employee quit and deleted all his files

A reader writes:

One of our employees just quit without notice and left us in a bind. He is part of a team that works collaboratively, but recently took on a new project and hadn’t gotten to cross-train any of his colleagues before he left.

He came in after a vacation, turned in his badge and key, and resigned on the spot. He didn’t give any reason for quitting. Recently there were concerns of him possibly bullying a new colleague he was training, and he was skipping supervisions and making rude comments to his supervisor (which we addressed with direct feedback). It’s probably for the best that he decided to move on.

Here’s the problem — he was the lead on implementing a new company-wide data tracking system. He attended training, which we paid for, and was responsible for learning how to use all of the system’s features and problem solving issues that came up. The training was expensive, which is why we only sent one employee. We just went live with this new system a few months ago.

This employee was supposed to cross-train his colleagues on the back end features of the system in the next few weeks. After he resigned, we discovered he had taken all of his training notes and deleted all of his files on his computer. We gave the computer to our IT consultant, but nothing can be recovered.

We want the employee to return copies of any notes or files he might still have. I’m not sure how much I can push back if he refuses, or even what to say. Obviously he doesn’t care about a reference from anyone here, and it’s not like we can hold his last paycheck or enforce any real consequences. Any advice?

I answer this question — and two others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My employee’s coworkers are sniping at her for being a few minutes late
  • Dealing with a separation when I’m close to my coworkers

{ 155 comments… read them below }

  1. Czhorat*

    The resigning employee deleting personal notes is wrong, but I agree with Allison that fighting to get them back is *certainly* of less value than sending someone else to the training; I know the training is expensive, but giving it to only one person and making them the defacto trainer for the rest of the group was probably, in hindsight, penny wise and pound foolish.

    It also makes his actions that much worse; in a bit of pettiness he created ill will, burned some bridges, and will always be known as the guy who doused his workstation with gasoline and lit a match in his way out. Who knows when someone he needs will hear about this bit of his reputation, or where his old coworkers will end up?

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Both versions of thinking short-term satisfaction and ignoring all the risks over the long-term.

    2. Antilles*

      I was interpreting the “notes” that Employee took with as including the hardcopy training materials he got – binders with copies of the slides, maybe a class workbook, something like that.
      In which case, I’d probably reach out to whatever company ran the external training. Explain the situation, ask very politely if you could get a copy of the materials since Employee ran off with them, and see what happens. May or may not work, but it potentially gets you some immediate help in solving your problem – or at the very least, possibly a discount on sending someone else to the training.

      1. L'étrangère*

        Or at least a line on a consultant who can help run your system while you get another (couple of) employees up on it. Someone who truly knows what they’re doing, because who knows what the departing guy might have been up to in there..

      2. FlynnProvenza*

        Absolutely. I used to train for a software company. They have had this happen to their clients before. They should have some online tutorials or a remote trainer that can bring one of your other employees up to speed.

    3. Artemesia*

      I would be thinking about the best way to ‘punish him’ and one of those is reputationally. Certainly make sure your hiring records list him as ‘do not hire’ and why and that if any requests are made for references, that this information be available.

      If legal action would require him to get a lawyer and respond it might be worth doing; it might discourage anyone else from following suit.

      1. MayDay*

        In some states that is illegal and considered tortious interference. Regardless of how you feel about his actions, intentionally prohibiting someone from making a living by giving these details to prospective employers, is ridiculous. And— in my opinion— next level petty. Just say he isn’t rehire-able and move on. Word will travel without the added help, and if it’s that serious go after him legally.
        In all honesty, his actions wouldn’t mean much if organizations would actually think about business continuity. Stop overloading your employees. It sounds like he was a developer and a defacto trainer, and the single point of contact for an enterprise wide system. That’s ridiculous!

    4. WellRed*

      Yeah notes aren’t gonna be that helpful without the note taker. Send a couple people to the training and move on.

      1. I am Emily's failing memory*

        Definitely. Another prevention measure to think about in the future – in my department because professional development budgets are tight (nonprofit) it’s rare for us to send multiple employees to the same training or conference, but anyone who attends department-paid training is required to take notes and then within a week of being back in the office, clean up/use the notes to create a summary document that will be understandable to people who didn’t attend the session and then circulate share document on the department’s all staff email list. This is not a nice-to-have that can be back-burnered, because it would never be moved to the front burner if it could – it’s as much a formal job requirement as any other work an employee is assigned, and a pattern of a staff member failing to share notes in a timely fashion will lead to them no longer being sent to paid trainings on the organization’s dime.

    5. Magenta Sky*

      The real lesson in this is to set up a proper backup system. Deleting important files happens accidentally all the time, and it should be *trivial* to recover them.

      1. L'étrangère*

        And garden-variety employees normally wouldn’t have access to delete the backups, hopefully they’d be read-only no matter who and what.
        I was coming here to give some of the same door-closed-after-horse advice. Concentrating on retaliation to the departing employee is not addressing the fundamental problem, it’s been something like 40 years since I’ve worked for a company that was seriously hurt by a lack of backups

      2. I am Emily's failing memory*

        Exactly. Server backups – ideally off-site for insulation from any local event that might take out all the on-site machines – of all hard drives should be SOP for even the smallest business, even if it’s just the owner and sole employee’s laptop. Even without any malicious deletions, what happens when there’s a theft or something like a fire that physically destroys a computer?

      3. Vio*

        OP mentions that the computer was sent to IT and they couldn’t recover anything. That suggests that the employee did more than just delete them, he permanently erased them which can only be done deliberately. Deleting a file basically makes the computer put a mark on it saying “this is empty space, overwrite it as and when needed” and it is possible to recover any data that hasn’t yet been overwritten. To permanently erase the data you have to use additional software (usually) or deliberately overwrite all of the data by filling the hard drive with junk data. Degaussing with magnets can also work but isn’t always completely effective (it will likely corrupt the data but sometimes it can still be recoverable).
        Unless this employee regularly stuck magnets to his computer (which has been known to happen) this was definitely a deliberate act of malice and could not happen by accident.
        Even automated backups aren’t always effective if the employee is determined enough. Changing the system clock or storing data on a non-shared drive are simple ways around automatic backups, although require more long term planning.

    6. Curmudgeon in California*

      Any company that only sends one employee to training on a critical piece of software is penny wise, pound foolish. He could leave and take everything with him, like in this case, or he could have a heart attack or get hit by a bus. They all take the single point of failure out. Always train at least two.

    7. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I have to issue one caveat. Please make sure this person really did do his own deletions. The IT protocol at my corporation automatically deletes everything associated with a user ID when that user is terminated. We learned the hard way that OneDrive files could be auto deleted as part of this, at least the way the system was originally configured.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. If the employee intentionally deleted everything on his way out, that’s definitely something that should have consequences for him. If he just neglected to train anyone else properly in the system, then sure, he disobeyed direct instructions by his manager, and that should have consequences too, but they should be less severe if the files simply disappeared when his user account was deleted than if he effectively sabotaged things for his employer.

  2. Keymaster of Gozer*

    If the data cannot be retrieved then there’s nothing that can be done. Immediately that is.

