I manage someone who was terribly harmed by my family … what do I do?

A reader writes:

I am a director of a department. One of the supervisors who reports to me, “Jane,” is a former foster child of my sister. My sister and her family have issues, and it was alleged that her son raped Jane while she was living with them. While I do not know the details of the situation, I am aware that my nephew is troubled and I do not doubt Jane’s story. I am currently estranged from my sister and her family in part due to this situation. Through family gossip, I have learned that my sister openly and vocally blames Jane for her son’s problems in life and has made Jane aware of this.

Jane and I have never discussed any of this, and as far as I know she was not aware of my relationship to her rapist/ former foster family (my name is very common and we never met while she was living with them so I would not expect her to connect us). My nephew passed away recently and an office busybody shared the obituary with my department, with a message explaining this was my nephew, so at this point I assume Jane has made the connection.

In the weeks since the obit was shared with the department, Jane appears quite stressed in general, and in one-on-one meetings with me she appears uncomfortable to the point of being on the verge of tears at times. I am struggling with whether or not to discuss this with her and how to best address it. I normally try to be direct with my employees, but this seems like way too personal an issue to discuss with an employee. At the same time, part of me feels that if Jane knew I do not consider these people family and am not holding anything against her, it could make things easier for her. Even if it did not make things better, I think clearing the air between us might at least make her feel better since she would not have to guess what I do and do not know. Although I have no idea what she is thinking or feeling, and being open with her about this could just make things 100 times worse for her.

Jane is a great employee and I would really like to keep her on my team, but if she feels it is too uncomfortable working together, I would like to help her find something else, either at our company or elsewhere. Assuming there is an appropriate way to address this situation to begin with, would it be appropriate to tell her I would support her if she indicates she want find another job (be a reference, reach out to industry contacts, etc.)? I do not want her to feel like she is being pushed out by any means, but I could not blame her for not wanting to work for her rapist’s uncle. Is there any good move here? Ignoring the issue does not seem like an option, especially considering at some point the level of stress she is exhibiting would most likely affect her job performance (as of now, it is not) and then I would have to address that, and potentially open this can of worms anyway.

Any advice you have would be most appreciated as I am way out of my league here.

This is awful, and I’m way out of my league here too.

It’s possible that the right move would be to say something kind and supportive without referencing the situation with your sister’s family — but enough to show her that if she’s concerned about where you stand, you’re on her side. For example, you could say something like this: “You’ve seemed stressed lately, and I want to let you know that if there’s anything I can do to support you, I’d like to. You’re a great employee, and I’m so glad to have you on my team, and if there’s anything worrying you that I can help with, I want to. I don’t want to push you to talk to me about anything you’d rather not discuss, but I want you to know how much I value you and that if that I’m here if you need anything from me.”

If your sense is that saying this to her in person might be too upsetting for her, you could also put it in an email.

The other option, I suppose, would be to be more explicit about the family connection, in which case you could say something like: “We share an awful family connection, and while you don’t need to talk to me about anything you don’t want to talk about, I want you to know that you have my full support. You’re a good employee and a good person, and I’m so sorry for the family history we share. I value and respect you, and if there’s anything I can do to make life easier for you right now, I’m ready to do it. To be totally transparent, I would also understand if it’s too uncomfortable to work with me, and if that’s the case, I will help you in any way that I can. But I want to be clear that I think you’re great and I have your back.”

Right now Jane might be walking around unsure if you even know about the connection, and stressed about what will happen if you figure it out, and so it’s possible that getting it out there could relieve some of that. It’s also possible, of course, that it wouldn’t, and this is so hard precisely because we can’t know.

In general, I tend to believe people should always err on the side of transparency, but with this one I’m truly out of my depth.

What do others think?

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 561 comments… read them below }

    1. OhNoNotAgain*

      Do this before anything else and be sure to tell them that Jane has not spoken with you about any of this (that’s the impression I got from reading the letter). I don’t have any experience with this, but I wonder at how she could react if you (LW) bring this up without her having told you first. There is simply no way to know exactly why she is now behaving as she is–it could be for any number of reasons. People do process trauma differently–maybe she’s upset about something completely unrelated. Mind reading is not advisable–please talk to RAINN

    2. EddieSherbert*

      I think this is a great suggestion! You could even tell them if you’re thinking of following one of these scripts, and get feedback on that.

    3. Captain Awkward*

      Hi, Alison put the Awkward signal in the sky, and I second this advice.

      I think the Alison’s scripts, especially the second one, are very good – compassionate and truthful – but talking to someone who has been trained to handle sexual assault information will give the LW much more comfort and peace of mind than going in alone, especially since Jane hasn’t disclosed anything.

      This is the nightmare that Jane is living in – this long ago violation has followed her into a formerly safe place. It’s hard to know whether acknowledging it truthfully (“I believe you, it’s not your fault, I am absolutely on your side, you are a great employee and I am so sorry that this has followed you here’) or giving her lots of space and privacy (“You don’t have to discuss anything, but if you need some support/time off/something else within my power to grant, you’ve got it”) is the right thing to do.

  1. Dee*

    Wow, what a sad and complicated situation.

    I think I would go with Alison’s first suggestion. It gives Jane the option of whether to go into more detail, and if she doesn’t want to talk about it at all, she doesn’t have to. I’m not sure there’s any benefit in potentially forcing her to acknowledge something that she doesn’t want made explicit.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      My worry about script #1 is that it could leave Jane unsure of whether the OP actually knows of the connection — and worried that once he figures it out, his stance could change.

      1. Imaginary Number*

        I think that’s exactly why Script #1 is better. Jane might not want to know if OP knows of the connection. It may be one of those situations where “Let’s pretend that neither of us knows so it never has to be discussed” may actually be the most comfortable (for Jane, not the OP.)

        1. Marzipan*

          Yes, I think that’s my worry with this. Script #2 may make the OP feel better in terms of having done all they can; and it’s possible that it *may* make Jane feel more supported in her workplace – but then again, it may mean that she’s trying to process teapot invoices and then all of a sudden is obliged to have a conversation about her abuse. I think there’s a lot the OP can do to show they’re a safe person for Jane (or anyone) to make this kind of disclosure to; but I’m just not sure about the balance of effectively making it for her.

          1. irritable vowel*

            Yes, and the OP feeling better should be a minor goal of the conversation, in whatever form it takes. This has to be 99% about making Jane feel better, if at all possible.

        2. Been there*

          Or Jane might be emotionally exhausting herself every day wondering if OP knows, and worrying that if he doesn’t he will eventually find out and shit will hit the fan. That would be me if I were in Jane’s situation.

          1. Chalupa Batman*

            Me too. Jane likely has no idea that OP has cut off contact with the family members, and may be afraid that if OP realizes who she is, she’ll be blamed either explicitly or subconsciously. I wonder if OP acknowledged the separation when the obituary was going around. If it’s still possible without being weird, it may help to mention that OP was estranged from that part of the family and was not in contact with the deceased nephew, then use script 1 as an unrelated discussion? I have no idea what the right answer is, and I feel terrible for both OP and Jane. It sounds like this person has caused a lot of pain that won’t go away for people who never asked for it.

            1. MoinMoin*

              I agree totally with you. I think the issue with script 1 is that without going into any of the details she may be thinking OP is secretly blaming her and already job searching, in which case the vagueness comes off hollow if her assumptions are putting her on the defense. If he’s pretty sure that the employee knows the connection think OP needs to at least address that he is estranged from the family if he wants his employee to accept anything else he says about it.

            2. Anonymoose*

              I agree with this and hears why: they both know what they know and they can move forward. Otherwise the hush-hush probably feels like she’s stuck in this terrible trauma time warp. And now all that she had processed is rearing it’s ugly head. Can you even imagine what is rolling in her head right now? That she literally can’t get away from her abusers (seemingly terrible) family. Ugh, that poor child.

              Sorry OP, this probably seems like a good opportunity to show her that not all apples are bad from that bunch, but don’t feel a failure if she has to move on. I probably would have long ago, had I known, despite how great you were. It’s just…..icky.

          2. tigerStripes*

            If I were in Jane’s situation, I’d also be worrying that OP would find out and might suddenly hate me.

          3. Ginny*

            Yep. That is how I feel every time I find out I know someone connected to my perpetrator. Some kind of light but very clear language like Alison’s #2 would make me feel WORLDS better.

          4. Anita Brayke*

            Me, too. This situation is very difficult, though. Glad you’re calling/ have called RAINN. And thank you for caring about your employee enough to ask. That is awesome.

      2. Dee*

        Yeah, I can see that. I think if I were in Jane’s position, I wouldn’t want to even discuss it, especially not with my boss. But maybe it would be better to get it over with once, so that she knows she’s supported.

        1. MillersSpring*

          +100 Agreed. Script #2 sounds like the kindest most transparent approach. With Script #1, I fear that Jane would continue to wonder what the OP knows. I think the OP can make it clear that he does not expect or need to discuss the details, only that he supports Jane, not his estranged family.

          Also if the company has an Employee Assistance Program, he could point her to that resource.

        2. Elizabeth H.*

          I like the second version better as well, they both seem really good to me though.
          The one issue with the first script to me, is that it might seem a little ominous for Jane to hear that her emotions, stress level etc. are being monitored without an explanation as to why, especially if it’s not technically affecting her work yet. Only because there IS an explanation – it seems more transparent and straightforward to include it. If OP makes it clear he is aware of the unfortunate family connection, then Jane already knows that it’s not something that will “come out” and hasn’t affected her positive working relationship with the OP.

          With second script, I think one could possibly leave out the part about if she finds it too uncomfortable to work with him, to avoid any suggestion that it could be easier if she left even if it’s presented in a supportive context.

        3. Engineer Girl*

          This. I’m worried that script #1 will not work because of the power dynamics. Jane won’t raise the issue because she feels vulnerable.

        4. The OG Anonsie*

          I agree generally, only the word “unfortunate” is sticking to me somehow. I know the intent is to say it’s unfortunate that they have this family connection, but it sounds kind of like describing what happened to her as unfortunate, which gives some pretty different implications in this situation.

        5. MadGrad*

          Especially as the letter makes it seem as though Jane didn’t know the connection at all before, whereas it would seem obvious in retrospect that the LW must have recognized her. Not acknowledging it at all when LW could be seen as having omitted a very important bit of info until now might be more upsetting.

          You don’t have to go into the worst of it, but just admitting you know that theyou were bad to her and that he doesn’t feel close to them could do a lot.

        6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          My only concern with Script #2 is, what if Jane’s stress has nothing to do with OP? Like, what if something else is going on in her life? It creates this weird sense of “I know something terrible happened to you and am assuming that’s why you seem distressed.”

      3. Gandalf the Nude*

        Is there maybe a way to express the estrangement or general stance on the family without bringing up the shared connection? A kind of “Y’know, I really wish Busybody hadn’t shared that obituary. I’m not in contact with that part of my family in large part because of some awful things my late nephew did.” Not that wording, probably, and I don’t know how he would even bring it up. But if Jane is worried OP’s view of her would change if he knew the connection, that could assuage that fear while still leaving the ball in her court as to whether or not to talk about it more explicitly.

        1. AMPG*

          I was thinking of something similar, and I actually think it would be fine if the OP just put it out there in an email without trying to maintain the fiction that Jane doesn’t know the context – “Jane, I imagine you saw the obituary that was circulated for Ned the Nephew. I wanted to let you know that I didn’t ask for that information to be publicized, as I broke off contact with that part of my family a number of years ago due to Nephew’s and Sister’s actions. If you would like to talk about this, please know I’m always available.”

          But I also think a call to RAINN would be the best starting place.

          1. Anon Amiss*

            I really like this, too, only I would change it from “Ned the Nephew” to “my nephew”. I can only imagine that there are some names I would not want to see. (But maybe that’s just me.)

        2. Catalin*

          GtN, I love the wording. It’s real and natural.

          LW, there are other things you can do in addition to clarifying your stance without making it an uncomfortable thing: make sure you’re not accidentally trapping her in an office/enclosed space with you (assuming you’re male, but either way really). Give her emotional space; don’t have the conversation just before she has a major meeting or presentation; and don’t bring it up again.

          RAINN can help you further, I’m just sharing what helped in my own experience. DO NOT INVOLVE HR. She does not want anyone else to know what’s happened. No one wants to be a rape victim and no one wants to be thought of as a rape victim, even survivors.

          Finally LW, thank you for your sensitivity. Bear in mind, the US statistic for women who have been sexually assaulted is nearly 1 in 4. You know other survivors (female and male); that’s why outside of this unique circumstance I would never recommend bringing up sexual assault in the office.

          1. Lord of the Ringbinders*

            Actually I consider myself a victim and that’s my choice. I don’t want people telling HR without my permission because it’s my private business, not because of how I might be perceived, which is an important distinction to make here.

            1. Ros*

              Seconding this.

              Or, to clarify: for me, it’s an event that happened to me, in which I was a victim (I’m also a victim of pickpocketing, not a survivor, for example). It hasn’t particularly messed me up (my last job did a WAY worst number on my head and self-worth, just sayin), and isn’t really something I consider a defining characteristic or even a majorly defining life experience.

              So… I understand that that’s not how a lot of women handle it. But. I seriously don’t want HR or my boss knowing about it and treating me with kid gloves and asking if things are ok and… no. NO. No. just let me get on with doing my job and assume I’ve got it together until I either show otherwise or ask for assistance.

              1. blackcat*

                It is how some women handle it, particularly if it had been a while, including myself.

                And I’ve told some colleagues at past jobs, in an offhand sort of way. When I am pretty sure it won’t impact how people treat me, I like to tell, in part to raise awareness. I’m way past the pain of my experience, so I can take on the burden of educating clueless people. I don’t think people are obligated to do so, but I do think I have successfully educated some folks.

        3. AnonAnalyst*

          I was thinking something similar. Get it out there that you are estranged from this part of the family. I imagine that part of her discomfort is that she is now wondering how close you are with your sister and nephew, so make it clear that you are not in contact with them.

          I am not sure how you approach that conversation without at least making it known that you are aware she was staying with them as a foster child… but I think you can make the point that you are not in contact with them because of “issues you’ve had with them in the past.” That way, if she doesn’t want to discuss her abuse further you aren’t forcing the issue, but you can make it clear that you support her and are there if she ever wants to talk further.

          I don’t think the first script Alison provided is bad, but my concern would be that Jane wouldn’t feel comfortable saying anything because she might worry that I’m close to Sister/Nephew and I might react poorly to anything negative she says about them. I think getting the message out there that I am not close to them and I do not agree with how they have acted in the past might help.

        4. SystemsLady*

          Agreed, I’d go with that wording with some guidance from RAINN. I would only ever skip the second part if it is at all plausible OP could know about the bad blood and find the nephew’s family to be in the wrong without knowing exactly what had happened to Jane.

          If knowing the family connection directly implies OP knows what happened, RAINN’s help is going to be the best first step.

          1. Em too*

            OP can be clear he’s estranged from nephew without any mention of why – he says ‘in part’ because of that which implies there are other things. Using the first part of Gandalf’s line, but ending with ‘that part of my family [and my nephew in particular]’?

            Jane doesn’t need to know OP knows any details and I think in her place I’d really, really want to be able to pretend he doesn’t.

        5. kms1025*

          I think this is a brilliant way to talk about this…without talking about it. I am normally a very straight forward person but would, under no circumstances, wan to discuss anything of this nature with a co-worker, let alone my boss.

        6. tigerStripes*

          “Y’know, I really wish Busybody hadn’t shared that obituary. I’m not in contact with that part of my family in large part because of some awful things my late nephew did.” This! It says what Jane needs to know and doesn’t imply knowledge of what happened to her but does imply that you’d understand if you did know.

      4. A Cita*

        I can not more vehemently disagree with the second script. Whether someone wants to talk about their rape is solely and completely up to the person, not anyone else, no matter how people feel about “cards on the table.” It’s not OPs place to bring this to light or bring it up in conversation. It takes the control out of employee’s hands and it could be triggering. I would be so, so upset and angry if my boss did that to me, no matter what her intentions. Remember, in cases like these, impact > intention. Like someone posted above, call the RAINN hotline and seek advice. But do NOT bring this up to her. The first option allows her to bring it up if she wants, and the power remains with her.

        1. Just Another Techie*

          But the second script does not force Jane to talk about it. Nowhere in that script does the manager require or even ask for a response from Jane. It leaves the choice of whether and how to respond entirely in Jane’s hands.

          The fact is, Jane’s behavior at work has been impacted (even if the quality of her work product hasn’t been impacted. . .yet) and that means the manager has to say something. It’s completely untenable in the long term for Jane to be on edge and near tears every time she has a one on one with her manager, for both of them.

          1. MillersSpring*

            +1000 The recent issue of Jane’s teariness in the OP’s presence is the main factor that merits the second script. Learning that your boss is a kind person who is supportive of you, even if you need to leave the company (!) is worthwhile.

            OP can use Script #2 without requiring any kind of response or words from Jane.

            Additionally, OP could do some things that demonstrate his support of Jane such as praising her work publicly and giving her duties or responsibilities that show his trust of her capabilities.

        2. Been there*

          I don’t think the first option does allow her to bring it up if she wants to. The message I’ve always received as a rape victim is “hey, it makes people uncomfortable to talk about this stuff, so better to just edge around it and act like you’re fine even when you’re totally not.” And the first script would reinforce that message – I would still be feeling on edge and emotional and wondering if OP’s sister would eventually fill him in or if he already knew. A better middle ground might be the suggestion another poster made where OP could say that he is not happy the obit got passed around because he is not in touch with that part of his family due to his sister and nephew’s horrible actions. That doesn’t specifically reference Jane, but it also lets her firmly know that OP is not on her rapist’s side here.

          1. Been There Too*

            I second this suggestion.

            What a nightmare. I’ve literally had nightmares that are close to this scenario. Sincere sympathies to all involved.

          2. Anita Brayke*

            Yep. When it happened to me, it was made clear to me by my parents I shouldn’t talk about it. Years of that made it hard to talk to anyone about it, ever. I’m in support of the 2nd message, but not everybody reacts the same way. LW is calling RAINN, and i think that’s a good thing.

        3. The OG Anonsie*

          This is so intensely difficult. “Cards on the table” is not the way to bring up something that happened to someone else like this, but at the same time she may be pressed under anxiety about whether or not the LW knows and what he’ll do if he doesn’t and later finds out, and as Been There notes she’s not likely to feel that she is able to bring it up regardless of whether she wants to or not. The very concept of being in her shoes right now is making my heart race.

          I was going to suggest something similar to what BT does though, which is to just say that he is estranged from that part of the family and wanted nothing to do with that nephew. It communicates that her standing is not in danger without forcing a discussion and would hopefully take the “what does he know and what would change if he found something out” anxiety mostly off the table. This is what I would want to hear if I were in her place, but my situation is not identical– nor are she and I the same person so this is just an idea.

          I think, though, that this should be the starting idea the LW takes to RAINN.

        4. MadGrad*

          There’s also a middle zone between “I know nothing about any of this” and “I know you were sexually assaulted”. Just mentioning that he knows she was mistreated by them should be enough, no? I doubt they were good to her in other ways, so there’s plausible deniability about rape specifially.

          1. MadGrad*

            Oh jeez, poor phrasing: plausible deniability about whether or not the rape is something he knows about or is being discussed, not in terms of whether or not it happened. The ambiguity let’s her avoid talking about it if she prefers to is all that was meant to say.

        5. Lessa*

          Usually I would agree 100%. And initially he was absolutely right not to say anything, he had no reason to believe that she knew of his connection to her rapist, so bringing it up would have been completely inappropriate.

          The problem here is it has already been brought to light thanks to the obit. Jane now knows who he is but she can’t be sure whether or not he knows who she is, and she really needs to know one way or the other. Given LW’s sister has been blaming Jane, she could reasonably be thinking that if LW finds out who she is she will be fired. I expect that part of what has Jane so distressed is the not knowing.

          Unless Jane knows that the LW is estranged from that part of his family and is on her side, script 1 doesn’t give her the power to bring it up because she is still missing the necessary information to know it is safe to do so.

          It will no doubt be an uncomfortable conversation, and I think the suggestion of an e-mail rather than putting her on the spot in a meeting is worth considering, but Jane is not in a position to bring it up (she doesn’t have the power here at all) and is facing being forced out of her job because of the situation, so it falls on the LW to say something. She doesn’t need to talk about it but he needs to make sure she knows that he is on her side.

          In pretty much any other circumstance, pretending ignorance would be the best choice, but it is too late for that.

      5. PiggyStardust*

        I think it’s more prudent to send an e-mail of Script #2, with the inclusion that OP would be happy to set up a meeting with her. With an e-mail, Jane can take the time to process it on her own, and respond after being able to consider it instead of being forced to respond “in the moment.” A face-to-face meeting will have some sort of reaction, especially if she’s not prepared for it: panic, tears, or feeling “cornered.” IMO this makes it as easy as possible for her without forcing her into a crappier situation.

        Do you think a 1:1 meeting is more valuable?

    2. MK*

      Also, there is some possibility that Jane’s stress isn’t really about her only now realising the connection (it’s possible she always knew it, it’s possible the busybody missed her or that she didn’t pay attention to the gossip), but due to something totally unrelated.

      1. Anon for this*

        Could also be because she just found out her rapist passed away. That event sometimes brings up very surprising emotions in people.

        1. irritable vowel*

          Yep, I had this thought as well. It’s human nature to expect that people are thinking about us *way* more than they probably actually are. The OP may well be projecting some of her own discomfort onto the situation when it might actually not really be much about Jane feeling uncomfortable with the OP’s identity reveal.

        2. Kristin*

          I assumed that was the other nephew who passed away, and rapist is alive due to the present tense wording the letter writer used to describe the rapist nephew. Presumably it was his brother who passed?

  2. Hibiscus*

    You have to be explicit and transparent. I think ideally this would have been done when Jane first started working for the LW . You have to come out and say, maybe with your manager or HR present, that you are estranged from your sister and her family due to your nephew’s actions, that you found the allegations to be believable due to various factors, and that you are so sorry that Jane had to experience this. Letting this go on unremarked has made it 100 times worse.

    1. Observer*

      Please do NOT involve HR. If Jane has not discussed this with them, having someone expose it could make a difficult situation even more difficult. And, that’s assuming that the OP’s HR people are really good at their jobs.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        Yes. I was thinking this earlier. For my own personal comfort, I’d want someone else there, but that would be telling people about Jane’s past. That’s not right or fair.

      2. Apollo Warbucks*


        The OP should not talk to anyone else about this, the only person who should say anything about the abuse is Jane if she wants to.

      3. L Dub*

        Seriously, what Observer said. Do not involve HR, full stop. As someone who has been assaulted, I would be effing mortified if someone disclosed that to HR without my knowledge or consent. It’s none of their business and Jane should be the only person on the planet that get to choose whether to disclose what happened to her or not.

        1. Higher Ed Anon*

          I agree. I work at my alma mater. I was also sexually assaulted here and brushed off by the people who were supposed to help me. There are now more stringent laws in place so that doesn’t happen, but you can bet your boots that I don’t want anyone to know unless I’ve shared it with them. Someone in HR does know, but only because I gave the reason why I am so for holding staff and faculty (myself included) to a high standard.

          You may feel more comfortable by having someone else there, but I would be upset, angry, and most likely resign immediately due to feeling like my personal past is not safe with you if you brought someone else in if I was in Jane’s shoes.

          1. Jessesgirl72*

            In fact, I don’t think it would be unreasonable to speculate that part of Jane’s fear now isn’t only “Does OP know or not” but also “And if he does know, who else has he told?”

