What Can Husband Do When His Wife is Involved With a Supervisor At Their Workplace?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors: What recourse does a spouse have
when his or her partner is involved
with a supervisor
in the company for which they both work? 

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Question: My niece works with her husband at a firm (both are employees). She has started an affair with one of the supervisors. What recourse /grievance can my niece’s husband raise with the company?

Response:
It is hurtful on many levels, when a spouse is having an affair—and even more so when the married couple and the third person work for the same company. Apart from the emotions and embarrassment for all involved, it’s bound to have a negative effect on work and the work environment, especially when the relationship is between a supervisor and one who is supervised. Employers are also concerned about accusations of sexual harassment if the subordinate employee later claims coercion. And, nowadays, workplace violence can be the result of such a situation. That’s why employers usually have rules prohibiting such relationships. (Although, such rules don’t seem to have much effect on workplace affairs. People will do what they want to do, in most cases.)

Your niece’s husband could report the situation to HR or to his own supervisor or manager. But, he should keep in mind that his wife might lose her job along with the supervisor. If he wants to keep the marriage, that might not be a good response.

It probably would make a difference, from the viewpoint of rules violations, if your niece is involved with the person who directly supervises her or if the supervisor works in another work group. For example, if she works considerable distance from the supervisor and is not directly supervised by him, they may both receive warnings and be advised to stop their relationship, at least in an obvious way at work. If he directly supervises her, there may be other sanctions and one or both may be dismissed or transferred to another work area.

Perhaps your niece’s husband should first work on repairing the marriage, despite the challenges of having wife working close to her paramour. If your niece realizes the threat to her marriage, perhaps she will find other employment or ask to be transferred to another area.

The one thing that would potentially be very harmful would be for the husband to confront the supervisor face to face or by phone or email. Such confrontations often end in accusations, threats and even physical altercations. People can be hurt or killed or everyone could end up losing their jobs. Another harmful reaction would be to confront the wife in the workplace and create an embarrassing and unnerving situation for everyone else.

One way for your niece’s husband to view this is to think about what he wants as final result. If he wants to get a divorce and he doesn’t care what happens to his wife and the supervisor, he can immediately report it and provide evidence, especially if the work itself has been negatively affected. If he wants to keep the marriage, he may want to only communicate about it with his wife. Of course, in the meantime, the wife of the supervisor might report the situation. Or, other employees who are seeing the situation unfolding, may all make complaints about the problems it is causing.

I have also seen these end with the married couple getting a divorce, the supervisor and the employee getting married and both of them finding jobs somewhere else. I’ve assumed it was True Love and they felt it was worth the sacrifice to go through all of that.

None of this provides you with a specific answer to your question, but perhaps it will be something you can use to discuss the matter with family members who are concerned–or with the niece or the husband.

Best wishes to you and to the couple involved.

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors