The Innocent Bystander?

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

I work at an advertising agency and our head designer quit; now they are interviewing new artists for the job.

My boss seems to be leaning towards this guy named Mike, who is very qualified if you look at his resume. However, I used to work at another agency where Mike was asked to leave- it turned out he was not only trying to take clients away behind the agency’s back- he was also having an affair with the president’s wife!

None of this is on his resume or references because he made a deal- “I’ll leave quietly and not mention the affair or any embarrassing personal details I learned from your wife…and you keep your mouth shut about me.”

I don’t believe in telling tales, but Mike wasn’t just a bounder and a cad- he tried to undermine the former agency. My question is:
should I tell my boss what I know? He might check with the last agency and get the run-around because of the embarrassment factor- then I’d look like the bad guy.

What should I do?

Paranoid Pete

Dear Pete,

It’s funny how this same question comes up for adults as well as for kids. In the case of a child, the popular kid on the playground may be selling drugs or bullying someone- should another kid as a witness say something and risk retribution or being ostracized? This is a good universal question, the one of the innocent bystander. Is it ever none of our business?

I don’t believe in absolute rights and wrongs only choices and the consequence of those choices. Let’s examine the consequences of doing nothing. All jobs function like a team or a family; if one employee is bad news and undermines the business or mistreats another employee, it takes away from everyone there.

If you say nothing, your job will become more difficult. If the playground drug dealer or bully is silently condoned, that makes it harder for everyone, including you as a bystander, to be on the playground.

If you don’t have a close rapport with your boss I would find a neutral way to give him the information; then let him decide what to do with it.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: I’ve been in situations like this before and they make me realize why the police promise anonymity to people who turn in criminals. There is no reason that a helpful citizen should be penalized or threatened for helping to keep the rest of us safe.

In this case, you are the helpful citizen and you have a right to remain anonymous. I would slip the information to your boss in such a way that the truth is revealed but you are not caught in the middle.
You do not want this snake in your office. Do what you have to, but let your boss know what he’s letting himself in for.

About Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Dr. Brilliant Cliché and the Granny Dr. are a fictional web presence and advice blog. Together we offer a joint perspective that is deep but not academic, entertaining but not fluff, and educated yet street smart. By joining the internet community we hope to share thoughts and stimulate insightful conversation around pressing issues that affect us all. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. (This is not a site for therapy nor does it intend to replace medical or other professional care. ) You can leave comments here or email The Dr. at and don’t forget to like us on facebook. Our facebook page is Dr. Brilliant Cliche
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One Response to The Innocent Bystander?

  1. Ken Bryant says:

    It is hard sometimes to take a stand because we fear someone may revenge us and then we feel anger if they do because all we’re trying to do is help our company. I think it is important we give the information but keep it anonymous because even if the boss likes me and keeps it confidential, the guilty party may remember who worked at the former company and will deduce that it could have been me. If the guy walks up to me and says: “Are you the one who ratted me out?”, you could say, “if I did, I wouldn’t identify myself.” This way, he doesn’t know if it’s really me for two reasons. First, many people do not identify themselves in these situations and second, no one can trace me to the information.

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