My Husband Threatens to Send Photos of Me and a Boss to HR

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about threats
by an angry husband to send incriminating photos to HR. 

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Question:
I recently started a new position with a company and began an affair with one of the heads of my department. It started as friendly but escalated and we both agreed to ‘back off’ since my husband had filed for divorce and I was going through a difficult time and did not want to bring my partner down in the divorce. The divorce had been started for other reasons but my husband eventually became suspicious and hired a private investigator.

We have been going through the divorce process meanwhile I have still seen my partner occasionally outside the office and since he has been divorced twice he has offered some advice on how to handle things. Since we both agreed to tone things down, the last few times we have met have been casual and in public to ensure that we don’t go down the road of romance as it had been heading before.

The times I did see my partner I had not told my husband since he filed for divorce and I didn’t feel my whereabouts were his right to know. Today he came to me with a letter drafted by a PI to my HR department at work stating finding of the affair between the department head and I. The letter showed pictures of one of the times we met for lunch, us sitting together, a hug and what looks like a kiss (not a very good picture, blurred and from a distance).

My husband has agreed not to send the letter to my HR as long as I agree to all his terms in the divorce which so far I have. However, my husband has proven to be emotionally unstable with narcissistic tendencies and I’m afraid that one wrong move on my part would cause him to hit send.

In a hope to eliminate all instigation I plan to cut ties with my partner outside of the office which I know he will understand and support. Any advice on how to handle if my husband does send the letter would be appreciated. Should I tell my partner the letter and photos exists? Should we go to HR and tell them we have an out of office relationship and the possibility that my husband, through the divorce, has threatened to backlash. Might that soften the blow if they do get the letter?

My partner has had issues with HR in the past and I can see this going very poorly for him. He is one of the department heads but there are a few levels of management between us. That is not a justification of what I did, I know I am wrong in this scenario and I regret hurting my husband. Our divorce already started before the affair happened and within two weeks we agreed to put it on hold when we saw the direction it was heading.

Response:
Hello and thank you for sharing your concerns. We are not attorneys and you definitely need legal assistance. Your divorce attorney should be able to advise you or recommend other assistance. You are being threatened in a way that is considered blackmail in most jurisdictions. Your soon-to-be-ex is being vindictive and that is the kind of information that should come out in the civil proceedings, since it says a lot about the reasons for the divorce and the lengths to which your ex-husband will go, to get his way. Further, the PI will be as involved as your husband, since he drafted the letter to be used in your blackmail. Having an attorney contact him might have an effect on his willingness to support your husband.

If your description of your ex-husband is accurate, you should also be concerned about your safety and the safety of the person with whom you were involved, as well as the stability of your former partner’s marriage, since those photos can be sent to anyone. You and he both should use caution in your homes, traveling to work and while at work. Have a neighbor let you know if your husband or a stranger is having around your home or apartment, whether you’re home or not. Keep your doors locked and double check windows and doors when you come home. Use all the usual precautions for avoiding a burglary or other crime. That’s not being melodramatic, that’s being realistic.

Let the person with whom you’ve had a relationship know about the threat to give HR the photos, so he won’t be caught off guard if something is said. I’m sure it will be a jolt to him and worry him—he knows almost no workplaces would condone a department head having a close relationship with a subordinate—even comforting hugs and kisses. So, the threat is real and may not go away, even if your ex thinks he will be held liable for what he’s doing. But, no good could come from telling HR about it unless they need to know. You may want to work on your letter or speech of explanation, just in case. But, there is no point in saying any more than you have to say.

Your first step MUST be to tell your divorce attorney and ask for legal advice. In the meantime, do your work in such a way that makes you a valuable asset. You need to become excellent in every area for which you’re responsible. Develop and maintain your credibility and your value to the company, to coworkers and to other bosses. Volunteer to help others, be a resource, behave in a way that makes others glad you’re working there. (Those are things all of us should do all the time—but we often don’t realize how crucial it is, until something like this happens.)

You’ve gotten off the path that is best for you—and the man with whom you were briefly involved knows he was not wise either. But, it sounds as though both you and he are committed to making better decisions in the future. Stick with that and think of what will lead you to the future you want. And talk to an attorney!

Best wishes to you with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how things work out.

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors