how much snooping can you do on coworkers, my manager told a reference-checker my salary, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. How much snooping can you do on coworkers?

This question was prompted by your recent letter about a nosy coworker. What is an acceptable amount of internet research/snooping around on new coworkers?

Should it be limited to anything on or linked to their LinkedIn profile? Or anything that comes up in a google search under their name? Or is even that an overstep of boundaries?

In the post you cited, the employee had run a paid background check on his new manager. Paid background checks on your coworkers are way past the line. (Although if you’re doing one for some reason, you definitely need to keep that to yourself — the other thing that made that situation bizarre and inappropriate was that he felt free to ask her about what he found.)

People google other people. While you can certainly find people who feel even a basic google search is an invasion of privacy, the internet is right at our fingertips and I don’t think it’s a massive overstep to do a quick search because you’re curious about someone’s professional background. But your motivation matters. If you’re curious about their professional background, fine and even potentially relevant. If you’re searching for info on their personal life, that’s an overstep (and probably in no way relevant to your work with them).

How deeply you search also matters — if you’re reading someone’s high school live journal or all the Yelp reviews they’ve ever written, you’re in too deep.

2. My old manager told a reference checker what my salary was

I am in the midst of a job search after our company went through mass layoffs several months ago. I recently had an interview at a -. Having been slightly underpaid at my previous company, I have been taking courses on salary negotiation tactics. In addition, since I would have been close to a promotion at my former company had they continued in business, I am targeting jobs at the level I would have been at had I received that promotion.

In my initial interactions with the start-up, I was able to avoid answering their initial questions about desired compensation and former salary, and the interview went ahead and went well. They expressed strong interest and contacted my references. Then they sent me a job offer, and it was shockingly low, close to 25% below what I was making at my previous job, even though this position was advertised at the higher level that I was targeting. They had warned me that due to their being a start-up they might not be able to offer competitive compensation, so I should not have been too surprised.

After that news, I talked to my former supervisor, who was also laid off, about my disappointment. She expressed surprise that this had happened and said that when, during the reference check conversation, the hiring manager had asked her for my former salary so that they could make me a fair offer, she told them, but advocated for a salary about 5% more than that for me. Unfortunately, I hadn’t told her that the job was at a higher level than when I was employed with her. We do not live in a state where asking “the former salary question” is illegal, but how should I handle this? It is clearly not to my advantage for her to be giving out my former salary. If I want to ask her to provide other recommendations for me, I need to remain in her good graces, and on the other hand, if I don’t provide her name as a reference, there are sure to be questions about why.

She shouldn’t have done that without your permission, nor should she have tried to tell them what to pay you! She likely thought she was helping, but she really overstepped.

It does sound like you wouldn’t have ended up with a fair offer anyway, given that this company offered you 25% less than you were making at a lower-level job where you were already underpaid! But you’re right to want to make sure your boss doesn’t do this again.

You can say to her, “Can I ask that you not share my salary with reference-checkers in the future? There’s a move away from letting employers base job offers on previous salaries, and I make a point of not sharing mine with employers for that reason. If someone asks again, could you tell them I haven’t authorized you to share it?”

3. I’m being sent to management training I don’t need

I am in a role supervising a team of multimedia instructional designers. The person who assembled the team and hired me to manage them left, and dumped the team and me on a manager who is a director. She has no idea what we do and ignored us for the first three years, despite my repeated attempts to schedule meetings with her. After a second yearly evaluation wherein it was clear she had nothing constructive, relevant, or informed to say about anything I had done for yet another year, I asked for help from HR. Learning later that the HR rep and my director were “tight,” I feared the worst. My management was moved to a manager who the director seemed to actually manage, and now I have two levels of people above me who have no idea what I do. Worse, they keep sending me to various trainings for managers (I’ve been a manager for 20 years) that are so juvenile I cannot figure out why they hired me to be a manager — they obviously don’t think I’ve ever done it before.

How do I say to my managers, who think very highly of themselves and their managerial skills, that these trainings are not effective use of my time? Like, they think I just crawled out from under a rock. I do not know how to explain this to them without sounding like I am full of myself. I have been managing this team for three years with zero help, as a brand new person to this company. I networked and rustled up clients, we successfully developed over 60 different training solutions each of those years, our clients rave about us — but my great manager(s) just have no clue, no matter what proof I put in front of them. I want to say to them, “This training you are sending me to is stupid. I know what I am doing — why don’t you?” How do you say that to managers in a very proudly hierarchical, old fashioned-type company?

Well, you can say, “I’ve found the last few management courses fairly remedial and not a great use of time, but I’d be interested in courses on X or Y if that’s ever an option.” (That way you still sound open to training and not like you think you have nothing to learn.)

But I’d stop assuming they think you’re inexperienced just because they’re sending you to training. It’s possible they just think management training is a good idea (it is, when it’s correctly targeted to skill level), or that there’s a particular issue they’re trying to address. After all, plenty of very experienced managers are bad managers. That doesn’t mean you are, but you shouldn’t write that off solely because you’re been managing for 20 years. So it could also be worth asking, “Is there anything in particular that you’re hoping this training will help me with? My sense from the last few was that they were fairly remedial and targeting inexperienced managers, and so I wondered if there was a particular skill gap you hoped I’d focus on.”

But it also sounds like the training courses are the least of the issues here! You’ve been there three years, it sounds like it’s been a pretty bad experience, and maybe it’s time to think about what’s next.

4. Can I keep vendors’ freebies?

Vendors frequently come into my work to do lunch and learns and various other informational/sales type presentations. They often involve lunch or refreshments and various other freebies (pens, notepads, letter openers, etc.). With those freebies, am I allowed to keep them for my personal use? Or are those giveaways company property, since the presentation was given to me on company time, in a company location? Obviously, I’m not giving them the turkey sandwich I ate, but should the notepads and pens stay at my desk for use at work, or is it okay if that pen makes it way into my purse at the end of the presentation?

Nah, these are presentations being given on your lunch time, so it’s fine for you to take that stuff home if you want to. These are small items that almost certainly fall beneath any “you can’t accept/must report gifts of over $X” rules your company has (although you can check that to be sure).

Even if it weren’t at lunch time, it generally wouldn’t be a huge deal to take home a branded pen or notebook. Presumably your company isn’t relying on those things as part of the supplies they provide (and may even prefer you not use other companies’ branded supplies in any client-facing work, who knows).

It would be different if they were giving you something that they clearly hoped your company would use (and possibly buy more of), like software or equipment.

5. How can I be fair to remote team members when I bring in pizza for my on-site staff?

I work in higher ed, and have a staff of 25-30 part-time employees. Most are students, with three or four temp/hourlies in the mix also. And while the majority work here on campus, a few are remote (people on study abroad, graduates who have continued to work for me, etc.). But since I don’t have one large office to put everyone in, even my on-campus staff are spread out in several locations. Because of this, on a day-to-day level we function as a distributed team – we rely primarily on a business text chat/collaboration platform, video calls, and a policy of keeping all our work in the magical “cloud.” I’m intentional about keeping my off-site workers included in both regular work-related and social/sidebar conversations.

However, one mainstay of most campus jobs here is the occasional departmental pizza party. What’s something related I can do for my remote workers if I’m going to feed the crew on-site? It feels a little trite to send Starbucks gift cards or whatever, but I don’t want to leave them out if I’m announcing in chat that there’s pizza and snacks in the central conference room. Do you have advice on something thoughtful I can do in these situations? Input from the loyal commenter brigade is also appreciated.

I don’t think you have to do something for everyone else every single time you provide food on-site; most people will get that it’s not practical to do that every time (and for people who are working remotely by choice, they often consider that a much bigger benefit). But people will really appreciate you occasionally doing something for them as well. That could be anything from a Grubhub gift card and a note to get lunch on you, to stopping by with coffee for the people elsewhere on campus (maybe do your next one-on-one on their turf and bring it with you), to sending them all some special treat, timed to arrive on the same day as the department pizza party.

What other ideas do people have?

{ 497 comments… read them below }

    1. Just Elle*

      I liked Alison’s advice. In my department, supervisors will treat off-siters to a coffee or other food gift card about once a quarter. Honestly I’m kind of jealous, I’d way rather Starbucks than pizza I can’t eat, lol. But I do think its really appreciated by them.

      1. Hello gorgeous!*

        Yeah a gift card for an entire pizza always beats having a few slices in the office. plus you get to choose the toppings (roasted eggplant!)

        1. Jaybeetee*

          I love anchovies! And… literally no one else I know can tolerate them. I’ll be over here with my personal-sized pizza, you pineapple-loving weirdos…

          1. Kathleen_A*

            LOL, I’ve never had anchovies on a pizza, but I’ve had anchovies in other things, and the next chance I get to try them on pizza, I definitely will. I mean, they have to be better than pineapple!

            As for finding ways to reward remote workers, I think some sort of gift card sounds like a great compromise. I would caution the OP that not everybody is enthusiastic about coffee, so something a little less specific than Starbucks might be a good idea.

            1. Clorinda*

              They’re good on a hot pizza and extra good on the cold leftover pizza the next day, like a salty little umami bomb.

          2. CFrance*

            Anchovies on pizza were the best thing my mother-in-law and I had in common!
            I haven’t read all the comments, so I don’t know if this was covered, but I will say that gift cards and visa-type cards bought in the US don’t usually work in other countries. So treating the study-abroad employees is tricky.

        2. Miss V*

          Anchovies and black olives!

          It’s always fun to see who’s disgusted by the anchovies and who’s grossed out by the olives.

          I know one other person who likes this combo- my brother. Every few months we’ll go get a pizza together just so we can get our preferred toppings.

        3. Adlib*

          I do not like anchovies on pizza, but I have had them in cocktail bites and apps before, and they are quite flavorful so I do acknowledge their tastiness! My husband loves them on his pizza however.

          1. Fruit Ninja*

            Fruit- Tomatoes are a fruit, so unless you never get tomato sauce on your pizza you’re a liar.

      2. Ama*

        Yeah, we have only a couple of remote workers and when we have a staff celebration where we are given lunch, they either arrange for a gift card or tell them to buy themselves lunch and the finance staff will be given a heads up to approve reimbursement.

        At this point our remote staff are some of our longest tenured employees (they are employees who were hired when we had actual satellite offices in other states — one of them has been with this org for over two decades) so the senior staff does try to find opportunities to make them feel included in main office recognition/fun when feasible.

      3. Librarian of SHIELD*

        But don’t default to Starbucks! I am constantly receiving Starbucks giftcards that are of no use to me, since I don’t drink coffee or tea.

        OP, have you talked to your remote workers? They might have their own ideas of how you can make them feel appreciated.

        1. Jill March*

          They have hot chocolate and food. (The cake pops are amazing.) I often get a Dragon Drink, which I don’t think has any caffeine in it, if that’s what you’re avoiding. It’s hard to find a default (except maybe amazon), so I think Starbucks isn’t a bad call.

          When I was on a remote team, the manager let us expense a dinner for up to $50 once. We just had to send her the receipt.

        2. Librarian1*

          @Librarian of SHIELD – You should see if you can sell them online! I’m not sure what the market is these days, but I used to do that with giftcards I didn’t need about 10 or 15 years ago. Since it was a gift, any money you get from it is pure profit!

    2. Reba*

      For #5 — my spouse used to work remotely for a firm that did regular lunches out for the team, and a schmancy holiday party dinner for the employees and partners. They did not buy spouse a weekly lunch, but they did send us money to use on a schmancy holiday dinner ourselves! (It was generous; where we lived at the time in a LCOL city we had to try hard to spend it all :) ) I though that was a good balance!

      You sound like a thoughtful manager.

      1. Gymmie*

        I would enjoy this more. Getting a gift card to spend money with just your family and/or friends instead of with coworkers :)

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      I think it actually is slightly more complicated when the people are remote. You’re guessing what a single person would like, rather than what most people in a group of 20 would appreciate. (Pizza, especially if you are on a college campus.)

      Also, when everyone is in the same office you can note that the cheese and cracker spread lasted all day while the lemon bars vanished in an hour–with remote people you aren’t getting the same visual feedback about what was a widely appealing choice and what flopped.

      1. Gymmie*

        Gift cards are always great though – then you get what you want. Also, not everyone loves what everyone else is happy about in an office anyway. I hate pizza lunches and would rather have a card I can take to where I want to go (on my own time)

      2. ChimericalOne*

        Alison mentions a GrubHub giftcard — they deliver from dozens of different restaurants. I can’t imagine that someone wouldn’t like *any* of them.

    4. Anonymoose*

      Our workplace has remote sites, about 50 people in one location, and 30 spread out in small teams in different cities. When we have food, typically either donuts or pizza lunches, then the other sites are asked to buy their own within a max $ and then send us the receipt for reimbursement.

    5. AndersonDarling*

      It would have made a financial difference to me when I was younger and a free lunch was a big deal. But now that I am making better wages, I don’t really care if there is pizza or cake in the office while I am working remotely. Working at home is still better than a slice of pizza.
      It would be a bigger deal if the department had a big event with gifts. Then I would expect someone to send me the company logo umbrella gift and maybe a box of chocolates. Or at least hold these things aside for the rare occasion I come into the office.
      I understand that people in the office get perks, but my perk is choosing where I work. Good trade.

      1. Ophelia*

        This is kind of how I feel, too (I also work remotely). I think it definitely depends on the salary of the employee in question, and also I’d suggest that gift cards or something of the sort are preferable to reimbursement for meals, because for me, the cost of a $10 takeout order is DEFINITELY not worth the hassle of putting in an expense report.

      2. smoke tree*

        I work remotely too, and I’m with you. I can spend my commute time cooking something for myself, which I’ll probably like better anyway. Actually one of the things I miss most about working in an office is pawning off baked goods on my coworkers, though.

    6. Katertot*

      Absolutely. OP, I think whatever you do – doing something is better than nothing. At my previous workplace they never did anything for remote employees, but there was often stuff happening for employees in the central office. I know it made the remote staff feel left out and unappreciated. Even if it’s not every time – doing something to show they are valued would be a really nice gesture.

      1. Malarkey01*

        I work remotely and at this stage in my career I don’t care about missing free food, but I do like when they say hey take a long lunch or take a few hours this afternoon to celebrate since we’re having he holiday party/happy hour whatever. I can take long lunches a few hours within reason at my discretion but it’s really nice to be explicitly told hey we want to make sure you take some time out of your schedule too and won’t be bugging you for x and y.

    7. Mama Bear*

      I used to be remote. Some jobs are better about including remote folks than others. I like the idea of sending a gift card now and then. Last job I had we regularly brought in doughnuts, especially to celebrate end of a hard project. We once sent a box of doughnuts to a remote employee so he could be properly rewarded. Or if you have multiple sites, give the other site equal money for their own event. Working remotely has its own perks, so I don’t think it has to be an every time thing, but being included makes you feel like part of the team/valued. Valued people work better.

    8. Alanna*

      As a remote worker, I’ve always enjoyed starbucks gift cards or coffee in the mail – nice coffee and a mug at the holidays at the very least, and coffee a couple times a year or a subscription to a coffee/tea subscription box or something like that if you are frequently taking people out. I see a lot of companies that are like “oh remote working IS the perk, so who cares about all the great stuff we offer in-office employees?” this makes me sad, so if you are fiscally able, try to offer comparable perks to your remote employees! We too enjoy food and coffee and going to the gym and all that!

    9. Jill March*

      I always felt like free stuff at work was part of the trade-off for a commute, loud chewing neighbors, dressing up, and working in a cubicle farm. The point of office meals and activities is building comradery, so is there really an equivalent for remote employees? I would never say it out loud, and wouldn’t hold it against the remote worker, but I’d be a little annoyed if I got a couple slices of pizza to eat in a conference room or at my desk while a remote worker got a $20 GrubHub card. I know it’s petty, and like I said, I wouldn’t say anything, but when I was dealing with traffic during my commute or spending my evening doing laundry I could have done during the day, I’d feel like I got the short end of the stick.

      I mean, I liked that time I got a free meal from my employer when I was remote, but even then, the entire team was remote. We all posted a picture of us eating at whatever restaurant we chose on the Slack channel and talked about what we ordered. It was a creative way to encourage social connections when were in different locations. Maybe consider adding something similar so the community-building aspect is included and not just the free food.

    10. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      #5- One thing my previous employer did was when the team that was in the office together ordered pizza for a meeting or event, they had the remote team members order pizza to their homes and expense it. They gave us a spending limit and it worked well. It was a fun treat and the remote people felt included.

    1. The bad guy*

      Me either. I can honestly say I’ve never thought about googling a coworker. They tell me everything they want me to know about them. I assume people do it to me but if I ever did it to a coworker it would make me feel dirty.

      1. Director of Alpaca Exams*

        I think it’s really industry-dependent. In my industry (the arts) the line between personal and professional is very fuzzy. It’s assumed that people are personally artistic and interested in appreciating and discussing art as well as in the business of art. A lot of us make arts-related posts on our personal social media accounts, which are mostly followed by other people in the arts. When your personal and professional circles overlap by 90%, the metric “If you’re curious about their professional background, fine and even potentially relevant. If you’re searching for info on their personal life, that’s an overstep” does not so much apply.

        1. JessaB*

          I can see it in the arts, because if you google an artist, you might find neat examples of their work and stuff. That makes sense to do. I mean if I were in the arts, I’d probably google people. Same if you’re in any kind of media type job.

          1. Friday*

            I think she was talking about professionals. Professional artists, actors, curators, directors, musicians, I can imagine professionals for whom that boundary is now very porous.

        2. Anonomoose*

          Would be super common in academia, as you’ll have papers out ( and probably a professional Twitter feed, too, where you repost snarky things about funding, continue any feuds with rival academics, and occasionally something about your area)

          Also, we once found someone we were considering collaborating with had a horribly racist Twitter feed, and killed the collaboration

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, the combination of research tendencies and openly posted CVs makes for very different expectations.

        3. Falling Diphthong*

          This is an interesting example–I recently ran across a reference to an architect and google image searched his name, figuring that was the easiest way to get a feel for his work.

          So even though my gut instinct to the title is “boy is that weird” it’s what I do if the thing I’m curious about is in the arts.

          1. JillY*

            I’ve actually reverse image searched some people from LinkedIn – something sometimes just seems really off with some people. 1 person turned out to be using a pic of one of Hugh Heffners wives!

        4. Kathleen_A*

          It seems totally normal to me. I don’t think that I myself have ever done anything more than check someone’s LinkedIn page, but a quick little superficial Google search doesn’t sound out of line to me.

          Besides, in my department, we usually want people who show at least a little bit of competence in social media use – it’s part of our responsibility here – and you can learn a lot about someone’s general social media literacy by checking their Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Many people of all age groups think they’re a *lot* better at social media than they actually are.

        5. Bee*

          My job (which is essentially connecting teapot artists with teapot-producing companies who want to license their designs) by necessity involves a lot of Googling of people to find out what kinds of teapots they might like – and as you note, social media plays a huge role in that. I haven’t Googled any of my immediate coworkers, but I do follow them all on Twitter (which is about 50/50 personal/work), and I assume that everyone I might work with has done a fair amount of research to find out what kinds of teapots *I* like. Hell, I’ve deliberately tried to make that information easy to find on the assumption that people will do a cursory search. So yeah, very industry-dependent.

        6. Elan*

          I work in a media context, and I can see that there may be the occasional need to be aware of an employee’s online presence. In the case that immediately comes to mind, I did social media searches when I was hiring interns to get more context on them. The one we ended up selecting had a blog. After her first few days with us, she showed a slightly alarming lack of boundaries and awareness of professional norms, so I started keeping an eye on her blog (in addition to addressing the professionalism issues, obviously). And it’s a good thing I did–about a month into the internship, she wrote a lengthy unflattering post about a client of ours, using their full name and the name of their project. So while I probably wouldn’t google a coworker, I wouldn’t write it off completely for interns or employees if there are other reasons to be concerned about what may be coming up online that may impact the organization.

          1. JSPA*

            That’s more damage control than idle curiosity, though. It meets the “legitimate work concern” test.

      2. Sharrbe*

        Right? I honestly don’t have the desire to find out anything more about co-workers than what they tell me. I know enough for friendly chit-chat and that’s it. I mean if they were giving off serious serial killer vibes and I had to work alone with them, that would be one thing, but otherwise, no. I have enough going in my own life to keep me occupied!

    2. CmdrShepard4ever*

      I don’t get 1 either, but I think it might be for different reasons. I get that my opinion last time was unpopular and not widely held by others. But I don’t understand how people can post so much info online, but expect people not to look at it/up.

      It almost seems to me like walking out in public in a cow costume and then expecting people not to stare at you. If you purposely put something out into the public domain/internet you should expect people to look at it.

      I know it is not always possible 100% but if you don’t want people looking at your MySpace, LiveJournal from when you were 16/20/24 do your best to try and get it taken down.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        First off, many people put things up in the old days before mega search engines.

        Second, things like private groups on Usenet are now publicly available. Browsers didn’t even exist back then, so there was no vision of what the internet would look like 25 years in the future. Do you punish people for not being fortune tellers?

        Third, not all the information was put out there by the individual. Public records are now searchable when they didn’t use to be available.

        Fourth, aggregators put information out on individuals that may or may not be correct.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          You make some good points especially about false information. In the new digital age there is new fear of someone trying to purposely smear your reputation, by creating a fake online profile of someone and posting all kinds of questionable and inappropriate content. Someone else mentioned that their twitter got hacked and it was posting various pornographic content. But I think the lesson from that is not “Don’t ever google stuff/coworkers.” but rather “Take what you learn from googling stuff/coworkers with a grain of salt, and definitely don’t let them know that you googled them.”

        2. Rainy*

          That aggregator stuff is a pain, especially when you have a pretty common name, because it can easily wind up as a mix of mostly-correct stuff from when you were a teenager that then veers widely off-base because you, for example, moved out of the country for multiple years, and that earlier mostly-correct info then gets attached (in the name of continuity, I expect) to someone with your same name who lives in Alabama and has warrants, evictions, serious traffic tickets, jail time, felonies, a bankruptcy, what have you. To pull an example from the air that is certainly not my experience, sigh.

        3. AKchic*

          I have an extremely common name. To the point that I work with someone with my name, I act with someone with my name, and I married briefly into a family with someone with my name (a cousin).
          I also have identity theft issues (thanks, ex-husband number 1!) and an ex-husband who made it his mission to impersonate me online.
          Checking on me online is a minefield. Trying to fix it has been absolutely more hassle than it’s worth. I don’t have money, I don’t have the extra time, so really – there’s not much point to it. I just put extra effort into ensuring my kids have a good digital footprint instead.

      2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

        Even in the early days of the internet, it was the Worldwide Web. That was supposed to be the big attraction, the great value. Young techno-whizzes preached the advantage of splashing yourself all over the web so anyone could find you. Anybody who thought they were in a private corner of cyberia was being naïve. In the early 2000s I searched a woman online because I was legitimately concerned she might try to keep me from getting other contract jobs. I found an unbelievable amount of highly personal medical information she’d put in a cancer survivors newsletter. I was horrified. That information could have been used against her in numerous ways. Did she really think only people in her survivors group would find it and read it?

        I think the snoopy coworker was beyond horrid, but if the information is publicly available, it’s public.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          Usenet existed decades before the World Wide Web. Back then it was way more private – kind of hidden in its own little corner.
          You actually had to know UNIX to get to things.
          Usenet was early 1980s. WWW didn’t show up until 1991.

          1. Oxford Comma*

            I was an early Usenet user. I recall zero conversations or warnings about your content being archived and made public. A while back, I found a way to get your stuff suppressed. I believe it’s still there, but not as easily discoverable.

            1. Engineer Girl*

              There were no disclosures. Things that were in private groups were put out in public by Google. Worse, Google would only take them down if you wrote to them from the original email address. Like, who has the same email they had in the 1980s?
              Basically the audience went from 500 to millions.
              Many commenters here clearly don’t know what the early days of the internet looked like.

              1. TardyTardis*

                Ah, the fun times I had on rec.arts.sf.written (not to mention alt.wesleycrusher.die.die.die).

      3. Seeking Second Childhood*

        The REASON things are on the Internet is honestly irrelevant and derailing.
        The search results could be something the new CW posted herself. Imagine someone who doesn’t want her new office to know she is a survivor of a newsworthy event so she can have one place in her life to feel more normal again. Or someone who shares a name with someone who made it into the news. Or someone with a family member with no filters.

        1. Jennifer*

          Sure that sucks but it’s the nature of the internet. People are going to google each other. The information is public. And they are right. A lot of this stuff people do put out there themselves. It’s naive to think no one will find it.

          I think what’s more important is what you do with that information if you happen to find it, not whether or not you looked it up.

          1. JSPA*

            There’s still the issue of, “you can’t un-see things.”

            It’s not work-relevant that you stumbled onto someone’s explicit pix on a dating page (or courtesy of some revenge porn jerk) and you may be reasonably sure that a client will not recognize them in that gear, unless they’ve changed in the same bathroom and seen the tatoo that confirmed it for you. It’s almost certainly not work relevant that someone has bizzare and bizzarely strong (and in your opinion, highly mistaken) opinions on fan-fic / furries / vaccines / moon landing conspiracy theories / romance novels / anything else.

            But how good are you at stuffing it all down the memory hole the next day, when you’ll see them in the hall? And for the next five years? Without ever mentioning it to anyone who knows them, and might know someone who knows them? It’s like King Midas’ barber finally whispering “King Midas has asses ears” into a hole in the ground, and the reeds telling it to the wind.

            If it’s done for your own sense of safety, or for legit work concerns, or if you’re looking for an outside means of contact because one of you’s leaving, and you want to make sure you can reach out for reference purposes later, or some other legit reason to find another path, you can go deeper. But idle curiosity leads to bad knowledge you’d rather not have. Or at least, neutral knowledge that would be weird if it slipped out.

      4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        I don’t agree that putting stuff on the internet is an automatic invitation for everyone to look at it. BUT, I don’t think people necessarily have a right to be upset if others find things about you that you posted online, because it’s never 100% private.

        In the case of snooping, I don’t think it’s ever ok. If you’re online and happen to come across something about a colleague I don’t think that’s a big deal. It’s out there for public consumption. But if you’re ACTIVELY looking for dirt on people, that’s just messed up. I’m not saying I’ve never googled anyone before, and I don’t think it’s an invasion of privacy if you do. But if you want to know anything about a colleague, you ASK them about it. If you’re uncomfortable asking them about something, then you probably shouldn’t be snooping around about it either.

        1. Colette*

          Agreed. If someone finds something you’ve posted on the internet, you don’t get to choose how they react to it – but it’s as odd to me to google a current or future coworker as it would be to drive by their house to see how well they take care of their lawn.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            I get that googling a coworker is odd to you but I think equating it with driving by their house is not reasonable. I have Googled several of my coworkers, but even if I accidentally found out a coworkers address it would never cross my mind to actually drive by their house. That is on a whole other level.

            1. Colette*

              Why is it different? In both cases, you’re checking out information that is available to the public but that has not been offered to you.

              1. Jennifer*

                Because going to the house of someone you barely know when they’ve never invited you there is creepy. Think about that. They took the time to map a route to the address and drove there. That’s a lot of effort for someone you don’t know and downright disturbing. That’s light years away from googling someone and accidentally seeing public information.

                1. Colette*

                  I’d argue that doing an intensive search for information on a coworker is also creepy. If you do a quick search of someone’s name and check out their LinkedIn profile, there’s nothing wrong with reading it. If you’re trying to find out everything about their life, that’s over the line.

                2. Jennifer*

                  Simply googling someone isn’t an “intensive search.” Paying for a background check or doing a deep dive in some other way could be. You are equating two things that are vastly different from each other.

                3. LCL*

                  That is kind of job dependent, though. Our workgroup sometimes spends their whole shift in company vehicles. Driving by someone’s house once, if they are in the area, is normal behavior. Those who have been doing the job for years don’t ‘map a route’, they see an address and drive to it. Not everyone uses a GPS or phone for navigation in known areas, though that is becoming more common than not.

                4. Jennifer*

                  @LCL That’s not what I’m referring to. I’m talking about someone randomly googling a coworker, finding their address and driving there when you have no reason to do so. If they googled their address it would make sense that they’d google directions.

                  That’s not the same as going by a coworker’s house when it’s part of your route or when you need to pick them up/drop them off.

                5. biobotb*

                  If you’re googling someone, you’re not “accidentally” seeing anything. You’re seeing it all on purpose.

                6. JSPA*

                  I’d say that driving by is way more likely to be noticed, and thus be creepy. (Though “see who’s googling you” sites claim to exist–I’ve never clicked, as I assume they’re mostly or entirely Phishing.)

                  Also, the sorts of creepiness that you can do by stalking someone online are (broadly speaking) indirect and deferred; the sorts of creepiness you can do by being at someone’s house is direct, immediate and thus intrinsically always weirder.

              2. fposte*

                For me, the difference is the amount of effort taken. That’s similar to my (and many people’s) response to the previous snooping letter, and I think it works for a lot of such situations. That doesn’t mean there’s always a clear line between what effort makes it creepy and what doesn’t, but the more work, time, and/or money you put in to finding things out about your co-worker, the likelier it is that you’ve gone overboard.

                1. Colette*

                  Agreed. And I think that this is one of those situations where why you’re looking is important. If you’re looking someone up for a legitimate reason (e.g. want to find contact information) and find some personal information, that’s fine. If you’re looking them up just because you’re curious, it takes less effort to cross the line.

                2. Colette*

                  I’m actually going to refine my answer on this one. I think what makes it wrong to me is crossing the areas of interest.

                  If a coworker googles me to get my work history, that’s fine. If they google me to find out about my love of competitive butter carving, that’s over the line.

                  On the other hand, if a fellow competitive butter carver searched for me to find out about past competitions I’ve been in, that’s fine. If they google me to find out what kinds of llamas I have on my llama farm, that’s over the line.

                  If another llama farmer googles me to find out what kind of llamas I have, that’s fine. If they are looking for information on my butter carving competitions, that’s over the line.

                  In other words, if you know me because of one part of my life, looking for information on that part of my life is fine. If you’re trying to get to know me by finding out about other parts of my life, that’s wrong, because that’s information you should find out when I share it.

                3. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  @ Colette I do believe in stalking/cyber stalking and a lot of that uses public information.
                  I think googling a coworker and checking out their Linked In, Facebook, twitter, other social media is one thing and that is not the same as driving to someones house.

                  But if you do a deep dive to figure out that every Monday they go to coffee shop xyz at 7am, then at 7:30am they do yoga at brz studio, then they come to work, after work they go to bar abc where they they meet their friends John, Jane, and Joe for trivia night that is similar to driving to a coworkers house.

                4. Ophelia*

                  Exactly. It’s WAY different to check out someone’s LinkedIn profile before a conference call than to run a public records search so you can check out their landscaping.

            2. Bee*

              I mean, most people’s addresses are easy to find online, and everyone used to have a list of them arrive at their house. It’s very similar to digging for their high school livejournal, in fact.

            3. That Girl From Quinn's House*

              You don’t have to drive past anyone’s house any more, you can just look it up on Google Street View and Zillow/Trulia/Redfin. It’ll have pics of the inside from the most recent sale, and how much it cost.

              1. Kat in VA*

                And even proving you’re the owner of the house and removing the pics (like you can on Zillow) doesn’t mean there won’t be pics of your house on other sites like Redfin or crossposted from other real estate sites.

                I’m not comfortable, honestly, with someone knowing the interior layout of my house. Bad enough they can google it and make some assumptions based on the square footage and selling price (like I’ve mentioned before about the recruiter who thought using the price of my house would be a good haggling point to get the proposed salary lower because I “clearly wasn’t hurting for money”.)

          2. Autumnheart*

            It’s not driving by their house. It’s like them taking an ad out in the New York Times and then wondering how people know what’s in the ad.

            1. Colette*

              That’s not the situation at all. People know their information is online; that doesn’t mean that it’s expected that people they know in person will try to find information about them from google instead of by asking/getting to know them personally.

              1. Jennifer*

                They should expect it. The world is changing. That’s why you should google yourself to make sure there’s nothing out there you’d be uncomfortable with strangers knowing.

                1. Colette*

                  Coworkers are not strangers. And if you’re trying to find out about someone’s life through the internet instead of through actually talking to them, the problem is not the internet. Limited information is OK – i.e. public profiles in LinkedIn. Enough information so that you know where they’ll be every Tuesday at 7 is over the line.

                2. Autumnheart*

                  If you “check in” on Facebook everywhere you go, MAYBE it should not come as a huge shock when people know where you were every Tuesday at 7.

                3. bleh*

                  But you cannot take your age (for example) off the internet, and I for one certainly did not PUT my age on the internet. It’s part of so-called public records, but it’s still none of anybody’s gd business, and they will only use it to age discriminate. Same is true of my relatives – i have zero social media, but any f-ing stranger (or colleague or whoever) can go find out my family member names and where they live. That is disgusting and wrong, but it isn’t because I put it out there, and I cannot take it down.

            2. Librarian of SHIELD*

              I take issue with this line of thinking.

              Should people be aware when they post things online that literally anybody can see at any moment? Yes. Of course they should. But that’s not what we’re talking about here.

              Take the internet out of the equation and think about behaviors. If you see two people at the grocery store who are clearly having an intense whispered conversation, yeah. They’re having a conversation in public where anybody can see and hear what they’re talking about. But is it still creepy to steer your shopping cart to the spot behind the paper towel display where you can eavesdrop on their conversation without them seeing that you’re there? Heck yes it is.

              That’s what we’re talking about. There is conversation happening all around you all the time that you could possibly pay attention to, but it’s not FOR you, and that’s the difference. If you do a google search on a coworker and see the things they’ve created intentionally for the wider public to see, like their LinkedIn or a public Twitter or Facebook profile. Cool. Whatever. But for me, a line gets crossed when you start seeking out information that was not intended for the wider public, but for a more limited segment of “the public.” Crossing over into people’s 15 year old MySpace profile that hasn’t been updated in forever to figure out what they were like in college is creepy. It just is. You can try to justify it all you want by saying the person posted it to the internet on purpose, but it wasn’t for you. If you can see the truth of that in the people at the table next to you in a restaurant, then you can see the truth of that online as well.

            3. JSPA*

              If that’s the only level of info you’re getting from google, then, google away, at that (limited) depth, I guess.

              I sometimes (in a semi-official capacity) have to search for contact information for people who make a point of not having private contact information online, and who also cannot be contacted for the purpose in question using their professional contact information.

              That may involve multiple layers of googling. I draw pretty strict lines about not doing that for people in general, and friends / coworkers / suppliers / clients in specific.

          3. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

            My boss regularly comments on my lawn/yard, but, to be fair, I live a few blocks from where I work and am on a reasonable route for her to be driving past my house every day, and she learned about my house’s location during all of the house-buying drama I went through to get a house in an Extreme Seller’s Market a couple years back. I ended up coming into work late one day so I could drop everything and tour this house and put in an offer the very day it went on the market, so everyone at work knew more about my home-buying process than usual. (Multiple co-workers regularly driving by my house is one of several reasons I hire a yard service.)

            On the other hand, I have never bothered to look up my co-workers on the general internet (I have looked them up on various professional databases or other sites related to our field). I don’t use social media, and I already feel sufficiently informed about my co-workers’ general life goings-on, so I would probably only be interested in tracking them down online if we had a shared hobby or something and I wanted to check our their online presence related to that hobby. (Well, I am sometimes tempted to see if any of them regularly post pictures of their dogs on public social media pages, because some of them have pretty awesome dogs. Haven’t actually bothered to track them down, though.)

            And then there’s my mother who, many years ago when Google Image Search became a thing, decided that the very best thing to try it out with was the full name of my then-boyfriend. Fortunately for everyone involved, his online presence revolved around visual math puzzles so that went far less awkwardly than it had any right to. Truly, she picked the best possible of all of my relationships thus far to Google Image Search.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          I’m with you on this one. I don’t care too much about what my colleagues are up to outside the office. Honestly, I can’t really imagine searching them, unless they told me they had a DeviantArt page or something.

        3. Engineer Girl*

          Many times the individual did NOT post it online though. And information is now MUCH more easily available than it used to be.

          Public records are now online. It used to be that you had to write to the courthouse to get the information. Now people can find your address (and many other things) with the click of a button.

          I’ve written articles for limited distribution journals that are now on the internet. When I wrote the articles, it was with the understanding that it would go to the 10,000 print run. Then the editor (20 years later) decided to put it all out on the internet.

          You are also missing something extremely important – context. Things can appear one way without context, and another way with context. Think of the Chipotle manager that was accused of racism. That’s out on the internet forever.

          1. Allie*

            Absolutely! I stupidly hadn’t googled myself for a year or two and recently did when AAM had a letter about snooping. I was horrified to find that my current address, age, and prior residences were visible on the first page of the google search. It’s creepy “they” are allowed to do that. It was a pain contacting each site to take the info down.

        4. Lynn Whitehat*

          Agreed. I don’t agree with people who argue that it’s morally OK to dig up absolutely *anything* because it’s technically public (if you have all day to correlate Marge Simpson to Marge Bouvier and know every trick to digging up 30-year-old Usenet posts). A lot of it is more like, your car in your driveway is visible from the street, and therefore technically public knowledge. But going out of your way to log when your neighbor leaves and returns every day for a month, or running a license plate search, would be creepy AF. (Although technically legal in themselves.)

          1. CMart*

            I actually think that’s a great analogy here: keeping track/actively noticing what someone is publicly doing is just a few steps beyond “normal.”

            Looking up a coworker on LinkedIn and seeing they got their MBA from Local U? Totally normal. But to then look them up on Facebook, notice their URL is a kind of username, look THAT up on Twitter, see they tweeted about home buying woes, go look up county records to find their address and go look at their house listing on Zillow etc…

            That’s a big YIKES. That’s too much. Yes it’s all available and no, I guess people shouldn’t be “surprised” that it can happen but they’re more than in the right to feel violated that it did.

            It’s the equivalent of staring at your cube neighbor when they come in and noting the time. Then noting when they go to the bathroom. When they go get their lunch. Peering over your cubicle wall to say “hey, whatcha eating today?”. Remarking at the end of the week as they’re packing up on Friday that they sure did eat a lot of Mexican this week, are they going to try for pizza or something this weekend? Oh and also they’ve been getting up to go refill their water a lot – 15 times over the last two days! Hope everything is well.

            That’s waaaayyyy too much, perfectly publicly available, knowledge to have gathered. Way too much. I think most people would agree that’s invasive.

      5. Autumnheart*

        No, I agree with you. I think the people who think they should never be googled “without a good reason” are unreasonable, and wildly out of touch.

        I was on the Internet 25 years ago, and everyone understood that what you put out in the public domain was going to be there forever. That’s why they chose anonymizing handles and made efforts to not post identifying information. Maybe when the Web became a commonly used tool, people began using it without understanding that, but just a reminder, putting something online is not like having the curtains open in your house and complaining that someone looked in the window, it’s like placing an ad in the newspaper and complaining that someone saw it. You are LITERALLY cultivating an online collection of data about yourself!

        You didn’t understand that when you were 14 and posting your entire life under your real name on Livejournal or MySpace? You still don’t get it today, even though you’re 35 and the news has been full of privacy breaches for the last what, 8 years? Even though the privacy statements for social media, that you checked “I accept” without reading, actually SAY they get to use your data however they want? Too damn bad.

        Information in the public domain is public. People are allowed to look at it and do whatever they want with the information. Don’t want it out there? Don’t post it. That was the case in 1994 and it’s the case in 2019.

        1. Autumnheart*

          I referred to this in a comment below, but when you sign up for social media and accept the terms and conditions, it asks you point-blank if the platform has permission to publish and distribute your information, and you are saying point-blank that YES, it’s okay for that information to be published and distributed.

          People are not “snooping” and looking up things without your permission. You gave that permission.

          1. Emily K*

            There are plenty of perfectly legal behaviors that are nonetheless creepy. Walking onto a train car with just one other person and every other seat empty and sitting down next to that person is creepy. Staring at someone at a restaurant for your entire meal is creepy. Obvious people *can* look at any public information they want and they’re not doing anything wrong in a legal sense – maybe one could debate whether the word “snooping” encompasses this type of behavior, but the words “creepy” and “nosy” definitely do, and those are generally not adjectives that most people want to bed described with.

            1. Jennifer*

              Curious does not mean creepy. I have googled people but I’d never stare at someone for an hour or sit next to them on an empty train car. I think that first example might even get you asked to leave a restaurant depending on the context. Equating googling someone to making people wonder if you’re a creepy stalker is really unfair.

              1. Emily K*

                I’m not saying a basic Google search rises to that level – just that “it’s publicly available information” is not a carte blanche pass. There comes a point where digging deeply for information, even though it’s publicly available, crosses the line.

              2. Librarian of SHIELD*

                Curious doesn’t necessarily mean creepy, but that doesn’t mean that a certain extreme level of curiosity can’t veer over into creepy territory. A google search isn’t creepy. Going down the rabbit hole and spending hours digging to learn really personal things is. There’s a line there. It’s blurry and we can’t know where it is 100% of the time, but it’s there.

              3. CMart*

                @Librarian of SHIELD, I very much agree about the line, and how nebulous it is.

                It doesn’t even have to be the amount of time it takes. It doesn’t take much time at all to see on LinkedIn that someone has linked a professional blog under BlogName79 dot blogsite dot com, think “hm, what else have they published under BlogName79?” and pop that into Google and now you’re reading their LiveJournal from 2002 and laughing at their MySpace top 8 choices.

                Yes it’s all out there and very easy to discover but… why? In my scenario it’s that moment where you go “I’m going to see what else they may have under this alias” that you’ve crossed that line. It’s legal. It’s public. But it’s creepy.

            2. Autumnheart*

              *sigh* No.

              People are acting like posting on social media is equivalent to having a private telephone call. It isn’t. Posting on social media is like going on camera, live on the air, on CNN.

              Do you understand that?

              Social media is not privacy. It is PUBLICITY. You are sending press releases about yourself to an audience of billions. You agreed to this when you signed up. You actively chose to do it every single time you posted. You were told. You had to opt in. You do not get to claim that your privacy was somehow violated, or that someone is being a “creep”, for seeing you on CNN, during your public broadcast, intended for billions of people, on a site specifically and EXPRESSLY designed for the purpose of broadcasting what you choose to put out there.

              The fact that you didn’t fully and truly understand the ramifications of the reach of your audience has no bearing on any of this. But maybe you will understand now.

              1. Emily K*

                I barely post anything online – this isn’t about me personally. I personally fully believe that there is no such thing as online privacy from a risk management standpoint. But the distinction here isn’t about “what’s prudent to do for your own privacy” – I’m talking about the other person in the scenario, the person doing the boundary-pushing, and how far they can go before it’s creepy.

                I also wasn’t talking about social media. As I said in the comment just above yours, I was simply responding to the notion that because something is publicly available it’s not creepy to dig for it. And I’m saying that’s not necessarily true. It is possible dig for publicly available information and be creepy, from reputation management standpoint.

                1. Autumnheart*

                  No. You’re wrong. There is no boundary being violated when someone uses a publicly accessible search engine to find publicly broadcast information. This is like trying to argue that it’s creepy to look someone up in the phone book or the Yellow Pages. It’s like reading posts from a dozen people who pick their nose in their car, and genuinely believe nobody should be able to see them.

                  You are in public and everyone can see what you do. Start there.

                2. Emily K*

                  Yes. Judging by the comments here, I’m right that many people will in fact find it creepy if you go too far digging into “public” information. Do you think the background check wasn’t a boundary violation? Those are typically compiled only from publicly available records – the ones that go beyond public records typically requite you to have obtained consent and a social security number from the person you’re looking up.

                3. Jennifer*

                  You have the right to disagree with it or even find it creepy. My point is people are going to do it. Many people see it as a normal thing. It’s not going to change.

                4. Autumnheart*

                  No, I don’t think performing a background check is a violation. It is information collected specifically for the purpose of informing the public. Just because it took *more effort* to find it 20 years ago doesn’t mean it is any more of a “violation” NOW, than it was 30 years ago when you had to go ask a clerk for the file at the county courthouse. It’s the same exact information, offered to exactly the same people–everyone.

                  Using personal information to do questionable things can be a violation. If I google you and find your home address, that’s not a violation. It wasn’t a violation in 1989 when your address came directly to my house, in the form of a 2000-page book published by US West, either. But I’m not free to do whatever I want with that information. I’m allowed to know it, I’m allowed to look it up, I’m allowed to use it for legitimate contact purposes. I’m not allowed to stalk you, break into your house, peep into your windows, or call your phone number 20 times a day and hang up.

                5. Autumnheart*

                  To continue the analogy with social media, googling someone and looking at their profiles is also not a violation. That information is intended to be public. It’s okay for me to look at it, comment on your page (if that functionality is enabled), link to it, write a blog post about it, perform web searches on the information in your posts, contact you on that profile (if that functionality is enabled), even download your photos. That’s what you agreed to allow people to do when you signed up and set your permissions for the account, and for as long as you decide to participate on that platform.

                  It’s okay for me to discover that SoAndSo on AAM is the same SoAndSo on Twitter, and if the profile for SoAndSo on Twitter also mentions that you’re John Smith from Phoenix, Arizona and you’re a game designer who used to work at EA, with a link to your LinkedIn profile and your online portfolio, and your online portfolio has a link to your resume that also includes your phone number and home address…that’s on you. If you don’t want people to have access to that information, then don’t make it so easy for people to find.

                6. Colette*

                  @Autumnheart, I strongly disagree with what you’re saying here. If you’re doing a specific, targeted search for information about someone, that’s creepy, unless you have a compelling reason for doing so. What you’re saying is the equivalent of saying “they’re in the phone book, of course I looked up where they live” 20 years ago, or “if you didn’t want me to look through your phone, you should put a stronger passcode on it” or “of course I went through my wallet, it’s your fault for leaving it on your desk”.

                  And benevolent acquaintances do not do that kind of intensive search, so if you are doing it, I have to assume that you have some malicious interest in doing so.

                7. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  @Collette I the phone and wallet examples I don’t think are really the same or applicable because that is going through someones personal property. But the phone book example is a good one. Say in the 1980’s if I had a coworker and I was curious where they lived, I could go to the phone book, look up their name and find their address and you could know the neighborhood they live in. I think back then if you didn’t want your phone number and address to appear in the phone book you could pay to have your information unlisted.

                8. Librarian1*

                  @Autumnheart – but… you’re assuming that all the info someone finds by googling someone else is something that person explicitly posted online. That’s not how it works. My Facebook doesn’t even show up in Google searches. I know in the past it was indexed by Google and I had to change my settings so it wouldn’t show up, not sure if that’s the case now. I also very rarely make public posts.

                  The issue is that there’s a lot of information out there that people never posted online, but still shows up in a Google search anyway. At least two of my past addresses show up when I google myself and I’ve never explicitly put them online because that would be risky. They still show up though. I’ve also found my cell number, even though I would never post that publicly either.

                  I Googled myself yesterday and here are a few things I’ve found that I never posted: 5K race times from the past few years, opinion articles I wrote for my college newspaper (this was the early 2000s and the paper didn’t have a strong online presence), a pic that someone uploaded to my college’s digital depository that I’m not in, but someone thought I was in, a few of my cross country times from high school, results of softball games from the mid-90s, etc. With the exception of the school paper stuff, none of that is going to make anyone judge me negatively, but it’s still info that I never posted online that ended up there anyway.

              2. smoke tree*

                But wouldn’t you find it unsettling if you went on a first date with someone and they started quoting back your livejournal posts from a decade ago? There is a certain level of fixation that can be inappropriate regardless of the source of the information.

        2. Eukomos*

          Good point about the anonymous screennames. I still usually use screennames that can’t be easily traced back to me, and people were way more intense about it back in the aughts when we all thought posting your real name on the internet meant a crazed murderer would instantly show up outside your house. I remember how shocked we all were that Facebook was suggesting you put not only your real name and the college you went to, but even your face on the internet. It’s certainly a lot easier to pull up public records these days, but most people’s old internet posts are probably not going to show up on a ten minute casual googling.

        3. PVR*

          This isn’t just about information that you yourself have posted. Because public records, amongst other things, have all gone digital it is very possible to find some very invasive things about a person that they DID not post.

        4. EventPlannerGal*

          I think that (in general, not just in this context) someone else doing something stupid does not mean you should take advantage of it. There is such a thing as common sense and courtesy.

          For example, yes, it’s undeniably stupid to post updates on your teenage angst on Livejournal under your real name. You probably shouldn’t do that, and if you do you shouldn’t be shocked if someone finds them. But if a coworker did that and you came across it ten years later, it is pretty basic common sense to realise that while you certainly *could* read through all their posts and learn a lot of personal information that they chose to put online, they probably would be embarrassed and a little weirded out if you actually did it and definitely would be if you brought it up at work. I think that most people, if they are being honest with themselves, know when they have crossed from “this is publicly available and fine to read” to “this is publicly available but maybe not great to read”.

          (To be clear, I’m not saying that posting that level of identifiable personal information online isn’t stupid or that coworkers should never Google each other or whatever. I just think that “you did something stupid so I will take advantage of it to satisfy my own curiosity” isn’t the hill I would want to die on.)

      6. Eirene*

        Nobody is saying, “Don’t Google other people ever.” Your comments on the OP and on this post indicate that you believe a mere Google search is one and the same as paying for a background check. The first is a little nosy but not outrageously out of line; the second is just plain creepy to do to someone you’re not living with or hiring. That’s what people have a problem with. We know our information is out there. We just don’t expect that someone with no genuine reason to do so would pay to have a full background check done on us, and that’s where it crosses the line. That’s why your opinion is unpopular.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I don’t think googling and paying for a background check are the same thing, I do agree that paying for the background check is a step farther than googling someone. But I do not think they are that far apart. In the comments there are several people who have said you should not google your coworkers unless you have a very specific reason or need some info about them.

          I guess my general attitude feelings on humanity are summed up by the George Mallory quote when asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everst? “Because it’s there.” If you make a car that can go 200 mph someone will drive that fast, if you make a sub that can dive 2 miles under water someone will be in it etc… If people know that certain information is out there you should not be surprised that people are searching for it or have searched for it.

          I don’t think that coworkers are googling me because I am not that interesting and they have more important things to do, but if I found out that a coworker had googled me or run a background check just out of sheer curiosity I would not be surprised. If you want something to truly be private putting it up online is not the way to go, just look at all the corporate and celeb data hacks. To be clear I do not condone with hacking or the releasing of private photos/information/records I am just saying you can’t be surprised that it happens. I think for most companies security is not a question of if they will be hacked but rather when will they be hacked.

          1. Lynn Whitehat*

            Yeah, some people will be searching for it. Creepy people. Not talking about a quick Google search, but a deep dive. “Somebody will do it” isn’t even close to being the same thing as “this is morally OK and not creepy”.

          2. PVR*

            I don’t want people to be able to pay for a background check on me. But I have no way to stop that or what might be available if they do. So I don’t think this is really a fair statement. I am pretty careful about what I put on line and frequently check privacy permissions on social media, but there is no way for me to mitigate the background type sites. They pop up like flies. I have opted out of many of them. But yeah, if someone googles me and goes to one of those sites and reads about where I’ve lived before and who I’m related to, I can’t stop them from doing it. But it absolutely feels like an invasion of my privacy. Because I didn’t consent to have any of that information available.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              In regards to paying to run a background check the basic ones just use public information, that you have implicitly by living in society made publicly available. I tend to go to the same supermarket around the same time on the same day, the people who are there will see me and learn that I shop on a regular schedule. Sometimes I have seen a coworker, friend, acquaintance a the market and told someone else guess who I saw at the market today John Smith.

              People are able to hire private investigators to tail people all the time and find out all kinds of information about them, it is all legal you do not have to consent to being followed, this is the similar to paying for a background check. It is usually done for a specific purpose yes like a divorce case, or an insurance company trying to catch a potential scammer.

              I certainly agree paying for a background check or PI on someone is a lot especially if the only reason is curiosity, it goes beyond a google search of someone.

              1. bleh*

                PVR I so agree with you. I would like to see the pro- tell everyone everything about us people respond to the age issue. It is (now) public information. Once people know it, they *will* respond to it. They cannot help their own (in the US) agism. That info was never in the phone book, but it’s easily available now, and it definitely affects how people think about and respond to others.

                1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  I am not pro-tell everyone everything in fact I am quite the opposite, I am an I don’t post anything online that I don’t want the whole world to see person. I actually don’t post on social media much, maybe once or twice a year because I value my privacy. But when I do post I imagine that anyone and everyone is going to see it. When I was younger I used to post stuff on FB a ton, constantly updating what I was doing, how I was feeling etc… But now as I got older I realized I don’t want the whole world to know that much about me. All the stuff I posted before, that is my fault, but going forward I try to be very private about my information.

      7. MicroManagered*

        I agree with what you’re saying in principle, but letter #1 isn’t about expectations of privacy vs. personal responsibility with posting google-able info online.

        It’s a request for advice about where the line is between looking at easily-available info on a coworker, and creeping. I think AAM defined it nicely.

      8. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Just because it’s out there doesn’t mean it’s not weird to dig into it.

        I mean, as an analogy, if you’re at the supermarket, you’re publicly visible and out among other people, but it’d still be creepy if someone followed you all through your grocery shopping trip.

        1. MicroManagered*

          Or went through your cart while your back was turned. Technically the items in there still belong to the store and are not your private property yet, yeah, but it’d be really weird.

          1. Red5*

            This! I’m having a house built, and when I went down last week to check on the progress, my sales person was ushering some guy and his (huge!) dog out of my house. The build isn’t at the stage where the house needs to be locked yet, and dude just thought he’d walk right in. With his dog. Sure, it’s technically not my house yet, but I’m under contract; so while it’s probably not legally trespassing, it’s essentially walking into someone else’s house uninvited and is creepy AF.

            1. MicroManagered*

              Eh. I could see reasons why someone might walk a person through a house that’s not complete enough to be locked, or be referred to as a “build” rather than a house. He could’ve been getting an opinion on how something was being done, showing it off for some reason (from another potential sale to “look, dad!”), etc. I would not call it the same thing as a stranger sorting through your cart at the grocery store!! ;)

              1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                I think in the situation Red5 mentioned the sales agent was not walking the person through the house, they were shooing them away. I think the person with the dog walked into the house by themselves out of curiosity.

                @Red5 that person was still technically trespassing just not against you.

                1. MicroManagered*

                  Ohhh that’s true too. The first thing I thought of when I read that, was being a kid and my father pulling over to houses being built (more like a whole development, rather than a single house) to “check it out.”

            2. smoke tree*

              When a house I was renting was put up for sale, a surprising number of people just started wandering around on the property uninvited, despite the “by appointment only” notice. This was particularly annoying because it was on a long, inaccessible piece of property so it wasn’t subtle at all and could be a bit creepy. And they were very rude when I told them to make an appointment.

              1. Kat in VA*

                I used to live in Idaho, at the end of a dead-end dirt road. I should note – people are all about privacy in Idaho.

                I lost count over the years of the number of times folks (almost always tourists) would pull into the dead end, park, and then take pictures or just stare. It wasn’t an amazing house or anything, just a pretty setting and a nice little house.

                More than one of them asked if it was for sale. Do you see a “For Sale” sign out front? No, you do not. The nicer ones were, if I was in the mood, occasionally given a short speech about folks with shotguns in Idaho who did not take kindly to uninvited strangers parking in front of their house and staring or taking photos.

      9. Emily K*

        A better analogy than the cow costume that is often used in discussions about online privacy is the idea of having windows into your house. If you’re in a place that isn’t locked down/password protected but also isn’t heavily trafficked, it’s similar to being in your house with the curtains open on your window. Sure, someone could look in and see what you’re doing. But it would be creepy if they walked right up to your window and cupped their hands on the glass to peer in, or climbed up a tree to get a better view into the second level of your house, or used binoculars to get a closer look.

        Basically, you don’t have to have every curtain drawn shut on every window of your house to be able to reasonably expect that people aren’t going to watch you inside your home. And you don’t have to never post on any public forum to have a reasonable expectation that people aren’t going to go to extreme lengths to cyberstalk you, like by cross-referencing a username they found linked to your email on one site with usernames on other sites, a la Ross Ulbricht. It’s one thing for law enforcement to take that deep dive because it’s their job – it’s another kettle of fish entirely for a random coworker to take that deep dive because they’re nosy.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I guess I just have a fundamentally different perspective on the privacy issue. My bedroom windows face directly into another building behind me. If I have my blinds open I can see into their windows and they can see into mine. When I have the blinds open I imagine that someone is looking into my window or at least able to. So if I want to do a crazy dance in a cow costume in my bedroom with the blinds open I imagine that someone is looking and maybe even recording me. Now if I want to have privacy and dance around in a cow costume then I shut the blinds so no one can see.

          I agree that stalking/cyberstalking is wrong, but that is on an entirely different level then googling your coworkers and checking out their social media.

          1. Emily K*

            Would you make a distinction, though, between the neighbor across the way casually noticing something that catches their eye vs your neighbor across the way camped out by their window with a coffee cup watching you on purpose? To me it’s not so much about what they see, it’s about their choosing to look more than incidentally – even if all I was doing was just sitting in a chair reading a book. I’m not embarrassed to be seen reading a book, but I would be alarmed to look up and find that I was being watched by someone who happened to be able to see in my window, and wonder what nefarious purpose they had for watching me. (In fact, I’d get up and close the curtains, which is somewhat where this analogy starts to fall apart, because there are a lot of places online where you can’t close the curtains once they’ve been opened.)

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              I actually would not make a distinction between my neighbor casually noticing or them sitting by the window watching on purpose. This might be because growing up everyone in my neighborhood knew there was one neighbor who rarely left their house (if ever) but sat by the window watching everything going on, on the street, in houses, backyards. Sometimes even with drink (I have no clue if it was coffee or not) in their hand. Now I would make a distinction if that neighbor not only watched me from their window, but started following me when I went to the store, the gym, to friends houses etc…

              I agree it is not a perfect analogy because with internet privacy you can’t really shut the blinds yet. But if people are concerned about that kind of privacy violations we should push for similar “right to be forgotten” like in the EU to be passed here in the US. People could even try to push for companies like FB/Google to create their own policies. I know both of my suggestions would not be easy and would require a huge amount of work, but it can be done.

              1. Lena Clare*

                With the EU ‘right to be forgotten’ thing, if you request that your information be removed from their records and a company argues that they need it, then they by law can still keep it.

      10. Risha*

        That metaphor may be why our opinions diverge so wildly. To me, it’s a lot more like someone is wearing a cow costume underneath their loose fit regular clothes so that you can see it poking out a little around the neckline. (LinkedIn and Facebook play the part of the normal clothes in this.) Some people are going to be bold enough to ask or try to get a closer look, on the theory that it’s showing and therefore not meant to be private, and a lot more are going to find it incredibly rude to do anything but ignore it.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          To continue with your analogy, I think think asking the person wearing the costume would be the same as asking a coworker directly about certain information. If I saw someone wearing a cow costume under their clothes I would certainly try to get a closer look, is it just a cow top, are they wearing a full body cow costume, I would wonder are they going to a costume party today, do they work for some kind of dairy farm. If that person was traveling with a group of people (in this analogy the other people would be various websites that have information on a particular person, I would be curious enough to ask the other people if they know the reason for the costume. This is still not a great analogy because someone wearing a cow costume under their clothes is certainly more out of place than the mundane info that is available on the internet about people/coworkers.

          But I am a very curious inquisitive person by nature, I consider it both my best and worst quality about me, and I think most people that know me would agree. If I am driving by and see an “interesting” looking building I want to know what it is or does, I will not be satisfied until I google it, or if I see a new building under construction and does not have a “coming soon xyz store” I will want to know what the building will become and will google and try to figure out what the store will be. I do this for random things (not people) that have absolutely no bearing on my life or impact me in any way. If I am having a conversation with people and someone says “I wonder xyz” and a phone/computer is not readily available I will come back a week later and say remember your “xyz” question well here is the answer.

      11. Aquawoman*

        I think your analogy is over-the-top. If you wear a cow costume in public, the people there can’t help but see it. It’s not like the internet reads your mind and sends you the whole internet history of your co-workers (yet). So it’s more like wearing a cow costume in your back yard or your living room, where people can see you but have to make an effort to peek through your windows or over the fence. And lots of things are on the internet with no input from us–e.g. if you bought a house, how much you paid for it. Or the arrest record of the LW from the other day.

      12. The Bean*

        Exactly. What I post under my name on social media is there to be looked at and create an image. An accurate but cultivated one. Maybe it’s my line of work as a litigator but it’s pretty common for coworker A and B to talk about something coworker C posted. And occasionally to search for stuff to satisfy curiosity (like whether a couple has broken up or whether a former coworker is still at the “new” job)

        If you don’t want people connecting your internet activity to your professional self use a handle.

    3. Engineer Girl*

      I feel like the OP is asking “just how close to the edge can I go before going over?” That’s never ever a good question. What is lying under that question is acknowledgement that what they are doing is wrong. What they really want is plausible deniability.

      Please no. I’ve been the target of bad googling. I have an unusual name. What the googler didn’t know was that I also have a cousin (one year older) that has the same name. And yes, we both worked in software for the same aerospace company (different states). She was divorced. So someone decided I was divorced and hiding it. It took years to get rid of the rumors, and they are still popping up. Just because someone was nosey.

      Just don’t.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think you’re reading something into the letter that isn’t actually there. Plenty of people are interested in exploring the question on where the lines are on this stuff without being motivated by a desire to do it themselves, simply because it’s an interesting question.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I’m not sure I follow. I’m responding to your criticism of the question asker. You said the OP is looking for plausible deniability because they want to snoop on coworkers. I’m saying that you can ask the OP’s question without having any interest in snooping on coworkers (or in trying to do something wrong), simply because it’s an interesting discussion, particularly after reading a post like the one they referenced.

            There’s zero indication the OP wants to snoop and is trying to figure out how much they can get away with.

            I don’t want people chastised because they asked me a question they find intellectually interesting.

          2. Gabriel*

            Engineer Girl – because some people are nosey, as you said. It stinks but it’s the way of the world. I’ve been burned by this habit as well because god forbid someone speak to another human and ask them questions.

            1. EventPlannerGal*

              I don’t know, I think that there can be times when you’re a normal level of curious about another person but there isn’t a good time/reason to ask them to go into it.

              Like, in the interview for my current job the whole panel brought up several times that the company was the brainchild of the CEO, he was super involved in the day-to-day of the business, he had won a million awards for his work, I would probably interact with him a lot more than would be usual in another company, etc etc etc. He sounded interesting! But even after getting the job it didn’t seem appropriate for the very junior new hire to approach the CEO and be like hey man, tell me your life story. So I googled him. I don’t feel like that’s being nosy – if anything, if I’d done that he’d probably have asked me why I hadn’t researched him before taking the job.

              1. Jennifer*

                Exactly. It’s a way to learn more about someone when you may be too nervous to approach them or you just don’t have a close enough relationship with them to ask for their life story.

                1. Falling Diphthong*

                  One problem with this being that just as the information can be less private than the poster thought, the fact that you searched for it can be less private than you thought.

                  Or you’re getting the bio of Engineer Girl’s cousin, but figure that it’s the secret down low on Engineer Girl because what are the odds two people could be named Engineer Girl.

                2. Jennifer*

                  @Falling Diphthong
                  That’s more an issue surrounding what you do with the information once you find it rather than whether you should look in the first place. The best policy is to keep your mouth shut.

                3. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  @falling I 100% agree with you that anything you search or any online activity is not private and being tracked. Even if right now info that is collected is aggregated at some point in the future it can become public (like usenet) or all it could take is a single hacker who is good enough to get access to all that info.

                  I said it last time if people really want privacy about something don’t post it online.

                  Just to be clear, I have googled incoming coworkers but it was just to see profesional history and background but I have not done any dive into any of their personal info. My coworkers are not interesting enough and I have better things to do with my time.

                  My perspective might be skewed because I work in a field where you Google everyone and everything: clients, potential clients, opposing parties, collaborators from other companies etc…

                4. Falling Diphthong*

                  I’m particularly thinking of “I noticed so-and-so has been looking at my Instagram page” when I’m almost certain so-and-so thought they were doing this invisibly.

                  And “When you install this update, it will send alerts to everyone in your contacts about what song you’re listening to and webpage you’re looking at RIGHT NOW!” “Omigod turn that off.” “But… you people said you wanted to use the web to connect.”

                5. Michaela Westen*

                  @FallingDipthong, I want to connect on the internet when I initiate a connection or a friend initiates it with me. An update automatically sending connections for me to everyone everywhere with the slightest, most tenuous connection how many times removed, is a whole different thing and it’s not just creepy. It’s potentially dangerous if it draws the attention of a stalker.

              2. Rexish*

                Also, yesterday there was the discussion about asking what you do for a living. In some places it’s not considered appropriate small talk stater. In our work environment it’s ok to ask about previous experience (but not go into too much detail) but asking about someones education would be considered odd. But that is something that might be interesting to know and even relevant in some cases. And as you said, within the hierarchy it might not be appropriate to ask but the knowlege might be good.

                I find it completely natural when your boss lets you knwo that Jane Smith has been hired and will be starting in september that people look it up. Also some information like LinkedIn is there so people will look it up.

              3. The Bean*

                Asking someone directly also makes it A Thing and sometimes it’s better for everyone of curiosity is satisfied in a low key way.

                Like, it’s weird to me when people asked me if I was still with my SO and if we were married when they could just check fb. It was weird to me when a coworker asks me about my race times when she could just look them up (we both are serious runners of similar ability). Nothing wrong with the satisfaction in doing better than a competitor in amateur sports but you’re not supposed to be obvious about it.

            2. pleaset*

              “Nosey” is pejorative. If someone is looking for just superficial stuff with I think curious is a better word. But I get that you think that level of curiosity is bad, so nosey makes sense from you.

              1. JJ Bittenbinder*

                I agree with you. I think Engineer Girl’s experience of having someone not only find out this (incorrect) information but start rumors about it and then not let go of these rumors even when corrected, is an outlier. Most people are not going to go that far with anything they find online, and I think judging people for the mere act of Googling someone is unfair and pretty pearl-clutchy.

                1. Ewpp*

                  I think there might be more to it. But if a snooper can’t be honest with themself how they use the information, not good. As an ex best friend of a jealous snooper, it’s important to recognize what is done with the information. And that doesn’t apply to just 5 seconds after what ever is found out.

      2. OP1*

        Sorry if it came across as looking up coworkers personal lives, I mean this more in a professional lookup capacity. The internet is a mixed bag and even professional intentions you could stumble on personal information.

        One instance where I’ve looked people up on LinkedIn is for higher ups in the company to see previous roles, to see what a path for myself could look like. I wouldn’t want to talk to 20 people I don’t know about this sort of thing and it would also be pretty time consuming.

        Another has been to see how technical a manager is a technical industry. Have they previously been a developer? Or maybe always non-technical? This would allow me to change how I’m explaining something were disagreeing on and allow me to tailor my approach a bit better.

        1. Lena Clare*

          Yes, I think professionally it’s ok to be interested in what they are doing.
          I thought you meant personally!

        2. Triplehiccup*

          These are great and productive reasons to look someone up. Personally I think anything on LinkedIn or other professional sites is fair game. It’s been vetted by that individual for use in their professional life.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Yes, I think anything on LinkedIn and professional sites counts as “publicly visible.”

            Whereas the OP whom Facebook connected over to their distant coworker’s post on the “patio sets for sale” board as selling a patio set because she was moving, the advice was to act like she hadn’t seen it rather than tell everyone coworker must be quitting because she was about to move.

          2. A Simple Narwhal*

            I agree, LinkedIn is totally fair game. My office even sends out a link to the person’s profile as part of their hiring announcement.

        3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          The upper level managers make sense because you may not come in contact with them daily. But honest question…if you’re working with someone on a regular basis (like the technical person you describe) why wouldn’t you just ask them about their background to get a better sense of who you’re dealing with? I don’t think looking things up on LinkedIn about someone’s professional background is snooping, but if you have the person sitting in front of you, why not go to the source?

          1. OP1*

            Maybe it’s just me but I’d find it pretty rude to ask them something like that, like I’m questioning their ability to do their job (not the intention).

            1. voyager1*

              You’re not questioning their ability to do their job, if you ask about prior experience. On the team I am prior experience comes up all the time because we all came from different companies prior.

              Frankly if I knew you were googling my resume instead of just asking me I would probably think you had people skills issues at the least and had some mental issue at the worst. Either way it would impact how I interacted with you and not in a good way.

              1. JJ Bittenbinder*

                Frankly if I knew you were googling my resume instead of just asking me I would probably think you had people skills issues at the least and had some mental issue at the worst. Either way it would impact how I interacted with you and not in a good way.

                Wow. That’s pretty judgey. Mental issues? Because they looked something up that is publicly available?

                1. voyager1*

                  Yes I am being judging, or maybe hostile about it. And yes it would irritate me to think someone is googling me to figure out what kind of experience I have with something. And yes it would jade me with working with that person if they were doing it to avoid talking to me or judge my skills. This is very different then just doing one time google search.

                  I know many of the AAM commenters hate personal interactions face to face, but for a lot of people this would be a face to face conversation. Not a stalking a resume to avoid talking to someone situation. And no I don’t feel bad about communicating it here for the LW. The AAM commentary sometimes reinforces some bad ideas that are not really norms, avoiding talking to your coworkers seems to be one of them.

              2. RUKiddingMe*

                Agree. If you Google me by name you will not find me.* Trust me, I’ve tried. If you Google the names of my published papers, you will. I have no idea why it’s this way…algorithm stuff I guess…

                However if you want to know my background and ask me about my research I am very happy to tell you all about it. Probably in much more detail than you really care about…LOL.

                But digging into my personal life, especially via a background check? Over the line.

                *I don’t have, nor do I want/need to be part of the LinkedIn machine.

              3. Eukomos*

                Saying someone has a mental illness for running a quick google search is a major leap, and also feeds into the stigmatization of mental illness. Please don’t.

              4. Former Employee*

                Does that mean you think that hiring managers and HR personnel all have “…people skills issues at the least and had some mental issue at the worst.”?

            2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

              Yeah it’s definitely not rude, unless you’re actually questioning their ability to do their job. Think of it in a more generic sense, like you’re getting to know them, not that you’re interviewing them for a job. And while they may not be 100% truthful, observing their behavior and witnessing what they’re capable of on the job is going to provide a lot more information than looking them up on LinkedIn.

            3. Qwerty*

              Tech manager here and it is super common for people to ask about my background. Intention and phrasing play a big role here. The vibe you want to aim for is “I don’t want to bore you with details you already know” instead of “Prove your knowledge to me”. Assume your manager is smart and go from there.

              My LinkedIn profile is a boring resume with history, not a snapshot of where I am in the moment. There are things I used to be an expert in but don’t recall currently because I’m focused on the current project/programming language. There is a programming language I have multiple endorsements for that I’ve never used (thanks to LinkedIn’s algorithms and prompting other users). There are common misunderstandings about what certain projects actually were whenever someone reads in it print that rarely happen through spoken conversations, because people see it through the lense of their history/experience (common problem for people who leave X industry but stay in tech). Not to mention that resumes are usually written for an audience of a hiring manager rather than a direct report.

              Learning that a direct report has researched their manager’s resume and background just to figure out how to talk to them just feels off. Especially when you add in that one of the reasons you are doing so is to win disagreements. It reminds me of the people who want to know results of personality tests so they can tailor how to interact with a person. Maybe the reason it feels like you are questioning their ability is because you kinda are. Especially with the technical manager example since people already tend to question the technical knowledge of women/POC.

              Usually when I hear people doing research on how to talk to managers, they are asking about that manager’s preference (“When Jane asks for a solution recommendation, is she looking for statistics or should I keep it high level?” not “Can Jane understand X technology or must I explain the details to her?”). When looking for information about someone, consider how that person would feel about it to help you determine boundaries (In the previous example, Jane would probably be ok with the first question but not the second). If this person walked up while you searching them, would you minimize the browser to hide it? Or would you leave it up and ask them about it?

        4. Colette*

          LinkedIn is fair game as far as colleagues go. Anything there I think you’re good to look at.

        5. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Hi, OP – what you’re describing here is pretty typical, and could be one of the few good things LinkedIn can do. Checking out career paths and history is very helpful, to be sure.

          I’m in corporate recruiting and often go beyond LinkedIn to check out someone’s professional ‘presence’, especially if they are SMEs or hold senior titles. Did they speak at an industry event? Publish a white paper? Sit on a board? Sponsor or chair an industry or company event? That’s easy information to find, and is helpful context. I might not reference it to the candidate or hiring partner, but it helps me guide the interview process.

        6. WindyLindy*

          As someone in academia, I Google a lot of professional contacts before I reach out to them- both because most people don’t have very complete LinkedIn pages, and because I can learn a lot about their current projects in our field that way! So I agree this is a legit question.

      3. Autumnheart*

        And the question of whether it’s “too nosy” is irrelevant to the point of absurdity. The idea that people actually *genuinely believe* that saying, “Googling me is bad manners and you shouldn’t do it” is utterly laughable. It’s ridiculous.

        The question everyone should be asking themselves instead is, “When I google myself, what comes up?” Google yourself and look. If you discover that all your dirty laundry is hanging on the line for everyone to see, then follow the steps to take it down where it’s possible. The EU has a “right to be forgotten” law, but the US and other countries do not.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          “The question everyone should be asking themselves instead is, “When I google myself, what comes up?” Google yourself and look. If you discover that all your dirty laundry is hanging on the line for everyone to see, then follow the steps to take it down where it’s possible. ”

          This. While it sounds like an innuendo, I do Google myself on a somewhat regular basis to see what comes up. There was one time where my personal twitter (that I honestly forgot I had, I never used it) got hacked and for about a week was doing nothing but streaming porn links. With my name still attached. That was a top link on Google for my name during that time. I got my account back, locked it back down, and removed all the posts. But it still took a couple weeks for Google’s algorithms to not display the porn-ish titled posts that no longer existed.

        2. medium of ballpoint*

          It sounds like you’re assuming that everything on the internet is published with consent and it’s not. If you Google me, you can find out that I experienced [insert awful family tragedy here, e.g., my father killed my mother in a murder-suicide]. I would never share that kind of personal information with coworkers, but it’s archived on easily accessible news sites that I have no control over and I know it colors others’ perceptions of me. Maybe it’s not fair or rational, but I absolutely feel pissed and a little violated when people discover the worst experience of my life because they couldn’t manage a little bit of their own curiosity over how long I was at my last job.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            I don’t assume that everything is published with explicit consent. I am really sorry about that tragedy that you suffered, you have my sympathy. I completely understand not wanting your coworkers to know about that tragedy. I know in your specific situation you did not have any choice in the matter again I am very sorry about that.

            But in general as a society we have deemed certain crime info to be a legitimate public interest that we should know about. That is why it gets reported on the news, why arrest records, police blotter, criminal court proceedings are made public. Similar we have deemed certain family law issues to have no legitimate public interest that is why family issues with minors are sealed, juvenile court records are usually sealed, and I think that most details of divorce proceedings are not public (someone correct me if I am wrong). I think the fact that John and Jane Smith got divorced is public, but not the specific terms of the divorce decree and how they split up the assets.

            Same thing as a society we determined that the sale of land, the lot lines of property, how much taxes people pay, should all be public info. By participating in certain aspects/actions that society has deemed a public interest we give implicit consent to it being made public. I know the idea “If you don’t want people to know how much you pay for a house, don’t buy a house.” sounds harsh, but that is the reality we live in.

            So I agree with you that this information is on a slightly different level than social media stuff. But on social media where you explicitly post things for public consumption you should not be surprised someone looked at your posts. A lot of social media is about getting more followers and having people see what you put on there.

          2. Former Employee*

            I’m so sorry you experienced a newsworthy family tragedy. However, since it would have been on the news (various channels) and published in one or more newspapers, is it likely that no one you will ever work with would have seen or heard about it?

            I suppose if it happened in a small town in the Northeast and you are now living thousands of miles away, it is less likely anyone would know if they didn’t look you up. Then again, we are a pretty mobile society, so it’s possible that someone from your small New England town will end up being a co-worker of yours in your new locale.

        3. smoke tree*

          You’re taking a really hard-line approach here, but as the responses to this post show, the reality is that most people are going to be pretty uncomfortable if they’re aware you’re stepping outside the norms on this. You could argue that it’s illogical of them, but I assume you don’t want to make your coworkers uncomfortable, so even if you are totally okay with looking up the last ten years of someone’s social media presence, probably best to keep that under wraps.

          1. EventPlannerGal*

            I agree. I feel like this approach is sort of trying to logic people into not being uncomfortable, and that’s just not really how human interaction works.

      4. neeko*

        There are definitely reasons for googling someone’s profession background. Just because someone took it too far with you doesn’t mean “just don’t”.

      5. gsa*

        Internet wise, and real life too, I am snoopy and nosy. However I would never confront the person that information I found. To me that’s the difference.

        I think it’s about knowing what is yours to tell and what’s not. My manager confronted me after my workmate gave his notice.

        He said, “Did you know?”

        I said, “Yes.” When his face fell, I said, “But it wasn’t mine to tell.”

        He got it.

        1. WindyLindy*

          I agree! In the internet age, “real privacy” where no one can find out personally things about you even if they really, really try is an illusion unless you’re willing to sacrifice participation in a lot of society, and even then maybe not. But we can at least maintain the illusion of privacy, and that is almost as valuable. For example, I’m not terribly bothered that someone Googling me might find an article about a blind date I went on in college after winning my college newspaper’s contest. It’s a harmless piece of fluff! However, I would be creeped out if a professional contact brought up that article in a conversation. It’s a little like if a coworker saw a garment I was wearing slip and reveal more skin than normal before I corrected it- it’s not their fault they saw a little more than I would have chosen to show, but it harms that valuable illusion of privacy and turns pretty creepy if they keep bringing it up. I think how much it’s okay for a person to Google partially depends on how good you are at pretending you didn’t see whatever overly personal details you might come across. If you know you can’t keep your mouth shut, don’t look!

      6. smoke tree*

        I can see how it reads that way, but considering how normal it is to google prospective job candidates or interviewers or new bosses, I think there is a definite grey area. I’m guessing the LW was probably thinking about this level of research, but was wondering how close it is to being inappropriate.

    4. Aphrodite*

      I agree. I have no interest in the personal (or previously professional) lives of my managers, higher management or co-workers. It would have never occurred to me to google any of them and these letters are eye-opening. (They do not tempt me to try it. I still have no interest in any of them; maybe I am too old?)

    5. Richard*

      There are a lot of industries (parts of journalism, design, marketing, higher education etc.) where employees are expected to have fairly active online presences. Looking at your coworkers’ public work is an essential part of knowing what they actually do. Keeping your reading focused on professional material is a good boundary, but not all Twitter feeds, LinkedIn profiles, blogs, etc. draw such a clear boundary.

      1. lemon*

        Yes. The folks who think that Googling someone’s professional info are really confusing me. But that’s because I’ve always worked in industries that really stress the importance of having a digital presence and “brand.” I’ve even been assigned in undergrad/grad classes to create an online portfolio and a LinkedIn account and got graded on it. Most of the time when I look someone up, they have their own professionally-focused website. I think it’s fair to say that someone who has a website called *wants* people to look at it.

    6. joanium*

      I look people up on LinkedIn all the time. I’m a consultant. I’ll look up clients, competitors, people in my industry. The CVs provide more detail about where they’ve come from, how long they’ve been working, who their networks are with. I’m particularly curious about people who are quite senior and how their career trajectory compares to mine.

      1. Lena Clare*

        Ah, now I can see why that’s relevant in a professional capacity actually.

        And I see how arty people do it too to share work, or if you were a hiring manager and wanted to check that your applicants weren’t racists or something.

        But I think that the letter writer is asking about checking up on personal stuff, which is something I don’t get. Then again, I’m not even on Facebook.

      2. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        Exactly this.
        We occasionally get HR notifications that such-and-such will be joining us in [capacity which will overlap with my role]. And that’s often pretty much it, apart from a great date. We have multiple locations, so a quick Linkedin search tells me their background and indicates their base is likely at one of the locations I am never going to visit sets my expectations that most of our interactions are not going to be in person.
        There are professional reasons to be a bit curious.

        Also, (a BAD example) I used to work somewhere where the staff directory was on the internet, not intranet! So I was effectively searching colleagues all the time because I don’t carry everyone’s extensions/office locations in my head and keeping a local version was very much frowned upon by senior management. *eye roll*

      3. The Original K.*

        Yeah, I don’t Google but I look up bosses, colleagues, and prospective employers on LinkedIn regularly. Not continuously (like, I’m not going to be looking you up on LinkedIn when we’ve worked together for a while), but at the start, absolutely. I assume they’re doing the same to me. To me, that’s part of what LinkedIn is for. I don’t care what they get up to personally, but professionally it’s useful – what was their trajectory, what kinds of projects did they work on, etc. It’s a standard part of my interview prep. I’m thinking of making a career change so I’ve been looking on LinkedIn at people who are in the field to see how they got there.

        (I very deliberately do NOT add coworkers on any social media other than LinkedIn, and if asked, I say so directly.)

    7. Asta*

      Some of us are curious to get a sense of new coworkers. Curiosity isn’t some weird unusual thing. I find it strange when people have no natural curiosity but then I have worked in professions that involve research and seeking knowledge.

      1. Rose*

        I am plenty curious, I’ll find out about the coworker by talking to them and interacting with them. That’s how my curiosity will be sated.

      2. Engineer Girl*

        If I’m curious about someone I talk to them. It’s more accurate than third party. I can fill in gaps.
        Besides, it’s a great way to bond with my coworkers and build networks.

        1. AW*

          I had a housemate who was a complete freak. When I saw a letter addressed to him I googled his name and found out he was an alleged sex offended, which was not something he was going to tell me himself.

          1. Slartibartfast*

            Living with someone is different, though. If you feel your personal safety is at risk, screw politeness at that point. And housemate isn’t a professional relationship, I think different rules apply.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              Housemate isn’t a professional relationship.

              This. I get background checked if I volunteer for anything with kids–first grade reading, keeping the books for the soccer team.

              But if you tell your coworkers “I googled you in case you’re a sex offender. Or have ever been arrested as ‘Florida man.’ Or might be involved in any seamy court cases” they are right to side eye you. Even if you were genuinely curious about those things.

      3. Midge*

        Yes, this.

        Also, for the people asking “why not just talk to them”, this is how I found out a co-worker supports white nationalists and a lot of other stuff that is literally dangerous to my family. It didn’t take a lot of snooping. I was just looking at her FB profile. (And many people at this employer were FB friends with each other. It was not out of line there to be casually sticking their names into FB to see what came up.) I am SO HAPPY I took a couple of minutes to look up a few people before delving deeper into “getting to know” them.

        1. techRando*

          I’m surprised more people aren’t mentioning this type of “snooping”. I regularly do this sort of snooping on coworkers, healthcare providers, etc. In many cases, it can make me feel safer outing myself or allow me to make an informed choice not to.

          1. Midge*

            Right?! I find it hard to believe so many people think it’s outrageous to do something on the level of looking at the public posts on someone’s FB page. It’s one thing to dig through the caverns of the internet to get old information that a person may have no control over being public. It’s another thing to take a look at things they purposefully make public about themselves on a popular social media site. And for those of us who are living in a time and place where it’s not necessarily safe to tell people about who we are in a get to know you conversation, I sure as hell am going to check on people before opening up too much to them, at least to the extent I’m able to by what they choose to say about themselves on the internet.

            I can’t imagine sitting next to someone for 2000 hours a year and not knowing if they think my child should have basic human rights.

      4. Anonybus*

        I have always worked in professions that involve research and knowledge seeking, but I have never found myself needing to know everything about everyone around me because I like boundaries.

        I don’t think it’s true that lack of interest in other people’s personal lives, personal habits, or personal history indicates unsuitability for research or investigative careers. At all.

    8. TechWorker*

      Another reason you might google a coworker and the only one I’ve done – your coworker does something cool and public that you vaguely follow. (Eg I have some coworkers that compete in different sports at a decently high level). If I happened to see them the day after said event I would ask them how it went, but if I didn’t I might google the result. Yes – nosy – but without any particular ill thought.

    9. Asenath*

      I don’t google personal stuff. I frequently google basic contact information – usually through employer or professional listings – and sometimes will come across something like “X awarded prize in Occupation” or “X makes public announcement on Issue in Occupation”, especially since some of these people have this sort of information on the sites I look at. I’m not looking for anything personal, and don’t search deeply enough to find blog posts or social media (I don’t even have an account on Facebook, so that limits what I might see there!). I’m not interested in their personal lives or private opinions anyway. I justify tracking down their professional contact information because I need that information in my job – some of my co-workers will be working with them, and give me only the name and (if I’m lucky) the employer and email address. It’s easier to track down the information I need to set them up than to nag my co-worker who will work with them. That’s actually a rather startling observation, now that I think about it! All the way from 19th century (and earlier) formal letters of introduction to “I’m doing that with Fergus Smith from ACME, can you take care of the paperwork”.

    10. atexit8*

      I have looked at LinkedIn profiles of some co-workers and people who are interviewing me for jobs.
      I want to see what their backgrounds are : which universities and which companies

    11. CupcakeCounter*

      Fist day of current job one of my coworkers looks at me and says “You don’t have Facebook – we googled you last week.” Its kind of the norm now.

    12. tiasp*

      I think it’s kind of like gossip. Some of it’s fairly innocuous (hey, did you hear so and so plays ball and has kids? Wonder if he’ll coach on of our teams this year?). But if you cross over into prying or trying to get the dirt about negative stuff going on in their live, it’s kind of nasty.

    13. EPLawyer*

      me either. I literally would never think of just googling a co-worker. The only exception might be if they actually said or did something that made me wonder. But it would have to be something setting me off, not as a matter of course.

      I work with them. I don’t need to know a lot of details other than “can they do their job?”

      Now that’s co-workers. if I were hiring, sure yeah. But just someone I worked with that someone else hired? Nope.

    14. MMB*

      I think Alison is 100% correct. It’s all about purpose and intent. If you’re googling relevant professional data for business purposes it’s fine, but if you’re googling personal info (i.e., combing through court records and paid search sites) for non work related reasons you’re crossing a boundary and invading their privacy. (Googling personal data for legitimate hiring purposes obviously falls under a different umbrella.)

      1. Collingswood*

        I agree. Even if information about is posted by you in a public forum, some ways of engaging with it can be creepy. Do I mind that my coworker looked up/at my insta, no. Would I find it creepy if he went through the entire thing and kept bringing it up at work, asking for detailed info about pics, looking through all my social media in great detail, yeah. I realize it’s public and can be seen, but there’s something very considerate about helping maintain the polite fiction that we each actually have some privacy. And in allowing people to have some privacy even if you can look up everything about them.

        Googling a coworker for work reasons, LinkedIn, publications, etc. all seems fine to me.

    15. ImAGhost*

      Me neither. I have a coworker who makes a point of saying how she has googled all of us in our unit to find out our ages, and makes comments on things she has found on people’s social media, so she must be googling us regularly.

      I work in an age-sensitive industry where if you’re a women over 40 you’re a dinosaur so I removed myself from almost all of the people search sites and have my social media pretty locked down so she tells people that I must have “deep secrets” because she can’t find anything about me. Who wants to waste their time on something so stupid.

    16. My Name is Required*

      Me neither. You can’t forget things you learn about people but you still have to work with them. Why on earth make it harder to be trapped in an office with them sixty hours a week by knowing things that may make you dislike them or find them weird? It’s all risk and no reward.

    17. Quinalla*

      I don’t get being nosey about personal things – I’m one who actively avoids looking up that kind of stuff about coworkers – but I do look folks up on linkedin and on their previous company websites to get a sense of job history and other work related things. Usually happens when someone new gets hired and just want to know a little about them, also use this to look up some minimal information about new clients, etc.. I think that is pretty common and not a big deal, I see in my linkedin profile view others doing the same quite frequently.

      And while I agree that we shouldn’t necessarily hold all internet behavior against people and that in the ancient internet days, yes people weren’t thinking about it turning into the internet of today, still I’m always amazed what folks share publicly online. I always assume someone will find it someday, so I am careful what I share always. I seem to be in the minority on this, even moreso now.

    18. Rachel Greep*

      In my office, it’s pure nosiness. No valid professional reason. I work in social services, most of my co-workers are in their mid to late twenties, and they are constantly doing Facebook searches on new clients and new hires.

    19. cmcinnyc*

      In my field everyone has a website. Of course I Google them–I want to see their site! 1) I’ll learn more about their work, and 2) I can judge my own website as lacking in design or navigation (or very occasionally feel like hey, mine isn’t so bad!).

    20. vanillacookies*

      If you’re in an of industry where it’s common for people to have their own website related to their work, then it’s only natural to google them for that reason. (I’m thinking arts, academia, etc).

    21. MatKnifeNinja*

      I know people who made trolling through the net to find out stuff an Olympic level sport.

      My niece has friends, who’s parents do back ground checks if they send kid over to your place. (on the other parents). People do on teachers, dates, is totally insane.

      An the ever popular sex offender check.

      It costs money and time, and I don’t have either. I just assume people with snoopy curiosity do it on me. I have had two bosses snoop around social media looking if I have a presence. I have none, and my one account goes by a different name.

      My default is people are hunting (Why? Why would they bother?), and hope no one is going $50 deep for a check.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder*

        My niece has friends, who’s parents do back ground checks if they send kid over to your place. (on the other parents). People do on teachers, dates, is totally insane.

        An the ever popular sex offender check.

        I don’t think doing a check on a date, coach or look up sex offender registries is insane at all. These are matters of personal safety. I wouldn’t take it as far as doing a background check on my kids’ friends’ parents, particularly if you’re talking about paid ones, but I certainly want to know basic information about the person I’m trusting my child’s or my own safety to.

        The amount of rigid, all-or-nothing thinking in this comment section is frustrating (not the person I’m responding to specifically, but in general). Googling someone and looking at 2 or 3 results doesn’t mean that you’re memorizing every facet of their lives, nor does it mean that you refuse to actually *speak to* them. (Y’all have no way of knowing this, but I’ll talk to anyone, anywhere).

        There are nuances. There are degrees. And there can be good motivations and bad motivations. People are complex.

    22. Anon for this*

      Well, here’s my experience for you. I googled a coworker once, years ago, because of something they’d said they’d done professionally, which interested me, and I wanted to check it out. Basic Google search did bring that up. It also brought up their rape conviction. This is a huge personal red flag/potential trigger/issue for me as a rape survivor, and I am glad I found out. I will always Google coworkers now as a result.

    23. MissDisplaced*

      I’ve looked up colleagues on LinkedIn, but that’s what that platform is for. I generally don’t Google them unless I can’t find them on LinkedIn at first.

  1. phira*

    #5 I think it’s great to do this! I think in most cases, people working remotely just end up giving up perks like office pizza in exchange for not having to be on site. But since in your case, a lot of the remote workers aren’t actually remote by choice–like you said, there’s not enough room in the main office for them and so they have to work from elsewhere on campus–I agree that you should do something (I like Alison’s suggestions), and I think you’re a good manager for thinking of it!

    1. Grumpy old owl*

      Agreed. I work from home (not by choice, there’s just no room for us) and while I love some perks of it (save on gas, can wake up later, take a nap in bed during lunch, etc.) it still sucks to hear almost every week there’s free food in the office and I can’t have any :( So an occasional small gift card for free food is always a nice touch!

    2. JessaB*

      Mr B works for a large multinational, a couple of times a year they send the at home people a gift card to the pizza chain they use when they bring in stuff for the workers. That way the at home-ers can also have the same pizza. Usually it’s enough to get at least a medium and a pop. So it comes out nicely. Also they have always had a few stations set up if the at home team wants to come in for some big event, they’re willing to find em seats and all. And when they give out swag (and his company does awesome swag – really nice blankets, those amazing steel water bottles that keep stuff cold all day, nice bluetooth headphones and stuff…) they mail the swag out to the home gang.

      So yeh on the gift card kinda thing. Even if you have five pizza parties and only send out one card, at least you’re admitting the home gang exists. I think his company gets a deal from the chain on the gift cards because they’re the go to caterers for their on site stuff. So maybe the company can do something like that also.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        One caveat: Make sure the place you get a gift card to actually delivers to the home of the worker. In small towns this isn’t a big deal as places usually deliver everywhere, but in my city, delivery places generally have very strict lines on the map of how far they’ll deliver. (I can’t get a beloved pizza place 2 miles from my house to deliver to me because their delivery area ends at the end of my block and they won’t even meet me at the corner.)

        A gift certificate to services like Postmates or UberEats will often cover a much larger area. It also has the advantage of letting the employee choose the restaurant so they get something they will definitely enjoy.

        1. Delta Delta*

          This sounds like the episode of Seinfeld where Elaine had to pretend to live across the street to get an order of Supreme Flounder delivered.

        2. Jessen*

          Even then it’s not a guarantee though. I’m in a job with some pretty hefty commute times, so a lot of us don’t live in the city where the job is. I’m in a little rural spot on the map about an hour away and there is no such thing as delivery out here. UberEats and Postmates don’t cover this area. Now I’m happy to drive a bit and pick something up, but if you were trying to get me a gift card for delivery you’d come up empty.

          All of which is to say this is probably one of those things that’s not one size fits all. I’d be perfectly happy myself with a gift card to a nearby (by rural standards) pizza place and go pick it up myself.

        3. WellRed*

          “A gift certificate to services like Postmates or UberEats will often cover a much larger area.”

          Or not. At least make sure there’s no minimum delivery requirement.

    3. Andrea*

      It sounded to me that some of the people are elsewhere on campus. Couldn’t those people just walk over to where ever the food is and grab some. Or if the boss wants to be nice ask them what they would like a slice of.
      For those who truly are not on campus, I like the idea of bringing them something when they meet.

      1. OP5*

        Oh, definitely… some folks have set land speed records coming over from the other buildings when pizzas are announced! So I am able to take care of everyone on campus.

        The majority of my remote workers are not even in the same time zone, so it does challenge me to get more creative in general.

    4. The dude*

      “I think you’re a good manager for thinking of it!”

      I came here to say this. Goon on you for being thoughtful, #5.

    5. Serin*

      There are two dozen people on my team, but only four of us in this office; the rest, along with the manager, are in another state.

      When the main office has pizza, the manager has tried (1) having pizza delivered to us here, (2) offering us a budget to plan a lunch of our own, (3) sending us gift cards, (4) giving one of us money to bring in donuts for the rest, (5) sending us to see a movie on work time (there was a vague connection between the movie and our company, but it was a real movie and not a training film).

      You know people can find something to complain about in anything, but I really appreciate that he makes the effort. What I’d value most would be permission to work from home for a day, but that’s not really in the same category as office pizza, so I don’t blame him for not offering it.

      (Once he ordered pizza delivered, and it didn’t come, and eventually we figured out that he had ordered it at a franchise in the wrong town! The delivery guy called and said, “I’m at 123 Main Street, and there’s nothing here but a bank,” and the boss said, “No, 123 Main Street should be the Springfield Building,” and the delivery guy said, “I’m not in Springfield, I’m in Spring Green.”)

    6. ssnc*

      what about a $10 prepaid visa card periodically? that would let people spend the money on food they can actually get in the area they life in

  2. Engineer Girl*

    Nah, these are presentations being given on your lunch time, so it’s fine for you to take that stuff home if you want to.

    Wrong answer. It depends on the industry and you need to check with your manager or HR. In some industries even as sandwich can be too much when it comes from a vendor.
    Most places have an explicit dollar amount. Pens and notepads usually fall under that amount.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The fact that it’s pens and notepads is the point. They’re highly likely to fall under that that threshold. I’ll add a line to the post clarifying that.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Thanks. I’m not even allowed to buy my customer a sandwich. They’ve made things much more strict.

      2. S-Mart*

        Sadly, at my office the threshold is zero dollars. It’s stupid and my boss looks at me funny every time I have to disclose a crappy pen, but it’s written in our handbook as a termination-worthy offense to accept literally anything (except food/drinks during a meeting) without approval. To my knowledge we’ve never actually disciplined somebody over this, but HR won’t budge on the policy.

        We’ve had almost 100% turnover in HR since this last time I pushed to get this policy changed. Maybe it’s time to try again. Or maybe I’ll go to a tradeshow, collect all the swag I can get my hands on, and submit individual disclosures on each item. To HR (because they’re driving this ridiculous policy).

        1. Amy*

          It’s interesting that food and drink are acceptable but not pens. I’m a vendor and we have to record how much we spend on customers in our system. The industry limit for the client is $50 per person per year and so that’s our limit too (because we don’t want clients to get in trouble.) So if they attend two luncheons, that’s usually it for the year. But no one calculates an odd pen here and there. I have no idea what their value would be considered – maybe 50 cents? And the IRS doesn’t count gifts under $4.

        2. Observer*

          It is a ridiculous policy. It also makes the company MORE vulnerable, rather than less.

          I’ve had to go through the trainings for vendors who want to be able to participate in Federal contracts, and it IS strict. And on the recipient side, the gift policies (in terms of what you can receive) that City and State employees and employees of city and state contracted agencies are permitted to receive. But no one worries about things like branded pens and mousepads, just like they don’t worry about business cards, because that’s pretty much what they are.

        3. WellRed*

          “Or maybe I’ll go to a tradeshow, collect all the swag I can get my hands on, and submit individual disclosures on each item”

          Malicious compliance! Love it! Please, please do it.

          1. Samwise*

            Eh, unfortunately this only hurts the lowly HR drone who has to process all those disclosures, not the higher ups making the policy.

            1. Lord Gouldian Finch*

              Actually what they can do is (1) collect all the swag they can, (2) fill out all the disclosure paperwork needed per item, (3) make an appointment with an upper-level HR person, and (4) bring all the swag and all the disclosure forms to help make the point. Showing an upper level HR person the physical result might be useful.

    2. Agent J*

      Can you specify what industries? I know government employees aren’t allowed to accept gifts above a certain amount but beyond that, this seems like a hard line to take to just “some industries.” Granted, my industry has no restrictions on this issue so I’m coming from a different experience.

      1. JessaB*

        It’s funny but the swag capital of the world, the medical field has become anti swag, because of all the major scandals about drug reps bribing doctors a lot of areas no longer even permit pens and pencils, so asking is always good. But if it’s permitted, I can’t see where the pens would have to stay with the company.

        I know my sister the nurse used to get tonnes of stuff. She never bought a pen or a thing of hand sanitiser or even a coffee mug, nowadays, she never really gets anything at all.

        1. SusanIvanova*

          Even without bribing, it turned out that doctors would be more likely to prescribe something if they had the brand name in front of them all the time on pencils and other trivial things.

          1. Coffeelover*

            Wow! Crazy how the mind works, but makes total sense. I finally understand why companies give away branded pens. On a subconscious level, we must recognize the company who’s name is on the pen we use, and when it comes to buying an item, we’re more likely to chose them over a competitor. Probably not even realizing why we felt they were better (“maybe a friend mentioned them” No, their name was on that pen you used for 1 year!)

            1. Slartibartfast*

              That’s the same reason there are so many political signs up at election time. Especially for the ‘lower’ positions. You probably didn’t do much research on drainage commissioner, but hey that name looks familiar….

              1. Falling Diphthong*

                A candidate in Texas got in trouble for changing his name to that of a beloved local judge. Voters saw “Fergus G McIntyre” and thought “Fergus McIntyre, I know that name–people speak highly of him.”

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            I would absolutely believe this, while the people doing it (including in a university test environment) insisted that the name on the pencil and coffee mug had no influence on them whatsoever. The brain does a whole ton of shortcuts, and then backfills logical rational reasons that was the objective, rational thing to do if you look at the question logically.

            1. Sally*

              And I’ll bet that another part of the subconscious favoritism is due to the fact that you met the person who left the pens and notepads at the office. So you kind of “know” them, where you don’t “know” the people at the competitor companies.

      2. BradC*

        Also a huge factor with companies that work with or for government agencies in other ways; I work for a company that competes for projects large and small with private companies and government agencies at all levels, and we have extremely strict rules against receiving (or giving) anything of value not only to current or potential clients, but also current or potential subcontractors, or current or potential suppliers and/or vendors.
        For consistency, this rule is in effect company wide, not just when working on government-related projects. It even applies to the IT support division I work in, even though we almost entirely support internal teams.
        Very different than previous companies I worked in, where wining and dining potential clients (and being wined and dined by potential vendors) was par for the course.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Those who have flagged for us “no gifts” are usually working on gov contract work. Theyr’e not a gov agency but because they work with so many of their projects, not even candy is acceptable.

      4. Silicon Valley Girl*

        Finance (including fin-tech) falls under government regulations, so employees can’t accept or make gifts above a certain limit & of certain types. Items like branded/logo products at a low dollar value are fine, but meals have strict guidelines & limits, & things like sports tickets & alcohol are not allowed.

    3. Boomerang Girl*

      Agreed. I was a buyer for a major retailer and couldn’t accept anything from vendors, not even a bottle of water during a meeting. Check the company ‘s ethics policy before keeping anything.

      1. Anonymous Editor*

        I’m guessing I work for the same company. We’re literally not allowed to accept anything other than coffee, soda or a small snack. Nothing that constitutes a meal.

    4. Oxford Comma*

      In my field (academic librarianship), I have never heard of vendor swag becoming company property.

      A lot of colleges and universities now have policies now that range from the draconian (you’re not allowed to accept anything from a vendor, even a .50 cent pen) to more reasonable (if it’s out on a table, you can take it, but nothing that’s a special gift, meals under a certain $ amount).

    5. Serenata67 (LW4)*

      For reference, I work for a large equipment manufacturer. The kinds of vendors that are coming in are people trying to convince us to switch to using their gizmos on our machines (motors, gears, buttons, switches, etc.) We’re not subject to regulation like the medical industry, and I’m also not in purchasing or engineering (the people who decide which gizmos to buy/use), so it’s not like the swag is going to sway me. (I’m in a marketing-related field, so I go to check out their brochures and sales pitches to see what I can learn… and get a free lunch.)

      Thanks for the answer and commentary!

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Knowing this, I would be angry on your behalf if you can’t keep a pen since there’s no reasonable reason behind it.

        Collect all the pens, build yourself a pen and notepad fort!

        My favorite thing ever is that we get really nice heavy duty “sample” pens sent to us from a place that we used to buy company swag from for previous trade-shows [we’ve since found other items to hand out] and all my pens are personally branded *evil cackle*

    6. Sarah N*

      If this is a lunch and learn being held AT the company, surely they know that lunch is being served?

  3. Impy*

    #3 they’re doing it because you went to HR. It’s a way to undermine you and make you feel small. Hence why you also got an unnecessary extra layer of management. Polish up that resume and get out.

    1. Blossom*

      That’s not necessarily true. It sounds like OP3 raised the issue that their manager basically wasn’t really managing them or giving them much support. This can happen when the manager is at director level and their direct report is managing a function that the director has no direct experience of. Sometimes it can work out OK, with the direct report being happy with the trade-off of greater autonomy. But clearly in this case, it wasn’t working. Sounds to me like the director admitted they weren’t really giving this area the attention it needed, and agreed with HR that the best solution would be to create this new role in between. That sounds perfectly legitimate to me, and I don’t think the OP will help themselves by assuming bad faith. That’s not to say there are no problems here – it certainly sounds like she still doesn’t get on with the manager and the director above her, and this workplace might not be the best fit. But the restructure itself may well have been an attempt to respond to her concerns.

      1. TechWorker*

        And I couldn’t help thinking that ‘my manager doesn’t understand what I do’ was a bit of a strange complaint. Yes it’s not ideal – but it’s also not unusual because in a company of very varied job functions a director won’t have done all of them. It’s part of your job to give them enough information to make the decisions you need them to – or if everything is going swimmingly and you don’t need support – to make sure you agree with them on metrics for success so you can show the manager/director they’re being met.

        1. Approval is optional*

          Yes, that bit sounded strange to me too. Until I retired this month (yay for sleeping in!), I had overall responsibility for a couple of functions that I had no background in – as you say, this often happens when you manage at what we’d call executive level (C-level in other places maybe?).
          And I have to say that if the attitude of , [my director had] ‘ nothing constructive, relevant, or informed to say about anything I had done for yet another year’, bleeds into the LW’s dealings with management she’s not doing herself any favours. Of course people vent in letters to AAM and many of them will behave professionally at all times at work (or as much as is humanly possible), but those were fairly harsh and judgemental sentiments even for a vent, and genuine concerns, such as your manager not meeting with you even when you try to schedule meetings (!), can get swept under the rug, if they come in a stream of, or an attitude of, ‘vent’.

          1. Blossom*

            I do think it can happen (though it shouldn’t) – i.e. the director focuses much more on the areas under them which they understand and enjoy, and the person in the OP’s position can understandably feel neglected. I can well imagine that their director really might not have had useful or thoughtful feedback for them in the appraisal, which is a shame and shouldn’t happen. But yeah, it’s not inherently problematic that the director doesn’t know the detail of the job.

        2. Darcy Pennell*

          I’ve had a manager who lacked the technical background to understand my work, and lacked the self-confidence to admit when she didn’t know something. She wouldn’t listen to me, I think because she was afraid of looking weak, and made terrible decisions because I couldn’t get through to her about the impact her bad decisions would have. Just like the LW I used to say she “doesn’t understand what I do.” You’re right that ultimately it was on me to give her the information, but it was like talking to a brick wall.

        3. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

          I think it depends on what level the manager doesn’t understand. I expect the director of my department to understand that I process supplier invoices and statements. I don’t necessarily expect them to understand every step I take in order to process these documents, not what every error message that means I’m having trouble processing a document – their role in understanding is to recognise what kind of problem (internal technical vs supplier information error) and how to solve it (call the specific IT department or contact the supplier), as well as knowing what steps *I* should have/ will have already taken to solve.
          This even extends down to my direct manager – I don’t expect her to know every button press I do in every aspect of my job, otherwise, she’d be doing my job instead of managing me and my colleagues (who press different buttons!)

        4. Keladry of Midelan*

          Not understanding is one thing (normal!). The issue comes when your manager has strong opinions about how you should do things that don’t match up with reality, and think you have some hidden agenda for having the opinions you do. One time my manager basically implied that he thought I was lying about the business need for a process to go one way just to prove another colleague wrong. Uh, no, I’m just trying to do my job well. I’m the one you’re paying to be an expert in this specialty.

          Another problem is when your manager has no clue what real success looks like in the role. My manager illogically picked one arbitrary, very broad metric that relies on about 6 other departments doing their job well as the measure of my success. So not only am I at the mercy of those other departments when it comes time to review my work, but I get zero credit for or acknowledgment of all of the important things I actually do. (And yes, I’ve tried several times to point out the problem with this, but was unsuccessful.)

          1. Original Poster*

            Keladry of Midelan – OMG you have lived my world. Exactly this – with the minor exception of having the manager/director actually pick and communicate to you even a single metric for success… I feel for your difficult experience. What did you do? Was there any way to save it, or did you just have to get out?

            1. Keladry of Midelan*

              Excellent question! I don’t have an answer though because this has just been happening over the last few months. Right now I’m honestly just hoping that my new boss won’t last long at this job. I really like my job overall and I work in a very specialized profession so I don’t have many options and don’t want to leave.

              The one thing that is helping me in the moment is solidarity. I have several good friends at work who I’m able to discuss things with and their validation of my experiences helps a lot.

        5. LQ*

          I’d agree. And I wonder if this bleeds into the way the OP interacts with their director which is what’s causing the go to training thing. But overall it just sounds like the OP is so deeply unhappy that maybe it’s time to look for something else.

          If OP wants to stay they have to shift and stop trying to tell their director what they do and start focusing on what value that thing brings to the company. Or better yet, get some of those people who they’ve done great work for to tell the boss. It sounds like some really good work but if the director won’t hear it from OP, then ask the clients to tell the director. Start managing up a lot more. Focus on what the director cares about and throw out everything else in the conversation and just talk about that. Think of the training as a couple light work break days where they (hopefully) provide lunch and networking. Better yet, come back and say it was so good everyone should go.

          Seriously though, look for something else.

        6. Yorick*

          It’s not necessarily that strange. OP might not mean that in a technical way, but rather in a “I’ve explained the purpose of our team multiple times but Manager still thinks we’re IT and Director still thinks we’re Legal.”

          1. Original Poster*

            Yorick what you outline is more closely what is going on. It’s a deep and complex history, but the short of it is that the Director has been here for 2 years upon my hire, the Directors employee who hired me has been here for over 20 years. That employee was deeply interested in the field and understood the needs and skillset. 6 months into my hire, unfortunately, that employee left the role. VACUUM…. So despite all my efforts to explain, this Director is not someone who needs to be taught anything. This Director knows how all things work. Any need for explanation shows some sort of weakness…

        7. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          I don’t think this is a strange complaint at all, because I’ve reported to managers who have no idea what I do or what I’m even supposed to be doing. Think a former teapot painter managing the llama care department, and then not understanding that there’s animal welfare guidelines for the care and keeping of llamas.

        8. RC Rascal*

          Regarding “ My manager doesn’t understand what I do.” This might mean “my manager doesn’t understand my technical work”. If this is the case that’s OK, a high level manager may not need to know. If it means “ my manager doesn’t know what projects I’m working on” that is a big problem indicating communication breakdown with the OP or with the team.

        9. ACDC*

          I had an experience related to the manager not knowing what I do… One department hired me, but didn’t have the budget for me so they technically put me in a different department and technically had to have me report to that department’s head even though I was really working for a different department. It was a horrible setup for so many reasons and my de facto supervisor was a misogynist with control issues. We would frequently get into arguments during our “performance reviews” because he really couldn’t judge my performance in any capacity because 1) I didn’t even sit in his department’s space, 2) he didn’t know what I did, and 3) the only interactions I had with him were passing in the halls maybe once or twice a day.

        10. Lord Gouldian Finch*

          I have totally dealt with that issue, though. Sometimes it goes beyond “doesn’t know what you do” to “doesn’t know and really doesn’t care.” I was consultant on an archival project for a law firm. It was pushed by one of the partners, who wanted some things done, had a general idea what he wanted, but didn’t know exactly what was needed. That was fine, that’s why we were hired after all. Then the management devolved to the head of the law library, who seemed to see our project as some sort of attack on his authority. He didn’t know what we did and didn’t care. He just wanted us to go away. We had to go over his head and finally it got shifted again to the business manager, who admitted straight out he didn’t understand our work but since it was his job to support it, he was supportive. That worked fine.

    2. (Former) HR Expat*

      There could also be many more reasons for the training and restructuring without assuming bad intent. Maybe the company was given free training slots, maybe the managers/HR thought it might be something that the OP would enjoy as a development exercise, maybe it was framed as a course for experienced managers and the training just sucked. I think it’s a leap to assume that this was punitive.

      1. Malarkey01*

        Not to make assumptions but the tone of a few of the things in LW3 raised an eyebrow and if that’s how they are presenting themselves around the office I could see why things aren’t going well. It’s one thing to go to a manager and say “I could use more support, specifically with x and y” or “I know you aren’t familiar with the technicalities but z is really important to my team, can I explain our current challenges and get your feedback”….it’s another thing to go to HR and say “my manager doesn’t know anything about what I do and isn’t managing us” (this could vary a lot by your level in an org and how technical your work). If you are asking to be managed more and they think their role is one with more basic strategic oversight while you handle team management I could see where they’d think you needed management training.

        I think LW3 May need to reframe some of this relationship instead of basing everything off the attitude that everyone is clueless and treating them like new managers.

    3. Original Poster*

      Unfortunately, I also see this as the ultimate outcome they are hoping for. It’s definitely retaliation. It makes me so sad, though, because I SO LOVE managing my team, working with the clients we have served, and making the awesome products we have made.

      1. Original Poster*

        Oh – I am learning how this works, here – my above response was to the first comment on #3 – about it being time to move on as they are pushing me out.

        To Malarkey01, I for sure did not go to HR and say what I said here – agreed that would not be productive. Instead, I went to HR and said “I would love to earn a “You are Fantastic and here is why” Evaluation from my manager, but have received a “Thanks so much, all is good” Evaluation 2 years running. How can I better understand what my manager wants from me when she will not speak to me?”

