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Submitted by jbezem on



BLUF: My question - as in the title - is what, if at all, to communicate to the team if one of them, a team member, has been walked out the door for egregious behavior.

Several years ago, I was the deputy development manager for a team of 50 developers. I had a situation where i found a contributor surfing porn during normal working hours.
I immediately addressed his behavior, letting him know that this could not be tolerated whatsoever. I announced that after my imminent vacation I would check his browser logs, and if I would find anything similar, he'd have to go.
I then informed HR about the situation and my reaction, and she fully backed me in this.
On return of vacation, I again informed HR, went to IT (my own department) to request the decryption keys for the relevant logs, and together with a peer (to avoid any risk of being accused myself), evaluated the logs. Needless to say, I found the repetition.
I immediately walked to the team member in question, explained why I was there, asked him to collect his private stuff, and walked him out the door myself immediately.
I then informed HR, who initiated the necessary procedures.

My reaction toward the team: None.
I didn't explicitly address the situation, and when asked, I just said the person had been released of his duties.
Since the member had never been very visible nor popular, not many questions were asked.

But now I started to wonder if I'd reacted correctly. Would it have been better to address the situation head-on at the next team meeting? And how explicit should I have been in such a case?

I sincerely hope that such a situation will never arise again in my career, but then, you never know.

Any thoughts and insights are welcome.

Best regards,



Mark's picture
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I like what you did.  I have recommended it to other managers before.

COULD you have mentioned something in a staff meeting?  Yes, but it's not necessary. I might have recommended you say something, but just think about what you actually COULD say: "Regarding Joe's departure, he was released for violating company policies.  That's all I can say, and I won't answer questions."  It's not much, is it?

You did well.  Nice call.


stephenbooth_uk's picture

 I take it that no other staff were involved (i.e. no-one had made a complaint to you about this member of staff or afterwards came up to you and explicitly asked "Is it cos he surfed Porn sites?").  If there was no-one else involved then that seems fine.

If I may broaden the question out and introduce a degree of hypothetical (although I'm aware of similar situations), how would the action change if another member of staff had made a complaint or subsequently asked if the dismissal was a result of the person surfing porn.

In the former  case (complaint) I think it would be reasonable to confirm that the complaint has been dealt with (which would be obvious anyway),thank them for their assistance and ask them to treat the information with discretion as it would serve no useful purpose to continue bringing it up.

In the latter I'm less sure.  I think my first reaction in that situation would be to evince surprise, say I can't discuss matters relating to another employee and ask how come if they had seen a colleague so blatantly breaching company policies they didn't raise it with the person themselves or bring it to my attention if they didn't feel able to handle it themselves.




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"Start with the customer and work backwards, not with the tools and work forwards" - James Womack


jbezem's picture
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Thanks, Mark!


your assumption is correct: No other person was involved in the discovery itself. I happened to drop into the office containing several cubicles (with 6ft separators), and noticed the screen contents because of hasty motions to cover up.

I myself then involved:

- a peer, to avoid getting tangled myself; him I told everything after asking if that would be OK with him. My intention was to cover myself, since I needed to check those websites myself, and didn't want any accusations coming my way.
- the head of HR, out of necessity and also to make sure my motives were judged to be sound. She was also informed about all details.
- after my vacation, I went to my direct, a SysAdmin from my (IT) department. He was not informed about any details, but I insisted upon his checking with HR that my request for sensitive information (the decryption key for the logs of our proxy server, also containing all other accesses from all other employees) was legitimate and backed by her.

After the confirmation of continued egregious behavior (together with the same peer, again to protect myself), I didn't inform anyone until after walking the person out of the door. My peer will have assumed my course of action, HR was informed only after the fact.
I thanked my SysAdmin, reported success (just that, no details or even names) and asked him to change the passphrase immediately. I definitely assume my SysAdmin will have added events to arrive at the proper conclusion, but there was never a need to ask or answer.

As to your broadening the issue:

I'd make a passing remark in my 1on1 (or another similarly non-public opportunity, if she's not my direct) that the issue has been dealt with, thanking her for bringing it up. Nothing more, no details.
I'd not go as far as to ask for discretion: If they are professional, they will be discrete anyway. If they are not, they may not. Nothing you can do anything about, so not worth the effort. Asking for discretion is only attracting more attention to the issue.

In the case she then explicitly asked, I'd repeat the issue has been dealt with, and I'm not prepared nor allowed to discuss the matter any further.
Accept and endure the inevitable rumors stoically (inevitable, since otherwise she wouldn't have asked; or am I too harsh in this?)

Thanks for your reactions!


Johan Bezem

DHumble's picture

You're not being harsh, but direct and answering the question to the best of your ability.  The fact that the answer is that you can not answer that question IS THE ANSWER TO THE QUESTION.

afmoffa's picture

Going back a ways, when I was managing a high-end retail store, I fired a manager for egregious overuse of employee discounts. I posted a brief memo by our punch-clock:

I fired [Susan] last night for stealing. I feel terrible about the situation. I will be meeting with each of you to make sure we are all clear about how our company handles employee discounts. Susan was our friend yesterday, she is our friend today. Feel free to call her to check on her, but those conversations have to happen on your own cell phones, and they have to happen when you're not in this building. I know Susan is close with some of you, and I'll cover your shifts as best I can if you genuinely feel you need to call her right now.

"Susan" didn't grab all the money in the cash register and flee to Brazil; she just gamed the system slowly and repeatedly to get a lot (A LOT) of goods and services from the company at or below cost. We didn't prosecute and I'm not a lawyer, but I felt confident that the evidence we had (computer records and security camera footage) would be pretty solid. I realized that we'd all become too casual about employee discounts, double-signed receipts, and such. Susan was a former manager who had switched to part-time work before I'd started at the company. She did top-quality work and our customers loved her. Her abrupt departure absent any explanation from me would have been an invitation to rumor and gossip.

Firing a former manager for theft was just the start of a long process at the store of self-reflection and re-dedication to our values and our ethics. It opened my eyes to how I as a manager was potentially harming the career development of my employees by allowing tiny little cheats to go unnoticed or uncorrected. 

This was all years ago.

If "Susan" had been surfing porn at work, I don't know that I would have gone public with the reason for her dismissal, and yet I'm not sure I can articulate the reason why I see that differently. I guess being a thief is a matter of evidence and law, while being sleezy and unprofessional is a matter of opinion and personal taste.