Members of a popular internet forum were quick to call out one woman who said she made fun of a coworker’s outfit during a recent workplace meeting.
In a viral Reddit post published on r/AmITheA**hole, Redditor u/Thrift-Shop5604 (otherwise referred to as the original poster, or OP) explained that her new coworker always wears colorful, unmatching socks with business suits, and recounted the heated interaction that happened after she brought unwanted attention to his footwear.
Titled, “[Am I the a**hole] for ’embarrassing’ my colleague by laughing at his socks?,” the viral post has received nearly 8,000 votes and 2,500 comments in the last 11 hours.
Beginning with the explanation that her coworker is “good looking” and “wears nice suits,” the original poster said she “can’t help but notice” the man’s socks and detailed her reaction to them during a company-wide meeting.
“I was in a meeting with him and other employees from different departments. I sat at the corner but still couldn’t help staring at his socks and trying to contain my laughter,” she wrote. “He noticed but didn’t say anything ’til he caught me looking at them again. That’s when he sort of snapped and said ‘You’ve been looking at my feet and laughing, is there a problem?'”
“I finally just let out a laugh and said ‘I’m sorry, but it’s just these penguin socks,” she continued. “Everyone stared at them then laughed.”
Following the meeting, the original poster said her coworker pulled her aside and told her that his late wife made the socks before she passed and that he had been wearing them for the last year.
The original poster also said that she apologized to the man, but didn’t mean it.
“I said I was sorry for his loss and I was kidding. Though, I was kinda not because I really thought those socks looked stupid and unmatching with his overall appearance,” she continued. “Plus, they make him look unprofessional and ruin his professional look.”
“He said what was unprofessional is me going off topic and commenting and making fun of something so personal,” she added. “He implied that he’d take this to HR someday soon which I thought was a huge overreaction on his part.”
Although many workplaces have strict policies prohibiting all workplace harassment, many forms of unacceptable conduct remain prevalent across the United States and, in some cases, are punishable by law.
Slights, annoyances and isolated incidents rarely reach the level of illegality but according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, some examples of offensive conduct can create hostile and intimidating work environments.
“Offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance,” the EEOC website reads.
In cases like the one described in the viral Reddit post, the EEOC recommends that employees inform harassers that their conduct is “unwelcome and must stop.” It also recommends that employees report any workplace harassment to management early on, in order to prevent escalation—just as the original poster’s coworker said he would.
Throughout the comment section of the viral post, which was eventually locked by r/AmITheA**hole forum moderators, Redditors responding to the original poster labeled her behavior harassing and questioned the woman’s motives for bringing so much attention to her coworker’s socks.
In the post’s top comment, which has received more than 26,000 votes, Redditor u/Gombacksa accused the original poster of inciting the rest of her coworkers to laugh at the man and said she knew she was not justified in doing so.
“Not only did you harass your colleague, you did your utmost best to get everyone to gang up on him, making a scene for goddamn socks and whining to his colleagues when he tried to get the monkey off his back,” they commented.
“I sincerely hope he takes this to HR,” they added. “And seriously, if you can’t deal with penguins on people’s socks, it’s time to reevaluate your priorities and your maturity level, because you acted like a toddler.”
Redditor u/MathemeticianFalse20, whose comment has received nearly 11,000 votes, echoed that sentiment.
“You deserve to be reported, you deserve to be in trouble, you are harassing him and making it a toxic environment,” they wrote. “You are unbelievably childish and unprofessional. If you can’t handle a job like an adult, don’t have one.”
In a separate comment, which has received nearly 4,000 votes, Redditor u/downtherabbitholeuk said the original poster (and other coworkers) exhibited toxic behavior before, during and after her heated interaction with her coworker.
“He’s right—there is a certain level of professionalism required in the workplace, and you have failed on all counts,” they wrote.
“You sound like a bully, as do your colleagues,” they added. “Even after he explained about his late wife, you and your colleagues continued to be toxic.”
Newsweek reached out to u/Thrift-Shop5604 for comment.
Workplace drama often makes viral news, in fact. A tweet went viral this week after a user posted that she was questioned about a 17-day gap in her resume during a recent job interview. Another person says they weren’t hired at a company because of their lack of social media presence. And one woman said in a now-viral post that she was told to bring her laptop to her honeymoon so that she can “keep up” with work while she’s away.