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 in-patient 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. 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, which used to be a daily outing for us. 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?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 225 comments… read them below }

  1. The Original K.*

    There would be nothing the OP could do to get back in my good graces after this, if I were the coworker who had been gossiped about. The apology would be nice but I still wouldn’t trust her with any personal information ever again. I would eventually forgive her for my own sake, not for hers, but that wouldn’t include re-building any kind of friendship.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      I remember this letter, too. I still want to know why the co-worker wasn’t mad at the volunteer who originally spread the word?

      1. Kate 2*

        Maybe she is, but LW doesn’t care and so doesn’t mention it. Or a number of other reasons.

      2. Observer*

        Well, you actually don’t know that she wasn’t. If I understand the comments, the coworker did move on as well, eventually.

      3. Ego Chamber*

        There’s nothing in the letter about whether or not the coworker was upset with the volunteer too.

        Coworker apparently traced the info back to LW, so either doesn’t know about the volunteer’s involvement or is being just as distant with the volunteer and LW doesn’t know that or didn’t think to mention it. (I’m curious how the volunteer knew in the first place, and I really hope it’s not because they also volunteer at the facility Coworker checked into.)

    2. Specialk9*

      There would be nothing that would redeem the OP in my eyes, even if I were just an uninvolved bystander. 1) Violating medical privacy, then 2) outing someone for getting mental health support, are both separately egregious.

      The fact that OP is compounding those two dire violations by 3) blaming the betrayed coworker and trying to force emotional intimacy? That’s bad, like really.

      OP, I’m not trying to be harsh to you, but please realize that you messed up really badly in 3 different ways and are blame shifting. You need to think hard about all the harm you’ve done, apologize with true contrition and without heaping guilt on the co-worker you harmed, and then take some really hard looks at yourself. You’re not a bad person, but this is a bad direction you’re going on, and it needs course correction.

    3. mark132*

      I definitely see where you are coming from here, for me it would probably put a permanent damper on the relationship, but I would be willing to try an put it behind me as much as I can. I’ve made some mistakes I regret in the past, and I’m grateful when friends are willing to give me a second chance.

      1. Beth C.*

        I think that is really good of you, I don’t know if I could. There are mistakes, and there are MISTAKES. Given that it is very possible this poor woman is now dealing with the stigma of being “the crazy one” (because people can still be extremely judgemental and cruel when it comes to mental health) I really would not blame her for not wanting to even be in the same room as the person who told her boss. The fact others found out from whomever is just the extra hurt and pain on top of everything.

  2. Ella*

    Oh wow. If a friend did this to me, they would never be considered a friend again. Not only is mental health treatment intensely personal, it also is often deeply stigmatized. Not only did you violate your friends privacy by sharing this with your boss, you opened her up to future discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere.

    LW, I truly hope the lesson you get out of this isn’t “my boss did a bad thing” but “I acted badly and will never share people’s personal health information against their consent again, unless someone is legitimately in immediate danger.”

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Yes! And the coworker friend had already called in sick, so that part of her responsibility to the workplace was already handled. Yet the OP, based on overhearing some second-hand gossip from other coworkers, went running to her friend the boss to gossip about the details.

      1. fposte*

        It’s a combination of horrible and understandable to me. She was in this dysfunctional dyad with a dysfunctional boss and never really (until her update) processed that just because something would please her boss didn’t mean she should do it.

          1. MsSolo*

            Inc letters are almost always reprints. The original letter is linked to in the “You may also like” section, as well as the update.

    2. a1*

      I think both LW and boss are in the wrong. LW told one person, mistakenly thinking they needed to know. Boss told so many people and for what reason? If nothing else, the boss should be more aware that this isn’t something to spread about.

      1. fposte*

        To me the “mistakenly thinking they needed to know” is the point for exploration. When does your manager need to know something? How do you separate that from just wanting to tell her?

        I suspect that the two got inextricably combined for the OP.

        1. OhBehave*

          That can be hard to judge. We’ve seen letters saying that co-workers are getting drunk at lunch and driving. In this case I think public safety is at risk and it’s worth reporting to police or boss.

          Something as private as checking into an in-patient facility is just that – private. This also means that employee was seeking help. I think a hard look into why OP thought it appropriate to report the findings (grapevine, poss 4th hearing) begs the question why. If it’s inexperience, then maybe so. But really none of her business. Trying to ingratiate themselves to the boss? Ugh.
          In reading the update, I wonder if OP really understands the gravity of the situation. Her coworker was exposed. This kind of thing could have/may have had horrible implications for this employee in reputation and future work. Coworker is completely justified in snubbing OP. I wonder if OP ever apologized to coworker?

          1. ajaner*

            I didn’t get a sense that the OP really grasped the full implication of what they’d done, either. The take in the update is that they will be focused on work instead of drama.

            Mental illness is not drama. It is a health issue. Side eye city over here, but this is hitting some very tender spots for me, so totally possible I am being harder on OP than is warrented.

    1. EditorInChief*

      Interesting update. Even there the OP lays all the blame at the feet of her boss and still doesn’t seem to understand her role in the situation.

      1. Amber T*

        I think she does. She mentions she picked up horrible habits from her boss, but that’s she’s trying to relearn and she kept her head down. She also mentions in the update comments that she had reached out to the coworker, who had moved on to a different job, but wasn’t attempting to force her to talk to her, just leaving the line open for communication. I think OP learned.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, I agree. When you’re close with somebody who has more power in the situation, it’s not hard to emulate them in bad ways. I doubt she’d have told bosses she has a more professional relationship with–this was relationship fodder disguised as work fodder.

          Still her fault for telling it, of course, and still totally reasonable for the co-worker to keep her at arm’s length thereafter.

      2. neverjaunty*

        Eh, she acknowledges her behavior was horrible and that she’s trying to behave very differently from now on.

        1. Specialk9*

          “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.”

          That doesn’t sound like ownership of her part. I am thinking of a situation I was in, where it was 94.7% the other person’s fault – but you know what? I own up, fully, to that 5.3% that was on me. I worked really hard to fix the stuff I was doing, and I don’t blame shift.

          In this case, it was maaaaaybe 60-70% on the boss, but just saying ‘I did bad stuff because my boss was a terrible role model’ is NOT owning up to it, it’s blame shifting.

          I’m not impressed. I don’t think there’s *no* hope for OP, but it feels like she’s still seriously working on integrity, but without that painful self honesty that’s required to do the hard stuff.

      3. Observer*

        I don’t really agree – it seems to me that she did realize that she’d misbehaved. Accepting responsibility does not necessarily mean that you have to ignore all other factors. And it’s pretty clear that the old boss WAS a poor influence and role model for the OP.

        1. Emily K*

          Yes, we are responsible for our actions but we don’t act in a vacuum. If LW came out of this just thinking, “I shouldn’t have told that. I’ll make sure not to repeat anyone’s private medical information again,” that would be a good outcome. But a better outcome is if LW came out of it thinking that, plus, “Now I know that just because someone is a boss doesn’t mean I should emulate them. And I should probably keep my work and friendships separated going forward, especially when it comes to my boss. In my next job, I’m going to pay more attention to the example set by senior staff who seem to be warmly regarded and successful, and use them as my role models instead of whichever supervisor I happen to get assigned to.”

      4. DecorativeCacti*

        Yeah, I’m not sure that the OP learned the right lesson here. Right outcome, wrong lesson.

      5. Tuxedo Cat*

        I might cut her some slack if she’s newer to the workforce- it sounds like the boss was teaching the letter writer norms that aren’t healthy. I didn’t feel like she was completely blaming the boss.

    2. Newbie*

      Newbie question! How do we know if a letter is a repeat so that we can check for updates? The updates are my favorite part, so now I’m wondering if I should go back and search some past letters to see if they were repeats that had updates…or did Alison just forget to link to it?

      1. The Ginger Ginger*

        Most of the time if a question is reprint of the old one it will mention it in the body, but you will also typically see any updates in the “You May Also Like” list of posts. They’ll be named “update: *whatever the original title was*”, in this case “update: I gossiped and now my coworker doesn’t trust me”

        1. The Ginger Ginger*

          Sometimes, if the update was published in a group you may see “Three Updates from Previous Letter Writers” or something like that. If I suspect I may be reading a re-post I will click on anything in the “You May Also Like” that says “update” just to be sure.

          Plus Alison’s really good about linking original posts in her update posts, so you can always trace the whole thing all the way back.

      2. Legal Beagle*

        The update will usually be one of the links that pops up at the end of the post (before the comments). Scroll up and you should see it under the “You may also like” section.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        Usually an oldster will link in the comments. But on the old letter, the update will usually be a link in the three suggested other letters. So you can search on key terms in this letter in the search this site box.

      4. fposte*

        It says in the text under the letter “I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago.” However, there generally isn’t a link to the original appearance or updates.

      5. BethRA*

        Often the columns she links to at Inc. are repeats/updates from previously answered questions (hence “I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them).” ) If they’re updates, she labels them as such.

      6. Ask a Manager* Post author

        If it’s a reprint, I will always say that it’s a reprint. All my Inc. columns are reprints from the archives, and it’ll always say that right below the letter. I also occasionally do reprints here that aren’t Inc. columns, and it’ll say that right at the top of the post.

        Knowing whether or not there was an update is a little trickier. Sometimes the “you may also like” links beneath the post will automatically link to the update, but they don’t do it reliably every time (and especially not if the update was included in a round-up of multiple updates).

  3. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster*

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

    Um, no. You didn’t do the right thing. Not at all.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

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

      Fixed it.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Oops, my strikethrough html didn’t strike through the word “right” like I expected it to. Fail.

        1. Tardigrade*

          Hah, I read it as a purposeful intensifier of how much of a busybody she was.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            Oh, yeah — that works. In other news, I totally meant that and did it on purpose. :-)

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yeah; I remember the original letter and was struck by how much OP had distanced herself from her bad behavior. This was an awful situation.

    3. Alldogsarepuppies*

      I’d also push back on the word punished. Your co-worker isn’t avoid friendship to punish you or make you feel bad or stop you from doing it again or anything else that’s a punishment. they just don’t see you as a friend anymore. Consequences and punishment are distinct words for distinct things.

      1. Aaaaaaanon.*

        This is a really good point, and it’s particularly important for someone who doesn’t have insight into what they did wrong. I find that people like that are sometimes dismissive of the idea that there are distinct words for distinct things – maybe because they have trouble accurately identifying their or other peoples’ feelings, who knows.

      2. Sylvan*

        Yes. This happened years ago and the OP must have learned from it and moved on by now, but in general, self-protection isn’t punishment.

      3. OhBehave*

        It’s akin to apologizing for how someone took a comment/action. “I’m sorry you are mad that I called you a unicorn.” instead of apologizing for calling them a unicorn. It makes the recipient at fault because of how they reacted.
        Umm – yes, you were at fault in repeating something that’s supposed to be protected information.

        1. Specialk9*

          Off topic, why would anyone be mad at being called a unicorn?! Unicorns poop rainbows and fly and are glorious!

          Unless maybe you’re talking about poly people, I think that word is a little dismissive in that context? (Snark?)

          1. Julia*

            If you had a giant pimple on your forehead? If someone used “unicorn” to say you’re a “special snowflake” (ugh)?

      4. TootsNYC*

        It’s also self-protective. The LW proved that she’s not someone the coworker can trust, and so the coworker is protecting herself by not being more deeply involved anymore.

        In that case, it’s not at all about the LW, and completely about the coworker and her own needs (and wants).

    4. paul*


      Don’t get me wrong, what the boss did sucked too. But the OP also screwed up big time.

  4. Cordelia Vorkosigan*

    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.

    Um, yeah, OP, you were not actually discreet here at all. You were pretty much the definition of indiscreet.

    1. Clorinda*

      “Two people can keep a secret, if one of them is dead.”–Mark Twain, probably.

    2. Bigglesworth*

      I was actually coming here to say the same thing. OP wasn’t discreet at all. My husband was admitted to an in-patient facility in the fall and although his HR knew (because I had to do the paperwork), they never told anyone. As far as his coworkers or boss are concerned, he had appendicitis. He works in a blue collar industry (aka mental heath issues are just not discussed), but the company recently lost two men to suicide and were on high alert to help. Still are, actually. All that to say, OP wasn’t discreet. This wasn’t information they should’ve shared and I don’t blame the other person one bit for distancing themselves.

      1. Specialk9*

        I’m glad your husband was treated well by his HR. Thanks for sharing that.

    3. Jen S. 2.0*

      As someone said in the original comments (don’t even have to look it up because it stuck with me so hard):

      OP, you are drawing a distinction where none exists.

  5. EditorInChief*

    Wow, after hearing such intensely and potentially stigmatizing personal news your first thought was to go running to your boss to spread the gossip? I would never trust you again either. Leave that coworker alone. Hopefully you’ve learned your lesson to mind your own business.

  6. Beth*

    Oh my god. You were NOT ‘reporting relevant information to your boss’. You were SHARING YOUR FRIEND’S PRIVATE MEDICAL INFORMATION WITHOUT HER PERMISSION. That is huge, especially considering how much stigma there can be about mental health–it’s an area that requires discretion even above and beyond ‘typical’ health issues (which are still hugely personal and private). You had absolutely no right to do this. Your coworker’s absence is between her and your boss to manage, you have no role in it; and your manager has no rights to her medical details from anyone, she has no right to know that it’s a mental health related issue, just that your coworker would be out for vague medical reasons.

    You destroyed your friendship through your own actions. Your coworker’s lack of trust in you is your own fault. I’m sorry if this seems harsh, but a little awkwardness and a lost friendship is honestly a more than reasonable consequence for such a massive violation.

    1. Sally*

      Also, if she hadn’t told you – her friend – where she was, it seems reasonable to assume that she didn’t want anyone at work to know. And that’s her prerogative.

  7. neeko*

    Really don’t understand how the OP thinks they did the right thing here. The friend called out sick – the boss didn’t need to know why. If she wanted the boss to know, she would have told her. She has every right to be angry and upset. It seems like the writer feels bad but not apologetic (since they think they did the “right thing”) so I wouldn’t bother apologizing if it’s just to get into work friend’s good graces again.

    1. Nita*

      I can only think of a small handful of situations where this would maybe possibly would be the right thing (are there jobs that require mental health screening? does the boss need to know if you passed initial screening, but develop serious mental health problems later?). 99% chance this was not one of them. Just someone being a busybody, kicking a coworker who’s already down, and then being surprised she doesn’t trust them any more.

      1. Kate 2*

        Yeah, like if they worked with guns or knives, that’s the only time I can think of that this would be appropriate. Guns especially because you really can’t be saved once you have shot yourself the way you can with other suicide methods.

  8. spek*

    It seems like a good percentage of posters on this site could be best served by – whatever the problem is – just staying out of it.

    “Nothing is often a good thing to do, and always a clever thing to say”

    1. The Original K.*

      One of my second grade teacher’s rules for the classroom was “If it doesn’t concern you, leave it alone.” It’s one of my personal rules to this day.

    2. Sylvan*

      A long time ago, a commenter, possibly Jamie, suggested: Eyes on your own paper, kids.

      1. Specialk9*

        I’ve heard “keep your eyes on your own yoga mat”. It so perfectly encapsulates that avoidance of the angst of comparison and envy and perfectionism and…

    3. sunshyne84*

      That’s how I feel every time a question starts with “Should I…”. The answer is always no! Mind your business.

  9. Bea*

    Aw man this made me really sad! I’ve had to check myself into a facility before for mental health when I was in a really tough spot. The last thing I would want is for my boss or coworkers to know! It’s already so difficult dealing with the stigma and embarrassment even if you know you are doing the right thing for yourself. When people find out, they do treat you differently, even if they are just trying to be kind or helpful. I can’t imagine having to deal with all of that and navigate it in the workplace as well! I feel like your coworker is being really kind for even engaging with you at all! I hope things work out!

    1. Sally*

      I agree. I started taking Prozac earlier this year, and I have told my friends (honestly, I only told them because most of them are also taking some sort of SSRI), but I would be surprised and disappointed if they told other people (about me) who aren’t in our group of friends.

  10. Snark*

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

    Oh, honey. No. You’re being punished for doing the wrong thing.

    1. McWhadden*

      Also, “punished” isn’t the right word here. The friend remained professional but didn’t want to be her friend anymore. That isn’t a punishment it’s a consequence.

      1. DArcy*

        If anything, the (former) friend is demonstrated impressive maturity and professionalism by staying “work polite” to someone who betrayed her so badly. I know I would find it extremely difficult to stay even remotely professional after something like that went down.

  11. MiaRose*

    Wouldn’t this kind of thing be considered divulging medical information, and could get people in trouble?


    I would be extremely ticked off if someone at work was blabbing and gossiping about any medical condition I have, as it is not their job to divulge nor is it their business. But, on top of all that, the OP is actually considering mediation against the mistreated coworker? This just boggles me. OP, you’ve lost a personal relationship, and if you continue down this course, you will completely lose the professional relationship as well. You’ve mentioned that the professional relationship has not changed, yet, somehow, you claim that the resulting damage to the personal one is “punishment” for you, and that you are afraid it will seep into the professional one. I don’t see any personal accountability here on your part. I think your coworker is being supremely professional and courteous to you, given the circumstances. I’m probably being harsh here, but having had my own personal info blabbed publicly before has made me very unforgiving about things like this.

    1. Observer*

      I can’t see any way that FMLA is implicated here. Certainly not for the OP. Even the boss, whose behavior was worse than the OP’s and who also would have a higher duty of care wouldn’t be legally in the wrong here.

      1. MiaRose*

        Sorry, I must have been thinking that the coworker was taking a specific amount of time off for treatment. I should not try reading and writing to posts when in a rush.

      2. Specialk9*

        And sadly not HIPAA wither because OP wasn’t in a trusted position like someone who works in a medical office or deals with medical records.

    2. McWhadden*

      She didn’t ask for FMLA so that wouldn’t apply here.

      The ADA could be implicated but it’s complicated by the fact that the co-worker didn’t tell the manager herself. None of this was medical info reported to the employer that the employer knew was the truth. It’s all just gossip.

      Ironically, the fact that the manager was spreading gossip rather than medical knowledge she knew was true (which makes it more irresponsible although doing either is morally reprehensible) may save her from legal ramifications.

      1. McWhadden*

        To be clear I mean it’s not clear it violates the confidentiality part of the ADA mentioned in the article. The ADA does protect against discrimination/retaliation based on even perceived disability (even if there isn’t one). But it’s not clear (although highly plausible) she was discriminated against due to this.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I don’t think it technically violates any legal duty regarding medical information (FMLA or otherwise), but it is certainly a “bad human” move. I think the coworker’s behavior is admirable in that she’s still willing to engage professionally with OP; if someone had divulged private and stigmatizing medical information, I don’t think I could work with them, again. I’ve ended a close friendship over that sort of thing.

      1. Specialk9*

        Hmm, I wonder if it would violate GDPR privacy rights, which basically treat privacy as a civil right, if in Europe or about an EU citizen or resident. The coworker and the manager spread embarrassing private and medical information widely. Anyone know?

        1. Anon anon and ariston*

          Yep, physical and mental health comes under Special Category or Sensitive Personal Data which have stricter rules enforcing proper processing/recording such data. If this was in the EU as this was an unauthorised disclosure of co-worker’s information which could have a detrimental effect on her (damage to reputation or discrimination for instance, given how mental health issues can be stigmatised), they’d be facing a potential fine of up to 20 million euros. They’d also have to report this as a breach to the Information Commisioner’s Office within 72 hours of the breach being known about. OP definitely did not do the right thing here.

    4. Detective Amy Santiago*

      *If* LW was employed as a healthcare provider and learned about Coworker’s situation in the course of her job duties and shared the information, it could be considered a HIPAA violation. But HIPAA doesn’t extend to non healthcare workers or information you learn socially.

      1. OhBehave*

        Yes, HIPAA violations would apply to the person who first divulged the information.

        1. Specialk9*

          Not if they weren’t in a specific medical relationship. Gossip about medical stuff by someone not in a trusted role isn’t a HIPAA violation.

          1. DArcy*

            Yes. It would be a HIPAA violation if the leak originated at the inpatient mental facility, but not if the source was elsewhere.

  12. Falling Diphthong*

    I thought it was important that she know.

    It wasn’t, though. Suppose one of your volunteers was dating your coworker’s roommate, and she reported on the exact color of the coworker’s explosive effluvia–blue! Blue effluvia! If coworker hasn’t called in sick, then maybe you point your manager at your volunteer who may know where Gladiola is. (Sometimes the way injured people is found is that they didn’t turn up at work, and work called police to check the house.) But if your coworker has called in sick, then you don’t need to tell anyone, including your boss, further exciting details you may run across that fill out the whole fascinating picture. (Blue! Effluvia!)

  13. Josie*

    Isn’t this a HUGE HIPPA violation since her BOSS was the one blabbing to anyone who would listen? Isn’t this illegal?
    (OBVIOUSLY immoral, not saying it isn’t)

    1. caryatis*

      HIPAA applies to healthcare providers, not any random person who happens to know medical info.

    2. fposte*

      Nope. HIPAA covers health care providers (and a few other workplaces by extension); it doesn’t mean your health information is legally protected in the workplace in general.

    3. Observer*

      Nope, HIPPA is not relevant here. HIPPA is pretty broad but it doesn’t apply to every and all instances of medical information.

      Not that it makes this OK, it’s just not a LEGAL issue.

    4. Tardigrade*

      I don’t think HIPPA applies here unless the OP and her boss are in a medical or related profession.

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Probably not illegal, but certainly a shitty thing to do.

      1. Specialk9*

        The first correction was pedantic – we don’t correct spelling or grammar here.

      1. OhBehave*

        If the original blabber was employed by this facility, then they are in violation. The others a guilty of horrible behavior and choices!

          1. Julia*

            “The Original Blabber” sounds like a good name for a movie or maybe a band.

  14. KR*

    I think OP might have thought that the information was relevant and important to give to their manager but unless they are working with weapons or potentially dangerous materials, them visiting a mental hospital isn’t really something a manager needs to know.

    1. Leela*

      You know it wasn’t until your comment that I had any idea what OP even meant by “my manager needed to know”! I realize from your comment she might have thought co-worker could be dangerous in some capacity? Originally I was just thinking that co-worker might be depressed or going through an exceptionally rough time and was wondering what in the world the co-worker would have thought the manager might have needed to know. Either way I agree: unless they’re working with weapons/dangerous materials/anything along those lines, it’s really irrelevant! I was so confused

  15. McWhadden*

    It’s not the point here but I sort of wonder if the in-patient stay is even the truth. OP says she heard it through the grapevine from a volunteer. Not from the co-worker herself.

    Even if it was true how could OP know for sure it was true before reporting it? Not that it matters. Even if she knew for a fact it wasn’t her’s to share. End of story. But that she was spreading a rumor she heard not a solid fact still seems worse to me.

    1. Eye of Sauron*

      I agree with this. To me it sounds like a couple of things are going on. The OP surrounded themselves with several people who are boundary violators. From the volunteer who told the OP in the first place about the coworker to the boss and coworkers who then spread it.

      I guess it’s not hard to understand why the OP has/had a skewed sense of privacy and what constitutes gossip.

      Hopefully the OP was able to figure out that their part and that of others in this situation.

  16. caryatis*

    Uh yeah, I wouldn’t want to tell OP any personal information either. “Fine” is about the most you’re going to get.

  17. Lili*

    LW doesn’t seem to grasp the damage she’s done and is being pretty tone deaf making this about themselves, instead of the person they hurt. Mental health is hugely stigmatized, especially in the workplace (field dependent, obviously). LW could have destroyed her professional reputation by disclosing this information. They should be ashamed of themselves, and dually so for continuing to make it about how they lost a friend. The coworker on leave now has to deal with being defined my their mental health–now everyone is going to remember them as the person who missed work for in patient rehab, colleagues discrediting them for being “crazy”, etc. While I agree that the boss shouldn’t have blabbed to so many people, LW was the one who opened their big mouth in the first place and shared info that wasn’t their’s to share.

    1. fposte*

      Or she may just be remembered as one of the many victims of the OP’s bad boss. There are workplaces where this information is shared and doesn’t define people forever.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yep. One place I worked had a boss who shared everything like this boss here. It ended up being a whole huge norm behind her back to withhold information, almost of any sort because she knew how to bend and twist the information.

        If she spread stories about a person most empathy was with that person. “Doesn’t Boss ever stfu?”, we’d say to each other. Or, we mutter, “Just leave Struggling Employee the F alone.” Lots of F words involved there, as this boss seemed to be very capable of drawing the F word out of people.
        This boss was well known as one of the worst bosses in the company.

    2. Observer*

      As much as I agree that the OP was totally off base in the original question, I do think that the boss’ behavior was far worse. The OP, with far less experience and influence, did at least understand the theoretical existence of the concept of discretion and “need to know”. The boss, on the other hand, seems to have totally ignore even the existence of the concept.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, if I’m the boss’s boss, I’m coming down harder on Boss than on OP.

        1. Specialk9*

          Right, but the person who wrote in was OP. The OP has only sorta-kinda owned their own stuff, in the update it was still shifting to being the boss’ fault.

  18. a name*

    This is pretty awful.

    I had a coworker do this to another co-worker. I work with a lot of younger people, and one of them had a mental health/personal crisis. She knew he and I had a mentor-y relationship and that I’m a functional adult who could assist, which I did.

    However, I then start hearing details of his issues from people who shouldn’t know. Someone who was away at school for four months. Our boss. Some random high schooler he didn’t like.

    Needless to say, I deduced that she wheedled personal information out of him, gossipped it to everyone under the guise of helping, and then tried to stage some sort of intervention. I gave her a very firm talking to about respecting people’s privacy, not playing psychologist in serious situations, and being a friend by being supportive not creating extra stress for someone, but the damage was done at that point.

    I am still livid thinking about it.

  19. MicroManagered*

    OP exercised poor judgment in a number of ways and I think it’s normal and healthy for the coworker to distance from her. I think OP feels like she “did the right thing” because she reported it to her boss. I can somewhat follow the logic of thinking your boss should know that a coworker is not out sick with the sniffles, but actually hospitalized. (It’s not correct logic, but I follow it.) However, I don’t think the time to do that is when you hear “through the grapevine.”

    It wasn’t OP’s place to divulge that information (and could she even be sure it was true???), so that was poor judgment. The other piece is that what this boss did with that extremely sensitive information was egregious. It’s so bad that I find it hard to believe this was OP’s first indication that the boss had this kind of personality.

    1. Observer*

      From the update, it seems that it wasn’t, but that the OP didn’t realize what she was seeing. Fortunately, her family and friends DID understand. The OP mentions in her update that family pointed out to her that she was learning some really bad lessons from the boss.

      1. MicroManagered*

        Oooh I didn’t see the update (but found it). That’s interesting that OP later recognized she was in the grips of a bad manager. It’s crazy what you’ll think is normal in a toxic workplace.

        1. DArcy*

          Yes, but in the update the OP is really *still* not accepting responsibility for her own actions; instead, she’s saying it was all the boss’ fault.

  20. ZigZug*

    Well, of course my boss couldn’t keep a secret
    Nor could you.

    I feel like I’m being punished for my boss’s lack of discretion
    No, for your own.

    Should I go to my boss and ask for mediation?
    That you feel this would be something that would improve your relationship with your co-worker is…curious. Also, bosses can force co-workers to be friends.

      1. Safetykats*

        Yes. Workplace mediation would be appropriate if the professional relationship was disfunctional, and OP states that is not the case. I am hopeful that HR would decline any request for workplace mediation that was clearly about forcing a personal relationship on someone who had no interest in a personal relationship. It would be interesting to see what HR would say if asked to mediate on this – I can see that going badly for the OP, as I would think they would frown upon OP starting the chain that made her coworker’s health information public notice.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, mediation is, I think, sometimes misunderstood. It’s not a way to make sure somebody likes you or forgives you. It’s a way to figure out how to work together. The OP and her co-worker are working together fine.

          1. fposte*

            Now that I think about it, that might have roots in the dysfunctional relationship with the boss too–the OP isn’t recognizing that a functional work relationship isn’t the same thing as people liking or being friends with each other.

  21. RIZ*

    “I feel like I’m being punished for my boss’s lack of discretion”

    Wow – what planet are you from? Are you really that immature and not able to comprehend what you did wrong here?

    1. Aisling*

      How is this kind of comment helpful, exactly? She wrote in for help. She now understands, and even sent in a follow up email awhile after this post originally posted. Trying to make her feel horrible about herself won’t help anything, and is against the commenting rules on this site.

  22. Scott*

    I wouldn’t trust you either. Further, you don’t understand what you’ve done wrong. Once you get a handle on that, things will start to get better, but you’ll never fully regain the trust of this coworker.

  23. Bea*

    Wowzah, I learned the lesson not to share information that isn’t mine but that was in high school.

    Then I remember that an old boss was exactly as catty and a gossip. I found out she used to get off the phone about confidential employee things (she handled HR matters, such a nightmare setup), then she would go right over to a co-worker, give all the details and discuss private information with a random person. I can see your boss being like that nasty creature I’ve washed my hands of and how she rubbed her habits off on you. Now you know better and I hope your former co-worker found herself somewhere with a respectful kind boss that we all deserve.

