update: my employee is having an affair with a married coworker

Remember the letter-writer who was pretty sure that her employee was having an affair with a married coworker, but wasn’t sure if she knew that the guy was married? Here’s the update.

Thanks so much for publishing my question and for attempting to provide some solutions. As fate would have it, I didn’t have to decide what to do. After my letter was published, the story took a strange twist…

Somehow, I’d missed your email response that my letter was being published, so I was quite surprised when I stumbled onto your site to find it! I was actually reading the comments in response when Anna came into my office. From where she was standing, my screen reflected onto the glass wall adjacent to her, and she apparently caught a glimpse of the title. She didn’t say anything to me at the time, but later that day, she emailed me to ask if she could set up a private meeting with an HR representative and me. I fully expected this to be about her having to terminate an employee or some other standard office business, but it turns out, she wanted to disclose her relationship with Alex as a result of seeing the letter!

The way this happened was that she basically opened the meeting by saying that she’d seen the headline on my computer and worried I’d been searching for an answer online for how to address the relationship between her and Alex. She then explained that she became romantically involved with Alex not knowing his marital status, but that she’d found out on her own a while back and chose to continue the relationship. As gracefully as anyone can in these circumstances, she admitted that while it sounds awful, the awkward truth is that she and Alex are still involved…in an affair. She said that seeing the letter I was reading was enough to let her know that at least one person was likely already onto them, and that she felt that, awkward as it may be, she needed to disclose this to HR so that, if someone did start treating her differently as a result, it was on the record that she was aware that people knew about the affair and had good reason to treat her differently.

Our HR rep was as speechless as I was. I imagine he isn’t approached often to formally document affairs, but we both managed to carefully avoid passing any judgment as we realize it isn’t our jobs to decide whether someone’s private relationship is appropriate so long as it doesn’t impact their job performance. We told Anna as much, and I later advised that she and Alex should continue to act professionally at work and be sure to avoid any real or perceived work conflicts (something I’d say to any employee involved in an office romance, regardless of whether it is an affair).

I received an email from Alex later that day in which he thanked me for my “cooperation,” which nauseated me. I replied, “There’s no need to thank me. I am simply complying with the company’s flexible fraternization policy, which does not prohibit you from having a personal relationship with anyone except your direct supervisor or higher. Please do not mistake my professionalism for ‘cooperation’ or any sort of personal endorsement of the relationship. Because you are not my direct report, I see no need for you and I to discuss this matter any further, and because of the awkward position this puts me in as both an executive with the company and your neighbor, let’s be safe and include HR in all future professional correspondence between us for the time being. Take care.” He hasn’t responded, and Anna and I haven’t spoken of the matter again.

I wonder if I should have replied to Alex at all, or if I handled my response appropriately given that I have to take a neutral stance in the office. I’d be curious to know if you would have handled receiving Alex’s email differently?

So anyway, there’s that. Turns out, Anna DOES know what she’s doing! I figured readers would want to know. And for those who were curious about how I knew it was him that text her, let’s just say his real first and last name are unusual enough that there was no doubt! (And the fact that he didn’t wear his wedding band at work but did elsewhere signaled to me that just maybe he had something to hide and that this wasn’t “open.”)

Me again. I think your email to Alex was a thing of beauty. Professionally faultless, while still conveying an utterly warranted iciness.

{ 489 comments… read them below }

    1. Kyrielle*

      Yes. YES. It made me want to cheer. So precisely, pointedly, professional – and so Not Interested in “cooperating”.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        A ‘slow clap’ is sarcastic and not applause so I assume that’s not what you mean!

        1. Edith*

          Slow clap isn’t sarcastic. It’s just a clap that starts slowly and with only a few people and builds to a large ovation. Perfectly valid in this situation.

          1. Morning Glory*

            It can be both depending on the corner of the internet. I have seen it used as Ramona described more than how you described it.

            1. Edith*

              It’s interesting how people’s experiences can be so flipped like that. I’ve only ever heard sarcastic clapping referred to as exactly that– a sarcastic clap. Or maybe I just spend too much time over at TV tropes, which defines slow clap as the positive kind and sarcastic clap as the sarcastic kind.

              1. Nic*

                I’ve seen a slow clap happen naturally in the wild once, completely non sarcastically. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever witnessed.

                I certainly agree with you that mostly on TV and the internet they are used as sarcasm.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Yes, it’s both! But I’m pretty sure these slow claps are laudatory (I’m giving OP a laudatory slow clap as I red through the comments :) ).

              All I can say to the OP is daaaaaaamn.

        2. New Bee*

          Pretty sure she’s talking about the slow clap where one person starts it and others join in until there’s thunderous applause (see Rudy, The Breakfast Club, etc.).

          1. Kate*

            I just can’t leave this alone…. the slow clap in the Breakfast Club is the sarcastic type, not the thunderous applause type ;-)

            1. New Bee*

              That’s what I get for trusting Google–I’ve never seen The Breakfast Club! Should’ve said Not Another Teen Movie.

          2. PizzaDog*

            I was thinking of the scene from Not Another Teen Movie where no one ever joins in until someone else starts one.

    2. OP*

      OP here. Geeking out over all the virtual slow claps. Eek. Thanks for the support. (I resisted the urge to thank you all for your ‘cooperation.”)

      1. MuseumChick*

        You know, I won’t be able to hear the word “cooperation” for a least a week without giggling to myself.

      2. Aunt Margie at Work*

        Our cooperation is neither needed, nor warranted.
        But d@mn, we ALL want to to sit next to you at lunch!

      3. Hey Nonnie*

        Your email was a thing of beauty. I strongly suspect that Alex was fishing for confirmation that your supposed “cooperation” extended to covering for him during neighborly encounters with his wife. As in: “Hey, didn’t get fired, so they must be cool with what I’m doing. So I can ask them to help me deceive my wife.”

        The email was a fantastic “No, I won’t lie for you, dude” message.

        If it were me, Alex should better hope it never occurs to his wife to ask me why he’s working late all the time.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          All. Of. This. ALL.

          The response email was a thing of beauty, particularly in light of Alex trying to confirm you weren’t going to rat him out to his wife.

          Bravo, OP, for taking a super-awkward (that got even more awkward when HR got looped in!) situation and handling it with maximum grace and professionalism.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Seriously. I’m super jealous of OP—that reply is a thing of beauty.

          1. Dweali*

            I agree…it gets even better if you imagine Dame Maggie Smith (any character but my favorite ones writing this are either the dowager countess or professor mcgonagall) having written it :-)

            OP, you’re my hero of the day :-)

      4. Anon55*

        All well deserved!! Your (non-philandering) coworkers and reports are so lucky to have you.

    3. JeanLouiseFinch*

      Too bad there’s no “like” button, you would have lots of “likes.”

      1. JessaB*

        We totally need a like button for things like this. The response to Alex is a completely sublime mic drop. Applause, ovation.

    4. Old Admin*

      OP, I think I love you.
      This is a great letter, professional and (so very much!!!) to the point.
      Don’t ever invite Alex to a barbeque again – you don’t want to face his wife with the knowledge you have!

  1. Kathleen Adams*

    No reply at all would also have been fine, but yeah, that “cooperation” thing would stick in my craw, too, so I also think your message was a thing of beauty, OP!

    1. Catabodua*

      I feel the same way. I don’t think I could have let the word cooperation go by without comment.

      1. Kathleen Adams*

        I don’t know if he meant it this way, of course, but it just sounds so…smarmy. Blech!

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Oh, I’m convinced he meant it that way, and it’s also such a gross way of trying to bring OP down to his level (managerially/hierarchically speaking).

          1. Kathleen Adams*

            Oh, I’m sure you’re right. I’m trying to be tolerant because people do sometimes use words sloppily. But ewwww.

          2. TootsNYC*

            Actually, I think that “thanking someone for cooperating” is a phrase you use if you have the upper hand, or more authority, or something.

            Which he thinks he does.

          3. Tealeaves*

            Given the sensitive nature of the situation, it also sounds like a veiled threat (whether intended or not). Like “Thanks for cooperating… Otherwise there would be unfortunate consequences.”

            And he sent it via their work email too. If he were sincere about being appreciative, he would have spoken to OP personally, even if he used such strange wording.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              Some things just should not be put in writing.

              Email is good if the recipient needs time to think over their response, or to refer to the details in the future, which… probably not the impression you want to give when writing to a senior manager about your affair with their subordinate. *shakes head(

    2. Hurricane Wakeen*

      I disagree that no reply would have been fine. I think that would have looked like OP would, in fact, cooperate. As others have said, that email was Alex’s attempt to assert control, so I think it was important that OP shut him down (and so very, very beautifully).

  2. SQL Coder Cat*

    Yikes. I think Anna is behaving “honorably” by disclosing the relationship to HR, but this whole update leaves me with a sort of nauseated feeling. I also congratulate you on your well crafted response to Alex: you did a great job communicating professional camaraderie and personal disapproval.

    I hope you don’t end up having to write in later for help in dealing with the fallout of whatever happens next…

    1. iseeshiny*

      I don’t think honor enters into it at all – it sounds like she’s covering her tail. Also, ew. This whole situation is gross.

      1. SQL Coder Cat*

        Well, she’s acknowledging that she’s doing something that might cause people to be less accepting of her, and to want it on the record that she knows there may be consequences and she accepts them. She’s not saying, “I’m doing this and I expect everyone to support it.” Per the LW, “she needed to disclose this to HR so that, if someone did start treating her differently as a result, it was on the record that she was aware that people knew about the affair and had good reason to treat her differently.” That’s… surprisingly self aware and honorable to me. YMMV.

        1. Phoebe*

          I agree that she may be self aware, but I would hardly call anything about this situation honorable.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            Totally agree. Anna only had the meeting with HR because she feared (without evidence) retaliation.

            1. INFJ*

              I tend to agree. She didn’t disclose it to HR right away because she thought it was the right thing to do; she did it only when she knew someone else knew and was worried about being judged for it.

        2. Jessesgirl72*

          I think Anna might need some therapy. It’s almost as if she’s asking for the “punishment” for the affair.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            I don’t see that at all. She just seems pretty aware of and realistic about the consequences of her actions and willing to accept the foreseeable work consequences.

        3. CA Admin*

          That’s not how I interpreted it–to me it sounded like “I’m having an affair and know people are going to find out and treat me differently, so I want HR to know ahead of time to mitigate possible retaliation from coworkers once they figure it out.” Not “I’m having an affair and others might treat me different, but that’s ok because I’m having an affair, so I wanted to let HR know so that others wouldn’t get in trouble.”

          1. Naruto*

            That’s how I take it, too. It’s smart on her part. She’s trying to protect herself from negative reactions (or retaliation or poor treatment or whatever description you prefer) from her co-workers. It’s kind of gross.

            1. Trout 'Waver*

              But she’s also subtly accusing her coworkers if she does it preemptively. Anna didn’t give her coworkers a chance to act professionally; she went to HR immediately after she found out that the OP knew.

              Also, getting blindsided in an HR meeting like this is not fun at all. It is really unkind to put someone in that position. At least have the courtesy to tell them what the meeting is about first.

              1. Naruto*

                She hasn’t accused anyone of anything yet. It’s a little more subtle — she’s more saying, “If XYZ happens, this is why.”

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I’m trying to decide if I agree with that last part. I think that when you’re in HR or are a manager, you’re going to have meetings where weird stuff gets announced without warning. I think it just comes with the territory because a lot of people feel awkward about putting awkward things in email (and understandably so).

                1. Trout 'Waver*

                  While I get that it’s not always possible, I think it is a kindness to the people involved, especially when they haven’t done anything wrong, to be given the chance to prepare for such a meeting.

                  In this particular case, I think the the optimal scenario would be Anna going to HR by herself. And then HR could determine whether they needed to talk to the OP or not themselves.

              3. JB (not in Houston)*

                I don’t see that. If I articulate what I predict my coworkers reactions will probably be to something, that doesn’t mean I’m accusing them of anything. It just means their reactions to the situation are fairly predictable.

              4. Antilles*

                In fairness, I’m not sure how exactly you could tip people off in advance. That conversation is going to be awful and awkward no matter how you start it.
                I mean, if Anna mentioned the topic ahead of time and went into detail, then it’s basically like you’re having that conversation already. If Anna just dropped a one-sentence bombshell “oh hey by the way, the meeting this afternoon is about my affair with Alex”, then it makes the HR person spend the [hours/days] before the meeting wondering Just How Bad this meeting is going to be.

              5. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                Meh, I don’t see any kind of subtle accusation there. Taking a precaution isn’t doomsaying, and it’s pretty reasonable for her to expect the possibility of negative repercussions.

              6. nonegiven*

                She just assumed OP knew from seeing OP reading the blog entry. Does that mean she had already read the AAM entry and realized it might be her?

                1. PatPat*

                  If Anna’s an AAM reader then this follow-up is going to bite the OP in the rear in a huge way. My goodness! She could be in a lot of trouble. She posted her email to Alex word for word so there’d be no doubt it was her.

              7. TootsNYC*

                how do you not blind-side someone?
                You have to tell them “the first time” SOMEtime. So do you tell them the first time when you make the appointment, or when you’re with them?

                I just can’t see someone calling to say, “I’d like to sit down with HR to discuss my affair with a married coworker.”

                You say, “I’d like to discuss a personnel matter”–but frankly, ANY conversation w/ HR is probably a personnel matter.

          2. Jessesgirl72*

            That isn’t what he said she said, and having an affair isn’t a protected class in the workplace- she can legally be penalized for it.

            1. KHB*

              Having an affair isn’t a protected class – but being a woman is. When she talks about wanting to guard against “unfair treatment,” maybe she means that if she ends up getting fired, disciplined, or otherwise penalized over this, but Alex doesn’t, she’s not going to take it lying down. Because even though women have historically borne the brunt of the consequences in situations like this, it takes two to tango.

              1. sunny-dee*

                But any retaliation wouldn’t be because she’s a woman — at worst, it would be because her boss or coworkers know and Alex’s boss either doesn’t know or doesn’t care.

                1. Optimistic Prime*

                  Well, not necessarily. Women do often get penalized or treated more harshly for certain things (such as carrying on an affair) simply because they are women. However, I would say that the most likely reason would not be gender-related.

              2. tigerStripes*

                Maybe it’s because I’m a woman, but since Alex originally kept the info that he was married secret, I mainly blame him. I do sort of wonder what is so *amazing* about this cheater that he’s able to lie to his girlfriend or at least hide the fact that he’s married, and she still is willing to be with him – not only is he cheating on his wife, he more or less lied to his girlfriend about something very important.

                1. Falling Diphthong*

                  The rule (determined by scientists) with cheating seems to be that it’s about willingness, not desirability. So if you can find one person willing to date you, then you can also find people willing to help you cheat on that person. Special beauty or charm is not required.

                2. Cleopatra Jones*

                  She was probably already in too deep to end it. Her emotions are already tied up into the affair, AND he’s probably spinning some yarn about how unhappy he is with his marriage but can’t leave because [kids? money? she’ll take everything?].

                  I’ve had several married guys hit on me by trying to make me feel sorry for them about the ‘shrew’ that they have at home who treats them horribly and doesn’t have sex with them. My standard go-to lines when they spew this crap at me are, “I’m am not your escape plan from your unhappy relationship” or if I’m feeling particularly salty by their approach, “You will not find the solution to your marital problems between my legs/in my bed”. All delivered with a beautiful smile.

          3. Susana*

            Yes, agree. And the thing is – I’m not defending her, but she’s not the one betraying a commitment here. He is, as the married person. I don’t think it’s an advisable relationship to get into, but I put it a lot more on him than her. I feel almost bad for her, in the sense that she probably thought, gee, I met this great guy at work, thy spend time together – openly , since she doesn’t know he’s married. Once she finds out, she’s already attached. I would have liked this story better if she’d dumped his sorry butt once she found out. But if someone is already emotionally involved, it can be hard.
            I actually don’t think it’s HR’s place to judge the outside-0f-work behavior of employees, so long as it actually remains out side of work. But to the extend judgments are made, he’s the one who deserves the scorn.

            1. SystemsLady*

              Agreed, and that Alex not only hides his marriage at the outset but felt the need to send that email to OP is really…telling about the kind of person he is. I almost feel just as sorry for Anna as I do for his wife, but not quite.

              OP is doing a great job here.

            2. Zombii*

              Thank you for saying this. A lot of people have a hardline “she should have dumped him when she found out he was married (and just think of the children!)” attitude, but it’s really hard to leave someone after you’ve bonded and have an attachment—especially if you’re going to see them at work every day (and yes, I know the obvious solution is don’t date people from work… but come on now).

              I feel sorry for Anna and for the wife, in different ways. Alex is a tool. :(

          4. LKW*

            I’m with you on this one. It sounds like she’s asking for protection from negative opinions of her and she’s actually asking for protection. While HR can say “we’re staying out of this” I really hope neither of them go running off to HR if they feel people are judging them or being mean.

        4. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah — the OP said that Anna said that if people treated her differently, they “had good reason” for it. That’s not “protect me from retaliation.” It’s confusing though, because it’s not clear what she was asking for.

          1. Kindling*

            Maybe she was basically getting it out in the open so that if her manager and HR started hearing rumours about an affair, they wouldn’t be sitting there wondering whether or not it’s true? At least she gets the feeling that she got to disclose to her manager somewhat on her own terms, instead of having the rumour mill do it. Not sure if I’d have looped in HR, though.

          2. Naruto*

            We don’t have exact language, but it sounds to me like “good reason” means “here’s why.” It’s not an explicit request for protection, but it could be taken that way.

          3. OP*

            OP here. My understanding was that she was hoping having it documented would protect her from unfair treatment (even if she did feel like it would be “deserved”). It’s too odd a situation for me to say what would be “normal” to do here, but my impression is that she’d hoped a paper trail would offer some form of protection/insurance against mistreatment.

            1. SQL Coder Cat*

              Ugh. I suppose it was too much to hope for that my charitable reading of Anna’s actions was correct. Best of luck to you OP, and I hope you won’t have to be involved in any further drama from them!

              1. Elizabeth H.*

                Personally I don’t see it as charitable or uncharitable – why does it have to be either? I think it’s reasonable to worry about retaliation or harassment or being treated differently. Those types of behaviors can be unconscious, and regardless of whether the reason for being treated differently is considered to be morally justified, it still isn’t appropriate in the workplace where the assumption is that people will conduct themselves professionally and work together for the good of the organization.

                1. Miles*

                  It’s definitely reasonable to be worried about it. I worked at a place where a coworker cheated on her fiance with someone she met through work. She requested a tweak to some work travel to let her meet up with this guy again and carry on the affair and when the assistant who made the change to the travel found out she was furious. She tried very hard to get my coworker fired in retaliation for making her an “accomplice” to the affair which ended up as a headache for HR. I’m guessing Anna is hoping HR would be able to head something like that off if they know to look for it.

            2. Hey Nonnie*

              Yeah, I don’t get what she was after. As mentioned above, materially participating in a deception isn’t a protected class; and it could be easily argued that said deception calls her integrity in general into question, which can be problematic at work. What else might she — or either of them, really — cover up if they see an advantage to doing so?

              Given the integrity issue, is this something that ought to be disclosed to Alex’s manager as well? Said manager can’t watch out for deceptive practices at work if they don’t know they should.

              1. Zombii*

                >>What else might she — or either of them, really — cover up if they see an advantage to doing so?

                This is really shit reasoning though. It’s along the same lines of “If someone smokes weed on their days off, they might do heroin in the company parking lot” and “If you’ve ever associated with criminals, you’re probably a criminal too.” (That last one is from those pre-employment quizzes all the low-wage jobs insist on these days, and what a hiring manager told me the reasoning for asking is.)

                I mean, make judgments about how either or both will likely treat their future partners, sure, but extrapolating to how they’ll operate in a professional context is overreaching.

                1. Hey Nonnie*

                  Your examples miss my point. I’m not saying that minor things that I wouldn’t even consider discretions must needs slide down the slippery slope to serious transgressions. I’m saying that a serious deception in a person’s personal life is an extremely close parallel to a serious deception at work. Your examples are huge leaps of logic; mine is the same transgression in a different environment. If someone is clearly okay with deception, why should one environment over another make any difference?

            3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I think she really doesn’t understand how this works. The idea that putting this on HR’s plate would protect her is a little… naive (that’s me trying to be charitable). But I guess at least she’s complying with the fraternization policy— Abe that’s what she was mistakenly worried about.

              1. Zombii*

                I think it’s a bit of the letter vs the spirit. Breaking it down: 1) she’s complying with the policy, 2) she believes some people within the company might try to punish(?) her for her decisions, 3) even though she is complying with the policy. Looking at it this way, going to HR makes perfect sense. This gives HR a head’s up and now they have the option to change the policy, or explain the existing policy to anyone who complains about the affair in future.

                I know that isn’t how it works in real life, but HR should be aware of the potential for anyone to rules-lawyer them about any policy, and then either change the policy or reinforce it. (It also seems likely that Anna was concerned about the OP trying to penalize her for the affair, since she included OP in the meeting—quite a tasty power move, that.)

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Yeah, but she’s totally confusing “compliance with the fraternization policy” with “no one is allowed to react poorly to my suboptimal personal decision that has practical effects in my workplace.” I don’t know how she thinks HR would protect her, but I agree that her pulling OP into the meeting sounds like her effort at a “power move” to subvert OP from penalizing her (which of course was not something OP would do, but Anna certainly seems to have freaked out).

            4. Jane*

              I wonder if Alex’s wife isn’t 2 steps away from finding out about the affair.

              In which case, they’re telling HR in anticipation of the wife’s angry phone calls/office visits/divorce subpoenas and hoping that coming clean will prevent that from REALLY mucking things up for them at work.

              I’m not sure asking HR for the benefit of the doubt is really going to help them in this situation but it could be some sort of CYA attempt.

          4. Gandalf the Grey*

            Yea I wondered about that. I think there is room here that she could identify that her situation is unpopular and people could treat her differently and they may feel justified for treating her differnetly, it’s still not right and HR should know that’s why it’s happening.

          5. Gov Worker*

            I agree. Perplexing to me what kind of standing she thinks HR has in all of this.

          6. DArcy*

            My impression is Anna means she understands there may be social fallout and it’s not HR’s job to shield her from that, but she wants to have things on the record if things cross the line to actual adverse action.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Yeah, but in this context, there’s not many adverse actions that would be unlawful or inappropriate, for all the reasons others have noted. I think she fundamentally misunderstands what HR’s role is, or what “protection” she would have from disclosing her relationship.

              1. Annie*

                I agree that adverse actions may not be unlawful, but I can imagine a range of workplace social and professional reactions that certainly could be inappropriate.

          7. Tealeaves*

            All those dramas and soaps are proving useful in producing theories now:
            It could be possible retaliation from Alex in the future if she wanted to end things? Like making her work at office impossible, or denying her fair treatment. Then she could update HR and use this as a point.

            It could be pre-emptive to prevent blackmail or unfair treatment by coworkers. If she gets her facts to HR first, she’s protected. e.g. imagine co-worker A comes up with some story that they’re getting skipped over for a task because Anna had a hand in influencing Alex because of their relationship or vice versa. Or they insist that Anna / Alex get fired for being immoral or refuse to speak with them and thus make working difficult, then HR can step in.

        5. Observer*

          Not honorable – self defense. She’s trying to make sure that no one is going to treat her differently because of this. And HR has reason to be concerned, because if a double standard is applied to her and Alex, that’s going to be a legal problem.

          1. SystemsLady*

            That’s what I was thinking her reasoning might potentially have been, to make sure Alex isn’t excluded should it come out. But wow would dumping him as soon as she could handle it have been a better move.

        6. EleanoraUK*

          It sounded to me like she realised there could be consequences, and wanted to cover her arse so she wouldn’t need to accept being treated differently because of her choices.

        7. Chinook*

          “Well, she’s acknowledging that she’s doing something that might cause people to be less accepting of her, and to want it on the record that she knows there may be consequences and she accepts them.”

          Actually, I see it as her not thinking she deserves consequences and wants to be protected if feel people treat her differently (almost like being a mistress would be a protected class).

        8. Zooey*

          I think I get what you mean. Seems to me that a lot of people who cheat on their partners want to morally have their cake and eat it too — they want to continue to do a bad, selfish thing while still trying to convince themselves and others that they’re actually a good, unselfish person. They want to make choices without accepting the real consequences of those choices.

          But Anna’s not making excuses for herself. She’s owning her choices even though they’re bad ones. It’s not “honor,” but it is maturity.

        9. Anon Anon for this*

          Per the LW, “she needed to disclose this to HR so that, if someone did start treating her differently as a result, it was on the record that she was aware that people knew about the affair and had good reason to treat her differently.” That’s… surprisingly self aware and honorable to me. YMMV.

          I didn’t read it as self-aware or honourable; I read it as directed to the OP, like a threat or a CYA move. Anna suspects the OP knows about Anna and Alex’s affair so is wanting HR to know so that the OP doesn’t treat her any differently. I don’t think it has anything to do with other employees.

          1. Lurkily*

            Yes, this was my take on it as well, Anon Anon For This.
            I’ve been wondering if I’m somehow misreading it that my impression was quite different to those responses above.

            It went like this in my process:
            1. Anna found out she was in a relationship that involved deceit
            2. Anna decided she was ok with that and continued it, without feeling any need to disclose at work
            3. Anna saw OP reading something that she realised was either about Anna, or close enough to her situation that OP may be aware.
            4. Anna called a meeting including OP and HR in which she expressed concern that someone would treat her differently in a negative way once they knew.
            To me, Anna meant OP. It doesn’t seem like “oh, please, lovely OP and HR, protect me from those nasty people who don’t have my back like you do!”
            It sounds like “now that you know, OP, don’t treat me negatively or I will take action against you and the company.”

            With possibly a 5% of concern about other people, who don’t necessarily even know yet.

            1. No Longer Lurking*

              Totally agree, Lurkily and Anon Anon For This! I’ve been reading the comments looking for this take on the situation, and I don’t know if I’m just being more cynical than others that seem to have a more benign reading.
              IMO, the fact that she had the meeting with BOTH HR and OP (as opposed to just one or the other) is extremely telling. She’s saying that OP has found out about the affair and is already reading up on ways of dealing with a similar situation, so she wants to give HR a heads up about the affair and OP’s knowledge of it, so that she can point to this disclosure later, if she ever wants to accuse OP of any mistreatment of her.
              For me, affair aside, this is a very wrong-headed approach to an awkward situation by Anna; you think your boss knows about an affair with a co-worker and your immediate response is to drag boss to HR for a veiled warning?
              Seems like Anna’s judgment is lacking in more areas than her choice of romantic partner….

    2. la bella vita*

      Seriously, let’s just hope there isn’t an update that Anna got pregnant and later ended up working for Alex’s by then ex wife…

      1. seejay*

        that’s totally where my mind keeps going. Seriously. We’ve recently seen pretty much the ultimate toxic dramabomb of a workplace affair can get… not that this will go the same route, but why tempt fate with one? O_O

  3. HR Manager*

    Awesome job! Your email was completely on-point. It’s great that you told him you’re not ‘cooperating’ and it isn’t an ‘endorsement’ of anything. Way to be professional! (unlike some people in your office :D)

    I am curious as an HR Manager myself, what would I do in such a situation. Seeing as we don’t have a written policy prohibiting any such relationship, if someone came to me to disclose I guess I would make a note with date and time etc. But can you please elaborate on what did you and the HR rep do in this case?

    1. OP*

      Hi. OP here. Thank you for the kudos. It’s nice to know others think I handled it well because, well, you never know how you’ll handle a strange thing like that!

      I let our HR rep do most of the talking in that meeting — in part because I was too speechless to say much, but also for the more obvious reasons. He documented it strictly as it happened, “Anna Smith requested a meeting with Ms. Jones and me. Ms. Smith said during the meeting that the purpose of this meeting was to disclose a relationship with a colleague, Alex Jacobs. She said the reason for disclosing the relationship was that she feared retaliation because Mr. Jacobs is known by many in the office to be married. She said she wanted to have the affair documented in case her relationship with Mr. Jacobs leads to unfair treatment. I told Ms. Smith I would document the meeting and place my notes in her personnel file. She asked if Mr. Jacobs should be present. I told her I am unable to discuss Mr. Jacobs’ employment with her, and that he should speak to me directly if he chooses to request his own documentation.”

      He and I still smirk when we see each other in the hallways, like “Did that really happen?” Would be interested to know if you, as an HR professional, would have handled it differently.

      1. HR Manager*

        Thanks for the info OP. Yes, I would’ve done something similar. Write a to-the-point factual document and have Anna Smith sign then placed it in her file. I would maybe then request a 1-1 meeting with the person who Anna Smith named as she was in a relationship with to corroborate that he is indeed in a relationship with Anna. The best case scenario for me in HR would be if he says yes. Worse case scenario is if he denies it then it’s a whole new can of worms for me.

    2. Triangle Pose*

      That’s interesting to me. You don’t have a policy prohibiting romantic relationships between managers and direct reports?

      1. Amber T*

        OP said that there is a policy against relationships between managers and direct reports, but it sounds like Anna and Alex are peers with different managers.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          OP manages Anna. Alex is in a different chain of report, to another boss and grand boss.

          e.g. Mr Burns manages OP and Wakeen.
          OP manages Anna, who has direct reports Rob, Sansa, Arya, and Bran.
          Wakeen manages Cersei, who manages Alex.

              1. nikki*

                It’s a reference to another AAM comment in which a person thought that “Joaquin” was pronounced “Joe-a-quin,” so when people talked about “Wakeen,” she assumed there were two different people.

    3. Kathleen Adams*

      I just don’t get what Anna hoped to get out of the HR meeting. I’ve read many of the comments including much of the speculation on this, and I just don’t see what possible good can come out of this meeting and this documentation.

      Even if a coworker starts acting coldly to Anna or skeezy Alex, well…so what? It doesn’t matter what the reason is, surely. If they act coldly and professionally, HR will in all likelihood do nothing, because why would they? In most companies, there’s no rule that says everybody has to be buddies, and therefore as long as professional decorum is maintained and the company doesn’t suffer, there will be no consequences. And if they act unprofessionally, HR ought to take the same steps no matter what the coworker’s reasoning for that unprofessional behavior is. I don’t see how documenting it ahead of time helps in the slightest.

      So I just don’t get it. I’ve thought and thought about possible reasons – both honorable and self-protective – and I simply don’t see how any good can come of this weird and uncomfortable meeting.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Downthread someone noted that Alex’s wife could subpoena the records for proof of when the affair started and that she knew he was married, which might be very useful if the wife sues for divorce.

        How that helps Anna is a mystery to me. (Elsewhere in the thread OP notes that she and HR occasionally meet and exchange “well that was surreal” looks.)

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          Exactly! What in the heck was Anna thinking? Does she really think this is some kind of protection? Evidently so, but…how? Why? In what fashion?

          So weird. No wonder OP and HR guy feel nonplussed.

          The only thing I can think of is that there [b]are[/b] people who seem to think all kinds of things count as discrimination that are not in fact discrimination. Some of them write to AAM, in fact – like the guy who punched a coworker at a company Christmas party and seemed to think his boss was out of line for asking him to resign (https://www.askamanager.org/2011/12/i-punched-a-coworker-at-the-company-christmas-party.html ) or the woman who questioned whether her husband could really get in trouble because she’d written a threatening letter to another coworker telling her to stay away from the husband (https://www.askamanager.org/2015/02/my-husband-got-in-trouble-at-work-after-i-told-his-coworker-to-stay-away-from-him.html).

          So maybe Anna truly thinks that if someone “discriminates” against her or Alex by disapproving, she has some sort of legal recourse? That sounds crazy to me, but we’ve heard weirder things here on AAM.

          1. seejay*

            Maybe in the case of if the affair does blow up and there’s drama and fallout within the office, she thinks she might get discriminated against as the woman in the party and she’s just preparing ahead of time? (since in the past, firing/disciplinary action tended to fall onto the woman in the case of inter-office romances that fell apart or came to light and were against company policy)

            Just a possible theory?

      2. Paxton*

        I’ve worked in companies where people were required to document personal relationships (family or romantic) so the company can ensure they are covered legally and don’t put people in bad positions. For example, putting Anna on a project lead by Alex. Or promote Anna to be Alex’s manager. We had a manager and his assistant fired because they didn’t disclose their romantic relationship (both were married to other people).

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          That’s interesting – I had no idea. It doesn’t sound, from what the OP said, as though that’s the case here, but it’s very interesting nonetheless. And who knows, maybe it will help out the company in the future, even if it’s pretty pointless now.

          1. Kathleen Adams*

            Sorry, I meant to say “that’s not the case here.” I plead sloppy typing.

        2. Anja*

          We had that in a previous of mine – a least where work could intersect. So, for example, if you were dating someone in another location you usually wouldn’t have to disclose. But we had a senior manager and an executive assistant start dating and they had to disclose. Because there were several EAs that supported even more managers and senior managers they just swapped him out with someone else another EA supported. So no change in work scope or responsibility, just a slightly different portfolio. And he would then recuse himself from the management performance review meeting (where they went over staff performance reviews) when it came to her. He would be called back in when they moved to the next staff member.

      3. Annonymouse*

        I took it more that Anna wants to be on record that she is in a relationship (an affair unfortunately) in case people start noticing how much time she and Alex spend together.

        And the fact there could be perceived preferential treatment between them because of the relationship.

        OP wisely told them to dial it back at work.

        But yeah, Alex is a real piece or work.
        1) starting a relationship with a coworker when he is married.

        2) hiding the fact he was married from the coworker

        3) asking OP for “cooperation” after the relationship is revealed. Urgh!

        1. tigerStripes*

          Yeah, Alex is a piece of work. I wish Anna had dumped him so hard he would still be feeling it a few weeks later.

      4. Anna (not that one!)*

        Maybe it’s in case it moves into actual bullying or sabotage of her job. HR won’t get involved if it’s just coworkers being cold or distant to Anna, but if they actively stop cooperating with her and making it impossible to do her job, they could. “No one in the office will speak to me beyond what’s necessary and they say mean things behind my back” won’t get anything from HR. But “Sansa won’t pass on my phone messages, won’t email me about crucial job related things any more and actively fucked up something important to make me look bad” might.

        It also protects her from blackmail in future. An unlikely scenario, but no one can threaten to tell the company something the company already know.

        I’m a different Anna, I swear.

        1. Long time listener, First time caller*

          What if it has nothing to do with management or, vo-workers treating her differently? What if, she is preparing for the day when her married lover gets a promotion, dumps her and then tries to get her fired? Or, if someone uses her affair as blackmail to make her sleep w/them? Or, just as blackmail for money?

      5. CM*

        My guess is Anna freaked out and felt she needed to do something. She had heard of people needing to disclose relationship to HR (this happens on TV shows, or she may have gotten bad advice from a friend) and so she did that.

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          Or maybe there’s a whole complicated mix of reasons.

          I’m trying to imagine working somewhere where this is a requirement – don’t get me wrong, I understand why it might be required, but golly, it’s just so awkward sounding. Because of course if you have to inform HR that you’re involved, I guess you’d have to tell them when you break up, too: “To whom it may concern – This is to give you official notice that my relationship with Alex (disclosed to you, as per company rules, on 28 May 2017) has officially ended because it turns out that he’s the scum of the earth. Very truly yours, Anna LastName.” It’s like a different world than the one I live in, but I do appreciate being given a little peak into it!

      6. Anon Anon for this*

        I think Anna is trying to control the OP’s response: letting HR know of the affair in case the OP (Anna’s manager) starts to treat her differently. I don’t think it has anything (or as much) to do with her other colleagues.

  4. FlibertyG*

    Good on you for realizing this is not your circus to manage. You’ve got strong professional boundaries and I think that’s the best approach – and is in no way your endorsement of the relationship. Having said that, how terrible every time you run into the wife … your neighbor.

  5. Anon today...and tomorrow*

    I love the email. As I was reading and saw the word “cooperation” I immediately pictured Robbie at the end of Dirty Dancing when he thanks Baby’s dad for his help with the “Penny situation”. It made my skin crawl in the same way and the OP’s emailed response? It gave me the same thrill as when her dad ripped the money out of Robbie’s hand. I wonder if Alex stared at the email with the same expression of shock!

    Sorry…I watched Dirty Dancing (the original) this weekend!

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      That is exactly what I thought of too! Probably in my mind from the (terrible) remake last week!

    2. OhBehave*

      I also pictured the “cooperation” comment with a wink and a nod. Yuck! As if OP was condoning the affair.

  6. Christy*

    I particularly like OP’s email because she is two management levels above Alex and so is well-positioned to give a chilly response/quasi-reprimand.

    Do you think her response would be less appropriate if she were not Alex’s grandboss?

    1. ArtK*

      No. Some form of that would be appropriate for *any* work relationship with Alex. The gist being “Do not *ever* get me involved in your personal relationships and don’t assume that I approve.” I would do that kind of thing with a peer who tried to get me to cover something like that up.

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      I think a similar response would be just as warranted for any relationship, in or out of work.

      Using the word cooperation in this context is gross.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        Yeah, that’s a weird and unprofessional thing to say to your grandboss about your romantic relationship, period, outside of some very narrow circumstances.

      2. RVA Cat*

        Yes, plus with the neighbor thing I’m assuming he means “cooperation” to include “hiding this from my wife.”

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          That is how I took it too- and the reason, if I were the OP, I couldn’t have just let it slide. I’d want to shut down that idea, immediately!

        2. Annie Moose*

          Yyyyyup. OP is under no obligation to go out of her way to facilitate this relationship, if that’s what Alex is expecting her to do.

        3. Damn it, Hardison!*

          Exactly. I thought OP’s response made it clear that Alex should not think she was complicit in his affair.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think OP’s response would have been appropriate even if OP were Alex’s coworker. Alex’s email was super gross and essentially tried to inveigle OP into Alex’s shady two-timing.

      1. bean*

        Totally agree. Honestly, if I were OP, I might be having a one-on-one meeting of my own with HR – to alert them to this email and ask for any further guidance. HR may or may not be aware that OP and Alex are neighbors, and it may be worth documenting that OP is making a good faith effort to stay out of this mess… and it may also be worth it for OP to let HR know she could easily be in the awkward position of running into Alex’s family just due to where they all live, and request HR’s guidance on staying out of this, given the proximity.

        Seems like both Alex and Anna are very aware of OP’s position and worried about her “cooperation” (ew) or whether she could retaliate, and just as a function of geography it would be easy for OP to get pulled into their drama, especially if/when Alex’s wife finds out about it all. Might not be a bad idea to have HR document that OP is doing her best to seek consultation from their department to ensure she is acting professionally at all times (we already know she is, but having them write it down can’t hurt here – can’t say I trust Alex or Anna).

      2. bean*

        Meanwhile, I just saw how long ago this update was posted! Sorry for chiming in so late!

        OP, your response was amazing. I still can’t help but think this is going to end badly somehow, for someone (messy breakup? messy divorce? between the two of them, the lack of judgment, poor handling of situations, and outright immaturity and narcissism just jump off the screen here…), but your responses to everything so far have been PERFECTION.

  7. Matilda Jefferies (formerly JMegan)*

    Wow, this is pretty amazing all around. I agree with Alison and others upthread that your email to Alex was perfect! And I think Anna…well, I’m going to agree to disagree with her about the wisdom of having an affair with a married man at work, but it does seem she has thought through the implications and risks, and is taking steps to manage them ahead of time. It’s definitely kind of weird, but obviously worth it to her.

    (Also, a pox on Alex for cheating on his wife and kids! They are the ones who are ultimately going to be the most hurt by all of this, and they’re also the ones with the least control over it. If anyone deserves to have a curse put on them at work, it’s him.)

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      It isn’t even that she chose to have an affair with a married coworker- that is unwise on its own- but to continue in one, knowing that he was dishonest with her from the start?

      None of OP’s business, or anyone except Anna and Alex, but oh, she’s being so foolish!

      1. Creag an Tuire*

        The human brain is very good at coming up with justifications for prior decisions rather than admitting that It Made A Mistake (even if it was perfectly justified in making the original mistake due to lack of pertinent information).

        And I suspect Alex is helping the process along by “admitting” that Yes I’m Married but it’s a loveless marriage and we’re getting a divorce once the kids are old enough/the wife finishes med school/the dog graduates college. Eff Alex.

        1. Malibu Stacey*

          Plus, it’s much harder to stay away from somebody who’s not good for you when you see them every day.

        2. Emily*

          Yes, this is what I was thinking. It’s possible that Anna doesn’t have many moral qualms about carrying on an affair with a married man, but it’s also very possible that she wouldn’t have knowingly entered into an affair and managed to justify it to herself once she found out.

          Many people have a hard time leaving people that they have feelings for, even if the relationship is ultimately bad or unhealthy.

            1. HigherEd on Toast*

              +1 I’ve watched several people (mostly younger than me) get into affairs with someone who’s married, and I’ve felt sorry for them while also thinking, “What utter idiots.”

              1. SystemsLady*

                Yup. I feel extra sorry for her because Alex seems like a manipulative sleaze and she seems to have some career-related fears when it comes to ending the relationship. But I hope nobody is taking that as me not thinking she’s making a very bad decision.

                1. Zombii*

                  Agreed. My aunt got into a relationship with a man who turned out to be married and had two kids. He left his wife for her and they have three kids now and were married for 15 years. Then he met some woman online and left her. He said “How are you surprised by this?! It’s exactly the same thing as when I started dating you!”

                  (He was with his third wife for five years but she never wanted kids/couldn’t have kids/not sure which and not my business, so he at least didn’t have the chance to set up another franchise before bailing on her.)

                  Tl;dr: Alex is a sleaze. This whole situation is why kids are a dealbreaker for me, especially if the dude is married.

            2. Susana*

              Again, I don’t think having a relationship with a married man is advisable (and it’s a really bad idea when you work together). But people should not assume she’s “foolish” because she automatically assumes some “happy ending” of him leaving his family for her. This scenario may be exactly what she wants: great conversation, sex, nice dinners, all without having to pick up his socks or deal with his mother. She may not be wishing and hoping for an engagement ring. His unavailability may well be part of the appeal.

              1. Jessesgirl72*

                If she thinks there is going to be no professional consequences to having an affair with a married man at her work, even if she’s in it just for the hot sex, she is foolish. And that meeting with HR isn’t going to protect her.

                1. MsCHX*

                  Eh…I think that’s only the case in a niche field or one that depends heavily on networking. There would probably have to be a huge fallout for it to affect her professionally.

                  Not condoning or “cooperating” lol!!! Just saying.

              2. tigerStripes*

                Maybe what she’s got is what she wants, but she’s putting her career and reputation at risk. Who knows how the wife will react if she finds out? I wouldn’t blame the wife if she did her best to make sure everyone in the vicinity knew about Alex and Anna.

                1. Chickia*

                  Right?!? remember the letters & updates about the vindictive ex who ended up almost managing the lady who had the affair (and a baby) with her husband? She sounded awful and the lady quit and was out of work. And according to the story, had gotten the guy fired and “ruined” his life! I’m expecting another update eventually with the fallout after the wife finds out (because they always find out eventually!)

          1. High Score!*

            While Anna isn’t smart for continuing the affair, people sighs consider Alex is the one who said vows and made a commitment, not Anna.

            1. Hey Nonnie*

              They are both materially participating in deceiving Alex’s wife, however. Anna didn’t choose to go to the wife and tell her when she found out he was married, after all. (I wouldn’t even touch an open marriage without first confirming with the other partner.) Since we know that Anna knows, they’re both guilty.

              1. SystemsLady*

                Telling the spouse isn’t something I’d always advise (especially if you don’t know them!), but yes she was guilty, if a pitiable form of guilty, the moment she found out.

        3. Aunt Margie at Work*

          Alex has convinced himself that what he is doing is fine. After all, the company didn’t reprimand him, demote or fire him. In fact, coworkers (even ones in superior roles) are essentially supporting him, by cooperating with…oh wait, they aren’t.
          THAT must have been a shock. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when he read that email.

  8. Amber Rose*

    Gross. You handled that basically perfectly. But man, if I were you I’d have a hard time being around Anna even professionally. I have zero respect for that crap.

    1. J.B.*

      Mmm…being around Alex, yes, that I would have a very hard time with. I’d be willing to reserve judgement on Anna – she could go in the “making bad choices” category until proven otherwise. As the more junior female half of this couple she would probably be the one let go if it came to that.

    2. Green*

      Who a woman chooses to sleep with is zero of my business, unless it’s with my spouse. And in that case my beef would be with the one who promised to be monogamous and didn’t rather than the person who doesn’t know me.

      1. JudgyMacJudgerton*

        Oh please. Who sleeps with whom has always been everyone’s business and always will be. Maybe try googling “social contract”. Anna is knowingly violating the broadly accepted rule not to sleep with other people’s spouses (which clearly has a social benefit)

      2. Green*

        Things people are interested in are not necessarily their business.

        And the social contract? Marriage is a literal contract. Between two people. Anna isn’t in that contract (and didn’t even know he was married initially!). Does she have some larger responsibility to other people? Sure, but how it applies here is far from settled “social contract” law. And Is it relevant at work, so much so that it would be difficult “being around her” professionally? Lots of my colleagues are divorced/remarried. If they had sex outside of their marital bounds is none of my business and should have I impact on my professionalism.

        Alex is an ass, and OP rightfully rebuked him in an icy clarification. Anna is just someone trying to do the right thing at work.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          Anna was just someone trying to CHA from any consequences at work., you mean. She seems to think no one can treat her differently by reporting it to HR if/when everyone finds out.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I am 90% with you, but I do think Anna is being a jerk, as well. Certainly Alex bears the lion’s share of blame for breaking his vows to his wife. But Anna’s decision to stick around after learning he was married is not great, pitiable, and likely to harm her down the road.

          I don’t think she’s trying to “do the right thing at work” at all—I think she wants amorphous “protection” from her coworkers (or OP) expressing disapproval of her, or frostiness, for her choice to stay in a relationship with Alex.

      3. Julia*

        I agree. Surely I wouldn’t make Anna one of my closest friends or introduce her to my husband, but Alex is the one who is going against his wedding vows.

  9. MMDD*

    The scandalized look on my face right now apparently is priceless enough for coworkers to ask what I’m reading. You now have new readers, Alison. And that email response! Internet high fives and gold stars, OP! Outstanding!

  10. Jessesgirl72*

    Well Done, OP! Your response to Alex should make clear that he had best keep you completely out of it in the neighborhood, as well as at work.

    It’s too bad Alex’s wife can’t accidentally see your computer screen with the letter(s) up.

    1. Aunt Margie at Work*

      Exactly. Do not take your evening stroll with the wife kids along the sidewalk in front of my house and expect me to have a friendly chat. Work is work. I will work with you. I will not play an extra in your melodrama.

  11. Jaguar*

    Just gross all around. My e-mail to Alex probably would have been less diplomatic: “Fuck off, Alex.” So, well done, OP.

    1. Spectacled Elephant*

      Mine would have started with, “Have you lost your ever loving mind, you *******.”

  12. JennyFair*

    I think my concern at this point is that Anna stated Alex *did* begin a relationship with her without informing her that he was married. If I were Anna, I would have some serious concerns due to this. Given Alex’s behavior, this is going to blow up at some point, and OP and the office may get hit by some of the shrapnel. Yuck, all the way around. (But what serendipity, too!)

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      If most of the readers were Anna, Alex would have been instantly dumped when she found out. Then a Thank You Llama would have been delivered to his house with a note about how sorry she was that their special romantic trip had to be cancelled.

      1. Annie Moose*

        A Thank You Llama! I love it. I want to start a farm to raise llamas expressly for this purpose. It’d be a free service provided for the betterment of humanity.

        1. Marillenbaum*

          I used to live near a vineyard that kept llamas, and I tried (to no avail, alas!) to convince the owners that they ought to be trained as Wine Llamas that could bring sips and nibbles to their guests.

      2. Creag an Tuire*

        This is an especially funny mental image given the other thread where we decided that “Llama” = “Lawyer”.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          You know, the Thank You Llama could always come with pre-drawn-up divorce papers.

      3. SystemsLady*

        Even feeling nervous about telling a spouse I don’t know (after having dumped him) I’d consider this option :). It certainly conveys an appropriate vindictiveness for the guilty spouse while giving the message to the innocent spouse in a fluffy, friendly format.

      4. Russian Kat (France)*

        I have a dear friend that got involved with a married man without knowing he was married at first, either. She did eventually dump his ass, and then mailed some of his belongigs that were at her house to him. To his and his wife’s house. And if a lacy pair of underwear fell in, whoops. That would have been so much better delivered by a Thank You Llama!

  13. Sales Geek*

    I’m a bit of a Puritan when it comes to office affairs…this can go very, very wrong.

    At my first tour of duty with oldjob I had a married teammate who was carrying on an affair with a married manager. This went on for a very long time and then became public. The married manager’s wife left him and took the kids. Shortly afterwords, the spouse of my peer committed suicide.

    This was many, many years ago it’s still a raw wound.

    1. Zombii*

      I’m very sorry that happened, but I hope you don’t mean to imply that the spouse’s suicide was the fault of the affair partner(s). We all make choices and being the cause of something isn’t the same as being responsible for it.

  14. shegotzen*

    Hypothetical question: in this case, it doesn’t sound like the OP has a close relationship with Alex’s wife, so it’s unwise for her to get involved further. But if they were friends, would the OP be able to tell the wife what she knows? Or would she be obligated to keep it confidential for some reason?

    1. Dinosaur*

      I personally wouldn’t go out and tell her unless the two of us were dear friends for many, many years. If the wife asked me if I thought something was going on, I’d probably say “You need to talk to Alex about that.” A response like that should let her know that something is up but I wouldn’t be the one to break the news.

    2. Naruto*

      I don’t see why she would be obligated to keep it confidential. Maybe someone can think of something I’m missing. But the best reason to keep it confidential, rather than tell the wife, is for the OP to avoid getting involved with all the drama.

      1. Annie Moose*

        This is how I feel.

        I’m pretty strongly against cheaters, so of course I always want to see a cheater get their comeuppance, but in the real world, getting personally involved in drama doesn’t actually mean things will be better. Unless OP has a close relationship with Alex’s wife already, I don’t think anything would be gained from her sticking her nose into this.

        But I also don’t think OP has any obligation whatsoever to lie about or deceive in the service of hiding this relationship. There’s a balance to be had between “I don’t need to spread this piece of information around” and “I must lie to hide this information”.

    3. Dani X*

      My gut wants to say no. This isn’t a work issue so doesn’t need to be confidential. But I am also not a HR person.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      Most employment in the US is at will, so if the company decided that they didn’t like the resulting drama of the affair coming out then they could theoretically fire whoever they blamed for it; I would be far more worried about this if the person cluing in the spouse were the lowest level employee involved, rather than the highest.

      1. Jesmlet*

        There is a risk here that the added drama would jeopardize their job but if I was friends with the wife and in a fairly comfortable financial situation, I would absolutely chance this. I don’t think I could look myself in the mirror knowing I was keeping this knowledge from a friend.

    5. Jane*

      I immediately read Alex’s “thank you for your cooperation” as a not-so-subtle “thank you for not telling my wife.” To me that email was all about him talking to the person who knew his wife personally and protecting his ass on that front. He doesn’t care about Anna and the work situation.

      1. PhillyKate*

        +100. That is how I read it as well. He could care less about Anna and work consequences as long as he is covered on the home front. The “cooperation” gave me the heebie jeebes.

    6. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      This question I think will always plague humanity. “Should I tell [person] that their [person] is cheating on them?”

    7. Sami*

      I’d be oh so so so close to telling Alex’s wife. Particularly since I (as the OP) is NOT a close friend, so that Wife isn’t losing a friend that she’ll desperately need whilst her marriage is blowing up.

    8. Information*

      There are many STIs that affect fertility and even lifespan. If someone I trusted were putting my health at risk, and someone else knew about it, I’d really like them to tell me.

      1. Jane*


        The most common symptom of an STI is no symptom at all. Alex’s wife isn’t getting tested because she’s assuming she’s in a monogamous marriage and safe. It might be years before she realizes she’s not.

      2. Zombii*

        This is why married people need STI checks at their wellness exams too and why it infuriates me that docs will often default to not even offering those checks if the patient is married. /PSA

  15. MuseumChick*

    Not going to lie, a small, slightly evil part of me kind of hopes Alex and/or Anna are now reading AAM.

    Anyway, for Alex to use that kind of language in this situation, to me at least, shows just how gross of a person he is. I have an “Anna” in my life who was jerked around horribly be an “Alex” and has stayed with him through everything he has done to her. Sadly, no matter how brain smart a person might be they can make really poor choices in their personal lives. I hope Anna ends up with someone who will show her love and respect.

    1. Cafe au Lait*

      I hope she is, and if so:

      Anna, Alex will never leave his wife for you (no matter how much he promises). Avoiding detection is more important than spending time with you. This might feel good now, but eventually you’ll end up playing second fiddle to something else. Worse, Alex will tell you that he’s reconciling with his wife when really he’s starting a second affair.

      I’d cut your losses now, and break up with him. There are great men out there. They might not come with the packaged looks of Alex and might be a bit awkward, but they exist.

      1. MuseumChick*

        The “Anna” I know, her “Alex” was constantly saying how unhappy he was with his wife. Funny that he never left until the wife found out about the affair, kicked him out, and divorced him. (Side Note: she had raised his two kids from a previous marriage AND bankrolled his “art” career [quotation are intentional])

      2. KHB*

        Hmm. While I guess it’s possible that Anna is hoping to one day be Alex’s one and only, I don’t know that we can assume that. Maybe she knows that all she’s going to get out of Alex is a casual relationship that feels good in the moment, and maybe she’s OK with that, because it’s all she wants right now.

        She still gets a serious side-eye for her role in causing pain to poor Mrs. Alex (though of course Alex bears much more of that responsibility), but I’m not seeing her actions as necessarily all that self-destructive.

        1. New Bee*

          Your scenario raises a bigger question of why she’d jeopardize her career for him, imo.

      3. Nobody Here By That Name*

        Even if he does I feel like this is the romance version of “Don’t accept the counter offer.”

        I’m having a similar facepalming situation with some folks in my friendship circle where I want to grab the woman in the equation, shake her, and remind her “If he’ll cheat WITH you he’ll cheat ON you!”

    2. The Bimmer Guy*

      I wouldn’t even go that far. There’s not enough evidence to suggest that Anna is being strung along. It’s possible that this is all in good fun, and she knows it’s a finite thing. It’s possible Alex really *will* leave his wife for her, but just hasn’t done so yet. And it’s possible that Alex really is just using Anna as his plaything.

      I, like the OP, would stay out of it. And, from the wife’s perspective, I would actually understand if an acquaintance or friend didn’t break this news to me—in order to preserve her own career and well-being—as long as this person isn’t my best friend or someone to whom I have deep loyalties.

  16. Geneva*

    Maaaaaan OP, you deserve an award for that email! It was short, sweet and just sour enough to SHUT. HIM. DOWN.

  17. SaraV*

    That email is a masterpiece…you walked the line perfectly. Alex hopefully felt goosebumps after reading it.

  18. Gingerbird*

    Just gotta say I love the shout-out to Miss Manners, probably my second favorite advice column ever.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        My nieces are totally going to have to carry on AAM for me when I am gone. If you see the advice here get really weird, that’s what happened.

          1. Papyrus*

            We’ll know when the cats have taken over when all the posts are sponsored by Purina and the only content is random strings of keyboard characters and letters.

            1. MoodyMoody*

              Are you trying to say that Alison’s cats are less intelligent than mehitabel? Don Marquis’s cat, mehitabel, could write poetry. (Admittedly, the cockroach, archy, did most of the typing.)

          2. Brandy*

            The advise to not hiss when you see a co-worker you don’t like, would be hilarious.

            1. Creag an Tuire*

              “It is, however, perfectly appropriate to poop on your boss’s carpet to silently protest your working conditions.”

              1. Statler von Waldorf*

                This made me laugh so hard I just had to explain to my boss why I was cackling so loudly.

              2. =^-.-^=*

                Obviously. Pooping on your boss’s carpet is an established social convention—just don’t commit the huge faux pas of pooping in the potted plant in the lobby!

          3. Gingerbird*

            A reader asks:

            I a new co-worker has insisted that we call her housemate “master.” I find this utterly ridiculous. She’s also constantly digging up the garden and is afraid of thunder. Should I get HR involved?

            1. SQL Coder Cat*

              That would be if the dogs take over the column. The cats have ‘human lackeys’ or ‘slaves’.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I don’t know… your nieces have given pretty solid advice when they guest wrote for you. I think the column will be in good hands :)

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Now all I can think of is the column(s) about whose job it is to clean out toilets and how to “evade” that responsibility when it’s your turn.

    1. Liane*

      I suspect the incomparable (original) Miss Manners might admire OP’s email along with Alison.

      (@Jessesgirl72 & MommyMD, Compared to their mother, I find her heirs’ advice hit or miss, more often the latter, alas. Especially in tone. But the bar is set very high & they may well learn better.)

  19. bravissimo*

    OP, I hope to one day work for someone as diplomatic and professional as you.

  20. MuseumChick*

    One last post for today: Kind of sad that this update was just a little too late for the 10 year AAM Hall of Fame. That email deserves a spot on the list!

  21. Snarkus Aurelius*

    The email to Alex left me speechless. I’d love to hire you to write some of my emails! :)

    That said, I’m confused by this sentence.

    “She said that seeing the letter I was reading was enough to let her know that at least one person was likely already onto them, and that she felt that, awkward as it may be, she needed to disclose this to HR so that, if someone did start treating her differently as a result, it was on the record that she was aware that people knew about the affair and had good reason to treat her differently.”

    Is Anna saying that because she’s engaging an extramarital affairs that it’s okay for people to treat her differently? Because that is not okay. Regardless of how people feel about affairs, it isn’t grounds to treat Anna differently good or bad. Please let me know if I misread that?

    Finally, I’d love to know how many people out there would be able to recognize themselves in these letters. I consider Anna to be in the minority.

    (This is why I tell similar versions of the same story in the comments but always change up a detail or two. I’m quite paranoid.)

    1. Jaguar*

      Why isn’t it okay to treat people differently based on this? It’s behaviour and behaviour is the principle basis for how we treat people differently. If someone has anger issues or doesn’t wash their hands after using the washroom or makes offensive jokes or whatever, we treat them differently. The more you know about someone, the more informed your behaviour with them becomes, and if I worked with these two, I’d want to as little to do with them as possible.

      1. Naruto*

        You need to treat your colleagues professionally, even if you don’t like them personally. I don’t think it’s okay, for example, to shun coworkers for being racist or homophobic or whatever — as long as they don’t act on it at work (such as by making racist remarks).

        1. paul*

          Shunning != treating differently though. They’ve both demonstrated a lack of judgement that’s mind boggling and, IMO a lack of ethics that is disquieting.

        2. Jaguar*

          Right, which is what I meant by “as little to do with them as possible.” I tend to act very open and freely with coworkers, so a let’s-just-do-our-work-and-get-it-over-with attitude would be a dramatically different way of treating people. Snarkus said (and later clarified), “it’s [not] okay for people to treat her differently” on the basis of this, which read to me like it’s not ethically okay to treat her differently in any way. I disagree with that.

        3. Student*

          Those racist and homophobic folks are treating others they work with differently at work. They just do it out of your line of sight. We have study after study demonstrating that it impacts hiring and career trajectories.

          So why is it okay for the racists to hurt the careers of minorities and suffer no professional consequences for it, as long as you don’t have to actively watch them do it? The bad behavior doesn’t stop just because you look away.

          1. CA Admin*

            This is where I fall too. A racist, homophone, or misogynist is already treating others differently at work–either through implicit bias in hiring or outright with other employees. Just because you personally don’t see it outright doesn’t mean it’s not happening, especially if you’re not a member of the group that they’re prejudiced against.

          2. Naruto*

            What I think is that as a peer you have an obligation to treat someone professionally — which does NOT mean that as a boss, you have to keep that person on your team in the first place. If you see someone is racist and you’re in a position to do something about it, you can fire them.

        4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think it’s entirely possible to treat someone professionally but still be icy. I am exceptionally good at this, although I also think it’s ok to (individually, not as a bullying tactic) shun someone being racist/homophobic. But I also think it’s ok to fire people who are being actively racist/homophobic (and who identify that way or routinely make racist/homophobic comments), and I think there’s a wide array of ways in which people do bring that conduct into the workplace. It’s just usually subtler than some George Wallace nonsense.

          I also think there’s a categorical difference between behaving in a racist manner and participating in someone else’s extramarital affair. I personally think they’re both inappropriate, but the former also happens to be illegal/against public policy.

      2. Snarkus Aurelius*

        I should clarify. When I said “treat differently,” I meant shut her out of meetings or ignore her at work or take her off plum projects or be openly hostile to her or sabotage her contributions.

        I don’t mean anything related to a protected class, which I know she’s not.

        1. Jaguar*

          Right. I don’t think it’s ethical to take action against someone for their behaviour unless it rises to the level of being dangerous (i.e., call a support line if someone’s talking about killing themselves). But changing how you treat them isn’t taking action against them and the way you decide how to treat people is based on who you think they are, and who you think they are is based on what you know of them, which is revealed best through their behaviour. A saying I’m fond of is that if someone is nice to you but mean to the waiter, they’re probably not a good person. In that case, you’ve learned something about the person and should treat them differently. I would take that as a lower-stakes version of what’s going on in these letters: you now have a lot of information about Alex and Jane. It would be strange not to treat them differently.

          1. Jaguar*

            That said, on the topic of taking action, I’m not sure where I fall on the topic of telling Alex’s wife. I can see arguments for both sides, and I tend to fall on the tell her side.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              So I’d argue it this way:

              It’s info that the OP came into possession of in the course of doing her job. If she tells the wife, there will almost certainly be professional implications for her relationship with Anna, who she manages. This is a situation where she needs to do the right thing for her job, which is to not throw a bomb into her relationship with the direct report.

              If she were friends with the wife, I’d feel differently.

              1. Jaguar*

                Not letting people know about serious dangers they’re unaware of because it could be bad for you isn’t something I can get behind. There’s a lot of bad words we have to describe people who do that.

                I don’t think OP is obliged to let anyone know, but if the inclination to let the wife know exists, I’m not sure it should be suppressed because of reasons.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  No, it’s not because it would be bad for the OP. It’s that she has a professional responsibility to her employer to manage her relationship with Anna in a way that doesn’t include blowing up her personal life.

                2. Jaguar*

                  I have to admit, I don’t see how personal life fits into it. For one thing, letting Alex’s wife know that he’s cheating on her isn’t strictly about Anna (obviously, this is murkier in practice, but I’m not sure it’s murky enough to say that since the person Alex happens to be cheating with is a report, that changes things). For another, doesn’t work impact personal lives all the time, sometimes quite dramatically? Like, people’s marriages break apart because of harsh working conditions.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I’m with Alison. I don’t think these decisions are as black/white as is being argued. I guess I’m less motivated by the workplace dynamics (although those are important) and more motivated by the drama llama dynamics. If I am not a close friend of Alex’s wife, I am not going to throw a grenade into that woman’s personal life and into my employee’s personal life when I have no idea how much harm I could create. I know Alex is the bad actor, but it’s also possible to share information in ways that is more destructive than helpful/protective of the person being wronged (Alex’s wife/kids).

              2. JamieS*

                If your focus is on OP’s professional relationship with Anna why would your position change if the OP were friends with the wife? All your reasons for not telling the wife would still hold true.

                1. JamieS*

                  That doesn’t make sense to me. Originally your advice to not tell the wife was focused on OP’s professional relationships which makes sense since this is a workplace advice blog and not Dear Abby. Then you indicated that your opinion would change if OP was friends with the wife which shifted the focus from OP’s professional relationships to personal relationships.

                  I’m not understanding why that mental shift would occur over a friendship when it doesn’t occur over personal convictions. I would think if a friendship loyalty possibly trumps a workplace loyalty then a loyalty to one’s convictions definitely would.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Different people will judge it differently. I’m just telling you how I’d call it.

                  But just because this is a work advice blog doesn’t mean that I/we aren’t supposed to acknowledge the role personal relationships might play! That wouldn’t reflect reality. It’s just a question of how you end up balancing it all.

      3. Marillenbaum*

        That’s a very good point. As long as people remain professional and do their work, it’s absolutely fine to be cooler towards them. I used to work at a very chummy sort of office, but there was this one bloke I simply could not stand. I tried, I wanted to, but I found him condescending and not nearly as amusing as he found himself. I remained polite, instituted checks with myself to insure I wasn’t being unduly harsh because I didn’t like him, but he wasn’t someone I would invite to lunch if I was feeling like eating out.

    2. Miss Elaine E.*

      I’m pondering the notion that Anna saw this very story online about her own situation. Did she look it up on her own later? If so, how does it feel to know that hundreds of strangers from around the world know about and are commenting about her affair (something that many people consider to be shameful) online?
      I can’t begin to imagine….There are no words.

      1. DrAtos*

        I was wondering the same thing. If she saw the headline she may have likely seen the name of the website too. I’d be curious enough to Google Ask A Manager to read the article myself. What if she is reading this follow up too? Very weird but given that AAM has become quite popular, it would not surprise me if the subjects of these articles realize that their co-workers are writing in about them.

    3. Fictional Butt*

      I think Anna meant she thought OP was googling to find out how to deal with the situation, not that she actually thought OP submitted the letter.

      Also, last I checked, “people who have affairs with their coworkers” is not a protected class.

      1. Miss Elaine E.*

        Sorry for not expressing myself clearly: I know that Anna apparently didn’t recognize her own story at first, but I gotta wonder if she Googled it sometime later, “Hmmm, exactly what was (OP) looking at, anyway? What advice did she get?” Only to find out that it was about her?
        While I have not personally been involved in an affair, there are parts of my life that I am not proud of and would be horrified to find out that strangers are talking about those (or any parts, actually) of my life online.
        Just imagining, is all….

    4. Jessesgirl72*

      I can not care a whit about someone’s personal life, and still think less of them for their behavior surrounding it, and have a lot less trust in them, as a result. Both because it shows poor judgement and Alex, in particular, as someone who is dishonest.

      And completely aside by the morals/ethics surrounding it, there is no legal protection to keep Anna or Alex from being treated differently.

      1. Koko*

        With the disclaimer that I know I’m unusually forgiving, I don’t usually extrapolate from someone’s judgment in a relationship to their judgment in other areas of life that don’t involve interpersonal relationships. I was in an unhealthy relationship for a long time when I was younger and I remember so well how easy it was to make bad choices when it came to that person. Other than that relationship, I’m a very responsible person who generally makes good choices. People behave irrationally and take stupid risks when they’re in love, but it doesn’t mean they’ll behave irrationally or take stupid risks when it comes to things other than the person who makes their heart go pitter-patter.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          I find that people who are dishonest in one thing are dishonest in others.

          And office life (especially as Anna is a manager) is full of interpersonal relationships.

          1. TL -*

            I disagree with you there. Most people are good on average, not in absolute. Cheating, especially, is really common – about 50% of people have cheated on their partners; one presumes a fairly large number of people have also been the other person. So either 60%+ of the world is dishonest, or people are more complex than one facet of their lives.

            1. Koko*

              Yep. And most people will lie under the right circumstances. Lying is this meta thing where everyone lies about how much of a liar they are. Because when a person tells a lie, they’ve already justified in their mind why it “doesn’t count” because the circumstances left them with “no other choice,” or because telling the lie was “the kinder thing to do,” so then time passes and they go on thinking of themselves as an honest person who doesn’t lie.

