Employee should keep quiet about health info gossip

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Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a career coach and the founder of the leading career site www.workitdaily.com. Dale Dauten is founder of The Innovators’ Lab and author of a novel about H.R., “The Weary Optimist.”

Dear J.T. & Dale: My boss and his family go to the same church that I do. One day after Sunday Mass, I overheard some other parishioners talking about him and some health issues that he was experiencing. I know that my company knows nothing about these health issues, and they’re pretty serious — they could impact his decision-making and could hurt the company and our livelihood. Do you think I should send an anonymous note to HR about the situation? I’d hate for something to happen and then they find out that I knew about it. — Cassie

J.T.: I would take a look at your employee handbook.

DALE: The employee handbook? This is not a bureaucratic conundrum; this is a clear matter of gossip versus privacy.

J.T.: Not so fast. I mention the employee handbook, because there could be something specific in there that requires you to share this kind of information. If so, then I could see you going ahead and sending in a note to HR anonymously. However, if there’s nothing there, then you should say nothing. His health is his business, and he clearly used his church community as a safe space to share what he’s facing. If he wanted work to know, he would have told them. It’s truly his responsibility. So, for now, I would just be as supportive as you can in the workplace but not say a word.

DALE: Even if your employee handbook says otherwise, I think the fine, bigger thing is to say nothing. Remember that we, as a society, made the decision that health information is so personal, so private, that we have laws protecting it (as with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, passed in 1996). And while HIPPA doesn’t directly apply to employers, the logic of it applies to everyone. And even though you can’t unring the bell, you can refuse to gossip and instead watch for ways you could be of help to your boss.

Dear J.T. & Dale: I started a side hustle in the pandemic that’s doing really well. One of my good friends keeps telling me that she wants to help me. I am pretty overwhelmed and could use extra help, and she’s enthusiastic, but I’m worried if something goes wrong with me as her boss that it could ruin our friendship. What do you advise? — Noah

DALE: I think you are wise to have doubts. I’ve had marvelous experiences working with partners, but no such luck with friends as employees. There’s a role disconnect that gets in the way, and it hurts both relationships. Moreover, it hurts in surprising ways: As good old Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Anybody can sympathize with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathize with a friend’s success.” The point here is this: Your friend will want to know more and be more than an employee, especially in good times, and that will be a pebble in someone’s shoe. Even as I say that, I confess that I don’t like my conclusion, and I find myself hoping that J.T. has reason to be more optimistic.

J.T.: Yes, I do. Working with somebody that you’re good friends with can be an absolutely amazing experience — as long as the boundaries are clear. I think you first have to ask yourself: How strong are your communication skills as friends? Have you both worked through some difficult conversations together? Are you able to be honest with one another and not have things fester or build to the point of a blowup? Because if you’ve done that in your current relationship, it’ll likely be easier for you to do it in your working one. Additionally, I think you need to set some clear ground rules about how to bring up things to one another and when to know to call it quits. If you can be really upfront about this and be mindful of it going into the relationship, then it can help make sure that things stay on track.

Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a career coach and the founder of the leading career site www.workitdaily.com. Dale Dauten is founder of The Innovators’ Lab and author of a novel about H.R., “The Weary Optimist.” Please visit them at jtanddale.com, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. (c) 2022 by King Features Syndicate Inc.


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