I gossiped and now my coworker doesn’t trust me

A reader writes:

I have a question that I feel horrible about. I heard through the grapevine from one of the volunteers at the nonprofit I work for that a coworker of mine had checked into an inpatient mental facility. (The coworker had called in sick, but no one at work knew the full story). I reported it to our boss immediately because we’re good friends and we share things but also because I thought it was important that she know what was happening with coworker.

Well of course my boss couldn’t keep a secret and told a number of people in and outside the organization, many who were less discreet than me. My coworker found out that everyone knew when she returned, including that the original info came from me (I guess her friend – who was the volunteer I heard it from – ‘fessed up to her). It’s clear that she no longer trusts me. While it doesn’t affect our professional relationship, she no longer tells me about her personal life even when asked (she just says she’s “fine”) and has declined invites to coffee/Starbucks which used to be a daily outing for us as the two young single gals in the office. I feel like I’m being punished for my boss’s lack of discretion and I miss having a work friend. I’m worried this will damage our professional relationship and I feel like I shouldn’t be punished for reporting relevant information to my boss.

I’m being punished for doing the right thing here. Should i go to my boss and ask for mediation? We’re a small nonprofit and don’t have an HR department.

Well, here’s the thing: You’re not being punished for your boss’s lack of discretion. You’re being punished for your own.

I don’t want to come down hard on you for this because you said you feel horrible about it already. But the reality is that you shared something that wasn’t yours to share. That was your call to do it, but there are consequences attached to it, and one of those consequences is that your coworker no longer trusts you. And that’s her prerogative.

I hear you that you thought your boss should know what was happening, but that was between your coworker and your boss. If you hadn’t heard about it, your coworker would have handled it in her own way. And whether that way was the best way for her to handle it or not, it’s still her call. The fact that you felt like you were doing the right thing is a mitigating factor when it comes to judging intent, but it doesn’t change the fact that there are repercussions to decisions, and one of the repercussions here is that she doesn’t like what you did and doesn’t want to share her personal life with you (somewhat understandable, given the circumstances) or be work friends anymore.

Going to your boss and requesting mediation will make this worse. First, it’s not your boss’s place to get involved with this, because it’s not interfering with your work; it’s a friendship issue. Asking your boss to mediate that would basically be asking her to mediate a social situation, and you can’t do that. And second, your coworker just isn’t doing anything wrong here. She’s allowed to decide not to be close anymore.

Besides, even if all that weren’t true, your boss is the last person who should be inserting herself into this. Your boss “told a number of people in and outside the organization” about your coworker’s mental health crisis. That’s horrible. And it gives her zero standing to mediate here, even if that would otherwise be a good idea (which it wouldn’t be, for the reasons above).

If you want to try to fix this, don’t widen the circle of people who need to be involved (which is part of the original offense, after all). Talk to your coworker directly and apologize for sharing something that wasn’t yours to share and for almost certainly making her life harder by doing so. That might work or it might not, but it’s the right thing to do. From there, it’s up to your coworker to decide if she wants to resume the sort of relationship that you had previously.

Again, I don’t want to slam you for any of this, but maybe looking at it this way can change the way you’re viewing the whole situation.

{ 571 comments… read them below }

      1. Kelly L.

        I think it actually didn’t post until later. It’s weird, as obviously the timestamp is earlier than the next post’s, but in my first two reloads of this thread I didn’t see it, and now I do. I might have just overlooked it because it’s blue, but I think it might have just not appeared at all, for some mysterious software reason.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I have confidence that you can, in fact, avoid that. But if for some reason you can’t, then please refrain from commenting. Letter-writers here are seeking advice; they aren’t punching bags.

        1. Telecommuter

          I appreciate the sentiment behind the note, but AAM essentially gave her advice and then told us not to add to it. I’m not sure how anyone can agree with her response without “piling on.”

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Many commenters below are offering thoughtful advice without piling on the OP. (Maybe the issue here is the definition of “piling on.” I’m using it to mean that the OP doesn’t need to be told that she’s a terrible person, how could she think doing such a thing was okay, etc. What she needs is useful advice.)

            1. Telecommuter

              Ah, yes the issue is what constitutes “piling on.” What you’re asking for is what I’d just call being a civil person and not flaming. I read “piling on” to mean “adding to the pile” of commentary… which seems like a hard thing to ask for.

              1. Laura

                I tried very hard not to pile on! I hope I didn’t, but I wasn’t sure what it meant either…especially when I think the most useful advice is to apologize and admit to the friend that the OP did something terrible (she’s not terrible, the action is)

              2. Lily in NYC

                I’m pretty sure it means piling on in a negative way (a dog pile is not pleasant!). I’ve never seen the term have a positive connotation.

      2. Canadamber

        Okay, seriously?! I can kind of understand what was happening in the OP’s mind, given that I’ve done similar things, and yelling at her because she did that, when she knows she did wrong, isn’t going to help and will only make her feel worse (and at this point, she doesn’t deserve that at all). I know she did wrong, but still.

        1. Sadsack

          Key thing here is that OP’s letter does not indicate that she knows she did something wrong, it is actually the opposite.

          1. Magda

            Yes. I don’t think the OP deserves to get piled on. But I personally would regard the question a little more generously if it had been phrased as “how can I best treat my coworker after unwittingly contributing to a huge breach of her privacy?” instead of “I’m being punished for doing the right thing.”

        2. Steve G

          Well, she really didn’t do something crazily wrong. She found out some shocking news and like most of us felt the need to share it, only thing was, she shared it with the wrong person!

    1. Xay

      Kind of astonishing, really.

      I don’t know what there is to add to AAMs reply that wouldn’t be considered piling on the OP. The OP was wrong, the coworker is owed an apology and the coworker gets to decide if there is still a friendship.

    2. KerryOwl

      “Well of course my boss couldn’t keep a secret and told a number of people in and outside the organization, many who were less discreet than me.”

      Just . . . read this back to yourself, OP. You’re drawing a distinction where none exists.

      1. KrisL

        I think there’s a difference. I think the LW probably shouldn’t have said anything, but I can understand why the LW would think the boss should have known. It sounds like the boss was just telling everyone.

  1. Bryan

    This I think is a good situation where you could have put yourself into your coworker’s position. Who would you be mad at?

    Also have you apologized? It might not fix it right away and you shouldn’t force it, this is something that will take time to make it better.

    1. Bryan

      Or look at it this way, someone could have written in saying my coworker spread a rumor that I was in an inpatient mental facility (I hope at sometime two people write in about the same situation). That might help see it from a different perspective.

      1. Julie

        It can be easy to think telling one person would be OK, so I think we can all be reminded by this situation that it’s not OK to tell “just one person” something that you shouldn’t be telling anyone (or something that you promised to keep secret).

        1. ExceptionToTheRule

          Lots of truth to the old canard that once two people know something, it’s not a secret anymore.

  2. JustKatie

    I really feel for the OP’s friend. There’s such a stigma against mental illness that telling the boss where she was has to feel really violating. I had a colleague a few years ago who took FMLA leave due to her mental health. We didn’t really know the details, but man did some of my colleagues let (some very speculative) rumors just fly, and since her return, people have kept their distance, despite her being 100% able to perform her job. Because of this, when I was seeking out help from a therapist over a long period of time I kept my mouth completely shut, even from my two colleagues I’m close personal friends with. It just wasn’t worth the possible fallout at work.

    1. Anonymous

      Agreed! Reporting such information opens up employees to discrimination and is inappropriate. I really feel for this co-worker and hopefully there won’t be any serious ramifications as a result of this violation.

      1. Sunflower

        Yes on this discrimination. Without realizing it or not, everything she does could become associated with her mental health. Forgot to send an email- She must be losing it. She’s really quiet today- Maybe shes depressed. Basically a bunch of stuff that would never come back to her sick day might now be circled back to it and cause the organization to question her mental state. I’m just hoping the friend is fine and this can hopefully all get swept under the rug.

        1. Kat A.

          Exactly. The coworker could get passed over for promotions and whatnot because of an alleged one-time mental health issue. Someone at the office (or outside the organization who was told) who might have considered asking her out might now decide not to. She might be turned down for a job because someone outside the org could think she’s unstable. And I could go on.

          What really bothers me is that the OP thinks she did the right thing. How is telling people someone’s personal medical reasons for calling in sick the right thing? She has sick leave. She has the right to use it. She does NOT have to reveal why or how she’s sick. And I see no reason why the boss would need to know.

    2. TKL

      Same. I don’t want to be a jerk and pile on to the OP, but I really, really hope she understands how huge a deal this is and feels bad for her coworker and not just for herself for no longer having a coffee buddy. The stigma attached to this could easily affect the rest of her career, if she became too uncomfortable to stay at that company and didn’t feel she could use them as references for a future job.

      As someone with extreme anxiety who works really hard to keep it out of my professional career because of the intensity of my work and the assumptions people would make about my ability to do it if they knew, this is such a huge fear of mine. I honestly don’t think I could return to an office where this had happened to me, and in a very small industry where networking and references are crucial, it could ruin my career. Which, would also not be good for my anxiety. It just blows my mind that OP is only concerned about the coworker rightfully no longer wanting to trust her.

      1. pizzagrl

        THIS. Yes, she’s saying she feels bad about it and that’s good, but she then proceeds to say that she’s being “punished for doing the right thing” and punished for her boss’s lack of discretion. So, I don’t think she does “get it.”

      2. Brianne

        “The stigma attached to this could easily affect the rest of her career, if she became too uncomfortable to stay at that company and didn’t feel she could use them as references for a future job. ”

        This, absolutely. And even if she stays, her every move is colored under the lens of mental illness, and that stigma that maintains.

        Sincere apologies are in order, with the understanding that things may never get back to the way they were.

    3. ExceptionToTheRule

      I am fortunate enough to work for a boss who values seeking help for mental health issues. People who are struggling with work/home/etc issues and having disciplinary problems because of it are encouraged to seek assistance through EAP and told about how doing something similar has helped the boss.

      OP… consider it a lesson hard learned.

    4. Noelle

      A few years ago I was going to therapy (actually mostly BECAUSE of how terrible my job was) and I didn’t tell anyone for a very long time. Then, a coworker was talking to me about how upset/depressed she was and she was looking for a therapist. I mentioned that I had seen a really good one and gave her his contact information. She then told the entire office I went to a therapist, and would often stop by my desk and loudly say things like, “I went to your therapist and he didn’t help me at all. You said you’d been going to him for years, why???” This is a sticky issue and people are unfortunately not very sensitive about it.

      1. KrisL

        That’s the thing. It’s one of those issues that people react differently to. Some people think it’s no big deal. Others do.

      2. Bea W

        WTF?! Who talks about looking for a therapist for help, gets a recommendation from someone, and then does this? That’s horrible!

        1. Nell

          Someone who got told something they didn’t want to hear– something like “You can’t make other people do what you want; you’re only in control of yourself, not other people’s choices and decisions” or worse yet, “Each of us is responsible for our own actions”.

          1. Noelle

            This exactly. I thought this therapist was great because instead of just listening to me whine, he gave me very helpful (although not easy to follow) suggestions and useful feedback. This woman was mostly looking for people to feel sorry for her, which I found out later.

    5. AndersonDarling

      I think part of the issue is that we don’t really know if the friend was in an in-patient facility. It sounds like it is just a rumor at this point. She may have been seeing a neurologist that happens to be in a hospital with a psychiatric ward. Or she could have just had a cold one day and came back to this nightmare.
      We really know nothing about the situation. What if the friend’s friend/relative died and had to get immediate counseling.

      Just as Amy said, all the OP can do is accept her mistake, apologize sincerely, and see what the friends wants to do.

    6. KC

      The stigma you’re talking about is precisely why I “came out” at work when I was seeing a psychologist for depression and anxiety.

      A coworker (and friend) killed himself years ago. It was a shock to his coworkers and friends and many of us had no idea he was hurting. It was that loss that made me decide to talk about going to therapy. I’ve mentioned in in off-handed ways in conversations, or piped up when someone mentions wanting to see a therapist.

      The more open about it I’ve been, the more people have come to me to talk about their experiences or ask about where they could go to find someone to talk to. I believe that if more people could be more open about it, it will become more normalized. If therapy’s not perceived as stigmatized, hopefully more people who desperately need help will feel safe seeking it out, without fear of judgement or repercussions (personal or professional).

      1. Observer

        I applaud you for this. The key difference, I would say, is that YOU got to make the call, not someone else.

        1. KC

          That’s completely true. When it comes to ANY medical condition, it is the person experiencing said condition who should make the choice about whether that is public knowledge.

          1. Judy

            My mom had a recurrence of a condition that required surgery, a more drastic surgery than the first outpatient about 5 years earlier. I might have been rolling my eyes when she asked me before the surgery to effectively cold call her family once she was back in the room after surgery, but that’s what I did.

            “Just wanted to let you know mom is back in her room after surgery” “That’s great, wait, what?”

            My sister and I knew, along with dad, and a couple of her friends, but her siblings and dad’s siblings didn’t know.

            1. Bea W

              This sounds like something my mom would have done. She would mention things off hand to me, that were on par with “I just wanted to let you know my surgery went fine.” to which I would respond “What?!”

      2. Jean

        +1. You are brave and wise. Thank you for working to de-stigmatize-in-the-office the experience of getting mental health care. (Sorry for the clumsy wording. I need to type quickly and then turn to a task I’ve been dreading!)

      3. Anon for privacy

        I’m 29 and I feel like everyone my age has been to therapy at one time or another, or had a good friend who did. I saw someone and was on psych medication in high school for a couple years, then did a couple months with a campus counselor for stress management when I was in grad school, and then a few years later I re-entered therapy for about 8 months to learn how to better manage my anxiety during a difficult period in my life. During that time, like you I was pretty open and casual about the fact that I was seeing someone for help with my anxiety, and my coworkers, mostly my own age or younger, didn’t bat an eye.

        Now, my mom’s generation…the stigma on therapy is still there for a lot of them. I know someone her age who often says, “Sometimes I think I should see someone like you did…” And I know what she means is, “Sometimes I feel so bad I think I would resort to therapy!” I know she would never actually consider going…saying she thinks about it is meant to convey the seriousness of her problems, not a statement about how she plans to address them.

        I also think an in-patient stay probably carries more stigma than outpatient therapy even among young people.

        1. Natalie

          It can really vary. I’m 30 I was totally comfortable telling my friends, family, and then-partner when I started seeing a therapist a few years ago and later when it became apparent that I have an anxiety disorder. Most of my friends have had therapy at some point, as have my parents and various family members. I don’t go out of my way to mention it at work, but it’s come up so most of my office is probably aware that I leave early on Fridays to see my therapist.

          But when I started dating, I was surprised as to how callous some people can be if they don’t know they are talking to someone who deals with a mental condition, even common, mild issues like depression or anxiety. These are generally people around my age plus or minus a few years.

        2. KC

          I was surprised about how many people talked to me about their therapy experiences after I opened up about mine–a LOT of people I’d known had been in therapy at one time or another.

          But I’ve seen the other side of it too. When I started going to therapy I was dating someone who was VERY judgmental and antagonistic about my decision to do so. That (among many other reasons) is one of the reasons we’re no longer dating.

          You’re completely right, though–that in-patient stays are probably viewed differently, even among people who are generally accepting of therapy more generally.

        3. Sasha LeTour

          Personally, I find that the perception of therapy is region-specific. Growing up in NYC and having returned here for my career, it seems like everyone has an analyst. But when I lived in the Appalachian South for a couple years after my parents’ divorce, therapy meant you were Horribly Insane and Not To be Trusted – and that stigma is still present to a certain extent. Obviously, the latter view is wrong with a capital W but that was the going perspective, at that time, in that place.

        4. Green

          I have depression and anxiety, in a field where depression, anxiety (and suicide) are very common (law) as well as environmental triggers (high-stress, low-sleep, low ability to care for your mental and physical health).

          I told some friends at work about my condition after a friend at another location committed suicide, particularly colleagues I thought also had issues they needed to seek help for. It was a risk to tell them, but I am glad I did. It led to three of my colleagues seeking treatment for anxiety and/or depression. I left that job, am much happier now, and I am doing much better on medication.

    7. stellanor

      I was essentially driven out of a job for having a mental health issue. After I asked for some accommodations for it, I was informed that I was going to submit my resignation because my mental health was interfering with my performance. (I probably could have fought back, but I was indeed having a mental health crisis at the time so I didn’t have the emotional resources for a battle with an employer who wanted me gone.)

      My resignation was due to unspecified “health problems”, and that’s what I told people when I interviewed — that I’d left due to health problems that had since been resolved. Because no one was going to hire me if the answer to “why did you leave your last job?” was “I had a mental health crisis and was pushed out.”

      At least my boss from that job had the decency to call it a health issue when references called her.

      1. Bea W

        Something similar happened to a former co-worker of mine, except her boss had always been a witch to begin with, and HR wasn’t as discrete as they should have been. That just made the situation worse and quite traumatic, and she has been unemployed since. The stress effected her physical health as well, and she was never able to return to working. Like you, she could have fought back, even contacted some lawyers, but she didn’t have the emotional resources. She just wanted it to be over and move on.

      2. Sasha LeTour

        This happened to me too, at my first professional job. I still lived down South (ended up going to college and launching my career there), and during undergrad, I wound up falling into a bad crowd and getting into heroin. Thankfully, I never used needles and managed to graduate on time – design school was easy, and I got used to working loaded – so I was in “recovery,” sort of, when I started my first job. Or, more specifically, with the “help” of low-dose methadone and a terrible social worker who probably made things worse.

        But a couple months in, it became clear that I was having trouble adjusting to a typical work environment. To be fair, the region was also a poor fit for me, and a couple of my similar-aged co-workers were pretty petty to me when I was started on a couple of “cool” (aka competitive) accounts. And to be fair to my boss, I didn’t handle my severe depression (common in addiction recovery) that awfully well, refusing medication, and once, having a massive breakdown during a meeting and later confessing to an untrustworthy colleague that I feared I had destroyed my brain and would wind up on Social Security.

        But getting fired for poor mental health was still one of the most humiliating experiences of my life, and it took a full two years, a return to New York, and a couple pretty significant relapses to recover, health, career, AND confidence-wise. And even today I would never discuss that time in my life with anyone except my husband. My family and friends don’t even know. The stigma around mental health issues is bad enough, and you can just about triple it if you’ve ever been addicted to drugs. Maybe someday I will be able to share that experience…but not yet.

  3. JustKatie

    “I feel like I shouldn’t be punished for reporting relevant information to my boss”

    I really want to know why OP thinks the boss needed to know more than that her friend was out sick. Sounds like she’s just trying to justify her indiscretion.

    1. Judy

      I’d also mention that many, many times, we’ve discussed here that if something doesn’t affect your work, it’s not for you to bring it up to the boss. And whether your co-worker was where she was, or she just broke an arm or had a miscarriage or anything else, the only thing you might need to tell your boss is you need direction on how you should handle x or y while she is gone.

    2. Who Are You?

      Relevant information “heard through the grapevine” isn’t fact, it’s gossip. Unless the OP’s co-worker specifically called her and said, “Hey, I’m at an inpatient facility being treated for some mental health issues. Can you let the boss know?” this was not her call to make. She definitely owes her co-worker an apology and hopefully will learn going forward to avoid gossiping in the work place.

      1. Jen S. 2.0

        So much this. “So and so will be out for a couple of weeks” is critical workplace information. “So and so is at an inpatient facility being treated for some mental health issues” is not.

        Also wondering what OP expects that mediation will achieve. You can’t force her to want to go to Starbucks with you. If she’s still working well with you… there’s not much else to be done. This is especially true because OP seems quite focused on how OP feels following this episode, and not how the coworker feels. OP’s sudden lack of a coffee friend is not the most important issue here.

        1. Michele

          I think she wants mediation in the hopes her boss will be the one to say, “Oh, I am the one that told everyone.” I think the OP thinks it will make her look better. It doesn’t.

  4. Magda

    I really try not to jump on LWs and to give the benefit of the doubt, but I’m appalled by this one.

    I would feel so absolutely violated if someone ran to my boss with private medical information. Doubly so if it were mental health, which still unfairly carries a lot of stigma and shame. Do you realize how this could affect your coworker’s professional reputation, considering that this was spread to people inside and outside the organization? It was your boss who spread it, but you still had a role to play and you cannot expect things to go back to normal.

    Frankly I think you should count your blessings that things are as normal as they currently are now. Your “punishment” is light compared to the damage this situation may have done to your coworker.

  5. Celeste

    It’s sad for your coworker because just when she would have needed a work friend most, she doesn’t have one. Apologize because you wronged her, and abide by her decision about how she wants to go forward.

    I think in this situation in the future, stick to being a friend. Send a card or flowers, make a phone call or visit, and keep it pure of other agendas.

    1. thenoiseinspace

      Agreed, although I think her friendship with this coworker is shot. It’s not that she “doesn’t want to be OP’s friend anymore” – it’s that OP proved that she’s NOT her friend.

        1. Jen RO

          I don’t know – I’m a pretty easy-going person, and a heartfelt apology might make me change my mind. It will take a while to trust my former friend again, but I don’t think it’s impossible.

          (OP, I sympathize with you. I was also good friends with my former team lead and I could imagine myself being in your position.)

          1. Chrissi

            I think what’s most important is that the apology shows that the OP knows what she did was wrong, why it was wrong, and that’s it very sincere and that she doesn’t expect things to go back to normal right away, but that she’d like the opportunity to earn back her coworkers trust. Also acknowledge that you hurt her and don’t try and invalidate those feelings.

            I feel like I learned all of that from Alison.

        2. Turanga Leela

          Apologies can go a long way. The coworker might not want to resume the friendship, but maybe the coworker is upset that the OP doesn’t think she did anything wrong. If that’s the case, an apology could really improve the situation.

          1. LJL

            AN apology might not salvage the friendship, but it may well restore the working relationship. Good luck, OP, and I hope this has been instructive for you. WE all make mistakes. WHat defines us is what we do with them afterwards.

  6. Diet Coke Addict

    You can try to fix this with a sincere, face-to-face apology, without involving your boss at all. But it is your friend’s prerogative to abstain from further communication with you. However, an apology is not a magic go-back-in-time correction, and it won’t erase what happened, so you need to begin thinking that this friendship will not be fixed.

    OP, if you feel like coming back, would you want to discuss your reasoning behind why you feel like you did the right thing here?

    1. FiveNine

      At any stage in a career — but maybe especially at the beginning, as here — it can be so, so tricky to navigate the distinctions between the professional and personal. It can also be hard for a person to determine or know yet exactly how much a priority job takes over personal life and vice versa. The OP at this stage is clearly looking at the entire situation from a point of view where loyalty to the company is assumed to be paramount to not just the OP but everybody (to an extent that includes seeing the resolution as one that would be mediated by the company). It’s so hard to know at any stage, because tipping too far in either direction can do damage professionally and personally. I feel for the OP and am sorry the OP is in such a painful way starting to see the broad strokes of the ramifications of some of the choices that we make in how we balance these facets of our life.

      1. Canadamber

        +1

        Absolutely agreed. It’s not easy at all, and some just don’t have that innate “sense” of what’s right to disclose and what isn’t. I know that I didn’t when I was in elementary and the earlier years of high school, but I’m learning that now. I ruined some friendships and believe me I regret it, but I’ve learned from those mistakes and moved on. And the OP can, too.

      2. Cristina in England

        Yes. This is what I was wanting to say, but I couldn’t say it without sounding like a jerk. I think at the OP’s stage, authority figures maybe still have an outsized role.

      3. Anon for privacy

        Loyalty to the company may be part of it…I notice the OP also said that she and her boss are “good friends” and I wonder if this is one of those workplaces where the boundaries between professional and personal are blurred.

    2. Jamie

      This is such good advice.

      Work related or not, if you owe someone an apology and you’re sincerely sorry you should do it.

      This doesn’t obligate the recipient to forgive or resume the friendship. In fact it places zero obligation on them. I don’t believe in apologizing as a means to an end but because it’s the decent thing to do.

      I just think this is such good advice that sometimes gets lost in the very real (and also good) advice to women especially to tone down the automatic sorrys.

      I used to say I was sorry for all kinds of things that had nothing to do with me because what I meant was “I’m sorry this is happening to you, that sucks.” But my awesome first boss took me aside and told me that the others read it as if I were apologizing and taking ownership so I had to become very conscious of saying it only when I am owning it.

      But we can’t lose sight of the value of a real apology when it’s owed. It’s one of the bedrocks of a civilized society.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Jamie! Just want to make sure you saw the question about the LinkedIn group that I emailed you yesterday. (This is the equivalent of me emailing you and then coming by your desk to annoy you, I realize.)

        1. Jamie

          Ha I have an email up and ready to send!

          And I have a short list of co-workers whose drive bys are always welcome – and if you worked here you’d definitely make the list so no worries!

          (Case in point yesterday was technical hell and a work buddy stopped by for a work question and to say hi, saw me all stabby with smoke coming out of my ears and walked away without stopping.

          Sent me an email about non-urgent work thing but not before she popped into my office to wordlessly drop 2 Hershey’s Special Dark snack sized chocolates on my desk.

          That’s how you do a drive by, people!)

            1. Judy

              In the group I was in a few years ago, I kept “emergency chocolate” in my desk, and would drop some by 2 of the people in the group if I could tell they needed it.

              1. KAS

                I travel with a group of co-workers. We always assign someone to bring the “emergency chocolate” to sooth travel-and-event stress.

