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Recently a coworker (who from now on will be called "A") invited me to A's house to have some drinks and snacks. I asked if I could bring someone with me (coworker "B"), and A said it was okay.

In the course of time, A started serving stronger drinks and teasing B, who refused to drink because they are taking anti-inflammatory pills. As time passed, A's provocations got more and more aggressive, to the point that A actually turned to B and said "if you aren't here to drink, then you should leave the house". That's exactly what we (B and I) decided to do next. However, A wouldn't let B leave.

By the time we reached the exit, A physically assaulted B, who never retaliated. B was in a state of complete shock. As soon B managed to disengage from the fight, we rushed to the hospital and then to the police station. The current status is that A and B are pressing criminal charges against each other, with me being B's witness.

In your opinion, what should be done in this case?

  • Should the issue be escalated to the office management, since the involved parties are coworkers?
  • Should we keep a low profile, since it happened outside the office?
  • Should any of the involved parties be fired/disciplined by HR or management?

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    @IDrinkandIKnowThings I would be very concerned if a company I was working for had needed to write a policy on "how to deal with fights between employees outside working hours". How many times has it happened to mean they need a policy??!? – Philip Kendall Nov 8 '16 at 18:28
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    Since everyting happened outside work hours and outside the employer's headquarters, I strongly recommend NOT to drag your employer into this. Companies take legal problems extremely seriously and they will have absolutely no problem or hesitation firing everyone involved just to reduce the risk for themselves. PS: IANAL, obviously. – Radu Murzea Nov 9 '16 at 10:35
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Nov 11 '16 at 11:06
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    OP, before discussing this with HR please see this post: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/79569/… – Pete B. Nov 11 '16 at 14:49
  • So, to be clear, they told you to leave and then wouldn't let you? Is that right? – Weckar E. Sep 6 '17 at 13:21

10 Answers 10

139

You need to make HR aware that there are potential criminal charges between two of their employees resulting from an out of work incident, as this will affect the professional relationships of everyone involved, including yourself as a witness to the case. Other than that, let the trained HR people sort it out.

  • 5
    Exactly. Technically what A did is kidnapping, depending on the jurisdiction. – Wesley Long Nov 8 '16 at 18:02
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    What A allegedly did - this is why it's a tricky issue. – Philip Kendall Nov 8 '16 at 18:11
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    @OverzealousSaladDodger Yes. The fact that you are a witness in a potential criminal case involving another employee is something HR need to know. Consider the situation that B were not an employee of your company: you'd need to tell HR then, and nothing changes. – Philip Kendall Nov 8 '16 at 19:05
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    Why is that his responsibility? Terrible advice. – Pete B. Nov 9 '16 at 17:20
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    @PhilipKendall because in these matters the most upvoted answer is the most popular answer, not specifically the best. Robert's answer (although posted minutes ago) about talking to a lawyer is much better. People don't vote with their head but their heart here, answers which are good, but not liked get downvoted. – Pieter B Nov 9 '16 at 19:35
110

You need to talk to a lawyer before you say anything to anyone about this incident.

Don't assume you're safe because you didn't do anything; the law is complex and the other people involved may not remember things the way you do.

Don't assume your job is safe because it happened outside of work; HR protects the company, not you, and they often take the quickest path to avoid problems.

Don't assume it's safe to say anything to your coworkers, your friends, your neighbors, your mother, coworker A and B, the police, or anyone else; These things may come back to bite you, or get subpoenaed and end up public record.

Don't assume you have a responsibility to report anything to anyone, but don't assume it's safe to say nothing either. Laws and company policies vary widely.

Don't assume anything. Get real legal advice from someone qualified. Talk to a lawyer.

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    Complementary question : an external lawyer ? Or should we consider it's safe, maybe even better if the company have some dedicated lawyer ? Internal ones has the advantages to know the current contracts in the company and the culture. – Walfrat Nov 10 '16 at 8:49
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    If people went to see a Lawyer/Doctor every time someone on SE suggested it... – Weckar E. Nov 10 '16 at 9:05
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    @Walfrat The "internal lawyer" has the duty to keep his employer safe, so talking to him would be worse than doing nothing at all and keeping quiet about everything to everyone. – Alexander Nov 10 '16 at 9:06
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    Read your employee handbook. For every company I've worked for, there's a policy that you are required to notify them that you are a party to a criminal investigation. But yes, if you want LEGAL advice, talk to a LAWYER. – Jon Milliken Nov 10 '16 at 14:44
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    Do not ever talk to the police: youtube.com/watch?v=ZGgKLgVNfAo Without a lawyer. – Pat Nov 10 '16 at 19:32
79

You are a witness. You need to refuse to discuss the case at work except to parties such as HR and your boss with a need to know (and they only need to know there was a problem, not details).

