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Career Q&A: Offensive email is the sender's to fix — or else

Q: A few days ago, while I was away from my desk, a co-worker used my computer to send out a very offensive email under my name. "Hannah" included everyone in our department on this message. When I confronted her, she laughed and said it was just a joke. She refuses to send another email explaining that the offensive message really came from her.

Our company monitors employee email accounts, so Hannah's prank could actually get me in trouble. My boss might be able to help, but I hate to complain to him because I already feel like an outsider here. I am almost 50, while my co-workers are all in their 20s and 30s. What's the best way to handle this?

A: Since there was absolutely nothing funny about this fake email, Hannah must be an immature idiot. Despite your discomfort with reporting her, she should not be allowed to get away with such an unprofessional stunt. But before taking the matter to your boss, give her one last chance to do the right thing.

For example: "Hannah, the email you sent from my computer was extremely inappropriate and could create a lot of problems for me. Unless you agree to send another email explaining what you did, I will have to ask our manager to handle this issue. It's your choice, but you have to decide now."

If your childish co-worker still refuses to cooperate, present the facts to your boss and ask him to either require a retraction from Hannah or send out an explanation himself. Should he also find this amusing, you will know that you are in a truly juvenile environment where you can probably expect more of the same.

Manager seething since the holidays

Q: Ever since the holidays, my manager has seemed angry with me. This is extremely disturbing, because "Sandra" and I have worked well together for four years. In fact, she's the best boss I've ever had.

Before Christmas, I asked Sandra if I could have three days off to spend time with visiting relatives. Company policy prohibits employees from taking vacation in December, because this is our busiest time, but Sandra agreed to make an exception. I was very grateful and expressed my appreciation.

When I returned, Sandra went on a tirade about tasks that I supposedly left unfinished. I was too stunned to defend myself, even though I had actually done the work. The next day, she pitched a fit about something completely trivial.

I kept waiting for Sandra to apologize, but she never did, so I made the mistake of complaining to another manager. Sandra found out, and we got into a heated argument. Now I don't know what to do. Is there any way to fix this?

A: Unfortunately, Sandra is acting like an angry child instead of a professional manager. But since she's the best boss you've ever had, don't let one regrettable incident ruin a four-year relationship.

Despite giving her approval, Sandra apparently resented your making a request that violated company policy and increased her holiday stress. Instead of acknowledging her own mistake, she's punishing you with unwarranted reprimands. Involving another manager just added fuel to the fire.

To encourage a return to normal, demonstrate your maturity by extending an olive branch. For example: "Sandra, we've always had a great relationship, but things have seemed tense ever since the holidays. I feel really bad about this, so I would like to see if we can put everything behind us and start over. Is that okay with you?"

Perhaps this gesture will inspire Sandra to finally offer an apology. But even if she doesn't apologize, reconciliation will be better than continuing this silly spat.

'Evil' co-worker exerting influence

Q: I work with a woman who is truly evil. Her lies and accusations have previously driven four co-workers to quit. Our former boss tried to keep her in line, but he recently passed away. Now I'm afraid she'll start manipulating the manager who replaced him. What can I do about this?

A: To counteract your malicious colleague's influence, you need to develop a strong relationship with your new boss. The more he knows and trusts you, the less likely he is to believe any negative comments. Managers typically give much more weight to their own perceptions than to office gossip.

Career Q&A: Offensive email is the sender's to fix — or else 01/14/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 5:57pm]
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