            Jane has already suffered so much as a result of the OP’s selfish (evil, but selfish is part of it) family member. Personally, I’d gladly sacrifice my own wishes and comfort (and very small danger of HR backlash) to preserve her privacy.

      4. NPDBJ*

        Sexual abuse/assault are so difficult to deal with in general that I’d meet with Jane in private and go with option 2. The only reason why I think face to face is better than email is because you can read/respond to her body language immediately instead of waiting until she starts flipping out or whatever. You also have no idea WHEN Jane will actually read the email if you send it. What if she’s in the store on a break or something and sees this email while there? Then what?

        I might, however, talk to HR and let them know that this conversation *is* going to happen (once OP makes up their mind what to do) so that they are aware that Jane may react strongly or may need additional support. If I were in HR, I would want to know about a conversation of this nature so that we could line up whatever support Jane needs quickly, simply because this was a crime with very serious ramifications.

        Ugh, ugh ugh ugh. This one is so hard, and I really feel for both Jane and OP.

    2. Jessie the First (or second)*

      I don’t think talking to her in front of HR or a manager is a good idea – then she would be disclosing Jane’s own abuse to other people, and she does not have Jane’s permission to do that. This is Jane’s own story to tell if she wants to, and no one should make that decision for her.

      But I agree +100000 that letting this go unremarked on is making it worse. Just have the conversation in private with Jane and make it brief so that she knows you believe and support her and don’t need her to talk about or disclose anything unless she wants to.

    3. Cobol*

      I agree with talking to HR. You’re not blaming Jane for anything (clearly), but it’s something they need to be aware of.

      1. Whats In A Name*

        HR does not need to be aware of Jane’s history unless Jane wants them to be aware. It is not anyone else’s place to discuss her past abuse.

      2. Yeah, Anon for this one too*

        NO. No no no no no no no.

        They do not need to know Jane was raped.

        And that’s what that conversation would reveal. No. Please. I am a rape survivor and I would be FURIOUS if my manager decided to start talking to people at work about my rape.

        I mean, I’d be screaming mad.

        It is not okay to disclose OTHER PEOPLE’S RAPE to anyone.

        Sorry to yell. But this has me almost in tears. Do not do that, OP. Talk to Jane. Do not go tell HR that Jane was raped. Oh my god.

        1. Also Anon*

          Agreed, completely and unequivocally.


          I also like Script #2 better. These things are hard to discuss and while Script #1 leaves it open, it means Jane will need to ask if she wants to know if you know, which can be very hard to do. Simply acknowledging the “awful connection” lets her know you understand and you are on her side.

          I also thing what Gandalf said above is a great approach. A combination of all three, perhaps?

          “Y’know, I really wish Busybody hadn’t shared that obituary. I’m not in contact with that part of my family and have not been in a long time in large part because of some awful things my late nephew did and because of what the rest of his family did/didn’t do***. I know we share this awful connection and if you are stressed or upset because of that, please know that I care about you and you have my full support. You’re a great employee, and I’m so glad to have you on my team, and if there’s anything worrying you that I can help with, I want to. I don’t want to push you to talk to me about anything you’d rather not discuss, but I want you to know how much I value you and that if that I’m here if you need anything from me.”

          *** – I say this as someone who was repeatedly abused as a child. There are family members who knew and did nothing. This, to me, was at least as bad or even worse (depending on the person involved) than the actions of my attacker.

          1. Anon For This*

            I am an occasional commenter on AAM, but will be anonymous for this.
            I am also a victim of abuse within my family.
            The perp is well known in the industry I work in for his weird behaviour in general.
            I have been approached and asked if there was a family, connection. When I confirmed, the people expressed sympathy *just for having grown up with the guy* (not knowing it had been far worse).
            It made me feel better, because affirmed – a reality check that told me I was not nuts or wrong!

            I like the “we share a terrible family connection and I am sorry” script very much, especially with the positive offer of freedom and support.
            However, I would not send a work email about this – stuff like that will be archived on the server. Maybe send a private email or paper letter? And DO NOT follow up if she does not answer or react. It is about her, not you.
            Thank you for your attention. Thank you, AAM and CA – I’ve learned a lot about how to behave in a “normal” way from your respective websites.

              1. BF50*

                Only as long as you can be absolutely certain that it will only be seen by her. Don’t leave the letter on her desk. Put it in her hand and then make your self both distant but available so that if she does not want to see you, she doesn’t have to, but she can come discuss it with you if necessary.

                This may not be possible, but if you could give her some additional time off work to process the situation, that may help her. Giving the letter at the end of the day might send a signal that you don’t want to discuss this. Giving it in the middle of the day or might make her extremely uncomfortable if she has to sit there and continue working after having her trauma brought up. If you can give her the letter and in the letter letting her her know that she is free to take the rest of the afternoon off if she needs to, that might be very helpful.

                1. Em too*

                  If you do this, I think you need to suggest she opens it somewhere private and that she can take the rest of the day off.

          2. Edith*

            This script is great. OP shouldn’t just acknowledge that she and Jane share a family connection. She should make it clear that 1) she is on Jane’s side and 2) she is estranged from her sister and her sister’s family because of how horrible they are. Make it clear to Jane that OP abhors her sister’s family’s actions.

        2. Troutwaxer*

          Agreed completely. I am as over my own molestation as anyone can be, and I am in late middle age, but if someone discussed it with the HR staff at work I would definitely be re-traumatized.

      3. saddesklunch*

        I really don’t think it’s something HR needs to be aware of. I would hate it if someone felt that my rape was any of HR’s business — it’s not. Going to HR is one of the least supportive things that OP could do, and he (admirably) seems to want to do everything in his power to be supportive.

        1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

          I want to preface this by saying I DO NOT think the OP should go to HR, so I’m in no advocating that approach.

          That said – I would say that a possible reason why is that just in case this situation devolves somehow to the point that HR needs to be brought in, there’s a record of the OP disclosing the situation and HR now has some sort of context.

          I would never, never, never advocate the OP disclosing the specifics of Jane’s past trauma to HR without her consent. I just do understand the (in my opinion, misguided) desire to protect both the OP and Jane in case the situation does devolve.

        2. fposte*

          Right now? I think it’s slideable, but I don’t think the OP can reliably or fairly judge a need for discipline for his direct report. If that issue comes up, I think the OP needs to find a way to break the dyad here and involve somebody else. That doesn’t mean HR has to know everything that “this” is, and I think the OP is capable of clearly framing it as not Jane’s fault, but I don’t think it’ll help either of them if Jane’s work deteriorates and the OP is judge and jury over her continued employment.

          1. Lissa*

            That’s a really, really good point and one I hadn’t considered, that all of us immediately are sympathetic to Jane and so is the OP, but that very sympathy could make things really bad if even a minor discipline issue were to come up, or even anything that’s not 100% positive.

          2. Stephanie (HR Manager)*

            I would agree with this. There is a very real degree here to which the manager is facing a conflict of interest, and a neutral third party would be useful in assuring fairness. I wouldn’t include HR at all if you have a bad HR, but a good HR would be an asset in a situation like this. They will be able to help navigate if the employee needs to report to a different manager or have a dotted line supervisor, if the employee can transfer, if the employee needs access to additional resources, etc.

            While the confidentiality of the employee is important, HR is equipped to deal with these kinds of situations, and it does sound like the situation is affecting their professional relationship. Ideally, the manager would approach the employee and let her know that she’s aware of the connection, that she wants to make sure she’s supported, and through the course of the conversation, ask the employee if they can go to HR together. That will give the employee a chance to prepare to talk about it. And if they resolve it without the need for HR, that’s fine too.

            1. Emac*

              “Ideally, the manager would approach the employee and let her know that she’s aware of the connection, that she wants to make sure she’s supported, and through the course of the conversation, ask the employee if they can go to HR together. That will give the employee a chance to prepare to talk about it. And if they resolve it without the need for HR, that’s fine too.”

              I was thinking something similar – if there is going to be a conflict of interest, going to HR might be best eventually (from the OP’s description, Jane sounds like a very good employee who wouldn’t want to be given a pass or not given the chance to develop her weaknesses because her boss feels bad or guilty or however he’s feeling), but not until the OP talks to Jane. She should have control over how it’s presented to HR & how much is said.

          3. Observer*

            I disagree that the OP is not a position to judge the need for discipline for Jane. But, even if issues do come up, there is STILL no need for HR to get the kind of information they would get from being part of this conversation. All that the OP would need to tell HR is “There is some family history here that might be coloring my perceptions.”

            1. fposte*

              I totally agree that HR doesn’t need to know about sexual assault, and I’m pushing back strongly if people suggest otherwise.

              But you really can’t manage somebody you couldn’t fire, and I don’t think it’s fair either to Jane or the OP to expect him to do that now. And if the OP did need to take disciplinary action (or, as I said, even an action that specifically benefits Jane) and failed to inform his employer there was a personal conflict of interest, that would be a real problem at most places I’ve worked.

              1. Letter Writer*

                Thanks for the advice. Reading these comments makes me realise I am not in a place where I can be Jane’s manager. I think I am going to reach out to HR and say there is a familial connection. I have a good relationship with our director of HR so I do not think she will push for any details. I am going to suggest that Jane bypass me in the official reporting structure and report to my boss.

                1. fposte*

                  If that’s an easy workaround, I think it’s a great solution, and it sounds like it would look neutral to good for Jane.

                  You’re being really thoughtful about this, LW, and that’s very impressive. Jane may not know about the work you’re putting into this, but we do, and we salute you.

                2. Bagpuss*

                  I would suggest that you still consider speaking to, or giving a letter to , ‘Jane’ .
                  I think the script suggested about wishing the obituary had not been shared and that you are estranged from the family because of awful things done by nephew, would still be appropriate. You can add that you have not discussed the connection with anyone at work and don’t plan to, but that you do intend to speak to HR to let them know that there is a familail connection so you are recommending that you no longer directly supervise Jane. Make clear both to Jane, and to HR, that you have a very high opinion of Jane and her work , and also stress to Jane that you will not (unless she wishesyou to) tell HR the nature of the ‘connection’, simply that one exisits.
                  That way, you are making very clear to Jane that you support nad believe he, and don’t and won’t seek to excuse or minimise your nephew’s behaviour, plus you make clear to her that you won’t be talking to anyone else at work and that you will be making clear to her and your employer that you value and respect her and the job she is doing, so you are minimising any risk that asking for herto report to someone else could be seen as negative.

          4. NPDBJ*

            ** but I don’t think the OP can reliably or fairly judge a need for discipline for his direct report. **

            Which is why I think you HAVE to involve HR on this. I get confidentiality and not re-traumatizing, but if this conversation went poorly and HR found out about it that way, I could see the OP getting fired for not involving them. Alison would know more about that than I would.

            It’s a great thing to have someone at your back, particularly when you are way out on the limb all by yourself and the winds are gusting at 60+.

        3. Retail HR Guy*

          I don’t think HR needs to be included yet… but it’s getting very close to the point that it would be advisable. If Jane’s performance starts to suffer, her career is affected negatively, she puts in her resignation, she needs time off, she asks for some kind of accommodation, or she continues to be unable to work with OP, it’s time to bring HR into it.

          There are laws in many states protecting victims of sexual crimes that HR will know about and a random manager won’t. And if those laws are broken the company won’t be able to claim ignorance because Jane’s own manager certainly knew about her situation.

          Can you imagine being HR or OP’s manager and finding out after the fact that OP’s family member had raped Jane, OP kept that fact a secret from Jane and everyone else, and now Jane quit over it because she feels she can’t trust OP any more? I’d be pretty pissed OP didn’t reach out for guidance.

          1. Amber T*

            You’re putting the comfort of the company above the comfort of an individual employee, which I’m not sure is fair.

            There’s a decent chance Jane won’t feel comfortable working with OP regardless of what he says or does. I don’t think there’s a magical way that OP can handle it that’ll make everything okay again. He has a connection to her rapist. He can try to help or comfort her til he’s blue in the face about it, but she may not be comfortable (which OP recognizes – kudos to him – and wants to help her with recommendations etc. if possible).

            The only way I could think of it being semi-appropriate to talk to HR is if he has the ability to keep both his and her identity anonymous, and even then I’m hesitant, because we’ve read enough stories here where anonymous tips/complains/whatever weren’t actually anonymous.

            1. fposte*

              I’m putting the OP’s duty, not comfort, above the comfort of an individual employee, and the employer giving him money expects that too. That doesn’t mean he has to relate everything in the world to HR, but it means he has a duty to manage Jane fairly and without conflict of interest, and he’s got a level of personal involvement that has a high likelihood of making that impossible.

              This really should have kept them from this arrangement in the first place, but it didn’t (maybe the OP didn’t know the full truth when he first became her manager). I think the balance can tip toward keeping it between them right now, but it can’t stay that way if there is any question about Jane’s performance.

            2. Retail HR Guy*

              Fair? How does fair enter into anything?

              If things go south from here OP has a duty to his company to make them aware of this problem, even if it isn’t what Jane would prefer. OP never promised Jane confidentiality, and it isn’t appropriate for a manager to be hiding things from HR and/or OP’s manager that they really should know about. If there’s any liability to the company or if anyone’s career or work performance is going to suffer then it is now also a business issue, and not only Jane’s private matter. (Again, that’s if things start being more problematic than they already are.)

              1. Observer*

                You really haven’t made the case that HR needs to know about this. The issue of Jane having problems is something for her to deal with.

                The only time that the OP would need to loop HR in would be if there really were a problem with her performance, and even then I can’t see why they need the details.

                1. Retail HR Guy*

                  I haven’t made the case that HR needs to know about this because I don’t believe that HR needs to know about this. If you read my comments above you’ll note that I said:

                  “I don’t think that HR needs to be included yet…”
                  “If things go south from here…”
                  “Again, that’s if things start being more problematic than they already are.”

                2. Zombii*

                  @Retail HR Guy | I understand what you think you said, but your original comment is “I don’t think x, but…” and the rest of your comment details why x is the right course of action (if y), so I expect you to be self-aware enough to understand why a lot of people have assumed you are arguing in favor of x.

              2. Anna*

                @Zombii – I didn’t take that interpretation at all. If someone begins a comment with “If things go South…” it’s implied that the rest of the comment refers to the specific situation where things have gone South. Especially when they end the comment again with a reiteration that all this is conditional upon things going south…

                It’s not a case of being self-aware, it’s a case of expecting people to read properly…

      4. Jessie the First (or second)*

        It would likely feel incredibly violating to Jane to have someone disclose Jane’s abuse to other people at work. It’s really not okay to do that. Sexual abuse is traumatic (obviously) and talking about it is not easy for many people, and forcing someone to disclose it is just….wrong.

      5. Lucy*

        Oh HELL no. No no no no no. They absolutely do NOT “need to be aware” of this, and no one besides Jane gets to decide to disclose her rape to them.

        This is a terrible, thoughtless and unkind thing to do. Do NOT do this!

      6. RandomInput*

        My two cents, as an HR professional, I do not think HR needs to know about any of this unless it escalates to causing problems with her performance or Jane decides to discuss it with HR.

        I am a fan of being direct and transparent, but in delicate situations like this it is almost always great to leave the ball in Jane’s court.

        Script 1 lets her know that she can open up if she chooses. She could be out of sorts just because her attacker has passed away and not care one iota about the connection with OP. She could also be paranoid about what may happen if OP finds out or knows, however, if they have had a good working relationship thus far it may not have entered her mind that this is going to cause problems. There are so many reactions she may be having right now, it is impossible to guess.

        Also, I would not mention any support for other jobs as just the mention of this can sometimes be seen as a suggestion to seek employment elsewhere. Unless of course, Jane brings it up as something she would like to do.

        1. Cobol*

          When do you feel the right time to bring HR in is? (BTW, just to be clear this is a legitimate question where I defer to your expertise, as opposed to a more accusatory “well when then?”

        2. Jocelyn*

          But shouldn’t HR at least know they are (somewhat) related? Especially since Jane reports to LW?

          LW doesn’t gave to go into detail, she could say, “Just for disclosure purposes, I feel you should be aware that Jane was the foster child of my sister. But it should be noted that we never met before Jane began working here, and Jane was even unaware. For personal reasons, I did not and do not have contact with my sister. So I think this is a non-issue but something you should be aware of in case something else happens.”

          1. fposte*

            I think it’s too late for that–that might have been okay when Jane (or the OP) was hired, but it’s now not a non-issue. Hence my inclination to wait until it does look like an issue, at which point the OP can try to find a way to recuse himself.

          2. SomethingPithy*

            As a foster mom, I would strongly recommend against outing Jane’s history as a foster child. Just like her sexual assault, this is an extremely private, personal part of her history that she may prefer not to discuss/have known.

          3. Yo Quiero Anything with Gluten*

            If it ever came down to going to HR, you can be even more vague than that “My nephew who passed away was a horrible person, and it’s come to my attention that Jane was once a recipient of that horribleness. They’re not my details to divulge, but I wanted you to know that, since I’ll be offering her the option of reporting to GrandBoss instead of to me.”

      7. Bonky*

        Good god, no. Please don’t go to HR. This is not your information to share; I don’t think things get much more personal and private than this. Nobody gets to disclose to a person’s employer that they have been raped except the victim themselves. This is an absolutely terrible suggestion.

      8. The Supreme Troll*

        But the nephew who assaulted Jane is not an employee of the company. HR would be useless in this case of actually being a support system for her. At this point now, involving HR or the OP’s supervisor would only “help” in broadcasting a painful and agonizing time in Jane’s life to people who, not only couldn’t help because it is out of their hands, but really have no business of knowing.

    4. offonaLARK*

      No. This is a terrible idea because it doesn’t take Jane into account at all. I am a victim myself, and if my boss had blindsided me in front of HR over something I may not have been ready or willing to share…

      That would have made the entire situation worse.

      Of course, everyone is different in how they deal with their healing/moving past. (For a simple example, I use the term “victim” for myself but many others don’t like to use that word.) But the OP should use Alison’s first suggestion and feel out how comfortable Jane would be first. Talking about it should be up to Jane and no one else.

      1. Cobol*

        I’m not advocating OP go to HR with Jane in tow and disclose her rape, at all. Not that HR reach out to Jane. This is a legitimate workplace issue. OP can alert them that there is a personal history between an employee and IT’s estranged family.

        I know sexual assault/abuse/rape is extremely fraught years down the line, but this is also a workplace issue.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          WHY is it a workplace issue? Jane’s performance is fine, and OP indicates it has always been fine. The only thing OP notes is that now, since the nephew disclosure, Jane seems stressed.

          So no, you don’t get to make a workplace issue out of it.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It’s true that it’s potentially a workplace issue if Jane is ever having performance problems that the OP needs to act on; at that point, the fact that there’s a personal element to the relationship is relevant to the company in the same way it would be relevant if the OP were supervising a family member or an ex. It’s a potential conflict of interest or could be perceived as a conflict of interest.

            I don’t think the OP should go to HR right now, but I do think ideally it would have been disclosed to HR at the start of the employment relationship (not a detailed account of what happened — just that a connection exists through estranged family).

          2. fposte*

            The OP seems to consider it a serious possibility that her performance will deteriorate under stress, though.

            And honestly, it’s already a workplace issue. That doesn’t mean it’s an HR issue, but it’s not just personal, either.

            1. BookishMiss*

              But so far it sounds pretty short term, and hasn’t impacted performance at all. Jane is processing something that’s really tough to get your head around to begin with – she may just need a little time and an acknowledgement that the OP knows the situation and supports her. At the very least, I’d say have the conversation privately, and then if things don’t improve, suggest the EAP if the company has one. Involving HR at this stage will send her running.

              1. fposte*

                I agree that now isn’t the time to involve HR. But it is a workplace issue, and the OP can’t be the only person assessing Jane if there’s any situation where the personal relationship would affect it. (This isn’t just negative–the OP can’t be giving Jane better raises or perks, either.)

                1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                  Jane’s childhood rape is not a workplace issue.

                  That the OP may have a conflict of interest because there is a family connection could be a workplace issue, yes. And that is a thing that could be brought to HR.

                  But what some people are advocating here is that HR be informed of Jane’s childhood rape, which is unacceptable. It’s unacceptable because 1) it treats victims of violence as some special category of crazy that we all need to work to CYA about because “who knows what those crazy abuse victims will do?! No need to worry about boundaries, lets tell HR everything just in case!”; 2) there is an easy way to solve any conflict problem without disclosing any thing about Jane’s rape (after letting Jane know it isn’t punitive and is done to protect her and keep potential conflicts at bay, not because OP feels anything other than respect for a good employee)

                2. fposte*

                  I totally agree with that differentiation; pronoun use means it’s not always clear which one we’re saying, and I was definitely guilty of that above. And I am glad to emphasize with you the point that you absolutely can involve HR or other appropriate people without telling details of Jane’s private life to them.

              2. Sas*

                It is a workplace issue. They are at a workplace. Jane shouldn’t be treated any differently than another of OP’s employees. That is why this working situation should have had light shown on it long ago. It didn’t. “Involving HR at this stage will send her running.” Unless you could and would in whole-hearted earnesty allow for this from ANY employee, knowing nothing about their reasonings, you are making an exception. This is probably why in some companies, relatives of no sort are allowed to work together. (maybe, but I don’t necessarily agree with that.) I agree that you don’t have to share the sordid details with Hr, it could have been done without that initially. as well.

                1. BookishMiss*

                  Speaking as someone who’s had her abuse disclosed to HR without her authorization, in a surprise meeting no less, the history of trauma is not something HR needs to know. The decision to make that disclosure rests entirely with Jane.
                  It made me run like fun from that manager, for sure.
                  Now, disclosing the estranged-family-conflict-of-interest without disclosing anything else is not really something I object to.

                2. BookishMiss*

                  So, essentially, I agree with you that the family angle needs to be brought up at some point. Now is not the best time, though, because of the current context.

                3. Sas*

                  You’re basing it off of something that happened to you directly. Understandable. It is appropriate when it is appropriate, regardless of Jane.

          3. Sas*

            “Jane seems stressed.” Which is actually the part that is not a workplace issue. She might need some help for what is going on in her life, mind. This doesn’t make it fair, but it is probably right Which is how you would want it at a workplace, right. they never should have been working closely. It is ridiculous.

    5. BookishMiss*

      As someone whose boss did exactly this to me (I’d just found out that my abuser had brain cancer, and it…threw me off…)

      DO NOT DO THIS. Do not involve HR. Do not involve a third party. Do not collect $200, do not pass go.

      This is not something you need to CYA about. This is not something that you have the right to disclose to anyone. If you have a Conversation about this, I favor script 2, but only between the two of you, and do not get between Jane and the door, and once you’ve said your piece, leave it alone unless she initiates. If you want to write it out, cool, but NO CCs OR BCCs. I like the paper letter suggestion.

      Kudos for being aware that you need to handle this delicately and for asking for help.

      1. Troutwaxer*

        Script 2, but BY EMAIL, or better yet, as a handwritten note so it doesn’t show up on anyone’s radar.

        As to the disciplinary issues, it might be best to involve someone else, but without a detailed explanation, something along the lines of “Jane and I discovered recently that we have a family connection that’s got some weird history, can you make sure I’m not being too harsh or too lenient on this disciplinary issue.”

    6. The OG Anonsie*

      Oh my god. I’m sorry Hibiscus, but this is absolutely the last thing he should do. I started to feel panicked just considering this happening to me at work.

    7. Anon for this*

      I want to add my voice to those saying DO NOT EVEN CONSIDER telling HR that Jane was raped. That would be a seriously terrible thing to do. I have been raped and I don’t want anyone in my workplace to know about it because it’s none of their effing business.

      I also want to agree with the person who said don’t tell HR that Jane was a foster child. There is serious bigotry about foster children too. That is also Janes private business to share if she wishes.

      I can’t think of any way for OP to say anything to HR at all without breaching Janes confidentiality.

      As for those claiming her stress makes this a workplace issue – no it doesn’t. OP specifically says that her performance has not (yet) been affected. Unless and until her performance is affected there is no reason to involve HR.

      OP I’m concerned by You saying you will tell HR that you share a family connection so you can’t manage her, because you don’t feel like you could fire her. since it hasn’t been an issue before now there will be questions and I don’t see how you can answer them without disclosing Janes private info. I know this is not your intention but what will end up happening is that you will be violating the privacy of a survivor of abuse simply to make it easier in case she needs to be fired in the future. That’s all kinds of wrong.

      If it were me I would say zero to anyone else but I would meet with Jane alone at the end of the day (so she can go home right after) and come clean – tell her firstly that you are not in touch with your sister and you think your nephew was a despicable person, then tell her that you are aware that she was hurt by your nephew and that your sister treated her abominably afterwards. Apologise for not telling her about the connection before and explain that you hid it because you didn’t want to bring up old wounds. Then apologise (even though it’s not your fault) for the hurt she was caused by the sharing of the obituary (unless the headline on the obituary was “asshole dies in agony” it probably hurt her to see what it said). Then go on with the stuff about what a great worker she is. Then finally tell her that if she would like to bypass you and report directly to your boss that you will together come up with a plan for how to word that request to HR. Do not mention her getting another job.

      1. Windchime*

        I know I’m late to this conversation; I came here from the Open Thread link.

        I’m really troubled by the fact that OP has known about this family connection all along and has not been concerned about whether or not he can treat Jane fairly up to this point. It was a concern before, but now that Jane is (presumably) aware of the connection it becomes an issue?

        I commend OP for being thoughtful and looking for guidance on this. I honestly would avoid any talk of Jane moving to another department or finding a new job; it has a ring of being gently pushed out the door, no matter how it’s phrased. I think a generic message of being long-estranged from that part of the family is enough and Jane can determine what she wants/needs from there.

  3. Jessie the First (or second)*

    Say something! Please!

    I love Alison’s script. You do not need to try to have a back-and-forth conversation with her – that has the potential to be invasive and inappropriate and make her uncomfortable. But right now, she has learned that you are connected by blood to her rapist, and as she knows her foster mom has been vocal about the situation, she *knows* you know, and she may very well think you are on Team Rapist.

    So of course she is stressed and a mess. Please let her know you have her back. That is a great way to phrase it.

    1. Jessie the First (or second)*

      (And by script, I mean the second one – where OP acknowledges the connection and Nephew’s awfulness)

      1. Imaginary Number*

        I think the problem with OP openly acknowledging the known connection is that it puts Jane in a position where she has to acknowledge it as well. Even if OP says “you don’t have to talk about this with me” you’re still creating a situation where Jane has to pick a response, because even saying nothing is a response.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          The known connection is out there already though, because of the obit passed around.

          1. Arjay*

            I feel that if I were in Jane’s situation, the first script would still leave me uncertain and waiting for the other shoe to drop at some point in the future. The second script gives me reassurance without forcing me to discuss it if I choose not to.

            1. Jadelyn*

              I agree with this – script #1 is ambiguous as far as whether OP really knows what’s up or not, where #2 is much clearer that “Yes, I know some really Bad Shit happened, and I support you over my horrible relatives in this.” I’d probably interpret #1 as a general reassurance but would still be wondering if OP was going to suddenly change their tune once they figured out exactly *what* was wrong with me.

        2. Observer*

          What Jessie the first said. Also, that’s why I would do this in email. In the past I’ve had a few situations where something difficult needed to be said, and there was a high likelihood of the other person having a difficult time responding. So, I did it in email starting with something like “I know this is difficult, so I’m doing this in email so you can ignore it, process it as you see fit, or respond if you choose to in a manner that works for you and after a chance to collect yourself.” (The specific language varied, but that was the gist of it.)

          I didn’t always get a response, but the couple of times I did, it turned out to be the right move.

          1. No Name Yet*

            Yes, I like the idea of broaching this in an email and being explicit about why you’re doing it that way.

          2. RWM*

            I like this (paired with script #2). As a person who is typically fine with other people knowing about personal trauma but would prefer not to discuss it and just show up and do my job and be treated normally, I would appreciate 1. being able to react to this privately and 2. being told that no response is a completely valid response. I might also add something to the effect or “I haven’t discussed this with anyone else in the company or with any family members” because that may also be something she’d be wondering/worried about.

      2. Just Another Techie*

        Agreed! And I would send it by email so she has space to react emotionally without stressing about maintaining a professional demeanor in a meeting with her boss.

        I imagine Jane is, with the new knowledge of your relationship to her abuser, mentally reviewing every interaction she’s had with you for as long as you’ve worked together, looking for evidence of whether you knew about the family connection and whether it’s impacted your treatment of her. In her shoes, I think I’d be relieved to know what the boss knows, rather than worrying that it’s some kind of sword of Damocles just waiting to fall.

        1. Murphy*

          I agree with the email option so that it doesn’t catch Jane by surprise, since it’s such a difficult and personal topic.

        2. Chickaletta*

          Yes, but with an email you have to be extremely careful with the wording because you can’t convey tone of voice in an email. Tone is even more important than usual here. If the LW wants to go this route, he should definitely take his time composing the email and save it as a draft first and go back to read what he wrote a day or two later before hitting “send”.

          The other problem with email is that it doesn’t go away. His employee will know that something has been written and sent across company servers that’s very personal to her, and it could make her uncomfortable knowing that it’s floating around out there. For this reason alone I’d go with talking to her in person.

          1. Anna Pigeon*

            I agree about not wanting a record, but a conversation can start with the same disclaimer.

            “I have something; you do not need to respond in any way. I never thought I would have cause to mention our connection through sister’s family in the workplace, however, I was concerned that nephew’s obituary being passed around the office may have given you the idea we were close or that in some way I condoned his behavior. I cut off contact with sister’s family years ago, largely due to nephew’s behavior and how the rest of the family dealt with the situation. I want you to know you’re a great employee and you have my full support. If you have any questions, let me know, otherwise, let me reassure you I will not bring this up again or discuss it with anyone else. That’s all I have to say – you can go.”

            1. Troutwaxer*

              Or write it down in long hand and perhaps mail it to Jane’s house so she can deal with all this at home. And maybe some nice stationary (but not a card – I don’t think Hallmark makes anything appropriate for this occasion…) so Jane can tell you’ve put some thought and effort into addressing the issue.

              And the OP should definitely make sure Jane knows s/he is estranged from that part of the family.

            2. Apollo Warbucks*

              That is awsome wording. I think that would be a really good way to approach this conversation.

            3. Not So NewReader*

              I had a lot tamer situation where I told someone that I would not bring something up or discuss it with anyone. The relief on this person’s face was very clear. Those are very powerful words when the speaker has credibility, which I am willing to bet OP has credibility with his employees.

            4. RWM*

              “If you have any questions, let me know, otherwise, let me reassure you I will not bring this up again or discuss it with anyone else.” I think this is great wording.

      3. Jess*

        I agree with this 100%. There’s no need to have a full conversation about the details of the abuse, but this is one of those times where I think avoiding the personal completely is just counter-productive. This already is personal. Script #1 doesn’t really clear up for Jane where OP stands, essentially requiring Jane to ask if she wants those lingering unknowns cleared up. That’s a lot to put on Jane’s shoulders. Script #2 is direct & lets Jane know what she needs to know, w/o forcing her to go further & discuss things she may not want to discuss.

  4. Wanna-Alp*

    Yes yes, what Alison suggested :“We share an awful family connection, … I want you to know that you have my full support. … But I want to be clear that I think you’re great and I have your back.” This is good.

    Please don’t mention that you’d like to help her find something else, either at your company or elsewhere. This sounds like you think she should move jobs and will come over as terribly unsupportive. If she does want to do that, let her mention it. And anyway, if someone did have to move to ease the situation, why would it be Jane? Why not you? (Not that I am suggesting that, but somehow it always seems to be placed on victims of crime that they are the ones who have to do something about the situation.)

    Conveying the impression that you’ll support her in any way you can would be more helpful, surely.

    1. paul*

      Is there a way to let her know that it’s an option without feeling coercive? In Jane’s shoes I’m not sure I could handle being OP’s direct report either; it’s not really rational but yikes what a bundle of emotions and reminders of a bad time all wrapped up you know?

      1. TychaBrahe*

        “You are an important and vital part of our team. I value your contributions so highly. I very much want you to continue to work with me and feel comfortable doing so. However I also understand if you feel you can no longer do so. If you do not want to work directly for me any longer, I will do whatever is in my power to find you another position at our company or support you in seeking work elsewhere.”

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          It might be helpful for OP to also indicate that he supports her if she wants to transfer to a different manager, but I would bring that up if Jane asks or appears uncomfortable.

          So I’d use the excellent language TychaBrahe provided, but I would tweak sentences 2-3 to say: “I very much want you to continue to work with our company and feel comfortable doing so. But I also understand that you may not feel comfortable working directly for me, and if that’s the case, I will do whatever is in my power . . . .” etc.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Sometimes less is more:
            “I think you are a great worker and I am very happy to work with quality people such as yourself. I make sure that everyone in our department knows that I am willing to help/support every person who works here in whatever ways I can. Be sure to let me know if there is a specific way I can support you.”

            The overall idea here is that OP is telling Jane something that he tells everyone or he encourages everyone in a similar manner. Grapevine can fill in some gaps. If cohorts are saying OP is trustworthy, OP is a supportive boss and so on, Jane may calm down a bit in a while. (I suspect OP has a good reputation at his place.)

            It strikes me that Jane is still at the job. Actions speak louder than words. She could have just walked out the door. Hang on to that thought OP. Every day she is there she has gotten up and said. “Okay, I will try one more day of this.” For the moment OP, yes, you see tears in her eyes, but she remains seated and she remains in conversation with you. You have done several things right already or else she would have been GONE. Actions speak louder than words.

            1. TootsNYC*

              I like this.

              And then leave it alone.

              You know what Mrs. Cosmopolite teaches: “It won’t get better if you pick at it.”

    2. k*

      That’s a good point. This is a super sensitive situation and wording needs to be careful as to not be taken the wrong way. OP doesn’t want to give Jane any reason to think that he wants her gone.

    3. anonykins*

      I agree – I think showing full support but NOT mentioning Jane finding other work is the way to go. If she still seems upset after a significant amount of time has passed, that might be the place to bring up the possibility of her leaving. But I think if OP expresses both sentiments at once, it will seem as if OP feels that Jane should leave.

    4. Case of the Mondays*

      While I agree not to involve HR without Jane’s explicit permission, it would be great if there was a way to offer Jane the option of reporting to someone else. Maybe OP could say “Jane, I wish that obituary had never been shared and you never had to know I’m related to horrible family member. I cut them out of my life a long time ago. I’m 100% on your side here. Now that you know I know, however, I understand if you are uncomfortable reporting to me. If you would prefer to report to someone else I can tell HR that we learned of a family conflict of interest that requires you to be supervised by someone else.

      1. Agile Phalanges*

        To me, this makes it sounds like the OP wishes it was still a secret only he knew and she didn’t, which isn’t a good message to convey, IMO.

    5. tigerStripes*

      I agree with this “Please don’t mention that you’d like to help her find something else, either at your company or elsewhere. This sounds like you think she should move jobs”

      Just let her know she can ask if there’s anything you could do that would help.

  5. Lovemyjob...Truly!!!*

    I think calling RAINN and asking for advice is smart. Poor Jane…Poor LW….it’s a horrible situation that they’re both in.

  6. AnonEMoose*

    I’m no expert on this either. But since Jane is already seeming stressed and uncomfortable, I think it might be better for the OP to say something. At least then Jane knows that the OP is aware – and that the history matters to the OP only to the extent that it is affecting Jane.

    You know…I wouldn’t usually suggest this, but I wonder if it would be helpful to encourage the OP to write to Captain Awkward as well? This seems like something that would be in her area of expertise, and the people who comment over there do tend to be thoughtful and supportive. Or maybe the good Captain would be willing to stop by here and offer some thoughts?

    Again, not an expert, but I’d also suggest the OP do what she can to show (as well as tell) Jane that Jane’s decisions are hers to make, and the OP will support her.

        1. Robin Sparkles*

          Thanks Alison – do you mind adding the update when available to the post itself? I am subscribing to these comments but it would be great if it was upfront for everyone to see.

    1. Lizcat*

      Or if the Captain can’t get to it quickly there’s a forum “friendsofcaptainawkward.com” if I remember correctly.

      1. Laura (Needs to Change Her Name)*

        OK, I feel really dumb, but how do I view the forums there? I clicked the link that says “Forums” and I see 3 forum administration forums, but nowhere with the kind of discussion I’d expect. Am I missing something super-obvious?

    2. OhBehave*

      If Jane had NOT seen that obituary so lovingly shared by Ms. Busybody, she would have had no idea of the connection. She may have only felt some relief that her abuser was dead.

      Now that she most likely does know of the connection (as evidenced by her change in behavior), she may not be able to concentrate on work until the elephant in the room has been addressed. She is hearing the accusations that it’s all her fault playing on continuous loop in her mind. She was a foster kid. That has enough baggage without heaping unfounded blame on her shoulders. There is a part of her that believes it was her fault. She thought she’d escaped that past, physically.

      Given her current emotional state, and the kindheartedness of the OP, it’s in Jane’s best interests to put her fears to rest and know that not everyone blames her for the abuse SHE endured.

      Along with using script #2 (I reworked it just a bit), you could also let her know about any mental health services your company provides, if the need is indicated.

      “We share an awful family connection. I don’t expect you to talk to me about it but I do want you to know that you have my full support. You’re a good employee and a good person, and I’m so sorry for what ‘xyz’ has done to you. You are not to blame. If there’s anything I can do to make life easier for you right now, I’m ready to do it. To be totally transparent, I would also understand if it’s too uncomfortable to work with me, and if that’s the case, I will help you in any way that I can. But I want to make sure you know that I have your back. If you do want to talk to someone, I would be happy to do so or I can give you the info for our helpline. ”

  7. Observer*

    Perhaps, in addition, you can ask HR if there s anything you should know as Jane seems to be extremely stressed out. Don’t share the family history – if they don’t know Jane probably prefers it that way and there is no good outcome from sharing this information without her permission.

    1. Leatherwings*

      Wait, you’re saying OP should ask HR if they have anything else to disclose about Jane to OP? That seems like a really bad idea. First of all, because OP probably knows more about Jane than HR does and second because it would be really inappropriate for HR to share confidential information with OP.

      1. Observer*

        No. I meant that sometimes HR knows something that is not inappropriate to share but which they didn’t think would be useful. But that’s why I said “perhaps”. The OP should only consider talking to HR is he’s confident that they won’t take the occasion to share stuff that the OP has no business knowing.

        So, eg, if Jane has been talking to HR about FMLA leave for health reasons, that something that’s legitimately something the OP should know about anyway (even though they probably don’t need to know about WHY). On the other hand, if Jane had asked about the company’s EAP, that would not be something HR should share.

        1. Leatherwings*

          Yeah, but it would real real weird for OP to proactively ask HR to share personal info. Like, if it’s information OP should know, HR will share at the time that it’s appropriate to do so.

  8. Amber Rose*

    I would say something. Don’t offer to help her find something else but do mention that you understand if she doesn’t feel comfortable working with you and that you’ll support her decisions.

    It’s possible that doing so will make her feel worse in the short term, but it’ll give her a safe out that is good for the long run. It’ll give her the option to know she can leave without a black mark on her record. And Alison’s script is a good one.

    Please don’t send an email. I have been burned often enough by the inability to convey emotion and sincerity in an email to know that emotionally charged discussion should never happen through text.

    1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

      Just wanted to mention that the email vs in person thing is very personal. I personally, would strongly (so vehemently strongly) prefer this sort of message come via email or text based medium, b/c I would want the opportunity to process in private.

      I think the best thing in this case is to make their best guess as to Jane’s preference and try to accomodate.

  9. Anon for this*

    I’m very much on Team Say Something Supportive so that you’re not associated with Team Rapist.

    I’m trying to imagine working with a family member of my two rapists (who are brothers) and the ONLY thing that MIGHT make that okay is a very, very clear statement from the family member that they’re not only on my side, they are not connected to these people in any way. Otherwise, if nothing else, I’d constantly be freaked out about the possibility of running into the men who assaulted me.

    1. Yeah, Anon for this one too*

      You know, my rapist was an uncle of mine, and discovering that one of his close family members was my manager would be devastating. And like you the ONLY thing that would help me get out of bed in the morning and get to work once I found out would be a quick “You know, I know some of what happened with your uncle because as you know he is my (family connection), but I want to be sure you know I never speak to him or see him and that’s a deliberate choice I have made because I know what he has done. I have your back and you are great. I will never bring this up again unless you need me to, but I am on your team.”

      1. pinyata*

        I actually like this script even better, especially “I will never bring this up again unless you need me to, but I am on your team.” It’s a quick acknowledgment with strongly worded support.

        1. Cobol*

          This!!! This isn’t a usual work problem. It’s just as important to do the right thing emotionally as professionally.

      2. Marzipan*

        I like this wording more, if the OP wants to take this approach, because it’s giving information without asking anything of Jane, and because it doesn’t make any assumptions about how Jane is feeling or what she may or may not want to do.

      3. Lucy*

        Agreed, I think you have to make it explicit that you’ve cut off the family connection because of your family members’ actions – a lot of people place family above all else, even when their family have obviously done wrong, so there’s a strong chance that Jane has the cultural expectation that you support/are on the side of your family. Especially if you’re a dude – the fact that you believe her and think your family member(s) have done wrong doesn’t mean that Jane automatically realises this; there’s a decent chance that she will assume the opposite until you clarify.

        1. Emi.*

          Agreed–just saying “I think you’re great and I have your back” doesn’t necessarily convey “I cut my nephew off and think he’s a turd,” because enough people think supporting rape victims is compatible with supporting their rapists that Jane may be left wondering whether you do, too.

      4. Anon for this*

        I love this script. OP, please remember that since this has been put out there, your only real choice at this point is probably “Have this person assume you’re on your nephew’s side, or say something to show her you’re not.”

        It’s not really fair to either of you, but most rape victims assume that the people in the rapist’s family are on their side, unless explicitly told otherwise. Sadly, experience informs that assumption in most cases.

      5. Diff name for this*

        Love this. Had somebody say something similar to me one time and I can’t explain what a relief it was.

      6. k*

        I really like this. Making it clear to Jane that these people are not in your life is important I think. Otherwise while OP acknowledges that the situation sucks, it isn’t completely clear that OP isn’t still a bit on his family’s side. And making it clear that it never needs to be spoken about again is a great. I imagine otherwise there could be stress from Jane worrying that this could be brought up at anytime.

      7. kk*

        I like this wording as well. I would send it an email to give Jane extra space and I would even leave out “what he has done.” Jane might not want to be reminded. Absolutely say something, but make it simple:

        As you now know, so-and-so was my nephew. I want you to know I long ago made the deliberate choice to cut off a relationship with that family. I have your back and you are great. I will never bring this up again unless you need me to, but I am on your team.

        1. Another anon*

          +1000 on the emailing
          I was trying to figure out how to say Jane may have an issue being alone in an office with OP was trying to figure out how OP could communicate without making this worse. I know for many years I had serious problems meeting with my male professors and I was raped by another student but being alone with any male set off my alarms.

          1. Rater Z*

            As a guy, this has been in my mind as well while reading all the comments. I would not want to talk about this matter with Jane in a private office or closed room. She needs to have an escape route to get away in order to feel safe talking about this, and, probably, anything else with most guys.

      8. Hrovitnir*

        Another +1 to this script from my perspective. There’s a risk with any approach, but I think dancing around the issue just creates another stressor where she has to worry about where you’re coming from. Also definitely email, though I’m biased that way anyway. There is no planet in which I’d want to be on the receiving end of this conversation in person.

      9. Emmie*

        I agree with you and an earlier comment. I might also add “I haven’t talked to anyone here at work about this and I will not do so”. (so long as you can / will keep that promise.)

      10. SystemsLady*

        I think this option is so great because it explicitly frames it around the nephew being known to OP as a person who’s done terrible things, rather than Jane being known to OP as a victim.

    2. Em too*

      I think he could disassociate without adding ‘and therefore I’m on your side’ – because that makes it clear he knows about the rape. If it’s at all plausible he might not, then a clear ‘I have chosen not to be in contact with nephew and his family for some time’ gets the key part of the message over.

  10. Jessesgirl72*

    It’s so hard, because of course you want to be sensitive to her pain and maintain her privacy. I like script number 2. I think saying something is best- even if it’s uncomfortable in the moment (and goodness, will it be!) will be best in the long run. My gut is that removing the fear of what you do/don’t know and whether or not it will be held against her would be worthwhile.

    Make sure she has the information for your EAP if you have one.

    1. Another anon for this*

      I agree. While this is way out of my league as well, OP, I can imagine that Jane’s uncertainty about what you know, whose side you’re on, etc. can only be making things worse for her.

      I’m a younger woman in a majority-male office/industry, and while my bosses are good men who I know have my back in a general sense, rape culture in our country is such that, were I in Jane’s situation, I probably wouldn’t sure that they supported me unless they came out and said so. Again, they’re great guys, but I’d be afraid that family ties plus the abject toxicity of our culture around rape might make them side with the nephew or doubt my story. I can imagine that a simple, heartfelt statement like AAM’s second one might make me feel better.

      But, again, out of my league here. This is a rough situation but it sounds like you have your employee’s best interests at heart… I do hope you can find a way to let her know that. Best of luck.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        Since the OP is her rapist’s Uncle (which a lot of people are missing the gender, but is so, so relevant in this instance) if I were Jane, I might even wonder on some level how safe I was with the OP, given the “family’s” reaction to the rape.

  11. Adam*

    Wow. My sympathies for you and Jane. I don’t have any particularly great advice, but I echo the other commenters who say that saying something to Jane to assure her that you value her as a staff member and that your door is open for anything she wants to talk about or needs help with. I’m thinking if she really wants to discuss what you have already deduced that it’s best for her to decide to do that or not.

  12. Marzipan*

    I wouldn’t speak of any of this as a ‘family’ situation. The OP has mentioned not considering these people family; and Jane may not see them in that way either.

    And, to be honest, I’d be wary of going beyond Alison’s first script at all. Because it’s really not possible to know whether Jane would be made to feel any better by knowing that the OP is on her side in all of this; or worse because it brings a private matter into work when she might have preferred it remain elsewhere.

    1. Leatherwings*

      Hm. I disagree with this a bit, but it’s already pretty obvious that the private matter is affecting Jane at work. She’s near tears whenever she talks to OP, so it’s already affecting her heavily.

    2. Cobol*

      It might be beneficial for OP to let Jane know that she’s not in touch with that side of the family. Jane’s reaction may be in part due to not knowing where she stands with her supervisor. It’s such a hard thing, and I don’t know how recent Jane’s accusations were from the letter, but potentially she is along the road of recovery, and may be more worried about her job than anything else.

      I know in general it’s good to leave your personal life out of it, but sometimes you can’t. I think Allison’s 1 or 2 are good, but I’d be ready to divulge a little more if Jane is more forthcoming (talkative? this is such a hard letter) when you discuss things.

      1. Punkin*

        OP seems to be male, which may make the conversation more awkward. Kudos for the OP trying to make the situation better.

        I like script 2.

