why can’t you contact your spouse’s employer to advocate for them?

A reader writes:

Why are you telling people that spouses as a rule cannot contact their partner’s boss and saying that is unprofessional?

Is that in every situation? What if my spouse is on the autism spectrum or what if an employer is forcing sick workers to come in and illegally break stay-at-home orders given by the government?

I think the advice you are giving on this is off-base. My partner and I are a team, and it is reaching a point where her employer is really pushing her boundaries and mine and she is at her wit’s end with trying to manage it herself. Your advice would be fine if every employer was reasonable and allowed people to stand up for themselves. We both know it doesn’t work like that. Personally, any employer who takes an ego bruising by being respectfully spoken to by someone outside of their employ, to me, is not worth working for at all.

She is trying everything she can to maintain healthy boundaries, but this employer is pushing and pushing and your advice has got people accusing me of not caring about my partner because I’m keeping my nose out of her business when she might be out there passing along COVID or getting it herself. Seriously, I’m being accused of not caring by thinking of her career over her health and safety! All because of your advice with no appreciation context at all.

So can you please rethink your position on this and give out some new advice in the context of life-threatening natural disasters and y’know, employers adhering to laws about discrimination, exploitation, and retaliation.

Also, let’s ask, who does your advice benefit? It benefits employers by shielding them from the realities of their staff’s humanity and seeks to keep them cocooned from that reality. There is no good reason why people should not be allowed to help each other and advocate for each other and I would rather test an employer to see how they react to this to see if they take their duty of care to their employees seriously.

An employer who takes their duty of care to their employees seriously will demonstrate that by how they respond when their employees raise concerns directly. If it takes a third party stepping in, they’ve already failed that test.

More to the point, though, this isn’t about how you believe things should work. It’s about how things do work. And the reality — whether or not you think it should be this way — is that contacting your partner’s employer to advocate on their behalf will undermine them and make them look unprofessional. (It also probably won’t work. If they didn’t listen to their own employee, they’re not likely to listen to someone wholly unconnected with their business.)

There are exceptions to this, but they’re rare: Certainly if your spouse is in the hospital or otherwise too sick to speak and can’t contact their employer on their own, it’s perfectly acceptable for you to do that.

But to advocate on their behalf, because you think you can do it more persuasively than your spouse can? Truly, no.

You asked about a spouse who’s on the autism spectrum. You can help behind the scenes — working out what they’ll say and helping them practice saying it. But it’s theirs to handle — and in most situations, you will undermine them significantly if you step in and handle it for them.

You also asked about an employer who is breaking stay-at-home orders given by the government and — as serious as that is — that’s still not your place. You can again help your spouse behind the scenes, but they’re the one who talks with their employer because those are the parties who have the business relationship. You can brainstorm with your spouse, you can coach them, hell, you can even report the employer to your state if you want to (ideally with your partner’s blessing), but you cannot contact their employer about it on their behalf. If you do, you will enormously weaken your partner’s standing at work and make them look unable to handle their own business affairs. (And really, do you think anyone is going to promote the person whose spouse called to try to fight their battles for them?)

Additionally, because this generally isn’t done, it will come across as controlling and interfering — which will raise some unpleasant thoughts for people about what might be going on in your relationship. Now your spouse has colleagues thinking about and speculating on her relationship, which is not what anyone wants at work.

Again, I’m not saying this is how things should be. I’m saying this is how they are. If you want to argue it would be a better world if spouses could advocate for each other with the other’s employer, feel free to make that argument! But we live in the world we live in, and your spouse has to manage her career in our current reality, not the one you think would be better.

{ 597 comments… read them below }

  1. Stella70*

    I love my husband with all my heart and always will. But if he ever “advocates” on my behalf with my employer, he will be moving his toothbrush to the garage.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Right? My husband once tried to step in on my behalf with a group I was having trouble with and it made everything that much worse, plus I was furious at him and it made me feel demeaned and humiliated. It sucked.

      I’ve talked to my husband’s boss on his behalf exactly once in the last 15 years, and that was when he was in the hospital so there was no choice.

      1. CG*

        The only times my husband has interacted with my boss on my behalf was when I was in the hospital as well. Beyond a situation like that, that relationship is not his responsibility nor his business to intervene in.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Last year “hello Bossman this is Husband’s wife, he’s in ER with a broken leg and cant work today. He’ll call you himself as soon as he’s able. ”

          Only time ever. One hour before start time because he broke it falling in the driveway as he walking to the car heading out to go to work.

        2. MusicWithRocksIn*

          I’ve had to call my husband’s boss once when he had a crippling migraine. But that was before the days when texting your boss was really a thing. These days in the same situation I wouldn’t have to step in.

          1. JessaB*

            I’ve had this, I’ve called my boss, and croaked out “talk to husband” because my voice was shot. Husband has also called when I was in hospital. And the only time I directly called boss of husband without him sitting there was to get in touch with him in an emergency. He worked in a call centre and didn’t have a direct line.

            1. AKchic*

              I have called two bosses in two very specific instances.

              One was while we were driving him to work. He was already feeling terrible and he passed out. If I hadn’t been driving it would have been deadly. I called the store to tell them I was taking him to the emergency room. They told me that if he didn’t show up, he would be fired. So, I showed up with his unconscious body into the parking lot and told them they had two choices: carry him in and clock him in themselves, or accept that he wouldn’t be there today and call him an ambulance. The manager refused to call him an ambulance. His liver had shut down due to new medication. Guess who fired my husband? So much for that “we support our vets” attitude (yeah, this was a VA prescribed medication).

              The second time was after my husband’s shoulder surgery. The boss was a friend and just asked that he text/call and let him know when he was home so he could send a pizza for dinner so we didn’t have to worry about dinner the first night. I made the call because he was really medicated.

              1. Arts Akimbo*

                I am stunned at how much of a POS your husband’s manager was! (And I don’t mean Point Of Sale!)

                1. AKchic*

                  My husband has spent his entire career in retail. Guess which mega-corporation with “low prices” and blue uniforms I outright refuse to let him reapply for? I don’t get involved with his career, I don’t normally give him advice (and it bugs me, considering how many times he has been unemployed), but that is the one thing I am adamant about. After that incident, he stopped going to the VA, too. As much as I hate the extra medical debt, it’s safer to see someone outside the VA.

              2. Obfonteri*

                Wow, that boss is a real jerk! Your drove your spouse, fresh from the emergency room and still unconscious (asleep, I figure?) and he STILL wouldn’t accept that as a reasonable excuse for missing work?? Like jeez, what did he want, a note from the ER doctor you just saw??

          2. Jayn*

            I’ve done this a lot in the past when DH wasn’t really lucid enough to make the call himself. More recently he’s moved to texting, but there’s still been an occasion or two where he’s asked me to call. Outside of calling in sick when he’s been unable, I don’t act on his behalf.

        3. Hermione*

          I went out the office on my lunch break and told everyone that I was coming back soon but I end up in the hospital. I had an allergic reaction to something I ate. I spent the afternoon in observation and I was unable to speak because of the medication they gave me. My husband had to call my boss to tell him why I wasn’t gonna go back to the office. It was a very exceptionnal situation. Otherwise I would be embassed if my husband call my boss.

        4. LaSalleUGirl*

          Yup, same deal. “Hello Mr. Boss, Husband is at the ER because of norovirus. He will be here until morning at least, and may be admitted. He will definitely not be at work tomorrow. One of us will update you tomorrow with his status.” (In the end, Husband was well enough to update on his own.)

          That’s the only time I have ever contacted his boss on his behalf. I think he did something like that for me once in the pre-calling-out-by-email-or-text days when I was knocked sideways by flu. But I can’t imagine doing that at any other time.

        5. A Silver Spork*

          My spouse has my permission to contact my boss if I’m either too sick to come in to work or deported/in a jail cell. Or if I’m dead, I guess, but at that point my professional standing is not a pressing issue.

          1. A Silver Spork*

            Too sick to *call in to* work, that is. Obviously if I can still manage to call and say “projectile vomiting, need sick day” I do that myself!

            1. TROI*

              I let my partner fight all my battles with the general public. He is a white man and I’m a woman of color and it’s crazy how much easier it is for him to get his way than for me. I just let him deal with all of it. But at work, never. That would be absurd.

        6. SimonTheGreyWarden*

          I had to contact my partner’s boss when she collapsed in septic shock (her appendix had ruptured but not, like, all the way or something bc she had no pain until the infection had really spread). Only time. I did contact her more than once (let her know about the emergency, to update her after the emergency surgery, and at least once or twice more bc partner was seriously ill and on a lot of medication).

      2. Jane Austin Texas*

        +1 x 1000. I support the heck out of my spouse behind the scenes, even going so far as to help do his annual budget and help write emails! But call his boss? Just once: when he was in the hospital and EVEN THEN only when we realized he was going to need surgery and I needed to help with his FMLA paperwork.

        1. Amber Rose*

          Oh, yeah. I’ll help with emails, I’ll spell and grammar check stuff, I’ll offer advice and scripts. But I only talked to his boss that once because the situation developed abruptly and he was in surgery too fast for him to do it himself.

      3. theelephantintheroom*

        My husband and I work together and he overstepped in regards to my position once over something small. He wasn’t even advocating for me, he just made an off-handed comment. And it WAY backfired. He didn’t have as much knowledge of the situation as he thought (we live together AND work together, so if he can be missing info, then imagine how it is when only one part of your life is connected). I wound up having to sit down with two different managers to explain myself AND him, to show that I understood the situation for what it was and not what he thought it was. It was a shit show.

        And that’s how we learned to stay out of each other’s shit at work.

      4. Not Australian*

        The same thing happened to me. My other half mentioned in a work context (same employer, *very* different departments) something I had discussed with him at home, which I had reason to think would be kept private, and I felt completely and utterly humiliated. I can raise my own issues, thank you very much, and I’ll make the decision about whether to do so or not. There’s wanting to help and there’s patronising, and it’s wise to recognise the difference and just stay out of other people’s business.

    2. Goliath Corp.*

      Thiiiis. I realize that the OP doesn’t gender themselves, but IMO it seems verrrry likely that this is a man who thinks he’ll be taken more seriously than his wife would be at her own job. You can support her, but you can’t undermine her.

      1. pope suburban*

        And who thinks his word on employment norms is better or more valid than that of Alison, who literally, actually does this stuff for a living. I’m getting those same icky, paternalistic vibes too, and I am not impressed. Adults are adults and should be treated as such- especially by their partners. There’s no weaseling out of that, there’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s frankly dismaying that someone would demand that things be otherwise.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          Exactly. OP’s partner is an adult and there is nothing you can do that she cannot do for herself. She may be scared, overwhelmed, passive (been there – it’s hard!) but she must stand up for herself.

        2. Kate R*

          “Adults are adults and should be treated as such- especially by their partners.
          I think you picked up on the same vibe that I did. The anger about being accusing of not caring about their partner because they’re not contacting her employer seemed weirdly patronizing by the OP and whoever these people are who are accusing them of this. I wasn’t sure if this is why the ASD was brought up to indicate the partner was less developed socially like a child or something (?) Their partner is an adult who is clearly capable enough to consent to a relationship and to hold down a job, so she is also capable of advocating for herself even if she might need more support behind the scenes. And frankly, I’m pretty sure Alison has even answered letters about parents speaking to employers on behalf of their minor children where she has also advised against this because being in the workforce indicates a certain level of maturity where you should be able to advocate on behalf of yourself.

          1. Peach*

            yeah it struck me as suuuuper infantilizing too. OP, your partner is an adult, not a child. Treat them like one. Nothing about us without us.

              1. Mama Bear*


                I feel for the spouse if there’s a bunch of people in her life that think she can’t handle her own business.

          2. Beth*

            I got the same vibes. OP, if your wife is able to get and hold down a job (which she clearly is, since she has one!), then she’s as capable as anyone is of handling a boundary-pushing employer. She might well be uncomfortable, but anyone would be in that situation; she might have to make some hard choices, like acquiescing to an order she doesn’t agree with/that makes her feel unsafe versus quitting over it, but that’s sometimes the hand an employer deals us and she’s as capable of choosing as anyone.

            If you really want to support her, there are things you can do. You can help her plan what to say in response to an unreasonable demand. You can start keeping an eye out for job postings in her field (with her approval, don’t pressure her to change jobs if she doesn’t want to). You can map out your budget to see if she really needs this job; even if she decides to stay, knowing it’s a choice may well help boost her confidence in pushing back. You can offer a shoulder to lean on and some space to vent when she’s had a particularly hard day. You can take over dinner prep so she can chill a bit and let go of stress when she gets home. If you’re worried about her working conditions in the pandemic, you can track down safety supplies for her.

            But calling her employer to complain on her behalf would not be supportive. In practice, as Alison says, it will do a lot more to undermine her than it will to help. This is a part of her life that’s not about you and isn’t yours to manage. You have to follow her lead here.

          3. Nesprin*

            This letter frankly struck me as someone flirting with spousal abuse: the paternalistic attitude, with a lot of “i know better than the experts”, the denigration of his wife’s competence and his plan to screwup his wife’s relationship with her employers are all gigantic crimson flags.

            1. Nic*

              Not to mention the bit where he blames Alison for the way that other people respond to his treatment of his spouse. I think that’s also a red flag.

              I mean, Alison’s advice is great – but regardless of whether it is or not, there’s actually nothing committing him to follow it. And yet he’s determined that she should change the advice because he doesn’t want to follow it but won’t take the moral risk of going against it.

              Instead of blaming Alison, which is a massive red herring, I think he needs to consider if a) his friends controlling misogynists and he needs to ignore them, or b) are his friends spotting some level of nonsupportiveness that he isn’t talking about in his letter? He’s framing it as “I can’t support my wife without taking over her communication” and that’s not true – Alison pointed out so many ways he can help without taking over. So…has he actually been trying to be supportive (but has run out of ways to navigate from the backseat) or is this the one and only option he’s come up with? Because I’ve got to say, if he’s been sitting at home listening to his wife get more and more stressed, and responding to that with nothing more than “*shrugs* an expert says I can’t do anything about it”, then his friends are kind of right. And that’s all on him, not Alison!

              1. Mavis*

                Ooo excellent insight!!

                Is the spouse using Alison’s advice to keep him in check? Why would he be blaming Alison?

                People can do whatever they want! Leap year birthday as example.

                Why angry at Alison’s advice?

                I think this is worse than originally thought! And OP spouse is trying to keep him in check…. :(

              2. Amanda*

                “b) are his friends spotting some level of nonsupportiveness that he isn’t talking about in his letter?”

                I think this seems really likely, and is probably the question OP should be focusing on answering right now. OP, no offense meant, but I suggest you seriously rethink some of your own values.

            2. This is She*

              I’m not normally one to extrapolate/infer too much from posts here, but this is Classic Controlling Behaviour.

              There is zero chance this women has an equal voice and equal power in her home.

              And although the genders are not named (pretty sure THAT’s not an accident) I will eyeroll to the ground anyone who tries to claim that this might not be a husband and wife scenario because please.

              1. c-*

                Well, to be fair, controlling relationships can and do happen across all kind of gender and orientation lines, and it’s dangerous to tell people that all stances of control and abuse happen in cishet relationships from the man towards the woman, since that often makes it difficult for the people who fall outside these dynamics to identify and name the abuse.
                I’ve seen, up close, people of all genders abusing and controlling their partners, no matter the gender of said partners or whether both partners were the same gender or different genders (and I’ve seen what happens when the abuser is a woman or the victim a man… most times, it’s much more difficult for survivors to move forward because they have to deal with isolation and disbelief from others on top of the abuse).
                So, I can’t guarantee that sexism is playing a part here (though it’s likely, given OP’s spouse being referred to as “she” and OP’s attitude towards Alison), but I agree the OP is being very controlling and potentially abusive towards their partner. The ableism, paternalism, and reversal of responsibility (blaming Alison for the negative opinion of others towards OP) are making me see red at OP’s attitude.
                OP, as has been said already, your partner is an adult and perfectly able to make her own choices regarding her employment. If she needs help, she knows where to find you. In the meantime, stop attacking and blaming women for your problems. If it bothers you so much that people are complaining that you’re not a supportive enough partner, talk to those people (or stop talking to them) and leave your partner and Alison out of it.

                1. CoronaKiwi*

                  I totally read this post as a written by a gay woman for some reason. Possibly be cause I’m gay myself.

                  I agree we need to stop with the cis-heterosexism in discussions of abusive relationships. I’ve been victim to abusive/toxic boyfriends back when I thought I was straight. The bulk of the abusive relationships that have happened around me don’t fit the standard abusive relationship narrative. This isn’t to say that men abusing women isn’t a particularly pernicious trope enabled by our culture – it is. But its also not the only one

                2. Spargle*

                  CoronaWiki – I totally read this as written by a gay woman too, to the point that I was surprised that others didn’t.

            3. Goliath Corp.*

              Yeah honestly this letter makes me think of that letter a woman wrote in defence of her husband who resigned her job on her behalf (!!!). This is so controlling.

        3. Liane*

          You know, I could see “Has your advice about not contacting partner’s/child’s employer changed temporarily due to the pandemic, which has disrupted some other business norms?” as being a reasonable question. Solo. IF the OP had left out the “icky, paternalistic vibes” and the implications that Alison doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

          1. Lance*

            That’s what I was hoping for on reading the title, to be honest (a faint hope, but a hope all the same). I’d still imagine the answer would very much be a ‘no’ — and in the case of violating regulations by having people work sick, to independently contact the labor board or other applicable entity, not the partner’s workplace — but it could have prompted some thought, all the same.

            As it is, this is looking for a special circumstance outside the singular ‘when they actually can’t speak/reach out’ option.

          2. pope suburban*

            Yes. There was something immensely offputting about the tone of the letter. It was less “genuine confusion” and more “I must set these silly little people straight.” Granted that few if any of us are our best selves right now, with everything going on, but what came out here was pretty troubling.

            1. GammaGirl1908*

              Right. If an angry husband storming into the place with figurative guns blazing to yell at someone is the only thing that is going to make them act right … they aren’t going to act right.

              Hubs, it’s fine to be upset on your wife’s behalf, and yes, we are in *very* weird times, but that hasn’t changed the rule that your wife’s professional relationship with her job is hers to manage, not yours. If she is a grown adult, she should be able to speak and advocate for herself. You can role-play with her, you can help her with scripts, you can practice with her, and you can help her figure out what to say, but she needs to say it. Your doing it — even if you are doing it out of love — makes her look incompetent and weak. If she is competent enough to work there, she is competent enough to advocate for herself there.

              Also, who are these people you are talking to who are telling you that this is the right path of action?

              1. pope suburban*

                Right? Like, your wife may well have an employer problem, but you, OP, have a social circle problem! But that’s a great place to set boundaries and self-advocate like all adults have a right to do.

                1. Nic*

                  Given the tone and blame-casting of the rest of the letter, I’m even starting to wonder how much of this is a social circle problem. On the face of it, yeah…but I could also see people being rightfully concerned if LW’s been refusing to support his wife emotionally, because if he’s not allowed to do it all for her, that makes it wholly his wife’s problem to deal with on her own.

              2. G*

                ya… I…. struggle to believe that ‘everyone’ (or anyone, really) around OP is telling them they don’t care about their wife because they aren’t confronting her employer on her behalf. And even if that is somehow the case, I highly doubt it’s specifically because of AAM’s advice. I’m 99.9% confident anyone with that ridiculous of an opinion most likely does not seek out advice columns online meant for self betterment.

                My initial thought was this sounds like someone RIGHT out of undergrad who got married really young and is now under the belief that they ‘know what’s up’ and have this adult thing down pat. (ya know, while actually being an immature man-child misogynist)

            2. Marthooh*

              “Oh, COME NOW, Alison, we BOTH KNOW that your POLITICALLY CORRECT advice is just FLAT WRONG!”

          3. Ada*

            The tone makes me wonder if OP has already gone and intervened on their spouse’s behalf, got told off for it by someone, and now *needs* Alison, as an expert, to vindicate their actions. If that’s the case, I hope the OP realizes that would be something they need to apologize to their spouse for ASAP, and never do again.

          4. The Rules are Made Up*

            Right, as if Alison hasn’t had any of those considerations before. They were essentially demanding that she change her advice, it wasn’t even a question. If someone is that aggressive toward a complete stranger….

        4. Yorick*

          Right, and if he thinks Alison is wrong, why not just ignore her advice? Why does he want her to take back her previous advice and say something he agrees with?

        5. Leaf on the Wind*

          Thank you! Honestly, this whole letter got my hackles raised. It feels paternalistic and misogynistic*. If LW and their partner really are a team, then LW wouldn’t want to treat the other like their child.

          This really dredged up bad memories from when my dad (MY DAD!) called my boss because I had to cancel out on a family get together due to a unique work situation that absolutely, positively required my presence to manage right then and there. I was already on rocky footing with my boss due to personality conflicts as well as the fact that he considered me too young and too, well, female to hold my title so I had to fight twice as hard to prove myself. My parent finding the corporate number, badgering people to then get my boss’s number, then calling the boss out to chew him out did not help matters AT ALL. What actually happened was that my authority was completely undermined, my credibility compromised, and any capital I had strove to cultivate was rendered useless. All in the span of a single phone call that lasted for less than 3 minutes. I was a joke for a year after that. The only reason I recovered professionally was because leadership changed and I was able to start fresh, more or less. Needless to say, my relationship with my father has not benefited from a similar recovery. He had always been a bully, and that’s exactly the way I read this situation based on LW’s vitriolic chastisement of Allison. It feels like they are trying to put a someone “in her place” while also posing themsleves as an expert on the topic situation to justify their frankly toxic need to control their partner’s work situation. (I wonder if the partner used Allison’s advice as evidence of why they shouldn’t try to “fix” said partner’s work situation which incensed LW hence this write-in.)

          And, really, what the LW is describing sounds a lot more like the ranting of a particularly controlling helicopter parent than a someone who is in a romantic relationship with an adult who is supposedly their equal. Yes, it’s completely normal to feel frustrated and angry when your partner is being mistreated, but the fact of the matter is you canNOT take matters into your own hands and “fix it” for them. All that’ll happen is that you make things worse, plus you undermine the whole relationship by showing just how little you actually respect your partner by demonstrating for them that you believe they are either incapable of handling adult situations by themselves or that you believe how they choose to do so is wrong.

          There’s also a hint of ableism here. Adults with autism are still adults. Respect them as such and simply be there to support them in the background (when they aren’t at work) by providing an supportive, loving environment in which to vent and find comfort in the safety of the familiar and cherished.

          *People all across the spectrum for gender identity and expression can be incredibly guilty of being misogynistic and paternalistic.
          **Even if LW identifies as a woman, there is a possibility that they have internalized some truly toxic misogynistic ideologies. If not, this is still abusive without gender politics at play. It’s a position many manipulative, abusive people take as part of their quest to control and gaslight.

      2. Three Flowers*

        Agreed. Even if OP is not a man, it is certainly possible for non-men to be active participants in patriarchal treatment of their women partners/family members. Gender is essential to this situation. I hope OP backs the hell off.

          1. blepkitty*

            As in “I’ve often wanted to point out that men aren’t the only ones who are ‘active participants in patriarchal treatment’ of women, because people often take ‘but it’s a woman doing it’ to mean it’s not patriarchal, but I am not that eloquent, so thanks.”

            1. Goliath Corp.*

              Yeah for sure. I’m a queer women and I’ve been in relationships that seemed to… emulate hetero patriarchal behaviour. (I don’t think I can describe it as well as Three Flowers did.) None of us are immune.

              1. Former Employee*

                I’m not queer or someone who would normally be in a same sex relationship, but I have witnessed same sex couples (female) essentially emulate the least attractive aspects of heterosexual relationships.

                For some reason, I would feel worse for the OP’s spouse if the OP were also a woman. I guess I just expect more from women when it comes to behavior in relationships in general and, in particular, in a marriage or romantic partnership.

            2. BekaAnne*

              I honestly agree with this, but there’s also a disablement of their wife due to autistic status which is very troubling.

        1. Uranus Wars*

          I am a woman, and I thought this was a woman wanting to call on behalf of her husband because I can see this playing out with my mother, grandmothers on both sides, my aunt…all of the “listen up, I know best and if you won’t stand up for yourself, I will until I make your boss cry. Oh, boss isn’t crying yet, then I will not stop. I will continue to berate and harass them.” I have no children but I would like to think if I did I would not follow in the footsteps of the women who came before me (in that regard).

          1. Koala dreams*

            It’s funny you say that, because I also felt like it was a wife writing about her husband, and only halfway through I noticed that the spouse was referred to as “her”. This kind of sentiment is often related to a worldview where men are poor creatures that need, and are entitled to, a women to help them get through daily life. Though I don’t have any relatives or close friends who do this, mostly it’s unrelated people, so I’m not sure about their motivation.

              1. MayLou*

                Or one person may be non-binary, which is the sense I got from the use of the word spouse. At any rate, nothing about the parties’ genders changes the advice!

                I was also puzzled by the fact that OP seems to be blaming Alison for the fact that they’re being accused of being uncaring. Alison doesn’t actually have the power to prevent you from doing anything, OP. If you truly believe that your situation is exceptional and you contacting your spouse’s workplace will be the exception to the rule, you have the ability to just go ahead and do it. Equally, the people around you aren’t accusing you of being uncaring because of Alison’s advice, they’re doing that because they’re the sort of people who for some reason think that caring about someone must be demonstrated in specific, not entirely logical ways.

                1. Trying a New Name*

                  People could also be accusing the OP of being uncaring for completely legitimate, unrelated issues, and OP is just focusing on the not-contacting-spouse’s-company as the reason instead of doing some more serious introspection

                2. Batty Twerp*

                  Alison would probably (hopefully?!) advise against running naked down the street covered in lime jello handing out your resume to anyone who stops and stares, but, indecency laws aside, there’s nothing stopping you doing that either.

                  Alison gives advice. Advice based on experience. Advice which can only be followed with your consent – it is not a law. She isn’t (to the best of my knowledge) an all-powerful god (feel free to correct me!) and you must obey her every directive. By the same token, you don’t get to *blame* Alison for it backfiring when you don’t take her advice, or if you happen to disagree with it.

                  Step off, OP. There may be more to this than has been revealed, but as it stands there is no one fighting your corner here.

                1. Queer in da house*

                  Same. The open discussion of ASD kind of makes me think that, too, only because I think talking about disability is more normalized in parts of queer culture (especially anti-capitalist or anarchist queer spaces).

                2. Traffic_Spiral*

                  Huh, I read the “what about autism” line as trying to word-drop a nice SJW term he found somewhere to make him seem less regressive, and earn himself a “checkmate, liberals” moment. If the wife actually was autistic that’d be a different story, but it’s such a random, thrown-out-there reference without any relevance to the issue at hand, that to me it smacks of catchphrase-dropping rather than actual discussion of the issue.

            1. nonegiven*

              I was thinking that whatever OP’s gender, it’s probably the wife’s parents that are pushing for OP to intervene.

          2. PlainJane*

            This was also my first assumption–spouse acting like a pushy mommy at school trying to “advocate” for poor little Johnny against the mean old teacher who expected that homework to be done. And if other mothers don’t do it, that just means they’re bad mothers, and you better agree, because if you don’t, you’re wrong. After all, the poor little thing can’t be expected to advocate for himself.

            Reading this thread, I guess I could see it being the other way, too, but it definitely wasn’t my first impression.

            Either way, it’s an absolutely awful situation for the spouse.

      3. Chinook*

        I would be careful about the stereotypes, though. I know plenty of strong willed women who would be willing to advocate for their husband if given the all clear (imcluding my own family). I personally see them do it in their personal life, family relationships and even social obligations.

        Those who see marriage as a partnership wait for permission to step in while those with control issues don’t. The spouse “lets them” because they either don’t have the skills to do so or don’t think it is worth the personal cost to themselves within the relationship. On the plus side, when the meeker spouse does speak up, often those around them will often take their side because it is a big deal when they self advocate.

        1. Goliath Corp.*

          I don’t think it’s a stereotype so much as an overwhelmingly common behaviour in a misogynist/patriarchal society. That being said, I’ve seen examples on this blog of women who’ve done the same thing, and it also exists in same-sex relationships. The statistical likelihood, however, skews towards male/female in this situation.

        2. Traffic_Spiral*

          Well, yes, there are women who do this, but it generally comes with more “I do everything for my manchild husband: writing the cover letter, doing the work he brings home from the office, buying his underwear, scheduling his dental appointments, cutting up his meat, etc.”

          There’s no mention of OP doing any of the boring support work, just whether or not s/he does the aggressive “stand up to someone not respecting my woman” thing, which makes me think it’s a man. Also, there was this undertone of “I’m getting shit for letting my wife prioritize her career” that strikes me as very old-gender-dynamic. If a man decided to risk his health for his career there wouldn’t be the same judgement on his wife – it’d be assumed that the man could make that choice on his own.

