update: I gossiped and now my coworker doesn’t trust me

Remember the letter-writer who had shared private information about her coworker with her boss (the coworker had checked into a mental health facility) and her coworker didn’t trust her anymore as a result? Here’s her update.

Thank you for the advice about moving on. I’ve found another job, outside of my industry (moved from a nonprofit to corporate sales; being enrolled in an MBA program helped). I’ve learned my lesson and am keeping my head down and focusing on WORK instead of drama.

As you, your commenters, and people in my own life pointed out, my boss was horribly inappropriate and I was learning terrible lessons from her. I still cringe at my past behavior and am trying to be more professional my new job.

My relationship with my boss rapidly deteriorated right up until her last day at my old job. She was fired for inappropriate behavior after a drunken, belligerent phone call to both a board member and our CEO.

I made a big mistake in my career, but am trying to learn from it and be better.

{ 45 comments… read them below }

  1. fposte*

    Thanks for the update, LW. It sounds like you’ve put a lot of work into figuring this all out and learning from it, and that does you immense credit.

  2. hildi*

    “…my boss was horribly inappropriate and I was learning terrible lessons from her.”

    While this isn’t an excuse (and I know the OP wasn’t using it as an excuse), I think this is something to keep in mind that can legitimately happen to people without realizing it. I’ve seen it discussed here in various forms in the past: That you can be in such a toxic environment or under the influences of a toxic manager that you don’t even know what’s appropriate and normal anymore. Good job, OP, for having the guts to leave and the clarity to see what was really happening in that situation.

    1. AMG*

      I can understand. I interpret this as the reason why OP did it but not the justification. It’s hard to admit mistakes sometimes, especially when they are character flaws, so good for you, OP. happy travels!

    2. Pussyfooter*

      You don’t even need to be in a horrible environment, you can just be naïve and get bad examples from idiots…

      I *do* hope the OP apologized to the woman whose incredibly person business she passed on without permission.

      1. wesgerrr*

        Pussyfooter- exactly what happened in my first job out of college. I still cringe about it sometimes!

      2. RobM*

        Hopefully. We can’t help making mistakes sometimes. The real tragedy is failing to learn from them.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Really important points here, hildi and Pussyfooter.

        I hope a lot of people read your posts. It is so easy to get sucked into stuff. Even good people can make that one really bad choice.
        And it can seem like all it took was a split second of not thinking to get drawn into the mess.

        LW, you did not make newspaper headlines. That is something to be grateful for. And you learned a lesson well, which is impression.
        All the best to you.

        1. Mistake Maker*

          LW and up thread, your post helped me, too. I am still cringing about mistakes from OldJob, but my feelings are the same: 1) I recognize what needs to change, 2) I am not in prison, 3) I did not make headlines.

  3. Mishsmom*

    good for you OP! i have made that mistake in the past and have learned as well. good luck to you!!! :)

  4. Celeste*

    Thanks for the update! I’m happy for you that things are going so well for you. I agree with those who say a person can just fall into a toxic situation. Good for you for finding your way out. It sounds like you are your way to much better things.

  5. Rose*

    We all make mistakes and do crappy things occasionally.

    The important thing is admitting you were wrong, and making an effort to change your behavior moving forward. It looks like you’re doing both! Good luck at your new job.

  6. Congrats, OP!*

    IMO one of the best things you can do with a mistake is learn from it and it sounds like you have.

  7. Snarkus Ariellius*

    Can I just say how awesome this update is?  When I initially read your story, I was ready to rip you apart, primarily because of a similar experience with someone like you.  (I posted it in the original comments.)

    But reading your update makes me think you’re a pretty stellar person because you stated what you did wrong, acknowledged how wrong it was later on, and learned from it.  (That can be all too rare!)

    One thing you didn’t mention was your coworker and how that ended up working out.  I hope things ended okay with her too.

    1. Mimmy*

      I second that about the coworker.

      Great update OP, you have a good head on your shoulders.

    2. OP*

      My coworker got a new job 2 months after the incident and left before our boss was fired and I got a new job. From what I heard, it sounded like a great fit for her. We haven’t spoken and she hasn’t returned my emails or voicemail (understandably).

      1. Carpe Librarium*

        Can I just jump in and say that if you have attempted to contact your former colleague by phone and email and received no response, please stop trying to contact her at all (if you haven’t already stopped, that is).
        Give her the space to decide if/when/never she feels comfortable communicating with you again.

        1. OP*

          I am giving her space and not forcing her to talk to me. I send an email every now and then and she can choose to communicate with me by writing or calling back.

          1. Anon this time*

            It’s true that sending her the occasional email doesn’t “force” her to do anything, but you may still be hurting her by sending them. And it’s not true that she hasn’t communicated with you. By not responding, she is clearly communicating a message that she doesn’t want to be in contact. Stop the emails. She has enough information to know that you would like to talk, and she’ll initiate fresh contact if she ever changes her mind.

            In the meantime, your emails may be annoying and distressing to her, which will only keep her at a distance. Knock it off.

  8. Ali*

    This was an update I was hoping for. As someone looking to change fields myself (though for different reasons than what the OP said), I’m sure having a fresh start helps a lot in some areas. I’m glad you were able to move on from your mistakes. I’ve done some crappy things too, but the important thing is learning from them.

    If you come back and can provide an update on that coworker, I’m curious about that as well. (Although is it bad that I am? Now I feel gossipy.)

  9. Jen S. 2.0*

    Clearly and obviously, it’s as important to learn whom not to emulate as whom to emulate. Do not — do not — become known for taking your cues from the wrong people.

    Just because someone is in charge (…or some semblance thereof) doesn’t mean they are correct.

    I’m glad OP figured it out.

  10. AndersonDarling*

    I’m taking a class on Health Information Law and I kept remembering the OP’s original letter and the volunteer who originally leaked the information. Major, major HIPAA violation. I considered writing my final on it!

    I’m glad the OP moved on and found someplace she could start over.

    1. GoatGirl*

      I believe it’s only a HIPAA violation if the volunteer who originally spilled works at the mental health facility. HIPAA only applies to medical workers who deal with patient information and files, not your average joe.

    2. The Real Ash*

      Not to sound rude, but you need to re-check the information you’re learning in class. HIPAA only applies to medical professionals (e.g. nurses, doctors, front-end office workers, record staff, etc.). In no way, shape, or form does it apply to a “random” person who happens to learn medical information about someone else (random in this case meaning someone not involved in your care, or someone with access to your medical records). If you tell your friend you have cancer and they tell someone else, they are not violating HIPAA, even if you two work together and the person they told was your manager.

      1. fposte*

        Though to be fair to Anderson, I got confused too, since there was a volunteer involved and a hospital involved and I initially read it as somebody who’d been volunteering at the hospital, which would have made it a HIPAA violation.

        1. Fish Microwaver*

          Even health professionals have difficulty knowing what is a HIPAA violation.

          1. Lamb*

            That’s true; I once called my husband’s doctor to find out what specialist they recommend in a given field and they wouldn’t tell me because they claimed it violated HIPPA.
            To be clear, we wanted to find a specialist and make a first appointment; he had never seen or even been referred to a specialist before.

      2. Liane*

        HIPAA also applies to some other people than the ones you called out.
        Ones I know for sure:
        Employees of health insurers. (one of my close friends is a Claims Analyst in this field.)
        Pharmacists & others who work in the pharmacy department at retailers. (Those staff where I work get HIPAA training before they can start & I believe it has to be updated regularly)
        Medical Transcriptionists & Med Transcription Editors & QA. (I was a work@home Transcription Editor & this was the *big* reason I had to use a dedicated company-supplied computer)

        1. JustMe*

          That’s right Liane. Any one that has access to other’s PMI that you listed. I too have to follow HIPPA laws, and have gone through training. I’m in the Healthcare Software Industry (I.T.). So, it doesn’t only apply to those that work in a hospital.

  11. WorkingAsDesigned*

    OP, congratulations on your personal growth!

    I’m ashamed to admit that years ago, I also allowed myself to be influenced by less-than-stellar managers. We worked in retail, and one of the assistant managers told me (a “junior”-type manager) that an employee had called out sick . . . again. The employee had terrible menstrual cycles; enough to knock her flat on her back.

    The manager (male – this is important, not gender-bashing), told me that the employee called out every month for this affliction. He said that as a man, he couldn’t really say anything to her, but as a woman, I could. I got on the phone with her, and wasn’t very kind. The part I remember and cringe at most was when I said, “You knew that you had this problem when you took this job, right?” “Yes.” “Then you should be able to plan ahead and be at work.”

    I don’t even know who the employee was; hadn’t ever even worked with her. It’s no wonder people in the store didn’t like me.

    If you were that employee and are reading this, please accept my very belated and shame-faced apology!

    1. The Bimmer Man*

      Ouch! I know you understand your part in that scenario, but what kind of manager would do something *so* crappy and demeaning as that? You must have been in a very toxic environment…

      1. WorkingAsDesigned*

        I know – I was terrible, and there’s really no excuse for it, toxic environment or not. If I do ever cross paths with that employee again, “I’m sorry” may not be enough, but I’ll at least try.

        1. hayling*

          I think your situation is a little different. You weren’t influenced by a bad manager, you were straight-up directed to do something by an awful manager.

          I would also feel awful though. Ugh and that poor woman!

  12. Jeanne*

    We all make mistakes. Good people learn from their mistakes. Thanks for the update and good luck in your new job.

  13. Liane*

    Forgot the most important comment! I am so glad things turned out well for you. And here’s hoping they stay that way.

  14. StateRegulator*

    Give yourself a break, OP, and don’t beat yourself up over this. You’ve learned a great lesson and you are wiser for it. Enjoy your new career and bright future.

  15. JustMe*

    I truly commend you, OP. One of the best advice I received from an ex was to keep my nose clean, and do my job. You’re doing that now, and you will be better off.

  16. Blue Anne*

    Great turnaround, OP. It’s really hard to recognize and admit it when you’ve done something cringe-worthy. Good on you. Hope the new gig works out.

  17. Compliance Wonk*

    Congratulations on learning a lesson and not behaving like a victim.

    Am I the only one who wants to hear more about the ex-boss’s drunken phone call?

  18. Gnora*

    Am I the only one who seriously feels like LW is still shifting blame to their boss?

  19. Cucumber*

    I’ve learned my lesson and am keeping my head down and focusing on WORK instead of drama…I still cringe at my past behavior and am trying to be more professional….I made a big mistake..

    It sounds like the letter writer is still blaming the boss for inappropriate behavior, yes, but it also appears that she is owning up to her actions

  20. Anon this time*

    I wasn’t an AAM reader at the time of the original post, but I’ll share a story of similar circumstances handled very differently.

    I worked at a very small company – myself, the boss, and a coworker senior to me. The boss and I both knew my coworker was going through some major personal challenges, and Coworker confided in me privately that she was seeing a therapist. One day she let me know she was going to therapy during her lunch hour. She never came back. She sent me a text saying she was headed to the emergency room and wouldn’t be back that day, and if Boss asked to talk to her (I don’t think he did because he was so tied up in outside meetings) I could let him know she’d had a medical emergency but would be fine. She’d left her apartment keys at her desk, and I dropped them at the hospital after work. I sometimes wonder if even that small thing was intrusive on my part, because she didn’t ask me to, but at the time it felt like the right thing to do.

    The next day Coworker’s friend/spokesperson called me at the office to say she had been admitted to the hospital and might have to stay a few days for “tests.” The friend was super discreet, but at this point I let him know I knew she was in psych. Basically, the friend and I (relaying his carefully worded messages) both took care over the next week to keep Boss informed of her general condition and whereabouts, but also to keep the specifics private. For extra context, Coworker and Boss had been good friends for over a decade, but she obviously still didn’t feel comfortable being open with him about this, and I got those signals and made it my mission to protect her privacy. I don’t know if she ever told Boss what really happened. Maybe years later over drinks.

    Extra extra context: about a month before this incident, I had been subjected to a surprise painful foot procedure at a routine early morning appointment, and I had to call out of work while I waited to get crutches. My boss wasn’t happy to have me calling first thing in the morning to say I wouldn’t be there because of an “unexpected surgical procedure.” He got really pushy about wanting to know exactly what had happened to me (as a way of ascertaining how serious it was and how long I’d be out). I didn’t want to discuss my embarrassing, icky, ongoing foot problems with my boss, but the combination of physical pain and emotional pressure made me cave. I always regretted giving him details I wasn’t comfortable sharing when I knew I wasn’t obligated to. When I returned to work, I sat him down for a talk about how uncomfortable I had been, and I insisted that such details be shared at MY discretion in the future. He agreed, with apologies. So when Coworker vanished to the hospital for mysterious reasons, he didn’t press for more. And I want to stress that having these boundaries didn’t damage the friendly, informal atmosphere at our office, which was important to us as a three-person team.

    TL;DR: Your boss is not entitled to know what’s up with you medically. Certain information not only isn’t their business, it’s not even useful to them. What’s useful is notification that you’ll be out and for how long. Any extra explanation they get should come from the employee directly and not a coworker. This is especially true if mental health issues are involved.

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