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Full context: I've been at my job for about a year and have formed close bonds with a number of people, including my coworker "Josh". A new position opened up recently that Josh's spouse, "Jessica", was a perfect fit for, and she ended up getting the job. The day after Jessica got hired, Josh found out that she's been having an affair with one of her old coworkers for almost a year. Josh is filing for divorce and has asked Jessica to resign, but she refuses and showed up to work the next day like nothing was wrong. I know all this only because I'm close to Josh - most people in the office are unaware of these details, and might not even know yet that Josh and Jessica are splitting up.

I approached a friend of mine in HR immediately and was basically told that as long as neither Josh nor Jessica bring their "home problems" into the workplace, it is not the company's problem and there's nothing that can really be done. I was also told that if I was to spread rumors about a person that I could be liable for workplace harassment or bullying - that is to say, if I talk to anyone in the office about Jessica's infidelity, I could be in big trouble.

I'm burning up inside and I'm having trouble concentrating on my work - we're in a small office and it's hard to sit 30 feet away from someone who did something terrible to a friend, then act like nothing's wrong. Josh has not been in to work since the incident, but I can't really imagine how hard it's going to be for him when he comes back if Jessica is still here. Jessica is walking around the office with a smile on making new friends and no one knows what she's done - I want to tell everyone what's going on and what a terrible person Jessica has been to Josh, but I love my job and the people I work with and I don't want to get in trouble.

What should I do? I wish I could just focus on my work and forget about it but my empathy for Josh is holding me back from that. Infidelity might not be a big deal to everyone but it's something that's very difficult for me personally to brush off, especially when my friend is a victim of it. I'm incredibly uncomfortable and I wish there was a resolution to this problem, but I'm not sure there is one.

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    People, please: "Use comments to ask for more information or suggest improvements. Avoid answering questions in comments." – ANeves Jun 30 '17 at 10:52
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Jun 30 '17 at 16:27
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    Do you have any outside verification for the whole story, or just Josh's word? What makes you sure he tells you the full truth? – Aganju Jun 30 '17 at 19:35
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    You asked HR. What they told you is exactly right. Not sure what else you need to know. – jwg Jul 3 '17 at 10:27

18 Answers 18

249

You must separate private and professional life, and so must Josh.

BTW, not that I am defending Jessica, but in splits there may be unknown quantities, things that no-one but J & J know about. Being a good friend, you are of course entitled to privately take unreservedly the side of Josh; but, being a good professional, you should keep in mind that you may not know everything about the case and there may be more to the situation that is visible to the unaided eye.

As much as I sympathise with you, this back story has no place in the workplace. Even if J or J decide to bring it into the open, it's their (in that case unwise) decision. It's not yours to make. You serve no-one, not even your friend, if you shoot yourself down for them.

It's strictly not your business and you should not make it yours - or you have a good chance to lose it all, job, good work relationships, friendships, even the one with Josh.

70

It's Josh's and Jessica's private business. If you can't live with this, then you need to quit. Depending on location, voluntarily leaving a job means you will not get any unemployment benefits.

And think about financial consequences if their divorce went to court, and Jessica told the court that she lost her job and income because Josh's friend went to a friend in HR and made that friend fire Jessica. What do you think a judge would think of that? Josh would be in very expensive trouble.

26

What should I do?

You should mind your own business and stay out of it entirely. This is between a husband and wife. (This was what HR was hinting for you to do).

If you can't, then you should advise your friend to get counseling, and probably to find a new job and quit.

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    HR wasn't hinting, they were really quite explicit when telling OP to stay out of it and not spread rumors. – stannius Jun 30 '17 at 16:54
  • Why so eager to tell people to quit their jobs? – Jose Antonio Dura Olmos Jul 2 '17 at 11:19
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    @JoseAntonioDuraOlmos: If someone says "I'm burning up inside", then (a) quitting might be an acceptable alternative, but also (b) telling them to their face that they should think about quitting might help them flipping back to a healthier state. – gnasher729 Apr 4 '18 at 0:20
14

It's presumably likely that the situation will resolve itself, either by one or both of them quitting or causing issues at work and getting fired or by them learning to accept the situation to a sufficient extent.

In the latter case, you'll need to be able to do the same, but for the other you just need to be patient while the situation plays itself out.

If the situation is really too much for you to handle, now or in the future, you don't really have better options than just taking some time off or finding another job.

There isn't advice to give that's different from what HR already told you. As mentioned in the other answers, it's their personal life - avoid bringing personal issues into your professional life and especially avoid that when the situation doesn't directly involve you.


If you're a close friend of Josh, you can discuss this with him in private, hear his thoughts and possibly offer some advice. If I were in your shoes, I might suggest that he look for another job, because life's too short to be fighting over this, or he can perhaps consider making one of the terms of the divorce that she leaves the company (if staying is important enough that he'd give up other things in exchange - if it isn't that important, it can still be another bargaining chip). Has he spoken to his manager, who could perhaps have a solution to offer? Do you have other branches where he could maybe work?

  • Thank you for your response. It would be difficult, but not impossible, for him to transition to another branch. It would be impossible for her to transition. I will speak with him regarding the other suggestions you offered. – AnonymouslyUpset Jun 29 '17 at 15:14
11

What should I do?

Absolutely nothing.

I can't quite believe I'm having to write this out in full to an adult, but: this is none of your business.

You are not in charge of the company, nor are you in charge of either party involved.

If you're finding it difficult to concentrate on your work for some reason, I suggest you find a way, because there's really no good reason for you to be getting so worked up about this yourself.

8

One very important piece of advice: your work life and personal life are separate. Keep them separate at all times. Regardless of the issue, if any, just simply do not mix the two. For all intents and purposes, you are a different person when you're in the workplace. Keep it this way and you'll seldom ever have problems.

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    Just out of curiosity, it this a normal mentality? That all your colleges are strangers that you try to interact with as little as possible? Is it a cultural thing, or generally true for larger companies. (for reference, I work at a Dutch company with 25~30 employees) – Hans Janssen Jun 29 '17 at 15:36
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    Not necessarily. I am still friendly and nice to my colleagues and interact with them appropriately. But if I started telling them about the drug fueled orgys I had over the weekend, or how I'm secretly running an underground meth lab, they might start to dislike me, which in turn negatively effects the work environment. So, by leaving out these details, there is no reason for people to think anything of you other than a friendly colleague- which is what I mean by keeping your work life and personal life separate. – DCON Jun 29 '17 at 16:08
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    But if you were going through a divorce, wouldn't you want to talk to people about it? Or if you had a friend who was going through a divorce? I consider almost everyone I work with to be a friend, this is a small company that takes work/life balance very seriously, enourages open doors and floor plans, promotes social events, etc. The company encourages the mixing of your personal and private lives in this way, which is part of why this is so hard and uncomfortable. If Jessica worked at any other place, the whole company would be rallying around Josh right now in his time of need. – AnonymouslyUpset Jun 29 '17 at 19:19
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    @AnonymouslyUpset - If you have a friend who's going through a divorce, and you find yourself needing to talk to anyone other than this friend about their divorce, then you might be a gossip and probably need to reign yourself in. This is not about you. This is about Josh and what Josh's needs are and it's up to Josh to decide what that is and how he's going to address it. – brhans Jun 29 '17 at 19:35
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    @brhans: I would add that it’s normal to try to cope with difficult information you’ve just learned about others by sharing it (discreetly) and asking for advice on what, if anything, you should do—it might make you a gossip, it might not. – Jon Purdy Jun 29 '17 at 23:39
8

No matter how bad you think of "Jessica"'s actions, it is not up to you to bring it up. Have you talked about it with "Josh" already? Are you sure there is no way they will find a solution themselves? Because if they do, you stirring things up at work is the opposite of helping.

Secondly, if "Josh" wants his collegues to know about the situation, it's his job to tell them. As HR told you already, when you bring it up it is gossip or framing. However, "Josh" can tell his collegues he will divorce from his wife, and is free to give a reason for it.