        The HR professional then dug deeper into what was going on and the history of my role, apologized profusely for the unproductive way my team was transitioned to this new Director, seemed appropriately appalled by my treatment, then left and never spoke to me again until the meeting where I was transitioned to a new layer of management. Clearly, her friend the Director was not pleased at being outed for her poor management of my team. This has now trickled down into her minion (my new manager) getting progressively aggressive and toxic with me in private meetings. It’s been really awful. I really wish there was a way to save others from this pair of toxic management, and to keep my fantastic team together, and to continue to contribute in the other ways I have been able to, but it looks increasingly like I have no options, here.

    4. smoke tree*

      Motivation and depth of research make a big difference, though. If you’re just looking up a coworker’s linkedin profile or website to get a sense of their professional background, I think most people would consider that fine. But if you go much deeper, it starts to feel like a power play of some kind, particularly if you start dropping hints about what you know. Even if you don’t have any nefarious motives other than nosiness, you’ll really have to make sure you don’t reveal what you know, or your coworkers will be creeped out.

  4. Duvie*

    LW4: Whether or not you can keep the freebies may depend somewhat on your job function. If you’re the person writing the specification for a purchase, or the person choosing a vendor for it, your company may have rules about the type of goods and services you may accept as well as limits on how often you may accept them – Caesar’s wife and all that.
    You can usually accept anything that has the vendor’s name on it because it’s considered to be advertising, but I know one company that banned across the board the acceptance of even doughnuts and coffee. Your best bet is to check with your management.

  5. Beth*

    #1: I think the golden rule–do unto others as you would have them do unto you–applies here. You probably wouldn’t be bothered at all by a coworker reading your LinkedIn page, but I’m betting you’d be creeped out by them going through old facebook pictures from five years ago! It’s not foolproof (for all I know, you have very loose boundaries around this stuff), but mentally putting yourself in their shoes is generally a good proxy for figuring out the boundary between ok and too far.

    1. Crystal*

      My coworker is one of those people who always googles new hires and he used to tell me stuff and I was like, “I’m good, don’t tell me stuff”. Still would never occur to me. IDGAF really what they are online, what matters is how they interact with me every day at work.

    2. Batgirl*

      I think that it would be difficult to assume others’ preferences based on your own, because people’s boundaries on this are so different. Some people think that everyone snoops and it’s no big deal, other people are just horrified at the very idea. I used to work in journalism where being curious and investigating people’s backgrounds was part of the job and while it would have been odd to do so intently with a coworker, it would have been more weird than horrifying, especially since we would be googling each other on all platforms to look for old stories. The other thing that individualizes responses is what’s actually out there on the internet about you. Some people have some sensitive things out there which they can’t take down. Other people don’t have anything remarkable. I think the true universal is what Alison picked up on; why are you telling the person you’re looking into them? That’s the part what’s most likely to freak everyone out. To use your example, I assume at least one of my acquaintances has scrolled back through Facebook a few years. It’s a boring and odd thing to do, but statistically someone’s probably done it. It changes from odd to creepy, the minute they let you know they are surveilling you for no particular reason (like they are letting you know they found garden variety stuff instead of something like a hate speech manifesto against your client base). My new profession is teaching. If a colleague saw something a bit personal, however old, I’d appreciate the heads-up because I could lock it down, away from students’ eyes.

      1. Jennifer*

        +1 I assume people are scrolling through my old facebook photos. After all, I put them there. I do get creeped out when I see someone liked one of them from five years ago. Seems irrational, but I don’t care if they snoop, I just don’t want to know about it.

      2. Anonybus*

        I agree that telling you about their “findings” is a major part of the obnoxiousness around this kind of thing.

        I also think another part of what’s getting people’s hackles up is something I have seen with coworkers who have crossed the benign/creepy searching border:

        when they do an initial search and don’t find anything “juicy”? They don’t stop.

        That’s how people can go from checking out a few social media accounts to “paid for a background search”. And if that doesn’t turn up anything, it’s on to speculation and rumor spreading because “nobody could be that boring, and there must be SOMETHING”. And that is the kind of “curiosity” that makes for a nightmare coworker.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I disagree. Something that may bother you, I may think is no big deal. I think the rule to follow here is that if you’re uncomfortable talking to a colleague in person about it, you shouldn’t be looking it up online. The OP commented in another thread and said she’s only looking up professional background stuff on LinkedIn so I wouldn’t consider that snooping, but again, those are questions most people would have no problem with asking the person face to face.

      1. Roscoe*

        I think this is a great way to look at it. If you wouldn’t tell them that you looked it up, then you probably shouldn’t be looking it up. I’d have no problem telling a co-worker what I saw on their linkedin page. I’d feel weird telling them what I saw on a Facebook post from 2 years ago.

    4. Bunny Girl*

      I think the only time I would look up a coworker is if something bothered me about them or I just had a gut feeling about them. And honestly that hasn’t happened to me in quite some time. But also, I’m not sure what I would do with that information if I did find something about them except maybe be cautious. Like if I found out they had a restraining order against them or multiple arrests or something.

    5. Dr. Pepper*

      It’s hard to have rules of thumb because the people who actually need rules won’t think the rules apply to them. “Well I’d be fine with someone doing this to me, so it’s okay for me to do it! Don’t be so sensitive!” Boundary crossers will cross boundaries anywhere and everywhere and will (in their mind) have a good reason for doing so.

      I think most of us have a pretty good idea what is appropriate and what isn’t without needing to be explicitly told. It’s just that some people don’t care where the line is and will find all kinds of reasons why they were justified in crossing it.

    6. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

      Or maybe, would you be embarrassed if your colleague learned that you were looking them up like that? Obviously this rule of thumb wouldn’t help weird people like the background check dude, but it should be fine for everyone else.

      If you are doing something surreptitiously, like a small child eating a tootsie roll behind the door, it’s generally because you know you actually shouldn’t be doing the thing.

  6. Adhara*

    With #1, I can kinda understand the interviewer doing a quick google to see if there’s anything unscrupulous popping up, but at OldJob, I had one (very young and socially energetic) coworker gleefully digging in deep about potential candidates and trying to gossip about it with our manager who was hiring. It wasn’t dicey stuff, but it could have been bordering on (UK) illegal discrimination (high school location aka economic status, guess the age, that kind of thing). Luckily the manager focused on their achievements and what they put in the resume, but woof am I grateful I have my facebook on lockdown.

    I think the point I’m trying to make is that snooping like that can open up subconscious bias about personal life, and that shouldn’t matter unless it will affect their professional life.

    1. Observer*

      Yes, a basic google search to make sure there are no red banners (eg RECENT boasts about wild and drunk parties, racist rants, sketchy schemes, or anything that contradicts their resume or application materials) can make a lot of sense. On the other hand, outside of legitimate background checks, deep digging is pretty much waaaay over the line.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        I had a job that required we not only Google our new hires and volunteers, but look them up on all social media platforms. LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.

      2. pleaset*

        Don’t do these search early in the process with many candidates – that can lead you to unconsciously weeding out certain types of people. Really.

        Instead, do it late in the hiring process, in a similar way you do reference checks, to check for egregious behavior that you would consciously use to pull an offer.

        1. Krickets*

          @pleaset, good perspective and I’m glad you posted this. I’m not in favor of people googling candidates because you get to see their gender, race/ethnicity, and other things that can potentially color your unbiased view of a candidate (hiring ethics?). But it makes sense to do it later in the process!

  7. Phil*

    #1 My stance is, if you’ve published it on the internet, it’s fair game. It’s the current year, everyone knows that if you publish it online, the internet never forgets. My super cringey late 90s teenage GeoCities site is permanently on and I’m so very thankful that even exact phrase searches doesn’t bring it up in Google searches. :
    Having said that, paying someone to do a deep dive? Probably a bit too far.

    1. Coffeelover*

      I guess to me this is one of those situations where just because you can doesn’t mean you should. You’re right that the internet has erased a lot of the privacy we could have had before. So at this point I think it’s people’s responsibility to give each other that privacy anyway. To me, it’s kind of like watching your neighbours through their window when you live downtown. You can do it, but you shouldn’t really. We’d all appreciate a little privacy and the only privacy we can get is the privacy we give each other.

      1. Jennifer*

        Looking into someone’s private home is not the same as looking at something they posted publicly online, imo. I think the world has just changed and therefore our points of view have to. This debate reminds me of when a music video a certain Congresswoman made in college was re-posted by some of her political opponents. They thought she’d be embarrassed, but her response was basically, “yeah, so?” In a few years, I think every candidate will probably have silly videos or posts from high school or college posted somewhere and it won’t manage so much. We have to reframe our thinking around it so it’s not such a major deal.

        1. Antilles*

          Yeah, I think going forwards, the question is going to need to be reframed in terms of “why does this past information about someone matter?” Not in terms of what you can dig up, but in terms of whether it actually matters to your work and your beliefs today.
          If it’s a political candidate’s history of racist statements, then yes, do that deep dive and find out the information. If you find your company accountant had previously been tried for fraud at his last two companies, then oh yeah, that’s worthwhile information.
          But opinions can change, tastes can change, and there’s tons of mundane stuff that could be dug up that’s completely irrelevant to anybody (anybody want to hear 16-year old me’s take on then-current pop music like Michelle Branch or Backstreet Boys? probably not!). So a lot of the stuff that can dug up is going to need to be evaluated in light of “is this still relevant?”…and the answer is often no.

        2. Kyrielle*

          It depends on how deep-dive that search is, though. The OP for the letter that spawned this question had that info published about them – but it didn’t detail why it ended up not being a big deal.

          There is a difference between looking at what people put online freely – which I think is more like viewing their lawn decorations / house maintenance / brilliantly lit Christmas tree in their front window – and what is online about them. The latter is more like accidentally catching a glimpse of them lounging on the couch behind the tree (if it pops up high in searches by chance) or spying on them through their various windows, possibly with a pair of binoculars (if it doesn’t).

          The thing is, if I accidentally learn something that has no importance to my relationship to someone, why would I mention it? That would be wrong. And deliberately trying to learn that stuff is creepy, but way worse if I talk to them about it.

          1. Jennifer*

            People keep using that comparison and I must respectfully disagree. Looking at publicly broadcast information is in no way the same as using binoculars to look inside someone’s private home. A major false equivalency.

            1. pleaset*

              “publicly broadcast ”

              A lot of stuff we put online is no more publicly broadcast than saying something to a bunch of friends in the corner of a park is. Just because I’m in public in a park, would it be OK for someone to set up a microphone to catch what I said, add it to a searchable database with my name and location tagged, and keep it online forever? Hey, said it in public right?

              Hey, i saw someone walk into a gay bar three towns over and snapped a photo of them and that’s public right? That’s what is happening in social media.

              That attitude of everything on social media being fair game is horrendous. It might a be a true reality, but it’s dystopian and we should stop using it’s one existence to justify it as OK.

              1. Jennifer*

                If it’s public, you are publicly broadcasting it to where billions of people can potentially see it. If that bothers you, don’t post it on social media or adjust your privacy settings.

            2. Librarian of SHIELD*

              There are levels of publicly broadcast, though. If I did an interview on CNN six weeks ago, it would be silly of me to be shocked that people had seen it. But if I did an interview 12 years ago on a local public access TV station that has substantially lower viewership that’s typically located in a certain geographical area, and somebody at work mentions it a week from now, I think it would be fair to be surprised.

    2. Grand Mouse*

      I guess it depends on how deep and far you search. I hang out in communities primarily of LGBT and neurodivergent people and it would be very bad for us to have that information made public. we use degrees of anonymity, but it is also important for us to build community with each other so yes we reveal some personal data, including location and sometimes photos. People who could put the pieces together might identify us but it would be super invasive and dangerous (I know at least one person who was kicked out by their parents because someone online outed them).

    3. Zombeyonce*

      The problem with this is that there can be plenty of things online about someone that they didn’t actually post themselves and don’t want shared.

      One personal example are the cringeworthy articles I wrote for my college newspaper. A few years after I graduated, they built a website and mined old hard drives to upload all articles from the previous decade to it.

      I’d rather my current co-workers not read my sex advice column and all the partying tips I wrote as a contributor to the Culture section of a very liberal paper. I thought those would be unavailable to anyone that didn’t have access to physical archives when I wrote it would never see it since a website was far in our future, but now it’s all out there and I have no control over it.

      1. Colette*

        Yeah, if you google my name you can find my phone number, because it was in a newsletter from 1998 that is online. That doesn’t mean I’d be happy if you called me up.

        1. Jennifer*

          Of course, that but again that’s more about what someone does with the information once they find it as opposed to whether they googled it in the first place.

      2. Koala dreams*

        Yes, there’s stuff that other people put up. I don’t share your experiences but there are party pictures with me that I didn’t know was posted until much later.

    4. kittymommy*

      Same. Maybe because so much of my job (and thus information about me) is subject to public record I just assume if I don’t lock down the info people are looking at it, I’m just not phased by it. Every few months I do search myself to see what, if anything, I need to change. Google tends to be a problem with this. In their quest to be “helpful” they autofill a lot of sites; now I just use several different emails for different types of sites.

    5. pleaset*

      “It’s the current year, everyone knows that if you publish it online, the internet never forgets.”

      This attitude is sad. Yes, it’s reality, but we shouldn’t accept it. We should push, like people in Europe have, to change that.

      And also I don’t play like that with other people. I know I can find deep stuff about people online that is not easy to find, but frankly in general that’s not right. As an example, we’ve got companies harvesting arrest data and putting it online to extort the people shown. I don’t want to look at that and would hope decent people wouldn’t say “That’s fair game.”

      I could go out now videotaping people i don’t know and put it online. And then browse around Facebook and find the names of some of them and post that too, connecting their images and names. That’s not “fair” to them.

      Stop accepting a bad reality as just the way things are – denounce it and don’t participate in it.

    6. Dr. Pepper*

      Honestly? Yeah. Maybe it’s not the “right” or “nice” thing to do, but, well, the internet is there, human curiosity knows no bounds, and rabbit-holing is a thing. I know there’s a lot of “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” being bandied about, but it’s just far too easy to google people and not much effort to deep dive. It sucks. Everyone has a different stance on how far is acceptable and what’s creepy. Personally, I’d be creeped out by anything more than a cursory google search, but I’m not going to kid myself that nobody I know has done more than that. They have. They will. I don’t like it, but I also don’t get to control that. It’s the nature of the internet and I don’t think most people were prepared for that.

      1. Observer*

        This is like saying “if you left your car unlocked, it’s your fault it was stolen.” (Or the far worse victim shaming that happens.

        Look, if I’m talking to young people or folks who are still finding their way with social media or the like (and there are a LOT of them, and not all old), I’d be very, very clear about the need to lock down your data, be careful about what you post, etc. But I was also clear with my kids (especially my daughters, because their risks are higher) about the dangers of various perfectly legitimate activities. Because I’m a pragmatist when it comes to things like safety, and as my husband’s driving instructor said about defensive driving “If you wind up in the hospital, it’s not going to matter if you were right or not.” It doesn’t make it ok to run red lights, or to assault someone because it’s a dark nigh etc.

        Same with deep dive searching. Sure, as a pragmatist, I tell people to be careful about what they post. But that’s because they need to protect themselves from predators. NOT because it’s ok to do these deep dives. Especially since so much information that is out there was either not put there with the consent of the person who is being searched on or was made public without their consent. Facebook has been notorious for smashing people’s privacy settings. And they’ve just pulled something like this again. Not as bad as some of their past changes, and people knew that something was coming so it was a little more possible to protect yourself, but still…. And then you have all of the hacks and data breaches that leave people’s data exposed. What’s the excuse then? “If you don’t want to be found live off the grid” is what it comes down to.

        1. Dr. Pepper*

          I think the right thing to do is pretty obvious in most situations, including how much info-gathering on others is appropriate, it’s just that so many people don’t care that they’re crossing a line, or feel fully justified in their own minds for doing so. The easier it is to get away with something and the fewer repercussions (if any) that will result, the more likely people are to indulge in activities they know aren’t right. This is one of them. The internet makes it frighteningly easy to acquire vast amounts of info on nearly anybody, and unless you’re foolish enough to talk about it, nobody will know you did it. I’m not blaming anyone for having an online presence. The fault falls squarely on the shoulders of the person doing the snooping. It’s just that there’s very little stop them from doing it if they are so inclined, just like there’s very little to stop someone stealing stuff out of an unlocked car.

    7. Jellybean*

      No Phil, they don’t all know that. I teach digital literacy and media, a lot of people don’t know that. Do not assume that your level of digital literacy and safety is the same as others. There are still many people in this world using the internet for the first time today.

    8. Kiki*

      There’s stuff on the internet about me that I didn’t actually opt into though. A lot of my high school accomplishments were featured in the local paper which now has all it’s archives online. That’s a benign example because I don’t care if my coworkers know I was a mediocre tennis player in high school, but a lot of people’s internet presences aren’t entirely self-created. A friend of mine’s ex-boyfriend had a blog where he went into a lot of detail about my friend after they broke up. A lot of it is terrible– biased and not really true– but also just way too personal for anyone’s coworkers to know.

    9. Coffee Cake*

      I am on the page that I can look at what you have open to the public on Linked In, Facebook, Twitter, Snap-chat or anything that others that I work with use to connect to each other. However if I have to pay to get something or have to use sneaky alternatives to look (private Facebook, records search) then it is out of bounds. With the caveat that there are no rumors of things that could cause me harm (ex. we had a new employee a few years ago that was rumored to have harmed his ex) then any extent of search is fair game.

    10. Lynn Whitehat*

      What if *you* didn’t put it up? In my state, marriage records, divorce records, and property ownership (including purchase price!) are all public. Does that make it OK to talk to your co-workers about their divorces and home prices?

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        But talking to your coworkers about stuff you find online is a different question from looking up your coworkers online. While I disagree with the norm, I will admit that most people would be freaked out by someone bringing up info they found online. I have only googled some of my coworkers, it was always once I found out that they were hired and going to be coming in. I was curious who I was going to be working with. I didn’t do a deep dive, I think I just looked at Linked in, and professional publications. But even with that stuff I knew not to bring anything up I found from my search when I talked to them.

    11. Junior Assistant Peon*

      I think the expectation of privacy was different on the early Internet. Google didn’t exist yet, and the search engines of the time weren’t very good. When LiveJournal was popular in the late 90s, people posted stuff under their real names that they’d be mortified if their parents or non-computer-savvy friends saw.

  8. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    The “how much should I search” question is why I’m grateful to have a common name (and why we didn’t give our children unique names). If you search for my name, you’ll get a lot of noise. If you search for my name plus my field, you’ll get my profile on my employer’s website, and my LinkedIn – and that’s about it.

    I always Google new contacts so I can tailor my correspondence accordingly – a new Teapot Buyer might have ten years in buying but not really know what a teapot is, or vice versa. In my field we work internationally and tend to start off fairly formal, so I also need to make sure I have their title right and that I have their given name and family name the right way round, so I don’t call a new contact Mr River when she’s Dr Song.

    1. BlueWolf*

      Ditto. My name is very common and also the same as a slightly famous person so if you just google my name you won’t get much unless you add some additional information. I definitely like it that way (not that I have anything to hide).

      1. Approval is optional*

        Mine is the same as a very very famous person who was born in the same year, and in the same city, as I was – nobody can ever find me via a quick google search!

    2. facepalm*

      The first result when you google me used to be news stories about a child molester in Florida. So glad that went down in the results and now it’s generic people, like a vet or doctor or news host

    3. Autumnheart*

      Same here. Tons of people with my name, and I’ve also made a point in recent years to change my email address and not use the same username for too many places. I have made plenty of posts where someone could easily guess where I work, though, and should probably knock that off ASAP if I want to maintain a level of anonymity.

      The bottom line is that it’s on the individual to control what they publish. Social media is like work communication times a million–if it’s something you wouldn’t want people to see, then by God keep it offline.

  9. Amy*

    I work remotely 3x per week. And yes, I put it under the category of “huge privilege.”

    I recognize it’s probably different for college students. But it would never occur to me to feel like I’m missing out on pizza. Having zero commute, the ability to meet the cable guy at 2pm, pick my kid up at 5:05 and tidy the house over lunch is all the treats I need.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I would think a huge perk is never needing to remember your lunch and packing it to go! I would eat so much better if I weren’t limited to what is most convenient to throw in a bag or assorted eateries around the office.

      1. Ree*

        I also would count not having to walk back in the house and up the stairs to grab my must-have-can’t-live-without-it travel mug of coffee as a welcome perk to remote work.

  10. Em*

    I’m in my twenties and look up my coworkers to check that they don’t post racist or homophobic stuff. It’s kind of a safety thing.

    1. Roscoe*

      And how far back do you look about that and how deep? A quick google search to see what pops up? Fine? But you are kind of giving a blanket “I can look at anything personal” statment. I think you are kind of using that as an excuse honestly. I’m black myself, I can’t say I’ve ever felt the need to look at co-workers personal pages under the guise of “safety”. If they gave you a reason to think that, I could maybe see it. But just looking up every white or straight person seems just nosy.

      1. Anon for this*

        Are you LGBTQ, Roscoe? You don’t need to answer, just consider that for an LGBTQ person, safety may not mean the same thing as it does to a cis/heterosexual person.

      2. Nephron*

        I have been alone after hours with someone who started using softer phrases from the alt-right message boards that have now produced multiple mass shooters. I am 90% sure he was not doing it on purpose, he had just picked up the language like people say btw and lol in conversation now. I don’t consider myself in regular danger from such groups, I am not likely to be the first targeted, but it certainly changed my perspective on whether I would go to a second location with him.
        I fully understand why someone higher on the list of alt-right targets (LGBT, nonwhite, etc) would want to know before they ended up alone in the office with someone holding those views.

    2. Autumnheart*

      I’d need a pretty good reason to pay money for a search that brings up stuff that is hard to search online. If I went on a date with someone and thought it might go somewhere, for example. Too bad I didn’t do that in 2000, because it would’ve saved me an awkward situation when the person I was dating turned out to be a sex offender. 27-year-old me believed that people were entitled to have their pasts forgotten, but Today Me wouldn’t even blink.

      I google everyone. I look at their social media, I look up their name to see what comes up on their professional background, I read their twitter feeds, I look at their Instagram and YouTube. Sometimes other stuff comes up, like their recent DUI or a highlighted post about their divorce. Maybe an obituary of a relative. Maybe a 15-year-old article about placing in a high school track meet. All that is required to find this stuff is “firstname lastname city state”. You typically don’t even have to go past the first page of results.

