my employee helped a fired coworker get a new job … and lied to me about it

A reader writes:

I own a small business and a year ago hired an employee on a work visa, “Meg.” While at my company, she met another employee, “Belinda,” who I ended up firing a few months later due to numerous problems.

Knowing that they remained friends, I did not discuss with Meg my reasons for firing Belinda, and asked her to keep sensitive information about the company confidential. She agreed and said she would “remain professional.”

A few months later, I had dinner with Meg and her fiance, Dave, as friends. Dave manages a luxury retail store and gave me what I thought was good advice on employee management, asking me why I thought Belinda did not perform well, and reassuring me that I did everything I could before firing her. I stayed as vague as possible, knowing that they were friends with her.

After another few months, Meg announced that she was going back to her country for at least six months. At the time I was thinking I would re-hire her when she returned, but shortly after I found out Belinda had been working for months at the luxury retail store managed by Dave!

When I confronted Meg, she became nervous and admitted that Dave had hired Belinda, and that he did not check her references. I then realized that the “friendly advice” he gave me a couple of months prior was in fact a disguised reference check … and also remembered that he gets paid a substantial bonus for every person he recommends who gets hired. Altogether, the couple stayed mum for at least five months about my former employee’s whereabouts, at one point telling me that she found a new job in an independent boutique.

My employment contracts have a non-competition clause asking employees not to hire current or former employees within four months of their departure. Technically, Meg and Belinda have not breached these conditions, since Belinda was hired by Meg’s fiance. But I feel deeply betrayed, and that I have been used by this couple under the pretense of friendship.

I do not want to re-hire Meg when she comes back, and I don’t understand why her loyalty laid more with a colleague she met through my company, rather than me. This is making me question if she shared confidential information with her fiance or Belinda, given that she lied about Belinda’s new job for months and I did not suspect a thing. Am I right to feel this way, or did she do nothing wrong?

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.

{ 306 comments… read them below }

  1. Sally Forth*

    Dinner with Meg and her fiancé where HR issues were discussed was the mistake here. Just because Belinda wasn’t a fit for one job doesn’t mean she can’t find another.

    1. asdfae*

      I agree. Is Belinda meant to never work again because one job didn’t work out? If you don’t want Belinda as your employee, why can’t another business employ her?

      1. Ms. Murchison*

        Sounds like LW doesn’t want her to find work, doesn’t it? Or perhaps LW sees anyone’s decision to hire Belinda as a criticism of LW’s decision to fire her.

        1. Wintermute*

          I blame myopathy, business owners are only thinking of the impacts to them and their business, they don’t realize their position amounts to either “I will put you on a shelf until I need to come back for you and you had better be there” or “I don’t need you anymore, go starve to death please you’re inconvenient”.

          I don’t think they mean these statements, they just do not realize they are implicit in how they feel society ought to work for them.

      2. Orv*

        This is why I consider noncompete agreements inherently predatory. They given an employer the ability to destroy an employee’s entire livelihood.

        1. She of Many Hats*

          Indiscriminate use of NDAs are predatory and courts have ruled most unenforceable. There are very few industries and roles that need NDAs. Now, if the job was one that had specific client lists or similar proprietary or sensitive data, I can see being concerned about hiring someone to get access to that but it doesn’t sound like Belinda was even in the same area of business (retail vs other small business). Now if both businesses specialized in luxury llama leggings, I could see the concern but it just sounded like another business.

          1. Cmdrshprd*

            Just so its clear NDAs and non-competes are two different types of agreements. They can be intertwined but not always. You can have both, or one of them.

            Courts have similarly said non-competes have to be reasonable, in scope, duration, and geography. I think there was a sandwich franchise/chain that wanted (or did) to have low level fast food workers sign a non-compete (and maybe an NDA) that would prevent them from working for a competitor. These were the front line retail employees just making the sandwiches. If I remember correctly the court rules that was unreasonable there were no need to restrict their work.

            But I agree it seems like OP thinks they can just restrict the non-compete to every sector and person. That is unreasonable.

        2. Wintermute*

          in my state it is not considered a valid contract in exchange for at-will employment. Basically to be valid a contract must be “blood for blood”, both sides must give up something of tangible value to the other. You cannot make a contract where one party has no costs or obligations (the classic law school example is I could not sign a contract to pay for my nephew’s college if he gets honor roll grades, his grades are not an object or service of value to me. I can give a gift I cannot make it binding).

          As a result in my state an at-will job offer the employer can rescind at any time is **NOT** considered a valuable good or service. Therefore all noncompetes which do not include either cash payments or employment contracts with a guarantee of only for-cause firing for a meaningfully long term (E.g. it couldn’t be a one-week contract and you’re at will the rest of the time) are not enforceable or legal and attempting to enforce an invalid contract on an employee could be considered fraud, extortion or at minimum tortuous interference based on the employer’s actions.

        3. learnedthehardway*

          There’s no non-compete issue here, either – Belinda wasn’t an employee of the OP’s when she was hired by another company. She was entirely free to work for any company. The fact that it happened to be one that Meg’s fiance owns is immaterial.

      3. JubJubtheIguana*

        Yeah, and the fact it’s just some retail gig makes this insane to me. It would be different if Belinda was head engineer at Space X or something had developed proprietary technologies and worked on secret stuff. Or if she was a lawyer whose clients might want to follow her.

        The idea that if you get fired from flipping burgers at Burger King that makes you unfit to flip burgers at McDonalds is just wild. It’s retail. A lot of stores don’t even have HR since retail has such high staff turnover and often very little to in the way of interview process. LW says it’s high end retail, which presumably does require more experience with customer service, but it’s still just retail.

        1. Wintermute*

          that’s part of the law in my state. First noncompetes must include something of value (a hard contract where they can’t fire you at-will, cash payments, goods, something) in my state.

          Second, they are considered automatically invalid (you would still have to challenge it if they tried to enforce it in most cases, which doesn’t SOUND automatic but that’s the law for you). If you did not have a strategic or planning role or one that gives you access to what the SEC classifies as material nonpublic information. If you’re a lawyer that negotiates real estate deals, the SVP of marketing aware of all your upcoming campaigns and ads, or an accountant preparing the financials for the Q4 reports then you may have a valid noncompete, basically that’s what it would take around here.

          And in addition if your non-public information has an expiry then the NDA does too, under virtually all circumstances. If your material nonpublic information was related to the Q4 financials your disability goes away the moment the markets open Monday after the financials are released, or shortly thereafter in reality.

        2. Jess*

          Yep. OP sounds like they’re on a power trip and can’t stand that a former employee is working again.

    2. Luanne Platter*

      Also how weird would it be to go out to dinner socially with a) an employee & fiance and b) have that fiance give “friendly advice” about a work issue? That’s such a bizarre chain of events that I wonder why that itself wasn’t a red flag about the situation. Hmm.

    3. Abundant Shrimp*

      Had the dinner really turned out to be a ruse, I’d say Belinda would be the one to deserve to feel icky about it. Imagine applying for a job, being ready and willing to provide references, and having your future employer instead go talk to the one person you’d never give them as reference? What OP’s beef with it was, I will never understand.

      1. Ell*

        Eh, talking to people in the field outside of reference lists happens all the time and is frankly smart on the part of the employer. If Dave had serious reservations based on what OP said, I think he would’ve needed to give her a chance to respond. In this case, it obviously didn’t impact his ultimate decision to hire so what’s the harm?

        1. AngryOctopus*

          Yeah, it feels like Dave was fishing for a “I caught Belinda stealing money out of the register!” type of incident for the firing, and since that wasn’t the case, he felt fine about hiring her. Still weird, but the whole shebang is weird, so…not the weirdest part of the letter.

        2. Lydia*

          I still think it’s a little bit weird to do a reference check like this without making it clear you’re trying to learn more about a person. Especially with how the OP said it went, where the fiancé gave “friendly advice.” That sounds patronizing and not very effective in learning more about a specific person.

          1. I&I*

            OP, is it possible that they thought that if they asked you directly for a reference, all they’d hear was that you were justified in firing her? I ask because it’s possible you and her new employer have different ideas about what constitutes a firing offence, but given how you’ve reacted here, they might very well doubt you’d see things that way.

            Look, I don’t know you and I might be wrong. But at least consider that they thought this was the only way to get the answers they needed – because if so, you’ll need to rethink how you give references going forward.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Employers are not limited to only the references you provide. Many will do more digging and it would frankly be odd *not* to talk to a previous boss of theirs if you already know them and know that they fired them.

        1. Lydia*

          Okay, but that’s not really how it sounds like it played out. I then realized that the “friendly advice” he gave me a couple of months prior was in fact a disguised reference check

          1. amoose*

            Right, but thats kind of immaterial because the point originally made was that Belinda should feel aggrieved about it, which she really can’t. The fact that it was a disguised reference check feels deceitful, but OP would be the aggrieved party there, not Belinda.

        1. Betty Beep Boop*

          I have a theory, which to be clear I cannot prove.

          Based on the letter + SunnySideUp’s replies in 2018 what I think happened is that at that dinner Dave went to work by expressing sympathy and support and took a very “you’re feeling bad about having to fire someone let me reassure you” approach to getting the information.

          This is not professionally unethical, but if a friend extracted information for their benefit from me specifically by pretending to be supporting or reassuring ME, we’d be having a serious talk about PERSONAL ethics. We Do Not Use Professional Interrogator Skills On Our Friends, DAVE.

          I suspect that a lot of what’s happening here is that once OP realized that they’d been gamed at that point they started looking for other ways they might have been gamed. And once you’re looking for reasons to think someone is betraying you, you will find some, somewhere.

          Which is completely unhelpful to OP professionally and I don’t see any reason to suspect Meg’s professional ethics, or for that matter Belinda’s, or even Dave’s, but it was interpersonally sketchy enough that I can kinda see how OP got there.

          I hope Dave apologized.

    4. Ellis Bell*

      Yeah I don’t understand why someone would try to “stay vague” in this sort of situation instead of saying outright “I can’t discuss confidential matters like that on my end”.

    5. Jade*

      And it not this guy’s business who hires who and where his fired employee ended up. He is way over the line.

  2. Kyle S.*

    As soon as LW brought up the noncompete they lost any sympathy from me. You *fired* Belinda. What right do you think you have to control where she goes next?

    1. LadyAmalthea*

      Non Compete clauses make no sense in retail- what, are you never going to work in another store where you have background knowledge? That’s basically prohibiting a person from getting another job.

      1. Olive*

        The only situation where I can see LW being legitimately upset about competition would be if Belinda was a beloved personal shopper for a number of wealthy clients. But it’s hard to imagine in that case that she wouldn’t have been keeping careful tabs on the competition and known exactly where Belinda was.

      2. ferrina*


        Non-competes are (theoretically) supposed to prevent former employees from taking knowledge gained from Place 1 and using that to enhance direct competitors (including if they are bringing client lists with them). This just doesn’t make sense in most retail settings.

        I’m extra confused about “employees can’t hire former or current employees within 4 months of their departure.” That might make sense if this was a firm where former employees could poach workers and set up a competing firm (I’m picturing law offices), but….retail?? And when OP had already fired Belinda? You can’t poach someone who has been fired!

        1. Kevin Sours*

          The primary use is to prevent people from being able to jump ship to a better job. There were a couple of instances of fast food chains using them in a heavy handed fashion. It a was public outcry rather than the law that forced them to back down.

          They aren’t necessary and we should get rid of them

      3. Blarg*

        I had a non-compete at a smoothie shop I worked at in the late 90s. Like my 17 year old self was going to steal … smoothie recipes … from a chain store and share them? It was bizarre. I also hated working there because they wanted us to dress like it was summertime while most of what we dealt with was frozen and I was always cold. So no threat to leave to another smoothie place.

      4. Cj*

        while I still think it’s a bad idea, it sounds like this non compete is a little bit different. it appears that it doesn’t say the former employee can’t work for a competitor, but instead that a former employee can’t hire another employee.

        so I couldn’t leave my accounting firm to start my own, and then take my coworkers with me for the next 4 months. which makes a lot more sense for a CPA firm than for a retail store.

        1. TootsNYC*

          Or I couldn’t leave to go to a slightly higher job at another company and then hire away all my former colleagues, leaving my first employer without any staff.

    2. kiki*

      Yeah, I feel like the goal of a non-compete is to prevent poaching of existing employees by competitors. If you fire an employee, I it’s odd to care so much about where they land. Especially because it does not seem like anyone here, from the jobs described, is high-up enough to be distributing company secrets or something. And it’s also not completely clear to me if Belinda’s new job and old job are even in the same industry or are competitors.

      I think LW might be interpreting Meg withholding the information and reacting with nervousness as guilt– I think it’s more likely Meg knew you’d react poorly, not that she thinks she did anything wrong.

      1. Yes And*

        The way to prevent poaching of existing employees by competitors is by offering competitive compensation and a positive working environment. Tying someone to their job with a contract is nearly always an abuse of the employer’s power.

        1. kiki*

          I agree completely. I think what you mention is a much better way to prevent poaching. I was trying to highlight that what LW is concerned about isn’t even really the point of a non-compete and they should really look within themselves to see why Belinda finding a new job with Meg’s help is concerning to LW.

      2. merida*

        The way the OP described the non-compete does make it seem like the goal of their clause is to prevent to poaching of existing or recently departed employees… which kind of/sort of makes sense to me? But even the OP admits neither Meg or Belinda breached that clause but OP still feels betrayed, so it’s not really about the non-compete. From my read of the letter, OP just seems overly-invested in work.

        1. Anon for this*

          it sounds like OP thinks that having Meg’s fiance hire Belinda was a way to get around the non compete… but I’m scratching my brain at how this non compete could possibly work.

        2. Chocolate Covered Cotton*

          I think even thinking of it as poaching is problematic. Poaching is a form of theft of someone else’s property. Treating your employees as if you are entitled to their labor and any other employer hiring them away is similar to a denial of your property rights, and not as a mutually beneficial business arrangement governed by the market for labor, is gross.

          You are not entitled to anyone’s labor. You are entitled to negotiate an employment arrangement and they are entitled to negotiate a different arrangement with someone else. Think of it as just another business relationship which, like any other, is subject to negotiation in a free market.

        3. metadata minion*

          I can understand being annoyed at someone recruiting a current employee — I think it shouldn’t be something you can make rules against, but I understand the emotion — but why would you even care if someone recruits a *former* employee? Are they supposed to completely change fields? This isn’t even a field where there would be signficant trade secrets or anything that a former employee might have access to.

        4. kiki*

          Yeah, I think LW feels betrayed because they were left out of the loop on something, but in actuality it’s really none of LW’s business that Meg was able to help find Belinda a new job. And Meg’s partner benefitting from a referral bonus doesn’t really affect LW or their company either.

          1. Tally miss*

            You are giving OP more yrace than I am. I read it as “I punished Belinda. How dare you interfere?” Which is rather controlling.

      3. Honoria Lucasta*

        I suppose that in a world where customers might develop a special relationship with an employee, a non-compete might make sense. And the specific non-compete prohibits employees from hiring other employees from the firm for four months, which sounds like “don’t quit, start up your own version of my business, and poach my whole staff out from under me” which may be the result of a bad experience in the past.

        All in all I don’t think this particular non-compete, as described, sounds like too much of a problem.

        LW is definitely in the wrong about the general situation, though!

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Even with a special relationship, you can have a noncompete that bars poaching your customers for a certain amount of time rather than restricting where your former employees go to work, so it’s not like the kind of noncompete the OP uses is even necessary.

          In some cases, it can make sense to bar your employee from leaving, setting up their own shop, and poaching your employees for a certain amount of time. But the noncompete described here would stop an employee from leaving to go work for a former coworker who left years before. In retail? It’s not about restricting a former employee from setting up competition and immediately taking all her best employees. It’s just a way of making sure her employees don’t have good options to leave for. Even though it’s only four months, most retail employees don’t get paid enough to be out of work that long.

          Legally, there may be nothing wrong with this noncompete, depending on where the OP is. But morally, if you are stripping away people’s ability to work for the best pay and benefits that they can get for themselves, you need a pretty damn good reason.

          1. Cmdrshprd*

            “If you fire an employee, I it’s odd to care so much about where they land.”

            It seems like it might be waaaay too broad legally. IANAL and have not seen it, but

            If the non-compete is just one employee can’t hire another in 4 months, it is not specific enough.

            If OP ran an accounting firm, and an employee left after graduating school and set up an engineering firm, it would be weird to restrict the person from hiring someone to work as an admin in the engineering firm when they would have no competition at all. Almost certainly no trade secretes would/could be brought over. Good admin skills would be valuable no doubt, but not a “secret.” I could maybe see if the engineering firm wanted to hire an in house staff accountant or something, but even then it would not really be competition.

        2. metadata minion*

          If you don’t want someone to hire all your employees, give them the kind of working conditions that mean they don’t all want to leave.

      4. Lady_Lessa*

        Another reason for a non-compete is to prevent employees from leaving with confidential information such as formulas for products, especially if they move to another business in the same business area, such as a Sherwin Williams employee going to Glidden.

        1. doreen*

          There’s a difference between a non-compete and a non-disclosure , though. A non-disclosure agreement keeps the person from disclosing the information. A non-compete might make it almost impossible for a person to work – for example, it might keep that Sherwin Williams employee from working for Glidden or for a distributor that sells Valspar paint to retail stores or for a store that sells Benjamin Moore to consumers. Even if that employee didn’t know any confidential information , like the Jimmy John’s employees who had non-competes prohibiting them from working anywhere else that sold sandwiches within a certain radius.

      5. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        While competitors / clients are a typical target of non-competes, but my (agency/consulting) company seems equally concerned by ex-employees hiring away other employees. Basically, you can’t leave then hire away your old team at the new place, or join up and create a new company (which would then theoretically be a competitor). They want to avoid losing whole teams, the likelihood of which goes up when a popular leader leaves — everyone wants to go with them. Is it enforceable? Probably not. But it’s in the agreements we sign.

        1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          One more note — I did some research on this at the time I was negotiating my way through this: It appears in court, where these things are even enforceable, judges often come down on the side of “you have a right to be employed and make a living”. So in the above case they can’t stop you from going to work with a former co-worker/employee, but they can try to enforce the agreement against the former co-worker/employee because they hired you.

          Honestly companies are just ridiculous about all this.

        2. My Useless 2 Cents*

          A company I worked for sold products to three companies located very close to each other. To start we’d get orders in from X, Y, or Z at Company 1… a few months later we got an order from Y at Company 2, followed shortly afterward by X or Z now at Company 2 as well. A few months later Z is now at Company 3, followed shortly by X & Y at Company 3. Then X would be back at Company 1, Y & Z to follow. Went on for years where these same 3 employees cycled thru the 3 companies. It was interesting to watch from afar.

        3. kiki*

          I think the crux of the issue is the same, though– the company is assuming the ex-employee will be a competitor to their current business and take the company’s talent from them. And I understand wanting to prevent that (though I don’t think non-competes are the best way to do it). But in this case LW fired Belinda– the company doesn’t want her! They are losing nothing here, really. Being upset about where she found a new gig isn’t really her old company’s concerns unless she’s in a role to be revealing company secrets, which it doesn’t sound like she is at all.

          But as you say in your follow-up comment to the above, non-competes are rarely even enforceable anymore.

          1. Cmdrshprd*

            “But in this case LW fired Belinda– the company doesn’t want her!”
            I think for the most part this is true, but their can be time where it can apply.

            Like Belinda might have been fired for being late too many times, but she was a great teapot maker/designer/client whisperer and knew the process in and out, or knew the designs/recipes for the companies special teapots. So even if Belinda was fired for being late/stealing etc… not wanting her to take that knowledge to a competitor is understandable.

            1. learnedthehardway*

              Even so, non-competes are very hard to enforce unless they are very specific (at least in Canada). Not only does the non-compete have be very well justified, but it also has to be limited to a duration of time and a specified geography. And even then, if a company dismisses an employee, the courts are going to come down on the side of “people have a right to work” and “the gov’t has an interest in not paying unemployment benefits because of preventing people from working”.

              A non-disclosure agreement would be easier to enforce in that situation. But requiring someone who you have dismissed to sign one is going to be difficult to do, if you didn’t have one in place ahead of time.

    3. Yes And*

      I came here to say exactly this. Noncompetes make sense in an extremely narrow range of circumstances, where the essence of the job is the creation of (not just access to) proprietary trade secrets requiring a high level of up-front investment. None of those circumstances apply in any position in a retail small business that I’m aware of. The main effect – and, I’d guess, the primary intent – of most noncompetes is to ensure the subservience of your employees by denying their future job prospects.

      1. Honoria Lucasta*

        I worked for a small taco stand that had a non-compete. That was ridiculous.

        In addition to the trade-secrets reason for non-competes, I think there’s also a good case when the job is personality- or relationship-based. TV broadcasters often can’t appear on a competitor’s channel for a certain length of time, and that makes sense. I could see a high-end position where clients develop a close relationship with their personal-shopper/consultant being one where the employer would try to limit their employees’ ability to leave and take clients with them.

        1. Yes And*

          I can see your example of highly recognized media personalities, but that’s very very few people. Most business relationships are more fungible than that.

          In nonprofit (where I work), higher-tier fundraising jobs are largely built on personal relationships between development officers and donors. But noncompetes are all but unheard of. It’s understood that when your development officers leave, they will carry their relationships into their next organization; and the person you hire to replace them will bring their relationships into your organization. It’s part of doing business, and it helps keep the overall field healthy, even if it may cause temporary inconvenience to a given employer. (Well-run organizations, and effective development officers, seek to transfer personal relationships onto the organization, so that the departure of an officer doesn’t necessarily mean the loss of their donors. Keeping the development officer from getting another job is not going to improve an organization’s fundraising.)

      2. Kevin Sours*

        They really don’t. Trade secrets can be protected by trade secret laws. Non competes are really not necessary.

