former coworker stole my work and keeps contacting me for help

A reader writes:

I have a weird issue that I need help with. My former coworker, Lulu, joined my company about seven years ago as a relatively inexperienced but enthusiastic junior team member. I trained her on some of her duties and, due to the nature of our jobs, we worked closely together for a time.

All was (mostly) well, but I noticed Lulu’s sensitivity and immaturity about some things, mostly about feeling “left out” of projects that didn’t concern her. Because she would claim to be hurt and disappointed by being left out, our manager began including her in recurring meetings she didn’t need to be in. She’d rarely contribute to these meetings but insist on attending; often, we’d need to move the meeting to accommodate her increasingly messy calendar, which was full of all the meetings she insisted on joining. If we didn’t move the meeting at her request, she’d have an urgent meeting with our boss, complaining that we were going behind her back.

Lulu received a significant promotion a few years into her tenure, and her behavior worsened. In meetings with my team, she’d bring up how being “left out” negatively impacted her work. We’d explain that she didn’t need to worry about the project in question, and then at meetings with our mutual manager present, she’d repeat the whole performance again with more dramatic flair.

She also started claiming ownership of things only tenuously related to her job. At one point, I created a company account on a free software tool for other departments to do work related to a specific project. Lulu complained that due to the nature of the software tool, she should have been consulted before anyone opened the account or used it. In other words, she was very good at borrowing trouble where there wasn’t any and bogging down workflows due to her own hurt feelings and self-importance.

I was supposed to continue working with Lulu, but it was extremely difficult. Several times, I approached her about working collaboratively on new initiatives, but regardless of how I worded the request, she interpreted the conversation as me trying to tell her what to do. Maddeningly, Lulu frequently did tell me how to do my job. The only way to work with her was to give her “approval” power, even when it made no sense. This grated on me because she was very green in many areas of her own job, and not at all knowledgeable about mine. So, eventually, I just avoided working with her whenever possible. Our team performance suffered because of this, but since our boss coddled Lulu there was nothing more to do about it.

A month or so ago, Lulu got another job and resigned. In the days leading up to her departure, she quizzed me intensely on my day-to-day work, asking how I did or approached certain things. This tripped a wire in my brain, and after Lulu left my company, I looked at our internal knowledge center and discovered she’d “checked out” and downloaded several of my own guides, frameworks, and templates.

She is now essentially doing my job at her new company – the same title/type of work, but also literally my job because she’s using all my collateral, which I also suspect she used to get the job in the first place.

The latest development is that she periodically emails me and asks for help. These emails are obsequious in tone and are things she could easily google for herself. I can’t decide if she thinks I’m dumb enough to help her out or if she believes she is so charming that I couldn’t possibly resist her request.

I am torn between pretending I don’t get these emails (or just responding half-heartedly enough that it’s no longer worth her time to even send them) or telling her outright to figure things out for herself. She made my job incredibly difficult for years; I am not inclined to help her.

If this were a movie, you could send her bad advice, which she would then steal, ultimately torpedoing her career due to her own incompetence and underhandedness. You, meanwhile, would get a promotion and also a handsome boyfriend.

This not a movie, so don’t do that. But you definitely don’t need to help or even respond to her emails at all. Just ignore them.

If you feel awkward doing that, the next best thing is to take a long time to respond and then, when you finally do, be vague and unhelpful — or just say, “Sorry, I’m swamped right now and I don’t want to hold you up, so don’t wait on me.”

But really, you could just ignore her. Set her emails to go straight into your trash if you want. You don’t owe this person who made your life difficult, and who apparently stole your work, anything. You definitely don’t owe her help doing her new job.

If you could prove she had stolen your work — or your company’s property, more broadly — and taken it to her next company where she was presenting it as her own, that would be worth tipping off your boss about. Your company might have Feelings about that kind of theft (especially if she’s at a competitor, but even if she’s not), but it doesn’t sound like there’s conclusive enough evidence to go in that direction (even though I agree with you that it looks pretty clear), especially given your boss’s coddling of Lulu.

{ 224 comments… read them below }

  1. Bananapantsfeelings*

    I love that Alison indulged the revenge fantasy, then was clear that it’s not actually something to do.

    1. OMG, Bees!*

      For the briefest of moments, I would also be tempted with the bad advice revenge. But it being in writing could comeback to bite LW, so best to ignore emails, and if they persist, reply as “Sorry, I’m swamped”

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I wouldn’t even reply. Lulu doesn’t work there anymore; she’s no longer your circus, OP. And, she already co-opted YOUR expertise to get a new job.

        Send her emails straight to the bin. In fact, when I read this advice, I could hear Steve Martin’s voice from The Man with Two Brains: “Into the mud, scum queen!”

    2. Wakeen, Get Off the Toilet.*

      I would still do a form of revenge. If I were OP I’d find out who she works for, and reply to her cc’ing both her boss and my boss in the email, add a detailed list of her requests, and ask both supervisors for a meeting to draw up a contract with the other company for consulting, to determine how long the contract should be and what fee to charge DeLuLu.

      1. Squishy*

        I feel like such an insider for laughing at your name reference! also I like your thinking.

      2. Allison K*

        “Oh great to hear from you! It looks like you’re using Things I Created For Biz A, and I’ve updated them quite a bit since you moved on, building on Esoteric Thing Lulu Won’t Be Able to Explain, which as you know is absolutely vital for correct operation. I’m just cc’ing our bosses so they can decide if it’s better for me to send you some new info or if Biz B would prefer to develop their own specific thing suited to their work environment.”

  2. Sparkles McFadden*

    Set up an email rule to send Lulu’s emails to the trash or a Lulu folder, and rejoice in the fact that you don’t have to deal with her anymore.

      1. Petty Betty*

        *laugh* I have a couple of folders like that.
        -Sharon “The Asshat” Landlord
        -QG Bullshit
        -Shady Pines (Grand)MA
        -Wasband 1 (DECEASED)

        Anything from specific people automatically got dumped to those particular folders and I’d check them (or not) at my leisure.

          1. Mongrel*

            On my work e-mail I have “Over enthusiastic fluff” after the head of marketing started bombarding toxic positivity e-mails, ‘team building’ sessions that only happened at head office and whatever management personality templates took their fancy this week.

        1. Arts Akimbo*

          It’s very nearly an Indigo Girls song. (I’m singing “Crazy Jane” to the tune of “Crazy Game”)

      2. Ms. Eleanous*

        Love all these!

        For one particular person, I have a “twr” folder, for Terrible with Raisins. (from Dorothy Parker .. not just Plain Terrible.)

        1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          I love that so much that I researched to see if I could find the whole quote. This is it, according to multiple online sources:

          “This wasn’t just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it.”

          She was talking about turning 50, but it could apply to SO many things!

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            I’ve got to find the article that that quote’s in! I love Dorothy Parker but this is a new one for me.

      3. Disaster Recoverer*

        Mine is “TFG” because it’s work and I don’t want swear words in my folder structure.

    1. François Caron*

      Better yet, set up a forwarding rule to send all communications with her to the company’s legal department.

  3. Peanut Hamper*

    My first thought was to also send her very bad advice, because why not? What’s she going to do when it goes pear-shaped? Show your email to her boss?

    But honestly, just ignoring or grey-rocking is the perfect solution here. Just send an email back saying “Great question! Let me get back to you on that” and then just never do get back.

    1. Shenandoah*

      “Oh gosh, I just don’t know! You were always giving me so much feedback when we worked together – I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to improve upon what you come up with!”

      (I might be unable to resist one passive-aggressive or extremely vague response, but I completely agree that ignoring is the way to go.)

        1. Semi-Accomplished Baker*

          Ooh, I love this. A spice of vengeance. Quote that exactly. Minus the self proclaimed ofc

          1. Semi-Accomplished Baker*

            However, I’d prob just delete. The less documentation of you helping her, the better. You don’t want her to point to you and say, well she gave me that advice!

            1. Peanut Hamper*

              If she says that, her boss has a perfect reason to doubt her confidence, depending on the frequency. Asking a former coworker once is conceivable; asking them multiple times leads to questions

  4. MsM*

    I think the question is, how badly do you need to remain on civil terms with Lulu? If you’re afraid your paths are going to cross again and you’ll have to play nice, go with the “sorry; can’t right now” or just pretending you never got the messages approach. If you don’t, not sure why you can’t just tell her that if it’s not in the materials she took, you can’t help her, and ignore her from that point forward.

    1. Nameless*

      I vote for saying nothing – that way, if she does ever have the (absolute audacity) to bring it up in the future, OP can just play dumb like she never got them at all and be mystified by technology (note: does not work if you are in IT…)

    2. Ellie*

      I vote for replying once, ccing your boss, and say something like, ‘I’m afraid I need bosses approval to spend company time helping a competitor so have copied them in’, but I’m petty. Just ignore her is the better path.

      1. Archi-detect*

        no, dangerous given she perviously was the golden employee. that is how you get a special project to help her with her new jobs up to 5 hours a week lol

  5. Advice2*

    Lulu sounds terrible. I agree with Alison: ignore her emails and have them auto sent to trash so you don’t have to worry about ever seeing them again.

    1. sacados*

      And mostly because of how terribly OP’s company and bosses managed the whole situation (or, I suppose I should say how they completely *failed* to manage it).

      1. MigraineMonth*

        “Dear Alison,

        One of my reports is a new employee who is constantly whining and crying about feeling excluded because we don’t reschedule meetings that have nothing to do with her so she can attend. She also refuses to take instruction and demands approval/veto power over projects owned by more senior employees.

        How can I get everyone else to cater to her every single demand so she stops whining at me?”

    2. WoodswomanWrites*

      Yes, it’s maddening to read about the abysmal leadership that let this happen over a period of years. OP, I’m so glad this person is out of your life. Unless Lulu is someone you may interact with in your career in the future, silence is a perfect response. You might even find satisfaction in knowing that someone who always wants attention doesn’t get any from you.

  6. Goldenrod*

    Wow, yeah, you owe Lulu nothing!! Alison’s advice is right – ignore her. If that feels too uncomfortable, at least wait a loooooooooong time to respond and then reply in a way that is friendly in tone but offers zero help.

    1. mdv*

      I’m so sorry – I just found this email you sent me MONTHS ago in my junk folder while I was cleaning out. No idea how it ended up there, sorry I wasn’t able to help.

  7. ThursdaysGeek*

    This is one I’ll want an update on in a year or two, especially if the OP also knows Lulu’s trajectory.

    1. Siege*

      I would be so tempted to foster a friendly relationship – mostly through appearing to be helpful and being very sympathetic and flattering, which Lulu clearly responds to – just to be on hand for the fallout.

      1. Goldenrod*

        “I would be so tempted to foster a friendly relationship…just to be on hand for the fallout.”

        Me too! Lulu is clearly going to fail – I would want a ringside seat!

    2. Antilles*

      I would too, because I suspect the update in a year will be that Lulu fell flat on her face when it turns out that borrowing someone’s spreadsheet doesn’t magically give you the knowledge needed to effectively use it.

  8. Jackie Daytona, Regular Human Bartender*

    You could reply once to try to avoid her escalating by calling you or something. “My responsibilities are such that I’m not able to assist now or going forward.” Optional: “Thanks for understanding.” and/or “Best of luck.”

    Then create an email rule to automatically dump emails from her in the trash.

  9. Naomi*

    Honestly, sabotaging Lulu would be redundant. All you have to do is stay out of it, and she’ll probably dig her own hole.

    1. AngryOctopus*

      I was thinking this. If you ignore her for long enough, her inability to do her new job will come home to roost. Completely hands off for you but still satisfying.

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yup. People like this always blow themselves up. It usually happens when the person forgets that she can’t actually do the things she’s taken credit for. It sounds to me like Lulu has reached that point.

      1. Grumpus*

        Yeah it’s particularly telling that it’s stuff she could solve with Google. Maybe she’s so over her head that she can’t even formulate the right search terms. OP should forward to trash and look forward to hearing about Lulu’s sudden ‘career break’ within about six months.

    3. RedinSC*

      Also, you just don’t want to have anything in writing to Lulu. LW would never want a sabotage email coming back to bite her in any way. So it’s really best to just ignore her and not respond at all.

      1. Grumpus*

        There’s also the mental health angle. The less time LW spends thinking about this toxic person, the better for her life overall.

  10. GreenShoes*

    My NotAdvice is to find out who her manager is and email with all of her emails attached requesting help with a quick note.

    “Hi Lulu’s boss, This is very awkward, but I’ve been fielding a lot of questions from Lulu. Perhaps you could intervene to find out if she needs extra support from your organization to do her job? I know that she can require a lot of handholding if she’s still like she was here at Spacely Space Sprockets but as she now works with you at Cogswell Cogs, I think it’s probably better for the support to come from your organization.


    1. Bananapantsfeelings*

      I laughed at this.

      It’s great revenge fantasy! Don’t do it, but oooh imagining it is fun.

    2. GreenShoes*

      My real advice is to go with the one above about telling her you’ll get back to her.

    3. AngryOctopus*

      That is excellent NotAdvice, and I support it.

      I also support the real advice about saying “Oh, I’ll get back to you” and then forgetting about it.

    4. Snoodence Pruter*

      Ohhh I vicariously want this so much. I mean, LW definitely should not. But. Oooooh.

    5. not nice, don't care*

      Fake invoice for a consulting/coaching service. Send to Lulu’s company.

    6. Out of the Office - At the Beach*

      Thank you for the Jetsons reference!
      That hit the nostalgia button, appreciate it!

    7. Ellie*

      This is funny, but if you’re going to go that far, you may as well accuse her of stealing your spreadsheets.

  11. pally*

    I’d completely ignore the emails. That way Lulu won’t ever be sure why OP didn’t respond.
    Comes in handy later with the plausible deniability aspect-“Nope, never saw any emails from you, Lulu. Don’t know why.”. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Evil me would reply with answers to questions Lulu is not asking about the pilfered documents. Let her get twisted into knots explaining -again and again- what she needs. Course, that might end up wasting a fair amount of the OP’s time. Wouldn’t want that.

    Or respond to Lulu with bland suggestions like “Don’t forget to save your data.” or “Don’t tell folks your password.”

      1. No cookie nonsense please*

        Or: “Have you tried clearing your cache and cookies?” It’s something that is almost never the solution but oddly is recommended by a ridiculous number of IT support people when they don’t want to dig into what the real problem is. I wonder if some do it because they know the person who clears their cache and cookies will then have to spend hours reinputting their information (user names, passwords, etc) into all the sites they use. Yes, I fell for it a couple of times. Thank you for reading my rant.

      1. pally*

        yeah! “I’d look up the answer for you, but you have the handbook. So I can’t help ya. Sorry.”

    1. Rex Libris*

      Or just set up a rule to send the emails to your spam folder, then if it ever does come up… “Oh, it looks like somehow your emails ended up in my spam folder.”

  12. SirHumphreyAppleby*

    Oof I worked with a “Lulu”. They were exhausting. I felt my annoyance climb just reading this.
    If you can prove she stole something then yeah let someone with the ability and likelihood of taking action know, but otherwise straight up ignore her.
    If she’s foolish enough to email you about things that you yourself said she can Google, then she’ll probably flame out soon enough. Or hey, maybe not, but either way she doesn’t exist in your world anymore.

    If you REALLY, REALLY want some kind of revenge, I’d just wait a while and when you’ve got more than a few emails that you haven’t written back to and write back to the most recent one saying you’re surprised she’s reaching out to you ask just fundamental questions about the job, most of which can be googled, and that you hope she’s not finding her new job too difficult. But really just straight up ignoring her is better.

    1. Tio*

      I completely don’t understand why managers coddle people like this. It’s more work in the long run! It made me tired just READING it!

      1. Holy Moly Guacamole*

        In my limited experience, these type of managers either don’t feel the immediate effects of keeping an employee amused or have to extend energy to make sure that the new employee is actually being productive.

      1. SirHumphreyAppleby*

        Haha, I always say a learnt a ton about how organizations work by watching Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister.

  13. Cat Tree*

    This isn’t the point of your post, but what is up with your manager? It is so bizarre to allow Lulu to be included in unnecessary meetings just because she whined about it.

    1. BellyButton*

      Sometimes I will include people in meetings, not because they have anything to do with the topic- but it’s for their development. Giving them exposure to information, teams, other managers’ management styles, etc in preparation for a promotion. Some people get very upset about why someone who isn’t involved is there, but also, sometimes the lower level people don’t know all the layers people are involved.

      I am not saying that is what the case was here, but just so others will keep it in mind, that sometimes you don’t know why decisions are made.

      *** but 7 out of 10 times it is because most people leaders s*ck HA!

      1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

        I did once add someone to vendor meetings because I knew that she was feeling snubbed in other ways, and she perceived them as a status thing. (And she did sometimes have useful input.) It was also professional development, allowing her to be exposed to that level of discussion. And we did often ask individual contributors, her included, to go over these vendor quotes to see if anything looked out of place.

        HOWEVER. If she had started demanding that she HAD to approve the quotes herself, or even if she’d just been hard to schedule, I would absolutely have gone, “Kathy, you are not allowed to insert yourself as a required approver, and we’re not going to delay the process of this important contract by multiple weeks because you don’t have a free hour until then. If you want to move something else so you can come to this meeting, you’re welcome, but we’re not arranging it around your schedule, and while your input is welcomed, it’s ultimately my boss who decides that we’re signing the contract (or not).”

        I will be honest that I didn’t really get it — while the meetings were valuable, they were not interesting.

        1. Caroline*

          Yep, when I add someone to a meeting for their own development, it’s on a “if you want to be a fly on the wall in this meeting and it works with your schedule, you’re welcome to join!” basis, but I don’t move meetings to work with their schedule and I try to make it clear that they are there to listen. (A great way to do that, is to schedule a debrief with them afterward for questions.)

    2. ProducerNYC*

      I’ve had so many managers who relented for ‘difficult’ employees rather than put up a fight. Fosters such terrible morale for the good workers and only further encourages the unprofessional behavior.

    3. Gretta Swathmore*

      My boss likes to include our most junior employee in meetings one step up from his role for his professional development. He is actively trying to grow his career. Me? Im much further along in my career than the junior employee and honestly have more experience and raw talent than my boss. I ask to be included in meetings one step up regularly and am always always always denied. I ask my bosses boss – denied. No one is trying to grow my career. Because of this, I’m trying to do a major career shift, but I am stuck where I am until I can get some qualifications for my new industry. I guess I’m a bit like Lulu, but not effective! The thing I hate the most is my boss gives me feedback to give others more credit for the projects I lead and do the majority of the work on. Again, it’s like I keep being told to be meek and stay in my place.

      1. Media Monkey*

        going to assume you are female presenting and junior employee is not? yeah, that figures…

    4. Still*

      Right? They used to RESCHEDULE MEETINGS to fit her calendar? Meetings she didn’t need to be a part of?

  14. Lacey*

    The revenge fantasy sounds delightful to daydream about.

    But, while it’s less immediately gratifying – I find that the Lulu’s in my life hate not getting a response. So, set a rule to send her emails straight to trash and happily day dream about how angry that is making her.

  15. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    She took your rolodex with her.

    Definitely tell your boss, or even one step higher since boss coddled Lulu. Those documents were made on company time and therefore are company property. They may contain proprietary information. At the very least this is above your paygrade to decide if someone is allowed to walk off with company property that they are using in their new job.

    1. 3-Foot Tall Inflatable Rainbow Unicorn*

      I work with a lot of frames, & templates – they’re basically empty containers for organizing/outputting information & text and not likely to contain proprietary information. The guides may or may not, but most likely say generic things like “logo should be sized 100 x 100 pixels” or “this field is for number strings only.”

    2. pally*

      Not objecting to informing boss and higher ups.

      It would be beyond my ability to control my reaction if, once informed of Lulu’s requests for help, management directed me to render assistance.

    3. Somewhere in Texas*

      I wonder if this is something HR should know about so they mark her as “not eligible for rehire,” since she took company resources?

      1. Bananapantsfeelings*

        She just checked out shared team documents to look at, is what she would say.

        1. Gumby*

          Yup. I had a co-worker who randomly asked about some of my spreadsheets one day. He already had access to multiple completed versions of said spreadsheets but asked for my template versions. So I sent them. Lo and behold, he left the company about a month later. So. not. subtle. Frankly, while I found them useful, they were not anything complicated or particularly special so it wasn’t worth even bringing up with higher ups in my company.

  16. CityMouse*

    I have to say I’ve never experienced a coworker who went to a different company then reached out for work help. That’s just not how that works. I’d probably tell Lulu something along the lines of “since you work for a different company now and I’m not familiar with your internal procedures I don’t want to risk giving you advice that wouldn’t work for your company.” Like spin it as “me giving you advice could be bad”.

    1. A Penguin!*

      Eh, I actually have gotten requests from former coworkers about things that I was known for being good at. I don’t think inherently not how things work.

      I wouldn’t answer this coworker, but I do for ones I’m on good terms with and who have reasonable requests.

      1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

        Yeah, I’ve reached out to former coworkers who were particularly knowledgeable in specialty niche topics. Never anything long and involved, but questions like, “Hey, do you know if the Crystal Microtransmitter Protocol can integrate with Pigeonhole Processing?” Things that can be answered in a few sentences, or a few paragraphs, max. And only people I liked and had a friendly relationship with, and would be happy to answer similar questions for, or putting in a recommendation for them if my company was hiring and they were interested.

        If you had a good relationship and it’s once in a blue moon, acknowledging someone’s area of expertise with a relatively easy question can help build and maintain a relationship — people generally like to be acknowledged as experts, and unless they’re super swamped, are usually happy to take two minutes for someone they liked.

        1. JustaTech*

          I’ve done this as well, where a former coworker was one of two people my boss and I knew who *might* have the answer to the question “where did we put the refrigerators during Project X”?
          We asked if we could ask the former coworker (who left on good terms), and then bought her coffee while we talked.
          (We didn’t ask the other person 1) because he’d moved out of state and 2) because he is exhausting.)
          But we only asked because we had already spent two weeks searching all of our documentation and asking everyone who still worked at the company first and came up completely empty.

    2. AmberFox*

      I’ve had one that left and formed his own company in direct competition to his former job reach out and try to get me to give him free help (that he should have had to pay for). It was… ah. A moment.

  17. BellyButton*

    If you are as petty as I am you would respond with “you already stole all the work and documentation I created, I am not willing to do any more for you. “

    1. 3-Foot Tall Inflatable Rainbow Unicorn*

      Truly petty would be “Sucks you can’t complain to old boss to make me help you, doesn’t it?”

    2. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

      This is where I land too. (Admittedly, the meme “I’m done being the bigger person. See you in hell” describes me to a T.)

      “Dearest Lulu,

      I admire your chutzpah in stealing intellectual property from my company and then continuing to harass me with basic entry-level questions. I’m reporting your theft and forwarding all relevant information to your new boss. Good luck.”

      1. BennyJets*

        I’d just want to add a lie, I mean well a line like “perhaps you are having difficulty as the items you stole were being updated around that time. Much of what you have is no longer relevant”.

        And bcc basically all the extraneous people that have been suggested on the complete comment thread

        1. BennyJets*

          (I’d want to but I wouldn’t just to be clear. But, oh how I would want to…. No telling what I would impulsively do if I bumped into them in person and they asked for more than the time of day…)

  18. Consequences*

    I know most people will say you shouldn’t reply to her, but the ‘justice’ part of me feels like you should tell her that this is a natural consequence of taking credit for work you haven’t done. Especially if you don’t anticipate needing to work with on rely on help from Lulu in the future (and frankly, I don’t think you’ll need to), you’ve experienced something deeply frustrating where someone has passed off your work as their own and has the gall to continue to ask for help *from another firm* for work they are ill-equipped to do.

    You should also definitely tell your boss about the exfiltrated documents.

    1. Observer*

      but the ‘justice’ part of me feels like you should tell her that this is a natural consequence of taking credit for work you haven’t done.

      It’s a nice fantasy, but not worth it.

      Revenge is a dish best served cold. You can be sure that justice will get to her – her incompetence will see to that.

      You should also definitely tell your boss about the exfiltrated documents.

      Or your GrandBoss – I wouldn’t put it past your boss to say that they gave her permission even if he didn’t.

      1. Kara*

        Careful with that, you don’t want to find out that the boss actually did give permission.

  19. spaces in the trim*

    I had a post-masters degree sort-of-intern (paid entry level but strictly one year position) do this to me. I figured the best revenge is he now has the job he took credit for my work to get. And now he has to keep that job, without me doing it for him.

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yup. The people who do this stuff are miserable all of the time. They do what they can to win the prize of a job that’s beyond their capabilities.

  20. 3-Foot Tall Inflatable Rainbow Unicorn*

    Step 1 – make a filter and send the emails to it, unread.

    Step 2 – make popcorn. There’s no way Lulu isn’t going to flame out, especially if she now works somewhere that is more interested in her output than her feelings.

    Do not answer under any circumstances, even to say that you can’t/won’t give her what she wants.

  21. SereneScientist*

    LW, please consider Allison’s advice about tipping your boss off to Lulu’s theft of your (and your organization’s) work. If my suspicions are correct and you do knowledge work, then that is intellectual property Lulu has taken which is really not okay!

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Not a bad idea to mention the specific facts that you know (e.g., she downloaded the handbook right before leaving). They may not take any real action against her, but it may make her ineligible for re-hire when she flames out spectacularly at her new gig.

  22. Cinn*

    Mock up a standard prices for work like quote and mail it back to her & state payment up front?

    I mean, totally don’t do that, but it’d be kinda funny to see how much she’d be willing to fork out.

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      I had one person take hard copies of my documentation with her when she left. She emailed me with questions, and asked me to come to her new workplace and do staff training for her. She moved on to calling multiple times a day (leaving many voicemails). I mentioned this to an acquaintance in the legal department when we were talking about something else, and said I was thinking of replying to an email quoting an exorbitant freelance rate and saying I needed to clear it with legal just to see what she’d say. He said to go ahead and do that and “Let’s see what happens.” The woman responded that she’d always asked me questions in the past and I’d trained her “for free” so what had changed? I had to explain that I answered her questions when it was my job to do so but she was now working for a competitor. She really didn’t get it.

      I had cc’d the company attorney on my email (stating “the company attorney is now on this thread” in a large bold font) and mentioned the stolen documentation, which she admitted she took. She complained that she only had hard copies and asked me to send her the electronic versions she wasn’t allowed to access “for some reason” after she gave her notice. The attorney took it from there. I actually felt a little bad about it.

      1. WellRed*

        You stole documents.
        Yes, I did. I was unable to steal electronic copies, however so can you send those to me?

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Always fascinating to see people really fit into Alison’s category “behaving like the villain in a Reese Witherspoon movie.”

      3. allathian*

        Whaat?? I hope you didn’t feel bad for long, she deserved whatever she got. This is a typical case of “play stupid games, win stupid prizes.”

  23. SleeplessKJ*

    I created a copy/paste for use in exactly this kind of situation. (Pasted below) Feel free to use it. :-)


    An error occurred while trying to deliver this message to the recipient’s e-mail address. Gmail will not try to redeliver this message for you. User does not exist.

    Sent by Google Gmail Server 2022 Diagnostic information for administrators:Generating server: #550 … No such user ##

    Original message headers:Received: from ( by ( with Microsoft SMTP Server
    (TLS) id;

    Received: from [] by id
    X-Originating-IP: []
    X-SpamReason: No, hits=1.2 required=7.0 tests=HTML_20_30,HTML_MESSAGE,
    X-StarScan-Version: 6.4.3; banners=-,-
    X-VirusChecked: Checked
    Received: (qmail 22800 invoked from network);
    Received: from (HELO
    (289.25.986.44) by with RH6-ZRA
    encrypted SMTP;
    Received: by qfadb12 with SMTP id c14sb9234843qxh.20
    Received: by with SMTP id fdsalkf293238hj2.30.11349182363705;
    MIME-Version: 1.0
    Received: by HTTP;
    Content-Type: multipart/alternative; boundary=”20cf385fc2b644bb8314b59ggbc0″

        1. TicketyBooWho*

          I used to pettily include a random typo in emails to Lulu-types of “AVF” which is the french version of GFY. As in:

          Thank you for asking about that project, I think you’ll find the files in the shavfred drive.

          So I knew what I said, but had very plausible deniability that it was a typo.

    1. BrandNewBandName*

      I love this so much; thank you! Wouldn’t it be great if any emails from Lulu’s domain could get that? Lol

  24. Admin 22*

    You could set up a rule that does an “auto-reply” to Lulu stating that you do not have time to help her with her new job,” that deletes both the incoming and outgoing message.

    Your IT should be able to tell if she downloaded documents that you prepared and took to her new job. They may want to double check that she didn’t take anything that was confidential or proprietary.

    Hopefully her new supervisors will catch on.

  25. ImprobableSpork*

    Please please please tell me the made up name here is a Judith Viorst reference.

      1. SarahKay*

        There is a book called ‘Our Precious Lulu’ by Anne Fine (UK writer) in which the titular character behaves just like this, although in a family setting, rather than work.
        In the book Lulu’s sister eventually realises the big problem is their Mum, who has always enabled this behavior. OP seems to have a similar issue: Lulu sucks like a sucky thing, but WTF was their manager thinking?!? Manager seems to totally lack both common sense and a spine, not to have ever pulled Lulu into line.

  26. Elizabeth*

    Lulu sounds intolerable to be around, but if someone stole my templates I’d be…..flattered, I guess.

  27. MikeM_inMD*

    In addition to Allison’s advice, OP should keep tabs on Lulu’s career so they know where to NOT apply should they want to change companies.

  28. Chirpy*

    Yeah, I would just not respond, knowing that she’s likely bitten off more than she can chew and now has to get out of it herself, or implode.

    Part of me wants to respond with “I’m curious as to why you want my help with your new job at a company I’ve never worked at” but don’t do it. Any response she comes up with will just be unsatisfying and annoying. Don’t give her any more time or thought.

  29. Blackcat*

    2nd the advice on informing her manager. taking work with you is generally not allowed. if the comments make it clear that she is referencing templates and your company logs downloads then she can get in trouble. it’s not even just for your benefit, you don’t know what else she took with her and it seems she got herself involved and had access to a lot

    1. Just checking in*

      I would show Lulu’s emails to your manager. They could determine if there is theft.

      1. Rick Tq*

        Better to send the logs to IT or the legal department (if your company has one) to report the data theft.

  30. Petty Betty*

    I see no reason to help, let alone reply to (de)Lulu.

    I would definitely be bringing this up with *your* management, though. You have evidence that she took proprietary information (that she didn’t create) with her when she left. Now she is reaching out to you to fish for information that she likely doesn’t understand from the proprietary documents she already took.

    The petty side of me (which is the entire inside of me) wants you to send her a contract for services, to be prepaid for a minimum of 10 hours before you’ll answer any questions. Each question is an hour of billable services.
    But, I think your employer needs to have first crack at her.

    1. Just checking in*

      Agreed. Any help you give her can put you in a conflict of interest bind. Lulu is looking out for Lulu only.

  31. Reebee*

    Helping her now is a conflict of interest, since she now works at a different company. I’d just block her altogether.

    Also: “…since our boss coddled Lulu…” Therein lies the entire problem. Good riddance to Lulu!

  32. CoffeeOwlccountant*

    I realize that People gonna People all the live-long day, but it just baffles me why someone wants to get involved in all those meetings and projects. Like, work is not the Girl Scouts, you are not going to get shiny badges for going to everything possible. There are things in my company that I am blissfully unaware of and am utterly thrilled to continue to be so! They are someone else’s circuses and monkeys! I don’t want them! Don’t make me take them!

    My suspicion is that Lulu thinks if she fills up her schedule with enough meetings, she’ll be let off the hook to do any actual work because she “won’t have time”.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Ding ding ding! This is also, alas, what some people think management is.