As far as coworker A, treat him at work with exactly as much professionalism as you treat everyone else. Likely he will not respond the same, but you need to stay above the fray. Your main goal here is to convince management that you are not the troublemaker if there is any further trouble from this incident.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation about discussing legal proceedings on the Internet has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Nov 8 '16 at 22:22
25

Do you fear that A may physically assault you? If you have any such fear you should immediately make HR and/or the police aware of that.

If you only fear that A may retaliate against you in ways that impact your work and/or career, I don't think you need to act based on fear alone. Until there is evidence of retaliation against you it would be most professional to give A the benefit of the doubt and assume that the two of you will be able to work professionally together until the court has made a decision.

Should A be acting in unprofessional ways I think it is a good idea to let HR know about that.

You shouldn't feel obliged to let HR know what happened, but neither should you feel obliged to keep it a secret from HR. But if you do speak I recommend that you are careful with your wording. I think it is OK for you to say:

  • There is a criminal case against A
  • You are a witness in that case
  • Whether you are currently fearing for your own safety

Based on your question those all appear to be indisputable facts. But avoid making any direct or indirect statements as to whether A is guilty. You definitely want to avoid making any statements which could be considered to be libel.

Before you say anything about the case to anybody it may be a good idea to consult with a lawyer. It certainly won't hurt.

12

You should stay as uninvolved as is possible considering you're a witness. Don't discuss it with HR unless they ask you for your version of events. Nothing good for you personally will come out of stirring the pot in any direction.

The only situation I can think of where you should take it to HR is if your colleague becomes obnoxious or tries to coerce you in some way.

5

You did not disclose the office relationship between yourself, A and B. However, your post does not indicate one is the boss of the other so I am going to assume that you are of similar level and that you do not hold a position in HR.

If it was me, I'd do nothing. I would not report to management as it is not your responsibility to do so. If you do report it to management it could reflect badly upon you if A is a person they hold in esteem. I've seen such a thing happen.

A mid level-manager who was supposed to be the next best thing in a company showed up very drunk at work. One of his subordinates asked the drunk guy's manager for permission to do something since the guy was "indisposed". That subordinate got in a lot of trouble and never fully recovered from the incident and was eventually forced to leave the company. Sometimes the messenger is killed for the message.

Do not, under any circumstances, discuss this with your peers. Its none of their business. Do not discuss, at all, with A. Do not discuss this with B at the workplace, but some discussion outside the workplace may be permissible as it seems you two are close.

I'd also redo your language. You are not a witness for B, you are a witness. When called upon, you will retell the story from your perspective that is all. It is not your job to decide guilt or innocence.

If requested by management to tell the story, I'd only do so in private. I'd also attempt to dissuade them by saying that you are not supposed to talk to anyone about this. Ask to check with the prosecutor for permission, etc. However, they may force you to tell the story. Then without judgement tell the story and be specific. Do not offer any judgement.

You may want to work on being precise on the telling of your story including times, actions and distances.

I witnessed a man punching his girlfriend in the face twice then forcing her face against the pavement. Since I really did not have the timing or distances worked out in my head the defense attorney picked my testimony apart and he was found not guilty. At least I stopped the incident and the guy had to pay a lot of money for a good defense, but he should have been found guilty.

  • "You are not a witness for B, you are a witness" - I don't know the details of US law, but I assume it is basically the same adversarial system as the UK. in a criminal trial in the UK witnesses are either called by the prosecution or the defence lawyers, so it's obvious to everybody in court "whose side they are likely to be on". Of course in other countries with an inquisitorial justice system, the situation would be different. – alephzero Nov 9 '16 at 23:34
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    There are times when witness are called by both the prosecution and defense, and they are almost always cross examined by the non-calling party. The goal was to remove the decision of guilt by the OP, its not his job. He does not even know, as of yet, if the situation will be prosecuted. This further makes the case of not running to HR and tattling. – Pete B. Nov 10 '16 at 13:31
4

I have actually worked in environments where this does in fact come up often enough for there to be a company policy. (don't ask! ;-)

FYI that policy in most cases is:

"Both altercants get fired, we don't have time to sort this $&@* out."

