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

Ratting on Coworkers

Dear Sue: A few months ago co-worker of mine told me something in confidence, which has put me in a precarious situation. I was told that two employed staff members and someone who was previously employed by our company started their own business on the side.

I have monitored the situation since I was made aware of it, and I am almost certain that their new business is in a related field. I have a hunch that they are using the resources of this company to help get their new business off the ground. These people are well liked and respected, and given lots of freedom. They have access to our software and intellectual property, and I can easily envision them utilizing these resources either before or after hours as they are without supervision.

Knowing what I know has been particularly difficult for me since I am the marketing person for our company. When I sense someone is “not on our team” anymore, I am reluctant to share information with them, and have been more cautious with everyone as a result. In addition, I have issued some new policies and directives which is confusing for some people. As a result, I feel that some of my relationships are being damaged with other co-workers.

I don't want to be a "rat" or betray a confidence, but I also don't want the company to suffer; the business climate already has made business tough enough. Do I tell my supervisor? What do you think I should do?

- Confidant

Sue Says: Before you do anything, you need to make sure you are dealing with true facts and not rumors. How reliable is the source of your information? Information that circulate through the grapevine often is based in truth, but the more its passed around, the further it strays further from the truth.

How can you be certain about the conclusions you have drawn from your own hunches and assumptions? While you should be concerned, you have no evidence of wrongdoing or reason to believe that these people are betraying your trust or harming the company in any way.

Before you rush to tell your supervisor, take some time to gather more information. Have you considered approaching either of the two employees you suspect are involved to ask them if what you have heard is true? They could surprise you by being open and honest about their new business venture. If they were trying to obtain privileged information as you suspect, once they realize their business is no longer a secret, they may fear being caught. That knowledge could be enough to stop them. If you talk with them and still have reason for concern, you may decide to inform your supervisor.

Your dedication to the company is admirable, but don’t let it get in the way of your relationships. Be cautious, but don’t build a wall around yourself. Gather the facts, and once you are confident in your knowledge, you will be more confident in knowing what to do.

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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