Is my workplace warning for texting my boss's private phone at night justified?

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    I am a computer programmer for a county in Texas.

    One Saturday night, while at home, I had an idea about a deployment problem and I texted my Boss several times also about issues and attitudes about someone at work that I felt had been very arrogant with me. I was at home, using my own phone and texting his private phone. On the following Monday he wrote me up for texting him after 10:00 pm, saying it seemed ‘out of character’. I asked him in the interview with a witness (not from HR but serving as such) if he was offended by what I had said. He said no, he was not. He was ‘concerned’.

    Question: Can I be written up with a Company warning for my private communication outside of the workplace. Does he have the right to give my private communication to HR? Should he have just communicated his displeasure with me in private?

    • user58050

      Your boss’s concern is that you have demonstrated a lack of respect for and discernment of boundaries – in this case, you violated your direct supervisor’s personal space(personal cell phone) and personal time, for issues that could have waited and were clearly not emergencies.
      This is not an issue of the data content nor the intent of your communication. The issue is about the judgement processes you used about how and when to communicate. There is some obvious concern about how you were able rationalize this decision path. Your choices were seen as inappropriate.
      I’m assuming you’ve signed various Non-Disclosure-Agreements. Your boss is likely worried that you’ll violate some NDA because you find it convenient to accomplish some peripheral task. You need to wake up and watch out for such slippery slopes. You have been put in a position of trust. You need to reread all of your NDAs and make sure you understand all of the implications. Time to grow up and be responsible and accountable.

    • Sascha

      Personal/private mobile numbers which are read on the weekend or will disturb anybodies dinner or family life are only for emergencies, which require immediate attention.

      Using these for anything which can wait is nonprofessional. Using these for indicating how important your concern about your coworker is, is plainly inappropriate.

      For your own sake, seek an advisors help.

    • Stephan Branczyk

      Should he have just communicated his displeasure with me in private?

      No, he precisely did the right thing. He got HR involved, so that if this kind of thing happened again, he’d have the grounds to fire you.

      This is the surest way to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.

      Can I be written up with a Company warning for my private communication outside of the workplace. Does he have the right to give my private communication to HR?

      Yes, and a resounding yes!

      Your private communication? It’s no longer yours if you sent it to him. He made no such promises, implied or otherwise. Besides, these texts were unsolicited, a breach of personal boundaries, and work-related. He did nothing wrong by sharing them with HR.

      Your manager is not getting paid to handle your work complaints outside of work (after 10 PM!), let alone a juvenile complaint about a co-worker and the incoherent drunken texting that must have inevitably come with it.

      Tell us. Did the drunk you know you were violating the boundaries of your manager when you texted him? If you knew you were doing something wrong and did it anyway, what’s the point of scolding you privately? You’d just end up doing the same thing over the next time you happen to get drunk. This way with HR involved, the issue is handled and you’ve been warned.

      If you get drunk again, the drunken you will know in no uncertain terms what will happen to your job if you decide to cross those boundaries again.

    • Anthony X

      Excluding purely social matters, communications with other employees (boss, peer, subordinate, whatever) outside of office hours should be limited to urgent matters only. Your boss would/should expect to get a “heads up” on active or imminent disasters (public website crashed, weekend batch processing likely to fail, etc.), but anything that can wait until next start-of-business should. That includes interpersonal matters between co-workers.

      If you have issues with a co-worker, by all means, raise it with your boss, just do it in the appropriate way and at the appropriate time. It should be in a face to face meeting with your boss, within business hours, scheduled at the earliest convenience. Your concern needs to be presented calmly, factually, and objectively – don’t rant or vent. Be prepared to accept some accountability for the situation, and/or have some ownership/accountability for the solution, whatever that may be. You are part of a team, and problems have to be solved as a team effort – that applies as much for interpersonal issues as technical ones.

      As discussed in other answers, your boss could likely have seen your Saturday night communication as a liquor-fueled rant, and it won’t reflect well on you.

    • Myra

      I really think you really need to take an assessment of how you handle boundaries with coworkers. They are too loose.

      Question: Can I be written up with a Company warning for my private communication outside of the workplace. Does he have the right to give my private communication to HR? Should he have just communicated his displeasure with me in private?

      Your private communication was inappropriate and yes it could be considered harassment if you do it again. Why would he communicate his displeasure in private? He doesn’t have a personal relationship with you. He kept it above board with integrity and honor. You should be careful about gossiping about co-workers to management. Feeling that someone is arrogant towards you shows that you lack self confidence to not give a care about someone else’s “attitude.”

