can we tell dating employees that one of them has to leave the organization?

A reader writes:

In our organization of 25 employees, there are two sets of couples. Having couples on such a small staff is really counterproductive. The couples are always looking out for each other by way of trying to ensure they don’t have to take on extra work and having a counterproductive attitude to other staff.

Could our organization adopt a “no relationship” policy and therefore require one person from each couple to leave the organization? All the employees and relationships have been in place for well over 10 years.

I absolutely understand why you don’t want couples on a small staff. Totally aside from the problems you mentioned, there are also legitimate concerns about whether they’ll be able to work on projects together professionally, whether they’ll act in a way that makes others uncomfortable, whether they’ll cause drama or tension if you have a fight or break up, and whether they’ll end up fighting the other person’s battles for them. (For example, what happens if one half of a couple gets fired or treated in a way they feel is unfair? Does that really not impact the morale and working relationships of the other person?)

However, while technically you could implement a “no dating” policy and tell people that they need to pick their job or their significant other, that would be a pretty crappy thing to do to couples who have been together for 10 years when you didn’t say anything at the outset. It’s pretty likely that your staff would hate you for it.

Or you just could have a no-dating policy going forward (although good luck with that — it usually just drives dating underground and tends to be seen by people as a major over-reach from the employer).

But your better bet is to manage in this situation, which means addressing it forthrightly when someone in a couple is behaving in a disruptive manner, like the things you described. Make it clear that that behavior isn’t okay, and if it continues, impose consequences — one of which could certainly be managing them out of the organization if you feel it rises to that level.

There’s one exception to this: You absolutely need a policy saying that people can’t manage someone they’re romantically involved with, or even be in their reporting line (so, for example, your communications director can’t date the communications assistant, even though the assistant reports to the deputy communications director, because the director manages the assistant’s manager).

Allowing people to date subordinates causes Bad Things. At best, it creates the appearance (even if not the reality) of bias and special treatment, and it can also mean that the subordinate’s performance isn’t assessed appropriately and the person isn’t given adequate feedback, and it can open your company to charges of harassment down the road (“I wanted to break up with him, but he implied it would affect my standing at work”). Most companies have a no-dating subordinates policy, and you should have one too.

If any of the current relationships on your staff would violate that policy, you can and should intervene in that now. That means that you’d need to figure out if any of those reporting relationships can be changed — which might be hard or impossible in such a small organization — and if they can’t, then you need to give some reasonable period of time for one or both people in the couple to find other work. Since you’ve let this go on for 10 years, you’d need to give them that transition time in order to be fair.

But aside from that, the answer — as it so often is — is to manage. When someone’s behaving inappropriately or in a way that’s harmful to your organization, address those specific behaviors (i.e., the “trying to ensure they don’t have to take on extra work and having a counterproductive attitude to other staff” part of your letter). That part of it is inarguably your business, and you have both the standing and the obligation to address it.

*While it’s generally legal in the U.S. to prohibit dating between coworkers or require one of the parties to move on if a relationship forms, there are a few state exceptions, such as in California, where courts have ruled that the state constitution provides broader privacy protection in employment matters). So you’ll want to check your state law.

{ 178 comments… read them below }

  1. Katie the Fed*

    Yeah, I think this would be a way overreach. OP, your problem isn’t that they’re dating. It’s this:

    “The couples are always looking out for each other by way of trying to ensure they don’t have to take on extra work and having a counterproductive attitude to other staff.”

    You’d be abdicating your responsibility as a supervisor by failing to address the problematic behaviors and going after the couple instead.

    1. fposte*

      That’s the one that set the sirens off for me too. (That and the fact they’re testing the tornado sirens.)

      1. Heather*

        I read your comment and went back to the letter trying to figure out what the hell tornado sirens had to do with the OP’s situation.

        Yeah, my brain really needs a vacation…

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Oh. Me too. So Tuesday is the day they test the sirens in your area? (Wednesdays for me.)

      2. Mel in HR*

        With these bad storms coming through, I’m glad I haven’t heard any siren tests today. We have a chance of tornadoes here so that would just be messed up!

    2. Anon Accountant*

      Exactly. Some couples can date, work together and behave professionally without engaging in problematic behavior. Address the problematic behaviors instead.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        A married couple I know met at work and still work there. New hires take awhile to figure out that they’re married because they don’t act differently aside from commuting together.

        That’s how it’s done!

        1. Biff*

          I work with my spouse, and it took one of our new hires over a year to figure it out. Despite the fact that sometimes a ‘dear’ or ‘sweetie’ pops out. Oops. We made a decisions very early in the game that our job at work is to do our job and be HARDER on each other so that there’s never doubt.

        2. Chinook*

          “A married couple I know met at work and still work there. New hires take awhile to figure out that they’re married because they don’t act differently aside from commuting together.”

          Canadian Forces’ policy was that couples could be posted abroad on the same post but you had to treat each other like you would any colleague – which means no fraternizing for the entire time you are there (which could be anywhere from 1 month to 1 year). It worked because there was a firm line between home life and work life and the two should never meet (that and they have the same rule as AAM – no relationship with anyone in your chain of command. If caught, the hire ranking of the two is given the harsher punishment).

          My one question about asking dating employees to leave the organization, is how would the OP decide who should have to leave if they both wanted to stay and refused to stop dating? Would they both be fired? Always the hire or lower ranking? What if they are the same level? Does it go by seniority? And if they break up, is the person who left eligible to be rehired? So many logistical questions.

          1. OP*

            There is ZERO policy on dating/relationships. I don’t know how we would decide who would leave the org. I’ve never encountered this situation and reached out to AAM to see if she had insight or any of the readership had experienced it before.

          2. Aussie Teacher*

            Yes! This exactly! I work with 2 other women in a department. Our head of department is married to one of the women (they fell in love & got married while working here, have both been here for 7+ years and no one has addressed this issue). What would happen if the exec actually addressed it and they both refused to leave? (It’s a lot harder to fire ppl in Oz…)
            Alison, what would your policy be regarding the questions above?

    3. Charity*

      Agreed. I think the problem with prohibiting couples as a workaround to avoid managing problem behaviors is that you’re still assuming that problematic behaviors only occur among couples. I’m sure AAM has had letters before about similar issues being caused by workplace cliques — non-romantic friend groups that can cause issues in a work environment. Do you go one step further and ban socializing between coworkers outside of work? I feel like the policy approach might make sense if your goal is just to get rid of two or four individuals, but it’s kind of like using a sledgehammer to kill a spider.

    4. Shannon*

      I agree. The relationship isn’t the problem, the behavior is the problem. There’s nothing stopping that behavior from cropping up in two close work buddies.

      1. Ama*

        Yes, I was just coming to say that. It’s not the dating so much as they are letting their personal preference for one coworker affect how they deal with the rest of the office.

    5. Anonymous Educator*

      You’d be abdicating your responsibility as a supervisor by failing to address the problematic behaviors and going after the couple instead.

      This, absolutely. I’ve worked at several places that have had couples (and my spouse and I have also worked together in a couple of places). Most of the time, they have been 100% professional and it has not been a problem, so I would definitely say the issue, in this case, is more the behavior and less the fact they are a couple (of course, to the couple, the behavior would seem to flow naturally out of their being a couple, but you have to disabuse them of that notion).

    6. neverjaunty*

      Yep. Substitute “good friends” or “cousins” for “dating” in the relationship description, and the problem is exactly the same: employees who are misbehaving, and doing so because of their personal connection to another person.

  2. BRR*

    A problem we have at my organization is there are couples who are not in the same department but are uneven performers. I’m thinking of one specifically where one is rock star and we don’t want to lose her but the husband kind of stinks. He’s been here awhile and the longer people are here the less likely they are to be fired which is a different issue but I always wonder if he was let go, what would she do?

    1. Mike C.*

      I hate thinking this way, but I think you’d actually be safer in this position – losing one income in a household is bad, but choosing to lose both feels really extreme.

      1. fposte*

        Choosing to find a job elsewhere, however, isn’t. This is the perennial university dilemma with the trailing spouse–if the TS isn’t up to much, we aren’t likely to fire if it means that the rock star would go elsewhere. And the rock star is quite likely to go elsewhere.

        1. Charity*

          That’s true, and if they do need two incomes they might have to both switch jobs or even switch regions. For universities (and similar employers) a lot of times there is only one university in the area — it’s not like the slacker spouse can just find another job at a university unless they decide to maintain separate households far away from each other. Even if the rock star isn’t angry that her spouse was let go, she still might not be able to afford going to a single-income household forever.

        2. Honeybee*

          I feel like academia is a little different in this regard because of the competitiveness and the geographic restrictions, though. A mediocre trailing spouse who is let go in a small town or small city where there aren’t a lot of colleges or universities – or who lives in a large city with a lot of very desirable, very competitive colleges and universities – may be forced to move in order to find another tenure-track position, taking the rock star with them. But in most other industries, a person who is fired for performance will look locally for other work.

      2. Koko*

        That’s good insurance against her giving notice the day she hears that hubby has been fired. But it’s not very good insurance against her beginning a job search the day she hears that hubby has been fired.

    2. MT*

      I almost had a reverse situation at a past job. We had a married couple who were both really poor performers. The company requires lots of documentation and lots of coaching and counseling sessions. Usually atleast 4 months of work. So we picked one of the two and did the 4 month process and removed one and let the other one remove themselves when the spouse left.

      1. MT*

        or she knows she is a rock star and can find a new job with little effort. Better to save a good marriage than a replaceable job.

        1. neverjaunty*

          But she’s not a rock star if she expects you to put up with a problem employee simply because he’s married to her.

            1. Anna*

              Yeah, by that definition she’s a person who’s invested in her relationship and frankly isn’t required to be completely objective about it.

              1. neverjaunty*

                “Either my husband has a job here, no matter how crappy he is at it, or I walk” would be a little bit beyond being ‘completely objective’. And but-they’re-a-rock-star mentality is exactly how companies end up tolerating employees who are actively toxic.

                1. Turtle Candle*

                  Although it doesn’t have to be that conscious or deliberately manipulative.

                  At my job we used to have a pair of brothers who worked in different departments. One was a very high performer and well-liked in the company. The other underperformed. The high performing brother was generally quite good at being objective about assessing skills and so on, but with his brother he just wasn’t, so when his brother got crappy raises and there started to be signs that he was being managed out, high performing brother got upset. Not because he was like “you have to keep my crappy brother on or else I’m out of here” but because… family affection made him less than objective. He didn’t think his crappy brother deserved a job simply for being related to him. I don’t even think he consciously thought “if they fire him I will leave,” it’s just that family loyalty made him feel oogy about the way his brother was being treated. He simply wasn’t able to see his brother as a crappy employee, because he loved him and was not looking at him through the same lens as he would another employee.

                  Which is of course exactly the problem with related coworkers (whether romantically or not). But I think there’s a lot of emotional/behavioral middle ground between “oh yeah, firing my husband, fine by me” and “either my husband has a job here, no matter how crappy he is at it, or I walk.”

                2. Roscoe*

                  I think you are seeing this as very black and white. Someone could feasibly be a really bad employee, however if they aren’t treated well on the way out, that can sour ANYONE. I had a co-worker for a brief time, and the way they handled her when they went to let her go really changed my opinion of my boss. Not because he made the right business decision, but how he did it. This was someone I had very little affection for honestly, but she is a person and I believe she deserved better than she got. So I can only imagine if this is someone I’m married to. So yes, the wife could easily see that letting him go was the best move, that doesn’t mean she has to be ok with it. Why would she want to stay there anyway? Loyalty should be to your spouse, not your company. If she is good, she’ll have no problem fining a job.

                3. neverjaunty*

                  @Turtle Candle: you’re certainly right that it doesn’t have to be conscious or deliberate, but if you can’t manage Employee A properly out of fear it will upset Employee B, that’s a problem, and it means Employee B is also a problem.

                4. Turtle Candle*

                  Sure. I just don’t see that it’s a problem which is contradictory with the employee being a high performer, which is what you seemed to be saying. (Unless you mean something else by the term “rock star”? I admit that I find that term rather opaque.)

      2. Roscoe*

        Yeah, I disagree with that. You can think that they treated your spouse like crap and choose not to work there anymore. That doesn’t mean you aren’t great at your job, just that you value that person more than your company

      3. Koko*

        Ah, but “for cause” is so subjective. She might well be a high-performer who brings a lot of value to the organization, but disagrees whether hubby’s problems merited a firing, disagrees with whether he was given a fair chance to improve, disagrees with the way his termination was handled, etc. You can try to handle it all as transparently and fairly as possible but she still might disagree. And once she’s decided you’re a untrustworthy employer who treats employees unfairly, she has a motive to leave.

        It’s also worth noting that her marriage may in an subconscious way require her to come to the conclusion. Confirmation bias and all that psychological stuff that says when A being true is very significant or important to us, if A not being true would cause substantial difficulties in our sense of identity or our primary relationships, we’re more likely to believe A is true no matter what evidence we’re presented with that it’s false. And we don’t realize that this is what we’re doing, most of the time. Only people who are very self-aware and introspective tend to realize it, while most of us think we’ve arrived at our conclusion based on facts (that we unconsciously cherrypicked).

      4. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        But if he finds a job in another city and she can easily relocate because she’s a high performer, that might result in her leaving even if she doesn’t have any resentment towards the employer that let her husband go.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          Yes, it can be a purely practical matter. “I want to be with my spouse more than I want this job.” is not incompatible with being extremely good at their job. They wouldn’t immediately stomp out in a pique, or threaten to leave if their spouse wasn’t hired back, but looking for a situation where they can both have jobs in the same city can be a rational decision that has very little to do with the current job.

    3. LQ*

      Yeah this is an issue, the we’ll put up with one mediocre employee for a rockstar. I think the assumption is always that yes, if you fire one person you’ll loose both. I’ve certainly seen that happen. It seems illogical, but when someone is upset and hurt and their partner is and you have other components, logic doesn’t always play a role. Sometimes it takes a little while because the partner who is still there who is the rockstar will go out looking for new work quickly. Anecdote is not data, but I don’t know of any actual data around this (and I looked a few years ago).

      1. Shannon*

        If I were the rock star and my SO were the bad employee and my SO got fired, I’d be too embarrassed to keep working there.

    4. Ann Cognito*

      We had a major layoff a few years ago and of the one married couple we had on-staff, the husband was let go and the woman kept on. I was really glad that both didn’t lose their jobs as it would have meant a 100% cut in income, from one day to the next (there was severance though).

      I always think it’s a risk to have a couple work for the same organization, where the household income is reliant on the one source.

      1. Doriana Gray*

        This happened at a law firm I worked at with married attorneys. Frankly, I was shocked the wife didn’t leave too after they laid her husband off because the way they did it was shady, but like you said, they probably needed her income.

    5. Sketchee*

      If the company is that reliant on her, then that’s the problem to address. What will you do if they’re heaven forbid hit by a bus?

  3. Green*

    On the line manager issue — it would be much better to put someone in a management chain that doesn’t involve a romantic partner, even if it isn’t who that role would traditionally report to (i.e., Comms Assistance reporting to Program Director or direct to CEO). Given that the relationships and the employment has been status quo for so long, I don’t think firing (aside from independent fireable conduct) is the best option here, but you do need to remedy any reporting-chain issues.

  4. Mike C.*

    Allowing people to date subordinates causes Bad Things.