          But hey, we’re all just mass-guessing because we’re all bored in quarrentine,

      4. SweetestCin*

        My thoughts exactly, and quite frankly, if accurate, he needs to sit down because this will blow up in her face, and then his.

      5. KimmyBear*

        This was my read. It’s infantilizing. I get the ASD perspective, but that makes it more likely that the spouse feels the need to “take care” of her regardless of the OP’s gender.

        1. An Actual Fennec Fox*

          (Speaking as a person on the spectrum) And sometimes the person may ask or allow someone else to do something on their behalf, especially when they’re overwhelmed and exhausted – which I think we all are right now. It’s not the best course of action, and it’s really hard to see your partner struggling and let them “suffer”, but it is, in the long run, the right course of action – help them do whatever it is that they do when they’re overwhelmed, coach them if you must (when I was very young, my parents would give me the exact words to say and point me to the person I needed to talk to – but I had to do the talking myself) and let them use their own voice.

            1. An Actual Fennec Fox*

              I sure did. They weren’t taught much (I grew up in the 80s/90s, there weren’t many resources), but they did the best they could and it helped me a lot with getting more comfortable talking to people!

          1. Harper the Other One*

            Thank you for describing how your parents handled this. Both my kids are on the spectrum and this is what I try to do, but it’s so easy to second guess whether it’s the right call. It’s good to hear from an adult’s perspective that it’s positive.

            1. SarahTheEntwife*

              Another autistic adult chiming in here that this is great advice! It’s obviously going to depend on your kid’s specific situation and needs, but scripts and practice are awesome, and firm but loving nudges to do the scary thing help make it less scary.

              To get somewhat off-topic, if there’s every something that seems to be just Impossible, I find it helps to brainstorm other possible ways to get to whatever the ultimate goal is. Even if I end up having to do the apparently-impossible thing, it gives more of a sense of control to have looked at all my options and actively decided to do the thing.

            2. An Actual Fennec Fox*

              It wasn’t easy on anyone. Sometimes I would cry and beg my parents to please do the talking for me. My dad (he’s the calm one) would comfort me, reassure me… and then say ‘now go talk to the person over there, I’ll be right here’. I hated it as I was learning, but I really value this training now!

        2. BekaAnne*

          This! so much this.

          I have an agreement with my wife who is on the spectrum; in non work instances, I will make phone calls on her behalf because she gets very stressed out when she has to make a call. We’re in a F/F relationship, so I can pass for her on the phone. But she’s right there with me, and she is aware. We save her spoons for what she needs to do on a daily basis.

          However, for work, it’s coaching and advice, and having conversations to give her a course of action but it’s always prefaced with “Do you want advice or do you just want to bitch?!” I only give advice when she wants advice. I would never talk to her boss on her behalf. I’m her wife, not her helicopter mom!

          This just gets my back up. This is very much a denial of agency. It’s disabling her and putting her down while blaming someone else when the world goes your way. :(

          1. Former Employee*

            While I’m not on the spectrum, I’ve had difficulty dealing with pushy, overbearing people, especially when I was young. Having a spouse or partner who has your back in those situations can give someone a real sense of security.

      6. Claire*

        I’ve also found that men, as a general rule, want to help fix people’s problems, while women are more likely to sympathize without coming up with something actionable. It’s possible that spouse is venting and just meaning to say, “This is annoying,” but OP is hearing, “This is annoying, please help me come up with a solution.”

        1. Claire*

          This is not necessarily a bad thing about men, sometimes that approach is very kind and very helpful, but sometimes it’s not!

        2. WantonSeedStitch*

          This, very much, If the OP’s partner is saying “Argh, this is so frustrating, can you talk to my boss on my behalf since they aren’t listening to me?” and the OP is saying “but darling, Ask A Manager says I shouldn’t!” that would strike me as…odd. I would guess it’s a lot more likely that the partner is saying “Argh, this is so frustrating, they aren’t listening to me! I don’t know what else I can do to make them listen!” and the OP is saying “It’s not fair, I should be able to call them on your behalf!” when they were not asked to do so.

        3. Fix It Felicia*

          I’m a woman who is very much a jump in and try to help fix it person–I want to offer solutions and be helpful! But I had a friend point out that when she is needing an ear to listen to her troubles, jumping in with solutions makes it feel like I’m saying “you’re just doing it wrong, if you do it this way it will all work out.” I’ve had to consciously train myself out of my immediate need to fix things. I’m still not perfect, but until my friend communicated how invalidated my responses made her feel, I had no idea.

          I now often ask if she wants a suggestion or an observation and that usually works out well.

          When all this COVID-19 started, she asked for my help in composing a message to her boss about working from home. I helped her word it as a “this is an entirely reasonable request, and any reasonable boss would grant it” which was a much more assertive and self-advocating tone than her original wording.

          1. Nic*

            Same. My family has always been a “think outside the box and you can fix it” group of people, and so my default when presented with a problem, has always been to get out my logic toolkit and problem-solve it. It’s taken me a long time to recognise that practical solutions is not the only help that people come to me for, and that giving them emotional support is often sidelined when I’m too tunnel-vision focused on the practicalities of their problem.

            1. NeonFireworks*

              Me too. I came from some extremely practical people and didn’t think there was anything useful or helpful about a sympathetic response without creative suggestions. This nearly cost me a friendship years ago.

          2. DarnTheMan*

            Both of my parents are the same way and my sister has said she trained her husband (who’s of a similar mind) in the same way we trained them – by saying upfront “I want to vent about this for five minutes and I don’t want a solution, I just want you to listen to me and tell me it sucks.”

      7. Gazebo Slayer*

        Oh yes. It came across as mansplaining Alison’s job to her, in addition to all the controlling paternalism toward the spouse.

        1. Run Shaker*

          yes plus 1000! Plus just because she is autistic doesn’t mean the wife should be treated like a child. My jaw dropped and I made a gurgling sound when trying to say wow. Also, I have my doubts that concerned friends/family are questioning him about why he hasn’t done anything.

      8. Mints*

        Yep, and I know I’m making this up but this I’m being accused of not caring by thinking of her career over her health and safety! All because of your advice with no appreciation context at all. made me think it went like this:
        Partner venting
        LW going “I bet they’ll listen to me! I should call them”
        Partner going “No that seems unprofessional”
        LW “But you’re autistic what do you know”
        Partner “Here’s askamanager.org and it says it’s unprofessional too”
        LW “I’ll write in and change their mind”

      9. Agatha_31*

        It reeks of “ownership” attitude toward a partner and seriously grosses me out. Also makes me ask why you’d marry someone you dont actually believe is capable of being an adult.

        1. Cactus*

          Seriously. My ex (ex-boyfriend, not ex-husband, we had been together a few years but hadn’t made ANY official commitments, didn’t live together, weren’t engaged, no kids, nothing of the sort) once thought I was taking too long to follow up about a seemingly-promising interview that hadn’t gotten back to me. I had a feeling that I wouldn’t get the job, so I had focused on other things (mostly, final exams for my last semester of undergrad and hanging out with friends who would soon be moving). But he took it upon himself to write an email to the scheduling coordinator at the place where I volunteered–one of the people who I used as a reference for this job–and ask HER if she would tell me to call back about the job. With the excuse that I “give up too easily and need an outside push.” The next time I saw her, she told me about this, and I was damn furious. (I had already found out that I hadn’t gotten the job.) There were other reasons why this was fucked-up, but that was one of the main reasons in the “break up with him” column.

    3. So sleepy*

      Right?! My partner could insist I stop going to work without notice before he could ever contact my employer because he thought he would be more successful and handling the situation than I am. Either your wife is doing everything right, and nothing you can do would help, or you can support and guide your wife in handling the situation. Also, LW’s reference to autism is ridiculous – if someone is capable enough to be working, they are almost always capable of advocating for themselves (with support and encouragement at home, if needed, but that would be no different than for someone who is neurotypical – some people are better at it than others).

      1. YouCanGoHomeAgain*

        This! My son is on the spectrum and is applying at places and I’ve coached him on interviews, looked over applications before he sent them, etc., but I would NEVER call a place he applied for or worked at to ‘advocate’ for him. He’d be humiliated and furious. I use what I’ve learned here to help guide him, but it’s ultimately up to him.

        If it was something to do with COVID and his (and my) safety was compromised, I still wouldn’t intervene other than to suggest he call the Labor Board or whoever, but again, it’s HIS duty to do so.

      2. Double A*

        Yeah, my husband and I do a LOT of management of his mental health stuff behind the scenes. We strategize about work stuff. But I almost never talk directly to his “bosses” about work — and his bosses are his mom and stepdad in a tiny family business that we will likely take over one day so I have a material stake in it. When I do talk about the business with them directly, it’s almost always with that long-term view, or sometimes about scheduling time off (which I would NOT do if it weren’t a family business, and I still generally leave to my husband to communicate).

      3. Yarrow*

        Dude, this burns me up. I’m the autistic spouse in my marriage and my husband would never consider speaking to my boss on my behalf. If I’m functioning enough to work, I’m functioning well enough to advocate for myself or suffer the consequences. Sometimes he helps me prepare for conversations but it’s a piss-poor excuse for inferring with my job. Having him speak for me in that context would take more power away from me, not help defend against a bad situation.

      4. Tau*

        This also made me furious. In addition to the other reasons mentioned here… so I’m autistic and single. Some things are very hard for me to do, but I do them anyway because there’s no other option. If someone offered to do them for me, it would be very kindly meant, I’d be very tempted, but it would be an incredibly bad idea. The reason being that if I let someone else do the hard things, I am then dependent on that person. What happens if that support goes away for whatever reason? I’d be SOL.

        Your wife needs to be capable of living without you for your relationship to be healthy. Support her behind the scenes if you want to help her and she thinks it’d help. Help her hash out scripts for talking with her bosses. Be ready with reassurance and distraction for after the conversation. But doing it for her would be a very bad idea, for more reasons than just professional norms.

    4. JokeyJules*

      agreed. I’ve had some exceptionally crappy bosses and places of employment. I would absolutely not ever want my SO interfering with that at all on any level. It would have been so demoralizing to think that i needed my spouse to fix my professional issues for me. I’m not a damsel in distress, my boss sucked and i needed to fix that myself.

    5. RUKiddingMe*

      Yup. Forget about the employer. *I* would be pissed at the interference. It’s infantilizing and disrespectful of *me.*

      OP, dude no. Just no.

      Also “she’s on the autism spectrum” comes across as if you actually think she is a child or developmentally disabled.

      Again, just no.

      1. A Silver Spork*

        Autism *is* considered a developmental disability (both by most autistic people I know and by the CDC)… and being developmentally disabled STILL doesn’t give a spouse (or parent, or anyone else) the right to infantilize someone or override their autonomy.

    6. Mimosa Jones*

      My husband is a white knight and a mother hen. I’ve had to explicitly forbid him from speaking his mind to my family on how they treat me. I need to learn to do this for myself. He has never once offered to do this with my employers, and I’m sure he’d love to with some of them. He called me in sick once, when I was pregnant and so exhausted the thought of getting up made me cry. Not ideal, but I was in no condition to do anything remotely professional.

    7. Artemesia*

      No kidding. It infantalizes a spouse to try to fight their work battles for them. I once fired someone whose wife insisted on meddling constantly to ‘stand up’ for her husband. I worked with him to improve his performance but when the time came to decide, I think the gross unprofessionalism of being expected to deal with a meddling spouse did influence my decision to fire rather than continue.

      If a boss won’t listen to the employee why would they listen to her husband or his wife? The boss will assume the employee is incapable and will also likely assume that she is in an abusive marriage if a husband is trying to meddle in her work life. And most of the time the boss will be right about that.

    8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Same. Nobody needs to protect me. I don’t want it from anyone, let alone someone who is supposed to be my partner and equal! You aren’t my mother and even my mother wouldn’t dream of speaking to my boss, she just gives me advice on telling them to go to hell and exactly how they can get there.

      I’ve had to help people fight for their rights before and it’s always been in the form of coaching and research. They do the “heavy lifting” part and they feel SO MUCH BETTER doing it themselves. They learn how to advocate and love themselves, they don’t need my ass doing it for them.

    9. HoHumDrum*

      Yeah, like, my *parents* weren’t even this protective of me, or nearly as involved when I worked as a teen. I’m a grown ass woman now, I love my partner and I value his advice, but at the end of the day my work is *my* business.

      That said, I certainly ask my partner and my parents (and my friends!) for advice all the time, but when I do the help looks like this part of what Allison has said:
      “You can help behind the scenes — working out what they’ll say and helping them practice saying it. But it’s theirs to handle — and in most situations, you will undermine them significantly if you step in and handle it for them.”

      I don’t get why that type of involvement isn’t enough for the LW? You can’t make other people’s choices for them. If they want your help you can give them advice, you can even coach them, but at the end of the day the person needs to do for themselves, barring extreme circumstances.

      Also, the autistic thing is a red flag to me. My autistic friends don’t want to be treated like children or controlled by their loved ones either. They want workplaces who understand their needs so it’s easier for them to do what they need to do and to be able to make their own decisions. Just because your spouse is autistic doesn’t mean they want you swooping in to fix things for them constantly.

    10. iglwif*


      My spouse and I talk through each other’s work situations together aaaaallll the time. We each know a LOT about what’s happening in the other’s workplace. We tell work anecdotes and discuss work challenges at the dinner table often, so our teenager also knows quite a bit of this stuff. And said teenager has also had a part-time job for the past few years, so we’ve both helped her work through work dilemmas and even helped her compose emails to her supervisor when she was kind of at a loss for how to word a concern.

      And if any of us ever, for any reason short of “literally sick or injured enough to be unable to communicate directly”, called anyone else’s work to “advocate for” them with their employer? There would be SO MUCH ANGRY YELLING.

    11. The Wife*

      I only spoke on my husband’s behalf to people at his employer (a small law firm) when he was hospitalized with terminal cancer and on painkillers.

    12. Restless Rover*

      Second that 100% plus. It’s infantilizing the spouse and making them look incompetent to their employer. And it’s also showing a total lack of respect and confidence towards your spouse and her ability to function as an adult. If your spouse has significant issues advocating for themself then encourage them to seek professional help.

  2. Jam Today*

    At a fundamental level, you have no standing with your partner’s company. You are not an employee, you are not a customer, you are not a state or federal regulatory body, you are not law enforcement. You are nobody as far as that company is concerned, and your insertion of your opinion into how they choose to do business is at best irrelevant, and at worst harmful to your partner’s actual standing in the company.

      1. Mama Bear*

        Exactly. Also, my company hired me to be a capable, professional adult. If I can’t manage my own interactions with my company (and with people my spouse doesn’t know with nuances to situations he may not understand) then I have no business working there. If I have a situation I cannot handle then I need to talk to HR. If it is a matter of health over job, then you and your partner can discuss what steps to consider, including quitting that job. But the employee gives notice, not the spouse.

        I also think there’s a little “I’m afraid for someone I love and I want to protect them and I can’t and grrr” going on. A Mr. Fixit who can’t fix it might be extra frustrated. I gently suggest to the OP that they think about what they can control and what they can’t and where their fix it nature would be of best value. There’s a lot outside our collective control right now. We are in fight mode being told to watch TV, which is making people anxious.

        1. Autistic AF*

          I would encourage you to assess whether the first half of this post is helpful for folks like OP1’s spouse. There are (in most countries) legal requirements to provide equity in terms of how capability and professionalism are defined, and autistic women get the shaft doubly. To say that anyone who can’t manage their own interactions with their company doesn’t deserve to work there comes off as victim blaming and does a disservice to anyone who’s been taken advantage of in the workplace. I know an autistic nurse who’s only started to see some relief from multiple bullies after she lawyered up, for instance, and instead of quitting she’s been assigned to a COVID unit.

          OP1, I would suggest looking into legal or medial supports for your spouse. I believe your intentions are good, and a lawyer, doctor, occupational therapist, etc., can provide that support in a form that employers are more likely to heed.

          1. iliketoknit*

            I think, though, that “managing your interactions with your company” includes knowing when you need to bring in outside, professional help like a lawyer – but not a spouse. Managing interactions yourself would include something like the autistic nurse you know deciding to get a lawyer. It just doesn’t ever include bringing in a spouse to save the day.

            1. Autistic AF*

              The phrase is open to interpretation, which doesn’t help folks who struggle to interpret nuance. Someone who’s using up their emotional energy just surviving isn’t necessarily going to know when to enlist outside support, either – when our entire lives consist of doing what makes others happy at our expense, the default is often to put up with mistreatment. Autistic people are more susceptible to being abused and taken advantage of.

              In the case of my nurse friend, it took weeks for her to get to the point where she decided to see a lawyer and did so – obtaining professional services can be a significant barrier as well. Diagnostic barriers for women add yet another twist here: many assessing professionals rely on dated stereotypes and some even think that women can’t be autistic, and so many women don’t even have the privilege of a formal diagnosis.

              I agree that OP should not step in with his employer, but oversimplifying autistic needs isn’t much better than ignoring them.

              1. Mama Bear*

                Thank you, iliketoknit. You seem to have understood what I was trying to convey, which was not victim blaming or about any particular diagnosis.

          2. G*

            ” To say that anyone who can’t manage their own interactions with their company doesn’t deserve to work there comes off as victim blaming and does a disservice to anyone who’s been taken advantage of in the workplace. ”

            Whoa there. This is not AT ALL how this read to me. And it is absolutely not victim blaming to say that qualified employees are expected to manage their own interactions with their employers. If a disability (whatever it might be) is so severe that an individual cannot manage that, we are talking about a very different ball game because that’s more along the lines of ‘needing a program for job placement that specifically works with the disabled’. It is my understanding that the ADA does not cover the removal of one’s accountability to being a productive employee, and it certainly doesn’t eliminate the requirement of meeting the genuine job description.

            1. Autistic AF*

              And yet many of us genuinely meet job descriptions and are capable of working productively without job placement programs, but require specific conditions to thrive. Neurodiverse conditions and mental disorders are not static and our ability to function/thrive can vary, which is where it can be difficult to understand when things aren’t working. Think about letters from people whose employers don’t understand that they have to deal with a full-time toddler while working from home – they still have the skills to do their job but they’re spread much thinner due to the conditions they’re in.

              1. AcademiaNut*

                If you need a third party to help you with communications with your employer because of a mental disorder or neurodiverse condition, that should be negotiated as part of accommodation via the ADA. But even in that case, having it be your spouse (or your parent, for that matter) is not a good idea. I’m trying to articulate why that’s different than a third party, and I think it’s in part for the same reason you can’t supervise your spouse or child – the personal relationship interferes with the professional. As a spouse, you’re not a neutral interpreter or assistant, and you’re not impartial. You’re not acting in the professional sphere, but in the intimate personal sphere, which is almost never appropriate in the workplace.

                There’s also a real difference between behind the scenes coaching, and having someone speak on your behalf. You can coach your spouse through stuff, role play with them, you can discuss things at home, you can bring up things you think that are a problem, you can help them interpret wording in emails (as long as it’s not confidential information), but you can’t phone up their boss or HR and speak for them.

                1. Avasarala*

                  Yeah this is like hiring someone who doesn’t speak the language. They could be perfectly qualified but if they don’t speak English and no one in the office speaks their language, they’re going to have trouble communicating with their employer. Maybe you hire a translator or something, maybe their English-speaking spouse coaches them, but it’s not reasonable to have every conversation routed through the spouse. At that point just hire the spouse.

                2. Autistic AF*

                  ADA (and its equivalents in other countries) relies on one’s employer considering accommodations and one’s legal disability being recognized. Without both of those things, which aren’t a given, the employee’s burden of negotiation is much more stressful. That does not mean that the spouse should get directly involved, just getting what the spouse is looking for is often a long, painful, complicated process.

    1. PX*

      OP: this is the answer you need.

      Alison has given you a lot of additional context for why its a bad idea, but at its most basic, its this. Your opinion is meaningless to them, and does absolutely nothing good for the person you are supposedly advocating for.

      1. Anna*

        Absolutely! This letter writer has no chill. After helicopter parents we now have helicopter spouses…

    2. Lance*

      This basically covers it. The company’s ‘bruised ego’, OP claims? Well, no; there is no bruised ego here, because that would require the company to care, which they really have no reason to do barring very exceptional circumstances (and being on the autism spectrum is definitely not one of them). Their relationship is with the employee, not their spouse/family/friends/etc.

      1. Ohlaurdy*

        Right – OP fully misunderstands why we can’t contact our spouse’s company. They seemed to think it had something to do w/ the company being pissed off that a third party HAD to step in, when this just isn’t how things happen. Based on the rest of the letter, I’m gonna guess they probably do not take their spouse and her job seriously if that’s what they’re worried about.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      And, bluntly, I cannot discuss an employee’s personal situation with anyone who’s not them, their supervisor, or HR. I would not take or return a call nor return an email from someone who wanted to discuss someone else’s employment. I don’t know them, I don’t know their relationship with their spouse, (what if they’re an abusive soon-to-be-ex trying to interfere with their spouse’s employment?), I don’t know if they’re going behind their back or doing this with consent, etc.

      The way to help a spouse (or child or friend) is to give advice and/or support as needed, role play scenarios with them, or help them find a new position that is better suited to their needs.

    4. stem bem*

      Alison also isn’t a person with standing in the partner’s company, which is why it’s so weird that the letter writer focused on getting her to retract her advice instead of just asking “is it ok if i do this”! What were they hoping to gain?

      1. Uranus Wars*

        Well, I think the whole letter kind of reads as “If you do not agree with me I will push at you and not seek to understand you”

        1. Kitrona*

          Which implies a troubling tendency to do this same thing elsewhere and with other people. Probably including their spouse.

      2. designbot*

        Agreed. The LW’s all-or-nothing characterization of this shows me that he does not fundamentally understand why this is the professional norm, does not understand that Alison’s role is not to set the professional norms for the world (though I wish! ha) but rather to reflect them and educate others on them. His fundamental lack of understanding about this tells me that even if there were some special snowflake of a situation where it would be appropriate, that he does not have the judgement to discuss something with his wife’s employer successfully.
        And really, that’s a big part of why this is the norm! The company hired your wife for HER judgement, her understanding, and her skills. They did not hire you, because presumably you do not have those skills to navigate that company successfully.

    5. biobotb*

      Exactly. I’m not sure why, if the LW’s partner’s company doesn’t care about their employees’ opinions, they would care at all about their employees’ spouses/partners/significant others.

    6. Snarflepants*

      Correct. The company and the employee’s spouse do not have a business relationship with out other. As the OP pointed out, the the spouses are a team. The business and the employee’s spouse are not a team.

    7. Genny*

      Exactly this.

      LW, would you be okay with your wife’s best friend swooping in to argue with you about the right way to load a dishwasher on your wife’s behalf? No, you’d rightly tell them it’s not their business. The relationship between you and your wife isn’t theirs to manage. Now let’s say they feel like they have standing because they’re tired of listening to your wife complain about how you load the dishwasher. It would still be inappropriate for them to argue with you on behalf of your wife. They should manage the relationship they have, which is with your wife.

      Likewise, you only have standing to manage the relationship you have: the one with your wife. Love her, support her, comfort her, but you have no part in the relationship between her and her employer and thus no standing to intervene on her behalf.

    8. Viette*

      I agree completely. That’s what’s at the heart of it. The company doesn’t care about the input of the spouses of employees, and it should not. They haven’t vetted the OP, they haven’t built a relationship with the OP, and the OP has no power over them. I’d say it’s equivalent to hearing from a stranger, but as you say, at worst it’s actually more detrimental to the OP’s spouse than that.

    9. Nat*

      I cannot think of a situation where I would hear that a non-employee stepped in for an employee and not think that the spouse was either super-controlling, or that the employee was not able to handle their role/their life. Like it’s so egregious that it automatically raises red flags.

  3. Amber Rose*

    That’s just it. The better question here OP, is what do you think you’ll accomplish by doing this? Do you think your wife’s employer is gonna say, “Oh well, we totally ignored our employee but now that you, an unrelated stranger, are speaking up we will definitely change our ways.”

    Who do YOU think you will benefit by you stepping in? What is your expected end result? Alison’s advice is based on what the best possible outcome is. Your stance appears to be driven solely by emotion and has no particular results attached to it.

    1. Kierson*

      It sounds like OP is frustrated as heck given the new reality we live in. I get that. But they are funneling those frustrations onto Alison, unfairly.

      1. lost academic*

        If you read the entire thing, you can see he (assuming it’s a he) is getting his own outside pressure about his wife’s working conditions. So he needs to learn how to handle that as well.

        1. Elbe*

          Rather than going to his wife’s employer, he should focus his attention on learning how to tell his friends to back off. He should practice the phrase, “[Spouse] is a competent adult, and if they won’t listen to her, they definitely won’t listen to me.”

          1. KoiFeeder*

            Given the way he talks about ASD, one hopes he believes it. Being autistic doesn’t mean I can’t advocate for myself, after all.

            1. lost academic*

              I sort of wonder if that almost throwaway reference is an excuse – and now I’m entirely guessing – but it would somehow give him A Reason to interfere in her professional affairs because ASD!!! And at the same time “Person A isn’t managing a situation the way I believe is Right and Appropriate” does not mean that Person A is somehow fundamentally incapable of doing so because of some theoretical disorder. I don’t like how lots of people handle professional situations, including my husband, and I know he doesn’t agree with how I handle some of mine. We’re in very different lines of work and the professional norms are polar opposites so the approaches can seem strange. It doesn’t mean either or both of us can’t handle things like adults. Which sometimes means ineffectively :)

              1. KoiFeeder*

                Oh, it’s definitely an excuse. Hopefully a relevant excuse, although I can’t read minds over the internet so I don’t know for sure.

                Certainly “someone I supervise at work drew on the walls, now what do I do” comes off very differently if the person asking the question is a schoolteacher versus if they work in an art museum.

        2. Turtle Candle*

          Yeah, I sympathize with that part enormously, because I think their friends/family/acquaintances are doing what we all tend to do: flail about and attempt to find some solution. Except in this case their proposed solution is a) unkind to the LW and b) absolutely ineffective.

          Some of them might listen to “Her employer has even less reason to listen to me than they do to her, and in fact I may do more harm than good because it would undermine their perception of her as a competent adult.” Some of them won’t, and that sucks. Stress sometimes makes otherwise reasonable people act differently than normal. But it doesn’t make their stress-advice reasonable.

          1. Reality.Bites*

            And for the ones who won’t listen you can then say, “There you go! You’ve just proven that they wouldn’t pay any attention to my opinion!”

        3. Chinook*

          OP, the following commentary from me can be summed up as you are not the first nor the last spouse who wishes they could go in and shake some sense into an employer on a spouse’s behalf but you have to trust that your spouse has weighed th risks and benefits and is capable of making their own decisions.

          OP sounds like they are in a situation similar to mine day to day because DH’s job is often lacking in easiky available equipment, has times when he goes to calls alone in rdio nd cellphone dead zones, and has yet to fully comply with findings from 2 different commissions to prevent officer deaths similar to what happened in 2 different provinces. I would shout to the rooftops the need for better body armour and contradictions to officer safety if given permission by DH, but I know that even me makinig a civilian complaint would be brushed aside as “worried spouse” and could damage his career.

          Instead, he self advocates and self funds his own gear when he can, takes copies of memo that contradict officer safety rules, and has let me know where the paper trail is in case he ever gets injured/killed on the job. He also gave me explicit permission to rake them over the coals publicly in that case and leverage my positon of grieving widow.

          It is cold comfort to know that I can’t prevent something tht would alter my life to the extreme, but DH is the one choosing to work there, he is paid fairly (or will be once the newly formed union can negotiate) and if he felt it was too dangerous, he would quit.

        4. Betty*

          By his own logic, if he can’t handle external pressure by himself and stand up for himself properly then he should just get his wife to intervene. Sorted.

          1. A*


            She can go after the alleged friends, he can go after the employer… and at the end of the day he’ll get exactly what he wants – to only be surrounded by those of like mind. Because she will have been fired, and he will have no friends (although I’m still skeptical that they exist, I doubt anyone is seriously telling him off for not confronting his wife’s employer).

        5. Sam.*

          And they’re acting like Alison’s blessing to interfere would somehow change the situation? That it would make interference more acceptable and effective? It won’t. And if the employer is unreasonable, they’re not going to get *more* reasonable because someone’s spouse steps in. I completely get his frustration, but Alison didn’t create the circumstances or the work norms that say he shouldn’t interfere. She’s not the right target.

          And they seem to think that an employer’s objection to speaking to a spouse is that it would bruise the boss’s ego? I hope Alison’s explanation at least clarified that point, because that’s very much not the issue here.

          If the employer is, for example, a retail store, he could complain as a customer and try to agitate within the community to get others to complain – I suspect public shaming would have a better chance of success, honestly.

          1. antigone_ks*

            “And if the employer is unreasonable, they’re not going to get *more* reasonable because someone’s spouse steps in.”

            And if they only agree to something because the spouse steps in, that’s not reasonable at all. That’s major dysfunction. OP, if you know your spouse’s employer is unreasonable, the thing to do is help her get her resume together and make a plan for job-seeking, not to make her relationship with her employer even worse than it (apparently) is.

      2. So sleepy*

        Kierson, you hit it right on the head. This sounds incredibly frustrating, and some advice will not be the same under the circumstances (example: it’s a lot more acceptable now to have video call issues than it will be any other time), but this is not one of those exceptions. Lw’s spouse is either going to have to tolerate the situation, set boundaries, or quit/refuse to work. None of these options involve LW intervening with the employer., and honestly, there is zero chance the employer is going to act differently because a spouse demands it – either their employees will force them or legislation/enforcement will, unfortunately.

        It does sound like the employer is acting illegally, so the next step is for their employees to report them to the appropriate authority in their state, or refuse to work. There are steps to be taken when discrimination is occurring or businesses are operating illegally. I know many of them are challenging. But none of them involve a spouse chewing the employer out.

    2. PollyQ*

      Exactly this. Employers who care so little about their employees and about following the law aren’t going to change their minds no matter how emphatically or eloquently you argue. There’s no benefit to your doing this at all, only negatives for your partner.

    3. Turtle Candle*

      Yeah. Alison gives this advice partly because it will undermine the employee, but also partly because it simply will not work. It’s not a choice between “something considered professionally taboo but that is effective” and “something conventional but ineffective.” It’s professionally taboo and won’t work anyway. There is, literally, no gain.

      I think this is a case where the LW (and others, the ones who are denigrating them) feels like there must be some answer to “this employer is awful,” and have latched onto this as a potential silver bullet for the problem. The problem is that there is no silver bullet for this problem; there are options (employees push back as a group, reporting to relevant authorities) but that’s not the same thing.

    4. Julia*

      >The better question here OP, is what do you think you’ll accomplish by doing this?

      I think LW’s unspoken assumption is that (s)he can advocate more effectively than the partner, possibly because the partner is too intimidated to do that effectively or isn’t good at resolving these sorts of conflicts. It’s interesting that the letter hardly discusses the partner at all – what she’s like, what efforts she’s already made to resolve the issue, etc. I think that’s because spouses like this see their partners as somehow less capable of tackling workplace issues than they are, and they have the impulse to take over. Before you do that, ask yourself why you don’t trust your partner to take care of her own business.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        I noticed that! Thank you for putting this into words, the lack of any detail about the partner (except for possibly being autistic?) was weirding me out.

      2. FaintlyMacabre*

        Yes! I had an ex try to coach me through some work issues and not only was he completely blind to the fact that things in his industry were vastly different than mine and didn’t apply, I realized that he had zero faith in my abilities and didn’t think of my job as worthwhile.

      3. Kella*

        Yes, OP’s partner’s actions and thoughts and opinions about all this are distinctly missing from the letter.

      4. whingedrinking*

        From a charitable perspective, I could see it like this: “Spouse is not good at advocating for themself or finds it extremely unpleasant (because of [reason]). I am good at advocating for myself and people I care about. In a marriage, two people often split up tasks based on who’s better at them, right? I could alleviate some stress for Spouse and make life easier for the two of us if I could do this. Also, since we’re a team and a unit and what happens at Spouse’s job affects our marriage, I have a right to get involved and defend/help them. Spouse’s boss is unreasonable not to accept me as a perfectly acceptable proxy for Spouse.”
        Even trying as hard as I can to be sympathetic to the LW, I can’t make it work in my head. I understand the desire to help loved ones who are struggling, but it will not help to do the thing for them in this case.

    5. TheBeetsMotel*

      I think OP wants to project an image of himself towering over his wife as her “heavy mob”, cracking his knuckles while making menacing, unbroken eye contact with his wife’s boss.

      Which is super, super NOT how any of this works.

    6. Brittany Constable*

      “My wife’s employers are exploitative and unreasonable, but surely they will see the error of their ways if only *I* can explain it to them” is some seriously magical thinking. The chances are overwhelmingly high that the reason the employers aren’t listening to OP’s wife isn’t because she just hasn’t figured out how to properly assert herself–they’re not listening to her because they suck and aren’t going to change. At best a spouse’s interference won’t do anything, and at worst it will make the spouse a target for further abuses.

  4. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

    LW, why do you think you’d get more of a response than your spouse? And who are these people accusing you of not caring about your spouse’s health? What business is it of theirs?

    1. ThatGirl*

      You show you care about your spouse by supporting them at home and behind the scenes. I agree that it’s none of anyone else’s business. And if this is a man being accused of not supporting his wife, there’s a whiff of sexism in there too.

      1. JokeyJules*

        yes! the support you can give your spouse is what will actually help them with this. Listening and maaaaybe a “we can figure it out if you want to quit” is it.

        1. So sleepy*

          Yep; help spouse figure it out, support them, but don’t override them. The only thing worse than an employer pushing you around would be having your significant other pushing just as hard back, leaving you stuck in the middle. I would want and expect my spouse to share their opinions and ideas and support the approach I decide to take. I would lose my mind if he thought he was more qualified to manage my employer than I am.

    2. Smithy*

      I live in NYC and my parents are in the Midwest, and for 2-3 weeks every other day I was getting calls to please quarantine with them in their house. That I was their child, that it would be safer, that they were so worried and proposing solutions because they cared.

      It really was only after the articles started coming out about assorted problems connected to NYC residents leaving for other parts of the country that the penny dropped and my mom was like “oh, I get it.” Nothing I said before was really connecting with her emotionally.

      So – I can get where heightened nerves and emotion may be causing the OP, family, friends to be having a similar response about the OP “protecting family” and that leading to a more stressful and emotional response. Doesn’t mean it’s going to be the right move, but I can where stress and emotion can override what’s also the rational part of the OP for going along with AAM’s advice and pleading for a new ruling.

      1. MsSolo*

        I’ve had similar from my parents. I’m pregnant, and no amount of “but my midwife is here, there are more hospitals here, the shops are all fully stocked with food here, everything is in walking distance here, 90% of your facebook posts are about how angry you are people from outside the county are overwhelming your tiny hospital and I’m from outside your county” really makes a difference, because she’s anxious and the only way she knows how to manage that is to try and solve problems. Ultimately, even if I was there, or she was here, she’d still be just as anxious because the root cause isn’t “being in different places”, it’s “global pandemic” and she can’t solve that.

        Having said that, I feel like it’s a very generous reading of the OP to suggest this is an attempt to soothe misplaced anxiety. The level of outburst at a complete stranger gets my back up, and the controlling vibe over the spouse (who gets little to no agency in the letter) is grim. It’s not to say it isn’t anxiety driven, but so are a lot of abusive and controlling behaviours, and they don’t get a pass just because everyone is more anxious right now.

    3. Lt_Ripley*

      My first thought was it was a man writing in thinking he’d be more convincing “man to man.” Not gonna lie and say I don’t find the patriarchy everywhere… Maybe it’s because a lot of the previous spousal interference letters have come from that perspective.

  5. So sleepy*

    I agree with AAM wholeheartedly. First, this isn’t about bruising the ego of the employer, it’s sbout undermining your spouse and their management of the situation. Second, any employer who treats their employees so badly that their spouse needs to intervene on their behalf, is not an employer worth working for. Last, it’s so outside the bounds of normal that if and when your spouse is job searching again, it will be a serious red flag to employers if they get wind of it at all (either that your spouse cannot handle any sort of workplace conflict or that you have serious issues with boundaries). Your job is to support your spouse in handling the situation, not to intervene on their behalf. I don’t know who is telling you otherwise but they are being unreasonable and not respecting your spouse’s ability to manage the situation and make decisions for themselves.

  6. Another worker bee*

    OP, this is a weird hill to die on – if the employer doesn’t listen to your spouse, it’s unlikely they will listen to you. You know what they might listen to? Legal consequences and/or public shame.
    Check previous AAM posts, I’m pretty sure Alison compiled some resources about where to report employers that are disobeying the stay at home orders.

    1. Another worker bee*

      AND upon a closer reading I see that those links are already in the reply…caffiene has clearly not kicked in yet

  7. DashDash*

    I can weigh in from the perspective of a woman on the spectrum (though of course, every person is different, I’m not saying your partner will have the experience I did). Women can be especially penalized for not having the “expected” social skills, and a spouse stepping in can take away a great opportunity to practice. Your partner can practice with you, in a safe space, and then apply those skills in the workplace.

    1. Generic Name*

      This! By stepping in and taking control, you are robbing your spouse of the opportunity to self-advocate. The best way you can support your spouse is behind the scenes.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      This. Everyone should learn how to speak up for themselves because you won’t always have someone around to do it for you, and there will be times, like in a work situation, where it’s completely inappropriate for someone else to do so anyway.

      1. The Original K.*

        My parents gave me this advice almost verbatim when I was a teenager, and it’s so true.

    3. AMT*

      Good point. I’m also thinking that if her employer is aware that she’s autistic (and possibly has a negative/simplistic view of autistic people in general), it may be affecting how they view her competence and professionalism. Her spouse stepping in could cause them to believe, unfairly, that she’s socially incompetent and needs a neurotypical person to step in and manage her professional relationships. The LW could be inadvertently drawing more attention to a characteristic that she really doesn’t want to place at the center of her working life.

      1. Asperger Hare*

        So very much agreed! I’m autistic and my spouse is too, so I truly understand that sense of being protective and wanting to help your spouse when they have difficulties at work. However, Alison is right. The best way you can help is to help your spouse to do it themselves.

      2. So sleepy*

        Yep. I don’t have autism (but do have other invisible disabilities). It would make me feel incredibly small and incompetent to be treated like I couldn’t handle a situation. LW is already putting a lot of pressure on their spouse to “handle” the situation; I hope they don’t try to make it worse by doing this.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          “It would make me feel incredibly small and incompetent to be treated like I couldn’t handle a situation.”

          … Especially by the person I’ve chosen to spend my life with.

        2. M. Albertine*

          Exactly, “infantilizing” was the first word that came to mind when I read this letter.

      3. Turtle Candle*

        Yes. It would have the net effect of perpetuating the (wrong) idea that non-neurotypical people can’t manage their own lives and need a keeper. It’s horrible that that stereotype exists, but it does, that is the world we live in right now, and reinforcing it in this way is going to do considerably more harm than good, IME.

      4. Actual Vampire*

        YES. OP, if you contact your spouse’s employer on her behalf, all you’re doing is giving them evidence that your spouse is incapable of talking to her own employer. And it is reasonable for any company to expect that their employees, neurotypical or not, will be capable of bringing issues to them directly, without getting their spouses involved.

      5. Princesa Zelda*

        My brother is autistic, and at his first job our dad threatened to sue the manager for violating ADA. I mean, she was — they were completely shutting down a reasonable accommodation that had already been granted and not figuring out an alternative. But here’s the kicker: I worked at the same place and had already talked Brother through the conversations he needed to have and who he needed to have them with, and told him in advance the kind of conversation I would have when the politics of that job demanded it. (The place was pretty dysfunctional and I was going to have to pull a string.) Dad coming in and “fixing it” blew a giant hole straight through that process, and made the manager in question resent both of us.

      6. Kitrona*

        My girlfriend is on the spectrum, and there have been a few times that I’ve *itched* to do or say something for her at work, but I just quietly clung to my sanity and let her handle it, because she’s a competent adult and just because I’d do something a different way doesn’t mean her way is wrong. And, lo and behold, everything eventually turned out fine! It would definitely not have if she’d done it my way, because she knows the people she works with, and she is the one who has to deal with them and any discomfort. What did help was encouraging her and supporting her when she wasn’t at work, and listening. Aside from the current crisis, she enjoys her job and is appreciated there, so my meddling could have ruined a good thing. It wasn’t easy to trust her at first, entirely due to situations with other people, but it’s gotten easier as I’ve seen how she conducts her business and I can tell my brain “No, brain, she’s not like those other people, she really *can* handle herself and be a competent adult.” (I had one ex who…. couldn’t…)

    4. Aspergirl*

      Same. As a woman on the spectrum I will say I have absolutely had autism-related issues in the workplace. I would never ever want my husband contacting my employer about them. I would only want him contacting them to say “She’s too sick to call in sick today” or something I physically cannot do.

      LW, what do you think you’ll actually accomplish? You’re not some magic (male?) rational genius who can talk people into doing the right thing. As a woman, I have so often had men tell me that if only the “right” “logical” things were said, the person doing the wrong thing would change their minds. It’s not true.

      Help her relax so she can focus, help her brainstorm, help her practice. Report her employer for illegal behavior. Help her figure out if she needs to quit, even. I understand you are upset and worried for her. But your assertions come off as very focused on you wanting not to feel powerless, not whether you could possibly do any good.

      1. Miss Vicki*

        Aspergirl, I really like that: help her relax so she can focus. I think a lot of the time, when your partner comes home and starts complaining about work, you can really start to take on their problems as your own. Looking at the LW’s point of view in the most generous light, that’s part of what’s happening here. But both of them seem like they’ve got so worked up about the whole situation (with good reason), that nobody is seeing the real problem: somebody has a crappy manager and needs to figure out how to work their way through this. The person WITH the crappy manager (not the person married to the person with the crappy manager) needs to figure out a strategy that plays to their strengths and abilities. The partner can’t go in there and Rambo this out.

    5. Dust Bunny*

      Also a woman on the spectrum here: I second all of this.

      Does being on the spectrum sometimes make me less good at some of these things? Yes. But it’s not a reason to have a spouse (parent, etc.) step in. It means that I need to learn to do this for myself, and if I can’t, then I’m probably not ready to move on/up in my job.

      Can partners/parents/friends encourage me, help me practice, help me seek out the therapists/etc., I might need to get to the point that I can do this myself? Yes, of course. But they can’t step in and do it for me.

    6. CoveredInBees*

      Yup. My partner isn’t on the spectrum but was raised super conflict avoidant and had an older sibling who commandeered (and still does) even the smallest thing, so he never developed these skills until I helped him.

    7. Ace in the Hole*

      I agree entirely. I didn’t hear LW talk at all about what their wife has already tried or how they’ve helped in other ways. That… worries me. There are lots of ways to help that don’t involve calling the boss.

      My sister is on the autism spectrum and often comes to me for help on work-related issues. What we do is walk through the situation, brainstorm steps she can take, and go over the potential problems at each stage of her plan. We practice/roleplay the conversations, or sometimes she might ask me to help her write a script. I’ll point out expectations that seem unreasonable or help her decipher what someone might have meant by something. In an extreme situation (like this) we might even talk about the pros and cons of reporting it to a legal authority. She can then take that knowledge and apply it INDEPENDENTLY.

      LW, your wife and my sister and DashDash and thousands of other people on the spectrum are competent, independent adults with jobs. Adults with jobs need to be able to assess their situations and advocate for themselves at work… which is a learned skill that takes practice. By jumping in and speaking on your wife’s behalf, you do two things:

      1. You rob her of the chance to build her own skills
      2. You undermine her in the eyes of her coworkers, which sets her up for an even harder time being perceived as a competent, professional person in her workplace.

      What you do NOT accomplish is solving the issue, since a good boss will ignore calls from family (because they value what their employees say much more than what a spouse says) and a bad boss will also ignore calls from family (because if they’re not listening to their own employees why the hell would they listen to you?).

    8. Morning Flowers*

      Another autistic woman weighing in to say, all of this! Help and support and coach at home; but let her do it herself at work!

    9. Claire*

      Also an autistic woman, also in passionate agreement that autistic adults aren’t children and talking to authority figures on our behalf (especially when we haven’t asked!) is both insulting and not helpful.

  8. Person from the Resume*

    Alison is so right and the LW is so wrong.

    #1: If they don’t listen to their employee, why would they listen to their employee’s partner/spouse?

    #2: You partner/spouse needs to advocate for, standup for, protect herself. If she is unwilling to do so, why should your attempt at persuasion succeed. As far as the company is concerned you have no relation to them and you seem like a weirdly controlling (possibly abusive) partner if you do so.

    If you don’t want your partner to go into work during COIV-19, you just need to convince your partner not to go to in work and allow her to deal with her employer as needed.

  9. VermiciousKnid*

    “…this isn’t about how you believe things should work. It’s about how things do work.”
    ^100x this. Ignoring the rules of society doesn’t put you ahead of everyone else, it puts you at a disadvantage. You have to learn how to work within those bonds. You also cannot help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.

    1. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

      I would die of embarrassment if my husband talked to my employer for me. I would have to change my name and move to Tuktoyaktuk.

      Focus on standing up to your friends who are being weird and rude by saying you don’t care about your wife if you don’t talk to her employer. Use Alison’s answer to set them straight.

  10. MissGirl*

    I’m genuinely curious. What do you think stepping in will do other than make you feel less powerless?

    I sympathize with you. The most frustrating thing about this situation is how so much of the advice is do nothing or stay away. We watch people get sick, jobs disappear, and all we can do is wait and hope.

    I’m sorry people in your life seem to think you don’t care. I suspect they are acting out because they, too, feel powerless. They blame you, you blame the company, the company blames the situation. When all in all, it’s a crappy time. Support your partner by being there for her emotionally.

    1. Grits McGee*

      Yeah, I don’t agree with the OP’s perspective, but I am definitely sympathetic to the (unfair) pressure they seem to be under from their social circle. It’s very easy for an outsider to advice others to throw their time and energy against an obstacle, but the outsider isn’t the one who has to deal with the consequences.

      1. CupcakeCounter*

        I agree but I think the OP’s perspective is skewed right now based on the fear and frustration they are feeling because they actually ARE doing the right thing and getting grief for it from friends/family. They are letting their partner fight their own battles but have to hear her upset about it at home while the peanut gallery is accusing him of not being a good partner. Most people in the OP’s shoes would want to do something when their partner is suffering. Its instinctual in many people and I would think more so in the partner of someone who is no neurotypical and is used to stepping in to help navigate certain social/public situations but, to give the OP credit, so far they seems to have resisted the temptation to step in and wrote to Alison instead.

        1. Lance*

          I can definitely agree with this, and as an extension of this point: I’d advise OP to tell anyone suggesting to them that they ‘don’t care’, that they’re ‘not doing anything’, that they are doing something. That they’re there for their partner, as a sounding board, for advice, whatever else may apply. Not to step into a work relationship that they have no part in.

        2. Alexandra Lynch*

          I will also add that like many autistic people, I have a real problem with neophobia. If what I really ought to do is to change jobs, I may be aware of that solution, but the fact that New Job would be Different and Strange and there would be New People To Meet makes it highly unappealing, right up until I hit the point (and I have to hit the point by myself) that Old Job’s toxicity/issues cause me a level of discomfort that outweighs the discomfort and anxiety of any New Job.

          This applies to all the changes; I had to go through this when deciding to leave my ex. But what the people in my life could do was support me and point things out that were not the way they should be and listen to me vent, and make it plain to me that I sounded unhappy. No one looked at my ex and said, “You ought to be nicer to your wife.”

      2. JSPA*

        I’m not. There’s more than daylight between, “welp, I’m not going to have an opinion at all, to signal my respect” and, “I’m going to give the boss a talking-to.”

        How about

        1. I’m going to express my distress and fears to my spouse in terms that will force them to include that in their calculus

        2. I will start a petition

        3. I will go to the media

        4. I will brainstorm real sacrifices I’d be willing to make (whether in terms of my own career, my own direct safety or our material pleasures) that could allow my spouse to feel more comfortable challenging their employer (knowing it might lead to career derailment).

        5. I will initiate a serious conversation on the topic of where to draw the line, as far as safety, and will ask probing questions and then sit back and really listen to answers.

        OP, grow a pair (whether ovaries or testes, doesn’t matter), do a little contingency planning in case your spouse calls your bluff about sleeping in the basement, then risk putting yourself on the line WITH YOUR SPOUSE. Not with the spouse’s boss. Then write in again.

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yes, I don’t want to dismiss their concerns but if they take a step back it sounds like this is more about managing their own feelings than their wife’s work situation.

      LW, if you reached out to your wife’s company on her behalf the only thing that would change is the part of your letter about people accusing you of not caring. And possibly people at work will take your wife less seriously going forward, making it even *more* difficult for her to advocate for herself.

      You don’t need to prove to anyone except for your wife how much you care about her. And if you do want to show her you care there are ways to help without undermining her. Sit down with her and talk through the problems together. Work out what exactly you want her office to change and the best way to ask for it, and then let her do the asking. If the company is really awful and you’re worried about the direct impact on her health, discuss whether quitting is on the table and then support her with her job search.

      Why do you think they would get any better just because you said something? What makes your voice more valuable or convincing than hers?

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        One other thing–if she is truly “at her wit’s end” then the best thing you can do to help her is to see if there is anything else you can take off her plate while she sorts this out. Anything around the house that is contributing to her general stress load, if you can step up and do more than your usual share I’m sure she would appreciate that.

      2. Ismonie*

        It’s not about what OP wants to change in the office, though, it is about what OP’s spouse wants to change in the office.

    3. Amber Rose*

      Yeah, I’m really feeling the frustration oozing out of every pore, and I know that people have become steadily more snappish and less tolerant of each other lately, just on a whole. We’re all tense and wound up like springs.

      But lashing out at Alison isn’t gonna help anything, and neither is lashing out at a spouse’s employer. Part of being an adult is managing your emotions.

    4. revueller*

      100% agreed. I’m in a position where my partner is having a really hard time communicating with his boss, and as someone who’s been a mediator her whole life, I’ve been at the point for months where I’ve wanted to sit them both down and hash out what’s going on once and for all.

      Of course, I can never, ever, ever do that. No matter how much I gripe, worry, groan, etc., I cannot intervene in my partner’s job. I can only listen to his perspective, advise on what he can take next, leave out books that might help, and ultimately just support him with his decisions.

      I am powerless in changing the situation at the root, which feels horrible at times, but it would not compare to how powerless my partner would look if I intervened on his behalf. He’d not only likely lose his job, but also a good reference and his professional reputation in the area. That is not worth it for my peace of mind.

  11. Emelle*

    My company is thinking about going back mid May. This is a horrid idea and my husband has already said he doesn’t want me going back. (We are public facing. Have I mentioned how bad an idea this is?) But it is my battle. He will help with wording and will find phone numbers and emails for people I should contact if it comes to that. But it would not only undermine me at work, it would undermine our relationship. He is saying that I can’t do this correctly, so he needs to step in. (And my big boss is going to wonder who TF this yoyo is that is telling him how to run his company.)

    1. I'm A Little Teapot*

      Realistically, my company is also thinking about going back mid May. But you know, the government and more importantly, the virus, is going to have a lot to say about if we actually do. It’s early April. You’ve got a month. Don’t sweat it yet, just monitor the situation. We got to where we are very quickly, and it can change just as quickly.

      As for your husband – he needs to butt out, and stay butted out. Unless he’d like to destroy his marriage.

      1. A nonnie nonnie non*

        I agree with Teapot. There are a number of organizations with an anticipated start up of date of mid-may. Of course this will be dependent on the state they are in and if they open things back up. Most states are going to see surges next week and the week after. New York already is showing signs of slowing (not saying we should stop social distancing!! and things could change). So Mid-may is certainly not out of the picture.

      2. Person from the Resume*

        I agree.

        In March when my city got the stay at home order, our softball league had cancelled all games through mid-April. Someone got really upset on April 1 that our softball league hadn’t updated the restart date. Then a few days later when the state’s stay at home order was extended to May 3rd, the league updated it’s return date.

        Your business, my softball league don’t have to know more than the government and plan to stay out for longer than the government has said. If the government ill-advisedly tries to resume things before you think it’s safe then that’s a problem. Unfortunately I suspect my stay at home order may go well into may, but I need to let leadership decide first when we’re still more than 20 days out from the end of the order.

        1. Ismonie*

          If the government is being irresponsible, community organizations and employers should definitely stay out longer than legally required.

      3. A*

        At least in MA, May is the expected re-open date as of right now (although of course everything is subject to change / expected to to a certain extent).

        In the case of my employer, we have no choice but to open up as soon as we are able. Otherwise we will go under, and as the largest employer by far in a 50-mile radius – there is a lot at stack beyond our bottom line. Obviously safety comes first and we would never re-open against recommendation, but we don’t have the luxury of playing it safe beyond when the requirement is lifted.

      4. Emelle*

        He isn’t doing anything to damage anything. He is high risk, so he has legit concerns. A lot can happen in a month, but the nature of my job is going to put me in contact with a lot of people and social distancing is not realistic for working with tiny humans.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      He is saying that I can’t do this correctly, so he needs to step in.

      That’s exactly what it says, and that’s offensive as hell.

    3. Marny*

      If I were the boss, not only would it make me wonder who TF this yoyo is, but it would absolutely make me question my own employee’s competence in thinking that having her spouse handle her professional dealings was the right move. I hope the LW sees the light that he would be doing way more harm than good to his wife.

    4. AvonLady Barksdale*

      He says you “can’t do this correctly”… and how does that make you feel? Because to most of us, that would be pretty insulting.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I may be misinterpreting but I think their comment is not that he has literally spoken those words, but rather that that is what he would basically be implying if he undermined her by speaking to her boss directly.

  12. The Original K.*

    The employer’s ego isn’t going to be bruised by having a random person chastise them about their practices because the employer has no relationship with that person, and thus isn’t obligated to care what that person thinks of their operations and practices.

    If your & your spouse’s boundaries are being tested by your spouse’s employer, you two can figure out how to deal with that within your relationship – and you should, because as you say, you’re a team. But your spouse’s employer doesn’t owe you anything.

  13. EPLawyer*

    Your spouse is NOT a child. Do not treat your spouse as one. This is not the same as going to talk to the teacher about Fergus’ grade in math. This is a fully capable adult who has a job. Treat them as a fully capable adult who is able to hold a job.

    This is not about unreasonable employers. This is about you believing your spouse sucks at advocating for herself so you the big brave strong other spouse must step in and save them. Trust me it is not a good look.

    If your spouse is truly at wit’s end in dealing with the situation, help your spouse by NOT letting them know how much they suck at handling the situation. You thinking you can advocate better is actually causing your spouse MORE stress. Because now your spouse is also concerned about disappointing you. Make life easier for your spouse righ now, not harder.

    1. MicroManagered*

      Also your child is not a child, if they are old enough to have a job. You can help a child or spouse navigate a situation by giving advice, but you can’t contact them yourself unless they are incapacitated. To me, that’s just as true for Fergus’s mom when he gets his first job at Burger King, or Fergus’s spouse …

      1. Pescadero*

        I would disagree with this in cases of a minor child, and preventing a crime/damage for which the custodial parent would be legally responsible.

        1. MicroManagered*

          Nah. Parents of minors can help their kid navigate situations regarding work, but contacting the employer directly is helicoptering and inappropriate, if you ask me. I’m not sure what crime someone would be committing at work that their parent would be responsible for? But possibly that.

    2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      My first, granted incredibly snarky thought about this letter was, “if you are so concerned about your child being in an unsafe work environment, then tell your child to quit and continue to support her until she’s through high school. Oh, we aren’t talking about a child?”

    1. DataGirl*

      I agree. People are very stressed and scared right now, and I’m seeing a lot of misplaced anger where people are blowing up over the tiniest things. I think OP is frustrated and decided to make AAM a target of that frustration.

      1. DoctorDog*

        +1 the tone was alarming to me, and it DID lead me to make the assumptions about OP’s relationship that Alison warned wife’s coworkers may make. I hope that Alison’s response gets through to OP as it is very important !

  14. IT Relationship Manager*

    Heartily agree with Alison. At best it’s like if your mom is calling into your job, at worse, it looks like you are controlling your spouse’s career. If an employee’s husband called me about his wife’s work, I’d actually be concerned about her.

    Jobs are between the employee, employer and regulatory agencies. Spouses can be supportive at home but they don’t get a voice in any matter. Saying “I can do this better than my wife” is really condescending to her.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I was thinking that it is exactly like mom calling into the job. It’s the same dynamic whether someone is calling the boss about “little Jimmy” or “my husband Jimmy.” The message is, “Your employee isn’t capable of navigating this situation so I’m going to that part of their job for them.”
      The only, only time a spouse should step in is if they are an attorney who is representing their spouse. But if you are at the point of needing legal representation, then you are negotiating a departure.

    2. Bunny Girl*

      Second being concerned about the employee. If I had a coworker whose spouse butted into their job, I’d worry about their safety because it comes across as very controlling, even if that’s not your intent. And if you went at the employer with the same attitude I’m seeing in this post, I’d worry about anger management and stability issues from the spouse as well.

    3. cmcinnyc*

      It’s a lot worse than mom calling. That reads as misplaced concern and poor boundaries, usually. A male spouse getting tough with a female employee’s boss/place of business reads as domestic violence. I am NOT accusing the OP of being an abuser. But that’s the red flag that gets run up the flagpole any time an angry male spouse butts in. Doesn’t matter if you wouldn’t hurt a hair on her head and truly think you’re in her corner. Every single person at her job who knows of this will think, “Oh no, Diane is trapped in a violent home. Is there anything we can do to help?” They won’t be thinking, “Wow, it took that angry guy Bob to make me see that we need to take Diane seriously around here.” They’ll be giving her hotline numbers.

  15. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    I hope OP reflects on “we’re a team”, too. I understand the emotional meaning of it in the context of a serious relationship, but jobs are not about emotion or commitment – they are about getting discrete things done. The spouse-as-team-member concept doesn’t apply.

    Are you regularly reading and responding to everyday emails and memos on your partner’s behalf? Of course not.
    If your partner violates company policy and gets demoted, are you getting a similar punishment at your own place of work? I sure hope not!

    1. Marny*

      Alternatively, the “we’re a team” idea can work here. It’s just they have very different positions on the team. Her position is being the employee at her job, and his position is to support her behind the scenes at home. The team only works if they stay in their assigned positions.

  16. SydV*

    This is whiny and accusatory as if he’s not a grown man able to ruin his wife’s career without your permission. He doesn’t HAVE to follow your advice. How strange. Good luck to his wife. OP should take a step back and look at the optics of this, it makes his partner seem like a child who is unable to speak for themselves and has a stranger calling up to advocate on their behalf. It’s highly unprofessional and absolutely will paint his wife at the very least in a very strange light.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      That was the sense I got too, that he was saying, “Well, I *should* be able to call my wife’s boss and yell, but Ask a Manager said I can’t! So I must get AAM to change her mind!”
      So. Weird.

      1. Paulina*

        Maybe he thinks his wife’s boss reads AAM, and won’t find spousal intervention unprofessional if Alison doesn’t? IDK, that’s the only way I can see how Alison changing her advice would make any difference. But she’s not defining reality, she’s reflecting it.

        1. Paulina*

          Alternatively, perhaps his wife is the AAM-reader, and he wants Alison to change her advice so he can be free to intervene. I’m getting very speculative here, though.

    2. PhillyRedhead*

      Yes! I was getting a very strange vibe from the OP, but you put it into words much better than I could have.

    3. Gazebo Slayer*

      The filter ate my previous comment to this effect, but: contacting your spouse’s employer would be sabotaging her employment. Which is a common abuse tactic, used to isolate, control, and ensure financial dependence.

      And no, if she’s on the autism spectrum that does not make it okay.

    4. biobotb*

      Right? It’s weird that he’s blaming AAM for his own actions/inaction. She has literally no control over what he does, no matter how ill-advised.

    5. LilyP*

      Yeah, look LW go ahead and live your values on this one — make “accepts spousal involvement in work matters” a criteria you select for when either of you is job hunting (this does go both ways right, where you’d expect *your* employer to listen if your wife called up to give them a piece of her mind? Somehow I’m guessing bit doesn’t…) Spell it right out in the interview — no, better, have the spouse just call after the interview and check in and see how the company reacts. Find somewhere that really works for you. It’s a free country!

    6. anonymouse*

      Yeah, framing this as “I can’t support my partner *all because of your advice*” is so weird. You have agency, LW. Yes, Alison advises against doing the thing you want to do here (and most people overwhelmingly agree with her, myself included), but it’s perfectly within your power to ignore her advice and do the thing anyway. If you really think she’s wrong and you’re right, do it. Getting her approval isn’t going to impact the outcome one way or the other, and neither will scolding her for not giving it to you.

    7. Stabbity Tuesday*

      It’s not enough to do what he wants, he needs other people to know that what he wants and “the right thing to do” are the same thing, because disagreeing with a known figure of authority means at least one of them is wrong, and it can’t be him.

  17. Ann O'Nemity*

    The only exception I can think of here is when your spouse is incapacitated and you are requesting FMLA and employer-provided benefits on their behalf. Because they are literally unable to do so.

    With autism and other cognitive issues, I agree with Alison that it’s still up to the employee to advocate for themselves.

    1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

      Yep. People with autism are not perpetual children. If your wife is capable of handling employment, then she is capable of interacting with her employer regarding the terms of her employment.

      1. H.Regalis*

        Same. It comes off as infantilizing and controlling. Having autism doesn’t mean you don’t get to make your own decisions. OP’s wife has the same autonomy as any other adult.

  18. Diahann Carroll*

    Additionally, because this generally isn’t done, it will come across as controlling and interfering — which will raise some unpleasant thoughts for people about what might be going on in your relationship.

    It’s infantilizing is what it is. I read this letter cringing the whole way through. OP, your partner has a mouth and, I assume, it works – she needs to use it to advocate for herself. If she does and she gets nowhere, that’s because the PTB at her company has decided that they don’t care about whatever grievances she’s bringing to the table – not sure how you speaking up for her will fundamentally change their mind. No one at her company cares what you think – that’s the reality. Alison’s not telling people this because she’s covertly working to defend The Man, she’s telling people this so they don’t torpedo the reputations of the people they claim to love and want to help.

    Stay out of whatever’s going on with your loved one. It’s just not your place in this particular scenario.

  19. Count Boochie Flagrante*

    Another really important item: if you call your wife’s employer and say “I am Jane’s husband and I need to talk with you about how you’re treating Jane” — what ability does whoever you’re talking to have to verify that you are who you say you are, and that you’re speaking to them with Jane’s blessing?

    This is an important question. You could be a spouse who is attempting to control her or undermine her employment, or a vengeful ex-spouse. You could be a stalker. In particular, if you’re planning to chew them out for how they’re treating her, they’re going to have to assess the very real risk that your intended result is exactly what Alison’s talking about, to diminish her as an adult with agency in their eyes.

    You can say “we are a team” all you like, but the fact of the matter is that her employer is not privy to the details of your relationship, whether the two of you prefer to act as a unit or manage your own affairs separately, whether your marriage is healthy or on the rocks, whether you’re attempting to advocate for her or to interfere with her.

    I run into this a lot with our clients; a caller will say ‘this is my wife’s money and we are a team’ and expect that we will tamely hand over account details or make investment decisions based on their input. We cannot. Your wife’s employer, similarly, cannot take it on nothing more than your word that you are your wife’s current husband and that you are trying to help her.

    Your wife is an adult. Support her and help her deal with her employer, but do not do it for her.

    1. Elbe*

      Agreed. I think that it’s likely that the employer wouldn’t even talk to the LW. They’re not obligated to have the conversation – they can just hang up the phone.

      I sympathize with the LW’s feelings, but I think they’re assuming that they have a lot more control over the situation than they do. They seem to assume that if they just call up the boss and give him an earful, the situation would change. And that’s very, very unlikely to actually be the case. If the LW’s spouse can’t get through to these people, the LW probably can’t either.

    2. Lora*

      ^THIS X1000^

      OP, it is a whole National Day Parade in Tienanmen Square of red flags whenever I see a spouse or family attempting to interfere with an employee’s workplace for any reason, including claims of “being concerned”.

      My ex-husband was “concerned at the sexism” I dealt with daily and wanted to intervene or wanted me to quit my (male-dominated) field. However, he also didn’t like it when I had good working relationships with male colleagues either – and lashed out when I’d go to Friday afternoon happy hour or the office holiday party with groups of colleagues that were, yes, mostly men because my field is 70-90% male dominated. He claimed to be Very Concerned but in real life he was trying to set up a situation where I wouldn’t be able to get away from him, where I would be forced to rely on his crummy non-income and too broke to leave him. My mother was also Very Concerned that I somehow wouldn’t be able to manage the money of a decent-paying job, and Very Concerned that it would just be toooooo haaaaard for a woman to do a job with a lot of math, even when I was getting promotions and good reviews and my bosses were clearly happy with my work – she wanted to take my finances into her own hands (literally) and felt I should marry a nice man (to keep me under control, in case I got uppity).

      I have never, ever, ever seen anyone actually wanting to interfere with another adult’s workplace as anything other than a sign of potential abuse. I have never seen it work out well, even when it was a teenager whose parents were refusing to sign a work permit or refusing to let their kid work at an ice cream stand or whatever – I have known an awful lot of teenagers who needed those jobs to get away from abusive families. This would set off ALL the warning bells for me, and my first reaction would not be “gosh, maybe Random Dude On The Phone has a good point after all!” It would be, “let me call Employee and make her aware of the EAP and try to say soothing supportive things and tell her we can have Crazy Stalker People made persona non grata at the security desk.”

      1. NW Mossy*

        For those of us in financial services, calling up pretending to be a family member is also a very common mechanism for scammers trying to steal people’s money. My organization spends a lot of time teaching people how to avoid falling for these kinds of tricks and enforcing our data privacy restrictions.

    3. Chili*

      Exactly! I understand it’s frustrating because work stuff can impact all members of a family, but it is the employee’s job, not the family unit’s. You can find ways to support your wife that are within your lane: being a sounding board, letting her know when something is messed up/ not good business practice, helping her find good phrasing, making a plan to cover finances if she ends up quitting the job.

      Doing what you currently want to do offers an infinitesimal chance of payoff and and overwhelming chance it will hurt your wife’s career (and honestly maybe your relationship? Does your wife want you to call?)

    4. Brittany Constable*

      This has come up a couple of times with LWs who want to contact their spouse/partner’s employer to coordinate time off for a surprise. But even without the specter of mistreatment or any negative emotions in play, the answer is still the same: How does the employer know the person contacting them is who they say they are? And how do they know this person really has the employee’s best interests at heart? The safest choice is to disregard the outsider and work with the employee directly.

  20. Jaybeetee*

    LW, I’m curious about these people who say you don’t care about your SO because you’re not intervening in her behalf with her employer. Just what do they think you should be saying and doing? What do *you* think you should be saying and doing? What do you think you actually *can* do in this situation to make a difference? Do you think her employer will listen to you?

    Because that’s more the thing. Confronting her employer might make you feel better, but it won’t likely change anything they’re doing. And long-term, can make things worse and harder for your SO at that job. You have no sway with your spouse’s employer. You have sway with your spouse.

    Make a game plan with your spouse. Figure out what you both want and what can be done. Hell, write up scripts and role-play with her if that helps. If there’s a tipping point where it might be best for her to quit, work out when that would be (and how to afford it).

    You sound very stressed right now, and I don’t blame you. But (and I say this as someone who is neuroatypical, and knows many others who are as well), jumping in and taking over for your SO is a *really really* bad thing to do. It sends the message that she’s either incapable of functioning as an adult, or you just think she’s incapable. That is not the dynamic to develop with her. Helping her is one thing. Taking over is another. Give her the tools to do the job. Help as much as you can. But doing this for her will be a) ineffective, b) bad for her, c) bad for you, and d) poisonous for your relationship. Don’t do it.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      It sends the message that she’s either incapable of functioning as an adult, or you just think she’s incapable.

      Entirely this.

      When I was teaching, the kids who did best were the ones whose parents encouraged them to work through their own issues, not handle it for them. And the kids who had the hardest times were the ones whose parents were always jumping in and “advocating” for them. Didn’t matter whether they were special needs or not.

    2. Three Flowers*

      I would put actual money on those friends being men who take an explicitly or implicitly traditional masculine role in their partnerships–guys who “take care of” their wives and “support their careers” (gag, as if they should be praised for that while their career is good by default).

      1. Jaybeetee*

        My first guess was a cultural background where family gets a lot more involved in one another’s business – but even then, from what I know about those cultures, they still stay out of workplace situations.

        1. Three Flowers*

          Let’s not racialize/ethnicize this by making it about “those cultures”, please. Parents interfere with their children’s lives all the time. Men interfere with their female partners’ lives all the time. Helicopter parents and helicopter husbands (aka control freaks who dress up their actions in “good intentions”) are enormously common. AAM has published many letters on both issues.

          1. Turtle Candle*

            It is true, though, that there are cultures in which employment is considered more of a family business than it is in the US. That that may be what’s happening is actually a kinder take than other implications in this thread, that they’re controlling or infantilizing.

            1. Three Flowers*

              Sure there *are*, but why should we jump to the conclusion that this situation is happening because the LW comes from some Other cultural group, as if that’s a natural explanation. That’s not mentioned here; in fact, there are no indications of it. Sorry, but jumping to this conclusion is really a “check your bias” moment.

              1. Turtle Candle*

                I think that assuming that it isn’t a cultural difference is a bigger “check your bias” moment, because it assumes that American norms are the inherent default. But to each their own.

                1. LunaLena*

                  As a person who 1) comes from one of “those cultures,” and 2) actually had parents do some cringy things when I was younger (dad showed up unannounced at my first full-time job, to “check out” the place I was working; mom once called my boss to yell at him that they couldn’t ask me to work late along with the rest of the office because I was a single young female), please don’t go there. As Three Flowers said, there’s nothing in the letter that indicates that this is one of those cultures (pretty sure the OP would have mentioned it if that were the case), and also no, it’s not a “kinder take,” it’s just another way of indirectly telling me that I’m not a “real” American and am incapable of following American norms like everyone else. I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way, and that you are simply trying to be mindful of diverse cultures, but it’s not exactly flattering when only negative things like this get attributed to “cultural differences.”

                2. Turtle Candle*

                  LunaLena, I take your point. If you asked me whether I should treat people from different cultures differently, you’re right that I’d say “no,” and so I also shouldn’t take different cultural norms into account when assessing what is right and wrong in American business culture. I will endeavor to do better in the future.

        2. Turtle Candle*

          Oooh, interesting point. I did once know a guy who attempted to advocate for his brother at his workplace, and in that case it was absolutely that the culture he had been raised in found that acceptable and even laudable. In that context, parents and siblings stepping in was de rigueur. (They worked in very different parts of the same company, and his parents were telling him that he needed to threaten to quit if his brother didn’t get the treatment they wanted, though thankfully he didn’t go that far.)

          So if that’s what’s going on, the answer is “cultures are different, and in American culture (and I assume many other cultures), this is worse than useless.”

    3. Reluctant Manager*

      Yes. I came to the comments to talk about this: “your advice has got people accusing me of not caring about my partner because I’m keeping my nose out of her business when she might be out there passing along COVID or getting it herself. Seriously, I’m being accused of not caring by thinking of her career over her health and safety!” Who *are* these people? What makes their opinion so important? (And if you think their opinion is more relevant than Alison’s, then why even ask?)

      1. une autre Cassandra*

        I don’t want to question the letter writer’s honesty so I hope I phrase this correctly to get my point across. I got a bit of a “the lurkers support me in email” vibe from the accusations thing, borrowing the authority of a nebulous group of Other People who agree with his perspective to lend weight to his desire to interfere with his wife’s work situation.

        My guess would be this is less a case of people saying in words “you need to step in and advocate for your wife at her workplace or clearly you don’t love her enough” so much as this guy putting that spin on more general support/advice, if that makes sense. If the LW is being accused of “not caring” I would be money that what people mean is more along the lines of reporting her employer to the health department—not getting personally involved with her boss or whatever it is he wants to do.

      2. L.T.*

        I came to comment on this part, too! Alison’s advice isn’t that you’re supposed to completely butt out; you can be coaching her or encouraging her behind the scenes! It’s not that you have to remain ignorant to her circumstances, it’s that you can’t be directly involved in most circumstances.
        “I am concerned for her safety but we’re working out ways she can advocate for herself” would be one way to respond to accusations that you don’t care.

    4. TurtleIScream*

      I unfortunately have friends who have this dynamic. He really is not controlling, but is generally a take-charge kinda guy. And she is very much a want to be coddled woman. I can totally see both of them agreeing with this letter writer, and being shocked that many (most?) people don’t. So, if they saw a spouse staying out of the way, and not interfering on their spouse’s behalf, they would absolutely question the level of support and commitment.

      It’s not right, and this attitude of theirs is causing a bit of a rift in our friendship right now, but I just wanted to provide an example of people like this.

  21. JerryLarryTerryGary*

    You sound frustrated because your wife isn’t doing what you want her to do, and you want to sidestep the issue by doing it yourself. If she agrees with you, plan for the worst case scenario, help her, practice scripts, but this is a problem you have with her, not her employer.

    1. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

      Yeahhhhhhhhhh this is really the vibe I’m getting. Either she isn’t getting the results you wanted or she isn’t willing to try the tactics you want her to try, but I am picking up that she isn’t performing to your standards. Don’t do an end run around a person’s agency.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This is so apt. If OP’s wife truly does not agree with OP or does not want to pursue the line of advocacy OP would like to pursue, then OP is also pushing their wife’s boundaries in a problematic way. That kind of concern bias can be inadvertently controlling to OP’s wife’s detriment. It may not be that she’s unable to advocate for herself; it’s possible she disagrees with OP’s strategy or response, but is politely “mm-hmm”ing through OP’s frustration.

      I also cannot imagine what I would do if I declined to take my SO’s advice, so they went around me to speak to my employer. I strongly suspect I would be absolutely livid.

    3. antigone_ks*

      Yes; nowhere in the letter does OP say their spouse wants them to advocate for her, only that other people think they should.

  22. Jedi Squirrel*

    No, no, no, no, no. Just “le no.”

    Unless it’s the issue of illness and an absence, I never discuss an employee with their spouse. It’s just not my place, and it places a liability on myself and my company if there is something going on behind the scenes than I’m not aware of, such as an impending divorce and an angry spouse trying to get dirt.

    Nope. Nope, not now in the worst of times, and certainly not in the best of times.

    Spouse: “Bill is sick and won’t be in today.”
    Me: “Okay, I’ll let his supervisor know. I hope he feels better soon.”

    Spouse: “I’m really upset with how Bill is being treated at work.”
    Me: “I’m sorry, but I can’t discuss this with you. If Bill feels he is being treated poorly at work, he is certainly free to discuss it with me, and I encourage him to do so.” End of discussion.


    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Jedi –

      I agree with your post – call in if a partner is too sick to call themselves (and we’ve seen it for children’s first jobs as well). This is supportive of the partner/child.

      Calling this boss to complain to them about a policy’s being implemented in a way you personally don’t like – incredibly undermining for the person you are wanting to help.

  23. Person of Interest*

    It sounds like your spouse is stuck in a tough situation – she is being required by her employer to go to a work situation that she isn’t comfortable with, and is possibly illegal, but that she feels she has no option but to comply. As her spouse, can you show your support for her by allowing her to make her own decisions abut her work situation? What if she decided her only option was to quit and report them? Would you support her then?

  24. Generic Name*

    I’m honestly a little speechless. I’m sensing that you really disapprove how your spouse is handling things at their job; that’s your opinion. You speak of healthy boundaries. An employee’s spouse contacting the company on their spouse’s behalf is crossing a boundary and is the exact opposite of having a healthy boundary. You mention a “whatabout” scenario about being on the autism spectrum. Respectfully, if an adult person (even a neurodivergent person) is capable of holding a job (and getting married!!) they are capable of self-advocating.

    1. Elbe*


      Also, I think that the LW should rethink the root cause of the issue. They seem to be assuming that the employer isn’t behaving properly because of their partner’s lack of skill in self-advocating. I think it’s more likely that the employer is just unreasonable, plain and simple.

    2. Larry Gossamer*

      “My partner and I are a team” waves a red flag to me. You are a team in paying the mortgage, talking to the landlord, raising kids, making major life decisions, etc. but not in your individual relationships with your own friends, employers, etc. Methinks the letter writer has some boundary issues of their own.

  25. lost academic*

    No. You are a team at home. You are not a team in the workplace – and most employers have rules about that too! Your spouse, generally by virtue of being able to enter into a contract of marriage with you, is a fully autonomous adult and is by definition required to advocate for themselves in a professional context. If that’s no longer the case, than they probably can’t fulfill their job responsibilities either. YOU weren’t hired. YOU weren’t taken into consideration during the process where your spouse was chosen against other candidates and that would have been wrong if it were used.

    I think, LW, that as much as you want to help and care, you need to realize that you are suggesting that you think it’s OK to interfere with your spouse’s free will and rights. That kind of thing belongs in the home, in your personal lives and not in the workplace. And it also sounds like you’re taking outside interference from your own personal life and not handling it well and pushing it onto your spouse – something you also probably want to sit down and examine.

    1. Essess*

      Thank you. I kept trying to find a way to word what you also said… If the spouse was of enough mental capacity to enter into marriage and find their own employment and perform their job, then the spouse is able to handle their own issues with their boss. If the OP thinks the spouse is so incompetent to be unable to handle their own interaction with their boss, then I was questioning how he was allowed to marry her. He makes his spouse sound like a little child instead of respecting her as an adult partner.

  26. Grbtw*

    Hi OP,

    Think of it this way, would you like her boss to intrude in your family life? These clear boundaries help everyone. What you can do, as a family, is to see if she could afford to quit. This is a big risk, the market isn’t good right now. In my situation, I would have quit if my immunocompromised mother in law had not passed before this started. It would have been the best choice for our family, but currently, it is the best choice for my family to continue going into the office. If as a couple, you can both sit down and figure out if your finances will allow for her not working, and she is 100% on board as it’s her decision ultimately, that is where you can support her.

    Be very careful that you don’t cross the same line her boss is crossing. This is her career, her paycheck, and her financial independence we’re discussing here. It feels a little weird she’s not currently part of this conversation.

  27. Pippa K*

    “I’m being accused of not caring by thinking of her career over her health and safety! All because of your advice”

    Well. Speaking of healthy boundaries… This isn’t the main substantive issue here, which is already well addressed by Alison and the commenters, but I’m struck by the firmness with which the LW is blaming Alison for criticism they’re receiving about their relationship. If you don’t like Alison’s advice, don’t follow it.

    (But seriously, you should follow it.)

    1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

      Yeah, that surprises me. OP, just who is it that’s saying that caring about your wife means interfering with her job? And what standing do they have to make an assertion like that?

    2. fposte*

      Yes, this seems like a peer pressure issue. It also doesn’t seem like the OP has considered that his approach would mean it was okay for his wife to call up his boss and complain, too, and does he really think he should quit his job if his boss “takes an ego bruising” from that?

    3. pope suburban*

      Also, if people *are* behaving this way toward LW? Why, that’s the perfect time for LW to set appropriate boundaries about their own life! Putting myself in their shoes, if someone had this particular snit at me, I’d look at them, probably a bit as if they had two heads, and ask what, specifically, they thought I could- not even should, but could, since I’m not the darn VP or CEO of the company- do about it. If they doubled down, well, what a great time to explain workplace norms to someone who clearly needs the information! And if they continue harping on it, well my gosh, I’m going to need a little more social distance in that friendship, at least until they learn to stop making bizarre demands of me. Like…if your friends are honestly going to behave this way without reconsidering, they are arm’s-length people at best, and people you don’t need/want to spend time with at all at worst. So there we go, LW can practice good communication and boundaries, support their spouse as a team, and no one’s being treated like a baby. Win/win.

    4. Claire*

      Exactly, if OP really, really, really wants to step in, whether for peer pressure reasons or his own personal reasons….he can. Alison strongly advises against it, as does most of the community here, but that doesn’t mean he is actually unable to do it. AAM is not the law. You can act against her advice if you disagree with it. Weird to be so passionate about blaming an advice columnist whom you don’t know personally for giving a suggestion that you’re free to ignore.

    5. lost academic*

      I was too, and I chalked it up to a likely cultural situation where the spouse is expected to Take Care Of Things and so anything that seemed Off would be a black mark on his ability to protect/manage his family.

    6. Delta Delta*

      This isn’t a mandatory blog. He doesn’t have to read it if he doesn’t like it.

  28. Elbe*

    I sympathize with the LW. It’s incredibly hard to watch a loved one be mistreated.

    But the advice here is correct. Realistically, if the LW’s partner can’t talk sense into this employer, the LW isn’t going to get a different outcome if they try. They have even less leverage than the person who is actually employed by the company. I’m a little confused as to why the LW would think that this would work, aside from just wishful thinking.

    If the LW’s spouse can’t make this employer listen to reason, the only options here are a) appeal to a regulation entity if what the employer is doing is illegal or b) the spouse can quit. It’s deeply unfair, but that’s it.

  29. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP, first, I’m very sorry that your spouse has an unsupportive and boundary-pushing employer who is not taking a public health crisis seriously. I cannot imagine how you’re feeling, but I suspect I would be a ball of frustrated rage. I also don’t know who your friends are, but anyone who blames you for her work conditions is misguided, callous, and flat out wrong.

    When I read your note, it sounded like your view of what’s happening may be colored by the awful behavior of your spouse’s employer and the unique strain that COVID has placed on everyone. I mean this very gently, but it sounds like there may be some displaced anger/frustration. My impression is that you feel helpless with respect to your spouse’s situation and you are mad at her employer, but because you can’t rail at them you’re unleashing that frustration on Alison.

    It may help to take a step back (which is admittedly very hard to do right now) to reassess. There is nothing you can say to your spouse’s employer that will hold any greater weight than if she says it, herself. Moreover, contacting her employer does not support your partnership—it creates more of a parental dynamic in which she’s your dependent/child and you’re her protector/parent. And unfortunately, going to her employer likely will not help her and will almost certainly have a negative effect not only on her professional reputation, but also on her ability to reinforce her boundaries with her employer.

    As difficult as it is for your spouse, she has to be her own advocate. The best things you can do as her partner are to listen to her, back her up, and help her gameplan how she wants to proceed. If she decides to speak up, role play the conversation with her ahead of time. Give her comfort and support to speak up. Depending on your state, you may want to encourage her to report that the employer is violating quarantine/shelter orders. But ultimately she has to feel empowered and supported to advocate for herself, and that won’t happen if you step in for her.

    1. JessicaTate*

      This is beautifully said. I have empathy for you, LW. The emotional torment can absolutely make you want to step in and DO SOMETHING when 1) a company/boss is putting your loved one at risk; and 2) you are worried your loved one isn’t/won’t stand up for themselves strongly enough. You don’t say #2 outright, but I’m reading between the lines. I empathize, because I have been there in the last month.

      I care so much about the person I love. I am terrified for them. I feel helpless. And, let’s be honest, I feel she isn’t doing enough to help herself. Because I would crack skulls to get her out of that office, and she is being more… accepting, even though she doesn’t like it. And, holy cow, if I had friends BLAMING me, on top of that… That’s just too much.

      I experienced this with my mother and my brother-in-law, both of whom had employers making them come in when they have multiple risk factors. I came up with a very detailed plan/fantasy of how I would go full raging b**** on my mom’s employer (without her knowledge or consent) to get her out of that office. And I didn’t even stop to think about what Alison would say! So, you’re a step ahead of me, LW.

      Fortunately, I did not do that. I would have seemed unhinged and undermined her. I came to a place where I realized my issue was with my mom. She had to advocate for herself. All I could do was communicate with her what I was feeling and seeing, and help her with options of how to advocate for herself. And with my brother-in-law, he ignored all of this. It was so hard, but we had to find this very resigned acceptance that he was a grown man and would make his own decisions, as much as it pained us all. We could keep trying to persuade him to take action, but we had to accept it was his move to make.

      I’m sorry you’re going through this. Talk to your wife. Tell her how you feel – afraid, concerned, wanting to protect her, but helpless. Encourage her to strategize about how she could do something differently, advocate like you would advocate for her. I’ve found success with my parents by re-framing their health in terms of how it would affect me – because they care far more about me than they do about their own health. Hang in there.

  30. Three Flowers*

    This is so grossly paternalistic. “I know better than all the women, my wife and the respected columnist! And she neeeeeeeeds me to intervene on her behalf because she just can’t handle it!”

    LW, please sit down and let your wife navigate this herself. Support her at home! Cook her dinner if she’s stressed! Make her a drink, rub her feet, make sure the children are in bed (yes, I am quoting 1950s advice to housewives ironically). More seriously, pass on the information about reporting employers who countermand shelter in place! But do not get on her professional turf. If you interfere less (and interfering, not helping, is what you’re doing), she’ll have more confidence advocating for herself as you become less domineering. And if your friends criticizing you are dudes who also “take care of” their wives, maybe take their advice with a bucket of salt.

      1. Three Flowers*

        Non-men can still be actively involved in paternalistic and/or straight-up misogynist treatment of their female partners and family members! We internalize all kinds of BS. My comment is indeed written with the thought that it’s 95% likely the letter writer is a dude because of the paternalistic tone, but people of all genders and orientations inflict misogyny on each other.

  31. Did you read the syllabus?*

    I just want to add that I hear your frustration LW. It stinks to watch anyone you care about dealing with a bad employer.
    But sadly AMA is right – the company isn’t going to take a third party any more seriously than they take the employee and you risk them passing over your spouse for future advances because they don’t want to deal with her partner.

    I wish you and your wife the best. Hopefully she can try to find a better employer at some point (I know that is easier sad than done)

  32. WomanFromItaly*

    As someone on the autism spectrum, I am going to add that it is super not okay that you are using your spouse being on the autism spectrum as a justification for infantilizing her at her place of employment.

    1. WhatDayIsIt*

      Hell freaking yes. I’m autistic as well and ‘my partner is neurodivergent’ is not an okay reason to try to take over a situation. I very much feel like LW wants to do this to make themselves feel good and in power, at the detriment of their partner. That point made me loose any sympathy for this person.

    2. Also on the spectrum*

      Yeah, on the spouse’s behalf, I’m horrified they are married to a person who thinks of them this way.

    3. Social Justice Paladin*

      I came here to say this!
      I am also autistic and sadly there is such a long history of allistics speaking for (or more often OVER) us and it’s just gross. As has been said, it’s infantilising and we are autistic, we are not children.

  33. Senor Montoya*

    I completely understand how you feel, OP. One of my siblings has serious health issues that make them especially vulnerable if they should get covid19; their supervisor insists on rotating staff into the office. (Essential service, but does not have to be done at that location, and more to the point, 90% of my sibling’s job can be done at home.) Hell, *I* want to call the supervisor! My sib’s spouse wants to call the supervisor! Our *whole family* is ready to call that supervisor, and trust me, we are a formidable and scary bunch in protection of our own.

    But we can’t. Just as Alison says: we will not be able to persuade the supervisor any better than my sibling could. The supervisor will not care what we have to say, and it will make my sib look incompetent and unprofessional if we try.

    We *can* offer guidance to my sib (get more documentation from doctor, send documentation directly to HR and not just to the supervisor, get paperwork together to request FMLA, make an ADA accommodation request; if my sib gets sick due to going to work, make a workers comp claim; get a lawyer to write a letter).

    That’s it. That’s what you can do. I’m so sorry, because I *know* it is frustrating and frightening for you. Your spouse’s boss is a horrible human being and a crappy manager.

    Hoping for the best for you and your spouse. I’m so very sorry :(

  34. Janine*

    As a manager myself, I wouldn’t even take a call or a meeting with an employee’s spouse, or parent if they are over 18 unless it was an emergency situation. If your wife’s employer is truly that bad, help her by encouraging her to job search. There is no possible scenario where you interfering has a positive ending for her for all the reasons previously mentioned by Allison.

  35. CupcakeCounter*

    It is obvious that you are writing from a place of extreme frustration and fear. Think back to before this pandemic hit. Did you want to run interference for your partner with her employer then as well? If so, than that is a you problem and you need to keep that to yourself and do what you can behind the scenes to support your partner using some of Alison’s suggestions.

    If this is new to the global pandemic and the unsafe conditions your wife is being forced to work in (since I’m assuming quitting in protest isn’t an option), then that is a whole different scenario and there is SO MUCH YOU CAN DO TO HELP! And quite honestly, talking to her boss/employer is not even on the list as it would be completely useless. They have already shown they do not care so hit them where it counts.
    1. Contact the local authority your state has set up to report violators of the shelter in place/closing of non-essential businesses
    2. Contact Polly Mosendz, the reporter Alison has referenced several times who is reporting on the companies who are not cooperating or doing right by their employees
    3. Create a new social media account and put them (and several other companies you know are doing bad) on blast in an effort to shame them into doing the right thing.

    I get it. You feel helpless and people are being cruel to you since you aren’t “protecting her” or “stepping in to fight her battles” under the guise of her being on the spectrum. But really think about what the likely outcome would be. Do you really think the partner of an employee is really going to get them to change their minds? Honestly think about it. What would your interference really accomplish? Nothing – they are not going to do one damn thing different because you had a talk with your partner’s boss.
    Also how would your partner feel? I get she is stressed out and flustered in this situation but does holding this job giver her a sense of success and independence? Would she be appreciative of you putting that job in jeopardy by talking with her boss? Because that is a highly likely outcome. Many companies are laying people off now and in the near future and your interference might be the thing that puts her firmly on the chopping block. I get they aren’t great employers but that isn’t your decision to make FOR your partner (which is essentially what will happen if you go behind her back and do this).

    The team aspect of a relationship is behind the scenes when employment is involved.

    1. Three Flowers*

      LW, do *not* contact a reporter on your wife’s behalf and especially not with her knowledge and consent. She could be fired if her employer figures out she spoke up and that would be one hundred thousand percent ON YOU.

      1. Three Flowers*

        Amendment: and on the crappy employer, of course, but from her point of view you would still have lost her her job in a catastrophic economy.

  36. YoungTen*

    If the employer is truly breaking the law, an anonymous tip to law enforcement is a possibility. However, I highly doubt that is what’s happening. Most employers know that they better make reasonable accommodation for this outbreak. it could be allowing face coverings, moving staff apart or in separate rooms, shortened hours at the location. I’m not business analyst but I think its reasonable to say that any employer who disregards there staff’s safety at this time won’t have a business when this is over.

    1. Senor Montoya*

      Actually, entirely possible that the employer in this case is breaking the law, or skirting it mighty closely. There are crap managers and employers all over in the best of times, and situations like this one do not magically make them behave ethically or decently or legally.

      1. Ismonie*

        What Senor Montoya said. See, eg, Hobby Lobby, JoAnn Fabrics, and one of those office supply stores, for example.

  37. WMM*

    This is fascinating. Both the LW and spouse are being given advice and work instructions that go against what they think is appropriate and fair, and they are both complying with the authority figure they see? LW thinks Alison’s advice is wrong, but isn’t willing to act on that without her retracting her advice. LW’s spouse thinks their employer is being irresponsible if not illegal in their business practices, but isn’t willing to stand up to that employer on their own. I’m really curious what outcome LW was really looking for. Perhaps for Alison to say, “Yes, step into your spouse’s work relationships as the savior. I’m sure with your acumen, the manager will let your spouse work from home with full pay and benefits, even though the manager is being reckless without your direct input.” Sadly, there is no talking sense into senseless people.

  38. Shocked Pikachu*

    While reading this, I kept thinking about the husband who sent a resignation letter on his wife behalf. This is different situation, yet the vibe I get from it is the same.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      Funnily enough I was only rereading that one last week, and my mind immediately went to that husband too.

      1. Shocked Pikachu*

        I don’t think so. From what I remember she wasn’t very happy with us. She got defensive, which I can’t really blame her for. She said how this is how their marriage is and they care for each other and stuff. But I don’t think she fully understood why we were saying her husband actions would be huge red flag to many people.

      2. Claire Bee*

        She was really active and passive aggressive in the comments. It went on and on! I’m not sure if there was an official update. Yeah, I got those vibes from this letter too.

        I don’t think it was wrong of OP to ask the question if they were unclear on why it wasn’t “okay” but their tone bothered me. It came off very rude.

  39. Agnodike*

    Your spouse’s employer has no incentive to deal with you. If they’re not motivated to successfully manage their relationship with your spouse, who is presumably valuable to them since your spouse actually provides them with work product, why would they care what you think? What is it exactly that you think you can offer or accomplish by jumping in?

    The reason it’s undermining to put your oar in is that it communicates to your spouse’s boss that you don’t think they can handle this themselves. I feel like you think it should communicate the egregiousness of the boss’s behaviour, but that’s not the way it’s going to be perceived – boss is just going to see it as you expressing that you think your spouse isn’t up to the task of managing their work relationships. That’s not helping your spouse, and it’s not changing the boss’s behaviour. If the boss was reasonable, they would already be behaving reasonably.

  40. PennyLane*

    100% agree with AAM & many of the great comments here. Also, you raised the fact that you should step in because your SO is on the spectrum, but to me that sounds like you saying she doesn’t have the ability to handle this with her employer…in other words that she’s incompetent- hm, as an employer I’d wonder what else she can’t handle within her own role. I don’t think that’s the message you’re trying to send, but that’s how it can come off.

    From the employer side, I can tell you all this will earn is some eye-rolling and a reputation for your SO as someone with an overreaching partner.

    From the personal side, I understand why you’re so passionate. I have a parent whose employer is being a jerk about some policies and potentially putting her health at risk- but no way in heck is it my place to go talk to her employer. Instead I’m talking to my parent about some ways to discuss it with their manager to try and change the policies. It may not work, but me trying to talk to the employer would only make her look bad and piss of my parent.

    And for whoever is accusing you of not caring, tell them that she’s an adult and you are providing support to her at home and that it’s not your place to step in with her employer.

  41. Phony Genius*

    When I first read the title, I thought it was a situation where both spouses work in the same industry, and one worked for the other at some point (maybe before they started a relationship). Even if that were the case, you could not use your spouse as a reasonable reference, and most employers would ignore any input from them. The situation in this letter is not such a situation, giving the letter writer even less standing to advocate.

  42. CollegeSupervisor*

    I grew up with a father who was like this letter writer. My mom was uncomfortable around one of her coworkers who got in her personal space more than she’d like. My dad asked if she wanted him to talk to the guy for her. Thankfully, he listened when she said no – she’d figure it out on her own. If he hadn’t, he would have come across as the jealous husband interpreting every little thing as flirting and my mom would not have been able to work comfortably with that teacher the rest of the school year. Instead, she sent him an email about it because one on one conversations are difficult in an elementary school (“This is awkward, but I want to clarify professional boundaries with personal space”), he responded professionally and was super apologetic about making her uncomfortable, and they were able to continue working together companionably.

    Moral of the story: it is always better to advocate for yourself. If the teacher hadn’t respected my mom’s boundaries, she could have escalated the conversation to the principal or the school district’s HR department. My dad inserting himself into the situation would have done nothing at all to help, and there’s a very strong chance it would have made things worse.

  43. Data Analyst*

    Who are the people accusing you of not caring about your spouse because you aren’t calling their boss and telling them to knock it off? They probably don’t really get professional norms, or they are people who are so close to the situation that they just wish so badly that something could be different and that’s leading to them advising you to do things that aren’t appropriate and won’t help.

    1. Dr. Rebecca*

      The movie Gosford Park has many great lines, but one of the simplest sets of dialogue hit me the hardest. One character says “I wish there was something I could do…” and the other responds “But you can’t.” Sometimes we can’t do anything, and we just have to sit with that.

  44. curious*

    I’m really really surprised by OPs question. I’m not saying that to be insulting, I’m just shocked that someone thinks this way. Unless their is a reason, like I’m comatose in a hospital, there is no reason for my spouse to advocate for me. Will I discuss something non-confidential with my spouse, sure – I want their opinion on how to negotiate a raise, vent about an annoying coworker. But at the end of the day my job is my responsibility. I get the we’re a whole team thing, but that’s more for outside of work on a case by case/ spouse approval basis. Someone speaking to their spouse’s boss is really overstepping.

  45. DCAnalyst2020*

    I consider myself extremely protective of my loved ones and even I know this is a bad idea.

    An opinion of an employee’s spouse is about as relevant as a Yelp review from someone who’s never bought your product.

    Secondly, it sounds like you spouse is not interested in being confrontational but the LW’s intervention will only lead to confrontation. Assuming they even entertain a convo with the spouse, guess who they’re going to speak to next.

  46. Mimi Me*

    Recently my husband’s employer was doing something illegal in regard to breaks and pay. It was costing us a fair amount of money every week. My husband is a hard worker, super smart, and honestly the kind of guy you want in your corner, but he’s not a person who likes confrontation. Had I not been around I’m sure he would have just said “Oh well” and let the issue continue to the detriment of his paycheck. Instead, I printed out the documents he needed to present to his boss, role-played what he should say, and waited breathlessly until the end of the day so I could hear how it all went. (Successfully, in case you were wondering!) At no time did I consider calling his company to advocate for him or the other employees…because, though the issue impacted me, I am not the employee. It would have made him look foolish and incapable.

    1. Annony*

      Exactly this. You should help your partner with work problems. However, that work should be behind the scenes and they are the one who actually needs to have a conversation (or email or any other form of contact) with their employer.

  47. Oh fun*

    The impulse you have is like a parent with a child. And most kids hit a point where they tell their parents to stop and the parent steps back so their kid can learn to do the thing on their own.

  48. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    It’s a heckuva lot easier to terminate an employee because of their outside “distractions” like a meddlesome spouse than one who is doing the advocating themselves. You aren’t protected, she is. You stepping up and starting to give your two cents gives that employer a big old “get out of jail free” card. They can just say “You know, we have spoken with you about your spouse interfering with your work, we cannot continue this relationship.”

    So stay in the distance, do your think without the employer knowing your involved and reminding her of her rights and to stand up for herself.

    You may not always be there for her. Don’t take her power away by always stepping in for her. What’s going to happen if something happens to you? You taught her that she has to rely on you directly instead of teaching her ways to take care of herself and advocate for herself.

  49. Sabine*

    From the perspective of someone who’s low ranking in an office – it would freak me out if one of my coworker’s partners got involved. Even if it had nothing to do with me, it would make me really question the judgment of my coworker, and it would definitely become major office gossip. It’s just too weird. I agreed to work with my coworker, I didn’t agree to have a relationship w her partner.

  50. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

    Does your spouse want you to advocate for her? Has she asked for help in this situation? If the answer is no to either of those questions, it would be a huge overstep in your relationship to interfere, in addition to everything Allison mentioned

  51. StressedButOkay*

    OP, as a partner, have absolutely no capital with this company. In essence, you’re a nonentity as far as they’re concerned – you have no power to advocate for anything on behalf of your spouse. And, if you try, you’re going to take AWAY capital from your spouse, the only one in the relationship with any standing at the place she works.

    Unfortunately, while you’re partners in everything else, that doesn’t lend any weight to her career and workplace. If you try to advocate on her behalf, even if she’d welcome it, you’re only damaging her reputation and labeling her as someone who needs an outside source pushing for her. It’ll be remembered.

  52. Spek*

    In today’s business world, a woman is expected to be professional and competent. Having her spouse communicate with the company on her behalf makes her look weak and ineffective. And the problem, unfortunately, would likely be multiplied even more if her spouse is a man.

  53. Jane*

    OP, is your response to anxiety to take control, to be the person in charge? Are you routinely the fixer, planner, advice giver? If so, you might want to look up overfunctioning and anxiety. As a fellow overfunctioner, I found Brené Brown’s podcast and books to be very helpful. It’s easy to try to take control because that’s what you know, but it doesn’t have to be this way, and it won’t help your relationships.

  54. londonedit*

    I understand how frustrated you must be. It’s extremely difficult to watch someone you care about suffering or being treated badly, and I completely understand the impulse to want to help. My mother is like that – it’s hard to vent to her about anything because she immediately wants to jump in and fix the problem. I expect you’re a ‘fixer’ like that too.

    But unfortunately, this isn’t one you can jump in and fix. Your spouse’s job is their business, and the most you can do is offer support while they deal with the issues they’re facing. You can see how if your mother phoned up your boss to complain about how they were treating you, that would be embarrassing and inappropriate, right? It’s the same here. Interfering will just make it look like your spouse can’t advocate for themselves.

    Also, while I’m sure your spouse’s employer is acting unreasonably, you only have one side of the story. People often come home and rant and rave about how awful their boss is, because they need to vent after a tough day of slapping on a smile and pretending not to hate their supervisor, but in the cold light of day maybe things aren’t as unreasonable as the ranting makes out, and someone’s partner storming into the building or calling HR going off on one about how Dave the senior manager is the worst person in the world is just going to be met with surprise and confusion. And it’s also not going to reflect well on the employee who has to work for Dave every day.

  55. (Former) HR Expat*

    I don’t want to pile on you, OP, because I think this is coming from a place of frustration and caring. But let me explain how I think about these things when a spouse/parent/partner calls on the employee’s behalf.

    1) I don’t know for sure that you are who you say you are. Further, I don’t know whether there are other issues at home, like a potential divorce, which would impact the situation. You could have a negative ulterior motive for saying negative things.
    2) Your spouse may not be telling you the whole story. Especially when it comes to performance issues, people don’t want to believe that they’re doing a poor job. That manifests in sometimes placing blame on the manager or the company unfairly.
    3) All the companies I work for have a policy of not providing information about an employee to anyone but the employee. I could be fired if I talk to you about your spouse, except in very specific circumstances. In some states and countries, there are privacy laws that make it illegal to talk about anything with you.
    4) My first thought, upon receiving a call from you, would be “Why hasn’t the employee spoken to me about this?”
    5) My second thought would be “I wouldn’t advocate for this employee to be given more responsibility. In fact, I wonder if they’re able to handle conflict reasonably.” Depending on their role, that might mean they don’t get promoted. Or if their job requires a lot of pushback, it might lead to future poor performance ratings if they haven’t done their job appropriately.
    6) Finally, I’m going to wonder whether there are control/abuse issues at home. I would then discreetly reach out to your spouse and offer them support under our EAP and make sure they are safe.

    The ONLY acceptable times for you to reach out to me directly are incapacitation or death. Even if it’s relocation, I would need the employee’s express permission to speak with you directly, and I would likely require that the employee was on the phone with you.

  56. TimeTravlR*

    I had a work situation once where dear husband wanted to step in. He was boiling! But I told him then and I’d tell him again… I’m an adult, I will handle it. And I did.

  57. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Also advice is great because you can take it or you can leave it. You don’t have to listen to Alison. You don’t have to listen to any of us. But don’t say we didn’t warn you if this results in something you don’t like the outcome of.

    A ton of people don’t take the advice given on AAM…that doesn’t means she should change her point. Why does everyone else need to align with what you want to hear?

    You can change yourself. Only yourself. Not your spouse and certainly not Alison.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      Also advice is great because you can take it or you can leave it. You don’t have to listen to Alison.

      Yep. I think OP has worked themselves up into such a high state of dudgeon because they know Allison is right, but can’t figure out how to actually support their spouse.

  58. SomebodyElse*

    Oh dear… Yes I say that when I’m really not sure what else there is to say. Umm… yeah… So let me give it a shot.

    -Allison doesn’t set the rules. Even if she said “Sure go for it” that wouldn’t change the fact that this is a spectacularly bad idea.

    -Speaking as a manager, if you called me on behalf of your spouse. Umm… first things first, I’d probably listen to you long enough to say that I won’t discuss an employee with anyone outside the company (obvious exceptions aside). Then I’d hang up and think you a lunatic. I would also in the back of my mind feel equal parts pity and judgement questioning

    -Speaking as a spouse, if my spouse called my employer to speak on my behalf, I am not kidding when I’d be having some serious thoughts of divorce. My career is my career. We are team right up until I walk out the door, then anything and everything that has to do with my job is my sole purview. Same with my spouse I have no rights or invitations to meddle in their career at all. We discuss and plan things overall, but once that discussion and planning is done, it’s the sole right and responsibility of each of us.

    Look, you are going to take a beating in these comments, and you might need one to understand how bad of an idea this is. Stay out of your wife’s job (and vice verse if the shoe were on the other foot).

    1. StressedButOkay*

      Oh my goodness, yes, this. Alison is a font of amazing wisdom on work matters but that doesn’t mean she’s the only one out there holding these thoughts on these business norms (hence all these comments). Even if she were to reverse what she’s said in the past on partners interfering – because that’s what it is – doesn’t mean it makes it a good business practice.

      Alison’s stated that it’s not a good idea because it’s NOT. Having her reverse her opinion isn’t going to magically make it a good idea.

    2. LSP*

      I am better with words than my husband (English major vs. computer programmer) so I often help him figure out how to phrase things for instance if he’s having trouble with a co-worker or getting ready for his annual review. I ask him tech questions when that intersects with my job duties.

      That’s where it ends. I would never dream of advocating on his behalf to his employer, and he would never dream of butting into my job.

      1. Not So Super-visor*

        This! I’ve helped my husband talk through things and come up with a strategy, but I’d never think of going in on his behalf unless he was incapacitated.

  59. Venus*

    I think it’s very, very telling that OP’s concerns are about what other people think and what they’re accusing OP of, instead of about any concern OP feels for their wife. Similarly, about what power they think they should have, instead of how they wish they could help.

    I wish you and your wife well, OP, and I hope you’ll think critically about what’s really upsetting you in this scenario.

  60. Hiya*

    OP is like to know what you’d think you’d say that would be better than your wife. (I am assuming here you are a man) Because there are really only a couple of things I can figure. Either you don’t think she’s saying things “right” which is condescending. Or you don’t think she’s being forceful enough which sounds like you plan to yell or threaten. Or maybe you think just think they would listen to a man more than a woman which is sexist and demeaning. None of these is “being a team” rather they are all “I’m the man the woman can’t take care of herself”

  61. Stormy Weather*

    AAM’s advice here benefits the employee more than the employer. No good, repeat no good can come of a spouse contacting an employer about how things are on the job. Trying to talk to your spouse/partner’s boss makes them look weak and makes you look controlling because you’re trying to seize power that Is. Not. Yours.

    The only reason I can see that would be at all reasonable was if one’s partner was in the hospital and couldn’t call in sick themselves.

  62. LSP*

    When I got into a terrible car accident on my way to work that sent me to the hospital and completely wrecked my car, my first call from the ambulance was to my husband and the second call was to my office. I know he could have called for me, but I felt since I was conscious and semi-coherent(concussion!), I might as well take care of it myself. The bar is REALLY high for me to want my husband to talk to my employer for me.

  63. ...*

    I used to work in Customer Service and genuinely, nothing made me more uncomfortable than someone’s spouse calling with a complaint that didn’t involve them directly (think “my wife was very upset by the way she was spoken to… no she doesn’t want to discuss it with you herself”).

    On occasion this would involve a real tightrope walk not to discuss info that was confidential to the actual customer. For example, someone complained about their spouse having been banned from our premises. The spouse had lied to them about the reason for the ban. Because of data protection legislation I couldn’t disclose the real reason, which was that the spouse had been reported for sexual assault.

    So apart from the reasons Alison has given, there is also the possibility that the version of events given by the employee to their spouse may not be true and the employer could be breaking local data protection laws if they share any information with the spouse.

  64. The Cardinal*

    The fact that the OP wrote in with the sole purpose to “debate” Alison’s original vice leads me to believe that he’s gonna ignore her answer and do what he wants to do. Hope I’m wrong but as my 5th grade teacher was fond of saying: “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. You can lead a fool to knowledge but you can’t make him think.”

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Same. I mean, if you don’t like the advice…maybe don’t follow it?

      I’m sure there’s another advice columnist somewhere on the internet who would tell you that you absolutely should intervene with your wife’s employer under the circumstances. So why not go off and read their column instead? Or stop reading advice columns altogether, and do what you feel is best for you and your family. OP had so many other choices here, that would be more useful than setting up this false “debate.”

      1. Punctually Tardy*

        My take was that LW’s spouse is the AAM reader and LW is pissed that spouse won’t let LW interfere.

  65. Crazy Wife*

    I almost went in to get my husband when his boss was refusing to let them work from home, they work in a very small office on a small entertainment project and the only thing preventing them from working from home was his bosses fear and incompetence in managing. Literally everything they do can be done remotely, I was pissed.

    However, I knew it was unprofessional and damaging. The reason I was considering it had little to do with his professional image. The pandemic is an extreme circumstance and lives are on the line, and him getting sick in our area with not the greatest hospital system and our tight budget would have been worse than him just loosing his job. I was communicating all this to my husband, scared, and he used this as leverage. His boss is just the type of idiot who doesn’t get “global pandemic” but does think things like “Oh, the crazy misses is going to kick me out if I dont stop coming in! I have to, my wife is INSANE.”

    In the end, we followed what would have been the standard advice which was to let him communicate for himself, but he literally had to show his boss a few messages from me to “prove” it because his boss just believed he was trying to skip out on the team. I was fully prepared to go show my face and make it real, it was just so stupid. My husband was working from home a full week before the rest of his coworkers were released.

    I know, I know, anecdotal, just one particularly dumb guy, and my husband needs a new job (hes working on it!). That said, I dont think circumstances get more out of whack than the ones we are in right now, really. Small offices/businesses sometimes have small, unprofessional cultures. I dont think it was wrong to assess the situation based on what we knew about his boss and work against the standard advice.

    1. Observer*

      I don’t think that Allison is suggesting that there is never any situation where talking to the boss is the right situation. But there are a lot of things that have to be in place for this to be an appropriate plan.

      Your boss has to be just the RIGHT (for lack of a better word) moron, your spouse needs to be on board, and you both need to be on board with the possible consequences.

      Also, you clearly weren’t working on the assumption that you are better at this than your spouse, but rather were taking a calculated risk based on what both of you know about your boss.

  66. Also on the spectrum*

    Having flashbacks to the time an employer fired me for a ridiculous terrible reason (I’d had the job for a month, and their first choice, who had initially declined their offer, changed their mind, and they decided to dump me and go with first choice) and I made the mistake of telling my mother (I was in my 20s) and then had to prevent her from calling the employers and trying to interfere.

    Like, just no.

  67. SheLooksFamiliar*

    ‘My partner and I are a team…’

    Not at work, you’re not. OP, it’s great that you want to support your wife, and you should – AT HOME. If she is open to coaching and your advice, help her plan for some difficult discussions. But everything else you have in mind? Drop it. You are not your wife’s spokesperson, and you will hurt her situation more than you’ll help.

  68. MissouriGirlinLouisiana*

    Wow..Alison really showed restraint because the overall tone of the letter was snarky and rude. No way should this guy intervene. If nothing else, he may get his spouse fired. I had a horrible situation at my last job and the advice my husband was giving me was disastrous. He had my best interests at heart and was genuine but if I had followed his advice, it would have made it worse.

    Alison’s advice and everybody else’s comments here are spot on. Listen to everybody here and keep your nose out of what you shouldn’t be involved in. Kudos to Alison for continually showing class, professionalism, and common sense (as always!).

  69. boop the first*

    If I was employed, I’d probably be out there right now. I’m the dud of a couple, I’m the worthless food worker while my husband is the white collar union worker. There are lots of times where he is horrified to hear of what unsafe thing I had to do, or my inability to get time off for whatever, and he always thinks things “should” be this or “should” be that, and all I can do is laugh it off. What “should” usually very much “isn’t”. OP, try to believe your wife is telling you the truth.

  70. Leslie Yep*

    I’m curious if this changes at all if your family member is a health care professional currently being screwed over by the lack of PPE? I’m not exactly going to reach out on behalf of my mother directly to her manager, but what about putting pressure on the hospital or officials to allow/provide more protections? She’s an overworked nurse who doesn’t have time or energy to fight back on the hospital’s stance to not allow PPE brought from home. They’re not providing her with masks, why tf shouldn’t she be able to bring in her own?!

    1. L*

      I would reach out as a concerned citizen – not as the family member of an employee. Maybe contact the media?

      Actually, I might call OSHA in a situation like this.

    2. revueller*

      Your mother would still have the best chance to make that fight. If (when) she takes action, she has way more options and capital than you do – she can organize a strike, she can submit complaints up the latter, she can push her manager, and she can speak about her own experience 1000 times more accurately than you can.

      However, you can still speak up in the ways you described – it just may come at the risk of your mother’s career if the hospital is particularly nasty and vindictive. That’s what Alison is talking about in general; any time you take action on behalf of a family member against their workplace, you risk their job. Sometimes, it’s absolutely worth it. However, (and I’m sure you would do this) I’d run that risk assessment by your mother before you do anything.

      I’m so sorry your mother is going through this; this entire situation of forced scarcity is abominable and I hope that hospital gets named and shamed down the line.

    3. Hospital Supply*

      If outside PPE is brought into the hospital, the hospital is responsible if it fails. That means the employee wearing it, other staff, patients and visitors can all sue the hospital if there is contamination, or any other adverse events such as an allergic reaction. When a hospital orders equipment, there is a contract that makes the manufacturer responsible for patient safety and ensures the manufacturer has used proper standards in the testing and manufacturing.
      Outside equipment could be expired, counterfeit, non-sterile, or already contaminated. There is great risk bringing in unknown PPE. If the situation is dire, then the hospital may choose to allow any PPE as a final last resort, but it is the hospital’s decision to open patients to this risk.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        People’s lives are more important than legal liability! And people who contract infectious diseases through work because of their lack of PPE can ALSO be a legal liability.

      2. Leslie Yep*

        Wow! I hope your user name doesn’t actually mean you’re making this argument in real life against actual health care workers. It fully encapsulates everything that’s wrong with the US right now. Hospitals are delusional if they think we won’t sue the ever living f#&$ out of them when our family members get sick and die because they weren’t given proper protection equipment by their employers. Disgusting.

    4. incognita for this*

      Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper as a concerned citizen. A letter is a great way to illuminate an aspect of a news story that hasn’t been reported on.

      For example, until I read your comment, I didn’t think about the possibility of health care professionals bringing in their own PPE. But I went online and found out that the Joint Commission — the leading US hospital accreditation board — last week came out in favor of using face masks brought from home:



      1. Be sure to observe the newspaper’s submission guidelines.

      Sign your name (yes, some people don’t sign their names).

      Give a number where we can reach you during the day to verify that you wrote it (yes, some people do sign someone else’s name).

      Stick to the word limit. I’m in the profession, and few things frost my Pop-Tarts more than letters that start, “I know your limit is 250 words, but I’m writing about something that’s really important.” (“Not the drivel you usually publish” is what’s implied.)

      2. Make your point right away. You don’t have a lot of time to grab the reader’s attention.

      If you don’t know what your point is, think about what you would say if someone asked you what your letter is about.

      “It’s about why health care workers should be allowed to bring their own PPE to hospitals.”

      “Oh! Why should health care workers be allowed to bring their PPE to hospitals?”

      3. Finally, cite your sources. If you’re writing in response to a story that has run in your local newspaper, it helps to include a link. The same is true if you’re citing a fact that has not been widely reported.

      1. Doc in a Box*

        JCAHO approves of homemade masks? Wow. That’s how you know this is serious. 99% of their job seems to be policing whether or not you are allowed to have a capped vs uncapped water bottle at the nurses station. If they are ok with homemade masks, the world really is ending.

        1. incognita for this*

          Let me be more clear: The Joint Commission did NOT say they approve of homemade masks.

          They said that they support staff bringing “their own standard face masks or respirators to wear at work.”

          Homemade masks are OK ONLY *as a last resort*.

          Here’s the whole statement:

          Joint Commission issues statement on use of face masks brought from home

          “In a statement issued March 31, The Joint Commission announced that it supports allowing health care staff to bring their own standard face masks or respirators to wear at work when their health care organizations cannot routinely provide access to protective equipment that is commensurate with the risk to which they are exposed.

          “In taking this position, The Joint Commission recognizes:

          “Hospitals must conserve personal protective equipment (PPE) when these items are in short supply to protect staff who perform high-risk procedures.

          “The degree to which privately-owned masks and respirators will increase the protection of health care workers is uncertain, but the balance of evidence suggests that it is positive.

          “No Joint Commission standards or other requirements prohibit staff from using PPE brought from home.

          “Homemade masks are an extreme measure and should be used only when standard PPE of proven protective value is unavailable.”

    5. incognita for this*

      Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper as a concerned citizen. A letter is a great way to illuminate an aspect of a news story that hasn’t been reported on.

      For example, until I read your comment, I didn’t think about the possibility of health care professionals bringing in their own PPE. But I went online and found out that the Joint Commission — the leading US hospital accreditation board — last week came out in favor of clinicians’ using face masks brought from home. This lends a lot of weight to

      Google this headline: “JCAHO Gives an OK For Clinicians To Wear PPE & Masks From Home After Many Were Reprimanded.” Or this headline: “Joint Commission issues statement on use of face masks brought from home.”

      1. Be sure to observe the newspaper’s submission guidelines.

      Sign your name (yes, some people don’t sign their names).

      Give a number where we can reach you during the day to verify that you wrote it (yes, some people do sign someone else’s name).

      Stick to the word limit. I’m in the profession, and few things frost my Pop-Tarts more than letters that start, “I know your limit is 250 words, but I’m writing about something that’s really important.” (“Not the drivel you usually publish” is what’s implied.)

      2. Make your point right away. You don’t have a lot of time to grab the reader’s attention.

      If you don’t know what your point is, think about what you would say if someone asked you what your letter is about.

      “It’s about why health care workers should be allowed to bring their own PPE to hospitals.”

      “Oh! Why should health care workers be allowed to bring their PPE to hospitals?”

      3. Finally, cite your sources. If you’re writing in response to a story that has run in your local newspaper, it helps to include a link. The same is true if you’re citing a fact that has not been widely reported.

    6. Observer*

      No. It doesn’t.

      Now, you DO have standing as a concerned citizen to pressure government and even hospital management as a whole to provide better protection for hospital workers. And if you do wind up talking to the press, please make sure your family member is ok with you mentioning them. If they are it can be useful to say “I have a really close look at what it means to be without PPE, blah, blah, blah.” as part of the whole push that “As a society we REALLY owe the people who are putting themselves on the line decent protection.” But that’s a totally different approach that doesn’t make your mother look like you think she’s a child.

      Don’t get me wrong – I can see why you would be enraged. It IS enraging. But you want to do this in a way that doesn’t even give a whiff of your mother being less than 100% competent.

  71. Jennifer Juniper*

    Autistic woman here.

    Thank you, Alison, for your timely answer!

    Someone’s “being on the autism spectrum” does not give you a free pass to interfere in that person’s business. OP, I assure you that if your wife is able to work, she can also learn to advocate for herself if she doesn’t know how already. Excellent resources include this very column and Captain Awkward.

  72. AngryAngryAlice*

    The thing that really gets me with this LW is that they clearly have NO IDEA how they come off. What they think is educated and persuasive is – to put it nicely – pushy, rude, oblivious, entirely lacking self-awareness, and controlling.

    I’m sure LW thought that they made great points throughout this letter, but what they think is a strong, logical, well-reasoned argument actually just seems highly emotional and based in the idea that Alison’s excellent advice (which I completely agree with, as usual), is a personal attack and not an informed theory of the working world based on years of exposure and expertise. This LW would certainly do their wife no favors.

  73. L*

    My daughter is on the autism spectrum. When she started high school, TPTB were pretty emphatic that once kids get to high school, they really need to start advocating for themselves.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      Exactly. Being autistic doesn’t mean that you are powerless. It just means that you need a different set of coping strategies.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Nah, they’re still kids. Ef what any “high school” administration decides. Please don’t use this as a benchmark.

      1. Also on the spectrum*

        See the phrase “start advocating.”

        If they do not start advocating for themselves in high school, while still in a relatively controlled environment, when do you think they should?

      2. Support for Learning*

        I work in learning support in a secondary education context, primarily with autistic teenagers, and it’s incredibly important as part of their education that these kids learn how to advocate for themselves (within their specific context, obviously – a nonverbal kid has different capacity to do so than a verbal one, but they can both learn methods that work). Kids whose parents insist on doing it all for them struggle much more, have significantly poorer outcomes, and are usually less confident and capable. This is important and valuable learning and the earlier it starts the better the outcome for the young person.

        Yes, they’re kids. That does NOT mean they can’t advocate for themselves. It means they need help, support and guidance to do so. After twenty years of doing this for a living, I’m confident of that.

        1. Jedi Squirrel*

          Yeah, I agree. It’s the whole “start to advocate” for themselves, not throw them to the wolves with no support. They do need to learn some strategies before they get out of high school, because by and large the world will not care that you are autistic. Not saying that’s right, and it is starting to change, but that is how it is.

      3. Dr. Rebecca*

        I’m a college professor, and when they hit 18 they’re legally adults and their parents have no control, input, or even the right to information on how their child is doing in college. I *need* them to come to my class prepared to advocate for their own health and safety, because there is literally *no one* else to do so on their behalf. Eff what untrained non-professionals decide, the student needs to know their rights and how to access resources.

  74. Colette*

    If the OP really believes that her partner shouldn’t be working in this job, here’s what she can do:
    1) talk with her partner and make sure she agrees. (Some jobs are necessary in ways that aren’t immediately obvious)
    2) if they’re in agreement, figure out whether they can afford for her to quit (both financially and career-wise)
    3) if they can, she can quit her job.
    4) if they can’t afford it, they can discuss ways for her to advocate for herself.

  75. Hi, I'm New.*

    Hi LW,

    You seem really frustrated with your partner’s situation, and I feel that. There is plenty to be frustrated about right now.

    I’m curious, because I noticed that you mentioned a couple of times that “people” are accusing you of not caring. I’m wondering who those people are? Your coworkers? Friends? Family? Her coworkers? It seems like people are crossing your boundaries by commenting on your situation when perhaps they don’t know the whole story and don’t have all the information. Have you considered setting a boundary with them by letting them know that you and your partner have an agreement on not interfering with the other one’s work?

    It also seems that your partner’s employer is not doing right by their employees. I echo Allison’s comments about reporting them to the government. I also might suggest coming up with a plan that helps your spouse stay healthy. This may mean quitting or taking a different job. Good luck!

    1. Autistic Farm Girl*

      That’s very true. People can be super judgemental, but it’s not their relationship, or their career. So they need to be reminded that you’re both adults and don’t need judgement.

      Especially in a time like we have right now, judging each others is not helpful or supportive.

  76. Not So Super-visor*

    Both of the times that I’ve had SO’s contact me to “advocate” on an employee’s behalf, it has sounded like the SO had only been given part of the information. Both were leave cases (one for a minor child’s health condition and the other for the employee’s mental health), and in both cases, I had advised that they file for FMLA, printed the paperwork, and handed it to them. Neither employee filed the paperwork, and then I had an angry husband on the line telling me how unreasonable I was being. In the case of the employee with the minor child, I also go the lovely gem of “you don’t understand because you don’t have kids of your own” — yes, please use my infertility issues as a weapon against me because your SO didn’t fill out the paperwork.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I was also wondering if this is a perspective issue. When a spouse retells a workplace story, it can sound much more intense than the actual event. It’s possible that the spouse isn’t advocating for themselves in their workplace because they have accepted the situation and they just want to vent when they get home.
      And some people retell a story in a way where they are the hero/victim because that is what they need to cope. The employee is the only one with the full story, which is why they need to handle it themselves.

  77. OOOF*

    I can smell the need to control from here. If you think you stepping in will resolve the issues and not actually cause more, you’re probably sorely mistaken. If the tenor of this letter shows how you would respond, you’re the last person I would want to advocate on my behalf. This is classic right fighting, and not productive, coherent or likely to help.

  78. AndersonDarling*

    If things are that bad, then the spouse needs a new job. Focus on supporting your spouse through a job search. Honestly, that should be the first response instead of calling up the boss and giving them the business.

  79. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

    OP, the fact you used “ego brusing” and “testing” an employer says to me you are controlling to a concerning degree.

  80. Gazebo Slayer*

    OP: if you contact your spouse’s work, it will undermine and embarrass her, and possibly even endanger her job. Yes, I know you might not be broken up about her getting fired because you are worried about her health, but keeping the job is HER decision, NOT YOURS. Also, getting fired from a job because of a meddling spouse could negatively impact her future job prospects, in a horrible economy.

    Contacting her employer would be sabotaging her career. Sabotaging a partner’s career is a common abuse tactic, used to ensure control and dependency.

    And as a woman on the autism spectrum, I’m disgusted that you would use that as an excuse for your controlling behavior.

  81. Autistic Farm Girl*

    I’m autistic (user name checks out right?!) and if my partner phoned my work on my behalf I would be livid. It’s patronising as, and it doesn’t help that you’re a man and she’s a woman. If the roles were reversed would there even be a question? Of course not.

    If your wife needs an advocate at work, contact a charity that works with autistic people. I have someone i can contact at a charity who is able to advocate on my behalf if I need, and also helps me with recruitment, job retention, and loads of daily stuff if I need. I can also ask for them to sit with me in meetings (especially hr or important stuff). That’s how advocacy work.

    Not you screaming at your wife’s work on her behalf. It is patronising, it will make her look back and it will probably harm her chance of ever being taken seriously at this place of employment. You won’t help, you’ll make things a million times worse.

    I have to say that I’m also really bothered by the fact that your first reason for contacting her work is that she’s on the spectrum. Many of us are on the spectrum and work, and our partners don’t phone in. Respect her.

  82. Matilda Jefferies*

    OP, we can agree or disagree on the benefit of Alison’s advice, and on the way things “should” be in the workplace. But here’s where I have a problem with your letter:

    Seriously, I’m being accused of not caring by thinking of her career over her health and safety! All because of your advice with no appreciation context at all.

    OP, you’re an adult, and you’re responsible for your own behaviour. Even if Alison’s advice were the worst advice in the world, you’re the one who is following it. If you go charging into your wife’s workplace on a white steed to protect her honour, it doesn’t matter who told you to do it. You are the one who actually did it, and you are the one who should face the consequences. Same goes if you’re following advice to *not* act – if people are giving you grief and saying you don’t care about your wife because you haven’t gone to her boss, it’s still because of you. Not because of Alison, or Mickey Mouse, or anyone else you might have talked to.

    I’m sorry things are not working out the way you want them to, and I totally get the desire to jump in and help your wife. But nobody is forcing you to do anything (or avoid doing anything). Whatever you’re doing (or not doing), is still your choice, and it’s up to you to own it. Best of luck to both you and your wife right now, it sounds like you’re going through a tough time.

  83. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    “… all because of your advice with no appreciation context at all.”

    Since when is Ask a Manager the only source of career advice? I think even Allison herself would say this column is only one column, and that her advice is not Absolute Law. If you chose to take her advice, that was your choice to make, not Allison demanding that you conform to a certain idea, which you misunderstood in the first place.

    And as others have said above, who exactly is accusing you, and where do they get off sticking their nose into your business?

    Friend, give yourself a break. You are probably doing everything you can to help your wife, and having to cope with nosy glassbowls pressuring you isn’t helping. Maybe tell them that, then focus on what you and she need instead of nasty backseat drivers.

    1. Heidi*

      Yep to all this. There are many, many other resources for career advice out there. If OP doesn’t agree, they are free to seek advice from others and perhaps try to find cases where a spouse intervened with an employer and it worked out great. However, I suspect that even the worst job advisor in the world would say that this is a bad idea.

  84. Likethecity*

    Wonderful answer as usual! My husband is on the spectrum and I would never dream of stepping in with his employer. Side note: he is an essential employee in our state and still working. Thankfully, his employer is taking everything seriously and keeping all employees as safe as possible.

    There have been times that we have done exactly as Alison suggests and talked through scenarios and scripts he can use but I have never and will not ever contact his employer. Some times, the best way for me to be an advocate for him is to let him advocate for himself. (While being there for support.)

  85. MC66*

    It might be the current state of the world, but I have a feeling that this person (and their partner) is under an enormous amount of stress right now. I can certainly sympathize, and I understand that what’s happening is causing unprecedented amounts of uncertainty and frustration. The LW’s situation might very well be one that is an exception to the near iron-clad rule. But, as Alison noted, it would be a rare—exceedingly rare—occasion that would necessitate you “advocating” for your partner.

  86. Clementine*

    As much as I want to agree with Alison ideologically, I have seen an assertive female partner successfully advocate for her “pushover” male partner. I know it doesn’t fit the paradigm, and he should have stood up for himself, etc., but that’s not how it went down. I’ve also heard of cases where someone without a good command of English had a family member advocate for them.

    1. lost academic*

      Doesn’t make it right and doesn’t mean there weren’t negative repercussions you didn’t see after the fact.

    2. Observer*

      This is not about ideology. I doubt you have the entire context, prior history and outcomes. But even if you did see the one case where it made sense, you can’t deduce general principles for singular cases. And nothing in the original letter indicates that there is the faintest likelihood of a good outcome for the OP’s wife.

      Sure, the OP may (or may not) stop getting grief from the busybodies, but you don’t put your someone in a bad situation to placate the busybodies. That is NOT a good outcome. Certainly not for the OP’s wife, who is the supposed victim who needs to be helped here.

  87. Bananers*

    “All because of your advice with no appreciation context at all.”

    It is not Alison’s fault that people think you don’t care about your partner. If they’re saying that solely because you’re not interfering in her employment, they’re being absurd and you should ignore them. If they’re saying it because of impressions you’re giving them, that’s on you to figure out. You’re not required to follow anyone’s advice (though you should listen to Alison on this, because she’s right), but you can’t passively blame other people for what you choose to do.

  88. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    OP, you are clearly scared and feeling protective in a scary time. You want the best for your spouse and want to help her get what she needs. I am sorry for that.

    I understand your instinct to go fierce. And fierce isn’t always the most effective. It triggers more fierceness and protectiveness.

    I hope you will take a moment to regroup, and as a team lay out some pros and cons. Can your spouse take leave? Will your spouse risk being fired or being asked to quit? Are there safer options so that she can do her job? What is the line that she will not cross? What will the implications be for eligibility for Unemployment Insurance? Will there be other job opportunities later if she loses her job because of this?

    Bring the decisions back to your kitchen table, and then build the script for her to advocate for herself, maybe even write it together so she has talking points (and possible responses).

    Your job is to be the background support team. Do that with all of your love. Use your strength toward her, not against her employer. It will be better in the long run.

  89. Janon*

    Alison never said she’d come after someone who ‘advocates’ on behalf of their spouse. If you truly think that would benefit the situation you could decide to do it, but I’d be interested to hear how that goes.

  90. queen b*

    I really don’t like what the OP is implying about people on the autism spectrum.

    I’ve worked and met with a large number of people who are on the spectrum, and one thing a lot of people practice working on is independence. By speaking up for your spouse with ASD, you’re taking away an area of independence for them – something they’ve probably worked really hard on!

  91. jamberoo*

    I agree with this rule/reality, but I’m at my wit’s end with a related situation: what about if your spouse’s employer has issued multiple held paychecks in a row, which then transitioned to BOUNCED paychecks in a row, before culminating in mass layoffs and location closure with final pay being snail-mailed three weeks later, after much frustrated follow-up requests from struggling recipients?

    All to say, what about when the issue deeply affects your entire household’s bottom line, and your own life and credit score are affected by your spouse’s employer’s (in)actions? What if there is no more working relationship to maintain — can I go tear them up now?


    1. Rosalie*

      How do you think you “tearing them up” will help this situation? Is this a productive and meaningful route to take? Or is is you wanting to lash out because you are scared, anxious, frustrated and upset?

      Do you want to be the kind of person who handles things that way?

    2. Katniss Evergreen*

      That’s terrible – I’m truly sorry that’s happening to you and your family.

      That being said – I don’t think your getting involved will help here for the same reasons Alison’s identified in her response to this OP. A company that doesn’t seem to care about bounced checks, and isn’t in any hurry to fix it despite repeated attempts from their own staff will not care to hear from you. In fact, if they’re smarmy, getting a rake-them-over-the-coals-type email from a spouse of an employee may just make them feel like they’re somehow justified in their carelessness. A lawyer should be the person to get involved here – if you’ve experienced financial deficits at the hands of a company behaving illegally or irresponsibly, you may have standing to sue. There may be free/low-cost resources for persons in your situation to approach a lawyer or at least get a consult – I’d look into that for recompense here. Good luck!

      1. revueller*


        A lawyer is your best option here. And even then, the communication with your spouse’s employer will happen through your spouse or your lawyer. You have just as much standing over your spouse’s employer as you would with your (hypothetical) child’s college professor: the person with the direct relationship must handle that communication directly or get the authorities involved themselves.

        I wish your family the best of luck. It’s really hard feeling powerless in situations like this.

    3. K*

      Sorry that you’re dealing with this, it sounds awful. Unfortunately, I think the fact still remains that anything that can be said to the employer will carry a lot more weight coming from the actual employee (even if former employee) than from you. Also (if I’m understanding correctly) contacting them just to vent your anger will not accomplish much whether it comes from you or from Spouse, even though I ABSOLUTELY understand why you would want to do that.

      1. jamberoo*

        The sarcastic “Imma tear ’em up!” was purely hyperbole, what I wish I could do but would never dare.

        I’m frustrated because my spouse has refused this entire time to signal to his ex-employers that he knows the law and that they are breaking it — he would rather just let the whole thing go away, while getting frustrated with me when I ask once a day whether his checks have deposited or not.

        1. Observer*

          Oh gosh, I can imagine how frustrating that is. But it still would not help anything for you to go after them.

          You DO have a relationship issue here, it seems to me. – I think that when things settle down, you may want to seek some counseling

        2. PX*

          You’ve kind of answered your own question here – your frustration is with your spouse for not doing something, and not appreciating (or taking action) when you tried to help them.

          This is a relationship problem, not a work advice problem.

        3. pancakes*

          This is 2 problems, really: The employer bouncing checks and failing to communicate with employees, and your spouse being inclined to pretend it’s not happening. Neither is a problem that can be resolved or helped along even a bit by berating someone at the company, and it’s very unlikely that anyone at the company would make themselves available to be berated anyhow. I know you were being hyperbolic; I’m just saying.

          As to the first problem, I’d start with the state attorney general’s office website. In my state there are several forms available to file various types of complaints. If yours isn’t that convenient there will at least be a number to call. If your spouse is in a union I’d also try to get him to speak with a rep and get some sort of complaint started there too. Seeking out an employment lawyer for a consultation would also be a good idea. An important thing to mention is that this affects all employees, because that creates the potential for class action litigation. I don’t think marriage counseling should wait until things settle down, if you do want to seek it out, because there’s no reason to wait. Things may never settle down. Whether they do or don’t, your spouse’s avoidance of communication and/or conflict need working on.

    4. Gazebo Slayer*

      If you’re in Massachusetts, contact the state attorney general’s office. Here, nonpayment of wages is a felony.

    5. biobotb*

      And what do you think you can accomplish that your spouse can’t? Why do you think their employer cares more about your opinion?

    6. Sal*

      To what end, though? Worst case scenario, you irreparably harm your partner’s reputation in their industry. Best case scenario is…boss knows you think they stink? Boss doesn’t care and/or knows or should know you think they stink. All you get is the satisfaction of yelling at someone; in my experience, that satisfaction is usuallu pretty minimal in the end.

    7. Observer*

      It affects you, so you have standing to push on your SO. But, you don’t have any standing with the employer. Which means that you simply are not going to accomplish anything.

      Offering to take over the back legal stuff like filing complaints, and urging your spouse to find another job (or even try to collect unemployment, since failure to pay salary is pretty much the definition or something that no reasonable person can be expected to stick around for) are things that might accomplish something.

      Although the employer definitely DESERVES having you tear them up, it’s just not something helpful.

  92. A Kate*

    Wow, blaming Alison’s advice for people who are scolding you for “putting your spouse’s career ahead of their health” is…something. If you don’t like the advice, don’t take it.

  93. Jennifleurs*

    See, I’m overidentifying here. I too, have a bad habit of reading generalised advice and flaring up into EMOTION over my very specific scenario. But, OP, please calm down. The letter makes it sound like you believe Alison is personally criticising your devotion to your partner by advising people not to do this. That is not even slightly what’s happening.

    There will always be exceptions to rules, and if you and your partner think it might work for you … who’s approval are you seeking, anyway?? Never seek the Internet’s approval. It’s never unanimous.

  94. Observer*

    I’m repeating a lot of what has been said, but I want to put it a bit differently:

    Why are you so focused on what YOU think, feel and are experiencing? Why do we hear nothing about what your wife thinks about the matter?

    Why do you think that you can be actually more effective than your wife? What makes you think that any company is going to be more interested in listening to someone with whom they have no relationship with, rather than an employee that they have an obligation to and who serves some purpose for them?

    How does your intervention somehow enlighten the employer to the humanity of their staff?

    Why in heavens name is the opinion of others even in the same discussion as the ACTUAL welfare of your wife?

    Why doesn’t your wife get to choose the balance between her health and her career? I get that as a spouse you have some standing to be included in that discussion. But NO ONE else does, so why would you take the opinions of ANYONE else into consideration relative to what your wife has to say about the matter? And why are you discussing this with other people?

    To put it yet another way: If you believe that a company that is willing to illegally and immorally endanger their staff will suddenly change their ways because a gallant white knight shows up to advocate for their spouse, you are either delusional or contemptuous of your spouse. It’s hard to tell from your letter, which is something for you to think about very seriously.

    It stinks that your spouse is dealing with a terrible employer. The best thing you can do for her is to follow Alison’s advice. And perhaps you can also encourage her to find a job with an employer that treats their staff with decency.

    1. Kettricken Farseer*

      * gallant white knight shows up to advocate for their spouse*

      This so much. That’s what I’m really reading into this letter – wife is a damsel in distress and needs to be rescued from the evil employer

  95. Database Developer Dude*

    Speaking as someone cishet/male who was married to someone cishet/female who did just this – WITHOUT PERMISSION OR ASKING ME FIRST- , it did damage my standing at work, and no, it’s not a given that this is a man doing this. That’s pretty sexist. If I cited some female stereotype, I’d be dragged over the coals here. Why is it okay to do it to men, and not women? Correlation is not causation.

    But cosigned on the OP being 100% in the wrong anyway.

    1. A Kate*

      I think it’s fair to recognize that comments aren’t made in a vacuum–that is, no one said “only men ever overstep boundaries.” Instead, the point is that it’s always bad to overstep boundaries, AND readers inferred that the OP is most likely a man (based on the fact that the majority of people married to women are men, statistically) AND there is some overlap with paternalistic/controlling behavior that absolutely occurs more frequently in men than in women. You’re right that just because certain behaviors correlate to being associated with men, it doesn’t mean this OP is a man. But that isn’t the only reason I inferred that; I’m also taking into consideration the part where the OP mentions being married to a woman. It’s the collective sum of actions and information contained in the letter that make me think he’s a man, not just some lazy “oh, sounds like typical MAN shit, amirite ladies?”

    2. Batgirl*

      It’s infantilising whoever does it. There’s no way having your partner speak for you comes off as though you can advocate for yourself. The reason given is often phrased in a way that’s gendered (It’s either the men are helpless babies or bad communicators or women can’t be forceful enough with bosses stereotype) but that’s just a surface excuse for ‘I like to control things in my relationships, which happen to be with the gender I like to characterise as needing help’.
      However I actually think in this situation the ableism in referring to ADHD is a lot more obvious than any sexism.

  96. tired anon*

    OP, if you are that convinced that Alison is wrong and her advice doesn’t apply to your situation, you can just … not take her advice? Do it anyway? Advice columnists don’t actually know the ins and outs of every reader’s specific situation and there are times when what they’ve suggested doesn’t apply or won’t work. It happens! You don’t need her permission, or to send her weirdly accusatory letters, to ignore her!

    I mean, you SHOULDN’T ignore her, because she is definitely right. But there are no internet police who will come arrest you if you don’t, you’ll just have to deal with blowing up your spouse’s work situation.

  97. Lizy*

    From a female’s side, when we have a VERY “traditional” and conservative relationship. As in, he is 100% the head of the household, I dress very conservatively (I haven’t worn pants in … 4 years? 5?), and generally very “Dugger-ish” for those of you familiar with that family.

    I also work FT, and not once has my husband called in or stepped in or in any way interfered in my professional life. Does he advocate for me? YES. Does he support me? YES. Does he help me figure out weird or odd work situations (including one where the employer wanted to force me to quit in blatant disregard to the ADA)? YES. Because, OP, you’re right – we’re a team and just because we’re “traditional” doesn’t mean we don’t use each other as a sounding board, and support each other. But he knows the best way to support me professionally is to let me handle my own problems. There was literally a time earlier this year where he said “Lizy, I get it – but you have to talk to your boss about this because just venting to me isn’t doing anything”. Because that’s what a supportive husband does. He does NOT fight my battles for me – but rest assured when this COVID-crap started he made dang sure his family (me included) was/is taken care of and if it comes down to it, you bet your behind he’ll do what he has to.

    I don’t say any of this to pile on to OP. The opposite, honestly. A true partnership means that yes, you absolutely support your spouse (male or female), but that you also TRUST them to advocate for themselves, yes, even in crappy and possible illegal situations.

    Let your wife/spouse fight her own battles. When people ask why you aren’t “supporting” her or fighting for her, please, PLEASE respond “I am. As a team, we talk about this stuff a lot, and we’re working together to find a solution.” Because that’s the truth (or at least, I hope it is), and anything said beyond that is just inviting trouble.

    1. Lady CFO*

      I really appreciate this comment, because it comes from a very conservative, “Duggarish” perspective and still recognizes the autonomy necessary in the working world. I’ll say I’m quite surprised you work a full time job in your circumstance, but I really appreciate your description of what a supportive husband looks like.

      1. Youth*

        I know a lot of conservative families where the wife works full time, even conservative families where the mom is the “breadwinner” and the dad stays home…

      2. Lizy*

        Thank you!

        On the one hand, I’d love to stay home, but in reality I would not benefit from that AT ALL, nor would my family. I’m the type of person that NEEDS to be working (outside the home), for many reasons.

        Completely aside from my own mental health, my husband is a veteran and has difficulties working a “normal” job. We’re working on getting our “farm” up and running, and so there’s a lot of “manly” stuff he needs to do around the house. So he focuses on that and by default is the one who stays home with the kids when they’re out of school (like now).

  98. Lady CFO*

    Oh, my. I would throat punch my husband if he “stepped in” and addressed MY employer on MY behalf.
    I’m a big girl (scratch that) GROWN WOMAN who can handle her own affairs.
    I understand men like to fix problems, but I think this OP goes beyond that. His letter has an air of arrogance – how DARE Alison lead employees astray with such faulty advice? And it only benefits employers! Actually, no, employees who can handle their own business benefit themselves.

    Blech. Sorry, I need coffee before I deal with this patriarchal, knight on white horse stuff. :|

    1. Kettricken Farseer*

      I read arrogance and mansplaining in the letter, like, “You silly woman, Alison, how could you possibly know the best advice about worklife? Let me explain to you how you’re wrong.”

  99. Kathenus*

    In reading the letter, response, and at least most comments, I wonder if there’s some context to this letter that we’ve been missing. Maybe the reason that the OP is so passionate to get Alison to change her advice is because their spouse is a reader of AAM and is using it as part of her argument for the spouse not getting involved personally? Could help explain some of the passion around wanting the advice to be revised in this context.

    OP – you obviously have strong feelings on this, please try to channel them to supporting your spouse directly and supporting what she wants right now, so that your passion and caring can be used constructively right now.

    1. biobotb*

      It would not at all surprise me to learn that the LW’s spouse has been adamant that he not get involved and has pointed to Alison’s advise to support her point.

    2. Observer*

      It still doesn’t really matter. The LW’s wife has a right to consider whose advice she considers solid. Also, the general stuff he writes is sheet nonsense on the one hand, and there is absolutely nothing there to indicate that this is one of the exceptional cases where interference is a good idea.

  100. AKchic*

    LW, I think that everyone is giving you a lot of great feedback on why your letter (and ideology) is fundamentally flawed.
    I’d also like to add something. If your partner’s bosses aren’t listening to her, why would they listen to you? They don’t pay you. You don’t pay them. They have absolutely no relationship with you whatsoever. If her bosses are men, is it because you, too, are a man and you’re going to speak “man to man” with them? (Yes, I am speculating here) Doesn’t that give off a hint of paternalistic, patriarchal and dare I say it, proprietary feel to your whole idea? Add in the fact that you felt that everyone needed to know your wife is on the spectrum, meant to shore up your argument that you should be allowed to help her, but what it really does is tell us that you think she *needs* your help in a more direct manner, because she maybe can’t do it herself, thus undermining her status as a fully capable adult.

    I’m not liking the look or vibe you’re giving off, whether you meant to do it or not. I am going to ask you to really take a couple steps back and reevaluate how you view yourself, your relationship, and your role in the relationship. More specifically, it may be time to find out if your wife actually wants you to play the role of protector/advocate, because I am not seeing any mention of her asking you to.

  101. Anonymous Poster*

    The only time I contacted my wife’s employer was because she just miscarried. She was dealing with the mental and physical consequences of that, and couldn’t bear to go talk to her employer about how to handle the long-term time off she needed for recovering from that. To be fair, she was physically capable of telling him herself, but she just couldn’t bring herself to do it and asked me to talk to her employer instead.

    I don’t think it was unreasonable in that instance for me to step in, but it falls under one of those really narrow exceptions where, for medical or extenuating circumstances, the spouse is okay stepping in to communicate with an employer. We are a team, and we coach one another at home and behind the scenes. We rehearse how to have certain hard conversations and how to advocate for ourselves. We do all that – and that’s completely ok. But we don’t step into one another’s employment relationship otherwise.

  102. Student*

    “your advice has got people accusing me of not caring about my partner because I’m keeping my nose out of her business”

    And what is your wife’s opinion of those people you cite? I think the answer to that question should dictate your actions more than anything else.

    To an outside observer, it sounds like you are, perhaps, considering taking the side of people against your wife. Then you are re-framing it in your head as you taking your wife’s side against her employer. Re-framing it like that lets you justify your underlying betrayal of your wife to yourself by casting yourself as the hero of a maiden in a tower, as opposed to reality: you are joining up as member of an angry mob against her.

    1. Siding with spouse*

      This is a good point. And who are these people anyway?

      OP, am I right in guessing that if someone asked you why you care what people say, you would answer that you don’t give a F what they say?

      You might find it more useful and rewarding to use your forceful energy to educate said people on what is their business and what is not, with a side order of what a supportive spouse’s role is (and what it is not).

    2. Senor Montoya*

      This is rather harsh. The point about what other people are saying: that feels to me like, “and here’s another consequence.” Of course it’s upsetting if people say to you, “You aren’t supporting your spouse, you’re a bad husband/wife”.

      It’s not an argument against Alison’s advice, but I don’t think it rises to the level of the LW putting others above their spouse, or betraying their spouse. We need to be kind here.

      1. Observer*

        Well, the way to avoid that “consequence” is to not trample his wife’s boundaries by discussing her issues with other people!

  103. Zooey*

    Alison is on the money as usual. That said, I do really sympathise with you, OP, because so many times I have wished I could step in for my spouse. A few years ago he was in a super toxic job that was making him really ill, and because it was making him so ill and depressed his ability to stand up to the toxicity got less and less, and I *desperately* wanted to be able to storm in and do the thing that he couldn’t do. But it wouldn’t have fixed anything for all the reasons Alison says.

    Looking back, what I would do differently if I had it to do again was have a *much* more firm conversation about the need to leave that job. It was something we talked about a few times but I never actually sat down and said in as many words ‘I think this job is seriously harming you and I will do everything possible to support you leaving it, even if that means quitting with no job to go to’. It might not be feasible for you to have that exact conversation (I realise just quitting is not an option for many people especially at the moment) but I think that’s one thing you *can* do for your spouse – be the person who consistently reminds them that what they’re being asked to do is not acceptable and who offers whatever support they need to advocate for *themselves*.

    (Things ended very badly with spouse’s toxic job, but happy ending, he moved on to a new field and is now in a much less toxic, much better paid job. So if anyone is currently in that hellish situation – there is hope.)

  104. Actual Vampire*

    OP, I wonder if it would be helpful – as a thought exercise – to imagine yourself on the other side of a situation like the one you are proposing. Imagine you got a call from your coworker’s husband about a disagreement you had with your coworker, and he said you had to listen to his viewpoint because “my wife and I are a team.” Or imagine your employee’s mom called to complain that you were being unfair to your employee, and told you she is calling because the employee cannot stand up for himself.

    How would you react? What would you say to the person who called you? What would you say to your coworker/employee? How would it move the situation forward? How would it be different from what would have happened if the coworker/employee had talked to you themselves? How would you communicate with this coworker/employee in the future?

  105. hbc*

    “…any employer who takes an ego bruising by being respectfully spoken to by someone outside of their employ….”

    It doesn’t bruise my ego one bit if someone who has never interacted with me (outside a company Christmas party or something) thinks I’m doing a bad job, whether they tell me respectfully or otherwise. Your opinion just…doesn’t matter. I’m getting advice and feedback from experts and from coworkers, bosses, or employees, all of whom know the situation better than you, and whose opinions I can properly assess based on my experience with them. You’re just someone who is worried about your wife, but “their spouse isn’t happy” is not anything a good manager should take action on.

    If there’s something illegal going on, report it. If it’s legal but immoral, give her emotional support and strategize for getting her out of there. That’s the entirety of your role, unless you were there with her during the interview and made clear this was a package deal.

  106. Alton*

    Everything else aside, even if your wife genuinely wants you to support her in this manner, your wife’s boss can’t take that for granted. Her boss has a duty to her to respect her autonomy.

  107. NW Mossy*

    Oh, this letter. This letter feels like the emotional lead-in to a movie scene where the hero makes some eloquent speech and the evildoers fall all over themselves to mend their ways by giving the spouse a promotion, a raise, and an adorable baby animal of their choice. We’ve all played out scenes like that in our heads, where the sheer force of our inherent rightness overwhelms the idiotic and malicious.

    But there’s a reason why the scene is only ever seen in fantasy – it doesn’t work that way in real life. An employer that flouts the law and treats people poorly isn’t going to have a come-to-deity moment, and even if they did, it wouldn’t fix the underlying causes of them being mismanaged and terrible. A spouse that struggles to be an effective advocate for themselves isn’t going to turn into a take-charge Ellen Ripley on the basis of one conversation. A pandemic that’s shuttering the globe sure as heck isn’t listening to anyone’s words.

    Leave these thoughts for arguments with yourself in the shower. We all have them and relate, but acting on them will only leave you with more problems and no solutions.

  108. Katniss Evergreen*

    OP.. nowhere in your letter am I seeing a request from your spouse to engage with her employer on her behalf.

    I agree with Alison and the commentariat here – you can, and absolutely should, work with your partner on a plan to deal with her employer’s pushy behavior and practice scripts for her responses with her, as well as look into the proper way to report these violations in your state together. NONE of this should be done without her or fully by you unless one of you is suddenly too sick to engage – you’re robbing her of the ability to advocate for herself by assuming she can’t.

  109. DollarStoreParty*

    I once had an employee’s husband call and scream at me (I was 5 months pregnant) because we’d been given a pay cut. They were going through a major purchase, and I’d warned her that this could be coming – I wanted her to have all the information before she went forward. She really wanted to make that purchase, and did not tell her husband. So he was angry that I’d let her go ahead and not warned her. Years later he’s tried to get me to hire him several times, and I’ve enjoyed turning him down. She says he’s received therapy for his anger issues, but he’s never apologized, and as far as I know she never told him the truth.

  110. If Lucid*

    I’m a little perplexed by OPs insistence that Alison rethink her position on this. The advice in this column is just that – advice, it’s not a mandate. As readers, each of us can do what we want with it. We can follow her advice to the letter, we can borrow from it and modify it to meet our situation or opinions, or we can disregard it entirely and act as we see fit.

    This means that OP can absolutely contact partner’s employer if they think the reason to do so outweighs Alison’s reasons for refraining. My years of experience working and managing tell me that Alison’s advice is spot on and that disregarding it would be a poor decision, but it’s OPs decision to make either way.

    1. Batgirl*

      I’m also quite intrigued that he’s so keen on waiting for Alison’s permission.
      My only theory is that he sees this column as an etiquette rule book; if Alison changes the rule, then the boss will take his call and seriously listen?

      1. tired anon*

        My theory is that the wife has cited the column as a reason *she* doesn’t want OP not to do it, and if he gets Alison to retract the advice he can tell his wife it’s okay for him to do exactly what he wants.

    2. Djuna*

      I’m seriously wondering if OP’s wife had a letter answered here recently, and shared it and Alison’s response with her husband to get him to stand down from the idea of contacting her employer.
      That’s the only circumstance where I could imagine someone sending such a condescending, vitriolic letter. And even then it’s a stretch.

      OP needs to step way the heck back and ask himself whether he is currently making things worse for his wife by pressuring her into something she does not want to do, instead of letting her vent and helping with an action plan if she says she needs one or wants his help with one. He needs to sit down, shut up, and let her manage her life at work without interference (misbranded as “help”). Is he making matters worse by talking to all and sundry and getting bent out of shape because people question him following Alison’s advice? Will he not give her a minute’s peace because this is his new crusade?

      OP, every day at work I get asked to rewrite one of a hundred perfectly clear processes. It’s always because someone didn’t follow the process recently and got into trouble. The problem inevitably turns out to be that they never read the process in the first place, but they somehow magically think that if my team rewrites it they will have a leg to stand on in an argument with whoever caught them out. The world doesn’t work that way. I don’t rewrite things to retroactively help someone who didn’t read them, and Alison shouldn’t change her advice because you take exception to it.

      Asking Alison to change her advice because some people think you should be a busybody is not gonna stop those folks being wrong. And you need steel your spine and argue with *them* instead of trying to claim it’s the bad website lady’s fault. Just because it’s easier to send Alison an email, doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Going after your wife’s employer would be as ill-advised as mailing this letter was. Just stop.

  111. LGC*

    …there is a lot going on in this letter. But basically, LW, I think you’re approaching it wrong, because it sounds like your partner’s boss isn’t reasonable. Seriously discuss reporting their employer with them – if they’re in violation of your local restrictions or if they’re in violation of sick leave rules – and let them have the final say. And respect that.

    I’ll also speak for myself as someone On The Spectrum – your partner may vary. But if your partner is anything like me, they do want to prove that they’re competent socially. It’s one of the things I’ve struggled with the most in my adult (and even earlier) life – people seem to think that just because I’m autistic, I’m incapable of being a functional adult and need to be coddled. And – okay – I’m a bit of an airhead, but also I can handle most things, and I am capable of delegating the things I can’t deal with. Your partner may want to risk this perception, which is their choice – but I personally would sorely resent it.

  112. Ash*

    Holy moly OP, you are so wrong about this. You seem to just want reassurance or something for your viewpoint, which you’re not going to get here. It sounds like your partner’s workplace is just terrible, and as soon as the pandemic is over, she should begin seriously job searching. You should also support your partner to report their employer to the state for violating shelter in place orders. But still, NO, you cannot advocate for her. Also, how demeaning is it to assume that because someone has autism they can’t advocate for themselves?

  113. BigRedGum*

    ugh, please NEVER EVER do this. unless your SO is too sick/hospitalized to get on the phone, there’s no reason.

    I used to manage a retail shop and most my employees were between 18 and 25. ONCE i had someone’s mom contact me. The mom said that her child felt uncomfortable around someone. I was pissed. why didn’t that employee tell me? did she think i would take her mom more seriously? did she even know her mom had done that?

    Whatever the case, i kept an extra close eye on that employee because i wanted her gone. i don’t need that kind of drama. it might not be nice to feel that way, but i’m human and I did.

    we’re adults who take care of our own business!

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      I really hope you didn’t retaliate against this employee because her mother reported sexual harassment (probably without her permission or knowledge).

      1. une autre Cassandra*

        Yeah, that’s kind of a bummer, holding it against the employee that her mom called. You don’t even know if the employee was OK with it, begged Mom not to do it, or was even aware her mom called.

    2. Observer*

      This is one of the few places where I would be conflicted if Mom had asked my advice. Because of course the person should come to their boss themselves. But you are talking about a young person why may not have the tools to take such a step. And given your reaction, I also have to wonder if this young person had a reason to think that YOU would not react well if they came to you.

      Even if you never gave them a reason to worry about it, asking “why didn’t employee talk to me about this?” is generally willfully obtuse. People don’t go to their bosses because they their life experience often tells them that things will not end well for them. Any boss who is not aware of this needs to get out a bit more and also maybe read the news.

  114. Kettricken Farseer*

    As a manager, a couple times I’ve received e-mails from spouses. It was wildly inappropriate to be contacted this way, and I pretended I never received it. It did not reflect well on the employees at all, since all it did was make me wonder why they didn’t bring up issues with me themselves.

  115. The Rural Juror*

    When I was in high school I had a part-time job on the retail side at the same company as my Mom, but she and I did not work together. I was incredibly sick one week with a sore throat, I may have had strep, and it was incredibly painful to talk. There was no way I could go into work in a customer-facing role in those conditions. However, I was having a hard time trying to call in to my manager. I would call and talk to the whoever answered the phone to ask for the manager, but would end up expending whatever speaking capabilities I had on that bit. By the time my manager came on the phone they couldn’t understand who I was much less that I was trying to tell them I couldn’t work. So my mom had to call in for me. I was so humiliated that my mommy had to do that for me, even though I knew it was not normal circumstances. Up until that point I had been very proud of myself for doing well at my job and being an independent, grown person, even though I was like 16-18 when I worked there. I was so embarassed!

    If someone else felt they had to call my employer and advocate for me for some reason other than a medical situation where I physically could not do so myself, I would feel so demoralized. You may want to jump over your spouse and rush to their defense, but it will not reflect well on your spouse. Don’t jeopardize them like that!

  116. Ralph Wiggum*

    A lot of commenters are challenging the OP that she can’t accomplish anything more than her wife on this matter.

    While that’s most likely true, I don’t think it’s fair to automatically assume it. Some people are legitimately better at advocacy (for themselves or others).

    I still don’t recommend advocating for your wife in this way, since you will be viewed by the employer as an unnecessary third party. Our society is pretty highly individualistic, and we expect individuals to resolve their own problems in most cases.

    1. K*

      I think you basically said it yourself, even if OP is theoretically capable of putting together a great, convincing argument in favor of what his spouse needs, his position as a third party makes him automatically much less sited to making that argument than his wife is.

    2. biobotb*

      But the fact that the LW is unaffiliated with the company basically means that no matter how good they are at putting together the argument, the employer has even less reason to listen to it than any argument put forward by their employee. It’s not about who’s better at arguing or advocacy, it’s about the fact that the LW has no standing to make *any* argument, no matter how theoretically persuasive.

    3. LGC*

      The thing is – unless their partner (I didn’t see LW’s gender or their partner’s gender) is just that disastrously bad at advocating for themselves, LW most likely can’t accomplish anything more than their partner, and probably can accomplish less because of what you said about being viewed as an unnecessary third party. That’s the major issue here.

    4. Count Boochie Flagrante*

      It doesn’t really have to do with who’s better at advocacy. The OP can’t do anything more than their wife can because any company with five brain cells to rub together isn’t going to accept a third party interfering in how they handle one of their employees. It’s not got to do with individualism, it has to do with appropriate boundaries.

  117. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    The bottom line is that it’s not your place. Your spouse is an adult and you don’t work there. It’s no different than a parent calling their adult child’s job on their behalf. It’s not your business. You support them from the sidelines, period, end of story.

  118. SaffyTaffy*

    OP, I hope that you will take a step back and analyze the tone of this letter. The way you open by basically saying “your advice has never explicitly included my specific family situation, and that’s so unusual I’m asking you WHY it doesn’t” makes you seem, at best, out of touch with how groups function. This is a letter to someone you’ve never spoken to before, that you could reasonably assume would be made public. If you speak this way in professional settings, it is going to reflect badly on you and anyone else you represent. And beyond your tone, you cannot speak to your wife’s employer just because she’s on the spectrum and the job is a bad fit.

    1. revueller*

      ‘Barely concealed’ is generous. This letter feels like a hand is grasping through a hole in a wall to throttle me. The “y’know” seals it.

      (Not meaning to correct, just to sympathize: the anger in the letter is very uncomfortable to read.)

      1. I Will Steal Your Pen*

        Oh thank god – I thought I was the only one who thought this post was ridiculously hostile.

      2. Hexiva*

        For what it’s worth, I think a lot of us have a lot of formless boiling anger about the situation right now. I myself left a couple comments on this website this weekend that I kinda regret. I feel like the tone wouldn’t be so concerning if the content itself weren’t . . . yikes.

    2. ToodleOodleWhordleOrdle*

      Yup. Everyone in the comments is being so nice and patient, and all I want to do is find LW’s wife and tell her to run for her life and never look back

      1. James*

        Tactical decisions. This guy’s already very hostile, and will view even these patient comments as threats. If we were hostile we’d have zero chance of reaching him. For my part that in no way means I think he’s doing the right thing, or that this isn’t a horrible situation for the spouse; I would DEFINITELY advocate his wife finding a means to escape (and I would put it in those terms). But we can’t really reach his wife just now. We’ve got to talk to him, so I (and I think many others here) are opting to try our best to reach him.

        Not much hope of success, but hey, at least we tried.

  119. Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.*

    Many years ago, back before my husband and I were not yet married but living together, I came down with laryngitis so crippling I could not even make a single sound. (Even when I stubbed my toe on the bedframe, nothing came out, it was that bad). We discussed him calling for me in this situation, but instead I emailed my bosses myself and explained the situation, with the backup that if I didn’t get a response, my husband would call sometime that morning to ensure the message was received. However, the email did the trick. This is not that kind of situation – the OP’s partner is not incapacitated here.

    Also, people on the spectrum are not completely helpless, and the fact that OP is implying that he needs to do this for his partner for that possible reason is not sitting well with me. (Nor is this whole letter, to be honest.). My guess is that OP and his partner have different ideas of good safety practices and that may be the real source of the strife here (I’ve seen this dynamic play out in other areas).

  120. Trixie, the Great and Pedantic*

    Trixie thinks LW needs a remedial course in minding his own business.

    Your “job” in this? Is to support her in whatever course of action she decides is appropriate. At best, you can persuade her- not browbeat, not bully, not bulldoze- to take a course of action that you think is the correct one, with rational and reasoned arguments and adult discussion. It is not your job to do her job. If she’s having trouble enforcing boundaries at her job, the last thing she needs is you running roughshod over her boundaries at home. If she’s trying to work with them, inasmuch as they are willing to be worked with, the last thing she needs is you going behind her back, or leaping in front of her screaming “LISTEN TO MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”

    I’m not saying this employer is good, or right, or sensible. I’m saying that it is not your job, responsibility, duty, obligation, or any other term to get involved. Support her in fighting with them. Support her in getting out when she finally can. She’s the point person here, NOT YOU. IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU.

  121. iglwif*

    This is just … such a WEIRD letter? OP doesn’t agree with Alison’s advice, so can he not just … ignore it? just not follow it? What is accomplished by yelling at her about it?

    Which is not to say that he should ignore it, because it’s good advice with sound reasoning behind it. But I just find the whole *idea* strange and baffling, I guess.

    I used to manage people for about 15 years in ExJob, and as far as I can recall I ever got a call or an email from a direct report’s spouse about a work thing*, but I can tell you what my reaction would likely have been if I had: some yikes, some secondhand embarrassment, some waffling about what if anything to say to the employee about the incident, followed by quietly filing the email away and not answering it. I’d be wondering: Does Employee know their spouse sent this? If so, what does that say about their understanding of and respect for workplace norms, and should I be worried? If not, what does that say about their relationship, and should I be worried?

    As a manager/employer, you can’t ethically discuss an employee’s employment stuff with other people. And why on earth would you give more weight to the arguments and opinions of semi-random outsiders than to the arguments and opinions of people inside the company?

    It’s just all a great big ball of NOPE.

    *Exception: on my last day at the company, one person’s spouse–someone I’d met and interacted with at company events to which spouses were invited–sent me an email thanking me for being supportive and understanding during {some bad stuff that went down in their lives while this person was working for me}.

    1. Liz T*

      I’m guessing OP’s spouse reads the blog and used it to back up her “do not call my effing work” boundary. OP wants the verdict overturned so their spouse will “have” to give in.

  122. BeesKneeReplacement*

    Ugh. It is hard to watch this go down but it really won’t end in a helpful way. I’ve gone through this type of thing before (below) so I totally get the frustration. Seriously, tho, you just shouldn’t. Teams have different roles and sometimes yours is as support. If you have a crew of two captains, you don’t have a crew but a power struggle.

    My partner has terrible anxiety and that once led to him behaving inappropriately at work. This unfolded over a period of nearly two weeks and it was wrenching to watch it happen, especially when his anxiety meant he didn’t take my coaching to heart. It was worse when he was called into HR for a conversation about harassment that he feared was going to be about firing him and he’s the primary earner in our family. In my head, I knew exactly what I wanted to say to his manager and explain how their totally reasonable way of behaving was unintentionally exacerbating the situation. However, I knew that’s not how the conversation would have gone in real life.

  123. Batgirl*

    OP, it is absolutely true that the boss may be pushing her boundaries in the hope that she will submit. Whilesuspecting that there is no possibility of your wife organising her co-workers to object as a group. Mulling whether your wife has the wherewithal to advocate for herself.
    But if you speak for her, you will be removing all doubt in the matter.
    Teams don’t work when players trip up each other up. Plan together, condole together, believe her expert take on the situation (it may be there really is no way short of quitting to take a stand if they really are not “reasonable or allow people to stand up for themselves”), coach her, support her … but don’t speak for her.

  124. Essess*

    OP, put this in another perspective. How would YOUR boss react if your mother called them out of the blue and started yelling at them that she didn’t like the job duties you are assigned at work and started telling them how they should be treating you? Would you expect your boss to change your role or give you a promotion because your mom called them? I’m sure your boss would be unhappy at the unprofessionalism from your family. It would be even worse if you actually told your mom to go ahead and make that call to your boss. If your boss knew that your mom was calling them to interfere with your job with your permission, at that point, your boss would be considering whether you are worth enough to them to keep employed. That’s the same situation you are pulling on your spouse.

  125. Eukomos*

    No one “allows” anyone else to stand up for themselves. The whole thing about standing up for yourself is that you do it out of your own strength, in the face of someone who would very much rather you not. Sometimes it’s incredibly hard, but those can be the situations in which it’s the most valuable. Standing up for other people can sometimes be a great thing as well, but it inherently draws attention to their weakness, which is the last thing anyone needs at work. If you really want to support your wife, support her in standing up for herself, don’t try to do it for her.

  126. Duvie*

    OP: it’s clear from your letter that you don’t believe your spouse can handle things as well as you. I’m sure it’s clear to your spouse. If you contact their employer, it’ll be clear to the employer as well. There’s no upside to what you want to do. Your spouse will look weak; you’ll look like you’re out of touch with reality and possibly scary. Allison’s advice is 100% dead on. You’d be doing well to follow it.

  127. Amethyst Anne*

    From September 1994-December 2000, I was the manager in the kitchen at the local middle school. When one of my cooks had to be off work, I would call the next person of the 5-6 people on the Substitute Cook list. (I’d keep track of who I called, who was not available that day, and who got to work.).

    We had gone through a time when I needed subs frequently because of the flu going around. After the flu subsided, all of us full-time cooks were finally back to work.

    A couple weeks had gone by, when I got a call from Mr. W:

    Mr. W.: Is this the manager?
    Me: It is.
    Mr. W.: This is Mr. W. I am Mrs. W’s husband. WHY HAVE YOU NOT CALLED MY WIFE IN TO WORK? She is one of the subs and she needs the work.
    Me: None of the regular cooks have been sick.
    Mr. W.: Oh…..Goodbye.

    I had worked with her. I knew it wasn’t her idea for her husband to call. His phone call certainly did not engender warm and fuzzy feelings for him. I felt sorry for her.

    I called her in the sub cook rotation after that. I kind of dreaded calling her, thinking that he would get to the phone before she did and give me sarcasm.

  128. Archaeopteryx*

    Echoing all the comments, but also- to be a good spouse or partner, you need to know how to support them behind the scenes in ways that don’t always involve the spotlight. Women are historically conditioned to do this, sometimes to a fault, but it’s important for men too to know how to help in ways that aren’t super visible for the outside (listening, advising, taking work off stressed person’s shoulders) rather than interfering. This situation is a good time for those skills.

  129. Cringing 24/7*

    There is *SO MUCH* wrong with this viewpoint, OP!

    You stated, “any employer who takes an ego bruising by being respectfully spoken to by someone outside of their employ, to me, is not worth working for at all.”… I mean… that may be valid, but almost no one is getting a phone call from an employee’s spouse and getting their ego bruised. They’re getting a phone call from an employee’s spouse and wondering, “Why the hell is this person calling me? They know that they’re not my employee and I can’t discuss the terms of their spouse’s employment with them, right?”

    You also accuse Alison of taking a stand that “benefits employers by shielding them from the realities of their staff’s humanity and seeks to keep them cocooned from that reality… I would rather test an employer to see how they react to this to see if they take their duty of care to their employees seriously.”
    Um… first of all, if an employer needs to see that someone has a spouse to be reminded of their humanity, then just generally screw single people, I guess. That’s not a remotely helpful standard. And second, unless you’re applying for a position at a company or deciding whether or not to patronize said company, it’s not your job, responsibility, or place to “test” an employer for… generally much of anything?

    I urgently ask you to reconsider for these and all the reasons listed above by Alison.

    1. On a pale mouse*

      If they haven’t recognized the reality of their staff’s humanity by, you know, observing that humans work for them, nothing a spouse can say is going to help.

  130. Bridh*

    Why assume an autistic spouse is incapable of advocating for themselves? It seems a little infantalising. While everyone with a neuroatypical brain is different, many autistic people are fully capable of speaking for themselves, like neurotypicals, if offered appropriate support. My spouse takes some time and support to be able to self advocate but if I called his boss for him in anything other than a severe emergency I’d make him look like a child.

    1. Meredith*

      Exactly. If the person has been hired to do a job they are capable of, they are capable of navigating the ins and outs of that job. To assume anything else is patronizing.

  131. Llama Face!*

    OP, I’m going to assume you have good intentions and just a very unfortunate manner of communicating them. A lot of people have already come down on the perceived paternalistic attitude they are reading in your letter so I won’t pile on. What I will do is offer you an example from my own recent experience.

    I have a friend who works in a similar type of business to mine. They are someone who is at higher risk with COVID-19 due to health issues. Additionally they are someone for whom English is not their first language. They had informed their boss of the health concerns related to COVID-19 and asked to stay away from the office. (It is possible for them to work from home.) The boss kept agreeing but then changing their mind and demanding my friend come into the office during business hours. What did I do? I can tell you I did not take over my friend’s responsibility to deal with their own workplace and call their manager for them- as tempting as that may be! What I did do was -at my friend’s request- give them some useful terms and phrases to use so that they could make a formal request for changes to their work attendance (accomodation, unusually dangerous, etc) that would allow them to take the matter further up the ladder if disregarded. And at their request I helped them re-word a couple emails so that they were clear and concise. But I didn’t assume my friend would be unable to advocate for themself just because I am a native english speaker and they aren’t or because I’m better at dealing with direct confrontation. And guess what? The boss *didn’t* listen so my friend went up the chain to the grandboss. And, happily, the grandboss did listen. Now my friend knows how to advocate for themself better in case they get into another jerk boss situation. If I had pushed my way in, not only would their boss and grandboss not have been likely to listen but my friend would never have grown as an employee and as a confident human being.