    But from the perspective of someone who’s had the glorious moment of being asked for a reference for the person who deleted all their work on the way out: the payback is worth waiting for.

    I just outright told that firm that X deleted all his files and wiped the backups on the way out and I’d definitely never hire him again. He wasn’t trustworthy.

    1. Czhorat*


      The irony is that the documents he deleted probably wouldn’t have been all THAT useful. I take reasonably good notes, but my raw notes wouldn’t match the value of the formal training I took them from.

    2. Moi*

      That’s pretty stupid of the deletor. I bet most people who leave with an act of sabatoge will ensure they have something lined up

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        And given I work in IT, and so did he, I’m pretty sure my reference tanked his career. Oh well /smile

      2. KatEnigma*

        Sure but are they going to stay at that job forever? Are they not going to list that job on the resume? Because at some point down the line, someone will be checking their resume, and no one is likely to forget the guy who sabotaged them on the way out like that.

        1. I am Emily's failing memory*

          Yep, no matter how pissed you are when you leave a job and how much satisfaction it might give you at that time to screw them over, if you still have a long career ahead of you, do you really want this mistake to be coming back to haunt you years later when none of it feels important anymore?

      3. DMRM*

        I think a lot of people think that if they have something lined up, they don’t have to worry about screwing things over at the position they’re currently in. But what they don’t really think about is that anyone who is considering hiring you can check any previous employment entities they want, not just those you list as references, not to mention that people in an industry might know people working at that company and could just casually ask about you.

        1. Vio*

          Indeed. I had a friend working at a firm where they discovered that one of their employees had developed a particularly bad reputation for abuse of authority at a previous employer which he’d hidden from them. It wasn’t enough of an omission to warrant any punitive action from the new employer but once they’d verified with the previous employer it was enough to make them wary of promoting him or giving him any form of authority. He continued to work there for some time but never received any significant promotion. No idea if he ever figured out why or if they told him.

    3. Meep*

      We fired someone who just stopped producing work 3 months out. Found out afterward he was just playing Runescape on his work computer. If they could not recover the notes, I wonder if that is because none existed. Either way, while I understand how empowering it can to be petty in the moment, he deserves a bad reference.

      1. A Poster Has No Name*

        That’s a good point. Maybe he blew off the training altogether. They could reach out to the training firm and the training people are like “Who? Never saw him.”

      2. Captain ddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        He did successfully get to grips with the system though (whether that was through the training, or some other method!) since it seems like the system has been live for a few months with no more than the typical number of go-live issues as OP didn’t mention anything particular having gone wrong.

        This is one of the letters I’d like to hear the other side of!

        I blame the company really for having no backup or redundancy for what seems to be an important system (since they are now in a panic about the missing documentation). “We just have to hope he doesn’t leave” isn’t a very good plan (but one I see variations of worryingly often everywhere).

        Slight speculation but burnout from being a single point of failure in the company could account for everything in the letter.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Slight speculation but burnout from being a single point of failure in the company could account for everything in the letter.

          That does seem likely.

          Train one person, then dump all the onboarding work for as new software and process on him? Plus wanting him to train everyone else? Yes, smells like burnout may have been a factor.

    4. ScheuylerSeestra*

      Yeah, this is the type of thing that will probably follow him around.

      I had a slightly similar situation at my current company. I’m a recruiter and had an incident with a candidate who I thought was a great fit for one of my open roles.

      However he had interviewed with the hiring manager at her past company and when he was turned down sent her and the recruiter threading emails.

      The HM let me know she would under any circumstances have this person on her team. Rightfully so.

      So yeah, bad behavior can follow you.

    5. turquoisecow*

      Yeah, and even if he doesn’t put this boss down as a reference, there’s a chance the next hiring manager will be like “oh, he worked at Teapots, Inc, and so did my friend/acquaintance/colleague, I’ll call them up and see if they new him,” and then OP or someone else dishes the dirt on him. Unless he doesn’t put the job down on his resume or whatever at all, but it sounds like he’s been there long enough that leaving it off would be a big gap.

  3. Dust Bunny*

    Separation: When my (now retired) boss and his wife divorced, he just told us they were splitting up and that he wasn’t going to talk about it at work. It was a friendly-neutral tone, not bitter; just letting us know so he wouldn’t have to field any questions about his wife’s art projects; she often did holiday-related things and would send our department a card. He never brought it up again and as far as I know nobody from the department ever said or asked him anything about it.

    So, while that’s at least half dependent on your coworkers respecting boundaries, I hope that if you keep it low-key they’ll follow your lead.

    1. ferrina*

      Seconding. When I got divorced, I made a similar casual note to the folks that needed to know. It was delivered as an fyi. I’ve had no follow-up questions or busybodies (my workplace is awesome like that)

    2. Tinkerbell*

      People separate for a lot of reasons, and the emotions involved can range from seething anger to “eh, it was time.” Being nonchalant about it and then refusing to discuss it at work is one of the easier ways to signal to your co-workers that you’re not seeking their sympathy or their comfort, you just wanted to pass on the info and then be done with the topic.

    3. Gracely*

      My boss did similarly when he divorced his wife (who also worked at our location, as our HR rep). No animosity as far as I could tell. We never broached the subject after the short meeting when he told us (we were a department of like, 3), and the only indication from her was a name change. It was sad, because they’d seemed like a good couple, and they had always hosted a winter party at their home that was simple and fun. No idea what happened, but afaik, we all had the sense to not ask.

    4. OrigCassandra*

      I told the department chair (I’m in academia) that I was separating from and eventually divorcing my spouse. Chair asked if I needed anything, I said no, I was okay, just thought it was wise to let chair know. We agreed on disclosure (not secret, but no need to actually tell anybody unless they ask), and that was that.

      1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

        When I got divorced, I told my then-boss I would need a day off to file and she said “Oh, well, you can throw yourself into your work then.” She ranks pretty high on my personal Bad Boss List, up there with the guy who started my annual review with “Why are you still here?”

    5. squid*

      People are pretty understanding of these issues. When I had to tell people at work I was getting divorced, it was typically met with a quick but compassionate “I’m sorry to hear that” and then an immediate subject change.

      I think people feel a little awkward about it and so it will almost certainly not come up more than once, and when it does, people are generally inclined to not dwell on it.

    6. BethRA*

      If you’re not up for sharing the info yourself, you can also deputize someone. One of my former coworkers did that when she and her partner separated – she wasn’t up for telling people directly but wanted to head of questions (we were small enough that asking about family and aksing after specific partners was pretty normal). So she asked a colleague to share the news and ask that we respect her privacy.

  4. Catwhisperer*

    This reminds me of that woman bragging on TikTok about deleting all the training documents she created.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I cringe so hard every time I come across that. She’s so proud of herself and she put so much in writing.

      1. Catwhisperer*

        SO much in writing!!! I wish the education system was more focused on actually preparing people for the work environment and less about standardized testing, because she clearly never learned about the reality of the working world in school.

    2. Meep*

      What got me is she was doubling down in the comments. Like when I was the keeper of the training documents and I quit, I left them. They were too dumb to use them even with direct links given to them, anyway. It isn’t worth it.

