I work at a small company and a few months ago this incident occurred: I was excited and wanted to quickly show my colleague something who was standing nearby. As what I wanted to show him was important, I gently touched his elbow and hurried him over (with my hand on his arm) to see what I wanted to show him. We were friends or at least friendly with each other and in my mind this was a totally normal level of physical contact for the situation. I completely forgot about this until about a week later, I was informed that he had filed an official complaint of physical harassment. Long story short, we went through some official mediation and everything worked out "fine". There was also security footage of the incident which we weren't allowed to see. Needless to say, we aren't too cordial anymore but things are overall OK.

Later one of his friends in the office make a subtle joke/snide remark about it at a company wide meeting. I was pretty shocked and said nothing at the time but I'm wondering how I should have handled the situation and how I should going forward.

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    You refer to the font of all wisdom: John Wayne. "I won't be wronged, I won't be insulted, and I won't be laid a hand on. I don't do these things to other people, and I require the same from them." Jun 3, 2018 at 1:07
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    "how I should have handled the situation" - why, do you expect it to recur? "and how I should going forward", ignore it, and it will be forgotten
    – Mawg
    Jun 3, 2018 at 7:13
  • Are you certain that it only happened once? Not trying to pick at you - just because if you think it's normal you probably won't recall doing it, whereas if it bothers your colleague they're much more likely to remember each instance. Jun 5, 2018 at 9:52

2 Answers 2


First of all - this isn't "untrue/misrepresented," you put your hands on someone at work and they didn't like it. You thought it was harmless, they didn't, that's why HR got involved. They told you to knock it off and hopefully you have learned to keep your paws to yourself in the workplace.

Secondly - it certainly shouldn't be an ongoing issue, but apparently the person told their friends and one of them decided to sass you. It's worth mentioning that to HR and saying "Hey, I get I shouldn't have done that and we handled it, but I don't think people spreading around a confidential HR issue is in the best interest of the company, right?" They will probably tell the guy to put a sock in it. Either way, you just ignore the dig, act right, and do your job hereafter. There's no reason for it to persist so don't play into it.

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    "you just ignore the dig" Ignoring verbal harassment is bad advice. If they do it in a company-wide meeting, there is no reason to assume it will stop. Also there is no reason to apologize to HR when you didn't do anything wrong. You might want to edit those parts.
    – Chris
    Apr 7, 2021 at 17:13

First: The legal definition "harassment" is the occurrence of two or more instances of conduct which causes a reasonable person to feel threatened, annoyed, distressed, etc. Your matter was a one-time "issue", and it falls short of meeting the definition of harassment. Therefore, it was inadequate for the company to give much importance to the so-called "official complaint".

Second: Ask HR for a copy of your personnel file. Many -if not all- states have a statute entitling the employee to obtain a copy from his or her employer. Since the company deemed this matter important enough to involve mediation, most likely it documented the "incident" in your file. If by scrutinizing your file you detect any material inaccuracies, request (preferably in writing) that it be corrected.

Third: Make a written request (either by email or have them sign a receipt-copy) for "preservation of records" in reference to the security footage and any records currently not released to you. Be as specific as possible in identifying such records. These requests are also known as "litigation hold" and, to avoid any "adverse inference of fact", it is in the other's best interest to comply with the request.

Fourth: Jokes or comments may falsely impute statements of fact, at which point we are talking about defamation. It will be important to ascertain who is spreading falsehoods and assess whether a defamation lawsuit proceeds; some comments are "defamatory per se" and therefore no damages need to be proved. What matters is not so much whether the statement is framed with opinion, but whether it conveys "facts" with enough specificity that amounts to defamatory falsehoods.

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    5) Apply for a new job, because it will be an extremely hostile environment after attempting to sue your colleague for defamation.
    – user81330
    Jun 4, 2018 at 11:15
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    @Bilkokuya: I wouldn't suggest that Bob sue right off the bat. That would be intemperate and ill-fated. But it is a good idea to somehow secure evidence in case the issue escalates. After all, the company showed its incompetence by how it handled the frivolous complaint. What if the colleague eventually files in court a frivolous petition for restraining order? Jun 4, 2018 at 19:33
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    @GregoryCurrie "I don't see anything to suggest the snide remarks were falsehoods". We can't tell because we don't know the substance or language of the snide remark. But the OP does, which places him in a position to identify whether the snide remark is defamatory. See Davis v. Fred's Appliance, Inc., 287 P.3d 51, 63, (2012) ("the fact that a speaker intends an admitted mischaracterization in jest does not make it nonactionable if the plaintiff can prove the elements of defamation"). Apr 4, 2021 at 13:02
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    @mxyzplk "Geez, Escalate much?" Again, it depends on the substance & language of the snide remark. Also context matters: The fact that the company deemed the elbow "incident" serious enough to entertain a sexual harassment complaint (speaking of escalation) with official mediation and all reflects how vulnerable the OP's position and/or reputation was. Snide remarks in such contexts might or might not reinforce a false and defamatory impression about the OP. Apr 4, 2021 at 16:38
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    Please note that in many jurisfications (not USA) even the truth can be defamatory, if used out of context. Making jokes in a company-wide meeting could be an attempt to hurt OP's career and therefore would be handled differently than talking about it in private with colleagues. Court will handle that differently case by case, so it still depends on the substance and language of the remark. P.S. in my language there are two different terms for defamation (one for lying and one for truth out of context).
    – Chris
    Apr 5, 2021 at 14:01

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