I’m in trouble for sharing confidential info, boss is spying on our Zoom meetings, and more

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

1. I got caught sharing confidential info

I really screwed up at work and now I’m so scared of getting in trouble or getting fired that I don’t even want to go to work.

I’m a supervisor of an administrative unit with the state, and I’m the direct assistant to my district manager. Recently my district manager requested I do some filing for her, and it turned out to be employee evaluations I was filing in employee files. When I was done, one of my employees — who is also my friend — asked me how some of the supervisors had done on their evaluations. I knew better but shared confidential information with her on the supervisors’ scores. Later she approached me and said, “So Roy overheard our conversation and talked to me about it.” I viewed the office cameras and she never spoke with anyone other then one other supervisor that day. I’m pretty sure she went and told that supervisor what I had shared with her.

I’m embarrassed, ashamed, and terrified to go to work and find out I’m in trouble and possibly getting fired. I called in the next day but now I have to go back tomorrow. I know it was wrong and it’s my own fault for not only sharing confidential information but for trusting an employee not to tell. How am I going to explain this stupid mistake to my boss? I’m sick even with the thought of going back.

The best thing you can do is to take full responsibility for it. Don’t avoid going to work, don’t avoid talking to your manager — that will just make it worse. You made a mistake, and the way past that is to own up to it. You say you were wrong, you’re mortified, and it will not happen again. If this is the first time something like this has happened, you’re probably not going to get fired — but you will need to do some work to rebuild your manager’s trust in your judgment and that will take time, possibly a long time. On the other hand, if this is part of a pattern or there have been other issues … well, all you can do is wait and see what your boss says.

The thing is, though, to have the best chance of moving forward — in whatever form that takes — you need to really get why what you did was wrong. Right now you sound very focused on being caught. You checked the office cameras to see who your employee had talked to! That in itself sounds like it could be another violation of the trust your employer has in you; unless you’re charged with routinely viewing that footage, surely you’re not supposed to be using the cameras like that?

You’ve got to make your reaction right now is not about being caught, but about understanding why you did what you did. That might sound overblown, but my hunch is that you haven’t fully processed the obligations you have as a manager. You consider an employee a friend, which is a problem in itself for a lot of reasons, and you prioritized that friendship over your obligations to your job and to other colleagues. I think you’ve got to figure out what drove you to do that and what’s required of you as a manager (and other ways you might out of sync with those requirements) before you can really move forward from this.

2. Boss watching our Zoom meeting recordings

What would you make of a department head finding and watching the recordings of past team Zoom meetings that were held by smaller teams inside this department? It recently came up that there is a possibility that the new-ish leader of a department is likely finding and watching the weekly Zoom recordings of one of the teams inside this department. The recordings of meetings are held in a Zoom account to which several people have access, so that’s not an unreasonable possibility, and nothing nefarious would have happened to gain this access. Nobody has ever mentioned that these recordings are being watched, but there are things that have come up that make this scenario likely.

Do you think this is a breach of protocol or trust? Do you believe that teams should have any expectation of privacy in a Zoom meeting in a company account, or would you feel like a team meeting’s content was fair game for the department head to find and review?

This is one of those things that seems a lot sketchier because the manager hasn’t told you she’s doing it (if in fact she is). If she had said, “My schedule doesn’t let me sit in on these meetings but I want to stay in the loop — both on substantive updates and to get a feel for how these meetings are going generally — so I’m going to review some recordings when I have time,” you likely wouldn’t feel weird about it at all. But if she’s doing it without telling anyone, it gives it an intentionally covert air that will make people feel like they’re being spied on.

In general, people shouldn’t have an expectation that Zoom meetings in a company account will be private from their manager. But they should have an expectation that their manager will be transparent with them about what types of things she reviews.

Why not just ask her? I don’t know what’s making you think she’s watching the recordings, but you could say, “X looked like you’ve been reviewing some of our meeting recordings — do you want to start getting invites to those meetings?”

3. My two employees are very different — how do I avoid being accused of favoritism?

I have two staff in exactly the same role, but one is interested and engaged and the other … just isn’t. Employee A complains a lot, does the bare minimum, and when asked for goals has said “I just want to keep my job for now.” They often do things at the last minute and doesn’t care about the wider context for them. I’ve offered new projects and they’re just not interested. They also seem to let Employee B pick up a lot of their slack, which I am addressing.

In comparison, Employee B always wants to know why we are doing something, asks important questions, has taught themselves new software, and is very proactive.

I am worried about being accused of favoring Employee B (by giving them a different project) over the other and then having to deal with repercussions from that. Employee A is very combative (she wasn’t my hire, I acquired her in a restructure) and has taken legal action at other jobs before that she didn’t win. I just don’t want to open myself up to a HR issue! Is there anything I can do to stop this?

It’s completely fine to treat employees differently based on their work quality and level of engagement. There’s nothing illegal or problematic about that, as long as you can show that the differences are in fact based on factors like the ones you’ve described here (rather than, say, discrimination based on age, gender, or race). In fact, good management demands that you treat employees differently when they have different levels of work quality and motivation.

If Employee A questions why she’s not getting the same projects or opportunites as B, explain that in order to give her similar opportunites, you’d need to see X, Y, and Z from her first. (Fill in with whatever makes sense — it might be more initiative, more thorough work, higher-level work, projects that aren’t rushed through at the last minute, an interest in X, or so forth.) You could even say, “You’ve told me you’re not interested in new projects and just want to keep doing what you’re doing. If that’s changed, let’s talk about what I’d need to see from you to make you eligible for those opportunites.” In fact, you might consider having this conversation with her proactively, rather than waiting for her to complain.

4. Should I tell my boss about a potentially looming medical diagnosis?

I recently got a promotion at work. I am currently in intensive training to take on more responsibilities, and I was so excited to make this step in my career.

Unfortunately, the same week I started my training, I got some bad news from my doctor. She is referring me to an oncologist, and is worried that I am showing signs of blood cancer. I am in my late 20s, and this has been really overwhelming to me, especially as my mom is sick with the same type of cancer.

I do not want to bring it up to my boss, as I do not want it coloring my first weeks on the job if it ends up being a more manageable diagnosis.

However, I feel that this is bleeding into my training anyway. I snapped at my boss and told her “no” when she tried to give me a new project today, which is completely out of character for me. Should I tell her what is going on? How much detail do I need to go into?

Oh no, I’m so sorry and I hope you get good news.

I do think you should talk to your boss since you snapped at her and are worried it’s coloring your work in other ways, and doubly so since you’re new to the job. Giving her some context about what’s going on will signal “this is about something serious outside of work; it’s not my normal M.O. or a sign I can’t handle the job.”

For example, you could say, “When you talked to me on Friday about the X project, I realized later that I’d responded sharply — and I wanted to apologize. That was out of character for me, and it made me realize I should give you some context about what’s going on. I’ve had some potentially serious medical news. I’m waiting on further testing, and it’s been stressful. I’ve been trying to keep it out of work, and I think Friday I failed at that! I’m hoping to know more within (time period) but I wanted to give you a heads-up about what’s going on.” You don’t need to share any more than that if you don’t want to. You could even share less (you don’t need to say it’s medical, for example), but I think this strikes the balance of preserving your privacy while making it clear you’re dealing with something big.

I’m sending you good thoughts.

5. How should I follow up on a job interview?

I’m looking for advice on following up on the interview process. I had my interview early in December and they reached out for my references on the week of January 7th. I was planning on sending an email just reaching out to ask if they had any questions about my references.

Don’t ask if they have questions about your references. That’s presumably not what you really want to know … and if they had questions, they’d most likely just ask them. It’s okay to be more straightforward and ask what you really want to know, which (I assume) is whether they can give you an update on their timeline.

Say this: “I hope you don’t mind me checking back in. I’m still very interested in the X role and wondered if you can share an updated timeline for any next steps.”

Just be aware that you may or may not hear back. Employers are notorious for ghosting people after interviews, or for just not responding until they have something concrete to report. It’s rude and it’s incredibly common. It’s fine to check in with them once at this point, but after that the best thing you can do is to assume you didn’t get the job, move on, and let it be a pleasant surprise if they do contact you at some point.

{ 307 comments… read them below }

  1. Double A*

    Why would you record Zoom meetings if there wasn’t some expectation that someone might view them later? Isn’t the the point of recording? Now, if you didn’t know the meeting was being recorded in the first place, that would be a problem. But…someone who couldn’t/didn’t attend viewing a recording? Isn’t that what it’s for?

    My work records a lot of meetings, with the expectation that we’ll review them as needed, so that’s just the norm I’m used to.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      At my job, the Zoom recordings are primarily for the benefit of the person hosting the meeting, so they can create accurate minutes after the fact. I don’t think they’re posted anywhere for general consumption, as reviewing the minutes is way more efficient than listening to an hour or two of discussion.

      1. Massmatt*

        Well, if the minutes are accurate and thorough, what is the difference between someone reading them and watching the recordings, other than the time required?

        The OP asks whether employees should expect privacy during virtual work meetings, and I have to say no, they should not, and why would anyone expect this? I wonder whether people are venting about their boss, company, or work in ways they don’t want the boss to know about. I would assume the boss is listening to/watching anything said in company email or virtual meetings.

        And I agree the time required to watch old meetings would be… a lot. I’m always amazed by managers that have time to do things like this, or be cc’d on every staff email. Do they not have any actual work to do?

        1. Clisby*

          The LW says this is a “newish” manager – depending on how new, they might find watching team meetings a good way to learn more about employees without actually having to attend the meetings.

        2. BadApple*

          The minutes are a summary. I’m not OP, but when my boss isn’t in the room we can ask questions like “are they going to replace the person on medical leave” and discuss personal lives, briefly and professionally, and simply leave them off the meeting minutes. When he is in the room (virtual or in person) or if he were reviewing every minute of an hour long meeting, then we cannot do those things. It’s not malicious on our part, it’s just simply a difference in interpersonal dynamics that allows different exchange of information that would have no purpose in minutes.

      2. Joan Rivers*

        If the boss walked past the door at an office meeting she might by chance hear someone say something — and it could be misleading to hear only that fragment — but no one would say the boss shouldn’t walk past the door, right?

        What she’s doing is more like “lurking” by the door, but I still don’t see the issue. If she watches the entire interaction she hears what was said more accurately than just catching a “joke” or silly comment not intended for her.

    2. a sound engineer*

      In ours if someone will need to watch later the Zoom meeting starts with an announcement that the meeting will be recorded, then we get roll-called and give consent to be recorded. (I assume to be in keeping with the laws of my state surrounding the recording of private conversations)

      1. alienor*

        That’s interesting. We use Teams and there’s a pop-up banner across the top of the meeting window that lets participants know it’s being recorded. We aren’t asked for consent, but I assume it’s one of those things where continuing to remain on the call after being notified serves as consent…though I’m also not sure what would happen if someone announced they were dropping off because they didn’t want to be recorded.

        1. Chocolate Teapot*

          Not with Zoom, but I record meetings to help me write the minutes. I ask at the start of the meeting if there are any objections, and state the recording will be deleted once the minutes have been approved.

        2. Mongrel*

          When we’re in Zoom meetings we get a pop-up informing us that someone has hit the record button and are we (as individuals) OK with that.
          I’ve not noticed if there’s a banner or some such during the call though, although I have a tendency to phase out during those meetings…

          1. I'm just here for the cats*

            We just switched to zoom but I beliythat there is a button or something that showed it’s recording. Nothing big but just like a small colored light in the corner that says recording.

        3. Karo*

          The banner on Teams (for us at least) includes a note that remaining on the call means you are giving consent.

          As a note for anyone using Teams – I recently discovered that (at least at my organization) all videos are uploaded to one location once the recording is saved, so anyone at the company can watch any video. My boss and I did some test ones where we talked about nonsense so we could see what shows on the recording, and months later I’m still praying that no one watched it before I realized and deleted it! (We weren’t talking about anything taboo, just clothes and pets, but it wasn’t as professional a mien as I have with people I don’t work with regularly.)

          1. SomebodyElse*

            If you use Stream, you should be able to change the permissions on videos. I learned this the hard way when I tried to share a training video made during a meeting with another employee. I didn’t have owner permissions on it even though I was a participant, so I couldn’t share it since the owner had left the company.

            Sigh… I had to play the recorder and record the recording so I was able to share. Sadly not the dumbest thing I’ve ever had to do to get around technology.

        4. AthenaC*

          We use zoom and there’s always a very obvious “THIS MEETING IS BEING RECORDED” audio statement either when recording starts or privately to a new person when they log in. Nevertheless, if it’s a client meeting I always kick it off and say that the meeting is being recorded and thanking everyone for participating. Redundant but it’s just polite.

        5. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I was in a Zoom meeting earlier this week, and the professor was going to record it for others who weren’t able to attend. Once she set it to record, the Zoom options were either to give consent, or to get off the call (or maybe it was to go off video and on mute while still listening and watching; I don’t recall exactly). But we had to explicitly consent to being recorded or else opt out in some way.

      2. Person from the Resume*

        In my org the person recording asks if anyone has objections to the meeting being recorded. Then they hit “record” and some sort of announcement pops up on Teams.

        Relistening to the entire meeting is NOT efficient for creating minutes, but it does make them accurate. (I am a terrible notetaker, though, and get distracted by participating in the meeting and forget to scribble notes. Fortunately now I am rarely the person expected to take notes.)

        We do do recording for others to watch later, but that’s usually a demo or training type meeting.

        1. Person from the Resume*

          Well, I stand corrected, it says in the letter: “I’m a supervisor of an administrative unit with the state, and I’m the direct assistant to my district manager.”

          This is certainly not a kid in a store. OTOH government’s a reputation of slow to fire so admitting the truth (instead of being caught) may help the LW stay employed.

    3. Kali*

      I wondered that too, but then, I am in a totally different environment. All my zoom meetings are academic lectures and workshops, so they’re recorded for everyone to review as needed.

    4. 123Rew*

      This is what I was thinking. Yeah, it is mainly for minutes but since it is being recorded there is a reasonable assumption that someone might watch/listen. I guess most recorded meetings are jsut stored and nobody will see them. If they didn’t know it was being recorded then that would be a whole other thing.

      1. Mae Fuller*

        Where I am (both legally in my country and ethically in my profession) it’s explicitly not acceptable to rely on a “reasonable assumption” – you have to be clear and explicit about how information about individuals will be stored and used, and identifiable video footage would definitely count.

        1. a clockwork lemon*

          The meetings are recorded and stored in a shared drive available to everyone, though. It’s not a secret that the meetings are being recorded, which is why it’s weird that LW thinks there’s something suspect about this particular director viewing these meetings.

          1. Not playing your game anymore*

            We have some meetings where sunshine laws are in play. I just always assume that anyone from the governor to Jane Q Public might be watching the meeting.

        2. 123Rew*

          In this case I would say it is a reasonable assumption based on the information given. People in the meeting are notified that they are being recorded and they stored in a place x that people have access to.

    5. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      There’s not enough info here – is the “newish” manager directly responsible for this team? Why are only one team’s meetings being reviewed? Is it possible that the team lead knows about this, but just hasn’t mentioned it to the team? Does this team have performance or other issues? Were the meetings minuted? Is there a reason for the manager to be concerned about what might have happened during these meetings?

      We record many of our Teams meetings, and anyone who has access can watch them afterwards. Sometimes it’s because a lot of info is shared during the meeting, and we need to have a reference for later in case something was unclear. Sometimes it’s for the benefit of people who couldn’t attend. Sometimes the meeting includes a demo of new software or a walk-through of requirements, that others may need access to.

      I think a good rule of thumb is that if you need your meeting to be private, don’t run it using company software and don’t record it.

      1. Joan Rivers*

        Scientific studies show people only take in a % of what they hear — our minds wander and we just miss part of it. So taking notes or reviewing mins. can help us if we really need to know what was presented.

        1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

          I agree with you Joan Rivers, but can’t see how your comment relates to what I said?

    6. Snow Globe*

      I had the same thought. Most of our meetings are recorded, and a link to the recording is sent out after the call, so that anyone who was unable to attend the meeting live can view the recording.

      The only thing that might make this situation weird is if the manager was not invited to the original call.

      1. Hazel*

        I dunno… that doesn’t seem weird to me, especially if the manager is “new-ish.” Maybe she is trying to get more familiar with what is happening in the dept/co.

        1. Sparrow*

          That’s what I thought, too – it’s an understandable thing to do if they’re new and trying to get up to speed on something. And in that position, I probably wouldn’t even think twice about watching the recordings, but I also totally understand how watching without anyone knowing could feel creepy, especially if they’re otherwise just there as a formality and no one typically accesses them.

    7. Smithy*

      I think it’s like the difference between “my workplace/boss can read all my emails” and “my workplace/boss reads all my emails”. On the first hand, certainly please continue to use work email for professional and certainly legal communication activities.

      However, if you were to discover that your boss was taking a few hours every night to read all emails you wrote without explaining that was going to happen and why – I can’t imagine that would make any direct report feel good. AAM is full of emails where a boss who insists on being cc’ed or bcc’ed on all communication makes staff feel micromanaged and untrusted enough. There are certainly cases where it can be explained “I’m new/my boss is new – I just need increased visibility at this time and hope to transition to a more formal update system that’s more focused” – but without that conversation and without it being a norm, I would expect at least a conversation.

      1. Observer*

        You have a good point. The real issue is that while what the new boss is doing could be a problem, the OP’s question indicates and extremely problematic mind set in the other direction.

        It they had asked “Is this odd?” I would say yes. If they asked “Is this a red flag?” I would probably say “It depends on a lot of context.”

        But an expectation of PRIVACY? In what universe does anyone expect that a WORK TEAM meeting, held on company property / using a company account, on work time, should be locked away from the manager or chain of command of that team?

        1. Allypopx*

          Agreed, and I also wonder if it’s indicative of other issues on this team. I’ve seen my manager watching meeting recordings of meetings she wasn’t in – sometimes a meeting I had with a client that she would have been in if time allowed, or just to refresh herself on something. I don’t find it odd, and I trust her judgment.

          I think one of two things is happening – either the manager has given other reasons for the staff not to trust her and they are overly on edge to anything she’s doing that feels like monitoring or checking in, or the OP has twisted expectations about “privacy” or other norms in a workplace setting. Perhaps a combination of the two.

          But this practice on its own is really nothing.

        2. Smithy*

          I think to say you never expect any privacy on company property is unfair and is likely an area where 100% remote work has taken away those opportunities.

          I’ve never worked anywhere that knowingly bugged offices – so while aspects of transparency would be in place (meeting notes or understanding what information company policy requires further reporting/investigating/sharing), meetings behind closed doors could discuss topics deemed private. When I met in person with my boss to share that my father was very ill, and likely to pass away soon – there was the expectation of privacy and any sharing was done after my boss asked about specific people and at specific times. A concept of “oh, this Teams/Zoom conversation could later be viewed by the chain of command” seems pretty horrifying.

          Going back to email, I would later email my boss topics about my my father’s health and how that was applying to my schedule/requests for time off. While they were sent with the knowledge that they weren’t truly private, it was also with the knowledge that my workplace afforded a pretence of privacy. That pretence of privacy was between my boss and I (that she wasn’t going to forward those emails, unless she shared with me first why or any specific information that might need to be forwarded to HR or other leadership), but also my organization and I. That there weren’t people from IT walking down to my desk to say “gosh, sorry about your father – we were just doing our normal reading through staff emails and saw that.”

          So I don’t think it’s so much about the expectation of privacy, but that the norms of oversight and transparency deserve a refresh. Some small team meetings can be very informal, and if it’s understood that more senior level leadership needs to know the contents of the meeting, then being given the option to at least discuss how that works is fair. Not for privacy, but more so transparency in how the team works. And if this manager is observing meetings “to see how they’re run” – doing that without giving folks a heads up just will not build trust with the larger team.

          1. Allypopx*

            I wouldn’t expect a meeting like that to be recorded. I think the ways that the recording function are used is part of a larger conversation about functioning in this new workspace, but in my experience, private conversations are either an unrecorded meeting or a phone call. Here we’re talking more about what sounds like operational team meetings.

            I’m sorry about your father.

          2. Observer*

            These are not one on one meetings to discuss sensitive personal matters. These are TEAM meetings – that people KNOW are being recorded.

            All the rest might as well be fiction for the all the relevance they have to this situation.

      2. PT*

        I had a boss who used to snoop through everyone’s emails to make sure they weren’t saying anything she disagreed with, it was very violating. We were all paranoid that our offices were bugged, and couldn’t speak honestly on any topics, either in email or in person, without carefully looking around the room or whispering. We’d transfer calls from our work lines to our personal cells.

        And sometimes they were really minor issues within the scope of our work, with valid reasons to be concerned. Like let’s say they wanted us to groom the llamas, then send them out to play in the mud. Or let the llamas play in the field without a fence, so they could get out onto the road. It wasn’t like we were fomenting an uprising, we were simply having a professional disagreement within the bounds of our professional judgment.

        It. Was. Exhausting.

    8. Radio Personality*

      We automatically email all zoom meeting recordings to anyone involved in the meeting or invited that could not attend. Boss is CC’d whether he is there or not.

    9. Karo*

      I think it comes down to a difference in how you carry yourself based on who you think will watch it. If you are creating a presentation that you want anyone to be able to watch at any time, you’ll be really polished. If you’re recording a meeting because Fergus can’t make it but needs to be able to catch up, you’re more likely to be relaxed.

      So for example – if I’m recording a meeting with Jane because Fergus can’t attend, I’ll speak as though I’m speaking to Jane and Fergus. I may offer ideas that aren’t fully formed or use more filler words because I work with them both regularly and I know that they know that I’m not a bumbling idiot. But if I knew my boss’s boss was going to be watching, I’d be a lot more careful with what I say because we don’t have a close enough working relationship for me to be certain that he knows that about me. Even if the point of the meeting is to bring half-baked ideas so we can talk them through, I’d be much more concerned about how my ideas are perceived. Logically I know that any recording can be watched by anyone at any time, but I’d assume that my grandboss has better things to do.

      1. Smithy*

        I do believe that this is where the “red flag” and concern comes into play. If my grandboss or my company’s IT/HR thinks it’s worth their time to watch what had previously been considered regular team or brainstorm meetings – my brain worries because there simply has to be a better way to get that information. Whether via meeting notes or a read out the top ideas discussed.

        I’ve said this a few times, but I think the real issue here isn’t so much privacy but rather transparency. To have senior leadership be transparent about their ambitions and aims, and then a willingness to hear from those below them what might be the best way to get that information. Let’s say a senior leader has been hearing complaints about “too many meetings that are too long” and has decided to dip in a sample to get an idea on how a team is using meetings. There’s likely a benefit of being open about that to a degree – whether it’s requesting to be invited to meetings, or flagging that meetings are going to be recorded for sr leadership to review a sample as part of an effort to support remote work efforts. But being opaque about why you’re doing it, I just don’t see who that helps.

      2. Allonge*

        I would also assume that my grandboss understands that in our informal / low-level meetings we behave and speak differently from when we are presenting in front of a hundred clients. Anybody who draws definitive conclusions on people’s capabilities based on watching an informal meeting is bound to be a pretty bad manager.

  2. Enough*

    For #3 document these conversations. Especially as she has taken legal action before. Just simple notes in a file of the date, time and substance of the conversation.

    1. Beatrice*

      Yes. OP should absolutely document and have the conversation with her proactively.

      I have a similar situation on my team, but the individuals are different genders and the person getting fewer opportunities is a woman. That’s not WHY she’s getting fewer opportunities, of course, but I’m making sure to document meetings and conversations with both of them so I’m covered on that point. I also did some thinking recently about what I have seen her excel at in the last few months (only had her since July) and why that work might be different from the rest. I’m going to use that in my approach with her this year, and I’ve resolved to give her at least one stretch project – she can either surprise me or I can document that it didn’t go well.

      1. blackcatlady*

        1000+. Do you have regular meetings to go over work goals? Set up a work performance plan in writing – lots of details. I know this is a royal pain but it also is a CYA move. Set up very detailed goal sheets and go over them with employee – check off what was done, how well. Note what was not done. Document, document, document. Have third party sit in on meetings as witness (helps if legal action is brought).

        1. Beatrice*

          Yep, I’m getting all that going except I’m not to the point of needing a witness for meetings, I’m just keeping notes. I’m really missing my old HR team… I had a great rapport with them and could call and ask for advice and support on building a paper trail and covering our legal butts. The restructuring that landed me with this employee also put me under an HR group that is spread way too thin and also not interested in supporting me in that way – if I ask for help I’ll spend more time defending my reasons for making the request than anything, so I’ve started not bothering with them proactively.

    2. HR in the City*

      Absolutely- document, document, document!!! If employee a wants to sure she will sue no matter what the company does but documentation will be the saving grace for everyone.

    3. Sara without an H*

      I recommend doing this any time you’re meeting with an employee about expectations, goals, or professional development. Even if you don’t need the documentation to protect yourself from formal complaints, I’ve found it helpful to have a brief record of what we discussed and when. Employees tend to remember these conversations better than managers do, and I’ve found it useful to have notes to go over before the next meeting.

      1. Joan Rivers*

        I’ve wondered if someone ever says, casually verbally so it’s not “official,” that there are:
        “2 tracks to success — 1) is do what has to be done to keep your job and not much more, w/o much energy, and 2) is ask questions, show interest, and be willing to take on new challenges.
        1) can help you keep your job at least for a while, but
        2) is the track to rewards like promotions or raises. So when you pick your lane, be sure that’s what you’re expecting.”

        1. Black Horse Dancing*

          Problem is 2 doesn’t guarantee any success, Plenty of people do what you suggested and get no where because boss likes outside applicants, office politics, don’t like the applicant personally, etc.

          1. Joan Rivers*

            It’s just a way to EXPLAIN to this employee why “keeping her job” is not the great goal she thinks. It might help her visualize that everything you do or don’t do creates your “PATH” — self-chosen. Does she want “Track Keep Your Job” or “Track Get Promoted”?

            That’s why I’d keep it casual and verbal, not written, so it’s just a clue to her, not “official.” It’s not a philosophy — it’s just a way to try to reach her brain.

            Of course there are other reasons for success, but this person needs a basic explanation about life here.

  3. Sending Hugs*

    #4- Sending you lots of hugs. I’m in a not too different situation and recently gave my boss a slightly more upbeat version of Alison’s script to explain my various medical appointments. I got nothing but support. I’m not at my best and no one expects me to be. Share as much or as little as you feel comfortable with and expect that your boss is a decent human who will give you the space you need right now.

    1. Could Be Me*

      Giving and taking all the hugs–I’m in a remarkably similar situation to OP to the point where I could have practically written this letter. I’m so glad Alison answered this question. Unfortunately my firm is one of those “we’re a family” places where boundaries are tough, so I’m balancing opening myself up to lots of invasive questions against sharing why my work may be sub-par lately. I’m still scrolling the comments but if anyone else has gone through anything similar it would be so helpful to hear about it.

      1. Commiserations*

        I had a similar situation last February. I just didn’t mention anything to anyone at work, either then or later, because they’re all gossips, and even well meant sympathies would have been unwelcome. I don’t know if that’s practical for you though, because I was able to go from referral to benign diagnosis in less than a week. If I’d had longer to wait, I would have just taken a day off work to really dwell on it privately, and hoped that would let me put it aside at work enough to cope.

        Otherwise, the evergreen “difficult family stuff” is always a nice, vague explanation that I find usually makes it obvious you’re not looking to share more details.

        1. Could Be Me*

          I’m so glad your benign diagnosis came in so quickly!! I’ve been going from test to test all month without any actual follow-up or communication with my PCP–my first appointment with the hematologist/oncologist is late Monday. It’s been really hard to concentrate on work. It also doesn’t help that I have a position in the company that is pretty vital to operations and reports directly to the CEO (who has trust issues and doesn’t like cross-training). I’m trying to walk a fine line between communicating I’m dealing with some Big Stuff but not make too big a deal of it in case–I truly hope–it’s something not so bad and I’ve freaked Boss out for nothing and made him feel he can’t “trust” me anymore. Like I said, small, dysfunctional family-style office.

  4. a sound engineer*

    #1 – Take full responsibility and own it. Trying to hide, put it off or otherwise evade will make the consequences worse in the end. (Case in point – checking the security tape to see who your friend talked to. If that’s something that’s not part of your regular job duties, that’s doubling down on the first breach of trust in a big way.)

    1. Saberise*

      Well there is also the fact that she read the evals when all she was asked to do was file them. I really don’t see this coming out well.

      1. a sound engineer*

        Yeah, reading confidential info you shouldn’t have been reading, getting caught for sharing the info that you shouldn’t have been reading in the first place, and then reacting to being caught by watching security footage you (presumably) should not be watching is not a good look.

        1. EBStarr*

          Plus, she glosses over the fact that her friend knew to ask her how some of the supervisors had done on their evaluations – which the friend would only have known to ask if the LW had already shared what she was filing and the fact that she’d read them, right?

          Where I work, I hate to say this, but LW would probably get fired for this and I think that’s actually the right call. (I work in tech so privacy is a big thing that everyone has to take very seriously, so maybe that colors my opinion. But I also feel like if I were the employees whose evaluations were being snooped on, I would think that what OP did was a pretty big deal no matter the industry!)

          None of which is to say that OP should feel ashamed and worthless; she made a big mistake, but if she learns from it, she’ll come out a better person.

          1. Washi*

            I didn’t assume that necessarily – since this is not just OP’s friend but her employee, there’s plenty of banal reasons why she would know what her boss was working on. I often know in general terms what my boss is doing, though I’m not privy to the details.

            That said, there are so many other lapses in the letter that I wouldn’t be suprised if OP was doing other unecessary sharing, but I don’t think we can assume that.

            1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

              “my district manager requested I do some filing for her, and it turned out to be employee evaluations … one of my employees … asked me how some of the supervisors had done on their evaluations”.

              There’s nothing in there that would indicate the employee / friend / frenemy needed to know the nature of the documents being filed. EFF may have observed “filing taking place”, but would not know (or need to know) what was being filed unless OP was indiscreet about it – e.g. left the documents lying around or actually told EFF.

              1. Washi*

                Idk, in an office where everyone has the integrity not to spread confidential information around, I don’t see why it needs to be a big secret that performance reviews are being filed. It’s not classified information that the performance reviews exist. I haven’t been in a fully comparable situation, but in one job, I remember my boss saying she was going to be at the copier for a while so she could scan in our signed performance reviews. Nothing unprofessional about that, since neither of us would dream of discussing what was on them!

                1. Rusty Shackelford*

                  It’s not that it’s a secret, it’s just that it’s something the employee wouldn’t have known unless the LW thought to tell her. Which raises questions.

                2. Anononon*

                  I agree with this. I find it weird that the existence of the performance reviews is getting treated as top secret confidential. Like, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the coworker coming across OP filing them and being like, “oh, what’s up, what’re you doing” and OP saying, “oh, just filing the performance reviews.” Now (assuming it went down in a similar way) how that conversation continued is not good at all, but initially? Geez.

            2. EBStarr*

              You’re right, I was assuming some things. I still find it surprising that the employee knew she could ask OP about this stuff but there are plenty of innocuous explanations as people point out.

          2. Littorally*


            I’m in finance, another industry where privacy and proper use of information access is a big deal. From a low-level employee, this would be a big deal — from a supervisor, someone who presumably has some tenure in the industry and is at a higher level of trust, it would be earth-shattering. This is a very big deal and the only way I think the LW can realistically come out of it with her job intact, never mind her reputation, is to be very, very upfront, show that she thoroughly understands not only what she did wrong but why it was wrong, and credibly commit herself to being 100% unimpeachable going forward. And even that isn’t 100% assured.

            1. Anon4This*

              I agree – I work in legal, and client confidentiality is drilled into everyone from Day 1. I have had the opportunity to work on highly publicized matters and have seen private communications and contact information for well-known people. Sharing of this information is a firable offence on first infraction. You do NOT disclose client information, ever. You do not handle client information carelessly, ever. Specific steps/actions needed when handling client info are handed out on reference guides at orientation.

              HR and management also go through similar training on handling employee information. I can’t even let a supervisor know the illness for which their person called out sick, just that they are not in for the day and who can be contacted for backup assistance. I was recently (and accidentally) provided performance rating information for two departments other than mine, and it went without saying that it should be deleted immediately and not shared. As soon as I realized what I was looking at, I closed out of the file. I advised my boss and the sender that I’d received it by mistake, deleted the message and purged my email trash folder, and confirmed deletion.

            2. 40 Years in the Nonprofit Trenches*

              I’m actually wondering if this occupation is a good fit for LW, given their demonstrated lack of discretion and judgment, and the subsequent focus on dread-of-getting-caught vs wow-I-need-a-hard-reset.

          3. Artemesia*

            The violation of trust, then sharing the information, then reviewing security tapes. I don’t know how you come back from that. Owning up is generally good advise but I would think it would/should lead to firing in this case. Another option is to just say nothing, go and sin no more, and hope it doesn’t blow up. The facts are pretty bad here. We aren’t dealing with a mistake but a serious ethical breach compounded with another serious ethical breach and then another.

