HR Insights 4 min

HR Horror Stories

October 16, 2017

Sometimes, HR feels like a dream job. Other times, though, we have to deal with HR nightmares. As these submissions from HR professionals and their employees show, HR horror stories come in many forms. In fact, we’ve found HR horror stories that fit with all of our favorite types of horror films. Read on—if you dare.

Peter’s Nightmare – Invasion of the Layoff Snatchers

Some of the most powerful HR horror stories involve questioning identity itself, especially in this story from Peter, Co-Founder of ResumeGo:

“At one of my first jobs out of college, one of the senior executives at the company called me into his office very early in the morning. He informed me that I was to lay off a particular employee that day. I remember being quite surprised since this employee had been part of the firm for several years and was generally regarded as a very hard worker. In any case, having just started on the job a few weeks ago, I didn’t question the decision and had a brief chat with the employee in question, who then proceeded to pack up her things and leave the office.

“Later that afternoon, the senior executive approached me and asked why the person I was supposed to fire was still on the premises. I looked at who he was pointing to and was puzzled. I told him that he had asked me to fire someone else. There were actually three people at the office who had the same first name, and it turned out that, in his haste and morning stupor, he asked me to lay off the wrong person! It was a pretty awkward situation, but we managed to rectify the situation pretty easily with no real harm done.”

Kimberly’s Nightmare – A Dirty Secret (with a Clean Ending)

While we’re not going to post any gore on an HR blog (mainly because we didn’t get any OSHA submissions), there are still some gross-outs involved in HR nightmare stories. Take this one from Kimberly, a business owner with a master’s degree in human resource development:

“As all HR pros know, having difficult conversations is part of the job. Having difficult conversations about personal grooming and hygiene are my LEAST favorite difficult conversation to have. One time I had that convo with an employee and I learned she had recently lost her house and was homeless. It goes to show you that despite how uncomfortable the conversation is for us, it’s always worse for the employee. Address each situation directly but ensure it comes from a good place. Sometimes it’s easy to lose the humanity in what we do, but in this situation, it was the key to addressing this issue with the employee and then assisting her in getting the help she needed.”


Mollie’s Nightmare—Atmospheric PTO Horror

Sometimes, the greatest fear doesn’t come from a single scare, but from the general ambiance of a situation with no escape. That was certainly the case for Mollie, an HR representative for a thirty-person digital marketing agency when she started tackling PTO requests manually to post on a public vacation calendar.

“Because tracking the full year’s PTO requests by hours in a spreadsheet would be insane, employees could only be marked under one PTO tracking bucket per day. The PTO categories were: Vacation/Personal, Sick, WFH, Partial WFH, Leave Early/Come in Late, & Volunteering. Seems easy enough? Wrong.

“For example, Sally came into work on Monday for a few hours, but by lunch, wasn’t feeling well. She decided to go home because she was sick but planned on working a few hours to not miss a team meeting. How would you mark her for the day?

You can see how quickly a person’s day could span across multiple categories, which is a challenge when the spreadsheet can only mark full days. You also don’t realize how often people make changes to PTO requests until you are a part of all of them. Requests and changes would come through emails, pings, third parties, and just while passing by. As you can imagine, this led to data accuracy issues and the public calendar not always matching up.”

Justine’s Nightmare – Relationship Poltergeists


 When the past comes back to haunt the present, the results are always unsettling. That’s certainly the case for the Stir Group’s HR Manager, Justine:

“A newly appointed manager approached me inquiring about our company policy on performance management. I explained our policy and at the end enquired as to which employee she thought was underperforming. I was immediately concerned for two reasons; at this time she had only been in her role for three weeks, and our annual performance review cycle had been completed only one month earlier. And there had not been any recommendation for anyone in that team to undergo performance counseling. I wondered what had happened in the ensuing weeks for the situation to have apparently changed so dramatically. I set up a meeting with the manager, the team member and myself. I had also undertaken an investigation into the team member’s performance which concluded he was performing above average.

Need big HR ideas to help scale small HR businesses?

“Well the meeting was very revealing; I ended up mediating a conflict between two ex-lovers! It turns out the manager and the team member had enjoyed an office romance which had soured. And when one of them was made manager over the other one, revenge was on her mind.

“In short, the end of the story involves both employees being offered counseling through our Employee Assistance Program, the manager being placed on a performance plan and coached on best practice manager behaviors, the team member reporting thru to a different manager, and a horror story I have fortunately never experienced again!”

Eileen’s Nightmare – Creature Horror

Hr horror stories pets at work

Coming soon to a workplace near you: experience the terror of BRING YOUR PET TO WORK DAY!

Eileen from the HR Team writes:

“A colleague once shared a story about an employee bringing an alligator to work in a shopping cart.  Yes, an alligator! The co-workers did not seem to mind and they participated in the photo-ops, petting, holding it etc. Shockingly, that was the last ‘bring your pet to work day’ because following the incident,  the organization implemented a ‘no pets in the workplace’ policy.” 

Make HR Horror Stories a Fading Dream

There’s no silver bullet for handling HR horror stories, but implementing an effective HRIS and supplementing it with the right strategies can help stave off many of the issues that strike fear into the hearts of HR professionals. This includes automating transactions like PTO, developing effective, data-based performance management, and providing clear official communication throughout your organization.

Click here to learn more about BambooHR.


Do you have a great HR Horror story you want to tell us about? Comment below. 

Brian Anderson

Brian Anderson is a copywriter with BambooHR, a full-service, cloud-based HR management software. His work explores employee engagement, total rewards, recruitment strategies, and how core HRIS software connects with every aspect of HR.