When should you talk about a person's suspect behavior?

I might wait until I could talk to the person alone but I’m not going to wait two days if someone tells me they witnessed a crime. We’re not talking about jay-walking or swiping a pack of gum.

Well, now you’ve shifted the goalposts from misbehavior or work policy violation to an hypothetical felony crime, which depending on the crime, jurisdiction, and the person’s knowledge of it may require mandatory reporting to legal authorities.


If it wasn’t a criminal matter then I still have to determine the credibility of the claim. I’m not going to advise anyone to go to HR or follow the management chain about a rumor. People’s jobs are at stake even if it’s not a criminal matter. I’m not going to pass along idle talk. If it’s important enough to be concerned about it then I’m going to do what I can to determine the credibility of the claim and act based on that. 99 times out of 100, or even more often I’ll find out quickly that the person I heard from was at passing on something told to them by someone else, or worse making it up themselves. I’d rather they were making it up because that would end the matter.

To me it would be dependent on what was being done, and who was being harmed. There’s also a difference between unethical and criminal.

The reason people who have information about bad behavior don’t speak up is because it is in their interest not to. That may be anything from not getting fired to protecting the business from bad publicity.

In situations involving sexual abuse, there’s a host of excellent reasons victims don’t come forward. More than enough to fill a hundred threads.

I’d go to HR if 1. it was clearly a criminal matter and 2. I felt I had a chance of it being addressed.

Gossip is not often in total alignment with the facts, too.

I would re-phrase this as follows:

Gossip is almost never in total alignment with the facts, although parts of it may be true, but you don’t know which parts.

I’m in HR, and while I no longer handle employee relations issues on a regular basis I used to. At least at my company, an accusation does not automatically do irreparable harm. As a general rule, I assume any employee coming to me with a complaint is doing so in good faith, but sometimes the complaint is either unwarranted or something we can’t corroborate. (I’ve had employees complain their boss was a bully when the bullying was just their boss expecting the employee to do their job.)

If you’re hearing rumors an employee is engaged in beahvior that might harm other employee you should consider speaking to someone in HR or calling an ethics hotline. If there’s a serious allegation made, we’ll look into it.

You might be surprised just how often protecting an employee is the best way to cover the company’s ass. On the other hand, if you’re working for a company where management is perfectly fine with abusing their employees, I’m looking at you Activision-Blizzard, then going to HR isn’t going to do a lick of good.

This comes up rather frequently when it comes to bad behavior. Sometimes employees will endure it for quite a while before someone finally speaks up. I’ll sometimes ask, “Why tell us now?” when an employee makes a complaint about behavior that’s been going on for a while, years sometimes. And one of the most common answer was, “I didn’t want to rock the boat/get anyone in trouble.” Sometimes employees just think their situation is normal and they just need to suck it up.

It’s true. I’m not a priest, so confidentiality isn’t sacrosanct. I’ll do my best to keep confidentiality, but I can’t keep strict confidentiality if you want me to do something about the problem.

If I were to have done this, I’d be lucky to get anyway with just a formal warning, which would include the loss of my quartlery bonus, but I’d expect such a deliberate breach of my professional ethics would result in termination of employement. But then our industry has some pretty strict rules on protecting data in general.

That’s true but is there any alternative? Assuming the only evidence you have is second hand rumors that could never be the basis of a civil or criminal complaint, what else can you do to improve the situation for the victim in anyway except pass the information on to HR?

I mean just because they have the company’s interests at heart, that doesn’t mean the victims and company’s interests don’t align somewhat (it will be bad for the company if there is a record of your complaint but no record of them investigating). Especially compared to doing nothing at all, reporting to HR is a not a terrible option.

*student told Socrates — “Do you know what I heard about your friend?”

Socrates — “Wait, first, Let’s put your words through the three-filter test before speaking about others.”
*First filter,
TRUTH ; are you sure what you’re about to say is true?”

*Student — “No, I just heard it.”

*Socrates — “So you ignore if it’s true. OK, second filter, GOODNESS ; Is it a good idea for you to tell me about my friend?”

*Student — “Not way!”

*Socrates — “So you want to say bad things about my friend, and you’re uncertain if they’re true?” “Now, third filter, USEFULNESS ; Is it necessary for me to know this about my friend?”

*Student — “Not at all.”

*Socrates — “If what you were about to tell me was neither true, good, nor useful; why did you want to tell me?”

I am not sure if Socrates really said this- or if he really existed.

There’s a flaw in “Socrates’” logic. If the nugget is not true (for the sake of argument) it can neither be good nor useful to pass it along. The recipient of the nugget won’t benefit from knowledge, because no knowledge is being passed on. So the second and third tests are only relevant if the nugget passes the first test.

“In the immortal words of Socrates…I drank what?”


I certainly agree that there’s no point in passing on information that is not true, good, and useful. I think most people would agree with those standards (even if they don’t always follow them).

But what about the gray areas? Should you pass on information that would be very useful if you’re not certain it’s true?

Socrates definitely existed. Plato did not record any Socratic dialog like the one above, pretty sure it’s more like an internet meme: “is it true, is it kind, is it useful?” is how it is usually presented.

If the “bad acts” are the person not washing their hands after using the work restroom, it might be best to let it be. Just avoid whatever they bring to office potlucks.

If they’re absconding with materials that could be used in bomb-building, going public is a good idea.

Lots of gray areas in between.

True, And apparently Socrates never said it-

However, other ancient Philosophers apparently said something similar.

If it is not hurtful, maybe. Like for instance you knew of a person who bragged about committing a crime. Maybe an anonymous tip to the police might be in order.

Sure, but Plato invented Atlantis- and told that fable as fact- and we have nothing Socrates actually wrote. I agree that Socrates almost certainly existed.