56

Today I was approached by my direct manager, warning me that the company has been approached by an unidentified person with some accusation with regards to my political preferences. No further details were shared, as my manager also did not have any further information. Thus I am unsure what situation I will find myself in exactly, but it seems someone has tried to "doxx" me.

Indeed, the HR department has since requested an outlook appointment. I will have to attend this in a few days. The meeting subject was not made explicit. It is not common protocol for HR to request a meeting with me directly, as it by-passes my manager. Maybe HR intends to discuss something trivial, but for the sake of the question let us assume:

  • An unidentified person claims I hold beliefs that he or she considers extremist.
  • Offers some form of "evidence" that connects me to some controversial ideology.

Please note that I am not affiliated to any political party, nor do I post political content to social media. I am categorically uninterested in discussing ideology or other personal matters with coworkers. As far as I am aware, I have not committed any crimes. However, I have attended (legal) demonstrations and activist events in the past. Also I do have friends that are politically active, with whom I am in daily -private- conversation.

Of course, I'd like to de-escalate the situation and maintain my current position at the company. Thus I have not posted this question to legal.stackexchange, as I hope to diffuse the situation right then and there at the HR office, before having to resort to legal means.

Assumed I in fact am a victim of doxxing or outing, how can I best de-escalate the situation at the HR office? What I intend to do:

  • Do not react to anonymous accusations.
  • State that I do not wish to discuss my politics or ideology at work, and that I have never done so in the workplace.
  • State that I consider the anonymous accusation a form of harassment.
  • State that, if I am accused of any crime or misdemeanor, that would be a case for the police, rather than a human resource department.

Note: this an IT company in Western Europe, my contract is indefinite (non-temporary) and my activities at the company are of a strictly apolitical nature.

1
  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Jan 14 at 19:16
38

If you know and feel you have done

  • nothing wrong
  • nothing that violates company policies
  • nothing that violates ethics in general sense

Nothing to worry.

Don't jump into the conclusion before you get to see / know the full picture / story. Attend the meeting with HR, listen to what they have to say and if

  • They try to accuse you based on some unconfirmed anonymous tip, ask for exact information, incidents and related proofs of the claim. A claim that cannot be proven is a story. If you're on the right side of the fence, you have the upper hand - no need to panic. Handle the situation gracefully.

  • In case there is a claim, which appears wrong in plain sight, but you can provide a meaningful explanation, do that.

  • (Just for sake of completeness) In case they have some proof of something that is really bad, talk to a lawyer.

And while you're in the process, make sure you make a paper trail (document anything and everything).

That said, while being in this process, always remember one thing:

HR is not your friend.

HR exists and gets paid to protect the interest of the company. They are not there to protect you or to provide you counsel on your best interest - they are there to protect the sole interest of the company. So, when you get into a discussion, do not assume they have an ounce of bias towards supporting your version, the only thing they'll be focusing on is there should not be any conflict of interest with that of the company while having you working there. Again, nothing to be worried, but keep this in mind, now and always.

18
  • 32
    It might be helpful to remember that "HR is not your friend" (a phrase worth googling, especially on this site). – Dan Pichelman Jan 11 at 14:24
  • 12
    What is considered (un)ethical is up for debate. I wish to avoid this debate entirely. Your suggestion that I should document everything -especially the meeting itself- I will definitely take to heart. – user123634 Jan 11 at 14:36
  • 7
    Also worth pointing out the OP is in Western Europe. If (s)he were to get fired over something political / job-unrelated, take 'em to court. This isn't the US where you get fired for having an opinion. You may only get fired for things outside of your job if they coincide with the company and/or the company image (but this one is a hard one to prove for the company). If OP had a temporary contract, easiest for the company would be to simply not renew afterwards, but as stated, OP has a permanent contract. (Not to critique this answer, but add to it as the currently highest voted one) – rkeet Jan 12 at 9:13
  • 1
    Beyond the image of the company, HR is also interested in maintaining a good working environment, and notably minimizing conflicts between coworkers. The anonymous "tip" may very well come from a coworker. – Matthieu M. Jan 12 at 10:12
  • 1
    @rkeet might be understating the case when he points out it's in Western Europe. The details vary, but it is quite possible that you don't need to take the company to court. Instead, the employer would be the party that would need to take the initiative to obtain permission to fire the employee. And as the employer doesn't even appear to be a party, they might even fail to file a suit due to lack of standing. Either way, don't let HR press you into a "voluntary resignation". – MSalters Jan 12 at 11:14
13

TL;DR

Shut up and listen during the meeting. Ask questions and try to avoid making statements.

HR is meeting with you to protect the interests of the company, not your personal well-being. Albeit your well-being has a strong correlation with upholding the interests of the company.

Your company has made it clear that whatever information this doxxer has presented is against the interests of your company. I don't know, and neither do you, what legal options are available until your employer has presented the facts.

Do not direct your anger for the doxxer towards your employer or else you will quickly make things worse.


By saying that you need to de-escalate the situation you are implying that you will enter the meeting with a guilty and defensive conscience; this will thoroughly work against you as you speak during this meeting.

You only need to ask questions, factually answerable questions:

  • When did this person contact you?
  • Did they call or meet you in person?
  • Does the person personally know me?
  • What has this person presented exactly?
  • What is your take on the situation?
  • Is there a direct concern for my safety?
  • Is this creating an issue for our company? What can I do to help?
  • Did HR receive pictures or videos? Ask to see them.
  • Did HR receive a letter or email? Ask to read it.
  • Did HR receive a phone call? Ask for a recording or transcript if available.

You've made it clear that your political stance is not a molehill you wish to tarnish your career on so respect what they tell you and proceed accordingly.


From a U.S. perspective this sounds incredibly self-incriminating.

As far as I am aware, I have not committed any crimes. However, I have attended (legal) demonstrations and activist events in the past.

Quite frankly, even if your activities are legal and your actions were not illegal, your company may wish to distance themselves from people that can trigger controversial headlines. It's cheaper to fire you than it is to clean up a PR mess.

0
7

the HR department has since requested an outlook appointment. I will have to attend this in a few days.

You need to reframe this and stick with your frame. Do not let them impose their frame.**

EDIT

In view of a number of comments criticising my answer I have decided to add this panel to address some of them. Forgive me for using a "quote" box. I'll look for a better format.

  1. Some people have read my suggestions as aggressive. They are not intended to be. I suggest an air of mature and considered concern for the well-being of yourself and the company. Speak politely but firmly.

  2. Suppose the OP has done something that the company as a whole disapprove of. Answering, Yes I did do it, will likely get you sacked anyway. So why admit it? Rather deflect by asking who said this and make your intention clear that such doxxing is not acceptable and you intend action.

  3. My main intent was mainly to recommend reframing as a technique, rather than slavishly do what I would do. You can guarantee that the HR panel that you meet will have got together to discuss their approach (their frame). If you walk in unprepared, you will be like a lamb to the slaughter.

  4. Reframing can be anything you like. Invent a strong positive frame and don't be diverted from it by theirs. The whole point is to avoid being purely defensive, instead have some agenda of your own for the meeting. Walk in feeling secure in your position and challenge theirs tactfully if necessary.

I'll add some links. They are of varying quality but they explain framing from the point of view of managers as well as in general life.

https://managementhelp.org/blogs/personal-and-professional-coaching/2012/02/02/basic-guidelines-to-reframing-to-seeing-things-differently/

The following is presented in a 'popular' way and may not be 100% orthodox but it is helpful in my opinion and remarkably mirrors the OP's question in some respects. It's worth watching until the end. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NQiHtbpa8s

What follows is my personal approach. Of course it should be modified as necessary and take into account employment law in the region where you work.

I would speak first and as soon as you sit down (or before if necessary) say,

"Thank you for arranging this meeting it is very important for me. I understand that someone may have been spreading rumours about me. If this is true I may need to contact the police. Therefore I will be very glad of any information you can give me. I'm sure the company does not want its employees to be attacked in this way. It is bad for the employees and it is bad for you. If I find out that someone has indeed been spreading such rumours, I may need to consult a lawyer with the aim of suing that individual"

In other words, go into the meeting presupposing that it is for your benefit. Treat it as information gathering for you. Prepare a list of questions to ask them and don't be put off. If they ask you questions, simply say, "I'm sorry I am not going to answer unsubstantiated claims by an anonymous person. You must tell me your source and precisely what they are accusing me of so that I can take the necessary action."

