after I hired someone, a mutual friend told me I’d made a huge mistake

A reader writes:

I made a pretty big hiring mistake and I’m not really sure how to proceed.

I recently hired a new employee — let’s call him Julian — for a fairly niche role within my company. Julian’s background aligned well with the role, all communication was timely and professional, he gave polished first and second interviews, and his salary ask was exactly to budget. He seemed like the perfect candidate.

Minutes after I sent Julian his offer letter, I got an unrelated call from a friend — let’s call him Pete — who wanted to catch up. Pete and Julian and I all used to work in the same industry. Pete and Julian worked for the same company at one point, though it was highly unlikely they would’ve known each other because Pete was working at the corporate office doing X and Julian was at a worksite doing Y.

When Pete asked how things were going at work, I responded with, “Great now that I just extended an offer to a candidate for X.” I then mentioned how Julian was also a veteran of our former field.

“Shot in the dark,” I went, “but you don’t happen to know Julian do you? He used to work at your former company.”

Pete cursed and went, “Why didn’t you call me before you extended that offer? I do know Julian. He was a nightmare!” Pete then asked if it was too late to pull the offer — it was.

Pete then told me how he personally had to go to Julian’s worksite to fire and escort him off the premises because there had been multiple reports of Julian acting erratically — like, having screaming matches with himself — and making female coworkers feel unsafe. Pete said his former company offered Julian both mental health and substance abuse counseling before letting him go, but Julian refused both offers.

I did call Julian’s references before hiring him. He did not provide a reference for his last position, but I didn’t question it because his other references were good.

Presently, Julian’s completed two days of training with me and has had zero issues.

I just don’t know what to do with the information that Pete gave me. Do I bring up my conversation with Pete to Julian? And am I obligated to bring this information to my boss? If Julian got the help he needed, I’m sure he’d also like to move on from that experience.

At this point, I’d do nothing with the information. You’ve hired him, his other references were good, and you’re not seeing problems so far.

What Pete told you is alarming, but it’s not easily actionable now that you’ve hired him. It would be different if you’d learned something that you absolutely had to dig into — like that Julian forged the license his job requires, or he fabricated significant information about his work history or skills. But that’s not really this. Making coworkers feel unsafe is a big deal and I don’t mean to minimize that … but it sounds very possible that he had a mental health crisis that could have since been resolved.

(It’s also possible that Pete’s information isn’t accurate, although it sounds like he has firsthand knowledge and presumably no reason to lie to you.)

Of course, there’s also a chance that the issues Pete saw are ongoing and will show up sooner or later. So you should be sure to pay enough attention that you’ll be able to catch any problems early, which should include checking in on how things are going with people who are working with him. Frankly, you should always do that with any new employee, and this is no different! But having Pete’s info gives you some context so you’ll be able to act more decisively if you do see or hear concerning things. Otherwise, if you hadn’t heard from Pete but started to have concerns about Julian, you might wonder if something had been misinterpreted or otherwise second-guess yourself; with Pete’s background info, you’ll presumably feel more confident intervening earlier if you need to. (That doesn’t mean you should approach Julian with suspicion! But use this as additional impetus for the work you should always do to ensure you know how things are going with a new hire.)

As for whether to share what Pete said with your boss … I’m leaning toward no. It risks biasing her against Julian when there may be no issues at all. But if you do start seeing problems, it makes sense to raise it at that point so that she’s able to assess things through the same lens as you.

For now, though, since Julian is already working for you, give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s moved on from whatever went wrong when he worked with Pete. If it turns out he hasn’t, you can be prepared to act.

Read an update to this letter

{ 289 comments… read them below }

  1. Ellie Rose*

    As someone who prefers to err on the side of not hiring people who make others feel unsafe…I still agree with Allison.

    I think this is one of the few times where the specific underlying issue really could make a difference.

    For example, unmedicated Bipolar Disorder (among others) can sometimes cause hallucinations and erratic behavior. Some people don’t need medication and some *really* do and it can change.

    I know someone well who, after 2 years, suddenly started speaking to themselves and being uncharacteristically unreliable. They got back on medication, took 6 months time, and have turned back to even more reliable than before, no incidences in the past year.

    It’s not OK to be acting like that on a job, but screaming matches with yourself are a sign that something is *unusually* wrong, and if it’s related to not having an essential medication, it’s possible it is resolved and will not return.

    1. Ellie Rose*

      To be clear, there are other reasons someone could experience a psychotic break (where you hallucinate for a short period of time, including voices), and the majority of people can live normal lives after they understand what happened and seek treatment.

      There is definitely not enough information to determine what, specifically, happened, but I think knowledge around psychosis is low enough that I wanted to mention it because it’s much scarier and weirder if you don’t know that it’s treatable, don’t know what can cause it, etc.

      1. Wintermute*

        This is important to call out. It is very possible for someone to have a serious issue that is resolved completely with medication. While rare, it is even possible for someone to have a complete psychotic break and never have a recurrence again in their life without requiring treatment at all. Medication reactions are one common source of this (one of my favorite youtubers has a fairly harrowing story about her teen years when antidepressants caused a psychotic episode), but stress, infections, insomnia, there are many potential reasons.

        There’s just so much we don’t know here, far too much to take any serious adverse action.

        1. Ellie Rose*

          Yes, I really regret saying “bipolar” in my first comment as an example, since psychosis is a symptom, not a specific disorder.

          *I* know it was just an example, but bipolar is stigmatized too much as it is. My apologies to anyone who has to deal with it in their life.

          I have personally experienced hallucinations from an allergic reaction to an antibiotic, which should’ve been my example instead.

          1. KatEnigma*

            Codeine is really common in prescription cough syrups, still, and adverse reactions are common and sometimes cause psychosis!

            But I don’t think you misstepped using the example that came to your mind based on your own experience. People just get defensive because there is so much stigma associated with Bipolar specifically.

            1. Dr. Vibrissae*

              My spouse was on a narcotic after a surgery, and I unknowingly gave them auditory and visual hallucinations by also providing over the counter cough syrup with dextromethorphan and guaifenesin. Don’t do that.

              But just to provide another example of how drug interactions can do weird stuff, and to confirm that yes it sounds like he was having some very serious symptoms (from unknown cause) that he is not currently showing and has hopefully resolved. If his performance and behavior in this role remain as reliable as what you have seen so far, then there is not a need to act on this information at all.

      2. olddog*

        Seems like right out of the gate comments went to speculation about mental health diagnoses. This seems unreasonable and grossly speculative. This seems to happen a lot on this this site imoand I don’t love it.

        1. Ellie Rose*

          normally, I 100% agree with you, and I regret specifically saying “Bipolar” in my original post because there are many causes. Psychosis is a symptom of many things, including allergic reactions and fevers.

          This isn’t a case of “they’re kind of unreliable — maybe they are depressed” or “you should be nicer to them: they might have anxiety” or even “you can’t trust them — they have mental health issues”.

          Episodes of psychosis can happen to people who do NOT have other existing mental health issues, and are not necessarily an underlying issue: they can be one off issues. I once had hallucinations due to an allergic reaction after taking an *antibiotic*, and have no reason to suspect it will happen ever again (unless I take that antibiotic).

          It is relevant AND important to understand that they are exhibiting symptoms of psychosis or other serious issues.

          It’s like…if someone threw up at work, right in the middle of the office, and commenters assume there is an underlying cause, because people don’t just vomit for no reason.

          Yelling matches (plural) *with yourself* is not something to take lightly. It is extremely unusual behavior that should immediately warrant a visit to a medical professional.

          1. Constance Lloyd*

            I agree with this. I think it’s fair to discuss mental health symptoms and management because they were raised by the letter writer herself. She is also, frankly, asking if she should terminate someone’s employment based on perceived mental health diagnoses. IANAL and I know better than to comment on the legality of anything in an online forum, but I know if I were in LW’s situation I would have a lot of questions about the legal implications of ending Julian’s employment based on Pete’s comments.

            1. Heidi*

              Letter-writer here…

              I think you’ve misread why I wrote in. Not trying to terminate anyone’s employment—my questions were more along the lines of “do I tell my boss?” and “how do I manage this situation going forward?”

            1. Ellie Rose*

              My point stands: this is *not* a normal behavior, and is far enough outside the norm that assuming something unusual is causing it is logical.

              Whether or not you think this implies auditory hallucinations doesn’t change that, and I am not trying to diagnose anything.

              1. Cait*

                I understood what you meant. You were giving an example that happened to be a mental illness, but it was just an example. It could also have been carbon monoxide poisoning! No one is trying to armchair diagnose. We’re just pointing out that his behavior could very well have been a blip that has passed and giving him the benefit of the doubt is probably the best way to go.

        2. KatEnigma*

          It’s unfair to speculate about a specific diagnosis.

          But as per Alison’s refreshed site rules, this was something that was specifically in the letter. People don’t act in the way described without it being some sort of psychosis. This isn’t commenters creating fanfic out of thin air.

      3. Iris Eyes*

        Agreed I have a friend who experienced psychosis after an illness that lasted for about a month, her whole personality changed and she was hallucinating. It was pretty scary for everyone involved. A dozen years later and no re-occurrence.

        So certainly keep an eye out for it being tied to a character issue or chronic issue but it really could have just been a very acute temporary issue.

    2. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

      My brother has bipolar and it’s night and day how he is on his medication. He is just the same as most people of medicated.

      Keep and eye out for things but if he got treatment and appropriate medication, he can be a great hire.

      1. Lilo*

        I have a sibling with bipolar disorder and ine thing to understand is that medications that were working may stop working or side effects become intolerable so they’d go off them and we’d be right back to where we were.

        So anyone telling you that Julian is totally resolved and this won’t be an issue again strikes me as someone who hasn’t spent time around someone with mental illness. I’m always always watching out for backtracking with my sibling because it has happened at least a dozen times.

        1. Phryne*

          ‘So anyone telling you that Julian is totally resolved and this won’t be an issue again strikes me as someone who hasn’t spent time around someone with mental illness.’

          No one is saying that though? People here are saying there are many reasons why this could be a one-off thing. Obviously if it is not, that would be the moment to take this knowledge from a previous employer into account, but not before.

        2. Zweisatz*

          Well OP doesn’t specifically know what happened and is not seeing any worrisome behavior right now. To do justice *to her employee* I sure think we should give as much benefit of the doubt as possible that any issue has been resolved.

          This doesn’t preclude action if something comes up.

    3. KatEnigma*

      Or they WERE on medication and needed an adjustment… A friend’s son started having violent outbursts that required her to call the police and he was put into the mental ward a couple times, until a doctor reduced the medication that he’d been on for X years. Getting a psychiatrist to rouse themselves to really look into things to try things that might help very unfortunately isn’t a given.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I’m on a medication that I respond very well to. My friend was on a similar medication and threw herself out of a moving car (she was fine).

        Mental health can be so, so tricky. It sounds like this was mostly just erratic behavior that made others uncomfortable. No one was harmed (I don’t love “made to feel unsafe”, but it’s vague and I wouldn’t hang much on it given other context), and he seems better now from your personal interactions with him. I’d just let him start this job with a clean slate. But keep an eye out.

        1. Bluebird*

          I agree that “made to feel unsafe” is both something I don’t love hearing but is also vague enough that without I’m not comfortable hanging much on it, especially not hearing it from the female coworkers themselves. I’ve been in situations first hand where people have said they felt unsafe around someone who was obviously going through some sort of mental/emotional health issue but when pressed for more information/details what they really meant was closer to uncomfortable, upset, sad, etc.

          1. Wintermute*

            agreed, also “feeling unsafe” is a place a lot of implicit biases live. A lot of people “feel unsafe” around displayed symptoms of mental illness, despite the fact people with serious diagnosed conditions are statistically way less likely to be violent and more likely to be victimized. But pop culture says they’re dangerous so that’s how “we” interpret it.

            As someone neurodivergent myself it’s a struggle, because it’s not fair to society to ask them to turn off their danger radar because it’s overactive sometimes, but at the same time a lot of “vague creepiness” is just the symptoms of some mental issue, cultural difference, or just personality trait which poses no actual danger to anyone.

            and that’s BEFORE you get to how “I felt unsafe!” is used by covert racists, various -phobes and other bigots.

