update: our security guard slept with an employee, then asked her to pay him for it

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer who worked somewhere where the security guard had slept with an employee and then extort her into paying for it? The letter-writer had heard the story from a colleague, Marco, felt ethically obligated to report it, and was wondering whether to tell Marco she’d done that. Here’s the update.

The investigation by HR was completed and they found no cause for action. The HR rep kind of implied that Marco made up the story, but through the conversation it became apparent that something had indeed happened. The HR rep seemed to imply that the kind of information that was being said about the guard was malicious, and Marco and I were more at risk for reprimand. I kindly explained to him the value of a ‘whisper network’ and how important it was to me to know whether or not I have anything to fear if I find myself alone in the parking garage with this guard. I had to ask for an update to the situation in order to find anything out because the HR rep said since I wasn’t a party or witness to the incident, I had no right to know- which is why they did not tell me the investigation was completed or the findings. The HR rep met with me only because I requested an update.

While talking with the HR rep about the vandalism, his attitude seemed that whatever happened wasn’t a big deal. What I didn’t tell you when I wrote, or the HR rep when I reported the incident, was that Marco told me the woman had found a hamburger smeared all over the front windshield of her car after she refused to pay the guard. I visibly saw the reaction on the HR rep’s face when I said, “You may not think smearing a hamburger on a car is a big deal, but it is a form of intimidation.” Then, I reminded him about Hollywood PI Anthony Pelicano who threatened LA Times reporter Anita Busch when she was writing a story about one of his clients, by placing a dead fish on her windshield. Dead fish, hamburger, it’s all the same – it’s a threat. I’m fairly confident the HR rep thinks I am crazy, as he said that my perception was way off base! Way to minimize my concerns!

As for me and Marco, my guilty conscience got the better of me before you even published my letter, and I told him almost immediately that it was I who reported the incident to HR. He wasn’t mad, although he was more reserved around me for a while as he processed the information. I explained my feelings to him that I have as a result of sexual harassment at work and why I felt it was so important to look into this incident. I did not question him about why HE didn’t report the incident, but I know that if he ever tells me anything of concern, my approach will be to encourage him to report it instead of getting personally involved. Now that some time has passed, everything is okay with us. We even laugh about not being seen by HR together, but it doesn’t really stop us from having lunch together, etc. And why should it? He and I did nothing wrong. I’m most relieved about that and feel this incident and working through the aftermath has solidified our friendship. So, to conclude, I would say that our HR department sucks and I’m going to keep my mouth closed from now on, I’m still going to be cautious around that guard, and Marco and I have a real, true friendship.

Thanks again to you and the readers who provided support and advice. It was very comforting to read all the words of encouragement and appreciation for what I had done.

{ 191 comments… read them below }

    1. Daisy*

      Well, they investigated. I’m not really sure what else they should have done? OP heard this as third-hand (at least) gossip, she didn’t even know which woman was supposed to be involved. Very little there to go on. It sounds to me like Marco was just passing on something he’d heard as gossip, which was why he didn’t want OP to go to HR- he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) verify it either

      1. Observer*

        It doesn’t sound like they actually did investigate it. Regardless, the attitude of the HR rep was out of line on two counts.

        Firstly, claiming that the smeared hamburger was not a form a intimidation is ridiculous. Worse is the threat of punishment for reporting the incident. Aside from everything else that is retaliation and totally illegal. In fact, a significant percentage of the harassment complaints that end up in penalties or verdicts against the company wind up that way over the retaliation rather than the actual complaint.

        Whatever you may think about the story, it’s clear that the complaint was made in good faith. Threatening people who make good faith complaints insures that people won’t come forward with information that the company needs to know. And it’s a huge red flag about their attitude about harassment. Companies that take this seriously don’t do that. They don’t take action if they don’t have enough information, but they don’t punish the people who made a complaint.

        1. Avalon Angel*

          I agree. The fact that the OP and Marco were threatened with reprimand for going to HR is beyond the pale. Frankly, I would have escalated this as HR clearly isn’t taking the safety concerns of its employees seriously.

          Should another such incident happen, they are risking liability and bad PR…all to protect a guard they are aware does not have anything close to appropriate workplace boundaries.

          It’s reactions like that of this HR representative that keeps victims silent.

          1. Software Engineer*

            Yeah that’s beyond unacceptable. ‘So you’re saying you will reprimand me for a complaint made in good faith?’ Sounds pretty illegal. I mean if Marco had admitted he made it up to impress you then maybe he would get a reprimand but if the OP reported in good faith because she believed the story then reprimanding her for it sounds like retaliation to me

            1. Ego Chamber*

              Yeah, it’s probably illegal retaliation, but it happens all the time.

              A group of women at my last job reported a dude with serious boundary issues. HR investigated and he was fired for sexual harassment—but then we were all written up for violating the company’s policy against “gossip” because we’d all talked to each other about what had happened before reporting him, and none of us reported him alone.

              1. Observer*

                The company actually has a policy against “gossip”? And applied it to a discussion of the improper behavior towards them?

                Sounds super illegal to me – I wonder if someone could still get them on retaliation, if it wasn’t too long ago.

    2. Hills to Die on*

      This is unfortunately typical of the HR departments I have worked with. The focus is on maintaining the facade that nothing is going on but they still want to punish the person reporting it. OP is spot on to tiptoe around the HR department if they want to keep their job, because they are one small step out of line from being labeled as a problem employee and fired.

      1. Radio Girl*

        I have to agree here. Most HR departments I have worked with are interested in protecting the business, not the employees. They are set up to ensure nothing and no one gives the company cause to worry about litigation .

        1. Nucking Fux Nix*

          I think this is a bit unfair. As an HR professional, what I am willing to bet is that both the woman and the security gaurd denied any of this happening. With that, and absent any hard evidence like security tapes, HR would conclude that it didn’t happen or that they couldn’t take action on it. That being said, there are a lot of bad HR out here, so I’m not disputing the OPs claim that the HR rep was dismissive.
          It is HR’s job to protect the company, but if something really did happen here, it would not protect the company to sweep it under the rug, given that increases the risk of litigation. Most established companies have an anti-retaliation policy for good faith complaints, and I know I always appreciate issues being raised even if they turn out to be false or unsubstantiated.

            1. JS*

              Same! All the HR I had to work with were hellish creatures who protected the business at the cost of the employees.

              1. StellaBella*

                Same – 4 HR folks over 19 years working in 4 different firms. All of the HR folks I encountered were protecting the firm and did not care about employees – even the 8 of 18 people in our group who left a firm in 2014 after being harassed and abused by the boss (who finally was fired by the Board after nearly 40 people across divisions reported him! HR was no help at all in any place I have worked.).

          1. General Ginger*

            Whether the woman or the guard denied it happening doesn’t warrant the OP and Marco being threatened with reprimand, or the OP’s concerns for safety being dismissed.

            I’m sure that there are decent HR dept-s, given that HR folks who seem to not suck do post here, but I have yet to encounter one in the wild.

          2. aNon*

            I think it’s important to keep in mind that when HR is doing its job well, it often isn’t seen by employees. We get a bad rep in HR because of the visible bad HR people but good HR folks are doing their jobs quietly and behind the scenes and you aren’t likely to encounter them unless something is wrong. We definitely don’t get into this profession for gratitude :D

        2. JulieCanCan*

          Technically, the HR department exists to protect the company. HR makes sure the employees are being treated legally and in compliance with all necessary employment laws by the company. So yes, the HR responsibility is to protect employees, but they are doing that so the company isn’t penalized – it’s a fine line, but HR’s key reason for existence is to make sure the company is doing everything they should for their employees legally.

          So, HR kind of does both: they are there to “protect” the employees but they’re making sure they are protecting the company first and foremost. Everyone in HR works for the company, just like every other employee who is paid for their services by the organization.

          We can’t necessarily know how meticulous or in depth the investigation was, but is sounds like a lot of key details weren’t confirm-able (the exact woman’s identity mainly).

          I work in HR now, but up until I kind of “fell” into it, I always felt HR in the places I worked sucked and I was always made to feel like I was bothering them when I’d go to them for various reasons (never anything scandalous – just to ask a question or whatever). They always made me feel like a pest, like I was just adding another problem to their day. But you know what? THAT IS HR! You’re always putting out fires and dealing with people’s problems. So if someone in HR doesn’t like putting out fires and dealing with various problems, they are definitely in the wrong field. I make a point to let employees know I have an open door policy and I truly do everything in my power NOT to appear frustrated or bothered when someone comes into my office when I am obviously in the middle of something with another employee (or I’m clearly working on a deadline and “in the zone” with my door shut and a sign up that says “Please do not disturb unless you have a work emergency” and a person comes to me for something kind of silly that they could’ve either emailed to me or a form they could’ve printed up themselves).

          I remember the shitty feeling I had when HR executives made me feel like I was a huge pain in the butt to them and even if someone IS being a PIA, I don’t want them to feel that way.

  1. Bostonian*

    So.. they wanted to punish YOU for making a good-faith report, but not the person who was hostile?


    Any possibility that HR thought Marco made up the story because that’s what he said to HR when he found out you told them?

    1. irene adler*

      I think that’s the case here. HR didn’t buy the story.

      Besides, what can HR do if Marco won’t substantiate the story?

      I reported on a situation betw. a lab tech and a Director. The Director was spending hours per day in the lab socializing with one particular lab tech. They got into some very risqué conversations. I even walked into the lab once as he was giving her a shoulder massage.

      During the few hours Director was not there, the lab tech would go on and on to us (fellow lab techs) about how he was making her job miserable. She said that he was distracting her from her work and she felt obligated to continue these long conversations because she feared for her job.

      So, I reported this.

      Nothing was done. The behavior continued unabated.

      The managers who investigated this, told me that the lab tech indicated to them that there was no issue whatsoever.

      Yet lab tech continued to complain -daily-about Director. So, I asked her if she would report the situation to management. She demurred, saying that she didn’t want to get into trouble or lose her job. I explained that the law was on her side. Then she said that she didn’t want to get the Director into trouble.


      She was just enjoying the attention – from both the Director and from the other lab techs when she complained about Director.

      1. ANon.*

        There are other conclusions you can draw than “She was just enjoying the attention” like:

        “She didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to go through the process of reporting sexual harassment.”
        “She feared subtle retaliation from the Director which, while illegal, sometimes does happen.”
        “She was banking on a strong recommendation from Director and didn’t want to jeopardize that and her career for this.”
        Or even, as you said she said, “She feared for her job.” The sad reality is that even with the law on her side, it’s sometimes not enough.

        1. Thank you!*

          Thank you for this.
          The law may be “on her side,” but as you can see in this letter, HR is likely not to do anything even if you do report. And they’ll fire the “drama causer” rather than the perpetrator, sometimes, too. As for suing, not everyone has the money for that – in fact, most people don’t.

        2. Iris Eyes*

          One of the only things I really remember from my sociology class in college was the social contracts module, where we talked about what expectations the group has when the individual is ill for example. The group will do a lot to help but if the individual keeps doing things that make them more likely to be ill or not (seeming) to do anything to alleviate their complaint especially if there are well established ways to do so then that individual looses support from the group. (Or something like that)

          Basically its “take control of the problem or stop complaining about it.” But stop expecting sympathy if you aren’t willing to do anything to improve your life. This is a common and reasonable attitude to take. But as is pointed out, just because it seems obvious or attainable from your perspective doesn’t mean that it is from theirs and some degree of empathy should be employed.

          1. ThatLibTech*

            I don’t know if that really should apply to the situation of “younger female employee/student being potentially sexually harassed (or outright sexually harassed) by older male authority figure who can literally ruin their career”.

            1. Sunshine*

              Oh I figured it was highlighting the unfairness? Like how people always say people should leave their abusers, but ignore the bits where the victim has been controlled, psychologically manipulated and deprived of money / a social network.

            2. JS*

              Its reasonable stance to take regardless imo. You can’t be expected to remain emotionally invested and care about a situation someone isn’t trying to better themselves in or get out of. If the issue is she is just trying to make it past her internship and keep her head down, you can support her in that. But in a long-term scenario you expect the person complaining to take action either by removing themselves or letting HR know.

          2. mrs__peel*

            How is a younger and less powerful employee supposed to “take control” if they’re being harassed by a more powerful and senior person (i.e., someone who is using their position to control others)? The balance of power is inherently unequal in this kind of situation.

          3. Toastedcheese*

            Sociology can describe how people behave, but it doesn’t tell us how to behave. Victim blaming may be common in our society but that doesn’t make it right.

            1. winter*

              Came here to say this. Sociology tells us “this is what people do” from which you cannot deduce “this is what people SHOULD do”.
              There’s no morality in observation. But when I look at my own behavior I sure strive to do better than “that’s what the group would do”.

          4. Sunshine*

            That would explain why people react the way they do to domestic violence victims. And why healthy people get frustrated with people who have chronic illnesess; as a society we always like to think there’s a fix.

            And unless the ill person is jumping through the (often unscientific and unhelpful) hoops the well person demands they get vilified.

          1. selena81*

            Or not.
            Just because she _may_ have been too weak to push back against the manager does not _prove_ that the politically-correct interpretation is the correct one.

      2. Linda Evangelista*

        I think “enjoying the attention” is a pretty baseless conclusion based on this situation. Sounds like classic power politics and her feeling helpless due to that fact.

      3. Normally a Lurker*

        I think it’s a pretty long jump from “I’m not comfortable reporting” to “I’m enjoying the attention”.

        There are lots of reasons people don’t report, even when the law is on their side.

        I think it’s important to assume best intent and not assume motives for people when you don’t know what they are – ESP when sexual harassment is involved.

      4. Gillian*

        I don’t know that your final read of the situation is necessarily the case. People have complex responses to sexualized harms and harassment especially if they have had past experiences with reporting or not being supported/believed.

      5. Psyche*

        Or she was intimidated by the power dynamic and worried that if the Director got in trouble he would take it out on her.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Especially since history shows us time and time again thst’s exactly what happens. The woman gets fired and the male gets a promotion…

      6. jdubbs*

        Whatever was going on in your workplace (and just because the law is on her side doesn’t mean HR would be in the situation you describe), the “she likes the attention” thing is so damaging to women in general, I’m sure you don’t mean to perpetuate such a stereotype here.

      7. asldkfjdf*

        “enjoying the attention” is a really gross and sexist assumption, maybe you should think about why you think that’s the case

        1. HereKittyKitty*

          uh “enjoying the attention.” How about what every other commenter has said. There was a professor at my old job who sent literal porn to a student and he got waved off as being fine. The law is not always on a victim’s side.

      8. LabManager*

        Honestly that’s really really unfair that you’re blaming the person who’s getting harassed at work instead of the director. The DIRECTOR. The fact that she didn’t report could easily mean that she didn’t feel comfortable reporting. The law is relatively irrelevant if the director has the ability to make your life miserable, it becomes a matter of he-said she said (and lord knows society tends to believe men), and it could seriously jeopardize her job.

      9. Arctic*

        The law being on her side means absolutely nothing. They can still fire her. And it’s still on her to actively pursue a law suit. Which even if she can find someone to take the case and wins she could be labelled a trouble maker.
        You have a very ungenerous interpretation of a woman with no power and was risking her whole career if she spoke up.

      10. mrs__peel*


        She was just enjoying the attention”

        What a gross conclusion. PLENTY of people who report sexual harassment end up being retaliated against or losing their jobs, regardless of what the law says. Oftentimes, their careers are permanently derailed and they end up leaving the field entirely. This unfortunately happens to women in STEM all the time.

