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I have already quit because I was disgusted with my boss' actions, but I want to know if it was ethical?

I work from home and I had an internet outage that lasted 2 days. I spoke with my boss and they said it was no problem. The next day I got a text message if it would be okay to call my internet provider to verify the outage. I said "no you cannot" and later got a phone call from my internet provider asking if I authorized her to call and get information. She called them telling them she had my permission and got some information until she started asking for service requests.

The company did not pay for my internet.

Is my manager's action ethical/legal? Would this be considered misconduct by my employer?


Important Notes:

  1. My boss called my internet provider to get information about my service, without my consent. (This happened after she had asked and I declined.)
  2. I literally offered to provide email confirmation that my ISP sent regarding the outage. I was told it wasn’t necessary. Little did I know she would rather speak with someone.
  3. I had enough PTO to cover the days it was out. I was going to take PTO but my supervisor said not to since it would be no different if internet went out in an office.
  4. Again, the company had never paid for my internet. (I quit now).
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    If you're at the point in your job where your boss is doing things you have explicitly told them not to do, you have bigger problems. Nov 12, 2023 at 20:14
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    I ask so when I get interviewed for a new job. I can tell them I left for misconduct on my previous employers part or unethical behavior - Don't. If they ask, simply state that you left to find a position and a company that is a better fir for you.
    – joeqwerty
    Nov 12, 2023 at 21:07
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    If they do NOT pay for your internet, then they do NOT have the right to call your internet provider to ask about anything. They are wrong 100%. -- At the same time, I agree with the comment from "@joeqwert" above: Do not badmouth about past employers as new/potential employers don't like that at all. Nov 13, 2023 at 4:16
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    @Xavier your obviously not a therapist all those settings would get my licensed to practice counseling revoked.
    – lpc956
    Nov 14, 2023 at 0:00
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    @XavierJ "Confidential setting" is most definitely not bollocks and in a lot (most?) of the jobs that let you work from home you will have it specified that you are not allowed to connect from public networks AND that you are supposed to keep stuff confidential so working in a park where everyone can have a look at your screen wouldn't do.
    – AnnaAG
    Nov 14, 2023 at 10:48

5 Answers 5

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Okay - Was it wrong? Yes.

But - based on your additional context, It would be a stretch to get to 'Misconduct'.

Why?

Well, the reason for asking had a legitimate business reason - 2 days off work due to an outage. It's not like they were calling your ISP to get your home address or your bank account info.

Furthermore, the way you handled this would be seen poorly:

"The next day I get a text message if it would be okay to call my internet provider to verify the outage. I said no you cannot"

Think of this like a Doctors sick note:

"Hey boss, I'm off work for 2 days cause I'm Sick"
"Okay, can I get a Doctors Note?"
"No, you cannot"

That would be seen poorly.

How you should have handled it:

"Hey Boss, I'm not comfortable with authorizing you on my personal ISP account - but I would be happy to get them to send out a confirmation of the Outage start/stop times if that's okay?"

Alternatively - if your ISP has a public facing outage page which shows historical outages, you could point them to that page.

From your Boss' point of view - they were merely seeking confirmation that there was an actual outage and it wasn't just a remote employee trying to pull a fast one. Your refusal, without giving an alternative to satisfy that confirmation, merely increased suspicion.

If you've already quit - then there's not much more to be done here. If you were still working there, I'd suggest raising it with HR - but that ship has sailed with you quitting.

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    I actually did offer that as an alternative to provide documentation, I was told it wasn’t necessary. Little did I know she would rather speak with someone. I literally offered to provide email confirmation that my ISP sent regarding the outage. Also I’m a professional in my field and had enough PTO to cover the days it was out. Thanks for the reply though.
    – lpc956
    Nov 13, 2023 at 3:25
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    Having a "legitimate" business reason does not mean an employer can do what they want to further that reason. In some countries, pretending to be authorised to have access to information is considered fraud. Nov 13, 2023 at 3:50
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    @ipc956 - ah, so if you did offer that - then yeah, I'd say you definitely have a stronger set of facts to argue if you were to go to the likes of HR. But it doesn't rise to the level of legal action. Nov 13, 2023 at 4:16
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    Your analogy with the doctor misrepresents the situation. OPs employer did not ask 'Can you provide me with a doctors note?' which would be a reasonable request but rather 'Can I call your doctor myself?' which is not a reasonable request and with an actual doctor it would be illegal for the doctor to give out any information.
    – quarague
    Nov 14, 2023 at 10:26
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    @TheDemonLord "But it doesn't rise to the level of legal action" - Committing fraud DOES sound like cause for legal action tbh. At the very least it should get the person fired. They clearly don't care about lying to get what they want. If it's a doctors note next time? 'Oh no I dont need you to send me a doctors note, I'll just call them myself to verify'. That sounds like a liability to the company at the very least Nov 17, 2023 at 11:35
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It is unethical to lie to gain information although understandable to check if the stated reason a staff member did no work is real or not.

In terms of using it in future applications as a reason that you quit it's a bad idea. You should never bad mouth previous workplaces in interviews, it makes you seem problematic to work with for several reasons. In this case it would seem trivial & the implication is that your previous employer thought you were dishonest.

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    Spot on, the fact that it gets to the point that your boss has to check in something like that (because yeah, who under normal circumstances loses internet for 2 whole days and cannot even make alternative arrangements?) is a massive at-least-yellow flag.
    – Aida Paul
    Nov 12, 2023 at 21:33
  • @TymoteuszPaul I've lost internet for "2 whole days" and even longer several times during the few years I've been living at my place, the longest was over a week because some construction workers messed with the cables from my providers and if I worked remotely I would offer coming in to the office for those days but what sort of "alternative arrangements" do you think someone can make? Take out another contract then be left with 2? You just need to wait until it's fixed, nothing you can do about it.
    – AnnaAG
    Nov 14, 2023 at 12:56
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    @AnnaAG top of my mind: mobile connection (buy simcard just for this situation), coffee shops, neighbours wifi, coworking spaces. Of course all those incur costs that the business will have to pay but that's what you present as alternative, something aking of "My internet is going to be down, but for 60$ I can get coworking desk for the day" etc. Now if they are not willing to pay for it, that's their choice.
    – Aida Paul
    Nov 14, 2023 at 14:56
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    Like I already mentioned, most of the work from home jobs actually specify in the contract where you are supposed to work and that you are only supposed to use your private wifi, not any open ones so coffee shops and coworking spaces won't do, neighbour's wifi might if they're willing to share and your contract allows it but a lot of people don't know their neighbours at all, would you share your wifi with a random neighbour? A simcard might also work but OP offered to use their holiday allowance for this and they said it's not necessary so I'd assume they're good to not do anything.
    – AnnaAG
    Nov 14, 2023 at 16:00
  • @annaag Buy simcard with data, tether phone. Works out at about £1 per gb of data Nov 16, 2023 at 18:16
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Calling your ISP and asking general questions about outages in your area strikes me as a bit inappropriate, but not unethical.

Calling your ISP and asking specific questions about your account and your service is definitely crossing the line to me. Is it unethical? It probably borders on being unethical in that it deviates from what I would consider acceptable conduct.

I can see this happening for a couple of reasons, one or more (or all) may be true in your case:

  1. You workplace is toxic and fosters an environment of mistrust.

  2. Your manager is toxic and fosters an environment of mistrust.

  3. You've proven yourself to be untrustworthy, therefore causing your manager to go to these lengths to validate that what you've told them is the truth.

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    Is it not just unethical, it's actually illegal, because she told them she had permission to access such information, when she didn't. Nov 13, 2023 at 3:51
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Ethical? borderline. If you are in the home office it is your responsibility to take care about your internet connection. By bringing your problem to work you made it their problem. They are trying to be nice and validate that yes, that is what happened instead of just not paying you for these two days or firing you immediately. If your story is true, what reason would you have to deny this request in the form in which you did? The question if there was an disturbance of the service in a specified house is hardly your highly personal data (i am excluding the legal aspect here).

You imply that your boss lied to the telecom. I would refrain from making assertions here unless you have what happened as a recording. Obviously your provider will imply that the information was obtained by lying (since "oh we just give out data to somebody calling us unless it sounds really shady" is not a good thing to say). So this is leading nowhere, and i think you waste your energy.

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    I don't know what definition of lying you use here but imo telling someone you have permission to do something when you explicitly do not is a blatant lie.
    – AnnaAG
    Nov 13, 2023 at 10:03
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    @AnnaAG: it is not about my definition of lying, it's more a question if the representation of the person from the telecom is 100% accurate. I would think that a dialog like "did you have problems yesterday in city/town/district x?" spun out to the need to be more precise and that the situation was represented in an way which is not 100% accurate. So we have literal hearsay with the telecom having an incentive to creatively misrepresent.
    – Sascha
    Nov 13, 2023 at 18:45
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    @AnnaAG The boss was being kind in asking for permission. There is no need to ask permission to call a ISP. Of course, the ISP will act exactly how it did, and give them little information. What is odd is that the ISP then called their actual customer and relayed the information. For example, you can call AT&T and ask about someone else's account. That's not generally an ethical violation, and I doubt you will get far without someone authorizing the release of such information.
    – Edwin Buck
    Nov 27, 2023 at 14:59
  • @EdwinBuck you do if you want to find out about an outage at a specific address and one that the company doesn't pay for. OP said they got "some information", not sure what it means but I'm assuming the boss lied convincingly enough to get at least something they shouldn't have gotten before whoever was on the line caught up on it. Pretending you're authorised to access something is neither kind nor ethical. My guess why ISP called the customer would be that they realised they messed up giving the info that they did and wanted to do at least some damage control.
    – AnnaAG
    Nov 27, 2023 at 15:11
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    @AnnaAG: You assume that OG is not misrepresenting, and under that assumption the OG assumes that the Provider is not misrepresenting and that nobody misunderstood something which was said. Given the unclear language the OP used I would refrain from giving the advice to hunt this white whale. TO it seems like OP is not cooperative and now manged to produce a conflict and get a justification for their behaviour. TBC: if the boss forged a document it's a different story - we don't know that. We don't know what was said and what was revealed in the conversaiton between boss and ISP
    – Sascha
    Nov 27, 2023 at 17:34
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I think the question is worded poorly.

It is ethical to trust someone, and it is also ethical to not trust someone.

Ethics is whether a person is abiding by Morality. Morality is (roughly) the ways that people agree people should generally behave.

You have no proof that your boss lied. You have no proof that your boss misrepresented their self. All you have is proof that your boss called your ISP asking about your outage after you asked your boss not to call.

Considering that you didn't manage to convince your boss sufficiently that the outage would continue to the next day, I'd say that trust is low between you and your boss. Note that it is Ethical to NOT trust someone, just as it is Ethical to trust someone; trust is something different than Ethics, it is when you build a relationship sufficient to accept another's word without questioning it.

I won't guess at why your boss doesn't trust you; but, if I had been your boss, trust in you was low, and you offered to send me in email information that you were drafting from information copied from the ISP, I would consider that perhaps you were creating the information from the ISP or were possibly rewording it to favor your position that you could not work the next day.

If your boss arrived at the same suspicions, in an attempt to verify such information, they may have called the ISP attempting to verify the outage to you. ISPs generally have an automated / semi-automated number of questions when calling, they don't start you off with a person. Mine asks about the "account you are calling about", and your boss is calling about your account. Once the security questions are failed, often a person jumps on the line to assist with other verification methods as many can't remember their security questions. At that point in time, the person attempting the verification will understand this is your boss and not you, and all your boss will have deduced is that you have an account with the ISP.

That you talk about "information leakage" and "your boss impersonating you" shows that you assumed the worst. How you can assume that your ISP would not follow standard identification procedures is a matter for you to consider, personally I can't imagine that just for your account the ISP would go off-script in handling a customer request.

I suggest that you look hard at why your boss doesn't trust you. Odds are what you think you are presenting to your boss isn't what she is seeing. Odds are you are assuming a large amount of "facts" that just can't be assumed. Once you show your boss that you are trustworthy, instead of assuming they should trust you, you won't even have to prove your ISP will have an outage, your word will be enough. I know that personally, I wouldn't really trust someone who's finding ways of saying I lied (without evidence) and that I attempted to social engineer their way into my account (for which there is no evidence they did).

For example, you could have told the boss, "I fear for my personal data, but let me call the ISP to see if there is some way you can confirm the outage without full access to my account." And then, in calling the ISP you could have seen what options are available. A direct email from the ISP probably would have settled the matter, but instead you asked the boss to not get direct confirmation, demanding indirect confirmation through you.

I'm not saying you lied, but if you present information in the same manner as a person who lies, you are going to be judged by how you present the information. I would never trust someone who says, "no, you can't verify the information, and I'm not going to help you get verification from a third party, and if you do verify it, I'm going to cause as much trouble as I can about it."

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