  24. Justin*

    Currently having a depressive deal I am hoping to the world doesn’t end up with such a situation, and boy howdy would I never trust OP again if such a thing was spread without my consent.

    1. Specialk9*

      Good on you for the dedication to your health and well-being in getting help when you need it. Nobody expects one to fight off infection without antibiotics. Having one’s chemicals being wonky is just as biological, and just as commonsense. I wish you good luck finding the treatment you need.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Added layer: OP told someone who she KNEW could not keep her mouth shut. While Coworker has distanced herself from OP, OP in turn needs to remain distant from this boss. I guess OP was not thinking about how she, too, as left a friendship over this.

      Gossip and rumor mongering has so much fallout.

  25. Is pumpkin a vegetable?*

    Interestingly, something similar happened to me last week. I just found out that I have to have a hysterectomy in the next few months. While I’m certainly not embarrassed about it, I’m choosing who will know the specifics vs. just saying I will be out on a medical leave. There are two women here who will be affected by my absence, and with whom I have personal health challenges with, and they with me. I told them what was going on, but separately, and few days apart. Lo and behold, the woman I told later IMMEDIATELY went and told the first woman (who already knew) the whole story! I don’t know why some people think this is OK. Later that afternoon, I e-mailed the busybody, and said something the effect that I wasn’t sharing the information with others just yet, and could she keep it between us? Her reply? “Of course :)” Yeah. Lesson learned.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        But this can work FOR us in some situations. A stupid example, but let’s say someone fails to turn off the coffee pot each night. So go tell Chatty Cathy there is a problem with the coffee pot being left on. That will go right around and probably fix the coffee pot problem. BTDT. It works well.
        But you have to be careful and use it strategically.

      2. mark132*

        Isn’t the rule of thumb, that the largest group that can reliably keep a secret is two. (Assuming of course that one of the people is dead.)


    1. Bea*

      Of all the things I have heard circle my chatty work places…medical issues have never been not topics. I’m so confused why anyone runs out and says “Sally is having a hysterectomy!!!” like that’s juicy information. I’m sorry that lady is one of those awkwardly blabbers. I’m flinching more at the shitty smile in your face as you lie to the person you gossiped about reaction you got from your message after the fact.

      Reasonable and caring adults don’t do that crap.

  26. JS*

    I might be in the minority here but I don’t think LW did anything wrong. She overheard that her coworker had checked into a mental facility and alerted her boss. While I would NOT go around telling the entire office, vendors, etc, I think its important information for a manager to know. I had to commit a friend a few years ago, once self and once involuntary and take care of his affairs and I know you aren’t always in the mind to keep checking in (nor in cases do they even give you phone calls depending on the situation).

    However it DOES seem like she was saying it out of a place of gossip rather than concern which is the bigger issue imo. The boss as well here seems like she threw OP under the bus by telling everyone else “OP said that…” rather than sharing the info so when it got back to coworker it looked like OP was the gossip.

    1. McWhadden*

      It’s not her place to share medical information with the boss. There is no situation where it is her place.

      It doesn’t matter if the manager should know (and I strongly disagree I think the manager only needs to know she is out sick) it’s not her place to be the one telling.

      1. JS*

        I disagree but like I said I am coming from the perspective of actually having to commit a friend and take care of his affairs and his manager/work were very understanding, more so than if I had just said they were “sick”. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case here as OP Boss told everyone and was reckless.

        1. Elsajeni*

          I think a huge difference here is that you were closer to the situation than the OP was. If you’re the person helping your friend through checking into the hospital, and taking care of their affairs while they’re in the hospital, then 1) you know you have the full story, and 2) they’re already trusting you to handle that information to some extent, so you’re much more in a position to decide what level of detail is appropriate to share with their boss. The OP’s friend here didn’t ask for or agree to the OP taking charge of her affairs, and in fact hadn’t even told her that she was checking in for mental health treatment — OP heard it secondhand. It’s the difference between, in a lower-stakes sick-day context, saying “Hon, I have to lie down on the bathroom floor for a minute, can you please text this number and tell my boss I won’t be in today” and having a coworker take it upon themselves to tell your boss you’re sick because they saw you in the store buying Pepto-Bismol.

          1. JS*

            I don’t think that analogy is really applicable. OP heard it secondhand but from work. If I heard someone was sick, etc, from work and other people were saying so I would assume it was common knowledge. I wouldn’t make a point to gossip or pry into the situation but since OP works with coworker its not ridiculous for her to go to Boss about the situation, especially if it could effect her work. If I had heard it from other coworkers I would have assumed Boss already knew.

            1. Lara*

              I think it’s a lot *more* ridiculous to repeat gossip as though it were truth, especially about something so important.

        2. Observer*

          Maybe the particular manager was more understanding because they knew it was a mental health issue. But that is totally NOT the norm. Outside of “reassuring” the boss that hse’s “really” sick, not faking it, what really did you think the boss gained – that is a legitimate work concern? Satisfying the Boss’ curiosity or thirst for gossip is NOT a valid need.

          1. JS*

            Well I think its the same situation when you hear anyone is sick severely or family is passed away. You usually approach the boss asking if anyone is planning to send flowers, card, etc. and if that isn’t the office vibe if its your immediate coworker you would have a talk about how it could effect your work. If I was coworker and heard it from volunteers/other coworkers I would assume while a sensitive subject it was not a violation of privacy. It seems where she messed up is she didnt go to the boss out of concern but for gossip and boss who is just terrible (see update they got fired for being belligerent) told everyone inside and outside the company.

        3. Anon to protect someone else's privacy (OP take note)*

          I’ve actually been in the same situation, and I still don’t agree with you. When I had to take someone to a mental health facility I just explained to her workplace that she was unwell and had been admitted to hospital, and that we didn’t yet know when she’d be back at work but it may be a few weeks. They assured us she shouldn’t even think about work until she was feeling better, wished her a fast recovery and organized coverage. There was no need for me to give any more details than we did – knowing the specifics of her health problem wouldn’t have changed anything on their end. If they hadn’t been understanding about her suddenly needing an extended sick leave, they probably wouldn’t have been super understanding about it being a mental health issue either.

          But the situation the OP describes is actually different, because the coworker herself had already let the boss know she’d be out sick so the boss didn’t need any information at all from OP or anyone else.

    2. Oryx*

      Whether or not it is important information the manager should know isn’t up to the OP — it’s up to her coworker.

      1. JS*

        If its something already going around the office and OP overheard then she is not at fault for telling her manager. Her manager being responsible should have nipped all conversation in the bud and not gossiped in order to give the coworker their space and privacy but its not like coworker told OP in confidence.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          Why isn’t she at fault for continuing to spread gossip about someone? Other people were doing it too, and therefore it is okay that the OP also did it?

          That’s not solid reasoning there. If it is wrong to gossip and spread people’s *private* health information – and absent compelling reasons (such as imminent safety issues) then it is wrong to do so even if others are doing it too.

          1. Jessie the First (or second)*

            Oops, something got lost there. Should read “If it is wrong to gossip and spread people’s *private* health information – and absent compelling reasons (such as imminent safety issues), it is wrong – then it is wrong to do so even if others are doing it too”

          2. JS*

            If everyone else knew to the point where I overheard, I would assume it was common knowledge. I think there is a difference between going to the boss with knowledge/concern for coworker and how her extended absence could effect my workload and then just going to gossip. OP was the latter, thats why I said Boss should have nipped it in the bud. I don’t think it was wrong of OP to tell boss, I just think her wanting to gossip was the main thing.

