Sunday, January 17, 2016

If a 'sick' colleague shows up on Facebook, should you report him?

Social media can be a wonderful way to stay connected to others. It can also create awkwardness among friends and colleagues.

B.D. is a reader who regularly uses Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to update his doings and to check up on "friends" whose posts appear on his newsfeed.

Not long ago, J.B., a colleague of B.D.'s called in sick to work. As was typical of B.D.'s workplace, a project deadline was looming so any unplanned employee absences could wreak havoc on the workload needed to get the project completed. Vacations they could plan for, but unexpected illnesses were harder to figure in to the schedule.

Still, people do get sick and they are not only entitled to take time off from work to heal, but are also responsible to do so to avoid the potential of spreading anything around the office.

So B.D. and the others involved in the project dug in and continued to work away, regardless of J.B.'s absence.

When he got home later that night, B.D. logged onto Facebook and saw that J.B., a "friend" of his on Facebook, had posted a series of photos of a sporting event he attended that day. B.D. double-checked to make sure that, in his boredom of being home sick, J.B. hadn't posted photos of some event that happened long ago. But no, these were photos of an event that happened that day and there in one of the photos was J.B. himself.

B.D. and J.B. are not close friends. They are friends in the sense that many people are friends on social media. They didn't socialize nor did they share details of their personal lives.

B.D. is not sure what he should do. Should he message J.B. to let him know that his posts on Facebook might result in trouble for him at work if others call attention to them? Should he report J.B.'s postings to his boss to let him know that apparently he wasn't sick after all? Or should he just let things lie and not do anything?

The responsibility here lies with J.B. If he lied about being sick so he could join friends to attend a sporting event, he was wrong to do so, but that's on him. It's not B.D.'s responsibility to police his colleague's behavior. It could turn out that J.B. had been sick but miraculously improved later in the day and accepted a last-minute invitation. Granted, that's unlikely, but it's possible.

If they were closer colleagues, B.D. could advise J.B. that he might want to remember that his social media friends can see whatever he posts. But again, it's not B.D.'s responsibility to do so. J.B. should know well enough that whatever he posts is bound to be read.

J.B.'s actions are a reminder to everyone not to be an idiot on social media.

The right thing for B.D. to do is to continue to be the conscientious worker that he is and to work with his colleagues to do good work. And the right thing for J.B. is to stop lying about being ill to shirk his work responsibilities. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


1 comment:

Azalea Annie said...

Like Mr. Seglin, I would not report my colleague for calling in sick in order to go to a ball game.......not this time.

"The right thing for B.D. to do is to continue to be the conscientious worker that he is and to work with his colleagues to do good work. And the right thing for J.B. is to stop lying about being ill to shirk his work responsibilities."

But how often does J. B. lie about being sick and shirk his work responsibilities? Doesn't the rest of the project team have to work harder, either working through lunch or working overtime to meet deadlines? And is J. B. truly a member of said team? I submit that J.B. is not a real member of the team - he's a user of the team. And the rest of the work crew are his enablers. Shouldn't that enter into the equation?

If J.B. is a user, taking advantage of others in the work crew as he/she knows they will protect him/her, it's time to stop enabling him/her to shirk responsibilities. I would ask others in the work crew to plan on an intervention the next J.B. lies about being sick or having an emergency. No need to bring the manager in at this point: let the team members tell J.B. "We're sick and tired of your behavior, and we're not going to take it any more".

The team would be doing J.B. a favor, a huge favor: Grow up.