my employer cc’d my husband on an email turning me down for a promotion

A reader writes:

I recently applied for an internal promotion. Several other employees had mentioned my name for this position, and I asked to put my name in for consideration. Our CFO, to whom the position directly reports, agreed to meet with me. He kept putting our meeting off, and I finally got about fifteen minutes with him. During that time, he completely changed the way the job was presented, even going against the Monster advertisement for the job.

Rather than going through our HR person as he did with all the other candidates, he had me send him my resume directly, and he emailed me directly the next business day to let me know he’d hired someone else (and went on about the bachelor’s degree and how it was suddenly of great importance to him.)

He also copied my husband in on the email. We work for the same company, a by-product of when we were in a much smaller community and there were few options for employment that didn’t require a long commute.

There was absolutely nothing related to the IT department (where my husband works) in his email. He made no mention of anything related to my husband, but copied him in as though that were a normal thing to do.

My husband and I try very hard to keep our business relationship professional. We repeatedly remind people that we are completely separate at work; I even try to joke it off and say “I don’t have a husband at work, but I’ll see if J is available.” Why he would copy someone unrelated in on the email is stumping me.

Do I confront him about copying in my husband on this email, or do I just let it go? Either solution has me feeling a little sick to my stomach.

Wow. This is the exact opposite of that husband who wanted his wife to accept a job offer on his behalf.

And, like that, this is completely inappropriate.

I don’t even know what to say about what he could have been thinking — it’s just bizarre. Did he think he’d save you the trouble of relaying the info to your husband over dinner?

I’d email him back, thank him for considering you for the job, and then add: “By the way, I noticed you cc’d John on this message. We try very hard to keep a business relationship when we’re at work and keep the same boundaries here that we would with any other colleague. It’s better for us and better for the company. Frankly, our preference is for people to forget we’re even married!”

Hopefully that’ll make him realize that what he did was really stupid, but if not, you’ll at least have conveyed your message for the future. And from there, I’d just write it off to social ineptness.

{ 37 comments… read them below }

  1. Slaten

    Do as suggested except the part about wanting people to forget you are married. THEN, do your best to find his wife’s email address and copy her on your response.

  2. Wilton Businessman

    Depends, did your husband “put in a good word” or do they have a professional relationship?

    1. Anonymous

      Even if her husband put in a good word, walked her resume to the manager and begged him to hire her it would still be completely inappropriate to cc him on her promotion rejection e-mail.

    2. Emily

      I don’t know if the notion of the husband “putting in a good word” makes this more or less appalling.

  3. Slaten

    No, it doesn’t matter what kind of relationship her husband has with the CFO. Unless her husband was in that “interview” with her than cc’ing the husband was seriously unprofessional.

  4. Mike C.

    Is it just me, or does the whole thing smell rotten? Getting blown off for the interview, having paperwork bypass HR, the job description changing, being told that a degree is really important to being qualified (yet granting an interview anyway…) and then on top of all that her husband is copied. Every step seemingly deviates from the norm.

    Sure things can be distorted when we hear one side of the story, but the whole thing just smells rotten. Am I alone here?

    1. Suzanne Lucas

      I’m totally with you. Something smells rotten about this. I know that I’d never trust that CFO again.

      However, since she writes that the he kept putting the interview off, it’s likely that she was pushing for the promotion and didn’t pick up on the social cues that the CFO was politely trying to say no, without having to actually say it. Pushing isn’t always good.

      But, at the end of the day the CFO is messed up.

      1. Katie

        If she was no longer being considered for the position, though, the polite thing for the CFO to do would simply be to say, “I’m sorry, but due to x, y, and z, you are no longer being considered for this position,” and not to give this woman the run-around. It’s unprofessional, and frankly sort of immature, to avoid someone because you don’t want to have to give them the bad news and hope they get the hint.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I think Mike was saying that the CFO’s behavior during the interviewing process sounded suspect.

        My guess is that the CFO was enthusiastic about the OP’s candidacy and wasn’t direct with her about that (whether because of ineptness/wimpiness or out of a misguided belief that it would be kinder to do a “courtesy interview” with her), which led to his putting off the interview, being so brief when they did meet, and being wishy-washy on the qualifications.