      If anyone thinks for a second that this is MY bad, all I can say to that is LMAO. The extreme majority of this content is placed online to be searched for and looked at. That’s literally why it exists. You cannot use social media and search engines, and then complain that other people use social media and search engines too.

      1. Not A Fan Of Online Snooping*

        And THIS is why I no longer do social media. I don’t need you to look me up and prejudge me before you’ve gotten to know me.

        1. Autumnheart*

          One can hardly post details of their personal life online and then claim that anyone who sees it is “pre-judging” or not getting to know them.

          You know that checkbox that you have to click when you sign up, that says “I give my permission for this to be published and for other people to see it”? Yeah, that’s real.

          1. MsChanandlerBong*

            I can understand doing this for a potential date, but not a new coworker. What in the world could you possibly gain?

          2. Observer*

            What you seem to be missing is that a lot of this stuff actually is public without consent.

            For instance, none of the services that have been using humans to listen to recordings of people were done with people’s consent. MS has just updated their (extremely dense and unreadable) terms to include that information.

            1. Autumnheart*

              Practically everything on social media is posted with express permission from the user. And “extremely dense and unreadable” is no kind of justification. If you don’t understand what you’re agreeing to, hire a lawyer to explain it to you.

              1. Observer*

                Neither statement is true. Facebook has an especially bad record, but the reality is that a LOT of what is publicly viewable was not put up with the consent of the person. Everything from changes in privacy settings, data leaks, people posting things about one, etc.

                When so called disclosures are designed to be unreadable and often even confusing, that IS a justification. There is a reason, for instance, why the signature allowing a background check is only considered valid if the request is made in plain English and clearly separated from everything else.

              2. pleaset*

                “Practically everything on social media is posted with express permission from the user.”

                Facebook literally makes profiles of people who have never been on Facebook.

                And people post about other people all the time. Mike Monteiro has told a story of people being added to a Facebook group without consent, implying or reveal the status of their sexuality.

                “If you don’t understand what you’re agreeing to, hire a lawyer to explain it to you.” Your opinion is noted.

                1. techRando*

                  Just FYI: those are not searchable profiles that come up in normal google/fb searches. Shadow profiles are effectively internal-only descriptions of data collection which facebook uses to further their algorithmic research and development.

                  Technically, they don’t “actually” even exist, according to facebook. I don’t think this is a bald-faced lie, although I wouldn’t put it past them. I just think it’s more likely that shadow profile is a conceptual term rather than describing something that actually exists. They have enough data about you, stored in other places, NOT as an all-together “shadow profile”, but that they COULD build a shadow profile if they chose.

                  This is still horrifying from a user perspective, but it’s not really relevant to the current discussion about private individuals searching public social media. If you, a user, are seeing something on social media, that is probably stuff a private person (maybe not the right person, but a person who doesn’t work for the social media company) consented to have public, at least in theory.

                  You raise a number of valid points, but I just wanted to correct what seemed to be a misconception on that specific detail.

              3. EventPlannerGal*

                But a lot of records that can turn up online aren’t the result of social media posting, or indeed posting anything at all.

                For example, during my Fresher’s week at university I gave my name and e-mail address (i.e. wrote it down on a piece of notepaper and handed it over) to a student society so they could send me some information about it. I never joined the society and forgot about it. Years later, I google myself and discover that some enterprising person had typed up that information and added it to their online membership list, which was something I did not know even existed. It’s still the fifth or sixth result when you google me, even though I never gave my permission for them to do that and was never associated with their society. Nothing to do with social media.

            2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              Here’s an example of release of personal information without consent: our county tax assessor posts your name, the value of the property, and your marital status (?!?) on their website which can then be drawn into other searches. I never consented to that, there is no way to get it removed (short of creating a shell company and selling your house to it), but there it is out there for everyone to see. Top it off, it is only quasi-accurate since it implies I live alone, but Mr Gumption lives with me. Technically, I suppose I should have researched it before buying a house in this county and just rented if I wanted privacy, but does that seem reasonable?

              1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                I think most if not all county tax assessors post sales records, name of person buying, and assessed value online now, if not online most places consider it an accessible public record. Society as a whole has determined that making those kinds of transactions public serve a legitimate societal interest, same with marriage, divorce, criminal records.

              2. Autumnheart*

                Yeah, that’s a standard step in buying a house.

                Similarly, if you’re starting a business and file for a sole proprietorship, LLC or other type of corporation, you have to post your name and the name of the business in the local newspaper.

        2. Anon for this*

          Why would I want to get to know someone if their social media has a bunch of homophobic stuff, for example? That’s not prejudging, that’s just accurately judging.

          1. Zombeyonce*

            People didn’t necessarily post it! There’s plenty of information about me on the internet that I never consented to be put there but have no control over taking it down. I imagine it’s that way for a lot of people as well. You’re making yourself willfully ignorant by not acknowledging that it’s wrong to do this and then judge people based on something private they didn’t necessarily want to share, but it’s out there anyway.

            Maybe you don’t need a reason to snoop, but by the same token, you’re giving me a reason to think you’re incredibly inconsiderate to everyone you do deep dives searches on.

            1. Autumnheart*

              Uh….no. Using Google is not “wrong”. That is utterly absurd. It’s not on me, or any random person, to determine whether you intended to post something or not. If it can be found during a garden-variety google search, that’s technology for you. If you’re uncomfortable with what the law decides is public information, that’s on you. If you post something on social media for the public to see and are then shocked and surprised that the public sees it, that’s on you. If you were previously unaware of this, that’s on you. It’s time for you to educate yourself.

      1. Autumnheart*

        Anyone that I feel like looking up. I’ve even looked up Alison, because I’d seen an article on Slate and wanted to know more about the situation the article was about.

    3. kittymommy*

      In my last job my boss and I looked up the FB page of a candidate in our entity (I can’t remember exactly why we did this, he was probably acting like a jerk though) and it turns out his page was filled with racist and homophobic posts. We let HR know and they withdrew the offer. He was being considered as one of our first-responder positions so they took that type of stuff VERY seriously.

      1. pleaset*

        Be very careful in looking a social media in hiring, because you might unintentionally learn things that should not be taken into account in hiring, and that could be risky for the entity.

        In general, I think it’s very bad to look up applicants early in the process. Right before the offer is made would be a time to do it, to surface something such as what you found. And at that time it would be hard to let unconscious bias against, say, someone with an unseen disability or pregnancy status, derail the hiring at that point. And if you find something like you find, there’s still time to act. But I’m not an HR pro – I think the company should give people doing hiring clear guidelines on this.

        1. kittymommy*

          That’s true, but I’m not losing any sleep over some guy who wanted to be a paramedic firefighter not getting a job as such because he posted, more than once, that all black people should die (amongst other things).

    4. lawschoolmorelikeblawschool*

      Can I ask what you would do/have done in an instance where you find something racist or homophobic?

  11. Prof-elsie*

    Just a comment inspired by #4: speaking as someone on a decluttering mission right now, beware of swag unless you really really know you’ll use it. Otherwise it clogs your junk drawer and is ultimately useless. It’s only a momentary thrill of a freebie and then turns into “why do I have this crap?”

    1. WellRed*

      I rarely take swag. Too much stuff! However, if I lug home 27 pieces of swag (pens, tiny foam mascot) from the trade show I spent 10 hour days at, I’d be irritated if HR had to approve my keeping it. Eff that.

    2. Dr. Pepper*

      This is a really good way to re-frame not being allowed to take swag. Instead of it being a negative thing, it’s a positive thing!

      Of all the swag I’ve ever gotten, I only actually like/use two items- an unexpectedly nice pen and a sturdy plastic cup. Everything else I’ve tossed into a drawer and forgotten about, then been annoyed about having later.

  12. hbc*

    OP2: Since asking about previous salary is so common (ugh), she probably didn’t think anything of telling them, especially when they approached it as a “fair offer” thing. So I would let it go for now, but then the next time you’re going to use her as a reference, give her a heads up that she may be getting a call and also let her know that you’re keeping your former salary confidential.

    1. Darren*

      Doesn’t employment verification typically include salary anyway? Along with job title? If a company is doing appropriate checks they’ll get your salary information from your previous job at some point (if they really want it, it’ll be earlier in the process rather than later).

      Frankly though if they are offering you 25% under what you were previously making they weren’t going to be able to do a competitive offer anyway.

      1. (Former) HR Expat*

        Not usually. Normally we just get confirmation that you worked there. Sometimes they’ll ask you to provide a W2, but that’s not to check how much you made; it’s because the company didn’t respond to the employment verification request. Some verification services like The Work Number will provide an option for employment dates with salary, but I think it costs more.

      2. Kiki*

        It’s something that used to be very common but is now less-so. There are now state-wide and local bans about asking for previous salary because it perpetuates pay disparities. So a lot of verification services now don’t do it because it’s not really worth figuring out the legality. It’s not illegal everywhere, so it still happens, but I think it’s generally falling out of practice, which is good. A lot of people leave their jobs because they’re being underpaid– it doesn’t make sense for employers to base their pay on that information.

      3. hbc*

        Some places that care about your previous salary will ask for verification, which might have been what the manager was thinking. That’s part of the reason I’d give her a pass on it, and just make sure to head it off for next time.

  13. Delta Delta*

    #1 Fun story about getting snooped! I am an early adopter, and have pretty much been on every social media platform. Some I like better than others. For Reasons, my twitter handle is a particular name. I used to work with Evil Bee, who often lamented she didn’t understand twitter. one day she made a comment alluding to something I tweeted (a photo of a sandwich, or something otherwise banal). I just got through through the conversation and moved on because I knew this was her way of trumpeting “I found you on twitter!” Then one day she explosively yelled at me because – and follow this one through – I was in a twitter thread with several people and made a comment relative to the thread. Because of Evil Bee’s deep insecurity and complete misunderstanding of the platform, she assumed I was referring to her. I had to calm her down, show her the thread, teach her how the whole dumb thing works, and show how it was a response.

    So, yeah. Snoop on your coworkers, but I guess so it at your peril because maybe what you see isn’t what you think it is.

    1. valentine*

      I had to calm her down, show her the thread, teach her how the whole dumb thing works, and show how it was a response.
      I would’ve left her to it.

  14. SigneL*

    According to Google, I am Executive Director of (company) that I left TEN YEARS AGO. I still get emails from people wanting to work for said company. Not everything you read will be accurate.

    1. SigneL*

      Also, one person Googled me, found out where I live and looked at Google pictures of the exterior of my house (“nice trees!”), which I thought was creepy. Is this OT? If so, I’m sorry.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I think that’s on topic if their question is what is and is not appropriate–this is definitely an example of what is NOT appropriate! And another example where if they were going to do the creepy thing they should at least have kept it to themselves, mentioning it to you makes it so much creepier.

      2. cmcinnyc*

        No see that’s creepy. I will always Google and check out your website, your CV if that’s online, an article you wrote (why wouldn’t you want people to read an article you wrote!?), an interview of you, your LinkedIn, your Facebook Fan/Professional Page (because you set that up for the express purpose of sharing it with the public, unlike your person FB), and your Twitter & Instagram feeds (ditto–those are expressly and explicitly public). But wow finding your address and using Google Maps to *look* it and the commenting about the trees!?!!?!! I can see how someone would look at how extensively I look people up and think I’d be OK with that but I am SO NOT and I in my field, where everyone does the kind of searching/reading I do, I think 99% would agree that that crosses the line into stalking. And I realize just how amorphous that line may look but it’s very real and I would shun someone who crossed it.

  15. Hiring Mgr*

    #1, Companies do background checks all the time which can reveal far more than anything posted on Facebook, etc. Personally I’d rather have a co-worker tell me my vacation in Paris looked great, than someone checking in on my DUI from 1987 and potentially costing me a job (didn’t happen, fictitious example..)

    1. Colette*

      Sure, but that’s the company, not a random coworker. And there is probably a process for making sure the background check is accurate, which googling someone may not be.

      1. Anon for this, colleagues read here*

        You’d think. We are in the midst of hiring someone who was supposed to start this week. Didn’t pass the background check. Fortunately hiring manager followed up to make sure it was accurate — turns out HR misspelled candidate’s name [insert eyeroll emoji here]. Now they are running a new background check… A fine use of taxpayer dollars.

  16. Roscoe*

    #1 I very much fall into the camp of anything more than a linkedin search is being too nosy. Because nothing else really will matter professionally. Just because someone’s facebook is public (mine isn’t BTW) doesn’t mean you have the right to dig through 10 years of posts, or even 10 days of posts before you met them. I just don’t see how reading anything personal is relevant. Just because its publicly available, doesn’t mean its fair game IMO. Hell, you can look up what someone paid for their house, marriage history, criminal record, all of that. None of which has anything to do with working with them. I guess calling it an invasion of privacy is a lot since it is public, but I just am not down for it.

  17. WellRed*

    LW 2: salary negotiation classes? Save your money, read AAM.
    LW 3: you sound all BEC with this job and company. Parle vous that experience into a better fit.

    1. Krickets*

      I wonder if it’s a free salary workshop provided by a governing agency. The city of Boston offers this for women as a way to empower them and work toward salary equity and parity.

  18. Jennifer*

    Re: pizza

    When I worked remotely, I thought that benefit FAR outweighed things like pizza Fridays or cupcakes in the break room. I think a lot of other remote workers I know would feel the same. Don’t beat yourself up about this.

    Do these people live in town? Can they be invited to come in the office when there is a party? I also think a Starbucks gift card is a good idea and one that won’t break the bank.

    1. OP5*

      None of my remote-only people are in town… one is in the same state, but the others are 3-10 time zones away. Keeps things interesting!

      1. BelleMorte*

        If you opt for gift cards or similar for them, make sure they actually have access to the stores! I received a gift card as a thank you for a job I did in a different state while working remotely, and those stores existed solely in that state (2000 miles away).

        1. Free Meerkats*

          Yeah, my in-laws used to send us a gift card to Harris Teeter for our anniversary every year.

          We live on the west coast.

    2. Kiki*

      Yes! Free food is great and all, but working remotely means I can have pizza in the oven ANYTIME I WANT. There are so many perks: I get to sleep in because I have no commute and don’t have to take the time to look presentable, I can have laundry running throughout the day, I can have my background noise television shows on, etc. It would be worth asking remote workers if there are any incentives they want or maybe see about sending them a basket of free food once in a while, but for the most part, people know what they signed up for when they elected to be remote and are generally quite happy about it.

      1. Jennifer*

        I agree. It would be worth asking the remote employees if they feel shortchanged because they don’t occasionally get to enjoy free food or if they feel the benefits of working from home outweigh getting a slice of pizza or a free cup of coffee every now and then. I have a feeling they will agree with us. If they don’t, then getting suggestions on what perks they’d enjoy is a good idea.

  19. (Former) HR Expat*

    OP2: Layoffs suck, I’m sorry you had to go through that. Unfortunately, there are some shady companies who think it’s ok to lowball you because you’re out of work. I’ve seen it too many times- the hiring manager will say “Oh, they’re not working, so they should be happy to accept $10k below what they were making because they’re desperate.” It’s an awful practice and shame on their HR/Compensation partners who don’t pushback and tell them it’s unacceptable. Keep looking, though. I’m sure you can find a better company for you.

    1. Hiring Mgr*

      Not only is that shady, it’s outright idiotic. Why would a hiring mgr want a new employee to be underpaid? I’ve never had a management role where I was incented to keep someone’s salary lower than it could be.

      When I hire people I want them to get as much as they can and often have to push back internally. Of course roles have budgets, salary ranges, etc. but I’ll never negotiate against my own hire.

  20. Cheese Sticks*

    #2, your previous supervisor should never have given out your salary info. Especially knowing you were underpaid. I think advocating for 5% more is total crap. You may want to re-evaluate this person as a reference. They are not doing you any favors.

    1. WellRed*

      I am astounded by the supervisor’s naivete! I do think, however, that references should have some idea of the positions/levels you are applying for, though I doubt that would have helped in this case.

      1. OP#2*

        It occurs to me that my supervisor hired people herself for many years; likely she asked for applicants’ salaries herself during this time so she probably found the question normal.

  21. M*

    #3. My former boss was sent to “management” or “leadership” trainings several times because she was not the most effective manager. She was a VP and I was a director with a large team but she wasn’t very effective and they thought these would help her, they didn’t. She didn’t see herself as an ineffective manager, but that it was everyone else’s issue. She’s still there and I am gone.

    I heard from another team that they sent someone to these because they needed to spend down their budget otherwise it would be cut the next year.

    This is to say who knows why they are sending you but if you don’t find them effective maybe let them know.

    1. JJ Bittenbinder*

      A lot of the time, people send their employees to training as a substitute for effectively managing performance. You can send someone to management training every other month if you have the budget for it, but unless the manager’s manager is going to reinforce the basic principles and hold them accountable for effective management techniques, not much is going to stick.

  22. Washi*

    CW sexual assault, and hopefully not too off topic

    #1 reminded me of a tricky situation I was in a couple years ago. People in my office occasionally had meetings with another branch in a neighboring city 45 minutes away, and “Jill” from my office had a weird experience with “Mike” from the other office, who asked for her phone number and then texted several times asking her out, despite her making clear that she was not interested.

    A few months later, I had a meeting involving Mike, and got a really bad vibe from him (besides being rude, “ironically” racisist and condescending, he reminded me of an ex who assaulted me) and googled him. The second result was a blog post including his full name and picture with multiple allegations of sexual assault. I had already planned to speak to my manager regarding his comments, but I showed her what I found as well. He was fired soon after, but I don’t know what influence I had vs. his other bad behavior.

    My big question has always been, if at the interviewing stage someone had found that blog post, what to do about it? I mean, anyone could make a blog post and say whatever, but the accusations were pretty shocking and I can’t imagine being comfortable moving forward with a candidate after that.

    1. WellRed*

      I assume the blog was truthful (I tend to believe victims as well as bad vibes), but what if it hadn’t been and he was solely fired on the basis of it? (which doesn’t sound like the case).

      1. Observer*

        Well, a post like that should be something that an employer CAN follow up on. Not necessarily fire / not hire. But check it out.

        1. JJ Bittenbinder*

          I was on the hiring panel for a position recently and one of our top candidates was the subject of some newspaper stories that were a little concerning. It was obviously her, because the articles included pictures.

          So…we asked her about the situation. She spoke about it to our satisfaction, her references were good, and we hired her.

      2. NothingIsLittle*

        He wasn’t fired solely on the basis of it, though, he was fired because he was inappropriate with at least one coworker and was making racist (and otherwise biased) remarks. The blog may have given them a reason to weigh that inappropriateness more heavily, but his actions at work were what got him fired.

        I’m all for not punishing people who have done nothing wrong, but the fix isn’t to present hypotheticals when the situation is cut and dry. In a case like the above, the situation is such that he was out of line regardless and bringing into question the veracity of the blog post only serves to undermine the very legitimate reasons for firing that have been outlined.

        I think if that were to happen at the interviewing stage and the candidate was one of the top picks, it would make sense to have a woman interview them and evaluate if she felt safe with them or was getting weird vibes. I’d also advocate for having final stage candidates meeting the team they’d be working with regardless of the situation, and anyone could bring up a concern at that point as well. Ideally, there would be a stronger candidate and that would be the reason you didn’t move forward with them. Intended coworkers not feeling safe around a candidate would be a good reason not to move forward with them too, though, because you can’t complete your work well in an environment where you’re worried about your safety or where your coworkers avoid you.

        1. Kyrielle*

          This…is true…and yet I hesitate because internalized bias means some people feel less-safe based on protected characteristics. With the blog post in play I can see it, but…if the team has someone who never feels safe around men of certain races, you are going to invite problems – and that person *honestly gets a threatening vibe* from them *because of the internalized bias*…they could be honest, well-meaning, and still a racism problem for your team. (Presumably eventually the pattern would be noticeable, but for that to happen it would need to first have an impact.)

          1. NothingIsLittle*

            You are absolutely right. I’m not really sure how one would solve that without closely examining the comments each team member made, but even then you run into the problem of either not considering a well-founded opinion or of not realizing a coworker you’ve respected has been giving feedback based on an internalized bias. Everyone has a right to feel safe in their workplace, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to discriminate based on race or any other protected class (I’d include sexual orientation and gender identity here, although some states would disagree with me.)

            I’m not sure how that could be resolved, unfortunately, but I still do think it’s valuable to have candidates meet the team they’d work with. Hopefully, if biases ended up coming into play they’d be noticed and discredited.

          2. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

            Or even non-protected characteristics. Being a 250 lb giant hunk of muscle isn’t protected, but it certainly wouldn’t be fair not to hire him based on that characteristic. And he’s very likely to scare anybody prone to being nervous.

  23. Amethystmoon*

    #1 Beware of finding people with similar names as your co-workers, even living in the same state or same metro area. You may confuse the information with your co-worker, when it could be someone else. Before I made my phone number private, I used to get calls all the time for people with the same first & last name as me. (My real first name was popular during a certain time, and last name is also quite common in my state.)

    1. Michelle*

      This happened to my husband as well, back when we all had landlines. There are several people with the same name in our area and he’s gotten numerous calls from parents wanting to know how to sign their child up for the baseball team or does he work on vehicles on the weekend, etc.

      So definitely beware if the coworker you are googling has a common name.

    2. CatCat*

      Yep, I share the exact same first name and uncommon last name with several other people in the world. One is in my same field of work! So if you google my name and my profession, you will get info about that other person.

      1. cmcinnyc*

        I am so grateful to my international namesakes for being so obviously in totally different fields. But they all seem to be doing cool stuff so I get a little reflected glory (an architect, a model, a surgeon).

    3. LCL*

      Yes. I have a common name. I have a google alert for my name. The alerts make it appear I am leading a life of crime all around the US.

    4. Decima Dewey*

      In a large city, there may be more than one Fergus Ferguson. We’re taught to do a Boolean search (name and street address, for example), to look up a card number when a patron calls to reserve a book and doesn’t have their library card in front of them. Of course that doesn’t help when Fergus hasn’t updated his address in the database, or Fergusina forgets to mention she’s now Fergusina Ferguson-Gerhardt now.

  24. MCMonkeyBean*

    I may have accidentally stumbled on my now-husband’s old live journal when we were in college lol. I looked up his AIM screen name because I didn’t know what it meant and if it was a reference to something I wanted to know what it was so he would think I was cool. It was apparently a reference so obscure and specific that all the search results were stuff related to his username on various sites.

    1. Willis*

      I did the exact same thing with an ex-boyfriend’s username from an online dating app. Googled it just to find out what it was a reference to, and ended up with his posts and profile on Reddit and a ton of other sites. I still have no idea what it was referencing!

