s scary to rock the boat when your SO is out of work, but I would have escalated this to a lawyer, not just threatened and these people probably would have all gotten fired and sooner once the true higher-ups found out what was going on.

    1. misspiggy

      Unfortunately, taking legal action usually requires, or ends up with, leaving the job, which the OP can’t do at the moment.

  30. Rachel Talada

    Holy guacamole! You were RIGHT, I was surprised. So glad that tgis has worked out for her! Congratulations for speaking up. I am so happy there was SOMEONE who was able to do his job correctly amd rectified the situation!

  31. some1

    Why would the HR folks have put proof in your file that they were retaliating against you? (More of a rhetorical question, obviously.)

    1. Teapot, Teapot, and Teapot, LLP

      Keep in mind the HR people who were fired appear to be dips. It’s quite possible they thought including this information would be a good idea, in case a lawsuit happened. “Look at all the things we offered this person! A new position [with many less responsibilities], a potential 2 — two! — weeks severance, even a transfer to the Upper Pottawattamie Dirt Farm! Such are the bounds of our generosity!”

      But in all seriousness, they kind of had to put the formal write-up in her file. I’m sure there was a date on it, and I’m equally sure they never bothered to conjure up any phantom supporting documentation (because again, dips). That’s beyond a red flag; it’s a flag in one of those weird colors only butterflies can see.

  32. Interviewer

    OP – is there a support group or at the very least a weekly happy hour for you and Dale and anyone else in the “Fergus Hates Us Club”? Because I’m guessing as a group, you all could be pretty effective at creating change.

  33. Formica Dinette

    Holy Hanukkah balls, that is one crazy pants update. OP, I’m so happy things have finally come around in your favor!

  34. Katie the Fed

    I just re-read this and caught the part about them giving her grief about missing work for a prenatal appointment. It’s like they were daring her to sue. Jeez. I hope they thank their lucky stars that OP isn’t terribly litigious, because they could have been in a world of hurt for hostile environment, retaliation, and a little gender/pregnancy discrimination to boot!

  35. HardwoodFloors

    I feel HR is not a place that will protect you (even if you are subjected to something illegal).
    I have to retain a lawyer to help me because of problems coming from my boss and although
    I was satisfied with the outcome it did result in me leaving the company. 8 years down the drain.

    1. Zillah

      Unfortunately, what you’re describing is often the case in practice – but the thing is, if you’re being subjected to something illegal, HR failing to take action isn’t just not protecting you, it’s not protecting the company, and that’s their job. It happens regardless, but it’s important to note that in these situations, the company’s best interests aren’t necessarily counter to your own.

  36. Blue Anne

    Good lord, this is just so gratifying for me to read, I can’t imagine how good it must have felt when it was finally taken care of. I’m so sorry you had to put up with this nonsense for so long, OP, especially with a stressful home situation. Can’t express how glad I am that you were vindicated in the end.

  37. techfool

    Sadly, I’ve seen so much terrible HR that I would never, ever take anything to them. I’d just leave.
    It’s not necessarily HR’s fault (though it was in the instance). They’re stuck between a rock and a hard place and don’t have as much power as employees seem to think. Often, they are having to deal with matters that a manager is too scared to deal with, but without the authority of a manager.

  38. Lakewood Church member in Houston, but NOT Joel Osteen

    The LORD hears the cry of his people. And since you still managed to stay where you were, and stood your ground, the LORD was, is and always will ultimately be your vindicator!

    God bless you and your family in this season of the year! Remember the LORD your God, who brought an end to this strife and injustice, who raised you up and threw down the unjust persons!

    Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you for all of your days, and may you and your family dwell in his protection for ever!

    1. simonthegrey

      Blessed are they who stand before the corrupt and the wicked and do not falter.
      Blessed are the peacekeepers, the Champions of the Just.
      Blessed are the righteous, the lights in the shadow.
      In their blood the Maker’s will is written.
      -Benedictions 4:10-11

  39. MattP

    I’m a 32 year old male who works for the Federal Government in an office setting, and I have a 50-ish year old female co-worker who ALWAYS calls me “Cutie Pie”. I hate it, and i hate working with so many women because of that kind of stuff. I can only imagine this crap is ten times worse for a female in a predominately-male office.

    1. Kyrielle

      I think it has as much as anything to do with whether you work with jerks. Please don’t gender it; anyone can be a jerk. I’ve never in my life heard an adult woman call an adult male, in the office, Cutie Pie. I’m not sure I’ve heard it out of the office – only if they appeared to be dating would it not have registered on me, though.

      I mean, I have heard “Cutie Pie” in an office, but it was being addressed to a (literal) kitten.

      Conversely, I’ve worked in male dominated offices my whole career so far, and while I won’t say there are never gender-related comments or microaggressions (though they’ve been fairly rare in my personal experience, for which I am grateful), there has never been anything like the macro-aggressions all over this poor OP’s office.

      I think this is not about being male in a mostly-female office, or female in a mostly-male office. It’s about being in an office with a jerk or, in some cases, multiple jerks.

  40. RAT RAT RAT!

    it is too bad that the HR department retaliated against you, by bringing up ALL of your little transgressions, giving you a “written” warning, just to put you in your place.

    But in the end the bad HR folks got fired, so things seemed to have turned out for the better.

  41. Can't Think Of A More Clever Anon Name Today

    It’s nice that some people go the boot who deserved to go. But I wasn’t happy reading this. I was upset. Why is that a**hole still allowed to work there? HE could be the cause for a major law suit and black eye for that org, yet he remains? and the fact that it took so long and that you had to be demoted and demoralized but had to stay because you had a family to care for… all of that PISSES ME OFF. This doesn’t feel like the right outcome to me, until that asshat is no longer working there. He’s surely doing the same types of things to others.

  42. Jen

    Glad things were sorted out, though, man, what a horrible year you went through! Unfortunately, at least in my experience, I’ve learned that HR isn’t there for employees but rather to defend the company.

    I worked for a company that people dream of working for, like I used to, and they had *the worst* HR department. People don’t believe me when I tell me the things the HR head witch did. I left as it was a truly horrible work environment.

  43. Hellowendy

    Oh my gosh I was getting so angry until the turnaround at the end! What an emotional rollercoaster! Lol but seriously, I’m so glad you finally got the vindication you deserved. : )

  44. Phoenix Programmer

    Ugh. The drown the HR complainer in a petty unsubstantiated deluge tactic. So frustrating. Hope you find another job then sue them anyway.

Comments are closed.