What do you do when management violates a confidence?

QA friend recently discovered she was pregnant, but she was only four weeks along and didn't want anyone other than her husband to know. The couple work together at a small company and went to the vice president to say they would need some time off for a few doctor's appointments. The vice president asked my friend if she was pregnant, and she said she was but asked her not to say anything because they were not ready to tell people. Unfortunately, the vice president informed a co-worker. The co-worker proceeded to yell down the hallway that my friend was pregnant. She then went by co-workers' offices, asking them if they knew. Of course, my friend was upset. Because the co-worker had told several people, my friend felt pressured to tell her closer friends. Sadly, this did not end well: My friend recently informed everyone that she had miscarried.

The co-worker spread the news of the pregnancy, but the root of [the problem] lies with the vice president who did not honor my friend's confidence. What should my friend say, if anything, to the vice president?

AEllen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute in New York, said, "I think she has to say something. I would say something nice and then something else. If you say something nice, you can say something negative.

"Assume the best, that she told the co-worker because she was so excited about the pregnancy. I would say, 'I appreciate that you were so enthusiastic about my pregnancy, but given what happened, it makes me worried about telling you things in the future. Part of your job as an executive would be your ability to hold things in confidence when you were explicitly asked to.' I would think it would be sobering."

Galinsky said that "the art of being a manager is to be able to take the perspectives and needs of the employer and employees and look for the common ground. She didn't do that. It doesn't matter why she didn't do that." Upon hearing the request for confidentiality, the VP should have said, "Let me know when I can tell people."

-- Kenneth Bredemeier

E-mail your workplace questions to Kenneth Bredemeier at bredemeier@washpost.com. Discuss workplace issues with him at 11 a.m. Wednesday at www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.