Q. I'm scared my co-worker is caught up in something illegal and I'm involved.
Her brother got out of jail a couple of months ago. At first she was really excited and talking about how he'd turned his life around. Then things got tense between them. She said she told him he'd have to move out if he didn't get a job and pay her back some of the money he'd borrowed.
She stopped talking about him and I figured they'd made up. Two weeks ago, she asked me to drop off an envelope with a guy at a video rental store so she wouldn't be late picking up her kids from day care. It was on my way home and I didn't think anything about it until the guy at the store looked at me strangely.
The next day I asked my friend what was in the envelope. She said it was personal. Later that week, she asked me if I'd drop off another envelope. When I asked her "Why?" she got really upset. She said the video store was on my way home, so what was my problem?
I took the second envelope and dropped it by the store. I asked her again this morning what was in the envelopes. At first she wouldn't say, then she said it was something for her brother. This creeps me out. What do I do? Am I innocent given that I didn't know what was in the envelope?
A. Exit this drama. Your friend's brother may have prevailed on her to help him and now she's involved you.
"Step out now," says former-police-chief-turned-workplace-consultant Scott Stender, "while you can. Friends can, and sometimes do, use each other - and it can become overuse."
Stender suggests you assess whether you've "volunteered" or been coerced. "If the latter, you need to decide whether you're OK with the risks and for how long."
Although your friend barked at you when you asked her questions, Stender views your questions as completely reasonable. He urges you to ask more before you agree to anything further. "Each of us needs to actively choose acceptable levels of risk and reward behavior in any relationship. Further, excellent friendships include boundaries and transparency."
"Your friend appears to have involved you in something unpredictable and potentially illegal or dangerous. A true friend wouldn't ask that of you." Stender asks, "Do you want to be a puppet on a string? Do you want to be played? If not, take your strings back."
Finally, while you may simply be running an errand for a friend who doesn't have time to drive by the video store, her response to your questions, your own intuition and her brother's involvement suggest otherwise. If you continue in something illegal, "I don't know" may not be an effective defense. "Don't discount your perceptions and intuition," Stender says, "they function as your early-warning radar."
Finally, your actual innocence and lack of knowledge may not protect you. When Stevie Vigil's "childhood friend" asked her to buy him a gun after his prison release so he could protect himself, he shot a man. On March 3, a Denver federal judge sentenced Vigil to 27 months. Although Vigil's attorney insisted there was "no indication Vigil had known about" the felon's plans and the felon "would have gotten a weapon eventually," Vigil was the "friend" who went along - and ended up culpable.
Last week's column addressed a question from an employee who hoped for a legal solution for dealing with a "jerk" manager with whom she had a shouting match. I explained her best solutions were mediation, getting management to see the problem or voting with her feet. I should have added a paragraph warning her employer that while jerks aren't illegal, and thus the company might not have legal exposure if it didn't deal with the "jerk," the company risked a potentially worse problem: losing valuable employees.
Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow Lynne on Twitter @lynnecurry10 or through www.workplacecoachblog.com
THE WORKPLACEBy LYNNE CURRY