update: my boss suggests hiring her boyfriend for everything

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer last year whose boss suggested hiring her boyfriend for everything? Here’s the update.

In the end, I tried a combination of efforts to hold my former (yes, former) boss accountable. Though I chose not to take the issue all the way to HR, I did bring my concerns to her director and emphasized that I felt she was likely unaware that she was effectively encouraging our staff to break rules/procedures when convenient and flirting with an ethics issue. I presented my concerns in an empathetic voice and tried to be as neutral as possible, as her director was aware of my other objections to her management style. Next, I spoke directly with my boss individually. I expressed the same concerns to her. Neither seemed to share my worries, though her director did spot the ethics issue and suggested that I make it clear to her boyfriend (Sam) that we would not pay him for his services.

I scheduled a meeting with Sam, as requested by my boss, and asked him what his expectations were, specifically regarding any actual program he might create. He assured me that he had no expectations but, when pressed, admitted that he hoped he might be able to sell the system to someone eventually. I thanked him for his help and explained that I didn’t feel it was ethical to ask him to produce anything on behalf of our department without providing compensation. I also told him that I had concerns about security, as he would eventually be working with our data without the safeguards of the company technology. Sam, thankfully, had previously worked for a company of similar size, and wasn’t offended.

In the next meeting I had with both my boss and her director, I let them know that I’d met with Sam, as requested, and explained that we couldn’t compensate him for his work and thereby couldn’t confirm the security of our data. Irritatingly, my boss replied that she had no idea why Sam and I had met because she’d already told him it would come to naught. Very frustrating but I just laughed along and moved on with my day. She hasn’t suggested him for anything else since that happened and I shifted to report directly to her director. I do still have everything in writing, including screenshots of her text messages insisting I meet with Sam. I don’t expect any pushback, but I’ve got the documentation, if needed. We’ve since added a few new staff members who, like me, had worked outside this company and we all work hard to steer everyone to follow company policy.

{ 15 comments… read them below }

  1. AdAgencyChick*

    I can’t believe the director thought simply not paying this guy would solve all the problems! Yeesh, OP, there are some seriously delusional people at your company!

    Glad it’s at least not something you have to worry about any more.

    1. AGirlHasNoScreenName*

      To be fair, boyfriend volunteering his work would certainly mitigate the financial conflict of interest.

      It’s still wrong to suggest that, but I can maybe see the director’s perspective if they feel caught between OP’s (now ex) boss and company rules about COI.

    2. Antilles*

      I think the intent was that “it’s not a nepotism issue if we aren’t paying you”. Which is technically true from the strictest fiscal sense, but misses the rationale behind conflict of interest rules *and* completely ignores all the other issues involved with a manager trying to rules-lawyer her way around company policies and approval processes.

  2. Snow globe*

    I know this is an old letter, but, LW, if you work for a Fortune 500 company, there is a very high likelihood that your company has a way to anonymously report ethics violations. This would likely be one, whether the boyfriend is paid or not. The ethics hotline would be less likely to blow this off.

  3. Unruly Bluebird*

    This whole interaction seems odd to me.
    Why do you need to schedule a meeting with someone you don’t plan to officially work and pay for their work? Did this go beyond the boss suggesting it at some point?

    The boss may have overstepped by continually suggesting him for work, but this seems like killing a fly with a sledgehammer. I feel like I’m missing information that makes this a reasonable response…

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      Former boss because OP changed positions within the company: “and I shifted to report directly to her director”. So former boss is now OP’s peer.

      1. What’s with Today, today?*

        Thank you! I’ve read through it several times and still don’t see that part of the letter. Thank goodness for Friday.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          It’s in the middle of the final paragraph. The complete sentence is “She hasn’t suggested him for anything else since that happened and I shifted to report directly to her director.”

          Former boss doesn’t sound like she’s very solid on business norms, but then, when I was her age, which is half the age I am now, neither was I.

  4. Chriama*

    This whole situation strikes me as weird. Director doesn’t think there’s anything inherently unprofessional about hiring a one-man operation to build an IT system for them? OP, who doesn’t supervise anyone and doesn’t have any connection with the boyfriend, is told to schedule a meeting with him? Director thinks the company can accept free labour and not be at risk of being sued later on (or somehow forced to pay for the system or risk having it taken away)? Director doesn’t care about data security procedures (actually, as a former IT worker I can understand that one). It seems like everyone basically treated the issue as OP’s pet project and were sort of just tolerating her. I honestly don’t know that OP came out of it looking great either.

    1. OP*

      Gotta agree with all your points there. I tried to do what I could to manage it in an unprofessional environment where contractor jobs became unstable shortly after sending in the original question. I backed out of that position to avoid reporting to that supervisor, though I continue work with her team as a supporting project manager. I wasn’t happy about the way I had to handle it but felt it was the best way of appeasing all while pleasing none. I was trying to get a permanent position in the company because of said job insecurity and concerned that an HR report would hurt more than help. Her bf still comes in to help with things (more a/v than IT) but that’s not my circus, thankfully. I can honestly say that no part of me feels good in any way about the situation except that I didn’t have to use him in the end.

  5. OP*

    Yah, her parents worked for the company, she grew up in the HQ hometown and was born and raised in the company environment. I don’t think she needs to understand the norms because they don’t seem to apply to her, as far as I’ve seen. Shortly before the original post she’d moved back to the tiny HQ town from the branch in our state’s capital citing her reason as the city being ‘dirty’ but we all knew it was because of the culture shock inside that branch’s environment. I.e. her name was meaningless there.

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