46

During a normal farewell party for an employee at a sports bar after work, I was making the rounds and chatting with all of my employees, meeting their spouses, before departing early. As their boss, I do not stay at parties like this very long when there is alcohol involved, more of a quick one drink, say hello to everyone, and leave type of policy.

Before I was about to leave, there was one employee and his wife that I had not said hello to during the evening. I politely came over, greeted the employee and wife and thanked them for coming. The wife, who I then quickly realized was very inebriated, basically lashed out at me and told me I have no respect for my employees, I’m running the business wrong, etc. Realizing this was really inappropriate, the wife was really drunk, this not being a good situation, I politely told the wife that I’m sorry she feels that way and that we can talk about it more another time, basically doing everything I can to remove myself from the conversation. The husband (employee) stood right behind her within earshot but did not stop her or speak up whatsoever the entire time. I got away but right as I was leaving, he came up and asked “what did she say to you?” which I believe is an act.

How do I approach my employee and tell him that his wife’s actions were inappropriate? I am typically very passive, but this interaction caught me off guard, and I feel the need to stand up for myself. I am a firm believer that the employee is responsible for the actions of their guests during an office party.

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    @JoeStrazzere Maybe talk to her? Steer her aside? Apologize? Pretty much what you do whenever a companion is drunk and you need to take charge? – DaveG Jun 6 at 11:56
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    " I am a firm believer that the employee is responsible for the actions of their guests during an office party." Was this an office party, or did a bunch of people, some of which work together, hang out after work? Did the firm cover the tab (not you personally)? – dan.m was user2321368 Jun 6 at 13:19
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    Please keep in mind that you don't know what sort of situation is happening with the employee at home - public tirades by a spouse can be a targeted form of personal abuse, where the goal is to cause humiliation, firing, and/or fear for the other spouse as a way for the abuser to exert control. While you can't know if this is the case, please keep it in mind and don't become the unwitting pawn of an abuser by punishing one of your employees for something they may have very little control of, and who may be the target of far worse than you had to deal with once in a bar. – BrianH Jun 6 at 13:56
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    "He came up and asked “what did she say to you?” which I believe is an act." Do you have any actual reason to believe this? It's entirely possible that, while in earshot, he simply wasn't paying attention. If you really think he lied to try and shirk responsibility for what his wife said, that sounds like a deeper trust issue you have with the employee. – scatter Jun 6 at 16:51
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    My wife and I am sure this goes for husbands too, often is my sounding board for complaints about work. She has a far dimmer view of many of my employers than I do. Add in alcohol and you got a bad mix. – Bill Leeper Jun 7 at 16:18

12 Answers 12

100

I suggest you take a note never to hire that employee's wife. And that should be it.

This is an altogether embarrasing situation for the employee. It is quite likely that he didn't try to stop his wife because he knows her and knows trying to stop her would only make things worse. After all, she was drunk and out of control already. Increasing his embarrassment won't gain anything for anyone.

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    agreed, bet he knows she gets shouty and aggressive if she is asked to be quiet. – WendyG Jun 6 at 9:38
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    @WendyG They almost all do that (drunks, not wives) – Justin Jun 6 at 9:45
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    Agreed. What's done is done. At future company parties maybe ask the bartenders to be more vigilant about serving too many drinks? (Bartenders know about this.) – O. Jones Jun 6 at 12:05
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    Sure, people don't like Obvious Man to tell them how to do their jobs. But the person paying for a private party certainly can speak to the servers ahead of time saying "at past events we've had problems with too much liquor for some people. Please keep an eye out." – O. Jones Jun 6 at 12:53
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    @bruglesco I disagree, in part. I've been a bartender, and while I'd probably not take well to an instruction insulting my general competence ("Don't serve people too many drinks, OK?") I have never been upset to get a warning about particular people that are likely to over-drink, nor a request to be careful about overserving them. – Upper_Case Jun 6 at 14:46
30

Your employee is playing dumb or genuinely didn't hear. Regardless, you should probably just ignore the fact that it happened to save the embarrassment of the employee. At the end of the day, what he says outside of work to his partner is completely up to him and he had no control over what she says.

Sure, it was a drunken matter but there's no need to escalate it if it happened outside of work and occurred with a relation of one of your employees. You handled the situation to remove yourself perfectly.

Only take action if it happens again, it may have been a one off. This could just be a talking to your employee.

I didn't want to mention this but every time your partner gets drunk, they become aggressive towards me and I do not want to experience this.

Then leave it at that, and hope they deal with it in the correct way.

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    Best answer here. – dan.m was user2321368 Jun 6 at 13:44
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    I also say best answer. Also, imho playing dumb in the way he did (if he did) was a passable way of sparing both you and himself the embarassment. – Helen Jun 7 at 17:40
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    @Helen Owning it would have perhaps been more mature, but also way more awkward. At any rate, I agree with this answer - if it keeps happening, definitely say it can't go on. If she stays sober or doesn't attend future gatherings... your employee heard this loud and clear and did correct it, he just wanted to avoid the awkwardness of addressing it. – Adonalsium Jun 11 at 18:46
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I’d take a slightly different approach to a few suggestions. Firstly, I would definitely speak with the employee, however I wouldn’t book a meeting – keep it informal. If the employee knows that their partner caused a problem they might very well be nervous and worried, there is no benefit in heightening this with a meeting request. And certainly don’t ignore it for that very reason, it could lead to them walking on eggshells around you for a long time. Go over to them and ask them to join you for a coffee somewhere.

When you speak with them, again, keep it informal and ask how they are getting on in their role. Take an interest in them specifically (not saying you don’t, but I figure it should be mentioned). Then I’d recommend trying to use this to your advantage, the partners barrage came from somewhere, so perhaps there are some things you could improve upon? Whether that is personally or in the business itself. In my experience a lot of employees are reluctant to raise issues, but happy to complain about them outside of work and this could be your opportunity to find some of these issues and resolve them.

At the end I’d then bring up the partners behaviour, mention how it wasn’t appropriate but you don’t hold a grudge against them or their spouse, you just ask the employee to try (you can’t control other people) and keep an eye on their spouse during future off-site company events to not cause conflict. At the end of the day if the partner berated a regular employee this could have been escalated to HR rather quickly.

Finally, remind them that if they have any issues you are willing to listen and do what you can, you want them to feel comfortable and not keep things from you when clearly there is some issue.

This last part is unrelated to the answer but - well done for keeping calm and not blowing up!

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    I like this because as you say, the wife's rant probably didn't come from nowhere, so there's probably an underlying problem to address. – DaveG Jun 6 at 11:58
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In my opinion, you should not let this slide, and should instead politely but firmly inform your employee that his wife was out of line to berate you like that, since you are the superior of her spouse (your employee).

The strong opinions she voiced seldomly materialise out of thin air, so it would be prudent to also inquire about how his wife actually got this idea about your alleged shortcomings as a superior. It might be helpful for you to clarify the cause of this grudge against you before it affects your work and/or your employee's work.

Also, no job is perfect and your employee's spouse might have misunderstood their temporary frustration and blown-off steam for genuine concerns. The sooner you get to the bottom of this, the better.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Snow Jun 7 at 9:07
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I'd schedule a meeting with your employee.

State that you understand that he can't control the actions of his spouse but that she did lash out to you with complaints about your managing practices. You'd appreciate it if complaints regarding you or the company would be brought up by the employee himself, in formal manners.

He's likely embarrassed about the situation and potentially afraid for his job. Maybe he pretended not hearing what she said out of fear, maybe he didn't. This exact situation is not okay, but there's only so much blame you can put onto the employee so coming out too strong would not help.

You could use the time to ask the employee if he'd like to schedule a second meeting to discuss matters that concern him in terms of what you can do to make the work environment better. Turn this unfortunate event into a learning opportunity.

Pretending nothing happened might usually be the best choice when it comes to a single drunken act (unless it's a felony of course). The chances of it happening again are very slim. In this case I think it's better to understand the issue at hand and at the same take the chance to point out to your employee that you don't really want this kind of situation to happen again, especially considering that there are better options to deliver the concerns of your employees.

This way you can point out to your employee what happened and that it's not okay, but since it's not fully in the employee's control there's not much point in making too much of a deal out of it, but use the situation as a learning opportunity and after making your point you make the employee not feel embarrassed by giving him some control in return.

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    +1 As much as the OP may feel wronged, his employee is in a far worse situation. The two people who can fire or divorce him are at odds. His marriage AND job were just dented. – John Spiegel Jun 6 at 16:20
  • I wouldn't ask the employee to discuss ways the place can be improved... expecting a person to not rant at their spouse about work is like expecting water to not be wet. Everyone does it. OP probably rants to their SO or whoever about their job. I wouldn't put the employee in such an uncomfortable position. – Adonalsium Jun 11 at 18:53
  • @Adonalsium It's normal and common to ask an employee what can be done to make the employee happier with their work environment because the benefits of that go both ways. I'm not saying that the employee should not talk about his work to his spouse, but it's obviously gotten to a point of unsatisfactory that should be resolved and is an indicator that things may escalate if nothing is done. – Jonast92 Jun 12 at 10:59
  • @Jonast92 I disagree. I like my job for the most part and I still complain about every little thing to my wife when I'm driving home at the end of the day. If I was asked 'what is wrong why does your wife make it sound like you're unhappy' all I'd be able to honestly say would be 'I complain to her because I complain about everything, don't take it to heart.' and it would be awkward as hell. – Adonalsium Jun 12 at 14:24
  • @Adonalsium Would your wife ever take your complaints seriously enough to attack your boss with verbal abuse? – Jonast92 Jun 12 at 14:33
8

How do I approach my employee and tell him that his wife’s actions were inappropriate?

Depends on what you want to accomplish. Do you want to remind the employee that he needs to mind how his guests behave? In that case, you might say something, and be firm that this shouldn't happen again. Something like

"I realize that the going-away party was an informal event, but even at those you are responsible for the guests you bring, and your spouse's tirade was uncalled for and shouldn't happen again"

but I don't think that it's actually necessary. You say

I got away but right as I was leaving, he came up and asked “what did she say to you?”

This suggests that he knew his wife was being inappropriate and was trying to start smoothing things over. This means it's likely not necessary to give a further reminder that this shouldn't happen again, especially if he was within earshot when you rebutted her rant.

I don't think you have to approach the employee about this. It seems to me like you already made your displeasure clear to him and her both.

8

Let's confront the elephant in the room. You fear she is parroting criticisms that he said to her about you.

Let's put that one to bed directly. You can't assume that. There's a fair chance she socializes with other employees and their spouses. It could have come from anywhere, including previous employers, projecting from her own experience with her own employers, or even her imagination. Presuming it came from her husband's mouth will take things down a dark road that will be difficult to manage.

In fact, the husband already assumes you’ve gone down that road, so you need to defuse that.

You say you are very passive, and you know that word is often followed by another word. If so, that would only fuel the husband's anxiety.

So I would advise dealing with it definitively, like an axe drop. I advise running this by upper management first, but something like

Call him into the office, and close the door. Serious as a heart attack. Say "Your wife's conduct < < Insert definitive BOOM action here: It must be impactful enough to fully adjudicate the matter, and assure the employee that this is the end of the matter > >."

Boom!

And do not leave questions about the criticism dangling, but also do not make it the focus.

By the way, just to be clear — if you have any criticisms or concerns, know that my door is always open, and I will be happy to listen to what you have to say.

You just took him off the hook, by attributing all her words to her. And you gave him a get-out-of-jail-free card to discuss anything Real.

If you have any retorts or objections to the wife's rants, keep your mouth shut, because that would undercut "taking him off the hook".

They will resurface in time if they are real, otherwise, they are not. Minds run amok, it's what minds do. People think lots of things they won't say where it matters. That is not lack of courage at all, but their internal bulloney detector protecting them from the consequences of saying things that are wrong.

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    Overall REALLY I like this answer, but I would tone down the "86ed from company events" comment. If she had come into the office and behaved this way, you'd be on solid ground, but this incident happened in a public venue. An aggressive declaration is more likely to put the husband on the defensive. Instead I'd say something like "It might be better if your wife were not to attend any company get-togethers for a while." You're still expressing the same sentiment, but in a more sympathetic, less accusatory manner. – barbecue Jun 6 at 17:49
  • @barbecue but then, there's no "boom". You need the boom to have closure on the matter. If it sounds wiffle-waffly, the employee will go "Oh God, this isn’t over, this is only getting started..." – Harper Jun 6 at 17:52
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    Closure is overrated. – barbecue Jun 6 at 17:53
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    Yeah, the wholesale ban for, I presume, a first offense is extreme. If this was like the third time, then that would be warranted. There's enough closure without a ban. Otherwise I like this approach. – Lux Claridge Jun 6 at 18:55
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    How would you manage to enforce the ban anyways? Are you planning on getting a restraining order? What if the wife and her friends happened to be at the same sports bar as the OP and his employees decide to hang out at one weekend? Does the husband really need to be told not to bring his wife? Do you think he's totally ignorant to the fact that a drunk person is disruptive? Some of the answers on here seem to be taking the approach of treating the husband like an ignorant child, and I don't understand that. – dwizum Jun 7 at 12:57
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The lady may have been a bit drunk, but she only harangued you once when you went and spoke to her (rather than following you round all night, or behaving really inappropriately).

Just let it go. It was an after-work party. Next time make your speeches, have a quick drink and leave gracefully, leaving the worker bees to party without the boss watching them.

5

I think you should talk to the employee. Not about his wife or the situation per say, really this can be ignored...have you never drunkingly said something you probably shouldnt have? but this woman has problems with you...which unless some of her friends are also employees, she has learned that you treat your employees badly and run the company poorly...from her husband.

It seems your employee feels you treat your employees poorly and you run the company poorly. He simply complained(s) to his wife, and she drunkingly, probably in defense for her husband, decided she had to stand up and say something for him to you.

You should use this as an opportunity to engage the employee and find out the if the problems his wife mentioned were not in reality, his and then work on fixing that.

  • Or she's just repeating some vented frustrations that don't amount to anything serious because she's drunk. – Erik Jun 6 at 14:03
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    Could very well be! Hard to know without asking the employee ;) – morbo Jun 6 at 14:04
  • Yeah... but that's going to be one awkward conversation for the employee. – Erik Jun 6 at 14:04
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    Life can be awkward sometimes... – morbo Jun 6 at 14:05
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She was drunk, does not work with you: just ignore it. The husband can speak for himself: they are two separate people. Those who have to say about their work must demonstrate that they can do better, otherwise they are just talk. Work parties are not just parties, they always keep a working perspective: this tells of the self-control of this woman, keep this in mind for any other informal work entertainment with customers.

2

She shouldn’t have treated you like that but everything points to him being in a far worse situation than you. You can fire him. She can divorce him. Whatever you do, don’t assume you know the whole story. I had an employer my wife had far more issue with than I did. Maybe he’s unloading about you every night or maybe he’s happy but she thinks he should’ve been promoted or something. You just don’t know.

Assuming you read right and he knew full well what she said and was trying to save face by asking you, is that even so bad? He wanted it to end and had no easy out in the moment. His options were to bury his head in the sand, agree with his wife and damn his job or defend his boss and damage his marriage.

It’s not wrong for you to discuss it, but I’d be extremely careful to not come off as though you’re telling him to control his pet. If I were to feel compelled to discuss it, I would ask if he’s got a few minutes and be understanding. “Sorry, but I felt awkward talking with your wife on Thursday. It’s clear she doesn’t think highly of me. I hope you don’t feel the same and was just the wine. I’m happy with your work and fit on the team and have absolutely no desire for you to leave. If there is something I’m doing or should be doing, I’d really appreciate it if you felt comfortable helping me to understand what it is.”

You can't undo the moment. The question is can you mend and even upgrade your relationship with your employee.

0

A guest behaved bad at a party and insulted other guests? Make sure that she/he is not present in the future if the event/circumstances is/are under your control.

So what to do: send a letter to the employee and his wife that his wife is not invited to company events and not permitted to enter the companies properties (even the parking lot). If the wife feels that it is necessary to apologize, you may rethink the decision.

  • Eh... it disturbs me to see that you have 10k if you are as serious as this answer implies and you have to rethink the social skills advice you provide to strangers as much as this answer implies. – Helen Jun 13 at 20:21
  • @Helen It is not social advice, it is professional advice. The OP indicated that he takes part just enough to fulfill his social obligations (and would have left before the evening becomes more casual) as a professional lead, outside company grounds. The wife as such overstepped bounds towards his function, not his person (that would be different if this would have happened at 3am and 5h of drinking). So there is no need to put this on the personal level. Prohibiting people who inappropriatly bad-mouth a company from company grounds is reasonable. The problem is the wife, not the employee. – Sascha Jun 14 at 8:05
  • @Helen and it is highly irrelevant to me what disturbs you or not. My practical experience shows me that people who address my seemingly missing social skills very often are much worse at handling real conflicts than me. (I know that I come of as harsh, but the list of people which I really don't get along with in a professional setting is very short). – Sascha Jun 14 at 8:10

protected by Mister Positive Jun 7 at 11:41

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