    2. Abundant Shrimp*

      OMG yes! while creating the impression with the higher-ups that she is soooo busy and involved in sooo many projects!

      I mean it worked didn’t it? She got that promotion.

    3. Chirpy*

      Sometimes I think it’s a need to feel important. “Important People” go to meetings, so the more meetings you go to, the more important you are?

      1. Petty Betty*

        While truly important people know that meetings are time-sucks and don’t want to be in meetings at all.

    4. Broadway Duchess*

      Meanwhile, I’m always trying to get out of meetings so I can actually get some work done. The mind, it boggles!

  33. Robyn*

    Please send her-“Oh, I wouldn’t want to tell you what to do. You informed me of that communication flaw I had when we worked together , and I really took that advice to heart.”

    Use her own words back on her

  34. Just checking in*

    Agreed. Any help you give her can put you in a conflict of interest bind. Lulu is looking out for Lulu only.

  35. Common Taters on the Ax*

    I don’t see how the other company could be anything but a competitor, from the description, and if so, I think it would be worth alluding to the huge ethical problems with what Lulu did and is asking LW to do. For example, the email could say, “I’m afraid it would be an unethical conflict of interest for me to lend my expertise to your work at Stardust Inc., just as it would be unethical for me to provide you with templates and other work products.” Again assuming that’s the case, I would consider it my obligation to tell management about it.

    You’ve uncovered a probable theft of intellectual property, and if the templates have proprietary information in them such as original text, it may be possible to prove the new company is using them. I’d let management know about it and figure out if there’s enough evidence or anything they can do.

    1. Plate of Wings*

      I agree with the advice to report if LW feels comfortable; personally I would if I had file transfer records mentioned in this letter PLUS emails suggesting she’s asking for more from LW. The two together aren’t a good look!

      I know a lot of functions exist across industries and it doesn’t mean they’re at a competitor though. It’s still not cool even if it’s not a competitor.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        In my company, appearance of impropriety is enough for us to flag a situation for the correct oversight body.

        I would be notifying someone that it appears.The documentation was downloaded to be brought to another employer –because its my job to flag the question for the people paid to investigate.

  36. NicolaAgricola*

    “Sorry I can’t help you Lulu. I have no bandwidth at all since we found that our procedures left us exposed to some concerning consequences. It’s all hands on deck rewriting everything and getting legal checks done at the moment. Hope all is well with you.”

  37. LadyWhistledownsSecretTwin*

    Actually, Allison’s first suggestion was the one I’d follow. Feed her garbage and see what happens. She isn’t your problem anymore. She made life difficult, and doesn’t seem like she can help you in any way.

    I personally would feed her nonsense and just see what happens.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      It creates drama and emotional investment. Neither are healthy here. Report her taking the docs up the chain or don’t. Direct all incoming email to /dev/null. Get on with your life.

  38. Reality.Bites*

    I really don’t understand the need for the letter, entertaining as it was.

    You’re under no obligation to help anyone who resigned from your company in their new job, under any circumstances at all, let alone incredibly shady ones.

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      The need for the letter is that a lot of people feel really bad about ignoring emails/phone calls/texts, even from horrible people! I’m glad there are advice columnists who will give them the ok to do it.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        Yep. Some people are raised/trained to be helpful and polite all the time. That’s not a bad instinct to have.

        But even Jesus flipped tables when the time was right.

      2. Nah*

        Especially after being stuck in a bananas workplace that allowed her to do no wrong and stomp all over LW for years! It seems easy from the outside, but I can imagine the stress ingrained in the LW after having to cater to LuLu’s every whim on hand and foot or (likely) be disciplined for not complying.

    2. WellRed*

      Tell me you don’t understand advice columns without telling me you don’t understand them.

  39. pally*

    Maybe forward Lulu’s emails to your managers-the ones who coddled her. Let them provide assistance.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      Whatever role they had in making a Lulu a problem before, Lulu is no longer their problem. This isn’t going help anything.

  40. Red Wheel Barrow*

    This sounds profoundly annoying, but I admit that in the OP’s place I’d take some unkind pleasure in Lulu’s newfound obsequiousness.

  41. Abundant Shrimp*

    I had a coworker that made my life hell. Mine was in a different department and was wanting to be friends(?) did not take no for an answer, did not respond to boundaries, she knew where my desk was and would randomly appear next to it a few times a day and there was seemingly nothing I could do.

    On her last day, I went out for lunch and was told by my teammates when I came back that she’d been looking for me. I thought she wanted my phone number and was thinking of excuses I’d use not to give it to her, but no. She wanted my home address because her new office was in the city where I lived and “I might stop by after work”. I was so unprepared for it that all I came up with was “we’re actually selling the house”. (that was 18 years ago and my ex still lives in the house, and I am sure plans on never ever selling it haha) This is to paint yall a picture of how persistent this person was.

    So, when on her first day at the new place, she emailed me at my work address and I deleted the email without opening it, I was sure she’d keep trying. She got the message! I never heard from her again. It felt so good.

    In conclusion: LW, go ahead and block Lulu. You would do it if you got an email from a random person outside your company asking you for help with their work, wouldn’t you? Well that’s what Lulu is now. She’d not entitled to your responses and should not be getting any. I wouldn’t even open the emails because Lulu might have read receipts on. Just straight to the junk folder.