            1. Massmatt*

              I agree, but find it odd that unless there is something the video didn’t capture, it’s odd that the coworker asked for confidential info only in order to then tell a supervisor about it. I mean, the worse offense is the person divulging the info, but asking for it is bad also.

      2. LifeBeforeCorona*

        One of my summer jobs was organizing files for a law office in a small town. I skimmed files to figure out how they should be filed: red is family, blue is real estate, green is wills etc. Some of the files were interesting but it taught me discretion. 20 years on I’ve never mentioned anything to anyone.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          Yeah, “you shouldn’t have even read them” strikes me as not the point here, and depending on what kind of forms and files they were maybe a bit unreasonable. If they were already in folders, that’s one thing, but if it was a stack of loose papers (as seems more likely)?

          I was an admin for a number of years and learned all sorts of confidential stuff, some of which I probably wasn’t supposed to know. I helped manage my boss’s email for legitimate reasons and had control over his calendar but it meant I saw stuff meant for him alone. I saw confidential employee paperwork, salaries, bonus structures, etc. Occasionally I was nosy and read something I shouldn’t, not active snooping but reading things that passed through my hands or that I stumbled across while doing regular tasks. I completely reorganized my boss’s filing cabinets soon after I started, since we were moving offices and no one had gone through them for years. Of course I learned some confidential stuff that maybe he wasn’t thinking of me seeing when he assigned me the task.

          The difference is that I acted like I had never read any of it, and never mentioned any of it to anyone, including saying anything to my boss about anything I wasn’t supposed to know officially. I thought that was part of the job of being an admin.

          1. Washi*

            Right, at one job our performance reviews had our names and then our overall score right next to them on the top. So if you were looking at the review to file it, there’s no way you could avoid seeing the score. The key point is that I would expect that whoever filed them would keep that information to themselves!

          2. Observer*

            The difference is that I acted like I had never read any of it, and never mentioned any of it to anyone, including saying anything to my boss about anything I wasn’t supposed to know officially. I thought that was part of the job of being an admin.

            Exactly. Let’s face it, even if you had never snooped, you had access to a lot of confidential information through legitimate tasks. Getting bent out of shape about reading some additional stuff that came your way (it’s not as if the OP broke into the filing cabinets or anything like that) is just besides the point.

            But no matter how you get at information, it’s crucial to keep sensitive information to yourself.

            We’ve had a few letters where people released information that they should not have, and it’s never ended well.

          3. kt*

            That’s exactly right. I filed medical records as a high school volunteer. Saw the insides of peoples’ intestines, had info about their surgeries right under my nose; I certainly had to read some of it to (for instance) combine files that were for John T Doe and John Thomas Doe (had to check addresses, id numbers, and sometimes what was in the file to make sure that I was not combining files that did not belong together) but I probably saw more than I was strictly “supposed” to (when my eyes see words I read them, it’s automatic and takes no effort; I read very fast). But even as a high schooler I understood confidentiality and discretion!!

            1. LifeBeforeCorona*

              Sometimes the files would be a mess and it was necessary to skim documents for dates and times to ensure they were in chronological order but the information left my head almost as soon as I was finished. There was so much filing and so many filing cabinets. This was before electronic records were the norm. I also learned how important legible handwriting is in record keeping.

            2. nonegiven*

              Then when I was helping set up filing for a lawyer, one of the clients had changed her name several times over some decades and there were pieces of her file all over. Then there was a guy that part was filed under First Last and part under Last First. Either part of his name could have been a first or last name.

          4. TimeTravlR*

            Please come work for me, Guac Bob! Discretion is absolutely part of the job!! I have learned things that would shock people about their colleagues. Not telling you or them what it is though!

        2. Generic Name*

          Yeah, I had a similar experience at my first job. I was in charge of a type of file that had to basically be kept forever, but there was no filing system for them at all. Due to a number of odd circumstances, I had to look through stacks and stacks of old paperwork, so I had to read at least part of the documents to figure out what I had to determine where it should be filed. I totally came across some personnel-type files, and since they weren’t what I needed, I just put them back in the stack and didn’t breathe a word about it to a soul. (I’m also flashing back to that same job where my predecessor printed out entire websites and put them in 3 ring binders. Just like in Dilbert!)

      3. staceyizme*

        Agreed. I definitely don’t see much likelihood of coming back from this. Handling confidential info according to norms is a requirement for many roles. It’s hard, but there’s no way around this. LW snooped, gossiped and then accessed security footage to snoop more.

      4. Colette*

        It depends on the specifics – if the format is that the name and rating are side by side on the front page, she’d almost definitely see both while filing; if it’s a multi-page document with the rating buried at the end, she wouldn’t. So seeing the information isn’t necessarily wrong (although sharing it is).

      5. Observer*

        Well there is also the fact that she read the evals when all she was asked to do was file them.

        Actually, if that’s an issue that the higher ups make a big deal of, they really don’t understand how this stuff works and I would be worrying if they can manage sensitive information.

        For one thing, it’s not clear if the OP had any reason to read them or not. But even if they didn’t, this is something that happens ALL. THE. TIME. The key issue here is NOT the the OP *read* the documents, but that they SHARED the information. The reality is that people have access to sensitive data ALL THE TIME. It’s impossible to avoid it. Obviously, you try to minimize it, but even where you manage to get to a perfect system where people really only ever get to see things on a need to know basis, you still have people seeing all of this sensitive information. So, the real issue is WHAT YOU DO WITH IT. Can you keep your mouth shut or do you share it?

        1. Robin Ridley*

          This is so very true. Years and years ago, I was the payroll person at a company, and a lot of confidential info crossed my desk. Some of it they knew was none of my business, and they probably figured I would glance at it. As long as I didn’t make a point of studying performance reviews and taking notes, they relied on me to keep my mouth shut. Which I did.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I love, love, love Alison’s advice for OP to figure out WHY she breached confidentiality.

      Many times these things happen for more than one reason:
      It feels good to feel important.
      Knowing and sharing secrets can make a person feel powerful.
      Friendship is more important than employment.
      A feeling of being disconnected from the people who are the object of the gossip.
      A habit of talking first and thinking later.
      The need to bond with others over something/anything.

      OP, my best thought is to accept the feelings of guilt/fear/etc and let those feelings scare you straight. Let the large rush of worries drown your poor impulse control. Stay with me here, we all have some impulse control problems to some degree. Instead of wasting time beating yourself up, Alison is absolutely correct, develop a plan so this does not happen again. Your plan can include some seemingly odd things such as putting more into your friendships outside of work, so you are not vulnerable to things like this because you feel other connections in other parts of your life.

      As a rule of thumb, one rule I have had for work is while I am at work I need to talk as if the whole world can hear everything I am saying. This rule has caused some folks to laugh at me. But I saw early on that I was not falling into the pits others fell into such as cussing without realizing a customer was close by. That’s a very simple example, but the rule covers a lot of territory and can prevent a lot of problems.

      FWIW, I have stepped in some crap at work myself and I let my feelings of upset scare me into doing a better job as an employee. Eh, it’s not worth this gut-wrenching anguish, better to just toe the line.

      1. HotSauce*

        I have learned this the hard way on a couple of occasions. I have since learned to be extremely careful of what I say so that hopefully nothing would be taken out of context and so that I don’t hurt anyone unintentionally.

      2. Sara without an H*

        All this is good advice. I, too, learned the hard way to talk at work as if the whole world can hear me. (I also proofread emails twice before sending, but that’s another story.)

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        This is great advice and a good prompt for self-reflection. We all make mistakes at work, and getting to the root cause of why is important to preventing it from happening again. I hope OP#1 will stop looking at how not to get in trouble for this or how she was wronged by her friend and own up/figure out how to avoid it in the future. Unfortunately, the combination of sharing confidential information and then reviewing security footage of the friend would be cause for immediate termination in my office, but maybe OP#1’s office would do a reprimand and remediation training or find a transfer for her that is not handling confidential info.

      4. Edwina*

        Thank you, I was going to say exactly the same thing. I’m a screenwriter, so I’m privy to LOTS of exciting “gossip,” and although there isn’t the same stringency (i.e., I wouldn’t be fired), when you share gossip, it definitely has a nasty way of getting back to the wrong person and making you look very bad. And yes, I learned this the hard way and finally I faced what was driving me to do this: all the things you mention PLUS a bad case of raging anxiety. I started working hard to notice when I was talking with someone, when I started to feel anxious and insecure, and to use that as a screaming red flag “You’re about to try to soothe your anxiety by telling them something juicy, to make yourself feel more important. DO NOT DO THIS!!”

        I actually worked with a life coach, who told me that “gossip and bad news is MUCH more interesting than ordinary or good news, the minute you spread something, people will exponentially spread it further and with your name attached” and suggested that I start a policy for myself where I never say anything bad or anything indiscreet about anyone, i.e. never give anyone a reason to repeat anything negative associated with me.

        The horrifying self-revelation was to discover JUST HOW HARD IT WAS!! It feels GOOD to gossip and “be in the know.” I was dismayed to see that I felt “stupid” when I didn’t. I was sure people wouldn’t “respect” me.

        Well, of course, it turns out they all respect me. No one thinks I’m “stupid.” People just think I’m nice, fun to work with, and trustworthy.

        OP, this is a real wake up call for you, if you want to take it. You can learn so much from it, and become an infinitely better and more valuable employee. And a better person, too.

    3. Person from the Resume*

      Yes. The entire tone of #1, I did something wrong, got ratted out (checked the security tape to find out if her friend was lying to her about why she revealed the privacy breech), skipped work to avoid the consequences the first day, but can’t keep skipping so now wants advice desperately on how to avoid getting in trouble or getting fired. She isn’t sorry, but wants to avoif getting in trouble.

      For any hope of moving forward, LW needs to admit she committed string of wrong actions, understand why what she did wrong is wrong, figure out why she did it (the snooping (WRONG), sharing (WRONG), checking the security tapes (WRONG)), and then with that knowledge offer an actual apology and explain how she’s going to change her actions to not make the same or similar mistakes in the future.

      1. Caroline Bowman*

        All true, thing is though, if it were me and I knew that it was extremely unlikely that the third person overheard just by the fact that they weren’t there at the time, I would 100% be tempted to use whatever tools I had to establish if in fact my ”friend” had ratted me out or not.

        I know! Not the point and OP must do exactly as Alison advises, but the person she thought was her friend, is not. A friend would have said ”wait, whoa, stop. Let’s not do this, it’s really unethical and if it continues, I will need to report it” if they felt icky about it.

        1. Observer*

          “ratted” the OP out? No.

          Firstly, the OP actually does not know that their friend never spoke to Roy, unless the friend never left the office (or went to the bathroom) AND the OP has access to not only the security tapes but also to everyone’s email, chat and phone records. That’s HIGHLY unlikely. And based on the way the OP describes the interaction, it’s not clear if the security tapes even cover any and all movement in the office. I know that I could never know with certainty everyone someone met with based on the security tapes. In most offices, coverage is not set up for that purpose.

          Also, “ratting out” is a concept that has very little standing in a reasonably functional workplace. The OP did something pretty bad, and it’s something that could cause serious and significant trouble for the organization. It’s not unreasonable for someone to realize this and bring it to someone who has the ability to deal with it.

          And whether the other person is really a friend or not, the OP’s first reaction of going to the tapes is STILL the wrong move. Not just on an ethics plane but on a practical plane. The reality is the the OP has learned nothing actionable. They are (maybe) lucky that the person warned them that someone else knows about the situation, regardless of how it happened.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            For me, it goes back to the “why are you telling me this?” question we ask our kids when they tattle. Is it to get someone in trouble or is it to help someone? A supervisor who finds out that employees have been sharing confidential information have to report that – it falls into the helping to curb risky behavior and protect the confidential information of employees. OP#1 seems very focused on the getting in trouble side without realizing that she has harmed other people. Her friend was also wrong to ask for the information, but she could have easily not shared it when asked.

      2. Case of the Mondays*

        I had a visceral reaction to her calling out of work the next day. I understand some people have legitimate medical conditions that are triggered by work stress and require a sick day. However, I have had several bad employees over the years that had a pattern of screwing up, getting spoken to about it and then calling out the next couple of days so someone else gets stuck cleaning up their mess. I get being “in trouble” is stressful but that doesn’t mean you get to just call out to avoid dealing with it.

        You may think your manager will be less mad a day or two later. Instead, your manager is probably stewing with resentment since they haven’t been able to properly address this and put it to bed. You aren’t going to be treated any better because you took a sick day.

        1. pancakes*

          Yes. It’s a very childish and unthinking thing to do, particularly when behaving unthinkingly is the cause of the problem in the first place.

          1. Massmatt*

            This is the main reason why, when reading the letter, my first instinct was that the OP was a young employee. Others have pointed out that OP mentions having supervisory functions, so maybe not? But whatever the chronological age, there seems to be a lack of maturity.

            1. pancakes*

              I wouldn’t assume that. There’s no upper age limit on behaving unthinkingly! And no timeline for maturity that we all have to adhere to.

        2. Van Wilder*

          Agreed but… I’ve been there. I was a generally conscientious employee but if I screwed something up, my first instinct is always to avoid. It’s taken years of therapy to force myself to face situations head on. Also reading about and trying to switch from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset has made such a difference, but it’s taken years.

        3. KayDeeAye*

          It is childish, but oh, so tempting. I had a situation – a major screwup – that was NOT my fault, but it was only my word against another person’s, and it could have potentially cost several thousand dollars. This was maybe three years ago, and I still feel my throat tightening up just thinking about it! It happened after my boss had left to go to another meeting, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to reach her in time to make a decision, so I had to make the decision and…

          It was awful, just awful. Horrible. I couldn’t sleep because of how awful it was, and if I could have taken a sick day and crawled into a hole and hidden from it….well, it would have been very, very tempting. I like to think I would have resisted, but you never know, and it sounds as thought the OP is in a similar state.

          In my case, though, there was no place to hide. So what I did – and I recommend this for the OP – is go in the next morning and fess up to my boss very first thing. Just get it over with. Fortunately, she did believe me that it wasn’t my fault, so everything turned out OK, but in any case, having it out in the open was such a relief that I highly recommend it, particularly since it doesn’t sound as though the OP has anywhere to hide, either. So: Just get it over. It will be harrowing, but IMO, it’ll be better than this horrible suspense.

        4. Middle Manager*

          I’ve totally been there. A former employee abused FMLA very clearly, but it was basically impossible to prove so we had to live with it. If she made a mistake or caused an issue, she would call out for days-weeks immediately after and then make you feel like the bad guy for bringing up an issue which she considered minor (we didn’t agree on that many times) weeks later. It was maddening.

          #1 it sucks to make do something you regret and I totally get the impulse to avoid the problem, but you have to deal with it or it will only get worse.

          1. pope suburban*

            I work with someone who does this now. Whenever she gets called out for, say, missing a clear deadline or not completing a project, she’s suddenly magically sick the next day or two. What really pushes the rest of us over the edge with this behavior is that she also always facebook blogs about the fun stuff she’s doing that day, so it’s extra-obvious that she’s just using leave to dip out so she won’t have to clean up her mess. I get the fear here, sure, but calling out like that will not look good, and will likely damage OP’s working relationships with others. I don’t know that one day’s relief (if it even is that; I can imagine they’d still feel very anxious even at home) is really worth the longer-term damage.

            1. KayDeeAye*

              Yes, in the situation I mention above, avoidance = more time to stress out, hiding = more time to imagine the worst.

        5. Anon for Today*

          Actually, I have some sympathy for people who call out sick after doing something incorrectly. I am extremely type A and a people pleaser. If I receive negative feedback or make an error, there’s a lot of shame that I feel about it and experience a lot of anxiety because I feel like I’ve let someone down. Sometimes, it’s not a manipulation tactic for some people.

    4. Sara without an H*

      What a sound engineer said. OP#1, you need to take full responsibility for this, and do some serious self-examination. I wonder if you’re entirely ready for a supervisory position? In any case, you need to come clean to your manager ASAP. You do NOT want them to find out about this from a third party, rather than you.

    5. Public Sector Manager*

      I agree and that’s what the OP seems to miss. And I want to be kind, so for the OP, it’s going to be better to reveal this yourself than have others do it for you. Yes, OP, you may get fired. But by admitting what you did, you’re reducing the odds that you will get fired.

      I’m a managing attorney in state government and on our performance evaluations, the evaluations are confidential under state law and HR regs. I can only review prior performance evaluations of the members of my team. For any other employee’s performance evaluation–another manager, a supervisor, rank-and-file employees on a different team–I need a signed release from the employee. So access to a performance evaluation is a huge deal from the get go. Moreover, while employees should be giving feedback on their manager, it doesn’t mean employees should be privy to each manager’s performance evaluation. And with OP being in an admin unit, like the HR department at my agency, they have access to everyone’s evaluation. I’m assuming it’s for all these types of reasons that this is why the OP’s manager gave the OP the task of filing performance evals, because as a manager in the admin unit, the OP can be trusted to respect the privacy embedded with each performance evaluation and not share that information with anyone, including coworkers in the admin unit, unless there was a business reason.

      On our performance evaluations, there is a cover sheet with each employees’ overall scores. Since the only way to file the document is to look at the name on the cover sheet, inevitably your eyes catch sight of the scores. So I don’t fault the OP for generally knowing the scores. But if the OP starting reading beyond any cover sheet or read a one-page review in detail, that’s just being nosey for the sake of it. At the same time, we’re all human. Ideally, we all should be given the grace to make a mistake and to not make it again (but doesn’t include discrimination, harassment, fraud, etc.). The question really is how many times do you make the same mistake?

      For me, the OP just went off the rails with violating everyone’s trust and privacy. After reviewing the evals with enough detail to comment on it, the OP shared the evaluation with an employee who wasn’t managing these supervisors. Even brand new managers in our office know that this sort of information is not to be shared. Which was then overheard or shared by the other employee. And then OP is reviewing security footage to see if the other employee was telling the truth in an effort to potentially undermine the other employees story!

      The OP really needs to report to their manager what they did. Show some humility and be sincere.

  5. Observer*

    # 2 – You ask “Do you believe that teams should have any expectation of privacy in a Zoom meeting in a company account, or would you feel like a team meeting’s content was fair game for the department head to find and review?

    The real question is why would any team expect to hold ANY work meeting that is private from the department head, unless the meeting was explicitly set up by someone higher up to get information about the department head or something of that nature? With a meeting that is recorded, that question becomes even stronger.

    1. Roci*

      It’s not just the idea of keeping work private from a department head. My managers have the right to look at what is in my desk and computer, but a manager going through my email, or rifling through my desk drawers, still makes me uncomfortable. It’s a lack of trust in the employees, and the choice to use sneaky methods rather than “hey do you have x in your desk/computer” or “can you send me the minutes/recording of the last meeting so I can catch up”. As Alison said, if the manager had just been transparent about it nobody would think it’s weird.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        There’s also the reality that if you’re being recorded, you may need to express yourself differently. It’s like the saying that you shouldn’t write something in an email unless you want it on the cover of the New York Times. If your meeting is being recorded the same rules apply – don’t say anything you don’t want to be public, and be careful how you phrase things, so they won’t be taken out of context, or interpreted the wrong way.

        If all your meetings and conversations are via recorded media like email, Zoom and Slack, you don’t have the freedom to express yourself the way you would in a face to face chat, or in a phone call. And that may well be the way things are, but employees need to know this is the case, so they can adjust their communication style to match.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, this. It’s not that I have a need to keep any work-related issues “secret” from our department head, just that in some cases I might express myself in a more diplomatic manner if I know she’s listening than I would just in front of my supervisor and the rest of the team. I don’t trash talk my employer in meetings anyway, but it’s simply a fact that most employees adjust how they express themselves if a manager is present or if the conversation is being recorded.

          1. UKDancer*

            Yes there are ways I’d put things in a meeting with my staff that I’d not use in a meeting with the people running the company. I’d never be rude about the company but I’d use different language registers and explain things differently.

          2. Cat Tree*

            Or I might just make conversational small talk with my colleagues during the meeting. I’m sure I’ve never said anything outright embarrassing or unprofessional, but I said those things without the expectation that others would be listening to them later. It feels too intimate for someone to go in and listen.

        2. Observer*

          There’s also the reality that if you’re being recorded, you may need to express yourself differently.

          True. But in general, if you are in a company meeting, you are probably going to express yourself differently than if you are at a happy hour with your work buddies. Beyond that, every video conference tool that I know of has an indicator that shows if the meeting is being recorded – this is standard functionality, not just zoom. So, even IF people were not TOLD that the meeting was being recorded, they should have known because the indicator is right there in your face.

        3. CRM*

          Totally agree! I tend to be candid in our team meetings, but I would definitely tone it down if I knew our department head was listening in. For example, my team can listen to me vent about Vendor X while knowing that I still have a good relationship with the vendor (and that much of my frustration is warranted). The department head, who doesn’t have any context of my day-to-day dealings with Vendor X, might hear that and start wondering if I should be taken off of projects involving Vendor X.

        4. Clisby*

          Maybe I’m misinterpreting the letter, but it sounds to me like the employees DO know they’re being recorded. They didn’t necessarily know this manager would be watching the recording, but surely they figured somebody might watch it; otherwise, why record it?

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        Yep. Most people act a little differently when they know they are being observed, like, that’s just a very very basic human thing. There’s also a difference between the general awareness that somebody could theoretically look at the recordings if they wanted to, and knowing that your department head specifically is for sure watching the recordings of you without telling you. Being uncomfortable when you realise that you thought you were unobserved but actually your supervisor has been watching seems like a very normal reaction, not evidence that they’re somehow in the wrong.

        1. Observer*

          Being uncomfortable when you realise that you thought you were unobserved but actually your supervisor has been watching seems like a very normal reaction, not evidence that they’re somehow in the wrong.

          The OP is not “uncomfortable” with this. Expectation of privacy is a much higher bar than that, and it’s just a totally unrealistic expectation.

          I do think that the boss’ behavior is odd, and I’d be paying attention to other aspects of how they manage their staff. But not because they violated a totally non-existent expectation of privacy. But because they are acting micro-managy, like they don’t trust their staff, and / or they are really bad at communicating.

      3. LQ*

        I’m not sure where people are getting that this department lead is being sneaky. They are the department lead. It could very well be that their boss told them to review some meetings to get up to speed, they are in Folder, check it out.

        My boss, and my boss’s boss’s boss is definitely not obligated to tell everyone everything they are doing. It’s odd that people would think they would be obligated. This isn’t in someone’s desk drawer, this is in the filing room. If you walked into a filing room and your department head had an armload of folders would you feel like you should be able to interrogate what they were doing with them and feel like it meant that people weren’t trusted?

        1. Essess*

          I agree. I find it to be a normal thing that a new manager would want to get up to speed on what the department was working on and a reasonable way to do this would be to view recent recorded meetings. This way the manager can skim through and pick out the important tasks or concerns that they need to know about. I wouldn’t expect a manager to announce to everyone that the manager is watching recordings of meetings. The meetings were recorded so it is expected that someone might watch them. That’s what recordings are for. Would you expect someone to announce every time they were going to use the copy machine, or announce they were using the coffee machine? No, because that’s what they are for. Same thing with recordings of meetings. It’s a very reasonable and efficient way to catch up on the background of various topics that the manager needs to have a background about in order to run the department. It’s also easier to watch these at a time that fits into the manager’s schedule or watch only relevant parts of them instead of being stuck wasting time through an entire meeting block in real time.

          1. Allypopx*

            I agree. Maybe it’s a cultural expectation that the department head would make it clear what they’re doing with the recordings? But if that’s the case the expectation is what I find odd, and I wouldn’t expect a new department head to give it a second thought before watching a recording.

            1. LQ*

              What would someone do with recordings other than watch them. I’m really confused about this. About half the meetings I’m in are recorded, I fully expect that other people will watch them and then sometime they have questions and I found out they watched them, sometimes not. I don’t get a notification every time someone watches a meeting I was in that was recorded. It was recorded and you knew that. I mean meetings could be reviewed for a wide number of reasons that I would never know about. There could be a harassment complaint that they used recordings to investigate. There could be a lawsuit that they were entered into. Plenty of these things we wouldn’t know about.

              1. Allypopx*

                Maybe there’s an assumption they’re more archival or only for review in certain situations? I find the whole issue a little paranoid but the comments are making it clear some people seem to feel like this needed more conversation or heads up. So maybe I’m missing something.

                1. LQ*

                  I’m going to say that I think folks are wrong if they think that their boss’s boss owes it to them to tell them what they are going to be doing. My boss’s boss doesn’t report to me. People sometimes get upset and say that their boss is micromanaging when their boss would ask for this kind of information so I don’t understand how people can feel like they get to demand it from someone several levels above them in the organization.

                  I think it’s wrong to assume that someone leading your entire department owes you this. Especially when it’s just an internal company document. If it’s in your slack channel do you expect that someone would say “Hey, I’m going to skim this channel now” or would just do it? They have access they’ll just skim it looking for what they need. I don’t think this is different.

                2. Marillenbaum*

                  I think it comes down to a sense of “need to know”. Having the right or authority to look at something doesn’t mean someone has a need to access that information. While an expectation of privacy is not reasonable on a work call, there are different levels of expected scrutiny based around that need to know, and the lack of transparency or clarity about which level of scrutiny one is going to be under can make it into a bigger deal.

        2. Joan Rivers*

          Yes! When you’re in a meeting that’s recorded you CAN’T know who could end up NEEDING to see it — if someone tells a racist joke, or attacks someone, there may be reason for bosses to view the entire session. If someone uses a word that is misheard, there could be an issue [e.g., the old word “niggardly” is a great example of what not to say these days.]

          People get comfortable, too comfortable sometimes. You can’t demand HR not review a tape if there’s a controversial comment or joke or a misunderstanding. It’s rare but it could happen. If it was a meeting, HR would speak to people to get their “version” but if it’s taped they can watch it.

          There are degrees of “informality” — rarely, people push that to the breaking point, while others might be a little self-indulgent. But if you’re being taped it’s not wise to assume it’ll never been seen.

      4. Observer*

        Well, REASONABLE people would not think it weird if the boss had just been transparent. And to be clear, I definitely agree that the Boss should have been transparent!

        But it’s one thing to say, as you do, “why is this necessary? Do you not trust us?” That’s reasonable – in most cases this should not be necessary. The issue I’m having, though, is the assumption of *privacy*. Generally, when this question comes up, no one asks about privacy – because privacy is just a total non-issue in this context.

        They ask about things like micromanaging and lack of trust – neither of which even seems to be on the OP’s radar.

        That’s what makes this so odd. The OP is ignoring that things that really are a genuine question mark and jumps on something that really makes no sense.

      5. MCMonkeybean*

        I think this is less like reading your emails and more like having someone forward them an email chain

    2. Forrest*

      It’s not uncommon or bad for a functional team in a functional workplace to express mild dissatisfaction with their management or leadership in a way that they probably wouldn’t want to do to their manager’s face! It’s absolutely fine if there’s a bit of bitching about the fact that the hold-up on that project is that it’s on Jane’s desk and we all know what that means, aaaargh, but you still wouldn’t want Jane to listen to that.

      You can respect your bosses, work in a functional place and still need a bit of private time to express doubts, frustrations, or disagreements with managers to your immediate colleagues. There’s nothing wrong with a manager reviewing files or people using meetings to complain a bit, but you need to be clear on which is which.

      1. Koalafied*

        100%. Especially in an org chart that has lots of layers. Mine has 12 levels, and the work unit I’m part of is fair self-contained, with our primary department leader being a level 9 employee; the sub-divisions are run by managers at levels 7-8 who report into him and have multiple direct reports in their subdivision at level 5 and level 6, who in turn manage one or two level 1-4 reports each. Technically our level 9 boss reports in to a level 10 boss, who reports to a level 11 at corporate HQ, who reports to the head of the whole organization. Level 10 boss is rarely in our meetings and in a decade I’ve probably exchanged all of 5 words with the level 11 boss at HQ.

        I wouldn’t bat an eye if our level 9 boss were reviewing meeting recordings routinely, and wouldn’t find it too shocking if our level 10 boss reviewed things occasionally… but I would be genuinely surprised to hear that our level 10 boss was reviewing things regularly, or that our absentee level 11 superior was getting down in the weeds enough to review recordings, not least because I would expect her to be wayyyy too busy for that, since she has multiple units like ours managed by a level 10 under her – there are more meetings happening in her management line than there are hours in the day. I (a level 5 manager with 2 reports at level 3 and 4) would and do definitely phrase things a bit less candidly with my team if I think our conversation would be viewed later by our level 10 or 11 bosses.

        When you have this many layers of bureaucracy it’s an unfortunate reality that you often have two information streams: the official company line approved by the company head to be communicated down through the lowest ranking employees, which is usually very bare bones and can just let employees to have more questions. The people who have the answers are so far removed from us that we don’t have direct access to them, and as a manager it’s hard to just keep saying, “I have zero information, and last time I asked my boss he had zero information, so he was going to ask his boss, but she had zero information at the time, too, so I’ll ask him again to ask her again to ask senior leadership again if there’s an answer to this question.” In practice what ends up happening is the second stream of gossip develops alongside the official message: “this isn’t official yet, and I don’t have a lot of details, but we’re hearing that there are two possible approaches senior leadership is considering, x and y. Of course, it could still end up being something else entirely, so take with a grain of salt, but that’s the best information I have at this time.” Senior leadership is often unrealistic in how much they expect to be able to keep hundreds of frontline employees completely in the dark about critical issues affecting their work, just because they aren’t ready to make their official statement yet. It’s easy for them because they never meet or see all those junior employees, but those of us in the middle-bottom of the org chart who work with junior employees every day have a much harder time stonewalling them. Perhaps it’s not “right” and all the might managers should be tight lipped and play dumb, but the secondary information is alive and well where I work. (And in the decade I’ve been here my opinion is that information is still managed responsibly even with this parallel system of strategic information leaks, none of the middle managers are sharing anything that shows result confidential that shows bad judgment, it’s just that senior leadership is SO opaque that there’s a lot of process information they don’t disclose that would be perfectly harmless to share and can quell a lot of anxiety in lower level employees who are otherwise waiting for the entire process to play out before senior leadership thinks it’s worth telling them anything at all.)

      2. Observer*

        It IS a problem if you think you can express that dissatisfaction and expect your manager and team mates to keep it private! This goes 10 times over for recorded meetings!

        Zoom has an indicator that shows that the meeting is being recorded, so this was not some sort of covert sting operation.

        1. Forrest*

          I really disagree! Specifically, I’d see it as a manager’s job to take, “Ugh, this procedure that the IT team wants us to follow is ridiculous and convoluted and what the hell are they playing at” and turn it into, “Some of your new procedures are really slowing down my team’s workflow–can I have a clearer picture of why you need it to be done that way, and could we discuss some of the difficulties that’s causing for them and look for solutions?”

          1. Koalafied*

            Exactly. It would be exhausting to have to be diplomatic about everything at all times. Part of good management is giving your employees the space they need to raise concerns, and if you expect them to only ever raise concerns in the most tactful/diplomatic language available, in practice a lot of stuff is just going to get squashed and not brought to you at all. How many of the letters here are from people who are stuck in a problem largely because they can’t figure out what the right language is to raise the issue with their superior? Or who mischaracterize the nature of the situation they’re in because they think there’s nothing that can be done about X, and they write in asking for advice on working around X, when in reality it’s possible they could actually address X directly and not have to work around it at all? The boss might also be quick to realize that X could be fixed, but if the employee doesn’t feel like they can be candid with their boss, they will suppress their complaints about X and boss will never know there’s a problem.

    3. Everdene*

      For me, I think it would be the chat around the Official Meeting Purpose that I would want to know if it was recorded. For example the ‘how was your weekend’ chit chat, if a phone goes off saying ‘FFS! Another spam call!’, some (appropriate) teasing of team members, more colloquial phrasing…

      In much the same way that our in person team meetings used to have a different vibe when head office staff/directors visited. We all code switch all the time, but not knowing you are recorded means you don’t have all the necessary information to act appropriately.

      1. pancakes*

        Sure, but the letter writer knows these meetings are recorded. “The recordings of meetings are held in a Zoom account to which several people have access…”

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Eh, my boss rummages through my desk and through my pile of “to-do” work. She’s not checking on me. She’s looking for something she needs but she’s still rummaging through “my” things. Uh, those papers and supplies are technically NOT my personal items. They belong to our organization. I am merely a keeper until another keeper comes along (many years from now…).

      (I should say, since I work part time my boss is very adverse to calling me at home to ask where something is. So she tries to locate the info on her own without bothering me. For my end of the deal, I try to keep things in order and well labeled so she can follow through on her own.)

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        This is definitely a “know your office culture” thing. I’ve been in offices where it would have been normal to go digging in someone’s desk for something you need, and also in offices where it would be considered a serious breach of privacy. On top of your desk versus in the drawers can be different.

        Some of it is workflow – my current office is nearly all on the computer (even before covid) and has very little paperwork that circulates, and doesn’t even use many office supplies that someone might need to borrow. That makes for a different sense of personal boundaries than the job where it was routine for someone to be looking for an interoffice envelope or wanting to borrow a stapler, and I was constantly managing paperwork, getting things signed by different people, preparing materials to hand off to my boss in hard copy before meetings or business trips, etc.

        1. Salad Daisy*

          Brings back memories of a brief stint at a law office. Instead of just asking for something, the paralegal would march up to my desk while I was sitting there, shove me aside, and start rummaging through my drawers and the papers on my desk. After making a big mess, they would decide what they were looking for was not there and leave, leaving all my papers, files, etc. just thrown around.

          Even if they are not “your things” it’s nice to be asked.

          BTW I am now completely paper free.

    5. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

      My team has meetings without me all the time! And while it wouldn’t be OK for them to keep the topic secret from me, or withhold information about decisions they made, I absolutely respect their right to have conversations without me. Zoom makes the lines blurrier, for sure, but I would hate for my team to feel like I could be listening in on them at any point, without a heads-up.

      That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t filter themselves at all or should expect that every meeting is a cone of silence and nothing they say could be repeated or used against them, but they’re entitled to make small talk or speak less formally at times. That’s just basic human stuff.

      1. Observer*

        What are you saying here? People are not allowed to make small talk when a higher level manager is around and only the most formal language is permitted around upper level management?

        If you are discussing something that it is actually inappropriate to share with your management team (as opposed to being a bit less formal in how you would discuss it), then you should NOT BE DOING IT ON A RECORDED CALL. Especially one that you KNOW is accessible to a number of managers!

        1. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

          I’m…not saying any of that, no. But you asked why “any team [would] expect to hold ANY work meeting that is private from the department head,” and I shared that in my workplace and for me as a manager, that is an expectation. Not under every circumstance, and not without reasonable parameters, but I do value my team’s autonomy and privacy, and I wouldn’t demean them by treating them otherwise. Your workplace or industry might have different norms, which is fine — I don’t think discussing this in absolute terms (or, frankly, with that much caps lock) is particularly helpful.

        2. Double A*

          It sounds like this organization just doesn’t have clear norms around recording that’s really contributing to the problem. At our organization, all training or department level or higher meetings are recorded. We have a small talk time in the beginning, which we don’t record, and then someone clearly announces the recording is starting. There’s still some small talk, jokes, etc. during the formal meeting, but mostly we’re focused on the agenda.

          We don’t record our small team meetings, which are much more about brainstorming, planning, etc., and tend to be smaller and a bit more informal and collaborative. We do take and share minutes from those meetings. I supposed I would feel awkward if a supervisor asked me to record one of those less formal meetings, because that’s not our norm, though it wouldn’t be awkward for the supervisor to sit in. But I think asking to just watch a collaborative meeting later is what would feel odd about that; it’s not secret, but why do you want to observe how the sausage is made without being there in person?

    6. PT*

      There’s plenty of stuff you might not want to share with a department head, that can be shared at the lower level.

      For example, some years ago, we had someone in my department need her duties adjusted for medical reasons. She was being evaluated for a health condition and had a few temporary restrictions on what she could do during this time (I think it was six weeks.) This was something we could accommodate at our department level and with HR, without involving Grandboss or Great-Grandboss, so we did.

      The reason Grandboss and Great-Grandboss were excluded, was because they were the type of people to insist on “managing out” people with medical issues, rather than providing the legal accommodations as required. They did not like working with HR, they did not like HR “nosing” into our business, and they would retaliate against employees who went to HR. If we had looped them in, we would have had to pick between firing the employee, or putting our own jobs on the line. By keeping them out of it, we were able to accommodate the employee as required, retain her once she was able to return to normal duties, and avoid months of being threatened and harassed ourselves.

      Had this happened on Zoom instead of in person, and they snooped through the meetings? It would have been a disaster.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        That’s one reason to want to keep things at a lower level for sure.

        On my team, it’s more that our department head can sometimes want to act before he has all the information, or can start things moving before we’re ready, or can become alarmed about something that sounds bad but isn’t really a problem. He’s a great department head in many ways, but we definitely manage up a fair amount. Making sure we’ve thought through something before we take it to him, offer him potential solutions when we outline problems, and that sort of thing.

        If he listened to our team meetings, I can imagine that he might happen to be talking with the IT director about something else and mention that “Guac thinks our llama database is a mess, what’s going on?” when in fact there was an upload error with the data for Tuesday but we’re working at the staff level on the solution and don’t need our department head to get the head of IT involved.

      2. Observer*

        If the meetings are being recorded, it’s not “snooping” to look at those recordings. The problem you describe is not about privacy or the lack thereof, but terrible and probably illegal management practices that no one was will and able to curb.

        Obviously, when you have terrible managers you have a good reason to want to keep many types of information from those terrible managers. But even there having an expectation of privacy is not realistic. If you have having team meeting, so probably not a situation where a lot of sensitive personal information is being shared, that is being recorded it’s just ridiculous to expect that there is going to be any privacy from the higher level echelons.

  6. RG*

    OP #2: how new is “new-ish”? It could be that the leader is still trying to get up to speed on something and rather than having to do a back and forth convo to get information it’s just easier to watch the videos. They may even prefer that over reading the meeting notes. Or maybe there’s some crisis that’s emerging, and they want to see what the chain of events was – video recordings could provide not just what happened but also additional context. Or maybe there’s an issue with one person’s behavior, and they’re using the recordings as another source of information. Maybe they just want to get a sense of how the team works together, if they handle a critical business product.

    I guess what I’m saying is that there’s lots of reasons why the leader might do this that aren’t inherently nefarious, you know? I wouldn’t worry about it too much.

    1. Willis*

      Yeah, I could especially see a new manager doing this to get a sense of her team and how they work together during the pandemic when they may not have even met people in person. I guess I just don’t see what the big deal is, but it also seems harmless to ask about it and sounds like it would give the OP some peace of mind.

      1. Joan Rivers*

        Agree. If she walked past a meeting at work and overheard a joke or impersonation of her, would they think it’s her fault for having the nerve to walk past the door? If she stopped to hear the punchline, and see how inappropriate it actually is, would she be “wrong”?

        It would be nice if she explained why she reviews the tapes, to “get to know the personalities” or “issues” better, or whatever. But this seems like the “guilty conscience” effect where staff are outraged that the boss overheard “the wrong thing.”

        Being taped is a pretty obvious clue to being careful.

  7. Czhorat*

    I’m a bit concerned about OP1 having violated privacy by snooping at private information and then, when caught, violating it again by reviewing security camera footage. This appears to be a pattern of poor judgement at best, and certainly a lack of professionalism.

    Yes, they need to apologize. They also need to take a long look in the mirror and reevaluate their understanding of privacy.

    1. Anonymity*

      All of it from start to finish seems shady as H. This employee is not coming across as trustworthy at all. Being trustworthy is not the same as not being caught.

    2. a sound engineer*

      I’d also add that they might want to look into why they are having such an extreme reaction to potentially getting in trouble (it doesn’t seem like they are “officially” in trouble yet, since they’ve been avoiding the office in an attempt to avoid). Calling out sick and not wanting to return to work at all is a very severe reaction.

    3. linger*

      I would also be asking serious questions about the company’s ethics training.
      Either LW1 did not receive sufficient training before being given unsupervised access to secure content (HR docs, camera footage), or they have chosen to ignore all of that training, which suggests that specific consequences for breaches were not spelled out.

      LW1’s reaction is mostly about preserving their own reputation (addressing their ethical shortfalls), but there’s also something else going on that may need addressing. LW1 seems very highly invested in whether they can trust the coworker/”friend” they blabbed to (hence the wild overreaction of reviewing camera footage). So LW1 also needs to recalibrate their work relationships (addressing shortfalls in emotional intelligence).

      Both problems indicate a level of immaturity surprising for someone acting as supervisor of a state admin unit.

      1. Observer*

        I don’t think you can draw any conclusions about the company or its ethics training from the OP’s behavior.

        1. Joan Rivers*

          Yeah, it sounds more like OP is mixing up “friendship” w/”ethics” and it wasn’t really a friend, was it? She sounds set up in a way. Naive.

    4. Cat Tree*

      I kind of wonder what OP’s reasoning was for looking at the video footage. Was she hoping to find that the coworker directly told the third person, rather than being overhead? If so, to what end? Was it supposed to be a “gotcha”? Even if OP knew that the other person directly told someone else, she must realize that doesn’t absolve her of telling the employee in the first place.

      This whole story is hard to follow. I want to give OP credit for recognizing the mistake and seeking advice, but I get the sense there is more going on here than what is in the letter.

      1. Let's Just Say*

        My reading was that she was trying to see if the employee had talked to anyone else besides Roy. (Although the video doesn’t seem to be proof either way, since there are more ways to communicate than just in-person, and the employee could have talked to more people the following day when LW was out.)

    5. Office Rat*

      Thank you! This was my very first thought. I have filed lots of things, but if it’s private you don’t need to read the document to put it in the file. Then to review camera footage to watch her friend/coworker to see if she spoke to someone? That’s concerning by a lot.

      1. RC Rascal*

        Yes. Additionally, having information you aren’t supposed to have can lead to other issues. You can’t accidentally disclose what you don’t know on the first place.

  8. singlemaltgirl*

    #1 there are multiple ethics breaches here that the letter writer doesn’t seem to be aware of.
    – reading the evals when they were just asked to file them
    – talking to a co-worker about anything in an hr file that doesn’t pertain to that employee specifically
    – checking on a co-worker’s version of who they spoke to (friend or no friend)
    – ducking out of work b/c they’re afraid to deal with the consequences
    if you’ve hit a supervisor level, i expect a certain level of professionalism and none of these speak to me as being professional or supervisor behaviour. i’m not sure what to say but that would just be a serious breach of trust for me as a manager since it shows such a lack of judgement on the part of one of my supervisors.

    #2 all our zoom meetings are declared about whether they are being recorded or not right at the top of the meeting and presumably, participants are being advised they’re being recorded since the letter writer knew this. how do they know this? whether it’s explicit consent or assent, it’s still work product and subject to being reviewed. i do agree you’d expect to know why they were recording but not all the ways may be disclosed – for our calls, they disclose the whys (usually for note taking and review by senior mgmt when necessary). i just never say anything in a zoom mtg or on email i wouldn’t want my bosses to know i’ve said publicly :)

    1. Forrest*

      >> – talking to a co-worker about anything in an hr file that doesn’t pertain to that employee specifically

      I mean, even that’s too broad— it’s “don’t talk about what’s in an hr file unless it’s part of you work duties to do so”. If she’d told the colleagues what his OWN evaluation was before it had been shared officially, that would also be a breach of trust.

    2. a sound engineer*

      Wow I totally missed that she was a supervisor on my first read… that makes it all so much worse!

      1. BRR*

        I missed that as well and upon rereading it’s really not great to be doing this at all but especially with one of your direct reports. (You also say you’re friends with them, I’d suggest looking at Alison’s posts on why a manager can’t be friends with their reports.)

    3. Khatul Madame*

      Checking on the co-worker’s story is not a breach in itself. Many work situations require analysis and verification of verbal accounts.
      Watching the security footage for reasons outside of security protocols can be a violation.

      On the other hand, the boss watching a recorded Zoom work meeting would always be legit. The team lead should remind the team members to temper their expectations for privacy because they meet for a work-related purpose, and the recordings are saved and made available to staff including the Boss Who Watches.

    4. greycat*

      I absolutely agree with your first point, and I think it was missed in the response. If she was just filing them, she wouldn’t have been able to say anything about what was in the files. LW straight up read the evals, which while tempting was their first misstep.

  9. Lady Heather*

    1, you’ll also want to not get on your employee-friend’s case about whether or not they told the supervisor. Don’t make this about getting caught.

    Also, good on your employee/friend for reporting an ethics violation. You can be proud of them, at least.

    1. Lady Heather*

      I’m serious about that last one, by the way. I think it’s likely your employee wasn’t expecting you to have read them, let alone share it with her, and you startled her by actually answering. It’s very possible your employee asked as a joke and expected a joke in return (“Well, it can safely be said that they all deserve more of a raise than they’ll get! Don’t we all!”).

    2. WellRed*

      We don’t even know for sure the employee reported it. The OP made things worse by checking camera footage( !), but she has no way to know if employee said anything. OP please decide if you have the personality and maturity to hold a trusted position. I do wish you luck in resolving this.

      1. Blended*

        Checking the camera footage was a cringe part of that letter for sure. I would hate to work with OP1. I whole things work out for her / him but they should not be in a management position imo. What a nightmare.

    3. Myrin*

      I don’t think the employee reported the ethics violation, or rather, it’s unclear.
      If you’re referring to this part: “I’m pretty sure she went and told that supervisor what I had shared with her.”, I took that to mean that she shared with said supervisor what her (the supervisor’s) evaluation scores were, since that’s what the files OP was told to file were about, not that she alerted the supervisor to OP’s breach of ethics.
      I do think that the letter is somewhat confusingly written, though, and would’ve really benefitted from giving names to all the people involved, so I might well be misreading/misinterpreting this.

      1. Reba*

        Yes, my read is that the Friend de facto reported it… By spreading the information she learned, that could only have been gained from the files. I really don’t get the feeling it was done for noble reasons, as Lady Heather suggests!

        I think it would be good for OP to step back and consider the office culture as a whole. Clearly OP crossed a line with this incident of indiscretion, but is gossip an ordinary part of this workplace and/or this friendship?

    4. Rusty Shackelford*

      We don’t know that the employee reported an ethics violation. It could just as easily have been “hey, Roy, did you know Fergus got a higher score than you did?”

    5. tangerineRose*

      First the friend asks the LW to do something wrong, then the friend probably reports what the LW said. Obviously the LW shouldn’t have shared the info, but I wouldn’t trust the friend either.

    6. In my shell*

      Right? It seems like the whole motivation for checking the video was to catch the employee in a lie about being approached?! THAT is the concern?

  10. Good Vibes Steve*

    LW1: if you knew it was wrong, why did you so easily cave to the request? This is a big part of your behavior to examine. Are you easily influenced? or were you looking for an excuse to look?

  11. Keymaster of Gozer*

    That ‘lost temper due to serious medical issues’ case is hitting hard here. Many years ago I told my senior manager to just feck off during a conversation about a project that wasn’t going great.

    Wasn’t the project that was bothering me. It was trying to wrap my head around a diagnosis that I’d never walk unaided again, that I’d never have a moment without pain and that it was degenerative and incurable. My subsequent initial actions were wrong, I got even more short tempered, how effing dare the world put any more stress on me right now?! My boss is a git! I ranted about how they owed me niceness because of it.

    Boss pulled me into a meeting and said outright that I needed psychiatric help or assistance with my diagnosis because I couldn’t snap at people like I had been. I was given time off, I did speak to the docs. These days I still have a lot of anger against the world for making my life shorter but better coping mechanisms (ever cross stitched the words ‘f*ck this’ 42 times…).

    Bit of rambling there, sorry. I did apologise to my boss later, I said I shouldn’t have snapped, I am going through some seriously scary times but that I’m going to talk through that with professionals instead of taking it into work. I didn’t explain exactly what medical stuff was going on because I was (still am) afraid people would use it as a reason to get rid of me.

    Conclusion: all my love and sympathies mate, it’s effing terrifying. Take my wittering as a ‘what not to do’ (I’m not a role model, I’m a warning to others usually) and reach out for whatever mental support is available. All my hopes that things improve for you.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Allison’s advice also v good. I think on reflection mine is more applicable if the short temper thing is repeated.

      Apologies. Painkiller brain fog.

      1. Hazel*

        I’m sorry about your diagnosis and pain! It sounds incredibly difficult, and it says a lot about you that you are willing to share it to help someone else.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I’m open (online) about my mental illnesses for the same reason: if even one person feels less alone it’s worth it. I’m the angry face of disability in public :p

    2. Case of the Mondays*

      I also had a “go down in a blaze of glory” moment that I luckily salvaged. I was dealing with very personal, life altering news. My boss knew the news and knew I was there one day after getting it. I brought up a professional development thing I wanted to do and he launched into some criticism about my recent work.

      I basically started crying, yelled “I can’t deal with this right now!!!” and ran out of his office, grabbed my stuff and left the building.

      I emailed my boss immediately from my car to apologize and to say clearly I should not have been at work that day until I had processed the news I received the day before. He told me (thank God) that he understood and to take a day or two to myself.

      I called my therapist on the way home.

      I’m here to tell you that we both moved on like adults and I’m back to getting good reviews at work.

      While I take responsibility for my actions, my boss really chose a terrible time to bring up any criticisms and he recognized that and apologized. It was very much “let me kick you while you are down” from my perspective while I was struggling mightily to pretend everything was ok.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Very much agree. To give OP some good news too: that same boss who I told to eff off put me forward for a company award the year after. I was also promoted.

        I give full credit to my family, friends, psychiatrist etc who got me back on track after I lost it. (And the same credit in 2020 when I broke down and went crazy)

  12. Sled dog mama*

    I recently went through a pretty scary work up for a cardiac arrhythmia that showed up out of nowhere. I’m lucky that it turned out to be benign.
    I took Alison’s excellent advice and let my supervisor know in the context of how it might affect my work. Something along the lines of “my doctor is sending me for some extra tests that I may need time off for. I’m hopeful that this will turn out to be nothing but I wanted to give you a heads up that I have this going on in case I’m a little distracted.”
    Of course it helps that I know my boss’s reaction to this will be “Thanks for the heads up. Let me know what you need. Hope it turns out ok.” I don’t know that I would have felt ok telling him if I hadn’t been confident of his answer.

  13. Wakeen Teapots, LTD*


    I did some horrifying, privacy violating things when I was toward the start of my career (although old enough to know better – later 20’s) . I never got caught. What’s worse is that I had access to the information because of a level of trust that was placed in me. I was “the last person” anyone would think would do what I did (and did *ongoing* , not as a momentary slip).

    Now I actually am the last person who would do that. I don’t know what changed me other than realizing how positively immoral it is to violate trust placed in you, and becoming deeply ashamed of myself. If you only feel guilty because you got caught, please dig deeper.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I think age and experience counts for a lot. After seeing fellow IT techies literally thrown out of the company for sharing details out of the payroll database….well, once you’ve seen the direct consequences of an action you get far less interested in doing it yourself!

      (Also I used to think I could do stuff that IT couldn’t see. So did those techs. Learnt the hard way that actually Network Security could see everything)

    2. Person from the Resume*

      I’ll be honest, LW#1’s situation and response seems like it comes from a teenager. All decisions seem immature. I’m thinking it could be MAYBE be retail and this supervisor could still be very and immature and not familiar with office norms.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        Well, I stand corrected, it says in the letter: “I’m a supervisor of an administrative unit with the state, and I’m the direct assistant to my district manager.”

        This is certainly not a kid in a store. OTOH government’s a reputation of slow to fire so admitting the truth (instead of being caught) may help the LW stay employed.

      2. lapgiraffe*

        So I’m always a tad touchy about people assuming retail is a job only for teenagers and people with no experience, so I’ll just ask that maybe you think on that. Immaturity exists in every industry, no matter how much school or experience or how high the pay grade.

        I’m also touchy because the OP actually says their are in an administrative unit for a government agency – so it just seems that you made some big assumptions while also overlooking key information that was actually provided at the top.

        1. Lisa*

          I think Person from the Resume’s reading was the reverse. LW’s behavior seemed so immature for a manager, they thought – well, where do very young people get put in charge of things? Retail is one of those places. That doesn’t mean *only* teenagers work retail, my SIL is in her 40s and is a store manager, but there are always a lot of young people in retail.

          I admit I didn’t make the “state government” connection at first either – I though it was state-level of some corporation. Maybe you could “think on” why you’re so touchy, because no one is attacking you.

          1. lapgiraffe*

            I think by admitting that I’m touchy I’m admitting some self awareness that this is my own bias, an issue I’m aware of in myself. I could unpack it all for you here but I think that would completely derail the thread.

          2. pancakes*

            Eh? Being attacked is not a prerequisite to reminding other commenters that assumptions about someone’s age or line of work can be unhelpful.

    3. Librarian of SHIELD*

      This feels like a really important piece of it. OP1, it’s obvious from your letter that you feel really terrible right now, and I’d argue that this is actually a good thing. Not because you need to be punished, but because that terrible guilt and shame you’re feeling can be a very effective tool when it comes to learning correct behavior. It’s like a burned hand teaching you that it’s not a good idea to touch the stove. So listen to your guilty conscience on this one. Accept that the guilt you’re feeling came from your own behavior, and commit yourself to not behaving in that way in the future. Sincere remorse and a sincere apology might not be enough for you to stay in this job, and I know that’s a hard thing to contemplate. But even if you can’t keep this job, you can still learn from this and commit to doing better in the future.

      1. Joan Rivers*

        My boss, the big boss, once asked me to write him a memo explaining the dysfunction dynamic caused by one big editor, promising to destroy it after reading. When he was gone I looked in his desk and he’d kept it. Which just told me that he liked it and might have to use it later. Which happened, she was fired later.

        I felt OK knowing that he and I were close enough he’d respect my opinion and OK checking in his desk and happy that she was fired.
        But no way would I have shared personnel info. w/peers.

    4. Just @ me next time*

      When I was freshly graduated, I got a job at my former University dealing with tuition payments. The student record system I used to process payments also housed students’ final grades. I’m still sick with guilt remembering a moment of weakness when I looked up a couple of former classmates to see how they did in a particular class. I knew it was wrong at the time and did it anyway. I was jealous of those classmates and looking for some kind of validation (which backfired, because of course they did better than me in the class).
      A few years later, I saw a news story about a health care employee who was fired after getting caught looking up medical records of people she knew. I remember feeling sick to my stomach reading that story. It was way too close to what I had done with the grades. That was when it really hit me just how violating and irresponsible my actions had been.
      I still get these awful snoopy urges to know everything about everyone (my brain LIGHTS UP when I hear people gossiping). Thankfully I’m a) no longer in a position where I have access to personal information and b) learning to interrogate my urges rather than giving in to them.

  14. BRR*

    #5 I don’t think following up is really necessary. I imagine your goal is to get a response and I don’t think following up is a sudden reminder to the hiring manager that they needed to move forward on the hiring process. Don’t get me wrong, I find the ghosting and missed timelines of hiring to be incredibly frustrating. I just don’t think anybody gets an email from an applicant and goes “oh I forgot to send them their offer, let me get on that.”

    1. A penguin!*

      You’re unlikely to get a reply that’s “oh, here’s the offer that I forgot I had to get to you”, sure. But it’s not unreasonable for a hiring manager or others involved in the process to have gotten into a series of more urgent work that’s pushed off the hiring decision and not realized how far they’ve strung out the candidate(s). You can get an updated timeline out of the question in that case. Filling a position is often a higher priority for the candidate than for the employer.

    2. Empress Matilda*

      The other thing to remember is that it was really not that long ago, that OP sent their references! 2+ weeks seems like forever when you’re job hunting, but from a manager’s perspective, those 2 weeks can go by almost in seconds.

      For example, let’s say you sent 3 references on Thursday Jan 7th. The recruiter may not have received them until the end of the day, or even early Friday. She reaches out to all three of them on the Friday, and then of course it’s the weekend, so most of the references don’t get the message from the recruiter until Monday 11th.

      Then let’s pretend the recruiter was able to connect with two of the references by Friday 15th, but she’s still waiting to hear back from the third one. Maybe she connects with the third one on Wed 20th, and then she still has to reach out to the hiring manager – who happens to be away that week, not returning until Monday 25th. Monday 25th is also the latest possible date you could have written to Alison for a short answer letter to be posted today. So you see how these timelines can stretch! If every step takes a day or two longer than anticipated, it makes the whole process take longer – but still well within reasonable timelines from the employer end.

      TL;DR – it’s too soon to worry. Chances are they’re still working through it and the offer is still coming. Keep breathing, and good luck!

  15. Blarg*

    #3 — I’ve been Employee B. Showed initiative, went above and beyond, had real curiosity about that role, growth, etc. Great evaluations. But Employee A had the same chances, same opportunities, etc. in the name of avoiding favoritism.

    So I left. Cause I had other options. That’s what you’re risking: losing Employee B and being stuck with Employee A forever, cause they’ll never leave if things are just fine.

    1. Cat Tree*

      Yeah, favoritism is fine when one employee is performing better than another. I don’t know why antibes would want to avoid it, except maybe to avoid an awkward conversation with the under-performing employee. It constantly amazes me that managers will go to such great lengths to avoid even a single awkward conversation. But, I guess the vast majority of managers never get training on the actual management part of the job which explains a lot.

      1. BRR*

        The lw mentions that employee a has taken legal actions at other jobs and I imagine there’s a concern it could happen again.

        1. Cat Tree*

          And none of those legal actions have been successful. It’s the manager’s job to, you know, manage. Cowering in fear of having to do actual work isn’t good managing.

        2. Observer*

          So? Which is worse? Dealing with a nuisance suit on the one hand, or losing your best employees and demoralizing the decent employees who stick around?

          And what makes the OP think that they will succeed in avoiding a lawsuit, anyway?

          This comes up ALL THE TIME. You simply cannot be an effective manager if your prime goal above all else is to avoid law suits.

        3. Paulina*

          How do they know about A taking legal action at other jobs? Is it because A talks about having done that?

          I agree with the others that you can’t just give in to lawsuit-happy people, that gives them the validation to keep being like that. Document carefully, of course.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            I am guessing that A talks about it, in a way that makes it sound like they would sue again in a heartbeat if they didn’t like something.

            Like some people above said – Document their comments.

      2. Sandra*

        Hello! I’m the OP for #2 and it’s been a struggle. Employee B is fantastic – an excellent hire. I feel sorry for her and want to tell her, except I can’t (and won’t). I am able to promote internally so I do think that B will be eligible for promotion and A won’t. Previously to this A’s career goals were “to be a manager” and “make lots of money” so I never had high hopes for her, and she would always blame everything on having a bad manager. I initially felt sorry for her and then realized she’s a pain to manage. It’s not been easy!

        1. Observer*

          Don’t tell her you feel sorry for her. Just start giving her the better assignments, prepping her for promotion, etc.

          And just document everything. It won’t prevent a lawsuit, but it WILL mean that if (or when) it happens it will be as undisruptive as possible.

        2. Allypopx*

          You’ve mentioned feeling sorry for both of them – don’t manage from a perspective of pity! Give regular feedback, reward good work, set clear performance goals for substandard work, and be consistent. That’s all you owe either of them.

    2. Addy*

      +1 for this

      I’m employee b and my team lead favors employee a because of their prior friendship. Was almost out of this situation when covid happened. Fingers crossed for 2021!

    3. Khatul Madame*

      If the “un-favored” employee is part of a protected class, the manager may be trying to avoid a EEO complaint. And yes, the risk of losing better-performing staff is often realized in these situations.

      1. Shirley Keeldar*


        Since pretty much everyone has a race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual preference, and level of ability, everyone is part of a protected class. Everyone.

      2. pancakes*

        I don’t think it’s helpful to the letter writer or makes for productive discussion of the topic to make sweeping generalizations about “these situations.”

      3. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        As Alison has pointed out, everyone is a member of a protected class, because the rules aren’t “you can’t discriminate against people who have this attribute” (e.g., “female” or Jewish). It’s that you can’t discriminate for or against people based on things including gender, race, and religion. There are a few exceptions–in particular, US federal law prohibits age discrimination only against people over 40–but it’s illegal to discriminate for or against any race, gender, and religion (or lack thereof).

        That’s somewhat idealistic–I’m much less likely to be discriminated against for being white than my friend is to be discriminated against for being Black, and the actual world we live in still massively favors white men–but if the employer is being harder on person B in an attempt to not discriminate against A, that’s as illegal as the other way around.

        “We’re worried she might sue” would be understandable, but that’s different from knowing, or believing, that the hypothetical complaint would be upheld.

        1. Massmatt*

          Thank you for pointing this out! Many people seem to think discrimination laws mean you can’t fire, say, a racial or religious minority, and that therefore these minorities are getting “special rights”. This was a huge trope years ago as an argument against adding sexual orientation to existing anti-discrimination laws.
          Discrimination laws don’t “protect” one race and not another. They make it illegal to discriminate against anyone on the basis of race. That means white people too!

          It’s unfortunate that this misunderstanding is so widespread, and that companies are fearful of firing terrible employees due to the perception that they can so easily be sued due to the employee’s “protected class”.

          Such lawsuits are very hard to win even when the discrimination is absolutely real because they are so difficult to prove.

          1. Cat Tree*

            Your last paragraph is exactly right. The LW even said that this employee had taken legal action in the past, but never won.

      4. Observer*

        So? Being a member of the “disfavored” portion of a protected class doesn’t mean that your managers are not allowed to manage you. And the EEO is not going to take action of any and all complaints, even in a highly employee and civil rights administration.

        We’ve been there. I think that most employers that have been around more than a few years and have a fairly large workforce has been there. That’s just part of doing business. In our case, the most memorable case (that I know of – I’m not privy to a lot of what goes in in HR or even client management) was someone who filed complaints with several different government agencies, as each agency investigated and then concluded that we had not discriminated. Was it a pain? Absolutely! Did we do the right thing in not giving in? Also, absolutely!

        We probably would have come out ok even without the mass of documentation we had, but having it all took it from “huge disruptive deal” to “seriously annoying and time wasting deal”.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Agreed. We fired someone for shockingly bad behaviour and they did try for a whole year to file suit against us for discrimination because they were in group x. We however had reams of evidence that the ex employee had done revolting things and our legal team were quick to point out that there’s no group that means you can do what this guy did without getting fired.

          It all dies down.

      5. Keymaster of Gozer*

        That’s a fear, but an irrational one.

        I’m disabled (several times over) but if I constantly showed a bad attitude, didn’t do my work, called people names, flung computer hardware around etc. I’m not immune to being fired.

        I’ve fired people from protected groups. Appalling lack of work ethics trumps any ‘but I’m member of group x so you have to let me be a total bellend at work’.

        Seriously, if you make sure you document/clarify the exact reasons for not promoting person X/firing person X then you really have nothing to fear from an equal ops case.

    4. Birdie*

      I was also employee B. Luckily, my employee A, while a generally grouchy person, was self-aware enough to recognize that my work, effort, and ambitions were quite different from his. He didn’t complain when he repeatedly ended up supporting projects that I led, or when some of my administrative work got shifted to him so I’d have more time for higher-level projects. But even though my org did “play favorites” in terms of opportunities within our roles, I became increasingly resentful that not only did we have the same title while I was clearly doing more advanced work, but he also had more PTO and got paid more (we were promoted at the same time, but he’d been at the org longer). So yeah, I also left.

      Basically: I’d focus less on potential legal actions that clearly have no teeth (though I’d document everything to be safe) and focus more on on what you could lose if you *don’t* take action.

  16. Frances*

    OP #1 “You’ve got to make your reaction right now is not about being caught, but about understanding why you did what you did. ” This 100%!
    I’ve been working with someone new to the field and I’m really worried about her professional development because instead of saying “I messed up. How do I make it right or avoid it in future?” she just denies or excuses/rationalizes her actions. She’ll do anything to avoid it reflecting badly on her which actually looks worse.
    Being really honest about your role and what happened is key to moving forward. Good luck!

    1. CommanderBanana*

      Oof. This is tough. In my experience people who react this way are often coming from backgrounds in which simple mistakes were reacted to disproportionately, so their focus is avoiding the reaction. I worked for a boss whose reaction to even very minor, unavoidable hiccups was to go absolutely nuclear, so everyone was paralyzed with fear and never, ever owned up to mistakes, so they either went unfixed or snowballed until it really was a big issue.

      The only advice I can give you is that creating a space in which she can safely make mistakes – which I’d expect from a new person – may help.

  17. Blended*

    L1 – I would be livid if someone who was only supposed to be filing paperwork shared my HR evaluation with another coworker. If I found out I wouldn’t want to have any of my personal info handled by you, TBH. I don’t think this is really a mistake, a mistake is filing something in the wrong place, not reading and disseminating confidential information. Feels kind of gossipy and I personally wouldn’t get over it. Depending on the content you shared, I would be furious as a coworker if there wasn’t some kind of serious demotion.

    1. Bagpuss*

      Yes – if OP’s friend/coworker did report her then it may well be that they were concerned that if she was reading and sharing this kind of information, she might well be reading and sharing other confidential information too. If I were the friend I’d immediately be wondering what private information she might have read about me, and whether she had gossiped about that or used it in other ways.

      OP, I think that you do need to acknowledge what a huge issue this is and make sure that your boss is aware that you have taken that to heart, when you speak to them. But I think that you need to accept that you may well face serious disciplinary action as a result because it is a serious issue.

    2. In my shell*

      @Blended THIS
      “a mistake is filing something in the wrong place, not reading and disseminating confidential information.”

  18. LGC*

    LW1: oh NOOOOOO

    Okay so, I have nothing to add except…I’d slightly soften the language about your friend. You can be friends with her outside of work. But at work, you have to treat her like any other employee. And your friend needs to be clear about that boundary as well.

    LW4: but it sounds like you already have a track record with your boss? Maybe I’m misreading this. But I think she’d understand that this was out of character for you.

    You might not even need to specify the nature of the news. You might be able to get away with saying that you’d received some very bad news, and you’re sorry that you snapped at your boss.

    1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      There are plenty of letters that come in here, about people thinking they’re being good at enforcing that boundary, until they make a mistake and aren’t, and OP has already made a massive misjudgment because they couldn’t draw those boundaries in their head.

      OP has proven by their actions that they can not be friends with anyone they manage, even in an outside of work context.

      1. LGC*

        I mean, I can’t disagree with you on that point about LW1 specifically (and honestly…yeah, it IS a really tough boundary to enforce – ask me how I know). I just felt a bit squicky about Alison’s phrasing, which read to me that in general, you should prioritize the company over the friendship.

        It’s entirely possible to be in a situation where you’re promoted to supervise friends that predate the promotion (which is so not ideal, but happens). Or you might have friends in a different department and be switched to theirs (again, so not ideal, but happens). I just don’t feel comfortable saying as a blanket statement, “you shouldn’t be friends, then!”

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          You really can’t though. You can remain friendLY, but you can’t be genuine friends — especially outside of work — with someone you manage. Even if you handle all the other potential land mines perfectly (like impartially assessing their work, giving critical feedback when needed, and not favoring them when it comes to doling out assignments or perks — and that’s a huge “if”), there’s still going to be the perception of favoritism and unbalanced access to other people on your team.

          If you’re offered a promotion to manage a friend, you have to decide if you’re willing to pull way back on the friendship until the person is out of your chain of command.

    1. LQ*

      I’m glad someone mentioned this. This is absolutely possible that this is part of an investigation and no, you don’t get to be told when someone is being investigated. It’s sort of the other side of #1. The answer to why the recordings are being reviewed could absolutely be private and demanding an explanation or feeling like you are owed one is concerning.

  19. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP1: okay, I’m going to warn you that what’s required now is going to hurt. A lot.

    Firstly, yes, own up to exactly what you did. Don’t try and add reasoning to any of the faults. Don’t try and get away from the consequences. This is one of the hardest lessons in a professional career: how to admit wrongs, accept the consequences and resolve ways to never mess up again.

    It hurts. There’s a major major screwup in my technical career that probably should have got me fired it was that bad. But I admitted it straight up and worked darn hard to fix it and the act of admitting I’d just knocked out X systems was the hardest bit for me. Probably saved my job.

    The second bit is going to hurt too, I’m sorry. Examining, in private to yourself, why you did these things. This wasn’t a ‘I was lazy and let some bad code through untested’, this was a series of decisions. Being such close friends with staff when you’re in a supervisory/managerial position to them? Delving further into confidential information that you know you’re not supposed to (I work in IT so information security is my thing)? Sharing that information afterward because…?

    It’s the act of asking yourself ‘what outcome was I actually hoping for here?’. Your friend would be impressed at your secret knowledge and think of you higher? You thought you’d develop a reputation for having insider knowledge that would boost your career?

    I’m not being sarcastic here, those are genuinely thoughts that have rattled through the head of many a techie given access to a confidential database. Briefly.

    The trick to not acting on those impulses in future is to recognise them for what they are (career ending mistakes) and setting up a response in your brain’s ethics subroutines that chime in with ‘don’t do that for real’ when they occur. I’d rather support a Windows NT4.0 network than try to attempt recoding my brain again. It’s hard. But believe me, it’s mandatory at times.

  20. Myrin*

    I feel like I’m missing something in the first letter:
    Later she approached me and said, “So Roy overheard our conversation and talked to me about it.”
    Who is Roy and why would did the Friend feel the need to tell OP that he overheard their conversation? I’ve gathered that Roy is just some random other coworker and that he was involved so that Friend could later blame him should OP realise that someone had spoken to the other supervisor but that’s more conjecture on my part.
    Did anyone read that part differently?

    1. londonedit*

      No, I think I read it the same as you. Friend came to OP and said ‘So, Roy overheard our conversation and talked to me about it’, but OP didn’t believe that and thought Friend was lying to cover up the fact that they’d reported the conversation to a supervisor. So OP looked at the security footage (!) to find out whether Roy actually was there to overhear them, or whether Friend was trying to make it look like Roy had ‘accidentally overheard’ (and therefore that’s how the other supervisors know OP has been reading and talking about the employee evaluations) when in fact Friend had deliberately gone to speak to another supervisor about it.

      1. Heidi*

        This makes sense. I was also somewhat confused by the introduction of the Roy character. For a moment, I thought that Roy was a supervisor, but I guess the implication is that the friend is setting up Roy to be the leak if OP gets in trouble with the supervisor. There are a lot of assumptions being made here. OP does not know for certain that Roy didn’t hear the conversation. OP just knows (from reviewing the footage – this is like an episode of Law and Order: SVU) that the friend didn’t talk to Roy in person in view of the camera. Maybe the communication took place by email or phone. However, that doesn’t mean that Roy told the supervisor anything, either. And just because OP saw the friend talking to the supervisor does not mean that the friend was telling the supervisor about the OP seeing the evaluations. So isn’t it possible that the supervisor knows nothing about this?

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      This is why I didn’t comment on the other staff members behaviour in my reply above: basically it’s irrelevant. OP did something very wrong, they were open about it, and now they’re worried about the outcome now they’ve been found out.

      Who told what to whom is really not an issue here.

  21. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP1 – you need to change your thinking on this if you want any chance of salvaging it.

    1 – You were told to file. Not read.
    2 – You blabbed.
    3 – You… and I can’t quite believe this… LOOKED AT SECURITY FOOTAGE of your employee…

    Abut one thing that you have no right to consider a mistake is your blame-shifting “trusting an employee not to tell”.

    That is possibly the most appalling of all.

    YOU were wrong. Not her.

    1. Grim*

      Completely agree. The LW is only in “keep my job” self-interest mode and needs to move past it.

      I would fire them for this and hopefully they will learn from it.

    2. Paulina*

      Yes. And keep in mind, OP1, that any rationale you might have for sharing the information also potentially goes for the person you shared it to passing it on further. People who break confidentiality can’t expect it.

  22. Seen It.*

    I’m interested in why your ‘friend’ at work would lie and say someone overheard what was said, when that wasn’t true at all.

    Did you actually go through an entire day’s worth of security video to verify that? I’ve had to do that occasionally to find evidence that cameras picked up of accidents etc., and it’s really time consuming.

    1. James*

      I’m not sure it’s a lie. With the ubiquity of things like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and the like, it’s not going to be obvious who an employee talks to on a given day. Me IMing with my boss looks a lot like me IMing with one of my staff when you look at it on security footage.

      Plus, work isn’t the only place work happens. I’ve spoken with folks at bars, at parks, one time a client requested some data from me while we were in line at a grocery store, and another time I spent two hours on the phone at my son’s karate studio. The DM for my standing Pathfinder game has a rule of 10 minutes of shop talk between me and a coworker. And I’m not unusual in this.

      I’m not saying the LW is definitely wrong. But I am saying I’m not convinced they are right. The idea that security camera footage tells the whole story simply isn’t true.

    2. hbc*

      Yeah, I just can’t figure out why Roy seems to be the pivotal element to this situation. I think there are three possibilities:

      1) It happened as described and just isn’t visible on the tapes
      2) Employee told Roy directly and is lying about how he knows
      3) Roy knows nothing and Employee is lying about the whole thing.

      What exactly changes in each situation and why?

    3. In my shell*

      I was just thinking about this! OP1 wrote, ” I viewed the office cameras and she never spoke with anyone other then one other supervisor that day.”

      So, meaning YES OP watched the whole day’s recording from that point?(??) wow.

  23. AndersonDarling*

    #3 It sounds like this is clear cut, but I want to make sure that there isn’t gender bias involved that is painting Employee A (girl) as disengaged, combative, and complaining, and the same behaviors in Employee B (boy) are seen as taking control of their own projects, challenging processes to make them better, and bringing blockers to their manager’s attention.
    I worry because the OP says how they didn’t hire the employee which also tends to be a way to say it’s okay to not engage with the employee and then blame the employee for not being what the OP wants but doesn’t communicate.
    The OP didn’t state the gender of Employee B, so they could both be ladies and this is just hypothetical. Either way, I’d examine if I was giving the same attention, one-on-ones, and conversation time to both employees. If favoritism was already happening, then this is the inevitable result. The employee you support grows, the employee you neglect withers.

    1. OrigCassandra*

      Even if they are both women, this is a concern. Women are very much not immune from stereotyping other women in this way and damaging their careers because of it.

      1. BIPOC_A*

        Also if they are different races. Goddess knows this wouldn’t be the first time a white person was rewarded for behaviors that would get a BIPOC fired. The comments on “legal action” could be a dogwhistle for discrimination lawsuits, which are notoriously hard for victims to win, and employee A may just be trying to keep their head down and honestly trying to keep their job because their job has been threatened or disciplined before when they were proactive and not ‘staying in their lane.’

    2. Sandra*

      Little bit late but I’m the LW for #3. They are both the same gender, and they both have a fortnightly catch up with me which we always do without fail. I said not my hire because when I inherited A I reallllly gave them the benefit of the doubt and started fresh but it’s been proven now that this is done with all of their managers. I’ve asked A several times for objectives and tried to develop goals (even outside of the business) but I just get silence. It’s like getting blood from a stone!

  24. Agent Michael Scarn*

    Letter #3, from the perspective of a “favored” employee: Please make sure the workloads between these two employees aren’t heavily unbalanced.
    My boss often “rewards” me for my good work by assigning me a much heavier workload than other employees, because he knows he can count on me to get it done. So while I’m drowning in work, some of my coworkers are able to coast by, because they have a reputation for being slightly incompetent and aren’t asked to do important assignments. It’s maddening and unfair. I understand every employee is different, but it’s important to make sure every employee is at least pulling their weight AND that the well-performing employee actually WANTS these “exciting new projects.”

    1. Esmeralda*

      Yeah, and if you do reward the good employee with more work, reward them also with more money (and possibly PTO, etc)

    2. Birdie*

      This is a good point! When I was the “favored” employee working on shiny new projects, the instant (literally!) I went to my boss and said, “I can’t keep up with XYZ administrative work,” he shifted it to our employee A and asked me if there were other tasks he could reassign. The work I passed off was actually a core function of my original position, but his priority was for me to spend time on the higher-level projects and was willing to make that possible. It’s one of the reasons I remember him as a great boss. But I had reason to believe he would respond well – if I didn’t think anything would be done, I might not have told him I was overloaded.

  25. Esmeralda*

    Recorded meetings: is there an expectation that these meetings are confidential? If they are just run of the mill meetings, and not say a hiring committee meeting, then what’s the issue?

    It’s a work meeting. I would not expect any work meeting to be confidential unless confidential topics were being discussed — and whenever I’ve been in that sort of meeting, they start and end with an explicit statement that the discussion and decisions are confidential.

    1. Observer*

      Good point. But even confidential meetings are normally available to the manager of the team or department that the team is part of.

  26. Anon for this*

    Employee 3 sounds a bit like me, described by someone who doesn’t realize exactly how underwater our department is, so I’d add the caveat that OP 3 needs to make sure this isn’t a case where their department has a lot of boring grunt work that NEEDS to get done, regardless of whether there are cool projects as well. I have not been taking on cool projects because, well, we don’t have the manpower to get all the gruntwork done already, which causes severe problems for other departments when it isn’t done in a timely fashion. My other two coworkers are ambitious. They take on the shiny projects and are always willing to take on more… and they let the gruntwork, which HAS to be done, slide to me. And I don’t have enough time for it all. I’m not particularly unambitious, but we just don’t have the manpower!

    If this does not describe the situation, please disregard, but it’s close enough to the situation I’m in that I feel the need to point out that if there’s already a manpower issue, not wanting to take on additional projects isn’t necessarily a lack of ambition.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I also resonated with the “bad” employee in #3. I do the grunt work and often work weekends and evening to keep the grunt work under control, so when shiny projects come in, I cannot do them. There is no way to take anything else on.
      At one point, I was supposed to learn a new software like the employee in the letter. But it wasn’t like learning a new accounting system for a transition, it was more like learning coding. I resisted because learning a program language is way outside of my skill set, and not in alignment with my career. And I’m not going to dabble in something like that and pretend to be an expert. But it was in alignment with my co-worker’s skill set and career, so he was all about it. It should have been obvious that I couldn’t just pick up a complex skill after watching a few videos, but instead I was viewed as “not a team player” and that I was making my coworkers pick up the slack.
      If I had a manager that talked to me every once in a while, we would be on the same page and I wouldn’t be seen as “complaining.”

      1. pancakes*

        Why not ask for a meeting with your manager and explain your workflow and resistance to learning the software the way you have here? None of this would necessarily be self-evident to even a great manager. Your capacity for and interest in learning new software, for example, are not qualities one wears on one’s sleeve.

        1. AndersonDarling*

          In my case it’s an awkward and delicate situation. As with the employee in the letter, my co-worker and I were dumped into another department when my manager left. My co-worker (male) was given meet-n-greets and one-on-ones with the manager. The manager canceled my one-on-ones. Manager assumed I was skilled in let’s say programming, when I’m an expert in let’s say project management instead. Manager kept pushing me to do developer work even though I have zero experience in it and it’s something with a lot of repercussions if it’s done sloppy. Manager cannot comprehend the conversation when I explain I am not an developer. Like, for real, all I get is a blank stare when I explain I’m not a developer, I’m a project manager and was hired to clean up their processes and get projects on track.
          If I press the matter more, there’s a 50/50 chance that Manager could just blow up since he is in so much denial. So it’s safer to just be quiet, job search, and find another PM role. Which sucks, because they desperately need a PM on the team.
          From my managers perspective, I’m a crappy developer and I complain all the time.

        2. Anon for this*

          I tell my manager none of us have time to do it, he tells me I shouodn’t speak for my coworkers (when I say we don’t have time for it), when asked, they make elegant cases for why they get everything they need done, and tell me privately that they don’t want to outright say they don’t have time for something. So it sounds like I’m the only one struggling.

          1. Anon for this*

            I sincerely want to take on shiny projects, but the last time I did one, multiple high priority grunt work tasks didn’t get done in time and the repercussions were HUGE.

      2. Nyet*

        I’d encourage you to consider picking up some basic programming skills that do fit within your general career area, even if it’s not something you want to specialize in. I can understand it’s an intimidating area to break into – but once you get into it a bit, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how accessible it can be. You don’t need to take a college course or become an expert to get useful stuff done with some programming skills. It’s a growing part of every career path there is.

        There’s a lot you can do at the “excel” level of coding understanding in most fields. You usually don’t have to learn a full coding language, or understand the inner workings of computers, to make meaningful progress and speed up regular tasks you do.

        College courses and in-person courses tend to be terrible for practical, straightforward coding knowledge. There are a bunch of books and/or online resources that usually go straight into what you need to know for a specific field. They give simple examples to work through to get started and then give useful examples of ways to solve real problems, and you can skip around to find the bits that are relevant to you.

        If you are constantly buried under grunt scut work, that’ll never change until you change (1) how much grunt work comes in or (2) how fast you can turn the grunt work around. You probably can’t do anything about (1). Programming is absolutely best at fixing (2) in many different fields; even if you can’t automate everything, you can probably automate something repetitive to speed your work up.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Learning about Excel functions like pivot tables, macros etc. was a key point in my favour when I decided to switch careers from virology to IT.

          It’s amazing how people’s eyes light up when you mention you can do VLOOKUP, conditional formatting etc.

    2. Malarkey01*

      I also think there’s a bias in work culture towards go getters and rock stars (which are awesome to have) but at the expense of people that get the job adequately done (which is also beneficial to the company). I manage a team where there’s a lot of work that needs to get done but isn’t sexy work. I have come to embrace the people who perform to needed levels but aren’t jumping at the bit for more because they are dependable for the work we need and aren’t moving up and on in turnover. There’s a lot of management bias towards them “Oh Jane isn’t that motivated” or “This is as high as Bob will fly”, and I have pushed back to say wait both provide very valuable work to our organization, are satisfied with their position, we need all kinds of workers here. While it’s also my job and I’m happy to support and encourage and find opportunities for those that want to go further, it’s about not valuing one as better or worse.

      And to be sure to check in with employees to make sure you’re on the same page but some people are just happy doing the job they were hired for and not taking the next step.

      1. pancakes*

        That is a thing that can happen, yes, but it doesn’t resemble what’s happening in the letter, where Employee A does the bare minimum at the last minute, and nonetheless—according to a comment from the letter writer—thinks they should be promoted from their position and make more money.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Yes – I work with Employee A, they do the bare minimum, complain about their workload, and if they hit something in their workload that requires some critical thinking or problem solving they call a Lead and do nothing at all until the Lead comes and solves the problem for them. They frustrate their coworkers (I’m closer to Employee B in this scenario, and if the Leads are busy and can’t help A, they come and try and get me to problem solve for them – or at least they used to before I started every request for help with have you done/checked resources G,H, and I first?), and some are definitely overly convinced of their skill set.

          Just be very fact based when you are working with both employees, and document, document, and document some more if you are worried about appearing to favor one employee over the other.

  27. Laura H.*

    Honesty and active efforts to prevent a repeat are the basis of a lot of instances of coming back from moments that shouldn’t have happened (mistakes OR the… more conscious choices). Often it’s not easy to admit one has done something wrong, but OP 1, this decision as well as the further stuff done isn’t good.

    The issue and its source lie with you, not your coworker and not Roy. Own up to your decisions to read and to share, and the subsequent ones you made in an effort to not get caught.

    Even in my seasonal job, I’m exposed to info that isn’t mine to use. Granted I have a weird knack for mentally recalling the identifiers for that transaction during that transaction- sometimes I’m not quick enough on entry and verification; also I don’t have to re-ask for info I was just given. But when I’m done with that transaction, I’ll dump the info from my head, and go onto whatever is next. I do tend to scan and retain but I also usually have an idea of how long or if I even need to retain something.

    Depending on your position, confidential stuff can definitely fall under “don’t read, don’t retain, do what you need to with it and dump it from your headspace.”

  28. Kathleen N.*

    Here’s the thing re #1. If you were one of the people for whom she she blabbed about you aren’t going to be happy to have your personal info shared and would feel pretty uncomfortable moving forward knowing she has access to other info. I’m leaning towards she may be fired because of this and her poor response to a situation she created all her own.

  29. CommanderBanana*

    LW #1, you may want to rethink this friendship. Your ‘friend’ pumped you for information, shared it, then lied about it to you. I don’t think that person is really your friend, or at the very least, you may want to rethink some boundaries around this friend in the workplace.

    1. Observer*

      Interesting. The OP behaves badly, but somehow it’s the friend who is the bad guy?

      Even if your description were accurate, you would be flat out wrong – the OP made a set of choices that are highly problematic and blaming that on the other person is toxic behavior.

      Beyond that there is no evidence that your description comes close to being accurate. For one thing, even according to the OP the person simply asked a question. If a person is unable to not share information in response to a question, then THEY have a problem. Do NOT blame it on the person who asked. Secondly, you have no idea if the person actually lied or not. Sure, the OP used their access to security footage in a way that they should most definitely not have. But that doesn’t mean that they are right about what happened! CW could have had an email, messenger or phone conversation with “Roy”. And it could even have happened outside of the office!

      As for the sharing bit – Well, as bad as it is for the OP, it’s probably a good thing over all. Because the OP is clearly not trustworthy, and it’s not fair to anyone else to give them access to sensitive information.

      1. Let's Just Say*

        Whoa, LW is definitely in the wrong and made several poor decisions. But the “friend” also behaved poorly. More than one person can be at fault in a situation! And since the friend *told* LW that they shared the confidential info with Roy, I see no reason for the LW to doubt the truth of that. Also not sure why it matters how the information was transmitted or whether it was in the office? LW shared confidential info with Friend, and Friend told Roy. It’s better for LW to assume that is what happened, so she can tell her boss and be prepared for the information to have spread even further within the department.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          Yes. The OP should never have shared that info – but the ‘friend’ should never have asked.

          1. tangerineRose*

            “The OP should never have shared that info – but the ‘friend’ should never have asked.” This!

          2. In my shell*

            “but the ‘friend’ should never have asked.”

            Definitely! But what does it say about OP that the ‘friend’ DID ask? The people I trust with our confidential records wouldn’t ever BE ASKED because they would know they wouldn’t be told anything and if they still did they would be soundly rebuffed, and it would put the question asker’s judgment and professionalism into question.

        2. KateM*

          Yes, but that CommanderBanana’s post is only about reconsidering the friendship, without touching at all OP’s own misdoings, is… troubling. It sounds like downplaying what OP did and finding a scapegoat. OP should be thinking about what THEY did wrong, not find whom to accuse.

      2. CommanderBanana*

        I didn’t say the OP wasn’t in the wrong. They definitely are and they know it. I still think they need to rethink the boundaries of this particular friendship in the context of the office. There are people I am friendly with who I would not share sensitive info with, even if it wasn’t considered confidential, because they are inveterate gossips. (Those people are useful when you DO want info to get out, though!) Navigating friendships in an office, especially when you are in a management position, can be really tough. The OP made a big mistake, for sure.

        1. Paulina*

          I think the OP is already rethinking this friendship, but I find the varying trust bizarre. How is it that the OP trusted their employee enough to tell them confidential information, but so little that they didn’t believe the “Roy overheard us” bit and watched the better part of a day of security camera footage? Or was blabbing about the reviews more about the OP (eg. showing off) than that they trusted the employee? Significant self-examination is needed.

      3. hbc*

        There’s no Law of Conservation of Guilt. OP is not any more or any less at fault if the employee took the info to her grave or planned all of this to get OP fired.

        At minimum, the employee shouldn’t have asked for the information. I think it’s pretty lousy to ask your friend to risk her job to satisfy your curiosity, even if your friend should shoot you down.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          Right. The OP may be getting in trouble because she was caught sharing confidential info. Even if she wasn’t caught, she’s still in the wrong.

  30. mythopoeia*

    For #2, it feels like context goes a long way toward how the manager’s actions land. In my current workplace, this would be part of normal functioning. At a place I worked previously, it would have been one more example of useless micromanaging and overburdened expectations on mid- and high-level employees, who wouldn’t have time to actually respond to queries from or requests for support from lower-level employees because they would be doing things like watching videos of the previous week’s meetings.

    In a vacuum, it’s reasonable to expect any online meeting to be recorded and it’s reasonable for someone who couldn’t make it or needs to catch up to watch it later. In an office where things run pretty smoothly and there is trust between managers and employees, this should be a non-issue.

    In an office that already has a culture of distrust between managers and employees, or has had one until recently, this can understandably end up feeling to the employees as “why are we being monitored and spied on”?

    tl;dr a functional office will do this functionally, but a dysfunctional office will do this dysfunctionally, and I think that could be playing into the emotional reaction of OP and their coworkers.

  31. LogicalOne*

    # 1: In a way, your friend shouldn’t have asked what scores the supervisors got on their evaluations. Your friend should also have known better than to inquire about confidential information. Maybe that’s a little conversation you should have with your employee who is also your friend.

    1. Observer*

      The OP right now has absolutely NO standing to have such a conversation. If they had behaved with minimal discretion, then I would agree with you. But right now, all it is, is an exercise in blame shifting. NOT a good look.

      1. River*

        Well, we don’t know at what stage this issue has progressed to. While it’s okay to assume that there hasn’t been any official conversations as of yet, the conversation does need to happen at some point between friend and OP.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      I’m curious why the OP told the friend that they were filing evaluations in the first place.

      1. pancakes*

        They may not have had to. It may have been clear enough in context that the evaluation process had just been wrapped up and it would be the letter writer’s duty to file the paperwork. I’m not sure it matters, in any case – the friend shouldn’t have asked about other people’s evaluations, and the letter writer should have told them it was an inappropriate question.

    3. Paulina*

      Employees often take their cues from their bosses, such as what matters are serious and what aren’t. The OP didn’t model appropriate behaviour for her employee, so it wouldn’t be appropriate for the OP to hold the employee to higher expectations.

      TBH this strikes me as a gossipy relationship, and responsibility for stopping that comes from the one who’s the boss (the OP). It can’t suddenly be “well you shouldn’t’ve asked.”

  32. Cthulhu's Librarian*

    LW1 – You shared confidential information about supervisors and their evaluations, while working for a state agency – and you shared it with someone who sounds like they aren’t management themselves. If it’s a state agency, there’s fairly good odds that you were sharing information about non-union employees with a union employee here. That’s an additional layer of problematic, especially if there are contract negotiations or anything like that coming up.

    Also… frankly, you crossed a bright line. If you don’t go to your boss with a really good explanation that shows you know why and how what you did was wrong, what motivated you to do it anyways, and how you’re going to change yourself so as not to do it again… I would have real concerns about whether you might share constituent or service population information as well – and who you might share it with.

    Frankly, even falling on that sword may not be enough. I would fire you over this, because I could not risk that that you might someday be motivated to share service population information.

  33. Littorally*

    LW1: Alison’s advice to put time and energy into figuring out why you did this and understanding why it’s wrong is really good. It’s easy to approach it like “this is bad, I’m bad, I’m mortified, this is awful” but unless you understand what your obligation was and how it differed from how you behaved, you aren’t actually learning from this experience.

    This is something I’ve seen a lot in both my social life with friends and here in AAM with regard to work things. Someone does something genuinely wrong, suffers the consequences… and their takeaway is “I’m a garbage person who doesn’t deserve good things, I screwed up because I’m inherently bad.”

    That is not helpful to you or anyone else. If you want to have any chance of salvaging your reputation or your job, you have got to demonstrate that you know what was expected of you, how you failed to meet those expectations, what (if anything) you can do to repair the damage you did, and how you are going to change your conduct going forward. Understanding the impulse that drove you to make those massive errors of judgment is a fundamental building block of doing better in the future.

    I’m going to be real here, there’s a good chance you’ll lose your job over this. If you were in my industry (finance) or a number of others that routinely deal with sensitive personal information, going digging through files to get gossip material, and then doubling down by trying to “catch the snitch” via looking at security cameras, speaks really badly to your fitness for the role of supervisor. If you want any chance at keeping your job, you are going to have to be very upfront with your boss about your errors and be able to talk convincingly about how you intend to do better in the future.

  34. Steveo*

    Do you know what happens to good employees when the company and manager insist on “treating everyone the same”? They go be a good employee somewhere else.

  35. D'Arcy*

    LW4: This is a really tough position to be in. I went through a similar thing a couple of years ago, resulting in a diagnosis of blood cancer (lymphomaniacs, unite!). I was up front about it with my supervisor, our director, and my peers. I even had a blubbering hallway conversation with my great-great-grandboss. Everybody was SUPER supportive, and it helped as I went through the process of getting the diagnosis and dealing with my new reality. A couple of years later, it had gotten bad enough that I needed to start chemo, and it was definitely helpful having already talked with people before going through that. The “I’m disappearing for 5 months to go through chemo” part was easier, without being compounded by “also, surprise! I have cancer.” I finished chemo last summer, and will finish maintenance treatments this summer. Having the support of my colleagues and supervisors has made it much less stressful for everyone.

  36. Ellody*

    I am hoping for more comments on LW4. I recently was diagnosed with Breast cancer and only my partner knows so far. I am guessing at the speed I am moving that it’s not good. Week 1 doctor, week 2 mammogram, week 3 biopsy, week 5 appt. with surgeon. I am waiting on the week 5 appt. I am holding my sh*t together but have been obviously “off” at work. A little more subdued, a little more touchy. My boss is amazing and I plan to use her to communicate with my team as work may become my place to put my diagnosis aside and have a little fun and I don’t want to have “that” conversation everyday, all day long. I am a private person but we are a close group that have worked together for a long time so we know things about each other but not everything. Also advice on even starting the conversation or best time to have it (end of day, end of week?? ) I know this will upset everyone I work with so maybe take a day off sick so my boss can have the “talk”? TIA

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      The way I approached it, because I sure as heck didn’t want to be around for pitying looks when my boss explained why I’d be off regularly, was to schedule a meeting with my boss to workshop the best ways to impart the information that were minimally disruptive to us both.

      I didn’t want any future reference to my problem coming up in conversation, that was the key factor I decided.

      We agreed that it’ll be raised at a team meeting on a day when I was working from home because of a medical appointment. It wasn’t a special meeting to discuss Keymaster, my boss just added the info onto the agenda midpoint with an air of ‘this is happening, this is when Keymaster will be out of office, this is why you really can’t go near her desk if you have an infectious disease (this was pre Covid) and she’s asked for no sympathy conversations or references to it from this point’.

      One lass did send me a lengthy ‘I’m going to pray for a cure’ email after but I just deleted it and pretended I never received it.

    2. Could Be Me*

      Sending you all sorts of hugs and strength as you’re going through this. It sounds awful, but I’m glad you have a supportive boss that will be able to help. I think Keymaster’s method is perfect, lean on boss to share any news and share the fact you don’t want to talk about it at work. Do you have 1:1’s with her where you could bring it up at the end? Or maybe schedule a meeting the day before you’ll be out for the week 5 appt so you can tell her, then be away from work the next day? I’m dealing with a potential looming diagnosis myself similar to OP and am also a very private person struggling to figure out what to share with my boss and how. I’m glad this letter came up today.

    3. D'Arcy*

      I hope you’re doing well. It’s a scary thing to go through. Take care of yourself – you’re going to go through a lot of emotions, and they may come up at surprising times. When I was going through the process, I found I was suddenly on the verge of tears in meetings, and a few times not just on the verge. Having shared the info beforehand helped people understand what I was going through. I was a bit surprised at how hard my team took the news, but in hindsight, it’s understandable. It’s shocking news, and people get scared both for you and for themselves (if it can happen to you, it can happen to them, etc.). I’d posted a comment just before you with some more info, but I had a 1:1 with my supervisor and let her know then. I told my team in a team meeting, and we talked about it together for a bit. I also told my grand-boss and had a hallway chat with great-grand-boss. It kind of felt like doing the Cancer News Tour™, but it got easier to talk about it afterward. Then, before I started chemo, conversations and planning was easier as well.

    4. pancakes*

      There’s an Ask the Readers post about this you should check out, dated Oct. 21, 2019. The title is, “how should I talk about my cancer diagnosis at work?” The approach you’re thinking of—keeping work a place to put it aside–was the same one I took, and for me it worked well. It takes over so much of the rest of your life, or did for me anyhow, that I was grateful to have a space that felt relatively normal and familiar. Good luck and warm wishes to you.

  37. Nonprofiteer*

    LW3 – one of the best pieces of management advice I’ve ever gotten was “fair doesn’t mean equal.” I was in a similar situation with a team of analysts, and needed to treat one of them quite differently: based on performance, his productivity was tracked nearly by the hour and we had to document every round of edits to his work. The others had a lot of autonomy and trust because they earned it.

  38. In my shell*

    Wait, wait, wait, how did ‘friend’ know what documents OP was filing? How would they know to ask what was in the supervisor evals unless OP told friend what she was filing??

    Remember kids: with great power comes great responsibility.

  39. Anonymous Hippo*

    I’m a little concerned that LW#1 hasn’t truly learned their lesson. It is pretty egregious to share something like this in the first place, but I’m doubly concerned by the reviewing of the security tapes in order to determine the fallout. I’m sure the access to these tapes are supposed to be work related, and not used for their own purposes. I would heartily recommend a good hard look at their actions, and start working ASAP on professional ethics.

  40. arcya*

    My real question about LW#1 is, what company is still doing *physical copies* of evaluations that then need to be actually filed? I don’t think I’ve ever had an evaluation that wasn’t electronic. And then to have to have employee take time to like, put them in a filing cabinet? Which is a waste of time, space and is clearly a risk to employee privacy?

    Also this person can review security footage at her own discretion? Footage that extends for an entire day? Most companies I know of outsource managing security footage, and the ones that do it in-house have like 8 layers of confused security contractors you have to get through before you can see footage (just ask anyone whose car got hit in the parking lot).

    Anyway yeah she is violating every known principle of confidentiality and privacy but what in the world is this workplace????

    1. OyHiOh*

      You’d be amazed – astonished even – at how many workplaces have not converted to digital filing, especially outside the dozen or so major metro areas of the US.

      I work for a quasi government agency that serves about a dozen counties in a USA rural west state. Many of our member counties have the most minimal online access imaginable because of inertia, resistance to change, and low quality internet, not to mention impossibly small budgets that make purchasing digital filing systems out of reach. We have several counties that do not have paid administrative staff – all administrative work is done by that county’s handful of elected officials.

      Obviously, I’m in a much different situation from the OP, who is a state employee supervising an admin unit and assisting a district manager, but I’m still not terribly surprised that some states haven’t converted to digital filing. Government offices are highly physical “paper” dependent and since systems tend to resist change, even otherwise skilled and talented employees have difficulty summoning the imagination to visualize transferring all that paper to a digital system.

  41. Susan Anderson*

    Any update from LW1? I know that they have made a big mistake but can’t help hoping that they get a second chance.

Comments are closed.