I have come across some information at work and I don’t know what I should do about it. Please help!

I work in a sales environment. I have been there for over one year now and I love all of the people for the exception of the one person I work for most directly — I will refer to her as Andrea from here on. She is loud, obnoxious, dresses far too casually, and lies about every single thing that she does, yet still seems to be the apple of upper management’s eye no matter how badly she errors or how much money she costs the company.

I was searching online last week to make sure a popular search engine would direct visitors searching our names to our company website. While searching, I came across some information about my co-worker’s past. It was not something I was looking for or something that I ever would have imagined that I would find. The websites that I found were public websites containing detailed information about her prior arrests and convictions of drug trafficking, drug possession (crack cocaine), and carrying illegal tools (i.e. a crack pipe). I have verified this information to be absolutely accurate and is definitely related to Andrea without any doubt whatsoever.

I have not told a single person at work about this information because I assumed that she disclosed this information on her application for employment. However, I was able to view her application (which I was allowed to do for reasons not relating to this incident) and it was not disclosed.

Here is my dilemma: I am worried as to whether or not I should bring this information to the management’s attention. I do not want her to get in trouble or lose her job even though I do not like her. Everyone makes mistakes in their past (and this was ten years ago) and I truly don’t think that she deserves to have all this brought up again after she’s started a new career (she lost her last job and ended up in the news about it because of the nature of her previous career path), but I am worried from a liability standpoint. What if she is still consuming illegal substances and ends up injuring someone at work because she cannot control herself (or her driving, which is a huge part of what she does every day) in a particular situation? One other person at work found out about this information within one day of when I found out about it because we were both checking to see if our names were directing people to our website through a popular search engine. This person brought it to my attention but we did not discuss any of the details because I did not feel that this was appropriate, but now it is known that I, too, have this information.

If I bring this to the attention of management I do not want them to think that I am bringing this up to damage her reputation or get her fired. It is well known that we do not like each other and that we work together only for the better of the company. I simply want to do the right thing but I’m not sure what that is. I could be making this into a huge deal over nothing and perhaps the best thing to do would be to keep the information to myself. Our company policy is that we do not hire people who have prior criminal backgrounds due to the nature of the business. She signed waiver forms to have a complete background check, police report check, credit check, fingerprint scan through a national database, and a drug pre-screening (four years ago), but obviously something was overlooked somewhere. Please share your thoughts on this situation. Your guidance is appreciated.

You know, I’d really like to believe that you are altruistic and only have the company’s best interest at heart.

But, I don’t. Not for a second. You don’t like Andrea, and dollars to donuts, neither does your co-worker who also found out about Andrea’s past.. (What on earth does googling your company name have to do with googling all your co-workers? Not saying you can’t do that, but puh-lease. Don’t try to pass off your “what’s our Google ranking” with “I wonder what I can find out about Andrea.”)

You found out some nasty stuff and have “authenticated it.” (How? Asking her? DNA samples? Just wondering.) And further more, I’m trying to figure out how on earth you got access to her application file? I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve needed to reference someone’s application and I’m HR. I can’t figure out what information a salesperson would need from her co-worker’s application. I can’t come up with a legitimate reason. (I’m sure someone has one, I just can’t think of one.)

If Googling your co-worker’s names was a legitimate assignment, then you would have written up a report summarizing your findings. Then it would be allowable to say, “When you Google Andrea + Company name you get police records for someone with the same name. When you google John + Company name you get a link to “who we are” page on the company website. When you Google Katie + Company name you get a link to a weight loss forum.” If the offense is ten years out (and I know there wasn’t anything more recent because I know you tried to find more dirt), then they probably couldn’t have even considered it when they hired her. Sure, the lying on the application part is reason not to hire someone, but they did and I don’t care how you authenticated the information, unless your brother was her actual crack dealer you didn’t authenticate it.

You will be the person who looks bad. Andrea will look like the victim.

Leave it alone. Do not discuss this with your fellow dirt digger. Get back to work and stop surfing the web. If this information comes to light and someone comes to you and says, “how come you didn’t tell us about Andrea!?!?!?!?” you can simply reply, “Our company policy is to run a background check on everyone before they are hired. I assumed that management was aware of this information. Additionally, Andrea’s past is not relevant to her current performance.”

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34 thoughts on “Past Transgressions

  1. Wow! This was one of the best advise from you EVER! I’ve been following your blog for quite some time now. But never got provoked enough to comment!

    This one does that…Hats off to you!

  2. Nicely said. I noted that there was nothing in the question indicating how successful a sales person Andrea was. If she is a good salesperson, that would explain her good reputation with upper management. Other than the alleged criminal history, she sounds like quite a few salespeople I have known!

  3. I had the same thought as I was reading this — that the letter writer was just googling the coworker to look for dirt, not for a legitimate assignment.