        It’s very understandable that someone who’s worked hard to get started in a particular career would be worried about losing it if they report harassment. That happens often enough in the real world for it to be a very reasonable fear. I would go so far as to say that it’s *the norm* for institutions (esp. in STEM/ academia) to protect abusers, and to leave the people who report harassment hanging out to dry.

      11. Lady Phoenix*

        That is an interesting take on the sotuation.

        And by “interesting”, I mean “absolutely disgusting and misogynistic”.

        Cause while we are SUPPOSED to have law on our sides, there have been plenty of times the courts FAIL on obvious cases of secual harassment and assault.

        Like certain SOME FOLKS in the White House and Court.

      12. PM Jesper Berg*

        “She was just enjoying the attention – from both the Director and from the other lab techs when she complained about Director.”

        Good God. You know this how? It’s far more likely that she feared retaliation from Director if she confirmed your complaint. (I suppose “enjoying the attention” is *possible*, but without any evidence beyond your assertion, the retaliation theory is a lot more likely.)

      13. Le’Veon Bell is seizing the means of production*

        Ummm, no. Absolutely not this. I had a coworker who was being sexually harassed by our boss. She desperately didn’t want to report it, for about one million reasons that had nothing to do with “enjoying the attention.” I can assure you, she did not. In America, our entire ability to stay alive – to buy food, to get healthcare, to pay rent – depends on being employed. Reporting your boss, a person with a huge amount of power in your institution, is an extremely scary, dangerous thing to do. Even if it goes exactly perfectly, it will still involve sitting down in front of people with suits and pens and telling them about the gross things your boss did to you, while they take notes and contemplate how best to protect the company. They will be skeptical, like you are, because why did she wait to report it? Why didn’t she tell him to knock it off? Why didn’t she just refuse to stay late at the lab? It will be a painful experience where people all around you will try to convince you that you’re making it up, or blowing it out of proportion, or misunderstanding what happened, or being a malicious bitch who just enjoyed the attention.

        You should really rethink who you demonize and who you valorize in the narrative of this event you’ve built in your head.

    2. Anon for this*

      Well, there’s also the possibility that this was investigated and was found to be false. Remember that OP reported thirdhand information here, not something she/he saw themselves or even heard directly from the victim. “Something indeed happened” is not the same thing as “what I heard from a secondhand source is exactly what happened.”

      That being said, I agree that OP did the right thing reporting it and the report is now on the records. Hopefully there will not be a second incident of this nature, but if there is the report is there and that is a very good thing.

      Yes, we take the OP’s at their word here, but in this case the OP’s word is admittedly hearsay. I don’t blame HR for not including OP in the result of the investigation, the incident did not involve OP in any substantial way. And, if the hearsay OP reported is in fact false, OP continuing to discuss this is indeed spreading malicious rumors. I find it pretty disturbing that so many commenters are willing to accept thirdhand rumors as unimpeachable fact.

      1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

        That it never happened is definitely a legitimate possibility. It’s still concerning that they seemed to threaten OP for making a good-faith report, regardless of what the facts were ultimately determined to be.

        1. Psyche*

          Yeah. I can’t really blame HR for not doing anything if all they have is a rumor. It sounds like the type of thing that is very difficult to prove, especially if the employee directly involved will not say anything. However, they should not imply that the OP could get in trouble for reporting it.

          1. Anon for this*

            Both of you make good points, there should be no threat of trouble for the OP for the initial report of the incident, absolutely. However as I understood the update, it sounds like this comment was passed on in the “update meeting that OP requested.” I might have misunderstood that, but if that was the case, I think it would have absolutely been appropriate for HR to make it clear that since the investigation was closed with no cause for action, the OP and her friend continuing to pursue this would be considered spreading malicious gossip and would lead them to being reprimanded.

            1. Psyche*

              I was interpreting it as bringing it up to HR. Telling them not to repeat gossip elsewhere makes sense, but talking to HR isn’t malicious.

            2. Observer*

              Asking for an update meeting is not in any way, shape or form “spreading gossip”. Spinning it that way on the part of an HR department is either gross incompetence or clearly bad faith.

              1. Anon for this*

                Of course, asking for an initial update meeting is fine. Continuing to pursue the matter now that HR has ruled on it? Absolutely grounds for a reprimand.

        2. Daisy*

          I don’t see where OP was ‘threatened’- they told her and Marco to stop spreading this about. Which, if they investigated and found it to be false, is fair enough- you can’t go around baselessly calling your colleagues prositute blackmailers, that’s a HR problem in itself.

          1. Jadelyn*

            “The HR rep seemed to imply that the kind of information that was being said about the guard was malicious, and Marco and I were more at risk for reprimand.” Implying that someone is at risk of reprimand for having made a good-faith report is a pretty clear threat, IMO.

            1. Bostonian*

              Thanks for taking the words out of my mouth! I also want to add in response to Daisy that it doesn’t have to be true to be a report made in good faith.

              1. Daisy*

                But they’re still spreading something around that was, apparently, not true. I don’t care how ‘good faith’ it was originally- they need to stop. Which is what HR said.

                1. BookishMiss*

                  Not substantiated or upheld or acted on by an HR investigation is patently not the same thing as not true.

                2. What’s with Today, today*

                  I’m with you. The “whisper network” seemed really weird to me. If HR said this was “malicious gossip” you don’t need to be whispering about this at all.

                3. Observer*

                  Are you saying that reporting to HR constitutes “spreading gossip”?

                  Fortunately, the law is NOT on your side!

                4. Jadelyn*

                  If they were going around spreading it *to other people*, you might have a point, but OP was just following up *with HR* on an investigation. That’s not “spreading something around”, and as BookishMiss already said, not being substantiated by HR is not the same thing as something not being true.

                5. Sunshine*

                  The “whisper network” is a valuable thing for women and minorities, especially in vulnerable situations. Don’t be alone with Dave, because management won’t protect you if he tries anything. Stay away from Jane, she’s homophobic. Watch out for Ken – he says all the right things but he’s racist and will undermine you if he can.

                  Unfair if false? Possibly.
                  Essential for the self protection of vulnerable minority groups? Absolutely.

                6. selena81*

                  wow, so malicious gossip is how american minorities try to get a foot in the door.
                  now all that ‘mens right’ talk makes a lot more sense, and it presumably also sucks for anyone autistic or otherwise socially handicapped.

                7. Observer*

                  @selena81 Nice way to justify the unjustifiable. And, to throw in some ugly stereotypes along the way.

                  Place with a good HR system don’t need “whisper networks” because misbehavior gets dealt with. Someone acts like a creeper? HR doesn’t go “Oh, Joe is probably on the spectrum so it’s ok.” They make sure that Joe stops what he’s doing. So, no one has to whisper about it. But, if HR won’t do anything, people start paying attention and pass the information on. “Joe is a creep and HR says that he’s probably on the spectrum. Just don’t give him your cell number, and don’t get stuck alone with him.” “Jane keeps on talking about all the girls she’s been with, while staring at your boobs. Nah, HR says that’s not harassment.” “Chris throws things. But only when it’s two people – and Chris’ mom is the CEO’s cousin”.

                8. Sunshine*


                  Stories shared for self protection are not ‘malicious gossip’.

                  And FYI – autistic isn’t shorthand for creep. That’s a harmful and damaging stereotype that MRAs like to use to excuse creepy behaviour.

            2. Daisy*

              Yeah I can read, thanks mate. I don’t call that a threat so much as the obvious and expected consequence of spreading third-hand gossip around. If it started as good faith, it’s not by the point HR find it to be untrue and tell them to stop (which OP sounded unwilling to do)

              1. Jadelyn*

                I’d love to know how you got from “heard a potentially credible report of a thing happening, and reported that to the appropriate authorities for investigation, then followed up on the investigation that OP initiated” to “spreading third-hand gossip around”. Must have been a fascinating trip on the Pretzel Logic Express.

            3. Roscoe*

              It is kind of malicious, seeing as OP doesn’t know for a fact that the man in question is a gigolo. If the genders were reversed, and a guy hooked up with a woman and there was fallout, and he was going around saying she was a prostitute, I think people would be outraged by the accusation. And if there wasn’t indisputable proof, I think saying that could be considered malicious. I can see saying “You need to stop spreading this around”

                1. selena81*

                  yes? that’s the point: that a person *allegedly* asked another person for money for sex.
                  And that in the case of a female prostitute the grapevine would probably be more inclined to phrase the situation as ‘he _says_ she asked for money and then went crazy when he refused to pay, but he may just be smearing her reputation’

        3. Micklak*

          It sounds like HR didn’t view it as a good-faith report. HR calling it “malicious gossip” is a pretty clear indication that they didn’t believe it and found the OPs repeated efforts to bring it up to be disruptive.

          It’s hard to know what actually happened.

      2. Roscoe*

        I kind of thought this as well, but couldn’t think of a way to say it to not have the commenters pile on me about how I’m wrong.

        The fact is… She knows no facts. She has heard information, from someone else who heard information. She didn’t witness anything, nor it seems did anyone who spoke to HR. I don’t know that a 3rd hand account should really be actionable.

    3. OP*

      OP here, and yes, through my conversation with HR it was confirmed that something happened but the classified it as a personal matter between two employees. The reaction of the HR reps face told me that it happened exactly as I heard. Marco was telling the truth.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Hmmm. I’m not sure that you can conclude that it happened exactly as Marco said based on the expressions on their faces, rather than that *something* so outlandish happened that it bled through their ability to keep a straight face. There are other possible situations that may have been outlandish enough to give the same effect, which they could not relay the details of to you without violating the privacy of the employees involved. So I’d say, sure. Be careful around that guard. But please be aware that you may really not have the whole story, and that the actual details might significantly change your view of the situation.

        1. Fire-Breathing Icicle*

          It really is though. You can tell so much from people’s body language and tone of voice!

          1. animaniactoo*

            It’s a great gauge that something is not normal. It’s not a great gauge for exact explanation of what’s not normal.

  2. Lady Phoenix*

    There is a gif of Batman (its actually Superman in disguise but, tangent) kicking the Penguin’s table so hard that it flips over, slams into the fall, and causes a good bit of debris.

    That is my rage right now after reading this and the previous update about the thumbtack b1tch.

    A pox on HR and all their houses. Start poloishing up your resume, pray that woman is doing the same, and gtfo. Also, may that girl considering a possible lawsuit against them.

  3. GreyjoyGardens*

    As the saying goes, a fish rots from the head down. Dysfunctional HR = dysfunctional leadership. This whole company sounds like a hot mess.

  4. Old Admin*

    That is a truly bad update.
    I have been the target of harassment at work myself, and my complaints also were blown off.
    I still occasionally face one of the harassers at work. *deep sigh*

  5. Jen*

    OP, you did the right thing. Don’t forget it. Your HR is nuts and maybe see the as an impetus to find somewhere that cares about worker safety (what is it with these HR departments this week?)

  6. Kill ItWithFIre*

    I’m sorry to read this, sounds like HR is trash. Get out OP, if that is their attitude it is not a safe workplace. Remember, HR is there for the benefit of the company, not the benefit of the employee.

    1. Jadelyn*

      Remember, that’s not remotely true and is a line that actually makes it HARDER for competent HR to do their jobs.

      1. AnotherKate*

        Wait, how is it not true? I know that a functional HR department wants employees happy because happy employees don’t sue (and yes, also because ideally HR reps are decent people as well) but ultimately that’s a “what’s good for the people IS good for the company” mindset; if what is good for the company and what’s good for an individual diverge, I’ve never seen HR stick their neck out for the employee at the potential expense of the business. I don’t think that always makes them “evil HR,” I think that’s just…capitalism. For better or worse.

        If I’m totally off-base here I’m curious to hear!

        1. Jadelyn*

          You are, actually.

          Good HR – functional HR – is there for BOTH the employee and the employer. It’s not about wanting happy employees “because happy employees don’t sue”. It’s about offering a specialized expertise and experience base to try to help the overall workplace, which means both employer and employees, be as functional and healthy as possible, because happy people are happy and that’s, you know. An admirable goal and something most of us will try for whenever we can?

          One aspect of that, the one everyone knows about, is compliance – which is where everyone keeps getting the “HR is there for the company, not you!” from – but quite frankly when I’ve seen HR folk pushing a company to stay in compliance it’s not about not getting sued, it’s about not letting the company take advantage of the employee and making full use of our knowledge of the laws that back us up to help us stop bad behavior.

          The thing is, the action taken looks the same from the outside, and because HR has a Reputation people are inclined to assume it’s for the employer’s sake – but you don’t see the conversations that are taking place behind closed doors. You aren’t there when the HR manager goes off on a line manager who’s singling out and being a jerk to a pregnant employee, so you don’t hear if the HR manager says “that’s illegal and you’re going to get the company sued” or just “you are going to knock that off, right this second, that is Not Okay, and also it’s illegal so for once I actually do have the power to enforce this. So you will listen to me and behave yourself, or so help me I will get Legal involved and you will not win this fight.”

          When the interests diverge, good HR tries to work with both to find the best resolution for everyone. I have stepped up to discourage management from resolving an issue in a way that was going to be better for the company but shitty for the employee. I have seen my colleagues do the same. The problem is that in a lot of cases we don’t actually have the power to issue directives. We can advise and urge and strenuously encourage or discourage particular actions, but push comes to shove, if leadership says Do X, then X is what will happen, whether we wanted it to go that way or not.

          And while you may not have seen HR stick their neck out for the employee before, I’d just like to remind you that that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. A lot – most, really – of HR-related conversations go on behind closed doors.

          A personal example: we discovered earlier this year that one of our regional managers was making employees work external events without paying overtime, giving them her own homebrewed version of “comp time” instead. We investigated, verified, I pulled a full year and a half worth of timesheets to calculate what those employees should have been owed. I literally spent a good two weeks working almost solely on this project because of the sheer volume of data I had to wade through. My boss was traveling around those offices on and off for months talking with people and getting the full picture of what was going on down there. We cut employees checks for pay they’d been owed, plus estimated mileage (estimated VERY generously), totaling thousands of dollars in some cases. And from the outside, people would probably assume that HR only stepped in to stop the company being sued for wage theft. But I was in those meetings, and I can tell you that was far and away a secondary concern that only came up when we had to get Legal involved and get them to sign off on what we’d already put together so we could present it to the affected staff. We – myself, my boss, and the VP over that region – were furious that our staff were being taken advantage of that way and we hadn’t known and been able stop it sooner. We were determined to do everything in our power to “make them whole” and make sure they got everything they should have been getting all along.

          But I’ve also been in situations where HR argued for one thing, the most compassionate thing possible for the employee, and upper management refused to listen – and after the shouting died down, HR was still the one that had to go out there and tell the employee what was going to happen. Again – from the outside, it looked like HR didn’t do anything, and was just doing what’s best for the company at the expense of the employee, but that was really, REALLY not the case.

          I’m just saying, remember that there’s a lot going on that nobody but HR and upper management actually sees or hears about, and while I absolutely do acknowledge that plenty of people have had bad interactions with HR (I’ve had some myself in the past), the reductive line of “That’s because HR is there for the company, not you!” is inaccurate and unhelpful.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            Everyone at the company is there for the company. HR included. That’s kinda the point of companies.

          2. Jennifer Thneed*

            I think we all need to differentiate between “competent, well-trained HR professionals with education in the field” and “people who work in the HR office, doing HR things”.

