Should I Tell My Boss About Rumors?

Question: 
I was approached by upper management about rumors of a suspected romantic relationship between my boss and his now ex-boss who left the company several weeks ago. Both of the accused are married.

I understand the rumors – they traveled a lot for work, often driving long distances together, and he’s out of the office a lot since his ex-boss is no longer employed by same company. However, there is no evidence at all that anything has happened.

I have been asked specifically if I knew of anything that would incriminate either or if I had anything to share. I honestly don’t. And even being brought into personal affections between two of my coworkers, that I was clueless about beforehand, has really made me uncomfortable.
I am inclined to let it die on its own but what are your thoughts? Do I speak up and let my boss know there are rumors? Do I share the awkward conversation with HR? What’s one to do?

Response:
To summarize your question: Your boss and his former boss, who is no longer employed by your company, are suspected of having had a romantic relationship and perhaps still continuing the relationship. You were asked about it by upper management and truthfully said you saw no indications of such a relationship. You are wondering if you should tell your boss about the rumors and the investigation.

If upper management is asking you about this situation in a formal way, rather than a gossipy way, most likely HR is aware of it or will be soon. If upper management told you the investigation was confidential and directed you to not discuss it with anyone, you should not say anything to your boss. Even if they didn’t tell you to keep it a secret, there is a reasonable expectation that internal investigations will not be discussed with anyone, especially not with the subject of the investigation or rumors.

You also ask about another significant issue: If you tell your boss about the rumors and investigation, should you report his comments to HR? (If you meant should you report the conversation you had with upper management, the same answer applies). If you do that, you will probably be viewed by upper management and HR—and by your boss, if he finds out—as a covert informant for the company. That isn’t a good position to be in and not a good reputation to have. Or, upper management and HR may view that you were wrong to discuss the investigation and you will be in more trouble than your boss.

Because of the potential negative results, I don’t think you should tell your boss that you were contacted by upper management and asked about the relationship between him and his former boss. If there is nothing to the rumors, the investigation may, as you put it, “die on its own”. If there is something provable and the company wants to invoke a sanction of some kind against your boss, telling him about it won’t make any difference in the outcome. He may be aware of the rumors and the investigation anyway and has chosen to not discuss it with you or anyone else.

It’s unfortunate that you have been placed in this awkward situation, but you should keep your responsibilities as an employee of the company in mind as you decide how to handle it. You have already helped your boss in the best way possible, by being truthful about not seeing evidence of a relationship and by not adding to the gossip and rumors.

Best wishes to you about this matter. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what you decided and how it works out.

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors