my manager and a coworker had sex in his office, loudly

A reader writews:

If you’re going for your WTF square on your work bingo card, here you go.

I work for a small company. When I got this job last year, I didn’t work for my current manager. “Bill” got promoted and my boss, who I respected, left and Bill took her place. Bill has been secretly dating a staff member for months. I could write a dissertation on how unprofessional they are about their relationship, from Kelly giving people orders, to Bill letting her do basically whatever she wants. Bill’s office is right next to mine and last week Kelly went in and shut the door after giving me a theatrical wink. The next ten minutes were some of the most explicit things I’ve heard at work. My other coworkers were also disgusted and we’ve already reported it as a group.

What bothers me is that we are an at-will work state and our company contract states that we can be fired for falsifying information or spreading “gossip” regardless of if it’s true. It’s almost an anti-whistleblower clause.

Can they fire me for reporting this?

No, they cannot! Not legally, at least.

The law protects people who make good-faith reports of sexual harassment or discrimination, even if an investigation later reveals they were wrong about what they reported. As long as you reported in good faith, the law doesn’t allow you to be disciplined or fired or otherwise retaliated against for making the report.

The reason for that law is because without it, people would be much more hesitant to report harassment and discrimination. They’d worry they needed to be 100% sure and able to prove the behavior — which is a very high bar, especially for people who don’t have the standing to do that kind of investigation. A good company wants people to report this kind of thing, period.

A lawyer might be interested in seeing the exact wording in your company’s policy on spreading “gossip” because there’s a decent chance that it also runs afoul of federal laws protecting employees’ right to talk to each other about wages and working conditions. (Caveat: That particular protection only applies to non-supervisory employees. The one about good-faith reporting applies to everyone working at companies with 15 or more employees.)

So legally, you should be on solid ground. That doesn’t mean your company won’t try to violate the law; that’s certainly not unheard of, so it would be smart for you to be prepared to highlight the law on this for them.

But I’d also be surprised if your company tried to fire you and your coworkers for reporting this. Stranger things have happened, yes, but in general even most poorly run companies don’t want people having sex at work (especially managers and people who report to them) … and even if they don’t care about that, they won’t usually try to fire people for reporting it (and doubly so when multiple people reported it).

{ 269 comments… read them below }

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      This is an excellent point. OP, the company promoted Bill and hasn’t given you any indication they think there’s a problem with his management-by-Kelly-bonking. If a new broom manager doesn’t sweep into your office next week, I would consider looking for somewhere with less overt drama.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        It’s a small company that thought Bill was worth promoting. I think OP would be well served by starting to job search.

        1. irene adler*

          Getting a new job is lots easier said than done- at least for me that’s the case.

          Four years and counting on my job search. Tryin’ to get away from small company shenanigans. And bullying managers. And some world-class whiners. And tiny paychecks. And fewer and fewer benefits. And bosses who just cannot fathom what you do. And… hate to think what’s next.

          1. Magenta Sky*

            While you are entirely correct, the one way to guaranteed failure in a job hunt is to never start.

          2. AnnaBananna*

            You need a good head hunter. Four years? I wouldn’t have the patience for that before I melted my 401k early and just moved to Bali or something.

          3. Traffic_Spiral*

            Yes, but I’d still be trying. For one thing, s/he might get fired because of this and have to job search anyways, so might as well get an early start.

        2. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

          Yes, OP said that the affair has been going for a few months and they are not being discreet about it, so I assume people high up know. Of course, I would not advocate for leaving on the spot, but it’s worth keeping eyes open. Especially if OP really ends up being pushed out, or somehow retaliated against.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes. If the OP is otherwise reasonably happy there, it’s not weird to first try to address it — or decide to stay even if it’s not addressed. People have all sorts of reasons for staying in jobs with problems attached — a good salary, an easy commute, interesting work, a need to fix a job history that hasn’t been stable, a lot of trouble finding a job last time, etc.

        It’s easy from the outside to jump quickly to “you should leave” but it’s often perfectly reasonable for people to choose to stay where they are.

          1. Close Bracket*

            So, obviously, I don’t think leaving is the first thing OP should jump to. If OP wants to leave, though, it’s not bc OP has to leave. That’s not a constructive framing. “Why should I have to leave if I’m not the one doing anything wrong?” just sets you up for nose cutting and face spiting. If HR/higher ups do nothing and OP happens to be tripping through the job forest at harvest time, then OP might do well to leave *even though they have done nothing wrong.*

        1. ASW*

          Agreed. My current employer has lots of dysfunction, but I have zero plans to leave. The pay is well above similar jobs in my area, the commute is great, the benefits are fantastic, and I like the work I do. Plus, the majority of the dysfunctional people are at or close to retirement age. At lot of this dysfunction stems from having a lot of very long-term employees (20-40 years) and they are fond of the “this is how it’s always been done” mindset. I think things will improve once many of them retire. Why should I give up an otherwise great job when they’ll be gone in the next five years? I’m better off waiting them out.

          1. Is it Friday yet?*

            I had a similar situation at my previous employer. I was paid WELL above market rate, and I can only imagine it was because of the massive amounts of BS and dysfunction I had to tolerate.

          2. It's mce*

            Same. I work with some jerks and there is always a communications issue, but the flexibility in scheduling and steady pay is why I stay.

          3. TardyTardis*

            I wasn’t paid that much, but the benefits were magnificent for our area, and my husband had cancer. Was not ready to risk an interruption of treatment even with the problems. So I sat it out for early retirement.

      3. Alton*

        Yeah, and it’s hard to know if this is indicative of a larger cultural problem at the workplace without more info. Sometimes unprofessional or unethical behavior continues because the people who have the ability to do something about it don’t witness it.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Considering the office will fire you for “gossip” AND they are okay with a manager bonking a subordinate IN THE OFFICE, I would say there’s a cultural problem.

