updates: employee threatens to sue when we tell her to save her work, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager and I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

1. Employee refuses to save her work and threatens to sue us when we tell her to

I emailed several months back about an employee in our architecture firm who refused to save files to company servers and always made veiled threats around her attorney husband suing us. The response was pretty overwhelming!

We finally got our firm managing partners to agree to terminate the employee and get solid legal counsel to make sure we didn’t run into trouble. We meticulously documented all of her infractions of company policies, she refused to sign all documentation provided to her, and finally terminated her after a final warning. It instantly changed the culture of our company.

After we accessed her company laptop following the termination we discovered that she had deleted massive amounts of company data, emailed hundreds of confidential work product items to her personal email account, and secretly recorded meetings she was in in an attempt to collect information (we are in a two-party consent to record state). In all of this she still claimed she was a victim of a scheme of omission to terminate her because everyone was jealous of the quality of her work. Who knows what will happen in terms of future actions, but we are comfortable in our situation and what we have to counter any potential suit or claim.

All of us are sleeping much better now that this individual is out of our organization, and appreciate all the feedback we received from this group!

2. People think I’m returning to my old job … but I’m definitely not

I think I’ve managed to get the situation under control. I read through all the comments and most people thought I should talk to my boss first. Luckily, a senior VP was visiting my office and took me to lunch and asked how things were going. I was able to talk candidly about things but I ended with something along the lines of “overall, I’m very happy! Moving from OldJob was a great move. Apparently there were rumors over there that I’m going to go back, but they’re definitely mistaken!” I do know that the SVP told my boss about everything and they were more amused than concerned.

A few weeks after that, OldBoss reached out asking if I wanted to get lunch. I’m pretty sure she was ready to give me the hard sell, so from the begining I spoke very positively about the new job, and I think that kept her from trying to recruit me. Since the topic never came up, at the end of our lunch, I awkwardly told her what was going on and asked if I could get her help to shut down any rumors she heard. I’m not sure if I should have mentioned anything, but I wanted to be very clear with her and also wanted these rumors to die down.

Since then, I haven’t heard much about it. I’ve been effusive about my new job at conferences and when I’ve seen coworkers from my old job. I even mentioned the whole ordeal to a couple of old coworkers that I was close with in a “wow isn’t this weird“ sort of way, so I’m hoping that there are enough people running interference for me to keep the rumors dead. I do have a pretty good idea of who the infamous mole from my current company is, but I don’t have any proof and I’m just going to let things slide.

3. Feedback on tone (#2 at the link)

I wrote in late 2021 about being a black woman in government who was told to monitor my tone and to not dominate conversations.

It’s a very mixed bag for me as far as updates are concerned. My performance evaluation dipped a little bit this year (to excellent, but not outstanding) as I was told I still need to work on my soft skills. My manager relayed a very specific scenario where (after doing as I thought I was told) I caused offense (very unintentionally) to someone higher-ranking in another department. I was taken aback by the hit to my performance evaluation (particularly since my manager acknowledged that I did as I was told) and I presume it was probably much more egregious than my manager wanted to admit. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I can even ask for more details because months have already passed since the incident.

I have been invited to several anonymous fora where candid opinions are solicited about working relationships between management and employees. I tend to have a lot to say during these meetings and I’m starting to realize that it is much better for me to be blunt and candid during these meetings than it is during encounters with management and other departments. The ideas I present are carried forward by others to subsequent meetings, giving me the impression that I can still make an impact in addressing issues anonymously while pleasing my management by continuing to soften my tone with others regarding the actual work.

On the other hand, due to my experience and expertise, I was solicited to help develop a new technical training course. This is yet another professional development milestone I have been working towards that I can add to my CV. I’m going to try very hard to engage my soft skills in my contributions to this course.

4. My coworker accidentally sent me a recording making fun of me

I took my own advice and worked very hard to find a job with a strong leader. My new director would not allow bullying and would have fired my colleague if in the same position. My new colleagues are polished and wear professional work attire just like me.

I decided I know my worth and wanted to work where I am valued as a person and also an employee. I looked hard and long for a good fit and I found it!

I am working as a financial aid counselor at a University where I am valued and rewarded because my new boss, is engaged and strong and never intimidated by a challenge, say a bullying case like mine. She would take it on and resolve it, not sweep it under the rug, with a weak reprimand to the bullier, and advise the “victim” to forgive and forget! He compared my issue with a personal event he went through. Work is different, work is where you must act and treat all with respect. I have that now.

I advise we all the time to think about what we want professionally, what type of leader we want, and to go for it!

{ 100 comments… read them below }

  1. RJ*

    OP#1, I’ve worked in the D/E/A industry for over 20 years and sadly this type of malicious behavior is nothing strange and nothing unique. Good on you and your company for rooting this person out and taking control over your digital files/drawings. Everyone deserves a workplace of respect and proper disclosure.

    1. Boring Nickname Rachel*

      Nothing strange?! That’s wild! How?! What’s the reasoning/motivation behind it? How do companies generally respond? I know architecture can be super intense but didn’t know about this particular quirk.

      1. Coder von Frankenstein*

        Seconded on all those questions. Imagining an industry where this sort of behavior is normal blows my mind.

        1. quill*

          See, I’ve worked places with confidential stuff and that’s why we had a system to ensure that all our confidential documents were accounted for!

          1. soontoberetired*

            yes, and that’s actually not that hard to set up. And you can force backups of people’s personal drives. There’s no reasons things should ever be lost.

            1. Mongrel*

              But should you change the entire IT protocol because one person is unable and\or unwilling to follow the standard procedures that work for the rest of the office?

              1. Numbers*

                In this case, yes. Even with good intentions people will forget to back up their files, or accidentally save things to the wrong place. Part of good IT is making the right way to do things the easy/automatic way.

              2. Berkeleyfarm*

                Oh for sure.

                1) changing SOP doesn’t single out any one person
                2) it protects the company’s work product and is aligned with best practices
                3) they may or may not have another person who is a data hoarder extreme but when someone’s laptop dies it will save everyone’s bacon.

                I used to have sooooo many conversations with the engineers who were lucky enough to be issued laptops. “Is Company business product on that? Would your projects and bids get delayed if you lost that laptop and had to use another machine?” Finally we were able to set up a sync.

                There should also be email rules about sending stuff out/daily reports

        2. Governmint Condition*

          I once saw something like this in my government office. It was design/engineering-related work. I can’t explain it, other than maybe the employee had formerly worked in the private sector.

          I guess it ties to the endless debate over who “owns” your “creative” work that you do for an employer.

          1. Rainbow*

            If you did this in my line of work, the best thing that could happen to you would be that you are *only* fired.

          2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

            “I’m the only competent person in the office, and everybody else will just screw my work up or steal it.”

          3. Richard Hershberger*

            Is that endless debate couched as a discussion of legalities, or some vague moral ownership. I would be astonished if the terms of employment did not explicitly lay out that this is work for hire.

            1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

              As a designer, it’s probably a little of column A (legality) and a little from column B (ethics). I know my employer owns my work, especially produced on their equipment and on the clock, but there are a lot of steps to a creative process — do they own every one of my ideas, even the ones they ultimately decide against? What if I have a particular technique to achieve a “look”? what about the sketches I made at home, on my own notepad, while eating dinner? Could they own work I do on the side for other clients? There are some places (big mouse company) that are very explicit in their contracts about what they own, but that absolutely hasn’t been the case in the smaller places I’ve worked. I think for creatives, there can be a lot of gray area of reusing ideas, techniques, or sketches, that didn’t work out for one project, but might for something else.

            2. Lynca*

              Moral ownership and/or ego trip.

              I work in D/E and while I haven’t experienced anything quite as intense as the OP- I have seen some unhealthy attachement to designs and resistance to sharing ideas/concepts. I’ve cleaned out more than one office and found people just hording project information that should be properly stored. (Back in the olden days of paper files)

              Some of this is cultivated too because I have seen it arise from offices with dysfunctional bosses. And just continue when people rise up the ranks into the top spot. Like ones that take all the credit but let their employees have all the blame or you have to fight for any recognition of work. It’s a weird competitive environment sometimes.

              1. Worldwalker*

                If I make a table as part of my work, my employer owns the table.

                If I make a drawing as part of my work, my employer owns the drawing.

                1. BubbleTea*

                  But what happens if you make a table in your own time, for fun, and then your boss asks you to make a table at work next week, and you design a very similar table for work? Can you make more tables in the future in your personal life and sell those? If work sends you on a table-making course, are you allowed to use the skills you developed through that training to make tables for your side business?

                  I’m fortunate that my employed job is sufficiently distinct from my side business, in terms of funding and client group, that it doesn’t matter that the actual work is very similar. I benefit hugely from access to CPD via my employer which feeds into my side business. In return, I have created variations of the resources I use in my side business and given them to my employer to use with our clients. If there had to be a firewall between the two, I don’t know how that would work.

                2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                  OK and how about: I’m a translator. I learned to do the job by myself. I do tons of translations in a particular field (let’s say fashion and textiles) and whenever I have to translate a new term, I put the term and its translation in a glossary.
                  I did that on company time, however I have also done hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime, my boss screwed me over there.
                  Who does the glossary belong to?
                  I say I don’t mind leaving a copy on my work computer. I have already sent copies to my boss, who is incapable of filing stuff in such a way as to retrieve it later, since I’ve sent the same document several times.
                  But I’m damned if I’m leaving the firm without that document. I wasn’t told to make it, I made it because it helped me to work faster and better. The company has made a tidy profit because I worked fast and well.
                  Whereas I received zero pay rises or bonuses over 15 years despite producing ever better work and even adding the equivalent of five years’ study at uni.
                  That document is mine.

          4. tamarack and fireweed*

            This is really interesting. It confirms my hunch that part of the dysfunction in academia is really about being in a creative/ideas line of work, and the hang-ups that develop around ownership unless you’re set up in a structured way.

    2. Quinalla*

      I was glad to see any update for this one too as another who has been in the A/E industry for a long time. I’m sorry so much was deleted, will be interesting to see if your firm decides to go after the former employee as depending how much was deleted and how recent the projects, could be a lot of lost $$/time for the firm. Glad at least the firing happened and the atmosphere is better at work!

    3. Artemesia*

      I truly didn’t understand then, and don’t now, why the first time she refused to put the work on the server she wasn’t fired. There is no such thing as ‘private work’ when you are working for an organization. And I also don’t understand why the work process is not set up by IT so that all work on the company laptops is not automatically captured.

    4. Observer*

      sadly this type of malicious behavior is nothing strange and nothing unique.

      That blows my mind. But *if* this REALLY is not strange or unique, then the company deserves no credit whatsoever, because then they should have definitely had better systems in place. Including systems that didn’t depend on her voluntarily saving her data on company servers and better backups.

    5. pancakes*

      I’ve seen people vaguely say it can be really weird and bad. I very much agree with your last two sentences.

  2. Dramatic Intent To Flounce*

    1) I’d say I wish the lawsuit-happy saver luck in court, but no, luck has nothing to do with it. I hope she does try to sue and gets taken PRECISELY as seriously as her evidence collection here deserves.

    1. Nea*

      Between the recordings and the breach of confidentiality it sounds like LW’s company has excellent grounds to file a lawsuit regardless of what the ex employee does (or who she’s married to.)

      1. INeedANap*

        YES. I was wondering why this company was so worried about a lawsuit when they should be filing their own, or even turning their evidence over to the authorities. I know in my industry, that kind of behavior can (and has) landed offenders in prison.

            1. Antilles*

              “Deleting massive amounts of company’s files” is also a crime in and of itself. The exact charges vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but it’s typically taken pretty seriously – a couple cases involving IT administrators deleting data even ended up in felony convictions.

          1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

            It should be pretty easy to use anti-hacker laws against things like deleting the data of your company – most of them specify that they apply to unauthorized access and manipulation of electronic data, and the employer can usually claim that they weren’t authorized to destroy the data.

            Might not be so easy to get a DA to file charges and actually prosecute, however.

            You can also report it as theft, sometimes (since the destruction of the file is the company being deprived of its property).

      2. Observer*

        Between the recordings and the breach of confidentiality it sounds like LW’s company has excellent grounds to file a lawsuit regardless of what the ex employee does

        Yeah. But I can’t see why they would bother. I doubt she has deep enough pockets to have enough to pay them what they win, and you can be sure that if hubby IS a decent lawyer, his assets are not going to be available to pay her penalties. And they won’t get their files back either. So, what’s the up side?

    2. Phony Genius*

      I’ve seen a similar case where I work. Pretty much the same as this scenario. I was told that the former employee went to multiple lawyers to try to file a case against the employer. She couldn’t find one to take the case. Probably because not only that she had no legal argument, but even if she did, the damages would have not been enough to make it worth an attorney’s time.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        You are describing work on a contingency fee basis. The outright looney cases are almost always paid for by the hour. A competent and ethical lawyer will explain in the smallest possible words (and in writing) that this is a lost cause and the prospective client should save their money, which likely would run into the tens of thousands of dollars. But it is not necessary unethical or incompetent to take the fool’s money at that point. The down side is that at that point you have a loon for a client, which brings its own set of issues.

        1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          Also, the loons who want to file that sort of suit nearly completely Venn with the ones who will sue you if the case gets lost.

        2. Boof*

          While I’d agree taking the person who insists on it’s money isn’t inherently unethical, the stress and fees that can induce on the target who kind of has to defend themselves (and i don’t think you get a public defender in civil cases in the us cour system) is

        3. Observer*

          But it is not necessary unethical or incompetent to take the fool’s money at that point.

          I don’t know about the formal “ethics” of the legal profession, but in the general sense, it is most definitely unethical to take on a case like this. Because it still causes a problem for someone who is not guilty of any wrong doing. And if you believe that the person is merely a loon, rather than malevolent, then it’s not ethical to take their money for no good reason. So most decent and ethical lawyers would not touch a case like this with a 10 foot pole. It’s not just that she wouldn’t win, it’s that her case is only about doing damage to someone who didn’t earn it.

          But also, you are assuming that this person has the money to pursue a case like this. Most lawyers are going to want to see a good chunk of cash up front, before embarking on a wild goose chase of any sort.

          1. Curious*

            There are also rules against — and potentially sanctions for — a lawyer who files frivolous litigation. See, e.g., FRCP 11.

            1. Berkeleyfarm*

              It’s usually tough to get those though. Anyone doing this is 100% going to appeal anything.

              Disclaimer: not a lawyer or legal professional. What I know is from watching lawyers on twitter/twitch dissect frivolous litigation.

    3. Don*

      I sympathize with the sentiment but being sued is expensive and no fun regardless of whether the claim is ridiculous and/or unfounded. It’s probably worse when the litigant pays their attorney in cohabitation since your lawyer will surely want actual cash.

      1. Sara without an H*

        You’re right, of course, but I wonder…we have only the would-be litigant’s word that her attorney husband would sue. It’s possible he’s been hunching his shoulders and saying, “But, honey….” whenever she raises the subject.

      2. Kes*

        Yeah, my first reaction was ‘wow, sounds like the company should be suing the employee’ but at the same time I think it’s pretty understandable why they wouldn’t, both due to the costs of litigation and also the potential costs to the company’s reputation if people find out this was going on

        1. Hannah Lee*

          “and also the potential costs to the company’s reputation if people find out this was going on.”

          Good point! If I were a client whose project involved this person, I would not be pleased to learn that this company lost the supporting information on my project, including potentially confidential information.

    4. Berkeleyfarm*

      Being sued is no fun even if you’re completely in the right. It’s time consuming, stressful, and expensive. Bonus when your party isn’t paying for legal representation and is mostly interested in revenge. They will delay, file wacky things, etc., to run up your costs or try to wear you into an insurance settlement. (There’s a lot of money to be made in scamming for “settlements”.)

      Pursuing legal action against the ex employee is also a huge can of worms even though they seem to have the receipts. Again: time consuming, stressful, and expensive. They should preserve everything, but take their lawyers’ advice on this.

      Hopefully the firm now has additional procedures in place to keep it from getting to this point, and a good idea of monitoring etc. resources available if there is a problem.

  3. Northland*

    I wonder what the protagonist in #1 was doing with all of that?

    Not really the same, but my ex husband alleged all sorts of things and brought me to court for custody, only for him to lose complete custody due to the evidence I had to present against him in the case.

    1. Imaginary Lawyers*

      True–I’m quite convinced that 99.94% of people who threaten legal action or claim to have consulted “their attorney” are 100% in the wrong in the matter. (I won’t even go into detail about *my* ex, who used to say that sort of thing all the time to all sorts of people … his behavior while we were going through the divorce was so bad that he ended up sentenced to 2 years after a plea deal on a charge that had a max of 4 years–he got only supervised visitation for after his release and in the intervening 10 years before the youngest grew up, he managed to follow the rules to have a visit exactly once.)

  4. Dawn*

    OP1: Thank you, I REALLY needed an update on this person and her wild behaviour.

    If you legally can, please let us know what happens next. I am dying to hear more about this absolute soap opera of a situation.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yes, me too. I wonder if you’ll ever hear from her again or if she truly is completely gone. I hope for your sake the answer is the latter. I also wonder if she gets another job at an architectural firm or if she’s been blacklisted at all the firms now, though I suppose other firms wouldn’t know unless she asks for a referral from her boss at your company (in which case hahahaha, that would be hilarious). Glad to hear y’all are working and sleeping better now that your company has taken action!

    2. WoodswomanWrites*

      Same! Another update would be wonderful about how the firm has responded to the mess the former employee created.

  5. Important Moi*

    OP#3 – when you speak of “several anonymous fora” are they associated with your employer?

    Also, I don’t like that “The ideas I present are carried forward by others to subsequent meetings, giving me the impression that I can still make an impact in addressing issues anonymously while pleasing my management by continuing to soften my tone with others regarding the actual work.” I get it, but it doesn’t make it right.