        1. Cobol*

          That didn’t even register. I agree it makes it more difficult. I can’t think of a harder question somebody has sent in.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Yeah, really. This is one of those questions that could go any number of ways. It’s hard to know, given any choice of action or inaction how it will land.

    3. Hrovitnir*

      Many, if not most, sexual assault survivors will feel deeply unsafe in this situation. There are always going to be people with different feelings on the matter, but I lean incredibly strongly toward being explicit. Being in an email gives Jane the option of not ever discussing or acknowledging it at work – but not saying anything leaves her working for her rapist’s uncle in the context that it’s horribly common for families to respond to these situations somewhere between complete support of the rapist and trying to be “neutral” on the matter. She has every reason to believe that is the case – which has zero to do with whether he would do anything, in case that’s not clear. Working for someone who knows about and possibly excuses your rape is a big deal.

  13. Mike C.*

    Advice is great, as is the comment above about contacting RAINN. I don’t want to seem like I’m ignoring this issue, but I’m choosing not to focus on it because I don’t have anything useful to say on the matter.

    As an aside, what in the heck is up with office busybodies? You don’t know what is going on in other people’s lives, why insist on butting in where you clearly know you don’t belong? The damage they cause by trying to make themselves look important can be vast.

    I know it’s vindictive as all heck, but I’d be tempted to fire this person. I’m not saying I would, but I would certainly want to. The damage this person has done to the previously fine working relationship and to this poor employee’s confidence in the workplace. Even if that damage wasn’t done, announcing to the workplace that coworker’s relative died seems incredibly inappropriate.

    1. Adam*

      I know it’s off topic and doesn’t help the actual issue at hand, but reading about the office busybody sharing the obituary pissed me of too. If they did it with intent to pool the office for a sympathy card or something I would get that least, but it still feels like a “please mind your own business please” deal.

    2. BadPlanning*

      It is possible that the obit sharing was good intentions gone bad — like “Hey, our manager’s nephew passed away, that must be upsetting, let’s be aware of that.” However, since the OP labeled said person as “office busy body” perhaps that is being too generous. Certainly if it was malicious (even if the intended target was just the OP), that’s a serious issue.

      1. Mike C.*

        It’s still something that’s incredibly personal and fraught with lots of pain and emotions. On those grounds alone a serious talking to could be warranted.

      2. Adam*

        I do think firing is extreme for this (although I’d be tempted in my less rational moments too). I don’t think I’d even talk to the person/their manager about it unless it was a recurring issue. But I’m guessing since the OP is being so sensitive and understanding of Jane’s issues that his assessment of the obit sharer as the office busybody is probably not far off.

    3. Lovemyjob...Truly!!!*

      I saw the part about the office busy body and wondered the same thing. Our office has a busybody who is also in charge of the personnel paperwork for the staff. She’s aware of my maiden name (very unusual) and was always trying to pump me for information about “who my people are”. I tried being vague, I tried being friendly. I ended up having to be in-your-face direct and tell her to stop asking about my family, that I wasn’t sharing that information, and that her constant asking bordered harassment and that I would go to our corporate HR to have her stop asking me. She hasn’t asked since – but I know she’s curious and I wouldn’t be surprised if she pulled something like this if she saw an obit with the same last name. Heck! I’m pretty sure she’s googled me too!

      Office Busybodies needs to go the way of the rotary phone. :)

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Oh God, you made me remember this one CUSTOMER who would not stop asking me about my father. After I refused to answer a few questions, he said, “What! Are you embarrassed by your father? You ashamed of him?”

        That was it. Gloves were off.

        I said, “NO. The opposite is true. There are people giving my father some difficulty. I have no way to know if you are a friend of those people. No one has ever asked me so many questions about my father. I am not ashamed of my father, FAR from it! Just the opposite, I am protecting him. A total stranger starts asking me a bunch of questions about my father, then I am getting ready to go to the police.”

        The guy backpedaled and said he wondered if he had my father in school. (wtf!) I said, “I doubt it, he went to school in [name of state] in the 1920’s and 30s. We are done talking about my father, we can talk about something else.”

        I had such a headache from holding myself back from trying to choke this guy. I did realize he was in his own little world where everyone used to be a student of his. I hope I got through to him, but I am betting I didn’t.
        Back to matching the person coming at you. He escalated so I escalated.

    4. nonymous*

      this can also happen if an organization doesn’t have a clear policy & process for dealing with unexpected leave. For example, busybody could simply be wondering if OP will have unplanned leave which would affect project X that they are both on, and pretty soon everyone on the team is wondering. Part of the crowd I work with is dealing with their parents’ aging and deaths (we get notices ~1x/month), and our policy is that the employee is responsible for letting their supervisor know how much to share (e.g. a general leave statement, “relative”, specific family relationship, links to obit) and everyone else should only be talking to the employees’ supervisor regarding availability. When I worked in a small company that had no leave benefits, we would have to justify every leave instance with the manager, so if she thought bereavement should only take 1-2 days of unpaid leave time, you got fired for needing to take more unless you could get someone of similar seniority to cover your shifts. It was in our financial interest to share details that would gain sympathy from our peers.

      Meaning as a coworker I should not be asking Fergus’ cubicle neighbor why they are out. But I also get group emails for unexpected absences, e.g. “Fergus is out today and will be returning next Monday”. If Fergus is important enough, the email may state “in their absence Jane at x101 will be acting”. This lets me do my job.

      1. nonymous*

        sorry, my additional anecdote made the reply disjointed. cubicle world is where we have co-workers with aging parents.

    5. Can't Sit Still*

      The main problem with disciplining the office busybody in this case is that they would know they hit a nerve somewhere, and they would never stop digging until they found out why, especially if they were fired. Some people are really malicious about disclosing “the truth”, and I don’t think the OP should take that chance here.

    6. BF50*

      It probably wouldn’t be helpful and you’d come off like an ass, but i’d be tempted to reply to the busybody’s distribution with something like.

      “This may have been done with the best of intentions, but this sort of notification should be left to the person directly involved.

      I had no contact with Nephew because he was a horrible person. I am not grieving.”

      1. kms1025*

        are you me BF50???
        person probably did mean well though…
        who could know such a horrible family secret???
        I know, which goes to your original point…

      2. Lynxa*

        This is EXACTLY what I would have done. It undermines the busybody and reassures Jane at the same time.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yeah, I would have hit reply to all on that one also.

          “I have been estranged from nephew and family for a very long time. There is no need for anyone to be concerned. I am continuing on as I have been.
          Going forward, we do not need to share obituaries in company email. Please respect people’s privacy. Thank you.”

    7. Jeanne*

      I think you are all being way too nice about the busybody’s intentions. If it was just a secretary who put up notices, OP would have said so. I also doubt the nephew died quietly in his home. There could easily have been a local newspaper article about local criminal dies in sordid situation. I suspect the busybody knew wxactly what she was doing. She needs to be talked to. Not about Jane but about why she treated OP that way.

      1. Anon for this*

        I think this is possibly a cultural thing. There are plenty of cultures where it would be expected to share information like a family member passing away in case people wanted to attend the funeral or send flowers or similar. It’s not uncommon in my country to get an email saying “so and so’s family member passed away here are funeral details”, and that would usually be sent to the whole department. There’s actually a website for deaths and funeral arrangements for that funeral directors put the info on and it’s considered unusual to opt out of sharing funeral arrangements rather than unusual to share. I’m only surprised there isn’t an app (yet).

    8. cncx*

      the office busybody part made me mad too. i have worked in places where it is a rule that family stuff like that is only shared by line manager or HR publicly, with the permission of the person involved. had that happened at one of those places, the busybody would have been written up, even if coming from a good place.

  14. Diff name for this*

    The second one. Please.

    I have been in a Jane-like position before. She has little power and likely feels like she has never had any. You have so much power compared to her here: you know everybody’s relationship to everybody, you have up to now been able to make your own decisions about how you fit in (or don’t fit in) to that web, and you are the one who is the boss. All of the vulnerability here is on Jane.

    Alison’s wording for the second one is great because it doesn’t force intimacy that isn’t wanted, but it’s much clearer and gives her much more information than the first one. The first wording is too cryptic because it renders the OP’s motivations too difficult to discern. When you’ve had a life like Jane’s, you get the occasional nice lady in a better economic situation than you vaguely offering to help you out; you find out from experience that this “help” often hurts or doesn’t actually materialize. The second one is exactly what you should say because it’s crucial for her to know more about where you’re coming from.

    Calling RAINN isn’t a bad idea either.

  15. namelesscommentator*

    Ask resource groups for victims of violence on the best way to frame the discussion. I would want the conversation to be direct, because skirting around the issue might appear like you’re refusing to acknowledge the harm done (though everyone is diferent with the level of obfuscation they find preferable). Depending on the size of your company/quality of HR, HR might even be a good resource – even if just to affirm that everybody is on the side of making it work for Jane.

  16. Yep, me again*

    Allison, I think both are great responses. I only disagree with using email-too impersonal and could be misconstrued.

    1. Doodle*

      Interesting — I am SUPER pro-email on this, but you’ve given me something to ponder.

      I was thinking email was better because it doesn’t require her to process anything in person (and you can be more clear that you don’t need her to respond). “Impersonal” here might be better if the alternative is Jane having to deal with what will clearly be a very difficult conversation in front of her supervisor.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          I’m generally pro-email, but in this case, I think the OP would really want to have the face-to-face conversation because nonverbal cues are going to be really vital to conveying the message properly.

          Plus, if this goes through company email, it’s going to be recorded and kept.

          1. Hrovitnir*

            Re: the first half, I see your point about non-verbal cues but still react with “noooooooo.” I don’t know how many rape survivors would prefer face to face but I can tell you right now that I absolutely incredibly strongly would not like to have this conversation face to face. It puts her in the position of having her boss bringing up something incredibly traumatising whilst being sympathetic – meaning she now has to deal with any emotions it brings up and worry about how she comes across to him. I’m not OK bringing up those kind of raw emotions around my friends, never mind your boss. *shudder*

            I lean toward it being recorded being OK, especially if he doesn’t specify what Nephew did. But I’m fuzzier on that one.

          2. Morning Glory*

            That’s taking into account the OP wanting to be able to convey the message appropriately, but not Jane’s feelings.

            If I were Jane, I would much rather receive this as an email to give me time to process, and perhaps to allow me to react in an emotional way without my boss watching me and waiting for me to respond. It would feel like the OP were blindsiding me if he brought this up in-person.

          3. The OG Anonsie*

            This was my thought as well. I think saying it in person somewhere private and giving those cues then EXITING so she can react however she’s going to react in that privacy without having to do it in front of him is the best. I would also feel, if I got this in an email, particularly unprepared for the nature of it and it would hit me extra hard because of that. I’m in the middle of work, trying to get other stuff done, and suddenly this is in the middle of it? That would just add layers of awful. Then imagine someone poking their head in while she’s at her desk asking questions ten seconds later. Maybe she would need privacy and then has to casually walk through the building to find somewhere… Just a lot of other factors here.

            This is coming from me having dealt with managers who sent some incredibly sensitive messages in emails instead of in person, and it made me forever nervous to open freaking emails from them in addition to all the above. Then they sit like 10 feet away from me and I’m having to see them around when I read the email anyway, plus other people stopping by my desk or catching me when I was on my way to go get a conference room or something to get composed. Happened a couple of times and it could not have put me in a more difficult position to deal with it.

            This is tough because it’s individual, though, because a lot of other folks here are saying they would prefer it. This is pretty baffling to me but people are different. What’s best is going to depend on Jane and the LW is going to have to use his judgement in knowing how she communicates to decide what to do.

      1. Red Reader*

        And my thought about email was that putting her personal business on the company email server puts it at risk with being available to snoop-y IT folks or possibly even more public review — I used to do electronic evidence discovery, and some of the things folks emailed on their work email were horrifyingly personal, but they became potentially public knowledge because of lawsuits.

        1. Aurion*

          Yeah, I would not put it in an email or anything electronic for this reason. This information should not be accessible via electronic trail.

          If OP decides to go with the written format, I would handwrite it and then pass it to her in person (perhaps in an envelope with her name on it). That way, the message is delivered to its recipient without anyone chancing upon it, Jane can process it when she chooses, and no trail exists on a server somewhere.

          1. nonymous*

            Yes, exactly. OP can make a statement in person that the note concerns a matter of sensitive nature regarding an individual mutually known to them and he is open to talking further or not at Jane’s choice, and that he supports whatever her decision is – no impact on profession interaction. But this approach leaves Jane with the option to process privately and at her own schedule. She can even choose to never open the letter, or ask a trusted person to preview it for her!

          2. New Window*

            I’m a bit surprised that the handwritten note option came up only after this far along in the group discussion, but add my +1 agreeing with it, for all of the reasons given so far. If it’s given to Jane at the end of the day (with an accompanying assurance that it’s not about her job or work performance and so on), it can avoid the potential of Jane having to handle with difficult emotions arising while dealing with coworkers coming up to her with work questions.

            1. BF50*

              Giving it at the end of the day can convey the message that he does not wish to discuss it because he’s not available.

              I would give it in the middle of the day, tell her he’s available if she wants to talk, and then offer her to option to take the rest of the day off if she would like to or need to. (Ideally paid). Not all people would want to go home. Some may wish to pretend all is normal and immerse themselves in work. Probably not most, but giving the option to stay or go is best.

              We were also discussing this option here:


    2. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

      My main argument for pro-email in this instance is that this is a closed door kind of conversation and I can’t imagine Jane would want to be in a room with a member of her rapist’s family with the door closed.

      1. BookishMiss*

        This exactly, having been in a similar situation. I’m very in favor of an email or handwritten note. The handwritten note would be my preference, because it offers Jane the ability to process on her own time, and clearly shows that this info isn’t accessible to any other employee.

        If OP does decide to do this in person, yes, the door should be closed, but Jane should be able to see and easily use the door at all times during the conversation. I’d pick a neutral space, if possible, too.

      2. OhNo*

        That was my thought, too. If the OP does decide to meet in person with Jane, he is going to have to be really careful about how he arranges the physical space. I think it could be done, but it would take some serious thinking about what would make Jane feel the safest.

        Actually, does the OP know Jane’s preferred communication style? That should really be the basis of this decision. If she prefers email, use email. If she prefers face-to-face meetings, do that. At this point, the priority should be making her feel secure.

        1. Candi*

          I was thinking, if face to face is best, a conference room, and Jane gets the seat by the door. The LW can then be at the other end of the table or closer -but I would advise staying well out of arm’s reach. Fear isn’t rational.

          Best case would be one of those conference rooms I saw once on an interview -big glass wall with wood frame, and doors at either end.

    3. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      Would a hand written letter be a good option? Not impersonal, but also allowing her space to deal with this on her own time. Possibly a nice card. And hand it to her at the end of the day.

      Maybe include something about, “I want to apologize on behalf of my family, since it is obvious that the people who owe you one never will.” Say something about the nephew being a blight on humanity and that you were estranged. Tell her that she is an awesome employee and talk about why you value her. Then offer to support her however she needs, silence, words or even assisting her job search.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      This is a tough call, if Jane is a person who enjoys email she might appreciate being able to review what OP said later on. An in-person convo is not so easy to accurately review.

  17. Christine*

    Can the OP just let the busy body know that they didn’t appreciate them sharing the Obit with the department since it wasn’t something you wished to share with your co-workers? or that you considered it private and if you wanted to share it, you would have? Makes me wonder if the busy body knew that they were estranged. The busybody would be sure to share OP’s response.

    The only reason I would share a coworker’s obit was if coworkers were going together to send flowers, or wanted to see the obit so that they know what to do if it’s flowers, donation, etc.

    The OP could just in passing say to “Jane” that you didn’t appreciate the busybody sharing the OP because you were not close to that nephew? That he had some serious issues, etc? Something that could be said in passing, but would frame it in their mind that you are not close with that part of your family. I do not believe that it should be bought up at work, at all.

    1. ayshe22992*

      I feel like making a side comment is to passive aggressive. While you don’t want to make this person feel any more uncomfortable, this is just a hint that may or may not get picked up on and its unclear so it would probably cause more anxiety and stress from the unknown.

    2. Doodle*

      I would also follow up with the Obit-Sharer, but I don’t think that has anything to do with how to approach Jane. She could have found out in any number of ways (social media, passing comment, etc.).

      The issue now is that Jane doesn’t know what the LW knows, which presumably adds to her anxiety. I think Option 2 is best because it gets it all out in the open.

      I’d also be very concerned that “he had serious issues” would sound to Jane like an attempt to excuse what he did. I don’t think that’s the right route at all.

        1. BF50*

          Yes, I think more aggressive wording is called for here. “he was a horrible person” rather than something that conveys you didn’t agree with his choices, but perhaps could in some way forgive him. Even if that’s true, that doesn’t need to be conveyed here.

    3. OhNo*

      If the OP were really opposed to having a one-on-one conversation with Jane, passing the gossip about how he didn’t appreciate the obit being shared because he is estranged from that side of the family might be an option.

      But having a direct conversation/email/whatever is better, and it sounds like the OP is willing to go in that direction. I think that would be preferable.

  18. HR Jeanne*

    I agree that you should not bring HR into this. There is no job-related reason at this time that they would need to know. I message of unwavering support to your employee is a great start.

    My concern is about the office busybody who sent the obit around. Why would someone do this? It is not helpful or related to work. Was this person called on their BS? There was no reason to bring that into the work place in the first place.

    1. Friendly poster*

      HR needs to know. Trauma survivors can have unusual or perplexing reactions to these sorts of things, and if Jane figuring out the connection hasn’t had an impact on her job yet, it will. And it may not be Jane’s job on the line if she decides OP was to blame for something or she perceives some innocent slight or legit coaching retaliation or harassment.

        1. ZVA*

          Yeah, whether or not it would benefit Jane for HR to know… she’s the one who has to tell them. I would feel so violated if my boss did what you’re suggesting, even if it was for the “right” reasons.

          1. Friendly poster*

            In the ordinary case you wouldn’t disclose. In this situation you have to. HR should keep it confidential, but it is imperative in my opinion that HR know. There are too many ugly aspects of this and there is a legitimate business need to know. I’ve worked with many trauma survivors and I’ve been one. Is it a breach of privacy? Yes, and that sucks. But privacy rights have to bend in certain legitimate business situations. Plus, this isn’t a situation in which only two people on the planet know; clearly many people knew at one point.

              1. Cobol*

                Jane could feel like she can’t come into work. Any poor review from OP could seem to Jane that it is retribution.

                Those are just two of many. If I’m a manager and am aware of a personal issue that might affect am employee’s performance I might give HR a head’s up. If said personal issue involved me, especially in this case where it is legitimate and very touchy, I definitely would.

                This is not OP’s fault (and it goes without saying not Jane’s fault), but any adverse action on Jane’s part (even quitting) could severely impact OP’s own career.

                1. Observer*

                  If Jane has an issue with the OP, it’s up to her to bring it to HR. HR only needs this information is *Jane* wants them to help her with this issue.

              2. Friendly poster*

                A supervisor has an ugly personal connection to an employee. That could lead to the appearance of bias even when there is none (as here). Employee is suffering outwardly and supervisor expects it will impact work. That could lead to discipline, which brings us back to the first point.

                1. Grits McGee*

                  If the employee feels that they are being unfairly treated, then it is their right to make HR aware of that fact. It’s not LW’s (and especially not HR’s responsibility to manage employee’s health and well being for her.

              3. fposte*

                I think there’s a reasonable point being made here, actually. The OP and Jane have a serious complication to their relationship, and my first thought was indeed whether the reporting structure could be rearranged. As the OP notes, he’s really not in a good position if Jane’s performance deteriorates and action has to be taken.

                My current thinking is that I wouldn’t go straight to HR at this point, though; I’d wait until it was an issue and simply say that there’s an old person connection that makes it a problem–or I’d raise the possibility of looping them in to Jane if she seemed okay with a more detailed conversation. I would just want to avoid a situation where I needed to promise Jane I’d never mention anything to HR, because I couldn’t do that.

                1. Lord of the Ringbinders*

                  OP has left it too late to go to HR. He should have disclosed an unspecified personal connection when he became her manager and suggested someone else supervise her.

                2. fposte*

                  @Lord–I agree that that would have been the best time and I’m not suggesting he do it now. But he still has a responsibility to manage Jane fairly, and if problems or even the possibility of preferential judgments arise, he needs to loop in somebody else. If that means he gets yelled at for not disclosing this earlier, he’ll just have to accept that; it’s more important that Jane *and* her fellow employees get a fair shake than he not get dinged for timing.

                3. Observer*

                  If issues come up he needs to loop in HR to the fact that there is a family connection and that it ended badly. But that is ALL that HR needs to know.

            1. Jessie the First (or second)*

              This is just so inappropriate. It is also harmful to Jane. I cannot stress this enough.

              Business needs do not trump Jane’s mental health. It is entirely and in all ways unethical for OP to disclose, *without Jane’s explicit permission*, Jane’s rape.

              If I were Jane, I would quit on the spot if this happened. There is NO justification to run in and disclose other people’s abuse history to coworkers, even HR coworkers, even in the spirit of “this is confidential.”

              This is true regardless, but here, you’re saying it “needs” to happen just in case Jane acts out and is irrational. Nothing has happened other than Jane is stressed, but you want to disclose in advance without permission because Jane might act crazy?

            2. TBH*

              I disagree with the assertion that an employee’s privacy, in particular with regards to sexual assault, could EVER be secondary to a “legitimate business concern.” That gets me in an emotional place and makes me angry to think about.

              Also, HR is not your doctor. HR doesn’t need to know everything about your history in order to better diagnose a behavior. They are not entitled to that information, and it is not necessary. In some cases, and the discretion of the employee, it can be revealed and be beneficial. But only at the discretion of the employee.

              I hear your point that this could get complicated, but I do NOT think that justifies telling HR any part of this, and it could actually end up putting the company at larger risk if HR starts instituting policy that could be seen to push Jane out as a way to protect themselves from the ‘risk’ of her reactions.

            3. Grits McGee*

              But what is the actual business reason? I’m having a hard time coming up with a reason where the (horrifying and deeeeeply personal) specifics of the situation are relevant to the ongoing operations of the business.

            4. Jaguar*

              Christ, don’t involve other people. Work is not more important than everything else in your life and the lives of everyone around you. Let Jane have the basic dignity of controlling who gets to know.

              1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                “Let Jane have the basic dignity of controlling who gets to know”

                Thank you for this.

            5. Bonky*

              That’s absolute nonsense. There’s no “legitimate business situation” here, just a desperately sad and violent personal, private situation.

              1. Cobol*

                Jane has a legitimate lawsuit against the company because a member of her rapists family (who it sounds like killed himself at least in part due to Jane revealing the rape) is her direct supervisor. As unfortunate as that is, it is a legitimate business reason.

                1. JB (not in Houston)*

                  Nope. No. Not at all. Alison is right, there’s no lawsuit here unless there’s more that hasn’t been disclosed or even hinted at in the letter.

                2. Detective Amy Santiago*

                  First, where are you getting the idea that the rapist killed himself? LW said that the nephew passed away recently and did not include a cause of death.

                  Second, there is zero indication that Jane is planning to sue anyone.

                  Third, as everyone else has already pointed out, protecting a victim’s mental health and dignity surpasses “legitimate business needs” every single time.

                3. BethRA*

                  Legitimate lawsuit? For what, exactly? Disclosing private, irrelevant information to HR, now that might cause a lawsuit (whether it would get anywhere is another story),.

                  HR doesn’t need to know (and likely doesn’t want to know) unless Jane decides to tell them.

        2. Parenthetically*

          Exactly. If Jane wants to go to HR and say, “This past trauma in my life has resurfaced and I would like to discuss XYZ in relation to work,” that’s absolutely fine, but it is NOT, NOT, NOT OP’s place to go to HR on her behalf (!!) without telling her (!!!!).

        3. Alton*

          Yeah, it’s really up to her if she wants to disclose a personal reason for why her work may be affected. That’s true of pretty much anything. It’s not HR’s job to proactively know this sort of thing.

          I can potentially see how HR might have a stake in this situation in the sense of wanting to avoid a possible conflict of interest between Jane and the OP. It would be terrible if the OP was the sort of person who would blame Jane and retaliate against her professionally, for example, and I could see HR thinking that Jane would be better off reporting to someone else. But even so, this is such a personal thing, and it’s possible that the rapist was never charged or, if he was, that Jane’s name was sealed because she was a minor. The OP would probably have no way of knowing about this if it weren’t for the unfortunate connection, and Jane deserves to have some agency.

      1. Observer*

        Please don’t encourage people to make significant decisions for other people. Especially since a decision like this could have significant downsides for the other person.

        1. Friendly poster*

          I think the point is that OP has to make decisions for himself. The appearance of bias and risk is too great. Don’t disclose the rape; I get that concern. But please do disclose the general connection and the fact that there was drama associated with it.

          1. TBH*

            You can’t disclose this at all without disclosing Jane’s trauma – otherwise it’s just “oh hey, HR, there’s drama between Jane and my estranged family, but I don’t hold it against her” …which is the opposite of helpful to OP or Jane, and which only creates a weird energy of speculation around all of Jane and OPs interactions in the future.

            There is no reason for OP to go to HR.

            1. fposte*

              Sure you can. It’s people, not a court of law. “There’s personal family history that I thought wouldn’t matter in my supervising of Jane, who has been a terrific employee, but now I think it’s difficult for me to be fair to her and the rest of my staff.” If they ask for more details, say “It’s really private and we’d both like to keep it that way; I’m just looking for assistance in configuring management so that my staff can get a fair deal.”

              As I’ve said, I don’t think now is the best time to do it, but the OP can’t be the person managing Jane if her work goes badly.

              1. Grits McGee*

                This is a situation/phrasing that seems much more reasonable than going to HR right off the bat. And, if OP gets the feeling after talking to Jane that there’s going to be issues (or if Jane decides that she can’t report to OP anymore), then this phrasing would be really good to use.

                1. fposte*

                  Yeah, I think the times to go are when the compromised relationship was first put into play (but the OP may not have known how compromised it was then) or when it’s an active problem. Right now it’s too much exposure for Jane for too little gain–but the OP is reasonably thinking that he really can’t be point person for her discipline if it comes to that, and I heartily agree.

                2. V*

                  I am not necessarily arguing in favor of going to HR at all, but given that the OP has said he now realizes he cannot objectively supervise Jane and needs to have himself removed from her chain of command, it sounds like he will need to go to HR to make that happen. I agree that if he must do so, he can and should do so without disclosing information that Jane should rightfully control, including both the rape and the foster care. The circulation of the obit gives him a reason to approach HR now. He can explain that 1) he and Jane a familial type connection through his sister, 2) previously he did not view it as a conflict of interest because he is estranged from his sister, 3) however, as a result of someone in the office circulating his estranged nephew’s obit, he realized that just because he is estranged and didn’t see a conflict of interest, that doesn’t mean others understand the circumstances, 4) Jane is such a valuable employee that he does not want others to second guess any praise or accolades she receives from him as anything less than fully earned and 5) as a result he believes it is in everyone’s best interest for Jane to report directly to grand boss, rather than him.

                  Jane’s information remains her own, OP is removed from a position of power over Jane, HR is given an understandable and true (if not detailed) reason for the request, Jane’s good work is highlighted, and the question of why OP didn’t raise this issue sooner is addressed.

  19. Antilles*

    My nephew passed away recently and an office busybody shared the obituary with my department, with a message explaining this was my nephew, so at this point I assume Jane has made the connection.
    Seriously? Who sends out *someone else’s* family obituary? Especially for a not-close relative like a nephew.

    1. SJ*

      Well, I agree that sending out the obituary was unnecessary, but I’d disagree that a nephew isn’t a close relative.

      1. Sunflower*

        I’m curious how busy body knew it was OP’s nephew esp considering OP has a common last name. I would think that someone would not list a family member who is estranged in an obit but clearly there are issues with OP’s sister’s family so who knows.

        1. many bells down*

          I’m estranged from my mother, but I’m quite sure that if she died suddenly she’d have made sure to let people know to list me in her obituary. For the guilt trip, if nothing else (you see why we’re estranged.)

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Yeah, I could absolutely see my ex-father making sure I’m listed in his obit, probably under my old name for extra salt.

    2. MuseumChick*

      This is a great point. And while waaaaaaay secondary to everything else, I would suggest taking the bus body aside and stating in no uncertain terms that they have no business sharing information about your personal life. No doubt the person had no ill-intent but it should still be addressed.

      1. Lizabeth*

        I was just coming here to say this; busybody needs more work to do if this is what they are doing with their time. And I would serious think about a reprimand because this crosses so many lines.

      2. Bonky*

        Like Lizabeth, I was hoping to see someone mention this. No reason to go into details about why this was such a crappy thing to do, but it needs to be pointed out to them that this isn’t anything close to professionalism.

      3. Observer*

        Don’t limit it to your personal life. Please just point out that sharing information about people’s lives without their permission is a really, really bad idea and inappropriate thing to do in the workplace.

    3. LCL*

      What people call obituaries are usually paid notices in the public newspaper. The people who still read newspapers generally read most of it, including the obits. Sharing obituaries of someone connected to someone in your company is a normal practice here. The only time one wouldn’t do this would be if the deceased was so close to the relative that you knew they were still sad about it. Sharing something that is published in the newspaper is not being a busybody.

      1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

        But…why would you do that? My aunt that I only spoke to maybe 5 times in the last 30 years recently passed away. I didn’t attend the funeral or take off work or even mention it to anyone because I didn’t really know her and it didn’t have any impact on my day-to-day life. My closest friends didn’t know so why would I want it shared with all my coworkers? If someone had shared it with my coworkers I’d have spent time with the awkwardness of receiving well-meaning condolences for the passing of someone that I didn’t actually know. Someone seeing it in the newspaper and mentioning it is fine. Someone specifically sharing to everyone feels invasive.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          If I shared obits. I would be sending out one a week. Too much sharing if you ask me.
          Among me and my friends there are several funerals a month. This is a function of age and a function of how many people my friends know.
          It gets to the point, where more often than not we recognize a name in the obits. People will find the obit on their own. They do not need help. In some settings people have to back away from funerals and sadnesses and that need should be respected also.

      2. On Fire*

        I think this is a YMMV thing. In my office, if a family member dies, the employee has the choice to let people know or not. It would be very much frowned upon to pass around information that the employee did not personally release or authorize.

      3. Observer*

        Not really. Yeah, if everyone knows that Janet Jameson is Susie Someone’s niece then I could see it, especially if it came out while Susie was out, . But if no one knows about the relationship, then why would I share it and the information about the relationship?

        If someone doesn’t want to talk about their family, leave it!

      4. Notorious MCG*

        Yeah, this is not a good thing, and it’s weird that you would exclusively share the news of someone who passed away that they *weren’t* close to and therefore not sad about it? You don’t know how they feel, you don’t know how close they were, in general you do not know anyone’s family dynamics at all and distributing information about someone else to others (whose specific relationships to that person are also largely unknown to you, since adults generally don’t talk about how they don’t really like Bob in accounting or had some tenseness with Nancy in marketing that soured the relationship) isn’t cool. I had a family member pass away after I had been working at a new organization in a new city and state for only 3 months. My bosses handled it very sensitively and when I took a sudden leave, they left it at ‘Death in the family,’ and moved on. I greatly appreciated that because A. All of my coworkers were essentially strangers B. I had to work out extended unpaid leave because it was out of state and I had just had a week off for my wedding (and having any office busybody asking me about that would have lead to me crying or losing my temper and C. It was such a tragedy that even months later I would get uncomfortably emotional even if someone was nicely giving condolences, which I would not want to do at work.

        So those are a lot of good reasons why you should leave obit distribution to the parties affected.

    4. Emmie*

      It may also be helpful to address the sharing of the obituary with other coworkers.
      -When people give condolences, say “I am not sure why that was shared. I am not close with him / haven’t seen him in years”
      – Address the sharing of the obituary with busy body’s manager as in “that wasn’t appropriate. We aren’t close due to family conflict and now I’m getting all these work related questions about my family.”
      To be clear, these aren’t normal things for OP to do or say in response to an obituary. But, it may be helpful for the office gossip meter to spread this info along too. Gosh, did I just say that?

    5. Jen*

      Reply all: I have been estranged from this part of my family for many years. In the future, please assume that we can handle our own communications around deaths in our family. Thank you.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I tend to think at this point a reply to all is fine because “all” think OP should hear sounds of sympathy or condolences. I think OP has the right to publicly say, “All is okay here, no cause for concern about me.”

        1. Drew*

          There could be a split response:

          Public: “My nephew and I were estranged and I would prefer not to discuss his passing at the office. Thank you.”

          Private to Busybody (and copied to BB’s manager?): “It is highly inappropriate to share personal information about an employee, like a family death, unless the employee asks you to. If I want information about my family shared, I will share it; it is not for you to decide for me.”

          This hits me a bit close to home; my boss who is awesome in ALMOST all ways tends to overshare. I have to keep in mind that if I tell him something, even something I have asked to be kept private, there’s a good chance other people in the office will know about it.

    6. Electric Hedgehog*

      Any chance of giving the busy body a loud dressing-down in a conference room close enough to Jane that she can hear what’s happening? “How dare you! That was none of your business! That side of my family is horrible, I have nothing to do with them, and I don’t appreciate you sticking your nasty long nose into my affairs or the affairs of your coworkers! Do it gain and you will be fired!”

      Don’t really do this, but it would feel so good to give the busy body a verbal lashing while simultaneously letting Jane know indirectly that you hate that branch of the family and have nothing to do with them ever.

  20. SignalLost*

    If the second option seems more appropriate, I might downplay some of the “family connection” idea, only because on my read it suggested you are still in contact. Maybe the first bit, about sharing the connection, and then on a second mention make it clear there are a lot of reasons you are not in contact with those “family” members? Her situation doesn’t even have to be stated as part of it, but I think I would want to know that.

    I haven’t been in this situation but – oddly – I did find out a former student of mine turned friend (we are actually the same age; I taught vocational classes at college) used to work with my abusive ex. It came up very organically in conversation after a comic con we attended together, and I’m afraid I burst into tears because it brought up a bunch of junk. We were able to talk about it a bit differently because of our friendship, but it was immediately very important to me to know that he didn’t think my ex was a great guy, that he believed my statement that I had been abused by this person, and I appreciated that he turned the conversation to sonething about my friend that was relatively personal. Not something weird, just a story about what he wanted to do professionally and why he couldn’t, which was a pretty important change from what we usually talked about. It felt sharing without being one-upping.

    So acknowledge the connection but figure out ways to frame it as being on Team Employee, I’d say. It doesn’t have to be judgey and it’s probably best if you stay away from that unless she discusses it, but family connection once, then repudiate the family.

    Also … if she does explicitly bring up the past history, I would say you need to be really, really unequivocal that you believe her. No statements like “well, legally I recognize that it’s never been prosecuted,” or “I’m pretty convinced you’re correct about what happened” or “my nephew was a very troubled person”. Those things are probably all true, but if I was in her shoes, I would want to hear “yes, I believe you,” in as certain a tone as you can manage. It would tell me a lot about where you stood and whether I could trust you to be a manager who didn’t believe I was the root of all evil.

  21. friendly poster*

    Please oh please use the second script. It is the right thing to do. Please do not mention anything about her getting another job. There is no way to do that without suggesting you want her to leave, which she will hear much more loudly than anything you said before. In fact, she may think you were lying or being disengous when you expressed support, because I can promise you many conversations with foster kids have that pattern (“I know you’ve lived in 6 homes in 6 months and you love it here, and we love you, but really if you want to leave we are ok with that.”).

    Please also protect yourself. Let HR know what is going on and what you plan to do. Perhaps notify higher mgmt as well. These kinds of situations get very ugly very fast, and once you broach it with Jane –which again I think you need to do– Jane’s reaction is anyone’s guess. Trauma survivors sometimes decide to stand up for themselves in ways that may not make sense to an outsider, and make allegations that seem false or inappropriate unless you really understand the inner workings.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      There is no reason to think Jane will make any sort of false allegation and no reason at all the OP should tell anyone at work what happened to her. It is for Jane to decide if she tells anyone about what happened to her.

      1. I agree with Friendly poster*

        False allegations are only the beginning concern here. HR has many hats that it could wear. Perhaps OP shouldn’t be supervising her and HR can work out a different supervisory team. Perhaps Jane will need to be disciplined or laid off or fired at some point. How would you react if you found out that the manager making the call on these things had this type of ugly connection to Jane? HR should be told, but should also have enough sense to keep it quiet.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          “False allegations are only the beginning concern here.”

          I disagree that false allegations are a concern at all, actually. You and friendly poster are pathologizing Jane for really no reason. Sure, trauma survivors can act out in irrational ways sometimes – as can anyone, really – but the notion that you should “protect” yourself by disclosing someone else’s rape to HR and upper management just in case someone who has never acted irrationally before suddenly starts to lash out and make false allegations is terrible, terrible management.

          The course of action you are suggesting is really the way to go if you want to force Jane out the door. By running over and, with nothing but random speculation to go on, start disclosing her own personal traumatic history of violence with upper management and HR “just in case” this previously stellar employee suddenly turns into a nightmare employee.

          1. Friendly poster*

            You have convinced me. I honestly believed going to HR was the right thing. You all have convinced me I was wrong. I am sorry. It’s too bad comments can’t be deleted from this blog once posted.

            1. Jessie the First (or second)*

              Ack – I know I have been vehement on this thread against informing HR, because this is SUCH an emotional topic, but I don’t mean to beat you down and make you feel like your point of view should be deleted!! Sorry about that. :-/

            2. Diff name for this*

              I’m glad it’s here! The truth is, people learn things on the internet all the time; it’s good to have a record of it happening.

              Nobody is born knowing how to handle a situation like this. I’m glad to see people being thoughtful and learning things from this comment thread.

        2. Former Retail Manager*

          I am inclined to agree with you and Friendly Poster, despite Friendly reversing themselves. I believe that HR involvement is necessary to cover OP. While relations may be good now, that’s not to say that they’ll remain that way forever. Legitimate performance issues could arise years in the future resulting in OP needing to take actions at which time Jane may assert retaliation based on the familial relationship of OP. However, I believe there is a way to involve HR and protect Jane’s privacy, sort of. I would speak with HR and tell them that Jane was a former foster child of an estranged family member during which time she endured abuse. (I would not elaborate on what type of abuse) She left that home due to the abuse and the fact that there is a familial connection has recently come to light. I’d advise HR of what I planned to tell her (and I’d send the message to Jane via e-mail so there’s a record) and leave it at that. I would be adamant with HR that the situation was traumatic, based on what you know, and is not to be brought up to Jane under any circumstances and while you don’t anticipate there being any problems with the two of you working together, you want to be transparent with HR and with Jane. I believe the company deserves to know, and preemptively protect themselves against potential future perils of having a supervisor supervise a person in this situation. I would argue that OP should take the same actions if Jane had been a domestic violence survivor of their adult sibling. Having Jane as the victim in a subordinate role in which the OP is in control has many potential implications. To be clear, I don’t believe that Jane will go off the rails and suddenly “turn” on OP or anyone else, but the fact is, this is just an awkward situation for both OP and Jane to deal with on a regular basis and to keep that information hidden from HR, for lack of a better word, just doesn’t make the OP appear in the best light.

          If they’re adamant about not involving HR, which is certainly their prerogative, I’d definitely put whichever message you go with in writing just to cover yourself.

          1. nonymous*

            no, I don’t think that OP has any right to mention Jane’s abuse history.

            He may wish to be more visible about mentioning EAP resources, in a global framework. And he may even choose to avail himself of this service to identify how best to address Jane.

            I also don’t understand how OP is now expected to have management bias after his nephew’s death? Presumably, OP knew the situation prior to Jane finding out about the relationship? OP’s actions really need to be in support of how to help Jane with the fact that her work life has morphed from a place that could be compartmentalized separately to “his presence is everywhere!”. Poor Jane.

            1. fposte*

              I expect him to have been at risk for management bias the whole time, actually–nothing to do with the death.

              And even if he’s scrupulously fair, do you think it makes sense for him to be the one who fires Jane if her performance goes downhill?

          2. Jessie the First (or second)*

            “I would speak with HR and tell them that Jane was a former foster child of an estranged family member during which time she endured abuse.”

            If you are worried about things going south, then simply do what fposte suggested above and say there is a likely conflict of interest because of a family connection. That solves the problem without horribly violating boundaries.

            This line of thinking is just so incredibly invasive. You can rearrange the line of management and CYA without coercing someone to disclose their history of abuse.

        3. M*

          I’m a trauma survivor and I’m extremely uncomfortable as being characterized as somebody likely to do irrational things or cause a situation to ‘get ugly’. People who may or may Not have experienced trauma can do irrational things. Not all trauma survivor act out. Please please don’t dictate for all of us how we’ll act.

          1. Lord of the Ringbinders*

            +10000000000000. The leap from trauma survivor to ‘false allegations’ is not okay.

            You do realise around one in four women are survivors of sexual assault or rape? Thats an awful lot of people you’re pathologising there. Please stop it.

            1. Observer*

              Fortunately, that number is almost certainly not true. Not that it matters in this context, but I just don’t like this kind of incorrect thing stay alive.

              To your main point – being the survivor of horrendous abuse doesn’t make someone automatically a pathological “case”. If anyone doesn’t believe me, I suggest you spend some time with holocaust survivors, people who lived through Stalin, refugees from Vietnam or Cambodia, current refugees from the Middle East, or survivors from any of the other myriad horrors and persecutions of the late 1900’s.

              1. Lord of the Ringbinders*

                Where on earth did you get the idea that this number isn’t true?

                Your comment has muddled its point rather and I’m not sure what you’re saying exactly – perhaps that someone is only likely to make ‘false allegations’ if they are/aren’t xyz? Whatever you’re saying, you haven’t been clear.

                But I am going to be crystal clear about two things.

                Firstly, children who experience complex trauma can be just as traumatised as concentration camp survivors. To suggest otherwise is incorrect. Emotional neglect and disrupted attachment can cause the exact same type of trauma as that experienced by a prisoner of war and can in fact be more devastating as we are talking about the very foundations on which a child builds their understanding of themselves and the world.

                Secondly, I do not know where you got the idea that the one in four stat isn’t true. You are wrong.

                1. Observer*

                  The one in 4 number is widely bandied about (and, yes, I know that the CDC uses it), but it’s actually not well sourced at all. Telling me that I’m wrong doesn’t change that.

                  What I am saying is that it doesn’t make a difference if one in 4 women are abused or on in 40. It’s ridiculous to assume that just because someone was abused they are going to make false allegations about people. And it’s also ridiculous to assume that just because someone was abused they are going to be pathological cases that need to be “handled”.

                  The fact that people who have suffered through the types of histories I mentioned and have come out being functional people who are NOT liable to make false allegations and do NOT need “handling” indicates that it’s possible to suffer extreme abuse and still function in a reasonable fashion. Unless you want to claim that there sexual abuse utterly different than any other type of abuse, that would have to apply to victims of sexual abuse as well. In addition, in many of the types of situations I mentioned, sexual abuse was highly common. And lots of those victims manage to function reasonably.

                  In short, I was agreeing with the point that pathologizing vikctims of sexual abuse this way is wrong and not based in any sort of fact. I was just pointing out that if anyone thinks that this is a “PC” defense of victims, you should look at similar categories of victims to see that this is true.

                2. Candi*

                  I searched “CDC 1 in 4 sexual assault”. Articles for and against came up.

                  Cited problems include:

                  Strictly a telephone survey, rather than a study encompassing multiple aspects of health, law enforcements, and support organizations as well as surveys.

                  Poor framing of questions. Many a lawyer can tell you about how framing questions is essential to getting useful answers.

                  None of the questions did not ask outright if the respondent had been raped.
                  One question asked if they had been penetrated while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Full stop. There’s a range between a commited couple having drinks at home on one end of the scale, and an all-out frat party on the other. Neither for or against articles indicate clarifying questions were asked, or commentary noted.

                  Other stats and surveys have found fluctuating but fewer numbers.

                  Threats were counted under sexual assault, although legally they’re a different category.

                  It’s rather interesting.

                  On the victim of horror = crazy potentially dangerous behavior issue, STOP IT. It’s rude and false. It’s incredibly hurtful for those who were the victim of violence to assert power and control.

                  The human mind is shockingly resilient. People who have been through terror do have mental issues, but they don’t automatically become back-stabbing psychopaths. That’s Hollywood crap.

                  It’s like the homeless drunk crazy Vietnam vet stereotype. Study after study that follows up on the men and women who made it home shows that the majority of them have families and are in good jobs or gainfully retired. But the stereotype has embedded it in our consciousness.

                  (One of my dad’s friends was a doctor over in Vietnam. She dropped one therapist because he kept saying her issues all had to do with war-induced PTSD -like her two abusive exs and her current abusive husband couldn’t be part of the problem.)

  22. fposte*

    I vote second one, ASAP. The risk that Jane will be upset by a mention is much, much less than than the risk that Jane will fear you’re on her rapist’s side. If Jane really doesn’t want to talk about it, the fact that the OP has kept his mouth shut about this until now should help reassure her that he’s not going to bring it up spontaneously.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Yeah, I’m kind of coming down on this side. The OP doesn’t have to be explicit about what exactly he knows, but acknowledging the connection and coming down clearly on her side seems like the right thing to do.

      1. the_scientist*

        I agree with this as well. I think the most important thing is to make in unequivocally clear to Jane that you’re on her side and have her back. I think as someone else provided a great script for that it may be worth while for the OP to be clear to Jane that they’re estranged from that side of the family because of the behaviour of nephew. While generally, I don’t like bringing family/personal matters into a work discussion, it’s obviously unavoidable in this case and I think it helps strengthen OP’s position as someone who is on Jane’s team.

    2. Cobol*

      You don’t even need to mention your nephew. Just say something about no longer being on touch with your sister’s family.

    3. animaniactoo*

      This is where I land – the risk of not being clear is much worse than the risk of being completely clear in terms of potential outcomes.

  23. JMegan*

    What an awful situation for all of you. Speaking for myself only, if I were in that situation I would 100% want the transparency. I would much rather have the horribly awkward conversation where we each acknowledge what we know about the other (and gods, I can’t imagine how awkward that conversation would be), than spend time and emotional energy worrying about exactly how much the other person knows.

    Keep it short, but clear – the “least she needs to know” version is for you to confirm the family relationship, tell her that you believe her, and that you are estranged from your family. Offer support for whatever she wants the next steps to be, whether they be to never speak of it again, or to transfer out of your department or whatever. And have some resources handy to give her, including RAINN or your EAP.

    I would have the conversation at the end of the day, or else let her leave immediately afterwards if she wants to. Good luck with all of this.

    1. RVA Cat*

      Every bit of this.

      I wonder if one way to make this a one-way conversation but less impersonal than an email would be to leave it on her voicemail (if your office still uses it)? That gives her some space to process and react while also allowing tone to come through.

      Also, you may want to push back against the office busybody who shared that obituary. While it’s probably too late, if anyone offers condolences esp. when Jane is around, you could say “we weren’t close” etc.

      I also wonder if Jane is not only upset about your relationship with her rapist, but also her rapist’s death itself? There have got to be some complicated emotions around that that RAINN or her EAP may be able to help her work through.

      1. fposte*

        I think you’re making a good point that Jane’s perceived upset may have nothing to do with the OP. We always bring our own lens to things. (I still think the conversation’s worth having, but it’s just a good reason to keep it concrete and minimize assumptions.)

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Eh, Jane could be wondering how nephew became such a jackass when OP is such a good person. The contrast must be stark for her.
          I think reality is that it’s no one thing crossing her mind, it’s a hundred things. This is what trauma does.
          Maybe it’s using my own lenses but when I cry it’s because numerous things are all running at one time.

  24. Kimberly R*

    I like Alison’s second script. I think the only way for Jane to possibly be ok with the situation is if the OP clearly denounces her family. Otherwise, Jane may think the OP sides with her sister and nephew. And even so, Jane may never be ok with the situation. But as it stands now, she has no context for the information she knows and she needs that context.

    Also, without singling Jane out or sending it only to her, could OP mention to HR that it would be nice to send a reminder email or memo about the company’s EAP (if they have one) or any other resources available?

    1. AnotherAnon*

      I also think if HR sends out a memo, it such include a variety of resources for different issues, again to avoid Jane feeling singled out. Like, sexual assault hotlines, but also depression, anxiety etc. hotlines.

      1. AnotherAnon*

        Oh, and I think it should be phrased like “Hey, can we send a memo out about our EAP and/or resources for common issues like…” so you aren’t outing Jane to HR.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Agreed, OP should be very clear on where he stands.

      Matter of fact, I was just thinking that is one good point in this whole story that OP has a firm grasp of where he stands on this whole thing. OP is unwavering. I am awed by that part. Thanks, OP, for working hard to be a good boss to Jane.

  25. Pup Seal*

    She definitely needs support right now. Sometimes hearing about the death of your rapist can cause you to revisit those awful memories. The nephew’s death probably caused her memories to rise to the surface.

    I have an ex who sexually harassed and gaslighted me for 6 months, which caused a deep depression for a year. A few years later, I heard from his sister that he was going under heart surgery and she wanted prayers so he would make it through. The thought that he could die… really threw me off and brought back the bad memories. I also have a friend who was molested when she was a child, and she told me that seeing him will cause her to have a panic attack.

    1. BookishMiss*

      Finding out my abuser had brain cancer definitely threw me off for a long while. Thankfully, no one asked me to pray for him…

      So I can absolutely see why Jane is stressed, without the added familial dynamic. This situation is just awful.

    2. Candi*

      Jane may also be feeling joy and/or relief, and guilt related to that.

      A friend told me many years ago of a friend she had who had a complete slimy maggot turd of a stepfather. Abused his wife, raped his daughter and stepdaughters, beat and threw the (step?)son out of the house when he tried to protect everyone, you name it.

      The woman escaped, and cut off contact with her mother and stepfather for years. Then one of her sisters told her slug scum stepfather had pancreatic cancer.

      Her first reaction was joy. Then she felt guilty about being happy someone was dying so painfully.

      Jane may have felt happy when she say that obituary (or however she found out). Then the guilt that nice, empathic people feel when they think something horrible kicked in. (If she did feel glad, I don’t blame her.)

      As for my friend’s friend, well, our mutual friend told her to roll with it, that she had every right to be glad and relieved karma had stepped up for a round. (MF has zero sympathy for anyone who deliberately harms someone they are supposed to care for and protect.)

  26. Security SemiPro*

    I think it would depend a lot on the relationship LW has with Jane and their general management style. I’m pretty authentic and transparent in my usual style, so script #2 wouldn’t be an abrupt shift for me and has a pretty high likelihood of coming across with its sincerity. If LW’s style isn’t usually as direct/transparent it could be hard to pull it off and project the support and sincerity.

    For me, putting myself in either Jane’s or LW’s shoes, I’d prefer something along the lines of the second script.

  27. Junior Dev*

    Side note, but why did the co-worker share the obituary and connect it to OP? It doesn’t help OP since the information it out now but I think this sort of thing is the exact reason you shouldn’t share news like this in the office without asking the person involved (in this case OP) first.

    I have an estranged family member and I’d imagine if they died it would be hard enough to deal with without my work passing around announcements about it.

    1. LCL*

      Because if one still reads the newspaper that is what one does. We are so used to on line news, where we only look at what we want to look at, that we forget there is general news that isn’t directed at a specific audience. An obit about a coworkers’ family is as newsworthy as a headline story about an accident that happened in your industry.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        “Because if one still reads the newspaper that is what one does. ”

        I’m confused by this. We are talking about someone reading an obit and then distributing the obit around to everyone with an announcement of the relation to a coworker – without talking to coworker first to see if that’s something they’d want. That’s not a general rule of propriety and “what one does.” It’s insensitive because it forces a coworker to address family issues at work that they may not want to. If you are honestly trying to be supportive to a coworker, you’d ask them first if they’d like that.

        1. Elizabeth H.*

          Seconded. I read the newspaper in paper, I read the obituaries, I would never even consider sharing around an obituary of someone else’s family member!! I can imagine sending an obituary to my *mom* if it were the family member of someone I knew personally. Never a coworker – it would be really bizarre and invasive.

    2. AD*

      I agree, it is….odd. Whether or not the “busybody” in question knew of the estrangement or not, why share it? It’s literally none of your business. If a colleague’s aunt died, I don’t think I’d email everyone and say “Hey, Fergus’s aunt died and here’s her obit”. It’s just weird.
      And if the person did know about the estrangement….it gets even more icky.

      1. BethRA*

        I think it depends on the office and people’s relationships. If I found out one of the people here lost someone close, I’d probably share the obit and organize a card (at least).

        But considering that LW referred to the person who did this as “the office busybody” I’m guessing they’re not that kind of office.

  28. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I’m surprised that no one has mentioned the fact that LW is a man and that may be part of Jane’s discomfort in one on ones with him. I agree that it would be a mistake to bring HR in to this right now, but I think you should also consider offering Jane the option of having a neutral third party in meetings if she is uncomfortable being alone with you.

    Good luck.

    1. fposte*

      I think that’s a good thing to offer if Jane would like to have the disclosure conversation that way, but it’s not tenable as a regular practice.

    2. Been there*

      That seems like quite a leap to me. One in six women have been sexually assaulted, so using this logic you would need to make that offer to your female employees in general. Which comes across as weird and vaguely…insulting? I’m having trouble putting my finger on the right word here, but the large majority of assault victims have no issue with one on ones because of their manager’s gender. And the issues arose here when she learned his family connection, so it seems clear that is the problem.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I was referring to his gender coupled with the family connection. If the LW was the rapist’s aunt, the situation would still be awkward, but less likely to be something Jane would see as a potential threat.

        1. fposte*

          It’s still not tenable, though; managers really need to talk to their staff without pulling in other people every time.

  29. boop the first*

    I don’t have the perspective of a rape victim, but is pretending it didn’t happen the right thing to do? Isn’t that the harmful thing we all expect of survivors? To “get over it” and pretend it never happened? Doesn’t she need to know she has a support system, rather than an empty echo chamber? An empty echo chamber is what we give to people who do embarrassing, unpleasant things. Is that the message she needs right now?

    1. fposte*

      I think that’s a different framing, though; your manager can’t be your support system for your childhood trauma at the best of times, which this absolutely isn’t, and it really isn’t broadly appropriate for managers to raise issues of past abuse with employees who haven’t brought up the subject themselves. This is a special circumstance.

    2. J-nonymous*

      No – but I don’t think that’s the point of the first option of the two scripts. The first allows an acknowledgment of additional stress without (possibly) triggering very painful emotions for a rape survivor who likely does not want to have this come up at work.

    3. Anon for this*

      “Pretending it didn’t happen” can also mean giving someone the space and time to cope how they see fit, with the support system of their choice, without inserting yourself in their recovery.

      I also don’t have the perspective of a rape victim (I was assaulted), but sometimes well-intentioned support places the burden of dealing with the supportive person’s feelings and managing their reaction onto the person who was attacked. It’s a hard thing to work with.

    4. k*

      I don’t think anyone is pretending it didn’t happen. These scripts allow OP to acknowledge the situation without explicitly saying it. That gives Jane the power to decide if she wants to talk about it or not. A lot of people keep their personal and professional lives separate, and may not want their boss to be inserting themselves as some kind of personal support system. If she wants to, great, these scripts leave the ball in her court to respond and further the conversation if she wants. But it doesn’t force OP into her personal business.

      1. JMegan*

        OP, do you have a therapist of your own? Or EAP? It might be helpful for you to run this whole thing by a neutral third party beforehand, so you can role play some possible scenarios. And you may find you need some support as well, as I don’t imagine this is going to be easy for you regardless of how it plays out with Jane.

        1. the_scientist*

          I think this is where calling RAINN could be super helpful! They can probably offer some scripts and practice run-throughs. But also, yes, OP should consider seeking support as well.

      2. Case of the Mondays*

        thank you, thank you, thank you. I have represented victims before and the number of times police have said someone didn’t “act” like a victim because they were laughing or joking is astounding. There is no one right way to react.

  30. DV advocate*

    Yes script #2, adding: “I am not in contact with part of my family because of their behavior, and I keep my work life and family life separate.” She needs to know that she is not in danger of being found at work by these people. The possibility of this can trigger the very real physical fear of her past. Ditto the office gossip – tell her in no uncertain terms to stop.

    Sexual abuse is very common, and most child sexual abuse is committed by people one knows (e.g., family members). As supervisors, we should assume we have employees who have survived abuse. Good job, OP, on recognizing that this employee has been re-traumatized (by her co-worker’s actions, not by you as a person), and that you can do something meaningful, which is (a) saying the above, and (b) expressing your support for her as well as her right to privacy. Trauma is a big deal, so be prepared to go slow with this conversation and for her to hear only your first few sentences at first.

    1. Parenthetically*

      “As supervisors, we should assume we have employees who have survived abuse.”

      Yes, absolutely. In fact, seconding all of this.

    2. paul*

      Yep. If you’re managing a team of more than a very few people the odds are statistically good that at least one of them’s been molested/assaulted/raped. Which, I mean, is horrifying in its own right, but isn’t it like 1 in 9 female children and 1 in 53 male children are molested/abused as kids, then plus adult incidents?

    3. Bonky*

      Agreed – I think it’s important that OP mentions what he mentioned in the letter, namely that he doesn’t consider these people family. OP’s reports are lucky to have such a sensitive boss.

    4. Emmie*

      Good points. If OP chooses to do an in person conversation, I recommend that it’s done at the end of the day so the employee doesn’t have to be productive at work after the conversation. I would even consider having the conversation on a Friday to allow her time to decompress.

    5. BookishMiss*

      Yes, and that everyone handles it differently at different times in ways that don’t always make sense to people outside the survivor’s head.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      Yep, that is right. I was working with a team of 13 people. FOUR of them had been molested as children. And that was the people who told me about it. The number very easily could have been higher but some chose not to talk about it therefore I have no idea what the real number was.
      Four out of thirteen random people, am shaking my head. Yes, it is wise to assume that everyone is carrying some type of burden/sorrow.

  31. Been there*

    I was sexually abused as a child and teen by a relative, and like Jane’s awful experience, have family members who occasionally try to pop back into my life just to remind me that I’m a terrible person and blame all of my cousin’s troubles on me. And if I was in this situation I would vastly prefer you acknowledging it and letting me know you’re on my side. I know typically in business that’s not the way to go, but if you are vague she will think she is not going to push the conversation further. Our society basically conditions sexual assault victims to feel like they can’t ever talk about it because it makes other people uncomfortable. Be brace enough here to push past the awkwardness and make it clear that you know what happened and you believe her and support her. I’m sure she already knows, or at least strongly suspects, that you know what happened considering the kind of person your sister is, and it’s probably weighing on her mind wondering about it. She probably will get emotional, but it’s likely that one awkward, emotional conversation could get you back to a normal, professional place with her.

    1. Been there*

      Ah, so many autocorrect fails! Sorry…on my phone but couldn’t resist the impulse to respond to this one immediately.

    2. Sunflower*

      Thanks for writing in. I’m sorry that happened but thankful for your insight.

      I was also in the mindset of if the OP is too vague, Jane isn’t going to go further with it. If there wasn’t an indication that this was stressing Jane out, I would maybe have different advice but my guess is she probably knows her discomfort is not being hidden well and the thoughts of ‘what do i do/how do i handle this’ may be just adding more weight onto her shoulders.

  32. nhbillups*

    Personally, I would also include something to the effect of “This is something that I’ve had a lot of conflicting thoughts about, because while I do not want to make things more difficult or painful for you in any way, I need to make sure that you know that I am on your side. There’s nothing you need to do or say in response, unless you’d like to. But I want to be very clear that I do not associate with that part of my {bloodline, lineage, family}, and I do fully support you.”

    1. Letters*

      Yes. I love love love the idea of admitting how hard it was to come to terms with what to say here — sometimes it really humanizes a conversation to acknowledge how incredibly awkward grief and fear really are.

      1. Emi.*

        But make sure it’s phrased so it’s VERY clear you mean “I was conflicted about how to bring this up,” not “I was conflicted about whether to cut my nephew off” or “I was conflicted about whether to believe you.”

        1. nhbillups*

          Yes, definitely; I’m sorry I didn’t make that clear, but absolutely, the intent needs to be 100% clear with no question of OP’s support for Jane, and that he doesn’t doubt her at all. And I would actually say that you’ve been estranged from that part of the family for [years?], so that she doesn’t think it’s just something you’ve recently decided on. So maybe “Jane, bringing this up to you is something I’ve been really conflicted about. I don’t want to make anything more difficult or more painful for you, but I need to make sure that you know that…” would be a good choice.

  33. Anon a Bonbon*

    Alison’s first script is perfect because it covers the two important keys:
    1. I don’t know the details and I don’t need to know
    2. I am on your side.
    If this came up with me, I’d assume that the OP knew all the embarrassing details and that they must be supporting their family. If these ideas could be contradicted…I would be so relieved. Jane must be suffering so much right now.

  34. Kyrielle*

    I am so glad to see all these helpful, thoughtful responses. I don’t have one to offer; I don’t know what the right path here is.

    But I did want to thank you, OP, for writing in – and for wanting to handle this right. (And specifically, “right for Jane” and not just right for you.)

    1. Hrovitnir*

      Oh yes, this too. I really hope you can find an approach that works for you both, and it works out for Jane.

    2. Anon For This*

      As a victim myself, I’d like to add my +1 here.

      OP, thank you for giving this thought and asking for advice.
      It makes you a much better man than many others.

    3. Fiennes*

      Yes, thank you, OP. Searching for the right way to help Jane shows a lot of consideration & care. Even without knowing anything else about how he does business, I feel like we all know this is a great manager.

  35. charlatan*

    Kudos to you, OP, for wanting to do this properly. I have nothing useful to add to the others’ suggestions, but I hope you realize that you seem to be handling this the very best you know how. Good luck to you and Jane.

  36. bunniferous*

    I would not use email for this. First, you would have no control over when she saw it and she could see it at a bad time. Second, much of communication is nonverbal and she needs to SEE the support.

    No matter how it is communicated it will be awkward and hard, but it needs to be done.

  37. Tabby Baltimore*

    OP, given this: “My sister and her family have issues, and it was alleged that her son raped Jane while she was living with them. While I do not know the details of the situation, I am aware that my nephew is troubled and I do not doubt Jane’s story,” and if you decide to use script #2, please be prepared for Jane to ask you one, or both, of the following questions: “How much do you know [about the rape]?” and “Why didn’t you do something about it?” [basically a question about the reach of your influence over your sister’s household, and “it” being your nephew’s behavior in the weeks/months prior to the rape]. I’m not saying that’s going to happen, but I would urge you to think as far ahead as you can about the directions your conversation (assuming you even *have* a conversation) could go in, so you can remain calm and focus on being helpful.

    1. Been there*

      I think that’s extremely unlikely to happen and even telling OP to consider it comes across as pretty insensitive towards the victim here. Asking for details and basically blaming OP, saying they should have known and been able to stop it? Someone troubled enough to go to such lengths surely would have already brought the issue up to OP instead of just seeming emotional about realizing they’re working for their rapist’s uncle.

  38. Anne*

    Yikes. This is the reason to have an EAP, and use it. If the organization doesn’t have one, then HR and/or a senior manager should probably be engaged to reach out to an outside therapist. And also, probably, an attorney. (The circulation of that article probably falls into the category of “creating a hostile environment.”)

    No way the writer should try to handle this on her own. She needs Real Life professional support.

    I’m so sorry, this is terrible for all concerned.

      1. Candi*

        Yeah. Something can be totally hostile in the dictionary sense, but not hit a single switch on the legal hostile board.

        Dictionary-hostile can still be against company policy though. >:)

  39. animaniactoo*

    I think it’s extremely important to be clear that a) you’ve known all along, b) you don’t doubt her, and c) you are estranged from them.

    What Jane needs is the security of knowing that you are not going to be a conduit by which this comes back into her life as an issue. And that your opinion of her is not going to be negatively impacted by this information.

    Along with an open hand of options, with a stress that it’s not your preference, simply your willingness to support whatever Jane needs to do for herself out of this awful situation.

    Towards that, I would work with something along these lines. I would have the conversation in the afternoon for reasons that will become clear towards the end here.

    “I think that you’ve recently become aware of a connection we share, and I’d like to clear the air with you about it so there’s no uncertainty on your end about where I stand. You do not have to say a single word to me about this, ever, if you don’t want to. I want you to know that I believe you. I understand if you meet that with some suspicion, given everything. For what it’s worth, I’m estranged from that part of my family and that is among the reasons why we are not in contact. I have never discussed this with you because it appeared that you didn’t know and I didn’t want to create an issue for you where there was none.

    I have no issue with you as an employee, I think that you’re great and I want you on my team. BUT. I also completely understand if you no longer feel comfortable working with me. I will support whatever choice you make and whatever help *or lack of help* you would like from me if you choose to leave my team. I will not bring this up again, so whatever happens from here is up to you and there is no time limit on making a decision. I’ll just assume that you’re staying unless you tell me otherwise at some point. I’m going to go have a meeting somewhere else now, feel free to use my office for as long as you need, or if you want to leave for the rest of the day, go ahead and do that.”

    Please note that having *lack of help* be an option is also very important. Jane has had a lot of points there of not being in control of what happened to her, and being able to choose to move on without any help from you—even when you’re willing to help—is as much freedom and control over her life as you can grant her.

    1. animaniactoo*

      Oops. I forgot a piece in there – somewhere, you need “If there’s anything else I can do for you here, please let me know and I’ll see what I can do to make it happen for you.”

    2. animaniactoo*

      Doh! And going to have that meeting should be “unless you have anything you’d like to talk about further right now, I’m going to go have a meeting elsewhere…” Don’t just skip out – make it obvious you’re ready to leave to give her privacy, but don’t drop the bomb and then leave without giving her the option to say something or ask questions if she would like to right now.

    3. Also anon here*

      I was actually really skeptical at the start of your script but overall I like it. I wouldn’t insist on leaving. I’d offer her the office if she needs it but also say that you can sit with her if she wants, but you’re also happy to go somewhere else if she wants. It’s possible she’d want to address things after the conversation. Give her the option to stay there, go home for the day, do work, be alone, talk to you, etc.

      I also still prefer this conversation to be over email, as I mention below.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Actually, it’s very important that OP makes it clear that he’s leaving unless she has more questions/comments, because the nature of this is that he’s *not* offering to be her emotional support. He is making it clear that he is holding the same distance he always has and proving it by giving her privacy in a moment when she may not be able to clear-headedly make that decision for herself.

        As her supervisor, it’s very likely that he can’t be her emotional support about this AND maintain a professional business relationship with her. So working to prevent crossing that line on both their sides unless it is an active considered choice on her part, and not one that she will later regret as a spur-of-the-moment “omg why didn’t I just shut up” one, is to Jane’s benefit. Even if she does need a shoulder to lean on right then – it can’t be OP’s. Better to leave her to contact her network and go find support elsewhere, by explicitly clearing the way for her to leave for the day if she needs to.

        I get your point about e-mail, but I think that tone of voice and face is also going to be very important in this conversation and I would not go that route unless a) OP doesn’t think he can keep it together well enough for Jane’s benefit, and b) he is very very good at indicating emotional tone through the written word. And even then, I would not do it via e-mail, I would print out a letter and hand it to her. She doesn’t need it hanging in her work e-mail, and she DEFINITELY doesn’t need it backed up to the company servers, etc. She needs every consideration to be made to protect her privacy around this.

        1. fposte*

          I think this is an important point. The support he *can* give is hugely valuable and important, but it absolutely cannot be the same thing as intimate emotional support.

        2. Also anon here*

          I hear you. I wasn’t thinking of it as being about being her emotional support as that running away right after saying his piece might communicate that he doesn’t want to deal with her and that he’s defining for her how to immediately react (wanting to be alone). As someone who was assaulted (by a coworker no less) I would not want that assumption. I’d want to be asked if I want to left alone and for that to be respected if I said yes, but I wouldn’t want that assumption made and honestly it would feel like he either wasn’t on my team as many others phrased it or like he really did feel uncomfortable about the connection in a way that could come back to bite me, because he can’t handle my reactions.

          I do hear you on having a record on company Servers being a problem. Something handwritten or Hand delivered might be better, but I would not want to have this conversation in person unless I’m the one bringing it up.

          1. animaniactoo*

            The thing is – by walking away, he’s also leaving her the ability to just go back to work. So he’s not defining that she wants to be alone. He’s simply enabling that if it’s what she wants.

            I agree that it could be taken the wrong way, but the risk of that is smaller than the risk of not giving her immediate space to process in privacy and choose what she wants to do next, triggering a reaction that she may be upset to have had viewed later.

  40. Anon for this*

    I have to say, I’m quite heartened by the multiple comments in the vein of, “Make sure you say something to let her know you’re on her side.” I thought that might be a minority opinion, but it seems I was wrong about that and I’m glad to be.

    It might have a happy effect on OP’s relationship with her report to show that she’s not one of those people who automatically side with the rapist, even if s/he is family. Because that is not so common. It shows that the report is safe from further harm by OP.

    (By further harm, I don’t mean OP would try to harm her. But having to work for someone who sides with the rapist, that could be very triggering and traumatizing in its own right.)

  41. TotesMaGoats*

    I vote for script #2. The first is too vague and might leave Jane with even more questions, suspicions and fears. And to be honest, given how your relationship is with Jane you might find it more helpful to be even more explicit in the context of being estranged from the family. She might be worried that you are passing gossip back to the sister unless she understands how estranged you are. That’s a YMMV piece though. I think you do need to address it. More than likely this is exactly what’s bothering Jane and hearing something from you will help. Or should help as you are clearly supportive of her.

  42. Also anon here*

    Put me down as another person who has been assaulted for the second script, preferably with an explicit “I believe you”. Being estranged is okay to mention but not completely necessary in my opinion.

    I’d also advocate for it being done over email, giving Jane time to process, more chance to decide not to answer, and possibly more clarity over what’s going on. Worth noting though that most people I’ve told details of my assault to I told through writing rather than face-to-face so I’m biased. This also allows the conversation to be about Jane and her feelings. The OP’s feelings really aren’t necessary for Jane to handle, and unless OP can have this discussion in person without expression without expressing anything other than support, he should do this by email. It’s about Jane. His awkwardness, discomfort, anger toward the nephew, etc, should not be put on Jane. (He should handle any of those emotions, but not ask Jane to deal with them)

  43. ilikeaskamanager*

    I work in HR. Don’t involve HR in the conversation but I do think that you need to let HR know that you have some kind of personal relationship with this employee who is under your management. Why? Because if later down the road you have to discipline this employee for any reason, she has a legitimate case to make that you are retaliating against her for the allegations she made against your nephew, even if you aren’t. Is there any way she could report to somebody else? That would be the cleanest thing. I just believe in avoiding any possible messy entanglement in an abundance of caution.

