update from the reader managing a lying sister-in-law

Remember the reader who was stuck managing her sister-in-law, who was planning to call in sick in order to go on a trip (#1 at the link)? Here’s the update.

So here’s how things have been going supervising my sister-in-law. The day in question rolled around and, much to my relief, she showed up to work. But, it is still not easy being her supervisor. I have been supervising employees since 2007, and this is by far the most awkward situation I have been in. My sister-in-law is very prideful and our personal ties make dealing with this issue that much more challenging.

Here is where my struggle started. She and another employee both applied for a full-time position and the other employee got the job. My sister-in-law has been rather cold to the other employee. Even worse, she was rude to me and my supervisor to the point where we had to have a sit-down discussion with her about her behavior. Well, her behavior did not improve and my supervisor and I were planning another discussion with her when I found out that she was losing her house and moving in with her mother. This fact softened both of us and we decided to cut her some slack as we both could understand why not getting the full-time position impacted her so much (although, in truth, the job didn’t pay enough to save their house if they were that far behind). But she never revealed to anyone at work that she was losing the house, just that she was moving. I have access to this information because of our personal lives. And after the move, her attitude did improve toward my boss and me.

Oh, and here’s the worst thing about the personal lives intersecting. When she moved in with my mother-in-law, she brought bugs with her. My family went to my MIL’s house over Thanksgiving and saw bugs on the kitchen counters and crawling on the walls. My MIL’s house was NEVER like this before. We had a work potluck this week and I couldn’t warn other employees not to eat the food from her bug-filled house.

The real work issue has to do with her pride. The reason my sister-in-law did not get the full time position is because she is not well-rounded with her skills. There is one particular skill that she is AMAZING at, but in our field one amazing skill is not enough. The employee that got the full-time position is well-rounded and knowledgeable in multiple areas and my sister-in-law could learn from her and me. But, because she is older and has experience in a similar field, she has put up this wall where she thinks she has nothing to learn from us. I know that I need to sit down and have a talk with her and explain that if she ever wants to get a full time position in her current field, she is going to have to be willing to learn the skills that we can teach her.

And while her attitude toward the other employee has improved, it is still not good and I worry that she would fall flat on her face rather than ask for help with anything. This is not normal for people I supervise. I know from your response, as well as other readers that I just need to treat her as a non-relative and have a frank discussion about her behavior. But it would be an uncomfortable conversation with any employee and our “relative” status makes it that much harder.

My organization has put me in a very bad position because if it ever came to a point where she needed to be written up or corrected, it could wind up very bad for me and the organization (i.e., lawsuit. And from the things I know about her personally she would totally go there). It may come to a point where I need to raise the issue to my supervisors and ask that my sister-in-law be transferred to another location. Transferring employees is not unheard of in our organization, especially in recent years and because of our positions, she is the one they would transfer, not me. I really hate that I have been put in such a questionable position because I have worked very hard to create a good, ethical reputation for myself and it is very important to me to be a good boss.

Me again. I’m mainly printing these updates without commentary, but you really, really, really need to ask to have her moved. Explain that it’s a conflict of interest for you to manage a relative and that it’s become too difficult for you to juggle both relationships. She’s not getting the management she needs, and that’s bad for you, her, and the organization. Get her moved.

{ 34 comments… read them below }

  1. Ruffingit*

    Yes, she needs to be moved ASAP. I also have to comment on this But she never revealed to anyone at work that she was losing the house, just that she was moving.

    Why would you think an employee should/would reveal that she was losing her house? That’s a pretty personal thing and not something I’d expect employees to talk about at work. Just seemed odd the way this was phrased in that “she never revealed to anyone…” I wouldn’t reveal something like that at work either, it’s a personal and would be, for me, a rather embarrassing thing.

    1. Anon*

      I think that statement was there because the OP and her manager changed their plan in dealing with her because of the housing situation, which they wouldn’t have known about if not for the personal relationship.

