HR questioned me for hours about a sex injury

A reader writes:

This happened a few weeks ago and I’m hoping it’s resolved, but I’m at a loss as to what I could have done differently.

In my personal life, I enjoy BDSM. I keep it out of my work life, obviously. I don’t ask anyone to call my partners master or wear obvious collars. However, one time, I made a decision that left me with a visible face injury that was not easily covered. Not the best judgment call on my part, but I wasn’t in a ton of pain or anything.

I went into work the next day and made an excuse. Luckily, I play roller derby as well so I can explain most things away. However, I have a coworker, “Mary,” who has noted my bruises (arms, legs in the summer when shorts are dresscode appropriate) before and asked if I was safe at home. She dropped it once I said yes, but the visible face injury seemed to concern her. She did not approach me, instead was asking around.

I also have a friend on staff, “Lee.” We do a lot of stuff outside of work together, we talk about everything. I know a lot about Lee’s relationships and they know a lot about mine. When Mary asked them, Lee thought they were doing me a favor by saying that it wasn’t abuse, it was BDSM. Needless to say, they were not.

Mary went to HR and told them that I was flaunting the injury as a … sexual trophy, I guess?

I had to endure hours of questioning about my injury — how I got hurt, what exactly happened, who I told. I had to reveal to more people than I care to say about my “activities.” (I told them that I got it from my partner consensually but refused to give further details. I thought lying might be … wrong somehow? I panicked. I wish I had stuck to the derby story, honestly.) And I had to assert that at no point did I ever mention it to Mary and that I wasn’t actively getting off on showing people my injury.

I was humiliated. And Mary won’t talk to me. And she’s still telling people I’m disgusting. I don’t know if I should have stayed home or what. If I had gotten the bruise in roller derby, I would have gone in just the same and it would have never been this huge thing. But maybe because I got it doing a more taboo hobby, I made a mistake. Should I have stayed home? Is there anything I could have done (other than apparently not befriending Lee)? Is it sexual harassment? I feel awful. Should I just cut my losses and look for another job?

Your HR department thought you were … flaunting … an injury … as a sex trophy?

And questioned you for hours about it?

Unless there are details I’m not understanding, your HR department is astonishingly misguided.

If they had to address it at all (and I’m not convinced they did), here’s how the conversation should have gone: “Someone is concerned that you’re telling people the injury to your face is from a sexual partner. First, do you feel safe at home? … Okay, glad to hear it. I want to offer you these resources just in case you ever need them. I’ll leave them right here and you can take them or not, as you’d like. If you don’t need them, maybe take them for someone else who might. Second, if you told any colleagues that the injury is from sex, that would be inappropriate at work and could make other people really uncomfortable — please do not do that. Anything you want to clarify or want me to clarify? … Okay, sounds like we’re on the same page, thanks for coming in.”

That’s not hours of questioning, and it’s not demanding that you reveal anything about your sex life. It’s dealing with the only pieces that are their business — your immediate safety, and ensuring you know you shouldn’t talk about sex at work. Done!

Now, was their questioning sexual harassment? Maybe, depending on exactly what they said to you during their hours of questioning. But Mary telling people you’re disgusting because of your sex life probably is. Mary shouldn’t be talking about your sex life at all.

As for whether you could have handled this differently, yes! Why oh why didn’t you stick with the roller derby story?! It’s the perfect explanation, no one could disprove it, and it would be odd if they tried to. You had zero obligation to tell anyone, including HR, the source of the injury, and doing that made this so much worse than it otherwise would have been. “Yeah, I get bruised up at roller derby all the time but I’m fine” would have made this all go very differently.

And obviously, telling Lee was a mistake, although you wouldn’t necessarily have known that ahead of time. Speaking of Lee … what the hell were they thinking? They thought they were doing you a favor by telling a coworker a particularly salacious detail about your sex life?! Either Lee is the world’s most naive person or Lee likes to stir shit up (and it’s probably the second one). Either way, this was a friendship-ending betrayal of your privacy. Tell Lee nothing going forward.

Ideally, I’d like to see you go back to HR and say that being questioned for hours about someone’s allegations about your sex life was wildly inappropriate and feels like harassment to you, and that Mary speculating on your sex life to other employees is definitely harassment and you want it stopped. It wouldn’t be overkill to have a conversation with a lawyer first so you’re clear on exactly what you’re dealing with (since the details of their questioning matter). But please don’t just accept that your employer gets to do this to you and you just have to take it.

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 646 comments… read them below }

  1. The Original K.*

    Yeah, I’d have stuck with the lie. “I don’t know what Lee and Mary are talking about. I fell during roller derby.” Repeat as needed.

    1. KHB*

      In hindsight, sure, that would have been best. But I do understand OP’s instinct to not want to get caught lying to HR – especially when HR is as nosy as this, and you don’t know what kind of follow-up questions might be coming. (“When and where was the roller derby injury? What exactly happened? Oh, but I have a friend of a friend who was at that event, and she says she didn’t see anything like that…”)

      1. Violetta*

        Why would HR have interrogated her? They’re not police.

        I can’t sympathize with OP here – of course a visible injury to the face was going to lead to questions from people around her. She should’ve anticipated that and been fully prepared to stick to the roller derby story.

        1. Student Affairs Sally*

          They DID interrogate her, though, that’s the thing. Of course she should have stuck to the story, but I can completely see how she would have panicked in this situation with them putting so much pressure on her. And she did stick to her story until Lee outed her.

          1. have a gouda time*

            Yes, I completely understand why she panicked and thought honesty was the best policy with HR, especially given that someone else had already disclosed all the information. To be unable to sympathize with her at ALL is a lot.

            1. Julia*

              Agreed. I’m someone who has trouble lying, so if HR pressed me about something for hours, perhaps even telling me that they needed to know the truth (for insurance purposes or whatever?), I’d probably feel obligated to confess what actually happened. Or at least the part where it was my partner injuring me, perhaps leaving out the details on that. Like, “haha, husband opened the bathroom door right as I was walking by, we need mirrors in the hallway” – but if they THEN kept pressing, I could totally see myself cracking.

          2. Legal Beagle*

            Yes. It’s really easy to Monday morning quarterback but it’s extremely unhelpful to the LW, and the truth is, none of us know how we would respond in the moment, in a very uncomfortable situation.

            1. chewingle*

              Yes, I have definitely been a situation where I panicked and told the truth because I was confronted by someone who was basically saying, “I already know the truth. Want to tell me this person is a liar?” It’s a tactic used by police (and parents) all the time. “Your friend told us everything. What do you have to say for yourself?”

              Sticking to the lie would have been better, but it’s easy to say that when you weren’t the one being confronted by someone who is clearly VERY pushy.

        2. Littorally*

          You can’t sympathize with the OP being pressed in an extremely inappropriate way by the people who have the power to cut off her income? That’s harsh.

        3. SarahKay*

          But, in fact, HR *did* interrogate OP, for a considerable length of time.
          And it’s one thing to be prepared to stick to a tactful story if all you’re getting is questions from co-workers, but quite another to be prepared for being hauled into HR and being confronted with the fact that they know the truth. At that point OP would have had to be prepared to tell an absolute flat-out lie, contradicting the truth, to people with a certain amount of power over them. I’m pretty sure that’s the point I’d have decided it was better to just be accurate about the whole thing, and I think a lot of people in that position would do the same.

          1. SamKD*

            Yes. +1 to this point precisely. I am in a position of authority where I work and if I were in OP’s seat of the HR office I would have told the whole unvarnished truth. You don’t lie to the workplace system. Period. Co-workers, sure, and we’ve all probably been “sick” at one time or another, but once it’s in a formal command structure of any kind honesty really is the best policy. Given how HR reacted I would have consulted an attorney first thing and possibly asked for administrative leave right after that…but I absolutely think OP was correct to “come clean” to HR once word of the truth was already out there. I’m also wishing a skin disorder both very visible and very itchy upon “Lee” so that they get some much-needed perspective.

            1. Starbuck*

              “You don’t lie to the workplace system. Period.”

              I think this is very naive. Continuing to tell the story OP had originally come up with (one that was pretty much unfalsifiable) to explain away a matter that was none of anyone’s business would have been perfectly fine. Clearly honesty was NOT the best policy here for OP, look how it turned out. I think once the workplace showed they were willing to be way out-of-line nosy into matters they shouldn’t have been asking about, they showed they deserved to be lied to and OP would have been right to do it.

              1. Self Employed*

                I agree that HR does not deserve the truth about OP’s sex life, even if OP had been abused at home (and wow that would be a disaster if she had been). However, the derby story is only “pretty much unfalsifiable” if both of the following are true:

                OP’s team isn’t on hiatus for the pandemic, and HR Inquisitor doesn’t have friends who would remember whether or not OP got hit in the face at practice.

                1. Starbuck*

                  As someone who also does roller derby, there’s no way that even someone who attended and watched an entire practice would see every hit if it’s a practice with more than like, three skaters. And my team is also technically on hiatus for the pandemic, but many skaters are doing smaller meetups outside – supposedly no-contact, but of course accidents happen and many teams elsewhere are off hiatus.

                  Anyway, OP’s commented a bunch in the thread and hasn’t mentioned any reason why they wouldn’t have been able to stick to the derby story, other than being so unexpectedly and inappropriately pressured by HR.

            2. Rain*

              That’s nuts. No one is under any obligation to disclose anything about their sex life to HR. In fact, I think they’re under an obligation *not* to disclose anything about their sex life. It was entirely inappropriate to be questioned in this way, and entirely inappropriate that she told them about her sex life. Terrible decisions all around. Zero points awarded to anyone.

              1. LunaLena*

                If you read more posts below, OP has added extra info under the name OP is Dumb Not Abused. The details she added make it clear she had zero choice about bringing up her sex life, they did it all on their own.

                1. Rain*

                  OP apparently confirmed that Lee was telling the truth. She had no obligation to do that. “I don’t know what you’re talking about”. Rinse and repeat.

                2. LunaLena*

                  @Rain – you’re still unfairly blaming OP for what happened, though. It would be great if we all had as much presence of mind as you to be able to think quickly and clearly under pressure, but the fact is that most of us don’t. Sort of how, after every mass shooting, people always come out of the woodwork to say “well I wouldn’t have just stood there and gotten shot, I would have heroically rushed the gunman!” No one really knows how they will react under pressure until they’re in the situation, and saying “well you should have done this” after the fact is unhelpful and irrelevant.

              2. Le Sigh*

                The idea that total honesty is owed to HR is nuts, agreed. But OP didn’t tell them about her sex life. Lee did and then HR cornered her and she panicked. I’m sure OP wishes she’d stuck to her original story, but sometimes we panic when cornered! That’s not the same thing as just telling HR about your sex life.

            3. Anon for this*

              Uh, as someone into kink who collects marks, I absolutely would lie to anyone and everyone at work about it. It’s my sex life, not anything to do with work, and I don’t see any reason to open myself up to the judgement people put on it. I’m not at all judging OP for ‘coming clean’—anyone could crack under a surprise interrogation like this! But in a scenario like this, if it’s possible to maintain a roller derby/martial arts/rock climbing/other bruise-and-mark-collecting-hobby story, that would absolutely be my first choice.

            4. Pumpkin215*

              ” You don’t lie to the workplace system. Period.”
              I’m also gonna call bull honkey on that. The “workplace system” is not the same as being sworn in at court. Some things they don’t need to know and it is none of their business. Plus they lie all the time! So workers are supposed to be 100% honest each and every time when they don’t get the same back? “Yes, we have a work from home policy”. “Yes, we have decent raises”. “Yes, our culture is great and everyone gets along here”. “Yes, you leave early on Friday”. “Yes, you can bring your cat to work”.

              You would have told the “whole unvarnished truth”? What if they asked your favorite sex position? What if they asked if they could watch? What if they asked how often you do it? How often do you finish? How over the line do they need to go in order for you to say “No, I’m not going to answer that”. I think you need to rethink your “position of authority” and what that really means.

            5. Librarian1*

              Yeah, I completely disagree. It’s none of their business and it would have been completely fine for OP to lie about this.

            6. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

              In a workplace system like the one described you should lie as much as you want and feel good about it. You don’t owe the truth to people who want it only in order to harm you.

              That said, this is contrary to most people’s early training (parents and teachers want all sorts of information from us that isn’t necessarily going to have a good outcome for us) so I get why the OP went the way she did under pressure. The wrong is all on the other side.)

            7. LizM*

              I don’t necessarily agree that it’s as absolute as presented, but I don’t blame OP for panicking. It’s drilled into us (in government) that lying during an investigation is a fireable offense. Even though I can’t see someone being disciplined for telling a small fib about an injury they got outside of work on their personal time, I can see an employee without a lot of experience with HR not knowing where that line was.

              Personally, I’m not sure I would be able to stick to the lie if asked directly by HR or my direct supervisor in a formal, “LizM, we need to talk, do you mind shutting the door” type conversation, especially if caught off-guard. That said, I would probably say something along the lines of, “I’m not in an abusive relationship, I’m safe at home, and this injury was an accident. I’d prefer not to go into more detail than that.” If pressed, “I’m sorry, could you please explain how that information is relevant to my work here?”

            8. Smackedgob*

              Oh boy this line of thinking where the “workplace authority” deserves the ultimate access to your personal life and you cannot lie to them even when they’re violating all your boundaries is really scary to me.

              This is simply not true. Why are we giving an HR department god-like authority? Why are we giving any system that type of authority over our private lives and just complying? She didn’t commit a crime and nobody committed a crime against her (and if they had, as a victim, she still would not be doing anything wrong if she wasn’t comfortable divulging information out of fear or whatnot if she didn’t feel safe, either by the way. A lot of victims a made to feel like criminals with this same line of thinking…. sheesh) and they’re not a prosecuting attorney or detective and she wasn’t under oath. My goodness.

              Yes she slipped up out of nervousness but she had every right to maintain her story and LIE to these creepy strangers asking her inappropriate questions. I am gobsmacked reading this story, and not because OP succumbed to the pressure, I feel sorry for them, but because of what Mary and Lee and HR did to OP. And then by some of these comments.

              In order to protect yourself you have every right to lie and I don’t see any moral grey area about it whatsoever in a situation like this. I feel bad that OP felt cornered and blindsided and have to deal with the regret of how it played out. Even worse now they’ve become fodder for office gossip and not only must that stop, but that is reprehensible.

            9. Amtelope*

              Nope nope nope. If my boss asks me a question where the honest answer is about my sex life, I don’t owe them the truth. HR doesn’t get to know what I do in bed.

            10. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Why should your workplace have the right to the truth about your private life? Clue is in the word “private”. So long as you do your job and nobody gets hurt in the process, everyone should mind their own business.

          2. Ellie*

            Yes, and it isn’t as if this is something shameful that the OP has to keep secret about either. It might not be mainstream, but its not illegal, and there’s no ethical reason why she should have to keep the source of her injuries secret in a meeting with HR. The information she gave sounds very brief and to the point, it shouldn’t be considered salacious to just state the facts. This is entirely on HR, they should have been more respectful.

        4. Observer*

          Why would HR have interrogated her? They’re not police.

          You seem to be missing the fact that they DID interrogate her. Why? My first thought is that I have no idea. My second thought is that someone in HR has their own issues and is also nosy as all get out. Given that they didn’t slap Mary down, but instead launched into an interrogation of the OP in response to Mary’s utterly ridiculous complaint, it’s not reasonable to assume that HR would react reasonably to the OP’s denials.

          1. IndustriousLabRat*

            Looking at the OP’s update below, your ‘second thought’ seems pretty darn astute.

        5. BHB*

          People panic in the moment, and 9 times out of 10 telling the truth is a sound strategy; it’s drilled into us as kids that telling the truth is paramount. So I can totally empathise with the OP that when approached by HR unannounced, she decided to tell the truth rather than try to come up with a plausible roller derby story on the spot. Especially if Lee had already let the BDSM cat out of the bag, if OP wasn’t good at lying with the roller derby story that could have invited even more interrogation and made it an even bigger thing if/when the actual truth came out.

          In hindsight, yes OP should absolutely have stuck to a bland “I picked it up at roller derby practice” story and that would be that. But it’s totally understandable that the OP didn’t do that, and the whole situation has been exacerbated by Mary, Lee and HR’s interrogations – none of which is the OP’s fault at all.

          1. Despachito*

            Yes, this!

            OP had no obligation whatsoever to reveal ANYTHING, even the roller derby thing, because it is none of the business of nobody at work. (it`s nice if someone cares and asks but even then they are not owed more than “oh, thank you, nothing serious happened, I am OK”.

            But this is “Monday-morning-quarterback” view, I can perfectly understand that LW cracked under (very inappropriate) pressure.

            I would take it as a lesson to NEVER EVER AGAIN reveal any details from my sex life or anything sensitive to any coworker – it is absolutely none of their business. And if someone asks anytime again in the future where the fresh bruise on my face comes from, I would say something along the line “Oh, that? I was winding yarn on the horns of my pet wildebeest, and it apparently did not like its colour.”

            (And I would personally cut some slack to Lee – they may have been genuinely wanting to help but were naive about that. For me, the real monsters are Mary and the HR person)

          2. Gan Ainm*

            Agreed! Also in OP’s shoes, in the ten seconds I had to make a decision, I would have been thinking “well what if they haul lee in here and make me lie to both their faces, when lee knows for a fact I’m lying, and then what? Either I get caught in a lie or lee gets fired for essentially telling the truth?” Lee’s over-sharing was reeeaaally ill advised but probably not malicious if they were that good of friends, and I wouldn’t want to get my friend fired for it.

            (I might later realize how big of a betrayal of confidence it was, given the impact, but in the moment I wouldnt have time to put all that together. Also this whole thing could have gone a dramatically different direction if Mary could have just said in response to Lee, “oh ok, glad it’s not abuse.” And just moved on, and in that case it wouldn’t feel like such a big deal that Lee had said something.)

            1. Despachito*

              Gan Ainn,

              even if they hauled Lee to the HR`s office and confronted you (IMHO highly improbable):

              1) who would be able to tell that you are lying if you maintained the roller derby version (even if you are into BDSM does not mean you cannot get injured anywhere else, and nobody saw it happening )
              2) but the main thing is that is ABSOLUTELY NONE OF THEIR BUSINESS, and you are entitled to lie through your teeth whenever you want to, as this is a matter totally unrelated with your work and you have NO OBLIGATION WHATSOEVER to reveal anything of such a private nature.

              Of course it is understandable that LW did what they did, they were put on the spot and a lot of us, including myself, would be too appalled to do anything else, and they are definitely not to blame.

              But the “Monday-morning” part of me revels in thinking what would happen if LW looked at the HR person coldly and said “I have no idea what you are talking about. I am OK, nothing bad happened to me and I`d strongly prefer never to be spoken to like that again.”

        6. NerdyKris*

          But they did interrogate her, and some people are very bad at lying when nervous, especially when the other person keeps asking questions.

          Let’s not absolve HR of the blame here. They handled it terribly. There was no reason to interrogate her for hours even if she did say “It was a sex injury”.

        7. Cambridge Comma*

          I don’t know that she should have expected it. I had an operation on eye my a few years ago and I was completely surprised by how many people at work assumed it was an accident or fist-fight and asked me about it. I would never ask for details of something like that so was completely unprepared.

          1. raaaleigh*

            Same! I wouldn’t ever ask a coworker about personal medical/injury details unless I knew them really well (and even then it would be more along the lines of “are you ok/do you need anything” as opposed to demanding to know what happened).
            I would definitely not be prepared to answer a bunch of questions from coworkers about a relatively minor (if very visible) injury sustained outside of work…. But I’m also the person who tells coworkers to mind their own business if they get too nosy. I feel awful for OP, since I would’ve felt pretty panicked, too, if I got interrogated by HR about something that’s none of their business!

        8. MassMatt*

          They DID interrogate her, for hours! And I don’t understand why. Even if they HAD been the police–having bruises is not a crime. Even if she had been a victim of spousal/partner abuse–that’s not a crime either! I don’t get what HR’s agenda was here, exactly, their behavior really doesn’t make sense. It sounds as though whomever was involved at HR was either too shocked or too pruriently interested in the details to handle this… issue?

          I don’t know if kink-shaming technically falls under sexual harassment laws but it’s definitely a problem here and needs to stop.

          OP needs to be more prepared to handle explanations of visible injuries–they are going to draw comments and concern– and practice a version of “I’m fine, thanks for asking. No, it wasn’t _____, it was an accident” and especially “It’s none of your business, please stop asking” repeated as necessary.

        9. I'm just here for the cats*

          I’m sorry but this comment feels a little bit judgmental. The LW tried to stick to the roller derby story but she was interrogated for hours. Plus it’s HR it can be stressful when confronted with something with them.

          The OP stated below how the conversation went and it was very much out of left field. Like right off the bat, BDSM is not for the office. There wasn’t really a conversation leading up like Mary says X. Just out right accusing her of “bad behavior”.

        10. Darsynia*

          Some of us find it incredibly, incredibly difficult to lie. And when faced with telling the truth or lying, OP decided not to lie. I understand that adults are capable of more shades of grey in their lives than children are, but many adults, myself and my husband in particular, find lying repugnant.

          And this is somehow completely unsympathetic to you? That’s concerning, not going to lie. YES, it would have been easier for OP if she could have been able to stick to a lie… but it’s still a LIE. Lying for some people is considered a sin, for others it’s profoundly morally wrong. To find it difficult to sympathize with someone for NOT lying is… very strange.

          1. EchoGirl*

            Also some people just aren’t wired in a way that makes lying easy. Either it’s difficult to impossible for them to lie at all or they can’t lie without being really obvious about it. Other people may be able to lie if they’re prepared but will freeze up and blurt out the truth if they’re unexpectedly put on the spot. Blaming someone for not lying is assuming it’s a conscious decision to tell the truth, and for various reasons, sometimes it isn’t (or, as you pointed out, it technically is but lying feels like such a burden/moral failing that it’s not realistic to expect it of someone).

            1. Librarian1*

              Yes, this is me EchoGirl. I don’t like to lie, not for moral reasons, just because it makes me uncomfortable and I’m not great at it, and when put on the spot I generally just say the truth because I’m too frazzled to think of a good lie.

              1. Self Employed*

                What’s that old quote about the truth being easier to remember later than a lie?

        11. Pennyworth*

          Unless the injury on her face was caused at work or was affecting her ability to perform her work it was none of HRs business. I hope she takes Alison’s advice and consults a lawyer.

      2. Stevie*

        Well, OP’s HR has already shown they’re willing to overreach, so I wouldn’t necessarily assume HR would have let it go if OP told them it was actually a roller derby injury.

        I can totally see myself panicking and doing what OP did, though! Some of us are bad liars and/or feel compelled to be honest, especially when in a bizarre situation like this.

      3. OP is Dumb not Abused*

        Yeah so to like coworkers I was totally prepared to keep to it but I wasn’t prepared with more details and as explained below, the nature of the questioning assumed without asking me for explanation. Also I’m dumb when I’m pissed off and scared.

        1. Le Sigh*

          I wouldn’t say it was dumb. I’d say you probably reacted the way a lot of us would when cornered and interrogated — you panicked. You had a surface-level story prepared and didn’t think about the need to go any further, as you didn’t anticipate it being an issue. Then you got hauled into HR for hours (what are they, Law & Order cops?) and were basically blindsided with news that your sex life had been leaked. Sure, we all like to think we’d do the smartest thing in those circumstances, but people panic. It happens. Hell there’s a reason they train people to withstand interrogations when they have jobs that require it!

          This is a much smaller example, but when I get catcalled, most of the time I ignore it or freeze. Occasionally I find the wherewithal to respond and I feel tough. But we’re human and we don’t always respond the way we hoped we would.

          I’m sorry this happened to you, by the way. Mary is crappy, your HR is crappy and it wasn’t deserved.

        2. SamKD*

          Everybody is dumb when they are pissed off and scared; it’s why bullies of all stripes like to keep people that way. You did _nothing_ wrong here! Nothing!! Potential Lees everywhere should remember the phrase “I know for a fact it wasn’t abuse but that’s not my story to tell.” Potential Marys should realize that HR was not needed; a simple “Ew, I don’t want to hear talk like that” will do.

