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Disclosing information about a co-worker

Q:  I have come to learn that one of my co-workers, let's call him Joe, has been interviewing for a new job. My best friend interviewed Joe for a job and by chance, mentioned his name to me. She decided not to hire Joe but she made this decision before she and I talked about Joe. Joe has only been with my company for 6 months, and has shown a real lack of efficiency and dependability -- to the point that my boss has intimated to me that she was going to suggest that Joe be terminated.

I am wondering if I should let my boss know that Joe is out looking for work (on days he's supposed to be "working from home" no less). I don't want to be responsible for getting him fired, but at the same time, I am wondering if it's my place to give my boss the heads up so we can start looking for someone else, which she is tempted to do anyway? Or should I just pretend I never learned this information in the first place, as it was quite by accident that I did?


A:  This is indeed a delicate situation. It really depends on a number of factors. First, I understand that you and Joe are co-workers. I see two separate issues here.

The first issue is the information that you may have regarding Joe's job search. This is not the core issue however. Let's hypothetically fast forward several years. You begin to look for a new job outside of your present company. How would you feel if someone mentioned to a supervisor that you were beginning to look for a new job? Maybe you interviewed once just to "test the waters" but you plan on remaining with your current company?  I would not repeat that Joe (or any other co-worker) is looking for a new job. This information is Joe's business.

The second issue, and perhaps the more important issue, is that Joe is not performing job-related responsibilities at times during the workday (especially when he is working from home). I am not sure of your relationship with your supervisor. If your supervisor is a reasonable person, you could certainly ask her about productivity measures and efficiency and if the same standards apply when an employee works from home. Or, you can share your concerns about Joe's performance at the appropriate time and if asked your opinion. One option: "Jessica, I am not sure that I could work from home effectively. There are too many distractions. Is Joe as efficient working from home as when he is here working in the office?" Be professional though and be able to validate your concerns with examples. You want to avoid being perceived as a whiner, complainer or a tattletale.  Additionally, I think your supervisor is probably aware of Joe's performance deficiencies but she may need more time to address the concerns. 

Co-workers have typically less of a responsibility in reporting performance issues to a supervisor. However, there are times when co-workers have an obligation to report performance issues to a supervisor. Why am I identifying this as a performance issue? Joe is supposed to be working, hence contributing value to the company. If he is not working from home (and not contributing value), then you may have an obligation to raise your hand and disclose this information. Take a quick peek at your employee handbook. It may require you to disclose this information. Even if it does not spell this out, you may have an ethical obligation to mention this to your supervisor. Employees that are being paid for their time but not working are often violating a company rule. Some employees would prefer to ignore this situation altogether. I understand that approach also. Who wants to enter into a difficult and possibly divisive dispute about another co-worker's performance?  However, there are times when it is appropriate to mention concerns about the company to a supervisor so that they can appropriately address the issue.

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