my boss is having an affair with our assistant — and I’m friends with his wife

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I work as a project manager at a small business (~25 employees) and have been in this role for more than six years. I was referred to the position through Katie, a friend from a hobby club I belong to. She learned I’d been laid off from my last position and offered to introduce me to her husband (John) who owns a consulting firm in my field. After a standard interview process, I was hired and have been here ever since.

About 18 months ago, we were looking for a new administrative assistant for the business. Instead of advertising the position like we normally would, John hired Tammy, the “daughter of a family friend.” She was supposedly a recent grad, very eager, would need some training, but would be a great addition to the team. From her first day, it was clear that she was not the right fit for the position. Her computer and communication skills were quite poor, she took forever to do basic tasks, was dressed inappropriately for an office, and played on her phone frequently. She was also coming in late or leaving early every day. Every attempt to provide her with instruction or feedback was met with confusion or eye rolling. Another manager asked her for help in stuffing envelopes for a promotional event, and she laughed in his face!

I went to John and asked him what exactly Tammy’s role was supposed to be since she was refusing to do much of anything. He said not to worry, he would have a word with her. The next day he told me he would be managing her directly from then on and if I needed something that fell under the assistant’s umbrella, I could email him and he would see to it that it was done. He had never taken over management of an assistant before this, and it felt like something was amiss.

Within a few weeks, it seemed clear that John is having an affair with Tammy. John has never admitted it to me, but they drive in together every day, have hours-long meetings in his locked office every afternoon, and whenever she is at her desk, she is shopping online or browsing social media. If anyone asks Tammy to do something for their team, she goes straight to John’s office and a few minutes later he sends a message that someone else will need to do that task. My emails to John regarding my team’s administrative needs just get ignored, and I wind up doing those tasks myself or handing it off to one of my team members (who have enough on their plate as it is). I’ve tried to talk to John about how this is impacting our workflow and how we really need a true assistant, but he snaps that these tasks are not so urgent that we can’t handle them ourselves within our own teams. John’s reliability as our CEO and decision-maker has plummeted as well, and morale is low.

I’ve been quietly trying to find another job since early 2020. Covid threw a wrench in those plans, and I have very few prospects at this time. My dilemma is what to do about Katie (my friend/John’s wife). I am very confident that they don’t have an open marriage. She truly thinks Tammy is an assistant at our workplace. I have not told her about the affair, partly because it’s not my business and partly because I need to protect my job. I am the only person at work who would possibly tip her off about this, and it would be obvious it was me if I were to tell her. I feel absolutely awful keeping this secret. I feel so guilty when she earnestly asks me how work is at our hobby group. What do I do?

Readers, what’s your advice?

Read an update to this letter here

{ 573 comments… read them below }

  1. Littorally*

    “Should you tell someone their spouse is having an affair” is an eternally thorny question. It is never not a delicate situation highly dependent on some very granular interpersonal details. As a result, I think it will never have a hard and firm rule.

    In your case, I’d say avoid it — the situation is tied up in your ability to earn a living, and you shouldn’t be expected to prioritize their marriage or even your friendship over your ability to keep a roof over your head.

    1. pleaset cheap rolls*

      “Readers, what’s your advice?”

      Start with a deep breath and a laugh, because it’s so stupid.

      Also painful, but stupid. These dudes. Why oh why?

      OP – I feel for you. And the wife.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Srsly, these dudes. (Lookin’ at you, Cal Cunningham) They mess up so much.

        OP, I agree with Littorally, you do not have to tell until you are no longer dependent on John for a paycheck. On the job hunt front, make sure you’re talking to the network you’ve gotten through consulting jobs – if you did a good job with project managing and want to continue in that career, they may have roles for you. Everyone wants a good PM. Or take this time to get your PMP cert if you don’t have it yet… That would give you something to talk about in the hobby time too. “How’s work?” “I’ve been really focused on my latest project and PMP cert studying.”

        I hope you and John’s wife are able to be friends again once it all falls out, and that she understands your dilemma.

        1. GreenDoor*

          Agree with Jules the 3rd. And when/if she asks, “But why didn’t you tellllll mmeee?” your script might be, “You are a good friend. But at the time I depended on John for my livlihood. I know you’re hurting, but I hope you can understand what a difficult position I was in, wondering how to choose between my job and my friendship with you.”

          1. Chinook*

            Having been the wife, this response would have mollified me because it meant you weren’t in on my deception or thinking less of me for being fooled. The humiliation of being cuckolded is bad enough without thinking everyone was laughing at you on top of it.

            1. Yomiko*

              Thank you for this perspective, though I’m sorry that you’ve had to be on that side of things.

              I was once in a mess similar to the LW, only it was my friend having the affair. The amount of hurt and lying involved when the dust settled left a mark on so many people, but none more so than the person being cheated on. To this day I’m fairly clear with people that I don’t deal with cheaters and I’ll never do anything that could be construed as helping them. Cheating is a really vile thing to do to someone.

      2. Cait*

        When it comes to telling a someone about an affair I would always ask myself, “If I were in their position, would I want to know?” I think the answer here is a clear yes. Of course wait until you get a new job to tell Katie because otherwise John could retaliate by trying to ruin any new career prospects and making your life at work a living hell if not just firing you. But once you have this job in your rear view, absolutely tell Katie. She has a right to know that not only is John having an affair with what I assume is a much younger woman AND a “family friend@ but is also risking his business in the process.

        1. BB feels you*

          While I do personally agree with your perspective of “yes I would like to know”, it’s not the same answer for everyone. Some poeple suspect it, but throw it under the rug, put on a mask, and until it’s not real, they pretend it does not exist. Once someone tells it, it becomes real, and you have to face it.

          As for OP, finding a new job is the best way to go. As much as it does directly affect you, marital affairs of others should not be your concern or responsability. Good luck in your job search!

          1. Mannequin*

            If my spouse was having an affair and one of my friends knew, but decided not to tell me out of some misguided “well not everyone wants to know, so I won’t take that chance”, both the cheater and that friend would be out of my life for GOOD.

        2. Medusa*

          Yeah, my plan of action would be: 1) find a new job ASAP (easier said than done, I know) 2) the moment I put in my notice, tell Katie

          1. Rachael*

            I agree with this. I would expect my friend to tell me if they had suspicions. Your position to say anything is complicated because of your work situation, so I understand the conflict. Once you find another job, tell your friend your suspicions.

    2. Artemesia*

      I would renew my efforts to find another job and as soon as you do talk to the wife. Don’t jeopardize your living.

      1. Coder von Frankenstein*

        Count another vote for “Get out as soon as you can, then tell Katie.”

        It’s a tough situation, but alerting Katie to problems in her marriage is not as important as keeping food on your table and a roof over your head. Depending on how she reacts, you might lose your friendship with Katie over this. But that would be a risk anyway (“blame the messenger” is a thing).

        1. Joan Rivers*

          It’s interesting that some commenters attack the MAN as if it’s only HIS fault and the assistant has no responsibility for slacking off at work and using her relationship w/him.

          But others think if he has an open marriage that means it’s OK that he’s showing obvious favoritism to one person at the expense of the rest of the staff. Having an open marriage or even being a “throuple” w/his wife still can’t excuse his lack of professionalism, and hers.

          They are both to blame for the shabby way they’re treating the rest of the staff. It’s theft for her to get paid and not do her job.

          I’m curious if those in “open marriages” would mind if they were told their spouse is having a blatant “emotional affair” at work and causing staff to job hunt.

          1. Ugh Non*

            Considering that he’s the boss and she’s the assistant, I’ll put the blame on him for this.

            1. Lee*

              And the age difference, as well. I mean it is icky enough as it is but he might even have watched her grow up.

            2. Cait*

              Agreed. The power dynamic is way off in terms of age and position. He’s much more at fault than her.

              1. Amaranth*

                I don’t think its quite the same as a boss pressuring a junior employee because it reads like they were already in a relationship and the job is secondary. In other words, they planned this together, and she’s there to grab a paycheck and be available. (gross)

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            John took over purview of managing Tammy and requires anyone who needs her help to go through him. Her poor performance has been brought to his attention, and he is not requiring her to do her job or providing appropriate supervision. Tammy should be doing her job, but, the onus of management (and larger responsibility) falls to the BOSS who insisted on taking her as a direct report and then refusing to require her to do her job.

            1. designbot*

              Exactly. If there were no affair and this was just an incompetent assistant and LW wrote in, Alison would almost certainly tell them they have a Boss problem, not a Tammy problem. The boss has essentially redefined the terms of Tammy’s job and they aren’t to LW’s liking. LW should focus on getting out.

          3. Jules the 3rd*

            Sure, Tammy sucks, but John is the one with all the power here. If he’d do *his* job, Tammy would either do hers or be replaced. The ‘theft’ is from John, the owner / CEO, so if that’s what he wants to pay Tammy for, it’s his money. Though his wife probably has some stake in it…

            John’s behavior sucks because he’s taking advantage of that power differential, betraying his promises, and lying to his wife. Tammy’s only lying to the wife.

            1. MBK*

              I agree that John bears the majority of responsibility and blame here, but Tammy is doing more than lying – she’s also squatting in a job that needs doing and not doing it.

          4. Supplychainmanager*

            I’d imagine that is because the MAN is the person abusing his position of power – something Tammy is unable to replicate due to her limited scope of impact.

            Regardless of whether it is consensual, the impact this abuse of power does not exclusively impact Tammy – it also impacts the OP and her team by increasing their workloads, not to mention the culture as a whole (which tends to suffer when employees lack respect for/trust in leadership due to things like favoritism or unequal treatment of employees).

            The MAN is the only person in this situation with the unilateral ability to address the negative impacts arising from this situation – hence why I agree that the focus should be on his behavior.

          5. Littorally*

            Tammy is a recent grad and most likely a very young adult. Plus, John is the one cheating on a marriage vow, not Tammy. I’m okay with putting 99% of the blame in his court.

            1. SD*

              I’m wondering if it’s possible that Tammy is actually a recent high school grad considering her lack of maturity and skills (besides the obvious).

              1. lailaaaaah*

                Oh, I can definitely see her as a recent college grad; I’ve had interns who did similar behaviours, and would continue until they were corrected. If she were there as an actual assistant, with a boss who wasn’t sleeping with her and taking huge advantage of his position in her life (‘family friend’ to me implies he’s seen her grown up at least to some extent, and may have been grooming her for a while) things would probably improve with good management.

            1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

              *insert spit take gif*

              Oh yes, she’s obviously performing those “duties” to his satisfaction, at least so far! *insert laughing/crying emoji*

              And thank you so much for this absolutely perfect comment. It was so subtle I started to move on to the next comment in the thread before it hit me. Then I went, “Wait, what did I just read?” LOLOL!

              Dry, understated humor FTW. Well played, Princess!

            2. darnray*

              Exactly—her job is to be John’s mistress. She is living up to her office responsibilities. The blame here, professionally, is 100% on John.

          6. Michelle*

            Yes, Joan Rivers, YES!! And I’ll answer your question. I am in a thruple (exclusive, poly relationship), and I can say that we would all mind if another partner were having an emotional affair, ESPECIALLY if it involved the workplace and mistreatment of staff.

            Ethics are essential in all situations, but particularly in poly/open situations. We used to be in a situation where one of my partners was a reporter for the local paper whilst I worked for a local non-profit and was a community activist. We too often found ourselves in positions where clients/organizations/people expected professional favors because of our relationship, so he and I sat down and talked about fairness, ethics, and our professional “firewalls.” We got some pushback but it worked. All I am saying is that, ethics are super important.

            1. Moira Rose*

              Michelle, do you actually call your setup a “throuple”? I’ve never heard that term used inside the poly community, only by people on the outside looking in. I’ve heard “triad” (when all 3 people are involved with each other) or “vee” (when only two legs of the triangle are romantic).

              1. Michelle*

                Hi! Yeah, we actually do use triad about 95% of the time, but “thruple” seems fine, too. Some people also call us a “pod,” but honestly, that makes me feel like a whale. I mean, I like whales and all but, you know…

          7. Coder von Frankenstein*

            I have no idea why you put this in response to me. I didn’t mention anyone but Katie and the LW.

            But as for why people are attacking the man instead of the assistant: It’s because he is the one with all the power in this situation, and he’s the boss with whom the buck is supposed to stop, and he’s the guy who is in fact cheating.

            The assistant’s behavior is bad. The boss’s is infinitely worse. Why are you trying to make them out as somehow comparable?

          8. Internet Rando*

            Also considering HE is the one who is married…. its kind of on him to honor those vows.

          9. c-*

            1- Open marriages have nothing to do with this, as the marriage in question is not open.
            2- There can be cheating in an open relationship, yes. Open relationships have rules just like conventional marriages do, and if one of the partners violates a rule, then that’s cheating. Open relationships are not an excuse to cheat with no consequences, even though many cheaters lie about being in an open marriage so they can cheat and lie with impunity. That’s not open relationships’ fault, though, but cheaters’.
            3- You are being very rude, aggresive, hurtful, and dismissive, without reason. The readers here did nothing to hurt you, so please don’t bring your bigotry and scare quotes here. There are may ways to love, as long as *all* the people involved are informed and consent there’s nothing wrong with open relationships.
            4- Consider that many, many, times it’s queer people having those polyam and unconventional relationships because straights didn’t leave us any options for conventional marriages till very recently, so we made up our own models to, y’know, live our lives. Consider that monogamous man-woman matrimony is not the only or most valid way to make up a family. Consider how homophobic you’re being when you take up the rethoric that anything else than holy matrimony is wrong. And consider that no one here did anything to deserve your anger or this crap and go vent it elsewhere where you won’t hurt people who did nothing to you and who have to deal with enough crap from society as it is.

            1. Working Hypothesis*

              Thank you so much. This is 100% what I wanted to say but was too steaming mad to do so coherently.

              To “Joan Rivers,” you dragged in the whole question of polyamorous families as though that has any relevance to this question. It does not. You dragged in the concept of “emotional affairs” as though *that* had any relevance to this question. It does not. You seem determined to leverage this question to attack groups by whom you feel threatened, despite those groups not being involved in any way in the situation described. Stop it.

              The one legitimate thing you *did* say was to ask why people are blaming the fully adult manager for his actions, without equally blaming the very young, powerless administrative assistant. The answer lies in those terms. The administrative assistant is pretty clearly not behaving well (laughing at someone who asks her to do a basic task?) but her behavior isn’t causing the major troubles in the office. The boss’s behavior is. And the boss is the one who could, any time he wished, fix the entire situation. Even if the administrative assistant ended the affair at once and began doing all her work without opposition, she would very likely just be fired and replaced by one who would do what the boss actually wanted from the position: be his mistress.

              So it makes sense for the LW to blame the boss for the same reason it makes sense to look for a lost item in the place where you dropped it instead of someplace else more convenient. I’m sure it’s convenient for you to blame the young woman with no authority in the situation, but there’s no point — *she* can’t make things better for LW and the rest of that office. The boss can.

            2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

              Warning, nitpicking ahead! ;-p

              “Consider that monogamous man-woman matrimony is not the only or most valid way to make up a family.”

              I have a teeny, tiny quibble with this sentence, specifically the last part of it. The phrase “only or most valid way to make up a family” implies that there is a way to make up a family that is more valid than all others. I know that’s some what some people (and I respect their right to believe that), but the rest of your comment tells me that may not be what you meant. I agree that monogamous man-woman matrimony is not the only valid way to make up a family, and would omit the words “or most.”

              /nitpicking off

              (And yes, I know Alison says not to nitpick language, but this is a case where two words make a real difference in the meaning.)

              1. Brooklyn*

                I’m not the person you’re responding to, but I just wanted to say that I didn’t read it that way. I read it on reference to the fact that many, especially older, supposedly supportive, liberal people will hold an opinion that gay people can get married, but it’s not a “real” wedding, or that a non-traditional adoptive family isn’t a “real” family. It often comes across as “they’re allowed to play act family, because I’m not a bigot, but it’s not the same as my family, because they’re just pretending.”

                It’s a fairly common opinion, and a lot of queer people have put up with it from family. They allow that there’s more than one way to have a family, but that their traditional way is the most valid way, and others are allowed because they’re being nice to the gays.

                1. 'Tis Me*

                  I had to ask some questions and then explain a few things when my 6 year old suddenly said she felt sorry for her cousins because they don’t have “real” parents or a “real” family like she does – because my husband and I are married and my brother and his partner are not.

                  I took Working Hypothesis’s statement as saying that there is not one sole/most valid family model. So in the same way that my brother’s partner is essentially my sister-in-law in everything other than actual law, and is most definitely her children’s real and actual mother, other family configurations are also real! (Step-parents! Half-siblings! Single parents! Gay parents! Non-monogamous people in some stable configuration who recognise each other as family!)

                  (I have also explained to my eldest that adoptive parents are real and actual parents…)

                  But 6 year olds, and adult people who struggle to acknowledge that their experiences aren’t universal, can find this stuff a bit confusing so this will probably be an ongoing conversation.

          10. DJ Abbott*

            And she’s young and clueless and probably thinks he’ll leave his wife and marry her.

            1. AndersonDarling*

              The last time I saw a Director dating his Assistant, yes, that was the case. She was young, clueless, in love and thought he would leave his wife.
              But in that case, the assistant the Assistant was actually doing great work. She was a valued employee.

          11. Kella*

            Why are people blaming John and not Tammy? Because as Alison has said a thousand times, if you have a bad employee and a manager who refuses to anything about it, you don’t have a bad employee problem, you have a bad manager problem.

          12. somanyquestions*

            What? You’re really selectively reading.

            Everything he is doing is bad. And he is the center of the bad and the cause of the bad. The assistant is some 22 year old idiot, but this guy is both married and in charge of a business. You can’t say he’s not responsible for this mess. He’s paying her to act exactly like this.

          13. joss*

            Well that may be because this MAN brought his girlfriend into the company. He is a sugar daddy who has found a way to make the company pay the cost of his affair since they pay for work not performed

          14. tamarack and fireweed*

            This is not an “how much is each of them to blame for all possible ethical failures”. This is a LW asking for advice, and the LW has a boss problem. From the LW’s perspective, her judgement of the actions of the admin are off topic. The work situation is in the CEO’s lap as far as responsibility goes.

          15. JB*

            Why on earth would I care if my husband’s employees are job hunting?

            The question posed by the LW isn’t about the lack of professionalism. They’re both being blatantly unprofessional, and show no intent to change. The LW asked about her obligation to report the affair.

            I feel like that would make it clear why people are addressing the interpersonal dynamics aspect of the situation rather than the management aspect, but you also seem to be implying that the wife should be expected to somehow manage her own husband and force him to be a good manager at work, so I’m not really sure what’s going on.

      2. allathian*

        Yeah, that’s where I stand as well.

        Get out as soon as you can, and when you’re no longer dependent on John for your livelihood, tell Katie. That said, it’s just as well to be prepared for the fact that your friendship may not survive. If she has any empathy at all, she’ll hopefully understand why you didn’t tell her any sooner, but it may not be enough to save the friendship.

        And whatever you do, don’t count on a good reference from John.

    3. Smithy*

      Absolutely agree.

      This has been the OP’s job for 6 years and the OP hasn’t found jobs in their field abundant as is. Telling Katie risks the OP keeping their job and sabotaging their reference in an already challenging job hunt.

      As absolutely painful as it must be to keep this from Katie, it’s just impossible to not see the huge risks that loom for the OP. As close as the OP may be to Katie, the potential for this news to blow back on the OP professionally and personally are just so high.

      1. Bertha*

        It doesn’t seem to me that they are very close, honestly.. they seem to only talk at this hobby group.

        1. Franchise Too*

          Just a thought. Would sending an anonymous email from a throwaway account work?
          “Dear wife, your husband locks himself up in his office with his young assistant in the afternoon, for hours. No one is allowed to give her work and he has ordered the rest of the staff to take care of her duties. Thought you would want to know.”
          Still, keep looking for a new job, regardless.

              1. Urban Fervor*

                Also, won’t Katie go straight to OP to ask if it was her that wrote it/whether it’s true, since OP obviously works there and would know?

            1. What’s behind curtain number three*

              Agreed. Don’t send an anonymous note. It only causes confusion and the husband can easily deny everything and blame it on a disgruntled employee or acquaintance.

              If you’re going to tell her, then be upfront and available to answer her questions.

              I would be job hunting and looking for a way out. I’d also make my team aware that I am supportive of them doing what they need to as well and being clear they wouldn’t jeopardize my reference.

              I’ve seen the affair with the assistant play out and it was so damaging to everyone adjacent to it.

              I think OP should protect themselves first and only alert the wife when they’re safely in another job. But odds are high that she will find out eventually or already has her suspicions.

      2. Nia*

        They aren’t close at all. You can tell because Katie’s husband is having an affair and the OP hasn’t bothered to tell her.

          1. Nia*

            I’m not blaming OP for it, not telling Katie is probably the correct decision for her. But it does mean they aren’t friends merely friendly.

            1. Cj*

              I found out my best friend’s husband was having an affair (or at least a one night stand) because my husband was in a band and her husband was at a bar where they were playing making out with somebody else. He had only briefly met my husband once or twice, and probably didn’t recognize that he should get out of there and go somewhere else.

              I didn’t run directly to her an tell her. I was still agonizing over it a few weeks later when she found out because she was suspicious and started doing some digging.

              The drummer in my husband’s band had numerous affairs. I never told his wife and didn’t really agonize over that one. I knew she had caught him cheating before the got married and married him anyway. We were way more than aquiantences but not close friends. I’m pretty sure in her case it was a she knew but didn’t want to know situation, so didn’t admit that she knew to anybody else.

            2. Littorally*

              You accused OP of not “bothering” to tell Katie. That’s some pretty scornful language.

              As a reminder: OP has tried to get out of this job and has not been able to. If they get canned for telling Katie about the affair, they are likely courting some very severe hardship. I have plenty of friends I would not put myself at significant risk of homelessness for, nor would I expect them to do so for me.

            3. No winning moves here*

              If you think a close friend bringing a person the news that their partner is cheating is always met with “Oh thank you, you must really be an excellent friend to be telling me this!” you are very much mistaken.

              News like that can kill the closest friendship, sadly. People are human, and they don’t have to be bad people for their hurt to run in a lot of directions that don’t deserve it.

              The friendship stands just as good (or better) chance of surviving with an “It was weird but I didn’t know anything for sure and didn’t want to get up in your business or start having people nosing into your relationship; I expressed management concerns to the appropriate channels and got the hell away as soon as I could” than it does with OP carrying the news Gladys-Kravitz style to Katie.

              1. Batgirl*

                The friendships with all the friends who didn’t tell me are over, so that sword cuts both ways. I don’t exactly blame them because they followed their own philosophy of protecting the social group over protecting me, but it’s so fundamentally different to mine that I can’t continue a friendship with any of them. Protecting your livelihood though is a totally different matter. OP is a second victim of this man abusing his authority and I would not have blamed anyone at all for that. His wife can’t use her intel without getting her sacked.

        1. Wool Princess*

          This seems unkind. Obviously OP is in a difficult position and feels guilty about it. Even if they are close with Tammy, it’s not so cut-and-dry that they should jeopardize their livelihood.

        2. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

          That’s disingenuous. It’s common to be torn over revealing infidelity even when your livelihood is not on the line.

          I do agree it doesn’t sound like they are super close, though. Least of all because the boss hasn’t made the connection of obvious behavior at work = OP will know = wife will learn about it. But he might think he’s sneaky.

          1. Coder von Frankenstein*

            I’d bet money that the boss and the “admin assistant” think they are being super sneaky and nobody has noticed anything.

            1. ShakenNotStirred*

              Most likely. I’ve found that people who start affairs at the workplace generally can’t see beyond the end of their nose. The wife may even know already if they’re being that “subtle” at work.

              1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

                As someone who works in a high school, I find that many people think they are very sneaky, when in fact they might as well be wearing a sign listing their wrongdoings. I’m sure many do not grow out of it.

                1. Jules the 3rd*

                  lol – this is my 13yo son. We got independent confirmation that he’s very bad at lying when his class played ‘2 truths and a lie’ and they knew the lie every time.

                  I hope he grows out of the ‘trying to sneak’, but that he continues to be very bad at lying. It’ll make the next five years much easier.

                2. KoiFeeder*

                  Some people are just so high on the adrenaline of having a secret they don’t know that they’re wearing it like a dress, yeah.

                  Highschoolers are a trip. Glad I’m not one anymore.

                3. Lora*

                  Meh, I have also seen plenty of people (including my ex) who were quite skilled at keeping affairs under wraps…right up until they finished draining the joint bank accounts and getting their own exit plans in order. Then they got sloppy and simply waited to get caught, wailing that they’d been unhappy for ages and you, the source of all misery on planet earth, were too dimwitted and self-absorbed to realize their sorrows.

                  I have also known affair partners who were frustrated with the married person they were dating being so *successfully* secretive that they sabotaged the married partner’s email/electronic devices to be sure that the cheated-on spouse would find out.

                  People are really crappy sometimes.

              2. Blazer205*

                Exactly. I’d bet the wife knows something is amiss and may be looking for a way to bring up work with OP to get more information.

              3. Her Blondeness*

                @ ShakenNotStiffed: The anatomy you’re really referring to is, ahem, much lower than the affairee’s nose. To your point, they are not really thinking at all.

            2. Luke G*

              Reminds me of my old summer camp job- I was friends with one of the managers outside of the camp, and one summer a mutual friend of ours came on to work as a lifeguard. The two of them were an item but both told me that I should keep it secret, and if rumors spread they’d know it was my fault.

              Within 12 hours of the staff arriving for the summer, the two of them were acting so obvious that a half-dozen people had already asked me “so how long have they been f***ing each other?” People thinking with their genitals have relatively little processing power to devote to their stealth circuits.

              1. Roy G. Biv*

                Hilarious, yet true! And I’m going to steal it — “People thinking with their genitals have relatively little processing power to devote to their stealth circuits.”

        3. mf*

          It sounds like OP wants to tell Katie. I really feel for both of them, but the OP’s livelihood is at stake. For now, she needs to protect her own career and income.

        4. Michelle*

          Hi, Nia. I get what you’re saying, but it almost sounds like you’re assuming what “closeness” is – or perhaps imposing your idea of “close” on someone else’s friendship. I have friends that would want to know and friends who would certainly NOT want to know, friends who would appreciate that sort of honesty and those who might blame the messenger. Everyone is entitled to their own feelings and opinions, and close friendships can look a lot of different ways.

        5. JelloStapler*

          Well “hasn’t bothered to” is not an accurate reflection of the situation here. OP has a right to protect her livelihood before sharing information.

          1. une autre Cassandra*

            Especially since the LW is clearly really distressed by the situation and wants to do right by her friend without losing her own income.

    4. Renata Ricotta*

      It sure is, and I agree it has to be case-by-case. (Speaking as someone whose decade-long marriage ended because of an affair, I am firmly in the camp of “I have a right to know, and although it’s my spouse’s primary responsibility to fess up, I would appreciate the information from anyone who has it, even if very painful to hear.” But not everyone is that way.)

      Here, the combination of job complications, the lack of absolute proof of the affair (although I agree with OP it’s extremely likely this is the explanation), the unknown about how the friend will feel about it (many people would truly rather not know, or would shoot the messenger), AND the fact that she seems to be more of a situational friend through the hobby group rather than a close personal confidant . . . leans me to don’t say anything.

      The calculus might shift after OP finds a new job. In that case, my own personal biases might make me tip Katie off. Not to say it definitely happened, but to let her know it seemed hinky/made me feel uncomfortable, should she wish to follow up with John and open up that can of worms (she might not).

      1. Renata Ricotta*

        Also, as someone who has been on Katie’s end — the only people who knew but didn’t tell me were pretty distant friendly acquaintances, who were closer to my ex and his affair partner than to me, and had ongoing work/school relationships with them. I don’t hold not telling me against them, because I get they were in a weird situation.

        If it turned out that one of my actual, close friends knew and didn’t tell me — we would not be friends anymore. Not because they originated the problem (that is squarely my ex’s fault), but because I define my friendships in part based on an affirmative duty of care to look out for each other’s best interests, and I do not choose to be friends with people who would be fine with me proceeding in a relationship where I was not able to make informed decisions.

        1. NearlyBoring*

          What a lovely way to think about friendship! I am totally incorporating that in my definition. “An affirmative duty of care to look out for each other’s best interests” is more meaningful that just being acquaintances. Thank you!

        2. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

          I think that’s fully valid, and I am not trying to argue by asking this–I am totally and literally just curious, and do not mean to imply or infer anything about how you should feel or act with this question.

          How would you feel if one of those close friends was in a situation much like this, and had a plan to tell you as soon as they could get themselves out without endangering their livelihood, while actively looking for a new job? Essentially, they didn’t intend to keep it secret forever and were taking action to be able to tell you.

          (Not that I think that person has no choice–I know my friends, and in that case I would ask them to help me engineer a situation of plausible deniability in which they “learn” about it without my input. But I allow for people not thinking that way or it not being possible in all situations.)

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            *IF* you were OP and knew that Katie shared the ‘affirmative care about welfare’ feeling for you, then you might be able to do something like your plausible deniability. There are… four people I am maybe that close to, and at least one of those, I’d have to think about it hard first. If it meant risking my job (and also my house, my family’s well being, etc, as I am the main breadwinner), it’s probably down to three, one of whom is my husband.

            There are maybe 15 – 20 people that I would do a *lot* for, including letting them live in my house, people that I care about deeply and consider friends. But I’ve seen some of them go through infidelity, and the reactions are intense and unpredictable. At least once, she kept the husband and dropped me (I was not the affair partner; I had nothing to do with any of it, I just wasn’t mad enough at the husband when she told me about it. I was more focused on how my friend felt than on condemning him, wrong move).

            Because of that (and the others I’ve seen), I would have to balance affirmative care with reactive risk.

          2. Renata Ricotta*

            I think it would depend on the length of time, for me. A lot of what I resent about my situation was being in the dark for 3+ years (which I consider to have been valuable time that I can’t get back, which I spent investing in a relationship and trying to make it work, when really there was an unknown dealbreaker in the background). If it were a matter of weeks/less than six months? I’d like to think I would understand if a friend came to me right after getting a new job. But if this potential job change could be a long time in the future, I would start to feel like my friend did me wrong by holding onto the information for an extended period. (But my preference, like yours, would be for them to know I am the sort of person who would not lash out at them for telling me, so I would keep the source secret/make sure they didn’t have job blowback.)

            1. Nobby Nobbs*

              I think “level of risk taken” is up there with “amount of time” as a factor too. I’d really prefer that a friend didn’t let me marry/reproduce/buy property with someone under false pretenses without an attempt to warn me. I’m also starting to think “would you want to know” is a conversation that should happen more often between friends than it does, just so people have more information about what page their friends are on before the situation comes up.

            2. Wool Princess*

              It’s interesting to me that you describe friendship as “an affirmative duty of care to look out for each other’s best interests” but you would resent your friend for putting her livelihood over telling you about an affair in your marriage? Shouldn’t the duty of care for each other’s best interest go both ways?

              1. Stevie*

                I think what you’re saying is very rational, but there probably is a significant emotional unknown in there – like, you rationally know your friend made the right choice, but you’re still hurt and can’t really reconcile their decision with the hurt you feel at them not telling you. I haven’t personally been in this situation, but I also imagine I’d be really embarrassed that someone (friend or not) knew my SO was having an affair while I was in the dark.

                It’s certainly a lose-lose situation for the person being cheated on, but also a lose-lose for someone in OP’s situation.

          3. Jaydee*

            I really like this framework! In my mind, a friendship “affirmative duty of care to look out for each other’s best interests” has to be mutual. If I’m going to put your interests ahead of my own (by risking my livelihood to tell you I think your partner is cheating), I need to get something in return. Not like compensation, but an assurance that if I take a risk to look out for your best interests, you won’t take advantage of that by then sabotaging my interests.

            If you have that type of friendship, it should be pretty safe to tell your friend that you think their partner is having an affair. They might be mad at you at first, but they should pretty quickly realize that anger is misplaced, and they shouldn’t do or say anything that will have a long-term adverse effect on your interests (e.g. telling spouse/boss that you accused them of cheating such that spouse/boss fires you).

            If you think they would remain mad at you longer-term or would take out their anger on you in some way that’s harmful to you, then it’s not a mutual “affirmative duty of care to look out for each other’s best interests” level of friendship, and you don’t have a duty to tell them.

            TL;DR – If you want me to be the kind of friend who tells you if I think your partner is cheating, you need to be the type of friend who won’t take out your anger on me if I tell you.

            1. allathian*

              “If you want me to be the kind of friend who tells you if I think your partner is cheating, you need to be the type of friend who won’t take out your anger on me if I tell you.”

              You nailed the whole thread in just a sentence.

              1. Despachito*

                Spot on!

                If the person is able to “shoot the messenger”, it is definitely NOT a friendship I would want to risk my livelihood for.

        3. Aleida*

          The irony here is that, in order to BE a friend under this definition, will likely end the friendship—just as sure as not telling the person. What I see happen in these scenarios is this: Friend tells wife her husband’s cheating. Wife decides to ignore, or stays with husband anyway—then, of necessity, the couple cuts out the person who shared the info (because there would be not comfortable way to continue to socialize with someone after doing that.) Women SAY they would want t a friend to tell them such a thing, but it’s rare that the friendship will survive afterward – in my experience and observation of others. The only likelihood of continuing the connection is to say nothing—but perhaps find some other way to make the situation known so that it won’t be coming from you, directly.

          1. Who Am I*

            The other scenario I’ve seen more than once is wife gets angry with friend, calls her a liar, ends the friendship, and never resumes a relationship with the friend again even if she finds out her husband really is having an affair. Being the messenger never seems to bode well for their friendship, close or not, with the wife.

          2. TL -*

            Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather end a friendship over this than have to keep such a big secret and lie to my friend in a hundred small ways.

            I mean, it would suck, but so would feeling like I was being dishonest and disloyal every time I was speaking to my friend.

            1. Shan*

              Yeah, this is how I feel as well. The friendship would be over anyway, because I’d feel too uncomfortable around them if I knew and wasn’t telling.

            2. 1.0*


              There is a non-zero chance this is a friendship ending event, but also sometimes that’s how it shakes out.

              Honestly, not telling also has a non-zero chance of being a friendship ending event – I would understand why someone didn’t tell me, but I would feel enormously and personally betrayed about it.

            3. allathian*

              Yes, absolutely.

              That said, sometimes the friendship is only temporarily on hold. Just like some married couples work things out and build a new relationship on the ruins of the old after one of them has cheated on the other, the cheated on spouse may realize that they lashed out at the wrong person when they were hurt, and the friendship can be rekindled. But only when the friendship was pretty solid to start with, and the cheated on spouse realizes later that they would rather have known all along and apologizes for lashing out.

            4. Lils*

              I agree with this too. An additional reason to act: Katie is presumably in danger of being exposed to STIs, depending on whether the husband is taking precautions with his extracurricular partner(s). I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t alert a friend to this potential danger. In this case, I do agree OP should secure a new job prior to disclosing the information she knows to Katie (you put on your own oxygen mask first, after all), but I do think OP has an ethical obligation to tell Katie, regardless of the potential damage to the friendship.

        4. Bella*

          Hey, not everyone has the same values around marriage that you do. If that’s something you need in friendship, by all means make that known to your friends. But really your marriage is between a person and their spouse, and no one else has the responsibility of managing it. It’s a hard thing to reconcile in our puritanical, monogamy-obsessed culture. I get it.

          1. Julia*

            I think this value system translates to poly people, though. I’m poly, but if a friend’s partner were deceiving her, I’d let her know. It’s about deceit, not monogamy – and it’s not puritanical to protect your friends from partners that don’t have their best interests at heart.

            1. Working Hypothesis*

              I agree with Julia. I’m polyamorous, but I also believe in the “affirmative duty of care” definition of a close friendship. If somebody knew that my husband was deceiving me about anything important, whether it was breaking the rules of our relationship (and yes, we have some) or taking up gambling wifi our money, or anything else that matters enough that I might reasonably be reevaluating the marriage if I knew, I would want and expect them to tell me. And I’d do the same for them; in fact occasionally I have.

              It’s not easy, but it’s necessary to a relationship built on trust… and the reality is that Katie’s already just lost one trust-based relationship even if she doesn’t know it yet. (It’s possible that when she does know it she will decide to keep the relationship, but if so she will still have to rebuild the trust from scratch.) It’s very plausibly important to her not to lose still more of them, to be deceived by as few people as possible. That still doesn’t require the LW to put their livelihood at risk for her, which I wouldn’t expect anyone to do… but it definitely means telling her as soon as LW safely can.

              LW might also want to consider looking further afield than usual from their normal career path in order to get out of this place, if jobs in their current business are especially hard to come by. What can their skills translate to? Not especially because getting out will let them be honest with Katie, though that’s a good side benefit; but because that office sounds like hell to work in.

          2. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

            I’m not clear how you equate “wanting to know if my partner is lying to me about something significant” with “puritanical, monogamy-obsessed culture”.

        5. MassMatt*

          I see where you’re coming from, but I’ve seen and heard of far too many cases where the person told about an affair shoots the messenger to feel like the solution is at all cut and dry.

          I’m glad I’ve never been put in such a position. I’ve definitely seen people carrying on in the office so it was obvious they were fooling around but they were either single or if they were married I had no relationship with their spouses.

          1. allathian*

            Your last sentence is key here. I wouldn’t feel any obligation to tell someone I didn’t have a personal relationship with that their spouse was cheating on them. For all I know, it might be an open relationship or at least one where the spouse’s willing to overlook the cheating for whatever reason. None of my business in any case.

        6. The Rules are Made Up*

          Same. I am very firmly in the “Tell them, always” camp (when work isn’t involved). I’ve done it for close friends and for girls that I’m not that close to. I was semi-friends with a girl years ago and I saw her bf out getting cozy with a woman when he told her he was somewhere else and you bet I took a photo and told her. None of the women have ever lashed out at me for it but honestly it’s fine if they do, shoot the messenger if you want, be mad at me if you want, but you can’t ever say I knew and didn’t say anything.

          I think it’s also tricky because OP works for the husband but got that job because of the wife. I think it depends on how well she knows the woman. Maybe she could even play dumb, complain about the admin assistant, vent about how much work Tammy isn’t doing despite being directly managed by John and let her put 2 and 2 together just like the OP did.

          1. Batgirl*

            I totally agree with you. It’s such an egregious wrong that I will always tell, before people have years of their lives wasted. They’re entitled to take it any way they please! I have enough courage to find out.

            1. The Rules are Made Up*

              Yes! To me “They might get mad at me” is not a good enough reason not to tell. Get mad at me, I’m an adult I can handle it. I’d rather you be made at me then for you to continue in a relationship where someone is lying and deceiving you. And if I tell her and she stays with them, cool that’s her business but she stayed knowing the information instead of being in a relationship based on false pretenses.

              1. Batgirl*

                It’s a pleasure. I so rarely meet people with the sense to brook mild discomfort to save others from real pain.

          2. 'Tis Me*

            I was thinking not in a playing dumb way but in an assuming a charitable explanation.

            “It’s frustrating that Tammy’s not working out great. I appreciate John wanting to help get her up to speed, what with her being an old family friend, but so far this just seems to result in us still doing our admin work and being overworked while they’re both unavailable in his office. I don’t want to badmouth her but part of it does seem to be an attitude problem given that she was rolling her eyes and laughing at people suggesting she do work before John started intensively coaching her… It’s affecting office morale a bit all around, to be honest.”

            Ideally even that would be a one-on-one chat rather than in front of a group though as the subtext is still there even if none of it is really hard to argue with…

      2. Dust Bunny*

        I would also want to know, and I cannot imagine that any of my good friends wouldn’t say something. They would drop it if I asked them to, but they would say something once.

        1. Please Tell Me!*

          I wish ANYONE had told me about a serious situation (not an affair, but bad) with my ex, before I found out on my own 2 years in.

          His sibling told me, “well I thought he’d tell you!” Even though she knew he was a narcissist who’d lie in a heartbeat, rather than paint himself in a bad light.

          I don’t know that I’d have listened immediately, but having that idea in my head would’ve made a lot of weird stuff make sense a lot sooner, rather than me piecing it all together myself.

          1. MassMatt*

            Maybe an argument for long dating/engagement periods/living together before getting married? Some awful people are capable of hiding it well, but the longer the time period the more likely the mask is to slip off.

          2. Who Am I*

            Would you have listened, though? I have a cousin whose (ex) husband cheated on her from before they got engaged, with multiple women, and people did tell her. She refused to believe any of them. Which isn’t all bad – it’s good not to automatically think the worst of your significant other – but you’d think that after the first couple of people said something, she’d starting believing it or at least asking him about it. Nope. She didn’t believe it until she found out on her own (also a couple of years in, like you.)

            1. Self Employed*

              I dated someone all my friends thought was awful. It turned out he was just a grifter looking for free rent! After I dumped him, they said they were relieved not to have to deal with him any more. I asked why they had said they thought he was great when I was first dating and asked their opinions. They all said that it was rude to criticize someone’s boyfriend.

              Years later, in a different city, a friend warned me that Dude X was not particularly trustworthy, so I didn’t try to hang out with Dude X or his clique. Later, I made friends with Dude X’s female housemate, who was quite unhappy that he was misrepresenting her as his girlfriend. After HE moved out, she finally felt safe to reveal that he had been abusive. Lots of people were saying “HIM? But he’s soooo coool, and he loved you soooo muuuuch!” I said “I’m not that surprised because I heard he wasn’t trustworthy. Nothing specific but not someone I should be close friends with.”

              She was furious at me for concealing that information and ended the friendship.

              I had interpreted “not trustworthy” in the context of “won’t show up when he says he’ll help an acquaintance who’s new to the area move” not “long-term intentional psychological abuser and liar.” And it was a few years between when our other friend had mentioned that and when we hit it off as friends via Facebook. It hadn’t occurred to me to say “Hey, now that we are conversing on social media, I should probably let you know that a person we both know told me a while back the dude you live with is untrustworthy, hope you don’t get mad at me for criticizing your housemate that you’ve lived with for years.”

        2. Jk*

          If you’re friends with his wife, invite her to the office for lunch or something. Introduce these ladies to each other. See how that goes.

    5. Veryanon*

      Yes, this is a tough one. I’m also in the camp of “the spouse deserves to know” since my own marriage ended due to infidelity by my then-husband, but not everyone feels that way. Add in the complication that the OP’s livelihood could be impacted…I’d say once OP finds another job, they should tell Katie about what they suspect at that point. OP doesn’t know for sure that John and Tammy are having an affair, although I agree it looks really bad. But OP can tell Katie what they’ve observed, and allow Katie to draw her own conclusions.

      1. JennG*

        I agree with this. First, other job. Second, let your friend know what you observed directly and your reasons for leaving.

        John is gross.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I think this is where I am landing as well. Find a new job, so that your ability to pay your bills isn’t dependent upon John first. Then tell his wife that something just “felt off” about what you saw between John and the admin.

        It sounds like you don’t have hard proof, more of a very good circumstantial case for the affair. In that case just tell her the relationship felt odd/weird and you felt she should know so she can learn more.

        1. Blue Eagle*

          I agree with this. Did the OP see them having sex? If not, then the OP does not know for sure that they are having an affair. The only thing OP knows is that there is blatant favoritism going on and that something seems off. And really that is the only facts that can be told to the wife.

          1. Batgirl*

            An affair is more than sex. Most spouses would want to know that the entire partnership is in the hands of someone tanking their professional reputation so they could give a subordinate free money in return for romantic attention and company. That sort of thing tends to affect a marriage and whether you should stay in one.

      3. Luke G*

        “… that the OP’s livelihood could be impacted…”

        This, exactly. If OP’s relationship with Katie was exactly the same, but the [presumably] cheating husband was further removed from OP (and especially not straight up the chain of command) it would change the whole equation. Doing something that makes your peer in a different department mad at you is vastly different than doing something that makes your manager mad at you.

      4. mf*

        Yep, this is where I land: the first and most important thing is that OP needs to secure a new job. Then she should tell Katie what she’s observed. Don’t pass judgments John and Katie’s marriage–just say, “Hey, I noticed this weird stuff going on between John and Tammy. I thought you’d want to know.”

    6. Beth*

      Agreed on all counts. OP, if you can find another job and switch out, that’s the point where I’d advise telling your friend. It seems like you really want to tell her (hence the advice to tell her at that point), but you need to get your own livelihood secure first.

    7. CJ Nudels*

      I don’t think you need to jeopardize your job, though I do agree looking for other opportunities is a great idea.

      Regardless of what you do when, I do want to point out that technically speaking, what you have here is suspicious behavior. While “affair” is definitely a reasonable inference, you yourself do not concrete evidence. You have a bad feeling, and a logical explanation, but neither of these are cold hard facts, and that does make a difference.

      It is very different to go to a friend and say “I caught your husband in the act” and “I think your husband is behaving badly but I don’t actually have proof to show you that he did.” I am not saying that even if you have proof, you would be obligated to share that, but since you don’t have it, you have even less standing to do anything.

      (It goes without saying that OP does have proof that he’s behaving badly towards his employees, but that is not something the wife would be involved in.)

      1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        Yes, I’d find another job because reasons. And when it comes up why you quit, mention the workload and that the management style had changed; a new hire was allowed to do nothing except long meetings behind closed doors with the boss, and this made your workload untenable. No need to go further into it unless asked.

      2. Despachito*

        I am probably in the minority but I would not actively say anything.

        Their marriage is their mariage and none of my business. I know people whose affair is public knowledge yet the spouse prefers not to see. Who am I to meddle in this?

        If asked outright by the spouse, I’d probably answer truthfully. If not, I’d keep my mouth shut.

        I have not caught them in the act, so I only have a strong suspicion but not certainty. Who knows, the husband may end the affair and behave alright till the end of their days. If I tell her, she’d be possibly devastated. I do not feel this to be my responsibility, even as a good friend. Their marriage is none of my business, and I do not think it is fair to blame a friend for a decision not to tell.

        I’d certainly blame a friend if s/he tried to actively cover up for the cheater. But for not telling…no.

  2. WonderMint*

    Your instincts in finding a new job are right. Seems like you don’t have complete proof about the affair, just a strong hunch. I know she’s your friend, but you just don’t have hard evidence and marital affairs are very delicate.

    I would handle this like you would any other bad coworker, not just a young chick who seems cozy to John – speak to HR or come to John as a team with your coworkers.

    1. My username is Anonymous*

      Agreed. Even with proof you’re in a tricky situation, and even if Tammy was gone you’ve got a Boss problem. Good luck in your search!

    2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Given the size of the company (~25) I doubt there’s real HR involved.

      Has anyone told John that his hiring/treatment of Tammy is causing bad morale in the company, and that nobody trusts John to make good business decisions anymore? And therefore, people are looking to jump ship? That’s what OP and a few trusted colleagues could try – but I have doubts about it working.

      If and when OP leaves, and Katie inevitably asks about it, OP can say “He was showing rank favoritism to a junior employee, and it was killing everyone’s morale & trust in him”. Unless OP catches them in flagrante delicto, I don’t think she can just tell her friend “you husband is having an affair”

      1. Smithy*

        I agree with this. Anyone who has ever told a friend that their spouse is engaged in potentially unsavory behavior is best to move with a lot of sensitivity and opportunity for everyone to save face.

        Personally, I’d err on the side of the struggle to get administrative support and that John has appeared more distracted than work, giving less strategic guidance. If Katie seems concerned or interested in more, the facts around the administrative assistant are concerning enough as just poor business management without assuming anything else.

      2. ShakenNotStirred*

        That’s a good point, everything points to an affair, but it could just be a plot twist and she’s his secret, illegitimate daughter that just found him and he can’t figure out how to tell his wife.

        I may watch too much TV.

      3. Anhaga*

        I really like this option as well–it lets the OP stick with Alison’s usual good advice of “focus on the problems you *know* are happening, not the ones that you suspect but aren’t sure of.” And getting information that her husband is showing weird, disruptive favoritism to this admin assistant may give Katie the sorts of clues she needs to put 1 and 1 together and come up with “cheating jerk.” It lets OP not make an accusation that they can’t definitely prove, and it lets Katie save face if she knows while still giving her important information if she doesn’t.

        The only drawback to this is that it is reliant on the OP finding another job. Though it could also work if OP responds to one of Katie’s regular, “How’s work?” questions with an uncomfortable, “Err, well, I’m looking for another position . . .”

      4. kt*

        Honestly I think you can say something like this to Katie now: “I have to be honest with you, it seems like John has changed. Morale is low and I’m looking for a new job. I don’t know what is going on for sure, but something is off. I’d appreciate it if you did not tell John that I am looking for a new job.”

        1. Former Young Lady*

          Oh, my goodness. No. Do NOT tell your boss’s wife you’re looking for a new job and then ask her to keep it a secret from her husband.

          1. The Rural Juror*

            Right! The OP can tell the wife AFTER she’s put in her resignation and moving on to a different job!

        2. LCH*

          yeah, i also thought about saying something to Katie since Tammy is a family friend, like “hey, what’s your take on Tammy? we’re having issues with her at work.” but no. there is no way to do this without the boss finding out and you can’t ask Katie to keep the complaint a secret.

      5. mf*

        “He was showing rank favoritism to a junior employee, and it was killing everyone’s morale & trust in him” –> this is an excellent script. If Katie wants to know more, she’ll ask or go poking around for more information.

      6. Michelle*

        Evil Twin, I entirely agree! Even if it turns out not to be an affair (which is doubtful but theoretically possible), I feel like something needs to be said to The Boss about how is blatant favoritism is being perceived and is affecting morale.

      7. Just Me*

        Seconding this as well. It sounds like an affair to me as well but you never really know. (I once worked with two people that had a weird sort of closeness like this although junior employee was very good at her job–I don’t *think* they were having an affair but I always wondered about it.) Signaling the weirdness *after* finding a new job can tip off her friend that something is amiss while also not outright making an accusation.

      8. allathian*

        Yeah, exactly. It’s not as if LW has any concrete evidence of an affair.

        Framing it this way also makes it about the LW rather than directly about John, in that the LW left because she couldn’t deal with the favoritism any more, rather than because she suspected they were having an affair.

      9. atma*

        I came in to say this. You only suspect they are having an affair but you know for sure John is acting weird. So if you’re friends it would not be strange to say something about that. And if the wifely intuition kicks in, that is not a bad thing, and if not, you’ve told her the truth as far as you know it

        1. Aerin*

          Honestly, I think you could get away with telling the wife this now. Whether or not they’re having an affair, you know for certain that the assistant sucks. So if the wife asks how’s work, you can say that you’re honestly a bit frustrated because the assistant sucks, it’s causing other problems, and John isn’t really doing anything about it. No need to say that you’re frustrated enough to start job hunting or what you suspect the assistant sucks.

    3. cat lady*

      I’m guessing that with only 25 employees and a CEO like this that they don’t have HR, alas…

      1. Joan Rivers*

        IF you want to blow it all up, here’s what you do:

        Tell the wife that he appears to be having “an emotional affair” at work and it’s affecting staff to the extent they’re job hunting and upset. That’s true, and would upset her as much as a physical affair.

        But this is the Nuclear Option.

    4. BPT*

      Agreed that there is no proof of an affair from what is written here, so I’d tread very carefully. I mean it’s probably the likeliest explanation, but there are still others. None that make John look good, but still. Them driving to work together – if they’re family friends, it’s not impossible that he has been to her house before and they are comfortable enough around each other to carpool. It could be that John is definitely smitten with the assistant and is letting her get away with a lot in hopes that it will lead to something, but it may not have yet. She could be a combination of being very young and not knowing workplace norms/leaning into his crush and the benefits that come along with it/not realizing the boundaries that need to be drawn between family friends and work.

      I wouldn’t say anything to his wife because you don’t know anything for sure. I would also try not to find anything else out or look for other clues of an affair. The less you know, the less you can be withholding from your friend. Right now, you know that John is treating is assistant inappropriately and is closer than necessary. But that’s really all you know.

      All that to say, you probably need to stop expecting the assistant to do anything. Stop reaching out and asking for anything. Just keep your head down, do the work you can yourself that needs to get done, and try to find a new job if possible.

      1. Joan Rivers*

        Affairs don’t start after a handshake on the first day of work. They blossom gradually. Unless he already had something before he hired her. She could be getting a lot of mileage out of his midlife crisis fantasies.

        The point is, they’re both not doing their job.
        Document it!

        1. Ashley*

          Document in the case I think would only be useful if you want to file a lawsuit, and with at will employment they can fire you for a lot of stuff including they were mad at you.

        2. BPT*

          Right but my comment was directed at the question about telling his wife he was having an affair. OP is acting like it’s definitive that they are, and if all she has to go on is what she’s written here, she doesn’t know that for sure.

          You can document things, but that’s not going to do much good unless, either as Ashley notes you want to file a lawsuit, or if you’re planning on giving the notes to his wife or something.

          The best thing to do would be to get out. Figure out if and what you want to say to the wife after (based on what you actually know, not just speculation), but the rest doesn’t matter.

      2. MsClaw*

        Right? It could be that John is having an affair, not with Tammy, but that Tammy knows about. Or he owes Tammy’s dad money. Or he knows she’s a shitty employee but Tammy’s dad has been his best friend since high school and he doesn’t want to wreck that by firing Tammy, or she’s his cousin’s kid and his cousin is a silent partner in the business, etc, etc, etc. Whatever the reason, John isn’t handling the situation well, and you should get out. That totally sucks, but if he’s the owner and showing such poor decision making, that doesn’t bode well for the future.

        1. Just a Thought*

          Nah …. its not these other things. It is what it seems to be. That doesn’t mean that OP has proof …. it just means that we know what it is.

          1. BubbleTea*

            I don’t think you can say that for certain. There’s definitely something odd going on, but we can’t know (because LW doesn’t know for sure) that it is an affair. And in some ways it doesn’t really matter. The question of whether to tell a friend about perceived inappropriate behaviour between her husband and a young woman is the same as whether to tell them about definite inappropriate behaviour. I’m not sure what I would do in this situation.

            1. MsClaw*

              Yep, that’s my point. This really comes down to a work problem. Don’t tell the wife/friend anything because you don’t actually *know* anything she needs to know. What you *do* know is you have a serious work problem. This isn’t a big company where you can report your middle-manager to HR. This is a small business owner failing to run his business in a reasonable way. It doesn’t matter whether he’s shtupping Tammy or not, he’s throwing away salary on someone who doesn’t contribute and ticking off the employees who do. Look out for yourself and find another job asap. In the meanwhile, operate as though Tammy isn’t there.

      3. Arvolin*

        Without the long private meetings, I’d find the boss having a crush or Tammy blackmailing him reasonable explanations, but the meetings do suggest an affair. Not that OP should be finding out.

    5. HotSauce*

      This is the way. Leaving the possible affair completely out of the conversation, everyone who is being affected needs to speak with John together about how much her inability to do her job is impacting them.

    6. pamela voorhees*

      I agree with WonderMint. There’s two separate issues – whatever is happening with John, Tammy, and Katie, and the fact that your job is in danger because John has become / revealed his true colors as a bad manager. I know that you’re already looking, and I know you feel terrible about Katie, but your priority has to be your job, because this situation is a ticking time bomb and you cannot be here when it goes off. There’s a very good chance your job will be collateral anyway.

    7. RabbitRabbit*

      This. We don’t have proof of an affair, just that he is suuuuper deferential to her and her need to not actually do any work for anyone but (maybe) John. They have long closed-door meetings but no one has any serious evidence about what’s going on.

      1. MassMatt*

        While this is true in a legal sense, I don’t think we need to hear them quack to know they’re playing duck hunt in the office.

        1. c-*

          He was the one who brought her in, and based on her being described as a friend’s daughter, he’d known her for a long time. They were probably already involved by then and jumped at the chance to continue the affair in the plausible deniability of the office, away from people who were close to them and might tell Katie.

  3. Roscoe*

    Until you can get out of there, stay out of it. People often shoot the messenger. And as you have no “actual” proof, just a lot of circumstantial evidence, this has a lot bigger chance of blowing up in your face than anything else. Once you leave, by all means tell her your suspicions. But, by telling her now, you’d be risking your job, and who knows if she would even believe you, so you could be down a friend as well

    1. PinaColada*

      Agreed; and at the end of the day, it’s likely she has her own suspicions or is ignoring certain red flags. And so if you’re potentially in a situation where she won’t do the hard work of acknowledging what’s going on in front of her, you shouldn’t have to be the one who “falls on the sword“ to right this wrong.

    2. Jane of all Trades*

      100% agreed. Nothing about John’s behavior when it comes to this situation indicates that you can trust him to be professional and not retaliate if his wife finds out that you told her.
      You should put all of your efforts into finding a new job. Once that is done, you can tell his wife about your suspicions.

  4. No Tribble At All*

    Do you have proof besides the (extremely incriminating) circumstances? While it’s clear John has poor judgement and Tammy is unprofessional, I think you need something concrete before you blow everything up.

    I also think you shouldn’t say anything until you have a new job. I’m sorry for Katie, but you have to protect yourself.

  5. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    You really don’t know what his wife knows. If they’re driving in together, she’s gonna figure it out at some point. Or she could be totally okay with it. Just focus on leaving.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        There was a letter to an advice column a while back (Dear Prudence maybe…) about someone coming to a man’s wife and telling her of their suspicions that the husband was having an affair. Turns out there WERE in an open marriage and it was very embarrassing for the snitch and the wife. Yikes!

        1. Anathema Device*

          This is why the LW needs to approach wife in an extremely non-judgemental way. I posted more about this down-thread, but basically putting it to the wife like, “I have this information that I feel like I have to share with you. I don’t know details of your marriage and don’t need to, but wouldn’t feel comfortable not mentioning this to you.” Then the LW moves on and never brings it up again unless the wife/friend wants to talk about it. This way makes it much less awkward if it is an open marriage or there are details the LW is not privy to.

        2. Brit*

          I don’t actually think that has to be that awkward. Surely that’s something people would consider how they will respond to when deciding to have an open marriage. The wife could quite easily say thanks for the concern, I appreciate it, but we’re actually in an open marriage so it’s not an issue I’m worried about.

    1. Anonymous, obviously*

      Speaking as someone who was in the wife’s position:

      No, driving in together is not necessarily going to lead to the wife figuring it out. My spouse has been driving himself to work in his own car for as long as we’ve been married. Plus I almost always leave for work before he does. Unless Tammy is driving up to the house, ringing the bell, and calling out to John to drive her to work Honey-Boo, the wife is not going to see it.

      Extremely unlikely the wife is ok with it. Otherwise the OP would have picked up on that when talking with the wife.

      But I do agree that OP has to focus on getting a new job asap. Once OP has the new job, either directly tell the wife what they think is going on. Or send an anonymous note. And please, y’all, don’t start in on Why Anonymous Notes Are Terrible and Cowardly and Ineffective. If just one person of the several dozen in my husband’s office who knew or had good reason to suspect what was going on had sent me an anonymous note, I would have had information ABOUT MY LIFE that would have helped me enormously. And my health wouldn’t have been at risk for as long, either.

      1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

        I think the nuance of Anonymous Notes Are Bad is sending them to the person doing the thing you don’t like, which in this case would be a note to Boss or Assistant saying “WE ALL KNOW YOU’RE HAVING AN AFFAIR, QUIT IT.”

        An anonymous note to a person being wronged can be tricky, but I think can be more justified. For instance, if you don’t have evidence of something but are pretty sure, maybe tip them off. If you know for absolute sure, point them toward some evidence. If you just vaguely suspect, you could be dropping a bomb into a situation that isn’t even happening, in which case you’re now in the position of duty to either do more research or put forth ungrounded accusations.

        For instance, if I got an anonymous note that John is the one stealing my Babybels after I complain to everyone about it, but actually the note writer didn’t know John brings his own cheese, and I just believed them, maybe I’d go blow up at John and look like a crazy person. And that’s just a professional relationship, not someone’s marriage.

        Basically, you gotta be careful with anonymous notes. The main problem is that you have to think of everything before writing them, because the receiver can’t come back and ask you clarifying questions if they don’t know who you are. Maybe an anonymous email? But still risky. It sucks to be put in that position just because someone you work with is doing wrong. Sympathy for everyone but the cheater in this situation.

        1. Aleida*

          The problem here is or should be the impact on the workplace.

          It doesn’t sound like OP has (or can have) full clarity on the personal lives of such people. First, people in “open marriages” surely aren’t advertising it to the world. It may be that even their closest friends don’t know this (and it doesn’t seem from this that OP and the wife are that, even.) Second, a person can be a wonderful friend but a horrible spouse. We can’t know what their relationship is at home. Maybe it’s horrible and all the husbands fault; he’s just a selfish jerk. But perhaps the wife is (or is also) at fault for some toxic dynamic, and the husband’s only “escape” is in this fling. Of course, in an ideal world the couple would have good communication, and the husband would initiate a divorce before jumping into a new relationship. But… life is messy. It could be the wife had an affair, and this is some “payback.” None of this is healthy or kind for couples to do to one another. But it’s personal marital business.

          I hope you can find another way to resolve the workplace headaches from this – and also find some way to be a friend to the wife, if that’s your priority, that removes yourself from being the direct messenger.

          1. Aleida*

            Clarification: I said people in open marriages aren’t “advertising it to the world.” Of course, there are some who literally DO do this, advertising it in dating apps or whatever. What I meant is really that they might not tell… say, ladies in their hobby clubs such things.

            1. Rebecca Stewart*

              You don’t necessarily stand up on the stage the first time you get there and say “Hi, I’m in an open marriage”, but people who know me in real life know that I’m in a throuple because as I talk I say things like “I’m waiting to hang the picture in Girlfriend’s room but her sleep schedule is so erratic I never know when she’s going to be awake” and “Boyfriend’s getting ready to take the certification test so he’ll have that on his resume when he starts jobhunting again in May.” If she and Katie are friends, then Katie would have to know if they are at all open about it. Even when I was sort of in the closet about non-monogamy (minor kids and a crazy mother in law) my friends actually knew the score and kept our secrets about that.

              I figure the only way to normalize it is for people to know ordinary people who just happen to be in a differently-shaped relationship.

          2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

            But people in open marriages are less likely to feel the need to find excuses to see their outside partners during the work day, because they don’t need to. It’s not “oh, Tammy, she’s my new assistant,” it’s “I’m having dinner with Tammy tonight” or “is this a good time for me to visit Tammy?” (and, these days, sorting out Covid-safe ways to see that other partner, which means you need to be willing and able to talk about spending time close to other people).

            No, it’s not always like that, because people are still people–but that specific problem, of hiding a lover from your spouse, is less likely.

            Which adds up to, I’m fairly sure that, as OP said, her boss’s wife doesn’t know how much time he’s spending with Tammy during the workday. But if we’re both wrong, and OP decides to tell Katie “it looks like your husband is having an affair,” Katie can say “it’s okay, I know, and thanks for thinking of me, I know what it looks like from outside.”

            1. Anon4this*

              I can actually speak to this from very personal experience! I’m poly and married but started dating a coworker at one point (we’re still together but no longer in the same office). We are stealth because of the massive anti-poly bias in our industry.

              I did take every opportunity I could to be with him in terms of having lunch together, walking to meetings together, etc, but **obviously** there was no hanky-panky on site!!! We had sex at his house like normal romantic partners, because I wasn’t concealing anything from my husband! Also, I, y’know… did my job. So did he. Our (secret) relationship didn’t impact anyone’s workflow.

      2. Julia*

        Hindsight is doing a lot of work here. Would you have believed an anonymous note? What action would you have taken? What if your husband had just denied it outright – you wouldn’t have been able to go get more info from the note-sender, so what do… live with this feeling of uncertainty and potential betrayal forever?

    2. Triplestep*

      As others have said, his wife may not be completely in the dark. You may be the only person at work who suspects there’s an affair, but he has a whole life outside of work and his wife is probably noticing changes in him, too.

      I would do things in this order, assuming you do not expect a reference from John (which you probably wont get, sorry to say):
      1. Find a new job and give notice
      2. Ask for an “exit interview” and use that private time with John to tell him that you’re leaving due to his favoritism towards Tammy which has lowered morale and meant no one has the administrative support they need
      3. Tell him that you would like him to tell his wife about his inappropriate relationship with Tammy. (Even if they are not physically involved, what you describe in not appropriate boss:employee behavior and can at least be characterized as an emotional affair.) Tell him if he does not want to tell his wife, you will have to do it yourself. Make sure you are ready to leave promptly – this needs to be said as part of a good-bye.

      1. Anonymous, obviously*

        Do not tell John you’re going to tell his wife. That gives him time to spin it. “Honey,you’ll never believe what happened today! It was so upsetting! OP quit and made crazy accusations about me and about other people in the office! It was terrible! I felt so bad, OP has been a good llama groomer but this was nuts!” blah blah blah

        Call or write to the wife after you quit OP, and don’t give John a heads up. You’re his wife’s friend, AND he’s been a terrible manager. He doesn’t deserve to save his ass.

        1. c-*

          Yes, this. Telling the wife could allow her to get her ducks (emotional, financial, legal, what have you) in a row before confronting the cheater. Telling the cheater gives him a chance to further manipulate and gaslight his wife, and may rob her of the chance to limit damages to herself.

      2. I’ve seen this before...*

        Absolutely do not tell John that you expect him to tell his wife he’s having an inappropriately intimate relationship with a person at work. He will immediately go home and explain to Katie that Honey, OP quit today and made some really bizarre statements in her exit interview. She had the nerve to suggest I had some kind of lecherous relationship with Little Tammy! Frankly, I’m offended she would suggest that…. blah …blah …she is whackadoo….glad she’s leaving because she’s batcrap crazy …. be careful of her babe, she is not all there….

        When the OP is able to secure a new position, she should immediately give notice to John stating only that an excellent opportunity fell in her lap and she will do everything possible to make any transition of her responsibilities seamless. Then, she should go take a walk in the park with Katie and tell her what she has seen, what it looks like, that it has negatively affected her ability to do her job and company morale, that the general consensus in the office is that it is exactly what it looks like, and she hopes she (and other colleagues) are wrong about it being an affair.

    3. MsClaw*

      She’s the daughter of a family friend. It’s entirely possible they live nearby or that a prior arrangement was made with the family because her dad mentioned her car was falling apart. Riding to work with someone is not evidence of anything. In fact, if they aren’t having an affair it could be this was his attempt to address the whole ‘arriving late/leaving early’ thing. Now, that’s a generous interpretation of John and Tammy’s behavior, I suppose. But on the other hand, I don’t feel like there’s a lot of evidence in the letter of an actual affair.

      What there is plenty of evidence of is John being a terrible manager. It looks like multiple people have complained, I’d guess OP is not the only one looking to leave. My advice would be just assume Tammy is useless and don’t factor her into your plans and keep up the job hunt.

      1. Iowa Teacher*

        We don’t know that she is actually the daughter of a family friend. He could have just told everyone that to justify why he was hiring her when there were better candidates. I think he just wanted to put the woman he’s having an affair with on the payroll.

        1. Mal*

          We also don’t know that she isn’t. See the issue? Your guess is just as much a guess as the person you’re responding to. But your can blow up on OP

      2. Yorick*

        I agree. They might be having an affair! But we don’t actually have much evidence of that.

        If Tim were the new, young assistant who was bad at his job and the boss acted this way and had long meetings in the afternoons with Tim, would we think they were having an affair?

        1. Shan*

          …yes? I would, at least, if everything with Tim was happening the same as it is with Tammy.

          1. c-*

            Yup, and if some people wouldn’t that would be due to heterosexism rather than this not being an obvious affair. If it quacks like a duck…

  6. Submerged Tenths*

    I would for sure tell Katie . . . . but AFTER I was solidly in another job.
    Best of luck with the search!

    1. Chilipepper*

      I don’t think the OP really knows for sure what is going on so what would she tell?
      I think that when the OP gets a new job, she can tell the friend that part of why she left is that boss lets Tammy do no work and it was too much for the OP and her team to handle.
      That is fact and the friend can put two and two together.

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        “what is going on so what would she tell?”

        That “John and his assistant seem too close and it is concerning that they might be having an affair. I was afraid to bring this up you earlier when he was my boss; I’m sorry about that. In any case, I sincerely hope nothing is going on with the two of them.”

          1. Littorally*

            To be honest, OP may lose the friendship anyway — Katie occupies both the role of hobby friend and also terrible-boss’s-wife. That second one tends to put a kibosh on meaningful friendships.

        1. Chilipepper*

          That is the OP’s opinion, she has no facts. I’m in the camp of, don’t put your job at risk over something you don’t really know.

    2. Mary Richards*

      Yes. In any other friend situation, I’d say something sooner, but in this one, make sure your livelihood is not at stake.

    3. Shan*

      I like how succinct this is, and I agree completely! I’m seeing people bend over backwards explaining why OP shouldn’t tell Katie, but in my opinion, OP needs to get out ASAP, and then tell her friend (and not through vague hints).

  7. Susan Calvin*

    I can’t tell you with certainty what the right choice for you is, OP, but I would be trying to get out of there like my rear was on fire and have a heart-to-hear with Katie the second your livelihood doesn’t depend on her crappy husband anymore. Best of luck on that job search!

    1. MamaSarah*

      There’s something quite icky about the way John is “managing” his new employee, affair or no affair. He’s knowingly tinkering with her understanding of professional norms (one generally does not get hired to sit at computer and browse the internet all day only to tattle when asked to a minor task). How’s the financial health of the company? I’m wondering if there are other reasons for the boss’s poor management style.
      If you have savings and can take anything to get by for a bit while you look for the next step in your field, I’d throw in the towel ASAP.
      As an aside…
      Affairs are not risk free. What if your friend is exposed to an STI or even covid via her spouse? She deserves to know her health may be impacted.

      1. biobotb*

        Yeah, the irony is that if/when Tammy ever wants a job elsewhere, she’s being set up to perform very badly. John may give her a recommendation that will help her land a job, but it sounds like she won’t have the work ethic/professionalism/skills to keep it.

      2. TheAG*

        I don’t think that the LW should risk her job (along with most people) but there is also potential financial risk to the wife if in fact this is an affair. If something goes south with Tammy the boss could be at risk of a lawsuit, which could have serious impact to the company and family finances.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      This is where I land.

      I’m normally in favor of telling someone if you know that their SO is cheating (I was in a position once where my BF basically moved this other girl into his house, some of our mutual friends knew, and it took a while for anyone to clue me in), however, OP is in a precarious position and it’s reasonable to protect their professional reputation and livelihood.

      And even though it does seem obvious that John and Tammy are having an affair, it is technically speculation, so if/when OP does mention it to Katie, they need to be cautious about how they present it. Sticking with the facts is the best course of action.

      Good luck with your job search, OP!

      1. J.B.*

        I’m so sorry about your experience!

        I think the reality is that it is possible that Katie will never forgive the letter writer no matter what happens. If the letter writer told her of the affair and she and her husband stayed together the letter writer might be blamed. She has to look out for herself.

  8. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

    Not telling Kate is robbing her of the ability to make a fully informed choice about the direction her life goes in. It will be uncomfortable, but telling her is the right thing to do.

    1. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

      *as soon as you find a new job, as your livelihood may be at stake otherwise. Your boss is such a *dick.*

    2. High Score!*

      OP needs to pay rent and eat. It’s easy to do the right thing when your livelihood doesn’t depend on it. She has to make that judgement call.

      1. beanie gee*

        Yep, don’t rule out the possibility Katie may lash out against the letter writer if she feels defensive about John.

        1. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

          On the flip side, Kate could lash out if she finds out OP knew and didn’t tell her.

          1. Lilo*

            Yeah, but as hard as it is, LW has to put her ability to pay rent and eat above a.friend knowing this.

          2. JJ*

            If she does lash out at OP, OP could just be apologetic like “I really wanted to talk to you, but I didn’t have any proof and I was in this terribly awkward position re: livelihood.” If the friendship is solid, Katie should redirect her anger to the proper place (John) once she’s cooled down a little.

        2. pamela voorhees*

          There’s so, so many ways this could go poorly for OP if she just tells Katie. Katie lashes out, Katie and John both team up against OP (it’s much easier to blame someone you don’t live with), John starts sabotaging her job to make her miserable, etc. There’s also a possibility everything goes well, and Katie and John resolve it amongst themselves and OP’s job is safe, but based on the letter I don’t think John seems like the super reasonable type.

          1. Troutwaxer*

            I’d suggest that the OP should tell Katie why she’s leaving, but leave out the affair. Essentially “I’m quitting because Tammy won’t do any work, that labor ends up being done by someone’s already overworked team, Tammy doesn’t do any work, John won’t discipline her, and nobody trusts that he will do a good job of running the business anymore.” Then stop.

            If Katie asks, “Do you think my husband and Tammy are having an affair?” The answer should be something like, “I don’t know. I know that he and Tammy spend a lot of time alone together, but I have no evidence and no proof of what they’re doing when they’re alone.” Let Katie draw her own conclusions and provide all the evidence, but don’t say “Your husband is having an affair.” In other words, name the symptoms but not the disease, so you can honestly say this was discussed with reference to why you were leaving the company.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              I said up above that I would only tell Katie that I felt really uneasy/uncomfortable/something was off about the relationship between Tammy and John. Unless OP has hard evidence of an affair – I agree with name the symptoms and let Katie draw her own conclusions (and own investigations if needed).

    3. nonbinary writer*

      Actually, the husband’s choice to cheat is what robs Katie of her ability to make fully informed decisions. OP bears absolutely no responsibility, especially given that her livelihood is involved. Let’s not displace the responsibility of men on other women.

      Besides, there’s no actual proof of them sleeping together, and even if there was proof that the two were sleeping together, it could very likely be that his wife is aware and has agreed to this arrangement. Polyamory exists, not everyone is open about it, you never know the structure of someone else’s relationship.

      1. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

        John could be risking his wife’s health, if he’s as cavalier with protection as he is with the almost-definite affair he is having.

      2. Mentil Lentil*

        Thank you for this. We need to stop blaming women for the actions of men.

        And yes, there is a difference between evidence (which points to a conclusion) and proof. We have no idea what Katie knows. None of this is on OP.

        1. Renata Ricotta*

          The origin of the situation is not on the OP, but she has the ability to help Katie. Many people define “friend” in part as someone who will help you if they can, even if they didn’t start the situation. If she doesn’t tell Katie she’s not a monster–and I think the job issue definitely complicates things–but she might lose her friendship with Katie if she chooses to stay silent. Only the OP can balance those two risk factors and decide what she wants to do.

      3. Anonymous, obviously*

        OMG. Every time there’s a discussion about “do I tell friend about their spouse’s affair/possible affair”, a whole chorus sings “maybe the spouse is ok with it.”

        Highly unlikely. But you know what? If the spouse is ok with it, there’s very little risk in telling, right?

        And if the spouse is not ok with it (which is almost always the case), then a friend would tell — in this case, after OP finds another job.

        I’m no longer friends with my husband’s co-workers who knew what he was up to and who said nothing to me. They were not good friends. We almost never host work-related gatherings at our house any more because I don’t want them in my house. Which is rather embarrassing for my husband, but that’s a consequence for him.

        1. Ginger Baker*

          Accurate. As someone who hasn’t been monogamous in over a decade, if someone came to me to give me a heads-up that my spouse was cheating on me, they would definitely get the Awkward Laugh from me along with “thanks, I do appreciate that you wanted to let me know…but we actually have an open marriage for years now and he’s not out at work about that so I’d appreciate you not mentioning it to others, but really, it’s all good! How’s things with [subject change]?” It’s not like I would be wildly offended and angry at someone for flagging something they thought was an affair when they didn’t know the context.

          1. Anon for This*

            I have an open marriage, and the same thing happened to me. Upset acquaintances came to me and gave me the scoop on my husband’s “infidelity” at a bondage event… when I told them I was fine with it and knew all about it, they became quiet. And then even more upset, which made me laugh.

            1. Despachito*

              I think this is precisely the reason why I’d say nothing.

              I consider it extremely unjust to assume people have an obligation to meddle in my relationship, but exactly in the way I want them to (which widely differs depending on the specific person), and then punish them when they do not do “the right thing”.

              Shouldn’t a good friend at least recognize the other friend acted in good faith whatever s/he did (or did not do)?

              I think a dilemma (to tell or not to tell) in such a case is more than understandable, any decision is very difficult to make, and a good friend should be aware of that and not end a friendship over perhaps a wrong assumption but made in good faith.

          2. Joan Rivers*

            But if they tell you that he plays favorites at work and the staff is not getting support and thinking of quitting — THEN what do you say?

            Is this OK because you have an open marriage?

            You might want to know that your spouse is jeopardizing his job in a blatant way.

            1. Ginger Baker*

              That’s a different issue; I was only addressing the concept that “maybe I should not say anything *because* this person may have an open marriage” (which is a bit of logical reasoning that just…doesn’t hold). All other considerations about telling someone or not still apply.

              1. Self Employed*

                Technically, sure, he can’t be fired.

                But if he’s making bad management decisions that affect morale, waste payroll on a stipend for his mistress, etc. the company could either go under or at least make less profits for him.

        2. LW3*

          Exactly! “Maybe they’re poly or open” — okay, maybe. Let’s be generous and say there’s a 10% chance of that. That 10% isn’t enough to justify “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t know for absolute certain that it would bother you.”

          OP has good reasons not to tell (circumstantial evidence, job in jeopardy, etc) — don’t muddy the waters with “there’s a non-zero chance of it not being a problem.”

          1. nonbinary writer*

            But the 10% of “maybe they’re polyam” PLUS the fact that all of this “evidence” is completely circumstantial and not at all proof PLUS the risk to OPs livelihood? That puts this firmly in the “keep your nose out of it” category for me, but folks clearly have different risk/morality calculations that I do :shrug:

        3. Name Required*

          There absolutely is risk. Not every person being cheated on treats being told as a benefit. There is a risk that the person telling will have displaced rage and hurt directed at them for telling. There are as many stories of the thankfulness as there are anger.

      4. Keymaster of Gozer*

        “ Let’s not displace the responsibility of men on other women.”

        Absolutely 100% agree. Generally I won’t take on additional emotional labour if I can help it.

        I’ve worked with someone who was having an affair with a coworker, and some of us were Facebook friends with his wife (sewing hobby club) and yeah, it is a very difficult thing to work out what to do. For one, if someone emailed me telling me my husband was having an affair I’d immediately think they were lying to stir up trouble (unless they had hard proof) or they secretly fancied him and wanted him for themselves.

        Knowing that we’d get an amazing amount of drama incoming if we said a word, we chose not to. His wife did eventually find out proof some other way (could have seen them making out in the car park, I know we did once or twice) a few months later.

        Basically, it’s down to how much proof does one have, and how resilient one is about the possibility of a severe backlash, and a whole host of other emotions involved. Personally, I take the same view as I do regarding how people raise their kids: unless there is abuse going on I am not getting involved.

        1. Despachito*

          I am with you on that one.

          Unless abuse is going on, none of my business.

          And I absolutely do not accept blame for something other people are doing but somehow put me on the spot and force me to decide about something I have nothing to do with.

      5. cmcinnyc*

        On the “tell Katie or not?” question I agree.

        On the job aspect though, the CEO is way out of line regardless of whether he’s sleeping with his assistant or not. This is one of those run-don’t-walk situations because it is going to blow up for the CEO (personally, professionally, or both). Polyamory doesn’t mean “it’s ok to pay my girlfriend to hang around the office pretencing to be an employee.” This isn’t going to go well, and it would be best for OP to not be there when the biz is impacted (more than it already is).

        1. nonbinary writer*

          Oh I fully agree! The issue OP should focus on, IMO, is the business impact, I’d be trying to bounce
          from this job immediately.

        2. Rebecca Stewart*

          Yeah, John is way out of line. From a polyam point of view….that’s not how you do it! Maybe you get your new girlfriend a job where you work, but someone else manages her, preferably someone who doesn’t report to you, and at most you catch rides to and from work together.
          Otherwise, you’re not doing your work any favors, and it looks bad.

    4. wittyrepartee*

      I think I’d probably just tell my friend that something seemed odd about their relationship, and please don’t tell boss that I said something.

      1. ecnaseener*

        I was thinking something along those lines too — don’t mention the hunch about the affair, but mention in casual conversation that John sure does love Tammy, she can do no wrong in his eyes, it sure is annoying to have a useless assistant whose boss won’t make her work, etc. That way Katie can consider whether it’s suspicious based on her knowledge of her own marriage and you haven’t shared anything that’s a secret. (Is it ideal to put the idea in Katie’s head and make her wonder if her husband could be cheating on her or if she’s just paranoid? Definitely not. But it might be a little kinder than leaving her totally in the dark.)

          1. Ann Perkins*

            Yeah, I really dislike how many suggestions are to drop hints. If OP believes her friend deserves to know what is widely suspected at the office, she needs to plainly say to Katie what is going on and not play mind games (after she’s lined up a new job).

            1. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

              I’d be furious if a friend did this kind of passive-aggressive nonsense rather than speaking to me candidly.

              1. LW3*

                I do fundamentally disagree with this being labeled as “hinting.” It’s sharing the actual factual information with the person who knows their marriage best, and keeping your hunch to yourself.
                I agree it’s not ideal, but if LW isn’t getting a new job anytime soon, it’s a choice between no information now and her full opinion months/years from now vs. the facts now.

              2. boop the first*

                You can’t outright tell someone something you don’t actually know. She cant just make up devastating lies for the sake of not seeming passive aggressive later. Coworker spending all day in john’s office is an objective fact, and is the only objective fact, and that is all that OP can tell Katie. Imagine being furious at someone for not knowing the whole story!

        1. KTM*

          This is where my mind went. If Katie is bringing up work to the OP in chit-chat, it leaves room for her to start complaining about the useless assistant and dropping some bread crumbs.

        2. Andy*

          This will make it super easy to paint OP as crazy jealous gossiping manipulative woman seeing shadows. And if wife figures the hints, to paint wife as crazy jealous woman who got manipulated by gossiping friend.

        3. wittyrepartee*

          I think I’d do it a little more obviously than that, assuming she’s a good friend. “Hey, something seems off about John and Tammy, the kid of your family’s friend. She’s… not doing the work she’s supposed to be doing, and your husband seems really defensive when we bring it up. Is there some context I’m missing here?”

      2. Threeve*

        Once OP has a new job, why she left will probably come up with Katie at some point. “Tammy’s arrival really changed the dynamic and productivity of the office, and I was uncomfortable enough to start looking at other organizations.”

        Honestly, many of the non-affair explanations for Tammy’s special treatment are still bad news for Katie. For whatever reason, her husband is damaging his business, and that will impact her own life eventually, if only financially.

    5. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      More importantly delaying is robbing John’s wife of the change to:

      -protect the marital assets. If Tammy is truly this awful and John truly this dumb, there is no way Tammy is settling for just an admin salary for playing Candy Crush. Right now there is a really good John’s wife’s retirement and savings are being drained to pay for gifts, and trips, and rent on the love nest.

      -hire a PI to follow these two bozos around. If she waits, the divorce can be played off as “both sides are wrong.” She and her attorney need photos and video and gross sexts so she can clean John out in the divorce.

      -put down a small retainer with all of the best divorce lawyers in town. Good luck, John. You can settle for whichever lawyer is left.

      Yes, there is an emotional side to this, and John’s wife may be devastated, but honestly, it sounds like good riddance to bad rubbish, and either way, she needs to protect her future ability to survive.

      1. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

        Agreed. Also not sure why people think I’m putting blame on OP. Blame lies with John. OP just has the ability to do something, and I think she should.

        1. liz*

          I agree with you! If John had written in, people would be talking to him. But it’s OP who wrote in, OP who asked the question, and OP who has the power to change her situation – or not. OP has to do what she has to do, and that may look like intensifying her job search or pushing back as a group against what John is doing, but she also has a chance to let a good friend know something is going on.

          And whatever else happens, OP should be prepared to lose the friendship. I could rationally understand why a friend of mine prioritized their job over telling me they thought my husband was having an affair, but I’d never trust that friend the same way again.

          I really feel for OP here. It’s not a situation where there’s a ‘win’ – it’s just a ‘lose a little bit less.’

        2. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

          Well, by saying OP has liability you are blaming OP for not reacting “correctly” to a situation they did not create. OP, as someone who has been placed in an impossible situation, is also a victim. They have to sit and worry for their livelihood while wondering what their moral responsibility is and the consequences of their actions, not to mention any nuances of sexual harassment that come into it when exposing your employees to your infidelity.

          You list many dimensions in which Katie is being “robbed,” while at the same time OP is endangered in many similar ways based on Katie’s reaction, over which she has no control. Even with a good friend, there is a risk they will have good intentions but be so overwhelmed with their own concerns that they will throw you under the bus. Is Katie going to pay OP’s rent when OP gets fired after Katie, in an argument, lets slip some bit of info that only someone in the office would know, and Boss makes the logical leap that OP ratted him out? Is Katie going to be a professional reference for OP after that? Is Katie even going to appreciate being told, or will they lash out at OP?

          I’m not saying that, without context, telling the victim of infidelity isn’t the right thing to do. I’m saying that Katie’s interest does not trump OP’s interest when OP is asking what to do. Infidelity is both an emotional and a financial ticking time bomb, and throwing moral requirements on people who have been victimized by it is not the answer. Much like I don’t presume to say what a person who was cheated on should do about it, I don’t presume to tell people on the sidelines what they should do either. I might offer advice on what I would do. I might say “You are likely to lose a friend, because the SO will be seeing it from their perspective as much as you are seeing it from yours,” but that is on the perpetrator.

      2. Smithy*

        Without the OP having a new job, this relies on the OP having to trust Katie to take this information and investigate John in a fashion to find corroborative evidence that doesn’t out the OP. As opposed to taking this information and becoming hurt, angry, and upset and looking for an immediate conversation/confrontation with her husband.

        And…..when it comes to people’s feelings and emotions about a highly personal topic compared to the OP’s livelihood…..I don’t see how you can ask someone to every feel secure knowing someone will go with the first option.

        1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

          Yeah – that part is unfortunate. I mean, John is openly flaunting his trashy 22-year-old mistress at work. Usually, I think, by that point, you are dealing with a coward who has already checked out of the marriage and is just waiting for their spouse to blow up and make the accusations. That way, they don’t have to take responsibility for ending things.

          But just because everyone in the entire tri-state knows, it doesn’t mean John’s wife knows. So yeah, my advice relies on her not reacting with shock, betrayal, hurt, devastation – but instead keeping cool, playing it very close to the vest, and giving John juuust enough of a lead to really screw himself. It’s still good advice, but not easy to follow.

          Still, if my choices were:
          1. leave prepared and financially secure after crushing cheating spouse in the divorce, then sip chardonnay and laugh as John and Tammy’s love for the ages lasts exactly as long as his money does
          2. find out, blow up, take time coming to terms, then leave through a messy, devastating, financially draining divorce
          3. stay clueless, right up to the day when John shows up with the best attorney in town, all of your assets hidden, and his second wife all queued up to go – probably shooting you snotty looks and carrying a Birkin bag that you belatedly recognize as your 401k

          ..well, #1 is best, but #2 is better than #3.

          As for John firing the LW? Part of me wants to say: Please. The guy can’t even get his girlfriend to stuff envelopes. He can’t leave his wife. This wimp isn’t going to do a darn thing.

          But yeah, no, that is a good point, and John’s wife may not be the level of friend you lose a job over.

          1. Sue*

            He knows OP is friends with his wife. He either wants to get caught with his blatant actions or he is so caught up in this relationship, his brain is on pause. I am assuming someone running a business with 20+ employees had some intelligence once.

          2. Smithy*

            Putting the job pieces aside, if I had that kind of information on any of my close friends’ partners – I still wouldn’t bet money on how they’d react. There’s certainly some information I’d feel more compelled to share and friends who I’d feel more comfortable telling, but that line between the emotional and the calculating reaction……I would only bet an amount I’d be comfortable losing.

            Which brings me back to where my advice to the OP is coming from. The ways people react to bad news emotionally is just so varied. There’s no way I’d want that tangled with my professional life.

            1. Vermont Green*

              You are so right to be wary. At one point in my marriage, I knew my husband was cheating, and made the decision to hang on for a while anyway. It was an intensely personal situation that I didn’t discuss with any of my friends. If someone had said something to me, I would have been embarrassed to admit that I knew what was going on and was basically allowing it to happen. So I support the OP getting her new job and then being oblique and “hinting,” thus giving the wife the opportunity to either probe for more info or shut down the conversation.

              1. Smithy*

                When it’s not our own lives, it’s very easy to talk about how the OP’s husband is the one who should be embarrassed and ashamed and receive all of our venom. But when I was cheated on (and not even by a husband), it was amazing how fast the line was towards “I am deeply embarrassed and ashamed, and this other woman is the worst creature alive.”

                While I understand that the face saving options don’t seem as direct – I don’t think that they’re just about allowing the OP an out. They offer Katie a chance to save face and process those feelings more slowly.

          3. allathian*

            I have a hard time imagining any friend being the level of friend I’d be willing to lose a job over, TBH.

            1. Self Employed*

              I have a few friends who are “chosen family” but they’re not just “people I hang with at Hobby Meetup.” And even for them, I’d probably spend at least a day sending applications or checking with recruiters before I told them my suspicions.

        1. Aitch Arr*

          And some people fake their spouses’ signatures.

          I remember a story from several years ago where the wife of a jailed white-collar criminal went to the town hall to pull permits for some home improvement project and discovered that her husband had forged her signature on a quitclaim deed so that she no longer had ownership of the home.

          1. Bernice Clifton*

            That’s why the spouse has to sign the withdrawal form in front of a notary and show a picture ID

      3. iliketoknit*

        I know this is a minor tangent, but purposely conflicting out all the good divorce lawyers is a shitty thing to do. I’m also not certain depositing a retainer for that specific purpose would actually hold up as a conflict when it’s obvious that that was the purpose. Finally, having a bad attorney involved can be worse in many ways than both sides having good attorneys involved.

    6. Chickaletta*

      I 100% agree with Hogsmeade. My pet peeve is people keeping secrets from me out of “good intention”, as if I’m incapable of handling bad news and the general crap that life throws my way. I have had close family members keep things from me for years because they think I’ll get “angry and upset”, which is really disorienting because I’m not ill-tempered or violent; it’s really strange. Honestly, THAT upsets me more than the thing they were keeping from me in the first place. That said, I understand that other people might feel differently in my shoes.

      Sure, OP needs to look out for herself too, but I would think there’s got to be a way to do that without betraying her friend. For one, start looking for ways to get support from coworkers, start looking for a new job, start hinting to Jon and the assistant that you know what’s going on so they can stop being so obvious, start hinting to your friend that things at work aren’t so rosy, etc.

      Good Luck, OP, you’re in-between a rock and a hard place for sure.

  9. High Score!*

    Document everything. Keep a running log and send it to HR or whoever is over John’s head. Anonymously or as a group if possible. Don’t let yourself be seen as the ring leader. I’d also be tempted to find a way to tip off Katie without actually telling her.

    1. BRR*

      This crossed my mind too at first but I don’t think anybody is above John since he’s the owner. I would also guess they don’t have a dedicated HR person since it’s 25 employees, or that person does more payroll/benefits administration. Ugh this situation stinks and has to be so stressful for the LW.

      1. High Score!*

        I seriously hope we get an update on this one. I hope everything works out for OP and Katie.

  10. o_gal*

    Agree with everyone else – leave. It sounds like the company is small enough to not have an HR, so there is no one you can bring this to. Leave as quick as you can, be completely professional about it, and do not burn any bridges. Do not tell the wife. Just smile and be pleasant when she asks you about work. Allow your boss to think that you do not know anything. Just… leave.

    1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      This is probably the best advice. I can’t say much about prior job where I learned this, but man: I don’t know what the heck it is, but a lot of those small-business guys just straight up implode in middle age. Owner hits 55 or so, starts going to bars and clubs, drinking, partying, running around with girls his daughter’s age, discovering fun new party drugs, spending wildly, hitting the casinos… and it always used to involve the company drained and mismanaged to where in a few years it was either bankrupt or restructured and sold. No clue why this is so common, but it really is. I view “hired mistress as receptionist” as one of the horsemen of that particular apocalypse.

      1. hodie-hi*

        I know of an instance where this was going on with all the horrific trappings you can imagine. It had proceeded to the divorce stage, but there wasn’t much left to fight over. It ended with the guy dead of an OD.

        Nobody gets out alive.

      2. QuinleyThorne*

        Yeah, based on this letter, others I’ve read on this site, and my own experiences with small businesses, this kind of thing is a depressingly common occurrence. A friend of mine has been working for an IT consulting company of ~10 people since about 2015, run by a former manager he worked with at a larger company before it downsized. Friend said the guy was a great manager while he worked at the larger company, but changed when he started his own, and basically started spiraling as soon as he hit 50. Friend’s told me stories ranging from gambling issues and secret Vegas trips, coke binges, and trying to get friendly with admin assistants. I say “trying” because most of them were smart enough to bail once it became clear what was going on, and the one that wasn’t got chased off by the boss’ wife anyways.

        I wonder what combination of traits small business owners like this have that makes this such a common phenomenon?

  11. parsley*

    I wonder if perhaps you could tell her without telling her, you know? That he’s spending hours in meetings with Tammy and giving her rides to work – those things that factual, not speculative, and you could mention it in passing like “Oh, it’s so kind of John to give Tammy a ride to work so often”; “Work’s pretty busy at the moment because John is having to spend so much one-on-one time with Tammy”. Things that plant the seed without you actively jeopardising your livelihood but also ease the guilt of not saying anything.

    Of course that could also completely blow up in your face, and I don’t think anyone would blame you for staying quiet, especially while John is still signing your paycheques.

    1. beanie gee*

      My gut says that’s too obvious and I’d personally have a hard time saying with a straight face “it’s so kind of John to give Tammy a ride to work.”

      If I dropped any kind of hints, it might be strictly about work. How’s work going? Well, it kind of sucks because the new person we hired doesn’t actually do any work.

      1. Van Wilder*

        ^I think this could work.

        How’s work?

        “Ugh! Tammy is killing me! I know John must complain about her too. But I understand he’s in a difficult spot because she’s a family friend.”

        Ok, that might be a little passive aggressive but would be satisfying.

        1. ecnaseener*

          Ooh I like that idea in theory but I think it has too big a chance of leading to something like
          Katie: “LW mentioned Tammy’s been a real pain”
          John: “No, she’s great!”
          Katie: “Oh, really? LW was so sure you’d have been complaining about her, she thought you must be fed up too”
          John, internally: LW knows perfectly well I wouldn’t be complaining about Tammy, what’s she playing at?

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I feel like in an ideal world these hints land as you hoped. But in practice, the recipient often completely misses the implied message. Sometimes deliberately, if they’re betting the affair will burn itself out if they can just pretend not to see it.

      1. Tuesday*

        And if she does get the implied message, she’s sure to ask follow-up questions about what the OP really means, and then what?

    3. Penelope Toodlesworth*

      Both of those things are odd statements if Tammy has never come up in conversation before.

    4. Less Bread More Taxes*

      I would definitely go this route. OP can start by asking Katie how her own work is going, and when the question inevitably gets returned, she can discuss these kinds of things. These are things that would annoy anyone at a job, so it’s not weird to complain about them.

    5. JJ*

      I’m not a fan of hinting either. I think OP should decide to either share what they’ve seen or not…hints are sort of a way to absolve yourself like welp, I TOLD her, not my fault she didn’t figure out my hint.

      1. ecnaseener*

        But what OP has seen is not an affair. It’s John spending lots of time with Tammy, giving her favorable treatment, and letting her slack off. It’s not “hinting” to stick to those facts.

        1. Nia*

          Yeah but there’s no reason to bring up those facts to Katie unless you think he’s having an affair. So you are “hinting” at something if you just go in saying John’s preferential to her and nothing else. Either say Katie I think John’s having an affair and here’s why or don’t bother saying anything at all.

        2. Sans $$*

          Agreed, everyone is saying it’s passive aggressive but I see it simply as not speculating.

          1. Wehaf*

            It’s passive aggressive because it is trying to get one message across while saying something else.

            1. Littorally*

              I think it also is not going to protect OP, given the situation presented.

              If OP is the one connection between John’s workplace and Katie (besides John himself of course) then whether they hint or state it openly, Katie finding out about John’s bad behavior on the job becomes very traceable to OP.

    6. a thought*

      I think this is right also in that the OP doesn’t *actually* know anything. So sharing the facts without the speculation is the lowest-drama way to do it, if they want to. It’s possible that Katie would draw a different conclusion from the same facts.

      But further, especially because OP doesn’t know anything for sure, I think a legitimate option is to stay quiet.

    7. Student*

      I’m not a big fan of hinting, and the fact Tammy’s theoretically a family friend makes this a natural subject to come up:

      “Hey, this is a little weird, but you know everyone involved and maybe can give me some advice. It’s a work thing–I’ve got a question about Tammy. This admin job doesn’t seem like a natural fit for her, but John has really gone to bat for her and is doing a lot of one-on-one work with her. I’m not sure whether to treat her as a coworker or as John’s mentee or intern or something, and he’s kind of danced around the topic when I brought it up. It’s just a weird dynamic. I gather she’s a family friend or relative or something–could you fill me in on how you all know her so I don’t step in it?”

      Possible answers include: “Tammy who?” or “She’s John’s best friend’s kid and she’s got to pay rent while looking for a job in her field” or “Huh. I didn’t realize John knew her that well.” And meanwhile you’ve passed on the actionable information in a way that doesn’t come to any conclusion whatsoever about John’s fidelity or lack thereof.

  12. Ann Perkins*

    I agree that your instincts in finding a new job are right. If John loses his professional reputation and the business goes under due to his mismanagement, you don’t want to be professionally tied to him.

    In terms of his wife, I tend to think she deserves to know, but definitely wait until you’ve secured a new job. John has put you in an awful spot and I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this.

  13. Falling Diphthong*


    Normally I’m someone who advocates for other people not needing to expend a scintilla of effort to cover up an affair. But you don’t need to jeopardize your job! Ever. Or at least, only if it’s your bestest friend in the world and you have a financial cushion and other equivalent employment options, and it’s like “Inconvenient, but my bond with Tamara is going to be there in 20 years and that’s worth some awkwardness now.”

    Pretend you don’t know the wife. You would do what you’re doing now: Read the writing on the wall about how your boss is willing to crash the business for his midlife crisis, know that he won’t respond well to any “Derek, you are driving the firm and your marriage toward a cliff” heads up, and search for another job. Keep your head down while you do.