            It’s useful to remind people that there ARE competent, well-trained HR professionals with etc because lots of people don’t know that there even is such a thing as training in that area. Certainly lots of people have never worked someplace with competent, well-trained etc, so how would they know that it even can exist? *Plenty* of small business have the payroll clerk doing “HR functions”, and if a Real HR Issue comes up, they’re not going to be well-trained. They will probably know the local laws for payroll issues, but they may not know any other HR law at all, or even be aware of the existance of some issues.

            Jadelyn, it’s really good to see what HR *can* be, but please, please stop telling people they’re off-base when they talk about their own HR experiences. “HR” can cover a lot of different areas, including payroll and insurance sign-ups and manager trainings and the people who run layoffs. For most people in their working lives, these are all HR. It’s all HR in the larger sense, just like lutefisk and apples and cookies are all food. The presence of apples does not preclude the presence of lutefisk. The existence of competent, well-trained HR professionals with education in the field does not preclude the existence of less-competent HR, or even of truly bad HR. Maybe instead of “You’re wrong; HR is good” your message could be “HR can be good when it’s done right”?

            1. Nucking Fux Nix*

              I’ve had lots of experiences with bad accountants but nobody says “Remember accountants are just there for the business.” Of course people can be good and bad at their jobs, but HR seems to be the only “Corporate” type department that is painted with a broad brush as bad or out for themselves. It’s a frustrating stereotype to work through as an HR professional, and pointing that out isn’t invalidating other people’s experiences.

              1. Sunshine*

                It’s an important reminder though. Some people think HR are there to be their counsellors and advocate for them. That is simply not the case.

          3. Jasnah*

            You make a good point that most of the hard work that HR does is behind closed doors. But ultimately HR is there so that the company, the group that includes employer and employees, can make best use of its human resources. This means keeping employees happy, not just so that they don’t sue, but so that they work better, and happy workplaces attract the best quality workers. But if it comes down to any individual employee’s complaint, or employees vs. employer, HR is not a union, HR is not going to fight for any individual employee against the interests of the company. And they shouldn’t! HR isn’t a neutral, idealistic consultant or judge, they’re not a third party, they’re a wing of the company managing its resources.

            So I think “HR is there for the company, not you” is just to remind people that HR’s goal is to utilize and manage human resources of the company, not stand up for you against management like a union or your lawyer.

          4. AnotherKate*

            Thanks, this is helpful.

            I still think that it’s useful to look to the reason “HR works for the company, not you” is so commonly cited–to me, it’s because there’s a conception (misconception?) that HR is there as a last resort for employee problems. Saying “remember, they work for the company, not you” is a reasonable reminder that, in fact, this is a RISK to the employee, because of some of the exact things you mention above–the rep may in fact go to bat for you in private, but if the results are that your big bosses say no, well, where does that leave you? You’re now the “problem employee” who took their grievance to the top and, by virtue of having “lost” the battle, you’re perceived as the sort of drama queen who makes mountains out of molehills. This isn’t to say that you’re definitely going to be perceived that way, but the risk is there, which I think is the whole reason people caution each other against going to HR without assessing that risk (vs. the many other job roles out there that have less of an impact on your working life).

            None of these problems may be HR’s fault, but if you go to them in good faith, the boss says “nah, we aren’t going to take HR’s advice on this,” that moment is the moment that could color your remaining time in the company and have serious, measurable consequences. No matter how good your HR rep is, they ANSWER to the company/bosses. Maybe that would be the better axiom? “Remember, ultimately HR answers to management, not you”? Because I still think a lot of people do not fully understand that fact and haven’t synthesized what it could mean for them when they’re weighing whether to take a grievance up the chain.

      2. JulieCanCan*

        Ultimately, HR exists to make sure the company is doing everything it should be doing legally, for their employees. They work for the company. Like everyone there. By making sure all employee laws are complied with, it seems like HR is there to fight for employees. Often folks who are new to the working world think HR is their shrink/sounding board/vent release ears/security blanket and oh so many other things that HR doesn’t actually encompass. And some companies encourage their employees to use HR in a psychologist-like capacity, which bugs the shit out of me. Sometimes I think about former jobs and companies I worked for and I wish I knew then what I know now. I admit I also fostered some of the BS that I dealt with (without realizing it) but I think about how much time was wasted with an employee walking into my office, shutting the door, and proceeding to spill their life stories or random ridiculous complaints or ideas and all sorts of “procedural change” encouragement that would never happen in a million years. I would have about 1,000 hours back if I hadn’t accepted these non-stop “pop-ins”

    1. VeryTired*

      Real answer – they are so bad because leadership wants it that way. The placed I’ve worked with great HR, have been companies that valued their employees and understand how the employer-employee relationship works to benefit the company. The companies with bad HR have been bad in a lot of ways – swinging from spending wildly to pinching pennies, freezing headcount while spending millions on third party consultants, etc.

      HR is the canary in the coal mine for mid-sized and up companies. If HR is bad, leadership is bad.

      1. Jadelyn*

        This is so beautifully put. Thank you.

        As with many management functions, HR is as good or bad as the organizational leadership will push it to be. HR is not all-powerful, and most of the time holds more of an advisory role than veto power, so if management is determined to be terrible, HR can’t necessarily stop them even if they would genuinely really like to do so.

      2. PM Jesper Berg*

        “The companies with bad HR have been bad in a lot of ways – swinging from spending wildly to pinching pennies, freezing headcount while spending millions on third party consultants, etc.”

        There are perfectly valid reasons why a company might freeze headcount while still engaging employees.

        1. PM Jesper Berg*

          Make that, “there are perfectly valid reasons why a company might freeze headcount while still engaging *consultants*.”

      3. JulieCanCan*

        OMG yes!!!

        We’re the ultimate “lose/lose situation” for every problem a company has yet doesn’t want to deal with.

        The best HR departments I’ve been a part of were either when I was a department of one and could push on the company as much as I felt necessary, OR where the company was a healthy place and EVERY department was a stellar one.

        Before I fell into HR, I thought anyone in HR by choice was kinda crazy.

    2. Micklak*

      I think they are perceived as horrible because people expect them to support employees. It can be a shock when it becomes clear that HR is there to support the employer.

      1. Jadelyn*

        You know, I’m genuinely at a point where if I had a single wish, I’d be tempted to waste it on “nobody will trot out that stupid “HR is there for the company, not the employees!” bullshit ever again” instead of something like world peace or an end to hunger or what have you.

        It’s not true, and perpetuating that attitude makes it harder for those of us in the profession who actually give a shit about our work to do anything to help y’all.

        1. animaniactoo*

          It may not be true for you – but there are indeed companies where it is entirely true or where it is true enough that even an HR rep that cares can’t be a very effective employee resource/representative. I think you may need to step back your outrage against people for whom their experience is that this IS true.

          1. fposte*

            But I also think that’s often unhelpfully reductive, kind of akin to an “all managers suck” meme, and it may keep people away from HR when they could actually be helpful. Maybe this is worth a thread/post of its own, since I think people don’t always know what good HR looks like, and of course we hear so many bad examples.

            Of course HR is there for the company–so are all the other employees. But good HR wants the company to be *good*–it’s to an employer’s advantage to attract and retain good employees–and will therefore take the actions it can to make that possible. That doesn’t always mean that somebody’s going to be fired, or that other employees will know what happened as a result of their complaint. There are also often some misplaced assumptions about HR as the hall monitor to settle intra-employee squabbles, and people feel let down when that doesn’t happen.

            So in the sense that HR’s job is not to make your workplace as comfortable as any of us wish individually, sure, they’re not there for us. But it’s not a simple matter of their being two teams and HR being on the opposing one, either.

            1. Jadelyn*

              This. This, this, this, this, this.

              Sometimes it’s true. Sometimes it’s also true that your boss’s job is to exploit you for the benefit of the company. But if you roll your eyes and say “What did you expect? Your boss is there to exploit you, not help you.” when someone talks about a bad boss, it’s going to make it harder for people who have good bosses to actually develop a strong working relationship with them, and people will wind up letting bad bosses go unchecked because, well, that’s what they’re supposed to do, I guess *shrug*.

              Same thing here. It’s not helping anyone to say “HR is there for the company, not for you!”, and it makes people reluctant to come to HR when there’s something that we actually could and would like to help with. Encouraging mistrust helps no one.

              And honestly, just from a personal standpoint, it’s really goddamn wearying, as an HR professional who strives to be One Of The Good Ones. People pushing that narrative makes my job harder and I’ll be blunt, I’m not a huge fan of that.

              1. Sunshine*

                “it makes people reluctant to come to HR when there’s something that we actually could and would like to help with”

                What makes me reluctant to go to HR are the thousands of bad reports about what happens when you trust HR – many of which are on this site. And bluntly, I’m not a huge fan of people handwaving multiple bad accounts with a #notallhr narrative either.

              2. General Ginger*

                What makes me reluctant to come to HR is every situation I’ve witnessed/been party to/was aware of IRL that has gone exactly as expected: the person coming to HR being the one punished. The narrative is there for a reason. Unfortunately, your experience is the exception, as far as I’m concerned.

          2. Jadelyn*

            You’ll notice I said absolutely nothing, not one single thing, about other people’s individual experiences being true or untrue. I’m talking about it as a *blanket claim*, which is a different thing.

            I acknowledge that that has been the experience for some people. What I’m saying is, pushing that as The One True Narrative is unhelpful.

            1. animaniactoo*

              On the other hand, while I understand what you and fposte are saying I think the reality is that it is true *often enough* that railing against it being said rather ever rather than pushing back against the idea that it is always true is self-defeating.

            2. Micklak*

              I didn’t realize that what I wrote would be considered controversial. I don’t remember making any blanket claims or claiming “one true narrative” but you still wrote that I said was stupid and bullshit. That seems kinda harsh.

              HR works for the good of the company. I don’t think that’s bullshit. I don’t think that’s untrue. I also don’t think it’s a value judgement. It’s what my experience has been. All of my problems with HR went away when I stopped expecting them to solve my problems.

              If you work in HR I can understand why it would be uncomfortable to hear that so many people don’t trust or value HR departments, but calling their viewpoints stupid might just confirm their viewpoint.

          3. Seeking Second Childhood*

            May I interrupt to ask…. isn’t Alison’s background in (roughly) HR?

            “…chief of staff for a successful nonprofit, where I was responsible for hiring, firing, promoting…”

        2. Queen Anon*

          IIRC, even Allison has stated that HR is there for the benefit of the company, not the benefit of the employee. I can assure you it’s been consistently true in my 38 years of working.

        3. Corporate lawyer*

          But in many jurisdictions the officers of a corporation have a fiduciary duty to act in the interests of the corporation and its shareholders, as opposed to the interests of employees.

          To be sure, the two aren’t always in conflict, and presumably ensuring compliance with employment laws, anti-harassment laws, and the like is consistent with acting in the interests of the company. But that does not fundamentally alter the main point.

    3. Roscoe*

      Honestly, its very possible that they didn’t have enough actionable information. OP heard this information 3rd hand. Depending on what Marco’s story was, and what they may have gotten from the woman in question, it may just be too much hearsay to really do anything about. A 3rd hand account isn’t necessary factual or the entire story

    4. HRified*

      Because in many companies HR is there to protect the company, not its employees.

      Also HR, like any other dept, is made of people who work there. If the people are horrible, the dept is not magically going to be awesome.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Poor training. Bad hires. Laziness and lack of incentives. Lack of autonomy and ability to see the spirit of rules and not the letter of them. Poor company culture, ethics and management.

      And a huge misunderstanding as to what HR is there for. I’ve been in this eternal struggle from the start. It’s not about being there for the company first, it’s about striking the balance and enforcing rules while setting examples of what is and isn’t acceptable for the job place.

    1. GreyjoyGardens*

      Remember the spicy food LW? The one whose coworker stole some of her food and then accused the LW of poisoning them (when the food was just spicy)? IIRC, it turned out that the HR lady was sleeping with the food thief.

      Jeez, people! If you want a date or a relationship or a torrid affair, go to Tinder or Grindr or something! That’s what they’re for! Dating (or sleeping with) coworkers is so 80’s!

      1. Politico*

        “Dating (or sleeping with) coworkers is so 80’s!”
        FWIW, I believe Michelle Obama met her future husband at work.

    2. LQ*

      I thought HR might also be getting blackmailed by him.

      This is blackmail right? One employee blackmailed another employee. Just to be clear. And the company was like, “you’re mean!” to the person saying, intracompany blackmail is not ok.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        Does Security Guard have a nice little “rent a cop *cough*” sideline with a whole bunch of his coworkers maybe? That gives “side hustle” a whole new meaning.

      2. Smarty Boots*

        If the story that Marco told, and that the OP reported third hand, is in fact true.

        HR in this case may suck. Or they may not.

  7. Secretary*

    I wonder if the HR rep would have the same opinion if after that conversation there was a hamburger smeared on THEIR windshield. Would they still say it’s not a form of intimidation?

  8. Micromanagered*

    Your security guard moonlights as a gigolo….he smeared a hamburger on someone’s car to pressure her into paying him for sex…and she did…and HR said that was fine…

    Where do you people work?! LOL

  9. Akcipitrokulo*

    So sorry you have such a dreadful HR department! Probably worth documenting every interaction you have with them.

  10. Alfonzo Mango*

    Or perhaps none of it is true and Marco is also hearing rumors? What a strange situation. OP, you did the right thing but this may never truly be ‘resolved’.

    1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      A lot of the story HR received is hearsay from a third- or possibly fourth-hand source. It’s possible the investigation found that none, or almost none, of it was true — the guard being a prostitute, the employee sleeping with him, the extortion and vandalism. I think the OP was right to pass it along to HR if it was done in good faith, but if what came out was that the guard and/or female employee are victims of vicious gossip and slander I can see why HR would be suggesting that OP and Marco could be reprimanded if they keep it up.

      1. OP*

        OP here, and HR confirmed it happened, they just didn’t see it as anything more than a personal matter between two employees.

        1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

          I thought in your update you indicated that “The HR rep seemed to imply that the kind of information that was being said about the guard was malicious,” and “he said that my perception was way off base” As in not true — maybe not malicious but perhaps had gotten exaggerated as the story was told and retold?

        2. fposte*

          It sounds like what’s confirmed is that there was an issue between the two employees, though, not the specifics of sex and blackmail. And while I agree the hamburger is vandalism, I don’t see it as the equivalent of a dead fish, a known symbol, as a threat either. I think you’re more convinced of HR’s silently agreeing on the events than I’m seeing from your account.

          I think they should have emphasized the value of bringing things like that to them rather than making you feel threatened, and the definitely blew that. I’m agnostic on the updating; I think they should at least tell you straight up that they don’t update on reports, but I don’t necessarily think they owe people reports either. Most significantly, I think we still don’t know what actually happened or what exactly HR did about it, so I don’t think we can outright say that HR blew it with those people.

        3. Arctic*

          Your HR department confirmed that one of their employees is a prostitute and that another employee slept with him. It’s incredibly unprofessional of them to share this information with an uninvolved party.
          I feel awful for the victim here. HR should absolutely NEVER have confirmed this to you. And it shouldn’t be spread around this way.

          1. fposte*

            I don’t think they did confirm that. I think they confirmed that there was an issue between two employees but didn’t give specifics.

