my employee started a false rumor that two coworkers were having an affair

A reader writes:

I am a manager of a handful of front line managers. One manager in particular, let’s call her Emily, approached me the other day to tell me that one of the receptionists, Jane, came to her office and told her there was a rumor going around the office that Emily was potentially having an affair with a new male coworker, John. Jane then told Emily in no uncertain terms that she expected the behavior to stop. The behavior being that they joke around with each other.

Emily immediately began to investigate where the rumor was coming from and found it actually originated with Jane. She went through a rough couple of days when she just felt completely blindsided and sick about the whole thing. She is happily married and so is John. I have seen them interact many times and it’s only ever seemed like two colleagues who banter back and forth together. I have never seen or heard anything that would raise concern.

I have worked with Emily and John for a long time and their character is above reproach. I am not concerned at all that there’s anything to the rumor.

Jane has been at the center of office gossip before. In fact, before she was concerned that Emily and John were having an affair she felt like another coworker and John were getting “too close.”

I have heard for the last few months that Jane feels she would be a better manager than Emily, and I wonder if this is her way of trying to get rid of Emily. I have never wanted Jane to be a manager. She has never shown in her attitude and behavior that she would be good at it, so she isn’t on my radar when it comes to any kind of succession planning.

I plan on speaking with Jane about unprofessional behavior and the company policy about not gossiping and I plan on giving her an official warning on this subject. Is there anything else I can do? How should I word my conversation with her? And, can I in this same conversation tell her that she will never be a manager under my downline? Or would that just be piling on?

What’s up with Jane’s creepy concern about John’s work relationships? It would be bad enough if this had only happened with Emily, but it happened with another coworker too? John must be feeling awfully uneasy about Jane’s agenda, whatever it may be.

And telling Emily that she “expects the behavior to stop”? That is … an interesting (read: alarming) understanding of her authority over other people’s relationships.

So yeah, you need to shut this down hard. And look at whether there are other problems with Jane too, because it’s rare for something like this to be unaccompanied by any other problems. If you look closely at Jane’s approach to work and work relationships, you’re likely to find other issues too — to the point that you might consider whether she’s someone you want to keep on your team at all.

But even if Jane were an otherwise excellent worker, it’s a big enough one that the conversation needs to be a very serious one, especially since there’s now a pattern of this behavior.

I don’t think you need to be explicit that she’ll never be a manager under you (it risks starting to feel personal), but you can use very serious language to communicate how unacceptable her actions are and tell her this is a final warning.

I’d say it this way: “I don’t tolerate gossip about people’s personal lives on this team. The sort of rumor you’ve spread can cause real destruction in people’s lives and it creates a toxic environment for people to work in. Both times when you did this, you were wrong about the gossip you were spreading — but even if you had been right, it’s none of your business and I don’t want that kind of toxicity here. I’m seriously concerned about whether you’ll be able to repair your relationships with the people you gossiped about and whether you understand how we do and don’t interact with each other here. It’s given me serious pause about your judgment and it’s going to take a lot of work to rebuild my trust in you, not to mention the trust of the people you’ve harmed, to the point that I need to question whether I can keep you on our team.”

Frankly, I’d also add, “I’d like you to think about whether you can commit to never repeating this in the future, and then come back and tell me your decision. For you to stay on this team, I need to know this will not happen again, and I need to know your plan for repairing the damage this has done to your work relationships.” (If her actions seemed more akin to idle gossip, I’d skip this — it would be too heavy-handed — but when you have reason to think she’s targeting Emily out of professional jealousy, I want to drive the point home.)

I’d also check in with Emily and John about what they might need in order to continue working with Jane. They don’t get carte blanche here — they can’t demand she get a pay cut or move her desk to the basement or so forth — but it’s worth exploring whether there’s something that would help them put this to rest. Plus, in having those conversations, you might learn things you don’t already know (maybe Jane has been creeping John out in other ways, or sabotaging Emily’s projects, or who knows what). So talk to them as well.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 335 comments… read them below }

  1. Miss Mouse*

    Yikes. Even if I wasn’t Emily or John, if I was a co-worker I would be extremely uncomfortable working with Jane in any capacity after this behavior!

    1. Colleen Whalen*

      The manager is far to lenient and permissive. Jane should have been fired the first time she spread lies, defamatory slander around the office. Telling lies to co workers TWICE that John committed adultery with two different married female employees Was character assasination!

      Why is this manager so timid towards nasty office gossip Jane?

      Fire her!

      BTW. Under “At Will Employment” laws, employers don’t even need a reason to fire anyone. Quit tip toeing around Jane. She is a Professional Troublemaker.

      Jane is creepily fixates on John. If I was John I would be furious…..most of all, justifiably angry at management for allowing Janes slander and workplace bullying

      1. merp*

        I mean, it obviously needs to be stopped asap but I think the manager who wrote in is absolutely willing and planning to do that. I wouldn’t say they are too timid; they are just here asking for a good script.

        1. BigTenProfessor*

          If this is repeated behavior, John could potentially claim that he is being subjected to a hostile environment on the basis of his gender. I don’t want to get in a discussion about whether that would have merit or not, but the point is that I hope this is nipped in the bud STAT.

        2. Let's Just Say*

          Agreed, but now that it’s the second time, Alison’s strong language and concrete “what are you going to do to ensure this never happens again” step is really important. Jane needs more than a slap on the wrist; she needs to be held accountable. And LW should *absolutely* speak to John!! He has been the target of this creepy behavior two times over and the company needs to do the heavy lifting to make sure he can feel comfortable at work.

      2. OP*

        It is true we are an At Will state BUT we are a larger company who likes to make sure we have all things documented to avoid being sued, so i’s must be dotted and t’s crossed before we can get the green light to fire.

        1. Joan Rivers*

          OP – Has Jane ADMITTED she’s lied twice? I get that people say she has but was she questioned and admitted it? First step is to ask her about both incidents, both involving the same man.

          YES or NO, did you lie, Jane? What DID you say and to whom?
          Do we know what her reply would be? I’m seeing assumptions here. Being questioned about the first incident, and then the second, would be daunting, I’d think.
          Are YOU fixated on this man, Jane?
          I don’t get why she wasn’t questioned the first time. You seem to automatically believe she did, yet not talk to Jane about it. Or did but don’t mention it.

          Since there are TWO incidents, not one, grill her, w/HR present maybe. She sounds a little unstable or flakey, but get her on the record. Going through this will be as rough as being told to shape up will be. Just recounting this will indicate its seriousness.

          But ask her if she lied twice, if you haven’t done that yet.

          1. Joan Rivers*

            And is there any chance at all that there’s a tiny kernel of truth here? 99.9% likely there’s not but if you haven’t ASKED her directly if she lied, or confronted her, you’re not being fair to her any more than to the man or the woman involved.

            1. GS*

              Even if it were true…it’s still deeply inappropriately for Jane to be spreading this around the office (repeatedly).

        2. Aglaia761*

          Can we please stop with the whole “Avoid being sued” thing. You can’t stop anyone from suing you. Paperwork is for proof, not prevention.

          Any Person can sue Anyone/business for Any Thing. All it usually takes is going down to court, filling out paperwork, and paying a fee. However, that doesn’t mean that a judge won’t throw out a frivolous lawsuit.

      3. Spero*

        I agree that Jane is fixated on John, monitoring his behavior and interactions with others, and implying a sexual element to innocuous conversation. Frankly, I think this is skating very close to Jane sexually harassing John. It is worth investigating whether there are other elements of harassment in her behavior towards him as well.
        If there was a male coworker who tried to prevent a new female coworker from interacting with other men on the team and implied that she was flirting with male coworkers it would not fly.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          It’s mean and it’s nasty but it’s not sexual harassment. She’s not hitting on him.

      4. WorkerB*

        I’ve seen this behavior at a prior workplace that was in the public sector. We had a Jane and it was impossible to get rid of her due to the worker protections in place. You’d basically have to be a drugged up crazed ax murderer arsonist who crashed several agency vehicles on purpose for them to even consider firing you. And if they did, you’d need a PIP first to get the process going.

        So, what happened? Jane is still there and management continues to stick their heads in the sand. She got a talking to once that did nothing. Someone likes her enough and finds her useful enough to go easy on her.

    2. TardyTardis*

      Sounds to me that Jane has a big thing for John and goes after anyone who interacts with him more than she thinks is right.

      1. tricolero*

        There were a couple of typos in the letter making it hard to follow but they look to be fixed now.

      2. MusicWithRocksIn*

        It says a lot to me that Jane demanded Emily stop the behavior and not John. I wonder if Jane has some kind of crush? She defiantly seems fixated on John.

          1. staceyizme*

            That’s really plausible, since this is her second cycle of somebody being “too close to” or “inappropriate” with John. And can you say “misogyny’? I didn’t see any reference to Jane approaching John about these instances of supposedly bad workplace behavior.

          2. GammaGirl1908*

            Agree. Jane has a crush on John. She seems to watch his every move very closely, and she gets very concerned when he builds a relationship, even a friendly one, with other women. She also blames the woman for the “problem,” which may stem from some possessiveness.

            A crush is basically harmless if you don’t let it interfere with anything, but it’s interfering. LW really doesn’t have standing to do anything about Jane’s crush (she can’t exactly make Jane stop liking John), but it certainly frames Jane’s behavior.

            1. micklethwaite*

              Same. I think she’s hyperaware of anyone else getting friendly with John, it makes her jealous and angry, and she hasn’t the self-awareness to realise she absolutely cannot act on that anger.

          1. allathian*

            Possibly. Or just that she’d like to be as close to John as she thinks Emily and the other, unnamed woman, are.

        1. starsaphire*

          Totally came here to say this; it jumped out at me too.

          If she’s upset by *two different people* being “too close” to John, then she is the one who is having the inappropriate focus on John.

          1. merpaderp*

            Also relevant here is that John is new! So not only two different women being “too close”, all this in a short enough time-span that John is still the new guy around the office and Jane the Creep, if not the OP.

        2. Lance*

          Almost certainly yes. Honestly I’d expected OP to state in the letter that Jane was married to John, but she’s… not. Which makes this that much weirder.

        3. Quill*

          On the other hand it could just be misogyny, ie. flirting is the woman’s fault and also she has the authority to tell the woman in the equation to stop. Or it might be work structure, but a crush is not out of the question.

