After a reader -- let's call her Pam -- was told by her boss that she was being removed from her job, Pam did her best to move on with her life and her career. The boss had listed several reasons for the removal, several of which Pam took issue. But she decided to take advantage of a generous severance package she'd negotiated, and move on.
Several months later, Pam had begun to build a new career for herself, unburdened by the demands and stress of her previous position. According to friends and colleagues, Pam also did her best not to bad mouth her former boss or to toss brick bats at her employer.
Few friends knew exactly what the reasons were for Pam's dismissal. Many knew she'd been dismissed, but not why, and most did not feel it their business to press for more information than Pam wanted to share. Most simply were pleased to see her embrace her new opportunities so well.
An old friend of Pam's had set up a Google alert for Pam's name several years earlier, after some work Pam had done gained some attention and the friend -- whom we're calling Gertie -- wanting to keep up. Those alerts had dwindled, but occasionally, Gertie would get an email letting her know Pam's name had appeared in an article online somewhere.
The most recent alert Gertie received took her aback. It included a link to a blog post from a disgruntled employee who reported to the boss who had dismissed Pam. While the blog was essentially a list of personal grievances, it named several other individuals whom the blog writer suggested had also been dealt with unfairly.
"It was pretty specific," Gertie writes. "And I'm not sure Pam would have wanted this stuff out there available for public view." The blog post listed several reasons the old boss allegedly had been telling people Pam was let go.
Gertie didn't know how accurate the information was or if Pam knew about the blog post. She wonders if she should respect Pam's privacy by not saying anything, or if, as a friend, the right thing is to let Pam know it's out there.
Even though the blog poster doesn't accuse Pam of anything and, in fact, uses her case as a way to point to their former boss's wrongdoing, she was wrong to disclose that information publicly if she did not seek Pam's permission first. It should be Pam's decision what she wants to publicly disclose about herself, not a blogger who wants to use Pam's situation for her own purposes.
The right thing is for Gertie to let Pam know the information is out on the internet as well as how she came across it. She should also make clear that she is only alerting Pam so Pam knows it's out there, not to pass judgment on her or to squeeze details about her dismissal from her.
In an effort to strengthen her own cause, a blog poster appears to have disclosed private information on someone else. Since the blog poster's issue is with her former boss. If she wants to avoid behaving as badly as she claims her former boss behave, she should keep Pam's and other employees' names out of her posts.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
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