  25. Watermelon M*

    Maybe this has been answered before… but in regards to taking something on your lunch break, what about after work, but on a work trip? It was around 7pm, a group of us went to a casino when meetings were done, and one of us won a bunch of money from slots! One employee wondered if this was something we had to disclose since they won it on a work trip, but another said it was after hours so it’s our own time. Hmm.

    1. WellRed*

      There actually was a letter here from a writer who went to Vegas on a work trip and won $ in the casino (on her own time, with her own $). She worked at a nonprofit and her boss felt she should donate it to the cause.

      The answer was nope!

      1. Kathleen_A*

        The answer is definitely “nope.” And I say that as someone who isn’t even a gambler, so it’s very unlikely that it would affect me personally.

  26. Just Wondering*

    I’m interviewing now and just plain disgusted at how far this really big company has gone to get my salary history. I tried deflecting, but it hasn’t worked. My first interview with the HR recruiter I was asked about it and then I was REQUIRED to fill in the data in two online forms (with strict admonishment that I was under penalty of fraud if I answered incorrectly). As another person who does not live or work in a protected state, I find this annoying.

    I’m going to be very curious what their offer will be, as the recruiter heavily pitched “total compensation” (base pay + bonus) vs. a stronger base pay. While the company has a strong record for these bonuses, I don’t believe my base pay should be less than what I would earn elsewhere. Bonuses are for good performance, IMHO.

      1. Eliza*

        There’s such a thing as a civil fraud case, so in theory they could sue over it, I suppose. I doubt they actually do.

        1. Brett*

          And the injury would be having to pay someone what they are worth instead of low balling them in a potentially discriminatory fashion based on their previous pay?

    1. Brett*

      Could be worse… the contractor I worked for when I left the public sector looked up my salary on the local newspaper’s public data site after I warned them not to use my previous salary to evaluate my offer.

  27. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    We have done inexpensive promo gifts and stuff other surprise goodies in our product packages for promotional reasons as well. I’ve had plenty of clients have to return them and be marked “no gifts” on our end. So I agree to ask at least.

    Meanwhile my whole career I’ve gotten loads of branded swag and lunches because I deal with logistics companies. My bosses have always been cool with me keeping or redistributing as I see fit. But we’re privately owned without any contracts involved and no conflicts of interest. They know I’ll use the best service with the best negotiated prices.

    I would just ask first. I know doctors can’t take swag from pharmaceutical reps anymore for instance. Not even pens that used to be a big one. Signing forms at the front desk was always stocked with pens from reps years ago. Not so much anymore with the new rules in place at most clinics.

  28. Friday afternoon fever*

    Suggestion: don’t do anything you’d categorize as “snooping.” What’s your motivation? If it’s not directly related to health and safety, mind your business.

    1. Friday afternoon fever*

      Looking at a coworker’s LinkedIn is not snooping. It’s a social media network meant for work purposes and it tells you who’s seen your profile. Anything you could call “research” is an overstep.

          1. Roscoe*

            I feel like your person social media being a part of your work is more rare than not. In some industries, sure. But most people, its not

  29. StressedButOkay*

    OP5, I work for a pretty small charity, so it’s probably not a surprise to hear that when us remote folks miss something like free food, we don’t get something – even occasionally – sent to make up for it. Honestly, the only times I’ve ever felt bummed by it have been the rare times that it’s been a big thank you thing that they kept secret and, had I known, I would have come in for.

    Otherwise, working from home, for me, generally trumps free food in the office!

    So if your remote workers are ever by chance going to be in the office, I’d suggest maybe trying to rotate pizza/snack day for when they’re there, at least every once in a while. Or making an announcement enough in advance that if someone wants to come in for the free food, they can swap around their schedules.

    I mean, no one’s going to argue with free Grubhub or a gift card occasionally and, trust me, it’s really awesome that you’re thinking of them but most of them have probably weighed the perks of being in the office against the perks of being remote and know that sometimes, they’ll miss out on the fun stuff of being in the office.

    While they wear comfy clothes at home and have 0 commute. :D

  30. Jaybeetee*

    When I worked as a virtual assistant back in 2013, for Administrative Professionals Day we were all told to go out and buy ourselves lunch, submit the receipt (scan+email), and the company would e-transfer us $10. Yeah, cumbersome and I think for some reason, I never did submit the receipt. But all of six years ago, that was before UberEats, I don’t think online gift cards for places like Starbucks were that common yet (at least not in Canada), etc. These days, I imagine it’s pretty easy to just fire everyone off some kind of food-related gift cert. The bigger problem, just as with dealing with dietary needs on-site, would be finding something that everyone can use/like.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I only recently found out that you can send e-gift cards for Starbucks. Along with rechargeable accounts. It’s seriously been a game changer like that!

      I would cringe so hard at telling someone that we’d reimburse them for lunch as a “perk” but I see the thought behind it at least. Gifts aren’t supposed to cost you money even for a moment in my opinion. It’s up there with giving out coupons for buy one get one in company gift bags for the holidays.

  31. kristinyc*

    For #5 – I have a remote worker on my team who’s in another state. One time we were having a cupcake party to celebrate the completion of a huge multi-year project that he had played a significant role in (and had been hired for the project). I looked online and saw that there was an Insomnia Cookies near him, so I ordered some to be delivered to him a few minutes before the party. I also brought my laptop to the party and called him on Skype so he could “hang out” with everyone (which isn’t really normally how we handle remote people – usually we just do audio calls). He felt included and loved it.

  32. Effective Immediately*

    Fun story of when snooping can actually go right: after I departed my last job, the person who replaced me had never done that type of work and was really struggling. So they interviewed and hired a candidate for a licensed position (not a lawyer, but like that—something you can’t do without being authorized by a licensing body to do it). This person didn’t know (because: seriously unqualified for the role) that they were supposed to obtain a copy of proof of said credential upon hiring this person.

    Well, turns out no one bothered to check this person’s credentials (bad) or do a thorough background check or even passing Google (very bad), because one entry level staff member took it upon themselves to do some light Googling and turns out this person’s credential was suspended several times and ultimately revoked. So they worked (and billed for services) for *months* under a revoked license, until an entry-level staff member snooped and uncovered the truth.

    Snooping: sometimes it’s a grey area (except paid background checks, that’s not ok)

    1. Kiki*

      Yes! Once I Googled someone (not to be creepy, he set up a meeting with me and I wanted to see which office he worked so I could plan accordingly) and the first five results were all about him being fired from his last job for installing cameras in the women’s restrooms (his mugshot was included, so it was easy to verify it was him). He was a temp/contract worker hired from a service, so I don’t know who was supposed to do a background check, but yeah, the ball was dropped multiple times.

      There’s definitely a line on how deep you go and even if you don’t cross that line, you should never mention your snooping UNLESS you find out something genuinely relevant to HR.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I can honestly say the only time we’ve ever googled someone is after they’ve given us reason to.

      Such reasons are “they’re acting creepy or setting off that gut check response” [another comment above here goes into an account of how their creep-radar went off and googling confirmed suspicions], they mention something in passing that makes you go “Wait, what?!” [we did this when someone casually mentioned their time in jail, we didn’t do background checks but got curious what it was, it was not something that was outrageous but we wished we hadn’t], when someone is acting sketchy or goes missing for awhile without explanation.

      1. Jamie*

        Those reviews are up there with the memos from Mike at Tiger Oil.

        If the internet only existed for those two things it would be worth it.

  33. Jellybean*

    Letter #1: Here’s a golden rule: “Does it have a purpose that I would feel okay saying to the person and/or my boss”?

    – “I wanted to connect to them on LinkedIn”.
    – “They were new to our team but too busy to chat, so I checked out their LinkedIn”.
    – “They left the company and emailed our team their private Facebook name for post-work connections”
    – “They talked about their food blog at a staff meeting and I wanted to check it out!” (this one is real for me)

    I would feel comfortable saying ^ in front of them and our boss, so it makes sense.

    Things that you would *not* feel comfortable saying? That’s a sign you’re probably being a plain ‘ole snoop. This is a touchy issue for me. I was trained as a police dispatcher and it was a criminal offense to snoop into people’s files without a specific purpose. Public info or not, people should feel comfortable knowing that they’re not being looked at like an animal at the zoo, even if it’s open info. There’s a difference.

    1. Jellybean*

      If you google Jellybean Uniqueforeignname, you’ll see someone with an identical name who was part of a public police investigation. Obviously, I had nothing to do with this, but obviously I have to disclose these at HR background checks because it will come up. That’s purposeful.

      I would feel quite violated if random Jane/John looked me up on Google, made an assumption, probably thought it *wasn’t* me, but still has that awkward look when I’m around, iykwim? If you’re not part of the required search/disclosure, please, be mindful that snooping is really about satisfying your own curiosity rather than helping. Call it what it is, right?

    2. Detective Right-All-The-Time*

      I have snooped WITH my boss to find an instagram account dedicated to our coworker’s llama. Literally llama. We heard “Llama instagram” and immediately tried to find it together.

  34. TootsNYC*

    What is an acceptable amount of internet research/snooping around on new coworkers?

    Should it be limited to anything on or linked to their LinkedIn profile? Or anything that comes up in a google search under their name? Or is even that an overstep of boundaries?

    The existing rules on eavesdropping are applicable here.

    The error lies in when you mention it to them (or to anybody, really, but especially to them).

    So google all you want. But don’t let on that you’ve done so.
    Eavesdrop all you’d like–never indicate that you listened, not then and not later. Even if it’s a public place.

    1. Sparkly Librarian*

      Agreed. I come from a nosy profession, but we also value discretion.

      The coworker who wanted to know how old I was (which I declined to answer in person) could’ve done a quick Google search and come up with the answer. That they asked me in person, then asked another coworker after I demurred, and made them LOOK IT UP IN THE PATRON DATABASE, then TAUNTED ME WITH THE INFORMATION, led to some unpleasant consequences.

    2. Mandy*

      Completely agree with this. Snooping isn’t a big deal. But you need to keep it quiet. Snooping and then telling people about it is where it gets weird and creepy.

  35. Decoy44*

    OP#1, I have always been of the opinion that unless someone else’s immediate physical well-being in threatened, it’s always best to mind your own business. Nosy people are the worst.

  36. WantonSeedStitch*

    OP #1: a simple rule of thumb might be, “if it would make you uncomfortable to know a coworker was looking at this kind of information on YOU, you shouldn’t look a that kind of information on THEM.”

  37. Secret Identity*

    You know, on the whole googling coworkers thing, it seems like there are two main opinions. Those who are saying if you put it out there, it’s public and, basically, fair game and you’re naive if you expect otherwise and then those who are saying you should still expect some things to remain private even if you’ve “put it out there” because we shouldn’t be googling coworkers.
    I think those that are saying we shouldn’t be googling coworkers are probably right, but it’s really not a question of should vs. shouldn’t, but will vs. won’t. Maybe John shouldn’t be googling me, his coworker, but will he? Maybe he will, maybe he won’t. I believe that I have to proceed on the assumption that he will. I believe that everything I put out on the internet, no matter how much care I take to protect it, can probably be found and traced to me if the right people were looking for it. It’s not how it should be, but it’s how it is.
    With that said, I don’t think googling someone is a big deal, honestly. I agree with Alison that if I’m reading someone’s LiveJournal from 1998 that’s too far, but a google search? I think that’s acceptable, even if it’s for curiosity’s sake and not for any specific professional reason. And, sure, I could just ask instead of googling, but I’m pretty socially awkward and I think I would just come across as weirdly interrogating someone if I tried that.
    On a side note – what happened to the blue line on the right side of a comment that shows it’s a new comment since you last refreshed? Mine have all disappeared so I can’t see what’s new and what’s not, so I’m wading through comments I’ve already read.

    1. TootsNYC*

      this is an interesting thought, especially in light of the original letter.

      if you put it out there

      In this case, our OP didn’t put it out there. She didn’t write on her blog that she’d gotten arrested.

      So, if someone puts an early job on their LinkedIn, I think it would be a little weird but OK if a new colleague said, “Oh, I was looking at your LinkedIn, and you worked at Company X years ago. What was that like?”

      Or “I ran across your blog, and I loved your story about the frog.”

      And of course, it would be sort of rude to say “I ran across your storya bout the frog, and I thought you were a jerk.”

      And if they don’t use their own name, I think it’s not cool to bring it up, even if you’re sure that u/frogsarestupid is your colleague.

      But if they put it out there, with their own name, it’s a little weird but not that weird.

      1. a1*

        In the cases where you/she/we/whomever didn’t “put it out there” all the examples given are of public information. And in those cases, these were all public before the internet: newpaper articles, magazine articles, county records, even name and address. Now with the advent of the internet, it is included in how information is disseminated publicly. You don’t like your county tax assessor info being public? It always was. The internet didn’t make it public, it’s just another outlet to access it. You don’t like college articles being public? They always were. End up in a new story? It was public when it aired, it’s still public now. Just because we did things differently before the internet doesn’t mean this information was less public.

    2. Autumnheart*

      In the case of the LW whose coworker actually confronted her with information and expected her to explain herself…that was super over the line. Looking up public information is fine, but it wasn’t fine for him to overstep the boundaries of his relationship and expect an inappropriate level of disclosure. Yuck.

      I have a colleague who, when you googled her name (which was distinctive), was an entire page of results about how her former employer was suing her for breach of contract. There was no inappropriate disclosure of information involved. But just because the information available about a person isn’t *flattering* doesn’t make it inappropriate, or a violation of privacy. Nonetheless, the consequences of our actions have a greater impact than it used to, and it’s not a bad idea to keep that firmly in mind.

  38. Jamie*

    These are small items that almost certainly fall beneath any “you can’t accept/must report gifts of over $X” rules your company has (although you can check that to be sure).

    Thank you for being the voice of reason…says someone who worked at a company where people were chastised for waiting until the vendor left the building before turning in the coffee cup or (and I am not kidding) emery board.

    Because we all covet the prestigious swag that is a emory board with a staffing agency logo on it.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I remember your story about the emery board! It still angers me irrationally because of how over the top it is.

    2. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I’m a children’s librarian. I used to work for a city so extreme in their enforcement of the gift policy that I had to fill out the disclosure form when a child drew me a picture. It was bananas.

  39. Meet Me in Montauk*

    #5 – agreed free food is good! Gift cards/cash for it I’m sure will go down well.

    I used to work in the head office of a large company, the head office had about 100 staff and we had several smaller regional offices dotted across the country – but only about 10 staff based across those. When head office people brought in food/sweets to share they’d use the ‘All Staff’ email list as there was no head office only list, and send a note saying ‘chocolate in the kitchen’ etc. This became a bugbear of the regional staff as obviously they couldn’t partake, but would get the email regardless. One person in particular got very angry about it and claimed it was a way of head office excluding regional staff.

    She eventually resigned, and on her last day she sent an email to the All Staff list to say there were chocolates and sweets in the kitchen…but not the head office one, even though she was spending her last day there. Turns out she had mailed each regional office a small box of treats for her last day, at her personal expense! And she took great delight in explaining that head office were not included as they always got treats, so it was their turn to miss out.

  40. Nicki Name*

    For #1, I think the key questions are “Is it business-related?” and “Is it clearly intended as public knowledge?”

    So reading LinkedIn profiles is fine because that is what the person *wants* people to know about them professionally. If they’re in tech and they mention they work on open-source projects, it’s totally fine to look them up on GitHub and see what they’ve done. Adapt as appropriate to your industry.

  41. Chrome*

    Putting aside the issue of intentions with the googling question, I want to caution people to be careful about what they do with the information they find. We recently hired an HR gal that I was told was roughly my age and from my hometown, but wouldn’t be starting for another couple weeks. Huh, I thought, I wonder if we went to high school together! I googled her–using first, middle, and last name, all of which were fairly unique.

    First page of results was a woman from my hometown with those same three names that had recently done prison time for money laundering, fraud, identity theft, etc. If I’d stopped there and started spreading rumors, I could have done some terrible damage to her reputation. Instead I googled more in-depth and found it was a women twenty years our senior who had done these things. Probably some sort of relative of the HR gal, but none of my business and certainly not worth alerting anyone about. And no, we didn’t go to high school together.

    I don’t have any moral concerns with googling people, or with others googling me. I think it’s functionally little different than asking your neighbor if they know anything about the new people moving in across the street. It’s natural to be curious about new people. But if you’re going to do it, you need to be very careful not to spread gossip–at the risk of damaging their reputation, and your own.

  42. melicopter*

    #1 is fair game. And I say this as someone who (1) doesn’t google coworkers, and (2) wouldn’t like coworkers to google me.

    Look, we live in a precarious time. Go read Wired’s recent article about Google. Having the wrong opinions about the wrong coworker might result in rather significant harassment and abuse. Probability goes up if you’re in some minority categories – particularly WoC and QPOC. If a coworker has racist rants on their LiveJournal, that may, in fact, be a safety issue. If people are willing to post horrible opinions on public platforms (even if personal platforms), that’s absolutely something useful for one to know at work. It means these people don’t even have the common sense to hide how horrible they are.

  43. Tavie*

    I manage a small team – 2 people in the office I work out of, and one remote employee who works out of the office in another state. Whenever I treat the in-office team to lunch, I always send a Grubhub gift card to our remote team member, to make sure she feels included. It’s usually for more than I’m spending on each person for the lunch, so she gets a little something extra to make up for the fact that she can’t actually be present with the rest of the team.

    It’s not perfect, but it helps.

  44. drpuma*

    OP5, in addition to food there is always the gift of time. I wonder if it would work for you to have everyone Skype in for a 2 or 3pm meeting that’s basically just you telling them how awesome they are, and then giving everyone everywhere the rest of the afternoon off, no PTO usage necessary.

  45. Red Fraggle*

    #1: About a decade ago some coworkers and I decided to Google each other. Everyone was in on it, and it was a hilarious, harmless few minutes of fun… until a old newspaper article featuring my boss’ name turned up. I thought, “Oh, what cool community thing did Boss Lady ended up in the paper for?” and clicked.

    Instead, I found out that the boss’ daughter had been viciously murdered by her husband, and just what they could print in the paper was complete nightmare fuel. “Matter of public record” be damned, this was painful and personal and my boss would be absolutely mortified to know that anyone could read it. (She was older and didn’t quite understand the internet.)

    That instantly cured me of Googling people out of idle curiosity, especially coworkers that I have to see every day. Never again.

  46. MatKnifeNinja*

    I know people who made trolling through the net to find out stuff an Olympic level sport.

    My niece has friends, who’s parents do back ground checks if they send kid over to your place. (on the other parents). People do on teachers, dates, is totally insane.

    An the ever popular sex offender check.

    It costs money and time, and I don’t have either. I just assume people with snoopy curiosity do it on me. I have had two bosses snoop around social media looking if I have a presence. I have none, and my one account goes by a different name.

    My default is people are hunting (Why? Why would they bother?), and hope no one is going $50 deep for a check.

  47. AVP*

    for #5, I work for a fully remote team and the CEO has all of our venmo accounts. Every once in a while, or if we’ve had a rough week, we’ll get a surprise $10 labeled “cocktail funds” or “coffee for morale” or something like that. It works!

  48. LizardOfOdds*

    LW3: Your frustration comes through in your letter, and I wonder if that also comes through to your leaders — which could lead to a perception that you aren’t capable, or that you aren’t the type of leader they want in the organization. That’s a hard message to deliver as a manager, and I’ve seen that feedback delivered passively via “training assignments” more times than I can count, unfortunately. I think Alison’s recommendations are wise here, and this is a good moment to demonstrate curiosity rather than getting defensive or trying to prove yourself. It’s totally possible that this organization is just a poor fit, but maybe there’s some feedback you can learn from in this crappy experience, too.

  49. Zipzap*

    Re #1 – I know this is arguable, but in my opinion, any public info about someone is fair game to look up. HOWEVER, it’s not appropriate to talk to the person about it, to tell other coworkers about it or to use the info against the coworker. Whatever you find out that’s beyond a Linked-In search, keep it completely to yourself. If you don’t think you can do that, then don’t search. If you accidentally comment about someone’s college trip to Bali that they posted about on Facebook 5 years ago, and if they know they never mentioned that trip to you, they will be seriously creeped out, and it will be mighty awkward working with them.

  50. Cedrus Libani*

    On the line between creepy and non-creepy internet searches: personally, I think a basic search is fine. Anything that requires detective work will make people wonder about your motivations. What that LW’s coworker did (gee, it would be a shame if the whole office found out you got arrested…) was worse. It was basically attempted blackmail, which is never fine, even if the incident was front page news.

    I’ve Googled people. And I know I’ve been Googled by coworkers, because I’m (mildly) internet famous through a hobby; everywhere I’ve worked, people knew about this when I arrived, and it wasn’t me that told them. I’ve never been bothered by this. In the LW’s shoes, I’d be furious, but not because of the search itself.

  51. Krickets*

    Letter #2: Sorry, OP, you had to go through that. I love AAM’s script for this.

    I knew of someone where their prior immigration status (think F-1 to OPT) was disclosed by a prev. manager to the hiring manager during reference checking. It was highly unnecessary and the person already disclosed that they didn’t need sponsorship now or ever on their application. This resulted in a weird exchange with the hiring manager, thankfully who was understanding, but definitely left a bitter taste about asking prev. manager for reference moving forward. AAM’s script would also be helpful during a time like this.

    Sigh. It bewilders me why some people think it’s ok to disclose really private professional and personal information sometimes…

  52. Stynx*

    #1: A related situation. So, I googled a coworker with a more senior title than me. We started around the same time. Found out she actually has less experience than me (both in the industry and in general), and based on my experience working with her so far, she’s not particularly smarter or more knowledgeable or more anything than me. To put it bluntly, she lucked out when she got her job, and the opposite happened to me.

    I’ve been upset about this since I learned about that fact, but I do want to emphasize that she’s a wonderful human being and I love her. Still, at a minimum, I feel like I deserve her title (it could really jumpstart my career), if not her pay. What can I do to make myself less upset about this, and what can I say to my boss in the near future in a way that doesn’t throw her under the bus?

  53. Washed Out Data Analyst*

    #5 – We have a lot of remote team members. Once a quarter, we have a budget for a catered team lunch. For remote employees, they can order food and expense it with the company, which would be part of the budget.

  54. Washed Out Data Analyst*

    I’ve never been tempted to Google coworkers, but I have Googled dates. I don’t think there is anything wrong with Googling (since it’s public info, and employers Google job candidates not infrequently), but obviously don’t share that you did that! Especially if you find something embarassing or unflattering about the person.

  55. Kira*

    Remote worker here.

    I was really touched when my main office sent me my favorite candy bar and a gift card earlier in the year. They organize a ton of social after-hours type events for on-site employees – so getting something special made me feel like I had my own alternate way to celebrate even though I’m not there.

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