my coworker lied about sexual harassment because he doesn’t like our new boss

A reader writes:

I don’t live in the U.S. so what I need is advice on how to deal with the situation and not the possibly legal part.

I work in a team of 20 people. Our former boss, Horace, never forced us to donate a liver to his relative, nor did he show up at anyone’s doctor’s appointment. But he definitely played favorites. The four people he socialized with outside of work had the best days off (so they could travel together) or they could leave early to save a spot in line for a concert the boss was also going to. Everything was first offered to the favorites and only then to the rest of the team.

However, after Covid, our company began a restructuring program, which finally arrived at our branch. One of the favorites, Tom, spent weeks talking about how Horace would be promoted and Tom would be the new manager. But what actually happened was that Horace was moved into a non-management role and manager hired from the outside, Arthur, took charge of our team.

On Arthur’s first day, he called the whole team together and explained things would change with the restructuring. For example, vacations and days off would be chosen based on a combination of seniority and productivity, which was explained in full detail. In that same conversation, Arthur casually mentioned that he was gay, asking what we liked to do on vacation and saying that he and his husband travelled frequently.

Horace’s team of favorites was outraged, but Tom was by far the most upset. He spent three weeks talking to anyone who passed his desk about how unfair the system was (he would be basically in last position with this new system since he was not productive).

Then, on Monday, Tom came into the office in a wonderful mood. (which never boded well). On Tuesday Arthur didn’t show up. On Wednesday several of us were called into HR and asked if Arthur had made us uncomfortable in any way and were told that Arthur was on leave for a few weeks and we would be supervised by another manager until he returned. On Thursday, a rumor started that Arthur was being investigated for sexual harassment. (It is a common process in the company that, in the event of a complaint, the person is removed while the allegations are investigated.)

Today, Friday, Tom was talking to another friend about how easy it had been to push Arthur away. All he had to do was tell HR that Arthur took too long to touch his shoulder when he walked by and looked at him uncomfortably when they were in the bathroom together. He went on to brag about how easy it was to lie about the harassment. Only three of us were in the room at that time, and they definitely weren’t keeping their voices down. I was so stunned by the enormity of the lie that I didn’t think of doing anything other than being shocked.

I know that HR is still investigating, and this report will probably go down because my company has cameras in almost every room and they will see in the video that Arthur, although very friendly, never touched anyone inappropriately (I actually don’t remember of him touching anyone in any way). Also, anyone can testify about how frustrated Tom was at losing his preference on days off. But I feel like I need to say something to someone about this lie. I don’t plan on going to Horace because he would defend Tom. I’ve never had contact with the person who’s managing us now, and I can’t think of how to talk to her or HR without it sounding like gossip, because it’s so weird to say, “Tom lied about sexual harassment because they messed with the time off scale” that I can’t think of a script.

I thought about talking to my old manager who works in another position now, but it still seems like gossip. I know it’s something huge and I need to talk to someone. I just don’t know how to talk! I honestly can’t even look at Tom’s face anymore, but screaming from the rooftops doesn’t seem like a good way to help Arthur.

Do you have any scripts to help me and suggestions on who I should tell about the lie?

Talk to HR today — immediately, right now.

Go back to the HR person who called you in to to ask about your experience with Arthur and say you have new information.

Do not rely on HR being able to sort through this themselves or assume they will find evidence that absolves Arthur in the video footage. It’s hard to prove a negative, and Tom can easily say it happened in areas that aren’t on camera.

Tell HR exactly what you heard and don’t pull any punches: you heard Tom say he deliberately lied about Arthur and filed a false report as retribution for changes to time off.

This isn’t gossip. This is deeply important work-related information about an active investigation that Arthur could be harmed by. You don’t need to worry about being able to “prove” what you heard; you can simply report what Tom said and what you’ve witnessed yourself. Your company will sort through it from there.

But speak up today. Otherwise you would be a party to the harm Tom is perpetrating against Arthur.

Read an update to this letter

{ 306 comments… read them below }

  1. Nay*

    Whoa. Please speak OP, I believe it’s difficult but you’re doing the Right Thing! Please update us, and good luck!!

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      This. It totally sucks that you’ve been put in this position, OP, through no fault of your own. Speaking up to HR is absolutely the right thing to do. It’s not gossip; it is information that is highly relevant to the specific investigation HR is doing.

      I may be off base, but perhaps the OP is worried about being labeled a snitch or experiencing retaliation. Especially since they were the only person to overhear the conversation. And yes, the conversation with HR may be awkward and uncomfortable. It is a very human thing to not want to do something and come up with reasons why it isn’t necessary to do it. I catch myself doing it, too, so no judgement. I figure the OP knows their reasons for staying quiet aren’t great and they wrote in to get support. So consider this post support for going to HR and telling them what you know.

      Given how Tom is behaving, I’d also talk to HR about how they’re going to prevent / respond to any harassment the OP could be subject to. I hope HR has solid policies and plans in place.

      1. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

        +1 to the fact that it is, indeed, a very human and normal impulse to doubt if you’re really the person who should do the hard thing and/or find reasons why you should *not* do the hard thing, so don’t beat yourself up too hard about feeling that way. But I think you know that the right move is to talk to HR, just as you know you would feel absolutely awful if you kept silent and Arthur was fired for such an egregious and baseless accusation.

      2. Quill*

        All of this. Plus, OP – Tom is definitely going to continue to scheme against you and your productive coworkers when it becomes clear to him that he will never recapture the level of favoritism he had under your old boss. Better to know you did the right thing and head him off at the HR pass.

        1. Jo-El*

          All of this! Once he gets done with his new boss that knife will be out for anyone else who gets in his way.

        2. goddessoftransitory*

          Absolutely. Not only will he continue to push out any new managers with this tactic (or try to) he’ll turn against any coworker who highlights his lack of productivity (by being productive.)

    2. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

      It can be hard to do the Right Thing, especially with no backup. But the commentariat is correct – you need to speak up!

      Speaking of no backup, LW, you mention the company has video. Does it also record audio? Can you use that as your backup to what Tom did? Even if no audio, can you use the video coverage to lend weight to the fact that you did hear Tom in a conversation?

      You absolutely need to address this with HR stat. Because of the harm to Arthur and because of the harm he will absolutely do to others that he views as being “in his way” in the future.

  2. CB212*

    This absolutely isn’t gossip, it’s sabotage and deeply harmful to Arthur. It may help solidify your report to HR that you will have details of what Tom’s report comprised, from his bragging – which sounds like it hasn’t at all been publicized. (Also, it’s not because they messed with the time off scale. Tom has been saying he’d be the new manager, and instead someone was hired from outside. This is retaliation.)

    1. Myrin*

      The point about the non-publicised details is an extremely good one I probably wouldn’t have though of myself in the moment. Yes, OP, be sure to recall exactly what all Tom said!

    2. CB212*

      For the purposes of your report, forget about the unfair past, about Horace and favoritism; obviously excellent context for us here, but the company may be well aware of all that. It may be why your new manager was an external hire. What you’re bringing them is: you have it on good authority (straight from the horse’s mouth, as my grandmother used to say) that a false accusation has been made. That’s what they need to hear.

      1. Observer*

        For the purposes of your report, forget about the unfair past, about Horace and favoritism; obviously excellent context for us here, but the company may be well aware of all that

        Excellent point. And I think that you are probably correct that this is the reason there was an external hire.

        What you’re bringing them is: you have it on good authority (straight from the horse’s mouth, as my grandmother used to say) that a false accusation has been made. That’s what they need to hear.

        Agreed. The only other things I would add it the complaints that Tom has made. Skip the part about it not being a good sign that he came in in a good mood, or even the fact that he suddenly got into a good mood. Just the objective stuff – he said he lied and prior he made these complaints which would explain why he lied.

      2. Guacamole Bob*

        The fact that Arthur announced new policies on day 1 makes me think the company was well aware of some of this. A typical manager coming would take at least a little while to learn what the existing practice was and to develop and announce a more appropriate and fair system. Being able to launch into how things will change on the first day is a sign that he knew in advance what the problems were.

        1. GythaOgden*

          Yup. We got our systems tightened up a few years ago going from local to national management, and it certainly suited me better to have higher ups who were interested in finding me new opportunities rather than just perpetuating an apathetic status quo. There were people who left, and it is always hard to adapt, but it was something that really helped me get some formal assistance and progression where I really wanted it. The trade off was stricter policing of sick leave — we still get generous paid leave (unlike Royal Mail, who wanted to slash everyone’s benefits down to the bare legal minimum), but because we’re in coverage positions, things needed to be spelt out a bit more. It’s still a good deal — and I’m glad I had a few longer term leave periods while we were still with a manager who could sign me off at his discretion — but we know where we stand a bit more, which is actually fairly helpful and is for our occupational health benefit as well.

          It won’t always be easy for everyone but if you don’t like the new conditions, that’s where you need to start looking for a new job, not being a homophobic saboteur about it.

      3. Cake or Death*

        I think the LW should definitely bring up Tom’s reaction to these new policies though. I think his outrage and incessant ranting about it provides necessary context. LW says that HR asked them about Arthur’s behavior, but didn’t say they asked about Tom’s. So while they may have been aware of the favoritism going on, they might not be aware that Tom was extremely angry about the changes. This information may lead them to revisit their conversations with the other employees and ask question’s about Tom’s behaviour.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Agreed. CB212 makes a good point that talking about Horace and favouritism may not be super relevant. Tom’s behaviour definitely is. His loud complaints provide an explanation for why he would choose to lie about Arthur: he doesn’t like the new direction and is trying to get the person he thinks is responsible removed.

          1. The Bimmer Guy*

            I think you’re all correct. I’d say the way to do it is to recount both of those incidents, separately, without drawing any conclusions as to what Tom’s intentions might’ve been. As in: “I specifically heard Tom say [specific quote about the vacation policy]. Later on, I overheard him say [quote about sabotaging Arthur outright].”

            HR isn’t stupid. They’ll put two and two together. And while the LW could say, “I believe Tom has retaliated against Arthur because of the new vacation policy”…by presenting it with just the facts, the LW will make themself look that much more credible.

            1. goddessoftransitory*

              Yes. This is a divide to conquer situation: both parts are relevant to provide context to each other, but will be most effective if presented in two parts.

            2. sparkle emoji*

              Agreed, I think this is a situation where LW should stick to straightforward descriptions of the events and Tom’s actions and statements and the evaluations as to Tom’s motivation should be left out. As you said, HR should be able to make their own judgments and understand what Tom was doing without LW mentioning their read. If HR can’t that seems like a signal to start looking hard for a new job.

        2. learnedthehardway*

          Agreed. The more details the better – start off with the bare facts that Tom lied and then bragged about making a false accusation, but then also provide the context and as many details as possible.

          Also, since the OP overheard this conversation, they should tell HR who Tom was talking to. HR will investigate and will know how to ask the questions to ensure that that other person also tells the truth. They may not want to do so, but HR will know how to get them to speak.

    3. Sean*

      Yes, gossip would be repeating something that you heard second or third hand. You heard this yourself, so definitely you should report this to HR.

      1. Emikyu*

        Yes. Also, gossip tends to over less consequential things. Something like “Tom seems awfully glad Arthur is being investigated” would be gossip. “Tom admitted to falsely accusing Arthur” isn’t gossip, it’s evidence.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        Exactly. There’s a huge difference between “someone said they heard somewhere that the report was false” and “I heard Tom brag that he made a false report to [Tom’s friend] in the breakroom yesterday at 3pm.”

        Even hearsay is admissible in US criminal court in many situations. You’re a valuable witness; don’t stay quiet.

        1. I Have RBF*

          I would actually advise that you make notes about the conversation, including who was there, what was said, etc. Because this is a serious matter of retaliation and could end up in court. Report this to HR, pronto.

        2. goddessoftransitory*

          And remember, LW; you are not hurting Tom, or the company. He’s doing that himself. By speaking up you are helping to exonerate an innocent man whose career and character are being falsely besmirched with homophobic and outrageous lies.

          Don’t “hope things come out okay,” or expect HR to hear about this from the person Tom was bragging to. Unfortunately you have been put in a position of unenviable power–wield it correctly.

        3. Boris the Lady*

          For example, this would not be hearsay because it’s an opposing party statement. Great analogy, MigraineMonth.

    4. zuzu*

      Early in my career, I thought I was passing on gossip when I reported that one of the male paralegals in the office next to mine was pretty constantly hitting on his female officemate. When I told the senior associates, they both looked alarmed and immediately had the paralegals’ supervisor shuffle the paralegals’ offices so the female paralegal was moved out and another guy put in with the harasser.

      Looking back, I can’t believe I was that oblivious, but OTOH, I was pretty burned out, checked out, and overworked at the time.

    5. ccsquared*

      Yes, in the workplace and possibly in general, gossip is not simply repeating information that you weren’t directly told or given permission to share. If there is a valid business or ethical reason to share information you happen to have and you are sharing it with people who have a valid reason to know and the ability to do something constructive with it and the intent is to prevent harm to people or to business operations (which ultimately impact people at some point) this is so far afield from idle chit chat to make oneself look important or interesting that it baffles me why so many people see it as taboo.

      1. Candi*

        I partially blame the “snitches get stitches” culture that sees ANY kind of “ratting out” as bad. Variants occur in both individual and community/family cultures, and the side effect is pressure to shut up when it might hurt others -even though the whole point of needing to tell is the jerk is hurting others in the first place.

  3. Scooter34*

    Courage, LW. You aren’t making the decision on the outcome; you are passing along information you directly heard.

  4. Observer*

    PLEASE listen to Alison.

    This is absolutely NOT gossip. It’s not hearsay either – not legally and not colloquially. You heard someone say that he lied about someone in order to get him into trouble. As Alison said, this is straight up information and it’s deeply important – even *crucial* information for HR to have.

    Also, telling them what you heard Tom say about how deeply unfair the new system is, is also not gossip. It’s important information about the motive Tom would have for lying.

    All you need to say is something like “I was in the room with Tom and another worker and Tom said x, y and z. We were the only ones in the room and Tom was not keeping his voice down at all, so it was easy to hear. I was too shocked to respond in the moment, but I realize that this is information you need to have.”

    1. Just Moi*

      HR person here – please repeat everything you heard to HR! As Observer writes, it is not gossip. And while the additional context about Tom’s complaints can be important and your HR might ask you to expand on that, hearing you repeat the words that you heard is a crucial part of the investigation. Beyond potentially helping Arthur, you’re also helping create an environment of accountability and accuracy. HR can’t do a complete investigation without information!

    2. sparkle emoji*

      Yes, even if HR can come to the conclusion that Arthur wasn’t harassing Tom through the video footage(which I’m not confident about), the fact that Tom deliberately chose to make serious accusations because he had a petty grievance about time off is super important for HR to know!!

  5. soontoberetired*

    Yes, go and do this. I have known cases were people made up something about someone else and it wasn’t discovered until it was too late. Let HR know what you heard.

    1. LabRat4Life*

      I have known cases where HR was informed that the harassment charges were made up, several individuals stated they overheard the reporting person say they were “going to get” the person accused. The accused lost his job anyway. Yeah, HR at that company sucked.

  6. ferrina*

    If you want HR to know (and you do!), you need to tell them! I work in a pseudo-HR role, and one of the biggest challenges is knowing what is going on with the rest of the company. We aren’t doing the same day-to-day work that you are; we don’t see the same things you do. We only know what we hear, and it can be hard to get good info (because folks are wary of telling HR things). Do not assume that HR will magically find out what is going through the grapevine- we only find out because someone tells us!

    *Caveat: if your HR is questionable or untrustworthy, always take that into account.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      Agreed. This should be a case where LW’s needs and those of the organization are in alignment (nobody wants someone falsely accused of harassment). And good HR will work to make sure that LW isn’t retaliated against either. It will not be hard for Tom to figure out who else was in the room when he crowed about falsely accusing Arthur.

    2. Always Tired*

      This right here! I work in HR and it’s always frustrating because people assume I don’t care when I literally don’t know something is happening because no one told me. I’m not in the field. If no one tells me, I have no way of knowing. For the love of all that is good, OP, you need to tell HR “I was in the room when Tom bragged about setting Arthur up. He also bragged before Arthur was hired that he would be the new manager. I don’t know if the two are related, but I think it might be relevant to your investigation.”

  7. Beth*

    OP, please do what Alison says. Tom is intentionally setting Arthur up to potentially have his reputation and career torn apart just because Tom is upset about not getting preferential treatment anymore. That’s despicable. Go to the people investigating–whichever HR person you met with on Wednesday is a great place to start–and tell them exactly what you heard.

    Absolutely don’t assume HR will sort it out on their own. On top of what Alison says about it being hard to prove a negative, plenty of people are more likely to believe this kind of thing when it’s about a gay person (including people who are generally kind, thoughtful, and inclusive–you don’t need to be virulently homophobic for this to happen all it takes is an unexamined bias where they don’t realize they’ve ingrained some cultural messages about gay men being promiscuous).

    I’d love to hear an update on this one. I’m rooting for Arthur.

    1. Emikyu*

      +1 to all of this.

      OP, if you’re still not sure, I’d also suggest you try to put yourself in Arthur’s shoes. If you were falsely accused of something horrible, surely you’d want anyone with evidence like this to come forward on your behalf, right? I know I would. I tend to be very anti-gossip (won’t spread it and don’t want to hear it), but I would absolutely want someone to come forward with this kind of thing on behalf of myself or anyone I cared about.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        For sure. The stakes for Arthur are very high. A good company will fire people for substantiated sexual harassment and unwanted touching.

        It’s also important for Arthur to know that this was malicious. I can imagine a conscientious person doing a lot of soul-searching and worrying if they’ve made other people uncomfortable. Arthur needs to know that his behaviour was totally fine. Otherwise, it could rock his confidence and hurt his career.

        1. BubbleTea*

          This is so key. I’m a gay woman and in my twenties I worried a lot about whether other women would think I was hitting on them or acting inappropriately, even though I was absolutely not – especially as I worked with children and the awareness of the possibility of a very damaging accusation was always there. As I’ve got older I’ve got more confident but it’s still the case that queer people are judged more harshly.

        2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Plus, going to HR ASAP about this will hopefully speed up the resolution to this and Arthur won’t be kept hanging.

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      100%. For HR to find out, somebody has to tell them. You can hope that someone else will speak up, but if everyone does that, HR never finds out.

      As well, the OP was the only one to witness this particular conversation. Nobody else can tell HR about it. Granted, if Tom isn’t even trying to keep the information secret, other people have probably overheard other stuff. Still, several people coming in and reporting similar things is probably going to be given more weight in the investigation than one person.

    3. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

      Tom is a sociopath. He is trying to cause great harm to someone else for personal gain, without the remotest pang of guilt. Indeed, he is so convinced that he’s done nothing wrong that he’s willing to boast about his deeds in the hearing of people whose sense of morality he knows nothing about.

      There are many annals in Askamanager about people behaving badly, but some rise above (or sink below) the rest.

      I hope that Tom gets what’s coming to him.

      1. Kella*

        Could we not invoke mental illness terms to describe a person we’ve read two paragraphs about? Tom has clearly demonstrated self-centered and corrupt behavior and a willingness to hurt others. None of that requires a pathology to be present.

  8. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    “ speak up today. Otherwise you would be a party to the harm Tom is perpetrating against Arthur.”


    1. Alexander Graham Yell*

      Yes, yes, and yes. Please, OP, this is a “Cancel whatever is on your calendar and run (do not walk) to HR” level situation. They need to know NOW.

    2. Specks*

      Yes, this. This is horrifying, and you need to report it right now, OP, today. Go report it, mention who else was there, and also report Tom’s other behavior after Arthur was hired. This is as far from gossip as it gets, and you would be party to something terrible and, frankly, homophobic if you heard Tom admit he made up the allegations and did not report to HR. Don’t be that person, however much it is against your nature to file reports.

      1. English Rose*

        Absolutely horrifying. Nothing to add except to say there are some foul people in this world and Tom is one of them. Please do this, OP.

    3. Cheshire Cat*

      Tom is despicable and needs to be stopped. Beyond the damage he’s doing to Arthur, which is so, so, wrong, Tom is making it harder for the next person who files a sexual harassment complaint. “Tom lied about it, so maybe Lucinda is lying, too.”

      Do whatever you can to stop Tom, OP!

      1. sparkle emoji*

        Tom’s misuse of harassment complaints is so despicable to me. He seems all around unpleasant anyway, but to so flippantly take advantage of these systems suggests to me he doesn’t take workplace sexual harassment seriously. All around gross.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        False and weaponized allegations is such a massive breach of trust that I don’t know how not firing Tom would be plausible.

          1. Working*

            Also Australia.

            Tom should be stood down immediately, investigated, given an opportunity to put his side of the story with a support person present — then summarily dismissed.

          1. sparkle emoji*

            This seems like a “boy who cried wolf” situation. By doing this and then bragging about it in the workplace(the unmitigated gall! the GUMPTION!!) he has absolutely torched his credibility with any reasonable person.

    1. ferrina*

      Firing is absolutely appropriate.
      Tom deliberately and knowingly lied in order to have Arthur in so much trouble that Arthur would either lose his job or allow Tom to do whatever he wants for fear of Tom.

      That is horrible. You don’t want someone at your company who will lie and cost someone else their job just for their own personal gain.

      1. Csethiro Ceredin*

        And he felt so entitled that he bragged openly about it! He obviously feels invulnerable and also has no moral compass – dangerous combination.

  9. kiki*

    Definitely tell HR what you heard! It might be different if you heard this third-hand from a coworker who talked to the friend Tom told, or if you just suspected Tom had ulterior motives, but you heard Tom say this! Even if HR is able to exonerate Arthur without what you heard, this will give them information they really should know about Tom.

    1. Emikyu*

      That last sentence is also a really good point.

      The most important thing here, in my view, is clearing Arthur’s name. But also, it is very important for HR to know that Tom is so lacking in integrity that he would rather make up malicious lies about someone than just do his job properly (at which point he would be one of the productive ones! He has total control over that part of things without being horrible!)

      Speaking of which, when (not if, because I have confidence that the OP will do the right thing here) HR finds out, what happens from there is out of the OP’s hands. In other words, OP, if you’re worried about getting Tom fired, don’t. If Tom is fired for his actions (and I personally think he should be), he got himself fired. After all, if he hadn’t lied and bragged about it, you wouldn’t have had anything to tell.

      1. metadata minion*

        Agree. There could be another version of this where Tom was being weird and homophobic and assuming that any look or touch from a gay man, however normal, was a come-on, and so he sincerely but wrongly reported harassment. That would also be a problem, but not *nearly* the severity of what actually happened.

        1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

          Yes. It would be FAR too easy if HR clears Arthur for Tom to basically say “I guess I misread the situation, but it seemed pertinent to report that I felt uncomfortable to HR, since it is what we are told to do in sexual harassment training.”

          Tom was sneaky enough to present small situations where there could be ambiguity about impact and intent so that, if the plan failed, he could have plausible deniability. If he claimed Arthur offered him a promotion in exchange for sex, it would be much harder for Tom to claim “Ooops, guess I was wrong” if the HR investigation didn’t go in his favor.

      2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        +1 on the point about how none of what comes is the OP’s fault. If Tom gets fired / disciplined, it is because of Tom’s behaviour. Not that HR found out about his behaviour.

      3. sparkle emoji*

        Agreed, misusing HR protections like this and then bragging about it is such exceedingly bad judgment. Tom not only lied, he was stupid enough to run his mouth about it. Bad combo.

  10. HonorBox*

    GO DIRECTLY TO HR. DO NOT PASS GO. DO NOT COLLECT $200! It isn’t gossip to share what Tom said. You’re not suggesting to HR that Tom was grumpy around the office because he lost his position as a part of the in crowd. That’s gossip. You’re directly reporting that Tom lied to HR when he made a very serious accusation. They may ask you further questions, and that’s when you can talk about the preferential treatment Tom and a few others had received. But you’re not leading with that. You’re leading with information that the investigation they’re conducting may be based on a wildly untrue accusation.

    1. Cake or Death*

      “They may ask you further questions, and that’s when you can talk about the preferential treatment Tom and a few others had received.”

      YES! Once you provide them with what Tom said, you should provide additional details that will provide a lot more context to the situation. And then once they have that additional context, they can then revisit their conversations with the other employees asking more pointed questions about the preferential treatment and also of Tom’s reaction to the manager’s changes.

      1. HonorBox*

        Indeed. I wouldn’t lead into the statement Tom made with the context. I’d drop that bomb first and then suggest that there is additional context that HR might need to know as they continue their process. I think leading with Tom’s previous behavior and reactions to the changes might dilute the seriousness of the lie. But it is relevant for sure.

        1. sparkle emoji*

          Yes, starting with the complaints about the previous favoritism could make it sound like gossip(it’s not). Sticking to what LW directly observed– facts only, no opinions– is the way to go until HR asks their clarifying questions. HR may already know about some of the favoritism given they moved Horace out of management and selected the new manager from outside the company.

  11. Ex-prof*

    I second, third and fourth this. Talk to HR. Talk to them now. Talk to them plainly. Be explicit about exactly what you think is going on. It sounds like your organization is a large one, so what seems obvious to you and those around you (that Tom is miffed his free ride is over, and is lashing out in a horrible way) will not be obvious at all to the people in HR.

    1. Ex-prof*

      PS– There’s already a cloud over Arthur because of Tom’s venom. If Arthur gets fired over this, and can’t get another job because of it, and you could have spoken up… you do not want to be in that place.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Or the whole event end with what Scots law called the “not proven verdict” I believe.
        There will always be a cloud. Tom keeps his job because as many write, HR can’t prove a negative. But that doesn’t leave him not guilty of harassment.
        THAT IS WHEN GOSSIP STARTS “Oh, because he’s gay. Because he threatened to sue. Because Tom was told [lie Tom makes up because he’s crap].”

        1. Kicking-k*

          Scots law is in the process of ditching the “not proven” verdict exactly because it tends to carry a message of “We couldn’t prove you did it, but we still think you did.”

          1. Indigo a la mode*

            In a Jodi Picoult book that mentioned this, the character described it as “not guilty…but dinnae do it again.”

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Stick to all the facts you have:
      “I overheard Tom say [insert exactly what you heard].”
      “I want to report this because I believe that Tom was telling the truth when he said this. He has said he expected to get the manager position. He has complained about the new time off guidelines.”

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Exactly. Lead with behaviour and facts. At least to start, don’t focus on your interpretations of his demeanour or what he was thinking. You heard Tom say X, Y, and Z. Because of what he has said, you know he expected the manager position and that he is angry about policy changes. You have also heard him say that his report to HR was false. As this is relevant to HR’s investigation, you are sharing this with them.

    3. Hannah Lee*

      LW should focus on being clear and explicit about what Tom said, the exact words if possible. I’d caution them to stick to the facts, what they observed Tom say or do, without adding opinion or speculation.

      Because it’s possible that LW adding additional information about “what they think is going on” may distract from the clear known facts “ie Tom said he lied, Tom described his lies and his pleasure at it being so easy to get Arthur pushed aside by making false accusations about hi” It’s not up to LW to speculate about a motive for Tom’s actions, because a) what Tom did was horrendous and fire-able no matter WHY he did it
      and b) Tom’s own words already provide his high level motive: he wanted to get Arthur gone.

      Only provide more information, backstory into the department’s history if asked. Because the important thing as is what Tom did, not how he felt about this person or that person or whatever was going on in his scheming mind.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Agreed. It seems like adding additional comments interpreting people’s feelings, thoughts, or motivations can end up making you seem less credible.

  12. Ro*

    Can I just reccommend OP also add context “Tom was going around saying he was going to get the manager’s job” because it gives a motive to why Tom would say that also some of your coworkers may be able to verify that part as well.

    1. MuseumChick*

      This might be a good idea. Give some context to everything. OP, you could say something like, “I want to give some background/context to what I’m about to say. When the restructuring was announced Tom repeatedly said (insert quotes). When that didn’t happen he (insert behavior/quotes that show how upset he was). Today I heard him say how easy it was to push Arthur out by fabricating several claims in inappropriate behavior.”

      1. Bagpuss*

        I agree except that I would lead with the actual thing he said about his allegation about Arthur, be very clear that you personally heard it, repeat as exactly as you can what he said, and *then* say “I also think there is some relevant context to this…” and then continue as MuseumChick suggests about the restructuring , Tom’s comments and stated expectations and his comments made when Arthur’s position was announced and when he set out the new policies.

        But you need to be going to HR right now

  13. I should really pick a name*

    it’s so weird to say, “Tom lied about sexual harassment because they messed with the time off scale”

    Don’t speculate as to why Tom lied. Simply tell HR what he said.

    1. LCH*

      Yes, you told us

      “Today, Friday, Tom was talking to another friend about how easy it had been to push Arthur away. All he had to do was tell HR that Arthur took too long to touch his shoulder when he walked by and looked at him uncomfortably when they were in the bathroom together. He went on to brag about how easy it was to lie about the harassment. ”

      That’s what you need to tell HR.

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        Yes. What Tom said is what they need to know, and any other information (especially information that sounds speculative) will take away from the vital information you need to provide. If the HR rep is good, she may have some follow questions, and additional data is more impactful if HR asks for it.

        I don’t want to get into speculation myself, but part of what HR might ask would be “Who else was present when this happened?” You need to answer truthfully eventhough it feels weird to do this. The other people may say they didn’t hear anything, but it’s more likely that they’ll just relate what you did. They might even be glad that HR asked.

        1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

          Saying “he probably did it because of this” would be speculation.

          But saying what LW overheard WRT his accusations against Arthur, PLUS also saying, “additionally, I have heard Tom say X, Y, and Z prior to Arthur’s hiring and post Arthur’s hiring” would give HR all the pertinent information and allow them to connect the dots without LW speculating themselves.

        2. Isabel Archer*

          This is the first point in reading all these comments where I stopped and thought, yeah, what about the person Tom was bragging to? How come THEY didn’t immediately report the conversation to HR? Perhaps this person was also one of the former Favorites?

          1. EvilQueenRegina*

            The fact that Tom felt confident in telling the other person all this and not worry that it was going to be taken further did make me wonder if the person he was talking to was one of the favourites. Having said that, it does seem like he wasn’t that concerned about OP hearing it – did he know OP was there, or was it something like OP walked into the room behind him and he hadn’t realised?

  14. CommanderBanana*

    If I were in the LW’s shoes and reported this and Tom wasn’t removed and Arthur restored, I would start looking elsewhere. This is such an incredibly horrible and toxic thing to do. It could both irreparably damage Arthur’s reputation AND it perpetuates the (mistaken) idea that sexual harassment reports are often false.

    Tom is a terrible person, btw. I say this as someone who was sexually assaulted at work and was retaliated against when I reported it.

  15. But Not the Hippopotamus*

    If you know who was in the room at the time besides you and Tom, that could be useful to mention as well. I was once interviewed for an investigation and other witnesses to behavior was clearly something they wanted. It’s also harder for someone to deny something specific like, “Did you hear Tom talk about lying about X?” rather than “do you know anything relevant to this accusation?” Even if someone isn’t collaborating in the lie, it can be stressful and people might not think of something in the moment, even if it’s egregious.

    1. HonorBox*

      This is an excellent point. People may not want to make a statement implicating Tom, so “relevant information” may not get the full context. But HR asking directly if something was heard is a pretty easy question to answer, and it shows that HR knows exactly what is up, and they’re not just digging.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      “Only three of us were in the room at that time”. It would be great if other witnesses stepped forward though, and I think the friend should certainly be asked why they have sat on their hands if they have not come forward either.

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        Hopefully, HR will be savvy enough when talking to the third person to protect OP. That’s a fairly normal HR skill (unless HR is bad, but let’s operate on the presumption that HR is not problematic here, otherwise I presume that OP would have mentioned that).

    3. Dek*

      Especially if they play Prisoners Dilemma. If they don’t say where or how they heard, then all the witnesses know is that HR knows about the conversation. Even folks who may have been on Tom’s side might hesitate to directly lie to HR if they think HR has evidence.

    4. learnedthehardway*

      Agreed – HR will interview all potential witnesses, and knowing that someone is definitely a witness will help HR get to the truth of the matter.

  16. Temperance*

    This is deeply upsetting, OP. AAM provided perfect advice, but I just want to reiterate: this is NOT “gossip”. This is someone who is trying to destroy someone else’s career and possibly life because he is big mad about losing the OBC.

    I would talk to your former manager and the person who manages Arthur, after you talk to HR.

    1. And I'm the alchemist of the hinterlands*

      It’s interesting to me what people consider gossip. Something you witnessed or overheard and reporting it to the proper party isn’t gossip at all!

      1. NerdyPrettyThings*

        I think this is a good example of someone getting their thinking warped by a bad workplace. There’s probably a long history at this place of Horace and his buddies’ antics being ignored and people being silenced about it with warnings not to “gossip.”

      2. Gerri’s Jaunty Hat*

        It seems like some people have conceptualized “gossip” to be “telling anyone something I heard someone else say”, regardless of context. A super unhelpful way to think of it!

  17. Warrior Princess Xena*

    I had this happen when I worked in a college cafeteria. A new manager came in, started implementing a number of new policies which most of us were liking. He caught one of the student workers giving her friend free food (not allowed), and told her off appropriately. She filed a sexual harassment charge against him in response. Unfortunately I left before the outcome (and heard most of this second hand, so I couldn’t speak in his defense).

  18. Cookie Monster*

    Yep, go straight to HR. Leave out the part about Tom being upset about vacation days or not being promoted. That’s all speculation and none of it matters. Just stick to the facts – don’t summarize what he said, don’t sugarcoat it. Tell them exactly verbatim (as much as you can).

    1. Ex-prof*

      Mm, I’d be inclined to include that. Say it’s what you think rather than what you know, but IMHO it should be included. Reason being, it supports LW’s belief that Tom’s harassment accusation is about revenge.

      Otherwise, version 1:

      Tom accused Arthur of sexual harassment. Why would he do such a thing? Because he was harassed.

      version 2:

      Tom accused Arthur of sexual harassment. Why would he do such a thing? Because he thought he was going to get Arthur’s job, and instead he finds he’s lost some privileges he had when Horace was in charge.

      1. Kyrielle*

        This. Lead with what he said, but then if you did not mention the other stuff to them earlier, add it in because this makes it seem relevant.

    2. Observer*

      Leave out the part about Tom being upset about vacation days or not being promoted. That’s all speculation and none of it matters.

      Don’t lead with that, but the vacation stuff is not speculation, and it does matter. Because it provides the motive for the lie. Don’t say “I think that he is upset about vacation”. Say “He said x, y and z about vacation”.

      1. HonorBox*

        And because Arthur came in and announced changes immediately, someone above had to know about the situation.

    1. Princess Sparklepony*

      I’m reading all the way to the end of the comments just in case there is same day update! I would also like to hear more.

  19. Jmac*

    Saving someone from career-ending false allegations is not gossip, it’s the correct and moral thing to do. Arthur’s only crime is treating everyone equally, Tom is a bad person who needs to face consequences for his terrible actions.

    1. Temperance*

      And being a disgusting homophobe while doing it, making their workplace less safe for people who are LGBTQ+ …

    2. Sage*

      Thankyou. As someone who has been sexually harassed at work and not taken seriosly, this indeed makes me angry and affraid that they will stop believing actual victims.

    3. goddessoftransitory*

      And later, when he pulls similar outrageous shit, it will exponentially harder to prove, because why didn’t [coworkers] speak up the first time he did this? Tom would have no problem constructing an entire false scenario of People Who Are Out To Get Him because otherwise they would have reported things long before this.

  20. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    OP, perhaps your concern that reporting Tom’s slander will be considered gossip because this is so far out of your realm of experience that you do not fully appreciate the severity of the situation. You are looking at it like this is a normal little tantrum typical of Tom. Nobody will believe it because it didn’t happen. Tom is already bragging that he lied. It will settle down soon.
    Or your twisted manager has warped your senses. “What’s the point of complaining? That’s how things are. Keep your head down; keep your mouth shut.”
    Please speak up.
    And trust me:
    All the people Tom bragged to will be falling over themselves to confirm what you said. Like rats on a sinking ship, they aren’t going to lie to HR, to in house counsel, to anyone to protect Tom once someone speaks up.

    1. Blackbeard*

      I am befuddled on how LW thinks reporting what he heard to HR would be “gossiping”. This case is a no-brainer.

      1. Temperance*

        Fairly often, women are trained to think that reporting anything bad that they’ve heard either is “gossip” or makes them a “Karen”. We don’t know LW’s gender/sex, but it’s worth considering.

        This is especially true if the favoritism skewed towards low-achieving men like Tom and women who spoke up about it were shouted down/shamed with sexist crap like calling it “gossip”.

        1. Ex-prof*

          As one of I would guess many card-carrying Karens amid the commentariat, I am always proud to be a Karen.

          After all, it was one of the top ten girls’ names for a decade. Can we help it if we now rule the world?

          1. BlondeSpiders*

            I’m not a literal Karen, but I am a mouthy, middle-aged white woman.

            I like to say I’m using my Karen powers for good when I speak up against injustice. You’d better believe my first action would have been to go to HR with this knowledge. And I would not let up until Tom was disciplined or fired.

            1. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

              I am a literal Karen, but choose my battles as to when to unleash the metaphorical Karen behavior of escalating and forcefully expressing my view. I would be at HR in a hot second if I’d overheard Tom, and possibly also contact my Ethics director (since making a false allegation of sexual harassment is pretty heinous)

        2. Hannah Lee*

          This is one of the reasons why I’d advise LW to stick directly to the facts of what she observed: Tom said this. Tom did that. At this day/time, in that location, with xyz people present.

          Because I’ve seen cases where employees (particularly women) raise a specific issue, one that may be a part of a broader dysfunctional pattern in a group, and as soon as they say anything about the general attitude or chronic misbehavior that has caused trouble/conflict/stress in the group, HR/management detours from – This is a serious matter we must follow up on!- to – This is just a personality conflict, something petty that doesn’t concern us, you all just need to knock it off, focus on work, and settle it among yourselves.!

          Partially because the 2nd one is the pathof least resistance, gets it off their desk for the moment -WIN! and partially because of bias about women that assume every thing is about emotions, hurt feelings or fighting over boyfriends or whatever other nonsense from junior high school/the media/society lodged itself in HR’s brains over the years.

        3. Busy Middle Manager*

          Can we not with the “all people” and all “companies” unless it’s true? Or can you frame this as “I’ve experienced”

          You don’t mean it this way, but this comment is pretty insulting to the majority of companies doing the right thing.

          and FWIW I worked somewhere that took every complaint stone-cold seriously and that comes with a burden as well. There was always a small portion of people who would try to turn every little thing into a larger “hostile workplace” narrative and apparently without knowing what the term meant. I sat between one coworker and my boss after they accused my boss of this for giving pretty regular feedback that nevertheless proved my coworker was wrong on some things that I guess they found insulting. It was awkward as heck to sit between them walking on eggshells for a long time afterwards, not sure what was going to set anyone off. It was also maddening when my other coworker legitimately complained about other coworker being drunk during the day. HR went overboard being “objective” to the point that “we can’t assume them coming back from lunch smelling like booze means they’re drunk” became their conclusion

          Before that I worked somewhere where people indeed went to HR for literally everything such as wanting more expensive office supplies, ideas on decorating the common areas, and “my coworker doesn’t say hello” type stuff. My friend in HR was always frustrated that people didn’t know that “open door policy” didn’t mean “skip your manager and come to me for every petty complaint.” So it is a thing that has happens

          1. Temperance*

            I didn’t say “all people” or “all companies” anywhere, so I’m genuinely not sure where you’re coming from here.

          2. Emikyu*

            Okay, but you were the only one who mentioned “all”. The comment you’re replying to says “fairly often”.

            And it does happen fairly often. I currently work for a great company and a great boss, where I’ve never once worried that people would think I’m “gossiping” for passing along a legitimate complaint. That doesn’t mean I haven’t seen it (and experienced it myself) in a lot of other workplaces.

            I don’t think it’s out of line to point out common, even systemic, problems. They don’t have to happen literally everywhere to be common and worth taking into account.

            1. Busy Middle Manager*

              I don’t like these word games, it’s obvious from the comment thread they think this is highly common. Are we really going to sit here and litigate whether they meant literally all or most? My comment still stands if they meant “majority” or “most” or whatever word we want to replace it with. This type of stuff is what makes internet discussions tiresome. This is not an argument to win by pointing out a commenter is technically wrong while correctly analyzing the gist of the comment.

              1. Enai*

                The point is: whatever word you want to replace “fairly often” with is not the word that was used. They wrote “fairly often”, not “majority” or “all companies”. Don’t put words in people’s mouths, it makes it look like you’re making up a guy on the internet to be mad at.

        4. goddessoftransitory*

          And in an office of clear favoritism as it was run by Horace, you know any and all complaining was “gossip/being difficult/entitled/fill in sexist crap here” and not passed beyond Horace’s gates.

      2. CommanderBanana*

        I’m not surprised at all. At my last org, every time an employee who wasn’t in the CEOs cadre of favorites (all white, all male) brought up any sort of issue, it was immediately framed as “causing drama.” The CEO would literally say in all-staff meetings that he didn’t want employees to be “causing drama” and make it really clear that he was referring to people who reported things like being assaulted by members. I feel like it’s very common for managers who don’t want to deal with actual issues to frame them as “gossip” or “drama” which conveniently minimizes the problem, excuses them from dealing with it and paints the person who brought up the issue as the problem.

      3. Let me be dark and twisty*

        OP isn’t in the US, though. We Americans would say this isn’t gossip as long as it’s being reported to someone in a need-to-know position. But it sounds like OP’s country may have different norms about what constitutes gossip and what doesn’t, and this situation could fall in the grey space.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          True, and this is even going to change from workplace to workplace. I have worked in more than one org where the higher-ups did NOT want to hear about issues, because it meant they would then have to do something about it.

        2. Busy Middle Manager*

          IDK, I’ve lived in a few places internationally and each turns into “same s*** different backdrop.” Gossip isn’t wildly different in different countries IME. I don’t think the “other cultures..” line of thought applies here. Maybe the legal side will, but not that

      4. Formerly Ella Vader*

        I think it might partly be the distinction between

        “Tom lied about Arthur harrassing him”

        “I heard Tom say to Geri in the breakroom yesterday that he had managed to push Arthur out by fabricating a complaint”.

        The first one, with no information about how the speaker knows it, isn’t readily actionable. But the second one is much clearer – the person saying this is reporting exactly what they heard, when, and who else might have heard it.