If they tell you, don't confirm or deny (as per the politician's interview technique) just thank them for the information and tell them what action you intend to take - lawyer, the police etc. Then thank them and leave. You may wish to say, "I'll let you know what happens" or you may not.

If they say they cannot divulge the source then say "Then why have you invited me here? It is vital information so that I can protect myself from unsupported rumours. If you refuse to tell me will you at least agree to tell the police?"

I typed this quickly and it may come across as abrupt. However make sure you play good cop with them and be scrupulously polite. Expect answers from them and make sure you get them. This is a technique used by expert interviewers - you need to be the expert. You can do this by preparing, anticipating everything that may come up and then reframing it to your benefit - always imagine yourself as being in charge.

Take charge. Ask questions. Don't answer questions, just say your intended actions. Take it out of their jurisdiction and into that of the law.

P.S. Do not let them regain the frame. If they ask you "Did you do it?", answer "I'm sorry that is not the subject of this meeting. The important thing is that you give me the information I need so that I can take the appropriate steps. If they counter that it is the subject of the meeting then say. "No. This is very important to me the matter is out of your hands I must deal with this in the proper way. If they say "This is the proper way, say "I think you need to understand that etc." and have that argument prepared. Don't back down or you are immediately on the back foot. If you do retreat for a moment, simply ignore and return to questioning them.

P.P.S. Take a notebook. Have it on the desk in front of you. It will have your list of questions. Ask one then look up with your pencil hovering over the notebook. Maintain silence and an air of expectancy that they will answer. Tough it out. Make them break first. If they answer, say Uhuh. Write some notes and ostentatiously tick off the question. Before they have time to think ask the next question. You need an out. As I suggested, when you have ticked off the last question, stand up and say, "Thank you you have been a great help but I may need more information. I'm sure you will be willing to help if I need a further meeting. Then walk out.

P.P.P.S - Your first question might be, "How long do we have for this meeting? I have some important questions to ask and I need to get through them before my next appointment (of course there must be a next appointment to say the last phrase)."


Note

**Reframing is an important skill. Obama was adept at it. There are all sorts of uses for it including in mental health but if you search online, you will eventually find explanations about how to use reframing tactically. I'll see what I can find.

22
  • 31
    Reframing other people is a type of manipulation. If you're good at it it may help you get out of this, sure. But, I can easily see someone try this and come off as defensive, aggressive, evasive, or just straight-up manipulative, which may not help the appearance of things. – HammerN'Songs Jan 12 at 1:09
  • 3
    P.S. Many people go through their whole lives reacting defensively to the least perceived criticism. They haven't grown up. They aren't respected for it. Have your own beliefs and principles. Incidentally, you can bet your life that the HR people have discussed this thoroughly beforehand and have their own frame. I'd ask them, e.g. "What do you see the purpose of this meeting to be?" Maybe they want to smooth things over. Maybe they want to trip you up and sack you. Get a clear statement from them on what the meeting is about and introduce your own agenda as well. – chasly - supports Monica Jan 12 at 16:42
  • 1
    Fully with you on that bit. It was the 'keep them on the back foot, don't let them regain the frame, try to insist to them what the purpose of the meeting was, making (potentially empty, if OP actually did something wrong) threats of lawsuits' bit that I think people would take issue with. But I absolute agree that being clear, calm, polite, and assertive when necessary are vital. Though idk - in the US truth is an absolute defense to slander, but I know that isn't the case everywhere. So I guess suing could still perhaps be an option even if OP did do something truly wrong. – HammerN'Songs Jan 12 at 16:59
  • 2
    My main criticism of this approach is that there is too little information about the nature of the complaint and the purpose of the meeting scheduled by HR to be able to “reframe” the conversation. Assuming you know where the company is going and acting on that assumption could very well complicate something that might be pretty simple. It costs little to get more information before choosing to act in this case. – ColleenV Jan 12 at 18:00
  • 2
    This seems risky. If the original meeting was just going to be "we're sorry to hear you're being doxed, anything we can do to help?" then going in this way might actually convince HR that there's more going on than they thought. – Erik Jan 12 at 19:51
2

The company is probably worried about public relations. This anonymous doxxer could have posted it on social media and you'd likely already be fired, but for whatever reason they chose to go this route. The company has probably already talked to an employment lawyer and they know they can fire you, and that's outside of the scope of this site anyway.

