Employee Called to HR After Laughing at Co-Worker’s Baby Names: When Should HR Get Involved?

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Photo Credits: Fallon Michael via Unsplash

An employee was called to HR after she laughed at baby names chosen by a co-worker. After the employee published a Reddit post about the incident, she was told to be more considerate of co-workers’ feelings.

Below, we discuss what exactly happened, consider when HR involvement is and is not appropriate, and what to do if HR does not respond to an employee’s concerns.

Employee Calls Co-worker Twins Names ‘Idiotic’ and Gets Called to HR

The employee, who has not been named, worked in the banking sector and published her anecdote in a Reddit post. The co-worker in question, whose surname was “Sean”, had been having fertility treatment for some time before giving birth to twin boys. She took them into the office to introduce them to her co-workers. Upon asking what she had named the twins, she said they were to be called Sean and Seen (pronounced the same way).

The employee in question pointed out that this would mean the twins being called “Sean Sean” and “Seen Sean”, to which the co-worker agreed, stating “Yes, like ‘Tom Tom’ or ‘Jay Jay’.” According to the employee’s Reddit post, she laughed at the baby names and, without thinking, told her co-worker “That is the most idiotic thing I’ve heard and it’s going to be so confusing.”

Read: Workplace Bullying and Incivility: New Legislation and Tips for HR

After the incident, the employee received a number of messages from colleagues stating that it had not been her place to comment on the names Sean and Seen in this way. In updating her Reddit post, the employee outlined her subsequent meeting with HR, which she described as “underwhelming”. She was told by HR to be “more considerate of co-workers’ feelings” and to “not put this meeting all over the internet”.

Following the publication of the Reddit Post, numerous comments were posted supporting the employee’s approach and also showing others laughed at the baby names. The co-worker and her husband decided that Sean and Seen were not the best choice of names. Whilst Sean would remain the same, the employee says that “Seen” would be changing.

Getting Called to HR: When is the Right Time for HR Involvement?

In the above case, the employee was called to HR following the publication of her Reddit post; although it is unclear whether this involvement was proactive or in response to a colleague raising the issue.

The extent of their involvement appears to have been minimal, comprising a simple reminder to respect others’ feelings and observe the company’s social media policy. However, their involvement raises questions about the role of HR within a business and in what circumstances an employee should be called to HR.

HR is Generally the First Port of Call, But Think About the Severity of The Case

The extent of HR’s role often depends on the organisation in question and the size of the HR team. Typically, the scope of HR’s functions can be quite broad, encompassing diverse elements such as recruitment, legal compliance, employee relations etc. As a result, HR will generally be the first port of call. However, it is important to note that HR staff are employed by, and thus will act in the best interests of, the business.

Given the range of matters that HR deals with, it can be slightly difficult to know when to seek their advice and assistance. Whether it will be appropriate will also depend on the facts of the matter and the scope of the HR team within the organisation.

Read: Surviving Toxic Management: Strategies for Coping with Difficult Bosses

Members of HR are sometimes viewed as intermediaries between employees; however, this is not always the case. For issues involving disagreements between colleagues, for instance, the extent of HR’s involvement will usually be to advise on how the employees might resolve this themselves. Similarly, do not assume that HR will become involved in issues between employees and managers unless the problem is a legal one.

On the other hand, for potential instances of discrimination, harassment, or other illegal activity, HR should certainly be consulted.

HR is Not Responding to My Complaint: What Can I Do?

Having considered the general remit of HR and which circumstances may or may not require their involvement, a separate question is what to do if HR fails to respond to an employee’s concerns.

In an ideal world, this situation should never arise. Even if HR is not the right team to assist with a query or issue, they should be able to advise an alternative course of action. However, unfortunately, this does not always happen.

Check Your Employment Rights

First, it is crucial for employees to understand their employment rights. Notably, these include the rights to not be unfairly dismissed, to challenge attempted dismissal, demotion or disciplinary action, and to bring legal action against an employer for unfair treatment.

Understanding such rights can prove invaluable if dealing with an unhelpful or even hostile HR team.

If Called To HR Keep High Emotions Outside the Meeting

Whilst such a situation can be incredibly frustrating, employees should always remain professional. Becoming emotional or defensive is unlikely to achieve positive results and may actually make a bad situation worse. The best way forward would be to assess the situation and the severity of it, before getting HR involved. Similarly, if you are called to HR, make sure to follow all processes to avoid further disagreement or tension.

Escalate Matter Further Only After Attempting Internal Reconciliation

Whilst it is easy to view HR as a standalone department within an organisation, it is important to remember that the team typically consists of just more employees.

As such, the HR team is not the be-all and end-all to any problem. Employees who fail to receive help from their HR team might consider going around or above them – to a manager or director, for instance.

Read: HR Roles in the Future May Be Automated, Says AIHR

If still no response is received, the matter should be escalated further. However, it is important for an employee to be able to demonstrate their efforts to address an issue internally, as this will be viewed favourably if the matter progresses to a tribunal. Records should be kept of all communications for the same reason.

If you have concerns regarding a difficult situation at work or feel you are being forced to quit after being called to HR, Redmans Solicitors would be pleased to help. Contact one of our friendly employment specialists for a free, confidential consultation to discuss how we may be able to assist you.

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