I have a coworker who seems to make it a point to discuss religion/politics/everything most would deem unacceptable during work hours. The other day, he interrupted a conversation between myself and one of our managers to start a race conversation that I tried to cut off several times. He eventually made a very offensive remark about a particular minority group (We are both people of color, I am a part of the group he referred to, he is not), ending with a comment directed at me.

My manager reported it to another manager who then asked me about it. The coworker told the manager that he would apologize... and that didn't happen.

This coworker has been to HR several times for his rude comments. When I mentioned going to HR, that manager said that they wanted to keep this incident "in the department" (He said he would prefer I didn't go to HR).

I'm not really sure what to do. I don't want him to get away with this but I don't want to cause any trouble. Should I go to HR anyway?

Update: My manager informed HR of the situation and let them know that we would have a meeting to give this person an opportunity to apologize. Well the meeting went horribly. This person didn't seem to care that the Manager was in the room. They screamed, lied about details (that the other manager and I confirmed) and said that he stood by the offensive comment he made before storming out. Even my Manager said, "it may have been better to have HR here." I left work for a little while to calm down, but as soon as I went back, I went straight to HR.

  • 39
    "should I go to HR anyway" Difficult for us to say. Your priorities and personal situation is different from ours. Some might escalate this to HR. Some might elect to ignore this instance in an effort not to make waves. A better question to ask would be "What are the risks of reporting this to HR?" or "how can I escalate this when my management told me not to involve HR". FYI: if HR gets wind of this your manager will also be in hot water, assuming HR isn't incompetent as well. People throw "hostile workplace" around a lot but this actually meets the criteria and that's Not A Good Thing.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 6:58
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    Whatever you decide to do, make sure it's documented. If you go to HR they'll obviously do that part, but if you decide to work with your boss and not go to HR, make sure you get things in writing also. You need to protect yourself from the scenario where this happens again, you decide to finally go to HR, and he or they use "but this is the first complaint against him, let's be reasonable" as a defense.
    – Jeff
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 13:32
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    If you do decide to go to HR anyway, I would suggest giving your boss a heads up. Nobody likes being blindsided.
    – MackM
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 15:05
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    As a manager, I know that trying to cover up something like this would be an excellent reason for me to be fired. Your manager has taken on a HUGE risk for the company.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 21:32
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    After he showed in presence of two managers that he is an idiot who is not only insulting, but nonprofessional, abusive, non-loyal (since he did not care about his manager going to big lengths for giving him a chance and embarrassing him), aggressive and (admittedly) racist, i assume that he will be let go anyway. Your manager tried his best to resolve it in a personal, constructive way, and he failed. This incident would anyway make it's way to HR, i suppose.
    – Sascha
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 16:36

4 Answers 4


From your point of view, this seems to be a clear case of harassment. You don't mention the country - in many countries this would be a huge problem for the harasser, and it could become a problem for the company if it doesn't act to solve the problem.

I can understand that a manager wants to keep this quiet. Doesn't mean they are right, but I can understand it. He doesn't want to lose an employee, and he probably wishes it would never have happened. It's a bit cowardly, but I can understand it. Your goal should be to stop the harassment while keeping the best possible standing in the company for yourself and the best possible relationship with that manager.

I would suggest that you go to the manager who wants to keep it quiet, tell him that you find that coworker's behaviour unacceptable, that you expect this manager to stop it from happening again, and that you will go to HR if it happens again, and that you expect his full support if that happens.

And it would be best if that manager had a meeting with you and the coworker, where he tells the coworker that what he is doing is unacceptable and must stop, and what the consequences are if it repeats.

(Jan Doggen might be right that maybe you shouldn't be present during that conversation; that's difficult to judge. And there's the comment by Jeff L. that you want something from your manager in writing where he confirms that you complained, so nobody can call you a liar if this happens again and you finally go to HR).