            1. Jamie

              Yes. Milk chocolate doesn’t solve problems.

              It’s funny though, as this thread is partly about the OP being bummed about losing a work friend (and also the co-worker lost one as well, which can’t be pleasant for her either) it really does matter.

              I read something ages ago that I keep quoting for truth even though I can’t for the life of me remember where I read it – that if you have 3 work friends any workplace (barring serious abuse/violations) is bearable and if you have none even the best work environment can make you miserable.

              I’m not one who believes everyone who worked together needs to be BFFs and hang out off hours – far from it. But little things like what happened yesterday to me – it’s just a reminder for me that it really matters. It made me feel more human, less stressed…it reminded me that I like people here and overall like my job even though at that moment it was trying to kill me.

              I think some people write off work friendships as not being quite real – because people do lose touch often when one moves on. But something doesn’t have to be forever to be important – and sometimes very real friendships do spring up and work. And sometimes they are just work buddies but they still make work less stressful and more fun – and you miss them when they aren’t there.

              tldr – just saying it’s sad when a work friendship goes sour because they really do impact the quality of work life.

              1. Daria

                I feel like I’m the only person in the world who HATES dark chocolate. Milk chocolate FTW!

                1. Jeanne

                  I give all my dark chocolate to a friend who loves it. She give me he yummy milk chocolate in return!

              2. HM in Atlanta

                This is so true. A few years ago, I looked around one day and realized all my work friends had left for other jobs (and I generally disliked or was apathetic about everyone left). I knew then it was time to get another job, even though I loved it for the previous 6 years. Now, I get irritated more by the work, but I have a great team. I’m mostly happy at work.

      2. Diet Coke Addict

        Jamie, I cannot tell you how flattered I am to hear this! I think you are such an excellent advice-giver yourself. So thank you for that!

      3. Fee

        “if you owe someone an apology and you’re sincerely sorry you should do it.”

        I think the second part is key here as well. If the OP still feels, as the letter suggests, that the real fault here lies with someone else, then she may be better off not apologising and just accept that she’s lost a friend. Because if the co-worker doesn’t take the apology well, OP may get defensive, and an argument will just leave everyone in this situation feeling even worse.

        1. Lanya

          I agree. Insincere apologies like “I’m so sorry that you feel this way” can come off as very disingenuous and make a situation worse, in comparison with a true heartfelt “I’m so sorry for what I did to make you feel this way”.

        2. Jamie

          Absolutely! That was such a struggle for me when my kids were smaller because I don’t want an apology unless the person means it. An apology because you have to means less than nothing to me.

          But to wait for a toddler to feel genuinely sorry for taking his sister’s toy and smacking her with it …will be a long wait and result in a child who doesn’t know when you need to apologize RIGHT NOW MISTER!

          So I amended my rule so I only need sincerity when the person apologizing is old enough to know whether they should be sorry or not.

    3. Laura

      i agree the OP should proceed as f the friendship is over, because it is. This is the type of thing that can’t be fixed, but an apology will i think make a difference, even though I would understand if the friend still didn’t want to continue the friendship. What the boss did was slightly worse, but this is one of the few things I’d end a friendship over without trying to fix it.

    4. hildi

      “However, an apology is not a magic go-back-in-time correction, and it won’t erase what happened”

      I totally think this is key. Sometimes I think people will apologize and expect that the apology will be accepted–or that the apology will make it all better and they can go back to square one.

      The hard reality is that the dynamics of that relationship are fundamentally altered. I do believe in relationships repairing themselves if the offender is genuinely contrite and the recipient is willing to give mercy. However, I’ve seen it where the OP apologizes, and then gets more huffy that the recipient didn’t accept their apology. It doesn’t always work that way. You apologize because you know that you were in the wrong, that you sincerely take accountability for your wrong actions/words WITH ZERO EXPECTATIONS of being absolved by the person you hurt. You can hope the person will forgive, but don’t make the mistake of getting pissed at the person because they didn’t automatically hug you and go back to normal.

      1. Judy

        An apology might get you back to square one. But the OP was at “square five” or whatever before, so it’s not going to be like before, at least for a while, maybe a long while. OP may still be at “square minus seventeen” and the apology would get her to “square minus sixteen”.

  7. Sunflower

    I hope the one thing you take from this is that telling your boss this info was most definitely was NOT the ‘right’ thing to do. Your coworkers health is none of your business and the volunteer should feel bad about spreading that info as well. Regardless of whether it was a mental institution check in or the flu, don’t do it.

    Talk to your coworker, apologize immensely and ask if there is anything you can do.

    1. fposte

      The volunteer should more than feel bad–she should get bounced from her position for this clear breach of ethics and HIPAA. I suspect she’ll get off scot-free, but wow, that’s a major failure there.

      1. Sunflower

        That crossed my mind- I don’t work with HIPAA at all but could this possibly fall under that?

        1. fposte

          Not for the OP, but for the source working at a health facility, you bet, and if I were the OP’s co-worker, I’d vociferously complain. (She won’t get anything out of it financially or anything, but the institution should really know–and it may mean that they’re not training volunteers properly or that volunteers have had access to something they shouldn’t.)

          1. fposte

            Okay, re-reading I see I misunderstood–it doesn’t say the volunteer was volunteering at the health institution, which is how I read it. So we don’t know whether a HIPAA breach was involved in this or if the volunteer just knew somebody’s sister who was dating somebody’s brother’s dentist who knew the co-worker’s mother.

        2. Dani X

          HIPAA is for people who work in the healthcare industry. It doesn’t cover friends with big mouths.

        3. De Minimis

          Not positive but I think HIPAA is more about medical records and other more tangible information, I think it’s mainly for healthcare providers and others with access to a patient’s health information.

          I do work in healthcare and have training on HIPAA each year, but can never remember all the details since my work rarely involves patient information.

          1. fposte

            Yeah, I thought the volunteer had been at the facility, and that’s not what happened. So strike all that.

          2. MedicalrecordsITLady

            It means that you cannot speak about any patients information at all. Whether you are an RN talking on the elevator about that “crazy patient” in room 304, or the person who hands out name tags at the visitor booth, you are obligated to not share patient information. Ever*. This is especially critical when you are talking about behavioral health. I absolutely think the coworker could push to track this down, because it is particularly egregious. Whoever first decided to gossip, can (and in my opinion, should) lose their job. All employees are educated on HIPAA, so there really is no excuse.

            *excluding of course those who provide care for the pt, and it is part of your job. Think radiologist reviewing your CTscan with your primary care doctor.

  8. some1

    Also, just because the coworker is mad at the LW doesn’t mean she’s not also mad at the boss or blames her for spreading this around. Those things aren’t mutually exclusive.

    Of course the coworker isn’t going to hold the boss at arm’s legnth in the same manner — she can’t afford to have the boss be on her bad side.

  9. Kimberlee, Esq.

    I don’t want to be harsh on OP either, but it seems a bit to me that she doesn’t understand how this wasn’t “doing the right thing.”

    I think it would be helpful to compare this to a physical malady. Co-worker calls in sick, and you hear that they went to the doctor (as opposed to, say, having a cold and staying home but not seeking medical treatment). Would you feel it was the “right” thing to do to report that to their boss? I mean, why would it even matter?

    Maybe if the co-worker had been out for something completely unrelated to what they called in for (like you saw them playing on the beach after calling in sick) you might have a defense. But if the co-worker called in sick, it doesn’t matter what it was for; it’s none of your business to look into it, and if you happen to find out what happened, you have neither an obligation nor a place to “report” it to anyone.

    1. fposte

      And even if it had been the right thing, her co-worker would still have the right to stop being friends with her. That’s not something anybody needs to logically justify, and it’s not appropriate to try to bring the force of work in to make somebody who doesn’t want to be friends with you change her mind.

    2. Jen RO

      I might be really off-base (I don’t even know what an in-patient medical facility IS), but maybe she wanted to tell the boss that the friend might be out for a longer period, so the boss should think about redistributing work accordingly?

      1. amaranth16

        But if that’s the case, a.) there’s no reason not to say only that the coworker might be out for a longer period, rather than disclosing the nature of the treatment and b.) there’s still no reason not to ask the coworker before sharing anything with the boss.

      2. ExceptionToTheRule

        Jen RO – it’s a hospital. In the US, lots of mental health counseling is done on an “out-patient” basis – which means you go to the counselor’s office for your appointment and you leave in an hour. “In-patient” is you go to the facility and you stay overnight for as many days/nights as is needed for your treatment. If they’re adjusting medications, it can be two or three days.

        Which leads me to the thought that we don’t know how long the co-worker was in for. She could have called out on Friday and been back on Wednesday. That’s three days and some people are gone longer than that with the flu.

      3. BOMA

        If this helps, an inpatient facility (as opposed to an OUTpatient facility) is where the patient is admitted overnight. So if you go in for an appointment with your PCP, spend an hour getting poked and prodded, and then leave, that’s an outpatient appointment. If you have a surgery, for example, and sleep there overnight, that’s generally an inpatient appointment.

  10. tesyaa

    I think the LW wants the boss to get punished, not for the boss to mediate her dispute with her coworker. I think that’s what she means by mediation – that a mediator should get involved to punish her boss.

    1. Celeste

      The info might have gotten to the boss, but the issue is that the LW stepped out of her “friend” role when she shared what wasn’t given to her by the coworker. I don’t think the coworker is punishing her, simply because she appears to have ended the relationship with LW, not because she is thinking that there can be atonement.

      I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the coworker looks for a new job and a fresh start after this. Nobody at her workplace handled this correctly.

    2. AnonAnalyst

      I was confused about that as well, but this makes more sense. I don’t have anything to add to all the advice already here about approaching the coworker and trying to help the OP better understand boundaries between work and personal life, but I will say that whatever she meant by mediation, I don’t think that’s a path she wants to go down. If she is referring to the mediator getting involved for ramifications for the boss, I feel like she can’t really go that route based on the way this unfolded – it seems like it would be a tough sell to report that she had shared confidential information that wasn’t hers to share with the boss and then the boss passed it on. I do think the coworker could report that, but I can also see that might not something she wants to deal with at this point. If OP’s talking about someone getting involved to make the coworker behave the same way as before, I think there’s another lesson here that as long as the coworker is professional and they’re able to interact well enough to get their work done, there’s nothing to report.

  11. Apple

    I don’t understand why the letter-writer thought the boss needed to know. My boss doesn’t know that I take antidepressants or that I was previously hospitalized for an eating disorder. If it doesn’t affect my work performance – my boss doesn’t need to know.

    And, there are plenty of reasons someone could be inpatient at a psych hospital that wouldn’t affect work performance – for example, someone could be adjusting medication in a controlled environment.

    1. Office Mercenary

      “If it doesn’t affect my work performance – my boss doesn’t need to know.”

      This. My boss doesn’t need to know about my PTSD, Adjustment Disorder and Dissociative Disorder Not Otherwise Specified because none of them impact my work performance. In fact, my particular cluster of symptoms makes me extremely calm and collected during a stressful situations, which I believe makes me a better employee. I would be mortified if my coworkers started speculating about why I see a therapist, or glob forbid someone finds out my diagnoses and starts gossiping about what could have possibly caused such problems…the very thought of it is humiliating.

    2. LBK

      Same here. My boss knew that I needed an hour off every Friday in the middle of the day to go to an appointment, but I never told him it was for therapy and he never knew when I was on medication. Not his business.

  12. Katie the Fed

    OP, you didn’t do the right thing at all. You did a TERRIBLE thing, and you need to own it. I try to be polite around here but this really struck a nerve and I think you should understand the extent of what you did.

    I hope you’re lucky enough to have never suffered from a mental health issue, but you should know this – it’s not a personal failing or a lack of trying. It’s as much about personal responsibility as getting the flu. It’s horrible to feel like you’re not in control of your mood or happiness and that no matter how much you want to feel better you just can’t do it. Add to that that seeking help is HARD – your sick brain tells you that you shouldn’t do it, and you have to some how get around that, get over your fear of the social stigma about it, and get yourself treated. That’s incredibly, incredibly hard.

    Your coworker did the right thing by seeking treatment. Nobody else here did the right thing at all – you gossiped about something that wasn’t yours to share. Your manager not only listened to that gossip (without reaching out to the coworker to offer support) but spread it around. You’re all to blame for this.

    And yeah, I wouldn’t expect to be her friend again. When I went through depression, it took a lot for me to tell people what was going on, and those who weren’t supportive or made me feel in any way bad about it are no longer a part of my life. Period.

    1. thenoiseinspace

      +1000! Plus, knowing that everyone is gossiping about her behind her back (without confirming it, from the sound of it) is only going to dissuade the coworker from getting help in the future. Honestly, if I were the coworker, I’d be looking for a new job someplace where my boss, of all people, and coworkers weren’t going to behave like this behind my back.

      1. Jean

        It might not discourage the coworker from getting help but it would probably add to her distress.

        Part of me is sorry the coworker or a third party didn’t blow up at the OP in an angry-but-educational way: “What do you MEAN you told our boss that I was out getting mental health care! That’s nothing to be ashamed of but it’s also someone else’s private information and thus not yours to share!”
        Of course it’s easy for me to talk a good game when I’m nowhere near the ball park. I hope I could have this presence of mind nowadays; I’m sure I could not have summoned it when I was younger with less confidence

      2. Anon this time

        I posted below, but seriously. Is anyone else seeing “NARCISSIST” in flashing red lights above the OP’s post? Not being nasty, I’m being serious. From all the research I’ve done, this letter checks a lot of boxes.

        1. Fish Microwaver

          This is way too harsh. The OP sounds inexperienced and perhaps naive. The OP feels bad but doesn’t quite understand why what s/he did was wrong. Sometimes these things can only be learned with experience, especially if s/he has a construct of “mental health issues” as being from an old movie.

          So OP, it’s a hard lesson but a valuable one. I hope one day you can look back on this and see it that way.

          1. Lizzy

            Agreed. When I was very young (mostly teen years), I too made similar mistakes as the OP. The consequences became a learning lesson for me, but I would never declare myself or anyone who did something similar a narcissist quite yet.

        2. fposte

          Agreeing with FM. No, I’m seeing somebody who got caught up in the moment and hasn’t quite figured out what damage she did. And really, that’s not something can be diagnosed over the internet anyway, especially by those of us who aren’t trained to diagnose it anywhere.

      1. Katie the Fed

        Actually, I know you’re kidding but I get really bad seasonal affective disorder. February is just god awful for me. My doctor has started having me take an antidepressant starting every October/November and it’s helped a ton for the last couple years. I stop in March.

        1. JustKatie

          I use a light therapy box every morning during the darker months, and it’s helped me immensely. I agree that February seems to be the worst.

          1. Office Mercenary

            Ugh, February. It doesn’t have the holiday shine of December and January, unless you count Valentine’s Day, which most people seem to hate, and it arrives just in time for emotional reserves to be totally used up. Thank glob for my light box and vitamin D.

        2. KJR

          Does it seem like this winter has been particularly awful?? It feels like I was worse this year than any other recently. I like the fall antidepressant idea though; I may try it.

          1. Michele

            Yes. I am in NYC and everyone here is absolutely miserable. I take vitamin D year round and it hasn’t helped at all.

              1. Office Mercenary

                Everyone I know wants to move out of NYC. Myself, I’m trying to decide whether to move this fall, or next fall.

            1. Pennalynn Lott

              Are you taking enough Vitamin D, though? The RDA is waaaaaay below the amount you need to take to see any kind of effect. I take between 3000 and 10,000 IUs a day, depending on how much natural sunlight I get in any given day. I’ve been able to quit taking two of the three “brain meds” I was on for almost a decade.

              I’ve also gone to an endocrinologist to have my serum D levels measured, to make sure I wasn’t overdoing it. He was astonished (in a bad way) when I told him how much I take, but then when he got the results back, he told me to keep doing it because it was working.

          2. Thomas

            I’m in Vermont, and it’s The Winter That Wouldn’t Die. I’ve joked to coworkers about taking a flamethrower to my driveway I’m so sick of the snow. I honestly do believe that this has been a much more frustrating winter than most.

          3. KJR

            That actually helps somewhat to know that others are having a rough time as well. I really thought it was just me. I’m in Ohio, that should say it all. I do take VitD year round too, and didn’t help like it normally does! Luckily it looks like there is an end in sight, I guess we just need to wait it out.

          4. Lizzy

            I am in Chicago and this has been one of my worst years yet for coping with SADD. The “Polar Vortex” isn’t helping.

          5. LJL

            This winter has been horrendous. Overtime snowfall, lowest temperature in years, and a chemical spill poisoned our water supply. Also, SO had to have 2 surgeries. :-/ It’s been a real trial. Thank heavens for spring!

        3. Arjay

          Katie, I hope you know I wasn’t making fun though. My problems lean more to the anxiety side of things but I’m on board the mental health train. I’m glad you’ve found something to help. :)

          1. Katie the Fed

            No, I didn’t think that at all – just offering it as advice/option to fellow sufferers :)

            Vitamin D and light boxes weren’t cutting it.

    2. Blue Anne

      In the OP’s defense, I don’t see anything implying that she believes mental illness *is* a personal failing?

      1. Katie the Fed

        Then why gossip about it? Would you gossip about someone having the flu or a broken leg? The fact that they think it’s gossip-worthy implies that they are passing some degree of judgement on the friend, even if they don’t realize it. We don’t gossip about mundane things.

        1. Blue Anne

          If the friend had just called in sick with no further detail, and the office was expecting her back within a few days, I can understand why the OP might have thought her boss should know about it – checking into an in-patient facility is not something most people have experience with (thankfully) and the OP could easily have thought this colleague might actually be out for a very long time.

          In the same way that, yes, if a co-worker just called in sick, and I found out that they’d had a really bad leg break and were still in the hospital, I might be tempted to mention it to my manager… because if we just got a “I’m sick, sorry” call, we’d be expecting them back sooner rather than later. (Although I wouldn’t actually say anything. Not my place to get involved.)

          None of that would excuse anything! But I can understand why she might have passed the information on without being a judgemental gossip, if you see what I mean.

          1. Blue Anne

            That was how I read it, at least, especially with the OP thinking it was important for the manager to know.

          2. Katie the Fed

            OK, that’s a generous way to look at it, and is a possibility. I think this one just really struck a chord with me. But yes, it might not have been as ill-intentioned as it read to me.

            1. Blue Anne

              Yeah, understandably. I would be livid if my co-workers or managers did something like this. But, it’s hard to know exact reasoning.

      2. FiveNine

        Well, maybe not exactly, but rushing to tell the boss when it is hospitalization for mental illness does kind of suggest that there’s something wrong about it all, as opposed to maybe how the OP would have acted had the friend called out seeking hospital treatment for broken leg.

        1. Blue Anne

          The way I read it, the OP could easily have thought the co-worker was going to be out of the office a lot longer than anyone had realized, because she’d just called in sick with no detail. Maybe I was wrong on that, and it wouldn’t excuse it, but I can definitely see that being the thought process for telling her manager.

          In the same way that, yes, it might be tempting to tell her manager if she found out the co-worker was in the hospital with a broken leg when all they’d heard was “Sorry, I’m ill, not going to be in.”

          1. Brianne

            But I don’t even see that as any of her business. If the co-worker was going to be out for more than she indicated when initially calling in, that is her responsibility to communicate to her manager, not the OPs. Plus, there is no evidence from the letter that the co-worker *was* out for longer than expected.

            1. Anne

              Oh, I absolutely agree that it was still none of her business. What I’m saying is that I don’t see anything suggesting that the OP believes mental illness is a personal failing.

              1. Blue Anne

                Whoops – this computer didn’t have my shiny upgraded name yet. Blue Anne here. :)

        2. Chrissi

          I realize this is a stretch, but what if she was thinking of it in terms of “this is terrible for her (coworker)”, boss needs to know because it’s so serious (hospital and all) so we can…I don’t know, accommodate her when she gets back?

          I think that maybe she just heard in-patient/hospital and immediately jumped to “this is so serious the boss needs to know about it” without thinking that statement through. I am a long-time reader of advice blogs, so I understand that I don’t need to get involved in other people’s business, but in my early 20’s, I hadn’t learned that lesson yet.

          I think a lot of people only think of gossiping as spreading information in a sly whisper or in a sensationalist manner, but it takes a while to learn that spreading any information that is not your own is, by definition (I think), gossip and you need to rein in that impulse.

          1. Maggie Mae

            I just had this conversation with my mom, actually. At 50, she didn’t understand that giving info THAT DID NOT AFFECT HER was gossip. And while the dynamic was different, discussing a family member’s info, it still holds. Stop gossiping that Aunt So and So didn’t make it to _______ because her child had just ______. (I’m making the details different from the truth, obviously) It was only Aunt So and So’s place to explain the details if she wished. Just because you’re family or friends doesn’t mean your other family or friends needs to know someone else’s business.

  13. Dang

    OP, just remember that once something is said, you can’t take it back.

    I would have the same response as your coworker. It doesn’t matter *who* spread it around, it originated with you. Apologize and accept responsibility, because it really IS on you. And then back off for a bit and don’t push it. She’s hurt, and having the person who hurt you in your face all the time only keeps the feelings raw.

    1. JMegan

      Well, it didn’t exactly originate with the OP – it originated with the volunteer, who shouldn’t have said anything either. Which is not to excuse the OP’s part in it – nor the boss’s part, nor anyone else who talked about the coworker behind her back. What a clusterfudge.

      I feel badly for the coworker, who probably feels like she can’t trust anyone in her office right now. OP – please apologize, sincerely, for your part in this, and leave the next steps up to your colleague to decide.

      1. Celeste

        Think how differently this might have gone down if the LW had said to the volunteer, “Did she tell you that herself? Did she ask you to tell people? If it’s even true and she wants people to know about it, then she can announce it herself when she gets back.”.

        1. fposte

          I’d really like for some alternatives to come out of this discussion, and I think this is an excellent one. Thanks for offering it up.

          1. Laura

            I think my automatic reaction to hearing something like this would be concern for my friend , and asking if the volunteer was supposed to be telling me. It wouldn’t occur to me to spread it around in the first place. But I have personal experience with mental illness, for myself and friends, and although it shouldn’t be a secret, there’s a stigma so sometimes it is. I liken it to someone coming out of the closet to me – it’s something that people often don’t want getting around, so I should assume it’s something to be kept to myself unless told otherwise.

  14. Leigh

    “I heard through the grapevine from one of the volunteers at the nonprofit I work for that a coworker of mine had checked into an inpatient mental facility. (The coworker had called in sick, but no one at work knew the full story).”

    Um…trying to avoid from piling on top of someone who feels sorry, but she heard SECONDHAND and decided that was enough info to potentially damage her friend’s career by sharing that gossip with the boss? No verifying it with her friend? Just going right to the boss?

    Ugh, as someone who struggles with mental health, this situation really made me sick to read, and honestly, just reaffirms the stigma with mental health that is such a problem. If the coworker had taken the time for a bad bout of flu, would it have been worth running to the boss about?

  15. Mimmy

    While I concur that the OP crossed the line by sharing private information about her coworker, the boss also played a big part in this. If anything, by the nature of her job, she had an ethical duty to keep that information private, but she completely went overboard. Again, it was not your information to share, OP, but you are not the only one who owes your coworker an apology.

    1. Anonicorn

      I agree. Not to absolve OP, but the boss gossiping about one of her employees is unprofessional and inexcusable and all kinds of other adjectives.

      1. Katie the Fed

        Yeah. I have an employee dealing with a mental health issue – I’m glad she told me because I’m a bit more patient than I might otherwise be. I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone else.

    2. Sunflower

      Yea I’d really like to hear from the boss. Chances are the friend is probably angry at her but like someone else mentioned upthread, the friend might want to stay on bosses good side.

      1. Mimmy

        I dunno…I’m not sure I’d want to stay on the “good side” of someone who tells others about my *personal* situation without my express consent. But the coworker knows the office dynamics better than we do, so that’s her call.

        1. Jen RO

          Well, you still need to eat and pay your bills… so staying on the boss’s good side is usually a good idea.

        2. Observer

          Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if she also didn’t want to stay on the Boss’ good side, and so is looking for a new job.

        3. Zillah

          If she has severe enough mental health problems that she had to check into a hospital, she likely needs health insurance and can’t risk getting on the boss’s bad side if her job is how she has it. I’m sure she’s going to be job searching, but she might not be able to up and quit.

      2. Laura

        The friend also may not have had the same friendly relationship with the boss as she did with the OP, so she may be mad at the boss but need the job and no one would notice the difference if she was still acting professionally.

        What the boss did was wrong, but there can be multiple people who are wrong.

        1. Simonthegrey

          Exactly. One person’s wrong doesn’t negate another’s wrong in this situation.

    3. Kit M.

      The number of people who this coworker just learned she can’t trust is impressively high. Why is the volunteer sharing this information? Where did the volunteer get this information? Why is the boss telling other people? Why are those other people letting it get back to the coworker that they know? I feel so bad for that coworker. I would feel sick and besieged if this happened to me.

      1. amaranth16

        I agree. I’m so disappointed in everyone involved – the volunteer, the OP, the boss, the people the boss told. If any one of the people early in the chain had exercised just a little more discretion and compassion, the poor coworker – who probably has enough on her plate without all this – wouldn’t be facing a work environment that seems to be filled with people who don’t respect her privacy. It’s a really sad situation and I’m not sure what any of the parties in the wrong can do to repair it.

        1. Brianne

          Yes! It seems that so many people she trusted failed her when she potentially needed their support most. As some have said upstream, I would have a very hard time continuing in this position given the current environment. The co-worker knows she can no longer trust her manager or her (I’m assuming) closest work friend, and that must make it very difficult to put on a brave face and walk in the door every day.

    4. Mike B.

      Insofar as this thread is a response to the OP, it’s appropriate that it focus mostly on what she did wrong and what, if anything, she might do to mend fences.

      As an outside observer, though, I see the OP’s action as an innocent (if serious) faux pas, whereas the boss’s action was at best badly negligent and at worst malicious. She’s the one I’d never in a million years want to work with.

    5. Kacie

      Yes, the boss’s response makes me angry as a manager. This works have been a coaching moment for me to explain to the OP that it is inappropriate to share personal information about co-workers. If someone is out sick, I don’t want them to explain it to me. I’ve been in too many situations where over-sharing has backfired.

      For all of you who tell your co-workers too much, there may come a day when to really want your privacy. It’s difficult to reclaim if you’ve already given it away.

    6. Maggie Mae

      I think a lot of commenters have avoided this part because we are all aghast at her insane unprofessionalism. It’s astounding. I’m hoping she is very new to her leadership position…

  16. some1

    Keep in mind every time you ask your coworker to go to Starbuck’s you are probably making her more upset, even though it’s not your intention. (“My coworker told everyone I was in a mental health facility and now she asks me to go to Starbuck’s like nothing happened!!”)

    Also, I can understand wanting to tell your boss only so she can plan for an extended absence, but it still wasn’t your news to share.

    1. Mena

      I don’t understand the question about mediation … mediate why she won’t go to Starbuck’s with me anymore … ??? Huh?

    2. CalicoK

      +1!

      I’d start with a sincere apology and see where that goes. Maybe in time, she’ll start coming around to your invitations.

    3. hellcat

      Seriously. If I were the coworker, I’d be hard pressed not to dump a Frappucino on her.

  17. Interviewer

    “I feel like I’m being punished for my boss’s lack of discretion and I miss having a work friend. I’m worried this will damage our professional relationship and I feel like I shouldn’t be punished for reporting relevant information to my boss. I’m being punished for doing the right thing here.”

    It’s not about you.

    Your friend just returned from a private leave of absence to discover that her world has been turned upside down. Stop, take a step back, own up to the responsibility for sharing details of her private life – which you may now realize no one else needed to know in order to carry on with work in her absence – and then apologize to her, genuinely and profusely, for playing a leading role in this entire debacle. Then move back, and allow her a significant amount of time to recover personally & professionally.

    Also, you should probably find a new work friend.

    1. Celeste

      “It’s not about you.”

      That’s the gold nugget here, LW. This is what you need to take from the experience going forward in your career and relationships. When you are thinking about inserting yourself and making it about you, (“I had relevant information for the boss”), check yourself before you wreck yourself.

  18. Anonicorn

    I miss having a work friend. I’m worried this will damage our professional relationship and I feel like I shouldn’t be punished for reporting relevant information to my boss.

    I don’t mean to pile on, but your coworker is in a far worse place than you are. She has now lost trust in both her close coworker and her boss. That’s an awful situation to be in. Her medical information was not relevant to share, to anyone. If anybody is being punished, it’s her.

    I think you realize you were in the wrong, and admitting that to your coworker and accepting the blame (with no mention of how wrong your boss was) might help start clearing the air.

    1. Sadsack

      It seems clear that OP does not realize she is wrong; she is sorry the relationship is ruined, but still feels that she did the right thing and that the former friend is mad at the wrong person. I agree with you about the rest of it – OP needs to apologize for her part in this, but not do so with the qualifier that what her boss did is so much worse. Apologize for your own actions and end it there.

  19. shaky bacon

    I think the best thing to do is apologize to her and leave her be. Keep the relationship strictly professional on your side and give her space to deal with what just happened.

    If you had done this to me, I would instantly delete you out of my personal life, not only because of the trust violation thing, but because I would be seriously questioning your judgement in handling whatever personal information I chose to reveal to you.

    I’m not saying you will never be able to bounce back from this and restore a personal relationship with your work friend, but you have to consider that the damage done is irreversible.

    1. hildi

      I love your screen name. My stupid way of greeting people when I’m in a silly mood is “what’s shakin’ bacon” and your name reminds me of that :)

      1. shaky bacon

        Why, thank you :) I actually have a stuffed “shaky bacon” (he looks like he’s in distress) on my desk so that’s what inspired the screen name.

  20. Sunflower

    I just want to add that when you talk to the coworker, understand it may take time for her to build back the trust or she might not be interested in at all. If she isn’t interested in continuing a personal relationship with you, you have to let it go. Don’t badger or constantly ask.

    If she is interested but isn’t so sure, let her take her time and understand that even if a relationship does build back up between you, it may never be the same.

    Accept what she says and go from there.

    1. Office Mercenary

      This. Her autonomy over her medical information was taken away from her; let her have autonomy over her social interactions.

  21. Name

    Geez, I hope the woman who needed some medical assistance got what she needed. Talk about problems on top of problems. :(

  22. Jeff A.

    I feel like this is a pretty good example of how our educational system is failing to properly prepare graduates for the professional working world.

    The OP notes that she and her coworker are the two young women in the office, and the OP is likely not far removed from the days when gossip among classmates or dorm residents was the norm, and knowing everything that your peers are up to is perfectly normal. Especially with “workplace friends,” young adults new to the workplace really need to be taught somewhere that over-sharing personal information, gossiping, and assuming that because you go out for daily coffees or happy hour drinks doesn’t mean you should drop professional boundaries.

    A lot of commentators are going to jump on the OP here because we know what happened is Not Okay, but let’s take something positive out of this: let’s all make an effort to mentor those new to the workplace on navigating just how different workplace culture is from where they’ve just spent the last 16-20 years.

    1. The IT Manager

      I agree. Great point.

      Plus she referred to herself and co-worker as two young single gals. If LW is using that term in the office, then that in another unprofessional thing she is doing because “gals” is not a term that calls to mind mature adults.

        1. Heather

          Yeah, I’ve actually only ever heard “gals” used by boomers and older. The young(er) women I know would say “single girls”.

    2. De Minimis

      It’s been my experience that older workers gossip as much if not more than younger ones. I don’t really think this is generational.

      1. Jeff A.

        I wasn’t trying to suggest that this is a generational phenomenon. Mentoring typically occurs when someone older (read: more experienced in the field/enviornment/etc) counsels someone younger (read: less experience).

        Older workers who gossip could have benefited from someone correcting their behavior when they first arrived on the professional scene, but we’re likely beyond that now.

        1. hildi

          I agree with your first comment, Jeff. And I also agree the even though older workers are just as bad at gossip as younger workers, your point is valid. To be honest, those lines were a lot blurrier for me until I started reading AAM (and I”ve been reading for about 4+years now? I only add that to show that it takes a while for these truths to really sink in). I think being a regular reader here has really sharpened my awareness of what’s appropriate and inappropriate and also how wildly differnt people see things in the workplace. Becoming more aware of the variety of perspectives makes a person much more sensitive to the “rights and wrongs” of working with other people. So great point about AAM being a place to mentor others – I know I’ve received a lot of that here.

          1. hildi

            People, I am not getting enough sleep and it is seriously starting to take its toll. Half of the crap I type up on here doesn’t even make sense for all the typos and half trains of thought. I don’t like to go back and post a correction to a typo, but they have been bad lately. Here’s my one blanket statement to apologize: I’m sorry for previous and future posts. Maybe when my kid turns…3, 4? I’ll get a chance to sleep again.

                1. Jean

                  Hildi, I haven’t noticed major incoherence in your postings, but I wanted to say hi as another person who struggles to get enough sleep. I am still learning that it’s better to actively discard some activities from my life so as to GO TO BED (and to sleep) than to end up passively discarding activities because I’m too tired to be effective or to enjoy them. That said, it’s hard to streamline one’s young child onto the list of lower priorities! Good luck with the balancing act. The challenges do go on for years.

                2. Judy

                  I’m at 8 & 10, and although it gets better, it still seems like there is always one more thing to do before bed.

                  I have heard from co-workers that usually they or their wives are unable to sleep most of the time when the new drivers are out on dates or whatever.

                3. hildi

                  Hi Jean! I had to read this part a few times (to comprehend it, ha!) “than to end up passively discarding activities because I’m too tired to be effective or to enjoy them.” — and WOW! True! I was just telling my husband the other day how I am sure I’m missing out (e.g. appreciating) on little moments with my girls because I’m (a) on a short fuse from lack of sleep; and (b) too tired to do much but breathe and exist on the weekends.

                  I hate feeling this way because pre-kids I was a champion sleeper and have never struggled with getting enough rest. When I get the 10-month old to bed (at 6:30pm so we are early nighters in my house!), I read for a bit and then go to bed (like in the 8pm hour). So I totally appreciate what you said about actively discarding things in favor of sleep. I am proud of my ability to do that (even though it sucks because I feel like I never can get ahead and get anything done). I have a friend that will stay up late into the night because she still has things on her to do list and struggles with getting enough rest. Boo on that. My bed and I are best friends. :)

                  I just need to get this kid to sleep for longer stretches than 2 hours at a time. I know I”m doing something wrong and she has a bad habit that I’m not helping break. Ah screw it. Good memories of all those nights snuggling with her?? That’s what I’ll tell myself to endure it until she grows out of it. Her older sister did and I thought that kid was going to kill me.

                4. Cristina in England

                  Hildi, I’m there with you! My 14mo wakes ALL THE TIME THROUGH THE WHOLE DAMN NIGHT. Sometimes, though, I find that the days when I really feel the worst physically can mean really nice moments with her, because I don’t try to “do” as much around the house and I just play with her. I don’t know what it would like though with 2 kids, I am afraid to think of it!

                5. hildi

                  @Cristina – ok, we need to talk. Do you mind if we wait until open thread on Friday to continue the discussion? This thread is getting squished and I don’t want to clutter up this one (cause I have a lot more I want to talk about on this subject). I’m hoping that by saying this out loud, it will be the case that our babies will suddenly start sleeping through the night and the Open Thread will just be a lot of self-congraulations. :)

      2. Jen S. 2.0

        I think gossips gossip no matter how old they are, and private people are private no matter how old they are.

    3. Celeste

      Yes, “soft skills” are crucial. I think schools used to teach them more, but so many things like this are being cut out of the curricula now. I feel like the closest that our colleges come to teaching about this stuff is in ethics, but I do believe many people get caught up in legalities and think that’s all that ethics is for. What we really should be teaching is emotional intelligence, and that starts as children with the classic question of empathy: “how would you feel if that happened to you?”. Etiquette and manners are about making others feel comfortable with thoughtfulness and respect. So many advice columns are kept very busy just because this is not a foundation anymore. We need to get back to basics.

      1. amaranth16

        On the bright side, noncognitive skills are making a huge surge in K-12 education right now. Collaboration, empathy, resilience, respect – it’s not getting short shrift nearly as much as it has in recent decades.

        1. Heather

          That’s good to hear. I can’t remember what it was called, but I read a really good book a year or so ago that made a really persuasive case that the benefits of early childhood education come less from academics and more from learning the kind of skills you mention.

          It made so much sense. Now I really wish I could remember the name of the damn book so I could recommend it!

    4. AndersonDarling

      I was thinking the same thing. The OP is young, and I think everyone shares private information about a friend at some point and has to face the consequences. But it usually happens in high school/grade school.
      I think the OP really does feel rotten about it. She will need to learn from this mistake, apologize and face the consequences, forgive herself for not handling it better, and let her friend go.

    5. Zelos

      Agreed. When I was in school, I thought “gossip” was things like “oh, X and Y are having an affair” but everything else was just ~topics of conversation~. Yeesh.

      1. Canadamber

        Oh my God, yeah, same… I try to avoid discussing others now, except maybe to my best friend because I know it won’t get out.

        1. Maggie Mae

          Or so you think. Dun dun duuuuuuun. ;)

          (I couldn’t resist because of this thread topic, haha)

    6. LBK

      I’m pretty sure I’ve was taught by my mother since I was about 5 years old that it’s not right to share someone else’s personal business. I don’t know that this has anything to do with the education system and being prepared for the professional world. This would’ve been inappropriate even in a group of friends, not just in an office.

      1. Lily in NYC

        My mom is a gossip (about relatives, not friends), so it took me a long time to realize it is not normal to sit and analyze people’s behavior/lives. So not everyone has a mom able to prepare them for this kind of thing!

        1. Mallory

          This. My whole family are like this: gossipers about relatives, not friends. The only person I’ve ever seen not gossip is my dad, and it took me until I was an adult before I realized that.

          One day it just hit me: “Wow, dad just does not gossip!” He listens to gossip and shrugs it off with kind of a laugh at the gossiper. I think it is because of his struggle with alcoholism and how he has been gossiped about in the family that he doesn’t contribute to those discussions.

          Once I had my epiphany about his lack of gossiping, I consciously decided to emulate him (as best I can) in that regard. So one day everyone else in the family was having a big ol’ gossip fest, and my dad and I just looked at each other over the din and smiled and shrugged at each other. It was a nice moment.

      2. Jeff A.

        Yes, parents and peers are also in part responsible for correcting and/or reinforcing behaviors.

        But the purpose of our educational system (as it’s currently designed) is to educate individuals in such a way as to make them productive workers.

        And though this type of behavior would also be inappropriate, I suspect that when children and adolescents are getting their social cues from watching Real Housewives and Teen Mom 2 and social media and “entertainment” news blogs it’s important to acknowledge that parents cant’ do it themselves. Especially considering so many children (American children in particular) spend more time in school than interacting with parents at home.

    7. Beebs

      I think the important points have already been said a few times in the comments. But I agree with this point, and I was thinking this is one of those times where experience is a tough teacher. I know your guilt is making you want to fix it immediately, but unfortunately that’s not how it works. See the situation for what it is, own your part in it, apologize sincerely, and then give your friend space and let her deal with it the way she needs to.

      Please use this opportunity to learn, evaluate, and grow. Being able to see the big picture and from different perspectives is so important, as well as learning to not internalize everything. You will have better judgement in the future, if you can do this.

  23. Anon for privacy on this

    As someone who’s been in this situation as the patient, I’d like to offer a few thoughts on what your coworker might be going through, OP:

    She had a health situation that was serious enough that she sought in-patient treatment. That’s a frightening place to be. Even the most wonderful hospitals are still hospitals, where you’re surrounded by dire situations and daily reminders of how fragile we all are. Whatever her diagnosis, she’s probably looking at a long road ahead of doctor’s visits, counseling, medication, testing, medical bills, insurance nonsense, and so forth. Because of the stigma surrounding mental health issues, she might be worried about how people in her life are going to treat her based on what she’s dealing with. (Will they be sympathetic and helpful? Will they tell her get over her issues and stop being so sensitive?) She was there to get help for something that’s probably affecting her life in a very big way, meaning that she might be struggling with how to do her job and have her life etc while also having a health crisis. (Will she get in trouble for needing time off? Will she still be able to meet the big deadline coming up?)

    And then she comes back to work. To find that people inside AND outside the organization have been gossiping about her, and maybe judging her too. And the person that started the chain was a friend.

    That hurts. And it’s magnified by the scope of the other things she dealing with, which are way bigger than what you’re presently concerned with (returning your friendship to its former state). I’m sincerely not trying to bag on you for what happened. But from where I sit, it’s important that you accept her reaction as reasonable and understandable. She can’t unring the bell that you rang when you went to the boss with extra details about her medical care. (And FWIW, the boss sounds like a tremendous a-hole.) At this point, your friendship may be over for good. IMO, the best you can hope for is to have your apology accepted and eventually return to a relationship of general civility.

    1. also anon for this

      And in the event that her hospitalization was caused by her trying to harm herself, she has to live with the guilt of putting her loved ones through that for the rest of her life.

      1. Jean

        I understand that you’re theorizing, rather than mandating, that attempted self-harm be followed by lifelong guilt SHOULD. My comment is thus not a rebuke, just the proposal of an alternative result. It seems to me that it’s possible for people who try to harm themselves to move past the experience without enduring a lifetime of guilt about having once worried their loved ones. People should be able to say “wow, that was rough and I flirted with a really dangerous choice, but I feel better now so I don’t think it will happen again.”
        Disclaimer: I’m not a mental health care provider.

        1. Pennalynn Lott

          I won’t even bother going anon for this. I attempted suicide once, a couple decades ago in the middle of the worst depression of my life. I feel zero guilt about it. Just like I feel zero guilt about shattering my ankle in a bad fall. Each incident was a burden on my family, but that’s what close friends and family are for — to see each other through the worst of times. I sincerely wish each incident hadn’t happened, but I by no means feel guilty about them.

          1. Bea W

            Same, and I did a lot more than attempt suicide once. I was really ill and a total mess. I feel no more guilty for harming myself in that time period than I do for oversleeping recently one morning because I was up 3 nights in a row with a nasty bronchitis that was sending me into coughing fits every 20 minutes. There isno reason anyone should have to feel guilty for either of those things, and certainly not for a lifetime.

            1. Heather

              Props to you both for being open about it. Depression just sucks, and I don’t think a lot of people who haven’t experienced it can understand what it feels like. Hope things are much better now.

    2. Jules

      I wonder if OP knows how differently people look at anyone with mental illness. I can see the change in your eyes. When you look at me, you don’t see me, you see me + mental illness.

      I was hospitalized for depression once way back when in college for PTSD. I was already visiting as an outpatient but one session was so bad that I was immediately warded and medicated. The ones that know fall into either, OMG what a freak or I feel for you. Granted there were more people who felt for me, but it’s not easy to act normal when people treat you different.

      What the employer needed to know is only what is relevant to work. You did a jerk move and she probably wants nothing to do with you. Apologize and leave it at that.

  24. The Maple Teacup

    Alison is right here OP, you’re being evaluated on your own poor choices. Your coworker is irritated with you for a good reason. Checking into a mental health facility is a very personal issue and can carry a stigma to it. How do I know? Last year I checked myself into a psychiatric ward to deal with very sensitive issues. I didn’t want my manager, coworkers or friends to know where I was, least it negativly influence my career/ other people might think I was “crazy.” Sadly, society sometimes views people who seek mental health help with suspicion. Your words could greatly harm your friend. Good luck patching things up if you can. I wouldn’t be forgiving

  25. Mena

    I don’t understand why you reported it to your boss ‘immediately.’ Did this dirrectly affect the workplace? I am thinking not.

    Your lack of discretion has seriously harmed a personal relationship and now you’re paying the price. You could say, “I thought Boss should know because ….. (I don’t know why but perhaps there is a good reason). I apologize that the information moved continued to move outward.”

    But beyond this, your co-worker will need to decide if she wants to socialize with you. I’m guessing that she will not. It will be unfortunate if she ends up leaving the organization because she is concerned about how she is now perceived by her peers and superiors. Her health status shouldn’t be known to everyone and it is now widely known. If she ultimately leaves the organization, you owe her another apology.

    1. Colette

      I’m going to quibble about your suggested wording.

      The OP needs to apologize for sharing information. She can explain why she did, but she needs to acknowledge that she was wrong. It wasn’t hers to share, and she didn’t even know if it was accurate.

      She should not apologize for what happened after that – that wasn’t in her control – but she can acknowledge that it wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t shared in the first place.

      In other words, she should take responsibility for what she did and acknowledge that it was wrong – not because it was shared after that, and not because the coworker is upset.

      1. CEMgr

        Lack of reliability/accuracy is a big part of why it was wrong to share this “info” (in addition to the obvious irrelevance and breach of personal privacy).

        Not saying certain reliability would have made the report OK, but the fact that the “info” reported was just gossip and hearsay makes it even more unsuitable for passing on. The boss does NOT need to hear the unsubstantiated gossip about each and every employee (although maybe the boss DOES need to nip the destructive gossip in the bud generally).

  26. CanadianWriter

    I think that what the boss did was worse. Blabbing to people both and outside the company? If this happened to me, I could maybe forgive the gossipy work friend but I would want to punch the boss.

    1. Katie the Fed

      The boss should be fired for this. The OP’s friend might have an EEO complaint as well, but that’s something to talk to a lawyer about.

        1. Katie the Fed

          Possibly, but if they’ve created a hostile work environment based on disability (and this would qualify, particularly since they’re TREATING it like a disability), they could be up shit creek.

          And not every EEO complaint is a lawsuit. You can request that people receive some training (I did that once) because they’re clearly as sensitive as turnip.

          1. fposte

            Oh, I didn’t know about the training request–that’s really interesting. Thanks for the info!

            1. Katie the Fed

              That might be exclusive to federal government, actually. I’m not totally sure. But basically we go to the EEO office here, file a complaint, and they ask you what kind of resolution you want. They try to resolve it at the lowest level possible. So it could be something like “I want these morons to get training” or “I want to be moved to a new office.”

              1. doreen

                It’s not exclusive to the Feds- at least in NY you can seek an “informal resolution”

                1. majigail

                  no matter what, the issue, once with the EEOC, won’t be resolved quickly and may amplify things. It’s absolutely an employee’s right to file a charge, but one they should thoroughly research and understand what the next year at work will look like when they do file.

        2. Dip-lo-mat

          If the gossiping is sufficient to constitute to a hostile work environment, not necessarily. If it’s pervasive enough to affect her ability to come to work and perform her job, she might have a claim. Either way, her boss–even more so than the friend–really really messed up here. Doesn’t absolve the OP, obviously, but the best she can do is apologize sincerely and try to earn trust over time.

          1. Dip-lo-mat

            Ha! Responding same time as KtF. Yeah, it can be resolved at the informal counseling level (at least in the federal government).

        3. LQ

          As we have heard all the time they don’t need anything to fire someone. I agree that the boss should be fired. That the boss is unable to discern things that should be private when they have access to private information would seriously concern me about anyone in a management situation. Absolutely fire them. Even if there isn’t discrimination.

      1. Anon for Reasons

        I went through something similar (sought in-patient treatment, used my own earned sick time to do so, and word somehow got to my boss that I had been in in-patient care for depression. Which was half-true, I do and did suffer from severe depression, but the reason for in-patient care was for monitored medication management. My boss gossiped and soon everyone knew.)

        To file a complaint, unfortunately it has to get way worse. I got a lawyer and we had to wait as the harassment piled on (Document everything!) to prove it was affecting my work: stuff like offensive jokes like “watch out or she’ll hang herself;” people calling me unstable and refusing to work with me if I seemed less smile-y and perky then usual; and even coworkers gossiping to clients about my “attempted suicide” – which was totally false! But even it was true – where is your compassion, my god?!).

        We were able to file, and there’s some justice in knowing that the organization leaders had to take steps to change to ensure it would never happen again (it was a very dysfunctional workplace in other respects too), but needless to say, I found a new job with a better HR/more mature workplace. And the whole experience rattled me enough that I will *never* share anything about my depression with a coworker ever again.

        My lawyer said we could have had a cause for a suit, but at that point, I just wanted to move on with my life and wasn’t interested in drawing the whole thing out any more.

        You can contact a lawyer, but in my (U.S) experience, it has to get really, really bad before you can take action.

        1. Katie the Fed

          Wow. That’s one of the worst things I’ve ever read here.

          Wow. What is wrong with people?!

          Sometimes an EEO complaint can be as simple as “these people need sensitivity training” or something along those lines. Many people just want the behavior to stop, not a payout from a lawsuit. But that can be a hard thing to accomplish.

        2. CanadianWriter

          I’m glad you found a new job. Joking about you hanging yourself? Your coworkers were seriously disturbed.

        3. TL

          Someone said “watch out or Anon For Reasons’ll hang herself”?! I don’t even have words… I’m so sorry that happened, though.

          OP, while you might be sensitive/not hold stigmas about mental illnesses, a lot of people do. And, as a neurotypical, naturally sunny kid of a very depressed parent, it can be very, very hard for people to understand mental illness if they don’t have one. I struggled with it for a long time. It can be hard to understand who kinds of stigmas people hold until it’s too late, because it’s not something we as a society discuss.

          1. Anon for Reasons

            Yup – and the kicker is that I worked at a community health clinic with a lot of mental health programs.

            The organization closed its doors a year ago due to gross mismanagement. It was a loss for the community, but it was such an awful, AWFUL, place to work.

            1. Heather

              Gee, I can’t imagine how they couldn’t have been successful, with attitudes like that among the staff.

              I am so sorry that happened to you!

        4. Office Mercenary

          I am so, so sorry they treated you like that. I’m glad your new job is better.

        5. amaranth16

          I am so sorry this happened to you and am so glad you’re at a better company (and seemingly in a better place) now.

        6. Anonicorn

          Ho-lee-crap. Sounds like your former coworkers had problems of their own, and they need to be beaten with sensitivity training.

        7. Anon - 345

          I also think that each state can pass laws that may provide different protections so definitely consult a lawyer or you can call the anonymous advice line of BOLI/EEOC (my state has these).

        8. Karyn

          I’m so, so sorry you had to deal with this. How awful. And sadly, as a law graduate, I agree – the legal system in this country will make it very difficult for anyone, even someone with a confirmed diagnosis, to get any sort of remedy from this kind of thing. I’m sorry you had to learn that the hard way. :(

        9. Maggie Mae

          Jesus, that sounds like my last workplace. I did contemplate filing, especially after HR merely had a conversation with my boss and everything halted completely. At that point, I took a LOA and found another job. I still think I should have filed, but I wasn’t emotionally prepared to stay there while waiting for everything to happen. I applaud you!

    2. VintageLydia USA

      I’m betting the coworker is absolutely livid at the boss, but for obvious reasons can’t really show that at work.

      1. some1

        +1, and the LW doesn’t get to decide who the coworker is allowed to be more or less mad at, anyway.

  27. BadPlanning

    Personally, I can understand why the OP thought this information should be shared with the manager — and assumed the information would be private between them. Not saying it’s right, but I can understand where the OP was coming from (I’m assuming from a positive place — as in the coworker might need some extra understanding, not a “Run away! Our coworker is crazy!).

    Really, I think the OPs only course of action is one sincere apology and then back off coworker. And reconsider what information the OP shares with the boss.

    1. Sophia

      Genuine question, not snark – what is it about the situation that you can understand? You say that it’s possibly about alerting the boss to the co-worker needing extra understanding, but at this point, the OP only heard about it second hand. I’m genuinely confused as to why the OP thought it was the “right thing to do”

      1. BadPlanning

        Ann Furthermore’s comments below are essentially the same as my thoughts/reasoning.

      2. Nichole

        I’m not BadPlanning, but I understand as well. I don’t agree with the OP’s action and think she made a mistake, but I get how it could happen, especially if the OP doesn’t place a stigma on mental illness personally. She mentions being young, and I know many people my age (under 30) are more open and comfortable discussing mental illness than previous generations. She may have seen it similarly to more innocent head’s up, such as “Friend’s car broke down, so she mentioned she may be late sometime next week so she can drop it off at the mechanic.” OP thought it was relevant information, so she shared. If OP sometimes engages in general gossip of this sort, where no harm is usually done even if the helpful information is technically no one’s business, she may not have seen this as different. I think the advice here will help OP own up to her part in this and apologize, and I hope the friend can forgive her. If OP shows that she genuinely sees what she did wrong and will be more careful in the future, Friend may be able to trust OP again, and she probably needs that right now.

      3. Mike B.

        I actually agree to a point. If the coworker was admitted as an inpatient for any reason, there was potential for an extended absence; a busy office facing deadlines might need to have a contingency plan. It was a bad idea for OP to give the manager more specific information, but her heart was certainly in the right place (as little comfort as that may be to the poor coworker).

        The manager, on the other hand…. Sharing this information freely was reprehensible. That’s the kind of thing that would make me look for another job even if I weren’t the victim.

    2. Very Anon

      Good god, NO. As a sufferer of mental illness, as someone who has been a voluntary in-patient in a psychiatric hospital, NO. I do understand that the desire to give a heads-up to someone about something like this can come from a good place — like letting a boss know to perhaps be a little gentle on a coworker, as you suggested — but for someone with ANY illness it is their own right to choose how much accommodation they want and how much information they want to give to anybody in their life, beyond the strictly necessary. An illness — any kind of illness — takes away a lot of control in your own life. Suddenly you have a body that isn’t doing what it ought to, or a mind that has rebelled against you. To have control of information about that taken away from you too would be very distressing. And with disclosing mental illness you also run the risk of being discriminated against in your job, and even if the teller had the best intentions in the world, they can’t control the actions of the person they’re telling, as indeed our OP discovered. Every time I tell anybody about my mental illness I do a complicated mental juggling act where I balance up the potential advantage of telling versus the potential risks. I normally tell people pretty openly, but if someone else took the liberty of informing people for me I would be LIVID. That is my information and my risk to take. They don’t have to put their neck on the line every time they open their mouths. I do.

      The coworker is of course obligated to make sure her boss is aware of how long she is likely to be away for, and if the boss wasn’t aware this was likely to be an extended absence, the OP would probably be within her rights to give the boss a heads-up that she’d heard coworker was pretty unwell and probably wouldn’t be back for a bit, but anything beyond that would not be appropriate. It is my illness, and only I — with the help of my medical team and trusted friends and family — get to decide how I deal with that.

      1. Office Mercenary

        “I normally tell people pretty openly, but if someone else took the liberty of informing people for me I would be LIVID. ”

        One of the worst aspects of this is, if Coworker comes back and is understandably angry or sad, it could be held against her in an ableist way. “How dare you share my medical information?” easily becomes, “Watch out, Coworker is unstable/paranoid/irrational.” That’s a horrible, horrible position to be in.

  28. E.R

    As someone who has had to miss work due to mental health issues (mostly severe anxiety), I would be mortified if this got around to my boss and erg, people “inside and outside the organization”. OP, your boss did something terrible here, and I’m honestly curious to know why she did it. My personal worry is that my boss would think i was unfit to do my job (which involved a lot of high-level, stressful work) if he knew I suffered from these problems, and thus if I confided in a colleague, and they told my boss, I would feel that they betrayed my trust and jeapordized my job.

  29. LCL

    I could have been the OP, in my late teens.
    When people are school age, the details of illnesses and disabilities are considered public knowledge. Just another fact about a person, like they have brown eyes or freckles. The transition to this aspect of the adult world, where health matters are kept confidential, is hard for some people. It was hard for me. I still stumble on this sometimes, my boss recently had to tell me to say an employee is on leave, not sick leave.

    The OP didn’t do the right thing, but she thought she was when she did it. OP, you are working for a non-profit. From what I have read, the non-profit world is notorious for a lack of boundaries between the work and the personal. This bleeds through your letter, it isn’t just you. I suggest you talk to someone you trust who has been in the work world for a long time about work space vs personal space. If someone would have explained this to me earlier I would have made fewer missteps.

    1. fposte

      I think you’re talking about some important things here. There are a lot of layers in workplace relationship sometimes, and that can confuse things, especially if you’re not used to them. I’m lucky in that the mistakes I made weren’t as personal as this.

      I don’t even know how you’d teach this. Do you have any ideas? It’s too abstract and overall to be part of specific job training. I’m thinking intently because we’re very informal and friendly with one another in my workplace and I’d like to consider how we can make professional standards as clear as possible even within that context.

      1. ella

        I think it’d have to start earlier than the start of working. I’ve seen a couple people say, “In school, the details of illness or disability are considered public knowledge,” and I see no reason why that should be true. Maybe it is, but it shouldn’t be. Fifteen years old is definitely old enough to start thinking with some discretion about appropriate topics of conversation that involve non-present third parties.

        I never stayed in a dorm in college, though, so a lot of this “Oh, of course everyone knows everything about everyone” culture is really foreign to me.

        1. TL

          Yeah, in a dorm you can’t really hide anything.
          Depressed? Your roommate will notice you sleeping all day.
          Violent stomach flu? You share a bathroom.
          Have an unexplained appointment every Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.? People will start to notice, especially when they want to plan meetings and stuff.
          A big part of that, though, is learning to keep your mouth shut when you know waaayyy too much about the people you live with.

          1. Lily in NYC

            My lame freshman roommate called my parents (stole the number from my address book) to tell them I had an eating disorder. Which I didn’t! Her reasoning was that I was skinny and didn’t want to eat pizza while studying late at night (I don’t snack after dinner). My parents freaked out and decided to “surprise” me with a visit. They were so annoyed with her when they realized I was completely fine. She also told them I slept at my boyfriend’s too often. I almost punched her for that one.

            1. Zillah

              Wait a minute, someone who shared a room with someone else was complaining that they had the room to themselves????

              1. Lily in NYC

                I know, right? She hated to be alone and I guess she envisioned us hanging out in our jammies eating pizza and nutella every night. She mellowed out a lot by senior year. Fun fact: she is married to an actual real-life Count now.

              2. Ruffingit

                Seriously, yeah! My freshman year college roommate stayed with her girlfriend all the time and I was totally thrilled to have the room to myself. I basically got a single room for the price of a double. Works for me.

        2. amaranth16

          I find the idea that when you’re in school it’s acceptable to share this type of information absolutely baffling. I grew up in a very gossipy town and went to a pretty gossipy school, but the gossip was about who’s hooking up with whom. When people had private health issues – mental health challenges, substance abuse, sexual assault – people were thoughtful enough to be discreet. Past the age of about 15 or 16 I think that level of respect should be second nature. I can’t conceive of well-meaning adults of any age not adhering to those boundaries. I’m sure it happens but it is totally alien to my experience. (I can imagine malicious people violating them, but certainly the OP was not malicious – though the boss seems to be!).

          1. TL

            I think if you’re in a really close-knit community where people are involved a lot in each other’s life, than the gossip is high but the concern is high, so people’ll keep secrets if they need to.

            The problems start when you get into a gossip-y community where people don’t feel connected to each other; they stop considering how spreading stories affects other people.

        3. Laura

          I worked in the disability services testing office at college, when I was a college student, and disabilities were definitely considered confidential. Sometimes teachers or students would ask why a particular student was doing a test in disability services, or why they got certain accommodations, and we were taught to say that that was confidential information and they’d have to ask the student themselves.

        4. Emily K

          College is a different place. I’m in my late 20s but have 2 friends in their mid-20s who aren’t that far out of college. They were best friends who fought all the time in college, and have recently been struggling with their friendship. I was telling one of them the other day that there are a lot of close friendships you have in college with people that in other circumstances you would drift away from. Because hanging out is so group-oriented instead of 1-on-1 oriented, and because everyone is generally in the same work area (school), play areas (college events/facilities), and living areas (dorms, rental neighborhoods near campus), you’re in constant and close proximity to everyone in your circle of friends. Once you graduate, you live in different places, you have different jobs, you begin to develop different adult tastes in entertainment, and you make friends from your job or neighborhood or other activities that your other friends don’t know…it’s like night and day. You stay close to someone only if you want to and you put effort into it, not just by default because they’re so ingrained in your life.

  30. Ann Furthermore

    OP, I’m not going to pile on you here. There’s been quite a bit of talk already in this thread about how you tried to do the right thing, and this was not the right thing to do at all. So you don’t need me to tell you that again.

    I do think though, from your letter, that what happened here is that you had good intentions that went horribly awry. Even though you did not intend it, your co-worker is now in a position where many people know something about her that she wanted to keep private.

    I did something similar once — not related to a mental health issue, just a work/interpersonal issue. A friend shared something with me, and then I repeated it to her boss. I didn’t do this with the intent of gossiping behind my friend’s back, or with any bad intentions. Her relationship with her boss was strained, and I thought if her boss knew what she had told me, then she [the boss] would look at things from a different perspective and cut my friend some slack.

    Not my business at all to stick my nose in where it didn’t belong. Not even close, but I did it. Then it got back to my friend, who asked me why I did that, and why I violated her trust that way. I told her why I’d done it, and she told me to butt the hell out.

    I apologized profusely, and told her she was absolutely right. Fortunately, she forgave me, we moved past it, and we are still very close friends. But she was very, very ticked off at me — and rightfully so.

    All you can do is the same thing: apologize profusely, tell your friend that your intentions were good but you were still in the wrong, and tell her you hope that she’ll eventually be able to forgive you. And that’s it. Maybe she’ll get past it, and maybe she won’t.

    And in the future, think very carefully about what you share with others.

    1. Canadamber

      +1,000,000!!! Being in situations like this before, I’m not going to go “oh OP you did wrong and how can we not pile on?” (because I’ve already seen a few instances of this in this thread)

      I’m getting the sense that the OP is in her 20’s, maybe early or late, I don’t know. It’s not always easy to tell what’s right to do and what’s super obvious to some people is NOT always obvious to others (like myself…). I had to do a lot of learning.

    2. TKL

      See but I think the difference is you admitted you were wrong and learned from it in that way. I agree that at this point people are just repeating things that have already been said and piling on a bit much to the OP, but I know my biggest problem with this letter was that she didn’t think she was wrong and isn’t accepting responsibility. I can see the lack of judgement that led this to happen, but her insistence that she’s being “punished for doing the right thing” takes away any of the benefit of the doubt I’d have otherwise given, personally.

      1. Ann Furthermore

        Yes, I noticed that as well. But hopefully she’ll learn something from reading the comments that while it’s true that her boss was horribly wrong for telling so many people about what was going on with the OP’s co-worker, that the OP is ultimately responsible for what happened. If she can truly understand that, then there’s a chance she’ll be able to smooth things over (at least a little) with her co-worker.

        1. TKL

          Yes I absolutely agree. Hopefully she can learn from the things people are saying and will be able to apply that introspection to other mistakes in the future, as we will all invariable make them at some point or another.

      2. Ruffingit

        her insistence that she’s being “punished for doing the right thing” takes away any of the benefit of the doubt I’d have otherwise given, personally.

        Agreed, that is the part that makes me less sympathetic to the OP as well.

    3. Occasional Alaskan

      I would also like to add, my most serious relationship as a young adult was with a woman who struggled with mental illness. I didn’t realize until much later in life that a lot of things I thought were supportive to her were actually, frankly, not supportive at all. I don’t know how close you were to this coworker previously, but if you do manage to salvage the relationship at some later stage (which I hope you are able to, since it sounds like your coworker could use a friend at his point), then I’d encourage you to ask how you can be a supportive person (again, if you ever do manage to get back to being friends, and that could be weeks, months, or never). In the meantime, a heartfelt no-strings-attached apology would be a good start.

  31. Annie O

    My advice for the OP:

    (1) Read Alison’s advice, and all the comments here. Please let it soak in that you did not do the right thing. You did the wrong thing, and it was unprofessional, unkind, and inexcusable. I get the sense that you feel horrible about the consequences of what happened, without taking any real responsibility for your actions.

    (2) Apologize to your friend for what you did. Don’t shift any of the blame.

    (3) Work on reputation damage control. You may not realize it now, but anyone who has heard about your role in this drama is likely to have a lowered opinion of you. You now need to prove your integrity. Play it safe, show results, and be extra trust-worthy.

    1. Ann Furthermore

      Excellent advice. I think the OP had good intentions, but that does not mean that the choice she made to share this information is free from consequences.

    2. Sadsack

      I think it is important for OP to be sure to apologize only for what she did and not turn it into a non-apology, such as,”I am so sorry that our manager ran with this information.”

      1. Ann Furthermore

        I was going to come back and make a similar comment. When the OP apologizes, it shouldn’t be along the lines of, “If I knew Boss was going to tell everyone, I never would have said anything.” Rather, it should be, “I was wrong to tell Boss about this, and it was not my place to say anything. I understand now why it was so out of line. I’m so sorry for what I’ve done, and also sorry that you’ve been caught in the crossfire of me learning a very valuable lesson.”

  32. Except in California

    Wasn’t there a relatively recent post where the OP was encouraged to report the information to her supervisor? I can’t remember the details, though.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I thought about that one when I was writing this! In that case, the OP’s coworker had told her that she didn’t plan to come back after an extended vacation but wasn’t telling the company, and the OP wanted to know if she should mention it to her boss. I said she should. I think that’s different than the situation here though.

      1. Except in California

        Yes, that one too, but I was remember (very vaguely!) a case where the other employee had a conviction or some legal trouble, which would be more equivalent. I could be imagining this, though.

        1. fposte

          Maybe the OP who found out that her co-worker was a registered sex offender and thought her workplace probably didn’t know that? (Subsequent events suggest that she was right.)

        2. Sophia

          I think there was one about a sex offender status. But IIRC that position dealt with kids?

  33. Geegee

    I understand that we don’t want to do any piling on but imho, AAM’s response was way too easy on her. I’m confused as to why the OP thought this was important for the boss to know. The volunteer who shared this information is outrageous. The boss is outrageous for sharing it to everyone else. And the OP is outrageous or maybe just naïve for sharing with the boss and then not understanding why this person no longer trusts you. How could you not know that this would be considered personal and sensitive information? Especially when you call yourself this person’s friend? You just don’t do things like that. SMH.

  34. Noelle

    Perhaps I’m focusing on this too much, but I think it’s odd that the OP didn’t tell her boss primarily because she felt she needed to be told, but because “we’re good friends and we share things.” Putting aside the issues of being close friends with your boss, it makes me wonder whether the boss acts like peoples’ friends in order to get information/gossip about her employees. It doesn’t make it right if employees gossip to the boss, but it seems very dysfunctional.

    1. Jen RO

      Why is it so hard to believe that the OP is friends with the boss and they share things? I befriended a peer, then she got promoted; we stayed close, and I knew a lot of confidential things. It is not “right”, but it’s not the end of the world either, because that person trusts me to keep those things between us.

      1. Noelle

        It’s not hard to believe, it just brings more complications. Especially if your boss is using information you told her (I assume in confidence) or spreading it around, such as this case. I also think that while it’s great to have a good relationship with your boss, being friends the same way you can with an equal is difficult, if not impossible.

    2. Robin

      I think it’s interesting that OP refers to Boss and Co-worker as her friends, and seems to value her friendships with them over her professional relationships. I haven’t seen a lot of people get into that particular angle, but I think the OP might want to take a step back and look at how she’s relating to her colleagues in general. Is she thinking of them as colleagues or as friends? Are her actions intended to do the right professional thing, or to win their friendship?

  35. Canadamber

    Awww :( I didn’t have very much discretion when I was younger, either, so I landed myself in quite a LOT of situations like this. Just. Oooh. Ouch ouch ouch. I told the slowest girl in our class that we all let her win at a track race, told my best friend’s mom that my mom hated her daughter when actually she didn’t… >_<;

    I was usually joking in these times, but I never quite understood why it wasn't okay to do so. Nowadays, I'm much more careful, but I still slip up. So I TOTALLY understand where the OP is coming from and I wish you the best of luck! You must feel awful, and believe me when I say that I KNOW how it feels – and I also can't judge, having done similar things before. Just… here's to being more careful in the future, yeah? :) *toast*

    1. Canadamber

      The most important thing to do now is to be guarded and careful and just really watch what you say. Seriously. If you’re not sure, don’t say it. It’s a learning curve and believe me, it ain’t easy, but it’s something that you gotta do. You screwed up, so now figure out a way not to do it again. I’m much better now than I was, so it worked for me. :)

    2. hildi

      I can empathize with what you’re saying. I was (am) the same way. I have matured a lot in the last few years (only because I really screwed up and learned from them), but I have always been more prone to sharing information that isn’t mine to share. I think the root of it was born out of this notion I had that I had to be an “authentic person” and that if I had an opinion on something it was ok to share it. Like if I didn’t share it I wasn’t being true to myself. My god, that sounds so shamefully stupid to type it out. But that’s really how I have felt and why I ran my mouth off on far too many things re: my opinion (about other people’s issues and their choices).

      Sadly, I think the only way to stop it for most people who tend to behave this way is to screw up and learn from our mistakes. It’s an expensive and painful lesson, though.

      1. Canadamber

        Yeah. It sucks, doesn’t it? You lose friends and stuff in the process, and then you later think, “How could I have been so stupid? I should have known this.” :(

  36. Andrew

    Skipping that the OP told her boss without permission, which was not a good idea, what on earth was the boss thinking by spreading it around the office?! The boss should know better than that.

  37. Can't Think of a Good Name

    Based on what we’ve heard of the boss, I can imagine OP thinking that it was relevant to report not because she thought the boss needed to know but because she thought the boss would want to know. And OP, I can’t imagine you shared this information with the boss without knowing that your friend would prefer that it be kept confidential. While the reasoning behind why you made the wrong call has been beaten to death, even if (for whatever reason) it had been the right call, you prioritized work over your friendship. You put your role as her co-worker over your role as her friend, so she is now responding in kind. She does not owe you her friendship and confidence, and you cannot force her to be your friend. She’s not punishing you–she’s treating your relationship the same way you did.

    Take responsibility for your indiscretion, respect the boundaries she has set, and learn from this hard-learned lesson.

    1. Office Mercenary

      “I can imagine OP thinking that it was relevant to report not because she thought the boss needed to know but because she thought the boss would want to know. ”

      You bring up a good point: sometimes in work places, people do things not because they’re right, but because they want to please their boss. It can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between what is professional and what is expected from a supervisor.

      1. fposte

        Oh, that’s a good point. And you know, there are times when you do need to choose your supervisor over your co-worker–but then you have to accept that you’ve lost the co-worker as a friend and ally.

    2. Anonicorn

      This does raise a good point. It’s possible that OP and maybe even her coworker shared similar things with their boss before, and the boss encourages it.

  38. Rebecca

    I read the article and comments, and thought about this before posting.

    I found out the hard way my manager is a busy body. There’s nothing I can do, past never telling her anything personal, and not telling anyone else, because she will go around behind our backs quizzing people about “what’s wrong with Mary, she seems down today”. I needed time off for a personal reason, and I found out she discussed this reason with a coworker under the pretense of being concerned.

    Now, I don’t know anything about anything or anyone, ever.

    In this case, the OP needs to come to grips with the fact she’s lost this friend, and that people simply won’t trust her for a very long time.

  39. NutellaNutterson

    OP, when you’re up for it, I recommend reading about boundaries and personal relationships. As AAM suggested, a bit of a mind-shift might help you see how your coworker is feeling.

    The crux of it is that coworker limiting contact is not about punishing you, but about keeping herself safe. Establishing a boundary around what is and isn’t discussed with coworkers is about making sure her workplace is somewhere she doesn’t feel threatened.

    1. Arbynka

      “The crux of it is that coworker limiting contact is not about punishing you, but about keeping herself safe.”

      This.

    2. Natalie

      Underscored.

      OP, I think this can be a difficult thing to learn because it feels personal, but it really isn’t. Your coworker is trying to protect her own well being and keep her working relationship cordial after what probably feels like a huge violation. This is a place where you really need to shift your thinking.

      1. Ruffingit

        Agreed. Once you stab someone in the back, they will not then share their knife with you at lunch.

  40. NK

    I won’t add to the lessons learned here that everyone has mentioned above, but I’ll just add that one of the big lessons here is that you really can’t trust anyone to not repeat something that is even remotely “juicy” (sorry to lump in mental illness with that, believe me, I’ve had family experience, but that is unfortunately how many people see it).

    I had an experience where I had to tell a former boss something about myself that I asked him to keep confidential from my current boss (who happened to be his friend) for very good reasons that I clearly explained and he agreed with. Well, my former boss blabbed to my current boss, who blabbed to a coworker, who blabbed to me. And of course, all of these people swore they wouldn’t repeat it. But they did. And they all trusted someone else to keep it quiet, which is kind of absurd given that they were doing the opposite!

    I hate to sound all “trust NO ONE”, because I hate to live life like that, but for stuff that falls in the gossip realm, you have to consider the consequences of many people finding out, because it happens so often – despite how nice and seemingly well-meaning people are.

    1. fposte

      “And they all trusted someone else to keep it quiet, which is kind of absurd given that they were doing the opposite!”

      Yes, Kerry talks about that in her post way up at the top–you can’t expect other people to be *more* discreet than you were and blame them when they turn out to be just like you.

      1. Aunt Vixen

        ISAAC: Dana, things that I say in my office stay in my office!
        DANA: Natalie’s my second in command – she’s the only one I told!
        NATALIE: Jeremy’s my boyfriend – he’s the only one I told!
        [beat]
        JEREMY: I told many, many people.

        This parable has been brought to you by Sports Night, season 1, episode 12, “Smoky”.

  41. BadPlanning

    For those that can’t understand why you would share this information, I posit this:

    CoworkerA says, “I’m out sick.”

    PersonB, who you know to be in regular contact with CoworkerA and have no reason to believe would lie or exaggerate tells you, “CoworkerA actually has pneumonia and is basically housebound.”

    You might think, “Oh geez, that’s worse than just being sick. I know Boss expects people to check in even when their sick, I should let Boss know coworkerA is seriously ill and can’t really check in” because you care about CoworkerA and don’t want her name cursed when she doesn’t answer every email.

    Certainly we might disagree with the decision — that CoworkerA should disclose how sick/unavailable she is in this scenario, but I think it’s not that hard to understand good intentions (which can pave the way to bad places, yes).

    1. Office Mercenary

      Yeah, my reading of it was, “Wow, Coworker is out sick but was actually hospitalized, so she might be out for multiple days.” I can see how the length of the absence would be relevant information for the boss, and thus why it would be tempting to share it, but it’s Coworker’s prerogative to tell the boss that particular bit of news and no one else’s.

    2. LBK

      Unless coworker A is seriously incapacitated (like, in a coma) I don’t know that this would be appropriate. Coworker A would’ve had to completely misrepresent their situation for it to make sense – aka they said “I’m not feeling well but I’ll be working normally from home” and they aren’t actually capable of doing that. Why is it anyone else’s business to decide how capable their coworker is of doing work while sick/out of the office? It’s completely between the coworker and their boss.

      1. fposte

        Yes, or if the co-worker hadn’t reported in at all and people were worrying–then you can say “I think Volunteer might have more information” and sic them on Volunteer.

        But I also think this isn’t a situation where the motivation is simply A or B–there’s a lot going on here in this kind of relationship and workplace intimacy, and it’s possible that there’s both good intention and the desire to share for sharing’s sake going on. It can be really hard to learn to disentangle those. For me, my feeling of urgency is a tell–that generally means I’m excited about sharing something, and it’s a good indication that I need to rein it back and think it over.

        1. Office Mercenary

          I don’t think anyone should be asking Volunteer for more information, since Volunteer is apparently under the impression that it’s ok to gossip about this. If someone doesn’t show at work, you try to contact them directly, or call their emergency contact person. If for some reason Coworker had told Volunteer about this and then said, “Can you please pass that on to Boss?” Volunteer should have relayed the message and left it at that. Instead, Volunteer told at least one person who isn’t the boss, and there’s really no reason to be telling coworkers.

