Dear Evil HR Lady,

I am an IT professional at a very conservative Insurance Company. I got an upward transfer (not initiated by me) and have very strong performance reviews. Working with our webmaster, to test an e-mail insurance form, I put in some fake data to see if the form would submit. I was testing validation such as – phony phone number, address, zip code – that sort of thing. I was unaware that the form was routed to an insurance agency for handling in addition and not direct to the webmaster. My fake data consisted of the applicant being Lucifer Morning Star, the agency Hell Inc., the address 666 something or other….phone number all 6’s…and was intended to fail and not even be submitted, but in case it did I put a comment on it to identify it was a joke to the webmaster. In the comments section is said “(webmasters name) if you don’t process this I will possess you!”, clearly obvious this was not a serious insurance application and was, however distasteful, a harmless joke.

The agency who received it made a big deal about it that they thought it was threatening and they were considering calling the police and should they change the locks and all of this nonsense(obviously someone with too much time on their hands!). Since we webmaster the form, it came back to our company and when the helpdesk read it, their response was, this is obviously a joke and whomever sent it knows the webmaster (as his name was referenced in the comments).

Then IT security got involved and did some scanning or whatever to determine what IP address it came from an so forth. The webmaster is approached by the helpdesk, but since he never got the email (because it was routed to the agent and not to him as I thought) he did not recognize it was from me, and just said its obviously a joke – don’t worry about it. No one communicated about this to me and all this investigation is done over a period of 2 weeks(which I learn later).

A week or so later I am called to a meeting with my boss and our HR rep/manager for our division. I am told there was a serious problem with one of the web sites, it affected operations and went all the way up to our legal department, made the company look bad etc., and shown the form….which I immediately recognize and tell them, I did this – it was a test I was working on with the webmaster. I meant no harm and had no idea it went to the agent! It was just meant as a joke and I am very sorry!

Then my boss proceeds to bring up totally unrelated irrelevant things during the meeting…he says well legal and HR have a problem with this because of the language used in it and you have been warned numerous times about language (I have not!) then he proceeds to list other “faults” that have never been addressed before. Because of my previous positive reviews and promotion, I know they weren’t big deals before.

He then said well this is very serious and we will let you know the outcome and what actions we plan to take in the next few days. This lead me to believe they were considering drastic action.

Here is the kicker, I am pregnant in my third trimester. The “devil” email form was submitted mid November, and the meeting was held the beginning of December after my boss returned from vacation. I had been due in Feb. I am high risk pregnancy (but have not missed work over it) and have gotten some grief from my boss in October when I told him I was planning to take the full 12 weeks FMLA…which he stated he “didnt think so”, but he’d “ask HR”, to which I sated, “I can and will because it is the LAW” (he’s a new manager – clueless on manager stuff).

Since then, my manager has been acting like he wants me to be gone. We’ve recently had a merger and layoffs are on the table and I’m afraid his lack of support for my planned leave is resulting in an ambush to get rid of me.


Well, one thing is for sure–there will be no more devil forms from you. Let’s start with what you’ve already learned from this adventure:

  • Work is always work and should be treated as such
  • Jokes among friends are fine.
  • Jokes that go through company systems (e-mail, electronic forms, etc) are not now, nor have they ever been, private
  • Some people are very sensitive
  • Some people have no sense of humor
  • You don’t know how other people will react to jokes, so you shouldn’t joke when it is possible for anyone else to hear/read it.
  • Don’t you hate learning lessons the hard way? Wouldn’t it be better if you could have learned all of this before you sent the form.

    For the record, I would have thought it was totally bizarre had such a form crossed my desk. But, I would have laughed about it and deleted it. But, what can you expect from someone named “Evil”?

    Now, your real problem. Planned FMLA for an adorable little screecher. Couple this with a manager who isn’t thrilled and planned (or at least rumored) reductions in force.

    With a merger, redundant positions have to go. Unfortunately, a great deal of those positions are support roles–IT, Finance and HR. So, your position definitely is vulnerable.

    So is your manager’s.

    Chances are, the word is going to come down from above, “we need to cut 10% of the IT headcount.” The head of IT will evaluate positions (along with help from the brilliant and talented people of Human Resources) and position cuts will be decided. Then the people will be looked at. Some will go. Some will stay.

    Your manager’s philosophy is “if I can make other people look bad, I’ll look better and have a better chance of preserving my own hide.” This may work and it may backfire on him, but that is neither here nor there.

    You are absolutely correct that you are entitled to 12 weeks of FMLA. However, because you are entitled to FMLA doesn’t mean that your job is secure in the event of a Reduction in Force. Regardless of your manager’s feelings, it is at times like these that you need to be prepared with a new resume. You need to start networking now (which you should have been doing continuously anyway) and you need to get new jobs lined up.

    This should be really easy during your ninth month of pregnancy and first months post-partum!

    You can file complaints. Document with HR that you believe that you are being discriminated against because of your pregnancy. If you should be terminated unfairly, the fact that you complained in advance can help your cause. It will also mean that there is a file open on you and if your legal department is at all competent, before they approve specific people for layoff, your situation will be discussed.

    This will not bode well for your manager.

    Of course, you do have the devil file to deal with as well. If they want to get rid of you, this is as good a justification as any, unfortunately.

    End result? Hopefully your job will be fine. But, you need to be prepared that it is not. Your job wouldn’t be secure right now, even if you weren’t pregnant and hadn’t used poor judgment. Update your resume. Get an epidural in the parking lot of the hospital. (No use wasting time getting all the way upstairs to labor and delivery. If God had meant for you to experience natural childbirth, you would have been born 300 years ago. That’s my philosophy anyway. Nobody talks about the wonders of natural appendectomies.)

    And no more funny things at work. Work=work.

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2 thoughts on “Judgment Lapse

  1. Wow.

    It should be pretty obvious that the submission was a joke (along the lines of Mickey Mouse!) to anyone of moderate intelligence.

    Unfortunately, as it goes with fair trading law, sometimes you have to cope with the unusually stupid, or those lacking a sense of humour.

    I’m amazed at the poor judgment, not of you but of the insurance agent. Frankly, nowhere I have worked would anyone bat an eyelid at that kind of submission – we expect IT people to have a sense of humour). If it was Brenda Pornstar, it might offend someone.

    That said, good luck with the baby and the job.


  2. I have seen and done much worse as far as practical jokes go. Too bad this came at such a bad time. If I were in your shoes and I honestly felt this treatment was due to my pregnancy I would definitely make it well known to HR.

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