Your Office Coach: Co-worker's offensive fake email could get me in hot water

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Marie G. McIntyre

Posted: Sunday, January 5, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 3:21 pm, Wed May 21, 2014.

Q: A few days ago, while I was away from my desk, a co-worker used my computer to send out a very offensive email under my name. “Hannah” included everyone in our department on this message. When I confronted her, she laughed and said it was just a joke. She refuses to send another email explaining that the offensive message really came from her.

Our company monitors employee email accounts, so Hannah’s prank could actually get me in trouble. My boss might be able to help, but I hate to complain to him because I already feel like an outsider here. I am almost 50, while my co-workers are all in their 20s and 30s. What’s the best way to handle this?

A: Since there was absolutely nothing funny about this fake email, Hannah must be an immature idiot. Despite your discomfort with reporting her, she should not be allowed to get away with such an unprofessional stunt. But before taking the matter to your boss, give her one last chance to do the right thing.

For example: “Hannah, the email that you sent from my computer was extremely inappropriate and could create a lot of problems for me. Unless you agree to send another email explaining what you did, I will have to ask our manager to handle this issue. It’s your choice, but you have to decide now.”

If your childish co-worker still refuses to cooperate, present the facts to your boss and ask him to either require a retraction from Hannah or send out an explanation himself. Should he also find this amusing, you will know that you are in a truly juvenile environment where you can probably expect more of the same.

Q: After receiving an organ transplant several months ago, my 34-year-old brother has now been cleared to return to work. “Joe” has been unemployed for five years because of his disability. He used to work in construction, but his doctors say this is no longer possible.

When talking with interviewers, Joe will have to explain his lengthy period of unemployment and his need for a career change. Should he openly discuss his disability or make up some other reason for being out of work so long?

A: Your brother has certainly had a tough time, so I’m glad to hear that he’s doing well. Because of his special circumstances, however, Joe should contact the Vocational Rehabilitation agency in your state as his first step toward re-entering the workforce.

Vocational Rehabilitation specializes in helping people with disabilities become employed, so they should be able to assist with both his career change and his job search. If Joe has been receiving Social Security disability payments, he may find that the rehabilitation agency already has his information on file.

As for your specific question, an applicant should never lie during a job interview. But Joe does need to talk with his rehabilitation counselor about the best way to present his story and address any concerns that employers may have.

Q: Our human resources manager recently said I should consider seeing a therapist because I might be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Last year was difficult because my husband lost his job, then was diagnosed with cancer. I was appalled by her suggestion and told her that she was completely out of line.

A few weeks later, she emailed me to say that she felt we did not finish our conversation and was open to talking if I was interested. I did not reply, and now she will barely acknowledge me. I really don’t care, but it’s somewhat awkward because we work in a small company.

A: Your HR manager should stop playing amateur psychologist. While she needs to advise you of any job-related concerns, your private life is none of her business. This woman either lacks professional training or simply has an intrusive personality.

Practically speaking, however, you probably don’t want her to become an adversary. HR folks may lack direct power, but they often have influence and can be very bad enemies. Try to re-establish a cordial, professional relationship that does not involve sharing any confidences.

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