What Might Happen after a Complaint to HR that I Raised my Voice to a Coworker?

Question:
I had an argument with a coworker and he complained that I raised my voice. HR told me that numerous people said I raised it, but I know those people were actually friends of my coworker. Now HR is doing an investigation and has asked me to take a couple of days off and they will let me know what the next steps will be.

This is my first time ever meeting with HR. Do you think I could get fired? Any suggestions or ideas or experience would be appreciated to help me with this situation.

Response:
The decision about what will happen as a result of your loud argument will depend upon what it was about, what words you used, what was being said by your coworker, and how valuable you are to the company.

If you only had a slight argument and were perceived as raising your voice in anger for a short amount of time, you may receive a warning, official reprimand, extra training or mediation with the coworker to help resolve the conflict.

If you had a serious argument and said things that are against the rules of your company (profanity or comments about gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, etc.) more serious actions may be taken, up to dismissal.

However, if you didn’t say any exceptional inappropriate things and if you are a good worker otherwise, it doesn’t seem likely you would dismissed. Most workplaces are accustomed to disagreements and hostility between employees and they wouldn’t have many employees if they fired everyone who has an argument–even a loud one.

Whatever decision is made, your supervisor or manager will be part of it. Consider how your relationship has been with your immediate manager and the person above him or her. Crisis times are when we most need the support of those above us.

Apparently HR has done all of the investigation they intend to do. However, if you have additional information they didn’t ask you about. Or, if you know of a witness they didn’t interview, who might have another viewpoint to share, let HR know about it by email.

Don’t contact anyone on work time and don’t contact anyone who may have made a statement against you. But if you have a coworker who you know supports you, you could call that person away from work and ask them to let HR know what they heard. (If they don’t want to do it, they probably DID hear you raise your voice.)

Your supervisor and manager, as well as HR, will want your assurance that this won’t happen again. Be prepared to discuss (or write a letter) about what led up to it and how you will respond differently next time.

It may be that the argument was a result of an ongoing situation with some aspect of work that could be corrected to benefit everyone. If so, suggest a solution. If the argument was the result of long-standing conflict, both of you will need to change the way you interact with each other–but you may need to do the most adjusting, if HR views you were most responsible.

The bottom line is that your organization will make a decision that fits the severity of the situation. Whatever happens, let your supervisor and others in the process, know that you have learned from this experience and it won’t happen again.

When you return to work, it will probably feel very awkward at first. Just focus on work and doing anything else you are directed to do. In a very short amount of time, this will fade and new issues with other employees will take its place. The person you argued with may hesitate to communicate with you. Don’t push it. Be the coworker you were on your first day or first week. Be approachable and courteous to everyone. Give yourself and others a chance for a fresh start.

Best wishes to you with this situation. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors