Workplace dynamics can be a tricky thing.
Sometimes you gel with certain coworkers enough that the line between fellow employee and friend can become blurred.
For Redditor emperorsmallhands, a friendly relationship with a male coworker became misconstrued by a new employee, ultimately landing her in HR.
So she turned to the popular subReddit “Am I the A**hole” (AITA) to help figure out if her reaction to the whole situation was justified, asking:
“AITA for avoiding my new coworker after she reported me to HR for having an inside joke about a straight male coworker having a boyfriend?”
The Original Poster (OP) started out by laying out exactly how the inside joke at the center of the controversy came to be.
“I get how I’m probably the a**hole for this, but I guess I just want to know what other people think.”
“My coworker Gio (40M(ale)) and I (30F(emale)) have worked together for 6 years and we are good friends. We have this running joke where the two of us refer to his former boss Drew as his boyfriend.”
“Drew was a prick to everyone in their team except Gio, he gave him all the good accounts and he even endorsed Gio for a promotion even when Gio only met 70% of his targets. (I don’t begrudge Gio any of this since we didn’t even belong to the same team when Drew was his boss.)”
“Drew is straight as an arrow, is notorious for being a womanizer and was fired last year for sexual harassment.”
“I should clarify that Gio and I refer to Drew as his boyfriend only when it’s the two of us who are talking, though our coworkers know the joke because we sometimes talk loudly. Gio is fine with our running joke and also refers to Drew as his boyfriend when we talk.”
“For his birthday this year I photoshopped his and Drew’s faces into a gay couple’s picture and included it in my email greeting to him. He laughed at it for a good half a minute and then forwarded it to several coworkers who also got a kick from it.”
But when a new coworker overheard OP and Gio joking, things quickly went south.
“Our new coworker Kate, who has been with the company for 2 weeks, overhead one of my and Gio’s conversations where I called Drew Gio’s boyfriend so she thought Gio was gay.”
“When she mentioned it to our other coworker Cory, Cory told her that Gio is straight, married and has kids, and the thing about Drew being Gio’s boyfriend is just a long-time inside joke between me and Gio.”
“Kate went straight to HR to complain about me making jokes about Gio’s sexuality. HR spoke to me and Gio, who told them that it was a long time inside joke between us that he took part of.”
“I was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing, but it pissed me off that Kate didn’t even talk to Gio to ask if there was actually an issue. I’ve been avoiding her ever since because I honestly don’t know what I should even tell her after what she did.”
“My boyfriend says I shouldn’t be angry at her because she was new and didn’t know our inside jokes yet, but my point is that while I understand that while Kate thought she was trying to do a good thing, Cory already told her it was a long-time running joke, and Kate didn’t even talk to Gio if her concern is something that she should really be concerned about.”
Having laid out her case, it was now up to her fellow Redditors to weigh in on her actions using the following declarations:
- NTA – Not The A**hole
- YTA – You’re The A**hole
- NAH – No A**holes Here
- ESH – Everyone Sucks Here
The opinion seemed pretty split.
Some thought the OP’s reaction was perfectly valid after what Kate did.
“NTA. I’d avoid her too. It’s really weird to take that level of offense on someone else’s behalf.”—rileygreyy
“Yeah after 2 weeks you don’t have the lay of the land down enough to make an accusation about an off hand comment about others. At best I would talk to Gio even then I wouldn’t rock the boat unless asked 2 weeks into a new job.—Shadyside77
“NTA – Kate needs to grow the hell up. First of all, she’s new and should be trying to keep her head down until she has a lay of the land. Second of all, she should have talked to you guys about it first if it offended her. Kate is the a**hole here.”—Redditided
“NTA. Avoid her at all costs, but be polite when you do run into her. Instead of talking about it with both of you, she went straight to HR. She needs to fully understand dynamics instead of immediately reporting. She sounds young.”—MsBaseball34
“Exactly. If she can’t bother talking to either of you about a situation that’s none of her business do not engage with her. Do not discuss anything with her and less it is specific to your job. She’s quick to run to HR for something that has nothing to do with her, avoid her.”—Jenuptoolate
Others didn’t think a joke of that nature was appropriate at the office.