    Suppose morale was low BUT for reasons that had nothing to do with his marriage. When his wife saw you at the hobby group and brightly asked “How’s work?” you wouldn’t say “Boy oh boy, your husband’s favoring of Wakeen over Joaquin and refusal to consider the new safety regs is tanking everything. Total doomsday scenario crashing over everyone here.” You’d say “Oh, fine. Say, how’s that new hobby technique working out for you? I remember you were going to try it in a different context.”

    1. profe*

      I mean, I think it depends on how OP normally talks about work with Katie. If it’s normally honest but professional/surface-level, I don’t see why she can’t mention the Tammy-not-working problem straightforwardly. “A little frustrating because Tammy doesn’t seem to be working out!” sort of comment.

      What I’m getting at is, talk about the work issues with Tammy exactly how you would normally talk about work problems to Katie. Honestly, that will probably ping something on Katie’s radar regarding what she thinks about Tammy already but who knows. At the very least, you’re not flat out lying or completely changing your dynamic with Katie.

      And obviously, get a new job as soon as possible.

      1. Anonymous Koala*

        ^I think this is the way to go. I would also consider how close you are to Katie and take that as an indicator of how much you want to say. If Katie is someone you can confide in about other parts of your life, or you know her to be a very straightforward person, maybe you can be a little more frank with her? Otherwise discussing Tammy like any other work problem should give her an indication that everything isn’t all right, especially if it doesn’t match what her husband is telling her.

        1. Despachito*

          I generally doubt it is a good idea at all to complain to my boss’s wife about my boss, even with no cheating involved.

          My take is -by speaking up, LW has a lot to lose but not much to win.

          It is highly unlikely that Katie’s relationship/state of mind will improve if she receives a heads-up about the affair. And trying to improve the situation at work by pointing out the way the boss behaves is beating a dead horse, I am afraid. Whatever LW might say about favoritism will probably not change the boss’s behaviour.

          I’d extract myself from the situation as soon as possible, and meanwhile lie low. I think there are hills to die on but do not think this is one of them.

  14. Another health care worker*

    1- Make sure you have a reliable, durable reference from this job who is not John.
    2- GTFO of this company.
    3- Make a decision about Katie that is purely about what she would want, knowing that your needs are taken care of.

    1. Myrin*

      Yeah, I think that’s the wisest course of action.
      Get out first, that’s most important. And then, with everything you know about Katie, think about what she would most likely want and/or need. There is, sadly, no one-size-fits-all approach in a situation like this (other than the “try to leave as fast as possible”, that seems pretty universal, but OP already knows that).

    2. Not So NewReader*

      The beauty of this is that Katie will hear that you have left the company, OP. So when she sees you she can ask you about it or not.

  15. Sylvan*

    I think you should consider what you would want to know if you were Katie. You know her, so you’re going to be a better judge of that than I can be.

    At work, I think you should speak to HR. However, I also think it’s unlikely that anyone can stop the owner of the firm from make garbage decisions if he wants to make garbage decisions. Keep your head down, focus on nothing but your own work, and keep looking for a new job.

    1. AnonInCanada*

      Considering the size of this company (~25 employees), I’m going to presume there’s no HR nor anyone over John’s head OP can report this to.

      OP already knows that she needs to find her way out of this burning building before it scorches her. Once she does, what she says to Katie is only something her conscience can decide.

  16. Parenthesis Dude*

    If you’re asking the question, then it means you’re going to feel guilty unless you tell her.

    1. Bertha*

      Sure, but the problem is that potentially relieving the guilt by telling her could cause a whole host of other problems. That’s what makes it so tricky.

      1. Parenthesis Dude*

        Sure. But the fact that she’s asking the question means that the guilt bothers her more than those other consequences. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be asking.

  17. TWW*

    Maybe it’s because I re-watched “9 to 5” recently, but leap from “Tammy is terrible at her job,” to “Tammy is sleeping with the boss,” is a leap that I would be very cautious about vocalizing.

    I see why OP thinks that, and I agree that it’s likely, but some thoughts are better left unsaid.

    1. wittyrepartee*

      I think I’d tell wife something like “Tammy’s terrible at her job, and her relationship with your husband seems kind of odd. You didn’t hear this from me.”

      1. TWW*

        I guess my real problem is that whatever happens, John will be fine–he’s the CEO of a company. Even if he loses his wife, his girlfriend, and his job, he’ll still land on his feet.

        It’s Tammy who will get hurt the most, and while it’s tempting to think that Tammy deserves whatever is coming to her, can you really know what she deserves without knowing the whole story?

        Is Tammy enjoying the affair an easy job, or does she feel sexually harassed and trapped? That’s unknowable to OP.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          I don’t think Tammy deserves any of this. I think she’s in a really terrible situation and the fact that she’s a friend’s kid is gross. I just think that in the OP’s situation she should at least say something to her friend.

    2. Littorally*

      It isn’t “Tammy is terrible at her job” though — it’s “Tammy is not expected to do any work, spends hours one-on-one with the boss behind a closed door, and carpools with the boss.” Whether or not there is an affair going on, whatever is happening is screamingly inappropriate.

    3. Lalla*

      I agree, I also am not 100% convinced about the fact he is having an affair.

      As an example, my father used to employ my cousin while he was in a really bad place (addiction, cleptomania, constant lying to steal money, etc) and he was a terrible, horrible, catastrophic employee. My father felt like he couldn’t fire him and would ask me to help him fix his mistakes during my free time. If there had been more employees, I think they could have the same doubt, as my cousin is gay, and out. People could have thought he wasn’t really his nephew, but a lover maybe (they don’t share the family name).

      The thing that gives me pause is the fact they have hours-long meetings, I am not sure what that could signal, except maybe him checking on the assistant to make sure she does at least something?

      1. Temperance*

        That’s definitely not the case, because he rejects any work assignments that come in for her.

        It’s a huge difference between employing your nephew and a “family friend”.

    4. NowWhat?465*

      I agree. The relationship between John and Tammy is NOT normal for a boss/employee but there’s no proof of an affair. Honestly this sounds more similar to someone hiring their daughter/niece and giving them an easy time out of guilt.

      Without the “it’s an affair” assumption from OP, I likely would have thought they’re related somehow especially if there is no PDA or flirtation in front of others. The behavior from Tammy screams more “teenage brat you can’t tell what to do” than “I’m dating the boss and will do what I want.”

      OP, is there a chance that Tammy is John’s daughter from a previous relationship/affair and he’s keeping that a secret from Katie?

        1. Save the Hellbender*

          Is it fair to use Occam’s Razor when people’s livelihoods and marriage are at stake? Sure, it’s most likely an affair, but I don’t know that that’s the kind of thing I’d act on without evidence. Anyway, OP has an actual problem which is no admin help and a boss who won’t act, and whether it’s an affair or nepotism she should leave. And if Katie asks why, she can say why without saying affair.

    5. Bernice Clifton*

      Yes, I agree that this could very likely be showing favoritism towards what he considers a surrogate niece. I have always called my dad’s best friend “Uncle First Name” and am closer to him than some of my bio uncles.

    6. Save the Hellbender*

      I was just thinking this! Just heard the Planet Money episode about the movie. Don’t say she’s sleeping with the boss if you don’t know that for sure – the problem is John is managing her poorly!

  18. Workfromhome*

    Do nothing. Its unfortunate but by their OP own admission they are “I very confident that they don’t have an open marriage.” Not certain, not ive asked Katie if they have an open marriage and she said no” You dont know for sure what their situation is. You also dont know for sure their is an affair. You have not walked in and seen them kissing or having sex etc.

    While you may feel you are sure about their relationship or the affair you are still guessing. If you are wrong the consequences could be severe for your career. They could also be bad for their relationship if you are wrong.

    In the absence of absolute proof mind your business.

    If you had had a discussion with Katie and she said “Id never allow an open marriage and you walked in on the assistant and husband having sex I might still say no but would have to determine how close you and Katie were.

  19. misspiggy*

    I think if asked directly how things were at work, my conscience would make me say something like, ‘little bit hectic and stressful, but never mind, I still love the job [Subject change]. If Katie wants to push for more info, OP could say,’ well John has seemed a bit distracted lately, and some of us are getting quite a lot put on our plates, but hopefully things will improve.’ If Katie already suspects something is up with John, I think it’s morally good for OP, as Katie’s friend, to confirm that.

  20. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

    OP: the org sounds small enough that this isn’t the case, but do you have any access to an EAP, HR, or a collective governance structure? Or basically, access to a system or level of support to which you can take your concerns in a safe manner, and one which can provide actual recourse? Maybe a COO/head of ops? My partner works for a smaller company and they’re the de facto HR person (and I am biased!), but they have done a really good job handling some sensitive and bizarre situations (I wish I could share the most bizarre one since I have never in my life heard of it, but it would get them into trouble).

    Other than that, are you able to make a very frank case for why your org needs another admin? Such as “I know this isn’t in Tammy’s scope, but doing X cuts into my time with Y, we’re experiencing impacts with Z?” Don’t even touch the Tammy issue, just outline the needs as they stand?

    1. betsyohs*

      I was thinking about this, too. Tell/not tell Katie is a super hard, very personal decision. But Tammy not doing her work is a work issue – it’s affecting everyone in your office. Can you find a pressure point that will make John feel the pain that everyone else is feeling? I don’t really know what that would look like – let his snail mail pile up? Let the bathroom cleaner’s contract lapse? Somehow have John miss an important thing that he doesn’t want to miss and which should have been Tammy’s responsibility to get it on his calendar? I don’t know, and I don’t mean to be petty or vindictive, which maybe my examples are. Just trying to look for a way to make Tammy’s lack of work be John’s direct, serious problem.

  21. Talley*

    Definitely keep looking for another job. Make sure you have a good reference from here other than John. On your last day tell him he has X days to tell his wife or you will.

  22. Evonon*

    I would start documenting all of her antics. If she’s online shopping on a work computer, get her search history. If she’s goofing off on her phone take a note of the length of time she’s on it. Everytime she rolls her eyes or refuses a reasonable task (within her job description), make a note. If there is someone else who can help you document these, go to them, you don’t need to bring up the suspicions of the affair.

    Also, these closed door “conversations”, is the door locked? Have people tried to get a hold of either the boss or Tammy by knocking or turning the knob to enter? Have people tried calling into the boss’ office to get a hold of him and have the call go unanswered? This may be extreme or rude, but so are the boss and Tammy and that can lightly test your theory without catching them in the act (ew).
    As you gather evidence of just tammy’s incompetence, I think you should be able to subtly call attention to how weird the boss and tammy’s relationship is by asking innocent questions

    “Does Tammy live near you because I see you carpool everyday? Oh, she lives on the other side of town? That’s so generous of you would I be able to join your carpool too as you pass my house?”

    “I’ve noticed you’ve been giving Tammy a lot of one on one time. Could we begin scheduling that for the rest of the team? I think that could really benefit everyone”

    “Is Tammy doing personal tasks for you too? I saw she was looking online and didn’t know if she needed our company card or coupon”

    This could be a sneaky way to let them know that they are not being subtle with…whatever it is that they’re doing

      1. Evonon*

        I 100% would keep looking too and OP is doing just that. But in the meantime, especially since the job market is still so shaky, I would at least gain evidence/ammunition since they are stuck in this situation now and these are things they can control now.

    1. ahhh*

      These “questions” are great. Subtle but to the point.

      I’m also wondering OP if you have another coworker you are close to that could ask these questions. I feel like since you have a personal friendship with the boss’ wife, you asking these questions could cause boss to treat you unfairly.

    2. MissGirl*

      No. Do not access her search history, do not time her conversations. That is a huge violation. The OP can document all she wants but to what end? This guy owns the company. Documentation isn’t going to help; instead it wraps her up in the drama. She should do her work as best she can and get out.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Yeah what the hell, is OP supposed to sneak onto Tammy’s computer to print out her browser history? No no no

      2. High Score!*

        If she is fired, documentation may make protect her from a lawsuit or enable her to file one depending on where she lives. Or if someone wants to call John for a reference, she has something to pin point why he might not give her a good one.

        1. MissGirl*

          These actions will get her justly fired. Also getting fired because you know your boss is having an affair isn’t illegal. What lawsuit are you worried about? That seems like a huge stretch.

    3. NW Mossy*

      I’m not sure what the OP stands to gain from putting in all the effort to capture the ways in which Tammy isn’t doing what she was (supposedly) hired to do.

      John already knows it’s happening – he’s directly involved and has amply demonstrated that he’s not interested in making any of it stop (including the rumor mill about the relationship between him and Tammy). He owns the company, so there’s no higher power to tell him to knock it off. Making bad business decisions, paying Tammy for a job she’s not doing, and/or adultery aren’t good things to do, but none of those per se illegal absent other info (like Tammy being underage or herself bringing a complaint about harassment).

      Katie may or may not know, but the OP is not a private investigator assembling a dossier of surveillance. OP’s only stake is that Katie’s her friend, and it’d be a rare sort of friend that expects deeply documented evidence to even open a conversation about a weird-seeming relationship between friend’s spouse and someone else.

      It’s a tough call on talking to Katie and depends a lot on the dynamics of that friendship, but I don’t think OP needs treat Katie as if she’s a judge on the bench. If Katie wants or needs evidence of John’s behavior, she can hire a licensed PI (not the OP!) for that.

      1. Evonon*

        I agree completely with everything about not being a PI and OP keeping their head down. The boss owns the company and if he’s willing to lose his employees over this weirdness that’s his perogative.

        I mostly was trying to brainstorm easily quantifiable ways that Tammy was wasting time. I did not mean for OP to mission impossible their way into the computer but more like if boss tries to wave away everything, there is documentation of her bad conduct. I doubt there’s hr at this company but wouldn’t they need documentation?

        It’s not up to OP to save the company but if more people start leaving en masse, there is at least something objective to refer to.

    4. Frank Doyle*

      Just wondering, what would be the point of all of that documentation? To demonstrate to the boss that she’s an even worse assistant than he realizes, or . . . ?

    5. LKW*

      You’re assuming that he’s trying to be subtle. Based on the OP’s description, he’s not trying to be subtle at all. He’s made her a direct report, he’s batted away all work from her lap. He’s not even pretending to be impartial.

    6. Despachito*

      Too much drama and investing too much time into something which is absolutely not worth it (if the boss is the owner and decides to mismanage his company and lead it straight to bankruptcy, there is no one to turn to to make him stop) .

  23. Erin*

    First of all, since you don’t *technically* know they’re having an affair (obviously they are, but…) you should absolutely definitely not say anything to the wife. Circumstantial evidence and all.

    You’ve already tried talking to John about the serious impact it’s having on the work, so you can cross that off your list unless you think it’s worth escalating higher.

    But personally, I wouldn’t do much other than quietly continue job searching. Just kind of let the chips fall where they may when it comes to stuff falling through the cracks.

    “Well, Project X didn’t get done as quickly as normal because I had to stop and help Bob stuff envelopes. That mailing had to go out today, and Tammy was unavailable.” “John, Patricia needed confirmation from vendors before carrying through the order – this is something Tammy normally does. How did you want us to handle this now?” Etc.

    Just do what you can do to do your job and let this play out. Cause I think it’ll come to a head before too long.

  24. Lacey*

    Oh OP, this is so hard. I think, you have to get out of there first. I mean, you do even if this guy isn’t having an affair, because he’s running the company horribly, but I think you can’t let your friend know something is off without having an out.

  25. Hopping to it*

    I would probably tell her, with a sense of confusion, that Tammy isn’t taking on any assistant tasks and John seems to be actively discouraging anyone to give her tasks. You may even say something about it being hard to meet with him given his long closed door meetings, but I think that’s optional. You can be honest that it’s coming across as odd and it’s a bit demoralizing. I don’t think you need to say anything about an affair – you don’t truly know, you suspect. And who knows, maybe your friend actually knows another reason for this attitude. But if not, you’ve given her information to figure things out on her own.

    1. Ashley*

      I agree with this but only after a job is secured. I would really by tapping my network for new opportunities because affair or not the company doesn’t seem stable.

  26. A Poster Has No Name*

    Oh, man, what a spectacularly craptacular situation and I’m sorry you’re in it.

    I agree with the advice to focus on getting out as soon as possible, while keeping your head down at work and riding it out.

    As for Katie…that’s a lot harder. You don’t know anything for sure, but be prepared for the crap to hit the fan at some point and if there is an affair, Katie could be mad at you one way or the other. My inclination would be to drop hints once you get out about how much time they spend together, but that could backfire, as well.

    Once again, I’m sorry you’re in the situation, but I hope you find something new quickly!

  27. staceyizme*

    I think that you can kiss your friendship with Katie goodbye! Imagine knowing that your friend’s husband is spending hours in his office with someone and preventing them from doing the most basic tasks associated with their job description. You could have protected your job to an extent just by letting Katie know about the odd behaviors before they became entrenched. Ordinarily, it wouldn’t be your business, but Katie 1) is your friend, 2) made the connection to the job’s gatekeeper for you and 3) may have partial ownership of the business (either de facto or in case of divorce). In trying to stay out of the line of fire, you’ve committed yourself to a course of action that isn’t easily changed. Stay “head down”, stay “mum” and keep looking for a job! (And if you run across a similar situation, mention the behaviors much sooner! You can mention them to “John” without going “dude, everyone knows that you’re sleeping with her…”. Just give him the appropriate degree of shock and consternation, instead of lowballing/ softening the reaction. It’s a form of mirroring. Now that it’s super entrenched, however, it’s probably a “rats off the sinking ship” situation. I feel for your team/ coworkers and the spouse, but this isn’t going anywhere good at this point. You kind of mixed up your benefactors and the window of opportunity to impact things has passed.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Letting Katie know about the odd behaviors before they became entrenched? That would be an inappropriate thing to do at such an early stage. There needs to be an expectation of boundaries when you work with a friend’s [spouse/family/etc], you can’t run to gossip about every weird behavior at work.

      1. iliketoknit*

        Yeah, I can’t think of a situation when this would have come up before the behaviors become entrenched? I can’t see any context where it makes sense for the OP to go into details about bad things at work with Katie under normal circumstances, even if there wasn’t a likely affair at play. If this was just about Tammy being a terrible employee and John letting her get away with it, why would the OP be telling Katie about it? It’s not Katie’s business and complaining about John’s management isn’t a reasonable conversation to have with his wife.

        I do agree that the friendship may not survive all of this, but not because the OP didn’t say anything sooner. There’s no good time to have the kind of conversation that would require.

    2. J.B.*

      He is the one crossing boundaries and it is in no way the letter writer’s fault. Adults make their own decisions.

    3. Carol*

      Disagree that OP could or should have said something earlier, as that’s REALLY not her place and most people take time to go from “that’s annoying” to “that’s weird” to “uh-oh”, and then take even more time to figure out what/if there’s anything they can do to stop a bad situation. The idea that OP could somehow stop the escalation of a blatant and risky affair is not one I see as realistic here.

      Do agree that the friendship is probably in serious jeopardy, although tough to know whether they are super close or more acquaintances. I think OP has to protect her job, but I think it’s natural for her friend to feel betrayed if she finds out later. Like, if that were my acquaintance, it’d be hard for me to continue the friendship even if I didn’t lay blame on her for the bad spot she was in.

  28. BooZoo*

    I understand people can have arrangements in their personal relationships but if there is a chance someone is being possibly unknowingly exposed to STIs, I’m giving a heads up somehow. Its what I would want someone to do for me.

  29. Letter A*

    Perhaps you could help her find out on her own? Invite her to lunch and ask her to meet you at the office? Ask her how she is doing and how she spends her time. ie “oh you’re running again? What does John think of that?” or “John must love having the night to himself when you go to book club. Does John read much?” In conversation you could talk about “someone else” who found out their husband had an affair and how shocking it was? If she is a really great friend who you can truly trust then maybe you could tell her, but ask to her to find a way to have it appear she found out herself. ie show up at the office uninvited to take her husband to lunch or dinner.

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      I’d be direct but not speculative – don’t go out of your way to “tattle” but don’t avoid the subject either. Don’t try to “hint” or gossip, don’t come up with some elaborate plan for her to “accidentally” find out, don’t get involved in the personal aspect but be very straightforward about the work as if OF COURSE there’s nothing wrong with telling your friend that your new assistant isn’t doing her job.

      If you normally tell Katie about funny/annoying/interesting things from work, or if she asks about Tammy (whether pointedly or not) it’s fine to just answer honestly as you would with any other coworker. “It was nice of John to hire Tammy but she doesn’t seem to take the job seriously.” “Ugh I’m frustrated, we’re behind on X because Tammy spent the day on Instagram instead of doing Y.” “Honestly, she hasn’t been that helpful, all her tasks seem to get kicked back to my team.”

      If Katie suspects something your factual, work-related feedback will still be useful info for her and if she doesn’t, well, maybe she’ll start to wonder why John has been saying Tammy does such a great job. If she flat out says she thinks they’re having an affair, you can still go with “well she does seem to have a lot of one-on-ones with him and get away with not doing any work, but I have no idea” – you’re not obligated to cover for John regardless of what the actual problem is, and I think you’ll feel less guilty if you say SOMETHING.

  30. JJ*

    I do not understand why people do this. I had a boss who hired his girlfriend once, it wasn’t an affair, but she was totally unqualified and no one at work respected her because of the relationship…she only lasted a few months, I felt bad for her.

    Agree with commenters above that your boss is a dick, to his girlfriend, wife, you and all your coworkers. Definitely tell the tale about this on Glassdoor once you’re out. It sounds like there’s not much other recourse due to him being the boss and you not having HR, but is there anyone else at the C level you might be able to speak to? A CFO or COO who could pull him aside for a conversation?

    Even though it feels awful and I would hate to do it, you should wait to talk to Katie until after you’re out of there, at which point I’d lay out what I’d seen for her without drawing the “it’s an affair” conclusion. And for your own sanity, just pretend Tammy’s role doesn’t exist and just figure out how to handle the tasks she should be without her at all.

    1. Esmeralda*

      Why do people do this? Because they have pantsfeelings, and then they start thinking with their pants.

    2. Polly Hedron*

      JJ wonders

      I do not understand why people do this.

      RC Rascal answers below

      Hiring Tammy is a way to spend more time with her and more importantly, a cover for diverting marital funds to Tammy…married men having affairs will spend enormous sums of money on it, and need to hide it from the wife. Hiring the mistress is an easy way to cover it up.

  31. a heather*

    You have to tell her and you have to protect your job. These things are potentially at odds. Keep looking for a new job.

    You don’t KNOW anything about an affair, but you do know he’s doing weird things. Could you casually mention some of the things you’ve said here to your friend (like how he’s driving in with her every day, or how they’re in so many long, one-on-one meetings, or ask about her being a friend of the family) to get her antenna up without telling her something straight out that you only suspect? (I agree, the evidence is overwhelming, but you haven’t actually caught them doing anything inappropriate for his marriage.)

  32. Lilo*

    I realize you have loyalty to your friend, but losing your job could have a serious impact on you and you have to put your own well being first. Keep job hunting, once you are safely out of that mess of a workplace, then give your friend a call.

  33. Elliot*

    Am I just naive to think you don’t have ANY proof that they’re having an affair? I mean, are they? Probably. But it’s not like you’ve come across explicit emails or walked in on them having sex. You just have seen an admittedly inappropriate relationship between the two.

    Since you don’t know for sure that they are having an affair, I feel like as far as the wife goes, you have two options – play dumb and innocently point out things, like “Oh, John must have busier mornings now that he always picks up Tammy” or “Have you met Tammy? It seems like John is mentoring her since they meet for so many hours a week! How is that going for him?” The implication isn’t “Your husband is cheating,” because you REALLY do not know that. Or the second option, which is to do nothing, especially while you work there, because you DO not know what is happening for sure. If anything, you could always invite Katie to stop by and grab lunch with you, so she sees what is going on.

    As far as Tammy doing nothing and John being awful, of course continue to search for a new job.

    1. Mary Richards*

      I also wondered what made it so obviously an affair. Because my mind, without any other evidence, went to “Tammy is secretly John’s child and he gave her a job.” There’s no mention of anything physical. Idk, I know it’s highly speculative, but the affair isn’t exactly confirmed, either.

      1. Shark Whisperer*

        My mind went to “John owes Tammy’s dad money and has agreed to keep Tammy employed at his company but knows he doesn’t have any leverage to make her do any work”

        1. qtippyqueen*

          I kind of thought that too! Maybe he owes his friend a favor, and his hands are tied with Tammy. Not that it helps OP and their work situation at all, but there are other explanations than an affair.

      2. Ann Perkins*

        Spending every afternoon in a locked office together without seeming to do any actual work is the key part for me. There’s really no other explanation for that.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          It’s the locked part that’s bad. I can imagine him trying to train her or get her to do SOMETHING.

      3. Parenthesis Dude*

        The fact that they have one on ones in a locked office for hours doesn’t suggest an father/daughter relationship to me.

  34. plainclothes supervillain*

    New job new job oh my god get a new job holy shit. There is no other option. If they truly care about the company and the people there, they could ask for an exit interview and say Tammy’s attitude is poisonous, and his inability to manage her or and her unwillingness to do any work has destroyed a workplace you once enjoyed. That’s something that this idiot CEO maybe–MAYBE–would be willing to hear.
    After they’re gone, if they want to blow up his marriage, they certainly can. But saying or doing anything before having a safety net is extremely hazardous. This person has shown extremely poor judgement and a total lack of regard for “how things look to other people” so I wouldn’t trust him to see the light no matter how blunt or candy-coated the conversation is. I would rather trust him to retaliate and continue to act the fool.

    1. Carol*

      Plus, what else is going on with the finances if he’s wasting a whole salary/benefits and neglecting his work? Even taking the friendship out of it, I would be worried about the stability of such a small business when an affair gets in the mix. People in affairs do really dumb stuff with money.

  35. HelloHello*

    Try as hard as you can to find a new job (whatever else you do, even if you weren’t friends with the CEO’s wife, this job has clearly taken a dramatic downturn and you deserve something better!) As soon as you’re safely in a new job, telling your friend what you suspect is up to you, but personally I’d do it right away. Don’t do it until your livelihood isn’t at risk though. Much as it stinks to see a good friend in this position, John has clearly proven he has poor judgement and no sense of professional ethics.

  36. All’s Fair*

    Loooong before I was born, my mom’s first husband was cheating on her. My uncle actually saw the two out to lunch but didn’t realize what was happening so he didn’t say anything. Later my mom’s friend told her to get her affairs in order and get out and explained what she knew. I think she felt guilty that she had to be the one to tell her, but not guilty about telling her. Once my uncle knew, he felt horrible for not telling my mom about the lunch spotting and let her know then and there. Years later you can tell he still feels a bit bad.

    So I say, get your new job and feel guilty about being the one but don’t feel guilty that you might be helping your friend in the long run.

    1. Lilo*

      Although having lunch with someone =/= cheating, so your uncle should feel no guilt. I have lunch with various friends all the time.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        True. I’ve had lunch with hundreds of people who I never slept with. And assuming lunch=affair is something we’ve actually been, as a group, fairly opposed to on other posts (i.e., I won’t go to lunch with my employee because it’s a small town and people will talk!)

      2. ecnaseener*

        Yeah, easy to realize in hindsight that it must have been a date, but it would’ve been totally unreasonable to assume it at the time.

      3. The Original K.*

        Yeah, if I saw someone I knew having lunch with someone not their spouse, I wouldn’t think anything of it – people have lunch with people they’re not married to every day. I’d probably assume it was a colleague if it was a weekday.

      4. a heather*

        Yeah, having lunch is not a red flag unless there are other, date-like, behaviors going on at the same time.

    2. CRM*

      I don’t think your uncle should feel so guilty! Unless he witnessed a ton of PDA happening, just having lunch with someone does not indicate cheating. Before the pandemic, I frequently had platonic one-on-one work lunches with a couple of my male coworkers.

      Truthfully, OP doesn’t even have definitive proof that John is cheating on his wife. That said, I think there is evidence there to bring to Katie and see what she thinks (only AFTER OP is securely in a new job!).

      1. UKDancer*

        Ditto. I had one male co-worker before Covid that I regularly had lunch with. He and I both liked a particular cuisine neither of our partners enjoyed. So we’d go on a monthly basis to a place near work to have that cuisine for lunch and moan about our boss. We were not having an affair and that was never on the cards. We just wanted to blow off steam over a cuisine we enjoyed.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, before the pandemic I occasionally had lunch with my male coworker and we talked about non-work stuff.

      1. Bart*

        Lots of assumptions that if the spouse only knew then she would leave. I have seen a friend who had been tricked by a guy into thinking he was single when he had a long term girlfriend. She was so angry that she actually contact the girlfriend to warn her. The guy was so manipulative that the girlfriend stuck by her man rather than listen to the warning (and they are still together 2 years later). He was outraged and threatened to “sue her for slander.” We believe what we want to believe based on emotion rather than proof. I am sure it would be spun by the boss that the assistant seduced him against his will and he was just an innocent victim who is so relieved to be back with his wife. Until the next assistant comes along.

  37. Caroline Bowman*

    It would only be worth confronting the boss as a group, as in, more than 5 of you, ideally 10-plus. If you mark out a meeting time, intervention-style and raise it directly as a group, giving clear specific examples, with *everyone* speaking up in turn, it might have some impact. Obviously you’d never mention an affair in this context.

    Re what to do about Katie, I’d say get out as quick as possible, then at the earliest opportunity, present her with why you left and if there does happen to be any specific evidence, present that to her. It may torpedo the friendship, but at least then she has the info, not editorialised and you can move forward.

  38. Gone Girl*

    I think whether or not to tell Katie definitely hinges on how close you are with her. Do you two talk regularly? Do you share vulnerably details about your lives together? Or do you mostly just chat during your hobby activities?

    Slightly different scenario, but I had an former coworker who started a relationship with someone in an adjacent department. Long story short, I knew that this person had been unfaithful to their last partner, and I wanted to save my coworker the heartache. But ultimately, I knew I wasn’t a close enough friend to confront them about it. They’re both happily(?) married now, so it must have worked out.

    1. Boof*

      Agree 100%. If I didn’t know boss’s spouse at all, I would handle things at work, and not go out of my way to alert boss’s personal relations (unless I had some reason to really fear for someone’s safety – like the driving kids drunk res letter recently). BUT I also don’t see a reason to cover for boss or act like bad things aren’t bad. If I was talking to Katie in anything but a polite “oh hi nice weather bye!” context I like to think I’d say something. It doesn’t have to be “YOUR HUSBAND IS HAVING AN AFFAIR GET THE DIVORCE PAPERS LINED UP!”; it should just be sticking to the facts. “Is everything ok with [boss]? They’ve been acting weird at work lately, they hired an assistant (a family friend’s daughter maybe you know her?) and she refuses to do any work and it’s getting really stressful because we need an admin assistant, but he won’t actually deal with the problem. Maybe it’s something personal? It’s pretty demoralizing and strange and I’ve been wondering if you and everyone are ok?”
      Also maybe clearly call out boss every time the assistant doesn’t do something. Please make boss feel the consequences of their actions. Might it get you fired? Maybe; OP only you are in a position to judge how disasterous getting fired is but I think with all the letters outlining how it might be better to leave a toxic situation with no job than wait until you find one it’s worth thinking about leaving without something lined up so you can job hunt full time.

  39. Paloma Pigeon*

    Ignore the affair aspect and focus on the work aspect. All team leaders need to band together, call a meeting with John and lay out explicitly that administrative tasks are not being completed, this position was listed because there was a need for someone to own these tasks, and the hire in place is not doing them. The team then needs to request Tammy be put on a PIP or replaced and someone else fill the role. The team also, as a group, should indicate Tammy’s how Tammy’s behavior has been unprofessional and that all workers in the office need to follow a code of conduct which is to be pleasant and polite. You might not get anywhere, but I think coming together as a group might be a wake up call. Good luck OP.

    1. Ginger Baker*

      This is my take. I think the affair suspicions are making LW more hesitant to approach this head on, and I get that – it feels icky – but I’m not clear from the letter whether anyone has had a direct “we need X, Y and Z support and are not getting it, if Tammy’s role is not the one to offer that support then we need to hire an additional person to provide this support across the company.” Preferably as a strong team group, otherwise I would ask the highest-ranking person available to have that conversation. It’s a work need that needs to be solved and it is reasonable to address directly! It would not be any different if the “assistant” was his college buddy who now clearly has a drinking problem and comes in drunk and does no work but that clearly, for whatever reason, he feels he owes a debt to and refuses to fire or make do any work. If you can’t get rid of that position, so be it, but the work overload is real and therefore needs another additional role. (And, obvs, get out as fast as you possibly can :/ )

      1. CatsRunthePlace*

        I am totally agreed here. I don’t believe requesting Tammy be put on a PIP is the best move, since the CEO is the one determining what her tasks and responsibilities are. But, with the strength of a group, it seems totally reasonable to point out that the expectation of the staff was that they would have this support and that they are currently suffering without it (with explicit examples).

    2. All het up about it*

      I’m agreeing with this: tackle the work aspect first. Yes, for heaven’s sake, keep job hunting, but in the meantime, are there other departments/mangers/direct reports who aren’t Tammy where you can come together to meet with your CEO and say “as Tammy appears to taken on more of a personal assistant role for you we really need a general administrative assistant to help with tasks X, Y, Z.” Harder to punish a group, especially when the focus is on work tasks and the work of the company and not speculation on exactly how Tammy is personally assisting him. You and your team cannot be the only ones feeling this pinch. And the more you can focus on the work not getting done and not the WHY behind it, the better.

      After you are in a more secure work environment, I think it’s going to be easy to hint at Tammy being the reason you left without straight out saying they are having an affair. And for now, when Katie asks how things are going, the generic “There’s a lot of work right now.” or “Feeling overwhelmed, but we just keep plugging along” are probably fine!

    3. mcfizzle*

      Agreed – the workplace dysfunction should be the focal point and the one worth trying to push. Though I would be trying to do everything I could to get out.

      After leaving, then I would probably say something to the wife. I would absolutely want someone to tell me, even if they might be wrong.

  40. Rusty Shackelford*

    You don’t have to tell Katie now*, but when you do find a new job, and she asks why you left, you could say “I got frustrated with the lack of support. We had one administrative assistant who literally did nothing, and I got tired of doing her work myself, or asking my team to do it.” This is truth, unlike “your husband is sleeping with the admin,” which is speculation. If Katie is already suspicious, or even if she’s not suspicious but is open to the idea of being so, she’ll take it from there. If she’s not, she probably wouldn’t believe anything is happening no matter what you said. But keep in mind that it would get back to John. Do you need him as a reference?

    *Of course, you could also say the same thing now, when she asks you how work is going.

  41. Shark Whisperer*

    Honestly, I think I would talk to your friend, but not speculate about an affair because you don’t actually know. I tell Katie that you don’t want this to get back to her husband but you desperately want to leave your job because John is making your job harder. Ask her what the deal with Tammy is. Maybe Tammy is the daughter or someone important to John or someone he owes a favor to and the whole spending hours in his office is so that she doesn’t bother the rest of the office, but he knows he can’t make her do any actual work.

    But, honestly, I would have this conversation because I’m nosey and I would want to know what is going on.

    1. Myrin*

      I reckon it would be better to do this after OP has already left but other than that, I think that’s some truly excellent wording!

    2. learnedthehardway*

      I’m going to disagree, for the same reason that it’s just not appropriate for a manager talk to a staff member’s spouse about the staff member’s work performance. This is that situation in reverse. The wife can’t make any difference to how John conducts his work, and it wouldn’t be appropriate for her to be involved on that score. Also, on the (admittedly VERY slim) chance that John isn’t having an affair with the EA, he would have a good reason to be upset with the OP for bringing her concerns about his management and the EA’s work performance up with his spouse. That could affect the OP’s employment or at least make for a negative work environment.

      If the OP wants to disclose her suspicions to Katie, then she should do so, not pretend she’s talking out of school about a work performance issue.

  42. MMMMMmmmmMMM*

    I’m team Tell Katie, but you have to be careful. Either wait until you have a new job lined up and tell her directly, OR if no job seems to materialize, I’d drop hints that John and Tammy are spending a lot of time together. As another commenter mentioned above, if there’s a chance for unknown exposure to an STI, she deserves to know.

  43. Beth*

    When Katie asks, look extremely awkward and uncomfortable and change the subject. Murmur that you wish you had administrative support. If she asks about Tammy, look even more uncomfortable and suggest she talk to her husband about that.

    1. ecnaseener*

      You’re assuming John is a reasonable person who cares whether LW actually spilled the beans or not. Unfortunately what would actually happen is Katie would go to John and say “LW won’t tell me what’s going on but said I should ask you about Tammy?” and in John’s mind LW has gotten him in trouble.

  44. Alex*

    I’d say stay out of it and just quietly keep your head down and look for a new job. You know something is up, but you don’t know exactly what, and you don’t have enough information to go to the spouse about it. If you had completely unequivocal evidence, like you walked in on them having sex, that might change my answer but really, what is telling her going to accomplish? Probably not a lot, and it could affect your livelihood.

  45. Ooooo*

    Does John have a boss? Maybe you can bring your concerns about Tammy’s performance to them. Don’t mention your suspicions but do mention the “meetings” and the fact she does no work while being managed by John

  46. mskyle*

    What about just complaining about Tammy to Kate? As in “This is super-awkward, and I would ordinarily never bother you about a work problem like this, but do you know what the deal is with Tammy? She is just the worst admin I’ve ever worked with, but she and John seem so close and he gets really abrupt and snippy if I criticize her work or even just ask her to do her job! I know she’s the daughter of a family friend, but we really need someone who can actually do the work.”

    Definitely not risk-free, though! I feel like you’re in a crappy spot where you really need to decide between your job and this friendship, because you won’t be able to keep both long-term.

    1. Bagpuss*

      I wouldn’t do this until after you have a new job and have left. Then you can can have that conversation with Kate and it can be “I did try to speak to John about the effect this was having but he wasn’t very receptive. It’s a big part of why I am moving on and I know other staff find it really frustrating, too. I’m not sure how far John’s aware how much his apparent favoritism towards her, and tolerance of her lack of work, is noticed and resented”

      that way, you are sticking to facts and if she then puts 2 and 2 together she can.

  47. BlueBelle*

    In a company that size, there isn’t likely to be an HR that does anything but payroll. I would carry on as if she doesn’t exist. I wouldn’t send work, I would meet with my team and decide how we are going to divide up what used to be handled by an admin.
    I also wouldn’t say anything to the wife. Nothing good comes of it, even if you didn’t work for her husband.
    Good luck with the job hunt!

  48. Kito*

    Aanoynomous letter with as much evidence as you can with lout incriminating yourself. I’m sorry but I will always be team tell the spouse being cheated on as cheating and being an accomplice to cheating is the lowest form of dishonesty. But I don’t think she the letter writer should out herself or her job at risk.

    1. Despachito*

      “being an accomplice to cheating is the lowest form of dishonesty.”

      I think this is way too harsh on LW.

      She is not actively helping to cover the boss’s affair, and knowing and not telling absolutely does not make her an accomplice, let alone in the situation where her own livelihood is at stake.

  49. MissMeghan*

    If you decide to talk to Katie, I think you need to separate out the facts from the conclusions. As likely as it seems, you don’t actually know for certain John and Tammy are having an affair. I think you can provide Katie with facts and leave it to her to decide what to do with them. E.g. “I thought having Tammy here would take some items of my team’s plate, but she spends so much time in closed door meetings with John that it’s actually increasing our workload.” “Does Tammy live near you? I’ve noticed her and John carpooling almost every day.”

    It’s not up to you to ferret out what exactly is going on with John and Tammy or to tell Katie what conclusions you’ve drawn from these facts. If somehow there’s an unlikely non-affair explanation for their behavior, you won’t have said anything that isn’t true. I could see a scenario where a close family friend is going through a really difficult time in her personal life and is given a “job” where she doesn’t get any responsibilities and is allowed to hide out in the boss’s office during the day. Is it the most likely answer? No, but it is possible, and I don’t think you want to be the one to spread what is at this point a rumor rather than relay facts.

  50. Haley*

    If she was just casually a friend of the boss’ wife after starting working there, maybe I’d feel differently. But she was friends with the wife first. The job came second. And it sounds like the boss is running this company into the ground anyway… I would tell your friend what you suspect and try to look for another job.

  51. Marny*

    You have two completely separate problems: a work problem (bad assistant and derelict boss) and a friend problem (my friend’s husband may be cheating). They likely need to be dealt with in that order. First, fix your work problem by finding and securing new employment. Then you can deal with your friend problem. When Katie inevitably asks why you left her husband’s company, which she probably will, you can honestly say, “Frankly, after John hired Tammy, it became a really hard environment. Tammy did nothing all day besides online shopping and playing with her phone, and when I went to John about the problem, he told me I needed to find someone else to do Tammy’s job.” That’s all true information, without your suspicions and possibly wrong conclusions, and will let Katie wonder why he hired Tammy in the first place. Then it’s up to her to decide if she wants to delve more deeply into John and Tammy’s relationship. If you actually knew he was having an affair, I’d recommend being more straightforward AFTER you get a new job.

  52. raincoaster*

    I honestly don’t understand why these guys make their side pieces come in to work every day in the first place. If she’s not going to be doing any work, everyone would be happier with her sitting at home bingeing Netflix. And I speak from experience, because I dealt with a Tammy-and-John in my own workplace once. Fortunately that time John recognized that if Tammy didn’t do her job, his bonus would be impacted, so he lit a fire under her and she was a delight to work with…when she was working. Then John was transferred away, we got a new manager, and her true colours came out. They were not pretty.

    1. Real Human Accountant*

      Seriously–just pay Tammy for “consulting work,” have lots of “offsite meetings” with her, and hire a real admin who will do real work. Why do it this way and cause so much frustration and suspicion? (It sounds like I have given this a lot of thought. I have not, this was right off the top of my head, so why wouldn’t someone who has more at stake think it through even more thoroughly?!)

    2. Carol*

      I think people like the idea of “getting away with something” and/or having a “plausible explanation” even if it’s not the smartest approach and it makes everything way more obvious. Either that or they consciously/subconsciously want to blow their lives up.

  53. Emmie*

    There is no right answer here. You have to figure out what which of the risks you are most comfortable with. It sucks.

    1. nonbinary writer*

      Yeah, I think this is the crux of it. Every possibility requires a balance of personal ethics and risk evaluation. I definitely don’t envy OP.

      1. Emmie*

        Me neither. I am also troubled because this could be an affair, but it could be something else. We do not know for sure.

  54. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Not directly relevant, but a funny story: My ex worked for his dad, who was a notorious womanizer. At one point, Dad wanted to put his mistress on the payroll. My ex pointed out that there were literally no extra desks for another person, and without blinking an eye Dad said, “She could work a night shift.” Believe me, she already was….

  55. CatLady*

    Is it possible to ask John about hiring a part-time or “temp” admin as a way to keep Tammy from being “overworked?” Frame it as a business need.
    That might help ease work pressures while you job hunt.

  56. 2cents*

    Here’s what I would do: double down on my job searching, if I wasn’t doing that already. Once I left that awful place, surely the subject would come up with Katie and it could go like this:
    Katie: “But why did you leave?”
    Me: “I felt it wasn’t a good fit any more. I grew tired of having to bear the workload of people who managed to not do any work at all, just browse social media all day and somehow not be fired by John.”
    Katie: “That’s awful, who could be doing that?”
    Me: “Tammy. But enough about me, how are you doing?”

  57. Hopping to it*

    I would probably tell her, with a sense of confusion, that Tammy isn’t taking on any assistant tasks and John seems to be actively discouraging anyone to give her tasks. You may even say something about it being hard to meet with him given his long closed door meetings, but I think that’s optional. You can be honest that it’s coming across as odd and it’s a bit demoralizing. I don’t think you need to say anything about an affair – you don’t truly know, you suspect. And who knows, maybe your friend actually knows another reason for this attitude. But if not, you’ve given her information to figure things out on her own. I also think approaching it with the attitude that it’s odd, but you aren’t even considering an affair as the reason will give you plausible deniability if John comes back about it, can spare your friend face, and could help you avoid a mistake if it is genuinely another issue.

  58. OliveJuice90*

    I agree with other commenters who have said that your friendship with Katie will likely end at some point over this (provided that Tammy and John are actually having an affair- which it sounds like they are). It would not surprise me as well if you don’t lose the hobby group as well if this blows up. Even though people should know rationally that you needed to stay mum in order to keep your livelihood and that this was a very special circumstance- many will probably not look too kindly upon the perception that you kept your knowledge of an affair hidden from a friend. (I realize that this is completely unfair of them, but people are extra irrational around this kind of stuff)
    If I was in the situation myself I would get out of the job as quickly as possible and then speak to Katie about the odd behavior that I witnessed. I understand that other people might want a clean break and decide to say nothing, but I think it truly depends on how much you care about Katie and the other friendships in the hobby group. I wish you the absolute best of luck in this and I hope you are able to find a new job soon!

    1. Despachito*

      “many will probably not look too kindly upon the perception that you kept your knowledge of an affair hidden from a friend. (I realize that this is completely unfair of them, but people are extra irrational around this kind of stuff)”

      Do they not even consider the option that you sincerely did not notice?

      It is not anyone’s obligation to have ears and eyes pricked, and some people are more oblivious than others. How can anyone tell for sure you knew (unless, of course, you tattle around, but this is absolutely your choice to do or not to do)

  59. Ace in the Hole*

    Recently there was a somewhat similar incident at my work among some of my colleagues. Janice was convinced that the new hire, Sally, was having an affair with Bob. Janice was also friends with Bob’s wife. Sally is a young, pretty woman new to our industry who was hired as a low-level temp and has quickly advanced. Bob is above Sally in the hierarchy, but not her direct supervisor, and was spending a lot of time one-on-one with her to “show her the ropes” among other things Janice found suspicious. She told Bob’s wife about the affair, along with all the sordid details and evidence, and told other people at work about it.

    Unfortunately… Janice was completely mistaken about what was going on. Sally was horrified when she found out about the rumors and (rightfully) brought up that this was sexual harassment. Bob was (rightfully) upset about this. He was actually genuinely just mentoring Sally, and had a cordial but professional relationship with her. I know because I walked in on them with no warning when they were together quite a few times and there was never anything inappropriate going on.

    Ultimately, Janice was fired because she wouldn’t knock it off or apologize. If she hadn’t been fired, I’m pretty sure Sally would have quit – a huge loss for her personally and for the organization.

    LW, I don’t know you or your situation. I’m certainly not trying to call your judgment into question. But from an outside perspective, there’s no difference between your situation and Janice’s. Whether she was correct about the affair or not, telling the wife and spreading rumors about it were harmful to Sally… who was the most vulnerable person involved. What happens if Tammy loses her job over this, either because she’s fired or because working there becomes untenable? What if she actually IS the daughter of a family friend, and this puts her relationship with her family on the rocks? Etc.

    Right now you have a lot of well-founded suspicions… but it sounds like you don’t *know* anything for sure. You haven’t caught them in flagrente dilecto, you haven’t heard either of them openly admit anything, seen any kisses or incriminating emails, etc. So you’d be sharing suspicions…. not facts. That’s pretty shaky ground to be on with something like this in a work context. There’s still a chance of some other explanation. On the other hand, I can empathize with wanting your friend to know about it. If you do decide to say something to her, I encourage you to keep it strictly limited to facts you’ve observed and not things you suspect based on those facts.

    For example, it’s worrying that this young family friend doesn’t know how to dress appropriately for the office, seems to spend most of her time goofing off, and Boss doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it. Regardless of why that’s the case, she’s clearly not getting a good introduction to her career and workplace behavior!

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I’m going to assume the glaring difference in this situation and OP’s is that Sally was competently performing her job whereas Tammy clearly is not.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        Yes, that is a difference. But the bigger point is that there could be something totally different going on. I’m not going to go down rabbit holes of speculation to propose a bunch of alternate scenarios… but it’s not like an affair is the only possible explanation either.

        All LW knows for sure is that Sally is not a great employee, and Boss is not doing well as a manager around this issue. She suspects the reason is an affair, but she doesn’t know for sure. “Sally’s doing a bad job and Boss isn’t fixing it” is a very different thing to tell Boss’s Wife than “Boss is having an affair with Sally, I can tell because of…”

    2. Boof*

      Yep it’s absolutely best to stick with facts, and not speculation. The facts for work is Tammy doesn’t do her job and boss won’t deal with it. The facts for Katie is boss is being weird about working with this family friend daughter he hired. Stick to the facts, and point out the consequences to boss every time they come up; yes it risks job security but I suspect OP will bounce back just fine if boss does chose Tammy over OP. That being said of course OP is truly in the best position to judge their position in life so I don’t begrudge them choosing a path where they keep their head down. I just sort of doubt it’s worth it there are ways and there are ways and often toxic situations aren’t as unescapable as they may seem from the inside.

    3. Formerly young and clueless*

      Couldn’t agree more. I felt uncomfortable reading this letter because — minus the terrible work ethic — it could’ve been written about me when I started my first “real” job. I dressed pretty much the same way I did in college, without giving much thought to the fact that it was in a super artsy town on the coast and I was now working in a buttoned-up industry in a more conservative state. (Nothing too outrageous, but a lot more bright colors/higher heels than others were wearing). And yes, I had a lot of one-on-ones and lunches with my boss/mentor — with whom I’m still good friends (he’s retired now). We were and are both happily married to other people.