    Long story short (okay too late), don’t stifle your spouse’s development in an attempt to help.

  132. Moose*

    If your spouse’s company is breaking COVID orders and putting people at risk, that’s awful and you or your spouse should report it–but what’s going to happen if you contact the company itself? Do you think a stern phone call to the boss will make them stop if they’re not listening to the government or their own employees?

    “Don’t contact your spouse’s employer” or “don’t fight your spouse’s battles for them” =/= “never help your spouse with work situations.” Your logic here is flawed.

  133. NerdyKris*

    LW, I’d ask those friends who are telling you that you should be stepping in what exactly they expect you to do and what they think the outcome would be. Do they expect you to “put your foot down” and tell the employer “no”? The employer’s response is going to be “employee, do not have your husband contact us anymore, we will not be responding to him”.
    I have never been in a scenario where a spouse interfered that didn’t just make the employee’s reputation worse. They aren’t an employee, they have no relationship to the employer, and in terms of how much weight their opinion is given, it might as well be some random person you met in a bar.
    This reminds me of the boyfriend of an employee who sent me a facebook message telling me that if I wrote his girlfriend up again he’d fight me in the parking lot. All that did was get the boyfriend banned from the premises and any company functions that allowed guests. Don’t be that boyfriend.

    1. NerdyKris*

      Oh I forgot about the guy who told me how he and his cousins saw me at the mall and they asked him if they should beat me up, but decided not to because I was with my girlfriend, like I would laugh about it and not immediately make sure HR was aware. This was the same place, and he and his girlfriend were already upset that they were being turned down for promotions because it was a help desk with a very flat organizational chart and any path forward would put one of them in charge of the other.

      Also there were multiple couples who would fight eachother’s battles. It turned into screaming and throwing things at me on more than one occasion. God that place sucked.

    2. pancakes*

      It doesn’t necessarily matter what they think! If they’re not lucid thinkers, if their thinking is driven by insecurities, if they have a warped sense of their own importance, or a poor grasp of norms . . . there are any number of reasons why someone’s expectations of a workplace conflict aren’t worth inquiring about further.

  134. pcake*

    OP, part of what Alison replied to you was “contacting your partner’s employer to advocate on their behalf will undermine them and make them look unprofessional.”

    Let me rephrase that for you to “contacting your partner’s employer to advocate on their behalf will undermine them and make them look incompetent.”

    And it will certainly do your partner no good to have their job think of them as someone who is incapable.

    If you’re concerned about the company being open while not being deemed essential, call the health department. In some locations, the police would be the ones to call.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      Seriously. If the employer is willing to break THE LAW, they aren’t going to give a crap about what an employee’s spouse is saying. If anything, they may just kick said employee to the curb.

  135. I Will Steal Your Pen*

    You also need to consider your partner’s reputation at work when they have family members calling and offering their input on their situation. Trust me when I say – that will not bode well for them. It will always been known, and future conversations with them will always be fraught with this act. And it may be mocked and ridiculed. You can pretend it wont happen, that people are always adult and professional, but it does.

    Also – if I could just add one more comment to the OP. Just my opinion, but your note is a tad….hostile. Nobody is telling you that you need to take Alison’s advice.

  136. G*

    Oh man. This is exactly the kind of entertainment I come here for. I feel like I just found treasure!!

    /of course this OP is insane and entitled AF

  137. incognita for this*

    Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper as a concerned citizen. A letter is a great way to illuminate an aspect of a news story that hasn’t been reported on.

    For example, until I read your comment, I didn’t think about the possibility of health care professionals bringing in their own PPE. But I went online and found out that the Joint Commission — the leading US hospital accreditation board — last week came out in favor of using face masks brought from home:



    1. Be sure to observe the newspaper’s submission guidelines.

    Sign your name (yes, some people don’t sign their names).

    Give a number where we can reach you during the day to verify that you wrote it (yes, some people do sign someone else’s name).

    Stick to the word limit. I’m in the profession, and few things frost my Pop-Tarts more than letters that start, “I know your limit is 250 words, but I’m writing about something that’s really important.” (“Not the drivel you usually publish” is what’s implied.)

    2. Make your point right away. You don’t have a lot of time to grab the reader’s attention.

    If you don’t know what your point is, think about what you would say if someone asked you what your letter is about.

    “It’s about why health care workers should be allowed to bring their own PPE to hospitals.”

    “Oh! Why should health care workers be allowed to bring their PPE to hospitals?”

    3. Finally, cite your sources. If you’re writing in response to a story that has run in your local newspaper, it helps to include a link. The same is true if you’re citing a fact that has not been widely reported.

  138. James*

    “There is no good reason why people should not be allowed to help each other and advocate for each other…”

    If you’re a fellow employee, a client, or someone who interacts with the company regularly, sure, advocate for the person. I’ve spent a lot of political capital advocating for people in my company. I know that I’ve had people advocate for me.

    A spouse, however, can’t do so. Let’s say that you called your spouse’s boss. Would they pick up? In some cases yes, but in most no. You’re a random phone number in an age of robo-calls. If you show up at the office it’s worse, because you’re directly confronting your spouse (NOT the boss–your spouse is going to bear the brunt of this). But let’s be generous and say they do pick up. Would they care what you say? You are obviously biased (Aristotle, I think, put it best: “Love is the state in which men see things as they most certainly are not”), so there’s going to be no so much a grain as a hopper car of salt taken with any assessment you give. Further, you have little capacity for assessment. You don’t see your spouse at work, so you can’t evaluate it. There is zero reason for the boss to take you seriously.

    But let’s take this game further. Let’s say the boss picks up the phone, is willing to discuss this with you, and agrees to give your spouse a raise/promotion/continued employment. Where does that leave your spouse? Frankly, it leaves them wondering if they’re good enough. Wondering whether they’ve earned their position. Because they know that you can’t adequately evaluate your work (unless you postulate that your spouse is a moron, which says nothing good about your relationship). Impostor Syndrome is going to hit HARD. They’ll be second-guessing everything they do.

    And then, what sort of relationship will they have with you after this? You will have demonstrated that you don’t trust them to handle their own affairs. Worse, what someone gives they can take away; whether you like it or not, you’ve assumed a position of authority over your spouse and they will likely be very concerned that in disagreements you’ll call the boss and punish them through their work. You can’t say “I would never do that” because in this scenario you already did. “You owe me” is poison to a relationship.

    This is exactly why I refuse to work with family. This isn’t speculation; this is what I’ve seen happen in family businesses. It rips families apart, and the wounds take decades to heal. Some never do.

    That’s not to say you can’t do anything. If the company is doing something illegal, there are places where you can, as a concerned citizen, report them. If the company is violating laws, you can report them as well. You can support your spouse through this–because believe me it’s hard on them, and very few jobs can be done without support. You can, if you feel the need, help your spouse spruce up their resume. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re looking for new work; lots of companies use internal resumes.

  139. RB*

    Yikes. The only time my spouse or I have communicated with one another’s boss was when we worked for the same employer. Even then it was mostly text confirmations about scheduling or a request to get one of us to contact her (my spouse’s phone was not always reliable.) The idea of him contacting my current boss on my behalf is unsettling and would probably creep him out too.

  140. Pescadero*

    DO NOT Contact your spouses employer.

    If they are breaking Covid-19 laws – call the appropriate authorities and drop a dime.

  141. incognita for this*

    Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper as a concerned citizen. A letter is a great way to illuminate an aspect of a news story that hasn’t been reported on.

    For example, until I read your comment, I didn’t think about the possibility of health care professionals bringing in their own PPE. But I went online and found out that the Joint Commission — the leading US hospital accreditation board — last week came out in favor of clinicians’ using face masks brought from home. This lends a lot of weight to

    Google this headline: “JCAHO Gives an OK For Clinicians To Wear PPE & Masks From Home After Many Were Reprimanded.” Or this headline: “Joint Commission issues statement on use of face masks brought from home.”

    1. Be sure to observe the newspaper’s submission guidelines.

    Sign your name (yes, some people don’t sign their names).

    Give a number where we can reach you during the day to verify that you wrote it (yes, some people do sign someone else’s name).

    Stick to the word limit. I’m in the profession, and few things frost my Pop-Tarts more than letters that start, “I know your limit is 250 words, but I’m writing about something that’s really important.” (“Not the drivel you usually publish” is what’s implied.)

    2. Make your point right away. You don’t have a lot of time to grab the reader’s attention.

    If you don’t know what your point is, think about what you would say if someone asked you what your letter is about.

    “It’s about why health care workers should be allowed to bring their own PPE to hospitals.”

    “Oh! Why should health care workers be allowed to bring their PPE to hospitals?”

    3. Finally, cite your sources. If you’re writing in response to a story that has run in your local newspaper, it helps to include a link. The same is true if you’re citing a fact that has not been widely reported.

    1. incognita for this*

      Sorry — the above — was meant to be a reply to Leslie Yep’s comment about the PPE policy of the hospital where their mother works.

  142. Liz T*

    OP, instead of writing Ask A Manager to demand she change how employment works, write to Captain Awkward for advice on drawing boundaries with these weirdos sticking their noses in your marriage.

    1. ToodleOodleWhordleOrdle*

      Yes! And maybe browse CA’s back catalogue for tips on being less controlling and sexist as well

  143. somethingchronic*

    Wow. This letter’s left a nasty taste in my mouth; the LW comes across as really sexist.

  144. Vicky Austin*

    If you have the communication skills necessary to get hired at a job and to be in a relationship with a partner, then you have the skills necessary to advocate for yourself.

  145. Pigeon*

    As an autistic employee, I would be mortified if my husband intervened on my behalf at work. First, for good or ill, I have to control who has knowledge of my disability at work, and this “outs” me to people I can’t trust with that information. It further reinforces the damaging tendency to infantilize adult autistics, which only hurts us in all public spheres, including at work. And it makes already difficult social situations even more complicated and hard to navigate. Why on earth would anyone do that to a person they love?

    I do ask my spouse for help with things that are difficult for me, and APPROPRIATE for him to assist. He asks the same of me. That’s a healthy marriage. Stepping in because you feel embarrassed by your friends is not mature or thoughtful behavior.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      It further reinforces the damaging tendency to infantilize adult autistics, which only hurts us in all public spheres, including at work.

      Oh, this is so true, and so much of why OP’s letter has a real ick factor. OP’s wife is an adult.

      1. Tinker*

        Yeah, that was my first reaction on reading this thing (the subsequent reactions being all basically variations on “yikes”). Around the time I got a formal diagnosis, I also got used to a very matter-of-fact framing of the differences that I had that seem reasonably attributable to neurodiversity — “this sort of thing is difficult for me because I’m autistic, so it would be better to go about it in this other way instead”. This had mixed results, particularly at work where a lot of people are not culturally competent at all in that area — it wasn’t uncommon, despite my efforts otherwise, for people to seem to come away with a “less capable but has an excuse” framing rather than the intended “less capable at this thing, but a lot more capable at that thing”.

        In retrospect, I would have done better to avoid giving a name to why putting me in the middle of an open office with noise issues and structuring my work in a way that defeats systematization is a particularly perverse thing to do.

        I can only imagine that a partner intervening with my work, particularly one who palpably had the attitude that it went almost without saying that I was incapable of self-advocacy, would have made an absolute wreck of my credibility — and that’s at a company that in broad terms is reasonably sympathetic about life circumstances and disability issues, which it sounds like is not the case here. And even beyond that, I can’t imagine having a relationship with a partner who views me that way — it would be utterly maddening to have to deal with that on a constant basis and in my own home.

  146. CastIrony*

    I think OP doesn’t know what to do about a place violating our new pandemic rules, and it is really hard to see someone they love in direct danger!

    So the question they’re asking is, “Can I talk to my spouse’s employer if they are putting my friend in danger? Usually, the answer is no, but these times are dangerous!”

    So the answer given pretty much is, “No, not even in pandemic times should we try to advocate for those we love at work. All we can do is try to give them the words and tools at home so that they can stand up for themselves at work.”

    So please, don’t be so harsh on OP. They’re just as scared as we are, and human because no one likes to be helpless when a loved one is suffering.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      Yeah, but…

      1) How to report companies violating stay in place orders has been in the news, so this shouldn’t be a difficult thing to figure out how to do. Also, the internet.

      2) Even if OP’s wife’s employer is doing something wrong, this is exactly not how to deal with it.

      3) OP’s weird/odd/entitled attitude is likely to damage their wife’s standing and position at work.

      4) If OP’s wife’s employer doesn’t give a shit about obeying a quarantine which is THE LAW, they probably aren’t going to give a shit about OP’s opinion.

      Yeah, OP is out of line. They may be freaking out, but they need to get a grip on their own feelings and still handle things correctly.

    2. LGC*

      Yeah, it did kind of turn into a Two Minutes’ Hate here. (Admittedly, OP did not do themselves any favors in their letter.)

      I think I nodded to this in a comment I wrote upthread, but OP wildly misidentified the solution to the issue. The employer is acting in a way that is – at best – legally dubious, and at worst is illegal and potentially lethal, with disregard to the welfare of those in their employ. They do not sound like they can be reasoned with. And while Alison addressed the direct answer and nodded to the actual solution…this sounds like a solution where it probably won’t be fixed by direct employee action alone and could be reportable. (I like to pretend I know employee law, but I’m bad at HR in normal times, let alone a pandemic.)

      The only reason why I wouldn’t suggest OP report their spouse’s employer to their local authorities immediately is because there could be direct repercussions to their spouse, so I’d get their okay first (and only do it with their okay – Alison did note this, but I really want to emphasize this point). From the stridency of the letter, that sounds like a viable next step, and if that’s the action they want to take, I’d be okay with that.

    3. pancakes*

      Being scared about a threat on the level of a pandemic is all the more reason to think clearly (and stress the important of thinking clearly) rather than simply react out of unthinking fear.

  147. Emma*

    I was married to someone with ASD. We spent a lot of time at home discussing strategies to cope with work, various scripts and scenarios to deal with different situations, looking up resources for ASD in the workplace, etc. The ONLY time I called his boss was when he was passed out in the ER and couldn’t talk. It would have been a massive overstep on my part to call and jump in even when I could have easily explained the situation from one neurotypical person to another. My then-husband would have rightfully been hurt and humiliated. People with ASD are entitled to the same respect and privacy as everyone else; sometimes it can be hard for them to explain the impact of ASD on their work life, but it’s still up to them, with the full behind-the-scenes support of their spouses, friends, family, therapist, etc. If we’re talking about a specific placement for people with ASD or disabilities, then maybe there are instances where intervention by a social worker or doctor can be warranted. But a spouse? No.

  148. Merrie*

    My spouse has called in to work for me when I’ve been literally incapable of talking. Other than that, no.

    I’ve every once in a while had discussions with his boss about matters at his work, but it’s because he works for a church that I am a member of and he isn’t (he could be a member but isn’t interested) and sometimes my involvement leads to discussion of issues that are adjacent to his job–how are we going to loop his department in with X thing or how will it impact them–and I’ll get into a bit of a discussion of it then that is informed by discussions he and I have had. But if he really had some issue I would have him approach his supervisor directly.

  149. Jedi Squirrel*

    Lots of accusations of sexism on OP’s part, and this would be true if OP were a man, but I don’t see anything in the letter to indicate OP is a man. Did I miss something?

    1. Heidi*

      Alison specified that the OP was a man in one of the nested comments. You didn’t miss anything.

  150. Sally Forth*

    “Who does your advice benefit?” It benefits the employee, who will learn to advocate on their own behalf.

    1. pancakes*

      Or, even if they don’t learn, at least won’t have given their boss occasion to worry whether they’re in an abusive or otherwise unbearable relationship.

  151. Jessica Fletcher*

    I think it’s telling that LW doesn’t say their wife has asked them to step in. The focus is all on LW’s desire to interfere, LW’s perception of how others view them, and apparent criticism LW is getting. And this weird insistance that it’s Alison’s fault?? LW doesn’t HAVE to do what Alison recommends.

    So it sounds like maybe LW’s wife wants to follow Alison’s recommendation, and LW is pissy because that’s not what they want to do. ‍♀️

  152. gina*

    Aw, poor OP! I imagine him as a newlywed, and his wife probably complains a lot. It’s not unusual for younger guys, at the beginning of a relationship, to see himself as his wife’s problemsolver, hero, knight in shining armor. So it’s torture for him to have to sit back and see her suffer! He wants to fight on her behalf! You have to let go of that concept though. Even though you are so in love and intertwined souls, to the rest of the world you are two independent people and it’s hugely interfering to involve yourself in her job. I complained about my job and my husband helped me think through how to cope with a terrible boss, and whether I should just quit. Believe me, those things are helpful, and they are appropriate. NEVER would I have imagined him calling my boss! To do that would be to position himself as my father, and me a child. That’s not good!!!!!!! I’m telling you, find a different way to channel your protective instincts.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      This is possible‒wife may have just complained about it and he saw it as his job to do something about it, even though it’s not.

      There was a brilliant scene in Nick Hornby’s About a Boy describing this, which is very common among men. (I highly recommend that book. It’s hilarious, sad, and touching all at the same time.)

      But yeah, we need to do a better job of raising our boys. This is so not how you support your wife.

  153. Mellow*

    OP seems to think that it’s Allison’s fault if OP reads and applies Allison’s advice.

    Makes me wonder how the partner stands it.

  154. Hexiva*

    I’m getting some red flags from this letter based on the fact that the LW did not tout “my wife WANTS me to call her boss” as one of their selling points for this. Like, if their wife is on board with this plan, it’s still a bad idea, but like, I get the impulse. I want to call up my MOTHER’S boss and give her an earful. But if your wife doesn’t want to talk to her boss and doesn’t want YOU to talk to her boss, doing it would be divorce material. Do not do this! Especially don’t do this without your wife’s permission!

  155. Alyssa*

    OP it’ really not your place. Alison is right. As an employer I would be extremely taken aback if I heard from anyone’s spouse unless they were gravely ill. It’s unprofessional. You wouldn’t expect someone’s mother or father to speak on their behalf. I don’t care how much of a team you are–it’d be disrespectful of my time. Work with your spouse. Talk about plans A, B, and C. See if there is an email, toll free number, or HR person. Draft emails together, even.

  156. The Rat-Catcher*

    OP – your wife’s employer knows what they are doing. They know that they are bending/breaking the law and anybody with any sense on the leadership team, HR, legal, etc has already advocated against it. You are not going to say the magic words that make them do the right thing. I understand the feeling – my husband’s employer at first was allowing no WFH whatsoever despite having the capability to do so and I wanted to shake the leadership until they saw sense. But calling them is not going to make them see sense, it’s just going to make her “the woman whose husband called to tell us how to run our company.”

    1. The Rat-Catcher*

      Forgot I wanted to add – I am in no way saying this is a good employer and I think your wife should plan her exit strategy yesterday. But she has to get by there until that time.

  157. Not So NewReader*

    OP, why don’t you just ask your wife to write to AAM to talk over her problems?

    You state: “Seriously, I’m being accused of not caring by thinking of her career over her health and safety! All because of your advice with no appreciation context at all.”

    This part is interesting to me, OP. So who is accusing you? Family? Friends? I have worked for some pretty rough employers and so did my husband. I can never remember anyone accusing either one of us about not caring about the other’s situation. I can only imagine that you must talk about the problems A LOT to get this response from them. Is it possible that people told you that to get you to stop talking about work problems?

    You blame AAM’s advice for your family/friends accusing you of not caring? According to the Oxford dictionary the word advice means “guidance or recommendations offered with regard to prudent future action.” So clearly, it’s optional. You don’t have to follow the ideas offered here. But you decided to try.

    Alison has years and years of advice on this site. Did you read any of her other advice? Did you share the relevant parts with your spouse? Alison has also put up many super helpful posts about Covid-19 in the workplace. How much of those have you read or encouraged your wife to read?

    Some advice needs to be follow in conjunction with other advice. For example, a diabetic must do several activities not just one in order to manage their blood sugar: diet and exercise; medication; blood sugar monitoring and so on. If a person does one thing and not the rest of the activities, their results may be less than desirable. So you took the advice about not calling your spouse’s boss. What other activities did you encourage your wife to do or ask her if she wanted your help? Just deciding not to do one particular thing does not mean the problem is solved. A diabetic can give up the Twinkies and keep the Kit Kats and the ice cream and never gain ground.

    I believe you. I believe that your wife is having some serious concerns at work. Honestly, OP, if I believe my life is in danger because of my job, I will quit the job. And I have. Yes, that is very scary to be unemployed. But if the risk of losing one’s life is so high that your friends are upset with you and you are scolding advice columnists maybe the time to leave was yesterday.

  158. Wheezy Weasel*

    It sounds like the LW is at the point where they want to fight someone in the parking lot, so I’ll share a story along those lines that might draw some parallels to the situation.

    My wife and I were in a hardware store where one of the patrons got into a shouting rage with my wife over an (unprovoked) misunderstanding. My wife didn’t back down physically or verbally, which made Angry Guy rage even harder. I stepped out from behind my wife in line to stand shoulder to shoulder. Now Angry Guy is facing two people who outweigh him by a combined 300 pounds and are holding hardware-type items in our hands that are useful for self defense. And the assorted patrons of the store were also gathering around with their hands free or starting to call the police. Angry Guy didn’t care. His lizard brain had taken over and he wasn’t able to do a proper threat (re) assessment. He was so focused on being angry and self-righteous that he couldn’t use the part of his brain that made rational decisions. Fortunately for him, he had a friend with him that was not lizard-braining and quickly steered him to another checkout line to deescalate the physical threat we both presented. But Angry Guy wasn’t done! He kept up a stream of vile language until escorted out of the store.

    It sounds like you are trying to use a fighting analogy in a work situation, that you speaking to management is equivalent to standing up beside your partner in the hardware store and providing a more difficult physical challenge to overcome. But notice Angry Guy wasn’t deterred by the very obvious threat of a storewide butt-whooping if he crossed the line from insults to assault. He didn’t act rationally in that situation, but you’re expecting rational action from your partner’s company. Truly this is not a rational time for a majority of the world. The lizard brain has taken over for many people and they are going to act in their own self interest – for that employer, it may be taking huge illegal and immoral risks with their employee’s health. And as others have pointed out, if they exhibited this type of illegal and immoral behavior before the COVID crisis, they are certainly not going to change now. Like Angry Guy, they are going to double down. You want the rules to change in a time of crisis, but even if the rules change, you don’t have the outcome you want. The likely outcome is that if you intervene at all in this manner, your partner will be fired. Other commenters have rightly noted that even in a very positive employment environment, this behavior from the non-employed partner has drastic consequences.

  159. No Way Man*

    Years ago I was working for a start-up that hit a rough patch and had to lay off workers. The boyfriend of one of those workers phoned me to tear a strip off me for not keeping his girlfriend working, saying she needed the job and only a horrible person would do that to her. It did not get her job back because the company was completely out of money and I certainly wasn’t in a place where I could pay her salary! Within 6 months things had turned around and workers were rehired. But not the one whose boyfriend had behaved so inappropriately. She had been an adequate worker, not a star, so it was easy to decide not to rehire her.

  160. Antisocialite*

    YIKES. This couple has way more problems in need of fixing than the scope of this column can help.

    1. Antisocialite*

      Also, this “question” is just so combative and hostile to begin with, this person definitely is not going to help the situation if this is how they approach something anonymous and on the internet vs. in real life with a difficult boss.

      And if this is a woman/man relationship (or either identify as such) where the man wants to talk to the boss to take care of this for the woman, UGH SO MUCH SEXISM AND GENDER ISSUES.

  161. Courtney*

    I feel as though I am likely shouting into the void, but I want to point out there are exceptional circumstances in which a partner or family member may contact a workplace.

    I am not a romantic partner in this situation, but I am the legal guardian for my brother with a moderate to severe disability. He works 30 hours a week, and for the most part my role to him is giving him support, advice, scripts, etc. I have taught him to say ‘I don’t like the way you’re talking to me. Please don’t say that again’ which was huge. Now he can use those scripts in almost every facet of his life! However his work approaches me when there is a problem for us to all find a solution to, and to discuss his future (i.e. he is being encouraged to seek out a more management style role at the company, and we needed to discuss what everyone – me, brother, and work would need to do to allow this to happen). I mostly allow my brother to manage his own relationships, but he needs my help sometimes, and that’s ok.

    All that being said, my situation most definitely does not apply to OP’s situation. OP, Alison is right and you need to step back from your wife’s professional life.

  162. SloppyLips*

    It’s ironic.

    LW went full defensive mode after reading the advice of strangers. Why would they expect an employer will react any differently when a stranger (LW) tells them how to treat their employee.

  163. Me*

    Why on earth do you think your adult spouse cannot make decisions and deal with their own things on their own? If they struggle with this then you should encourage THEM that they’re capable.

    Contacting your spouses boss is many things but its especially infantilizing. Not a good look at all.

  164. Say What Now?*

    If I contacted my spouse’s employer, two things would happen:
    1. “Who the hell are you?”
    2. “Spouse’s name, why is your family calling me about our workplace issues? It makes me worry about your ability to communicate with us about our problems and makes me reconsider your judgment if you’re cool with this. I get venting to your spouse, but if these are teal issues, why aren’t you bringing them to us?”

  165. Kate*

    “…because I’m keeping my nose out of her business when she might be out there passing along COVID or getting it herself. Seriously, I’m being accused of not caring by thinking of her career over her health and safety! All because of your advice.”

    Alison is not your boss. If you want to ignore her advice, just…ignore her advice. I read advice and blogs all the time that make me go, “Huh, that’s stupid, I will ignore that recommendation.” If you can’t change your actions until a writer on the internet allows you to, you’ve got a separate problem.

    (To be clear, Alison’s guidance is correct, and disregarding it would be terrible.)

  166. Ashley*

    Heck, I work is the same school as my husband, and when he had trouble with our boys, I STILL didn’t step in our day anything, because it would have been so bizarre and clearly inappropriate. I can’t even imagine thinking that is an option, let alone a good idea.

  167. Melissa*

    I work in a law office, and I don’t speak with clients friends and family unless they have (1) been specifically approved by the client to do so and (2) the client is unavailable or unable to contact us. I would certainly think the same goes for employers. It’s important to reduce any confusion or miscommunications by having the message go from the source to the receiver as immediately as possible, I have spoken with my girlfriend’s and roommates bosses/supervisors ONLY when they are unable to contact them and it is a time sensitive issue. For instance: my roommate developed a sore throat over night and was only able to speak in a whisper. I called her food service job to notify them she would not be able to come in or speak over the phone. I have asked roommates to do the same for me. But I would never ask someone on my behalf or otherwise act on behalf of someone else in this matter.

  168. Astra Nomical*

    Even OP writing this letter makes me think ‘unpleasant thoughts about what goes on in their relationship.’ My partner and I are a team, but he doesn’t need me to fight his work battles for him. Ugh. I’m so put off by this!

  169. FakePsychicRealDetective*

    I think Alison’s advice about pushing back as a group could help too–it’s not like your partner has to fend for themselves. They could look for allies in the office, or if it’s for a legally protected identity, HR. The difference is that those allies are work allies who have a legitimate voice and a stake in the situation.

  170. Kalli*

    “There is no good reason why people should not be allowed to help each other and advocate for each other and I would rather test an employer to see how they react to this to see if they take their duty of care to their employees seriously.”

    The people who are allowed to do this on an employee’s behalf are either called lawyers or union organisers, and even then, they generally only act on behalf of someone with cause to believe that an employer is not taking their duty of care or legal obligations seriously.

    I say this as someone who had their parents call in sick for them and then escort them to the office for the ‘no, I have scheduled leave, I’m taking it and here’s my medical certificate for the rest of the time I’m out, see you after that’. By having my parents drive me to work and then hang around and help me carry my things home, it reinforced visually that I needed that leave because I was unable to carry my things or walk/bus it to work, and the visit made my feelings about not being allowed time off for a medical appointment (which caused an issue to turn into hospitalisation and emergency surgery) perfectly clear. They supported me in the way I asked them to, helped me without undermining me or my work status/reputation, and did not have to do anything in the workplace but stand there, carry my bag out for me and blandly say ‘oh nice to meet you, we just drove K in on the way home from hospital so they could pick up their things’ if approached. But they allowed ME to set the boundaries and take the lead, and if someone in my family (spouse, parent, whatever) did not let me do that and instead spoke for me and advocated for me because they assumed I could not, rather than supporting me in a way I asked for and allowed me agency? That would hurt me at work, and it would damage the relationship at home. Both are bad. Ergo, don’t do that.

  171. Donna*

    LW: I realize I’m really late in writing this, but just wanted to say that you’re the one who is way off base. If you contact your wife’s boss and conduct yourself in the same confrontational tone you’ve taken here, you might end up assisting her in losing her job. You sound like a helicopter spouse, which is really awkward all around.

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