“YTA – This will probably be an unpopular opinion, but you’re at work. In a professional setting. If her standards are high for professionalism in an office, I’m not surprised to hear that she felt uncomfortable enough to say something to HR.”
“I’m gay. If I heard people being silly and joking about being gay I would probably be at least slightly offended. I don’t care if you’re accepting of gay people or not, your behavior and mockery of it is 1. (Most importantly) Unprofessional and 2. insensitive.”
“Feel free to avoid her, but I’d suspect she may want to avoid you anyway since you have sh*tty and insensitive inside jokes that you’re willing to ‘loudly’ toss around an environment that is supposed to be professional.”—puppiesforprez2021
“I think that’s what a lot of people are missing here.”
“The joke doesn’t need to be directed at/involve Kate in order for it to make her uncomfortable. If overhearing the joke (through loud voices or shared emails) makes her uncomfortable, that can still construed as a workplace harassment issue.”
“Kate could be gay herself, or have been the victim of sexual harassment in the office, either of which could be a reason for this type of joke to make her uncomfortable.”
“OP, you are being AH by being unprofessional in your workplace and thinking it only matters if you/Gio care.”—Molenium
“YTA – You’re at work, you don’t make jokes like that. Sure, Gio doesn’t mind but, as you’ve seen, anyone who isn’t ‘in’ on the joke could take offence.”
“I’m not saying you can’t have any office banter, but this has came across as homophobic ‘banter’ and that’s not appropriate, anywhere.”
“Don’t avoid Kate. Like someone else said, appearing cold towards her could just make things worse. Cut the ‘boyfriend’ jokes and get some new work-friendly material.”
“Maybe check with HR or your manager to see if this sounds like a good idea, but you could talk to her to clear the air.”
“Maybe just say something like ‘Hey, I’m sorry we offended you*, we just had this silly inside joke. We didn’t realise how it might look to someone new. We’ll retire that one and just stick to ribbing each other over [something else].'”
“(Different football teams? TV programmes? What do you talk about when you’re not talking about Drew being Gio’s boyfriend?). Let her reply, but make a hasty retreat when you can – ‘Anyway, I better go [do some work] see you later!’ – don’t get drawn into a discussion about it.”
“*You are sorry you’ve offended her, right? You don’t want to offend people, right? You don’t have to agree with why she’s offended, but you can still say sorry that it’s happened.”—Impressive_Big3342
“This is basically the standard Sexual Harassment Seminar answer. YTA OP. Retire the joke (no matter how much you both are fine with it) and rib each other over something else. This type of joke is not standard practice for any work place environment.”—peanutbutteroreos
One Redditor, however declared neither the OP nor Kate were the a**hole in this situation.
“NAH. Kate technically did the right thing. Confronting coworkers directly without the input or advice of HR can lead to worse problems.”
“Also, some people will laugh and shrug off a joke at their expense even though they are personally uncomfortable with the joke. Gio could have secretly been unhappy with the joke and didn’t feel like he could speak out. So, in effect, Kate did the correct thing.”
“I’ll also add that your joke (implying a sexual attraction being the primary reason a person receives favorable treatment) is problematic so say the least.”
“Speaking from personal experience, my coworkers and I have made questionable jokes with each other when we’ve built a rapport. So I understand your annoyance with Kate’s actions.”
“You’re not the a**hole for feeling uncomfortable. But you would be the a**hole for ‘punishing’ her by intentionally avoiding her for doing what she thought was the right thing.”
“If I were you, I would ask her if we could chat about the joke she overheard. If she’s open to a conversation, then explain that you and Gio have a relationship that lends itself to an admittedly bad running joke.”
“Tell her that you understand her feelings and hope that the two of you can have a productive work relationship. Don’t be that person who doubles down on a bad behavior just because the other party wasn’t offended this time.”—Robot941
While Reddit had some trouble making a call on this one, the OP could be in for some uncomfortable days ahead if she doesn’t attempt to clear the air with her new coworker.