Can I Be Written Up For This?

What to do when your conduct is questioned

Back Article Aug 10, 2015 By Suzanne Lucas

Recently my boss went out of town. Upon her return, she called me and my co-worker into her office to tell us that our HR person emailed her while she was out and said someone in the office complained about us being too loud. Yes, we were joking and laughing, but no one came to me to complain or ask that we lower our voices. Still, my supervisor told me the incident is going on my record. I feel like I’m in kindergarten even asking for advice on this, but can I really be written up for talking loudly? In seven years of working here, I’ve never had my conduct questioned. Furthermore, I am up for a promotion and I feel this will hurt my chances for advancement. Am I entitled to know who made this claim? Do I advise the HR person it was never brought to my attention? Please help.

Quick answer: Yes you can be written up for this. You can be written up for anything that doesn’t violate the law. So, you can be written up for talking too loudly, but you can’t be written up for speaking Spanish with a co-worker in a non-safety related situation. And actually, that’s my first question: Were you speaking a different language or discussing something from a different culture? Because sometimes complaints about “loud” are really complaints about “I don’t understand.”

Long answer: This is near the top of ridiculousness. What should have happened is that when you and your coworker got a bit loud, whomever was annoyed should have stuck his head in the door and said, “Hey guys, can you be a bit quieter? Thanks!” He certainly shouldn’t have gone to HR.

But since he did go to HR, the HR manager should have said, “Did you ask them to be quiet? No? Then suffer.”

If the HR manager was dumb enough to email your boss about this, your boss should have responded, “Really? You are bringing this to my attention? This is absurd. Please inform the complainer that he should grow up.”

But, apparently everyone at your office is either dumb as a rock, or this is about something else — like language or jealousy. I suspect that this is about something else. It’s generally possible to have one or two dumb people in your office, but this took three and that’s not normal. So, what else is going on here? You said you were up for a promotion and you’re afraid that this one incident of being loud is going to damage your chances. One incident of being loud shouldn’t change anything.

Poll: What Makes You Want to Kill Your Coworkers? 

So, here’s what you do. Go to your boss and say, “I want to apologize for getting too loud. Additionally, I’d like to know what’s going on here. In a normal situation, when someone is too loud, it’s customary to say, ‘Hey, can you please quiet down?’ It’s not normal to say nothing and go to HR instead. Is there something going on that I don’t know about? Have I offended someone? Is there some aspect of my work that needs improving?”

Then sit back and listen. You may find out that your boss is generally unhappy with your work. You may find out that there is someone higher up the food chain who doesn’t want to see you promoted and, as such, is coming up with ludicrous things to hold you back. You may find out nothing.

That last possibility is the most annoying one. You don’t know which coworker was so wimpy that he couldn’t tell you to be quiet. You don’t know why you’re being targeted. And, in all fairness, this could be a one-off situation and everything could be fine tomorrow. In fact, it most likely will be fine tomorrow.

But if it’s not, you need to be careful. Document your performance. Make note of deadlines and client praise and the like. Check in with your boss regularly, and for heaven’s sake, don’t get too loud at the office.

With this dire warning, it may sound like this is a big deal. It’s not. Don’t let it throw you. Your “crime” was talking loudly. Remember how ridiculous that is. Hold your head high and continue with the process of applying for the promotion. An internal manager who reviews your personnel file and sees the write-up will think poorly of your boss, not of you. Talking too loudly one time is not something a good manager writes up an employee for. It’s a simple thing; it should have been handled by the offended employee and then never spoken of again. 


Cat (not verified)August 12, 2015 - 7:31pm

I agree with Evil PR lady, but she is a lot nicer than I am (and has a lot more insight than any PR person I've every worked with). Unless I am mistaken, this is related to your promotion and your boss wants to give the promotion to his/her friend (who is not you). Your boss is 1) building a case why you need more time to "mature" before your promotion and 2) is also trying to get you upset so you say or do something imprudent (which will get you written up a second time).

The good news is that you are so good at your job they need to concoct ridiculous complaints to emotionally destabilize you. The bad news this is that you need to transfer to another department if you ever want to get a promotion.

grannybunny (not verified)August 13, 2015 - 7:14am

I'm not sure that being written up for being "loud" would not hurt ones chances for promotion, since the likely assumption would be that the "loudness" referred to yelling, cursing or threatening behavior, not simply laughing or conversing too loudly.

Visitor JenyTom (not verified)August 13, 2015 - 7:53am

Is this interoffice pettiness? If so, that's the worst. Immaturity showing?
Or, is this office a call center? Then, the loudness would cause a real problem.
You have to look at this from the offices perspective. I'd have to do a little more investigation. With just this little story, I don't have enough information to give this person any really great advice.

Marcy SPHR (not verified)August 18, 2015 - 8:42am

This reminds me of a time I was approached to tell the receptionist she wore too much perfume. We HR people get all kinds of stupid requests (that make us too feel like we're running a kindergarten) and I agree with what the Evil HR Lady said. The problem should have stopped when the person "reported" you to HR by telling him/her if he or she hadn't told you you were too loud to do so.