my employee helped a fired coworker get a job with her fiance and lied to me about it

A reader writes:

I own a small business and a year ago hired a foreign employee on a work-holiday visa, “Meg.” While at my company, she met another employee, “Jane,” who I ended up firing a few months later due to numerous work-related issues.

Knowing that the two remained friends, I did not discuss with Meg my reasons for firing Jane, and asked her to keep sensitive information about the company confidential. She agreed and said she would “remain professional.”

A few months later, I had dinner with my current employee and her fiance, as friends. Her fiance manages a luxury retail store for an international brand, and at that time gave me what I thought was good advice on employee management, asking me why I thought Jane did not perform anymore, and reassuring me that I did everything I could before firing her. I stayed as vague as possible, knowing that they were also friends with her.

After another few months, Meg announced that she was going back to her country for at least six months, while her fiance was staying here. At the time I was thinking to re-hire her when she came back, but shortly after I found out Jane had been working for months at the luxury retail store managed by this Meg’s fiance!

When I confronted Meg, she became nervous and admitted that her fiance was the person who hired Jane, and that he did not check her references, which would have been otherwise mandatory for this luxury corporation. I then realized that the “friendly advice” he gave me a couple of months prior was in fact a disguised reference interview … and also remembered that he gets paid a substantial bonus (around $1,500) for every person he recommends who gets hired. Altogether, the couple stayed mum for at least five months about my former employee’s whereabouts, at one point telling me that she found a new job in an independent boutique.

My employment contracts have a non-competition clause asking employees not to hire other current or former employees within four months of their departure, nor to work with a competitor located close by. Technically, both Meg and Jane have not breached these conditions, since Jane was hired by my employee’s fiance, and the company she now works at is not close by. But I cannot help to feel deeply betrayed, and having been used by this couple under the pretense of friendship.

I do not want to re-hire Meg when she comes back, and I don’t understand why her loyalty laid more with a colleague whom she met through my company, rather than me. This is making me question if she shared confidential information with her fiance or Jane, given that she lied about my former employee’s new job for months and I did not suspect a thing…

Am I right to feel this way, or did she do nothing wrong?

She didn’t really do anything wrong.

I get it feels weird that she didn’t mention it — like it’s something that she deliberately kept from you — but it wasn’t really information that you had a stake in or a right to know about. And Meg may have thought it would cause weirdness if she told you … which it seems like it might have, based on how you’re feeling right now!

Meg’s fiance is allowed to hire Jane. And even if he circumvented his company’s reference-check process or even if he did it just for the referral bonus, it’s pretty solidly in the category of Not Your Business.

You say that you’re feeling used … but they didn’t really use you. They just chose not to divulge something that they weren’t obligated to divulge in the first place. They haven’t gained any particular benefit at your expense.

I just don’t see a betrayal here. I see an employee who thought it might be awkward to mention to her boss that her fiance hired someone who said boss had fired. That’s it. And while it’s the sort of moment that can make you pause and understand some of your past conversations with the person differently, it’s really not anything more than that.

It’s true that they shouldn’t have lied and told you that Jane had found a job in an independent boutique if she hadn’t … but who knows, maybe Jane specifically asked them not to mention she was working for Meg’s fiance, and maybe they felt put on the spot if you what she was up to. But they weren’t harming you with that lie or denying you information you were entitled to. And so if anything, I’d take this as a flag to think about why Meg was determined not to share this with you. It could just be basic awkwardness (which is very common), but it’s worth reflecting on whether she might rightly have figured that you would have taken it badly — like burdening her with strong disapproval of her fiance’s decision, implying that she’d been disloyal to you, or otherwise making it A Thing when it shouldn’t be.

If you don’t want to re-hire Meg when she returns, you don’t have to (and it would do her no favors to work for a boss who mistrusts her). But she didn’t really do anything all that terribly wrong here.

{ 631 comments… read them below }

  1. Murphy*

    Yeah, I’m not sure if I’m missing something, but I really don’t see the problem here, professionally speaking.

    1. fposte*

      Yeah, if I thought Jane had some strengths I’d be pretty pleased about this, and if I thought she was likely to doom any future employer I’d figure they brought it on themselves, but I wouldn’t feel that I was getting hard done by either way.

      1. TootsNYC*

        This is what I think.

        Jane is not your enemy, OP. I would think you’d want her to land on her feet and have a nice life somewhere.

        And working for her fiance’s company is not that different from what you had thought was going on, since you knew Jane was already Meg’s friend. It’s not like there’s suddenly contact you didn’t know about. Any true risk to you already existed.

        I suppose the thing that feels weirdest is that you were quizzed about her by someone who didn’t reveal his true motives. But that wasn’t particularly substantive either.

        1. Hey Nonnie*

          Yeah, if anyone is getting hard done by, it’s definitely not the OP. If fiance gets a cash bonus for referring a employee who may be a bad one, by circumventing his company’s reference check policy, that’s an issue between fiance’s employer and him. If fiance tries to obliquely get reference information instead of just straight out asking for it, the vague and likely unhelpful non-answers he gets are his fault and his problem. If anyone misbehaved here, it’s the fiance, but OP isn’t his boss, and it’s not her company that suffers if things go pear-shaped because of his lack of due diligence.

          Certainly you can think it’s a pretty dumb thing for fiance to do, but it’s not your circus and not your monkeys. (And hey, if it does go pear-shaped for him, OP can always have the satisfaction of thinking at him “I told you so.”)

          Any maybe Jane will work out fine for him, due to better fit, or just because she learned her lesson and got her stuff together.

    2. Jesca*

      I think it is kind of reaching into the “but we’re faaaaaamily” mentality a bit. Just because someone did not work out for you, doesn’t mean they won’t do better somewhere else. Just because you fired an employee doesn’t automatically make them unemployable. AND your employees are allowed to keep in contact with whomever you fired (unless it is to steal or do something extremely egregious to your business). No one is betraying anyone. It sounds like everyone is moving on expect OP?

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        The employers who insist everyone is like “family” never remember that when layoffs are needed or no raises are available or other cutbacks needs to be made.

        My mom would promote me because she loves me so much! C’mon!!

      2. Koko*

        Yes, this is it exactly. She also may feel that she did Meg a favor by hiring her and now thinks that Meg owes her total loyalty in return, not just to the letter of the non-compete clause.

        Speaking of which, the ostensible point of a non-compete clause is to prevent departing employees from taking trade secrets to a competitor, not to blackball employees out of working anywhere. That’s why the good ones, including OP’s, are so narrowly defined. The broadly written ones don’t hold up in court because you can’t expect every employee to retire, get fired, or leave the industry. They’re going to have to go work somewhere and it will probably be in a related area because that’s how careers work.

        The only way “recommending a colleague for a job” is a betrayal is if OP’s goal was to keep Jane out of work.

        1. Anonymoose*

          ” point of a non-compete clause is to prevent departing employees from taking trade secrets to a competitor, not to blackball employees out of working anywhere. ”

          Amen. Since when did leaving a job suddenly = can never work again?

        2. Wintermute*

          Not to mention that “just giving you a job” is no longer considered adequate compensation for a non-compete in several states: if you’re not bringing a contract with guaranteed job security and income, your non-compete is automatically void, doesn’t matter the circumstances.

          Then there’s the fact that firing someone usually shreds their non-compete clauses as well.

        3. Ego Chamber*

          I’m skeptical about 1) why a retail store has a non-compete clause in their employment contract (which she states neither employee has violated), 2) what “confidential information” the owner of a retail store could possibly be that concerned about (doesn’t seem like LW shared any confidential information, since she seems sure that Jane wouldn’t have been fired if only someone had known about her performance issues—which LW neglected to divulge out of professionalism).

      3. Lynca*

        It does. Frankly that she wants to know ‘whereabouts’ for a former employee seems very enmeshed. Given the reaction I am not shocked by their decision not to tell her immediately.

        I don’t see that the OP was being used but has unrealistic expectations for work relationships.

      4. Pine cones huddle*

        Yeah, the whole thing really just sounds all around like none of OP’s business.

    3. Berry*

      I was expecting there to be a “Jane was fired because of [terrible thing]” that would’ve made the missing the reference check a bigger flag.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I still don’t think it’s any of OP’s business how the fiance chooses to run his business.

        The only thing that remotely would make sense is if Jane was fired for theft/dishonesty *and* Meg knew that and still referred her to her fiance. Then I might understand OP questioning Meg’s judgement.

        1. Kathleen_A*

          Even so, so long as the fiance knew about whatever dishonest thing Jane did, it’s entirely his problem if he decides to hire Jane anyway. I don’t see how Meg would be at fault unless she coerced him into hiring Jane.

          1. Koko*

            Yes, for all OP knows, maybe Jane confided in Meg and her fiance how badly she feels about what she did, and showed enough genuine contrition that when she told them she was having trouble finding a job having recently been fired, they offered to help her. There could be other perfectly good reasons, but ultimately it’s their business (in both senses).

      2. The OG Anonsie*

        The thing is, there’s no reason to believe They did something dishonest or nefarious with the reference check. You give references that will say especially good stuff about you, not just every supervisor you’ve had.

        1. Kathleen_A*

          It would in fact be really, really, really common to not use as a reference the boss who fired you! I’d call that standard operating procedure.

          1. Jen S. 2.0*


            Especially not the boss who fired you LAST WEEK. I had to list every job I’d ever had when I was interviewing for a government job in 2005, including the place that fired me in 1998. They didn’t really care about a job I’d had for 5 months 7 years earlier, but that might have been different had it been my immediate previous job.

          2. The OG Anonsie*

            Right? Imagine someone writing into AAM asking if they should list the boss that just fired them as a professional reference. Nope!

            1. bunners*

              Lo these many years ago I had a district manager who overrode both my boss and my grandboss’s objections and fired me personally for incredibly sketchy reasons (she found out I was dating someone from an ethnic group she was vocally racist against and two weeks later I was fired for clocking in late on a day I arrived to open the store only to find it *literally* flooding.)

              While firing me she offered to be a personal reference, because of course I want the woman who used slurs referring to Latinix people and got rid of me for dating a Latina as a personal reference! Who would pass up an amazing opportunity?

        2. Anonymoose*

          Frankly I didn’t even read it as an underhanded reference check. It almost sounded like a mentor or colleague trying to coach OP through a bad leadership experience. *shrug*

      3. LKW*

        I was expecting “.. and then Meg pretended to be me and said that Meg was awesome. That’s my reputation.”

        If that were the case, then yes, you’d have a right to be mad. But simply hiring someone and not telling you? Not a crime.

    4. Jen S. 2.0*

      I’m honestly baffled about why OP cares about any of this. Yes, you let her go … but were you then expecting her to remain unemployed and broke forever? If not, what WERE you expecting? She’s allowed to find a new job, and many people get jobs through networking. She networked to get this job, and once she’s no longer your employee, why do you care where she is?

      You can’t control people, and that goes triple if they don’t work for you (any more). If she carried business information with her elsewhere, well, that is the cost of owning a business with employees; sometimes employees leave and have knowledge when they do. Also, as alluded upthread, just because she did not work out for you doesn’t mean she won’t be great elsewhere, as different workplaces have different standards and requirements.

      The only thing I can figure is that, since OP keeps mentioning that Jane’s new job is with a luxury brand, OP is miffed that Jane ended up with a “better” job after she got fired?

      1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        Yes to all of this. I’m really getting the sense that OP has weird expectations around firing someone. When you let somebody go, they don’t go to a magical purgatory until you forgive them. They go find another job. And usually they do it by networking.

        1. Wintermute*

          And it’s usually a BETTER job, how many people here say being fired was the best thing that ever happened to them? either because they left someplace dysfunctional (and a boss with such a strange sense of ownership of her employees is above-average likely to be a terrible place to work) or just got a position with a better fit.

          And that’s a great thing, life is too short for anyone to be miserable, and you shouldn’t go around wishing that on people without a damned good reason.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I have seen this one play out in so many ways. The boss being way too interested in the former employee’s next job is one type of over the top concern. I had a boss who would drive by employees’ houses to see who was hanging out together. She wanted to be the primary “work friend” in everyone’s life, employees could not have “better” friendships with each other. Her health was a mess, so people felt bad for her and this added complexity to the storyline. No one knew how to react to the boss’ behavior.

      3. Annabelle*

        Yeah, you pretty much summed up my feelings on this. It almost sounds like OP thinks that Jane doesn’t deserve to find success elsewhere because she was a bad fit in her previous role.

    5. I Didn’t Kill Kenny*

      This letter is the reason meg didn’t tell LW.

      It’s not like the fiancé stole her away from LW. She fired Jane. Where Jane ended up is none of her business. The fact that her friend may have helped her find employment is a kindness.

      LW, don’t be so thin skinned. Meg was not trying to hurt or betray you. You are taking it way to personally.

      As Alison said, you certainly don’t have to hire meg back if you are uncomfortable with her but she did not do you wrong.

      1. TheCupcakeCounter*

        Plus, how does LW know Meg WANTS to come back? Maybe Meg is thrilled that her visa or whatever else reasons she had for leaving the country for 6+months got her away from OP! When you have a limited work visa it can’t be easy to just go get another job when you know you will have to leave at some point so she stuck it out working for OP until she had to leave.

        1. TheCupcakeCounter*

          Nevermind…just read some of the OP’s comments down thread. The relationship before work pretty much eliminates my comment entirely.

    6. LBK*

      My sense is that the OP feels like this is an indirect criticism of her judgment – that by Meg recommending Jane for a job knowing she’d just been fired by the OP, it’s essentially a backhanded way of saying “I think you made the wrong choice and I’m happy to have Jane work for my fiance if you don’t want her.”

      I think that’s a crazy way to interpret this series of events, but that’s my read on how the OP might be perceiving it and why it feels like a betrayal.

  2. Mia*

    Totally agree with the answer. Furthermore, the jobs assumedly have different responsibilities. The fired employee needed a job, the fiancé needed an employee, and it probably fit her skill sets better than the one she was fired at.

    I know when I’m job searching, I ask around to see who knows of available jobs. This is not a loyalty issue. It’s about a fired woman who needed a job that fit her better, and asked her friends for job searching help. What did you expect her to do, pack up her bags in shame over being fired and move to the other side of the world?

  3. AvonLady Barksdale*

    OP, I think this is not really your business. Certainly not your problem. The fact that Meg didn’t say anything to you makes perfect sense to me; her fiance’s hiring Jane has very little to do with your business and isn’t Meg’s information to share. I also think it’s a little strange that you discussed the Jane situation with Meg and her fiance at dinner, especially since Jane was already gone– I’m not quite sure why you would bring up a former, fired employee during a dinner conversation with her friend. Even if you kept it vague, I still think that’s a bit of an overstep. Bottom line, it sounds to me like there’s a bit too much emotional investment in these business relationships and it would serve you well to step back, take a deep breath, and move on.

    1. hc600*

      Right. It almost sounds like OP thinks Jane didn’t suffer enough or something. A decent person might fire someone for business reasons but not actually WANT them to remain unemployed. Especially if the new job is different.

      1. Ainomiaka*

        That’s the feel I get from the letter. And it’s not the LWs business to make Jane suffer. Or Megs job to help. Ops right to make any calls about Jane ended when she was fired.

      2. LouiseM*

        That’s not quite how I read it. I just feel like she’s alarmed that the fiance circumvented the hiring process, possibly with her unwitting help. That would bug me too.

        1. Observer*

          It’s really none of her business if the fiance circumvented the hiring process. And even if he did, how does that come to “using” her and “betrayal”?

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I am not clear on how OP got used. OP fired the employee, so that relationship was over. The employee asked people she knew if they could help her find a new job. There is nothing wrong with that. OR perhaps the remaining employee wanted to help her former coworker. There’s nothing wrong with that either. She probably thought ex-employee would do well at New Place.

        2. Mike C.*

          Why does the OP care? The OP doesn’t have any inside knowledge of the hiring process to begin with, so how could that sort of judgement be made int he first place? Even then, what sort of interest does the OP have in a completely different business?

        3. The OG Anonsie*

          That’s a huge assumption, though. Just because she wasn’t contacted as a reference doesn’t mean no references were provided or checked.

          1. LouiseM*

            It’s the OP’s assumption, not mine. I think her point was that she *was* contacted for a reference–just without knowing it. And that would bother me too.

            1. Someone else*

              Yeah it sounds like OP thinks the dinner conversation where he asked about Jane (and she chose to give vague, brief, professional, not really disclosing anything answers) was his sort of roundabout treating it like a reference. Whereas if she knew she were being asked as a reference she might’ve answered differently. And perhaps she finds the nature of the approach dishonest or shady in general. I think that’s what’s bugging her, and if Meg and the fiance both knew that’s what was happening in the dinner and did it on purpose, I can see being a bit annoyed about it. But other than that (and there’s still the IF that’s what really were intended by that dinner, which neither we nor the OP seem to know for sure), to me none of this rises beyond the level of “hm, well I wouldn’t have done that, but ok…” and then moving on after thinking about it for maybe two minutes total.

              1. Penny Lane*

                I think it is strange to take what sounds like a relatively offhand conversation at a social occasion and build it up into “I WAS BEING ASKED FOR A REFERENCE.”

                1. I Didn’t Kill Kenny*

                  Even if the fiancé brought it up (LW says he did), so what? Maybe fiancé likes her work. Maybe he thought it odd that LW found her unsatisfactory and was baffled. Maybe he was just making conversation. Who knows?

                  I just don’t get how that was a clandestine attempt to get a reference. Jane already has the job; she doesn’t need the reference.
                  And maybe Jane worked at the other boutique in the interim.

                  LW you are wayyyy overthinking this.

                2. The OG Anonsie*

                  Yeah, it may have been him wanting to see if there was some detail from her perspective that he didn’t already know, but like… He was obviously already aware the LW fired her. He hired her, so presumably he feels that she’s capable to do the job where he works. I’m not sure how any of this adds up to shady information gathering or backdoor reference checking.

              2. Anion*

                Yes, that would bug me, too. It’s not a big deal in the long run, but I can see why the OP feels a little used and betrayed by that; she thought she was having a general conversation with friends/friendly acquaintances when really her words were being used for a purpose not disclosed.

        4. Naptime Enthusiast*

          I can see that as being an issue, Meg’s fiance had an informal interview of sorts with OP but didn’t tell OP that that’s what it was. The whole situation makes me feel icky for OP but I can’t really put my finger on why except for this interaction.

          1. hbc*

            It’s not great that the fiance made it seem like casual conversation if it was really a reference check, but OP shouldn’t have been giving out professional information in a personal/casual environment anyway.

            Basically, everyone here is guilty of crossing the personal and professional streams, and that’s bound to cause misunderstandings.

            1. Willis*

              No doubt it’s not a good way to check references, but isn’t that really up to the fiance? The OP isn’t harmed by it, unless she had some personal desire to give more info in order to keep Jane from getting the job.

              Now, if she’s not really friends with Meg, and the entire social dinner was just a pretense of sociability for what sounded like a pretty short conversation about Jane, I could see being annoyed by that. But, even then, all of this just sounds like anger to let go of.

            2. eplawyer*

              Don’t cross the streams, you will cause an explosion of the space-time continuum. Or something.

              Definitely don’t be talking about your professional decisions in a private setting, if you don’t want to risk the outcome.

              As noted, it’s not like anyone faked a reference from the LW or something to get Jane the job. LW fired Jane. Meg, her friend, helped her find a new one. It’s the circle of jobs.

            3. Parispug*

              Right. If the couple brought up Jane in conversation OP could have simply stated that she would rather not talk about her and should have changed the subject

            4. designbot*

              I think that’s the one problem really—because she thought it was a casual conversation, she was not forthcoming about what she really thought of Jane. She used discretion, but it turned out to be taken as a professional reference. That would annoy me too, but OP is definitely taking it too far. At the end of the day, it’s not her that stuck her neck out for Jane, it’s the fiance.

              1. LouiseM*

                This is my read on it too. I definitely wasn’t trying to defend OP’s reaction, which I think is a bit over-the-top, just explain where I thought it came from.

              2. Runner*

                Right. And keep in mind Jane was fired. IF the whole idea is that the fiance was trying to get a reference and he snd Meg went to such extremes to cloak that this is what was happening, there can be no question in such a scenario that they knew full well Jane had been fired. The OP wouldn’t be a reference exactly. IF they really were doing this, the fiance must have been looking for anything truly alarming (I don’t know, Jane was fired for physically assaulting someone, for example).

              3. LBK*

                Was it actually taken as a professional reference, though? I think the OP is making that leap but she doesn’t know that the timeline even syncs up correctly for this to be possible, or if the fiance was even questioning whether Jane should be hired or not. It’s completely possible he was going to take her on just based on Meg’s request to do so as a favor to a friend who was out of work.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  Annnd, if it was taken as a reference, then Fiance is doing a sloppy job of reference checking.
                  This is more about the way Fiance handles his biz than it is about former employee. Former employee probably has NO idea that Fiance had this conversation, she may have told him not to do that if she knew about it.

        5. Anna*

          It just comes off as a justification for her unreasonable investment. It’s still not a good justification and it’s still none of her business.

      3. Gingerblue*

        It’s the repeated emphasis on the fact that Jane was hired by a *luxury* retail store that does it for me. Jane should apparently know her place in the world of retail.

        1. Wintermute*

          yeah this entire letter smacks of a strange victorian-esque sense of ownership over your employee’s lives.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            There’s a lot of this that goes on in retail. I have often thought it is to offset the boredom of the job. But it’s, a pit, a quagmire that people can fall into. Once in the pit, it’s really hard to change mindset.

        2. Erin*

          I went back into retail after a couple office jobs turned out not to be what was promised or incredibly boring. Guess what retail offered me full time with benefits and a 30% pay increase while old job offered me just “full time” when it was needed but told me it was a full time position during the hiring processes. So retail may not be a step down. I left that job for one that offered me even better benefits and a 20% pay increase. Guess what I still work retail, I have great benefits, I make enough money plus extra, great coworkers and I enjoy my job. Granted the hours suck, but I compared to education, or healthcare if I make a mistake people are inconvenienced not bodily harmed. Retail isn’t the worse job in the world, working at a gas station is.

    2. Not a Blossom*

      I didn’t read it as the OP bringing up Jane at dinner; it sounded like the fiance did that as a way to get information before hiring. Honestly, that feels gross to me. It’s not a grave injustice or anything, but it’s a bit off. If he wanted information, he should have been candid about why.

      That said, I understand why the whole thing feels weird to the OP, but the bit above is the only part about which I think she has a reason to feel at all strange/unhappy.

      1. Jesca*

        Meh. Sometimes people do things in what seem like “sneaky ways” to actually try to get things from someone without evoking their wrath, too. The fiance may have broached this in this way as opposed to calling explicitly because maybe the fiance and the employee both know how OP “is”. I mean, the way she is reacting now doesn’t lead me to believe she would have been very kind or fair in reference to Jane if any new potential employee called. Maybe the fiance was just trying to gauge how it “went down” and how she managed without all the “betrayal”. I mean, just playing devil’s advocate.

      2. SoCalHR*

        I fully agree with you – the fiance’s conversation at the dinner table is really the only thing weird in the situation.

        1. Luna*

          That part could be weird, but I also think the LW might be reading too much into it. She says she “realized” that the dinner was a secret attempt to get an unofficial reference out of her- but was it? How does she “realize” this? Was it really that nefarious?

          1. SoCalHR*

            Yeah, more context on how this all went down would be helpful to gauge the “weirdness”

      3. The New Wanderer*

        I agree with this, and I think it’s probably the thing that soured the LW on the whole “Jane’s new job” thing. The LW said the fiance brought it up and she tried to avoid naming specific reasons for firing to protect their friendship with Jane, and yet later she finds out the fiance used LW as a de facto reference without letting her know that was the situation.

        I know I would be irritated if a colleague asked me about someone I used to work with or manage in what seemed like a social context, and I found out later the colleague used that information in a professional context. I hadn’t agreed to be a reference, so don’t use me as one.

        1. Karyn*

          “I hadn’t agreed to be a reference, so don’t use me as one.”

          My only caveat about that is that good reference checkers don’t just check the references that you list on an application; they call others as well. So just because you haven’t been named a reference doesn’t mean you won’t get called about a candidate.

          1. Coywolf*

            Sure but they aren’t usually so weird and sneaky about it by bringing it up in a purely social context.

      4. AMPG*

        I agree that it’s kind of weird, especially since I suspect if the LW knew the true purpose of the conversation, she would probably have been willing to speak a little more candidly. It seems like the fiance wasn’t truthful about that both to avoid upsetting the LW and also to get a reference that wouldn’t raise red flags with his employer.

      5. kb*

        That part did feel odd and may have contributed to the OP’s feeling that everyone was in on some sort of scheme they were keeping from her. But really, OP should have declined to discuss a former employee at all in that sort of situation (though I understand the fiance made it seem like they were just giving advice, one professional to another).

      6. Fiennes*

        The dinner “reference” would make me feel awkward, possibly, were I in OP’s place. Even then, though, that’s the fiancé, not Meg herself!

        I feel bad for Meg. It seems like she’s been forced into middle of situations that shouldn’t have involved her at all. Regardless, unless there’s something substantive left out of this story, I don’t think Meg deserves to be fired/not rehired because of this.

      7. essEss*

        I agree that the hiring of Jane is absolutely none of the OP’s business. That is a personnel issue at a separate company. Just as you would not make public announcements to other companies about your employees, the fiance has no business discussing the employment details of an employee at his business with you.

        Both of you were fine if you discussed general employee management, but you actually crossed a confidentiality line by discussing employment issues about a specific identifiable employee (Jane) with Meg’s fiance, especially when you knew that they knew her. I agree with Meg not sharing the information because you are being too invested in controlling the actions of a person that is no longer associated with you.

        I don’t see any bad behavior, except on the OP’s part. She wants to control the employment of an employee that no longer works for her, that she shared confidential disciplinary information with outsiders, she’s trying to associate this to a non-compete clause even though she acknowledges that the new job doesn’t fit the compete criteria, and trying to control who her current employees are allowed to be friends with.

