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One of my colleagues received a very critical (and unsolicited) email for our company, from a past associate1, through a social network. My colleague informed me, his immediate superior, and my first reaction was to completely dismiss the matter. On second thought, however, I'm not sure if I'm under any obligation to inform the higher ups.

The email paints quite a dark picture of the company in 2011, and for all I know everything in it may very well be true (albeit exaggerated). I wasn't with the company at the time, but I do know it was a very difficult time for all professionals in Greece (the debt crisis was in full swing). The email ends with encouraging my colleague to seek other employment.

Is there any value in further pursuing this?

1 I don't think it matters, but I'm not 100% certain on what his status was at the time. Could have been a full time employee or an outside contractor.

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What do you envisage would be the result of forwarding this to management? –  kolossus Mar 26 at 15:51

5 Answers 5

This depends on your corporate policies and what the email said. For example, my most recent employer (a large, multinational company) has policies that require employees to pass on reports of workplace harassment, discrimination against legally-protected groups, or financial abnormalities. It doesn't matter if the claims are spurious; the employees are not to make that decision. The policy is to pass it up the chain to someone who is empowered to decide what to do. The training I received said to make no distinction between public and private information; email is the same as a Facebook post or a verbal statement for these purposes. In some fields in some locations this kind of policy is described as "mandatory reporting", so you might try searching for that in your corporate documents.

If the email was a generic "they stink" rant, then it's noise and you can probably ignore it (but do check for any relevant policies). If it makes claims of fact that, if true, would be harmful, then I would advise passing it up even if you don't have a policy saying to and even if you know those claims to be false. For anything in between, you could informally ask someone in the company for input, perhaps a manager who's been tehre longer than you.

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You might want to forward this email to the PR department (they need to know what others think about your company so they can initiate appropriate counter-measures to improve image) and to the legal department (they might want to consider to press charges for defamation).

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Since this was a private correspondence sent unsolicited from a former colleague you have no obligation to acknowledge even receiving the letter or to pass it on to anyone at your company. Since you said it was critical of your company, I would not reply to it or share it with anyone in your company with out going through management first. Doing so could be perceived as as being disloyal to the company, and might be taken to imply that you agree with the criticisms.

If there is something in the letter that you feel needs to be addressed then absolutely it should be passed on. I would probably preface it to my manager that I would not say that I agreed with the contents but that I felt it should be passed on to someone in a better position to address the concerns. If you feel the need to reply, I would make sure that any reply is approved by HR, your manager, and the PR Department. Your reply could be taken and quotes from it could show up in a tabloid or newspaper citing you as the source of the comments. If these comments are not approved by your company it can greatly complicate your career growth.

If there is nothing to be addressed, and you can live with just pretending the email did not exist, then that would be the course I would take. If it did somehow come out that I had received the email, I would just blow it off as "I figured it was just a disgruntled former employee with sour grapes, since there was nothing actionable I ignored it." It would be hard for any decent manager to fault your for that.

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Let's see the score: (1) the email is dated, and if the content of the email was as you state, then the content is stale;(2) you don't have the email, your collegue most likely purged that email from his mailbox so he may not have it either; (3) the author of the email is gone. You could try asking IT to use valuable time and staff resources to dig up that email but as of right now, you haven't mentioned a date or a date range for that email so ITK has it work cut out for it. If that email started a rumor that is still ongoing, you can deal with that rumor head on without referring to that email. If nobody but your colleagues remembers that email, I don't see what's the point of taking it further - most likely, there is nothing anyone can do, even if they had that email in hand.

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Your key responsibilities are to the person who received this email, and to the company.

Print out the offending email you have, if possible showing all the email headers, hand-write the date and time on it -- "received at 11:24 on March 26th from my subordinate Joe Blow" and put your signature on it. Delete your email copy.

Does the email contain any sort of threat against persons, property, or reputation? If so, you should immediately speak, in person, to the executive in charge of human resources at your company. Do not delay.

Is it just a pile of scurrilous rubbish? If so, hand-write a note to the executive in charge of human resources, attach your printout to that note, and give it to that executive. Again, don't use email for this.

Keep a paper copy in your drawer.

Tell your employee "I am sorry you had the experience of having to read that foolishness. Sometimes former employees behave in irrational ways. Thank you for bringing this incident to the company's attention. The appropriate people in the company will deal with this problem in appropriate ways, so you don't need to worry about it. Again, thank you."

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