Several months ago I was terminated without cause. To my knowledge there was no specific incident though they probably could tell how strongly I disliked the workplace. Recently someone from HR called and left a message. He asked me to call back regarding my recollection of a key. Most doors were controlled by our personal badges and I returned mine on the last day. However there were a few shared keys stored in the office.

Should I call HR back? Is there any risk to me? Is it strange that HR is calling me as opposed to my former manager emailing me?

  • You've mentioned in a comment that this "pertain[s] to an employee who is under investigation". That definitely changes the complexion of this question.
    – Richard
    Commented Feb 17 at 12:08

6 Answers 6


You have the choice, but no obligation, to be nice and help these people out. If it’s no hardship for you, you should probably help them. You never know who you meet later in your life in other jobs.

BTW Your former manager might not be an employee anymore.

  • 4
    Maybe I'm over thinking this but this pertain to an employee who is under investigation. Commented Feb 14 at 10:22
  • 40
    @PoliteShark: I don't see any evidence of that in the question.
    – keshlam
    Commented Feb 14 at 16:20
  • 6
    @PoliteShark - even if it does, what difference does that make to you?
    – brhans
    Commented Feb 14 at 20:26
  • 1
    As for HR versus manager making contact: Company policy and/or legal concerns may require HR to be the sole interface to ex-employees. Commented Feb 17 at 1:53

Not particularly strange. If you happen to remember the answer, or have the key they are looking for, you can help them out at no cost to you and get a bit of goodwill; it would be the polite thing to do. If you don't have what they are looking for -- if you already returned it -- just say so and that's the end of it.


As alroc said in a comment: make sure it's ACTUALLY HR from your previous job. It might be a scammer or phisher who is trying to get access to a place he shouldn't be. Do NOT call them back through the number they used to contact you or left the voicemail for. Go to their website, find a listed phone number and ask them to connect you to HR, then ask whether the story is real.

Note that currently computer generated voices are advanced enough that it's nearly impossible to tell a sufficiently trained AI voice apart from a human voice, especially over the distortions of a phone call.


No risk. No obligation. But it does not hurt to be helpful

In short, no there is no risk. Unless you know that you have kept a key — deliberately — there is nothing they can turn against you.

Do you have an obligation to pick up the call and help them?

No, none at all.

But the duck pond is smaller than you think, and people will remember that [unhelpful person] that refused to help out when they had a problem. Even if the company as a whole does not have such a collective memory, individuals do have such a memory, and can carry grudges.


Although unlikely, there is a possibility that someone is using social engineering in an attempt to gain access to your former company's resources. Either a malicious actor, or a security professional who has been hired by the company to find vulnerabilities and opportunities for educating employees (commonly known as Penetration Testers).

In this case, the individual is trying to get you to hand over a key of some sort, whether physical or virtual, which would allow them access to whatever resources you may have had access to as an employee.

To protect yourself (and the company) from such an attack, your best course of action is to verify the identity of the caller and their request independently. Do not call the phone number that was left on your voicemail. Locate the correct number for the company (either the "front desk" or HR directly) and ask for the person who contacted you. Then verify their request personally, do not do it over voicemail.

Even if you don't have the key in your possession, assuming this is a legitimate call/request, there's no harm in calling back to inform them that you don't have it in your possession. (Aside: if there are "shared keys", the company should be keeping inventory of them and tracking who has them at all times, so they don't have to make these phone calls)

The above process is the same thing you would (should) do if your bank calls you and says they need to talk to you about your account - you don't just call whatever number you're given, because it may be false and instead lead right to the attacker.


You've mentioned in a comment that this may pertain to

"an employee who is under investigation".

That being the case, my suggestion would be to not respond. Not only do you not want to confirm that you returned the key, you also want to avoid confirming that you didn't. Just pretend you didn't see the communication. If they phone you, state that you're not in a position to respond and you'd appreciate it they could send you the request in writing. Then simply rinse and repeat until they get the hint.

There doesn't seem to be any potential benefit to you here, and the possible downside (e.g. somehow becoming embroiled in an allegation of theft or unauthorised access) appears to make this something you want to stay well clear of.

  • The correct answer. OP no longer works there, no need to dance at HR's tune. Sounds a fishing expedition. Commented Feb 18 at 11:46

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