              The truth is everybody lies, but most people aren’t pathological liars and don’t make a habit of lying. And I really think people’s approach to romance isn’t a good barometer for their approach to work. Selena Gomez makes great business/career decisions but also kept going back to Justin Bieber no matter how crappy he treated her.

      2. WPH*

        At my OldJob one married executive had an affair with another married executive who happened to be head of HR and they were caught having the affair at a work event. Yeah, the poor judgement involved in this is mind-boggling. It led to both of them “moving on” because legal got involved and was like, “how can a person in department X feel safe bringing a complaint to HR about department X knowing the department heads are intimately involved?” Leaving my personal ethics out of it, work affairs are just dumb and not worth it on any level.
        But hey, they are the exception that proves the rule because they did eventually end up together. Or at least both of their spouses divorced them and they ended up living together.

    5. Amber Rose*

      You didn’t misread it, but I disagree. It isn’t a good reason to be unprofessional or rude to her or to refuse to work with her or any sort of bullying, but it would be understandable to not want to be sociable with her or invite her to after work things or develop a friendship with her. It would definitely cause me to be notably frostier around her.

      And if I were her manager, I would be concerned, because having an outsider, so to speak, can be pretty hard on morale and teamwork. This kind of drama is just a ticking time bomb waiting to blow up in everyone’s face.

      1. Fictional Butt*

        Plus, in OP’s email she mentions being Alex’s neighbor, which means she probably knows his wife, which means she’ll have to watch what she says when she’s chitchatting unless she wants to start some drama. I’d be very displeased if a coworker put me in that situation.

        1. Snarkus Aurelius*

          The neighbor factor also explains why the OP rightly rankled at the word “cooperation.”


    6. SignalLost*

      My read is that she’s saying people probably will treat her differently, in a way that would normally warrant a manager stepping in, but that she wants this on record so that no one faces disciplinary action over treating her poorly for her crappy decision. If the office chooses to go all Mean Girls on her, she knows it’s on her, not them. Which … I’m exhausted by that chain of logic. Get a new job!

    7. nonegiven*

      I think she wanted to tell HR first so that they wouldn’t be surprised if someone else informed them.

    8. Electric Hedgehog*

      I’ll have to disagree with you. In generally, I really don’t care about a colleague’s extracurricular antics. But if I know that an employee has been engaging in dishonest or unethical behavior, I certainly wouldn’t put them up for promotions or recommending them for prestigious assignments. You may think it’s unfair, but many, many high profile people have caused serious scandals and harm to their brands/organizations due to their desire to look outside their relationships for fulfillment. Plus, if you have a security clearance, it makes you a bit of a security risk.

      Also, I look at marriage or closed relationships as commitments. If you can’t keep your commitments in one area of your life (over which you have complete control), I’m much less likely to trust you with additional responsibilities.

      1. Jadelyn*

        To be fair, Anna isn’t the one who’s looking outside her relationship for fulfillment, and she’s not the one who’s failed to keep a commitment. As far as we know she’s single, and she hasn’t made any commitments that she’s breaking. So treating Anna differently over this is based on one’s personal distaste for the situation, since she hasn’t actually violated her commitments/been dishonest in any way, rather than on the “if someone’s dishonest outside of work I’d stop trusting them at work too” calculus you’re presenting it as.

        Alex, on the other hand…increasingly comes off as a serious creeper tbh. That “thank you for your cooperation” email was gross as hell. I would definitely treat him differently after knowing all this.

        1. Hey Nonnie*

          She HAS been dishonest. She knows Alex is married and with that full knowledge is participating in deceiving his wife. She could tell the wife — she’s in a better position than most to do so — but she chooses not to. She could even end her part in the deception by ending the affair, but she’s choosing not to do that either.

          So yes, her choices reflect pretty badly on her integrity.

          1. Jadelyn*

            She has not been dishonest. She’s under no obligation to tell anyone about their relationship. ALEX bears sole responsibility for his relationship with his wife, and absolutely is deceiving her, but that’s on him, not on Anna. She’s not breaking any vows or violating any commitments, because she hasn’t made any vows or commitments.

            I’m just never going to be on board with the idea that people are responsible for or obligated to other people’s relationships.

            1. Electric Hedgehog*

              Nah, I disagree with your thought process there, I’m afraid. I’m not saying at all that Anna is responsible for Alex’s choices, or for his relationship, vows, or commitments. Those are totally his, and his alone. However, she is engaging in inherently dishonest behavior by facilitating Alex’s dishonesty (and to be clear, her offense is much, much smaller).

              If she, upon discovering that he was married, asked him to end the other relationship before continuing the one with her and stuck to her guns, I could not fault her in the slightest. But actively helping a creeper sneak around behind his wife’s back just doesn’t pass the smell test to me. Same applies to those who lie on his behalf to hide the affair from his wife – not remaining silent because no good ever came from inserting oneself into others’ drama, but actively lying to the spouse to cover the cheater’s butt. It’s why I think most of us find the ‘cooperate’ comment so icky but are understanding of the OP not going out of her way to tell Alex’s wife.

              1. Jadelyn*

                So, why is the OP not obligated to go out of her way to tell Alex’s wife, and that’s not “facilitating Alex’s dishonesty”, but Anna not going out of her way to tell Alex’s wife is?

                1. Hey Nonnie*

                  The OP isn’t sleeping with Alex. She is not an active participant in the behavior that caused the deception in the first place.

                  I mean, seriously. If you hear someone scream in an alley, it’s crappy to not call the police, sure, but that doesn’t somehow turn you into the guy that assaulted the victim. You’re culpable for your inaction, but you’re not culpable for a felony crime — that was the perpetrator’s choice. This is really weird blame-shifting and you’re really torturing this logic, here.

                  You’re also disregarding Anna’s other option — end the affair.

            2. bunniferous*

              Hope these people are not in North Carolina because here you CAN sue for alienation of affections. Just saying.

              1. MoodyMoody*

                That wouldn’t fly in this case because the relationship was instigated by Alex, and Anna didn’t know at first that he was married. Alienation generally requires that the outside party deliberately tries to break up the marriage. I’m not a lawyer, but I have read about a few of the lawsuits here.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                It’s extraordinarily difficult to win an alienation claim, and from what we’ve been provided, this doesn’t sound close.

            3. tigerStripes*

              I think there’s a general social expectation to not have sex with someone who is married to someone else and is in a monogamous marriage. I blame Alex more, especially since he didn’t tell her upfront that he was married, but Anna knows now and I don’t understand why she’d want to be with a creep who lied to her and is cheating on his wife.

          2. HigherEd on Toast*

            Yes, this. I don’t think Anna is AS to blame as Alex by a long shot, but treating her as if she’s done nothing wrong/as if she’s a wonderful person who’s being unfairly blamed is silly.

    9. seejay*

      There’s someone in my office who proudly voted for someone else that goes against the majority of what my office stands for (without getting into details, the bulk of our employees are made up of mixed racial heritage, immigrants, cultures, and identify across a spectrum of sexual identities). Said employee proudly announced who they voted for to two of our women employees, one of which was a Muslim immigrant from Africa.

      You can bet your bippy it changed my opinion of said employee very quickly and has also changed how I interact with this employee. I’m not rude or refusing to work with or interact with them, but I no longer have chit chats or friendly casual conversations with them.

      1. Former Employee*

        Thank you, seejay. The whole “proudly announced” thing makes it sound as if what this employee wanted to do was say something nasty to the co-workers about their race, religion, ethnicity, etc. Knowing that they couldn’t get away with that, they made it clear that voted for someone who said such things about their people, thereby “sticking it to them” second hand. What a piece of work that person is!

        1. seejay*

          Well apparently my Muslim coworker is “different”. She’s “not one of them”. As if that means something. It’s… kind of jaw-droppingly tone deaf at best, considering the very liberal city we live in.

          I have a very hard time even being friendly now but… I have to be. :/ I just keep it professional and casual now.

    10. Damn it, Hardison!*

      If others find out about the affair they might not assign them to the same project team, have them travel together, etc. If there are any company guidelines relating to individuals in a relationship coworkers/managers might apply them to Anna and Alex even if their relationship isn’t out in the open.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I KNOW! I find that element of it really interesting — that the site itself ended up playing a role in how the situation unfolded. That’s only happened a few other times that I know of.

      1. Starbuck*

        I’d be curious to read those examples if the letters haven’t been redacted! I think I recall one case of that happening, where someone recognized a letter and asked for it to be removed because the situation had been misrepresented by the letter writer. If I could think of an appropriate I’d hunt for them myself.

        1. Sami*

          It was something about a college student writing to his professor to get a grade change, move a deadline, get extra credit, something like that.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I can’t remember all of them off the top of my head, but one person (in a move I’m not super comfortable with) printed out the post and the comments on it and left them on her coworker’s chair:


          And do you remember the post from the people who thought they’d found their coworker’s suicide to-do list (link below)? I later heard from the coworker (not the letter-writer), who said she’d come across the post and realized it was about her. She said it was a very old list and she was seeing a therapist. She said she was a little mortified but also amused.


          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Oh wait, that second one doesn’t fall in the category of the site itself impacting how the situation unfolded. Still interesting though!

          2. paul*

            I mean….I can get why you’re not comfortable with it but that’s pretty awesome as a way to get someone to butt out.

          3. Starbuck*

            Those are both fascinating examples, thanks for finding them! Wow, I can totally understand the temptation to print out and present a letter and say “see, this outside authority says I’m right and you’re wrong!” and now that I think of it I’m a bit surprised we don’t hear of it happening more often… I suppose because, other than that case, I’d assume it’s far more likely to backfire.

          4. Falling Diphthong*

            The first one is interesting because I’m pretty sure almost no one out there who is convinced by the argument “A bunch of strangers on the internet, based on a couple of paragraphs giving my narrow view of your actions, think you should change your actions!!!”

            (One thing I really like here is the focus on actionable advice, to the person who wrote in rather than anyone else described. “Your colleague is crazy” might be a nice affirmation to look for another job, but it’s not something that will convince the colleague to be a model of sane professionalism going forward.)

          5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Alison, wasn’t there also a post where someone wrote you a letter, and then a person’s coworker emailed you to notify you that what they had written seriously misrepresented what had happened? That one seemed to be a little bit play-within-a-play, too.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      It’s surely not the only office in America where a manager could say “My direct report is having an affair with a married coworker.”

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        That is an understatement! ;)

        It’s more the rule than the exception, in my experience.

        1. Jadelyn*

          My ex, when she made the jump to Corporate America, once joked to me about how many affairs everyone was having. She said “It’s like you get a job and they tell you, here’s your office, here’s your new Blackberry, here’s your company-issued affair.”

          1. Jessesgirl72*

            She didn’t exaggerate, and it’s not only Corporate America.

            It’s not like everyone is cheating, but every place I’ve worked, someone was cheating with a coworker.

            And even in my early 20’s, I knew to pretend to see nothing, as it wasn’t my circus or monkeys! The only exception being when someone used me as an alibi with her husband, and didn’t even tell me, so I didn’t know enough to even stay out of it when he called at 6am looking for her, and she’d told him she was going out with me… (Pro tip: If you’re going to cheat, don’t use someone as an alibi unless you’ve told them! At 6am, all I can mumble is “What? No, Sue’s not here. No, we didn’t go out last night. WTF are you talking about?)

  22. Lynxa*

    I. Am. Gobsmacked o_O

    But WOW that e-mail to Alex was amazing. Perfect balance of chilly and professional! I salute you!

  23. Candy*

    I still think this was all entirely none of OP’s business considering Anna and Alex never did anything to concern their supervisors besides going for lunch together and chatting in each other’s offices occasionally but good on Anna for confronting the situation head-on and bringing in HR when talking to to OP.

    1. Observer*

      Why so critical of the OP? The OP stayed out of it. It was Alex who tried to pull her in with his email about “cooperation.”

      The man is a jerk. It’s one thing if her were poly and Anna knew that going in. But he’s not, and Anna didn’t know that he was in a supposedly committed monogamous relationship. So, he lied to her as well as cheating on his wife. That’s his business, although it does say something about his integrity. But, still his business. Trying to drag the OP into it by talking about her cooperation means that the OP needs to respond. And she did so perfectly.

      1. The Supreme Troll*

        And, unfortunately now, it says a lot about Anna’s lack of integrity as well.

        1. Jadelyn*

          It really doesn’t. She’s not breaking any commitments, and she’s under no obligation to safeguard someone else’s relationships, especially since he lied to her about it originally. Alex is the bad guy here.

          1. paul*

            I don’t think I’ll ever agree with the attitude that you don’t owe other people some basic courtesy in not assisting in them being cheated on–in business, personal life, whatever.

            It’s one thing to be the unknowing other person, it’s another to knowingly participating in an affair.

            1. Jadelyn*

              Then we’ll have to agree to disagree, because I cannot get behind the idea that I automatically owe someone else’s relationship anything. Their relationship is between them and that’s no one else’s issue to manage.

            2. Chinook*

              I agree. If you are the getaway driver, you are still involved in the robbery. Whether or not you were random person that they car jacked or planned to help out all along is the only thing that helps decide your guilt.

          2. Gov Worker*

            Anna is an accessory to the crime, so to speak. An informed, cooperating (ha!) accessory. She is hardly without fault. Blatantly disrespecting someone else’s marriage is ugly behavior in its own right. I have had it done to me and yes I was pissed at both parties. Cheaters couldn’t cheat without folks to cheat with, who make unfaithfulness possible. I couldn’t disagree with you more about this.

            1. Zombii*

              >> Cheaters couldn’t cheat without folks to cheat with, who make unfaithfulness possible.

              That’s a really gross line of though: Thieves couldn’t steal if stores didn’t stock such nice stuff and leave it out in the open on shelves for anyone to take, etc.

              If someone can’t keep it in their pants, they shouldn’t make a monogamous commitment, especially if they’re going to actively pursue other people outside the relationship. It’s pretty obvious that’s not going to work out well for anyone in the long term and blame-shifting doesn’t help.

              1. paul*

                That theft is happening without consent of the store; in this case the person is a willing participant.

              2. tigerStripes*

                Blaming the store for theft is blaming the victim. I wouldn’t blame Anna when she didn’t know Alex was cheating. Now she knows, and while he’s more at fault, she’s not innocent here either.

    2. Starbuck*

      It’s hard to fault OP there, though. All they had done was notice the situation, and before taking any action they wrote in for advice. Then the matter only progressed because of the actions of others (mostly Anna). Knowing how affairs can go badly and lead to workplaces issues (I’ve read so many examples now on this very site!) I think OP’s concern about how to best handle the issue, or if they should handle it at all, was completely justified. Honestly I am impressed at how faultlessly the OP has handled the matter.

    3. paul*

      We’ve seen enough letters written in to AAM that it shouldn’t be that hard to understand how messy and complicated and damaging romantic workplace relationships can be.

    4. Tuxedo Cat*

      It was the OP’s business because it involves 2 people who are at work together. If they were two people dating, without an affair, it’s still the OP’s business to some extent. The affair just makes it messier.

      If it were simply Alex having an affair with someone who isn’t associated with the office, it’s not really the OP’s business.

    5. Keli*

      “…considering Anna and Alex never did anything to concern their supervisors besides going for lunch together and chatting in each other’s offices occasionally”

      Except for the text Alex sent Anna, during working hours, and the fact that Anna left her phone unattended in a meeting room, so that when the text arrived, and it was displayed to another employee (her supervisor). The OP deserves to work in a non-toxic environment too, don’t you think? Whether or not she agrees with Anna and Alex’s “love” affair, she has had to take time out of her work to address the situation and still has to face the guy’s wife and kids in her personal life. (Which, by the way, Anna does not have to do. The OP gets to think about Alex’s broken family whenever she sees the mother or the kids on the street.)

      So those two have made it someone else’s business by their indiscretion.

      1. Candy*

        The OP made it her business by paying excessive attention to the lunch plans of Alex and Anna, then snooping on Anna’s phone with enough curiousity that she was not only able to see who the text was from but the first four or so lines of the text. I just put my own phone an arm’s length away from me on my desk and I couldn’t read the fine print of my notifications with any accuracy without pulling it closer. A coworkers’ phone lights up and normally you’ll glance at it because it’s a device, but you have to really want it if you can read the notification. (And she even continued snooping after that since she said she noticed Anna changed the privacy settings so that her texts don’t display. No wonder!)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          You’re assigning pretty unfair and unwarranted motivations here. You don’t have to go out of your way to notice this kind of thing — the lunch plans or the text. I can easily see texts on my phone when it’s across a table — it probably depends on the phone and maybe on eyesight too.

          I ask people here to give letter writers the benefit of the doubt, and this comment really isn’t doing that. Please read the commenting rules:

    6. Candi (with an I)*

      Drama explosion.

      Affairs have a way of throwing cowpies around that standard dating has a much lower probability of causing.

      There’s a letter on here where an administrative assistant asked what, if anything, she should do about: her boss’ multiple affairs, his two mistresses, one of who he had a child with (he acknowledged this), them having sex in his office on company time, and whether the AA should tell the boss’ wife. And the boss having the AA book stuff and lie about where he was and what he was doing.

      General advice was for the AA to keep her nose clean, try to distance herself as much as possible, transfer departments or get a new job, and do NOT tell the wife. (Who, as an extra bonus on the crap cake, had had heart surgery.)

      Well, at some point, without the AA saying a thing, the wife knew. And the affairs exploded. Spectacularly. With the the wife taking full and broad control of the narrative. It really impacted the workplace as well as the personal lives involved.

      Most kabooms aren’t as messy and have a smaller blast radius -but it’s still hell on the work place.

  24. CAinUK*

    I had a hard time figuring out what was still bothering me despite a great email response and update form the OP. I think it is this: Anna and Alex have basically laid this awkward elephant at the company’s doorstep and said “not my problem – because it is on record.”

    Except reporting your affair doesn’t magically exempt you from repercussions. I totally understand that you shouldn’t fire an employee(s) for their romantic choices. But these are two people who have decided to lie and also TO INVOLVE THE COMPANY. HR now has to document and consider their affair? The OP now must weigh the knowledge when making decisions to control their own bias? They have shifted the responsibility of their personal choices onto the company. This has already impacted the company by taking time and resources from the OP and HR.

    Not a reason to fire either person, but it is gross and another layer of selfish IMO.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      This is well put. If people are going to engage in extramarital affairs, they should be so discreet that other people don’t have to weigh the knowledge, because they actually don’t know and so it doesn’t affect their interactions.

      What bothers me in these things is the whole “It’s on the rest of the world to be discreet for us.”

      1. Fronzel Neekburm*

        or it’s on OP to not sneak on Anna’s phone or write letters to advice columnists based on a hunch that’s not her business. Just playing the other side here: everyone’s kind of against Alex and Anna (And to get this out of the way: Don’t cheat on your spouse) but OP was a little out of line here. The fact that it worked out in her favor (“glorious” email and all) does little to make me think that if I were working there, I wouldn’t want someone like OP looking into my business when it doesn’t matter.

        I got accused of having an affair with someone at work once. Mostly through the gossip mill. Had anyone chosen to ask me, they would have easily figured out that my wife and her had become friends, and when we started working together we became friends,too, because we knew each other. My wife about died laughing when the office snoop approached her. So I have little patience for office snoops.

        Sorry. I know this is against everyone else lauding OP so they can have their enemy in Alex and Anna.But fact is, yeah they were doing something is a nice catch but let’s not forget that the evidence was an office friendship and looking at an unlocked phone.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          She didn’t sneak on Anna’s phone! She saw the text pop up, which is not hard to have happen — a lot of people’s eyes naturally go to text when it pops in their field of vision.

          The OP was also really thoughtful about whether or not it was her place to say something — that’s why she wrote in in the first place.

          1. Tuxedo Cat*

            OP, I think that your email was fine FWIW. The use of “cooperation” felt off, and I think it’s good you let Alex know where you stand on things. You might’ve stopped him from incorporating you into any lies he tells his wife.

        2. CAinUK*

          I understand where you are coming from. And certainly gossip is damaging. But this isn’t gossip. It WAS speculation, which the OP kept to herself and asked for advice on whether to engage at all.

          I mean, if you’re Anna, here is what happened:

          1. Began seeing co-worker romantically (not a great idea, but whatever)
          2. Found out co-worker is actually married. Decide to continue relationship (umm?)
          3. Saw that her boss was reading a website about how to manage someone having an affair (feels embarrassed and alarmed?)
          4. Rather than approach her boss, explain the situation, and apologize for having her boss even worry about this, Anna decides to convene a formal HR meeting for PROTECTION for HERSELF? (I just can’t with this)

          There were so many ways to handle this better.

        3. Falling Diphthong*

          The other people in your office (or any group) often notice what you are doing. Including subtleties of body language that read as ‘romantic’ rather than ‘platonic as heck.’ It’s a human thing. Plans to have no one notice the affair should account for not working with a bunch of adorable mail robots who notice nothing but the bar codes on the envelopes.

        4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think your prior experiences might be coloring your perception of what happened. I don’t think OP was snooping or out of line, at all, and they asked AAM what to do (in what I thought was a really balanced effort at being nonjudgmental) before taking any action whatsoever. It’s not like OP was all cloak-and-dagger trying to catch Anna and Alex in the midst of a shady relationship and then spread gossip throughout the workforce. OP was struggling to balance the desire to protect an up-and-coming report who might have been placed in unfair and precarious situation that could impact that report’s professional success… but that precarious situation involved a personal issue, which was why OP was torn.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Yeeeeeeah, I think I’m on the same page as you. The LW did everything right, but this is still really icky to me.

      Does this open the company up to any sort of legal action if Alex’s wife files for divorce and finds out that the affair was on record?

      1. Antilles*

        While you can always sue anybody for any reason at any time, I don’t see how it would open the company up to legal liability. The company has no legal obligation to report affairs. Even more so because Alex’s wife has no employment relationship with the company.
        However, if the wife files for divorce and finds out the company knew about it, the company’s records about this would be subpoenaed and would be extremely useful to Wife’s Lawyer. There is now a signed and dated document indicating when the affair started, details of the affair, that they decided to keep going even after it was found out, and also that everybody knew Alex was married.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I seriously doubt it. Unless it’s the military, the company has no obligation to disclose an affair or otherwise get involved in Alex’s family law shenanigans.

    3. Annie Moose*

      It does feel a bit like Anna and Alex are trying to absolve themselves or somehow legitimize their relationship. Or like they’re putting the responsibility for determining whether or not it’s morally justifiable off on the company. “Oh, the company doesn’t care, so I guess that means what we’re doing is OK.”

      Sorry, but that’s not how it works–you have to decide for yourselves whether or not your actions are OK!

      1. The Bimmer Guy*

        I don’t know about that. It seems like Alex and Anna must’ve already had their minds made up, because when Anna went into the HR office, she basically said, “I already know he’s married, and we’re still doing this.” She conveyed it in a humble manner, but that was the gist of her statement. The concerns or opinions of OP and the rest of the office didn’t seem to factor in. Alex, yes, did give a rather skeevy “thanks for being complicit” message to OP, and she responded cooly and crisply. But I’d say this is as fitting a denouement as you’re likely to find.

  25. MommyMD*

    If I were the owner, I’d fire them both. It shows poor character and a willingness to be deceitful that could show up in the workplace. She got caught and was covering herself. I would not trust this pair.

    1. N*

      Well, it would depend upon the employer’s policy on coworker dating, wouldn’t it? If the employer found out that the pair was hiding their affair when the company already prohibited it, that would be a problem. But if the company doesn’t have a problem with those relationships, I don’t know if you could fire them for what they do outside of work. Obviously most people here would agree that it’s unethical to lie to and cheat on a spouse, and I agree this is pretty gross, but I don’t think it’s fireable unless it *directly* leads to problems at work.

      1. N*

        Follow up to comment: LW says in the first letter that coworkers are allowed to date as long as a manger isn’t with someone they directly supervise, which isn’t the case here.

        So to sum up–the relationship may be shortsighted and the behavior unethical, but it seems like the firing would delve too much into the particulars of a personal relationship. Alex is gross but I grudgingly concede that as long as this stays out of the workplace it should just be ignored.

    2. BPT*

      I don’t disagree that they’re showing poor character, but a lot of people do things in their private lives that show a “willingness to be deceitful” that could show up in the workplace. I mean, if my parent and I work at the same workplace and I lie to them about something in my private life, that could show a “willingness to be deceitful,” but I’d think it was crazy to fire anyone for that. My employer might think it is unethical to ever lie to your parents, but as long as I’m not breaking company policy (i.e. lying to them about a work matter they need to know about), then I really don’t think the company should intervene.

      Yes, this is not the same exact thing, but just because you lie about something in your private life doesn’t mean you’d be willing to lie about a work matter. People can keep these things separate. If I really needed $20 right away, I’d probably be fine going into my mom’s purse and telling her/paying her back later. That doesn’t mean I’d ever do that with the petty cash at work.

      Sure, personally it would make me look at both participants in the affair differently, and I wouldn’t interact with them more than necessary for work. But plenty of people do things outside of work that their employer might not be ok with. If they’re not currently breaking policy and it’s not directly affecting the workplace, then I wouldn’t fire them. If it does start to create a problem in the workplace, then I’d reconsider.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think people are too quick to extrapolate “deceit” in the context of a romantic relationship to the non-romantic context. I think Anna’s making a terrible choice, and I don’t think it reflects well on her. But I don’t think it renders her inherently dishonest or “willing” to engage in dishonesty.

      1. Lissa*

        I agree, because if everyone was judged as inherently dishonest or should be fired for making a mistake on the level that Anna did, I think it’d be well over 50% of the population…i know if I was judged for my worst moments I’d look pretty dishonest as well as other things!

        (That said I think this is a huge potential dramabomb because it involves two coworkers, and I’d be keeping a real close eye there)

  26. Bend & Snap*

    I think Anna has some balls. And I’m surprised she’d continueboth the relationship and her employment with this company.

    My only other comment is that you don’t know what is happening in someone else’s relationship. My marriage ended almost a year before I was able to move out and make it public. This could be a similar situation.

    Or Alex could just be a cheater with a willing accomplice. Idk. But I know enough people with complicated/dead/open marriages that I don’t have a knee-jerk reaction when it comes to automatically judging affairs.

    1. Antilles*

      The way Anna and Alex are acting really makes it unlikely that it’s any of those complicated marriages.
      >Most importantly, if it was something Alex’s wife was OK with, Anna probably would have simply said *that* since it would serve as a defense for her and make the whole situation much more acceptable in people’s eyes.
      >OP’s original post said that Alex wears his ring when she’s seen him around the town, just not at work (i.e., where Anna is present). If it was an open marriage, he wouldn’t need to take the ring off around Anna; if it was a dead marriage, he wouldn’t really need to put the ring on around his wife.
      >Anna said she didn’t know he was married for a while but found out later. If it was one of these sorts of situations, there’d be no serious need for all the secrecy by Alex.
      >Alex’s use of the word “cooperation” is super-strange – almost like he’s thanking OP for keeping it quiet.

      1. Bend & Snap*

        You can super sleuth it all you want. It ultimately doesn’t matter because the hit to professional reputations is there regardless. The OP handled it beautifully.

        My larger point is that marriage isn’t always black and white.

  27. RVA Cat*

    That email was a thing of beauty. I’m mentally reading it as coming from Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) from The Expanse.

    1. Marillenbaum*

      Shohreh Aghdashloo has such a wonderful presence: dignified, but with a hint of menace.

  28. HisGirlFriday*

    I think one of the things Anna (and to a lesser extent Alex) hasn’t considered is the ‘soft skills’ impact of this.

    If I’m a co-worker, and I find out that (a) Alex lied to Anna about his marital status and (b) used false pretenses to get her to have a relationship with him and (c) she found out about his wife/kids and continued the affair anyway, that changes how I look at *both* of them.

    I would still be perfectly professional to Alex and Anna, but I wouldn’t be inviting them out for happy hours or get-togethers or anything that involved out-of-hours team building, and I’d DEFINITELY be look askance at both of them, wondering how deep their lack of integrity goes.

    I mean…Alex lied about (and to) his wife, and broke his marriage vows — I’m now going to be worried that, given his somewhat shaky relationship with the truth, is he going to lie about something to throw me under the bus? Is he going to show favoritism to Anna in some seemingly inconsequential way?

    1. caryatis*

      “Alex lied about (and to) his wife, and broke his marriage vows — I’m now going to be worried that, given his somewhat shaky relationship with the truth, is he going to lie about something to throw me under the bus? ”

      Good point. I don’t care whether a person breaks his/her marriage vows, but habitual liars generally lie about everything. What blows my mind is that the guy (IIRC) showed up at work with no ring, before even meeting Anna! Was he planning to have an affair as soon as he found a willing partner?

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        This assumes he didn’t already have another willing partner when he met Anna, or that she’s now his only willing partner.

        Habitual cheaters cheat.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          They also usually don’t just cheat at one thing either. They cheat in every way they can.

      2. Bartlet for President*

        My father and brother both don’t wear their rings ever. For my father, it started as a legitmate work concern, but he still doesn’t wear it now that he’s retired. My mom doesn’t care whatsoever. My brother’s wedding ring stopped fitting after he gained some weight, and he just never bothered getting it resized. As far as I know, it causes no martial discord for him.

        A close friend never wore her engagement ring (she didn’t have a wedding ring in addition to the engagement ring) at work because it was rather flashy, and it made her uncomfortable working with low income individuals while wearing a giant sign on her finger that said “we have lots of money!” She just thought it was distasteful.

        I know multiple researchers who do field work in war torn communities, and just got in the habit of not wearing a ring. Almost all have carried that habit into non-field environments.

        My point is that it could be entirely innocent to not wear a wedding ring. Alex sounds sketch – but, not wearing a ring could be totally innocent.

    2. ArtK*

      This certainly calls both of their judgment into question. Not to mention their ethics. While this may be the only situation where they are lacking, I would have a hard time trusting either of them in the future.

    3. cncx*

      what you describe is what happened in an office affair of some people i knew. no one lost their job over it, but it was considered so tacky from a professionalism point of view that one of the affair partners got passed up for a promotion and the other was put in for layoffs before anyone else in the team. there was just a general discomfort that affected their social standing in the company. Like i said in the comments in the original post, i think people who have office affairs usually have other drama llamas and something else always comes out in the wash, even if it isn’t the affair. I know another guy whose productivity went down because he was too busy juggling his love life, and while he thought everyting was on the down low, his job suffered for it because his memtal energy was occupied with keeping track of all the lies he needed to fly under the radar.

  29. Antilles*

    From where she was standing, my screen reflected onto the glass wall adjacent to her, and she apparently caught a glimpse of the title.
    While obviously a very minor factor compared to everything else, this would kinda freak me out if I was OP. I’d probably be finding some decoration to hang on that glass wall or a plant to move there or something. Not even because I’m worried about what people would see, but just because it would make me paranoid in that Are-You-Watching-Me-Now sense.

  30. Roscoe*

    The email to Alex seems a bit harsh. Not that I think you need to be nice to him. But it seems that you are kind of being judgmental on him when you are not being that way toward your subordinate. I don’t know how to better handle it. However it just comes across odd that you were “concerned but not judgmental” about her, yet were icy toward him

      1. MuseumChick*

        This. Plus, he’s the one breaking his marriage vows and bringing his personal life into the workplace (if you are going to cheat please don’t do it at work. I mean, please don’t cheat at all but doing so AT WORK is just another level of gross)

      2. Jessesgirl72*

        Especially since they are neighbors, and a lot of us take that “cooperation” as an implication that will reach outside of the company.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Probably because he thanked her for cooperating, implying that he believed she is participating in keeping the affair quiet. At least Anna didn’t imply in any way that LW was doing her any favors.

      It’s one thing to confess to doing something. It’s another entirely to then do the “wink wink, nudge nudge, you’re cool with this right, it’s fine” kind of thing.

      Basically, Anna has made a poor decision, but Alex is a creep.

      1. Matilda Jefferies (formerly JMegan)*

        Basically, Anna has made a poor decision, but Alex is a creep.

        That’s where I land as well.

        And I don’t mind Anna’s having the conversation with her boss (the OP). The way I see it, she’s saying “I know there’s a possibility that things could get weird around here, so here is some background information on that.” People have that kind of conversation with their managers all the time – hoping or assuming that things won’t get weird, but laying the groundwork just in case. It’s still pretty strange to do it in this case, but I can certainly see where she’s going with it.

          1. SandrineSmiles (France)*

            That kind of conversation, yeah, but this one is with HR… and it’s like asking for a meeting, announcing you are going to a party Sunday night so you’ll be REALLY hangover Monday morning but at least now you know so if anyone looks at you funny there won’t be any repercussions… or something.

            (Yeah, I know, totally not the same, I was thinking about “things to talk to HR about that make no sense at all and are not the company’s business”)

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      It’s the “cooperation” bit. It’s like ‘thank you for being complicit in my BS.’

      1. RVA Cat*

        Yeah. I’m thinking Alex is one of those people who used his work email on Ashley Madison….

      2. TootsNYC*

        I think the word “cooperation” has some weight.

        When someone thanks someone else for cooperating, I think it connotes that the person doing the thanking is the one w/ the power, or at least is an equal. Which Alex is NOT.

        We speak of people cooperating with the police, of students cooperating with the teacher, of peers cooperating on a project (though I would never say “thank you for your cooperation”; I might speak of *our* cooperation (i.e., we both cooperated)).

    3. Bartlet for President*

      If he thanked for her professional handling of the situation, I would agree with you. But, there is an ick factor to thanking her for her cooperation that implies he is thanking her for helping them keep the affair on the DL.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      There are two issues. The first is that Alex is the more blameworthy of the pair. He’s the one committing adultery, while Anna is facilitating that adultery, which is not great, but objectively less blameworthy. The second issue is that Alex thanked OP for her “cooperation,” which suggests that he’s thanking OP for not outing him to his wife and helping to conceal the affair (and possibly taking it as a tacit endorsement of the Anna/Alex relationship). That’s super gross and completely unprofessional, and warrants a response as cold/icy as the one OP sent.

  31. Venus Supreme*


    While reading this letter, my face went from “eyebrows raised into my hairline,” to “jaw down to the floor,” to “squinty, beady judgemental eyes.”

    This affair is icky on so many levels and is ripe for a dramallama bomb to go off (from what I’ve inferred), and I applaud OP for how she handled the situation. Very professional, appropriately icy, and something I hopefully would do if I were in this situation.

  32. Katie*

    That email to Alex was awesome. You managed to say “eff off” in an incredibly professional way.

    I’m sorry you have to work with such awful people, though.

    1. Jadelyn*

      I mean, I thought I was pretty good at the polite, professional “fuck you” email, but this puts me to shame. Teach me your ways, OP!

  33. DrAtos*

    Alex is gross and I predict this will end badly for Anna. The fact that Anna started her relationship with Alex not knowing that he is still married is all the proof I need to know that Alex is a sleaze and a liar. Anna won’t be the last woman Alex ropes into having an extramarital relationship with him. Kudos to you for handling an awkward situation in a professional way – your email to Alex was excellent – but it is still an awful position to be in having to see Alex and his wife outside of work because they live by you. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more updates on this story if you choose to submit them.

  34. The Supreme Troll*

    OP, I agree completely with Alison and the others commenting on how you responded to Alex. Kind of along the lines somebody else mentioned, you told him to “go to hell” without, well, actually telling him to go to hell. If he isn’t super dense upstairs (I wouldn’t be surprised if he is), he will be able to read between the lines.

    While you shouldn’t penalize Anna at her job for what she is doing in her private life, you are a human being, and I cannot really tell you to that you can completely overlook this (I certainly couldn’t ignore it). I would be a little bit more cautious of Anna on her work output, particularly when it comes to trusting her judgment on things that depend solely on her honesty and ethical decisions.

  35. Ivanna Scream*

    That email? Perfect.

    Actually, the way Anna found out is kind of perfect too. The fact she took initiative in it is a good thing. Alex is a douche though.

  36. JS*

    I really like the way OP handled the situation. I think it shows an extreme amount of professionalism to remain as impartial and neutral as they have and ESPECIALLY when you add in the fact she is neighbors with Alex. Morality wise, I agree, it is no one’s business in the workplace to judge someone else, it’s work not church, you aren’t there to pry.

    While I personally believe Alex is a scumbag, OP mentioned they *only* knew Alex was married due to living by him. This is something otherwise that would remain hush-hush and out of workplace drama so no one should have any concern beyond that, especially now that it is clear Anna knows and is complicit in the affair.

    My only point of contention would be if OP knows Alex has a wife does Alex’s wife know OP works with Alex? If Alex’s wife suspects wouldn’t OP be in the line of fire for questioning from the wife? I wonder what then OP is within *professionalism* rights/responsibility to do? I know OP doesn’t owe Alex anything but for the sake of not creating work drama or liability (since it has been escalated to HR now) would it be best if OP said they “didn’t know anything”? OP seems to be handling the situation with a ridiculous amount of grace so I am sure they would come out on top but I’m wondering if the “right thing to do here” would clash with the “right thing to do for work” if the situation did arise? Any thoughts from anyone?

    1. Tuxedo Cat*

      The OP might be questioned, but she might not. If it’s a large enough company, the wife might not consider asking the OP. And if they’re not close, which it doesn’t sound like they are, it may not be the kind of question the wife wants to ask an acquaintance.

      That said, I don’t know what I would do if I were the OP and the wife asked me. I probably would tell her that she should discuss this with her husband. At the same time, I think the right thing for work would be in conflict with the right thing to do.

    2. Hey Nonnie*

      Lying always has the potential to come back and bite you later.

      If you’re going to decline to be straightforward for whatever reason, deflection would likely be a better bet. Just tell her she needs to ask Alex those questions.

    3. Tealeaves*

      Based on previous letters where angry partners/spouses demand answers from the workplace, OP just needs to be firm that she doesn’t discuss employee issues with non-employees, which lets her stay neutral. Saying explicitly that she “didn’t know anything” requires committing to a response.

      My feelings on this would be different if the wife and OP were close friends and not just acquaintances, because this work issue would encroach on her personal life. But there is no one-size-fits-all approach for this.

  37. Anonmouse*

    Both Anna and Alex show a pretty basic lack of integrity. I wonder what else they are willing to lie about.

    1. Jadelyn*

      Anna hasn’t lied about anything. Quite the opposite, in fact. Alex, on the other hand…lying all over the place.

      1. Hey Nonnie*

        I said this above, but Anna is participating in the deception of his wife. Calling that “not lying” is splitting hairs and is “correct” only on a technicality.

        1. Zombii*

          I get your point but you don’t know how they function outside the office, so it’s unfair to judge Anna as “not technically lying” if she doesn’t have the opportunity to speak to the wife anyway.

          Anna not going out of her way to contact Alex’s wife and tell her she’s being cheated on is a weirdly low threshold for lying. I don’t usually take great pains to give people bad news, unless I’m at least acquaintances with someone it will affect. I don’t think most people go around telling everyone they speak to all the information they have that might be useful for those people to know, even though that’s “lying” on the same technicality.

          1. Annie Moose*

            This is a very different situation than Anna merely not telling Alex’s wife that she’s being cheated on, though! Anna is an active participant in the cheating-on; that is a very, very different thing from some outside observer who merely is aware of the existence of the cheating.

            I concur that Anna’s not really lying here–but she’s aware that the guy she’s in a relationship with is deceiving his wife about their relationship, and apparently doesn’t care about a lie of this magnitude. Even if she is not actively lying, she’s demonstrating that she’s OK with deception.

            Now, I agree that just because someone’s doing something stupid in their personal life, it doesn’t automatically follow that they’re going to do stupid things in their work life. But I think this is the angle Anonmouse and Hey Nonnie were viewing it from.

            1. Hey Nonnie*

              “…she’s demonstrating that she’s OK with deception.”

              Not just okay with it — her actions allow the deception to continue. This is what I mean when I say she’s only technically “not lying.” If she were interested in ending the deception, she could easily do so by quitting the affair.

    2. N*

      It’s pretty dangerous to start making judgments about an individual’s personal life and making assessments about how it carries over into their work life. I may, for example, spend almost my whole paycheck on something that someone else views as frivolous. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m necessarily going to be so wanton with the company’s funds.

      This line of reasoning, if taken to the extreme, can lead employers to view their employees as lacking integrity based on whatever they view as “amoral,” (such as, say, being homosexual, not belonging to their religion, mentioning around the water cooler that they have been lying to their brother, or any such thing) which can lead to a lot of stereotyping and judgment. The manager should trust that the employees are going to keep their work and personal lives separate and not address it until it becomes a work issue.

      1. MsCHX*

        Bingo. This is the best explanation of why that line of thinking is flawed.

        People can be a hot mess in their personal lives and be professional, fantastic employees.

  38. Elizabeth H.*

    I’m kind of shocked and dismayed by a lot of the comments here. I feel very strongly that what people do with their personal lives is none of others’ business. To arguments that Anna and Alex are forcing their personal lives in other people’s way, I really don’t think they are doing that. If most people in the company aren’t aware of the affair (it seems like the OP really only thought “affair” after accidentally seeing a text message) then this is not the case, it was an accident that anyone at all found out. I would try very hard not to consider someone differently at work if I knew him or her to be in a relationship with a married person or vice versa. It is just not relevant. In my opinion, other people’s relationships are incredibly complicated, you can’t ever have all the facts or know how the situation really is, and I genuinely believe that a lot of people act in relationships (love, sex, attraction, pheromones, attachment) in ways that have absolutely no bearing on their attitudes/behavior in all the other areas of their life. I know a lot of people don’t agree with that (they feel that something that shows lack of integrity in a relationship reflects a lack of integrity in other spheres) but I think that while it may go the other direction (no integrity in life -> no integrity in love), it’s very possible that relationship behavior is just a random data point. It’s like why they say “all’s fair in love and war.”

    1. Bess*

      For sure, but…the unsolicited Alex email about “cooperation” was pretty invasive and dodgy. Remember the OP lives near Alex and is sort of a risk from his POV (and so their relationship is not an open/shut 100% professional one). Alex is either presuming the OP is okay with covering up the affair and being winky (gross, merits an icy response) OR he still thinks the OP is a risk and went out of his way to “thank” OP preemptively as a way to sort of make an “us vs. my spouse” team and then cajole her onto that team (super coercive/manipulative, merits an icy response).

      So even if you are pretty far on the “their business” side of it, Alex is messing with that boundary pretty hard, and deserves to be shut down.

      1. Elizabeth H.*

        It’s hard for me to say without reading the full email but I didn’t have a strong reaction to the use of the word “cooperation” like a lot of other people seem to have. To me personally, I wouldn’t read it as an unassailable “thanks for not telling my wife about my affair.” Just from the context and description alone I personally would more plausibly read it as a weird and clumsy way of saying “I acknowledge that you were involved with this HR thing instigated by my personal drama and I am glad I’m not fired.” If I were the OP I would probably have not replied and would just have forwarded email to HR for their records. I personally find it a little bit inappropriate that she made reference to her not approving of his personal life decisions, and to the fact that they are neighbors – it injects her own feelings into this thing that is totally not having to do with her. But everyone has very different views on this, I seem to be somewhat of an outlier at least among people who are replying here in the comments, and I don’t know what the actual email said in full.

        1. Observer*

          There is no way to get away from the implication that he thinks that the OP is somehow involved. THAT is something that affects her, and it’s totally her place to make it abundantly clear that she is NOT involved. She’s not giving approval or “cooperating” with him. She’s just following company policy.

          1. Elizabeth H.*

            She is involved though. She’s the one who (accidentally) let Anna know that her affair was known at work, and she was in the HR meeting. She wasn’t involved through her own wishes or intentions but she is involved at this point.
            I’m not saying that OP shouldn’t have replied at all, just that I think it is kind of over-involving herself to allude to her opinions on this subject or her personal connection (neighbors) to Alex’s family and that I probably wouldn’t have done it.

            This whole thing is starting to seem kind of Shakespearean. The accidentally overseen message, the accidentally overseen internet article headline…None of this happened on purpose but it happened and I think the best thing is to minimize all future involvement.

            1. tigerStripes*

              If I were in the LW’s position, I’d be very uncomfortable about the whole thing – knowing that a neighbor’s husband is cheating would be tough.

        2. Gov Worker*

          Don’t s@#t where you work. Easy-peasy. And if you do, don’t be surprised that people turn away from the stink. Actions have consequences. Anna had better hope Alex’s wife doesn’t end up as her manager one day.

    2. Jadelyn*

      I’m so glad to hear this from someone else. I was starting to think it was just me.

      Look. People get weird about relationships. And there’s always so much going on behind the scenes that nobody but the people directly involved knows about, that I don’t feel comfortable passing judgment on other people’s relationship decisions.

      I don’t like the fact that Alex lied to Anna about being married. But we also don’t know what’s going on in Alex’s marriage that may have prompted this. Maybe nothing and he’s just a liar and cheater. Maybe there’s a real reason to it. We don’t know, and we probably never will.

      1. Kate*

        What “real reasons” could there be for lying to his romantic/sexual partner about whether or not he is married? In some places it is actually illegal to do so, if the person wouldn’t have had sex with them if they had known. It is called rape by deception.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          That’s not really how rape by deception works. Rape by deception is interpreted in extremely narrow terms, is not recognized as a tort or crime in most states, and refers almost exclusively to deception in the context of one’s identity (e.g., an identical twin tricking their sibling’s partner into having sex with them by masquerading as the twin; or the guy in Kansas who pretended he was a porn producer to induce aspiring adult film actresses to have sex with him). I don’t know of a jurisdiction in the U.S./U.K. that would treat infidelity as the basis for liability for rape by deception.

      2. tigerStripes*

        And maybe Alex has some kind of ailment where he absolutely needs regular “relations”, and his wife refuses to do it. I’m trying to think of something less like a soap opera that would justify Alex lying to Anna about this but haven’t.

        1. DArcy*

          I’m extremely uncomfortable with comments aiming judgement at Anna while remaining mysteriously silent at Alex, who by any fair reading of the situation is the one truly at fault.

          I mean, depending on your moral code you could judge Anna to be morally guilty for choosing to continue the relationship after finding out Alex lied to her about being single. But even if you do, her arguable secondary guilt is far eclipsed by Alex’s inarguable primary guilt, is it not?

          1. Lissa*

            Hmm, I’m seeing *way* more judgment (rightly so IMO) of Alex in the comments here, there’s just more talk about it because OP is Anna’s supervisor, not Alex’s, and because there’s a grey area where some people think Anna’s actions are OK and others don’t, so they get debated more, whereas Alex’s actions don’t need debate. I don’t think anybody thinks Anna is acting worse than Alex here, just that because Alex’s actions are so obviously sleazy there’s no need to reiterate it in every single comment – I don’t think it’s mysteriously silent at all I think people agree with you that Alex is the primarily guilty one here, but that’s not really up for debate at all, so why state what’s obvious?

      3. Truly Anonymous*

        I’m pretty confident that Alex is a liar and a cheater since Anna told the OP that Alex did not come clean about the marriage until after the affair was started. It is much harder for many people to end a relationship than to not begin one. Alex is being cruel to his wife by cheating on her and was cruel to Anna by beginning a relationship under false pretenses. I’m sure Alex has justifications in his mind for why these things are okay, but they are not.

    3. Kate*

      Do you really think that a person’s behavior in one sphere is completely separate from all other spheres? Like the way they act at work has nothing to do with predicting how they act at home? Or is this a “love is different” thing?

      1. Kate*

        I clicked submit too soon, I wanted to add, there is also a reason for the saying “the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior”.

            1. MsCHX*

              And it’s not universally true that personal life = work life utterly and completely without fail.

              This really hits me as I think of myself and my circle of friends. We are all professionals; all have masters degrees, all mid level managers. We’re all black. MOST (not all) black professionals code switch. Personal/home me is not the same as professional, mid-level manager me.

              And that’s okay.

      2. Elizabeth H.*

        Yes, I tried to indicate that I do think it is a “love is different” thing. I don’t think that a person’s behavior in one sphere of life is necessarily separate from all other spheres, but I think that it can be and that often love/sex/relationship behavior can be very different. The context also matters.

      3. oranges & lemons*

        I actually do think people can be very good at compartmentalizing their behaviour, and coming up with elaborate systems of justification that “allow” them to get away with certain types of poor behaviour and not others. I can totally believe that someone might have impeccable ethics at work and really terrible ethics in their personal relationships, or vice versa.

        On the other hand, I also think when you act poorly in any sphere of your life, there’s a good chance anyone who finds out about that will think differently of you as a result, and that’s just a natural consequence.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I agree with this. People can be shoddy in some areas and scrupulous in others. But because I’m human, I judge people’s actions. I even judge them based on the narrow or superficial glimpse I have of their life, rather than only after a deep plumbing of every possible extenuating circumstance that might add a broader context.

          It’s a safe bet that the people around you, if they register your existence at all, make judgments about you based on your appearance, tone of voice, and any actions they happen to know about.

      4. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        I do and vice versa. I have a great, reliable, trustworthy coworker who I happen to know is a serial cheater and he has blown up 4 of his own marriages and an unknown number of other people’s marriages. I’d trust him with anything work related but with absolutely nothing romantic or personal (which luckily is never an issue because coworker). On the flip side, I have a friend who is a terrible employee. She has been fired from so many jobs for lying, blowing off duties, yelling at her boss etc.. I would never hire her or recommend her for anything work related. As a friend, though, she is the best. Conscientious, reliable, kind, even tempered, you couldn’t ask for more (but for the love of God don’t hire her!). People are complicated and behavior is often situational, for better or for worse.

      5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Absolutely. Some people don’t, but many people compartmentalize their behavior or adopt two different norms of how they behave. I also think there’s something extremely dangerous about adopting arguments regarding character, personal integrity, etc., and then imputing them into the workplace. There are a lot of things people do in their personal lives that they never bring over to their work lives. Of course most people probably fall on a spectrum between those two extremes, but they are extremes, and it’s difficult to convince folks to align with either of those worldviews.

    4. Stop That Goat*

      Yea, I was a bit uncomfortable with some of the responses here as well. Alex’s marriage may be on it’s last legs. They may be separated but living together. It’s hard to say. That’s why folks should stay out of things like this. They simply don’t know the full picture (including the OP).

      1. Hey Nonnie*

        Under the circumstances, and given that Anna’s disclosure was voluntary, I can’t imagine a good reason why she’d confess to the affair but keep mitigating circumstances to herself. It’s a poor job of covering her backside, if that’s the case. She’d be making herself look worse than not disclosing at all.

    5. Kathleen Adams*

      If under similar circumstances, someone thanked me for my “cooperation,” well…

      I truly do not think it would be possible for me to ignore that. It’s just such an icky and skeavy thing to say! I might or might not be able to ignore an affair like this, but that comment…nah. I would definitely want to make absolutely sure Alex didn’t feel as though he were free to say/imply anything like that again.

    6. paul*

      The employees involved are involving work in their personal lives already by sleeping with coworkers; its’ made worse by the fact that one of them is married and, well, affairs can end messily and with much drama. They’re the ones inserting personal business into the professional sphere here, and it’s an incredibly risky sort of personal business.

    7. Observer*

      Except that that line is generally used to excuse inexcusable behavior. It really is NOT true that “all is fair in love and war.”

      1. Kathleen Adams*

        That’s a good point. There are things that no amount of love – or even war – would excuse.

        If this is the only questionable thing that I know about Anna and Alex, I would try not to let it affect my professional opinion of them. I mean, I’ve known some otherwise very honorable people who got involved in an affair.

        But if I have other concerns, welllllll, let’s just say that this definitely wouldn’t help. And now that I think about it some more, I don’t know if I could overlook Alex’s behavior under any circumstances. Hiding the fact that he has a wife and family to his coworkers is….really, really, realllllllly skeavy.

        1. tigerStripes*

          Co-workers I know tend to mention a spouse at some point. Hiding it, yeah, skeavy.

      2. Elizabeth H.*

        I’m not saying that I literally believe that that saying is true word for word, but that its being a commonly known phrase acknowledges that there are some areas of life where people don’t act like themselves or don’t follow rules that we would expect them to in other situations.
        I liked this page about the saying: https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/29659/can-someone-explain-the-phrase-all-is-fair-in-love-and-war “The assumption behind this proverb is that the end justifies the means.This has long been recognized in the theatre of war. Livy hinted at it two millennia ago: To those to whom war is necessary it is just (HISTORY c 10 BC). Courtship, too, may entail the use of any means if one is to emerge victorious and take the prize. These excesses of the heart are considered forgiveable because love has long been understood as a force which cannot be restrained: Both might and malice, deceyte and treacherye, all periurye, anye impietie may lawfully be committed in loue, which is lawlesse (John Lyly, EUPHUES, 1579).”

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          But Elizabeth, how does hiding from coworkers – all of them, except the one who happens to be a neighbor – the fact that you have a wife and kids qualify as an “excess of the heart”? It’s not. He may or may not feel love for Anna now, but this all started with a gigantic, selfish, self-serving lie that Alex went to some trouble to maintain, and he did it because he was trying to keep his cheatin’ options open.

          And yeah, I would definitely judge him for it.

        2. Hey Nonnie*

          Re: all’s fair… there is a VAST difference between an explanation for abominable behavior and an excuse for it. I’m sure there are a lot of dictators and warmongers who have felt they were justified in what they did. That doesn’t obligate the rest of us to give them a pass.

        3. Falling Diphthong*

          When it comes to cheating, a vast amount of effort has to go into getting to the point of ‘I was so in love that it clouded my judgment.’ You don’t fall deeply in love with someone because you once glimpsed them drop off a package and that was it, life bond.

          The experience is usually parodied “Just walking along and tripped and fell onto body part.”

    8. MuseumChick*

      All we can go on is the information presented in the letter so far we know: 1) Alex is cheating on his wife. 2) He lied to Anna about his marital status. 3) He’s brought his personal life into work by having an affair with a co-worker while his neighbor works at the same company. 4) He sent what most have interpreted as a “wink-nod-nod” email to the OP.

      All points taken together = Alex is a gross person with very questionable judgment.

  39. Corby*

    Talk about some cool heads at that office. I’m surprised no one managed to blow something up and cause big drama.

  40. The Foreign Octopus*

    Oh my stars, this was an unexpected turn!

    I think OP did everything exactly right. The letter to Alex was cool professionalism, and I agree with many of the people here that it would have sat uneasily with me as well. I’m not sure I could have managed such a well-drafted response though.

    I hope everything stays smooth for you!

  41. Colorado*

    Wow! Well, let’s just hope that Alex’s wife isn’t as vindictive as the letter from the woman who ended up with a child and then left her job cause the guy’s wife was about to become her boss! And ruined her life the best she could in the meantime, yikes! Keep us updated OP. I’m sure this isn’t the end of this story. How fun it will be to watch Alex squirm. Stop by the house while out for a walk. Compliment Alex’s wife on her new flowers…

  42. CAinUK*

    So I commented above on how this whole thing feels icky. But there is another thing that gives me pause, Alison: your website was part of this unfolding issue, and that Anna must surely be aware of this post and that it is about her. So we as a commentariat (?) are now haranguing a woman who may be reading this (myself included, above, to be fair). Which doesn’t make me feel great? (But if Alex is reading this: you’re a douche. But Anna, I hope you can extract yourself from this whole mess).

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      This bothers me too. Not because I sympathize with Anna and Alex, but because I think this could go badly for the OP. This update contains the text of an email OP sent, which Anna can take to HR if she likes and say, “OP posted my private life on a public website! I can’t work for her any more!”

      I would think, at a minimum, it would be a good idea to remove the exact text of the email to Alex from the update. At least then OP can plausibly say she was looking for related situations rather than including identifiable details about people on a high-traffic website.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        If they have any brains at all, they would leave this strictly alone. The OP is Alex’s neighbor and knows his wife… not many people would want to risk making the OP in any way vengeful.

      2. Observer*

        If Anna were stupid enough to do that, I suspect that HR would say “don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

        Look, the company doesn’t care what people do in their private lives, but they really don’t need a soap opera playing out in the office. As long as everyone stays cool, things should be OK. But if Anna goes to HR to complain over this, she’s gone from someone who is making what’s probably a bad romantic choice that the company doesn’t care about, to someone who creating drama in the workplace. Especially since it’s not the case that her private life is being exposed – no one has any idea who she is and who she works for. The OP hasn’t posted any information that could help someone sniff out who they are.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Agreed. And the OP wrote into a work blog for advice how to best handle a managerial issue, in a way where none of the players would be identifiable. That’s hardly scandalous.

    2. Myrin*

      I don’t think at all that you can assume that “Anna must surely be aware of this post and that it is about her”. She saw that OP had an article open on her computer called “my employee is having an affair with a married coworker” (and probably didn’t even see the site’s name); she has no way of knowing that this particular article was actually about her. The title only made her think that the OP had an inkling of the affair and was googling how to resolve it. I honestly don’t think most people – myself definitely included – would think it’s possible that this random online article is actually about them and their situation.

  43. LILY*

    This sort of happened at my work. Someone had the bright idea to get all of us in the department to go clubbing. other people in various departments started getting invited, and then it even spread to managers “on the DL.” What started off as just 3-4 people eventually ended up being almost the whole damn workplace.

    So already, this was a recipe for disaster.

    So we go clubbing, everything is going well until – one of the line staff dancing with our married female coworker, suddenly makes out with her. We ALL saw it. Assistant managers saw it. Our accounting manager, who worked right next to our GM It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

    The next day, that guy (I worked for him) kept being all weird about it. He received a text from her husband to stay away from his wife. Her marital status became the talk of the town (“oh, she’s having problems in her marriage”). And the guy? He actually went to our manager, who wasn’t there, AND TOLD HER!!!! I remember telling him, why the hell would you …. Why?!?!

    Man that was a trainwreck I’ll never forget

    Don’t go clubbing with the whole office

  44. Michael*

    I know it worked out in this instance, but isn’t another lesson here ‘don’t write to AskAManager from your work computer?’ I don’t meant to be unkind to OP, who it sounds like handled things (mostly) well, but it seems like a really bad practice for HR. OP got lucky in terms of who actually saw the e-mail, and that it wasn’t something more sensitive.

    1. Michael*

      In fact, the more I think about it: I was OPs supervisor, I might seriously consider whether I trusted them to continue to work in an HR capacity, when they were writing detailed explanations of the HR issues going on in the office, where employees could see, and then submitting them to a blog where the employees could continue to track the issue as it evolved. That seems like it really violates some basic professional principles.

      1. Observer*

        Why? For one thing, the OP is not in HR. For another, there is nothing identifiable here. Even if Ana realizes what’s up, no one else – certainly no one from outside the company would know that this is going on. If Ana actually showed up here, SHE would know who she is, but no one else would. If any of the commenters bumped into her in real life, they wouldn’t know either.

        1. nonegiven*

          For every real Anna that sees herself in the letter, there may be 100 others that think it’s them, too.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        If no one ever wrote to AAM describing a situation at their work, it wouldn’t exist. The entire point is to get outside advice on a tricky situation. Check whether something is weird or normal; ask how to navigate between Charybdis, Scylla, and plummeting frozen turkey.

        And this example–like so many others–is not some unique snowflake of circumstance that can only be one workplace. A lot of the reason for choosing a letter is that the circumstance described–Should I tell my employee the guy she’s dating is married? How secret do I have to keep my coworker’s affair?–is broadly applicable.

        1. Michael*

          Totally! I wrote in myself about a month ago! I just didn’t do so from a work computer.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        Clarifying that OP does not work in HR, and that the screen glimpsed was the AAM blog, not email:

        The blog exists to address workplace issues that people write in about. If no one writes in to describe a situation at work, then there would be no blog.

        The letter here is not some rare snowflake convergence of never before seen factors. Part of what makes it a good letter is that the issues raised–Should you tell a report she’s dating a married man? How secret should you keep your colleague’s affair?–are going to apply to a lot of offices.

        (Sorry if double posts.)

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      She was looking at the website. LOTS of people look at AAM from their work computers.

  45. Anon-opus*

    The OP is to be commended for his/her professionalism and OP, your response to Alex was spot-on. His use of “cooperation” was just…ugh!

    That being said, I’ve got a story: Once, when I was very pregnant with my oldest child (25 years ago), I and a friend were eating in fast food restaurant that had booths along the outer walls and tables set up in the middle–essentially, there was a square walkway all the way around the dining area. In this walkway, there was a young child, about 4 years old, that was running laps, screaming–sometimes shrilly, sometimes laughing VERY loudly–all the way around. His parents were sitting at one of the tables, making ZERO effort to sit him down or stop him. After his 4th or 5th lap, I stuck my foot out and intentionally tripped him, then caught him before he hit the floor. So in one motion, I stuck out my foot, stood up, caught him by his arm. That was a really horrible thing to do and probably wasn’t the last not-great-thing I did . It didn’t make me a horrible person at all. I’m a solidly, good employee–I’ve absolutely never been fired, had a bad review, or given any employer reason to question my judgement. I am extremely conscientious about my work.

    I thought when I read the comments on the first related post, that no one was considering that she knew he was married & didn’t let it influence her decision. “Anna” may not want him to leave his wife. No one is one dimensional and just because they make different personal decisions than you, it doesn’t translate into questionable professional judgment. OAN, from his email alone, Alex seems a total sleeze…

  46. Aphrodite*

    OP, I wonder if you have thought ahead to the consequences for the entire office if their affairs ends and it comes to light even without a nasty divorce. Alex’s email seemed to me to indicate that he feels he’s one-upping everyone by sleeping with not just a co-worker but a manager. And he seems to be smirking as well. His blatant immaturity may well spread throughout the company when things go south.

  47. Jane*

    As a health professional, all I can think about is the health danger that Alex and Anna are putting Alex’s wife in. Between Alex, Anna, and the other women Alex is probably sleeping with, there’s a pretty high risk of exposure (and the fact that prevention methods don’t work for all STI’s… and the most common symptom of an STI is no symptom whatsoever). I’m just imagining the wife getting pelvic inflammatory disease later on down the line because she wasn’t aware that her safely-monogamous marriage was neither safe nor monogamous.

    That’s not to say OP should be the one to tell the wife what’s going on, Alison made a very good point up above about it harming her work relationship with Anna. And to be honest, if this is already the talk of the office then I’m quite sure the wife is going to find out from someone sometime soon because gossip has a way of circling around like that. It just really creams my corn that people don’t realize the very real health dangers involved with these types of affairs, on top of the dangers to personal and professional relationships.

  48. Annie*

    If the OP knew about the affair (or suspected it), I’m sure half the workplace does as well. I think it’s only a matter of time before Alex’s wife finds out (unless they have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” marriage and she doesn’t care if he sees other women). And yes, brilliant response from the OP to Alex!!

  49. Anon for this one*

    I wonder how old Alex and Anna are. Not to give any sort of out, just curious. I was reading this and cringing. And honestly had not thought about my own affair with a married coworker. I was 26 and he was 46 — and I was in HR. I did know he was married but didn’t think it was a big deal because I didn’t want to “be with him” or anything. And I never thought about it in terms of an “affair” either! Yes, I am cringing at myself now. If anyone ever knew, they didn’t let on.

    I think that Anna was going on record because she fears potential mistreatment. Coolness from your coworker’s isn’t HR’s business. Harassment, hostile work environment, etc most certainly is HR’s business and Anna and Alex’s affair wouldn’t make any illegal treatment of Anna okay.

  50. jv*

    I’d forward the email from Alex to HR so they have it on file. The fact that he went out of his way to THANK YOU for your … cooperation. My god. What a creeper. He must be pretty full of himself. Gross.

  51. Stevenz*

    Since everyone so loves OP’s reply I won’t address it. But I would have not responded. I think Alex was a first rate idiot for writing his email. One just does not call attention to oneself in those situations! My non-response would have kept him squirming and that’s a delicious though. (Isn’t it cool that Alex is probably reading this?)

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      I disagree. If the OP weren’t Alex’s neighbor, it was probably best off ignored. But in that context the “cooperation” bit heavily implies that the OP might help keep things quiet with his wife.

      The OP’s response should make it very clear that isn’t the case, and Alex is going to be squirming any time he sees the OP when he’s out with his wife.

    2. Tealeaves*

      It’s better that OP responded because it leaves a trail that protects her legally and also clearly shoves this action into a professional boundary. You never know what mess this might lead into, and then OP gets accused for having some under the table arrangement with Alex / Anna (like bribery to keep quiet).

  52. Ajaya*

    What a fascinating update. This almost seems like it could be the prequel to the letter from the woman who’s professional career was ruined after she had an affair and child with her coworker, and his ex-wife became her boss.

  53. Nonprofit Chicago*

    What an update. Sorry you were put in such a tough spot, and glad you acted with such discernment. Here’s to hoping that Anna, you, and others can just forget this happened and continue focusing on work.

  54. RVA Cat*

    I can’t be the only one hoping there is a later update where (since they’re neighbors) the OP sees Alex’s wife throwing his stuff out in the yard and setting his car on fire?

  55. amy*

    Yeah. This is why I suggested not getting involved in the first place.

    There is no reason why Anna should’ve felt compelled to put herself in that position. The only one with a problem here was the manager, who seems to have recognized, belatedly, that this is not his business.

  56. Saturnine*

    This situation is so sad. I can’t imagine having to face Alex’s wife and kids when OP is in her own neighborhood, let alone not tell her right away! I hope the wife is able to find out what is happening with him ASAP so she can get away from that creep of a “husband”.

  57. pope suburban*

    Aiee! Both Alex and Anna are gross people. Like, the grossest. That email about “cooperation” made me want to go take a very thorough shower, because the slime was just oozing off the screen. So glad that the OP put Alex in his place on that front.

  58. Brisvegan*

    Great email, OP.

    I might be wrong, but I have to wonder a little about Anna’s motivation for the meeting. She met with both HR and OP. I wonder if her concern about being treated differently was actually directly about OP treating her differently? (It’s pretty clear that OP was not and had no intention to treat Anna less favourably, but Anna might not know that.)

    Could it also have been done to make it more difficult for OP to tell Mrs Alex? It seems to have placed OP in a difficult position where taking any action which might impact Anna may have a consequence for OP at work. Could Alex have nudged Anna to report to try to subtly threaten OP with work consequences if OP told Mrs Alex? The “co-operation” email (all the ewwww) seems to imply that Alex took “We are aware of Anna’s concern about unfavourable treatment” to mean “yo, Alex, I will cover for your cheating butt around the neighbourhood and at work, too.”

    I might be over analysing it, and neither may be Anna’s intent, even if that was sleazy Alex’s take on events.

  59. Luke*

    Point one: good job on the OP for remaining professional.

    Point two: I must protest the idea of an office affair being separate from overall employee professionalism. How can an employee be trusted to follow socially acceptable standards of integrity and business ethics if they’re committing adultery period- to say nothing about doing so with a coworker? An individual who disregards their marriage vows is an integrity risk : after all ,if a legal and social contract with a significant other has no personal weight neither will a company policy or even applicable law. That’s a problem,especially if the industry involves intimate government regulation. Many firms have dismissed C suite executives for relationships of this nature.

    Based on that aspect,it’s Alex who should be in HR going on record. The single party might not be terribly smart to humor a married paramour- but the married person is who made a commitment of fidelity,and as such has the ethical obligation to end matters . Ideally before an affair even starts.

    I don’t want to come off as Mister Preachy on this matter. I’ve had opportunities in the past to be “Anna” in the story,and turned them all down. Note that other people CAN tell when sparks fly between people , and they’ll be watching to see what the parties involved do. Being the person who declines an affair won’t get you an award or an obvious “attaboy” on your annual review,but it is noticed in the workplace. Being known as the gal (or guy) who refused a chance for marital mischief boosts your career far higher then being a participant.

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