I work in a field where my work must be reviewed by a more senior colleague. This colleague is not my direct line-manager.

On a number of occasions he has questioned my ability, and that of another team member to do the job effectively, and he has regularly threatened to speak with various team leaders and members of senior management to highlight my inadequacies. Admittedly I am not nearly as skilled as him, but I feel he is being overly harsh and that his threats are a form of harassment/bullying, causing me much anxiety.

After a several months of this treatment I snapped, and asked him to follow through on his threats and to speak with whomever he felt he needed to. As far as I know he did not, but since then our working relationship has worsened even further.

My only aim here is not to work with the person again, but there is currently no guarantee of this. The situation has not been resolved informally via the normal routes, and I now feel my only option is to raise this with HR. I am worried, however, that my perceived lack of skill will become the focus of any tribunal, and not his undermining constant criticism.

What are some pros and cons of escalating a personnel conflict issue to HR?

Just to clarify, I wrote this question in somewhat of a hurry. My term 'lack of skills' is incorrect, and has been prepended with perceived. I am not an under-performer by any means.

  • 4
    When you say inadequate, do you mean you have to frequently redo the work or missing big chunks? Also, did you talk to your manager? Tell them that your senior reviewer is saying your work is inadequate with no foundation?
    – Dan
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 16:51
  • 8
    Related: What does HR do for me? Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 16:58
  • 8
    can you - Milk - clarify what "the normal routes" are?
    – bharal
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 17:35
  • 3
    You write "my lack of skills". Does that mean you actually lack skills that are required objectively for your job position, or do you mean "perceived lack of skill" or "assumed lack of skill", of "implied lack of skill", by yourself, or somebody else? Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 11:23
  • 3
    There is no pro of going to HR. Only cons. Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 19:52

7 Answers 7


You do not specify what "the normal routes" are - for example, in many places, contacting HR would be considered a normal route, which you obviously have not done.

That said, Drakemor's answer of "contact your manager" is the best course - unless that was one of the "normal routes".

Assuming then that you have contacted your manager and resolved nothing, then contacting HR is a good choice. I am assuming you are a programmer - but unlike in IT where there is usually a black/white answer, in HR there is not. They don't need to fire either or both or you, for example. They probably won't have a "tribunal" either.

You should just raise to HR that you are having difficulty with a colleague - that you are feeling bullied and that this is impacting your performance. Note the focus on your feelings rather than on this person's intentions or actions.

HR will probably talk to this person and to you. Express how this person's actions make you feel, and express the kind of collaborative environment you would thrive in and that you want.

You're junior, so it is obvious you have less skills. Maybe you need more training, maybe this person needs training in mentoring others. Regardless, you need to make every effort to resolve this issue because otherwise you will leave the company. Note that the company doesn't want anyone to "just leave" or to "fire" anyone - replacing staff is expensive, both in recruitment costs and the time taken to get new people up to speed - it is not a decision taken lightly. It is in their interest to resolve this amicably for all parties.

I don't see a problem with asking not to work with someone, or to minimise the work done with someone, if the two of you are at loggerheads. But express it as "i struggle to work with this person, as i feel belittled" rather than "hi HR i have a problem with this person. i need you to remove them from the org, thanks".

Your question is "when", the answer to which is "as soon as you can send a polite email that is not too long, asking for guidance on dealing with a workplace conflict". Spare the details in the email, ask to meet with an HR rep. When you go, have a list of things that this person does that upset you, and have good knowledge of your working history with each other.

Understand that you might have to continue working with them, perhaps a reduced amount, it is hard to get someone removed. Consider how often/in what capacity you would like to continue working with this person, be prepared to present that as an alternative.

  • 10
    Suggest documenting events, dates, what was said and other people present. Before you visit HR. Show repeated behaviour. Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 18:58

Assuming that you exhausted all forms of resolving this between you two - I would advise to speak with your direct line-manager first.

He is the person that is actually responsible for your work and your well-being. If you feel bullied or otherwise undervalued you should signal this to him, and he will suggest the appropriate solution to your particular problem, adequate to your company and its' culture.

Explain the situation and emphasise that it is impacting negatively on your work.

  • 2
    I agree with this, though the OP has presented what looks like harassment types of things so I'd make sure they portray that to their manager this way.
    – enderland
    Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 11:12

HR won't pick sides. They won't say if you are doing right, or if the other guy is doing right. Instead they will look if there are any legal issues and if they have to protect the company or not. Chances are though if you're constantly complaining, they'll just find a reason to fire you.

Best approach is to go to your manager. If you have email proof or chat logs of the interaction where he stated he would go to management with your bad work, do bring that along. What I don't get from your question is if you actually do bad work and have to repeat the work again under the guidance of the senior person. If that is the case, then my advice is to either find a new job if you're unwilling to learn, or begin to follow the senior person's advice.

