employee quit over a coworker’s email, wiping down my keyboard as soon as someone else uses it, and more

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

1. My employee misdirected an email criticizing her problem coworker — who saw it and quit

I have two direct reports who can’t stand each other but they’ve managed to be civil and professional. Sansa is a mid-top performer with a consistently good work product. She’s not a superstar but she is dependable. Dany is tempermental, doesn’t always listen to peers, and has created problems for her teammates when her part of projects either missed the mark or missed the deadline. Dany’s on a PIP for performance issues but has been making an effort to improve.

Last week, Sansa had apparently had enough and fired off an email to a friend at work listing all of Dany’s shortcomings. She intended to vent to a friend but she sent the email to Dany. Dany, understandably hurt, came in the next day and quit. While there’s a part of me that’s glad Dany’s gone (she was difficult to manage and struggled to get along with anyone), she was leading a critical project with a tight deadline. And now the project will be delayed. And I’m asking myself if there should be consequences for Sansa. On one hand, she was just venting and didn’t intend for Dany to see the email. But on the other, her actions have created a serious business issue. She seems to alternate between being upset that this happened and celebrating that Dany’s gone.

How long did the problems with Dany go on, and how severe were they? If the problems were serious and had been allowed to drag on, there’s a point where it’s not reasonable to expect endless patience from her coworkers (particularly if “temperamental” means rude or difficult to deal with) and where you can’t in good conscience hold it against Sansa that she got fed up. If that was the case, you can have a conversation with her where you say you understand her frustration and acknowledge the situation was allowed to drag on for too long, but she also cannot send inflammatory emails like that to colleagues, nor can she “celebrate” that Dany is gone. But if management inaction is responsible for Sansa being pushed to this point, I wouldn’t do more than that, unless there’s a larger pattern with Sansa’s judgment.

On the other hand, if you addressed the problems quickly and were successfully minimizing the impact on Sansa and others, then it’s a more serious conversation about how to handle frustrations at work, why trash-talking a colleague in a work email isn’t okay, and your concerns about her discretion and judgment.

You asked about consequences for Sansa so I’m not sure if you had something more severe in mind, but in many (even most) cases, just having a direct conversation with appropriate seriousness is what creates accountability and reinforces how you want people to operate, while still treating them like adults. (That said, if she displays similarly bad judgment a second time, you’d escalate the seriousness of your response — you don’t just have the same conversation over and over.)

2. Is it rude to wipe down my keyboard as soon as someone else uses it?

I work in a standard cube-based open office environment. To stay as healthy as possible during the winter, I wash my hands, am careful about touching my face, all the standard stuff. When I have a tech issue with my computer (which is, sadly, a couple times a month), the help desk rep comes over to my desk to fix it. When s/he leaves, I do a quick disinfectant wipe of my keyboard and mouse, just because that’s a primary way germs are spread.

Could it be perceived as rude to see me wiping my keyboard down as soon as someone had used it and walked away? Or is this pretty standard / accepted office behavior?

I don’t think most people will see it as rude — they’ll just think you’re more obsessed with germs than most people — but it’s possible someone one day could think you’re specifically grossed out by them. So if you want to play it safe, an easy way is to make a point of owning the behavior — like saying, “I’m a freak about wiping down my keyboard after anyone touches it in flu season.”

3. Former employee is lying about her work time with my company to cover up her time in jail

A couple years ago, I managed an employee who was arrested at work for stealing from a former employer, among other charges. She was put in jail for a considerable amount of time.

She is apparently now out, because I received her resume. I’m no longer at the previous company. I did not consider her, but I noticed that the start date she listed with the company where I managed her precedes the date the company even opened (I imagine to cover her employment when she was working for the company she stole from) and extends a few months from the time she, um, left to fulfill her other obligations.

Her resume lists no employer contacts and she does not list references. I have a friend who noticed my former company on the resume and called me to find out what I knew. The field I work in is fairly small and I anticipate more calls like this. What is the appropriate response? Do I say simply she would not be eligible for rehire? Do I mention that I have seen her resume and it is not entirely accurate? Do I mention that I saw her arrested for theft from her employer or even tell them to make sure they do background checks?

If you don’t want to get into all the details, it’s fine to say, “She would not be eligible for re-hire, she falsified her dates of employment with us on her resume, and I strongly suggest you do a complete background check if you consider her.” That’s going to get the point across.

But it’s also okay to explain the whole story, as long as you stick to facts that you know for sure. (For example, if you just heard through the rumor mill that she was arrested but don’t know that for sure, you’d want to be careful not to state it as certain fact.) You’re allowed to give truthful information in response to this kind of query, even when it’s extremely negative.

What I wouldn’t do is just say, “Her resume isn’t entirely accurate.” That’s such a downplaying of the real situation that people are likely to wonder later why you weren’t more forthcoming, especially given the small field.

4. Can I refuse to participate in a work investigation?

A coworker shared with me that she complained to management about our shared supervisor. To make a long story short, she is saying that our supervisor creates a toxic work environment. My coworker told me that they will be doing an investigation, and she thinks I will be asked to participate in some way. I would rather not do so because while there are definitely challenges, I have a decent working relationship with our supervisor. Can I decline to participate?

If your workplace is doing an investigation and asks you for input, declining to participate at all risks coming across as sort of obstructionist. But if you don’t believe there are serious problems, you can say that! It’s also okay to say, “I see what Jane is talking about, but it’s not something I’ve experienced personally” or “I don’t feel comfortable commenting because (reason).” And if the reason you don’t want to comment is that you fear retaliation in some way, you can say that! “I’m concerned my relationship with my manager would be impacted if I comment, and I’m not comfortable risking that” can be an important thing for investigators to hear, because it tells them they have work to do in ensuring that doesn’t happen, and that the manager might have given people reason to feel that way.

5. How should I thank my references?

I have been on the job hunt for the past six months. At the beginning of my search I contacted old bosses, asked for references, and clarified that the search might take a few months due to me changing fields. They all said yes and were happy to give me references.

There have been one or two jobs that I’ve almost gotten and my references have been contacted a handful of times. I’ve now been recruited for an awesome job that I start in two weeks, which will double my salary. When talking to my recruiter and HR reps, my references were stellar and distinguished me from other candidates. I have no reason to believe they embellished their opinions of me.

I’m wondering now, how do I thank my references? Handwritten card, email, flowers, sky writing? I’m genuinely so thankful for the amazing ladies who have helped me and I want them to know, but I also don’t want to overwhelm them with gratitude. Also, when should I send them the thank-you note? After I start or right now?

Not flowers — that’s too close to “you did me a special favor,” when really, giving references is part of the job when you’re a manager, and most managers are delighted to do it for a truly good employee. Send a thoughtful, personal note letting them know you got the job and how excited you are about it, and perhaps something about how much you appreciated working with them (even better if you can mention something specific you learned from them that you’re carrying forward in your career). Those are often treasured long after flowers wilt.

It can be email or it can be handwritten, and no need to wait until you start the job — you can send it now!

{ 315 comments… read them below }

  1. Tracey*

    I honestly wouldn’t be so sure Sansa sent the email by accident. In any event you have to mitigate the project impacted even if it means you step in.

    1. MCL*

      Possible, I suppose, but I think it’s unlikely. How was Sansa to predict that Dany would quit, rather than the email further souring their relationship?

      1. Jdc*

        This is why when i send a bitchy email i don’t type the recipient in until the end and I look at it carefully.

        1. Shad*

          Honestly, unless I’m directly replying, I don’t fill in the recipient fields until the body, subject, and any attachments have been checked under any circumstances—no recipient means I can’t accidentally hit send on half an email! (And for direct replies, I check the recipients first thing, especially if I’m replying to more than one but not all).
          But this is especially important for venting emails, which are often satisfied by just writing without sending anywhere!

          1. Antilles*

            I grew up in the 90s and early 2000s when the Internet and computers were first becoming standard business practice and this was actually a piece of advice they hammered into our heads:
            The very last thing you do is adding email addresses to the send/to/CC boxes – you should have figured out who you’re sending it to much earlier (since the audience affects your tone, description, etc), but you don’t actually add the addresses until you’re completely done and ready to send the email to the ether. Just to avoid sending an email half-finished or in a hurry or whatever; adding addresses at the end forces you to take an extra 30 seconds to add things through and give one final “am I sure this is good?” thought while you’re going through the clicks.

          2. Helena1*

            See, I do it the other way around. Make absolutely 100% sure I have the recipients in right before I even consider writing anything down. Then I have all the time I’m composing the email to double check and spot any sneaky CCs.

            1. Candi*

              I make sure I have them -then stick them on a virtual sticky note or Notepad, write the email, then stick them back in the “to” box.

              Blame a few emails sent without necessary attachments for that. For some reason, swapping to the other doc to get the addresses reminds me to double check.

      1. Ashley*

        Be careful sending it from your work account. Putting it back in writing at all cares dangers but it is more dangerous on a company systems.

    2. Arctic*

      It is vastly more likely that the email would make the work situation worse than make Dany quit. Why would Sansa do that?

    3. boo bot*

      Yeah, I wondered this too. I definitely believe it’s 100% possible it was an accident, but there’s something about the conveniently packaged list of all Dany’s shortcomings, paired with visibly celebrating her departure, that makes me give Sansa the side-eye a bit.

      I don’t think there’s really anything the OP can do either way (even if Sansa did it on purpose, it’s not really provable) but it would probably bug me a little.

    4. Uranus Wars*

      As someone who has done this, it is easier than you think, especially with the auto-fill function. That person is on your mind, you hit send and..well, it’s too late.

      Kinda like when your realize you’ve locked your keys in your car just as you’ve let go of the handle.

      1. Jooge*

        Ugh, I did this on gchat about a coworker. I was venting and clicked on their name to start the chat instead of the intended recipient (my friend). It was awful, but once I realized what I had done, I walked to the coworker’s office, immediately explained what happened and genuinely apologized. We then talked through what the issues were. The coworker was a little salty to me for awhile, but we got past it. It would take a *very* ballsy person to do what Sansa did intentionally.

        1. Wing Leader*

          You going over there to apologize in person was pretty ballsy too, haha. But you did the right thing and I’m glad you owned your mistake. Sounds like the best thing you could have done.

        2. Candi*

          Sincere congratulations on handling it very maturely. I’m glad they handled it well, too. Hopefully your working relationship got better after the “salty” period.

      2. Goliath Corp.*

        The manager who hired me for my job did this — she was writing to her boss about wanting to bring me in for a second interview, and sent it to me instead. Thankfully it was all positive things!

    5. JSPA*

      Even if not intentional, there’s the risk that was happened once by accident could happen again, on purpose.

      I mean…it worked, as far as Sansa is concerned. Plus, Sansa doesn’t have enough self-control to squelch outward exhibitions of (admittedly understandable) joy. So there does need to be push-back, lest Sansa pat themselves on the back for “helping you deal with a problem faster and more effectively” and decide that this is actually a useful tool. (It’s also unclear whether Sansa’s upset that the email went to Dany and upset Dany, or is upset to be known as The Person Who Sent That E-Mail. (Especially if the PIP was working, and Sansa decided that a somewhat improved Dany was not a good outcome, compared to Dany, gone.)

      I’d go in with, “that was uncharacteristically careless / this outcome wasted the considerable time and effort people at a higher pay-grade had exercised, to resolve the issue in a way that would leave all parties better off, and it created a staffing crisis at a particularly inopportune moment, which we are not quite ready to fill / I don’t begrudge you your internal reactions, but your self-flagelation and your celebrations over Dany leaving are self indulgent and dramatic, and they need to stop as of this conversation.”

      If Sansa pushes back with, “but Dany always / you never,” the short answer is, “Do you think we need more Dany-style behavior in the office?”

      Mind you, the PIP (and the project?) were probably not immaterial in Dany’s decision to go. One email like that, in the context of a great job and approving boss, isn’t automatically going to send someone fleeing.

    6. Uldi*

      It’s really easy to do when writing an angry, frustrated email to a coworker friend. You’re more focused on venting the anger than carefully checking to make sure that you haven’t accidentally CC’d the source of that frustration and anger.

  2. AcademiaNut*

    For #1 – in addition to Alison’s first paragraph, I would say that from the outside, a situation where a difficult employee is being dealt with via PIP and progressive actions leading to potential firing, and where a difficult employee is being allowed to behave badly by indifferent management can look pretty much the same up until they either improve or are fired.

