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One of our senior engineers recently disappeared. He left the office on Friday and didn't come back on Monday. We could see his accounts had been deactivated, but there was no official word about what happened. More than a week later HR announced that he had "decided to leave" the company. This announcement was missing the usual, "please join us in thanking him for his contribution.". In fact it was quite terse for someone who had been with us two years and made a significant contribution. We've had no more information from the company about his departure or why he isn't working his notice, which is usually a contractual obligation on both parties in the UK.

When I contacted him through social media to say we were sorry to see him go, he thanked me briefly, but gave no information as to why he'd left. I didn't press him for details as I get the impression he can't or doesn't want to talk about it.

I've been wondering what the causes might be and I can only think of a few possibilities.

Gross misconduct? Sexual harassment, bullying someone, using company servers to mine bitcoins, etc. This might explain the lack of explanation. However, we've known the guy for two years and these seem very unlikely. I'm not saying he's a saint, he says what he thinks, but he's not unkind to people and has some integrity.

Finding another job? Maybe he wanted to take advantage of another opportunity at very short notice, so worked out some deal with the company to leave immediately. Slightly more plausible, but he seemed very enthusiastic about his job and to care about the team he was leading. Leaving without notice leaves them in the lurch with a lot of technical questions which could have been resolved during a three month handover. I don't think he'd do that to them.

Family issues? Perhaps there was some urgent family matter to attend to and the company refused to grant him time to deal with it. Again, I can't see this happening. The company is usually good about this kind of thing and would allow him to return to work once it is resolved.

Professional disagreement? What I can say about my former colleague is that he speaks his mind. He is always the first to voice concerns over our technical direction, as well as working to find solutions. I think he speaks up because he cares about doing things right, which is supposed to be one of our company's values. Perhaps one such concern was seen as too negative (something the company seems to be quite uptight about) or he got into an unsolvable argument with the recently-appointed CTO. Surely a technical disagreement should not be grounds for instant dismissal or forced gardening leave, paid on the condition of his silence? Perhaps there are ways and means to get rid of someone who is critical of management. What could be so important to be worth losing a senior engineer over?

If that is what happened, it seems like a really bad idea to get rid of a valuable and respected member of the team when we are trying desperately to recruit more engineers. It has created a very uneasy and suspicious atmosphere and put at risk our hopes of delivering an ambitious project in the next year. We have fewer than 80 employees and are trying to expand.

Is this the usual or best way such departures are handled?

I like this company, but I'm very unhappy that people can mysteriously disappear like this. I have been giving anonymous feedback through our employee engagement program, but is there anything else I can do to improve the situation or help my erstwhile colleague?

closed as unclear what you're asking by Chris E, gnat, Richard Says Reinstate Monica, JasonJ, Mister Positive Apr 12 '17 at 0:31

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  • Everyone who has tried has received brief answers with no real information. – FallenInn Apr 11 '17 at 18:33
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Yes, there is something you can do.

Ignore it.

It's not your job, and none of your business. It would appear that your coworker and employer parted company on less-than-ideal terms.

If either side needed your involvement, they would have asked you by now.

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    Because I'm unnerved by the company apparently disposing of people without warning or explanation. – FallenInn Apr 11 '17 at 18:24
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    @FallenInn How do you know the employee did not dispose of the company without warning or explanation? – Patricia Shanahan Apr 11 '17 at 18:29
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    I'd be more unnerved if they said bad things in public about someone who no longer works there. They don't owe you an explanation – Dan Pichelman Apr 11 '17 at 18:29
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    @FallenInn There are many personnel matters that should not be discussed beyond those who need to know. All you can be sure of is that your ex-colleague left for reasons he did not want you to know. If he had wanted you to know, he would have told you. It is very much to the company's credit if they are continuing to respect your ex-colleague's privacy despite rumors and suspicion. I hope you are doing what you can to discourage rumor-mongering. – Patricia Shanahan Apr 11 '17 at 18:55
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    Leave it be. He's left and that's the end of it. You don't need to know and so looking into it any further isn't needed for anyone who actually is involved. – user66194 Apr 11 '17 at 19:15
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This situation falls under one category.

Gossip

You have no right to know at all and nobody involved wants you to know or apparently thinks you should or need to know.

I have a piece of advice. Let it go unless you want to be known as the person who is in everyone else's business. You can try to come up with justification why you think you should know or why it would be beneficial to know, but the bottom line is that you're gossiping and trying to make it seem like there's some legitimate reason to be so nosy. There isn't.

I once worked with a guy who did something very similar and the company reacted the same. Years later, I found out that he had serious mental issues. The company reacted similarly tersely because they didn't know how to react and didn't want to draw attention to it or to him.

There are things that go on in all of our lives that may indirectly affect us but are none of our business. This is one of them. If it were, you would be made aware.

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    The most famous example of this was Michael O'Hare from Babylon5. He left the show and nobody said a word until after his death. He suffered from severe schizophrenia and could no longer work. +1 for "There are things that go on in all of our lives that may indirectly affect us but are none of our business. This is one of them. If it were, you would be made aware" – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Apr 11 '17 at 19:44
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Yes, this situation is typical when an employee is required to leave the company. Although many like to pretend that they are, your company is not your family or your friend - they are your employer.

The company needed your coworker to leave, but no organization wants friction in what is probably an awkward situation for all. There may also be legal ramifications with disclosing information about the situation to other employees.

There really is nothing you can do. It may seem deceitful or even rude by your employer, but it really is none of your concern and you should accept that. If you want to know what happened, ask your coworker. If they don't tell you, then you have no right to know.

I'm very unhappy that people can mysteriously disappear like this.

This is why companies require employees to sign contracts. If you break the contract (with serious enough consequences), the company can (and should) remove you ASAP. Allowing employees to remain after an incident has been discovered can make the situation significantly worse.

Truth be told, you have no idea what happened and you have no right to either.

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    And it may have been a condition of allowing him to resign rather than be fired for cause that he is not allowed to discuss the issue. – HLGEM Apr 11 '17 at 18:46

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