I used to work for a factory but I got burned on my arms and needed skin grafts. They've healed and I took some classes and went through vocational rehab to get an office job. When the COVID restrictions were dropped to the point we could open at 30%, some of us went back into the office.

Everything was fine until I was cleaning a cup one day and a coworker noticed the scars from the skin graft and we were talking about it. My coworker has tattoos that are called sleeves, I think and told me that would be a way to cover the scars if I wanted to.

Another coworker was walking by and tore into the first one saying that they shouldn't be talking about my scars and that they were going to go to HR and report them for harassing me.

I told the coworker that I wasn't being harassed and it wasn't her business and she said that I shouldn't let people walk all over me.

How do I tell this person to stop and what should I do if she goes to HR? My other coworker was only trying to help and I have thought that maybe they have a good idea because I looked up tattoos to cover scars and it does look like people are doing it.

I don't want my coworker to get into trouble. What should I do?


7 Answers 7


Normally I would agree with the answers already posted and say "don't worry about it everything is fine", except that this person has already threatened to take action. If the other person simply said "don't do that, that's not right to say", then I would say do nothing, however the threat of going to HR makes me think you should do something.

I would simply send a message to HR myself saying something like "There was an incident today between Bob and Sheila over something that Bob said to me. Sheila said she would be taking the matter up with HR. Just to give my side of the story, I do not feel like Bob did anything wrong, he was simply making friendly conversation at the time and should not be reprimanded over his conduct".

The issue with doing nothing is that this issue is removed from you and is now between the other 2 people: Bob did the thing that was offensive, and Sheila made the complaint. You are nowhere in this story. Which means that there is a chance that you may never get to tell your story directly to HR in whatever proceedings may or may not happen; Sheila may not have even mentioned your name in her complaint, so if HR does want to follow up then they don't even know who to ask.

If you feel like Bob may be in trouble, a short note to HR with your feelings on the situation may be warranted.

  • 6
    Don't like this answer. If the coworker doesn't go to HR then the poster will in fact be raising the issue. No doubt if the issue is raised with HR then the poster and the coworker with the tattoos would be contacted. That would be the time to tell the other side of the story.
    – MaxW
    Feb 21, 2021 at 4:06
  • 4
    OP could tell Bob "If HR contacts you, let me know and I'll talk to them".
    – Vilx-
    Feb 21, 2021 at 11:08
  • @MaxW It's a sound approach. It's better to prempt and involve themselves here, as the issue concerns them too. It doesn't matter if a complaint is filed or not. If HR is made aware before itself, they can ignore or deal with it lightly, than take it seriously (which they would have to if they were ignorant to what really happened).
    – sfxedit
    Feb 21, 2021 at 14:52
  • 1
    @MaxW "No doubt if the issue is raised with HR then the poster ... would be contacted". I do in fact have doubts regarding this. The person making the complaint can very easily obfuscate the issue to leave out the identity of OP, and HR can easily not dig deeper into who it was. From HR's perspective, it's not important: A complaint was made of problematic behaviour, and that behaviour needs to be dealt with, that's all that's necessary from HR's perspective. Understanding the context is of secondary value, at least for some HR.
    – Ertai87
    Feb 22, 2021 at 17:15
  • 2
    @MaxW: If Sheila doesn't go to HR, then all HR has is a notice of "no complaint" from the OP. The reasonable inference is that Sheila is either going to come in later, or has reconsidered coming in. In either case, HR has no reason to take action until someone actually files a complaint. HR is not digging for conflict, they are there to respond to complaints. Secondly, if Sheila pulls this kind of move all the time, OP sending that mail (and others who encounter it doing so as well) will at the very least make a record of Sheila's repeated threatening of others.
    – Flater
    Feb 24, 2021 at 14:14
  • Try not to worry about it too much

  • At the moment, do nothing

  • IF person B goes to HR. All you need to say is this:

"Oh, I really appreciate person B trying to help. But honestly there is no problem! Person A was only discussing it with me. Person A was not causing any problem whatsoever! I appreciate B trying to help, but there was absolutely no problem!

There is really nothing to worry about. It makes sense you have a lot to worry and think about but fortunately this is a non-issue!

IF person B addresses you again, it's important to keep it brief. Just say ..

Thanks, but everything is fine.

No need for any stress about this issue.

  • 10
    "I really appreciate person B trying to help". Should you really lie like that to HR?
    – pipe
    Feb 20, 2021 at 2:03
  • 4
    Also add „I told person B that I am not offended and don’t need help“
    – eckes
    Feb 20, 2021 at 3:21

First things first: check your employee handbook if this actually was okay. It might have been consensual, but "doing it" in the copier room is consensual too, but still gets both people fired. If it was against any policy, talk to your colleague and maybe get legal advice.

Assuming it was okay and no policy was violated, write two emails:

Write an email to your tattooed coworker. Express your appreciation of their suggestions, tell them you will look into it. Tell them you were happy to chat about the topic with them. Tell them you don't know what problem the other coworker barging in on your chat half way through had. Tell them you'd like to chat again.

That serves two purposes. It clarifies to your coworker that you were indeed happy to chat about it and not just under some kind of peer pressure to not complain in public. It also gives your coworker a paper trail to defend themselves, should you be out of the picture. You might at any time be sick, on vacation, traveling for the company, in an important meeting or any other reason you are not available to personally take the coworkers side. If HR cannot reach you, they might find it easier to make a decision without you. With strong evidence that you indeed approved of what happened, it will be a lot harder for HR to just skip your input and come down on your coworker.

Then write an email to HR. Without naming any names, tell them what happened ("a coworker and I had a chat about covering up my scars with tattoos in our lunch break. Another coworker said she'd report us to HR. I reviewed the employee handbook and cannot find what we would have done wrong. Can you please advise me how to proceed with this issue?"). Follow the advice you get. Most likely it will be "you did nothing wrong, just do nothing". This will serve the purpose of not giving away the initiative. Once someone else complains, you are seen as the defendant (or in this case, on the defendant's side) and you are assumed to lie and cheat your way out of the complaint. Don't let yourself be seen as the passive one having to defend themselves. Act.


Two points I don't yet see made:

  • The complaining coworker might not trying to protect you particularly (since as far as we can tell from your question, she does not know you well) but might just like causing HR incidents for whatever reason.
  • Just tell the helpful coworker that if anything comes of the situation, you are ready to testify that no offence or harassment was caused.

I'm assuming from the tone of your question that you feel able to talk about your scarring and that your tattooed co-worker approached the subject in a manner with which you were comfortable. In which case...

I told the coworker that I wasn't being harassed and it wasn't her business and she said that I shouldn't let people walk all over me

Oh the irony...

The person completely disregarding your feelings and opinion even when you have clearly stated them is her.

In contrast to other answers I would not tell her you 'appreciate their concern, but...' and rather clearly tell them you do not appreciate her getting involved and that you are quite capable of looking after your own interests.

Should any HR complaint actually occur, I'd also make that known to HR in addition to your defence of your other co-worker.


People can file HR complaints about anything. The question is will those complaints merit disciplinary action? In this case I suspect not. BUT when HR talks to you about it to get your side of the story I'd tell them something like "I appreciate their concern but I do not agree with their supposition that I was being harassed"

i don't want my coworker to get into trouble.

HR may have a followup talk with them, telling them to not be as trigger happy to stick their nose in other peoples business, but as for getting "into trouble"... I guess that depends on how you define "trouble" but I wouldn't consider HR having a followup convo with someone to be any serious trouble at all. Serious trouble would be the incident is documented and put into their employee file or, worse yet, full on termination. A casual followup conversation is not "trouble".


Since the first coworker is male, you are female and the second coworker is also female, it is extremely likely that your tattooed coworker will be fired immediately upon receiving the report, without the need for your input.

If you want to protect your tattooed coworker and yourself then...

It is suggested that you report Karen as soon as possible for violating your authority, trying to speak on your behalf, aggressive shouting, and emotional damages from the incident.

  • Why was this downvoted? Is this answer incorrect (I have little knowledge of office politics)?
    – forest
    Feb 21, 2021 at 2:32
  • Can you elaborate on what the truth is? As I said, I have little knowledge of office politics. It would be helpful to me if you could elaborate so I could understand better (I hate seeing a downvoted question without comments explaining what the issue is, if any). From what I see, I agree with you that this Karen was in the wrong, especially by getting upset over something that's not her business.
    – forest
    Feb 21, 2021 at 2:39
  • 3
    @forest It's undeniable that in modern day office politics, a disgruntled female employee can destroy one's career and reputation with a mere accusation. The OPs coworker Karen is mad at another coworker who happens to be male. His career at the company is over unless OP does the right thing with a pre emptive report to HR before Karen does.
    – Jack
    Feb 21, 2021 at 2:43
  • Ah that makes sense. I suppose that is an issue in these politically-charged times, at least in areas with a culture of calling everything harassment. +1 for pointing out this risk.
    – forest
    Feb 21, 2021 at 2:44
  • 1
    Without a country tag, this is plain wrong. This might be the case in the US, but there is more to the world than just the US.
    – nvoigt
    Feb 21, 2021 at 16:06

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