how should I respond to a complaint about my employee’s behavior outside of work?

A reader writes:

I was in a popular online fitness forum last night when several posters complained about being doxxed by a popular Instagram fitness/weight-loss account. The influencer was looking up accounts that she felt had trolled her, trying to find their employers, calling the employer, and asking to speak to person’s manager. She complained to the managers about their employee’s online comments on her account and used language indicating that they should be ashamed to have this person working for them.

To my knowledge, no one was fired but several posters admitted having embarrasing talks with their managers. Most said that they had not posted anything overtly hateful, threatening, or obscene. From personal experience, I was blocked from that account just for “liking” a legitimate question that someone had about her fitness regiment.

I work in a blue collar industry, and I’m pretty sure that we would laugh our heads off if we received a call like this, but I can imagine that in some industries, calling into question an employee’s online activities/reputation would be pretty serious. What is the best course of action for managers who receive a call like this?

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

{ 218 comments… read them below }

  1. Chairman of the Bored*

    My policy on things like this is to ask myself how I would respond if I became aware that the same interaction happened in a public place in person.

    If I heard about one of my employees getting in an argument in public about fitness or politics or movies or whatever in a bar somewhere my response would be “who cares?” followed by doing nothing. People are allowed to have opinions and have heated conversations about them.

    The only exception to this is if their statements were outright racist/sexist/harassing/violent/threatening or otherwise seriously problematic in a way that raises real questions about their ability to safely work well with others. But people just beefing online? Nah, that’s less than nothing.

    If my manager wanted to “have a talk” with me because I got in an argument with somebody about exercise on the internet I’d lose a lot of respect for them and would very likely laugh in their face.

  2. Marna Nightingale*

    I feel like these days I’d be inclined as a manager to err slightly on the side of “it is my business inasmuch as I need to stay aware enough to make sure my employee is supported and safe.”

    Sometimes it’s a tempest in a teapot. Sometimes it’s about to get ugly. How unhinged is the complaint when compared to the actual action of the employee?

    I may be biased by the fact that my partner’s place of work is currently being swarmed, and not just as an organization. Individual staff are being targeted. It will probably go away for almost all of them in a few days, but we can’t be sure nothing will happen.

  3. Falling Diphthong*

    At one extreme, an outraged person calls you up to say that this employee, wearing a badge from your company, expressed doubts about the Yankees’ playoff chances.

    At the other, the employee is on camera storming the capitol with his employee badge front and center, and not only do you fire him, you call a press conference to tell reporters why.

    I do think, when dealing with internet trolls, there’s a common fantasy that you would discover this is “Mortimer Salzpeter, mid-level employee of Chase Bank” and send his grandboss a link to Mortimer conveying some hearty death threats to the poster who currently most displeases him. It gets at our wish for seeing justice done, and that persistent stomach-clencher “But I’m RIGHT about this, that should be acknowledged, why is the abusive behavior allowed by society?!!!!!!” I think the interwebz amplifies our feelings of outrage.

    There was that office where a manager was literally setting off explosions and defecating on workers, and management was like “har de har, he sure is a jokester” right up to the middle of the lawsuit. And then there are offices where “Something was said, so I must speak to the person accused, even if the thing they are accused of is liking blueberry bagels. Because someone was upset about that.” We are a glorious panoply etc.

    1. ferrina*

      Yeah, there’s a pretty wide spectrum on this. I think it depends a lot on a) what the employee did and b) how close they put your company to this. These two things should be considered both separately and in conjunction. Some behaviors are so bad that you just don’t want to be associated with that person, no matter how far removed your company was from the issue. Some behaviors are bad but not fireable, unless they associated your company with their action (like identifying themselves as your employee or were on the clock). Lesser behaviors while associating with your company might be a slap on the wrist.

      A casual, mostly-respectful internet argument with no connection to your company? I’d talk to my employee, but only from a place of “hey, watch out for this person, they called me with a weird message. Obviously I’m not taking it seriously, but let me know if you need any support, okay?’

      1. Random Bystander*

        Exactly. I remember a few years ago, during winter there was a interstate collision with fatality (maybe more than one, I don’t remember the details regarding the collision). Someone who was trying to get into work in town with his company affiliation loud and clear on his page was caught up in the snarl that results from such horrific accidents and apparently decided it was a good idea to post disparaging, extremely nasty stuff about the people who were involved in the collision. Someone on his feed posted a comment to the effect “Dude, tone it down and have some respect. People died in that crash.” and he went on to double-down on the nastiness and about how important he was. He was fired before he got off the interstate. Apparently the company involved had their phone ringing off the hook with people complaining about the Facebook posts.

        I admit I didn’t have much sympathy for him. I mean, I do sympathize with the frustration of getting stuck in a bad traffic snarl, but posting that one is “happy the [expletives deleted] are dead, those worthless [expletives]” when told that the crash causing said traffic snarl is just so far beyond belief that anyone would actually type that out while publicly representing a company.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          “Are you going to publicly humiliate me via our association?” is a reasonable concern to have. Not only at work.

  4. rollyex*

    “it is my business inasmuch as I need to stay aware enough to make sure my employee is supported and safe.”

    Nice. Great point.

    1. I Have RBF*


      When internet people doxx you and start contacting your employer to try to make you lose your job over minor disagreements it can get nasty fast. Unhinged people like that are why the term “swatting” exists.

      Unless the employee is making racist, sexist or threatening remarks, I would stand by my employee against internet shit-stirrers.

      I also recommend that people don’t use their real name online. There are too many trolls and nut jobs out there who will doxx you and harass you over minor differences.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        Also, even if the complaint alleges racist, sexist, or threatening remarks… I would want the manager to see very good evidence for it before taking action against the employee. For example, screen shots that include enough to be sure the employees words aren’t being misrepresented or taken out of context.

      2. Dude*

        The trouble is, many differences of opinion are being labeled as hate speech these days by some people.

        1. Freya*

          One of my social media accounts once got a suspension for hate speech because I expressed my lack of understanding of the mythological level of fuss made around something that doesn’t exist in my country (prom).

  5. Peanut Hamper*

    Wow. Rather than work on her brand (and on herself), this “influencer” went after people she perceived as haters and became a hater herself.

    As a manager, I would not take this person seriously. I’ve watched enough episodes of Kitchen Nightmares to know what these people are like.

    1. Orora*

      Yeah, seems like doxxing someone for disagreeing with you about a fitness regimen is…a choice. Seems more like the influencer should be the one having a Come to Jesus Talk with their manager.

    2. ABC*

      Are you by chance thinking of a particular episode here? Amy’s Baking Company? That’s the one that comes to mind for me!

  6. Poison I.V. drip*

    FFS. I can’t say I’m surprised that “I wanna talk to your manager” culture has migrated way past retail and even past employment settings. But it’s never occurred to me strike out at a stranger by getting them in trouble with their boss, just as I’d never contact their landlord, their doctor or their mom. If the party you’re complaining to isn’t material to the complaint, you’re being an ass and need to take a social media break and use that time to learn maturity.

    1. Ane*

      Someone behaving badly in a staff uniform or driving a company vehicle – then it makes sense. But it depends on the definition of “behaving badly”.

      1. rollyex*

        A run-of- the-mill dispute, no. But violent threats or explicitly sexist/racist behavior, particularly for someone who is public-facing? Yes please. Yes.

      2. AJ Crowley*

        In some industries you never take off your uniform. I very much care if anyone I’ve entrusted my healthcare to is spouting off bigoted beliefs online. I don’t care if they’re not on the clock. Same with anyone I’ve hired for legal advice or representation. The more trust your role demands, the more your behavior outside of work can impact your business.

        1. Observer*

          The more trust your role demands, the more your behavior outside of work can impact your business.

          True. But there are limits, even for this. A clinician at my medical practice is spouting bigoted stuff? Absolutely want to know, and the employer needs to care. Same clinician says “Pumpkin spice latte is the WORST. Fight me.” Who cares? Even if you are a Starbucks investor who sees how much money the company makes from it.

          1. Bird Lady*

            Agree on this one, there are certainly limits. When I was a retail manager, I had someone call to complain that they had seen me out of work dressed less than fashionable. And sure, I was in sweatpants and a sweatshirt because my husband’s grandfather had died, and I was called mid cleaning the house and asked if I could cook a bunch of food. So in my heightened state of emotions, I did not shower and change prior to running to the supermarket. I just went there because I had three baked zitis to make. Did I look like a disaster? Yes, from sobbing on my bathroom floor and then pulling myself together to get to the store. The worst part? My manager explained that I was a fashion influencer and needed to look put together at all times. I quit.

          2. AnotherOne*

            I don’t know. I think it may become a question of relevance. If the clinician’s racism doesn’t impact how they behave with patients and coworkers- is it a work problem?

            Versus a clinician posting about not believing in vaccines when part of their job is explaining about the efficacy of vaccines and actually giving them to people. That’s directly related to their job.

            1. That Specific Kind of Nerd*

              If the clinician espouses any sort of racism online, I’d find it highly unlikely that it doesn’t negatively affect their care for patients who are that race, even subconsciously (and replace racism/race for with any other form of bigotry)

            2. Observer*

              I think it may become a question of relevance. If the clinician’s racism doesn’t impact how they behave with patients and coworkers- is it a work problem?