            1. Harper the Other One*

              One of my big worries for my youngest, who is autistic and ADHD, is that a preferred stim is talking out loud, often while moving/walking. We’ve had the conversation about making sure you’re not disturbing others who are trying to concentrate but it’s a hard thing to say “this activity that comforts you and truly is harmless may result in people being afraid of you.”

              1. coffee*

                If they pretended to be talking into a mobile phone, headset, etc.; it might make other people feel more comfortable?

                1. Harper the Other One*

                  As kiddo gets older, that may actually be a great solution! And actually, I’ve already noticed them moderating that stim in public, so it may not be an issue long term if other strategies/stims are equally effective. But it did make me realize how behaviour I would have previously considered “erratic” is often totally harmless.

            2. Ace in the Hole*

              I agree with you overall, but I there’s one statement I see often that’s very misleading:

              >despite the fact people with serious diagnosed conditions are statistically way less likely to be violent and more likely to be victimized.

              This is true in the sense that people with serious diagnosed mental health conditions are more likely to be a vicitm of violence than a perpetrator.

              It is also true that the majority of violent crimes are committed by people who do not have serious, diagnosed mental health conditions.

              However, what the statement *sounds* like (and how people often interpret/use it) is that any given person with a serious diagnosed mental health condition is less likely to physically harm others than any given person without a mental health diagnosis. This is… unsupported, at best, and likely false. Especially if one does not restrict physical harm to deliberate violence, and includes unintentional/accidental harm (e.g. car crashes, accidental fires, knocking into people, causing an avoidable accident, etc). For example, on bad mental health days my wife shouldn’t drive because she’s likely to get in a serious accident that could hurt herself or someone else. With treatment and therapy she’s gained enough insight to recognize when she shouldn’t be behind the wheel, and she has a good enough support network that she’s never pressured to drive when she shouldn’t – but that took years to achieve and resources many people don’t have.

              This isn’t to say that most people with mental illness are dangerous. Nor do I think the fear many people have is justified – I think it’s mostly a product of poor education and lack of exposure. But, at the same time, I think it’s important to acknowledge that mental illness is a risk factor, and one of the reasons people may need treatment or support is to keep them from acting in ways that are dangerous to both themselves and the people around them. I just wish we had better education on differentiating between generally benign symptoms/behaviors vs red flags someone might be a risk (to themselves or to others). A lot of the behaviors people tend to get scared of are really harmless, while serious safety risks fly under the radar.

              1. Wintermute*

                That’s a very fair assessment. I was talking solely about violent crime not other harm, and naturally there are going to be exceptions– there are mental disorders that are a potential danger.

                But the common cultural conception is that psychotics, schizophrenics and the like are **inherently** dangerous and you need to keep them at arm’s length. There are some expressions of these disorders that could lead to violent behavior but they’re so rare it’s not sensible to be afraid of every mentally ill person. It’s a far more nuanced picture than “schizophrenic = likely to harm you” but that is the common cultural association/assumption.

          2. KatEnigma*

            People “feel unsafe” all the time for reasons that have nothing to do with the person they are blaming, and everything to do with their own biases toward gender, race, culture differences, LGBTQIA+, neurodiversity etc, etc, etc.

            1. KA*

              If someone is having a shouting conversation with themselves at work, that would definitely make others feel unsafe no matter the gender, ethnicity, etc, of the shouter.

              1. Nebula*

                That wouldn’t make me feel unsafe, it would make me feel concerned for the person doing it. You can never talk in absolutes about what people’s subjective experiences of a hypothetical situation might be. It’s not helpful.

              2. Phryne*

                In light of the issue reported in the letter, there is a huge difference between ‘he was shouting at himself and this made people feel unsafe’ and ‘he was shouting at people and this made them feel unsafe’.

              3. Eldritch Office Worker*

                It wouldn’t make me feel unsafe. That sounds like something going on mentally with the person that they’re, at worst, taking out on themselves, or perhaps struggling with reality. That makes the person much more likely to be victimized or harm themselves than be a danger to me. I’d be concerned and seek assistance but I wouldn’t assume I was unsafe.

          3. Ace in the Hole*

            I’ve also encountered a lot of people who genuinely feel unsafe around people who exhibit certain mental health symptoms. They get scared by people yelling at a wall, having conversations with themself about something that makes no sense, moving in erratic/unpredictable ways, etc.

            That sucks for everyone involved, but it doesn’t mean the person they’re scared of did anything wrong, dangerous, or inherently threatening.

        2. Wintermute*

          I agree with you I don’t love “made to feel unsafe” because it covers so much ground, including unhelpful ground. I always advise people to interrogate their gut feelings like that because vague feelings of danger are where implicit biases live.

      2. CommanderBanana*

        I was on a low dose of SSRs for years and it worked fine until one day it didn’t. Apparently your brain figuring its way around an SSRI is a Thing. My chronic depression, which was under control on the medication, suddenly worsened and after about 5 days I realized something was really wrong.

        I got switched to the same dose of a different but similar SSRI and it seems to be fine so far.

        1. KatEnigma*

          Yes. I just wanted to float the real possibility that Julian wasn’t necessarily “off his meds” – with the implication that it was his choice – but that the same dose of the same meds after awhile can be the real cause of the sudden psychosis!

          1. BubbleTea*

            It was a different situation but I was on a medication for years with no issues. Supply chain problems meant I had to switch to an “identical” alternative brand for a bit, and it was pretty dire. Fortunately a friend spotted what was going on and I was able to switch back, but it’s wild how significantly a subtle change can affect you.

            1. Rainy*

              I take a birth control formulation that is older so basically every company has their own generic, I’ve done like four different generics of this particular pill, and each one has had slight different side effects. (The one that had all happy side effects and no annoying ones, of course, is only carried by the pharmacy chain that doesn’t honour my prescription plan.)

              In my experience drugs that are identical on paper are rarely identical once you’re taking them.

              1. CarlDean*

                I’ve done pharma patent litigation, and you are indeed correct. They are not the same. To be a generic, drug just had to be within acceptable equivalency range. But it is not identical. Actually, they are often designed to be just different enough not to violate the patent, so they can get to market sooner.

          2. Ellie Rose*

            Yes, I thought I’d edited my comment enough, but re-reading, I did not. My apologies: the phrase “off their meds” is one I should have avoided.

            It can be sudden changes to your reaction to the medication, or an interaction with something mundane, or a change in dose from your doctor, or 100% unrelated to ongoing mental health issues and caused by something like a fever (clearly not a fever in this case, but in other cases).

      3. Reluctant Mezzo*

        Yes, we also played Pharmacology Roulette for a few years with my son. The only problems are when they try to change it to something cheaper, aargggh.

    4. Constance Lloyd*

      It’s also worth noting that many conditions which involve psychosis do not present until adulthood, and just as with physical conditions, many people are perfectly healthy until they suddenly aren’t. Then, when properly treated, those symptoms largely resolve. Of course pay attention, but since he’s already been hired your best course of action is to focus on his present behavior and performance.

    5. ecnaseener*

      Yeah, what it comes down to for me is that at some point in the past, Pete’s company believed Julian needed help with mental health and/or substance abuse because of very obvious behaviors. He’s now presenting stably and not exhibiting those behaviors. The most obvious conclusion is that he got the help he needed and is currently fine.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        I really like this thinking! It gives Julian grace and could hopefully ease some of the OP’s regret.

      2. Rayray*

        I agree.

        People should be allowed to better themselves and improve. Maybe Julian really has turned things around and will be a great employee. It shouldn’t be held over his head because of a bad experience with a different employer.

      3. WeGetBetter*

        As a person in recovery this comment is what I needed to see.
        I am a completely different employee in sobriety, and having changed fields. I would be devastated to have worked so hard and be doing well and be torn down by my past behaviors.

      4. BUMBLEBEE*

        It’s also against the law (the ADA) to treat someone differently based on a perceived disability, which is what firing Julian, or following him around looking for signs of whatever psychological malady one has armchair-diagnosed him to have, would be.

    6. Meep*

      I agree, but you need to keep in mind that mental illness is cyclical. The main problem is you have to 1) want to be medicated and 2) stay on medication even after you are better. Many people think once they are better it is resolved, but mental illness is lifelong.

      I inherited bipolar disorder, OCD, and SAD from my grandmother who is not medicated. I will be on medication for the rest of my life; though, it was manageable without medication until I got C-PSTD from dealing with an also unmedicated narc.

      Said Narc had been fired from every job she ever worked, including this one. She will probably be fired from her current job within the 14-month average time period. She doesn’t want to be treated so there is nothing to be done.

      It looks like Julian got treatment and is great! But I agree with Alison that we need to be aware that he may get off his medication and see those warning signs before he needs to be escorted out again.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        But also, I have known someone who had a psychotic episode due to medication she was put on for a physical issue. Stopped taking that medication, no more psychosis.

      2. constant_craving*

        Some mental illnesses are lifelong, but some are not. We don’t know what, if any, diagnosis Julian had so there’s no good way of predicting the likelihood of it returning.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          Yes, exactly. And even lifelong ones may have a phase of being more severe, then stabilize and never get that bad again.

          This can happen for all kinds of reasons… physical health conditions interacting with mental health, some kind of unusually stressful event/circumstance, bad reaction to medications, initial misdiagnosis, etc.

    7. Meep*

      I agree, but you need to keep in mind that mental illness is cyclical. The main problem is you have to 1) want to be medicated and 2) stay on medication even after you are better. Many people think once they are better it is resolved, but mental illness is lifelong.

      I am happy Julian is doing #1 right now, but being on the look out for #2 isn’t the worst either.

      1. Bunny*

        And many, many, many, people with mental illnesses understand that we’re going to be on our meds for the rest of our lives, much in the way that a type 1 diabetic will be using insulin their whole lives.

        The assumption that all mental illnesses are cyclical and will likely involve going off of prescribed meds is problematic and does nothing but further the bias against those of us who have mental health issues or disorders.

        1. metadata minion*

          Yes, thank you! And even though things like bipolar disorder do tend to have flare-ups over time, this could look like “wow, Fred’s really talkative this week” or “Susan needs a modified schedule for the next few days to get her sleep cycle back under control”.

    8. Water*

      The new commenting rules were JUST posted, and this unhelpful derailing of the LW’s concerns is a prime example of why they were created. Let’s not do this.

  2. Lance*

    I assume it would be fair to have some discrete check-ins with (especially female, given what Pete said) co-workers after X period of time? Get some opinions from them in particular on how things may be looking, so you can get a good idea if there’s anything you need to cut off ahead of time.

  3. Bee*

    Keep your eyes peeled in case similar issues arise. Hopefully, the previous behaviors were due to a crisis or bananapants situation Pete didn’t know about that has since been resolved. . . . Since Julian received otherwise positive/glowing reports, it’s possible that the bad actions aren’t typical for him and he’s getting the help he needed previously.

    1. El l*

      Agree, that’s about all you can do.

      Watch for it, and if similar behavior comes to light now, err on the side of believing it.

      Until then, give him a chance to be good.

  4. Anon for this*

    Thank you, Alison! I’ve known people with mental health issues made many times worse by medication interactions. It is possible Julian has an addiction or mental health issue not well controlled at the time. Watch him, sure. But that firing could have been the wake-up call he needed to address his health.

  5. RagingADHD*

    I am curious about different people’s perspectives on two things:

    1) At what point making (specifically female) coworkers feel unsafe would rise to the level of “something you should dig into,” such as whether it was limited to the erratic shouting, or whether there were additional reasons, and

    2) Reasons why or why not LW should ask Julian about this new information.

    1. brillig*

      for 1) I think it’s one of those things that there’s just not much to dig into. Like LW could get more info from Pete (maybe they already have more than what was in the letter) but then what? They can’t exactly contact individual women from Julian’s past workplace, and his other references were good. I guess you could see if anything had been publicly documented like a harassment suit but assuming it wasn’t, just doesn’t seem like much to learn there

      for 2) though I think LW should ask Julian about it. The same as you could ask if an otherwise great candidate had a bad reference. Julian’s response may or may not tell LW anything new but it seems reasonable to bring it up.

        1. sacados*

          I mean, yes and no. You’re still allowed to take into account feedback you’ve heard from people in your network and/or ask a candidate about it, even if it comes from someone that the candidate didn’t “officially” list as a reference.

          I do agree about not asking in this case, though. Especially since if it was some kind of mental health or medical issue that’s now been resolved, it feels cruel/invasive to put Julian in a position where he’d have to disclose information that he would prefer to keep private (and that he’s probably worrying would cause his brand new job to view him in a negative light).

        2. 1850's Wisconsin*

          Hiring managers do not need to (and in Alison’s opinion should not) stick to the list of references provided by the candidate. It’s perfectly normal to reach out to one’s professional network, as OP did, it’s just unfortunate timing.

          1. Sloanicota*

            Yeah, not to blame OP at all, but what I learned for the future is to call the last place of employment whether they’re listed as a reference or not, which I believe is a perfectly common thing to do.

              1. Sloanicota*

                Well, this person was not currently employed there, as they had been walked off the job.

                1. introverted af*

                  We don’t necessarily know that Julian’s last place of employment was at the same place he was walked off the job by Paul. I specifically get the sense from the letter that that was a while ago

            1. KTinDC*

              Calling the last place of employment without permission is a great way to screw up the candidate’s standing there. Often the employer doesn’t know that the person is interviewing.

              1. Maglev No Longer to Crazytown*

                I have known people, and been one myself, trying to desperately flee a whistleblower retaliation scenario. There are many legitimate situations like this where calling the current place of employment, or former, is completely the wrong thing to do and does NOT provide an accurate picture.

              2. Wendy Darling*

                And heck, even if they’re already gone, there could be valid reasons they didn’t list a reference.

                I stopped using one of my old supervisors as a reference because I found out after they destroyed several job opportunities that they were either in denial or just super mad about me changing fields and telling everyone who called them that the switch was temporary and I was planning on returning to my original field within a year (I was not, and 10 years later still have not). I’d had several interview processes fall apart at the reference-checking stage before a kind interviewer gave me a heads up. It had never even occurred to me that someone would do such a thing so I hadn’t considered the possibility.

                1. Blackberry Tart*

                  Yup. I had a former supervisor who had been nothing but kind to my face tell me that she’d be delighted to be a reference for me. I’m incredibly grateful to the hiring manager who reached out to me after said former supervisor told her that I was untrustworthy and lied about being part of a minority group.

                  I’m bi and did LGBTQI+ community outreach at that job, as well as helping to overhaul the extremely out of date policies on inclusion. I’m also married to a man. I guess she thinks those two things are incompatible, and that I was Rachel Dolezal-ing being queer. I did get that job, have been here for seven extremely happy years, and can laugh at it now, but it was extremely upsetting at the time. For an added layer of hilarity, my husband is trans and we actually started dating years before he transitioned – I just don’t see any reason for me to disclose that at work of all places.

            2. Zach*

              Please do not do this or encourage it- it actually is *not* a common thing to do. I would be furious if someone called my current job without me explicitly giving permission for it. If a background check fell through for whatever reason and I was stuck at my current job, not only would I no longer have a new job, but my current job could be at risk because they know I’m looking at other opportunities.

              The exception is for the literal background check, which is usually a third party calling HR to ask if the candidate actually worked there. *This* is common and usually done in a way that doesn’t scream “getting a new job” because it could be for multiple reasons (a landlord vetting someone for a lease, tax stuff, etc.).

              1. NL*

                I’ve not seen it recommended here to call the person’s current job without their permission and in fact AAM strongly recommends against that.

                1. Sloanicota*

                  Yeah I didn’t mean a place they’re currently working. Sorry for the confusion everyone.

              2. Shandra*

                That doesn’t stop some people from calling their contacts at a candidate’s current employer, to try to get more candid information. In BigLaw firms, for one.

                Besides everything else, the problem with that is your contact might not know or have worked directly with the candidate. Just because Mike and Molly are both in the firm’s corporate law department, doesn’t mean they’ve worked together on any projects.

            3. learnedthehardway*

              You have to be very careful about this, in order to not violate a candidate’s right to privacy / confidentiality. Reaching out to a candidate’s current employer without their consent can lead to legal ramifications – eg. if you caused their employer to dismiss them, they could potentially sue. In Canada, a candidate would be able to complain to the privacy commissioner as well, since we do have privacy legislation here.

              The most I would do would be to call up and see if they are actually employed by the company – I’ve had to do that once or twice.

          2. Maglev No Longer to Crazytown*

            Honestly, they should stick to the list of references. I have a few supervisors I do NOT ever list as references… because they were pressuring me to do illegal things, and then retaliated against me when I finally whistleblew rather than commit federal crimes. Those people are still in manager positions, and I know have nothing nice to say about me, but the feeling is quite mutual. And they have hurt a good number of great employees since I left that toxic cesspool.

            Sometimes people have good reasons to omit people as references, which those in the “network” may not be privy to.

            1. Wendy Darling*

              I have a former manager I don’t list as a reference because she’s a vindictive asshole. I quit that job over her being a vindictive asshole and I don’t doubt she’d talk all manner of bad about me if anyone did call her. She did refuse to verify my employment for a background check for my next job, so I have reason to be concerned.

              She didn’t try to make me do anything bad. I was a data analyst and she continually blamed me personally for the data not saying what she wanted (e.g. a particular KPI stayed low even after they made changes to try to raise it — this was considered my fault). I’ve had three other jobs since and it was never a problem at any of those despite not really changing what I’m doing, so clearly the issue was her, but an interviewer has no way of knowing that.

              1. Maglev No Longer to Crazytown*

                I have since switched industries when I realized how toxic it was, and no place any better than any other in that field. But I fled a situation where I received whistleblower retaliation for reporting illegal activity and refusing to partake of it. Got recruited from the frying pan into the fryer, because that next role I got lured to by a recruiter: (1) I became persona non grata when I refused to falsify federal reporting in months 2, and fired for reporting sexual harassment and threatening behavior to HR several months after that. Integrity doesn’t mesh well with some nearly entirely male industries, and just being a woman makes you a target.

                I am in a far better type of business now, and thankfully have a LOT of good strong references from the first place where I was for many years. I know everyone wants to think everywhere people work is sane, friendly, and you can always count on a former supervisor for a reliable reference…. real life ain’t like that.

    2. Sunshine*

      I’m also curious about #2. Would there be anything wrong with having a convo with Julian along the lines of “Hey, it turns out one of your former co-workers is a friend of mine. They mentioned X. Is there any context you can give me about that situation?” I think you could do it in a way that doesn’t reveal your source, but maybe this would be too invasive or unfair to ask?

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          This is super common in my industry, it’s called a back door reference. I’ve had it done to me multiple times. Someone who knows someone and asks for casual input. I don’t know if it’s common across the board but it’s super super normal in my personal experience.

          1. should decide on a name*

            If there is one thing that needs to be banned, it’s the “back door reference”. Regular reference checks are bad enough when it comes to exposing your organisation to the loss of good talent because of the personal opinions or vendettas of some referee you don’t know from a bar of soap and has no obligation to be truthful. Back door references are even worse. Because is that manager going to admit to you that they are giving this candidate a bad reference out of spite, or because the candidate left their ego feeling dented due to their phenomenal skills, or because the candidate turned down their advances? No.

            1. Emmy Noether*

              Huh, interesting, I’d see it the other way around. I’m in a country that doesn’t do verbal references (only written letters of recommendation that go through the candidate), and I’m skeptical of the reference system for the reason you cite (not knowing the referee from a bar of soap) and because of the stories here of sabotage references.

              However, when we find out we have a common acquaintance with a candidate (usually someone who already works here and worked with them before), we’ll absolutely ask about them. The common acquaintance is a known quantity and we already trust their judgement, so their input has weight (if I knew them and did *not* trust their judgement, I wouldn’t ask). I hope I’m a good enough judge of character to not be friends with someone who would give a spite reference.

          2. MidWasabiPeas*

            It’s super common in my industry as well, because we’re sooo niche. If you drop someone with (for example) my credentials anywhere in the world in my industry, I will either know someone or know someone who does.

            What isn’t common is going back to the applicant (or employee in this case) and mentioning the back door reference. That isn’t done-at least not until the person has been hired and worked successfully for a while. Then you might mention something like, “Jane said she’d worked with you at Smiths and raved about what a great addition you were to the team and how they hated losing you. I feel the same way now. “

        2. Sunshine*

          Why? Is it an unfair question? LW didn’t go digging for dirt, this was info that came up naturally from someone in their industry. I would think it’s worse to let the info potentially color their interactions with Julian (in ways the LW might not even be able to control, really) without asking him what’s going on.

        3. EMP*

          Really? I’d be hella embarassed, but if I’d been walked out of my last job and left it off my list of references, I wouldn’t be surprised if it came up in the next one.

        4. RagingADHD*

          Really? If you’d been escorted off the property you would wonder why a future manager would ask about it?

          1. Pink Candyfloss*

            I would wonder why my new manager is gossiping behind my back with someone we both know that I may or may not have had a past issue with, and blindsiding me out of nowhere with a prejudicial account of something that may have no bearing whatsoever on my current status or ability to perform at my new job.

            Especially if it was a mental health or substance abuse issue that is personal health information, it is protected, and not only does Julian not have to disclose that, just asking about it puts the manager on shaky ground and everyone could end up in HR’s office in short order.

            1. ferrina*

              It’s not really gossip though. This is a pretty regular reference check- “Hey, you worked at Place with Person. Do you know them?” That’s a really normal work conversation with your network. It often brings up good references- I’ve gotten a couple jobs through people talking to each other and saying “ferrina is great at this!”

              LW didn’t ask about Julian’s health. They are asking about a work behavior. If an employee had been no-show, no-calling, you get to ask if you can expect them to show up on time and why you should expect the next time to be different from the last time. Julian doesn’t have to share medical details- he could just say “I had a personal situation that has since been resolved”. What he chooses to share or not share is up to him, but it’s not fair to expect the people around him to pretend that nothing ever happened

            2. Lucky Meas*

              If your manager spoke to someone you had a past issue with, wouldn’t you want a chance to tell your side of the story?

            3. New Jack Karyn*

              Julian doesn’t have to disclose it, but it wouldn’t be improper for their new manager to bring up that she’d heard about it from the former employer. It’s not gossip–it’s behavior in the workplace that affected the flow of business.

              Pete wasn’t bad-mouthing Julian with unprovable allegations, as though trying to smear him. He wasn’t bringing things up that are irrelevant to most places, personality quirks, or anything. He wasn’t out of line to say what he told OP.

              OP could bring it up if she chose, being transparent about what she’d been told. The tenor of that conversation can be supportive and constructive.

      1. T. Boone Pickens*

        I don’t love this because what happens if this is something medical related? How much information is Julian supposed to share with the manager? I’m struggling to think of how Julian can answer this question without drawing scrutiny from LW.

        1. ecnaseener*

          Ideally, he’d be able to say “Yes, I had a health condition at the time that’s now been resolved.” But I see what you mean, if he doesn’t have that script in his back pocket he might not know what to say.

        2. ferrina*

          I think that’s worth the risk. LW doesn’t need to pretend they don’t know because it might be about medical information. This is pretty crucial to being able to job. It’s going to be an uncomfortable conversation. That sucks. But Julian’s not protected from uncomfortable conversations, even assuming that it was a medical issue. How he handles his part of it is up to him- he is an adult, a professional, and has hopefully spent time thinking about how he would answer this question if it came up (he can’t assume that no one will ever talk about it- if he thinks that’s a fair assumption, that’s important information to have as well)

      2. Bunny Girl*

        I actually think that I would be more likely to have this conversation with Julian if an incident occurred at work in a way that made me feel like the issues I discussed with Peter were not resolved. If there was any sort of erratic behavior, that might be part of a general conversation that I had with him. In a sort of “I understand this might have been an issue with past jobs, do you want to talk about that” way.

        I think the risk of mentioning it now without provocation could result in added pressure or stress for Julian. Like Oh my gosh my new boss knows and is watching my every move. That’s not a great situation to put people in without need. I’m not going to armchair diagnose, but people have crises in their lives that impact their behavior. Sometimes those people seek help and move on and sometimes they don’t.

      3. Pink Candyfloss*

        If you said that to me as a manager, all hope of trust between us would be lost.

        1. Bébé chat*

          Because your trust depends on your manager never finding out something huge that happened at your previous job ? Just because you don’t want to talk about something doesn’t mean that your new boss will never hear about it. It’s not gossiping to take into acocunt what you learn through your network. If Julian would have said that the new hire was amazing, would that also be gossiping according to you? I don’t know the norms of your industry but talking to your network is very normal in mine.

      4. Heidi*

        Letter-writer here…

        That’s something I really debated asking Julian, and I almost asked it in my letter, but I felt it could hinder any sort of progress he might be making to overcome whatever made him behave the erratically in the first place. I also worry it could hinder any sort of trust we’re starting to build.

        1. K. A.*

          I think asking the Letter Writer about the strange behavior and being walked out of a previous job would cause him a lot of anxiety because he may be looking for a fresh start with this job. Now, he’d likely worry what everyone thought of him. It could be upsetting enough to derail his progress.

          If he hadn’t yet been offered the job, I think it would be relevant. But he’s already hired.

      5. Coverage Associate*

        I can’t give an exact reason why, maybe it relates to my social anxiety, but I would take the opposite approach and mention Pete but not the former bad situation. Like, if you say you talked to someone I used to work with but don’t say which someone, I can’t really respond, even if it was a bad situation. It wasn’t a bad situation on every level with every coworker, so I can’t give appropriate context.

    3. Peanut Hamper*

      1) Any time any employee makes any other employee feel unsafe, it is cause for alarm. Sex and length-of-service should not make a difference here.

      2) Why? To what end? If Julian had an issue and managed to successfully put it behind him and is thinking that he is now starting with a clean slate it would be a terrible blow to have someone come to him with this information. I stole a pencil sharpener when I was eight years old. How long should that fact follow me around? Julian deserves a second chance. It’s up to him what he does with it. He does not deserve to have LW ruin that for him.

      1. Sunshine*

        I get this, but there is a huge difference between what you did as a kid and something that just happened at your last job. If you got fired for theft at your last job it would be fair to ask you about it at your next one, I would think! I think his response could tell the LW a lot about whether he really has put that incident behind him.

        1. AnotherOne*

          yes, but LW doesn’t have a reason to think that this issue hasn’t been resolved. There weren’t flags from other references- and I admit, anytime someone says “Bob? omg, Bob did this terrible thing” Based having met this “Bob” once.

          I worry about things like- is it the same Bob or did their employer have two Bob’s with the same name? is he thinking about a Rob maybe and got the names confused? People may go, I’d never get that confused but mistakes happen.

          All the time.

          1. metadata minion*

            Your second paragraph is *possible*, yes, but how likely is it that there are two Bob Smiths with the same job description who worked at the same time? This is getting into fanfic/not-trusting-the-letter-writer territory.

          2. Tio*

            I think it would be one ting if it hadn’t been his most recent job. If Bob had done this two jobs ago, that would be different. It’s probably resolved fi the jobs after that didn’t have a problem. But it having been the most recent thing that happened at his last job means there’s a good chance it’s not fully resolved, which changes the calculation.

            That said, if he’s not showing signs of issues yet, given that he’s already hired I would just keep a close eye on him for a few months and see if there are any issues. It may indeed be resolved.

      2. RagingADHD*

        I think gender is relevant, since there are a number of specifically gendered ways that women get made “uncomfortable” in the workplace, and they are often pressured to “be nice” or “be sympathetic” and minimize what was done, in order to avoid damaging the career of someone who behaved illegally toward them.

        1. Heidi*

          Letter-writer here…

          I identify as a cis female, but I’ve become someone who doesn’t easily get uncomfortable. If Julian does make any of my female subordinates (or myself) uncomfortable, it’ll be swiftly handled.

      3. Colette*

        The problem with “feeling unsafe” is that it covers a lot of ground. Some people feel unsafe around people of different races or genders or physical appearance (tattoos, piercings, hair). But in this case, a coworker screaming at himself is probably a big chunk of what made people feel unsafe. And that was probably a reasonable assumption – someone who is behaving both erratically and violently could easily become unsafe to be around – and women are probably more likely to make that assumption than men.

        But that doesn’t mean he was actually harming people, and it doesn’t mean he’d be an issue now.

      4. Phryne*

        I disagree on no 1. On this site there are letters from a person who had a co-worker say they are scared of them because they are large and covered in tattoos, a co-worker claiming to be triggered by a letter writers’ (medically related) weight loss and a letter writer whose female co-worker told them she hates them and then started telling third parties she is scared of them with no clear reason. People feeling unsafe is not a measure in itself of how alarmed an employer should be about someone.

        If Julian was screaming *at* these women, it is a major cause for alarm. If Julian was screaming and these women happened to be witnesses and were scared by the episode, however reasonable their emotions, it would heavily depend on the exact things he did and said to determine how much cause of alarm this would be for a new employer.

    4. Eldritch Office Worker*

      For number 2 – this sounds like an awful, potentially humiliating experience that Julian is trying to move past. There are a lot of mental health hallmarks in the described behavior, and that stigma can be really hard to shake. OP should definitely keep their eyes open for signs of new problems, but it would be a real kindness to let Julian start with a clean slate and not burden him with the knowledge that this is still following him around. At least not at this stage.

    5. Sloanicota*

      I was thinking this exact same thing. With what OP now has heard, would she send Julian off-site with a young employee, for example? I think I would not until around six months of good behavior, including spending time one-on-one with him offsite myself (and I am a young woman too). I would feel responsible for the safety of our coworkers having this information and not sharing it.

      1. Francie Foxglove*

        As long as it doesn’t turn into, Jane can’t go offsite with Julian, but Julian has to go, so he goes with Bob…Jane never gets to go, thereby missing out on whatever is to be gained from going offsite, so she loses either way.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Yeah it’s really tricky, also because I wouldn’t want to reveal to Jane why I’m asking Bob to go instead, out of respect for Julian’s privacy!

      2. Heidi*

        Letter-writer here…

        I’m a cis female, but I work in a male-dominated field, so I’ll really be the only female spending “alone time” with Julian, and the brief alone time we’ve had had been completely professional. I’m also not shy to call Julian out if he does something inappropriate.

    6. learnedthehardway*

      It’s the fact that Pete stated that it was FEMALE workers who felt unsafe that is most interesting to me. Was that because he felt that male coworkers were physically strong enough to not be concerned whether Julian would become violent (whereas most women are smaller than males and not physically as strong), OR were Julian’s outbursts directed only at women, OR was there inappropriate behaviour beyond the outbursts (eg. sexism, harassment, etc.)?

      Getting clarity on these questions seems important to me, because while someone can have a mental health episode or a drug interaction issue or whatever, and get help for that, it seems to me that such a thing would be fairly gender-neutral.

      I’d ask some follow up questions of Pete to better understand the issues, before deciding what to do about it.

      1. HQetc*

        I think one way in which a mental health issue or drug interaction could have non-gender-neutral effects is there are times where mental health disorders can be impacted and influenced by societal expectations. For instance, intrusive thoughts, a symptom that can be part of things like OCD, can be about flouting cultural norms or expectations. So, when in church, the intrusive thought is about doing something sacrilegious, but that intrusive thought won’t occur in a grocery store because the sacrilegious behavior isn’t taboo in that context. So because our cultural attitudes toward women are different than they are towards men, the behavior might be different in interactions with women as opposed to men. So, because being creepy towards men is weird, but is a different kind of violation than the same behavior directed towards women, the impulse to do the behavior to women might not be accompanied by the same impulse to do the behavior towards men.
        To be clear, I have no idea if that’s what went on with Julian, this is just a non-expert explanation of why a behavior stemming from a mental health condition might not actually be gender-neutral. Also to be clear, it’s also not an excuse for that behavior at all. All I am trying to convey is that the behavior was different to men and women isn’t necessarily evidence that it wasn’t stemming from a mental health issue. So if Julian’s actions were due to a now-resolved mental health issue, the problematic behavior towards women may have been resolved along with that.

        1. Nobby Nobbs*

          There’s also a chance the women were the only ones comfortable expressing fear, not the only ones who were afraid. (The LW’s comments have mostly set me more at ease that this is a resolved problem, but I’m still on team “ask Pete for more details just to be sure.)

          1. Coverage Associate*

            Or that the women were in a better position to observe the odd behavior. I work in San Francisco, and still almost all the men are managers and almost all the support staff are women. If a manager is unwell, in my job, it is likely that a support person will notice before another manager.

  6. Spearmint*

    So Alison, would your advice change if the information Pete provided came to light before an offer was made? On the one hand, it would be alarming and I could see the case against hiring him based on it, but on the other hand, if it’s just the word of one person, and plausibly a mental health issue that may have been resolved, might Julian have served a chance anyway?

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Put yourself in Julian’s shoes and then ask the question again.

      People deserve second chances.

      1. Niche Non-Profit*

        Put yourself in LW’s shoes – what if they hired Julian and there was an incident that harmed, emotionally or physically, another employee?

        I think these situations are incredibly difficult to deal with and I don’t know the correct answer because you want to be empathetic to Julian’s struggles while also ensuring your current employees are safe.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It depends on a lot of factors, I think, including exactly what he was doing that made coworkers feel unsafe (there’s a difference between talking to himself and sexual harassing people, for example), what his other references said, and what you saw firsthand in the interview.

      1. KateM*

        The coworkers could easily have felt unsafe because their coworker had shouting matches with himself.

        1. Pdxer*

          As someone who works with the mental health/traumatic brain injury community, feeling uncomfortable and feeling “unsafe” are unfortunately often used interchangeably, and in ways that are very unfair to the individual in crisis.

          1. AngryOctopus*

            This exactly. Someone doesn’t really know how to describe how something made them feel because it was a vague “oh this seems wrong I don’t know what to do” feeling, and when asked later it manifests as “I felt unsafe” because it feels like a neutral catchall. The person saying it doesn’t mean it in a bad way, but without going into details it can be too neutral and lead to a lot of speculation.

        2. Double A*

          But what about this is actually inherently unsafe for the coworkers? It’s uncomfortable and upsetting, yes, to witness someone in crisis, but someone having a mental health crisis isn’t inherently threatening. There are so many biases about mental health, particularly severe mental health episodes, that I don’t think we have enough information at all to know if Julian was actually creating an unsafe physical situation.

          We don’t have enough information to know if he was actually threatening, or if his behavior was simply upsetting (just because you’re upset doesn’t mean you’re not safe).

          1. Pink Candyfloss*

            This is why you can only judge Julian on what you witness directly from Julian himself and not a 3rd party anecdotal report.

            1. New Jack Karyn*

              I disagree. We have to trust other people some times to give a relatively factual account of their experiences. Otherwise, we could never hold people accountable for their actions unless there were at least two other witnesses.

            2. Allonge*

              No, because if this is the rule OP cannot trust their own colleagues’ report either, only if she observes hte behavior herself. This is an impossible measure.

          2. Seashell*

            If someone is screaming for no good reason, that is erratic behavior. You don’t know what that person is going to do next. If I see such a thing in a public place, I give that person a wide berth. That might not be possible in a workplace.

            1. KA*

              I agree with Seashell here. A man exhibiting erratic behavior is unpredictable. And the shouting matches with himself are aggressive.

              I’ll say that again: Shouting in an office is aggressive. We’re not talking about shouting to be heard by someone far away, or shouting to be heard over a loud noise.

              Also, statistically men hurt and kill women far, far more than women hurt or kill men. Women have the right to feel the fear they feel, and they should trust that fear. I’m baffled by those who are dismissive of that.

              1. Antigone Funn*

                I’m glad to see someone make this point, as well as the one above. Erratic, unpredictable behavior may very well turn into dangerous behavior. That’s a perfectly good reason to feel unsafe! Same reason I keep my distance from cars that drift across the lines when I’m driving.

          3. KateM*

            I didn’t write that coworkers *were* unsafe, I wrote that they *felt* unsafe. You can be safe while feeling unsafe. As Seashell writes above, if coworkers were wondering what next, they had reason to feel unsafe even though they weren’t (theoretically) unsafe.

        3. Freida*

          Some of y’all were not raised by my mother, I see.

          … just having a moment of reflection on what passed for totally ordinary in my FOO. That particular behavior would alarm me in a co-worker, however.

    3. Person from the Resume*

      Although Julian didn’t offer Pete as a reference, it would be perfectly fine for the LW to say that she reached out to someone who worked with Julian in past (not one of his provided references), and she now has knowledge of these incidents, and ask Julian for an explanation.

      After extending the offer, it’s too late. But while in the hiring process, treat this info from Pete as if it were info from a provided reference.

    4. Bee*

      If the information had come to light before the offer was made, it could’ve been brought up with Julian to gain his perspective during the interview process or in a follow-up conversation.

      1. Chris*

        This. An incident like this should not be a scarlet letter preventing employment that follows someone forever. However, if it comes up during the hiring process, it should be a starting point for a discussion.

        1. ferrina*

          Exactly. How someone comes back from an incident says a lot about them.

          I remember one interview where someone asked a candidate about a bad decision from a former job. The candidate doubled down. This was not someone who we could trust to take feedback well.

          In another interview, a candidate was asked about a period of weak performance. The candidate disclosed that they had a personal situation that had turned medical, that they were working with a doctor and had a treatment plan going forward. That was all they said. We appreciated that they acknowledged that the work wasn’t strong, and they were proactively taking corrective steps (even if they hadn’t gotten back to 100%, and the full impact of treatment might not manifest for a while- I knew a few extra details that I didn’t disclose to the hiring manager, and it was a mental health situation).

    5. Snow Globe*

      I think that would definitely change things. In hiring, you are comparing candidates and you often have limited information. If there was another strong candidate, this negative information on Julian could tip the scales to the other person.

  7. Peanut Hamper*

    Pete’s experience is a very thin slice of the apple. The interview and references and Julian’s current performance are a much thicker, and much more recent, slice of the apple.

    I just hope LW can keep that in mind and not read things into Julian’s behavior that aren’t there, based on Pete’s words. If Julian did have an issue and has managed to put it successfully behind him, he deserves to start with a clean slate.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Well – that’s not clear. There’s no work experience yet to speak to, people are different in interviews, and there’s no reference for his latest job which may or may not be the one in question. We don’t actually have a timeline or a recency bias.

      I HOPE that if Julian was going through something he’s doing better now, but OP isn’t wrong to be wondering.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        It wasn’t clear to me how long ago the incident was. Six months? Two years? Five years? That would be relevant information to me.

  8. laser99*

    If the LW doesn’t pass this along, and there is some type of incident, she will be blamed. Protecting herself is more important than protecting Julian. (Or himself or themself, I don’t know the LW’s pronouns.)

    1. ecnaseener*

      Who exactly is going to blame LW? Is someone else going to have the exact same conversation with Pete?

      1. MauvaisePomme*

        It’s more that, if something terrible happens, the LW is in the position of having to choose between A) doubling down and lying to their manager that they had no idea Pete was a liability or B) admitting that they were warned even before Pete’s start date and kept this big piece of information a secret. Either way, they’re eroding their own trust and reputation with their supervisor.

        Passing this along to the boss (but in a way that is measured, cautious and compassionate, and not just “hey, so it turns out this guy is a total nightmare”) just feels like the smartest CYA move.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Not necessarily. Option C is just handle the situation in front of you and not disclose whether you do or do not have previous information. In HR we have to do this all the time.

          1. ecnaseener*

            Agreed, I really don’t think it’s that difficult to just…not volunteer information that no one knows you have. *If* anyone for some reasons asks “LW, did you know he was capable of this?” they can truthfully describe what behavior they have and haven’t seen while he worked with them.

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              No there’s a pretty distinct difference between lying and not disclosing, particularly when you’re dealing with sensitive information.

              1. Emily*

                If another coworker you don’t report to asks and you say something “that’s not something I can talk to you about,” sure, you’re not disclosing.

                But if your manager explicitly asks you “did you know anything?”, which is a totally normal thing to ask when something goes off the rails, and you say “no”, you are lying. And you are lying in a way which is mainly protecting yourself at that point. That’s a bad situation to put yourself in.

                1. Lucky Meas*

                  HR answers “Did you know anything” all the time. Sometimes you can’t disclose whether you have information.

          2. ferrina*

            Exactly. Question though-

            If LW is the Julian’s manager, they can closely monitor the situation. If LW is more removed, would they have an obligation to pass this along to someone who can more closely monitor it? For example, if LW were HR and was doing some onboarding with Julian, but once he was onboarded he’d be working under someone else?

        2. I should really pick a name*

          How are they eroding trust with approach A?
          The LW’s manager would have no way of knowing that the LW knew something ahead of time.

    2. Emily*

      Agreed. This is not something you keep to yourself. If this goes badly and your manager asks you if you saw it coming or knew anything, you do not want the answer to be “I actually was warned about this but I didn’t share it with you.”

    3. GiantKitty*

      I agree. If I was management, and there was an incident with Julian, and then LW mentioned that they had this previous information? I’d be pretty annoyed that they had concealed something that concerning from me and I would seriously be questioning LW’s judgement.

      1. Saddy Hour*

        Are you in management? Do you manage other managers? Someone who is on a hiring manager level should have enough autonomy to make these choices on their own. OP is going to see Julian’s performance in a slightly different way because they know to watch out for signs of the previous behavior. Because they’re informed, they can pick up on any potentially problematic signs earlier and can flag them with context. And if they never see any signs, they’ve done the Good Manager thing of not betraying an employee’s personal information.

        If you’re Julian’s grandboss, what does that information do for you besides bias you against him? You aren’t directly managing his work, you aren’t the person others will go to if he’s scaring coworkers, and realistically your only advice to your management-level employee would be to keep an eye on it and flag anything problematic. Which OP is already presumably going to do. What benefit is there?

  9. JSN*

    OP, even if the info about Julian is entirely true, people can and do change. Please don’t let this taint your view/opinion of your new employee. However, I’m not saying to completely disregard this info. Like another commenter said, maybe you can discretely check in with female staff to see how things are going (check in with others too). Look at other employees body language when this person is near them/speaking with them.

    A long time ago, at another job, I was the problem employee. Not as bad as what you’re describing here, and I wasn’t fired (I quit for a better job later on), but I was definitely not someone you would want as your employee at that time. I had untreated mental illness (which I wasn’t aware of at that time) and also a lot of extreme stressors happened to me in about 6 months span of time so I think I was having a sort of mental breakdown. The industry I work in is a small world type, and my reputation preceded me for awhile since people talk to each other, even at different companies. Not only did I keep getting turned down for internal positions, I kept getting turned down for external jobs, which I found out later on were because the hiring manager unofficially asked about me (outside of normal reference info).

    Now, I’m being treated for my mental illness, and I’m so embarrassed about how I used to act in the past. Luckily, no one at my current job knows anyone from my prior job. But if my boss were to ask anyone at my last job how I was, she would be told so many damaging things about me that just don’t occur now. Just watch him, watch how your other staff appear around him, watch his work output, and see these things for yourself. Listen to what you’re told, but don’t base your decisions on what others tell you unless you witness things for yourself.

    1. Annika*

      I agree with this so much! I am so happy to hear you are in a better place now! I was also a problem employee. I had a fun mix of immaturity, social awkwardness, mental/physical health problems, and undiagnosed ADHD. I was never fired, but I screwed up. I started working on myself and found help (that actually worked). I work for the same large employer in a different role. I was afraid no one else would hire me.

      Granted, I still think you need to keep your eyes open. However, it is possible for people to change.

    2. The Rafters*

      JSN, are you sure you aren’t me? Word for word, I could have written your comments.

    3. ferrina*

      There was a letter a while back from someone who had been the office jerk at a company. They had left that company and were about to come back, and they realized they had been a jerk/unprofessional and they weren’t sure how to address it coming back. I don’t think there was any health aspect in that, but Alison’s advice may still help.

      This stuck with me- I can’t pretend the past didn’t happen, but I can show that I learned from it and grew/fixed the issues/found the work-arounds I needed.

      Congrats on your dx and treatment!

    4. Bunny*

      I have Bipolar type 2, and I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 35. Every job I had before that point went in the same patter: I was a rockstar employee when I was hypomanic, a solid performer when I was neither hypomanic nor depressed, and a nightmare of missed deadlines, dropped communication, shoddy work, late starts, poor hygiene, and temper issues when I was depressed. Unfortunately for me, I was depressed roughly five to seven months out of the year, and when I say depressed I mean there were days I called out because I couldn’t get out of bed. I have been fired five times and quit twice knowing I was about to be fired.

      After I was diagnosed, I was able to take a few years off of work to care for my grandmother in her final decline, and I also took that time to do some very intense therapy, and figure out medications. The difference it’s made in me is nothing short of miraculous. I’ve consistently been one of the highest performers at my current job since I was hired, and it’s in an extremely high pressure and draining industry. They give me incredibly challenging clients because they know I can handle them, I’ve had nothing but glowing reviews, have been promoted, and am currently making 30% more than I was hired at.

      I was hired on the strength of several references from supervisors at volunteer positions I undertook while taking that time off. If my prior jobs had been contacted I’d probably never have worked at a professional job again. OP, please, give Julian the space and grace to prove himself to you, and don’t assume that his prior issues are current issues. By all means, keep a weather eye out for erratic behavior or a pattern of problems, but please don’t go into this working relationship assuming he’s going to need to be fired at some point. He’s done nothing to arouse concern at this point with your organization, and it would be unkind to treat him as though he has.

  10. Brain the Brian*

    This is a clear case of information that would make me want to watch an employee more closely — but not fire them right away. On the flip side of it, we’ve had several nightmarish employees who were escorted off our premises after really egregious things go on to be very successful at their next employers. It really can be all about the environment / fit and how that interacts with a person’s skills and mental state — so, LW, be careful and watchful, but don’t fire him outright.

    1. Old Woman in Purple*

      Yes, this parallels my thinking. Possible issues aren’t actual issues; gotta wait til they play out (and they may never develop).

    2. I have RBF*

      Way back when in the mists of time I was fired, in part because of undiagnosed depression and some really toxic shit (bullying, gaslighting) that my boss was putting me though. I had become unreliable, because of my brain wanting to avoid the toxicity of that workplace, so I literally could not get out of bed except to go to the bathroom. No call, no show, which just made my toxic bully boss double down on the abuse. I took six months of not even applying to jobs (I liquidated my 401k) to reset my head and deal with my issues from that mess.

      I now know what the warning signs are if that cycle starts happening again. If I start having problems getting up for work, I know I need to take a real close look at what’s going on in my personal and professional life, and address it before it gets to be a problem.

      But the first time that happened to me I didn’t understand what was going on in my head. I know that my boss was gaslighting and bullying me, but I didn’t realize that what I needed to do was quit before it destroyed me. I still have trauma reactions to some stuff from that mess.

      But I would be horrified if that came up now, 30 years later.

      People can change, get treatment, pull themselves out of a tailspin, etc. Give Julian a chance.

  11. Morgan Proctor*

    This definitely sounds like a mental health issue, and I would extend some grace and benefit of the doubt toward Julian. I would assume that Pete would have mentioned it if Julian was physically or sexually assaulting or harassing anyone. Yes, being around someone having a mental health issue can be confusing and sometimes frightening, but there’s a big difference between behavior you can’t control because of an illness, and genuinely predatory behavior. I feel for Julian. I think it’s really unfair that the LW knows this information. People can and do change, and people can and do adjust their medication.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I disagree that it’s unfar that OP knows the information. It doesn’t sound like Pete had any expectation of keeping confidentiality, and is in fact rather worried for OP. That’s fair, given Pete’s experience. It’s also fair for OP to have new concerns, and commit to being a little extra vigilant while Julian is adjusting to the job.

      What would be unfair, I think, is rescinding the job offer that Julian earned based on this information, or treating Julian differently because of it. I acknowledge that’s a hard line to walk, but sometimes managers have to walk those lines.

