Corporate/HR Question

I think the HR Manager of the company I work for is trying to intimidate me into not talking to a former coworker. I thought I’d lay it out for the TN community to see if anyone has insight and can tell me if she’s full of shit or not.

The former coworker was in a different location than me and I didn’t know her at all except we exchanged a handful of work related emails. When she left I didn’t give it a 2nd thought. A week ago, disparaging remarks got back to me about this person from another coworker who happened to recently get her boss demoted while getting herself a promotion. She’s a real snake in the grass in my opinion. Since I think my friend who got demoted is now on the verge of getting fired, the prospect of possibly establishing a method of operation for the snake was too much for me to resist.

I looked up the woman who left and called her at her new employer with the intention of asking her why she left and outright telling her why I called if need be. Unfortunately, she wasn’t available so I left a message for her to call me. She called me back but I missed that call.

Since she doesn’t know me she was probably confused by the call so she called my employer to ask about why I called. Apparently she ended up talking to the HR Manager who happens to be best friends with the snake in the grass. The HR Manager then sent me an email asking what I was inquiring about and said “If this is work related, it needs to come thru me as we would be legally required to pay her for her time”.

This sounds like compete bullshit to me and leads me to believe she doesn’t want me talking to the woman who left. So first question is, is there any validity to her claim that if I want to talk to this woman about work related things, a woman who doesn’t even work for the company any more, we would have to pay for her time? Second, do you agree with my hunch she is trying to hide something or is she just doing her job?

#1 HR people are prone to power trips in my experience.

#2 that’s absolute nonsense about having to pay someone for their time. You can call someone up who left and say “hey where’s this file?” Or “what was that clients P.O. terms again?” Etc… she has no obligation to answer you and you have no obligation to pay her as a company. It’s pretty standard business decorum to take 5 minutes to help out your old company, even if only for reference sake.

#3 what you should definitely not do is shit stir and ask her why she left. If you weren’t close with her before, then you dont want to open that can of worms. She may have been fired or forced to resign. You’ve already alluded to some drama there. Especially since she called HR on your ass after one exploratory phone call. Let sleeping dogs lie.


I think she’s full of crap and making a big deal out of nothing.

Also snake lady sounds like a toxic mess. The things that happen in the corporate world that my wife tells me about make me glad I’m not part of it.


I think you’re all off base here; allow me to explain.

HR manager is sitting in her office when she receives a call out of the blue from a recently departed employee. Departed employee inquires as to the nature of your call to her. As you said yourself you hardly know other than an occasional work related email. Assuming that information is true Departed Employee is safe to assume that your call must have been related to something about her former duties or something remaining undone at old job. Not getting you to answer she took the next correct step and called HR.
HR considers Departed Employee’s tenure a closed matter (all out processing paperwork complete, exit interview complete, email and network access terminated…etc) and is caught completely off guard by Departed Employee’s call. HR, not knowing that your playing games of your own, assumes your call to Departed Employee was work related and cautions you that contact with Departed Employee concerning your business may place your current employer at risk if Departed Employee decides to request payment for services rendered (which she would be entitled to do. It’s unlikely that someone who’s recently left an employer would do that but if they left on bad terms or otherwise felt as if they were not properly compensated then the likelyhood increases).

If you call Departed Employee just to shoot the breeze or gossip then you should be fine but if you call and ask questions related to her duties or “hey, do you remember where you put that file on XYZ?” then you have issues.

My advice would be to go to work, do your job and go home…stop being a gossip whore.

1 Like

Yeah, this. If you don’t know her well enough to know she won’t go blabbing to every one of her former colleagues about your talk with her, then you need to let it go.

1 Like

The HR manager presumably knows something you don’t about the termination/leaving.

The HR manager’s primary job is to keep peace and keep people on task. All the rest are details.

The HR manager is reasonably concerned you are stirring shit, which you kind of are doing.

I don’t see any benefit in stirring shit. I would respond with something innocuous; “no it’s personal. A customer/friend-of-friend or whatever asked about her on a personal basis.”

The lady who left is a narc and will tattle on you if you make another call to her. So don’t.

1 Like

I would just tell HR it was not work related and leave it at that.


this was a weird thing to do.

This is advice you should take

Yeah, all of this. You’re going the wrong way for a secure job and happy life with it.

Thanks for the feedback everyone. This morning I responded to the HR Manager that the call was purely personal. Within a few minutes I received a call from the woman but didn’t take it. Clearly there is a much closer connection there than I was hoping for.

I’m really not being a gossip whore etc. I can’t go into details but the man who got demoted and is on the verge of getting fired is getting royally screwed and what is happening to him shouldn’t be. Never the less, the avenue I was hoping would develop, to show a pattern of conduct, didn’t materialize so I’m dropping it. Instant HR involvement was definitely not part of my original plan. LOL

Purely for my interest, I’d love to hear more opinions or facts about the HR Manager’s claim that we would be legally required to pay her over a phone call.

I can’t speak to the piece about getting paid for phone calls, but I do know that when people are out on medical or maternity leave you’re supposed to leave them alone, and they you, even if it’s just a quick question. I’ve seen coworkers shut down in emailing things like “where do we send the whatevers?” and I had a client out on medical leave for cancer who couldn’t contact work and felt tortured by the three month disconnection. Social interactions yes, work business no. I assume there’s a legal basis - is there an actual fee-for-service obligation? I don’t know, but I do know that “they don’t work here” and so “why are you contacting them” make sense without any whiff of collusion.

Have you asked the demoted guy what he did? Seems a lot easier than sleuthing around trying to dig it up and “establish a pattern.” Maybe he screwed up a big account or project. Maybe he screwed the wrong coworker. He is the one to ask.

If that seems like an awkward conversation to have, it’s because it IS awkward to chase this down, and I would personally not do it. If you like your workplace and your job, leave it alone. If the snake in the grass shit-talks someone to you, tell her you prefer not to speak of others unless they’re present or else respond vaguely and then walk away. I tend to go with a vague frown and noncommittal “oh wow” or some such, and then move away. If you discover she’s shit-talking you, go ahead and get curious.

A manager I liked very much recently got fired at my office. I thought she was competent, hard working, and kind. But the nurses, who eat people alive (this was the 5th practice mgr in less than five years) didn’t like her, and the clerical staff blamed her for organization-wide changes (rapid growth has forced a big push for productivity, we’re paying for expansion). People were celebrating when word got out. I thought it was sad and unfair, so after thinking about it for a bit - wise or unwise? morally obligated or not morally obligated? - I found her on Facebook and said something along the lines of “I just wanted to reach out to let you know that I was sorry to hear you were gone. I enjoyed working with you and appreciated your hard work and dedication. I hope whatever comes next is rewarding.” She wrote back politely, with a “keep in touch!” which I will not do. I requested and received no specifics - she even noted in her three sentence response that she wishes our organization well, a nicely diplomatic move on her part. I assume she was screwed over, but it is not my pattern to establish and the last thing I want is HR’s negative attention. I also know that there’s a possibility that she did something wrong - did something sketchy with protected medical information, or money or whatever.

I like my work and am well supported in doing it by my organization, and although I don’t always love the culture of my workplace, I like most of the people there as individuals. Had the fired manager tried to discuss the specifics I would have shut the conversation down with an “I’m not comfortable.” But on the other hand, had I viewed her as someone who would drag me into drama, I would never have written - nor liked her so well in the first place, for that matter. I can’t even imagine tracking her down to ask how to unlock a chart note I accidentally locked or how to fix the thermostat in my office. HR would not at all be out of line to question what I was doing if I did that. Like, she doesn’t work here anymore and isn’t getting paid - leave her alone so we don’t have to worry about this!

I do feel you’ve gotten caught up in drama, OE. Not judging you, it happens to everyone and certainly it’s happened to me, but if you have concern for your demoted friend you should express sympathy to him. If he tells you Snake is systematically trying to destroy the company…I would still hesitate to react, assuming I valued my job. If you’re going to ask him, I’d ask it as an open ended question. “What happened?” and not lead him to blame Snake. That way if he sent a dick pic to an employee he can say so without getting paranoid that someone is out to get him on top of it.


One of HR’s primary functions is risk mitigation. I’m assuming you’re working in the sue happy US.

@EmilyQ 's comments about leave are correct. If someone is sick or on disability, workers comp etc you should leave them alone at all costs.

I don’t know that I’ve ever read it in a handbook but HR usually discourages any communication with involuntarily terminated employees, except through HR. To the point where the group of the guy worked in packs up his personal effects and takes them to HR, who will forward it to the ex employee.

If the employee left on good terms (two weeks notice) it would not at all be odd to give her a five minute phone call asking about something innocuous… If you had a legitimate business reason.

I see no scenario where a severed employee gets paid for a quick phone call. Since they’re severed (non w2) you’d have to make them submit a W9 and 1099 them for their time.

Now if you were asking a former coworker to take some action for the company: call a client, finish a drawing etc… then a savvy ex employee should request payment.

1 Like

At my wife’s company there was a migration of every member of senior management except her and one woman that people weren’t too crazy about ( has since been fired). Since then, acting on behalf of the other co. they have swung a nice contract over to my wife because of their previous experience and confidence in her.

The weird part is that her supervisor is acting like a butthurt little baby because she’s actually friends outside of the workplace with them. They just handed over a contract that is going to seriously fatten up his bottom line and he can’t even muster a “congrats…”. Last week he even intimated that she is acting like they’re her boss, which I believe shows his insecurity in a big way.

I temped at a place where the VP was mad at his previous company, so he swiped a bunch of their workers and somehow got the temp agency to push everybody that met certain criteria over to his new co., so I can see why, in certain circumstance, a company wouldn’t want communication with some people.


It’s a common (but not typical) feature of employment agreements (and some separation agreements) that mandates ex-employees to give post-separation assistance for which they are paid or at least reimbursed expenses. Most commonly, this has to do with some non-termination-related litigation that is on-going or a patent application or somesuch. Sometimes, it’s part of the deal when you have some giant project and a given person has critical institutional knowledge (e.g., a project manager or architect that left).

That said, HR managers are notorious for: (1) going to training, picking up garbage and (2) thinking a specifically-negotiated contract provision for one employee is valid for everyone.

They then pronounce said garbage as The Law and no one really knows whether they are correct, so they do the safe thing and listen to the HR manager. They also feel they know more than the company lawyers.