Normally on Wednesdays, I do an anxiety piece but today I am going to give you some wisdom and a short story to back it up. The wisdom? You’re Co-Workers are not your friends. Now you probably knew that but it’s a broad statement that encompasses everything. You see any piece of information you give to a coworker can be told to someone else and potentially used against you.
Now maybe you know the people you work with well, maybe you are friends. What about the people they have on the periphery of their lives? So here is the story, I will try to keep it brief. I worked with a woman who was about my age at the time (early 40’s), I will call her Kathy. Kathy is a normal woman, of note here Kathy was Hispanic (2nd generation Mexican immigrant) now that is an important factor later on.
So we were in a common break room. People came in and out of there all the time to heat up lunch, get a coffee, kill 10 min…. you know the deal. So Kathy is explain to me and another coworker and issue she was having with her youngest son whom we will call Tommy. Tommy got in to trouble at school and according to Kathy when her husband got home he “got his belt and wiped his ass” (literally her words). I did not say much, my old man did that to me once or twice. I had earned it and he was old school, but I do not recall enjoying it.
Someone in the break room over heard the conversation and said “your husband actually whipped your child?” To which Kathy replied “Yes, but it is part of our culture we are Mexican and that is how the men discipline the boys”. Now I am listening to this and to be blunt not taking it very seriously. I honestly didn’t care, I do not inject myself into other people’s lives. Still Kathy was telling us a PERSONAL situation; we were coworkers, not her friend. The other person I was with didn’t say much they were just kind of there.
The person who butted into the conversation? She worked in HR and her reply was “Well this isn’t Mexico, this is the United States and I am obligated to tell Child Services that I am aware of a child being abused”. I perked up quickly, so did the other silent participant in this now escalating tale of woe. So Kathy’s face turned to anger very quickly and she said “what happens in my home is none of your business.” Which I agree with, but the response from the person butting in, HR woman is what stuck with me and hence the premise of this blog post.
“What happens in your home is your business, until you decide to bring it into the work place and share it with your coworkers”
HR woman looks at me and the other silent participant and my heart sank because I knew I was now going to be inserted into this drama. It had it all, females who disagree, ethnicity references, child abuse allegations, and HR. I think I aged 5 years on the spot. So we disperse, HR woman storms off and Kathy calls her a bitch, to us, not to her and we go back to work. 3 hours later, I am called into HR. They ask me point blank did Kathy say her husband beat their child. I replied factually that no, Kathy said he “whipped his ass” and I provided the context that I assumed she meant he spanked the kid.
I couldn’t lie, I mean I could have but the HR lady knew I heard it, the other silent observer heard it and I didn’t know what he was going to say and I have a policy of not lying unless it’s absolutely necessary. That is all they wanted from me, I saw the silent observer the next morning and he confirmed they talked to him as well. Kathy wasn’t in that day, she was on a “leave of absence” which turned into a termination.
Now what I heard through the grapevine was HR in fact called child services and Kathy and family got a visit. It was determined there was no abuse etc. but Kathy exploded. She threatened lawsuits, called the owner called people every name in the book. She emailed myself and silent observer multiple times asking what we said, it was dramatic but short. I never found out the end of the story, but Kathy was let go. I assume she found another job and her life went on. The HR woman, I believe is still at that company, actually running the dept now.
So the point of all this is, even casual friendly conversations with coworkers are minefields. You can’t trust anyone at work. Do not share your personal details with people at work, and this is especially true now with social media. Someone can take what you say literally and it can get messy very quickly.
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