      1. ferrina*

        Exactly- I’ve left my notes for every company, knowing that the ones who deserved my notes would use them- the ones who didn’t deserve them were either a) too arrogant to stoop to read someone else’s notes or b) too incompetent to remember that notes existed.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          I leave notes and wikis after each job. I switched departments at one place, leaving all my wikis and process documents as well as trying to train people. The person I tried to train ignored everything I said because he thought he knew better than I did, plus he ignored my documentation. He then proceeded to screw it up by the numbers, and then blame me for not training him. Pissed. Me. Off.

      1. Catwhisperer*

        The irony is that she could have set actual, reasonable boundaries with her work by just not doing things that were outside her job description. No one asked her to create those docs, she just did it on her own and then got upset that her job role wasn’t changed.

    3. DaniCalifornia*

      I was gobsmacked when I saw that video. We’ve all done (and probably still do) stupid things. But the amount of adult people willing to do potentially illegal things or actions that will cause them irreparable financial/career damage and BLAST IT online will always amaze me!

      I saw another video of a girl who got fired and realized her 100% off discount code still worked at a jewelry store and put it on TikTok. And commenters were saying they got free jewelry and it was getting a lot of traction.

    4. Starbuck*

      That’s exactly what I thought of! She is just so sure she’s in the right and that she won’t face any consequences. I get that there are a lot of crappy employers that screw people over… but that kind of shenanigan just makes you look bad too!

    5. DMRM*

      I’m a records manager and I really really have to emphasize multiple times, usually when someone is hired, when someone leaves, and several times in between — if we paid you money to do something, we own that product and anything associated with it. In the same way that if you were paid to build a chair for a chair company, you don’t get to set all the unsold chairs you made on fire when you leave, or take them with you, you don’t get to do that with any kind of intellectual products you create. It is literally stealing.

  5. Happy meal with extra happy*

    Another consideration re: going after the employee with legal claims is that these are public if a lawsuit gets filed or charges pressed. Do you want outsiders to know of this issue? Of course, the chance of people finding the suit or the charge is slim, but it’s possible, especially in small towns.

    1. PotsPansTeapots*

      I mean, that could also be a benefit of pressing charges, depending on how the company feels.

  6. NewJobNewGal*

    It’s possible the resigning employee was over his head and quit because he couldn’t handle the new project. In the past, when people have refused to cross train, it was because they actually didn’t know the work they were doing and couldn’t train me. They had been faking it or handing it off and just slipping under the radar.
    There may not be any training notes, documents, or plans to recover. Making a show of deleting everything may have been a way to hide that there wasn’t anything to delete.

    1. Ama*

      I do wonder about that. When this happened at my work, the employee in question (who happened to be my boss) knew that we were about to have an audit that would turn up a number of unapproved expenses she had made on our budget (both personal expenses and hiring unapproved contractors to do work she claimed she had done herself). This employee might have been acting out of spite or he might have been trying to cover his tracks.

    2. Smithy*

      I think this is really worthwhile to bring up.

      While I get that this training course was expensive, sending only one person really put the employer in a “pray” position that this one employee was able to attend every session alertly, absorbed the information well, and would be able to train others on the content. Without any of the other behavioral issues – had this employee just been dumped, or got a cold, or had a major unexpected home repair during the course of the training and not really been with it, all of that could impact their retention of the information.

      I wonder if this is a case where hiring a short term training consultant or service might make more sense. Essentially hire someone with experience knowing how to use the system and train others for a short term contract vs. hoping one person attending on training will bring all of that knowledge on board.

      1. OrigCassandra*

        Yup, this, and it also creates a single point of failure for the organization. Even if the person trained is a total wiz, that’s exceptionally poor and unwise practice.

      2. Dinwar*

        Training course: $X/person

        Only having one person in the training course: $X, plus $Y to train everyone internally, plus $Z to fix the inevitable mistakes made by having someone trained second-hand, plus $A to fix the issues that will occur should the one person trained leave the company, plus $B to train a new person when the first person leaves the company, plus $C in opportunity costs while you deal with all this mess.

        2X is almost certainly going to be cheaper than X+Y+Z+A+B+C.

        I had a boss do this calculation once. We had to have someone trained in the US Army Corpse of Engineers 3 Phases of Control, a quality control method used in large-scale construction (obviously US ACE stuff, but a lot of other government agencies use it as well). We needed one person for the project. But the boss looked at the company, realized that there were about a dozen people–in a 20,000 person company–who had that training, and figured that the cost of training three of us was much less than the costs he would incur should the one person trained leave the company. So we all got the training.

        As an added bonus, this means that we’re all more valuable employees. Any one of us can do this role now, which opens a bunch of doors for us. And it means that we have an entire managerial team trained in quality control; we have made numerous improvements to internal procedures which have made the work more efficient and reduced re-work.

        For his part, we’re all fairly loyal to him. The boss is a good guy, and one of the ways he shows it is by looking for opportunities to grow his people. He doesn’t have to worry too much about us quiet quitting!

        I went into some detail there to show that the equation I wrote above isn’t the whole story. Not training multiple team members presents not-insignificant opportunity costs.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          This. IMO, unless it’s really a niche process that is not critical to your operation, always train at least two people.

    3. ferrina*

      This is a good point, and an aspect I hadn’t thought of. Folks in denial who get in over their head will do weird stuff to try to cover themselves.

    4. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      That happened at a place I worked once. Guy went to the training on the new computer system, quietly took it all in, went to lunch, and never went back. A few years later I got a reference call for him — he was applying for a job as a bus driver. I hope it worked out for him.

  7. Clobberin' Time*

    Given the tone of #2, I have to wonder how much of the other department’s complaints about Jane come from the LW making it clear that Jane can do no wrong in her eyes. I hope that she took the advice to heart.

    1. sundae funday*

      Yeah… it’s one thing to just be a few minutes late… and it’s another thing to be a few minutes late when others are waiting for you to relieve them–especially with something like front desk coverage. What if the person waiting is going on lunch but doesn’t have the liberty of being able to be a few minutes late back from lunch because they work for another department that is stricter? Or they have meetings? Or they need to use the restroom?

      “Only” 5 minutes a day still equals 25 minutes a week someone else is covering the front desk for Jane and being shorted for their other tasks or lunch or bathroom breaks. And does 5 minutes really mean 5 minutes?

      1. KatEnigma*

        And “only” being 5 minutes late every now and then because life happens, even then, is a lot different than it being consistent and the only weak excuse LW can give is that it’s not *every* time.

        This is breaks and lunch too, so likely as much as 15 minutes per day! Or over an hour a week everyone is waiting on her!

      2. Person from the Resume*

        This feels like the opposite of the boss demanding an employee be on time for a job that has no coverage need. This boss is lax and doesn’t care about a few minutes, but the coworkers who are covering for the employee are annoyed about it. In this case, it may matter to / impact them.

        1. Emily*

          Yep! Maybe the boss should start covering the front and see whether it bothers her when it’s her time not being respected. The OP seems to have a real lack of respect for the admins from the other departments.

          1. ferrina*

            I actually like this. Especially if the other admins’ bosses expect them to be back at X time, it would make sense for LW to cover her person whenever she’s late.
            In a job where coverage matters, yeah, things like this really matters. In a coverage-based job I used to work, 5 minutes late from lunch meant everyone else’s lunches were delayed, and sometimes the last person taking lunch would need to shorten it so they could cover the first person who had the early shift and needed to leave for the day. And then the managers would scold us about the overtime that someone had to work to cover someone else’s delay….it was a whole mess.

      3. Absurda*

        Yeah, I agree. 5 minutes might not seem like a lot if no one is waiting for her but if people are, it’s rude to be consistently late. Think of it like the co-worker who is always late for meetings; it’s annoying and shows no respect for other people’s time or schedule.

      4. CommanderBanana*

        My days, especially the weekends, are scheduled to the minute because I work 2 jobs. So, you being 15 minutes late may mean my dog doesn’t get a walk or I don’t have time to pick up a prescription on the way home.

    2. Random Bystander*

      On the other hand, my past experiences made me wonder if there was something about Jane that had made her the target for the other dept.

      I used to work in a position where we were supposed to leave for lunch at a schedule time, but not before the person before us had returned–I was the third of four people; the fourth person would leave on the dot of her time whether I was back or not, but because the first or second (or sometimes both) had taken longer lunches, I might have left considerably later, so that my “late” return at 1:05 just meant that I had taken my full lunch from 12:35 when co-worker returned instead of leaving at 12:30 (I would be complained about whether I tried to leave at 12:30 if second co-worker wasn’t back *and* if I took a full lunch after leaving late due to the prior co-worker’s late returns).

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I figure it is a mixture of all three factors, a perfect storm.
        Jane’s boss is not a time stickler, she rolls in a couple minutes late, no problem.
        Other boss is a stickler; s/he wants coverage person back in one hour. They have to eat the time, every time.
        “But Jane…”
        their boss: “I don’t care…”
        “But Jane…”
        Jane’s boss: “I don’t care.”
        I’d be pissed. Jane AND her boss are probably “targeted” but OP is unaware of what that group is saying about/wishing upon her.
        If this isn’t working, OP, offer another solution. ]

      2. Clobberin' Time*

        It could be something else entirely, and Alison addressed that in her response. But the LW’s letter was full of defensiveness for Jane and contempt for the people complaining about repeated lateness.

        1. I 'm just here for the cats!*

          to be fair if I was the OP I would be defensive for Jane and be ticked at the others for sending emails TO ALL ADMIN STAFF calling out Jane. I think that’s what bothered OP. If there is an issue they should be talking to OP. And maybe there needs to be a time buffer because life happens. There was a line for the bathroom, the elevator was slow, someone from another department stopped you in the hallway and you couldn’t get a word in to let them know you had to go back.

    3. The OG Sleepless*

      Yeah, that one pushed more than one of my buttons. I work in a coverage-based job too, and I’ve been trapped at work late by coworkers…and it was always the same few coworkers. The most spectacular instance was when the next person on shift was late enough that I had to start an emergency llama groom that I wasn’t physically able to stop doing when he finally moseyed in; I went home two hours late, exhausted.

      I also have a boss who plays favorites, and if you are one of her favorites you could do no wrong. One of her biggest favorites was constantly calling out or leaving her peers holding the bag, but Boss just would not hear a word against her. It was infuriating.

      1. sundae funday*

        I have also dealt with a perpetually late coworker that I relied on to help cover the front desk. She’d regularly roll in 20 minutes late, take long lunches, AND leave an hour early.

        She had to gall to try to tell me once that I couldn’t take lunch at a certain time because we’d be “too busy” at that time. Yeah, you know when we’re by far the busiest? First thing in the morning, when I’m in here by myself until you decide to get here!

  8. Echo*

    Someone I know through a hobby/volunteering did what Alison advises in question 3 to handle her separation from her long-term partner and it worked really well. If someone asked “How’s Calvin?” or “Is Calvin coming to your family reunion?” or similar, she would say something like “Ah, we separated actually” and people left it alone other than saying they were sorry to hear that.

    Anyone who intrudes beyond that (“oh no, why? I loved Calvin!” or “was it amicable?” – and let me stress, I never heard anyone do that) is being incredibly rude and absolutely deserves a “whoa, that’s a very personal question!” (or the softer version, “oh, I’ll spare you the details, it’s boring, anyway I moved out of our house and have a new apartment now and it’s great, my cat loves the view!”), especially at work.

    1. Jedi Beth*

      By contrast, I remember after a particularly horrible relationship imploded, leaving me in no mood to sugar-coat anything:

      Friend at event: Hey, where’s Calvin?

      Me: Probably with his new girlfriend.

    2. Anon for this*

      I see “was it amicable?” as a poorly worded way of expressing hope that it was amicable. Because if it’s not amicable, it’s bad.

      1. Snell*

        Even if well-intentioned, asking “Was it amicable?” is still a bad idea, because it gives the option of a “no” as an answer. If you’re hoping it was amicable, why invite the bad by offering that choice?

  9. higheredrefugee*

    Also, I’ve had colleagues tell one person and asked that they share it with the rest of the team quietly and asking for no further discussion. This has worked for divorces, diagnoses, various degrees of emergency (length and seriousness). The success of which will depend on your team members, of course, but it may be easier to say to one person and then be ready with a “thank you for your concern, I’ve chosen not to discuss it at work” if anyone follows up.

    1. oranges*

      This was going to be my recommendation. Whoever you’re closest with, and most trust to handle it responsibly, tell them, “Life update: Joe and I are separating. You’re welcome to tell people, but I don’t want to talk about.”

      And honestly, if you’re close with these folks, the news probably won’t come entirely out of left field to them. I don’t Bump Watch coworkers, but my usual reaction to a break up isn’t “whaaaat?!? WHY?!?!”
      It’s usually, “dang, that’s too bad.”

        1. Rocket Raccoon*

          Haha, I use my MIL that way. I am suuuper awkward talking about personal stuff and my MIL is the biggest blabbermouth I know (my husband is the second). Whenever I want to tell the whole family something but don’t actually want to talk to people, I just tell her. Announced every one of my pregnancies and miscarriages that way.

          If you know who talks and who doesn’t it can be an asset as much as a liability.

          1. allathian*

            Yes, and an added benefit is that if you’re usually reticent about telling them things because you don’t want everyone and their dog to know, the inveterate gossips be happy that you give them something to tell others.

  10. Clisby*

    The fact that this employee’s deleting all his files meant they couldn’t be recovered is a BIG problem. Why weren’t they backed up? And I don’t mean relying on individual employees to back them up – why isn’t there an automated system that backs up everything at least once a day? To a location individual file-creators can’t access?

    Maybe the silver lining here is that the business will get a clue about protecting data.

    1. London Calling*

      Agree. When I read that IT couldn’t retrieve them I went, um, backup files?

      Employee deleted all files – problem

      IT apparently doesn’t have any system backup – major problem and one that goes a lot deeper than a rogue employee.

      1. I+went+to+school+with+only+1+Jennifer*

        Or the IT consultant isn’t very good at what they do. Or they had already suggested putting a backup system in place and got turned down for cost reasons. Or they said that the 3rd party recovery company charges $$$$$ and LW’s company said it was too much. (Two good illustrations of “penny wise and pound foolish”.)

  11. PotsPansTeapots*

    #3- One of the things I learned from Dan Savage’s older columns if that you need to give people cues for how they should take big life news. Telling your colleagues you’re separated in a neutral tone (even if you have to fake it) and following it with a quick subject change gives them the info they need.

    If they’re good colleagues, that prompt will make sure they avoid discussing your husband. And if you’re having a rough day emotionally and it shows at work, it gives them some context.

    1. Cedarthea*

      Over the course of two weeks back in February my mid-30s sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and my father was diagnosed with leukemia(AML/MDS). My manager and the leadership team knew because I was pretty distracted and had to take some time off, but I didn’t tell everyone else right away, because like LW #3 I didn’t want to do the emotional labour associated with telling people.

      About 6 weeks after all hell had broken loose and things were moving forward one of my close work colleagues asked me “how was I doing” and I realized that I couldn’t lie to her and pretend everything was okay. I did what you said here, and I framed it very calmly and factually and told them what I knew, and they followed my lead with respect to how I wanted it at work.

      I am glad I did, because now it’s just part of my life and both of them are doing well with their treatments and it’s nice when they know the outlines of my life so that if something does happen they have context (like you said).

  12. Meh*

    Obviously this sucks for the employer, but when people quit in a blaze of glory like this it’s probably time to evaluate what’s happening in your workplace that motivated him to resign with no notice. Not saying it’s right, just saying that there’s likely a deeper issue that’s not being addressed here as well.

    1. Polly*

      I’m not a person who would actually do this, but I definitely fantasized about this in my last job. And given how a large percentage of the department felt, I think I can say that was a them thing, not a me thing. Calls of “burn it all down” from the many ex-employees they produce are not infrequent.

    2. Bunny Girl*

      That’s what I was wondering as well. I want to take OP at their word that this was without reason but I would still take a good hard look at the workplace. I left somewhere last year that claimed to have NO idea why employees were quitting in droves and they couldn’t hire anyone reputable. It was because they paid 50 percent lower than market rate and refused to staff shifts properly so people were staying late because of low staffing. It was crushing and people were burning out quick. But the manager couldn’t understand why they couldn’t hire anyone but students and people with no experience who bounced the second they had enough time under their belt to go somewhere else.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Sending only one person to the training made me wonder if either the place asks too much of people/certain people and doesn’t crosstrain well enough, or if they’re always on a shoestring budget so pay is lagging, benefits are meh, supplies are short, everyone is always being asked to scrimp and do with less. That gets old.

      1. Meh*

        Yeah, it’s so tough to say, but quitting with no notice and no explanation is not common in a professional setting. It screams to me of someone who was pushed to his brink. And it didn’t “come out of nowhere” as the OP mentioned this person has been showing increasing signs of frustration prior to quitting. It seems like some warning signs of burnout (and/or other issues) were ignored and he finally hit his breaking point. Again, this wasn’t the right way for him to handle things, but I’ve learned that often people complain that they’re unhappy repeatedly without any changes from leadership, who are then “completely blindsided” when the person resigns. Not saying it’s what happened here, but it’s worth taking a step back and reevaluating what went wrong and why he felt compelled to take such drastic action.

        1. Dinwar*

          While I’m of the opinion that the employee is almost certainly at fault here (quitting without notice isn’t uncommon in my line of work, and it’s usually for stupid reasons), I agree that it’s a good opportunity to do a post-mortem and see what went wrong. I mean, look at what we know:
          –He’s been accused of bullying
          –He skipped supervisions (not sure what that means, but if it’s 1-on-1s or the like, yeah, not good!)
          –He’s made rude comments to his supervisor, showing a gross disrespect for authority.
          –On your end, you allowed this to continue
          –You only sent one person–who had obvious behavior problems–to the training on a new project

          Even if we accept that the employee was a jerk with no respect for anyone and that he wanted to go for the viral “flounce” story, there’s enough here on your end to warrant some serious consideration. If we accept that this former employee was at fault, this raises the question: Why did you let him linger for so long? And the obvious corollary: What can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

          1. Meh*

            Agree with all these points! And also – why did you choose him for training and not someone else? Was he, at the time, more trustworthy and then something changed? Why? Or was he always a bit of a loose cannon and you sent him for other reasons? Lots of variables here, and OP may never have the answers, but they did have warning signs that things were going south that went ignored and so it’s a good chance for reflection. Yes, the employee IS at fault, but there’s still a chance to learn from what happened so it doesn’t happen again.

            1. Dust Bunny*

              I wondered this, too–if he’s a problem employee why did they invest this in him?

              Which might be a sign of either bad management or under-staffing (everyone else was even more overworked).

      2. Roland*

        They had plans in place for cross training – the guy just quit before it happened. I really don’t think they did anything wrong without the benefit of hindsight.

        1. BethDH*

          Agree. And I can see the OP writing in before the training saying the employee was seeming a bit volatile and missing assignments and having people say to give him the benefit of the doubt and maybe he’s having a personal health crisis that he shouldn’t have to disclose and all that.
          And if this kind of project and training is his job, sending someone else would be really insulting if there were just some warning signs for a few weeks.
          It’s great to have multiple people trained on every system and topic that’s critical to your org, but I’ve never worked at a place that was so well-staffed that it could do that for everything.
          It’s great if OP can learn some lessons about backups and whatever, but an employee who is determined to wreak havoc generally can.

      3. Clobberin' Time*

        I don’t understand this. Is it really that odd to send one employee for training and to ask them to share what they learned/crosstrain other employees?

        1. Anon for this*

          You generally want at least two, simply because you never know what is going on with the one employee’s life. They could be in the final round of interviewing for a new position but not willing to say anything until it’s final when you send them off to train. You never know.

    4. Courageous+cat*

      I think people (including myself) are so quick to blame the employer in many situations that we forget that some employees can be assholes, too. I’ve had coworkers quit with no notice for no reason good reason. There isn’t always something deeper. Sometimes a person leaving you in a lurch is just… that, unfortunately.

    5. Emily*

      Meh: I think this is an overstatement. It’s not like multiple employees quit like this. It’s one employee who sounds like a difficult personality.

      1. Meh*

        There are definitely jerks and I’ve worked with plenty of them! But the OP did mention that this employee was becoming hard to work with. Did no one ask why? It could be work related or personal, but it feels like some warning signs were missed. Again, I don’t condone his actions, and it truly could have been something beyond the company’s control. But if I were the OP, I’d at least reflect on how things went down to see if I could have handled things better on my end as well.

        1. Emily*

          From OP’s letter it sounds like the employee’s behavior was addressed with him. I worry sometimes in the comment section there is a tendency to think bad behavior needs to be explained or rationalized or other people should try and seek fault in themselves for the behavior of someone else. If OP realizes there are things they could do differently, great, but there are going to be odd people and jerks who behave a certain way because they are odd and/or jerks, and there is no other explanation. If multiple people start quitting this way, that is when OP should worry.

