my employee’s husband won’t stop calling me to complain about her evaluation

A reader writes:

I’m having an issue with Melanie, one of the employees I supervise, as well as Melanie’s husband, even though he doesn’t work here. Melanie was hired back in August. Before she worked here, she was a stay-at-home mother. Her youngest child started school in August just before she started working here. She handles our reception desk and answers the phone and accepts the mail for pickup. The job is a good fit for her because she has no prior work experience and her hours allow her to drop her kids off at school before work and to be out in time to pick them up after work. She has been a good employee so far and there are no problems with her work.

Melanie just had her six-month review. Her review was good and she was given an “exceeds expectations” in every category. The only issue I brought up is that in every conversation she has or that goes on around her, she brings up her children and her husband. Every single one. It doesn’t matter what the conversation is about or if it is a meeting about work-related things. She even did it several times during her review before this issue was brought up. I tried to be understanding because my wife stayed home with our children when they were young, and I remember how nervous she was when she went back to work. I understand this is the first job Melanie has ever held in her life, and that she was a homemaker and stay-at-home mother for the last nine years since right after she graduated from college. But it had to be said because things were getting to the point where people were avoiding Melanie if they didn’t have to speak to her, and work-related conversations were painful because they always came back to Melanie’s husband and children.

The next day, I received an angry email from Melanie’s husband. Her was upset about me insulting his wife and wanted me to apologize to her as well as him and their children. He made references to freedom of speech and went on and on. It was a long email. I did not respond since he doesn’t work here and I felt his email was out of line. Now he won’t stop calling. I don’t answer when he does, I just let the call go to voicemail.

For her part, Melanie says she agrees with her husband and doesn’t see anything wrong with what he is doing. She has continued to bring up her husband and children in every conversation. However, her work has not suffered and besides this one issue she is having no issues or problems. I’m at a loss as to how I can deal with an otherwise excellent employee who won’t stop talking about her husband and children and her husband who won’t stop contacting me even though he doesn’t work here and I’ve never met him. I’ve never had to deal with anything like this as a manager before.

Oh dear.

I think you’re probably going to end up having to part ways with Melanie — if not now, then in the not-terribly-far-off future. While her work may be excellent, she’s so out of touch with professional norms that she’s okay with her husband repeatedly harassing her boss, is ignoring clear and direct feedback about her behavior in the office, and is causing all of her co-workers to avoid her. Those are big deals, and they do not bode well for her tenure on your team.

But let’s tackle the husband first, because in some ways that’s easiest.

You’re absolutely right not to engage with an employee’s spouse about how he feels you’re treating his wife. In general, it’s good policy not to discuss personnel issues with people outside your company, and if he ever does manage to reach you on the phone, you can explain that.

Moreover, what he’s doing at this point — calling you over and over — is harassing behavior. That means you probably should pick up the next time he calls, so that you can tell him clearly to stop contacting you. You could say something like, “I’ve received your email and voice-mails. I don’t discuss personnel matters with people outside the company, and I need you to stop contacting me.” If he argues, then say, “Again, I need you to stop contacting me. Please don’t call again.” And then hang up.

You’re also going to need to talk to Melanie about this. While she’s not the one calling, it’s reasonable to tell an employee that their relatives can’t harass you about things related to their job. (There’s also a chance that she doesn’t know he’s been contacting you, would be horrified to hear it, and would want to know — although based on what you’ve said about her, probably only a small chance). So, say something like this to her: “Your husband has been calling me several times a day, wanting to discuss your performance review. I’ve let him know that I don’t discuss personnel matters with people outside the company, and that I need him to stop contacting me. I’m hopeful that will put an end to it, but I wanted to let you know that it’s been happening and that it can’t continue.”

If Melanie goes into the same mode her husband went into and starts defending his right to say what he wants, you can say, “Your husband isn’t an employee here, and I won’t be discussing personnel matters with him. The calls and emails are disruptive, and I want to be very clear with you that they need to stop. I can’t keep you on staff if that means that your husband is going to harass me or others here. I value your work, but this is inappropriate and disruptive.”

And really, it’s okay to follow through on this. You might feel uneasy about taking action against an employee because of the actions of her husband — and if Melanie were being abused or controlled by her spouse and was horrified by his outreach to you, that would be a different thing — but it’s very reasonable to put your foot down on what’s happening here.

Now, let’s talk about Melanie’s own behavior. I think you need to figure out what the real impact is of her constant talk about her husband and kids. If it’s constantly disrupting work-related conversations, that’s a legitimate issue. If in order to be effective in her job she needs better relationships with the co-workers who are now avoiding her, that’s a legitimate issue too. But if it’s just annoying without actually impacting workflow or her own effectiveness, then I’d probably just figure that it’s her prerogative to conduct herself that way (and to pay the price in reputation and co-worker relationships).

If it does have a real work impact, though, then you need to address it from that angle. For example: “When you interrupt work-related conversations to talk about your family, it takes people off course and disrupts the work that’s happening. So I need you to stop interrupting work conversations with nonwork items.” And/or, “In order to do this job effectively, you need to build strong relationships with co-workers. Right now, that’s not happening; people are avoiding interacting with you because they’re frustrated at how often you turn conversations to your family. I need you to build stronger relationships with people. How you do that is up to you, but from watching the dynamic, I think it would help if you decreased the talk about your family and instead talked about things that are of more common interest.”

If she pushes back on that, you can say, “I hear your point of view, but I’m telling you what’s required to succeed in this job. I’d like you to take a day or two to think about what I’ve said, and then let me know if you can work within these parameters or not. If you decide it’s not right for you, then we can plan to transition you out of the role.”

If that seems harsh — threatening to fire someone for talking too much about her kids! — keep in mind that you’re talking about the work impact here, not the topics she picks for social conversation. (And that’s why it’s important to get really clear on the work impact, and if there is one, before you have this conversation.) If it still seems harsh, throw in the fact that she’s told you that she’s totally okay with her husband calling and emailing you to complain and demand apologies on her behalf. This is not someone with a high adherence to professional norms, she’s disrupting your office, and it’s reasonable to say “no more.”

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 508 comments… read them below }

  1. NJ Anon*

    Before I read Allison’s response, I thought “Melanie has got to go!” I mean, this is crazy. I don’t need to state the obvious.

    1. Charisma*

      MY THOUGHT TOO! Nothing worse than an overbearing spouse/partner/family member that just insists on butting in and taking control of your work like. It’s just bad all around. Talk about infantilizing Melanie and completely undermining all the qualities she does bring to the table. It makes me incredibly sad that she doesn’t see herself existing as a self outside of her husband and kids and this job and her co-workers could have been exactly the first step into her realizing that potential.

    2. Bonky*

      I read this to a room full of managers when we were grabbing drinks after work today. Chorus of: “FIRE HER.” Absolutely nuts.

      1. Annonymouse*

        Warn her first:
        We have employed you, not your husband and it is not professional or normal to have someone we have not hired involved with our work or discussing issues relating solely to any of our employees.

        Your husband is harassing our office with phone calls and emails which is not appropriate in this office or any office.

        If this continues after today we will have no choice but to terminate your employment with us.

        Not only that but we will contact the appropriate authorities to stop this behaviour.

        This is the only warning you will receive about this. If anyone receives any contact from him in any format tomorrow you will be terminated effective immediately.

  2. HR Manager*

    Part of being successful in your job is to be able to get along with others. I would go so far as to say 50% of the job is getting along with others and the other 50% is the actual job functions. I don’t think Melanie is a successful employee and while you have been very understanding, I agree with AAM that I think the end may be near for her at your company. Don’t engage the husband, just focus on her work and attitude. If she becomes belligerent than follow-up with your usual counseling process whatever it may be (verbal warning, then written etc). Treat this like any other performance issue and you should be OK.

    1. Former Retail Manager*

      It is refreshing to hear someone in an HR role admit that a large portion of one’s job success is getting along with others. It is infuriating to deal with people who think that because they are great at their job it gives them the right to be difficult in whatever way they may choose. It is also astonishing to me to have met so many educated individuals with decades in the workforce who seem to still not understand the importance of getting along with others.

      1. RVA Cat*

        This. Being smart and talented does not grant you a Jerk License. Didn’t we talk about that with the Sarah update letter recently?

      2. Doug Judy*

        Agreed. My former coworker was much better than me on a technical level, but her people skills and emotional intelligence was horrific. She kept spreadsheets of every mistake someone would make (expect her mistakes), and she was not in a supervisor role at all. But because she was very good at her actual job functions, managers gave her a pass for treating everyone else like incompetent children. I shudder to think what kind of manager she would be. Thank goodness I don’t work there anymore!

        1. Temperance*

          I used to work with a crazy receptionist who started logging the exact time we delivered mail and packages so she could report to our bosses that we were slacking.

        2. lokilaufeysanon*

          Oh…my…God… Just when you think you have heard it all. Spreadsheets of people’s mistakes????!!!! WTF kind of J. Edgar Hoover realness… SMH

        3. Tempest*

          We have a receptionist who insisted on an internet based spreadsheet to track whether she puts the call through or takes a message, so she could grass on people who don’t take enough of her calls. It’s like we’re all professionals and if we tell you that we need you to take a message, that is actually the job we pay you to do so trust our judgement and take a message. If someone is refusing calls for an inappropriate reason, their manager will figure that out and tackle that with them. Its not up to reception to pass judgement on my job performance. It’s a big part of the reason why I can’t wait to get out of here. Like seriously, we have a tattletale spreadsheet for the receptionist in a professional business. They needed to hire better for people who cope well with boredom for the role. They have too much time on their hands and chose to fill it with this type of pedantry. Don’t even want to start on the fact that the powers that be didn’t push back and say no you’re not having a spreadsheet for that, just continue to email messages like we’ve always done. The receptionist effectively tells the big boss what to do. The mind boggles.

        4. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Ha! Fun story, at one point in my career I was actually in charge of maintaining a spreadsheet of everyone’s mistakes (including mine). It very understandably chafed everyone the wrong way, but because it was all financial-impact stuff, there wasn’t any getting around it. Eventually the manager just sighed and gave the responsibility to a senior analyst (who didn’t want it and didn’t like it) because at least it was less irritating coming from her than from someone junior.

        5. Middle Name Jane*

          Wow. She must have had a lot of time on her hands if she kept a spreadsheet logging everyone’s mistakes.

          1. Kali*

            There are so many better things to do!

            In my last boring role, I emailed myself PDFs of my kindle books to read during downtimes.

      3. MW*

        Dysfunctional offices promote this kind of horrible behaviour. Literally, in some cases. I was *appalled* by the update a week or two ago from the letter writer who suffered from repeated juvenile verbal abuse from a coworker- the abuser was rewarded with a transfer to do work he was more interested in, instead of fired. I can only imagine that it’s really bad offices with bad managers that allow such behaviour to prosper.

        1. TheVet*

          That one rubbed me the wrong way as well. I’m anxiously waiting from a submission from another letter writer, “We just got a new transfer from another department…”

    2. Kathleen Adams*

      The whole situation with the husband is weird and worrisome and needs to stop. But…

      If all she’s doing is boring people by talking about her husband and kids – in other words, if it’s not actually affecting her ability to do her job but simply makes people think “Oh, Lord – I need to ask Melanie about X, so I guess I get to hear another cute kid anecdote again,” then I think people need to get over it and accept that when they talk to Melanie, they are often going to be bored. Most people are boring from time to time. If I can live in Indiana and live through basketball season (basketball is the state religion here) without smacking any of my coworkers or injuring myself when I pass out from boredom, and my coworkers can put up with my Trekkie-tude, then I think Melanie’s coworkers can put up with tedious anecdotes about hubby and the kids.

      As I said, if it’s actually affecting her ability to do her job, then disciplinary action might be indicated. But being boring should not, in most positions, affect one’s livelihood.

      But the whole situation with the husband is a different matter entirely. It’s weird, it’s worrisome, and it’s got to stop.

      1. Admin Assistant*

        Could the employees endure tedious anecdotes? Probably. But if it’s annoying/distracting enough that people complain to OP or their bosses about it, and actively avoid Melanie unless they have to talk to her, it’s certainly worth bringing up in a performance review, even if disciplinary action isn’t warranted. My most recent performance review went really well, but my boss told me to be a little less loud when I’m talking to people in the halls. She wasn’t angry or disciplinary, just giving me a heads-up like “FYI you can do this sometimes, can you be more mindful.” It was totally fair and I thanked her for the feedback and told her I’d work on it.

        It seems to me like this was a relatively minor criticism OP was trying to convey that Melanie and her husband turned up to 11 by becoming defensive and harassing.

        1. Annonymouse*

          And if it is EVERY TIME you talk to her it gets more than tedious.

          E.g “Did Professor X call while I was on lunch?”

          “One of my kids wants to go to university when they get older and they love ham sandwiches for lunch. So does my husband!”

          “Did the courier pick up my parcel for ABC company?”

          “It’s just like the “Sound of Music” which is child’s favourite movie. I swear my family has seen it 100 times! “Brown paper packages tied up with string, these are a few of my favourite things….”.”

          Yeah I can see how that would impact work and get old real quick.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        At the same time, if the manager knows that people are actively avoiding Melanie for something she is unlikely to figure out on her own, I think the advice would be to address it with her, once. And in the context he used– you’re doing well with A, B, C; people are being put off by W; you are also doing well with X, Y, Z.

      3. LQ*

        It is hard to tell from this but if Melanie spends 5 minutes anecdoting about kids every time I need a 1 minute answer. Or takes 15 minutes of an hour mtg to tell us how her husband would do things? I would not feed bad saying yes, that’s impacting her ability to do her job.

        If once a week she chats with a coworker over a cube. Or occasionally brings something up? Whatever. I don’t enjoy listening to my coworkers talk about their grandkids, it’s boring, annoying, and takes time. But all told each coworker spends less than an hour a week, usually less than an hour a month doing that. So it’s fine, I can suck it up. If it’s hours a day? That’s not ok to be boring for hours (or an hour!) a day.

        1. Midge*

          Yes! Breaking it down by the time she spends talking about kids vs. the time you need to talk with her about something work related is great. I had a coworker who would give very longwinded work-related answers every time I asked her a question. I would want to know how she set up such and such document, and she would start telling me about the history of word processing. And then she would snap at me for politely interrupting her to try and get to the point. (Fun times!)

          I’d be willing to bet Melanie’s coworkers are experiencing something similar. They just need to pick up a package that was dropped off at the front desk, or whatever, but they get stuck for 5 minutes listening to the funny thing her kid did last night.

          1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

            Oh my! Did I work with the same person? My long winded person accused me of trying to “control the conversation” when I would politely interrupt her after going on for at least a 30min tangent on something not related at all to what I was originally asking about.

            That said I think there’s a huge difference between turning quick work question into long anecdotes about her homelife and just annoying her colleagues by turning only (but all) social interactions towards her family. The former could warrant disciplinary measures, the latter I don’t think warrant discplinary measures, but I think feedback anda blunt conversation about how this could hold her back down the line/create a negative reputation.

      4. Abby*

        It sounds like Melanie is inserting family anecdotes into EVERY conversation, not just informal chatting. In addition to potentially boring people, she may be wasting other people’s time with her talk about her family.

        It’s one thing to avoid asking a certain co-worker how their weekend was because you know they’ll spend 20 minutes talking about what groceries they bought, but it’s another if even simple work-related question takes 5 minutes to answer because of the family talk, when it really should have only taken 20 seconds.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Hell, it doesn’t even have to be about family stuff, or hobbies, or etc., for it to be a problem–the time it takes can be a problem even if the conversation is actually 100% about work. One of my more embarrassing but useful bits of corrective advice from a boss was “when someone asks you a question about a work project, answer the question and provide minimal necessary background; they do not need a novel about how the project came to be and what all the details are.” It wasn’t that he was telling me ‘don’t talk about work at work,’ it was that he was telling me ‘don’t derail every work conversation into a lengthy Thing, even if the Thing is work-related.’

          I mean, I assume doubly so if the topic in question isn’t even tangentially related to the work being done. But any “this question took 5 minutes when it should have taken 20 seconds’ is a genuine problem that merits being addressed.

          1. Honeybee*

            Ugh, I wish some people in my workplace got this feedback. Certain folks when I ask a question I get a 15-minute history lesson for “context.”

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes — the OP says Melanie is interrupting work-related conversations to talk about her family. That would be a problem if she were doing it about her Porsche, or her love of basketball, or anything else too.

          1. Parenthetically*

            I actually think it would be really good to bring this into the conversation OP has. Some people with kids get really affronted when others get bored with their kid anecdotes, because it’s so personal. I think it would be a helpful clarification to say, “If you were talking about — and interrupting work conversations with — literally anything personal as frequently as you currently do about your kids, even if it’s a topic everyone is riveted by or concerned about, it would be inappropriate, because it gets in the way of work. I would be having this conversation with you if you constantly interrupted work conversations to talk about the NBA playoffs or deep-sea fishing or homelessness or Syria. Chit-chat is fine, but this is beyond the level of chit-chat and dominates your conversations. THAT is what needs to stop.”

            1. Casuan*

              Yes, this.
              Because OP hired the non-experienced Melanie, he’s shown that he’s willing to train her for the job, which for a receptionist includes business etiquette [eg: greeting clients & telephone etiquette] & other office norms. If Melanie is doing the same with callers & clients then that’s a big problem.

              OP, barring other issues, before sacking her [if that’s your inclination] you’d be kind to step the behaviour out for her. Tell her you realise this is her first foray into the workplace & you want to be certain she understands why this is even an issue. In most offices her behaviour would be a problem for any employee who enthuses about any topic, even if they excel in all other areas. As simply as possible, explain why. Then repeat with the husband as the topic & explain why his actions are grossly inappropriate.

              If Melanie can’t even grasp what you’re telling her or if she has an attitude… if she can’t understand that she’s a responsible adult & her husband should not be contacting you— will the husband then feel compelled to call you each time his wife feels slighted?
              If you’ve done all you can to educate Melanie & she still doesn’t get it… probably she isn’t an employee worth retaining.

              ps: just for the paradigm…
              Is there any indication that Melanie grossly exaggerated the situation to her husband?
              If so… oh, my!!

              1. Artemesia*

                This was all advice useful a couple turns of the screw before now — but she had belligerently insisted her husband is right and that she is also right to continue to ignore feedback from her supervisor. There is no salvaging this. She should be fired. She has taken a small thing and made it a disaster.

                1. Casuan*

                  This was all advice useful a couple turns of the screw before now…
                  I love this phrase!

                  She has taken a small thing and made it a disaster.
                  This phrase is true; you’re right. One doesn’t need business etiquette to know that this type of behaviour is not acceptable.

          2. Heavysnaxx*

            My best boss taught me something that’s really served me well: Use the formal performance review to focus on how to build on strengths and set good goals for the coming year. Use the weekly (or whatever) supervisory meeting to address problems and correcting them, plus good stuff, too.

            It sounds like Melanie heard she’s got an issue for the first time as she was being formally dinged for it. Not uncommon but, given that it’s a deeply ingrained behavior, it may take more frequent, less intense checks to stop.

            And, I gotta say, the other staff can, and should, figure out how to cope with The Motormouth Coworker. It’s not that hard once you accept that you MUST approach The Motormouth as if a bomb’s about to explode and they alone can tell you the kill code — if you can get them to stop blathering on about the perils of dairy products, the Raiders, or (in this case) their family. Honestly, once I stopped thinking of it as being rude, it wasn’t hard to butt in with, “Yeah, I really need you to tell me [insert thing] now.” If the OP had Melanie getting this pretty frequently from her coworkers, it would really support his efforts to not lose an employee who’s doing an otherwise good job in her first paid position.

            It may be me but the husband’s actions sent a chill down my spine. If he’s trying that hard to control his wife’s boss, it makes me wonder how he treats her, and how that may be feeding into her behavior. Know it’s OT but it pains me to know how very common it is for DV victims to lose their jobs because of their abuser’s behavior. Shiver.

            1. Ktelzbeth*

              OP says that Melanie was given “exceeds expectations” in all categories, so the (constructive) criticism didn’t affect the scores. I don’t think it was a formal ding.

        3. kittymommy*

          I also picked up that it’s not just conversations she’s involved in, but conversations that she’s is nite in, but nat overhear. That coupled with all of her conversations…That’s a lit of kid/hubby talk. I’d avoid her too.

      5. Amazed*

        I think the question is whether Melanie is just being a chatterbox in the background, or if they’re asking her work questions for work information they need to do their own work and she’s insisting on making them sit through an anecdote just to get the info.

      6. designbot*

        At this point, all the manager has done is bring it up in her review. Even then, it didn’t actually impact her scores or I would think the overall tone of the review, which sounds very positive. It was one note, that the employee then took offense to, went home and unloaded about, resulting in harassment to the manager over that issue. At this point this is only 10% about Melanie talking about her kids, and 90% about how she handles criticism and her husband’s interference in the work environment.

        1. Jillociraptor*

          I think that’s absolutely right. Performance issues are an equation with both a problem variable and a response variable. Even a major issue can become a lot less major when an employee seems to take seriously the need to correct it. Even a minor issue can become a whole lot less minor when an employee digs in and refuses to correct the problem.

      7. Stranger than fiction*

        Yeah, I’m with you. After all, she’s brand new to the workplace and doesn’t have comcept of professional norms. However, her husband is just making things worse amd I get the feeling she believes she needs to be on his side. But, I’m assuming it is impacting the work since Op wrote in. So maybe, when a coworker asks “melanie, do you have the invoices for abc company?” She responds “omg my three year old said the cutest thing when I was paying bills the other day” and the coworker is waiting for her to answer the actual question, that’s an issue Op can address specifically to illustrate her point.

    3. My 2 Cents*

      I agree 100%! I manage the HR in our small office and I always conduct the first phone interview. I can’t hire our experts because I don’t know how econ, legal, etc. work, but I screen first and foremost for personality before letting someone get to the next stage. So much of an office is how you are as a person, and our staff is VERY smart and big personalities, so I can’t hire someone who is going to be timid and shy.

      1. Mazzy*

        The opposite is more true though in my experience. I’m dealing with this now with someone who is popular in the office. Yes they are a good conversationalist and come across as nice, but they are not finishing projects and make mistakes

        1. anonynony*

          That’s so hard. I supervise someone who’s a bit like this, super outgoing, enthusiastic, everyone loves her. But the mistakes are starting to add up.

      2. Feo Takahari*

        This sounds like something that could easily screen out people with autism. I find that a little concerning.

        1. Gaia*

          I don’t know, I work with several people on the autism spectrum and I’d describe none of them as timid or shy. I think, as with all things, it varies by person. What this screens out is timid and shy people autism or not.

        2. Junior Dev*

          More generally, I think people tend to want to hire employees that have a similar personality to themselves…and if you’re an HR person or a recruiter, you probably have a more outgoing/socially comfortable personality than most people. Which then collides with the fact that 1) a lot of people do not have that personality type and 2) someone with autism, or with social anxiety, or from another culture than the interviewer, is going to have a much harder time performing extroversion and social competence then someone who doesn’t have those issues.

          I can pretend not to be socially anxious if I take a lot of anxiety medication but it is exhausting.

      3. MuseumChick*

        The goal should always be to hire people that will maintain a cohesive office environment. To many big personalities, to many push overs, to many any personality type will lead to an imbalance.

        1. Honeybee*

          In addition to this, sometimes someone may seem a certain way on a phone screen because they are nervous when really their personality is quite different. I work on a team with lots of big personalities, but we do have a lot of quieter and very thoughtful people who round us out.

    4. snuck*


      And maybe the OP needs to look at the performance metrics being used and put some soft ones in around team work and getting along with peers (not popularity! but professional cooperation) and let these things become as important as whatever other metrics their using. Because if someone is getting all exceeds expectations AND is a complete pain in the rear something is amiss.

      “The employee will exhibit appropriate professional behaviour in interactions with peers, management and customers” is usually sufficient. You can then capture many behaviours in this.

  3. MissGirl*

    By chance, is the husband’s name Brad and do you work at the Cracker Barrel? If so, I understand why you had to fire Brad’s wife.

        1. JB*

          Google “Brad’s wife.” It’s become an internet meme. Guy publicly complained when his wife was fired from Cracker Barrel on his birthday.

        2. MissGirl*

          Google “Cracker Barrel, Brad’s wife.” Essentially, someone named Brad posted on Cracker Barrel’s Facebook page upset about his wife getting fired. The Internet responded hilariously. From every time Cracker Barrel posting something like a food shot, there would be comments about how quality had gone down since Brad’s wife got fired to someone updating Wikipedia to list the company’s employees as 70,000 minus Brad’s wife.

        3. Juli G.*

          Google Brad’s wife. Brad angrily commented on Cracker Barrel’s Facebook when his wife was fired. It’s hard to explain further without seeing.

        4. Liane*

          A week or 2 ago, it was all over the internet that a guy going by Brad was Tweeting Cracker Barrel (US restaurant chain) about “Why did you fire my wife? You’re unfair, mean…” (paraphrase or tl/dr)

          1. Liane*

            Correction: Brad asked on the company Facebook page.

            [channeling Gracie Allen, George Burns’ wife, known for pretending to be ditzy in their act] But this can’t be Brad’s wife–her name is Nanette, not Melanie.

    1. AD*

      My mind went in another direction entirely, and all I could see was the letter A at the end of Melanie’s name (in other words, Melania). Which… a different context to this whole story :)

      1. SebbyGrrl*

        OMG, now I can’t read/relate any of the comments and not respond a la Melani(a), aayyyhhhaaarrrgghhh! :)

  4. bunniferous*

    I suspect Melanie might not exactly be safe at home. Part of me wants the OP to be patient with her while still being firm on what he or she needs going forward. Any husband who will do what this one is doing does not sound to me like anyone I would want my daughters married to.

    1. j-nonymous*

      That’s a pretty big leap to take from the information given. It sounds like Melanie’s husband is a jerk who doesn’t understand (much less respect) professional boundaries; it sounds like Melanie has that issue too. I’m not sure I see abuse here.

      1. bunniferous*

        Well, there are a lot of subtle things I am seeing that by themselves may be nothing. I hope you are right tho.

        1. lcsa99*

          We also don’t know what Melanie actually told her husband. If she skewed it right he might feel obligated to defend her. It’s likely she wasn’t very objective when telling him her side of the story.

          1. MW*

            While that may be true, there’s not much that she could tell him that would justify this behaviour. If she told him things were really, catastrophically bad, he could advise her to quit or maybe contact authorities. I just can’t imagine a scenario in which harassing someone else’s boss is appropriate.

          2. Sprinkled with Snark*

            Probably the majority of things I share with my husband about people I work with usually end with me telling him what an absolute B or AH they were, or me saying I could have punched her right in the face, or I wanted to kick him right in the goods. Usually he’ll just say something like, “What an A,” and I’ll say, I know, right? And that’s the end of it. Sometimes he’ll say something like, “Do you want me to punch him in the face? I’m free at 2, I could go over and punch him out for you,” and then we just laugh about it because the idea is so just so ridiculous. But it does help me to blow off steam and move on.

            But both he and I know that in no circumstances would it ever be okay for him to contact my boss through an email or phone calls and make demands about an apology (or for ANY reason, for that matter, other than my state of health). So, I wonder what’s going on here. She is clearly inexperienced on business etiquette, but it sounds as if her husband is too. I wonder what he does? I think it needs to be made very clear to Melanie that her behavior is unacceptable, and she needs to make it clear to her husband that his behavior is unacceptable too. It doesn’t matter if either of them agree on the matter or not. If she wants to be employed with this company any longer, then his phone calls and emails need to end today, and that her behavior at work regarding the baby talk interruptions needs to be corrected immediately moving forward. That is HER professional responsibility, not her husband’s. If she nor her husband cannot agree to these terms of her employment then she will be terminated. Is that clear?

      2. On Fire*

        The LW even says that Melanie agrees with her husband and doesn’t see anything wrong with what he’s doing. That doesn’t say “abuse” to me – that says two people who are unprofessional and immature.

        1. BF50*

          Agreed. In most of the other letters where a spouse is inserting themselves, I think abuse, but this one, I think naivety and lack of understanding of professional norms.

      3. Blue Anne*

        Yes. It kind of bugs me that this scenario seems to get brought up every time we get a letter about someone’s spouse being weird.

        1. Lissa*

          Seriously! I don’t even necessarily think this means there’s a “traditional” dynamic going on. We have heard articles too about somebody’s wife/girlfriend interfering in work, like the one a little while ago about the person who had to fire someone and their wife sent an email begging for their job back. This does not have to be an abusive or even gendered situation.

        2. leslie knope*

          well, a lot of abusive behavior gets normalized as “weird.” i don’t think it’s that big of a leap.

            1. Ann O.*

              I think a husband engaging in the type of behavior described is a huge red flag, but I agree that we don’t have enough information to conclude abuse.

      4. Stranger than fiction*

        Yeah, I get the impression he’s a bit controlling and that they have a very traditional marriage, but not that he’s abusive.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      Eh, I went the direction that she comes from a very traditional, possibly religiously conservative, background where women are more accepting of their husbands running their lives. (Not that a conservative home is mutually exclusive from an abusive one, but I would not assume abuse unless I saw a lot more than what was described here.)

      1. she was a fast machine*

        Definitely agree here. A lot of conservative homes can be considered abusive, and very well might be, but it’s not a 1:1 red flag. What OP is describing sounds exactly like something my dad might have pulled had my mother gotten a job.

        (though, for a moment I thought you said “husbands ruining their lives” and nearly agreed with you for that alone…can you tell what kind of household I grew up in?)

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Also, certain highly enmeshed communities have really nonstandard “standards” for this kind of thing. I grew up in what I, for sake of avoiding derailing and tl;dr, will call simply a very small, very interconnected, very unusual community in a rural area of the US, and it was basically assumed that you’d probably have to justify firing someone to their spouse, and also quite possibly to their sister (who is also your hairdresser) and their uncle (who fixes your car). The idea of there being a wall between personal/family life and work life was just not really a thing.

          Now, even in that community, the husband’s behavior would have been considered beyond acceptable (asking would have been acceptable; berating emails and endless calls would not), but it’s the kind of thing that looks considerably more alarming if you have no experience of that kind of culture.

          (There’s no indication that he’s necessarily coming from a background like that at all, of course, and even if he is this is unacceptable behavior and the manager has every right to put it to a firm stop.)

        2. The Supreme Troll*

          But we don’t really know that, and we shouldn’t be jumping to these conclusions. The stereotyping of conservative homes can also be applied to those that can be considered socially liberal, and it won’t really help matters here.

        3. Blue Anne*

          >A lot of conservative homes can be considered abusive

          Geez. Come on. This type of statement is really unnecessary.

      2. Health Insurance Nerd*

        When I read this comment I read “running” as “ruining” which I guess isn’t too far off since that’s what her husband is doing to her career!

      3. bunniferous*

        That is why I used words like suspect and might. But I guess what has me wondering is the fact the husband keeps calling and calling and calling. That is ….not a good sign of SOMETHING.

        1. RVA Cat*

          Yeah. Another *massive* leap but the San Bernardino school shooter had been threatening his son’s football coaches to try to get him a scholarship. I’m concerned if the husband’s calls are escalating in terms of hostility. I’d also worry he might show up, and potentially assault the OP if Melanie does get fired.

      4. MissGirl*

        Whoa, that’s a big leap. Boundary-challenged people exist in all shapes, sizes, and creeds. Most of the conservative women I know would hit their husband over the head at such behavior as would most people. Let’s focus on helping the OP as the “why” doesn’t matter.

      5. Honeybee*

        I didn’t even go there. I went to a wife going home and complaining to her husband in a way that made the fault all lie with the company – “They told me I couldn’t talk about my children and you! They’re just persecuting me because I’m new to the workforce; they’re prejudiced against stay-at-home moms!” – and the husband just wanted to defend his wife. Or maybe she explicitly asked for help and he said he would call since he’s got more professional experience. I could see my parents having this conversation and my mom actually considering letting my dad call up her job to fight her battles for her (although my dad probably wouldn’t harass the boss. Probably.)

    3. Jeanne*

      I don’t get that here but I suppose it’s a possibility. I guess OP could ask Melanie if she knows why husband thinks it’s ok to get involved.

    4. anon for this*

      Someone ALWAYS makes this leap whenever a letter about a spouse butting into their partner’s work life comes up. Often, the letters have nothing to insinuate that the LW is in a dangerous home situation. It’s just speculation on behalf of people who comment, and it’s usually a pretty big leap. There are plenty of people who are self-absorbed or do things like the employee’s husband because they’re out of touch with norms, not because they’re abusing their spouse.

      It’s getting as bad as armchair diagnosing in the AAM comments, and it’s kind of a drag to read all these assumptions immediately when a letter like this is posted. It makes me wonder why people immediately jump to suspecting something awful instead of just believing the OP that their employee and spouse are jerks.

      1. Anonymous 40*

        It’s not a leap, though, when the content of the letter shows that Melanie’s husband is harassing her boss because he’s angry and attempting to control her work environment. Nobody has said he’s definitely abusive, but given how common anger and control issues are in abusers, it’s a very reasonable thing to wonder about. Personally I’d much prefer people express concern over the possibility than casually write it off.

      2. Hope*

        I think people jump to that assumption so often because someone who doesn’t respect professional boundaries is perceived as much less likely to respect personal boundaries as well. Abusers are actually great at recognizing professional boundaries most of the time because they don’t want to bring attention to themselves, but once they start escalating and stop caring about drawing attention to themselves, professional boundaries will go out the window, too.

        Of course, there’s a difference between not respecting a professional boundary and being ignorant of a professional boundary. But when it goes from “a call” or “an email” to multiple calls and emails, that begins to strain credulity that it’s a matter of ignorance rather than a deliberate attempt at intimidation. Hence the leap happening in this case. Considering how often domestic violence spills into the workplace these days (and how little warning there usually is), I can understand why people would maybe up their concern a notch in this case.

        1. Anonymous 40*

          All of this. Also, the suspicion here is based on the husband’s behavior. He’s harassing the boss because he’s angry and attempting to control his wife’s work environment. Because anger and control issues are very common in abusive situations, people wonder about this situation. It’s not an unreasonable thing to wonder about with the information we have.

        2. StrikingFalcon*

          This. Also the demands that the OP apologize “to him and their children.” It’s not Melanie’s behavior (which sounds annoying but minor), it’s the husband’s reaction. I found this letter concerning too, because of the apparent anger, the length of the email and the frequency of the calls, the fact that he escalated when he didn’t get an answer, and most of all the fact that he took it as a personal insult that Melanie was asked to talk less about him. Some red flags for abuse include trying to control another person’s behavior, making everything about oneself, and an inappropriate emotional reaction (especially, but not always, anger) to minor provocations. I see the latter two, and possibly the first one, here.

          Now that’s not to say it *is* abuse. We certainly can’t know that from here. But I don’t see a problem with pointing out the possibility and discussing whether that should affect how the OP address the issue with Melanie.

      3. Serin*

        I’m one whose mind immediately sent up an abuse flag. Reading about the husband’s ongoing angry phone calls and emails made me feel unsafe, and it didn’t seem like such a huge leap to assume that a person so controlling that he would harass a total stranger might be even worse in the safety of his own home.

        Honestly, if I had been the OP, I don’t think I would have corrected the employee about being a tedious conversationalist — that’s not a problem that the manager necessarily needs to solve. Being stalked by an angry husband is a problem the OP needs to solve.

      4. justherefortheridiculouscomments*

        Yeah, it’s not abuse, it’s called, “having young children and no outside life”.
        I know a few people like this and it’s really irritating. I don’t have children, so I really don’t have any interest in listening to someone yammer on and on about them.

        1. Cath in Canada*

          I don’t think Melanie’s behaviour is a red flag in itself. I used to work with someone who talked about her kids a LOT when she first came back from mat leave. It wasn’t as bad as this (it was “just” every non-work conversation and didn’t get in the way of meetings etc), but it did get annoying. Luckily, it was self-limiting – she seemed to get it all out of her system after a couple of months back in the office, and turned into a really nice, fun colleague. So from this perspective, Melanie seems like she’s at the extreme end of a fairly common spectrum. (One of the commenters on the linked site provided another example, with specific examples of how their colleague drags her daughter into every single conversation. This probably isn’t all that rare).

          The husband’s behaviour, on the other hand, is definitely more extreme. Repeatedly harassing your spouse’s employer is not just a more extreme example of a common behaviour. I don’t know how the OP’s relationship with Melanie can really come back from that, unless Melanie really doesn’t know about the repeated harassment and is completely mortified when she finds out.

          1. Jess*

            Yeah, I talked about baby a lot when I came back to work after a year away. I could *hear* myself talking and cringed even when I was doing it, but I couldn’t stop myself! It was a combination of two things:
            a) talking to adults again! Every day! How exciting! Chatter chatter chatter chatter…
            b) until I’d been back a wee while, “life with baby” was my main context for things – in any normal (non-work) conversation where people chimed in on a topic, inevitably my contribution would be baby-related, just because that’s all I had to draw on.

            I HOPE that I was self-aware enough to have enough humour on the topic that I didn’t bore my co-workers *too* much. I got it out of my system after a month or two, and now baby only comes into the conversation as part of normal “what did you do this weekend” chatter. And to be fair, my child IS adorable and her antics are simply enthralling… ;-)

            1. Ann O.*

              Although I will say, depending on the workplace, that’s not always a problem. One of my co-workers recently had a baby, and I would love to hear more baby stories and see more baby pictures. The baby’s really cute! Most of us on the team have kids, so there’s a bit more of an exchange, but sometimes it’s just about finding the right audience.

    5. Elizabeth West*

      My impression was that Melanie is having a tough time transitioning her role from Domestic Goddess to Professional Worker, and the constant talk about her family makes her feel less guilty for not staying home with them.

      Yes, her husband is being a jerk, but that doesn’t automatically mean she’s unsafe. I could be wrong, but I think she’s just clueless.

      1. Heavysnaxx*

        +1 for making me imagine Rosanne as Melanie. Although in that scenario she can’t stop thanking her coworkers for getting her out of the house and away from Dan and the kids.

      2. Thyme*

        I agree. Plus LW says that it’s her first job ever, it sounds like, so not only is there that big jump in roles/expectations, but there’s learning all the norms of a white-collar workplace. Which is hard. See all the “look what my intern/new college student/new hire did!!!” stories.

      3. Honeybee*

        This was my assumption, too. Combine that with her never having worked before and not knowing professional norms and you have a perfect storm for this kind of situation. Her husband may have just been trying to help her, and he too may have professional issues. We’ve read countless stories of the job applicant who won’t leave you alone – it’s the same principle.

      4. N*

        In instances like this, I think it’s more helpful to think about the behaviors as abusive, rather than the people. Everyone has engaged in some abusive behaviors from time to time, such as yelling at someone when they shouldn’t, guilt tripping someone, or being maybe too jealous of how close a partner is to someone else. It’s more of a problem when it’s a pattern of behavior and it takes a significant toll on another person’s physical, mental, social, and financial well being.

        In this instance, I think people are right to say that the husband’s behavior is abusive (i.e. controlling and overstepping his bounds) and that certainly can be a red flag, but it also doesn’t necessarily mean that Melanie is physically or mentally unsafe and that the whole relationship is toxic and abusive.

    6. Chickaletta*

      How come every time there’s a letter where a male spouse comes up, someone suggests DV? It’s getting old…

      1. Amazed*

        From what I remember, female spousal intervention has included one where she begged for him to get his job back, one where she insisted she had legal advice to contact the employer regarding the employee having PTSD, and one where he made advances on a coworker and his wife harassed her for it.

        Meanwhile male spousal intervention has had one where he appeared to resign on her behalf, him attempting to get her manager to give her a secret day off, him threatening to sue her boss for going drinking with her… and several others I know I’ve forgotten.

        I’m not sure it has to do with the gender, but the content of the letters themselves.

      2. The Strand*

        Because several of the letters you describe show someone who has poor boundaries and controlling behavior… something that is definitely not limited to men. And as has been explained well, it’s a hallmark of domestic violence. There have also been creepy letters about mothers interfering at their children’s workplaces. Domestic violence is as likely to be a parent-child issue as it is to be an issue between spouses.

        1. Chickaletta*

          Do you have a link to a study or other evidence that shows how helicopter parenting is connected to domestic violence?

          1. Misc*

            *Controlling* parenting can easily be at the abusive end of the scale. Whether you use the term helicopter parenting for all kinds of over involved, controlling parents or just a specific segment of them, that term is not really the point of this discussion.

    7. Temperance*

      I appreciate that people are aware of how insidious and shitty DV is, but honestly, most patriarchal family structures are like this.

    8. snuck*

      I understand where you are coming from, and get some of the same little… not quite red… but certainly orange flag flying…

      When people act this oddly there’s usually a reason. It’s rare for a solid, comfortable in their own skin, no issues at home person to be this off base… That doesn’t mean that the OP has to put up with/tolerate the difference though… just might give a greater understanding of WHY things are happening, and that can help shape the message for change.

      I kinda assumed that Melanie’s husband is threatened by her work success, and is subconsciously (or overtly) undermining it to protect his own ego. And creating an environment at home of co-dependence. These are just assumptions though… Shouldn’t be the OP’s mess to clean up though… and saying “Look, whatever is going on, it needs to stop. I won’t discuss ANY personnel with outside parties, I want work conversations to stay on track and if we can pull this together I’m very happy to keep you on the payroll” is perfectly reasonable.

  5. CBH*

    I’m beyond surprised at Melanie and her husband’s actions. It’s one thing to have a manager point out a way to improve yourself in the work place but to defy him and think your way is right not the company’s way is just… wow. I’m flabbergasted! Once again Allison is giving amazing advice.

    I just keep thinking though is this a gray area that OP could legally let Melanie go? I mean in all sense of the job description Melanie is going above and beyond her job requirements. I guess one could make a case in that it is affecting her work ethic with coworkers.

    I’m just shocked overall that the husband thinks it’s ok to harass the OP like this; that Melanie thinks nothing is wrong with her work performance in this area. It’s one thing to share a story or two getting to know your coworkers, but honestly that’s probably the max your coworkers want to hear about your personal life during working hours. Again, wow…just wow.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In the U.S., you can legally fire someone for any reason as long as it’s not one of the few that are specifically prohibited by law (such as discriminating based on race, sex, religion, disability, etc. or retaliating for reporting harassment or discrimination) — so yes. I don’t think I’d move straight to firing her now though — I’d have the conversation I laid out in the post first. Chances are very high that you’ll have to end up firing her pretty soon anyway, and this will give you more solid ground to stand on with anyone who hears about it.

      1. CBH*

        Thank you Allison and Leatherwings. I am in the U.S. – New York City specifically. I guess it just never dawned on me that such a trivial issue would be escalated to the point of needing to be fired. By trivial I mean that this woman has not been in a work environment for such a long time that she might not realize that this is not the norm. OP had the talk with employee, issue over. At the start of the review/ reading this inquiry it seems almost like a non issue. I would have even second guessed myself for thinking of firing her but now that things have escalated…. Now that I think of it there seems to be “similar” things where personal collides with professional that I could justify letting someone go for (for example excessive non work internet use). Anyway, thank you both for your responses. I look forward to this threads commentary.

        1. AD*

          I mean that this woman has not been in a work environment for such a long time that she might not realize that this is not the norm.

          That’s a bit of a red herring. Even SAHMs and those who have never been in the workforce don’t ignore feedback, when given directly. That’s the issue – not the initial “She talks about her family at the drop of the hat”. I’m pretty sure that most people who have little/no experience in the workforce would realize without prompting that their spouse repeatedly calling their manager to complain is a no-no.

          1. CBH*

            AD I stand corrected. I’m not looking in anyway shape or form to offend anyone. You stated what I was trying to express more clearly.

            1. AD*

              Not at all! I agree with what you said, it’s just that it appears Melanie’s judgement in general is not so great. Maybe that’s impacted by the fact that she’s never had a job, and maybe not.

        2. OhBehave*

          Her behavior in and of itself isn’t the issue. It became a HUGE issue when:

          1. Husband got involved. Really involved. (It takes me back to the husband who resigned for his wife.)
          2. She continued the behavior and even agrees with hubby (For her part, Melanie says she agrees with her husband and doesn’t see anything wrong with what he is doing.)

          If she understood that bringing up her family in every business conversation was not a good practice, that would be one thing. She doesn’t care and it’s affecting her workplace.

          I would guess that she was nervous about her review and talked it over beforehand with hubby and then shared the results.

      2. LSP*

        Marital status is a protected area as well, but just as I think you could make a strong argument for firing someone who spoke about their religion so much it was distracting others from work and impacting their ability to do their own work as a result, the same case could be made here. This is the point her husband is missing. The issue is not about her being married and having kids, or even wanting to share some part of that with her coworkers. The issue is that her need to talk about her family and home life is overshadowing her work life to such a degree that she can no longer successfully function in it.

        1. Natalie*

          Marital status is not protected on the federal level, unless you work for the federal government. Depending on the exact circumstances, discriminating on the basis of marital status or status as a parent could be illegal if it has a disparate impact on a protected class.

        2. snuck*

          I assume by marital status they mean you cannot discriminate if someone is/is not married. ie you can’t say “well I’m not hiring this 23yr old because they are just gonna go get married and we’ll have to put up with maternity leave and her talking about her upcoming wedding non-stop” (A few writers have asked about wearing engagement rings to interviews for example.) Or… “this man is a well known polygamist and I know that about him and just don’t like it so I am not going to employ him”….

          This would not cover “your husband is a boar” or suggest “I should put up with spouses interfering in the workplace”

          1. Gaia*

            This actually makes me wonder something:

            Could you refuse to hire someone because they are a polygamist or would that be protected if it were a sincerely held religious belief even though it is illegal?

              1. Mela*

                I don’t think it actually does, since polygamists are either living in hiding in mainstream communities, or they live on insular compounds where they don’t need/get outside jobs. If someone was caught/fired, I don’t think they would make any waves, wanting it kept quiet to protect their family.

                Because a lot of polygamists don’t actually become bigamists, ie registering multiple legal marriages, the gov’t ends up getting them on benefit fraud, so I doubt they’d want much attention brought to their lives etc.

                That being said, as a polyamorous person I would love, love to see a case like this see the light of day, because while I definitely can’t argue sincerely held religious belief, I do believe it would be an important step paving the way for less discrimination.

              2. Annonymouse*

                I agree this would be interesting if polygamy is part of a persons religion it could get murky.

                Or would it get recognised under sexuality?

                This is an interesting topic for later.

                1. Zip Silver*

                  The US government has repeatedly made it clear that polygamy doesn’t count as something religion can protect, for well over 100 years.

            1. snuck*

              The sum total of my experience with polygamous marriages in America is from Big Love. I don’t think I could quote that in court hahaha.

            2. Anna*

              This is not my area of law, but probably the law would be similar to what would apply to someone who fails a mandatory drug test and says their religion commands them to use the drug in question. And I know that’s been litigated a lot, so the answer may be similar to whatever courts said about that.

    2. Leatherwings*

      I don’t think this is a gray area at all assuming that Melanie and OP live in an at-will state. Employers can fire someone for pretty much any reason as long as it’s not based on a protected class or for engaging in protected activity.

      1. Turanga Leela*

        At-will state = anywhere except Montana. It’s always funny to me that Montana is the exception.

        1. SarcasticFringehead*

          I don’t know if this is the case in Montana, but there are definitely some small towns in Colorado (and I assume elsewhere) that are extremely conservative in everything except being very strongly pro-union, which I think is an interesting juxtaposition.

          1. paul*

            And area spend 50-100 years being a company town and getting paid in script and it leaves a mark.

            1. Clinical Social Worker*

              “I owe my soul to the company store” was barely an exaggeration for many at one point in time. Thankfully, we have some labor protections now.

            1. The Rat-Catcher*

              My area is known for being notoriously conservative, except when it’s time to vote on minimum-wage increases.

          2. Missoula*

            I think it has something to do with the history of the copper mining companies, specifically around Anaconda and Butte, MT. Butte I know is a very strong union town. Being a non-native Montanan I don’t really know the whole backstory well enough to explain.

            1. Gadfly*

              That is where my Dad’s family is from. It basically boils down to a LOT of dead people. When every family practically has someone who died because of the mines trying to save money recently enough that their generation is still alive, it leaves a mark. Grandma’s brother, in my family.

        2. Hillia*

          Which sounds lovely in theory, but in principle it means very little. There is no state agency that you can turn to for protection; your only recourse is to hire a private attorney and go through the court system. My husband’s boss is an immature idiot and fires people out of spite, with zero justification, but no one has the money to pursue a suit.

          1. Missoula*

            Yes, there are far too many places here that get away with things (making cashiers stock their own tills comes to mind) because people don’t know and can’t afford to sue. I do what I can by not patronizing those places and ensuring others are aware of what’s happening.

            You CAN file a complaint against a company with any Job Service in Montana I believe… I don’t think anything actually comes of that though other than a mark on a report somewhere.

          2. Sally Sue*

            Your husbands boss can fire anyone with zero justification. And the fired employees would have no suit unless they were fired because of their race, being pregnant, disabled, etc.

    3. Anonygoose*

      Reading this, it kind of seems like the borders of work life and home life have been blurred a bit for her possibly because of her SAHM status. I know it’s not the case with every SAHM, but there have definitely been some letters here before from moms looking to get back into the workforce wondering how to show their ‘skills’ on their resume. I think that with no prior work experience, she may be thinking that being a SAHM is her work experience, so thinks it’s relevant to bring up in work conversations.
      For instance:

      Coworker: Oh gosh, there’s so much to do before the deadline on Friday, I don’t know how we will manage it.
      Melanie: I know! It’s like when I went on vacation with Fergus and the kids one year two weeks before Christmas, and then I only had 4 days to buy Christmas gifts! It’s so hard when you are up against a deadline.

      1. Liane*

        Yes. But even that response would be okay if it was only *once in a while* and maybe followed by, “If you have a task or 2 that can be done at reception desk, between answering calls, I’ll be happy to take them off your plate.”

  6. Mike C.*

    For her part, Melanie says she agrees with her husband and doesn’t see anything wrong with what he is doing.

    What in the heck? I was going to give her the benefit of the doubt here but she’s being really clueless here! Sure, sit her down and let her know that this will lead to her being fired if you’re called again. One chance is fine. But this is really over the top.

    Also, if someone is so obsessed with a particular topic that is causes coworkers to avoid contact with someone, then it has become a business issue.

    1. Dizzy Steinway*

      I know, right? This would give me serious concerns about her judgement. Which isn’t a great way to feel about an employee.

    2. Fiennes*

      Yeah, this is the real issue. FOREVER talking about kids: dull and, for those around her who may deal with infertility or a lost child, potentially insensitive. (My suggested rule of thumb: if your cute kid stories are never answered with either the listener’a own cute kid stories or clear enthusiasm, move on to another topic with that person.) As Melanie has never worked outside the home before, its natural for her family to form the bulk of her anecdotes and experiences, but she’s got to learn to relate to people who live outside her house.

      But being just fine with her husband harassing her boss? That person is so off from professional and societal norms that other problems would almost certainly emerge over time.

      1. all aboard the anon train*

        I understand that people are really excited to talk about their kids, but I wish sometimes they would realize that no one cares as much about their kids as they do. I’ve had similar situations with coworkers where we’re trying to get a meeting going and a coworker won’t stop talking about this cute thing her kid did. When no one reacts or just says, “That’s nice, now about Z project…” and they still don’t get the hint, it’s really frustrating!!

        And this goes for anyone who only talks about one topic, whether it’s kids, marriage, pets, hobbies, etc.

          1. On Fire*

            I wanted to talk about things NOT home repair when I was in the middle of a major renovation, so I’m right there with you. :-)

        1. Admin Assistant*

          Honestly, very few people care about ANYTHING you love as much as you do — whether it’s your kids, your dog, your latest trip to Croatia, your woodworking hobby, your cat’s YouTube channel. It’s fine to talk about these things in moderation or where it’s appropriate/relevant, but very few people (except for maybe a Croatian, a woodworker, or a cat YouTuber) could tolerate you bringing it up every single conversation and would rightfully be annoyed by it. However, some people are really bad at reading the room.

          1. mreasy*

            Except my cat. People love to hear about my cat, particularly his health problems. It’s a scientific fact.

        2. Blue*

          So much this. I have a coworker who can only have a casual conversation about cooking and it is as annoying as the coworker who can only have a casual convo about their kids. Eventually you hit capacity on hearing about that topic.

        3. Kj*

          My co-worker was obsessed with her wedding. It was all we heard about from her for a year. And it took up more of our meeting times than the work did some weeks. One of my co-workers started just leaving when she got into the weeds of wedding colors, cake and her fiance’s family.

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        Also, it’s also not just that Melanie only has one category of small talk–it’s that she intentionally changes the topic of whatever is being discussed to talk about her husband and kids, even in meetings about work matters. That’s beyond merely being a boring conversationalist. If we’re in a meeting to discuss our new policy on something, and you jump in to change the topic to a funny thing little Briedonald said last night, that needs to be nipped in the bud. If she can’t see that’s a problem, then . . . that’s a problem.

        1. Frozen Ginger*

          I’m inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt for that (before all the push-back). She might be a nervous talker! I can definitely see myself in a situation where I really want to make a good impression but I can’t relate to what they are discussing. So, I try to veer the convo into something more my realm (in Melanie’s case: her family) so I can participate, but then end up failing to veer the conversation so much as to make a sharp left (in part because I’m nervous).

          I guess I’m wondering is how she does the heel-toe-pivot with everyone. Does she do so confidently, or does she look nervous? Is she awkwardly trying to turn the conversation, or is she acting as if what the other person is saying doesn’t matter? I do think this can matter. Because, again the push-back is a huge red-flag, but doing so repeatedly might just be desperation to fit in.

          1. Sally Sue*

            I’d be inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt until she involved her husband and had her husband contact the company.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        I think it’s analogous to problem A being failing to clean up after oneself in the coffee room–not death and taxes level, but annoys coworkers. And when that’s brought up (because hinting has failed) even in the context of everything else being fine, the employee insists that it is OK to mess up the coffee room and their spouse starts calling to rant about how cleaning up the coffee room is not employee’s job and employee deserves an apology and so does their spouse for tangential suffering. Over and over. It’s the latter stuff that makes firing “just because they didn’t clean up the coffee room” a logical response.

      4. Not So NewReader*

        OP has actually restrained herself quite well.

        I would have been tempted to tell Melanie that each time her husband calls or emails me then I will be calling or emailing his boss.

        If this is fair and this is how to handle problems then husband will definitely understand that I am using appropriate methods for handling his harassment by contacting his boss. Plus, I am pretty sure this is protected under free speech. So I could probably call the husband’s boss every time I hear her talking about her family.

        [That was snark, I just have to make sure everyone knows that was snark.]

        The fact that she thinks all these things are okay has no bearing. Her constant mono-topic chatter is starting to impact her relationships with her coworkers as no one wants to work with her. (OP, have you mentioned that no one wants to work around her because of this?) This means her services are no longer useful to the company which means she can use that exit door one last time.

        I have mentioned before one of my favorite tidbits of advice, “No one will ever tell you this: But part of what you are being compensated for is your willingness to get along with others.” She has indicated that she is UNwilling to get along with others by her unwillingness to stop the excessive chatter about her family.

      5. Nic*

        That is a fantastic rule of thumb! I have 0 interest in kid stories: cute, horrifying, or otherwise. Even if I know the kid. ESPECIALLY if I don’t.

    3. Oryx*

      I worked with someone like Melanie. All she talked about were her kids. I knew more about their bowel movements than my own. And yes, we did avoid contact with her.

      We also came to the conclusion that she literally had nobody else to talk to outside of work. Prior to starting there, she’d been a SAHM and just didn’t have mom friends or any friends really so her co-workers became her defacto friends.

      1. The Rat-Catcher*

        I probably talk about my kids a little too much, but I assume people don’t want to know about their BMs.

    4. Electric Hedgehog*

      Yeah, the topic of family isn’t so much of an issue. I’d be similarly irritated if someone just couldn’t stop talking about their fantasy football league, was asked to stop by their boss, and then their league president started to harass the boss with emails and daily calls. Although that might be a fun letter to read here…

    5. Jaydee*

      I would almost be tempted to raise the issue again with Melanie and make it explicitly clear that the problems is not that she talks about her husband and children. Plenty of employees talk about their spouse/partner and children without it being an issue. The problem is that she talks about them in every single conversation, whether it’s relevant or not, or that she goes on and on about them when a co-worker just wants to ask a quick question about the TPS reports (or whatever the actual problem is). Explain that it wouldn’t matter if she was talking about basketball or rice sculpting or gardening or her cats or Crossfit or anything else. It’s not about the topic, it’s about the frequency and extent of the talking and the impact it is having on co-workers and productivity.

      1. PlainJane*

        Yes. She (and her husband, not that his opinion matters) may be offended because they think it’s specifically “family talk” that’s the problem. It might help to state clearly that the problem is that she’s distracting other people and bringing up non-work topics in inappropriate settings.

  7. Turanga Leela*

    Good advice. It’s too bad for Melanie.

    I wonder if it would be helpful, given the context, to take Melanie out for lunch for a conversation about talking about her family at work. Or maybe a peer could do the lunch, and the OP could have a separate, more formal conversation with Melanie. Given that she’s new to the working world, a more relaxed setting might help her listen.

    1. chocolate lover*

      Though I wonder if any peers would be willing to do it, given that some are already avoiding her, and a relaxed lunch may lead her to talk even more about her family.

    2. Chalupa Batman*

      I agree, but with some qualifiers. If the Melanie problem was the only issue (OP brought it up in evaluation, problem continued), a little help from a peer mentor as a follow up to a serious meeting with OP could really help a lot with helping her adapt to professional norms and taper off the behavior. Melanie’s behavior is a little problem, easy to address with coaching and a little patience, especially for an excellent employee.

      Her husband’s behavior is the big problem, and that needs to be addressed separately. I strongly suspect that she comes from either a cultural or personal perspective that she needs to back up her husband no matter what. It’s a sign of disloyalty to say he’s wrong, even if she disagrees with his behavior (and I’d bet she does if she’s as good as OP says in other ways-she’s not completely clueless). My guess would be that she mentioned it in passing because it bugged her a little, her husband blew it up, and she feels that if she tells him it’s not that big a deal and to let it go, she’s “siding” with her boss over him. This is mostly speculation, of course, and I don’t want to go down the abuse rabbit hole, because I think this situation is plausible either way. A lot of otherwise functional couples have an unspoken rule that you don’t humiliate your partner by calling them out, and public disagreement with one or both of them is treason. If Melanie believes that (or knows that her husband believes it and has accepted it as a condition of their relationship), she’s never going to ask her husband to stop on her own. She HAS to say he’s in the right.