  11. ISuckAtUserNames*

    I wish we had a bit more info on what HR actually did for the investigation. If the woman refused to corroborate the story, I don’t know if there’s much they could have done, though implying the LW & Marco are at fault for anything is pretty ridiculous and awful.

    Most security camera footage isn’t held for very long, and it was weeks between the incidents and the investigation, so it’s not super likely to be objective evidence that far after the fact.

    It does sound like LW’s HR sucks, but I’m not sure what even a competent HR department would be able to do to the security guard if the victim didn’t come forward.

    1. DisMuse*

      I assume that the ‘at fault’ element is that they are spreading the ‘rumour’ that the security guard is a male prostitute. If it is false, which is actually possible since everything the OP heard is hearsay from Marco (or even to Marco, since we don’t know if he heard it from the woman in the story) then it could possibly qualify as sexual harassment.

      1. ISuckAtUserNames*

        That’s true, and, really, whether he’s a prostitute or not is irrelevant to the story. His extortion and vandalism are what’s relevant.

        1. DisMuse*

          And it possibly IS a slanderous story that is being bandied about by Marco and others in the department (OP said that originally it sounded like a lot of people other than Marco knew the story). Maybe it was a story someone spread to embarrass the woman (‘haha, Jeannie slept with that security guard and thought he was into her, but he was a hooker and wanted his fifty’) or to humiliate and embarrass the guard. I think the OP was right to go to HR, but MARCO was gossiping about the situation to her, and presumably others, and that throws it into some doubt for me (without any clarifying statement from the actual woman who was involved in the incident).

      1. Bostonian*

        Me too! I’m so glad to be going out to eat tonight at a place that has the Impossible burger *salivates*

  12. Hiring Mgr*

    Not sure what HR’s investigation entailed, but ultimately it seems that unless the woman who this happened to comes forward, there’s really not much anyone can do.. Presumably they talked to Marco and he didn’t mention her by name, which is maybe why they thought he fabricated it?

  13. The New Spider Boss*

    Deeply not surprised by HR’s reaction. I got groped (forcibly hugged and kissed on the neck) by a client while working for a Fortune 100 company, and when I told my manager, he said “call HR.” And HR, well, they were like, “hm, not an employee? well, sucks to suck, I guess.” Didn’t even give me the hotline for EAP (which I already knew, but the average line level employee is not aware of) or anything other than a hearty shrug. LW, I’m sorry that you’re in a situation where you don’t feel comfortable w/r/t if HR takes these concerns seriously. HR /should/ be more concerned about sexual harassment/assault/intimidation but I don’t know why so many big companies drag their feet on it.

      1. Jasnah*

        Look sad and compassionate when the employee comes to you, forward them the hotline for EAP, talk to the management about either dropping the client or keeping him away from the employee/other female employees, monitoring his interactions with workers, only having him meet with certain people in safer locations where he can be controlled, consider scaling down their business with him…

        I dunno, that’s just what I thought of off the top of my head, I’m sure a competent HR person could think of more.

      2. The New Spider Boss*

        That’s a great question – and the answer shouldn’t be “nothing”. But there’s an EAP, the Life Support hotline, and advising a police report would have been a start, I guess.

      3. Gazebo Slayer*

        Requiring employees to tolerate sexual harassment by clients is actually also illegal. An employer should stop doing business with the client, or reassign the client to another employee, or require that a third party always sit in on meetings with the client, or some such solution.

        1. Partly Cloudy*

          Exactly. Every cheesy sexual harassment training video I’ve ever watched was with it enough to emphasize that you can be sexually harassed by clients, vendors, and the guy who comes to restock the vending machine, not just other people who work for the company.

  14. animaniactoo*

    What really infuriates me is that the woman involved feels *too embarrassed* about the situation to report this guy.

    Potentially embarrassed enough to even be misrepresenting the situation – embarrassed for what? Not knowing he was a sexworker and considered this an assignment? Knowing he was a sexworker but thinking he wasn’t charging her? Or having agreed to pay for sex? Which she thought she could renege on because what recourse would he have and then discovering he wasn’t prepared to give up and go away so easily? What?

    Because I could see the first or second scenarios being simple misunderstandings in which case there is nothing that she SHOULD feel embarrassed about and let that deter her from reporting the extortion/escalation rather than letting it go on his part. I get that there’s feelings of self-worth caught up in that and the concept in her head that it feels like saying “He didn’t think I was attractive enough to sleep with unless he got paid for it” – but that’s only one interpretation of his actions and it doesn’t have to be the story that she tells herself for how she ended up in this situation. That infuriates me.

    On the other hand, if it’s the last scenario, then hey – she totally deserved to get hamburger smeared on her windshield. Granted, I don’t know if he would have stopped at this action that can easily be cleaned up and I can see doing in a fit of spite. But when people decide that it’s okay to take advantage of someone because they don’t have a lot of recourse to make them pay – that also infuriates me. And that’s true whether the guard is doing sexwork because he’s trying to pay for a kidney operation for his kid or because he enjoys sex and likes to bring in some extra money.

    I’m glad for OP that the friendship with Marco survives. But I hate all the dynamics that went into this situation from the aftermath of the sex to Marco’s inability to see this as a serious situation needing a report to HR to HR’s apparent response to it all.

    1. Lady Phoenix*

      Don’t you know? Women having sex is BAD, and prostitution is BAD. Som if a woman engages in prostitution or non marital sex, then that makes HER bad by default.

      Excuse me while I go find a trash can to puke in

    2. Doc in a Box*

      Not to mention, it’s pretty damn embarrassing to think that half the office is gossiping about your one-night-stand with Beefy McBeefcakes.

      1. Jasnah*

        Even taking out the prostitution element I can see it being embarrassing for this reason. I can also see any mention of my name+with a prostitute being office gossip fodder being embarrassing.

        Maybe she shouldn’t feel embarrassed, but I can understand why she might be and just want the whole thing to go away.

  15. KimberlyR*

    I’m glad OP reported it but it does sound like HR investigated and either found nothing, or not enough to move on. If the woman wasn’t identifiable or denied the story, there isn’t much they can do.

    However, HR practically threatening OP and Marco is completely wrong. Whether they found anything in their investigation or not, HR should’ve been happy OP brought this to their attention to investigate. OP has already decided she can’t trust her HR department (which I can’t blame her for!) and this is the completely wrong attitude that HR should want to foster.

    1. fposte*

      Yeah, to me that’s the big issue. HR *wants* these reports. Don’t scare people away from giving them. It’s perfectly possible to tell people that they won’t be informed about the investigation or even that action wasn’t taken while still making it clear that reporting was the right thing to do and highly appreciated.

      1. zaracat*

        That’s exactly my take on it as well. Both HR and management should be making it clear that they value employee safety and wellbeing and will take this allegation seriously and will follow it up, while still saying that their ability to do so is limited if the victim is unidentified, and pointing out that sharing rumours alleging extortion and vandalism could open people up to claims of defamation if proven untrue.

        Also, having read the comment speculating that maybe the woman knew the security guard was a prostitute and was simply evading paying him: if we were to view this like any other disputed business transaction (this is a workplace advice site after all!), then the expectation would be that the onus would be on the vendor to prove that an agreement of some sort was in place before the service was provided and for them to use the usual legal channels to pursue an unpaid debt eg debt recovery agency, small claims court – vandalism and intimidation are potentially criminal acts (depending on the degree) and are separate issues to any unpaid debt. While a business transaction gone awry might be considered a personal matter between two employees, one employee using threatening behaviour against another is a whole different kettle of fish.

        I’m well aware that in the real world prostitution doesn’t work like a normal business transaction in terms of debt recovery, I’m just trying to get people to look at all of this from a slightly different perspective to see that the company shouldn’t just be brushing off extortion and vandalism (or any other form of workplace bullying) as being a purely interpersonal conflict in which they have no standing or obligation to intervene.

