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I had access to Skype conversation between two employees talking about me in a very offensive way. There were racial remarks, religious remarks and name calling and making fun of my religion. How do I bring this to HR? Since I had sneakingly accessed their Skype which seems unethical, not hacking.

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    Don't snoop on fellow employees' private conversations, and these problems won't occur. As repugnant as racists are, as long as they keep their bigotry private they can't really be punished for holding racist views. You, on the other hand, can almost certainly face punishment for accessing another person's Skype account without their consent. – aroth May 2 '14 at 4:46
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    Whatever allegations you make, you'll have to document. And the question of exactly how you managed to get the information will inevitably come up. How exactly did you get a record of that Skype conversation? Were the two employees having a conversation on the employer's Skype account? Frankly, you are not giving us a good impression of your activities. And yes, that's why I downgraded your question. – Vietnhi Phuvan May 2 '14 at 4:46
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    I wouldn't worry bringing this too HR, but rather how am I going to deal with these persons now that I know how they think about me. If you want to keep the job, don't let this influence you! That's why you don't read private conversations! – Kevin May 2 '14 at 9:17
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    @aroth "As long as they keep their bigotry private they can't really be punished for holding racist views" Tell that to the NBA coach who is banned from the NBA due to a private conversation! Anyways, on topic: Everyone here is right. You had no right to access their skype conversation, it was private. What made you want to check the skype conversation is another point of interest. Are they racist in person and you wanted physical proof? Or are you just a snoop for the sake of being a snoop and just stumbled upon their racism? – TheOneWhoPrograms May 2 '14 at 9:32
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    @TheOneWhoPrograms that's the case when something private becomes public. But even in that case, it was no official prosecution, just restrictions from private organization to prevent unwanted rumours. The case of the OPs could actually end it that guys getting hired, but him/her getting arrested for hacking and breaking their privacy. – user1023 May 2 '14 at 9:56
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You don't bring this to HR.

Being a racist/idiot/... in a private conversation may be wrong, but it is by no means a punishable offense. In fact, one may even consider it exercising ones right to free speech.

Sneakily accessing this conversation (as you put it) can very well be considered unauthorized computer access (hacking) and is a crime in many jurisdictions. It does not matter here whether you really hacked their computer, or if they forgot to lock their computer and you walked by.

Bringing this to HR will put you at risk, instead of the ones with the attitude problem.

  • I agree that the OP shouldn't bring this to HR but whether this is a punishable offense depends might depend on his location. In one of my previous jobs (UK university) HR suddenly organised a campaign to make all employees sign a document that they have been worn not to offend any colleague on sex, age, race, etc. basis - anywhere, at any time. Apparently in another university a group of employees went to the pub after work, one offended another, who then successfully sewed the employer. The pub has been recognised as an extended working environment. – greenfingers May 2 '14 at 8:54
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    No such thing as a private Skype conversation on an employer's Skype account, at least in the US. I asked the OP if these two were using the employer's Skype account - no response. If they were using the employer's Skype account and their conversation was an online, logged conversation, then the transcript of the conversation is all there and these two are liable for disciplinary action. If they were using their own Skype accounts, then it's a private conversation. They could be probably be nailed for doing stuff on company time but only if the contents of the conversation became public. – Vietnhi Phuvan May 2 '14 at 11:24
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    "Free Speech" is a protection from government action, and has NOTHING to do with private employers. Unless you are working DIRECTLY for a government agency and the government recognizes free speech as a right, that concept does not apply to employment. – Wesley Long May 2 '14 at 13:30
  • @VietnhiPhuvan - Even that needs to be qualified. Just because employers can technically snoop on what their employees do on company time/using company resources doesn't mean all of them do. Nor does it mean that any of them should. Or that some of them don't have policies to the contrary which respect an employee's right to privacy even when using a company account/workspace. Or that the company will respond favorably if it learns that one employee took it upon themselves to eavesdrop on another by accessing the other employee's account/workspace. – aroth May 2 '14 at 13:36
  • In regards to @WesleyLong's comment: xkcd.com/1357 – David K May 2 '14 at 15:33
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You need to expand on how you got the SkyPE chats. If it is a case you used their machine without their permission, you are liable to get fired.

On the other side of the coin, depending on what country you are in. In harassment cases it is the company that gets sued, not the person who made the racist statement. So HR take this stuff seriously.

So here is what I recommend.

Go to HR. Tell them that you do not want to pursue what you are about to mention, only to bring it to their attention. Mention that you been told by others that various racist comments were directed about you (no exact details were given).

Be adamant that you do not want to mention who told you, as they were embarrassed about it. Also as it is hearsay, you don't want to come out and accuse the people mentioned.

Rather that you would feel the department would benefit from non-harassment training to prevent this from possibly escalating.


This isn't going to stop private conversations, or magically change how they perceive you. It will probably stop them using business resources though.

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    Don't lie about how you found the information. – Wesley Long May 2 '14 at 13:30
  • @WesleyLong I understand where you are coming from in your response, as there is no "good" person in the situation above. So the answer is in relation to the person asking, where they have knowledge they cannot directly use. – Simon O'Doherty May 2 '14 at 13:41
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    @WesleyLong - But definitely don't be honest about how you found the information either. – aroth May 2 '14 at 13:42
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I am going to address how do you continue to work with them. This is a hard one that I have faced mulitple times being a woman in a mostly male field espcially in the 1980s when harrassment was overt and rampant.

The first thing you need to do is make sure that their poor opinion of you does not become the default opinion of everyone else. To this end, even though it seems unfair, you need to do two things.

First you need to take the high road and always treat them respectfully and courteously. Especially take care to give them credit when credit is due (yes I know you hate them, but tough) and to listen to their professional opinions in meetings and, most importantly, to not lose your temper over what you know they are thinking vice what they actually said. This makes them look especially stupid for things they say about you behind your back and impresses others in the group.

Next, you need to become known as a top performer. You need to do your job better than anyone else in the office to overcome the negative impression these people are probably spreading about you. And if you don't do it now, learn to make sure others know about your successes. Office politics are important for everyone but they are way more important when you have nasty people potentially spreading lies about you. It would serve you well to read some books onthe subject of Office politics.

You can also collect information using legitimate means and document their attitudes if they show them openly and then report it to HR. But honestly, I have found that it is far more effective to make them look small by your good performance and it is better for you personally too. And when you get rewarded for that great performance, it will really upset them. Sometimes you have to say to yourself, "Living well is the best revenge." They will hate your success, so use this as the impetus to go out and be a spectactular success.

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HOW you found that Skype conversation is extremely important.

Are you a system administrator or support tech whose job is to regularly access company systems used by other employees? Did you stumble upon the conversation while performing a job-related function on their assigned systems? In that case, you can probably bring it to HR. I.E. you were applying system updates, had to restart the system, and the content of Skype came up on the screen while you were closing applications.

Or are you an employee who accessed a system that was not assigned to you to use or maintain, and you were being opportunistic because they walked away from the machine without locking it? In that case, you should expect to be fired immediately.

If the system was not owned by the company, and was actually owned by the other person who made the comments, that person would have grounds for civil and criminal complaints in most western countries. IANAL, but your situation is exactly what I warn my subordinates about not doing because of the laws that you would have broken.

  • Careful. An explanation like "you were applying system updates, had to restart the system, and the content of Skype came up on the screen" may sound extremely implausible if the HR person has any sort of technical background. Particularly if the company is large enough that updates are managed in a remote/centralized way. Best not to assert that's what happened unless it did in fact happen that way. And it may not be a sound defense anyways, since generally a sysadmin is expected to ignore any such info that they "stumble" across. – aroth May 2 '14 at 13:46
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    Just because you are an admin doesn't mean you are allowed to act on information you may see in your day-to-day job, unless your job is actually to read that material. So that certainly wouldn't protect you bringing it to HR. The chance of a harassment case may prevent him being fired. So you could end up with an employee you don't trust, but have to pay until all legal proceedings are sorted out. – Simon O'Doherty May 2 '14 at 13:46
  • @aroth - I was not suggesting that the OP use any sort of fabrication. It is not implausible at all to see content on a screen when performing maintenance, and your name being in the content is something that would draw your attention. I ask users to log out of their systems before I do anything, but it doesn't always happen. Whatever you do, don't lie. It sounds like the OP was snooping, and doesn't have room to go anywhere with this. This answer was more for the question than for the OP, if that makes sense. – Wesley Long May 2 '14 at 13:54
  • @SimonO'Doherty - Actually, sometimes you are required to act on it. If you come across evidence of illegal activity, malfeasance, embezzlement, or conveyance of confidential information to unauthorized people while doing system maintenance, you are (usually, depending on policy) required to report that immediately. In some cases, particularly child exploitation, you are required to report that to police, depending on your jurisdiction. – Wesley Long May 2 '14 at 14:04
  • Yep, sometimes. I doubt OP is an admin though. Also doubt they would be fired straight away. A lawyer could easily spin that as retaliation firing for reporting harassment. – Simon O'Doherty May 2 '14 at 14:18

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