Recently, a co-worker (We'll call him Cal) was fired from our company. However, Cal had taken a sick day that day, so he wasn't on site. So there's the manager (we'll call him Mark), standing around with two security guards to escort him out...

Mark immediately told our team to not have any contact at all with Cal, under any circumstances. Not to tell Cal that Mark had come by, not to mention the firing or the guards. Nothing. Later, Mark relayed word to Cal that Cal was not to arrive to work until further notice; that Human Resources would "provide correspondence."

However, Cal still isn't aware that he's fired. Like the next day, he again called in sick.

So two questions.

  1. is Mark within his rights as a manager to tell us we aren't allowed to contact Cal in any way? (When asked, Mark said personal and professional contact was not allowed)
  2. Cal has certain things we need to know -- passwords to systems, and so on -- but we aren't allowed to ask for those. How can we effectively get that information from him?
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    "Is Mark within his rights" seems like a legal question and is thus beyond the scope of this site. "How can we effectively get that information" is something your manager really should be telling you (because that directly conflicts with his earlier request, so only he would know how he wants you to handle it) (but Cal is the only one who can access those systems or reset the passwords, you have an obvious security flaw there). Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 15:02
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    @ChristopherEstep I guess it is for the same reason that movies carry the "all characters fictional disclaimer". The issue is not that the movie audience doesn't realize that the story is fictional, but that someone who merely thinks it is not fictional may drag you to court over it. Of late, the threshold for what offends people is steadily going down, better to be safe than sorry. ;-)
    – Masked Man
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 15:32
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    This is not legal advice. Legal advice would be, can I sue him if he takes action against me, or is there a legal liability for me or them etc... Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 17:53
  • Was Cal a Sysadmin? This seems like standard procedure when trying to fire someone who has unrestricted access to the company systems, on my country. I wouldn't be surprised if something similar happens in the US.
    – T. Sar
    Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 18:43
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    @CaM Failure to apply carefully defined limits is either intentional or negligent (since they explicitly stated it covers personal contact, that is, it applies outside of work), and either way, inexcusable. If it was intentional, it also invalidates some of the answers. Commented Nov 16, 2020 at 16:04

6 Answers 6


Is Mark within his rights as a manager to tell us we aren't allowed to contact Cal in any way? (When asked, Mark said personal and professional contact was not allowed)

Practically speaking, your manager can't really tell you what to do in your personal time unrelated to the company, though they can certainly instruct you not to share sensitive company information (i.e. personnel issues). However, it would be extremely unprofessional to talk to your coworker in this situation. Even if you have no intent to tell your coworker what is going on, they will likely ask. Even if you say nothing, there's a good chance they'll figure out what's going on based on how you react. The news of firing needs to come from your manager, not from you. It's only a day or two - you can wait until after the news has been delivered.

Cal has certain things we need to know -- passwords to systems, and so on -- but we aren't allowed to ask for those. How can we effectively get that information from him?

This is something you should talk to your manager about. It is important to be able to do your job after Cal is gone, but it's your manager's job to make sure that happens. In any case, it is very bad practice to have only one person with critical system passwords. What would happen if your coworker was hit by a bus and not fired? There should be someone else who can pass off control after this person leaves.

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    Added to point out that if this person has such accesses telling him he is being fired could likely trigger a retaliation which could take down your system. That is the most likely reason why management doesn't want him unofficially told. If you did it and the system went down, you would also likely be fired. And make sure you back up all systems to tape and take the tape off site. Immediately.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 13:49
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    Strictly speaking, your manager can't tell you what to do in your personal time This is not accurate. practically speaking they can't, but strictly speaking, they can indeed make requirements of you when you are off hours. I can post if you need, but there are definitely cases where a termination for off-hour behavior was upheld. Smoking is one example and they most certainly can try to dictate no contact. As a practical matter, they're idiots and it's like telling someone "don't push this button" making them want to even more. Now everyone wants to get the "real story".
    – Chris E
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 14:52
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    @ChristopherEstep If you're an at-will employee (or even if you're not), they can fire you for "unrelated" reasons. Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 15:06
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    @DavidK, +1 for recognizing the business continuity threat of single point of failure. 1 user with no backup = high risk...
    – Anthony
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 23:08
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    @ChristopherEstep, and I have seen more than one person get fired for something they posted on Facebook.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 19:05

Cal has certain things we need to know -- passwords to systems, and so on -- but we aren't allowed to ask for those. How can we effectively get that information from him?

Speaking as an IT person it is important to talk to your manager about this. Normally upon the firing of a key person such as Cal, his passwords are changed and the odds are your manager either just hasn't had the passwords changed or doesn't know about them. If you talk with your manager and tell him something along the lines of "We were working on project x but we seem to hit a brick wall because only Cal knows the password." Is a subtle easy way to tell him.

Is Mark within his rights as a manager to tell us we aren't allowed to contact Cal in any way? (When asked, Mark said personal and professional contact was not allowed)

Technically he can't tell you what to do outside of work. That being said there are a lot of things that go into firing someone to make sure the company doesn't get hurt in anyway. The reason Mark had two security guards with him is to make sure that Cal was promptly escorted out and doesn't have the chance to break or steal anything. Its sad that this type of thing is done however it is common practice.

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    Technically he can't tell you what to do outside of work Technically he can. See my comment on David K's answer
    – Chris E
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 15:19
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    @ChristopherEstep Its all a technicality. "A few states, not including Connecticut, have laws that say employers cannot limit off-the-job employees’ social, religious or political activities." Depending on the OPs location some states protect this as social. Though there are many where the OP would not be protected. Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 15:35
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    He can tell you to not talk to someone all he wants but the only hting he can enforce is sharing of private company information... not a general exchange. At least under US rights and laws. Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 18:50
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    @MatthewWhited That may be all he could sue you and/or have you criminally charged for, but it's not necessarily all he could fire you for.
    – reirab
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 19:16
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    Related to that particular topic it is. If someone fired you for talking to a third party in your spare time you could fight the firing (though I personally wouldn't want to work for someone like that anyway.) ... I probably would have a one-on-one with him and possibly resign. Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 19:21

I think, once the firing has formally been communicated, then personal contact is fine. I think the boss specified personal contact, which he can't really enforce, to emphasize that spilling the beans, even in that context, puts the person communicating that information at risk for their own jobs. The boss wanted to make sure that there was no context, at all, under which tipping off the co-worker would be tolerated, and the boss realistically knows that if anyone has any contact, they're going to feel pressure, from themselves, to let that person know.

If you think to yourself "I can have contact with that person on a personal level and not tell," .... well maybe, but you certainly can't do that and not have that person later feel betrayed that you didn't share, so it's best not to test your own self-control there, because you put yourself in the situation of losing your job on one hand, and certainly losing that friendship, on the other, if you are a friend, that is. If you're not, then I don't know why you'd feel obligated to make contact.

As far as passwords and other work information you need from this person, make a list of things you need from that person and pass it along to your boss. It is up to you boss to get that information from the (ex-)co-worker, or to get resources to access that information for you in some other way.

If how the firing is being handled bothers you, it's not up to you to be a vigilante worker and circumvent it. Weigh this along with all the other factors when you assess whether this is the place for you. If it is, let your boss, HR and the company handle how they want to proceed with a termination and do not interfere.


Is Mark within his rights?

Yes. If and how Mark enforces the directive is another question. But in general Mark is allowed to do this.

How do we get that information from Cal?

  1. Cal has certain things you need for your job: You do not. Cal is for certain purposes as good as dead. If and when Mark (or others) assign you a task that depends on Cal's information, you should tell them you can not do it and why. Then it becomes their problem. One workaround they might suggest is a relaxation of the no-contact with Cal policy, but Cal would no longer be on the payroll and might not be receptive to requests. These are not your problem.

  2. Cal has certain things you need outside of your job (e.g., you loaned Cal your skateboard and you want it back). You go ahead and ignore the directive and get what you need from Cal. I suppose you could ask the company to compensate you the value of the skateboard, but I would not bother.


So, for a company to fire someone immediately and have two security guards there to escort likely means more than just a poor job performance. I have been working with someone and they decided to bring a sword into work to show it off...also have been working with someone and they were psychologically unstable and scary violent, but kept secret. There are a lot of people that have issues which don't present themselves readily to the general public. It's not usually acceptable to the general populace to have issues visible even though everyone does to one extent or another.

That being said you need to keep your head down and not contact unless it's completely unrelated to work. If they ask about work, you can say that M specifically said they couldn't talk about work with them for any reason and that the other person needs to contact Mark for any info. There have been cases of killings from fired employees before that had mental/emotional stability issues and revisited the employer with a weapon.

I really hope it's just a case that Mark has issues and likes to power trip, but you need to be careful and go by what Mark says unless it's completely unrelated to work. It might be that M is actually trying to protect everyone at work from some traumatic event. Usually if this is the case Mark can't legally disclose the nature of the situation anyway, only the no contact policy.

As far as the information Cal has that is Mark's responsibility to get it. If you don't have it you can't do the job, just make Mark aware and let them deal with it.

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    I told you not to tell anybody about that sword. :D Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 14:46
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    Security guards are fairly common in firings, it looks bad and makes people offended, but usually means nothing-- just typical over-reaction from HR considering worst-case-scenarios regardless of the reality of the situation.
    – teego1967
    Commented Aug 5, 2017 at 16:04

Q:Is Mark within his rights as a manager to tell us we aren't allowed to contact Cal in any way? (When asked, Mark said personal and professional contact was not allowed) Ans./Opinion: I'm pretty sure Mark IS within his rights in THIS situation. Because he IS Dealing with an issue directly relating to the Company you are working for. (If you have your own or can access a "Company Policy Manual" it may explain what the procedure is & would you get terminated if they find out you had contact before Mark did & why.)

Q: Cal has certain things we need to know -- passwords to systems, and so on -- but we aren't allowed to ask for those. How can we effectively get that information from him?

Ans./Opin.: If you need the certain info. that YOU need to get your job done then, Definitely go to Mark & let him know what exactly you need to get from Cal. He may already have what you need to know. But if Cal is the only person that has that info. then I would ask Mark if you & he could go into his office and you could call Cal, Just to ask him for the info that you need to get the job done.

If you talk to Mark about calling so you can call to get info from Cal, This would be the best way I would ask my manager, I would be more likely to agree to another employee calling if I were in Mark's situation ...

(*** IT'S IMPORTANT to explain to Mark that YOU WANT HIM RIGHT THERE with you during the call so there is NO confusion of what is said. Also ask Mark what you should say or do if by chance Cal asks if anyone has said anything about him being sick or gone. This way you get your info & Your job isn't at risk like it would be if you risked any contact BEFORE Mark did)

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    The ONLY exceptions that Mark can't use to fire you if you have ANY contact with Cal is: A-) If you are in a relationship with him/her. B-) he's/she's your roommate. Unless you live in "A right to work" state, Then they can fire anyone for any reason at all as long as it doesn't fall under the "Discrimination" laws. Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 18:48
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    Technically in Right to work states, there are still reasons for firing that cannot be used, but what you do is not state a reason for firing in those states. As long as you do not state a reason, then you can fire anyone in right to work states. Once you state a reason, then regular labor laws concerning firing apply.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 19:11
  • Right-to-work means that you can't be forced to join a union to get a job You mean at-will employment. Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 18:26

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