    But I suggest script #2. Don’t withhold information from the employee. Full transparency. You know who she is. Don’t withhold that from her. Don’t make her guess about what you know/don’t know.

  44. Employment Lawyer*

    Obviously, run it by HR lest you get fired yourself for doing the wrong thing. Since the truth is (in this case) mutually beneficial, my inclination would be to suggest that you push HR to let you tell the truth:

    “Jane, I regret the need to raise a deeply personal matter. However, I think you deserve some straightforward information from me, that I hope will ease your mind. Please note that this is simply my choice to share personal information with you. I AM NOT asking for information in return, and I do not expect a response.

    That said I think you should know: I am not in contact with my sister and I have no loyalty to her family. I do not know the details of the situation, and I do not want to know, but I am quite aware that my nephew is capable of evil. I do not have any reason to doubt you; I have every reason to doubt them.

    I value you as an employee; I encourage you to stay and I hope to continue to work together. Should you be unwilling or unable to continue to work with me, you should know that I will understand that decision, and will offer you an excellent reference.

    I apologize for raising a personal issue but I thought it was important that you knew I was on your side. I will not intrude on you by bringing this bring this matter up again.

    1. Chriama*

      I like your wording, especially the part where you say you’re on her side and value her.
      I also think notifying HR is important here, especially because there’s a very real concern that if anything happens in the future OP won’t be able to manage her appropriately. I wouldn’t ask for their permission so much as notify them that this is going on and this is what you’re planning to say.
      The only thing I would add in your last sentence is that I would offer to let her talk with you (in private, with HR, whatever) if she wants to *but* if not then you won’t bring it up again. Don’t assume she doesn’t want to talk about it but make it opt-in rather than opt-out (e.g. “I won’t intrude on you by bringing this up again. However, if you’d like to talk to me about this or if there’s anything I can do to support you, please let me know.”).

      1. Employment Lawyer*

        I don’t think the OP has any ethical obligation other than to correct the misconception and move on. If Jane wants to discuss it that isn’t the OP’s issue. But of course the OP can make the offer if she wants.

  45. This is my Spout*

    I like the second suggestion as it puts them on more equal footing for information.

    Would it be a good idea to allow her to bring a friend, if she wants to, to a shorting meeting? It might be really hard to talk to him alone.

  46. Anonymous Today*

    As a survivor of sexual assault, I might have a useful perspective to offer, especially as my own incident was connected to my workplace as well. Not in the way that your and Jane’s situation is, OP, but the fact that it was workplace related might help me give you some insight here.

    I feel that Alison’s second script is probably the one you should go for. When it happened to me, my supervisor had to get involved – neither of us had much of a choice – but the transparency really, really helped, especially as she too just wanted to let me know that she had my back.

    In Jane’s shoes, I would be feeling scared, humiliated (probably unrelated to you, but the very fact that sexual assault is considered such a stigma and taboo topic doesn’t help matters and makes a survivor overthink EVERYTHING. She is probably wondering how much you know, whether you hold it against her, how this will play out – and I’m sorry to have to point this out, but the fact that you’re a family member of her rapist probably has the incident fresh on her mind every second that she’s at work, and every second that she’s away from it too. So it’s likely that she’s stressed because of the constant memories of something she’d much rather put behind her, and that may also be causing some PTSD for her.

    It would be a kindness to simply acknowledge that you are aware of her connection to your family, and do not in away way hold it against her, plus that she should not worry that her former foster family will try to get to her in any way through you. How you put it is up to you, but I feel Alison’s second script says everything the way I would want to hear it, if I were Jane.

    All the best to you and Jane, OP, and please do update us. I hope everything works out all right.

    1. No Name for This*

      There’s also a possibility that Jane might deny or try to cut off the discussion, so be prepared for that.

      A colleague committed minor sexual assault against me. There were a number of extenuating circumstances, so I never reported it, but I did talk to one very close work friend, strictly to ask him if he thought I had correctly handled the situation and those extenuating circumstances. He honored my request for confidentiality, but someone else overheard the conversation (thin walls and nosy heifer). That person told a higher-up, who first formally reprimanded my friend for not reporting it, then called me in and asked about it.

      I was *very* uncomfortable, both because of the situation and because of the specific person asking questions. I minimized the incident down to, “He asked and I said no. That was the end of it, and I had already asked the one person I talked to, to keep it confidential.” There had actually been more to it than that, but I wasn’t ABOUT to be truthful in this situation, because the higher-up asking had a reputation for being vindictive and emotionally abusive.

      So OP, be prepared for any kind of response, including none at all. Make it very clear that you’re not asking questions; you’re just offering the knowledge that you believe Jane and are on her side; you’re offering support *if it is wanted* and you’re not asking for anything from her.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, excellent point. This is not a conversation where you need any particular response from Jane; she’s being briefed, not being asked to weigh in.

        1. Anonymous Today*

          Absolutely! And I would like to add – Jane may be in need of a few days off to deal with this privately and get herself back on track. It would be another kindness to offer her a few paid days off should she need them, without questions asked.

  47. ..Kat..*

    Was the rape reported to the police? Was the nephew prosecuted? If not, if I were Jane, I would be angry beyond belief that an adult knew and did nothing.

    1. Been there*

      As someone who has been in a similar situation to Jane’s, it really isn’t that simple. These cases are typically very he said/she said and incredibly difficult to prosecute. With Jane being in foster care and the sister/her foster mom being so angry at her, my guess would be that it was reported. My other guess would be that not much came of it, either due to lack of physical evidence or because the nephew was a minor at the time. My 17 year old rapist actually plead guilty! He had to spend like three months occasionally doing community service and going to counseling and then they closed the case and it no longer exists anywhere in his records. So Jane may very well be beyond angry, but not with an adult who knows his nephew isn’t a good person and can’t offer much more than that.

    2. On Fire*

      I assumed that it became public knowledge *somehow* and that was when OP learned about it. I have no experience in this situation, but from the commenters who are survivors: Would it (have) help(ed) you to be told something like, “I’m so sorry that I didn’t know what was happening in time to intervene” or other wording, letting you know that someone *wanted to help* but didn’t know in time? Or would that come across as victim-blaming (you should have told me)?

      1. Been there*

        I don’t think it necessarily comes across as victim blaming, but I do feel like it kind of goes without saying. It can also be a little too much as far as making me think about that time again, rehashing why I didn’t tell people sooner and what went wrong, how I wish things had gone differently, etc. I think it’s more helpful and less awkward for OP to just make it clear that they have no connection to that part of their family because they are terrible people and that he totally supports OP.

      2. Elizabeth H.*

        I had the impression he learned about it long-ish after the fact or at a removed distance somehow. I also think it’s completely afield from the issue at hand. It definitely wouldn’t be anywhere near the realms of appropriate to say something like this to Jane now, out of the blue.

      3. On Fire*

        Been There and Elizabeth H – both of your comments make perfect sense. Thank you for that perspective/input!

      4. Yeah, Anon for this one too*

        I think it’s irrelevant here, but just my experience on this is that when people in my life apologized to me for not knowing/doing anything, really it felt as if they wanted me to reassure them that I forgave them or was never angry at them. And I do not appreciate MY abuse being turned into a conversation about how sad THEY are, in which I have to now reassure them.

        I get that people may want to simply reach out and say they did not know of it and that’s why they did nothing, but often the conversation just seems to be about making them feel better.

        1. BookishMiss*

          Yep, same experience, same feelings regarding it. OP shouldn’t bring this dynamic into the conversation/email/letter if it’s at all avoidable – and it’s always avoidable.

    3. Grits McGee*

      One would assume that since OP’s relationship to the foster family is so distant that Jane didn’t know of it until the incident with the obituary, OP was probably not in a position to know what was going on until after nephew’s misdeeds were made public.

    4. TL -*

      If the OP had known before/during, Jane probably would’ve recognized him when he hired her.

      Jane is probably going to have all kinds of emotions, but she’s probably not going to have them *at* the OP; it sounds like she’s already trying very hard to keep things as professional as she can, even though it is a struggle.

    5. Lissa*

      I get that people have really strong feelings on this and are bringing their own perspective in here, but I don’t really see how this type of speculation about how the OP might be at fault is helpful *at all*. We have no evidence at all that the OP was an adult who “knew and did nothing” or that there was no reporting or any of this. There are like a million possibilities of what happened here and none of it is likely to be helpful when deciding what the OP should do now.

      1. BookishMiss*

        Thank you for saying this. I agree. Right now, the OP should find a way to say ‘I’m on your side 110% always’ with no pressure on Jane to even respond. Apportioning blame as part of that talk – or at all – isn’t likely to do any good.

  48. Kevin*

    I think something like #2 is necessary. Things are stuck, and it’s likely they’re stuck because there is an elephant in the room. Someone needs to be able to name the elephant in the room, neutrally and compassionately. In terms of setting, I think in person and out of the office would be best. Maybe while going for a walk? That can make it easier to avoid eye contact and help keep emotions contained. I don’t think email will help because tone will matter a lot here.

    I hear that people are concerned about triggering the rape victim by bringing this topic up. But she appears to be already triggered! Life has a way of bringing us situations where we have to come face to face with parts of our life that are difficult. Both OP and the woman working with her are in that same boat — and they’re natural allies since they’re both similarly troubled by the behavior of nephew and family. Someone needs to extend a hand here. The typical script for a troubled employee is not going to work here.

  49. Chriama*

    I *strongly* vote for script #2, done over email and with an additional offer to talk in person if she wants to. I think ignoring the elephant in the room does more harm than good, but you don’t want to talk to her in person and make her feel cornered. So an email to let her know that if she wants to talk to you further by email or in person you’re happy to, but if she doesn’t want to then you respect her wishes and won’t bring up the subject.

  50. Channel Z*

    I think she needs to hear that you are on HER side, especially if you’re sister has been blaming her, she may think that you do too.

  51. Elizabeth H.*

    After reading all the comments I have kind of mixed feelings. I’m wondering if it would just be best to convey publicly in a general way that he is estranged from these family members. It sounds kind of like someone sent a mass email to his coworkers with the obituary, so potentially could reply all “While I appreciate the gesture of concern sent earlier this month, I don’t have any contact with the deceased or his family; I no longer have any relationship.” This could be the lesser of 2 evils. I think in the situation if it were me, I might prefer to have most people think I sent a bizarre email, than to have Jane think I considered these people family.
    Then separately, convey to Jane how valued and supported she is an employee, more like script one.

  52. Lord of the Ringbinders*

    In an ideal world you would have disclosed a conflict of interest and recused yourself from supervising her in the first place as soon as you realised the connection. I’m not saying that to attack you but rather to emphasise that you don’t know if she’s upset because of the revealed connection or the fact you knew who she was and didn’t mention it or her rapist dying or something else altogether.

    Another survivor of childhood sexual abuse here. If I found out tomorrow that my lovely boss was an estranged relative one of my abusers, it would be like having the world go topsy turvy and I don’t know how I would deal.

    I think you should let her know you regret that she found out the connection via an obit (which for her was another thing she had no control over), that you are sorry about this, that you are estranged, and that you’re concerned about how she is and are willing to help her in the workplace. I would also give her the option of switching supervisor if she wants to.

    1. Lord of the Ringbinders*

      Also let her know you’re worried about getting this wrong. I think it’s okay to be honest about that.

      1. BookishMiss*

        I’m torn. I might omit this part, just because it gets a little too close to asking for her reassurance rather than giving unequivocal support, but it also lets her know that you’re open to feedback if she’s willing to give it. If there’s a way to phrase it that makes it very clear you’re not looking for reassurance, go for it.

  53. Tammy*

    I think the consensus is in the right direction, but I worry that some of these scripts are too wordy/complicated. I’m sitting at my desk trying to imagine what I’d have wanted if any of the people who have committed acts of violence against me in the past were related to someone I worked for. Based on what I think would have helped me, I’m thinking something like this:

    “Since Fergus shared that obituary, I wanted you to know that I have been estranged from Nephew Ned for many years because of the things he’s done. You don’t have to do or say anything, but I want to you to know that you are a valued member of my team and I 110% have your back if there’s anything I can do to help and support you.”

    Short and sweet, and it conveys what needs to be said (I think). Your contact with Jane is in the workplace, but my sense is this is a human issue, not a work issue. So I’d tend to lean into compassion.

    1. Tuckerman*

      I agree about brevity being the best route here. I’d actually even cut it down further, to
      “When Fergus shared my nephew’s obituary, he didn’t know I have zero contact with that side of the family. I’m so glad they’re out of my life. And I’m so glad to have you on my team.”

  54. A. Non*

    I’m solidly on team send an email, and also in favor of using the second script. There’s not a long conversation to be had here, just a quick reassurance that you’re on her side. There’s a 99% chance she’ll have a strong emotional reaction. If you can give her the option of having that reaction in private please do so.

    It might be worth mentioning in the email that you haven’t been in contact with that part of your family in the last (time frame), so Jane knows that you won’t be passing any information about her to them. I assume they don’t know that she works for you – best if it stays that way.

    I’d assume that her distress isn’t about you until proven otherwise. It’s a thing that the death of an abuser often brings up all kinds of feelings. It’s also possible that work has been a blessedly separate world where she didn’t have reminders of that trauma… and then a sympathetic note about the rapist got circulated, and OUCH. This is all hella awkward for you, but you don’t want her to end up in a situation where she feels like she has to reassure you. Definitely talk to your family and friends about how you feel, but put that away when dealing with her.

    Good luck, this is a really difficult one.

  55. AnonHere*

    Please, PLEASE say something to Jane, but pull someone else in so that if Jane is at all concerned about going to OP (her boss), she has an out.
    E.g. – HR or Grandboss of Jane is cc’d on an email: “Jane, I know this is an uneasy topic, but I wanted to let you know that I am aware of your situation with my family. I am absolutely devoted to protecting your privacy, so without going into detail, please know that I support you 100%, and am horrified that I must call people like that family. Please accept my apologies that you must deal with this, and that my family connection has caused you angst or anxiety. As your supervisor, I am committed to ensuring your work environment is not a place where past traumas are re-visited, and more so because I don’t want to be the cause of your discomfort! I am more than willing to work with you or discuss this in person, but of course I completely understand if you are not comfortable with that. I have copied OtherPerson on this email – I have not disclosed any information to her, but wanted you to be aware that you do have other people at ThisOffice to talk to, if you are uncomfortable talking to me. Again – I support you completely, and am deeply sorry for the pain and anxiety this situation may have caused.”

    1. Been there*

      Nooooo! You cannot CC grandboss or HR and start the e-mail saying you are devoted to her privacy. Because you’re obviously not. If I were Jane I would want to be sick knowing that others were reading that message and wondering what OP was talking about and speculating about what might have happened to me. Also, I imagine OP’s boss and HR would both have a ‘what the hell’ type of response to OP CCing them on this.

    2. Grits McGee*

      Yeah the optics inviting an audience to an email about the Deep Dark Family Secret that you will allude to BUT NEVER TELL are not great.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, if I got that I’d assume the cc:ed person had been told, no matter what it said in the message.

    3. animaniactoo*

      Pulling somebody else into the e-mail is violating the very privacy you’re saying you want to protect. You can make Jane aware that it’s fine to go talk to somebody else, and there is support for them if they need to do that, simply by telling Jane that with nobody else in the conversation.

    4. Emi.*

      But if OtherPerson gets the wording you suggest, they’re going to guess that someone in OP’s family hurt Jane in some way, and probably guess that it was sexual assault. Copying HR or Jane’s Grandboss here is not compatible with protecting her privacy.

    5. Troutwaxer*


  56. Stellaaaaa*

    IMO the obit should have sparked a response from the OP (side note: why on earth is OP’s company employing someone who attempted to shame either OP or jane by spewing info about someone else’s death? There’s more to the story there – this is possibly already a toxic work environment). OP is NOT complicit in harming jane but it’s important to remember that silence only protects the abuser is a situation like this. When you act like a terrible thing never happened, you’re letting victims think that you’re okay with how other people have treated them. Your nephew and sister do not deserve the protection of silence.

    I cannot begin to offer more concrete advice but maybe this perspective could be a useful addition to the mix.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I wouldn’t assume the busybody meant to shame anyone; presumably she just is overly involved in people’s business and thought she was sharing something important to someone (in the “let’s offer condolences to the OP” sense). It’s still inappropriate and she should be told to stop sharing people’s personal business without their okay, but I wouldn’t assume it was meant maliciously.

    2. fposte*

      I don’t know that it has to be with intent to shame–it’s just a sad family death to most people. There are offices where this would be an annoying but benign action–nosy, but in an overinvested small-town way.

    3. Alton*

      I didn’t get the sense that the busybody knew anything about the nephew being a rapist. It’s unlikely it’d be mentioned in the obituary, and chances are good that the crime was never prosecuted in the first place and that it remained a “family secret.” The busybody was probably just trying to show sympathy for the OP’s “loss,” albeit in an intrusive way.

  57. Christine*

    Would it be best for OP to just ignore the entire situation, not say anything at all? I wouldn’t go fishing for info, etc. If the OP doesn’t say anything at all, than Jane would hopefully assume that OP is unaware of the situation.

    The busy body needs a slap up their head. It was the OP’s right to choose or not choose to share that their was a death in their family. Not a co worker’s. OP is in their right to say something to the busy body, along the line of that they were not planning to share the obit at work, and didn’t appreciate them doing so.

    Otherwise nothing needs to be said.

    1. animaniactoo*

      The strong likelihood is that it’s better to say something, because if nothing is said, then Jane has another bugaboo fear that she doesn’t need to have ever – which is that OP who “doesn’t know” may find out, and it would change things then. Odds are that not having that fear would outweigh not wanting boss to know who she is in connection to all of this. And it gives boss the ability to say “I believe you”, and lay to rest the other fear, which would be boss being on the family/rapist’s side, jeopardizing her job, etc.

  58. wanita*

    Jane may also may be jarred that OP was aware of the family connection — including the crime against her — all this time, while Jane didn’t know about the “shared awful connection.” If you laid those cards on the table in front of me? I’d be fractured. Being on my side would mean not sitting on your knowledge of that family connection without telling me for however long.

    If it’s not obvious yet, then I think OP should forgo any such revelation that she knows who Jane is with respect to her sister’s family. The “I wish this person hadn’t passed this around, we are estranged” script, from that perspective, seems the most neutral. It states, plainly, that she OP doesn’t wish to be considered affiliated with her sister’s household/family. It doesn’t offer the information that OP — while Jane was unaware — has known about her being in the foster system and also abused. Just box that up and put it away unless and until Jane volunteers it.

    Neither are anything Jane should be ashamed of, but that part of her life history is hers, not OP’s.

    1. wanita*

      Come to think of it, I would want a conversation with the sharing staff member — who’s heart may have been in a good place — about sharing things involving people’s families at work. NEver mind that it’s public information. It’s one thing for OP to reveal the death of a family member or cue a coworker it’s ok to do so. It’s another to bring it to prominence on your own initiative.

      1. Grits McGee*

        This may be paranoia speaking, but while I don’t think it would be a bad idea to speak to nosy-buttinski, I’d be very careful not to put it within the context of this particular incident. The last thing anyone wants to do is to set nosy coworker off on a search to find out why this particular obituary is problematic and re-introduce awful nephew (and potentially his crimes) into work conversation.

  59. Kora*

    I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse (although not involving a family member, thank goodness). I realise I don’t speak for all survivors, but personally I really, really recommend script no.2. No.1 has the potential to sound like you’re fishing for her to out herself to you, or equally like you’re unaware of the details yourself (and therefore how you might respond if you knew them is an unknown quantity). If anything, I’d avoid the ‘family history’ language and explicitly say you’re estranged from your sister’s family over your nephew’s behaviour. Basically, I think you need to have a short, in person conversation in which you convey in this order: 1) you’re not on her rapist’s side, 2) you think she’s a great employee and want to support her and 3) she doesn’t need to talk to you about this, either at the time or later. Personally, I wouldn’t bring up the possibility of her moving to another department in this conversation; save it for if she still seems unhappy a few weeks or months down the line.

  60. Delta Delta*

    The other complicating factor, which I haven’t seen anyone pick up on, is that Jane was a foster child at the time of the incident. There may be a whole other layer of things going on here, like that maybe Jane doesn’t need/want her boss or anyone else knowing she was in the foster care system. Jane’s a grownup now and is apparently a good employee and a valued member of her team. It’s entirely possible she’s got legitimate concerns about her employer knowing too much about her background (especially if it’s a small town/tight-knit area where everyone knows everyone and their families). In a lot of places juvenile court and child protection are confidential, which is to help protect the identities of children while they’re going through whatever they’re going through. The whole point is so that when kids hit adulthood they have a fresh slate. Jane may have been really relying on a similar fresh slate and doing very well, and now may feel like it’s falling apart for a multitude of reasons including the nephew.

    *I say this as a lawyer who has done a lot of work with juvenile courts and the foster system. Some of my clients who had foster experiences talk openly (either positively or negatively) about it. Some come up with very clever ways to talk around the experience to avoid letting people know it happened. I only wanted to add this because it’s an additional dynamic that could be pretty important to remember in how to handle the situation.

  61. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Please please please DO NOT SEND EMAIL.

    I would be horrified to get an email alluding to or flat out mentioning details of a horrible personal event because I would know there was a possibility that anyone in IT could possibly read that at any time.

    1. Troutwaxer*

      Agreed. Send a handwritten letter and give Jane the afternoon off with pay (that doesn’t come off her vacation time.)

  62. Tinker*

    Lort. I am getting a lot of mileage today out of the unfortunate hobby that I have regretfully acquired.

    I shall name the elephant, so as to ensure the OP has information that conveys the importance of their naming the elephant (the specifics of how they do this being well above my pay grade). When extended family, particularly of the parental or higher generations, of a person who has abused and/or enabled on family members, turns up, a thing that happens depressingly often is this: The extended family member is friendly and nice and perhaps even supportive in a way that is nonspecific or at least does not commit to much in their personal opinions. Then, once they have gotten a friendly interaction going enough to make it weird to suddenly be not so friendly, they set about… fixing the family problem.

    Things like, say, passing information to the enabler that is helpful in getting around obstacles to the enabler making their case. Passing messages from the enabler to the victim. Taking up for the enabler directly. Making continued friendly relations implicitly or explicitly conditional on the victim returning to their role in the system. That sort of thing. This is at best terribly awkward. In a boss it is obviously just terrible.

    (One might ponder the horror of what it would look like if you loop in HR and Jane finds out about this even fractionally before she finds out your intent.)

    Absent explicit statements to the contrary, it is entirely reasonable and probably virtually inevitable that Jane expects this from you, and given the double layer of power dynamics involved as both boss and sibling to foster parent it’s entirely reasonable and probably virtually inevitable that she will not raise these concerns with you independently. What particularly to do? That’s a question for, like, RAINN and Captain Awkward. But one thing for sure: life is pointy for a fence sitter.

    1. animaniactoo*

      This is why I specified above that it is extremely important that OP make clear the estrangement, so that Jane is aware that he will not be a conduit for this mess coming back into her life. There’s enough mess already, but the bigger concern *for Jane* is the fear of information being passed back and forth, and she needs to know it’s not going to happen.

