company that fired me is still contacting me with questions … 5 months later

A reader writes:

In January, I was fired from my job.  I drove to work on a snow day when most of the office chose to stay home, and at 5:45 pm, the manager called me into his office and said that they were letting me go because I wasn’t a good fit.  I had 15 minutes to gather my stuff and leave.  I have since moved on and getting let go from that company is probably the best thing to happen to me.  It was a toxic work environment, and I was actively looking for other jobs before I was fired.

The problem is they keep contacting me. I was responsible for most of the company’s YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and other open source contact, and thus I had the passwords to them. Since January, I have been getting one to two phone calls or emails a month from different company employees asking for the passwords. I have politely given them the most of that they’ve asked for, but frankly it’s been five months since I left and I don’t remember others. If they had asked for all the passwords during my termination, I would have turned them over without a hesitation.  I’ve moved on in my professional career, and with many of these sites, the company can go in and easily set up a new account and not contact me.

How do I handle this situation? Is it polite form for them to keep hounding me for information I’ve long forgotten? How do I get them to leave me alone?

If you’d left on good terms, it would be reasonable for them to expect you to answer a small number of questions that came up after you were gone. Of course, if you’d left on good terms, you also would have had time to create documentation to leave behind.

But when you’re fired, things are a little different — in terms of your obligations and what it’s reasonable for the employer to expect. Now, it’s important to note that some firings are conducted in a kind and compassionate way, and when that’s the case, a skilled manager can leave the former employee feeling good enough about the company that the employee is actually happy to answer a few questions after they’re gone. But it doesn’t sound like you felt that way about how they handled your firing.

A skilled manager also would have been more diligent about thinking through what information only you had access to and ensuring that info was secured before you left. Since you were apparently in charge of the company’s social media presence, they should have realized that they’d need to get passwords from you, and that’s something they could have easily done as part of processing your termination. But they mishandled this, and it’s not reasonable that five months after you were fired, their ineptness is still causing you to have to be mentally pulled back to that situation a couple of times a month.

So. You have a couple of choices:

1. You can simply stop helping. You can explain that it’s been too long for you to remember the answers they’re seeking, or you can say that you’ve provided all the help you can and now need to focus on your new job, or you can say nothing at all and simply stop responding. You’ve been quite kind in continuing to help for five months, but you don’t need to continue doing it forever.

2. You can spend a few minutes writing down all the login and password info that you recall and email it over to them, with a note that that’s everything you remember and the extent of the help you can provide, and then you can either refer all future contacts to that sheet or simply not respond at all because you’ve more than met your obligations.

Now, some people might ask why you should even consider taking the few minutes to do #2, since these people fired you, after all. And it’s certainly true that you’re under no obligation to do it — none, zero. However, there are potential benefits to it: Your former coworkers, the ones who didn’t fire you, will see how you’re handling this, and you’ll forever be marked in their heads as someone who handled a difficult situation with grace, class, and generosity. And you never know when one of those people might have a job lead for you or be able recommend you for a position, or even be hiring themselves someday.

But really, it’s been five months and you’re entitled to move on. You were entitled to move on five months ago, actually. So there aren’t really any wrong approaches here, as long as you’re not gratuitously rude to them.

Want to read an update to this post? The reader’s update several months later is here.

{ 55 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    You’ve gone above and beyond helping them for free. Now you could offer to consult for them at market rates for social media consultants – this would cover your time and also change the power structure and expectations. They’ll either want to contract with you or they’ll stop calling. Either way you’ll be better off than providing help for free.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d actually almost mentioned as a choice #3 that the OP could say she’d be happy to provide further help in exchange for a consulting fee — except that the only info they’re asking her for is passwords, so I decided an offer to consult would look a little out of left field for an org that fired her.

      1. Josh S*

        I agree, AAM. Normally, I’d say that offering to consult (for a fee) would be an ideal option, but because a) the OP was fired, and b) passwords are usually considered property of the company, it seems like it would not be a good move.

        I’m with you–compile whatever you remember and email it to the boss. Refer all future inquiries to the boss, and consider your job done.

  2. Anonymous*

    I think that this may still be emotionally charged for you as you use words like ‘hound’. In the long run, however, I think you’ll feel better if you continue to take the high road. I would follow Alison’s advice in #2, be gracious but end it soon and decisively.

  3. Jamie*

    I wanted to comment about the poor practice of the previous company not having a password database for stuff like this.

