If an employee apparently went to HR because I laughed at a question they asked, what can I do?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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If an employee apparently went to HR because I laughed at a question they asked, what can I do?

A co-worker of mine whom I am relatively friendly/playful with, went to HR and supposedly complained because I laughed at a question this co-worker asked. I know not the nicest thing to do. As I was trying to answer the question and say its a common mistake, she said that she’s going to HR and walked off. Should I go to HR and explain my situation? This complaining co-worker warned another co-worker via email that if they did the same, they would also be reported. This co-worker happened to be next to me during the situation

and laughed as well.

Asked on April 13, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

Legally, as long as they not alleging that you laughed at them due to them being in a protected category (e.g. you didn't laught at them due to their race, religion, age over 40, sex, disability, etc.), legally, you did nothing wrong. That's the good news. (If you did laugh at them due to them being in a protected category, then you may have committed illegal workplace harassment and the employer may be required to take action against you to avoid their own liability.) 
But the bad news is that if you don't have a written employment contract limiting the reason or process by which you could be disciplined or terminated, you are an "employee at will." That means that if your employer voluntarily, of its own free will, chose to take action against you, up and to including termination, they could; doing so would be legal. 
As to whether you should contact HR: that depends on corporate culture, the personalities in your HR department, etc. There is no right or wrong answer: it's what you feel, as someone who knows the company and HR, would be best.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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