        3. Julia*

          I am 99% sure I would have reacted the same way you did, and I assume you wouldn’t call me dumb. Please show some kindness to yourself. It’s your HR who’s in the wrong.

        4. Sparkles McFadden*

          No, you are not dumb!

          I couldn’t tell a convincing lie if you paid me. It’s not from any moral high ground (I wish). I just cannot remember things that didn’t actually happen so I just…say what happened.

          I don’t think you did anything wrong, and I think you should consult an attorney to find out what the best thing to do would be. You need to protect yourself and knowing your rights is the first step.

          I have found it’s best to speak the vague truth about things. People at work aren’t entitled to know the details of your personal business. If they’re checking on your welfare, fine. A simple response of “I have some physically demanding outside interests, such as roller derby. I enjoy it but there’s a lot of contact.” 100% the truth.

          But…the that ship has sailed so…call a lawyer and take care of yourself.

        5. Happy*

          Not your fault. Mary and HR are to blame here. Please don’t beat yourself up for not knowing exactly how to react when put on the spot in an extremely uncomfortable and unreasonable situation.

        6. Starbuck*

          Sorry this happened to you; people expressing concern and just wanting to make sure you’re OK is one thing – but people being nosy in this way definitely deserved to be lied to, please don’t feel guilty for giving them whatever story you need to in the future to put them at ease.

        7. JJ Bittenbinder*

          You are NOT dumb! The fact that you’re receiving attitude for not lying really disappoints me. People’s reaction to how you handled it should not outweigh their reaction to the original offenses against you, IMO. Personally, I’m saving my side-eye for Mary, Lee and everyone in HR.

        8. Just no*

          I agree with everyone else. You aren’t dumb. It was an incredibly bizarre and panic-inducing conversation. The vast majority of people would have done the same thing you did.

        9. iglwif*

          You know what, I understand why you feel dumb about it, but in the circumstances I bet MOST people would have panicked in a similar way. Most of us are not accomplished liars–a bland social white lie is one thing, but continuing to lie under interrogation by people with at least some authority over whether or not you get to keep your job … yeah, most of us would not do well at that.

          In hindsight it turns out telling Lee anything was a bad idea. I don’t think there’s anything else you need to feel dumb about.

        10. Database Developer Dude*

          While had I been in that situation, I would have been pissed off, not scared, but angry, and have hollered at HR “None of your fscking business” and “How dare you” and “I’m calling an attorney” and other gems like that…. I’ve been bullied enough myself to understand. OP, you are way too hard on yourself.

          Depending on how your friendship is with Lee, a word to him about stuff at work might be in order. I disagree that this is friendship-ending, as I think Lee was dumb in that he thought talking about BDSM at work would help…but he needs to be reined in, with a quickness.

          Mary and HR can both eat a bag of….well, you know.

        11. Jayne*

          I object to the application of the word dumb to you, even by yourself. In a study done in 2011 published by Law and Human Behavior, where people were accused of such transgressions as crashing a computer by pushing a computer key when they didn’t, some people confessed. A whopping 43 out of 71 confessed if the interrogators bluffed that they had evidence that the person pushed the button.

          In your case, your HR “bluffed” based on info provided to Mary by Lee (who should now be an ex-friend) and you reacted to the bluff as most people do.

          Dumb would be to forgive Lee (IMO), but I am not a forgiving person.

          And the most astonishing part of the whole story from me is where Mary switches so quickly from OP being a domestic violence victim (object of pity) to deviant flaunting their sex life (object of disgust). Judgemental much?

        12. Ellie*

          You’re not dumb. You had no way of knowing what Mary had told HR. I would have told the truth too as I still feel its the best defense against lies and slander. You didn’t do anything wrong. Any reasonable HR would have listened to your side of it, maybe given you a warning about talking to Lee (just to make sure it didn’t happen again, you couldn’t have known they’d do that), and then gone back to Mary and told her to stay out of people’s private business. I’m really sorry they were so horrible, you shouldn’t have to go through this.

        13. Fushi*

          I think what you did is completely understandable, and this is SO not your fault. Everyone at your workplace is majorly out of line. Sorry this is happening to you. <3

      4. Librarian1*

        Yeah, I completely understand OP being blindsided and answering honestly because they were too shocked to think of a lie. I do that a lot.

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Yep, ice skating. The ice wouldn’t get out of the way fast enough–but on the bright side, it kept the initial swelling down!

      1. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

        Better falling on ice than on solid concrete, like I did back in the days of roller skating. Ouch.

        1. OP is Dumb not Abused*

          Roller Derby is on varnished wooden and the rash you get when you’re going fast, someone hip checks you going faster and you skid in your tiny shorts across that wood for about ten feet is no joke

      2. Elizabeth West*

        LOL, I have actually said something similar to this when showing up at work with bruises back in my skating days.

    3. Hei Hei, the Chicken from Moana*

      Hindsight, dude. When I’m panicked, I actually tend to tell more truth!!

    4. Imaginary Number*

      Agree that roller derby makes it easy to wave off.

      Although a more accurate explanation would be “my teammate used my face to shove me into a jammer.”

      1. SkaterGirl*

        I play derby and have the “bruise-easily” gene. I have the full grip marks from my own teammates ALL THE TIME. I have black-and-blue shins more often than not. I have the occasional black eye. People take “roller derby season” at face value, and the only kind of follow-up questions I get are, “but did you win at least?” variety.

      2. Phony Genius*

        That explanation gets even better if you replace “my teammate” and “jammer” with the roller derby names of the individuals involved!

    5. JSPA*

      If someone does both BDSM and roller derby, it’s a good idea to have a long list of statements that are answers to a slightly different question, and thus, not lies.

      “How did you get that injury?”

      –“You know I do roller derby, right?”
      –“Between roller derby and my other active hobbies, I often have bruises.”
      –“Is someone commenting on my body, and if so, what are you planning to do, to stop that?”
      –“I live a very active lifestyle, as part of my commitment to a long and healthy life.”
      –“How is that relevant to my job?”

      “Someone said it’s sexual.”

      –“Someone is speculating wildly on my private life?”
      –“Someone here is discussing my potential sex life? That’s a shock. Give me a minute to calm down, then let’s discuss that problem.”
      –“Thank you for notifying me that someone is speculating on my sexual activities and my body, in our workplace. What are you planning to do, to stop that?”

      “[Person] said you were talking about sex.”
      “I have never talked about sex with [Person].”

      “We were told you were discussing sex in the workplace / issues group / other situation where sex related talk could well be unwelcome.”
      –“How strange.”
      –“I make a policy of not discussing sex in [that setting], or in general. If someone else is discussing sex with respect to me, in the workplace, that sounds like potential harassment.”

      “Yes or No: Are those marks sexual in nature?”
      –“What a bizarre question.”
      –“What an inappropriate question.”
      –“You do understand that demanding medical information is a bad look?”
      –“You do understand that forcing an employee to discuss their sex life is a bad look?”
      –“Why would you think so?”
      –“Why on earth would you think it’s appropriate to ask that question?”
      –“Exactly how do you expect me to prove that, one way or another?”
      –“I don’t generally worry about categorizing bruises, even if that were possible. I would prefer not to be hounded over them, regardless.”

      “We suspect you’re sharing information in a way that constitutes harassment / inappropriate behavior.”
      –“I have done no such thing.”
      –“I am starting to suspect someone is actually harassing me / engaging in inappropriate behavior towards me, and is using you, to do it.”
      –“As someone who does roller derby, I sometimes give flip answers when people ask me about marks. I thought I was being careful about that in the workplace, but I’ll be doubly-vigilant, to make sure nobody gets the wrong impression.”

      1. OP is Dumb not Abused*

        These are great and I wish I had had them. I guess I’ll write them down for my next job.

        1. CowWhisperer*

          Another one to keep in your pocket is “Uh……dunno. I bruise easily so your guess is as good as mine” for most injuries which keeps roller derby in reserve for the really impressive ones.

          I’m a pallid skinned, easy bruiser who has a mild form of CP which means I fall more than the average person. Add in the fact that I work in a DIY store and use my body as a tool to move heavy objects all the time and play rough and tumble games with my four-year old.

          People are always asking me about bruises on my legs and arms during shorts n’ t-shirt weather that I don’t remember getting and I (seriously) look at the offending bruise for the first time, shrug, and say “Huh…..yeah. Got nothing. Walked into a shelf? Shoved a box into a corner? Faceplanted in the driveway? Mama Bear tripped over a toy? All are possible…..”

          The biggest thing is to have a tone of boredom/standard operating procedure for the normal ones.

          1. iglwif*

            Yeah, I bruise easily and am a klutz with poor depth perception, so I typically have bruises on my arms and legs from stuff like “walked into the corner of the bed” and “misjudged how fast the bus door was closing” and “tripped over my own feet while walking the dog” and–most commonly–“idk, bruh, your guess is as good as mine”.

            I think face bruises are harder to airily wave away, but I suspect you’re right that if your tone is sufficiently bored, it would still work!

          2. Alexander Graham Yell*

            As somebody who bruises easily and has several hobbies that are fairly physical in nature, the number of times I’ve been told I have a bruise, looked at it, and said, “Oh wow, that’s a nasty one. Yeah, no clue. Really should look into iron supplements, I guess,” is…significant.

            1. Red 5*

              Yup, that is also a constant refrain in my life. See also when you notice it yourself while in front of someone and go “whoah, look at that, where did that come from? You’d think I’d remember that one.”

              That said, facial bruises are more rare and harder to wave off, and I probably have about a 50% likelihood that I would just be tell the truth in OP’s situation because it would be so bizarre I might short circuit and default to the truth.

          3. JessaB*

            I swear I’ll go to bed fine and dandy, and by the time in the morning I get to the bathroom and look in a mirror I have a new bruise, that I have no clue how I could have gotten, I didn’t remember walking into anything. I bruise like bananas.

          4. allathian*

            I bruise very easily too. I can bruise myself by pinching and holding for a few minutes.

            When I was a teen, during my growth spurt I grew about 6 inches in one year and that led to problems with my blood pressure. If I got up too quickly I’d faint. One day I did just that and hit the corner of my eye on the corner of our kitchen table. I broke my glasses and got a humongous black eye. Some of my teachers in junior high looked at me like they thought somebody had hit me or something.

        2. JSPA*

          Eh, if you want to keep this job, and get Mary to shut up, I suspect you can; if you’re just as happy to have a modest settlement and use the time won to look for a next job, that would also work.

          Reason for leaving:

          “I live a very active life, and bruise easily. Six months ago, I was subjected to wave after wave of rumors, triggered by an unfortunately-located bruise. Amazingly, HR then grilled me for 3 hours, not to see if I was OK, but to see if I was using my bruises to make others uncomfortable–whatever that means. I suspect some office mates got reprimanded as a result, as they are now frosty or even randomly accusatory, as if I were having occasional visible bruises ‘at’ them, or ‘at’ domestic abuse victims. It detracts hugely from the work environment.”

      2. pope suburban*

        These are wonderful scripts, and strike the right balance between honesty and circumspection. While I am sad that our OP did not have this list handy, I hope they find some utility in it now- and that they never, ever need to use any of it, because their future coworkers will be graceful enough to take them at their word! And if anyone else out there is involved in BDSM, I hope this can help them out too.

      3. David*

        The fact that anyone feels the need to create such a script for OP is an absolutely DAMNING indictment of her workplace’s HR team.

        At least one of them, and perhaps more, should be sacked and blacklisted from the industry in perpetuity.

        I can’t fathom what the hell the specific individual who dragged her in and berated her for hours on the topic was thinking; I can only imagine that they have some sort of interest in this specific kink that they want to live out vicariously.

        OP should absolutely retain a lawyer and be prepared to sue everyone involved until they bleed if she can’t bring this to a prompt and satisfactory conclusion.

      1. The Original K.*

        I’m fine with lying about something that’s none of my employer’s business. My employer isn’t entitled to information about my sex life.

        1. Curious*

          No, they are not. And it is entirely appropriate to say that, to refuse to answer, and/or to deflect. But lying is risking your reputation for integrity.
          YOU may think that you will only lie when it is right to do so, but no one else will be able to rely on your word for anything in the future.

          1. Smackedgob*

            What integrity is one risking by lying about how they got a bruise during their private sexual activity? How exactly would they be proven otherwise and who exactly is the integrity police that would be following them reminding everyone that no, this bruise was no from rock climbing, roller derby, fall off a ladder cleaning the gutters, or a bike accident but in fact from sexual roleplay.

            Lie. And don’t feel bad about it whatsoever. No moral grey area there. And no risk to your “integrity” or your reputation. Sheesh.

          2. JB*

            I have bad news for you. Your coworkers probably lie to you about their personal lives way more often than you think.

      2. M*

        When someone uses their authority over your ability to make a living to ask a question they have absolutely no right to ask, repeatedly, for hours? Tell them *whatever lie you want*, they have no right to your honesty, and you have every right to meet their bad faith powertrip with whatever tools you have available to you.

        1. Anonomatopoeia*

          For real. Telling Gul Madred there are five lights might be a lie, but it also might make him stop.

          (but also, a general principle of torture is that it doesn’t work well because people will just tell you what you want to hear; this is not a principle any HR department should be deploying, ugh.)

  2. Coffee Cup*

    Wow, what is up with Mary? Being concerned about a colleague? Yes. Going to HR over this? Just no. Lee is in the wrong but I can see how they thought they were helping. Mary, just, wow. And the HR…

    1. Expelliarmus*

      I don’t see how Lee could have, in their rightful mind, thought that they were helping out OP by unnecessarily bringing sex into the workplace. Sure, that’s the truth behind what happened, but why did they think the roller derby scenario was worse? It doesn’t bring any taboo matters into the workplace, and it’s an explanation endorsed by the OP!

      1. The Original K.*

        Yeah, my friends would know I don’t talk about my sex life at work, and I’d like to think they’d hold to that. Like, I could see them telling a different lie if they didn’t know I’d blamed roller derby – “She walked into a door” rather than “she fell in roller derby” – but I can’t see anyone I call a friend outing my sexual habits at work.

      2. Coffee Cup*

        You are absolutely right, but I just imagined a scenario where Lee didn’t know about the roller derby scenario and went into panic mode when confronted. I might be wrong of course.

        1. not me*

          How about saying, “I don’t know”?

          Also, the OP doesn’t say that Lee is part of a BDSM community, so I don’t understand where that comes from. I’ve been part of a kink community, and one of the FIRST things you learn is NOT to talk about it with anyone outside the community. It’s NOT OK to out anyone.

      3. Blushingflower*

        No, I get it! It doesn’t sound like LW said anything about Roller Derby to Mary this time, as she didn’t approach LW about this injury, but instead was asking around like “oh, LW has a bruise on her face, is she okay, I’m worried she’s being abused!” and Lee thought “no, it was consensual” would be a better answer (and maybe didn’t know about the roller derby cover story or just didn’t think to use it). If you spend a lot of time around kinky or kink-friendly people sometimes you can forget vanilla norms. I can see how you might think “it’s okay, that bruise was consensual” would be reassuring rather than “bringing sex into the workplace”.
        I also understand how when someone says point-blank “hey, did you get this bruise from BDSM” you have a harder time lying than if they say “how’d you get that bruise?”

          1. JSPA*

            “the bruise was consensual” doesn’t really rise to “talking about sex.” Anymore than, “some days, my spouse is inspired to send me flowers [said with a wink].”

            It’s a distant aftereffect that lingers for a few days, and that people are actively invited not to dwell on, if it bothers them.

            1. have a gouda time*

              haha!! I would be so horrifically uncomfortable with anyone who said “some days, my spouse is inspired to send me flowers [said with a wink].” To me that is implying something sexual.

              1. JSPA*

                Thing is, it could mean a dozen different specifics, from sexual to “baked brownies.” (If you don’t like the wink in the example, you could make it something involuntary, like blushing.)

                Sex is well within the range of possibilities.

                But if the only visible is “flowers,” and “the possible connection to someone having had some sort of interaction that makes them happy”–which is generally inclusive of sex–the flowers (or the bruise) are not “sex in the workplace.”

            2. LunaLena*

              Yeah, this. The bruise being consensual could mean “I had a choice, I could either get bruised or I could let my dog get hit by a car, and I made that choice.” It doesn’t have to have anything to do with sex at all.

        1. Person from the Resume*

          I call Mary and most likely HR in this scenario conservative prudes because those are the kind of people who think homosexual couples acting exactly like straight couples (holding hands, kissing, etc) are flaunting their sex lives. Heterosexuals are “normal” and homosexuality is just all about sex.

          BDSM is a bit different but that’s getting into details how someone likes to have sex or get off rather than who they are attracted to, but I totally understand how someone (Lee) emmeshed in the queer or BDSM or kink community thinking saying it was a consensual BDSM wasn’t getting deep into details. To be clear Lee was wrong but Lee may not have been malicious.

          Well in my opinion Mary is malicious and motivated by phobia, but I bet in her own mind she unaware of it. What the horrified prudes don’t realize is that the issue is in their own minds if they can only think about sex when they see someone “acting gay” in public.

          1. Former Young Lady*

            Mary’s behavior is indeed vile, but let’s not exonerate Lee as some well-meaning bumbler just because of their pronouns.

            I don’t care how “enmeshed” someone is in their community, they need to learn how to respect people’s privacy at work. Whatever community you belong to, you don’t “out” aspects of people’s identities without their consent.

            That goes for people who are gay, trans, dom/sub, furries, virgins, and swingers. You also don’t press people on what their chronic illness is, why they use a wheelchair, if they’re pregnant, or whether they “had work done” or are naturally blonde. You just don’t do it, even if you’re part of a related marginalized group.

            1. Former Young Lady*

              And just to be clear for the Lees out there, even if they confide those things in you, they are not authorizing you to “out” them to everybody else. It is not a brave act of solidarity or awareness/raising to do so.

            2. JJ Bittenbinder*

              You’re awesome! Can we just add “why they’re eating/why they’re not eating/what they’re drinking/whether they drink alcohol” to your list? Pretty please?

            3. Ray Gillette*

              Nobody here is dismissing what Lee did “just because of their pronouns.” We are acknowledging that there’s a difference between malice and stupidity, and that when you’re dealing with someone you consider a long-time friend, that difference matters to most people.

              1. Ray Gillette*

                Okay, I see downthread that you mention downgrading Lee’s proverbial security clearance – that’s absolutely a reasonable response to what happened here. Your above comment just poked a particular bugbear I have about the general population assuming LGBT+ people will use their minority status to avoid responsibility for bad behavior.

          2. Ellie*

            Mary definitely sounds like an intolerant prude, but it is possible that her own experiences are coloring how she’s reacting to this. The extreme reaction is odd, and coupled with the previous concerns about the OP’s well-being, makes me think that she might have an abusive background or something similar in her past herself. If I was the OP, I’d say well away from Mary, and only deal with HR, possibly through a lawyer.

            1. Sacred Ground*

              Mary accused OP of flaunting her sex life. That doesn’t say “abused in the past, reacting badly now” to me. That says “judgmental a-hole and envious prude.”

        2. Lady Meyneth*

          It also depends on how Mary frame her questioning to Lee. If she just said “oh, LW has a bruise on her face, is she okay, I’m worried she’s being abused!”, Lee was out of line IMO to say anything.

          But if Mary went with something like “LW is being abused, just look at the bruise on her face, and she had bruises all through the summer. I’m going to report it to the police, and you as her frient should have done it already”, then I can see Lee legitimately thinking just telling her it was consensual would be helpful to the LW. And considering Mary’s prudish and self-righteous attitude, I can see this scenario being closer to what happened.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I also suspect that Mary had questioned Lee to the point where Lee (incorrectly) thought that telling her what had really happened would be helpful. Mary does not sound like she knows how to take no for an answer or to mind her own business. Obviously, we don’t know how the conversation went, but I agree with you that it depends.

        3. OP is Dumb not Abused*

          I think this is probably what happened for sure. Also, Lee and I are both neurodivergent of some flavor but I’m still pissed and they are on an info diet at the very least now. We still haven’t spoken, actually.

          1. Wendy*

            There is a push within some parts of the queer and sex-positive communities to destigmatize sexual and sex-adjacent behavior – I wonder whether this was (consciously or not) behind Lee’s decision to out you. Something like “consensual BDSM is a perfectly normal and healthy activity and you are wrong to kink-shame the OP” and Lee just failed to account for the fact that a) normalizing BDSM is still not an appropriate topic at work, and b) it’s possible you weren’t already out about being kinky to everyone.

            1. JSPA*

              It’s also possible that Lee doesn’t distinguish well between “you’re telling me” and “you’re telling people.”

              Or that Lee has the “all truth all the time” phenotype (not uncommon among a significant subset of neurodivergent people. (OP, is Lee behaviorally of the “little professor” sub-category of what used to be labeled Aspergers?)

              Or that Lee had some level of discomfort with what OP was sharing, didn’t express it, didn’t process it well, and it was thus primed to bubble up. (OP, that’s a legit issue, if so. Just because someone’s your in-group in many ways and seems to welcome the information and the trust, that doesn’t make every topic a smart choice for your work friends.)

              Or that Lee is really crappy at talking in hypotheticals, and mixes hypotheticals and facts, or rather, fails to notice when someone is taking a hypothetical as a statement of fact. (Another thing that a subset of non-neurotypical people are unusually subject to.)

              Or that Lee is given for mistaking horrified/flabbergasted silence for encouraging silence. (I’ve…been there myself.)

              In a very broad way, it’s important to hold onto the idea that people can’t share what they don’t know, and that there are other ways to say, “I like you and trust you” than sharing information that could be problematic if broadly shared.

              1. JSPA*

                Which isn’t to say, what Lee did was OK!

                Only to say that people can both mean well, and screw you over royally.

                We’re raised to equate ‘friends’ with ‘secret keepers,’ but that’s two separate concepts.

                Moving forward, it’s worth distinguishing between, “someone who likes and respects me, and whom I like and respect and grok” vs “someone who can be trusted with personal information.” Not the same.

                I think it would be fair to apologize to Lee for sharing private information, and at the same time, suggest to Lee that both of you make a firm commitment to sharing only friendship (if that’s still an option for you!) but not private information, and to mentally lock-box each others’ private information, as best you can. That way, there’s no risk of anyone sharing information that should not be shared. (Can’t hurt to ask Lee if there’s anything they consider private, that might not be obvious to you, that you should not share.)

                1. Observer*

                  I think it would be fair to apologize to Lee for sharing private information,

                  What?! No! Not at all!

                  This was not a situation where the OP dumped sensitive information on someone without their consent, even leaving out the OP’s update about how they know each other. Lee had access to sensitive information from interaction that was perfectly reasonable on the OP’s part. You don’t apologize to someone for mutually sharing relationship information nor for being in the same sensitive venue as that person!

            2. Observer*

              There is a push within some parts of the queer and sex-positive communities to destigmatize sexual and sex-adjacent behavior – I wonder whether this was (consciously or not) behind Lee’s decision to out you. . . . it’s possible you weren’t already out about being kinky to everyone.

              Lee had to know that the OP hadn’t shared this information at work. And outing people without their consent is wrong, even if it’s for a “good cause.” This is an old story.

            3. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

              The destigmatization angle came to mind for me as well and I wonder if this is where the OP should start with Lee. It sounds as though for whatever reasons, Lee may not totally get that you often can’t normalize everything everywhere and with everyone, at least not without risk. I’d be somewhat concerned that Lee may not see the risks of destigmatization as clearly as they see the benefits – where that stand on that will tell you a lot about whether you ought to feel safe with them knowing about your sex life.

              1. Observer*

                where that stand on that will tell you a lot about whether you ought to feel safe with them knowing about your sex life.

                No, the OP knows enough to know that Lee is not a safe person to share such information with. They know that the OP has not been sharing this information. Even if destigmatization were completely safe, it would have been out of line to share this information. At best, Lee needs to be treated like a young child who you watch yourself around because you never know what they might blurt out.

      4. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I can kinda see where Lee is coming from, the issue is Lee’s logic if flawed to begin with. Lee does not think BDSM is a big deal, but Lee already has a bad sense of workplace norms because they have openly talked with OP about their sex-lives. I assume since OP shared they are into BDSM that Lee also shared some insight into their sex lives. I can see why Lee might think that since OP was open with them about the BDSM they wouldn’t mind Mary knowing since OP was open with Lee about it.

        I work in a small office I don’t think our office if the gossiping type, but anything I share with one co-worker I assume will be shared with other co-workers, and that I personally be willing to share with everyone in the office. Bob in accounting sharing with Sharon that he got a new cat, Sharon might say to someone else did you see pictures of Bob’s new kitten it is so cute, or Bob having a nasty bruise on their arm, oh yeah Bob does karate in his spare time.

        I have to disagree that Lee was the one who unnecessarily brought sex into the workplace. That I think we have to place on OP by giving Lee that information into their sex life in the first place. I think it would be no different than someone else saying me and my partner enjoy sex three times a week and twice on Sunday, in either missionary or reverse wizard. Maybe it was Lee who originally started talking about sex in their relationship, but OP made the mistake of continuing it.

        I think there is a difference between knowing about a co-workers relationships, I am on tinder/on-line dating and I have been seeing these three people, or I have started to see this person a few times, and knowing the details of this is how I have sex with this person.

        1. Student Affairs Sally*

          Lee wasn’t just a random coworker, though – OP considered them a friend. I have had close friends at work that I have shared things with that I would absolutely not share with other coworkers (not sex stuff, but like painful period stuff, mental health stuff, that kind of thing), and the clear unspoken expectation is that this is a conversation between me and my friend because we are friends, not something to be passed along to other colleagues. I’ve never had to say, “hey, OfficeFriend, please don’t tell your cube mate that I’m cramping really bad at that’s why I may seem out of it today” because that’s just understood.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            I think we maybe just have different comfort levels with work friends?

            I have co-workers that I am friendly with or even people that I consider “work friends,” but a work friend for me is still a step or two below “true friends.” I have ex co-workers that have been upgraded from “work friend” to “true friend” once we have stopped working together and it is highly unlikely we will ever work together.

            For me “work friends” = people that I go to happy hours with but keep to legal driving limit even when I’m not driving, share personal details like bought a new car, moving, hobbies, etc… but not intimate details like mental health issues, personal struggles.

            “True friends” = people that I can let go and have a good time, have drinks and even get a bit tipsy, share crude jokes/stories, tell them mental health issues, personal struggles, ask them to pick me up from the airport, or help move, spend the weekend at their place.

            Maybe I am just too paranoid, but at work I operate by the motto/line “Two people can keep a secret, if one of them is dead.” I would rather keep my two lives separate, than risk even a small chance of something getting out even by a “trusted work friend.”

            1. OP is Dumb not Abused*

              Lee and I met before we started working together if that helps provide any context. I have my job here because Lee let me know there was an opening.

              1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                That definitely makes it tougher, and explains why Lee knows/knew so much about your personal life. With this context, I agree that it wasn’t you but Lee who brought your sex life into the work place.

                With the other context you provided about Lee it seems like it was a mistake, a big mistake, but still a mistake on Lees part rather than them purposely trying to spread drama.

                OP has Lee attempted to apologize at all?

                I agree with you that Lee should be on an information diet, not as punishment for their mistake, but just as a guarantee to avoid something like this happening again.

              2. OP COWORKERS SUCK*

                OP is dumb and not abused –
                I have had a facial injury at work from a fall and had someone confront me but calmed down when I said it was nothing . Your coworkers need to stay in their own lane .
                I just want to say how sorry I am that this happened . What is going on with your job ? Will you get a lawyer

                People are telling the op to get a lawyer but lawyers cost money .

                1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                  Mary is horrible. I had an eye injury from a fall and at one point wore an eye patch at work. Only person to ask a dumb question about it asked me if I was getting ready for Halloween (my surgery was in late August and I came back to work in September) and immediately calmed down when I said I’d had an eye surgery for an injury from a fall. I would’ve been livid if anyone had, not just suggested abuse, but also doubled down on it and gone gossiping (“out of concern”, no doubt /s) behind my back when told no! HR is no better (I saw an update from OP below about how the questioning started and was horrified). What on earth is wrong with these people?

        2. Ray Gillette*

          It’s tough to know what boundaries to draw when you have an out-of-work friendship with a coworker. If I mentioned that I was going to San Francisco “to visit friends” on the weekend of the Folsom Street Fair and a work friend who unbeknownst to me was also planning on attending put two and two together and asked, I might have answered honestly without really thinking about it.

          1. OP is Dumb not Abused*

            Something like this happened once with me and Burning Man. And then when I came back people asked for pictures of my “desert camping trip” and I just said that we disconnected from anything electronic.

        3. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Mary was totally out of line but, in a way, Lee was worse. If Lee wanted to be helpful to the OP, they could have simply gone to the OP and said, ‘I thought you should know that Mary is shaking down people for information about your injury.’ Maybe Lee felt put on the spot, too, but spilling details of someone’s sex life is one of those things you shouldn’t have to warn people about!

          Part of dealing with coworkers is knowing how to deal with nosy, judgmental, and difficult people like Mary. Shutting a Mary down is always appropriate; sharing details ‘to be helpful’ rarely is, if ever.

          OP, I’m sorry you’re dealing with this, everyone involved let you down.

          1. Suebgha*

            What a hard line to draw for a ‘friend’. People need to be able to make mistakes and apologize for them that are friends. How would one have any friends?

            1. SheLooksFamiliar*

              Hard line? You bet. Lee’s transgression goes beyond a simple mistake and an apology isn’t enough. Lee talked about the OP’s private sex life AT WORK. Lee made a difficult situation far worse for the OP. Lee did something for which an apology isn’t enough, IMO, but maybe the OP is more charitable than I am.

            2. Starbuck*

              This is the kind of mistake where an apology isn’t going to cut it, because there’s no way for them to fix the negative impacts to OP, and they definitely should have known better! If someone I considered a friend made so severe of an error in judgement, we would never be close enough for them to be able to do this again.

            3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              Them’s the breaks when it comes to being friends at work, i.e, in a highly political environment. You’ve got to know how to cover your friends’ back too. I’m willing to give Lee a shred of a benefit of the doubt, because like others said, we don’t know how badly they were harassed by Mary, who could’ve threatened to get the police involved. But only a shred. You really need to navigate the workplace waters very carefully when it comes, both to your personal information, and the personal information that your friends told you in confidence. Nobody said it was easy.

              I once had a work friend share a secret with me that could’ve ruined their career if it had gotten out, and while I still to this day wish they hadn’t told me, I kept my mouth shut at work, and was prepared to produce work-friendly answers if ever confronted about it by others.

            4. Observer*

              Some transgressions are just to big. Also, once this whole mess broke, Lee should have proactively apologized. That has not happened.

            5. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

              An apology, as everyone’s mentioned, doesn’t undo damage. What’s more is that an apology doesn’t necessarily provide assurance that you’re able to avoid doing a similar thing in the future. This isn’t a mistake like showing up late to dinner or forgetting someone’s birthday which, if repeated, isn’t a huge deal. Instead, this is a situational judgement issue that calls into question how Lee can be expected to handle intimate details.

              People maintain friends in part because of trust, including trust in each other’s judgement. Why would someone want to have friends whose judgement they can’t trust?

          2. tangerineRose*

            “spilling details of someone’s sex life is one of those things you shouldn’t have to warn people about!” This!

      5. SimplyTheBest*

        Did Lee know about the dollar derby lie, or did were they just asked seemingly out of the blue by Mary about OP being abused and thought they were helping squash the abuse rumor?

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I think in the moment Lee thought they were helping by squashing an abuse rumor (though they did betray OP’s trust by mentioning the BDSM part at work). They messed up – but the damage is done – and I can totally see OP seriously questioning the friendship, or as others have said ending it (either temporarily or permanently).

          Mary and HR have really gone off the deep end here though – and they both need called on the carpet about their actions.

          1. Akcipitrokulo*

            Yeah, Lee was foolish but probably coming from good “squash abuse story” place. They probably expected conversation to go

            “OP is being abused! We have to do an intervention! Xall police! Do you have her mother’s number?”
            “No, it’s ok – it’s all conswnsual, stand down.”
            “Oh? Oh, that’s a relief!”
            the end

            Not their fault Mary went on her prudish hobby horse to HR.

            Not that they didn’t get it wrong – they did – but not the bad guy here.

      6. OpsA*

        I can see how Lee may have actually thought they were helping. If people weren’t buying the roller derby story, which may be the case if people have seen OP come in with bruises throughout the year, not just during roller derby season (does roller derby have a set season?), it’s possible people really were concerned about OP’s safety and Lee may have thought the truth would go over better than people trying to stage an intervention.

      7. Rob aka Mediancat*

        Note that I’m not excusing Lee here, but I can see Lee thinking “I can’t have these folks thinking that OP’s partner is an abuser when I know better.”

      8. JB*

        I don’t think they thought the roller derby scenario was worse, I think they just had no idea that that’s what OP was telling people.

        I would imagine the situation went something like this-
        Mary: did you see OP’s bruise? I’m worried her partner might be abusing her.
        Lee: oh, they have a very loving relationship but they do participate in some consensual BDSM that can lead to bruising. That’s sweet but you don’t need to be worried.

        It was still a very bad choice on Lee’s part but I don’t think it was a matter of him intentionally blowing OP’s cover.

      9. Red 5*

        This is where I’m stuck. I’ve got a group of friends into various kinds that I’ve known since I was an impressionable 18 year old. It wasn’t anything weird, just I made some friends that were into this one hobby I enjoyed and a subset of them happened to also be into BDSM etc. They were never inappropriate, just honest.

        Never, in the decades since would I ever, ever tell anyone else about them without their permission. Ever. In Lee’s shoes it wouldn’t even occur to me to do that because it’s just Not Done. It wouldn’t matter how pushy Mary was being it’s just not going to occur to me to do anything other than say “she said she got it at derby practice? Sounds about right. You don’t believe her? Why in the world not? Have you SEEN a derby practice?” Repeat ad naseum.

        I don’t know if I could ever forgive Lee if I was in OP’s shoes, but OP, don’t be down on yourself for trusting them. I’ve trusted a lot of people I shouldn’t have, it isn’t easy to know when somebody knows to keep their mouth shut.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      I agree. Lots of people made mistakes here.

      The LW’s mistake of trusting Lee not to reveal private sexual details is them most innocents one in this letter (ie I trusted the wrong person to keep my private info private). Lee made a bad mistake, but I do slightly understand that they were trying to convey “it’s not abuse; it was consensual” when Lee should have shut up and denied all knowledge/refusing to answer. They could have told Mary that they aren’t going to gossip about a friend and coworker.

      Mary is just being nosy, gossipy and a conservative prude. We all know she’s wrong.

      HR should know how to do their job better than they did here.

      1. BluntBunny*

        It sounds like Lee has known the OP for a long time and this is the first time they have ever told anyone. So I think it is more just poor judgement in this experience. We have seen similar letters where the Mary didn’t listen to the excuses were stubborn and would leave pamphlets and over crazy things they do move on they escalate. If I was Lee and I found out OP was interrogated over the sex life I would have been so guilty and apologetic. I think Lee is still at fault but I sounds like OP would have been interrogate by HR about her personal life regardless as it seems Mary would not let things go.
        I think sometimes we feel it may be easier to tell the truth without thinking of the consequences. Like the OP could have said to HR that it was private matter and walked out but felt compelled to explain. I think this is what happened with Lee.

    3. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I can actually kind of see Mary’s reasoning for going to HR if I squint and tilt my head sideways. If I had a coworker who came in with a visible face injury, I would absolutely worry they were being abused and might ask HR to check on them, especially if someone else said “Oh, no biggie, it’s just a kinky sex thing”. I give Lee way more side eye in this whole thing for sharing that than I do Mary being concerned.

      Of course, if Mary genuinely framed it as “flaunting a sex trophy” then that’s a whole different issue that I have no words for.

      1. Batty Twerp*

        Of course, if Mary genuinely framed it as “flaunting a sex trophy” then that’s a whole different issue that I have no words for.
        Yeah, this was the bit that made my brain glitch and dissolve into static. And I’d read the teaser on Twitter!

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Mary, Lee, and the ill-mannered worms in your company’s HR are the ones who should be embarrassed, not you, OP.

      2. Mockingjay*

        No, Mary has been overly concerned for a while. She asked OP about injuries before, OP attributed them to roller derby. Mary wasn’t satisfied with that response and kept poking around [which is the real issue], until Lee opened their mouth in a (misguided) attempt to shut Mary down. Mary got the vapors because she realized that oh my gosh, OP has sex! and went to HR with an overwrought complaint, instead of talking to OP again.

        Mary may have acted initially out of concern, but when OP kept repeating “roller derby” in response to Mary’s queries, Mary should have accepted that. Bruises come in many forms, are caused by many things, and are not necessarily an indicator of abuse. As Alison suggested, you can ask, provide resources, but in the end, you have to accept someone’s answer.

        1. allathian*

          Nah, I doubt Mary got the vapors because she knew OP had sex, it’s because she had been told the OP likes kinky sex.

          It’s an unfortunate mess altogether. I’m sorry you can’t trust your HR and that your friendship with Lee is probably over for good, OP. At least I hope they finally learn that it’s never OK to out anyone at work without their consent.

        2. Sacred Ground*

          Worse than that, Mary went poking around to other employees and didn’t stop talking about it after her visit to HR. From the letter: “And she’s still telling people I’m disgusting.”

          So, not just nosy and prudish but actively spreading the story along with a heaping dose of judgement. Slut-shaming the OP to other people in the workplace besides Mary and Lee and HR.

          This is clearly sexual harassment IMO. That HR made it worse with the interrogation and has still done nothing to rein in Mary or stop the spread of gossip that’s already out there should have an employment lawyer salivating.

    4. Observer*

      Lee is in the wrong but I can see how they thought they were helping

      Really? Why?

      Maybe my imagination is lacking, but I really cannot see any scenario where Lee could see this as actually helpful outside of being INCREDIBLY naive – award winningly naive.

      1. Black Horse Dancing*

        As someone stated above, reassuring someone that X isn’t abused, just kinky, could be seen as reassurance/explanation if you are kink friendly/not adverse. Many people who are liberal with those ideas wouldn’t see an issue,

        1. Downy Chicken*

          Yes, if I was worried a coworker was being abused and somebody told me it was BDSM, I’d be horrified that I had inadvertently been inquiring about their sex life and would have promptly shut up about it forever and ever more. This may have been the reaction Lee was expecting as opposed to “tell HR my coworker was flaunting a sex injury/trophy.” Obviously Lee didn’t handle this well, but I can see why it may have *seemed* like the best way to shut-down a nosy coworker.

          1. onco fonco*

            This would be my response too – a) thank god coworker is OK and b) thank you Lee for giving me a heads up so that I may never, ever mention this again. It is staggeringly naive to think that everyone would react in that way, though. Lee really messed up.

        2. Observer*

          Like I said, that world class naivete. Sure, quashing a rumor is a good thing. But not recognizing the damage that can be done when sharing information that someone has been keeping out of the workplace is a huge problem.

          1. Happy*

            I don’t think it’s about justifying what was clearly in the best case scenario a horrible mistake with really unfortunate consequences for OP.

            But the comment you’re responding to was a reply to the statement “I really cannot see any scenario where Lee could see this as actually helpful outside of being INCREDIBLY naive …”

      2. BHB*

        I imagine it went something like this:

        Mary asked Lee if they knew why OP had a face bruise, implying (or outright stating) that OP is being abused.
        Lee, panicked in the moment and knowing that OP’s bruise was consensual and not abuse, explains that OP’s bruise was received consensually. His thinking here is that by telling Mary the bruise was consensual, she will knock-off the gossip/concern that OP is being abused.

        Naive? Maybe, but not astoundingly so I don’t think.

      3. wittyrepartee*

        Actually, I can imagine is. I’m kinky myself. It was a really bad call, but I could imagine being like:
        Lee: “well, it might have been consensual”.
        Mary: “No one hits their partner consensually”
        Lee: “… Have you ever heard of 50 shades of grey?”
        Mary: “Wait, WHAT?! How would you know.”
        Lee: “Look, we’re close. I’m just pretty sure it’s not abuse”
        Mary: goes off to HR to tell them about the sex trophy

        1. OP is Dumb not Abused*

          Off topic mostly, but god I’m still so mad that 50 shades of grey has to be the cultural reference for BDSM in vanilla spaces *SIGH*

          Anyways, yeah, I think it was something like that. I should ask but I can’t stop being angry yet enough to have a calm conversation with Lee.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            Does Lee know what happened?

            I don’t blame you for not being ready to have a calm conversation with them.

          2. Kali*

            I’d love to see a satire of 50 Shades where the joke was that the Anastasia character thought it would be like 50 Shades while the whats-his-face character was actually doing it properly and was shocked at some of the ideas she had.

            1. onco fonco*

              I would read the hell out of this. If I was in the scene myself I’d write it but I’m certain I don’t know enough to get it all right.

      4. JSPA*

        Really location dependent, as to whether it even registers as a “kink” rather than an “interest.” Lee can very well have lost track of the fact that “it’s consensual” isn’t a neutral statement, to a lot of people.

        Plus, there’s got to be a reason that 50 shades (terrible as it is) sold like hotcakes.

    5. pnw dweller*

      yeah, I think if Lee were actually a friend, then they would know to say oh- you know she does roller derby right? I’m sure that’s what happened. and laugh it off.

      1. JSPA*

        There is some question in my mind whether Lee is as comfortable with the information as OP believes Lee is. In which case, OP talking to Lee could be a problem. Lee talking to Mary is clearly a problem, and Mary talking about OP and talking to HR is absolutely a problem, as is the track of the questioning from HR.

        1. OP is Dumb not Abused*

          Let’s just say that Lee and I met outside of work in a context that I’m pretty sure Lee is comfortable with our conversations.

          1. JSPA*

            LOL, all right, then!

            So we’ll go with, “so normalized in Lee’s mind that Lee lost track of outside reality.”


            “Lee meant one thing / spoke in generalities / spoke of their own experience and Mary connected the dots (or jumped to conclusions), and happened to light on something approximating reality (albeit a skewed take on that reality).”


            “Lee speaks without thinking of implications.”


            “Lee did “the personal is political” at your expense (instead of their own).

            At some point, you probably do want to talk to Lee, purely to figure out what went down, whether or not the friendship can eventually recover. (On some level, I would not want to be working with a Mary…which is not to say that Lee did you a solid…but all the same, there may come a decade where Lee’s a friend again, and you both look back on it with, if not laughter, at least equanimity.)

      2. BubbleTea*

        I don’t know, I would like to think I’d be able to avoid giving details of someone’s sex life in a similar situation, but I am not great at thinking fast and coming up with cover stories (I’m a terrible liar). Certainly the thought process of “what cover story is my friend most likely to have used, and how can I back that up?” would not enter my mind through the panic of “don’t talk about someone else’s BDSM activities at work, what do I say?!”

        1. RagingADHD*

          Then you should practice saying things like, “Why do you ask?” or “Have you asked her?” Or “Hey, I really don’t think it’s appropriate to gossip about this.” or even, “I don’t think it’s any of our business.”

          You are never, ever required to come up with a “cover story” in the face of nosy questions. Just shut that shit down.

          1. Expelliarmus*

            THIS. I cannot fathom why Lee didn’t just focus on telling Mary to stop poking around in OP’s business, especially knowing full well that OP has already attempted to tell Mary off.

        1. BubbleTea*

          I don’t think the advice is to sue, simply to get more information about your rights and how to respond in any hypothetical circumstances that might arise. I spend a lot of time advising people to seek legal advice and they often feel similarly, like this is a nuclear option to be avoided at all costs, but it is basically just asking an expert for their advice. You already did that once by writing to Alison! Now you’re maybe going to ask a different expert a slightly different question. You don’t have to act on any of the advice either of them give you.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes, exactly. It’s very, very unlikely that will end with suing. Talking to a lawyer is for help in understanding the full parameters of what happened and getting help navigating it. Lawyers aren’t just for suing; lots of their work is “here’s what to say, ok try this, be aware of X,” etc. And then you can take their advice or not!

            1. OP is Dumb not Abused*

              Turns out my derby league has a lawyer on idk what it’s called retainer? Or something. Anyways, they have someone I can talk to who’s used to well, derby girls and our weirdness so guess I’m gonna go do that after work today! And then buy a pint of ben and jerrys

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                You really want an employment lawyer for this one — which the derby league lawyer should tell you (if they don’t, consider that a red flag — unless they specialize in employment law themselves). But you can start with that person and ask for a referral!

                1. 'Tis Me*

                  It sounds like they may be well placed to direct OP to an employment lawyer who is kink-friendly and won’t make them feel worse about this all than they already do, if that isn’t their own speciality. I get the impression that OP kinda needs that (a lawyer who completely takes in their stride the fact that some people consent to things that other people wouldn’t be comfortable doing) as Mary and HR have left them feeling pretty violated, vulnerable and rubbish. (Mary and their HR are horrible and it doesn’t sound like OP did anything wrong to me!)

          2. SamKD*

            Yes, was going to add this myself. It is always worth getting more information to make better-informed choices! Even if you choose “do nothing differently at all” you looked to see what other options might be. No harm in that.

            1. SheLooksFamiliar*

              OP, please do speak to a lawyer. A lot of people assume they know what, say, sexual harassment is work and are surprised to learn that no, you don’t have to actually put your hand on someone’s person without their permission to sexually harass that person. I’m so aggravated for you that I think Mary is sexually harassing you, but an attorney might tell you otherwise.

              I’ve always found that knowing what the lay of the land really is, and my possible options, takes away a lot of stress. Remember that you ARE NOT in the wrong, you have been wronged. You have nothing to apologize for, and talking to an attorney simply informs you of your options. I hope that helps de-stress you, if only a little.

              1. Sacred Ground*

                I’d think that if putting up a girly-pic calendar in a workplace constitutes sexual harassment that is actionable and for which an employer is liable, then actively spreading around stories about someone’s “disgusting” sex life should qualify as well. As should hours of interrogation by HR about the details of one’s sex life.

                That sick feeling OP is describing at the thought of going to a lawyer is itself the evidence that she’s been seriously mistreated and knows it. She’s going to have to either challenge this with a lawyer or accept the company’s judgement and public shaming. Both options suck, no wonder her body is reacting with upset.

                It’s so messed up that she’s in this situation through no fault of her own and it’s precisely why she has a case here.

                Of course, I’m no lawyer but some folks here are. Could one of the law-talking types here explain how on earth this would NOT be considered sexual harassment under the law?

        2. Sparkles McFadden*

          The lawyer should make you feel better. You just need to know your rights and the right language to use going forward. There doesn’t need to be an adversarial confrontation…and if it escalates to such a thing (though it probably won’t) you didn’t start it.

          1. have a gouda time*

            I would like to add that not all lawyers are created equal and not all lawyers will make you feel better. Some lawyers will be jerks, or uninformed, or the same type of person as Mary or your HR. You might want to consult with a few – this should be free or very low-cost – to find the one that DOES make you feel better. This is a really vulnerable topic, so it can help to plan what you want to say upfront.

            1. sub rosa for this*

              You can ask friends or do a google search for kink-friendly or alt-friendly professionals in your area. They exist, and they’ve definitely been down this road before, either themselves or with other clients.

              (FYI, there used to be a site called KFP for kink-friendly professionals. I once used them to find a marriage counselor who wouldn’t immediately blame all my relationship problems on “lack of boundaries” and “imbalance of power” when we’d done that on purpose.)

              1. chicagoland is vibrant*

                I am super curious about this because I just started a small law firm and I am absolutely a kink-friendly professional, even though I’m not active in the community right now. Is there a current way to flag this for people? (pun intended)

                1. DarnTheMan*

                  It looks like there’s a new list – Kink and Poly Aware Professionals – who maintain a global database of different professions, including law, for businesses that are “sensitive to diverse expressions of sexuality.”

