An Awkward Discovery at Work

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Dear Workologist:

I recently received a call from a number I didn't recognize. There was no message, so I Googled the number. One of the search results contained the name of a junior colleague -- on what was evidently a site collecting "customer reviews" of escorts.

I have no desire to see this person's career affected by private activities that don't affect his work -- but I certainly don't want a client Googling around and finding the same thing. I think I have three options. I could tell him and see if he can clean it up, change his number, etc. (We're not friends, and this would certainly be mortifying for all involved.) I could talk to his supervisor (with whom I am friendly). Or I could just pretend that I never found it and tell no one. That's what I've done so far.

Matt, Brooklyn

Clearly, the easy path is the one you're on -- but it's obviously bothering you, and I understand why. That said, you don't have all the facts, and this whole scenario sounds bizarre. I'm certainly no expert on such sites, but the idea that someone would use his real name and phone in that context seems extremely unlikely. Maybe this guy is a victim of some kind of crossed wires. The Internet, after all, is thick with bad information.

Either way, the bigger issue is what to do when you stumble across embarrassing information about a colleague online. Start by asking what you'd want to happen if the situation were reversed: You'd want to know, right? But that doesn't mean a confrontation: You could go to your colleague and simply ask if the number you have in your phone is his. Whatever the answer, you then can neutrally describe your experience: call from strange number; Web search; this guy's name on a site where he might not want it to exist. End the conversation on a note that's blunt about the stakes but that makes it clear that you're trying to help, not get him in trouble or even establish whether what you found is true. "It's crazy what ends up on the Web, and who knows how it gets there, but it might be a good idea to change your number so none of our clients, or anybody else, gets the wrong idea."

You've given him the chance, and the extremely strong motivation, to take care of the problem immediately.

Dear Workologist:

I work for someone with "anger issues." He constantly demeans employees who report to him, and some who do not. Recently he was very angry with me over a perceived slight -- a paperwork misunderstanding -- and told me off in front of a co-worker. Later, he came into my office and picked up where he had left off. I was sitting with my legs crossed, and at one point he demanded that I uncross my legs when speaking with him. When I next saw him, he acted as though nothing had happened.

Should I report this to the human resources department at my company? I could be opening a can of worms that might make it difficult to get another job.

Ed, Los Angeles

If you've daydreamed about writing a pilot for an HBO drama about a terrible workplace, your boss has given you solid-gold material with that leg-crossing thing. That's the good news. The bad news is that if you haven't been daydreaming about some other job, maybe you should, even perhaps somewhere else within the company.

With that in mind, the first step toward addressing this through official channels is to take advantage of your own uncertainty: have an informal conversation with someone in H.R. about ground rules for lodging a complaint. Don't name names, but make the outline of the "hypothetical" problem clear.

If Mr. Anger Issues routinely comports himself in the manner you describe, it will not -- or should not -- be breaking news to H.R. One hopes that the department already has an eye on him, recognizing that a single toxic manager can set off a discontent contagion. That you value your position enough to proceed with caution suggests loyalty that your organization should value; if two or five or seven or more employees are reconsidering that loyalty in the wake of demeaning encounters with one individual -- and wasting company time while obsessing about it -- the math gets pretty easy.

But it's possible that your H.R. department isn't that clever. If the response is a rules-and-regulations wall of indifference, back off and consider your new choices. Stick with a company that's more concerned with bureaucratic niceties than a functional workplace? Or focus on finding a new situation?

Dear Workologist:

My business is about helping inventors, makers and entrepreneurs share the stories of their innovations. After long days studying new products, my team proposed making one of our own. It's a kegerator -- a beer keg/mini-fridge hybrid. Kegerators are nearly de rigueur in many start-ups, and as C.E.O. of a young, hard-working team, I am loath to discourage any off-hours social activity or creative enterprise.

But in our company we have 10 interns, and some are underage. I spend my "off hours" with teenagers and young adults, as I have three sons -- and that is enough parenting for me. Do you think I would be dodging such responsibilities at the office by blessing our Kegerator Krew?

Jules Pieri, Somerville, Mass.

You certainly have no responsibility to add parenting to your C.E.O. duties. But there is that pesky rule-of-law thing: A 20-year-old intern who flunks a breathalyzer shortly after a company-kegerated wind-down from a hard day's work in your offices would definitely be your problem.

That doesn't mean you can't have an office kegerator. But while you are not your employees' parent, you are also not their pal: you're the boss. Laying out the dos and don'ts is your job. The good news is that being a parent is actually helpful: What rules would you expect your sons' employers to have in place in a similar situation? The answer to that hypothetical is exactly what you should do.

Send your workplace conundrums to workologist@nytimes.com, including your name and contact information (even if you want it withheld for publication). The Workologist is a guy with well-intentioned opinions, not a professional career adviser. Letters may be edited.

employment

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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