        4. MassMatt*

          This jumped out at me, too, as did the receptionist telling a manager “in no uncertain terms” the behavior to stop. Due respect to receptionists, good ones are hard to find, but in what world is a receptionist telling a manager what to do?

          That this is the SECOND instance, involving the same man but a different woman, is the clincher. Jane has serious problems!

        5. Momma Bear*

          That was my thought – that she’s got a thing for John and is jealous of anyone else getting his attention.

        6. allathian*

          I came here to say that. Sounds like Jane has a crush on John and wants to eliminate the competition. Emily gets a double whammy because there’s also some professional jealousy.

        7. Great Grey Owl*

          Yes, Jane is rather creepy. The OP might want to give a written warning to put in Jane’s files, if the OP can’t fire her immediately. That will provide a record and make it easier to fire Jane immediately.

      3. Esmeralda*

        Jane = gossiping, receptionist, wants to be a manager (!), wants to replace Emily with herself
        Emily = manager, not having an affair
        John = new male coworker, not having an affair

        Frankly, even if it’s “just idle gossip,” I think Jane needs to go. No such thing as “just” idle gossip. Whether it’s malicious or careless, it’s completely unacceptable and very destructive. And Jane’s done this before? Nope, no second chances here. Pack up your crap today, Jane.

        Right now a lot of people would be mighty happy to have Jane’s job and wouldn’t be the liability she is now.

        1. Harvey JobGetter*

          “Did you hear? Frank in marketing bought a Porsche last weekend!” Idle gossip. Not a basis for firing.

          1. Mental Lentil*

            That’s just news. Gossip implies something naughty and unsubstantiated.

            Nothing wrong with news. Gossip that is unproven and/or unfounded accusations? That’s a problem.

            1. Boof*

              News implies a substantiated fact to me; vs i think gossip just means talking idle and unconfirmed detail/speculations about other people; but it can certainly have different connections to different folks

          2. Joan Rivers*

            “Harvey, I saw you bought a new Porsche and I’ve told everyone you got it with drug money, stop dealing!” THAT is what she’s doing.

        2. Web Crawler*

          I think there might be conflicting definitions of gossip here. One is “spreading juicy (read- controversial or highly-charged) rumors”. Another definition is “talking about another person in their absence”.

          There’s plenty of fine ways to talk about other people, like “x got promoted” and “x got a new dog and it’s adorable”.

        3. Dagny*

          Some gossip might be idle; however, implying that married people are having an illicit affair is not. It opens up liability for the company (they are obligated to provide Emily and John with a non-harassing work environment, and Emily should not have to be scolded at work about her alleged sex life), and that’s when the person needs to be shown the door.

        4. A*

          Pretty sure me talking about my colleagues new dog or something is not in the same boat as malicious and potentially damaging gossip…

          I don’t think this is a 100% black & white kind of thing. Agreed that Jane should go though!

      4. pancakes*

        It seems unnecessarily denigrating to say that Emily “just wants to laugh with John.” According to the letter writer, “[her] character is above reproach,” and there isn’t anything to suggest she’s giggly or flighty.

        1. a clockwork lemon*

          You can have collegial and even joking relationships with your colleagues and still have a character above reproach. In fact, it’s even possible for giggly and flighty people to have good moral character.

          It’s not denigrating to assume that Emily probably wants to continue the existing working relationship she has with John, where they laugh and make jokes together, given that the letter is explicit that the root of the rumor is Emily laughing at John’s jokes.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            And I, will be willing to bet money that “Bob just wants to laugh with John” would suggest that Bob is a team player and great to work with, rather than giggly or flirty. Hmm, what might the difference be?

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              ^ not even a dig on the commenter that suggested this first. It’s just something I’ve been seeing in various workplaces. Two guys from the same team laughing together – great teamwork, a woman and a guy laughing together – omg flirty. Two women laughing together, actually probably even worse.

              1. MassMatt*

                This happens, and yet women are also told “smile more!”, it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

                1. staceyizme*

                  You’ve hit the nail on the head, MassMatt! It’s an objectification dynamic, I think. Women are only “safe” in the workplace if they conform. And since standards of “good conformity” vary with each and every observer and each and every circumstance, there is really no way to win that game. So we get stuff like “smile more”, “what’s with that tone?”, “can you grab me a coffee when you go…?”.

              2. Chinook*

                Hving been on the receiving end of that rumour, I agree. The Office Assistant and I would work reception together during busy periods and would be completely in sync. We also had no issues with body space, which was good because the space was was tight (especially compared to every other space in the office.) Others openly speculated about us having a sexual relationship when in fact we were just both empaths who could read each other’s minds and became fast, platonic friends. Luckily we could laugh it off as people being weird and judgemental, but it wouldn’t hve taken much for someone to twist it into a vicious rumour tht we were cheating on our significant others (which to me would have been horrifying to me as I take my vows seriously).

            2. pancakes*

              I used the word flighty, not flirty. It’s certainly possible to read that line other ways and I see many of you did, but “just wants to laugh” seemed to me to evoke a lack of interest in the work part of work.

        2. Lana Kane*

          I’m curious about why laughing and being flighty are conflated here.

          That Emily wants to have a laugh with someone does not in any way make her flighty. Or even giggly, unless her laugh is a giggle and there’s nothing wrong with that.

          I believe Jen meant just what she wrote: Emily is just laughing along with John and not looking for anything else.

        3. Myrin*

          I actually think it’s a pretty charming descriptor.
          Also, OP describes Emily and John as regularly bantering back and forth which, at least in my experience of how the term is used, means two people who want to have fun, joking conversations with each other.

        4. Dust Bunny*

          I assumed this mean “only wants to be friendly with him and is clearly not angling to take things further”, not that she wasn’t serious about her job. I just want to be friendly with my coworkers, too, I’m not hitting on them–that I’m spending most of my time working is a given.

      5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Jane = Gatekeeper of John, Self-Appointed Boss of Emily… Mother of Dragons or something.

        1. Joan Rivers*

          What I noticed that isn’t being focused on is that OP is telling these two stories as if s/he KNOWS they’re true yet I missed Jane being grilled and confessing that she lied the first time. There’s an assumption made about both “lies” — and the way to resolve it is to pin do Jane. About both incidents.

          And, as the answer said, look at her closely for other flaws to bring up.

          “Bantering” is a sign of “affinity” that could possibly precede an attraction, even if people have “high character,” BTW. Not accusing them. But Jane could be easily confused by what she sees, and maybe spreading other misinformation.

          The boss assuming she lied the first time, but ignoring it, is a mistake.
          Now push has come to shove.

          1. Weighted Owl*

            But! Whether it’s a lie or not is completely irrelevant. Gossiping about employees is not permitted at this workplace and is toxic generally. Whether these grown adults Jane works with are sleeping with each other or would never dream of doing so, it’s none of her business. The veracity of the accusation is beside the point. She 100% needs to unconcern herself with her colleagues’ interpersonal relationships and stop talking about them – to the people themselves or anyone else at work.

    1. Laurelma01*

      Agree — not enough to do or not doing it. Spending too much time watching others & running her mouth.

      1. OP*

        That is exactly what I told the manager after the first incident. I told her if Jane had enough time to be in everyone’s business that much she wasn’t busy enough.

        1. Artemesia*

          So the first incident involved the manager; now you have another incident. Whatever ts have to be crossed and Is dotted — cross em and dot em. She really needs to be gone.

        2. Let's Just Say*

          I hope you take it beyond that this time, though. The problem isn’t that Jane is wasting company time; the problem is that she’s creepily and inappropriately monitoring coworkers, spreading damaging rumors about them, and then confronting them about the rumors that she made up! It’s all hugely not ok, and if I were Emily or John, I would expect the company to strongly shut her down, document the issue, and – assuming Jane kept her job – inform me of what concrete steps were being taken to ensure it didn’t happen again.

  2. Ray Gillette*

    I encourage you to not get derailed by Emily and John’s character and knowing that the rumors are false. Even if Emily and John were having an affair, that’s none of Jane’s business and she would still be completely in the wrong for spreading gossip.

    1. The New Normal*

      This is very much the entire point. Whether Emily and John are having an affair is irrelevant. It isn’t Jane’s business. She is not a manager. She is not personally connected with either Emily or John. It isn’t her place to be involved. But for her to maliciously spread rumors is highly concerning. This is the second time it has happened and John was a commonality both times. I think Alison’s script is very good but I would make sure to talk to John first and find out if anything else has ever happened. Because any more instances of her harassing John should be documented and investigated.

      1. Allypopx*

        Yes. In my experience men are less likely to recognize or report harassment, but more could absolutely be happening that you aren’t seeing.

        And if it is, I honestly would consider her not getting any more chances.

      2. Elizabeth I*

        Well put.

        The only reason an affair would become an issue is if it impacted the business. If John and Jane were having an affair and letting it spill over in to work (playing favorites with each other, sneaking into the copy room for covert make-out sessions, slipping away to a hotel during the day when they should be working, etc). – then it would definitely be a work issue, because it creates an uncomfortable and unprofessional environment for everyone around them, and it affects their own productivity.

        But in the situation here, Jane is the one that’s making the environment uncomfortable and unprofessional for the people around her.

      3. Anna Karenina*

        Is it malicious if it’s true though? Then you are just talking about real things that have happened. Is it right or nice? No, but it’s very different than making up lies and spreading them.

        1. Colette*

          I think the intention is malicious, even if it’s true, yes. Even if it were true, it would have nothing to do with Jane – and if there were some part of it that affected her (e.g. sexual behaviour at work), she would still be dealing with it inappropriately.

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          There are definitely malicious ways of spreading true information. We teach this to kids in school when we talk about the difference between telling and tattling. If a thing is true but also none of your business, and the only reason you have for telling it is to make other people look bad? That’s malicious. So yeah. In this case, even if the rumor Jane was spreading was based in fact, her spreading it would still be malicious.

        3. LizM*

          It’s still malicious.

          My son’s class has a rule for figuring out if you’re tattling or not. Ask, is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? You have to be able to answer “yes” to at least two of those questions. I know a lot of adults who should run their comments about coworkers through the same filter.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            My child’s school uses a variant of that set of rules:
            – is it true?
            – is it kind?
            – is it an emergency (which is explained as someone is hurt or sick)?