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    The manager does not have to have a meeting with the coworker and the OP - it's just a matter of the manager telling one of his people to stop unacceptable behavior. A private conversation might be even better: less loss-of-face for the coworker (= less resistance).
    – user8036
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 10:04
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    In addition, if the offender continues unabated, the company could face discrimination lawsuits, and the manager could be blamed/scapegoated for letting it happen. While bringing this up with the manager directly could be seen as threatening, it is likely already a part of the manager's mental calculus, who it seems is wishing this whole problem would just go away. Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 13:55
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    Go to HR, their job is to protect the company and you're being harassed with the manager failing to act. Win/Lose probably. Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 19:10
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    I do agree with insisting on going to HR, but I do want to add some caution that when doing this, consider updating your resume just in case. I know of a situation where a person of color complained to HR multiple time of racial harassment and they did nothing. A colleague of mine stood up for him to his management (which I respect greatly!) End result? They both got fired. I know its illegal, but it still happens. Morale of the story: standing up for what is right is great, but understand the risk and take steps to protect yourself.
    – Brandon
    Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 4:03

In an ideal world, you would go to HR and report the problem regardless of what your manager thinks. However, I'm aware that in some companies this might as well cause problems for you. From your comment above, I read that your manager is not completely against reporting to HR. But only you can judge the possible impact on your career.

Depending on your county and industry there might be organizations to help you and who can give more specific advice : unions, work advisory offices .... It would also be a good idea to gather other people who have been harassed by this person. As a group it is often easier to change situations.

That being said. I suggest the following approach:

1) Write an incident report on the matter. Detail in a neutral tone what happened and who can confirm it. If this happened before, write that down (with details and people who can confirm it). Write that you think this is unacceptable and ask for immediate action.

2) Show that incident report to your manager. Ask him for his opinion and ask him to support you. If you can, send it by email so you have a paper trail. Tell him that you prefer him to hand this to HR (instead of you yourself). Be polite, do not accuse him but stress that you find this unacceptable and that he needs to take action.

3) If your manager does not react or refuses to handle the situation, send the incident report to HR. I would not mention my manager at this point but let them figure out who knew what.

  • +! Exactly what I was currently writing. His manager may have his personal reasons for not wanting the report going to HR (he may have to interview a replacement, deal with more stress, etc.)
    – John
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 9:08
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    @JJosaur Pure speculation but it also maybe that the manager does not want his inability/lack of desire to manage to be shown up. If the perp has a history I'd like to think that the manager has been told to deal with it.
    – Peter M
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 11:08
  • this coworker has been to HR 3 times & hasn't even been at the company a year. The first time had to do with my race as well. However, the incident happened without my knowledge; Someone else reported it. .
    – t. hennesy
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 11:48

You make the following points to the department's management:

  1. You are reporting to work to get your work done, not to get into a fight or an argument over matters that are best left out of the workplace.

  2. You are entitled to a workplace where you can perform your duties, free from harassment.

You have the choice to close the discussion with:

  1. The incident gets reported to HR, the department's management preference be damned.

  2. The incident is not reported, but just this time. If the incident recurs, it can only mean that the department's management has failed to discipline him and the situation must be escalated.

Given the history of this individual going to HR, I'd say it's best that you report the incident. Which puts pressure on the department's management to act.

This individual has clearly learned nothing from his actions. He may not learn anything after he is thrown out for providing a hostile working environment but at least, he is out of your face.

  • Usually most places have policies in place to protect someone reporting to HR. Of course that is difficult to enforce but it should at least protect you from any harassment related to you reporting it.
    – Dan
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 16:41
  • This approach seems a little more confrontational than necessary. It seems to me that rather than starting out with "I won't report it to HR, but just this time," you could instead approach it as, "I will let you take the lead on how we handle this if you feel that this will get the problem solved as effectively as going to HR." That seems to me the same effective approach, while coming across as "I am trying to work with you" rather than "I am tolerating you."
    – cjs
    Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 9:27

I suggest the following simple approach:

Tell your manager that you expect a written apology (or an e-mail) from the offender. Otherwise you will get HR involved.

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    I would add that you expect a resignation from this individual or not only will you go to HR, you will file a civil rights suit against the company. This individual is a brute, bully, and needs to go. Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 21:23
  • @BillLeeper: Boy, am I glad I don't work with you!
    – TonyK
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 21:31
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    @BillLeeper Threatening your own employer with lawsuits is generally a really bad move. This will make you the problem, not the coworker. Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 21:44
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    @BillLeeper One can bring up the idea that the company could be liable, but without any threatening. ("The employee had enough occasions to stop, but he didn't, so expect another incident soon. If a third party listens next time, they could decide that such remarks violate their rights and sue us, and given the lengthy history of that employee, a judge could ask why we didn't let him go earlier.")
    – Alexander
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 22:32
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    @jpatokal and there inlies the problem. So the bad guys that hold all the power keep on being the bad guys, and the victims get told to quit being a victim and suck it up. Until we change the rules and give real power the oppressed nothing is going to change in these situations. Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 16:26

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