coworker wants me to keep a secret

A reader writes:

I’ve been working at my company for 1 year. It’s a small company with a very emotional owner. I was hired to replace a sales rep who had worked for him for 10 years. They had become close friends, but he fired her unexpectedly at the end of 2008 and never talked to her again.

The ex-employee is now working for another company. The owner of my company used to be good friends with the owners of the company she works for. For some reason, he no longer talks to these people either.

One of my coworkers and the ex-employee are very good friends. The ex-employee has been invited to attend a trade show where we will be staffing our company’s booth. However, her new employers cannot pay for her hotel costs. My coworker offered to let her stay at our hotel, sharing her room. They have asked me to keep it a secret from my employer.

They made it clear that I can say no to this if I am uncomfortable, but I do feel pressure to say that I will not tell our employer.

I know I do not want to stay at this company for long, but it still seems wrong to do this. Unfortunately, it’s a small company and I travel with this one coworker 5 times a year. I do feel she will be disappointed if I don’t go along.

In general, there’s nothing inherently wrong with offering to let someone stay in your company-paid hotel room.

However, in this case, I think you’d be right to speak up.

There appears to be bad blood between your boss and the former employee, and between your boss and the employee’s new company. Offering your boss’s enemies a resource that your boss paid for to assist them isn’t the smartest move, nor is it ethical. (Enemy may be too strong a word, but the concept stands.) It’s true that allowing her to share the room won’t cost your boss additional money, but it comes across as disloyal — and when you throw secrecy in on top of that, it forms a pretty toxic combination.

You’d be better off doing one of two things:

1. Remove the secrecy and say it’s fine with you as long as the boss knows. If the boss hasn’t shown open hostility to this ex-employee, why not just say, “Hey, Joe, Susan asked if she can room with us at the trade show. Any reason we should say no?”


2. Just tell your coworker you’re not comfortable with it. Explain that you wouldn’t feel right keeping a secret from your boss, that you can’t be in that position, and that you hope she understands.

{ 6 comments… read them below }

  1. Jonathan*

    I agree. This whole thing doesn't sit quite right. I'd be more inclined to go with option (1), but option (2) would also be reasonable.

    I would, however, start to be a little wary of the co-worker who made this request. She knew that asking you about this would put you in a difficult spot, but did it anyway. Unless you are really close to this person, her request was completely unacceptable, and demonstrates that she doesn't have a whole lot of concern for your employment.

  2. Anonymous*

    In that case, I'd say, "I won't volunteer the information, but if asked about it, I'm not going to lie either."

  3. Jonathan*

    That's often a good way to go, but my only concern would be that when the boss finds out and then finds out you knew about it, he'll be ticked.

    Since it's obvious that this isn't quite above board, the bosses response could reasonably be, "you should have known enough to tell me." That won't leave the person in good standing.

    (btw, I'm using the generic 'you', not accusing the actual you of any malfeasance.)

  4. Anonymous*

    If the co-worker didn't want anyone to know, they shouldn't have blabbed to the letter writer in the first place.

    I would tell the co-worker that I'm not going to be a party to the lie. I would give them sufficient time to tell the boss and if they didn't do it by then, I would tell the boss myself.

    There is a word for taking or using something that someone else (or company) payed for: stealing.

  5. raskal*

    Repeat after me.. NO.

    If her new employers can't pay for her business related costs she can pay for them herself & write it off at tax time.

    Since her employer could do that too I smell a freeloading user iso a room & inside competitor information. It would be very foolish to let her bunk with you. Not only would you be risking your job, you'd risk your reputation in practically any industry with proprietory information.

  6. Anonymous*

    Why should one coworker care who is sleeping in another's hotel room? After all, if a coworker took someone in for sex – is it your business to say?

    Act ignorant – you don't really know or aren't really aware who is staying in which room. Why you would ever know is the mystery. They apparently are going to go ahead and do it anyway, so if you disagreed, so what?

    The problem is the coworker who asked – she may present the idea as something you agreed with and co-signed. You have to stay out of this as the narc or the co-signer.

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