    2. ferrina*

      I don’t think it’s unfair that LW knows this. Plenty of people do change, but plenty of people also stay the same. Maybe Julian has had the issue addressed and needs a clean start and will be a great employee; but maybe he’s only covered it up well enough to get a job and it will arise again. We also don’t know if it was a mental health issue- it seems likely, but LW has no way of knowing (all we know is Julian refused mental health and substance abuse treatment- no idea if that was offered because Pete knew something about Julian’s situation, or if the company was assuming things). LW also has a duty to the other employees- it sounds like Julian’s actions/symptoms(?) were something that would be quite distressing for anyone to witness at work. If someone faints at work once, that’s not their fault. If they regularly faint, that’s something that the company needs to address (whether it’s through accommodations or other actions). We’ve had multiple letters from the other side of this- one that leaps to mind is the LW who was being kicked out of their office by an office mate that had anxiety attacks (I’ll see if I can find the letter)

      This feels like a situation where quiet safety nets are needed. LW shouldn’t assume Julian will have this happen again, but they should also make sure they are aware to catch anything early if it does happen. LW should remain diligent and regularly get feedback (which I think is important for any employee, regardless of past performance), but not make assumptions about how Julian will act.

  12. Nay*

    I’m a huge fan of second chances because sometimes people really do learn from their mistakes. I think Alison was spot on here :)

  13. Her name was Joanne*

    Anybody but me think it’s an “interesting” coincidence that Pete called right after the LW offered the job? I have to wonder, at least a little, if Pete learned that Julian had applied for this job and was trying to undermine him. Julian may be a perfectly fine guy, but didn’t get along with Pete. As this website has shown over and over, stranger things have happened.

    1. ecnaseener*

      The timing is quite a coincidence, but from LW’s description of the conversation it doesn’t sound like Pete was fishing for the name of the new hire or anything. Let’s follow that new commenting rule about not making up nefarious motives :P

      1. JSN*

        But we also don’t know if Pete would’ve said something if OP didn’t mention it first. It’s not really making up nefarious motives. These types of things happen way more than people realize. I’ve worked with 3 different people at 3 different jobs that had something very similar happen to them. A hater from a prior job tries to mess with their new employment. Also, how many letters have we seen right here on AAM asking something like “my old coworker/boss was a nightmare, should I tell their new job?”. There are people who will just act on that impulse.

        1. Saddy Hour*

          Nah, this seems exactly like the kind of fanfic that prompted the new rule. The fact that something can or does happen in some scenarios doesn’t mean that it’s not overly speculative for the letter you’re responding to. What about this line of questioning is useful or actionable for OP, in a way that differs from the advice already given by Alison? OP was already counseled to take this with a grain of salt and observe Julian on her own. How does a bigger grain of salt change anything?

    2. JSN*

      I think you may be on to something here. OP, how long has it been since you heard from Pete prior to this call? It’s very possible that Julian updated his LinkedIn to reflect his new job and Pete is simply a troublemaker or is carrying some unresolved anger towards Julian from a long time ago. Is there anyone else you can discretely ask about Julian? But just be careful to not let the people you’re asking questions to catch on that you have some doubts.

    3. Heidi*

      Letter-writer here…

      Pete’s call was 100% coincidence. He was actually calling to invite my partner and I out for beers with him and his wife, lol. Work just happened to come up.

      Pete also didn’t work closely with Julian. I mentioned this in another comment, but Pete was only the person who went to the property to escort Julian off of it—not someone Julian interacted with. Pete’s built like a linebacker and has a pretty expansive HR background, so he’s the perfect guy to strong-arm someone out the door and offer mental health resources at the same time.

      1. Arthenonyma*

        I think that detail is important actually – that Pete was just the “strong guy” picked to physically ensure someone who was behaving erratically left the premises. I’d think in that situation he would come away with a very negative impression (particularly if Julian was aggressive towards him or if there were other coworkers who were present and obviously distressed) that wouldn’t be balanced by any other experience of Julian, and might have been bolstered by rumours etc. All of which is a very long-winded way of saying that I would take Pete’s opinions with more of a grain of salt than I would if they were coming from Julian’s former manager.

        1. Temperance*

          I think if you have to be forced off the premises by a large dude because of your behavior, that’s plenty of evidence.

          1. Anon 4 This*

            I think it’s also reasonable to assume they picked the large dude who was not otherwise involved *because* they anticipated some kind of trouble from this guy.

  14. Mensa Maid*

    Do we even know if anything Pete says is accurate? My first thought was that it’s possible Pete disliked Julian for entirely other reasons and made the whole thing up. Is there some way to discretely verify what Pete said?

    1. Heidi*

      Letter-writer here…

      Pete’s a trusted source of mind. He actually trained me for a leadership position several years ago and we’ve been friends ever since.

      Pete also had no reason to dislike Julian, as they didn’t work closely together. Pete was asked to go to Julian’s worksite to basically walk him off property—most likely because Pete is HR-savvy and looks like a linebacker—but that was his only direct interaction with Julian.

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        Just a note on that – if that was Pete’s only direct interaction with Julian that does mean everything he knows about Julian is second hand at best.

        I’m not suggesting what was said was untrue, but its potentially been filtered through others who have various lenses on someone who may have been experiencing a mental health crisis.

        All the more reason to extend Julian grace and courtesy until you have a reasons not to.

        1. Lizzianna*

          Yeah, having been involved in a contentious firing where someone had to be escorted off the premises for safety reasons… it was a complex situation and the person we called to help with the actual firing didn’t get the whole picture because we were still trying to protect the fired employee’s privacy.

          Based on his experience in those 2 or 3 days, he’d probably react in a similar way to Pete, but I’m not sure my reaction would be as strong, given the nuance I saw and the fact I knew this person before the crisis. I don’t think I would hire this person again, but I also think that if he’s worked through his issues, I don’t think he deserves to be barred from our industry.

    1. a clockwork lemon*

      I would need both hands to count the number of times I’ve said “Ah, shit, I wish you’d told/asked/talked to me first” since Monday.

      1. AngelS.*

        I just find it interesting. “Bleep, how can you have hired that guy without telling me first!”

      2. Jellyfish Catcher*

        Maybe Pete used “shit” because it was a friend. It’s speculation, either way.
        I might use “what the f…” or “shit happens” with friends, but at work, my bad news exclamation is “oh, dear.”

        1. Cyndi*

          Yeah, I’ve had workplaces with such a wide range of standards re swearing that I don’t think we can read anything at all into it either way.

    2. Heidi*

      Letter-writer here…

      Pete said, “Oh fuck!” since everyone seems to be curious. I just wasn’t sure if Alison would publish that.

  15. Wocka Wocka*

    I think it’s fair to consider how long ago this was as well. If Julian was only just fired for this in the last month or so versus years ago, there’s a difference there. It’s not clear from the letter when this was, but it doesn’t sound very recent.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’d like to know that as well. It could have been the last job, which Julian didn’t provide a reference for – but people often don’t provide references for their most current jobs. Or it could have been a decade ago. I think it does make a difference how seriously OP should take the information, but I think either way my advice is “file it away unless it becomes relevant”.

    2. Grumpus*

      I came here to say this. OP says that Julian and Pete worked together “at some point” but doesn’t elaborate on the time frame. Presumably Julian has had a solid work history since then, which should be considered.

    3. Heidi*

      Letter-writer here…

      Julian was left go from the job in question about a year and a half ago. It was his most recent position, and he had said that he had taken a break before returning to work, which would make sense if he were needing some sort of mental health intervention.

      1. Wocka Wocka*

        That’s good to know and without all the context, that seems like a reasonable time.

        Also, just to add a timeframe to that, a hear and a half ago was a year and a half into the pandemic, which we all know had huge impacts on mental health. I’m not saying that had anything to do with what Julian was going through specifically, just to acknowledge that it was a tough time for so many.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          And an impact of that was that it was a hard time to get mental health support, because everyone was trying to. So there could be many, many reasons things went badly and are better now.

      2. I have RBF*

        This right here indicates that he probably took the break to get his head straight. Julian doesn’t have to go into what and why, that’s privacy. I would not hold the past against him, but be aware that it could crop up again and be ready to intervene if necessary. Having had a mental issue cost me a job in the past, I advocate giving Julian the grace of a new start.

    4. Random Bystander*

      That is the same sense that I was getting–that whatever issue involved Julian’s past getting walked out and refusing assistance seemed to be well in the past. Refusing the mental health and substance abuse counseling could well have been part of that “it’s not bad enough yet”, but actually losing the job was enough to get Julian to utilize whatever resources necessary to fix issues (erratic behavior involving screaming matches with oneself is just so far outside normal).

      Seems that there isn’t a reason to think that it’s a hiring mistake just yet.

      1. OfOtherWorlds*

        Speaking as a person with mental illness, Julian may also already have found a psychiatrist and therapist that he liked, but hadn’t gotten his treatment right before his behavior became bad enough to warrant firing. Personally I only look for mental health services through reccomendations and my insurances provider directory. I won’t touch campus mental health resources or an EAP with a 10 foot pole. l

  16. Nobby Nobbs*

    OP, I’m going to go against the grain here and say you have a duty to go back to Pete and ask for more details about what exactly about Julian’s behavior made female employees feel unsafe. Was it just the shouting? Was there a sexual harassment element? Did he threaten someone? You need this information, because while somebody who seems to have had a serious mental health break absolutely deserves a chance to put his life back together, you have to be able to determine whether that chance is potentially being extended at the expense of your other employees’ safety or just their feelings.

    1. Nobby Nobbs*

      Aaaaand I just realized that last sentence might need some extra explaining. I’m not poo-pooing the concept of feelings exactly, but my feeling is that the feelings of someone who’s had a scary episode should probably be prioritized over the feelings of someone who’s just witnessed one, but the safety of someone who’s in danger of being harmed should be prioritized over the feelings of someone who’s done the harassing or harming.

      1. Ellie Rose*

        “Feeling is that the feelings of someone who’s had a scary episode should probably be prioritized over the feelings of someone who’s just witnessed one, but the safety of someone who’s in danger of being harmed should be prioritized over the feelings of someone who’s done the harassing or harming.”

        This is such a good way of explaining the issue, and I actually agree that bringing to to Pete might be the most appropriate, if done well.

        If he reacts terribly to being asked…well, that’s also information.

      2. Temperance*

        I think the feelings of the current employees should control here, and being afraid of a colleague isn’t exactly ripe for a positive workplace.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          Do you mean OP should check in with Julian’s current coworkers in 2-3 weeks? “Hey, how’s the new guy working out? Fitting in okay?” I think that’s a good idea.

  17. a clockwork lemon*

    I don’t love “made to feel unsafe” in this specific context and in the absence of real details. There’s a lot of reasons someone going through an active mental health crisis might make people (especially women) feel unsafe. People should, of course, trust their instincts and “bad vibes” are a real thing, but a lot of the behaviors that cause “bad vibes” are also symptoms of a number of mental illnesses and neurodivergences.

    At some point this does start to wander into ADA territory, too. Julian might just be a jerk who sucks, but LW can’t really take adverse action against Julian. Pete’s comments basically boil down to “his behavior was consistent at the time with a mental health crisis of some sort, and although he never worked for or with me directly, I know that he declined to participate in the EAP.” LW did their due diligence and Julian had good references. It’s reasonable to move forward the same way as with any other random unknown new hire.

    1. In the Spring*

      “At some point this does start to wander into ADA territory, too. Julian might just be a jerk who sucks, but LW can’t really take adverse action against Julian. ”

      I’m not sure if you intended the second sentence to follow from the first, but it reads as though you did. Even in ADA territory, LW can take adverse action (meaning “fire”). The ADA means “reasonable” accommodations can be made. I agree that “bad vibes” are in the eye of the beholder and that certain behaviors that can give “bad vibes” are symptoms of harmless mental illnesses and neurodivergences–and sometimes behaviors that give “bad vibes” are symptoms of possible harmful behaviors. In that case, the ADA does not protect someone who is giving due cause for concern about harmful behaviors from inquiries into their background or being fired. That does not meet the definition of reasonable accommodation.

      1. a clockwork lemon*

        LW heard from a third-party that this guy was fired from a job after being referred to the company’s EAP for mental health and substance abuse issues. Firing him after the fact, where the only new information involves an EAP referral and probable mental health crisis, looks quite a bit like disability discrimination.

        1. Temperance*

          From a close personal friend and about the employee’s behavior. The behavior isn’t a legally protected disability.

          1. a clockwork lemon*

            The behavior happened in the past and hasn’t been replicated so far in the present. There is a strong argument to be made here that LW would be firing someone based on receiving information related to an employee’s mental health crisis at a previous position after they had already hired this person.

            If the thing that changes your perception from “wow this guy is awesome” to “wow this guy needs to go” is learning from a friend that he had a mental health episode in the past and gave other employees bad vibes, it’s not actually about the behavior.

            1. 21st Night of September*

              LW didn’t learn that Julian had a mental health episode. LW learned that Julian had a history of making women uncomfortable and having screaming matches with himself. Pete did not make armchair diagnoses, and we should not, either.

        2. 21st Night of September*

          “Firing him after the fact, where the only new information involves an EAP referral and probable mental health crisis, looks quite a bit like disability discrimination.”

          No, firing someone for having a history of screaming matches with themself and making female employees uncomfortable is not disability discrimination. Let’s set aside the discomfort bc there is such a wide range of reactions – from being sexually harassed to being sad – that can be described by discomfort. However, allowing someone to have screaming matches with themself at work would not fall under a reasonable accommodation.

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            I agree with this assessment of the law. I do think that OP should not fire Julian, but keep the info in the back of her mind. Should Julian ever start to display any erratic behaviors, she can step in more quickly than she otherwise might.

            By ‘step in’, I mean to have a potentially difficult conversation with him, asking how he’s doing and offering EAP support (if available and applicable).

  18. Heidi*

    I’m today’s letter-writer.

    Julian’s been training with me for over a week and has been just fine—he’s been taking initiative to learn, has quickly jumped into projects he feels comfortable with, and has been very respectful (I’m a female manager and he’s not made me feel uncomfortable in any way). He’s also gone to another worksite to train with someone else (different skill set than mine) and that person has also given him positive marks.

    I’m thinking Julian had a mental health crisis that’s since been resolved.

    A bit of a side note, but I live with a partner who has bipolar disorder—she also experiences hallucinations sometimes. I’m hopeful that I can pull from some of my past experiences to manage Julian with a little more empathy.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      Good for you! My son had a bit of a mental health crisis at work and they were wonderful about his leave and FLMA and he is doing really well now!

      We also just hired someone who had a bit of a reputation 2 jobs ago (we have an employee from the job 2 jobs ago). There have been zero problems here and the employee is working out well!

    2. irene adler*

      Sounds like he’s resolved whatever it was that prompted the firing behavior.

      Even better, you are understanding of the bipolar disorder and won’t let something like that prejudice you.

      Hope that whatever Julian is doing/taking maintains his stability.

      (My sister, who has bipolar, did have issues with the meds stopped working. But this was rare. She had avenues with her employer to get the time off to get things back on track.)

    3. Constance Lloyd*

      I just want to say I really respect you wanting to do right by *all* of your employees. For what it’s worth, I work with folks who have mental health disabilities. Part of my job is figuring out which jobs they can do. Whatever the reason for Julian’s prior behavior, if it were a current, active problem for him, it is unlikely your conversation with Pete would have been your first red flag. Of course this can ebb and flow, but the fact that you’re proactively trying to balance the needs of your team with compassion for Julian leaves me confident you will address any concerns that may arise promptly and fairly. Best of luck to you all.

    4. Fleur-de-Lis*

      Sounds like you are doing everything to support Julian as he transitions to working with you, and that you have a good read on the situation.

      I had to begin termination proceedings against someone who was a long-time employee when I was a brand-new manager. They had had many opportunities to make course corrections with their significant mental health/self-medication issues, including at least two leaves-of-absence. There was a final catalyzing incident that had to be the end of their time at this workplace because it violated significant employee behavioral policies. There is an important balance to be struck between “this happened in the past, and they are demonstrating their capacity to work here now” and “you have had appropriate opportunities to make change and improve the situation while your job was protected, and it is clear that you can no longer work here.” It sounds like he took the termination to heart and is taking good care of himself now.

      A good question to ask yourself, as Alison says above: if you had never heard this from Pete, what would you do differently with Julian? Imagine if someone else you’re working with had this kind of history and you just don’t know about it. Are you going to behave differently toward the unknown person than with Julian?

      1. Chinookwind*

        Back when I worked with teens, I happily pointed out that I had a horrible memory when it came to bad behaviour – if they didn’t give me a reason to remember how they acted in the past, then I wouldn’t remember it. But, if the behaviour was repeated, then of course it would spring back to mind that this is a pattern. I have learned that it is a great way to give someone, who wants one, a clean slate.

    5. MeepMeep123*

      Yeah, it sounds like a mental health crisis to me too; I also live with a partner who has severe bipolar disorder. She’s religious about complying with her medication and treatment regimen, but when she got the wrong kind of antibiotic for an unrelated physical problem, it messed with her psychiatric medications and caused a severe manic episode that required hospitalization. This is what the Julian thing sounded like to me, and I am glad that you’re managing it with empathy for him.

      My partner has been stable for more than 10 years now, longer than we’ve been together. She runs her own business and it’s doing really well. I hope Julian can stay this stable.

    6. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Full disclosure – I have schizophrenia and had a very, very bad time in 2020 due to pandemic and other stresses that ended up with me hospitalised.

      I’m on better medications and help these days and am glad there are people like yourself who won’t hold a past bad time against them.

      The reason I try to keep this information away from any employer is because I’ve seen firsthand what happens when word gets around that someone is psychotic – people become scared of them.

    7. Meow*

      You said his other references were good. Do you think they contradict Pete’s account in any way?

      1. metadata minion*

        It’s entirely possible for someone to have had either a well-managed condition that flared up suddenly (possibly due to, hey, a global pandemic), or a new problem (whether temporary or long-term) that arose while he was at that last position and which has now been identified and successfully treated.

        It’s also possible there was something about the job that added to the problem — even if it wasn’t an inherently terrible workplace, things like working hours, an increase/decrease in routine, or that one coworker who gets on your nerves can be additional straws tipping the situation over from “stressed but can cope” to “crisis”.

  19. Ann O'Nemity*

    One additional thought since I haven’t seen it suggested yet – OP, have you done a background check? If not, did the offer say something about “pending a background check?” Something might pop up there that justifies rescinding the offer.

  20. irene adler*

    Yeah, keep the info to yourself. But keep an ear to the ground in case there’s any talk about difficulties with Julian.

    A long time ago, a friend (and co-worker) had a similar experience to the LW. The company hired a Julian who interviewed well, had a spectacular resume (I read it), and won over all of the hiring committee (which included my friend).

    Unfortunately, this Julian turned out to be a living nightmare.

    Shortly after the hire, my friend happened to talk with someone who knew Julian from his brief stint at a prior company (they announced a layoff that consisted of exactly one person-Julian). He got an earful regarding how awful a person Julian was (both as a person and as a worker). So he made it his business to perform “damage control” on any work Julian did that might affect other projects.

    Management was not eager to fire Julian-even when my friend told them about his conversation. Took a year to be rid of our Julian.

  21. bh*

    I’m kind of mad at Pete for not having the sensitivity and empathy to keep this kind of story to himself. It clearly sounds like a mental health crisis to me.

    1. In the Spring*

      You can have sensitivity and empathy and intimate knowledge of mental health issues, and it would still be the right thing to tell an employer about behaviors you saw in a candidate/hire if you were not aware of whether those behaviors had resolved. If you knew the underlying cause had been resolved/treated, then I agree. The problem is in the past, and it should stay in the past. When you don’t know that, as Pete didn’t, you are not just digging up drama, you are alerting someone to a potential (note: potential) problem.

    2. Olive*

      If I knew that someone I’d worked with had been fired for making other people feel unsafe, I’d absolutely share that with a colleague who was going to have to work with him. A mental health crisis is an explanation, but it doesn’t mean that another person might not have to protect themselves from bad behavior. Blame doesn’t need to be assigned.

      Now, as others have said, “feel unsafe” is vague, and I would want to be sure that I was reporting something that was a negative behavior toward others instead of a vibe or a biased reaction against seeing someone struggle with their own mental health.

    3. Lucky Meas*

      Pete has no way of knowing whether it was a mental health crisis, or if it was resolved. It’s nice that he gave his colleague LW a heads up about the behavior he witnessed. You can feel bad for someone and still forbid them from making their coworkers feel unsafe.

  22. Lilo*

    so I come at this both as someone with a family member with bipolar disorder and someone who has been harassed at work.

    “Made to feel unsafe” is a very wide range of behavior but if it really crossed a line (touching, inappropriate sexual comments) you HAVE to prioritize protecting your staff.

    I have talked to mental health professionals about my family member and something that’s crucial is while the mental illness explains their behavior it doesn’t mean what they did while manic didn’t hurt. You can forgive but you’re not supposed to excuse. It doesn’t help you or your family member and keeping healthy boundaries is normal.

    So I guess keep a close eye and ai would tell your boss. Do not out the onus of managing his mental health or behavior on your employees or yourself.

  23. GreenShoes*

    @LW Based on your letter and comments it appears Pete’s information can be trusted. At this point I’ll diverge from the original advice and I would let your boss know what you know. You now have 2 sides to the story (Pete’s comments and your interactions/experience with Julian) and you can give a measured ‘heads up’. I would do it in passing, and qualify it with something like, “I have no reason, based on my interactions and feedback from others, to think that this will be a problem. But I want you to know what I know”

    I know others will disagree with this under the ‘clean slate’ principle (which in truth I agree with myself). Yes, you have the information and can be on the lookout for signs, but what happens if you see the signs and have to act? It’s going to be very uncomfortable for you to tell your boss. “Yeah, he did X, yes I think he’ll do it again because he was fired from his last job for the same thing” or in the event you leave your company or position and the next person doesn’t have this information then they will be in a position to discover this by themselves without the benefit of the historical information.

    To be clear, in your shoes, and your manager’s shoes I would tuck the information away and assume it won’t be an issue going forward. But I would be very disappointed if I was your manager and learned after the fact that you knew about this and didn’t tell me.

    1. Hiring Mgr*

      I’d probably keep it to myself anyway, but does this keep going up and up the ladder? If LW’s boss feels the same, does he tell his boss and so on and so on until the CEO and Board are in the know

      1. Pink Candyfloss*

        I will take this one step further and ask the LW: What is the desired outcome of going all the way up the chain?

        If you are bringing a concern to management, there is some expectation that you are doing so for a reason, that you need them to take some sort of action or make a decision that is above your level of responsibility.

        Are you hoping that Julian will be fired based on hearsay? Are you hoping that Julian will be placed on a corrective action plan or PIP for things that did not happen at his current job since the time that he started ? If not, then what is the need to tell multiple layers about something you heard from someone outside your company about past behavior that you don’t have any context on, other than to gossip and spread potentially prejudicial rumor about this new employee?

        Let Julian show you what kind of worker he is now and in your company’s environment. There is no action to take because Julian hasn’t even gotten off the ground, and there may be no action to take ever, and you will have risked negatively impacting the career prospects of someone who doesn’t deserve it.

        What is the point of discussing

  24. Caroline*

    It’s tricky because one cannot ”un-know” something, and I’m assuming Pete is truthful and correct etc btw, which it sounds like he is, but the reasons for Julian’s former erratic behaviour could be anything from mental illness, drug abuse, side effects from treatment for an unrelated condition… all of which may easily have been solved and / or been brought completely under control at this point, and hopefully that is the case. So far, the OP has seen zero indication of anything amiss, so as Alison says, they need to just keep an eye on Julian quite closely, with this background private info tucked away, hopefully never required.

    The OP shouldn’t ever disclose that they have this info tbh. It was as part of a private conversation and concerns someone’s mental health. Treat Julian as anyone else, but bear it in mind for your own personal information.

    I hope that in time to come it will be very clear that Julian has overcome or got past whatever was going on before and is the best employee ever.

  25. Jamboree*

    Hello OP. I’m case your new here, we’re definitely going to need periodic updates. It’s the law.

    1. Heidi*

      Letter-writer here…

      I’ll be sure to send a follow-up letter! If Alison wants to publish it, of course.

  26. Lacey*

    Yeah, I do think Alison makes a good point about there possible having been an issue that is now resolved.

    I’ve never seen anything at the level described, but I’ve had various coworkers who behaved very badly under specific circumstances (looming crisis, trying to figure out their meds, death in the family) but before and after were perfectly fine.