    This would be my biggest concern. The other stuff about managing is important, but as a manager you’re already worrying about that sort of thing. You could quickly develop a very toxic workplace if this sort of thing starts to happen.

    1. Anon On This One*

      A staff member was let go not too long ago. I didn’t really think too much about it until a coworker told me the gossip was the person was having an affair with her manager (bad) and she was being really vocal about it (really bad). She worked directly with our clients and was unable to keep the activities to herself.

      The manager was retained, although I’m not sure I would have made that decision. There’s always the possibility of coercion and I would not have wanted even a hint of that, but ultimately it’s just gossip and not entirely clear what happened. So now I look at this manager with new eyes and try to remember that I don’t actually know the whole story.

  5. Snarkus Aurelius*

    OP, if you’re reading these comments, could you provide examples of what’s happening in this statement?  “The couples are always looking out for each other by way of trying to ensure they don’t have to take on extra work and having a counterproductive attitude to other staff.”  I’m genuinely curious.

    That said…

    Instituting office-wide policies because of crappy behavior from specific individuals is passive-aggressive.  If there’s a problem, deal with the problem straight on instead of acting in a punitive manner and making a policy effect everyone when only a few people are the bad apples.  (Punitive behavior such as yours is a good indicator of frustration, and I totally get that because I’ve been there.  My sympathies.)

    Many years ago, someone called me out for issuing an office-wide “reminder” when only one person was being crappy, which everyone knew who it was.  I’ve been ever so grateful for that feedback.

    1. Ann Cognito*

      Exactly! All a general conversation/reminder does is anger the people who aren’t engaging in the behavior, since they all know who is, and that it’s not them, so they wonder why they’re being spoken to/reminded. The person who *is* to blame doesn’t necessarily know (or care) that the reminder is actually being addressed towards them personally, so nothing changes! Much better and clearer to just address it head-on.

    2. AMG*

      I was wondering what this is too. It could be difficult to catch the more subtle forms of the behavior but it can still be done. In our company, we move people around in various roles and chains of cod pretty frequently depending on the business need (i.e., not usually a staffing/performance issue).
      I wonder if there’s a way to also put them in different roles so that they don’t have the opportunities to pull this stuff? It’s not really addressing it head on but if you call them on it, move them, and let them know you’re managing it from here and won’t tolerate it then you may get a handle on it faster.

      I’d really like to hear how this goes. Please give us an update!

      1. Meg Murry*

        I know it’s a typo and you probably meant chains of command (unless COD is some business abbreviation I don’t know) but I’m in a slap-happy mood and I’m picturing fish with people’s heads swimming around in long “chains of cod” and giggling.

        Is it Friday yet?

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        I think the Op can do a couple things – address the problems directly with the problematic employees, and institute a no relationships with subordinates going forward policy.

      1. OP*

        There are a zillion examples of where the relationships are causing problems. The original intention of asking the question was truly to understand if the company would put a “no relationships” policy in place right now would the couples already in place be “grandfathered in” or could we legitimately ask one person from each couple to leave.

        1. The Expendable Redshirt*

          I’d forget your original question entirely. Relationships aren’t the core problem here. One could theoretically forbid relationships between employees. However, there would still be performance problems with the remaining staff members.

    3. OP*

      An example would be this. Couple A for example, Thelma and Louise, work on different teams. Louise’s team brainstorms and decides to implement Widget A. In order to produce Widget A Thelma would have to take on some additional tasks on a monthly basis. Nothing major, 1-2 hours of work per month, and it is absolutely 100% within the scope of work Thelma’s position is responsible for. Starting with the brainstorming session Louise is unsupportive of Widget A because it would cause Thelma more work. Now is Louise upfront in communicating her reason for not supporting? No. But she’ll conjure up every other excuse possible. I guess in this specific scenario the management struggle I have is that it is overt and the only thing I feel like I can say is something to the effect of “When you don’t support items, like Widget A, that impact the workload of Thelma’s team the team’s perception is that you’re protecting Thelma and neglecting your responsibility to develop and implement the most cost-effective and profitable widgets for the Company.”

      Another example. Couple B, Bonnie and Clyde, work on different teams. Clyde is much more tech-savvy than Bonnie. Bonnie oversees a team of 3 email programmers, however Bonnie has no idea how to use or even login to the email development program. Thus Clyde takes on Bonnie’s responsibility on overseeing email programming and at times directs Bonnie’s staff on procedures etc. If Clyde left Bonnie would not be able to assist her 3 direct reports as she wouldn’t even know how to login to the email development program.

      Please note I greatly simplified these examples.

      1. Sketchee*

        It seems like in both of these examples, the part of them being a couple isn’t completely relevant. It may be the reasoning behind the behaviors. At the same time, it’s the behaviors that need to be addressed. In the first scenario, you’d have to address what Louise says. Not any underlying reason. If it was any other team member who brought up identical concerns, how would you address it.

        In scenario B, Bonnie needs to do her job and not Clyde. Bonnie needs to oversee her own staff and direct them. “Hi Bonnie, I see that you don’t know how to log into email. Want me to show you?” “Oh that’s okay, Clyde will do it. ” “Well Bonnie my opinion is that it’s best for the company that learn this. I’ll talk to my boss/your boss/the company president. If upper management is okay with it, I totally support that’s it’s their decision and how they run their organization. Until then I’ll continue to address the issue.” =)

  6. Weekday Warrior*

    “But aside from that, the answer — as it so often is — is to manage.”

    We need these t-shirts – “the answer is to manage”.

    1. alter_ego*

      And more relationshippy advice columnists need ones that say “the answer is to communicate”

      1. Mabel*

        I expanded these comments to say the same thing – actually talk to the person you have the issue with! Not easy, but necessary.

  7. KarenD*

    The advice to manage this, rather than institute a blanket policy, is spot-on.

    My company was sold about 6 years ago, and as part of the changeover they implemented a very strict no-nepotism policy that stated spouses could not work in the same division. Approximately 11 people lost their jobs over this in our group, including at least two people who had been with the company for 20-plus years. It was part of a layoff program, but this particular policy really stung. For one thing, in almost every case, it was the female partner who was cut. Even worse, we lost some massively talented people who easily would have survived a layoff otherwise.

    The impact on morale was horrible – far greater, I believe, than the layoffs would have been if they were conducted on a more traditional basis.

      1. KarenD*

        (Sorry I’m just now answering questions)

        It was about half and half. A lot of the people who left were not able to find decent-paying work, meaning their spouses were kinda trapped – someone had to be bringing a paycheck.

      1. neverjaunty*

        It depends on the particular circumstances, but yes, my antenna would go up as to whether there was illegal discrimination, as well as whether there was some attempt to circumvent laws about layoffs or unemployment. There was an interesting lawsuit filed this week against Yahoo! alleging that it used stack ranking and employee reviews as a way to cut its workforce without calling it a layoff, in an attempt to get around the California version of the WARN act.

      2. KarenD*

        The way it was decided, in almost every case, was that the partner making the highest salary was the partner who stayed. It was a backward attempt at kindness on the part of the poor middle manager who had to implement this horrible policy. But, living in the world we live in, that meant – usually – the woman made less and thus lost her job.

        That said, they brought in counsel that had experience administering layoffs in our state. Every step was orchestrated in an attempt to keep things on the right side of the law. The only successful legal challenge that I know of never rose to the level of a lawsuit; it was raised and settled quickly and quietly. It was gender-related but not connected to the nepotism rule. However, I suspect the female-skewed numbers helped that person make her case.

        The real impact, as I said, was emotional. Prior to the sale, this was very much a family-oriented company, all the way up and down the line. I’ve often wondered if part of the motive behind the nepotism rule was to force a sudden, violent culture shock (plus save lots and lots of money).

    1. BethRA*

      “For one thing, in almost every case, it was the female partner who was cut. ”

      Wow, I’m surprised no one sued.

        1. PK*

          I wonder if it was because “almost” leaves enough legal ambiguity that the layoffs were based on merit rather than a flat “the wives go” policy.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      This reminds me of when Yahoo revoked working from home for everyone.  Initially I thought it was because the CEO wanted to institute layoffs but didn’t want to take the heat for that decision.  
        Months later, it turned out that she reviewed the VPN activity and saw a good chunk of employees hadn’t logged in for months.  Like…why didn’t she just address THOSE PEOPLE instead of revoking a perk company-wide?  If she had come out with the truth, I can’t think of a single person who would oppose disciplinary measures against that group of workers.

      1. Jerzy*

        How do you get away with not doing work for MONTHS at a time? The problem wasn’t working from home. The problem was bad supervision and accountability practices.

        1. Charity*

          It’s possible that the workers were in the office part of the time and working then (not using VPN) but also were working from home the rest of the time (when they should have been on VPN but weren’t). I’m not familiar with this story but I’m *hoping* that’s what happened. (The alternative — that they were doing no work at all for *months* — kind of implies that those employees weren’t essential. If the only way to know that the employees weren’t working at all is to check their computer access then that suggests to me that you might as well lay them off.)

          1. Judy*

            I can get to my email and IM client while not on VPN. I rarely work from home, but when I do, I generally only log on to the VPN to get to certain things on the servers. I might log in for a total of an hour a day, if that.

            I can code and compile and test just fine without the VPN. It’s only when I need to checkout or commit things to our SVN server that I need the VPN.

            1. Charity*

              Fair enough, but I think the implication from the post is that not accessing VPN while out of the office indicates that the person wasn’t working at all.

              1. Koko*

                IA – I don’t think it would have been mentioned a reason for revoking the policy if it VPN was rarely-needed.

                1. Anna*

                  Exactly. There would probably be other ways of tracking productivity but if logging on to VPN was how they knew you were working, and you weren’t logging in, seems pretty straightforward to me.

              2. The Strand*

                Not necessarily. I have never needed to use VPN when telecommuting, but a different division in my same organization uses it constantly. Many people who receive IT tickets never use the IT ticketing system, even though they’re analysts; they manage their ticket traffic entirely through emailed copies. We are siloed enough that different divisions fundamentally don’t understand each other’s needs and technology usage, and assume more “mirroring” than actually happens.

                I think the VPN usage could, in some cases, be a red herring, or just a really handy excuse for Mayer to lay some folks off.

            2. Honeybee*

              I was about to say the same thing. I only log into the VPN if I need to grab something off the server. Otherwise I don’t.

          2. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

            Unfortunately, if I’m remembering the articles about the time/work audits correctly, they simply had a lot of people not working because they were just so checked out.

          3. Marcela*

            I know that’s not the point, but if I can work from home avoiding the VPN, I’ll surely do it. And that’s because the VPN software, from Cisco, is so awful and mess up so much with my network connection, that I would do anything to avoid it. But of course, if that’s a requirement, I’d have to do it anyway.

        2. HM in Atlanta*

          When I first heard about the no work from home, my immediate thought was, “this is about poor managers”. Now that I’ve heard about the vpn data, I stand by that guy reaction. They couldn’t trust managers to actually manage, even if they terminated all the people that hadn’t worked for months.

          I have to wonder, though, why they didn’t terminate those people’s managers for not noticing they hadn’t done work for months.

        3. Crissy from HR*

          When I first started in Big 4, I was “on the bench” with about 80 other new hires. It took me three months of actively looking to find a project to join and the guilt of being paid while not having any defined work outside of training nearly ate me alive.

          One year in, I found out a new hire I attended orientation with was let go. He went almost 6 months without even powering up his work laptop. He has an amazing IG account though. I vividly remember seeing his pictures of travels Cuba and Peru right as we all powered through 65 hour work weeks to meet a client deadline.

        4. Koko*

          This seriously boggles the mind. I truly cannot even understand how this happens. How is it that so many employees had no deliverables for months??

          1. Crissy from HR*

            Well, at the firm that rhymes with Schiotte, you can be hired on to a specific project or hired into a practice area and told to essentially find a job for yourself once you’re brought onboard, especially if you’re below the Manager level.

            In my case, I had a strong set of skills they needed, experience with a contract they were expecting to land but still had to go out and “apply” to teams within the firm. It took three months to find a job I was well suited/had the clearance for (and 8 months for the contract they thought I’d be good for to be awarded). He apparently gave up on finding a team to join, no one checked in with him to see what was up and he slipped through the cracks until they audited time. When you’re on the bench, you didn’t have a manager, just a liaison to help you find positions in the firm. If yours was lazy/on leave/transferred/overworked, it’s possible they wouldn’t reach out much to see how you were doing.

            1. Koko*

              Interesting…their own little hiring/job microcosm once you’ve already been hired! Like a parking pass that gives you the right to enter the garage and look for a space but doesn’t guarantee you’ll find one :)

        5. Stranger than fiction*

          Seriously, there’s plenty of people that don’t do their work when they’re right there in the office.

      2. LQ*

        Sometimes if you have a culture of abuse you don’t want to just fire a quarter of your staff, you want to change the culture. Which I think has value. So you go, hey I know we didn’t care about this before but we do now so fix this. You can go back to having work from home at some point. But going I’m going to talk to Fred and I’m going to talk to Max and I’m going to talk to Jane doesn’t fix a cultural problem. I think this relates back to the question of if you have an org that has a culture of nepotism it’s hard to go, we are just going to address this person and this person and this person. Company culture matters. If your culture is you don’t have to work from home, or it’s totally ok to hire your kid and your spouse.

        1. OhNo*

          There are certainly benefits to starting fresh with a clean slate when you’re trying to change an organization’s culture, I definitely agree with you there.

          But I disagree that addressing each individual case somehow wouldn’t change the culture. It would be more work, absolutely. Having meetings and creating improvement plans and following up on changes for a significant chunk of your staff would take up a lot of time, while writing a single policy and firing everyone who doesn’t comply would take much less. Still, strong, consistent management can change culture just as well as wiping the slate clean by firing a bunch of people and starting anew.

          Now that said, I do understand why management would choose the “get rid of everyone we can and start fresh” approach. It’s way easier to set an expectation from the beginning than it is to go back and fix it after people get entrenched. It’s tough to teach an old dog new tricks, and all that.

      3. embertine*

        I had this happen at my extremely toxic former workplace. My job requires me to visit building sites and one person in our team was scheduling ‘site visits’ (in heavily inverted commas) every Friday and then refusing to pick up the phone for the whole day. Literally every Friday, with very little attempt to hide the fact that he was taking 1 out of every 5 days as a paid holiday.

        My boss banned site visits for the whole team, thus utterly destroying our ability to accurately do our jobs, and never once confronted the culprit. LW, please don’t be so conflict averse that you end up punishing the whole team for the unprofessional behaviour of a few individuals.

      4. Ann Cognito*

        I have a couple of friends who worked for Yahoo and they were impacted by that change, not immediately, as they lived close enough to an office location so they were able to start commuting in. But they both left within a year of that change, despite being asked to rethink their decisions, once they had found something new and spoke with their managers to resign.

        According to them, it created a LOT of anger among employees, especially as it allegedly came out afterwards that it was really done to cut employee numbers, since there were a certain number of employees who lived and worked so remotely, there was no way it was possible for them to suddenly have to show-up in an office every day, so they’d have no choice but to leave. It may have achieved that, but they also lost a lot of good people on top of that, and, as you say, allegedly the talk among employees was why not just address the VPN issue/needing to lose some head-count directly instead of this indirect, sneaky way?