      Since Melanie is so good otherwise, I think it’s worth OP’s time to try one more time, but it can’t be about talking about her family anymore. I think OP should say something like “Melanie, Bob’s continued harassment has become a major issue, and I have to tell you, the fact that you’ve stated you think his behavior is appropriate is a concern. I’ve told Bob to cease contact immediately [that needs to happen, like, yesterday], and I need you to take responsibility for ensuring that there is no further contact. I’m happy to discuss any concerns you have about my feedback with you directly. The issue I raised in your evaluation is a minor concern, but Bob’s response is jeopardizing your continued employment here, and I need you to take that seriously. This can’t continue, and it can’t happen again in the future.” I’m kinda pulling for Melanie, I don’t want OP to fire her. But if her response is something to the effect of “Bob and I have free speech, you can’t do that” (that’s not even what free speech means!), it may behoove OP to be prepared to tell her on the spot that it’s a non-negotiable that the contact stop regardless of whether she agrees with Bob or not, and if she can’t support that, they need to negotiate her last day.

  8. Student*

    Oy! Good luck with this one, OP, it’s a hard spot. Depending on your position/standing in the organization, you may want to loop in others at the management level – either to drum up support for firing her, or to cover your legal/HR bases. You’ll want to walk a fine line on messaging to your current employees when she goes, too.

    Make sure you aren’t phrasing the “decrease talk about your family” as a request that she thinks is optional. AAM covered the bases very well, but if she missed anything, she missed that you have absolute prerogative to tell this employee that she has to tone down the family talk with you specifically in work conversations. Tell her that whether she means it to or not, she’s diverting the topic of conversation from work stuff to her personal life when YOU, The Boss, want to talk about work stuff at an unacceptable frequency. Your reasonable request to tone it down got an unreasonable, defiant response, so now she just can’t discuss it with you, period, until she demonstrates a better understanding of office norms.

  9. Jubilance*

    Melanie has to go – at this point she’s being insubordinate. Her husband continuing to harass you just makes it worse. Who cares if she’s good at answering the phone and receiving the mail – she was told to stop doing something, and her response was to double down on it AND get her husband to harass you. I’d fire her immediately and let security know that she and her husband are not allowed on the property. Also maybe a letter from your attorney saying that if the calls continue you will seek a restraining order?

    1. Sabine the Very Mean*

      Yeah I’m with you on treating this seriously. I’d actually say your line directly to Melanie. “You were told to do something and instead of doing it, your response was to double down on it and get your husband to harass me.” She may really benefit from having it laid out in this way. Also, I think I’d just call the authorities after the first time I told him to stop (it doesn’t seem the OP actually did this step) and he didn’t. I wouldn’t warn Melanie either. She probably wouldn’t show up again if hubby got a visit from the PD on this matter.

      1. PlainJane*

        I like your wording here. That should wake her up immediately. That plus a terse response to the husband as Alison recommended. Then if either of them repeats the behavior, terminate and involve appropriate authorities.

    2. Anon Accountant*

      100% agree with everything you posted. This sounds like it’s only going to get worse and she needs let go.

    3. Anonymous 40*

      I agree with you completely. And if the OP thought that was premature, I would at least draw a very bright line at the husband trying to contact them in any additional way, particularly showing up at the office.

    4. ZenJen*

      But, if she does NOT know what her husband is doing, that changes it (slightly). Melanie is definitely still being insubordinate but she might not be doing it in concert with her husband.
      Either way, it’s a serious situation that needs to be addressed (and I’d be getting ready to possibly let Melanie go, also). She’s NOT a good employee at all.

      1. JessaB*

        How does she not know, the OP says that she thinks it’s okay for her husband to do this. That implies that she knows.

      2. Beth*

        From the original letter: “For her part, Melanie says she agrees with her husband and doesn’t see anything wrong with what he is doing.” It really sounds like she has a pretty good idea of what her husband is doing.

    5. OhBehave*

      OP – find those emails and vm’s. Keep record of them. OP definitely has to answer the next call from her husband and tell him to lay off or xyz. I am imagining a worst-case scenario when the husband comes to work in order to confront OP. I mean, if he’s this peeved about this relatively small criticism, what’s to stop him?

      What we don’t know is what Melanie told her husband. Her husband’s reaction is very odd.

      1. A. Noni Mousse*

        Thank you. I think if i were op the husband’s reaction would make me feel unsafe. This is way beyond a misguided attempt at him trying to be supportive of his wife. Continuously harassing phone calls and emails are never ok.

    6. kittymommy*

      Yep to everything. Maybe I’m old school but if my boss tells nw I need to work on something at my job, if it’s not illegal or unethical, I do it. (Most) jobs are not a democracy, not everyone gets a vote.

  10. The Mighty Thor*

    In full agreement with Alison’s answer. Lay down exactly what needs to happen, the consequences for not doing it, and stick to that

  11. Dizzy Steinway*

    Wow. I totally agree with the advice. Sadly it sounds like she has no identity – in her own head, I mean – beyond her role as a wife and mother, and no idea that sometimes it’s best to listen rather than talk.

    1. Nolan*

      Yeah that’s the impression I got too, getting out into the working world should be good for her, but she needs to actually take manager feedback. I don’t see her lasting in this role. Hopefully, being let go will be a wakeup call and she can take that lesson on to the next job. Though I feel like the husband may also be informing her expectations and is probably (accidentally or otherwise) setting her up for failure.

    2. Manders*

      I think you’re spot on. When you’re new to the working world or you’ve had a non-traditional career path, it can be tough to figure out where Personal You ends and Work You begins. And it’s even harder if you’re not that great at picking up on social cues to begin with.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        There’s also a big switch between the personas that are successful in SAHM-world versus the professional world. When I stayed home, the most socially-successful moms were upbeat and chatty about kind of personal things, so I developed that side of my repertoire. Then when I started working again, fitting in with people at work required me to be less chatty and more circumspect about personal things. The thing is, you have to be able to pick up on social cues in order to realize that.

    3. Jennifer's Irked Thneed*

      > sometimes it’s best to listen rather than talk

      Oy, I have a current co-worker who needs to learn this. Also “and when you do talk, ask questions more than you share opinions”. He’s young and maybe on his second job out of college, but he’s dangerously close to bro-territory and mansplainy-ness. (And his opinions are always delivered as pronouncements, of course. I calm myself by remembering my own awkward early adulthood.)

  12. Patricia Britton*

    I would LOVE to hear a follow up or update by the Original Poster on how his conversation with the employee went.

  13. Aunt Margie at Work*

    You’ve never had to deal with something like this because it is Not Normal.
    Melanie responds to constructive criticism regarding her workplace behavior by: 1) doing more of the same; 2) enlisting her husband in harassing you. She’s been there six months. She’s done tasks well. She’s not fit into the office culture well. People don’t like working with her. She thinks it is their problem.

    If she chewed gum while on the phone with clients, if she took all calls on speaker phone, if she did any, well, let’s face it, little annoying thing that affected the office, and stopping it was well with in her control, a normal person would want to be considerate. She is turning your comment about her annoying quirk into “you hate children, working women, families and married people who stick up for each other.”

  14. Here we go again*

    I think the OP should refer Melanie to the company’s EAP. It’s clear she is having a hard time being away from her family and some time speaking with a professional may help.

    As for her husband… I have no advice on that… That is just bonkers.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      She does not think she has a problem, I doubt counseling will help her. She feels she does not need help.

  15. k*

    I would also add that when asking her not to derail work-related conversations by bringing up her family, refer to it as bringing up your “personal life” instead of “husband and children”. Saying she shouldn’t talk about her family so much might make her feel singled out, like you’re saying her stories are boring because they’re about her stay-at-home life. Make it clear that you wouldn’t want anyone constantly disrupting work to talk about their personal lives, whether it be her story about a rousing PTA meeting or Fergus’s story about getting involved in an international spy ring on his weekend trip Morocco.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      This is a good point. If other people are standing around talking about the big game and she mentions that she watched it with her husband, that would be reasonable to me. I’m assuming that is not the case or the LW wouldn’t have written in, but if other employees spend time talking about non-work activities and aren’t asked to curtail it, that could be problematic.

      I would actually go a step further and replace “personal life” with “non work topics”.

      1. Anonymous 40*

        You’ve seen True Lies, right? It’s based on the true story of Fergus’s time as a used care salesman.

    2. Damn it, Hardison!*

      Exactly; the issue is not specifically about the topic (husband and children) but the frequency and doing so at inappropriate times.

      1. Dizzy Steinway*

        After all, she’s not paid to talk about that when she’s meant to be discussing work.

    3. Jessesgirl72*

      Yes, I think people- from Melanie and her husband to commenters- are getting hung up on the topic, when the actual problem is that she’s derailing conversations and talking about one thing so much that people are avoiding her. That would be a problem if the topic were the Cubs or marathon or shopping. The topic she’s hyper-focused on is irrelevant.

      1. Leatherwings*

        Yes! The same thing would be true and equally annoying if she were constantly talking about Crossfit or pet ferret.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Gah, I have a former coworker who would talk about her horse and riding at every opportunity, to the point that she would talk about her horse during our weekly staff check-in meetings.

          Everyone else: I worked on the TPS reports last week, and this week I’ll be preparing for the upcoming spring advisory board meeting.

          Her: Oh, it was a beautiful weekend, so I took my horse out for a ride, and next weekend our horse club is having a fox hunt . . .

          1. Agile Phalanges*

            I work in a horse-related business with a fellow horse-owning/riding co-worker, and we don’t talk about our horses this much. Wow.

      2. Aunt Margie at Work*

        I agree. I even see it from a different perspective. The issue isn’t “talking about her family.” The issue isn’t really even talking. The issue is a personality quirk or habit that makes her a pain to work with. I compared it to chewing gum while talking to people or insisting on using speaker phone while in an open office plan. It’s something that she could do less that would make other people want to work with her more. And she’s turning it into a personal attack. And bringing in her husband as the rear guard.

    4. BPT*

      I agree with this – it’s not what she talks about necessarily, it’s that every conversation she brings into it something that is not relevant to the conversation. That’s not to say that it’s never ok to bring up non-work topics, but it must be done in the appropriate context, and I don’t think anyone would like to hear about the same topic every.single.time.

      Appropriate conversation: “What did everyone do this weekend?” “My husband, kids, and I went for a hike.”
      Appropriate conversation: “We need to think about a new marketing campaign. Any ideas?” “Did anyone catch the Superbowl last night? Yes? Well anyway, there was a commercial that gave me this idea for a new social media campaign…”
      Non-appropriate conversation: “Oh isn’t our new logo innovative?” “You know what else is innovative? My 5 year old made up this game last night. Let me explain all the rules to you.”

      1. fposte*

        Or even “We need to think about a new marketing campaign.” “My husband likes marketing that . . .” “Isn’t our new logo innovative?” “My husband thinks logos should . . .” As a one-off, passable, but the cumulative effect makes it a problem.

    5. Alton*

      I agree. Her husband’s behavior is the biggest problem here, and it’s unacceptable regardless, but with regards to Melanie talking about her family too much, she might feel singled-out if it isn’t clear where the problem lies. There’s also a risk of it seeming gendered even though it’s really not.

      The big thing is if she’s going off-topic too much in work-related discussions, which it sounds like she may be. I think that her not connecting well with her co-workers because of her conversation topics may not be something worthy of inclusion in a formal review unless she’s really causing a disruption, but it’s still something that can be worth coaching someone on.

  16. MS-DOS EFX*

    Is it me, or is it a little odd to try and police the content of someone’s conversations like this? If she has truly been exceeding expectations in all regards, then it sounds like her talking about her family and kids is just an annoyance, rather than something that impedes her ability to be effective at work. (Of course, it’s possible that it’s impeding OTHER people’s ability to be effective at work, which would be a problem, but that’s hard to tell without more context.) Since her family has basically been her whole world up until now, it make sense to me that she would have little else to talk about.

    That said, I do think it would have been helpful to coach her on this in a learning-professional-norms kind of way. It just seems a little odd to me to ding her for it on a performance evaluation, unless, like Alison says, it actually is hindering her or others’ ability to work.

    I think I’m a little extra sensitive to this, though, because I have a controlling boss who makes comments on things like the width of an employee’s pants or chipped nail polish, so I instinctively bristle at any criticism of frivolous things.

    1. Leatherwings*

      I really don’t read this as trying to police her conversations (nobody is saying “never talk about your children in the workplace”), but rather that her professional communication and conversation is veering outside of professional and is way too personal. That’s affecting her professional relationships and reputation, so I don’t think it’s frivolous like what your boss is doing (sorry btw, that sounds horrendous). That’s exactly the sort of thing a manager should coach an employee on. I also don’t think it was something she was “dinged” on (because she received high marks in every category), just something that was brought up as a way to improve.

      1. MS-DOS EFX*

        That’s true, OP did mention that others are avoiding her because of it now. So it does sound like it’s become a big enough problem to warrant comment.

      2. RVA Cat*

        Unless you work in cosmetology or something, the boss who gripes about chipped nail polish deserves a good look at the chipped polish on one particular finger….

    2. Paea*

      I’m going to give the OP the benefit of the doubt that it actually is hindering her ability to work with the others, for two reasons: It’s literally the only aspect the OP brought up that could be improved when otherwise she exceeds expectations on every count. AND THE RESPONSE by both the husband and wife is so ferociously aggressive that hey, if there were any doubts that she is making people uncomfortable before, this pretty much underscores that she probably is making people so uncomfortable they are avoiding her because of inappropriate office behavior.

      1. Jeanne*

        I think we have to assume it’s having a negative effect like OP said. It would probably make a really long letter to give us examples. It has to be more than “How was your weekend? The kids and I went to the playground.” I’m not picturing it right though. “Can I have my mail? Sure, after you look at these 100 new pictures.” But it must be bad if a majority of workers are avoiding her.

        1. AnonAnalyst*

          Yeah, my sense is that it’s really outside the norm for non-work chit-chat if people are purposely avoiding her. I’m picturing it as every inquiry about something work-related somehow turns into a 20 minute story about her family and people feel like they can’t politely excuse themselves from the conversation. Which, frankly, would be a problem in most offices because it would become a productivity issue.

        2. Turtle Candle*

          I’ve known the very occasional office chatterer, and it’s not uncommon for the problem to be that they just have kind of a running monologue, so it could very well be that. I have known people who could turn a “Could I borrow your stapler?” into a twenty-minute description of the marathon they ran that weekend, and it usually happens via associative leaps, “Oh sure, let me just find it, hm, I thought it was in this drawer–oh wait, maybe it’s in that drawer–ha ha, this reminds me of this weekend when I was trying to find my shoes for the marathon–did I tell you I was running a marathon this weekend? It’s to support the Llama Rescue Society, such an important cause! my mother in law helped me raise the money–anyway, so I was trying to find my shoes, ha ha, and I realized I needed new laces, and I knew that we’d bought some laces but I couldn’t remember where they were, and…” and on and on, stapler in hand, and to escape you had to a) blatantly interrupt them, b) stand there glazed until they wound down, or, I don’t know, c) snatch the stapler from their hand and bolt, all of which were awkward. And then you’d go through the whole thing again when returning the stapler. I could easily see someone doing something similar, only with husband/children instead of marathons.

    3. HisGirlFriday*

      If it’s gotten bad enough that other employees are avoiding Melanie unless they absolutleh have to talk to her, it sounds like it’s moved beyond frivolous.

      OP doesn’t say explicitly, but it sounds like Melanie hijacks every conversation and turns it around to be about her husband and children, to the general detriment of the office.

      It’s about knowing societal and social norms, and recognizing that not every thing YOU find fascinating about your child is likely to be viewed the same way by colleagues.

    4. Can't Sit Still*

      I think the difference is that Melanie brings them up All.The.Time. In every single conversation. If her co-workers are actively avoiding her, it’s a work problem. It would be a problem if it were her cats, Burning Man, her Lego collection, or Game of Thrones. It’s about not listening to others and always having to be the center of the conversation. It’s hard to tell if she’s just starved for adult conversation or if she’s always been self-centered, but that’s not something her manager should have to sort out.

      Also, I’m sorry you have such a controlling, obsessive boss. That sort of nitpicking drives me nuts, too.

    5. em2mb*

      It sounds like the OP tried to couch it in language about professional norms – “Hey, you might not have realized it, but you talk about your kids and husband so much that other employees are actively avoiding having to talk to you.” I *could* see why this felt out of the blue to Melanie, though, if in six months no one’s tried to redirect her to work-related topics when she brought up her family.

      I can’t imagine having a boss that commented on the state of my nail polish, though. That’s just … wow. Who notices, and even if they do, why say anything unless the words, “Do you have a good manicurist?” just left your employee’s mouth?

      1. Thinking Outside the Boss*

        I assumed when I read the post that the OP had these conversations with Melanie before the eval because that’s what I would do with one of my direct reports. However, your post gives me pause for concern about whether the OP did have those conversations before the eval because the OP didn’t include that information.

        If the OP didn’t have those pre-eval conversations, then it wasn’t fair to put it in the eval for the first time. That being said, every rating was “exceeds expectations,” and to get such an aggressive response from the husband and Melanie agreeing that the husband’s contact is okay just leaves me gobsmacked.

        I would send Melanie on her way.

        1. Natalie*

          Huh, this made me think a bit because I am a huge, huge believer that stuff in a review shouldn’t be a surprise (and had my own horrible experience with that), but this doesn’t seem so out of line to me. I think I’m envisioning more as general coaching, and a six month review seems like a perfectly reasonable time to bring that up.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes. And also, while it’s true that ideally nothing in a review should be a surprise, managers are human and sometimes you aren’t fully able to articulate that something is a problem or could be improved until you’re doing the sort of structured step-back-and-reflect that you do when putting together a review. And when that happens, you can’t just not raise it because you didn’t bring it up earlier. (Although you should acknowledge that you wish you had.)

          2. MegaMoose, Esq*

            This is such a weird, big picture kind of thing that it makes sense to me to bring it up in a review. It’s not really the sort of thing where calling attention to it at the time would be a good idea, and it seems like it would be treating it too seriously to call a separate meeting just to talk about it. It seems like the OP thought this would be a convenient time to bring up something that he (quite reasonably!) thought would not be a huge issue, and it (quite unreasonably) exploded.

            1. Turtle Candle*

              Yes, I think that this kind of thing that’s very difficult to bring up in the moment or immediately, so to speak. Anything where the problem isn’t the individual actions but the pattern of behavior is like that. It’s relatively straightforward to say, “Hey, your analysis on the March teapot report was really good, but I noticed a fair number of typos. Can you please spend more time proofreading in the future?”–each individual instance of ‘report full of typos’ is itself a potential problem (although not a huge one if it’s caught and corrected early). But when the problem is something where it’s okay once in a while but adds up to A Problem if it continues frequently over time, it can be really tricky to figure out when things have gotten bad enough to merit a talk. (Also, while I get that bringing things up in a review can be very weighted, calling someone into your office to offer specific criticism can also be very weighted; if the LW thought this was a minor-but-annoying thing and not a big deal, they might very well have deliberately tacked it onto an otherwise very positive review precisely because they didn’t want to make it seem like more of a big deal than it was. Mileage varies a lot on this kind of thing.)

    6. Yorick*

      OP says she will interrupt a work conversation to talk about husband and kids, which means it is really getting in the way of work.

    7. Alton*

      I think the main issue is probably Melanie derailing work conversations too often. With regards to her annoying her colleagues, I partially agree with you. I think it’s something that should definitely be brought up if it’s intruding on other people’s work (like Melanie hovering in people’s office doors while they’re trying to work). Otherwise, I’m on the fence. I don’t think it’s a terrible idea for a manager to let someone know that their behavior is off-putting or affecting office morale, but I think critiques about casual interaction between employees that doesn’t impact work much can feel intrusive when included in official reviews.