  27. RVA Cat*

    A key piece of information we’re missing is when the Pete’s story happened. It’s a world of difference if this was Julian’s last job three months ago, or if this was years ago and the good references are more recent than that.

    1. RagingADHD*

      LW posted in a reply comment that the incident was about a year and a half ago, and Julian has not been working since then.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      The letter says the job with Pete was the most recent and the good references were from prior positions. That’s why it wasn’t odd the references weren’t from the most recent, also in the letter.

  28. Olive*

    Do hiring managers not have a way to know whether someone has been fired from a past job? I had assumed that was something that would come up on a work history check. It seems reasonable that a new job should know whether a candidate was formerly fired and give them an opportunity to explain what happened.

    1. KatEnigma*

      Not if they don’t list the job they were fired from. It’s not a requirement to lost your entire work history, and no, it’s not going to show up otherwise, under normal circumstances.

    2. Looper*

      There’s no “master database” of employment. Employers only know as much as you tell them about yourself. If you previously worked for a governmental agency, that info may be publicly available. But private employment pay records would be private information only accessible via IRS and social security records.

  29. gsa*

    “… but it sounds very possible that he had a mental health crisis that could have since been resolved.”

    How is this not a speculative comment?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author


      It’s based on facts in the letter, which reports Julian having screaming matches with himself and the company offering him mental health and substance abuse counseling.

    2. KatEnigma*

      People don’t have screaming matches with themselves (multiple) without it being some kind of psychosis. It’s not made up in people’s imaginations.

      1. onetimethishappened*

        Exactly. Just like if you had a co-worker come in coughing, pale, looking feverish its safe to assume they have some kind of illness.

        Its not fair to say that Julian at XYZ disorder or has this XYZ illness. But is clear he has some sort of Mental Disorder or Illness based on the facts given.

  30. Waving not Drowning*

    People can change. I had an absolute pain in the butt colleague – never met deadlines, what work he did do was half done, or full of mistakes, and then he’d take time off sick and we’d run around fixing all his mistakes and getting his work done (it was a team, and if we didn’t, then there would have been major fallout). He was argumentative, and would spend a fair amount of time watching youtube videos and laughing loudly. We knew we’d get no work out of him when the Soccer World Cup, or Cricket test matches were on. When he was there, it was very erratic behaviour – he got worse over time.

    Finally he was let go after years of this (and yes, it didn’t help that we’d continually pick up the pieces and get his work done – but it had to be done!).

    Turns out he was addicted to painkillers. We didn’t know this at the time. He got treatment, and evidently is a new person. I still wouldn’t want to work with him, but, talking to people who now do work with him, he’s completely different to the person I worked with (I haven’t let them know how he was with us, because, its in the past).

  31. Meow*

    I know this isn’t actionable advice, but I’m pretty surprised the LW didn’t think to call up Pete while he was still checking references when he’s friends with Pete and knew he and Julien worked together. I thought hiring managers did this all the time.

    1. Heidi*

      Letter-writer here…

      Pete and Julian did completely different jobs that, under normal circumstances, wouldn’t have ever put them in the same room or even on the same email chain. Calling Pete to ask about Julian would be like calling a vice president of a sandwich chain to ask how an individual deli clerk’s sandwiches tasted. Pete would’ve only been involved with Julian for a pretty high-level issue.

  32. should decide on a name*

    I strongly advise that LW does not say anything to anyone about this, especially to their boss, because you have no way of knowing if it is actually true, and/or if any important context is missing. It is also quite possible that Pete himself does not actually have the full details. I think Alison is right that, if the facts as presented by Pete are true, this sounds like a mental health issue that has since been resolved, and quite possibly, one that the employer did not handle well.

    I have experienced basically this exact scenario before, many times: that is, someone popping up with a bad story about a good candidate and/or new hire. The vast majority of the time I have encountered this type of thing, it has turned out that the Pete equivalent is lying about the Julian equivalent (usually due to some sort of professional jealousy), or that the Pete equivalent is heavily exaggerating negative stories about the Julian equivalent (usually with all relevant context removed).

    One instance that springs to mind is where the Pete equivalent had some first-hand information, but they only came in right at the end when the proverbial had already hit the fan, so the rest of their assumptions as to how that point was reached were based on second- or -third-hand information of varying levels of accruacy. (Eg: someone freaked out at work, but the missing context was that their manager has been allowed to bully them for years, and this was the inevitable breaking point.)

    The only time that these types of stories do tend to be true, in my experience, is if the Julian equivalent in the story was a manager that the Pete equivalent worked with, either directly or indirectly.

  33. Looper*

    Seeing LW’s other comments, I think Alison’s advice is spot on. Pete did have an alarming experience with Julian, but it sounds like it was the ONLY experience they had. So from Pete’s perspective, he’s just looking out for his friend (the LW), he has no allegiance to or context for Julian and that incident. I think all new hires should have an eye on them, for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is making sure they’re getting along well and feel they’re acclimating. Being an involved manager will tell you what’s going on with Julian more than anyone could tell you.

  34. LightYear*

    I’m confused as to why Julian’s hiring was a topic of discussion with someone outside of the organization. Unless I’m reading this incorrectly, OP mentioned that the call with Pete and subsequent discussion about Julian’s past behavior happened right after the offer letter was sent, but presumably before Julian had accepted the position. I know these kinds of things happen, but hiring organizations have an obligation to keep candidate info confidential. Pete was not a reference for Julian, so if I were OP’s manager and was made aware that my hiring manager was discussing a candidate with someone not involved in the process — not to mention unrelated to the organization — I would find that alarming.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “hiring organizations have an obligation to keep candidate info confidential”

      They don’t, though, and we could argue whether or not that’s a good practice but it seems important that you know there is no such obligation in place in run of the mill hiring ethics. That’s why your reputation in an industry can be so important.

    2. House On The Rock*

      This is really dependent on the norms of the organization and industry. I’m not saying it’s great, but where I work it’s quite common to discuss candidates with others who know them and have worked with them in the past. In fact, when I was hired for my current position in a different department of a large organization, my previous director was actually offended that my new director didn’t contact him for a reference even though I didn’t list him as a reference. I was thankful that my new director was clear that he was keeping my candidacy confidential – but he said that because it wasn’t the norm where I work. And I’ve been asked by other managers to tell them if their employees apply for jobs with my group! I’ve always declined to do this, but they are totally comfortable asking.

    3. Starbuck*

      It’s pretty normal to, for example, reach out to someone who works at an organization that’s listed on a candidate’s resume, even if they weren’t specifically listed as a reference – especially if it’s someone that you know who worked there. In my field, this wouldn’t be a boundary violation or outside of the norm. I don’t think this is that big of a deal.

  35. House On The Rock*

    In a previous job I managed someone who had a mental health crisis at work. It played out over a couple week period, culminating in an extended leave of absence to get treatment and take care of themselves. Leading up to this, they did display behavior that likely made others feel unsafe. I had to send them home a couple times when they were belligerent with coworkers and/or actively disruptive to the work environment. I was working constantly with HR on managing the situation while also trying to help the employee in crisis.

    The good news is that they were able to get treatment, return to work, and be a much better, more productive, and more collegial colleague. In retrospect, many of the performance and interpersonal issues they displayed were tied to their deteriorating mental health and it was quite heartening to see how they improved. They were also incredibly humble and open about their struggles and deeply apologetic for all the distress they caused me and others.

    However, I can definitely see someone characterizing them as a “nightmare” based on observations of their behavior in the office. And that wouldn’t be wrong. But it would be wrong to base all further hiring decisions on a crisis point in the person’s life.

    1. TurnedMeIntoANewt*

      I was an employee who had some mental health issue that impacted my interactions and productivity at work. Luckily, it didn’t arise to anything harmful but I wasn’t winning any popularity contests or employee of the month awards. Things are a lot better now.

  36. Marna Nightingale*

    As long as we’re telling stories … I know of a case, directly from a co-worker of theirs, of someone who:

    Had to draw on the company bail fund*
    Because they were charged with embezzlement
    From the company in question
    Because they had been using company funds to maintain their supply of an illegal and terribly addictive substance.

    We will draw a veil over the next few years. There was court and there was rehab and there was other stuff.

    They are one of this person’s most valued co-workers. Same company. They no longer have a job that gives them access to company money, but the job they do have is actually a better fit.

    This is partly the power of a really strong collective agreement which rightly considers addiction an illness or disability, but also the company in question has some flaws, but they really genuinely came through in this case. The rehab went through EAP.

    *It’s a thing if your job may carry some risk of arrest in the course of your duties.

  37. Squeakrad*

    I am most interested in the fact that OK did not call Julian’s last job? When I was in HR that was always the job that mattered and if I was unable to reach someone at that candidates last position, I would let them know and find an alternate reference at the last job.

  38. TomatoSoup*

    I would also just keep an eye out for now. At the very least, Julian has been able to interview and start the job without incident. There are a surprisingly wide set of reasons that this could have happened, which are curable or at least treatable. This could very well be the situation with Julian and it would be a loss to everyone (and possibly an ADA issue) if he was penalized for prior behaviors that aren’t impacting his work today.

  39. louise*

    I’d be inclined to tell my boss that after hiring & him acting fine so far, I “heard something” disturbing. So I’m being extra alert to any inappropriate behavior, but so far he seems OK.
    If he acts out at work then maybe bring up what you heard and get his version, keeping in mind you’ve seen him act out too, but presumably more mildly. His acting out + the story mean you could try to nip this in the bud, see that he gets help. So your boss would be fore-warned.
    It’s not like one of his references got back to you late, it’s a story from a friend. A bad one, that’s true.

    1. JSPA*

      “I heard some weird old scuttlebutt about Julian having had some moment of crisis in a work setting,or equally, it might have been about someone else with a similar name. I’ve been nothing but impressed with Julian, so even if it was about him, I’d guess it is not something that would affect future performance. I do feel obliged to let you know that I’m keeping an eye out for his wellbeing, and will be proactive if anything ever seems off.”

  40. Marketer*

    When I was going through my divorce I was put on a medication for depression that did not work for me, turns out I was dealing only with anxiety, and not depression. The depression medicine changed my personality so much, I just didn’t care about showing up to work among other things. I was put on a PIP and I started looking for a job after that. I landed a new job and told everyone where I was going when I put in my notice.

    My vindictive boss called my new employer to tell them about me, and the job I was hired for was given to someone else and they placed me in a lower level job that had no work for me to do. This just made me not want to show up for that job and I eventually was fired.

    I finally realized it was the medicine, and as soon as I got off it, my life vastly improved. I finished my bachelor’s degree with honors while working full time and used that to get into a professional field where I have doubled my salary in 10 years.

    Come to find out, vindictive boss started following me on LinkedIn the month I was fired from that other employer. He’s been following me ever since to see what I was up to, I blocked him when I figured this out. He was a piece of work with skeletons in his closet.

    Anyway, give the guy a chance, he could have had medication issues and has it under control now.

  41. Eliz*

    Just curious but why is everyone automatically taking the word of Pete and accusing Julian off all kinds of bad behavior and mental illnesses? maybe Pete is lying?

    1. Marna Nightingale*

      Because there’s no obvious reason for him to lie, and LW clearly regards him as an honest, if not necessarily unbiased, source?

    2. Heidi*

      Letter writer here…

      Pete doesn’t have any reason to lie. And he’s not been someone who has a track record of lying. Whether Julian were to get the job or not, it wouldn’t have any bearing on Pete’s personal or professional life.

  42. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

    I agree 100% with Alison’s advice to this LW.

    The only thing I will add is that I had to stop reading the comments a lot sooner than I expected. There are some absolutely great comments here, but those are unfortunately mixed in with some not so great things like fanfic, speculation, and a disturbing insensitivity on the part of some (NOT most) commenters to some of the issues raised concerning mental illness.

    Since all of the above is mixed up together in these threads like a tossed salad, I have decided to stop reading to protect my own mental health!

  43. Anonymous for This*

    I think there were way too many comments about mental health issues that may not be relevant to the situation.

    As some commenters pointed out, medication or medication interactions can cause a psychotic episode. In addition, some untreated medical conditions can cause what appear to be psychiatric ailments but aren’t.

    Unless and until the OP sees or gets reports of unacceptable behavior being exhibited by Julian, I think she should file Pete’s comments away for the time being.

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