              Yes. Yes it is. Because for one thing, it’s almost certain that it WILL affect patients unless you exclude certain patients. And reasonable non-racist patients will certainly be worried about how it’s going to affect *their* care. And the have to worry about it.

              1. justcommentary*

                Even if a clinician espousing bigotry online also didn’t treat certain patients of the relevant racial/ethnic group(s) (and therefore be less liable for direct harm), which is a big “but” given that you can’t guarantee that, I think it would make a lot of patients deeply uncomfortable (and wonder if by continuing to be treated that they were enabling racist practitioners to remain the field). It also would at minimum, seem suspect as it would appear that certain minority groups were being excluded from pools of possible healthcare and treatment. And that’s the best case scenario.

            3. Catabodua*

              A clinican who has racist views doesn’t just turn them off when they get to work. it’s been studied, verified, alla that.

              They will treat patients differently, even if they claim they won’t.

              Read up on the difficulty sickle cell patients have trying to convince medical providers they aren’t addicts that are drug seeking v patients who need pain relief for their condition.

        2. Quill*

          Yeah, the level of trust is important, but so is the specifics of the industry. Literally anything that might compromise patient health care should be a disqualifying opinion in health care, but it might not rise to a level of concern (beyond privately thinking that that person sucks) in a lawyer. (I’m talking about stuff that would have to have pretty specific circumstances to affect the lawyer’s treatment of clients – a nurse thinking that people who are fat are just lazy is always a red flag, a lawyer thinking the same is just a jerk move…)

          Likewise there are some industries that are expected to be always “on” in ways that don’t contribute to actually doing the job – see, teachers being criticized for having social media pictures up of them in a bar. So this kind of internet accusation is always going to have to be handled one case at a time.

      3. Burner PC*

        Many years ago, I saw a man cursing out a lot of people on a train, most of whom were minding their own business. I noticed that he was wearing a polo shirt with the name of a high school on it, and had a matching bag. In his lap was a pile of papers he was grading. I was able to surmise that he was a teacher at this school. I was very tempted to contact the school and tell them that this guy was representing the school faculty in a bad way. One reason I didn’t was that I had no way to identify him. (This was in the days before phones had cameras.) The other was that it would have been my word against his. (If I had, I wasn’t expecting anything to happen to him other than a stern talking-to.)

        So, yes, there are times when a complaint can be justified, especially if you’re wearing your employer’s name while doing it.

        1. Poison I.V. drip*

          Agreed, but your situation was very different. “So and so, whom I doxxed, was mean to me online” should be met with the highest skepticism.

      4. DJ Abbott*

        When I was young I often got in trouble for “inappropriate behavior”, when I didn’t know it was inappropriate and didn’t mean any harm. Apparently there was a shadow network of adults who lived to judge and punish people who weren’t like them. This was not fun.
        Now, several decades later, I’ve been forbidden from chatting with the guards downstairs during work hours, and informed that around two months ago an unnamed colleague reported me for venting to the guards (we like to tell each other funny stories). I wouldn’t and didn’t say anything a reasonable person would object to.
        People, don’t be like this! Only the most egregious or dangerous behavior should be reported. Would you want to be reported every time you have a bad day? Have some compassion for others who are having a bad day. Or taking five minutes to chat with a friend.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          I’m sorry, what? A shadow network of people out to get you??

          If multiple people in your life over the course of DECADES have complained about your behavior, have you stopped to consider that perhaps your behavior was (and is) a problem? You may not be the best judge of what is egregious or needs to be reported.

          1. Observer*

            If multiple people in your life over the course of DECADES have complained about your behavior, have you stopped to consider that perhaps your behavior was (and is) a problem? You may not be the best judge of what is egregious or needs to be reported.

            Yes. There is a Russian saying that “if three people tell you you’re drunk, lie down.”

            Maybe your problem is just that you look a certain way that’s innocuous but triggers people to treat you unfairly. But the way you describe the situation does not sound that way.

            Also, there is a difference between reporting off the clock and off site behavior to someone’s employer on the one hand and reporting workplace behavior to the employer. The fact that you seem to think that your *workplace* behavior is not something to report to your employer says that your judgement here is probably . . . off.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              Yes. There is a Russian saying that “if three people tell you you’re drunk, lie down.”

              I like that. I do wonder, though, what the advice is if three people tell me I’m sober but I feel a little tipsy.

          2. Bast*

            Playing devil’s advocate here, but I have seen workplace cliques that operate like this person describes. A small group of people decide they don’t like someone (for whatever reason) and operate a lot like middle school bullies, doing everything they can to make the person miserable and drive them out, including endless reports to management about what is usually inconsequential things. I am not sure that this is the case here, but I had to comment regarding the “shadow networks of people.” They THRIVE in certain environments and usually are huge brownnosers, so they rarely get (successfully) called out.

            1. DJ Abbott*

              Thank you! I was describing how it felt. And I’ve seen enough since to know biased, elitist groups really do operate this way – against POC, LGBT, and ignorant whites like I was.

              1. Lenora Rose*

                There do exist groups who live to criticize and nitpick their targets; it’s a form of harassment and it’s real. However, once you present yourself as if being asked not to swap stories with the security guards is equivalent to the actual persecution of minorities, I start to think the problem is, perhaps, not actually that such a cabal is persecuting you and is, perhaps, a matter of your perception being skewed.

                1. DJ Abbott*

                  It’s creepy. It makes me wonder if I’ll have to deal with that again. Does this unnamed colleague actually have it in for me? Also the director, who sees me for one minute a few times a year, draws conclusions and goes to my manager. Between these two things, will I lose my job? I hope not, I like my job, and don’t want another job search.

                2. DJ Abbott*

                  Also it was persecution when I was young. By fundamentalist misogynists of a young woman (me) who had not been taught how to meet their expectations. Don’t judge me till you’ve been there.

                3. Lenora Rose*

                  For the record, I very much believe you about your childhood, and that is a horrible place to be.

            2. Suzannah*

              Yep. I’ve seen that too.

              Also, when you’re in the news biz, there are people who think the reader is the customer, and the customer is KING, so if they don’t get some satisfaction from you after they call/email to complain about something you wrote…. they will HAVE YOUR PRESS CREDENTIALS! Or call your BOSS and tell HIM (they never think it’s a “her”) to complain that you were not sufficiently deferential to the Very Important Reader (including the ones who, I’m sorry to say now, email you profane, abusive or threatening things).
              My editors don’t give a flying fox, so I’m disappointed when they don’t follow through. (I’m not talking about corrections that legitimately need to be fixed, BTW).
              I miss the days when someone would call (no Internet) to complain that your story didn’t fit their worldview, and they’d say, “I’m canceling my subscription!” And we’d say, hold on, let me transfer you to circulation…
              And what’s funny now is when some activist I’m interviewing at a rally or whatever smiles smugly and says, oh I used to read Your Pub, but you defend baby-killers so I canceled my subscription. I love telling them that we don’t have subscriptions anymore – we’re free, online….

          3. DJ Abbott*

            No, it wasn’t over the course of decades. It was when I was young, then not for decades, then again now.

          4. Silence*

            Sounds like a very small town. Growing up I was a very boring, rule abiding teenager but my parents would often comment on they heard I meet x, y and z and did a, b or c. It was mostly benignly smothering for me but definitely the subtext that any misdeeds would also be seen. Could definitely be less friendly and more harsh depending on local culture and you (your family’s) place in it.

        2. Ellis Bell*

          This is actually quite troublingly vague! All you’ve really said is that people find you inappropriate and alarming, and that you don’t agree. I’m sure you’re right but..? Most people who offend others say that they don’t understand why it’s offensive.

          1. DJ Abbott*

            No… this had not happened since my 20’s. I’m 61 now. I work at being kind, supportive, and respectful. I don’t think it’s me.
            What concerns me is if someone has it in for me, it won’t matter what I do. They’ll find reasons.

      5. Zeus*

        Yep, the only times I’ve reported someone to their company was when they were driving a company car and nearly caused an accident (which happens far more than it should). I’ve been tempted to message people’s employers based on particularly bigoted Facebook posts in the past, but resisted the urge.

    2. Jennifer Strange*

      I mean, I’ve seen an incident where a man used social media to tell a woman she deserved to be raped. She reported him to his company (which was displayed on his profile) and he was fired. I think she was 100% in the right on that. Yes, I’d say most of the time it’s just someone complaining that the employee in question was mean to them, but there are times where I think reaching out to the company is a valid choice.

      1. learnedthehardway*

        Hard agree with you – Advocating any kind of violence against another person surely does deserve to have real world consequences.

        Reporting someone to their employer for disagreeing with you or questioning your views / opinions and/or questioning whether claims you have made are true – that’s ridiculous and should be treated as such.

      2. I Have RBF*

        Yes, hate speech and threats are reportable, because they are also potentially illegal.

        But if the person says, like I have, “I can’t stand marshmallows or whipped cream.” and someone report them to their boss for that? Most bosses I’ve had would laugh and say “Yeah, I know. So what?”

        If the person says “I’m a member of the Church of Satan.”, and some Christian fundamentalist reported that to their boss, the boss should ignore it.