            To be told you need a yes to both numbers one and two; or number three is a yes on its own. Works very well with pre-k to first graders. Probably would work well for other ages as well – just can be harder to enforce with older ages.

          2. Jay*

            The rule I taught my daughter (learned from more seasoned parent) was “Are you telling to get someone into trouble or to keep someone out of trouble?” I like this one, too!

        4. Great Grey Owl*

          Jane is an adult. She has the capacity to mind her own business, which she should do regarding her coworkers’ sex lives immediately.

          But the fact that Jane is lying presents additional problems for the employer because who and what else is she lying about.

        5. somanyquestions*

          It’s malicious because it is something that is none of her business that she is spreading to damage someone else. What if she found out a personal medical detail that she spread around the office? Or that she outed someone? Why in the world would Jane have the right to say anything she felt like in the office, even if it was true?

          I’m not sure why you would defend this behavior.

        6. merpaderp*

          I’m not an expert by any means but I find it interesting that Yiddish apparently distinguishes between innocuous gossip, spreading true but harmful information about a person’s shortcomings, and sharing/spreading unfounded rumors. Each are unethical but to different degrees.

        1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

          If I understand you correctly, you seem to be reading Lacey’s comment as “it would be more forgivable if it were true, because then Emily would be a bad woman, and it’s okay to slut shame bad women.”

          That is a pretty ungenerous reading of the comment, and I don’t think it is merited at all. I think most people would agree that lying and making things up are an extra dollop of bad on top of what Jane was already doing. In either case, Jane was guilty of misogyny and malicious gossiping – but it seems she’s also guilty of lying. Yes, that’s worse. She’s not just manipulating situations in a toxic way – she is manufacturing them.

          1. Suebgha*

            Hello, actually I think you and I might agree? I don’t think, if the two had shared any private moments that it would be anyone’s business and I think it’s impossible to know. That’s why I think suggesting as Lacey did that lying about it might be worse is actually not a discussion point. It would be slut shaming for Jane to have anything to say about Emily’s relationships as she did, if they were true. Its not necessarily worse that the rumors might not be true, it would be bad even if they were true.

            1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

              We probably are mostly in agreement, but I am going to push back on the idea that it is always “slut shaming” to have problems with coworkers schtupping. Not talking about this case, which is a different kettle of fish, but just in general: You can’t have sex with someone you manage, or who manages you (for a gazillion reasons that I hope I don’t have to spell out). Even outside of chain of command, it’s usually a bad idea. And you definitely can’t boink in the supply closet or in your office after hours. Workplace boinking can absolutely be a work-related problem, and not just for the people doing it.

        2. Observer*

          No, this is IN ADDITION to slut shaming.

          Unless both of them are in open marriages, a rumor like this could do them a lot of damage. So, the gossip would be inexcusable even if it were true. This is just an additional problem.

          1. Joan Rivers*

            I focus on behavior at work or that affects work. Your marriage is private and I don’t need to hear about it. But whatever affects the workplace does matter.

            Just as, if you’re close friends w/a peer, you can’t let that affect your work.

    2. Archaeopteryx*

      Agree; don’t think they aren’t harmed by this just because it’s so obviously untrue. It would be horrifyingly invasive for someone to lie about you this way. You need to seriously consider firing Jane.

        1. Advice Reader*

          Not just lying but character assassination and slander

          I question the lack of skill level of the manager who was negligent. Jane should have been fired the first time she gossiped. WHY is she so fixated with Johns sex life? I think she has a crush on John and he rejected her so she wants to destroy his reputation at work

          1. OP*

            I wish I worked for a company where it was that easy to fire someone, but it isn’t easy, not even with something like this, because if was up to me she would have been fired the first time. There are very few things we can fire someone for on the first offense in the company I work for.

            1. Emily*

              That sounds super frustrating. I’ve worked for a large company in the past, and the way things were set up it was very difficult to fire bad employees, and usually took quite a long time, unless they did something *really* bad. I think it’s great though that you clearly have a good grasp on what is going on, and what may be motivating Jane, and are willing to address it head on. I thought Alison’s script was wonderful, and I especially liked the part about saying to Jane that even if what she was saying about Emily and John *were* true, it would still be none of her business and not something she should be gossiping about. Jane sounds very difficult. I hope she shapes up after you talk with her, or enough gets documented that you can ship her out.

              1. Emily*

                I just saw the update down thread that Jane quit when she was spoken to. I’m glad your office no longer has to deal with her, but I feel sorry for the people she is managing now (I wonder if the organization that hired her did not check references very thoroughly…)

            2. Great Grey Owl*

              Can you give her a written warning. Put it in her file and if she sticks her nose in their business or anyone else’s business again, and the fire her for insubordination?

        1. ThatGirl*

          You seem really hung up on slut-shaming. That’s not what happened here, and even if the rumor had been true, shaming a woman for being sexual is not the same as blowback/consequences from having an affair with a coworker.

        2. MassMatt*

          Suebgha—please stop bringing slut-shaming into this. It has nothing to do with this situation.

      1. Advice Reader*

        I agree about firing Jane. She should have been fired the first time she spread lies about two of her coworkers. The problem is the wimpy manager who is too lenient. Even if someone at work is laughing and telling jokes that is no indication they are having sex with each other

        Jane is the kind of jerk who is convinced if men and women eat lunch together or share jokes that means they are having sex with each other. Many years ago I had a friend who was absolutely CONVINCED that when she saw a woman she knew walking on the sidewalk with a man, that the woman she knew “was that mans mistress and he financially supported her in exchange for sexual services.” This was just because the man and woman were seen in public walking on the sidewalk! My friend kept calling everyone she knew and spread slander all over town. She didn’t even know the mans name, she never saw them even holding hands, but was convinced something sexually illicit was going on. People with too much time on their hands with overactive imaginations need to be punished for committing character assassination

        1. Avi*

          This is the impression I got as well. Jane sounds like a moral scold. Not only does she immediately leap to the most salacious conclusions about her coworker’s interactions, she somehow concludes that she has the authority to dictate terms to them about it! She deserves to get fired for that last part, if nothing else.

          1. Weighted Owl*

            Exactly. Work is not where you enforce your notions of morality on others. Even if Jane knows for sure or believes with all her heart that her coworkers are having an affair, it’s still toxic to gossip about it. It’s distracting, could make other coworkers uncomfortable, and is nobody’s business. If her work is impacted, she can go to her manager and say, when A and B go into the supply closet and start moaning, I have trouble concentrating. What should I do when that happens? But Jane has no standing in her colleagues’ behavior. She’s just appointing herself judge and town crier.

        2. Potatoes gonna potate*

          I can share a similar anecdote – I have a relative who was convinced that a guy and girl were getting engaged. Her reason? “she was laughing so much with him at a family gathering.” Guy was 26 girl was 12…and his cousin.

    3. BethRA*

      Unless one of them was in the other’s chain of command, but that’s something that should be reported to OP, and not gossiped about.

    4. Caliente*

      This is what I was thinking- Emily and John can whatever they ant and it’s none if Jane’s business. Then for Jane to tell a grown ass Emily that she “expects the behavior” to stop makes her sound like legitimately…not based in reality.
      I also don’t know any company who has self appointed managers or a receptionist straight to management track. Again, this woman is not working with reality.
      This actually gave me the same weird vibes as the single white female-ish teacher letter from last week.

    5. Batgirl*

      There is something extra worrying about the fact she has invented two stories about this poor guy though. It’s unbelievably creepy.

  3. Frenchie Too*

    Jane needs a serious warning to stop or be fired. People like this cause all kinds of havoc for no good reason. I’ve dealt with them before, and if they go unchecked they can cause great damage. Not only that, if Janes sticks around long enough and is eventually promoted, she will be making a lot more people miserable.

    1. Roy G. Biv*

      This! There was a Jane at my office who set her sites on destroying the reputation of the person who was hired at the same time she was, and in the same department. Jane tried to draw some of us into her web of deceit, but it did not work, and ultimately Jane was caught in her own trap and fired. It was a ridiculous amount of effort put forth to create chaos and damage. Why? To make herself look better? Because she hated the sight of him? Her name is used as a remembrance/warning to this day. Don’t be like Jane!

    2. Advice Reader*

      It’s too late for warnings. Jane should have already been fired. She wants to be promoted from receptionist to manager but is not qualified so she is trying to get several innocent managers fired. Jane should be fired the first time she spread slander in the office

    3. Kaitydidd*

      Hard agree. Especially for any women involved as the subjects of gossip. I have friends who have been driven out of their workplace because of this kind of false rumor. The man stayed until he promoted away.

      1. Calamity*

        I’ve been a victim of this exact rumour and can confirm it’s vile. I was loathe to go into work as I thought everyone was talking about me. Not to mention the awkward of working with the guy I wasn’t having an affair with and he with me, while the office scrutinised our every move. It absolutely interferes with your ability to be productive as well.

      2. Self Employed*

        It’s amazing how bystanders will believe the gossip’s lies over true statements by any of the people involved. I was driven out of two friend groups this way and I’m not sure why anyone believed it, as I’m not exactly a femme fatale.

  4. CatCat*

    Geez, why not just get rid of this snake now?

    I mean, if I were Emily or John, I couldn’t work with Jane if she spread lies like this about me in the office. I get that they can’t really “make demands,” but they can certainly leave of their own accord to get away from Jane. That would be a serious concern. So who’s more valuable here, Emily and John, or Jane? Proceed accordingly.

    1. Artemesia*

      This. If you have the authority to do it, I would fire her, give her modest severance and walk her. If not then the ‘warning’ needs to be very formal and you need to be lining up support to fire her if things don’t improve.

    2. Sara without an H*

      This would be my preference, too. Some organizations insist on a warning and documentation first, though.

    3. Esmeralda*

      Agreed. I truly don’t see why Allison suggested talking with Jane and giving her a chance to do better in the future. Jane’s a serious liability, especially since this is not the first time she’s done this. If Jane does stick around, OP is going to have to waste time keeping an eye/ear on her. Cut her loose, OP.

    4. Observer*

      Please don’t insult the snakes.

      This person is toxic. Please shut her down and watch her like a hawk, and be ready to get rid of her.

    5. Willis*

      Yes, this isn’t an accident or a misunderstanding or someone making a bad decision in a tough situation. It’s just purposefully destructive. I don’t think Jane necessarily deserves another chance, especially not if she’s defensive or unapologetic when confronted about it.

  5. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — Yes, you need to shut this down hard and yesterday, especially since it looks like this is the second episode, at least. Do not be tempted to soften your language — Alison’s script is a good one here.

    In your position, I’d make it a point to brief my own manager and the HR person, if your company has one — not asking them to do anything specific at this point, but more in the spirit of “I’ve got this, but I wanted you to know about it.”

    And while you should certainly talk with Emily and John, it would be a good idea to talk with anybody else in your organization who regularly interacts with Jane. I suspect that the behavior you describe is just the presenting issue and a little more investigation is called for.

    And if you decide to keep Jane on at all, watch her like a hawk.

    1. Observer*

      And if you decide to keep Jane on at all, watch her like a hawk.

      Especially this. She is untrustworthy and clearly is willing to try to take on authority she doesn’t have.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        Yes, once someone has shown themselves a liar, there isn’t much point in relying on them for anything.

  6. a thought*

    I would also be worried/watchful of a sexual harassments angle… Jane is very interested in John’s dating life (since this is now about him twice) and this sort of interest could possibly be happening in other ways that John also does not welcome. Perhaps not, but I would just take this as a flag to keep an eye on Jane’s behavior towards others.

    1. mcfizzle*

      I wondered if she has some kind of crush/weird interest in John, and this is how it’s expressing itself. Very creepy regardless.

    2. PolarVortex*

      I was thinking the same. If you flip the script – John was saying Jane was having affairs multiple times, it comes off very, very skeevy. Equally skeevy with Jane doing it to John. Unless John has further information I don’t want to write this off as sexual harassment, but at the bare minimum she’s way too invested in John’s personal life and moral choices. Maybe she’s one of those who think men and women can’t be friends/friendly without them sleeping together, or maybe she wants John for her very own, it’s hard to tell where on the line this falls.

    3. EPLawyer*

      that’s what I wondered. Why JOHN twice? I can see if Jane is always picking new “couples” to complain about, buit its always John. Did he let her know he was not interested in her and this is now her revenge.

      None of which really matters other than a WHY?????? Jane needs to be shut down and hard. As in, this stops NOW and never ever starts again or you are out the door that day HARD.

      Does Jane really think that by starting rumors about people THEY will be fired and she will miraculously be promoted into their spot because she was the one who “caught” them? If so, she is really off on her ideas of who gets promoted and how.

    4. Malarkey01*

      Not just John, Emily too can have a case for sexual harassment. Making up and spreading rumors about another that are sexual in nature falls pretty broader under sexual harassment. Directly confronting Emily about it would be enough for me to fire Jane (I this was her first offense I might talk very strongly and lay out that we do not tolerate harassment but since this is a pattern she’d be out).

      1. Betty*

        Yeah, I read this as “Jane has a pattern of spreading sexual rumors about women who interact with John,” which seems like it would start to veer into sexual harassment territory?

        1. Bored Fed*

          In fairness, n=2 seems a pretty small sample to describe as a pattern. That said, this is behavior that is unacceptable when done *once*.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Depends on the severity of the behavior. If Jane overlooked a typo twice, that’s not a big deal and I’m not going “pattern” over it. If she yelled at a client twice, that’s so far outside the bounds of acceptable behavior that I’m very comfortable calling that a pattern. Same thing here.

      2. Jan*

        It sounds like Emily could have a case for sex discrimination, as Jane wouldn’t mistake her friendship with John for an affair if she was a man.

    5. KoiFeeder*

      That was a question I had- does this qualify as sexual harassment, or does it depend on other context?

    6. Indy Dem*

      Most likely it is because Jane has interest in John. This has school kid crush written all over it. But, since John is a newer employee, he could just be a target of opportunity – people don’t know him as well, so rumors can be started more easily. The former reason would make more sense if this rumor was started as a way of discrediting Emily by Jane.

    7. LGC*

      Honestly…isn’t it actually sexual harassment, though? Not a lawyer, but Jane has started and repeated (probably multiple times) rumors about John’s sex life on two separate occasions. (And within the past six months, as OP says in another comment thread.) Even if John might not call it sexual harassment for whatever reason (and I don’t know if he did or not), that doesn’t make what Jane did not sexual harassment.

      Again, I’m not a lawyer. But I feel like this would qualify as sexual harassment on its own.

      1. rinkydink*

        I was wondering the same thing? Why wouldn’t it be sexual harassment? As others mentioned, it seems like this would be immediately called out if genders were reversed and a man was repeatedly starting sexual rumors about a woman. It feels like Jane’s behavior is getting downgraded to “gossipy jealous woman” based on gender.

      2. LGC*

        (Okay, so she might not have spread the second rumor – but at the very least, she went to Emily and accused her of having an affair with John and that other people at the workplace knew about it. And the first one is also kind of ambiguous. But that’s pretty much at the margins, in my opinion. My point still stands.)

    8. Tamer of Dragonflies*

      Oh yeah,it sounds like Jane has, in her mind at least, lain claim to John and is defending what she sees as her territory. Is there a company policy about coworkers dating? If not,this may be the time to write one. I wouldnt be surprised to learn that Jane has been directing some flirtations toward John and he either hasn’t picked up on it or he doesn’t want to come off as a pot stirrer because he is new.

  7. Bob*

    “Jane then told Emily in no uncertain terms that she expected the behavior to stop. The behavior being that they joke around with each other.
    Emily immediately began to investigate where the rumor was coming from and found it actually originated with Jane.”

    WTF. Jane thinks she can invent gossip then tell people to stop interacting with each other based on her invention? Is she straight in the head?

    1. Sabine the Very Mean*

      I would have a hard time not laughing in the face of someone not over me using bizarre authoritative language to correct a behavior not involving her.

      1. Bob*

        Indeed. But more than that she made up nonsense then blamed her victims for something that she knows never happened because she herself invented it. I almost wonder if she is delusional.

        1. Paulina*

          It’s invented as authority or backup for what she’s pushing. She wants to tell Emily to stop being friendly with John, but she doesn’t have the authority to do so or want to own her issues, so she invents the gossip as justification. It’s a classic awful “people are talking” concern troll move that couches the speaker’s own criticism as if it’s really due to others.

          1. Bob*

            Stopping being friendly with John will not make the “affair” go away since she invented the affair.

      2. Observer*

        I hear you . But I think that her disrespect of the manager is actually your least important consideration here.

        More important:

        1. She’s gossiping
        2. She’s lying about people
        3. She’s taking on authority that she has absolutely no standing to take on.

        It’s not that her disrespect is unimportant. It’s more like that’s a one ton bomb, but she’s also thrown a megaton bomb and 2 @ 10 megaton bombs, as well.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        It appears to me that respect for her boss is gone, I mean never coming back type of GONE.

        I think it’s nice to ask Emily and John what they need to keep working with her, but I think I’d probably skip that question and show Jane the door.

        I worked with a person who said they got energy from gossip. This person indicated that they absolutely needed to hear some gossip in order to function at work. Jane kind of reminds me of my person. I think Jane can be told that her actions are toxic to the workplace, possibly can be considered hostile (in a legal sense) and the company does not need this type of help with their efforts. Gossiping does lower moral, reduce productivity and causes other problems detremental to the company. Bye-bye, Jane.

        1. tangerineRose*

          “This person indicated that they absolutely needed to hear some gossip in order to function at work.” Now I want to write an app that makes up gossip about imaginary people or possibly characters in TV or books.

          1. My Dear Wormwood*

            O. M. G. Did you HEAR about Mr Wickham? They say there’s not a tradesman in the town whose daughters were not meddled with!

          2. allathian*

            Sadly, with people who live for gossip an app doesn’t do any good. I’ve worked with people like this before, and they literally crave to hear and spread gossip about other people and the more vicious the gossip is, the greater the pleasure they get out of it is.

    2. DarnTheMan*

      I had a former manager who’d do this; she’d give feedback for performance based on things co-workers had allegedly said but the one time I asked a co-worker about it, it turned out she’d never thought anything of the sort and the manager was the one who had gone to her and said something along the lines of “well don’t you think DTM handles this poorly?” and then turned her noncommittal answer into “several of your co-workers have told me they think you handle this poorly.”

  8. mcfizzle*

    I get the sense that Jane honestly thinks she’s “proving” her managerial “worth” by somehow creating a problem that didn’t exist and then “fixing” it by sternly dealing with the “problem”.
    Of course, she’s doing it without realizing how egregiously she’s wrong on multiple levels (starting rumors, trying to manage a manager, etc).

    1. Another health care worker*

      Good point. It reminds me of the subordinate who kept saying to his manager “my expectation is that you will do X and Y.” He seemed to have simply decided he would be her boss, rather than vice versa.

    2. OP*

      In many ways I do think she stirred pots for this purpose. Every time she would stir a pot she would walk into the managers office and explain to her how she should handle it. She would then would go out of her way to explain to others how she felt the manager was falling short. Emily would talk to me often about how to handle her and I would coach her through her options but gave her the autonomy to handle her team as she saw fit.

      1. Esmeralda*

        So Jane has been insubordinate as well as lying and gossiping? Oh hell no. Gone. Today.

        Zero reason to keep her.

      2. BethRA*

        “Emily would talk to me often… ”

        Oh my, so her gossip/poo-stirring goes beyond the 2 rumors about John? Yikes. I’d say that puts us closer to “exit door” than “hard warning.”

        Unless I’m misunderstanding, she sounds like a serial trouble-maker who’s already been given far to much leeway.

        1. tangerineRose*

          “she sounds like a serial trouble-maker who’s already been given far to much leeway.” This!

        2. DyneinWalking*

          Your comment is ambiguous, so I’d like to point out that the pot-stirrer is Jane and Emily is the one who featured in her gossip and is also a manager.

          So Emily talking to OP often about “how to handle her” would mean that Emily often had a reason to seek advice for dealing with Jane. I’m not sure if you meant it that way, or confused Jane and Emily and concluded that it was the pot-stirrer who was talking to OP (to spread more gossip).

      3. learnedthehardway*

        Oh wow – this is a bigger pattern than just the two incidents you originally mentioned.

        Honestly, I would exit Jane asap. At a minimum, I’d be telling her that her repeated creation of issues and attempts to demonstrate how she would handle them are transparently obvious and show extremely poor ethics and judgment, and that this is NOT the way someone who ever wants to be in a management role behaves.

        But then again, if someone is that bad, your best bet is to get rid of her before her machinations have any success.

        1. serenity*

          I agree. I don’t understand why there’s any dilly-dallying happening regarding Jane’s future at this company at this point. She has invented and spread gossip about senior staff more than once and apparently has a well-known history of insubordination and instigating drama?

      4. Callyb*

        Do you get any sense of what others are saying that she might have an interest in John? Or, maybe not?

      5. Observer*

        What? You mean you already have a history going on here?

        That’s a REALLY important piece of context.

        Allison, how does this change your response?

        To me that says that it’s time for you to step up to the plate and relieve Emily of the problem, probably by firing Jane.

        1. OP*

          Allison pegged it correctly in her response. She said she was most likely causing trouble in other ways. She was very good generally speaking of hiding her trail but we started to figure it out.

      6. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Yeah, you’ve got a bad case of ‘deliberately sabotages work’ here. I’m rather scared that if you do have this talk with her it’ll last about 2 weeks before she’s back telling everyone that John was having sex with multiple people in the conference room during office hours….the stories that these liars tell almost always become more elaborate over time.

      7. mcfizzle*

        Thanks for responding OP! I wish you the best, and don’t envy the problem(s) you’re facing.

      8. Not So NewReader*

        OP, my wise friend gave me a gold nugget of advice. When we see a behavior three times that makes it a pattern. It’s okay to address things as a pattern at that point.
        It appears that this has gone on for so long that Jane thinks she rules the roost. I think you are a good person OP and probably a good manager, but you need to show your subordinate how to put their foot down. I would tell Emily that these behaviors are unacceptable at our company, no one should be TELLING her how to do her job. Suggestions are fine, lining up options is also good, but telling a boss what to do is Not Good. Demands are unacceptable.
        Emily needs for you to be strong, OP. The fact that this has gone on for a while, telegraphs that boundaries have not been explicitly stated, either by you or by Emily. We get our power from our bosses, OP. I remember one time a subordinate said, “I don’t have to listen to you, you’re not my boss.” My department head instantly grasped how huge a problem this was and explained to my subordinate, “Yeah, she is YOUR boss. You will follow her instructions OR you will leave.”
        Here’s something important: Others saw and heard the back up I got on that one. And they knew they would not make out better if they tried the same shenanigans. It also made me a better boss, because I knew that back up was there.

      9. Librarian of SHIELD*

        If you’ve already reached the stage where you and Emily have talked *multiple* times about Jane being insubordinate, and now she’s straight up inventing things to gossip about in order to be EVEN MORE insubordinate? It’s time to shut this thing down. If it were just the rumors you mentioned in the original letter, I’d say yeah, go with Alison’s script. But with this added context, you have all the evidence you need that Jane is not going to be a good employee and she is not going to be respectful of Emily as her supervisor, so do whatever your policy manual says you have to do in order to fire somebody. She can’t stay there undermining Emily one second longer than your policy dictates is necessary.

      10. MassMatt*

        I saw your post upthread that even though you are in an at-will employment state, your company requires lots of documentation etc before someone can be fired. So I’d start that process ASAP.

      11. linger*

        Given Jane’s pattern of backseat-driving on manufactured problems to undercut her manager, I’d be sorely tempted to pose her the current situation as an abstract problem to see exactly how she would solve that, and whether she would end up recommending her own dismissal.

      12. Molly Coddler*

        if i were emily i’d have already spoken to HR just to get that on the record. what jane’s doing is toxic at best.

      13. Batgirl*

        Oh good grief; I understand your anger. You said it was difficult to fire her – can it be documented every time she does this so she knows each and every time all she’s doing is showcasing a tendency to harass peers and be insubordinate to managers?

    3. Bob*

      I like that manage a manager :D
      Perhaps Alison can start an after dark blog, managing your manager(s)!

  9. KateM*

    How new is this new coworker John when OP has worked with him for a long time and Jane has managed to pair him off with two people already?

    1. MHA*

      It’s possible that OP has worked with John in a capacity other than his current role, so he’s new to Jane, but not to OP. I’m a little confused about what this comment is meant to contribute?

    2. OP*

      Emily and I have worked with John before he was hired to work in this office. Jane is the relatively new one but the rumors happened about 6 months apart.

  10. KimberlyR*

    You also have a morale issue (or will!) Other people have now heard 2 sets of damaging rumors from Jane. I wouldn’t want to be near her or work with her for fear that I will be her next target. John and Emily’s* comfort in working with her is the priority, but you also want to think about the rest of the team and whether they can be comfortable with this gossip-monger in their midst. And if it doesn’t seem like you’re doing anything to address the problem, it will look like you’re deliberately looking the other way or unofficially condoning it, which can start more gossip-mongering. I wouldn’t know how to word it but I think a general blanket statement to the team IN ADDITION TO everything Alison said, would be a useful tool so that everyone knows that this isn’t acceptable behavior.

    *Side Note-grammar question for anyone who knows-should it be John and Emily’s comfort or John’s and Emily’s comfort? Which is correct?

    1. Princess Scrivener*

      Technically, they each have comfort in your sentence, so it should be “John’s and Emily’s comfort.” That’s awkward though, IMO, so I like your version: “John and Emily’s comfort,” and I’m all about editing for less awkward. The general rule: if both subjects share the thing, it would be your version (like Ben & Jerry’s).

    2. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

      I want to second the opinion on a team wide We Don’t Behave Like That Here memo. My work place has a well known and insidious gossip. I know for a fact she’s had management give her the No More speech. Since most people aren’t aware she was talked to, and because she did in fact not stop, the general assumption was management didn’t care. Which meant coworkers standing around gossiping about the gossiping. *sigh* A team wide email stating This Is Not Ok Behavior will do 2 things. 1)reinforce that no one should be acting like that and 2) make others who have been victimized feel like they can come forward to management with it. I’ve seen toxic gossips cause multiple coworkers to move on to better jobs. 1 place I worked (10-15 employees tops) had multiple staff resignations within 24 hours on multiple occasions. (like 3-5 people turning in notice on the same day) All those cases had 1 person as the common denominator.

    3. paxfelis*

      I think it’s John’s and Emily’s comfort. I THINK, but am not completely sure, that that falls under the test of “does it make sense if you delete one of them?”

    4. Indy Dem*

      It should be “John’s and Emily’s comfort”, because as Princess Scrivener implied, giving them only one “‘s” implies that they are sharing comfort, when they should each have their own separate feelings of comfort. And really, hasn’t an inappropriate amount of sharing been wrongly implied already?

    5. linger*

      The English possessive ‘s is a clitic which can attach to any noun phrase, however long.
      So both are grammatically correct, though with a slight difference in nuance:
      John’s and Emily’s (distributive reading, each experiences their own individual discomfort)
      [John and Emily]’s (coordinate reading, the pair experience a shared discomfort at the situation)

  11. Emma*

    I wonder if Jane is a bit moon eyed over John? That might explain her inventing a rumour just to have an excuse to try to scare Emily off.

    I’ve definitely experienced the jolt of jealousy when a coworker who you are trying to act professional around despite a raging crush starts laughing and joking with another colleague. Obviously, even if this is what’s happening, Jane’s response is completely inappropriate… maybe she’s trying to make John hate her so much that she’ll lose interest.

  12. Observer*

    On top of the rumor mongering, slander and possible sexual harassment that’s been noted, she’s also someone who dramatically over-steps her authority. You should point that out as well.

    And, to be honest I would start planning to get rid of her. Till you do, watch her like a hawk and do not give her ANY leeway to make decisions on ANYTHING.

  13. Letter Writer*

    Letter writer here. Sorry about some of my typo’s. Thank you Allison for fixing them.

    When Emily told me what had happened I did ask her how she wanted to handle it. We discussed our options and decided it was just time for Jane to go. She has had gossip issues in the past that she has been talked to about including an official disciplinary action. When I spoke to John he just laughed it off as being ridiculous he just wants to come in, do his work, have fun with his co-workers and go home.

    Because this was urgent I spoke to Jane the very next day and said similar things to what Allison recommended. Jane quit on the spot. Problem solved, and we are moving forward to find a great replacement that will be professional at all times. I did not tell Jane in the meeting that she wasn’t manager material, I knew that was vindictive of me. Sometimes when I first hear of someone being unprofessional and disrespectful to someone I respect a great deal my initial reaction is anger. No one sees it, it just stirs internally until I can process it through. Thank you for the great advice Allison was spot on, Jane had been an issue and had stirred pots before.

    1. Allypopx*

      I think it’s great that you recognize your first reaction is anger and are able to process it and not let it impact your ultimate actions – that’s hard and it sounds like you handled this really well. I hope things are more peaceful for you moving forward!

    2. Accounting is fun*

      Thanks for the quick update! I’m glad that the issue has been resolved and that you were willing to deal with the issue quickly.

    3. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      Well done taking immediate action and not letting the problem fester and grow! This sounds like ultimately the best outcome for everyone – Emily and John aren’t being harassed, you can hire someone great, and hopefully Jane will find peace in her next steps after this role. Kudos!

    4. staceyizme*

      Many congratulations that Jane was kind enough to take care of the problem for you, at least after the fact!

    5. EPLawyer*

      Well Jane clearly didn’t like being told she couldn’t gossip anymore. If that is a dealbreaker for her — good that she quit.

      I get why you talked to Emily and John about how they wanted to handle it, but if she had already been formally disciplined for gossip and STILL did something this outrageous then she needed to be fired regardless of what they wanted. She would never change — clearly didn’t want to considering she quit on the spot — and was going to ignore directives from her employer about it. That is not someone you keep around.

      As for thinking she will never be managerial material, you might have been angry but it doesn’t mean you were wrong. See above for why she is not mangerial material. Good managers are not gossips.

      1. OP*

        Also, just found out Jane got a new job…as a manager. Maybe someday we will get a letter from one of her new team members about their less then stellar boss.

        1. knitcrazybooknut*

          It would be amazing to see the threads connecting the people in all of Alison’s letters!