  5. OP

    Original question-asker here.

    Just to clarify, I asked once about meeting with him regarding the job and he said yes, with no indication whatsoever he wouldn’t consider me. He asked if we could meet at a certain time, that got pushed back to another time, then he said the next day, which got pushed back twice on that day.

    Also, husband never mentioned anything to the CFO about the job. As he said to me at one point, the job has nothing to do with him or his department so he’d stayed out of the whole thing, before I even asked to be considered.

    And thank you all for the feedback. I tried very hard to present the story as third-party observantly as possible, because I was aware I might have been missing something.

    I even popped my head in and said if he’d found a candidate he liked already that it was fine, just let me know. All indications on my front were that things were okay.

  6. Long Time Admin

    He may be, as Suzanne Lucas says, a whack-a-doodle, but he is still the CFO. I suggest to the OP that she does not make this into an issue. Having worked for many (o, so many!) nutcase bosses, I can tell you that whack-a-doodles usually have long memories and see a lot of “normal” remarks as insults.

    OP, drop it and forget it. You don’t want this guy to start being annoyed with you.

    1. Steve

      I agree with the “drop it” advice unless it so upsets you you will be unable to sleep unless you do something. My take is that he never saw you as being competitive and was pressured into considering you. When he did so he did it prefunctorily and without an open mind. He may have been wrong about this, and certainly was wrong to cc your husband, but it is not your job to fix him. Nor could you fix him even if you tried. So let it lie.

      PS – I do love the line “I don’t have a husband at work, but I’ll see if J is available”

      1. Dawn

        “My take is that he never saw you as being competitive and was pressured into considering you. When he did so he did it prefunctorily and without an open mind.”

        My thoughts exactly.

    2. ThomasT

      Disagree with “drop it.” The language that AAM proposes is non-confrontational, though I agree with Slaten that the slightly jokey last sentence should probably be dropped. Polite requests for basic courtesies are almost never out of place. Worst case is nothing happens; best case is he apologizes and recognizes OP’s gentle assertiveness for future reference.

      1. Dude

        I disagree with your “wort case” scenario. I can be much worse than “nothing happens”. It’s hard to tell what someone else will find confrontational or offensive. A response that you and I think is a polite request for basic courtesies may be received as stepping on a superior’s toes. And no good can come of that. I think worst case is this guy decides you need to be put in your place and he’s the guy that needs to beat you into submission :-(

  7. Kaplan

    aww..that’s too unprofessional, did he ever think that he is putting you to shame by cc’d your husband when on the first place it is supposed to be a private matter to you, he did not even consider how you feel and even make it worst..

  8. Dave

    I have known my fair share of CFO’s, and would like to present a “best case” possibility for the CC mistake (notwithstanding the handling of the job itself):

    Every CFO/CEO I’ve dealt with has not been very decent with computers. He may have accidentally typed your last name (assuming you & your husband share a last name in the company email directory) and selected your husband. This would be very possible especially if both of you appeared in the “TO:” line as opposed to you in the to, and your husband in the CC.

    If both of you are in the TO: it’s best to write it off to a simple mistake rather than anything more. Hope that helps!

    1. Interviewer

      Dave, upon reading her question, this theory had occurred to me, too. C-level people should *never* send an email to the wrong person. Ideally, the entire company gets it right every time, but C-level may be sharing some serious company info over email and if it winds up in the wrong hands – ouch.

      I would have replied with “Thank you for letting me know. While I am sorry I did not get the promotion, I do appreciate your time and consideration in this process. By the way, was there a reason you copied my husband on your email?”

      If it was an accident, he’ll learn not to make that mistake again. If he meant to do it, you could politely reply, “It was not necessary to copy him on that email. Thank you again for your time and consideration,” and leave it at that.

      Does HR even know you applied? Do they know he communicated the rejection via email and cc’d your husband? I think they would be horrified to know how you were treated during this recruiting process. I work hard to ensure that internal candidates and external candidates go through most of the same hoops so that the comparisons are apples to apples and no on can complain that they were treated unfairly.

      Hope that helps.

  9. Eric

    Gonna disagree with Allison here. I’d avoid anything that resembles confrontation. You were going to share the contents of the email with your husband anyway, presumably. I’d wait to mention something to anybody with the CFO, CEO, CIO, CTO, etc title until it there are repeat infractions.

  10. Anonymous

    If he’s the CFO, I would let it slide. If it was just a manager or supervisor, then I would probably have e-mailed the person back about it. Dealing with C-suite people is a totally different set of people than your daily managers.

  11. Anonymous

    It constantly amazes me with a large pool of quality managers to choose from that people like this still have jobs, ESPECIALLY in the C-level. All I can say is “Ugh”.

  12. MistyMountainHop

    Kinda agree with the last poster. The title here allows for a certain level of social ineptness not ordinarily encountered at the frontline manager level. My approach with executives is one of extreme caution in all communications. If this was your day to day manager and there was a possibility that this would be a regular occurrence, I think this would be a different story, but given the fact that this is an executive who obviously has some weird quirks I’d just let sleeping dogs lie. Was it super bizarre for him to do that? Yes. Will understanding his reasoning or questioning him be of any benefit to you in the long run? I doubt it. There’s no explanation he can provide that would make this understandable from my perspective, so why bother asking him to explain, which could potentially piss him off and make life more difficult for you? That’s my two cents.

  13. What the?

    Isn’t this some kind of privacy breach? What are the legalities of doing something so dumb? I agree with the other comments – this guy is a douche.

    1. fposte

      There’s no law I know of forbidding this or protecting employee confidentiality save for specific areas or situations like health info under HIPAA. Mostly what prevents this kind of thing is policy and/or a certain amount of sanity, but so long as what they say is true, the law doesn’t generally care if they cc:ed the world and posted the rejection lists on Facebook.

  14. Phyr

    I would say thank him for the consideration and not mention the problem. The reasion would be that this seems like an ‘oops’ that could snowball into an infinity of bad things.

    There is the potential that something was going on that took all his attention and you ended up suffering because of it. Unless it happens again you are probably fine not worrying about it.

    If it does happen again that either of you are CC’ed like this, then that would be the time for the person that was added to bring it up. Like “Hi, so&so here. I just saw that this wasaccidently sent to me.” or something like that.

  15. Cruella

    It is best to keep your work relationship between you and your spouse professional. You are very lucky to work for a company without a fraternization clause.

    This situation is no different than the CFO copying any other employee in your company with this corespondence. Extremely unprofessional, and given privacy laws, could pose a risk on his part.

    I will agree with AAM and would take a lighthearted approach in responding, just to keep things from being more awkward than they have to be, but still remind him that when you are at work, you and your spouse are coworkers.

    It’s possible that the CFO may have wanted to avoid confrontation with your husband later on wanting to know why you didn’t get the promotion. Or he may be one of those old fashioned men who think your husband would need to be aware .

    1. Katie

      I think assuming that a lady’s husband would confront you because you did not hire her for a position is just as old fashioned as assuming a lady’s husband needs to be informed of his wife’s every career move. I just can’t figure out on what planet this would be considered acceptable…

  16. just wow

    What a jerk. People at that level do not make mistakes like that. I would lay odds this was purposeful. Now, should you react? I think it depends. If you do not mind not having a job, make it an issue. Then you have nothing to lose if he gets angry and fires you. And if he decides that he was an @SS, then you will have won his respect. Either way, win-win. If it is not worth your job, let it slide and know what he is.

      1. just wow

        Again, what is it worth to you. If it upsets you enough, then make it an issue. But again, you have to weigh what you have to lose. I would definitely get a hard copy of the email first though. That way when the company gives you a bad recommendation, you can give the heads up to the interviewer prior to them calling that the company has a whack a doodle at the helm. Bottom line, if you cannot drop it, it will continue to eat at you until you ruin your career there. Either blow it off or choose the option of talking about it knowing that you may end up getting canned and as Riz says so may your husband.

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