Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about an affair:
I recently found out the the VP of sales and marketing (who is married) is having an affair with the Human Resources manager in charge of handling sexual harassment cases at the company. What is the best way to handle this?
Signed, I Know a Secret
Dear I Know a Secret:
What you do about this situation depends upon several factors, starting with your level of authority and responsibility in the organization.
1. If you know one or both of the people and care about their futures you may want to just let them know the affair is no longer a secret. They can then decide what to do about it and you can decide if you need to take it higher.If you don’t think you could tell them about your knowledge, maybe you should just let it go and figure it is a human situation that at least doesn’t involve the head of the CIA (as some recent situations do).
2. If your company has a rule strictly prohibiting such relationships, consider letting your own manager know about it, just as you should if you found out an employee was lying on a time card or taking office supplies. Then it is up to your manager to take action. If nothing happens, it may be that it is not considered significant enough to do something about. If one of the people involved IS your manager, perhaps you know someone at a higher level in the company, with whom you could communicate.
3. You could talk to the person who is higher than the HR Manager and/or the Marketing VP or send him or her an anonymous note with enough information to provide proof. That seems rather sneaky and unsavory, but it certainly happens in some workplaces. Once again, if nothing happens, that would be an indicator that it is not a priority issue.The fact one of the people is in charge of sexual harassment cases is not necessarily a deciding factor. Having an affair is not sexual harassment and may not lead to sexual harassment. However, concern about that is one reason most businesses do not want higher ranking employees to have relationships with lower ranking employees.Similarly, the HR Manager’s work with sexual harassment cases would not necessarily be harmed because she is involved in a love affair or sexual affair with a VP. If you have observed that she treats cases wrongly and you think her relationship is the cause of it, that would be different.As you can see, the totality of the situation is very important. Think about your own motivations as well. If you are concerned about a serious rules or ethical violation, or have seen indications that the affair is harming the company or your own work, that would be a reason to say something. If you just know it or suspect it, but there is no rule against it, then it seems no positive thing could result from making it public knowledge. One thing is for sure: If you know it, others probably do as well; including those who are closest to them at work.This is a tough situation and one that you will want to think about carefully.
The person who exposes office affairs is often viewed negatively if the motivation is seen as spiteful rather than helpful. So, consider how it will be perceived. If you are the only one who can help remedy a serious problem, then you will have to do what is ethically right, no matter what the outcome. If, when all is said and done, it is not something that has a dramatic impact on life and work for all the other employees, perhaps you will decide to let nature take its course. Best wishes to you with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what you decide and what happens. We receive questions of this nature quite often and your experiences may help us guide others.
Tina Lewis Rowe