  13. Llama Llama*

    Whether there were notes or not, the best thing for the company is to send someone to get training. Someones notes are most likely are not effective enough to be the SME.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      In addition to this, I would recommend the company implement a backup system that isn’t employee-dependent. My company does backups of everyone’s user folder to the server on a regular basis, even if you’re not saving documents into the network project files or document management system. If I had someone delete their files, I’ve got a few weeks to pull their backups and restore the materials.

      1. Phryne*

        Yep. I’ve accidentally deleted whole archives at work, and they were recovered within hours with only the last hours missing.

  14. An Extremely Fresh Start*

    20ish years ago when I moved into the (manager) job I still hold, my predecessor had quit in a fit of pique over something so ridiculous I’m not even going to go into it, but it’s on par with “because we started hanging the llama shears to the left of the combing gear instead of to the right.” They did give notice, but basically from the moment the change was made it was 2 weeks and zero minutes. I came from another department doing similar work in the same organization, different building, so I wasn’t coming in with nothing at all, but due to some other general chaos happening at the same time for unrelated reasons, I was coming into a situation of staffing flux other than the manager position, and so there was no one TO onboard me, and this was long enough ago that institutionally it didn’t seem to anyone that this was totally absurd even though this was my first managing job.

    So I show up with keys and an office, and start trying to understand the lay of the land. I start meeting the employees, understanding how the schedule is built and how and where we do what things. I learn that under my predecessor the only correct answer when any level of staff receive a question to which they do not have a specific answer that they have been gifted by the manager is to never ever attempt to problem-solve, but only to refer the issue to the manager. I think this is garbage because the people who work in the department are all grownups who can definitely make decisions for low- and medium-stakes things, and so I figure OK I’ll look for the manager’s internal documentation about how they generally made these decisions, and mine that for content as a starting point; my general approach as a manager was then and is now to trust that staff are fundamentally likely to be competent and only walk that back when they demonstrate they are not.

    This is when I discover the state of the files.

    My computer, inherited, has an entire directory structure of files, the names of which indicate they are the documentation I am looking for. All of them are saved such that they are read-only, with editing password protected. All of them have only a title, and no content. What.

    Then I start investigating the file cabinet and the entire bookcase of three-ring binders. Same deal. Entire file structure, dividers that say what should be there, literally no content of any kind.

    The only file on the computer that had content was a single page, which had the username and password for all my predecessor’s online shopping accounts. I am not kidding, and I think it’s just as well I am a person who has heard of ethics, because while I did not do anything terrible with her data, I was not able to restrain my curiosity enough not to just go see whether these passwords were valid and held payment information (yes, valid, yes, credit card information).

    IT was not able to recover anything in the password protected files, and either they had recycled or tossed their paper files off-site, or they’d had it picked up for the shredder before they left.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      Wow. They didn’t delete the files, they erased the content and saved the blank files. That’s 10x extra shitty behavior.

      I may have issues with a job, but when I leave it I don’t try to sandbag the next poor sod who takes my place. That’s just plain mean, doesn’t hurt the company as much as my (innocent) successor, and would make me seem like a petty b@stard.

      Also, it may be legally actionable because those documents are a work product belonging to the company, but IANAL. Better safe than sorry, though.

  15. Cait*

    I agree with Alison that, if you have a lawyer available and the funds to pursue this legally, you should. But this is also a good lesson for the future. If any one person disappearing overnight can cause a huge amount of stress, loss of revenue, etc. then you need to install some safe-guards. For example, bite the bullet and send two people to those training sessions and require cross-training to happen within X days. Implement a system that backs up all files in real time. Create a section in your employee handbook about file storage and the offboarding process. Hoping for the best but preparing for the worst is the best way for any company to approach this kind of situation.

    1. Lucy P*

      The whole thing made me question their data storage policy. Current company’s policy is that all important files, even works in progress, get stored on the server.

      First reason is filing sharing. If person A works on it today, but is out tomorrow, then person B has to have access to it so they can work on it.

      Second reason is backup. We need to make sure nothing gets lost. On top of that, we have lots of redundancy in backups.

      Managers also get a daily report to say what was deleted from the server. In addition to spotting malicious deletions, it really helped when people were randomly and accidentally deleting a crucial file here or there.

  16. KatEnigma*

    It’s easy for LW to say that being consistently 3-5 minutes late returning when someone is covering you is no big deal. It’s clearly a big deal to the people waiting for her to show back up! I think LW2 expected Alison to blindly back her, given the usual advice of allowing adults to govern their time and to not be micromanagers as long as the work is getting done, ignoring the caveat that Alison always includes about jobs that require coverage being a different story.

    1. Artemesia*

      It is inappropriate for those inconvenienced to be blasting emails all over the workplace about it. They should bring it to the OP who should then DO SOMETHING about it. It is not ok for someone relieving people at a desk to be late 5 minutes repeatedly. Stuff can happen — but when it happens often it is unacceptable.

      1. Emily*

        I agree that the blasting emails is inappropriate, but I am guessing it’s a move born of frustration. It’s clear OP is not going to do anything about is, so they probably feel stuck. However, I do think the bosses of the admins from other departments should be addressing it with OP and saying, “Jane being late back from lunch is affecting our admins in X and Y ways, and we need to address it”.

      2. KatEnigma*

        The email wasn’t “all over the workplace.”

        It was only to the other admins and LW, the late person’s boss, who should have been addressing the problem already! That, to me, sounds like a CYA email, so they’d all have a copy that they had alerted LW to the problem

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

    Is the company 100% certain — like they’ve seen them with their own eyes certain — that the files and notes existed in the first place? The reason for quitting without notice might have been that he wasn’t actually doing anything at all and was about to be found out. He could have attended and taken no notes or such scant notes that they were just the web address to a training video and phone number to the help desk. My notes on new tech/training has become pretty non-existent over the years because I usually only need to bookmark a webpage and maybe remember the password if it’s behind a paywall.

  18. Lady_Lessa*

    I can appreciate where the ex-employee felt, but would never act on such feelings. Not fair to the other folks.

    However, I do wish that someone would go through the files of my late boss to delete the non-work related ones. In looking for info about an informal project he did some work on, I opened at least one or more that were personal. (I never found the info, so I just made an educated guess about how much and what to use)

  19. Random Bystander*

    On the sniping on the co-worker returning late–one thing from my personal experience that would bear checking into is if there were delays in “Jane” *leaving* for her lunch or break.

    Years ago, my job included taking incoming phone calls, and there were four of us in the office who shared this duty. We’ll call my co-workers Ann, Beth, and Dot for this illustration. We were each assigned lunch times, and you were not supposed to leave for yours if the person before you had not returned. So, the assigned times: Ann 11:30-12; Beth 12-12:30; me 12:30-1; Dot 1-1:30. More than once, either Ann or Beth (or sometimes both) would take lunches greater than 30 minutes (which would definitely compound if Ann had taken 35 minutes and Dot took 40 on the same day). Dot, however, would leave at 1 for her lunch no matter what (and was apparently the golden child of the office, because this was a-ok with supervisor). So if I didn’t get to leave for lunch until 12:45, if I took a full lunch (until 1:15), Ann and Beth would complain that they were short-handed when Dot left for her lunch. If I tried to leave at 12:30 but Beth wasn’t back yet, I had to pass Ann on my way out of the room, and she would then complain that I had left them short handed by leaving before Beth’s return … the only recourse to not end up called on the carpet (and I did get write ups over this, even when it could be documented by the phone system that I was *on a call* that started at 12:40 so that I clearly was not able to leave for my lunch at 12:30) was to take short lunches (and since the system auto-deducted the half hour lunch, that meant that I was routinely working 12-18 minutes unpaid every day).

