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My coworker and I often work some (unpaid) hours on evenings and weekends. He recently started to bring in his girlfriend to the company. She will sit next to him without talking, doing stuff on her computer for hours until they leave.

This is somewhat puzzling to me since he could just as work from home or in a cafe if he wanted. We are not required to work unpaid overtime, but he does this unasked on his own initiative. After two months forward, a second coworker also started bringing their partner after hours.

The company has official rules for being in the office during after hours, requiring any employees to report their presence for insurance and security reasons. These rules are not enforced however, but bringing in non-employees for extended time on a regular basis is really stretching it.

We are a Government Research Facility with Bio-hazards in the lab space. While they are just in the office space, they are still in a restricted access area and could potentially access confidential information on various research projects.

How should I react to this situation? Am I wrong to find this unprofessional?

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    If their girlfriend was to visit during business hours would they need to get a badge, or check in with security? – mhoran_psprep Jan 21 at 22:17
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    "he could just as well work from home or in a cafe if he wanted". As, indeed, can you. I'd be more concerned with unauthorized people in a government research facility, though. Talk to your security people. – PeteCon Jan 21 at 22:18
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    Sitting in the same room as your partner can be a great thing, even when not speakingbut just working. And for some people that even helps a lot for the work. So being in the same room does not seem weird to me. What does surprise me that this is at the office and not from home over VPN. Does he (and I guess ditto you since you work from the office outside of normal work hours) have better access from work? No proper homework place? (Not laptop+VPN, but laptop + keyboard + mouse + 1 or 2 screens, ...). Noise or rebuilding at home? Did you ask them about these thing before assuming... – Hennes Jan 21 at 23:26
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    Many of the answers mention legitimate security concerns and potential outcomes. While I think these are good answers, I think you need to make sure you have a very clear understanding of your company's specific policies before assuming anything or taking any action. Saying it's "really stretching it" makes it sound like you're not familiar with policy in any detailed sense. – dwizum Jan 22 at 14:11
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    There are government research facilities and then there are secure government research facilities. When you say "restricted access" do you mean that the front door is locked, or do you mean that access is only allowed to employees holding a security clearance? Similarly there are multiple "Bio-hazard" classifications, some of which are as trivial as "Don't consume food or drink while in the laboratory space. It seems a moot point anyway since the OP states that the visitor doesn't enter the lab. The key question here is whether your workplace really has a policy against this. – Charles E. Grant Jun 13 at 17:04
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Major red flags : biohazards and restricted access area.

Unless stopped immediately, this may not end well for anyone – quite possibly you included.

We are not required to work unpaid overtime

So, why do you? If you are not allocated sufficient time for your work, then this could be bad project planning, which ought to be discussed with management.

The company has official rules for being in the office during afterhours, requiring any employees to report their presence for insurance and security reasons

Do you follow these when working unpaid overtime? If not, you could be in trouble too. Although that does not matter too much, as you are almost certainly breaching the terms of your contract of employment (not to mention the Official Secrets Act) by not reporting a security breach.

But those other guys are certainly in trouble (and, where I work, their girlfriends would receive a severe grilling from organizations with three letter abbreviations).

This behavio(u)_r could lead to:

  • Dismissal
  • Loss of security clearance, greatly restricting future career prospects
  • Possible criminal prosecution, possibly leading to imprisonment

If you don’t want to appear the bad guy, tell them that on a night when you worked overtime alone, security came by for a check-up. Heck, tell them what you want, even if you have to threaten to report hem. Hopefully, though, pointing out the possible consequences will be enough to bring them to their senses.

Your colleagues may think that this is “no big thing”, but I can assure them that government agencies think otherwise.


[Update] You also said

She will sit next to him without talking, doing stuff on her computer for hours until they leave

If she is using the company LAN, then she is leaving footprints. Depending on your location (maybe add a tag?) and the nature of what she does on the LAN this could also be a big deal.

In some countries, whatever you on a company server belongs to the company, so they can legitimately access logs and all traffic which passes through their servers. (I have known a company read and print out an employee’s Gmail). In other countries they are not permitted to associate site visited with employees visiting them, hence almost ubiquitous “work related only” filters. I would imagine that if they were a government organization, they could in any case be exempt from such a law.

This leaves two potential problems:

  • The girlfriend is surfing something illegal or politically subversive, which might trigger some alarms
  • Maybe she is just using a lot of bandwidth for NetFlix or the like

In either case, her surfing, if any, even if it stops now, may eventually become apparent to a sysadmin and be reported up the tree. Maybe not, but it’s just another worry here. Btw, this should be obvious, but I hope that no one is posting anything to social media indicating that these girls are visiting the office.

Would you please come back and let us know how this turns out? Thanks.

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    Just off-hand mentioning that "some guys from security had some questions" might work as enough of a warning. – Borgh Jan 22 at 9:30
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    Warning them off does not solve the problem. The damage may already have been done. The security breach needs to be reported. If you are feeling generous, give them the chance to do it themselves. – Phil Jan 22 at 13:36
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    What is the "Official Secrets Act"? Is that a thing? And if so, is it applicable? – Alexander Kosubek Jan 22 at 14:40
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    I could tell you, but then I would have to .... It's a government thing in the UK and (ex-) associated countries. You can be sure that every country has one - you basically agree not to share any government secrets, on pain of prosecution. Contravening it can be seen as treason. – Mawg Jan 22 at 14:49
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    I worked in research labs in the USA. This happens quite frequently, and the researcher is far better educated on the risks than the poster seems to be. The controlled space is mostly designed to keep out anti-research protest / ransacking. Life, despite planning, often fails to move forward predictably, especially when it is being tampered with. This means that it's not something that can be carried out to a Starbucks, and sometimes it's not something you can make fit into a 9-5 schedule. This lack of predicable scheduling drives this behavior, which is how my PI's got married. – Edwin Buck Apr 25 at 18:58
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You are right to find this unprofessional.

It seems you have three choices:

  • Talk to them about the risks (unless you are very friendly with them and you can be sure they will not ask you to mind your own business, otherwise this will lead to friction in the workplace)
  • Talk to your boss and report them. Again, leading to possible workplace friction and an unpleasant environment
  • Unless it affects you in any way just mind your own business like a normal person.

Your coworkers have already thought about this and made a decision to ignore the policies and what you might think of the situation. If they don't care, and management doesn't care, why do you?

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    This comes off a bit harsh, it could be a legitimate concern about his liability for not speaking up. I'd say if it worries you, work from home instead of coming in after hours. – nardnob Jan 21 at 22:07
  • So far I have been going by option 3. The main problem is that this behaviour bothers me and therefore disrupts my concentration. I work afterhours because I enjoy the solitude. They obviously don't. I often end up leaving before I had planned due to this. It's feels unfair because I have a right to be there while they, strictly speaking, do not. – user98325 Jan 21 at 22:08
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    @DirkGently if you speak up there will be consequences. These guys clearly like having their partners there, if you stop that I wouldn't assume you would be their favorite person. Just consider that. Also, if you have building security then you could have a chat and see if they are doing their jobs. Personally I'd just ignore it. – solarflare Jan 21 at 22:31
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    "just mind your own business like a normal person." Security is his business - it is everybody's business. Allowing an unauthorised person into a restricted area (especially doing who-knows-what on their with uncontrolled electronic devices) is security incident and failure to report that incident could render you just as liable as the person that initially facilitated it. Even if it appears that his immediate management do not take this as seriously as they should, you can bet that whichever government agency the facility falls under the remit of will take it very seriously indeed. – Andy Hames Jan 22 at 13:59
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    @AndyHames he might be a little late to take on that attitude. If I was his manager I'd be wondering why he didn't report this earlier and still treat him like he hid something anyway. – solarflare Jan 22 at 21:47
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You and your coworkers are subject to work contract terms and compagy policies, your co-worker's partners are NOT. It's hard to manage a staff in a professional envirement let alone people in a emotional relationship.

That being said, you (including you the OP) are held responsible for the two visitor's actions.

How should I react to this situation?

There are security concerns araised that should be brought up to your boss AND the security officer while in the same time stress that they deal with it without including you (something like a surprise visit in afterwork hours...) because you don't want to be the "snitch" of the office.

Biohazards are not something to temper with. I can argue that it can lead to espionnage and trade secrets being leaked.

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How should I react to this situation?

I had a totally different answer ready until I read "We are a Government Research Facility with Bio-hazards in the lab space."

  1. There should be a way to anonymously report security violations, use it - and make sure to get a case number or some other type of ID that proves you reported it.

When they review the logs/video they will see that you are there and know the non-employee is there and they may wonder why you didn't report it - that's why you need that reporting ID number and the date and time of your call to them.

  1. Stop working overtime there. Do any overtime work from another location.

Am I wrong to find this unprofessional?

No.
It actually sounds nice that they want to spend time in each other's presence and I wouldn't think of it as unprofessional in a 'normal' workplace. However, in a research facility it is (very?) unprofessional.

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Am I wrong to find this unprofessional?

No, this is definitely unprofessional.

How should I react to this situation?

As far as you're concerned, luckily this is an easy one: consult your company's policy and security protocol and follow it. Its that simple. It's almost 100% certain that at some point in your employ there, you've received official guidance, either in contract language or verbal training, that you are required to report security and safety violations you become aware of. If this is the case, your decision is already made for you: you report them or do whatever else is prescribed by your company's policy on such matters. You have to look out for yourself in this case, don't worry about your coworkers being reprimanded; your career outlook is not worth sacrificing to protect wrongdoers.

If by some miracle you've made certain that there actually is no requirement or expectation for you to report them or do anything about this, the next step is to ask yourself: is what they are doing posing a legitimate risk to the well-being of yourself, themselves, the company, or anything else you value? If so you may consider asking them to stop and make an argument why.

If the answer is still no, you've determined that you aren't required to take action, and you don't think what they are doing poses a risk to someones well-being or the good of the company, i.e. what they are doing really does merely amount to unprofessional behavior and nothing else, then don't report them. Mind your own business, if its not your job to do anything about it then your shouldn't. Don't be a snitch.

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1) Explain to them (gently!) the reasons why they shouldn't bring their SOs to the office. By "gently", do not focus on yourself or on the company. Don't be like "They could steal trade secrets!" because then your coworker will be like "lol are you insane?" Rather, focus on what could happen to them if they are found breaching company protocol. Something like "You know, if security finds your girlfriend hanging out here after hours, they might think something is up and you could be getting a talking to from some organization with a three-letter abbreviation; it's probably a good idea to ask her to stay home".

2) Mention (don't "report") this activity to your direct manager. Making a report is antagonistic, like you're the office killjoy. However, you can briefly mention this to your manager, not in the "you need to do something about this" sense, but in the "you should know that this is going on" sense. If your manager doesn't care, then it's not your problem. By making your manager aware of the situation, you have done your part in escalating the issue.

3) You may want to look at your contract/company policies to make sure you aren't required to do anything else in this situation, IANAL.

That said, it's important to not appear to be the office killjoy/rules stickler/tattle tale, because that causes friction with your coworkers. In my opinion, that line is drawn when you cross the line from "inform necessary parties of a problem" to "try to solve the problem yourself, or push others to solve it proactively". Do the former. Try not to do the latter.

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