    3. Sleepy in the stacks*

      Yep, it’s sad really. This seems to be a huge thing on current social media platforms, where there are accounts who are known for basically doxxing people they don’t agree with on the Internet. What makes it worse for me is that sometimes it is over the smallest opinions, stuff you should just block them for and move on, but these accounts leak their employment info and do it in a way where they’re like “Ohhhh, wouldn’t it just be so terrible if it were leaked that Mrs. Smith works at North Hospital in This City? Wouldn’t it be terrible if her boss were called with complaints about how she’s a terrible, terrible person online?”

      There are instances where I do get it. Report the bigots, sure. But this has devolved into trying to get people fired over having a difference in opinion about petty things.

      1. Sage*

        If you are in the same area and depending on your jobs, you risk that the rude person ends in the same company as you.

          1. Sage*

            If you get someone from another company fired for being rude, depending on the concrete situation there is a small risk that the fired person ends getting employed in the same company as you.

            Although that is very improbable.

            I hope it makes more sense now :)

            1. Confused*

              Yes. In the literal sense I get it. :)

              You may not have intended it, but I read it as a person shouldn’t say anything because they may have to see that rude person again. That’s a risk I am not afraid of. Sometimes in these comments people come across as suggesting complete discomfort avoidance to a level I find impossible to maintain in “real” life.

              1. Sage*

                I indeed didn’t intend it to not to say anything ever. One thing is to not to wish the rude person to lose their job, another thing is to be a doormat!

            1. Sage*

              I never made anyone lose their job, but I had once the very bad experience that Rude-Coworker-Who-Defended-My-Bullies took a job at the company I changed to, and I don’t live in a small place!

              I guess that with my previous answer I was projecting a bit.

        1. Bast*

          I think that Jade meant it more in the context of a rude cashier, rude receptionist, etc. They may simply be having a bad day//going through something really terrible that we have no clue about, and going ahead and reporting them for their rudeness may result in them losing their job. There’s no chance that that particular rude person will end up working in the same company as you, but you still don’t want them to lose their job over what could be just a really awful day for them. I think we have all been rude/short at times without necessarily trying to be and wouldn’t want to be fired over a single bad day, so this is a fair point. Unless someone does something particularly egregious I don’t mention it either (ie: pizza delivery guy spits in my face when I open the door). Otherwise, I also try to remind myself the “rude” person is human, it has nothing to do with me, and move on with my day.

          1. Nixologist*

            because no one is a cashier or receptionist so we’d never be coworkers EVER

            I mean I agree with your point but I find it pretty belittling to assume that we need to have sympathy but never empathy for the service industry.

            1. allathian*

              Added to that is that very few people go into retail thinking it’s their career for life. Some obviously do, but if the cashier looks young enough to be in high school or college, it’s probably a temporary job. They could end up working anywhere after they graduate, and might just be having a bad day if they’re rude. (Someone who’s habitually rude to customers wouldn’t last long even in retail…)

              The vast majority of my friends and the people I went to college with worked in retail, food service, or a call center as students. I’ve worked in all three, and I’m not alone.

          2. Sage*

            The part about how everyone can have a bad day makes a lot of sense, and I agree that everyone is rude at some point!

            Thanks for pointing that out.

      2. Peanut Hamper*

        Same. You don’t know what kind of day/week/month the person is having. I never want to invest that much energy into something negative.

        On the other hand, when I get great service from somebody, I usually do try to say something about that.

    4. Borocrat*

      I’ve heard of a really good strategy when being sexually harassed online- screenshot the messages and send them to the person’s mom. I don’t think this type of response is “I wanna talk to your manager” culture, as much as it is “sexual harassment online is very widespread and there’s a real shortage of ways to make it stop” culture.

      Also, I think it’s telling that the person isn’t describing the original comments beyond “Most said that they had not posted anything overtly hateful, threatening, or obscene.” I’m guessing that some comments were overtly hateful, threatening or obscene.

      Overall, I think the AskAManager response is spot on for employers. If your employee is acting out online, evaluate the comments made for bigotry and hate speech, and otherwise generally err on the side of ‘not my business.’

      1. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

        What I’m seeing lately is screenshots of offensive comments being posted on the social media account of the target of the comment, sharing the username of the commenter but not actually doxxing them. Then the commentariat have their way with the jackhole in the comments.

        Seems fair.

    5. Michelle*

      I once had a neighbour call my landlord and say that we were destroying the house (she’d never been inside). Sadly she had a brain tumor that was affecting her behavior. Another time she showed up at our house at 9pm screaming about our dog barking outside, when said dog was on the couch, quietly watching TV with us.

    6. Nobby Nobbs*

      I wouldn’t call this a recent offshoot of “I want to talk to your manager” culture, but then I’m involved in a hobby (fanfiction) where doxxing people to their employers has been an appalling but very extant form of bad behavior for a long time.

        1. Quill*

          There’s a reason AO3 exists and it’s not only because Livejournal was bought by a russian company.

          Entire websites and a variety of lawsuits have been created solely due to ship wars.

    7. Michelle Smith*

      I strongly disagree. It just happened over the weekend that I saw an article about a teacher being fired for posting racist memes and comments on social media. It’s absolutely appropriate for those parents to have complained to the school board! Same as I think it’s appropriate for police to be fired for the same kind of posts. I don’t want someone teaching my kids who thinks it’s okay to be a bigot. I don’t want armed law enforcement letting their racist beliefs affect how they police. That’s how people who look like me end up dead.

      1. constant_craving*

        Yup. If a position involves public trust and/or influence over a more vulnerable population, your behavior off the clock absolutely matters.

        1. Bumblebee*

          It does, but this gets taken to extremes sometimes – in conservative areas, teachers have been fired for having after-work drinks when parents spot them and report them. So still be careful how far you take this! (We once ran into our kids’ teachers drinking margaritas on a Friday nights and said, “Oh no, our children have driven them to drink,” and paid their bar tab, which seems like a better response.)

          1. GreyjoyGardens*

            I agree. I think it’s terrible that teachers have lost their jobs for being caught having a drink with their friends, on their own time. It’s not as if kids say, “Oh look, Miss Wormwood is having a margarita! I’m gonna have one, too!” (Just like nobody is handing out free substances like candy. DARE has a lot to answer for.)

            I think before reporting, you need to think: is this really *bad* behavior that might cause harm? Teacher going on a racist rant, yes. Teacher sipping a Blue Curaçao with a paper umbrella, no.

  7. Kat Em*

    This happened to me once! The person found my boss, reached out to her on social media, and told her she should think twice about hiring such a horrible person. (I’d criticized citing a shady news source that I didn’t realize this person was associated with.) My boss laughed it off and said I deserved a raise for putting up with that nonsense, and it was fine. But it still shook me up quite a bit when it happened. It was years before I could stand to go back and re-read my documentation of what happened without feeling some kind of panic.

    1. Magenta Sky*

      It happened to me once, too, from a guy who eventually turned out to be a full blown (cyber)stalker. When it was all said and done, he was nearly deported for filing a false report with the Secret Service about something I’d posted on Usenet. (His lawsuit against me disappeared when his own lawyer stopped showing up in court.)

      1. rollyex*

        Usenet. Wow, that brings back memories.

        And false report to the Secret Service? Dang. I’ve been threatened with a lawsuit on Usenet, but it was all bluster and I laughed at the guy. He asked for my address to serve papers, so I emailed them to him. LOL.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          This loser actually filed a defamation suit. (We got into a namecalling contest on Usenet. He lost. And didn’t take it well, especially when he figured out my only reaction was amusement.)

          *Then* he filed a “concerned citizen” report with the Secret Service, conflating two (completely unrelated, from different newsgroups) posts I’d made, trying to make it sound like I was threatening the President.

          The Secret Service are the politest cops I’ve ever had any interaction with. Spent – literally – a couple of minutes apologizing for bothering me, “I’m sure this is nothing, but we have to check all these things out, etc.” (they get thousands, of not tens of thousands, of concerned citizen letters ever year, and 99.9999% of them are rubbish, but they have to check every one). I actually had to interrupt him and ask what, exactly he wanted. He asked me if I intended to threaten the President, I said no, and that was it so far as he was concerned. But before he hung up, I asked him if the letter was from a particular person. He couldn’t answer, of course, but from the way he say “Why do you ask” I knew the answer.

          I expected that was that, but he called me back a couple of days later, and – purely off the record, mind you, he couldn’t confirm anything – said he’d talked to the guy, and asked him if there was anything else between the two of us, which he denied repeatedly. After a bit of, I presume, bullying (and I’m sure the agent had actually seen the lawsuit by that point, so he *knew* the facts), the guy admitted to it. The agent then, in his words, “read him the riot act” about trying to use the Secret Service as part of a personal vendetta and (since the guy’s a permanent resident, but not a citizen, and filing false reports with the police is a crime) it could end up with his arrest and deportation. He (the agent) also made it very clear that they wouldn’t be opening any file on *me* (emphasis his).

          His lawyer stopped showing up for court appearances shortly after that (and shortly after he found out I wasn’t worth nearly as much as his client had claimed). Haven’t heard from him since (and it’s been almost 30 years).

          1. Poison I.V. drip*

            The most vitriolic exchange I was ever in was on Usenet over the definition of the word “connote.” It was like 1993. This guy was ready to go full nuclear. I disengaged after a couple of posts. That’s why I avoid social media to this day. The guy is still out there (he used a very unusual handle) and sometimes I consider reaching out to him in a “Boy, weren’t we dumb kids way” but…nah.

