I recently joined a company. Our training sessions are going on. During pair programming round, to try to make things go faster(as we are falling behind) when I tried to grab my pair's laptop(as we were working on that machine) my hands did brushed against her top body.

She then stormed off. After today's session, I tried to calm her by saying sorry (and that it was by mistake) but she was not in the mood to listen and started shouting at me in front of almost all batch and said that I've done it before (I am sure I did not).

Usually, she is rude. But today she was very very rude.

What should I do?

Should I go talk to an hr person? I feel sorry for my mistake and angry for allowing her to talk to me like that (I could not say anything when she went like that, I was dumbstruck and scared. I still am).

My new company is known for having a female-friendly environment can talking to an hr hurt my carrier?

Edit: It was my forearm that touched and I tried to get her laptop because the screen sharing at the last moment stopped working. And I think that she knew that I was the one who was going to work on the code (because coming from different background, etc..).

Why screen sharing?: Because the code was not pushed to the git hence I could not pull.

I'm a male. I have a total of two years of work experience. Location is India.

I want to know what is the worst that could happen out of this scenario? (other than public shaming which already did). And how do I defend myself in that scenario (if at all)?

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    @DavidK Agreed it's at least similar. One might construe this as different due to 1) in that post the OP seems to indicate nothing of the sort occurred whereas here something did occur but the intent (inadvertent vs. willful) is at issue and 2) sexual harassment in many cultures is treated more sensitively than most disciplinary infractions.
    – SemiGeek
    Jul 16, 2019 at 13:46
  • Your actual hands made contact, or your forearm? I can understand incidental contact between the forearm and another person when reaching across them (though that’s still too close), but if it was your hands then this doesn’t scan for me, unless there was a scuffle/she moved to block you, which is IMO pertinent to the characterization.
    – thehole
    Jul 16, 2019 at 22:11
  • @user if you want to edit that into the question we can delete these comments
    – thehole
    Jul 17, 2019 at 1:37

4 Answers 4


What should I do?

Should I go talk to an hr person? I feel sorry for my mistake and angry for allowing her to talk to me like that (I could not say anything when she went like that, I was dumbstruck. I still am).

It's times like this you need to really remember that HR is not your friend. If HR gets involved then this becomes a problem that the company needs to solve, and the easiest solution for the company is (probably) to dismiss the accused party.

You've already apologized and tried to explain yourself, so the best course now is to keep your head down and hope it blows over. Retain any evidence you might have (it doesn't sound like you have much) - it might be a wise idea to write down a detailed account of your version of events, while it's still fresh in your memory, then sign and date it. (This may not be "evidence" in the traditional sense, but it can still be more helpful than most people think.)

Don't show this written account to anyone unless it becomes necessary. Just hang on to it, just in case.

If she takes it to HR, or to someone higher, you'll be prepared to defend yourself as best you can. Remain calm, stick to the facts. Hopefully it will all work out. Even more hopefully, she'll calm down and move on, and nothing will come of it. But if you go the HR "preemptively" you will only be making sure the issue can't be ignored.

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    @user Humiliation dissipates over time. People forget. Unless, of course, you give them something to remember. Apologizing up front was the right thing to do, but don't try to defend yourself until you've been formally accused of something.
    – Steve-O
    Jul 16, 2019 at 13:26
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    @user Missed the second part of that comment - you could show this post (meaning your question - my answer is just words on the internet) if you wanted to, but I think it would be better to put it all down on paper and keep that paper somewhere safe. For starters, you can go into more detail without generating new drama online, and for seconds, the internet is an ethereal place where things can go missing at the worst times. A solid piece of paper will stay where you put it.
    – Steve-O
    Jul 16, 2019 at 13:29
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    @user I'm not sure about the law in India, but here in Canada I know that apologizing is definitively not considered proof of guilt. You may want to consult a lawyer (there may be free consultations at local universities, if that's an option for you.) In general I wouldn't be too worried about it.
    – Steve-O
    Jul 16, 2019 at 13:31
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    " when I tried to grab my pair's laptop" - it seems to me that whether or not in the act of grabbing the laptop you touched her upper body, she has reason to be upset. Pair programming is a team sport. It's rather rude to essentially push the other aside "to make things go faster". Next time maybe start with "do you mind if I use the keyboard?" or something like that.
    – onnoweb
    Jul 16, 2019 at 15:40
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    With the record of events, store it somewhere like github where there is an immutable record of when it was written.
    – Dale M
    Jul 17, 2019 at 2:53

During pair programming round, to try to make things go faster(as we are falling behind) when I tried to grab my pair's laptop(as we were working on that machine) my hands did brushed against her top body.

An apology is the best start and you need to hope that nothing more comes of it. My reading of this situation, puts you at blame. Your team was behind, and you decided you would make things move faster and thus you unilaterally "grabbed" the laptop. Which hints at you potentially invading her space. Rule one at work, do not invade another person's space, regardless of the reason. If it's going slow, you do not impose yourself onto the task, you communicate that difficulty to the other person, a superior or whatever. What you don't do is invade a person's space.

Just grabbing the laptop is very bad. Your "stepping in" seems a little forceful.