  63. The Supreme Troll*

    “At the same time, part of me feels that if Jane knew I do not consider these people family and am not holding anything against her, it could make things easier for her.”

    OP, I think this can possibly work. It is best to do it away from the office; if possible, over coffee or lunch. But I think that you can reassure her that you believe her 100% and support her 100% in any direction that she wants to go from here. As Alison mentioned, you can be a great reference if she wants to move outside the company, a strong supporter if she wants to transfer to a different department, provide her with the best networking opportunities, etc…

    I think at this point the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, so there is no point to pretend that this hasn’t happened.

    1. D.A.R.N.*

      Because OP is a man, I would make sure that Jane knows this is in a) a visibly populated public space like a popular restaurant or coffeeshop and that b) she can bring her own transportation and leave whenever she likes, just to make sure she doesn’t end up concerned that the OP could be of the same vein as his nephew.

      1. fposte*

        And while I understand the thinking, I really think this needs not to be a public discussion, and I actually think the formal workplace setting is helpful in focusing this as a manager discussion, not a somebody’s uncle discussion.

        1. The Supreme Troll*

          Definitely not for a public discussion, but I think in a different setting outside of the office, Jane might be better able to be calmer and see that the OP is fully on her side as a human being, not as somebody trying to protect the company first.

            1. JMegan*

              Agreed. And there is no way I would want to have this conversation in a public place. I’ve done enough crying in restaurants for other Big Conversations, and I know for sure that I never want to do it again, ever. Private, with the option for either OP to leave or for Jane to leave when it’s over, is the way to go for this.

              1. NPDBJ*

                Completely agree. The LAST thing OP needs is a huge scene outside of the office, especially if people already know they have a direct report that’s having a hard time keeping her composure in the office 1-on-1 conversations.

                If done via face to face, this MUST be done in private.

      2. The Supreme Troll*

        And I had not even paid attention to the fact that the OP is a man. In reality, that does, at least subconsciously, change the dynamic. I agree with your advice.

    2. Notorious MCG*

      Given that off-site meetings are generally public, more casual, and can feel as though it is social rather than business I am fully not in support of that idea. Plus, it has been described that she is feeling uncomfortable around him whilst being alone in a room in a familiar office setting. Being alone with him surrounded by strangers would actually feel far more oppressive to me, and I would despise having a personal and emotional conversation in a public place. Any private place that would be off-site would feel unsafe to any survivor when there is such a power imbalance as manager -> employee and family member of abuser -> the abused. I am team handwritten note delivered directly to her at the end of the day so that there isn’t a record on company servers and so that she can go home to a safe space and process as she feels fit in a timeline that is comfortable for her. If OP chooses face to face, it would be best to do it at work in a private office in which she is closest to the unlocked door and knows that she can leave at any time.

      1. JMegan*

        Yep. And I wonder if it would be possible for OP to book a meeting room on another floor, completely away from their department and Jane’s immediate colleagues? Book it for the entire day, or from the start of the meeting through the end of the day, at least – whatever it takes to make sure they’re not interrupted. So Jane can stay in there until everyone else goes home, if she wants, or OP could offer to go back to her office and get her jacket and purse if she wants to leave discreetly.

        I don’t know if this is possible, obviously. But I feel really strongly that this should be a private discussion in the office, so I’m trying to think of ways to make that happen.

        1. BookishMiss*

          I really like this idea. It has the best chance of working well if the OP does go the conversation route. Just be very aware of how the room is arranged, specifically that nothing is blocking Jane from leaving. Example: she sits on the door-side of the table, you sit on the not-door-side.

          Now that I’m thinking about it, from my view, sitting on the opposite side of the table would be a million times better than sitting next to her. Sitting next to her or perpendicular to her would feel very invasive to me.

        1. Troutwaxer*

          I say send it to her house because then she can do all her processing at home, and doesn’t have to be vulnerable at work.

          1. SarahTheEntwife*

            That would feel very intrusive to me unless my work was such that stuff (other than tax forms and whatnot) got sent to my home address regularly. I know hypothetically that my boss can look up my home address, as can any other staff member, but it’s one of those things that we’re all supposed to politely pretend that we don’t know about unless it’s an actual emergency-contact-info emergency.

  64. Joshua*

    I vote for script #2 – it is more transparent and gets it out in the open. However, I would say just state it and drop it unless Jane initiates further. Also, if this is a larger company with Employee Assistance programs, it wouldn’t hurt to add a line to that script about the resources available at the organization should Jane desire additional support.

  65. Em too*

    The one thing you could tell HR is that you have a personal connection and you’re sorry you didn’t mention it before but you’re now thinking you should have. And if Jane does feel uncomfortable working for you in the future, this is how you can arrange for her to be moved out your team with no repercussions for her. But I would be inclined to do this only if Jane does want to change things, and I would want to ask her how she would like the relationship to be defined to HR (‘she’s my niece but the family is estranged’ tells them all they need to know but she may be opposed to describing herself so).

  66. Veruca*

    I dealt with a similar situation in that on the first day of fall semester at university, I had a student in my class that I had counseled at the hospital the week before in my volunteer work as a rape crisis counselor.

    I have two things to add to the scripts: Jane may need time to process this information away from you, and you may want to be sensitive to that, as in “here is what I’d like to tell you, how about taking some time to think and get back with me when you are ready.” Also, please explicitly assure Jane that you have no intention of sharing this information with anyone else at the company, sharing it with your family, mentioning it to her in passing, etc. She may also be dealing with the stress of “who else knows about this?!?”

    In my situation I asked the student to stay after class, told her who I was (I look rather different at the hospital at 2am than I do in front of a class, but I didn’t want her to have a moment in a week or two where she realized who I was in the middle of class), and told her I’d be glad to have her in my class or I’d get her into another class of her choice, and I assured her that either way I was glad to help her in any way I could.

  67. tigerStripes*

    How about “That nephew was a terrible person, and I didn’t think of him as real “family”. I know he hurt you, and I’m sorry that happened. You don’t have to talk about any of this unless you want to, but I wanted to explain. If there’s anything I can do that would help, please let me know.”

    You can’t help who you’re related to. She’s probably worried that you’ll be angry at her like your sister was. Once she knows you know and are on her side, that should help.

  68. ToS*

    I have a lot of experience working with survivors. And with stats like one in six people having some negative experience with sexual trauma, including men, I say leave it alone. It is NOT yours to bring up. She is a good worker. Support that by being professional. You do not know the specifics of the situation, and by bringing old, traumatic history into a conversation with her in a work setting that has NOTHING to do with her work – let those sleeping dogs SLEEP. You have no idea where she is on her journey toward healing. She is showing good signs of progress by being an effective worker. If you do bring this up, you run the risk of triggering PTSD and infecting her environment with something she’d rather not talk about. If she brings up your sister, mention that families are complicated, and you are estranged from some of your family.

    My sense is OP feels terrible about the whole situation. OP should check in with RAINN, and not be surprised if RAINN suggests that OP use EAP for residual family issues. Talking to someone who is a victim (in a very, very different context, and was a child at the time) of the same dysfunctional people will just make things harder.

    Talk about her work. Talk about her life and interests Right Now. And treat her with the same dignity and respect as the rest of your reports, who want to be known for their current professional status, with a sprinkling of safe personal stuff thrown in. There is childhood trauma among them, and having good boundaries helps work get done, with time off for addressing childhood trauma with professionals as part of letting the professionals handle the kryptonite.

    1. Been there*

      She just found out her boss is her rapist’s uncle and is tearing up every time they have a conversation. Her work environment is already pretty infected and she’s already triggered.

      1. Anon 2*

        I agree. Pretending everything is fine I don’t think will work longer term. If there is any time that the OP needs to communicate any negative feedback, there is a chance that Jane will wonder if it’s retribution. Or at least I would. I think especially given the fact that Jane wasn’t believed by the OPs family and was blamed for the OPs nephews problems.

        At least I can only speak from my own experience. I was assaulted in college and the people I confided in accused me of exaggerating the situation and making it up. For me, not being believed caused me more long term trauma than the actual assault. If I was in Jane’s position I would be beyond stressed. This situation would be one of my worst fears.

      2. ToS*

        Then keep it simple. As in, say you are not going to the funeral because you are not close with that part of the family. Shut down the busybody. Be an example for privacy. Remind busybody that bringing someone else’s news to work is not part of their job. Help Jane understand the distance and see healthy boundaries. OP should not pretend to know Jane’s mind (again, bad boundaries), but if she clearly needs a break, support her taking one in the name of self-care.

        If OP sees her struggling, be compassionate without asking for details. He, like everyone else, including his dysfunctional sister, was not there. He can believe her by giving her grace. Remind Jane to think about resources that have been helpful for her in the past, and lean on discussion about benefits/EAP/and GENERAL resources (we have a United Way First Call for Help) because this allows for privacy.

        It is very, very complicated when someone you hate passes. Hate, like love, whipsaws around as the grieving process is about navigating disconnection of a very human bond.

        1. Typhoid Mary*

          Hi ToS, I also work with survivors and really liked a lot of what you said. I would normally agree with “not bringing it up,” except for one big piece of data: we are getting a lot of feedback from survivors in this thread saying that they would have wanted to hear something like script #2 in a similar situation. I find myself deferring to survivors; my apologies if I’ve mis-identified you.

          I really loved when you said, “And treat her with the same dignity and respect as the rest of your reports, who want to be known for their current professional status.” It’s such an important part of reminding survivors that they are empowered in many parts of their lives, even if they don’t always feel like it.

  69. moodygirl86*

    OP, I think the tactful thing to do would be to not mention it to Jane. It sounds as if you’ve got a decent working relationship, so just carry on treating her as you would any other employee, praising her good work etc. She’ll soon know from that that you’re not judging her or treating her differently, whether you know about her situation or not!

    I’m sorry to hear what Jane went through at this bastard’s hands. But it’s not your fault, and you sound like a great boss. You’re a good person for caring so much and asking advice! Let your kindness and supportive nature speak for itself.

    1. Notorious MCG*

      I think that would result in Jane worrying herself to distraction and micro-analyzing his actions for far too long. Abuse and the way people react to those who have been abused (especially if those people are family members of the abuser) creates extreme self-doubt and trauma within survivors. She cannot trust that he would have any different reaction than his sister, or will in the future, because she does not know what he knows or what he thinks of it or if he is simply a good actor who is planning some kind of family revenge. There is no way for her to feel safe if just left hanging in the wind not knowing, and OP has said that she has been visibly stressed and uncomfortable in his presence – their positive working relationship has been affected already.

      1. moodygirl86*

        That’s true. I don’t know, I don’t think there are any right or wrong answers. Definitely don’t go blabbing her business to HR as some have suggested!

        If he says something to Jane, I’d personally go with AAM’s first script – it leaves the choice of opening up available to her without invading her privacy, but either way it would show he’s non-judgmental and concerned for her as a human being as well as a worker.

  70. former foster kid*

    There are a lot of comments and I couldn’t get through them all, so apologies if i missed something.

    I’m a former foster kid, someone who was removed by the state from a terrible family situation. I was lucky in my foster family. This will of course shade my comment.

    It is *hard* being a grown up foster kid. When people talk about their families at work, I have nothing to say. I don’t do anything for mother’s day, except try to not remember how awful my mother was as a person. I happily volunteer to cover holidays, and when most of my team at any given job takes off the week between Christmas and New Year, I’m there working. But I don’t have many ‘real adults’ (parental figures?) to turn to on advice. If I worked with someone who I then found out was close with one of my blood relations, it would be blind panic every day. To me, it sounds like Jane is holding up extremely well, but she may very well not know who to ask for on advice to handle the situation from her end, and she might feel really trapped by the job. Most of us foster kids don’t have a safety net of any sort to fall back on, remember.

    I would bring this up with her directly; it’s what I would want.The second script is very good, but spoken, not written down. Maybe ask her to come along to an off-site errand, or to run to Starbucks with you so you can chat briefly off-site. I can tell you if someone delivered a message of support like that to me, after weeks of wondering whether I’d lose my job, be on the street again, possibly have to face abusers again, there would absolutely be tears. And it would be a kindness to let her have those tears not at work.

    Also, it would be good to have a phone number for RAINN or other support networks (my home state has a line for foster kids to call in themselves, for instance) handy to give her, in case she needs it, and to mention any employee hotlines your company has for when employees are stressed. Not because she won’t know about these things, but sometimes it’s really hard to connect that THIS is the situation they are there for, and you aren’t wasting someone’s time by calling.

    Also make it clear that nothing will be said at the office unless she wants it said, and that privacy is important to you. This is extra-important if no one at the office knows she was in foster care; it comes with a huge stigma and can be really hard when that’s broken without permission.

    LW, it sounds like you’re a good person and a good boss. Please don’t let Jane stress and suffer longer, and let her know you’re on her side (this is so, so, so important for foster kids) as soon as you can.

    1. Colorado*

      Your comment brought tears to my eyes. I wish you everything that is good in life and if I knew you lived close-by, I’d be happy to be a parental figure and a soft place to land.

      1. former foster kid*

        You know what, I appreciate that, Colorado. I’m in my late 20s now, and it’s weird how my background still affects me sometimes (I wrote to Alison not too long ago about an issue with my hands, and she kindly wrote me a private response back!). It’s also weird how I desperately still wish I had an parental figure (real adult!) to call sometimes to just chat things over. You’d think I’d be over it by now, I’ve been on my own for nearly half my life. But nope! So I’ve never commented on AAM before, but this letter really pushed me to. There simply aren’t enough people who’ve gone through foster care who are able to weight in on these situations.

        (and I grew up in New England and ultimately moved internationally, in part because it means I’m not having to face connections to my childhood, like, ever. I do hear Colorado is beautiful, though!)

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Hang out here, ffk. We are all kind of “parenting” each other. I mean in terms of offering a thinking person’s opinion or idea.

          You are actually wise to look for older or more experienced people to talk with. I’d like to encourage you to make it your life habit. And I’d like to encourage you that there is nothing wrong with wanting older friends. Dare I suggest, never “get over it.” It’s a wise person who seeks counsel of others, especially people older than ourselves.

          I have often thought that about ten years in age difference is just enough. At this point people are young enough to remember what it is like to be my age, they can laugh at their own folly/foibles and then they can offer a pearl of wisdom. Of course, folks more than ten years older than me are fine also.

          I hope I can assure you that people do come along to fill in our gaps. Whatever we missed in childhood, someone comes along and volunteers to fill that void in.
          It takes time, I am sure you feel like you have been adrift at sea for a bit. This will change. I promise. One reason I can promise this is because you are looking for it to change and you want that person(s) in your life.

          So stop scolding yourself for wanting this Good Thing and keep an eye peeled for those opportunities. You say you are in your late twenties. That is about the time these folks started walking into my life, I suspect you will find some folks IRL soon, just as you found folks here.

          1. Candi*

            Family is heart, not blood.

            You can find your family, here and elsewhere. Brother/sister from another mother is a cheesy meme, but describes a heartfelt idea.

            You are of an age where you can choose your family. Cheering you on as you do so.

        2. Lord of the Ringbinders*

          I think sometimes people don’t realise that people who were in foster care have usually been let down by authority figure after authority figure.

          Thanks for sharing your story <3

          1. former foster kid*

            Lord of the Ringbinders (and i <3 your name here) that is so, so true. Having respect(?) for authority is something I definitely have always struggled with at work, because it never amounted to much outside of work. Walking the line between being assertive but not subordinate is a really, really hard one for me to find. So yeah, i think reinforcing the point about authority figures constantly being a letdown at best and perpetuating abuse at worst is a really good one.

        3. Observer*

          Don’t beat yourself up about not being “over” it. It’s like saying you should be “over” losing a leg or being born without arms. These are real deficits that don’t dissipate. What you’ve been denied is no less significant. Not So New Reader is right that cultivating friendships with people who can give you some of that perspective is a good idea.

    2. Salamander*

      This is really, really compassionate. I’m so sorry for what you went through, but thank you for sharing this to help others.

  71. Fiennes*

    I’ve been thinking on this. Personally, I would write a letter on paper for her maximum privacy. Then I would try to give it to her at the end of the day, asking her to read it when she wishes–and mention that I’d be in my office for the next 30-45 minutes IF she wants to talk. In the letter he could reiterate that she can come to him whenever or never mention it again; that is completely in her hands. This way, the manager is available to her but not intrusive; she retains control of when she reads it and how she reacts; and the workday will be over, giving her some time to process without coworkers around.

      1. Fiennes*

        Yes, I’d offer her that. But I would keep it an offer–if she’d rather stay busy, as many people do when upset, then she could do that, too.

  72. DVSA lawyer*

    It seems like the original poster is very hesitant to talk about this directly. Have you thought about trying to make this less of a I Support You conversation and make it I Support Rape Victims?

    For example, there was that horrible situation last year when that little girl in Montana was raped by her dad, and the whole family testified on his behalf because it was just so important for the rapist to have time with his kids. You could mention an article like that in a semi casual group setting. Maybe in a car on the way to an event, or while waiting for some stragglers to come in for a conference call. Be outraged. “I just don’t understand how anyone would be like that! That poor little girl needs help and support and protection from her rapist. If she were in my family, I would never speak to anyone who supported the rapist ever again. I would absolutely cut my own sister out of my life if she pulled anything like that woman did! People who blame victims like that, especially children, are contemptible.”

    Not direct, but it does set a tone. Though I prefer the direct approach, I can see how it might not work for the original poster.

  73. Lucky Duck*

    Is the nephew who died different to the estranged nephew? For a while there I thought that his death would be causing her the stress, rather than the manager’s connection, but she also refers to the first nephew in current tense.

  74. On the medium, not the message*

    I think email is the worst possible medium for this message. Think about it for a moment: Put yourself in Jane’s shoes.

    A message pops up on your inbox from your Boss, with what subject line?”Hello Jane” You click it, your palms already sweating, you start to read, your hands are now shaking. Can you finish reading without crying? Is your work email accessible from home? Some aren’t. Would you dare send this message to the printer and risk someone getting there before you to pick it up? Now what? It’s invasive and impersonal at the same time. Besides, IT gets access to all corporate email. I would be even more pissed if the Boss sent it to my personal address. Where did the Boss get this address?! What is this doing here?!

    A conversation will be too emotional. Can you begin to imagine the anxiety leading to the meeting – this would have to be arranged outside of work – at a coffee shop or some other public space to diffuse some of the power structure of the relationship. The anguish Jane will feel imagining she will be confronted by someone who will probably tell her “it’s all your fault” and that now “you are the cause of my nephew’s death”. Because this is the worst case scenario and is what she might me be expecting from the family that mistreated her so. Besides, the content of the message is not a conversation, it is just information and does not require a response.

    If it’s a letter, hand delivered, you can walk outside and read it when you want. With privacy, at home, in a space where you can cry your heart’s content. No risk of it getting in the wrong hands. The Boss can hand it at the end of the next meeting, with a “This is personal, read it when you want.” speech.

  75. Nathaniel*

    My own opinion is that OP should now recognize this as Jane’s space. Whether they like it or not, it was their family that was in the wrong. When someone’s family loses honor, there can be wide ranging implications. OP should leave the job and let Jane have her career without this hanging over her head. Approaching Jane about this in any way at all is wrong. If at all possible, transfer out and show humility.

    1. MWKate*

      I don’t think having the OP resign is the appropriate action. He isn’t responsible for his nephew’s crimes, and apparently cut ties with them due to this kind of unacceptable behavior.

      I am late on this – but I would echo those who have said to compose a handwritten note, and provide it to Jane personally. I think especially coming from a male boss – that it would put Jane in such an uncomfortable position to have to look someone in the face and have this discussion is not a good idea. Email can be very impersonal, and a handwritten letter bridges that gap between a potentially cold seeming email, and a too personal conversation.

      And – as others have pointed out, writing it rather than printing or emailing keeps this entirely off of the company’s server.

      I hope you give us an update on this difficult situation.

  76. Althea*

    I think I’m too late to be part of this conversation, but a third option would be to “reply all” to the obit email with something like this: “Thanks for thinking about me and expressing sympathy. I am actually estranged from this part of my family for personal reasons and it makes it very awkward to discuss or receive sympathy.”

    I think it serves the double purpose of informing Jane that you aren’t involved with the family, and tweaking the busybody who sent around the obit to keep in mind that some people don’t want their business shared at work. And you never have to put Jane in a position to respond at all.

  77. Letter Writer*

    Thanks for all the responses and feedback. I intended to reply to more of the comments, but I got a bit overwhelmed.

    I did reach out to RAINN. We discussed the approach and I ended up deciding that something similar to script two was the best way to move forward (this was based a good deal on Jane and my previous working relationship so not a one size fits all approach. If someone finds them self in a similar situation I highly recommend reaching out to RAINN or something similar on your own). I also reached out to my employers EAP to talk through some of my feelings that my nephew’s passing brought up so I didn’t subconsciously let my personal struggles come through to Jane.

    I addition to Alison’s script I added something to let her know that this family does not know where I live/ work and I have not spoken with them in 10 plus years, so there is no way they would know where to find her from this connection. I also decided not to mention that I would help her find work elsewhere, and instead left it as a more generic ‘if there is anything I can do to help you out.’ I also added some information about our EAP and let her know if she needed to take some time off or work from home I would work with her on that.

    I decided to handwrite this and deliver it in person. I didn’t want to email it and leave a permanent traceable record, and we have an open office plan and she does not have an office so I could not guarantee her privacy emailing or dropping off a letter. My first thought was to just talk to her in person, mostly so I could be sure to convey my sincerity, but I have been told in general conversations I can be intimidating at time (I am a fairly tall burly man) so I decided that was not the way to go given the nature of this conversation. I called Jane into my office toward the end of the day and said something along the line of “I’m sorry to bring up a personal issue at work, but I feel it is better to address this openly, please read this letter. I am going to be working for the rest of the afternoon out of our conference room, take as much time as you need and feel free to call or email me if you need anything or would like to talk in person.” Then I left her to read the letter. I did not see her for the rest of the day, and she came into work the next day and so far she seems to be doing okay.

    I think I initially panicked in terms of transferring her to a different boss, my department is in the process of hiring two managers who will report to me and have the supervisors reporting to them. I anticipate this happening within a few weeks so I am going to hold off on any changes, and see how that plays out. With everything going on, I had actually managed to forget that this change was on the horizon.

    Also on a different note I did speak with the office busy body when the obituary was shared to let them know her know that I felt it was an invasion of my privacy and was not in contact with that part of my family. I told her that most people appreciate the ability to share family news on their own terms. In hindsight I think I should have replyed all with something letting it be known that I am estranged from this family. I was hesitant to do this as the obituary mentioned substance abuse and I did not want to come across as uncaring about those issues/ distancing myself due to that, but I was probably overthinking it.

    Once again, thanks for all the feedback and suggestions.

    1. Chicken*

      I think you did a really great job handling this – I wish all supervisors were this thoughtful!

      Thanks for the update.

    2. Anon For This*

      I have posted further up in the comments (recovered victim).
      I’ve visualized having the uncle of my assaulter be my boss, and in spite of having processed everything decades ago, it made me feel ill. So I understand the reaction of Letter Writer’s report.

      Letter Writer, you did good.
      Putting myself in report’s shoes, your solution made me feel safe. It was done with a gentle hand. (Gee, I’m starting to tear up in gratitude. Ahem.) Thank you for being responsible, sensitive, professional.
      I envy the people working for you, and whoever you significant other is.

      Putting myself in *your* shoes, I think you’ve acquired important management experience. I’m glad you got over your initial panic. I know being the big potentially scary guy also is not easy.
      It is good you both have the option of organically putting professional distance between you with the new managers coming in, if need be.

      Thank you. *blows nose*

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