Summary: friend at work is a poor performer, my manager tells me they are bad influence and I should stop hanging out with them.

I work as a teacher and am a union member. I have one co-worker who I consider a friend and we chat during our break and after work and we work together often during meetings and weekends. This co-worker will be let go soon, as the principal is not happy with poor work. I am quite different and am an extreme workaholic, with a very poor work-life balance, though not unhappily.

Recently one of my supervisors, not the principal, called me for a meeting. Among other things, she told me to not talk with that co-worker anymore. First they were concerned my work was slipping and refused to accept my explanation about a temporary matter at home. Second they said my being that co-worker's friend was damaging my reputation in the workplace.

I really do not know how to respond to this. Can a supervisor ask me not to talk to someone? This doesn't seem to me like something that one can do, and don't even know how to address this demand as it is so bizarre to me.

  • Teachers supervisor? What part of the hierarchy is that? Finance? Assistant principal? How many supervisors do you have?
    – Kilisi
    Feb 29, 2020 at 11:49
  • I'm curious if OP's friend was in a similar situation. Perhaps the friend did something the boss didn't like and so is on the way out, with poor performance being cited as the issue.
    – Monstar
    Feb 29, 2020 at 16:21
  • @Kilisi Probably their Head of Department.
    – nick012000
    Feb 29, 2020 at 22:56
  • One related factor is how this affects your friend. From their point of view management is going around telling their colleagues not to talk to them on a social level. In the UK or Ireland this would be an obvious case of constructive dismal.
    – Eric Nolan
    Mar 2, 2020 at 13:16
  • Usually what you do on your own time (lunchtime, and after work) is your business and not your employers. (Unless you're 'representing' them by wearing a uniform, or blatantly behaving badly in public in front of people who know where you work, and bringing the name of the company into disrepute)
    – Smock
    Mar 2, 2020 at 16:30

5 Answers 5


I work as a teacher and am a union member.

I would run this by your union steward:

  1. Assuming they have some experience, they're likely to know whether this is enforceable or not.

  2. You want someone else to know that the supervisor claimed that the friendship was hurting your reputation.

In addition, you should ask your principal about your performance. I know you said you have an issue at home, so presumably they're not just making this up, but they might be exaggerating the problem. If it turns out that the supervisor has overblown your work performance issues, that might be something else for your steward to know.


There are two possibilities. One is that there is something about your friend so that associating with him does indeed damage your reputation and what your supervisor says is well-meant and in your best interest. The other is that your supervisor wants to tell you who you can be friends with which is none of his or her business. To react correctly you need to find out which it is.

The best way is to directly ask the supervisor. In the first case, you will get some answer. Possible answers "your friend is suspected of dealing drugs", "you must have noticed that your friend is gay", or "if there was an ongoing police investigation then I wouldn't be allowed to tell you". Each of these answers I guess you would know how to handle it (in case of the second answer you would likely post a second question).

In the second case, if the answer is "I don't like your friend and forbid you to talk to him", then the matter is none of the supervisors business. So the supervisor is wrong, but it's your decision how much power he has, and how much you want to fight him or do what you want behind his back.


Sort of. I mean, this isn't a simple picture (unfortunately.)

I mean, the theoretical answer is: No, your boss can't tell you who you form friendships with. And they can't dock your work performance based on a factor that's not work related.

But... it's more complicated than that. Imagine you simply ignore your boss. And your boss pulls you into the office three weeks later and indicates you've been put on a Performance Improvement Plan because of some minor errors you've made in the last week. It's probably them angry about you continuing your friendship. But good luck proving that. Good luck spending your time and mental effort fighting it, and then fighting back against any other efforts your boss might spend trying to make your life miserable. The sad truth is: if you don't have a good relationship with your boss, you're generally not going to have a good time - even if everything is 100% on the boss' side of the fence.

So where does this leave you?

Option 1: Drop the friendship. Personally, I think this is a lousy option. But it's there. One thing that you should consider, though is... maybe the supervisor has some piece of info that is hidden from you. Not saying this is the case, but what if the supervisor witnessed suspicious activity, or signs of drug usage, or something similar. Don't get me wrong - I'm NOT saying this is the case, or that this should be the option you should default to... but at least give a second thought as to if there might be some additional reason they're making this request of you. You might consider asking them why they're so opposed to your friend - is it simply performance based or is there something more going on.

Option 2: Ignore the boss, continue the friendship as-is. Unfortunately, this is a bit of a dangerous route, and you may need to keep in the back of your mind the idea that you'll eventually need to transfer somewhere else. There is one good note, though: once your friend is let go, it's likely that the strife point gets far less blatant. I mean, it's one thing if the supervisor sees the two of you chatting in the breakroom; it's a lot less visible if the two of you are simply hanging out after work somewhere away from school.

Option 3: Challenge the Assumption. This is the route I'd probably recommend. Basically, push back against the assumption that you'll end up being a less valuable employee if you remain friends with your buddy. Redouble your work ethic, and make it blatantly obvious that you're one of the best teachers around - and make sure you're letting your quality be visible upwards.

  • 1
    Careful with the word "boss". He's not the boss, he is a supervisor, below the principal. If the principal learns that the supervisor gives bad ratings to employees based on things that have nothing to do with work, that might completely backfire for the supervisor.
    – gnasher729
    Feb 29, 2020 at 11:51
  • I wouldn't advise to redouble their work ethic when they already have an unhealthy work/life relationship, it could possibly lead to burnout.
    – Monstar
    Feb 29, 2020 at 16:19
  • If going along with option 3, the first thing I'd say to the supervisor is that they are tarnishing their reputation by implying that bad performance is somehow a disease you can catch by hanging out with the wrong people or that helping colleagues out that aren't up to speed is a bad thing. As a supervisor that behaviour is highly damaging to any team spirit and would likely reduce my respect and potential "emergency performance" for them. Not in an angry way, but in a factual "feedback" round. Mar 2, 2020 at 2:22

Can a supervisor ask me not to talk to someone?

Well they just did. So it does not matter what you think they can or cannot.

don't even know how to address this demand as it is so bizarre to me.

If it sounds bizarre to you, then it is. If your co-worker will be let go soon, then it is not a long term problem. You won't anyway talk to them during the breaks and it will not bother anyone. In the meantime, just continue doing what you think is right for your friendship.

Another thing you should do is tell your supervisor as well, that you do not want to ignore a friend completely and help them as much as you can at personal level on personal time. Just ensure that your performance will not be compromised due to your co-worker.


First they were concerned my work was slipping and refused to accept my explanation about a temporary matter at home. Second they said my being that co-worker's friend was damaging my reputation in the workplace.

Okay this sounds like you're being warned, as opposed to them just randomly telling you not to hang out with a coworker. It sounds to me like your work is slipping and they are starting to notice that.

My advice is if you value your job, do take into account of their "advice." They are really telling you that you better shape up and start working again or you may end up like your friend.

Reality is though they can't tell you not to hang out with someone outside of work. But while at work, the answer is yes, they can tell you that you cannot speak to someone.

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