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I work in a big financial organisation where chats are monitors. Keywords such as "Whatsapp" are monitored. Long story short, my manager mentioned word "Whatsapp" on company Skye as a passing comment in a conversation with me. A few days later, I received a call from the internal monitoring people to explain the circumstances around this, especially why was this word mentioned. As it was nothing worth investigation, after this conversation, the issue was closed without further action.

I felt quite unhappy about this at the time - 1. I did not mention the word - why was I asked why it was mentioned? This is surely a question for my manager. 2. The internal monitoring people did not even brought this up to my manager -- is it not even worth monitoring this? I cannot think of any reason rather than he has a much high rank than me within the business.

About a few months ago, I mentioned this to my colleague -- explaining to me that I felt unfairly treated. I said something on the lines -- "I think these people are *******, fill that in with your imagination."

I am now being asked by HR to explain my actions. I am being accused of using abusive language. It is not like I said c*** or f*** -- I just typed random number of stars. What do people think? Can they actually discipline me for this? I think the whole thing is a farce.

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    I'm sorry, but we are not here to provide opinions on the internal policies of your company. This community is a Q&A website, not a place to vent your frustration.
    – Philipp
    Jan 26, 2022 at 15:06
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    "Can they actually discipline me for this?" unless you provide us with a country and an actual disciplinary measure, there is no way to answer this. Could they put you in a labor camp in North Korea? Probably yes. Could they fire you in Europe? Probably no. So it's somewhere in the middle.
    – nvoigt
    Jan 26, 2022 at 15:13
  • I work in the U.K.
    – Lost1
    Jan 26, 2022 at 21:28
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    Was the number of asterisks chosen intentionally? Was it 5 or 7? Jan 27, 2022 at 9:39

3 Answers 3

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There are two issues here.

  1. If your manager mentioned that word, they were probably investigating your manager, and asked you for clarification to see if they needed to continue the investigation. When you clarified that the word "WhatsApp" was just used as a passing comment, and didn't mean anything, they dropped the investigation.

  2. Using asterisks instead of actual curse words does not hide the intent of your statement. You explicitly used abusive language in your sentence, calling other people "something" and asked the other person to use their imagination. You can claim that you mean "horses" with your asterisks, but that will probably not work in your favor.

Unfortunately for you, your actions would very likely be considered abusive, and you can be disciplined for this.

I think a lot of people fail to realise this, but your company chat/email/conferencing system is NOT your personal system. It is a company resource used for company business. Anything there can be monitored and can be used for security or discipline issues.

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  • With 1, they did not bring up the issue with him before closing it — that I why I felt unfair. Not even to mention that the word would flag it? They asked me why it was mentioned (why would I know?) I was like what… the truth is that they feel that his time was too precious to waste.
    – Lost1
    Jan 26, 2022 at 21:29
  • @Lost1 that is correct, and they would not do that. If they are investigating him and they are going to make that public, they need to know that their investigation is needed. That is why they contacted you first.
    – Bleh
    Jan 27, 2022 at 15:08
  • "Anything there can be monitored and can be used for security or discipline issues." - Only for a specifically stated, legitimate purpose and to the necessary extent. IANAL, but I'd be curious what their justification is for monitoring words like "whatsapp" or strings of asterisks. Feb 3, 2022 at 15:18
  • @RutherRendommeleigh sure, but they can. As far as WhatsApp goes, I am guessing it's probably because people are discussing work issues over WhatsApp which may break a bunch of NDAs, it's encrypted and the company would not know if something were to leak until it was too late, or may the company deals with user data which is extremely private and may get sued for any information going outside of official chat channels. I know for a fact that in India, WhatsApp is used unofficially for a lot of official business. It's not good, but it happens.
    – Bleh
    Feb 4, 2022 at 18:30
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  1. I did not mention the word - why was I asked why it was mentioned? This is surely a question for my manager.

Presumably because, assuming they have reasons for monitoring occurrences of the term "Whatsapp" (perhaps a prior experience with people using it as out-of-band comms for nefarious things) they were attempting to ascertain whether this usage was something that needed investigating. And if you're going to possibly investigate someone (reasonably high up) for suspected wrong-doing it's a Big DealTM - and finding out by talking to the other person present whether it's worth taking that step is a smart move.

  1. The internal monitoring people did not even brought this up to my manager -- is it not even worth monitoring this?

See above - and I'm guessing by talking to you they discovered it wasn't anything worth bringing up. Particularly since from how you describe it going with them it went nowhere afterwards.

About a few months ago, I mentioned this to my colleague -- explaining to me that I felt unfairly treated. I said something on the lines -- "I think these people are *******, fill that in with your imagination."

Let's be straight here - slagging off the monitoring people, on a platform they monitor, is a monumentally bad idea. You seem to be defending this statement on a perceived technicality about not explicitly saying certain words - but this isn't evading a swear filter and technicalities aren't going to make these people magically not understand what you were saying, your use of asterisks clearly shows an intent that they should be replaced by a word that would be considered offensive to say. Especially if, as you believe, these people aren't nice and don't like you, if there's a bear that's already growled at you don't poke it with a sharp stick.

Can they actually discipline me for this? I think the whole thing is a farce.

They might well be able to yes - it doesn't take swearwords for something to be considered abusive language, and swearwords don't automatically make something abusive. I wouldn't discipline you for that personally, instead I'd write it off as the venting of an angry person and forget about it - but that's not the same thing as them not being able to, and if it's got as far as a complaint to HR I think you should at the very least be taking this seriously and be prepared to answer about it.

I definitely wouldn't go in trying to argue that you didn't mean for the asterisks to be interpreted as a curse or swear word. That will just make you look a bit stupid, and worse it will make it look like you think they're stupid. And I definitely wouldn't go in and try convincing them it's a "farce" or similar, again that's not going to go down well.

In your shoes I'd probably go in with something like "I was frustrated and venting - I meant nothing personal by it. I apologize and it won't happen again", I doubt this is something that would escalate to a firing-offense and if you like the job otherwise and want to stay then even if you don't mean the apology I suggest you mean the "never again" bit. Venting about work annoyances is all well and good (you might even say it's healthy) but for your own sake if nothing else be smarter about when and how you do it.

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  • Should the OP also point out that they didn't understand that they weren't the one under investigation earlier regarding the questions about Whatsapp? On the one hand, it might help the OP if they understand the whole thing was a misunderstanding but on the other they might decide it makes the OP look petty to still be mad about it.
    – BSMP
    Jan 26, 2022 at 17:57
  • I was made felt that I did something wrong and was answering for someone else’s action. The courteous thing to do would have been to at least inform my manager about it or have a word with it.
    – Lost1
    Jan 26, 2022 at 23:03
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Words with some letters replaced by asterisks such as f**k or *ssh*t are easily decipherable, and the deciphered words would be inappropriate language. The asterisks are used because they are inappropriate language, as a kind of fig-leaf or flimsy cover. You couldn't get away with saying 'I meant 'fick' or 'I meant osshut'. By the same convention, a row of asterisks with no letters stands for an unspecified inappropriate word. It's not the word, it's the tone. You meant to say something offensive. You should clearly pay attention to your overall tone. These are not texts to your homies, you are using the employer's system. The fact that you do it at all could be pointing to a concerning lack of awareness of how to behave in a workplace.

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  • Is "asshat" considered profanity where you are? Jan 26, 2022 at 15:16
  • I'd see it as an insult. It may be a deserved insult or an undeserved insult. Some time ago my boss came back from a visit to the USA and was shocked that "holy cow" was apparently the utter limit of profanity that was just barely acceptable.
    – gnasher729
    Jan 26, 2022 at 15:25
  • @MichaelHarvey I suppose what you're saying is that had they said 'The IT people are of low intelligence' it's just had bad. By the way, my understanding of 'asshat' is that it means 'moron'. Jan 26, 2022 at 22:45

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