      1. ChristineSW*

        I wonder if that was her way of trying to save her job and/or otherwise change the way the OP and her manager were dealing with her.

      2. Ruffingit*

        You’re probably right, which brings us to another consideration of this situation – the personal relationship is clearly influencing how the OP is handling this employee, which means something needs to change. No other employee would have been given that kind of leeway because they wouldn’t have shared their housing issues. It’s only the personal relationship the OP has with her SIL that allowed that, which is concerning. This a landmine of possible favoritism issues. Something needs to change here quickly.

        1. Clever Name*

          My thoughts exactly. I’m shocked that the company even allowed this to happen. Is there a chance that they don’t know about the in-law relation????

          1. Ruffingit*

            They know it. In the original letter, the OP said While this is not in line with the policy of my organization, management has taken a blind eye approach to the situation.

  2. Mena*

    You say it is very important to you to be a good boss, but you are not being one. You are waiting instead of acting and she is stalling her career and you are not laying out the skills she needs to acquire to advance. You are not managing her because you are uncomfortable – not an option. Get her moved; you’re harming her future and your own.

  3. NurseB*

    Oh wow. Yeah, this pretty much sums up party of the terrible co-worker I’m dealing with. The big difference is that my co-worker puts ALL of her personal things out (death in family, medical issues, spouse job loss, etc) for everyone to know. Now the supervisors over my co-worker don’t want to be the bad guys and fire the sad, misfortunate person and we are stuck picking up all the slack this person leaves. And really, the personal issues should have nothing to do with whether or not this person keeps their job but they do. So the SIL in the letter not telling people about losing her house doesn’t matter and quite frankly it makes it worse when it becomes the reason someone keeps a job they’re not doing well. It’s miserable.

  4. thenoiseinspace*

    Sorry for the snark, but it has to be said – she “brought bugs with her” to her mother’s house? Really? How on Earth can you be attributing this to her? It might never have happened at her mother’s house before, but there’s no way you can possibly know the cause for it happening now. Sure, it’s possible that she might have had some infested furniture or something, but there are any number of other possible causes too.

    1. Poe*

      Thanks, that sat poorly with me, as someone who once suffered an infestation of silverfish (even the name makes my skin crawl) that turned out to be the “overflow” from my hoarder neighbour’s place.

    2. Kit M.*

      Yes, and even if she did bring them — this is a character flaw?? You can have a bug infestation without being an awful or disgusting person.

      1. Anonymous*

        But maybe it is part of this person’s flaws. Surely OP deserves the benefit of doubt as she has more information than us.

        1. Kit M.*

          My point is that having bug problems are not in and of themselves a character flaw. If she wants to cite another problem of which the bugs are symptomatic, she can name it.

    3. Kou*

      This really rubbed me the wrong way as well. You saw pests in your MIL’s house so it must be your SIL’s nasty character flaw? Come on. And she felt bad she couldn’t warn people not to eat the food SIL brought for a potluck? Give me a flipping break.

      Any sympathy I had for the LW dried up completely with that paragraph, actually. It feels to me like she has a lot of weird negative energy for the sister, and it makes me question the other things she’s taken issue with at work. I get the feeling LW feels she can’t do anything normally with SIL (assuming LW is typically a good manager) and is taking the frustration of that out on her. I don’t doubt there’s some issue with the sister, but there’s also a heck of a lot of issue with the letter writer.

  5. Lindsay J*

    OP, you’re really not handling this well at all.

    There is no excuse for an employee to be rude to their coworkers or bosses, no matter what is going on at home.

    Taking the sister-in-law part out of the equation, you have an employee who is rude, resentful, not that good at all of the aspects of her job, and not willing to ask for or accept help. She needs a strong manager who is willing to push her to make the changes she needs to be a good employee, and who will manager her out if she doesn’t make these changes.

    Her personal situation doesn’t matter. Your family ties don’t matter. If you handle things correctly and document them, the fact that she is potentially litigious doesn’t matter.

    In fact, if she is potentially litigious you are doing yourself and the company more harm than good by permitting these poor behaviors to go unaddressed for so long.

    You’re doing harm to yourself as far as your growth as a supervisor goes by not addressing this. You’re doing harm to the rest of your team by making them put up with this, and I guarantee that they resent you for it. You’re doing harm to your company by causing them to spend resources on keeping somebody who isn’t cutting it and isn’t trying. And you’re doing harm to your sister-in-law by allowing her to continue thinking this behavior is okay – she’s never going to grow as an employee and she’s never going to be able to get a full-time position if these behaviors aren’t addressed.

    You either need to deal with this head on (and do so aggressively – I’m almost sure based off of the rest of this letter that your “talks” and “discussions” will tend to be on the soft suggestion side rather than the “X is what is happening, Y is what needs to be happening. If Y doesn’t start happening soon then you will be facing disciplinary action. If it continues to happen after that we will have to reevaluate your future with this company” that they need to be) or you need to remove yourself from supervising her, either by having her moved or by stepping down from your position.

    I might sound harsh here, but this situation needs to be handled and you’re not doing it.

    1. Anna*

      I think it’s naive to think her personal relationship can be set aside. There’s a specific reason companies don’t like relatives to work together either in a manager/managee or even coworker situation; it’s because as the OP knows, you can’t actually set that aside.

      1. Lindsay J*

        I know it’s difficult to set them aside.

        I worked with my fiance for 5 years (different shifts, but same small department and our shifts overlapped for 5 hours), and managed his younger brother for two years. It’s not something I would willingly do again. Luckily there never were too many issues.

        I agree that the OP is in a tough spot and that she shouldn’t have been placed in this position.

        However, the reality of it is that she is in this position, and is not dealing with it appropriately at all. The responsible thing to do – if she felt like the personal relationship made it so that she cannon address the sister-in-law’s performance at all – would have been to request to transfer the sister-in-law a long time ago. However, she hasn’t done that yet. She isn’t even considering doing that currently – she said “It may come to a point where I need to…” It’s already long past that point and the OP doesn’t seem to recognize this.

        1. Ruffingit*

          So totally agreed with everything you said here and above. It’s long past the point where something needs to be done about this.

      2. Jamie*

        I also think it’s naive. You just can’t.

        Twice a year I have one of my kids come in and help with office clerical stuff during inventory. She’s very helpful and it’s nice for me to have the same “temp” each time as I don’t need to keep retraining when time is tight on very specific company procedures.

        At the same time it’s taught me I absolutely could never have a family member report to me full time. On one hand I have much higher standards for her because it reflects on me, and the other hand I’m super protective of her…either of those things would make me a lousy manager – together I’d be the boss from hell.

        Empty office where she’s just basically assisting as needed and grabbing the phones it’s fine…but I could in no way be objective if she reported to me full time and it would absolutely hamper her career development (not to mention shred our personal relationship.)

        We have family members at my place, outside of ownership, because we do recruit a lot from people’s personal recommendations…but no one reports to a family member. I don’t know anyone who can be objective, but even if someone could that kind of mentality is so scarce the presumption of favoritism would be there.

        1. Anon #2*


          I worked as a “runner/gofer” in my mother’s office in my teens and early 20s. The other employees seemed to appreciate my work ethic, but we were all made uncomfortable by my mom’s publicly-given regular unfavorable comments on my work attire. I always wore slacks and a blouse, albeit somewhat wear-worn, so not out of line in a professional setting, but granted not ideal.

          I finally had a private, closed-door meeting with her to ask if she’d say things like that to the other employees in front of their co-workers. She admitted that she wouldn’t, and agreed to only give me her comments in a private setting.

          Many moons later, I’m delighted to say that my mom’s become one of my dearest friends – but we don’t work together any longer! :-)

          1. Jamie*

            That’s so funny you say that, because while I’ve never said that in front of anyone we go through that every morning she’s coming in with me.

            Last time she finally said if I were X and came in in this outfit would it bother you? And tbh I wouldn’t have even noticed if it were someone else (I had been pestering her to wear less fadey jeans and a sweater instead of a hoodie…it’s inventory and the office is closed – everyone is in sweatshirts and baseball caps!)

            So even in a private setting it’s annoying – according to my daughter. :)

            So yeah, definitely not a long term thing. But I do think it’s a great way for her to learn some stuff about how an office works, and she’s learned enough about my job to not want to do anything like it…ever.

            1. Anon #2*

              Take heart. My day job is now as an admin assistant for 2 executives… :-) I’m grateful for the skills I learned in Mom’s office – they’ve helped me to have regular employment through the years!

  6. Anon*

    I will also add in you seem to have taken a resentful note towards your sister-in -law yourself. You refuse to manage her but you seem to think you’re doing her some favor by attempting to put up with her. See Allison’s post about being “nice” usually turns out poorly. That situation applies here. Be a leader, manage.

    What does it matter about the bugs? I am not sure I understand why you feel the need to mention it to your co-workers. Why do you think the bugs might have gotten in the food? That the sister in law brought it in?

    On a personal note, this work relationship may be harming your own relationship with your sister-in-law. This is not healthy for you long term and it will have an adverse impact on how you view work. Stop it before it becomes a toxic environment and I would argue it is already on its way there. Have her moved. Being wish-washy in this situation is not doing anyone any favors.

  7. Liz T*

    Agreed with commenters about the bugs. We just got roaches after 1.5 years in our apartment with nary an antenna–we’ve done NOTHING differently. Bugs happen to good people. (It’s also weird to assume they’re in the food. If the infestation is so bad that they’re swarming into the fridge or something, or if the dishes and pans aren’t getting washed when they need to be, that’s on your mother-in-law as well.)

    1. Anonymous*

      To play devil’s advocate, people who don’t really have their life together sometimes don’t deal with bug problems all that well. A friend’s upstairs neighbor ended up with a bedbug infestation in her unit that spread to the entire building because she refused to deal with it promptly or properly. Sure, bugs happen to good. But “bad” people can also do things to cause or worsen bug problems.

  8. Saturn9*

    If the OP is concerned about a potential (frivolous) lawsuit resulting from having to “correct or write up” her sister in law, how is transferring her any kind of solution?

    Given, it would solve the problem of the OP not wanting to do her own job but I would assume that the sister in law would have just as much grounds for a suit (which is to say none in any sane or logical world, but we have to live here instead) if she didn’t appreciate being transferred.

  9. Jamie*

    We had a work potluck this week and I couldn’t warn other employees not to eat the food from her bug-filled house.

    And this is why it’s unfair to label people who don’t do potlucks germaphobes.

    Maybe most people have clean kitchens, but stuff like this is out there.

    This is why I can’t watch Kitchen Nightmares.

  10. Laura L*

    I’m kind of surprised the employee hasn’t been let go yet. I know people who have been fired for less.

    I can’t tell from the letter if the employee’s attitude is unique to being managed by her in-law or if it will still be there if she’s transferred. If it’s the latter, is it really fair to put that on another manager?

  11. Kou*

    I’m boiling this down in my head and seeing the actual work issues of the sister being cool toward the person who got promoted over her and rude somehow to the letter writer. Past that, it’s all suspicious on the part of the LW: I think she’s going to call in on an important day for funsies (which I feel the need to point out didn’t actually happen), I think she’ll sue us if I do what I need to do, I think she caused a pest problem in someone’s house, I think her food is dirty, I think she thinks she’s better than us. That makes me question the subjective behavior assessments, honestly, but either way it’s no good for anyone.

    The sister definitely needs to be transferred since her manager has so dang many weird hangups about her. If SIL’s behavior is really a problem, then she needs a good manager to deal with it. And if her behavior is fine, she still needs a good manager.

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