          1. fposte

            Yeah, I see what you’re saying. My meaning is that the OP can’t just pass on what Volunteer said on its own as if she knew it herself, so if Volunteer doesn’t and the co-worker hasn’t shown up, OP tips it to Volunteer and hopefully Boss follows up by saying to both of them that this is confidential and shouldn’t go any further.

    3. lavendertea

      Yeah, especially coming from someone who’s apparently young and so probably newish to the working world, I can understand the line of reasoning that brought the OP to her decision–she thought she was helping by providing information. But it was undeniably the wrong thing to do. What she needs to understand is that if her boss needed or wanted more information, it’s up to him/her to speak with OP’s coworker directly, because this is a) none of her business, b) involves very sensitive information, and c) is something she only even heard about secondhand.

    4. some1

      & some people are just tragedy junkies. They get a weird thrill about sharing bad news with the people around them. I’m thinking of the letter where the LW’s mom’s boss was telling everyone that the mom was dying when she wasn’t.

      1. Lily in NYC

        I think this is one of the most astute comments here and feel that much of OPs motivation (not necessarily consciously knowing it) has to do with this.

        1. some1

          Years ago I dated a guy like this and it was exhausting. Every tragedy that happened in the life of his family and friends got spread around by him as soon as he found out to everyone in his circle.

          1. Lily in NYC

            some1, may I ask if you are male or female? I always “picture” you as male but now I’m not sure! But it’s ok not to tell me.

      2. Celeste

        Yes, I agree.

        It’s a way of calling attention to yourself if only for a short while–you’ve got the hot news that will shake people, and feel important through your “caring” about these problems. It’s the opposite of empathy, where you would put yourself in their shoes, feel their pain, and try to figure out what might help them.

    5. amaranth16

      I think you’re making a fair point about the OP’s intentions, but if that’s the case, the OP still had a real blind spot with regard to the fact that mental health issues, even temporary ones, face considerably greater stigma than temporary physical health issues. People don’t worry that someone who once had pneumonia is unstable or incompetent. This could be damaging to the sick coworker’s reputation in a way that pneumonia couldn’t.

    6. AnonHR

      I was trying to find a way to express this earlier. I think the boss is the only one with a real gossip problem here. But, ultimately it was the wrong choice and it had consequences, and I think that the OP owes her friend an apology, and then owes it to her to leave her alone and accept the fact that she has decided to end/suspend their personal relationship, but maintain a completely professional one. As long as this doesn’t impact work, leave your boss and coworkers/volunteers out of it, put your head down, do your work, and consider this a painful lesson learned.

  42. Tinker

    Uhm. Wow. Such wow. Very… wow.

    Something I’d add explicitly — once you make the apology, if you decide to, I’d be inclined to give the person their space henceforth. None of this inviting them out or asking them about their personal life and stuff — I mean, there’s an obvious reason why answering is a thing that’s not going to happen, and trotting forward anyway could well be another bucket of awkward for a person who is already adequately stocked with awkward due to your previous actions. It’s not as if they don’t know where to find you, if they’re okay with resuming some sort of relationship.

    If they want to reach out from their side, make an invitation or an overture or whatever, then it’s fine to go forward from there — but I think in this case it doesn’t do to additionally put the person in the situation of having to explain to you that you’re not a person they’re inclined to drink coffee or talk about their personal life with anymore.

    1. fposte

      It also kind of undermines the apology, I think–it’s like there’s a subtextual “So we’re good now?” if you just go back to normal. It’s up to the wronged friend to decide if they’re good.

      I think it’s okay to say “I miss you, and if you ever decide to socialize with me again, I would be really happy about that.” But you can’t assume it’s going to happen.

      1. TL

        Yup. I just got a big apology yesterday and the phrase that helped was “I understand if you don’t want to but I really enjoy working with you and want to get back to the way we were.” It was said in a very non-pressure-y way.

      2. NutellaNutterson

        Yes, this! And perhaps related for the OP if she’s still feeling as if she wants the coworker to come around to her way of thinking – I recently heard a truism that I love: “You can’t apologize and make a point at the same time.”

  43. Brett

    If I were the OP, my trust in the boss would be absolutely shattered.

    There would be no way I would ever tell the boss anything again that needed any discretion.

  44. TL

    OP, I can’t imagine your friend is ever really going to trust you again. And a reputation as – a gossip, but where I grew up we said chema or chismoso – is going to be hard for you and the boss to shake, with her and probably a few other people at the office.

    Going forward, I think you need to apologize, like others have said, but also work on being circumspect and making an effort not to ever look like you’re prying or spreading gossip.

  45. Gilby

    I was in a situation where I needed to leave my desk to help a co-worker who was crying at her desk. I went and told my boss I needed to help out “Flo”. (Crappy work environment , got in trouble for talking and leaving desks).

    I told her why and as she already knew what the general situation was she said to absolutely go as she knew we were tight. Another co-worker was the one that approach me first to let me know, knowing that Flo and I were good friends.

    I then had to talk to Flo’s boss get Flo to go into the office to talk and then I left.

    But the thing here was, I already knew, I had “permission” from Flo, to discuss this stuff with bosses. I knew I could go to her boss, close the door and say… hey… you know about Flo, this is what is going on now. I did not talk about stuff anymore than what was necessary. I would just say, Flo needs to get away from her desk, can I bring her here. I did not even say what the problem was. I was simply a safe go-between as needed.

    Flo would actually ask me (from home/texting) to relay info when the initial situation was at its worse. But still, I kept it to basic info.

    Bottom line, I was given permission to talk. And I was given the trust to know what, how, when and to whom to talk too.

    When people found out more about what happened, I was approached and I basically confirmed the obvious ( couldn’t hide that one as there was an Obituary) but pleaded the 5th on details.

    Most people were honestly concerened but still not for me to delve anymore than necessary.

  46. Anon for this one, sorry

    Wow, this just reminds me a little of a situation I had to deal with once. I was having a heated discussion with a coworker where I was upset about something happening with the new system we were implementing. I was not upset with him, but I am sure I raised my voice. It’s worth noting that it was early in the morning where hardly anyone was around.

    I later found out from that same coworker that another coworker of ours reported me because in her eyes I needed to “calm down”. It didn’t affect her at all and the coworker I was expressing my frustration with wasn’t even upset about our discussion as he understood (and we were friends). He mentioned that my boss’ boss asked him about the “incident” and he told her it was no big deal. Despite that, I was later dinged on my review for the incident even though no one (not my boss or my boss’ boss) ever mentioned it to me. I was just extremely frustrated and for once in a long time I showed it. God forbid.

    So I can sympathize with the OP’s friend here because a mental health issue is even less about work than my situation was. I really didn’t appreciate my coworker feeling the need to get involved. Personally, I think it was just a way for her to try and get me in trouble since I was the department “star” (not my designation, but the director’s).

    The OP should definitely apologize but not necessarily expect her friend to feel comfortable with her on a personal level again. Once someone burns you like that it’s very hard to trust they won’t do it again. I do wish her luck, though. Maybe her friend is more forgiving than I am. :)

  47. ella

    Alison–I think your last sentence is missing a word? (Only mentioning it because you seem to like to fix things like that. The sentence is perfectly understandable.)

  48. Del

    There’s a bit of reading I suggest in cases like this, OP. It’s called “How to Fuck Up” and can be found here.

    You screwed up big time. Period. That’s what happened here. You owe your coworker a massive, profound, heartfelt apology, and the best amends you can make.

  49. BCW

    First off, I haven’t read all 195 comments so far, so sorry if I’m repeating. But my main question to the group is at what point do you think your boss NEEDS to know personal information about someone that isn’t really related to work. I’m inclined to say never, but maybe others can offer a logical reason where there are some circumstances. So, if you witnessed her having a mental breakdown at her desk, sure I get it. Maybe if you witness some kind of interaction between co-worker and a dangerous person on company property also. Otherwise, if its not happening AT work, I can’t ever see how its ok or even how people can think it is. I mean, even if I see someone doing copious amounts of illegal things on the weekend, if they are performing their job, I don’t see that as something that needs to be brought to management.

    1. Anonicorn

      Hmm, maybe I’d disclose something if it were both illegal and likely to impact workplace safety. Though, I can’t think of a scenario where I wouldn’t call the cops first.

    2. ExceptionToTheRule

      The only other time I can think of is what Gilby was talking about above: when you’ve been given permission to do so.

  50. Kit M.

    I was feeling all judgey of OP, and then I realized I had a very similar situation, albeit not in the workplace. There was a time that I didn’t apologize properly to someone I had wronged, because the only reason I was having to apologize was because someone I trusted had told people they shouldn’t. So I was really focused on how I’d been betrayed — and I had been — but it made me lose sight of the fact that I wasn’t the main person suffering. I owed the wronged person a humble, heartfelt, no-pressure apology, which I never gave them because I was too wrapped up in the fact that there wouldn’t have been a problem in the first place if other people hadn’t sucked so much. Not apologizing with complete humility to the person I wronged is actually one of my great regrets.

    My recommendations would be to apologize to your coworker with no rationalization. I mean, you can say why you thought it was a good idea at the time to do what you did, but you CAN’T imply it only turned out badly because of the actions of others, that it would have been okay if only others had behaved differently. You just admit that you were wrong, and then you back off with the understanding that your coworker owes you nothing.

    1. hildi

      “So I was really focused on how I’d been betrayed — and I had been — but it made me lose sight of the fact that I wasn’t the main person suffering. ”

      I hope your entire comment doesn’t get overlooked because it’s so spot-on.

      1. QualityControlFreak

        I think comments like these may be the most helpful. It takes courage to describe and own these experiences and share the awareness learned through them. You (and others commenting similarly) are in effect walking the OP through the process, encouraging them to apply what remedies are available, and giving them some insight as to what is reasonable to expect. Thank you.

  51. Just a Reader

    Poor friend. So on top of what is presumably a mental health crisis, she confided in one friend who broke her trust by telling the OP, who used the information for some kind of “gain” with the boss, who spread it all over creation, damaging the friend’s reputation at this organization and probably outside of it as well. All for a health issue she wanted to keep private.

    I agree with posters who have said that a heartfelt apology is in order. And then let her be. I wouldn’t be surprised if she starts job hunting after this.

    OP, I think (hope) this is a really hard lesson in your own culpability when spreading coworkers’ information. No good can come of it, and words have a lot of power. Idle gossip for one person is another person’s sensitive information.

      1. fposte

        I wonder if the OP felt that the friend should have confided in her and that that played a role here too?

      2. Judy

        I think that Just A Reader was saying that co-worker confided in volunteer friend, who confided in OP.

  52. Lily in NYC

    OP, Here’s some adviced from a reformed gossip (me): First, it’s time for some soul searching, and you really need to be honest with yourself. Think about your real motive for telling your boss – did you really think it was the right thing to do or did you just want to tell her something juicy? I used to gossip for a few reasons: my relatives are a bunch of gossips so it just seemed natural to me until I realized how damaging it is. I’m also just really interested in what makes people do what they do and like to analyze motives, etc.

    I had my epiphany after a coworker overheard me making a somewhat unkind joke about her to our boss, who didn’t like her. She was so gracious about it and I felt like a worm. A rude, nasty worm. I realized that I liked this coworker and sat and thought about what motivated me to be so rude. The reason: to make my boss laugh. That is a messed up reason to hurt someone’s feelings. After that, I completely changed my ways. I now only “gossip” to say nice things about my coworkers – like “oh, this new guy is so great, he is friendly and responsive and does good work”. It’s been liberating.
    You can do it! It’s a cliche, but helpful: before you say something mean or that should be kept private think: is it necessary, is it kind? If not, keep your mouth shut.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’m also just really interested in what makes people do what they do and like to analyze motives, etc.

      I think this has tripped me up too, in a way that I could do well to think more about.

      1. Editor

        Yes, I also like to analyze why people do things, mostly because I don’t understand other people very well on my own. One thing that helped me damp down my tendency to intrusive questions was reading Ann Landers for years and seeing MYOB so often.

        Advice columns helped me talk to my kids about a lot of issues, because I could have them read the letter and answer and then we could discuss it.

        Someone above mentioned teaching teens about workplace norms, privacy, and so on. It’s too bad that some high school classes couldn’t use double-purpose assignments. For instance, a reading comprehension piece could discuss privacy and HIPAA. Or a writing prompt could give the letter that Alison published above, and ask students to propose some advice, then compare and contrast the advice they gave with Alison’s advice and some of the best comments. Health classes could discuss privacy, too, and business law classes could cover many of the topics raised here.

      2. Lily in NYC

        I had another thought about what causes people who aren’t malicious to gossip. I’m not a very private person; my life is pretty much an open book. It took me a long time to realize that not everyone is like that and that some people might not want me to even mention good things to other people. It was just such a foreign concept to me because I would never care if someone told someone else I was pregnant or got a new job or promotion.

    2. Just a Reader

      What a thoughtful post.

      I use the “nice gossip” as a way to shut down gossip. We have a few new folks who have come from nasty environments, and they didn’t read the culture here before they started bashing people. I learned to tell when they were gearing up to say something rude and when they started with, “Do you know Sarah?” I would automatically go, “Yes, isn’t she great? She’s your go-to person for X, Y and Z and she’s a wealth of info” or whatever.

      It doesn’t always work…someone called a colleague an “arrogant f*ck” to me the other day and I couldn’t come up with a response…

      1. Office Mercenary

        I’m trying to implement tactics from the series, “The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense,” and one of the author’s suggestions is to say bland, general statements until you feel calm enough to either change the subject or deal with the conflict head on. It risks making you sound like a robot and making them even angrier, but it can also make it seem like you’re sympathetic to them if you do it right. Eg, Jane complains to you about the nasally sound of Wakeen’s voice, and you say something bland about, “Isn’t it funny how some people are sensitive to certain sounds?” and move on. I’m still working on doing this instead of an eye roll.

    3. Office Mercenary

      I think another reason why people gossip is because information is currency: if you know everything that happens in your office, you know everything first and people will come to you with questions. It’s a kind of status thing.

      And, of course, some people just like procrastinating and having an excuse to avoid doing work.

      1. Lily in NYC

        Yes, this too. But it can also be used in this manner for self-preservation instead of status and I actually think that’s ok. I do feel work related gossip is not remotely as bad (I’ve read some articles that say it can actually be helpful to some extent) as personal gossip about coworkers. I guess it matters how we define the term ‘gossip’ (how Bill Clinton of me!).

    4. A Bug!

      I like this post. We can’t trust our brains to always act ethically. If we’re not mindful, our brains will offer whatever rationalization necessary to satisfy our base urges.

    5. hildi

      “It’s a cliche, but helpful: before you say something mean or that should be kept private think: is it necessary, is it kind? ”

      I’ve seen that one as:
      T – is it truthful?
      H – helpful?
      I – inspiring? (admittedly I don’t get that one as much)
      N – necessary?
      K – kind?

      One other ‘mantra’ that has helped me has been to ask myself, “What’s my purpose in telling this?” I have shut myself down from spreading useless gossip on someone at work by asking myself that.

      1. Lily in NYC

        LOL, I’d never speak at all if I had to be inspiring! But the other ones are great.

      2. Jordan K

        I use the Three Barriers. The Three Barriers come in the form of questions: is what you want to say/write true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

        Only when your words can pass these barriers is the sentiment worthy of being expressed.

        That doesn’t mean you can’t be stern, or that you can’t express to a person that you’re angry at him or her. You can do those things, and you can also express yourself in a way that passes the Three Barriers.

        1. ArtsNerd

          Oh boy, I can only hope to apply “necessary” to negative things coming out of my mouth. I can be quite the chattermouth – luckily, my friends understand that half the things I say are of little import!

    6. Elizabeth West

      You can do it! It’s a cliche, but helpful: before you say something mean or that should be kept private think: is it necessary, is it kind? If not, keep your mouth shut.

      This is truly excellent advice, and we all should remember it.

  53. Elizabeth West

    I agree with Alison, OP. I think you do owe her an apology (in private), and then you need to let it go. We all make mistakes; the most important thing is to learn from them so we don’t do the same thing again. She may not want to be work buddies with you anymore. If that is the case, if I were you, I’d accept that it’s just going to be a professional relationship and be pleasantly courteous from now on.

    To earn trust back, it does no good to tell the person. You have to SHOW that you can be trusted again.

  54. Mediation Professional

    Allison! No! I almost always agree with you – but, at least from what we know for the OP, this is a fantastic situation for mediation!! Mediation isn’t about standing – it’s not a legal process designed to determine who is right and who is wrong. As a professional nonprofit mediator for the past 10 years, this is a very common type of situation to encounter in mediation – and I would feel pretty hopeful that would be resolved.

    Mediation gives both people a chance to say how they feel, be heard by the other person, and talk through the issues with the help of a neutral and skilled listener. It’s never about deciding who’s right and who’s wrong – it’s about being heard and coming to some mutual understanding of how to move forward. Often, in the presence of a neutral, skilled third party, people are willing to share things that they wouldn’t otherwise. This is often the missing piece that helps people move ahead in a way that is less stressful and difficult for everyone.

    Interpersonal conflicts, broken trust, and hurt feelings are perfect topics for mediation. Just make sure you have a trained mediator – depending on where you live, you may be able to find a free community mediation center, which would allow you to keep this even more private and confidential – there are over 400 in the United States. See http://www.nafcm.org – the National Association for Community Mediation – for a tool that will help you find the community mediation center closest to you.

    Please suggest mediation, or at least call and talk with a mediator. This is a great strategy for moving ahead – and nationwide, more than 85% of mediated community disputes are resolved – there’s a good change you’ll be able to work things out.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’d love to hear other opinions on this, but I maintain that suggesting mediation here would be odd in this context. The coworker could suggest it if she wanted to because she’s the one who was wronged, but not the OP. The OP doesn’t really have the right to say “I want to have a work buddy again and therefore I’m going to push you into a situation where you have to discuss this situation with me.” The coworker is maintaining a professional relationship with the OP; the OP isn’t entitled to push for more. (No one is really entitled to push for more, in fact.)

      1. Mediation Professional

        So I know you asked for other opinions, but here’s me responding anyway:-)

        But could she say, “Hey – I’m really sorry about how I handled this, and I would love to sit down and talk things out with you. I value our relationship. Would you be willing to sit down with me and a neutral mediator to have a conversation about it?” OR, she could talk with a mediator, who would be willing to call the other person and invite them to mediation.

        Apologies have power. Being heard has power. Feeling like a co-worker values you enough to apologize and talk it out has power. These things can add up to a better workplace – and a less stressful life for everyone.

        Mediation is efficient (just an hour or two), generally free for these types of situations, and really likely to be successful. From talking with literally thousands of people over the years before and after mediation, I can tell you that people generally overestimate the risk and underestimate the benefits. Things are very rarely made worse by inviting a co-worker – and work friend – to sit and talk things out.

        1. Jamie

          The OP talking to a mediator and having the mediator contact the co-worker to discuss talking about their friendship? When this has zero to do with anything work related?

          I don’t know about anyone else but I’d be so completely creeped out by that I’d be heading to HR. Someone who misses having coffee with you calling a professional anything to discuss the relationship and putting that in my lap? I’d be less freaked out to see them sitting on my porch when I got home asking to talk.

          Even if the OP asked – you don’t see how completely inappropriate and boundary crossing this is? This is like dating someone once, not wanting to see them anymore, and having their therapist call you to schedule a joint session to talk things out.

          I really think this would be a cause for action a lot of places – because if they don’t offer mediation as a company it’s involving an outside party.

          1. Kerr

            What Jamie said. If someone had tried to push an official mediation discussion on me, because they had done something that hurt me, because they felt bad? Um, no. A million times, no.

            A sincere apology is what is called for here, and then allowing the coworker to make her own decisions on how this relationship moves forward.

        2. Katie the Fed

          Can I ask you a favor? Would you poke your head in the open thread on friday? I’ve actually been giving a lot of thought about a career in mediation and I want to talk to someone who knows about it :)

          1. Mediation Professional

            Sure – I’m also glad to share my work contact info with you if there’s an appropriate way to do so via this blog…but I’ll check in on Friday.

            1. ArtsNerd

              Are you on the LinkedIn group? That’s a great way to connect with people outside of the comments.

        3. Wren

          You have got to be kidding me. If I were a wronged party and someone came to me to “apologize” and basically said they were sorry but only able to elaborate on it with a mediator, I’d basically want to punch them in the face. If the mediator were the one to reach out, they would also be the target of my ire.

          Actually, forget if. When I was a school kid and mediation was in vogue, some teachers wanted to “mediate” after a taller girl repeatedly pushed me to the ground just because I was smaller and pushable. I flat out refused to engage. I wanted a straight, sincere apology, and was furious that the teachers weren’t going straight to asking her to apologize, never mind meting out consequenses.

      2. Jamie

        If it were affecting how they worked together maybe – if they couldn’t work it out informally.

        But I would be so wildly offended if mediation was suggested because a co-worker was upset we weren’t chatty anymore. The heck?

        I think mediation is fine for some things – I’ve seen it used very successfully in divorce/custody issues where everyone has the same end goal (best for the kids) but communication is broken down. I know it can be used in lieu of litigation to settle legal disputes which keeps things out of the courts – generally a good thing.

        But this bothers me from the comment above:

        Interpersonal conflicts, broken trust, and hurt feelings are perfect topics for mediation.

        Perhaps for family or other close personal relationships – but to apply that to a workplace is so incredibly intrusive.

        Also, this:

        It’s never about deciding who’s right and who’s wrong – it’s about being heard and coming to some mutual understanding of how to move forward. Often, in the presence of a neutral, skilled third party, people are willing to share things that they wouldn’t otherwise.

        Anything one needs to share in the context of the workplace they should do so – because it’s part of being an employee. Trying to get people to share anything they wouldn’t be willing to otherwise absolutely gets my Irish up – it’s still a workplace and no one should be coerced into sharing more of their feelings than they are willing.

        And many (the vast majority, ime) are very much about right and wrong. Work is structured around policies, procedures, and socially acceptable behavior. It’s not some gray area where all behavior is neutral and where how people feel about things matter more than the actions which were taken and the effect on the office – and how said actions conflict or comply with policy and standards.

        I’m sure you mean well, Mediation Professional, but I would personally not be able to work in a place where I was expected to have what is, in essence, a therapy session because I no longer like a co-worker as much as they like me.

        1. Mediation Professional

          Thanks for your response to my comment.

          Please understand that mediators aren’t trying to get people to share things that they don’t want to share – it’s just that it’s often easier for people to share in an environment where they won’t be interrupted and will really be heard. What people share is completely and totally up to them!

          I wouldn’t participate in something that resembled therapy either, if it were related to my work – I see where you’re coming from, and that would feel intrusive. However, it’s not what mediation is. Mediators are neutral – they aren’t pushing you towards certain things, or educating you about relationships like a therapist might.

          Also – is she suggesting mediation because they aren’t chatty anymore, or is it because the atmosphere feels tense and she feels terrible about what happened?

          I should have clarified this sooner – I do not think that she should involve her boss in a request for mediation if it can be avoided. An a workplace should avoid forcing mediation – when people feel coerced, the odds of resolving the situation are much lower. I agree that I wouldn’t want to feel forced by my boss.

          You’re right that people are often able to find common ground via mediation regardless of conflicts – like divorcing couples finding a way to focus on what’s best for their kids. Without knowing more from the OP and the other person, I don’t know what the common ground might be here – but just to generalize/guess, here are some potential areas of common ground I’ve seen play out in similar situations:
          1. Both people want to work in a place where they feel that their personal lives are respected
          2. Both are upset about how things played out, and want to make sure this doesn’t happen again
          3. Both people agree that some information should be kept private, and believe that an apology is due from one person (mediators do not make people apologize!!).
          4. Both people are stressed about this, and want to know what the other was thinking so they can move on

          I could go on…but there’s usually some common interest there. It does NOT have to be re-forming the friendship or finding forgiveness – it’s whatever they want it to be.

          Look – I’m not trying to talk either on into mediation. I am saying that I do not believe that it is wildly inappropriate, overly risky, intrusive, or inappropriate for the workplace. Since one person brought it up, I wanted to offer my perspective that there might be some use in exploring it.

          1. Del

            I think the point everyone is trying to make here is that it is not the OP’s place to try to push any further. She’s already been rebuffed in seeking contact outside of the workplace with her former friend. The message is being sent very clearly.

            Mediation isn’t an apology. In fact, everything you’re presenting here about “both sides being heard” &etc sounds like it is just going to be blame dodging. The coworker who is the only injured party between the two of them does not need to hear that the OP thought they were doing a good thing and does not need to hear all about how bad the OP feels.

            There is only one thing they need to hear from the OP, and that is “I am incredibly sorry for spreading information about your personal health issues.” Not an hour-long “but this is how I feel” session.

              1. Del

                Why are the OP’s feelings more important than those of the coworker they gossiped about?

                1. AnonAnalyst

                  Yes, this. Mediation Professional has given a lot of great reasons why mediation can be useful in other situations, but I think the bottom line here is that the coworker does not owe it to OP to listen to her feelings about this. The coworker seems to be sending a clear message that she’s not interested in hearing the OP’s perspective.

                  I know this has been said by others already, but if I were the coworker in this situation and someone tried to push mediation on me, I’d honestly be livid. It sounds like the coworker is communicating with the OP in a professional manner. The OP isn’t entitled to more, nor is she entitled to to be heard by the coworker about this. Unless the coworker refuses to speak to OP in the workplace and is preventing her from completing her work, I’m seeing minimal upside to mediation in this situation. Family situations are different in that there’s often more investment/complications and there can be real repercussions to letting them continue – I don’t see that here. Not to sound dismissive, but if the OP loses her work buddy it would be an unfortunate outcome in a tough situation, but not something that in my opinion requires outside intervention.

                2. Mediation Professional

                  So – neither’s feeling are more important – that’s not what I meant by “helpful to her” – perhaps it might be helpful in the sense that she might learn new information about what’s it’s like to have a mental illness, or how deeply the other person is hurt, etc. these are just guesses. Helpful to her as a human being – I didn’t mean just helping her feel better. Please forgive the confusing wording I used.

                3. fposte

                  @Mediation Professional–Yes, one person’s feelings *are* more important here. That’s the co-worker, not the OP, and she doesn’t want to talk to the OP.

              2. Elsajeni

                Maybe, but the OP has already crossed the other person’s boundaries in a big way, and done harm to them — they’re in no position to ask for favors, and “Please come to mediation with me so that I can benefit from hearing your side of things” sounds like a favor. (It also does not sound like an apology or an acknowledgement of wrongdoing, which are, in my opinion, the only things the OP’s coworker should be hearing from them about this issue.)

              3. Corporate Attorney

                This isn’t about what helps the OP.

                Even requesting mediation puts the co-worker in the position where she’s the unreasonable one if she says no, however. And there’s nothing unreasonable about deciding that you don’t want to “talk this out” with someone who did what the LW did.

                (I am, by the way, a former mediator.)

              4. Wren

                It’s not the coworker’s obligation to teach the OP about anything. Sure the OP could benefit from insight into mental illness, but to seek it from the coworker is intrusive. If the OP sincerely apologizes and the coworker is moved to talk about it that would be an entirely different thing. But the OP would have to go into the the apology seeking nothing in return. Bringing a mediator at the same time as apologizing sends all the wrong signals about the apology. This is seriously not the time for a mediator.

              5. Observer

                Probably. But, so what? She did something – something quite inappropriate – and she doesn’t like the consequences. Why does the injured party (and that’s exactly what the other employee is) have any responsibility to fix this? It’s not as if she is doing anything inappropriate.

                The LW also takes no responsibility for her behavior and does not recognize the right of the injured party to react in the way she has. That means that, BEST CASE, the session is a forum for the co-worker to listen to all of the LW’s excuses and explain why it’s not her problem and why it’s perfectly acceptable for her to decline a further personal relationship. Why should she subjected to that?

          2. Elizabeth West

            I think mediation is unnecessary in this situation. The OP screwed up and owes the coworker an apology. That’s it. Anything more makes it about the OP’s feelings, and it’s not about the OP.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Anything more makes it about the OP’s feelings, and it’s not about the OP.

              YES. This is what I’ve been struggling to say. Thank you!

        2. Anonymous

          I used to work in mediation and in this situation I would not personally want to push people into mediation because it doesn’t seem like there is really a problem that couldn’t be solved with an apology.

          That being said, mediation is not a “therapy session” nor is it about coercing people to share feelings (quite the opposite because mediation is supposed to be neutral and not coercive). Mediation is about resolve disputes and making agreements. If the co-worker wanted to mediate I can imagine a situation in which the OP would realize the gravity of her mistake and the two parties could form an agreement not to share such information.

          As I said before, I personally wouldn’t push for mediation in this situation unless the OP’s workplace became hostile or it impeded their work. But, mediation is not limited only to potential legal disputes. In fact most of our clients where I used to work were work place disagreements. For some clients it did nothing but for others it saved people from having to fire people who couldn’t get a long.

          1. Mediation Professional

            Thanks – It’s really important to me that you all understand that I feel that “pushing for mediation” is not appropriate. Inviting people, suggesting it, bringing it up – not the same as pushing.

            I have to say that this conversation leaves me feeling really sad. I really do believe it’s okay for someone to ask another person if they’d like to talk something out.

            1. Elsajeni

              I believe that, too, when there’s some evidence that both people want the relationship to continue. It might be perfectly reasonable to work with a mediator for a conflict like “I still want to be friends, but I hate it when you invite your boyfriend out with us,” or “We had a big fight a couple weeks ago and now we both feel sad and awkward,” or something like that. But the conflict in this case is, “You have decided to stop being friends with me, and I don’t want you to do that.” The best positive outcome I can imagine coming out of mediation is that the OP decides to accept her coworker’s decision not to be friends anymore, and that’s something that, frankly, she should be doing already, without making the coworker keep talking about it and explaining herself.

            2. AnonAnalyst

              I was posting at the same time as you, so I apologize – when I read your original note and some of your follow-ups it really struck a chord but going back I can see where I missed some of your clarifications. I absolutely agree with your last point – I’d only be hesitant in this situation since it sounds like the coworker has thus far refused to engage with the OP any further than necessary, which signals to me that she’s not interested in talking it out with the OP. I also agree that bringing it up as an option or suggesting it could be helpful in a lot of workplace situations, but I personally would not react positively to someone suggesting mediation if I were the coworker in this situation (assuming that my interpretation is correct and she has in fact distanced herself from the OP because she’s no longer interested in maintaining a relationship or listing to the OP’s perspective).

            3. Jamie

              I don’t think anyone is saying that it’s not okay to ask someone if they’d like to talk something out – but you don’t seem to be taking into account there are boundaries between co-workers that don’t exist in more personal relationships.

              It’s not okay for a co-worker, who has personal feelings about an incident not affecting work, to approach another about talking it out. It’s just not.

              Just like there are plenty of propositions that are perfectly fine outside of work which are wildly inappropriate in the workplace.

              Suggesting it may not be the same as pushing, but it’s just as inappropriate in the workplace.

              Not to mention the fact that it would be wholly inappropriate for any workplace to pay for or allow work time for a third party mediator for a non-workplace issue.

              I respect that you feel passionately about this, but if people heeded this advice it would be grounds for filing a complaint in a lot of offices…it’s that boundary crossing. Yes, even just suggesting it because it’s intrusive enough to set of red flags for a lot of people.

              I think that’s why so many people are adamantly against her even asking – because it’s not a neutral action. There can be really negative fallout if someone were to do that.

              1. Anonymous

                I don’t really think this is a particular point that merits endless debate so I’ll keep my comment short. I agree that in this situation I wouldn’t ask for mediation, I would just apologize.

                However, having worked in mediation for some time the most common disputes our office dealt with were by far workplace conflicts. People do outrageous things all the time, and even if they seem purely “personal” they spill into the workplace. (Such as disclosing something highly confidential and creating stigma for an employee among their peers).

                Again, not looking for a debate, I just don’t want people to think mediation isn’t appropriate for the workplace. In my experience (which includes several years of mediation in a very large market) conflicts between coworkers made up a large part of my organization’s work (even when there were no grounds for legal action). You are at work for 40+ hours a week and the boundaries between personal and workplace can, at times, get very skewed creating unhealthy environments.

            4. Annie O

              Mediation Professional, the OP has already attempted to talk to the co-worker and resume the friendship. The co-worker isn’t interested. Now the OP is considering asking the boss for mediation to force the issue. (And let’s be straight – this is for a personal relationship. The professional relationship is not affected.)

              Look, I understand that you’re trying to defend your profession. But you’ve gone so far that your comments make it sound like you think it’s a good idea to force the co-worker into mediation so the OP can feel better. How many times does the co-worker have to say “no thanks, eff off” before the OP should stop asking?

            5. Observer

              Not when the one person shows absolutely no sign of understanding her part in the problem and the other person has made it clear that she DOES NOT WANT to “talk it out”.

              And, in this context, going to the boss to ask for mediation IS coercive, even if the boss doesn’t insist on it. It becomes a workplace expectation that she now has to decline – and essentially provide an excuse for being “unreasonable”.

              Furthermore, what do you think there is here to “talk out”? LW goofed. Her co-worker has made it clear that she doesn’t want to pal around anymore, and that she doesn’t want to share personal information anymore. What is needed here other than apology? Your suggestion elsewhere that the co-worker could educate the LW about mental illness is NOT “talking it out”. And any suggestion that she should do this is really over-stepping bounds. Especially since the fundamental problem here is not about the co-worker’s mental illness – IF IT EVEN EXISTS – but totally about the LW’s spreading gossip of a very personal nature.

        3. AB Normal

          “But I would be so wildly offended if mediation was suggested because a co-worker was upset we weren’t chatty anymore. The heck?”

          +100

          “So – neither’s feeling are more important ” Mediation Professional — I couldn’t disagree more. The wronged person’s feelings are much more important than the feelings of the person trying to make amends.

    2. Just a Reader

      Hell no. Let the wronged party set the tone. This isn’t a case of different working styles that needs to be handled. Forcing mediation is further disrespect of a person who has experienced so much already–the organization at that point wouldn’t even respect her wishes to interact with someone who wronged her only when necessary.

      1. fposte

        “Hell no” was my thought as well. Firstly, for the reasons you state. It’s the co-worker’s right not to be friends. If the co-worker unforcedly indicated an interest in talking it through, that’s another matter, but this would be like using the force of the workplace to make somebody attend counseling with you for not wanting to date you.

        And this isn’t a work problem between them–the OP herself admits this doesn’t affect their work, just the friendship, and I really don’t think it’s the workplace’s job to hire people to smooth over people’s friendship difficulties.

        1. A Bug!

          Thirding “hell no.” I work in family law; I know very well that mediation can be very useful in some contexts. But I also know that there are some contexts where it’s unlikely to be helpful, and that there are some contexts where it’s just plain unnecessary.

          In this situation, the OP and the coworker only need to be able to work together professionally. That’s already happening. There’s no conflict here to mediate: the coworker has decided she no longer wants a personal relationship with the OP and the OP does not want to accept that.

          All that said, I would recommend counseling for the OP if she continues to have difficulty letting go of the notion that there’s something she can do to make everything go back the way it was.

      2. Mediation Professional

        There’s no need to force anyone to mediation. There might be some benefit in inviting the other person. If you leave the coercion out of it, does that feel different to you?

        1. Zillah

          I don’t think there is a way to leave the coercion out. The OP’s (former) friend is already clearly feeling betrayed and uncomfortable; in that situation, she may feel like she can’t say no without making the situation even worse.

          1. Anon for Reasons

            I agree – particularly considering that the OP is apparently “good friends” with the boss. The OP’s power position in that office alone would make it feel coercive.

    3. Ask a Manager Post author

      I think the difference here is that while yes, mediation could certainly end up being helpful in theory, suggesting it would be wildly out of line for the OP (or the boss).

      1. Mediation Professional

        Allison – Can you explain more about why you feel like it would be wildly inappropriate for the OP to invite her co-worker to talk things over with her?

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Others have already said everything I wanted to say, so I will just quote some pieces from others that I think answer that really well:
          * “It’s not the OP’s place to try to push any further. She’s already been rebuffed in seeking contact outside of the workplace with her former friend. The message is being sent very clearly.”
          * “In this situation, the OP and the coworker only need to be able to work together professionally. That’s already happening. There’s no conflict here to mediate: the coworker has decided she no longer wants a personal relationship with the OP and the OP does not want to accept that.”
          * “If I don’t want to talk to ” Susie Jo” because I don’t care for her anymore, you can’t tell me I need to discuss it. You are assuming that I can’t figure out if I want to be friends with someone? That is actually pretty disrespectful to me.”

        2. Corporate Attorney

          An invitation to “talk things over” does not equal mediation, though. The co-worker has fairly clearly already rejected the OP’s efforts to resume a relationship with her.

          From my perspective, the OP is still thinking about what s/he wants (to feel better). You don’t necessarily get to feel better when you’ve wronged another person. A request to mediate this issue seems to me like nothing more than an attempt by the wrongdoer to force the wronged party into making the wrongdoer feel better. That’s wildly inappropriate.

    4. Gilby

      You can’t mediate a friendship. If I don’t want to talk to ” Susie Jo” because I don’t care for her anymore, you can’t tell me I need to discuss it. You are assuming that I can’t figure out if I want to be friends with someone? That is actually pretty disrespectful to me.

      You can mediate a work situaion in which I refuse to answer Susie Jo’s work questions. You can say, I know you don’t like her but we need to keep the work flow going, please answer Susie.
      This co-worker has move forward. She doesn’t want to be friends with the OP. It is done and overwith.

      1. Diet Coke Addict

        Yes. It would be mediation if it was affecting work. Since it is not, it is no one’s place to tell the wronged woman that she needs to talk it out and be heard. No, no, no, no, no. Respect her wishes.

      2. Mediation Professional

        Sure you can! People participate in mediation about their friendships and family relationships all the time. Granted, this isn’t mediation done by a lawyer – it’s mediation done by a trained community member who’s experienced in helping people work through interpersonal issues.

        1. Colette

          I can see it being a good option if they both wanted to improve their friendship. However, in this scenario, it seems both inappropriate and likely to end with one of they wanting/having to find a new job – not because mediation wouldn’t be successful, but because it’s not appropriate to ask/expect a work colleague to go out of their way to work on a personal friendship that they’re no longer interested in having.

          1. Gilby

            Colette… yes that is the point. The co-worker doesn’t want to be friends with the OP. Period.

        2. Mediation Professional

          Also – mediation doesn’t need to be about becoming friends again. It’s about moving ahead. Mediators don’t make suggestions, tell you what to do, or decide anything for you. They won’t be suggesting that the other party “just let it go and be friends again” – that’ s not mediation – that’s your grandma.

          1. Zelos

            But they’ve already moved ahead. They’re working fine professionally, they just aren’t close the way they used to be.

            And while I said “friends” above, this was a work friendship. Friendship mediation might work for personal friendship, but I would be so angry if someone tried to “mediate” a perfectly working professional relationship because it isn’t as “close” as some arbitrary definition says it is. That is so intrusive.

            Seeing as they have already moved ahead into a still-perfectly-functional work relationship, and you note that mediation doesn’t have to be about being friends again, what do you think the mediation would achieve?

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                To put it bluntly, because the OP is unhappy with the situation her actions led to and wants to go back to how it was before — but that’s not her call.

              2. Colette

                Why should the coworker have to discuss this with the OP if she doesn’t want to? What’s in it for her, if she’s OK with their current working relationship?

                I think this is something the OP has to work through on her own.

              3. Zelos

                The OP misses their previously close relationship. But that’s not the same as “not moved on”, I think. If they’re meeting at each other’s desk and rehashing this incident over and over, then no, they haven’t moved on. Settling into a purely professional working relationship? I’d say they’ve moved on as much as they need to, and unless the OP’s coworker expresses a desire to become close again, that’s as far as this relationship will go.

              4. Observer

                Maybe bit BOTH of them. But the other party has. Given the circumstances, why should she be put into the position of being essentially being made responsible for helping the person who created the problem move on?

                Most people in the co-worker’s position would probably respond with “You messed up big time, you don’t like that I’ve moved on, and now you want me to help YOU move on?! Seriously!?! Grow up!” (Although they might be considerably less polite.)

        3. Maris

          Yes – people can and do have mediation in their family and personal relationships all the time *with people they have chosen to be friends with, or are related to*. The coworker has clearly indicated she does not wish to be friends any longer, no doubt she’d like to disassociate herself from OP altogether, but doesn’t have that option – because she has to work with her. As long as co-worker is professional, she is allowed to choose to associate or not associate with OP.

          IF the mediation request was initiated by the co-worker, then it would be a different situation. But if its initiated by the OP or the workplace, it comes a lot closer to bullying someone you have already punched.

    5. Anon

      I get what you’re saying, but this seems wholly inappropriate in this situation. Yes, it’s a work situation, but this is interpersonal conflict. The LW did something horribly wrong. When she suggested mediation, I think she didn’t understand what she was asking.

      Alison’s right. The LW wants this woman to go back to being chatty with her and going on Starbucks runs. That has nothing to do with work or the work environment. The LW is literally trying to control how another person reacts and…you can’t do that.

      I think you’re forgetting that what got this all started was intimate, personal information spread around about this woman who didn’t want it spread around. Introducing yet ANOTHER new person (who will know everything, including private medical information) just makes it that much worse. If I were this woman, I wouldn’t feel safe. I’d feel more intruded upon than I did before.

      1. Mediation Professional

        Yes – there would be the need for them to talk in front of the mediator, but professional mediators have the same confidentiality privileges as therapists in most states.

          1. Mediation Professional

            Do you mean is the mediator a stranger? Ideally, yes -because I doubt the boss is qualified to mediate this. They are trustworthy professionals who are well trained in handling confidential information and protected by law from having to disclose what they hear.

            1. Del

              I feel kind of like you’re being purposefully obtuse here.

              The coworker’s privacy has been violated. Bringing in yet another person to invade that privacy, professional or otherwise, whom the coworker did not themselves solicit and choose, is inappropriate and invasive. It doesn’t matter how they’re trained or whether they do this for a living or whatever. The point is that the OP would be continuing to invade their coworker’s privacy by not leaving them the heck alone already.

              1. Anon333

                Not to mention, the coworker should not have to discuss this at all with the OP! I’m not sure how mediation would work without bringing up what is a likely a very painful indiscretion, again.

              2. Mediation Professional

                I can assure you I’m not being purposely obtuse. I’m sharing my view, which it sounds like you disagree with. From my own experience, there is reason to be hopeful that conflicts can be resolved.

                1. Del

                  The impression that you’re giving off is that you’re not really listening to other commenters on this thread. I don’t know whether that’s the truth or not, but there’s some feedback on how you’re presenting.

                  Your responses aren’t really addressing the points that people are bringing up. For example, Anon above said, “I think you’re forgetting that what got this all started was intimate, personal information spread around about this woman who didn’t want it spread around. Introducing yet ANOTHER new person (who will know everything, including private medical information) just makes it that much worse.”

                  Your response was that mediators hold professional confidentiality. That is entirely disregarding Anon’s point that the mediator is another person who would be hearing the details of this very private matter. I pointed this out, and you still hung on to the “they are professionals who keep confidentiality” point.

                  That’s when it starts to look like you are simply not paying attention or listening to what people are saying, because you’re not engaging with their actual points at all.

                2. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Mediation Professional, I don’t think you’re being obtuse, purposely or otherwise :)

                  I suspect that because of your job, you’ve seen many situations where mediation has been incredibly helpful, and so it’s easier for you to imagine how it would be here. The issue, though, is that for people without that vantage point on it, we’re not so focused on whether it could be helpful – we’re focusing more on how the coworker would feel at receiving this suggestion. I think that accounts for the differing viewpoints here.

                3. Mediation Professional

                  Allison – I appreciate your response, and I do agree that this is a matter of perspective.

                  I do want to articulate something, which might be what is causing Del to feel unheard. I have heard hundreds…maybe thousands…(I am really not exaggerating here) say the following things:
                  1. The other person will be offended if I ask them about mediation
                  2. Nothing will get resolved because they don’t want to improve our relationship
                  3. It will be more stressful to talk about all this in mediation than it would be to just live with it.
                  4. Why should I do this when they are the one who is wrong?

                  These are normal, natural and valid feelings.

                  What is also true is that a huge number – most – of these people end up being pleasantly surprised.

                  They are shocked that a person who had rejected all past attempts to communicate agred to come to mediation

                  The are shocked that the other person did want the relationship to change or improve in some way (even if that is to decrease contact between 2 people because it’s stressful).

                  They are surprised that they get a lot of satisfaction from being truly heard in mediation

                  And they are most surprised that these conversations are possible despite presence of right and wrong.

                  Most of all, people come up with the most creative, brilliant, individual, and deeply meaningful resolutions over and over again – stuff so smart and out of the box that I couldn’t make it up if I tried.

                  And all of this comes from situations that feel hopeless, one-sided, and open-and-shut. If we gave up on everyone who didn’t feel hopeful about the other person’s willingness to participate, we’d all of out of a job, a lot of problems would go unresolved, and a lot of people would live with unnecessary stress, regret, anger, and sadness.

                  Yes – talking face to face takes courage, and it’s not always the right thing for people – and that is okay.

                  I would encourage everyone to take the time to learn more about the possibilities that the community mediation process holds before determining that it’s not appropriate for a particular situation. It’s hard to make that call without being familiar with what it is and how it works.

                  Okay – I’m done with the public service announcement, but I’m not done being hopeful that there’s some peace here for the people involved.

        1. Anon

          Which misses the point entirely. Mediation invites yet another person who knows personal details. Does it matter if they’re bound by anything? It’s making it worse for this woman, not better. More salt in the wound and all that.

          If I were this woman, I’d want fewer people knowing not MORE. And I certainly wouldn’t want to rehash it either.

          Again, you cannot control other people and how they respond to you. You can’t. Mediation is great but it will never undo what the LW and it won’t change how hurt this woman feels about it. And it won’t make everything go back the way it was before.

          1. Mediation Professional

            But shouldn’t the OP be the one deciding if she’s willing to share her story in the presence of another person? Instead of us deciding, or the OP deciding? I can see how this might feel intrusive to some people and they might not want to share – but we can’t know that about this person for sure. A way to move past this assumption would be to just ask.

            And for heaven sake – don’t file a complaint or go through the boss! You could just ask the coworker yourself.

            I hear that lots of people feel like it’s “not work related” – but co-workers ask each other about things that aren’t related all the time. I know that others will disagree, but I don’t see this as being all that different from inviting a co-worker to join you on an out-of-working outing. All they have to do is say no!

            I would hope that if someone had ever upset or betrayed me to this degree, and they wanted to talk it out, that they wouldn’t just act like it hadn’t happened since it was arguably not work related. Sure – an invitation to mediation might, in fact, be unwelcome, but I think that we can leave it to the other person to set her own boundaries here – if she says no, then leave it.

            Also – this type of mediation is typically free via your local community mediation center, so payment concerns are probably not going to be an issue.

            Taking my mediator hat off, I do think that an apology is warranted and agree that this is the appropriate first step.

            1. Pennalynn Lott

              Mediation Professional, imagine this conversation:

              OP: “I think we could benefit from talking things out with the help of a neutral 3rd party mediator. Would you be interested?”

              Co-Worker (CW): “Excuse me?!? You violated my trust and our friendship. I think I’m handling this violation extremely well by not holding it against you in a work environment. What is there to ‘talk over’?”

              OP: “I feel bad that I betrayed you and I miss our coffee breaks and hanging out.”

              CW: “Wow. I miss my privacy. And you’ve proven to me – in a very substantial way – that you are not worthy of calling yourself my friend, so I will not being doing any ‘friend’ things with you. But, again, I will also not let this interfere with our work relationship.”

              OP: “But, c’mon, mediation will help you talk through how much you distrust me now and don’t want to be my friend. Don’t you want our relationship to be less strained?” [With the not-so-subtle implication that if CW doesn’t participate in mediation, then *she* is the problem.]

              CW: “I just want our relationship to be professional and I will never discuss my personal life with you because you aren’t a part of it. I hope you are able to separate the two and move forward, but it’s not my responsibility to make you feel better for your mistake.”

              Now imagine that the OP doesn’t say squat to CW about “talking things out” — trained professional or not — and they just get on with their jobs (after a sincere apology from OP, of course). The OP has [hopefully] learned a life lesson about what and when to share information, and the CW has learned that the OP is not truly her friend and cannot be trusted with sensitive information. Let them move forward with those valuable pieces of information.

              Yep, it sucks when you screw up and lose trust / respect / friendship / a promotion / whatever, but then you get the wonderful experience of learning from your eff-up.

              tl;dr: There’s no need for a mediator here. CW is responding to the slight in an admirably professional manner, while the OP isn’t taking full responsibility for her actions. Implying that CW needs to partake in this travesty further is an insult to her.

            2. doreen

              Mediation can be a wonderful thing- in some situations. But in a black and white situation like this, it is absolutely inappropriate for the transgressor to bring up the subject regardless of whether or not mediation would be helpful. Let’s change the subject a little and imagine that someone is sexually harassing me at work. It is absolutely appropriate for me to go to the EEO officer and say I would like to resolve the issue through mediation ( or training or a transfer to another office etc) . However, if the harasser approaches me and suggests mediation, that starts to seem like further harassment or retaliation.

              There’s nothing wrong with someone asking the coworker if she would be interested in mediation, as long as that someone is a person that coworker herself told about the whole situation ( her SO, parent, sibling etc) ,rather than anyone involved in it. (anyone at work,especially the OP)

          1. Ruffingit

            Exactly and just on a logistical level, who is going to pay for this? The boss is not appropriate as a mediator for obvious reasons so who’s going to mediate and who is going to pay that person?

            This just isn’t a situation where mediation is called for.

          2. Mediation Professional

            Why should people every work through problems when others would clearly see one as wrong as one as right, as people do here? I can think of lots of reasons.

            1. Anon

              Easy. Because the OP’s now-ex friend (wronged) doesn’t see it as a problem anymore. The OP (transgressor) is the only one who sees this as a problem.

              I get the impression that the woman in question has already done what she needs to do to deal and move on. And move on includes eliminating the friendship and staying professional. There’s nothing to “work through” for her.

            2. Amtelope

              But there shouldn’t be an obligation for the OP’s coworker to put one more second of emotional energy or effort into defending her decision to stop being friends with the OP. The OP betrayed the coworker’s trust, as a result of which her coworker is doing a completely appropriate thing: ending their friendship but still being professionally polite at work. The OP needs to accept that decision and deal with her feelings of awkwardness and regret in a way that doesn’t create a further burden for her coworker. Mediation, no matter how well-intended, is making the coworker work harder to stop being friends with the OP, and I don’t think any potential benefits are worth putting that burden on the coworker at this point.

