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Basically, here is the situation.

Colleague X broke a rule. Colleague X told me via chat that he broke the rule after I directly instructed him not to do so. I report Colleague X to the manager. I saved proof of the messages just in case. This rule Colleague X broke is relatively serious in our organization.

I feel like I did the right thing, but now I fear retaliation. Since I'm the only person that knows Colleague X broke the rule, if he's confronted, he's going to know I was the one that squealed. I fear that he'll simply make up stories and lies as a form of retaliation.

Can I do anything to protect myself or am I basically screwed if this person decides to make wild accusations? What should I have done differently?

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    What rule was broken? And where did your authority come from to tell your colleague not to break it. This makes a lot of difference. If it's a security rule or a clothing convention for instance.
    – Kilisi
    Jun 21, 2017 at 8:08
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    @JoeStrazzere Might have been something like this: X: I could just do foo, that would solve it. OP: No wait, we are not supposed to do that. It's explained in manual M that we under no circumstances are allowed to do foo. X: Well, I just did foo and the world didn't end, so what?
    – skymningen
    Jun 21, 2017 at 11:44
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    I was employed by one multi-billion dollar company in my career, so they had all the things like employee handbook, written rules, and so on and so on. Their number one thing what not do do: Any form of retaliation.
    – gnasher729
    Jul 25, 2022 at 8:12

3 Answers 3

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Short Answer: Make sure you haven't done anything that could be used against you, and you have nothing to worry about. But inform your manager of your concerns and why.

With your colleague, you had proof via their message to you that they had broken a rule. This is what you kept for your manager (did you show this to them?) as the evidence. If there is no reliable evidence of any wrongdoing by you, then management will likely see your colleagues accusations as blowing smoke.

To answer the question "was it the right thing", clearly that is irrelevant at this point, however if there is something that may cause damage to the company either financially or by reputation, then you did indeed have an obligation to report it. The fact that you were the only one who knew about it really doesn't come into as you have already believed it was serious enough to warrant reporting.

The only thing I would suggest is to talk directly to your manager about your fear of retribution from your colleague given that you were the only one who knew about your colleague's actions.

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  • I haven't done anything that could be used against me. However, this individual has already demonstrated that he can lie in my eyes. I'll inform the manager I spoke with tomorrow about my concerns. Jun 21, 2017 at 6:12
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    But inform your manager of your concerns and why Tread very carefully here, because in the reality of time and space there is nothing: not even a hint of retaliation, only your fear. You risk sounding overly concerned or adding an unfounded accusation.
    – user8036
    Jun 21, 2017 at 7:45
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    Given their infraction (and the supporting evidence you have) this person's credibility will be at rock bottom so I'd expect you manager to take any retaliatory claims they make with a big pinch of salt.
    – motosubatsu
    Jun 21, 2017 at 8:16
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    @JanDoggen The way I would approach it is simply to say "I was the only person who knew of this, so it is very likely he knows it was me who reported it." That way you aren't adding accusations, merely information.
    – Jane S
    Jun 21, 2017 at 8:40
  • @BobSanders As long as there is no evidence to support any claims made by your colleague then I'd suggest that they will be taken with a grain of salt.
    – Jane S
    Jun 21, 2017 at 8:41
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You have will unlikely have to worry about retaliation from your coworker. They confided in you the act they did to fix whatever problem needed to fix. The fix, for some reason is taboo enough that at least you remembered you‘re not supposed to do it…though your coworker did not, nor do they see the legitimacy of the tabooness.

This tells me at least that either this is a rule that is contested. Or your coworker doesn‘t care…or you care too much.

So much you‘re willing to tattletale. While I don‘t have a problem with this…your coworker will have lost all trust in you should the manager decide to deal with this problem and not just sweep it under the rug. Your main worry is dealing with the social fallout from your coworker.

Don‘t be surprised if they, and other coworkers don‘t talk to you anymore, or you become socially ostracized. They (singular) arn‘t dumb enough to retaliate in a way that could get them in trouble, you‘ll just report them again…which you‘re preemptively doing anyways, so again that isn‘t the issue.

You will likely be alienated however and they will probably tell other coworkers what kind of person they perceive you to be. Which may influence them (plural this time) to also not want to deal with you in anything but the most strict work relationship…and this isn‘t something your manager can help with.

Long story short, don‘t be surprised if no-one wants to talk to you anymore.

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Can I do anything to protect myself

If possible bring it out to the open. Ask the person who broke the rule to share what they've done and why in a team channel rather than in a direct message to you. This not only increases transparency and accountability in the team (those are good things, right?) but may also help take care of this:

am I basically screwed if this person decides to make wild accusations?

Since it was them who brought it out in the open - not you - you're in the clear.

Use the argument that having a conversation about this in the open (e.g. in a team channel or in email thread) will help the entire team deal with similar situations in the future, and it's employee's duty to do what's right. It also takes some of the culpability off the perpetrator - since they were transparent about it.

If you have legitimate concerns of retaliation - share those with the manager, especially if there were prior incidents of such behavior.

If (1) you aren't sure of manager's fairness and susceptibility to frivolous, untrue retaliation claims, and (2) would rather not put your employment in jeopardy - do not report the incident unless that exposes you to liability.

P.S. I do not find this (from the other answer) to be correct:

Make sure you haven't done anything that could be used against you, and you have nothing to worry about.

Many a person has been fired or retaliated against on false claims, and in some companies - probably quite a few - your performance matters little vs. who you know and who has your back.

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  • An issue like this is something that should dealt with in private through managers, not forcing them to bring it up in a public setting. Jul 26, 2022 at 20:46
  • Did anyone say anything about forcing, @Robin Clower? Or maybe the "if possible" part wasn't too clear in my answer? Jul 26, 2022 at 22:22

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