update: my employee took money under false pretenses from a nonprofit

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer who was worried her employee took money under false pretenses from a nonprofit? Here’s the update.

I’d like to thank everyone for their input on this topic. It was interesting to see everyone’s perspectives on how to address it.

As many hit upon: Jane left a bit of a disaster when she resigned. Much of the issues were not known beforehand since she worked at a different site than me and certain audit procedures weren’t in place. Once I began looking into things upon her departure, I found a lot of incomplete work, missed processes, and even some things that could put us in a legal bind if not corrected. This is why I had to go through everything, particularly if I’m searching for missing documents/invoices/anything else that would be needed to be compliant. This definitely has opened my eyes to conduct annual audits for each of my sites to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

After everything, I decided to escalate this up to my boss. Turns out Jane had signed agreements to pay back tuition if she resigned within a certain amount of time. The company is invoicing her for the money owed back, so I guess if the non-profit money was for her then it would have been put to the proper use. There were too many variables as to what she could have received the money for, and Jane and I haven’t spoken after her departure. Even though I am disappointed she left the mess she did, the last thing I want to do is create more of a mess unnecessarily.

The company did ask me to report back on anything else that I find fishy. I’ve found an offer letter and internal employment documents from another company dated the same time she worked for us that I sent along. These were, once again, titled things that couldn’t distinguish our company’s documents from anything else. No idea if anything will come of it. As one (or two) commenter said: not my circus, not my monkeys. I just want to get my department back on track.

Hopefully everyone remembers to go through their download history and if they do keep personal items on work devices: organize your personal stuff so that you remember to delete it when you turn it back in. Avoiding real and/or potential fraud is probably a good thing too.

{ 98 comments… read them below }

  1. The Smiling Pug*

    Sounds like a mess, OP. Sorry to know that you had to deal with the aftermath of Jane’s mess. :(

    1. Julia*

      OP was Jane’s immediate manager, so it sounds possible that at least some of this should’ve been caught through managing Jane closely while she was at the company. Particularly if you’re managing someone who works at a different site than you, it might be beneficial to proactively ensure audit procedures are in place. And particularly if you’re advocating for this employee by listing her as “high potential” during reviews. I mean, annual audits are a good idea, but if you are this person’s manager, checking on them more frequently than annually might be a better idea.

      1. Sleet Feet*

        I agree. The language in this update deminishes her managerial role a lot. So either LW puffed up her responsibility in the first letter, or she’s deflecting her role now that issues are found. Neither is great.

        I dunno this whole saga rubs me the wrong way. As was discussed in the previous letters there are a lot of reasonable explanations for the non profit payment. The LW was adamant that her goal was to help this non profit uncover fraud, but instead had her company recoup the money and is now suggesting her employee worked two jobs simultaneously. That’s a pretty crappy thing to say about someone who can’t defend themselves. I do hope if the LW is their manager and if they have agreed to be a reference that they at least reach out to LW to let them know they’ve found things in their files that means they won’t be a good reference moving forward.

        I’ve taken over roles internally for several promotions and almost always find things like this. Including regulartory issues from time to time. It’s so common and you don’t have the full picture when you go in that I’ve never dreamed of trying to drag out all their mistakes for others to see.

        1. pancakes*

          I didn’t read the original letter at the time so won’t comment on the Jane situation, but “it would be embarrassing for someone to know about this screw-up so I’ll pretend I didn’t see it” is a terrible approach to discovering a regulatory issue.

          1. Sleet Feet*

            In my experience, working with the relevant stakeholders to correct errors while being respectful of the former employee and cognizant of the fact that you don’t have context for the errors, goes really far. Regulatory compliance included.

            1. pancakes*

              Sure, yes, but working with others to correct these errors sounds quite different from “I’ve never dreamed of trying to drag out all their mistakes for others to see.”

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          I feel a little weird about the update to, but to clarify–I don’t think OP is having the company claw back the tuition because of what she found. I think she’s saying that she only recently learned Jane was always going to have to pay the company back for the tuition since she left, so therefore if the nonprofit is paying for Jane’s tuition now that actually makes sense. That was how I read it anyway.

  2. Meg*

    I’ve never understood why someone would leave personal documents for any length of time on a work computer. Its not private!

    I get if you have to make a scan or a copy or whatever, but delete it once you’re done! I’ve found so many sketch things on my company’s scan drive– mortgage documents, tax documents, its crazy.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I’ve seen some people not have the financial ability to have a separate computer – so if they are enrolled in classes, they may be doing homework on the company computer (homework would definitely count as personal). That doesn’t scream immediate problem, especially if you have company permission to use the computer for homework.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Should clarify that employer permission needs to come before the start of doing homework on the employer computer.

          1. quill*

            Yes, true. Also they may not have access to a program (Microsoft Office subscriptions are bonkers, etc.) to do that work, but again, permission must be granted…

            I’ve never worked in an industry where that would fly, because of confidentiality, but I can imagine some workplaces where it would.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      I’m switching to a new computer at work, and it’s surprised me what I’ve found in cleaning off the old one, mostly in my downloads and deleted items (which are not automatically cleared). Things like an assignment for remote school that one of my kids asked me to print one day a year ago – I opened it, printed it, and maybe didn’t even notice that it was a pdf that downloaded to my hard drive when I did so.

      Definitely eye-opening. I doubt most people consciously think “I should store my mortgage statements on my work computer!”, they just log in to the website to grab a statement for something and aren’t careful about erasing the files afterwards.

      1. Rosie*

        I’ve definitely been guilty of downloading something to print and then forgetting to delete it off my work computer. I try to remember to put all my personal stuff to a flash drive so it doesn’t end up on the network but things still slip through. Luckily it’s mostly things like concert tickets but I also found bank statements I’d downloaded for an apartment application and yikes don’t need my coworkers being able to access that. Definitely good practice to occasionally go through your files and see what needs deleting!

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          I’m pretty sure a random coworker wouldn’t be able to see what’s in my downloads on my hard drive – IT could, but only if they bothered looking.

          Honestly, during the pandemic my work computer became the nicest setup in the house (external monitors and such) and the easiest to sit down at to print something or do a quick personal task. I definitely don’t use it as personal storage (e.g. to store things I might want to access later) and some kinds of health and financial stuff I’m pretty careful to only do on my personal computer, but I’m not always that careful about shipping labels for online returns and school permission slips and things. It’s probably not the best idea and I should keep things more carefully segregated, or go through and clean out my downloads and deleted items more regularly, but I’m also not that worried about it.

      2. BatManDan*

        It’s worth noting that any photocopier made in the last 15 years has a hard-drive in it, and images of every document that’s ever been on the glass. Be careful where you make your copies!

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          It’s frustrating, because access to a nice scanner at the office is a nice little perk – costs the company little to nothing and saves a bunch of hassle for the employee who might otherwise need to go to FedEx or something.

    2. Lady Danbury*

      I inherited access to a coworker’s email after she left suddenly. While searching for various work emails, I cam across all sorts of personal emails, including correspondence about her mortgage! Obviously that’s not an appropriate use of work email, but also why would you want the main point of contact for a long term financial commitment to be an email that you probably won’t have access to long term??? And she was a lawyer, so she definitely should have known better.

      1. PT*

        When you’re applying for a mortgage, mortgage companies require proof of employment and employment related documents, it is pretty normal to need to contact your mortgage company from work. Especially if you use a mortgage lender that’s a work benefit- our lender was an employee credit union we had access to through my husband’s work. My parents used my dad’s employee credit union for their mortgage, too.

        1. Lady Danbury*

          We didn’t have any type of work related mortgage or financial benefit. We also had full access to personal email accounts at work (as well as smart phones that could access personal email), so using a personal email address would not prevent anyone from contacting their mortgage company during work hours. Any employment related documents that could not be completed on a personal computer could have been emailed from their work email to their personal email, then sent to the lender.

          There was no good reason for this employee to use her work email as the primary contact email for mortgage related documents.

          1. Mockingjay*

            Companies can permit limited use of work computers for personal items, such as logging into your bank or personal email. If you review the credit card statement sent to your personal email in a browser, those things can end up in a downloads or other folder anyway. We bought a house six months ago and the loan paperwork was staggering, usually needing delivery during business hours so the mortgage agent could review and get back to us. I’m pretty good about keeping work and home separate, using only a single folder for my personal stuff on the work computer and cleaning that up regularly. Yet six months after house closing, I am still finding odds files to delete.