            Tbh, its highly unlikely coworker is only mad at OP, she isn’t the one who started it or who spread it everywhere inside and outside. I would be careful what I said and how I interacted to anyone in that office. OP lacks self awareness to realize the issue is bigger than them.

        2. Lara*

          I mean… that’s even more reason not to tell the manager. You seem to have this idea that gossip is always correct and kind.

    3. MicroManagered*

      I think, from a perspective like yours (where you are acting on the person’s behalf while they’re in treatment), your logic makes sense. There is a key difference here though, and that’s that OP heard this “through the grapevine.”

      OP was repeating a rumor about a coworker she thought was her work-friend, not caring for a close personal friend while that person was unable to care for himself, you know?

    4. Observer*

      Why exactly does the boss need to know where she is?

      If followup is important, that’s true regardless of where the employee is. And, if it doesn’t become an issue, then it CERTAINLY is none of the manager’s business.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This is exactly my question, WHY does the manager need to know? Is the manager supposed to cure her? or fire her? take away her benefits? slip some extra benefits to her? Just what is the point? How will the manager use this information?

        Here’s the thing: A good manager assumes she can lose any employee at any time and she has a plan on what to do if that person is gone from the workplace. This means whatever is going on with someone is irrelevant. All the boss needs is a return to work date or estimate. That is all. And it is up to the person impacted to provide that info, not anyone else.

        1. JS*

          Plenty of ways, being sick as in needing to use sick leave, or needing to apply for disability leave or needing to set up a work from home situation, or needing to restructure how team functions. Tons of reasons why it would be helpful for Boss to have that insight. If someone has checked themselves into treatment once medicated they might not be of mind, nor get to have that phone call as they dont allow you to use the phone depending on disorder.

          1. Lara*

            Let me reframe this for you JS.

            Say i told your boss you were on an involuntary mental health hold. Here is what is going to happen, in the majority of industries and workplaces:

            * You are fired
            * You are demoted
            * You are scrutinised for the rest of your tenure
            * The rumour follows you into other roles

            I’m genuinely glad your friend’s boss was helpful (as far as you know) but that is NOT THE NORM.

            I am lucky enough to have never had a major health issue, but this whole situation was such an overstep and I’m concerned you can’t see it.

          2. SarahTheEntwife*

            If you have solid reason to think the boss doesn’t know anything about the situation (which it doesn’t sound like is the case here because the employee called in sick and was presumably in a state to decide how much information they wanted to disclose), why not just say they’re in the hospital? There are plenty of less-stigmatized reasons someone could be unable to coherently communicate while hospitalized.

    5. Detective Amy Santiago*

      If the coworker hadn’t called off and the boss couldn’t reach her and said “has anyone heard from Sally?”, then I could maybe give LW a pass for saying something like “I heard Joan say something about Sally being in the hospital.”

      Proactively going to the boss and sharing what she heard is straight up gossip though.

      1. JS*

        I would be proactive if it effected my workload. Like I said I dont see the issue with saying what they heard its the nature they did it in. They didnt go out of concern for coworker or their own work load, it appears they just went to gossip.

      2. Fergus, Stealer of Pens and Microwaver of Fish*

        My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night.

    6. logicbutton*

      No matter how severe the coworker’s issues were, she had the right to choose whom to deputize to check in with the boss if she wasn’t able to do it herself, and LW took that away from her.

    7. Carrie*

      I think this is dangerous reasoning, largely because this particular reason is something with a HUGE amount of stigma. Being in the hospital for mental health reasons is much more stigmatized than, I don’t know, being in the hospital because you got the flu. And the details are about as relevant to the manager. All the manager needs to know is that the person is out for medical reasons, and potentially likely impact on future work if that’s clear. Which is something that the person who is out will know better anyway. Frankly, having your medical information divulged without your permission is going to make a much bigger impact on your work than whether your manager knows the exact details of your illness. You also don’t know why she didn’t tell her manager! You don’t get to make a decision like that for someone else.

      If you think the person might want to keep their manager up to date and might not be able to, you ask their permission and share only what they want you to share. But many people have a way of reacting to anything related to mental illness that they wouldn’t react to many other kinds of illnesses with.

      So it’s as unnecessary as telling your boss that you found out that your coworker was out with specifically food poisoning (no one needs to know that) while also having a huge potential for harm because of the stigma. You could argue that no one should have to know specifically the level of stigma of every medical condition. But that’s why no one should be disclosing people’s medical information for them.

      1. Specialk9*

        Yeah, not to mention, it’s hugely infantilizing. It’s saying that anyone who ever has any mental health issues is essentially unable to own their own decisions or have control of their own lives.

      2. JS*

        But its already out there. OP wasn’t told in confidence. The issue is OP told her manager to gossip and her manager, a huge gossip told everyone else.

        Like I said, dealing with a friend who was in and out for a while, you always cant reach them or they cant make that phone call.

        I agree that there is a stigma when it comes to mental health but at the end of the day it is something your direct boss if not anyone else needs to know. They dont need to know details and read the doctors chart but they do need to know nature of illness so they can work with you accordingly. Also so you can also involve HR to get appropriate accommodations you need.

        1. Lara*

          So *stop* it being out there.

          Say “It’s none of our business.” Say “How do you know that?” Say “It’s unkind to repeat that kind of speculation; we should stop.”

          Lordy do anything but run to the boss like a middle schooler chanting “Guess what I heard!!!!”

        2. Carrie*

          Some volunteer knew, so therefore the whole world gets to know?

          She clearly could reach her boss if her boss knew she was out!

          Why? At most, they could need to know that it could be an extended absence, but someone who heard secondhand rumors has no idea if that is the case. Why would knowing the nature of the illness help? Surely the person who is out is the one who best understands, anyway.

    8. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

      The issue is probably that she mentioned the mental health facility, sadly – as a lot of people pointed out already, that’s still hugely (if not fairly) stigmatized, and it’s the employee’s private health information.

      From my perspective as the boss, I’d be just fine knowing that the employee was in the hospital (which is true and doesn’t divulge why). It’d be the same situation as if the coworker had gotten in a car accident or they ate some romaine lettuce – they’re in the hospital, they’re unable to come to work, hopefully they’ll make a recovery and they’ll be well soon. Granted, I don’t care about the details, but really the details shouldn’t matter that much.

    9. Lara*

      Yes, but OP was not looking after her ‘friend’ or handling her affairs. She was repeating unsubstantiated gossip. In many industries, making that info public knowledge could end your career.

  27. LouiseM*

    What was the point of re-posting this, especially without noting that there was an update? Just to give everyone a second chance to pile on the OP? It seems like almost nobody is offering advice here.

    1. Justin*

      Eh, Alison posts old stuff on Inc once a week, and she just shares it here too.

      As far as why on Inc, she can answer herself if she sees this, but she’s expanding answers for a new (Inc) audience. It’s probably less new for us, and the OP isn’t going to see it, but I think that’s why.

    2. McWhadden*

      Not gossiping about people at work is a lesson that works for a general audience. It seems obvious but circumstances (like the OP’s) might make people think it’s OK.

    3. fposte*

      I don’t tend to offer advice to the OPs on the reprints, because I assume they’re not reading. They’re a chance to discuss the issues. Do you object to reprints in general or just some of them specifically?

