Ex-employee's computer shows history of stalking

ManagementJune 3, 2012 

Q. Shortly after we terminated "Glenda" for Internet surfing at work, we received an anonymous phone call warning us she planned to sue for wrongful termination.

To prepare for trouble, we pulled up Glenda's internet history. We discovered 194 hits to multiple websites that discuss tracking another person's cellphone using GPS, disguising a voice, "making someone's life a living hell," and changing an outgoing phone number to an incoming fake number on another phone's caller ID.

From Glenda's email logs we learned she'd purchased a prepaid phone in the name of her ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend, that she'd background-checked the girlfriend and the girlfriend's family members and employer and that she'd sent herself text messages, which she forwarded, that portrayed her former boyfriend's girlfriend as a "crazy b----."

During Glenda's time with us, we became close to her former boyfriend. Last week he told us all his credit cards stopped working. Should we tell him what we've learned or is there a risk of trouble, given our former employer-employee relationship?

A. Although I ordinarily caution managers to steer clear of employee dramas, your former employee pulled you in by using your computers. If you keep what you've discovered to yourself, you potentially allow her to engage in stalking.

Your next actions depend on what you know about the boyfriend. If he has an explosive temper and erupts after you warn him, you compound the problem. If, however, he's relatively level-headed, let him know what he's up against so he can protect himself from identity theft and harassment. HR consultant and former employment litigator Rick Birdsall adds that you should tell him to turn off his cell phone's GPS so he can't be tracked -- or get a new cellphone and put the old one on a ferry to Seattle.

Q. At our medical clinic, our only male front desk employee, "Jeremy," seems to rub people the wrong way. When nurses or patients let me know what's irritated them, I bring their concerns to Jeremy's attention.

While Jeremy always listens, he generally explains that others took him the wrong way. He often says, "I didn't think it would be so dang complicated to just answer the phone and check in patients." I'd warned him when we hired him that he'd have a steep learning curve. He told us he multi-tasked exceptionally well and upset patients couldn't compare with angry military officers. His confidence sold us on him. We also thought it would be great to have a guy on the front desk team.

This morning Jeremy blew up and said he was getting tired of getting "talked to" by me and the nurses. So how do I fix this?

A. Those who think front desk work is easy haven't tried it. Constant interruptions from ringing phones coupled with patients expecting stellar service and complicated check-in procedures can rattle even those used to medical procedures and terminology.

Jeremy thought he could handle front desk work easily because he'd handled "tougher" situations. This means he now disappoints himself as well as you. Meanwhile, you've talked with him each time you've heard he messed up. That's great -- if you've also spoken with him when he's excelled. If not, he's had an overdose of constructive criticism.

That said, you didn't create these problems, you've simply tried to fix them. But you can't fix them without Jeremy's active involvement. Meet with Jeremy again and tell him all the things he's done right. Next, ask his help in diagnosing what's creating a steady stream of rubs. Does he agree that front desk work requires a learning curve? Does the shift from military protocol to civilian style throw him? Get him to look at what's going on.

If Jeremy expects others to "know how to take him" he's not cut out for front desk work, where true professionals go the extra mile to meet others' needs and expectations every day.


Dr. Lynne Curry is a management-employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Co. Inc. For questions, Curry can be reached at thegrowthcompany.com.

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