        3. Malarkey01*

          You are not dumb; your HR is bananas and you reacted probably out of being blindsided by bizarre allegations. The only thing I’d advise if this happened again would be to say “I’m not going to talk about my personal life with you” after their questioning got past the initial Are you okay. It probably didn’t feel like it but you can absolutely tell HR you are not comfortable with the conversation and say you are ending it for now. You don’t have to sit there and be questioned about your sex life at work.

        4. Catalin*

          I know, it seems like an expensive extreme, but you can probably do a free consultation and it would definitely be a great tool in your toolbox for dealing with the office issue. You need an ally, a ‘bigger bully’ in your corner because this will become An Issue. You are being harassed. You are feeling like your job security and outlook at the company is being threatened. You deserve better. A letter from a lawyer could be the slap in the head HR needs to straighten themselves out, and it sets the groundwork for protecting you in the future.

          You deserve better.

          Also, please change your name to “OP made a tiny mistake and is not abused by her partner” or maybe “OP is being abused by HR, not Her Partner”

        5. David*

          As others have noted, you don’t need a lawyer to sue, you need one to effectively advocate for you and solve the problem that’s clearly still ongoing.

          If your company has an in-house corporate counsel who isn’t a complete idiot, a full and unbiased accounting of what happened here, including the people to whom you were forced to disclose personal information, should cause them to immediately break out in a cold sweat, then move heaven and earth to put Pandora back in the box.

          They should want to do this because the liability issues here are damning and they need them to go away, which means making restitution to you.

          Unless they’re prepared to have everyone perjure themselves, it would be very difficult for them to defend HR’s actions in all this. They’re going to want to avoid things getting that far.

        6. Detective Amy Santiago*

          One piece of advice I would ask a lawyer for is how to discuss with HR what, if anything, about this is written in your file and ensuring that it won’t be mentioned in any future reference checks (for anything – new jobs are not the only thing that can trigger a reference check).

        7. Jennifer Thneed*

          You’re not dumb! You were blindsided! Anyway, the lawyer is for advice, as others said. It’s also because lawyers can write really good “That was legally stupid and you shouldn’t do it again” letters that often will make a problem behavior stop.

        8. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          The lawyer isn’t all about suits in court – but about explaining your rights as an employee and also explaining the laws at times to people/employers who are woefully uneducated about it.

        9. RagingADHD*

          If/when you do contact a lawyer or otherwise pursue your rights, bear in mind the actual events that happened AT WORK, because that’s what matters.

          1) Lee and Mary engaged in salacious gossip about your sex life, without your knowledge or participation.

          2) Mary then repeated this gossip to HR and invented a completely false claim that you were behaving inappropriately at work. If Mary said that YOU told her the injury was from sex, she flat-out lied.

          3) HR then browbeat and verbally abused you, demanding that you reveal intimate details of your personal life, and strongly implying that your job was at risk unless you complied.

          4) Mary is now making derogatory comments to/about you, based on her own gossip and false claims. The only way she would be privy to any real details about your meeting with HR, is if HR spread them around. Which is a serious breach of your privacy.

          1. PersephoneUnderground*

            This! Seriously, you did nothing wrong. What was done to you at work is likely sexual harassment territory, while what you did – showing up to work with a bruise – is not. Glad to see you have plans for an initial chat with a lawyer already.

        10. J*

          If you do think of going down the lawyer route, it might be worth checking on fetlife or another kink site. There are plenty of kink-friendly lawyers, and someone in your local community might be able to recommend one. That way you know they’re going to understand and probably have experience navigating stuff like this.

        11. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          If you are worried about an attorney judging you, there is a website out there called Kink Aware Professionals where you can look for professionals of various kinds who are open to the reality of the kink lifestyle and do not judge it. I am not sure how many lawyers would be on there (I have never checked the site, just heard about it), but it could help you find someone you feel comfortable with!

        12. Ari*

          OP, definitely contact an employee’s side employment lawyer in your state. They will know how to handle this and be discreet about your situation. I know it feels mortifying for you, but I can assure you that attorneys are professionals — we have experience in counseling clients through all sorts of sensitive life situations. Yours won’t be the first, or even the worst, situation that we’ve encountered in our practice.

          I saw above you want to talk to the derby league’s on-retainer attorney. I agree with Alison about needing to contact an employment lawyer specifically. I’ll tell you why —

          Most law students never take employment law related courses. Even those that do don’t often go on to practice in the labor and employment area. It’s not an area tested (usually) on the bar exam. And, above all else, it’s an area with a lot of administrative rules (EEOC at the federal level, but also state anti-discrimination agencies). So, there’s a lot of nuance that a general practice attorney or one who specializes in a different area may miss when walking you through sexual harassment laws.

          Give yourself the peace of mind to know that you talked to an attorney who actually knows this area of the law and can thoroughly talk you through your rights and next steps.

        13. Delta Delta*

          We lawyer people are not all bad. We can give advice and help you make plans. We can write letters you aren’t sure how to write. We can we waved like swords and shields. So, yeah, calling a lawyer is 100% fine to do and might help in ways you don’t expect.

        14. Jaydee*

          Many of us are very nice people! Some lawyers even do roller derby (a former coworker of mine among them). Contact a good employment lawyer in your area. Your state bar association probably has a referral service if you don’t have anyone you know of through word-of-mouth. They’ll start out by getting information from you about what happened and then advising you on your different options.

        15. Sacred Ground*

          I wonder if some of that sick to the stomach feeling comes from uncertainty, doubt about your situation then getting some clarification on options, taking back control of the situation and understanding it better may help that feeling.

          There also may be some real fear of being unfairly shamed again, at having to discuss your personal life with yet another stranger again when having been forced by your employer to discuss it was the harassment in the first place. You know you have no reason to feel ashamed yet your employer and coworkers are in fact making you feel that way. It’s having an effect. You’re calling yourself dumb even here.

          But it matters to get a lawyer. You need someone on your side here. Not to sue per se, but to advise and represent you in negotiation. I’ll just echo the other commenters above in seeking advice within the community (of kink or derby) for finding someone you’ll feel comfortable with.

          Describing it all over again will be difficult but if it helps, maybe start by getting it all down in writing. Create as detailed and accurate narrative as you can of exactly what happened when, who said what to whom. When you meet with the attorney, have them read the story first ahead of the meeting. This spares you the trouble of having to explain it without losing your cool or going off on tangents (which I tend to do when discussing things that upset me). Then, when they already know the basics of what happened, you can discuss how it affected you and what you can do about it.

          It’s awful this happened to you. I know you’ll get through it. You’re strong enough for derby, you got this.

        16. Tea Fairy*

          please don’t be worried about contacting a lawyer. some of us are lovely and most deal with the weird and wonderful everyday. its just an initial conversation to find out what your options are.

  3. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    OMG, what an awful mess. How invasive. And how totally unnecessary. HR is way out of line; Mary is waaaaaaaaaaaaay out of line.

    I’m sorry this happened to you.

    1. EgyptMarge*

      Adding my sympathies, OP. No advice for you beyond what Alison said. Just a whole lotta YIKES and reassurance that you’re not the one in the wrong in this situation.

      1. OP is Dumb not Abused*

        Thank you. The reactions here really have me feeling better. I was gaslighting myself into thinking that maybe I am the actual villain here after all

        1. SarahKay*

          You are most certainly not the villain in way way!
          Mary and HR are both appalling specimens of human beings; Lee is somewhere between foolishly naive and appallingly stupid; you have done nothing wrong except to become a very unfortunate victim of Mary and HR’s nasty small-mindedness.
          I’m so sorry all this happened to you, and good luck with however you decide to proceed from here.

        2. Lizy*

          NO – you are not the villain!!!! What goes on in your bedroom (and/or your roller derby club or flag football or Quidditch league… really, anything that’s not your work life) is really not work’s business. As others have said, the ONLY way I can see HR being involved is to provide info and then shut up. Because a) it’s none of their business and b) you said you’re ok and c) it’s none of their business and d) you did nothing wrong and e) it’s none of their business.

          I’m sorry you’re going through this.

          Also – don’t be too hard on yourself for shoulda, woulda, coulda. We all do “dumb” things when cornered. Just because you were put in a really crappy position does not make you dumb in any way.

        3. Alexander Graham Yell*

          OMG just so you have further evidence: NO you are not the villain. Somebody else revealed your private information, and your coworker has some hangups about consensual sex that does not happen in a way she’d consent to and is using that to ambush and harass you at work. Anybody would be mortified and scared and angry, those are all normal reactions and you are not to blame for any of this.

        4. NotAnotherManager!*

          Goodness, no, you are not the villain! Lee betrayed your confidence, Mary needs more work to occupy her time and to stop being the office drama llama, and your HR is appallingly bad. You deer-in-the-headlights’ed in a completely unforeseeable and inappropriate confrontation, as many people would have. Please don’t feel like this is all your fault – it’s not, and the people around you have behaved terribly.

        5. Jaydee*

          Definitely not the villain! And honestly, I can’t think of anything you did *wrong* in this situation. Like, it’s not ideal that you told HR a bunch of very personal stuff. But if you’re blindsided by something, especially if it’s something you didn’t really want that person to know about, it’s easy to respond with “how did you find out about that?!” instead of “No. Where in the world did you get that idea?”

          The villain awards here go to:

          – Best (Worst) Lead Villain: HR is…grossly unprofessional. In both meanings of the word. Like what they did and how they treated you is gross. And also the magnitude of their unprofessionalism is very large. They beat Mary for this award because their actual job is to know better.

          – Best (Worst) Supporting Villain: Mary is a nosy busybody who pretends to be a caring and concerned person (asking if you’re being abused) but really acts in ways that show her lack of appreciation for the humanity of others (you). Any nice things she does are probably outweighed by at least two awful things she does. The only reason she’s not the lead villain here is that HR could have nipped her villainy in the bud by doing a respectful and neutral investigation of her allegations instead of what they did.

          – Dishonorable Mention: Lee is at best a kinda crappy friend who thought they were helping you out but made a major error in judgment and did serious and lasting harm to your trust. At worst they are a shit-stirring gossip from whom you should distance yourself ASAP.

          1. allathian*

            Yeah. The OP did mention that Lee is neurodivergent in some way. Some neurodivergent people really can’t keep confidences, because they don’t understand confidentiality but instead assume that if you tell them something, they can tell it to others. But it’s definitely troubling that Lee doesn’t seem to understand that you don’t out people you know from a kinky community without their consent to outsiders. And for good reason, as OP has learned to their cost.

        6. Roci*

          Echoing others–you are not the villain! Everyone else had plenty of opportunities to do the right thing, which is realize they’ve stepped in a puddle, withdraw their foot, and never mention it again.

          Lee is familiar enough with BDSM that I am surprised they don’t have a go-to cover story or are otherwise comfortable with lying/misdirecting about this. But after they let it slip they should have told you and warned you about Mary and groveled at your feet in apology.
          When Mary learned about your situation, she should have said, “OMG! I didn’t need to know that. I’m mortified and will STFU right away.”
          When HR learned about this from Mary, they should have said, “OMG! This is none of anyone’s business. You need to STFU about this right away.”

          At no point did anyone do the normal, kind, responsible, accountable thing to respect you as a friend or as a professional. And I’m sorry you’re going through this.

    1. many bells down*

      No no no never type that out loud because it immediately makes someone WORSE appear!

      1. LunaLena*

        Seriously, it’s like a dog whistle for horrible people! “Someone was a bad boss/workplace? HOLD MY BEER”

    2. Sled dog mama*

      I’d totally vote for this one if we did both “Worst boss” and “Most Misguided HR” this year!

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I would definitely agree with a candidate for Most Misguided HR – don’t want to declare any winners though as that just seems to inspire evil stupidity.

      1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

        We had a lot of really awful ones right out the gate this year. Happily some of them have already sent in updates.

    3. Old Admin*

      I need to quote the old saw here:
      “Do not attribute to evil intent what can be explained by stupidity!”
      HR here is horrendously misguided – and the one thing they *DO* need to do is shut down Mary immediately.
      However, I’m not holding my breath for that…

      1. Zudz*

        I’ve got a counter saw:

        Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.

    4. Lady Meyneth*

      With what we’ve already been getting, I think even last year’s bracket voting system won’t be enough. Maybe we should have partials each quarter :D

      1. Sasha*

        I’m envisioning some kind of multi-round tournament. “Manager Madness”, or something.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It is extraordinarily bad. HR really violated your privacy and normal work boundaries on sex (and then tried to make you think you’d done that!).

        1. David*

          HR being a busybody or prude doesn’t even explain this. A full work day of interrogation?

          The only explanation I can think of for this is that this HR person is vicariously living out their own kink in some manner here.

          I hate speculating about motives but I’m genuinely struggling to identify any other reason why this could have happened in the manner described.

          1. Ellie*

            Oh yes, they must have been enjoying it. Any normal HR would have wanted to get that conversation out of the way as fast as possible. There’s no explanation I can see that doesn’t involve them being a sadist.

      2. KoiFeeder*

        Well, yes. Your HR spent hours interrogating you about your sex life. That wouldn’t be any more appropriate even if your sex life was something considered morally unimpeachable by society (like, idk, if you were a nun).

      3. Mockingjay*

        Naw. I think your HR department just needs training. They were confronted with something out of their experience and reacted badly.

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          Make sure you read OP’s comment further down about how HR started their interrogation. They didn’t just act badly, they acted HORRIFICALLY.

        2. NerdyPrettyThings*

          Anyone who needs training to know not question someone for hours about their sex life does not belong in HR.

      4. NerdyPrettyThings*

        HR’s response was so, so far in the wrong that it’s not anywhere near a reasonable response. They are not on the same street, in the same neighborhood, or on the same planet as a reasonable response. They should have spent those hours shutting down Mary’s big mouth, not questioning you. This is on them 100%!

  4. Wordnerd*

    Just want to say that I totally empathize with panicking and telling the truth, rather than sticking with the lie, after Lee shared what they shouldn’t have. I think I would have done the same – I would have in the panic of the moment thought it was the better way to go.
    I’m sorry you’re going through this!

    1. Istanzia*

      Yep, so much sympathy on that one. I too would probably have told the truth in a panic – because we get it drummed into our heads so often and early that lying just compounds a bad situation (even though in this case it really probably wouldn’t have).

    2. Jennifleurs*

      Same, I too might well have defaulted to the truth out of panic and some weird niggling belief that Lying Is Bad. So much sympathy for OP. Lee howeber, is another stoey, wtf, did they not think that through at all??

    3. knitcrazybooknut*

      Hard agree. I grew up in a family where interrogations and judgement and punishments were around every corner, and I started to believe that anyone who asked me a question deserved an answer. I had to learn to draw boundaries around myself, and choose who to share with based on what I wanted, instead of feeling compelled to defend myself regardless.

      I still feel that panic sometimes of “getting caught” when it’s really just someone overstepping their boundaries. Sympathies, OP, and I get it.

    4. Bernice Clifton*

      For me, it’s a couple of things:

      1) The shock and panic about being questioned about this at all by HR

      2) The LW had no way to know if HR had talked to Lee, and if they did, what Lee said. The LW might have been afraid she’d be fired if her story didn’t match Lee’s. (which, in hindsight, would be totally unfair but I can understand that thinking in the moment.)

      1. No Tribble At All*

        +1 on being worried about lying after someone else has contradicted your lie! It’s also much harder to lie directly about a yes/no question “did you get that bruise from kinky stuff” rather than “how did you get that bruise?”

    5. Empress Matilda*

      100% I would have done the same. I’m a terrible liar to begin with, and even more so when I’m confronted and don’t have time to rehearse. Then you add HR on top of all that? I’d tell them pretty much anything they wanted to know at that point.

      Poor OP, I hope you get a good resolution to all this, and then you never again have to talk about your sex life at work!

    6. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Much agreement. I’ve got a bad past history with an extremely abusive ex but I’m also into kink and if someone really started pressuring me on a bruise/burn/cut I might panic and literally just operate on ‘I gotta say the truth else they’ll think my husband is like my ex and oh my god no I can’t go through this questioning again’.

      So yeah, I can understand the lie not being maintained, although it’s definitely important to learn never to disclose that level of info at work ever again.

      I have NO idea what in Cthulhu’s sweaty armpits that HR department was thinking! Most inappropriate action they possibly could have done IMHO.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          No worries mate, I just hope you get a good resolution to all this. Must be stressful as anything!

          And as one non conventional kinkster to another: you’re not dumb. There’s only one friend I trust with the bare minimum of where some of my marks come from during play and if she blurted it out I’d be unsettled as all hell.

          Sod your HR lot though.

    7. NotAnotherManager!*

      Oh, gosh, me too! I am never at my best when caught off guard, and I can totally see blurting out the truth. I empathize completely with OP and am just so sorry this happened to them. The best I think I could have done (and this is very ideal, not necessarily likely) was to hit a point about a half-hour in to express wild discomfort with the tenor and subject of the conversation, state that I was not discussing my sex life at work and was very unhappy with Mary’s “investigation” behind my back, and tell them I had work to do and was leaving.

    8. Middle Aged Lady*

      I think Lee panicked and told the truth too. What he needs to learn is that even when panicking, you may tell your own truth, but be extra careful about a secret that is not yours.
      Lee may be well-meaning, but he has to learn that he has damaged the OP’s trust, maybe forever.
      As for HR and Mary: wow! The lesson here is don’t tell the truth to tyrants. I love truth. But some people can’t handle it or don’t deserve it.
      I feel for you, OP. I always recommend counseling if you can get it, to help sort through having your trust broken, and having your private life known to all and being interrogated over it. And as others have said, a lawyer.
      I might give Lee another chance. Just as you did, he told the truth in a tight spot. But you two will have to work through the trust issue. My SIL told a secret of mine, thinking it would help another relative going through similar problems. It took a long time before I wanted to see her, and I still don’t tell her anything I don’t want told. A real, true, 100 percent secret keeper is hard to find. A hard but valuable lesson.

  5. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    Yeah – I’m seriously side-eyeing your HR dept right now. This didn’t need to be hours – 10 mins could have covered everything necessary.

    I would check with that lawyer – and then go back to HR and have them deal with Mary, who needs to be told to shut up about your personal life. She needs to be civil to you, and stop judging you to others. However, she is welcome to think whatever she wants in her own head; as long as it stays in her head – there are no mind police yet.

    1. OP is Dumb not Abused*

      Thinking about it, they actually have a very interrogative style about most conflicts. I am guessing this is abnormal.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I’ve been in corporate staffing almost 40 years, and have worked with countless HR leaders who believe they have the Ultimate Right To Know the most personal things about employees. It’s not the norm to grossly overstepped any reasonable boundary, but it does happen. All the more reason to hold HR accountable for what they did – interrogate you for no valid reason at all – and did not do – shut down Mary.

    2. SnappinTerrapin*

      Let your lawyer explain to HR how far out of line they are.

      Then they can ask their lawyer for a second opinion.

      They might learn something from the experience.

  6. oh no*

    desperately want to hear Lee’s justification for *contradicting your story* but also you should probably not speak to them again

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I think I would have one convo with Lee – telling them that I felt they had betrayed my trust, and that I was now reconsidering this friendship. I think ghosting is just cruel in the vast majority of situations.

        1. Littorally*


          Discretion is an enormous, overriding value in any BDSM community I’ve ever taken part in. If Lee can’t uphold that, Lee doesn’t get to hear about it.

          1. OP is Dumb not Abused*

            You know, this is a good point. I wonder if I should warn our mutual friends

            1. Insert Clever Name Here*

              100% absolutely yes, warn your friends that Lee shared that information at work without your permission.

            2. Observer*

              I don’t know if you have an OBLIGATION. But I certainly think that you have a right to warn people. Because although most workplaces would not react this badly, people’s privacy needs to not be breached.

            3. pieces_of_flair*

              If Lee is friends with others in the kinky/BDSM community, you definitely should warn those friends. Outing someone at work without their consent is an absolutely shocking violation.

            4. I need tea*

              If you have mutual friends who are kinksters, and possibly friends who are queer or poly or neurodivergent or disabled, I’d warn them. It sounds like Lee has some level of kink literacy, but “don’t out others or do anything that might out others” is literally the first lesson you learn about most of those communities. If they’re struggling with something as fundamental as not outing people, then I think it would be an act of kindness to warn the people in their life that could also suffer harm from being outed. Maybe Lee made a mistake, but it was a mistake that betrayed your trust and caused you harm, and they need to be accountable for those actions, and accountability can definitely involve being accountable in your mutual friend group.

              1. Keymaster of Gozer*

                Absolutely. Consent is key – never assume you have the ok to spread personal information about another.

    2. EPLawyer*

      Mary was saying that she thought the LW was being abused. Lee might not have known about the cover story (she didn’t realize Mary was going around talking to people so LW didn’t have a chance to share her story), so he just said the truth hoping it would shut up Mary. He clearly doesn’t see LW’s activities as “disgusting” so he didn’t think. LW is the least culpable in this situation. But Lee is right there too. This is ALL on Mary and HR.

      1. Lisa*

        Yeah, I was thinking that Lee doesn’t judge OP for her BDSM, so they thought they were being helpful by explaining that it was definitely not abuse. They forgot that other people don’t find BDSM innocuous. I disagree that this is definitely a huge betrayal – kind of depends on Lee.

        I used to volunteer at a gay film festival and met lots of people with fetishes and went to events at leather bars and stuff. It’s easy to forget that those things aren’t normal to others when you’re “soaking in it” yourself.

        1. Laure001*

          I agree. When you are in a small cultural zone, where people are open, you forget that people outside are going to be “shocked!” and “appalled!!” by what is for you accepted and no big deal behaviour.
          In short, Lee might have had genuinely good intentions.

          1. Despachito*

            I second this.

            If Lee said something like “oh, I know it was consensual” to get Mary off LW`s back, it was probably naive but not necessarily malicious.

            If I were Lee, I would probably be mortified and I would very much appreciate the possibility to explain to LW my point of view (and probably profusely apologize).

      2. Clisby*

        I think you’re going easy on Lee. Lee could have said something like, “Of course not.” Or, “I really don’t think we should be speculating about LW’s personal life.” Or, “If you’re curious about Mary’s personal life, I guess you’ll have to ask her.” Or any number of things indicating Lee’s refusal to gossip.

      3. Dave*

        Yeah but as a friend in the know, Lee should have been able to come up with something like I have known LW for years and for years they have always gotten bruises doing something or other and make it a non thing. Bonus points if they know LW partner and can say something positive about the partner and safety at home. Basically make the LW just seem more klutzy accident prone.

      4. Blue Eagle*

        This is totally on Lee. It was not Lee’s place to stick a nose in OP’s business and tell the reason for the injury. Lee didn’t have to lie or tell the details, just tell Mary to butt out of someone else’s life and leave it at that.

        1. Tuesday*

          Agreed. It wasn’t Lee’s info to share, whether they thought it would help or not.

      5. Ray Gillette*

        I can forgive Lee for a certain kind of shortsightedness that comes from being active in the kink scene where they forget that the average person may be horrified by activities that an active kinkster would consider pretty run of the mill. But it’s still a very poor judgment call to share anything about a friend’s sex life in the workplace, even if you see nothing wrong with the specific acts in question. Lee is certainly not as culpable as Mary, but they should still have had the wherewithal to say “Come on Mary, you know LW does roller derby, why are you making this a thing?”

      6. Observer*

        Lee might not have known about the cover story

        Lee didn’t have to know about the cover story to know to keep their mouth shut, though. And Lee DOES know that OP doesn’t share this stuff at work for the most part.

        That’s not to exonerate Mary and HR – they are out of their minds.

        1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

          This! My go to reply when people enquire about coworkers or friends is “You should probably ask them (directly) about it”. It shuts down so much attempted gossip.

      7. RagingADHD*

        Lee knew perfectly well that LW had deliberately NOT shared this info with Mary, because otherwise Mary wouldn’t be asking.

        Lee broke LWs trust.

        If Lee thought sharing this fact would help, they should have asked LW first.

        My middle school children understand the concept of respecting people’s privacy, and that nosy people aren’t entitled to an answer just because they want one. Presumably Lee is a grown person who should not find it baffling.

        1. Caliente*

          Lee is on my shit list! But I learned awhile back just not to discuss people at work whether they be friends or not – to the point where my antennae’s actually go up when someone starts asking me about someone. Did have to learn it though I would’ve never talked about what anyone does in the bedroom (or out as the case may be lol)
          Alison, is there ever any room to outright refuse to answer non work related questions from HR? Like could LW have been like “Please don’t ask me questions about my personal life” or “I don’t care to discuss my personal life with you”?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Sure. I would say “sex life” to make it clear how inappropriate they’re being. “I’m not comfortable discussing my sex life at work, and I’m astonished that I’m being questioned about it. I’m not open to discussing this highly private topic.”

              1. IndustriousLabRat*

                Believe it or not, there was such a thing as “Mr. Rogers In Your Pocket”, which is a keychain that plays various wholesome Mr. Rogers quotes when activated. I’ve got one. I can imagine an Alison version being equally comforting and helpful in times of workplace woe!

                1. Marzipan*

                  I used to have ‘Mister T in your pocket’ which said things like ‘Shut up, fool!’ and ‘Quit your jibber-jabber!’ and which I feel might also have been quite helpful in this context!

                2. Pennyworth*

                  A Pocket Alison App which could be consulted in workplace emergencies! I’d buy that.

              2. Trixie, the Great and Pedantic*

                Is that an Alison in your pocket or are you just utterly gobsmacked by whatever just happened here?

              3. Keymaster of Gozer*

                Modded magic 8 ball with common Alison sayings? Where’s my screwdriver….

      8. Red5*

        Regardless, it shows extremely poor judgment on Lee’s part. Whether it’s lifestyle (BDSM), orientation (LGBTQ+), gender, etc, you don’t out people without their consent. This would absolutely be a friendship-ender for me.

        1. pope suburban*

          I agree. Whether or not there was any malice, Lee crossed a big and obvious line about privacy. That suggests to me that Lee is not a person with whom private or sensitive information is safe. In that case, well, proceed accordingly and stop sharing anything like that with them. At the end of the day, this is a “get off my foot” situation and the *why* of it doesn’t really matter, but the impact does. Lee probably isn’t an awful person, but neither are they at the top of one’s list for confidantes.

          1. OP is Dumb not Abused*

            “Lee probably isn’t an awful person, but neither are they at the top of one’s list for confidantes.”

            Wow… thank you for this sentence? I was really struggling because I’m so mad but also feeling guilty because they were a good friend and I don’t want to like HATE them. This is a great reminder that grey areas can and do exist there.

            1. BubbleTea*

              It is also worth considering whether you want to have a candid conversation with Lee about this, or just gently dial down how much personal stuff you tell them. Some people would respond really well to you saying “I’d like to establish clearer boundaries about what you share with other people about me” and some would freak out and create drama and get so upset that you end up talking about their feelings instead of yours. Only you can really know which is more likely here!

              1. IndustriousLabRat*

                Excellent point. And to add to this, how they react is a piece of information you should have when determining whether the friendship (and I can barely bring myself to type the word out, because a FRIEND doesn’t do such things) is worth saving.

            2. Former Young Lady*

              Yeah, you have to stop being so rough on yourself (…pardon the expression!) but you also have the right to downgrade Lee’s security clearance.

              I have also had a friend who went from confidante to acquaintance after one-too-many betrayals of trust, often right alongside proclamations of inclusiveness and wokeness.

              My “Lee” was also 100% dense about why I did not want to be vulnerable with them anymore.

              Good intentions can sometimes help explain poor judgment. Regardless of intentions, though, poor judgment is dangerous and sometimes harmful. Harms have consequences.

            3. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

              I have this friend. Love this person to death. Have fun hanging out with them. I don’t tell them anything I would not announce to a room full of strangers. They are on a bland informational diet. Because if I tell them the sky is blue, everyone they know will be updated with this information.

            4. pope suburban*

              I’ve known a fair few people who just…didn’t filter things like this very well. They didn’t have any ulterior motives, they just didn’t think things through the way other people might. They were still nice people to know, provided I calibrated what I shared with them accordingly. Not everyone is going to be a safe audience for everything, and that’s okay. It just means you do a little different mental math before sharing something with them. You feel about Lee however you feel about them; there’s really no “should” here, even if a bunch of us are mad/indignant on your behalf. Now you know more about this person than you did before, and that will help you make better decisions about your interactions going forward. I’m very sorry it happened this way, but you are resilient and you will be able to make decisions about how to proceed that will help you.

            5. RagingADHD*

              Listen, the reason you don’t trust small children with boiling hot drinks isn’t because you hate them.

              It’s because they can’t be relied upon to handle them safely, and will most likely spill them.

              Lee is unreliable, and therefore not to be trusted. Intentions are irrelevant.

              1. No Name Yet*

                I really like this analogy. Because the thing is – the child might really believe that you hate them if you don’t trust them with the hot drink (or chainsaw, or whatever) – but that doesn’t make it true.

              2. allathian*

                Yeah, Lee should definitely go on a very restricted information diet from now on. That said, it doesn’t change the fact that Lee knows things about the OP that the OP doesn’t want others to know.

            6. Anon for this*

              Yes, there’s absolutely gray area here! You don’t have to hate Lee. You do probably have to have a really serious conversation with them about outing people, when you’re up for it, so you can trust that this won’t happen again in the future. And you probably also should hold back on telling them anything sensitive, since their judgement doesn’t look great. But it sounds like this is a case where a friend fucked up, not a case where they were maliciously out to get you, and it’s okay to view your friendship in that light.

    3. Weekend Please*

      One instance of very poor judgement doesn’t necessarily mean the friendship is over. It’s hard to say without knowing more about the relationship. He definitely shouldn’t be trusted with private information in the future though.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        This is I where I’m coming down – Lee screwed up by the numbers – and gotta say I think Mary was hounding/interrogating/gossiping about OP and Lee felt they were just squashing a rumor under pressure. I think a serious conversation outside of work with Lee is in order – they need to know how you feel – and who knows, Lee may also be horrified about what has happened and looking for a was to grovelingly apologize to OP.

        Mary seems like a classic drama-pot stirrer, and I’m really hard side-eyeing HR (interrogating someone for HOURS over a bruise, really?!?!).

        1. Stormfeather*

          Agreed. It’s always possible Lee totally is a jerk and enjoyed spreading private info but if there’s been no sign of that before, and Lee is actually contrite about it… I can see just making a bad judgement call like that with the best of intentions. COULD be a reason to end the friendship depending on how Lee’s treating it, but not an immediate “OMG this friendship is over because you betrayed me.”

      2. Akcipitrokulo*

        A lot depends on how Lee reacts.

        If they are horrified and very apologetic, and sincerely are never going to do this again, then ok.

        Blasé or defensive – nope.

        Also depends on what Mary said. Spilling if she said “hmm, I wonder what caused that bruise?” is different than if she said “OP is being abused by partner and is trying to give a ridiculous roller derby story… a bunch of us are going to confront the partner afyer work; you in?”.

        Where on scale what she said was makes a difference.

        1. OP is Dumb not Abused*

          We haven’t spoken but I’d say from body language it’s a mix of defensive and apologetic.

          1. Former Young Lady*

            That’s a sign that it’s time to demote Lee to “friendly acquaintance.” Defensive apologies (and “OK but now you, the victim, have to make ME feel better about what I did” apologies) are a red flag.

            Friendship is a kind of intimacy, and you never “owe” intimacy to someone who misuses it this way.

        2. Observer*

          “OP is being abused by partner and is trying to give a ridiculous roller derby story… a bunch of us are going to confront the partner afyer work; you in?”.

          That one is equally bad. Because that would mean the Lee KNOWS that the OP didn’t share the truth. They could have just responded with “Well, roller derby can MOST DEFINITELY cause such bruising.”

    4. Hello, I'd like to report my boss*

      It’s hard to evaluate Lee without knowing more about the context, but I’d be careful about how to go about ending that friendship if Lee might be angry or retaliate. Lee knows a lot about OP. I’d be concerned that Lee might start spreading rumours via Mary if they are upset. And HR has already proven that they are completely unable to handle such things.

      I’d be tempted to do more of a slow fade with Lee and immediately stop sharing so much with them. I’m sorry about Lee breaking your trust, OP, it must hurt.

  7. Grayson*

    Oh, OP, from a fellow consensual BDSMer I am *so* sorry you experienced this. Very private and personal information should never have been circulated. I also understand the panic response, because talking to HR is a power dynamic (they’re your employers representative, after all!)

    1. OP is Dumb not Abused*

      Ahahaha, I feel so DUMB because I’m usually SO good about no marks/no visible marks.

      1. LunaLena*

        Just want to add to the chorus that you are NOT dumb! Obviously it’s probably best to make sure there are no visible marks if you don’t want people to question them, but the truth is that people bruise for all sorts of reasons, and Mary/HR could and should have just taken your word for it that you were okay instead of butting into your privacy. It’s not like you were showing the bruises off and bragging about them! I was in a HEMA group for two years that did Italian swordfighting, and we were constantly hitting each other with swords and throwing each other to the ground. Gods know what my coworkers thought of the bruises I constantly had on my arms and legs and once on the side of my head (my opponent hit me hard enough to dent in my helmet), but at least they all had the common sense to mind their own business instead of concocting weird theories about it.

        On top of that, you reacted in a very normal and human way to getting blindsided with the fact that people who have ZERO business knowing about your private life not only knew about it, but were throwing it in your face and judging you for it. There are definitely some dummies in this incident, but you are not one of them.

      2. Anon for this*

        This isn’t dumb! We mark-collecting-folks are usually pretty good at hiding them, but every so often something is going to show. You had a story ready to go for it–a believable story that makes sense for your life and should have defused any concern. It’s not your fault that people around you decided to harass you and full-on interrogate you about your sex life!

      3. lilisonna*

        I have, over the course of my life, done a lot of things have the potential for physical injury — martial arts, horseback riding, raising a toddler, and the list goes on. As such, I’ve gone to work (and to my brother-in-law’s wedding – talk about mortification) with black eyes, fingerprint marks around my neck, rope burns, and other visible injuries. Every single interaction has been as follows:

        Me: Yeah; I failed to duck in time; I’m fine.
        CW: You…sure?
        Me: Yup! All good, but thanks for asking.
        CW: Okay. So about that project…

        You’re not the one who should be feeling off in this scenario. Your CWs are making it weird, and they should get the weirdness returned to them.

        1. EchoGirl*

          Yep. I’m actually pretty careful but I also have some weird balance/coordination issues and bruise easily (and stay bruised for ages). Went into work once with marks on my face because I tripped and faceplanted on the sidewalk on my way in. There’s plenty of reasons for people to have frequent injuries other than abuse.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            So true. I also bruise easily, have a kindergartner, and am definitely not the most coordinated person on the planet. My dad once asked if I was auditioning for a job as a crash test dummy, because if you could hurt yourself doing it – I would inevitably find a way to get hurt (and some were, creative). But once someone indicates they are fine, it was an accident, I didn’t realize I was bruised, you should see my sparing partner/the other roller derby skater, etc it is time to accept and move it right along.

      4. I'm just here for the cats*

        You should not feel dumb! You are allowed to live whatever life you want!

        The thing that bothers me is that these marks could have happened outside of the bedroom. Unless Lee knew specifically that that black eye (or whatever) was specifically caused by specific bedroom activities they shouldn’t have said a darn thing. Because what if you had gotten that mark at roller derby?
        And as someone else commented elsewhere, even vanilla sex can cause injuries. Someone looses balance and falls off the bed.

        1. OP is Anxious af*

          Wait this comment just

          …how DID Lee know this one was kink related??? Oh poop I have to figure something out now. I didn’t tell them about this particular instance.

          1. Anon for this*

            It sounds like Lee probably assumed? Maybe because Mary was talking about it as potential intimate-partner-abuse and that led them towards an assumption that it was from a partner. But yeah, this is yet another reason that your HR sucks—they dragged you into this interrogation over total hearsay. It was literally a “she said that he said that this was a sex injury,” and they just took it as fact. The level of interrogation wouldn’t have been OK even if it was confirmed to be a sex injury, but them jumping there without even confirming it is yet another layer of crap.

  8. WantonSeedStitch*

    Oh wow, this is awful. I’m so sorry this happened! I’d be so angry with Lee in your place. You DO NOT “out” someone at work, or anywhere else, about anything to do with their sexuality, gender identity, sex life, medical history, or other personal stuff, without their explicit consent to do so. And Mary is a jerk. And HR is incompetent.

  9. Kali*

    I wonder if Mary thought OP fit into a group of what she thinks of as “nice girls” and now she’s upset to have spent all that effort and worry on someone who is not a “nice girl”. Like she feels tricked and betrayed (unreasonably, obviously) and she’s merged that with the idea that OP intended her to feel that way and some weird ideas about sex to come out with “OP is flaunting her sex life!”.

    1. FisherCat*

      I think this is the answer. It’s incorrect, obviously, but I suspect Mary feels a lot of ways about “wasting” her worry about someone’s safety when it turns out they sought out/agreed to that behavior, which is something that people who are not involved in BDSM find transgressive or beyond what they find acceptable in their own activities.

    2. Sharrbe*

      Right? People like Mary make every situation about them because they’re narcissists. LW was “flaunting” her sex life to Mary? Sorry Mary, LW doesn’t want, need, or even think about your comfort and approval when it comes to her own private life. The bruises aren’t about you in any way shape or form.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Seriously. If LW was parading around bragging about her sex injury, Mary wouldn’t have had to do her covert investigation to find out what was up.

        I bruise very easily – I’m hardly “flaunting” my clumsiness and ghostly pallor by showing up with a purple arm or leg. And, frankly, the answer to “how did that happen?” is often, “I have absolutely no idea.” I don’t remember all the ones that leave marks, just the ones that hurt.

        1. allathian*

          You and me both! I’m always bruised somewhere or other, because I’m always bumping into things. I’m obese with something like a 36 inch waist, but it seems that my body still thinks I can squeeze through spaces that I fit into when I was 17 and had a 24 inch waist.

        1. Rebecca1*

          The psychiatric condition, yeah, but the older definition that just means “full of oneself” is still in use.

        2. Dream Jobbed*

          I agree that Mary doesn’t define narcissistic personality disorder, but to assume that you can go to HR to pass judgement on what consenting adults do in privacy, and try to get them fired over it, shows a heck of a lot of moral conceit. That is what I am seeing in what Sharrbe. Morally outraged crusaders exist everywhere and they truly do make every situation about them. Like the whole “religious freedom” movement where religious bigots try to legalize discrimination because they don’t like something.

    3. skadhu*

      But what she thinks is not relevant. It’s what she’s DOING that is the problem. You don’t get to harass someone just because they change categories in your head.

      1. BadWolf*

        Sure, but sometimes it’s helpful to understand where Mary’s heads at when planning your next move. It’s not an excuse for Mary.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Agreed – understanding how someone thinks so you can better plan your response isn’t an excuse – I just think it’s smart. People aren’t cardboard cutouts – they are going to have actions and reactions to what you do, planning for those when possible is a good idea.

      2. Observer*

        Yeah. She gets to think what she wants to about the OP. But she does NOT get to snoop around, complain to HR!, or try to bad mouth her to others at work. What you describe could explain frankly bizarre behavior, but it does NOTHING to make it in the least bit sympathetic.

        1. FisherCat*

          100% this. My comment was not in any way a defense of Mary’s weird fixation on LW’s extracurriculars or her selfcenteredness (flaunting? something by happening to have a visible bruise? Wtf!), just an observation.

    4. Bernice Clifton*

      Or Mary has a savior complex and is upset that the truth means she doesn’t get to be the Hero of the After School Special where she rescues the LW from an abusive relationship.

    5. Bluebird*

      Actually, I’m wondering if Mary suspected the truth all along and gets off on sniffing it out and getting others in trouble/embarrassed/etc. Some of the strangest kinks have nothing to do with sex, in my experience.

      1. meyer lemon*

        Mary and the HR person are for sure way too invested in coworkers’ sex lives. They both went out of their way to ask for way more information than they were entitled to, and Mary is making a big show of it for the office as well. I suspect she gets some kind of weird prurient thrill out of it all. It’s very gross.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Maybe not literally getting off in the sexual sense, but I have definitely known pot stirrers who experience smug pleasure at pulling their tricks. Even if they would never admit it, to them, it’s FUN.

    6. Keymaster of Gozer*

      It’s just as bizarre to me as a coworker complaining to HR that a pregnant employee was ‘flaunting their sex life’.

      1. Nea*

        Ah, but that’s vanilla. And Mary obviously has a problem with the not-vanilla part of this.

    7. OP is Dumb not Abused*

      I feel like I doubt that because I’m… very obviously not a “nice” girl even outside of BDSM but maybe??? I am like, ACTUALLY nice but I’m pretty ‘alternative’ looking in general and even my non-sex hobbies are pretty out there.

      1. Kali*

        You’d know better than me. I was just theorising from a few paragraphs you wrote about something in your life, you actually lived it.

      2. OyHiOh*

        This might be a bit of an Abby Shuto (NCIS) effect: Looks “wild” on the outside, but such a nice woman. Plays bingo with retired nuns, volunteers with at a domestic violence shelter, etc. If Mary did in fact write a headcannon “nice human” script about you, it may have started from a similar assumption that played your external appearance as contrast to whatever Mary imagined.

        1. Just World Things*

          I dunno, y’all. From what I know of Marys, I think it’s a HUGE leap to assume she wouldn’t have been just as judgmental and drama-inducing if OP was indeed being abused. My guess is Mary’s intent was to meddle ruinously in the life of someone she considers beneath her, and pity works just as well as moral outrage for that kind of thing.

    8. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      To add to that, a few years ago there was a letter from an LW with a conservative upbringing who accidently called her boss’ daughter a [insert prostitution slur] because said daughter was beginning to date in high school. I wonder if there’s something similar at play with Mary, where you’ve got a combination of very conservative beliefs and not knowing how/when to switch out of moral judgment mode.

      None of this excuses anything that Mary did, but it’s just that she may have been primed to have a really whack response to the BDSM situation. People like this can be really dangerous even when they’re not acting out of malice.

  10. JaneLoe*

    I would be really curious to know how exactly they went about the questioning … there is nothing about this situation that would require hours of questioning. Is there any record of the questioning? That might be worth reviewing with a lawyer.

    1. WellRed*

      Lawyer aside, I’d like to remind everyone, no matter how hard or awkward it seems (or how frozen in shock you are at being subject to hours of haranguing) that your employer doesn’t have the right to hold you captive for hours. (I mean, it’s probably technically legal), but there’s nothing to stop you from excusing yourself, as politely or dis-politely as you feel appropriate. Unless of course the door is locked.

      1. Dream Jobbed*

        Well, if the door is locked and they will not allow you to leave, that is criminal law, not employment law. And a whole new post!

      2. Sacred Ground*

        Thing is, there’s also nothing stopping them from firing you on the spot if you leave. So if leaving becomes tantamount to quitting on the spot, it’s fair to say you’re being coerced to stay if not actually held captive.

  11. Kristin Magoo*

    “Tell Lee nothing going forward.” This is the real headline. There is no well-meaning friend who would share this with a colleague. I’m so sorry you were betrayed like this, OP. And for your terrible HR department.

  12. HR Ninja*

    Oh my goodness! I’m so sorry!

    In my opinion I would say that a clean slate at a new company might be best for you. Not because you should feel ashamed of how you live your life, but because you shouldn’t have to spend 40+ hours a week in a place that is so judgmental and handles sensitive situations so poorly.

    Best of luck!

    1. All Het Up About It*

      *Ding, ding, ding*

      If you feel like you can move on, it might be the best for you, just mentally. I imagine work is not the most comfortable spot for you these days, and not because of anything you yourself actually did. And absolutely lawyer in this case, especially if Mary is still talking about it! Best of luck.

        1. allathian*

          I hope you find a new job with reasonable HR soon, as well as reasonable coworkers who don’t question you on your private life.

    2. Jane of all Trades*

      Agreed, also because who wants to work with people with such bad judgment? There was no reason for HR the way they did. Better get out before you have to deal with them again. This is ridiculous, sorry it happened to you!

  13. Susana*

    LW is totally the victim of sexual harassment by Mary – and the only problem with going to HR is that they are possibly guilty of it too, but quizzing LW about injury and *not* putting a stop to Mary once Mary went to HR.

  14. TWW*

    Lee is the real villain of this story. Spreading gossip about someone in the guise of “helping” them is a classic drama llama move

    1. Engineer Woman*

      I’m not sure about this. I read it as good intentions from Lee, trying to shut down Mary’s claim that OP is being abused. I could see in Lee’s mind that BDSM is no big deal but trying to nip Mary’s gossip about abuse in the bud. Of course, hindsight is 20/so.

      1. SimplyTheBest*

        Yep, I can easily see Lee saying, “don’t worry, she’s not being abused, everything was consensual,” thinking they’re squashing the story and Mary making it into the huge deal it is now.

        OP knows better than us, and maybe Lee is just a shit stirrer, but with the information we have that’s just not the only option.

        1. Smithy*

          Agreed, I also have to wonder if this is a case where there’s also the lived difference in how society judges men’s sex lives versus women’s. For Lee, the idea that this would become a larger deal was just less within his lived experience and imagination than for most women.

          Again, the OP knows best and may see Lee as more of a drama llama/shit stirrer. But you don’t have to go very far even in 2021 to see how the rules for men and women when it comes to sex remain wildly different.

          1. Observer*

            I also have to wonder if this is a case where there’s also the lived difference in how society judges men’s sex lives versus women’s. For Lee, the idea that this would become a larger deal was just less within his lived experience and imagination than for most women.

            Unlikely. BDSM is not something that guys get a pass for. Now if he were promiscuous or employing strippers, etc.. that would be different. And that’s assuming that Lee is male. The OP used “they” so it’s not obvious to me that we’re talking a male worldview anyway.

            1. Smithy*

              Reading too quickly – my mistake on not catching the gender.

              That being said, were the OP a man – I think it’s wildly unlikely any of this scenario would have played out. For a start, for men – to be overly bruised/injured may conjure speculation on getting into fights, but wildly unlikely to raise concerns over safety at home. Therefore responses like “total klutz” or “slipped in the tub” or “roller derby” are less likely to be scrutinized or not believed.

              1. Roci*

                Eh I think men would get questions in the opposite gendered direction–why are you fighting, are you beating people up, are you a danger to others, is your wife OK, are you a weakling and not a real man, were you in jail…

                I can see wild speculation happening regardless of gender. It happens on this very site all the time.

        2. Mr. Cajun2core*

          I also fully understand how Lee thought they would be shutting down Mary and helping. To me Mary is the big villain in the story with HR being a very close second.

          1. Akcipitrokulo*

            I’d say HR more of villain than Mary because ghey have more power and also should know better.

            1. allathian*

              Definitely. HR should have shut Mary up. Even if the OP had been in an abusive relationship, this sort of intervention is more likely to do harm than good.

    2. arcticshimmer*

      I have a hard time figuring out how Lee’s behaviour trumps the HR, who’s JOB is to be professional and appropriate, not do I think it’s helpful to say so.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      I feel like Lee made a huge blundering mistake, but I wouldn’t cast them as the villain. Mary and HR (seriously WTF is wrong with these addle-pated buffoons?!) are the assholes.

    4. Eukomos*

      HR grilled poor OP for hours about her sex life and you think the dumb friend who said the wrong thing is worse? Lee certainly didn’t cover themselves in glory but the people who are abusing their power and sexually harassing OP at work are pretty clearly doing the most wrong here.

  15. Yes Ma'am*

    Can we start a competition for worst coworker? Because man, Lee and Mary…they’ve won already.

    1. Marzipan*

      This would be an excellent addition to the end-of-year awards. But I reckon Lee and Mary will have competition; you know how these things go…

    2. Observer*

      I’m not so sure. And, as with the worst boss awards, please don’t jinx us!

      We’ve had some pretty hair raising ones.

  16. A Poster Has No Name*

    For the record, I just want to say that everyone sucks in this story except you, LW. Mary sucks, your HR sucks, Lee sucks, they all suck and need to learn to mind their own business (especially Mary, without whom none of this really would have been an issue).

    1. OP is Dumb not Abused*

      Thanks… I still feel like I should have been able to do something but Alison and the comments are really helping me right now

      1. EH*

        “I still feel like I should have been able to do something”

        It’s easy to look back now, knowing what you do, and think of ways that you could have averted this, but in the moment you didn’t have the information you have now. If you knew that Lee couldn’t be trusted with confidential info, you wouldn’t have told them private information – but you had no reason not to trust them. If you knew HR were horrible at your company, you would have been braced going into that meeting – but you had no reason to think HR would act so egregiously.

        Be kind to yourself, OP. What happened, happened, and guilt-tripping yourself about it won’t change the past.

        I’m glad the comments are helping, I hope this one helps a bit too. <3

        1. AutolycusinExile*

          Yes! You did the best you could with the information and the situation you had at the time. Today, you have more information and you’re coming from a different position, so it’s only natural that you’d feel like you’d make a different choice today. But you’re a different person! You have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, here.
          You did an incredible job getting through a horrific situation (for real – big kudos for having the bravery to be honest in that HR meeting; it may not have been the most helpful thing to tell them in the moment but the guts it took to do that are impressive and you should be proud of yourself for having the courage to have that conversation at all, seriously!).
          Any discomfort, anger, judgement, or other uncomfortable side effects are the fault of Mary and HR. You have absolutely no obligation to take on responsibility for the shitty outcomes of their shitty actions. You have every right to come into work with bruises on your face and you deserved to be treated with kindness and respect. I’m so sorry they didn’t.

      2. Pennyworth*

        Even if there is something you could have done differently, it was their behavior that was unconscionable and they are the ones at fault. Please don’t beat yourself up. When I read your letter I was speechless at the awfulness of how you were treated. I think whatever you did they would have found a way to be awful.

  17. Pikachu*

    I am surprised the roller derby explanation didn’t fly. I’ve never seen a roller derby-er(?) that didn’t look banged up on a regular basis.

    The whole scenario is horrible though. Mary was out of line, but Lee is a clear example of why work friends aren’t necessarily friends.

    1. momofpeanut*

      It wasn’t offered in this instance. Mary didn’t ask the OP about the injury and Lee apparently was living No-Lie Lent.

    2. many bells down*

      Oh yeah, one of my friends was big into roller derby and she had quite a few co-workers gently asking if everything was okay at home for months. But all she had to say was “roller derby” and everyone went oh yeah okay that explains it!

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Very true. I was frequently asked about roller derby when I was figure skating because the association with “skating” and “bruises” goes right to it. Nobody even connected it with, ya know, slipping on ice.

    3. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      As soon as I read this my bum and knees started hurting. I did roller skating in my childhood and I used to be covered in bruises.

  18. Goose*

    This is not the main take away, but WOW is there a trend that people have no idea how to approach people who they think may be in an abusive situation. I feel like somehow that needs to be added to sensitivity training, but I’m not sure the best way to approach it

    1. anon for this*

      I would support this. I had a colleague whose safety I feared for, and I had a quiet word with the boss, who suggested that I gently reach out. I had already tried it, I tried it again, neither got a response, and the colleague disappeared and was taken off payroll. I worried that her partner was reading her email, which turned out to be accurate; I think he was deleting the supportive/friendly messages. Eventually I asked Google whether my former colleague was still alive, and apparently yes, but I think we could have made a real difference and did not.

    2. Eat My Squirrel*

      Similarly for depressed/possibly suicidal people. I went through a period where I was very depressed, thankfully never truly suicidal, but I wear my heart on my sleeve and of course everyone could tell I was unhappy.
      What didn’t work:
      “Are you ok?” Said in front of a room full of people. This invariably generated a response of “I’m just tired.” One time I actually said no and the person had no idea what to do after that and moved on to:
      “It’ll get better.”

      What would have worked, had the right person said it:
      “Are you ok?” Said in private.

      What did work:
      “It scares me how sad you are. What can I do to help?”

    3. 1.0*

      I mean, that assumes either Mary or HR were interested in helping OP as opposed to rubbernecking salacious details or punishing her for having the wrong kind of sex

      1. Observer*

        Yeah, that’s the problem here, isn’t it.

        I don’t think any sensitivity training would have worked here – this was just soooo over the top.

      2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        Yes, I think part of the problem is that the people who are the most insistent that they think a person is in an abusive situation, are actually not interested in helping the person…they are interested in outing them and maybe even humiliating them, because there is a gross belief that abused people are responsible for their situation and can leave at any time if they want to, but they just choose not to until they are shamed into it.

        1. Tía Teapot*

          Well, sometimes I think it’s that they’re caught up in the “I am HELPING and I am SAVING this poor vulnerable person which makes me the HERO”, but end result is the same.

    4. Bernadette*

      That stood out to me too. None of Mary or HR’s actions seem like they would have made OP feel safe or comfortable at work no matter what was going on in her personal life. Unkind and insensitive on every level.

    5. aebhel*

      YEAH. Like even if OP was being abused, on *what planet* would this be an appropriate way to react?

    6. Good Vibes Steve*

      I feel like Alison could do a whole PSA post about it, including how to read between the lines when a coworker is trying to politely say “butt out, you’re mistaken and this is none of your business”

  19. Tracy*

    Seems like the biggest problem is Mary not being able to mind her own business. There is concern, and then here is being intrusive. I would not be interacting with her in any way, if possible.

    It’s unfortunate that she dragged HR into such a personal issue. Maybe they were just doing their due diligence? Are they mandated reporters? Maybe they also had the feeling of TMI? (Which actually might happen more often in the HR office than one might think….)

    What a horror, I’m sorry for the OP experiencing this. I think what the situation needs is time for the air to clear.

    1. Tracy*

      And I think we can all look back at some people, whether in our work lives (or elsewhere), where we wish we had the presence of mind to tell them “I’m really fine, and please mind your own business”.

    2. Gene Parmesan*

      The idea of mandated reporters occurred to me, too. I did a bit of internet research, and it looks like mandated reporters only applies to vulnerable people, i.e. children, elderly, or people with disabilities. Based on the OP’s letter, I would guess that these categories don’t apply to her.

      1. OP is Dumb not Abused*

        Yeah I’ve been a mandated reporter and that term doesn’t apply to me! I’m an adult capable of living on my own without assistance.

    3. Observer*

      Seems like the biggest problem is Mary not being able to mind her own business. There is concern, and then here is being intrusive. I would not be interacting with her in any way, if possible. ,/i>

      Mostly, true. BUT

      Maybe they were just doing their due diligence? Are they mandated reporters? Maybe they also had the feeling of TMI?

      Not possible. Mandated reporters are for minors (and possibly other vulnerable adults.) The OP is a competent adult, so that doesn’t fly. Also, once the OP made it clear that they are in a consensual relationship, there is NOTHING for HR to report. No mandated reporting laws ever require this kind of interrogation.

      There is simply no way to look at this as “due diligence”. Diligence for what?

      As for TMI, that makes no sense. The OP didn’t bring anything to HR. And all HR did was dig for more information.

      Bottom line is that Mary is a problem, but HR is equally a problem.

  20. Veryanon*

    Oh nooooooo.
    I work in HR. I’m trying to imagine ever spending “hours” questioning anyone – frankly, I don’t have that kind of time. My conversation with the OP would have gone pretty much along the lines that Alison suggested. I don’t want to have information about the sex lives of people I work with; it’s not information I need to do my job and it’s just not appropriate for work.
    Not to blame the victim, and OP, I get it, we all freeze when taken by surprise, but I really wish, for your sake, that you’d stuck with the roller derby story. But Mary and Lee are much more at fault here and if I were the HR person, I would probably have some kind of follow up conversation with them.

    1. (Former) HR Expat*

      Totally agree with this. As an HR person, the minute you said it was consensual, it’s no longer my official business, other than to double check that you weren’t, in fact, flouting it as a “sex trophy.” I don’t want or need to know about your sex life. Our conversation would have probably lasted about 5-10 minutes, and I would have told you to let me know immediately if you were being treated any differently by your coworkers as a result of this.

    2. Empress Matilda*

      I’m going to do a bit of advice column fanfic here, because there is absolutely no info in the letter to suggest this – but it feels to me like the HR person was taking notes for their own “research.” The only reason I can think of for them to question OP for *hours* and in such an incredible amount of detail, is because they were looking for ideas to try out later. Which just adds another level of gross to this story, if that’s actually the case. Ugh.

    3. Sandi*

      “if I were the HR person, I would probably have some kind of follow up conversation with them”

      That conversation with Mary and Lee should have been at the beginning, before talking with OP. “Mary, stop talking about this with your coworkers. Now.”

  21. Sharrbe*

    I always love how these “Mary” type people spend so much of their work time trying to meddle in the personal business of others. How does their produtivity not get looked at?

    1. FisherCat*

      Lee gets honorable mention in this category too. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in the workplace should intuitively understand that “oh, she’s into rough sex” (or any variation thereof that makes reference to bdsm or someone’s preferences) is NOT acceptable in any way. They were clearly stirring the pot. The “right” answer is “oh yeah I talked to LW earlier, she’s fine!” and nothing more specific.

      1. Eat My Squirrel*

        Exactly this. “Yeah she told me how she got it, and I have good reason to believe her. It’s none of your business what happened, but she’s fine, honestly. Let it go.”

  22. Momma Bear*

    A consultation with a lawyer might be a good idea.

    We often panic in those situations and let people continue to abuse and berate us, instead of cutting it off and leaving. I’m not going to give OP crap for being caught off guard. If HR was picking into your private life *for hours*, that’s way beyond anything professional. At best that was a power trip. OP said “HR” but was it someone at a lower level or higher? I’d complain to the head of HR if they weren’t already involved.

    Definitely don’t talk to Lee anymore. Whether or not I stayed in the role would depend on if the furor died down or not and if Mary can be professional again. Mary is the problem here, not OP. Specifics aside, she’s now crossed into harassment herself by not letting go/spreading rumors. I have no faith that OP’s HR will rein her in, but they should. I would focus on how Mary’s actions impact the job to try to steer it away from OP’s private life.

    1. Observer*

      We often panic in those situations and let people continue to abuse and berate us, instead of cutting it off and leaving. I’m not going to give OP crap for being caught off guard.

      So much this. And it’s not just panic. This is SUCH a bizarre thing to get called into HR about that I can’t imagine having the presence of mind to figure out the “best” response. And even in hindsight, I’m not sure that there WAS a “best” response that would have really helped the HR without creating other problems. Because HR was being SO out of line, that I could see someone trying to write her up if she had told them to mind their own business and left.

      But, I do think that the OP may need to seriously consider looking for a new job. This place is nuts.

    2. OP is Dumb not Abused*

      There’s like three people in HR and I think one is technically the head of the department but she’s never here.

      1. Observer*

        There’s like three people in HR and I think one is technically the head of the department but she’s never here

        That doesn’t mean she wouldn’t respond to a situation like this. It reminds me of the issue with the person who insisted on using the wrong name for a coworker (total mess!). The victim’s supervisor originally did not loop in their own supervisor because they assumed that their supervisor wouldn’t do anything. But when they wound up cc’ing their supervisor on an email related to the problem, the supervisor moved pretty decisively on the matter.

      2. Momma Bear*

        I would loop her in, especially if you think the job hunt will take a bit. Mary needs to be shut down.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I second this. If I were the supervisor, I would be horrified.
          Maybe the HR people onsite are like this BECAUSE she’s never there. Might be time to let her know she needs to pay closer attention to them.

  23. JustKnope*

    1) Absolutely check in with an employment lawyer with the specifics of this. Alison always says that a lawyer doesn’t have to take legal action, they can just be guiding you behind the scenes, and it would be extremely helpful to have expert guidance here. 2) HR needs to shut Mary’s discussion of your sex life DOWN. You should try to go over that original HR person to someone higher up and communicate that this is unacceptable and you need Mary to stop talking about your sex life (or you at all!) with other coworkers. 3) Have you looped in your manager that Mary is harassing you and how much worse HR made it? Try to get support from them if you can. You are not in the wrong here, and everyone else in this situation is behaving terribly. 4) Others have commented this, but it may be time to get a fresh start if for no other reason than your own comfort. You shouldn’t have to leave over getting harassed, but this is so uncomfortable and you deserve to feel safe at work.

    1. Curious*

      I agree that OP should consult a lawyer with expertise in sexual harassment law. That said, I’m not sure that this fits.
      We know, after Bostock, that Title VII protects a woman who loves women from being treated differently than a man who loves women (and vice-versa). But for an employer who discriminates against employees who engage in particular practices *regardless of the gender of the participants,* it is less clear how Title VII applies. (I defer to those lawyers with that expertise).

      I agree that this behavior by HR is horrible. I’m just not sure that it’s illegal.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        This isn’t about sex discrimination; it’s about sexual harassment. The OP was questioned about her sex life for hours, and now a coworker is being allowed to discuss/speculate on her sex life to colleagues. It’s not about her gender; it’s about being subjected to excessively sexualized treatment.

        1. OP is Dumb not Abused*

          Yeah this would suck even if I was a guy honestly.

          Lawyers are fricken scary. I guess I should talk to one though.

          I haven’t looped in my manager. Our set up is weird. Mary and I are equals and the person who “manages” us actually manages a few different offices and we really only see them once a month for checkins.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Lawyers are only scary when you’re on trial and they’re the prosecutor. When you hire one, they’re your ally and they’re actually extraordinarily comforting; they are completely invested in your interests and in taking care of you. They’re a great comfort!

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              Just find a kink-friendly one, OP! If you are involved in your local BDSM community, ask for a recommendation.

              1. I'm just here for the cats*

                Heck there might even be someone in the community that IS an employement lawyer! I’m not active into the community but I know someone who is and aparently there are a lot of well prominant members of our small town that are as well.

          2. Tuesday*

            I’d be nervous too, but I think I’d feel better thinking about the lawyers who chime in here in the comments and seem like they’d be supportive and kind. I think it would feel really good to have someone on your side who knows their stuff and isn’t just trying to muddle through like most of us.

          3. Anon attorney*

            I’m there to scare everyone else on your behalf, not you! Don’t be afraid to take legal advice – you, not the lawyer, will make the decision about whether to act on it, but it’s always important to know where you stand legally.

          4. Keymaster of Gozer*

            To give you some reassurance: I’ve dealt with a lot of lawyers.

            I’m disabled primarily from an injury incurred at a former place at work, I’ve gone tooth and nail to stop a firm discriminating against women on staff (including me), I’ve even shopped a corrupt employer to the highest legal authority in this land.

            Only the last one involved scary lawyers. Defence barristers plus high court plus being cross examined was absolutely terrifying- BUT the law team on my side (prosecution) were amazing. When you have a lawyer on your side it can feel a bit cold how many details they want, how sure you are and the like, but they are doing it to build the best siege weapon possible to go after the ones in the wrong. Get past the questioning bit and it’s comforting how useful they are.

  24. Chocoholic*

    Using their logic, showing up at work pregnant would also be “flaunting” one’s sex life. So many sighs. OP, I am sorry this happened to you.

    1. hbc*

      I think many people define flaunting as “someone going about their life not hiding something that I find distasteful or uncomfortable.”

      I mean, it’s OP’s face. Our faces naturally get attention. Unless OP used makeup to darken it or kept dramatically getting four inches from other people’s faces. the difference between “flaunting” and “existing” is…nothing.

      1. All Zoomed out and nothing to throw*

        “I think many people define flaunting as ‘someone going about their life not hiding something that I find distasteful or uncomfortable.’”

        So well-said. Thank you.

    2. pope suburban*

      I had the same thought, honestly. We’re all adults, okay, we know that sex exists (and that it makes people!), and as long as someone’s not, say, asking their colleagues to call their partner “master” or sharing all the details of their weekend hookup, we can just let it be. It’s a fact of life and there’s no need to make it A Thing all the time.

      1. OP is Dumb not Abused*

        I mean all these things are true. And it’s not OBVIOUS it’s a sex injury but it is obvious that it is very abnormal. My brain keeps making excuses for them.

        1. pope suburban*

          I understand completely why it would be difficult to frame this matter-of-factly, after the outsize reaction from Mary and your terrible HR department. I hope that you can take heart from the comments here. I think most people would prefer to just pretend they never heard anything, because, well, this *is* a fact of life, and because most people understand that certain information was not intended for them. I know that if I heard something like this at work from a third party, I’d tell them that that was inappropriate, and do my best to un-know it. It’s really not my business what people get up to in their own time, and I’d never dream of bringing it up with them or otherwise making it awkward.

        2. JSPA*

          We’re conditioned to be ashamed when something that we didn’t want to happen, happens, and we feel responsible. You didn’t want your head and face area marked. (A common limit.) It’s marked. Well, dang.

          You don’t want to blame the person you were with. You don’t want to blame miscommunication. So internally, you’re blaming yourself. Fair enough.

          (Though as a side note…in some other context than a work blog, if this Oops resulted from anything outside of normal human clumsiness, it could be worth revisiting your approach to pre-approved inviolable limits. As you likely know, visible marking is something boundary-violating Doms are known to push. It should be possible to fantasize about or ask for it or cruise close to the line, while knowing it’s not going to happen. If your Dom wanted to mark you and wanted to force others to see it, even if you were not on board with that goal (or especially if you were not on board with that goal!) that’s something to hash into with a proper therapist, or someone from within the community, or both. Though not something to answer here.)

          But, back on topic: “it’s not what I intended, oops” isn’t the same as, “it’s my moral failing.” You don’t necessarily intend to take a hard fall in Roller Derby, either, right? (OK, sometimes you do, in that you’re making a sacrifice move…but the damage can be much worse than foreseen.) But you would probably not feel hot shame over, “a bigger-than-anticipated-when-I-went-for-that-block-knowing-I-might-slide Roller Derby bruise.”

          Don’t put all of your, “oops, bad move” self-blame into the wrong category!

          “Dang, klutz move, now I know better” is self-improvement. “Don’t do scenes with Jody involving [problem implement] near [visible body part]” is useful learning. “Oh no, now people will see that I’m a total f*ck-up” is self-sabotage.

          Squelch that self-sabotage energy; it does you no good.

          1. OP is Anxious af*

            I can’t/won’t get into details but it truly is not my Dom’s fault. Nor, if I’m honest, is it mine. Or at least it’s both of ours? It was sort of a fluke of a situation that would only happen if X and Y happened when I asked for Z?

            Idk anyways I appreciate this thank you

          2. Dream Jobbed*

            Ummm, even vanilla activities can result in injuries and marks. Doesn’t mean someone was pushing boundaries. And that is veering away from the people LW feels did do her the psychological injury.

  25. Observer*

    I’m going to disagree with Alison about keeping to the Roller Derby story. If you hadn’t said anything to Lee, then sure. No one needs to know anything that you don’t want to share, and any discussion of the specifics at work are inappropriate anyway. But once the cat was out of the bag and you were dealing with Crazy HR (TM), trying to keep that story straight would have just added a layer of complexity you don’t need.

    I think that when you go back to HR, you should highlight that Mary is STILL talking about your sex life and she’s actively making your life difficult. If she won’t talk to you about work issues, that’s a HUGE deal. So, for that matter, is telling everyone how disgusting you are.

    It might be worth pointing out that Mary’s own story proves that you COULD NOT have been “flaunting” your injury, much less doing so in a sexual way! When she asked you, you REFUSED to tell her the story, and she had to go on a snooping campaign to find out the true story! And she only succeeded because she went to someone who you are friends with OUTSIDE of work! Which means that someone is delusional or has their own issues with your activities.

    Which is to say, kick this up the chain. And, do talk to a lawyer.

    1. Observer*

      The other thing I just thought of is, who in HR questioned you? We do know that sometimes lower level HR people TOTALLY mishandle stuff even in relatively functional companies. If that’s the case then going up the chain can be useful.

      I’m thinking of the deadnaming letter, and the guacamole letter. That wasn’t HR, but the same concept.

      1. OP is Dumb not Abused*

        Said it up thread but HR is just three people with the “boss” mostly absent. I think going back to them would be a mistake. Also, I really don’t want to.

        1. Maltypass*

          That’s totally understandable after what you went to – I’d never want to deal with them again either

        2. Observer*

          I totally don’t blame you. But, as I said upthread, you might find out that the supervisor (or your manager) is a bit more competent and decent than Cindy.

          But, first, DO talk to a lawyer.

    2. T*

      Your personal life is your personal business, don’t make choices that mean you’re going into work with it on your face. So uncomfortable.

      1. Observer*

        That’s over the top. Are you saying that the OP is not allowed to continue with Roller Derby? And if they had actually walked into a wall they have to stay home?

        It was a bruise. There are many other reasons to have bruises other than abuse and kink. Thus, having a bruise is not “having their personal life on their face.”

  26. Prof Ma'am*

    I have no other comment besides mentioning that I said “Oh, Nooooooo” multiple times while reading this post.

  27. Amber Rose*

    HR sucks so much here that I would honestly go with cutting my losses and job hunting. Not because you are at fault. You are NOT. But because this workplace and its HR is dysfunctional and you deserve better.

    Also now that you have the benefit of that 20/20 hindsight, no more work friends are allowed to know about your sexy fun times, no matter how close or trustworthy you think they are.

      1. LunaLena*

        Yes, but what exactly are they winning? The prize seems to be a terrible workplace. If what they want is a turd trophy, I say let them have it while you move on to better things.

      2. Red Boxes and Arrows*

        Oof. This comment (“…but it also feels like letting them win.”) sounds like an ex-friend/acquaintance of mine who refused to leave her abusive partner because it would be like letting him win.

        I eventually had to back away from the friendship because I couldn’t keep hearing about the emotional, mental, financial, and occasional physical abuse he inflicted on her and she saw it as something she could/should “win”? Like, no, winning is leaving him behind. Winning is not being abused. Winning is not playing mind games and having screaming matches where furniture and furnishings get broken. Winning is keeping your entire paycheck.

        In your shoes, OP, I’d be thinking, “Yep, you won. Look at me, working at someplace normal now with no hours-long interrogations into my sex life and no Mary trying her dead-level best to shame me and get everyone to dislike me. Boo-hoo. I’m so sad to lose like this.”

      3. Jerusha*

        Sometimes the best revenge is living well.

        Think about how nice it would be to say, “Oh, yes, I completely lost at that interaction. And I licked my wounds all the way into a shiny new job somewhere _sane_, with an HR department that isn’t a hive of bees in a human suit. Oh, woe, look at me losing. Boo hoo.”

      4. Koalafied*

        The image that comes to mind if that meme with the possum in the dumpster hissing at the camera, captioned, “Don’t touch my garbage!”

        Let these possums have their garbage dumpster.

  28. Ellie May*

    It took me 50 years to learn to answer inappropriate questions with, “Why do you ask?”

    [Mary went to HR and told them that I was flaunting the injury as a … sexual trophy.]

    “Mary is quite wrong. Are we finished here?”

    Oy …

    1. Kathryn*

      I like to ask that in response too, too. I’ll also ask “What are you going to do with that information?” or “Why do you want to know?” Invariably *IF* they answer my question, they say something like “Oh no reason, I’m just curious,” or “Nothing really, just asking.” And then I have the opportunity to say something like “So you don’t need to know for any real reason? Oh, I see.” And then I stop talking and just… don’t answer their nosey question.

      This has worked well in casual relationships (I recall a member of my church congregation that this worked on) but I’ve never tried it in a professional setting, so I don’t know how that would go over.

    2. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

      “Why do you ask?” I learned this favorite phrase from a friend decades ago. It’s a favorite. Very few gossips are going to admit they want to know so they can talk about it later and very few can think of a legitimate reason to know what is clearly none of their buisness.