      1. LouiseM*

        I actually like the reposts a lot, but I find that when it’s a letter like this where the OP was unanimously criticized when the letter originally ran, it just turns into even more of a pile-on. People who have read it before reiterate what they said the first time, new readers add to the pile on. I like the posts, just not the comments.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      My weekly columns at Inc. are all reprints from the archives here, because Inc. is interested in bringing them to a wider audience. I link to them from here because many people here didn’t read the originals (few people have read all 8,100+ posts in the 11 years worth of archives) and/or enjoy the chance to discuss them.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        And you have new readers who have come over the years who offer good insight or advice from their experience.

    5. Sylvan*

      Inc stuff is always a repost.

      Nobody is offering much advice because this happened a couple of years ago. It’s over.

  28. Granny K*

    If there’s anything I’ve learned from this blog, it’s that the health of my coworkers is None Of My Business. I have been guilty in the past of sharing concern over a fellow coworker’s struggles. (Not the first time my empathy got me in a pickle.) In a nutshell, my coworker had Lyme’s Disease and our manager said she’d be back in 2 months; from my knowledge about the disease and a family friend who had it, it can take sometimes YEARS to get to a point where one can manage this disease, which I said. Thus talking about someone else’s health, which was None of My Business while simultaneously undermining my manager. I was laid off some time later, and probably my actions didn’t help my case. I cringe when I think of this, but at least I have grown up considerably since then and have learned if you want to share your concern if someone tells you something about another coworker, ask if the team should send a card/flowers or an ‘oh that’s a shame’ is really all you need to do. (And it’s not your job to take care of them.) And if someone inquires about said coworker to you, you can say ‘I really don’t know much about it and I have this thing I have to finish….’ thus getting you out of discussing it further.

  29. Mom MD*

    If I am out on sick leave, I don’t want anyone asking about it. Let alone deciding they know what the problem is and relaying that around the workplace.

  30. Geneva*

    You absolutely did not do the right thing. Her medical condition, HER choice to share that info with the boss. And considering the fall out, she was right in keeping it to herself.

  31. Anon please today*

    LW, if you’re still reading this blog, it is really concerning to me that you don’t get that you did a bad thing. I am experiencing a slightly similar medical situation and people like you are the reason that I’m not sharing any of it with my co-workers, and only the barest of details with my boss.

    1. fposte*

      I think it’s worth remembering, though, that the OP didn’t see it *when she wrote this letter*. Even if there weren’t an update, which in this case there was, it’s worth allowing for the possibility that people have a different perspective several years later.

  32. KimberlyR*

    Nooooo. No. No. No. Do not give out coworkers’ personal medical information to the boss. Not at all. (I know this is a reprint-but this applies to ALL medical situations, not just this one.) IF there were relevant information that could put someone in danger, like a coworker who has a seizure disorder and hasn’t been legally cleared to drive but is driving on company time, that could maybe be the exception. But otherwise, you should never give any coworkers’ medical info to ANYONE. Not your bestie in the office, not the person you think is best able to keep a secret, not anyone.

  33. anon4now*

    Hmmm…I keep rereading this situation and getting confused.
    OP heard from volunteer at a nonprofit that coworker was put in mental health facility. OP leaked it as gossip to Boss, who leaked the gossip to their organization. Said coworker finds out (through more gossip?), doesn’t even confirm with OP what happened and totally severs the relationship.
    Did the coworker wonder about the volunteer at the nonprofit, or the original person at the nonprofit leaking it? It seems weird not to confirm what happened with the OP (spreading malicious gossip heard from volunteer at nonprofit) and only have…a gossip-ridden account of everything. Couldn’t it be that whatever the coworker heard about the OP may be worse than the truth (again…the coworker learned through more workplace gossip that the OP gossiped about her from second-hand gossip at a non-profit where they have mutual friends?)? It seemed like the OP was actually guessing at why the co-worker cut off all contact, as the coworker was not forthcoming?
    Perhaps a moot point, as everyone moved on and the boss was fired in the update, but I walked away from this glad I’m not the sort of person who holds grudges.

    1. Jessie the First (or second)*

      What exactly are you saying? It sounds like you are criticizing the coworker for not doing due diligence investigation on who knew what, when, or something. But that is ridiculous.

      The OP tells us that the coworker discovered it was the OP who spread gossip to the boss. And OP confirms to us that yes, she did exactly that.

      Is that not enough for you? Even though OP did do what the coworker was upset about, you want evidence that coworker discussed it all with the OP directly first? Why on earth?

      1. Observer*

        Many people seem to hold the idea that the only way one is allowed to take action on what they know is if they went through a process that would (sometime literally) hold up in court.

        1. anon4now*

          I didn’t write my comment to see if her actions were legally tenable or something. I thought the coworkers actions were hypocritical (hearing gossip about someone gossiping about you and severing a relationship bc of said gossip).

      2. Jennifer Thneed*

        Me, I’m wondering how the volunteer found out about the whole thing. Who told *them*?

        1. Lara*

          Maybe they fabricated the whole thing? It sounds unbelievable but some people are unfortunately like that.

      3. anon4now*

        I thought the OP just assumed she figured it out from talking to other coworkers, as everyone in this post seems adverse to directly confronting anyone about anything, and it seemed hypocritical to me that the coworker would act on more gossip (i.e. didn’t actually confirm that’s what happened with OP) regarding gossip spreading about her.
        I understand the coworker is a victim in this situation, but being a victim doesn’t mean, to me, all your actions are suddenly excusable or unquestioning.

        1. Rectilinear Propagation*

          But you don’t know that the co-worker is acting on the gossip at all. She may only be acting on the facts:

          – The co-worker told a volunteer about her health problems.
          – The volunteer told at least one other person (even if they aren’t being honest about who)
          – Now everybody knows about her health problems.

          Also, considering how gossip works, it’s safe to assume that this information was spread by multiple people not just the volunteer telling literally everyone. But even without that, that’s enough for it to be completely reasonable to decide not to share personal information with anyone working there. She might have been too embarrassed. She might not have trusted herself to not accidentally say something she didn’t want overheard. She might have been worried the boss would insist that the OP share more information. (OP was only guessing that it was the volunteer who ‘fessed up but I’m willing to bet it was the boss who explained how they found out.)

          So I don’t think it’s fair to label the co-worker a hypocrite because they didn’t try to chase everyone down about who said what to whom or even accuse them of holding a grudge. I’m sure it felt that way to the OP at the time but we don’t know if the co-worker was just angry and not embarrassed, scared, etc.

          1. anon4now*

            Gossip can be factual or based in fact. In this case, both of the gossips were true.
            But I did not consider other people in this, and that the coworker may have been treating the OP as she decided to treat everyone else at their work (professionally but nothing personal anymore) and didn’t want to discuss the situation anymore, which is an entirely reasonable reaction.

  34. The Good Receptionist*

    This is the reason I dont hang out consider any co-worker of mine a friend. I guard my personal life like I do My PIN number. I know how people can be. Thanks for reminding me that Im not
    being antisocial, I’m just protecting myself form people like you.

    1. Bea*

      You geez, you’re rude for the sake of being rude with this kind of quip to a stranger seeking advice.

    2. Specialk9*

      I do actually think that’s fairly antisocial, or antisocial adjacent. There are many possibilities in life, and one is that people will hurt us. But not letting people get close because they might betray us is a fearful approach, not a soul expansive approach.

      It’s hard, though, to weigh caution (especially after getting burned hard, which I too have been, at work and in my personal life) with optimism.

