Almost Got Fired

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a mistake that could have gotten resulted in being fired:
My job requires me to run background checks all day on potential employees for the company around the United States. On my lunch hour, I had used my work computer to make a payment for my spouse. It was a court payment that required me to pull up his citation which was a felony. I had taken a picture of it and sent it to my spouse. Accidentally I sent it to a coworker instead. The coworker then shared the picture with my boss, and my boss had said I was taking pictures of people’s backgrounds. I explained that it was a personal and not a background check on anything company related. I apologized that I used the work computer, but said I could prove it was my spouse’s citation and charges.

My boss seemed determined to fire me; however, I was given a second chance. Did she have the right to fire me even if I proved that it was nothing related but a pure coincidence, that it was a mistake and was mixed with what I deal with all day?
Signed, Almost

Dear Almost:
You imply the Workplace Doctors should sympathize with you for having to endure being almost fired. I do sympathize with you; however, I suggest that I can understand why your boss almost fired you even if you explained what happened was a mistake. Why?

Could she have fired you if you used the company computer for the personal purpose? Probably. Did the fact that you filmed your spouse’s felony citation during your lunch break and not an employee’s photo mean you had done no wrong? Probably not. It was no mistake that you used the company computer for a personal purpose, regardless of whether it was against the company policy to not photograph employees’ backgrounds. Was it reasonable for your coworker and boss to not know the photo mistakenly was sent to a coworker? Probably yes.

You are fortunate to be given a second chance and shouldn’t hold a grudge against your boss for almost being fired. Unfortunately, you may harbor a grudge against the coworker who reported on you. Now is not the time to replay in your head that you were or are a victim. You used the company computer for a personal purpose. You made the mistake. Probably it is best that to let the past be past and resolve to prove you are a valuable employee by your good work.

What will you learn from this incident? Three lessons are there for the taking if you will: 1. To not use the company computer for personal purposes without permission. 2. To not tattle to the boss as your coworker did without first confronting that individual to learn what are the facts. 3. To not allow such an incident to sour your relationship with your coworker and your boss. Doing that could escalate into more unhappy coworker-to-coworker and bossed-to-boss relationships.

Can you forgive? Maybe not. Can you see both the action of your coworker and boss as made with good intentions to follow company rules? Maybe not. But hopefully, nevertheless, you can determine to make each workday a bit more pleasant and productive. You can be grateful for a second chance. You can think about ways to help the company cut costs of supplies, energy, and time. You can be a pleasant to work with. You might even be a cheerleader for your boss. You might think that is too much to suggest, but you might ask what you would have done if you were boss before hearing and even after hearing your explanation.

Learning to learn from mistakes and how to cope empathically with mistakes of others and yourself is what can transform mistrust to understanding and to walk in others’ shoes. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.
–William Gorden