  29. RagingADHD*

    “I didn’t tell Lee, or Mary, or anyone else that’s what happened to my face. I told Mary I got hurt at roller derby, and I have no idea why anyone would bring my sex life into it.

    If anyone is talking about sex regarding this injury, it’s Mary and Lee. You should be speaking with them, not me.”

    Go right ahead and throw Lee under the bus. They deserve it.

    1. james*

      this is spot on. . . honestly by Marys reaction she was never really worried about LWs safety but was just being nosey. if it was genuine concern she would of just dropped the matter after hearing its not domesitc violence.

  30. Jennifer*

    Wow. Yeah Lee is probably the real villain here. I must say, I don’t love the roller derby excuse. People who are actually dealing with domestic violence sometimes make excuses like that and I would probably be concerned if I had a coworker coming in all the time with bruises all over their body. However, what should have happened is exactly what Alison said. HR should have just given you resources for domestic violence and left it at that.

    Your HR is horrible and I think you should start looking for a new job.

    1. Zillah*

      I feel like it’s not reasonable to expect people who are vulnerable (which I would argue that someone in OP’s position is) to focus on broader societal implications when just trying to protect themselves. The fact that people being abused might use roller derby as an explanation is on the people abusing them; it’s not on people trying to quietly live their lives without harassment.

      1. Jennifer*

        I’m not talking about harassing someone or doing anything on the level of what Mary or this terrible HR department has done. I’m talking about discreetly inquiring if they are okay and offering them resources. If the person says they are okay, and they are offered resources just in case, that’s really all you can do. It’s fine to simply ask someone if they are okay. It’s not harassment.

    2. JSPA*

      Except that OP does do roller derby, and can’t realistically be expected to keep (or share) a catalog of possible bruise causing events.

    3. Dahlia*

      But… are people not allowed to do roller derby? Because OP does. Should she have to shamefully hide the bruises from the sport she plays?

    4. Jennifer*

      Sigh…all I’m saying is I’d be concerned if someone showed up to work every day covered in bruises. Nowhere did I say people aren’t allowed to play sports. Nowhere did I say she should have to shamefully hide her bruises.

      However, it’s understandable that some people will be concerned if you come to work covered in bruises. It’s actually a good thing to notice if someone could be in trouble and offer assistance. Of course, if the person said they were okay and didn’t need help, I would drop it, but I’m not sure if I would believe their excuse. But at that point all you can do is hope that if there really is an issue they will seek out the resources provided.

      I think it’s great that people are trying to be more tolerant of other’s choices and not judgmental, but in some cases I think we have over-corrected.

      1. JSPA*

        Roller Derby isn’t some private secret though. It’s a public spectator sport. Ditto for Rugby (another bruise-fest of a sport). Rock Climbing, SCA jousting…the list is long.

        If you’re wondering, “does Person really do roller derby,” then (at least, pre- or perhaps post-Covid) either the internet or Person themselves will provide you with the competition schedule.

        Or even try to recruit you, if you seem interested. Regular bruises and abuse are vaguely overlapping categories, at best.

    5. a drive-by commenter*

      But OP actually does play roller derby, it’s just that this particular bruise wasn’t from that.

      1. Jennifer*

        Yes, I understand. I’m just saying that if someone doesn’t know her, it may not ring true and I might still be concerned for her. But I’d keep my mouth shut and just be concerned from a distance if she didn’t accept my offer of assistance.

  31. Karak*

    OP I’m so angry on your behalf. This is not ok.

    And OP, I’d like to remind you that even the most vanilla sex can, with a bit of bad luck, leaves bruises, marks, and injuries. It’s a very physical activity!!

    But I agree with AAM. Mary is sexually harassing YOU at this point, and you should make that clear to HR. But considering how poorly they’ve behaved, and our overall bad cultural response to sex in general, you might need to start looking to get out. If you have the funds or social support for a lawyer, it’s not a bad idea to threaten them, but that may pull more attention—and harassment—to you.

    I hope this turns out ok for you, OP. And try not to beat yourself up about any of this. You have a plausible story and then answered honestly when caught off-guard by HR. You didn’t do anything wrong.

    1. EmKay*

      Mary is certainly behaving badly as an individual person, but the fact that OP’s workplace HR event dreamt of thinking of doing this is yiiiiiikes…

  32. EmKay*

    Oh boy, this is such a hot mess. How on earth this workplace can be a ‘healthy’ one, I cannot fathom.

  33. Person from the Resume*

    Oh, and LW, for what you can do next time.

    1) Don’t trust Lee or have a firm talk with Lee never ever to share your private information again. Maybe drop Lee as a friend if you think this warrants it.

    2) Have a ready lie prepared and stick to it.

    It’s not clear from your letter if you used the roller derby excuse this time or something else. It is clear that Mary never asked you directly so you did not have the chance to offer her the explanation (the safer lie) before she nosed around. Mary is the instigator here.

  34. OP is Dumb not Abused*

    Hi! Ok I will get to individual comments but I wanted to add details about the “why the heck did you not stick with the story” because 1. Yes i feel STUPID i didn’t but also
    2. You’ll get a sense of how the HR meeting went

    Me: oh hi Cindy you wanted to meet?
    Cindy: yes, we wanted to let you know your BDSM lifestyle is not welcome in the office
    Me: I’m sorry what?
    Cindy: Fifty shades of grey is for the bedroom and really, should not even be then.

    So like… Idk it was just a given from the beginning and so CONFUSING and RUDE that I didn’t even think to explain it another way until I was in the bathroom crying later.

    1. RagingADHD*

      That’s awful. I hope you can go over their head, because the sheer fact that they assumed Mary’s story was true with no investigation is a huge problem.

      1. Nea*

        THIS! Mary has zero proof of what she took to HR, not even “I heard OP say…” and yet Cindy used that salacious rumor to sexually harass OP?

        Someone in upper management needs to know that two employees of this office are willfully creating an open-and-shut sexual harassment lawsuit against the company.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Holy shit, I just saw this. OP, I’m repeating myself on this thread, but please see an employment lawyer.

          1. Self Employed*


            There are so, so many ways what Cindy said (and how she said it) were terribly wrong. Of course you were too shocked to say nonchalantly “oh, I get bruises in derby, don’t know why anyone thought otherwise”. Good grief!

            Definitely lawyer time, and if you can’t find one through the BDSM community/directories, the derby league lawyer may have connections (who might have experience with workplaces being weird about bruises and conservative HR departments). You may be able to get a free or low-cost consultation–be prepared with a concise summary to answer questions with.

    2. IndustriousLabRat*

      This update re: judgy HR idiot just took the situation up another notch of awful. I’m so sorry. At this point, I don’t know how you can even look those rude people in the eye and not want to bust out a hip – check on them!

      Laywer and job hunt. Skate yourself riiiiiight on outta there to a less dysfunctional workplace! And have the lawyer ensure that there is no issue with your references as a result of all this.

    3. The Original K.*

      WOW, Cindy suuuuuuucks. That’s awful! “Really should not be even then,” like, mind your business, Cindy!

    4. Akcipitrokulo*

      Oh, that is dreadful and angering. Completely unacceptable. That HR can never be trusted with anything ever again.

      Lawyer. Union.

      Please, please don’t feel stupid. Hindsight is lovely. There’s a reason it’s so good!

      You did best you could in seriously shitey circumstances. There is zero reason to feel bad about it.

      You did NOTHING wrong.

    5. Ray Gillette*

      It’s not dumb to be thrown by someone who is supposed to be professional opening in such an intrusive and rude way!

    6. Antony J Crowley*


      Even before this context I completely understood why you might have not gone back to roller derby in the pressure of the moment. This is just five million times worse than I imagined. I’m so sorry you had to deal with that!

    7. No Tribble At All*

      Oh no!! Only a superspy wouldn’t react to that! I’m so sorry! It’s clear that “Cindy” is not going to shut down Mary either. If there’s anyone higher up the chain in HR, talk to them and/or a lawyer.

      1. Properlike*

        I wonder if Cindy and Mary are besties.

        OP, you are clearly a truthful person with integrity, because that’s what you reverted to when panicked. Being called into HR and confronted with someone else’s rumor as truth and then held there?! No one could predict that! It’s illogical! It’s so far outside the bounds of normal that you’re in “and then the aliens landed” territory! Most of all, you’re not dumb. How many of us walk around dreaming up lies for when we’re randomly confronted by people out of nowhere?

    8. Almost Empty Nester*

      Oh dear God. Please get a lawyer. You are a victim of sexual harassment in a very textbook way. And please shed no more tears. You’ve done nothing wrong, except maybe share personal details with someone incapable of keeping them private. I’m so very sorry…

      1. JSPA*

        IANAL, but as far as I can do so not knowing the location, I’m a +1 on this (despite the site ban on +1-ing).

    9. LunaLena*

      Wow WHAT??? Your HR is seriously terrible, I’m so sorry this happened to you! I was thinking Mary was the villain of the piece with HR a close second, but I think this tips the scales over into HR being the winner of the Are They Even Human Award. What a terrible, horrible, absolutely no-good way for anyone to deal with this, let alone HR who should know better!

      With that additional piece, I really think you should consider looking for a new job. As others have said, not because you did anything wrong, but because the people you are working with are so darn awful and making it a bad place to work for you. It’s not fair for you and it’s stupid that this is even an issue, but when they handle something so innocuous so poorly that you end up crying in the bathroom I think it’s time to reconsider if you want to stay. I think you should document everything that happened with Mary and HR and consult a lawyer.

      I would give you so many hugs if I could.

    10. Detective Amy Santiago*


      This still falls squarely on Lee’s shoulders in my opinion since they were the one who brought up BDSM in the workplace.

      1. Nea*

        Mary was the one who was digging around for new hearsay (since the old digging for an abuse story didn’t pan out) and took the juiciest bit she found to HR as a complaint against OP, though. Definitely my choice for worst person in the story, followed extremely closely by Cindy taking Mary’s hearsay about Lee’s unverified story as a fact that OP could be reprimanded for.

        Lee shot off their mouth, but Mary and Cindy made it a workplace issue that affects OP’s employment.

    11. QuinleyThorne*

      Yeah, it’s time to capital-l Lawyer Up.

      And if Cindy’s not the head of HR (or just the only HR person period), kick this up the chain in writing. Document everything regarding this incident if you haven’t already, and continue to document your interactions with Mary, or Lee, or anyone else who brings up your sex life unprompted. Also start job searching immediately.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Oh hell yes. Document the F*CK out of everything.

        Now I really want to see Cindy and Mary go down.

    12. Message in a Bottle*

      Wow. Sorry that you are going through this. I actually think with a highly dysfunctional HR department like this, the truth is what you stick with. They had an opinion and pushed hard on it from the get-go.

      On BDSM and the workplace, oh boy. There is so much judgment inherent in the beginning of their inquiry. And the betrayal of Lee, makes me never want to even think of anyone at work at anything like a ‘friend’ again. They may not have realized how off the deep-end Mary and HR would be, but still silence on Lee’s part would have helped.

      That said, HR and Mary seem cut from the same cloth and this is on them. And I don’t think with their judgment they are going to help you at all, especially with Mary and her harassment. I’d speak to a lawyer to know your rights, but yeah, you probably are better off jobseeking.

      I don’t think you should have stayed home, but unfortunately, one can’t share private things at work or with friends at work. Heck, after reading this I wouldn’t even want to tell people about roller derby. Once you said you weren’t in an abuse situation, I don’t think you have to tell them anything further. But this place is not an objective HR department by any means so usual norms seem out the window here.

      1. Self Employed*

        @MessageInABottle, Lee knew this about OP before they recruited OP to work in this office full of bees. One would think that Lee would know that you never out people at work, but apparently not.

    13. Luke G*

      I’m cringing with shock and discomfort for you, OP. I can’t blame you a bit for how you reacted! That’s one of those times where, after you’ve had time to think about it, you can think of a million reactions that would have been better, but in the moment you’ve been knocked so flat on your butt in shock you can’t think of anything else to say.

      A few other commenters have questioned whether this was a high-enough level HR person that it points to systematic HR problems, or a low-level HR minion that could just be terrible at their job even though the system is functional. If they were low-level, were I in your shoes I’d be taking this to the top of HR (possibly after consulting a lawyer) and see what happens.

    14. Very anon for this*

      I’m so sorry, this was completely out of line for HR, and I think I would’ve had a similarly panicked reaction under that sort of questioning, even if my injury were from something completely mundane. Please, follow Alison’s advice and go talk to a lawyer. I’d also suggest, if you can, see about finding another job, away from this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad coworker and HR person.

      It might also be a good idea to talk with your partner(s) and add a “no visible marks on [X] place [X] days before I have to go into work” to your limit list, so you don’t get put in this position again. You shouldn’t have to, and if you don’t want to, that’s valid too. It may just prevent future boundary-violating inquisitions, and keeps you from having to monitor these things in the, ah, heat of the moment.

    15. I'm just here for the cats*

      I feel so sorry for you! You are not dumb and did nothing wrong. Anyone would freeze in this situation.

      I also wonder if Cindy and Mary are friends, both do not like your personal lifestyle choice, and feel like they should judge you.

      This just feels very much like the situation where the person got fired because their coworker ate their spicy food and HR said they tried to poison the coworker. It was later found out that the HR and the coworker had a relationship. There was more that I’m forgetting but this feels very much like Cindy and Mary are friends and they have each other’s back.

      What have your other coworkers said? How are they treating the situation? If i was your co-worker and heard this I would be talking to someone besides HR about how uncomfortable Mary makes me by discussing the private life of someone.

    16. Observer*

      Me: oh hi Cindy you wanted to meet?
      Cindy: yes, we wanted to let you know your BDSM lifestyle is not welcome in the office
      Me: I’m sorry what?
      Cindy: Fifty shades of grey is for the bedroom and really, should not even be then.

      Good grief!

      I hope you have a record of this. Because if they want you to keep your lifestyle out of the office, why in heavens name did they then spend so much time questioning you?

      My point here is that this is just another thing showing that they were NOT acting in good faith.

      And I TOTALLY can see how you were floored by this.

    17. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

      100% agreeing with everyone that says you need to consult a lawyer and dust off your resume after reading this OP. At the very least I’d want to see Mary getting a cease and desist letter on very expensive lawyer stationary.

    18. Elephant*

      OP, this is awful. I’m so sorry. I’m just here to join the chorus of people telling you to talk to a lawyer. I know you’ve said that lawyers are scary, and I understand that feeling, but the one time I needed a lawyer, I ended up feeling empowered. It was a free consultation where I got lots of important information that I was able to use in subsequent conversations, and the lawyer even offered to send a letter on my behalf for free. I know most lawyers will probably charge for that letter, but regardless, the fact that a person in a position of power was willing and able to come to my defense and demand justice made me feel so much better. And my situation was just a crappy moving company refusing to pay for damages. What you are going through is so much more personal and upsetting. Talk to a lawyer. I really think it will make you feel better.

    19. Beth*

      This is legit horrifying. It takes me from “maybe a competent HR could smooth this over” to “your HR is not competent, your entire workplace is shitty, get out ASAP and seriously consider an employment lawyer.”

      None of this is your fault, but seriously, this is a case where you’re going to be better off job hunting than trying to ride it out.

    20. EmKay*

      Jaysus Chrysler. I was upset before reading your update OP, but now I am legitimately angry.

      You deserve better :)

    21. NotAnotherManager!*

      “Cindy, why are you talking to me about an erotic novel at work? I’m really uncomfortable with this topic. I would think that HR, of all people, would not broach such an inappropriate topic with an employee. Please stop, this is starting to feel like harassment.”

    22. school of hard knowcs*

      If only I could rewrite what happened to you.
      Me: I’m sorry, what is ‘fifty shades of grey’?
      Cindy: BDSM does not belong in the office.
      Me: It’s odd that you keep talking about it.
      Cindy: Mary said, You have a sex injury.
      Me: Then may be you should be talking to Mary. I need to go and finish ‘important project’.

    23. TWW*

      And it went on like that for HOURS?

      If they’re so strongly opposed to your “lifestyle”, why not just fire you instead of spending hours berating you? There’s something sinister going on here

    24. allathian*

      Yikes, that’s awful.

      Now I’m more convinced than ever that you really should polish your resume and get out of there as soon as you can. If this sort of attitude is common in your company, you honestly have no future with this employer.

      Cindy was utterly out of line. I hope that you’ll find a kink-friendly employment lawyer, because the way you’ve been treated is truly awful. If nothing else, to protect your reference for when you’re looking for work in the future. Not for the next job, but for the one after that.

    25. Antony J Crowley*

      I don’t know if you’re still reading OP, but I just read all your comments, and I just wanted to send support out to you. You sound like someone I would love to know and I’m so sorry you had to go through this!

    26. Still Trying to Adult*

      OP, I’m gonna do some ranking here:

      1) Mary is awful, for being nosey, esp. to Lee and badgering him for details after you provided your own cover story. And then gossiping it around the company with her own personal judgements about ‘appropriateness’
      2) Lee is kinda awful, for sharing what shouldn’t have been shared; but I can kinda understand it. I can easily fold under sustained interrogation, just to get my self out of an uncomfortable situation.
      3) HR is TRULY AWFUL, because they took Mary’s comments & ‘complaints’ and put a managerial approval on them, raising the stakes for OP by ohhh, a thousand fold. At least.
      4) HR’s opening line to you amped up their awful by another 100 fold. And I too would be so knocked off kilter by that opening line ‘ your BDSM lifestyle’ that I would have a real hard time regaining my feet enough to simply shut it down and walk out.
      5) OP should repeat at least daily for about 6 months: I did nothing wrong. HR and Mary were completely out of line here. They are not to be trusted ever again.

      BTW, where is your own manager in all this? This has been damaging to his dept’s proper functioning.

      Mary needs a strong formal reprimand, put in her file. If this doesn’t qualify as a firing offense, it should be considered Strike 2. I’m also guessing Mary has often crossed these boundaries with her gossip – this might be Strike 3.
      HR person who interrogated you needs a strong formal reprimand too. Totally inappropriate handling of the whole issue. IANAL, but my guess this is where a strong letter from your lawyer would be correct, laying out the above, and that you require a formal apology from the Company and expunging this from your HR file. After copies of all paperwork are provided to you for safekeeping.

  35. Akcipitrokulo*


    I am so sorry. They all suck. HR most of all, and Mary in very close second.

    I can’t second going to see a lawyer enough. If you are in a union, talk to your rep (don’t know where you are, but in UK will also pay for any legal costs).

    This is not ok, and so out there it’s going to be best to have an expert legal view.

  36. AuntAmy*

    Mary sucks, Lee sucks, HR is weird, and this is just a really unfortunate situation! OP, I hope time softens your embarrassment.

  37. Fake Name*

    Please get a lawyer or they will do this to other people. My guess is they already have.

  38. boop the first*

    The information highway in this story is so weird! Lee really should have just said “maybe you should go ask OP since they’re the only one who knows” instead of just making a guess. A strange guess. How does Lee know so much?? How do friends direct a conversation in such a way that somebody is like “Oh yeah, Partner really did me good last night” like okay??? no thannkkkss

    1. Anon here*

      In a reply to a comment way upthread OP mentioned that they had seen Lee outside of work in non-vanilla contexts. If they were both kinky in the same area, they could well encounter each other at munches (social events) or similar.

  39. No Tribble At All*

    After seeing OP’s comment, I’m even more appalled. HR blindsided her opening with “your BDSM lifestyle is not welcome here” based on hearsay two sources removed. OP had previously mentioned to Lee; Lee told Mary; Mary told HR. If, god forbid, the bruises hadn’t been consensual, HR just shut off any avenue of help from work. Imagine if Lee had been mistaken/lying, OP really needed help, and HR opens like that? “Cindy” from HR and Mary both need to get fired. I’m furious on your behalf.

    1. Luke G*

      That HR opening, right? No shame on OP for reacting in shock but I’m dying to know how it would have gone down if OP had been able to resist the shock and just stonewall it. Not the truth, not a lie, not a deflection, just “that’s wildly inappropriate and I’m not even going to respond to it, I’m escalating this to (your manager/my manager/whoever the hell) immediately.”

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      If, god forbid, the bruises hadn’t been consensual, HR just shut off any avenue of help from work. Imagine if Lee had been mistaken/lying, OP really needed help, and HR opens like that?


      And if I was a colleague and heard about this (which I hope does NOT happen), I would certainly never feel safe going to HR for help if I found myself in a bad situation.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Even without knowledge of what went down in HR, from the outsider’s viewpoint, Mary is flouncing around bragging about punishing someone for showing up with bruises on their face. That is not good optics!

  40. Sami*

    Oh good god OP, I’m pissed off for you.
    Alison is right. And I’d like to really encourage the lawyering up part. Obviously you’ll want an understanding attorney, but even without, a really good one can help.
    Good luck. And please update Alison.

    1. Observer*

      Unhelpful and irrelevant. The OP did NOT discuss this at work. They happened to be friends with Lee outside of work too. It’s not terribly surprising that the OP did not realize that Lee has no boundaries between work and personal.

  41. All Het Up About It*

    Oh man! The OP’s additional comment makes it even worse somehow. I just…. AH!

    I wish that the OP had had the presence of mind to keep “plausible deniability” in some way. “I don’t speak about my sex life at the workplace” – assuming their conversations with Lee happen outside of working hours, etc. “I never discussed my sex life with Mary and I’m bothered by the fact that she is discussing it with others, making assumptions, and that you are now doing the same.” Etc., etc.

    BUT given that blindside from Cindy, I’m absolutely not surprised that the OP panicked and provided the information they did.

  42. Former Young Lady*

    I’m seeing a lot of people ascribing pure intentions to Lee, and while that might matter in the context of judging Lee’s mortal soul, it really does not matter in the context of trusting Lee as a friend and/or colleague.

    If Lee were a born-again evangelist telling everybody they were going to Hell, Lee would probably believe in their heart that they were doing the right thing. If Lee were zealously trying to convert the whole office to veganism, Lee would consider this a means to a virtuous end. If Lee were covertly replacing the coffee in the breakroom with Folger’s Decaf Crystals to “break the horrible bonds of caffeine addiction among the staff,” Lee would surely think they were serving a lofty purpose.

    It would not matter, because grown-ass adults in professional environments are expected to recognize certain professional boundaries, and grown-ass adults in intimate friendships have to recognize the overlay of those boundaries when their friends come to work with them.

    1. Happy*

      I don’t think anyone is saying that he did a morally good thing. They’re saying that it may have been a mistake rather than malicious.

      1. Happy*

        That is, Lee could be an asshole or could be clueless. In either case, OP shouldn’t share sensitive information with them and if OP doesn’t want to be friends with Lee anymore, that’s completely understandable. But for many people the difference would inform how they would want to interact with Lee in the future.

    2. Hiring Mgr*

      It might matter to OP though – Lee is mentioned as a friend who OP tells everything to. Lee certainly screwed this one up, but we really have no idea how or whether it should impact their friendship. A really good friend who made one mistake in a situation where they were probably just as taken by surprise?

      1. Observer*

        Yeah, it needs to affect the friendship. Because even ascribing good intentions to Lee, you still run into the problem that you CANNOT trust them!

  43. Queer Earthling*

    OP, I just want to say, I’m sorry this happened! I really can’t say anything that hasn’t been said–you weren’t dumb for caving to a tense situation, and it’s not your fault that Lee told Mary, nor that Mary told HR, nor that HR approached it so horribly.

  44. Anon4ThisQuestion*

    For the OP (and Alison) – The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom has a program that keeps a kink (and polyamorous) aware professional list. The directory is located at You can search there by location and need. It is international, technically, but is heavily focusses on USA. The list includes many attorneys of all types, but also folks like handy people and PR firms and accountants and more.

    1. sub rosa for this*

      Thank you for posting this. I couldn’t google it at work but I knew there was a specific resource out there.

      OP, please check them out – I’ve used this list and it’s worked. It may be harder to find a lawyer in your immediate area, depending on where you are, but definitely this is a good place to start, and ask friends you know from munches and so on if they know anyone too.

  45. SaffyTaffy*

    This has happened to me both for the kinds of marks OP has, and I’m come to the conclusion that people like Mary get feelings of security when they can humiliate others for enjoying things they don’t enjoy themselves. Realizing that- that these people are essentially the nuns from the Magdalene Sisters- gave me context & perspective that is empowering. Because we know how to deal with Dommes who don’t respect boundaries and consent, right? We shut them down.

  46. merula*

    I’m not entirely sure that Lee has to be either incredibly naive or a shit-stirrer. I feel like it’s possible that they have a different threshold of what might be considered salacious or noteworthy, which is pretty common in a whole bunch of subcultures, not just the kink scene. “Nah, I’m not really all that involved, I only [something that still sounds pretty extreme to vanilla ears]” is a common enough phenomenon that we’ve probably all encountered it in our own subculture/sport/hobby/whatever. (And that’s possibly more likely given the OP’s comment about Lee’s neurodivergency.)

    OP, I’m not sure if that changes your approach to Lee at all, you probably still want to change the way you talk to them about this stuff, but I do think it might be worth examining if you think there could be a non-malicious reason for their actions. (Just Lee, though. Mary and HR are so clearly in the wrong there’s no possible other explanation.)

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      I’m with you on the idea that Lee’s read on how kink might read to vanilla ears might be a bit off. OP’s comment about Lee’s neurodivergence also makes me wonder if Lee fully picked up on the extent of Mary’s officiousness prior to all of this happening, and those factors can easily combine for a lot of awkwardness.

      There are a lot of things at play that make it more likely than not that Lee acted out of malice, which makes this somewhat more difficult for OP to deal with.

  47. Elle by the sea*

    I practised martial arts for years. Now it’s on hold because of the lockdown, I mean the exercises I can only do with partners. I used to have black and blue bruises because of the falls and I had colleagues who were convinced I was being abused at home. It was really hard to convince them that it wasn’t the case.

    1. Elle by the sea*

      That was weird enough, but still understandable. But someone suggesting facial bruises are flaunting your sex life? How weird that is!

  48. Maltypass*

    Mary is out of her gourd, and I’m surprised she pulled herself away from complaining about Lil Nas X on Twitter to bother with your life in person.

    But OP seriously you have my utmost sympathy, and I totally understand why you are reluctant to draw things out further. There’s lots of great advice in the comments and we’re all behind you if you do decide to take action, but damn take care of yourself that sounds traumatising

  49. OP is Anxious af*

    A bit overwhelmed, stepping away from a few hours and grabbing a late lunch. Will be back end of the work day. Thank you all so far, you’ve been really wonderful. ESPECIALLY you Alison, gosh.

    1. Once upon a time...*

      Oh, I hear you. I once had a day of leave. My (crappy) manager forgot about it. She tried phoning me, I didn’t respond. She phoned my admin who told her I was on leave. Manager went a little off the rails. Drove to the office we worked from and asked who had approved the leave. She had (of course). Luckily I had given a copy of the approval to admin for filing. Manager was not pleased to be shown the paperwork when she was clearly having a tantrum.
      When I got back from leave, I got pulled into a meeting with Manager and HR. Manager kept asking me where I had been. I kept saying “I was on leave. Where I was is not your business.” HR didn’t shut manager down. Interrogation took 2+ hours. It was really, REALLY hard to keep telling her it was none of her business. If I had been confronted with “Why did you go to…..” I’m not sure how I would have reacted. And I would have cried in the toilets after.

      1. Clumsy Ninja*

        Holy cow! Two HOURS of interrogation over where you went on the day off that was approved in advance??? That’s insane!

        1. Once upon a time...*

          That was the point when I started on my exit planning. I LOVED the work that I was doing. I was good at it, had expanded the business hugely, created income that paid for the new projects and more, was on side with all the stakeholders – even those who had been completely opposed to the project. Still, this manager clearly wanted me out. Once I did give her my resignation, she kept asking me who she needed to address my reference to. She did not understand “I don’t need a reference, thank you.”
          I absolutely understand not being able to think on the fly and come up with excuses or answers. I had warning that it was happening from my admin, so was ready with the “What I do on my day off is not your concern” – and the more she asked, the more I dug my heels in. I was not going to give her the satisfaction of seeing me cry!

  50. Lizy*

    Oh, Lee… I can see both sides. On the one hand, I can see Lee thinking “I’ll just help and say what really happened”. But, it could very well have been Mary saying “have you seen OP??? I’m worried – I think she’s being abused!” and Lee, without thinking, laughing and sayin “oh, no, OP’s definitely not abused! They asked for it, if ya know what I mean *wink wink*” and then immediately think oh crap what have I said…. and try to dig themselves out, only to make the hole bigger.

    I’m not exonerating Lee, by any means – what they did was crappy. But assuming OP has a close relationship with them and wants to continue that (and that part is key), it may be worth a conversation with them to get the other side of the story.

    Mary and HR suck. I’m sorry.

    1. RagingADHD*

      It doesn’t matter whether Lee meant to do it or not. Lee can’t be trusted with private information.

      Pushing someone out of your circle of confidence is going to affect the friendship, but it’s absolutely necessary. If Lee had no ill intent, they can continue to be friends, but on a different footing.

  51. Anon for this*

    Oh man OP, this whole situation sucks so much! I’m also into BDSM in a way that accrues marks, and without a convenient ‘excuse’ hobby like roller derby, so this kind of “someone saw a mark and made a stink about it” scenario is high on my list of professional nightmares.

    Of course in hindsight, it would’ve been ideal to 1) not let Lee know about your sex life, and 2) stick to the roller derby story. But there’s nothing inherently wrong about being out to a friend you thought you could trust, and once the topic was out there, I definitely can’t blame you for failing to convincingly lie about this particular mark’s origin. The question is, what to do about it now?

    If Mary continues

    1. Anon for this*

      Oop, I hit enter too soon on this!

      If Mary continues to treat you so badly (refusing to engage civilly with you, gossiping about your sex life behind your back, etc.) that sounds like potential sexual harassment. But that’s the only sexual harassment I see here. You having a mark that happened to come from sex doesn’t qualify; she wouldn’t even know it came from sex if she hadn’t pushed so hard, you’re not flaunting it at all. I think you’re fine to hold your head high, answer anyone who tries to ask you about her rumors with “I’d rather keep that private,” and go about your life. If she drops it, great, the rumors will die down over time; if not, I think you’d be within your rights to go to HR and ask them to intervene in her telling everyone your sex life makes you disgusting.

      As for Lee…that needs a really solid conversation where you make it very clear that they are absolutely never to out you to anyone, or discuss your sex life with anyone, ever again. And then you need to not share more sensitive info with them going forward; they might be a good friend in other ways, but now you know that their judgement isn’t great on this kind of thing.

      I hope all of this blows over soon, and that your HR handles Mary well if she continues to cause issues. But…well, there are places where it wouldn’t blow over and HR wouldn’t handle it well, so I don’t want to guarantee that will happen. You may have to use your best judgement. If you think this is going to continue to follow you and your company won’t handle it well, it might be easier to job hunt. But that wouldn’t be because you did anything wrong; it would be because their culture is okay with you being sexually harassed and you shouldn’t have to deal with it.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, the only thing is that at least Cindy in HR thinks kink is disgusting and should be kept to the bedroom and maybe not even there.

        This is a tough situation for the OP for sure.

        An employee who can’t keep their personal opinions and moral convictions that pertain to legal activities from affecting the way they treat other employees should under no circumstances work in HR.

  52. Anonymous Poster*

    I mean, don’t lie. But there are things that should simply not be talked about, and it’s a large number of things. Canned responses of, “Thank you for caring about me. I’m fine and everything’s safe for me.” When pressed, “I see you’re concerned, but I can reassure you I’m fine. Now let’s focus on work.”

    I get bruised sometimes from lifting weights and it’s embarrassing to say, “Oh yeah, I smashed a dumbbell into my arm because I’m a klutz,” and it’s no one’s business anyway at work. Next go around, just say you’re fine and refocus back on work or the task at hand.

    The HR there sounds bananas and I’m sorry you had to deal with that.

    1. Observer*

      Well, the OP actually HAS been taking that kind of tack. But it’s a bit much to expect them to manage the kind of insane interrogation the HR subjected them to.

  53. RB*

    I feel like my “vagueness is your friend” philosophy would work well in so many situations that come up on AAM. Like for this one, you could just say, Oh, you know, I have this crazy roller derby hobby… and just sort of let the sentence trail off and then New Subject.
    I want to clarify that vagueness is not the same as being evasive. Being evasive can just raise more questions and suspicions if you don’t do it well.

    1. Avi*

      ‘I have an active lifestyle. Sometimes injuries happen. That’s all there is to it.’

  54. Faith the twilight slayer*

    Sweet Goddess above, this is one of my worst fears made real. OP, on behalf of humanity I apologize for the way you’ve been treated. Honestly how you choose to live your (personal, private, fun sexy) lifestyle is zero percent someone else’s business and I cannot imagine the emotions you are going through. I’m sorry. Here’s a hug.

  55. ResuMAYDAY*

    OP, I’m so sorry. Everyone around you handled this exactly wrong.
    And it really irks me, reading all the comments that start with, “I would have…”
    No one know how they would react in such an unpredictable, sticky, tightrope-walk of a situation. For everyone that claims to know how they would handle, all I have to say to them is, I guess hope it happens to YOU then, because you’d make a much better victim of three different types of betrayal.
    Sending you love, OP.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      I do. Because I was in a similar situation, and I handled it poorly, and cried afterward. I would handle it differently now, but only because I’m 25 years older and stubborner. (Deets in a separate posting.)

  56. Ciela*

    Wow, your HR sucks. I am so sorry.

    What if they had someone who actually was in an abusive relationship and wasn’t ready to leave that relationship? What would have they have done then? What if there was someone with self-harm scars, who wasn’t willing to discuss at work?

  57. All Outrage, All The Time*

    None of this is on you OP. I am so sorry you were subjected to this.

  58. Jerusha*

    The head of HR needs to get a Lawyer Letter*, with a copy to corporate counsel. What happens next will determine how urgently you need to leave. If the reactions to both Cindy and Mary are in the range from “quash vigorously” to “here’s a box for your belongings”, you can probably hold your head high, refuse to speculate, and outlast this. If the response is anything less than vigorous, you definitely need to leave. (You may wish to leave anyway – even if Mary and Cindy are ejected violently, this is a hell of a thing to have happened at work. If this had happened to me, I’d probably break out in a cold sweat walking past the HR office. But this would be the difference between “leaving in your own time” and “run like the wind”)

    *I’m convinced that law school includes at least one class that isn’t titled “Taking the skin off the opponent in precise 2-mm strips”, but probably should be. A well-crafted Lawyer Letter, on behalf of someone who has the right behind them (as you do!), is a thing to behold. See, e.g., the (in)famous Cleveland Stadium Letter. [I won’t include a link, so as not to end up quarantined, but putting that string into the search engine of your choice will turn up the right one. When I searched it on Google, all of the links on the first page of search results were for the correct letter.]

    1. Jerusha*

      Meant to also say: There’s a lot of speculation above about Lee’s motives, possible level of naivety, what exactly they said and in response to what prompting from Mary, etc. The answers to those questions will probably affect whether you feel like you can continue any sort of friendship with them. However, regardless of their intentions, I agree with the folks who’ve said that Lee now gets to be on the blandest of bland information diets. The question when deciding whether to share something with them is no longer, “am I comfortable sharing this with my friend, Lee?” It has now become, “would I be comfortable having this announced over the PA? Printed in the newsletter? Posted on a billboard? If not, not telling Lee!”

  59. Jennifer Thneed*

    Dear Anxious AF: something kind of similar happened to me once. It wasn’t about bruises (although I do share that interest with you); it was about being gay, and it was back in the late 1980’s when being openly gay would get you fired in lots of places. (Yes, this still happens, but it’s actually illegal now.)

    I was getting friendly with another admin in my workplace – who was a temp, which played into things – and made some comment along the lines of I thought she was a good person, such a good person that I had once thought she was also a lesbian. I honestly do not remember the wording! But I remember that I got called into HR and lectured about it.

    Now, they were much better than your HR. The whole thing took maybe 15 minutes and was handled with extreme professionalism. And then I went outside to the low-traffic courtyard of our building and sat on a planter edge and cried. Not sobs, just dripping tears. And as it happened (and I swear I didn’t do this on purpose) I was sitting right outside the office where I had been dressed down. I realized it when I saw someone see me thru the window and look really uncomfortable, and I had a moment of “too bad for you!”.

    It was terrible. I could see their “point”, and I just felt so crappy about hurting her feelings, and they told me that I was not allowed to bring it up AT ALL, not even to apologize. But I had to keep crossing her path because we were both admins and it was really really hard. (Nowadays I would ignore that and apologize anyway but this was then.)

    But of course it stuck in my craw, and it wasn’t until later that I realized what the real issue was: by saying that I’d thought she was gay (like me), I had insulted her terribly. But for that to be an insult, we have to agree that BEING GAY is a bad thing. And I really, really did not agree with that at all.

    Anxious LW, I hope you’re feeling a mite better by now. Please do consult a lawyer. (And when you make the appointment, ask then what you can expect to pay for that time. It might be zero and it might not, but you can alleviate that particular anxiety and focus on the important stuff.)

    1. RagingADHD*

      I’m sorry that hurt you so badly, but I think you have an entirely misguided takeaway here.

      Even in the today-times, telling someone at work that you are making assumptions about their sexual orientation is Not Okay.

      Doesn’t matter whether the speaker or the listener has positive or negative opinions of the orientation. Doesn’t matter whether it’s intended (or taken) as an insult or a compliment.

      You don’t ask or speculate about your coworker’s orientation. This could very rightfully be reported to HR in the most LGBT friendly company in the world.

      And if HR tells you that you offended your coworker with inappropriate comments about their sexuality, and instructs you never to speak to them about it again, it is not “nice” or enlightened, or anything else, for you to ignore that boundary in order to make yourself feel better by apologizing.

      That’s just doubling down on trampling their boundaries, and going out of your way to make them even more uncomfortable.

      1. Observer*

        And if HR tells you that you offended your coworker with inappropriate comments about their sexuality, and instructs you never to speak to them about it again, it is not “nice” or enlightened, or anything else, for you to ignore that boundary in order to make yourself feel better by apologizing.

        This. 100%

    2. Julia*

      I don’t think she was insulted because you assumed she was gay. She might have been insulted because you implied that only gay people were really good people.

    3. Elliot*

      Oh, my gosh… I am part of the LGBTQ+ community and would be SO upset and offended if a coworker said to me, “you’re such a good person, I’ve wondered if you’re a lesbian.”

      That’s not because I think being Queer is bad, it’s because it is just creepy, inappropriate, and strange for a coworker, even a coworker I’m friends with, to contemplate my sexuality secretly for an extended period of time and then later explain this contemplation to me. So inappropriate.

      Then if I as an employee wanted the issue dropped and the person went against those wishes and apologized… I would have been so uncomfortable! I’m wondering how you think HR should have handled this because I think they did exactly what they should have….

      I’m sorry this upset and stuck with you but it really isn’t at all “something kind of similar” to OP’s situation at all. HR discreetly addressed how you inappropriately assumed a coworker’s sexuality. Good for them.

    4. Observer*

      I think that there is a real difference here.

      For starters 15 min vs HOURS is huge. But also, you said something that could have caused her to lose her job. The fact that this should not be a cause to lose a job doesn’t change the reality. Furthermore, your comment implied that NOT being lesbian is a bad thing (“such a good person that I thought she is lesbian” is saying that “such a good person” is incompatible with being hetero). And lastly, who randomly brings up your perception of someone else’s orientation? That’s just creepy.

  60. Raida*

    Definitely, definitely tell HR you expect that Mary’s harassing behaviour will cease, make it clear they are responsible for protecting you from gossip, sexual harassment, slander by providing a safe an professional workplace.

  61. AnonyMiss For This*

    Ugh. This is so awful on many different levels. OP, I’m sorry you’re going through this. I was heavily involved in the scene for many years (even publicly, as a board member) so I was always walking the line of “what’s appropriate to tell *this* person?”
    Once, when I was an assistant manager at a small, regional bakery chain, I gave one of my staff a ride home after work. She asked what the blue/white/black stripes with a red heart sticker on my car meant. I said, “We’re off the clock, right? I’m not your supervisor right now, just a friend giving you a ride, right?” She assured me it was like that. Sure enough, I came in the next day to a write-up for sexual harassment. For the record, we are both women.

    Sadly, that wasn’t even the first time I’d been written up for sexual harassment. The first time, a girl I was dating called me at another bakery I’d worked at. (This was pre-cell phones.) One of my more obnoxious teen employees asked me over and over who it was, and I said, “my date from last night.” Her MOM called to file a sexual harassment complaint against me.

  62. Cirrus*

    Hey OP, I’ve never commented on AAM before, but I had to chime in here. I’m also into BDSM, also neurodivergent, and while I’ve never been outed for BDSM things, I’ve been outed as trans without my consent and that led to quite enough of a nightmare, so I’m filled with righteous fury on your behalf here.

    I’m echoing everyone else with the advice to get a kink-aware lawyer, and also to get out of that toxic hellhole ASAP. I hope it’ll be easier to escape to a better place than dealing with this situation so far has been (although that’s admittedly set a pretty low bar to count as “easier”).

    And again, saying nothing new, but I figure the more people there are to reiterate and reassure that none of this was your fault, the better.

    Whether well-intentioned or not, Lee didn’t do right by you (my go-tos if questioned about someone else are usually *incredulous expression* “What on earth are you asking me for?” or “[Person being asked about] is right there/will be back in a few minutes, just ask them!” as if they just hadn’t realised they’re making it more complicated than it needs to be, but of course the latter only works if the person is actually Right There or will actually be back in a few minutes!), and it’s entirely your choice whether to interact with/trust them again. You can take as long as you need to figure that out. Also, if it’s been weeks since it happened, and you and Lee are still working at the same place and Mary is still doing what she’s doing within view of you both, Lee should at least realise now why it was a bad decision on their part by way of standard ol’ human observation, even if they didn’t realise when it really would have counted!

    Mary has been out of order the whole way through, and it sounds a lot like (again, as someone else has already said) your wellbeing was not her original concern, even if she tried to frame it that way. And it definitely doesn’t sound resolved – or a remotely safe environment for you – if she still won’t talk to you and is still telling people you’re “disgusting”.

    HR behaved reprehensibly too, and it’s them and Mary I would be considering disgusting here, if anyone. I would have absolutely panicked in the same situation, and told the truth out of fear and/or not knowing how much anyone actually knew, vs. what they suspected/had heard but framed as factual knowledge!

    Also, what is up with a facial bruise being considered a “flaunted sex trophy”?! Unless the bruise was somehow conveniently in the shape of a sign saying “I LOVE BDSM”, which I’m going to go ahead and assume it wasn’t, that’s… quite some leap in logic there. And, of course, by “logic” I mean “absurdity”. I mean, you can’t “flaunt” something that’s on your face (even temporarily); it’s just there, and it’s visible, so people see it. Am I “flaunting” my skin condition just because I don’t cover it up with makeup (that hurts my senses to use)? Should I have to cover it up lest some person who’s taken leave of their senses – but has regrettably good vision – decides that’s somehow their problem?

    This has turned into more of an essay than I meant it to, but I hope you’re doing as well as you can be, OP, and that the resolution you most need happens as swiftly and easily for you as possible.

  63. shirleywurley*

    Lee, Mary and whoever the hell populates HR in this workplace are some of the worst people I’ve heard about in an office. And I’ve had some workmates, and managers, through the years that are (unfortunately for my co-workers and I) definitely contenders for the World Championships For Worst People in the Workplace Ever. Just…ugh.

  64. Tea Fairy*

    I do martial arts and have bruises all the time. People at work all know and don’t bat an eye anymore or if they ask maybe to show polite interest I just say ‘yup, chucking sweaty people about again!’

  65. OP is Anxious af*

    Hey! I don’t know how many people will come back to this a day later but I just wanted to say thank you again. There are some things happening now and if Alison is ok with it I’ll probably send in an update at some point. You all gave me a lot to think about. Thank you.

    1. Ms. Hagrid Frizzle*

      Look forward to seeing your update! I hope things improve for you soon at work (or that you are able to secure a different job that respects privacy and appropriate boundaries).

    2. ceiswyn*

      I’m hoping for a positive update, because holy h3ll your workplace seems full of murder hornets!

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Once again: if we call the japanese giant hornet murder hornets, we have to call yellow jackets murder wasps.

    3. calonkat*

      OP, some of us play catch up after busy times at work :) We all support you and want to know how things turn out (good or bad, but we all really want good for you).

      Please send in an update!

    4. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I am excited to know we can anticipate an update. Hopefully it will involve the HR people who interrogated you being shown the door. And Mary too! But even if it is not as satisfying as that, we still want to know. I am sorry you are going through all this!

    5. onco fonco*

      This is honestly SO AWFUL and we are all rooting for you. I’d love to know how it pans out.

  66. Ms. Hagrid Frizzle*

    OP, so sorry you went through this. What happened with HR was wildly inappropriate, and so is Mary’s continued focus on discussing your private life (and her perception thereof) with your coworkers.

    I played full contact, co-ed sports in college and my partner was actually on my team. I also bruised VERY easily due to some medical conditions. After a professor heard a teammate teasing me about the black eye my partner had (unintentionally) given me in practice during a scrum, I had to go through an uncomfortable (but well-meaning) discourse with our program head about domestic abuse resources. I ended up calling my captain, who was a few years above me and well known on campus, to come in and help set everyone at ease that I was safe. It ended up working in my favor a year later, when I had a full on handprint in purple and yellow on my bicep from a match. A guest lecturer audibly gasped and started to call me out in the middle of their presentation. My program head was in the back of the room and just shouted “Hagrid, who bruised you this time?” Me: “Oh, some jerk from [College Rival]” Program Head: “Did you win?” Me: “Absolutely.” Program Head: “Guest, please continue explaining your toxicology research.”

  67. Lils*

    Hey OP, just came here to say I’m really, really sorry this happened. I would have panicked too and I would have cried too. I have an active and unusual sex life and something similar happened to me and it still bothers me years later.

    The most initially-irritating but ultimately most helpful advice I received was to “hold my head high” and remember I did nothing wrong. My personal life is nobody’s business, the gossip wasn’t my fault, and as long as my personal life involves consenting adults doing consensual activities, my workplace can f*ck right off. I sailed through 2 more years working at that place with my head held high, hard as it was (it was a recession and I couldn’t find other work). It was lonely and I felt betrayed by everyone, but by god I wasn’t going to let those bullies tank my career. I got a better job eventually and gave them the metaphorical finger on the way out.

    I didn’t even realize till today that Mary’s behavior would constitute sexual harassment. I wish I’d have known that during my incident, so I could have felt like I had more ammunition to fight. I didn’t think I had a case so I didn’t go to HR (unlike your situation, HR wasn’t involved, just my bosses). I know you’re really tough because you do roller derby, so I know you have the courage to consult a lawyer and hold your boundaries with HR and Mary and Lee. You got this! (Consensual) hugs to you. :)

  68. Agnes A*

    At first I didn’t even believe this story, but then I remembered something. I was in the office talking to a colleague when he suddenly switched the subject and started asking me about a hickey on my neck. I hadn’t noticed it when I went to work and was obviously shocked he brought this up. I just ignored him, but a few minutes later another male colleague (I’m a female) approached me and asked if I could show him the hickey. Now I would have told them both to **** off, but at that moment I was just caught off guard and felt embarrassed. 

  69. agnes*

    I am sorry this happened to you. HR handled this horribly.

    Thank you for sharing because it does provide a caution. Work friends are WORK friends, emphasis on work, not the friend. The minute something goes south in that relationship or someone feels uncomfortable, it becomes a work issue, not a friend issue.

Comments are closed.