            1. Magenta Sky*

              The nastiest flamewar I ever saw was over “shiny side in, or out.” It was on a cooking mailing list, and they were talking about baking potatoes. And when somebody started citing peer reviewed studies that said it doesn’t make any difference whatsoever, there were literal death threats.

              1. learnedthehardway*


                I will say I questioned myself about whether to wrap the fruit cake I made this weekend with the foil shiny side in or out, then decided to try one of each. For science.

              2. Phony Genius*

                Sounds like some of those people were one step away from debating which side of the foil should face outward on their hat to best block the government’s control rays. (“Shiny side reflects, dull side absorbs.”)

              3. whingedrinking*

                Forget hockey, politics, even fanfic – I’ve never seen or heard more vicious insults hurled than in food/cooking discussions. Like, everyone says things like “Ketchup on hot dogs? You monster” sometimes as a joke, but I’ve seen people go into such detail about exactly where and how to insert a spatula that I’m sure they meant it.

      2. I Have RBF*

        I have been a flame warrior on UseNet. But not under my real name. But I never tried to doxx or contact the employer of anyone I disagreed with. Even when I despised the person, it never even occurred to me to try to mess with their livelihood.

    2. And the Skeletons Are… Part of It*

      Yes, even if it doesn’t get anyone fired, this behavior is designed to make people feel unsafe.

  8. Throwaway Account*

    We know that many people who behave very poorly in public, in a racist way, for example, do get fired. Companies do not want to be associated with behavior that is harmful to others

  9. Magenta Sky*

    The sharp edge, of course, is who gets to define what constitutes “hate speech” and “harassment.” There are those who will, and *have*, call anything they disagree with both, and complain to anyone they can think of, including one’s boss. And genuinely believe what they say.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      While that is true, it is certainly not an excuse for inaction on the part of the company if there is a legitimate complaint. People abuse rules, laws, etc. all the time, but they still have value. The fact that some people will inappropriately contact another person’s boss over something trivial doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t make a complaint about someone who is making violent threats, for example.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        Having rules and laws still is valuable even if some people will misuse them is what I’m inartfully trying to say.

  10. Fluttervale*

    I’ve been the manager receiving the complaint and generally I immediately trespass the person complaining about my employee. The last thing I need is some vigilante approaching my employees at work.

    I’ll look into it if the complaint warrants it, but thus far it’s always been petty stupid stuff once the employee explains — exes and estranged relatives trying to get people fired for holding to boundaries.

    1. Magenta Sky*

      Most of the time, it comes down to “who you gonna believe, the employee you’ve worked with long enough to know them, or some random, half coherent person on the internet who wouldn’t tell you their real name if you asked?”

      Sadly, some employers automatically go with #2.

      1. whingedrinking*

        A while ago there was a story on AaM where the OP had a coworker who said she had a serious illness, received money from her coworkers from a GoFundMe, and eventually left the job because she couldn’t cope under the strain. A couple months later, someone called up claiming to be a friend of the coworker and saying that the coworker had never been sick, it had all been a con, yada yada.
        I was honestly kind of amazed that the OP’s immediate response was to believe the coworker must be lying and not the anonymous rando without a shred of corroborating evidence who called them out of the blue, or even consider the possibility.

    2. Orv*

      Doctor’s offices tend to use that kind of “fire the customer” technique. I once left a three-out-of-five star Google review for a doctor’s practice because I was unhappy with how they’d handled a referral. I wasn’t rude, but they sent me a letter saying I couldn’t see any doctor in that physician group anymore. Hard lesson to learn, since there aren’t many doctors who accept my insurance. Now I don’t complain publicly about anything.

      1. Doc McCracken*

        That is a tough situation. As a provider, I understand why the office handled it that way. I would have a tough time mentally caring for a patient that I knew had a major ax to grind with my office. Not to mention concerns about liability. I won’t even send patients to collections because that is a big trigger for board complaints. (I learned early on to keep billing up to date to avoid losing large amounts of $.)

        1. Clare*

          I think a large part of the problem in this particular example is the wildly different ways people interpret star ratings. You’ve seen 3 stars and interpreted it as ‘major axe to grind’, where I (and presumably Orv) see 3/5 as ‘better than average, still a pass, just not outstanding’.

          (This is why I avoid giving star ratings whenever possible.)

          1. Quill*

            3/5 is such a wild median to deal with in terms of customer satisfaction because of this exact conflict of ideas.

  11. Marty J*

    I would be tempted to find out if the influencer has any sponsorships, and then contact *their* manager ;)

    1. Jade*

      Yes. Doxxing people is terrible. Any real threats should be reported to police, but not routine rude internet comments.

      1. I Have RBF*

        Any real threats should be reported to police, but not routine rude internet comments.


        If it’s actionable, report it to the cops. Otherwise, shrug and move on.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          Not everyone has that level of comfort with police or wants to involve a lethal force over a verbal threat. Not everyone wants to involve the criminal legal system, knowing how it can make things worse for everyone involved not better. Let’s not suggest that contacting the police is the only reasonable way to deal with threats, harassment, or racism or suggest that verbal or written statements should only be addressed if there is a specific law prohibiting them that the police feel like enforcing.

    2. Managed Chaos*

      The influencer had a major sponsorship/arrangement with DietBet at the time. They didn’t care.

  12. Shoes*

    Selfishly, I hope for a lot of comments, but probably not.

    I think this is the other side of “doxxing” who determines who or what is worthy of this type of behavior.

  13. Otter L*

    This is also one of the many, many reasons I’m extremely careful with how much I reveal about myself online. I’m not active on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, and on the one social media site I do regularly use, I try to avoid any specific identifiable details about where I live or work. I’ve gotten involved in online drama before and it thankfully stayed online. Being harassed as an anonymous online persona felt violating enough, and I’m endlessly glad none of the perpetrators had any way of finding me in real life.

  14. Momma Bear*

    I think there’s a big difference between feedback and violent or actively terrible behavior and unless it was something illegal, I’d err on the side of “hey, so you know” and let it roll off. I did once get a report (as a webmaster) of someone being horribly racist and forwarded it to HR. Not sure what action may have been taken, though.

  15. Phony Genius*

    A lot of people who behave this way seem to have a thought running through their head along the lines of “if my boss found out I behaved this way, I’d be fired immediately.” Thing is, that’s usually not true. Corollary to that, I think a lot of the people who do this are either self-employed or independent freelancers who don’t have a formal boss, so they have no idea how bosses address problems with employees. (Or even what bosses consider to be “problems.”)

    I could take it deeper than this, as I theorize there’s an element of envy involved, but it would be a really long explanation and I don’t want to derail the thread.

    1. Shoes*

      Explain, please.

      I think it could be interesting and not derailing. I often wonder what happens to people after being doxxed. The news cycle and internet mobs move so quickly. Parties are forgotten, but what damage is done?

      1. TypityTypeType*

        The target of “Has [redacted] landed yet?” has apparently never been able to free herself of it. Her employer — who behaved disgracefully — gave the Twitter goons an easy win, and they took it very much to heart. Or would have if they had any hearts, which is doubtful.

        1. Shoes*

          Yes! I had forgotten about that letter just that quick. I am guilty of moving on quickly, I guess. Letters written from different perspectives.

            1. Orv*

              A woman made an offensive tweet right before a flight — I won’t get specific, but it was racist in a clearly sarcastic way. She probably never expected it to go beyond her small number of followers. It went viral and by the time she landed all of Twitter knew her name and she’d been fired from her job.

        2. Valancy Trinit*

          Wow. If firing someone for an offensive tweet is “behaving disgracefully”, what merits a firing in your book? Crashing the plane?

          1. Orv*

            I don’t think it’s disgraceful, but we also haven’t yet figured out as a society how people can atone for such behavior, so it becomes a “one unguarded tweet can ruin your entire life forever” sort of situation.

          2. TypityTypeType*

            It was a plainly sarcastic joke about herself and her own privilege, made to her 150 Twitter followers, that some goon took and deliberately misconstrued and spread far and wide. Her boneheaded employer fired her before the plane had landed, just to placate the mob. I watched it happen in real time, and it was incredibly ugly.

            We weren’t all used to it such spectacle yet.

  16. Amber Rose*

    A woman on a bike was riding dizzy circles in the middle of the intersection I was trying to cross to get to work. I honked at her to get her to move, and went on my way. She followed me and reported me to every manager and employee she could accost outside the building for harassing her.

    Every single one of those coworkers came to tell me about it because it was the funniest thing that had happened to them in ages.

    1. Capt. Liam Shaw*

      I don’t doubt your story. But as a cyclist I have cameras on my bike, front and back. It is amazing when there is altercation with a driver how the events they tell to a police officer vs what the footage really shows. Luckily this has only happened once in my life.

      I am not saying this to say you were wrong or taking sides, just a humble FYI.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        I don’t understand what your point is.

        I ride a bicycle. I’ve dealt with plenty of rude, negligent, unobservant, and/or dishonest drivers. I’ve also dealt with plenty of rude, negligent, unobservant, and/or dishonest cyclists. Amber Rose is not describing something that can be easily misinterpreted. Either a cyclist was riding circles in the intersection or not, it would have been very obvious to her at the time, and it’s certainly within the realm of possibility.

        I know you say you don’t doubt her story, but by commenting with this particular response it comes across as if you’re saying she’s misrepresenting what happened.

      2. GreyjoyGardens*

        “I don’t doubt your story, but…”

        Way to be passive aggressive. There are plenty of jerks on two wheels as well as on four. And riding in what we used to call “dipsy doodles” around an intersection is asking for an accident.

      3. Ginger Cat Lady*

        Sorry, but this comment very much does come off as “cyclists are honest, people in cars lie” which is 100% false.
        If this has only happened once in your life, then maybe you shouldn’t be drawing generalizations from it, nor using it to contradict someone who had a bad experience with a cyclist.

  17. AthenaC*

    Fun fact: I once had an ex-boyfriend show up to my office right after our breakup and demanded to speak to the managing partner. (Possibly relevant details: I wasn’t there, I was out at a client, and he had met her before at the company Christmas party. He mentioned to me when he called to taunt me about this that he “knew” that she liked him enough to listen to what he said about me.)

    Anyway, he met with her and proceeded to tell her (his words) “what kind of a person you really are.” After this, she called to ask me if I was okay, and later had the office manager / local HR stand-in talk to me and remind me about the EAP.

    So thankfully, it had zero impact on my life. But the moral of the story is that there always will be people who try to mess up employment for ex-partners or others.

    1. Sage*

      Wow! I’m glad you are out of that relationship with him :O
      And I’m glad that your manager saw him for what he was.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      The overlap of scary and ludicrous is an interesting juxtaposition here. What on earth can a boyfriend tell a boss about one of their employees’ suitability? With a bunch of personal bias and without relevant proof, I assume. It’s almost an impressive level of delusional self importance.

      1. 1LFTW*

        Well… yes and no.

        The idea that an ex could make a convincing case for “this person who just dumped me is actually bad at their job!” is laughable. But, an ex might know private medical information that could harm my employment. An ex might also lie – fabricating past professional malfeasance, or even a criminal history. Or, an ex might just make so much trouble for an employer that they decide to invent a reason to fire their worker rather than deal with the “drama”.

        That last one isn’t legal in my US state, but I’m sure there are places where it is.

  18. Hiring Mgr*

    I received a call like this about 15 years ago, from an employees ex who I didn’t know but knew I was his boss and started telling me how he was a drug dealer, and stole from the company, and was doing all sorts of criminal things, and how I shouldn’t want anyone like him working for me etc etc..

    I knew this was BS and that it was a messy breakup situation so I called him in and as soon as I said, “I got this strange call just now..” he knew she had called and was mortified and said he would talk to her. Anyway I told him he was fine and never heard from her again… People just do weird things sometimes

  19. Emywho*

    Ugh – had this happen to me. Someone was making awful comments about a plus sized model and didn’t like what I had to say about it so she brought it to my DMs. It got ugly and I said LOTS of things – nothing racist or violent but a few could definitely qualify as ageist. She ultimately blocked me and I thought that was the end of it. Nope, she found me on LinkedIn (that’s the only place I list any employer info obviously) and proceeded to email the CEO of my company for what I later found out was over the course of 6 weeks. The CEO didn’t want to deal with it because it had nothing to do with my work or our company but then this person began calling and her calls get getting bounced between HR and the CEOs admin. I was eventually called into HR with my supervisor and presented with a printout of the DMs that she sent in an attachment, a printout that conveniently left out all the things this lady said to me – including the part where she messaged me first!!! I was not in trouble because they could tell that it was highly edited and they really just wanted to make me aware. I was blind copied on a boilerplate response that thanked the person for brining it to their attention and informed them that they could not discuss it any further due to privacy concerns. We chuckled about how pathetic this person must be to try and bully someone, pick the wrong one and then resort to that nonsense. I immediately removed my government name from all social media. People are insane.

  20. Statler von Waldorf*

    I got a call like this once. I was working at a law office at the time. All I did was take the information down and passed it along, but it did lead to an interesting story. This took place in an unnamed Canadian city roughly 15 years ago.

    Apparently one of the paralegals on staff had disagreed with someone on this still-new book of faces over a set of legal facts. She said he was completely wrong in a very unapologetic manner, and I guess that really pissed him off. So he called up, lied about her and made threats about getting his “friends” to pull their accounts from the firm if the firm didn’t fire her.

    If he had just stuck to complaining about her, I don’t think anyone would have really cared. But he threatened the law firm’s bottom line, and that did not go over well. The firm used the recorded phone calls (I only took the one, but there were multiple calls made) and emails he sent them to sue him for for tortious interference. She also personally sued him for defamation.

    He settled both cases instead of going through discovery. I don’t know the specific details, but I do know that the paralegal always had a big smile when she told this story, so I am inclined to think that it was a good settlement.

  21. TypityTypeType*

    I loathe this trend of trying to make employers into perpetual hall monitors, overseeing their employees’ off-the-clock behavior. People do not “represent the company” every moment of their lives; the idea is absurd.

    Yes, there are egregious cases, but those are rare. In virtually every instance, what people do, think, and say on their own time is none of their employers’ business, and that is how employers should treat complaints.

  22. AnonThisTime*

    Not using my regular name for this one.

    I had someone call my employer because of a comment I’d made about a politician who was a prominent white supremacist. I think I said something along the lines that if he died he should have a stake driven through his heart, his mouth stuffed with holy wafers, and any other actions taken to avoid him rising. This was taken by a random stranger as a “hateful attack” which my employer, thankfully, laughed off.

    It’s ironic that opposition to hate-speech can be treated by some AS hate speech.

      1. Czhorat*

        I disagree; there are broad principles on which society as a whole has come to an agreement and a clear definition.

        Attacks against minority communities are hate speech.
        Misgendering trans people is hate speech.
        Use of ethnic and religious slurs is hate speech.
        Attacks on communities of faith for their beliefs is (often) hate speech

        Criticism of governments or government actions is not hate speech.
        Calling out bigotry is not hate speech.
        Criticism of actions of religious organizations is not hate speech.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          What constitutes an attack? Some would reserve that to violence. Some would (and *have*) use the word to describe any disagreement, or even anything short of enthusiastic agreement.

          What constitutes a minority community? Here in southern California, there is no majority ethnicity any more. Is it hate speech when someone complains about white privilege? Some say it is.

          What constitutes a religious or ethnic slur? Some say that even saying “white privilege” is an ethnic slur.

          You disagree with those people (and, for the most part, so do I), but why is *your* opinion on those answers more important than theirs?

          There is no such thing even *possible* as an objective standard when it comes to offensive speech. Actions, yes, and speech can be an action (the exceptions to the 1st Amendment mostly center on speech that is intended to incite criminal activity, right now), but pure speech?

          There’s nothing you would call hate speech that there isn’t someone out there who not only agrees with it, but considers you calling it hate speech to *be* hate speech. It’s *all* subjective opinion, and the only decisions to be made are based on which opinion you agree with.

          As for “broad principles on which society as a whole has come to an agreement and a clear definition,” the other term for that, sometimes, is “mob rule,” and it’s not desirable in a free, civilized society.

          1. Czhorat*

            You’re either making silly bad-faith arguments or are woefully, woefully ignorant on the topic.

            This is honestly the kind of thinking I see from bigots trying to defend the right to public bigotry, “edgy” kids trying to play devil’s advocate, and nobody interested in serious discussion.

            1. Despachito*

              Actually, Magenta Sky has very good points and worthy to think about.

              I think that all of us will agree as to the most blatant examples of hate speech (like inciting people to harm other people, debasing and demeaning a group of people), but apart from that, there is indeed a large grey area of what is and what isn’t acceptable, and it is possible to disagree on certain points and still be able to lead a civil discussion.

              I find it very dangerous to tar people who mention this and whose grey areas do not completely overlap with mine with a “bigot” brush. I lived under a non-democratic regime for some time, and one of its most prominent features was “who does not go with us is going against us”. And any discussion apart from the official ideology was silenced, and sometimes there was also the mob rule Magenta is mentioning (like otherwise normal people demanding a death penalty for someone who was against the regime and tried to emigrate. Nothing more than that, killed no one, robbed no one, just wanted to live in another country. I kid you not. And those people demanding the penalty were not some monsters, they were regular law-abiding citizens, just the ideology managed to make them think they were right and the person wanting to emigrate was A TRAITOR).

              This site is remarkably respectful and full of reasonable people willing to think, so PLEASE do not let us think like totalitarians, and let us rather lead RESPECTFUL discussions about the places where our ideas maybe do not fully overlap.

          2. Ms.Vader*

            The minute your “opinion” means dehumanizing and restricting actual rights based on race, sex, gender, sexuality etc means it is not an opinion but is in fact hateful rhetoric. And this is supported by law. An opinion is that Oreos are the best cookies not that gay people shouldn’t marry (as an example only – ANYONE should have that right regardless).

            And you factually can’t be racist towards white people – prejudice to white people can exist but not racism.

          3. Clare*

            The way I personally try and deal with this grey area is to draw the line at speech that causes or incites harm. So saying group X does bad things, should be stopped, should be imprisoned for crimes that they’ve committed, that their actions and beliefs are atrocious and disgust me – all fine. Calling members of group X atrocious or disgusting, saying that they should experience the suffering they’ve inflicted on others, conflating them with their leaders, joking about them being hurt or discouraging others from showing them compassion when they need it – not fine.

            The staking example is difficult; because on the one hand anon isn’t advocating harm to the person (you can’t harm a corpse, and if they’re following Republican Christianity damaging the corpse isn’t believed to impact the soul in their afterlife). However, mutilating a corpse does harm their family and friends. So overall by my system I’d class it as pinky-toe over the line.

            Minority or majority doesn’t matter in my system, except that harm is caused by saying things to and about under-privileged groups that wouldn’t harm those with privilege. Saying “Men as a whole should do more housework” isn’t harmful speech, but saying “Women as a whole should do more housework” is. Context matters. These rules do open up the possibility for people to claim ‘harm’ over minor infractions such as slightly hurt feelings, but not all harm needs the same response.

            For example: if A says “White guys can’t dance” and B says “Wow, that’s really hurtful” then it was harmful speech. But the correct response is for A to apologise and speak more carefully in future. That’s all. No shunning or doxxing or firing. Furthermore, if A said “None of my white friends can dance” then others are free to reply “You need to meet more white guys then, I know plenty who can dance”. Discourse is preserved and harm to all is minimised, at the cost of being a little more careful about how we phrase things.

            Or at least, that’s the intent. Real life is messy.

        2. beware the shoebill*

          While I’d like to believe that our society broadly can agree on those principles, unfortunately it is highly dependent on what type of society you are surrounded with as to whether that’s true. To far too many people, misgendering trans people is NOT hate speech, and criticizing a dominant religion IS hate speech…

        3. Despachito*

          Depends what criticism though.

          If you say the government does whatever wrong, that is OK.

          If you say they should be killed/do not deserve to live, it would be hate speech even if it was government and/or majority.

    1. BatManDan*

      Well, in fairness, opposition to hate speech IS sometimes hate speech. See my comment here today about the wife of a friend who wanted to (literally) kill people over the candidate they voted for, for president.

  23. Maple*

    I once Googled someone who had their own website promoting their side hustle who was hassling me in the role of a moderator on a popular site. I used their name and a word like “jerk” to see if anyone else was having issues with this semi-public figure. Well Google algorithms being what they are, I got a hit on their personal page, they were able to see my IP address, and from that figure out my real name and place of employment. So I got a threatening message saying “What would your employer say if they knew you were behaving this way?”

    (They would likely say: “WTF, jerk!?”)

    My fellow mods put the kibosh on the threat but it turns out we worked for different branches of the same employer and they worked across the street from me. I did not report them to their employer as I didn’t want my employer to see I was using my work computer for innocuous but not work-related stuff. TBF they were too.

    So a subtle sort of brinkmanship, but who brings the nuclear option after getting their wrist slapped in an online spat?!

    Anyway, I varied my route to and from work, I eventually didn’t work there anymore, and they later served on a public ethics committee.

  24. Michelle Smith*

    While I don’t disagree with the advice in the article, I am not sure what the manager in that scenario is supposed to say to the complainer/caller in that moment. All the advice is about what to say to the employee. What’s the script for that conversation with the complainant in the moment?

    1. pally*

      peals of laughter?
      /sarcasm off

      I’d say a very non-committal, “Thank you for this information, I’ll look into this. Goodbye.”

    2. Jennifer Strange*

      It depends on the complaint itself. If the complaint is “This person told me my Addams Family/It’s Always Sunny fanfic wasn’t good!” then the response can just be “They’re entitled to their opinion”. If the complaint is more along the lines of “This person made a bigoted comment on these message boards” then I think the response should be, “Thank you, I’ll look into it.” And then the manager can look into it and see if the complaint is true.

    3. spcepickle*

      My favorite reply to things I don’t really want to comment on is – Noted.
      Someone random member of the public calls and gives a long winded rants about one of my people I respond with – Noted, I need to get to another meeting now, good bye.

    4. Ellis Bell*

      I’d want to say something like: “I’m afraid we simply don’t discuss our employees with members of the public.” I would then just repeat that ad nauseum, and to any queries or insistence that they’re rude/bad or whatever I would just say “I’m going to end the call now.” Obviously this is if it’s just a difference of opinion, not a report of hate speech.

    5. r.*

      Canned response for all sorts of reports:

      “Thank you for this information. We will proceed appropriately from here-on. If we require more information from you we will contact you; could we use for this?

      Please understand that, unless we believe that laws were broken, we treat all employer/employee relation questions with utmost confidentiality and do not share information with any outside parties; as such we will not be able to provide any further statement on the matter.

      Thank you for your understanding.”

      The goal is to communicate in a way that can deal with the caller non-comitally while also standing up to scrutiny (and decency) in case it isn’t a laughing matter, however remote that possibility that may be in the present case. (People who’ve gone through genuine trauma sometimes will communicate in very weird ways that can make you go “what!? this is ridiculous!”)

      Then, in this case, I’ll laugh my arse off, share the info along the lines of what Alison suggested with the employee, and probably have a good laugh together.

      Well — to be honest I’ll also have a good think on whether the call was genuinely that person and not a prank; if genuine we will probably not be entertaining (however unlikely) any applications from that person ever, and I’ll leave a note to that effect.

      Trying to get someone fired over a petty spat is such an amazingly bad judgement of a type that *does* involve professional relations, and the desire not to have someone prone to that sort of bad judgement working for me is probably the only aspect of this little descent into inanity that needs to be considered by the business itself.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        This is really helpful, thank you!

        And thanks to the other commenters who also offered useful scripts!

  25. Dasein9 (he/him)*

    As social media becomes more and more prominent in our lives, this is going to raise some interesting ethical questions. How much are we “out of uniform” if we use our real names and can be searched on LinkedIn, for instance? How anonymous are we, really, if we don’t use our real names?

    I suspect that, much as people across the US are starting to move in order to live in states that align to their political views, people will have to start choosing where to work based on their political views. (Going “into the closet” might also be an option some are forced by circumstance to choose.)

    1. TypityTypeType*

      People are, in almost every case “out of uniform” if they are off the clock. If I “represent the company” 24 hours a day, I need to be paid for my time 24 hours a day. Employees are not serfs.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        “Employees are not serfs.”

        Unfortunately, not all employers see it that way.

        I don’t work for the ones who don’t. You shouldn’t, either.

      2. constant_craving*

        This depends on what you mean by represent the company. If they want you in sales mode or something, your comment makes sense.

        But in the context of refraining from saying/doing harmful things, they don’t have to pay you for that. And requiring you to be a decent human being is not the same as treating you as a serf.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          Some employers consider voting for the candidate you endorse a requirement for being a “decent human being.” Hell, some consider expecting to be paid for the hours you work a requirement.

          It all comes down to who gets to define the terms.

        2. TypityTypeType*

          They are not paying people to say or do “harmful things,” they are paying people for the work they do, at the job and on the clock. The eagerness to extend employers’ oversight into people’s personal lives and opinions is bewildering to me. It is a JOB.

          And what lucky person — or employer, or bureaucrat — gets to define “harmful” and “decent human being”? I bet your definitions wouldn’t match mine.

    2. That Specific Kind of Nerd*

      People are definitely filtering where they work based on political views already. There are some things that I’m willing to agree to disagree on within a workplace; my right to exist as myself isn’t one of them.

      Sadly, my existence has become politicized, and so I have to try and suss out what the culture of places that I am looking at is and whether I can actually exist as myself there.

      1. metadata minion*

        Agree, and I don’t think that’s even particularly new, though certainly things have gotten even more dire recently.

      2. Dasein9 (he/him)*

        Me too. And I’m seeing people who oppose my existence, who see me as a “huge problem to a sane world,” contacting employers of people like me to complain. I oppose that.

        At the same time, as a for-instance, I do think the patients of a doctor who is also a white supremacist have the right to know what the person they’re trusting with their health information does in her off-hours.

        Deciding where those lines get drawn is going to take a great deal of work.

        1. Czhorat*

          There are some which are obvious.

          White supremacists, transphobes and homophobes, etc.

          There are some that are clearly not an employer’s business. “Said something combative on somebody’s fitness-based Instagram”.

          Then there are edge-cases which could be tougher to decide. The fact that edge-cases exist doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take whatever actions are possible to see that actual bigots don’t get platforms without suffering any repercussions.

          1. Dasein9 (he/him)*

            I agree. And yeah, starting with the obvious and narrowing down is probably the approach to take, with a note that it’s best to take edge cases on a case-by-case basis, to avoid creating a situation where clear definitions of acceptability are abused, i.e., staying within the letter of a rule while violating its spirit with impunity.

      3. Quill*

        Yeah, if you’re only noticing people trying to avoid working for companies actively working to limit their civil rights now… congrats on finally emerging from the matrix?

        It may have gained more attention recently, but it doesn’t follow that the idea is *new*

    3. Jaybeetee*

      A number of industries already have social media policies, either connected to employers or to specific licensing. Apart from outright bigotry or violence, these policies tend to stick to ways you might “represent” a company or profession in your online life.

      There is a certain Canadian online pundit I don’t even want to name for fear of inciting a brigade, but this person has recently had some relatively public conflict with his professional association, because he uses his professional credentials to bolster his online opinions and has developed a pretty wide reach with poorly informed and bigoted opinions. The association in question does have the authority to pull his professional license if he does not reflect that profession’s values and ethics.

      I am part of a different profession which also has a (fairly loose) social media policy. It’s actually pretty easy to not run afoul of it most of the time, but the bright line in the sand tends to be, “Are you speaking as Jaybeetee the person, or Jaybeetee the (Profession)?” Most sane employers don’t care about social media arguments you get into unless a) you’re behaving abusively, or b) you’re doing so under your professional mantle.

  26. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

    I feel like letting this person’s “followers” know that they participate in this type of behavior is fitting. Would their followers support it?

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      Unfortunately they might. Followers are akin to fans, and some of them can be pretty rabid.

    2. Elle Woods*

      Some definitely would. There are a number of fitness/wellness influencers I know of who have rabid, almost cult-like, fan bases who believe that the influencer can do no wrong. It’s both amusing and appalling.

      1. Phony Genius*

        And if their fans and the business’s customers overlap, supporting the employee could be bad for business, at least in the short-term.

  27. Olive*

    In the case of online trolling by accounts that were identifiable enough to dox, there should be tangible evidence of what had been posted. The influencer should be able to provide that evidence – if she couldn’t or wouldn’t, I wouldn’t take her word for it.

    While this particular case could be laughed off, I can also imagine someone being repeatedly harassed and threatened with violence and attempting to contact an employer out of desperation, so I wouldn’t automatically assume that my employee couldn’t have possibly done anything wrong. I would want to know if someone could provide evidence that they had been harassed and threatened, even if that evidence was on Instagram.

    1. Observer*

      While this particular case could be laughed off, I can also imagine someone being repeatedly harassed and threatened with violence and attempting to contact an employer out of desperation,

      Right. Which is why the caveat about hate speech, actual threats of violence, actual misbehavior (eg stalking, key their car etc.) applies. But the LW wasn’t writing about stuff like this.

      The only time to ask for evidence is if the allegations is actually serious. In other words “your employee is a horrible, terrible, very bad person and you should be ashamed of employing them” would not get any response from me. “Your employee threatened to cut my head off” would,

    2. Katherine*

      Quite a lot of the time people are using screenshots as evidence, which are easily edited and therefore should not be trusted. And tbh in this age of ‘ai’ we should stop trusting voice recordings too

  28. Olive*

    I was sexually harassed for almost a year. He’d get new phone numbers and email accounts and leave obscene (but not threatening) messages. Not long after, he joined the Army. I didn’t have the wherewithal to know how to get in touch with anyone responsible for him, but in hindsight, I don’t think reporting him to his employer would have been a bad course of action. I’m not suggesting that’s what happened in this letter at all, but I also don’t think that trying to contact someone’s employer is inherently a laughable decision. (I was very young too, just 19. I certainly didn’t know how better to navigate the situation, but I did know that the police were even more likely to laugh me off).

  29. Ink*

    I think it’s something to take moderately seriously, just because it’s so over the top. Someone reporting instagram disputes to someone’s employer is acting outside social norms in a big enough way I think you have to give the employee a heads up, just in case. You make it clear they’re not remotely in trouble, but you have the conversation

  30. Debby*

    ZIt sounds like whoever reported the employee was just giving her a taste of her own medicine, she contacts other people’s employers to complain about them so someone contacted her employer to complain about her, good for the goose – gander etc.

  31. Risha*

    This is the biggest reason why I do not post where I work on any social media. I don’t even use my real name or town. People are vengeful and spiteful, and would definitely call someone’s employer over a petty disagreement. I can’t imagine ever doing that to someone over a silly argument that I would probably forget about the next day, no matter how mad I was at them in that moment.

    About 3 years ago, my friend’s coworker got into an online disagreement with someone. I don’t know what it was about, but it was something small. My friend’s coworker did have her place of employment on her FB profile, so the person she was arguing with actually created another account (I’m not sure if it was another FB profile or some other platform). The person posted all this vile racist stuff then reported my friend’s coworker to their job, including screenshots of the racist comments. She had no way to prove it wasn’t her that did that, so she was fired. I just don’t understand how people can do things like this and I urge employers to fully investigate, even when the reports are about something racist or sexist.

    1. Take Care*

      That’s a crucial point. Before you report someone, make sure that it is actually that person doing the posts. It’s so easy to fake profiles nowadays, as anyone who has received imposter Facebook friend requests should know.

  32. HonorBox*

    While a social media site isn’t the best example of this, there are situations in which our employer may want/need to know if there’s something done by an employee that paints a negative picture of the employer, even if it is completely legal. At conferences, a good friend would always say he was going to “change out of his letters” if we were going to a bar. He didn’t want to be wearing branded gear when he was seen with a drink, even if we were just having one. But the situation in the letter is even more innocent than having a drink at a bar. Posting a negative (but not bigoted/illegal) comment or disagreeing with someone is pretty innocent.

    To answer the LW’s question: If I got that call, depending on the tone and tenor of the conversation, I might ask if they can share screenshots. And then I’d let them know I’d be taking it from there. Likely, I’d give them a look and move on with my day, giving the employee a quick heads up that the poster had reached out. If it was something truly awful, then we have a different conversation.

  33. Not your typical admin*

    There’s definitely been an uptick in reporting all kinds of behavior, especially online. I have a friend whose adult stepson sent screenshots of text messages where the two of them were arguing to my friends manager.

  34. Bearsbeats*

    my employer has started firing people (or revoking job offers) who publicly post in support of the “wrong” side of the present conflict. I don’t like it but it seems to be legal.

  35. MCMonkeyBean*

    I don’t think there can be blanket rules and context would matter to me a lot. I certainly have seen some people online who are wildly oversensitive to criticism (which I honestly understand as I have very thin skin myself lol) and if that’s really what was happening in the example then probably that shouldn’t bother an employer. But I have of course also seen some truly vile trolling online, especially toward women in male-dominated spaces. If the comments they were making to her were like “this is a dangerous recommendation you are terrible at your job” or something then that’s really nothing the employer should care about. If the comments were more like “you’re a stupid ugly b**** and I hope you d**” then I think it’s fair game for an employer to be concerned about their employee speaking to a woman like that online and how that might translate to interactions with their coworkers or clients–especially if they are in any kind of supervisory role.

    The fact that in this particular case, multiple people’s managers thought it was worth at least having a conversation about makes me think it was presumably worse than my first example. but it’s a wide spectrum so hopefully it was still far from my second example…

  36. the bat in the office popcorn machine*

    This is such unhinged behavior. The idea that being challenged online could upset you so much to go through this much effort offline is a sign to log off and disconnect. Just block them. One of the most beautiful things about online spaces is being able to block people for anything, even for being mildly annoying one time and not wanting to deal with it. In real life, it’s “rude” to just outright ignore someone you don’t wanna speak to. Online, it’s encouraged.

    The only time I would take this seriously is if it was grave (the -isms, -phobias, and things of that nature) and they could prove it in a way that wasn’t something that could be doctored (so, I guess, live comments from an account that is clearly the person in question).

  37. higheredadmin*

    Well this whole thread is completely frightening. *goes to delete myself off of the internet completely*

    1. Clare*

      Don’t stress, my friend! If you approach every interaction with the goal of ‘Do no harm’ and you apologise and learn from your mistakes when you accidentally tread on someone’s foot, you’re fine.

      If you choose to engage with those you disagree, you can do so with the compassionate intent to help them grow, and the idea that they could teach you something too, even if it’s just how to have better discussions with people who think like them.

      If you have an argumentative streak, you can use it for good by using up the bandwidth of trolls and bullies, leaving them less time to cause hurt in other places.

      If you endeavour to treat others with integrity online, then even your most robust discussions won’t be able to haunt you.

  38. Jaybeetee*

    I have encountered the “I’m sending screenshots of this to your boss” people before – luckily never targeted at me – and it has the funny effect of zapping any sympathy or agreement I had with that person, even if I think the other person is wrong or a jerk. It’s just so petty most of the time. The instances I’m thinking of weren’t abusive or bigoted as far as I could recall – they were literally just disagreements.

    I do have a social media policy in my profession, but it’s a pretty loose one. A former boss of mine did mention once that he’d received screenshotted missives about employees before, and he generally did. Not. Care. Unless that person was using their profession/employer/credentials to be a jerk on the internet. Even if the person was just being like, a regular jerk, he didn’t care. Just don’t drag the employer into it.

    It’s also so stupidly easy to create anonymous online accounts, and so easy *not* to say “As a (profession)…” in online conversations, so I figure if any of my colleagues ever did get their wrists smacked for it, that’s on them.

  39. Despachito*

    No one. No one is worthy of doxxing (as in publicly revealing a person’s identity/address/whereabouts). It is WRONG no matter what.

    It means throwing the person to a blood-thirsty mob that does not care about the truth or the nuances. And are willing to destroy a stranger’s life just because.

    If someone does or writes something atrocious, dangerous or threatening, he/she should be definitely reported to the police. And then be potentially judged if need be, according to the law and with all necessary evidence. If they did commit a serious crime they should be punished accordingly. But doxxing is exposing this person to the worst people who will make him/her a scapegoat to their own frustrations, and this is, while very unfair, also very dangerous.

    1. a trans person*

      Ahahaha like cops are going to help me when somebody posts transphobic death threats. Even if they dox me first, no cop is going to lift a finger. That’s part of what makes this such a difficult situation to navigate

    2. Observer*

      If someone does or writes something atrocious, dangerous or threatening, he/she should be definitely reported to the police.

      And what is going to happen then? In the very rare situation where there is something that is actionable by the police AND they police act extremely quickly, there is going to be a serious lag time. And that sequence is about unicorn level of probability.

      If they did commit a serious crime they should be punished accordingly.

      Oh, if someone does something that is legal, it doesn’t matter what they do regardless of how bad it is or how much danger it could put people in? Creep shots are legal in many jurisdictions, but that doesn’t mean that any responsible employer should allow such a person around children, or any woman who might be vulnerable. It’s perfectly legal to be a bigot of any stripe, but allowing that bigot to provide medical (mis) care to patients with deeply immoral, etc.

      1. Despachito*

        “In the very rare situation where there is something that is actionable by the police AND they police act extremely quickly, there is going to be a serious lag time. And that sequence is about unicorn level of probability.”

        Do you think this would be better/more quickly solved by doxxing the perpetrator?

  40. Despachito*

    I think that reporting almost anything what a stranger does in his/her free time, to a stranger’s employer should be laughed off.

    Perhaps with the exception of it being related to the stranger’s work and looking like a real threat (if I see a doctor taking drugs, it may influence his/her performance at work). Or if the stranger says something atrocious seemingly on behalf of the company.

    Otherwise, it is ridiculous. We once had a close person’s abusive boyfriend threaten us to tell on us at work (I to this time wonder what he wanted to tell, because we did nothing wrong apart from calling him out for being an abuser?) I hope good employers just throw such announcements in the trash.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      If I saw a doctor using some THC on a weekend, I wouldn’t care a whit. If I saw a doctor using racist or otherwise hate-filled language, then I’d care a lot. Wouldn’t matter much if they were saying, “As an employee of XYZ health practice.” They’re still a health care professional outing themselves as a bigot.

  41. Coin_Operated*

    I had to take my real name off Facebook because I got into a fight with right-wing homophobic nut jobs from the Daily Wire. Sadly, these guidelines still don’t matter for lgbtq people because there’s too much socially acceptable bigotry towards lgbtq people that you’d have to fire most evangelicals if you were being consistent.

  42. Cute As Cymraeg*

    I’m in the Our Flag Means Death fandom. A small but extremely loud and young section of that fandom have a very odd belief that if you like one particular character from the show, that makes you a racist, homophobic, gr**mer… Yes, it’s very odd.

    Anyway, they successfully doxxed one of the fans of that character, worked out that they worked for a cinema chain in X state, and rang around all the possible cinemas to tell them that they might have an employee who was “a danger to children”. Unfortunately this was then used as an excuse to sack that employee as revenge for something else, and they lost their entire career over it. Last weekend was the one-year anniversary of it, and the poor soul is still trying to pick up the pieces. It’s horrifying, honestly.

    1. GreyjoyGardens*

      Any threat to the Precious, Precious Children ™ tends to be weaponized. Over fanfic (that is, fictional characters) it is ridiculous. I’m sorry to hear that this person got actually blackballed and hope they can recover from it.

      1. Cute As Cymraeg*

        The bizarre thing is that… there is no threat. OFMD is a show that’s rated M and has an almost entirely adult cast. But because it’s queer it’s attracted a large younger fanbase, and many of those younger fans consider one character to be racist and homophobic. Therefore, they decided, anyone who’s a fan of him must ALSO be racist and homophobic, and therefore it’s open-season. The person at the centre of this had never even written any explicit fanfic.

  43. Itsa Me, Mario*

    I was once in a subreddit about education where someone claiming to be a Montessori kindergarten teacher made awful comments comparing kids in gifted programs to all other children, and stating her belief that gifted children are better, more motivated, more deserving, etc. (Not subjective “I find them easier to teach” or “I enjoy teaching in a gifted program”, but denigrating kids who happen not to have been selected for these programs.)

    It’s the only situation where I’ve given serious thought to trying to find this person’s employer to let them know. Because how good a job can this person be doing with the kindergartners they teach if their baseline assumption is that all but a few of them are lazy brats? Luckily for her, she didn’t have any identifying info online.

  44. Tiger Snake*

    That’s an interesting grey area; normally doxxing means making the information public without consent, and that puts people at risk of harm of harassment. That’s why its illegal; its harassment that actively encourages and instigates further harassment with an expectation you knew very well you could be putting people in danger.

    This is different. This is more like stalking and slander. Both of which are still illegal; so all those people could very well take the route of suing her if they want.

  45. DJ*

    I once had someone call and complain to my employer because I’d sent them a linked in invitation from my PERSONAL email. Their email had been sucked into my email address book from an NGO discussion list (on a health condition). Thankfully advised, asked my side of the story and went no further!

  46. Protecting ID for this*

    Had this happen to me….former client got ticked, searched me online, looked through my posts, then my friends, found my fiancé’s page, then my OTHER profile’s page, went back months looking for anything remotely inappropriate on any of the three pages. Finally found something I posted to my fiancé’s page from a profile not related to my legal name something like 5 or 6 months before I ever met him that was a meme that was a joke about her job…but since the meme had a copyright mark on it that led back to a pro-illegal plant website (in a state that still doesn’t have even medical cards to this day) and I worked for CPS at the time, I had an uncomfortable talk with my office director.

    And the office director talked me out of calling police about the cyber stalking/harassment because dude was a first responder in the county whose agency did fundraising for our child advocacy center. And yes, by former client, I mean parent I had to investigate and then was ordered to open a case on even though I didn’t think we had enough to pass court muster….and he was upset with me, not the boss who ordered me to take the action….

    And all that was after he tried – and failed – to get me fired based on other aspects of who I am or my lifestyle. Yep, even in conservative states, state employment follows federal anti-discrimination laws.

  47. Warrior Princess Xena*

    I think a big part of this is how hard it would be to trace the employee’s comments/behavior back to the company they work for, as well as what they say. Setting aside objectively terrible things (violence, hate speech, etc) there’s any number of things that a given company wouldn’t not necessarily want to be known for, even if it’s not objectively bad. For an obvious example, NSFW art and writing. There’s a tremendous amount of legal, ethical stuff out there (such as a solid 85% of the romance novel industry). Most professional companies wouldn’t want to be perceived as associated with it! So if I’m posting on romance novel boards with my work account and my employer’s name in there, there’s grounds for them to say “you can’t publicly associate this with us”. But if I’m posting under a pseudonym and someone has to do an IP trace or other complex tracking maneuvers to figure out who I am, let alone who I work for, then the company should not have grounds to say anything about it and any reasonable manager should ignore except to warn the employee that they have a digital stalker.

    1. GreyjoyGardens*

      I agree. (And chances are the employer reads those novels themselves, or has friends and family members who do, so…) Maybe they don’t want to be associated with it, but I would hope any employer would hear “I found out that So and So writes steamy romance novels under a pseudonym” and laugh.

  48. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    An employer in any country might fire you for conduct that they think could damage their organisation, not just for hate speech, but for e.g. criticising an individual/organisation/industry/foreign government that is an important customer or donor.
    Then of course there are all the online nutters who might notice you and decide you need to be punished for daring to be different to them.

    To avoid some problems yourself, think very carefully before you post online about anything even slightly controversial when your name/address/phone number/photo/employer is visible or can be traced.

    Even if you only ever post anonymously, have a good VPN permanently on your private devices so that your IP can’t be traced and don’t post on your employer’s network or devices.

  49. Corelle*

    I’ve had other managers come to me with complaints about things my employees posted online. My personal policy is pretty close to Alison’s recommendations. In one case I recommended my employee unfriend another manager on Snapchat because the manager was clearly not a friend and I was tired of listening to complaints about stuff she shared.

  50. StayAnonymous*

    I used to write reviews using a pseudonym but I stopped when the rules changed and real names were required (this is why I won’t review on most popular review sites). I have friends who used their real names who lost out on jobs because prospective employers saw people hate bashing them for a review and decided they would be disruptive and have trouble getting along with people. Multiple people, different types of jobs. I’ve had people call me all sorts of names, insist I had to be a man because I have large hands (the one time I my hand showed up in a photo online because I had to hold an item to properly photograph it), and more. Anonymity online is the only way to go.

  51. SB*

    We have a social media policy that states you are not allowed to post anything on social media that will give away your place of work after far too many complaint calls & emails. Most of them were for petty garbage that wouldn’t warrant any sort of action, but because we were jack of having to take time out of our day to deal with it we just made a new policy asking everyone to remove their place of employment from accounts & remove or edit photos or posts that refer to workplace. We also advise everyone to not use their real name & have their security settings on lock down so people can’t stalk their page to get info about them because the world is a bit scary these days.

  52. Matt*

    re “doxxing” (I didn’t even know a word existed for this) – this happened to me back in 2015, not with fitness influencers, but with the Facebook presence of my local public transport provider. I had posted there for some time about my experiences and repeatedly criticised them for regular service interruptions and sinking reliability. They don’t take customer criticism very well. They have an official social media team that replies with snarky remarks which are not customer friendly, but still acceptable, and some of their staff is posting privately and take complaints really personally and pile on complaining customers in a more awful way. One of them decided he had to find out more about my identity and my employer (which must have required some Google detective work since I was always very conscious about keeping my online, real life and work presence apart) and sent an email to my employed basically complaining about my complaints, completely with screenshots, and suggesting they should check if I had made those posts during my work time (I had not). I was called into HR for this, but ultimately they decided that it was my own business (and they didn’t check posts against my work time). I was shocked what drives people to develop such hate wanting to cause people problems on the job, maybe losing it, maybe ruining their life, because of an online dispute about public transport reliability.

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