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I'm in an interesting situation as a project manager. We've recently hired a promising new employee and told her that we were still looking for applicants for the same job. A few days later someone inquired about the job who, after a quick Facebook search, turned out to be our new employee's boyfriend.

This situation may very well prove to be a wasp's nest of ugly issues:

  • We interview him and have to reject him
  • We hire him and they have an argument/disagreement in their relationship but still have to work together at their jobs
  • We hire him and they break up but still meet every day because of their jobs
  • One of them gets promoted who becomes the other's superior

The company is pretty small so we can't hire him to work in another department.

What's the "standard" course of action in such a situation? I'm inclined toward having an honest conversation with her about the pitfalls of working with someone's significant other and if she says they considered the problems that might arise, I would go on with the hiring process as if nothing happened; I would make an interview appointment and try to be as objective as I can while evaluating him.

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migrated from pm.stackexchange.com Jan 3 '13 at 2:39

This question came from our site for project managers.

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Does your company apply any kind of restriction related to relationship between colleagues? –  Tiago Cardoso Dec 30 '12 at 20:11
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If you need workforce now, why not interview the chap, determine whether he's acceptable, and possibly face the risk of losing not one but two employees down the road? You'll be able to find a specific solution only after a problem pops up, not now. However, watch out for integrity issues - you may ask the boyfriend of your employee how he has heard about the opportunity, and whether any relatives of his work in your firm. If he's sincere, it's a good sign. If not, the woman's integrity is in question as well. –  Deer Hunter Dec 30 '12 at 20:49
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Is this really a project management question just because the OP holds that role? Perhaps it's a better fit for Workplace SE. I'm on the bubble about this one. –  CodeGnome Jan 1 '13 at 8:33
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While our community has given great and valuable input here, it does strike me that, as written, it is more workplace related. Maybe a few more edits/information would help. @Botond, is there an HR department or other people involved in the hiring process? Could the question be re-phrased along the lines of "Does the PM have an obligation to bring up future potential personal problems internally, during the hiring process?" Or, conversely, "does HR have an obligation to let the PM know about such things if they discover them during background checks on candidates?" –  Mark Phillips Jan 1 '13 at 16:59
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@DeerHunter - I'd be careful with the relatives thing in gauging sincerity. Depending on his connotation of the word, he may not think to mention his girlfriend, who's technically not a relative; and depending on his personality (not necessarily integrity here, but rather literalness, etc), or even their actual relationship status (regardless of what FB says), it may honestly not occur to him to mention his girlfriend. –  Shauna Jan 4 '13 at 17:47

3 Answers 3

up vote 22 down vote accepted

Ignore it. Move forward as if you did not know this information. Relationships, and all the downstream drama, are organic risks of every workplace. Expect professionalism from everyone and move forward.

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Agreed. I work at the same place as my wife and our career trajectories could very easily put us up for the same positions. But that's our problem. We are comfortable working together at the same place. If the person is qualified, interview him and give him a shot and let the drama/politics shake out as they may. –  Morinar Jan 2 '13 at 23:01
    
+1 in this case for a short, simple answer. In the office, it is their professional relationship that counts. If they fail to act in a professional manner - for example allowing aspects of their personal relationship to interfere with their work or the office environment - then this should be performance managed in the same was as any other professional issue. –  GuyM Jan 3 '13 at 3:05
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Ya know, this is why you shouldn't search for potential employees on Facebook in the first place: if you see something, it might not be true (the employee's boyfriend might just happen to have the same name as the new applicant) and even if it is, you can't really act on the information. –  Tacroy Jan 3 '13 at 18:26
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@Tacroy is right, any HR department that looks people up on Facebook is using unreliable data and they are discriminating against people based on things that are none of their business such as religion, political leanings, etc. By using Facebook, they exclude many of their best candidates for things that do not affect thier work. Just because you can do something does not make it a good idea. The OP needs to stop looking at Facebook as a means of hiring. Using Facebook is an easy way to find information to illegally discriminate and is fundamentally not in the business' best interest. –  HLGEM Jan 3 '13 at 18:49

TL;DR

Being proactive is great. Solving the wrong problem---or worse yet, a phantom problem---is significantly less great.

It's None of Your Business

As a project manager, people's private lives are none of your business until and unless:

  1. It actually impacts the project you're running.
  2. Your HR department makes it your business through some sort of formal policy.

Referrals Imply Relationships

Referrals in general are good business practice. Almost by definition, if you get a hiring referral from a member of the team, chances are good that the people have some sort of relationship. It may be romantic, or perhaps they were just coloring buddies in kindergarten.

Why go to a dark place and assume that any one type of relationship is better (or worse) than another? Should spouses be excluded from consideration on their merits? Same-sex partners? Ex-Army buddies? Old college roommates? Where do you draw that line?

If you reject referrals from people who know each other, you risk:

  1. Reducing your potential labor pool.
  2. Alienating the people who offer the referrals.
  3. Chancing that people might quit to go work somewhere else, where they can interact in workplace-appropriate ways with people they clearly want to work with.

Teams Require Trust

NB: "You" isn't aimed at the OP. It's intended as an if-the-shoe-fits sort of pronoun.

If you don't trust your team members to make solid referrals, or to act like adults in the workplace, then the hiring manager should probably resign immediately. No, that's not a typo.

Lack of trust for members of the team is a clear indicator of one or more of the following:

  • You believe you've hired people with poor judgment.
  • You believe you've hired people who are unable to behave in a professional manner in the workplace.
  • You actually have concrete instances where specific team members have displayed poor judgment or unprofessional conduct.
  • You haven't fired the dead wood, or otherwise reversed the poor hiring decisions that were made.

If you've made a hiring error, welcome to the human race. If you've made a team-full of hiring errors, shame on you. If you've made a ton of hiring errors and those people are still around...well, the problem isn't the applicants or the yardstick for measuring them; it's the person doing the measuring.

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Excellent answer. Particularly the None of your business part! –  HLGEM Jan 3 '13 at 18:41

When you say you have hired one employee already and are still looking for others to recruit, are you looking for multiple people with the same skills who will be in the same level/pay bracket or are you looking to replace the existing one. If the latter, since you have already hired the candidate, do you have a plan to transition this person out of this role into a new one if a more suitable candidate pops up? If this is the case, then I do not foresee too many workplace issues.

If you are looking to hire multiple people for the same kind of work because you have budgeted efforts as such, then I can only say I have worked on teams that had both partners working on the same team and reporting into the same manager (although this is not ideal) without too much drama. However, having a couple report into the same manager is never ideal and some companies mandate that such employees be managed by different bosses.

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