          Never hurts to do a soft job search in cases like this. Especially if one is worried about getting fired.

        1. darsynia*

          Agreed! It reminds me of the legaladvice subreddit, where ‘what are your DAMAGES???’ features far too prominently (and sometimes incorrectly) for my liking.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            I don’t read legaladvice, but I gotta say, asking “what are your damages” is often very on point for questions from people outside the field. The question often is “Can I sue for this?” and the answer is “You can sue for anything.” If “but you won’t win this one” naturally follows, it should be stated out loud. Similarly with “but even if you win, your damages are insignificant.” Then, if necessary, follow that with a discussion of the difference between paying a lawyer his hourly rate versus on contingency. There is a lot of sheer fantasy floating out there about huge judgments for nothing. Many people simply don’t think of lawsuits in terms of being made whole for damages incurred.

        2. EventPlannerGal*

          Agreed. “Quit your job!” is not a solution to every problem – like, why even write to Alison at all, then? Why try to resolve workplace issues? Why are we all even commenting here? Just quit your job! Who cares!

        3. aebhel*

          Yeah, they don’t exactly grow on trees, and the number of people who have desirable enough skills to just hop into another well-paying job at the drop of a hat is very low.

          1. Arachnid Admin*

            True that. I tried for two years to find a better-paying admin job with benefits and got nowhere (I’m about to turn 60, which is a whole other vein of problems) until I elected to look 400 miles away and in a different field. Job is still low-paying, but I have benefits and job security, and the COL is less. Certain job categories are drying up with AI and automation and age discrimination seems to be present at younger and younger ages.

            1. TardyTardis*

              The same people who want us to work till we’re 70 are the same people who won’t hire us after age 50.

    2. Laurelma01*

      If I thought I could do it without being caught, I would tape the sounds of them having sex, email it to Bill’s supervisor, HR, and cc the two individuals screwing around.

  1. Dr. Bom*

    That’s ten pounds of yikes in a five-pound bag. That theatrical wink is just the icing on the cake though. Run, don’t walk, as soon as you can.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I think it’s a common thing with work affairs–to assume that the coworkers are vicariously thrilled to be drawn into your sexy, sexy duck clubbings when they are desperately trying to convey that every iota of this is TMI.

      The flip side being the people who believe their office tryst is undetectable, and so the only way the office could know is next-level CIA drones, when they are in fact obvious to passing water jug replacers.

      1. Facepalm*

        My son has taken an interest in hockey, and so I decided to introduce him to The Mighty Ducks. I haven’t seen that movie in 25 years or so, and I almost lost my $hit when all the kids and the coach start going, Quack. Quack. QUACK at the other team. Thanks, AAM!

      2. Miss Fisher*

        We had one of those at work. They tried to be so discreet, but everyone knew. The way she would lean over him etc. It was too obvious.

        1. Veronica*

          I think people pick up on the body language and vibe, even if it’s only feelings and they haven’t done anything.
          In this case it would be even more so!

      3. annakarina1*

        Now that makes it sound as if the participants think they are starring in their own erotic thriller and are winking at the blah extras sitting at cubicles staring at them gap-mouthed at their sexy wanton thrills or whatever.

        1. Anonymouse*

          I see an erotic novel, written on company time, based on true events, in the next cubicle.

          Or, sweetly suggest to company management that they install security cameras for, well, security.

    2. MechanicalPencil*

      Nice Leverage reference.

      If you can, OP, I would hightail your way to a new job. If Bob was promoted to a new position, that doesn’t bode well for the rest of the company. I know small companies have their quirks, but this is beyond the pale.

  2. The Original K.*


    … I really don’t have much else to contribute, other than that I might start putting out some feelers and brushing up my resume, because I wouldn’t be able to look Bill in the eye (to say nothing of how improper it is for Bill to be managing someone he’s sleeping with). The fact that Kelly gave you a knowing wink is the icing on the cake. “BRB, about to bang my boss!” Dude.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      This happened to my mom at one of her old jobs, except it was her manager (woman) sleeping with the big boss (man). My mom’s cubicle was right outside of her boss’s office and one day – when my mom brought me and my brother to work with her on a weekend because she had extra work to do and no sitter – we saw big boss go into her boss’s office, close the door and blinds, and then heard her manager’s sighs of pleasure through the walls. We looked over and saw their shadows intertwined atop her desk (apparently, they didn’t account for the sun shining in through the boss’s window and creating said shadows on the blinds), and my mom was pissed! LOL. I was sitting right there next to the boss’s office! My little brother was like, “What are they doing, mom?”

      My mom was furious, but I don’t know if she ever reported it. What was worse was that my mom was friendly with her boss’s husband, so she was also livid on his behalf. I have to go ask her what happened to this lady because this is hilarious and gross all at the same time, lol.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I’m crying inside.

        Before my time, a former exec was caught up in an affair with a middle manager. Twist. The execs husband frigging worked downstairs. So they’d literally be cheating right over his head as he was doing his GD job.

        Everyone else in the company knew, except for ownership because they’re offsite and nobody felt like they could tel anyone, since the exec was a tyrant who hired people who had a hard time getting jobs without some “mercy” from the hiring person was involved. [Spotty resumes, spotty criminal records kind of at-risk folks].

        At least there was no way for shadows involved or any noises that anyone reported, just that they knew what was going on when the door was closed.

      2. The Original K.*

        Call her right now!

        … I guess the thrill of getting caught is part of the appeal? I worked somewhere where a VP & director were rumored to be having an affair (they were both married to others when I was there). They are now married to each other (I’m connected to her on LinkedIn & she changed her last name), and I think they still work there. No idea if they ever got busy in the office, thank God.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Sadly, I sent a text for a status update to my mom, and she doesn’t remember what happened to her boss after this. She also went off on another tirade about how disrespectful that woman was, and it happened over 20 years ago, lol.

          My mom’s company was bought out a few years later, and her boss didn’t move out to the new location when we relocated, so I imagine the old boss and big boss were both laid off after the acquisition.

      3. Madeleine Matilda*

        At Old Job the CEO had an affair with Senior VP who was married to the Deputy CEO. They all worked together everyday and the CEO and Senior VP, who oversaw my division, frequently “met” in her office. Eventually Senior VP and her Deputy CEO husband divorced and she married the CEO. She left for another job, CEO and Deputy CEO worked together until Deputy retired. As far as I know CEO and Senior VP are still married. The worse part was that senior VP wielded a lot of power beyond her position and no one would challenge her because of who she was in relationships with.

    2. Rae*

      Because I have the sense of humor of a 10 year old, as soon as I read “putting out some feelers” I may or may not have started giggling uncontrollably.

    3. JokeyJules*

      I feel like the knowing wink is what would make me lean towards it being sexual harassment. Kelly knew what she was about to do, and she wanted to bring your attention to her sexual actions about to happen (and then LOUDLY happening). That feels a bit like voyeurism to me.

      1. AKchic*

        That was one of my thoughts too.

        I mean, we could all play the obvious “yeah, we all know they are dating, but as long as they aren’t playing grab @$$ in the office, I don’t care” routine, but winking and being obviously loud is one of those things that makes you think that they want everyone to know. They have defecated on the living room floor and they want everyone to not only see it, but to bask in the aroma and tell them they are good puppies.

  3. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

    The theatrical wink!! Good lord, they’re not even trying to hide it.

    1. irene adler*


      I have a friend who, years ago, was caught ‘between two lovers’. His boss was dating his direct report. Made no secret of this activity. So when my friend give his report her assignments, she’d hand them back with “that’s not what he wants you to do.” And he was stuck cuz he knew he couldn’t go to his boss and complain about his report. So he just did the work himself.
      And yes, he got out of there.
      NB: the report sued the company for sexual harassment after the relationship ended with the boss.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        NB: Lots of affairs happen because the subordinate feels they can’t say no, which is, oddly enough, sexual harassment.

    2. MistOrMister*

      I think any kind of wink, smirk, quack, condom waving, etc was going to he over the top and inappropriate given this situation. :)

      1. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

        Good thing that I read this while at home, because “condom waving” in the office made me LOL while cringing :) I suddenly feel grateful for all my coworkers.

  4. HarvestKaleSlaw*

    Okay, so… #1: gross.

    #2: The theatrical wink and the loud noises? Your entire office was just nonconsensually made a part of these people’s lame exhibitionist sex games. Do these jerks not know about Craigslist?

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      This struck me too: it throws it into “bringing other people into your sex life without their consent” which is at best unacceptably rude.

    2. Beanie*

      Random fact, Craigslist did away with their personal ads. But totally agree, it’s not right to bring it in the office, and HR or someone needs to be looped in immediately. Geez Louise.

    1. Snuck*

      I think if someone in this situation winked at me like that again in future… I’d raise an eyebrow and get my handbag and just walk off…

      I’d report it to HR if that was sensible… and the risk of me reporting it would increase dramatically if there was a second time… I’m not really in the ‘I care about this’ club, so long as it didn’t disturb anyone else, and I wouldn’t be massively disturbed personally (it’s gross, and tells me THEY are gross… but … I’d be mentally packing my bags to leave probably, and if I wasn’t and this was the only annoyance… I’d politely take it up with my boss – Bill – at an appropriate time later “Hey Bill, a few days ago Kelly was in here and you guys made enough noise that the water delivery guys could hear it… maybe next time would you like me to book you a hotel?” Assuming that I was the personal assistant … skeevy is gonna skeeve, do it elsewhere is the insinuation). I know that puts me a bit in the minority… but I’d want to tackle the power imbalance stuff more.. if that was really grating and causing issues.. I might use the office shenanigans as a way to escalate with HR/prove it… but usually I’ve found it far far better to stay WAY out of this stuff. People this… theatrical… in their interpersonal dramas usually implode with a lot of shrapnel. The best way I’ve found to deal with this is NOT to get involved in wider circle discussions about it, stay out of the group chat… and target your message specifically to the people who can make a difference. That’s probably Bill, or HR. Kelly clearly doesn’t think she’s an issue… Bill might not realise how Kelly is acting outside of the office… if he does… then HR is your best bet.

      But… I’d tackle it from a professional boundaries perspective “There’s a lot of confusion in the roles in our office, compounded by an unprofessionally close relationship IN THE OFFICE between Bill and Kelly. Kelly seems to believe she can tell members of staff not in her line of command to change their priorities for the day, and also frequently cannot be found for meetings/client interactions or phone calls as she is out of the office and we aren’t sure where for most of the day. She also regularly asks other staff to complete work that is her role, placing extra pressure on the team around her.” …. address it that way and then it’s not “She’s sleeping with the boss” it is “She isn’t doing her work properly”…. does that make sense? Then the whole sleeping with the boss thing… let the others get into that. If you are asked “Why do you say it’s an unprofessionally close relationship in the office?” You can then say “Well… it’s fairly clear that there’s been an ongoing personal relationship between Bill and Kelly, which I first noticed x months ago when I saw them standing close to each other and touching each other in ways they don’t interact with other staff, but more recently there has been incidents where Kelly has indicated to me with a wink that she is going into Bill’s office, and then behind doors I’ve heard them being very passionate with each other. I haven’t wanted to get drawn into their personal relationship though.” And… that way… you aren’t as much a target when the disaster strikes…

  5. Jake*

    Yeah, viewing the company in the BEST light possible, the instructions around gossip are meant to stop harassment and inappropriately sexualized workplaces. If your management is at all sane (aside from Bob obviously), then reporting this will be doing exactly what that gossip rule is meant to address.