      5. Bend & Snap*

        After the VPN news, it came out that people didn’t actually have to be logged into the VPN to be working, so it wasn’t an accurate look at whether or not people were online while remote.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          Interesting! I had only kept up with the initial reports (we were working through time audits at the time), but didn’t see the follow-up.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, I just read that today! The TLDR version: Lawsuit is alleging that Yahoo uses forced-ranking dismissals as a cover for what are really mass layoffs, thereby avoiding WARN Act requirements.

          1. Juli G.*

            Did you read the NYT article? I read it via Facebook and people are very confused as to what this lawsuit is about.

            (Also, the rare allegation of gender discrimination of a man! It would be an interesting case to follow but it’ll most likely settle out of court.)

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yeah, the articles haven’t been clear enough about what the allegation is. The lawsuit is saying that they framed terminations as performance-based (through their forced ranking evaluation system) but that in fact it was just a way to lay off lots of people (for cost cutting). If they’d been up-front that it was layoffs, they would have been subject to the WARN Act (which requires 60 days notice for layoffs over a certain number of people). By saying it was performance-based, they avoided those requirements. But if it was just a cover, they could be in trouble for not following that law.

              1. Biff*

                I’ve been watching this like a HAWK because rank-and-yank is so popular in tech (my industry), and I personally think that the lawsuit has a lot of merit. The CEO is out of control and just isn’t making good decisions at all. When she does make them, she dresses them up. This isn’t the first legally grey maneuver of hers, and I bet a lot more come to light in the coming weeks.

                What I think is really interesting is that the Disney lawsuit is popping at the same time. Tech has been able to hide a lot of naughty behavior behind big returns and cool factor. But now they are getting called to the carpet and it’s interesting to watch them scramble. It would have been so much easier for them to have just had good behavior from the get go.

                1. neverjaunty*

                  As I know I’ve said before, my tech-industry friends and I have a joke that what I call “actionable lawsuit” is what they call Tuesday.

                  A lot of tech companies have finally figured out that stack ranking is costing them talent; it’s amazing that Yahoo! is still clinging to it.

      6. Anon for this*

        That’s what happened where I worked. There was a WFH policy in place that was revoked when it was discovered that a couple of people were abusing the policy. The people in question were fired, and the WFH policy was never reinstated for anyone who was not part of the C-Suite. But, it was one more thing that communicated that non C-Suite employees were children who couldn’t be trusted rather than professionals who could be trusted to do their jobs and do them well.

    3. OriginalEmma*

      I wonder if the laid-off spouses would have had a case with the EEOC. A layoff process that disproportionately impacts women must be a violation, no?

      1. TootsNYC*

        not necessarily.

        It wouldn’t be unheard of for the women to be the lower earners of the pair most of the time, due to gender wage discrimination in our culture at large. As a group, women don’t negotiate as aggressively, nor to they lobby for promotion as aggressively.

        So if the company is approaching just the termination, they may target people whose skills are more easily replicated, and whose duties can be more easily distributed among the team. Higher-ranking people may have knowledge that’s harder to replace.

        And from a humanitarian point of view–if you’re implementing this policy that is only going to affect married people, and you want to impact them as little as you can, wouldn’t you terminate the one who earns less, so it impacts their bottom line not quite as severely?

        1. the_scientist*

          I’d like to amend a couple of your statements- women don’t negotiate as aggressively as men because they are punished for aggressive negotiation in ways that men are not. The same for promotions- what’s seen as “powerful leadership” and “risk-taking” in men is seen as “aggression/bitchiness/coldness” etc. in women.

          Also, women are, I believe, often offered less money than men (all other things being equal), so they start from a disadvantage in salary negotiations.

          1. fposte*

            I disagree with your assertion there. Women may be more punished than men for negotiation, but the research is pretty clear that overall it’s advantageous nonetheless.

            And I don’t think we can separate out anxiety about negotiation from all the other evasions of speaking up we see day after day after day in AAM. I think the reason most women don’t negotiate isn’t because they’re familiar with research that suggests they’re likelier to be seen in a negative light than men, it’s for the same reason they don’t say “Hey, could you turn that music down?” or accept jobs without actually knowing what the salary is. I think the disapproval research is popular because it makes that passivity seem sensible, but it’s really not. And it buries the fact that it’s still overall better for women to negotiate, momentary penalty or no.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yes, came here to say something similar!

              I also think it’s really important to be careful how we talk about this stuff, because otherwise it can inadvertently reinforce the behaviors we want to change (i.e., women will be more afraid to negotiate if they just read they’ll be punished for it and don’t hear “women who negotiate come out ahead of women who don’t”).

            2. the_scientist*

              But Toots wasn’t saying anything about whether negotiating is advantageous (which it is, obviously), they made a blanket statement that women are less likely to negotiate aggressively. I want to point out that there are major societal and cultural influences at play in how women make decisions about how to act, not just in the workplace but in society in general. I don’t think you can really argue that a culture that rewards women for acting in helping and supporting manners and in behaving in a less aggressive, more subservient way also might unconsciously punish women for negotiating aggressively.

              I’m not saying it’s not to women’s advantage to negotiate, I’m just saying it seems very short sighted and frankly ignorant of the larger patriarchal culture to pretend that there’s no relationship between how women are viewed generally and how women are viewed in the workplace, especially when they display stereotypically “male” behaviours, like aggressive negotiation.

              1. fposte*

                “But Toots wasn’t saying anything about whether negotiating is advantageous (which it is, obviously), they made a blanket statement that women are less likely to negotiate aggressively.”

                Yes. And I disagreed with your assertion that that’s because women are penalized for it. I don’t think that’s why women don’t negotiate aggressively.

                1. Honeybee*

                  I do, at least in part. I think maybe 10-15 years ago we could say that the knowledge would have nothing to do with it. But it’s been in the news a lot more recently, so I do think that knowledge that women are sometimes perceived negatively when they negotiate does play into some women’s decisions about how and whether to negotiate salaries.

        2. Rat in the Sugar*

          That seems like a way for stereotypes and discrimination to perpetuate themselves, though. Like, it’s okay to lay off all the women instead of their husbands because the women are already getting paid less? That doesn’t seem okay to me.

          1. Sarahnova*

            Yes, that sounds like the modern day equivalent of “a man needs this job more because he has a family to support. Why are you TAKING A JOB AWAY FROM A MAN?”

            Also, who says all the terminated women were partnered to men, or partnered at all?

            Benevolent sexism is still sexism, and still harmful.

        3. MK*

          The thing to do in the case would be to have them choose themselves, or at least consult them. I would think the best person to let go would be the one who can find other work more easily, which is probably the one who is more advanced in their career. And if the men were higher-up, they might have been older too and willing to retire or wind down their careers.

  8. Bend & Snap*

    I’m always mystified by people who work directly with their spouses. Greater risk if the company gets in trouble, and don’t people want their own space?

    A couple in my industry–we used to work at the same company–is a package deal. The wife is the bigwig and the husband runs a department, and they change jobs together and move to the same setup in the new company every time. So weird.

    1. fposte*

      It’s really common in academics, though. It does get interesting when there’s a split, but I’ve seen people work together amicably even after that.

      1. Bend & Snap*

        That makes sense given that outside of big metro areas, there aren’t large numbers of universities in the same place. My hometown has one university and couples do go as a package deal.

        The couple I mentioned keeps bouncing between areas where you could swing a cat and hit a PR agency, but maybe they’d rather be on the same team than working for competing agencies.

      2. the_scientist*

        This happened in my graduate studies department. Both halves of the couple were in the same discipline, both were hired to teach in the same department, and then they split after attaining tenure. Shockingly, given the size of the department (about 100 students and maybe 10 full-time faculty), it was totally fine and not awkward, which is as it should be, really.