    Even if you aren’t letting someone go, they can get hit by the proverbial bus – it doesn’t make sense for access info like this to exist only in one person’s head.

    There are a couple of good password database apps out there – I use one where I store not only passwords, but the url and log on info for web apps, info about specific computers (OS, comp build, special software, etc.) The info is encrypted and I keep a copy on my work station as well as on a flash drive I keep with me at all times. So if I get a call at 3 AM I don’t have to try to remember if user X has a 32 or 64 bit machine – or the logon info for the firewall.

    Not to mention the fact that after someone quits/is terminated the first thing they should have done was reset all passwords to which they had access. Relying on this person for months after the fact means they don’t even have the most basic of security protocols in place.

    Whomever is in charge of their system is asleep on this.

    Regarding the OP’s situation – I think you’ve been more than fair thus far and I don’t think you owe them anything – but as Alison said if it will make life easier for the blameless co-workers it would be a nice gesture to send them what you have.

    I would send it in an an encrypted file – once. I certainly wouldn’t remain on call – if it were me.

    1. Anonymous*

      I’d just like to point out that it’s not that OP hasn’t sent the data. The real problem is change of personnel at the old employer (for whatever reason), and info is not being passed around. A solution for that is beyond the OP superpowers.

      I had a similar situation at a previous employer, although I had quit. In the end I emailed the info to my former boss, the others with a like job description, and I referred future inquiries to them.

      The basic problem is, it is more comfortable for a new person to the task to ask the OP rather than the boss, who has the info. OP needs to simply refer everything back to the boss.

    2. Anonymous*

      Jamie, hate to turn this into a tech forum….but which one do you use. (Been looking at KeePass)

      1. Jamie*

        I use KeePass and it’s awesome – security is top tier and I like the windows style tree formatting for the different groups.

        I love when the free stuff is better than the pricey apps.

        1. lm*

          Another vote for KeePass, it’s just about the best thing ever. I too keep it on a flash drive. It’s very easy to use as well (I got my parents using it solo pretty quickly).

      2. Anon y. mouse*

        My group at work has been using KeePass, it’s worked out very well for us. (Our needs are pretty minimal, though.)

  4. Mike C.*

    AaM offers some good advice, but I feel she’s way too generous to the wrong people here.

    They fired you. Tell them you’re “still not a good fit” and hang up the phone. It’s their own fault for not keeping this information and it’s their own fault that they had no contingency plans after firing you. They need to learn what happens when they fire good, productive people. In this highly competitive business climate, employers should know better.

    How many times do we as employees have it drilled into our heads that the employer-employee relationship can be terminated at any time by any party and that’s that? How many times are people laid off with no notice and no severance and told to suck it up? The road goes both ways!

    Look, your former coworkers should be adult enough to understand that any problems lie with your former employer, not you. I hate this fear that your inaction will somehow lead to you being punished later. Your former workplace feels less like a business and more like a crazy ex that won’t stop stalking you.

    1. Anonymous*

      In fairness, we don’t know that the letter writer was a good, productive employee. I mean no disrespect at all to her but we don’t really know either way about that.

        1. anon-2*

          The only time I was ever in a job like that — I was “RIF’d” (reduction in force), not terminated for cause.

          A co-worker kept calling me for help, and I helped him somewhat as a courtesy. However, it got to be too much. I did talk to the manager, offered my services as a contractor for a modest fee, and that offer was rebuffed.

          It got to the point where I was working somewhere else, and the calls continued there — and I finally said “NO MORE”. “We’ll have to do this on my time, and I expect to be PAID.” One of the good things about losing your job, is that you are no longer obligated to serve those that took it away from you.

          Professionally speaking – if a person is terminated, the passwords and access should be revoked at that time. While it is impossible to prevent the ex-employee and current employees from contacting each other — it is up to the ex-employee– the FIRED one — to establish ground rules of conduct regarding previous employers.

          1. Mike C.*

            I have to agree. In this case, the OP is choosing to be a doormat for the sake of some nebulous concept of “good will” or “reputation”.

            At what point does one’s reputation go from “graceful, classy and generous” to “doormat, pushover, cannot set reasonable limits”? After all, if one of these coworkers ends up being a hiring manager in the future, aren’t they going to wonder, “if I hire this person, how much of the time I pay them for is spent on their previous employer(s)?”

            1. Mel*

              Yeah I have to agree. I left a crazy job where I basically re-wrote the entire operations manual BEFORE I left and still had sooo many staff members asking for help, even when I contacted just to catch up. I always just referred them to that and didnt feel guilty about it at all.

              And honestly, how many passwords did they really need?? If it was just social media websites as the writer seems to imply, why do they need to keep asking her for 5 months?? At my current job we also have a password database. Companies that act like they don’t know what technology is need to get schooled… or stop treating their employees so badly.

  5. Dawn*

    I think the OP should email the list of accounts, usernames, and passwords to the boss. If anyone calls OP after that, refer them to the boss.

  6. Anonymous*

    I give thumbs up to the OP for handling this with such grace and sincerity. I think that right there makes you seem like a good person. In this situation, I would probably e-mail your former manager a quick list of any account info that you remember and make it clear that employees have been contacting you for this information since you left and you do not wish to be contacted anymore. Is it possible that the manager has no knowledge of the employees doing this? Usually when someone leaves the company, they are not allowed to be contacted anymore for business concerns.

  7. Ray*

    I agree with the comments pertaining to the password–the company should have some sort of database. It’s ridiculous that the former employee keeps getting harassed – that’s what it is – by these people. Regardless of whether they were a good worker or not. It’s almost worse, in a way, if the employee was “bad”–they trusted the person with all these passwords and information, then fired them and didn’t have a backup plan.

  8. steve*

    I would strongly urge against option #2, especially in the form of email. In this day and age, you do not want to send passwords in email, or have any written record of them that is not secured.

    That applies at least quintuple if you’ve been fired.

    1. Dawn*

      True, but she could put it all in an Excel spreadsheet, or Word, or create an Adobe file and then password protect it. She can then call the former boss and give him the password. Just a suggestion.

      1. Brian*

        Please don’t think that anything that uses a password is secure! Excel, Word, Adobe, etc. all have options to add a password to a file, but it is far from secure. Do a quick Google search for “break Excel password” and you will find many tools that will break an Excel password for free… Sending a file with a password is just a red flag to anyone who sees it to alert them that this file contains important info!

        1. steve*

          Hypothetical situation:

          A company account is broken into. The company looks for somebody who is A) disgruntled and B) has means. They find a recently sent email that contains all of the company passwords from a fired employee.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I’d just include a note saying, “I strongly recommend that you change these immediately, as email isn’t necessarily a secure way to transmit these” or something to that effect.

          2. anon-2*

            Actually, thinking about this — insomuch as it involves passwords — I wouldn’t reply at all. It’s inappropriate for any terminated employee to have ANY involvement with data security issues from a place that fired him/her.

            For the terminated employee’s own protection — if I were in such a situation I would not walk down that path – simply stating “as a former employee, it is highly inappropriate for me to participate in any data security situations”…

            You also don’t know if the guy who’s calling you for passwords is currently authorized to view what he’s asking you for…

    2. Liz T*

      That’s true…but we’re talking passwords for their Twitter feed or whatever, not to financial databases.

      1. Dawn*

        That definitely true, but they could potentially do some damage to the company’s reputation by posting inappropriate things.

  9. Anonymous*

    Can a company be charged with “stalking”? Not that I’m a proponent of legal action, but if persistent questioning after termination kept on over an extended period of time (5 mos seems pretty extended to me), seems like a person should consider all alternatives to be able to peacefully move on with his/her life. Most of us want to keep the peace and play nice in the sandbox, but sometimes people (and apparently companies) need a little help in just moving on.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Well, similar to cases where someone complains about “stalking” in a social situation, you’ve got to issue a clear, firm “do not contact me anymore” and then have them still continue it before you really have a complaint!

    2. anon-2*

      I don’t know if “stalking” is the proper word. I did work for one company, where, after I left, someone there apparently found a copy of my resume and spread it to a few headhunters. I had not used headhunters for employment in fourteen years. I was getting ten calls a week at my new job.

      I finally wrote a friendly letter to my former director advising him of the situation and the calls stopped.

  10. New to HR*

    Perhaps it is a stretch of my imagination but I have to wonder whether the OP has thought to verify that these employees are current with the company and also if they have authorization to obtain these passwords. I find it hard to believe that a company does not change the passwords immediately upon receiving them from the OP since this seems to be standard when an employee leaves under any circumstances who had access.

    1. Dawn*

      Trust me, there’s are companies that don’t think of these things. IT and security isn’t the top priority at these places.

  11. Anonymous*

    I am curious as to why logins were not documented in the first place? Was it a SOX issue that your documentation for your processes in regards to your social media duties didn’t have this info? I would think a good “desk manual” for your duties would have this info, to assist in training or coverage when you are out (orrr…uhhh fired?).

  12. Chris*

    I got one of these before. I got a call at 7 am one morning by my former manager who asked me where I put some cd backups of files. I was shocked since I hadn’t worked for them in close to 7 years. Yes, I did remember. Anyway, the second option is better and I would probably add for you to ask them to give you a list of everything they would like to know. Once they have the list, answer it. Then everything from there on out is a consulting fee.

    1. Anonymous*

      I think Chris’ answer is the best one. Contact your former boss explain you are being contacted (in case he is unaware) and ask for a list of info they need and the best way to provide it.

    2. Anonymous J*

      Personally, I would send this list WITH an invoice. Ten minutes of my time = 1 hour in fees.

      I wouldn’t actually expect payment–it would be meant to send a message.

  13. Same here*

    I was in the same position. I helped my former colleagues and then informed the person who had taken over my job that someone had contacted me. Much as I would have loved to be the nasty, I wanted to make them regret that they had fired me by handling it with as much dignity as I could muster.

  14. Went the other route*

    Got let go close to three years ago now and got a call about a month and a half later when they were having issues getting a CAD drawing to plot and needed it for a plan submittal. I told them that I did indeed get it to plot everytime that I needed it to plot and told them good luck. The girl who was working with it had no idea how to get it to fix. My former supervisor, who they did not bother letting know that they were letting me go with that round of layoffs, called me that evening and was laughing about how lost they were. She thought it was hilarious that they got rid of the one person who could actually get the software to work like it was supposed to and yet kept three people who had only been using the software for a few months. Of course I already had my letters of recommendations from the owner of the company. Your results may vary.

    1. Rana*

      I had something like that happen to me; they let me go the week before a major report was due, and my supervisor hadn’t been consulted. I ended up going back the next week and working on the report as an outside consultant. I charged twice the hourly rate they’d been paying me, so that was some consolation.

      If I hadn’t needed the money, however, I wouldn’t have done it. The social dynamics at that place were odd at the best of times, and given that they’d not explained to my co-workers why I wasn’t there any more (several thought I’d left voluntarily and wondered why I hadn’t told them), it was really awkward being back.

  15. Anonymous*

    I’ve been on both sides of this situation – quitting\being fired and handling terminations (resignations and firings). When I left jobs, I always tried to help where possible as long it was just a password or do you remember what we did when this server wouldn’t start last time. I’m careful not to get into situations where I’m troubleshooting a problem for free. In the one case where I was fired, it was because I didn’t get along with my ass of a boss so he wouldn’t have called me if the building was burning and only I knew the combination to the lock on the fire extinguisher.

    On the flip side, whenever an employee was going to be fired the first thing I ask is do they have any company property or keys to return (you do have a list of every key, who owns it and what it opens, right?), do they know any procedures we need documented and are there passwords that we need to learn and then change. However, the really sad thing is when employees quit on good terms, give 2 weeks notice and the company still doesn’t transition anything. This seems to be the norm for most of the places I’ve been.

    1. Anonymous J*

      If an employee is thoughtful enough to give proper notice, I would hope he/she would spend some of that time documenting.

      I know that when I am ready to leave my job, I will do just that.

  16. What the?*

    The classy thing to do is #2 – but seriously? Screw them! They did not give you the opportunity to leave with dignity – and the manager is a complete moron by the way. You’ve moved on – I say do first suggestion by AAM.

  17. Social Media Fellow worker*

    I would advise against doing #2.

    Twitter facebook etc of a good company will be kept updated every day, if not couple of times a week. Same with youtube and blog accounts. The fact that they did not know this password commonly after 5 months tell me that they have no idea what they are doing internally, and also do not talk to each other who are doing the same job and need access to the passwords. I am guessing you provided the password to each of these channels at least twice. It was not collated internally and shared internally. It is on them to do it, not you.

    Also, people who are so disorganized to keep asking for the passwords after 5 months ( which is equal to a decade when it comes to socialmedia, will not appreciate that you wrote out the passwords etc. They will just be pissed that you are not at their beck and call anymore.

    Exercise option #1. Unless you feel that these people are competent and you want to work with them in the future ( I certainly would not want to – 5 months in getting the passwords? Seeesh.)

    My advice will not change even if you are a colleague of mine in the same, larger company.

  18. bob*

    The OP’s former company is so full of epic FAIL it’s pathetic and, based on her comment of the toxic work environment, it sounds like they did her a favor.

    The manager executed a poorly thought out firing with a bullsh!t reason and didn’t request the various passwords at the time PLUS the companies’ IT department (if they have one) or someone else in charge didn’t have a list of who owned the various accounts and the passwords for those accounts? FAIL on every level.

  19. Anonymous*

    I think the op was pretty dumb to answer the 1st call let alone all of the other calls. Why on earth would you not let it go to voicemail when they call and why on earth would you feel obligated to help them in any way when they paraded you out of there as if you were a criminal. By the way, do not, I repeat do not tell this story to perspective employers-it’s a sign that youre weak and a pushover.

  20. Wilton Businessman*

    Why in the world would they still be using the same passwords after 5 months? If it were me, I would get the password from the fired employee and change it immediately. Sheesh, no wonder why we have electronic break-ins all the time.

    1. Dawn*

      “Why in the world would they still be using the same passwords after 5 months?”

      Happens all the time, especially in a small company that might not have a dedicated IT person.

  21. Joe Wright*

    Whenever I’ve left a job I’ve written down a handover document that contained tasks, processes, contacts and any passwords I was responsible for. I would of thought this would be standard procedure for any company who are replacing any employees with key information.

    That being said, how long does it take to respond to an email about the password for a web site? Asking for a contractor fee as some commentors have recommened would make it seem like the postor is holding the credentials hostage. That seems a bit legally dubious!

    1. anon-2*

      Legally dubious … ???? asking a fired employee to assist in any data security situation is legally dubious to begin with.

      It’s also unethical, and a horrendous business practice. And for the fired employee — a VERY dangerous area for him to put himself into. What if he gave the password, someone then went in and did something malicious or improper, and blamed it on the fire-ee?

      That’s what I’D be thinking if I were asked to do this. I wouldn’t trust them.

      The ONLY way I would do this is if the company –

      – wrote a one-day contract for me
      – I went in and logged into that site, under THEIR IP ADDRESS on THEIR PREMISES
      – Logged in – and got to the “change password” page
      – Plugged in the current password, turned my back and allowed them to change it
      – Then log in again and ensure that the password was changed and I could no longer access the site to alter it
      – Immediately receive a notarized statement from a company officer verifying what happened, what was done, so that would protect me.
      – Rush to the bank with all due haste and cash the check.

      I’ve had to work with forensics in computers “who did what” — and also have seen devious managers play some evil games. Which is why I would be very trap-wise when asked for a confidential site password, even by the site owners in this situation.

      Yes, it’s professional to allow them to go on, but you have to protect yourself legally. It’s a potentially dangerous game.

  22. Anon in the UK*

    I got terminated several years back from a firm which apparently ‘no longer had a need for your skill set’. I was to turn over all their property there and then, and my passwords, and go. No ifs, no buts.

    Two days later, they discovered the report I had been asked to write a few days before being terminated, which was still in draft, since its due date was after my termination. To my immense amusement, they rang me, as apparently there was nobody in the firm who could finish it.

    After briefly winding up my former colleague with ‘But you cannot possibly need it! The firm no longer has a use for my skill set!’ , I contacted an acquaintance who works in employment law.

    Termination because you are no longer needed is known as redundancy in the UK, and carries benefits regarding the tax treatment of severance pay, as well as a certain legal standing. In the end, I called back and said that my lawyer was advising me against doing any work for them as it would jeapordise the status of my termination.

  23. Charles*

    “How do I get them to leave me alone?”

    Only you can prevent others from using you as a doormat – just say that you’ve already given them all the information you have on the day that they let you go. period.

  24. jt*

    The handover document that Joe Wright mentions is typical, but if the employer gives the fired person 15 minutes to leave, I don’t think they’re entitled to that courtesy.

    I would probably ignore the requests for the passwords and other info unless they came from a former co-worker who I liked a lot or could help me with career networking.

    And in terms of money, the way to look for money would be to say “You asked me to leave very abruptly. I’d be happy to spend one or two days writing a handover document so that you can continue all my past work effectively. My daily rate is X.”

    At minimum it’s a half days’s work. Don’t ever go into a business relationship for just an hour or too. It’ s not worth the mental effort.

  25. Originalname37*

    Shouldn’t they have changed the passwords by now? Why are the ones you knew still current anyway?

  26. Peter*

    The fact that only one person had these passwords, AND that they fired that person without getting the passwords are both signs of an immature company run by hacks. Good riddance and tell them to screw themselves.

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