    I think she may really believe that her concern is for the company, but that’s because many people delude themselves into believing whatever rationalization is convenient. Her sanctimony is not attractive.

  4. I find it hard (actually impossible) to believe that with such a thorough background check this information wouldn’t have come out if it was truly the same person. There is always more than one person out there with the same name.

    Great advice to drop this one.

  5. If the arrest was 10 years old:

    “they probably couldn’t have even considered it when they hired her.”

    Is this correct? A firm cannot consider information from 10 years ago to make a hiring decision?

    What’s the line for wiping out all past transgressions?

  6. Anon 3:59, there isn’t a magic window, but as a general rule (your state and mileage may vary and i’m not a lawyer and I don’t give legal advise AT ALL) you can only consider convictions if they relate to the job. You’re going to be hard pressed to argue that a 10 year old drug paraphenalia conviction with no further problems is related to the job at hand. If you’re selling narcotics, then yes, you probably can say it’s a valid reason.

    Of course, there are a million reasons not to hire anyone and so having a conviction will hurt you regardless of whether it’s related to the job at hand.

    If it’s truly Andrea and she didn’t disclose on her application they certainly can fire her for her dishonesty. But, our original poster is not going to win kudos for bringing it up.

  7. WOW. My first reaction was: EHL really let’er rip. No mercy whatsoever. But then after thinking it through and reading the other comments, I’d have to say you were right on. Sounds like you’ve had to deal with this kind of thing before. Love your blog. Never commented before. Keep up the good work!

  8. Good response.

    Even if the advice-seeker had been able to construct some sort of valid work-related reason for her to be Googling Andrea, she blew it with her opening paragraphs. By starting out with a list of Andrea’s supposed sins, she might as well have put up a big neon sign that said, VALIDATE MY DISLIKE FOR ANDREA AND MY HOPES OF GETTING HER FIRED, EHRL!

  9. In Wisconsin, state law makes it very difficult to consider a drug conviction even if it ISN’T 10 years old. State laws vary widely in terms of what can and cannot be part of the employment decision.

    I also find it to be a big stretch to believe that Andrea’s criminal record was so easily accessible that you found it while Googling THE COMPANY, but the background check provider missed it. Especially since it made the news.

    I actually think that having a disgruntled frenemy accessing personnel files is a way bigger problem than having a former drug user. But whatever.

  10. EHRL- I give you the standing ovation! You are right on target with this stern advice. Like Kerry, I agree that it’s just as concerning that this employee is now accessing personnel information about her supervisor. I have been in HR for 15 years and never been in any situation where that was expected, part of the job, or allowed.
    Great post!

  11. Damn, EHRL, that was an incredible response. You should do this for a living! 😉

  12. This is spot on!

    Though, I do wonder, had she not started off saying how she doesn’t like this co-worker, would the advice have been any different?

  13. “Andrea” is most likely the “apple of upper management’s eye” because she concentrates on her job rather than on how her co-workers talk, dress, etc; or its because she doesn’t spend her time at work digging up dirt on co-workers.

    I once had a boss (whom I loved!) used to say to people like the original letter writer – “you worry about doing your own job, I’ll worry about others – that’s why they pay me to be the boss”

  14. @llamaface – I would give the same advice. What does her past offenses have anything to do with her current performance? If she happens to be a terrible employee, then you manage them out, regardless of past. If she’s rockin’ it, then that’s why she’s there in the first place, right?

    Plain and simple – the coworker is not responsible for the hiring, so this person would not be held accountable for information relating to a coworker’s past history.

  15. Well, it matters little, but from the drug screening timing (4 yrs) that makes the whole “that was 10 years ago!” discussion into (at time of hire) a “5ish years ago I had a crack pipe in my purse and got stuck for trafficking but didn’t to time” discussion. Which might go over differently.

    Agree with most in here, this was a blatant fishing expedition on Asker’s part. A long letter is indicative of persuasion and the need to be validated. So if I tell you my side more completely, then you’ll naturally agree with me.

    I am going to assume, rightly I think, that Andrea is in fact the druggie found on The Interwebs. The Asker probably went to great pains to know whether her gun was loaded or not.

    I differ on the idea that this will reflect badly on the informant. If it’s a big enough company, a lack of scruples and a few anonymous emails to the Honchos with links included would fix Andrea’s wagon nicely. Immoral? Sure. Possible? Yes.

  16. There is also the possibility that the company knew about her history and chose to help her rehabilitate herself. I am not an HR professional nor a lawyer, but I have been a supervisor/hiring official and there have been times when there was a concious decision to take on someone with past problems. Indeed, one of the most dedicated people I have ever worked with was a man who was arrested for car theft as a teenager. His future employer gave him a chance — and he’s still there, giving it all he’s got, more than 30 years later.

    If this is a similar case, then this busy-body behavior will earn this “concerned coworker” some jaundiced scrutiny of her own character.

    Once someone has served their time, there must be some possibility of rehabilitation. If not, we might as well put people away forever.

  17. Great advice. I concur with the commentators as well. NYS law makes it difficult to discriminate against individuals with prior convictions. In addition my own place of employment hires many people with criminal backgrounds. The past is the past.

    I’m not sure why you would look at her application. Or why you would feel the need to look at her application after finding out this information to see if she disclosed. That is not your business.

  18. Under the Fair Credit and Reporting Act (FCRA) any criminal background that is older than 7 years can’t but used in hiring decisions unless the person will be above a certain income bracket which does not include comissions. That is the federal level guideline, some states are even more strict than that. If the company used a credible background screening company, they may not have had access to the information.

  19. From reading the comments, I find that there is a lot of misinformation out there with respect to background checks.

    1) Some background check companies only do searches using online databases, they do not go physically into the coutrhouse. Usually courts are so swamped that most states have a year or two lag time between the date of the conviction and the uploading of the data which means these crimes can be left out of any online search.
    2) Background checks are driven by name and date of birth (because there are so many SSN thefts). I once had a candidate write his birthdate off by one day. Only 1 of the 3 background check services we use acutally found his EXTENSIVE criminal background of theft and stealing from previous employers. Verify this information on the ID every time with all new hire paperwork.
    3) We ask the person if they have EVER been convicted of a crime. If the crime disclosed is more then 7 years old we don't even consider it as part of the application process. If they do not disclose any and all crimes we immediately terminate because of dishonesty. We do use one source that will look into a persons background all the way to age 18.

    I think our background checks are a little intense compared to most businesses but we send our our drivers into cutomers homes and want to make sure that they are not vunerable to dangerous people.

  20. Answer me this oh wise one….. my wife did a background check on me before marrying me… is this considered an offense of the grandest measure? I just now found out about it and she now knows of my geeky period… (no comments please) and my buck teeth. I'm a bit embarrassed but is this grounds for divorce? 🙂

  21. What a joy to read your reply! It's perfect — but you know you would not really talk to someone at work like this. Yes, this is what HR gets to deal with sometimes and why YOU are so evil. Too funny.

  22. I am catching up on my favorite blogs and just read this post. I think your advice was spot on. I did find it interesting, however, that several responders assumed the writer was a woman. I re-read the post several times to see if gender was indicated but if it is, I missed it.

    Since it is still typical in our society to use he/him as the gender default, I am wondering why the assumption of a female?

  23. Camilla,

    The writer was female, but you're right–there's no indication of that in the e-mail. I know because I know her real name.

    I do have to say, I've never known a man who would do the same thing. A man would be more likely to go, "Dude, you smoked crack! You are so fired."

    Or course, that's a generalization as well. YMMV

  24. Your advice is not strong enough. This is a hornet's nest for the busybody.

    I would like to add another perspective. If management were to be apprised of this information and then chose to terminate "Andrea's" employment, then the company, management and the original author would all be liable for damages and lost wages for firing without cause along with any punitive damages.

    Why? Any or all of the following reasons could apply:

    **difficulty to determine that these are the same individuals (you need fingerprints, access to police databases and even then for identical twins, the only way to determine who did what when is an admittance under oath).

    ** the accuracy of the media or internet reports of the alleged offence (there is no threshold test to ensure that the truth and only the truth gets published)

    ** the final investigators report (there may have been insufficient evidence to lay charges, "Andrea" may have tried to protect someone else, and other factors)

    ** the court decision (first time offender may have been given probation if completed rehab, Judge 's discretion)

    ** the age of "Andrea" at time of conviction

    ** finally, after 7 years of good behaviour with a clean record, "Andrea" may have had her record expunged

    ** The lack of disclosure on the application is a red herring. Most often interviewees will bring it up in the interview with an example of how they have gotten their life back together again. The employer then will have been informed verbally and would have taken that into consideration when making the offer of employment.

    Leave the hornet's nest alone.

    Who am I? Worked for 17 years for Canada's largest municipal police service.

    I love to read this blog but felt you were not tough on this busybody.

  25. I know I'm late in posting, but I had to comment. EHRL you are 'The BOMB!' Your response was perfect and I think your best post ever. As an HR Director for a small company where everyone knows everyone way better than they should, absolutely no one pulls employee files other than myself or the payroll admin. Asker is asking for trouble and if she put as much effort into her sales as she does into concern about Andrea, she would probably become the apple in upper management's eye. My sympathies lie with Andrea at having to overcome so much animosity every day to just do her job. Thanks for your site!

  26. hats off to EHRL, tell it like it is !
    although most of your regulations are not same as ours still tehre is food for thought
    victoria- Tanzania

  27. Absolutely right! Who wrote this has probably no right to be digging in her colleague past. It’s the HR office task to run a criminal record check on their potential employees if they think that is relevant.

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