Can HR get involved if a co-worker threatens to have you fired out of work hours?

I received an instant message over the weekend, from a co-worker that accused me of gossiping about her to an ex-employee. She threatened to report me to HR and have me fired for gossiping about her. I did not do what she accused me of, and it's all hearsay on her part. Can I report her to HR for threatening me, even if it didn't happen during work hours? What obligations does HR have to protect me from threats and harassment?

1 answer  |  asked Jan 17, 2016 03:11 AM [EST]  |  applies to California

Answers (1)

Marilynn Mika Spencer
Employees have very few employment rights, and employers have a lot of leeway in how they choose to run their businesses. HR has no obligation to protect you in this circumstance or to investigate any allegation to determine if it is true or not, except with respect to certain issues such as such as whistleblowing or illegal harassment. Illegal harassment only refers to harassment on the basis of race, sex, religion, etc. HR's role is protect the employer, not the employees. An employer hires employees to provide work for its benefit, not for the benefit of the employees. Don't expect the employer to take care of its employees; it doesn’t have to and it rarely does.

The sad truth is that an employer employer can make decisions based on faulty or inaccurate information.

Please see my guide to at-will employment in California which should help you understand employment rights: http://www.thespencerlawfirm.com/pdf/tslf-at-will-california.pdf. After you take a look at the guide, you may be able to identify actions or behavior that fits one of the categories that allows for legal action. If so, an experienced plaintiffs employment attorney may be helpful.

It's difficult to know how to handle a co-worker accusation such as this. If you bring it to HR first or if the coworker brings it to HR first, HR might react in any number of ways. Maybe HR will decide you are more trouble than you are worth. Or perhaps HR will think the other employee is a problem. HR might think you are being defensive or trying to cover up for something. There is no way for someone from the outside, who doesn't know the company or any of the people involved, to predict this. And the coworker may never say anything to HR at all.

You will have to think about this employee and how serious you believe the person is. And . . . if what the coworker accuses you of saying is damaging to your reputation or to hers, or if it in any way involves illegal acts, sex, or embarrassing information, it could be trouble.

The coworker sounds immature, like a tattle tale. You might want to speak with a trusted friend who has good common sense, or someone with a lot more work experience, to try to get a better sense of things.

I hope this turns out okay.

posted by Marilynn Mika Spencer  |  Jan 17, 2016 03:31 AM [EST]

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