Would you confront a dishonest coworker?

A dishonest tech lies to his manager to cover up his own negligence. If you were this tech's coworker, what would you do?

Our "What would you do?" column is a forum for expressing your opinions and sharing your experiences in dealing with the softer side of computer support. Every two weeks, I will present a scenario that requires something more than a technical solution. Each situation will be an accurate description of an actual event, with the names and other identifying factors changed to protect the innocent—and sometimes not so innocent.

Before presenting this week’s scenario, here are some of your responses to our previous column and an update on that scenario's resolution.

Get tough with a lazy coworker
In "How would you handle a coworker who shirks her duties?," Lucy bemoaned the fact that her only peer, Ethel, was taking advantage of her unsupervised situation to work less and fudge her timesheet. Lucy had no one to report to and was stuck taking on Ethel’s unfinished work.

Many members expressed frustration at Lucy and Ethel's lack of direct IT management/supervision. Unfortunately, many members also offered solutions that someone with Lucy’s level of responsibility might not be able to enact, as she is the exact peer of Ethel and has no technical management to report to. As hopeless as Lucy’s situation might seem, several readers reported personal experience with similar predicaments, and made the following helpful suggestions:
  • Gently ridicule Ethel into performing her duties; try to embarrass her into carrying her share of the workload.
  • Document all tasks to be performed and who is currently performing them, pass this documentation on to anyone in authority, such as the principal or HR.
  • Make a list of responsibilities and share this with Ethel. Even though Lucy is not officially in a position of authority, she can still attempt to take some control.
  • Member Thernandez suggests Lucy try to make other employees, especially those in positions of authority, aware of Ethel’s tardiness by making casual comments such as "Ethel is gone, I guess she is on her REGULAR bus run."

The general consensus was that Lucy must stop worrying about offending Ethel and do something: “Lucy is worried about Ethel making her work environment miserable if she goes to a higher up.....Forget IT.—Ethel is already making her working environment miserable,” wrote SaraBeAn.

Lucy makes her move
So what has Lucy decided to do? After much deliberation and having read many of your helpful suggestions, Lucy has a plan. She will first begin to document her daily activities. She will then schedule a meeting with her principal and floor VP. During this meeting Lucy will again stress the fact that she is carrying most of the workload, but this time she will present both a fact sheet that outlines her current responsibilities and a list of her daily activities.

Lucy will send a follow-up e-mail containing the results of the meeting to the principal and floor VP. She will also blind carbon copy the head of her technical department—with whom she has spoken previously about the situation but who has no power to do anything about it other than make suggestions. In fact, the technical department head already suggested that Lucy confront Ethel about her laziness, but Lucy doesn’t feel this is a realistic option because Ethel is a very hostile individual. Lucy has spoken with her principal about this, but he put it on the back burner. Lucy believes he knows about the time sheets, but she does not know why he hasn't done anything about it. Lucy will also try very hard not to do Ethel’s job or cover for her anymore, even though this hurts the end users more than anyone else.

"Thanks to all the readers for their helpful suggestions," Lucy wrote, "I have a plan now and, though it may take a while, this may all work out one way or another. I will keep you updated on what happens."

Dishonest tech threatens integrity of IT department
Update: So what really happened?
To learn the outcome of the scenario outlined below and get a recap of the comments and suggestions given by TechRepublic members, click here.

Michael and Vicki are the support techs in an office of approximately eighty users, and they report to the IT manager. In the process of troubleshooting a particularly difficult problem on the CEO’s computer, Michael decides to start from the ground up and rebuild the system. Unfortunately, seconds after initiating FDISK, he realizes that he neglected to make any backups. He checks the log on the backup server to discover that the last successful backup of the CEO’s computer was over a month ago. Michael is in a double bind, as not only did he fail to make a backup of the hard drive before rebuilding the system, but he also happens to be responsible for checking the backup logs on a daily basis and ensuring that any problems are corrected immediately.

In a blind panic he asks Vicki for advice on how to proceed. Vicki states that the only viable course of action is complete honesty, that he must immediately tell the IT manager exactly what happened, apologize for his negligence and mistakes, and offer to do whatever is necessary to correct the problem. Michael appears to accept her advice, but later that day Vicki overhears him telling the IT manager a completely different story, cleverly concocted to exonerate himself of any blame in the situation.

Michael claims that he had only just logged on to the CEO’s notebook when it blue screened, and on reboot it reported that an OS could not be found. He made no mention of initiating an FDISK without first making a backup. He went on to explain that he immediately attempted to restore the most recent backup, from the previous evening, only to discover that the CEO must not have been observing the established practice of storing all data in his My Documents directory, the only workstation folder routinely backed up.

Vicki was astounded and deeply disturbed by Michael’s deceit, but what could, or should, she do? Before making her decision, she made a quick check of the backup logs to discover that they were all mysteriously empty; apparently Michael had been covering his tracks before presenting his case.

If you were Vicki, what would you do?
Knowing the truth, is it your responsibility to make this known to the IT manager? Will he believe you? What if Michael finds out? What do you gain by taking action, and what is lost if you don’t? If you are a support tech who has been in a similar situation, or you have some suggestions that might help Vicki, we want to hear from you.

You can submit your ideas either by e-mail or by posting a discussion item at the end of this column. A week after the publication of a scenario, we'll pull together the most interesting solutions and common themes from the discussion. We will later present them with the situation's actual outcome in a follow-up article. You may continue to add discussion items after the week has elapsed, but to be eligible for inclusion in the follow-up article, your suggestions must be received within a week of the scenario's publication.

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