17

My girlfriend and I worked together for 2 years under the same boss. Her and his professional relationship started to go "south". In the end, it became unbearable for both and together with HR they offered to let her go. She didn't agree and argued, so they fired her. She hired a lawyer, and now all these things are heating up.

Our boss doesn't know about our relationship. I am not taking sides as I need to keep my job - I depend on it 100%. The problem is that I start to feel that I am somehow involved, which makes me believe I'm betraying my boss professional trust. I want to stay neutral on this as much as possible in the workplace.

So when, if ever, should I disclose my relationship? Are there times where it is better for both the company and I, to disclose or not disclose the relationship?

For context this is all happening in northern Europe. Pretty secure labour laws and I am working on a permanent contract.

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    I believe this could amount to a conflict of interest. I think you need proper legal advice as a misstep could cost you at least your professional trust and at worst your job. – Dustybin80 Oct 14 '15 at 13:30
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    If you did not tell him about the relationship when you were both working then then why in the world would you tell him now? Don't discuss anything about the case with him or any other employees. This question would be a better fit on legal.stackexchange.com – paparazzo Oct 14 '15 at 13:36
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    Talk to a lawyer. – Simon O'Doherty Oct 14 '15 at 13:55
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    @SimonO'Doherty is correct, the best thing you can do in this situation is get legal advice. Since you are not married, you probably don't have any legal protections against testifying if called on by your employer in the lawsuit. You really need to know what the best legal steps to take to protect yourself. – HLGEM Oct 14 '15 at 14:07
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    This question is being discussed on meta here - link. – enderland Oct 14 '15 at 14:33
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Is it a right idea to talk to the boss and tell him openly where I stand?

NO Because it is just your assumption that your boss might think that you are involved in the plot and everything. In fact, he might just assume that it is just your girl friend who have initiated the legal procedure, and nothing more.

or shall I just keep keeping the low profile and don't admit anything until it all ends?

Definitely YES. You are no way involved in the conflict, and you don't want to get into it until it ends, and most importantly as you want that job so badly.

It is basically a conflict of interest, so you need to decide accordingly. But, I would advise you against confessing about your relationship with her, as it is completely unnecessary at this moment.

  • Good advice. in this case not being married is a benefit. You can claim it's just a casual acquaintance (and not whatever it is) if things heat up. – Bill Leeper Oct 15 '15 at 15:08
  • If the OP is directly involved in whatever the lawsuit is about then they need to disclose the relationship. If the OP is not involved (as it sounds) then the OP should just stay out of it. If the OP is interviewed by a lawyer, either the GF's or the company's) then the OP should disclose the relationship at that time. – NotMe Oct 27 '15 at 22:19
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But all these things are heating up and I have no idea what to do.

You do absolutely nothing. Nothing good can come of inserting yourself in this situation any more than you already have. As long as you are not directly involved in the ongoing lawsuit, and it doesn't sound like you are, there is no real conflict of interest here.

Don't discuss the lawsuit or your former coworker (i.e. partner) at work. Don't discuss work with your partner.

Should your relationship be discovered somehow, just confirm that you have been together for several years. If they question your involvement in the lawsuit just explain that you chose not to get involved and that it's a matter between the company and their former coworker, not you.

Assuming you're in the US and don't have a contract your employer can fire you for just about anything, including being in a relationship with a colleague, regardless of any lawsuit. Even if both parties were to blame, you've already seen evidence that your company doesn't handle HR issues well so disclosing the relationship now is unlikely to go over well.

Since you have a contract and are located in a country where you are protected from immediate dismissal without cause, you don't have to worry as much about your immediate job security. That said, you still don't have anything to gain from disclosing the relationship. If you wanted to be considerate to your employer you would have disclosed when the relationship became serious, not two years later in the midst of a legal battle. And there are still plenty of ways in which management can retaliate against you even if they can't fire you outright.


Caveat: my answer only addresses your professional/ethical responsibilities in this situation. If the lawsuit drags on or makes it to court the legal angle may well complicate matters but you would need to consult a legal professional for that.

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    "Nothing good can come of inserting yourself" should be even more emphasized. I can't imagine a situation where announcing your relationship to the company would benefit you. – gnasher729 Oct 14 '15 at 21:49
  • This is the correct strategy if the employer never finds out about the relationship, but if the employer does find out then he will lose all trust with the employee and will probably feel very uncomfortable around him. This will be worsened by the fact the employer would know beyond doubt that the employee knew all about it all along, was probably getting the inside track on everything from his gf and will highly suspect the employee of passing information to the gf. It won't matter a jot that the employee pleads total innocence or declares himself separate from the dispute. – Marv Mills Oct 15 '15 at 14:21
  • @MarvMills True, but would disclosing the relationship now have a noticeably different outcome, considering that the situation has presumably been escalating for quite some time already? – Lilienthal Oct 15 '15 at 14:32
  • No, the outcome will be the same no matter what, if the employer finds out after the event that the employee was in a relationship with the girl. Being honest and disclosing would a) demonstrate good faith and b) allow the employer to avoid any situations that they will know, in retrospect, they would have wanted to avoid. By depriving the employer of that strategy it will only add to the later misery. The alternative is "say nothing and hope for the best", which is what everyone seems to be advocating. – Marv Mills Oct 15 '15 at 14:38
2

Once our office got into a lawsuit and the managers asked us to save a backup of our emails in case the lawyers needed them. They weren't clear about it and it passed without us having to do anything or any knowledge about it.

I wouldn't bring it up unless the lawyers asked you to do something such as share your email to build up their case. At that point, I would bring up that you have a relationship with her since there may be a conflict of interest.

Reality is by you saying you are in a relationship doesn't help them and only creates tension for you since you effectively "opened" old wounds without bringing anything for or against the situation.

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    I really don't understand what the email backup has to do with the question. – David K Oct 14 '15 at 14:07
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    @DavidK Apologies for not elaborating. What I meant was he shouldn't say anything unless they start asking to provide information. My example was such as emails between co-workers to build up a case. – Dan Oct 14 '15 at 14:10
1

Your personal relationships are not your employer's business. The trust your employer places in you is restricted to your workplace - that you do not steal your employer's money or property and you do a fair amount of work for the salary and benefits you get.

If you voluntarily disclose to your employer you personal relationship with their former employee, they are not going to pat you on your back and give you a raise and promotion. On the other hand, they may start to view you with suspicion and that may sour your own relationship with your employer. No need to hide your personal relationship and no need to voluntarily disclose it either. If your employer comes to know about your relationship with your girlfriend by some other way and asks you about it no need to lie about it either.

An unwarranted sense of loyalty to the employer is not a virtue and it will not bring any benefit.

0

If she is your girlfriend since two years, while your company doesn't know this since years, it means that you are very highly skilled in conspiracy.

You could hide your relation, while working for the same company. And now she isn't working there any more. I can't see any reason which would worsen your chances.

Second: what you currently experience, has a name. It is spy reaction. But you aren't a spy, it simply a thing which doesn't have anything to do to your boss. No, you can feel the maybe you are "hiding" things, and this is a bad feeling. In this case, rely the rationality. And it is that you didn't do any bad.

Third: an epmloyer working since years for a company, is a highly worthy one, and probably even the current clash wouldn't be enough to lay off you.

Fourth: even if lawyers are already involved, it doesn't mean that an actual process should be done. Nobody want to pay for the lawyers, not your girlfriend and also not the company. In most cases where lawyers are already in the picture, there are only mediating: they talk before, what is the case from a juristical side and this is what they will suggest to the sides. You shouldn't do anything, only wait for them.

Fifth: (sorry for the personal thing) To find a girlfriend is much harder as to find a job... so, if you have to choose between them, I would suggest to choose her, instead of it.


I have the impression, that you completely ignore your girlfriend's problems and focus only to your work. Sorry for the second offtopic, but it is not a really romantic relation.

-1

Consider the situation where nothing is said, the situation deteriorates to the point of actual industrial or legal dispute, and then then employer finds out his trusted employee was in a relationship with the girl all along...

If your boss "wins" in the legal battle with your girlfriend If he subsequently finds out that you were her boyfriend all along then he will feel uncomfortable with you and may seek to exclude you (I don't know how easy that would be in your jurisdiction). If you are able to quickly show "no hard feelings" then you may avoid this, but your boss will always be guarded around you as he will know by then of your girlfriend's "passion for the argument" and will always suspect you of passing anything he says to her, whether you do that or not.

If your boss "loses" in the legal battle with your girlfriend If he subsequently learns you were her boyfriend all along then he will immediately look back over everything he ever said to you on the subject and ask himself whether he stupidly gave her ammunition, via you, that caused him to lose. He will immediately understand that you knew all along and therefore, chose not to share your relationship status with him. He will cease to trust you with immediate effect and will probably seek to exclude you (depending on jurisdiction as above)

If (and only if) you are convinced the boss will eventually find out about the relationship, and if you don't change the situation before that, you are probably in a lose-lose position and will forever learn the meaning of "Don't s!!t where you eat" (UK: Don't s!!t on your own doorstep).

In my opinion you need to change the dynamic immediately by one of:

  • Terminating your relationship with your girlfriend
  • Terminating your employment in the company
  • Fessing up immediately about your conflict of interests and make it clear you want to avoid losing your job.

The last one is probably the most practical, but is also least likely to work- But at least you can leave holding your head up high and probably with no bad feelings from your boss.

If you are convinced the boss will never find out about it, then there is nothing to worry about and no need to tell anyone anything.

  • 3
    I fail to see how breaking up with the girlfriend would help. The angry boss will not forgive the employee simply because they eventually broke up. – Kate Gregory Oct 15 '15 at 14:00
  • His conflict of interests would be resolved. The employer would be able to trust that he could speak about it and other things to the employee without fear of it getting back to the girlfriend. He has nothing to "forgive" the employee for, the employee has done nothing wrong- this is a trust and confidentiality issue. All the answers and comments here seem to be centred on the fact the employee has done nothing wrong and therefore has nothing to fear- No-one seems to be addressing the situation that would arise after the boss finds out about the situation, which is what I address. – Marv Mills Oct 15 '15 at 14:08
-3

If you are planning for your relationships with your company and with your girlfriend to be long term then it's best to be up front. Your boss will likely feel more betrayed if he finds out about your relationship after legal action and not directly from you. There is too high a chance that eventually you two will run into him in public.

Be tactful in bringing up the topic. Do it in a closed door 1-on-1 meeting. Maintain neutrality in your opinion about her work, attitude, and stay closed mouthed over her future plans. This is your best shot at not getting dragged into their mess by proxy.

  • 1
    They worked together for 2 years and the boss did not find out. So they run into the boss in public in 6 months? – paparazzo Oct 14 '15 at 13:47
  • @Frisbee I'm not sure that I would call 6 months long term for either a relationship or a job. If either the job or the relationship isn't a long run thing then this advice doesn't apply, only if both are. – Myles Oct 14 '15 at 14:33
  • If they run into the boss in public now, they could say they liked one another while at work and started a relationship after the girlfriend was let go. Admittedly not truthful, but it would be an acceptable explanation for the boss. – GreenMatt Oct 14 '15 at 14:36
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    It is not about how long the relationship will last. One boss my never run into them. Two if he does he may not conclude they are dating at that time. Three he will have any basis to assume they were dating while employed. Four he may not care. – paparazzo Oct 14 '15 at 14:42

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