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Background:

I'm newly hired in a consulting company (IT), and recently I've met with a client where my employer would like me to go to work. I had an interview and met the team.

The problem is that I know one member of the team as I had worked with him for four years.

Let's call him Bill. Bill is an IT technician, not a good one, may I add. I'm an administrator / engineer. During that time together, Bill never wanted to do something he didn't come up with. Got a solution about that problem that bugs everyone for six months, too bad, Bill doesn't like it, Bill doesn't do it.

My work relationship with Bill went from bad to worse during this time.

But the worst part is that Bill has a history of sexual harassment. He has been fired for sending dirty texts to non-consenting female coworkers. He found their numbers by searching in HR files (which he had access to).

After he was fired, several female coworkers on the office said that he texted them at some point.

That was one year ago, and Bill didn't show any remorse at the time.

To conclude, there is no way I want to, or will work with Bill again.

Question(s):

  1. I'm newly hired, so I can't refuse a client without explanation. Should I be honest with my employer or should I find another reason?

  2. I'm quite sure the client doesn't know about Bill's past. Should I let them know?

The sexual harassment actions are not hearsay. I've seen the texts from Bill. Bill went to a labour court (conseil de prud'hommes) for his dismissal being classified as unjustified, and court ruled him out. I don't have any evidence in my possession, but those exist.

Me not being a target is not the question here.

72

I would suggest that you have a meeting with your manager and HR and explain the situation - giving them your reasons is one thing - that should stay private between them and you.

However, what is said to the customer is up to your manager - he may say "oh, for X reason we have had to change engineer"...

I don't think you should tell Bill's employer your true reason.

Definitely talk with your HR or someone who can give you solid advice, step carefully... BUT definitely talk to someone; if Bill has changed his game (possibly for the worse...) you don't want to be around...

Best wishes...

  • 7
    The problem with "telling HR" is that the OP was only tangentially aware of some of Bill's bad behavior. There is huge difference between "Bill did this to me" and "I heard that Bill did this to other people", so that if the OP goes to HR he has a very fine line to tread - otherwise things could go south very quickly. – Peter M Feb 25 at 13:48
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    @PeterM given the OP mentions that their relationship "went from bad to worse" I think the OP would be justified, at least, talking to HR... as that is definitely NOT hearsay... – Solar Mike Feb 25 at 15:06
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    @PeterM I don't see any problem relaying hearsay to HR so long as you are clear on what you personally know and what you have heard from others. You are sharing information and assessing the situation, not making a complaint or pursuing a specific course of action. – David K Feb 25 at 16:15
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    @PeterM first of all, this isn't hearsay, it held up in a court of law. Secondly, I wholeheartedly disagree that relaying hearsay to HR is "the wrong thing to do." HR isn't going to sue him, and there's really no downside to just bringing it to their attention. – user87779 Feb 26 at 0:20
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    I've listened to your advice and called my manager. She perfectly understands that I don't want to work with him again, she has others potential clients for me, so no harm. She might probe the client IT manager, with whom she has a long work relationship, about Bill as she wants her consultants to be safe on the workplace. So far, everything is good. Thank you – Romain Feb 26 at 14:49
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I'll focus on the work-related issue.

Bill never wanted to do something he didn't come with. Got a solution about that problem that bugs everyone for 6 months, too bad, Bill doesn't like it, Bill doesn't do it.

As a consultant you're in a much better position to deal with this. If you ask Bill to do something, he's expected to do it unless he has a good reason not to.

His company is paying for your time and expertise, if Bill wilfully ignores your advice, then you document it, make the implications of failing to follow your advice clear, and ask whoever hired your company how they want you to deal with it.

In terms of 'Not wanting to work with him because he's a creep,' unless you believe you are personally at risk; I don't think it's a good reason, of course if you witness anything out of line you are morally obliged to report it. Unless you have hard evidence of his past misdemeanours, discussing them might open you up to being sued for defamation etc.

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    " if Bill wilfully ignores your advice, then you document it, make the implications clear of failing to follow your advice, and ask his boss what they want you to do next." Why would a consultant even care about that? Consultants are paid to give advice. They are not paid to make people follow their advice (which is just as well, considering the quality of the advice you sometimes get from them!) – alephzero Feb 25 at 13:43
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    @alephzero Consultants are paid to produce things that can be advice, software or something else. If something on the customer side is impeding progress, the customer is going to see that as the consultant's failing if they don't know it's being caused by something internal. – Blrfl Feb 25 at 14:17
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    @alephzero If your overall advice relies on the sum of its parts, and you know that the company won't achieve one of those parts because of an issue with an employee, then your advice needs to reflect that too. It is part of the advice, not part of making them follow the advice. Otherwise you are advising them on something that has a failure point that you know about, but don't disclose. – Jon Bentley Feb 25 at 14:29
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    @alephzero the key point is "make the implications of failing to follow your advice clear," (which I just reworded) this may be :"We cannot complete the project if Bill doesn't do what we've asked" or it may be "This is best-practice, you should consider it but it won't impact on our specific objectives" – JeffUK Feb 25 at 14:40
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    -1. "I know he's a sexual harasser but it's not a risk to me so it's not my problem". Bullshit. That sort of attitude is why sexual harassment and misogyny are such a pervasive problem in society at the moment. Everyone should be actively calling out EVERY harasser that the know about. – Brondahl Feb 25 at 23:59
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I am going to add an answer here, though it may be covered by some of the recent answers. But as you state you are a newly hired employee of consulting company, some of these answers that recommend "talking to manager", are not clear in talking to the client manager, or your consulting company manager.

As having 30+ years experience in the IT consulting world, you will find that you run into many of the same people in different companies and roles. Because you have had issues in past with a particular person, does not mean that you will in this engagement. People change. Perhaps they have been reprimanded or otherwise punished, and recognize their past bad behavior. Perhaps they are on probation, and working to overcome their shortcomings and issues. You would be prudent to give this person another chance.

However, you do have a duty to your consulting company and the client to bring up and confront any issues that will keep from successfully completing the engagement.

At this point, at the start of the engagement, I would have a talk with your consulting company account rep, or site manager, or whoever assisted in placing you at the client company. Let them know about your past history with Bill, and problems with Bill performing his work. Speak carefully but dispassionately of the sexual harassment issues, in that you are not repeating gossip. Only speak of your personal knowledge, or facts about his dismissal that you know. Ask your consulting company account rep/site manager what they want to do with this information, if they believe it should be brought up at the client company. Allow them to use their expertise, history, and relationship knowledge as to what the next steps will be.

In this way, you are shielding yourself with your new employer, giving them a heads-up about a potential problem. But you are not jeopardizing the consulting company - client relationship. You are also letting your new employer know that you have their interests in mind, not just your problems and issues.

10

If you were personally harassed by Bill in a former job, and you have reasonable evidence of that fact, then you certainly have some grounds to tell your management why you don't want to work with him again. But your OP doesn't actually say that was what happened.

The fact that you think he will ignore your advice is irrelevant. Consultants are paid to give advice, not to enforce its use. (And considering the number of poor consultants around, it's just as well that some of them can't force their clients to follow their advice!)

If you can't handle the fact that clients often think consultants are nothing more than a time-wasting irrelevance imposed on them by their own managers who don't know any better, you are not going to have a happy working life as a consultant!

Managing Bill's behaviour is what Bill's manager is paid to do, and that is none of your business unless you are personally affected by it. Of course, if he does do something inappropriate, you know enough about his past not to ignore the first occurrence "in case it was just a one-off and you don't want to cause any trouble" - go straight to your manager (note, your manager, not his manager!) about it.

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    When a consulting company takes on a client, the client has significant power over the consulting company's employees, and the consulting company has a duty to ensure that the client's employees don't abuse that power. What if Bill says to an employee of the consulting company "If you don't go out with me, I'll tell your manager that you screwed up and get you fired"? Is this something that is no one's business but Bill's manager? – Acccumulation Feb 26 at 16:10
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You can't pick and chose who you work with, nor are you there to police peoples behaviour or provide "community service" by informing their employer of their past.

That last part might be confidential or private information btw.so bite your tongue!

If you have valid(!) professional reasons, inform your superior that those are why you can't work with the person.

If you have been harrassed by him, you can tell that your manager as well.

However, from what you said, I'm afraid you just need to be professional and suck it up.

You still can let your superior know that out of professional and private reasons you don't want to work with him.

If you're not the only one they can send and if your boss doesn't think you're being unprofessional you still might dodge that bullet.

Be prepared however that your managers opinion about you might shift negatively.

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    You certainly can pick and choose who you work with, it's just that the price of making a choice may be very high indeed – Dave Gremlin Feb 25 at 11:54
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    If he's been fired for cause, and that has been upheld by the prudhommes, that's as official as it gets. It's not hearsay, it's evidence. – George M Feb 25 at 23:55
  • @GeorgeM: Evidence that you cannot provide access to may as well not exist. – Mehrdad Feb 26 at 21:52
  • @Mehrdad the decisions of the prudhommes are in the public domain. They're not recorded online in a national database, but anyone can request a copy of a specific case at the court concerned. – George M Feb 26 at 22:15
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    @GeorgeM: Oh I see, didn't realize from the question, okay thanks. – Mehrdad Feb 26 at 22:23
4

Talk it through with your manager, but treat it as your personal problem.

You do not have professional grounds to dismiss this job. As other answers well explain. Understand that you are the problem for business right now, so you'd better have a good reason.

IMHO, absolute professionalism is not the best way to go, and many people do understand you need to be able to look in the mirror after all. What is reasonable and where are the limits is a personal thing.

The best course of action is to do what's done with personal problems.

If your manager is reasonable, he'll convince you to take the job, or try to accommodate, and give you options, then it's your choice. From what you say, there is no guarantee you'll even have to work with Bill. Maybe they can swap you. Worst case it's do or die, but you won't know unless you find out. Trusting manager is your best option.

I think that personally talking to manager off-the-record is the best course of action because it let's you find out options without forcing anything yet - i.e. having least consequences, and you are not defaming anyone in any kind of (semi-)official setting. Then, you can prepare for official communication.

If the manager's not with you then there is not much unless you were personally involved, HR won't help you because there is no ground to protect your personal feelings before company.

4

(The following answer is edited out of comments I agree with, written by Fattie, PascLeRasc, and ESR)

This is your boss's problem. Simply and clearly (without being dramatic) tell your boss about the sexual harassment background, and do that immediately without hesitation.

You should absolutely be honest with your boss about this. You have plenty of work-related evidence on the guy, both his insubordination and data theft, in addition to the sexual harassment. Your boss will likely be much happier to know these issues as early as possible and it'll build a good trust for your career.

The answer here is short and simple: "I am not comfortable working at Client X as they employ Bill who has a history of sexual harassment."

4

There are multiple work related issues (depending on the laws in your area):

  1. Bill is difficult to work with
  2. Bill sexually harasses women
  3. Bill accesses private data for reasons unrelated to his work (data breach central!)

If you feel comfortable talking to your manager, then I'd bring up the following with them, while alone in an office with a closed door. I would then see what my manager’s reaction is. I’d say something like this “I’ve worked with Bill and there’s three key risks to our success as I see it:

  1. it’s my opinion he is difficult to work with, for example he won’t implement anything he hasn’t conceived of himself. This is a risk to step X in the project.

  2. Bill was dismissed from his previous company for sexually harassing women and is documented in court documents XYZ. I’m not comfortable working with him since he likes to share what he’s done.

  3. Bill has caused data breaches in the past as documented in court documents XYZ. I’m afraid this may pose a risk for us.

If you're not comfortable talking to your manager, I'd find out the following below. If you are comfortable talking with your manager, you could ask these open ended questions:

  1. What’s my responsibility to this company if I know of a data breach (discuss some scenarios, e.g. Bill admits to causing a data breach / you witness Bill causing a data breach)
  2. What’s my responsibility to the government if I know of a data breach (e.g. mandatory reporting etc.)
  3. What is your policy on workplace sexual harassment on client sites (e.g. what protections are you entitled to and also what are your reporting responsibilities).
  4. How do we document risks & issues if a key client-side project team member won’t do the work? What is the escalation pathway.

Then you will have enough information to hopefully decide what your next steps are (say no and risk getting fired, look for another job on the side etc.).

Personally I would err on the side of caution and not bring it up with Bill's manager - you don't know them or the company culture. At the very least I'd check out the vibe and if I did say something (e.g. to warn a female employee) I'd make sure there were no witness around to overhear my warning to ensure plausible deniability if noise of it gets back to Bill.

  • Good job mentioning the data breach. Whether or not you end up working with the guy, this is something your own company might need to take extra precautions against. – Ruther Rendommeleigh Feb 26 at 16:26

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