        2. Stephistication*

          Did she get promoted at your company or at another company? If she is still at your company, I’d watch out for her even more now.

          1. OP*

            She left our company and is working elsewhere. I would never have approved her transferring within the company.

        3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

          Oh dear, I wonder how many of the pot-stirring “incidents” (such as telling Emily that her and John’s behaviour was unacceptable) could have been used as material in “tell me about a time when…” type of interview questions for a management role!

        4. Gumby*

          Is receptionist to manager a big jump in your field? It would be in mine. There would be several steps in between. (Also some subject area specialization.) In addition to “nosey beyond belief” and “has no respect for coworkers” I had also pegged her belief that she should have Emily’s spot as manager under “delusions of grandeur.” But apparently not so much since she did make that transition.

          1. English, not American*

            We know she’s not beyond lying in the workplace, so it’s not a huge leap to think she may have embellished her resume.

          2. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

            Same here – I’m in an industry where there’s just not a path from receptionist to manager level. They’re entirely different “ladders” of growth in our company’s org chart and promotion level documentation.

            As such, I’m admitting bias when my immediate thought here was “and just how many lies were told?” in acquiring the new position.

          3. OP*

            If I have seen a receptionist with leadership potential and a desire to progress. I work with them along with HR to get them training etc and give them opportunities to expand their horizon. BUT, it is rare for a receptionist to go directly to management. I think of only one time that has happened.

        5. tangerineRose*

          I’m guessing Jane put some fiction into her resume to get a job like that. Also, she’s probably going to make up stuff about her new bosses when she can. Just being a manager probably isn’t enough for her.

        6. Berkeleyfarm*

          Oh my! She did manage to convince someone!

          If she lasts (= finds an enabler/keeps it at the gossip level so a lot of people brush it off), we might indeed hear stories.

    6. Thanks for the update*

      Thank you for the update. I was curious if Jane would quit when her behavior was called out. I’m so glad this worked out for you all.

    7. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

      Good for you on recognizing a reaction pattern of your own! And thank you for the update. This might be the most satisfying update since the Dead Name Letter Update.

    8. Seeking Second Childhood*

      And now with update-on-the-spot, our letter writer about town, OP!
      Thanks for letting us know how this panned out.

    9. Littorally*

      Awesome, and you didn’t even have to fire her!

      I’m mortally curious though, how did that conversation go? Like, you told her she can’t gossip anymore and she stated right then and there that she won’t work in any workplace that doesn’t let her spread her sh*t freely?

      1. OP*

        We had been hearing rumors for awhile that she may have been looking for another job, so the manager thought once I confronted her she may quit. I don’t interact daily with Emily’s team as I have other locations I am responsible for, but I have a reputation for generally being easy going. I think when I spoke to Jane she was surprised at how matter of fact and assertive I was, there was no friendly banter. I told her that what she had done was completely unacceptable and I would not allow it the the office. I discussed with her how rumors of this nature can destroy reputations and careers and Emily and I no longer trusted her. I did tell her that she had a long uphill battle of gaining trust back in the office and that all the effort in the world may never result in trust being restored.. She was upset at this point not angry (which is what I expected) but she was crying. I asked her if she thought she felt she could earn back the trust that was broken and if she felt she could move forward. She said she had been looking at other jobs and said she just wanted to quit. I had her write a letter of resignation, let her gather her things and that was that. I thought for sure she would be combative in the meeting and I thought she would argue with me, I was surprised by the outcome but glad I didn’t have to go through the couple week process of managing her out officially.

        1. Phoebe*

          Maybe she will take what you said to heart and try to do better at her next place of employment. Her unexpected reaction makes me hopeful for her.

          1. Boof*

            Hope springs eternal; impossible to say what the crying signifies but one wishes for everyone’s sake that jane interacts with in the future (and jane herself) it was dawning realization of how not ok her behavior was

        2. Khatul Madame*

          Nah, Jane’s crying probably confirms that she was indeed sweet on John, and OP’s points on loss of trust in the office made it even clearer that he is forever lost to her…

        3. Not So NewReader*

          People are amazing, so many times I have seen people confronted by their poor behavior the reaction I get is so tame compared to what I expected.

          Outstanding job here, OP. Well done.

        4. Trillian*

          One thing, make sure any damage she has done is found and dealt with. Often a toxic person leaves a residue in the form of damaged relationships and distrust.

        5. OhBehave*

          I have to wonder if she misrepresented her job on her resume. I wouldn’t put it past her to lie about managerial experience!

    10. Chilipepper*

      But I don’t think giving feedback that “we will not be promoting you” is being vindictive. I could argue that not letting her know that contributed to her behavior. I have a coworker who is not going to be promoted, ever. And she cannot see it. She cannot see it because the leaders are not clear. So she is always trying to figure out a way forward and it is incredibly disruptive. Managers dont see that either.

      1. Boof*

        I don’t think it would have been worth getting into UNLESS Jane raised it again. With the type of talk OP gave / AAM outlined it should be unnecessary to say “and also no promotion” and I think it’s a bit much to say “and never ever a promotion no matter what you ever do”. Might as well just fire someone in that scenario if they will never be able to rebuild trust. (vs, ask them how they will rebuild trust and stress it will be a very long time if ever that that might be possible)

      2. DyneinWalking*

        Depending on the situation, it might muddle the message. After all, the one who has power over Jane’s possibility of promotion is OP; Thus, to an unreasonable person, “your behavior means that it’s not reasonable and responsible to promote you” might easily read as “I will never promote you”. The easiest solution to that problem would not be a change of behavior, but to find a job with a different manager or even company while continuing the troublesome behavior.

        But the core of the problem is that spreading gossip – any malicious gossip, but especially false gossip! – corrodes trust. That is the basic, inescapable consequence of her behavior, no matter what she decides to do. Mentioning that a promotion is unlikely might make her focus on that, and thereby miss the most important part of the feedback.

        Therefore, when giving such feedback you should focus on the core issues and social consequences of such behavior to ensure the message stays as clear as possible. You could still mention the other consequences later, when it has become clear that the person lacks the ability to process such general concepts as “people don’t trust a liar” and instead needs direct, personal consequences such as “liars don’t get nice things” to adapt their behavior at least somewhat. I.e. when you’ve given up on ever seeing a change in the person, so reining them in with anything that might work has become the prerogative.

    11. allathian*

      “Jane quit on the spot.” I’m glad she finally saw the writing on the wall. Good riddance! I hope you find a great replacement for Jane soon.

      I also think it’s great that you recognize your own internal reactions and don’t let your anger show until you’ve processed it so that you can use it constructively.

    12. Minocho*

      A thought related to the desire to tell Jane she would never be a manager:

      If you want to outline to someone that they won’t, but still want to help them, it might be worth your time to outline what you would need to see to consider them for a management position. Phrasing it that way points them in the direction they need to go to improve. It may be too late for them here, but they may figure out what their issue is an correct later in life.

      It sounds like the effort didn’t make sense in this situation, but it’s a way to have a constructive conversation about this kind of issue.

  14. staceyizme*

    I think that the LW can reasonably make the case that Jane’s preoccupation with John, Emily and the other party is a violation of professional conduct and that it exposes the company to liability because it’s potentially damaging to the parties involved in terms of their standing, reputation and dignity. I’d emphasize that there isn’t any process for deputizing a Manners, Morals and Conduct Posse, and that the instances of her inappropriately inserting herself into the professional lives of people that she Does-Not-Manage has created a dynamic that you must Now-Address. Then, lower the boom! Seriously, she’s a liability that’s going to wind up costing you good people, goodwill and good workplace vibes. Tell her that if anything occurs to her that she feels rises to the level of needing to be addressed, you want her to come directly to you and you’ll take it from there. That way, if somebody does something egregious, you’ve given her a very slim avenue of recourse, while having firmly closed up shop on the Gossip, Gripes and Sundry Rumors Shoppe.
    I’m also curious about how this has gotten to this point? If you know of specific instances of her having previously gossiped, especially at the level of having created a rumor that is later spread, wouldn’t that have merited a firm rebuke?

    1. OP*

      She had been talked to and had official disciplinary action before. She had improved for a bit but then fell back into her old habits. I do like your thought process on this. Thanks.

      1. MJ*

        Also make sure that Emily and John know that they can approach you if they have heard any rumors again or any off behavior from Jane and others.

  15. Allypopx*

    “And telling Emily that she “expects the behavior to stop”? That is … an interesting (read: alarming) understanding of her authority over other people’s relationships.”

    I don’t think this can be omitted from the conversation with Jane. If you decide to keep her, and honestly I’m not sure I would, all of her behavior needs to be laid out – not only the gossiping, but her behavior to Jane and surrounding John. Even if Jane was her peer this would be incredibly inappropriate, but as someone above her? Yikes.

  16. Robin Ellacott*

    We had one of these types and we ended up clearly needing to fire her. The whole atmosphere changed for the better as soon as she left – she was pure poison, though she seemed very friendly from the outside. It took almost a year once she was gone for us to weed out some persistent rumours she started – people believed them because they just didn’t seem like things any sane person would make up, and they kept popping up again.

    She denied all wrongdoing, surprisingly vehemently in the face of a lot of evidence, right to the end. It was the most frustrating termination meeting I have ever been in, and also the best staffing decision I ever made. If you can move toward firing Jane, I would.

    1. Robin Ellacott*

      I meant to say… even if Emily was able to prove Jane started the rumours, don’t be surprised or sidetracked if Jane passionately denies doing any of it. I was really taken aback when I encountered this, but shouldn’t have been – liars gonna lie.

    2. PT*

      We had one of these too. “Everybody loved her” and “she’s so great at her job” until she virtually quit without notice (she exploited a loophole that let her massively flex her own schedule to our off-core hours, then stopped communicating with managers but continued to show up for her off-core-hour butt-in-seat coverage duties.)

      After she left…a lot of stuff came to light and it was not good. She was NOT loved (because she was a huge bully, everyone was just afraid of her!) and she was not good at her job (she was just really pushy about the things she was bad at, so she’d incorrectly trained everyone hired after her.)

      1. Zillah*

        I’ve also had one of these. I discovered later that she’d bullied/intimidated/guilted a lot of people into not telling managers about her actions when we asked, spread all kinds of rumors about my being backstabbing and fake and manipulative because I told her that the behavior that initially came to our intention and turned out to be the tip of the iceberg, and actively interfered with other departments and in hindsight was probably responsible for multiple people quitting.

        It sucked.

  17. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    Document EVERYTHING you’ve heard from Emily and Jane ASAP! Jane sounds incredibly obnoxious – a receptionist telling a manager that her behavior has to stop!? – and quite possibly a threat to office morale. The commentariat is right; put her on notice that the gossip stops or she’s out the door. There are thousands of out-of-work receptionists who would LOVE to have Jane’s job and who would do it without starting batspit-crazy rumors!

  18. Potatoes gonna potate*

    Jane sounds like a sh*t human. Wonder what’s going through her mind by starting the rumor (!) then demanding Emily to change HER behavior (!!).

    1. staceyizme*

      THIS is such a great question! If you’ll pardon a coaching perspective (barring an actual personality disorder at a level requiring the support of clinical skills), people who try very hard to control one or more factors in the surrounding environment are enmeshed. They aren’t able to manage boundaries because some prior experience(s) and subsequent making of meanings has rendered them incapable of appropriately distinguishing them. I’ll admit to some curiosity about the bats in Jane’s belfry. (I don’t mean that as provocatively as it’s possibly phrased. I believe that we all have these bats and that our anxieties and other emotional states cause movement among them.)

      1. Potatoes gonna potate*

        bats in the belfry… what a fascinating phrase. Never heard of this before but I love it.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Oh so tempted to side track here… let’s come back to this one on Saturday!)

  19. Strawberry Fields*

    Omg, this is like what I’m dealing with currently. “Minerva” is chummy with “Fergus”. When I started, Fergus would talk to me and Minerva AT.ALL. So she kept making comments like, “You’re going to give his wife a complex” and “Oh, Fergus. I know Strawberry is younger, so that is why you talk to her”, etc.

    Some people never grow up and act like they’re still in high school. Minerva is very dramatic and attention-seeking in general, but she definitely has a thing for Fergus. (Note: Minerva is married, in her 60s and Fergus is married in his 30s. They’re not married to each other.)

    1. Boof*

      Yuck; this is current? Can you report Minerva for inappropriate comments, basically involving multiple protected class (gender, orientation, or age IDK take your pick)?

  20. ele4phant*

    So, Jane has a crush on John and gets jealous when he has a friendly rapport with another woman, right?

    1. starsaphire*

      I think that’s it. Rather like in one of those old Golden Age mysteries set in a village, in which two or three of the local widows/spinsters have a thing for the new young rector (or two or three of the local widowers/bachelors have a thing for the new young au pair) and the whole book is full of the underlying tension of the situation. Which isn’t even a situation, except in the minds of the obsessed individuals!

  21. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

    LW, I am very glad that Jane is gone. That type of behavior is toxic and horrible for morale. A good manager will be conscious of it and deal with it appropriately. And Jane added insubordination to her other misdeeds! Yikes!! But this type of behavior is unacceptable by any employee at any level.

  22. ResuMAYDAY*

    Emily is a dangerous person. I’ll bet she’s caused a lot of trouble for previous employers.

    1. ResuMAYDAY*

      Jane! I mean Jane! Jeez, I got so confused while reading this, but I 100% meant Jane. (This was not on purpose, I swear.)

  23. Emily for this post*

    I was an Emily in this situation … to be clear I’m not the OP’s Emily.

    I started hearing rumors about me and my boss having an affair. It was originating in a group that was in the org that I managed. To make it easy… I managed Jane, Jane supervised the teapot painters, the rumor was going around the teapot painting group.

    When I heard about it, I had no idea where it started so I pulled the teapot painters and Jane together and gave them my ‘professional expectation’ speech with a side of ‘Rumors have consequences’ and ‘Rumors will not be tolerated’

    All understood where I stood on the matter and as we were leaving the meeting Jane came up to me and told me she may have started the rumor! When I asked where on earth she got that idea she told me that she thought it might be happening because me and boss were generally the last to leave the office and there was a lot of banter between us. I was absolutely livid (and Shocked!).

    So I got to have the specific discussion with her right there and then. I told her that first, I expected much better of her as far as professionalism. That she could have singlehandedly ruined 2 careers and 2 families by spouting baseless rumors. And that from that point on, her hours were changed so that she would come in later and work until 5:30 so that she could be the last person out of the office, just so there wouldn’t be any misunderstandings in the future. And finally that I was really questioning her judgement and her ability to supervise the team.

    (I should add that she had been a supervisor to the team for a long while with no major problems, although at the time she wasn’t the most effective supervisor but still fell in the ‘good at her job’ category).

    To this day I have no idea where any of this came from, the only thing I could ever think of was that my previous boss was one of those very cold and unapproachable type of people, and my new boss was totally opposite friendly and outgoing. She got along much better with previous cold boss than outgoing new boss.

    Not surprisingly it wasn’t long after that she decided to retire. In hindsight, like I mentioned she was a good supervisor for the most part, but the last year she worked for me things weren’t going great. Nothing had risen to the point of formal or even informal action, but her attitude and ability to cope with changes were just not keeping up.

    1. staceyizme*

      That’s a pretty thin foundation for the narrative that she spun into her rumor! W-o-w! So, in her mind “opportunity” = “guilty of an affair”? I feel sorry for her spouse, if she has one…

    2. Wrinkly Pug*

      I was in a somewhat similar situation.
      When I started a new job, management had me sitting opposite the only male in a predominantly female office (open plan but with partitions separating the desks).

      One of the staff then spread a rumor that the male staff member and I had a thing going on. I have no idea where she got the idea, as this male staff and I had only met very briefly, he’d then gone on Paternity leave for a few months, and when he did come back, our interactions were no more than “Good morning, see ya, etc”.

      As to what gave her this idea? She claimed he was apparently smiley and engaging with me, but in the longer time that she had worked there, he was supposedly cold and indifferent towards her!

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Your Jane and OP’s Jane are solid examples of why I say women can be just as guilty of sexual harassment’s as men. They can subtly throw fuel on the fire and women need to be called out for it more often. I see less of this now, but I saw so much of it when I started working decades ago. If a man as much as SPOKE to a woman then CLEARLY they were sleeping together. wtf. It took me a while but I eventually threw it back on the speaker- “So, do YOU sleep with every single man YOU speak to?” Well, nooooo. “What if someone went around and said you DID, though. How would you feel about that?”

      1. Boof*

        I agree sexual harassment is not dependent on gender/sexual orientation* and needs to be handles seriously whenever substantiated and/or a clear pattern, regardless of whether parties conform to stereotypes of victims and aggressors

        *rarely some harassers will accuse the victim as part of the campaign and i think solid interviewing of both parties and witnesses can probably sort this out

    4. cmcinnyc*

      I have had people come to me with “have you heard?” and stirring exactly this pot and when I’ve dug into it: yup! They’re just standing there making stuff up! It amazes me how carelessly evil people can be.

  24. Stephistication*

    Seems to me like Jane is projecting – she may have a thing for John since he is the common denominator. I know we have no way of knowing that but seems odd that she keeps assigning extramarital relationships to him…

    1. Elenna*

      Exactly! and a WOMAN laughing with a MAN? Clearly they MUST be having an affair, no other possible explanation! She should stop at once!

      (Sarcasm, of course. Also can’t help but notice that Jane didn’t tell the man involved that he had to change his behavior at all…)

      1. allathian*

        She probably had the hots for him and wanted him to joke around with her and nobody else. No matter what the reason for it was, Jane’s behavior was outrageous and inappropriate.

        1. SnappinTerrapin*

          Maybe she thought it “wasn’t her place” to tell a man what he could or couldn’t do.

          (Yes, I’m being sarcastic.)

  25. HR*

    I just want to thank OP for taking this seriously. I was Emily once. Normally I ignore gossip and have thick skin. But this situation made me so sick to think someone would try and ruin my career and my marriage because she was petty and jealous. (I got a job she applied for. I was the external candidate and had no idea she had even applied for the job, and obviously was not the decision maker on her not getting the job)

  26. Heffalump*

    “And look at whether there are other problems with Jane too, because it’s rare for something like this to be unaccompanied by any other problems.”

    There’s never just one cockroach.

  27. Noncompliance Officer*

    This happened to me early in my career. I am male in a primarily female field. When I first started out, someone spread a rumor about another coworker and me. I told her to stop, then I told my manager. And while it didn’t continue, it did make me very uncomfortable at work, because the implication was that I could not be friends with my (primarily female) coworkers without it becoming issue.

    Years later I would realize this was blatant sexual harassment (sexual harassment includes spreading rumors). I wish at the time I had known this and pressed the matter more.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Unfortunately, we have those among us who believe if a man is talking to a woman it is because HE’S interested in her.

      It’s really a slap in the face to men also because it implies that men cannot possibly be talking about… you know… work stuff if they are talking to a woman. Because men would not be able to do that….. smh.

  28. Laurelma01*

    Please let us know what approach you take in handling this & how it’s played out. She owns them a serious apology. If she isn’t willing to apologize, it might be time to kick her out the door.

    1. allathian*

      There’s an update above, but basically LW confronted Jane about her behavior and Jane quit on the spot.

  29. A*

    I also find it interesting that Jane wants to jump from being a receptionist to a manager. While I suppose it’s industry dependent, for the most part I think there are some crucial steps in the ladder missing there that highlight an overall lack of understanding of ‘how things are done’.

    As a side note, I’d be very hesitant to accept a position reporting to an individual that skipped the mid-level or function specific roles entirely. So. Many. Red. Flags.

  30. Vicky Austin*

    Shipping characters from your favorite TV shows: perfectly fine
    Shipping the actors who play them: usually fine, but tread with caution as they are real people
    Shipping your co-workers: harassment

    1. Tabby*

      This. This so much. I happen to really like Danny Pino, think he’s gorgeous, and wouldn’t mind hanging out with him, but some of the fans I’ve seen are cringeworthy. Dude has been married for 20 years, and they still seem to forget that despite the fact that the man talks about his wife a lot and has pictures of her EVERYWHERE on his instagram. Like…ma’am, how do you miss that? How do you POSSIBLY MISS the romantic language? HOW. Literally, someone asked if she was his sister once. Ma’am he literally said ‘Happy anniversary, my love’ in the caption, can you read? lol

    2. I want Aziraphale's bookshop*

      I am not sure about shipping the actors who play characters from your favorite TV shows as usually fine, since they are real people. For example, I am part of the Good Omens fandom, where most people are very respectful of the actors, but occasionally people will cross the line of shipping David Tennant and Michael Sheen. The two actors seem to take it in good fun in general, but they are still married to other people. David Tennant was asked a convention who he had the best chemistry with on a set, and he stated that it was probably his wife, who he met on the Doctor Who set…then joked that maybe he should have married Michael Sheen.