If the anonymous doxxer didn't have good evidence, they probably wouldn't have done this, if they don't know you and it's politically motivated (for example if they found pictures of you inside the US Capitol building last Wednesday).

There is the possibility that the anonymous doxxer is some kind of rival of yours engaged in a conspiracy to defame you by ascribing false political beliefs, but that's very far fetched. Also, it sounds like you're acknowledging that you have engaged in political activity that the company or its customers may find offensive. So it sounds to me like the evidence is real.

It seems very unlikely that they are going to meet with you to give you a chance to win them over about your politics, and it's unlikely that the evidence is vague enough that you can cast doubt on it.

You are probably going to be fired, and it would probably be good for you to get in touch with an employment lawyer if you have any questions about how to get your severance etc.

3
  • 10
    This answer is full of speculation and guesswork here none of which can be proven true and much of which is provably false. Fact... people make false claims all the time and so on. If HR had enough evidence to fire OP, why would they wait a few days to meet with him? – JeffC Jan 12 at 1:47
  • 13
    @JeffC with you on the first part. But in Western Europe you cannot fire someone so easily when they have a permanent contract. You (the company) needs a paper trail of misconduct, the employee needs to be informed this is being done, etc. Whole lot of legalities. As such, the few days might as well be taken to setup an appointment. The whole process will likely be months anyway - if it even leads to a firing. Because so far all we got a is a 'he said', not even a 'he said, she said' situation described. Some random sent a message with a random claim to a company about an employee. Big woop – rkeet Jan 12 at 9:22
  • 1
    I agree it's more about PR than anything else, but you're overestimating the time a HR department would spend on double-checking - they are on a time budget, too, and asking the employee right away is the cheapest and fastest route to getting a first impression of what's actually up. – toolforger Jan 12 at 10:51
0

Gather all the information you can before you go into this meeting.

  • Union rep was already mentioned. Depending on your country, you might also have an in-house worker's representative (German: "Betriebsrat"). Talk to them and ask them to attend; except if you already expect them to be opposed to your cause, in that case it might not be helpful.
  • Many countries have organisations which are not unions but which support employees' rights. Get advice from such an organisation.
  • Thoroughly study the employee handbook / code of conduct. Print it out and take it with you.
  • If you belong to some organisation, research whether there was e.g. some trial or lawsuit where the legality of it was questioned but it was decided that the existence and actions of this organisation/group are in fact legal and above-board.

During the meeting: By all means, you should insist to see the "evidence" against you. Do not answer general questions about your ideological leanings before you have seen the "proof". Also ask whether this "proof" was presented from somebody unrelated to the company or from somebody inside. Note whether they say they do not know themselves.

When they have shown you the proof and it is factually correct, very calmly state that yes, you attended this demonstration or whatever it was. Sit back and stay silent. Now they will have to come up with some argument that your actions are supposed to be "evil"/"disreputable"/"controversial". Reply that you are utilizing your right to political expression and civil dissent in your private time. State that you have never brought your politics to the workplace, that you are not spreading them on social media and you have never consciously done anything to associate your employer with your actions.

If they argue that somebody has actually associated your employer with your actions - to wit, the "snitch" - ask to see proof that this person is not an employee, but a member of the general public. They will probably be unwilling or unable to show such proof. Say that in this case, you will assume that it was actually a colleague who dislikes you and wants to stir up trouble against you.

