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In my small office of 15 people, all are Trump supporters and I am a lone Biden supporter.

Previously, somebody reported me to HR for an incident based on a political argument I had with somebody in the office. The whole thing was stupid; I got a warning, and I apologized.

With the recent election, my peers were excited about Trump winning. We actually watched the election results on a Zoom call together. While the early results were pro-Trump, they all cheered as I quietly sulked.

Obviously, as more votes started coming in, things started looking better for Biden. My coworkers got VERY upset. They started cursing loudly and somebody even threw their keyboard in the office when they learned Wisconsin flipped to Biden.

About 10:00am on Wednesday, several people from the office started leaving. No notice, no e-mail, no communication; they just walked out of the office. More and more people started walking out. Since Thursday morning, there has been NOBODY in the office. All my team (my coworkers and boss) are all gone. There was no e-mail. I am completely alone. I tried calling and texting several of them, but didn't get a response.

There's some big projects that are coming due to some important clients, and I'm starting to worry about nobody being here except me. I'm considering calling HR and asking them what's going on, but I don't want it to seem like I'm antagonizing some grieving Trump supporters. How should I approach this situation?


UPDATE - 11/11

Just wanted to provide a quick update. On Friday, there was still nobody in the office, so I decided to call HR. (I didn't mention politics at all).

On Monday, they called me back and told me that the individuals (which were ALL 14 PEOPLE) have been "relieved" of their duties. So the last couple of days, I've been sitting here in the office completely alone with no boss.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Nov 6 '20 at 13:11
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    "So the last couple of days, I've been sitting here in the office completely alone with no boss." noone superior is there? At least the person who has relieved all others should be available to tell you what to do now. – puck Nov 11 '20 at 17:39
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    Does "relieved" mean fired, or given time off to cope? – Michael McFarlane Nov 11 '20 at 18:41
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    @puck I'm literally the only one here in this office. It was HR that told me they were relieved on the phone. We have an online org chart, and when I look up my name, it's showing no "supervisor". Given the fact that a bunch of people just got "relieved", I'm a little bit concerned to talk with HR right now. – BazookaJoeBubbleGum Nov 11 '20 at 20:28
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    @MichaelMcFarlane pretty sure it means they got fired, because they aren't in the companies directory anymore. – BazookaJoeBubbleGum Nov 11 '20 at 20:32
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Call HR

If your entire office has completely disappeared from their jobs with no notice and are fully incommunicado, this is a cause for serious concern. Normally in this situation I'd say call your boss, but you mention they're one of the people who disappeared. Hence, call HR, and inquire about the situation.

Leave the politics out of it. Do not mention that this happened immediately following the election swing, do not bring up your previous encounter with HR, do not mention your speculation (which is all it can be) that it's a grief reaction. Just explain that your coworkers abruptly left the office in a stream of people from Wednesday, that none of them have returned, that you have no further instructions and are unable to contact them, and are concerned about the lack of information and the status of projects they're working on. At most you could mention that some of them seemed quite upset. If HR want to know the details leading up to this exodus, they'll ask - then you can tell them.

Again, the problem here isn't that people have had a strong reaction to a political event, it's that they've abandoned the office and the job with no notice or instruction. Approach it from that angle - not as a political issue, but as a professional one.

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    Thanks, I plan on doing so if they don't show up soon... – BazookaJoeBubbleGum Nov 6 '20 at 2:11
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    @BazookaJoeBubbleGum - I think you need to have a good hard think about whether you want to burn someone who has the ability to fire you. – Richard Nov 6 '20 at 9:06
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    If you do contact HR it needs to be to check that you are in the right place "Hi, yeah there's no one here, I can't raise my boss on the phone, I'm wondering if they're all at an off site meeting and I'm supposed to be there . . ." Also, if you can't raise your boss, and a decision needs to be made, go to his boss, not HR. – Binary Worrier Nov 6 '20 at 10:03
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    HR is not your friend. Best case talking to HR is that HR does nothing and everyone comes back to work. If all of your colleagues are gone for more than a day or so then someone else will notice that they're missing and go find them. Let that other person be the bad guy. Worst cases include - HR says BazookaJoe has reported you all missing, and you have do deal with your colleges being upset with you. - HR comes down on you for being a trouble maker. – UEFI Nov 6 '20 at 10:54
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    @UEFI "HR isn't your friend" doesn't apply here... OP doesn't have an issue with their company or management. And reporting their colleagues' behaviour in this case seems to be a situation where HR could help... – Laurent S. Nov 6 '20 at 19:28
36

I would not do anything.

If you called HR, what would they likely do next? I bet they would call these people and say "We have reports that you didn't show up for work today." or even worse "BazookaJoeBubbleGum said you didn't show up for work today." In the latter case, they name you as the snitch. Yes, you are in the right, but that often doesn't matter. In the former, they would just suspect it, as their absence is most likely coordinated. It doesn't help that HR has you down as a trouble maker so I wouldn't count on them being willing to protect you against repercussions going forward if relations in your office became difficult. Same with your boss. He already has some of the paperwork for a reason to fire you.

I would much rather a deadline be missed and the client get mad at the boss's boss for failing to deliver as I would still have to work with these people afterward. HR doesn't need to maintain relationships in that office. They are in another building and have authority. You have to work with these people closely and are already the odd one out of the social group.

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    I was in a similar situation regarding Brexit in the UK. I did nothing and it blew over in a week or so. When they come back don't mention anything and pretend that nothing happened. – UEFI Nov 6 '20 at 10:51
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    @UEFI this is such a British way of dealing with conflict. As no body is going to back down or come round in this situation, it may be the cleanest solution. – Clumsy cat Nov 6 '20 at 13:10
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    I got in argument with a colleague about Brexit at the time of the referendum, and last week he said to me, "You know what, Mike? You were right about Brexit". – Michael Harvey Nov 6 '20 at 18:35
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    I supported 'Remain' by the way. – Michael Harvey Nov 7 '20 at 11:09
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    "I would much rather a deadline be missed and the client get mad at the boss's boss" - it depends on how directly involved the OP is with the customer delivery, but couldn't this severely backfire along the lines of: "You knew the team is unexpectedly absent, you knew this would endanger the delivery, and yet you didn't bother to alert anyone when we could still have salvaged this project?" I know the others have left the OP without informing them, but from management's PoV, the net effect on the delivery is the same as if the OP had conspired with the others to cover up their absence. – O. R. Mapper Nov 7 '20 at 12:36
11

I think you should do a couple of things.

  • As mentioned by @GlenPierce you need to make sure you are safe. Do whatever it takes.
  • Find a new place to work. This is dysfunctional, and the best thing you can do about a dysfunctional workplace is to leave.
  • For the situation as it is, I think the best you can do is to do your work as good as possible. Don't do anything that isn't normally your responsibility.

You need to understand that whatever you do will end you in trouble:

  • If you don't contact HR you are the person that didn't bring up a major problem. That will get you into trouble with HR.
  • If you talk to HR you are the person that squealed on your boss and co-workers. And you will get into trouble with your boss.
  • If you decide to do the same as your co-workers and just leave, you are the person that left work without any reason. Worse, you did it after a couple of days of consideration and not in anger as your co-workers.

No matter how you handle this you risk getting fired. Try to prepare for that, and if possible beat them to it by finding another place to work.

Edit: This is not about politics. This is about people not working when they should. Keep politics out of it if at all possible.

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    Maybe check if you are in a state that has stronger anti-political-discrimination laws, too... shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/… But in general, going to HR in this case is at least a defensible position. "I didn't want to get my colleagues in trouble even though I knew what they were doing was wrong" is harder to justify, and "I also joined them in it" is even worse. – user3067860 Nov 6 '20 at 12:00
  • @user3067860 "I was fearful about retaliation if I went to HR" is a pretty decent excuse though. – Onyz Nov 6 '20 at 12:14
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    "If you don't contact HR you are the person that didn't bring up a major problem. That will get you into trouble with HR." -- That's not going to happen. If HR challenges you just reply, "Everyone was gone, I just assumed that there was a good reason, and that I'd find out when they came back." – UEFI Nov 6 '20 at 14:14
  • @UEFI if HR challenges you it means you are in trouble. And you never know how they will react, especially since there is a warning from before. In theory it should be as you say, but reality isn't that simple. – Polygorial Nov 6 '20 at 15:05
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    @Polygorial I agree it's not simple, but HR also has to deal with the business basics "not showing up for work" and "not having a manager to report it to" basically leaves two options, the CEO and HR. HR would prefer you don't go to the CEO first, and HR now is flagged that the prior altercation might have escalated (with one side clearly not acting like good employees) and would prefer to enact security policies (firing) before an employee possibly returns and starts a physical confrontation. Remember HR does worry about worst-case scenarios, and liability for not acting on a prior report. – Edwin Buck Nov 13 '20 at 15:29
5

This sounds super-weird, and unless everybody is working from home and they are just cutting you out, it's not going to end well for them, and better look for a new job, could be that the team is axed completely, but the following steps may in that case secure your professional survival.

  • If you have the feeling that the situation turns dangerous, just leave. Normally i would say "dogs which bark don't bite", but one never can be sure.

  • check the holiday calendar of your team if you have one

  • The most important thing is that the client has somebody responding to his angry calls and communicating for the project, and that needs to be aligned. Send an email to the person normally communicating with the client asking for clarification how to handle it and that you would be willing to do that if nobody else is available (CC to your boss)

  • Write an email to your boss, asking for clarification on the current schedules and resource situation (without speculating if and why people are not there). State the tasks which need to done, the tasks which you can do still, and potentially ask to prioritize to handle the situation.

  • If you are in touch with the client, and they ask to speak to your boss/the responsible, tell them that you will pass this message immediately, which is exactly what you will do, and tell that they will respond as soon as possible.

  • Is there any evidence to support "dogs which bark don't bite" even as a generalisation? My understanding is that cases of workplace violence etc. very often are preceded by "barking" (verbal aggression etc.) – Geoffrey Brent Nov 12 '20 at 0:18
-5

After reading your update from today: You should be afraid. Very afraid. Your entire team got fired, over what appears to be a political (actual politics, not office politics) issue. This is probably illegal (it is in most locales, unsure about yours) and is at the very least unethical. Basically what this says to me is, if I dare to share an opinion that is different from the HR line, I could lose my job. You don't want to work at such a company; in this case you happened to be lucky because you happen to have the "right" opinion, but this may not always be the case and you want to be prepared for that eventuality by working for a different company which is more tolerant.

Now, given that your office is 15 people, all of whom except you got fired, and HR still exists, means I'm guessing you probably work in a remote office of a larger company. Depending on how big this company is and how much you care about this situation (which should be a lot, but YMMV), you may want to notify your local news agency of this occurrence. Many news agencies would be very happy to report on a large company firing its employees over political beliefs. However, be sure to put yourself in a position where they can't retaliate against you, e.g. by finding another job first, if you choose to go this route.

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    It's not getting fired for a political reason. It's getting fired for walking out of the office and not showing up for work. People often confuse their motivations for their actions. HR will fire them for their actions. To see if it is a matter of their actions or their politics, take politics out of it. If they all walked out of the office and stopped showing up for work because they thought the world was going to end, and HR would fire them for that, then it's not about the motivation but the actions they took. After all, we can't assault others because of our beliefs. – Edwin Buck Nov 11 '20 at 17:36
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    Sounds like they were all in the office to watch the election results, and when the results were not what they liked, they walked out. Also sounds like they had a prior complaint by the poster of harassment a coworker over differences of political beliefs. If I was in HR's shoes, I'd fire them for failure to appear at work, which is a really clear-cut "no politics" reason to get fired. Good employees get a talk and a second chance, problem ones just get let go. – Edwin Buck Nov 11 '20 at 17:49
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    OP called on Friday, saying “nobody’s here”. If I was HR I would have asked where were they yesterday? Not here. And Wednesday? Walked out starting at 10am. Next thing I would call everyone on their work phone to make sure they’re really not there, and then on their private phones. Then call my boss saying “14 people AWOL since Wednesday”, and then I would probably be told to fire them. I’d send 14 letters out Monday morning and call the lone remaining employee. Did I mention politics? I didn’t. – gnasher729 Nov 11 '20 at 18:09
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    Without anyone saying a thing? – gnasher729 Nov 11 '20 at 18:11
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    If they were fired on Wednesday, a call to HR on Friday would have been met with "sorry you weren't informed, they've been let go" instead of needing to wait till the next Monday to be told they were fired. It almost seems that Ertai87 has decided the firing is political, and is unwilling to consider any other explanation. And while firings can happen quickly, and quietly, within a day people who ask are told "they're not with the company anymore" – Edwin Buck Nov 11 '20 at 18:15

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