      Where I am a bit fuzzier is where the actors for your favorite characters were/are in a relationship, such as Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle were dating when they were in Pride & Prejudice, but not when they were in the King’s Speech.

      Which is a very long way to say that in general, I avoid talking about people’s relationships unless they are talking to me about their own relationships. This partially stems from my workplace’s gossip telling me that he had seen me at a football game with a guy. He (the gossip) was hoping for some sort of reaction, but I just stared at him. As far as I know he didn’t spread the rumor beyond that, but it did make me feel uncomfortable being around the gossip. He did things like drive past every employee’s home to see where they lived. He eventually retired and people felt more comfortable to talk to each other about their weekends without checking around corners for him.

  31. Another One*

    I had this happen to me.

    Rumours started by a tenured female professor (not in my department, but I was an executive director at a university) about me (female) having a relationship with a (male) student triggered a full-scale investigation that went so far as to temporarily shut down our office, confiscate our computers, and put the whole team on admin leave for weeks.

    The thing that no one realized until I actually had my first investigatorial interview 4 weeks later was that the student was gay. I knew this the whole time, and knew he was closeted for good reason. No one even bothered to ask the student until that moment of the investigation, and only under advice of counsel did I share it. The whole thing had steamrolled because the VP in charge of my unit was friends with the professor, and I was in charge of a very high-profile project that generated a lot of professional jealousy.

    Suffice it to say I quit and got a massive buyout on my way out the door, landing another high-profile project only weeks later. The Director of HR and another VP quit within weeks because they were appalled by what happened, as did 7 of my direct reports.

    1. Ali*

      Wow. (I say this as someone currently working in academia. Just visualizing this story…what a huge mess!)

      1. Another One*

        Oh yeah, universities are an appalling mix of intellect and stunted social abilities. Not that other workplaces don’t have their problems, but…

      1. Another One*

        Nothing happened. She was tenured at a Canadian university.

        She retired a couple of years later, but not before she sexually harassed another male tenured professor, who brought her actions in front of the Board of Governors. She literally showed up at his house in the middle of the night with Apple technology gifts (SO WEIRD). I think she was obsessed with the idea of a dangerous liaison.

    2. allathian*

      Oh my. I’m sorry this happened to you and to the student, but at least you got vindicated by the big project. I hope the jealous professor got her comeuppance.

  32. staceyizme*

    I’m truly sorry that happened to you! (And equally pleased that you not only survived, but thrived in the aftermath!)

  33. Blur Rasta*

    Some companies could really stand to read this, re-read it. Let it sit for a few weeks. And then think about how their toxic, abusive (read: discriminatory) behavior has *coincidentally* driven women and POC far far away.

  34. AKchic*

    Why do I get the feeling that Jane is older than Emily? Because that “this behavior needs to stop” conversation sounds very “motherly” and very much something that someone with even a few months seniority would try to pull on someone with more rank in order to try to establish even a modicum of dominance and reestablish their “rightful” pecking order.
    As far as John – this is the second “affair” rumor Jane has started. Is this wishful thinking on Jane’s part, maliciousness, or some old-school thinking where any opposite-gender duo that so much as acknowledges each other in a not strictly work capacity is automatically doing the horizontal mambo all over the office furniture when nobody else is looking? Jane, this ain’t The Young and the Restless up in your office, and you certainly aren’t the beleaguered personal assistant trying to keep John’s trousers firmly affixed to his hips so his wife won’t suffer an embarrassment.

    Jane needs to be read the riot act. John has cause to file a complaint (or several). Emily does too. The other woman who was made a part of the rumor mill included. Jane is opening this company up to many lawsuits if she isn’t reined in. Is it worth keeping Jane?

  35. Waving not Drowning (not Drowning not Waving)*

    I’ve worked with a Jane in the past. Not everyone can be an Emily and shrug it off. In my 30’s I worked in a male dominated workplace, and was Admin support. We had a Casual Wednesday lunch – whoever was available went to the local curry house for lunch. One day it was just a male colleague and myself who were available. As Jane covered my lunch break, I mentioned that I was heading out for lunch with “Mike”. Jane looked and me all worried, and asked what should she tell my husband if he called. I looked at her all surprised, and, rather shocked to be honest, and said, tell him I’ve gone for lunch with Mike. This was said in front of Mike, who was also happily married. Funnily enough, my husband NEVER called me at work, however Jane was aware that I was married.

    I was absolutely mortified, thinking I’d been giving out flirting signals at work, so after (and admittedly uncomfortable to me lunch) I went up to another female colleague – and said that I’d had lunch with Mike, and that Jane had gotten into a flap asking what she should tell my husband – my other colleague laughed, and reassured me that there was NOTHING in my behaviour to warrant such a comment, that it was more to do with Jane than myself (Jane had just found out her husband wanted a divorce…..), however, it had a lasting impact on my behaviour with my male colleagues until I left that workplace.

    Janes behaviour needs to stop.

    1. Tuesday*

      That’s so aggravating! I’m sorry that happened to you. These people who think that you can’t just have lunch, chat, joke around with someone without there being something going on are so weird to me.

      1. Waving not Drowning (not Drowning not Waving)*

        It was so out of the blue too, and it was said in front of Mike, so I’m thinking, OMG is he wondering if I’ve been talking about him to Jane??

        1. Tuesday*

          That’s the worst! And of course there was no way to try to clear things up with Mike without it getting more weird – thanks a lot, Jane!

    2. allathian*

      Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry that happened to you. I guess I’m glad to be working in an office where I can go to lunch with my coworkers regardless of their gender and not be gossiped about. I can also be friendly with them, laugh and joke around with them, without any gossip.

      We have several couples at my office and some of them actually met at work. So romances definitely happen, but it’s not generally a subject for discussion, and that’s just as it should be, IMO.

  36. BadApple*

    I think you need to talk to John first.

    I remember when I was growing up that a girl essentially stalked me for two years as a teenager, but because I was a guy and she was a girl (and due to her connections at the school) I didn’t really think I had any recourse. Showing up at places to try and drive me away I was and initiating sexual conversation with others around me initially, because she was interested.

    Now as an adult, I have a better head on how I would theoretically handle that, but if John is new to a workplace he may just think he has to deal with it due to the power dynamics.

  37. middlegenmillennial*

    If Jane has demonstrated this bad attitude and spread harmful gossip like this before, why is she still there?

  38. Jam Today*

    A+ on Alison’s advice, and make sure all these conversations are documented, have Jane co-sign them. This is poison, and it has to stop immediately. If that means Jane has to leave, then that’s what it means.

    (I’ve been the target of malicious gossip twice, at two different companies; one instance was outright jealousy — I had a close friendship with the “it guy” of the company and a few people got their noses out of joint about it — the other was just bored people in an office turning things into a soap opera so they could have some fun. In both cases they materially damaged my well-being, and in one case it may have damaged my career (the second rumor was that I was having an affair with my boss).

    1. Jam Today*

      Oh and by “it guy” I don’t mean IT guy, like Nick Burns Your Company’s Computer Guy, I mean the company popular guy.

      Actually now that I write this out, there was *another* rumor that I was hooking up with one of the IT guys, that one was started by my boss at the time (not the one who put a bounty on me, a different boss. That was a bad year.)

      1. Anonymouse*

        I’m sorry that you went through this- I have also gone through something like this as well in previous positions. (Also had issues with the “Popular Guy” as well. I was young and got along well with him, which did not go over well with the older women in the office. They could laugh and flirt with him, but they would get mad at me if I even spoke to him, which sucked because we were supposed to work together, so it made things very awkward.)

        1. Jam Today*

          The worst of it is: it ultimately broke up our friendship. He and I were really tight for a while, but not romantically involved in any way, ever. It definitely occurred to me (he was extremely attractive and very charismatic) but the closer we got the more I realized what a terrible idea it would be if we dated or were involved in any way; I just liked having him as a good friend. In any case: he was also good friends with the rumor-starters, and eventually their gossip and sniping about me must have gotten under his skin, because our friendship ended very abruptly, like literally one day to the next he was a different person towards me. It was a really terrible experience, and completely took my legs out from under me. I think if I’d seen the whole thing coming I would have had some defenses up, but I had never been the subject of that type of gossip before — I am very plain, and not usually the target of the “mean girls” — and consequently was completely exposed with no mental or emotional guard up, and no strategy to fend it off because I was already in it. It was awful, and it still really hurts (and I miss my friend) a decade later.

          1. Jam Today*

            That was my long group-therapy way of saying that office gossip isn’t harmless and it isn’t fun, and needs to be stamped out before its allowed to flourish. Its cruel, and it has very real effects on actual human beings. Knock it off.

            1. Lizzo*

              Sending internet hugs to you! I had something similar happen. It SUCKS. The only good thing to come out of it is that I have way less tolerance for emotional immaturity from *anybody*–especially in the workplace–and I deal with it directly and immediately.

              But yes, I miss my friend.

    2. WorkerB*

      This happened to a colleague at a previous job. She befriended the popular guy, both were married. They worked very well together on projects and the office gossips– one probably had a huge crush on him– wouldn’t have it. They spread affair rumors and within a year the gossiped-about colleague left and the popular guy withdrew into Covid telework and mostly avoids putting on his video during Zoom calls. It really is all about boredom and jealousy. The gossips were the least productive people on the team. The managers did little to address the situation, either. It was toxic.

  39. OhBehave*

    How satisfying to get such a quick update! It’s upthread in a comment. (OP talked to Jane. Jane quit on the spot.)
    Maybe A can pin it or add to the end of her advice.

  40. Jennifer Juniper*

    I’m guessing Jane wants to have an affair with John and is stalking him. This lady needs to get 86ed yesterday.

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