  42. Restored*

    If I were the letter writer I will respond to Lulu’s email in strong worded language asking her to figure out her problems and never contact me again. Some bridges are worth burning and there’s a satisfaction from watching them burn so you never have to go back or be bothered with them again.

  43. learnedthehardway*

    I would be more inclined to respond that what she’s asking is simply too complicated to explain and that she should take a course in the topic.

    Or, tell her that what she’s asking you to do would be a violation of non-compete / non-disclosure with your current employer.

    1. Nah*

      My evil not-advice is to say the latter, then CC both company’s legal departments “just to be sure”.

  44. Keymaster of Gozer (She/Her)*

    ‘New email who dis?’

    For people who I don’t want to talk to I just send back a very authentic looking server message that traffic from (annoying person email and IP) has been permanently blocked.

    Then I get a cup of tea.

  45. Elbe*

    If the LW feels that they and Lulu could end up applying to the same job one day soon, they should get screenshots of the change logs of the stolen documents. Hopefully, the LW will never run into a situation where they have to prove their work is their own, but… wouldn’t hurt to have on hand.

  46. Everything Bagel*

    Gee, Lulu, isn’t that in the guide I wrote that you downloaded just before you left? Sorry, I don’t have time to look right now, but you should check there!

  47. CeeBee*

    I’m completely over people like Lulu – I’d gather all the proof, meet with my higher ups and discuss. or I would give bad info or I’d drop an anonymous note to new employer outlining what was done. What I wouldn’t do is nothing. Because doing nothing when delulu people are deluding people and getting rewarded with more money and power is how we are in this sad state. See something, say something.

  48. Raida*

    Honestly, as the total bastard that I am, I’d find her immediate manager, tell them I don’t want to receive any more of these emails from their staff member, and oh FYI she didn’t create any of that collateral she brought with her – so good luck working with her, better you than me mate!

  49. I Have RBF*

    Wow, this one’s a real Lulu!

    I would not delete her emails, but I also would not answer them. They should all be saved off, with headers, to a folder named “What_A_Lulu”, along with screenshots of the access logs and changelogs to the material that you created.

    Why? Because I can see her trying to somehow make her failures your fault, or accuse you of stealing from her. With jerks like this it’s better to document even if you think you don’t need it. She may try to job-hop back to your company, or something, and you want to have receipts.

  50. Yikes*

    I would absolutely give your higher ups notice that she took stuff with her, along with any date stanped files or emails that show when you created it and when she viewed or copied it. Put it in writing and print out a copy of your email to the highervups and the proof to take home. This is so if she one day claims YOU stole HER work , you have proof you didn’t. You will probably never need it, but you never know.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      There is a very slim chance that this could happen, but still….it could happen, especially with someone like Lulu. Just look at waves hand at a bunch of older posts here.

      This is sage advice.

  51. Elio*

    I’d say if you have evidence of (de)Lulu’s theft, hand it off to someone with authority, but preferably not your boss since they baby her. Otherwise ignore and watch the crash and burn from the sidelines.

  52. Blue Horizon*

    I would be so tempted to reply with a ‘Let Me Google That For You’ link.

    But the level of clue on display here is so low, she’d probably miss the joke completely, be delighted with the assistance, and ask you to do it for everything.

  53. Sleeve McQueen*

    LW, I hope you also realise now that the best time to stop putting up with Lola’s BS was seven years ago. You all were broken stairing her so hard that you could compete in the broken stair Olympics Thanks Lola, but we don’t need you at this meeting, we’ll loop you in if we need anything from you. No Lola, we can’t move the meeting, we need to focus on the core people that need to be here. Thanks for the advice Lola, but I’ve got it. I’m sorry you feel left out Lola, but that’s not how work works. We all have our own tasks and it’s not an “everyone’s invited situation”. Take notes in case she tries to sulk to HR.
    Or course, the second best time to stop putting up with Lola’s BS is right now. Block and don’t look back.

    1. Nomic*

      This is the best reply. The issue started long before she started mooching your work. Changing a meeting time so she could attend a meeting she should never have been to in the first place? Madness!

  54. Jordan*

    You have absolutely no time to find that information for her, you have to go to meetings.

  55. 2lulu*

    This letter made me realise I had 3 former coworkers who did the “play the victim for career advancement” strategy (with 2 different managers). So sorry about your Lulu – 100% ignore. She’s probably framed you as her (agreed) mentor to her current bosses so she gets to play the victim again if you let her down. These people always get in first to control the narrative, so your truth will always come off like a poor excuse. I agree with all the auto-forward/error message suggestions. Do not engage. She will move on to someone else.

  56. Wallflower*

    How about something direct:

    “I’m not able to share information pertaining to my work at x company with outsiders.”

    Repeat for the next few times she asks for help, then block.

  57. Good Lord Ratty*

    Set up an auto-reply to go only to her, which says that this email (whatever she’s sending emails to) no longer exists/no longer is checked/etc.

    You then have the choice to provide her with another address (a real one which you can set up just for her, but which you will never check) or a dummy address which goes nowhere. Then never answer another email from her.

  58. tufertoosdae*

    You DEFINITELY have to tell your boss. You have evidence she downloaded your internal company process documents after giving notice days before she left. It’s up to the company and their lawyer to decide whether or not there is enough evidence to pursue something, but they will almost certainly at least write a cease & desist letter to Lulu and her employer unless LW’s job is something wildly generic.

    Where I work–everywhere I’ve worked, I think–you would at a minimum get a stern talking to if they found out you knew this information and did not disclose it.

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