        In my opinion, you should apologize to Meg for overstepping your authority and you should remain professional. If you were happy with Meg’s work quality, her choice of friends outside work should not be part of your concern. If you are unable to work professionally with her because of your personal issues, you owe her an apology and a VERY good reference for her to get another job based on her work abilities.

      8. Pommette!*

        Yeah. I don’t think that anyone did anything wrong, but it’s an awkward situation. I can see why the OP would feel betrayed/used.

      9. Ecce Wombat*

        I can see why OP wouldn’t love feeling tricked into giving a reference that she didn’t know she was giving. But her response to Meg seems highly disproportionate to me, and she also seems to feel as if firing Jane gives her some strange sort of ownership over Jane’s professionsl future. If this is typical of her day to day responses, I admit that I can see why Meg wouldn’t have spoken to her directly. It also seems that the OP is directing some justified annoyance at the fiance at Meg, because Meg is who she has control over, and that is critically uncool. And again, OP should be aware that in general she may be discouraging people from giving her information if her responses are often this disproportionate.

      10. Princess Cimorene*

        Well, seeing how emotionally invested the OP is in what happens to Jane, I can understand why the fiance probably didn’t ask directly, because it seems OP may have taken out her weird feelings about it on Meg. the OP is oddly invested in what Jane is doing,and seems to feel as tho Jane being fired by her means she doesn’t’ deserve to make a living elsewhere without OP approval. Bizarre. Meg probably realizes OP has weird attachments and behaviors and was concerned for herself.

      11. my two cents*

        So, there’s a few “icky but can’t place why” comments on here…

        I think the ‘icky potential’ is being asked to dinner, and then asked about someone else. It’s like meeting someone for dinner/coffee, and having them ask about your single friends. It’s not egregious, and its certainly not technically-Wrong for them to inquire, but it definitely takes the “meeting up with ME” part of it and puts the attention elsewhere.

        I can imagine the OP feels double-icky that it wasn’t to really meet up with her, and ickier when the topic of discussion is an employee they had fired.

        But not technically Wrong, still far from egregious…and I think OP needs to feel their feelings and move on.

        1. General Ginger*

          They didn’t ask OP to dinner. Meg, a team member/OP’s employee, brought fiance as her plus one to a dinner OP had for her team: the fiance, who came as a +1 to a dinner I treated my team to for a colleague who was leaving.

          1. my two cents*

            I understood that, thanks. I was trying to put words to the “icky but can’t place why” sentiment. It was ‘icky’ for the OP because she thought she was going out for dinner, but instead the focus went away from her and then unto a previous employee she fired (which she then had to rehash, even if lightly). It’s still not wrong, it’s still far from egregious, but that’s where I think the icky comes in.

            1. Annanimus*

              It’s pure manipulation – they forced a conversation about this former employee on OP, which undoubtedly made it very awkward for her given how Meg and Jane were friends and she couln’t divulge the real issues with Jane. She considered these people her friends, so it was impossible for OP to say “won’t talk about it” in the moment. On top of it. the fiancee surrounded the questioning with compliments about OP’s managing style which in hindsight seem disingenuous at best. That would make me feel used, too.

              1. my two cents*

                Eh, manipulation is kind of a stretch… The friend and fiance likely knew her reaction would be Not Great if asked directly, so they tried to soften their approach. They likely thought it was the minimal-pot-stir way to ask, given OP’s reaction to this and possibly other things.

                Though, the fiance didn’t NEED the reference (intel dig!) from OP at all and should have just skipped it entirely.

                1. Anna*

                  This. We’ve seen letters like this before where someone softballs a question about a potential hire in a social setting.

              2. Not So NewReader*

                ” She considered these people her friends…”

                That’s it right there. They are not your friends, OP, they are your employees.
                Former employee is very much aware that she is no friend of yours. You spoke to her like a boss, not a friend. “You’re fired”, is not something we say to our friends.

                Boss is not a dirty word, OP. It just isn’t. A person can strive to be fair and be supportive of their people. Done well, an employee-boss relationship is one of the more important relationships in life. Everyone needs to eat and have a roof over their heads. A good boss does what it takes to keep a person employed on the pay roll. It’s a role we play in people’s lives that is unlike a role anyone else plays in their lives.

      12. AsItIs*

        The conversation goes a way to cover the finance’s ass because he can say (truthfully) that he spoke with Jane’s former employer who (truthfully) didn’t mention any issues with Jane. That Jane was never mentioned in the conversation, well he doesn’t tell about that. It could come back as the OP being a person who gives dodgy references.

    3. Sunny SideUp*

      Hi, I’m the letter writer.
      I tried to keep it brief and did not mention that the conversation with Meg’s fiance was 100% initiated by the fiance, who came as a +1 to a dinner I treated my team to for a colleague who was leaving. I thought it was quite weird on the moment as he waited until I was alone, mentioned Jane out of the blue and zeroed in on her performance, that’s why I stayed vague.
      I totally agree that Jane’s new job is none of my business, but I was expecting to be called for a reference from potential employers, and I would have preferred Meg’s fiance to tell me what it was about at the time; I don’t think it’s unreasonable.
      And while I’d like to think that I wouldn’t have made it A Thing if Meg had told me in the beginning that she got her friend hired, this awkward discussion with her fiance certainly distorted my reaction…

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Okay, so I definitely understand why you feel weird about the dinner thing. I would too, in those circumstances.

        But I don’t think you should have been expecting to be called as a reference for any potential new employers. When I was fired, I didn’t use the inept supervisor who terminated me, I used the one before that as a reference. Most people are not going to use a boss who fired them as a reference.

        1. Sunny SideUp*

          Agreed, I did not expect Jane to use me as a reference, but she did work for me for 2 years, so a big corporation like her new employer would legitimately wonder why she did not choose me, and would potentially call me to check.

          1. Antilles*

            You’re absolutely right that a diligent, focused hiring manager would have (a) noted that Jane’s reference was from a peer rather than a manager and (b) asked about it, possibly even directly requesting your contact information.
            But as far as I can tell, that level of diligence is far more the exception than the rule. Shoot, I’ve heard plenty of people on here mention that it’s not uncommon for hiring managers to not even bother to call the references *listed by the candidate*. And while you might think that it would correlate on size of company, it doesn’t seem like it – you’re just as likely to have a thorough detailed investigation from a small firm as a large one; you’re just as likely to get a half-hearted “nah, no need to call references” from a monster Fortune 100 company as from a tiny 10 person company.

          2. Detective Amy Santiago*

            Eh. I just got hired at the largest employer in my city (a huge sprawling healthcare organization with a near monopoly) and they never asked me for my references. I know they didn’t call the employer I am with right now and I’ve been here for nearly 2 years.

            1. AKchic*

              My current job didn’t bother calling my references. Best resume I’ve ever had and he didn’t even care. I feel a little cheated, I had excellent references, dang it!

          3. General Ginger*

            They might, or they might not. I know you say they didn’t check Jane’s references, but even if they had, it’s entirely possible they wouldn’t have contacted you.

          4. Solidus Pilcrow*

            Thing is, how — if — the fiance played fast and loose with *his employer’s* hiring rules is between him and *his employer*. It has nothing to do with you.

            And unless you know the luxury store’s hiring rules, you can’t say he did anything wrong, either. The most you can say was that he handled the conversation oddly. Given your “Betrayed! I’ve been BETRAYED!!!!” reaction, I can kinda see why he did it that way.

            1. Jen S. 2.0*

              Agree with this. With the extra context, I see a bit more why it raised your eyebrows that Mr. Meg found a back channel into a reference check, but I still just don’t see it as a huge problem. That is, it’s an eyebrow raise and a “Huh. He was certainly picking my brain. Guess now I know why he had a few questions about Jane.” I can’t tell you how to feel, but at most I might have been a little irritated for a day or two and then forgotten all about it.

              I just don’t see how it’s a !BETRAYAL! (by whom? of whom? how?), or any major reflection on their or your business practices, or a reason to punish your other employee.

              It is very possible that the other company followed procedures just fine; maybe they ask for 2 former bosses and she was able to provide that without using you, or they just ask to talk to people who can speak to your work (so not necessarily bosses). Your not getting an official call isn’t necessarily a red flag. I also don’t know why you would have expected Jane to have people call you. You just canned her. (As others have noted, it sounds a bit like you expected an opportunity to trash Jane, and are miffed that you didn’t get it because you didn’t recognize the conversation as a reference check.)

              And again, absolutely none of it is your problem. Jane doesn’t work for you any more, and neither does Mr. Meg.

          5. Observer*

            Maybe they would and maybe they wouldn’t. You certainly don’t have any reasonable expectation that they WOULD do so.

            I get being annoyed that he hid his intentions when he had a conversation about it. But the idea that he deprived you of your rightful chance to unload to a reference checker is just silly.

            1. jo*

              Yeah, my read is that if OP had known she was being asked for a reference, she might have been less charitable–and the fiance knew that! Maybe he was trying to get around any vindictiveness OP might have toward Jane. If so, he was doing his job by finessing the situation to get frank opinions out of the OP.

              Or maybe OP is annoyed because she feels she held back and was less frank out of politeness toward someone she knew was friendly with Jane. But it doesn’t sound like it: the fiance told her she “did everything she could” before firing Jane, clearly a response to stuff the OP said about Jane’s performance issues.

          6. Louise*

            So you didn’t expect her to use you as a reference and then were upset when you weren’t called for a reference? I’m confused. Why did you want to be a reference in the first place? So you could give a bad reference??? That feels really petty and vindictive to me.

            1. Lunita*

              It’s a pretty big leap to go from the LW saying they thought they’d be used as a reference to inferring that LW desired to be used as a reference out of vindictiveness. I didn’t get that at all.

          7. Jesca*

            But at the end of the day, what exactly does that have to do with Meg anyway? You didn’t like that her fiance didn’t address you formally to get his reference check, but that has nothing to do with Meg or even Jane! And given the fact that the fiance already knows the person and is just “checking” with you means he was actually doing his due diligence. You just didn’t like that he didn’t out right say “this is me, manager at fab boutique, asking you, OP, for a formal reference about Jane.” I think you may be a little too emotionally invested in Jane herself and maybe took her not working out with you and whatever mistakes she made while working for you a but personal? I don’t know, but in no way were you wronged here by anyone.

            1. Specialk9*

              Yeah, there is an unfeminist taint of the whole ‘I’m going to fire a woman for the actions of a man she dates… which while legal and ethical made me feel annoyed because reasons’ thing.

              The very most generous read I can give this one is to recommend the OP stop considering subordinates their friends. They’re not your friends, and vice versa. You’re their boss, and your ideas of friendship have made you have unrealistic ideas about how people interact with bosses, and what they owe them.

              1. One of the Sarahs*

                +1, if anything feels icky, it’s blaming Meg for her fiance’s actions, and blackballing her when there’s no work-related reason.

                (And I don’t understand the insistence that “Meg got Jane this job” – if Jane was friends with both of them, what’s to stop her going to the fiance directly?)

                1. Cringing 24/7*

                  Yes! I keep wondering how Meg is at fault for anything in this story. She’s allowed to be friends with anybody and help that friend get a job anywhere. Meg’s fiancé is allowed to hire anyone he wants and conduct any sort of deceitful interviews he wants without Meg being at fault for them.

          8. Jill*

            Seriously? You think employers will spend the time to find the name and contact information of an applicant’s previous boss because the applicant didn’t list them as a reference?

          9. Susie Q*

            You can’t dictate how other companies choose to hire people or decide to gather references. It’s frankly none of your business unless you want the opportunity to badmouth Jane.

          10. notanon*

            Many, many, many job seekers specifically request that their most recent supervisor/company not be contacted, usually because they don’t want their boss to know they are interviewing elsewhere. Most big corporations assume this is the case and will even ask the candidate whether they have permission to contact the most recent supervisor/company. They are not such jerks as to go behind candidates backs to out their job search status.

      2. michelenyc*

        I am kind of surprised that you thought you would be called as a reference. Most people don’t use the person that fired them as a reference. I certainly don’t.

        1. Murphy*

          I thought the same thing. I don’t use that person either. And now I’m far enough removed from that job that I’ll just take it off my resume altogether.

      3. required name*

        That does seem strange. But I’m not sure I’d take her fiance’s actions as a reason to not hire Meg again. She brought him as a +1 (presumably there were other +1s there?), but he’s the one who chose to have an informal chat about a mutual friend.

        1. LouiseM*

          There’s no need to be hostile to the LW. I personally am glad she came into the comments to explain further.

        2. Sunny SideUp*

          Because I was friends with Meg and her fiance before hiring her. Should have mentioned that but I was trying to summarize as much as possible so it leads to misunderstandings… Also, do you think I would have taken the time to write this if I was sure of my opinion?

          1. Jessie the First (or second)*

            I want to say I really appreciate that you are here engaging in the comments and clarifying things. It can’t be easy, given the pretty universal response you’re getting that your reaction is off-base. It must be hard to read, and so really, thank you! I read most of the comments as confused and sometimes direct, but I hope they don’t read as hostile (for the most part) to you.

            1. Jules the 3rd*


              I think the lack of context that we get from text interactions is skewing people’s reactions here. Thanks for clarifying.

            2. jo*

              Yeah, I mean, I think you had the wrong take on this and maybe even a bit of unwarranted malice, but you’re basically just being human here. Thanks for being a good enough sport to show up in the comments.

          2. Specialk9*

            Oh, you were friends, then boss, but still trying to be friends. So this felt like them choosing another friend over you, rather than business. Ah, that makes sense as back story, and where all your big feelings are coming from. (Which are fine to have, but it’s good that you’re checking, since acting on them would not be good at all.)

            Well, chalk this up to learning that employing friends changes the nature of those bonds fundamentally. Being a manager can be lonely. You as a manager owe them very different behavior, and you need to expect them to change their behavior with you, as their boss. Your reactions cannot continue in the friends category when you’re really a boss, or you will thoroughly trash that friendship and be their legendary nightmare boss. The good news is that you sought the second opinion, and are reading AAM. We all came here because we needed help, and hopefully we learn a lot.

            Thanks for sharing with us, and helping us understood when the original letter wasn’t clear.

      4. General Ginger*

        I’m a little confused why you wouldn’t just say that you don’t discuss hiring/firing/personnel matters, when talking to the fiance. Why would you talk to a current employee’s fiance about a former employee’s performance?

        Given that you fired Jane, it’s unlikely she’d use you as a reference, so I’m kind of confused about that, too.

        Other than that, Meg is not obligated to tell you she got her friend hired. In fact, you specifically told her to keep things professional, and it looks to me like she did.

        1. Tuxedo Cat*

          I think it would be weird to talk about a current or former employee’s performance without knowing the context. The fiance did screw up on that end. But that’s the on the fiance, not Meg or Jane, as far as I can tell. I think it’s partially on the OP, too

      5. JB (not in Houston)*

        Look, even if he was trying to figure out if there were any red flags you were willing to talk about, and he chose to do this in the least effective way possible, nothing you’ve added establishes that he was using this as a reference check. Why would someone you fired put you down as a reference? Most people *don’t* list someone who fired them as a reference, and in most cases it would be strange if they did.

        1. Koko*

          I think there’s a divide on how people feel about reference checks. One camp is pretty informal and just thinks of it as part of a larger due diligence process that can include calling references on the reference list, calling former supervisors not on the list, contact people in your professional network who have worked with the person before but aren’t on the list, an internet search/cursory social media check, background check, credit check, etc. It all falls under the umbrella of making sure when you extend an offer it’s not going to come back to bite you because you didn’t find easily find-able information.

          The other camp thinks of references as a very formal process where you either provide letters or a list of contacts and the employer does not have permission to contact anybody else (some also don’t believe in Googling candidates even post-interview). If a company has a no-reference policy, then you can’t tell anyone anything about that employee’s performance because doing so would be a Reference.

          To the people in the first camp there’s no clear line around what’s a reference and what’s not. It’s all just information gathering. They wouldn’t feel the need to formally classify a series of questions as being a reference check. Meg’s fiance probably didn’t mention he was considering hiring Jane because he thought it would be awkward, but figured he would ask some questions and see what OP said, and didn’t necessarily in his mind think of it as a ” reference check” as much as “due diligence of talking to a mutual contact in my professional network.”

          To the people in the second camp, OP was not just asked questions that she freely gave answers to, but tricked into giving a Reference without knowing it.

          1. Luna*

            But it’s not like the LW gave a positive reference, right? It sounds like her answer was pretty vague, and if anything probably skewed negative given that she had to fire Jane for poor performance. So she was tricked into given a bad reference, which the fiancee chose to ignore since he went ahead and hired the person anyway? I’m still confused.

      6. Stranger than fiction*

        So, I think meg kept quiet because she and her fiance benefited by way of $1500, for one thing, and also because the paperwork you mentioned although she didn’t technically break that, but was kind of a gray area.

        1. Mike C.*

          It isn’t in the grey area at all. None of the signatories hired anyone, and the fired employee isn’t working within the area specified.

        2. CmdrShepard4ever*

          Non-compete clauses have to be limited in geographic area, time limit and scope of work that it covers. You can’t prevent a marketing person from being able to work in marketing anywhere in the world for the next 30 years. You also can’t prevent a marketing person from switching careers to become a professor. A few years ago jimmy john’s got in trouble for trying to enforce non-compete clauses for retail level store workers. Someone else said non-competes are meant to prevent competitors from stealing trade secrets, I don’t think learning how to put toppings on bread is much of secret.

        3. Observer*

          There is nothing grey on the non-compete at all. The non-compete is utterly irrelevant here, because the fiance is not bound by it in the least – not even morally, much less legally.

        4. One of the Sarahs*

          But how is it a grey area? Jane was friends with Meg and the fiance, so could have approached fiance and handled the whole transaction without Meg’s input. Genuinely don’t get what Meg has done wrong here, except not tell OP that she knew Jane had a job, and being the partner of Jane’s new boss.

          The more I think about it, the more unreasonable “it’s forbidden for your partner can’t hire someone who used to work for me, in their unrelated business” seems. If they were a direct competitor, maybe, but that would be a different set of weird, having their partner on your staff. I am really confused about this aspect.

          1. Susana*

            Even being a direct competitor doesn’t matter. She FIRED Jane. It’s like breaking up with someone that feeling betrayed that your friend’s friend started dating that person. She got rid of someone she didn’t want, and that’s her right. It’s not her right to expect everyone else to share her view that Jane is unemployable.

      7. Roscoe*

        The dinner thing, ok I get it. But you still sound upset that you weren’t called. Like you think you deserve the right to torpedo any of her future job prospects. I mean, he got the info he wanted. Yes, it wasn’t an “official reference check”, but my question is what would you have said different? And why would it matter?

      8. PCB*

        OP – It feels as if everyone is piling on you a bit (ie. saying this is a mean girl situation).

        When you own your own small business, as you state that you do in your letter, you are entrusting people with your livelihood. Therefore interactions like this – which might not be a big deal in a larger company, can result in higher stakes for a business owner.

        Yes – Jane’s new job would typically not be your business. It doesn’t sound like you mind that she’s employed, more just that there were some behind the scenes happenings that make you uncomfortable. As Meg has been abroad for 6 months, she is not entitled to a position on her return, and if you feel uncomfortable employing her at your small business (especially if its a competitor to Meg’s fiance’s store), its in both your best interests not to hire her again. You can always offer her a strong reference if she has done good work previously. Trust your intuition and keep your focus on your business, not any personal issues.

        1. serenity*

          saying this is a mean girl situation

          No one said that, so let’s not put words in people’s mouths. There have been legitimate questions about why OP is so invested in this. And frankly, after reading OP’s follow up comments above and below, I think that the questions and comments made by other commenters have shed more insight on the situation than OP was able to communicate.

        2. Mike C.*

          Mean girl situation? That’s incredibly dismissive of the numerous concerns people have brought up here.

          Also, employees entrust their employers with their livelihoods as well, it’s a mutual business relationship.

          1. Specialk9*

            I read that comment that way too at first, but they’re quoting someone who called it that; PCB is using it as an example of people being kinda rude in the comments. Which, yeah, would hurt my feelings too if I were the OP.

        3. Annony*

          PCB – I really feel like people are piling up on OP too.

          I also am partners in a small business and feel as though I understand where OP is coming from.

          To the OP – don’t hire Meg back. Your feelings are that she lied by omission about Jane. Your trust in her is gone. Her fiance is on the shady side and that would give me pause too. I understand how you feel. It is like “shutting the gate after the cows have gone”. It is done and you can try to move on.

          Once, there was an employee who my partner insisted on firing, with good reason. Employee, Tom, had become good friends with another employee, Joe. I mentioned that if Tom went, Joe would have to go too. My partner scoffed. Both employees were far too close and had become enmeshed with each other’s lives. Poor Joe was harassed by Tom daily via email (prior to smartphones – so, it was traceable). We waited until there was enough “evidence” of Tom asking Joe for important business information. Then we let Joe go too.

          A few years later I ran into Joe, Tom hadn’t spoken to him for years. I was shocked. I thought they were good friends. Then I realized that Tom was only using Joe. Poor Joe. But Joe did land on his feet with a much better job. He deserved it.

          1. Observer*

            Yes, you really shouldn’t hire Meg. She deserves better.

            You fired a guy because someone asked for information? Really? Even though you had no evidence that he didn’t give it? That may be legal, but for my money, THAT is shady.

            Hiring someone that someone you know fired is NOT shady. Even if the firer is a friend and boss of your Fiance’s. And firing someone because you think their fiance is shady is beyond shady.

            1. One of the Sarahs*

              I REALLY feel for Joe – so harassed by someone he’d thought of as a friend, and then fired for it? That’s cold.

            2. Susana*

              + 1 million.. There’s a difference between being a business owner and a cult leader. The first requires an understanding that while people may have loyalty toward you, you cannot control their every move. Especially once they leave.

          2. Specialk9*

            This is really over the top. OP doesn’t own any of her current or former employees, and they don’t owe her feudal loyalty. If an employee’s partner wants to hire a former worker, fine. Him trying to pump her for back story isn’t awesome, but he wasn’t stealing her current employee, which would be icky.

          3. hbc*


            Reasonable: “Tom and Joe are such good friends that we should be prepared for Joe to hold it against us or otherwise cause problems when we fire Tom.”

            Unreasonable: “Tom is harassing Joe, and rather than instructing Joe not to take Joe’s calls or blocking the number, we’ll fire Joe for being pestered.”

          4. LBK*

            Wow, you were a real jerk to Joe. First someone he thought was a friend gets fired, then that friend turns on him and starts harassing him, and then he gets fired for…being harassed? That’s terrible. Please explain what Joe actually did wrong here because I can’t figure it out – as far as I can tell, he got fired because you were too lazy to actually support and protect your employee and figured it would be easier to just make it not your problem anymore.

        4. Annony*

          First comment is not coming through. It could be in moderation. Please excuse the double comment.

          OP as a business owner I understand how you feel. PCB sums it up about entrusting others with our livelihoods as well as the debt we have personally incurred to get the business up and running. Not to mention the blood, sweat and tears.

          Try to look on the bright side, Jane is gone and soon Meg will too. As much as it stinks to train new people, a new crew means a fresh start. If Meg is bothering you, let her go home early. Hopefully, she has not taken any pertinent business information already. If you suspect it, let her go now and best of luck in this difficult situation.

          1. Genny*

            Why are you assuming anyone has taken any business information? There doesn’t appear to be any indication that this is the case…

            1. Scarlet*

              Still trying to understand what kind of crucial business information a retail worker would be able to share.

      9. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Okay, wow, yeah, that detail in your first sentence really changes the complexion on this. Meg’s fiancé only showed up because he was a +1 to a team dinner, and used it as a way to secretively pump you for information about Jane? I can see why you feel weirded out about this.

        That said, this isn’t a Jane problem, or a Meg problem. This is a Meg’s-weird-fiancé problem. In your letter, I get the feeling that you’re treating them as a unit of Meg-and-fiancé, which is perfectly normal for social events but is… not when it comes to business. Meg’s fiancé and Meg are different people in the workplace, and so they should remain. Does she work for his employer at all? If not, then it isn’t even that she “technically” didn’t break the non-compete — she didn’t break it, period.

        But I totally get feeling weird about it.

          1. Susana*

            But he didn’t just show up – in fact, LW indicates fiance was on friendly terms with her as well. Nor was his questioning “secret.” It’s his business, what he tries to find out about employees/potential employees. Even as a *formal* reference-giver, you do not have the right to keep someone else from hiring someone who used to work for you. It is their decision.

        1. Koko*

          I’m confused about this line in OP’s original letter: ” A few months later, I had dinner with my current employee and her fiance, as friends. ” (emphasis added)

          This doesn’t seem to line up with the explanation that it was a work-related dinner for the whole team and he was a +1…

          1. Sunny SideUp*

            For one I’m not a native english-speaker, and second I was trying to summarize in my original letter…

          2. Stranger than fiction*

            I think the emphasis was because fiance ended up making it about business.

        2. Peter Parker*

          “Meg’s fiancé only showed up because he was a +1 to a team dinner, and used it as a way to secretively pump you for information about Jane?”

          He hardly “secretly pumped” OP for information about Jane. They talked about Jane. There’s nothing wrong with acting on what was discussed.

          1. Just Employed Here*

            Quite the opposite of secret pumping, actually: the fiancé asked OP about her fired employee, who *is a friend of his*. The professional thing for OP to have done would have been to not divulge any information at all. Then there would have been no conversation to now feel icky about.

            1. Just Employed Here*

              I mean, I get that the fiancé asking this stuff is weird (but I wouldn’t go as far as calling it shady), but the OP doesn’t seem to acknowledge her own part in the conversation with him.

              An (ex-)employer should be a lot more careful about what they say about employees and to whom than a friend (which is all he is to Jane, as far as she knew at that point) has to be.

              Consider this a lesson in not discussing specific, named employees outside of the company, OP.

            2. Lunita*

              It’s secret pumping because he didn’t disclose the reason for the questions. And if it’s absolutely none of LW’s business, he shouldn’t have been asking either. Yes, LW provabaly should have just squashed that conversation and not said anything rather than be vague, but if that happened to me, I probably would have done something similar. Not everyone comes up with the best response in the moment.

              1. Just Employed Here*

                Sure, he shouldn’t haven been asking — but he’s not the one writing in asking for advice.

                But I think the main issue is that (assuming we have gotten the timeline right) he was Jane’s friend at the time, whereas the OP was and is her ex-employer. There is a much higher (and probably legal) standard for her about what to do and not to do with information about Jane than there is for him.

              2. sap*

                I really don’t get this. I ask people questions without telling them my reasons for asking all the time. I don’t think there’s anything unethical about it unless I give a false reason. When two of my friends break up, if I ask what happened, part of my motivation is to console my friend, but part of it is also to determine whether anything that was nefarious that would require me (according to my values) to terminate a friendship happened, but I don’t say “I’m asking about your breakup because I want to make sure you’re/they’re not abusive or something,” and I don’t see how this is different.

                If Fiance were claiming LW *gave them a reference,* that would be really different, but it sounds like he isn’t. How is asking questions for no stated reason “secretly” gathering anything?

      10. Mina, the Company Prom Queen*

        Why does every potential employer of Jane’s have to call the OP for a reference? OP got rid of Jane. End of story. OP does not have the right to control the remainder of Jane’s career. I think it would behoove Jane not to list OP as a reference.

      11. Hills to Die on*

        I understand that you don’t like that they were vague with you, but none of this changes my answers. It still has zero to do with you.

      12. Czhorat*

        If you fired her she’s not likely to use you as a reference if she can at all help it. People usually select references who they think will have positive things to say about them.

        It seems that this is something to just let go; everyone was probably too circumspect to avoid awkwardness. The ironic thing is that this lack of directness is what makes it awkward.

        That said, there’s no harm to anyone involved so far as I can see.

      13. Penny Lane*

        For the life of me, I do not understand why you – someone who fired Jane – would have expected to have been called as a reference. People don’t normally give the name/number of the boss who fired them as references.

          1. Czhorat*

            Not everyone calls to verify employment.

            And yes, if you give someone who fired you as a reference you’re probably not optimizing your chances of success.

            1. CanCan*

              This, and also – why would the fiance need to verify Jane’s employment. He already knows from Meg (a reputable source) that Jane worked there.

      14. Princess Cimorene*

        Why would you expect to be called as a reference for someone you fired? People don’t generally list employers who fired them as references. You understand that right? and even if you were or weren’t called, and even if you gave a glowing or horrible reference, it’s not dependent upon you as to whether or not someone else hires a person you love or despise. You don’t get final say and you really shouldn’t be expecting to be a reference for Jane, ever.

        Maybe fiance was a little shady. Still, you’re too invested emotionally in where Jane is now working, how she got the job, or what bonus fiance gets for her referral. LET. IT. GO.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          I don’t think it’s unusual for someone to think they may be called for an employment verification.

          I really don’t understand why so many people are posting like that’s a crazy thought.

          I do agree, though, that whatever rodeo that trio is in, OP is better off away from it, and just chalking it up to ‘fiance’s problem from now on’. Trying to pump OP at the dinner without mentioning why was a little off. And no, I don’t think this letter shows why – OP sounds confused to me, like she’s also trying to figure out why all this feels a little off, not Super Intense Outraged Crazy Ex Boss.

          1. Just Employed Here*

            It’s not that calling to verify employment is a crazy thought, it’s the assumption that is should/must be done that’s off.

            Also, it’s really not fair to write “whatever rodeo that trio is in”. Jane got herself a new job (why wouldn’t she?), Meg has nothing to do with this (except being put in an akward situation by other people), and even fiancé just asked weird questions.

            The one’s acting weirdly here are OP and possibly fiancé, it’s really unfair to make that about Jane or Meg.

      15. Indie*

        So it’s the fiance’s weird ambush while you were being tactful thats bugging you, not meg herself? Honestly thats fair, it was certainly awkward and a little bit misjudged, but luckily you don’t employ him!

        1. Specialk9*

          But women are extensions of men, so fortunately she gets to fire Meg because the man she doesn’t employ was possibly a tiny bit shady. /S

          1. Just Employed Here*


            And OP apparently gets to mix and match between friendship and professionalism, but Meg doesn’t.

          2. Lunita*

            What a leap! She’s not firing Meg…she’s considering not rehiriring her, which is pretty different.

            1. Just Employed Here*

              … with the exact same end result, though. For something that doesn’t really have anything to do with Meg.

          3. sap*

            Yeah, the situation as described actually could have involved Meg doing *everything right.* I know in this situation, I’d probably say something like “I still work for LW and don’t want anything to do with this, Fiance. Please don’t use my work events or my name in this at all, I’d prefer to stay out of this because of my relationship with LW” and Fiance was asking LW questions circumspectly because he was trying to keep Meg out of it badly, or because he thought it wouldn’t violate Meg’s “not at my work events” rule, or anything.

            Meg, of course, could have been totally involved, but it’s just bizarre to hold her accountable for a conversation she wasn’t part of.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Yes, it kind of implies that she should have taped his mouth shut or something. Anyone who has never had an SO do something that played out awkwardly, please raise your hand.

      16. Rachel*

        One thought I do have; if Meg is friends with both you and Jane, she probably got an earful from Jane about being fired. Perhaps your feelings of betrayal come not from her fiancé hiring Jane, but from Meg trying to learn more about why one of her friends fired the other.

        I was the Meg in this situation a few years back, but I knew my Jane’s shortcomings already. I got chided by my manager friend for writing a wholly truthful (and short) recommendation on Jane’s LinkedIn but was never distrusted by my manager.

      17. Anion*

        I agree that’s weird, and you’re not wrong to feel a little used or lied to. But I do think/hope that you can and should let it go; no one was trying to hurt you, and Meg might not even realize how the conversation went down or what exactly happened.

      18. Not So NewReader*

        OP, thanks for chiming in here. It’s not easy to read the comments section and I am thinking that my comment here will be lost at this point.

        In situations like this, I chalk it up to a loss. For myself, I would say, “How could I have handled this conversation differently?” One thing I might conclude is that I could just say, “Are we doing a reference check right now? If so, let’s wait until I am in the office on Monday.”

        Granted, I am Monday morning quarterbacking here, but this is what I do. I take the conversations that did not set well with me and I plot out how I will change my reaction to a similar situation in the future.

        If this happened to me there would be two sources of annoyance for me. 1) The unsettled feeling that I got duped into being a reference. 2) The unsettled feeling that I could have handled it differently IF I had the presence of mind to do so.

        The correct answer to number 1 is “we do not know for certain and probably never will.” Hold on to this thought, OP, if for no other reason than to use it to allow your mind to calm down on this issue.
        And the answer to number 2 is we cannot change the past we can only change the future. What are you willing to consider doing differently in the future?
        Hiring friends is a hard idea. You have their paycheck which their means to having a quality of life. Friends are equals. If you have their paycheck you are not their equal. While you still thought of them as friends, we have no way of knowing how their view of you changed once you had their paychecks. Very few friendships can navigate this one without problems.

      19. Annabelle*

        I can understand why that conversation would seem less than above board in retrospect, but how is any of that a “betrayal”? The reaction in your original letter is really, really extreme. If you knew Meg and her fiancé were friends with Jane, does it really seem that odd that one of them would mention her anyway? Also, it stands to reason that an employee you terminated wouldn’t list you as a reference.

    4. Gingerblue*

      Yeah, the OP is overstepping. I have no idea why she feels entitled to “my former employee’s whereabouts”, for instance. There’s some real confusion over appropriate boundaries in this letter.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Apparently I misread, and I do apologize for that, but even so– to me (and many have said it better already), that doesn’t make my feeling about it any different. I would be totally caught off-guard by such a topic and would probably get very flustered, but I hope I would be able to say something like, “Oh, that’s old news and not really important.” This is where it gets so iffy to mix work and friendship; you really shouldn’t discuss personnel matters like that outside of work.

    5. TootsNYC*

      her fiance’s hiring Jane has very little to do with your business and isn’t Meg’s information to share.

      After all, the OP had asked Meg to keep it professional and discreet. So she did–both ways.
      I also think it’s a little strange that you discussed the Jane situation with Meg and her fiance at dinner, especially since Jane was already gone– I’m not quite sure why you would bring up a former, fired employee during a dinner conversation with her friend.

      I think you misread–Meg’s fiance brought it up, not the OP. And that part might be a little weird.
      But the answer to that is to not hire friends anymore.

  4. Detective Amy Santiago*

    This letter seriously confuses me.

    Jane & Meg both worked for you. You fired Jane. Meg’s fiance hired Jane.

    Do you think that no one should have hired Jane after you fired her? Do you think that Meg should disclose her fiance’s business decisions to you? Why do you care where Jane ended up working?

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I also have to say it makes me uncomfortable that you felt the need to include the detail that Meg is a foreign worker on a visa.

      1. Cordoba*

        I interpreted that as a way to clarify the situation with Meg.

        She is considering not re-hiring her upon her return rather than firing her outright.

        It’s not central to the situation, and less relevant here because LW’s question is so off-base otherwise, but there is data encoded into that fact that could plausibly change the advice given by reasonable well-meaning people.

        Not re-hiring after a 6-month absence is less drastic than firing, so presumably there is a corresponding lower threshold for behavior that would justify it.

        1. Amber T*

          Yes, especially since it emphasizes the point that LW seems to have been considering holding Meg’s job, or at least discussing re-hiring with her, which I think shows they had thought highly of them, and this drastically changed their opinion of them.

      2. LouiseM*

        Yes, I think it was just context for why there was a possibility of her leaving the country for 6 months and then getting re-hired.

      3. Sunny SideUp*

        Like the other commenters wrote, it was only to explain the whole “leaving for six months and getting re-hired” story.

    2. Millennial Lawyer*

      I agree… I thought this was going to end up that she talked about the circumstances of the termination to the fiance and then it got back to Jane or what not. But this is just… her fiance hired Jane. It doesn’t really affect OP at all!

    3. Elemeno P.*

      If anything, the LW gave a candid response that was likely more negative than she would give to a potential employer, so the fact that Jane was hired anyway really isn’t betraying her; it was looking out for red flags since they knew she was fired.

  5. Cordoba*

    If my boss fired my friend (for reasons that were not bad enough for them to become my former friend) I would absolutely use my connections to help my friend get another job elsewhere and then not breathe a word about it to my boss.

    I’d even give the friend good reference myself if I thought they were a good worker; I am not obligated to share the same opinion of my colleagues that my boss does.

    There’s nothing underhanded here, and nothing that is LWs business.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      I would go so far as to say that a couple of people I use as references are consultants for and peers to my former boss who tried to get me fired (a whole other story). My references never said a word to Jerkface Boss, I certainly never said a word to Jerkface Boss, and it’s none of Jerkface Boss’s business. They continue to have a working relationship with him and that’s none of my business. It just doesn’t matter since Jerkface and I don’t interact and no longer have anything to do with each other.

    2. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster*

      I’m on this team. There are a lot of reasons people get fired, and sometimes those reasons are more about the firing manager than the person that got fired. I think it’s actually quite common for a fired person’s former colleagues to recognize that the fired person has lots to offer and might actually be a very strong candidate professionally.

      1. Kyrielle*

        And even when the reason is solid and good, a) it may not apply at the new job, and b) if they don’t do a due diligence and it does apply at the new job, that’s on that employer and will impact them. It won’t hurt the former employer.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          And c) people need to make a living so someone is going to have to hire them.

        2. Koko*

          I had an employee who had serious performance issues that she wasn’t able to improve with coaching and we ultimately had to let her go.

          A few months later I heard that she’d been hired by the mother of an employee in another department, and was reportedly excelling in her new position.

          My reaction: Good for her. Good for all of us, in fact.

      2. InfoSec SemiPro*

        Or a strong candidate *for another job* – I’ve fired people who had skills I absolutely admired and wanted to see succeed… but they were causing harm and ineffective at the job they were in and didn’t have the skills for anything I could give them. And I needed someone doing the job they were sitting in.

        Its a crap manager who hires and fires based on “I think this is a good person” – which means that people get fired for reasons that have nothing to do with their worth as a human.

        1. kb*

          Exactly! There are some things that would make for a bad employee anywhere (e.g., embezzling, violence in the workplace), but one boss’s insubordinate employee is another’s self-starter.

      3. Minakami Yuki*

        What you said is 100% true, and I am very thankful for it.

        A couple jobs ago, I was fired. I can’t claim to be entirely blameless (though how anyone could not screw up a few times in the midst of the crap I was being put through, I don’t know), but the whole thing had far too many elements of a witch hunt for anyone who had the details to view it as a fair and reasonable outcome. A couple days later, I had a LinkedIn message from a former coworker offering to put me in touch with some of his contacts at other companies. I didn’t take him up on it, because I didn’t want to risk getting him in trouble (what I witnessed of upper management did not leave me confident that they wouldn’t retaliate against an employee that helped me), but I really, really appreciated it in the wake of a really crappy experience.

        When I finally found a new job about a year later, the guy who hired me let me know that my firing was brought up when he put my name forward as who he wanted to hire, and all he said was “That situation involved [head of HR at previous job]”, and that was enough for everyone in the room.

        I guess my point is, a hearty “Thank you” to people like Meg and Meg’s fiance on behalf of people in situations like Jane’s.

      4. Sunny SideUp*

        I agree and furthermore I’m sure Jane does a good job at her new position. My letter was not about Jane but about Meg ;)

        1. Lala*

          But your issue isn’t even really with Meg. It’s with her fiance. They’re not the same person. Meg didn’t do anything wrong. Even her fiance is only guilty of awkwardly inviting himself to a dinner and asking you questions about someone who used to work for you.

        2. Merida Ann*

          Meg didn’t really do anything, though. Meg’s *fiancé* was potentially kind of shady in tricking you into giving a sort-of reference when you weren’t aware that was happening, but that’s not Meg’s fault. The only thing I’m seeing Meg did was not tell you the specifics about Jane’s new job, which she doesn’t really have to do.

          So your question truly boils down to “Should I refuse to re-hire Meg because she didn’t tell me someone else’s job details?” That’s still up to you to decide, technically, but please don’t put the blame for the fiancé’s actions on Meg.

          1. Lunita*

            While Meg has no control over her fiancé’s actions (maybe some influence), I don’t think it’s weird for LW to wonder if Meg and her fiancé had discussed it previously, or to think that Meg might know what the fiancé was going to ask. Although even if she did know, it’s not necessarily a reason to avoid re-hiring her.

            1. sap*

              But this suggests LW should *ask Meg* about it, rather than impute her fiance’s actions to her automatically.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          One other thing I see here is everyone is tip-toeing around everyone.
          Why not ask Meg what’s up with that? Perhaps ask her point blank if you have done something to indicate she feels that she cannot talk about fired employees or other topics with you.

          OTH, you could decide that all this is too much effort and just not rehire Meg. But somehow I think the friendship component is a play here. She’s not only left the company but perhaps the friendship is ruined also? Are you holding Meg to a higher standard because of your friendship?

    3. Antilles*

      I’d even give the friend good reference myself if I thought they were a good worker; I am not obligated to share the same opinion of my colleagues that my boss does.
      Have done this for fired friends before, zero regrets.
      Look, my ex-boss may have thought my friend Sarah was a bad worker. As her manager, that’s entirely his right to hold that opinion. It is also his right to let her go if he thinks it’s justified.
      But guess what? The company didn’t call him, they called ME. Therefore, they are getting MY opinion, not his. End of story.

      1. Hershey*

        I have asked a colleague/friend to do this too- specifically, put him as a reference instead of my boss which was a big part of the reason I was leaving. I would do it for someone else if I thought it was appropriate for the situation.

    4. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Absolutely, and I had friends doing the same for me when I got laid off.

    5. jo*

      Yeah, it might help OP to imagine what she’d do if she were on the other side of this! If one of my friends fired another of my friends, I’d do my best to help the fired person (within reason, as their qualifications warrant) while keeping my mouth shut to the person who did the firing. Meg and her fiance weren’t nuts to try to thread this needle the way they did. Everyone is in an awkward position here, and I think everyone will be better off if they try to be forgiving about it. They’re all just trying to protect their business and livelihood. If Meg’s fiance ends up getting burned by poor performance from Jane, that will be a lesson learned for him, but that’s the worst that should come of all this. If Meg has been a good employee so far, I hope OP will at least give her a fair reference if she still isn’t comfortable rehiring her.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      Yep, I have done this. I have helped fired friends find new jobs. One success story involved a likable boss who got a new job and needed more employees. In an odd turn, likable boss had worked for our boss, so he knew the story without asking. I made sure that Fired Friend knew Likable Boss was hiring. This went very well and she stayed with Likable Boss for years. Later the Likable Boss said that he had made it his mission to hire anyone who had fled our old employer.

      This stuff happens and it happens more often than we realize.

  6. Penny Lane*

    I don’t get this post at all.

    Alison is spot-on as usual. No one owes you anything when it comes to the whereabouts of your former employee. Moreover, the fiance’s luxury-goods business seems to have absolutely nothing to do with your own line of work, so there’s no “non-compete” type of issue going on.

    1. Seriously?*

      Even if they were in the same field, don’t non-compete clauses usually only apply if you are quit, not if you are fired? I would not want a position that said that if they fired me I would not be allowed to work in my field for four months.

      1. Amber T*

        Also, unless you’re a super high level executive raking in the dough, most courts won’t actually entertain most non-compete clauses. Don’t get me wrong, the wording is enough to make most people pause, and if a company attempts to bring a suit and makes a single employee hire an employee, it’s almost always disastrous for the employee. But for retail workers, non-competes should be thrown out the window.

    2. aes_sidhe*

      Non-competes get tossed in my state courts all the time since people have a right to earn a living. The only thing that ever is enforced regularly are the non-solicitation agreements.

        1. sap*

          Non-solicits are a really complicated area of the law–plug for “ask a lawyer” rather than trying to parse anything yourself.

  7. Jessie the First (or second)*

    OP, you say you avoided talking about Jane with Meg because you knew they were friends.

    All Meg did was return the favor, basically – you told Meg to remain professional and you intentionally refrained from talking to Meg about Jane’s issues at work and you asked Meg not to share company information with Jane. In return, Meg did the *same thing* from the other side – she refrained from talking to you about Jane and she refrained from sharing personal Jane information with the company.

    She didn’t owe you any more. She doesn’t owe you anything more than what she gave you – she was professional (you don’t say she shared company information improperly) and she kept her personal life personal. What else did you expect her to do?

    1. LouiseM*

      Exactly. If Meg had told you about this she would have been the one violating your deal. There is no winning!

    2. Annie*

      I think this is just a brilliant, insightful, and extremely useful way to think about the situation!

    3. another scientist*

      This. You kept it professional by not divulging the reasons for firing Jane. Meg also kept it professional by leaving her friendship with Jane, and the knowledge she had from that friendship, out of the workplace. The fact that OP sees this mutual professional conduct as betrayal from the employee, could mean that her expectations for workplace friendships/boundaries/”we’re a family here” are not appropriate (so common in small businesses).

    4. hbc*

      The only odd thing is that OP/Sunny SideUp found out from Meg that Jane was working somewhere else. Whoever raised that broke the “let’s not talk about her” deal. If it was Meg lying out of the blue, I’d be annoyed in OP’s position. But I get the sense that maybe it was prompted by OP and Meg had to tap dance a bit.

      Sunny, can you clarify how you found out?

      1. Sunny SideUp*

        As I mentioned before, I was friends with Meg + fiance before hiring Meg. It turns out the day we had a friend’s dinner planned with them and my husband, a customer told me she saw Jane working at … store (which I knew was the fiance’s store). At dinner that night I said “so I know where Jane is working now!” and right away Meg blurted out “yeah, and fiance was the one who hired her, and he did not check her references.” So I initiated the conversation, but I didn’t think further than that and since it’s a big company, would have never assumed that the fiance had such a direct role in her hiring.

        1. Doe-Eyed*

          If that’s what you said to Meg and her fiancé that is very oddly confrontational. Who cares where Jane is working now? Unless you have a restraining order against her or think she’s a danger to herself or others it’s not your business.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            It all depends on what you read into it. I could totally see that as general chit chat.

            Yes, even with an employee that OP fired.

          2. michelenyc*

            I worked for a luxury brand as customer service manager and I have to say the hiring process was very intensive. I have found most luxury goods companies to work the same way. All of my references were called and I think I interviewed with at least 5 people. Since Meg’s fiance is the manager of the entire store he would actually be the final say of who gets hired. Typically when you interview at a luxury goods store you will interview with all of the mangers from all departments including the store director/manager. It is a very different retail environment than you typically see. A lot of your time as a luxury goods manager is spent behind the scene’s. You typically don’t spend much time on the sales floor but you tend to be in the background/backroom& helping out as needed. My position was a bit different as I was the lucky one that got to fix problems so almost everyone I dealt with was angry. It definitely taught me a lot.

        2. Penny Lane*

          It’s not for you to even think about how Big Luxury Brand Company does their hiring. It is totally irrelevant for your purposes whether they make all applicants go through lie-detector tests and provide a dozen references and their original birth video, or whether they are comfortable having individual managers just hire whoever off the street after five minutes’ worth of conversation. This just doesn’t concern you. I continue to be confused as to why this concerns you at all, to be honest.

        3. Jesca*

          Aaaah I think I see now. I think you feel more betrayed on a personal level than on a business level? Like these were your friends who you feel hid something from you and sneakily tried to trick you into a reference.

          But that is also what happens when you mix friendship with business. I tell my partner this All The Time as he is always hiring his friends. Everything becomes super personal! But this was not personal. This was just business. And I guess you can think that your friend (the fiance) was too cavalier/disrespectful about the whole reference thing, but I don’t think you have to necessarily view it that way. It could have been him getting a reference or it could have been just plain curiosity as well. But again, these situations arise when you mix friends and business, so I would just keep that in the back of your mind. Your friends weren’t being disloyal to you in this sense. Not professionally and not even personally.

        4. I Didn’t Kill Kenny*

          So you, not the fiancé, actually initiated the conversation about Jane.

          Also, I’m confused, you were treating your team to a farewell dinner for a colleague or you were out to dinner with friends?

          Meg had no obligation to tell you where Jane landed or that her fiancé hired her. The fact that you now want to penalize meg is ample evidence that not telling you was the smart move.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Was this a farewell dinner for Meg? Did she know it was a work dinner and not a friendship dinner? Or was it a work and friendship dinner?

          2. Annabelle*

            I *think* OP means that the dinner at which she was initially asked about Jane was a work event, and then later there was a second dinner, at which she confronted Meg and her fiancé about Jane’s new job.

        5. hbc*

          Sunny, I don’t know if you’ll see this, but I was referring to this line: “Altogether, the couple stayed mum for at least five months about my former employee’s whereabouts, at one point telling me that she found a new job in an independent boutique.” Who told you this and why? Because you said that you agreed not to talk about Jane with Meg, so I’m surprised the opportunity to mislead you in this way came up at all.

          It sounds like they were being kind of awkward and evasive about it, but it also sounds like you were probably giving off vibes that you would be really personally invested in this and wouldn’t react well. Maybe give some serious consideration to what you would have done if they handled it better–maybe the fiance saying, “Hey, Sunny, funny thing: we ended up hiring Jane over at Boutique.” I think if you’re honest with yourself, you would admit that you wouldn’t have been happy regardless, and understand why they did some dodging.

        6. Not So NewReader*

          OP, one thing that is super important to understand as a leader/boss is that people will mirror what we do. If you do not talk about a subject then probably your subordinates won’t either.
          The same things happen in families. In families this is where someone decides a topic is off limits, they show that by never mentioning it, and the family falls in to compliance with that unspoken rule.

          From their perspective this whole thing is odd. You don’t mention Jane. Then all of the sudden you mention you know where Jane is working now. In the middle of a dinner, for a exiting employee?
          I can see why they may have been confused. They probably thought they were having dinner for an exiting employee, not a discussion on Jane. So since you opened the topic Fiance probably felt it was okay to ask a few questions. That is how social cues can work.

  8. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    I’m trying to figure out the betrayal here. And, honestly, I’m not seeing one. Sure the conversation may have been a little awkward. Or Meg might have thought you’d react strongly….which is how it’s coming across in the letter.

    Since there was no violation of anything, the couple had every right to stay mum. Especially the fiancé because he doesn’t work for you.

    I’d take the time to look at what, exactly, is bothering you and why you’re reacting the way you are. Take the opportunity to grow and become a better manager. (Which is something nearly everyone could benefit from, to be perfectly frank.)

    1. Pommette!*

      I think that the OP may feel a bit used (was the only reason Meg and fiancé went to dinner with her to get information about Jane?), and a bit duped to realize that her colleague has kept this secret from her.

      I think that it’s likely that everyone in this scenario is doing right by everyone else (OP avoids talking about Jane in an effort not to make things awkward for Meg; Meg gets her friend hired and tries not to make things awkward for the OP; fiancé oversteps by asking for managerial feedback under false pretenses, but is probably just doing it in order to help his fiancée’s friend….). But I can still see how the OP could feel betrayed.

  9. MuseumChick*

    OP, to be blunt, with how personally you are taking this, if I were your employee I would be very selective with what information I shared with you.

    This is what friends do for each other when times are touch. You are/were Meg’s boss, not her friend. Those are two entirely different things and in general cannot over lap. You admit that Meg did not break the contract and that she agreed to remain professional which from everything you say, it sounds like she did. She didn’t beg you to rehire her, didn’t demand to know why she was fired, didn’t talk about her in the office, etc. All she did was help a friend find a job. It has nothing to do with you.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      This is why we were weirdly selective about what we told me former Director. He was an extremely frugal man, so when my boss built a beautiful, high-end home, he didn’t tell our Director about it because he was concerned that Director would be weirdly judgmental about it. Manager had good instincts and I agreed it was best to just not tell him or have him over.

    2. BRR*

      Yeah I think they were a little secretive about things but often times the reason to be secretive is because of this type of reaction. It’s possible the LW feels this way after finding out the real situation though.

    3. MuseumChick*

      I just wanted to add that I am friends with someone who got fired from my current company. I don’t know the details as her work and my work did not overlap. But I do know that I will NEVER share that information with my boss. I’m sure there were work issues but it’s become pretty clear to everyone here that there was a personality conflict between them and at least some part of her firing had to do with that. It was like everyone her liked her, except for him.

      I don’t want conflict with my boss, so I don’t share that information. It has nothing to do with loyalty.

    4. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I once worked at an office that wrote you off as soon as you gave notice. My coworker had been there for seven years. When he gave his notice, my boss uninvited him to meetings he’d been previously invited to and stopped inviting him altogether. He literally had nothing to do during his last week.

      So yeah. People waited until the last minute to give notice, me included.

      Used to drive boss nuts, but she brought that on herself with her quick reactions.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, I would be selective also. Some of this is good practice in general. But some of this may have to do with OP specifically.

      I do think that at some point, OP stopped being their friend. And as mentioned above, it is because OP holds their paychecks in her hands. That stands alone as reason.
      I have worked for bosses who are hungry for friendship. And these have been the hardest bosses to work for because leadership is not their primary focus. At work, I need a boss who is going to show me how not only to keep my job but how to thrive at it. I don’t need another friend at work. It is good though if the boss’ over all approach is personable and approachable but that is not the same as being my friend.

  10. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I’m doing my best to not read too much into this, but there is one thought that is at the forefront of my mind:

    I’m getting the sense that because you fired Jane that you think no one else should hire her either. Yes? No?

    I came to this conclusion because I honestly can’t see where anyone did anything wrong. Getting fired and then finding a job somewhere else happens every day, all the time. There are lots of posts on this blog dedicated to that subject. Just because Jane might not have been good at this job doesn’t mean she can’t be good at whatever she’s doing for this fiance.

    If this couple had been honest with you at the time, what would you have said about Jane? I can’t imagine it would be very positive. Plus if I got fired, I’m quite confident I wouldn’t want my former boss knowing that I was trying to get a job with someone she has a connection to no matter how distant. You bet I’d be covering my tracks.

    I’m reminded of the random stories I hear of people getting fired and then using their old employers as references. We laugh about it because it’s so asinine, but I hope you can see why Jane did what she did.

    1. Seriously?*

      I got the impression (possibly unfounded) that the OP is angry at not getting the chance to give a bad reference. The letter did not really describe what Jane did to get fired, but it seems to have really upset the OP.

  11. Swanky Giraffe*

    This is the kind of too-personal feelings people tend to have about their employees in small businesses. No one has harmed you by making professional decisions, even if you would prefer they had made different professional decisions.

    Don’t punish a good employee (and yourself!) by letting your personal feelings keep you from rehiring a good employee.

    1. LouiseM*

      Good point. Someone above called it the “but we’re family” mentality and that really resonates.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        Yes. It reminds me of the woman who kept having her adult daughter and baby grandchild to the office and someone anonymously complained to HR. She said the whole ‘but we are a family’ and ‘it doesn’t matter to me who complained but also can I force HR to tell who it was’ routine. Both OPs are taking it very personally when it isn’t personal, and it’s also very, very unnecessarily punitive to Meg to not hire her for not telling you abouth Things That Don’t Concern You. Because you are not family and you have no claim to know more.

      2. RVA Cat*

        This. Reading between the lines here, but I’m thinking the fact Jane got a job at a *luxury retailer* factors in here. It’s not that the OP doesn’t want Jane to work anywhere, it’s that the connection with Meg got Jane a job that’s more prestigious than her job with the OP.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          That jumped out at me and I didn’t know why until you articulated it. Good catch!

  12. Mike C.*

    Why is it disloyal to the OP to have the OP’s employee’s fiance hire a former employee that the OP fired? Does the OP believe that the fired employee should never be allowed to work anywhere else without the OP’s input or permission?

    What’s going on here?

    1. LouiseM*

      Your second question seems like a major stretch. I agree this letter makes no sense and OP is really overreacting, but it doesn’t follow that she doesn’t want Jane to work *anywhere*. Your fired employee working for your friends who you see socially is a little different than her working, well, anywhere else.

      1. Mike C.*

        I’m not taking a stand, I’m asking a question. And I don’t see the difference between someone I fired working anywhere and them working for a friend of mine.

        1. LouiseM*

          Really? You don’t see a difference between your fired employee getting a job with some random company and that employee getting hired by your friend, who essentially tricked you into giving her a reference that you wouldn’t have otherwise given? The latter situation would suggest to me that my friend didn’t trust my judgement.

          1. Mike C.*

            So what if my friend didn’t trust my judgement when it came to their own business? They’re the one running the place, not me, so they likely shouldn’t take my judgement as gospel. Furthermore, what’s a problem for me may not be a problem for them, so the still could have taken my advice to heart but valued the information differently.

          2. aes_sidhe*

            It all boils down to “none of your business” once the person has been fired. All the fiancé did was ask what the issue was with Jane and OP said she was vague about it. It’s not getting tricked into something. If OP didn’t want to discuss it, all she had to do was say she doesn’t discuss personnel matters and let it go at that.

            1. bonkerballs*

              And let’s be real, if anyone’s in the wrong in the reference situation, it’s OP for talking about a fired employee, however vaguely, in front of another employee.

          3. General Ginger*

            I think saying that the friend (do you mean Meg’s fiance?) tricked OP into supplying a reference for Jane is a stretch.

          4. RedRH*

            I don’t see it as them tricking her “…into giving her a reference that you wouldn’t have otherwise given,” since she volunteered the information willingly. I don’t really see it as a sneaky reference, he probably just wanted to make sure she wasn’t fired for anything incredibly serious/illegal. I guess I see a bit of the ick factor, but personally I don’t think it’s an issue.

            1. JSPA*

              Out of professionalism and in deference to the friendship triangle, she hid any really bad stuff, and emphasized the small stuff, to add up to an adequate explanation for the firing. That’s not the reference that she would have given, as a reference.

              It makes OP look more vindictive than normal for the small stuff (thus, perhaps, the reassurances that of course she had to do it, while they’re thinking, “wow, you really came down hard on Jane”?) It makes Jane look more hirable. For all you know, in a formal reference, OP would have given only, “Jane worked here from dates to dates,” or one of those other “infrared flag” references. OP was not given the option of doing so–and that’s wrong.

              A chat simply isn’t a way to find out if there’s something serious. Getting phone numbers and calling the clients, drunk, with propositions? Borrowing a necklace for a night out, and then bringing it back? Smoking weed in the bathroom after hours, and then locking yourself in the timed safe until morning? Probably not going to disclose any of that to friend-of-friend…but I’m pretty sure they’re all something that has happened happens in the business, and all a big old professional “hell, no.” (Or more likely something smaller and sadder, but still not OK.)

          5. essEss*

            And I don’t think the OP was tricked into giving a reference. The OP gave out confidential disciplinary information about an identifiable employee to an outside person, compounded by the fact that the OP knew that the outside person knew the employee socially. This sharing of personnel information was a judgement error on OP’s part, not the employee’s.

            1. LouiseM*

              Replying to both you and the two comments above you–I think the OP *does* see it that way. We don’t have to, I guess, but I think that’s definitely what she thinks happened and would explain why she’s upset. A lot about the letter is unclear, but assuming the OP is right about the covert reference check, that is a little shady and I don’t think it’s insane for her to feel miffed about it.

      2. Roscoe*

        Why is that different? Honestly? I can’t imagine being upset that my former employee got a job with a friend of mine. Just because they didn’t work out in that role, doesn’t mean they won’t in another.

        Also, Meg isn’t her friend. Meg is her co-worker, and Jane got the job with Meg’s fiance.

        1. Silly in Retrospect*

          She specifically says that she was friends with Meg and Meg’s fiancee prior to hiring Meg.

  13. The Cosmic Avenger*

    Also, if you’re reading this, OP, consider that many people would see your (not friendly) interest in Jane’s employment after you fired her to be very inappropriate for an employer. If I worked for you and was aware of the inordinate interest in Jane’s life, and the way you are thinking of treating Meg for activities that have nothing to do with her job performance, I’d be putting my job search into overdrive because I feel that that’s an unreasonable level of involvement in your employees’ lives outside of work.

    I’m not trying to pile on, I’m trying to point out that you may lose your best employees, because they’re the ones who could get another job easily, and if they’re aware of that, then they will not stick around if they are concerned about their employer being overly involved or invested in their lives outside of work.

  14. CrumbleCrumbs*

    OP sounds like a someone that dumps their SO, but then gets mad when they finds out their ex is with someone new.

    Either way, Alison is right. What Jane does professionally after being fired that doens’t violate her contract with her former employer is her business.

    1. SoCalHR*

      I think your analogy is close to hitting the vein here. But to take it a step further, its like you broke up with someone and then your friend set them up with someone else and that couple is now happy.

      It makes the original person go “hey, how could you do that, you saw how much we argued, etc. etc.” when in reality it was probably just a matter of fit and if you took a step back you’d see there was no reason for the hurt feelings.

      The one weird thing in this situation is the new ‘suitor’ asked the old ‘suitor’ about the person in question and then stated he understood why you ‘broke up’ with her, but then got with her. That’s they muddy part of this whole thing for me.

  15. Hmmm*

    > I had dinner with my current employee and her fiance, as friends.

    Uhhhh what? I’m surprised Alison didn’t comment on this (though I agree the rest is spot on!) I can’t imagine having a dinner with my boss as friends… it’s just impossible to have an honest friendship dynamic with your boss. I think you’re making your work relationships too personal OP (as indicated by how bothered you are about this, which you shouldn’t be).

    1. LouiseM*

      Ehh, I don’t know, I think she may have just meant like a social dinner (as opposed to a work dinner), not necessarily that they are close friends. Although I agree with the rest of your comment–OP needs to work on her boundaries.

      1. Hmmm*

        I suppose that’s true, it’s not very clear. That’s just my guess based on how OP is handing the rest of it, and perhaps that’s just not how I’ve heard that phrased used. I honestly can’t ever imagine referring to my current boss as a friend, I can barely even do it for people I keep in touch with I worked for years ago!

      2. Fiennes*

        That’s how I read this too. In smaller businesses in particular, after longer periods of employment, it’s not that unusual for a boss and employee to socialize occasionally. Back in the day it was almost traditional to “invite the boss for dinner.” In and of itself, I don’t think a social meal outside of work violates boundaries. It does sound like OP has some issues with boundaries, but not necessarily here.

        1. Just Employed Here*

          Even so, discussing a fired employee at said dinner?

          I assume it was Meg’s fiancé who brought up the topic of Jane, but OP should not have discussed Jane at all at this friendly/social/but still work related dinner. That would have been the professional thing to do.

          Then the problem of what was said about Jane and what would instead have been said, had she understood it was a reference check of sorts, would not have existed.

          1. Fiennes*

            As I read the letter, Meg’s fiancé opened the topic and kept it going, while OP remained vague and impersonal. I think many of us would deflect that way instead of totally shutting it down—which would be justified, but awkward in a social setting. For all OP’s boundary questions, from the letter I don’t think she erred big here.

            1. Just Employed Here*

              I don’t see “sorry, I can’t discuss Jane’s performance with you” as awkward, when it’s totally not his business and they are *all supposedly friends*.

              Even if he were just asking out of curiosity, it would be pretty gossipy to give any information at all, considering she knows he’s friends with her.

              I wouldn’t want my ex-boss and my friend discussing my performance behind my back, however much they thought of it as “giving professional advice”.

    2. Natalie*

      I mean, it used to be common enough to be a staple plot of sitcoms. And you don’t need to be close personal friends with someone to have dinner with them.

      1. Hmmm*

        I suppose, but I would never refer to that “as friends”, but perhaps that’s just a regional difference!

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          The OP clarified that they aren’t a native English speaker, so that could explain that choice of term.

          1. teclatrans*

            They also clarified that they were friends with the couple before hiring Meg, so that was probably not a translation slip.

    3. Student*

      I’m horrified that the OP thinks that Meg should put loyalty to the OP, her boss, above loyalty to Meg’s own fiance.

      No. Even if you are friends with Meg, OP, her fiance comes first. If she has to choose between her boss and her fiance, of course she will chose her fiance. Your focus on Jane is understandable, but misplaced in this accounting – Meg’s focus is undoubtedly on her fiance.

    4. Half-Caf Latte*

      Right?! So much this.

      We talk a lot here about how the boss needs to establish boundaries with reports, and this issues friendships can cause

    5. Hnl123*

      When I worked in retail we all hung out and partied socially outside of work. Probably wasn’t the smartest move but somehow we all got along so this doesn’t surprise me. However!! We never discussed other people’s performance….. that would seem a bit like boundary crossing to me.

    1. Inspector Spacetime*

      I’m just thinking of the Emperor’s New Groove gif… “By all accounts, it doesn’t make any sense.”

    2. Gingerblue*

      I was expecting some sort of dramatic revelation, not “Jane had been working for months at the luxury retail store managed by this Meg’s fiance!”

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yeah, that’s all I’ve got, too… Does OP think she owns Jane? Does OP think, like others said, that Jane now has no right to work anywhere, since she didn’t work out as an employee of OP’s? Is she upset that she didn’t get the chance to give Jane a bad reference that no one would’ve called her for no matter what? (does anyone here give former coworkers or bosses as references, who you know have a low opinion of you? I don’t…) What on earth is happening here?

  16. alana*

    There may be industry-specific issues I’m not picking up on here (small business vs. luxury brand, the noncompete clauses). Still, though, I think you should reframe this as a positive outcome. You no longer have an employee with performance issues serious enough that you fired her. Jane’s life was not ruined by being fired; she’s landed on her feet and found another job, and hopefully one that suits her better. You clearly think she doesn’t deserve it — and maybe you’re right, in which case they’ll find that out. But even serious performance issues can be surprisingly job-based. You hired her, so presumably she has some talents, and maybe this job is better structured to take advantage of them.

    The only exception I’d note is that if Jane’s performance issues were more like character issues — being cruel/discriminatory toward other employees or customers, harassment, theft, etc — and Meg observed them, well, that says something about Meg that she didn’t torpedo Jane’s candidacy, but it’s still not your business.

  17. A Teacher*

    I wanted to break out in the theme song from frozen
    “Let it go (go, go, go go, go go, go go, go, go, go go)
    Let it go
    Let it go
    Let it go

    But, alas, I teach high school and would get weird looks and I can’t carry a tune…

  18. Narise*

    I disagree that OP has no reason not to feel like this situation was handled poorly by Meg and her finance. OP intentionally kept information about Jane’s firing confidential which is what everyone would want if they were in her shoes. Finance and Meg went to dinner with OP and specifically asked why she was fired to which OP again kept it confidential. If Fiance did work around his companies normal practice of checking references for Jane it raises the question as to whether Meg gave a reference for Jane without all of the facts, or if fiance used their dinner conversation and stated that OP had been a reference. If I were OP and I knew someone else at the company Jane is working for I would reach out to confirm if my name was ever used as a reference. If it was I would set the record straight. No one has the right to use my name or credit me for providing a reference that I did not provide. You could also ask finance if he used your information as a reference for Jane but I’m not sure you would trust the answer. No I wouldn’t hire Meg again because you don’t trust her judgment any longer.

    I truly believes this falls under the heading of why its not a good idea to socialize outside of work with employees when you are the boss.

    1. sunny-dee*

      Or it’s possible that the finace had already hired Jane at that point and wasn’t seeing any issues, or was working on training her through those issues, and was simply curious about the OP’s perspective.

    2. Captain S*

      But people give references for employees without knowing all of the facts all the time. It seems like you’re implying that Meg pretended to be OP to be a reference and there’s just zero indication that that’s the case here.

      1. Narise*

        Captain S- No I wasn’t stating that Meg pretended to be OP that’s why I didn’t state that. What I was stating is that OP believes that based on the conversation at dinner Fiance reported that he checked references. OP stated this was a disguised reference interview. Now maybe this is the case maybe its not but I think OP has the right to ask if their name was used as part of the hiring process.

    3. Observer*

      No one is “crediting” the OP with anything.

      As for the rest, nothing is relevant to the OP. It’s not her business whether the fiance circumvented his company’s process. And there really is nothing to indicate that the OP’s name was used as a formal reference.

    4. JB (not in Houston)*

      We really have no way of knowing if that was a reference check, and neither does the OP. Why would Jane put the OP down as a reference instead of Meg? We don’t know who was on her list of references. The OP is making assumptions here.

      1. Narise*

        I think OP is making assumptions because of the way it was handled. Even if OP disagreed with hiring Jane if Meg or the Fiance had come to her and stated ‘Jane applied for this job and we are offering it to her. We wanted you to know so you didn’t hear it from anyone else.’ I think OP would have not felt blindsided and would have had the opportunity to ask questions. This also would have made her feel more comfortable with Meg and having her come back to the company. As it stands now OP probably won’t have Meg return and I can’t imagine anyone saw that as a possible consequence of the situation.

        1. Scarlet*

          But why would OP “need” to know the whereabouts of an employee they fired though? What questions would they need to ask? How is it any of their business?
          You’re implying that OP is somehow entitled to that information.

          “Even if OP disagreed with hiring Jane”
          And why would OP need to “agree or disagree” with ANOTHER EMPLOYER hiring Jane?

    5. fogharty*

      Late to the game.

      Jane already had the job and had been working at the store when the dinner took place. It was OP who started the Jane discussion at aforementioned dinner. So what OP said or left unsaid had zero impact on Jane’s employment. She already had the job.

      It is only OP’s opinion it was a sneaky way to get a reference, that’s all.

      And you don’t have to rehire Meg, but “My feelings are hurt” should not prevent you from giving her an accurate reference. Just don’t complain if she doesn’t list you as one or gets a job which gives her happiness, without reference to you, or to any person now unconnected with herself.

  19. beanie beans*

    My over-analytical brain wants to try to see this from the OP’s perspective.

    My impression is that most of the betrayal is that the fiance (or Meg) had a chance to ask why she was fired and didn’t (even though that information may have been confidential). That maybe OP is feeling like why didn’t Meg or the fiance value the OP’s judgment on the matter more? And is now questioning Meg’s loyalty – that it looks like she’s more loyal to Jane than to her boss, or that Meg disagreed with the OP’s decision to fire Jane. These things aren’t necessarily betrayal, but may make the OP feel like her employee, Meg, doesn’t trust OP’s opinions or judgment.

    Maybe I’m reading too much into the tone of the letter, but just thinking there’s more to the OP’s feeling of betrayal than “My employee helped the person I fired get a job.”

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Yes, I think OP feels like Meg and fiance have slighted her professional judgment. In a way she wouldn’t if she thought Meg and Jane sometimes went for cosmos on Fridays.

      1. LouiseM*

        That was my interpretation too. Don’t get me wrong, I think it would be terrible for OP not to rehire Meg because of this, but it seems like the obvious conclusion is that Meg+fiance don’t trust the OP’s judgement, which would sting.

        1. Inspector Spacetime*

          Also I think there’s a bit of a friendship aspect. OP and Meg were out to dinner “as friends,” so she probably felt there was at least some personal relationship there, albeit perhaps only casual. There’s probably some feelings that Meg chose Jane over OP.

          It doesn’t really make sense when you think about it logically, but feelings oftentimes don’t make sense. It’s just important to make sure you don’t act on those feelings wrongly, i.e. by not rehiring Meg.

        2. Student*

          That’s probably what’s going through the OP’s head, but it is very improperly self-centered.

          It is 100% possible for both these to be true:
          (1) Jane was doing a bad job when working for the OP in whatever position she had at OP’s business
          (2) Jane is doing a good job working for Meg’s fiance in whatever new, different position she has at Meg’s fiance’s business.

          Maybe the firing gave Jane the wake-up call she needed to focus on her work. Maybe the positions have substantial job duty differences. Maybe Meg’s fiance has lower standards than OP. Maybe Meg’s fiance gels with Jane professionally better than Jane gelled with OP.

          It’s okay for OP and Meg’s fiance to have different ways of working and different management styles. It doesn’t mean one is right and the other wrong, necessarily. It shouldn’t be surprising that different employees will do better with one than the other.

        3. Scarlet*

          In that context, anyone who’s ever fired should be considered unemployable, lest it is seen as a criticism of the person who did the firing.
          Just because someone wasn’t right for a position doesn’t mean they won’t be right for another.

  20. Delta Delta*

    Joining the chorus of people who find this letter a little odd. It doesn’t matter that International Brand normally checks references (how does OP know this? Also, maybe they DID check references and OP is just not one of her references) or that Fiance got a bonus (do we know that he did for sure?). Jane apparently wasn’t working out as an employee and did what lots of people do: network to get a new job. And who knows, maybe this was in the works before she was fired.

    I feel like I’d be interested in an update to this letter, because I feel like maybe I’m missing something important.

    1. Delta Delta*

      I re-read the letter and several comments and I’m still confused. Looks like Meg told OP that Fiance didn’t check references, so I guess maybe I misread that part. Although, perhaps there were other references called that weren’t OP. ? Second, this non-compete clause is throwing me off because I don’t know what industries are discussed here. If OP runs Angela’s Accounting Firm, but when she fired Jane, Jane went to work at a Lexus dealership selling cars (luxury brand for an international company and one large enough that might be able to pay big referral bonuses), they’re not even the same industry. So, I’m going to keep reading comments, and chalk this up to “I don’t get this one.”

  21. Bea*

    You don’t own your employees and once you fire someone for some reason, they’ll go find a job elsewhere. This is a strange situation to be so invested in emotionally.

    If my coworker was fired, I was given vague “didn’t work out” ideas as the reason, I’ll do anything in my power to help them out if I truly respect their abilities. That’s her right to do. Jane is no longer your problem, why does it matter, why do you want her to get out of the world you coexist in? Unless she harmed you, unless you’re bringing embezzlement charges against her, you’re so far off base with this situation.

    Do Meg a favor and not rehire her, she deserves better.

  22. Falling Diphthong*

    This reminds me of a distinction I think Dan Savage made, where it’s okay to have a friend who’s a jerk. Sure, technically a jerk, but hidden good qualities, long history, people get having a Fergus in your life. But if you SO is a jerk…. then people give you pitying looks in a way they don’t if your old college pal, Cersei, is technically now a jerk.

    So long as Jane and Meg were just friends, OP could file this as “some people are good people but bad coworkers.” (In fact, I can think of a friendship that pre- during- and post-dated working together when one of them had to agree with his business partners to fire the other, because as great as ol’ Fergus was as a buddy who worked for someone else, when he worked for you his habit of golfing instead of working really grated.) But her fiance hired Jane, suggesting that Meg and fiance are giving Jane rather than OP the benefit of the doubt about whether the firing was justified.

    OP, Jane is no longer your monkey and the fiance’s store is not your circus. Let it go. They didn’t cite you as a silent reference. Jane, like all your other fired employees, needs a job somewhere, and whether you have a third-hand connection to that place or not shouldn’t matter.

  23. Susana*

    OP, I know you must feel like you’re being dumped on a bit, but – well, I’m going to go a step further and suggest that Meg consider whether she’d want to work for you again anyway. Because it sounds like you think you own your employees in some way – meaning once you fire someone, that person can never work again. Ever. Because you decreed them unemployable. And that your other employees have to buy into that, refusing to help fired employee find new work. I’m hoping it’s just that you were so jarred by learning the news that you’re throwing around words like “betrayed” a bit casually. So what if fiance asked you about her without revealing his intentions? So what if he circumvented his own company’s hiring procedures? It is none of your business.
    The only exception to this would be if fired employee had done something personally very hurtful to you personally – like stealing your identity or punching you in the break room. Then, I can see feeling betrayed that a friend gave her a job. But isn’t it possible she might do well at new job – and shouldn’t you feel glad about that?

  24. mf*

    I agree with Alison and most of the commenters but with one caveat: I can see why you’d be annoyed that Meg and her fiance had dinner with you as a covert attempt to reference-check Jane.

    That would irritate that they weren’t straight with me, and I might feel a little… manipulated, maybe? So I get it.

    That being said, Meg did nothing wrong here. Jane needed a job and Meg (who is her friend) helped her find one that didn’t violate your non-compete clause. If you don’t want to re-hire Meg, then don’t, but beyond that, there’s nothing you can or should do.

      1. Specialk9*

        But fiance dude waited till Meg was gone to ask about Jane. So this is 100% fiance, and not on the actual employee.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I’m not sure that dinner actually was a covert reference check, even. Fiance already has Meg’s coworker reference for Jane. If OP replied to questions about Jane with “Hmm, well, didn’t work out” any vaguely competent manager recognizes that’s not code for “I fired her because her talent blazed too brightly, and she definitely didn’t do anything else that would make someone fire her.” I think it was just conversation.

      Or if this IS how the fiance conducts reference checks–in secret from the references–he’s incompetent in a way that isn’t OP’s problem to fix.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        Yeah, I agree that I’m not seeing it that way either. It seems awfully convoluted to schedule a social dinner with your fiance’s boss in order to do a stealth reference check.

        But then again, I don’t socialize outside of work events with my direct reports or my direct bosses because we all like and respect work-life boundaries.

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        I agree. The OP is *assuming* this was a covert reference check, but we don’t know that because we don’t know if Jane put the OP down as a reference. The OP doesn’t know that either. Maybe she meant he was supposed to contact past employers that aren’t references, but that’s not the same as a reference check.

      3. mf*

        Well, the OP says the fiance was “asking me why I thought Jane did not perform anymore,” which sounds to me like he either initiated the conversation about Jane or at least asked leading/probing questions about Jane. Maybe the sole purpose of the dinner wasn’t to reference check Jane, but… it sounds like he used it as an opportunity to do just that.

        So I do think it’s reasonable for the OP to feel a little misled here. But beyond that, I agree: there’s nothing really the OP should about Meg or her fiance here, beyond maybe declining future dinner invitations with them.

      4. mf*

        Actually I’m just seeing the OP’s comments now further up the thread:

        “I tried to keep it brief and did not mention that the conversation with Meg’s fiance was 100% initiated by the fiance, who came as a +1 to a dinner I treated my team to for a colleague who was leaving. I thought it was quite weird on the moment as he waited until I was alone, mentioned Jane out of the blue and zeroed in on her performance, that’s why I stayed vague.”

        So yeah, this was TOTALLY a covert reference check–that was the plan all along. I can see why the OP would be mad at the lack of transparency here. Though, again, there’s nothing really she can or should do about it after the fact, other than not socialize with this guy.

        1. Silly in Retrospect*

          Yeah, I think that comment should be added to the post or highlighted somehow, because that totally changed how I understood this part of the situation. I’d be pretty uncomfortable with being asked for reference type information without being told I’m being a reference or what the other person’s stake is. Like, normally you get told “I’m calling for a reference for…” for a reason, to talk as people who do hiring. This weird cornering is pretty unprofressional on the financee’s part.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            It’s not just unprofessional, it’s weird and pointless. It’s designed to bring about the vague social nicety rather than any candid assessment of the employee’s strengths and weaknesses. Unless you’re just checking for something insanely memorably, like “Did they literally set fire to the window display, and then stand over the flames shooting silly string while singing Les Marseilles?”

        2. Thlayli*

          OP was trying to keep it vague and confidential when she was asked about Jane out of the blue, so she didn’t give the information she would have given if someone actually called looking for a reference. This meant she ended up giving Jane a better “reference” than she would have given through official channels. So I can completely see why OP is pissed off at the fiancé.

          However, Unless OP has reason to believe that Meg was involved in the decision to trick her into giving a reference, then Meg has not done much wrong. She lied about where Jane was working, but that’s not that big a deal. I don’t think OP should blame Meg for the actions of her fiancé.

        3. One of the Sarahs*

          I don’t think we can say the whole dinner thing was a covert reference check.

          +1s were invited + he’s Meg’s fiance + they were friends with OP = sounds like he’d have gone to the dinner anyway, but took the opportunity, while he was there, to ask some Qs, which OP answered knowing fiance was Jane’s friend. If anything, I’m surprised OP answered any of those Qs about Jane at all in the circumstances.

        4. None of this Nonsense, Please.*

          You know, it occurs to me that it might not have been a covert reference check, or anything to do with work at all. More trying to figure out why Jane was fired…The OP says that they downplayed why Jane was fired to make it easier on Meg. Jane and Meg are friends, and I find it hard to believe that there aren’t hard feelings there somewhere, especially if Jane is doing well at her new job, and is confused about why she was fired (or claims to be) and has vented to Meg. I could see Meg worrying about it to Fiance and Fiance (clumsily) trying to figure it out for her. I think it’s also telling that he was giving OP management advice just before asking about Jane; I actually read that as trying to lead OP to figure out how she could have managed Jane better so that the firing would not have been needed.

          1. None of this Nonsense, Please.*

            Just read the letter again and Fiance was reassuring OP that she had done what she could, so maybe my last sentence is wrong. I think it’s possible though that he was somehow trying to smooth things over between Meg and Jane.

    2. General Ginger*

      But we don’t know that it was a covert reference check. I sincerely doubt Jane would have put OP down as a reference, given that OP fired her. OP thinks it might have been, but the fiance might have just been curious (especially if he’d already hired Jane at that point), or he was just making the world’s awkwardest small talk, or whatever. Heck, maybe it was a reference check and he is just really bad at conducting those, but still, that’s not really something that should affect OP beyond a “oh, Fergus is awful at conducting reference checks” mental note.

      1. mf*

        Oh, I agree. There’s not really the OP should do here beyond thinking “Fergus is awful at conducting reference checks” and maybe distancing herself a bit (socially, not professionally) from Fergus and Meg.

        1. General Ginger*

          Agreed, I think OP absolutely should distance herself socially from Fergus and Meg. She really should have done that once she hired Meg (OP says they were friends before she hired Meg).

    3. Penny Lane*

      I don’t see that the dinner was a covert attempt to reference-check Jane. It sounds like it was a minor part of the discussion at an otherwise friendly/social dinner. Besides, why would the fiance have needed to concoct a social dinner in order to ask OP about Jane’s performance?

  25. McWhadden*

    It’s sort of an aside but I really seriously doubt those non-compete clauses are enforceable even if they were violated here.

    And even if they were, which I doubt, you would seriously try to evoke the non-compete clause of someone you fired?

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I know that some of the AAM lawyers have said that non-competes are often not enforceable, but I would think that would especially be the case if the person was terminated.

      1. McWhadden*

        If the job Jane got is comparable to the one she left than this non-compete is almost certainly unenforceable. They aren’t supposed to be used against lower-level employees.

        Excepting to enforce it against someone you fired is just extremely bad taste.

    2. Naptime Enthusiast*

      That’s a good point – how enforceable are noncompetes if you’re fired or laid off? It doesn’t seem fair that a company gets to dictate where you can work after they decide not to continue employing you.

    3. anniemal*

      Jeez, in an at will state, a non complete with firing would be a nightmare for employees

      1. aes_sidhe*

        Non-competes don’t mean a great deal whether you’re fired or you quit. Courts have held that people have a right to work, and non-competes interfere with that right. The only thing I see courts routinely uphold are non-solicitation agreements.

  26. Blue Cupcake*

    As I understand it, you were going to re-hire Meg when she comes back after 6 months away and now you’re not because she “betrayed” you by helping her friend find a job in a company that has nothing to do with you or your industry.

    I have many things to say about that, but I will just say that is not professional. But if you can’t behave professionally towards Meg, then it may be for the best.

  27. Not Today Satan*

    My guess is LW doesn’t think Jane should never be employed anywhere, but that Meg’s fiance hiring Jane somehow indicates a condemnation of the fact that LW fired Jane or at least a questioning of that decision. Which is still a stretch, but I can *kind of* see how someone could see it that way.

    1. essEss*

      This whole letter read more like a high school mean girl situation. I took it more like OP is trying to demand that Meg choose between “friends” even though OP is really Meg’s boss in this situation instead of a BFF. OP expects friend Meg to shut out Jane when OP broke up with Jane (to put it in more high school clique terminology) and got mad when Meg stayed friends with Jane without OP’s permission.

      1. Just Employed Here*

        Exactly! And meanwhile, in reality, it’s not up to Meg who Luxury Corp hires, just as it isn’t any business of OP’s. The decision to hire Jane was solely the business of Jane, fiancé, and Luxury Corp.

    2. Susana*

      Yes, NTS – I think you are hitting on the real issue here. Which is why I’m pretty unsympathetic to LW. The behavior is pretty controlling – she seems a bit put off that her two employees became friends (though she is friends herself with Meg and fiance). Has a non-compete that is just insane (even if unenforceable) because she’s a), basically saying someone she fired can’t work anywhere for 4 months, and someone who works for her (or worked for her? Not clear) can’t hire someone who used to work for her – even if fired! And now it seems what’s really upsetting is that she thinks her judgment has been somehow disrespected – that if she decided (rightly, let’s assume) that Jane was a bad employee, then anyone who is friends with her, employed by her, or engaged to someone who is employed by or friends with her, has to feel the same way. I mean .. it’s controlling and a little nuts.

  28. Falling Diphthong*

    OP, you say that at one point Meg said Jane was working at a different store. As near as I can tell, that’s it for falsehoods. And it would be an odd one, albeit mild… except that this letter exists, and so clearly Meg was right that you would react badly if you knew where Jane was working.

    (It’s also possible she DID work at that store, and then months later moved to the fiance’s store–that’s not clear in the timeline.)

  29. Gazebo Slayer*

    OP, I get the sense you are trying to prevent the employee you fired from being hired anywhere. Which is crappy, vindictive, and utterly unreasonable.

  30. aes_sidhe*

    I think LW’s reaction to finding out about this situation (that is absolutely none of her business) is pretty much the perfect example of why Meg didn’t say anything. She was probably worried about how LW would handle the news, and this letter proves Meg was right in her suspicions.

  31. Editrix*

    It’s not clear to me that the dinner with Meg and Fiance took place before Jane was hired. In fact, it seems like it took place after (though assigning firm time frames to phrases like “a few months” is difficult). But if it did in fact happen after Jane got her new job, then it was likely not even a disguised reference check. It’s possible it might have been to see if certain issues Fiance was seeing in Jane had been there at her previous job. But it also might have been exactly as it seemed at the time–a friendly conversation and good advice.

    1. Delta Delta*

      This is a really good point. Could be that Jane was doing really well, or doing really poorly, and fiance thought it might be interesting to know if she’s performing consistently with how she did at OP’s job.

  32. Trout 'Waver*

    This letter gives me chills. Why does the OP think it is any of her concern where Jane works after she is fired? Why is she digging into it? Why is she confronting current employees about it? Just let it go. Why does she feel betrayed?

    And the fact that Meg declined to say anything for months and gave bland nondescript answers speaks volumes to me.

  33. k.k*

    I think it may help if you look at this from Meg’s perspective. Based on the info we have here: I’m Meg. I became friends with my coworker Jane. She was let go but we remained friends. My boss abide by professional norms and did not tell me the specific reasons Jane was fired. Jane is now no longer a coworker, just a friend. My friend needed a job, and I refereed her to my fiance who’s company was hiring. While at a friendly dinner with my boss, the topic of Jane came up and my fiance asked about her. Whatever my boss said didn’t sound so bad, so he went ahead and recommended her for the job. He got a referral bonus, my friend got a job, win win! I respected her privacy by not telling my boss the details of her new job.

    Unless there are more details that didn’t fit in the letter, it all seems pretty normal.

    1. Peggy*

      Excellent reframing. Agree completely, with the caveat that OP said that the fiance buttonholed her about Jane in a weird way at the dinner, without being forthcoming about why he was asking. That part is off. But it’s not Meg’s fault, and the idea that this was a “deep betrayal” bizarre.

    2. Thursday Next*

      I wish there was an upvote button, because this reframing could be really useful to the LW. Even if all the details don’t fit, LW, this could really help you move on.

  34. Bea*

    This is giving me flashbacks. My friend and I hung out after I left the hellhole we worked together at. I had just quit, riding out my notice period and she got a curious email that seemingly went to everyone else in my department “reminding” them that only HR could give references. Like they were lowkey getting told not to talk to anyone about the departing person. There was absolutely no reason for that email and why was I mysteriously not included when he very frequently used the “all department” directory.

    Jokes on anyone who wants that kind of power, most of us know not to use the person who fired or threatened to fire us if we didn’t “fall in line”. And I have personal phone numbers for my references who cam confirm I worked there and their observations of my work without giving one boss so much power over my future.

    Also now I’m finally seeing why bosses shouldn’t be friends with their staff. If you’re going to make us choose “me or them” when a person is fired or leaves, yikes!

  35. Mike C.*

    Also, OP

    My employment contracts have a non-competition clause asking employees not to hire other current or former employees within four months of their departure, nor to work with a competitor located close by. Technically, both Meg and Jane have not breached these conditions, since Jane was hired by my employee’s fiance, and the company she now works at is not close by. But I cannot help to feel deeply betrayed, and having been used by this couple under the pretense of friendship.

    Wait, so you not only expect to enforce a non-compete agreement against a low level employee (who you have not mentioned holds a great deal of confidential information) that you terminated, you expect that the related poaching agreement should apply not only to employees, but the friends and families of your employees? Is this correct?

    Why do you even have a non-compete agreement in the first place? Why do you feel the actions above were a betrayal of this agreement?

    1. Sunny SideUp*

      No it’s not correct. I specifically mentioned this agreement to demonstrate that neither Jane nor Meg had breached any clause, as a full disclosure. Please do not read to much into this…

      1. paul*

        I’m certainly going to judge that non-compete. You don’t own your damn employees, and expecting them to not go to work in the field that they’ve got experience in is unreasonable. That does serve to give some context to your attitude about this. It’s one thing to protect trade secrets (i.e don’t jump from Intel to AMD or vice versa then share proprietary research).

        It’s another to want to lock people out of an entire industry.

        1. Sunny SideUp*

          And what are you going to judge exactly? You haven’t read this non-compete and have no idea what you are talking about.

          1. aes_sidhe*

            Non-competes are unenforceable. If you want to have fun, go read up on how many get overturned by judges since people have a right to work and the agreement interferes with that ability. It’ll cost you a lot of money to enforce something that won’t stand and you get the added bonus of paying the defendant’s legal bills.

            1. Glomarization, Esq.*


              Depends on how they’re drafted, who they apply to, and where in the country/world the LW is.

              But even an unenforceable non-compete can be used as a tool of intimidation against an employee or former employee who doesn’t know any better, or who can’t afford to go to court.

              1. anniemal*


                Unless you have family member or good friend who is a lawyer to look over that non compete, youre still shelling out money to have a consultation. And if you just been let go, that could be money you just dont have.

        2. ExcelJedi*


          Non-competes on anyone below executive management always feels like megalomania or corporate overreach to me. Trade secrets are better enforced by IP law, when they should be enforced at all.

          Your employees (generally) need to work to live, and once you aren’t giving them a paycheck any longer, there’s no conscionable way to try to prevent that.

          1. MK*

            That’s not actually true; noncompete clauses make sense in a lot of situations, and, properly drafted, can protect the business without restricting the employee’s general ability to find work. The usual issue is that employers tend to word them in ridiculously broad terms and that’s why the courts don’t enforce them.

      2. Jessie the First (or second)*

        “I specifically mentioned this agreement to demonstrate that neither Jane nor Meg had breached any clause, as a full disclosure”

        Ahhhh, ok. I have to admit that when I read it, it just seemed to me as if you were saying that even though they didn’t violate the letter of the agreement they violated the spirit of it, and that it bugged you. Maybe because you used “technically,” which is what my teen son says when he knows he’s being unreasonable, so it flagged as an issue for me? lol

        (Though I do agree with others that *lots* of non-competes are overbroad in scope, apply to employees they shouldn’t, and are unenforceable anyway far more often than employers realize!)

        1. Sunny SideUp*

          as I said, I’m not a native-English speaker, so “betrayed”, “non-compete”, “technically”… were poor choice of words and not exactly what I was going for. Seems like a lot of commenters are ready way too much in the details ;)

          1. Observer*

            Those words are not just details. They fundamentally affect how people are going to understand your issue.

            If you don’t feel betrayed, you should clarify. Alison, if the OP clarifies that her letter doesn’t quite explain what she really meant because her English is a bit lacking, would you post a note above to indicate that?

          2. Earth Angel*

            Not sure how commentors are meant to read anything except the words you chose? We only have your letter to go off of here.

      3. Observer*

        Then why did you even bring it up? They did not breach the agreement, full stop. Nothing “technical” about it. So why are you bringing it up, and why are you linking it to your sense of betrayal?

      4. Aunt Piddy*

        I think the discomfort is coming from the fact the letter sounds like you would *like* to enforce it (and possibly checked into whether or not you could), or that you believe they found a way around it.

    2. Glomarization, Esq.*

      Yeah … if this is the U.S., LW may want to talk to a lawyer to discuss what kinds of non-compete agreements are actually legally enforceable. Otherwise, this comes across as just trying to intimidate former employees.

    3. MK*

      The clause is pretty reasonable, in my opinion. The first part stops a departing employee who might leave to run a similar business from poaching the rest of the staff, and that for a limited time period; and something like that happening with the staff of a restaurant, say, could create brand confusion (this actually happened in my hometown: about two thirds of the wait staff of a long-established, century old tavern left to open their own, similarly themed restaurant; customers assumed it was an extension of the old business and the internet was flooded with complaints when they didn’t get the same experience). The second part stops the departing employee from getting a job at a competitor in the next block and possibly funneling clients from the OP’s business, which can be a serious issue with someone like a hairdresser. Basically the employee agrees to not hire a coworker for four months and not take a similar job in the same neighborhood. It’s not crazily restrictive for their employment and would fly in a lot of jurisdictions.

      1. paul*

        I can’t speak for the legality of it; but in general if you don’t want your employees poached, pay them well and treat them well. Don’t try to make it so they can’t leave your employee without switching careers or going through a multi month fallow period.

        1. MK*

          Employees leave good employers all the time, it’s normal. Agreeing not to take a job close by does not require you to change careers. And if you want to open a business you should put the work to build it, not try to transplant an already existing one. Also, the employee isn’t forced to stay out of work for months; it’s the person looking to hire them who is bound by the agreement.

          1. Observer*

            Actually, generally the person looking to hire is NOT bound by a non-compete that an employee signs. There can be some complications there, but you simply cannot bind a third party to any sort of agreement that they were not part of in the first place.

          2. Penny Lane*

            No, MK, you are incorrect. An employer looking to hire someone isn’t bound by a non-compete. It’s the employee who is (or might – they are generally unenforceable) who is bound. The would-be employer isn’t a signatory to the contract.

          3. Mike C.*

            Its retail MK, there’s no reason to limit where someone else can work. There’s no justifiable reason for the OP or anyone else to arbitrarily designate an entire area off limits for four months with no compensation.

          4. Susana*

            MK… but that’s business, right? Competition. Competition for ideas, talent, pricing, etc. Your example is actually one that buttresses the opposite of what you are saying. The departing employees’ new tavern was not successful, right? Because it wasn’t as good as the old one? If you want to keep people, make your place of employment a place thy want to be. And if you want to do better than other businesses, provide a better service or make a better product. You seem to want to take the staff/talent factor out of the equation by making staff the property of business owners or managers. And that’s just not right.

      2. Mike C.*

        It’s retail, the location based issue is complete BS. The OP shouldn’t be allowed to chase you out of town after she’s fired you.

      3. Susana*

        MK… the term “poaching” suggests employees are owned by the company. They’re people; not property, and they can quit – just as you can fire them. If you pay them well and treat them with respect, they won’t leave.

        1. Mookie*

          Plus, in this instance, they “poached” somebody the LW fired. There is no conflict of interest. The LW’s opinion about Jane as an employee is not gospel. This is hurt feelings, which is fine, but trying to find a way to make what Meg and her fiancé did (which is to hire someone) illegal is bananas to me. I think your friendship is over, LW. The boundaries you’re crossing here would make many people uncomfortable socializing further with you.

  36. AdAgencyChick*

    “But I cannot help to feel deeply betrayed, and having been used by this couple under the pretense of friendship.”

    But you’re not friends. You’re the boss and the employee.

    1. Sunny SideUp*

      Maybe I should have mentioned I was friends with Meg and her fiance before I hired her.

      1. fposte*

        But it doesn’t change the key fact: there was nothing disloyal in their hiring Jane. You didn’t want her. Why does it hurt you if somebody else did? In crudely objective terms, you dropped Jane off at the thrift store; it doesn’t make sense to hold it against people you know for deciding they wanted her in their house.

        I could see your hurt more if Jane had quit a job with you to work for Meg’s fiancé, but even there I’d suggest that it’s best to realize that it’s business and it’s fair for Jane to leave for a better offer. But that’s not even what happened.

        Just surmising, but I think what may be happening here is that you’re looking back on that conversation and bristling at the asymmetry of knowledge there and feeling like they were more in Jane’s corner than yours there. And I can see that that’s annoying, but it doesn’t make the situation a betrayal; it just means that they didn’t handle the communication with you as well as they might in a situation where people have to balance privacy and transparency.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Jane’s corner is very different from OPs corner. OP knows she will eat this week and pay the mortgage/rent this month. Jane… not so much. I don’t think it’s wrong to be concerned about a friend who has baseline concerns like this.

          OP, I will say this. Jane has made the same mistake twice. She worked with a friend, got fired, now she is working for another friend. At some point she will have to find a different approach.

      2. Jessie the First (or second)*

        That isn’t relevant information in some ways and very relevant in others.

        Not relevant: because Meg does not owe you any more information about Jane, about her friendship with Jane, about how she is or is not helping Jane get a new job, than she would have if you were not friends before.

        Very relevant: because pre-existing friendships between employers and employees can make it harder for employees and employers to successfully navigate professional boundaries issues without hurt feelings.

        In other words, your friendship does NOT mean Meg did anything wrong at all. But it does mean I can see why your sense of boundaries is fuzzy (and it is fuzzy here) and I can see why you feel a little icky. You have to work through the ick, though, because it is not justified by anything Meg has done – it’s just that I can understand why you feel it, because the boundaries are harder to see for you, since you were friends first.

      3. Louise*

        And that relationship fundamentally changed after you became her boss. I get the sense that you think meg should be loyal to you because you hired her, but honestly demanding loyalty doesn’t even work like that in friendships, let alone in professional relationships.

      4. Penny Lane*

        But you weren’t used. What did they “get” from you? This was an employee who you didn’t want. You would potentially have a point about being used if fiancé “stole” a great employee from you somehow.

    2. Penny Lane*

      How were you “used”? They asked you a few questions, you answered them vaguely, it probably was 5 minutes out of the entire dinner.

  37. required name*

    Yeah, this isn’t a problem. OP, think of it from Jane’s perspective. You get fired and you need a new job. You talk with your friends and your friend’s finance (who may be a friend in and of himself!) has a job available. You get hired. There’s no need for anyone to mention this to your old employer, since it has no bearing whatsoever on that.

    There’s no loyalty being broken or non-compete or anything like that. Just someone getting a new job with help from their friends. Happens every day.

  38. JSPA*

    Throwing this out, because it’s the only thing that would bother me if I were in the OP’s situation, and also the only legit complaint. The details are in the letter, even if the complaint is never made, in so many words.

    First: It sounds like two companies are competitors. (OP says that it’s TECHNICALLY not a violation of the non-compete for two of the three reasons listed. Those two are a) distance b) that the person hiring is the fiancé of the employee, not the employee herself. That presumably means reason #3–same field / a competitor–actually is in play.)

    Secondly: this is a rather small field, where everyone (at mid or higher level) likely knows or knows of everyone else.

    It’s not just possible but likely that the boyfriend made an official hiring note about having talked to OP, or at least, mentioned her, or mentioned speaking to someone from the past job. (That would jive with him probably having had to at least approximate the ‘standard hiring procedure’ alluded to.)

    It’s possible that Jane was far worse than a “bad fit”–that she had some major issues that would make her a liability, or at least a PITA, in a wide range of workplaces. (That would jive with the level of “ick” that the OP is directing at the situation.)

    So, if Jane goes down in flames at the new job, and if the upper management believe that she was hired on the basis of a solicited, intentionally-given (though verbal) reference from OP…then OP’s reputation takes at least some incremental hit. Alternatively, there’s a small chance the OP ends up in the awkward position of outing Meg’s fiancé for not following company policy. Both of these problems could have been averted if the fiancé had actually asked for a reference, even informally / verbally, rather than assuming that a friendly chat would disclose everything that should have been disclosed, in a “giving a reference” scenario.

    It is ENTIRELY reasonable to be ticked off to have been a) tricked into serving as a reference, b) put in a situation where you (entirely unawares!) gave what passed for a much better reference than you would otherwise have done and c) were then left in the dark for months, so that you could not even remedy the situation to reflect your actual feelings towards the employability of the employee in question.

    (sorry if this double posts, the page froze / I had to reload)

    1. Granny K*

      Your post actually clears up a lot for me. I wish I could figure out how to delete my post below.

    2. Sunny SideUp*

      This is exactly my point, thank you!
      And as I mentioned in an earlier reply, the fiance initiated this conversation, which made me feel really awkward…

      1. serenity*

        From your own words, this is what transpired:
        ….gave me what I thought was good advice on employee management, asking me why I thought Jane did not perform anymore, and reassuring me that I did everything I could before firing her. I stayed as vague as possible, knowing that they were also friends with her.

        That doesn’t sound like a coerced or pressured reference given in any meaningful way. I’m still not sure what all the frustration is on your end. What JSPA said sounds reasonable, but doesn’t sound like it matches up with what actually happened here. If Meg’s fiance misrepresented your comments, that sucks and doesn’t reflect well on him….but you don’t have evidence that this is what he did.

        1. serenity*

          And not to beat a dead horse, but you brought up a non-compete clause which others have questioned and you also used the word “betrayed” to describe your feelings on the situation. This all seems like more emotion invested than the situation calls for.

      2. Observer*

        Except that this requires a lot of assumptions. And, even if all of those assumptions are correct, it is hardly anything that comes close to a betrayal.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          Yeah, this is stretching a bit much.

          Is it that you are grabbing onto the one possible explanation that could justify your feelings, or that you really included a lot of not-relevant detail, left out all the key points, and just have a misguided sense of what employee loyalty means?

        2. JSPA*

          For “personal betrayal of loyalty,” I came up with an alternative read, “betrayal of proper work etiquette,” and to a lesser degree, “betrayal of proper work procedure” and “betrayal of proper interpersonal behavior.”

          Meg and Fiancé seem problematically unaware that

          1. in a social circumstance (not a reference) the misbehavior of another employee is properly PRIVATE.

          2. chat does not equate to a formal reference.

          3. it’s not OK to spend someone else’s “reputation points” in a field without their explicit approval.

          4. the misbehavior of a mutual friend is properly not food for gossip.

          I’d frankly treat this as a reason to discuss cultural norms. As with ask/tell culture differences, there may have been a bunch of culturally-specific “conversation cues” that Meg and fiancé believed were obvious, even without explicitly saying, “this is by way of a fact finding mission.” That is, they may well have believed that talking about Jane in the context of talking about hiring, firing, mentorship, etc was obviously a business-type conversation / de-facto dive into the depths of the Jane problem. (In my experience, this is actually very normal in some cultures, and far more common than a formal recommendation.)

          And/or they may believe that a certain level of friendship does, in fact, trump a certain level of work propriety.

          And/or they may believe that if Jane had done something as bad as whatever it is that she actually did, that as a friend, OP would have tipped Meg off, that the mutual friendship is not something she’d necessarily want to cultivate further.

          It’s possible to bring these divergent assumptions front and center and address what needs to happen in your workplace, instead of treating it as, “it turns out we don’t automatically do these things the same way, so we can never again productively trust each other and work together.” I would not spill the full story on Jane. I would let Meg and fiancé know that it’s standard to keep a range of issues private; that substituting a chat for a reference is not US normal, not a reliable way to do things, and not fair to any of the parties involved; and that, while it’s too late for a formal recommendation now that the job has already been filled, that you would like a note added to the file that any notes made on Jane based on the chat with OP be annotated to say that OP was not aware of the discussion being used in lieu of a formal recommendation, and that she had not been asked to serve as a reference.

          Of course, if Jane is sketchy, Jane could even have told Meg and fiancé that OP was willing to serve as a reference, but only informally, and that they should approach her that way! In that case, Meg and fiancé are guilty of having been naïve.

          So, basically, this situation, while awkward, isn’t necessarily a referendum on the (business) trustworthiness of Meg and fiancé. It might in fact be proof that they’re people who feel like close friends to you; feel an interpersonally supportive and indebted to their coworkers and friends; and simply need to have some guidance on what are frankly pretty fine details of what constitutes business norms. That’s a good thing in coworkers and employees!

          Also, if that’s their norm, then by their norm, your failure to spill on Jane was also a sort of betrayal of Meg and fiancé, and may have put them in an awkward position too, so it’ll be an awareness raising session all around.

          So, time to clear the air all around. “When we talked about ______, I saw it as _________, not as ____________. In this country generally, and especially in our field, where discretion is important, it is inappropriate for a manager to ____________ about an employee or ex employee, even with friends. As a result, when I said ______________ you may have heard that as the full story on the situation; it was, rather, an acceptable public justification for a more complex situation. I am still not at liberty to discuss other details with you, personally, as a friend. As there are issues I did not discuss, and as our conversation did not represent the sort of reference I would have given for Jane,. Please make sure that there are no documents, formal or informal, that refer to me, at your company, as having given Jane a reference of any sort. Jane’s issues do not preclude a non-work friendship with her–and I would never meddle with an employee’s friendships, regardless. However, some of them could cause problems in a work setting. Future problems could reflect badly on all of us (OP, fiancé, Meg, and Jane herself) so for everyone’s good, please reflect on this, and proceed with appropriate extra oversight.”

          P.S. Here’s hoping Meg doesn’t run off with the till, or a major client’s spouse, or get drunk and lock herself in the timed safe or take salacious video on her coworkers desks after hours, or whatever the secret problem is, before you have a chance to have this discussion. Best of luck to all.

      3. J.B.*

        That makes more sense. In this context, it may be worthwhile to mention something to Meg or ask her fiance directly – did you consider me talking at dinner to be a reference about Jane? And say you’re not entirely comfortable with it. Leave it there, though.

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          Yikes, no, don’t talk to Meg about what her fiance said at a dinner, when Meg wasn’t involved in the conversation! OP says upthread that it was a works dinner and fiance was there as OP’s +1, and took OP aside alone.

          I could understand why OP would be upset with fiance, maybe, if they were friends before she hired Meg, but that’s not enough to blame Meg for his actions. They are separate individuals, there’s no evidence Meg was involved in Jane’s hiring at all, since OP says Jane was friends with fiance too. If OP is upset with fiance, that’s who she should talk to.

      4. General Ginger*

        I’m even more confused now. In one of your comments above, you said your question/letter wasn’t about Jane, it was about Meg. Meg has absolutely nothing to do with how Jane might perform at her new job. If your question was about Meg, not Jane, how is any of JSPA’s comment exactly your point?

        1. serenity*

          Honestly, it feels like OP is carrying around a lot of negativity here and is eager to find solace and justification for those feelings.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Eh, I read it as OP has never had anything like this happen before and all the moving parts are confusing and unsettling.

            OP, you say you are concerned that she will perform poorly and it will come back on you because you gave her a reference.
            So, your reply to that would be that you never gave her a formal reference. A third party used a social setting to ask you general questions. “There is no way that I intended that to be a formal reference, nor was I informed that would be used as a formal reference. Someone took vast liberties with a PRIVATE conversation while I was trying to protect the confidentiality of the circumstances.”

            OP, I have to say something here. The fact that you are dwelling on this so much will do more to ruin your reputation than one misunderstood reference will ever do. People misconstrue what we say all. the. time. This is more of that. It’s to be expected. I sincerely doubt that this one instance will “ruin” your career or your business.
            And here is the part that is going to be hard to read: The fact that YOU do think this could ruin things for you, telegraphs to other people that YOU think you are not in a strong position. If you think one stray arrow can bring you down, that is a much bigger problem.
            Your best bet here is to reconsider how you want to reposition yourself. My suggestion along with other people is to stop hiring friends. Hire employees who are going to do a great job for you. And let them be just employees to you. And then you can be just a boss to them. This allows you to keep your personal friends.
            Going forward, hold on to the idea that if you have to fire a friend you not only lose an employee but you also lose a friend. This would mean not hiring Meg back. Your reason would be that it is now your policy not to hire friends. This puts you in a spot where you can give a truthful reference about her work, if she did great work then you can say so.

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          It’s about Meg because Meg’s fiance used his relationship with Meg to sneak out the reference.

          OP, it’s been said before and I agree, if there’s an issue it’s mostly with Meg’s fiance, but there’s a lot of room for the situation to be one where Meg especially was trying to hold to a neutral position, not carrying tales from you *or* to you.

          Is there any chance you can re-frame the story in your head as, ‘I asked my employee not to discuss Jane / my business. She didn’t, though her fiance seems to have missed the message.’

          Either way, my one piece of advice for you is:
          You are a Manager, not a Friend, to your employees. The power differential between you and them is too great for you to be a real Friend. You can be cheerful and pleasant, but you should work to develop Friendships outside of your business.

      5. Pine cones huddle*

        I have to be honest, you seem to be back and forth on your details here. In some comments you say the fiancé brought it up, and in others you say that you brought it up by saying “so I know where Jane works now”

        1. Elsajeni*

          Those are two separate conversations — Meg’s fiance brought up Jane in the maybe-a-reference-maybe-just-a-friendly-chat conversation, where he asked about what her performance issues were at work and OP stayed vague because she thought the question was “let’s gossip about our mutual friend”. Later, after she found out where Jane was working, she was the one who brought that up with Meg (and it sounds like the fiance may not even have been present for that conversation).

      6. Annabelle*

        But aren’t you all working in retail? I’ve had a decent amount of retail jobs, and low-level employees don’t generally have access to trade secrets that revolutionize the industry or anything. Plus, retail is hardly a niche or small industry.

      7. Traveler*

        Wait, didn’t you say that you brought the ex employee up yourself? In another comment you brought the ex employee up by saying you knew where she was working. The finance didn’t initiate the conversation – you did.

    3. Merida Ann*

      That makes sense, but it still all sounds like a problem with the fiancé, not with Meg herself. I think it’s also important to acknowledge that the fiancé could have hired Jane without talking to the OP at all and lied about getting a reference from the OP, which is sort of what he did anyway. If the dinner conversation had never happened and he just pretended to have checked her references (instead of getting an incomplete, unknowing “reference”), the situation would still be exactly the same. And that’s still the fiancé’s wrongdoing, not Meg’s.

    4. Princess Cimorene*

      Eh. Why would a fired person put the OP down as a reference. Meg’s fiance can ask Meg if Jane worked there. I highly doubt Jane would have listed the OP as a reference anyway since the OP fired, so…. this kind of goes in a nonsensical circle for me. OP is just emotionally attached where she shouldn’t be. She wants to give a bad reference when one wasn’t asked of her. She needs to get over it and let it go. People can make conversation, you have a choice as to whether or not to engage in conversation. She didn’t.

      Its not her business how she was hired or whether or not they checked the references Jane provided. Why does OP care?? Move on.

      1. Elsajeni*

        Well, it doesn’t matter whether Jane listed the OP as a reference; someone who knows Jane used to work for her still might want to talk to her as part of a reference check. They don’t have to limit themselves to the people she listed, and in fact, as someone who knows OP socially, Meg’s fiance is in exactly the kind of position where it would be reasonable for him to reach out to OP even if Jane didn’t list her. I feel like the “was that a reference check or a conversation between friends” question is the most legitimate issue in the letter, really — it put OP in an awkward position at that dinner, and if it actually was part of the fiance’s decision-making process about hiring Jane, it didn’t get him the information he needed.

    5. Penny Lane*

      This makes no sense. Even assuming Jane goes down in flames in the new job for the sake of argument, the OP — a PERSON WHO FIRED JANE IN HER PREVIOUS JOB — is not going to be “tainted” by that association.

      The OP is way overdramatizing the role that references play. Really, ten minutes after someone gives a reference, no one remembers / associates the reference-giver with the potential employee.

      1. LBK*

        Yeah, I’m confused – surely whatever milquetoast comments the OP might have given in this backdoor reference are colored by the fact that she fired Jane. Even if it was a “she’s a hard worker but it just wasn’t the right fit” situation, I think the firing says just as much if not more than the reference. Plus it sounds like the fiance agreed that OP did the right thing by firing Jane, so for him to turn that situation around into reporting the OP as giving a good reference (if that’s indeed what he did) would just be straight up lying, whether he obtained the info shadily or not.

  39. Former Retail Manager*

    I don’t want to pile on, but I agree with Alison and the other commenters, this is not your business and really not at all unusual.

    When I was a retail manager, people were let go or resigned in lieu of being let go all the time. Often times those individuals had made friends with fellow employees who remained under my supervision. The current employees would often have a “hook up” on a job opening for the fired employee. Sometimes that info made its way back to me and sometimes it didn’t. Either way, I didn’t care. I had a couple of fired employees eventually end up working with people I knew and those managers LOVED the fired employee. More often than not, the position they’d end up in was very different from the one they’d been let go from (think warehouse work vs. retail) which was often a positive because retail wasn’t their strong suit. I was always happy to hear they’d moved on to something that they were hopefully better suited for and I think OP, you should feel the same.

  40. Granny K*

    I’m wondering if the OP thinks that if she fired someone, that no one else should hire that person…or she doesn’t believe in networking…? I’ve read her letter twice and I guess I’m missing something…

    1. Princess Cimorene*

      Yeah LW has this weird emotional attachment here. Like “I’m not here friend anymore, so no one is allowed to play with her”

      1. Beatrice*

        I think it’s more, “I fired someone for cause, and expected that she’d have some karmic career consequences for the problems that led to her being fired. That didn’t happen – she managed to get a decent next job and I didn’t get a straightforward reference call in the process, and worse, I unwittingly provided input in the hiring process that I would have handled differently if people were straightforward with me on why they were asking what they were asking.” I think that’s an understandable emotional response…I don’t think it’s business-appropriate in this scenario and I think it would be wrong to act on it, but I don’t think it’s wrong or weird to feel it.

        1. whingedrinking*

          Agreed – I feel like there are two things going on. One of them is “Meg is being a bad friend by helping someone who hurt me” a la the “jealous ex” theory proposed above, and the other is “I punished Jane for being a bad employee and Meg is undermining my authority by mitigating the effects of that punishment”. Needless to say, neither attitude is a good look on the LW.

        2. Annabelle*

          Idk, I really don’t think “this person deserves to not have any other jobs because they sucked at this specific job” is ever an understandable response.

    2. Annabelle*

      I’m getting that vibe for sure. It seems to me that the root of OP’s anger is one of two things:

      1) She thinks getting fired makes someone inherently unhirable and that Jane deserves to be jobless.
      2) She views the fiancé hiring someone she fired as a criticism of her judgement.

  41. pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    I loathe non-compete clauses for this reason. I don’t think they are ever appropriate. Trade secrets, proprietary customer information, patents, copyrighted material… are already protected by many state and federal laws. It’s one thing to have an employee sign that they have read and understand a summary of the applicable laws and another to expect that they give up rights to basically their career and/or residency should their employer decide, for any reason, to terminate their employment. People are entitled to seek employment, in the geographic region they want, in the industry they want, using whatever personal or professional references they can. I’m glad I live in a state where they are unenforceable.

    1. Mike C.*

      I don’t mind the UK system where they have to pay you your salary and benefits for the time off, but even in those contexts I’ve only heard of it being use for say, the lead engineer of an F1 team leaving for another F1 team. Outside of crazy contexts like that, I’m in full agreement.

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        It’s called Garden Leave over here in the UK, and yeah, it’s almost always a paid time off. I’ve seen it in other companies at less high levels than your F1 engineer, and I think it happens more in tech/finance, but really, it’s a pretty desirable situation to be in, having another job lined up, and getting to take this great paid break for (eg) 3 months. Plus in the circumstances I’ve seen, it’s added to the employee’s prestige, as the original company is so worried about losing someone to the competition, they’ll pay for an extra long notice period.

        It’s also something that’s written into contracts from the start, so can’t be pulled out as a surprise, so people expect it, and might look forward to it (I can totally see how someone with kids, eg, might plan their job search to take maximum advantage of garden leave over the summer holidays, if possible)

      2. Saor*

        It happens fairly often in the UK, and doesn’t need to be anywhere near that high-level. One of my best friends was a mid-level employee employed as an analyst in an investment consultancy. She gave notice when she got a job at a slightly higher level in another firm, and was placed on gardening leave immediately for three months instead of working her notice period. It ws great for her.

  42. Ilf*

    The OP brings up a non-compete. Besides the fact that generally the not compete language in employment agreements is a sketchy business, can an employer actually fire an employee and then inforce the non compete?

    1. aes_sidhe*

      The ones I’ve seen try to include language that covers termination that voluntary or involuntary. However, in the 11 years I’ve worked as a paralegal for a business attorney (who is regarded as one of the best inthe state), I’ve yet to see a single non-compete stand. It infringes upon a person’s ability to work. As my boss says, “You can’t take one of these and tell an attorney they can’t practice in a 350 mike radius of X firm anymore than you can do that with any other profession.”

  43. Princess Cimorene*

    This is weird. This reads more like when kids get mad when their friend is playing with someone they’re not friends with that day. She is allowed to move on to more work, and there is no such thing as being loyal to a job when you have bills to pay and food to eat. This reads as if letter writer doesn’t think Jane is allowed to work anymore since LW fired her. That’s pretty bizarre to me. Even if they had asked you for a reference, and even if you’d given a bad one, they still had every right to hire her no matter what. LW has a weird emotional attachment here to the company and employees. People are allowed to seek employment and survive, even if you’ve fired them previously. Just because Jane didn’t work out for you, doesn’t mean she won’t do well elsewhere and her need to survive is much more important than your feelings about where she works or how she got the job. She’s not wrong here. Meg isn’t wrong her. You are, however, LW.

  44. Madame X*

    The OP is being weirdly vindictive. Meg did nothing wrong. Unless, the OP is leaving out some key information, I don’t understand how Jane’s new job is harming the OP’s business.

  45. Student*

    You don’t own your employees. You have no claim on them once they stop working for you.

    Non-compete clauses, while common in some industries, are questionable legally – and even you admit that everyone involved followed the terms of the non-compete.

    Usually, the non-compete restrictions on where someone can work are unenforceable legally, so you’re actually just scamming your own employees with them as an intimidation tactic. Other bits of them are sometimes legal in some states.

    1. ArtK*

      I commented below about the non-compete. This one seems very strange since it restricts a current employee from hiring someone who has recently left. How and why would a current employee be hiring someone in a somehow competitive role? It would seem that this would restrict two employees from working together on a separate, non-competitive business. Even one paying the other for some babysitting sounds like it would violate this.

      1. anniemal*

        Im thinking its like
        Amy owns a dog walking business. Sheldon and Leonard work for her dogwalking
        Leonard leaves the Amy’s employ and starts Leonard’s A+ Dogwalking.
        Leonard offers Sheldon a job at his place.
        Sheldon leaves Amy’s and goes to work for Leonard.

        ^^ that’s what I imagine it is for, to prevent that.

      2. Bea*

        The idea sounds like “Employee 1 runs off and starts their own business to compete with OPs Business. Then poaches employees from OB”. Or they go to manage a competing business and poach employees.

        1. SierraSkiing*

          Personally, I am all in favor of employee poaching! If businesses want to keep good employees, they should have to offer competitive pay or benefits, not corral employees in by removing some of the best ways they can find a new or better job.

          1. Bea*

            Hear hear. I’ve seen a few laughable attempts to hijack businesses by wayward former employers. None of the solid core workers could be poached, we liked our boss and knew the fly by night fledgling new business owner would fail miserably.

            Most just ended up buying material from us anyways. Classic.

            Now if we were underpaid and unappreciated and had a dick boss, I’ll go to the competition if asked.

  46. Louise*

    Any time an employer talks about feeling like they’re owed loyalty from their employees, a sea of red flags starts waving in my mind.

    1. Specialk9*

      Yeah. The one rule of business in the 21st century is that a company will never be loyal to you, so don’t be a sucker and be loyal to them. (But don’t, like, embezzle or anything.)

    2. Triple Anon*

      Right! It’s part of a cultish mentality, which tends to be a sign of dysfunction. Why do they want extreme loyalty and devotion? Because they have something to hide.

  47. Tye*

    I may be misreading this, but it actually seems to me that the person in this situation who has the right to feel most betrayed is Jane, whose former boss talked about her employment performance with someone in Jane’s own social circle, without Jane’s presence or permission. Of course, it’s weirder that in fact it was not just someone in Jane’s own social circle (the fiancé of her former coworker/friend), but her (new?) boss. That’s wild to me.

    LW is at a social event, and a guy she only knows socially asks her about her former employee, at which point the conversation was robust enough that he “gave me what I thought was good advice on employee management, asking me why I thought Jane did not perform anymore, and reassuring me that I did everything I could before firing her. I stayed as vague as possible, knowing that they were also friends with her.”

    I mean, I don’t know how “as vague as possible” LW was able to be in the situation wherein she was specifically discussing Jane’s firing with a third party, but it sounds like LW didn’t shut the conversation down immediately, which is what I would imagine professionalism and good manners demands. To my mind, the LW was out of line by saying anything more than “I don’t discuss employee performance with third parties, time to go refill my wine, byeeeeeeeeeee.” For LW to take exception to the fact that she wasn’t warned she was giving a reference for Jane before she spilled some dish on Jane to a man who LW, based on all available information, knew only to be Jane’s casual acquaintance and nothing more — I mean, wow.

    1. ExcelJedi*

      I agree with this 100%. It seems rather one-sided to expect this level of loyalty from employees, and yet also think any conversation about their performance with those in their social circle is appropriate.

  48. ArtK*

    This has a nasty smell of “you can’t be friends with someone that I don’t like.”

    Hint: Friendship and work don’t mix. What Meg’s fiance did has nothing to do with you.

    Other hint: Ditch the non-compete. It just makes you seem insecure and mistrustful. Yours seems very odd to me since it seems as if you’re telling a current employee (say Meg) that they can’t hire someone who has left recently (say Jane) — but that would have to be for the current employee’s other business, which is really none of your business. Unless, of course, your current employee has a company that is doing the same thing that you are, which is a whole different problem.

  49. Not Tom, just Petty*

    There are some issues here that are either red herrings or the real problem you have with the situation.
    “[fiance] gets paid a substantial bonus (around $1,500) for every person he recommends” – This rings of the “filthy lucre!”cry. Yup, people work for money.

    “My employment contracts have a non-competition clause asking employees not to hire other current or former employees within four months of their departure” None of this happened. The person you fired found a job with a company run by her friend’s fiance.
    (Even if this were an actionable line item, which I think is debatable. I compare it to a waitstaff position where you are told you can’t work at the restaurant down the street for six months. Not going to fly.)

    They used me for an unofficial interview. Are you sure the timelines overlapped? She may already have been working there, but employee was afraid to tell you.

    Honestly, you are too invested in these people (two of whom don’t work for you and one of whom never did). Set some boundaries for yourself. Stop going to dinner with your staff. Stop asking your staff what ex-staff are up to.
    I don’t think you should hire Meg back, but just because you both need to break up this weird relationship.

  50. Ann O'Nemity*

    What’s the real issue here?

    Meg’s lack of candor?
    Meg acting as an accessory to (not quite) non-compete?
    OP served as a reference without knowing it?
    Residual anger at Jane?

  51. Guitar Hero*

    I always feel skeeved out when managers/bosses write in and talk about being “betrayed” by their employees, especially because it’s usually said in reference to something personal that doesn’t have anything to do with their performance on the job. It’s strangely possessive to me.

    1. anniemal*

      The only place I ever worked for that hard sold “we are all a family” was the restaurant that wanted me to work under the table for just tips with no set schedule because “we are going through hard times”.

      And they actually tried to spin it like it was best for _me_ to work that way.

  52. Folly*

    Having dinner “…as friends” really isn’t possible since you are the owner and the boss – please be reminded of this when interacting with employees. Meg didn’t owe you any information, or explanation … and don’t mix thinking you are friends into this situation because that seems to have left you feeling that Meg was obligated to share her fiance’s hiring practices with you …. nope.

  53. Geneva*

    OP didn’t mention if her company is in the same industry as the fiance’s. If it’s not, I don’t see how a non-compete clause would apply here. Seems like OP just doesn’t like Jane, which is fine, but Jane still needs to earn a living. Let it go.

  54. SierraSkiing*

    I wonder if part of the reason this is so upsetting, OP, is that it feels as though Meg is questioning your judgement? Firing is rarely an easy or fun decision, even when you know it is 100% the right choice for your business and that the person is not working out. When Meg (who is also your friend) and her fiance turned around and recommended her for a job, it may have touched a bit of you that worries, “Maybe if I was a better manager, I could have fixed the problem and I wouldn’t have needed to fire her.” Perhaps you’re seeing Meg’s recommendation as Meg saying, “Jane wasn’t the problem, it was you.”

    Those feelings can understandably sting! But it’s quite possible that Meg never thought of her fiance’s recommendation as a comment on whether your firing decision was justified: Jane’s her friend, and the fiance is getting a nice bonus out of the recommendation. In cases like this, where there’s one possible interpretation of Meg’s behavior that stings personally and other interpretations that aren’t about you, I’ve found it helps to just push my brain back to the less personal explanation and make my decisions from that.

    1. Sunny SideUp*

      You read that right! I don’t want to mention too much about my reasons for firing Jane but it wasn’t out of the blue; I did offer her to go through mediation and she refused.
      Knowing that Meg met Jane through my business and chose to remain good friends with her to the point that she got her re-hired… Yeah there’s definitely the question of “what did Jane told her” and did Meg take a side, knowing that I couldn’t share my own reasons with her.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Ok, so. That feeling that ‘Meg chose a side’ – that’s you bringing Friend feelings to the business relationship between you and Meg. Your employees’ personal relationships are none of your business unless you see an actual impact in their performance.

        Has Meg’s work performance changed? Try to use concrete data, like how often she’s late or her sales as a portion of total sales (to guard against comparing a high revenue time with a low revenue time). Don’t use ‘attitude’, that’s way too subjective. If there’s no impact, you have no evidence to make you think that Meg has ‘chosen sides’.

        You will be a better manager and boss if you can get some emotional distance from your employees. You will attract and keep better employees.

        If Meg has been a good employee, and you will need the help when she gets back, consider hiring her back, if YOU can develop the distance needed to have a good manager / employee relationship.

      2. TonyTonyChopper*

        On the flip side though, you don’t know Meg’s side of the situation either. She may totally agree with your decision to fire Jane while still wanting to give her some help finding another role. Maybe there were things at your company that made Jane incompatible for her role that wouldn’t be an issue a the fiance’s company. And it may have been things that, as a manager, you couldn’t fix (maybe Jane had issues with the way the company handled certain things or company culture that kept her demotivated and therefore caused poor performance or attitude problems that led to her being fired). I was fired from my last company because while I “technically” fit the role requirements, and I liked my company, there was just something about the culture and the way my team operated that didn’t mesh with my work and personality style. I found myself unwilling to really put effort into something that just felt forced everyday. Nothing was bad about them, or me, but it just wasn’t a good fit and brought out my worst qualities.

        My new role is in the same industry, but the company operates very differently as a whole, and so while my day to day work is pretty much the same, my performance is a complete 180 from my last company.

        I get why you’re upset at the fiance though – and maybe it’s worth talking to Meg to say that you do feel like her fiance’s actions felt shady. At the end of the day though, Meg didn’t do anything except try to stay out of the middle of it. She may not have agreed with what her fiance did but couldn’t stop him so avoided telling you because she didn’t want to upset you.

      3. Penny Lane*

        But what you keep not understanding is that Meg didn’t “take a side” by “allowing” (for lack of a better word) her fiance to hire Jane. Meg does not own her fiance’s work / hiring decisions.

      4. Annabelle*

        The fact that you’re at a point where you’re even thinking about your employee “picking a side” is a really bad sign. That kind of attitude can leave employees feeling pressured to always agree with you out of fear. You shouldn’t want your employees to feel afraid of or pressured by you. Even though you were friends beforehand, Meg’s personal relationships are none of your business as her employer.

      5. Not So NewReader*

        Meg found a job for Jane.
        Let’s say Meg found food and clothing for Jane, would this be upsetting?
        Jobs are necessary for survival. I would much rather help a friend find a job than buy that friend food and clothing because they could not buy it themselves. It’s cheaper for me to just help with the job search. And it’s better for the friend, too. The friend can get their own food and clothing.

        I dunno. This is pretty baseline stuff. Did you want Meg to just let Jane struggle? If yes, WHY?
        You are actually in an enviable position here. I don’t know how many letters we have had where a boss had to fire someone and did not want to because they needed a paycheck. You fired this person and someone else made sure that they kept getting a paycheck. Win/win, I’d say. Not all bosses have this type of help, they have to live with the idea that Person is out there with no income, maybe in danger of losing their home or going without food. You don’t have this concern.

        The more I read the more I am inclined to think this is why Meg said nothing because she felt you would not understand that a person is now unable to pay their bills.

  55. a1*

    Apparently, I didn’t read this the same way as nearly everyone else. I don’t think Meg helping Jane find a job is the “betrayal”. I don’t think OP has it out for Jane or any other such negative interpretation regarding Jane. It’s the manipulating info from OP about Jane’s performance under the guise of a friendly dinner, plus lying about where Jane got a job that is the “betrayal”.

    1. Jessie the First (or second)*

      But I don’t see manipulation. Fiance asked questions, which OP could have simply not answered. We also don’t know the timing of it, and frankly, OP is guessing about the motivation as well (it could be benign! For example, maybe he had already hired her and was wondering how OP handled a thing because *he* was seeing a similar thing).
      Not saying the actual name of the store where a former, fired employee works is not a betrayal either. That’s an enormous stretch.

      1. Curious Cat*

        Agreed, I don’t see manipulation. OP also says they kept it “vague,” so I can’t imagine how much info they actually provided, anyway.

    2. Chriama*

      I do think OP is expecting more out of a casual friendship than is warranted, but I agree with the manipulation bit. She thought they were discussing things in a social context while fiance was apparently sussing OP out in a professional context. That’s not great. One of the keys to having healthy friendships with people you work with is maintaining boundaries and transparency about when you can and can’t share. “Tricking” people into divulging information they might not otherwise divulge, or get information that doesn’t accurately express their opinion and then use that as justification for your actions, is not cool.

      It’s like when that annoying friend gives a hypothetical situation and asks if you agree with their opinion of hypothetical situation, then uses that hypothetical agreement as justification for some non-hypothetical conflict they’re having with someone else.

      1. bonkerballs*

        Also not cool, your former boss dishing about your performance issues to random people they know to be in your social circle. The only thing OP should have said in response to the fiance asking about Jane’s firing is “I cannot ethically performance issues of my staff with you.”

  56. RedRH*

    I think a big thing here that the OP mentioned in the comments and not in the original letter is that Meg was her friend before hiring her/this whole debacle and thus the whole thing stings and feels more personal. I’m thinking Meg shouldn’t be hired back, not because of any sort of “betrayal,” but because this work dynamic just can’t work with existing friends and, if Meg comes back to work for her, OP is always going to be thinking about this situation and unintentionally holding it against Meg.

    Reading this letter, an employer being this invested in their current and former employees lives is a Huge Red Flag, but it makes more sense when you consider that the employee/friend boundaries were already murky before this happened. I say cut professional ties with Meg and salvage the friendship if it’s important enough for you to fight for.

    1. Sunny SideUp*

      I agree it’s hard to keep personal and professional lives separate in a small business. Meg’s work performance has always been good, and I was really surprised / weirded out by this whole thing. But if I’m being honest I cannot say for sure that I would have handled it differently if Meg had told me in the beginning she got Jane hired. So it looks like each one is a bit suspicious of the other, in any case not a good recipe going forward into work.

      1. Charlie Bradbury's Girlfriend*

        My only advice for you going forward is to keep your personal and professional lives as separate as possible. Don’t hire your friends. Don’t have “friendly” dinners with the people you employ. It usually ends badly (as you have discovered).

      2. Anonymous48*

        If you know you have difficulty keeping professional and personal lives separate, then that’s the issue, not that “each one is a bit suspicious of the other”. It sounds as if Meg wasn’t unreasonably suspicious–she was rightfully cautious because she had (now validated) reason to believe that her employer might overreact to something in a way that would affect her employment status.

        It sounds like you’re looking for a way to justify no longer hiring Meg when she returns. The reasons you’ve goven don’t seem to provide any professional justification. So you need to ask yourself if you’re willing to try to work on your issues with blurring personal and professional lives or if you’re not. If you’re not, nobody can force you–but it’s because of your choices, not Meg’s, and I think it’s important for both you and Meg for you to realize that, since thinking otherwise might color your future statements regarding a good employee, as well as enable future unhealthy managerial actions on your part down the road.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          +1 The lines between ‘friends’ and ‘manager’ are more important in a small business than in a large one. You often can’t afford the fallout from the drama and turnover the way a larger business can.

          If Meg’s work performance is good, that’s all you have the right to expect, and expecting more is out of the professional norms of the US, and I think Europe. Meg is not demonstrating an unhealthy lack of integrity here, she’s demonstrating boundaries between her personal and professional lives. These boundaries are normal.

          I thought I’d seen your user name here before, semi-regularly – this is very much something that AAM reinforces over and over:

          Boundaries make for great management.
          Hire for skills and competence, not friendship.
          Manage well, with raises, development, etc as appropriate.
          Be friendly, but not friends.

        2. Specialk9*

          Exactly. Sunny, you’re trying to make this a “well maybe we’re both wrong” situation, but it’s not.

          You’re the one who messed up. You’re not the first one to confuse friendship and management. You’re not the first one to fail to set really strong boundaries when someone switches from friends to subordinate. You’re not the first one to take business personally.

          But none of this is on Jane, it’s all on you. And fixing it is all on you. You can do it, but it doesn’t feel like you’re being honest with yourself, in that hard way that is required for growth.

  57. Still Needs a Username*

    Ooookay. So after reading OP’s comments I think the situation is a bit more like this:

    OP is friends with Meg and Fiance. OP hires Meg to work in her store, where Meg meets Jane. OP fires Jane. Fiance is thinking of hiring Jane. Rather than tell this to his friend OP and ask what Jane was fired for, he tries to tease the information out of her at a work event. OP eventually finds out Fiance hired Jane, and then realizes what her friend was doing at the party.

    I think the friend part is the most important thing, because I think it’s okay for your friend to be more up front with you about this. I think this falls into the category of “not a betrayal, but they should have handled this better”.

    Regardless, you don’t have to re-hire Meg if you don’t want to. Only you know if this would affect your friendship with her and Fiance. Depending on what they know about your business, you may be able to say “Sorry, I don’t have any openings right now.”

    Whether you should trust Meg and Fiance after they were not up front with you is something else you have to decide. Only you know how good of friends they are, how long you have been friends, if they have done something like this before, and how much you would like to make this work.

    What is your business in? For some reason I am imagining a retail shop, but all the talk of confidential information and non-compete clauses makes it sound more important.

    1. mf*

      Yes, this seems to be an accurate summary as far as I can tell. Considering she was friends with Meg and the fiance before all this, I can see why she would be upset.

      Regardless, she should probably not rehire Meg. She has negative feels towards Meg and the fiance, and probably doesn’t trust them. It wouldn’t be good for the business or for her relationship with Meg if they were to work together again.

    2. Bea*

      The one thing I think is missing in the summary here and maybe I’m just reading her comments wrong, Fiance hired Jane before the dinner. This wasn’t a quasi roundabout reference, he was fishing for more info though and that’s tacky. He’s still the problem, not Meg, she’s just marrying the guy and maybe he’s a little shady.

    3. Sunny SideUp*

      Yes a good summary, and yes it’s a retail store. The mention of the non-compete clause (which by the way is not as binding as “non-compete” suggests, I’m not a native english-speaker and not a lawyer) was only to emphasize that Meg did not breach anything, and I was more reacting with my feelings rather than on purely professional misbehaviour (am I making sense?).

      1. Louise*

        It sounds like you’re saying that you know that nobody did anything wrong, but you still want someone to validate your anger.

        1. SamPassingThrough*

          +1 to this.
          Kudos to OP for coming to terms with this: “I was more reacting with my feelings rather than on purely professional misbehaviour (am I making sense?).”

          Yes, you are making sense, much more than before.

          OP, if you chose to fire Meg / not rehire Meg, please be aware that the reasoning is more to do with your feelings and how it would affect your future professional interactions if the employment persists, and not to do with Meg’s ability or integrity at all. She really didn’t do anything wrong as your employee.

          If do let her go and you are to give references for Meg in the future, these references should not reflect this situation, or your sense of betrayal (which is still a tad of an overstatement in the working context, but you’ve clarified in saying that this is a personal feeling) at all.

  58. Princess Cimorene*

    The mention of how much money the fiance may have gotten and the mention of the luxury retailer make OP seem really catty to me. It’s hard to read into her feeling worried about her “good name” in whatever industry this is, when it seems apparent to me that this is just cattiness, maybe some envy/jealous and you cant be friends with her since I’m not friends with her type schoolyard behavior.

    1. Curious Cat*

      I agree about the line about the fiance’s bonus. It’s not relevant to the overall question & I’m confused if OP does consider themselves friends (!) with Meg/Fiance, why they wouldn’t want them to get a monetary bonus? I want all my friends to get monetary bonuses!

  59. Curious Cat*

    Referring to this as a “betrayal” makes me feel skeevy, because it brings into question things like expecting loyalty from subordinates, and that makes me feel skeevier.

    I think it’s just important to keep in mind, OP, that all of this is not happening in your personal life, but in your professional life. It’s all about keeping this in perspective, and keeping those parts of your life separate. It’s up to you whether to hire Meg again or not if you really can’t handle working with her after this, but I think if she was a strong worker & you enjoyed working with her, it feels like an extreme reaction not to.

  60. Chriama*

    My understanding of the situation is that OP feels Meg and Meg’s fiance “used” her by conducting a reference interview under the guise of social interaction. Aka they could have come to her, aboveboard, asking about Jane and saying they were thinking of hiring her. Instead, in the midst of a social dinner, fiance cornered OP and tried to have a work conversation about the private performance issues of her former staff member. Now, it turns out that this conversation was the justification for hiring said employee in a competitive industry.

    The things that stand out to me are:
    – OP’s name is now attached to fiance’s decision to hire this person, when she did not knowingly give that information
    – the “stealth reference check” makes her feel like she can’t trust him to be transparent with her (and this might be a trivial matter, but what if next time it’s not?)
    – he took advantage of their social relationship to validate a decision she wasn’t aware she was validating
    – why were they all weird about it? They could have just asked her directly to her face? Why play coy and bring all this stuff up unannounced?

    Honestly, I’d be feeling taken aback as well. Not necessarily betrayed, because that implies a level of responsibility to you that I don’t think is warranted in a casual friendship. But I would be pulling back from Meg and her fiance socially, because they are obviously weird with boundaries. I don’t think you’re obligated to hire Meg when she comes back and I’d say in the scope of being a business owner you don’t “owe” her this job so you’re entitled to feel however you want. I wouldn’t go out of your way to tell her *why* you’re not rehiring her but move forward and let her know at an appropriate time (the only exception is if you gave her a verbal promise and know she’s depending on this job, let her know quickly enough that she can find another job before arriving in the country).

    If the non-compete agreement is written according to legal and ethical standards I don’t think it’s strange that OP would be taken aback that someone went out of their way to circumvent it on a technicality. Again, Jane is a low level employee. But if I were in OP’s shoes I would be concerned that if Meg and fiance can be so roundabout with Jane, would they do something more egregious with a senior employee? However, I agree that expecting a low level employee to care about your non-compete agreements with a third party is setting yourself up for disappointment. If it was a violation that was on Jane to deal with, not Meg.

    Anyway, they do not owe you loyalty, OP. But you don’t owe them either. Stick them firmly in the “professional acquaintances” drawer of your relationship desk and try to be clearer about boundaries going forward. Honestly, being friends with employees isn’t usually a great idea and this is just one example of why.

    1. MuseumChick*

      I think this: “why were they all weird about it? They could have just asked her directly to her face? Why play coy and bring all this stuff up unannounced?” is an excellent question, the answer to which could explain why everything happened as it did.

      The OP is having a strong reaction to this. Her focus isn’t so much on the “stealth reference check” but a feeling of betrayal that Meg helped Jane get a job. If this is her reaction I suspect she has had other strong/overly personal reaction in the past that made Meg believe she couldn’t talk to her directly about Jane.

      I suspect this is what happened here. That the OP’s own behavior lead Jane to at leave believe that she could not, with out consequences approach the OP.

    2. Sunny SideUp*

      Yes you understood the situation and my feelings perfectly.
      Also I should mention “betrayed” is too strong a word, I did not actually feel betrayed but that’s the risk of trying to summarize your initial question under 200 words…
      Agreed, I should not have hired a friend to begin with and I probably set myself up for this kind of situation.
      On a side note I had my contracts reviewed by a lawyer; I don’t feel like Jane or Meg broke any clause and even if they did I wouldn’t waste time and money going after them so that’s not really the issue. All these details were in service of offering some context and figuring out if I should offer Meg her job back. Reading all the comments it clarified that Meg did nothing wrong but the friendship has taken a weird turn and it would be best for everyone to not be involved professionally moving forward. I still see Meg as a friend and I think she does to, even though I’m now cautious with her fiance, so I’ll try to salvage what I can with her!

      1. Penny Lane*

        “The things that stand out to me are:
        – OP’s name is now attached to fiance’s decision to hire this person, when she did not knowingly give that information”

        This is over exaggerating the situation. It is not as though the OP’s name is now attached permanently to Jane in the context of Jane’s new position. Probably 99.9% of people at the new luxury goods store wouldn’t know OP’s name in the least.

        1. Chriama*

          I gave an example in another comment above. Think of a friend who brings up a hypothetical situation and asks your opinion on who was right/wrong in that hypothetical conflict. Then they turn around and use your response to their supposedly hypothetical situation is “proof” that you agree with them about a very real, non-hypothetical conflict they’re having. Only it turns out some details were over/underemphasized in the hypothetical, or there is context that makes your opinion different. It doesn’t matter that you’re not giving a court testimony. It’s frustrating to be manipulated into “agreeing” with something you don’t actually agree with.

          1. Lynn*

            Except OP fired Jane. Whatever else she says about her, that’s a pretty definitive statement. Her “name” is also attached to that decision; who’s going to think she immediately provided an effusive recommendation for a similiar retail job? If the fiance lied about the nature of this “recommendation,” pointing out the firing is an immediate and compelling answer. If the fiance was honest that the OP had neutral comments on Jane after firing her, what’s the issue? That makes this focus on a “stealth recommendation” weird at best and almost narcissistic in it’s focus at worst, assuming this is the reason for her discomfort (as opposed to all the others OP has named).

      2. Chriama*

        > even though I’m now cautious with her fiance

        That makes sense to me. I think Meg is also finding it weird to navigate this boundary because you mention that she brought up the fiance thing unannounced. It seems like he wasn’t totally aboveboard and she knew that. And yes, you know more about maintaining professional boundaries going forward.

      3. Specialk9*

        Sunny, you have now told multiple people that they exactly captured the situation, but each of them had really different interpretations, so they can’t all have it right. You’ve changed your story several times too. It feels like you just want people to validate your feelings, rather than actually give you advice. Which isn’t really what this site is about, if that’s what going on.

        1. Specialk9*

          You agreed that all 4 of these perfectly captured the situation:

          1. It feels as though Meg is questioning your judgement.

          2. The friend part is the most important thing.

          3. He took advantage of your friendship and used that for his own employment gains.

          4. OP’s name is now attached to fiance’s decision to hire this person.

          Those are really very different takes on the situation.

          1. a1*

            Of course these are related! A friend , questions your judgement, and/or takes advantage of friendship, and uses your name as a reference. They are all pieces of the same puzzle.

          2. Tassie Tiger*

            I think all four could be part of a whole…I don’t think they necessarily contradict each other.

          3. Mad Baggins*

            I don’t think those are incompatible with each other.
            1+2+3=My friends chose sides against me/used me and it hurts my feelings as their friend.
            1+4=My professional reputation has been harmed.

            Sum=I feel personally hurt by this business situation.

      4. Angie*

        Sunny, I just don’t understand why any of this should factor in to re hiring Meg. Shouldn’t that decision be based on professional abilities and behaviors?

    3. Observer*

      OP’s name is now attached to fiance’s decision to hire this person, when she did not knowingly give that information


      why were they all weird about it? They could have just asked her directly to her face?
      Because the OP makes it pretty clear that she would not have handled it well at all.

      I don’t think it’s strange that OP would be taken aback that someone went out of their way to circumvent it on a technicality.
      What technicality? The non-compete just doesn’t apply here AT ALL.
      1. Jane was fired.
      2. Any agreement is between OP and the employee. Fiance is not a party to any agreement and it’s totally not their concern.
      3. The new employer is not near by. That’s not a “technicality”.

  61. Manager Mary*

    “I had dinner with my current employee and her fiance, as friends…”

    This is where the whole thing went wrong. Your employee is not your friend. If it were me, I wouldn’t have fostered a friend relationship with them in the first place. But having done so, when the fiance started talking shop, it should have been shut down with a gentle “eh, sorry but I prefer to keep my work and personal lives separate.” Work is work. Friends are friends. Your friends don’t work for you; your employees do. You don’t socialize with your employees; you socialize with your friends. Don’t mix business and pleasure; don’t poop where you eat; pick your metaphor. There are a lot on this topic for a reason!

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Meg and OP were friends before OP hired Meg, if I’m reading it right. Which is exactly why you have to be really careful about hiring friends. Co-workers, founding partners – no power differential, friendships can still work. Hiring to work on your business? You really have to set up some strong boundaries, and even compartmentalize inside yourself for that to work.

    2. CanCan*

      Yes, the “as friends” is a problem. You can have dinner with an employee and her SO, but that doesn’t mean you are friends. The OP noted that it would be inappropriate to discuss an employee’s (Jane’s) employment issues with another employee (Meg). Correct. Why does this rule fly out the window when Meg’s fiance is invited? The OP should have declined, knowing that he’s connected to Jane.

  62. Tyro*

    This is such typical “small business owner drama,” where every decision someone makes is personal and where the owner is a control freak with those unenforceable “noncompete” contracts for what are clearly service/retail employees ( are Meg and Jane going to divulge your folding and tagging trade secrets?)

    This is all just business. No one stole anything from anyone. The OP is in a typical position of a small business owner who never has to learn “professional behavior” because there’s no one to tell the OP to do so, unlike the employees, who have less taste for drama than the OP

    1. Sunny SideUp*

      Hi Tyro,

      I already replied on multiple aspects of the “noncompete” in my comments above.
      Regarding “folding and tagging secrets”, both Meg and Jane had access to detailed sales reports and in the retail industry there is often a “revolving door” hiring practice going on, which can lead employees to leak sales figures and targets from previous places they worked at (as I’ve witnessed it before).

      I imagine it must feel great to brilliantly deduce everything from a short letter, but I have managed small and mid-size businesses in various countries before, so I take offense with your assumptions…

      1. Tyro*

        Regardless of what you would like the world to be like, you absolutely cannot tell other people that they’re not allowed to work anywhere they please.

        But yes, pretty much everyone knows that particularly in retail, sole proprietors of private businesses tend to have weird control freak tendencies because they lack any kind of upper management or adult supervision of investors or a board of directors, so they start to wrongly see their business as their home and their employees as potentially disobedient or disloyal family members. This letter is typical of that precise kind of drama and control-freakery that is epidemic among small business owners in retail or food services.

        You’re way too tied up emotionally in this whole mess. Anyone who does not have a job will do anything and everything they can to get a new one, since they need one to live, and friends will help. That includes ignoring any illegal non-compete clauses and giving references for friends and not caring about how their former boss felt.

        I was fired from a job 3 years ago, and I don’t think either myself or my boss has given the other much thought since then or care much about what either of us is doing.

        Insofar as the “reference” issue is concerned, you “provided” the kind of reference that you would have given in the first place, “Jane worked for me from date x to y and was eligible for unemployment benefits afterwards.”

      2. Scarlet*

        Leaking sales figures? So what? If a company isn’t doing well, it rarely stays a secret for long, especially in retail.
        Also, you mentioned Jane is now working at a luxury store and I assume that your store is not in that market segment (or you probably wouldn’t have phrased it that way) – I don’t think luxury stores care about the sales figures of stores that operate in a different market segment.

      3. Penny Lane*

        SunnySideUp – if Meg wished to leak confidential sales figures to her fiance / her fiance’s company, SHE WOULD HAVE ALREADY DONE SO! The Jane situation has nothing to do with it!

      4. Annabelle*

        Most international luxury stores (which is precisely how you described Jane’s new workplace) aren’t clamoring to get the sales figures of small local businesses. That’s just…not a thing.

    1. Sunny SideUp*

      Haha, well I should mention that Meg recently told me that she changed her plans and was staying longer than expected abroad, so right now it doesn’t look like she’s going to ask for her job back! But for argument’s sake, let’s say that I wouldn’t give her her job back, 100% due to my own shortcomings about mixing business and personal friendship :)
      I have to stress out that Meg’s work performance was always very good. And to address the “small business owner drama” comments… Alison’s reply was correct and to the point, Meg did nothing wrong. I thought this question could be useful to others, both in small and big businesses. But the one thing I get to be selfish about, while working 24/7 and taking crap from customers, is who I want to work with. So I’ll make a selfish decision for my peace of mind to not re-hire her and keep her as a friend. I’ll still happily give her a good reference if anyone asks!

      1. McWhadden*

        You definitely do get to decide who you work with. And regardless of reasoning if you don’t feel comfortable with Meg now it’s totally valid to not take her back on.

      2. Triple Anon*

        That’s cool. I think you have a great attitude about this whole thing. I was thinking, “Huh, these comments might be hard to read for the OP, who is probably a nice person,” since there was a lot of disagreeing going on. But it sounds like you have a positive, level headed take on it all.

        I agree with you – it is helpful. It sheds light on how things can get complicated in a small community or when everyone is friends outside of work.

      3. Observer*

        But the one thing I get to be selfish about, while working 24/7 and taking crap from customers, is who I want to work with.

        This is true.

        I’m not even sure that it’s “selfish” either. It’s sensible.

        1. Specialk9*

          It isn’t sensible. They’re basically turning Meg into the whipping boy for their own faults. I’d personally work at becoming a better person and manager, rather than punishing an innocent external person over whom I had authority.

          1. GreyLady*

            I sort of understand what you are saying, but it’s a lot easier to say “just make yourself a better person” than actually doing it. Otherwise we’d all be perfect as soon as we realized our flaws. And in the meantime, while OP is working on herself, Meg is working for someone that doesn’t fully trust her, and has negative feelings towards her. This seems like a lose-lose situation, instead of a fantastic opportunity to work on personal growth.

      4. Doe-Eyed*

        This is a bit late but:

        “So I’ll make a selfish decision for my peace of mind to not re-hire her and keep her as a friend.”

        In this situation, I don’t think that I could continue to be friends with someone who essentially stopped me from earning a living because they got their feelings irrationally hurt, even though I do excellent work by their own admission.

        1. Caro in the UK*

          Yes, OP I think you need to understand that if you refuse to rehire Meg, because you want to stay friends with her, that the consequence may be that SHE doesn’t want to be friends with YOU.

          You have to do what is best for you and your business, but be aware that not rehiring her AND staying friends with her may not be possible.

  63. Not-in-Sausalito*

    This is reminding me a little of the business owner who declined to hire me after a “try-out” day at her store. Three months later I ran into her (I got a different retail job in the same town) and couldn’t remember how I knew her so I just smiled at her. She gave me a creeped-out look in return. Lady, all of Sausalito dosen’t belong to you. They didn’t run me out of town when I didn’t get employed with you.

    1. Bea*

      Having done business with a few small shops in Sausalito I’m laughing. It’s an eccentric area or rather I’m always in eccentric geared areas.

    2. Specialk9*

      Lol I knew an undercover gang cop, who saw a vaguely familiar face at the video store and smiled, and then she proceeded to get yelled at for the nerve of ‘smirking at someone you testified against’. It wasn’t even the same town. But apparently they remembered her crystal clear.

  64. The Other Katie*

    If someone fired me, I definitely wouldn’t want them knowing where I was working now – especially if the OP gives off the same “I pay you so I own you” vibe this letter is filled with.

      1. The Other Katie*

        It doesn’t really for me. If Mr. Meg is in a position to hire people, he gets to pick who he hires, and he doesn’t really need to ask permission.

  65. Triple Anon*

    I think the weirdness is on the friendship side of the situation. OP feels these people betrayed her as friends. But that’s part of the deal when supervisors and subordinates are friends outside of work. All sorts of messy situations can arise because those are very different types of relationships with different norms and expectations. If you cross that line, you have to be prepared for all the extra stuff that can come with it.

  66. Frustratedanon*

    I really think the comments are getting out of hand here. People are repeating the same things over and over again, and getting increasingly unkind to the OP, who has been in the comments, trying to more clearly explain the situation. This thread has made me question whether I’d be comfortable submitting on here, especially as a non native speaker who maybe doesn’t explain things as well or use the language exactly properly.
    OP, thanks for the question, thanks for engaging, and hopefully along the way you have gotten some valuable insight.

    1. Louise*

      I get the sense that people are frustrated because it seems like an employer is trying to get permission to wield their power inappropriately and in a way that would affect a person’s livelihood because of a personal feeling. I think those of us who aren’t business owners or managers have to fight so hard to be seen and respected as humans by those who employ us, and fight for the fact that we don’t owe them our life just because they hired us. It’s upsetting to see the common suspicion of “my employer thinks i owe them and expects me to do everything in their best interest and ignore my own” actually be true.

      And I think the language thing is tricky — we’re told to take letter writer’s at their word, so when someone uses words like “betrayal” and “non compete cause,” I think readers take those literally. And then of course not everyone weeds through the comments before posting to see clarifications.

      1. Mike C.*

        The OP has also changed a ton of details in her story and downthread admitted to “dramatizing” the story to get it selected as well.

  67. Katiedid*

    I haven’t read all of the replies, so forgive me if someone has already mentioned this, but Meg’s nervousness and evasiveness (and I agree with Alison and the commentariat that this isn’t your business nor were you wronged) could potentially be related to her being hired as a foreign worker. If her visa, and therefore her ability to remain in this country with her fiancé, is (or was at the time) at all dependent on keeping her job with you, she may be VERY nervous about doing anything that may jeopardize that status. She may well be concerned that any misstep, even just a perceived one, is going to force her to leave permanently, and it can be very hard to switch visa statuses without a lot of preplanning. This can cause all sorts of odd relationship issues between employer and employee, even if you aren’t doing anything different on your side than you would for any other employee and may not realize it.

    If she had a different visa status, then this may not apply, but I wanted to throw that out there as a possibility.

    1. Sunny SideUp*

      I can see how that could play out in a different situation but 1- I mentioned the “visa” thing only to explain why Meg was leaving for 6 months and coming back and 2- her visa in this case in not in any way related to her job. Hope this helps clarifying the situation.

      1. There All Is Aching*

        Good for you, Sunny SideUp, being so game and open to interacting with all of us. And glad this ultimately helped you decide to go forward from this with healthier work/friendship boundaries!

      2. Katiedid*

        That makes sense! I just wasn’t sure if it could be an issue and, having worked with people on visas in the past, I know it’s not always something that everyone thinks about (or even realizes), so I wanted to mention it. From your additional follow-up in the comments, it sounds like you have a plan set up – good luck! :-)

  68. Silly in Retrospect*

    Hi OP, sorry you’re getting run over here and being subjected to unusually unkind language. I totally understand why the weird reference check upset you, especially since you were friends with Meg and her fiancee prior to Meg working for you. It feels weird both professionally (call and get an official check) and personally (he didn’t disclose his interest professionally or personally). I think that weirdness is coloring the rest of the situation for you- it feels like he took advantage of your friendship (friends before Meg began to work for you, being at a social dinner and knowing you from non employment situations) and used that for his own employment gains. I’d probably refrain from socializing with him and not have Meg back, simply because the situation got too convoluted.

    I’m also thinking you may feel a little left out- you tried to handle things professionally and act as am employer, but it still resulted in an awkward situation where you let an employee go and your previously established friendship suffered. Its a learning example for why not to mix the two, unfortunately. :(

    1. Sunny SideUp*

      Hi Silly and yes, you summed it up perfectly.
      As a side note, I only mentioned the hiring bonus in my letter because during that fateful dinner Meg cheerfully mentioned the fiance got a big bonus every time he recommended someone. The fiance looked at her sideways like “shut up!”; at the time I thought “well good for you!” and did not think twice about it, but when I found out he hired Jane, I remembered the timing of Meg’s remark was a bit too coincidental with his eagerness to talk about Jane’s performance, so it made me think that the bonus probably played in his decision as opposed to stumbling on the opportunity to hire Meg’s friend who happened to be looking for a job…

      1. GreyLady*

        At most companies you can’t get a referral bonus when you are the person that is the hiring manager. If the fiancé is the one who hired Jane, I doubt he got a bonus. I don’t know if that makes you feel any better.

  69. Bea*

    I’m grateful that the OP has cleared so much up in the comments. This now boils down to why hiring friends is very difficult to navigate at times.

    It’s unfortunate some find the discussion heated and unkind. Many of us have been in gnarly situations where bosses try to ruin our lives after we leave and are fired for horrible reasons. The original letter is hard to follow and therefore leading to misunderstandings.

    Blog comments will consistently be a lot of repeat comments for various reasons. That’s the nature of the beast that is the internet and public opinions.

  70. Leela*

    OP I’m very concerned that you don’t want to rehire Meg over this! As Allison said you don’t have to, just as you don’t have to offer insurance plans, maternity leave, or competitive pay but…you probably should. She didn’t do anything wrong, it would have been very very odd for her to run this by you at all. Once you’ve fired Jane you don’t really get to know anything about her professional life unless she’s sharing trade secrets/breaking contracts something like that, and it really doesn’t sound like that’s what happened here. I couldn’t tell from what was written if the reference process was actually circumvented, are you positive that they didn’t use references or just that they didn’t use you, someone who fired Jane, which I would think is very standard practice? It sounds like maybe you feel that the questioning was used to get information out of you to pass along as a “reference” instead of just the fiance wanting to talk to you to see what you thought about her and inform their decision. I can’t really claim that one is more likely than the other but I’m wondering if you have confirmation on one being the truth instead of the other or if it just feels like that might be the case?

    Surely you don’t think that Jane should be forced to relinquish all of her professional network just because some of them are tied to you and you fired her?

    1. Sunny SideUp*

      Hi Leela,
      I want to stress out I do offer competitive pay + bonus etc, and as a matter of fact some competitors tried to poach Jane more than once before I had to let her go, and she always refused. I can’t discuss too much my reasons for firing her but it was very long and painful, and I tried numerous times to keep up on board, so it’s not like I cold-heartedly terminated her for a stupid mistake and then tried to enforce a noncompete clause on her because I’m a “control freak” like I’ve read before.
      If Meg’s standard of living and/or visa was depending on my re-hiring, I would re-hire her in a heartbeat, especially since her performance has always been good at work. I have the luxury to say “no” because Meg is not waiting after me for a job, as a matter of fact it looks like she already found another opportunity and will probably not come back. So rest assured Meg’s fate does not hang in the balance!

      1. Leela*

        I was listing befenits/pay whatnot as examples of things that are technically required but still good to do, not listing out random guesses about you based on nothing. Honestly I’m very surprised that you referenced them in your response.

        I’m not looking for info on why you fired Jane and I have no reason to suspect your judgement there.

        The fact that you have the luxury of not hiring Meg, and are considering not hiring her solely based on the fact that she helped someone who needed a job when you fired that person, are what I find concerning. I’m not saying you don’t have the legal right to, just that it seems like this instance, instead of her work, is what’s prompting you to make the call. The fact that Meg could get a different job really isn’t relevant to whether you’re making this call because even if she couldn’t but she was a genuine problem employee with performance issues you shouldn’t be rehiring her.

        And on a personal level, I don’t want to normalize “don’t help people I’ve fired or I might not hire you again because of it, no matter what kind of employee you are” in the work world at all. It’s not a great precedent to set.

        1. Sunny SideUp*

          You started your reply with :
          “OP I’m very concerned that you don’t want to rehire Meg over this! As Allison said you don’t have to, just as you don’t have to offer insurance plans, maternity leave, or competitive pay but…you probably should”

          and now you are “Honestly very surprised that you referenced them in your response.”

          1. Leela*

            Yes, because they were examples demonstrating that just because you technically don’t have to do something doesn’t mean it’s not wise or the best course of action. I was in no way saying “I’ll bet you don’t offer benefits or competitive pay!” Hence my surprise. I could have just as easily said “You technically don’t have to eat any more than is required to keep you from dying of starvation” or “You don’t have to sleep any more than would just technically prevent you from dying.” The fact is they were meant to illustrate my point, not to claim that these points were behaviors you engage with. Hence my surprise that you would respond to them with “but I do those things!”…I was never saying you didn’t.

    2. Sunny SideUp*

      And in relation to the ‘reference’ thing, I wrote before in my replies that I had direct confirmation by Meg that 1- fiance was the one who conducted her hiring interviews and made the decision to hire her, and 2- he did not check her references which would otherwise be company policy.

      1. Penny Lane*

        And the fact that Meg’s fiancé interviewed / hired her, and did not check her references, is simply not your business or concern. That’s the part I think you are having trouble hearing. He’s not your employee and it’s not your company. For all you know, Meg’s fiancé walks up to people on the street and offers them jobs. Whatever. It’s not your concern. If his management wishes to “punish” him for that, well, that’s his problem.

        1. Sunny SideUp*

          Yes Meg’s fiance can do whatever he pleases, just so long as he doesn’t sneak out a reference from me at a social event without telling me what it is… At which point it does relate to me.

          1. Louise*

            If it’s meg’s fiancé who did the thing you’re not cool with, why are you so determined to punish meg?

          2. Hiring Mgr*

            I want to work in a place where I can get a $1500 bonus for referring someone to myself to hire

          3. Penny Lane*

            Don’t you think he was fully aware of the situation and understood that you weren’t really going to say much / were going to be vague in your responses? It doesn’t sound as though he pushed you past any comfort level in giving specifics. It sounds like you were vague and he let it go. Please correct me if I’ve misinterpreted.

          4. Anonymous48*

            Sunny, I’m confused as to why you think he “snuck” a reference out of you. He asked about her work habits. You told him as much as you were comfortable telling him. Why does it matter to you what he did with that information, since you had already fired Jane?

            1. Traffic_Spiral*

              This. If he had signed your name to a document or something I would see the problem, but here? He asked a question and Sunny gave an answer. How is that “sneaking?” It’s not like he snuck into her office and read her file on Jane. Is she angry that she didn’t get the chance to sabotage Jane’s job options?

          5. Lynn*

            You seem weirdly focused on this “reference” – except you don’t know that it was a reference. For all you know, Jane was already working thereand he was curious for some reason. You also provide no basis for this focus. If he’d told you it was a reference check (making a huge assumption that it was), would you have given a bad reference? (Because if it would have been good, what does it matter.) Are you really that upset that you were denied the opportunity to torpedo your former employee’s job prospects?

  71. Tiger Snake*

    Reading through all your additional comments, I’m able to get a much better idea of what happened (thank you for that, by the way), but not why you are upset with Meg.
    Please take some time to ask yourself if you’re issue with actually with Meg’s fiancé. From the outside, it looks like you are projecting onto Meg because she’s someone you have some level of power and control over.

    Meg was friends with Jane, and then Jane was fired/no longer worked with Meg. That’s a completely normal thing to mention to your partner/future spouse. She followed your wishes; she didn’t discuss company or confidential information. The fact Jane no longer worked there wasn’t sensitive or a secret. She doesn’t seem to have gone around gossiping to everyone you know – or even her own fiancé – about the details that caused Jane’s unemployment, just that she no longer worked with there. She didn’t talk to you when Jane got a new job, because it didn’t actually impact you or your company. And once you did know the thing that Meg wasn’t talking about, you’re immediate feeling is that you no longer want to work with Meg, so seems like her decision to not talk about it was well-founded.

    What Meg’s fiancé did wasn’t cool. But Meg wasn’t the one who did that. So your issue with Meg reads like this:
    You asked Meg not to gossip about what caused Jane to get fired. And she didn’t.
    But you’re upset, because even though you said “Don’t talk about it”, you actually meant “Don’t talk about my stuff with Jane to other people, but absolutely tell me all the latest gossip.”

    Meanwhile, between these two events, Meg’s fiancé has found out that Jane doesn’t work for you anymore. It could have been a casual thing Meg mentioned when talking about her day, it could have been from Jane herself. The fiancé decides to ask you about it and about Jane’s performance, but that’s on him, not Meg. He is a completely separate person, and Meg isn’t responsible for his actions.

    If you feel like you can’t work with Meg, then you can’t work with Meg and you don’t have to rehire her. But don’t not rehire her just because it makes you feel good to have some retaliation or to ‘punish’ them.

    1. Sunny SideUp*

      I don’t follow you all the way here. Agreed I definitely think the fiance is sneaky, but I’m not driven by a desire to ‘punish’ Meg or ‘retaliate’ against her.
      Meg asked me on 2-3 occasions what happened with Jane and I declined to explain, saying I could not discuss this with her (I don’t remember if this was before or after the dinner incident). I asked Meg about Jane only once, months after she was let go, because I hoped Jane had turned her life around, and because I knew they were friends. At that point Meg told me “she’s doing good, she found a new job in a retail store”. OK, great! I did not comment further.
      My worries, in light of what happened after, were:
      – why did Meg and her fiance tried to get intel on what happened over a lengthy period of time, all the while making a conscious decision to tell me white lies about Jane’s new job?
      – can I trust Meg not to leak sensitive info (i.e. sales targets and reports she had daily access to) to Jane or her fiance, knowing that Jane now has a very similar position to the one she had in my company?
      The two are not related, and before knowing where Jane worked I never had reason to mistrust Meg, but when I learned this fact and put the timeline back together, I really had a bad feeling about this.

      1. Hmmm*

        Considering, how much you’re analyzing this situation, I can see why they would try to keep it quiet. All you have as evidence that they were “getting intel” “over a long period of time” is a conversation over dinner and her asking a few times at work. Which frankly, doesn’t seem unreasonable? Even if they were hoping to get info because her fiancé was going to hire Jane, so? They know they didn’t get an actual reference from you. They know she was fired, by you – of course your reference would not be good!

        I don’t understand why asking a few times why someone was fired, and having a fiancé ask about an employee, would indicate that they are untrustworthy bad individuals. I can see how it would be annoying *that a friend* wouldn’t be more straightforward, but as an employee, I don’t feel as if her behavior indicates she’s going to run off with company secrets. Is there something missing that would explain this leap?

        Either way, it sounds like you’re going to avoid hiring friends in the future, so hopefully things go better going forward! Good luck!

      2. Lynn*

        Your worries:
        1) Why did they try to get “intel” on what happened? – You already know why. Meg and Jane are friends. People are curious. Problems with Jane’s work weren’t apparent and Meg was concerned about also being fired. The fiance was hiring or had already hired Jane. Pick one. I can’t actually think of a reason for asking about Jane that’s bad for you unless you’re leaving out tons of information (like maybe Jane has reason to sue you).
        2) Can you trust Meg not to leak info? – Nothing has changed at all. Even absent Jane, her fiance was in this business; it’s crazy talk to say you’re more worried about her sharing info with Jane than with the fiance, unless you have again omitted tons of info. There is no reason to think helping Jane get a job indicates she will leak information, unless you think she was supposed to ensure Jane never again worked in retail to protect you due to that nonsense noncompete (am a lawyer, will call it nonsense).

        After reading the comments (so many excellent comments), I see that the comments are largely speculative regarding your motivations. Why? Because your letter provides no basis for any distrust or questioning of Meg AT ALL (even the story of the “weird” question from the fiance only says that the fiance asked you a seemingly odd question; nothing about Meg or her work). The fact that you think there is anything in this situation that is negative for your business and supports not rehiring her says things about YOU (none of them positive), but nothing about her or the situation.

        And not meaning to pile on, but your comments all suggest various reasons for your “distrust,” but they seem to change and they are very defensive. I’m not sure you even know why you’re thinking poorly of Meg (for no reason), but you need to figure it out, because it seems you have a serious issue with how you’re thinking of this situation.

      3. Penny Lane*

        But they didn’t get “try to get intel on what happened over a lengthy period of time.” Meg seemed to respect your (appropriate) desire not to discuss Jane’s firing. And obviously Meg (and by extension her fiancé) KNEW that Jane had been fired, so what intel was there, really? I mean, you don’t fire someone because you’re happy with their performance. OBVIOUSLY Meg’s fiancé knew you weren’t happy with Jane’s performance (else she wouldn’t have been fired) and OBVIOUSLY whatever interview he and/or his company had with her convinced them that she would be just fine in that role — which is fine, someone could be terrible at Job A/Company A but be just fine at Job B/Company B.

      4. Penny Lane*

        SunnySideUp, what could the fiance have said to you that you wouldn’t have thought sneaky?
        Did you explicitly want him to say — hey, there, Sunny, I’m thinking of hiring Jane for my open position – what was her performance like, are there any red flags you should be aware of? How would that have changed your position – and most importantly, what would you have said?

      5. Tiger Snake*

        The individual words of a comment don’t appear in isolation. You remember my first observation in my original comment, that it seemed like you were projecting onto Meg? What happens when you project issues to someone you do have power over? You try to punish them, intentionally or subconsciously. That’s where you get into the territory of “I’m not going to rehire her. I don’t have a real reason, just a feeling.”. When you can’t articulate a cause and reasons; that’s where you start to get projected vindictiveness.
        Ask yourself; why is your very first statement to argue that you aren’t trying to punish Meg when I’ve never accused you on being so, but instead something I explicitly highlight to be aware of and watch for? Why was that the part that grabbed your attention and needed to be counteracted?

        Like the other people here, I don’t agree that Meg or her fiancé have been trying to get intel. She asked “two or three times”, in your own words. That’s not a lot. Unless she asked every other day for weeks on end, I’m not seeing anything other than wanting to know what happened to a friend, because she couldn’t see the problems from her end and it didn’t make sense. Heck, she might have wondered if her own job was in jeopardy, and that she would need to start looking for new employment!

        Frankly, your concerns here don’t seem reasonable.

  72. Quake Johnson*

    I’d love to see an update on this letter…but written by Meg. Maybe we’d get the other side and find clarity somewhere in the middle.

  73. rolling*

    Maybe she’s just put out that someone who knew she had been fired would recommend her being hired anywhere else. Maybe she thinks it’s an indictment of her having fired her; she’s taking it personally.

  74. Sunny SideUp*

    Wow, this is going completely out of hand… Of course the situation is more nuanced than what I could express in a question than Alison recommends to keep under 200 words, but after having been called ‘unprofessional’, ‘defensive’, ‘control freak’, ‘catty’, ‘angry’ and so on, I am not comfortable with sharing any more details.

    I thought we established that my vocabulary is not 100% on point, and I also tried to dramatize a bit the question so it would be selected. The very fact that I’m asking the question while giving details in favour of both Jane and Meg should say something about at least ‘trying’ to be fair to them. I even candidly admitted than I’m not sure I would have reacted differently if Meg had been upfront with me.
    I was just trying to get an opinion from people out of my social circle, not inviting everyone to couch-analyse me or argue on contract terms they haven’t seen… But this comment will probably be distorted as well…

    I’ll choose to remember the commenters about mid-way through, who really understood my question. I think I’ve said everything I wanted to say in my previous replies, should have even stopped before but somehow got the impression that the last commenters were more friendly than they were. I guess some people forgot to read the “please be kind, stay on topic” advice before hitting the “submit” button.

    Signing out.

    1. Mad Baggins*

      I’m sorry you felt piled-onto. Everyone really appreciates when letter-writers provide details in the comments, and I think your details really helped many of us understand the issue better.

      That said, if I were in your shoes here is what I would take away from this:
      -Commenters read into every detail of the letter looking for clues. Dramatizing the details will not help them understand what you are trying to say.
      -People outside your social circle, who don’t know the people involved and the history behind the issue, are saying that they think your reaction is off base. That doesn’t mean that you are, it means that is how you appear. Hopefully this will inform your decision on what to do next. Best of luck.

    2. Jean Marie*

      OP, you seem to be getting very upset at people for taking you at your actual word rather than stretching to give you the benefit of the doubt.

      I absolutely acknowledge that a language barrier might mean you implied more than you meant to, but you have also stated that you deliberately dramatized parts and left out important details for space. Although you had the space for relatively irrelevant details like the fiance’s compensation.

      If you present a dramatized emotional version that obscures some of the facts, it is not the commentariats fault for responding to that version.

      I understand that it is probably very hard to read so many people vehemently disagreeing with you, but I would argue that this would be doing yourself a disservice by letting the natural emotional reaction (I’m being attacked!) lead you to discount the overwhelming opinion here, which, incidentally also involves you putting too much weight on your emotions.

      And if you do think it is generally best to give people the benefit of the doubt and credit them for good intentions if the situation allows for it, then perhaps you could extend that same courtesy to Meg and her fiancee.

      1. Leela*

        All this and OP, I know you said you were signing off but I’ll put it here because it’s important for everyone to remember: being kind doesn’t mean not giving criticism whether it’s warranted or not. I agree that it’s not easy to hear things like this, especially in the volume this comment section has right now, but there’s a difference between being unkind and saying things that one prefers not to hear. You looked for opinions from those outside your social circle and I believe you got those.

        I think that most problems are more nuanced than could be conveyed via a short letter, but all commenters have to go on is what they’re shown. If that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t ever comment on anything that’s here but we trust that the letter writer has given a factual but summarized account.

    3. Lisette*

      ” I also tried to dramatize a bit the question so it would be selected”

      Wow. Just, what? You were more concerned with getting your letter chosen than with accurately representing the situation. That’s… twisted.

      I think Meg has had a lucky escape getting away from working for you.

      1. Scarlet*

        Yeah, OP complains about being misunderstood but then admits to “dramatizing” the story and complains that their words are taken “literally”.

        I guess commenters are supposed to be psychic.

        1. serenity*

          This letter, and the subsequent comments, feel…I don’t know, icky to me. It feels like we were put in the place of asked to be cheerleaders for the OP’s emotions, and when people questioned details or pushed back, it turned out there were was some padding and mischaracterizations going on. I don’t like to pile on OPs, but this one feels misguided. Sorry.

    4. Trout 'Waver*


      You’re still accusing Meg of not being upfront, which is unfair given your reaction.

      And it’s disingenuous to say people who disagree with you didn’t really understand your question.

  75. Kitty*

    I mean, it was pretty odd of the fiance to do a “sneaky” reference check via that conversation, but I don’t see any “betrayal” here. Unless you expect current employees to cut contact with fired employees?

  76. Mr. Cholmondley-Warner*

    Huh? Nobody did anything wrong here. You fired Jane; she got a job somewhere else. It’s none of your business

  77. Nox*

    I don’t respect orgs who threaten employees with nonsense non compete agreements that attempt to harm people’s right to make a fair wage.

    I also feel life is too short to process things so personally and it’s very immature to immediately consider not rehiring a person on such silly grounds. I would probably have put you on supervised corrective action for a while to ensure your hiring and firing reasons are sound because I wouldn’t trust your ability to make sound decisions on personel matters if you’re willing to let someone go cause your feelings got hurt.

  78. minuteye*

    The only way I could see this being underhanded or unethical in some way, is if you have reason to believe that you were officially used as a reference without being explicitly asked.

    If the fiance’s company obligatorily checks references, and the fiance just ignored that requirement, that’s their problem. However, if the fiance “got around” that requirement by informally talking to the LW in the guise of a social event, and then marked down on the appropriate form: “Oh yeah, I talked to Jane’s reference, LW”, then that would be a breach of trust, since the LW never agreed to be a reference for Jane, and wasn’t asked directly to give a reference by the fiance.

    It that’s the LW’s suspicion, then there *might* be something of concern to discuss (in terms of, if you think you’ve been put down as vouching for someone who’s work you do not trust, your reputation may be on the line if they perform badly). Barring that (and it’s a stretch to interpret the letter that way, I admit), there’s nothing to be upset about.

    1. Leela*

      This is a good point and one that I didn’t consider! From the writing that wasn’t put forward but professional word does matter, if that’s what LW was concerned about.

  79. EvanMax*

    This letter reads to me as though the firing of Jane was intended to be punitive, not just the best solution to the work issues, and the fact that Meg helped Jane find a job in the wake of it reduces the punishment, therefore she is going against the Letter Writer.

    If this is the case, then I hope that Meg finds a better work environment, because any boos who think it is their job to create lasting detrimental situations in people’s lives that they are unable to move-on from is not a boss that one should work for.

  80. TheBeetsMotel*

    Had to re-read this because I figured I must have skipped over the part where there was actually an issue…

    OP, once someone leaves your employ, their decisions regarding their future work life are none of your business (real, enforceable non-competes or outright lies that harm your professional reputation notwithstanding). Let this go.

  81. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #1 – I’ll probably be told “play nice” but I have to be realistic here. Employee (Jane) gets fired. It happens.

    The now former employee , Jane, needs a job. Remaining employee, Meg, helps her in that effort. Jane lands a job. All is well.

    Welcome to the working world; this happens all the time. Networking is a major part of the working world. And sometimes a fired employee, with help from friends, is better off.

    The fact that OP is expressing resentment because Meg helped her friend out without saying anything – now OP wonders should I hire Meg back when she returns? Why is this even a QUESTION?

    I sense a little bit of an ego problem on OP’s part. And if OP wants to be effective in managing, she has to get over it. People will help their friends out. And someday, OP may need a friend.

  82. Storie*

    Am I the only one curious why Jane was fired?
    If there was something terrible there (theft, dishonesty, crazy behavior), then maybe I could understand why OP would be invested in knowing where she works now and maybe to protect her friends.

    Otherwise, I’d say it’s not any of your biz.

    1. Lorna D*

      To be completely honest I was fine believing that there was no reason to suspect OP and take the question at face value. But given the responses here, I feel that I have a ton of questions about her judgement all around

    2. CanCan*

      Is OP perhaps feeling regretful that they revealed more than they intended to when discussing Jane with Meg’s fiance? The conversation was in the context “how to manage employees” but turned out to be about Jane. Instead of answering the questions about Jane with “I’d rather not discuss specifics about a former employee,” the OP told them what steps she took before hiring her.

      The armchair psychologist in me thinks that the OP is not willing to admit that what she tells somebody is entirely up to her, and s/he has no control over how others use that information (absent an explicit promise not to use it in particular ways – e.g. not to disclose to others).

  83. boop the first*

    There must be more to this story! Even with the “explanation” as to why OP feels like they were an unwitting character in a secret plot, you have to realize that what this letter is, is a story of someone who has decided to sabotage a person’s livelihood over high school drama.

    You want Meg to be deported, since you also don’t think she should be able to find work elsewhere in her field either. Her existence in your country depends on her job and I assume she doesn’t even know she’s screwed yet? Nevermind the effect on their relationship having one spouse exiled overseas.

    Of COURSE, I don’t think that you should bear any responsibility to any of that, but this is a hell of a retaliation to perform against an innocent person in the name of personal insecurities. At least give her some warning.

    1. An On*

      Your deportation comment is pretty over the top. OP said nothing about wanting Meg to be deported and in an earlier comment mentioned that if Meg really needed the job OP would have re-hire Meg.

      OP mentioned Meg’s on a work-holiday visa and from my understanding being unemployed is generally not an issue on that type of visa.

  84. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Amen, Wintermute.

    As I said in some earlier discussions (other threads) , I was about to be fired from a place; well, I was on probation / PIP, I guess – and found another job – large raise, higher position, what I REALLY wanted… and after I refused to discuss counter-offer (yes – you read that right – I was in trouble but they wanted me to stay)… they were, actually, childish toward me in my last week.

    And the resentment was – I was the “bad boy”, the “evil one” – and – I was moving on to bigger and better things. They weren’t angry that I was leaving BUT they were angry because I was going to a much better situation.

    Envious? Uh, well….

  85. Penelope*

    This is like dumping a person and then getting pissed when they start dating someone else.

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