        To me, reporting something true to an authority I trust does not count as gossip ever. And reporting something second- or third-hand to an authority I trust is also something I might do, if the crime/misbehaviour were egregious. I’d be as clear as I could about the source of my information, but I might still want the authority to have the information. (“My office-mate says they heard Tom bragging in the breakroom about …”)

        If my first urge was to go tell other people in the office, rather than tell the authority, I hope I’d recognize that this was an important piece of information for HR to have and resist that urge until I gave HR a chance to act on it. If I told HR and it looked like they weren’t taking it seriously, I might then consider telling Arthur.

      5. Random Bystander*

        I suspect some of it may be related to the contagion that comes from working in a toxic environment for some time. I’m not sure how long LW worked with Horace as supervisor (except that it is definitely years, since there is a “before Covid”), but I could see “quit spreading gossip” as a bad-manager way of shutting down valid complaints.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I would imagine it’s the effect of a toxic workplace where you’re not allowed to say anything negative about favourites. OP, the company are trying to change the King Horace and Prince Tom hierarchy! They want to know about abuse of power and false reports, even if Horace did not.

  21. waffles*

    I would go straight to HR and say “On Friday in X location around Y time I heard Tom talking about how he lied to HR about Arthur sexually harassing him. He gave examples like – I said Arthur took too long to touch my shoulder when he walked by and also looked at me uncomfortably when we were in the bathroom together. He bragged about how easy it was to lie. I was in the room with these other people, who also heard it.”

    1. Dek*

      I think exactly this. It’s a perfect script. It includes details about the complaint that OP could presumably only heard from Tom, it includes a time and location, and other corroborating witnesses.

      OP *please* tell HR, like, yesterday.

      (and maybe send us an update?)

      1. I AM a Lawyer*

        This is perfect. As someone who conducts investigations, this would be super helpful and would anticipate a bunch of our questions.

  22. Sparkles McFadden*

    I’m one of the last people in the world who wants to go to HR but this is a situation where you MUST do so. This is information they absolutely must have, and information from a party not directly involved in the complaint is extraordinarily helpful.

    …and if this goes the way it should, and Tom gets the boot, remind yourself that he did this to himself.

    1. Observer*

      and if this goes the way it should, and Tom gets the boot, remind yourself that he did this to himself.

      Yes. Please keep this in mind. Normal decent people do NOT like getting people fired. So, that’s a hard thing to contemplate. But sometimes it’s the only proper ending to a situation. *And*, he is absolutely the one who “got him fired”, NOT you!

  23. Era*

    If you still need a script for HR: “I have a follow-up to the questions I was asked after being informed of Arthur’s leave. On Friday, I was in [x room] with Tom and [friend], and heard Tom stating that he’d deliberately lied about sexual harassment in order to push Arthur out. I’ve written down my best memory of the conversation here.”

    Name the friend. Don’t speculate about Tom’s motives beyond what he flat-out said unless asked — that might prevent your feeling like a gossip instead of reporting what needs to get out.

    1. Specks*

      Yes, a written document would be great, preferably word for word and naming everyone there, pegging the time down as best you can, etc. What a great idea.

      I would also write down other occurrences of Tom talking about the leave, getting the management position, etc, but do not speculate on his motives beyond that.

      1. Calyx*

        Strongly agree. A written “just the facts” document with dates, location, and people carries a lot of weight. You can explain some of the background this way, after the first section where you detail the conversation.

  24. Jenn*

    You don’t need a script, because you have written things out just fine here. And you have truth on your side. You can just relate what happened in a calm factual way – like you did here.

    I definitely also encourage you to go to HR right now.

  25. WellRed*

    Arthur has already been Ben harmed as has your team. I’ll chalk it up to being part of a highly toxic and dysfunctional (and homophonic) team that has warped your senses. And arthur was obviously brought into fix that. Speak up yesterday or they’ll come for you next.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      You bring up a VERY good point – not only has Tom harmed Arthur, but he has harmed the team, and the company. AND, he will eventually realize that the OP overheard the conversation and at that point, he will do his level best to destroy the OP’s credibility and to get them fired, in order to ensure that his own bad behaviour won’t be noticed.

      OP – you need to report this not just for Arthur’s sake, but for your own.

  26. Emmie*

    This is not gossip. These are facts relevant to the investigation. You witnessed a conversation relevant to the allegations. Go to HR. Tell them. They need this information for the investigation. Do not dilute the message. As clearly as you can, tell them what you heard. If time has passed and you have not spoken up, tell HR anyways. And, finally, when you speak up: You are brave. You are doing right thing. It’s not gossip to share the truth.

  27. Aquamarine*

    Good for you for speaking up, OP!
    Regarding, “it’s so weird to say, ‘Tom lied about sexual harassment because they messed with the time off scale'”… you don’t have to explain why Tom lied in a way that makes sense to anyone (because it doesn’t make sense). You just need to tell them what you heard.

  28. GythaOgden*

    This is disgusting and awful in so many words (and particularly because it is attacking Arthur where he is most vulnerable WRT the homophobic insinuations). I know it will be hard but please speak up.

    Good luck and please give us an update.

  29. Hamster pants*

    Tom’s a horrible person. Not only is he harming Arthur, he’s perpetuating the idea that sexual harassment victims are liars. This is awful all around. Please speak up ASAP

    1. pope suburban*

      Yeah, this is just evil on so many levels. He’s undermining actual victims and perpetuating long-held negative stereotypes about gay men being predatory or hypersexual. Tom is playing with fire here, and invoking the kind of thing that can ruin someone’s professional life (and, frankly, should- if they actually did anything!) because he’s mad that his own poor performance might eventually result a mild consequence of not being able to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, with his buddies. Do you see how petty and low the stakes are for Tom? Like, he could just actually do his job and it’d be fine? But instead he chose to nuke Arthur from orbit. Tom is the worst. Tell HR everything he said.

  30. Anne Shirley*

    OP, please update us! I feel so bad for Arthur. He must be reeling. And probably obsessing over every interaction and conversation with Tom. Way to cavalierly inflict torment, Tom.

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      Or even worse, knowing that he did no such thing but feeling he’s already condemned, because there’s no one out there who knows the truth.

  31. Old Lady manager*

    Please! Please! Please! do not be one of those co-workers who directly hears or see’s something like this and does NOTHING.
    Go to HR and keep it clean and straight to the facts.
    On this day I heard Tom say that he lied about what happened with Arthur.
    You may be asked who else was in the room. Lots of people will only speak up if directly asked but won’t volunteer info like this, so this is OK.
    If you ask what motivation/why Tom would do this, say: I remembered that earlier he was pretty upset about not getting promoted into that position because he had said before Author was hired that the job was his.
    That’s it.

  32. mango chiffon*

    Please go to HR immediately and tell them about what you saw and heard. Tom is being extremely homophobic, and this is a dangerous place for gay men to be in. This is not gossip, please think of this as reporting homophobia because Tom is retaliating against Arthur based on sexuality.

    1. NotAlways*

      Not sure that this is homophobia. Could be, but I wouldn’t jump to that. Rather Tom is using something he knows about Arthur to make up a lie. Still despicable, but not the same thing.

      1. Quill*

        The sexuality here is the method of attack and not the reason for the retaliation… still homophobia, but not motivated by the homophobia, if that helps.

      2. Emikyu*

        Nah, I’m willing to call homophobia on this one. I think it’s fairly reasonable to assume that if Tom didn’t know Arthur was gay, he would’ve chosen a different type of accusation to make.

        I do think the homophobia is less relevant to this specific situation than the fact that Tom is willing to make up vicious accusations to protect his unearned status, but it still smells homophobic to me.

        1. stk*

          Yeah, it’s absolutely homophobia coming into play: not because Tom feels any specific way about gay people, but because he ABSOLUTELY knows both that there’s a stereotype about gay men being predatory and that he can weaponise that against Arthur. He sounds like he probably thinks he’s so clever for turning the “listen to victims” stuff against someone, too. Ugh.

          OP, I hope you can go to HR today and lay it all out. This is a really horrible situation.

      3. Princess Sparklepony*

        I’d say it’s using homophobia to get his way. To accuse Arthur of unwanted touching is pretty vile and cues in on gay stereotypes. I guess to put it another way, if Arthur wasn’t gay would Tom have accused Arthur of unwanted touching and looking too long in the bathroom? Unlikely, so being openly gay is part of the story.

  33. Choggy*

    It would be great if you could get the others who heard what Tom said involved as well, but it may not be possible. Speak plainly and to the point about what Tom said, date/time he said it, where he said it and who else was present. It speaks volumes of the type of person Tom is that he thinks accusing someone of sexual harassment to get them fired is acceptable on *any* level. I hope you stand up for Arthur, he did not deserve this, and Tom is the one who needs to go.

    1. HonorBox*

      It would help to have others who heard him say something too, but LW definitely needs to name names to HR and tell them exactly who else heard Tom. HR can go to them and ask specifically if they heard him make a statement.

    2. Princess Sparklepony*

      I’m wondering if he bragged to person A in the break room if he also bragged to others of the special circle at other times? He seems pretty proud of his “solution” to his problem of things changing and not being put in charge. So it would be good for HR to pull in the other members of that core group and get some info from them. He may not have, but I wouldn’t leave that stone unturned.

  34. pally*

    Thing is, Tom may very well do something like this again. Maybe the next time he feels that his ‘turf’ is encroached on. He’s found that his tactic works.

    1. Mouse*

      It might be worth it to explicitly tell HR that you’re worried about retaliation and ask them to take steps to protect you, OP – because Tom’s next target could be you.

  35. Juicebox Hero*

    On top of potentially damaging Arthur’s career, he’s promulgating the homophobic bullshit that all gay men, including the married ones, are perverts who will inflict themselves on any man they can find.

    I know it won’t be easy, but please go to HR and stick up for Arthur.

    And please update and let us know how it turns out.

    1. NotAlways*

      How this is any different from promulgating the heterophobic nonsense that all men, including married ones, are perverts who will inflict themselves on any woman they can find. I think the fact that Arthur is gay made it easy for Tom to come up with a lie (unfortunately), but it sounds like Tom would have found some lie to use no matter what.

      1. pope suburban*

        That’s not the problem that this letter is about. It’s okay to focus on the issue at hand here rather than trying to stop people from discussing a problem because other problems also exist.

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        It is not the same. There is a long history of discriminating against gay men on this basis and labeling them as groomers and predators. Whatever we say about straight cis men and their ability to control themselves, we historically have not used that as a basis to discriminate against them in employment, in housing, or in any way that really matters.

        1. Emikyu*


          When people start arguing that a fatal disease primarily (but not exclusively) affecting straight men is a reason to let them die, and that we should allow a public health crisis to continue unchecked because it’s god’s wrath, maybe I’ll start caring about “heterophobia”. Until then, I’m not going to cry over the poor straight men lamenting that #metoo means maybe they should be a bit more circumspect about their interactions with women in the workplace.

        1. littlehope*

          A straight person accusing a gay person of sexually inappropriate behaviour tends to be taken more seriously, and have worse repercussions, than any other configuration. It would be nice if that wasn’t true, but it doesn’t behoove us to pretend that it isn’t.

      3. Juicebox Hero*

        Just because (general) you broke your arm doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to talk about my broken leg.

        Trust me, I’d be just as loud were Tom a woman who’d falsely claimed that a straight male manager touched and leered at hypothetical her, then went around bragging that it was so easy to get him in trouble – HR believed it because all straight men are perverts who can’t keep their hands off women.

        But the loudness would be for a different reason. That’s damaging because women (I am one of those) have historically had a hard time of getting sexual harassment complaints, especially against superiors, taken seriously. Some nitwit with a grudge crying wolf would only make it harder for women at that company to be taken seriously.

        However, that isn’t the case here, which is that an innocent man is being made the villain by some nitwit with a grudge, who felt he could get away with it BECAUSE OF longstanding stereotypes regarding gay men.

        Just because you broke your arm doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to talk about my broken leg.

  36. Black cat lady*

    GO BACK TO HR IMMEDIATELY!!!! Tom is a disgusting creep who is deliberately tanking Arthur’s career. Please, please do the right thing. Show you have a moral compass. And send in an update!

  37. nervous wreck*

    I may be unclear on who else was in the room – but if there were people you think also heard who weren’t part of the favorites group and who you generally trust, definitely let HR know when you talk to them that you think these people also heard and could confirm your story.

    1. Princess Sparklepony*

      I also was unclear. I went back and re-read it. There were three people in the room – Tom, the person Tom was talking to, and the LW.

      When I first read it I thought that Tom was talking to three people and LW was within earshot – so five people total. But on a re-read, it was three people total.

      I need to read a little slower sometimes but I was kind of captivated by the sheer evilness here I was skipping ahead a little bit.

  38. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    OP I know this is hard. You are afraid of being accused of gossiping or not being believed. After all, why would anyone believe someone saying someone lied about something that serious.

    But, you need to do this. What Tom did has direct businss impact. The company needs to know it.

    Why he lied isn’t really relevant. So you can save that for follow up and even say I think this is why. But you need to say without any softening language because you are afraid of getting someone in trouble exactly what Tom said. Again, do not soften the language. So many people soften the language when they want to avoid people getting in to trouble. This was said about about if Tom is fired, but it applies here. If Tom gets in trouble for this — he did it to himself. Tom and only Tom is responsible for any consequences.

  39. Ellis Bell*

    OP, I think it’s time for the dictionary definition of gossip! Gossip: “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true”. What you want to say is not casual it’s serious, directly relevant to an investigation, and would be deeply concerning to all right thinking people. Nor is your information (information, not gossip!), unconstrained it’s limited to the confessed factsyou overhead due to the shamefully confident indiscretion of a colleague. Perhaps you will fear it’s “not confirmed as being true”, but you were there! Hearing is believing! You heard him saying he lied, and can honestly and factually say that it happened. Not even Tom’s awful character assassination of Tom counts as gossip – in fact everything to do with this situation is far too serious to be dismissed with a word like that. Yes, you should strenuously stick to exactly what you overhead, then and at other times (for example, it’s not irrelevant to also mention Tom’s griping about losing out on the job). Just be factual and honest! I’m so sorry the previous manager has led you to expect dismissal and belittlement. You’re not a gossip and your instinct to act and speak up is inherently professional and moral.

    1. Jerusha*

      I would argue that what you need to say is absolutely, unequivocally confirmed to be true. You aren’t reporting that “Tom did $action because $reason”. You’re reporting that “On $date in $location I heard Tom say $statement to $name.” Yes, that’s a fine hair to split, because Tom’s statement was that he did $action because $reason. But you’re not assessing Tom’s truthfulness – you’re just telling HR what you, personally, witnessed.

  40. LucyGoosy*

    So this SPECIFIC scenario has not happened to me, but several jobs ago, my CEO was investigated due to alleged misconduct (the details of which were never revealed). After a six week investigation, it was revealed that there was no evidence of wrongdoing. The individual who brought the complaint was a politician and a member of the board (for legal reasons, he had to sit on the board) and so the CEO resigned. It was widely believed that Board Member/Politician had a personal grudge against the CEO and launched the investigation in an effort to make CEO’s life miserable and to make him uncomfortable enough to resign.

    This was a nonprofit, so while CEO made good money, he was not wealthy by chief executive standards and he had 5 children. During the investigation he was forced to go on unpaid leave. Even though there was no evidence of wrongdoing, everyone in the professional community was gossiping about what happened. (Definitely against protocol, but during an industry event one of my coworkers got onstage, took a mic, and said, “Let’s address the elephant in the room. Some of you are saying CEO Fergus was fired. He was not fired. He was forced to resign.”) This also started a slow unraveling of the organization that eventually led to several resignations and, eventually, a complete restructuring that resulted in everyone being laid off (there were other factors as well, but without a CEO an outside consultant came in and made the decisions about what would happen).

    I say all of this to urge you to speak up RIGHT AWAY because even if the investigation finds nothing a) Arthur’s professional reputation will be damaged, and his financial well-being may be damaged as well b) this may cause serious issues for your company down the road in ways you may not be able to see right now. This is all in addition to the obvious homophobia, which is very not okay on its own.

  41. StressedButOkay*

    Everyone here has the same advice I do – go and talk to HR immediately. But I would also review their whistleblower policy (if your work has one) on the chance that nothing good comes of any of this. If Arthur is fired or punished in anyway after you’ve spoken, you need to blow the heck out of that whistle all the way up to the top.

  42. Scott*

    what would Tom have done if Arthur wasn’t out and open about it?

    This man has weaponised another man’s sexuality as a tool to cause misery and destruction. This is an act of homophobia, a deliberate malicious attempt to discredit someone using their sexuality. OP, you know you do not want to be complicit in this.

    As a gay man, I will always use the cubicle in a toilet because I will always be afraid of accusations like this if I don’t. I don’t even think about it any more, it’s just an automatic, self-protecting behaviour. Most gay men I know will tell you a story of how their straight male friend was gossiped about because there’s no way a gay and a straight man can be “simply friends” and there’s always an insinuation. It is things like this that make it difficult for the rest of us to simply exist peacefully.

    1. Observer*

      what would Tom have done if Arthur wasn’t out and open about it?

      Who knows? But I have absolutely no doubt that he would have been looking for something. I’d be willing to bet that the first time a woman got something that *he*wanted or even just a perk for good performance / seniority, Tom would have been at HR complaining that Sue got this perk because she’s flirting on in a secret relationship with Arthur. This is not someone who cares about harassment of any stripe.

  43. I don’t post often*

    Hey OP! You don’t say this in your letter, but I think particularly after you have worked in an environment that wasn’t what it should have been (manager playing favorites) sometimes my brain does not recognize the right thing to do. Coupled with that, I think many people would only go to HR as a last resort- and sometimes it feels like you might be trying to get someone in trouble when going to HR, so it feels “wrong” to do so.
    That is not the case here. You are in the right to go to HR.

    Poor Arthur. From what you’ve written here it sounds like he was doing his best only to get attacked.

    1. ferrina*

      This is a really good point. The former manager (Horace) set up a really poisonous system of favorites where everyone else just had to be okay with the unfair treatment (it’s really telling that Tom got majorly downgraded in the new system because his productivity wasn’t good). That kind of manager often reinforces their system with subtle punishments for those that step out of line. They also usually have subtle tactics for ensuring that no one talks to outsiders- this includes trash talking any resources like HR, convincing the team that speaking to outside resources is betrayal of some kind (because outside resources might rightly identify how messed up things are), buddying up to people that might be allies to LW (so they won’t believe the conflicting stories, i.e., “but he’s always been nice to me!”), and subtle retaliation (if they retaliated over little things, it’s a reasonable assumption that they’ll retaliate if you go to HR). If you’re inclined, you can go into the internet rabbithole of tactics abusers use to isolate their targets- LW might find a few similarities.

      Tom is trying to build on and perpetuate the system that Horace built. Tom wants the system to be unfair, because that is where Tom thrives. Arthur has started to fix that system to a more fair system, and Tom is retaliating.

      LW, go to HR. It sounds like HR has handled this well so far. What reason do you have not to trust them? Think about if you ‘ve heard bad things and who those things have come from- was it from Horace, Tom and the cronies? Trust HR to handle things. Tell them what Tom said (verbatim) and add “I don’t know if it’s relevant, but here’s some context you may or may not have.” Tell them about Tom claiming he’d get Arthur’s role- I’ll bet money that HR never had anything about Tom getting that role.

  44. TeacherTeacher*

    All such good advice here.

    I’m an educator…about 5 years ago, a kid with a hard home life told my student teacher he was going to go home and report I had put my hands on him so that he could go to a different school. My student teacher was smart enough to tell me, I let the principal know figuring the parent might call.

    Turns out parent went straight to superintendent, but b/c of my student teacher, my principal was able to say, “Oh, let me tell you some other information we have…” The parent escalated the situation to the police and a judge (like I said, the poor kid had a hard home life), but because my student teacher spoke up, the situation was able to be resolved (add to it that I was in the process of adopting my daughter who was technically in the custody of the state and … well, it was stressful and BAD).

    Long way to say, SPEAK UP. It really matters.

  45. Yes And*

    Let’s say OP follows Alison’s excellent advice and reports to HR. Anti-harassment law provides robust protections against retaliation for people reporting “good-faith” allegations of harassment. My question is, how much weight does that “good faith” actually have? If Tom is fired (as he should be!) and sues claiming retaliation, is the burden of proof on Tom to show his complaint was in good faith or on the employer to show that it wasn’t?

    This doesn’t really bear on OP’s role or course of action, so apologies if this is afoul of the commenting rules. Just, this is an area of anti-harassment law that I’m genuinely curious about.

    1. Observer*

      The OP is not in the US, so it’s hard to know. In the US, I think that the company would have to show that they had good reason to believe that the accusation was a deliberate lie, as opposed to someone just over-reacting or seeing things that were not there.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I think that’s going to have lots of different answers in different countries, but the UK is quite different to the US in that the US has at will employment, and in the UK, employers have to follow a procedure to fire you with warnings etc, unless except in cases of gross misconduct. Tom could certainly be instantly dismissed in the UK under gross misconduct (targeting a gay person in this way could also be seen as a crime separate to employment law). Yes, people who claim sexual harassment in the UK are somewhat protected from being fired, but only because of the assumption that they must have at least believed the harassment to be true, or a potential concern (even if he was a homophobe who flinched at eye contact, Tom would be protected if he raised the claim for honest investigation). However there is no protection for those who “deliberately give false evidence”. That’s why OPs evidence could be so particularly important.

  46. GreyCat*

    I think it would also be a good move to email this information directly to Arthur (or call him if you have his cell) to let him know what you heard. If HR still moves forward with any negative actions towards Arthur, he has a right to this info for his own legal protection and I wouldn’t trust HR to let him know.

    1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

      I would, but not until I spoke to HR. Because if Arthur gets to HR before the LW does, then it might come off as gossip or hearsay.

      LW needs to go directly to HR and then, based on their reaction, decide when she should inform Arthur (because he should be told at some point – IANAL but could this be a basis for a defamation suit against Tom?)

      1. Emikyu*

        I am a lawyer, but U.S. based (and the OP specifically says they aren’t in the U.S., so this isn’t really relevant to their situation).

        I rarely consider defamation cases worth pursuing, but depending on how things shook out there could be a case if this happened here. Most of the time, the biggest hurdle I see when it comes to defamation is proving any sort of damages.

        If Arthur is currently on paid leave until his name is cleared and he comes back, then proving any damages might be tricky. (I still think this might be classed as defamation per se, where you don’t have to actually prove you lost money, but this is not my area of practice and law school was a long time ago. So take that with a grain of salt.)

        If Arthur’s leave is unpaid – or even worse, he ends up being fired – then the damages are obvious. And the OP’s statement of what they heard is admissible as party-opponent admission (meaning they could testify to it in court, and it wouldn’t be excluded as hearsay).

        I would much rather it not come to that, though. As much as I’d love to see Tom have to pay in a tangible way for this, I wouldn’t Arthur to suffer the sort of damages that would make pursuing this worth it for him.

        1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

          Agreed! I realized after I commented that since we don’t know the country, just non-US, defamation is unclear because we don’t know the governing laws.

          The outcome I want is Tom fired, Arthur back with an apology and public announcement about Tom’s lies (so there isn’t a stink on Arthur that looks like a victim was retaliated against).

          But I’m cynical so I want to hope that Arthur has recourse should he be harmed more than he already has been (the accusation is going to be all that matters to some people for his reputation – even if vindicated and found innocent)

      2. GreyCat*

        I agree that HR is the first step, but not knowing if HR will end up on the side of justice or not, and whether or not it will be obvious during OP’s meeting with them, I wouldn’t want them to be able to take the OP’s report and not pass it on to Arthur. Telling Arthur after they’ve told HR is an insurance policy for Arthur’s sake.

    2. Observer*

      I think it would also be a good move to email this information directly to Arthur

      HR needs to be the first place that the OP directs this information.

      Letting Arthur know *in addition* may be a good idea, though. But how useful this might be would be very dependent on labor law. In the US, Arthur might not have much of a case.

  47. Observer*

    OP, I want to come at this from a slightly different angle. Orthodox Judaism has a *very* strong prohibition against gossip. You know what’s an even stronger prohibition? “Do not stand by your fellow’s blood.” That includes not just literal blood but any other significant harm.

    This is a *classic* case where speaking up would probably be required in Jewish law:

    1. Motive – you are not doing this to “get at” Tom, or for personal gain, but to correct a harm that is being done

    2. Factual – You are not going to speculate. You are simply going to repeat what you have heard

    3. Truth – You stating something that you know because you heard it yourself.

    4. Least Harm – you are doing the thing that has the least chance of doing harm to Tom while being actually effective. That does not mean that you know that there won’t be any harm to Tom, but you do not have any other avenue that could work, so this is the least harmful thing you can come up with. Keep in mind that the idea is not “the least possible harm that could theoretically work in a perfect world” but “least harm you can realistically come up with in your current circumstances.

    The bottom line is that someone is likely to be severely harmed by this behavior, you have relevant information, and the only way to reasonably stop the harm is to share the information. That’s your signal to share the information.

    1. But Not the Hippopotamus*

      A complete tangent, but thank you for sharing this. The community I am currently in… does not seem to have gotten this particular bit of Jewish education and it has been a real drag on our family and made observance almost painful. Hearing that SOMEONE is thinking about this and cares about it will make my Rosh Hashanah sweeter.

    2. Lucien Nova*

      There’s also a Wiccan/Pagan principle that applies here:

      “An’ it harm none, do what ye will.”

      Tom’s behaviour is absolutely harmful. Go to HR. Please.

  48. Name*

    Coming from an HR Manager who deals with investigations, go to HR and tell them. It’s not gossip if you heard it straight from the horse’s mouth. You heard the accusers admit that he fabricated the accusation. That’s a fact, not gossip.

  49. Elizabeth West*

    Oh wow.
    Please tell them, OP. This is not gossip or “tattling.”
    And come back and let us know what happens.

  50. Ferris Mewler*

    Chiming in to say please let HR know what Tom said, for Arthur’s sake. I totally understand you being completely shocked in the moment and worried about getting involved and possibly having Tom upset with you but it’s so important that HR be told this info. Arthur’s career and reputation could be ruined over this and there’s no guarantee HR will find out on their own/another way. I really hope the company does the right thing here!

  51. QueerScot*

    Alison’s advice is, as ever, spot on.

    I think it’s important to add the context here that Arthur is gay – and prepared to be out from day 1. I don’t care what Tom thinks of gay people, or who he does or doesn’t want to sleep with – using stereotypes about promiscuous, predatory gay men is homophobic, end of.

    Speaking up in situations like this is what ‘being an ally’ looks like. Do it.

  52. What would HR do?*

    Just wondering…I know these events did not occur. But, given Tom’s version of events, wouldn’t (or should) HR just tell Tom to use his words first? (As in telling Arthur “don’t touch me anymore.”) If the touch was obviously sexual – like butt-grabbing – that, of course would be different.

    1. BubbleTea*

      No, I think if the allegation is of sexual harassment, HR would be wildly out of line to say “sort it out yourself” or “have you tried asking them not to inappropriately touch you?”

    2. Emikyu*

      This is nothing more than personal opinion, but I don’t think so.

      For something that’s truly just an interpersonal annoyance, sure – something like asking them to turn their music down or something. But actual sexual harassers tend to be very good at maintaining just enough plausible deniability, and often turning things back on the victim (“What, you think I touched your shoulder because I want to have sex with you? Ugh, don’t flatter yourself, you weirdo.”)

      If the situation Tom made up had actually happened the way he described it, I don’t think he should be asked to say something on his own first. I think requiring that of an actual victim is likely to just make them feel unsafe. Yes, the investigation is having some crappy consequences in this instance, but I still think it’s a better approach than telling a potential victim to speak up for themselves in the moment (particularly given the power differential here).

    3. I AM a Lawyer*

      In the US, there’s no obligation to confront an alleged harasser, regardless of the type of conduct. The EEOC’s guidance suggests doing so if the person feels comfortable, but it’s not required. HR has to investigate when they get a complaint (unless even if everything in the complaint were true, it wouldn’t trigger the harassment policy. Like if someone said “During work travel with Jane, she littered out of the rental car window. I want to file a harassment complaint.”) and couldn’t send the person back to address it on his own. I don’t know about the OP’s country.

    4. Observer*

      But, given Tom’s version of events, wouldn’t (or should) HR just tell Tom to use his words first?

      Flip the question – would you say to a woman who comes to HR with a complaint like this? Especially since this is a supervisor, so the power differential is real.

      So, no.

  53. College Career Counselor*

    Agreed. This should be a case where LW’s needs and those of the organization are in alignment (nobody wants someone falsely accused of harassment). And good HR will work to make sure that LW isn’t retaliated against either. It will not be hard for Tom to figure out who else was in the room when he crowed about falsely accusing Arthur.

  54. Bookworm*

    No advice OP, other than I’m sorry you’re involved in this situation at all and to re-up that yes, please speak up to HR.

  55. umami*

    Oh wow, yes, speak to HR right now, do not pass go, do not delay. Just stick to the facts of what you heard first-hand.

  56. ina*

    Really despicable behavior and spitting in the face of people who’s experienced actual work place sexual harassment, but were too scared or traumatized to report it.

    Please speak to HR. Tom has zero power over you and there needs to be a culture shift away from cliques that protect each other & favoritism. Tom is a creep — if he’s willing to do this, others are also at-risk of his behavior (he wants to be a manager, too. What the heck.)

  57. Looper*

    This is definitely one of those letters I wished I’d never read because I am just left enraged by it. I truly despise the Toms of this world and I hope to the depths of Hades that he gets every little thing he deserves.

    1. Forrest Rhodes*

      +1000 on all points, Looper. I believe in karma, and I hope it lands on Tom like a ton of bricks … the sooner, the better.
      And sometimes, all it takes for that to happen is one action by a strong, smart, honorable observer—such as, maybe, you, LW?

  58. Erie*

    Who on earth sits down and writes a long letter to an advice columnist in this situation? What kind of person would not just go to HR immediately if they heard something like this? I can’t relate to this agonizing and overthinking at all. Would you also hesitate to call the cops if someone broke into your house because it might make you sound gossipy? This is wild.

    1. SJ (they/them)*

      This is unkind. OP is in a very stressful situation and they are doing their best. I’m glad they wrote in and hope they will take the advice.

    2. ChemistryChick*

      Echoing the sentiment that this is unkind to the OP. No one knows how they’ll react when faced with that situation, though we all think we do in our heads. We’ve seen time and time again how toxic work environments can and do warp people’s sense of normalcy.

      OP, kudos to you for taking this seriously and asking for outside advice.

    3. MuseumChick*

      If the OP is women, we are often often socially conditioned to second-guess anytime we want to speak up about something. Let’s please be kind.

    4. Observer*

      Who on earth sits down and writes a long letter to an advice columnist in this situation?

      Someone who does not know what to do? Someone who cares enough to do the right thing but has been socialized that “tattling” is the worst thing in the world? (On this site, we have plenty of commenters that talk about ever going to management using words like “narcing” even in the context of REALLY bad behavior.) Someone who has been lead to believe that “gossip” will never be taken seriously by anyone in authority and that repeating anything one has heard is “gossip”? Someone who has been “trained” (by past experience or their parents / advisers / bad bosses) that HR is always going to mishandle “gossip” and “hearsay”?

      Being rude and dismissive is not useful. Yes, sometimes it is necessary to verbally bop someone over the head. But this is not one of those cases. The OP wants to do the right thing, and has been told very, very clearly what the right thing is.

    5. dawbs*

      If I thought that calling the cops might get me fired and destroy my career and leave my family without an income…I might hesitate.

      I’m not saying the LW shouldn’t report this. She should.
      But if we’re all being realistic, the idea that you could find yourself unemployed AND unemployable in your field for standing up for something or someone? that’s a real fact that real people have to weigh. Especially if they don’t happen to have the privilege of being sure they’ll be financially OK and being sure the blowback won’t affect their professional reputation.

      (which is something women and people of color and other minority groups deal with a whole lot more than straight cis men–it’s like this: but with people saying “Women are gossipy drama-mongers” and “we know that manager only kept his job because he’s gay” and all those other micro-agressions that we all overhear. sometimes daily).