I'm just trying to understand the circumstance. Typically when pair programming two devs sit together and they work together on a task. One is a "driver" and one is a "navigator". This means one person is to hold the "wheel" (the keyboard) and they other is to help with direction.

If the driver is slow and the navigator reaches over to the wheel, that's not good.

So it either means: You potentially pushed her aside. Potentially, grabbed the keyboard from her, potentially grabbed the laptop from her while she was on the device(s). This is, in any environment, unacceptable.

You should follow the advice above. Keep your head down and hope she doesn't report you. If I were a manager and observed an employee grabbing a laptop from another employee, I would consider that unacceptable and unprofessional. In the work place, we use communication to solve our problems. We do not manhandle our problems.

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    Spot on that the grabbing is the core problem. I also wonder, if OP is in the habit of grabbing things from other people, how he can be "very sure" that he has never touched someone inappropriately before. Perhaps there was a similar incident previously where he did not notice that his hand brushed his coworker's body, but the coworker did notice. I think he should seriously examine his behavior at work. Jul 16, 2019 at 20:31
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    In that situation I would actually be even more offended by the laptop grabbing than by the possibly incidental touch. Physically taking the laptop from the current driver is a dominant move that claims the grabber is in charge, and has the right to make unilateral decisions about how the work is to be done, and the driver is in a very subordinate position and must accept the grabber's decisions without discussion. Jul 17, 2019 at 2:57
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    @user For effective pair programming when one person knows more than the other, the less knowledgeable programmer should have the keyboard. That forces discussion and explanation. If the more knowledgeable programmer has the keyboard you end up with one person programming with a spectator, not pair programming. Jul 17, 2019 at 3:05
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    @GregoryCurrie True, but I assumed training and pair programming were the main objectives because, according to the question, this happened during a pair programming exercise in a training session. Jul 17, 2019 at 4:10
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    @user We seem to need a term other than "driver" for the person currently handling the keyboard, which is what I meant by driver. Jul 17, 2019 at 7:10

This actually is one of the few instances where HR is your friend.

You go to HR. You tell HR what happened. You tell HR that you are sorry, and that you are willing to write the woman you offended an apology. You tell HR that she's obviously upset, repeat that you're very sorry, and you want some help.

You then ask for advice on how to smooth things over.

Why is this one of the few times when HR is your friend? Because people who grope co-workers on purpose don't do this. And since you realize this was a bad thing to do (grabbing the laptop), you won't be back to HR to apologize again next week.

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    I understand where you are coming from, but HR are not about fairness. They are about mitigating risk to the business. In this instance, the OP is clearly identifying themselves as someone that touched a woman inappropriately. In todays age, it's far easier to jettison the "offender" than to try to placate the "victim". Should the victim kick up a fuss, and HR get involved to prevent the victim from acting unprofessionally, they may get accused of not supporting the victim, or even victim blaming. Jul 19, 2019 at 1:47
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    @GregoryCurrie - This can be figured out with a quick decision tree. OP does nothing, co-worker complains, HR hauls OP into office, OP is now on the defensive. OP goes to HR, co-workers complains, HR can communicate OP's regrets. Which path do you think works better? "Risk" comes in all forms, and "OP gets canned for a mistake" includes the cost of replacing an employee, and potential ill-will from colleagues who saw it as a mistake. Jul 19, 2019 at 2:28
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    Going to HR is bad. There's 2 ways it'll play out. Either you run to HR before your colleague, which makes you look like you've got something to hide (like when two children each tell tales on the other to try and shift the blame), or you go to HR and the colleague doesn't, in which case you've created problems for everyone by unnecessarily involving HR.
    – Stuart F
    Jul 19, 2019 at 12:59
  • @StuartF - Except that what I described isn’t blaming her, it’s accepting responsibility for what happened. If the OP goes to HR with what you’ve described — doing it how children run to their parents, blaming their sibling for something they did — it would be a train wreck. Jul 20, 2019 at 10:42

One of the causes of the problem, possibly the main cause, if as a pair in the exercise you were falling behind, and you needed to step in to speed it up, she was the reason for you as a pair falling behind.

And she doesn't want to admit or accept that; it makes her look bad. Instead of learning, of working on it until she gets better, one of classic reactions is that she considers herself a victim, and anyone else - and you were nearby, so, you were a good target for it - must be the reason why she feels bad.

You accidentally touching her just provided a channel for that. If you didn't touch her, she would still be angry.

The only practical thing to do is to ask to be reassigned to pair with someone else, and also to avoid all work together with her in the future - don't be in the same team or anything of the sort.

People change slowly and only with great effort. It might take her several years to change, or 20 years, or the whole life, or several lifetimes. You don't have time for that. Trying to confront it directly, with logic and reasoning, is just going to make it worse; it's not a problem of logic and reasoning.

Just avoid her, and stay unfailingly polite whenever you have to be with her.

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    "she was the reason for you as a pair falling behind" - I think you're jumping to conclusions here.
    – onnoweb
    Jul 16, 2019 at 18:12
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    The main cause of the problem is OP grabbing things instead of using his words. This whole thing could have been avoided if he'd simply asked for the laptop instead of getting physical with her. Jul 16, 2019 at 20:21

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