    The Angry Black Woman Trope is exhausting.

    1. MrsThePlague*

      Yup, that was my first thought. It felt hinky in the original letter (the tone-policing, that is) and it feels hinky now. I’m happy that the LW has been recruited into a position that works for her professionally, but I still feel suspicious on her behalf. They’ve basically gotten her to ‘be quiet’, to present what are clearly good ideas, and to allow someone else to run with those ideas without giving her credit.

      Blerg :(.

      1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

        If I read it right, what’s going on is somewhat better than that, but in another way somewhat worse. If I understand correctly she’s mostly been scolded on tone. Which is a great way to silence minority opinion. “We can’t help you if you don’t tell us about the problem! But don’t tell us too bluntly, that’s rude and disrespectful. Nope… still too blunt”,etc.

        What she’s done to alleviate that is join like “Anonymous Forum for Female Empowerment” type groups inside the organization. Usually groups like that are headed by (presumably sympathetic) higher ranking people that can theoretically make more and better waves with less blowback inside the organization. So the ideas aren’t so much being “stolen” as hopefully inserted at a level where they can do more good.

        On the face of it, that’s a good thing. It allows her, and the forum as a whole, to express ideas and frustrations in a neutral forum without fear of reprisal. All good things, but it would be a better thing if she didn’t get dinged on reviews for the crime of being a competent black woman who was right and said so.

        1. Obtuse Porcupine #3*

          I’m OP3:
          What she’s done to alleviate that is join like “Anonymous Forum for Female Empowerment” type groups inside the organization. Usually groups like that are headed by (presumably sympathetic) higher ranking people that can theoretically make more and better waves with less blowback inside the organization.

          You hit this almost right on the nose. It’s really a worker’s empowerment group. But it is spearheaded by a high-ranking woman (the actual interviews are professional facilitators, not employees, and the majority of those present are women. Even here, I find attendees restating my ideas from previous meetings, and I see that as evidence that my comments resonate, given that no individual is supposed to get credit (or be outed) for anything said in the fora.

          The review really stung because I thought the issue was completely resolved many months before. I was not expecting it to be mentioned during my performance review so it took me by surprise. Now I wonder what other surprises might surface later. If I thought quickly enough in the moment, I would have asked something like, “When we last spoke about this several months ago, I had the impression that this was resolved. It must be more egregious than I realize. May I ask for insight as to why this incident still concerns you?” It’s too late for this line of questioning though, maybe.

          I applied for a soft skills course but I wasn’t selected. For these types of courses, the only reason I wouldn’t be selected was if my application weren’t forwarded (concurred) by my manager, which would be kind of strange given the performance hit due I got to poor soft skills. I have so much more to say about this, but this really is a ball of confusion for me.

          1. Sapientia*

            The situation seems confusing to me, too. Obviously your contributions and comments are productive, otherwise they would not be repeated and put to action. So why are they not welcome when you’re not anonymous? Why would your tone be right in one setting and not in another?

            Only two reasonable reasons come to mind:
            1. Your tone actually comes across differently in the anonymous fora. My own experience is that there can be big differences especially between written and verbal communication. But you could check this rather easily yourself or maybe ask a friend/coworker how they perceive you.
            2. The same tone is actually inappropriate for the meetings with higher-ups. I tend to look at this warily because I think higher-ups should be able to take blunt language. But I’m also new to the workforce and have encountered the weird (to me) opinion that I should never speak in big meetings before my boss has spoken.

            Then of course there is the very unreasonable, but possible reason that your manager or someone else in management does not like you being outspoken as a Black woman.

            In any case I think it’s a bad sign if your manager cannot tell you in a detailed way what they think should change and why. Because even if they are well-intentioned, they are unable to support you in your growth (not to mention they don’t champion your opportunity to learn better soft skills through a course).
            So maybe, maybe it’s time to look for other opportunities where you can grow professionally, maybe even in the same organisation. After all, you at least know some higher-ups that at least encourage your ideas, albeit anonymously.

            In any case, I wish you all the best and hope you will retain your spark and drive for change.

            1. Hannah Lee*

              Given the back story, plus the fact that LW3 got dinged on this supposedly resolved issue on her review and is not being approved for training which supposedly could improve the issue manager dinged her on in the review, I’m going to go with your un-numbered door #3

              ” … the very unreasonable, but possible reason that your manager or someone else in management does not like you being outspoken as a Black woman.”

