Can My Husband And A Coworker Be Fired For Their Affair?

Question:

My husband had an affair back in September 2016. He ended up getting the woman pregnant and continues to have a relationship with her while we are still married. I have contacted her and she knows that he is married and she doesn’t care. They both work at the same company, he works at a site in another state and she works at the corporate office in another state. If I report them to HR, could they both get fired?

Answer: 

Whether your husband and the woman with whom he is involved could be fired for having an affair, would depend upon the rules and policies of the employer and the work roles and respective status of the two of them.

I don’t know of a business that has a rule against married employees having an affair (with an employee or with anyone else.) Most faith-based organizations do, and so do more public organizations that are concerned about their reputations. Sometimes the higher level people in an organization view that affairs such as you describe may indicate that the employees could not be trusted to be ethical in other areas. On the other hand, many executives have had affairs themselves, so they may not see it as having an effect on the well-being of the organization.

The primary consideration in most businesses, would be the roles and status of each of them. For example if either of them were at the executive level and the other is not, that might create concerns related to future claims of sexual harassment, implying the higher level person used their status to coerce the other one.

The bottom line is that I doubt that telling the company HR section about the affair would result in either of them being fired solely for that reason. In fact, I would bet their affair is known already, at least by a few people, and although it may be considered a bit tawdry, it isn’t viewed as a reason for sanctions or dismissal. In many workplaces such relationships are well known and very little is thought about it, under the premise that it is between the individuals involved. I don’t agree with that view, because deadly violence at a workplace has been linked to hurt feelings, jealousy and the emotional turmoil of affairs and divorces.

What usually causes sanctions or dismissal in these cases, is when it is discovered there have been falsehoods related to travel, overtime, time involved in one city or the other, or efforts to benefit each other, based on the relationship. I do not mean to encourage you to dig for evidence of those things, but generally when a complaint is made, those issues are looked at, at least briefly. For example, an executive who was involved with an employee, used his position to let her come to a conference which he also attended. There was no reason for her to attend, so his CEO viewed that he had cost the business money, just to have his girlfriend at a conference. He was not fired, but he was demoted to a lower level management position and soon quit.

In another case, a husband believed his wife lied about needing to work overtime in a legal office. She received overtime pay for those evenings, which was how she justified it to her husband. He wrote to her manager and suggested the company might want to verify those many cases of overtime, which they did. The wife’s computer had never been turned on during any of the evenings for which she was paid. She was dismissed for falsifying her time records—and had to make partial recompense.

Before you decide whether you want to let your husband’s employer know about the situation, consider the effect on your future. Will it be to your benefit to have him be so angry at you that he fights you about every aspect of a divorce or child support (if you have children)? Will it have an effect on how your children will live—and on their happiness? If you don’t have children, will it create such ill will that it effects your friendships and economic well-being? What purpose will be served by reporting it?

I can well understand why you would want to report it—and maybe both of them deserve to be penalized for what they’ve done. However, I don’t think much will be done about it, unless some unique circumstance is present.

Best wishes to you as you find a way through this upsetting time. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what you decide or the outcome of the overall situation.

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors