At an informal farewell for one of my colleagues, another colleague made a racist remark, perhaps under the influence of alcohol.

This social function is not arranged by the company, hence its informal nature. As I understand, there is no law against hate speech in the US, where I am.

However, the company has policies against discriminatory remarks like this. But given this happened outside of work, do I have grounds for speaking up and reporting this to HR?

EDIT: I confronted the said colleague when he’s sober, and he ignored and turned his back on me.

  • 2
    Please tell the nature of the remark (direct insult or something like people from 'x' can not do 'y'), and if the colleague has a management function. Also tell if the remark was directed against you.
    – Sascha
    Dec 31, 2018 at 10:15
  • 2
    What is your goal here?
    – rath
    Dec 31, 2018 at 16:10
  • Was a supervisor or manager present? Did they arrange it? Even if they weren't there, the function could still be considered "on the island."
    – mkennedy
    Dec 31, 2018 at 19:56
  • 2
    Ironically, depending on how you confronted him, your colleague may have grounds for reporting you to HR... Dec 31, 2018 at 22:20
  • 2
    @Chan-HoSuh Curious - wouldn't OP's confrontation be considered "outside of work" as well? Could you elaborate? Jan 2, 2019 at 0:19

4 Answers 4



If you go to HR with this one of three things will happen

  1. You will damage or ruin your coworker's career
  2. You will damage or ruin your career
  3. You will damage or ruin both of your careers.

In two of the three possible outcomes, you damage your career.

HR would likely consider this a waste of their time as it was not a work function, did not occur on the premisis, and has nothing to do with the business.

Now, a bit about what HR is, and is not


  • There to protect the company and it's interests

  • Keep the company clear of liability and issues

  • Enforce company policy
  • Assist employees in paperwork and following policies
  • Answer questions about policies, paperwork, and benefits
  • Handle SERIOUS employee conflicts and difficulties
  • Assist in the hiring and firing of employees


  • A place to tattle on your coworkers

  • The thought police.

  • for trivial matters

  • for anything outside of company purview

  • for settling minor disputes

  • for career coaching

  • a court of law

  • Anonymous

  • The police

Too many people make the assumption that they can walk into HR about any matter and have it magically settled with no consequences. If you walk into HR with something, there will be a note in your file stating that you brought up the issue. If this is a major issue such as harassment, theft, malfeasance, or ethics, this is a GOOD THING. However, if you bring in things that will waste their time and money investigating over trivial matters or non-work related issues, this will be a blot on your record and you will be labeled a problem employee, and you may be passed over for promotions, or in the case of mass layoffs, your name will at the top of the list.

Going to HR on matters such as what you described where

  • It occurred off site
  • It was not a work-related function
  • Was not in writing and there is nothing but an unsubstantiated accusation on your part.

Will only damage your career.

You do not have to associate with this employee outside of work, and freezing this person out of social events is perfectly legitimate.

That said, you do have to be cordial and professional on the job until and unless the person does something unprofessional and actionable that can damage the company.

  • 6
    Ah, thanks. I was already starting to wonder whether there might be any circumstances under which HR might be my friend, you hadn't posted for so long :)
    – rath
    Dec 31, 2018 at 16:09
  • 1
    @rath LOL. Yes, in serious matters as protecting the company, such as reporting a boss for malfeasance or harassment, reporting someone for theft, or looking out for the company's interests, HR can be your best friend. Dec 31, 2018 at 16:10
  • 2
    Please, no. Not a "note in my file"! Jan 1, 2019 at 0:47
  • A red note in your file Jan 1, 2019 at 1:14

Do I have grounds for speaking up and reporting this to HR?

No, do not escalate this event to HR. This event, like you mentioned is a purely private event between you and your soon to be former colleague. While the company has a policy against demeaning speech, there is no connection to the company in the context of where this incident happened.

What you should do

You have learned about the demeanor of this person when they are under the influence of alcohol. Hold yourself to the high ground and continue to interact at this event in a professional manner. You may also choose to cut this person off from more drinking if you feel comfortable. As the host, you are in charge of what happens and should be in control at all times.

Summary: Remain professional, calm, and assert control to prevent the situation from escalating.

  • 6
    I don't believe the racist remark came from the coworker who is leaving. I also don't believe OP was the host.
    – Summer
    Dec 31, 2018 at 5:18
  • 3
    @bruglesco - It does not really matter. This is not something that should be reported to HR, however, it should also not be ignored entirely, but the author already confronted whoever made the comment. So what should have been done, making sure the person who made the comment knows their behavior isn't acceptable, has already happened. The author should continue to be professional in all interactions with the person.
    – Donald
    Dec 31, 2018 at 6:28
  • 1
    @Ramhound that's a much better answer
    – Summer
    Dec 31, 2018 at 6:38

Don't be the one who brings work into this.

As this happened outside of work, this isn't really a HR issue. As such, going to HR is likely to do you more harm than good. The moment you do this will be the moment you will start to see yourself being ostracised for going for the jugular as soon as your colleague revealed a bit of asshattery under the influence of alcohol. For all your other colleagues know you might go after them next if they say something that could be construed as sexist/transphobic/you-get-the-idea while drunk. What happened that day may not be that much of a grey-area but your colleagues friends may still attribute your colleague's words to the drink talking.

This happened in a social setting, not a work setting, so the options you'll want to be considering are social-scenario responses. That means things like just not going drinking with this person or ask them to tone it down if it offends you and you can't avoid social events with them.

  • "As such, going to HR is likely to do you more harm than good." -- That will begin with making and trying to enforce a long list of policies about what happens outside the workplace.
    – Blrfl
    Dec 31, 2018 at 13:08

This matter is a bit of a gray zone as you already understood.

It is because your college did this outside of work that you shouldn't for now escalate the matter to the HR team.

However, your collegue more or less represents the company with his face. Which in turn means - if he or she for example starts participating in such conversations publicly (twitter, facebook, other social media channels, in front of some audience, even outside of work) - he or she will also damage the company reputation.

In this case it may be worth to consult with the HR team, as they should hopefully know how to deal with this matter in a professional way.

  • 1
    Hey, dear future downvoter - before downvoting - please drop a comment as it seems to me I am missing something important or I am misenterpreting something or maybe my answer is misnterpret. Not sure but will really appreciate some feedback on the downvotes I get. Jan 2, 2019 at 0:40

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