            1. Lady Danbury*

              She wasn’t just saving documents on a work device or accessing personal email. I had access to her full work email, which she was using as her primary email for mortgage correspondence.

        2. Bernice Clifton*

          Anyone who requires proof of employment is not going to take the borrower’s word for it by asking you to send them an email, though.

      2. Ben Marcus Consulting*

        You would be amazed about how much people insist go to their work email. Mortgage/Rental agreements, financial documents, paystubs, health insurance information, and so on.

        Every time I take on a new practice, I start coaching staff about having this stuff sent to their personal accounts…not their work address. And every time, I deal with obstinate persons that insist they will be retiring (in 40 years) from a company they neither own nor have operational control over.

        1. Lady Danbury*

          I’ve been in charge of FOIA type requests in a previous role, so I’ve seen it all. I always tell people to keep their personal life off their work devices/systems as much as possible (some companies insist on sending paystubs to work email, for example) but not everyone wants to listen. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force them to drink…

          1. Metadata minion*

            Are paystubs a problem? I’d certainly normally consider that confidential, but since my employer already has a copy on their end, I’m not sure what the security issue is with having them on my work computer.

            1. Ben Marcus Consulting*

              If you’re using your work email to keep copies of your paystubs, you’re essentially relying on your employer to keep copies of documents they already have.

              When terminating an employee, it is usual practice to have email locked out while the employee is going over the separation discussion. Your ‘backups’ would then be lost.

            2. Lady Danbury*

              I can think of 2 potential issues.
              1. The person accessing your email/device may not be someone who would not otherwise have access to your pay information (IT, coworkers at the same level as you or even below you, etc.).
              2. If you’re not diligent about forwarding/saving them on your personal devices, you won’t have access to them after you leave.

            3. londonedit*

              We get our pay slips online – it’s separate from the company intranet etc, it’s a company called epay where you can log in and view all your pay slips. It’s automatically set up with your work email but I don’t see why you couldn’t change that if/when you leave the company.

              1. pancakes*

                Us too, though it’s a different company. I don’t think I’ve ever received paystubs at my work email. It’s either a separate company or a paper copy sent to my home address.

        2. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

          A former employer, a Fortune 500 company, was one of the many organizations embarrassed to have company email addresses included in the Ashley Madison hack. (For those who may not remember, Ashley Madison was a dating site that specifically marketed itself as being for married people looking to have affairs. The hackers released the user list, with predictable embarrassment for many.)

        3. Berkeleyfarm*

          Good for you.

          Yeah, I have seen a lot of personal stuff going through company mail. I had a couple of people who insisted on arguing with their ex-spouses over custody issues etc. on their work mail and was just happy that it didn’t get to the “discovery” phase.

          (Before anyone yells at me … I run the spam filter so I can see senders and subjects if I am there looking at something else. In some cases the recipient wanted me to track down delivery.)

    3. Panicked*

      I onboard all of our new employees and I clear out their emails when they leave. The amount of radical political newsletters, porn subscriptions, and private medical information I’ve cleared out of inboxes is astounding. I’ve also found proof of affairs, arrests, and addictions. I now inform every single new hire that they have no expectation of privacy on our computers and should not use their inbox for anything that is not directly work-related, just to save my sanity if/when they leave!

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Now I’m wondering what the weirdest thing you could manage that wouldn’t get you in trouble with the company for having it is. Porn and radical politics are probably a no-go, but maybe a subscription to an SCP ASMR youtube channel? A research paper with 3D reconstructions of the pharyngeal dentition of carp? Craiglist listings containing the phrase “clown statue” in them?

        1. Panicked*

          I had a very straight-laced, older male, mid-level manager who had an entire folder dedicated to purchase receipts for vintage petticoats and pinafores from Ebay. At least 100 order confirmations in the folder when I deleted it. That was probably the strangest one I’ve seen.

          1. Sleepless*


            My son left his email open on my desktop computer once when he was about 17, and he got an eBay shipping confirmation for a ball gag. The look on his face when I asked him (as casually as one can ask one’s kid) about it! He insisted that a friend got him to order it for him because my son had a debit card. I never did really find out the whole story.

          2. KoiFeeder*

            I clearly hang out in very different circles, because my first reaction was “oh like my friend Viktor* who buys vintage waistcoats. it’s good your manager has hobbies.”

            *name changed to cartoon character to protect the innocent

        2. Saberise*

          I work at a major university and was chatting with the IT person while they were doing some work. I was asking if they track webpage usage that are not related to work and report anything to supervisors. He said that they only track by job codes not by the individual as long as they are legal sites. Something on the dark web or um underage sites would trigger monitoring and reports. Oh and physicians visit porn sites more than any other job code.

      2. pancakes*

        I’ve seen all of these reviewing emails in litigation discovery, too. Not porn subscriptions, I don’t think, but pornographic photos, yes.

    4. Rey*

      In the last year, we had an employee leave and they decided that the best way to make sure we didn’t lose any documents was to just make a back-up of her entire hard drive. I’ve had to dig through it a few times to find documentation of purchases, etc. When I come across things that are obviously personal documents, is it appropriate to delete them? The former employee should have already made their own version when they left us months ago, and the only point of our back-up at this point is for actual business records. Thoughts?

      1. Damn it, Hardison!*

        Yes, delete. If you have a general counsel, you could ask them for approval. There should not be any expectation from a former employee that the documents are still on your computer hardware or network.

      2. Lady Danbury*

        Feel free to delete them. You don’t have any legal or moral obligation to preserve personal documents on stored devices/systems owned by your company simply because a former employee might need them.

      3. ecnaseener*

        I found actual paper copies of a former coworker’s personal documents (medical stuff!) when cleaning out her office — nearly 2 years after her departure, since she left right before COVID and we only recently went back to clean out the offices. I felt very weird and guilty about throwing those away, but if she needed them she would’ve come back for them! If I can throw those away, you can delete some digital files :)

    5. Damn it, Hardison!*

      I led a large data remediation project several years ago. People will put the most personal items on their work computer. Divorce papers and financial statements were not even the worst offenders.

    6. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

      I had a rather old-school coworker at one job who shared an email address with her husband and didn’t have a PC at home (this was in 2015, so not *that* long ago). Needless to say, her work computer pretty much functioned as her personal machine and had she been let go she would have been absolutely screwed. I had so many conversations with her about how her work computer was not her personal property and shouldn’t be treated as such, but it went in one ear and out the other.

      When I quit that job, she reminded me multiple times to make sure I got everything I needed off my work computer. Each time I would patiently explain that I didn’t have any personal documents stored there, so there was nothing for me to do in that respect. The next day she remind me again, and so it continued for my entire 2 week notice period. I told her my husband and I both had laptops at home, but she just could not seem to wrap her head around it, it was so weird.

    7. Sangamo Girl*

      And if you work for the government, nothing is ever gone, even if you delete. FOIA means EVERYTHING is backed up and available for search. I tell everyone new intern and employee, “If you are not prepared to see it on a big screen in a courtroom, don’t do it at work.”

      1. Lady Danbury*

        This!!! Personal documents clogging the system also made it more difficult and time consuming to conduct FOIA type searches when there were already hundreds or thousands of work-related emails/documents to review.

      2. De Minimis*

        For us there is some leeway on whether something is considered an official record that has to be retained, but pretty much any work-related written communication qualifies.

      3. Vienna Waits for You*

        The closest thing to personal I have on my GFE (government furnished equipment) are some pictures that I rotate between for desktops. They were very blatantly upfront at onboarding – there is nothing remotely resembling privacy on GFE.

      4. LITJess*

        This is not really true. Yes, we have backups but those only go back so far. We can delete/shred things, we just need to document that we’ve done so.

    8. Vanilla Bean*

      I have a coworker who uses her work computer and phone as a personal computer and phone (which is allowed as long as you don’t install any unauthorized programs and don’t use them inappropriately or let the use interfere with your work etc etc), so she has 10+ years of family photos stored on her work computer, as a backup for her work phone/cloud storage. She has zero non-work backup. If she’s ever let go, her access to those things is going to be cut off. She’s not worried about it. I don’t understand but thankfully it’s not my problem!

      1. pancakes*

        Maybe it’s worth pointing out that if something were to happen to her, her friends & family wouldn’t have access either? Hopefully even people with heaps of misplaced confidence realize on some level that they’re not immortal.

    9. A Feast of Fools*

      I have two personal folders on my work computer: Misc and To Delete

      The items in Misc are things that I need to reference on a fairly frequent basis or are hard to retrieve from their other digital storage places. (My personal laptop is backed up to Google Drive but my company has blocked access to Google Drive).

      The items in To Delete are things I only need once and/or I can easily retrieve again if I need. I clean that file out maybe 2-3 times a month.

      None of the items would cause my employer to so much as bat an eyelash. Nor would I care if my manager or our IT department looked at them.

      We’re allowed to use our work computers for personal things, like reading AAM or paying bills, so long as our work quality and quantity isn’t affected.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        I just set up a recurring monthly reminder to go through my downloads and deleted items as a result of this thread. It’s probably good practice to sort through the work files in there, too, anyway.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          This is a good idea, both to clean it out and in case something you need to save accidentally gets deleted.

    10. JustaTech*

      When I cleaned out an old lab at work (like, a literal physical laboratory) I found a bunch of someone’s mortgage paperwork, as well as their kid’s baptism certificate.
      We ended up mailing it all to the person because it seemed like important stuff they probably needed.

  3. Lady Danbury*

    Good luck with getting your department back on track OP. Hopefully this debacle will prompt a review of your day to day controls/processes, not just an annual audit. A whole lot of damage can be done in a year if you don’t have adequate oversight.

  4. JohannaCabal*

    This is one of those examples where an issue in one area indicates larger issues. Sorry you have to clean up after Jane. Been there done that for me too.

    I’ll also bet the company will not receive any of the money owed for tuition. I’ve wondered about this. Most states don’t allow tuition and relo to be docked from the final paycheck. Not paying back will torpedo a good reference but it sounds like Jane will get a negative one anyway going forward.

    I guess a company could take the employee to collections but that is a lot of work…

    1. Candi*

      Assuming they got an order for Jane to pay, they’d then have to go back to court to get an order to garnish her wages/other method for compensation. It’s a pain to recoup money from a private debt like that -they’d likely wind up throwing up their hands or selling the debt to a collector for pennies on a dollar. Great if you want her periodically bugged for the next 7 1/2 years, lousy if you want actual money back.

      Ever wonder why all the fine print in credit card contracts? That’s one reason.

      1. JohannaCabal*

        I commented in a post last week that going to court, even if you’re not the one being sued or tried, can be very intimating (and time consuming). It’s also why I shake my head when anyone brings up lawsuit culture. I’ve known some people in my immediate family who did take individuals to court and won judgments only to barely receive any of what they were owed (and as they told me later, “you need to shell out money to get your money,” i.e., in order to enforce the judgment they’d need to expend more money on a lawyer).

  5. Aarti*

    I am proud to say I just checked the “personal” folder in my documents, and it had:
    – my employee reviews
    – my health insurance plan through work
    – my job description

    That’s it! Probably shouldn’t have the health insurance plan but i am less worried since it is just vision I get through this job, plus it is kind of job-related.

    1. Cold Fish*

      My “personal” folder is mainly recipes I’ve found online and thought I might try one day and vacation photo’s I’ve loaded for use as a screen saver or background.

      When I get really pissed off at big boss, I email the entire folder to my personal email account. It feels really good even though I know I can’t just quit on the spot and all. My own little personal rebellion to cool off a little.

    2. Vienna Waits for You*

      Mine is very similar:
      -pictures for desktops
      -copies of my annual reviews
      -copies of the monthly audits

      The pictures are very easy to delete – and the reviews can easily be pulled from another system. I just would have to get a pin-drive to do it – GFE means all personal e-mail accounts are locked out.

      1. Candi*

        “GFE means all personal e-mail accounts are locked out”

        There’s a letter on AAM where the worker wrote to ask about the ethics of her boss asking her to use her personal email to send information to get around using work mail -apparently something the company did meant the government could go through their work email under reporting/clarity something or other, and the boss thought this was a clever way to get around that, so they could discuss sneaky stuff.

        The commentators told that LW that the government already knew of that dodge, so using personal mail for work stuff opened it up to the same requirements.

        It sounds like your department wants to completely avoid the possibility of that happening by disallowing the opportunity in the first place.

    3. generic_username*

      Haha, just checked mine and it’s:
      – my vaccine certifications (required by work)
      – my dog’s vet records (which I’ve just deleted)
      – my employee reviews
      – an interior picture of a bar near my office (lol, my virtual background for zoom happy hours)
      – a recipe for cranberry orange cake that I haven’t made yet but now really want to make

  6. Mid*

    My office is currently trying to update to a more secure computer system, and half my coworkers are losing their dang minds because they can’t save client files on their personal, unsecured computers anymore. Never mind that saving those files on a personal, unsecured computer could cost them their license.

    People are very strange about work vs personal computers and saving personal things on their work devices and work things on their personal devices.

  7. Dragon_Dreamer*

    Mine has a few class assignments on it, but I’m a student worker, and ENCOURAGED to work on school stuff in my downtime! All personal stuff stays on my laptop, and I use my tablet to listen to TV shows for background noise. I work alone in an isolated room, and again, this is encouraged. As long as the project is getting done, everything’s fine. Once I leave this job, everything personal will be backed up to a flash drive. Anything work related is stored on a shared Teams Drive anyway.

  8. BenAdminGeek*

    I was prepared to be condescending towards “those people” who keep a bunch of personal stuff, then checked my folder and I had… a LOT more than I expected, including insurance claim info from a flood at my house and photos of my kid. Yikes!

    I did also have a bunch of work-related memes I created for co-workers, those got to stay.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      Yeah, I bet for every person on this thread who is talking about how careful they are, there are ten reading who have a jumble of personal stuff in their downloads or other location they’re kind of blind to and don’t really realize it or think about it much. It’s pretty normal to upload an FSA receipt or do other small life admin tasks on a work break, and it’s very easy to leave a trail if you aren’t super careful.

      I just went through my downloads and alongside the handful of innocuous personal documents were images of the front and back of my driver’s license, from when I had to document age or residency or something for a work purpose a while back. Oops!

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        That said, I give major side-eye to all these people who apparently purposely store personal stuff on work computers and intentionally use their work email address for personal stuff. Don’t do that!

        1. BenAdminGeek*

          Yeah, that’s just asking for terrible problems in life. And yet, I see people doing it all the time.

          Also, I had an image of the front of my license for some documentation as well. Great minds forget to clean up their documents alike!

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Mine at Exjob was full of memes and the home safety and emergency preparedness stuff I saved from our intranet (it was 100% okay to download that for personal use). I copied it to my flash drive about six months before I left. Judging by the date on the folder, I already felt like the job was going down the drain at that point even though I was still trying hard to adjust.

  9. Beth*

    While you’re at it — if you have to print out a sensitive or very private document at work, and it relates to, say, a medical issue that you prefer nobody else knows about . . . rename it before you send it to the printer.

    You never know when the IT person will have to review the print job history. I really, really would have preferred not to know any medical details that my colleagues intended to keep private. Fortunately, the knowledge stopped with me; but I wish it had stopped beforehand.

    1. DiplomaJill*

      When I worked in an office I deleted anything personal I printed from the completed queue afterwards. We also had a not very locked down printer tho!

  10. anonymous73*

    Sounds like it’s being handled – sorry you had to deal with such a mess. But I’d like to address something you seem to feel the need to justify. You are not snooping into Jane’s private life by accessing documents that SHE CHOSE to save on a piece of company equipment. Documents, browser history, and anything else you do on your COMPANY computer for any reason (including personal ones) IS NOT PRIVATE. So please give yourself a pass for coming across Jane’s personal documents. You’re doing nothing wrong.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yeah the original comments were really harsh on this point so I understand why OP clarified – but OP you are literally just doing your job. I’m sorry you were left with a mess to clean up.

      1. EZ Like Sunday Morning*

        I couldn’t believe the comments in the original, they were totally off the rails, people were just not understanding the fundamental point of the computer being company property.

      2. Siege*

        It was so bizarre. I was left with the sense a number of people felt that OP was committing a crime by investigating files someone left on their work computer, especially since they weren’t clearly labeled as not-work-related … but it doesn’t matter, because Jane left them on the work computer, and they therefore have the right to investigate them, for the gay light-hearted fun of it all, if they like, let alone an employee whose job performance is causing problems.

    2. Littorally*

      Agreed. I was a little surprised at how harsh the comments on the original letter were on this point. It’s the employer’s computer! They have a vested interest in what goes on in the figurative bowels of their machines!

      1. Candi*

        I’m pretty sure that was decided in court, even. Work pays for it and doesn’t explicitly give it to the employee to own, it’s the employer’s stuff and they can look through it any time they like.

        1. Julia*

          I wish people wouldn’t confuse the law with morality. The law on this question is ridiculously employer-friendly; it’s legal for employers to put invasive key-logging software on your computer and hidden cameras in your cubicle. Doesn’t mean that stuff is defensible.

          I express no opinion on whether this particular action was justified. But in general the law is no guide to answering that question.

  11. Rodriguez*

    I’m not sure I understand the issue with Jane’s offer letter being found and forwarded to the boss. Is the implication that she was working for both companies at the same time?

    1. Littorally*

      Yes, that is the implication. More importantly, the internal employment documents (for Job #2) being on her work computer (for Job #1) is a big flag for misbehavior.

  12. kitryan*

    While I agree w/everyone that conducting personal correspondence thru your work email is a bad idea, occasionally choices are limited. After numerous issues where my personal email was blocked (perfectly normal firstnamelastname@me.com address) I ended up doing all my correspondence with my attorney for my home sale and following home purchase thru my work email, as I worked at a different law firm, so emails from my work address were 100% whitelisted at her firm and never had issues. I didn’t like it but it was what worked when neither of my personal emails would.
    On another front, work keeps trying to have us put more and more stuff on our phones, which I started refusing since the email client turned out to come with a whole other installer app that you couldn’t delete. After holding out for ages, it basically became mandatory to put a log in verification app on one’s device at minimum so I purged an older iPad and turned it into a dedicated work machine for verifications, work zooms, etc. I even set up a different Apple account so there’s no cross over anymore and I feel much better about the whole thing.

    1. pancakes*

      I’ve never worked at an employer that blocked access to personal email from employees’ personal mobile phones. There are places that require personal phones to be kept in a locker during work hours, yes, but even in places as strict as that, people get breaks during the day.

      1. SarahKay*

        I think kitryan is saying that the attorney’s email client was, for some reason, blocking emails from kitryan’s personal email, hence their use of their work email.

        1. pancakes*

          Ah, I think you’re right. There’s always the option of asking someone you’ll be doing a lot of corresponding with to add the private account to their whitelist, though.

          1. kitryan*

            My attorney did try to get her IT to fix the issue but after a certain point I had to give up, as I could not go over there and troubleshoot it myself or anything and we knew the work email was a possible solution – so it would have been obstructive not to utilize it once we’d been thru a couple attempts to fix the issue.
            I think that their IT needs/needed to fix the problem generally, as clients should be able to communicate w/them and aren’t all going to have ‘proper’ work email addresses that won’t get blocked, but that stopped being my problem once my transactions were completed :)

        2. kitryan*

          Yes, exactly- the law firm at which my real estate attorney worked had a very aggressive filtering system for incoming emails and she could not receive emails from my personal email addresses (which, I stress, were perfectly normal non spammy email addresses). But since we both worked at real estate law firms, any emails sent from my law firm (i.e. my work email) to her work email address were totally fine – as both firms are on some of the same deals and email back and forth all the time.
          It was either use my work email or spend excessive amounts of time troubleshooting the weird blocks on her work’s system, which I did not have access to, and I’m not paying her by the hr to talk about whitelists and spam filters and email domains, so we just went with what worked, although I did not like it.

  13. allathian*

    I don’t have anything personal stored as files at least on my work computer, apart from some certifications I’ve taken, old train ticket receipts, etc. Nothing that would cause me any embarrassment if my manager happened to see it.

    We have strict rules about always using your personal smart card login, and never logging in under any other user name. If you do, it’s a potentially fireable offense for both the employee who abuses someone else’s log-in privileges, and for the employee who intentionally or through negligence allows someone else to use their log-in. At the office, we’re expected to lock our computers by pulling out the smart card every time we leave our desks. At home, I just lock the screen if someone else’s at home.

    Conversely, it’s absolutely forbidden to handle any work-related data on our own devices. We used to be able to access our company email on any computer using the Outlook web app, but that’s been disabled. At the home office, we’re allowed to use our own peripherals as long as they don’t require the installation of any extra drivers, although printers are an exception, we’re only allowed to print at the office, using our secure printing system.

    One of our perks is the ability to use an online bank on company time. This used to be an even bigger perk in the bad old days when bills had to be paid in person at the bank. Once a month or so, people could pay their bills during office hours when the banks were open, instead of trying to get it done during their lunch hour.

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