    Part of the reason I was the one who always was on the short end of things was when a different co-worker stood up for me on a completely different matter … there were two locations for the company, and my supervisor wanted all four of us to cross-train to cover a different/slightly related position at Location B. Thing was that all three of the others had very slight differences in commute between normal location and alt location (Beth had a sibling in town of Location B, so she’d just stay with her sibling and not have a commute, otherwise she would have been in the same boat as me; Dot’s difference was about 5mi round trip). However for me, there was an almost 25mi difference in the round trip commute–company policy was that if you routinely worked at Location A and were requested to work at Location B, you would get the difference in commute at IRS mileage rates added to your pay. Obviously, 24+ miles/day for 5 days a week would add up to some substantial money, and when I had asked about reimbursement was told “no, there’s no reimbursement” (that would have been true for Ann–the first one who went, as she actually had a *shorter* commute to Location B than her normal commute). Since I had zero fat in my budget to absorb the additional cost of gas, the only place I could scrape the money from was my own food (not my children’s), meaning that I would be giving them breakfast, they got free lunch at school, and we would all eat supper–I would not be able to eat breakfast or lunch during that week. Well, the training co-worker at Location B had an absolute fit when she found out that I wasn’t eating at lunch time, called her friend in the Finance Dept who said “actually, the company policy is …” Well, I got paid the reimbursement for the two days I had actually gone, then boss said that it wasn’t necessary for me to go again, and from then on … yeah, I was being bullied.

    So, the story just makes me wonder if Jane is somehow being prevented from leaving at the correct time, and then the co-workers are sniping at her for returning “late” (like if she left for lunch 5 minutes late due to coverage not showing up on time and then actually took her full 30 minute lunch).

  20. Dorothy Lawyer*

    Allison, please note on #1 that no ethical attorney would ever assist a client in threatening prosecution for illegal activity but state that client would not pursue prosecution if property was returned (or money paid). This is called extortion and it is unethical for an attorney to engage in extortion.

    1. FrivYeti*

      Not a lawyer, so there might be a nuance I’m missing, but that doesn’t sound right.

      “We have a problem, and if that problem is not resolved we will pursue legal action related to that problem” seems like a pretty straightforward description of the first stage of almost all legal actions. For it to be extortion, they would have to be demanding property or money unrelated to the issue at hand, wouldn’t they?

      To use an example, Akiva Cohen just published an open letter to Elon Musk and Twitter demanding that Twitter give employees the severance and benefits that they were promised, otherwise they will launch arbitration. That’s definitionally threatening legal action if money is not paid.

      In this case, the communication would be “we would like to resolve this and recover the materials that you took; if you don’t return them, we will need to undertake legal action to get them back.” Am I missing a detail?

      1. Artemesia*

        I was given advice similar to this years ago when tempted to threaten criminal legal action if someone didn’t return something. I think civil suits are different but you cannot bargain with criminal prosecution as a citizen without being open to possible claims of extortion. Don’t do it without legal advice.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I’m with you. That’s basically what a cease and desist is, right? Cut it out or we’ll sue you?

        Even if that example is not accurate this feels like a really common thing.

      3. Nea*

        I was wondering about that myself. I assume there’s a typo in the original because illegal activity absolutely warrants threats of prosecution.

        Quitting without notice is not itself illegal; however, LW doesn’t say if the company put stipulations on the training such as “must work here for x months or repay the cost” which were broken.

        LW, if you read this – maybe your company should add a clause like that.

      4. Clobberin' Time*

        Akiva Cohen’s letter didn’t threaten criminal prosecution. That’s the difference. Settle or we will sue is a demand letter. Settle or we will push for criminal charges is likely to be unethical.

      5. L.H. Puttgrass*

        I think what’s confusing people is that the CFAA is both a criminal and civil statute. The company could privately sue the former employee, or they could complain to the DA and hope that the DA charges the former employee with a crime.

    2. Really?!*

      Thank for explaining that. I work legal adjacent and some of things I hear people “think” is OK in the eyes of the law is…..NOT.

  21. cantaloupe*

    I just wanted to say that I thought Allison’s response to #2 was so good. What a calm, level approach!

  22. Not So Super-visor*

    I had an employee who ghosted us and quit and locked all of the excel workbooks that she was responsible for before she left. She did it on purpose because they were not previously locked because they were shared only among a specific group that handled the information. it was ridiculous and petty.
    She then tried to use my previous boss as a reference for a new job but gave his work number. He’d retired by the time they called, so the call was transferred to me.

    1. dream weaver*

      The using your boss’ boss as a reference hack is very confusing to me. I had someone who left on bad terms and they asked my boss to serve as a reference for them in the future. You mean… the boss that also worked with you? and had to endorse your PIP?

    2. Nea*

      A long time ago I picked up a lot of overtime pay going through the company’s physical files and putting them back into alphabetical order with all the materials in the corresponding folders.

      The previous assistant had decided that redoing the filing system into something only she understood was a guarantee of job security. When they fired her she sued on the basis of having spent all that time creating a custom filing system that she, personally, was needed to maintain.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I’d love to read the complaint on that, just to see the legal basis of that theory.

  23. PaybackIsATerribleThing*

    This may be an Unpopular Opinion, but in the past my reaction would have been “what a jerk”. But with all that has transpired in the past few years, and seeing how awfully employers treat employees (both from seeing friends get royally screwed, to myself getting royally screwed), honestly I’m cheering for the employee just a little bit. Yeah, deleting the files was foolish, but we aren’t getting the employee’s side of the story. Honestly it’s refreshing to see an employer get screwed for a change.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      Years ago, I worked at a city government and a departing employee took paper files and destroyed them. This was before computers, so there were no backups of any kind. It wasn’t just the employer that got screwed – it was the people living in that city.

      And it’s really usually that way – it’s never just the employer. It’s the co-workers who have to deal with the fallout, the people who use whatever the employer is selling or providing. It’s always people who are affected.

    2. Dinwar*

      This sort of attitude is why we can’t have nice things in our culture.

      When you go out of your way to hurt someone you are still allowing them to control you. You’re not free; you’re still bound to them, still under their thumb. If they’re that bad, why let them have that control over you? The goal should be to remove them from your life as thoroughly as possible, not to let them live rent-free in your mind!

      Worse, you don’t really know who you’re screwing over. It’s easy to write them off as “an employer”–a nameless, faceless entity–but you don’t know that that’s where it stops. These sorts of temper tantrums (and it’s nothing more than that) can very easily become balls of entropy, engulfing the lives of people you haven’t even met. ThursdayGeek provides an example of one such case, but others will no doubt spring to mind. Remember, it’s not a nameless, faceless entity that exists only as a source of evil that has to fix this. It’s Joanne, a single mother with two children, one of whom is Special Needs, who’s now working overtime thanks to you. It’s Jake who’s going through a nasty divorce and now has to deal with your crap on top of it. It’s Susan who was finally going to get that promotion but now the manager can’t swing it because they’re fixing your mess.

      And what do you get out of it? It feels good in the moment, but so does heroine. In the long term you’ve destroyed any chance of a professional relationship with this company moving forward, quite possibly removing any possibility of working in that industry. And think about what it does to your psyche. You’re basically training yourself to act like a spoiled child rather than a mature adult. Look at recent studies on venting anger/frustration to see what this does to you.

      The mature way to handle an intolerable situation is to walk away. Burn the bridge if you must, but DON’T lite the people behind it on fire. Some of them may be looking to you for a lifeline! If you must seek vengeance (and to be clear, it’s not always a bad thing, some people deserve it), that’s what the legal system, mass boycotts, and sites like GlassDoor are for. There are ways to go about ensuring that people get punished that are appropriate for adults in a civilized society, and which benefit the victims and society as a whole. “Douse the place in gasoline and light a match” isn’t one of them (unless you’re a fire department doing a controlled burn for training purposes).

      1. T*

        That’s an absolutely terrible argument.

        Don’t get me wrong. I agree the leaving employee isn’t a hero for deleting these files (if they ever existed – like other commenters, I have my doubts that he even did the work in the first place.)

        But no, you should never take personal responsibility for what a workplace demands of your coworkers or former coworkers. By that logic, nobody should ever quit a job at all. Every day, Joannes and Jakes have worse days because they lack coverage because the companies they work for are running off anyone with the option to leave. That is not the fault of the person leaving. It’s the fault of the company. And, frankly, any blowback of this employee’s decision onto other employees is also the fault of the company; the company chose to make him a single point of failure to save a bit of cash, even though he was demonstrably unreliable.

        To put it another way – if I were in this position, I wouldn’t be angry with the guy who left, regardless of his petty behavior. I’d be angry with the management who had made the decision to give him the power to do this in the first place. And I’d be extremely wary of any of my coworkers who were angry with him.

        Also, no, the legal system, boycotts, and GlassDoor are not for ‘vengeance’. Adults do not ‘seek vengeance’. This is exactly the type of thinking I’d be wary of.

      2. I+went+to+school+with+only+1+Jennifer*

        Thank you.

        I get pretty frustrated with people who talk about “the employer” as though it’s not just a single legal entity, but also a single person. But it’s not, it’s a whole bunch of people who together make up a corporate entity, and who will individually suffer or not based on someone’s actions.

        1. PaybackIsATerribleThing*

          Well…. like I said, “This may be an Unpopular Opinion”. All these responses are valid arguments, but in the current climate, when people get treated like dirt by their employer, they’re not always going to have reasoned responses. Employers need to take this in to account and start treating people better. Dunno what else to tell you….

  24. over sharing Shelly*

    When I was going through my divorce, I told a few of my closest coworkers and word got around. It was kind of sweet, everyone in my department gave me a card and a potted plant.

    I don’t work there anymore and my divorce barely rates a footnote in my life anymore, but knock wood the plant is still doing well!

    Best of luck to you.

    1. Phryne*

      A good friend of mine split up with her partner of 17 years a couple of years ago. They were living in another country, so all family and most friends were 800 km away. It was very ugly and one of them moving out right away was not an option, so a seriously stressful home situation.
      At some point she told me she was afraid for her job, because she had trouble performing at her usual level. She had not told anyone at work what was going on, she thought that would be unprofessional. I advised her to tell them. Going through a breakup is a normal human occurrence. It is not shameful, and pretty much everyone knows how hard it is and how it can impact you. And pretty much anyone can relate to it and be willing to cut you some slack because of it.
      Fortunately, it worked so much better than just fine. Turns out her co-workers were an incredibly social and kind bunch. They offered her all sorts of help, took her out to take her mind off it, offered her a bed if she needed time out of the flat. She made permanent friends she still is in touch with three jobs onwards.
      It depends a lot on your workplace, but sometimes being open about stuff really is the best thing to do for yourself.

  25. Gerry Keay*

    I once received an email from a C-suite member (not in my chain of command) about his divorce. His wife did not work at the company, and I had never met her or even seen her. He sent it to his entire team and our entire satellite office. It was deeply bizarre and I had no idea why I was receiving the information or what I was supposed to do with it.

    1. Gerry Keay*

      Oh, one more component to the weirdness — my only real memory of him talking about his wife was drunk at a work retreat, and he told an NSFW joke about her and her sexuality. She was not present and it made me wonder a LOT about whether misogyny was the cause of their divorce, so if anything, the announcement just made me speculate even more — the opposite of its intended effect.

  26. MD*

    There’s a version of the story in #1, probably, in some other site like /r/antiwork where the worker explains how he got back at his bad management who didn’t listen to him after months of complaints and he’s getting rounds of uncritical applause there just like the LW is here. Truth is usually not so clean.

  27. Anonynonybooboo*

    I know we aren’t supposed to add our own details to the letters, so I will say this:

    I have been the only one sent to a training, and have been tasked with cross-training others.

    Their lack of training when I moved on from that project was not from lack of effort on my part, and all materials were shared/stored in a central location.

    Having heard feedback later that “no one was trained before you moved on”…well, there’s always the possibility the issue wasn’t the employee that left.

  28. I 'm just here for the cats!*

    I know these are old but in regards to letter 1, is Jane getting out for lunch on time. I work at a front desk and even if someone comes directly at 12 to relieve me for my lunch I’m often on a call with a client or helping someone who has come in to the office. And it’s not like I can just pass the phone off to someone else just because its 12. So if Jane was helping someone and didn’t get to go until 12:05 she should be able to make up those 5 minutes because and be back at 1:05. This is especially the case if she lives in a state that has strict regulations for breaks. Also, if she only gets 30 minutes for lunch, you bet she should get every one of those 30 minutes.

  29. Aggretsuko*

    A friend of mine works at a company where one of the employees was an idiot (kept trying to get her to do his work) AND he had somehow gotten special dispensation to use his home computer instead of getting a work one. Well, one day it’s announced that “Elon” no longer works there, and then oh, gee, they can’t get any of the work off his home computer and he seems to have deleted everything on their servers…

    Though “was unable to do the job” also sounds like a plausible reason for this too.

  30. Sarah*

    OP1 is never going to be able to prove notes were deleted on purpose in attempt to hurt the company.

    I was laid off with 60 days notice. During this time, I took all my important files and organized them nicely in clearly labeled folders. I also created a Word Doc to explain how they were organized. A week before my last day, I put them all on a thumb drive, gave it to the guy taking over my role, and offered to go through them and explain anything to him. He never bothered to even loom through the files before I left. My final day. I wiped my hard drive before handing over my laptop.

    2 weeks after I left, I got a frantic phonecard. The thumb drive had gotten corrupted and all the important files couldn’t be accessed anymore. I told the guy that I had tried to make sure everything was copied onto his computer before I left, that I no longer worked for the company, and it wasn’t my problem.

    Obviously the intention of the former employee is very different in each of these circumstances, but from the outside it’d be very difficult to tell the difference.

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