  • 2
    I suggest HR does pick a side - the interests of the company. They will want to defuse any possible thought of a lawsuit, and they will want to try to determine for themselves if they need to recommend any action to prevent any future events from damaging productivity, the company's reputation, or the bottom line. But we agree on the main point, they won't take the asker's side in any case. Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 13:36
  • 2
    @ToddWilcox - HR always pick a side. Their own side.
    – Richard
    Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 20:29
  • 1
    @Richard Yes, that's exactly what I was trying to convey. Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 20:39

In my work experience, escalating to HR is the worst idea an employee can have. I'd rather go to trial with a company than deal with HR.

That dept. is not there to give you justice. They just do whatever's best for the company, even if that's not right for you individually, even if it's slightly illegal, even if they have to cover stuff up (their asses included). As long as management is happy, HR is also happy. That's not to say they won't reprimand your colleague for bullying. They might, but then they also might decide to let you go because you ratted out on him and the head of HR is his aunt's sister's godmother or something (true story).

Companies are not court houses, they do not dispense justice, most of them are led by people who only care about the bottom line for their investors. HR is there to help optimize the costs by ensuring employee compliance to internal rules and legal requirements, not to settle disputes between co-workers. They do that only to prevent legal action by employees or the state, and usually are pretty ruthless in defending the company when such possibility arises.

A work conflict usually reflects badly on all involved parties, regardless of who's right or wrong. Think thoroughly before escalating your conflict (your line manager included).

All these negative things aside, if your story is true, you are being harassed and bullied at the workplace. You tried de-escalating the situation and failed, and now are at the mercy of your line manager or HR.

Before going ahead with your plan, ask yourself a few questions:

What do you expect to gain from escalating?

What can you afford to lose in case your company rules that you are at fault?

Would it be easier to just move (department/company whatever)?

Would you still work for the company if the solution they find does not satisfy you?

Escalating conflicts formally is not something to be done rashly and in anger or taken lightly, think very hard before you do it and be prepared for the consequences.


The role of HR is to protect the company's interests, not to be a mediator for employee conflicts. Escalate to HR only when the issue could be a liability for the company.

  • 4
    Would someone else creating a hostile working environment not classify as a potential liability for the company? Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 16:59
  • @Dukeling It depends on the details of the exact circumstances.
    – Masked Man
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 17:17
  • @Dukeling Being harshly critical of a peer's work isn't grounds for HR. Maybe earn you the hate of your co-workers, but otherwise they can't punish that. Harassing someone for no reason, if the OP can prove that with emails or chat logs, then that is potentially actionable.
    – Dan
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 17:31
  • 1
    @Dan "Harassing someone for no reason," even if they have reason, harassing is not acceptable
    – cdkMoose
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 20:39

HR is there to protect the company. They "may" get involved, but you more then likely will not like the outcome. HR's job is to make sure no one can sue the company and that the company is following all laws and regulations.

They will not protect you, they will not take your side. They will look at the situation and if "the senior" was doing something legally wrong, they may do "something" (have a conversation to firing depending). They may look at you and decide if you did something wrong. Given your description in your question, I would expect a few things:

  • The senior would be spoken with and maybe assigned some sensitivity classes or materials.
  • You would be put on a PIP to get your performance up where it should be
  • You would be reviewed to see if you are under-performing by an amount that should get your fired.
  • You may have to attend HR training classes.

In this case, you will not get the good side of HR. The senior may get some effects, but he will turn around and say you're underperforming, which is what your complaining of, so the spotlight will be on you. Heck, they may even just fire you. Some HR departments will do that so they don't have to deal with it. Remember HR doesn't care what happened only rather or not you can sue for it.

You would be much better off discussing this with your supervisor, they would be the one who is supposed to resolve this kind of issue.


Don't escalate to HR, this is for serious conflicts and considered the "nuclear" option. The other guy is a senior and you're Cuba. Do escalate to your manager - but there might be something to do about this guy as well.

This is something to nip in the bud. Whenever someone starts ranting (and yes, it is a rant) about how they'll talk to this and that, eventually it's gonna go one of two ways:

  1. There is no problem but this guy thinks he can walk all over you, and will keep berating you about it
  2. There is a problem and when this person escalates, it might be too late for you to react

In either scenario the best approach is grab the bull by the horns and invite them to follow through:

I'm sorry to hear you think the quality of work is sub-par. It is your prerogative to speak with Manager and I think you should if you spot any quality issues (cont.)

  • You have called their bluff
  • You emphasize you care about your quality of work

The healthy approach is for the senior to have a regular scheduled meeting with all related managers to talk about quality of work and process improvement - which precludes ranting to you about anything. This is, of course, heavily culture-dependent but it is an angle you can push on, using this guy's behaviour as a springboard.

(cont.) In fact I think it would be helpful if you and Manager had a weekly or monthly chat to talk about these things and how we can improve.

If this guy is for real he might see the idea for what it is; if he's interested only in venting, this call to action effectively calls his bluff cause now he's required to do something about it.

Or he might dismiss the idea as silly (which is why you sell it to your manager later), in which case you ask them to follow through with their original threat idea.

  • I agree that your approach for dealing with this situation sounds good. I'm not sure this was not a serious enough conflict to warrant HR getting involved. I've seen workplace bullying go way too far, and it generally started like this.
    – Ed Grimm
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 20:46

You must log in to answer this question.