              1. Zillah

                Yes. It’s kind of like if you cheat on your SO, and they break up with you – you don’t get to be the wounded party. You did something wrong, and if they say they’re done, they get to be done.

          3. Mediation Professional

            I’m really bothered by the use of the word “push” here – I think that pushing IS inappropriate. I understand that some people feel that inviting/suggesting is the same as pushing, but I can’t really explain why “the co-worker should be pushed to do that” because I don’t think that any pushing is okay.

            1. Snarcus Aurelius

              So if the OP does go ask her coworker for mediation and the coworker says “no, never” then you do agree the subject should be dropped, correct?

            2. Chris

              Because the wronged coworker is already feeling, I think it’s safe to say, stressed and betrayed by a lot of her coworkers. SHE DOESN’T WANT TO FIX THE RELATIONSHIP. The OP needs to apologize, one on one, and walk away, perhaps telling the coworker if she ever wants to be friends again she (the OP) really misses her. Requesting mediation puts, as others have said, the onus on the coworker, and implies that the coworker is now partially at fault for the situation. In a hierarchical structure like this, an official request for mediation can be a serious thing, and read like an imperial command. I can honestly see that refusing a mediation request might negatively impact the coworker’s career.

              And what would this conversation in mediation sound like? What does the coworker want? I imagine, for people to leave her the hell alone, which is not what would be happening. There is nothing to figure out, nothing to parse, NOTHING. The facts are clear and simple: OP betrayed the coworker, coworker has understandably cut off the friendship. There is no more analysis needed. An apology is literally the only step that can be taken, and any further action is the coworker’s prerogative. A request for mediation, especially one without a preceding apology, would be incredibly out of line. If nothing else, it would even further destroy the chance of a reconciliation, because it makes the OP look even more clueless and self-centered than she probably appears to the coworker.

              I come from a psych background, and I understand where you’re coming from. But it’s important to know that sometimes a form of therapy will simply not apply in a given situation. There is no psychological/sociological panacea. And this is one time that mediation would either do nothing or, more probably, do more damage.

              1. Observer

                I would translate your last paragraph to “To the guy with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

                Mediation is great, when it’s appropriate. The trick is to know when it’s appropriate. Here, it is not, unless the co-worker independently decides she wants to resume some sort of personal relationship.

                1. Jamie

                  Even then I would argue that this has nothing to do with the workplace – so it should be on their own clock and dime.

                  Although, I have to say the idea of co-workers who used to be friends and now are not repairing a relationship based around friendliness and coffee would be …unlikely.

            3. Amtelope

              I don’t see how it can come across as anything but pushing, when the coworker has already taken a reasonable and healthy action to resolve the situation: she’s stopped being friends with the OP. The OP doesn’t like that, but that really doesn’t matter; she isn’t owed anything by the person she hurt. Not time spent discussing the situation in mediation, not efforts to repair the friendship, not anything. If the coworker were the one suggesting mediation, that would be different, but I think it’s completely out of line to suggest to her that she do a single bit of work to make the OP feel better.

              I also worry that mediation in this situation would mean the OP apologizes, says she feels terrible, and swears never to do it again, and her coworker feels she is then supposed to compromise and say “well, I’ll give you another chance.” And I think it would be a terrible idea for the coworker to give this OP another chance to be friends, or ever share personal information with her ever again. A casual work friendship isn’t worth taking the risk of trusting someone who’s proved herself trustworthy in such a massive way.

              1. Amtelope

                … proved herself UNtrustworthy. Sigh. Time to get off the Internet for the night and get some sleep!

              2. Maris

                Totally agree with this. Sometimes the answer really is… you did something bad and you SHOULD feel bad. The wronged person does not owe it to OP to try and make them feel better.

            4. fposte

              So would you be similarly in favor of this is the co-worker had turned down the OP for a date? If not, why do you see this as different?

            5. some1

              I read this part of the discussion yesterday but didn’t comment re: mediation because I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why it would be so offensive to the coworker for the LW or a mediator to even *suggest* mediation, but I figured it out:

              Mediations are for gray area situations; like custody or coworker conflicts where their clearly needs to be some compromise on both parties to make the situation better.

              That’s not the case here. The coworker is clearly not in the wrong in any way and should not have to even discuss this with anyone. It feels like victim-blaming to ask the coworker to participate in a mediation, as though she bears some responsibilty for what happened and needs to make some compromise with the LW.

              1. Jamie

                This is what I was trying to say with a million words and you did it in 3 paragraphs – my hat is off to you.

  55. Observer

    Most of the tings I would have said have been hashed over multiple times, so I’ll skip them.

    Someone did refer to this, but I wanted to say it more clearly – sharing something private about someone else with someone because “we are close and share things” is NEVER the “right thing to do.” And the second such a consideration comes into play, you really, really need to think about your other “reasons” – odds are they are no more than rationalizations. It very much sounds like the case here, as I cannot see any legitimate reason why the boss needed this information.

    Also, as others have briefly noted, you took a real chance by repeating something that might not even be true. That can come back to bite you in a lot of ways.

    You really, really don’t want to develop a reputation as a gossip. Also, if you develop a reputation for running to the boss with every piece of information you hear, regardless of whether it affects you or not, that would also damage your reputation as a mature, professional co-worker (and possibly even manager.)

    You need to learn the line between personal and work. Also, how to deal with your problems yourself rather than running to an authority to fix it. You only go to HR / your boss when you cannot fix it yourself AND this is a problem that is affecting your work.

    Lastly, to reiterate a couple of things Allison brought up. All actions have consequences. Your co-worker’s reaction to what happened is a perfectly normal reasonable reaction to your action. It is also one that you should have anticipated. It’s not about punishing you. You showed by your behavior that you cannot be trusted with her personal information, so she is reacting by protecting her personal information and life from you. That’s a natural consequence of your behavior, not a “punishment”, at least from her point of view.

    Lastly, you seem to have missed the fact that your co-worker is the person who gets to choose if she wants to hang out with you, or share information, etc. The idea of workplace mediation (which is, by definition somewhat coercive) says that you don’t get that. Even if her reaction was totally irrational, that’s her call. She could decide that she simply doesn’t like the way you wear your hair and therefore won’t go out with you anymore, and there would be nothing that you can reasonably do mediate this issue.

    1. Ruffingit

      Someone did refer to this, but I wanted to say it more clearly – sharing something private about someone else with someone because “we are close and share things” is NEVER the “right thing to do.”

      I TOTALLY AGREE! There are things I don’t even share with my husband because the person involved asked me not to share with anyone. Other people’s stories are THEIRS to tell if and when they want to do that. It’s not my prerogative to spread their business even with a person I am close to and share things with (meaning my husband). It’s just not my place to do that. I don’t get this rationalization at all.

  56. Lee

    Not sure if someone else made this point…and while I do feel for the Co-worker, didn’t these things happen:
    -the co-worker told a “volunteer” that was she visiting a mental health facility
    -the OP’s boss decided to spread the (still unconfirmed) rumor the co-worker has checked into a inpatient mental health facility

    When considering that and the idea that the OP confidentially told her boss and no one else, I understand the OP feeling like she wasn’t gossiping. The OP told the one person she should be able to trust in the company with confidential matters (her boss).
    -Is the volunteer and boss’ indiscretion the fault of the OP?
    -Why did the coworker tell the volunteer in the first place if they didn’t want anyone to know?
    -Also, isn’t the co-worker just believing unconfirmed hearsay form the volunteer that the OP leaked everything in the first place? Who knows how the volunteer spun the story leaking.

    I’m not saying the OP is squeaky clean in this situation, but it sounds the only one with “bad” intentions here is the boss (the boss had to know spreading this throughout the organization would destroy the co-workers rep). I wonder if there’s more to this story…
    I also do worry that if the OP apologizes and admits to facilitating gossip, are there any legal ramifications (can the co-worker sue for disclosing medical info in a work environment)?

    1. Laura

      In the letter it says that the volunteer was her friend, so this is the kind of thing you would tell to your friends. Perhaps the person didn’t feel the OP was a close enough friend to disclose this too.

      The OP is no more at fault than the volunteer, and less at fault than the boss, IMO, but it doesn’t mean that the OP didn’t do anything wrong

    2. Just a Reader

      The reasons the OP gave for sharing this info were shaky at best. I think it was use of info as currency at work–and that absolutely does mean that the OP is at fault.

      The boss took it to a whole new level. But the boss didn’t write in, the OP did.

    3. Colette

      Maybe I missed something, but I didn’t see anything that says the coworker told the volunteer. In fact, I’m not even sure it’s true that the coworker was in any sort of hospital.

      But regardless of whether other people also behaved badly, the person who contacted Alison was the OP, so that’s where the comments have focused.

      1. CEMgr

        Right. By the time the “info” reached the boss, it was at least 4th hand. Reliability is nil.

    4. Lily in NYC

      OP did not say that the coworker told the volunteer the info. We do not know how volunteer found out.

  57. Elle

    Yikes. OP, don your hard hat because you (and people like you!) are about to be blamed for every negative experience any person with a hint of mental illness has ever had. I only got halfway through the comments but I think the pile on you are receiving is completely unfair and want you to know that people make mistakes. You shouldn’t be hung, drawn and quartered for this and I am sorry that you will be. I understand that the typical mode of social justice warriors is to frame everything in terms of someone else’s hurt feelings. The problem is that this framework is pretty flawed because people and what hurt them are different and trying to guilt them into action with some weird notion of WWAPSJWD (What would a perfect social justice warrior do) will still lead to people doing wrong and only works on people who respond… in particular ways to emotional pleas (/ploys). Even Allison only wrote one line “this is between your coworker and your boss”. Everything else is about how terrible your actions are, blah blah blah. Comments are all just story after story about prejudice and discrimination. But that one line is, imo, the post important point. Everything else is just moral grandstanding. All you’ll learn from these posts is NEVER TO SAY ANYTHING… MENTAL ILLNESS. I worry that this will lead you to make worse decisions in the future because that’s also a poor strategy. What if you have legitimate concerns about the welfare of a coworker, or report; what if you have concerns about your own safety?

    Your work sounds dysfunctional (organizational gossip; your boss is your friend; she gossips and is awful). You have probably learned pretty terrible habits in this (nonprofit) workplace. Ironically, I’ve found many nonprofits to be poor places to work BECAUSE they are full of people pandering to everyone else’s feelings and full of manipulative unprofessional bullies who often hide behind the organization’s mission, and the rules continuously change depending on who is talking.

    Yes, apologize to your coworker and drop it. But my advice is that this isn’t just about your coworker or just one conversation. I would try to think about your work instincts in general. Read through the archives, and maybe think about reading a book or two on workplace culture. Then make it your mission to honestly think about how your actions impact your workers and the kind of workplace you would want to be in.

    1. Lee

      “you (and people like you!) are about to be blamed for every negative experience any person with a hint of mental illness has ever had.”
      +1000000000000000!!!!

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      Huh. I feel like I’m reading a different post and discussion than you are! People have generally been pretty good about not attacking the OP and just pointing out where she went wrong and what she can do to move forward.

      1. Just a Reader

        I agree, and I think a large part of the reaction is the fact that the original email didn’t indicate that the OP feels any responsibility for the fallout.

    3. BCW

      I don’t know, I think you are letting her off easy. We don’t know the exact circumstances, but I look at telling your boss in a similar way to mandated reporter stuff. If you think that she is in danger of being hurt, hurting herself, or hurting someone else, then that is the ONLY time you should even consider telling someone. Unless these things are happening IN the office, I don’t think it should be the boss anyway. The OP was supposedly friends with her. So if it truly was concern for her well being, there are other routes than telling her boss. My “friend” was concerned about my mental state and his first instinct was to call my boss, that would be a problem. But lets say, for arguments sake, the OP was really just concerned, her friend was already getting treatment. So blabbing to the boss wasn’t to get her help, which it seems you are trying to imply.
      If this was about the OP fearing for her safety (which its not) then that could be brought up without disclosing that she is receiving treatment

      1. H. Vane

        BCW, I really like the idea of using the mandated reporter standard for this sort of thing. Excellent way of putting it.

    4. Lanya

      I would hope that most people can tell the very important difference between speaking up if they are worried for their personal safety or the safety of a person with mental illness…versus running to the boss or coworkers to gossip about someone who may be receiving medical treatment for mental illness. Those are very different things and should be treated as such.

    5. Del

      What comments are you reading that blame the OP for anything other than their own admitted actions?

    6. Magda

      Your last paragraph is what the majority of commenters have been saying, so I’m confused about the first part of your post. It kind of sounds like you are blaming commenters here for every bad experience with an internet SJW you’ve ever had.

      1. Natalie

        The bit about non-profits also feels like the middle of an argument, so to speak. I think Elle is responding to some other experience(s) and not necessarily to the specific comments on this post.

      2. VintageLydia USA

        I’m laughing on my end because many of the people who are saying what the OP did was wildly inappropriate are the furthest from being a SJW I’ve ever met. They would be saying these things if the gossip was darn near about anything. The fact that it’s mental illness is the extra cruddy cherry on top because of harsh stigmas, but the advice and the reaction would be pretty much the same from the commenters here if it were about, for instance, and affair.

        1. Tinker

          Yeah, oddly enough, if I was going to write some sort of SJW/TumblrInAction story (which is awkward, because although there’s certain online activist perspectives that I don’t get on well with, I get sort of a dubious feeling about a lot of the SJW-bashing that’s been going around lately), I’d put the stereotypical SJW in the role of the person who was being far too free in chewing over other people’s mental health history and the stereotypical conventionally minded folks in the role of being taken aback and saying “well, of course we don’t talk about that sort of thing, it’s very unprofessional to do that”.

          Which actually, like I said, looks a lot closer to what I see actually happening in this thread.

    7. Lily in NYC

      What the heck? I’m so confused because I think the vast majority of comments here are pretty understanding and there are a lot from people who have done something similar and are sharing how they dealt with the fallout (myself included).

    8. Chris

      It isn’t about hurt feelings. It’s about the serious and very real career consequences that can come from the stigma of mental illness. You can “blah blah blah” that all you want, but it’s a real problem.

      Also, she has absolutely every right to tell her boss anything that her coworkers tell her ever (as long as there are no legal restrictions). Knock yourself out. But the OP didn’t fear for her safety. The OP didn’t fear for her “friend’s” safety. She wanted to gossip. She is paying the consequences by losing a friend. She didn’t call the police, or a mental health hotline, or TALK TO THE FRIEND. She gossiped to the boss.

    9. Tinker

      I’m kind of surprised that you see the reaction here as a “SJW” one and specifically tied to illnesses of a mental nature — I’ve been seeing it as more one of those old school sorts of things, revealing an embarrassing condition of any sort, that might result in a challenge to a duel or a legendary rabbi assigning you the task of retrieving every feather of a pillow that’d been torn open and scattered to the four winds, and most of the responses I’ve seen have seemed consistent with that view.

  58. Betsy

    One thing that bothers me about this question is that it really seems to be about how to fix the distressing part of this for the OP, without any real empathy or consideration for the other players in this drama.

    I will agree that you should apologize, but I’m going to suggest that you approach it in the way that will probably be most comfortable for your coworker, and I will also say this: if you are looking at your apology as a form of currency which will buy back your coworker’s friendship, STOP.

    You absolutely owe her an apology, but she doesn’t owe you forgiveness or friendship. Not even if you apologize.

    My son (who is 4) does this a lot. He will be doing something he isn’t supposed to, and he will break something or hurt someone because of his carelessness. I will tell him he hurt me (or my feelings), and he will say, “Sorry.” But in his mind, sorry is what you do to make the blame go away. If I am still hurt, and tell him I don’t want to play any more, he can’t understand it. “But I’m sorry, mama!” he says, and I have to tell him, “I know, honey. And I know you didn’t mean to do it. But my eye still hurts. And this is why you need to be more careful.”

    I would advise that if you’re going to apologize — and do it with the right spirit — you think about doing it with a letter, or at least draft a letter first. Make sure that you acknowledge the fact that you hurt her, show that you know you did something wrong, express regret that it hurt her, promise never to do it again, and don’t put ANY demands on her in it. No “I really wish we could go back to how we were” or “Please, please forgive me; I feel awful.” I like a letter because it doesn’t demand an immediate response, and she can react to what she’s reading however she needs to without you watching her do it.

    She doesn’t owe you forgiveness. If she chooses to give it, she’ll come back. But don’t put more pressure on her when she’s clearly already dealing with a hard situation.

    1. Del

      Yes!

      I want to follow up a little, because you touched on a really important point that I think deserves even more emphasis.

      don’t put ANY demands on her in it. No “I really wish we could go back to how we were” or “Please, please forgive me; I feel awful.”

      The apology should not be about the OP’s feelings. I can’t find the link right now, but there was an article I ran across a while about “dump out” — in other words, you vent to people who are less intimately connected to a situation, not more. People closer to a situation do not need to bear the burden of your feelings about it.

      The OP’s coworker is the center of the situation. She is the one who was hurt. She doesn’t need to bear the OP’s feelings; she should not be made to. The OP can go find her friends (of which the coworker is no longer one, by her own choice) and tell them how awful she feels. But what needs to be going between the OP and the coworker is “I am so sorry, you must feel awful, and I regret my part in that.”

    2. Chris

      Agreed. She should apologize assuming that the relationship is completely, irrevocably severed. She can say that she wants to fix it, but she should walk away with the knowledge that she may never ever get the friendship back.

      Ironically, that attitude might be the best way to actually get the friendship back.

  59. Karyn

    I had kind of a similar thing happen to me, believe it or not. I mentioned to a former friend (and coworker) that I was going to trauma therapy for a sexual assault and all of a sudden, lo and behold, half the office knew about it – which I discovered when I started getting the “Are you okay?” and “Can we do anythings” from people. Turns out, that “friend” told one person, who told another, and it got around – so much so that my boss ended up asking me if I wanted to take time off. I know they were all trying to be helpful, but if I’d wanted that information spread around, I’d have told all those people myself. I told one person, who took it upon themselves to gossip about it. It was incredibly hurtful, because it changed how people looked at me – I went from being a smart, capable woman to a victim in people’s eyes, which is exactly what I DIDN’T want.

    I also know what it feels like to have things blamed on your mental health – for instance, if you look like you’re having a bad day, people automatically assume, if they know about your mental/emotional health problems, that it’s “because you’re crazy” or something. It’s kind of like when people blame things on PMS. Same concept. It’s hurtful and makes you feel like you’re crazy.

    OP, I realize you thought you were doing the right thing here, but I beseech you to think about this from your coworker’s point of view, which is quite likely similar to what I’ve described above. She’s probably feeling embarrassed, hurt, and angry, and she has the right to feel those things. I can say that I’m a forgiving person and I would probably accept a heartfelt apology from the person who did this kind of thing to me, but only if I thought they really understood why it was wrong.

    Now, your boss isn’t blameless here – in fact, I’d say they’re even more responsible because they ABSOLUTELY should know better than to gossip about things like this. But you can’t always assume that people in positions of authority are all ethical, because sometimes, as here, they’re not. The only person whose actions you can control are your own. So, please, in the future, think about how the information you have might be used before you pass it along to anyone else.

    1. Just a Reader

      I’m so sorry that happened to you–both the assault and the issue at your workplace.

      1. Karyn

        See my comment below to Jamie – at least they were trying in their own ham-handed ways to be supportive. And don’t be sorry for me… if anything, be sorry for the women (and men) who don’t have the courage to seek the help they so desperately need.

    2. Jamie

      Karyn, I’m also really sorry this happened to you. Having to deal with that on top of the original trauma. What are people thinking when they casually talk about this stuff?

      1. Karyn

        In the grand scheme, at least the people who talked to/about it were trying to be supportive. I just didn’t want people looking at me like I’m a victim, because I don’t feel like one – I prefer the term “survivor.” People think they’re being helpful or maybe they thought I told other people myself, but the fact is, it’s like when you think a woman’s pregnant – don’t say anything about it until she’s told you herself!

        Thank you, though, for your kind thoughts. Always helps. :)

  60. angie

    I didn’t read all the comments, but wanted to add in a slightly different perspective. Apologies if it’s already been brought up–I didn’t read every thread.

    Aside from the stressed workplace dynamics, the OP has shown a total disregard for boundaries and confidentiality of information.
    OP needs to seriously rethink how she handles and sensitive data that she is entrusted with both at work, as a volunteer, etc.

    OP is now rightfully tagged as untrustworthy and unable to keep confidences – certainly by the coworker, but others will remember that as well. The consequences appear to be primarily social for now, in slightly different circumstances, the same act could possibly cost her much more. Painful learning experience.

    The best advice is to fully own the damage she’s caused and the boundaries she’s crossed, apologize sincerely and accept the consequences (social and otherwise) with grace and put in the work to slowly rebuild trust by demonstrating it in action. May be too late for coworker relationship, but she needs to replace the negative associations that others may have of her due to this with positive associations and experiences moving forward. Only she – not a mediator or third party – can do that.

  61. LizB

    I’m being punished for doing the right thing here.

    Here’s an issue I’m seeing, OP: there are multiple perspectives at play here, and you don’t seem to be considering them all. By telling your boss about your work friend’s health issues, you may have done the right thing for your workplace, or at least believed you were. You also may have done the right thing for your relationship with your boss, who seems to relish having juicy gossip to spread around the office. You did NOT, however, do the right thing by your work friend, and that’s where the repercussions you’re feeling are coming from. You found out some personal and potentially damaging information about your friend, and you intentionally shared it with others at your workplace. That is a huge breach of trust, and if any of my friends did that, it would mean the end of our friendship. What you are experiencing is the natural consequence of doing “what was right” by your workplace at the expense of what would have been right for your friendship.

    Does that suck? Yes, absolutely. But it’s where you’re at, and it’s what you now have to deal with. I agree with everyone who says you owe your co-worker a massive, heartfelt apology, but you can’t necessarily expect that to make everything better. Like other commenters, I’m not totally sure what you meant when you talked about mediation, but if you’re thinking of going to your boss and essentially saying, “Make Jane be friends with me again!”, you are barking up the wrong tree in a big way. Whatever your intentions, you did not do the right thing where your friend was concerned, and based on your co-worker’s behavior, I doubt your friendship is ever going to go back to the way it was before this incident. Start with an apology, then let your co-worker make any next moves towards friendship… and if she doesn’t, accept that as the natural consequence that it is and resolve to do better next time.

    1. Lee

      “You found out some personal and potentially damaging information about your friend, and you intentionally shared it with others at your workplace”
      Not true. The OP heard a rumor and discussed with her boss, not “others”. The boss, immaturely or perhaps intentionally, let the cat out of the bag.
      “That is a huge breach of trust, and if any of my friends did that, it would mean the end of our friendship” Not to mince words, but the coworker never mentioned the mental ward to the OP in the first place. The Volunteer spread the rumor through the grapevine, and once the boss told everyone, the volunteer “‘fessed up” to the co-worker and blamed the OP.

      1. LizB

        Maybe I should have said “someone” instead of “others.” The boss absolutely should have had more discretion, and should never have discussed the rumor with anyone else… but the OP still chose to pass the rumor along. That’s the breach of trust I’m talking about: choosing to spread information that is clearly of a personal nature, and that might make people (wrongly) think less of the OP’s friend. If one of my friends heard that I had sought mental health care, I would hope their first instinct would be to reach out me and see if there’s anything I needed, not to inform my boss without even letting me know they knew.

      2. Chris

        Generally, I don’t spread third-hand rumors about people I consider to be my friends. “Discuss” is a fancy word for “told”. It had absolutely nothing to do with either of them.

  62. Ruffingit

    OP, I’m not going to pile on, I’m just going to ask that you think about a few things:

    1. Why did you feel the need to tell your boss that you co-worker was in a mental institution? There is no reason your boss needs to know that information. I think you need to be very careful in the future about what you share with your superiors and why you share it. Mental health issues in particular are stigmatized so before you go sharing things with superiors or anyone, you need to ask yourself why you’re doing it.

    2. Apologize to your co-worker and make it a heartfelt one. This is not about shifting blame to the volunteer, to your boss, or to anyone else. This is about what you did. Tell your co-worker you sincerely apologize, that you see what you did was wrong, and that it won’t ever happen again. You really hurt her here and you made her health issues a topic of conversation among the office. That was terribly rude and disrespectful and I think you need to get to a place where you can see that before making the apology so work on accepting the fact that you are at fault here.

    3. Do not expect your co-worker to accept your apology. She may or may not do so, but her acceptance or lack thereof doesn’t make it less worthy of doing.

    Overall, please do not make the mistake in the future of sharing someone’s personal information. It simply isn’t yours to share so I implore you to remember this. It will hurt you not only with friendships in the office, but also with your superiors who, unlike your current boss, may brand you a gossip and a person who can’t be trusted to keep a confidence. That is a very bad, bad thing to be branded with in terms of your career.

  63. amp2140

    Look, I get it. Dealing with mental illness is hard difficult to categorize. If you saw this as a personal surgery, you wouldn’t share it. All OP’s boss needed to know was when her employee was going to be out of work.

    I’ve dealt with this on a personal level. My DBF is an alcoholic and relapsed last year. We work at the same facility, but for different companies, and his boss and I know each other. When my DBF had to go into rehab, there was obviously something that had to be said to his boss, and I asked what I was and was not allowed to say (no phones allowed in rehab). It’s hard to be quiet about these things, because people always want to know more. Fortunately his boss was understanding, and let me get away with ‘DBF will not be coming to work any earlier than X. He’s in a medical facility getting help.’ His boss even gave me some numbers I had to call on DBF’s behalf (short term disability).

    Half of this is knowing what information is yours to say, the other half is the other person cutting someone off/not pushing for more than they need to know.

  64. Ruffingit

    Anyone else think this is also a problem: I reported it to our boss immediately because we’re good friends and we share things…

    Being good friends with and sharing things with your superior can lead to some major problems as the OP has found out. I would strongly advise the OP to draw some major boundaries between herself and her boss going forward and to keep doing so in subsequent jobs. Your boss also being your close friend is just ripe for all kinds of problems.

  65. Vicki

    I do hope that the co-worker is just as (or more) upset wth the volunteer, her so-called friend who _actually_ started all of this.

    When the OP says “My coworker found out that everyone knew when she returned, including that the original info came from me (I guess her friend – who was the volunteer I heard it from – ‘fessed up to her).” — that’s not true. The original info did not come from the OP. It came from the volunteer.

    There are many people to blame here, but the first person to open her mouth and share a secret that was not hers to share was not the OP.

    1. Lee

      Well you have to wonder why the co-worker would tell a volunteer at the organization she works at?
      Nobody wants to blame the person with mental illness for confiding in a friend, but she did tell someone who was both a friend and volunteer who worked at her place of business, that was the first mistake.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Wait, what? Why? She’s absolutely entitled to talk to her friends. Her choice to do that does not give others license to share her private information, particularly at work.

        1. Celeste

          Exactly. She probably didn’t tell very many people, since it was so easy to track down the volunteer friend who leaked it.

  66. CJ

    “I reported it (*co-worker’s personal private medical information*) to our boss immediately because…”

    Nope. That’s where you went wrong. There is absolutely no reason to share someone else’s private medical information with a third party at work. I’m worried that you didn’t already know that, and I’m super-worried that your boss, someone in a supervisory position, didn’t know that.

    Now you know. If I were your co-worker, not only would I be snubbing you, but I’d be looking for a new job. The people at this one clearly have a gossip problem.

    1. Lee

      “There is absolutely no reason to share someone else’s private medical information with a third party at work.”
      I’m not sure if “private medical info” counts as simply checking into a mental health facility? There was no mention of a diagnosis or even if the mental facility ended up saying saying “you’re not crazy. go home”.
      However if it is “private medical information”, if the OP apologizes and admits to leaking it, couldn’t she face some legal repercussions?
      “If I were your co-worker, not only would I be snubbing you, but I’d be looking for a new job.”
      My own personal speculation into this matter tells me the boss knew spreading this rumor around the workplace would sully the co-workers reputation and did so intentionally so the co-worker would quit and they wouldn’t have to work with a “crazy”.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        There’s no legal repercussions for the OP here. HIPAA doesn’t apply to coworkers in non-medical settings.

        The speculation that the boss did it to try to get the coworker to quit — anything is possible, but the much simpler explanation is that she’s a gossip who didn’t consider or care about the effects of her actions.

        1. CJ

          “…the much simpler explanation is that she’s a gossip who didn’t consider or care about the effects of her actions.”

          Yup!

      2. CJ

        For me, this definitely counts as personal private medical information, same as my asthma medication and my OB visits during pregnancy. If I call in sick and don’t give my boss a reason, it’s not up to my co-worker/friend to run to the boss and tell her I have diarrhea. It’s not like my work friends are bound by HIPAA, but it’s huge personal boundary violation.

        For instance, I once had to leave work twice per week for allergy shots. I let my immediate office (five co-workers know) because I didn’t think it was anything to hide. Then I overheard one of my gossipy co-workers talking to someone from another site: “Oh, CJ gets allergy shots twice a week. You should ask her how they’re working.” Nope! Sorry, gossipy co-worker. That was not your information to share. I sure as hell don’t want to field questions about whether the shots are working or not unless *I* bring that up.

        Big deal? Not to some people. But definitely a boundary issue for me. I let my boss know it was 100% not okay for my gossipy co-worker to have done that. Same goes for mental health issues.

  67. CEMgr

    Does anyone other than Colette and me see that the “info” OP shared was actually just a vague rumor? Not only is the story intrusive, it could be and perhaps even is likely to be false, or so misstated as to be effectively false? Just one more reason why it makes no sense to share.

    OP shared a rumor and apparently reported it as fact. If that appearance is true, it’s something else to keep in mind: DON’T report rumors or gossip as fact.

    1. Office Mercenary

      This is so true! There are so many ways something taken out of context could become “She was checked into the psych ward.” Maybe the coworker initially said, “I need a mental health day,”
      “I’m going on an overnight retreat for trauma survivors,” “I’m visiting someone at an in patient facility,” or any number of things. Honestly, even a name could have been taken out of context. Here in NYC, “Bellevue” is usually interpreted as synonymous with “psych ward” even though it’s a huge hospital with lots of other wards. I volunteer on the overnight shift there; if someone misheard me say, “I had to spend Saturday night in the emergency department at Bellevue,” they might assume I was a patient, not a crisis counselor.

  68. Rev

    As a pastor (redundant with my screenname, I know, but considering the nature of the post, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to add), I get more than my share of information concerning people’s problems/issues. In my role as confidante, counselor, arbitrator, not to mention Unofficial Arbitrator of Right & Wrong for over 25 years, one of the things I’ve had to learn to do is:

    1–Assess the source of information for veracity. There are people who should carry a klaxon in their back pocket to sound off every time they open their mouth to speak, so everybody can be warned of Incoming…Misinformation…Incoming!!!

    2–Filter what my response should/will be, not only to the person giving the info, but to the people affected by it.

    It’s a delicate balancing act sometimes, and I can’t say that, in 25+ years, I’ve always made the right call. However, the Golden Rule is still intact, and it works fairly well. Also, the one about glass houses and stones…

    We’ve all had to deal with gossip before. Can we all say that we’ve always handled it properly? This situation is a good object lesson for all of us.

    IJS…

    1. Malissa

      I read point number one and my first thought was politicians…But that would get awfully noisy. ;)

  69. Nina

    It’s been pretty much said already, so I’ll try to keep it brief. At this point OP, I hope it’s clear that this was a serious mistake in judgement, even if it was well-intentioned. I believe that you didn’t mean any harm, but telling anyone about her medical issues (much less your boss) was a bad idea. Apologize to your coworker and own up to your mistake. And most importantly, respect her wishes.

    If she wants to be friends again, it will be a long time before her trust in you is earned. If not, then say goodbye and let it be at that. And in the future, keep in mind that once you say something, it’s out of your hands and you can’t stop others from talking or spreading things around. That’s what gossip is, and sadly, your coworker is now at the receiving end of that gossip when she shouldn’t be.

  70. Anonymous in Texas (just this once)!

    Gossip in the workplace can just really destroy. I had a situation a couple years ago where a very close friend (was in her wedding, threw her several showers, etc.) ended up joining our company (different location). I was in a more senior role and had helped get her the job. She and I would frequently talk about work (our own personal stories – what was going well, what wasn’t, etc.). I was going through a particularly difficult time and definitely shared some things I shouldn’t have. She ended up telling everything I told her, plus some things she made up to her manager. The worst part is she attributed some things she said to me! (“My manager’s tone is why no one stays and works for her.”) I never said those things – but said I understand and nodded empathetically when she vented about it.

    It caused a huge ruckus and I had to apologize to several people (I totally owned up to the parts I shouldn’t have said and had to deny the things I never said). The worst part is that I lost a good friend, and because I no longer trusted her, I didn’t even feel I could follow-up with her and ask her what she was thinking, why she did it, and see if she felt remorseful. I was afraid she would go tell her manager again and it would come across like I was blaming her and not taking ownership for the things I said. In reality, I shouldn’t have divulged some things, but I also didn’t expect a best friend would gossip about it to her manager AND use it as a way to get her opinions to her manager without them coming from her. The whole situation was just horrible and to this day, I haven’t spoken with her and I’m not sure if she even knows why.

  71. Not So NewReader

    OP, I think it is easiest going forward to assume the friendship is over.
    If you stop looking for it to return to the old familiar routine that will be a relief to you and your coworker in a small way.

    This is why friendships are a gift because they can end in a moment. Both people are in the friendship by choice. There can be any number of reasons for that ending, of course.
    I think most of us have stepped on toes at least once. Sometimes it really hurts because we lose someone that meant more to us than we realized. Sometimes it hurts because we are blindsided- it just comes up so fast. And sometimes it hurts because we were so certain we were right.

    Consider it lesson learned. And as one last gesture of friendship give her the space she wants, with no expectation on your part. It will take a period of time greater than a year for her to stop noticing people’s stares or over-hearing little whispers and giggles. And the dreams, those may never stop.

    One point to consider: Your boss is no friend to you. Why? Because a true friend has some concern for her friend’s friends. People’s friends are an extension of themselves. No, not “love me, love my friends” but we do have to show some respect for other people’s relationships. Your boss showed zero respect for your friendship with your coworker. She took your information and used it to elevate her image of being sooo important by having insider information. You may wish to consider how much information you share with this boss in the future.

  72. TheExchequer

    OP – If you had had solid evidence the coworker were a danger to themselves or others, this would have been the right call. But hearing this kind of second hand information and passing a rumor on to authority? You can’t blame your boss for passing that information on (whether or not they should have). Apologize, accept that you may never have the same relationship again, and learn something new.

    1. I had to pick a username I guess?

      I realize this post is almost a year old, so I am leaving this comment solely for the benefit of anyone who may be stumbling through the archives and reading through the comment chain. Even if you had evidence that this coworker was a danger to herself or others, it still would not be an appropriate thing to gossip to a boss about considering that she was currently in treatment. If a coworker currently at work who makes comments about threats to themselves or others would be a completely different situation.

      Second, let’s say that, instead of inpatient treatment for mental health, she was having a hysterectomy. You hear that she is out sick, but then someone tells you, oh no actually she is having a hysterectomy. Surgery is different than being sick, as you seem to be suggesting. Would it be appropriate to “report” that your coworker is having a hysterectomy to your boss because they “need to know”? (Answer, of course not)

      Third: running and reporting information implies that the coworker did not do her due diligence. Just like the articles on this site about coworkers who keep unofficial time sheets or track down their peer’s PTO, some things are no one else’s business. You aren’t paid to supervise her. You have no way of knowing who she told and what. She may have already told all of the appropriate channels exactly how long she would be out, and she may have already told them why. It’s just that no one told /you/ that (because it was none of your business). I had some chronic health issues awhile back, and I met with my boss privately to let him know that I was dealing with “health issues” (I didn’t give him specifics, and he didn’t ask for them ((because it was /none of his business))) and that I expected it to interfere with my schedule in XYZ ways. He knew that. But my lateral coworkers would just receive an email from me when I was out saying “I am not feeling well and will not be in today”. Because the SPECIFICS WERE NONE OF THEIR BUSINESS. You had no evidence that she would need to be out longer than she had requested or than would be normal for sick leave. So not only does the coworker have a right to her anger over disclosing her personal information, you going behind her back and reporting information up the chain implies you did not trust her professionalism or her competence.

      Fourth, being “close with your boss” does not make any sense as an excuse. If you had said that you are close with your boss and therefor you happened to slip up in the course of your normal conversation, it would still be a gross breach of trust but more understandable. I used to have a boss that I was good friends with, and I could imagine having a conversation about a coworker and accidentally saying something private that I would have assumed that she already knew about, or even mistakenly gossiping just because we talked to each other so often that we ended up talking about most things. But to “run and report” this information is nothing but being a purposeful gossip, with callous disregard to someone you claimed to be friendly with.

      Fifth (AND MOST IMPORTANT) if someone has clearly suffered a mental health crisis do not persist doing things that are clearly making them uncomfortable. Having something like that happen to you can make it really difficult to read other’s motivations, to feel confident in how you perceive the world around you, and to generally know how to interact. If someone has proven that their relationship is completely different than they thought it was (which the letter writer did by betraying someone she had perceived to be a friend) not only might it undermine the coworker’s mental health by making them unclear if they can trust their judgement and perceptions BUT ALSO persisting in trying to be friendly, prying them for information or communication, and trying to get them to spend more time with you than they are comfortable may be seriously unnerving.

      Seriously, people’s reaction to this is so bothersome to me. You wouldn’t go tell a boss “Oh, she is actually at the gynecologist” or “Oh, she actually getting an abortion” or “Oh, she is actually home with violent diarreah”. (Well, maybe you would, but anyone with sense and compassion would not).

  73. Adiposehysteria

    I am totally late to the comments here, and I will be nice as possible.

    This kind of thing destroys careers. Jobs discriminate against mental illness all of the time and know exactly how to keep themselves out of trouble for doing it. This co-worker could not only loose this job or future promotions over this, but it could “go through the grapevine” that this happened when she tries to apply for other jobs as well.

    I’ve had more than one job let me go once they found out about my mental illness, even when they didn’t know whether or not I had inpatient treatment for it.

  74. Anon this time

    Perhaps you are just young, but your letter is solely focused on your wants and needs. It may benefit you to consider why it hasn’t occurred to you to put someone else before yourself.

    I have known diagnosed narcissists, and it seems to me like you may have a few tendencies towards that mindset. You have seriously violated someone else’s privacy, but all you want is your coffee buddy back. This type of mindset may hold you back in the future. There are plenty of self-assessments online, think about exploring that further. It will help you in life if you’re not so self-centered. Narcissism is a very real thing, and not something to be taken lightly.

  75. Snarcus Aurelius

    I sincerely hope we get an update from this LW because I really would like to know if she still believes she did the right thing.

    I’m not going to pile on, LW, except to give you another perspective that you so desperately need. You’re lucky because I had a damn near identical situation from your coworker’s POV. She won’t tell you what it’s like for her, but I will for me.

    Many years ago, I had to take a week off work to tend to a parent who was having a non-life-threatening operation. I knew that my office was a little to close knit for my tastes, and I’d already been keeping them at arm’s length. I only told my boss and one “friend” about where I was going.

    That friend blabbed to another coworker who was obsessed with finding out where I was and why. That person then blabbed. Then the whole office knew. So in addition to helping an ailing parent, I had to deal with the stress of getting condolence emails about a very personal and private matter. Yes that’s right. Condolence emails from people I barely knew were upsetting.

    You know how people were talking about the negative stereotypes of mental health? Well here’s one that is all too present but is rarely discussed: the OVER sympathetic leeches.

    After the entire office knew of my situation, here’s what happened:

    *People (boss included!) started taking away projects from me without my consent or knowledge because they decided I “had too many personal issues” to deal with. Guess who didn’t get a raise at review time because she didn’t have key accomplishments to show for it?!?!?!

    * The guy who reported to me stopped taking any criticism of his questionable work because he figured my comments were really about my “personal tragedy” (a tragedy that wasn’t!) and not him; I had to correct his mistakes myself.

    * I couldn’t get visibly frustrated at even my own computer not working because I’d have three coworkers in my cube, asking if I needed to take a walk and “talk things out.”

    *Damn near every day for a year, I’d have coworkers tilt their heads at me and sigh, “How’s it going? No how’s it REALLY going?” “Fine” was never sufficient.

    * Up until the time I left, my boss would tell all new staffers that I had struggled with “some personal issues” but I was okay now, but I’d have “flare ups.”

    * Work issues stopped being about work issues and became about my personal life; seriously I could no longer have a legitimate view point anymore.

    The irony is that my parent recovered from that surgery way faster than it took for my “offices issues” to resolve, if they ever did.

    So while you’re upset at your coworker, you have got to understand how your blabbing of this secret his affected her probably permanently. If anything, put yourself in her shoes. How would you like it if any of the events kept happening to you? Because I guarantee that at least one or two will happen to her unless she finds a new job.

    And please don’t ask for mediation. The goal here is to STOP telling people about her medical information not widen the scope under the guise of “help.” Just chalk it up to a lesson learned and next time ask yourself, “Would Coworker want me telling people this information?”

    1. Ruffingit

      Wow. I am so sorry that happened to you, it just stinks. And I’m glad you shared this because it is important for the OP to realize that not only was this a betrayal, but there will likely be long-standing consequences of the betrayal for the co-worker up to and including a lot of what you mentioned happened to you. And, God forbid the boss is ever called about co-worker in a reference type situation. I can only imagine the conversation “Well, you should know that she has some mental issues…”

      There are deep and far reaching consequences for sharing this type of information and I really, really hope your story gets that fact through to the OP.

      1. Snarcus Aurelius

        Thanks for your feedback. What’s really funny is that those two former friends and coworkers and I used to go on Starbucks runs too! After that incident, I don’t think I ever went with them ever again.

        I, too, hope that LW sees these comments and finally understands that her coworker’s actions are no longer about the OP but about protecting herself and her mental health and well-being.

        This is no longer about happy hours, Starbucks, and lunch runs. This is about a woman who will probably be stigmatized (good or bad; it doesn’t matter because it’s intrusive) in the workplace because she sought assistance.

  76. Bea W

    I’m being punished for doing the right thing here.

    Here’s what you have to understand. You didn’t do the right thing. Divulging sensitive medical and highly personal information like this to anyone is not the right thing to do, and in some cases it could make things worse for someone, not help. This is especially the case with mental health issues. This is still a very sensitive topic than carries stigma. This also applies to other serious physical conditions that might affect a person’s job or standing in the company. These are issues that are between your co-worker and her boss or your co-worker and HR. Did you think that your co-worker honestly did not inform her boss she was sick, because that is all she had to do. She’s not required to divulge all the details. For all your knew, your boss had already been told and was properly keeping it to herself. I know that didn’t turn out to be the case, but it could have very well been the reason you thought your boss didn’t know the “real story”.

    Your co-worker called in sick, and she was legitimately sick. Unless she was going to have a prolonged absence she is under no obligation to disclose what illness kept her out of work. If she had told you “I called in sick because I had the flu.” or “I had to stay overnight in the hospital for tests because the doctor was afraid I might be having a heart attack.” would you have told your boss the details or would you have left that up to your friend?

    Please think about that, because people will act different when it comes to mental illness based on misconceptions and fear. Your friend may think that by your telling your boss, you judged her, and that was motivation behind your gossip. If I were in your friend’s shoes (and I have been, but not in a work situation), I would pull back as well out of a sense of not only distrust, but betrayal. What you did really hurt her, not only on an emotional level but at her job.

    It’s not simply that she feels she can’t trust you, but your gossiping to your boss and your boss subsequently gossiping to everyone else will likely have a negative impact for her at work. At the very least it is going to be very awkward for her coming back into the office. I hope for her sake that your boss and co-workers are especially enlightened and understanding, but given that your boss blabbed it, I’m thinking that’s unlikely to be the case and your friend is going to get the brunt of the blowback from your mistake. It could even be to the point where she feels like she has to look for other work or will be, as they say, “managed out”. What you did can have very serious consequences, not for you, but for her. It will all fall on her. At worst you have lost a friend. At worst for her, she has just effectively lost her job. There’s no comparison.

    1. L McD

      Yeah, this. I do sympathize with the OP to an extent, and I think anyone who can truthfully say they have never EVER participated in potentially damaging gossip once in their lives is probably a very rare bird. BUT, this is part of the lesson to learn about why gossip is bad. Once you pass it along, it’s out of your control.

      That’s the whole point. The information might not be damaging when it’s kept only to certain people, and the boss COULD have seemed to be one of those people, but that’s irrelevant now – the boss ISN’T, because the boss spread it around even beyond the company. That’s inexcusable, and while the boss holds responsibility for doing that, the OP holds responsibility for passing along gossip to someone in the first place. Because this always has the potential to happen. Gossiping is a bad idea in isolation, whether or not there is fallout from it – this time it so happens that there was, so now there are consequences.

      Assume that everyone you know in a social or business situation can’t be trusted with sensitive, confidential, and potentially damaging information about other people. That is the only way to avoid something like this happening in the future.

  77. Sigrid

    I know this comment thread has sixty-zillion comments, and maybe this is something that I should write into Allison independently, but I have a somewhat-related situation that happened a couple years ago that I’d like others’ opinions on:

    A coworker was out for about six weeks due to surgery. I knew about this because she had discussed it with me before she left, but the majority of people who worked with her did not know the details. The only thing that was said officially was “A will be out for six weeks”. During that time, I heard gossip from more than one coworker that A was out for “mental health reasons”. (I have no idea where the rumor started.) Whenever anyone said anything to me or in my hearing, I responded with, “I really don’t think it’s appropriate to be discussing A’s absence, and especially not her health status”. (None of the people involved were my subordinates — I didn’t have subordinates! — so I couldn’t say anything as an official authority.) After about the third time I heard this, I mentioned to A’s boss that a rumor was apparently going around that A was out for mental health reasons, without mentioning any names. However, the rumor still persisted (as in, I kept hearing it). I didn’t feel I had the right to say, “no, A is out due to surgery”, but to this day I’m not sure I did the right thing, and it still bothers me that I didn’t do anything more proactive to quell the rumor.

    What do other people think? Should I have said or done something different? If something similar happens again, what should I do?

    1. Jamie

      You did the right thing – you addressed a false rumor but didn’t violate her privacy in doing so.

      Just because other people didn’t respond appropriately doesn’t mean your actions were wrong.

    2. A Bug!

      I’m with Jamie. Your decision was fine, both in how you responded to your coworkers and what you reported to A’s boss.

      If it happens again I can think of a couple of other options available to you, depending on what you feel is appropriate and what your circumstances are.

      The first is to just contact the coworker (by phone or in person according to the circumstances and your comfort) and find out how they’re doing. While you’re talking with them you can mention the rumors and find out if they’d like you to actually correct them, and if so, with how much detail. Depending on why they’re in the hospital they might welcome a call from a concerned coworker, especially one who’s actually concerned and not just digging for gossip.

      The second option takes a little finesse, but it’s available to you regardless of what information you actually have about the coworker’s absence. Basically, you play dumb. No accusations, no lectures, just let the person dig their own hole.

      “Oh, you’ve heard from Agatha? …Oh, who did you hear that from? So nobody’s heard from Agatha? I’m really confused, where is this idea coming from if nobody’s actually talked to Agatha yet? So… this is all just speculation? I uh… sorry, this feels a bit too much like gossip for me. I’ve got to get back to work. Let me know if you hear anything from Agatha, would you?”

      Then if the rumor crosses your path from someone else you can do a similar thing, with “Last time I heard about this, it was just gossip and speculation and nobody had actually heard anything from Agatha herself. Do you know if that’s changed?”

      Of course, if it turns out that the gossip is from a reputable source, and it’s clear that the person spreading it isn’t doing so on instructions from the subject, then you can fall back on what you did for A, or something similar. “Are you sure Agatha’s okay with you sharing that? It just sounds like really personal information and if it were me I’d be really uncomfortable with my coworkers hearing about it second- and third-hand.”

    3. Celeste

      Nope, that was great, and I’d go so far as to say very diplomatic.

      I think that “out for six weeks” is practically office code for “had surgery”, but you never know where people will go with it. Whenever anybody here is out, there always seems to be such a hunger to know what the reason is. It’s so personal, yet they never seem to think, if he/she wants me to know they can certainly share it. There is never, ever a consideration of what the person would want. I have seen the same inquisitors go mute when it’s their own body that has to be out on leave. Suddenly it’s MYOB time to them!

  78. Observer

    To the LW, I want to mention one other point that I don’t think has come up. Even if your co-worker accepts your apology, it doesn’t mean she will become buddies with you again. Your act has permanently changed the dynamic between you, and the only thing you can do is to *sincerely* apologize (no excuses or blame shifting, just accepting your part of the mess), give her her space and show yourself to be totally trustworthy by not gossiping about others in the workplace.

    1. bullyfree

      I’d like to add to your comment to say it is not “overreacting” or being “too sensitive” if your coworker never trusts you again. She is not punishing you; she is keeping herself safe. Having been raised by Narcissists and severely abused my whole life until I went No Contact, and having been bullied in the workplace until I almost took my life, I ended up in a Psych Ward. There I learned that the people saying I was overreacting and being too sensitive, were abusing me and that is how they justified the continued abuse. If you complain to others in the workplace that she wants nothing to do with you without understanding why or respecting her needs, you are continuing to violate her boundaries. She needs to keep herself safe to heal. Please honor her need for space and realize in the hospital she probably had sessions on taking care of herself in order to manage her illness. Also almost certainly there were sessions on who in your life is “safe”. People who gossip or share such personal information are probably not on her safe list.

  79. Anonforthis

    I had a friend once that I was close to for many years. I told my friend I was taking some space from the friendship because she had finally worn me down emotionally. She was very dramatic and suffered from a lot of anxiety issues, which I do too and am on meds for so I understood that, but her continual dramatics was just beyond what I could handle. After I told her I was taking that space, she sent me emails wherein she apologized for her behavior, blamed me, wanted to dissect the friendship issues, begged me to take her back as a friend, etc. This all played out over a six-month period or so. We might be friends today if she had respected my need for space and given it to me freely. Instead, she harassed me to the point where I knew that I could never be her friend again.

    So I guess my point for the OP is that you need to leave your co-worker alone. Give her a heartfelt apology because she deserves that, but then leave her alone. If you keep chasing her, you will find yourself with no chance of rekindling the friendship down the road.

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