    6. M. from P.*

      I understand your exasperation – sitting on a piece of information that would exonerate a coworker for fear of gossiping is frustrating to witness. I really truly hope the OP reports what they heard before it’s too late.

    7. I AM a Lawyer*

      I don’t know about OP’s country, but there’s been a big push in the US, politically, to act like witness testimony doesn’t constitute evidence and basically the only way you can prove anything is to have video evidence (like if OP had surreptitiously recorded Tom). I think it’s a way to discredit women who are survivors of sexual assault, but it doesn’t surprise me that it would make someone in a different situation question whether her word was sufficient to bring to HR without any corroboration (unless the other person present says something). People misuse the word “hearsay” all the time and calling this “gossip” feels very similar to that.

  59. Michelle Smith*

    I’m deeply upset by this story, possibly because as a queer person myself (I use queer over gay because I’m nonbinary, please don’t get upset by my use of the word) it hit so close to home. It certainly makes all of the mandatory yearly trainings we have to do on sexual harassment and diversity in the workplace make a lot more sense to me. I think we have three or four a year at different times, so it can feel like there is constant training but seems like it’s very needed.

    If your office does not have trainings on how to handle reporting inappropriate behavior, it should. If it does, it applies in this situation and you should immediately follow those instructions to report what you know. And I mean all of what you know – from Tom’s repeated comments about his imminent promotion that didn’t happen to his repeated comments about the new manager’s vacation system. You heard and observed ALL of the relevant context and you need to share ALL of it. It is very possible that Tom will lie and say he didn’t say those things, but you still need to do your part as a decent human being and tell the truth.

    And I disagree that your company will necessarily “sort it out from there.” They may decide to do the right thing and terminate Tom for false reporting, but they may side with the non-manager bully in this situation. If they do, I would suggest you think long and hard about whether to continue working on this team. Even if Tom doesn’t find out that you’re the one who told HR the truth, you know what kind of person he is now and what kind of lies he’s willing to tell to get his way. If he hasn’t stabbed you in the back already, do you really think he’s going to be above doing it to you in the future if you ever have to disagree with him or confront him about something? Food for thought.

  60. All Het Up About It*

    You have already received guidance here, but I just wanted to add, that what you are doing is NOT gossip. You heard Tom admit to a false report. An investigation in underway, you are sharing evidence, NOT gossip.

    Added to the fact that this is direct quotes from the perpetrator THEMSELVES. Gossip might be if you heard someone else say that they think Tom did this. (And honestly, even then, I’d say you should morally share that with the HR investigator.)

    Of course it feels weird to say, because it is weird and HORRIFIC that Tom would make up a lie like this. But that’s on Tom, not you.

  61. M. from P.*

    Please go to HR now. This is urgent – any delay and it might be too late. An innocent person might lose their livelihood and reputation.
    Please please do it now. Do not tell yourself that the company will find out by themselves. Do not underestimate people’s reluctance to speak up. Be the person to speak up. Staying silent would be a horrible thing to do.

  62. Susannah*

    Tom needs to be fired over this – not just because of the lies, but because it’s a kind of sexual harassment (I mean, maybe not legally, I don’t know…) to use Arthur’s sexual orientation as a pretext for claiming unwanted touching (or “looking at them weirdly”… which is … weird).

    LW, hoping for an update that has Tom being frog-marched out the door (along with his unused PTO).

  63. Ink*

    Tom said some of the harassment was Arthur looking at him strangely in the bathroom. It would surprise me if they have cameras in the bathrooms. It would surprise me even more if there were cameras there positioned to show facial expressions in enough detail to refute that. Tom’s structured his lie to be very difficult to disprove- without witnesses. YOU are the witness that disproves the lie. It sounds like the person Tom was talking to was close enough to him to keep the secret. You’re the only option

    1. learnedthehardway*

      Agreed – bathrooms are one area of the company where they would be very UNLIKELY to have cameras. Tom has made it a “he said; he said” situation by claiming this happened in the bathroom. It’s not possible for it to be proven/disproven via video cameras, UNLESS HR reviews and sees that Tom and Arthur were not in the bathroom at the same time. (A good HR investigator will review all the available video footage to find out if both individuals were actually in the same place at the same time, but that evidence may not exist, depending on where cameras are located.)

  64. Mother of Cats*

    This is so messed up. Please speak up OP!! I know it can be hard but it is morally the right thing to do. This accusation could ruin Arthur’s career and life.

  65. Starfleet HVAC Engineering*

    Telling HR about what you heard is, as everyone has said, the absolute correct call.

    However, there is the corner of mind that should’ve worked for CIA saying, “I wonder what silence is worth to Tom here?”

  66. CeeBee*

    at some point, don’t we have to be adults and deal? I mean, LW KNOWS that tom the bozo is lying and possibly derailing Arthur’s whole career – and they can certainly write in here and explain the issue, so why can’t they basically read their letter to HR? I mean, this is why bullies exist because otherwise good people do nothing.

  67. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    Arthur will be going through hell, fearing that he’ll be sacked and that any future background check will paint him as a sexual predator.

    You must go to HR immediately and tell them everthing.

    Tom is a danger to any manager who thwarts him and will hopefully be sacked in parallel with Arthur being reinstated.

  68. Anon for this!*

    I’ve was falsely accused of a crime by a coworker and her buddies who who wanted me out because . Two brave people coming forward and a very savvy investigator prevented me from going to jail. I still left the job because-idiot bosses. Did permanent damage to my career.

  69. Kiwi Leslie Knope*

    I would be extremely keen for an update on this one down the track, and it better be that Tom was fired. What asolutely disgusting behaviour.

  70. Flare*

    Would it be wrong to also rig like a bucket of honey to dump on Tom as soon as he next sits in his office chair and um inadvertently release a few hundred whatever will be attracted by the honey and also sting Tom repeatedly? Maybe especially his butt, the soles of his feet, and his ears so it’s pretty much impossible to sit, stand, or lie comfortably?

    It would be, wouldn’t it. Dangit.

  71. pcake*

    I’d like to point out that Tom will most likely say that he didn’t say any of that, tell HD that the OP has always had it in for him, and is likely to attempt retribution. To avoid that, I would recommend never being alone with Tom and asking he communicate with you via email so you’ll have a paper trail.

  72. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

    What a toxic mix of entitlement (“that job should have been mine!”) and homophobia! Please speak to HR as soon as possible, LW, and don’t let Tom sabotage Arthur this way!

  73. Dedicated1776*

    On top of being so childish, the unspoken homophobia is gross. Ew. I hope Tom gets fired yesterday.

  74. OP Here*

    As some readers have guessed, I’m a young woman and this is my first office job. And Tom has a history of getting away with anything wrong he’s done by becoming a victim.

    And as others guessed, Horace told us that anything about a co-worker should be handled with the manager. That HR was overwhelmed with our team gossiping if we continued like this HR wouldn’t take it seriously when something came up. And that we should never go to HR without concrete evidence to support the complaint.

    I wasn’t afraid of the consequences for Tom, I was afraid of being forced to prove what I heard because it would be my word against Tom’s, and in my experience, Tom always wins. And why he did this seemed so absurd to me that I imagined HR saying I was making it up. A huge thank you to the person who said that knowing details of what Tom said would help, I hadn’t thought of that. In fact, we shouldn’t even know that Arthur was accused, but somehow nothing stays confidential in this company.

    Some readers commented on running to HR, but that’s not how it works here. I got an appointment with HR this afternoon and plan to use the script they suggested: “I have important information. Tom said X, Y, and Z right before lunch in our common room.” Focus on the facts and not the list of everything Tom did wrong.

    To those who suggested contacting Arthur. I only have his work email and I would prefer not to use it.

    Thank you to everyone who commented that the company might not know about Tom’s conduct. It’s so common on the team for Tom to do things like this that it didn’t occur to me that HR wouldn’t know about Tom’s lack of character.

    I’ll talk to HR in a few hours and get back to update (with good news I hope)

    Thanks again to Alisson and everyone for the advice.

    1. SJ (they/them)*

      Good luck OP, you are doing the right thing and I am rooting for you with all my heart. Let us know how it goes, if you feel able. Big hugs.

    2. ENFP in Texas*

      Here’s hoping you have a productive and helpful discussion with HR. Please keep us posted if you can!

    3. ChemistryChick*

      Sending you good vibes and strength! You’re doing the right thing and I hope you’ll have a positive update.

    4. I should really pick a name*

      Glad to hear it and wishing you the best.

      You’re concerned that it’s your word against Tom’s. Currently, it’s Tom’s word against Arthur’s, so anything that throws Tom’s credibility into question is valuable.

    5. Candi*

      Frankly, OP, it sounds like Horace was covering his own tail to keep y’all from running to HR with his very biased and unprofessional behavior. All the things he told you were the ‘right’ thing to do depend on the specific circumstances at best, and are flat-out putting a wall between y’all and higher-ups at worst.

      Please update us once the fallout finishes and things are resolved.

    6. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      That sounds like a really tough situation. It’d be hard to navigate even for someone with more experience in an office environment. This random internet person is proud of you for doing a hard thing.

      All you can do is try. If your HR sucks and botches things, that’s not on you. Just go in matter-of-fact and tell them what you overheard. I hope that your HR is good and that what Horace said was just a tactic to keep HR from finding out what he and his buddies were up to. There are real limits to what you, as an individual employee, can get HR to do. Excellent point that you wouldn’t know about the allegations if you hadn’t overheard something, though.

  75. QueenBee*

    When my family gets together, we talk alot. And about alot of people. My dad used to say we were a bunch of gossips but I think there is a big difference between gossip and sharing information. That difference is the spirit of the talk. Gossip is mean and meant to demean someone. Sharing information is positive, keeping others up to date on someone they may not talk to often.
    This, OP, is definitely not gossip. It’s sharing information so Arthur can maintain his reputation and his job.

  76. meggus*

    Not only is this not gossip, it’s targeted harassment of someone in the workplace based on a protected class (sexual orientation). Those protections are at the federal level (EEOC). It’s not just hurtful to the new manager. It’s extremely illegal and your employer is responsible for maintaining a workplace free of harassment and discrimination. Yes yes tell HR because not only is it relevant to the investigation on new manager, it’s an entirely separate offense that needs to be handled. And a very serious one. Tom’s leveraging homophobia. and if it ends manager’s employment or destroys their reputation, your employer could have a big ‘ol lawsuit on their hands.

  77. UnicornResources*

    OP You’ve been told repeteadly to go to HR, which I wholeheartedly support. I’d like to point out that Tom claims some of this supposed harassment happened in the restroom, one place where your company surely doesn’t have cameras. And even with multiple cameras, unlike TV, they don’t always focus in on where the action is. Some things can easily be missed due to camera angles or other interference.

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