So assuming that you are friends with "B" and don't want to put his job at risk, I would consider not informing the employer without first getting a clearer idea of the possible repercussions.

  • Dunno whether this is the right advice, but it's very good info so +1. – user42272 Nov 10 '16 at 21:08
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    I don't know where you're from, but firing both parties is the perfect way to get sued by the victim of the assault, if there is one. You can't just fire people randomly "because you don't have time to sort this out." – devoured elysium Nov 11 '16 at 0:37
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    IANAL, but these were large companies, and this did happen, so I'm pretty sure they had their butts covered on that. Aren't most states "at will" in that you can be terminated at any time for pretty much whatever? – jkf Nov 11 '16 at 5:13
  • @jkf Most states in the US may have at will employment. A lot of countries in the rest of the world are very definitely not; you definitely could not do this in the UK (to anyone with more than two years employment, anyway). – Philip Kendall Nov 11 '16 at 10:25
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    Location dependant for sure -- I am in Canada which does have more worker protections than the US, but some industries are more "wild west" than others I guess... – jkf Nov 11 '16 at 20:25
0

Get a lawyer and do not TALK TO THE POLICE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGgKLgVNfAo

If A can make it that you attacked him.... Have your statement go through the lawyer.

  • That appears to be a joke video. – Wildcard Nov 13 '16 at 9:19
  • @wildcard - not hardly. Video is a real presentation by a law professor and former police officer about what the very real negative consequences to talking with the police. – Pat Jan 17 '17 at 22:50
-6

If I were you, I'd consider a criminal restraining order against A. Considering the pending charges, and the fact that you witnessed the incident and have to work in close proximity, it's probably more than justifiable with a judge. Your health AND livelihood are at risk until this gets worked out. This is the least you can do to protect yourself.

When A can't show up to work because of the restraining order, allow A to do the explaining and you just go on with your life as best you can.

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    Why would you suggest a restraining order as OP when they basically ware a 3rd party in the whole situation? Seems like you would get restraining orders vs every charged person in the vincinity/city/country, Looks at little bit unreasonable. – luk32 Nov 9 '16 at 0:56
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    Because OP is going to be a witness against A. A has already demonstrated a lack of respect for personal boundaries. It may take a long time before anything happened then they go to trial. A restraining order will discourage, with the threat of imprisonment, A from any type of harassing or intimidating behavior before trial. – Xavier J Nov 9 '16 at 1:01
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    Would. But I doubt anyone would warrant it with out any reason. And there is no reason to believe A would take any action against anyone anymore. I bet even the B party wouldn't be givent a restraining order. There were no threats. You can't just lock out someone from a job for a quarrel due to intoxication. That's a one-time situation (so far), which probably not even resulted in serious injury. – luk32 Nov 9 '16 at 1:54
-11

Mediate between your coworkers to both have them drop the charges. Some reparations from A to B for hospital costs.

And keep this totally separate from work.

That's what I would do. It's a lose lose situation for both of them and potentially you if they don't.

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    You can't keep it "separate from work" if you're mediating between two co-workers whose main connection is their job. I doubt you could even get them to meet outside the office at this point. – Erik Nov 9 '16 at 11:30
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    This seems like a very dangerous course of action. – Jørgen Fogh Nov 9 '16 at 11:50
  • @erik oh yes you can, the incident was in private time at a private place. The danger of this also becoming a work issue is that even if the guy does everything right, A may get a reprimand from the police or even be terminated that coworkers may take issue with that and even if not warranted at all blame the OP. Even if he made the right ethical decisions. The thing is, that whole situation smell like "taint" to me. And being tainted at work, just because in a private situation you were at a place where stupid stuff happened can have serious consequences for your career. – Pieter B Nov 9 '16 at 12:53
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    I'll rephrase: I doubt that they would WANT to meet outside of office. It's not that easy to get an assault victim to meet up with their assaulter in a private location to kiss and make up. – Erik Nov 9 '16 at 13:31
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    This is terrible advice. The OP is not a disinterested third party, they stated that they are a witness for B's side of the story. Why would A engage in that kind of mediation if B and the OP are clearly against them? Also, in some jurisdictions violent felonies can't just be mediated away. The OP said they already reported it to the police so there will likely be a full investigation and trial if there is enough evidence to prosecute A. Finally, why should B be happy to just take an apology and small reparations against someone who allegedly kidnapped and assaulted them? – Kevin Wells Nov 10 '16 at 21:39

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