      3. hermit crab*

        It must be common in K-12 education, too. There were multiple sets of married couples in my medium-sized high school and across the other schools in the school district. There were two sets of married couples in the high school English department alone! The one English teacher who wasn’t married to another English teacher was married to the town librarian (and the library was basically on the K-12 school campus).

        1. Chinook*

          “It must be common in K-12 education, too. There were multiple sets of married couples in my medium-sized high school and across the other schools in the school district.”

          As a former school teacher, this actually makes a lot of sense. Most of your time, the only other adults you interact with are other teachers. Plus, other teachers understand the ebs and flows of your work schedule in a way someone outside the system can’t. Plus, in a small town, the dating pool is often smaller to begin with and shrinks when you consider (especially if you are a high school teacher just starting out) that you don’t want to date former students, family members of students or those whose last date was with one of your students (which is why I married a soldier – he wasn’t at all related to anyone I taught).

          1. Al Lo*

            My high school English teacher married the Bio teacher who started at our school in the same year as she did. Their classrooms were across the hall from each other, and they were endlessly teased by the students about their romantic relationship (which, to our actual knowledge, didn’t exist — they weren’t publicly dating; they were just the new, attractive, young, single teachers, and high school students can be obnoxious). In my drama class, we even wrote a little play about them as schoolyard crushes with thinly disguised names. Well, after the May long weekend of their first year at our school, they came back married, and our little play was actually scheduled to be performed the next week. I bound the script nicely, and gave it to them as a wedding gift.

            1. Sarahnova*

              Ha, that totally happened at my school too. We used to joke that the Art teacher and the English teacher fancied each other, and then they came back married!

        2. MaryMary*

          There weren’t any married couples teaching at my high school when I was there, but after I graduated several people who had been students a few years ahead of me came back to teach. One teacher married his high school sweetheart, who had become the school’s basketball coach. They broke up when she cheated on him with the father of one of the girls on her team. He moved in (as roommates) with another teacher/former classmate, and one day he walked in on that guy hooking up with a student. SCANDAL. This group of friends had been the captain of the football team/homecoming queen crowd of their day, so many people felt a certain schadenfreude when it all exploded.

        3. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          My elementary school art teacher and music teacher were married. I thought that was the case in all schools until I was older. :-)

          I also have friends who work for international schools abroad. Those schools actually really like to hire couples who are both teachers – it apparently very much increases the chance that both teachers stay for several years. (Often these are 2- or 3-year deals, but some people get homesick and leave after just one year. Moving to a new country with someone you care about, though, means you’ll be less likely to feel isolated and overwhelmed by culture shock.)

      4. periwinkle*

        The faculty at my master’s program included a married couple, both pretty awesome. Meanwhile, two of my friends were post-docs together in a lab run by a married couple who had a thoroughly not-amicable split. Heard a lot of great “wow, so glad not to be working there” stories about that workplace (which sounded a bit toxic even before the breakup).

        At my current employer it is not even slightly unusual to have married couples, siblings, or parent/child working in the same function of the organization although I’ve never seen any where both were in the same reporting hierarchy (that’s probably not allowed). Our company is large enough to swallow up entire families with no conflicts… although there must be a less horror-movie way of describing that…

    2. Anxa*

      I certainly don’t think it’s ideal, but I also thing it makes perfect sense in a lot of ways.

      A lot of times partners meet over shared circumstances or interests, especially through meeting in school. My long-term partner and I have very different specialties, but we’re both in the life sciences and education and have competed for similar positions before.

      Most of my experience is in either food service / retail or student life. While I love the service part of those positions, I want to get out of them as I’m not very extroverted. Taleo has confirmed I don’t have A Good Personality for these jobs. So of course if my boyfriend moved to a place without a lot of industry I would end up applying to the nearby schools or the only school in town.

      1. TootsNYC*

        “A lot of times partners meet over shared circumstances or interests, especially through meeting in school. My long-term partner and I have very different specialties, but we’re both in the life sciences and education and have competed for similar positions before.”

        There’s also the idea that working together builds your relationship. A shared cause.

        There’s a stereotype of the executive who falls in love with his secretary (and vice versa) because they are involved in the same “cause” every day, and when they marry, she leaves her job to be a wife, and their closeness vanishes.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      I’ve had two sets of married bosses, both at small companies where they were the owners/general managers. With the first couple, the husband was a very volatile personality and yelled at everyone, sometimes even at his wife. With the second, I never saw ANY kind of animosity between them on the job. If they disagreed, they did it without yelling and in private.

      Despite the difference in both situations, I decided I would never want to work with my (still hypothetical) spouse because I don’t think I could handle him being in my face all day. If we were arguing, even if I could be completely professional in my dealings with him, I would rather have the chance to escape. So he would either have to work in a completely different department (ideally, a totally different building), or not at the same company.

      1. Bend & Snap*

        I’ve worked for two married couples–one owned the business and the other was executive management in a 300-person company–and both experiences were nightmares. Married couple 1 did what your first example did, as far as screaming at each other and other people. Married couple 2 was my boss, married to the president of the company, leaving me no resources or recourse for his abusive behavior.

        In many circumstances, workplace relationships make it hard on other employees.

        1. TL -*

          I worked for a married couple that got along just fine – but he was the big boss and she did not get managed and really needed to be. But who was going to complain to him about her behavior?

          I’m pretty sure that at least she was convinced that it had no impact on her work environment.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Oh I take that back–three couples. The third was run mostly by the husband and I only met the wife twice because they ran it from another state, with the husband coming to our location once a month. She was super nice.

        That was my favorite job ever, but it closed down after the wife died suddenly [ :'( ] and the husband decided not to keep it going. It would have meant leasing all new equipment anyway to remain competitive, and without her, he just didn’t want the hassle.

        So there’s another wrinkle! If one spouse dies or the couple gets divorced, your job might disappear.

    4. INFJ*

      I would absolutely want my space. I don’t even like it sometimes when my SO is home with a day off on the same day I work from home. I can’t imagine working at the same place together AND living together.

    5. TootsNYC*

      You’d think they’d have learned something from Enron! Spouses all over the place, plus both spouses having all their retirement savings in the same company’s stock–and the same company that their salary comes from.

      1. Ama*

        Yeah, Enron is precisely the reason my father’s accounting firm has a “no married spouses” policy. But they were luckily able to implement it at a time when there weren’t actually any spouses on staff so they didn’t have to worry about any retroactive action.

    6. Carolyn the Red*

      I don’t find it mysterious. I like my husband. We met in university and have complementary professional skills (I’m better at math and algorithms, he’s got deeper knowlege of tools and system administration, and we can both code). He respects me as a person.

      There is something comfortable with working with someone where you don’t have to prove yourself anymore, and there’s something nice about working on an indie game snuggled up together.

      1. Carolyn the Red*

        I’ll add my now boss asked if my husband was interested at my interview for my current job. (boss used to manage husband) Weird but not totally unexpected

      2. Crissy from HR*

        As long as the snuggling is at home, I don’t see the issue =). I love bouncing my work ideas off my significant other. She has deeper, better rounded view of how I operate and manage personnel and is able to relate her experiences to mine since we’re in the same industry (military/defense) but different sprts of positions (specialized, niche intel/senior level logistics).

        I wouldn’t be able to work with her in any sort of supervisory capacity, however. I love her to death, she’s an amazing leader… but I like my space and to separate work from home. I don’t know if I could deal with the “geesh, my boss is pressing my buttons today” on top of “geesh, my boss forgot to unload the dishwasher AGAIN GAH.”

    7. Allison*

      I could see that, but sometimes depending on the situation it seems like the best option, like if one person is out of work and their spouse’s company has an opening that’s perfect for them. Or if they met at work. Or if they work in a field that doesn’t have a lot of companies/organizations near them. But yeah, it doesn’t seem ideal, and it’s riddled with potential complications.