    If Sansa has had an extended stretch of dealing with an unpleasant colleague who is bad at her job and makes Sansa job harder and less pleasant to be at, I think I’d have a talk with her about professional communication standards (including the inappropriateness of gloating), but no more than that.

    1. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yeah, Sansa might feel (rightly or wrongly) that LW is as much at fault as Dany because LW let it go on for too long, or has been content to make Sansa absorb a lot of the trouble that Dany was causing. In that case, it’s going to come across as “I couldn’t be bothered to properly rein in Dany, but I’m going to punish you for finally snapping under all of Dany’s crap,” she might find herself with two positions to fill instead of just one.

      1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        Is it clear to others that their co-workers are on a PIP? Sansa may have felt that *nothing* was being done to address any part of Dany’s performance and behaviour issues, when there were things going on behind the scenes, albeit apparently slowly.

      2. disconnect*

        THIS SO MUCH RIGHT HERE THIS THING. Like, sure, remind everyone of professional communication, company email is for company business, etc. But I’ve been in a similar situation, and y’know, it’s one thing when management lets this sort of thing fester, it kills motivation and makes a toxic situation that much worse, but then “having consequences” for the people who now have to work even harder to meet deadlines?

        The thing is, I know exactly how much work I do compared to Dead Wood, I know how long it takes other people to do similar work, and I know how much time DW wastes bitching about how overworked and busy they are. And that’s on DW’s manager. Don’t want to deal with it? Don’t be that manager.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        OMG THIS.

        I understand not wanting to air employees’ difficulties to their coworkers, but that doesn’t make it clear that their BS is being handled, and I’ve known more than one person on a PIP who still managed to be a flaming a-hole when the supervisor wasn’t around. I would just about bet money that for every transgression of Dany’s the OP saw, there were a dozen others she didn’t.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Also, if the performance issues improve enough to get the employee off the PIP but the attitude issues don’t, the coworkers still have to deal with a jerk, except now it’s a jerk whose performance is good enough that management isn’t paying close attention any more. It’s not really a win.

    2. RUKiddingMe*

      “ If Sansa has had an extended stretch of dealing with an unpleasant colleague who is bad at her job and makes Sansa job harder and less pleasant to be at,…”

      I wonder how much OP did to mitigate Dany’s unpleasantness towards coworkers.

      Sure she was on a PIP…for performance issues. But what about her attitude snd interactions with peers?

      If it was allowed to go on mostly unchecked, then OP is at least partially culpable for Sansa reaching a breaking point.

      Not to say she shouldn’t be more careful who she emails, or even whether she should have sent one at all, but if management basically put its collective head in the sand about Dany’s “temperamental” personality, then management needs to accept a large part of the blame for not telling Dany to knock it off.

      1. Anonapots*

        This. It seems if Sansa is writing an email detailing how terrible Dany is, it’s not because Dany’s interactions with coworkers have improved. If the PIP didn’t address that, too, it’s no wonder Sansa had enough.

    3. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

      Agreed. What Sansa did was wrong, but if she’s upset about her mistake then clearly she already knows that, so coming down hard on her will just seem like a disproportionate application of authority. The true “serious business issue” here isn’t Sansa’s email – it’s Dany’s rage quit, potentially on top of some unrealistic project planning or resourcing (if her sudden departure could cause such a problem, one has to consider that).

      Depending on the org, I’d also remind Sansa specifically about the relevant email/computer use policy –and what should and shouldn’t ever be put in writing – in addition to professional communication standards. It’s possible that the org’s emails may be subject to FOI laws, or that Dany may be able to use what she now has in writing as a basis for litigation. Whether it’s feasible or has merit is besides the point, it’d still be an unnecessary PITA for the company to deal with. So don’t create ammo that can be misused by loose cannons.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        I don’t think that it’s particularly unreasonable to have a project with a tight deadline delayed when the team lead rate quits without notice (or is hit by a bus). Even with excellent cross training and up to the minute documentation, you’re down one person, and you’ve lost the person who was tracking all the various bits and pieces, and making sure things got done. It’s going to take time for the new lead to take up the reins, plus they’re short on labour until they can hire and train a new person.

        Having a difficult to work with, moody person who frequently misses deadlines and has erratic work quality being the lead of a critical project is a different matter, however.

        1. Myrin*

          Yeah, I was surprised to read that someone who sounds like an all-around problem employee (on a PIP!) was given the reins of “a critical project with a tight deadline” – just out of curiosity, I’d really like to know how that came to be.
          (Not to mention that this might also tie into the discussion below – from the outside, Sansa only sees that Dany gets to lead a project like this and might well infer from that that there’s nothing being done about her shortcomings, a situation which is bound to feed into her frustration even more. Pure speculation, of course, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were the case.)

          1. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

            Right? Dany’s lack of reliability and the very possible scenario of her soon being let go seem like such clear, known factors in this instance that it’s odd to me there wasn’t some contingency to dial the outcome back from a “serious business issue” level to at least a “big problem, but one we’ve already planned to handle” level. But maybe that’s me overthinking OP’s wording!

          2. Name Changed for This*

            I wonder if this critical project was intended to be the “final nail in the coffin” to prove that this employee was unable to do the work?

            We have a similar situation at work, currently. It’s incredibly stressful for the rest of us on the team in the short term, but it will lead to an expedited firing after months and months of documentation and documented meetings with this problem employee about subpar, error-filled work that we’ve all been correcting along with doing our own work. In the face of mounting documentation, the contractor has been given multiple chances by higher-ups (long story, but: nepotism! Giving a job to a friends’ unqualified kid who needed a job! Etc!) so it’s crucial that the firing is seen as “valid” and that the contractor is ineligible for rehire.

            1. Yvette*

              “I wonder if this critical project was intended to be the “final nail in the coffin” to prove that this employee was unable to do the work?” Very good point. At Old Job, it was not uncommon for a large, potentially disastrous project to be given to a new to the group person or someone outside the inner circle. If the project went bust and heads had to roll they had a sacrificial lamb in place. If it was successful, there was always a way to spread the glory around.

                1. lokilaufeysanon*

                  Right? Funny how only one person gets the blame if something goes wrong, but everyone wants some credit if it goes right. Not to mention how a workplace clique factors in, as well. SMH

              1. TardyTardis*

                That happened to a friend of mine who ended up being told “if you had been able to deal with Weird Problem you would definitely have been Superwoman!” Fortunately, it was pretty obvious that she was being set up to fail and she was able to stay a few more years till her retirement date (being quite competent etc. at the job she was actually supposed to be doing).

            2. Helena*

              This sounds like a risky idea. What is the evidence to believe THIS documentation will do what previous documentation hasn’t been successful in eliminating them? If nepotism has protected them before, why won’t they simply derail a major project, AND get to stay protected?

            3. Emelle*

              Ugh, my grand-supervisor has my direct supervisor on a “we are letting you fail so you see you need to leave” plan. It is killing me. I know what the endgame is, but in the meantime, I am surrounded by llamas that need to be groomed and my direct supervisor is lecturing me on what I can learn from the cat grooming department. I just want to do my job!

          3. fhqwhgads*

            I mean, possibly the nature of the role itself involves being leads on projects, and possibly the deadline became tight because this person isn’t especially good at their job? So it’s not that they were given some plum assignment despite being bad but that not giving the bad-at-it one assignments any more would defeat the whole purpose of having two people in the role. That’s how I read it.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              When was reading this letter I was wondering how long the project had been running for – as in possibly Dany was put on the lead before everything deteriorated to the point of being on a PIP and the more stressed they got the worse the snapping at others became.

        2. Observer*

          Having a difficult to work with, moody person who frequently misses deadlines and has erratic work quality being the lead of a critical project is a different matter, however.

          That’s the thing that jumped out at me. This person is on a PIP for performance issues, has repeatedly caused problems for projects and missed deadlines and you chose her to lead a project with tight deadline?!

          Of COURSE Sansa thought that you were not dealing with this. “Trying to improve” or not, that’s absolutely not going to read as the problem being taken seriously.

          1. Short Time Lurker Komo*

            We don’t know what’s already on Sansa’s plate though. If I’ve got four projects with tight deadlines, two people to split them with… I likely can’t give my top performer all four. Its very likely that Sansa’s plate is filled to nearly overflowing and Dany was needed for probably the project that she could screw up the least.

            1. Observer*

              True. Based on what the OP posted I can see why they did this, but that’s the not point. From Sansa’s POV, it STILL looks like no one is doing anything serious about the very real issues.

          2. OP #1*

            I explained it below like this – Dany was the only llama inspector at that site during llama inspection season. All the other llama inspectors were busy with inspections at their own sites. Delaying the llama inspection wasn’t an option nor was sending in another inspector (a staffing issue that deserves its own email). Due to the nature of our work, someone on a PIP will still have critical responsibilities.

            And Dany wasn’t given this project in order to fail and expedite the PIP process. She was the only person onsite to do llama inspection and llama inspection made up approx 75% of her job. The project was critical but also routine.

            1. Observer*

              As I said above and below, I get that. It’s not your fault, but this WAS a problem that was left to fester. And Sansa really had no way to judge what was going on. If you come down on her for causing Danny to leave, you can be sure that it will confirm to her that Danny was never going to be properly dealt with.

              1. OP #1*

                Agree. Consequences was a bad word choice on my part. What I was looking for was suggestions on how to frame the conversation with Sansa. Her frustration is understandable; the way she handled it wasn’t. I don’t want to punish her or come down hard on her.

    4. Lynca*

      I would also caution that if Sansa is merely saying she’s glad that Dany is gone, I wouldn’t consider that really gloating. You are also glad Dany’s gone and that says something about how dysfunctional the situation with Dany was. Sansa just shouldn’t say the quiet part out loud. But there’s no real punishment she needs for that. Just a reminder about professional norms.

      However if she was going around vehemently proclaiming that she was the one that slew the dragon queen and would not let it go. The latter would make me start to question her judgment and whether this was a true mistake. And I’d tell her that.

      1. Rovannen*

        I wonder if her sheer relief sounds like gloating. We had a situation where our boss left. Nothing to gloat about, but the chorus of Ding Dong the Witch is Gone echoed through the building. It would sound like gloating to an outsider, but seriously, it was sheer relief.

        1. Dragoning*

          Yes, if she’s torn between being upset and being happy, well…she probably feels awful it happened like this and she had to be part of it this way, but Dany being gone is such a huge improvement it’s hard to hide that.

        2. Candi*

          “Ding Dong the Witch is Gone echoed through the building.”

          Thanks, I have Dr. Pepper up my nose. :P /humor

        3. Dust Bunny*

          We had an intern like this. Not a witch, but she had so many work-inappropriate behaviors that people from departments that don’t even work with ours on a regular basis were begging us not to hire her. Nobody gloated when she wasn’t hired but it was pretty clear everyone was relieved to not have to run damage control any more when she said something bizarre to a client.

    5. The Original Stellaaaaa*

      And why was Dany leading an important project at this point? It’s management’s fault that they’re in this position now.

    6. Massmatt*

      I am wondering why a problem employee that is described as difficult to manage and on a PIP has responsibility for such a critical project, that sounds like a terrible combination.

      I suspect that very little was being done to correct problems with Dany and that this was a longstanding issue. If you want to lose your other report (the one described as high performing) then by all means reprimand her. Tolerance for bad performers drives good performers away, we are seeing insight here to how the latter saw the former.

      Maybe I’m just cynical from having often seen firsthand the double standard of bad performers are given chance after chance while good performers are not shown any flexibility or understanding.

    7. Beth*

      This is my thought as well. Even if a manager is proactively handling a problem employee, has them on a PIP, and is doing everything appropriately…well, that work by nature isn’t visible to the problem employee’s peers. After all, you can’t go around announcing “Dany is on a PIP, I know she’s a pain but just hold on a little longer while we work through the process”!

      The unfortunate reality is that these things do take time to handle, and that is frustrating to the people who have to work the most closely with the problem employee, and there are limits to what information a manager can share to mitigate that frustration. Yes, it’s not ideal that Sansa dealt with her frustration in this particular way…personally in her shoes I’d be grabbing an hour in a coffee shop with a friend, not putting it in writing. (Which, of course, could still be a problem if Dany happened to walk in at the wrong moment!) But to me, this kind of situation is part and parcel of employing humans rather than robots. It’s an opportunity to talk about how to better handle things in the future, not a case where I’d be looking to impose punishment.

  3. jesicka309*

    You ever read a letter and think OMG that’s me. In letter #1…like to the point that I just went through my emails to make sure I didn’t send anything like that the day before my coworker quit recently (for the record, I didn’t! And as far as I know, I haven’t sent anything that wasn’t perfectly civil & professional!)

    OP #1 – At a minimum, you need to tell Sansa that they messed up, as they may not even know what happened! But you really can’t punish her, I mean what would that even look like? “Consequences” like not getting a raise? Not being allowed to come to the Christmas Party? Freezing them out for a few days or banishing them to the cold part of the office? I agree with Alison – a proper conversation about what’s happened is all that’s needed to convey the seriousness.

    People often vent to coworkers about other coworkers, or vendors, or difficult to work with stakeholders, and it’s not always in a ‘nasty’ or ‘negative’ way. I know my conversations about my own Dany often revolved around ‘how can I tactfully tell her she needs to redo the work while helping her understand what went wrong as I will lose it if I have to revise this copy one more time and she’s not getting it, please help’. They were almost all in person though (eg. over lunch or going for coffee with a trusted coworker to seek advice), as like in the OP’s situation, there’s too much chance of the wrong person seeing something completely innocent or reading the wrong tone.

    And Dany leaving at short notice is really on Dany and your own business practices. Are you resourced to cope if an employee suddenly leaves or quits or gets sick? Probably not given the project is delayed. And while I can see Dany being incredibly upset about the email from Sansa and escalating to their manager…short of being deliberately offensive or inflammatory, was it worth quitting over? Leaving your employer in the lurch and burning bridges on your way out? As that’s kind of what’s happened for my own Dany’s reputation. It’s not really fair to hold Sansa accountable long term for a a situation that can be summarised as ‘Dany was under performing. Someone complained about her underperformance and Dany saw the complaint, got upset and quit without notice. Now Dany’s project is delayed’.

    1. Willis*

      Yeah, I agree. It’s hard to lay much of this on Sansa. It sounds like having Dany lead a critical, time-sensitive project was risky from the start if she often misses in terms of work quality and deadlines. Plus, she was on a PIP which should indicate she may be let go and/or that there’s a heightened chance she’d be job searching and could quit anyway. Sure, Sansa messed up in venting via company email…but it sounds like a lot of other factors unrelated to that contributed significantly to this situation.

      1. AnonEmu*

        This, if you’re Sansa, and Dany’s work is directly interfering with yours, it can be hard to know if this is a ‘management is working on it’ situation or a ‘management is letting it slide, FML’ situation. Sansa made a mistake in sending it to the wrong person, and she probably/hopefully feels mortified, but her greivances are justified.

        1. valentine*

          It sounds like having Dany lead a critical, time-sensitive project was risky from the start if she often misses in terms of work quality and deadlines.
          It’s possible Dany knew she wouldn’t deliver the project properly, didn’t want to be fired for cause, and conveniently blamed Sansa. I mean, she could only survive the impact of her actions as long as she didn’t see it in unvarnished writing?

          1. andy*

            It is project with “tight deadline”. If the company is firing people for missing known “tight deadlines”, the company is not a place worth working for – and management needs to stop set up to fail structures.

            Dany would be fired for long term performance problems. Dany might have been able to spin it as “management put me in impossible deadline and then fired me” had Dany stayed and blame others for own failure. But not now.

            It is more likely that no one is sociopath here, dany knew what PIP means and knew discontent and email was final nail – made her decide to leave rather then stay at place where she is failing.

    2. Boomerang Girl*

      I wonder if part of the consequences in this case is Sansa picking up extra work until Dany is replaced. Not as punishment, but as a consequence of being one person down.

    3. Sara Williams*

      Unless Sansa is gloating obnoxiously in public, I wouldn’t come down hard on her for feeling pleased that Dany chose to quit. She probably has a lot of company.

      I would talk with her, though, about professional communication, including my sainted mother’s rule about not putting anything in writing that you weren’t prepared to see on the front page of the newspaper the next day.

      And if OP’s office doesn’t have an “appropriate use” policy for internet communications, now might be a good time to write one up.

      1. Candi*

        I’ve also heard it as “on the front page of the New York Times” and “on a billboard”.

        It all comes down to, you don’t want to risk being embarrassed by it, don’t write it down in a publicly-accessible format, especially in an electronic format. Paper diaries and journals with locks are still popular for a reason.

        A tiny bit of celebrating is perfectly understandable. A lot of celebrating comes across as rude and insensitive -even when the person was a jerk.

    4. Bunny Girl*

      This is how I feel about the situation. There are soooooo many managers and businesses who allow “difficult to work with” people to stay forever without any consequences. Is it the most professional thing ever to send an email venting about another coworker? No. But a quick, direct conversation should be enough to address that. And maybe in the future look at how quickly you correct people. You can put people on notice for their attitude as well as their performance. It’s honestly really demoralizing to have to work with someone who is “temperamental” and “creating problems” if you don’t see these issues being addressed.

      1. Vanilla Nice*

        LW also says that Dany “was making an effort to improve,” so it’s possible that they really thought she was going to improve.

        It’s also possible there are other interpersonal dynamics that the LW doesn’t mention. At my old job, I worked with a Dany who was a poor performer by virtually all metrics, but who nevertheless was a favorite of upper management because she would tell them exactly what they wanted to hear instead of the reality of the situation (e.g., “This new software is great! It will help us get our work done faster” when the rest of us were saying “The new software is buggy and unreliable. We’re doing our best to meet deadlines, but there could be errors”). She eventually left the job on her own, and it was only then that mamagement seemed to realize the extent of the problems she’d been causijg.

    5. Senor Montoya*

      Consequence might be: thinking really hard before trusting Sansa to handle a task or project that requires professionalism in communication, good interpersonal skills, good judgment…

      That can be significant to Sansa: maybe she doesn’t get to move as fast towards promotion because of it.

      The initial venting email, btw, could be a one-off. That’s probably a mistake on Sansa’s part. The gloating (clearly being done publicly enough the OP hears it or hears about it) is really a problem and calls Sansa’s judgment and professionalism into question. So yeah, consequences.

    6. breamworthy*

      Venting is normal, but workplace venting is something that should never happen in writing. No matter how much you trust the person you’re venting to (assuming you sent it to the right email address), you just never know when something might be seen over their shoulder or somehow come to light later. Also, if Sansa is as great as it sounds, she could be in line for management positions at some point in the future, and this sort of lapse of judgment is something that might impact that. I see that being the largest consequence for her, and one she should probably be made aware of.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        100% this. I use email as a CYA, but I would NEVER vent about another colleague over email, IM or any other communication that can be saved and bite me in the butt later. That’s a conversation you have in person.

  4. mark132*

    @lw2, I don’t see a problem with it, my only question is why you didn’t wipe it before the tech came over, so they didn’t catch your crud.

    1. Blue Eagle*

      mark132 – this is an insightful comment. And the wiping wouldn’t be seen as rude if the keyboard was wiped both before and after the tech worked on it.

      1. JSPA*

        Came to say this! So long as you’re as solicitous of their health as you are of your own, there’s clearly no cause for offense.

    2. humans are weird*

      As a former deskside support tech I was coming here to say – please do wipe your keyboard down regularly! Each time you wipe it down means fewer germs the techs might pick up from the office, even if you don’t specifically wipe it down before they come.

      The number of times I washed my hands/used hand sanitizer before returning to my desk as a tech… I should have invested in stock for hand lotion.

    3. kathlynn*

      Yeah, I’m weird about eating or drinking food others have eaten some of. So if I’m having a new beverage at work, I pour a bit into a separate cup to try it. That way no one gets my germs either. I also wear gloves to sort out the favour(s) of candy I don’t like to give to my coworkers.

      1. Dahlia*

        Wait, you mean like a communal 2L of pop, and you not drinking directly out of the bottle is weird? Am I misunderstanding? Because I don’t… I don’t think that’s a “weird” thing.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          I thought kathlynn meant, “Oh, I’ve been meaning to try that flavor of tea!” (steeps a bag in a cup) (pours two sips into a small cup to sample) (dislikes)
          “Hazel, would you like this tea? It wasn’t to my taste, but I didn’t drink from this cup.”

        2. Canadian anon*

          No, like I work at a place where we sell beverages. So I see that we have a new energy drink, I want to try it, but I don’t want to waste it if I don’t like it. So I grab a cup to try it. Then if I like it, I drink it. If I don’t like it I give it to one of my energy drink consuming coworkers. They get a free drink, and I don’t feel guilt about wasting it.

      2. Fikly*

        That’s not weird, that’s common sense and hygeine.

        Well, for the food/drinks. The gloves thing is a bit unusal. (But as someone who can get extremely ill from cross-contamination, I would actually appreciate it! I cannot tell you how many times safe food has been in a communal dish and I cannot eat it because people reach into it with hands that have also touched something unsafe.)

        1. Canadian anon*

          Please tell my family that it’s common sense, lol. As for the glove I deal with cleaning supplies and money. So I do it so my coworkers know their food is less likely to be contaminated.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Tell your family one more rando commenter on the internet says it’s normal.

            Me: Gloves, Purell, alcohol wipes, soap… I buy them by the Costco sized cases.

            I have only a few employees and at home it’s just me and Husband (and the cats*). I tend to go overboard by conventional standards, but I don’t care.

            *I wear gloves to feed the cats/touch their stuff. They are not gross cats. It’s all on me.

            Then I remove the gloves inside out (like surgeons do) and wash with soap and water.

      3. Candi*

        I’ll have to try that next time someone says, “You have GOT to try this relaxing tea!”

        The problem? A lot of relaxing teas have chamomile in them -which is related to ragweed.

        I’m not-severely allergic to ragweed, and it is NOT fun to go around with a rash in your mouth for two or three days (with loratadine) or a week (without) after drinking something with chamomile. (Ragweed pollen gives me severe cold-like symptoms if I forget my meds.)

        As for sleepy-time formulas, I drink passionflower tea. It really does taste and smell like fresh hay or dried grass, but it works. Just add a dollop of honey.

        1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

          *lightbulb moment about why every ‘try this it’ll help you relax’ tea has made me feel like garbage*

        2. Curmudgeon in California*

          Oh! No wonder I don’t like chamomile tea. It made me feel kinda crappy, and I never put it together. Thank you. (I’m allergic to dust and pollen from all sorts of stuff.)

    4. Inigo Montoya*

      I don’t know if that’s necessary. My “rule” is that you’re responsible for your OWN stuff. As in, wipe your keyboard if you’re worried about yourself. If you’re worried about someone else’s keyboard, wash your hands.

      1. JSPA*

        If the question had been “whose job is it to sanitize keyboards,” sure, this works. But if the question is “how can I make sure that wiping down a keyboard is not taken as personal commentary on someone’s hygiene or health,” an easy way to do that is to play “good host.”

        Besides, the I.T. person may be shy about using their cleaner on your keyboard in case you have issues or preferences (allergies, scent dislikes etc).

        1. The pest, Ramona*

          Oh this! I do not like/have physical issues with scented products. I only use isopropyl alcohol spray in my office for hand sanitizer, and when I wipe down the office (doors, cabinets, keyboard, mouse, etc) I spray the alcohol onto paper towels.

    5. !*

      Yeah, I too have to touch the keyboards/mice of users and short of wearing gloves, I make sure I am washing my hands regularly. I have even (not generally in their presence) wiped down keyboards/mice (especially those of our field workers) because they can be pretty gross. It goes both ways! :)

    6. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I came to say this. If you make at least as much of a show of sanitizing *after your own use* as after someone else’s, it is obviously a “LW is generally conscious of / cautious about germs” thing, rather than “LW thinks ITTech in particular has cooties”.

    7. OP #2*

      OP here – if I’ve been sick, I definitely wipe it down before they use it, and explain it’s because I’ve been feeling sick. I don’t every time otherwise, though, so I’ll keep that in mind.

      1. hbc*

        I don’t think it’s your *responsibility* to wipe down before them, per se, but it really does change any possible interpretation of “OP thinks I’m a disgusting infectious agent” to “OP is diligent about preventing the spread of disease.”

      2. Silence Will Fall*

        As a support tech, I use remote access as much as possible to avoid touching other people’s stuff, especially this time of year. I can almost guarantee that while you’re wiping down your keyboard and mouse, the tech is on the way to wash/sanitize her hands. Even when it isn’t the height of cold and flu season, people’s stuff is gross!

      3. Senor Montoya*

        Wipe it down every time, that’s good hygiene.

        I bring a hand sanitizer dispenser to every class and have a big one on my desk. Students are *finally* using it.

    8. CocoB*

      Yes, I was curious is LW2 wiped the keyboard before the tech works with it. And/or, how would LW feel if the tech wipes the keyboard each time before using? That would give LW a good indication of how others may perceive it.
      But I get it… I’m one of few in my work space that did not get the flu.

  5. Ludo*

    #2 as long as you’re not doing it in front of them right after they touch it you should be fine. If they have already left your general area before you wipe it down I wouldn’t worry at all.

    And if you do have to do it in front of them I agree with Alison and just blame it on yourself. I’m a big fan of “sorry I’m weird about ____” to let people know it’s not them it’s you.

    1. Willis*

      Yeah, assuming the IT rep has left your cube, I don’t think anyone would even notice a quick keyboard/mouse wipe. I probably wouldn’t make a big production out of wiping it while they’re still standing there…assuming they aren’t lingering, why not just wait till they leave?

    2. Sam.*

      Yes, agreed. But even without that, if this is part of a larger pattern of behavior, people will probably just assume you’re especially weird about germs, as Alison said. A former coworker was like this – it was impossible to miss and became generally accepted as one of her quirks.

  6. anancy*

    LW #2 One way to make it non-personal would be to wipe down your keyboard when the help desk person arrives–saying something like “Germs are rampant at this time of year, I’ll clean this off for you”. Since you are cleaning off your own germs, it would be much less personal to clean off after they leave too.

      1. Tate Can't Wait*

        I don’t think so. Cleaning your gear after a visitor uses it is one thing. Cleaning before AND after will push it over into true obsessive behavior. What’s next after that – cleaning the equipment during the time when only you are working with it – just to be safe?

        1. Annony*

          Um, yes? Why wouldn’t you regularly clean your keyboard during flu season? That is like not wiping off a table because you are the only one eating on it. Things get dirty. I don’t mean doing it like once an hour, but a quick wipe down once a day doesn’t seem obsessive to me.

        2. hbc*

          I’m pretty sure I’m way below average in terms of preventing disease and generally even thinking about it, but yeah, there’s a huge difference between wiping something down between different users and wiping down when you’re the only person involved. If OP wipes down the keyboard before IT person, then IT person doesn’t get OP germs. Then OP wipes down after IT person so OP doesn’t get IT germs.

        3. Fikly*

          Yes, wiping down the keyboard before someone else touches it is definitely the first step down a steep slippery slope to a mental health disorder.

          Do you think it’s ridiculous and unnecessary for doctors to wash their hands between patients, too, if they’re not in for a sick visit?

        4. Avasarala*

          Sure, why not?
          You ever been to a gym, where you have to wipe down the equipment after you use it?
          And not everyone does, so some people wipe down before and after?

          I don’t see what’s so weird about this during flu season. Most of my coworkers never wipe down their desks and I wish they would.

          1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

            Gym etiquette came to my mind too. Wipe beforehand to be sure, wipe afterwards to be polite.

            My office has some hotdesking stations among our permanent cubicles, and therefore a lot of sanitizing paraphernalia around. I’m the only one who uses my mouse and keyboard, and I still grab a disinfecting wipe on my way in every morning. It’s really only common sense in cold/flu season, and good practice the rest of the year anyway.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I had to do first aid at one company I worked for and we had to put on gloves before assisting the person. Back then putting on gloves was unusual and the possibility of the gesture sending the wrong message was very high. I would put the gloves on and say, “I am putting these on, because I don’t know what *I* could be incubating right now and I want to make sure I don’t share it with you.” Usually that made people smile or let out a little chuckle and the point was heard.
        But in our training we were told, “THEY could have some horrible disease and WE were vulnerable.” I was kind of dismayed by that message as infection can come from anywhere. We handled all kinds of stuff, all day long.

      3. Arya Snark*

        I agree. I have been that tech before and had someone refuse to let me touch her mouse/keyboard/pen or sit in her chair while I was trying to troubleshoot an auxiliary device. I definitely felt like it was VERY personal.

    1. Phony Genius*

      My IT group wears gloves, and act as if it’s normal, saying nothing. Since it’s the same with everybody, nobody really cares.

    2. What we've got here is a failure to communicate*

      This is just what I wanted to say! It gives them they same courtesy and makes it about “let’s not share germs, period” rather than “I have to protect myself from you.”

    3. Curmudgeon in California*

      If I have been sick, or a member of my family has been sick, I will periodically wipe down my keyboard, trackball and desk. Reduces germs.

  7. Maria Lopez*

    OP1- I seriously do not understand sending things of a personal nature in a business e-mail. When I was working I always reserved things of a gossipy or personal frustration nature to conversations. Not even a voicemail. Fortunately in this case the employee was on a PIP and was presumably on her way out the door, but what if she hadn’t been? Lawsuit waiting to happen depending on what was written. Granted, I worked in the healthcare industry, so I was always very careful about what I said or wrote, but even then people were remarkably sloppy in their correspondence.
    No e-mail is private. While IT was remotely fixing a software issue on my computer around 2012, I sat at my desk while he automatically brought up old e-mail systems (not even the current one we were using) with my personal mail from 15 years previously, some of which I was sure were deleted! That shocked me so much, not just because the e-mail system was an old one, but because I had gone through at least five different physical computers. Turns out, if your company is big enough and secure enough, everything is saved to offsite servers in several locations in perpetuity, and your personal computer files are not saved just to your personal computer, but to your space on the system servers. This is good if there is a disaster or other problem in that your computer is easily restored, but it also means that NOTHING is ever private.
    If you wouldn’t put it on a postcard, don’t put it in an e-mail.

    1. Traffic_Spiral*

      As we say in the legal field: “never put anything in an email that you wouldn’t want to hear read aloud in court.”

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I have prepared discovery bundles and yep.

        You will occasionally find the odd note reading “Speak to Fergus before continuing with XYZ.” You just know that Fergus will have had a lot to say, but none of it documented and therefore none of it discover able. This is +50 in the UK and EU under GDPR where you can be obliged to provide *all* the information you hold on an individual so you daren’t even note facts like “slow payer” in the file.

        1. LizM*

          Yup. You can tell something juicy happened when an email thread is getting heated, and someone steps in to say, “Let’s resolve this face to face, I’ve reserved the conference room,” or just “Call me.”

      2. Maria Lopez*

        So true. And when we first got e-mail at the time when dinosaurs roamed, I and everyone else used it indiscriminately. But with all the e-mail scandals politically and and in big media cases nowadays, it is difficult to understand why people who should know better persist in using their BUSINESS e-mails so loosely.

    2. Sleve McDichael*

      OP1 isn’t the one who put the personal stuff in the work email though. That was one of her direct reports. OP1 has already seen firsthand the damage it can cause.

      1. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

        I read Maria Lopez’s as commiseration with OP :) It is kind of flabbergasting that so many people still act clueless about this despite the volumes of information and stories out there, and the fact that they’ve probably signed a company policy about it!

        1. LGC*

          Sansa is probably inexperienced? Like, when I was young(er) and dumb(er than I am now), I sent a couple of howlers. I thought I was hilarious.

          (I mean, I AM a pretty witty guy. But nowhere near as witty as I thought I was.)

          It’s not that Sansa is justified (or that she’s The Worst). But I don’t think it’s that much of a mystery why she sent that email in general.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Yep. Some people need to have direct experience before they understand “No, don’t do X!”.

            OP, there is a middle road I have used. It goes something like this: “The situation resolved itself this time. But it shows why the company has policies regarding personal use of email. We need to type as if the whole world is reading. And right here is one of the many reasons why. You are a good employee and I want you to stay and work with us for a very long time. In order to have that happen, you need to watch what you put in emails. We got lucky on how this story landed and there are no repercussions. Not every story plays out this way. And if something happens where a power greater than mine tells me I have to write you up, or worse, fire you, then that is what I have to do. I will have no choice. Please consider this a cautionary tale and make sure you are not talking about others in email. Make sure you do not use email for anything but business. I work under the same rules myself.
            As I said, I really enjoy working with you and I don’t want to see that get messed up for either one of us.”

            1. LGC*

              I might even add in something about the “celebrating that Dany stumbled on home to her cats dragons” bit (and I never thought I would mash up Taylor Swift and GoT but here we are) – honestly, I totally get how Sansa feels about a terrible coworker ragequitting, and I would not blame her for calling up her girlfriends in King’s Landing and having a night on the town to celebrate Dany deciding to sail off into the sunrise. But she can’t do that at work.

              My overall read is that Sansa is not handling this situation well in general, and the email was only the first part of that. As someone who has also been Extremely Immature in the workplace and somehow survived, like…Sansa needs a reality check for this entire situation before she actually gets one. I can’t imagine that Dany will be the last coworker she butts heads with, just because Dany is far from the only jerk out there.

      2. LKW*

        I think this is advice to take back to Sansa. While her frustration is understandable, and everyone needs to vent – using company email is not advisable for all the reasons above (and below).

    3. RC Rascal*

      I just want to add to this:

      We had a situation at my company where we were sued by a competitor for patent infringement. As part of the legal action, a whole bunch of people’s email had to be turned over, covering an 18 month period. Think of every email you wrote about anything for 18 months going to lawyers.

      Never say anything on email, IM, or by text on a company owned phone that you don’t want going through legal discovery.

  8. WoodswomanWrites*

    #5, I sent handwritten cards to my references when I got the job, and they all mentioned how touched they were by it. This is more meaningful than sending an email. People notice the extra effort you made to hand-write a card saying thank you. Congratulations on the new job!

    1. Tate Can't Wait*

      I’ve always been taught that handwritten thank you notes are standard – essentially required. I’d be shocked if anyone is writing thank you emails for job interviews.

      1. Pretzelgirl*

        I don’t I have ever written a handwritten note, to thank someone for an interview. I graduated college, in 2008. As Allison stated, its much quicker and efficient way to get someone a thank you. I know my boss, only checks his box like 2 times a week. sometimes less if he is super busy. He obviously checks email several times a day.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        In my business communications course in 2009, we were taught that we should use email and that handwritten notes were sometimes seen as outdated and since more people are emailing now if your handwritten note takes too long to arrive they may assume you didn’t send a note at all. It’s been 10 years since I took that course, but if anything has changed I would assume it was an even greater shift toward email rather than away from it.

        But the OP’s letter is about thank you notes to the references and not to interviewers anyway.

        In both cases though I don’t think I would even be certain enough of how to address a handwritten note to be confident it would be delivered! I wouldn’t have their home addresses, and I don’t know how their internal mail system would want me to address an envelope if I tried to send it to their office. If I have their email address then I know exactly where to send my note and when it will arrive.

      3. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I’d rather have email–my department no longer has mail boxes. On the few occasions when I get an envelope, someone has to call me to the mail room.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I actually recommend emails in most cases. Often a decision is made before postal mail reaches the recipient, especially these days when many people don’t bother checking their work postal mail for weeks or even months. These are business letters, not social ones. It’s fine for them to use the norm business mode of communication, which for most people is email. (There are some exceptions to this; for example, some fundraising jobs rely on posted notes.)

      More here:

      1. Kat the Russian (France)*

        But isn’t WoodswomanWrites talking about thank you notes to your REFERENCES, though? So it’s not about how quickly the notes are delivered, since you have already been hired on the strength of said references, but more about going that extra mile to thank them?

          1. Anonapots*

            I work with young adults on employability skills including resumes, cover letters, and thank you notes and in the last year I’ve seen a marked increase in people advising hand written thank yous after an interview. I still coach my people to email and use your reasons as why, but at one point an interview coach at workshop I had taken students to responded by saying, “Yes, but if everyone sends an email, think how much you’ll stand out if you send a handwritten note!”

            Cue internal screaming.

  9. Andy*

    #2 I have a particularly germophobic coworker who does stuff like this. I’m not offended by it, though sometimes I like to troll him by putting my grubby mitts on his bottle of sanitizer straight after I see him use it. :p

    1. somecajunqueen*

      yeah, this sounds sort of immature? Just don’t touch other people’s things. His using hand sanitizer isn’t harming you, but you could be creating a stressful work environment for him just because of something that annoys you.

    2. Maya Elena*

      Such unauthorized mischief, as well as fun of any sort, in a place of business is contrary to best practices in an inclusive yet efficient corporate environment.

    3. fhqwhgads*

      That’s needlessly cruel. Your coworker may not have OCD, but I sure do and a whole lot of my repetitive disinfecting actions stem of a worry that I can’t trust people not to do exactly what you just said you did. You enjoy trolling people who may have perfectly good (immune system related) reasons for being exceptionally careful about contamination, of which you have no reason to be aware. That’s just straight up not nice.

  10. Agent Diane*

    OP4: what’s challenging for you could indeed be toxic for your colleague, especially if your supervisor is treating her differently to you. If she is treated worse than others On the team that can be bullying. If you are treated better than others then that’s favouritism. Neither of those are great.

    I agree with Alison: if you worry your workplace will become more challenging for you if your supervisor knows you spoke to the investigation then you really need to tell the investigation that.

    If you decline to participate and the investigation finds your supervisor is sufficiently toxic that they are let go, your reputation in the wider company – and with your teammates – may take a blow.

    1. Agent Diane*

      I’ve followed the AAM principle of assuming the OP is female. However, OP4, if you and the supervisor are male and your colleague is female then please reflect on whether what you see as ‘challenging’ could actually be discrimination. Is it off-colour jokes/comments? Is it calling her diminishing nicknames? Is it talking over her or dismissing her work?

      And the same goes for colour, religion, age, disability and any other protected characteristics. Talk to the investigation and confirm things you witnessed: they’ll make the judgement on whether it is ‘challenging’ or ‘toxic’.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        To clarify: there is no AAM principle of assuming the OP is female. I default to female pronouns when gender is unknown, but I’m not assuming actual gender; I’m using it as the default pronoun, just as “he” has been used as the default pronoun for centuries. And that’s just what I do in my own writing; no one else need to do it too.

        1. Agent Diane*

          Apologies: I meant that as the letter contains no identifiers I’ve defaulted to everyone being she/her.

          (I’ve used they/their as my default pronoun where gender is not known but I know and appreciate Alison’s approach)

      2. Lady Heather*

        Although I agree that there can be a discrimination issue at play, women can be sexist towards men, women can be sexist towards women, men can be sexist towards men. Disabled people can be ableist and persons of colour can be racist.

        Sometimes with the best of intentions as a kind of ‘tough love’ mentoring approach. (‘You’ve got talent and I want to see you going places so I’m going to be extra strict any time you make a small mistake’). Sometimes as an expression of internalized oppression/self esteem. Sometimes as a ‘we’re in this boat together’ thing (e.g. when a women refers to a group of women she’s part of as bitches). Sometimes as a ‘I’m not part of THOSE people’ thing (the ‘I’m not one of those women that can’t do math – I can do math as well as any guy!’ mentality. Or the ‘being accepted by men will help my career and in order to do that, I don’t want to be lumped in with the women’ type.
        (I’m using sexist examples for consistency, but they work for any characteristic.)

        1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          Some of the most challenging interpersonal issues I’ve seen at work involved non-traditional discrimination. It’s not something people train for, or expect, and it’s a challenge for supervisors and HR to unravel as a result.

        2. Anonapots*

          That’s referred to as internalized racism and/or sexism and is still a product of White supremacy and patriarchy.

          1. Lady Heather*

            I believe the general term is ‘internalized oppression’ and it’s what I used in my post. Covers internalized misogyny, internalized ableism, internalized homophobia, internalized racism, etc.

            That the person discriminating is a member of the same minority/sex as the discriminated doesn’t make it right. When a woman dealing with internalized misogyny caused by the patriarchy discriminates against women, she needs to be made aware of it and needs to stop doing that. Just as when a man dealing with with misogyny as a result of growing up in a patriarchical society discriminates against women, he needs to be made aware of it and needs to stop doing that.
            (And if a person of either sex won’t stop doing that, they need to not be in charge of other people.)

            1. Maya Elena*

              “Internalized oppression”, as it seems to be used – especially in workplace situations – is honestly nonsense. Like, you can bring up ridiculous brainwashed religious zealots of course, where the woman does a cartoonish “oh I’m so stupid my man is so smart” thing, but I’ve never actually met anyone like that. But the concept *IS* used is to dismiss valid concerns about the social justice paradigm from people who don’t buy into it, even when they belong to the oppressed class.

              If I, as a free-thinking woman with agency, as I see myself for example, don’t buy into your exact ideological or policy prescriptions — for instance, I don’t interpret behavior X as sexist or inappropriate, when you might — you don’t actually have to defend your position; you just claim that I’ve “internalized misogyny”, so you can discount what I’ve said; I’m a combination dupe and class [gender/race/whatever] traitor!

              1. Avasarala*

                I have seen this, but I have also seen “I’m not like other girls, I hate makeup and love math!” type of thinking which I would describe as internalized misogyny/oppression because it still relies on the misogynist stereotype that girls like makeup and hate math. But these terms are descriptions of phenomena, not a cudgel to beat strangers with when they don’t agree with you.

                1. Candi*

                  What’s interesting is I do hate makeup, and math. Makeup feels weird on my face -one doctor said I was [physically] hypersensitive.

                  As for math, I hate it, I can’t stand it. But with the right guidance, I can do well at it, pulling down As(!).

                  Humans are weird, including me.

              2. Gazebo Slayer*

                You’ve *never* met someone who is at all like that? Not just to the degree of caricature?

                I think you’re neither being honest with us nor with yourself.

        3. Agent Diane*

          That’s true but the point I’m making is for OP4 to look at the power dynamics happening that means they perceive it as a ‘challenging’ workplace and their colleague perceives it as ‘toxic’.

    2. Allonge*

      It’s also fully possible for OP4 to have no issues with their manager and another direct report to have major problems. I had the same experience – my boss was a bully who was eventually fired for harassment but I personally experienced none of that (neither directed toward me, nor to happen in my sight). To me, she was micromanaging but mostly reasonable. To others, a nightmare.

      At this workplace, I was obliged to participate in the eventual investigation, so there was no question about that, at least. I made it clear what it was that I experienced first-hand and what I heard through the grapevine. In general, I tried to remind myself that it was a good thing the investigation was happening and that I ‘only’ had to tell the truth, not take sides.

      I fully agree that if OP4 is concerned about retaliation, they should mention it – in my case, this was addressed as a standard thing in the investigation, before I had to say anything.

      1. CupcakeCounter*

        I had this at OldJob but with a slight twist. This one particular manager would absolutely go to bat for his team – had their backs on EVERYTHING and they loved him. However, if you were not part of his team he was awful. He and my boss got into it once because I had been running a particular report for one of his team members but couldn’t do it any longer because I was switching jobs and completely swamped since my backfill hadn’t been hired yet (and never actually was until after I left in a blaze of glory but that is another story). According to this other manager, as long as that job was left unfilled it was still my responsibility to do all of the job as well as my new job and he was not going to put extra work on his team because I couldn’t hack it (prick). I laughed in his face and he called HR on me. My boss was LIVID and they ended up in mediation.
        Best part was that the team member who needed the report was the one who taught ME how to run it so he was very capable of doing it on his own.

      2. JSPA*

        The poster should be prepared for two different sorts of investigation.

        One, the open – ended, “give us your take on this.” If they really have seen nothing that alarms or outrages them, it’s completely fair to say, ” whatever issues there are have not really impacted me. I imagine you want first-hand experiences not hearsay, so beyond confirming that boss is sometimes [general characterisation], there really not much for me to tell you.”

        Two, the “we ask specific questions, you answer.”

        “On such and such a date, did co-worker tell you that [quote or summary]”?

        “Did someone use the term [expletive deleted or term that can be problematic in wrong context] as person A came in the door, and Boss said, ‘Hi, we were just talking about you?’ ”

        Many of these will be practically yes/no. And you do have a duty to your employer to answer truthfully. If you feel there are mitigating circumstances, you can offer them (Boss habitually says “we were just taking about you” when people walk in during a conversation. It’s practically a tic. Boss is (e.g.) heavy himself, would never fat shame, didn’t realize he’d effectively called coworker a cow.) It’s the company’s job –not yours– to decide whether boss running their mouth without thinking, and causing a fence without noticing, is a PIP-level problem, a firing level problem, an “attend mindfulness and diversity trainings” problem, or no problem at all.

    3. Phony Genius*

      If the truth is that you have no big problems with your supervisor, then say so. Without your input, the investigation may end up unfairly one-sided. Then you can honestly say that your participation was in their favor.

  11. Allonge*

    Unfortunately I have some experience with situations in case 4 and I wanted to say that it is completely possible for OP4 to have a good relationship with the boss and another coworker to have a terrible experience. I had this on the luckier side, and it was quite unsettling.

    My boss was eventually fired, and I had no choice in participating in the investigation before. OP4, think about it as providing testimony. You do not have to say anything that you have not experienced, you can add information that you heard second hand but say so. It’s not unusual to have a manager be completely fine with someone and behave abhorrently towards others at the same time. This is not a judgment on the inherent value of either subject, just on the manager.

    And yes, mention the worry about retaliation! That in itself an issue.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Good advice. Usually toxic bosses have known patterns. If you know what that retaliation can look like give some examples of what you would expect to see.
      I had a boss who would ostracize a person. If anyone went over to talk to the targeted person, they would get glared at from across the room. Let’s say you ignored that glare because you are just secondary in this whole story. Even though you weren’t the targeted person, you would become targeted simply because you SPOKE to the originally targeted person.

      Targeting itself looked like isolation, unbearable work loads, impossible deadlines and missing material and information. And just in case you were not crushed yet, people would not be allowed to help you. Just the right mix to make people want to run away from their jobs.

      1. andy*

        There really needs to be accountability system for how managers treat people under them. I don’t know how exactly it would look like, but the way companies are setup now is that incredible behavior is tolerated or actively enabled by rules of professionalism from to down.

      2. Roy G. Biv*

        Huh. The VP at my former job would resort to that: … isolation, unbearable work loads, impossible deadlines and missing material and information. And just in case you were not crushed yet, people would not be allowed to help you. Just the right mix to make people want to run away from their jobs.

        I always thought it was because he wanted to frustrate a person into quitting a job, so he did not have fire them and pay unemployment. I now view that behavior in a new light called, “He was also a colossal jerk and bully.”

        I learn so much on this site.

  12. Blue Eagle*

    OP5 – You may want to wait till after your first day of work on the new job to send the notes. There have been stories in the news (and from the AAM commentariat) about job offers being withdrawn at the last minute for any number of reasons. If you wait till then you can even include something about the new workplace, boss, coworkers, etc. What you don’t want to do is send the note then have the job withdrawn and have to re-contact all those people and ask for help again.

    1. Blue Eagle*

      Oops, had to rewrite this comment because it got lost when I originally sent it and I forgot to include – Congrats on the new job!

    2. RC Rascal*

      Yes. Additionally, in the past I have waited 90 days after starting a position to let my network know i have re-homed. If you get into the new role and it doesn’t work, you could be back to job searching soon.

      Obviously, you have to tell you references you have a new job first. But bear in mind you may need them again sooner than you anticipate.

  13. Bossy Magoo*

    #5…an email or note is nice, but I don’t know…I think sky-writing is definitely the way to go. ;)

  14. Blarg*

    #1 – Dany is on a PIP, is difficult to manage … and is “leading” a critical project with a tight deadline? If this person were a poor enough performer to require a PIP, why were they allowed to lead a project solo that would cause issues if they failed or left? It’s not uncommon for people on PIPs to leave, even without getting a nasty email from a coworker. My guess is this had been going on for a long time, Sansa and others have been picking up slack, and Dany didn’t believe the PIP meant anything real since they were still leading projects.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      My mind went here as well, however I can think of the reasons why they’d assign it to her as well. Only due to my experience in small offices, she may have been the only choice for the most point. But in the end, that’s still just the risk you run with anyone, anyone can just never show up again for so many reasons. So you have to take the risk.

    2. andy*

      I assumed that Dany is manager, therefore can only lead and nothing else. It is also possible that they have only tight deadlines or that non tight deadlines are too long running projects.

      Also, the leading can be leading one or two person project where other person is trully too much junior.

    3. Tedious Cat*

      I keep wondering if, despite the PIP, Dany thought everything was fine (we’ve seen it before, the person who doesn’t realize the PIP is serious business) and upon receiving proof it wasn’t, decided to cut bait.

  15. Here For The Comments*

    Might have already been mentioned, but if Dany is on a PIP for performance issues, etc., why is she being trusted with a critical project?

    1. Wintermute*

      Maybe her entire job IS that project. On a small team you might just have one person who is your teapot integrations expert, if you’re doing a teapot integration, they’re leading it.

      Being generally marginal at your job doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be trusted to at least do your job, if leading projects like that is your entire job, it will fall to you.

        1. Here For The Comments*

          Sorry, wrote this early in the day prior to you responding to the (many) other questions along the same lines. I guess my point was… would the critical project timeline expire before Dany’s PIP did?

  16. Free Meercats*

    We’ve all had a Dany in our workplace and have (secretly or not) celebrated their departure. When our Dany left, we had a frelling barbecue that weekend to celebrate. We were also visibly happier at work. So as long as Sansa isn’t dancing around singing “Ding, Dong, The Witch is Dead”, leave it.

    And for number 2, so long as you’re not doing the cat pooping in a litterbox maintaining eye contact with the tech as you wipe, no one will likely care.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      At my last company, we had a terrible manager who everyone disliked. She wasn’t qualified to do what she was hired to do, was a pathological liar, and cared more about everyone liking her than doing her job. We were all called into a meeting to let us know that she was leaving. You could have heard a pin drop. Nobody said a word – no questions, no congrats, nothing. It was all I could do not to stand up and shout “Yahoo!” or do cartwheels down the hall. Of course we all left the meeting and had our own joy filled side conversations. It was glorious.

  17. Parenthetically*

    Just here to chime in that “Dany’s on a PIP for performance issues” should probably not coexist with “she was leading a critical project with a tight deadline.”

    1. Not Me*

      It’s totally possible she was given the project prior to the PIP or the two don’t intersect (ie PIP issues aren’t things that would come up on this particular project).

      More importantly though, people on PIPs still need to do work in order to prove themselves, sometimes that means giving them a critical project with a tight deadline, especially if that is the work they should be able to do.

    2. Here For The Comments*

      I said the same thing (but seriously chuckled when I read it as you put it), as have seen a lot of other comments that indicated the same. I wish Alison would weigh in on this.

      1. Middle Manager*

        Second that. I’d love to hear Allison’s take on this.

        I have an employee on a PIP currently. HR and my Director have both told me I have to continue to assigned her the same level of work as we do for anyone in her position. The rationale is that we can’t document that she isn’t meeting productivity and quality standards if she doesn’t have work to do at the expected level. It’s hard though, because it basically means that I have to be ready at a moment’s notice to pick up the slack/fix something. I’m trying to build in a little extra review time, but depending on the overall deadline of the assignment, it can be hard. Still, if we can move her along (after WAY too many years due to prior upper management’s conflict avoidance), it’s totally worth it to me. I’d give anything to have a functional employee in that role.

  18. voyager1*

    LW1: I think from reading your email, you manage more then 2 people… If so the rest of your team probably knows what happened and are watching to see how you handle this.

    I worked on a team (of 6) where something like this happened. The email sender was sent home no pay and written up a final warning that if something like this happened again she was gone. She left for another job a few months later. I think a write up/final warning is really appropriate here. Yes Danny may have been on PIP. But Sansa showed some terrible judgement here. It would take a while for her to regain my trust. Sansa needs to know you vent to your friends over drinks after work, not via company email. I would be considering pulling Sansa’s email and seeing if this is a pattern or a one off lapse of judgement. If Sansa has pattern of this behavior I would consider a PIP.

    1. Madame X*

      that sounds overly harsh for a one time offense. I think a serious conversation is more than enough to convey the message that this type of email usage is unacceptable. I would only move to writing her up if this continues and becomes a pattern of behavior.

        1. Jeffrey Deutsch*

          But voyager1 did this to the employee with no indication that it was a repeat offense.

          I assume if there were any aggravating circumstances (eg, highly inflammatory language in the email, prior significant lapses in judgments or at-fault personality conflicts or even unrelated significant offenses), voyager1 would have mentioned them.

          Without aggravating circumstances, I’d say a serious conversation — perhaps even documented — should be enough.

    2. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

      This seems way too harsh. Discussion yes but write up , no. After all, Dny has been a PITA for a long time and never got fired.

      1. Tedious Cat*

        Yep. Treating good performers more harshly for one (admittedly very bad) lapse of judgment than you treat poor performers for years of poor performance is how you end up losing good performers.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        This right here. Don’t punish good employees for management’s failure to address problem employees adequately.

    3. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

      Too harsh. I definitely think the OP should have a talk with Sansa warning her not to do it again. But I think this is a classic example of the victim of shitty behavior receiving a harsh reaction to losing it one time when they’ve had too much, because people have already normalized the shitty person’s behavior. If she continues to have issues with coworkers I would worry, but it seems like the problem sort of resolved itself.

    4. Not Me*

      So you think her behavior is worth a final warning AND possibly a PIP? That’s very harsh for a first time accidental email and most likely not in line with the majority of progressive disciplinary policies.

      1. Jeffrey Deutsch*

        I agree completely.

        Not to mention…PIPs seem to me to be very much — if not infinitely — more appropriate for performance issues than for misconduct. With performance, you can see if the worker improves over time.

        With misconduct, what do you do? Make the employee write an essay on better decision-making? Keep a running record of X number of days since the last incident?

  19. New Fed Here*

    In my situation, a person can be on a PIP–or even something worse–and still be in charge of a program because there just isn’t anyone else available. If you have a skeleton staff…you take what you have.

    Also, from my perspective, I wouldn’t believe my management was taking the situation seriously if so-and-so was still running a program. Which is contrary to the above paragraph, but reinforces why skeleton staffs have multiple problems.

    1. Allonge*

      That is what I was thinking – sometimes the ‘existing warm body’ gets tasks that they preferably should not be doing, just beacuse they are still there. Ideal? Not. But it definitely happens.

  20. Arctic*

    I’d hesitate to get into someone’s criminal past in a reference. Unlike something like being chronically late or heating fish in the microwave there is literally a whole process for learning someone’s criminal history.
    And criminal offender information laws vary wildly state to state. Because of the first amendment in no state is it illegal to say “I watched someone get arrested” but in many it would be illegal to say “there are felonies on her criminal record.” So, OP may technically be in the clear but why skirt the line?

    1. Observer*

      Because the person in question actually stole from a co-worker. Common decency says that you give people a chance to protect themselves.

      1. Arctic*

        People should protect themselves with criminal background checks.

        As I said, there are states where it is illegal to mention criminal background in a reference.

        1. Ellie Mayhem*

          From my quick research, it looks as though only Massachusetts and Hawaii have laws about criminal background information, and those laws seem to limit what information employers can request about an applicant’s criminal history. I can’t find anything that governs what information references can provide, as long as it’s truthful. If there are more states with more stringent restrictions, I would like to learn more…it’s a fascinating topic.

        2. Observer*

          It’s actually not true that you are not allowed to mention this information as long as it’s relevant.

          And, in the states with limits on what you can ask about criminal background, this kind of heads up is actually MORE important, because employers are going to be constrained about doing routine CRIMINAL background checks, whereas if they are given specific and RELEVANT information, they have a good reason to check it out.

        3. Massmatt*

          I am skeptical that this is true, it reminds me of the urban legend that “karate experts have to register their hands as lethal weapons” I heard as a kid.

          Which states are these where mentioning a criminal background is illegal?

          1. pentamom*

            Particularly since criminal convictions are matters of public record, unless expunged. It doesn’t make sense for it to be illegal for one person to repeat a public fact to another.

    2. Fikly*

      Do you have a source for why it would be illegal for OP to say that there are felonies on her criminal record if this is indeed true? In some states employers cannot say this, but OP is no longer even employed at the same company.

    3. Natalie*

      in many it would be illegal to say “there are felonies on her criminal record.”

      No there aren’t. Laws restricting what an *employer* can request or consider at various stages of the employment process do not restrict what a former coworker or manager can share without prompting. The LW can share any information she wants, provided it is true.

    4. Gumby*

      Nope. Not true.

      In the first case, truth is an absolute defense to libel/slander.

      In the second case, it would be considered “substantially true” if the general gist of what you said was true even if some of the details were inaccurate. This is not a state-level thing.

      The company might be prohibited by state law from *asking* some types of questions on a job application, but that doesn’t apply to what a reference can offer. And in any case, when the offense is “stole from a former employer” it seems quite likely (but IANAL) that it would fall into the “offense is related to the job for which you are applying” exception to whether it can be considered in hiring decisions.

      1. Candi*

        Most of those “You can’t ask” laws refer to either the type of crime “he smoked marijuana a few times, where it was illegal, after he turned 18, but otherwise he’s been awesome” or time frames “He went to jail for assault, served X years, was released for good behavior, and in the 15+ years since then has been a model citizen.” Some people, wisely, decided small or distant mistakes shouldn’t impact your life forever.

        Now, repetitive and recent behavior of law-breaking and whatnot, feel free to reject their application. They’ve proven that they can’t be trusted, at the moment at least.

        It is perfectly legal to tell the truth about anything, including convictions and jail time. But it must be the truth (or at least the truth as far as you know it), not gossip, hearsay, or urban legend. Some of this stuff can be found by running a net search anyway; it’d be silly to make it illegal to transmit it verbally or in writing.

        Of course, when desiring to tell the truth, think about HOW you are telling the truth. There’s rarely a reason to be unreasonably blunt, and never a reason to be outright mean.

  21. Ariana Grande's Ponytail*

    #2: I do this too, even with my own coworkers — but if it’s possible I’d just wait until the tech person has cleared out! And if you need a minute because they are there, take a trip to the restroom or something. And then, yeah, just use Alison’s script. I will sometimes offer that I’m particularly susceptible to stomach viruses/respiratory illnesses, so I like to take extra precautions when possible.

  22. OP #1*

    OP #1 here. Couple of things to add – Dany was a long-term problem but only recently started reporting to me. Based on history and my experiences with her, I quickly moved to put a PIP in place. So yes, this had been going on for quite some time but I took action as soon as I could. As for letting an employee on a PIP head a critical project, that’s the way our organization is structured. We’re in multiple offices across the world and the projects require someone onsite. Think of Dany as the only llama inspector onsite at llama inspection time. And to clarify, for consequences, I was thinking a discussion with Sansa but just needed help on how to frame it. She’s a good employee and she definitely learned a lesson about appropriate use of email.

    1. Belle*

      Anyone else having issues accessing AAM today? It wouldn’t let me on last night or early this morning. Wasn’t sure if it was something on my end or not.

      1. Lora*

        Seconded, kept getting an error to clear caches.

        Back on topic: Yes, I understand exactly this problem. There’s a site that used to be in my network (is now in my colleague’s network instead, not through my choice) that IMO should be mothballed due to the lack of local expertise. It’s just a terrible location and nobody wants to live in East Nowhere, so we just cannot get anyone very good and have to settle for a bunch of mediocre people and one good person who cannot do everything herself. Here is what I would do:
        1) Talk to Sansa in a very sympathetic way understanding that yes, you understand fully how much she’s been doing and that’s great – if your company has any kind of Attaboy gift cards or recognition system or whatever to honor her going above and beyond and picking up Dany’s slack, recognize her for that.
        2) Separate conversation though, tell her FYI she has to work on this whole email communication thing because inappropriate, totally not cool, Dany would have been out the door soon enough anyway, she needs to trust you handling things
        3) See if you can get a contractor on board to help pick up Dany’s mess. It’s a lot easier to find a short term contract person to work on something in a weird site than to get a permanent hire; I’ve been at jobs where contractors were brought in mid-project or to clean up other contractors’ screw ups, who were moved throughout the network as needed. Currently have a few project managers like this. It’s also a nice way to try someone out and then if you decide you like them, offer them full time.

        1. Happily self employed*

          But make sure to pay the contractor enough, especially if you can’t get a local llama inspector and they need to live in a hotel.

          I got a call from a staffing agency in 2011 asking if I wanted a 3 month gig as a technical editor several hundred miles from home for $12.50/hr. That’s less than I was getting in the 1990s when I lived there. I could check groceries at Trader Joe’s for $16/hr with benefits. And I’d have to pay for temporary housing on top of rent where I live now because that’s not long enough to get an apartment.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yes. And if you look at twitter, you’ll confirm by the replies there it’s been on going since the post went up!

    2. Observer*

      Keep this in mind – you moved quickly, but it WAS a festering problem. True, not your fault. Nevertheless it helps to explain Sansa’s behavior.

      Also, keep this in mind – the fact that Danny had these kinds of problems means that even if she had not left, you STILL would quite possibly have had problems meeting deadlines. So, although you have a problem on your hands right now, it’s not as if you really have a clear “but for” type of situation.

    3. Myrin*

      Thanks for jumping in and giving a few more details, OP!
      I honestly don’t have much to add because… well, it sounds like you did all the right things and continue to do all the right things. I hope you’ll have a better experience with Dany’s successor!

    4. LGC*

      Eh, I get it – honestly, my first impression was that Dany is a brilliant jerk (with “jerk” substituting for a body part that will trigger moderation). You didn’t say anything about her competence – aside from her missing deadlines, which is major but doesn’t always mean she has no idea what she’s doing.

      But yeah, definitely talk to Sansa, and I’d also bring up her other behavior around Dany’s departure as well! That’s almost as concerning.

    5. Close Bracket*

      If Dany was already on a PIP, she may have been eyeing the exit anyway. Sansa’s email may have been the final punctuation mark on the writing that was already on the wall.

    1. OP #1*

      The project was site-based. Think of Dany as the only llama inspector onsite at llama inspection time. Had there been anyone else qualified, Dany wouldn’t have been leading the project. And yes, someone on a PIP isn’t necessarily qualified, but it was our only option. All the other llama inspectors were busy with inspections at their own sites.

      1. Fikly*

        That’s not Sansa’s fault, though. (Nor is it yours, but Sansa shouldn’t be punished for your mutual employer’s poor policy.)

        1. Senor Montoya*

          Sansa’s not being punished for poor policy. The issue is Sansa’s behavior — the email might be a one time thing, but the gloating *at work* is a real problem. Neither the email nor the gloating has anything to do with poor policies / lack of resources.

          1. Fikly*

            Well, the LW sure sounded like she wanted to punish Sansa because of the consequences of problem employee leaving, rather than the behavior itself, when she says that her actions have caused a serious business problem. The problem isn’t problem coworker leaving – LW herself is happy about that – the problem is that problem employee was in a critical position that is now in the lurch. That would be the results of the poor policy.

            And the email/gloating does have a lot to do with the poor policy of a problem employee not being dealt with for a long time. If Sansa hadn’t been pushed to her breaking point, she wouldn’t have sent the email.

            1. OP #1*

              Hey there – consequences was a bad word choice on my part. What I was looking for was how to frame the conversation with Sansa. On one hand, her reaction is totally understandable. Our org let Dany go way too long with managing her. On the other, Sansa’s email wasn’t acceptable. That’s the line I need to walk in this conversation.

          2. Anonymous Contribution*

            Problem is that two wrongs don’t make a right – Had Sansa sent that email to Dany and she was not a jerk, on a PIP and already out of the door, you’d have probably had the same reaction.

            As another example, you can fire someone for poor performance, for example, but if you handle that in a poor way, no one cares about how badly the firee performed because they’re all focussed on what you did instead

            1. Fikly*

              I’m not saying what Sansa did is right. But what I am saying is that when deciding punishment, you have to take context into consideration.

              Even our legal system does that – hence the different consequences for murder, manslaughter, and self-defence, even though they all start with a dead body.

              If Dany was not a jerk, not on a PIP, and not already out of the door, Sansa wouldn’t have sent that email, because LW is not writing in about Sansa writing a series of emails about non-problem employees.

              It’s not appropriate to react the same way to two completely different situations.

  23. Grey*

    #2: I do it without a second thought. I’ve caught colds after using my mouse/keyboard after someone who had a cold used it. Keep doing it!

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I do this and I also sanitize pens and pencils if someone borrows one of mine.

      I am neurotic, and I’ve also worked in places where The Office Plague goes around and it’s best to stop it in its tracks by regularly sanitizing communal items.

  24. CupcakeCounter*

    Another thing you can do it wipe your keyboard and mouse BEFORE the techs come as well – that way it reads more “cleanliness is awesome for everyone” as opposed to “gross person touched my computer…must clean now!”
    If you get a look, just throw out the cold/flu season line or your allergies are causing you to blow your nose/sneeze a lot. If you have someone in your life or at work who is immunocompromised, you could also bring that up a la “my partner/child/neighbor who I take dinner to is on immunosuppressing medications so I need to be extra careful with germs.

  25. Minimax*

    #3 These dates aren’t matching up for me. You state that the employee was fired from the job before she worked with you (for theft) and that you then managed her, but she also left your employment for jail time for that same incident?

    This timeline isnt making sense for me and honestly changes my advice depending on the scenario. Did you fire that employee after you found out about her past or for something else? Why do you feel the need to bring up a crime that she has already served time for and did not occur at your company? Address the timeline at your place sure, but why gossip about jail especially if she worked for you without incident?

    Beside the end date of your job the your involvement in the jail discussion makes no sense to me. Especially if it were several years ago.

    1. Annony*

      It sounded to me like the theft was discovered after she left the former employer and was hired by the LW’s company. So she was not fired from the first company for theft but was fired from the LW’s company either for the crimes she was convicted of or because she was in jail and unable to come to work.

      The LW is being contacted by people in her network about this. If she conceals the fact that this former employee went to jail for stealing from an employer, that could hurt the LW’s reputation. The jail discussion is relevant because it is why the person’s employment came to an end at that company. If it happened before she was hired by the LW’s company or after her employment ended for a different reason I would agree with you, but. since it was during the time the LW was her manager, it would be very strange for the LW to not mention it when asked about the employee.

    2. epi*

      The OP doesn’t say why this employee left the company she stole from; only that she was eventually arrested for the prior theft while working for the OP. It’s possible the employee left her old job voluntarily, then the theft was discovered after she no longer worked there. When the old company reported the theft, she was already working at her new job reporting to the OP, where she was arrested. After that, the employee could no longer work for the OP’s company because she was in jail.

      The OP is saying that this employee lied and claimed to work for her both earlier and later than she actually did. The employee claimed she started working for the OP earlier than she did, so she wouldn’t have to admit to having a connection to this company she stole from. She claimed she continued to work for the OP later than she did, to cover up the gap in her resume while she was serving time.

      I don’t know how you can possibly say this is none of the OP’s business. The employee stole from a previous employer, disrupted business at the OP’s company when she was arrested at work and either left or had to be fired quite suddenly, and is now out there lying and using her time working for the OP to cover up her criminal history. The OP isn’t seeking this person out to damage her; she’s being asked for references specifically because the employee is still lying about the length and nature of their professional connection. It isn’t gossip for the OP to share what she knows when asked about it directly by someone who needs to know– or do these other companies have no legitimate interest in not being stolen from by their employees? Nor does the OP need to satisfy you about the exact timeline here in order to get permission to tell the truth when asked a direct question.

      1. Minimax*

        Its because I had misread it as a very different timeline where she had served her jailtime before the OPs company had hired her.

    3. Myrin*

      I think you’re misreading:

      The employee wasn’t fired from either company, for once (does it count as firing if you simply can’t show up to work anymore because you’re in prison? I don’t think so, but maybe you have to fire someone just for show?).

      She worked at and stole from Company A without being discovered. She left there and started to work at Company B, where OP was her supervisor. Meanwhile, someone at Company A figured out about the theft at their own company and alerted the authorities. So while at work at Company B, employee was taken away by police (OP says she “saw her arrested”) and subsequently put into jail, which she has been recently released from.

      1. Minimax*

        Ah yes I had read it as, was fired/arrested for theft at previous job. Worked for op after jail time, and then was let go after having to return to jail (which ive seen happen over late court costs for as little as 30 days). And that now, years later, op noticed a discrepancy on the resume (which I read to be related to that second arrest) and felt the need to divulge to the new hiring manager. Which felt very, punish Jean Valjean the CRIMINAL to me.

        I see now that bit at the end clarified employment ended when she was arrested at OPs company.

        I still think Alison’s script is best though. Clarify the dates and recommend the background check.

    4. Dragoning*

      You can be fired for something well before something like theft makes its way through the legal system. The case may well have been making its way through court. This makes perfect sense to me.

  26. Sara without an H*

    Unless Sansa is gloating obnoxiously in public, I wouldn’t come down hard on her for feeling pleased that Dany chose to quit. She probably has a lot of company.

    I would talk with her, though, about professional communication, including my sainted mother’s rule about not putting anything in writing that you weren’t prepared to see on the front page of the newspaper the next day.

    And if OP’s office doesn’t have an “appropriate use” policy for internet communications, now might be a good time to write one up.

    1. Senor Montoya*

      If Sansa’s gloating quietly with other employees *at work*, that’s still a problem. It’s public enough that the OP knows about it.

  27. Maya Elena*

    I’d agree that you can participate and say the truth.
    If asked, “has boss exhibited bullying behavior”, you can honestly say “no, not towards me”.
    It is even in the realm of the possible that your co-worker could be overblowing her complaint and your manager is fine — but even in this case, your input would be helpful to the manager.

  28. Autumnheart*

    I was thinking exactly the same thing. I get that sometimes teams are small enough where you don’t have the luxury to keep a low-performer out of a project, but it does seem like this project was destined to hit a snag regardless since Dany was leading it.

  29. Phillip*

    I once had a coworker explain how foolish it is to wash your hands in the bathroom as they were using my keyboard.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The only thing missing from this distressing story is “This coworker had recently returned from a bad case of the norovirus.” *sobs*

    2. tangerineRose*

      Did the co-worker ever think that if they flush the toilet using their hand, they’re touching all kinds of stuff?

      1. KoiFeeder*

        The “logic,” as I remember it from high school, is that everything that’s touched the flush handle has also touched the faucets and door handles, so you may as well not be washing your hands at all.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          And that’s why I shut off the faucet with my elbow, and open the bathroom door with the paper towel I used to dry my hands.
          I sound extreme, but since I started doing that, I have caught fewer colds by far than in the years before.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            Yup! I take an immunosuppressant and I literally just keep “bathroom kleenex” in my pocket so I can touch things without making myself ill.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            I wish bathroom doors all had auto-openers so you could just kick a opener plate and it would open.

  30. Clisby*

    You are not the only one wondering why an employee who’s already on a PIP was allowed to lead (or continue to lead) a critical project.

    1. Wintermute*

      I’m not wondering at all, sometimes people are hired for a role that inherently involves taking leadership in a given type of project– in fact their job with the company might be “the only person who can do this on the team”, or at least “the one who has expertise in leading this”.

      1. Senor Montoya*

        Right, and being on a PIP doesn’t mean: can’t be allowed to do anything remotely important. They’re being given an opportunity to improve.

            1. Jeffrey Deutsch*


              Perhaps sometimes — staffing permitting, obviously — a PIP should include a temporary (or even permanent) demotion/reassignment?

            2. Fikly*

              Your core job responsibilties do not change the definitions of words. It may change the options of assignments available to you, but again, that’s company’s fault.

  31. HighlyCaffientated*

    LW#2 – I had a colleague who would do this and combined with their kind of frosty attitude it left a bad taste in some people’s mouth. Not saying that is right, just reporting how people reacted to it. I would say being friendly and explaining your reasoning would do a lot to mitigate that.

  32. Margaery*

    #1, We actually just had a very similar situation go down in my old office with our very own Dany and Sansa. Our Dany was also confrontational, dramatic, and struggled to be reliable, but our Sansa also has some behavioral issues of her own. However, our manager strongly favored Sansa because she was dependable, and overlooked her divisive personality to demonize Dany as the source of the team attitude issues.

    Dany immediately interpreted this favoritism as office bullying, and though there was a kernel of truth to the accusations of favoritism and teaming up, she responded with even worse behavior and acting out more strongly, because she didn’t feel heard. All she saw was Sansa being praised and her issues not being addressed, while Dany was being put on PIPs and getting strongly-worded talks. Eventually, Sansa sent a long e-mail outlining Dany’s flaws and problems to our manager from a shared e-mail account, and of course Dany saw it and raised hell. She didn’t leave, but she did switch teams and remains incensed (for better or worse). Of course, there were no repercussions for Sansa–part of the anger on Dany’s part was seeing our manager respond, “Yes, you’re right on all accounts, she’s very difficult.”

    I’m not trying to tell you that your Dany wasn’t as difficult as she was, or that your Sansa might be toxic, too. I just wanted to share and agree with the comment above that say that privately handling bad behavior with an employee can also look similar to doing nothing and allowing the behavior to flourish. Especially when Dany was given a high-stakes deliverable on a very tight deadline during a PIP. To be honest, I don’t blame either here, I wonder what could be done by your management team to prevent a similarly troubling environment from resurfacing in the future. It’s easy to say it was a Dany problem, and maybe it was!

  33. Close Bracket*

    you don’t just have the same conversation over and over

    No, you don’t have the *same* conversation over and over, but if something is an ongoing problem, you can’t expect it to change after just one conversation, either.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      Which is why she says you would escalate if the problem continues. But right now the “problem” is just one errant email. There is nothing to suggest it will occur again and it’s reasonable to think for now that one conversation to make it clear that this was Not Okay will probably be sufficient.

      1. Close Bracket*

        I edited for brevity, but the context of the quoted part makes it clear that follow-on conversations are *if* it does occur again, not a suggestion that it *will* happen again.

        (That said, if she displays similarly bad judgment a second time, you’d escalate the seriousness of your response — you don’t just have the same conversation over and over.)

  34. Fikly*

    It seems a bit hypocritical for LW1 to be glad problem employee is gone, but then be wanting to punish Sansa for essentially the same thing. We don’t even have a clear idea of what Sansa’s behavior to celebrate problem employee being gone is.

    Also, while this problem employee is gone because of this email, the employee was on a PIP. Making an effort to improve doesn’t mean they were actually improving. If problem employee didn’t pass the PIP, were they going to just keep them on until the critical deadline had passed? What if this person left on their own, or got hit by a bus? These things happen, and companies should not have someone (especially someone on a PIP) in such a critical position that if they disappeared one day it would cause a massive problem because no one can step in or has essential knowledge.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      You can be glad someone is gone, and keep that feeling to yourself. I agree that we don’t know what constitutes ‘gloating’ to OP1.

    2. LGC*

      True, but I can see why a lot of people said Sansa was “gloating” – LW1 doesn’t say that, but she comes really close! The last sentence of her letter is:

      She seems to alternate between being upset that this happened and celebrating that Dany’s gone.

      So, strictly speaking, she’s not gloating over causing Dany to ragequit. I think she feels bad that she was a jerk to Dany! (I mean, she’s not Joffrey, FFS.) But also, it sounds like she’s visibly happy that Dany is gone at work, which is inappropriate for the office. (Note – for the office. Not for a presumably anonymous letter on AAM. Not out with her girlfriends at happy hour. Maybe on social media.) So I don’t see it as hypocritical.

      (I mean, I correct employees for quite a bit of stuff that I myself do outside of work because it’s not appropriate to do at work.)

      1. Fikly*

        I’m not a fan of policing people’s facial expressions. And visibly happy could simply be a facial expression.

        There’s a big difference between a smile of relief and breaking into dance, too.

        How many employees not Sansa are visibly happy Dany has ragequit? I’m guessing more than none.

  35. Eccentric Smurf*

    LW2 – I have a coworker who wipes down her keyboard after a tech support visit and don’t find it offensive at all. She doesn’t make a big show of it, just a quick wipe down. If she looked disgusted or spent 10 minutes scrubbing right in front of me, it would come off differently, but she doesn’t do that, so it doesn’t seem like a big deal.

  36. Richard*

    #4 – I had a related experience to this, where a coworker had a terrible relationship with her supervisor (not my supervisor, but someone I worked with without issue). I saw that bad relationship and offered to support her in the investigation, but got blindsided when she escalated it to a sexual discrimination complaint. While I agreed that he was not treating her fairly (it was a bad two-way relationship, but he was worse) and there were some gendered aspects to their toxic communication, there really wasn’t anything rising to the level of discrimination, nor was there any pattern of other discrimination. I had to have a long, awkward conversation with the HR investigator about how I offered to contribute but couldn’t honestly support the core of her complaint.
    She left the job after an unsatisfactory result to the investigation, and then, according to Facebook, she was fired from her next job for making essentially the same type of complaint against her new supervisor.

    1. Observer*

      Actually, given that firing her for making a complaint is illegal, I have to wonder what was really going on there.

      1. Jeffrey Deutsch*

        Unless the complaint was false — not “he said she said,” not “I can see both sides,” not even good faith mistaken, but actually false.

      2. Richard*

        All I have to go on from the next job was long Facebook posts from her perspective about what happened. She’s an unusual case, where she expects a very flat, collaborative environment resisting any hierarchy, but is also extremely confrontational, especially if she detects a whiff of problematic dynamics, even if nothing is legally actionable or even documentable. In the last couple years, she’s put up several long posts trashing her prior employers for being racist and sexist institutions on Facebook. She doesn’t have the most professional judgment, so I assumed that more was going on there as well.
        On the other hand, just because firing in retaliation is illegal doesn’t mean it’s not common.

  37. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

    OP1: A lot of people are using gloating for Sana but the OP never states that–just that Sansa seems torn between being upset and celebrating Dany’s gone. What is this celebrating? Being noticeably happier? WHistling? If Sansa is boasting on how Dany is gone and how Sansa finally won, then I can see calling it gloating. Simply being happier and humming to herself–not gloating. Sansa made an email error and should be reminded of professionalism but that’s it. OP should be working on getting a new person in Dany’s role and make sure they are a good match.

    1. OP #1*

      Mostly Sansa seems happier since Dany’s gone. But there have been some “ding dong the witch is dead” comments too, when she didn’t know I could hear her.

      1. Beth*

        To me this wouldn’t be something I’d call ‘gloating’ or ‘celebrating’. She probably seems happier because she genuinely is happier, which, being happy at work isn’t something you want to ask her to hide! And a couple private comments about a serious problem coworker being finally gone? It would be one thing if she was going around gloating to everyone about how she personally chased Dany out, or opening team meetings with “Let’s all have a round of applause for Dany’s departure and how much easier our lives will be without her.” But it sounds like she’s already trying to keep her feelings reasonably quiet, and you just happened to pass by at that exact moment to overhear. That doesn’t sound like a problem to me.

        1. Avasarala*

          I disagree, I think “the witch is dead” is a pretty hurtful thing to say about someone and certainly not professional at work.

      2. Senor Montoya*

        Yeah, those comments are a problem. She’s saying them at work where others can hear them. That’s unprofessional. Definitely need to discuss that with her.

    1. Camellia*

      [sigh] This was supposed to be a reply to TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesInYourHouse. I, too, am having issues with this site today.

  38. Etti Ket*

    #4, if you don’t think your coworker’s concerns are valid and worth a full investigation, that’s something the investigator needs to hear. If all he’s hearing are the complaints, and anyone with something good to say about your boss keeps mum, he’s never going to get the other side of the story. You say you have a good working relationship with your boss; the investigator needs to hear that, and to hear what you mean by that, too.
    How would you like it if someone was investigating you, and the only folks who would talk to him were the small handful with complaints? Wouldn’t you want someone to speak up in your defense?
    Now, if your boss really is awful, but you’ve found workarounds that mitigate it, that’s a different matter. But the investigator needs to know that, too. Then, if he decides that your boss is worth keeping despite the issues, he can suggest those workarounds to your coworkers, and see if they smooth things out for everybody.
    But polite honesty really is the best policy in this circumstance.

  39. Uldi*

    LW #5: This is offered with tongue firmly placed in cheek. And also with congratulations on getting an awesome job.

    Pie. Send them pie. Apple, cherry, blueberry, strawberry, lemon meringue… it’s all good. Just try to make it as fresh as possible, and preferably in-season.

    And this has absolutely nothing to do with my desire for pie. Just to be clear. Especially strawberry pie that won’t be in-season for another few months(!) locally.

    In all seriousness, the heartfelt note would be deeply appreciated.

  40. EvilQueenRegina*

    I can relate to 4 a bit because we had a similar situation with my ex-manager where someone had raised a grievance about her micromanaging and bullying. Yes, there was validity to her complaints (I use the pseudonym Professor Umbridge when referring to that manager here for a reason). But at the same time, the complainer (Minerva) saw things in very black and white terms, which others didn’t quite see the same way, and I think that came across in the investigation, and Minerva was genuinely surprised when the eventual outcome was “Umbridge’s management leaves something to be desired, and things are going to change for her, but the grievance is not upheld”.

    Yes, a lot of people left while Umbridge was manager, and yes, a lot of that was down to her, but I don’t think it was quite the case that every single person who quit, quit because of Umbridge, while Minerva thought they did.

    I could also understand how the situation arose in the first place – Umbridge was an inexperienced manager, and her previous manager had been so hands off she was Cornelius Fudge (they had the same trick of burying their heads in the sand, jumping to their own conclusions without properly investigating and then being surprised that their conclusions were wrong). “Fudge” had actually been removed from post because her being too hands off and not having any real idea what went on day to day led to her authorising too many layoffs (that’s an AAM post in itself). I have often thought that Umbridge was trying to hard to avoid making Fudge’s mistakes that she went too far in the other direction and became Umbridge, and didn’t understand that that in itself could be a mistake. She also didn’t really have any management coaching – one of her managers was just too high up to manage her, and her next manager was her neighbour and personal friend, and felt awkward about actually managing her. While I’m not yet in a place where I can truly feel sorry for Umbridge (a lot happened in the five years she was my manager), I can see how she ended up in a bad situation, and I don’t think Minerva quite sees that.

  41. RagingADHD*

    #2, If you wipe it down after they leave, how could it be rude? There’s no such thing as free-floating rudeness that nobody else sees.

    I don’t think it’s rude even before they are out of eyeline, as long as you’re not obviously hovering with the wipes and making retching noises, or something ridiculous like that.

  42. OP #4*

    Thanks to everyone that provided insight so far! To those that asked above, my supervisor, my coworker, and I are all female.
    Situations like this are complex and there are so many perspectives to consider. An investigation was conducted, and since they interviewed everyone in the department, I definitely felt comfortable participating. The questions were pretty direct, yet general, so I really did not have to say too much. As to the results of the investigation . . . those are still pending!

  43. Specialist*

    I’m not sure if the OP’s are reading this anymore. I had an issue where someone wrote an email about me and sent it to me. In my case, it was an incompetent IT person. I’d been trying to get rid of this person for some time when I got an email from her calling me an asshole by nature. I was mad for a few seconds, then I was very happy because I thought that this would be the seminal event that got rid of her. I actually believed that sending such an email to a client would lead to termination. I was wrong. Not only did she not get fired, they continued to demand that I work with her. I think that this was a bad manager situation, as I had a pretty significant amount of documentation of incompetence, including things that could have resulted in large fines from the government and risked the whole organization. The management was convinced that all the problems were because I was mean. That IT person still has a job with the organization years later, but fortunately I don’t have to suffer the consequences of her incompetence nearly as much. I hate to say it, but I finally got rid of her by refusing to talk to her. A few months later they sent another person in and I would only talk to the new person. The incompetent one just sat there and finally gave up and went away. I’d be happy to hear any advice on what I should have done.

    Your Dany was smart to quit over this issue, and you actually got a better end result. Dany can say they left over this issue, not because of a performance problem. Dany probably knew that termination was likely. Now, Dany left because of bad behavior on the part of the employer. They have a good reason why recommendations from your company should be discounted. It was a better choice for Dany’s career. You have your problem person gone, and you don’t have to pay unemployment. However, I don’t think you should tell any of this to Sansa. Sansa needs to hear that her actions were not good and better not be repeated. She should also be told to stop with the ding dong the witch is dead comments.

  44. Hedgehug*

    OP#3 I had a similar situation in my previous place of employment where the criminal ex-employee stupidly put the company I worked for on their resume. So the new place hiring her called us to verify her previous employment with us and asked why she left. That situation was a little different though because my boss had an ongoing court case against the ex-employee, so because it was pending and she was legally proven guilty of her crime, we had to be very careful what we said because you don’t want to be accused of heresay.
    Your person though has already been arrested, tried and done her jail time. So there’s not risk of heresay or slander as long as everything you say is factual.
    It also matters what they were arrested for. My ex-coworker stole a lot of money. So when talking to her potential new employer, all my boss could say was “we are currently suing her for accusations of financial loss. If you hire her, I do not recommend allowing her around money” or something to that effect.

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