Big IT company.

Today, my colleagues of our team project (5 people) except one developer (let his name be John) and I were invited to talk with our boss.

It gets out that our boss wants to replace John when he'll find a qualified person. We were asked of our opinion about this situation and how we rate John's skills. Anyway, as far as I understood and can tell, John will certainly be fired after couple of months. Our boss asked us not to tell John about this conversation.

Would it be ethical to privately tell John about his future in this company for him to be ready when he would told to leave?

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    I think your boss is highly unethical for telling the rest of the team. If I were you I'd probably start looking for a job. I wouldn't be able to trust him. If he talks that way about your coworker, what's he saying behind YOUR back? – Keith Jun 18 '19 at 13:35
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    Did your boss explicitly tell you that John will be fired? Or is that simply your impression? – mcknz Jun 18 '19 at 13:37
  • @mcknz yes, he told that sooner or later John will be fired – Dmitriy Jun 18 '19 at 13:39
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    Don't say anything. I have ten bucks that says if the boss told five people, one of them will eventually spill the beans and tell John, so you might as well stay out of that. – Jim Horn Jun 18 '19 at 13:50
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    Are they just a colleague or are they also a good friend? – Smock Jun 18 '19 at 14:05

Generally, when it comes to responsibility for sharing privileged information in the workplace, it's best to respect the management structures in your organization.

In other words, unless you're this person's boss, or you have some official responsibility for his performance or his employment, or you've been told by your boss that it's OK to share the information with him, it would probably be a mistake for you to tell him anything. It seems that none of these things are true, which leaves you in the position of putting yourself at risk if you tell him. None of us can decide if you want to take that risk.

You may not inherently be in a position to even consider this as an ethical issue: you may not be privy to the entire picture, there may be other factors at play in this decision which could change your perspective on the "ethics" of telling him.

That said, it is a little awkward for your boss to share this with the team. If this seems to be a pattern with your boss, and it makes you uncomfortable, you may want to consider that if or when you consider looking for another job. But, you should separate the question of, should I tell my coworker about this? from the question of, is my boss acting in a way that makes me uncomfortable?

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  • Thanks for your thoughts. You're right, main problem for me is to become some sort of keeper of Secret, it's very uncomfortable, I'm working closely with John every day. – Dmitriy Jun 18 '19 at 13:47
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    While you are right that it would be a huge risk to speak up, and keeping your head down is by far the safer decision, this was completely irresponsible of the manager to leak and they only have themselves to blame if it gets out. You do not owe managers obedience at the expense of your peers as a matter of course. – user85135 Jun 18 '19 at 13:57
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    I agree - but that's why I added the clarifications in italics at the end of the answer. I really think we're talking about two very separate issues here: Your manager's indiscretion doesn't inherently give you permission to disclose sensitive information, however big of a misstep the manager has made. Sharing this info is likely to just cause the situation to explode and could be damaging. especially since we know the manager is irrational. Although, ultimately, as I pointed out, it's a risk-aversion question that is going to vary from person to person. – dwizum Jun 18 '19 at 14:02

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