A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem
Ratting on Coworkers
Dear Sue: A few months ago co-worker of mine told me something
in confidence, which has put me in a precarious situation. I was told that
two employed staff members and someone who was previously employed by our
company started their own business on the side.
I have monitored the situation since I was made aware of it, and I am
almost certain that their new business is in a related field. I have a
hunch that they are using the resources of this company to help get their
new business off the ground. These people are well liked and respected,
and given lots of freedom. They have access to our software and
intellectual property, and I can easily envision them utilizing these
resources either before or after hours as they are without supervision.
Knowing what I know has been particularly difficult for me since I am
the marketing person for our company. When I sense someone is “not on our
team” anymore, I am reluctant to share information with them, and have
been more cautious with everyone as a result. In addition, I have issued
some new policies and directives which is confusing for some people. As a
result, I feel that some of my relationships are being damaged with other
I don't want to be a "rat" or betray a confidence, but I also don't
want the company to suffer; the business climate already has made business
tough enough. Do I tell my supervisor? What do you think I should do?
Sue Says: Before you do anything, you need to make sure you are
dealing with true facts and not rumors. How reliable is the source of your
information? Information that circulate through the grapevine often is
based in truth, but the more its passed around, the further it strays
further from the truth.
How can you be certain about the conclusions you have drawn from your
own hunches and assumptions? While you should be concerned, you have no
evidence of wrongdoing or reason to believe that these people are
betraying your trust or harming the company in any way.
Before you rush to tell your supervisor, take some time to gather more
information. Have you considered approaching either of the two employees
you suspect are involved to ask them if what you have heard is true? They
could surprise you by being open and honest about their new business
venture. If they were trying to obtain privileged information as you
suspect, once they realize their business is no longer a secret, they may
fear being caught. That knowledge could be enough to stop them. If you
talk with them and still have reason for concern, you may decide to inform
Your dedication to the company is admirable, but don’t let it get in
the way of your relationships. Be cautious, but don’t build a wall around
yourself. Gather the facts, and once you are confident in your knowledge,
you will be more confident in knowing what to do.
Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She
is author of the newly released
101 Tips for Graduates and
How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at
firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her web site at
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