    • durron597

      This is really about timing. Some sorts of things can wait and some cannot. When you texted him about the deployment problem, was it about a deployment that was going to happen over the weekend and could not wait until Monday? That seems reasonable for out of hours communication.

      The relationship with a coworker thing, however, seems like it certainly could have waited for Monday. Why did you choose to send it on Saturday night? Why did you feel like it was so urgent?

      Everyone needs their personal space, both you and your boss included. I consider direct contact to personal communication vectors (i.e. personal email, personal cell phone) about a work related issue should be reserved for emergency situations only.

      Given the information you’ve included in your OP, it does seem like going to HR with an official writeup seems excessive, unless the content of your communication took a tone to make your boss seemed concerned, such and drunken texts. It’s entirely possible that your boss seemed concerned enough about safety of his workplace from the tone of your texts that he wanted to escalate. I’m not saying he was “correct” – I don’t have enough information – that’s just how it sounds to me.

      Next time, try to evaluate the priority of the communication and reserve out of business hours communication to business critical, time sensitive problems.

    • user58145

      You seem to believe that this interaction outside of the physical office, or outside of working hours, or outside of the office communication system, is somehow not work related. That would be a false assumption. When, where or how doesn’t matter. When you interact with co-workers it is work related.

      The same applies even if the interaction doesn’t include work topics. For example, most companies have rules against mangers having a relationship with an employee. Not only is it a conflict of interest, but it exposes the company to sexual harassment lawsuits.

    • Tam Hartman

      It always seems incredibly unprofessional to me when anyone communicates with me about work unnecessarily after work hours. The only time that this is acceptable in the case of an emergency. People feel obligated to check their texts immediately, and it’s kind of an invasion of personal time to do that. It’s much better to send an email so that your boss can read it at an appropriate hour. If you’ve been written up, it’s a clear and obvious sign that the behavior has to stop. He probably also filed a report to protect himself – if I got caught texting back and forth after 10pm with an employee, the last thing that I would expect anyone to think was that something normal was going on (unless I suppose there’s also a personal relationship, but then why would this guy care if you texted after 10pm?) Either way, he was well within reason, and I wouldn’t communicate at all with him via text after hours at all unless there is an actual emergency. Save it for email, and I would probably get a plugin for your email account that sends off emails at a designated time (I usually send mine at 7:30 AM).

    • StackOverflowed

      I don’t know what your manager’s day is like, but the way it is for me is that I need my downtime and every notification or text I get that’s work related, esp outside of work hours, re-elevates my stress level. I would have been extremely annoyed if I had received those texts. Email (in general) is a perfectly fine medium for these thoughts, and they can be written more coherently. An email doesn’t indicate a level of urgency while a text should be along the lines of: the servers being down, what do I do?

      Just take your licks, and indicate to the manager that you will properly channel your enthusiasm for the job in a better manner.

    • Kilisi

      Suck it up. You were communicating negatively about a work colleague after 10 PM on a Saturday. You’d have gotten a lot worse from me if you had disturbed me at that time and it hadn’t been because the server room was on fire.

      The boss is within his rights to give the texts to HR in their entirety, and you should never make a written communication that you would mind other people seeing, especially if it involves saying detrimental things about someone else. In this case you were badmouthing a colleague and doing it in an inappropriate manner at an inappropriate time.

      Even just pure work related stuff would be bad form at that time uninvited. Better off writing it up while you have the idea and bringing it in on Monday.

    • David Schwartz

      Can I be written up with a Company warning for my private communication outside of the workplace.

      This wasn’t outside the workplace. You were contacting your boss because he’s your boss to talk to him about work. That’s a workplace communication, and wherever you do it is, at least while you’re doing it, a workplace.

      Does he have the right to give my private communication to HR?

      Yes, if it’s his private communication too. If you didn’t want him to give your private communications to HR, you shouldn’t have given them to him.

      Should he have just communicated his displeasure with me in private?

      That would depend on things about your relationship with your boss that we don’t know and on details about what the consequences are from him bringing this up the way he did. You might want to try reading those messages over a few times and trying to figure out why they made your boss concerned. Perhaps you didn’t say quite what you think you said or perhaps there was a misunderstanding.

    • Raoul Mensink

      Does he have the right to give my private communication to HR?

      Yes, why not? It is also his private communication. He is by no law obliged to not release info he received in private. You might as well send your concerns to him on Twitter or Facebook.

      Though, as you described it, he seems to have overreacted.

      Should he have just communicated his displeasure with me in Private?

      Might have been smarter on his side. Though I can imagine he feels that you should’ve handled such matters at work in private or at least using work communication methods.

      Is my workplace warning justified?

      Coming back to your title. A warning is just a warning, learn from it don’t fight it.
      If and only if it was really unjustified someone will fight it for you.

    • Zibbobz

      While I can understand your enthusiasm for resolving your workplace issues, bringing it up to your boss’s private text messaging service on his cell phone was entirely inappropriate – to say nothing of badmouthing another employee on the same text line.

      You are working in an IT profession, and information about your product is sensitive data, whether you think it is or not. That includes problems and resolutions to those problems. Information like this should be transferred via a secure medium, like your work email, rather than through personal texts.

      These messages you sent to your boss now belong to him – they appeared on his cell phone after all – and he can indeed present them to HR if he so wishes. Be glad that you’re only getting a warning for this type of conduct rather than dismissed entirely – exchanging sensitive work information like this is extremely dangerous.

      That’s not even bringing up the personal complaints about a co-worker, which should be addressed to your boss in-person or by work email even if you are not an IT professional, and only if you have already made an effort to resolve this personal conflict with your co-worker already.

      The absolute best thing you can do in this situation is accept that you made a mistake, apologize for it, promise not to ever do anything like it again in the future, and then never do anything like that again in the future. That’s the entire point of a warning, and if you ignore it or dismiss it, you’ll be in more trouble than you already are. Accepting responsibility for mistakes made involving your workplace (including off-hours work-related communication) is a part of everyone’s work cycle, and you must learn to own up to mistakes.


      In short: A write-up for this kind of behavior is entirely justified, your boss does have the right to show the contents of your text to HR, and you should accept responsibility for this blunder and move on.

    • OperationsManager

      Timing is everything. If you have a great idea, email it to your boss from your work account to his. If he is checking and responding to work emails on a Saturday at 10 then he is engaged. If it is his weekend and he is off, he will discuss it Monday.

      With regards to employee concerns and complaints, it never looks good for you to complain about an employee to your boss outside of a meeting at work. Even then, it should be approached as rational and work related. He or she is having trouble with the workload, can I help? He/she seems distracted, there are a lot of errors… If you personally attack them it only looks bad on you. Saturday night via text? Looks like an inebriated rant… He was right to involve HR if that’s not how you normally communicate.

      You messed up, depending on your boss, I would apologize and then get to work. Hopefully he hasn’t written you off…

    • user58036

      It depends on the culture of the organisation, and your relationship to the person you texted – is this someone who sees you only as a colleague, or are you also good friends?

      The bottom line is that almost nobody would want to be contacted about a work matter (unless it was an emergency) at the time you sent the message. The key question you haven’t addressed is why you couldn’t arrange a meeting on Monday (or the earliest that was mutually convenient) to discuss the matter?

      I think a warning is quite severe for this as it’s not really an “offence”. However, the subject matter is work related and involves individual(s) at your company. So the recipient is entirely justified in referencing your communication. As an example: if you sent an email to your boss using your private account, but said you hated a client the company had, do you really think they would just ignore that? They can’t really, because it will clearly have some connotations or impact in the work environment.

      Bottom line – don’t discuss work matters outside hours; Arrange a meeting at a mutually convenient time and discuss them during your hours.

    • NoAnswer

      Actually, if I would be your boss, I’d have approached you Monday morning about it something like this:

      “Did you have a nice Saturday evening party?”
      – (Whatever you would say, I’d accept it as possibly a white lie to try and save face.)
      “In case you don’t remember, you texted me after 10 PM. Do you want to revoke the content of your messages?”
      – (Noting your reply.)
      “By the way, never get drunk and start texting me. I don’t think this is funny. That was your one and only free card regarding this. If this happens again, it will be a formal warning.”

      Your boss seems to have got the same impression but different approach to tackle it. Read the following again:

      • “out of character”
      • “concerned”

      He probably thinks you got drunk, although he appreciates that you usually don’t. He’s concerned you got drunk over problems that might affect your work or that drinking might become such a problem.

      Obviously, I’m not your boss. I’m a software developer myself. So I do know there are nerds about in the field. I’m one of them. For the rest of the populace “got drunk” is the more likely explanation of what you did. This goes for both the receiving side (they’ll assume you got drunk) as well as the acting side (they won’t text colleagues about work at that time unless they got drunk).

      With this assumption in mind, the warning was justified. Don’t fight it. It’ll look so much more like it’ll become a problem, if you start the clichĂ© sentences “I wasn’t drunk.”, “I don’t have a problem.” or “I can stop whenever I want.”. I’m not saying, I don’t believe you. I’m saying your boss won’t or at least might not.

      Apologize for the interruption of his leisure time. If you can’t drop your complains, repeat them only in

      • as objective argumentation as you can
      • a few weeks from the incident
      • a more serious context without alluding to what has happened
      • working hours!