So in short, leave it to "Josh" to find a solution. If you are really concerned about him, give him a call / visit him, and ask if he wants to talk about it with a friend (you).

6

Regarding the topic of how the hell do you expect good work to get done when there's marital problems on the team?

All I have to say is

enter image description here


More seriously, the incredibly simple bottom line is:

Do not breathe​ a word about this within or near office hours, nor anywhere within one mile of the office.

It's that simple. You risk very severe legal problems otherwise.

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    Is there really a law preventing people from spreading rumors? – stannius Jun 29 '17 at 16:35
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    Well, I simply can't agree that 100% of the time party A will sue and Party B loses everything financially. However I do agree with your advice so you still get a +1. – stannius Jun 29 '17 at 16:49
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    @T.E.D. No, whether you love or hate the music sales North of 20,000,000 units in the US alone would indicate that it is successful and a very good example of making something work with not one but two recently split couples involved (and I believe the 5th member was having an affair with the recently separated lead singer at the same time) - complicated but it worked and the $$$ ensured it kept working for another ten years. – mcottle Jun 30 '17 at 4:15
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    Can you add some details as to what exactly happened to Fleetwood Mac and how it pertains to the question? Not all of us know, and it's generally preferred that answers are self-contained. Does the Fleetwood Mac story give relevant advice to OP? If not, it might be somewhat irrelevant. (Not knowing the details) it would be relevant if OP was the manager and was considering firing one of them, but as an affected friend, it seems irrelevant - not everyone can handle problems in the same way and "they could so you should be able too" is dismissive more than constructive. – Dukeling Jun 30 '17 at 6:07
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    @stannius “Is there really a law preventing people from spreading rumors?” – Yes. Defamation. – Basil Bourque Jul 2 '17 at 3:25
4

I'm burning up inside and I'm having trouble concentrating on my work...I wish I could just focus on my work and forget about it but my empathy for Josh is holding me back from that.

Some things you can do that might help you deal with that:

  1. If Josh is still talking to you about the bad things Jessica has done to him, ask him to stop.

    You can be a distraction for him, hang out and talk about non-divorce topics, but you can't be his sounding board about Jessica right now. You still have to work with (or at least near) her and it's too much of a distraction for you. You aren't going to be able to stop being this angry at her if he keeps reminding you of why you're mad.

  2. Give it some time.

    Just getting some distance from this news will likely help you deal with it. It sounds like this all just happened and having a few days to sit on what HR told you and the advice here might make it easier to accept. In the meantime you can try pretending Jessica is a stranger you just met, use headphones so you don't have to hear her talking to other people, avoid the break room when possible for the next few days, etc.

  3. Talk to a professional.

    I suspect #2 will work but if it doesn't then you might want to talk to a counselor or therapist about managing your anger. (If your company offers an Employee Assistance Program, take advantage of that.) Not only will they help you learn how deal with this emotionally, you'll have someone to talk to this about without getting in trouble at work.

I want to address a comment as well since it seems to be related to why you're having trouble with this.

I consider almost everyone I work with to be a friend, this is a small company that takes work/life balance very seriously, enourages open doors and floor plans, promotes social events, etc. The company encourages the mixing of your personal and private lives in this way, which is part of why this is so hard and uncomfortable.

Work/life balance means acknowledging that employees have a life outside of work and not getting in the way of that, not that your work and personal life are the same thing. I think you've misinterpreted team building initiatives to mean that all of your co-workers are a part of your personal life but there's still a line there.

If Jessica worked at any other place, the whole company would be rallying around Josh right now in his time of need.

Rallying around Josh wouldn't involve hurting another employee in that case. HR can't pretend that she somehow doesn't count just because she's new. Also, I'd hope that rallying around Josh wouldn't include trying to get Jessica fired from her hypothetical job in this scenario.

4

Contemplate the possibility that maybe you're the bad guy here.

Consider what you said: "I'm burning up inside and I'm having trouble concentrating on my work... my empathy for Josh..." Call me a devil's advocate but this sounds an awful lot like burning up with the need to busybody / make drama / spread malicious gossip.

It also sounds like judgmentalism; you take one look at Jessica and you know the entire story. Really? Is that realistic? Humans are much more complicated than that. It may just be that Josh is sorting out his feelings. It may be that he has normal relationship frustrations and works them out by talking to you, painting her as much worse than she is, and holding out his worst fears as if they are fact. To you. He's just using you as a sounding board; quite likely reality is not like that and he knows it.

It also sounds like outrage, which is actually a much stronger emotion than self-rage. If someone slights you, that's one thing, if they slight someone you care about, that's quite another. But this extra rage for the innocent ignores the fact that they are grown adults who can take care of themselves and know their own business 10 times better than you. When you think about it, it's actually a bit of an insult to think they need you to ride in on your white horse.

If Josh hasn't turned your coworkers against Jessica, you shouldn't. There's a reason he hasn't.

And what's up with that? Why are you so emotionally connected to this situation that you're burning up? Is Josh a gender you're attracted to? The reverse also? Is this more than friendship and lending of emotional support, or a lingering hope of same? Is it possible this very distraction is what's put his marriage on the rocks in the first place?

People don't like gossips because they know next week they'll be the victim!

What matters to the employer is this kind of gossip and drama is workplace cancer, and will tear apart the employee ranks and destroy their business efficiency and profits. They won't want to either fire everyone or litigate over who is the bad guy. They will want the drama gone, and will fire the one who outwardly seems to be causing the most problems. As the old joke goes, two people are running from a bear. One says to the other "I don't think we can outrun this bear." The other says "I don't need to outrun the bear, I only need to outrun you." Don't be the more gossipy.

Drama queens tend to feed off each other. If you have a minor case of it, being around someone with a major case of it will make you crazy and turn you into someone you're not.

  • You assume far too much about the OP in this answer. All that was said was that they had an emotional reaction to their friend going through a horrible situation. – sturrockad Jul 3 '17 at 9:39
  • He's also assuming far too much about "Josh". _He's just using you as a sounding board; quite likely reality is not like that and he knows it. _ Really? You've already decided "Jessica" is innocent and "Josh" is just a pathethic insecure liar, based on... what exactly? – Demonblack Jul 3 '17 at 13:16
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    @demonblack not at all. The problem is you and OP are looking at it in black and white, my friend = good, other = bad. (funny how "other" is always the bad one, eh?). That's not likely. Usually there's just a whole lot of grey. I am saying ”taking sides” itself is wrong. The actual truth tends to be un-know-able in these situations. By taking sides you play a dangerous game. Playing that game is stirring controversy, is defamation, and is actionable... as well it should be. – Harper Jul 3 '17 at 20:54
  • No, sorry but that's just not what you said. I'm quoting directly here, "painting her as much worse than she is, and holding out his worst fears as if they are fact". That's just a straight up lying accusation to OP's friend, based on nothing at all. As far as we know, this guy's wife cheated on him - that is all that we know, and there's no reason to assume it's false until proven otherwise. As far as how to act on this knowledge, I agree it's probably best to keep out of other people's business, but that's a completely different point. – Demonblack Jul 4 '17 at 12:08
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    @Demonblack I wouldn't. And they shouldn't either, for the above reasons. I've been round this merry-go-round enough times to know. It's never cut-and-dried, and I said "may be". You're really not getting the "shades of gray" thing! End of the day, what we're doing here glides over the entire issue of who is good or bad, because our job is about protecting OP in the workplace. Mostly against their own urgent desire to talk about it. And that calls for perspective. We are not obliged to simply take OP's statements as facts, SE is not an echo chamber or "support group". – Harper Jul 4 '17 at 12:23
2

I want to tell everyone what's going on and what a terrible person Jessica has been to Josh

Why? What purpose would that serve? It sounds like you want revenge on her for something that has not happened to you.

Infidelity might not be a big deal to everyone but it's something that's very difficult for me personally to brush off, especially when my friend is a victim of it.

I'd like to suggest that other than feeling bad for your friend, this is not at all your problem to deal with. Never mind the workplace concerns, if you concern yourself with their personal lives, you're likely to make yourself desperately unhappy.

  • I don't know about the purpose, but the result would most likley be that the poster loses his job, especially since he's been warned by HR already. – gnasher729 Apr 4 '18 at 0:30
1

When Josh, a close co-worker confided in you about Jessica, he forced his personal life all over your professional one.

And with how angry you are with Jessica over this, and how small the company is, what are you going to do when you actually have to work with Jessica?

Well, first you should forgive her. Meaning let go of the anger and resentment that you feel toward her.

There are lots of ways to do this, talking to people can help, but it's important that you focus on healing and moving past this, not getting revenge by getting her fired.

Secondly, if Josh and you are close enough, where he is willing to confide in you about Jessica, then you need to reach out to him about this. Find out what you can do for him to help him out. If he has started to move past this, it will help you, and if he hasn't you can help him.

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    "When Josh, a close co-worker confided in you about Jessica, he forced his personal life all over your professional one." Seriously? If you can't confide to a friend why call it a friend. He'd just be an acquantance. – Demonblack Jul 4 '17 at 12:12
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You said, you tried to ignore it, but can't. So I'm not telling you to do so.

Did you talk with Jessica about the situation? I know two people who got divorced and when I spoke with one of them alone, the other always sounded like the bad guy.
So it might help to talk to her about the situation. Let her explain her side. Why she feels that it is right to keep the job. Did she really cheat on him or does he only think she did? If she did, did she have a reason? Give her a chance.

If all that doesn't help, try to wait some time. Maybe it only takes a few days or weeks for you to get accustomed to the situation. If your workplace is big enough, try to avoid her. And if, after all that, you still feel like you can't work at the same place as her, talk with HR again and tell them how you feel. Try to get someone as neutral as possible and talk about the situation and what can be done.
Since a happy worker is a good worker, they have an interest in keeping you and Josh and Jessica as happy as possible. So it is in their best interest to help.

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    I like your answer from a personal/social standpoint, but I think that it would be a really bad move given the warning he received from HR. – Jim Clay Jun 29 '17 at 14:46
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    This might be reasonable if he was already friends with Jessica, but it sounds like he's friends with Josh, not Jessica, and that this really is none of his business! – TabbyCool Jun 30 '17 at 13:35
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    This would be an extremely difficult thing for the most mature, tactful person to do. I think it's almost impossible to pull off for most normal people. Jessica is not going want to discuss an accusation of infidelity with a coworker who is her husband's friend and who is already mad at her. The most likely outcome is that she goes to HR and complains that a coworker is asking her private accusative questions about her sex life. Given that HR has already warned him, this will not end well. – David Schwartz Jun 30 '17 at 21:17
0

It might be a good idea for a new job yourself, just to be away from it all, not to mention keeping yourself out of trouble.

You are, of course, well within your rights to quit a job at any time and for any reason.

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    I love this job and I love the people here - otherwise I think you'd be right. – AnonymouslyUpset Jun 29 '17 at 21:52
  • Why are people here so eager to tell everyone to quit their job at the slightest issue? OP doesn't like ONE person (regardless of reasons) and the best course of action is to drop his job? With this mindset he'd be changing jobs every week. – Demonblack Jul 4 '17 at 12:13
  • The OP faces incredibly severe legal problems if the OP, for some bizarre reason, "gets involved" with this issue and talks about it at work. If (again, for some bizarre reason) the OP "just can't help" getting involved in this issue, the OP should indeed promptly get a new job, to avoid severe legal repercussions. It is sound advice. – Fattie Jun 12 '18 at 16:26
0

Be careful. In this situation good deeds might get punished.
Most likely you are not used to job politics. Don't play that game if you are not good at it. Display your just anger and you will come across as a troublesome guy.
Don't waste your time on uncaring people. That HR person made it clear that the company does not care, most people will be like that.

Do not quit your job unless you can find a better one.

What can you do? Be a good friend. Call Josh out of work hours and ask if he needs to talk. Hear him out. Let him come to his own decision, but if he plans to do something hasty suggest him to let some time pass and think with a cool head.

Do not quit your job unless you can find a better one.

What about Jessica? Forget her. She is not worth your time. Whatever punishment she deserves you are not the one to deliver it. If a task requires you to do work with her just work as if she was any random new worker. A random new worker you distrust with good reason but whom you will not obstruct in any way at all.
Never tell her that you are Josh's friend or what you think about her. That just provides her valuable information to use against you or your friend without improving the situation for you in any way.

Life is unfair.

0

If it's affecting your ability to work then you need to take time off because of it. If you still can't work after that, then you need to quit, citing Jessica as the reason.

You gotta accept things you can't control and react to them without try to exert control over them. Handling things in this manner will give you the least bad outcome. If you don't you could end up hating your job. That could make your entire life miserable. Just take a break and if you can deal with this after the break then do so. If not, move on. It's not a big deal if you plan well enough for it.

You can't say anything about what happened in the office and expect to keep your job though. You can quit, have a dinner, and then tell everyone there. Or, if you really want to, you can wait for Jessica to be dumb and spill the beans herself when she tries it again. Either way, the company knows the new employee is seriously fucking with two employees ability to perform at this point. If you or both you and your mate walk away from the company over this, then the company will have an opportunity to consider taking the trade. If the company wants one or both of you more than they wan't Jessica, then they'll get ride of her. If they don't because of legal reasons, then it's not big deal. Just use your references and find another place. After you break you may find that you don't actually need to leave.

You could also try getting your company to pay for therapy for you. That could work depending on how serious the company is about mental health.

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I remind you: While on clock your loyalty should belong to your employer. This goes a little bit beyond "separate private and business". I assume you are the boss of neither Josh nor Jessica.

What i would do (assuming that your relation with your manager is as open as mine to my manager): Tell the line manager personally (while asking that your name will not be mentioned) that you heard that Josh and Jessica are going to be divorced - don't tell about the cheating, since it is none of your or the companies business.

The manager has to be informed, since one of them may quit, and he needs to have control over it. If Josh is there for a very long time and good and Jessica is inexperienced in her Job, it's better for the company if she goes. If the company had trouble finding her and Josh is easy to replace, it's better if he goes. Moreover, possibly the manager finds a solution where they don't work in the same team.

  • Read the initial story and the warning by HR. This is very career damaging advice. – gnasher729 Apr 4 '18 at 0:33
-5

"Mind your own business" is not effective nor accurate advice. You have quite a bit of context about Josh and Jessica's relationship and it is clearly your business or better yet, responsibility to manage.

It was wise to consult with HR and learn what could be at stake should you choose to publicly frame and communicate details about their relationship. Even without formal consequences from your company, openly taking sides and disparaging Jessica could negatively impact your reputation at the company. You have already stirred somewhat negative reactions here in this forum, for example.

I have very little context, but I think that you might be happier to consider finding another job yourself, which could be a positive model for Josh, to show him he has the ability to leave and distance himself from an arguably provocative and hurtful woman.

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    Josh has asked Jessica to resign - no saint there, and definitely no adult. – gnasher729 Jun 29 '17 at 7:51
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    This is a confusing answer - the first paragraph says "screw minding your own business", the second paragraph seems to say "don't interfere" - that seems contradictory. The third paragraph is just minding your own business. Or are you suggesting it be "managed" in private, presumably in a shady way? – Dukeling Jun 29 '17 at 10:03
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    Two co-workers have a falling out (admittedly a big one), and your advice is to quit? – Thomas Bowen Jun 29 '17 at 10:51
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    @ctpenrose I guess it's mostly hard to tell exactly what you're recommending. Are you saying it was OP's responsibility to go to HR? I wouldn't agree with that, as it's Josh and Jessica's private matter and it should be their choice to bring it to work. That also already happened, thus your tenses make your answer confusing. As stated above, I would consider leaving to be OP minding their own business, as removing oneself from the situation equals not getting involved. I also wouldn't really agree that it's OP responsibility to manage (refer back to: it's Josh and Jessica's private matter). – Dukeling Jun 30 '17 at 4:41
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    @Fattie: I have no idea why anyone upvoted it. It's garbage. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jun 30 '17 at 15:45

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