              Plus the combination of all that is also making me question just how “outspoken” LW3 was, compared to the range of outspokenness that is the norm at that organization. I’m thinking of those studies looking at the % of time people speak in meetings vs the perceived % of time people actually speak: time and time again they show that men can dominate the floor but then perceive that the speaking time was balanced and that women speaking 30-40% can be reported by men as women dominating the conversation. It’s not just what LW was actually doing, but the lens/bias management (or someone in power) is consistently applying to her contributions … cuz once someone pegs you as being too whatever, you could sit in the corner of the conference room silently pay attention to the meeting, and say “excuse me” after a cough and someone is going to think you’ve said too much.

          2. Adultiest Adult*

            Replying in solidarity as another woman who just received similarly contradictory feedback on my tone. I am white so I don’t want to claim it’s the same experience, but over and over again I find that blunt women are not particularly welcome at the table, no matter how valuable their ideas may be. I hope that both of us, and all the other direct, strong women, can find places where our contributions are valued.

    2. Maglev to Crazytown*

      I agree. Women in general get hit with the “women with opinions or a position on an issue are unprofessional, unless it is in kowtowing agreement with their male peers.”. But black women get it even worse, and I feel very bad for this.

      Sincerely Signed, “Today’s Karen (since I am white) At Work, as the only women in a meeting with management, for pointing out the legal implications of a poor decision.”

  6. bamcheeks*

    Oh 3, I admire your positive attitude but this sounds exhausting and very much the kind of story I’ve heard from nearly every professional Black woman I know. I hope you have some safe spaces to unwind and share stories. Best of luck.

      1. Lexi Lynn*

        I agree. OP3 sounds like a great person and I feel sad that her company wants to reduce her.

    1. Obtuse Porcupine #3*

      Thank you. It’s important to me that I give a good-faith effort to implement improvements when I’m asked to, as I believe my current manager is also acting in good faith. I do have a few colleagues in different departments that I can unwind with, who help me to feel validated and less alone.

  7. Choggy*

    I realize this is way after the fact and I missed the initial posting but why couldn’t the IT department put some type of automation in place to copy her local files and store them elsewhere? All could be done behind the scenes and since her work product is owned by the company, should not have had any liability. Just food for thought for anyone dealing with this. Glad you are good and rid of her.

    1. As per Elaine*

      It really depends on the size of the firm and the scale of their IT infrastructure. I would hope that the IT people at least had administrative access to the computer, but I could imagine a company with less than 20 employees, even one doing highly technical work, where “IT” is the office manager and can’t even log into a computer without the person whose computer it is typing in their password.

      Heck, I’ve worked places with hundreds of employees and an IT team of eight or ten people where nobody’s managed to get around to automating computer deployment, and admin access to workstations is “That’s the admin account. You’re an admin on the computer so you can install printer drivers etc, but don’t touch the other accounts.”

      1. Quinalla*

        Yes, a lot of A/E firms are very small or still operate like they are very small with outsourced IT if they are lucky or hey you can use a computer alright, now you are an architect/designer and our IT staff. It’s a lot less than when I started in the industry, people tend to be more tech savvy now just because there are too many bad actors out there who will wreck your servers/data for fun, but I 100% believe their IT could be in this state. The last place I worked at was pretty bad, the place I am at now we actually have an IT department of 1 but he knows what he is doing.

      2. LinuxSystemsGuy*

        I started my career way back in the day as the single person IT department for a small A/E firm. They normally wouldn’t/couldn’t justify that kind of expense, but the senior partner fancied himself a techy and had a side hustle helping other A/E firms with their computer and IT needs.

        So I was spilt between the two businesses. Like this was 25 years ago, and this guy had been doing CAD for at least ten years before that. I phased out his Sun Sparc based system for Windows based CAD systems that wrote to a Linux fileserver.

        He himself had done a credible job on his network and systems, and I like to think I made it better still, but some of the places we went into as part of the consulting side of the business were… frightening. A/E people *need* computers, but they often aren’t *good* at computers.

  8. MEH Squared*

    OP#4, I’m glad you GTFO and found a place that valued you and a manager who would have your back, rather than a spineless one who can’t actually manage. Good luck in your new job!

  9. Damn it, Hardison!*

    OP#3 – as someone who has received similar feedback on tone (and expression; it’s just my face!), you have my sympathy and admiration. It is a daily struggle, but it does get easier (or at least come more naturally over time and with practice.

    (Oh, and someone once said I sounded angry when I walk. Like normal walking. That one was a puzzler.)

    1. Obtuse Porcupine #3*

      Thank you. Ironically, I’ve always struggled with being told to be more direct in years past. Now, this same advice seems to be burning me. It’s harder to know when it’s applicable, especially as I encounter the finer interpersonal pain points of government work.

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      That was maybe your high-heeled shoes clacking on the hard floor. For fashion designers, it signals “sexy woman walking”, but of course people will read into the noise what they will.

  10. Happily Retired*

    #1. What I don’t understand is how this wasn’t a simple conversation the very first time it happened:
    Employer: Please save your work on the shared drive.
    Employee: No.
    Employer: No? Okay, you’re fired.

    1. Nea*

      If not then, certainly the first time they had to redo work because she refused to release the work she had done to the company that paid her to do it.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Based on the first letter, because she used Magic Words of Power to frighten the owners into submission.

    3. STAT!*

      Agreed. I can only think it’s because senior management were unwilling to put on their Grownup Pants. A similar thing happened in a London council borough office I once worked in, that is, one person refusing to save her work to the common drive, instead of to her PC’s C: drive (going back 15+ years here). Apparently she & her supervisors had a big screaming match about it (literally) after she was away one day & nobody could get to her files, but she still refused to use the common drive. Management’s solution was not to manage her, no no no. Instead, they sent somebody around the office to make a list of everybody’s PC logon passwords. I said this was pointless as the system forced us to change passwords each month, but meh was the response. Also, sharing passwords was actually a sackable offence at that Council – written down in employment documents & everything – so doubly pointless.

      Hmm, on consideration, was this some kind of clever trap to get her sacked for password sharing??? (joking, natch!)

  11. StitchIsMySpiritAnimal*

    “I’m calling my lawyer” is the grown up equivalent of “I’m telling Mom.”

    1. Florida Fan 15*

      I’m an attorney, married to an attorney, and I just laugh and laugh when someone pulls the “I’m gonna sue you” card for stupid crap.

      Most of the time it’s just posturing anyway, trying to intimidate people. But if they want to go through with it and waste their time and money only to get thrown out of court on their ear, well at least the judge will get a laugh, too.

    2. Luna*

      It’s basically posturing and some entitlement-by-proxy.
      “*I* am married to a LAWYER, which means that *I* have a Get Out Of Jail Free card~ Because my partner is a LAWYER.” Think like the worst stereotype of ‘military wife’, who think that because they are legally married to someone with a rank in the military, that means they get special treatment.

      1. Anon Supervisor*

        I’m sure hubby’s in real estate law (or something) and would have some difficulty with an Employment case.

    3. Observer*

      I’m calling my lawyer” is the grown up equivalent of “I’m telling Mom.”


      But so very true!

    4. pancakes*

      Sometimes. Sometimes the person doesn’t even have one, nor any sort of realistic intention to hire one, and it’s more like “I’m calling a mom who theoretically supports me!”

  12. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP#4–leaving well is the best revenge. Congratulations on your new job!

  13. merida*

    OP #1 – I read your original letter at the time and still I feel the same amount of “wtf?” towards the strange employee. I… can never imagine behaving like that person, nor can I imagine anyone I’ve ever worked with doing that. Good for you that the person is gone. I am sighing in relief for you. (But also, I echo the other comments that your company still has legal rights to sue if they’d like to. Oof.)

  14. Luna*

    LW1 – I’m wondering what this former employee could *possibly* have ever sued you over. The original letter mentions ‘hostile work environment’… which doesn’t fit the contents of it, as nothing you or your company were requesting of her had anything to do with the aspects that would even entail Hostile Work Environment. It had nothing to do with her biological sex, gender identity, religion, ethnicity, age, etc. You were asking her to save the work she was doing for the company.
    And being married to a lawyer means nothing. I kinda wish someone had flat-out told her “Do it.” just to see what happens if someone like that tries to sue the company. Maybe the judge and bailiffs needed a good laugh!

  15. Berkeleyfarm*

    OP2, you can always do the old trick of planting specifically different information with specific people to see where the leak is.

    Then when you start hearing the story you know who the leaker is.

  16. LW#1*

    OP of #1 here. Thanks for everybody’s thoughts. Yes, we were backing up this individual’s laptop for quite some time, so we didn’t actually lose any data. In addition to the recordings we also recovered image files that had layered screenshots of hundreds of images from online meetings the employee was in. It should have been dealt with a long time ago, but we’re glad it’s over and have lots of evidence to counter any action on the employee’s part – including the recordings which each constitute a class IV felony in this state.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Great that you didn’t actually loose any data – but wondering if SHE knows you didn’t .

      Also betting that either hubby the lawyer either isn’t willing to file suit or isn’t in employment law. Hoping that you never hear from the look again.

    2. Bager*

      My first thought on this case was honestly that it was some sort of weird (if inept) sabotage/industrial espionage thing, with her sending sensitive data to herself and trying to delete things. Either way she has done several Very Illegal Things here.

  17. Aunty Fox*

    I am so angry for OP3 every time she writes in. For what it’s worth OP based on what I’ve seen in Local Gov over my couple of decades and change, I’m confident you are not the real problem here.

  18. ladyme*

    The first letter has me questioning my own work practices. My department uses shared drives, but any files opened from there respond so slowly that I literally couldn’t do my job because I spent most of my time waiting for them to unfreeze. Talking to my supervisor and IT didn’t yield any technical solution; apparently the response time was slow because the server was in another state and IT wasn’t willing to change how it was set up. So I started saving files to my local drive and copying updated versions and finished products to the shared drive. My supervisor wasn’t happy but didn’t push the issue. Eventually we started using Teams and now I save my files there. How should I have handled this situation?

    1. I should really pick a name*

      In the letter, the employee is saving files to their computer and denying access to them to everyone else. That’s very different from what you’re describing.
      You’re doing your work locally and then making the finished work accessible. Unless your company has specific rules about data handling, what you did sounds fine.

  19. moss*

    OP 3: where you say ” I presume it was probably much more egregious than my manager wanted to admit. “… I am not sure that’s the correct assumption. It sounds like you’re excellent at your job. I obviously don’t know the entire situation but I would advise you to just assume they took it the wrong way. Also advise you to just move forward and assume that, whatever happened, they are grownup enough to manage their feelings (that’s not always true but it’s a good way to focus on the future instead of the past.)

    It’s such a difficult situation and I’ve been in a similar position. I’m not sure I handled it great but here’s what I did. In an earlier job I got feedback from my manager that I didn’t have a good relationship with another department. Sure, I didn’t like the catty mean other department head but I had a great relationship with the other people in the department. I ended up leaving that job because they were vastly underpaying and underrespecting me as well as allowing ethical issues to fester and I could not continue to work for people like that.

    More recently I had a conversation with a colleague in which I told him he didn’t have to like me but we needed to work together so let’s just put the idea of being friends aside and focus on the task. I am more senior now and am able to say things like this.

    I think workplaces in general reward strange behavior and they also encourage rumination (what did i say exactly, what did i do, is this going to effect my career, what other words could I choose etc) which is actually, in my opinion, not super healthy. I don’t think it’s a healthy structure where an interpersonal interaction is used at the end of the year to evaluate your whole year’s work. That’s my problem with jobs and evaluations in general.

    There’s also an element of emotionality on their end that you can exploit. If the interaction you had was a little harsh, you can go back and soften that. Other people are actually really into having you (and me) like them. Like with my colleague, I don’t care if he doesn’t like me but he seems to care if I like him. So I have a lot of room to move on being nice to him and he’ll really appreciate that. So don’t lose sight of the idea that your colleague wants YOU to think well of THEM, even if they outrank you. That’s why being nice can be so powerful, and it’s a tool you can use. Yes it feels like pandering sometimes but you can make people feel comfortable for your own strategic purpose, not just because there’s a history of roles that people of your gender and race have to play.

    Anyway all this to say that please dont’ spend one minute more worrying about what you did or didnt’ do. Keep focussing on your work and if you run into people whose opinions matter to your career, be happy to see them. It’s maybe not the greatest thing in the world but people are human and they like people who like them so acting like you like someone can go a long way. It might feel like a one-way street, like you’re the only one who has to try to be nice or whatever. But just realize that whoever you’re talking to has human insecurities and their fair share of interpersonal struggles and crappy moments. Most people will be grateful to have someone be nice to them especially someone who is as cool and amazing as you are. Realize what a gift your kindness is and use that strategically. In addition to being awesome at your job, if you take the extra time to bring some warmth into your interactions, this will pay off. And it’s not about sucking up or kissing butt, it’s about giving someone a little bit of your awesomeness, like letting them share for a moment the wonders of your world.

    Anyway this was kind of rambly, I hope it made any sense at all. … I guess what I’m trying to say is showing warmth in interactions does not have to be about you losing something (dignity etc) but more about you giving something to someone that they do not otherwise have. And they will be grateful and think you are wonderful because you gave them a little bit of your powerful awesome energy.

  20. Schuyler*

    I’m not sure I was expecting to see another financial aid administrator here! I’m glad you got out of that position. I’ve experienced weak leadership in this field too but I’d hope no one would let something like that slide! Having said that, we need lots of people with outdated attitudes (on lots of things related to FA and not) to retire, so I suppose I wouldn’t be totally surprised.

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