Stay as calm as possible throughout. Say that you value your place of employment. Say that you feel you have the right to express your political views/activism in your free time, and you hope the company supports this freedom. Say that you are of course willing to comply with existing regulations in the company as you know them (now is the time to pull out that copy of the employee handbook)

Do not let yourself be drawn into a discussion of your beliefs. "As a matter of principle, I am not trying to convince anybody of my political point of view at my place of work." "You have your opinion, I have mine. We are both entitled to our respective opinion under the constitution of our country."

Lastly : Be aware of the possibility that they might already have decided to cave in to some anticipated sh*tstorm by letting you go, where nothing you do or don't do from this point onwards will change the outcome. If so - hold your head up high and keep your dignity. You might at least make them feel a little bit bad about it.

Best of luck !

-1

You mention living in a 'western country', which means decent laws protecting the employee. The employee is not a slave or servant, and the working time is regulated, so you're subordinated for them in your working time. Everything you do in your private time is not they business.

They seem not respect that rules, so contact the lawyer ASAP. Depending on labour laws, the mere fact they're bothering you about your political activities in the demanding tone might be illegal!

The lawyer will advice you what should you do. Maybe you should not attend that screening, or even protest in official channels against such demands. Maybe you should, but you need not answer any of their questions... Since you haven't given your country, nobody here can tell you how should you react.

The less expensive option is to contact trade unions. Please take in mind that most of them are generally politically conected, so you should pick the 'right' one (or the 'left' one to be 'gender-neutral'). For example, if you are orthodox christian/muslim, leftist trade unions might be quite unempathic to your problems.

2
  • 5
    Why do you think scheduling a meeting to talk about a complaint received by the company about you is a hostile act? How do you know the company isn’t gathering information to act against the accuser and just wants the employee to help? – ColleenV Jan 12 at 18:30
  • 3
    "Everything you do in your private time is not they business." is not true. There are certainly things you can do in your private time, even in Western Europe, that are going to get you legally fired. – Erik Jan 12 at 19:05
-1

Indeed, the HR department has since requested an outlook appointment. I will have to attend this in a few days. The meeting subject was not made explicit.

No-one should be expected to attend a meeting of any kind without knowing what it is about. In a civilised country even a criminal is told the charges.**

I suggest a simple memo to the following effect but in your own words.

Dear HR

I understand we have a meeting in a few days. Beforehand, can you please send me a copy of the full agenda for the meeting so I know what is to be discussed.

Thank you

user123634


H.R. are not your managers. You already have a manager.


** It has been drawn to my attention in a comment, that my reference to a particular book by Kafka, might be controversial (and hence attracted downvotes). Not having read it since I was a teenager, and, having just checked the Wiki article on it, I am none the wiser. In case it is a distraction to the reader I have blanked it out. Until I find out more I won't comment further. The reference is still available by clicking below.

“Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything wrong, he was arrested.” https://daily.jstor.org/franz-kafkas-the-trial-its-funny-because-its-true/

Written in 1914 but not published until 1925, a year after Kafka’s death, The Trial is the terrifying tale of Josef K., a respectable bank officer who is suddenly and inexplicably arrested and must defend himself against a charge about which he can get no information. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17690.The_Trial

5
  • 5
    Explanation for downvotes would be useful. What's wrong with asking for the agenda of a meeting? It's standard practice. – chasly - supports Monica Jan 13 at 9:59
  • 1
    there are some political ideologies that see The Trial as a heretical work. That would be my guess on the down votes. – Patrick Kelly Jan 14 at 16:51
  • 1
    @Patrick Kelly - Interesting. I haven't read it since I was a teenager. I barely remember more than the premise. Can you suggest something I can read to find out more? I've scanned through the Wiki article and can't see much that might provoke such a reaction. – chasly - supports Monica Jan 14 at 18:23
  • 2
    I wasn’t able to figure out which widely held political ideology would be so annoyed by referencing the Trial they would down vote an otherwise perfectly reasonable answer either. I don’t do social media any longer, so I’m assuming somebody said something stupid on Twitter and now a bunch of people are triggered by otherwise innocuous references to parts of it? – ColleenV Jan 14 at 19:18
  • 1
    it is commonly referenced around the idea of cancel culture so proponents of that form of conflict management tend to take issue but to be fair this is speculation on my part here – Patrick Kelly Jan 14 at 19:45

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .