my husband fired my friend

A reader writes:

My close friend was recently fired by my husband. I was friends with her before my husband became one of her managers. Since he got his position, we have all hung out after work a few times but never discussed business outside the office. She was fired for not meeting her job goals and it was not my husband who actually made the decision to let her go, but he was the one who had to fire her.

Since then, she has been trying to meet up with him after work. It feels like she is trying to entrap him into saying something she could use against him. I know she trying to sue the company for wrongful termination. My question is, will our friendship cause my husband to get in “trouble” with the company? I’m worried that she might start rumors causing issues for my husband at work.

This is why I’m always preaching about being really, really careful about hiring friends (or in this case, friends of your spouse). You always need to ask yourself, “How will things go if I need to fire this person?”

But now it’s too late for that. You’re stuck with the mess and need to figure out what to do.

Yes, if this woman sues the company and it’s known that an employee’s spouse is close with her, it could potentially cause issues for that employee at work. I’m not saying that it should, but practically speaking, there’s a decent chance that it’ll raise questions about your husband’s loyalty and judgment … especially if her case is baseless. (And it does sound baseless — being fired for not meeting goals is pretty straightforward and doesn’t smell like illegal discrimination or something else that she’d have legal grounds to fight.)

Perhaps more importantly, though, if you really think this woman is trying to entrap your husband or do something that will harm his career, your friendship is effectively over, at least for the time being. You need to distance yourself from her pretty dramatically, for a while at least. And don’t you want to distance yourself, if your trust in her has eroded to this extent?

{ 23 comments… read them below }

  1. ann.*

    If she sues her husband will likely be instructed to have no contact with her.

    It would be smart for him to tell her that he cannot see/speak to her until the legal issue is resolved (dropped, settled, whatever) and for neither of you to say anything you would be uncomfortable swearing to in a deposition.

    Unless he wants to risk his job for her (i.e. he actually believes there is wrongdoing).

    Not a lawyer, not legal advice, just good common sense.

  2. Anonymous*

    Thank you for your response, the only contact I have had with her was just to check on her to see if she was ok. That was when she told me she was thinking of taking legal actions. Before she was let go she had constantly told me how much she hated her job, I told her if she hated it so much she should quit and even helped her look for other jobs, will this be an issue if she were to sue?

    1. Karyn*

      I don’t see any legal issue with what you did.

      First, you’re not an employee of the company, so what YOU told her has no bearing on the case. And even if your husband had told her this and tried to help her into a new job, there’s nothing wrong with an employer trying to help an employee find a new job if they’re unhappy in their current position. My own employer right now is working with me to help transition me into a new job with a new company after I graduate, if they can’t create a position here for me. There’s nothing illegal about this, nor does it really show any sort of “intent” on their part.

      Second, she’d have to find some legal ground on which to sue, and “They told me I didn’t meet my goals” isn’t one of them. It likely won’t even get to a point where you or your husband would be brought into it.

      Third, most of the time in my experience, “I’m going to sue!” rarely amounts to a lawsuit. It’s either a way to get some quick settlement money out of an employer, or, more frequently, just a threat to “make” the employer hire the employee back. I seriously doubt you have anything to worry about here.

      Fourth, if somehow this does get to a point where lawyers get involved – I strongly recommend distancing yourself from your friend, and also having your husband make a log of every time the employee attempts contact, to which he should reply, “I’m sorry, I can’t speak to you until this matter is resolved.” That is the ONLY thing he should be saying to her right now.

      And I echo Alison’s advice about hiring friends. My husband’s cousin’s wife just got hired into his department at his office, but there is no chance of him ever becoming her manager, and they work on totally different projects within their department. Even with THAT, I’m still kind of “Eeeeeeeh” about the entire situation.

  3. Anonymous*

    i dont see why you want to be friends with her is you think she is planning/trying to entrap your husband at for her benefit. if she is indeed a friend, she will not be doing this

  4. Joanna Reichert*

    She sounds like a good ol’ fashioned troublemaker – and an entitled one at that.

    Go on the ‘nice’ offensive and be bland, non-commital and repetetive. “Sorry, I’m not going to discuss that” over and over ought to put an end to any loony inquiries. That way your words can never be taken out of context.

  5. Andrea*

    I agree with your advice about hiring friends, but in this case, it doesn’t necessarily sound like the husband hired the friend. It could be that he was hired/promoted after the friend was already there.

  6. Freida*

    “This is why I’m always preaching about being really, really careful about hiring friends (or in this case, friends of your spouse).”

    I get this, but I’ve always wondered: what is your opinion of a situation in which you start at, say, an entry-level position and become friends with your coworkers who are at the same level as you. Then you get promoted above them and now become their manager, after you are already friends. It seems like turning down a promotion because you don’t want to manage friends would be overreacting (not to mention career-damaging), but you also shouldn’t be expected to end a friendship based on a promotion, right?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This is tricky. You really do need to have professional boundaries between you and people you manage, and you can’t continue the same type of friendship that you might have had before you were their manager. The whole dynamic changes. So it’s more about going into the situation knowing that’s the case, and being conscientious about creating/maintaining appropriate boundaries that you didn’t need before.

      1. Jamie*

        I agree – and I would add that maintaining professional boundaries in entry level positions can help when they are looking to promote from within.

        It’s great to have friendly relationships with co-workers – but it may hurt your career if you’re seen as too solidly entrenched in any workplace clique or relationships.

        You have to be able to change the dynamic when promoted – and the less you give tptb to worry about on that front the better.

        1. Freida*

          I agree! But I feel like so few people do (at least my age, mid- to late-twenties). I’ve always been of the opinion that the first goal of being at work isn’t to make friends–it’s to get the job done well. (Especially since a big part of my job is setting and enforcing firm deadlines, I can’t be constantly doing favors for friends). Now, if in the course of getting the job done I also make some friends, that’s fine, but we don’t have to be bff. Also, I don’t think I could even be friends w/ someone who I knew first as the slacker in the office.

          But I just started a new job two months ago, and my new manager keeps asking why I don’t walk around and talk with my coworkers all day, and it’s clear he means social chit chat. I’m baffled–it would never be my inclination to spend all day chatting at my coworker’s cubicle outside of my new boss’s office the first month of a job!

          1. Malissa*

            Did you tell him you were hired to do a job? I’ve learned, the hard way, that trying to be friends with everyone right after starting a job is a bad idea. I’ve learned that the best approach to any new situation is to just sit there and watch the office dynamics. With-in one month you’ll have a better idea who are the major players, who to avoid and who will be your best assets. If you buddy up to the first person who smiles at you they’ll often color your view of the others.
            Also getting overly friendly with your coworkers is usually a bad idea, at least if you have ambitions to move up in the office. It’s amazing the people that you thought were on your side that will hate you if you get promoted over them. Never do they realize there’s a reason they’ve been at the same desk for 10 years and all the new people eventually move up, leaving them behind.
            I had a first hand experience of this situation. Unfortunately my new cubicle was separated from my old co-worker’s by only a tall partition. So I could hear everything she said about me after I moved up, into the position she wanted. I didn’t even ask for it, the company offered it to me.

    2. Suz*

      My company handles this by not allowing you to manage or supervise your former teammates. For example, if you were a plant operator and were promoted to plant manager, your new position would be located at a different facility than the one you’ve been working at.

  7. Joey*

    This is an awkward situation for everyone involved, but you’ve got to address it head on. You will battle the perception of favoritism the more you do friendsy things. And i can almost guarantee you there will be at least some perception of favoritism even if you keep it professional at work. Employees talk and make conclusions when a coworker has the appearance of an unfair advantage. But, you can minimize that perception the clearer the boundaries and the more you address the unfair perceptions head on. In most cases I don’t think you can totally eliminate that perception unless the friendship is ended.

  8. Anonymous*

    Unfortunately, it’s times like this where you start to see people’s true colors. I tread very carefully around her right now as her attitude and mood might be very volatile. If she is very angry at the company, including your husband, it’s best to stay away. You don’t want any of your words or actions taken out of context. She will do that. I’d leave her alone and let her come to grips with what she is dealing with in life right now.

    I never worked with a close a friend, but in my private life, there have been instances where I have worked with friends on projects. And that’s why I say you start to see people’s true colors. This one person, when she didn’t get her way, had a major tantrum and no matter what I said to her, she twisted it into such a convuluted way, it become useless to talk to her. Things instantly came to be my fault despite what actually happened, in her eyes. And yet, she had told me a long time ago that she believed she was an easy person to get along with when it came to teamwork and projects. I guess it was easy when everyone kowtowed to her demands.

    So the moral of my little story – Sometimes it’s best to just walk away, give the person some space, so you can protect yourself and, in this case, your husband. You don’t need an angry person to misuse your words, especially if a lawsuit is in the works (moreso your husband’s words than your own, but she might add words you never said – “She told me her husband said…” You are seeing a side of her you thought didn’t exist, but yes, it does.

  9. Liz*

    I’ve been on the other end of the “never hire a friend” situation. No one ever talks about the negative of being hired because of “who you know” but it’s not all great. With the wrong kind of person, it can introduce a very unprofessional dynamic into the workplace.

    It’s probably my own bad experience with the kind of boundary challenged “friend” who turns a supposed good turn into a pretty unpleasant scenario, but the writer seems very concerned about how she’s coming off, and she’s painting the former friend as completely crazy. Maybe the friend is totally nuts, but something seems a little “off” in the letter – like pieces of relevant information could be missing. Or maybe not.

    Either way, stepping back from the drama sounds like a MUST.

    1. Anonymous*

      I haven’t left out any information, yes I am concerned of how I appear. I want to be a good friend to this person, I am actually her only friend, but when she says to me she wants to sue all of her managers my husband included I have to start worrying if she is going to try to twist anything I have said to her. Since she has been fired she has called my husband 3 times to get him to meet her after work to “discuss” things. Just now she stop by my house unannounced. I don’t even know how she knows where I live.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Oooh, not good. Say this to her: “Jane, I want to support you, but when you’re threatening to sue my husband, I can’t be part of that. I don’t have any choice but to distance myself from this situation while it’s going on. Please understand that I can’t risk harming my family in any way by being part of these conversations. While this is going on, you’ve got to stop contacting us. I’m sorry that’s the case, but there’s no alternative.”

      2. Anonymous*

        Just now she stop by my house unannounced. I don’t even know how she knows where I live. (sic)

        Um, if she’s a supposed “close friend” as per your original letter to AAM, then why wouldn’t she know where you live?

        1. Anonymous*

          Just because you are friends with someone doesn’t mean y’all need to hang out at each others house.

          1. Anonymous*

            Maybe that’s how it is where you come from…or you specifically don’t want people at your house for whatever reason.

            Our OP here writes they are/were “close” friends. Therefore, her comment seems really strange. Either that or she needs to rethink her definition of how their friendship was.

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