reporting a coworker

by Ask a Manager on April 9, 2009

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A reader writes:

I work at a wealth management firm for very high-profile clients and I’ve found myself in the middle of a ethically tough situation.

One of my co-workers, who has grown to be a relatively good friend, has revealed to me that he’s begun to date a woman who was in our office doing our internal audit. Our firm hires her firm to review our own books. I already thought this was a bad lapse of judgment, but not my place to say something to our office manager.

At lunch on Thursday, he revealed to me that the auditor had shared with him everyone’s salaries as well as how the partners’ profit share was distributed. They have only been out a couple times and I feel that she is a complete idiot, for lack of a better phrase, for sharing this about a client.

I feel like I should report this breach of confidentiality on the auditor’s part, and my friend for asking her for this information and “feeling good” that he now knows this.

I have been at this company nearly a year and feel I’m doing an excellent job, my friend only started 6 months ago and has had a few performance issues.

I’m also afraid to implicate myself and possibly risk my own position because I did not stop him immediately from sharing information with me – I did not know the scope of what he had found out and was interested at first, but once I realized what I was listening to – I told him to stop and I did not want to know anymore. However, I respect the partners of our firm and have a vested interest in its success and feel regardless of my position, I need to report this serious breach.

Do you feel I need to report this to our office manager, and should I let my friend know beforehand that I will be reporting his conduct? We have not spoken much since Thursday, but he does not know that he disturbed me with his and the auditor’s actions.

Wow. The person really in the wrong here is the auditor, much more so than your friend. And I do think that you should let your manager know that the auditor who the firm has hired is disclosing confidential information. It’s appallingly bad judgment, not to mention being against every code of conduct that industry has, etc. It’s also really bad judgment for her to be dating someone at the place she’s auditing; it creates an enormous conflict of interest.

As for your friend, while he’s behaving like a bit of a tool, he hasn’t done anything so egregious that you need to report it. Lots of people wouldn’t refuse to hear this kind of info if it’s being offered up; his biggest error was in repeating it to someone else and thus spreading it further, but once salary info gets out, it tends to get repeated.

If you need to mention that you heard about the auditor’s indiscretion from him, then so be it — but your complaint should be about the auditor, not your friend.

{ 5 comments }

Charles April 9, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Depending on the organization’s policies, not just the friend and the auditor could be in jeopardy of losing their jobs; but so could the OP.

Most companies have policies against discussing salary information. While the OP could argue that he stopped the co-worker from telling him more – he may still have learned enough to justify termination. So, OP is justified in being afraid of implicating himself.

My advice would be to tell the friend to not share the info with anyone else with the warning that OP has heard that the organization fires people for discussing such info – especially partner’s profit share, something that even most managers don’t know. And tell the co-worker that if he doesn’t care about his own job that he should be more careful of yours. This is information that will get both of you fired!

Further, I would suggest that after warning the co-worker that the OP forget the whole incident unless OP feels that he can trust his superiors. But having only been there a year I don’t know if he can say for sure what they would do in this situation.

And as a side note – I would reconsider whom I call a friend if he/she jeopardized my job in this manner.

Serena April 9, 2009 at 4:35 pm

Many organizations have anonymous methods of reporting compliance violations. If not, wouldn’t a reasonable company consider that the person reporting the issue should be praised for coming forward rather than terminated? This information should be available on the company intranet or in the employee handbook.

While I enjoy gossip as much as the next person, lines have to be drawn. I work in Help Desk and have access and knowledge that must not be shared. Its not my place to discuss terminations, reprimands, or humorous content I find on peoples email. I do, however, keep track of how many times I hear My dog at my cell phone. Three times in the last 3 years, if youre curious.

In this day and age, everyone should understand that co-worker, boss, partner, whoever’s financial information should not be discussed.

Rampancy April 9, 2009 at 5:48 pm

Eventhough I agree with AAM that the auditor is wrong for disclosing confidential information. I disagree with her that the “friend” of the OP hasn’t done anything wrong.

It takes two to tango, and the “friend” has chosen to dance the dance of conflicting intrests by dating the one who is auditing the company he works for.

This is the kind of relationship where both lovebirds had to step forward and tell to the people that they were dating. This is the kind of relationship where one of two lovebirds have to go or have to be separated in such a way that there can’t be a hint of conflict of intrests. Remember in most relationships the disclosing of confidential intrests is a two way street, a risk an employer shouldn’t want to take!

Also the lovebirds might think nobody knows about their nice little affair, but most of the time the entire office already knows about the nookie!

Anonymous April 9, 2009 at 9:45 pm

Serena: What is this “reasonable company” you speak of?

Serena April 9, 2009 at 11:25 pm

Anon: I read about one once in a Sci-Fi book. I’ll let you know if I ever find one.

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