    8. MaryMary*

      There were a lot of “company couples” at OldJob. We hired in a lot right of out college, the job required long hours…it was inevitable that some people would make a connection. I knew a couple people who referred their spouse/significant other for open positions too. OldJob was strict about couples not being able to work on the same team, so no one worked together directly. There were couples who commuted together, chatted with each other on IM all day, ate lunch together, and then went home together. That’s way too much togetherness for me, personally.

      Because a lot of couple met and got together when they were both in fairly junior roles, there was an interesting dynamic where both halves of the couple were at roughly the same level in different spheres. She’s an IT project manager, he’s an account manager. He’s the customer service team lead, she’s the sales team lead. There were fewer situations where one partner was junior to another.

      Generally, it only got awkward when the relationship ended badly. Memorably, there was an incident where one half of two different couples cheated with each other, at the office. That as ugly.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        My old job was this way as well, lots of right-out-of-college hires and people moving up.

        They have had some issues as people get higher up the chain of command and it becomes almost impossible for their SO to not be somewhere in the reporting structure, even if it’s not a direct line.

    9. QA Lady*

      I work with my husband. When he finished grad school we needed him to start working asap but his field wasn’t very marketable and he had basically no work experience. The other local office for my company was hiring so I passed on his resume. It was totally nepotism, but they had also been through 3 people in that role in the previous year and were willing to work with someone who wasn’t likely to jump ship as soon as training was done. I went on maternity leave for a year shortly after he started and when I came back, I realized that my location was on the brink of closing and got offered a promotion based out of his location within 2 weeks of my return so I jumped at it.

      While it’s not fantastic that we are both tied to the same company, the only actual impact working together has on a day to day basis is we get to eat lunch together most days. Our jobs don’t even slightly overlap, other than that his role supports the entire location for one function. I ask for his help maybe 2-4 times a year. He reports to the location manager while I report to the regional QA manager, so we aren’t in the same line of command, so to speak.

    10. ITChick*

      l live in mid-sized town surrounded by small towns (think populations of under 10K). There are a ridiculous number of married people working at my organization because it’s the 2nd biggest employer in the region (healthcare). Most of the married couples work in completely different divisions or only tangentially related, like one is a nurse and one is in the lab. There is one case where one spouse is a director in nursing and one is a doctor, but aside from sitting on a couple committees together, they don’t have a lot of direct interaction. It also helps that he is often on his best behavior when working with her staff, so it has advantages as well. No one wants to start a fight at home over stupid things at work.

      Because of the region we’re in and the types of industry, this has been a common thing for decades. It’s really a know your workplace, know your environment kind of thing.

    11. fairyfreak*

      I work in the same company as my husband. It makes sense for us, because 1. we were both working there when we met, and 2. our company is huge (thousands), and we’re in different departments (Accounting vs. IT), so we never work together. It’s very convenient! Before we had kids and different work schedules, we were able to commute together, and now we can go to lunch together, which is our alone time (see aforementioned kids!) to get caught up with what’s going on in the day/week. Also, we have the same holidays off.

    12. Episkey*

      My husband & I worked in the same company for a couple years. We went to lunch together every so often, other than that, we really didn’t interact too much. The worst part of it is that once you get home, you have a tendency to constantly talk/whine/gripe about work since you both know all the other people and the company culture, etc.

    13. Cath in Canada*

      I used to work with a long-term partner, years ago – we met when we were in adjacent labs in grad school. There was no reporting relationship and essentially no other ramifications at work, but I didn’t like it because we ended up talking about work stuff at home! There was no break from it. I need my non-science time… luckily, my husband is in a completely different industry.

  9. Prismatic Professional*

    Ohhhh! One thing I’ve learned in my professional life is that one cannot make rules about feelings, but you can make rules about behavior. And if the rule is actually about behavior, it makes it much easier to correct.

    For instance:

    Jane and Marie instantly hate each other upon meeting (it happens). Work requires Jane to complete assignments for multiple people on the team before they can start their part of work. Jane puts off doing work on Marie’s projects and does everyone else’s first. Marie now has to stay late in order to complete work. (Marie’s projects are not significantly different from anybody else’s.)

    1) Telling Jane to treat Marie’s work the same as everyone else’s did not work.
    2) Telling Jane that since she replies to everyone else’s e-mails within 2 hours or the start of the next business day, she must reply to Marie’s e-mails within that same time frame worked much better, but then many things that could have been done that same day were being put off until the next (still, better than “Oops! I forgot!” a week later…).
    3) Telling Jane that her new performance measures (time in responding, time to completion, quality of the work, etc.) are going to be broken down by team member and if there are any major discrepancies she and the supervisor will sit down to make a strategy to ensure her level of performance is equal for all members of the team improved the behavior. Since now there were actual numbers to back it up, she couldn’t hide behind “it’s just coincidence.”

    Surprisingly, after #3 was in effect for a while, Jane actually started being more pleasant to Marie.

    (Yes, Jane was excellent at the job.)

    All that to say – if there are measures by which staff are evaluated you might be able to break them down by person working with. If it takes significantly longer for the paired employees to complete a task at the same satisfaction level as two non-dating people(or a paired and non-paired employee) that would be something concrete to highlight. “When you work with Fergus you get X done in three hours. When you work with Partner you get X done in two days. Please help me understand this difference.” [Listen] “Ok, let’s make a plan to get your performance when working with Partner more in line with what you achieve working with Fergus.”

    As for looking out for each other – that is a manager’s job to ensure that the work is apportioned correctly. “I see that there is an imbalance in the amount of work and which projects are done by each team member, here is what I suggest ____________. What do you think?” [Listen and address their comments and keep the reality of what the job requires in focus.]

    1. OriginalEmma*

      This is really perceptive (manage behavior, not feelings) and practical. You sound like you’d be a great manager.

  10. some1*

    Count me in as not being a fan of workplace bans as the solution to problems with 1-2 people. Jane WFH and doesn’t answer emails or calls all day shouldn’t = no one can WFH. John heats up food in the microwave and makes a mess which he never cleans up shouldn’t = nobody can use the microwave.

  11. Anananon*

    I’ve witnessed three instances of relationships broken up by HR. Two were between managers and staff that were not direct reports. One of the couple was asked to leave the company and in each case one did.
    The other was a relationship between a married director and his secretary. They were both asked to leave… there was also some duck clubbing involved there. No one was fired, but they were given the opportunity to find other employment.
    We have a strong nepotism policy and I think they use that as an unofficial “no dating co-workers” policy.

    1. Winter is Coming*

      I lost a pretty awesome boss because he was the HR Director, and started dating (and eventually married) another department head. He removed himself.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I love that the married director was asked to leave! So often it’s the subordinate who gets zinged, and the upper level person stays.

      But the risk to the company is coming from the upper-level person; they’re the one putting the company at risk for harassment charges, etc.

  12. GlamNonprofitSquirrel*

    Many of the nonprofits with whom I work have a strongly worded “no nepotism” clause somewhere (personnel policy, bylaws) because our state’s attorney general’s office did a big crack down years ago and made it part of the licensing process to require it.

    That said, couples happen. You spend 30 – 50 hours a week with people and you tend to develop relationships, even if only in a warm, professional way. I strongly recommend sitting down with each partner and having a casual chat but clearly outline your expectations for office performance. Remind both that you will be evaluating them based on the metrics previously agreed upon and that you hope everyone will handle it like the adults that you all are.

    I did this recently and it turned out that the couple self-determined that working together wasn’t sustainable. (I’ve always joked that I can work with someone, I can live with someone and I can be friends with someone but the three things can’t happen simultaneously. Two out of three might work but never all three.) So I spent some “off hours” with the duo and I helped both brush up resumes and wrote letters of recommendation for both and when Partner A needed a reference I was able to say things like “understands how to work well as a team”, “handles challenging situations with diplomacy” and “good communications skills”. Partner A is now an ally at another nonprofit in town and Partner B thinks I’m a pretty darn awesome boss.