      3. Tau*

        I’d add on an extra: professional services firms whose business is basically sending their employees to clients to work for them. It is going to be really tempting for those clients to cut out the middleman, and it’d often make financial sense for the employee as well. I used to work at a place like this, and we had a non-compete – I don’t remember the exact details anymore, I *do* remember it was a little broader than felt reasonable, but having a non-compete barring me from working directly for the client I’d been sent to for X amount of time made sense to me. (Especially as my company hired people straight out of university and gave them a pretty lengthy training period before sending them out.)

        This is, of course, not in any way the situation in OP’s letter.

    4. The New Wanderer*

      The description of the non-compete doesn’t even make sense, because it seems to be aimed at current employees. Why would OP put that restriction in a contract? The only way I could see it working if if it’s to prevent current employees from hiring ex-employees for a side hustle, but then where does the competition part come in? Even limiting it to “don’t hire within four months” of an ex-employee’s departure just comes across as punitive.

      1. ferrina*

        Especially when the ex-employee was fired! It’s one thing if it was meant to deter current employees from leaving, but when OP has fired the person?! I can’t imagine a situation where that’s not punitive!

      2. Charlotte Lucas*

        I’m also confused, because it sounds like current employees could potentially run a business as a competitor, and that’s… just fine, I guess? Because otherwise the noncompete makes no sense. (If Fergus gets fired from his llama grooming job I also work at, why does it matter if I then hire him to make rice sculptures at my completely different business?)

    5. Drowning in Spreadsheets*

      When I’ve signed no-competes in the past, they didn’t apply to me if I was fired, only if I quit to go work for the competitor.

    6. Keely*

      Jimmy John’s got in deep trouble for requiring non-competes for sandwich makers. I can’t imagine that one for a retail associate would make any more sense.

      I’m a veterinarian and they’re commonly used in my industry to trap an employee at a certain clinic. I actually had to leave a highly underserved area of vet med because I would have had to move out of the county if I wanted to continue in that field while escaping a toxic boss.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        Jimmy John got blasted by bad publicity and backed down. It’s not clear that what they did was *illegal* (it damn well should be).

    7. Ashley*

      I really hope the proposed US federal rule on non-competes gets approved. They are wildly over used. It is bad enough our jobs are tied to health insurance, but being forced to leave entire industries is banana-pants.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        Where I live, it’s a big deal for the largest software development company. They create a situation with noncompetes where programmers who leave can’t work in the industry for 4 years afterwards. Completely skeevy.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, I’m very glad that in my area non-competes are rarely enforceable, and the employer has to pay up to full salary to the employee for the time the NC prohibits them from working. This is to ensure that NCs only apply to senior executives and top-tier specialists with actual strategic knowledge.

          1. Kevin Sours*

            They’re essentially dead letter in California. There are only two scenarios I know of where they are enforceable and if those apply to you then your attorney will let you know.

        2. I am Emily's failing memory*

          The video game maker Konami was at once time infamous for blackballing emplyoees who left. In industry circles they were referred to as “ex-Kons,” and Konami would do things like take employees to court for putting Konami’s name on any publicly posted/circulated resume (it was OK only when passing a resume directly to a hiring manager) or identifying themselves as a former Konami employee when speaking to media, or file frivolous but costly suits against other game companies who hired their former workers. From Konami’s point of view, any former employee who so much as breathed Konami’s name was unfairly personally benefitting from the value of Konami’s brand.

          One of the more bananapants things I read is that they don’t even give employees their own corporate email addresses – if an employee needs to email someone outside the company, they’re given essentially a burner email address with a random string of letters and numbers that can only be used for a few months before it’s closed.

    8. aebhel*

      Yeah, that’s my feeling as well. Especially since noncompetes are so often just legal nonsense meant to intimidate workers out of leaving by convincing them that they’ll never be able to find another job. But particularly if you fire someone, you pretty much lose all standing to complain about them taking another job. What is she supposed to do, starve?

    9. TootsNYC*

      I thought she believed it was MEG who has violated the non-compete. By arranging a job for Belinda.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        Yeah. OP refers to it as a non compete but it’s really appears to be a non solicitation agreement. But even then it’s *really* weird for that to apply to former employees.

        1. learnedthehardway*

          And even so – it was DAVE who hired Belinda, not Meg. So Meg didn’t violate a non-solicitation agreement, if Dave already had known Belinda.

    10. Observer*

      As soon as LW brought up the noncompete they lost any sympathy from me.

      The really crazy thing is that the OP knew that the non-compete did not even apply to this situation. She start hemming and hawing about it being “technically” not a violation, then later claimed that she mis-spoke because English is not her first language, and the non-compete is not legally binding here at all. But somehow, she never explained why she brought it up if it didn’t apply.

    11. Carrie Oakie*

      Ugh YES! I had a company once have a non-compete clause in their contract that said basically I could not get another job within our specific industry for 10 years post employment with them! I crossed it out and initialed it and wrote “not legal in this state, FYI.” I had already been there over a year when they sent out these new forms to employees and made sure everyone knew to do the same thing. They had several other things that were not legal/ethical that I marked, ended up being the template for other employees as well. They quickly decided that no one had to sign these new documents and returned them to us. (And I was quietly being removed from tasks so they could let me go. Worth it imo – you dont want someone smart enough to know labor laws? Red flag!)

      I get saying dont go to a competitor for like a year, whatever. But a DECADE? And no one IN THE ENTIRE INDUSTRY!? They had three different types of businesses there – which meant I couldn’t go into manufacturing, printing or production/project management. Meanwhile the only reason I went to them was because other jobs in the same industry recommended me to them, when I was looking for work. (Worst job I’ve had in this business by far.)

    12. Annie*

      Yeah, this whole thing is bizarre. I don’t see why LW is upset about anything. She fired Belinda, and after that, anything Belinda does or if Dave hired Belinda is really none of LW’s business.
      I’d say LW needs to get over it and not let it affect her professional relationship with Meg.

    13. Dental floss rancher*

      It also doesn’t even make much sense to me. If you fired someone because you presumably found them to be “bad” employee, especially in retail, wouldn’t having that “bad” employee go work for your competitor actually be a good thing? Like employee X is inefficient and not good at sales, how is that bad for your company if that employee takes that lack of skills and goes and works for the competition. Not to imply that Belinda actually was bad at her job, but the former boss does seem to have that perception.

  3. Meemur*

    LW, your reaction to finding this out now may be exactly why they didn’t tell you in the first place. Meg simply didn’t want to rock the boat or damage her own career

  4. Penguin*

    Isn’t this the whole point of building professional networks? So that way if you find yourself needing new employment for some reason that you can get a jump start by finding an opportunity through someone you know? Just because someone gets fired doesn’t mean their relationship with everyone at the former company is tarnished. Getting fired doesn’t mean you exile them from their whole professional network.

  5. YourFriendlyNeighborhoodCatLady*

    The OP saying they don’t understand Meg’s loyalty to her colleague rather than herself. Big yikes.

    Was Belinda supposed to cut off all contact and not use business contacts/relationships to help find another job? Was Meg supposed to never talk to her friend again?

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Bingo! If the LW is trying to run a business, they need to exam where the problem is in this scenario. Hint: It is not with Meg, Belinda, or Dave. If the LW is trying to build a cult, they don’t seem to have the knack for it.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      Yeah loyalty is kind of a concern that it’s even a consideration and it’s why I think crossing the boundary of business owner/employee to friends was the mistake LW made. I am not loyal to a company, I’m loyal to myself, my friends, some of my family, and my cat. My company and I have a business relationship in which they accept my labor in exchange for a paycheck and benefits. If someone else offers me a better deal, I will put in my notice and leave. Likewise, if my employer feels I’m not offering them enough value for what they pay me, they’ll let me go. It’s not emotional at all; it’s just business. But it’s harder to keep those boundaries when you’re trying to maintain social friendships with the people you hire (who might not even want them by the way! I’m concerned about the power imbalance here because of how it can be challenging to find a new employer who will accept your work visa. It’s entirely possible Meg is only “friends” with LW because she needs to keep this job…).

      1. YourFriendlyNeighborhoodCatMom*

        Exactly! While you can love where you work and have great relationships with coworkers, at the end of the day you do the work for the money, not out of a sense of duty to the company or your managers.

        Also, a manager usually has more skin in the game with the company since they are in a higher position, make more money, etc. so of course why would someone ever want to leave when the company is so great?? lol

      1. MsSolo (UK)*

        The non compete makes a lot more sense in that scenario, because poaching each other’s downline would have a bigger impact on your profits than hiring a former employee every could. though firing anyone is pretty rare (that’s not really the relationship with downline, after all)

    2. Emily*

      Managers/companies talking about “loyalty” from employees is in the same category of saying things like “we’re a family.” It’s a misreading of the relationship that can signal other problems, as it does in this case (dinner “as friends” with an employee, the non-compete, feeling owed information that was not theirs to have). I do good work for my employer and they pay me money. That’s it. (I work in a mission-driven organization, so there is a little more to it. But fundamentally, at the end of the day, not really.)

    1. Orora*

      This was my reaction. Belinda got a new job through a professional colleague that doesn’t conflict with a non-compete. Maybe the surreptitious reference check was a little shady, but given the OP’s reaction, I can’t see Meg or Dave being able to ask for one directly from Belinda without causing a negative reaction from OP. All in all, this was a big nothing burger.

      1. Baunilha*

        Right. Dave shouldn’t have done a reference check in the guise of giving advice (but also, why was OP just giving the info anyway?!), but other than that, OP is way too personally offended by something so banal.

      2. Janethesame*

        You might think that the reference check was shady, but I notice the OP had no qualms about picking “the boyfriend’s” brain for her advantage when it suits, so she feels it’s OK for her to maintain and use social connections for business when it benefits her, but objects when it benefits someone she thinks is unworthy.

    2. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

      Seriously. The whole time I’m reading LW’s letter, I was waiting to get to the problem, only to get to the end and be like, wait, *that’s* what you felt you needed to write in about? Your fired employee got another job that *maybe* your other employee told her was open?

      Employers don’t own people. You fired her. She is no longer part of your circus. Even Meg, who is, has the right to tell Belinda that other circuses exist.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        When I read the headline I assumed it was going to be a situation where an employee *lied to the new employer* about why the ex employee was fired in a way that made the business look bad. This is… a whole lot of nothing.

  6. Sunflower*

    I can see why Meg didn’t share with you; I bet she knows how you will react and she doesn’t need the drama. Belinda has the right to find another job after you fired her. Dave has the right to hire her and and his company can decide if she’s right for the job. Did you expect her to be unemployed forever?

    1. Luanne Platter*

      “Did you expect her to be unemployed forever?”

      Some boundary-crossing managers really do have this attitude. They think firing the person should result in long-term suffering, and are offended when that person lands on their feet.

      1. My Boss is Dumber than Yours*

        I once got let go from a freelance gig for completely BS reasons: my effective boss admitted he was blaming/scapegoating me because he had to get rid of someone to appease his boss, and the person actually screwing up went to his church so he didn’t want to fire her. Cue to a year or so later when this guy got pissed at me because we wound up at the same *wedding* for a mutual friend in the industry. He seriously expected me to completely bow out of the industry and any friendships in it because it made him “uncomfortable” to have to run into someone he let go.

        Do note that this is an already very small industry and my particular skills are niche even within it. I’m not going anywhere buddy…no matter how much you complain about it or tell my wife we should leave our friends’ wedding reception.

        1. Lora*

          I periodically meet with someone who was my boss more than 25 years ago. Way back when, she gave me a negative performance review, and it resulted in my position being vulnerable when there was a layoff in a title above mine. I was bumped to a lower title. I eventually left the employer. The performance review was absolutely justified, and I learned from it. the timing was unfortunate, but that was not her doing; I was struggling at that time. We have no problem meeting up socially in a group of other former coworkers (they are now retired).

          If the firing was handled correctly, her former employee was given feedback that could prevent her from meeting the same fate in her next job. perhaps she has learned, and is a better employee because of it. Maybe the new job is a better fit.

          If the letter writer cannot separate their feelings from the process, they are in the wrong position. Their hold over the actions of their employees does not reach beyond the scope of their company. as a human being, they should be glad their former employee landed on her feet; she is a fellow human bring, after all.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      Yeah… even if Belinda had been the OPs most rock star employee, and Dave had poached her, people are free to go work for others! People who have their own unconnected business can hire who they like! Add in that OP had fired Belinda and it just gets weird. She’s doing better at Dave’s business than at yours, that’s good news for everyone, and what do you care?!

  7. Momma Bear*

    OP needs to let this one go. Maybe they don’t hire Meg back, but if I were Meg I’d find another employer anyway. It’s problematic to mix friendship and small business. Maybe Dave was fishing for a reference or maybe he was just looking to verify Belinda’s story. Either way, OP fired her and Dave hired her. He will either find out that OP was too neutral (because he opted not to do a background check) and Belinda has issues, or this will be a better fit for all involved. A non-compete for 4 months when it doesn’t sound like it was something like a tech job with access to proprietary info seems like over-reach.

    1. Glen*

      I give it about an 85% chance that Dave was fishing for a reference because they feel they can’t trust OP to be honest about Belinda’s story if LW knew it was a reference check. Very skeevy letter.

  8. Chairman of the Bored*

    Ethically, once you *fire somebody* they are fair game and can be hired by anybody for any reason. Not your business – you fired them, remember?

    Practically, good luck getting that non-compete to hold up in court and/or dealing with the fallout of firing Meg because her husband hired one of your ex-employees.

    1. Prismatic Garnet*

      Yes, while the issues around Belinda’s firing may have been totally legitimate, that doesn’t mean she’s fired from every future position she might potentially get.

    2. Starbuck*

      Yes; if she fired Belinda for poor performance or something like that, why would you be bothered that a competitor hired her?? Wouldn’t that just suck for your competitor, to have what you apparently think is a bad employee? Makes zero sense why you’d be mad about that, unless what you were really hoping for was Belinda to be ruined by you punishing her with a firing.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        The real kick in the pants is it’s not entirely clear that she was hired by a *competitor*.

  9. Mordreder*

    “At the time I was thinking I would re-hire her when she returned”

    I’m really curious about whether Meg was planning to/eventually did re-apply anyway.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      The letter-writer commented on the original post:

      Meg is not waiting after me for a job, as a matter of fact it looks like she already found another opportunity and will probably not come back. So rest assured Meg’s fate does not hang in the balance!

      1. Mordreder*

        What fortuitous timing that Meg was able to find another job so quickly after, alas, being forced by circumstances to leave this one.

        (Doubly fortuitous since those circumstances seem to have prevented the previous employer from bearing a grudge about Meg leaving. It’s amazing how things work out sometimes.)

        1. Mordreder*

          (Assuming my read is correct that the grudge is solely about Belinda getting hired and not about Meg leaving)

  10. Fikly*

    She lied to the LW for months? About what? Unless the LW asked her about whether or not Belinda had a new job, there was no lying.

    The only one being unprofessional here is the LW. The LW goes to a dinner with current employee, that employee’s partner, and starts dishing dirt on former employee? WOW.

    And they have the gall to complain about a non-compete that is ridiculous to begin with, almost certainly not enforceable, and wasn’t even violated to begin with.

    1. Margaret Cavendish*

      This is the part I’m curious about as well. OP goes for dinner with Meg and Dave, and Dave casually says “Sooooo, about this Belinda person”…and OP just goes along with it? Did you not wonder why you were suddenly having a very specific conversation about an ex-employee with a third party? If you believe the connection between Belinda and Dave is problematic, why didn’t you question it at the time?

      I’m very much a “go along to get along” person as well, and I’ve certainly been known to share all the unfiltered thoughts in my head without pausing to consider if they’re appropriate. So I’m not saying I would never do this myself! But I’m not the owner of a small business, I don’t have a non-compete clause for any of my employees, and I don’t care who they work for when they leave. But OP is all of these things, and therefore I assume would have a heightened awareness about this kind of so-called “casual” conversation.

    2. hbc*

      Yeah, I basically said as much to OP in the original, but she was the one initiating the crossing of work and friend streams.

      Frankly, it looks like she switched between Friend expectations and Work expectations as it suited her. “Hey, let’s have a friendly dinner…where I answer HR-like questions about a former employee rather than keeping it private.” And I still don’t see why Meg was required to actively report on a former employee’s status–that’s neither a friend or employee obligation, as far as I’m concerned. I’d maybe be annoyed if I had asked “Hey, have you heard where Belinda landed?” and Meg lied about it, but otherwise, Belinda has nothing to do with any OP/Meg relationship.

  11. Michelle Smith*

    I think if LW decided not to rehire Meg, they really needed to give her as much notice as possible given the work visa. It has very strict time limits and it would be seriously messed up to sit on that information for months waiting until it was closer to her return. So I hope that’s what LW chose to do if she was certain she couldn’t work with Meg any longer.

    But I honestly think the bigger issue is the boundary crossing. Best to keep your employees your employees rather than letting the relationships blur into friendships. It creates unnecessary complications and hurt feelings. If LW rehired Meg, and I hope they did, best to avoid discussing personnel matters entirely and stop going to social dinners together. Keep it professional and it makes all of this so much easier.

    1. JelloStapler*

      I didn’t even think of that. I hope LW doesn’t expect to have control over Meg’s ability to live in a country like she expects to have the final say about Belinda working anywhere else.

      1. RVA Cat*

        This. Maybe my hometown makes me more aware of this, but the American workplace seems particularly haunted by a concept of “owning” your staff that has been illegal since 1865.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      LW is offended that Belinda obtained gainful employment. I somehow doubt that she will be greatly concerned with Betrayer Meg’s immigration status.

      1. jane*

        in the original letter, the op said that if this was going to impact meg’s immigration status, they’d definitely rehire her. i agree that they were unreasonable, but we don’t need to jump to the worst possible conclusion.

  12. Box of Kittens*

    I feel like the fact that the OP feels like she’s been betrayed by friends, who are actually her employees, is at the heart of the issue here. There’s some weird boundary-crossing going on on OP’s side.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        This is an old letter, so they wouldn’t be a contender (though would otherwise deserve to be).

        1. Hlao-roo*

          People who write in for advice aren’t contenders for Worst Boss, because that is mean-spirited and would discourage people from writing in for advice.

          1. Awesome Possum*

            You’re right. I think it might even be a rule? Good on the OP for wanting to learn. Also, depending on OP’s business, she might have a genuine reason to feel threatened? We don’t know enough.

            Alison’s advice is sound and applicable to us all, incl OP. But if Meg’s fiancé is in a similar business to OP, there might be good reasons for her jealous response.

            1. Minerva*

              Yeah it’s a general rule. In fact the 2021 Worst Boss was never officially announced because the “winner” was so egregious that Alison forgot her own rule, but she wanted to abide by it.

              (It was the one where the LW was a manager whose employee wasn’t paid 2x in a row. LW thought that the way the employee politely advocated for herself was “disrespectful to management” and accused her of “not saving smartly” and implied she might have lied about the financial hardship not being paid created.)

          2. Dances with Spindles*

            You know, I don’t think that even very sharp, harsh answers actually WOULD discourage people from writing in. Look at some of the other advice columns – on, for example, or AITA-Reddit. Commenters on all those sites are often VERY confrontational; if an OP writes in with an outrageous attitude or assumption, they pull no punches in telling that person exactly what they think of them! And there’s NO lack of letters coming in to THOSE advice columns!

            And while Alison understandably doesn’t want AAM to turn into AITA-Reddit, it’s notable that quite a few OPs on that site who’ve been verbally drubbed by the commenters write back to say something to the effect of “You people were right – I really WAS acting like a jerk and I had no right at all to do ———–. Your comments made me rethink what I was doing, and I’ve taken steps to do a lot better starting right now!” OPs aren’t all snowflakes, folks – and they don’t all have to be coddled.

            1. nnn*

              People are writing in to get AAM’s opinion, not the comment section’s. And she’s the person who picks the Worst Boss contenders and is right not to want to make people fear she will pick them for a humiliating award after they trust her with their problems. That would be a shitty thing to do.

        2. MK*

          Really? OP had done absolutely nothing other than a) fire an employee that she had problems with and b) feel betrayed by another employee for apparently taking that employee’s side. I fully agree that her reaction, and her outlook about her employee’s in general, is inappropriate, but unless there has been mass reforms in thw workplace, she is nowhere near being on a worst boss list.

          1. JubJubtheIguana*

            I don’t think LW is in the running for worse boss but she has done another couple of things:
            3. Developed an inappropriate social relationship with direct reports which is affecting her professional decisions.

            4. Is debating essentially firing someone for what amounts to feeling betrayed in a social friendship.

            5. Is showing terrible boundaries.

            6. Is being vindictive and controlling towards former and current employees.

      2. Snow Globe*

        Really? This doesn’t come anywhere close to the kinds of terrible bosses we see here. The LW is mixing friendship with the employment relationship (not good), but hasn’t actively harmed anyone at this point.

        1. Throwaway Account*

          I agree! OP is feeling a way and asked about it. They did nothing to their employees except maybe won’t hire Meg again. We see so much worse!

        2. Jellyfish Catcher*

          This is not Worst Boss contender. The LW wrote in for advice, as she wondered if her feelings / decisions were valid. Be helpful; this is a person who has some conscience and wants to do better.

        3. MassMatt*

          I agree. LW is taking things way too personally but hasn’t demonstrated any actual terrible behavior, except maybe not wanting to rehire.

          There is also some hypocrisy in wanting things to stay confidential when it comes time to talking about why the employee was fired, but seeming to want full disclosure about where the fired employee works after that.

          When someone is fired, you can keep quiet as to why. And except when it comes to people checking references, that’s probably the kind thing to do. But you can’t expect them to be branded untouchable among the people you know, it’s really none of your business.

          1. works with realtors*

            I also feel like it’s completely unfair to the fired employee – should she never get a job? It’s a bit weird to care about imho.

        4. Nomic*

          >The LW is mixing friendship with the employment relationship (not good), but hasn’t actively harmed anyone at this point.

          If LW doesn’t re-hire Meg on their return because they feel hurt, it may significantly hurt Meg, who is on a work visa and might face deportation if not re-hired.

          1. MK*

            Meg isn’t entitled to being rehired, and OP wouldn’t be wrong to not rehire someone she doesn’t trust. While OP’s reaction is emotional and overblown, Meg’s judgement is questionable: she encouraged her boyfriend to hire someone who had been fired without checking references. We don’t know whether OP fired Belinda for just cause, or what Belinda told Meg about her firing, but at best Meg thinks OP is a bad boss, and at worst she thinks whatever Belinda did is fine. It’s not unreasonable for OP to not want to rehire her.

            1. Lydia*

              Hiring someone without checking references is not Meg’s poor judgement, it’s her boyfriend’s. Meg has nothing to do with the way her boyfriend hires people. Even if Meg encouraged her boyfriend to hire Belinda, it’s still the hiring manager’s job to do the reference check. All we know is Belinda lost her job, Meg thought she’d be good at her boyfriend’s shop, and her boyfriend hired Belinda. Meg’s judgement at no point enters the equation.

              1. Despachito*

                Poor judgment is not a crime, and if someone does not want to check references, it is their own business.

                It may even not be poor judgment at all – I can easily imagine a situation when someone is running away from boss from hell (not wanting to say OP is one) and obviously does not ask that boss for a reference.

                OP – to bear resentment against Meg is not reasonable. She absolutely does not owe you any information about Belinda, and Belinda is no more your business. You let her go, and that’s it. Even if she was an employee from hell, she isn’t your problem anymore, nor do you have any rights relating to her life anymore. It is absurd why you think you do. Would you want to destroy her life beyond her employment with you? This would be pretty cruel.

              2. MK*

                I disagree. Sure, the boyfriend is responsible for his own decisions, but recommending someone who has been fired without seriously warning the prospective employer is irresponsible.

                But even if it’s not, Meg recommended Belinda, so she a) didn’t know why she was fired and didn’t care, b) did know OP’s reasons and still didn’t care or thought whatever Belinda did was ok, or c) believed whatever Belinda’s side of the story. In each case, OP would be justified to not want to work with her.

                1. Merrie*

                  Also could be she thought d. whatever Belinda was fired for isn’t really relevant to the new job so isn’t likely to recur or e. that Belinda had turned over a new leaf. Whether or not either of those things are really the case she certainly could have thought them.

                2. edda ed*

                  I disagree (with you, MK). Questioning Meg’s judgement on this is too heavy for her supposed error. A recommendation from an outsider (and Meg is an outsider to Dave’s company) is just a suggestion the company can take into account when making hiring decisions, and the heavy lifting is done within the business.

                  In your cases a), b), and c), I still don’t see how that matters to the LW. We don’t know that Belinda’s job with LW was the same, similar, or even at all comparable to her job with Dave’s company, nor do we know what exactly Meg recommended of Belinda. For all we know, Meg just said “Belinda shows up as scheduled and gets along with coworkers.” But we don’t know, and LW doesn’t say. We don’t even know the particulars of LW’s issues with Belinda’s performance, so it doesn’t follow that Belinda is unemployable forever thereafter in every job.

                  I got a bit wordier than I was going for, but in sum, I don’t agree that LW’s reasons for firing Belinda are incompatible with the fact that Meg helped Belinda get her next job. Your a) b) and c) don’t account for “Meg agrees that LW should have fired Belinda, but later finds a better-fitting job at Dave’s.” LW is taking business personally, not professionally. And at the end of the day, Belinda is no longer LW’s professional concern, made so by the LW themselves.

                3. Lora*

                  If the OP gave Belinda valid feedback when letting her go, it’s entirely possible that Belinda learned from the experience. Unless the reason for firing was something egregious, the feedback can be a tool for Belinda to use in future jobs. Belinda may have been completely honest with Meg about it.

            2. Despachito*

              I think this is moot.

              Meg’s judgement in this is absolutely irrelevant to OP, because it does not affect her business in the slightest.

      3. Flossie Bobbsey*

        OPs aren’t eligible for the Worst Boss contest. The one year an OP letter slipped through and was used by accident, the whole contest was cancelled as a result.

      4. Still*

        Do we have any indication that they’ve actually done anything harmful to their employees?

        They’ve fired Belinda but we have no indication that it hadn’t been justified. Having dinner with an employee might be completely fine depending on the circumstances, and in any case it doesn’t raise to the Worst Boss level. We don’t know whether or not they decided to re-hire Meg but they had no obligation to do so, that’s a risk you’re taking when you leave a job.

        Sure, they had a bad take and felt betrayed for no reason, which indicates that their judgement is not great, but they haven’t actually done anything?

      5. Abundant Shrimp*

        Have to agree with others that replied – while it was a massive overreaction on OP’s side (I said WHAAAT to myself so many times when reading their letter…), OP did not really act on it in a way that would come close to what other past contenders have done. The most damage OP seems to have done here is to OP themselves, ruminating over the slight, disrespect, and “having been used” that weren’t.

      6. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Nope. The OP might be guilty of thinking she has a say in a former employee’s career plans, or has eternal dibs on them. But we’ve seen much, much worse than this.

    1. FricketyFrack*

      Definitely – I said, “oh nooo” as soon as I read that OP went to dinner with Meg and Dave “as friends,” because I figured it was indicative of bigger issues. Sure enough! The audacity to worry about Meg remaining professional about Belinda is kind of funny in the larger context, though. That’s a real pot/kettle situation OP has going on there.

      1. Throwaway Account*

        Looking back on it, OP can see that the dinner was a kind of ruse to do a reference check on Belinda, I think?

        That feels icky in addition to going to dinner as “friends” with someone you supervise.

        1. FricketyFrack*

          Yeah, the entire thing is messed up. This is why I wouldn’t hire a friend or work for one – there’s way too much opportunity for blurred lines that can ruin both the friendship and the professional relationship.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          We don’t know if that’s true—OP hadn’t asked Dave about the conversation before writing to Alison.

          It could just as easily be that Dave had already hired Belinda!

        3. JubJubtheIguana*

          It seems very unlikely the junior employee orchestrated a social relationship with her boss solely to facilitate a dinner to see if a fired employee might be right for a retail job.

          The boss has the power so it’s boss’s responsibility to enforce good boundaries.

          And really we’re talking about retail here. It’s not like Dave was trying to hire someone for a really elite niche role.

    2. Heidi*

      The OP engaged frequently in the comments for the original post and offers some additional information about this. Apparently, Meg was a friend first who OP then hired. The fiance works for a competitor. It’s still not clear exactly what Belinda did that ended up getting her fired.

      1. Awesome Possum*

        Thank you for your research! This clarifies a LOT. I sadly think Alison dropped the ball here. She gave excellent generic advice, which doesn’t apply to a “friend-first” “small company competing with friend’s family” situation.

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          That information wasn’t in the original letter, though, so she couldn’t have addressed it. She has also said that when she chooses a letter to use for Inc. or others that she’ll sometimes rewrite her initial advice to make it more broadly applicable.

        2. Antilles*

          How does that change anything about the situation?
          OP fired Belinda and (I’m assuming) stopped paying her. At that moment, you forfeited your claim to her. It’s no longer your business where Belinda works. Nor does Meg owe you details about what your ex-employee might be up to.

        3. Heidi*

          Yes, I also think it reads differently when it’s, “My friend didn’t tell me she was helping her fiance hire someone who I fired.” Not that there’s anything different about the advice to leave it alone, but the real situation seemed to be more about what we expect from a friend than what we expect from an employee. Hopefully the OP found it useful anyway.

          1. Antilles*

            “My friend didn’t tell me she was helping her fiance hire someone who I fired.”
            Why should she tell you though? You fired Belinda, at that point it’s no longer at all relevant to your life what an ex-employee does.
            Unless there’s some context like Belinda poaching clients or taking a major contract with her to the next job (which seems very unlikely in retail), why does it matter?

        4. Awesome Possum*

          I’ll respond here to all the responses to me:
          ofc Alison couldn’t know all the details. But usually she is very thoughtful & gracious to consider the unknowns & the ways OP could be right. Here, she only gave the critical advice, which doesn’t fully apply to OP.

          The details absolutely change the tone & details of the response. Apparently Meg was a friend to OP first, before being hired. Apparently Meg’s fiancé worked for a competitor.

          That means that OP had reasonable friend expectations, unique to Meg, that wouldn’t apply to other employees. It sounds like OP tried to communicate this, based on several of us commenters jumping to those questions in our head right away, that made us not see OP as fully in the wrong.

          I think, based on Heidi’s comment, that OP does not deserve criticism & was not in the wrong.

            1. JubJubtheIguana*

              Writing to a work advice column because your friend helped out someone you dislike and it made you feel betrayed is just so weird. I wish people wouldn’t bring social relationship problems to a work advice blog.

              1. Awesome Possum*

                Good point. It may be that OP didn’t realize that it was relational when she wrote. She may have been still working thru her reactions & not sure where her specific trigger was.

                I think this is still helpful for us to read, tho. It’s a good lesson on how complicated it is to run your own business, and what kind of minefields can pop up when hiring friends.

            2. Awesome Possum*

              Sure it does. It changes the justification of OP questioning Meg’s integrity.

              The non-compete could be awful on OP’s part. Meg could be fully justified in recommending Belinda & helping her fiancé hire Belinda. But that’s not the core issue.

              The core issue seems to be trust/integrity. If Meg deceptively used the pre-existing friendship w/OP to help her fiancé, that tells the OP where Meg’s priorities are. Meg feels the non-compete isn’t justified, but doesn’t honor the friendship enough to either avoid involvement or confront the OP.

              Meg may be fully correct about ignoring the non-compete. The OP may be too invested in their friendship & crossing boundaries. But if Meg was duplicitous, the OP now has to question her trustworthiness.

              I’m not saying the OP has good boundaries or good business practices. I don’t know enough for that. I’m saying the OP found out that her *friend* will play games w/her to get around her policies, and the OP is justified in being upset at that.

              If Meg was NOT a pre-existing friend, then Meg owed the OP nothing in terms of outside-of-work loyalty, & the OP would need a reality check. Being a pre-existing friend changes OP’s expectations, regarding honesty.

              1. Lora*

                A person has to be very careful about hiring a friend. There have to be clear boundaries. It sounds like OP was good at maintaining confidentiality regarding personnel issues related to Belinda. She has to respect that Meg is doing the same. How the boyfriend did the “background check” may not have been above board, but I don’t think Meg was in the wrong.
                If OP and Meg met at another job? If so, did OP give her former employer a heads up when she hired Meg?

              2. Jennifer Strange*

                Except the OP decided to change the nature of their relationship by hiring Meg as an employee. Meg is also a friend to Belinda, so why doesn’t that relationship matter just as much? The non-compete is irrelevant as neither Meg nor Belinda broke the contract listed (by the OP’s own words).

    3. goddessoftransitory*

      Yep. I read through waiting for the big “betrayal” but none was forthcoming.

      As far as I can see, it consists solely of Meg knowing Belinda and her fiance hiring her. That’s it. No industry secrets were revealed, nobody was poached. Belinda’s allowed to get another job, and it’s not unusual to reach out to friends in that endeavor.

      1. Lydia*

        This. I think OP was feeling a bit hurt because of that “friends first” situation, which kind of highlights why having a friend work for you is tricky, but at no point did anyone break trust or confidence. Belinda got another job at another place where her experience was a fit. It just so happened to be a competitor. Them’s the breaks.

  13. L-squared*

    This really seems extra petty on your part.

    First off, the idea that you think her allegiance should lie with you and not the other person is ridiculous. She shouldn’t have to take sides at all. She had one relationship with Belinda, you had another. You chose to end yours, that doesn’t mean Meg had to end hers, or even change it.

    Also, she is gone. Why do you care at all where she ends up? As long as its not back at your company, it shouldn’t be a problem. But somehow I feel like you don’t even want her doing well somewhere else. Its like not only did you fire her, you want her to suffer even longer.

    I’ll be honest, I feel like I have a former grandboss who feels like you did. He made the choice to fire me (I don’t believe I deserved it at all). I fully believe he would be upset if he found out my manager actually gave me a good reference someplace else.

  14. Shutterdoula*

    OP why do you think employees owe you any “loyalty” at all? It’s business, your employees are exchanging their labor for payment.
    Loyalty has nothing to do with it. Employers expecting “loyalty” are out of bounds.
    And your non-compete? Probably illegal. You don’t get to restrict employee’s career opportunities when they don’t work for you any more!

  15. Another Ashley*

    LW 1’s take on this situation is odd. They wanted to avoid discussions about the fired employee but feel betrayed that Meg didn’t tell them about the fired employees new employer? Why doesn’t that rule work both ways? And how is that the LW’s business regardless? The LW seems to resent that the fired worker quickly found a new job or found a job at all.

    If my friend/coworker is fired I’m definitely doing everything I can to help them find a new job.

    1. Momma Bear*

      Even LW acknowledges that technically they didn’t break the non-compete since it was the fiancé and not the employee who did the hiring. LW seems just upset Meg helped her friend find a job, and it makes me wonder if they’re also jealous about David’s “luxury retail store”.

  16. Jennifer Strange*

    This may be uncharitable of me, but it comes across like the OP is made Belinda was able to get another job at all (or at least one comparable to the one she was fired from). Belinda may not have been a good employee for the OP, but she still is deserving of finding work, and it’s not uncommon for friends (including former co-workers) to help in that respect.

  17. JelloStapler*

    Is this other shop actually competition or is OP weirdly hung up on Belinda not working anywhere else because of what she experienced with her at THIS job.

    I cannot imagine my job being mad if I helped my friend get a job at another school if nothing grossly unsafe or egregious happened (which I suppose I am assuming it didn’t). I wonder how much Meg disagreed with the firing.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Even if the other shop is a direct competitor, so what? It’s not as if hiring Belinda, whom LW saw fit to fire, will give it a competitive advantage.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Argh! If Belinda were that bad, LW would welcome her competing against them. Where’s the EDIT button when I need it?!!

      1. JelloStapler*

        Oh I agree, even if they are a competitor it should not matter since LW fired Belinda. I was wondering out loud if LW was also dreaming up reasons.

  18. Parenthesis Guy*

    “My employment contracts have a non-competition clause asking employees not to hire current or former employees within four months of their departure.”

    I’m very confused. It makes sense to have a non-compete clause asking employees not to hire former employees within four months of their departure if it is a similar field. This means your #2 can’t take half the team away and start trying to compete with you. But in this case, Dave works for a retail store. Is this small business a retail store? It doesn’t seem like the jobs are related, and that would make this seem a bit bizarre. I care where my employees go because I don’t want them to compete with me, and losing a bunch at once would adversely effect my business. None of these happened here.

    It seems that OP is upset because her employee decided to recommend that her husband hire someone that the OP thought was a bad worker. This seems more about emotions than anything else.

      1. Janethesame*

        Hmmmm. Maybe! I hadn’t thought of that. Most of the commoners-including myself – have been focused on the “fairness” of non-competes and the (proposed) retaliation against Megan and her boyfriend, but this is a fresh idea. Very insightful!

  19. Person from the Resume*

    I feel like I’m missing some key business information about this non-compete. Like the LW can’t be managing a retail store hiring people on work Visas and having non-compete agreements, can they? That doesn’t make sense to me.

    LW, once you fired Belinda (even for numerous problems) it is not your responsibility or right to see that she’s never gets a job anywhere else as punishment for her transgressions (???) at your business. You should not care any more about where Belinda ends up unless it’s working for you again.

    This is not your business and Meg didn’t do anything wrong. I don’t think you should hold it against her and not rehire her. But if you can’t be unbiased and remain angry about this it is probably better that you don’t rehire her.

    1. JelloStapler*

      *”as punishment for her transgressions (???)”*
      Thank you- this is what it feels like LW is doing.

    2. Starbuck*

      It does seem like a very odd employment scenario; with work visas I’d mostly assumed that employers would have a difficult time getting one approved (don’t you need to show you can’t find someone with those skills locally?) and then having to pay to sponsor one (isn’t that very expensive?) – doing that for a retail employee seems very unlikely, but I really don’t know I guess.

  20. DJ Hymnotic*

    LW, I genuinely hope you can take a step back, take a few breaths, and really look at the incongruity of a paragraph that begins with “My employment contracts have a non-competition clause” and ends with “under the pretense of friendship.” The virtues of non-competes in employment relationships are debatable at best, but they most certainly don’t belong in friendships. “Betrayal” and “I have been used” are very strong choices of words here, but the presence of a non-compete sends a pretty strong signal–whether you intend it to or not–that you do not trust the people you hire to work for you. You claim to not understand why an employee might feel more loyal to a former colleague than to you, but I know I would have a hard time feeling such strong loyalty to an employer who required me to sign a non-compete as a condition of employment. An employer who requires a non-compete may be a boss, but they aren’t going to be my friend.

    Respectfully, you seem to believe you are owed a tremendous deal of trust and loyalty by virtue of your position as an employer, but you seem to have given much less consideration to how you are able to earn and keep such trust and loyalty. It is very much possible to cultivate those things without blunt force instruments like non-competes, and I would gently encourage you to pursue other, less coercive ways of being an employer who earns the trust of their employees.

  21. Caliente Papillon*

    I would say with LWs reaction to the news Meg knows this “boss” quite well. And attempted to protect herself from this petty whining about the fact that you don’t control other people.
    LW, you fired someone and they were hired elsewhere. Not your business.
    Employees owe you “a good job” and that’s it, they don’t have to make sure you feel ok about…life.

  22. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    The OG is from April 18, 2018 and there doesn’t seem to be an update. LW took a beating in the comments then as they are today (rightfully) so I guess it’s not surprising, but I always hold out that they’ll write back in and reveal an outside perspective taught them a lot about themselves and they’ve turned the situation around.

    If you’re still reading, LW, I’d love an update on how things have been going for you and what happened with Meg!

  23. merida*

    Honestly, I feel for OP and I wonder if OP is an unhappy person in general… They sound so over-focused on work and that makes anyone pretty miserable. (And working retail also sounds like it’d make anyone unhappy, but that’s just me…) Unless there are extreme extenuating circumstances around Belinda’s firing – like if Belinda was harassing OP and that’s why she was fired and now OP fears Belinda, or something like that – I find it hard to find a healthy reason why a run-of-the-mill firing of a poor employee would result in OP feeling so deeply betrayed. Of course firing someone is stressful and it’s bound to be a bit awkward to know that a current employee is still friends with a fired employee. And sure, we’re all human so knowing that we were fully right in firing someone and then finding out they successfully found a new job might feel grating. Still, I think most managers would be able to put this out of their mind/deal with the mild awkwardness. So I feel like there’s more at play here… For anyone who needs to hear it, we are more than our work!

    1. Telephone Sanitizer, Third Class*

      Same, I had to read it twice and then a bunch of comments before I understood what LW was mad about

  24. The Office Mattress*

    In addition to the comments above, I think it’s also such a clear case of cutting off your nose to spite your face. By all accounts, Meg has been a good employee, understands your business and would be easy to rehire (vs a potentially lengthy hiring and training process) and you’re willing to sacrifice that just to be petty and spiteful. Oof.

  25. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    ” I don’t understand why her loyalty laid (sic) more with a colleague she met through my company, rather than me.” Oh, sweet summer child!

    Belinda is Meg’s FRIEND. You are Meg’s BOSS. She and Belinda have an emotional connection that she doesn’t have with you – nor should she! AAM is full of letters from both employers and employees detailing the problems that arise when the former think that the latter are their BFFs or vice versa. Spoiler alert: It ain’t pretty – or professional!

    You wrote that Meg had mentioned that Belinda was now employed at “an independent boutique” but you didn’t specify that the luxury retail store run by Dave was part of a chain. If it isn’t, then Meg was just being honest – Dave does indeed run an independent boutique, one which now employs Belinda. If it IS part of a chain, well, sorry (not sorry!), it’s still none of your business.

    You don’t have to re-hire Meg, but you do have to think deeply and unsparingly about why you reacted to this news with such rage. “Deeply betrayed” and “used”? No, OP, one of your employees helped a friend who was no longer employed by you to get a job and that. was. all. Oh, and while you’re at it, check out Aesop’s fable of “The Dog in the Manger”…and ask yourself if you really want to be that dog!

  26. DramaQ*

    Dave and Meg likely know how banana pants the OP is. I could see her calling Dave’s employer to let them know how awful Belinda is and prevent her from ever working in this town again.

    And probably bash Dave too for good measure.

    It’s retail not government secrets. Dave’s employer has every right to hire Belinda without your input and she’s free to never agree to you being called as a reference.

    and good luck with your non compete since you admit yourself it’s not enforceable. Hope Meg took that to a lawyer for review.

    Also hope Meg has been looking as much as her visa permits. She shouldn’t have to fear retribution for helping a friend network. That is insane? what was Meg supposed to do turn her back and smear Belinda because if she isn’t good enough for you Belinda never deserves another job again?

  27. Pepperoni*

    We also don’t know that Meg did lie to you about Belinda’s employment, unless I missed it there is nothing to say that Belinda didn’t work for an independent boutique for a period of time (however short) and then leave that job to work for Meg’s fiancé. Belinda could have been working at an independent boutique at the time Meg told you that.

  28. CubeFarmer*

    I don’t understand the issue. A fired employee was hired by another employee’s husband. So…what? Unless the boss thinks that a non-compete applies to spouses, too.

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

      OP Meg and Belinda have the right to keep their friendship, and if you do not have the right to use that friendship to keep tabs on Belinda. just like you have the right to ask Meg not to talk business with Belinda Belinda has the right to ask Meg not to talk to you about what she is going.

      This is giving me heavy vibes of wanting to 1. control your employees (you dont own them)
      2. wanting to make sure a former employee does not get a job again. Maybe she has learned from her mistakes, or.the job was not a good fit and you were justified in firing her. But you cannot be made that she gets another job.

  29. Awesome Possum*

    Devil’s Advocate:
    Alison, what was OP’s business? Was it retail, where there might have been an actual, non-compete-reason, to feel betrayed? Are OP’s feelings coming from a place of job security (Meg’s fiancé has the resources to hire away future employees)?

    1. BellyButton*

      If he has the ability to “hire away future employees” he is offering them something she can’t- better management, better opportunities, better pay, more flexibility… and isn’t his fault that people go where they have better…

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      I’m not sure under what circumstances OP has any reason to feel betrayed. She doesn’t claim that Belinda took a bunch of customers/clients with her to her new job, or otherwise did her wrong. And any large employer will have the resources to hire away employees–that fact didn’t change when Belinda got hired at Dave’s company.

      OP’s bad feelings seem to stem from 1) Belinda getting a job in a similar industry in less than 4 months, 2) Meg helping Belinda get that job, and 3) Meg being less than transparent about where Belinda was working. Of these, OP has a right to be annoyed only about 3 (employee fibbing to her), but that is offset by the outsized reaction she’s having to 1 and 2.

      1. Reality.Bites*

        When you ask me a question you have no right to ask, I have no responsibility to answer it fully or honesty.

    3. Kel*

      “Was it retail, where there might have been an actual, non-compete-reason, to feel betrayed?”

      Why would someone in retail have a right to feel betrayed when someone they fired gets a new job?

    4. Awesome Possum*

      Again, responding here to everyone responding to me:

      Look for Heidi’s comments. It turns out this is a unique situation. Meg was a friend first, before OP hired her, & before Belinda showed up. I think OP is coming from a “my friend doesn’t trust me” perspective, not a “my employee made personal decisions unrelated to me” perspective.

      And that perspective was hinted at in OP’s letter, enough that some of had questions before jumping to conclusions. That’s why I think Alison’s response is too harsh to OP. It sounds like Meg was deceptively trying to use her friendship w/OP to help her fiancé do a reference check.

      OP’s non-compete clause may be wrong, & a plain employee isn’t obligated to hold their fiancé to it. But we all have integrity obligations to friends that we don’t owe to pure employers.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        Once the OP chose to hire Meg the nature of their relationship changed. That was the OPs choice. Meg was also friends with Belinda; why doesn’t that “integrity obligation” count? Also, there is nothing to indicate the discussion about Belinda was a reference check (why would they even want one from someone who fired her?).

      2. hbc*

        It’s still not clear to me what the Friend Code violation is here, even leaving aside the work relationship. I simply don’t need to report to a friend that my husband has hired a mutual acquaintance. Seriously, what is the damage done to OP by her not having this info?

        The only possible chain I can see here is–1) Dave would only hire Belinda if he thinks Belinda is a good employee so 2) Meg must not have shared OP’s impression of how terrible Belinda is, which means 3) Meg might have thought that OP shouldn’t have fired Belinda. I’ll grant that finding out your friend thinks you were wrong to fire someone would hurt a bit, but it’s still not a betrayal.

        1. Observer*

          Meg might have thought that OP shouldn’t have fired Belinda.

          That’s not necessarily true. Based on what the OP wrote, in the letter and comments, it’s quite possible that Dave (the Fiance) thought that the original job was not a good match, but that she would be good for the job that he had available. And that’s not necessarily a bad conclusion. It’s certainly not a knock on the OP’s decision to fire her.

      3. Observer*

        Meg was a friend first, before OP hired her, & before Belinda showed up.

        True, but that does not explain anything at all. Because even loyalty to a friend would not require David to not hire Belinda, even though he’s Meg’s fiance.

        The OP *fired* Belinda. Loyalty to the OP does NOT require that her friends conspire to keep her out of a job.

        But we all have integrity obligations to friends that we don’t owe to pure employers.

        What integrity obligations are at play here?

  30. Exhausted*

    This letter made me feel a little gross to read. The power dynamics at play feel really inappropriate. Perhaps it starts with the non-compete clause. I’m coming at this with an American lens, so I may be out of line, but in a country where Belinda needs a job (perhaps) to stay here and things like health insurance are tied to employment, I’m always wary of people who try to stop others from working. I’m sure LW doesn’t see it that way, but I do. Then there’s the fact that LW wants friendship privileges when it’s convenient for her, but she doesn’t offer any out when it’s not. If you choose to be friendly with an employee, you’re automatically creating room for this exact kind of situation. I can’t help but wonder what circumstances led to Meg saying that Belinda got a job at an independent boutique. I’m going to take LW at her word that this was a lie, although is there any chance she was just describing the luxury store Dave manages, while trying to obfuscate the specifics to avoid this exact reaction? Did LW ask if Meg knew what was up with Belinda, putting her in a position where she felt obligated to respond? Everything about this feels like the anger of someone who wants to have all the control and is angry to find out someone she likes won’t give up every inch of control to her. I got the ick.

    1. Awesome Possum*

      Look for Heidi’s comments. This is a unique situation. Meg was a friend first, before OP hired her, & before Belinda showed up. I think OP is coming from a “my friend doesn’t trust me” perspective, not a “my employee made personal decisions unrelated to me” perspective.

      1. Observer*

        I think OP is coming from a “my friend doesn’t trust me” perspective, not a “my employee made personal decisions unrelated to me” perspective.

        No. This had nothing to do with whether Meg “trusted” her (although the OP makes it clear that was indeed not trustworthy.)

        She was clearly coming from a perspective of “since I this person, my friend / employee owes me the ~~loyalty~~ of not doing anything to help the person I fired without my knowledge and permission.”

  31. A*

    LW… if you don’t give Meg her job back simply because she got her friend a job at another retail establishment that says a lot about how unprofessional you are. You fired Belinda, her friend got her a job, it is truly none of your business where Belinda goes and shame on you for punishing Meg over this.

  32. BellyButton*

    LW is upset that Meg and Dave didn’t tell her about hiring Belinda, but she isn’t willing to cut them any slack for hiring Belinda and not telling her. It’s like LW wants them her friends, but isn’t willing to be their friend.
    Dave doesn’t work for LW, so he doesn’t have to respect any employee non-compete clause Meg has signed.
    There are just too many blurry boundaries.

        1. Czhorat*

          TBH I feel a bit bad for him; it was somewhat of a pile-on, and I think he was genuinely trying to explain the mix of personal and professional issues.

          It felt like the comment section got a bit aggressive and he responded with defensiveness.

  33. NotARealManager*

    Once Belinda is fired, it doesn’t matter where she works next. Dave has nothing to do with your business. And yeah, people are generally more loyal to their friends than to businesses. Also, non-competes are hard to enforce generally and in this case it doesn’t apply at all. I know it’s an old letter, but I hope LW got some guidance on how to run a business and maybe some counseling on how to not take things so personally.

  34. I should really pick a name*

    I don’t understand why her loyalty laid more with a colleague she met through my company, rather than me

    Turning this around, why would Meg have loyalty to you over a colleague?

  35. T'Cael Zaanidor Kilyle*

    Although it feels a little shady that Dave and Meg essentially conducted a reference check under false pretenses, the OP really seems to have some boundary issues and to be feeling a sense of personal betrayal where there’s no need for that. I know this is an old letter, but I hope the OP rehired Meg and also started being more careful about confidentiality and boundaries.

  36. Czhorat*

    I suspect that part of it may be that the reason Belinda was fired isn’t as benign as we could assume; if the LW thinks he fired her for serious cause then it might feel awkward to him for his employee to be helping her. Part of the problem could be that because he kept the reason (justifiably) private Meg had no reason to NOT want to help her friend.

    I also don’t think it’s by nature *disloyal* to help Belinda because it isn’t costing the LW anything; if the person he fired gets another job or not there’s zero impact on him (and I don’t think he’d want her to be forever jobless).

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      I think that if OP fired Belinda for cause, she would have said so in the letter. People always want to include information that makes themselves look good.

      1. Czhorat*

        The letter said “for numerous problems”.

        This could be anywhere from “too many customer complaints” to “careless mistakes costing money” to .. really anything else.

  37. Nat20*

    I’m so intrigued at how “betrayed” the writer feels. Sure, it’s awkward to find out your current employee’s partner hired someone you fired, but that’s really it. Mildly interesting at best, slightly awkward at worst. But betrayed! They know Belinda and Meg are still friends, so why is OP so shocked? I would guess that it speaks to some emotional over-investment from the writer. Like maybe they’re crossing the line between “boss” and “friend” a little too far with Meg, making them assume some level of “loyalty” from her outside of the job (definite problem), or they had some strong emotions tied to Belinda’s firing (potential problem). Some not-so-hot boundaries at work here.

  38. Gray Lady*

    Did I miss something or is there no lie detected here? How do we know that Dave’s business isn’t appropriately labeled an “independent boutique”?

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      Looks like the original letter got trimmed a bit for Inc. It did say that Dave’s company was an international brand.

  39. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

    Oh my goodness, LW – you are so far out in left field on this one that I almost wonder what we’re missing. Unless Belinda did something eggregious like steal, there is no reason to be so upset that a colleague (even one you consider a friend) helped her land a new job.

    I would strongly recommend you examine why your feelings are so large on this, and whether they might be affecting how you show up as a leader/manager.

  40. Alex*

    There seems to be an underlying feeling in the letter that Belinda does not deserve to be employed, which speaks to some perhaps misguided view of relationships in the workplace. Some unhealthy dynamics are at work here–both with “having dinner as friends” with Meg, feelings of personal betrayal and entitlement to some vague loyalty that Meg was not “on your side” regarding Belinda’s incompetence, and a seemingly personal hostility towards Belinda herself. It seems like OP needs to self reflect to reevaluate their workplace relationships, especially as a manager.

    1. Performance and Load*

      I noticed that too. I came away with the impression that OP thought Meg was supposed to stop being friends with Belinda after Belinda was fired.

      1. works with realtors*

        I’ve definitely worked places that acted as if keeping in touch with any former employees – fired, laid off, or quit – was a huge betrayal of loyalty. It’s completely messed up, and the LW (and some commenters) doubled down on blurring employment boundaries by saying that any company that didn’t verify employment with LW was suspect.

        I don’t know how we got to a point where it feels like employers/managers are entitled to their subordinate’s loyalty and “know what’s best,” but it really worries me that it continues to get worse and not better despite employee pushback and blogs like this.

        (This is a general statement based on the comment I’m replying to, not an argument that says ‘ugh you’re wrong, of course LW is an entitled jerk’ or anything!)

  41. Mmm.*

    And let’s not forget Meg is on a work visa. Not rehiring her for something that isn’t even a breach of contract or work-related at all means she may not get to stay in the country! This goes beyond petty. It’s cruel.

    And getting married isn’t necessarily enough to secure her ability to stay, by the way.

  42. Susannah*

    So.. Belinda is never allowed to work anywhere, ever again, because LW fired her?
    Or is it that everyone in LW’s orbit is supposed to deny Belinda a job out of… what? Solidarity?
    I sincerely don’t understand the problem. Honestly, I imagine it’s hard to fire someone, even for good cause, and it would make me feel better to know that the person landed elsewhere. People have to eat! And if someone hired a former employee who was unethical or what have you.. well, that’s on them.

    1. RVA Cat*

      It’s like the OP wants to be the YeeHaw-kuza on Yellowstone branding people and “taking them to the train station”.

  43. Coffee Protein Drink*

    LW, while I understand that you pour a lot of yourself into your small business, you are still a separate person from it. A separate person who needs to understand boundaries a little better.

    Your employees are also people. They are not extensions of the business, and they are certainly not extensions of you. Simply put, you aren’t owed any kind of loyalty from any of your employees. If you treat your employees well, you can certainly inspire it, BUT. None of your employees is ever going to care more about your business than you do and it’s wrong to expect it of them.

    When one person has significant power over the other, friendship doesn’t really work well. Is it possible Meg didn’t even realize that the dinner was “as friends,” and she was not supposed to treat you as her boss? I wonder.

    As Allison said, Meg did nothing wrong and neither did her husband. They helped a friend. You firing Belinda does not mean that Meg has to stop being friends with her out of loyalty to either your business or to you personally.

    It is perfectly natural for a friend to help another find a job. Dave’s finder’s fee is irrelevant.

    I hope you take Allison’s words and that of many of the other commenters to heart.

  44. alex*

    I keep trying to figure out the relevance of Meg being employed on a work visa and apparently a native of another country. How is that at all related to any of this?

    1. Hlao-roo*

      The letter-writer mentioned in the comments on the original post:

      1- I mentioned the “visa” thing only to explain why Meg was leaving for 6 months and coming back and 2- her visa in this case in not in any way related to her job.

      1. alex*

        Thank you. I hadn’t seen the original post or comments. That actually makes it more off-base IMO. LW seems to be under the assumption that Meg will return to the country in six months and also be in need of a job and will automatically beg for her old job back from LW. In fact, it’s possible Meg would find other (better) employment, not return the workforce for any number of reasons or move elsewhere in the country. Or, you know, not want to work for someone who demands outrageous loyalty from every employee ever. That’s not how work works.

  45. JJ*

    Respectfully disagreeing that Meg and Dave did nothing wrong. Under the guide of friendship, they invited the LW for a meal and this ensued: “Dave … ask[ed] me why I thought Belinda did not perform well, and reassur[ed] me that I did everything I could before firing her. I stayed as vague as possible, knowing that they were friends with her.”

    Dave was seeking info about Belinda-as-employee, and he lied in his effort to get it. His girlfriend aided and abetted him.

    They’re both a bit scummy, and the LW is right to feel betrayed and to not want to re-hire Meg.

    1. Ziggy*

      Not so respectfully disagreeing. There is no case where dinner with the boss is not still dinner with the boss. No matter what you may feel about your relationship with your employee’s, you’re still their boss and have the power to ruin their lives. Expecting loyalty based upon that fear is always wrong-headed. Remember your roll and do not expect or even ask for more than a professional relationship with your employees.

    2. Baunilha*

      I agree that Dave shouldn’t have hided the fact the he was doing a reference check (and I’d be wary of Meg from now on), but to feel betrayed is a bit much. OP blew things out of proportion.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        To be fair to Dave, there’s no proof it was a reference check. Sometimes conversation is just conversation.

    3. Fluffy Fish*

      This is a wild take. Aided and abetted?

      People don’t owe an explanation for everything they do. OP is assuming it was a “reference check”. There’s zero way to know if that’s the case. And even if it was…so?

      OP could have declined to talk about her former employee. She specified at first that she didn’t discuss it with Meg. But then was fine discussing it with Meg’s husband and Meg at a later date.

      I’ve tried putting myself in OP’s situation and all I could come up with as a reaction would be, oh that’s nice Belinda landed on her feet. It’s wild to be mad about someone else hiring your former employee.

    4. Alex*

      It doesn’t say that Dave and Meg invited her out in order to trick her. It doesn’t say who invited whom, just that it was “as friends,” which, as others have pointed out, can’t/shouldn’t really be the case when one is The Boss. And what did he lie about? I don’t see where he lied at all.

    5. DramaQ*

      I disagree. I know we are supposed to take letter writer’s at their word but we have no real proof that Dave was asking for information from the writer as the former boss of Belinda. This is why you don’t blur the line between business and friendship. Dave may have been asking out of curiosity after having heard tales from Belinda at work. Maybe he was deciding if he wanted to stick his neck out for Belinda. So what if he passed that information on? He wasn’t asking her for a professional reference he was asking her personal opinion. She volunteered it. She should have shut down the conversation and said she’s not at liberty to discuss that, it’s a private business matter. Once she opened her mouth that was on her not Dave. Instead of trying to punish Meg and Dave maybe the letter writer needs to reflect on proper work boundaries.

    6. Observer*

      Under the guide of friendship, they invited the LW for a meal and this ensued:

      Actually, it was the OP who invited *them* to dinner.

      Dave was seeking info about Belinda-as-employee, and he lied in his effort to get it.

      He was seeking information, but he did not lie – he simply chose not to share.

      the LW is right to feel betrayed and to not want to re-hire Meg.

      Why? What harm was done to the LW?

  46. Lola*

    ” don’t understand why her loyalty laid more with a colleague she met through my company, rather than me.”

    Because it’s a job? I’m sorry, but this type of thinking is way-off base. A company will show individuals no loyalty or qualms about letting them go when it suits them – why on earth they expect any different from their employees? Regardless of how they meet, sometimes people at work become real friends, and most of us will always pick them over our employer.

  47. Blarg*

    The only situation I can think of where this feeling of betrayal would be reasonable is if Belinda had stalked or otherwise harassed OP, and Meg knew that, and the continued contact between Meg and Belinda made OP feel unsafe. In that situation, I can see not wanting to have any contact with Meg or the fiancee any longer, to ensure that Belinda wasn’t getting any new information.

    But that isn’t the case, so this just feels wild — and I went and read the original letter with the OP’s comments, and it still feels really outsized.

  48. Jessica*

    Business owners who expect employees to be more loyal to them than their coworkers are a giant red flag for a toxic work environment.

  49. Fluffy Fish*

    OP by your own admission Meg did nothing wrong. So why are you dead set on penalizing them?

    BTW you could have simply *declined* to discuss Belinda. You chose not too.

    Lastly, you have ZERO need to know anything about your former employee. It is not your concern what Belinda did after you terminated her. Not to mention non-competes in general are more about a businesses ego than anything else.

  50. Have you had enough water today?*

    Oh look, a manager thinking they can control what their employees do outside of work hours…what a shock…

  51. McS*

    I am seeing a flag that OP thinks of a fired employee as “bad at being an employee” rather than “someone I failed to find a good fit for here.” Just because Belinda didn’t do well with you doesn’t mean she isn’t great in her new role. And non-competes are meant to prevent poaching, not to prevent people you fired from finding work.

  52. Journey of Man*

    OP you aren’t a “bad boss”, but you are letting your emotions get the better of you. If you have info that makes you not trust Meg, so be it. Punishing someone for helping a friend get a job doesn’t benefit you and it harms the other person.

  53. I Have RBF*

    1. Not compete clauses are the refuge of the insecure, at best. In my state they are actually illegal an unenforceable, except under rare circumstances.

    2. Dave’s business is his business, not yours. Butt out.

    3. Why would you be “betrayed” by someone else hiring someone you fired? You don’t own Belinda, Meg, or Dave. They aren’t obligated to tell you a damned thing.

    4. Belinda still needs a job, and maybe she gets along better with Dave than she did with you.

    5. Your out of proportion reaction is why Meg didn’t want to tell you, not because she did something wrong.

    IMO, you need to recalibrate your norms here. Once you fired Belinda, your only rights and obligations with regard to her are to respond reasonably to reference checks.

  54. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    In Germany and other European countries I’ve worked in, a post-employment non-competes is invalid unless it includes a commitment for payment of compensation to the employee during the restricted post-employement period.

    Is that not the case also in the US, or can an employee be deprived not just of a job to develop their career but also be left unable to pay their bills unless they change fields? That surely can’t be right.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      I changed jobs a few times from R&D for 1 widget-maker to a competitor and I certainly knew a lot of confidential info, but we never had non-competes in our contract.
      I’m baffled that a store would require non-competes. Seems more like a punishment for daring to leave.

  55. NothappyinNY*

    So if you fire someone, you won’t let someone else hire them? Seems like abusive use of a non compete.

  56. JustSayin’*

    I’m curious about the nature of the OPs non-compete clause. I realize this may vary by location, but I typically wouldn’t think working in a boutique (upscale or otherwise) being the kind of job that can justify a non-compete clause. And given OPs reaction to her getting a new job, it makes me question if is meant as an additional “punishment” for getting fired or leaving rather than as a genuine effort to protect actual trade secrets.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      You’d think. But look into the Jimmy John case. It wasn’t tested in court because the company backed down due the publicity but consensus was that the non competes they made minimum wage sandwich makers sign were probably legal in the state in question (don’t recall which one). And they were arguing that a taco shop counted as sandwich “competition” for purposes of the agreement.

      It idea that these are used as a genuine effort to protect trade secrets needs to die in a fire.

  57. Peter*

    I don’t understand the attitude that it’s obviously some personal affront if you fire someone and they get hired somewhere else, whether or not you know their new boss. I wonder what OP thinks people who get fired should do? Live on welfare the rest of their lives? Because the alternative to that is that someone else does hire them. Maybe it’ll even work out well for the new boss.

  58. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    First of all – is OP involved in running a retail business? If not, where Belinda ended up after being bounced out is absolutely none of OP’s @#$%in’ concern.

    And even if OP *was* involved in retail, OP cannot try to deprive Belinda from making a living.

    Sounds like a personal vendetta. Yeah, I was once placed on probation – the 1980s equivalent of a PiP…. and decided not to deal with it, I found another position with a lot more money and more in tune with what I wanted to do in IS/IT. My employer was pissed off because I was “the bad guy”, yet, I was on the UPWARD move.

    Hopefully they got over it. I did, once I walked out the door.

    Some managers cannot accept the fact that people they fired or drove out the door, often end up in better places that give them the chance to grow, and as Mr. Spock would say “Live Long and Prosper.”

  59. Fiachra*

    The most troubling thing about this IMO is that on top of the LW mixing business and personal connections, they are now factoring their strictly personal feelings into the decision of re-hiring an employee (non-compete clause was not even violated). This perceived sleight could be the deciding factor! Madness.

  60. Ash*

    Eons ago, I was a retail manager and I had to fire a newly fledged adult for a lapse in ethical judgment that was serious enough that it couldn’t be overlooked, but was clearly regretted. When that person applied at the retail place my husband managed down the street, I was able to tell him what happened but said that I didn’t think it defined them as a person and they were worth a shot and a good employee otherwise, and they were hired and worked out great. So I’m definitely side-eyeing the emotion behind this. Some serious main character syndrome and lack of empathy from the letter writer here.

  61. Jimmie M*

    in this case, your employee did not defy you. Do not feel betrayed. You overreached, your employee was embarrassed and became a weasel, the husband manipulated you and the ex-employee was a mess. I don’t want to work for, or with, any of you.

  62. Lewis*

    I will add something here that I didn’t see other writing: the way this psycho keeps referring to the ex employee’s foreign background, language, work visa situation, etc as if it was relevant tells me from my own experience there is a racist/borderline people trafficking dimension on this. He is definitely taking advantage of employees being dependent on him for a work visa and enjoys his power over this people. If authorities investigate they will certainly find something. He has the same traits as people who have a preference for hiring foreign employees in a delicate work permit situation, so he can mislead them, take parts of the salary under illegal excuses or go as far as putting them in same slave conditions in other cases I saw. Someone should definitely have a look on the contracts and conditions of other employees and most likely he deserves to be in jail.

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