    1. Zip Silver*

      Yep, I would think that the intention of the gossip policy is to prevent bullying and that sort of thing. Several people witnessing her enter the office, then hearing them have sex, the reporting it up the chain isn’t gossip.

      1. valentine*

        reporting it up the chain isn’t gossip.
        It might be, but the clause at least covers discussing it amongst themselves, which they probably did before reporting. (Unless they moved silently as one, like the Georgetown theatergoers after the premiere of The Exorcist.

        And if anyone reported the relationship before this incident and HR has done nothing, I wouldn’t be surprised if OP et al. are the ones in trouble.

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          I’m curious as to how you think reporting the incident to HR, which OP witnessed first hand, could be considered gossip?

    2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      Yeah, I was going to say, I have worked at gossipy places. And people would gossip about anything! “Did you hear Fergus got written up last week for using the F-word where a customer could hear it? I heard that Kelly’s been out because she had a seizure during her shift at front desk! Tara had to call CPS on Amanda in the 7s group’s mom because Amanda had a giant bruise across the face and wouldn’t tell us how she got it! I was copying out a completion certificate for sexual harassment training and on the printer I found four corrective action forms for Justin, do you think he’s going to be fired? John is taking his paternity leave in weird chunks, I bet he is job hunting.”

      All of these situations would be true: none of them are information that should have been shared publicly.

      1. Not Sayin'*

        In my office, every one of these “stories” would be inventions, based on tiny little bits of “evidence” and creatively embellished until it had no relation to the truth whatsoever other than we all work for the same company.

  6. Aphrodite*

    It’s going to get worse. I know you think it probably can’t, but will happen when they (likely) break up? Believe me, it will get much worse. One or both will demand you take sides, each will probably talk nastily about the other, there will be divide-and-conquer games. It’s not looking good for any improvement.

    1. Trying a New Name*

      OP, please send in an update!!! I really hope Bill and Kelly get fired, but who knows?

    2. AndersonDarling*

      Hopefully, they will both be asked to leave if not fired immediately. The romance is one thing, but romancing loudly in the office is another thing. Leadership would have to be completely incompetent to let that slide.
      But, even after they are terminated, there will still be consequences for the company when the two break up. Even if everything was completely consensual, this is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

  7. Becky*

    Also–there is a very big difference between reporting an inappropriate relationship between a boss and subordinate through appropriate channels and “gossip”.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I really wonder about this. Not about your statement, for that I agree. But it’s strange appearance in the handbook. WHY is it spelled out? Because this is the MO for management and they want to confuse and scare staff into keeping quiet? OP’s original manager left. Wonder why. Was Bill already involved with Kelly? Was Kelly instrumental in Bill’s moving up? So many questions!

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        I kind of get why it would be spelled out in a handbook, because spreading rumors and gossiping in the office leads to many problems, and can be considered harassment and/or bullying. But it’s something that could be very hard to prove, and a little subjective, so it seems pointless.

  8. A Simple Narwhal*

    “If you’re going for your WTF square on your work bingo card, here you go.”

    Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeees this office is full of bees get out

      1. Facepalm*

        Same. You could put on your bee suit, go about your day, and the bees wouldn’t WINK AT YOU on their way to bang the boss

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          IDK… bees are kinda slutty what with their fertilizing flowers and honey-making…

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          If Kelly was a bee, she’d just buzz in your ear before zooming off to bang the boss, lbr.

          1. wittyrepartee*

            If Kelly was a bee, she’d be asexual and could get shut out of the colony for not being productive enough.

            1. Jamie*

              And now I need to google the sex life of bees when I get home. Thank you for my new weird quest for knowledge!

              1. Quill*

                Essentially, the queen and the drones are the only ones who QUACK. Everybody else just gathers nectar and pollen and cares for the queen’s million offspring until they can work.

              2. Oranges*

                The queen bee is the only one who lays eggs. She is in the middle of the hive and is to be protected at all costs.

                The worker bees are all female and are pretty much asexual. They don’t exhibit any mating behaviors and they literally work themselves to death getting pollen. In most(?) hives they are also responsible for the queen’s eggs/offspring.

                The drones are the male bees. They have sex with the queen bee and are pampered. No work for them (besides bed work). They get tossed out of the hive in fall since they’re dead weight.

            2. knead me seymour*

              Although if the boss is the queen bee in this scenario, that would make Kelly a drone, I suppose. I can imagine a drone doing the bee equivalent of a theatrical wink at one of the worker bees.

              1. Red Wheelbarrow*

                But then Kelly would just get pushed outside to starve after she’d finished mating, which is brutal but gets the job done.

                1. Oranges*

                  I love the reproductive lifes of other animals. There are so many different mating strategies out there and they’re all fascinating. Bees are brutal indeed.

                  My favorite is the Kangaroo just because they can pause their pregnancy. So cool.

            3. Oranges*

              She’d only have a 2 week life span because she’d literally work herself to death. (If I’m remembering my bee facts correctly).

              Kelly is obvs not a worker bee. I’d go for drone (swapping the genders).

    1. Person of Interest*

      Ok I know this isn’t a thing anymore but since the OP said it: shout-out to WTF Wednesday!

  9. Phony Genius*

    If this is a small company, it’s hard to imagine that people in charge don’t know that this is going on. The letter says they’ve already reported it, but since it is silent about how management responded, I am assuming that no action has been taken as of yet. It’s starting to sound like they don’t care. Or worse.

    1. Lynca*

      Depends. I could see an operation where other management is remote or is oblivious not expressly knowing the day to day issues if someone didn’t speak up. But the fact the OP is worried about retaliation doesn’t bode well for that.

    2. irene adler*

      But what can HR actually do? Tell them to ‘cut it out’? Terminate both Bill and Kelly- even if they both deny that anything inappropriate is going on? After all, HR didn’t personally witness the event.
      Maybe this is another situation where the complaint has to be in writing before HR can terminate Kelly and/or Bill?

      One time, I submitted a complaint that a director was harassing a lab tech. They would spend hours in conversation, in the lab. He’d give her shoulder massages, engage in inappropriate conversation. When the director would leave the lab, the tech would complain about how she can’t stand the director, he’s impeding her ability to get the work done, etc.
      I wrote all this down with as many details as I could in a complaint and submitted it to management (no HR dept here).
      Nothing was ever done. The director continued to spend his days in the lab conversing with, and massaging, the lab tech.

      Much later I was told that the lab tech denied everything single thing I’d written into the complaint. So they could do nothing.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        boss sleeping with subordinate is reason for action on harassment grounds. Gross misconduct and the like.

      2. Myrin*

        That’s such artificially helpless bullcrap. Of course they can do something! If someone could only ever be punished for something if they confess to said Thing, only a very small number of criminals would actually be in jail. Your management completely dropped the ball here – they should’ve investigated on their own, starting by most importantly speaking to the lab tech to whom this actually pertained, and then formed their own opinion, not shrug their shoulders like poor little puppets on strings. Sheesh.
        (You’re awesome for doing this for your lab tech, though, even if it proved fruitless in the end.)

        1. Mirve*

          It was the lab tech that denied everything. Not much can be done if the person transgressed against is not willing to cooperate.

          1. irene adler*

            So by the same token, if in the OP’s case, Kelly denies that any inappropriate activity is going on, is HR unable to take action?

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              The OP and coworkers are the complainants here, not Kelly. Kelly and the boss are the ones victimizing them all.

              So it doesn’t matter if Bill and Kelly lie through their faces. HR has to still figure out where they fall in the “They said vs They Said”. We are able to make these decisions over who to believe. An office full of people who have no reason to lie or two people who are found to be engaged in inappropriate public acts.

              They could then go back and see what else Kelly and Bill have on their records that work against their credibility. Verses why the whole office would lie about them, which is pretty unreasonable in most situations [sure, people get set up and there are witch hunts but those are incredibly rare].

          2. Anna*

            If those interactions make YOU feel uncomfortable, you can speak for yourself. “I see this, this makes me uncomfortable.” Even if the lab tech denies it, it shouldn’t have stopped there. “Oops, they denied it! (throw hands in air)” is not ever going to protect a company from liability.

            1. Roverandom*

              Yeah, I would imagine many victims of harassment would deny that their boss treated them inappropriately if they thought they’d be retaliated against and nothing done. Victim/subject denying it shouldn’t mean HR’s hands are tied. After all, witnesses are also seeing someone being harassed, seeing favorable treatment and inappropriate behavior in the workplace, etc. so HR has a duty to see that stopped regardless of what the victim/harasser says.

        2. SimplyTheBest*

          It looks like they did talk to lab tech who denied everything irene adler said (according to her last line). That does make things more difficult.

        3. Myrin*

          Oh my, I see now that I totally missed the crucial information of who denied everything – in that case, disregard, disregard, move along, nothing to see here. *hides in embarrassment*
          (Don’t disregard that you did a good deed there, though!)

        4. Yorick*

          Maybe this is too off-topic, but the vast majority of criminal convictions come from a guilty plea.

      3. Jessie the First (or second)*

        HR does not need to personally witness anything. They don’t even need a confession or details from either half of the couple. Whether they *want* to do something is another matter entirely – but they absolutely *can.* OP’s complaint and any interview they have with OP would be part of their evidence. They are ‘allowed’ to choose to believe OP. And this is weird enough/inappropriate enough that they might actually so something.

      4. Batgirl*

        Personally witness? Yeah I’ve never heard of that. Even courts of law don’t need the judge and jury to do a first hand ‘see it for myself’ investigation. The witnesses currently consist of…the entire office. They’re fine on the witness front. The only remaining question is: is this a place of business? If so, they will get rid of anyone misusing management power to host a third rate porno to a non consenting audirnce before they end up in legal hot water, lose all their good employees and yet more time and money.

  10. Sharkie*

    Oh Dear God. Why.

    OP I think you will be ok. Since there were other ears hearing what is going on , and you reported as a group, they would have to let go of all of you for spreading the gossip.

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      And especially if it was reported as:
      “I can’t do my job, because Bill and Kelly were getting it on in his office during the middle of the day. It was so loud I couldn’t make phone calls to customers.”
      “I can’t do my job because Kelly contradicts what Bill tells me to do.”

      Get past the basic “ick” factor and on to “this is bad in concrete ways to the business”

      1. valentine*

        they would have to let go of all of you for spreading the gossip.
        They can fire one as a warning, or just threaten to.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yeah they can fire anyone they want. I’d love to see them try to hold up an “anti-gossip/anti-reporting hostile work environment acts” clause though. BOLI would eat their faces for lunch and the inmates would own the prison afterwards.

        2. Sharkie*

          I would love to be the unemployment case handler who got that case. “why were you let go?” “I reported a manager and one of his reports having sex during work hours. The report violated our gossip clause”

          Also, it sets the company up for a huge lawsuit.

          1. MechanicalPencil*

            I’d like the think the case handler hadn’t heard that one before, but having read AAM for a while, I erm…sort of doubt it.

      2. MistOrMister*

        I’m now picturing someone calling clients during this period of lustiness and, when they asked what was going on in the background saying matter of factltly, “oh, that’s just the boss and one of his subordinates making sexy times. Anywho, about that Johnson acount…” Hahahaha! Can’t get in trouble with HR as it’s not gossip if someone asks what is going on right in front of you!

    2. Yorick*

      If everybody witnessed the same event, they didn’t have to gossip about it to go report it as a group.

  11. Flash*

    If you want to know what is going on, make friends with the maintenance, security and secreterial staff. A security guard was making weekend rounds and caught folks behaving inappropriately more than once.

    1. Junior Assistant Peon*

      Back in the day before companies all outsourced their janitors, the cleaning crew used to know all the gossip because they’d walk in on people in conference rooms after hours.

    2. Marika*

      When I went to university, my father (a professor himself) told me that being polite and respectful of the cleaning staff, the secretaries, the security guards and the libraians could save you. Between them, they controlled access to everything and knew every single detail that could sink you.

      Twenty four years later (holy crap, how did THAT happen?!), it might still be some of his very best advice… And that’s saying something; my dad gives great advice!

      1. Quill*

        I was in the same dorm 4 years and my cleaning ladies were the best.

        … even after someone sprouted a whole dog-gam pea plant in the sink.

    1. Close Bracket*

      How did you jump from “two people are inappropriately acting on their workplace romance” to “Kelly is sleeping her way to success?”

      1. Lady Blerd*

        Exactly, I don’t get this at all. My guess is OP’s higher ups will ignore this if it doesn’t affect their bottom line.

      2. Snuck*

        I wonder whether… there’s a lot of power imbalance and strutting about going on…

        I’ve, in the past, worked with a person like Kelly… she was amazingly awful… and it was absolutely ‘sleeping with the boss for advancement’ and yes, HR didn’t do anything about it (even in a massive corporate, given how senior we all were). She would do things like wear a mini skirt for interviews for promotions with this manager, and then change back into working slacks for the rest of the day (we were all suit wearers, there was ZERO need to change, except she’d do it in her glass walled office, blouse and skirt change for slacks and different blouse, metres from his)…. it was… awful… for the other women in the area, particularly because it was a male dominated, rather misogynistic culture already. She had followed this boss through several cities and promotions, and it was blatant. They both had other partners… which made it even harder to stomach…

        As soon as I hear of things like this I am quickly shot back to that woman. Most people know not to be so disgustingly flagrant about it all… so when they are… they are making another kind of statement… it’s a power grab of some kind… and an‘I am untouchable’ announcement. It’s peeing on trees.

        Is this slut shaming? I don’t know… what’s the definition of a slut? Many partners… We have no evidence of that.

        If a man winked at the OP and then went and had loud office sex with a female boss (or a male boss!) … would that make it different? Nah. No Gender issues at play here for me, this is about sex and power and cock strutting in the office… regardless of if they are women or men.

      3. Batgirl*

        I mean, it definitely crossed my mind that other people in the company are similarly gross, but it’s just not possible to lay that at Kelly’s door (and it isn’t in the letter!) because she just wouldn’t have enough power to affect company policy or culture. She doesn’t have a magic vagina.
        Its true that some people would rather set up a company as a predatory set up rather than a business set up (but again this isn’t even in the letter) But – just because a manager finds a consensual partner doesn’t mean the sexual set up is that person’s doing (even if she is a walking, winking nightmare who gives no craps about consent). If he’s allowed to get away with making all his female employees feel like they have to put out to get a voice then it will be the fault of the people above his paygrade, not the people below.

  12. Lizabeth*

    I would have been so tempted to bang on the door, shouting WTH is going on in there as it happened or crank up the bagpipe music volume to ten outside the door, but that’s me.

    Please come back with an update!

    1. Kendra*


      They broke the social compact first; be as loud as humanly possible about calling them out on it! (And if you don’t care for bagpipe music, search YouTube for “Nyan Cat 10 hours,” and blast away for as long as you/they can stand it; I can’t imagine much that would kill the mood faster.)

      1. Scarlet Magnolias*

        My personal favorite would be the Pirates Song that goes “With catlike tread” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance

    2. irene adler*

      Maybe let them know Bill’s wife is in the lobby – headed towards his office right now!
      Or Kelly’s husband – same message.

      1. Gelliebean*

        No, this is a private residence slimline white telephone with no connection whatsoever to any businesses….

    1. Carpe Librarium*

      And we are so very, very close to Update-solsti-mas-nukkah, my personal end of year festive bonanza.

  13. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I don’t even want to be on this planet right now after reading this.

    I would have been ringing HR from my desk and putting it on speaker phone to see if they could hear it.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        “Hi HR. So I know we have an anti-gossiping rule. I wouldn’t wanna break the rules. So let me let you listen to what’s going on right now *beep beep*”

        It’s not gossip if you have a first row seat.

  14. Observer*

    OP – reporting the facts up the chain is not “gossip”. If anyone in the chain acts as though it is, even “kind of”, you know that your company has much bigger problems. Start job hunting IMMEDIATELY in that case.

    1. Helena*

      Exactly – would it also be gossip to report financial misdeeds? Racist/homophobic harassment? Shitting in a pot plant?

      I really want to know whether this clause is genuinely used to punish people for reporting gross misconduct, or whether Kelly/Bill would just like people to think that so they can carry in with impunity.

  15. AuroraLight37*

    Personally, I would feel like sanitizing my desk every time I went to it, just in case they thought that bonking around the office would be even more of a thrill, and that’s probably a sign that if management ignores this, it’s time to seriously start job hunting.

    Holy run on sentence, Batwoman!

    1. Close Bracket*

      I knew a guy who inherited a desk whose previous occupant was known to engage in career limiting activities on it. He joked that he would rub the top for good luck.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      And I’m hoping the update comes soon. If leadership takes weeks to take action, well, that shows a really incompetent leadership team.

    1. Junior Assistant Peon*

      Was this a pretty standard office thing in the 70s? I was told that a former employer was like this at the time, but that it was because the company hired a lot of people fresh out of college and high school in the 70s. This kind of stuff still goes on today at companies where the average age is low.

      1. WellRed*

        If it was more standard in the 70s, I venture to guess it was also related to the even bigger back then power imbalance between male bosses and female employees. #unscientificsociology

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Lack of regulations and a stronger more robust “good ol’ boy” network are my guessed.

          It reminds me of 9 to 5. With the sexist boss that wants to be surrounded by women that he can use and abuse.

      2. Dysfunctional Deb*

        I think it depended on the industry. It took me many years to earn a degree, so in my 20s I worked in a lower-paying jobs in less professional industries, including one related to entertainment.

        I saw much less of this behavior after the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings. But I also worked mostly in middle management jobs in more sedate industries.

    2. iglwif*

      I was a kid in the 1970s, but I did hear from an old boss at an old job that at that place, back in the 1980s when she started working there, there were some extremely similar shenanigans. In offices with frosted glass windows in the doors O_O

    3. Doug Judy*

      I just don’t get it. Maybe because I’ve had a steady sexual partner for 20 years, but I’ve never been so mad horney that having sex/masturbating at work was even a passing thought. But apparently given some past letters, people “need to release” so badly that they can’t wait until a more appropriate time. I’ll never understand.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yeah…between this and then the stories about “My wife and I have rules about being alone with the opposite gender!”…I have to wonder if there’s a lot of overlap there.

        Meanwhile I’m demisexual AF and it took me 31 years to find someone I was actually sexually attracted to, so it’s so bizarre and silly romance novel nonsense in my mind.

      2. Close Bracket*

        It’s not about being mad horny or needing release. People in power tend to develop beliefs that rules don’t apply to them, including basic rules of decorum. You don’t even need to give people very much power for this effect to manifest.

        1. Doug Judy*

          I’m more referring to the “duck club” and the serial masterbater, where even some comments were “Yeah, I’ve done at work to relieve stress, but so don’t do it every day” as if any level of sexual activity is ok to do at work.

      3. Oranges*

        I’m thinking of the times when I’m horny AF but can’t do anything and it can be distracting. I’m imagining that but times ten. Then I could see me doing a dumb (if I had a place where no one could hear or see me). Since we all have different libidos and different brains, I would imagine that they a) have a hard time focusing when their body is uncomfortable for any reason b) have a higher libido than me.

        For this letter though, it’s totally an exhibitionist fantasy thing. “We could get caught. Everyone knows I’m having sex right now. Etc.” Which makes it squick for me since that’s involving others in your happy fun times without asking. Not okay.

  16. LGC*

    Well, this certainly puts the “F” in “WTF Wednesday.”

    Although…I’m wondering what makes you think that you’ll get fired for reporting this! I feel like there’s at least some sign that makes you think that. If you’ve seen retaliation in other instances, would it be worth consulting a lawyer? Because then the problem isn’t Bill and Kelly having loud sex in the office (!!!?!), it’s that you’re afraid of being retaliated against for reporting their unlawful behavior. (And, yeah, I’m not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that WOULD qualify as a hostile work environment. Unless sex with the boss is specifically a part of the job, in which case you would probably not be writing in.)

    1. Mockingjay*

      IANAL, but regarding retaliation, it’s smart that the OP and her coworkers reported as a group. It’s harder to disprove multiple reports of inappropriate behavior. Also, state and/or federal statutes prohibit retaliation during harassment investigations (it does happen, but the law generally catches up).

      OP, I would focus on whether you want to remain in this position. Is Bill and Kelly’s behavior indicative of the company culture (“do what I want and don’t care”), or is he an outlier? If the former, you may have to look elsewhere. If the latter, do you have confidence that Bill and Kelly will be dealt with so you can remain in your position? If not, is there another department you could transfer to?

      1. LGC*

        True! It’s harder to fire all of them if that’s the case.

        It sounds like there might not be that many places to go if she did want to transfer – if it’s a small company, then there are just fewer departments to transfer out to.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      RE: Fear of firing.

      This is a common fear among people who are non-management and who feel powerless. They think they’re going to get into trouble for “breaking the rules” that are set down about “no gossip! even if it’s true, no gossip!”. It’s most likely a rule so that you can be terminated if you’re found to be viciously gossiping about coworkers. Rarely would it be used to actually be truly anti-reporting illegal and inappropriate acts! Unless you work for some kind of Disney villain.

      I was digging in files awhile back and found someone who was shook about the “at-will” wording we have in our handbook and also what is written on job offers. They thought this meant that they’re constantly hanging by a thread and were going to be dumped overboard at a moments notice because “well legally you can…”

      Sure I can legally fire you just because you annoy the living crud out of me but I’m rarely going to do so. It’s not easy to run a business when you’re that much of a hair trigger. It happens but it’s the oddity out there. I had one story about a guy who fired his assistants on whims too. That guy didn’t stay in business very long either. It’s rare someone who’s a true villain is going to be dealt with that long, unless you find an IRL Boss Hog kind of character.

  17. ChemistryChick*

    I…what…oh dear.

    OP, I’m sorry you and your coworkers had to experience this. I just…wow. I hope your company deals with these two in the proper manner and you don’t have to ever deal with this again.

  18. Goola*

    Next time, get a recording of the sounds they’re making, so in the case of wrongful termination, you have proof that their sexual escapades are creating a unsafe work environment.

      1. Bow Ties Are Cool*

        Indeed. Google “single party consent [state]”. If you’re in a single-party state, you can record! However, your company may have its own rules about recording, so that’s strictly for use as evidence after firing, producing it before then could cost you your job.

          1. HR Stoolie*

            If this was in a public area with no expectation of privacy recording would be legal. Of course this letter would be even more horrific if that were the case.

      2. Anon Here*

        But you COULD take notes on the sounds and describe them to upper management / HR with a completely innocent look on your face. “I was surprised by what I heard. Is this a new type of training module?” Then see if they laugh or get really uncomfortable. If the latter, impose an extended awkward silence.

    1. It's business time*

      I would do a call to his boss on speakerphone and so when he asks what are those noises, you can describe what is happening…..

  19. mcr-red*

    Something similar happened in my town with a city official – the members of the office all went together (except his GF) to report him for sexual harassment due to him banging the GF at the workplace in his office. Things went bad quickly.