    I work in a smallish nonprofit and in a small city where we know everyone, so keeping everyone in the loop created a win all around.

    1. OP*

      Would you share what state you’re in? How did you help Partner A and Partner B come to that conclusion? I’d love to give that a try!

  13. Anonymous in the South*

    We have a married couple at our company. They work in different departments. If the husband has an issue or problem with a coworker, then the wife will be chilly to that coworker. The wife and her direct manager are very close. Direct manager not only looks out for the wife, but will insert herself in discussions/situations if she thinks the husband is being treated unfairly. Husband’s manager will not tell wife’s manager to mind her own business because she’s been here so long everyone is hoping she’ll retire and go away. Plus, the one time husband’s manager told the wife’s manager that he did not need her help to run his department, she threw a conniption fit, tried to get him fired and all 3 (manager/wife/husband) gave him the cold shoulder. Husband still did his work and performed well, but his frosty attitude to his manager was very apparent.

    Married couples/domestic partners/dating couples are a slippery bunch to manage. Good managers will try to manage the behavior, not the feelings (spot on Prismatic Professional!!). I think that can be hard to do, especially when a romantic relationship is in play because there are feelings involved.

    I also think that managers and their direct reports shouldn’t be overly close .They can (and should) have a jovial relationship with each other, but when you are in the room when your employee gives birth (yes, wife’s manager was in the room), or you are “looking out” for their spouse when their spouse is not your direct report, I think that’s too close to be manager/employee.

    1. Observer*

      . I think that can be hard to do, especially when a romantic relationship is in play because there are feelings involved.

      The thing is that feelings come into play with LOTS of other relationships – including the types of relationships that are normal and often even generally positive in the workplace.

      The reality is that the problem in your org is not about a married couple but a boss who does not have appropriate boundaries, and management that won’t step up to the plate. Forget about BossLady being in her subordinate’s delivery room. How does she get away with telling another manager how to run his department – and trying to get him fired! for not listening. And, how does an employee get away with giving his boss the cold shoulder?

      1. Doriana Gray*

        How does she get away with telling another manager how to run his department – and trying to get him fired! for not listening. And, how does an employee get away with giving his boss the cold shoulder?

        This sounds like a page out of my former manager’s playbook. She constantly tells other managers in her division how to run their teams, and nobody tells her where to go. Not even her own manager whom she also tries to boss around. It’s absurdly fascinating to watch really.

      2. Anonymous in the South*

        I’m not sure how to explain what I meant in a way that is clear. I think the feelings involved with romantic relationships are trickier to manage. I think people will put more on the line or walk into the line of fire for someone they are romantically involved with vs. what they would do for someone who is “just” a coworker. Again, I’m not sure how to explain it.

        As for giving his boss the cold shoulder- he was doing his work and performing as usual. He stopped chatting about non-work related things, such as sports or cars. He answered questions if asked, but it was done in a flat, emotionless voice. He stopped coming in or staying late a few minutes; he came in 8:30 on the dot and left at 5:00 on the dot. He stopped asking manager to join him for lunch out.

        It was a bunch of little things that when combined were noticeable but you can’t really discipline someone for not talking about sports with you or not inviting you to lunch.

  14. MaryMary*

    OldJob was very strict about “company couples” not being allowed to work on the same team. They considered it a risk management/anti fraud measure (the couple who embezzles together, stays together?). The policy applied to any family member, not just a couple. I knew a few siblings who both worked there, and I think we had a mother/daughter pair. It was a big company, so there was never really a career impact to either party. Both halves of the couple could still be programmers, as long as she worked on product A and he worked on product B. Or they could even work on the same product, if she was in development and he was ongoing client support, or she supported client ABC and he supported client XYZ.

    OldJob was very accomodating around conflicts of interest in general, probably so people would disclose them instead of hiding. I had a friend who was supposed to manage her best friend’s husband (she’d been the maid of honor at their wedding). She decided having that kind of impact to his career and their finances was not a position she wanted to be in, so she told her manager and BFF’s DH was assigned to report to someone else. It is easier to do when you work with 25,000 people instead of 25.

  15. AnObserver*

    Couples at work can work out well or not at all. I worked in a place where the manager and one of her staff members started an affair. It grew serious but they were responsible – he switched departments to avoid conflict.

    In the same place, another pair had an affair, the director and one of his managers. It grew serious and instead of removing either from the chain of command, sat everyone down to announce the affair was now a serious couple (that was so awkward!) but that this would not impact work or bias work; it didn’t work out that way as his lover always had his ear first and the other four managers had to wait and wait for their turn with the director.

    Another place I worked had a power couple – he was the local director and she the local finance person. She didn’t report to him but she could do pretty much as she pleased. When he was let go (due to a huuuuuuuuuuuge corporate scandal) she stayed on for a bit but left because without him there, it was “no longer any fun.” The office was less stressful with the pair of them gone.

    And where my husband worked years ago, there was a married couple. She was my husband’s boss; her husband was in the same field as my husband but could not work under his wife for the obvious reasons. But, she would share her work with him at home and her husband would then undermine and criticize my husband’s work – the chain of command conflict was gone but impartiality towards her staff was not. My husband happily left that toxic environment.

  16. hayling*

    At my last job the (married) CEO was very blatantly having an affair with one of the (married) managers. It was really inappropriate, and super obvious — at an event, their behavior was such that a vendor assumed that the manager was the CEO’s girlfriend. It rubbed me the wrong way when the manager was promoted to director. I didn’t work closely enough with her to know what her skillset was like, but it felt fishy.

    1. Biff*

      I just had an interview at a company that had Glassdoor reviews about how the CEO has Really Big Crushes on various employees. Okay….

      Then I find out he’s married and his wife works for the company.

      Omg. NO.

  17. Veronica*

    I met my husband at work. We were secretive about dating for years even after moving in together. Very few people figured it out even when we took our vacation time at the same time (it’s a small group). It’s the best way to handle it because it keeps the busybodies out of your business.

  18. Jane*

    I met my fiance at work. We worked together, sometimes on small teams and at first we were incredibly strict about no one finding out because we didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable (we thought that people knowing we were a couple might make others uncomfortable even though we didn’t act any differently around them, to our knowledge). We had a company cafeteria but never ate lunch together and generally were never seen together at work unless we were in a team meeting. I think keeping the two worlds separate worked for us and we kept it that way for a while, but eventually I got a new job which aligned far better with my professional interests, so I left and we finally were able to let our guard down and let our friends at work know that we were a couple. My fiance and I were in the same role and same level of seniority (in a company where there were tons of people in the same role/level of seniority) so I think that helped a lot to make the situation a lot easier to navigate. My old company’s policy was that people should be cautious in entering romantic relationships with work colleagues and I believe there was a policy about people dating their bosses, which, from what I recall, was that the relationship had to be disclosed to HR and the two people had to stop working on the same team (which was, given the size of the company, probably generally doable, but if the couple happened to be in a nice specialty area, probably tougher and probably would require some professional sacrifices).

  19. voyager1*

    I don’t have as much problem with dating then I do the parents or grandparents who get their children jobs by pulling a string. Like I said in an earlier response in the short answers:
    You shouldn’t be finding a company’s organization chart on

  20. Higher Ed(na)*

    This is rampant in academia. Many couples meet each other in college/grad school- often in the same major- and then when it’s time to apply for jobs they end up in the same department. Sometimes the chair is married to someone within the department. It’s especially interesting if there is a divorce and neither leaves the department!

    I’m in a support unit on campus and my boss is dating not his direct report, but one level down. Probably because there’s so much coupling across campus, HR said it was no problem. It is. Many decisions the boss has made has been perceived as being made for the benefit of his GF.

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