I Found Inappropriate IMs About Me By My Boss!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about Instant Messages by supervisors: There are months worth of logged conversations pertaining to me and my spouse.

I found some instant messaging records at my work in a co-workers computer by accident. I was on her computer with permission trying to find a document I had sent to her earlier. Her computer used to belong to my boss. I opened a file titled “received documents” and started opening files to search for what I was looking for. None of the files in this folder had any specific title. I came across instant messaging records between my boss (male) and his supervisor (female).

Normally when I come across something that does not pertain to me, I will pass it up, but I noticed it said something about my husband and me, and from there I was hooked. In these messages they refer to me specifically as “Boobs”, one asks another if they get to make sexual advances toward me, they also speak very poorly of my husband (who doesn’t work for the company) calling him derogatory names and saying mean things about his origin. There are months worth of logged conversations pertaining to me and my spouse. Other employee’s are spoken of like this also. This is a company that has a strict No Gossip Policy, a strict Moral Code Policy, a strict Code of Conduct, as well as Anti-Harassment and Non-Discrimination Policies. Although, these messages were not intended for me to see, but I have now seen them and it makes my skin crawl to think I am spoken of this way and that they obviously do not respect me as an employee.

The problem is, both of these supervisors are the top dogs in the company and the female supervisor is the person we are supposed to go to with issues like this. The only person for me to go to is the owner which I plan on doing as soon as possible. However, I want to know what I can do if a resolution is not met with him. He is also very good friends with these two people and I am afraid that it will go ignored. What can I do? Do I have any rights?

Signed, Feeling Violated

DearĀ Feeling Violated:

How terrible it must have been to find those messages! I don’t see how any apology or promise to not do it again can wash away the taint of those kind of thoughts and writings.You didn’t mention your previous working relationships with those two, but I can only imagine how you must feel about them now! You say you are going to talk to the owner of the business as soon as possible.

Here are some thoughts to consider:

1. There could be such potential to the nature of the messages and the effect of them on you and others, that I think you should seek a legal opinion about them and about your employee rights.The messages weren’t made public and they didn’t have an effect on your reputation or ability to be employed. However, they may give some clues as to why employment decisions have been made or they may contain other information that is in violation of civil rights under EEOC regulations or your own state’s labor laws.Consider finding an attorney in your area who specializes in employee rights, civil rights, equal opportunity cases and similar issues. Ask for a free phone or in-person consultation. You may need more than that, but at least you might be able to find out what safeguards you have in a situation like this. An attorney may have advice that is different than the following ideas I will suggest. If so, follow the legal advice. But, if you don’t have legal advice, these suggestions may be helpful.

2. It may be important for you to have documentation of why you were searching the computer. If you have emails back and forth from your coworker save those. These may be necessary to remove any concern about your own actions, either by the owner or by the coworker whose computer you had borrowed. You don’t want to be caught up in the same net of wrong-doing that the others are in.

3. Unless you are advised to do otherwise by an attorney, write a letter that you can leave with the owner of the company in which you give an overview of your findings and how you feel about what was in the IMs.You may already have prepared such a document, I just wanted to be sure to remind you to have a transcript of some or all of the messages so the owner can get the full effect of them.

4. One thing you don’t want to do is to talk about it to other employees at this point. For one thing, if the messages about you aren’t known by others, you don’t want to be the one to make them known. For another, if other employees were mentioned, there is no point in making them have the same unpleasant feelings you have, if it isn’t necessary.

5.If the owner does what I consider to be the right thing, this will become a bad experience that is made somewhat better by removing the people who caused it. If the owner doesn’t fire these two and you feel you can’t work around them, you will need to consider if you can continue to work there. This will be a time when you will have to draw on your inner resolution and strength to do your work as well as deal with the mental turmoil this has undoubtedly caused. You may want to ask if you can work from home while this is being looked into by the owner, if that is possible in your business.Best wishes to you through this situation. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.