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Dear ReWorker,

We have an employee that has been an above-average employee. Yesterday, I learned that her husband was arrested by the FBI as a member of a large drug trafficking ring and money laundering. Our employee ("Jane") works in a position that allows her access to medical patient's financial records (credit cards, bank accounts, etc.). I am struggling with my obligation as it relates to Jane and her privacy and my responsibility to our clients.

Jane has not been charged with any wrongdoing. However, the info to which she accesses every day is highly sensitive. If I tell the executive leadership team about what has recently transpired in Jane's life, experience has shown me that they will suspend/terminate her employment as a 'knee jerk reaction' to her personal situation.

I am torn.

Do I tell the executive team and risk Jane's employment? Do I monitor the situation until something occurs that causes me to be suspicious of Jane's activities? Is it too late then?

Sincerely,

Guilty by Association

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Dear Guilty by Association,

Let me ask a question: When you do background checks on new employees, do you run background checks on their spouses?

I didn't think so.

So, if Jane was a job candidate, not an employee, and she didn't happen to mention that her husband had been arrested, you would never know about it, and you'd give her the job. Why would you not treat her, an established employee with a great track record, the same way?

I know why not. It's scary. If he was doing this (and remember, it's alleged right now anyway), how could she not know about it? Well, people who are dishonest are also dishonest with their spouses.

So, what to do here? Talk with Jane. Offer her sympathy. Can you imagine what a nightmare this is for her? One day, everything is fine. The next, her husband is being hauled off in handcuffs, and the whole town is looking at her like she's a criminal. Jane needs support right now. She may need some extra time off to handle things. You're certainly not required, by law, to give someone time off to deal with her husband's arrest, but it would be the nice thing to do. Remember, Jane is a top performer, and you'd like to keep her.

That said, you shouldn't be completely naive. There's a good chance Jane is 100 percent innocent—after all the FBI investigated and didn't arrest Jane, even though she's married to their target. But, there's a tiny chance she, herself, has some issues. And, add to that, she's now got huge money problems. Defending yourself from criminal charges is expensive, and since this is Jane's husband, the cost will hit Jane.

That does put Jane at a higher risk of giving into temptation. (And why many companies like to run credit checks on people who have access to financial information.) So, run an audit, and have Jane's boss keep an extra eye on things, but otherwise, be supportive.

What do you tell senior management? Precisely what I've said here: We don't run background checks on spouses, so her husband's arrest is irrelevant. We have audits in place, and we ran an extra one on Jane's accounts to make sure everything is going well. And, most importantly, Jane needs our support. Let's ask her what we can do to make her life easier.

Don't give into the temptation to blame her for her husband's mistakes. She's already suffering. If you give her a supportive environment, you lessen the chances of anything bad happening at your company. You want good employees to stick around, so make it a place that supports good employees, regardless of their personal lives.

Your ReWorker,

Suzanne Lucas, Evil HR Lady

Photo: Twenty 20