Our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy have changed.

By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to the new Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

I Know Something I Shouldn't Know Why, on rare occasion, you might break the rules about confidentiality. Plus: Dealing with a recovering addict's zeal, and coping with a boss who admits no wrong.
By Evelyn Nussenbaum

(Business 2.0) – Q I spotted a memo from the CEO on my boss's desk--and proceeded to find out who will be the targets of downsizing. I don't need a lecture about wandering eyes, but I wonder if I should tell my co-worker that he's on the list.

A Careful. Open your mouth and you could be the one without a job. "You're in the same position as the person to whom the memo was sent. You both have a duty of confidentiality," says John Boatright, a professor of business ethics at Loyola University in Chicago. Leaking privileged information is grounds for immediate dismissal. If your co-worker storms into the CEO's office and blurts out your name during his rant, you can kiss your job buh-bye.

But not every ethicist I spoke with recommends silence. Your predicament calls for some humanity, and the endless layoffs and corporate cheating of recent years have steered employees' allegiances away from employers and toward peers. "It's evident that organizations do not possess the loyalty gene," says Richard Milter, a professor at Ohio University's Institute for Applied and Professional Ethics, "so loyalty to one's co-worker might make more sense."

I say take a chance and tell him--he could be on the verge of turning down a job at a competing company or making a down payment on a house. But also understand that you're no hero. Reading other people's memos and passing on the information is, with very few exceptions, a lowly act. You obviously do need a lecture.

Q Not long ago, I persuaded a brilliant but troubled employee to quietly check himself into a substance-abuse program. Now he's back in the office, and while he's doing great work, he's also droning on about his therapy meetings and progress, making everyone in the office uncomfortable. How do I get him to tone it down?

A Perhaps it's you--not the recovering addict--who's making his reentry awkward. "I've had a lot of managers ask me about such situations," says Tom Farris, a psychologist with Claremont Behavioral Services in Alameda, Calif. "It turns out they're often looking to get rid of those workers because they don't want someone with an addiction problem. Or they're projecting their own discomfort." Part of the solution lies in your ability to confront your employee and create some boundaries. "You can say, 'I'm proud of your progress, and we can always discuss it over lunch. But we need to get back to normal in the office,'" says Fiona Burky, a counselor at Matrix Psychological Services in Columbus, Ohio. Also, gently remind your worker that some discretion guards his own privacy. He may want to share his success now, but if he relapses and leaves the office again, everyone will know what's happened.

Q I'm assigned the parking space next to my CEO's in the company lot. Recently I found a sizable dent on my car--and flakes of my vehicle's paint on her bumper. She's said nothing. Should I confront her?

A Do you remember the gist of Franz Kafka's The Trial? In a nutshell: Take action. Calmly say to her, "Somebody hit my car. Could it have been you?" And come armed. "Shoot several pictures and use those to do most of your talking," says Rick Kirschner, a career consultant and author of Dealing With People You Can't Stand. If she won't confess, you can continue the pursuit of justice--and risk losing your job. But considering your boss's behavior, is that such a bad gamble? Your other option is to abandon the issue and know that the CEO can always steamroll you. That, however, is a guaranteed way to make yourself miserable.