        1. animaniactoo*

          The thing is – if it was that last scenario in my comment above then it’s not extortion to want to be paid for agreed on services, and hamburger smeared on a windshield is an extremely low-level of vandalism. It was only ever extortion IF there was no clear payment agreement. As far as vandalism or intimidation? Hamburger on a windshield is a what? 2 minute cleanup? There’s no permanent damage, and it does not carry the implicit message that a black rose or a dead fish does. It just doesn’t have the same connotations.

          Is it all okay? No. Not at all. But in terms of company actionable… a single provoked act in an interpersonal conflict is rarely a fireable offense. Which is what HR said… they investigated and didn’t find a cause for action. Without a lot more firsthand knowledge of this situation on OP’s part, there really isn’t a lot that HR CAN do outside of assuring OP that it has been looked into.

          Yeah, HR should be telling OP they appreciate the report, and so on, but it sounds like OP might also be convinced that is legitimately creating an issue for HR in what responses they will accept when they don’t have and aren’t entitled to be privy to all the facts involved.

    2. Arctic*

      Threatening them is wrong. But if they are spreading these rumors outside of their report to HR that could be reprimand worthy. I have done these types of investigations. Confidentiality is crucial. Not just to protect the people involved. But because it becomes impossible to find untainted witnesses. We want to find out what people witnessed and their first hand knowledge. Not info that they received third or fourth hand through the rumor mill.
      And a third hand reportee who had no involvement with the incident is not going to get a report on what happened. If the alleged victim doesn’t want it to get around it shouldn’t be spread around.

  16. loslothluin*

    I’d be so tempted to slather a hamburger over the cars belonging to anyone in HR since they said it was nothing.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Something tells me if it happened to HR or someone in a favourable position, they’d take action. Argh. It’s so gross but I’ve seen it too often to not know it happens. “Who did what? Sure…we’ll look into it…oh we found nothing, stop starting rumors!”

  17. Nick*

    OP, you need to pump the brakes a little bit. Yes, it is entirely possible that everything you heard is entirely accurate, but it also is possible that everything you heard is entirely inaccurate. And, of course, there’s the possibility the truth is somewhere in the middle. You heard something second hand, reported it to HR third hand, and now are drawing a LOT of conclusions about the truth and HR’s competence based on implication and facial expressions (your words). Maybe you are correct, but you do not appear to even consider the possibility that your inferences are incorrect or incomplete. That’s a dangerous attitude to have. Now it would be completely different if you KNEW that something untoward had occurred and your HR department brushed it aside. But until then, it does no one any good (and may even cause harm) to draw inferences from admittedly shaky information.

    1. Lucille2*

      This is my take as well. OP did the right thing in reporting the incident, but given the lack of details about what happened and who was involved, it’s entirely possible this is malicious gossip. I have to wonder if HR’s reaction is more around OP’s insistence on action being taken against the security guard than discouragement from her reporting things in the future.

      Perhaps OP is viewing this situation through a lens from her past in an especially toxic environment. It may be beneficial to take a step back and consider why she does not accept the outcome of HR’s investigation. If there are other signs that sexual harassment is tolerated, that’s one thing, but based on OP’s report, there might not be enough to go on.

    2. Name Required*

      Yeah. Totally this, especially after OP doubled-down in the comments section on her interpretation of the facial expression as fact. In the original letter and in this update, to me it felt like OP was projecting her own experiences onto this story; the concern and worry over losing a friendship if she reported, the anger that the situation wasn’t addressed in the way she would have expected, the assumption that the bad man in HR is dismissing valid concerns because she’s crazy … there are some correlations here with the experiences of many women who have been victims of sexual assault and harassment. OP, you might look at and dismiss it as overreaching and incorrect. And you could be completely right and I could be completely offbase. Regardless, you seem to be making a lot of assumptions about the situation and getting upset over them.

    3. Gumby*

      That was also my first reaction – the truth is somewhere in the middle and HR might, just might, have a totally reasonable take on the situation. (Also, not updating non-involved people sounds extremely reasonable to me. I’m not sure why they updated OP at all when she asked beyond “we investigated and appropriate actions have been taken.” Just because a person reports an action doesn’t necessarily give them access to investigation results.)

      OTOH, as someone who is a tenth of the way through the Ropes & Gray report about the Nassar mess and the USAG and USOC inaction at what, in hindsight, seems like clearly actionable information, today I’m leaning more towards ‘HR could be downplaying to save themselves hassle.’

  18. Arctic*

    A hamburger isn’t the same as a dead fish though. Dead fish is a universal mafia initiated signal that they will kill you. That’s not the message with the hamburger. If it happened (which as far as I can tell we don’t know since OP didn’t witness it) it’s horrible. But you can’t equate it to a death threat.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, I agree. (And I’d say it’s horrible that there’s retaliation from this dude, but the actual fact of a hamburger smear is mostly just annoying.)

    2. Doc in a Box*

      Honestly, I think it’s bizarre and a bit unstable to smear a hamburger over someone’s car. I wouldn’t think it was some universal death threat (I didn’t know that about dead fish, either, hmmm maybe that one’s not so universal as you think?), but I’d consider it an erratic behavior that might be the harbinger of actual violence.

      1. animaniactoo*

        If you live in a city with significant Mafia activity, there’s a high likelihood that you know what it means. Otherwise, maybe not so much. The dead fish is a signal that you will be “sleeping with the fishes” (here’s your future company) – if you don’t shut up or stop whatever other behavior is upsetting them. It’s a “we’re not kidding around when we said stop” signal.

      2. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

        Well said. It might not be a death threat but it’s a threat nonetheless. Definitely a sign things will likely escalate. I wouldn’t feel safe at all.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      A dead fish is because it’s easy to hide in a heater and staaaaaaank.

      Just like the psychopaths in college who peed on people’s carpets. I’ve seen a lot of bad behavior over the years as revenge tactics that weren’t death threats!

  19. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Does anyone else feel a guilty desire for this to be made into a movie and the woman in HR is romantically involved with the security guy?

  20. OP*

    OP here. One last comment.

    If the guy who smeared the burger on her windshield was in any other position than security, this would not have really even mattered to me other than the guy is an a-hole. But the fact that he works in security is what makes it egregious. He is in a position of power- to be trusted, and I felt that his intimidation/retaliation tactic was an abuse of power considering his position.

    I appreciate all of your comments and perspectives!

    1. Flash Bristow*

      Yep. The offender should be catching the burger-spreader… Not *be* the burger-spreader. Ugh.

      OP I know I’m a few days late but Ive just added a comment below, in case it’s helpful. You certainly have my huge sympathy.

  21. Flash Bristow*

    I too have had horrible experiences like that. A bit different as it was a private sixth form – I was sexually assaulted by a fellow student. When I reported to the chaplain in confidence, and said all I wanted was for him to get help, it got escalated, police were called… Blew up way out of hand.

    I’ll save you the details but the end result was, because he and his sister were overseas boarding students, thus bringing thousands of pounds to the school every term, and I was a day pupil on a full academic scholarship, thus *costing* the school to educate me, you can imagine who they chose to favour.

    Promises to separate us in class were reneged on, and when I questioned it I was warned by the headmistress not to make a fuss because I “wouldn’t want people knowing what kind of girl you are”(!)

    As I said this was in 6th form not work BUT it led to me being distrustworthy of organisations and their motives. Now, sad to say, if I have to report anything dubious I first of all consider who has most political capital. It’s very sad that this is the situation but it sounds like the sort of issue that may have struck Marco and OP :(

    FWIW OP I think you did the right thing and should be proud of your actions; I’m sorry it ended as it did. I’m glad you’re still friends with Marco.

  22. Kitty*

    Just because he’s not “mad” at you for reporting it doesn’t make Marco a good guy. He should have reported it. I’m also inclined to believe as others suggested that Marco told HR he made it up, to cover it up.

Comments are closed.