  20. StaceyIzMe*

    WOW, this guy and his coworker are off the rails! No discretion, no sense and no class… (the manager and co, NOT the LW). Any chance you could move to a different job? Or a different department that doesn’t answer to that manager? It’d be SO tempting to tattle to the board/ the owner(s)/ the media… If there is any justice in this world, your “manager” won’t be in this role for long. (But take action on your own behalf where you can, just in case this pocket of unreality manages to outlast your patience or your sense of tolerance for all things NSFW!) If you have to stay, document the unholy heck out of what you’ve observed to date and encourage your coworkers to do the same. It may come in handy if you have to take legal action.

  21. Ophelia*

    I understand that OP is concerned about being fired from her job for making a legal report… but the fact that they have to question that says a lot about the company and the management of that company.

    OP – like others, I would love an update. I would like to hear how HR responds and what management does. It’s more than clear that Kelly walked in to that office with the intention of being loud, obnoxious, and noticed. She and Bill wanted others to hear what they were up to. They tried to make others uncomfortable with their sexual antics and that is a major violation. There is no reason why any rational business would continue to employ either of those two. But if your company is not rational, it’s wise of you to be prepared.

    1. cncx*

      that they wanted other people to hear was my first thought as well. this wasn’t an oopsie, the wink and everything was like, they wanted an audience. they knew darn well what they were doing.

      1. Kat in VA*

        And that ups the icky factor by at least an order of magnitude. If they’re exhibitionists, and everyone in the office happened to be voyeurs, and consent was obtained beforehand…in a wild world….sure, yeehaw, go for it.

        However, this is not a wild world at this office…I can only imagine. Making me an unwilling, unasked, essentially forced third party to the sounds of your grunts and sighs of sexual pleasure would absolutely INFURIATE me. Talk about taking away someone’s agency!

        Add in the inappropriate workplace behavior because Miss Thang is bangin’ the boss and can do no wrong and oof…

        Just oof. That’s all I got. OOF

  22. J.B.*


    Even when a boss was sleeping with her subordinate who should have been fired and they were holding hands a little too obviously, I never heard anything in the office!!!!!

  23. Jennifer*

    Bill and Kelly were just practicing good self-care and tending to their mental health. Tension release at the end of a stressful day is beneficial for all. /s

    In all seriousness, I don’t know if I’d report it unless multiple people are willing to go on the record with you. You’re on solid ground legally, as Alison pointed out, but that doesn’t mean they won’t fire you. If they are this bold, they are certain no one with any power cares what they do (or how loud they are doing it). If they do fire you, even if they are breaking the law, do you have the time, energy, and money to fight it?

  24. mark132*

    LW, you could put sign on the boss’s office door saying, “Get a room next time”. I’m really only partially kidding. If you want to have an affair at least have the good manners to rent a room to have your affair in.

  25. Christmas Carol*

    Where oh where can I download, or order, a set of AMA Bingo Cards (TM) Please, oh somebody please write some, soon.

    1. Llellayena*

      Oh that would be the BEST office white elephant gift! Or maybe an AAM snakes and ladders? But would “sleep with the boss…in the office…during work hours” send you up or down…hmm?

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      If Alison wasn’t already over extended I’d say she should start getting some AAM swag and a webstore *cough*

  26. wayward*

    Seems like that could be very conducive to another employee surreptitiously recording it with a cellphone and releasing it (or threatening to) if s/he was ever fired.

  27. MistOrMister*

    I don’t see how reporting possible sex acts to HR counts as spreading gossip. No one was running around spreading stories. You heard this and decided to report it. Of course, the kind of work place that ignores a boss dating his underling and further ignores reports of possible sex acts in the office seems like the sort that will say this was no one’s business. Or maybe they will try to say reporting it IS gossip b/c you don’t know for a fact that any sexual activity was taking place. You can assume so (and I figure it probably was) but if no one SAW it, there’s the argument that they just were making sex noises loudly and obnoxiously, kind of like that Harry met Sally orgasm faking group from not too long ago. I don’t see how anyone could buy that but a crappy employer could try to play that card.

  28. Anon, so anon*

    The most awkward moment of my life was walking into a conference room with the other members of the group who was scheduled to meet there and finding two of my co-workers (both married to other people) topless on the conference table, grinding and moaning. In a conference room with glass walls, no less.

    I think my co-workers were embarrassed, too, but they hardly handled it well, what with going around threatening people with sexual harassment lawsuits (my female co-worker kept saying, “People were staring at my breasts!” Yes, because you were TOPLESS AT WORK, YOU MORON) and hinting darkly that they knew about indiscretions “other people who shall remain nameless” had committed. They both got let go as much for that as for the conference room shenanigans, I guess. I do not understand people who bang at work, and much less the ones who wink at people or try to make it others’ fault for reporting them.

  29. MissDisplaced*

    Holy crap on crackers!
    They did this during the normal work day while people were working right outside the office? (As opposed to maybe after normal work hours)

    If several people heard what was going on in there it’s not “spreading gossip,” but reporting the terrible actions of some gross and irresponsible people.

  30. Blueberry Girl*

    Something very similar happened at a library I worked out. Two people were having an affair and they were walked in on in the stairwell of the back stacks. Both were fully dressed, as far as I know, but apparently hands were not visible. It was… interesting. Fortunately, the higher ups dealt with it swiftly.

  31. Junior Assistant Peon*

    I used to work for a company that had old-school boozy offsite Christmas parties with SO’s and retirees invited. One time, a female coworker in her low 20s got visibly drunk. We all saw her and her boyfriend emerge from the coatroom, disheveled and smelling strongly of sex.

  32. Zona the Great*

    Lucy and Ethel got people to act out what they were gossiping about so Fred and Ricky couldn’t accuse them of gossiping; OP, telling the truth about such an uncomfortable and unprofessional situation to those who need to know is DEF not gossip. Tell! Tell!

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