Will I Get In Trouble For Gossiping?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about gossiping: Friday my boss asked me if I was talking to someone about someone that is seeing a married woman.

I recently was accused of gossiping. I work for a commander at an Air Force base and rumors have been going around about one of our co-workers. My work has been stressful for the last year because of 2 squadrons merging. More work has been assigned to me and I have been working my butt off for my boss but have not gotten any award or recognition.

Friday my boss asked me if I was talking to someone about someone that is seeing a married woman. The whole base knows about it and I was the last person to know what is going on with this person. I just want to know if I breached the commander’s policy on what is said in the commander’s office is between us. I told him that I was talking to one person about it that is all. Can he discipline me? He also mentioned that I did something wrong a year ago. Was he right in bringing that up?I have been a government employee for over 15 years and gotten outstanding appraisals and awards at every job. Should I go to the union or my EMR, HR specialist?

Signed, Worried

Dear Worried:

Your primary questions are about whether or not you can get in trouble for talking about an affair that was going on. The most serious of those issues is about whether or not you breached the commander’s policy about what is said in the commander’s office stays there. There is no way for us to know that because it is completely up to your commander, in conjunction with HR policies. However, unless you had been specifically directed to not discuss the matter, I would doubt you will get in trouble for something that sounds fairly basic.

Everyone was talking about the person having an affair and you talked about it too. You told the truth when you were asked about it. If you were told specifically not to every mention it, that would be another situation and for that you might at least be reprimanded, since it was a direct order. But even then it probably wouldn’t be severe unless there was much more to it than that.Your commander also mentioned something that happened a year ago. He might be correct in doing that if the situation was similar. He couldn’t take disciplinary action about it at this late date, but he might have been using it to illustrate that this isn’t the first time he’s been upset.

You can certainly go to your union or HR specialist, and they may be able to advise you better based on your specific situation. I think you’ll feel better about it if you can talk to someone there who understands all the issues.However, from what you say, you haven’t been formally corrected or charged with anything nor told that you will be. So, there may be no reason to go to those people right now. (I don’t blame you for being worried though.) If you’ve worked there for a long time you certainly should know your commander well enough to talk to him and ask him where you stand about this. Tell him you lost sleep over it, were worried all weekend and are still worried.

You can say that you are sorry for all that has happened and you just want to focus on work. Ask him if he has plans to take the matter further or is there a chance you can learn from this and just move forward.You may want to use this as a time to get feedback and ask him the key questions that I often suggest: What am I doing exactly right and you want me to keep doing? What should I do more of? What should I do less of? What do you never want me to do again? Those will give you some clear guidelines.You say that you have been working hard during a time of transition and not receiving awards for it. However, working hard is not necessarily working effectively or efficiently or even correctly. It would be good to find out if your commander is completely happy with the skills you demonstrate in your daily work, even though you may have gotten good evaluations in the past. If you have a job that involves writing, I would be remiss to not tell you that I had to do a lot of editing to correct your letter for publication.

It was difficult to understand and punctuation and capitalizing was missing though out. Even if your job is not involved with a lot of writing, it is bound to involve SOME writing. So, if that is a sample of your writing, it could be that your commander knows you are working hard but isn’t satisfied with the quality of your work.I could be mistaken of course, and there could be other reasons for the problems with your question to us. But, I noticed that immediately and wondered if it was an issue at work.Your commander also may be equally frustrated with the challenges of combining squadrons. He may not be doing so well with his own commander! So, you and perhaps others, are feeling the pressure he is passing along.

This would be a good time for you to take a leadership role in tracking the work that still needs to be done (at least by you), what has been accomplished and if there are ways to make the work go smoother. The Air Force makes a big issue at higher levels about gaining input from all employees. This might be the time to see if that is the case!One thing is for sure: You don’t want to add to your stress by having a conflict with your commander. So, my suggestion that you talk to him could help that situation. It could also help him see that you want to do well. At the same time it might encourage him to tell you if there are things about your work that he believes could be improved. Or, he may realize he is lucky to have someone who has worked hard and not complained about rewards or recognition! All of that will help this relatively minor issue about gossiping, fade into history. It isn’t the first time people have talked about an affair and it won’t be the last. Express your regret and show by your actions that you won’t do that again and that your main goal is to do good work.Best wishes to you. 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.