Is Gay Assistant Hitting On Students?

Question:

I have a tricky question. I am the boss and work in an athletic setting. I have an employee who I had had an attraction to and admitted it to her and we are working through it. There is no possibility because she is gay.

I have approached her on numerous occasions about having relationships (romantic) with undergraduate students. I have some evidence that she is dating an ex-player from last season who is still an undergrad until December, and nether one has come out of the closet.

My dilemma is that I have been through this before with an ex co-worker who was fired and I was promoted. My current assistant does a tremendous job and her personal life should be of no concern to mine. However, with the evidence that I do have, I am torn between confronting her again, which could lead to a lot of problems, since my evidence is not foolproof. The other problem is my other assistant (her best friend, and the potential love interest’s roommate) so I cannot get any information from her.

Do I keep acting like there is nothing going on and wait for them to come to me, or do I confront both of them and potentially lose both of them? I feel that even if they come to me after the graduation date, when it is perfectly all right to date, that they have been lying to me, to protect themselves and me. Do I still have to address the issue with them and my boss, or is it all right? Personally, I feel that they are lying and should be dealt with; however, for the good of the team, it would devastate all of them, and they are the ones who in the long run, will be hurt by it.

I don’t want to jump the gun in case they are just good friends. I am torn about this very much. All the people involved mean a lot to me (like little sisters) and I don’t want to hurt them. I have been praying for answers to help me figure out if they are an item or just good friends, and I keep getting mixed signs. If you can give me a little insight, I would appreciate it. Please email me back at your convenience. Thank you for your time.

Signed,

Torn


Answer:

Dear Torn:

Thank you for sharing your concern with us. I understand that since you are part of this situation and have personal feelings about everyone involved, it does seem difficult. See if taking yourself out of it personally will help you look at it from the perspective of an objective observer.

1. You are a boss. You are responsible for the behavior and performance of those you supervise, including your assistant. You have a boss as well, to whom you are accountable for not only your actions, but also the actions of those you supervise. Likely you could be fired or receive negative sanctions for allowing inappropriate actions by employees.

2. Now, consider what is inappropriate behavior or performance. Are there rules about employees having relationships with undergrads? If not, your assistant’s personal life is definitely not something in which you should be involved. If there are such rules, you could be held accountable for not taking action. If a liability situation develops because of the age and status of the undergrad compared to your assistant, you would be vicariously liable.

3. Next consider the evidence you have and how you obtained it. It doesn’t have to be absolute. Rarely is evidence absolute in personnel issues. Is there enough evidence to lead a reasonable person to think that at least a preliminary investigation should be done? That investigation would probably involve talking with everyone involved and making sure they understand the rules, as well as asking them to explain the evidence you have.

You have talked to this employee before about similar things, so you may only have to “read the signs” that you recognize from the past. Or, you may have other evidence. If all you have is a feeling, based on a hunch, you may not have enough to go on.

4. Now, ask yourself what your boss would want you to do at this point. Would he want you to notify him of your concerns so he could advise you about whether or not to investigate? Would he want you to contact HR or other resources to get their advice? Would he want you to ignore it? To cover it up?

5. I wonder too, if part of your concern has to do with the fact that you may have been inappropriate yourself, according to organizational policies, to approach your assistant about your feelings for her. They don’t need to know that, of course. But your assistant may bring that up if you seek to stop her activities. If you haven’t done anything more than talk about your feelings, you probably don’t have anything to worry about. But it should remind you of the difficulties of getting involved, even to that degree. If there is no policy about such things, you’re fine in that area.

6. You are concerned about the impact on the team, but think about how wrong it is to let your assistant continue doing inappropriate things that she has been warned about already. What that says to me is that she can’t be trusted. She may be a spectacular assistant in other ways, but she evidently is willing to flaunt the rules and to put the organization and you in a difficult situation. She is also trifling with the emotions of another young woman who should be able to focus on her schoolwork and her sport, rather than lying to cover up a relationship that is against the rules.

Your assistant is showing much more concern for herself than for anyone else, wouldn’t you say?

You also express concerns that you may lose both of them if you say something. Better that, than that you lose your job. And, if they are quality people they will understand that you had to investigate. The key is for you to investigate correctly and professionally. Put the information you have on paper and let your boss or HR see it and decide if you have sufficient reason to continue–than ask them if they have recommendations for how it should be handled.

7. After you have looked at all of that, I think you will see this isn’t so tricky. It’s awkward, certainly. You likely don’t want to confront your assistant, since she is a close friend of yours. It may be embarrassing to talk to the undergrad as well. But, if you are responsible for the performance and behavior of your assistant you really have no choice. I think your best response is to take the information you have to your boss and ask for advice. That way you are not the only one deciding the significance of information and the approach to take in following-up.

I don’t expect it will be easy, but I think you will feel better when you approach it as someone who not only is responsible but who will be HELD responsible, if something were to go wrong and it was found that you had information. Best wishes as you deal with this. If you have time and wish to do so, let us know how things develop.

Building and maintaining respect means talking straight about what’s going on; what might be understood as WEGO mindedness.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.