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Today, I found some company photos in a openly available shared folder to anyone in the business. I found a picture of my colleague in here. I set this as my desktop background and asked him "Hey, do you like my new desktop background?" - in a joking manner. He then phoned the HR department concerning the availability of the photos and his concerns over violation of his rights.

After this, the photos in the shared folder were deleted and he then TOLD me to delete my desktop background. I had no problem with this (except telling, not asking) and began trying to change the background image. As I was doing this he then said: "Delete it, or I'll make your life a living hell".

Should I take this further and notify HR? We've had no previous issues and often talk with each other.

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    HR is not your friend. – Kenneth K. Dec 6 '17 at 23:47
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    I mean you basically mocked the coworker by setting it as your background, your coworker was irritated enough that he went to HR about it and then your coworker was angry you didn't delete it initially anyways. While their reaction might be over the top your actions here come across as fairly childish yourself.. – enderland Dec 7 '17 at 0:02
  • What do you hope to achieve by going to HR? Are you that insistent on your "right" to make use of someone else's photo for whatever purpose you see fit? If it's just about the threat and you don't care about the photo, I still don't see what you hope to gain from going to HR that can't be better achieved by just removing the photo (I also can't see HR saying more than "don't threaten people" to your coworker and then reprimanding you for your behaviour). – Bernhard Barker Dec 7 '17 at 8:12
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    I have no idea where this fear, reverence and blah blah about HR comes from... is it an American only thing? – Caterpillaraoz Dec 7 '17 at 9:35
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    HR's job is to hire people, keep people in the company and ensure that the company remains viable in the marketplace with regards to those people. HR is not "out to get you". HR is not "out to help them". I've always been like @Caterpillaraoz with regards to this: why all the hate. Always sounds to me like sour grapes. – SliderBlackrose Dec 7 '17 at 14:40
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Many people are extremely sensitive to being photographed or sharing their pics without consent. Religious, self awareness or extreme shyness are some of the driving factors.

The colleague may have panicked or become outraged after suddenly seeing his image and may have said those words without much thought.

You were just having a bit of fun. It would be good to chat privately with him and say that, and then apologize. But mention that you were just kidding and there wasn't a need to say what he said. He may have said it in the heat of the moment and will hopefully understand it.

If he still maintains his stance, then you should just maintain your working relationship with him. Avoid any practical jokes.

HR notification is not necessary unless he makes good on his threat.

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  • There is also witness protection and similar things. – gnasher729 Dec 7 '17 at 7:28
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    Or just general privacy-consciousness. – Erik Dec 7 '17 at 8:00
  • In hindsight, it was a silly thing for me to do. We still talk and I don't think he meant in a way in which I took it, so I'll forget about the whole issue. – Tom Dec 9 '17 at 22:29
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This whole thing is a bit childish. Why did you put his photo as your background in the first place? I can't think of anyone that wouldn't find it annoying.

By the way, I don't believe that there was no issue with that guy. I can believe that there was nothing obvious, but I would bet there is something under the surface.

His reaction of course was completely over the top. Plus he was clearly aggressive when there was no need to be.

But look at this from HR's point of view. You get this complaint by this guy who was probably furious about the incident with the background. You realize that on one hand it is kind of trivial matter but you know you cannot ignore it because probably there is a law that was violated. You deal with the photos and you hope this whole thing will go away. But then you get an other complaint by the guy with the background saying that the other guy was too aggressive. What would you be your thoughts? I would wonder when I started working for a kindergarden.

In short you both need to grow up. First don't be annoying to other people. Just don't. Nothing good comes out of it. Second your ego is the worst councilor. Stop listening to it. You will only make the matter worse. You annoyed him, he overreacted, now move on with your lives.

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What a stupid thing to do. Why on earth would you use the photo of a colleague as your desktop picture? That's not normal. Unless it is some sexual thing, if you fancy that man, in which case it would be harassment. In either case, it would be very worrying and annoying for the person whose photo you took.

Yes, that call to HR should have been totally expected. That your colleague wants that photo removed from your desktop picture and from your computer is totally expected. That he isn't asking politely is totally expected. It's the same as if I found you stole my wallet, I would ask for it back, and I wouldn't be asking politely, and if it didn't come back very, very, quickly, I would tell you that there will be consequences.

"I will make your life a living hell" doesn't threaten any illegal actions. If he wants to, he can make your life a living hell in totally legal ways. You did something entirely stupid, you are lucky there are no consequences to you. And if you go to HR, there will be the question asked: Why, just why did you put that picture on your desktop?

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  • I agree on the first paragraph, and the second. The last, however, I disagree. The problem is the strong wording of "living hell". This implies either harassing behavior or excessive action, and therefore is an aggressive act. "There will be consequences" is less "threatening" than that. However, the OP should understand that I only disagree with that point. Everything else is pretty spot on. – SliderBlackrose Dec 7 '17 at 14:42
  • It's a joke, call it childish or not, and I the OP did likely not have the intention to permanently make it his desktop wallpaper, otherwise you are right. Their are two possible reactions: "Hey dude, where did you dug up that pic? Really? I didn't know that it was their!" and "I'll make your live a living hell.". The first is the reaction of a normal dude, the second that of a psychopath. – NoBackingDown Dec 7 '17 at 15:18
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Work is for work, not harassment games. You made the first mistake in engaging in harassment. The only reason you did this was to get a rise out of him. You got a bigger reaction than you expected, but you did this to embarrass him and thus you behaved as a bully. You upset and embarrassed a colleague to the point where he went to HR and had the pictures removed. You then apparently were not very cooperative about removing the picture from your hard drive (or at least it was perceived that way). So the guy lost his temper. Not cool.

But if you go to HR to complain at this point, they are going to consider that you are in the wrong (because they already decided this when they made the pictures be removed from the hard drive and because you started the whole problem with inappropriate actions) and be more likely to take action against you or, at best, against both of you. I see no scenario where you win if you go to HR. Certainly it will further damage any possible relationship with the person you upset which is rarely a good idea. You might even damage your relationships with other people in your office as it will likely get back to them.

What you need to do now is make sure you remove the file and show the person it is removed and the Trash can emptied so that you cannot easily get it back. Do not move the file off to removable media in the process either. If you are found to still have a copy of this photo later after being asked to delete it, HR is going to be far more inclined to get rid of you as a troublemaker. Then you need to sincerely apologize and, this is critical, never do any teasing to this person again especially concerning any photographs.

Next you need to adjust your idea of what is appropriate at work. What is funny in a personal situation is often not funny or appropriate at work. You will have to work with a lot of people who do not share your sense of humor. I would suggest you review your sense of humor.

Incidentally trying to embarrass a work colleague is a counterproductive thing to do and something you should think twice or even ten times about before doing again to any colleague including ones you don't like. Coworkers are not automatically friends (even though some can be), so start treating them with professional courtesy not bullying and harassment.

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Drop it and move on. No need to get petty.

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