8

I work for a small company with a flat structure, with our company president as the lone official manager. There are ~25 employees.

Several years ago a pair of coworkers (let's go with Alice and Bob) started a relationship. During the time of their relationship Alice had a increasingly antagonist relationship with another coworker (Charlie). One whom Alice must work directly with (they are in the same department).

After a workplace disagreement between Alice and Charlie, Bob actually called Charlie at home to discuss his unhappiness with the way Charlie was treating his partner Alice.

It is my judgement that - given what I know and can verify - disagreements at work may have been many and with emotion but not necessarily unprofessional (to that point). I may not have complete information.

The call at home only led to further problems. Last week the company president met in private with Alice and Charlie to discuss a recent disagreement. It got heated. Past the level that I would consider professional. It may have been the only time that I can remember in 11 years with the company that the president ever raised his voice back. This was mostly the president and Charlie.

That being said, I do not believe the president intended to fire/remove anyone. But today he fired Charlie, apparently because Alice or Bob stated that they did not feel safe.

Given what has happened, I am concerned that a disagreement between a coworker and either Alice or Bob would be at risk of involving the other partner again and it getting personal (someone else getting a call at home). Do I have the right to ask my boss if this has been addressed? It is common knowledge at work this occurred.

After the termination I do not feel as comfortable dealing with either of them now. How can I address this?

  • To address a couple of folks: Formally, my relationship is simply as a coworker. It may be important to know that I've been at the company for 11 years. It's doubled in size during that time. I believe in its future and want to make my career here. The company president is near retirement age. So I worry about anything that can have long-term negative effects within the building. I recognize there may be nothing reasonable to do (or at least I can do), as mxyzplk answered (very well) below. – BMM May 20 '14 at 12:58
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Stay the hell out of it.

Especially in small companies like this, "professional HR decisions" and the like are way secondary to all kinds of relationships - family, sexual, etc. If you don't think Charlie got what he deserved, that's a valid opinion to have and one to not bring up around work unless you want to get drug into those politics.

I worked for a small publishing company where many and various people had gotten married, an IT department where the VP and a director had been married and now were divorced, etc. - and there is exactly zero upside to getting involved in any of the drama. At best, take it as a big "stay away" sign - you may be right in feeling less comfortable dealing with either of them now, because you know what they can do when riled. So decide to cope, or avoid them, or look for a different job eventually. But there is no officious-style "manager and HR" solution to this in a company of that size.

  • 9
    Drugs are bad, don't get dragged into drugs. – Styphon May 20 '14 at 6:25
  • Also your "I am concerned that a disagreement between a coworker and either Alice or Bob would be at risk of involving the other partner again and it getting personal" expresses that you don't trust management to make the right discussions. Don't you think that when something similar happens again management will scratch its head wondering why there's another issue involving Alice and Bob? – user8036 May 20 '14 at 7:18
  • @JanDoggen at a company this small, no, probably not. And nothing that'll take root before it negatively affects you if you get into it. – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica May 20 '14 at 11:25
  • @JanDoggen Didn't you read his post? There is no management. There's just one President/CEO who is near retirement age and then there's everyone else. – Jack May 4 '15 at 1:57
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There is usually a lot more to an HR decision than those outside of the decision will ever know. Charlie may have acted unprofessionally toward Alice, and he may also have crossed a line in the confrontation over it with your boss. There may have been other issues with Charlie's performance that you know nothing about.

You have worked at this company for 11 years. You have to decide whether you trust your boss. Even if he made a decision in this situation that you don't agree with, do you trust him to treat you fairly? Has he done other questionable things in 11 years that make you think Charlie was fired for unsubstantiated reasons?

If you don't trust him, you might start polishing your resume. If you do trust him, you could speak to him cautiously (not to get information that is none of your business, but to let him know that the staff is shaken by Charlie's sudden departure and you are concerned about rumors and morale). You could also work to help your team get past this by reminding your coworkers who are discussing it that there is always more information to these situations than people know.

Your boss has never raised his voice in 11 years. There must have been something exceptional about this situation to make him break character. You can choose to believe he was manipulated by Alice and Bob, or you can choose to believe there is more to the story. As for what to do about dealings with Alice and Bob, be cautious but also aware that you may be completely misjudging them.

  • It's not about trusting his boss, it's about Alice and Bob possibly twisting truths and manipulating an old man. – Jack May 4 '15 at 1:58
-3

For this to esclate to an issue that could be framed as a "workplace safety issue", it's clear Charlie let his feelings get the better of him. A likely scenario is that Charlie was jealous of the relationship, for whatever reason (maybe he even asked Alice out and she used the common white lie "I don't date coworkers", or maybe the relationship represents something Charlie is missing in his life). If he was unable to deal with the feelings, they would undermine his working relationship with Alice. He would have subscribed to a less painful reality ("By dating Bob Alice shows she is untrustworthy and unprofessional") so would have been blind to his fault. In many situations the Charlie would find a new job, but in this case he needed to be pushed, for his own good.

This is probably the background info you say you think is missing from the picture. You are safe, as you have no feelings about the relationship other than how it affects your job security. But do take care because this can happen to anyone given the right (i.e. wrong!) set of circumstances.

  • 1
    This is pure conjecture. It is unhelpful to offer this as an answer to OP's question. – Kent A. May 4 '15 at 0:34

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