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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Email Snooping

Dear Sue: A few weeks ago as I was getting ready to leave work early for a doctor’s appointment one day when I received an email that had to be down loaded. I asked my coworker if she would help me out and she graciously accepted the chore.

Apparently while my coworker was downloading the file, she did some snooping and read some of the other e-mails on my computer. She found an e-mail I wrote my husband that had some negative comments about her in it. She shared the e-mail with others at work and I heard about it from someone.

I would never talk to anyone at work about her and I try to not hurt other people’s feelings. I had no idea she would read it and never intended her to. I feel bad she read it, but I am angry she went through my e-mail and invaded my privacy.

I confessed to my boss about it because I didn't want her find out from my nosey coworker. She seemed fine and basically told me not to worry about it. I learned a valuable lesson and know now not to write personal e-mails at work any more. I will forgive and forget and not mention it to her because I don't want to cause problems for the person who told me about it, but I am not sure if I am handling it the right way. How am I supposed to deal with a nosey, gossiping coworker?

- Invaded

Sue Says: Your coworker was wrong to go through your e-mail, but she is not the only one—your coworkers should have said something or try to stop her from distributing it.

Keeping silent is your choice, but you have every right to say something to her, and might feel better if you do. You don’t have to tell her who told you—you can simply say you heard about it without naming anyone. Your boss and others know, so it isn’t a secret, and people do tend to talk. Besides, she is responsible for what she did, not the person who told you.

You can tell her what you told me, and if you want you can explain the reason for writing about her to your husband. It will help if you tell her you didn’t intend to hurt her and were just letting off steam--you chose to write your husband instead of involving others at work. After all, you thought you were sending a confidential e-mail.

You learned a valuable lesson, and are smart to be cautious and aware of anything you send in an e-mail from work. It’s a good reminder for all of us.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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