    8. Not So NewReader*

      Nearly every conversation? No, that is not appropriate.

      Actually your boss is similar with his chronic nit-picky criticism. That is not appropriate either. I have stronger words for what your boss is doing but I will hold myself back. If he is looking at chipped nail polish how much of what you just said about work do you think he heard and understood? Not too much, right? You less willing to want to talk to him about something else, too. Same deal here for OP.

      You: “Jane will you help me find the Smith file?”
      Jane: “Oh. Let me tell you the cute thing Junior did last night…”
      Right away you know, Jane is not that helpful in looking for the Smith file.

      She did not get dinged for it. She did well in all her categorizes of her evaluation. It was a comment.

      It must have been necessary to say it because it blew up pretty darn quick. She not only insisted she was right in talking about her family all the time but she enlisted her husband to call/email/bother the OP endlessly. And she thinks her husband is right in launching this harassment campaign. She has a very strange sense of what is “right”.

      I hope you find a better boss soon.

  17. Murphy*

    I agree with Alison. If people are actively avoiding her because of this habit, then it’s definitely a big deal.

  18. Jessesgirl72*

    I really wish it could be gotten through to the American people that Freedom of Speech protects you from being thrown in jail or otherwise persecuted By.The.Governement for talking about your children or X, Y, Z.

    It doesn’t not prevent your employer from firing you for it, or from there being other consequences from private citizens or corporations about what you say, except that pertain to the specific protected classes.

    I know that Alison doesn’t think she should be fired immediately, but it seems like a lot of wasted time and effort on someone who is going to need to be fired later.

    If the calls and emails persist after the OP tells the husband to stop, he should contact the local authorities and likely is going to need to file for a restraining order. Hopefully, if that becomes necessary, Melanie will quit.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      I always wish for an edit feature, but on this post, I needed it even more than usual. *sigh*

      Government, take out the not after doesn’t, and probably other errors.

    2. all aboard the anon train*

      One of my biggest annoyances in life is that the people who use “freedom of speech” as justification for anything they say don’t actually understand why freedom of speech was implemented or what it protects. I don’t know if this is due to pure ignorance or assumption about the meaning or because they were never taught the true meaning in school.

    3. someone else*

      Seriously, this bothers me. Have you been arrested? Charged with a crime? No? Then your freedom of speech has not been violated.
      (It’s a little more complicated than that, obviously, but my generalization is a lot closer to the meaning of freedom of speech than “I can say whatever I want” is.)

      1. MegaMoose, Esq*

        Oh yeah. I have an extremely hard time taking anything one says seriously if they include a “but free speech!” argument in there.

    4. Collarbone High*

      Right, and if Melanie has the idea that “freedom of speech” means her boss can’t criticize anything she says … she’s not ever going to be a coachable employee.

      1. AnonAnalyst*

        Especially at six months in. I always feel like I am still trying to make a good impression at six months, so if my boss wants to give me feedback about how I can improve in that work place? I’ll take it and do what I can to address it.

    5. Peaches*

      I have the xkcd “free Speech” strip bookmarked for this reason. I just throw the link out there when I’m too tired to have that argument *again*. I particularly like the line “it doesn’t shield you from criticism or consequences”, because the idea that one person’s free speech means that other people who disagree should have to sit and listen, with no right to speak up in protest? That’s censorship, not free speech.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        Psst. It’s also only censorship when it comes from a government entity. ;)

        If I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen someone complain that a website comments section is censoring them… No, they are just exercising their rights as a private enterprise/person, and have the legal right to delete whatever posts they want, even if said posts they are stopping are only liberal/conservative ones.

        The analogy I used to use is that if the police come in and make you take down something you’ve written on the walls of your own house, that’s censorship. If they come in because you’re neighbor has called them because you’ve written something they don’t like on the walls of their house, that’s not censorship.

        1. Zombii*

          Psst. It’s also only censorship when it comes from a government entity. ;)

          Not true. Anyone with sufficient power to do so can censor, but censorship isn’t illegal except in the case of the government suppressing free speech. Suppressing information that the controlling entity objects to is the definition of censorship, so yes, website comment sections frequently censor opinions they object to. That’s okay though, because freedom of speech doesn’t mean you get to stand on someone’s front lawn shouting viewpoints they disagree with.

          Conflating censorship and freedom of speech gets confusing fast. The analogy you use to explain censorship is the same analogy a professor of mine used to explain freedom of speech. ;)

  19. Bend & Snap*

    I mean. Fired. Surely there’s a great receptionist out there who doesn’t have harassing relatives.

  20. Wild Feminist*

    OP says that Melanie has never had another job, but probably to Melanie (and lots of other SAHMs), her children, family, and husband were and are her job. So while a different employee may irritatingly constantly bring up a previous job at the teapot factory (well back when I worked at Teapot Factory X, we did it this way…), Melanie may be bringing up the various things she has done or is doing as part of her Family Job. Or I could just be projecting as a current SAHM and work from home mom, because society doesn’t hold the jobs that women do as a SAHM as “valid” while paid work is valid.

    1. Leatherwings*

      But I would say that this sort of constant talking about a single subject would be really inappropriate even if the employee were talking about their previous jobs. Imagine how old and unprofessional it would get if someone was constantly saying “at my old job we did XYZ” and telling stories about old coworkers that your new coworkers have never met. It would be the same issue. I don’t think this advice is biased against stay at home moms at all.

      1. bossy*

        I had a coworker who brought up his old job constantly like this and it was annoying. I highly doubt it was brought up on his performance review.

        I wonder if the real problem with Melanie is highjacking conversations rather than her go-to topic.

        I guess I agree with Wild Feminist’s point that this feedback could be viewed as somewhat gendered.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq*

          I actually had a performance review where I was told that I brought up “the old team did this” too much. Everyone on the team had left but me, and I was really focused on not making the same mistakes as we had in the past. I think I had some good points, but my manager had a good point too that the way I was framing things was putting people off.

      2. Jen S. 2.0*

        Agreed. We’ve all known that person who moved near us from elsewhere, and they can’t stop talking about how things were in their old home. The urge to encourage them to move back there if it’s so great can be … strong.

    2. Anonymous 40*

      But a coworker who constantly brought up an old job this way would get this same feedback, at least from me. They’d probably get it much sooner, in fact.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Yes, actually I think I’d be faster to shut that down if it was a constant mention of an old workplace.

      2. SystemsLady*

        Aside from being obnoxious, it has the potential to become a work problem much, much quicker (“well, at Old Job, WE did it THIS WAY”).

        1. Aunt Margie at Work*

          I am pretty sure Alison got this exact question. Something like: How do I manage a new hire who responds to every task with, “at my last job we did it this way.”

          1. Natalie*

            I think so. I have had two jobs in my field, so at this job I’ve been pretty conscious to keep “at my last place” to a minimum, and usually in general conversations about Field rather than specific conversations about how work proceeds here. I’m sure I learned that here.

          2. BananaPants*

            We have colleague who’s been working here for a year and a half who’s brilliant and has 30 years of experience after his post-doc, and the poor guy CANNOT get past, “But at my last company, I could order $40K worth of equipment” or “At Teapots Unlimited I could bring in chemicals without EH&S approval!” Eventually you just want to interrupt him to say, “You don’t work for Teapots Unlimited anymore. Now you work here and things are different.”

            1. Former Employee*

              I’ve always tried to bring in “prior experience with this type of situation” rather than saying “at my old job…”.

              I’ve known people to get so annoyed that they were ready to ask the person: “If things were so great at your old job, why did you leave?” I never heard anyone actually say it. (It would be too awful if it turned out that they had been laid off, for example.)

      3. Vin Packer*

        Right, like Phoebe on Magic School Bus. Don’t be the “at my old school, we never rocketed into space” girl.

    3. Turtle Candle*

      That’s entirely possible, but if I had an employee who derailed literally every discussion into “well back when I was at Teapots Inc, we did this,” I’d reach a point where I needed to say something about it too. In fact, I have actually seen that happen–someone moved from a different software company to my company, and after a couple of months had to be told something along the lines of, “Are you aware that you bring up Company X in every discussion. Company X is in a slightly different industry and has a very different corporate culture, and at this point constantly bringing up the comparison isn’t helpful, it’s distracting and often irrelevant. I need you to dial it way back.”

    4. SarcasticFringehead*

      This is a really good point to keep in mind, and why I like the messaging people are talking about above – making sure to focus on the fact that she’s derailing work conversations with personal topics, rather than that she’s talking about her kids too much. There’s a lot of Stuff around gender and motherhood that can be in play here, so it’s especially important to make sure it’s a work-related concern.

    5. Temperance*

      Not to start the mommy wars, or to engage in it, it would be really weird and wildly out of touch in most workplaces to compare keeping a schedule for a family/little kids to office time management. It’s not to say that homemaking and childcare have no value, it’s more that the things that make someone a good SAHM aren’t typically directly applicable in the office and it seems really forced to try and compare the two.

      It’s also really undermining this woman as a competent professional to exclusively talk about her husband and kids, because it makes her seem one dimensional and not very interesting. She is a person, and not just a Wife and a Mother, you know?

      1. bossy*

        “its moe that the things that make someone a good SAHM aren’t typically directly applicable in the office and it seems really forced to try and compare the two”

        I soooo disagree with this. As someone who worked, had my children late and stayed home for a few years, and then returned to the workforce, I can tell you there were definitely skills I picked up as a SAHM that benefited me on my return to work. Time management was one. Prioritizing and executing; focusing amidst chaos; ordering others about without making them feel bad… I could go on and on.

        1. Temperance*

          See, the list that you provided is exactly what I think makes being an SAHM not really comparable to the workforce, especially that last one. Directing children isn’t really comparable to managing adults. I always see lists like “time management” or “working more than full-time”, and I just think it comes off as tone deaf.

          If you’re home with kids, you’re likely working on a kid’s schedule. That isn’t really the same as completing projects by a deadline for work (example).

          1. Admin Assistant*

            Yeah, I think if you had literally no other job experience you could mayyyyyyybe cite being an SAHM when detailing certain skills, but I think interviewers would much rather hear work-related examples because they’re way more relevant.

        2. Admin Assistant*

          I think one could objectively make a case that being a SAHM of multiple kids helped hone one’s time management skills in certain instances, but I think it sounds too out of touch and loaded to cite that in a job interview or at work. It might work if your interviewer is a parent and had similar thoughts, but I think it’s more likely to backfire and make them wonder if you understand professional norms.

          1. Vin Packer*

            I think this is because there’s no oversight, really. Like, you can say you were a great SAHM because of x or y but you don’t have references or a supervisor that can corroborate. And “great” for a SAHM means very different things to different people. There’s no paper trail and most of the labor has to be redone over and over so there are no clear one-time “achievements.”

            The work itself is real and valid but it’s not measurable in a way that translates to offices and such.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I agree–nobody knows if you’ve managed to get little Hortense, Aloysius, Tiberius, and Susan to all their activities because you’re organized or because you left your house looking like a tornado just went through it.

              The work equivalent could be getting a conference room and catering set up prior to an important meeting with Fergus, Valentina, Persephone, and Rita but leaving ten overdue reports on your desk after you got caught up in meeting preparations and thought, “I’ll get to that later.”

            2. Admin Assistant*

              This is a really good point — who are you gonna ask for a reference? Your husband? Your mother? Your neighbor?

            3. Lablizard*

              Also, everyone thinks they are a great parent, but not everyone is, so the self-assessment isn’t so helpful.

          2. New hiring manager*

            Yes, this. Being a SAHM is certainly a busy job full of all kinds of responsibility and putting out fires, but making the kinds of comparisons above would sound out of touch and certainly backfire.

            1. Sprinkled with Snark*

              As a woman who does NOT have children, I will agree that SAHM’s are busy, capable, talented, resourceful, etc, etc, and even if they were the very best SAHM on the planet, the difference all comes down to the third word–HOME. It’s YOUR home. You are the boss of tiny little humans who cry and wet and nap and throw tantrums and you are the one who gets to decide everything in your own home. I work AWAY – -every single day of my working life, I have to get up, get dressed, get out, get my deadlines met, get my adult co-workers to cooperate with me, and more than anything else, I have to learn how to work with people, negotiate for sometimes very minor things, and always be professional and polite no matter what is thrown on my desk at the last minute from working parents who see no problem what-so-ever loading their unfinished tasks on my desk as they leave for little Fergus’ soccer game. “You wouldn’t mind, Sprinkles, please? Being a good mommy to Fergus is the most important job in the world! You’ll understand when you have kids.”

              So, I DO have a lot of respect for working parents because they have to try to accomplish the same things that I am at work, and they have a Fergus or two at home. But when a huge part of your day is spent drawing chalk stick figures in the driveway, or cutting crusts off the bread, or blowing bubbles in the yard, or getting Fergus to the new Disney movie “on time,” or figuring out how to stop your own child from crying in your home, then, I’m sorry to say, you cannot tell me that those activities have prepared you, or have given you the equivalent of any real world work experience unless you are now working as a professional child care provider or nanny. That doesn’t mean that you are not organized, resourceful, or creative. Those are shared qualities, not shared experiences.

        3. Artemesia*

          When I taught at a university it was the middle aged mothers even those of average intellect who always seemed to do best. they knew how to juggle lots of responsibilities. I know many people who have recruited employees from women who volunteer and help them make the transition to full time employment as their kids get older. A well organized mother who volunteers and is active in her community usually has good time management skills and the ability to get things done efficiently. Obviously person specific, but the skills are transferable for those who have them.

          1. Al Lo*

            But then I would argue that it’s the volunteer experience that provides the reference, not the SAHM-ness. My mom is one of those — she left the workforce 35 years ago, and never went back, but she’s been a “professional volunteer” ever since we were old enough to take care of ourselves. She currently does the equivalent of at least one part-time job in a volunteer capacity, and her experience over the past 20+ years has gotten her scouted for several jobs. None of them have been the right fit, for various reasons, but the offers came through networking or seeing her skillsets from the volunteer work, not from the fact that she was a SAHM who raised 3 kids to adulthood without any major catastrophes.

          2. Kate*

            As far as middle aged mothers go, I have met lots of mothers with terrible time management skills, messy houses, and badly behaved kids who aren’t being clothed or fed properly. Being a mother does not a success make. Nor does it mean you have good time management skills.

            I agree with you that if the specific person has the skills though, they are probably transferable.

        4. Emilia Bedelia*

          I have the same exact skills…but I have never been a parent. I learned time management from having many hobbies and extracurricular activities, prioritizing and executing from being a leader/organizer in my community, and focusing amidst chaos/ordering people around by playing sports. And I do all these things while having a 9-5 job as well. Bringing up skills that you learn from being a SAHM is like saying that I have good time management skills because I make time to go to the gym, go grocery shopping, AND vacuum in one evening-this is part of handling day to day activities as an adult and mentioning it as a special skill set comes across as… naive.
          Not to say that being a SAHP isn’t difficult in its own way, but it’s not really something that should be brought up as a transferrable job skill.

          1. Temperance*

            I always think this stuff, too. I eyeroll whenever those stupid articles about how a man “can’t afford” his stay-at-home wife, because she’s a Chef, a Nurse, a CEO, a Cab Driver, a Housekeeper … etc. Just, ugh. This is called being an adult, we all do it, and we don’t get to claim that we’re nurses because we put band-aids on ourselves.

        5. BananaPants*

          Several coworkers and I were recently discussing those BS clickbait articles about, “A SAHM is worth a $350K salary because she does the job of a CEO, an accountant, a nurse, a chauffeur, a personal chef, and a housekeeper!” Yeah, no. Working parents – plus people with no children – manage to do all of that stuff too. It’s called being a functional adult.

          My husband was a SAHD of our two small children for a year. Parenting small kids is not the same as managing or even working with adults. The day I see a resume or cover letter proclaiming the skill of “focusing amidst chaos” or “time management” gained due to being a SAHP is the day that candidate’s resume goes in the proverbial circular file.

          1. Temperance*

            Whenever I see those articles come up, I honestly do get all snarky and say “WELL I’M WORTH OVER $400K BECAUSE I GET PAID AND DO ALL THAT OTHER CRAP, TOO”.

    6. Yorick*

      What she’s doing is actually worse if she’s thinking of it this way. Being a SAHM takes a lot of effort and all, but it is not a career, and it is certainly not relevant to your current job the way someone else’s ex-job might be.

    7. Liane*

      She is talking about a Non-Work Subject during Work Meetings about Work Topic/s. It doesn’t matter if the topic is My Very Wonderful Family, Wild & Crazy Super Bowl, Will Chris Hemsworth be Shirtless in Thor Ragnarok?, My $1000 Each Hubcaps or whatever.

      I used to have a full-time WFH job and currently have a part time WFH writing/editing job. I guarantee you I would not be happy with someone repeatedly trying to talk to me about Star Wars (and I adore Star Wars and can talk about it for hours) **while I am trying to get my work done.**

        1. Serafina*

          Hells, yeah, that topic deserves to fall under the exception for “Matters of Great Public Import”!

          In all seriousness, off-task discussions will happen now and then, and aren’t a good deal…so long as it’s just “now and then” and only occupies a few moments. (Maybe a little more on a Friday afternoon.) But when every single interaction with Worker is derailed by veering into Worker’s Favorite Topic, then Worker needs to be counseled to stay on task and on topic.

          1. Serafina*

            Mm, yeah. Add to that “Will Heimdall Be Shirtless in Thor: Ragnarok” and if we get a “yes” to all three, we can all just take off from work and move into the movie theaters!

        2. Anonymous 40*

          I was teasing my wife last night that with the haircut he apparently gets partway through, she gets both Thor and Spartacus in this one.

      1. OhNo*

        As an aside, I would be very excited if work meetings got derailed by conversations like Will Chris Hemsworth be Shirtless in Thor Ragnarok? Alas, everyone in my department is very professional, so it’s unlikely to happen. Oh, well.

        1. Amadeo*

          I work with a couple of straight dudes, so it’s not likely to happen for me either. I’d have to go upstairs where the rest of the marketing team works to find a more appreciative audience for this particular discussion.

    8. Collarbone High*

      Eh, I once worked with someone who had done an internship at Ultra Prestigious Teapots Inc. and started nearly every sentence with “When I worked at Ultra Prestigious …”

      The rest of the staff called her Band Camp (as in, “this one time, at band camp”) and management tolerated it for the first month or so before telling her in no uncertain terms that while it might occasionally be relevant to suggest a better way of doing something, she didn’t work there anymore and should knock it off. It’s not that she’s talking about family; that frequency would be irritating and inappropriate no matter what the topic.

  21. LawCat*

    The husband is definitely a problem and way out of bounds.

    But the excessive talking about non-work topics that are not of interest to others (here, Melanie’s kids) seems a little hazier. Alison’s advice is spot on there, but I wonder on the evaluations. If “relationships and communication with coworkers” actually is something that impacts the work, that may be something to evaluate in performance. There’s no reason that can’t be revisited. I think it could be confusing, especially for someone new to the working world, to be “exceeding expectations” on what seems to matter with performance in a formal evaluation, while failing on something that isn’t so clearly identified. She may “need improvement” there, but fail to see it, or not really understand the impact of failing to improve in this area when it comes to her job. Building that into the evaluation could help clarify that for her.

    1. LawCat*

      I mention this because I’ve seen really green people get burned by criteria that seem common sense to the folks with experience, but seemed like secret criteria to the newbies.

      1. Natalie*

        I get that, but I don’t really see Melanie as “getting burned” here – this sort of thing seems totally kosher to bring up in a review, particularly for someone who’s new to the workforce for whatever reason. It can be part of professional coaching, the same way you might tell an employee that their language is a little casual for this office or something.

        Melanie’s husband is certainly *acting* like she got pilloried, but given his behavior generally I don’t think we can rely on him to have evaluated the situation accurately.

        1. LawCat*

          By “getting burned,” I mean getting disciplined including getting fired. Firing is a possibility here so spell. it. out. in the evaluation.

          1. Natalie*

            I didn’t read it that way – it sounded like the LW brought it up as a genuine “needs improvement” and the idea of Melanie getting fired didn’t enter the picture until the husband did.

            Anyway, I agree with you that if firing is ever on the table it should be spelled out really explicitly.

      2. sam*

        right, but at the end of the day, OP gave her a really good evaluation with a “you need to work on this one thing” (which, if you don’t get at least some areas for improvement in even great performance reviews your manager is probably doing something wrong), and she took that one thing and instead of receiving it appropriately…things went haywire.

        So now, as a bonus, there’s a whole new problem – an inability to receive criticism/feedback in a professional manner. Even if she disagreed with the feedback, there’s an appropriate way to disagree with it an an…inappropriate way. and this is so inappropriate that it makes the original topic of criticism look minor in comparison.

      3. OhNo*

        I don’t think she was ever really being judged on it as art of her evaluation – it sounds like the OP gave her “exceeds expectations” in every category, but just mentioned as an aside “Hey, there’s this thing you’re doing that’s bothering people. Can you work on that?” I’ve definitely had reviews like that, where I hit the mark in all the major categories but my boss mentions one or two areas for improvement that don’t rise to the level of bringing down my scores and don’t put my continued employment at risk, but do impact my work in some way.

        Firing only seems to have been brought up as an option because of her response to the feedback. As someone said above, she doubled down. Not only has she not stopped the behavior, but now her husband is getting involved and harassing the OP. Shoehorning your kids into every conversation isn’t a firing offense, but ignoring your boss’ requests, (possible) insubordination, and harassment sure are.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Right. I’ve seen a few comments suggesting that the LW should have been/should be coaching Melanie in this, but the thing is, that’s exactly what I interpreted this as–coaching. Okay, maybe there’s a more felicitous time to coach and employee than at the review, I don’t know… but if someone got “exceeds expectations” in every category, and then got a “here’s something else for you to work on, because it’s not a big enough deal to bring down your ratings but it might hold you back” at the end–well, to me, that is coaching. It’s just that the first time they tried to coach Melanie, they got a demand for apologies to her and her family(!).

          1. Lison*

            This. An exceeded expectation on everything with a side of can you work on one thing and then the manager gets harassed changes a great employee to a “do i want to put up with this on a permanent basis” im in europe so lots more protection for employees but if at the 6 month review this happened I’d expect it to be a you’re not working out here conversation

    2. Artemesia*

      It was not a big deal until her husband flew into a rage and started harassing the OP and the employee thought that was ‘okay’. A little advice about moderating workplace behavior; no big deal. NOW it is a big deal and is about insubordination and harassment. I’d be lining up my ducks to be rid of her — not for the chat, but for the insubordination and the entirely inappropriate behavior of the husband. (supported by the wife’s reaction that he is right to behave like this.) And I’d be alerting security. This is a violent situation at work waiting to happen; this guy is unhinged and enraged over NOTHING.

      1. LawCat*

        Yes, the husband is batshit bananas here.

        On continued off-topic chatting:
        I am not sure on “insubordination” for chitchatting here. Has it been made clear that this chitchat puts her job in jeopardy? Telling her that she’s doing it or that it’s annoying is not the same thing as telling her to stop it.

        On reaction to husband:
        I’m not clear if Melanie is aware of the full content of the email or that he keeps calling. That could certainly impact the decision going-forward. It’s one thing and possibly coachable if Melanie is missing a boundary that husband should not send and email to boss (except in emergency like Melanie is in a coma). It’s quite another if she totally read the email and thinks husband sending tirades to boss is okay when told it is not okay. That’s a serious attitude problem/inability to correct.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq*

          I don’t know, the reaction seems so extreme that I’m kind of thinking insubordination is the right word here. Say your boss says in a review, “excellent job, by the way, but could you please try and tuck your bag further under your desk so people don’t trip over it?” If your response is to shout “I will not and you can’t make me,” then Houston, we have a problem.

        2. Jeanne*

          Insubordination often gets used to lump in any time you disagree with the boss. This certainly isn’t standard insubordination where you refuse to perform a job duty. Her talking about kids too much is very subjective. I think it would be better to focus on the harrassment. The harrassment has to stop and she has to promise it will never happen again. But it doesn’t need a heading like insubordination. The harrassment is wrong because it’s just wrong.

  22. Turtle Candle*

    Whoooo. I skipped over the headline to this one, so when I started reading it, I was like, “Well, that sounds like an irritating quirk of Melanie’s, but if she’s otherwise excellent I might let it go,” and then I got to the email, and the phone calls, and yikes. He wants you to apologize not only to her but to him and the children? And he won’t stop calling? That is an astonishing, even worrying, level of entitlement. If you take Alison’s advice and tell him once, clearly, to stop calling (which I think is a good idea), be prepared to hang up on him, because I am guessing that is the only way you are going to get off the line.

    LW, I can safely say that the reason you have never had to deal with anything like this before is that this is exceptionally, even bizarrely, unusual. Best of luck navigating it.

  23. Anonymous 40*

    What in the world is with the husbands in these letters? It shows a deep insecurity to 1) be so offended by something so minor and 2) be so quick to undermine and infantilize their wives. The demand that the boss also apologize to HIM and the children shows what his real concern is in the situation. Unsurprisingly, it’s all about reinforcing his place at the top of the family hierarchy.

    1. Jeanne*

      I am surprised how often we get letters about family interfering with the workplace. We hear a lot of husbands but also girlfriends and mothers. Where do they learn this is acceptable? It has me so confused. The ones about “can my husband make the out sick call for me” end up seeming so minor. I have whined and complained to my family about work problems, big and small. But in the end I went to work and made my choices.

      1. paul*

        I mean, asking if a spouse can make a call for can make sense; I wound up in the hospital unexpectedly (do not recommend ER visits) years ago and my wife called me in to work because, well, I wasn’t coherent for a bit ;) Sedatives and pain meds and the like….

        1. Jeanne*

          Of course. I’ve had a similar issue. There are still occasional letters about it. But those are easy compared to whatever this guy is doing.

    2. Temperance*

      There isn’t really a comparable cultural element where women would be dominating men, which is why I think this happens. I was raised in a religion that really pushed men as the head of the family, FWIW, and toxic masculinity abounded.

    3. Liane*

      I agree with you about the husbands, but we seem to have gotten an increasing number of letters about family members of all types trying to stick their noses into a relative’s work, over the last year.

      1. Anonymous 40*

        I actually find that refreshing, in an odd sort of way. It’s good to be reminded that it’s not just insecure husbands who can have boundary issues.

    4. BeautifulVoid*

      Letters like this make me think about my own relationship and wonder if we’re the outliers. If I asked my husband right now, I’m not sure he’d be able to tell me the exact name of the company I work for. I’m about 95-99% sure he doesn’t know my boss’s last name (and he’s met her before once or twice). So if he wanted to call her and complain about something on my behalf, he’d either have to take my phone or run a Google search that may or may not be successful.

      And if he did do something like this, I would be HORRIFIED.

      1. OhNo*

        Yeah, I always get weirded out by letters like this. I talk to my dad about work pretty frequently (we like to swap work stories, it’s a Thing), but even so he never even remembers my boss’ or coworkers’ names, and if you ever asked me to name any of his suppliers off the top of my head I’d be at a loss, despite having met several of them.

        Actually, I’m really curious about how common this stuff is now. It might be fun to bring up in a Friday thread – how much do you know about your family member/SO’s work? How much do they know about yours?

        1. Rebecca in Dallas*

          Haha, I know where he works and his boss’ first name, probably a couple of other coworkers’ first names. He tells me all the time about his actual work but he’s an electrical engineer and it’s so far over my head that I just kind of smile and nod. It’s all Greek to me.

      2. Anonymous 40*

        I was thinking about this earlier. My wife probably knows my boss’ last name but certainly doesn’t have her phone number. If she wanted to complain about something the boss did, she’d have to come to the office to do it.

      3. Rebecca in Dallas*

        Yes, I doubt my husband would remember my boss’ name if I asked him. I remember his boss’ first name but not last name and I wouldn’t know how to get a hold of him unless maybe I was going through the contacts in my husband’s phone.

        And if I complained about my boss to my husband he’d be like, “Well, that sucks. Guess you’ll have to work on that or look for a new job.”

      4. Epiphyta*

        About a month ago, I did ask my husband for a contact point within his company: he telecommutes, the company is based a few states over, and if (may the day never come!) he were to be hit by a bus I’d like to know who to call to arrange the return of his work equipment.

      5. Sigrid*

        I was just thinking about this. I’m poly and live with my two partners; I know the first names of Partner A’s boss and boss’s boss, but not their last names, and I don’t even know the first name of anyone Partner B works with, as she always refers to her coworkers with AAM-worthy pseudonyms (e.g. “Crankypants was just moved to the cube next to me and won’t stop complaining”). If either of them ended up incapacitated, I’d have to Google the phone numbers of their companies and tell whomever picked up the phone what happened…

    5. Amazed*

      To be fair, we’re not hearing much about good husbands because that’s not cause to write in! Columns like this one do tend to accentuate the negative.

  24. Amy*

    What really seems like a problem here to me is 1) Melanie’s husband’s behavior, and 2) that apparently Melanie is aware of that behavior and sees no problem with it. That’s incredibly disruptive and obviously outside professional norms, and Melanie not understanding that is pretty worrisome.

    The part about talking about her family a lot…well, I think Alison framed it well. If it’s disruptive to job duties (including maintaining good relationships with coworkers, if that is a requirement for her position), then you need to make it clear what it’s disrupting, and that those disruptions need to stop. If it’s just annoying but doesn’t interfere with her job in any way, then I actually don’t think it was appropriate to bring up in a performance evaluation; those should be focused on her actual performance, not incidental behaviors that don’t have bearing on her work. Either way, just telling her that talking about her kids so much is annoying people probably wasn’t the best way to handle things; if you meant the first one, then you missed the impact part of the conversation, and if you meant the latter, maybe it wasn’t a conversation you should have been having in the first place.

    1. Kathleen Adams*

      I agree that if it’s simply annoying and boring, then coworkers need to just let it go. If I can live in Indiana and live through basketball season (basketball is the state religion here) without smacking any of my coworkers or injuring myself when I pass out from boredom, and my coworkers can put up with my Trekkie-tude, then I think Melanie’s coworkers can put up with tedious anecdotes about hubby and the kids.

      But the whole situation with the husband is a different matter entirely. It’s weird, it’s worrisome, and it’s got to stop.

      1. Temperance*

        I think the difference, though, is that loving Star Trek (which EVERYONE SHOULD DO) or enjoying basketball are hobbies, and you aren’t just a Trekkie, you’re a Competent Professional who loves Star Trek. We have a woman here who has never worked, and who only talks about her husband and kids. She already has to overcome her lack of work experience, and by continually reminding people that she’s a mom first, she’s really putting herself at a disadvantage.

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          I sometimes thinking talking about Trek can put someone at a disadvantage, too, but I don’t care (because, as you say, this is something that EVERYONE SHOULD DO :-)).

          However, while I think it would be a good thing for the OP to tell her that this is hindering people’s perception of her and that this is information it could benefit her to know, if Melanie hears that and nonetheless decides to continue boring people…well, you know, that’s her choice. What I mean is that so long as it doesn’t affect her ability to do her job, she’s got a perfect right to be as boring as she wants.

          There are jobs where it might really affect her effectiveness. But in most jobs, you can be boring and still do an acceptable job. As Alison said, the OP needs to figure out how much – or if – Melanie’s method of being boring is actually affecting her performance. From what is written here, it really doesn’t sound as though it is.

          1. Whats In A Name*

            My guess would be, though, that you are not inserting talk about Trek into every work-related conversation or meeting just to talk about it. As Temperance mentioned above; there are professionals who loves Trek. Their job function comes first and if time allows or related subject comes up they talk Trek.

            Then there are Trekkies who have to have a job. They let everyone know they will always be preoccupied with Trek and remind them of that during each work conversation.

            That is the big difference here. Melanie just happens to be a mom but it’s really no different.

        2. Amy*

          And if her job hinges on people either liking to talk to her, or respecting her professional experience, that might be significant for her manager to bring up. But if she’s able to do everything she needs to do regardless of those things, and it’s just kind of annoying, then I think it’s also worth weighing the impact before making a comment (with the weight of ‘this is my manager saying this’ behind it)–and I especially don’t think that a performance review is the place for it.

  25. amy*

    Restraining order against the husband. Tell him never to call or contact you again unless there’s a work-related emergency involving Melanie, and if he steps over that line, RO.

    It’s not Melanie’s fault that he behaves like a crazy person. Don’t punish women for what their husbands do. As for Melanie’s topic of conversation, it’s not a crime. It’s actually fairly normal for people to talk about their families at work. Your office might be unusual in that regard, but either way — nah, I’m not seeing what the big deal is. If she’s just rattling on and people are trying to get back to work, maybe ask her to keep her conversations brief? But if other people are talking forever about their furniture or vacations or whatever, understand that it’s really no different.

    1. Leatherwings*

      Jumping to a restraining order is a HUGE HUGE jump. Particularly since it doesn’t appear that OP has actually told the husband to stop talking to her. That doesn’t mean the behavior is in any way appropriate, but jumping to legal action is not the best solution.

      1. Squeeble*

        Seriously, there’s no reason to go nuclear right away. And OP even said that Melanie has no problem with her husband’s position or involvement.

      2. Jessesgirl72*

        But sometimes these things do spiral out of control quickly, too.

        I’d start with telling him to stop. Then having Legal send him a quick cease and desist, then contacting the police, and then the restraining order.

        99% of people are going to stop before you call the police. The ones who don’t, you need that restraining order for!

        1. Leatherwings*

          Restraining orders can also escalate already violent or threatening behaviors though. There may be a point at which OP needs to consider this, but it’s certainly not right now.

          1. Jessesgirl72*

            Meh. My parents had to get one against the angry husband of the woman my expletive brother was having an affair with. It doesn’t stop the insane ones, but even the ones who are mildly unhinged enough to start making threats against someone’s relatives and calling over and over are normally brought back to sanity by the restraining order.

            Honestly, I’d just fire Melanie on the spot (she’s only been there 6 months, for Pete’s sake!) but the OP seems unwilling or unable to do that.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              OP probably cannot believe how fast this became a mess. I know I would have problems with “how does a simple request get so huge?”.

      3. mrs__peel*

        I don’t think it’s THAT huge a jump, when someone is already harassing you with repeated calls and letters and making angry demands.

        Workplace violence is unfortunately common enough that I would personally err on the side of caution. Especially if I was a supervisor with responsibility for other employees’ safety. A lot of violent situations that you read about in the news start off in a very similar manner and escalate.

    2. Blue eagle*

      But obviously she was the one who told him about what the manager said. And the manager said that she knows about her husband calling and agrees with him. She doesn’t get a pass on what her husband is doing as she complained to him in the first place and supports his actions.

      1. HisGirlFriday*

        Except we don’t know exactly how she framed it to the husband. There’s been more than one commenter over the years who’s mentioned that an employee complained to a spouse about behavior that wasn’t actually happening or who exaggerated it.

        Don’t get me wrong, no matter what, Melanie’s husband is way out of line, but we also don’t know what Melanie told him was said.

      2. SystemsLady*

        She might not know how much he is doing it or that he’s demanding an apology *to him*.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Ideally, when she was informed that her husband was calling repeatedly, the next sentence would have been, “And it has now become your responsibility to tell him to stop this IMMEDIATELY.”

        OP, it’s very important to match what we see coming at us. It is okay to put your foot down with unacceptable behavior. Matter of fact, it’s important to put your foot down.

        1. amy*

          Sorry, he’s a grown man. She’s not responsible for his behavior. If you want him to stop, make him stop. You can tell him to stop, and then, if he doesn’t, you can take legal action.

          Those are the avenues open. She’s not his mom.

    3. INeedANap*

      No one wants to punish Melanie for what her husband doing. The point is that Melanie herself is actively supporting her husband’s harassment. Melanie is facing the consequences of (not getting punished – she is not a child and OP is her boss, not her parent) her own action in agreeing with what her husband is doing.

      I think you’re overstating the reaction to Melanie’s topic – no one is suggesting this is any different than talking about furniture or vacations. We’re saying that the obsession with this topic of conversation is impeding her ability to have useful connections with her co-workers – and that is a big deal. If someone talked about their sofa in the middle of having a work discussion – which is what OP is describing considering Melanie did this in the middle of her performance review – that would be equally as inappropriate as talking about family.

      If you literally can’t get through a single work related discussion without talking about something not work related, that’s the real issue.

      1. amy*

        It doesn’t matter what Melanie thinks of his actions. She’s not the boss of him; he’s a grownup. If he can’t stop himself from dialing the phone, a RO might help remind him that dialing the phone will be expensive for him.

        Melanie is a separate person, not a husband-extension.

        People who work together frequently talk about family in the middle of work-related conversations. As a matter of fact, fully two-thirds of my last evaluation was chitchat about kids and vacations. It is in fact part of work conversation; it’s part of how coworkers get to know and trust each other. If you talk about nothing but work, fine, but understand that much of the working world builds relationships by talking about family life.

    4. LavaLamp*

      You cant just get a restraining order against someone like that. You have to prove that someone is actually stalking you or doing something equally threatening and I don’t think badgering someone with telephone calls rises to that level. In fact, some cities won’t give out a protective order without the defendant being a prior romantic partner. Nothing against you Amy, but I see this tossed around often and they just don’t work like that.

      Does Melanie even know what her husband said? I can picture him spinning a different story to her so she thinks whatever happened is okay when it’s obviously not.

    5. Anonymous 40*

      The letter makes it very clear that it’s about the constancy and intrusiveness of Melanie’s talk about her family, not that the OP wants her to never mention them. Nothing in the letter suggests that at all. If someone were shoehorning their furniture or vacations into every conversation, including unrelated work matters, the problem would be the same.

    6. Dweali*

      Sorry but when you accept what a person from your personal life does to someone in your professional life (the fact that she isn’t horrified/embarrassed/upset by spouses behavior) then being terminated from your job is an acceptable consequence. Also I think this worker is going on too much about her private life (indicated by her repeatedly bringing it up during a review–before or after the review might not have been too big a deal but not during) and the fact that co-workers are actively avoiding her.

  26. mrs__peel*

    ” if Melanie were being abused or controlled by her spouse and was horrified by his outreach to you, that would be a different thing”

    I don’t think it’s at all unusual for people to defend the actions of an abusive or controlling spouse, is it? There’s an element of (for lack of a better word) brainwashing that often goes on in abusive relationships.

    From the information we have, it’s hard to say one way or other if Melanie’s husband is actually abusive or controlling to her. But I wouldn’t assume that he *wasn’t*, just because she defended his actions.

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      But all OP can go by is what he knows, which is what Melanie has told him. I assumed Alison meant that if the OP knew or had reason to know she was being abused. But they don’t know that. All they know is that Melanie has said that she thinks it’s fine.

  27. Blue eagle*

    What if every time she brought up personal stories during a work meeting, the manager or employer said “why are you bringing up personal stories during this work conversation? they may do it on TV like that but it is not appropriate in a business setting.”

    Maybe if everyone started saying this same thing every time she brought up personal stories during a work conversation (maybe it would be OK to share her personal stories if people were having a non-work conversation) instead of avoiding her, she may get the point.

      1. BPT*

        I mean I don’t necessarily endorse the approach, but it seems the opposite of passive aggressive to me. It does seem like a direct approach…they’ve already told her to cut back on the topic. And then every time she brings it up they remind her it’s not appropriate. That’s about as direct as you can get.

        1. SystemsLady*

          The TV bit comes off to me as judgmental in a passive aggressive sense and I’d avoid it. But I agree the first part is direct. If not a bit too direct, I’d opt for something a little more natural (“Sorry, Melanie, but I need to get back to my work and don’t have time to chat” or “going back to the copier issue, what do you think about…”).

        2. Liane*

          Yes, and Alison often recommends “in the moment” for pointing out things. “Fergus, you’re humming again while we check teakettle decibels.”

        3. Natalie*

          I think the general adage “praise in public, correct in private” still holds true here.

          1. Natalie*

            I guess I’m assuming these work meetings have other people in them, which might not be the case.

          2. BPT*

            In general yes, but although I wouldn’t phrase it quite like Blue Eagle did, I think it’s important to course correct in the moment, at least to keep her from going off into a tangent. Something like, “We need to keep a tight schedule in this meeting; let’s keep all personal and off topic stories for later.”

            1. Natalie*

              Yeah, I’d be totally fine with that. I think the leading question (“why are you…”) is the part that I am not okay with, and FWIW also reads as passive aggressive to me. You don’t really want to know why, and why doesn’t really matter. Don’t ask why someone is doing something if what you’re trying to communicate is actually “stop doing that”.

      2. Bookworm*

        I’m confused about how this is passive-aggressive. Avoiding her is passive-aggressive. Asking her point blank why she’s bringing up unrelated topics seems fairly straightforward. (Although I think the TV thing would be hard to say without coming off snide.)

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      Certainly it would be more effective to shut down the off-topic drift in the moment, rather than at the 6 month evaluation.

  28. Case of the Mondays*

    I would be a little more cautious than what was stated in the initial advice. My state protects employees from job discrimination based on marital or familial status. Do you ask all employees to stop derailing conversations by talking about their personal life? If not, it might look like you are treating her differently for talking about her spouse/kids. It sounds like you gave her constructive criticism based on an annoyance. If you were my client, I’d suggest you do the following:

    (1) Tell the employee that it was a constructive criticism, not something she’s actually losing points over. You want her to succeed and get along well with her colleagues so you wanted to give her the feedback that she talks about the family a little too much. (In some conservative communities, this type of feedback could be seen as very offensive. You always mention spouse and kids to make clear that you aren’t hitting on someone. I disagree with this type of culture personally but you need to know what you are up against and you don’t want it to turn into a religious discrimination issue too.)

    (2) Tell the employee that you are not allowed to discuss her work with her husband and that you will be telling husband that too. Ask her to pass along that the two of you have worked the issue out and that he needs to stop contacting work. If he can’t respect professional boundaries, she will have to be let go.

    (3) Write husband back and tell her that you cannot discuss an employee with a non-employee and that any follow up questions or concerns should be sent through wife. Request that he stop contacting you and that if he ignores such request he will be considered harassing.

    If all of the above fail, then and only then start working towards getting rid of the receptionist. I see this as a potentially sticky legal situation though due to familial status and possible religious claims. To be clear – I DO NOT think you are in the wrong. I’m just in the business of avoiding litigation because even if you are right, it is very costly to defend. A few extra steps can make the difference between a plaintiffs lawyer saying “no thanks” to a case or “I’ll take a stab at it.” You want to make very clear you were not treating her differently than single employees or those that discuss other mundane hobbies.

    1. MuseumChick*

      Given the LW the benefit of the doubt here, it sounds like the employee is derailing work-related conversations to bring up her personal life and it has gotten to the point where co-workers actively avoid her which could cause a disruptions to work flow. It’s perfectly legitimate to ask an employee to stop doing these things. If the topic was, say, Civil War re-enactment (I worked with a couple of people who did this as a hobby) and it was causing a similar disruption, yes, the employer should talk to them about it.

      Others have mentioned framing the conversation as “your personal life” rather than “your husband and children” which I think is a good way to go.

      I like your point 3 since it leaves a paper trail that the LW can use if the husband doesn’t stop. Hopefully this won’t rise to the level of needing a restraining order but it is a possibility.

    2. bridget*

      As a nitpick, I think there is little chance of a valid religious discrimination issue here. The cultural habit of bringing up your family a lot in order to maintain a sense of propriety that is important to you because of your religion is not the same thing as a “religious practice” (like Sabbath day observance, observing particular diets, or needing time to pray at certain times). I would be very surprised if someone had a sincerely held religious belief that they must make a comment about their family in every context possible.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That would be unusual enough that Melanie would need to clearly state that to the OP and ask for accommodation; if she doesn’t do that, the OP doesn’t need to worry about religious discrimination for something that probably isn’t the case. And even if she did ask for that, if it’s disrupting the office in the way it sounds like it is, it may be an accommodation the OP has to give her. Either way, probably doesn’t matter at this point because the OP can just fire her for the husband’s harassment.

    3. WellRed*

      But, to your point number 3, he shouldn’t be sending any questions or concerns because he Doesn’t Work There.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq*

        I read it more that if the wife has further concerns she needs to be the one to raise them (and not in a “my husband said” way). Just because a concern was first pointed out by one’s spouse doesn’t mean it’s invalid.

    4. BF50*

      I highly doubt she is the only parent or married person in the organization.
      This is not a dismissal for familial status but for 1) failing to take criticism, 2) disrupting work with off topic chat and alienating coworkers, 3) allowing a family member to harass her boss.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq*

        Other members of a protected class do not need to be subject to the same discrimination in order for a discrimination claim to be successful, however. The individual only needs to be subject to the negative employment outcome because of her protected class.

        1. Anna*

          This wouldn’t come close to discrimination based on a protected class and when people bring up these sorts of scare tactic “be careful” warnings, it reinforces the idea that people who ARE being discriminated against based on their protected class are making it up.

  29. whowho*

    Yeah she’s going to have to be fired. Because you know she won’t stop talking about her husband and kids (ugh!) and he won’t stop contacting the OP.

    And the OP will probably have to get a restraining order against the husband when that happens. These two are off-the-charts CRAY. I feel sorry for their kids.

  30. LSP*

    OP, FWIW, in case Melanie tries to echo her husbands arguments about free speech, he seems to have made the same mistake people make all the time. The right to freedom of speech means that we live in a country where you cannot be arrested or persecuted by the government for saying what you believe (with a few specific exceptions). This does not mean you are not accountable for your behavior, however, which is something that this harassing husband might want to keep in mind, both for his wife and himself. Not to mention that by his own definition of freedom of speech, you are also free to ask his wife to stop discussing her family so much at work, and in this situation, you are the only with any power behind his speech.

    Good luck!

  31. BadPlanning*

    The morbid side of me is interested in the Melanie’s conversational gymnastics to include her family in all work aspects (including meetings!). In one of my hobby groups, we have a serial one-upper and sometimes my occasional irritation turns to amusement at their creative stretches to contribute a relevant(ish) story.

    1. Kathleen Adams*

      It reminds me of that scene in The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon and Leonard try to see if it’s possible to introduce a topic that Howard convert into an anecdote about when he was an astronaut. Spoiler alert: It’s not possible. :-)

    2. Dizzy Steinway*

      I’d so be trying to see how much they’ll try to one-up. And like you, I wonder quite how she’s doing this – must be some serious shoehorning going on.

  32. Casper Lives*

    She’s the receptionist so she probably greets everyone in the morning. Does she try to draw them into conversations about her family every time she sees them, or is it that everyone is giving her the cold shoulder because they know a conversation with her will be boring? I think first can set everyone up in an annoyed move for the day and bring down morale, but the second is something coworker’s have to suffer through.

    She sounds awful to work with, and her husband is frighteningly over the line. Your coworkers are a captive audience. I can attest that working with a bore who expresses no hobbies, interests or personality outside of her husband and kids is very annoying.

    1. Admin Assistant*

      Oh god, as the receptionist she’s probably the one sending her husband’s calls to OP!

      1. Casper Lives*

        Oh no! I didn’t consider that possibility. I hope OP would’ve mentioned that because that’s so beyond the pale.

  33. Queerty*

    Melanie’s been out of the workforce–forever, it sounds like. If she went from high school to college to housewife, it’s entirely possible she’s got no context at all for professional norms and, honestly, if her whole life to this point has been focused on her husband and family? That’s what she has to talk about, and she probably isn’t going to know how to express that in a conversation with a boss except by getting defensive.

    I’m not saying it’s not strange–it definitely is–but context is key. She’s talking about things that she (correctly or not) assumes are common ground with co-workers. I’d probably approach by saying that hey, I realize you haven’t been in the workforce for very long, but this is alienating to a certain degree, your husband’s behavior is absolutely beyond the pale and can’t be tolerated at all, and as much as we love having you here, if he keeps this up it isn’t going to work out.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      I’d say it’s more understandable if we were only talking about water cooler conversations. But people are coming to her to ask her to order more toner for the printer, and she’s using that as an opening to talk about her kids.

    2. LawCat*

      It also may not be clear to Melanie that spending too much work time talking about non-work things or bringing things up in a non-sequitur fashion is a problem. It doesn’t really matter whether her favorite topic is her family or “Game of Thrones.” That may need coaching to understand the limits and how it impacts work.

      I think we’ve all had the coworker whose conversation we avoid not because we personally dislike them, but because they don’t have an “off” switch when it comes to chatting.

      1. LawCat*

        There’s a difference between spending 5 minutes on “how was your weekend” on Monday morning and randomly bringing up your weekend at a meeting or when a coworker asks you something about work. Some people grasp at understanding the time and place limitations on this stuff, especially if such limitations have not really existed before.

        1. Queerty*

          Exactly. I’m also, frankly, not discounting the idea that she’s somewhat lacking in general boundary-knowing and social-cue-having–again, going straight from high school to college to married housewife can be incredibly isolating and I’d be shocked if she was particularly well-adjusted, or able to pick up on social cues, or had any understanding of professional rules of behavior.

          None of which excuses her husband’s behavior, which is appalling and scary.

  34. Cucumberzucchini*

    If it wasn’t for the fact that this JUST started happening 6 months into her tenure around specific review feedback, I’d wonder if the Husband is doing this on purpose trying to get Melanie fired? He might not like the idea of his wife working and doesn’t care if she gets fired for his behavior if he can’t garner her the “respect” he deserves. I know someone that worked for my mother that was doing a great job who had been a long-time stay-at-home mom. Her husband was extremely born-again conservative and didn’t really want her working at all. She worked for maybe 4-5 months before he started exerting various pressure that made it very difficult for her to continue and she ended up quitting.

  35. MommyMDa*

    I would vote to call the cops and fire her. But I also worry someone this imbalanced could show up with a gun. Very dangerous situation.

    1. Aisling*

      That’s… reaching, based on the information given. No need to jump to the stratosphere.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Agreed. Bosses still have to do their jobs. People can’t just say, “Oh you’re right. I might get blown away so I probably should not correct bad behavior.”

        OP can make her own boss aware that she is stepping into a unique situation and she does not know what all the variables are. Some bosses are amazing. I had a boss answer that phone call FOR me. And likewise, I have answered a phone call for a subordinate. This is what good bosses do.

        I have seen times where a boss joined me in talking to a difficult subordinate. Going the opposite way, I have sat and witnessed a conversation for the Big Boss.

        The thing that I have learned through out the years is that most stuff de-escalates FAST once confronted. I had a boss who was held hostage by a fired employee. What happened next was … they sat and TALKED to each other. This stuff does not make the newspapers. It’s not interesting.

        OP if you have the smallest concern for safety, loop selected other people into what is going on. Keep them current. Give them instructions on your expectations.
        I had one situation where I instructed a coworker to call the police if she saw X, Y or Z happen. She said, “Well, okay. But what if it turns out I was wrong to call the police?” I said, “Then I will apologize to them. I will tell them you were doing what I asked.”

    2. Anon Tonite*

      I agree this is a very very dangerous situation . I don’t think it’s reaching at all, there have been many workplace shootings that originated from less than this.

  36. Allie*

    I also think Melanie isn’t likely to work out. Her boundaries are way out of whack if she thinks what her husband is doing is okay. The conversation stuff is hard to gauge from what was written but could be disruptive but the reaction suggests a much bigger problem.

  37. Temperance*

    I grew up around a lot of women like Melanie due to my conservative, religious upbringing. I have a hunch that her family operates this way, too, which is why her husband feels entitled to reach out to you an make ridiculous demands. I am assuming this because of his incorrect interpretation of the First Amendment, which is something that was hammered into our heads during church.

    She likely doesn’t actually care that she’s shooting herself in the foot professionally, because she doesn’t see herself as a professional. She sees herself as a wife and mother who now has a small job to help pay bills. That’s why she constantly natters on about her husband and kids, and why she took so much offense.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      It’s possible, but very unfortunately it’s not only the religious conservatives who incorrectly interpret the First Amendment that way. It’s not even primarily a habit of one particular side of the political aisle.

      1. Temperance*

        Oh, to be clear, I’m totally right with you there – not claiming that evangelicals are the only group who regularly abuse the Constitution. I was adding up the evidence, including the ridiculous nature of her relationship and the glaring misinterpretation of the First Amendment. It’s something that our church trained us on, believe it or not.

          1. too many mason jars*

            Oh yeah – “apologetics” (rules-lawyering people into listening to your proselytizing) is something most evangelical churches do extensive training around. “Free speech” in the US means you can talk about your faith anywhere at any time according to the mainstream evangelical movement!

  38. Ima NuttyBoss*

    There is no excuse for the behavior of the husband.
    On a flip side, In regards to the wife, I know that can be annoying, but sometimes people have trouble staring conversations or relating to people. If she was a stay at home mom, all of her recent interactions, experiences and anecdotes have been limited to her husband and kids. She may feel as though she doesn’t have anything else to talk about, or anything valuable to add. She needs a mentor, or a professional image class. And hubby needs a restraining order. Lol

    1. Anonymous 40*

      The thing is, it sounds like the OP is trying to give her that. They rated her Exceeds Expectations across the board in the formal review and only brought up the conversational issue as informal feedback. Instead of trying to learn from that feedback, she got offended and defensive. Completely apart from her husband’s behavior, I think her resistance to this feedback is a troubling sign about her willingness to improve.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Right. In addition to everything else, she was coached to reduce a specific behavior, and she’s instead continuing it–and if I’m reading the letter right, telling her boss that she doesn’t see a problem with it (and apparently therefore doesn’t see any reason to change). Even if the specific behavior isn’t a big deal, the doubling down seems like a real problem.

  39. bopper*

    I would also contact your company’s security office right away…yes the husband might be over protective but he also may turn violent and security should know.

  40. Hmmmm*

    While I don’t necessarily disagree with what Alison said I’d like to introduce another POV: Since Melanie has been at home for 9 years since college she may not have a good idea of what professional norms are and might not have appropriate work-related experiences to add to conversations. I have also read (I have no kids and don’t want any, I do tend to avoid kid-centric socializing at work but it’s not a problem) that SAHPs can go a little stir crazy because they would like to have some adult interaction but their perspective can be skewed because they are always interacting with their kids (and if they are lucky close family and other SAHPs). I think it would be helpful to coach Melanie on these points IF AND ONLY IF the husband desists with the inappropriate behavior immediately and she is open to it (sounds like she may not be). Maybe if it were presented as mentoring she would be less defensive about the situation? I don’t even want to speculate on possible abuse. I would really like to see things improve for SAHPs who are transitioning back into the workforce in this country, because it seems like things are stacked against them. It sounds like the OP would be a good coach for this situation, so it is too bad if they have to let Melanie go. She is making other SAHPs look bad and furthering harmful stereotypes about them. It could also be that Melanie isn’t a great cultural fit, if say the office is all child-free people (like me), but that doesn’t seem like a huge deal, although it PALES in comparison to the issue with the husband. Good luck OP and good luck to all the SAHPs who want to come back to work!

    1. Chickaletta*

      I really hope the LW doesn’t associate Melanie’s behavior with being a SAHM. There are a lot of SAHM’s who transition successfully back into the workforce and manage to remain professional and not bring up their children. I know a few who don’t talk about their families very much at all. I have also worked with childless career women who turned every conversation into one about themselves and it caused me to avoid them as much as possible. One time I had a coworker who would drag me into hour long conversations about her husband, her mother-in-law, her bookclub, and all the “drama” surrounding them. I quickly saw that the only one with a problem was my coworker and I started to feel sorry for her MIL and bookclub friends. Oh well, I digress.

      People just need to stop holding their coworkers hostage in a one-sided conversation about themselves, that’s all.

      1. Bookworm*

        Based on LW’s comments about his own wife’s transition, it doesn’t sound like he’s attributing all of Melanie’s behavior to that, although he acknowledges it as a factor.

    2. bridget*

      It sounds to me like the original comment during the performance review was exactly what you suggest – gentle coaching/correction about professional norms. And Melanie has shown that she is incapable of handling such coaching professionally, which is really the bigger problem here.

    3. Jessesgirl72*

      People keep trying to make this excuse, but it doesn’t hold water. It would make sense is the only problem was that Melanie was talking about this non-stop as her participation in social chit chat. But she is interrupting work talk to talk about her kids. That’s not simply wanting to contribute to a social conversation, but having nothing else to say. That is stopping work to talk about your family!

      1. Not So NewReader*

        She’s not being paid to stand around and talk about at-home life stuff whatever that may be. She’s being paid to focus on the company and the company’s concerns.

    4. Isabelle*

      On top of that, Melanie probably has more free time than other employees when there’s nothing to do at reception. She’s new to the workplace and she may not understand that her colleagues can’t spare the time to listen to her stories.

  41. La Revancha del Tango*

    I have a close friend who steers every conversation back to her kids. As someone who does not want children, needless to say we aren’t that close anymore. I think its common for mothers who have stayed home with their children because that’s all they know. They are out of touch with social norms (and professional ones too). If the harassing of the husband doesn’t stop, it’s time to let her go. But if it does, perhaps try coaching her? She was probably offended when you told her she spoke about her family too much. My friend, I asked her not to discuss baby stuff with me (which was a constant and daily occurrence and I seriously drafted my request for hours so I would not offend her). Instead of understanding, she blew up, cussed me out, and didn’t speak to me for months until she apologized. Sometimes it just takes time to understand people don’t care about other people’s children.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I hear ya.
      I have a relative who talked about her problems a lot. Usually two hour phone calls daily. Once it went to three hours. When I tried saying “We’ve already talked about this before [a hundred times before]”, she blew up, screaming at me.

      Sometimes there is no fix.

  42. Master Bean Counter*

    I feel for Melanie. I don’t think she has any idea how not normal this is. Sounds like she’s never really worked any where before. And the person coaching her on professional norms is her husband. who is the only person she’s reported to,in any capacity, in the past few years.
    This needs to be spelled out to Melanie, much like an intern.
    The first point that needs to be is that her working relationship is between you and her, not her husband. And if he continues with what he’s doing there will be no working relationship between you and her either. She needs to put the brakes on his behavior or she will be fired.
    The second point that needs to be addressed is that what is very interesting to her may not be the same to everybody else. It doesn’t matter if the subject matter is her family, Gonzaga, or politics. If coworkers are avoiding her to avoid the subject, then that’s a problem. She needs to work on that. And if she struggles with that, it’s okay. She’s been home for years and it’s going to take a while to find new subjects to talk about.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Unfortunately the work world cannot wait forever for people to sort this stuff out.
      She has been there six months, you’d think she would have burned through the family stuff by now.

      What is disconcerting here, is that she seems to think everyone is there to listen to her family stories. Conversely, many people look around and try to copy what others are doing. This idea does not seem to be on her radar either. It’s worrisome that she is not concerned that her coworkers are avoiding her. New employees usually do not exhibit these characteristics for the most part.

  43. Argh!*

    Question #1: Was this the first that Melanie heard of LW having issues with this? Evaluation conversations should not be the place something is brought up for the firs time.

    Question #2: If Melanie’s work hasn’t yet truly suffered, perhaps the evaluation wasn’t the time for it. Could there be a separate conversation just about this, with affirmation that LW was trying to prevent relationships from deteriorating? It could be less threatening to her & her hubby if phrased as “please spend more time letting your colleagues tell you about their life as you spend discussing yours.” The issue is really self-centeredness, and the remedy is more other-centeredness.

    re: hubby calling to complain. You’re not the teacher or principal. You’re the boss. It’s a shame that repeated phonecalls can’t be counted as a form of trespassing, because it really is boundary invasion. Assuming he wants his wife to be successful in her job, he should want you to like her more, not less!

    1. fposte*

      I actually think a short-term review for a new employee is a good time to bring up a cumulative behavior; it’s going to take a while for the manager to notice it anyway, and feedback is part of the point of the meeting. This isn’t waiting six months to say “OMG, you blew up the copier in November by putting in gas instead of toner”; it’s saying “Hey, you’re doing great except for this area I noticed that like you to improve.” Her work prospects weren’t hurt by the feedback; they were hurt by her husband’s interference and her countenancing that interference.

      1. Argh!*

        Anything in a performance evaluation has more emotional weight than the same thing said in a one-on-one or in casual conversation. It softens the “blow” to have it said earlier, and may prevent the need to even bring it up in the review.

        1. fposte*

          I don’t disagree, but I still think it’s okay, especially with a new employee, for feedback to come at a periodic review.

          1. Argh!*

            I think an employee with a work record would take it better than this person, who has no experience with constructive feedback.

        2. MegaMoose, Esq*

          I don’t know, it seems like it would have more emotional weight if your boss called you in to a one-on-one expressly to give some advice about not talking about your family so much. I agree about generally not surprising people in evaluations, but mentioning a minor new area for improvement seems perfectly appropriate.

        3. Liane*

          “It softens the ‘blow’ to have it said earlier, and may prevent the need to even bring it up in the review.”
          Earlier, Alison pointed out that “wasn’t brought up pre-review” isn’t a reason to leave it out of the review.

          1. Anna*

            And the reaction that Melanie has had indicates even if it had been brought up earlier, the reaction would have been similar. Melanie and her husband aren’t reacting to the timing of the feedback; their reacting to the actual feedback.

            I’m going to assume the OP was fair and kind about the feedback and wasn’t a jerk. And even if he were a jerk in giving it, the reaction would still be over the top.

            1. Argh!*

              Possibly yes. Possibly no. Consider all the letters and comments here by people who fear some kind of existential condemnation for very minor imaginary infractions. People who are new to the work world experiencing a first evaluation/review may respond differently to that than to a friendly urging to listen more and speak less. There are many ways to bring it up that would be less emotionally charged.

              1. Anna*

                Nobody who is concerned about just hearing about a minor annoyance for the first time at a six month review would ask for an apology to him and their children.

          2. Argh!*

            No, but it may explain why the employee & hubby may have overreacted (the husband may be responding to hysterics at home that OP writer hasn’t seen). Someone who has no experience in the work world at an older than usual age for a first job would be a little more sensitive. It could have waited until after the review if it didn’t truly affect the job performance.

            1. Anna*

              You’re making an assumption about how sensitive someone would be coming into the workforce a little older than normal. Again, the OP is not at fault here. Melanie and her husband shoulder all the blame on this one.

              Whether or not Melanie was in tears sobbing to her husband, there is no possible reason he should be calling the OP several times a day to demand an apology. That.Does.Not.Fly.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Okay, okay! I will stop putting gas in the copier. I will use toner instead. But it was easier than getting that stupid toner cartridge in there just so.

  44. Saphrin*

    I had an old college “friend” who would constantly derail conversations to talk about herself. Even conversations she wasn’t a part of and seemed to have no interest in contributing to, other than to turn the focus on herself. I was once talking to another friend about the subject of boyfriends, as we both had one, and she cut in at one point, completely deadpan, “I don’t have a boyfriend.” A) We both knew that, and B) it seemed odd, out of place, and even a bit hostile.

    Everybody lacks in self-awareness from time to time, but then you find these people who not only never seem to notice their annoying traits, but don’t particularly care about improving them. Not saying you should change for every person who dislikes something about you, but it’s nice to be considerate of others, especially if you work with them and need to get along.

    1. Argh!*

      I currently have a coworker who turns everything toward a topic he seemingly knows more about than anyone on the planet. He’s starting to get it that we don’t really care, or perhaps he’s becoming more confident and feels less like he has to prove his superiority several times a day. When he first got here we started rolling eyes and disappearing within a week.

    2. MoinMoin*

      This post made me think I should be more mindful of how much I talk about my dog at work. I’m pretty sure I’m still in the “reasonable” area- I don’t bring up her opinions on expense reports, even though she probably has some good insights- but I’m sure to most people it’s as interesting as I find their kids.
      I also had a coworker that would one-up everyone, regardless of the subject. It got to the point that we’d just make things up to see what he’d say, and he never disappointed. Real conversation:
      Me- “I’m excited about going to this conference, last time I met Leonardo DiCaprio there!”
      One-upper- “Oh, he used to be my neighbor. We hang out sometimes.”

      1. bunniferous*

        I am laughing precisely because one of my friends absolutely DID use to hang out with Leonardo DiCaprio (albeit before he became famous.) She does not brag about it though!

    3. Fictional Butt*

      I had a friend in college who would not stop talking about her high school friends. She even made a chart explaining all of their relationships and expected us to use it to understand her stories. She genuinely had no idea why we weren’t interested.

      1. Argh!*

        Just curious – did you ever ask if she’d mapped out her college friendships for the benefit of her old high school friends? This person sounds a bit OCD!

      2. strawberries and raspberries*

        Somehow this reminds me of the It’s Always Sunny episode where Frank hijacks the tour boat and is talking about the gang and all their past exploits as if everyone knows who they are and cares.

  45. Former Computer Professional*

    Oh, boy, mommy-jacking at its finest.

    To be fair to Melanie, it’s kind of like when someone new does the “At my old employer” or “Where I last lived” stuff. It’s annoying at first, and people generally tolerate it. But it has to calm down, not escalate.

    1. Dan*

      I like the naval submariner term for that, your old boat is always known as the “USS Ustafish” (pronounced “used to fish”)

  46. Delta Delta*

    I’m not usually one to support enlisting a co-worker to do a boss’s job. But, the boss telling Melanie obviously hasn’t gotten through to her. Maybe a mid-level person who has a good relationship with Melanie could act as a coach and could tell her diplomatically to stop with the stories. Although OP said she was resistant to coaching, it might be a dynamic issue. It might be easier to receive that information from a co-worker as opposed to the boss. And it might sound like less of a criticism.

    Alternatively, the office drama llama could be enlisted to wail (at the right time), “oh my gosh with the stories! Can’t you just put a lid on it for one minute?!” I do not suggest this approach, although it is very funny to think about.

    1. MegaMoose, Esq*

      Normally, maybe, but under these circumstances I think it would absolutely not be a good idea to get a coworker involved. What if the husband starts in after the coworker too?

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I agree that it’s late to bring in others. But for different reasons. I don’t think that fear of husband should dictate how to handle this.

  47. MoinMoin*

    I just have to laugh at the idea of you apologizing to the husband and kids, OP. Like, how does he think that’s going to go? He brings the kids into work and they all look up with you like sad Tiny Tims and ask why you won’t let their mom talk about them? And then you grovel at their feet, because you were visited by the 3 Ghosts of Professional Norms and see the error in your ways? Good gracious.

    1. fposte*

      That got a loud snicker from me. And there are definitely people I’d like to be visited by the Ghosts of Professional Norms.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Would those be the Ghosts of Professional Norms Past, Present and Future?
      Her husband probably knew these guys growing up.

  48. Chatterby*

    I’d try to emphasize “professional business behavior” and go with:
    “All employees are expected to behave professionally. Your husband, who does not work here and should not be contacting me on your behalf, has been calling and e-mailing constantly. This is unacceptable because I expect you to be professional enough to handle your own issues directly and accept feedback maturely, and because the behavior is harassing and getting in the way of our work. If his behavior does not stop, the proper authorities will be notified.”

    Then, whenever she butts into a conversation, correct with a “We need to focus on ____ right now”, instructing those who complain about her to do the same, and following up with a “I’ve noticed you often go off-topic, what can we do to get you to focus on the work subject in front of you during work hours?” if she persists.

  49. Noah*

    I’m not sure why Allison is so quick to dismiss abusive/controlling relationship. This seems like a HUGE red flag. That doesn’t mean Melanie doesn’t have to go, though.

    1. Temperance*

      Because there are some cultures and religious groups that operate this way, and even though it’s icky to mainstream society, it’s not always abuse.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I don’t think it’s an abusive relationship, but anything is possible.
      1) She knows about his calls and she feels his behavior is okay.
      2) She told the OP in the moment that she was not going to stop talking about her family.
      That appears to have come from her.
      3)She has continued to talk about her family and shows no sign of stopping. Makes me more inclined to think that she is operating under her own free will.

      Again, anything is possible. But unless she tells OP that she is in trouble, then OP has to assume there is no other background circumstances.

  50. E*

    If the employee’s eval was “exceeds expectations” overall, I’m a little concerned that she thinks she’s awesome at her job and that the talking about her family constantly can’t possibly be such a big issue. Time to reinforce the boundary about minimizing non-work chatter during work, and if she doesn’t change, write her up or terminate. (As former HR, I know that having proper documentation of the attempts to resolve a personnel issue can be pretty important.) Same for the husband, explain clearly to her the expectation and write her up or escalate the issue to HR/mgmt if he keeps contacting you.

  51. ilikeaskamanager*

    Good rule of thumb: when someone asks you how it’s going or what you are doing for the weekend or anything else, answer it in no more than 2-3 sentences. If someone wants to know more they will ask you more questions. Otherwise, you’re done.

  52. Dan*

    I understand that the workplace is a place where work is done, and anything that interferes with that needs to be curbed and fast.

    But I really have a problem with firing someone for the actions of their partner if the partner has poor boundaries or acts inappropriately intrusively into their work, because that is absolutely a huge giant “north-korean-patriotic-display”-grade red flag for domestic abuse. And I think on a philosophical level you need to weigh the fact you could be feeding right into what an abuser wants (to get her fired by making her boss uncomfortable so now she lacks one more potential witness/source of resources/source of self esteem/human contact that isn’t the abuser which is making them harder inflict Stockholm Syndrome on) against the level of disruption and draw a hard line between what the employee has done, and what their *potentially* abusive partner has done.

    Note, I’m not saying that this IS abuse. With a lot of these borderline looking things only two people can tell you for sure, the two people in the relationship, and to be honest in some cases even they are unreliable witnesses. But it’s one of those giant flaming warning beacons that should raise questions in your mind if you’re in tune with your emotions and familiar with the MOs of domestic abusers.

      1. Dan*

        I am trying to figure out why the husband’s actions give me such a danger vibe, and I just can’t (though I’ve noticed other posters have mentioned the same), especially because this isn’t like that woman from like five years ago whose husband took her car and wouldn’t let her travel for work anymore.

        Though I think it’s important to note that though there was a growing consensus in that post that this relationship was quite likely abusive and it might be a good idea to provide the wife resources for a domestic violence hotline– she, too, was antsy to see her husband when he came to wait at the end of the day and, to her boss anyway, supported his decision (and also invoked the first amendment when doing so) so maybe I’m having a bit of AAM flashback here and that’s why I feel so icky about this. I think that letter shares a certain commonality though and the fact that she’s not horrified by her husband’s actions could be a flippant attitude towards work culture norms or it could be something more complicated. I wouldn’t necessarily interpret it any particular way.

        I absolutely agree with the advice of starting on the actual behavior with an impact assessment to determine if this is a real work or work relationship impact or a pet peeve issue.

        I am tempted to recommend a semi-punt. Don’t address the husband with the employee just like you’re not discussing her with him. He’s a grown-up and so is she, but just like he’s not her owner she’s not his keeper either, and can’t be held accountable for what an adult with poor emotional regulation skills chooses to do.
        Address the professional norms issue exactly as you recommended, like the letter writer would with any other employee (and I love the verbiage you suggest for having those ‘this is a norm, it is not an option, can you commit to meeting this obligation going forward?’ conversations, it’s really great framing for a conversation so many managers do poorly).

        That removes the potentially icky side and focuses on her direct behavior and its direct work impact. Now obviously if the letter writer ends up having to tresspass the husband from the work property or prohibit him from calling that will have an impact on the relationship with the employee, but the ball’s in her court and it avoids getting tangled up in relationship politics and avoids the moral and practical quandary of holding someone responsible for the actions of someone they can’t control, who may or may not be actively trying to sabotage them.

        The added bonus is if he’s doing this to cause her to lose her job, then having the conversation, which then gets reported to him no doubt, will cause him to double down on his behavior. Whereas a stone wall of silence and lack of impact will (hopefully) de-escalate the situation because he’s not getting positive effects that reinforce his behavior. The beautiful thing about that is it works whether or not he’s unintentionally, very intentionally, or just cluelessly sabotaging her.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      How do you save an employee from an abusive partner?

      You can try to the extent of your ability as a boss and then after that you can’t.

      One time we had three levels of management trying to help an employee with a violent partner. Three levels of management. Partner decided it was time to move a couple hundred miles away. We failed. It’s been decades. I still think of her.

    2. Jessesgirl72*

      Then fire her for insubordination- the doubling down on doing the very thing her manager asked her not to do, and which she says she has the right to do.

      Her husband isn’t in the office monitoring her. He has no control over her conversations if she decided to stop. This part, to me, sounds like it’s her choice, and has nothing to do with an abusive husband. Sure, he has boundary issues, but there is no indication that he is abusive.

    3. seejay*

      But at what point is it the employer’s responsibility to the employee versus the business? It’s commendable to be thinking of the employee in the case of an abusive environment, but the OP doesn’t necessarily have the power and/or resources to do much more beyond what the disruptive employee is able to let them do. As it stands, the employee, while doing good at their particular job, has fallen short on a few particular areas, and when it was pointed out, has now caused a serious disruption to the point that the OP is being harassed *and* the employee doesn’t seem to see the issue with it. There’s a serious disconnect there, and if anything, the OP has to look out for themself and the company first and foremost. I’m not advocating throwing the employee under the bus, but you can’t help someone who isn’t asking for help or won’t help themselves either. And the OP shouldn’t put themself in harm’s way trying to rescue this employee either. They should deal with the situation as a professional.

  53. Anon Tonite*

    I have read a lot of the differing viewpoints on this situation. If this company has an HR department this manager needs to notify them that he is being harassed by an employees spouse. Melanie’s husband needs to be notified immediately that the constant harassment of this manager will not be tolerated. His behavior is a definite red flag. This is often the type of person that becomes violent when things do not go their way. As for Melanie, a follow up meeting with her would be the kindest thing to do. She is disruptive in the workplace if she is bringing up her husband and children into work related meetings and condoning her husbands harassment of her manager. If this were my employee I would lay it out this way – your constant talk of your husband and family during work meetings will no longer be tolerated. You need to focus on establishing good working relationships with your coworkers. Last but not least, your husband has absolutely no say in performance expectations for your job and I will not respond to any inquiries from him. Furthermore, I consider your husband’s emails and phone calls harassment and I have reported it to HR. If he continues to call and email me I may have to file a police report and you may well end up losing your job here .

  54. specialist*

    Holy Schmole……
    Let me just say right now that I have developed a great respect for all of you who deal with this on a regular basis. This is just nuts. I believe this is why they developed the term, “smack them with a clue by four”.

    So this woman is seriously going to jeopardize her job. The job that fits in so well with her children’s school requirements. She is going to jeopardize this not only because she has to talk about her family and interrupt actual business, but because her husband is a clueless tool? And she thinks this is alright?

    So I am trying to put myself in the mind of what should appropriately happen. My first thought was to give everyone little paper fans with a picture of that stay-on-target guy from the first Star Wars movie and let them hold them up every time she got off target. Yeah, good thing nobody wants me in HR. Now, I think that the appropriate thing to do would be to have a formal sit down with the employee, review the issue, and actually mention that it seems silly to jeopardize a good job that fits with her family for such a stupid thing. Then I think a formal letter of warning for her as well as a letter for her husband. I do not hold out much hope that someone this clueless will get it and come around. If she quits you don’t have to pay unemployment.

    1. specialist*

      I have to say that I respect all of you HR types and managers again. I could not do this. I don’t think I would last a week if I had to deal with this stuff all day long.

  55. Blue eagle*

    So, I had a thought about this while driving home, and it may be a little crazy but
    – – it seems like the employee believes the boss is out of line with her thinking that personal topics are inappropriate for the workplace
    – – would it be of any help to her to refer her to this question at AAM so that she could read the responses and see that all of us are in agreement with what the boss counseled her about?

    Maybe if she realizes that her boss isn’t the only one who thinks this way, she may come away with a better understanding of workplace norms. Or else this is just another one of my crazy ideas.

    1. Expat*

      If someone ever said to me, for any reason, “A bunch of strangers on the internet think you’re wrong. Look, I asked them”, I am honestly not sure what my reaction would be. I’m thinking incredulity, then amusement, then anger, and finally contempt. I certainly would not react by saying “Lo, I have been purified by the wisdom of the commentariat, and see now the error of my ways”. YMMV but it mystifies me how often people suggest this.

    2. Temperance*

      I definitely wouldn’t refer the receptionist to that post. It’s going to make her dig her heels in, if anything, because many of the comments are pretty critical of her husband and her lifestyle.

  56. Stellaaaaa*

    Within the scope of OP’s workplace, the part that bothers me the most is that Melanie is okay with what her husband is doing. And to get down to the specifics of what the husband is demanding – that OP apologize to him and the children – I gotta say that these are two people who need more than a little help navigating norms. You’re not going to “train out” Melanie’s annoying quirks because her bad habits are being reinforced and encouraged at home. So ask yourself whether you want to keep Melanie as she is or if you want to let her go, since she’s not going to change.

  57. that guy*

    Explain to her why this is a problem:
    “This is a workplace. I expect you and everybody else to behave professionally. That means that work conversations are about work, not our personal lives. Your husband harassing me, and you being okay with it, is not professional. You’re doing great work, BUT if this behaviour continues, we will have to let you go.”

  58. Middle Name Jane*

    Call me harsh, but it’s crazy to me that someone can make it all the way through college and nine years post-college without having ANY work experience. Melanie is so far out of touch I wonder if it’s possible for her to catch up to professional norms at this point.

  59. Van Wilder*

    This is one of the most intriguing letters I’ve read and Alison, your response really broke down the issues and your advice was spot on.

    I’m really, really, really going to need an update to this one.

  60. Troutwaxer*

    My question in all this would be what level of detail the OP has discussed the husband’s behavior with Melanie? Has the OP said, “…your husband is bothering me,” “…your husband is harassing me,” or something like “…your husband has called me 27 times today and sent 11 emails,” or even something like, “…and your husband is shouting and using inappropriate language.” Perhaps the best thing to do would be to have Melanie read all her husband’s emails and listen to all his calls.

    I’d also want to know whether this is Melanie’s “return” to the workplace after having children, or whether it is Melanie’s very first job ever. (Unfortunately, it’s quite possible for someone to make it through college without ever having a job.) And lastly, I do think that Melanie’s culture is a big deal here; does she come from a culture where the husband is expected to be in charge of every aspect of the wife’s life? If so, she needs to be educated in what modern workplace norms look like, and told that if her husband is going to be in charge of her work life, Melanie needs to be the one who does 100 percent of the interacting with the workplace and he needs to coach her from home, because modern work places think you’re pretty crazy if you interact with the workplace on your spouse’s behalf.

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