Concerned That Wife Might Harm Employee



A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about what to do to prevent
a jealous wife from harming female employees. 

My wife is adamantly opposed to me being around other women for any reason. Unfortunately I run a business where I need to hire them. I am constantly, verbally attacked, accused, etc. of being unfaithful on all levels. Her verbal attacks are so out of control the other day she threatened that if I didn’t fire the new hire, she would see to it that the new hire would be gone. My wife has zero authority in the company and nobody there has any idea of this insanity I deal with. I brought it up at marriage counseling, this new threat, but the counselor just let it go since the wife said she wouldn’t hurt anybody. I am worried about the safety of my employee. I can’t sleep at night I am very afraid my wife will go to my office and completely lose control and actually hurt someone. Any suggestions?

At a distance there is no way to know whether you are being unnecessarily worried or not worried enough. So, I hope you will be helped by the information that follows—as well as by talking to others to whom you can more fully describe the situation.

Here are some things to consider:

1. You say “My wife is adamantly opposed to me being around other women for any reason.” That may be exactly correct or it may be an exaggerated statement to reinforce that she is very jealous. Does she get angry if you go into a retail store where there are women customers and clerks? Does she not want you to have a female customer come into your business? Does she insist that you only have male nurses and physicians? Does she not want you to go to restaurants where you order food from a female waitperson? Does she not allow you to talk to female family members on either side of the family? Can you not attend church or other events where women talk to you?

If she accepts those routine interactions with women, she is not opposed to you being around women “for any reason.” Most likely she is opposed to you closely interacting with the same woman day after day or spending a lot of time with a specific woman, when you are likely to have a closeness in which she is not a part. If she ever reads our site she will have her feelings reinforced, because workplace relationships are a frequent topic!

Your marriage counselor is undoubtedly talking with you and your wife about why these feelings are present and what can be done to reassure your wife of your trustworthiness so she can accept your employees as simply great resources for helping the business grow. Until that goal is reached, you will need to ensure you do not knowingly give her a reason to be concerned. (I’m sure you are working on that already.) One thing you can do is to not lie to her about your work or your work actions. The fact that your wife became angry after you hired a female, leads me to think you hired a female and didn’t tell her until after it was an accomplished fact. Even though she does not have a role in hiring and firing, most wives of owners of small or medium businesses have a sense of partnership about personnel actions, because people do work so closely together and the wife of the boss hears about work issues.

It may be you have several female employees but there is something about the newly hired employee that is more of a threat to your wife than the others. If she has a reason to suspect you of flirting or of favoritism, you will probably never convince her to accept the situation. Your only hope may be to come up with three months of severance pay and tell the employee you are reorganizing—then after you hire someone else, never give your wife a reason to be concerned. That is not as callous as it sounds and it may be the only way to move forward and assist your efforts to repair your marriage. The employee will be recompensed enough that she will not suffer and it will take a mental burden from you.

2. If it is a demonstrated fact that your wife becomes seriously agitated and angry and verbally abusive if you do something as minor as acknowledging a woman by greeting her or discussing an appropriate topic with her or by interacting with her for work activities, or if your wife insists you can only hire men and never women, she—and, as a result, you—-have many more problems than a marriage counselor is likely to be able to help. She may have physical problems that are manifesting themselves in psychological issues, or she may have long-standing mental issues you have always known about and that are getting worse.

If you were a women writing about her husband, there is no doubt that you would be advised to work on building your own self-esteem and to start planning for a safe place for yourself and your children, if you have a family. The same applies to men who are in emotionally controlling and abusive relationships.

I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you that there are plenty of examples of parents and spouses who commit tragic, tragic crimes, because they feel jealous or are worried their marriages are in jeopardy. The most common reaction to those tragedies is, “We knew he/she was upset, but we never thought he/she would go that far.” Or, “I never would have thought he/she would harm her children.” Or, “We never took his/her threats seriously, because he/she was always ranting about something.”

My suggestion is to have at least a few sessions with a counselor or psychologist, other than your marriage counselor (to avoid conflict of interest) and get advice about effectively and safely maintaining a relationship with someone who exhibits the traits you are seeing in your wife. You may also want to read some material about High Conflict Personalities. I’m not a mental health professional, but your description of your wife’s behaviors seem to fit many of those traits.

I also think you would be wise to get some legal advice to protect your business and its assets and your own financial well-being. Further, I think you need to hear an attorney’s advice about where you stand legally and civilly (as well as ethically) if your wife were to verbally threaten your employee and cause the employee to feel fearful, or to actually cause some harm to the employee or to her property. Threats, whether they are acted upon or not, are criminal law violations, so you need to know at what point it could be said you failed to protect an employee.

