Advice column: should I drop hints to a colleague whom I know to be facing the axe?

Dear Ash

I have recently been advised by my line manager that one of my colleagues is underperforming and will soon be pushed out of the firm. I was told in confidence after I made clear that I was looking for more challenging work and in response was told that I would not have to wait long before having the opportunity to take the reins from my colleague. However, I am sure that my colleague has no idea what is coming as he recently told me he was buying a new sports car and I doubt he would be embarking on such a purchase if he had any inclination that he was at risk of losing his job. I feel really bad about knowing what is coming and wonder whether I should at least drop some gentle hints to my colleague to warn him against making any such purchases?

Ash replies:

It is not fair on you or indeed your colleague that you were advised of the decision to let him go. It is unclear whether any formal process has been followed in the background with regard to the termination of his appointment but I would not encourage you to make any comments about his spending. Indeed any hint that you know about the matter could cause you to breach confidentiality, and this could put you in hot water with your employer and potentially jeopardise your own position with the company. 

Also if your employer is following the appropriate process then your colleague would already have some indication of his underperformance and may be deciding to throw caution to the wind by buying his sports car.

You are merely a pawn in the sometimes complex world of office politics, and although remaining quiet may not necessarily sit well with your conscience, the fact that you were advised of the position regarding your colleague demonstrates that your manager does at least trust you enough to disclose the news to you in advance and therefore you cannot look to break that trust, however uncomfortable it may make you feel.

This should not, however, prevent you from being there for your colleague when the news does eventually break as he will no doubt at that difficult time be thankful of a listening ear.

Send your queries to Ash

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and trainees, which can be put to her via the editor:, or mail to Suite 6b, 1 Carmichael Place, Edinburgh EH10 5PH. Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.

Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Education, Training & Qualifications team. For one-to-one advice contact Katie Wood, head of admissions on 0131 476 8162 or by email:

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