      Personally, I choose to be open to people to a point, and have learned some interesting and beautiful things from others. But I have inner circles that are based on trustworthiness and integrity, and those inner circles are a slow filter in. Outside of those inner circles, I’m careful of my words and what I share. It’s a moderate approach that seems to be a good balance.

  35. Not wanting to pile on but....*

    As someone who has had to take sick leave from work for mental health reasons the hits pretty close to home, and the idea of something like this ( as in, what happened to the coworker) happening to me is my absolute nightmare. I can only echo the sentiment that, regardless of intent, you did not do the right thing, and it’s hardly a surprise that your coworker has responded in the way they did.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      If there’s not medical professionals then they wouldn’t be bound by HIPAA

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        If they are volunteering in a healthcare capacity, they would be. Anyone who has access to PHI is responsible for keeping it secure.

    2. DArcy*

      If they’re volunteering at a healthcare institution yes; if there’s any possibility of them having access to PHI, they are required to have HIPAA training.

      1. Humble Schoolmarm*

        Canadian here so the rules may not be the same, but when I volunteered in medical settings I had to sign a confidentiality agreement.

  36. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

    Oh man. This is really similar to something that happened to me outside of work (friend Alice had a mental health crisis, they did something really embarrassing to me in public, I explained to another friend Bob what happened in not the most polite way, Bob told my now former friend Carol, and then Carol told Alice what I said and took it out of context).

    So, kind of from the same perspective as the coworker:

    -The LW doesn’t realize how much she did wrong – it’s not quite as bad as her boss, but that wasn’t her story to tell. The friend was rightfully angry with her.

    -It’s going to be really hard to gain back that trust. It’s been a few months and I’ve basically not talked to Carol since. She’s reached out to me to hang out, but she hasn’t acknowledged what she did. At the time, I got really angry at Bob, and even now…I just don’t feel like I can talk with him as honestly. I’ll still talk with him when I see him (we have a lot of mutual friends), but I watch myself around him more.

    -The key for LW getting back to where she was is actually acknowledging that she was a jerk. Alison’s advice is still spot on – a sincere apology isn’t going to automatically fix things, but it has to be a starting point.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I think your situation has one key difference. You shared a story about something that Alice did *to you*. LW in this situation was sharing general information.

      I’m sorry that you’re dealing with all this drama though.

      1. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

        True – it’s not quite the same! Actually, we were all close enough to know about each other (Alice and Bob are best friends and have been for a long time), so I explained to Bob what was going on about an hour after the incident. (He knew about Alice’s history beforehand, so I wanted to provide some context – basically, Alice started yelling at me in public while Alice, Bob, Carol, and I were going out to dinner; I excused myself from the group and had the rest of them go on without me. I…did not explain it artfully to Bob. I’m intentionally leaving out possibly identifying details.)

        The main difference is that 1) I was a bit of a jerk (which is kind of a theme in a lot of my posts, I’ve noticed) and 2) I think we all knew about Alice in general to begin with (since we all know quite a bit about each other). So in some ways, I’m kind of in the same position as the coworker that got affected, and then in some ways I’m in the same position as the LW because I told someone else and I thought I was doing the right thing.

        (Incidentally, I’ve actually patched things up with Alice.)

        But back on topic – I actually read the update (since the original letter ran four years ago), and it seemed like the LW decided to move on entirely after realizing her job was dysfunctional and her boss was especially dysfunctional. Which…I really hope she’s in a better place now (it sounded like she was), and I hope she took the original advice to heart. And…honestly, just because I want good things for 99% of the people that write in (except for ghosting ex because forget that guy), I hope that she was eventually able to make up with her coworker – she did cause quite a bit of harm, but I don’t think she was malicious. It sounded like she was just naive.

        1. Lara*

          Well… presumably Bob / Carol weren’t Alice’s bosses. And you weren’t repeating third hand rumours…

  37. Natasha*

    So I’m actually really glad to read the comments here and in the original post, because almost this exact thing happened to me several years ago. (I was in treatment for severe mental health issues, I told a friend who happened to also be a co-worker, co-worker freaked out and told our boss. Boss not only told a whole bunch of people at work, but also contacted my estranged biological family behind my back — I have an uncommon last name — and it was absolutely the last thing I needed to be dealing with at that moment.)

    I’ve changed jobs, forgiven the former co-worker, and learned really important lessons about trust and secret-keeping, but it’s still validating that the OP’s behavior was out of line.

    1. Specialk9*

      Oh man I’m so sorry you had to deal with all that when you most needed support and care, not betrayal on many levels.

  38. Flash Bristow*

    Yeah, um, ouch. Alison is spot on to say that YOU violated confidence; your manager may also have done, but it stemmed from you sharing something that wasn’t yours to tell. But that’s been said and the horse has already bolted.

    I kinda did something similar; I had sexytimes with a good friend. We were both mates with my team leader. On a night shift when it was just me and him chatting during down time, I blurted a fairly unsubtle hint as to what happened. We talked and I made clear it was NOT for repeating. The next thing I knew, my friend hated me for “telling everyone”.

    This happened at an event where many of us were camping together and could not have failed to notice me emerging from friend’s tent the next morning, but all the same – I had only told one person on returning to my regular routine. My friend / team leader. Apparently HE had only shared this gossip with one other person “in complete confidence” – who happened to be closer to my friend than anyone knew, and promptly repeated it back to them.

    So in summary: in excitement I burst my news to one person who I considered a friend. He told someone he considered a confidante. Who told Friend, the subject of the gossip. And that was that – damage done.

    There was nothing I could do to put it right other than to accept Friend’s wish not to talk to me.

    Many years later we have reconnected – but it might never have happened and if so, it would have been my fault for blabbing – even to someone I considered a friend, on condition of confidence.

    OP, you blabbed something deeply personal about someone else. I know the kick back hurts and I’m sorry you’re going through that. But all I can suggest is that you own your mistake, understand why it was wrong, offer a genuine apology to this colleague (with no strings attached or pleading for her to get back to how things were) and a friendly sign off that you wish her the best and will see her around.

    And then the ball is in her court. Don’t push it – you’ve hurt and embarrassed her. If she wants to reach out to you, now or ever, she knows how. Be grateful this hasn’t affected your work relationship with her and that everyone is mature enough to put gossip aside in the workplace.

  39. Its a Backstabbing.*

    I’m sorry but this is disgusting and you didn’t do the right thing!
    You enjoyed the gossip and apparently knew your boss was a blabbermouth also.
    She has obviously informed work of the absence and didn’t need to share further than that for voluntary medical treatment.
    I’d treat you as ‘I’m fine’ as well and never trust you with anything more. Betrayal of trust is hard-near impossible to regain.

  40. ajaner*

    As someone who had this happen to them–I was having a fairly serious relapse of depression and I was open with my boss about it, because I knew he had some similar struggles in the past–you have salted the earth, letter writer.

    My boss shared my health issue AT A MANAGERS MEETING. While it was necessary for the other managers to know that I was going to be out, they did not need to know the reason. Some of my work duties did need to be divvied up, but many of them could wait for a week until I returned to work. The GM (this was in the restaurant/brewing industry) spread the information to staff and used it routinely to imply that I was not competent and undermine my trainings and other work.

    Obviously this was an extremely toxic workplace, even by industry standards, and I am well out of it. But I was instantly ticked off at the LW for deciding this was a) pertinent info for the boss and b) her story to tell.

    TL;DR Don’t share anyone’s health info, ever, with anyone else unless you are explicitly asked to by the individual in question.

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