3. Threat evaluation and response involves considering the totality of a situation: The history of the person making the threat; what has occurred that might increase the mental or emotional tension of the person making the threat; the exact words and context of the threatening remark; the ability of the person to carry out the threat; options the person might have for getting similar results if they are not able to carry out the threat as described.

The angry comment, “If you don’t fire her, I’ll see to it that’s she’s gone!!!!” does not, on its own, sound exactly like a death threat or a threat to do other harm. I don’t know what else she might have meant though. However, those are mere words on paper to me, while you lived them and heard them directly. So, you can do a better job of analyzing them than others could do.

*Do you sincerely believe that your wife’s tone of voice, facial expression and overall attitude was meant to warn you that she would kill the new employee, hurt her badly or do something to drive her out of her job? Think of the exact words she said and the tone of voice and facial expression she used when she said it. Did she have a sinister tone and a dark, threatening demeanor when she said that last part? Did she stop at that remark and leave the room or did she say anything else at the time that would have given that statement a more or less threatening tone?

*Does she often exaggerate or use extreme phrases, even in normal conversation? When she does, does she seem to stay upset or angry for a long time, escalating the angry words and becoming more agitated? Or does she say wild things then get back to normal?

*Has she ever made a physical threat that she followed through on? (“I’ll slap you if you don’t shut your mouth.” “I’ll grab that and break it if you don’t put it down.” “If you take one step out that door, you’ll be sorry.”)

*Has she ever hit (or tried to hit) you or someone else?

*Has she ever purposely destroyed or damaged your personal items or someone else’s property, out of anger?

*Does she have the means and knowledge to harm someone or herself? (A weapon, improvised weapons such as baseball bats, knives, etc., chemicals.)

*Has anyone in her family ever harmed someone in anger?

*Has she ever thrown or broken items in a fit of anger?

*Have you ever known her to do a dirty trick, send an anonymous note, gossip harmfully about someone or do something vengeful to someone she is angry with?

*Have you ever been afraid she was going to do something violent when you have had arguments?

*Has anyone, children or adults, ever said, at the time or later, that they were frightened of her when she became angry?

*Has she ever done or said anything in a moment of anger that she was very sorry for later? (Breaking something, blurting something unpleasant, reacting out of proportion to the situation.)

Any of those things should be cause for concern and a reason to think she might follow-through on a threat. I think you should keep a record that will remind you of when she has become very angry, what was the stated cause, what specific threats she made, how long before things had calmed down somewhat and how long between those angry times. All of that information might be useful for counseling as well as for general documentation. It sounds much more valid to have that kind of record than to just rely on general memories.

After you think of those things, consider your wife’s angry remarks from her perspective. She says she wouldn’t hurt anyone. Has she said what she DID mean by her comment? Was she threatening to go to your business and create such a ruckus the employee would quit on her own? Could she have meant she would try to get other employees on her side to force the employee to leave? If she has ever had input about employee hiring and firing, could she plan on exerting her influence again? Or, was it just an empty remark in the middle of other remarks?

It may be that through your marriage counseling your wife is already past this degree of anger. If she is not, it would seem the counseling isn’t working and you both will need something more focused and effective, if you are going to stay together and live a reasonable life.

4. If you think it would help, bring up her statement again in the next counseling session. You can say that even though it was discussed before, you’ve been losing sleep over it and want to talk it out again. Then, ask directly: What did she mean, if she didn’t mean it as a threat? I tend to like to hear people say the words that make a commitment, so if I were you I would ask her to make a verbal commitment to never do or say anything at the business or to people at the business that would seem threatening to them or that would harm them or their property or families. If she won’t do that, you have another indicator of how concerned you should be—and the counselor might also hear her in a different way.

5. According to how you interpret your wife’s angry conversations, specifically her comments about your new female employee, you have three response options:

1.) Believe that your wife’s angry statement was meant as a serious threat and do what you can to protect your employee and stop your wife from being able to harm her. This option will involve legal action (a restraining order—not completely effective for keeping people away but at least an effort) or police action (they would need more proof of criminal intent than it appears you currently have.)

2.) Agree with the marriage counselor (and believe your wife) that all of your wife’s words, including her angry statement about the employee, are exaggerated comments without intent and there is no risk of harm to anyone.

3.) View your wife’s current and past words and actions as indicators of extreme emotional tension that could erupt into out-of-control behavior. Therefore you will maintain alertness and implement some basic preventive and protective measures.

The third option seems the most reasonable at this moment—although things could change quickly. If they do……………..

6. The moment you think your female employee is in physical or emotional danger, you have a moral and legal obligation to protect her. I think you are already at a point where you should let all your employees know that your wife is having some emotional issues and everyone should be on the alert if they see her come to the business. You could say that she might act out her anger or that she might create a disturbance. Yes, it would be embarrassing for you. And, if your wife found out about it, it would undoubtedly put your marriage in a crisis. But, it would be your fault and your responsibility if no one had reason to pay attention to your wife’s actions and she showed up and did something to frighten the employee, harm her or harm the building with others in it.

If your wife seriously means she will do something to get rid of the female employee, she may not go to your business, she might go to the employee’s home—addresses are easy enough to find. She might call the home of your employee and make accusations to her family or spouse. She might write something on social media. She might make anonymous and threatening phone calls. There are countless ways to make someone’s life miserable or to cause them harm. Weapons aren’t necessary to create a situation in which someone quits their job or moves away from an area.

Think about this: If your female employee’s husband was jealous because she was working for a man and as a result he said if she didn’t quit he’d make sure you “were gone”, wouldn’t you want to know about it? Wouldn’t you want your family to know not to answer the door if that man showed up at your home? Wouldn’t you want to be aware enough to look around or check your car before you get in it? Wouldn’t you be worried about arson or some other thing that would harm the building? I think you would. And if something bad happened and you found out your employee had been fearful but never told you about it, you would be right to say she was almost as guilty as her husband, because maybe you could have prevented the harm.

Also, be alert at home for sudden changes, even seemingly for the best. I once read that just as with suicide threats, often people seem unusually calm and happy when they know they are going to do the thing they’ve talked and thought about for a long time. If she ever says something that makes you think she is going to put a threat into action, call 911 and get assistance at your business or at the home of the employee.

7. If you don’t want to be so direct about warning everyone at work about your wife’s potential actions, train everyone about workplace violence in general and use various examples, including domestic issues that may erupt at work, bullying between employees, disgruntled former employees, angry clients or creditors, etc. Do some Internet research and give each employee material related to the subject. Every workplace needs this kind of prevention and response training anyway. Your marriage counselor may have some material you can use.

Especially give advice to anyone who would be greeting people as they walk into the business. You may even want to provide them with something like pepper spray, and let them know that if someone wants money, they should give it to them, but the chemical spray could be used if the employee thinks he or she needs protection from a physical attack.

Make entrance into the business more secure. Limit the doors that can be used; use buzzers if the business doesn’t have a lot of walk-in trade; install a few loud panic buttons that can be heard in other parts of the building. Those are basic robbery, assault and workplace violence prevention methods that every business should have in place.

8. This next thought may seem like going backwards, but it might be necessary for a temporary measure. If you have a business of under 15 employees you are exempt from most requirements about EEOC hiring regulations. (Talk to an attorney about this concept.) You may find there are many men who would like the job being done by your newly hired female employee. Perhaps you can hire a man for other work and have the male employees rotate through the work you now assign to a woman, if no long-term training is required. (I’m picturing a receptionist/bookkeeping or other administrative role, but that may not be at all what your women employees do.) Or, perhaps, if you already had some female employees, they could reorganize the work to incorporate the newly hired employee’s work, for a pay raise.

An idea like, “Don’t hire women”, sounds very odd in 2017, but I think this is a circumstance in which it can be a temporary method for alleviating very severe problems. Give your current woman employee two or three months of severance pay (she deserves it if she has been working well) and tell her you are reorganizing. Then, find a way to get her job done with current employees or with a male candidate. It will be well worth the money to eliminate this huge source of conflict, until your wife has found ways to deal with her feelings or to change her feelings—or until both of you have strengthened your relationship with each other.

That is a temporary measure only. At some point, management of the business must be done in the best way for the business. I don’t advocate hiring or not hiring a specific gender, race, age or any other protected class, mainly because for businesses that come under EEOC guidelines, it is against the law. But right now, you need emergency management methods. You cannot close your business, you cannot fire every female employee overnight, but you also cannot risk harm to a female employee or to yourself or your family. An attorney can help you through this, as long as you are acting within the law.

9. The bottom line is that there are many details about this situation that I don’t know and that would make a difference in what you do now and in the future. However, one thing is for sure—this situation is not good and might get worse. I a aware that some people would say, “Tell her she has to learn to deal with it.” Or, “Convince her that she benefits from a successful business.” Or, “Get her more involved.” ( I agree with those last two thoughts and I wonder if she has felt as if you pushed her out at some point, but that is something to discuss with your counselor.)

However, I don’t think your situation will be helped by easy advice. You need more close-up, knowledgeable assistance than I can provide, but I hope these thoughts will at least point you in the right direction.

Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what develops.

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors


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.