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I work in the United Kingdom as a manager for a company which is based out of the United States. This company has a number of very small overseas offices around the world.
All overseas office managers report to the same line manager based in the USA (let's call him John Smith).
There is some competition between overseas offices to meet targets.

Recently, our sales team sent both our Canadian office, and my office an email, asking about some new local procedures.

Unfortunately the sales team forgot to send the email to our U.K email distribution list (which I am part of), and only sent the email directly to two of my staff members who were on rostered days off. Whilst I was on shift that day, I was unaware of this email due to me not being copied.

I received an email today forwarded by the Canadian office manager, who enclosed the email from our sales team, and rudely said that "I am resending this email as we are still waiting for the UK office to reply". He also copied my manager 'John Smith', as well as other members of the head office management team. Frankly there was no reason to copy our management team, as this procedure email has nothing to do with them.

When the Canadian office manager forwarded the email and included our management team, he also went back to the original email from the sales team, and edited the 'To' field to make it look like the email was sent to our U.K email distribution group, instead of just to our two staff members.

This makes it look as if I purposely ignored this email while I was on shift, and paints me in a negative light.

I checked with my staff member today, and compared both emails - and confirmed that the "To" email field in the forwarded email from the Canadian office manager was definitely edited.

After discovering this, I immediately emailed our sales team directly, excluding the Canadian manager, and copying my manager - apologising for the delay in response, and explaining that I was not copied in this initial email and my team were on days off. I also included the original non-edited email, and also advised them that they could email me directly in the future.

I am thinking of also emailing the Canadian manager and copying my manager, explaining that the email was not sent to our group email, but was sent to two of my staff who were on rostered day off. However, I am also thinking of just ignoring it, as I have already sent the original email to my manager.

How should one approach this situation, particularly when the Canadian manager purposely edited the email to paint me in a bad light?

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    Do you expect your manager to see the difference in the email that you sent? IMO there is no chance of that happening unless you explicitly call it out. (Not that I'm advising for or against that as a course of action.) Aug 6, 2021 at 20:14
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    "I am resending this email as we are still waiting for the UK office to reply" - nothing rude about that. "Frankly there was no reason to copy our management team" - they CC-d your managers - so, what? Why is this suddenly a big issue? You guys didn't get the email, so people are waiting on you, and they don't know why. For all they know, something's wrong with your servers, and nobody is aware - so they extended the communication to people who could potentially do something about it. For all you know, people just need a response, and nobody really cares why there was no reply originally. Aug 7, 2021 at 0:31
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    @FilipMilovanović I appreciate your reply, but at the end of the day the email was edited and it was not an issue with the server. This thread is not to argue whether or not something happened, but is to see how we can handle the situation. If he had just sent an email to our team directly, without editing the original email, just following up on this, I wouldn't have batted an eye. But the original email was edited, and very high up managers were copied (which is extremely unusual), this was not a simple 'waiting for a response'. Aug 7, 2021 at 1:04
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    Also just to add on, there was no reason for the Canadian manager to follow up on my response. In the original email from the sales team, they were asking for the U.K team and Canada team to provide local procedures. The sales team could have sent separate emails to the U.K team and the Canada team, but they just happened to combine it on one email. There was no reason for the Canadian manager to follow up on my response, as U.K operations has nothing to do with him, and it was the sales team after the information, not him. Aug 7, 2021 at 1:08
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    I'm not questioning the facts - I guess what I'm saying is that something a bit strange happening is not a strong enough reason to assume the worst and go in full defense mode. Sure, it's a good idea to take notice, but I'm saying that "full defense mode" is not necessarily best way to handle it. We are all subject to confirmation bias - we tend to decide what is "probably the truth", and then only pay attention to evidence that confirms what we already believe. But consider that there could be dozens of benign/stupid reasons why things happened the way they did. Aug 7, 2021 at 4:22

3 Answers 3

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How should one approach this situation, particularly when the Canadian manager purposely edited the email to paint me in a bad light?

The fact is that you did not receive the email. Make sure that you also confirm with whomever else that did not receive the email that they indeed did not receive it.

At this point I would escalate to your company's IT department and let them investigate. They will discover that the forwarded email was forged and that the original email was not sent to all the participants that the Canadian manager is claiming. You can reply to the Canadian manager with something like:

Hello X, I looked through my email and could not find this message. I also asked Y and Z to look through their emails ( as they are part of the distribution group ) and they also could not find it. I have escalated this incident to IT to determine why we did not receive this email and to hopefully prevent this from happening in the future.

Once he is exposed, there is nothing more for you to do.

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    Getting IT to show the original provenance is the best path to take. 3rd party confirmation as long as it is not in the Canadian managers pocket...
    – Solar Mike
    Aug 6, 2021 at 13:51
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    Have you ever had IT clearly and competently resolve an issue like this? (I haven't.) Aug 6, 2021 at 20:16
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    @DanielR.Collins I did it a lot in my days running IT infrastructure - audit trails are wonderful things to pull out in disputes. On one occasion I even went to the effort of pulling archived backups to prove something happened on a given date.
    – user34687
    Aug 7, 2021 at 2:37
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    Yes, make it IT's problem. Don't start a fight over who forged this or who forwarded that. If someone is unreasonable enough to forge a To header, arguing with them is unlikely to accomplish much of anything.
    – Kevin
    Aug 7, 2021 at 6:11
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    @KamiKaze I also thought to involve IT for the simple reason: feign naivety. As the complainant you aren't trying to get anyone into trouble. You're simply asking IT why important e-mails from your Canadian colleague aren't reaching you, and you're simply CCing the relevant managers to ensure IT looks into it properly. Then when It turns around and alerts you to the fact that you simply weren't included in the email, you can ask them to double check (still CC-ing managers) as the subsequent e-mail shows you were in the To list. Thereby not overtly ruffling feathers. Aug 9, 2021 at 9:24
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First up: assume incompetence before malevolence. There could be an innocent reason for the discrepancy between the e-mails (although I can't see one), and going straight to "this was a deliberate attempt to make my team look bad" is a definite escalation.

Other than that, just talk to your manager before you escalate anything further. Just explain the facts as you see them without attributing motive, and take guidance on the correct action to take next.

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    @JimClay: It doesn't matter whether you see one, or what you believe, just do not accuse anyone because if that backfires, it's going to look real bad. Hence, even if you are fully convinced that this was malicious, you should appear to act neutrally at all times. Asking your local IT to explain what the e-mail received by your colleagues differ from the e-mail forwarded gives the appearance of trying to understand the problem while at the same time clearly demonstrating to everyone that the forwarder forged the e-mail (should IT agree). Aug 7, 2021 at 16:48
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    Agree, get your manager on board, tell them you are not planning on leaving it like that, because it makes you look bad up the chain. Do not voice assumptions even if it means playing stupid. If you care, your manager should support you in clearing this up. They can also tell you it's not a fight to pick or just shrug it, but that will give you insight into company. It's not something to be handled alone. The manager should have it clearly communicated you're not fine with it, sometimes they don't pick up issues which are not made obvious. Establishing facts > accusations.
    – luk32
    Aug 7, 2021 at 20:58
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    Is it possible, for example, they sent the email to the distribution group (so it's in their Sent folder) but email server rejected it for whatever reason; so then they resent it to specific people they know (but not OP); when following up, they fished the first copy out of their Sent folder to forward. +1 for assuming incompetence before malevolence at least in your actions Aug 7, 2021 at 22:51
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    @MatthieuM. I agree with you. Feigning neutrality and letting a third party confirm the discrepancy is the way to go. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking it was an innocent mistake.
    – Jim Clay
    Aug 7, 2021 at 23:37
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    Everyone discussing headers and things like that: remember that the headers of an e-mail have no bearing on who it was actually sent to; it's the RFC (2)821 envelope that matters, not what happens to be written in the To: or Cc: headers. Aug 8, 2021 at 19:55
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Yeah, email your manager and explain the situation.

It's then up to them to decide what to do.

You can point out that the IT folks can probably figure out what really happened.

If your manager is concerned about the team being painted in a bad light, they may give the other manager a chance to rectify the record, or they may decide to escalate.

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