      I had several “very special conversations” with our useless HR that just left me confused. It took an embarrassingly long time for me to realize that most of my coworkers assumed we were sleeping together. To this day, it affects the way I relate to my male coworkers.

      Not saying there’s no way John and Tammy are having an affair — but I think it’s common to assume young woman + older man = affair when that’s not always the case.

    4. Red Rider*

      +1 to this.

      Even if John is in fact attracted to Tammy and offered her the job because of that, I wouldn’t assume a physical relationship. Is there any evidence Tammy is attracted to the older, married, friend-of-her-parents John? Of that she’s desperate to keep this job? It doesn’t sound like it. Everything the OP said could also support the theory that John is infatuated with Tammy and Tammy is simply accepting the gifts he throws at her (the rides, a salary with no responsibility) without giving anything back in turn. Those long meetings might be John’s contrivance to spend time with her, but the actual meeting content could be innocent enough.

  60. No one*

    My cousin was your friend in this at one point. Her (now) ex was an executive who was having the affair (though not with someone who worked there). His fling would make a show of calling the office and stopping by. It became such a big deal he was actually suspended for 3 days. The office administrators were all looking for a new job because of him. They had a deal that whoever found a new job first would be the one to call my cousin. They had dates and information to provide her and she was able to line them up.

    As for what to do, I can’t say with 100% confidence either way. I know my cousin was glad to learn about it, even though it was hard. I also understand you keeping it to yourself until a new job comes through and when the time comes, explain it as you wanted to be 100% sure before mentioning anything. You wouldn’t even have to say how long it’s been going on. GL!

  61. PT*

    Anonymous note to Katie, via USPS, typed in Word, using a written “voice” other than your own and a font nobody would be caught dead using at work, like Curlz MT or Comic Sans, sent from a post office near the office so it’s postmarked with that zip code.

    DeAr KaTiE, jOhN iS bAnGinG hIs aDmIn TaMmY i ThOuGhT yOu ShOuLd KnOw.

  62. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

    Please tell Katie. I’ve been cheated on, and it became even more humiliating to realize that many other people knew before I did. I am eternally grateful for the friend who finally told me.

    John is not only putting Katie at physical risk with STDs, but a lot of emotional damage as well.

    Katie deserves to know, so she can make informed choices for herself with ALL the correct information.

  63. SummerBee*

    I was in a very similar work situation once, when our boss was carrying on with one of our team, while both were married to other people. They would disappear for day-long trips to “find props for photo shoots”, he would weirdly over-praise her work in meetings, and he even promoted her to a senior role during this time. We all knew and resented it, but said nothing.

    Eventually the whole thing blew up while they were on an overseas “business trip” together. His wife called the office to get the hotel phone number to get hold of him, and it turns out he’d given her a different itinerary than the actual one and he had omitted a two-day stop at a vacation destination. Both marriages broken, both jobs lost, but none of us directly responsible. I would do the same again – stay quiet, don’t make it your business, and karma will eventually take care of it.

  64. anon anon anon anon*

    Anon for this.

    I think the OP needs to find a new job (for a whole host of reasons) and she can’t really say anything until then.

    That said.

    When there is an opportunity for you to do so safely, tell Katie. You don’t need to catch them in the act to have enough evidence. He has an inappropriate relationship with her right now, even if it hasn’t turned physical yet. In practical terms, he is putting Katie’s health and financial security at risk with his behavior. And, quite frankly, the emotional damage that he’s doing is almost unfathomable and it will only get worse the longer this goes on.

    I say this as someone whose spouse cheated. They have a right to know. It is painful, it is messy, it is not likely that you are going to get a thank you card after this. But she needs to know. Whatever steps she takes after that are up to her – but she has the right to make that choice for herself.

  65. Llellayena*

    I can definitely see if you want to save this for when you’ve got an offer somewhere else, but I would be very tempted to give one last try to the “Tammy doesn’t fit this role” conversation in the following way: “John, we’re still not getting the administrative support we would need from someone in Tammy’s position. Office morale is tanking because of this, other staff are taking on administrative tasks that they really don’t have time to complete on top of their other work. I realize you’re trying to help a family friend, but the optics of the situation make it seem like you and she are having an affair, which I’m sure you don’t intend (definitely he intends to have the affair, but possibly not make it so obvious), and that that’s the only reason she’s working here. Can she start picking up some of the administrative tasks that should be on her plate?

    The advantage to this is you are both warning him that the affair is obvious AND reassuring him that you don’t actually think that he’s having an affair (well…sort of). To be honest this might come better from someone who isn’t you so he doesn’t immediately perceive the threat to his marriage from you, but that means finding someone else in the office willing to bring this up. This is why I say you might want to wait until you have an offer, he then can’t counter-threat. But this MIGHT give you the result that Tammy starts actually doing some of those tasks (or she blows up, breaks up with him and leaves and the company can hire a competent assistant).

    1. Maree*

      I had to have this conversation with my boss. It wasn’t an easy one, that’s for sure. I know my boss wasn’t having an affair, but the optics looked really bad and I had had multiple people ask me about it. In this case, a lot of the behaviour was coming from the much younger woman he was actually mentoring.

      I don’t know if having this conversation is the right way to go, but if you do, maybe approach it like the idea of an affair is preposterous and you are sure he would never do that. This puts him on notice that people can see what he’s doing, but in a way that doesn’t threaten his sense of wellbeing and therefore your job.

  66. StoneColdJaneAusten*

    I would stay out of it and then play dumb when the truth comes out, but I’m a coward when my employment is on the line.

  67. Mellie Bellie*

    Yep. My advice:

    (1) Secure a good reference for this job from someone who isn’t John
    (2) Do everything in your power to get a new job, STAT
    (3) Once you’re gone, tell Katie the facts – do not speculate about an affair, but tell her that you left because the favoritism John shows Tammy and his lack of availability due to long closed door meetings with Tammy impacted the quality of your company’s performance and also made your work situation untenable. If Katie wants to know more (and you don’t know that she will), then she can figure it out from there.

    1. Sondheim Geek*

      This is where I land. Right now OP doesn’t have actual concrete evidence of an affair. Do I think they’re having an affair? Most likely. But everything OP has mentioned, John could easily spin (maybe they carpool because she doesn’t have a car and lives nearby, maybe she spends so many closed door meeting with him because he sees himself as a mentor and is providing one-on-one training, maybe he didn’t realize she was spending so much time shopping and on social media). To be clear, these are BS responses, but I could see John spinning it that way. I think laying out the facts (not the speculation) in a “this is why I left” manner of tone is the best option.

  68. Cake or Death?*

    “and partly because I need to protect my job. I am the only person at work who would possibly tip her off about this, and it would be obvious it was me if I were to tell her. ”

    Personally, I can envision where OP being friends with Katie might give her some protection from being fired while job searching, as I’m sure John can likely imagine that if he fired OP over Tammy, that OP would tell his wife what’s going on. And just to make sure that John is aware of this idea, I would say OP should not-so-subtly make it known to John that it’s pretty clear to everyone that he’s banging his assistant.

    ” I’ve tried to talk to John about how this is impacting our workflow and how we really need a true assistant, but he snaps that these tasks are not so urgent that we can’t handle them ourselves within our own teams.”

    OP should snap back, “and exactly what IS Tammy’s job, other than spending HOURS EVERY DAY WITH YOU IN A LOCKED OFFICE while everyone else does her work? Everyone thinks it’s pretty strange how you don’t spend hours a day in a locked office with any of your other employees…Since Tammy isn’t completing any duties of her actual job description, exactly what “JOB” is she doing for you?” while giving a VERY pointed look with raised eyebrows.

    This approach is probably not the approach many people would do and it could end badly, but personally, I wouldn’t be able to hold my tongue. It’s bad enough that John banging his assistant means extra work for his employees that actually are working, but the fact that he’s doing it in front of someone who he knows is good friends with his wife, is just a bridge too far for me. And I’d personally have a REALLY hard time not making it clear to him that I am AWARE and NOT ok with it. Maybe he fires me. And maybe I then tell everyone what a scumbag he is, wife included.

    LOL yeah I know, not the best idea. But it would be satisfying.

  69. Anathema Device*

    It is completely up to the LW, but it sounds like they want to tell Katie, which for the record, I think is the right thing to do. But first things first, do NOTHING until you have a new job. Do not jeopardize your own paycheck, because unfortunately, things can (and probably will) go wrong.

    As for how to tell Katie: because we didn’t know FOR SURE that they are having an affair, and because we don’t know FOR SURE that Katie doesn’t know/they have an open marriage, it should be done as matter-of-fact as possible, with no judgment. Saying something like, “I need to talk to you about something that’s pretty awkward. In the course of working with your husband, I’ve come to believe that he is having an affair. I obviously don’t know the private workings of your marriage, but as a friend, I feel obligated to say something. John and Tammy arrive to work every day together and often spend hours alone in closed door meetings. Tammy is not doing her job; when asked to do administrative tasks, she complains to John, who then passes the work off to someone else. Besides the fact that this made me uncomfortable as your friend, it also made work untenable, and is a major reason I left the company. As a friend, I felt that I had to let you know; again, I don’t know if this will be news to you or not, and that’s not my business. If you want to talk more about this, I’m happy to, but I will also never bring it up again and pretend this conversation never happened if that’s what you prefer.”

    And then do exactly that; do not hint more about it, do not make comments about John and/or Tammy. Take the lead from Katie who now has the information and gets to make her own decisions about her marriage.

  70. yikes*

    I think you have been given a lot of great advice above and it’s a personal choice as to how you want to handle things. Personally I’d tell Katie how important her friendship is to you but you have some game changing news you do not know how to deal with…

    Total side note and admittedly not important for such a serious discussion (maybe it’s too many movies watched during the pandemic) but….. does anyone foresee some scenaro where OP collects all the data she can for Katie and then there’s the mic drop moment during eventual divorce proceedings where Boss suddenly realizes Katie knows a lot more than he realized

  71. WellRed*

    If Tammy is not actually the “daughter of a family friend,” I’m fairly confident simply asking Katie about Tammy (“So, is Tammy the daughter of an old college friend?”) will send up some red flags for Katie. let her take it from there (or not, if she wants).

    1. Frank Doyle*

      I also think she can be frank about what a terrible employee Katie is, without getting into the shared rides or closed door meetings. “We have a new employee and she effing sucks, do you know anything about her?”

      Also, how dumb is this dude? It’s one thing to be so indiscreet that it’s obvious to your employees that something hinky is going on, but when you know that one of those employees knows your wife outside of work, just . . . what? That seems beyond idiotic.

  72. Aggretsuko*

    Right now, go with “plausible denial.” Technically you haven’t seen them having sex. Do your best to NOT see what you’re seeing.

    Beyond that, I don’t know. It sounds like you can’t leave and if you speak up, you most likely lose your job. As long as you can’t get out, you have to cover your own arse.

  73. Squirrel*

    Oof. My sympathies, what an awful situation.
    1. New job secured with reference from John if needed.
    2. Then tell Katie once John’s reference isn’t needed anymore.
    3. Don’t use John as a reference for the next (next) job. Use another coworker if possible.

  74. Ann O'Nemity*

    I don’t think the OP should tell Katie because it’s not the OP’s business, it could jeopardize their job, and they don’t even know anything for certain.

    I’d recommend continuing to look for a job. In the meantime, I’d also suggest that the OP carefully consider the real impact this situation is having on their work. Try to separate out the emotion and focus on quantifiable impact. I get the sense that the scandalous nature of these is adding a lot of drama – My boss is having an AFFAIR! Katie is my FRIEND! etc etc

    Focusing on business impact may help mitigate the situation. For example, not having access to administrative support adds 2 hours of work to the OP’s plate per day. If it’s causing a capacity issue, the OP can address it with John that way – “With the additional admin work, my team can do A, B, and C, but we can no longer have the capacity to do D and E. Or would you like me to prioritize a different way?” Another example is John’s reliability as the decision maker, which can be addressed in terms of the actual impact it has on the OP’s work – delayed decisions, missed opportunities, etc.

  75. Anonymoose*

    The other scenario is a “rats on a sinking ship” if everyone starts to leave the company it’s going to implode on its own. That’s going to be odd to the wife and might bring up stuff in their marriage. I don’t think the husband can get away with “i hired Tammy who is really nice, and then everyone quit”, the wife will be like “yep,uh huh, sure”. Hopefully this would be a come to reality moment for this guy as his job,personal life and marriage fall apart around him.

  76. CRM*

    First of all, OP shouldn’t say anything until they are securely in a new job. It’s not worth risking their livelihood over this. I also think that OP should work on securing a reference who isn’t John, regardless of whether they decide to bring this information to Katie or stay quiet, as it sounds like his reputation is starting to tank.

    Aside from that, it doesn’t sound like OP has definitive proof that John is cheating on his wife. While that is the most likely situation here, they shouldn’t be treating it as a foregone conclusion. That said, I think it’s worth bringing the evidence to Katie. If he is indeed cheating (and doing so this fragrantly), it’s likely that Katie already suspects that something is off, and this additional information might be enough to spur her to take action. But I don’t think OP has an obligation to do this, and if OP isn’t close with Katie and decides not to get involved, I think that’s understandable too! Personally, I wouldn’t get involved unless this person was a close friend or family member.

  77. RC Rascal*

    Here are a few other thoughts:

    It seems most likely that John was already having an affair with Tammy prior to him hiring her. Hiring Tammy is a way to spend more time with her and more importantly, a cover for diverting marital funds to Tammy. Tammy is probably a sugar baby and he is giving her a lot of money, and needs to hide how the funds are disappearing from Katie. (This is a thing–married men having affairs will spend enormous sums of money on it, and need to hide it from the wife. Hiring the mistress is an easy way to cover it up).

    Tammy may actually be a friend of the daughter.

    At some point this is going to blow up, with or without OP. What if Tammy breaks it off with John and there is a lot of drama? What if she files a sexual harassment claim against him? What if the small business deteriorates because John, the owner and CEO, is taking care of pants business instead of taking care of actual business?

  78. Bob's Your Uncle*

    OP, I feel like this is going to blow up on your face no matter what. At best, your boss is paying someone to do nothing while everyone else has to pick up her slack, and that certainly will have consequences.
    As other commenters said, keep looking for a new job. Once you have one secured, do tell Katie that you left because your boss was obviously playing favorites with Tammy and everything else he was doing, but only mention the affair when you actually get proof, if that ever happens. In case they really are having affair behind her back, she deserves to know what you know in order to protect her assets, including her own health (what if she got an STD from him?). She might not get the hint and if she does, she might turn on you for whatever reason. I’m sorry you’re going through this, be prepared to count your losses, whether they’re a friendship or a reference, but at least make sure you can pay your bills.

  79. Phony Genius*

    Part of my wants to say to Katie “Have you ever surprised your husband at work? It might be fun to try that once.” And let the chips fall where they may.

    But that’s probably a bad idea that would make a better TV/movie script than real life.

  80. throwawayaddy*

    Can you pointedly suggest she might want to start dropping by in the afternoons? You don’t have to go into any details…I’m pretty sure just saying “you might want to start dropping by in the afternoons” (and only that no matter how she probes) will clue in any woman that something’s up.

  81. irene adler*

    Sow the seeds of doubt in Tammy’s head (“what he does with you, he’ll do to you…”)?
    Invite Katie to stop by the work place – for a mid-afternoon lunch with you?
    I kid. Those will blow up in your face -in one way or another.

    Best move is to put the job search into high gear. Meanwhile, keep quiet and do the work (including what should be assigned to Tammy).

    A real longshot is that John is helping Tammy through some kind of personal crisis. But then the refusal to do work and Internet surfing would not be things someone going though difficult times would be doing -on a consistent basis anyways.

  82. Not A Manager*

    I’m seeing a lot of suggestions for strong hinting on the one hand, or strongly worded (and possibly unfounded) accusations on the other hand. Why not tell Katie the actual truth? After the LW finds a new job, of course!

    “Why did I quit? Because something weird was going on with Tammy that made it impossible for me to get my work done. She did zero work, was rude and uncooperative, and spent all of her time scrolling her phone or in endless closed-door meetings with John. John refused to manage her, wouldn’t let us manage her, and expected us to do her work as well as our own. I don’t know what was going on and I don’t want to know, but the workplace became completely toxic.”

  83. ProjectManagerToughSpot*

    Hi everyone, I’m the OP. I’d like to add a few details that people have been mentioning in the comments, to add further context and proof of the affair that I suspect.
    1) We have a payroll person who is supposed to function as HR, but in practice she processes payroll and does the onboarding of new employees but that’s really it.
    2) John’s brother is our COO, and he is competent and sees the problems Tammy’s work ethic is creating. He has tried to address the impact on the team (both in terms of workflow and morale) with John, but John will not acknowledge the problem. We have lost/paused a couple of big projects due to COVID and the admin workload is much lower than the before-times, so he feels we should be able to manage these tasks within our own teams until the workload picks back up.
    2) I am not close with Katie, we know each other through the hobby group and don’t have a ton of contact otherwise.
    3) I agree that what I wrote in the initial letter isn’t conclusive proof that this is an affair (see point 4), but John’s constant protection of her from criticism and refusal to make her do anything productive at work told me there was something going on beyond a standard employee/employer relationship.
    4) Some employees have seen John and Tammy holding hands in the parking lot and kissing.
    5) I am in talks with my former boss from my last job. She has since moved on from our old company and is at a competitor now. They are hiring for a project manager right now and as I understand it I am on the shortlist. It will be a lateral move for me, but I’m desperate to get out of here!
    6) As soon as I do get out of here, I will have a private conversation with Katie and tell her what I’ve observed. I would want to know if our positions were reversed. If I’m wrong or Katie is aware and fine with it, then at least I’ll have the peace of mind to know I’ve said something.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      3) I agree that what I wrote in the initial letter isn’t conclusive proof that this is an affair (see point 4), but John’s constant protection of her from criticism and refusal to make her do anything productive at work told me there was something going on beyond a standard employee/employer relationship.

      And even if he’s not sleeping with her, he’s still willfully making it more difficult to do your job. That’s still a pretty big problem.

    2. Cake or Death?*

      “ John’s brother is our COO, and he is competent and sees the problems Tammy’s work ethic is creating. He has tried to address the impact on the team (both in terms of workflow and morale) with John, but John will not acknowledge the problem”
      For the love…you think his own brother would tell him “dude, everyone knows you’re banging the admin and that she literally does nothing here other than screw you. Grow up and act like a damn CEO FFS”

    3. learningToCode*

      You said she earnestly asks about your job, so she’ll most likely ask what happened when you leave, right?

      Mention the lack of admin support and see if she wants to take it further. Technically, you don’t know if it’s an affair, but you can mention the admin not doing their tasks and being away in meetings with the husband instead of working and let Katie connect the dots if she wants to see them. Be factual not speculative and there wouldn’t be a way to retaliate without it reflecting a million times worse on him.

      1. Chilipepper*

        I agree that when you leave there will likely be an opportunity to comment on the problems. I’d use learningToCode’s language but I would add that John’s brother saw the problems too but could not fix them. If possible, I’d want Katie asking the brother instead of me for more details.

    4. Just Another Zebra*

      Thank you for this, OP. I wish you lots and lots of luck with getting out of this job!

    5. Not it*

      Situations like these you want to take pictures of the hand holding and kissing and share if not with the wife at least with the brother who if nothing else will probably kick the sh** out of his brother. Tempting to share with the entire office as well but not sure I would go that far. Would love to leave copies on Tammy and John’s windshields though.

    6. Ann O'Nemity*

      Telling her will likely burn a bridge and a reference for a position you had for 6+ years. Even if you have another job lined up, it could hurt you in future job searches. I get that you’re trying to do right by your “not close” friend, but I still don’t think it’s worth the risk.

      1. Cass*

        100% agree. Not your circus, not your monkeys. If the CEO is that blatant and kissing/handholding at work (according to OP’s coworkers) then it’s only a matter of time until the wife finds out, assuming she does not already know.

      2. Smithy*

        Completely agree.

        I’m not saying that references need to be protected at all moral/ethical costs, but…..6 years is just a long time. And if this company ultimately functions as a family business that could be at risk of going under due to a messy divorce, I just would not want to be viewed as someone involved. This seems so openly messy that it’ll get to Katie eventually.

    7. Cass*

      “2) I am not close with Katie, we know each other through the hobby group and don’t have a ton of contact otherwise.”

      I would seriously reconsider saying anything to the wife here. You have not directly observed any of the handholding and kissing. I completely agree with you that this is likely an affair, but it’s really not any of your concern. Your concern is the lack of admin support and frankly a pretty screwed up leadership group that you should get away from. The brother/COO has more standing to call the affair side of this out if he wanted to.

      If you do choose to say something be very OK with the idea that you’re almost certainly going to lose this place as a credible reference ever again.

    8. Ellie*

      That’s a great plan OP, you’re doing the right thing. I would want to know too. The fact that you’re not that close to Katie makes it easier, if she cuts you off over this, then its not that much of a loss.

      John seems very keen on blowing up his life, he’s not only relying on you to keep quiet, but his brother as well. I know someone whose own father told his wife about his affairs, so he’s an idiot for relying on that.

    9. Carol*

      So glad you have another potential opportunity! I hope you get it. I do think it’s right to tell Katie once you’ve left. I think most people would want to know.

  84. DE Engineer*

    Now is an excellent time to find a new job! I was searching passively throughout 2020, and found multiple new opportunities a few months ago. I accepted a new job offer and will be starting May 10. Project management is very transferrable, so you might consider broadening your search to additional fields.

  85. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

    OP, I wouldn’t go there with John’s wife because although it is HIGHLY probable that they are having an affair, you technically do not know for sure. And I wouldn’t go looking. Focus on getting your work done and applying for other jobs. I know you feel bad for your friend, but without some serious proof of cheating, she may very well not believe you and get angry with you. And he may well convince her that you are making it up. He would likely say that you were upset about a bad performance review and are retaliating against him or something like that. It is just not a good idea. The best idea in my opinion is hold onto the fact that you do not actually know, make every effort to NOT actually know, and get out of there before this can cause more damage.

  86. NumbBureaucrat*

    I did not have time to read all of the replies, so this may have been suggested, but confront the boss. It doesn’t have to be personal. A simple, “Look, Tammy is so bad at her job that team morale is at an all time low and you should know most of the people who work here suspect you are having an affair with her as there is simply no other reason for her to be here based on her performance. If that is not the case then things need to change. If you don’t start providing administrative support to your staff you are going to lose them.”

    If he denies it or gets angry you can respond in a way that throws it back on his behavior. “I am not one of the people who believes you’re having an affair, as I don’t think you would be stupid enough to cheat on your wife in front of one of her friends, but people are talking. You need to manage Tammy’s poor performance. It is making you look bad and impacting productivity.” What can the jerk say to that that won’t cause him to out himself?

  87. SaffyTaffy*

    Just tell Katie. Tell her in a way that won’t let her doubt you or give John a way to lie around it.

  88. boop the first*

    There’s a lot of discussion about whether or not friends should tell friends about potential affairs, but it seems to always come down to tell or don’t tell.
    Isn’t there a spectrum between tell or don’t tell? If you just straight up said you thought your friend’s spouse was cheating, why would they accept it anyway?
    Not related to this specific story since Katie isn’t even a close friend, but if she was, a light workplace complaint in passing conversation would be a pretty natural thing to do with friends. We have this new coworker who does nothing but hang out alone with john in his office all day every day, but you must have heard all about it from john already, huh? No accusations or weird gravity necessary. If Tammy really was just annoying coworker getting computer training all afternoon, then yeah, Katie’s probably heard about it.

    1. c-*

      I think in this case that has all the disadvantages of telling (Katie will likely tell her husband, who will likely put the LW on the shit list or fire her to protect himself from discovery) with none of the advantages of telling (Katie might disregard the hint, the boss will probably lie his way out of it if he hears about it and will probably go to greater lengths to hide the affair).

      In my opinion, hinting with these things is done to assuage the witness’ conscience: “Well, I hinted and she didn’t pick up on it, I did all I could”, and we need to prioritise the victim’s needs in this case. If you decide to drop this truth bomb in someone’s life, I think the least you owe them is relaying what you know straightforwardly. Tactfully, yes, but straightforwardly. Sometimes compassion requires facing things directly.

  89. Chantel*

    I would just focus solely on getting out, and managing things as best as you can while staying, even if it means doing the work for which the company said it needed to hire someone to do.

    The rest will have to take care of itself. The only exception I’d make (just my opinion) is if I were Katie’s best friend of many years. In that case, I would say something – after finding employment elsewhere.

  90. c-*

    LW, I’m so sorry that you’re in this situation! My advice:
    – If you are not already, start looking for a new job very actively. You’re in a bad and unstable situation: dishonesty and cruelty are character traits. A boss who lies to his spouse, screws her over, and disregards boundaries with his employees will lie about other things and screw his employees over. He may very well be involved in other unethical behaviour that could come to bite you all in the ass, and he is for sure engaging in favoritism, abuse of power, and negligence of his business. Get as aggresive as possible about that job search: your office is on fire.
    – Once you’re out, tell your friend. Her consent is being violated and she’s investing her time, health, money, and future plans in someone who is betraying and conning her (plus, she did you a good turn by helping you find a job, and I believe fairness requires that you give her a heads up when you’re safely out; not her fault the job turned out to be toxic).
    – Bonus round: when you tell her, give her Tracy Schorn’s book “Leave a cheater, gain a life” so she has some help navigating the devastation caused by the affair, should she want it.
    I’m so sorry for you both.

  91. Recyclops*

    I literally thought someone was writing in as a joke about Kitty and George Sr. There’s always money in the banana stand!

  92. Texan at Heart*

    I’m sorry OP! This is the worst.

    In your shoes, I’d really evaluate the not so great job prospects you mentioned through the lens of “if I knew I’d lose my job in 6 months, would this be a good fit?” It just doesn’t seem like a sustainable situation for much longer than that, especially since it seems like you really can’t talk to your friend without facing retaliation and it’s causing you so much stress. (I’d feel the same!)

    I would also be unwilling to take on more work to cover for her: “Our team is prioritizing the new teapot launch this week, so we will be unable to package teapots this week. Please let us know if you’d like us to handle that differently.” Allow the admin tasks to pile up. Right now, he has no problems, because the work is getting done by his frustrated, overworked staff. He chose this path, and it’s ok to let him handle the consequences. I’d just be sure your team is all on the same page about it, or you may end up in a tricky spot.

    Good luck OP! Hoping your ideal job finds you soon!

  93. ENFP in Texas*

    Find a new job and get out of the toxic pool, for starters.

    Because LW does not have PROOF – just a lot of circumstantial evidence – going to Katie and saying “I think your husband is having an affair” may not be a good plan. Granted it’s likely that he IS having an affair, because it looks an awful lot like a duck, but without proof it’s not a good accusation to make.

    Once the LW has left, I’d guess Katie would ask why she left, and then the LW could say she wasn’t happy with the way things were going, but remain factual – that the job environment has become poor, that her team is being asked to take on administrative tasks that they don’t have time for, and she is concerned about the overall health of the company and wanted something more stable. What Katie does with that info is up to her.

    1. Greg*

      This +1000. In situations such as this one, it is imperative that you stick to the facts. Speculation will only get you into trouble. Instead of “I think John is having an affair”, it’s “He hired an unqualified assistant and didn’t make her do any work”. Heck, even if you walked in on them in flagrante delicto, just say, “I entered the conference room and found them both in a state of undress.”

    2. Ellie*

      I’d be prepared to say I think John is having an affair… he explained the relationship, the daughter of a friend, if that’s true then his wife probably knows who it is, and there’s no harm done. But if that’s what you’re thinking, then why not tell it to her straight? I’d be very factual about what I’d seen (the circumstances around the hiring, the long meetings, no work getting done, etc.) but the conclusion is obvious. You don’t need absolute proof, you’re just telling Katie what she needs to know, and then leaving it in her hands.

  94. HB*

    First, as others have said, you wait till you’ve secured another job. Next, I think you tell her *something* but how much depends on how close you two genuinely are. If she’s a good friend, I think you ask to meet her for lunch and say “I have something awkward to talk about, and if at any point you want me to stop, tell me and I will. None of this is really my business, and I don’t know exactly what was happening anyway, but this is something I would want a friend to tell me.” I think one thing to focus on is the fact that he went from a good boss to a terrible boss. So even if it ISN’T an affair, this is someone who has actively made the culture around him unpleasant and you can focus on *that* and come at it from ‘His business is going to fail if he keeps at it.’ If she jumps to affair then she probably was already suspicious of it, and she can ask questions.

    If she’s more of an acquaintance you see occasionally, I think you stick to something simple and basic like: “Hey, I just want to let you know that I’m going to be leaving your husband’s firm to go work elsewhere. I was sad to do it, but after he hired Tammy things just went really downhill.” If she asks for more you stick to things you directly observed: “He showed a lot of favoritism to her, refused to manage her like a regular employee, and it really eroded the trust we had in him and the overall morale in the office.”

    As others have said, if you don’t know for sure you don’t jump to that accusation. Not just because it may not be true (because it probably is true), but also because she’s probably not going to want to hear it unless she already suspects something so it could be a waste of time. Plus, what he’s doing to the office by showing rank favoritism and refusing to manage is troubling on its own. He’s in danger of running the business into the ground so pretending for a second that he’s NOT having an affair, that’s still a problem! One that will eventually affect Katie!

    If she already suspects something and cares, she’ll investigate whether he’s having an affair. If she already suspects and *doesn’t* care, she’d probably at least appreciate the heads up that her husband’s business is in trouble. If she doesn’t suspect, pretty much the same thing.

  95. Flower*

    I’m way more concerned about that power dynamic. She’s fresh out of undergrad, the daughter of a family friend (at least supposedly), he hired her, and he’s the CEO? Her salary depends on her relationship with him, this man who is presumably a good deal older and who has a hell of a lot more power.

    There’s so many red flags in there.

    If you have an HR, talk to them. Whether or not to tell the wife is whatever, but this sort of affair is so unequal that I’m concerned for the girl, even if she’s not conscious of that power imbalance and the way it can effect relationships.

    1. Cat Tree*

      Yes! I came here to make this point. Even if the. Oss was single, his behavior would be abhorrent. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like OP has many options here, since he owns the place and it’s too small to have meaningful HR.

  96. Jenna Webster*

    This is a really terrible situation, and since he has all the power, it seems there is actually little that you can do. Your main problem is that you need an admin and you no longer have one. If you focus specifically on this, your options seems to be requesting he hire an additional admin or realizing there will be no admin to help with admin tasks (terrible, but a common thing) and sorting out how to get that work done within your team. I don’t think that’s reasonable, but it’s very clear he is unwilling to be reasonable, so you are just going to have to figure out how to get your work done, even if it now needs to be done by people who shouldn’t have to be using their time to do it. I’d suggest spreading it around rather than letting it all fall on one person. I’d love to say you should tell his wife, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have another job waiting for you and you’re willing to blow up the relationships that you have with each of them.

    1. Jenna Webster*

      Also just adding a note here that this comes from my own experience working in a field where there are no admins. We have over 450 employees and only the CEO and the COO have admins. All other directors and managers either handle their own tasks or pass it along to other direct/indirect reports, all of whom have their own jobs that are not about handling administrative tasks. I manage 4 teams and a budget of $4.7 million and I do my own administrative tasks, as do the managers who work for me.

  97. Swc*

    How about going a Completely different route? Every employee there tells John that Tammy’s not doing her job and it’s hurting operations. That she needs to put up or shut up. So to speak.

  98. Susana*

    oof, as Alison would say.
    This isn’t about telling his wife what LW suspects (and it is a suspicion, if a well-founded one). I fall firmly in the camp that it is not anyone’s job or right, even, to police other people’s marriages or personal relationships. ONLY exception is if it’s a close friend you are sure wold want you to tell her or him.
    This is about the job. Aside from obviously looking for work elsewhere, LW could go to boss, doe-eyed naive, and say people feel assistant isn’t doing her job and you want him to know it’s led to some mean gossip. So, like you’re letting HIM know of this terrible thing but also letting him know everyone knows what he’s up to.

    And say, if assistant has other work you’ve prioritized, can you tell us what stuff we can let go, since it’s not getting done?

    And ignore – I mean, completely ignore – assistant.

  99. Fabulous*

    Do your coworkers have suspicions or concerns as well, or is it just you? It seems like John might need a big picture sit-down with you (and/or several staff members) for an intervention. I would maybe frame it like this:

    We’re concerned that Tammy is a bad hire, and her presence here is starting to cause morale problems among the staff. Her job is help out around the office, but she’s unwilling to do the tasks we ask of her, which are all routine things that a normal office assistant would handle. You seem to be shielding her from doing any actual work too, often reassigning her tasks back to us when we’re already stretched, which is troubling in and of itself. We can see you having hours-long meetings with her behind closed doors, but there doesn’t seem to be any work that comes out of them. It’s gotten to the point where there is speculation behind the real reason she was hired, why you’ve taken over managing her, why you’re driving her in every day, and people are talking. What’s going on and how can we fix this?

  100. Anonnington*

    Being friends with your boss’s wife is a conflict of interest.

    I would back away from that friendship until you no longer work there.

    When you’ve found a new job, then you might have the option of telling her. But, even then, it’s still a conflict of interest because the boss will be part of your network and a reference for you.

    Remember that telling her about the affair is not solely up to you. There are other ways that she could find out about it. She probably knows there are problems in her marriage. This is not your responsibility. Focus on your own career and future options.

    1. Despachito*

      “Being friends with your boss’s wife is a conflict of interest.”

      I am afraid so, too.

  101. Taylor K*

    I’m sorry OP this sounds terrible.

    My advice personally is to unfortunately you need to protect yourself first and find a new job. Till you are unable to find that new job my personal opinion is to make Tammy’s lack of work and her obvious abuse/favoritism and make it Johns problem as much as possible. If she refuses to do anything or brushes off work then just leave it to be Johns problem and his to figure out. If he keeps assigning to someone else… honestly as a group I would push back and state that is the Admin Assistants job and you have to much on your plate as is. Eventually something will break and odds are it will be John.

  102. Sharikacat*

    If the company has that few employees, and if the boss’ affair is causing this much of a problem, I wonder how many people would potentially sign on to a mass-letter of potential resignation unless Tammy is fired and replaced with an actual administrative assistant. Would it be enough that the boss would actually care? Strength in numbers.

    1. Elbe*

      It seems gross to force Tammy out over this mess. Neither of them are behaving well here, but it’s John who has power in this situation and, as her boss, he controls how she spends her time.

      This is really opening the door for a lawsuit down the road, so maybe someone will tip off the board or anyone acting as HR.

  103. BeanDip*

    I definitely agree that the spouse needs to know, but I think it complicates things that OP has mostly conjecture. Yes, long meetings and an employee that is clearly receiving preferential treatment definitely lean toward affair, but unless you have evidence, I wouldn’t say anything. If you haven’t seen them kissing or being overly affectionate at work, it could blow up poorly. I would be a bit more sneaky about this: “I noticed John drives into work with Tammy, you guys must live close.” Or, if you’re very close friends, saying, “Tammy hasn’t been working well, but John has yet to fire her. I’m worried he may be off, have you noticed any changes in him?” At the very least this piques her interest and she may take a hard look at him on her own and discover the affair on her own.

    1. Greg*

      Agree that OP needs to tread carefully since she doesn’t officially know anything. Disagree with all of the suggestions and innuendo. It’s the equivalent of leaving an anonymous note. If you’re going to tell, tell. If not, keep your mouth shut. And in this case I agree she should keep her mouth shut at least until she’s well and clear of John’s company.

  104. Tech and Pearls*

    Uhg, this is awful. OP, I have unknowingly been the “other woman” before, also with a workplace aspect in the situation. I felt so guilty for knowing what I knew, and the best advice I got was that if I chose not to say anything, that was 100% okay and 100% my prerogative. I tend to feel the need to “fix” everything, but sometimes, it is better to let their business be their business.

    If Katie finds out and asks why you didn’t tell her, I think it’s fair to say that you didn’t know what was happening. I know there would be an icky feeling attached, but this is your livelihood, and I think it’s a responsible decision to protect that first.

  105. CommanderBanana*

    Keep looking for another job. I’m so sorry, but there’s really nothing you can do in a situation like this. I worked in an office where the director and executive director were having an affair, and were out of the office 3-5 hours a day together. Nothing could get done. This went on for months until he went to his next position.

    In the meantime, I’d just try to pretend she doesn’t work there. There’s really nothing else you can do.

  106. Moose_watcher*

    I disagree with many comments here- is she your friend or an acquaintance? If she’s your friend you have an obligation and a responsibility to tell her. (For anyone who disagrees with me you have a VERY different idea of friendship than I do, which is 100% okay, but we could never be friends- trust is the absolute minimum in a friendship for me). The truth is you’re the only one who has to feel morally okay with this decision. No one else. But the fact that you asked this question in the first place makes me think you feel a responsibility to her. Don’t force yourself to disagree with your own moral code just because it’s a tough situation. But remember, that said, you are under no obligation to shoot yourself in the foot for someone else. Ever. If I were you I would launch myself into the job search and break-off my friendship with her immediately. If you can’t tell her right now the least you can do is not pretend to be her friend. For the love of God please don’t pretend to be her friend while not telling her. Being cheated on creates horrible trust issues in a person. Being cheated on and having a friend not tell you about it– man that feels worse than anything else….. not only is her husband breaking her trust but you are too. She’ll feel like there’s no one in the world she can ever trust again.

    I’m sorry you’re caught in this sticky situation. Hope everyone’s thoughts help.

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      They are not close. They mainly know each other from the hobby group. OP clarified that in a comment above. That said, I am not fully in agreement unless the friendship is very close and OP knows for certain personally that there is an affair going on. It certainly looks like there is one going on, but one should be absolutely certain before going down that road, especially if the friendship in not that close.

    2. Tired of Covid-and People*

      I agree with you so much. I had a long time close friend see my ex-husband dining out with another woman while she was at the same restaurant with her husband. They decided not to tell me. Huh? My friend’s husband was a serial cheater, so of course he sided with the man, but my friend? Years later, I still feel betrayed by her. To not even tell me she saw him and her, which was a fact, made them complicit in my ex-husband’s malfeasance.

      This discussion has come up before here, and as you say, many posters have a much different idea of friendship than I do. If a friend wants to kill the messenger, that’s on them, but it’s still the right thing to let them know about things like this. It’s not necessary to say a friend’s spouse is definitely cheating, but if you see something with your own eyes, it’s not a friendly act to keep it to yourself. You end up knowing more about the spouse than they do! Ugh.

      1. JSPA*

        Hindsight is 20/20.

        Ignoring what you now know:

        You’re blaming your friend for not presuming your husband to be skeevey, in a situation that was…not intrinsically skeevey.

        Clients, job candidates, relatives, old friends, reporters, coworkers come in all genders! People of all genders have one-on-one breakfast meetings, business lunches, or yes, on occasion, nice dinners.

        The idea that one half of a couple can only eat with the other half of the couple is bizarre. So’s the idea that a man can only cheat with a woman. So’s the idea that a particular woman is probably a paramour, not [see list above].

        If your husband had not been a cheater–which is on him, not on your friend–then “a man dines with a woman-not-his-wife” would be completely unremarkable. Literally, not worth remarking upon.

        Blaming someone for not remarking on that is like blaming them for not telling you they saw your husband walk out of a bathroom in the park, or not telling you they saw him driving a car they didn’t recognize, or not telling you they saw him hold the door for someone–these are all innocent acts, except when they’re not.

      2. Moose_watcher*

        Yeah, I totally agree. OP is certainly in a tough spot since it’s more of a casual acquaintance (must have missed that in an earlier comment). But either way, I personally would have to quit the hobby club at the very least.

      3. Aggretsuko*

        A lot of women have been burned by telling a friend they thought their guy was cheating on them. You might have believed the friend, but a lot of women just lose it at the friend because they want to believe their guy.

        Yes, it sucks that she knew and you didn’t, but that might have been her reasoning for not saying anything.

        Signed, “My Friend’s Fiance Put Moves On Me, I Knew Better Than To Say Anything, She Dumped Me And Married Him Anyway.”

    3. Littorally*

      I’m confused by your comment.

      “If she’s your friend you have an obligation and a responsibility to tell her.” versus a little later “you are under no obligation to shoot yourself in the foot for someone else.”

      Are you saying you think the OP is obligated or not?

      1. Moose_watcher*

        My point is that if she can’t tell her right now for her own safety (financial or otherwise). Then she can’t meet the bare minimum of friendship and she shouldn’t pretend to do so. But seeing as OP clarified it was a casual acquaintance vs someone she would consider a friend, my comment’s not as relevant now. If she’s not a friend then I personally would say she isn’t under any real moral obligation until she knows for sure.

        1. Despachito*

          “Then she can’t meet the bare minimum of friendship and she shouldn’t pretend to do so.”

          It depends on your definition of friendship. I would certainly NOT want any of my friends to tell me if they saw my husband in a suspicious situation. I would probably understand that they meant well with my brain but I am afraid I would hate them with my heart for telling me.

    4. Blinded By the Gaslight*

      I love my friends, but my friends don’t pay my bills. If telling them the truth about their spouse puts me at risk of losing my entire livelihood, I’m keeping my mouth shut. Period. Guilt-free. I’m being paid to be in their workplace, not their bedroom.

  107. Lisa*

    It reminds me of the Betty Broderick case – lawyer and assistant. Hope it turns out better for all of them.

  108. Rachel*

    Do not say anything to the wife/your hobby friend. Plead ignorance if confronted at a later date, too.

    1. Tired of Covid-and People*

      I totally disagree. Betty Broderick was gaslit by everybody. However, unless caught in the act, evidence of an affair is circumstantial at best.

  109. Elbe*

    It would be very tempting to say something like the following:

    Katie: Hi, LW! How’s work going?
    LW: Good! John and Tammy are working a lot on projects together, so I’m doing a lot of admin work in the meantime. So, it’s been busy but I’m happy to do what’s needed. How have you been?

    It sounds like innocuous, casual chit chat that no one could fault the LW for. And if Katie is curious as to why an assistant is working so closely with the CEO that she can’t do her own work, she can investigate on her own.

  110. Tired of Covid-and People*

    OP, are you absolutely, positively sure there is an affair going on here? Although Occam’s Razor is valid, there can be more than one reason why he is showing preferential treatment to this assistant. Maybe he is trying to get involved with her, but hasn’t succeeded yet. Tread lightly here.

    BTW, your boss sucks.

  111. JSPA*

    “Now that you ask, the vibe at work has been feeling “off,” though I can’t really put my finger on how. I am very grateful for the job–I particularly enjoy X and Y–and I’m avoidant of drama. Anything I need to deal with in the minute, I do it or delegate it. Anything else is low priority. I guess that makes me a bad person to ask! Of course, at this point, everything in the world is a bit strange and different. Nobody’s using quite the same yardstick as before.”

    If the friend / wife is already 99% of the way to figuring something is up, this ought to give her what she needs to get there (while warning her that you, literally, are NOT THE PERSON TO ASK.)

    If something more complex is going on, you’ve sidestepped making a specific statement, and made it very clear that for multiple reasons, you can’t and won’t be “that person” for her.

    (And while the obvious conclusion is likewise obvious to me, I’ll play devil’s advocate for some alternatives: There are people whose weaknesses appear to be sex but are actually drugs. There are people who recommend people to their spouses with the intention of having an inside plant. There are cuckquean fetishists (rarer though they may be than cuckold fetishists). There are families living with blackmail. It’s a long and increasingly byzantine list, and it gives you plausible deniability for “having to know what was up.”)

  112. TiredMama*

    Rat him out. She needs to start moving money and protecting herself as he ruins the business she has an interest in as his wife.

  113. J.E.*

    If John’s brother has been on him about Tammy and other employees have seen John and Tammy kissing, then everyone knows they are having an affair. OP you don’t have to say anything to John’s wife since so many people probably know already I’d be surprised if John’s brother didn’t already say something to her or threaten John that he would. Get out ASAP because if John’s this checked out, the company could go under. Sounds like another case of family business drama affecting the employees.

  114. inoffensive nickname*

    My take would be for the OP to find a way to use this information against the boss. Ask for a huge raise, threaten to tell the wife if he doesn’t do it, and consider it hazard pay until she finds a new job. THEN tell the wife.

  115. ZebraNeighbor*

    This is probably not the case here as OP knows the wife, but I worked as my dad’s office manager for a summer and we didn’t tell people we were related. I was 18 and wearing short dresses because there was no A/C in the building. We didn’t usually drive together but often had lunch together. I shared his office in the basement. The guys sometimes made semi-creepy comments to/about me, which I ignored. One day another employee was having lunch at the same diner so we sat together. He asked my dad how his wife felt about him hiring me, with some gross implications. I breezily answered that it was her idea. We let him know that I was the boss’s daughter and we hadn’t been hiding it because it wasn’t at all important. We ALSO let him know that the leering and creepy comments about a girl who was HIS daughters’ age were inappropriate.
    John & Tammy may not be having an affair and that’s really not OP’s business. His total failure to provide administrative support for her team is her business and I would definitely mention that to the wife if she asks.

    1. J.E.*

      OP stated in a follow up that John and Tammy had been seen by other coworkers kissing in the parking lot.

  116. Dancing Otter*

    You speak of having a team. Is this a profit center for purposes of financial reporting? If it is, is
    Tammy’s salary coming out of your budget? Are bonuses (or other aspects of compensation) tied to profitability at the team level?

    Never mind what she’s actually doing for that money, if she’s not supporting your team, she shouldn’t be charged against your overhead.

    This doesn’t answer the question about telling your friend or not, but if you can get Tammy officially off your team, I think you will feel a little better about the work situation, at least.

    Actually, the tax situation about personal services being expensed through a small business can be /interesting/. But unless you’re the company accountant, it’s not your problem; it just makes another reason to get out ASAP.

  117. Blinded By the Gaslight*

    Protect your job/income first. Don’t drop hints to *anyone*–your boss, your friend/the wife, Tammy, co-workers, NOBODY. Don’t be an identifiable source of gossip on this, even if it’s true gossip.

    Even if you’re right that they are having an affair, your boss has already made comments to you effectively telling you to mind your own business. So he’s already feeling threatened. Pressing him harder on what Tammy does/doesn’t do, or implying that you know/think you know what’s really going on with them will only turn you into more of a threat, and that puts you at risk of losing your job. If you raise this or drop hints to his wife that cause HER to ask him questions, he will 100% blame it all on you. If he’s crappy enough to cheat on his wife and brazen enough to hire his mistress, he’s definitely awful enough to fire you for calling attention to it, AND he will probably spin a story to whoever will listen about what a liar you are, or how you must have been jealous, or secretly in love with him, or any number of other gross stories that will turn the attention away from himself.

    Keep your head down. Apply for jobs. Save money. Don’t say sh*t to anyone until you’re comfortable in a new job and don’t need a recommendation from this place anymore.

  118. Jinni*

    OP thanks for the clarification. I only have to add that I really feel for the wife. Either way – her husband may be jeopardizing their family’s livelihood. There could be a sexual harassment claim/suit. The business could implode. I feel so sorry for all involved, but fingers crossed you go from ‘shortlisted’ to ‘hired.’

  119. Lawyer But Not That Kind of Lawyer*

    She deserves to know. It is her health and livelihood on the line. Her health because when someone cheats there is always a risk of giving their partner an STD, and you have the right now if you want to put your health at risk. Second, when his business tanks, that is their finances and future that is in jeopardy. In fantasy world, I imagine creating an anonymous email account. Describe what I see happening at work in terms of what any one employee there would observe. Indicate, that I don’t care if they have an open marriage, his hiring one of his paramours who does absolutely no work is bad for business, and could she talk to him. Tell him this is not a joke, the business is going to tank when everyone plans a mass exodus. Yes, an anonymous note is cowardly, but it gets the point across. Saying it’s an open marriage is cowardly but gives her a chance to maybe save face? Two things will happen after this. She will approach the friend. Friend’s response should be just to answer direct questions. Second, she will approach her husband. Hopefully she can tell when he is lying.

  120. Elbie*

    Wow. What a dilemma. In addition to all of the concerns the OP has, I am a bit concerned that the Admin Asst could possibly be being coerced / pressured in some way, and does she feel powerless over this. No matter which way you look at this, it is a bad situation.

  121. Former Employee*

    For anyone who is saying that the OP owes it to Katie to tell her, my response is no, not even if the OP knew for certain that John was having an affair with Tammy, which she actually does not.

    Why? Because it is doubtful that Katie would support the OP after she lost her job and found that John was telling everyone what a terrible employee she was and that they shouldn’t hire her. Who thinks that if John stopped giving the OP a paycheck that Katie would step in and make it up to the OP?

  122. Yomiko*

    Ouch. I’ve been in a similar situation and unfortunately, there’s no great path out of this, only less bad ones.

    But I will say that even though that’s true, LW, you did nothing wrong here and the stupid cheater is the one who is to blame for anything bad that comes of this. No matter what you decide to do, this situation was created by him. He should be well aware that you are friends with his wife, and I would put money on the fact that he’s counting on your need for a job and a paycheck to “buy” your silence and complicity in his affair.

    He’s a horrible person who is being horrible. That’s all on him.

    Obviously the best solution is to just get out of there as soon as possible, because I agree that you would have an incredibly hard time continuing to work there if you told Katie or if she found out.

    But you might need to mentally game out multiple scenarios to prepare yourself for what might happen. There’s sort of three variables that need to be mixed up in different ways. You find a new job or you don’t, you decide to tell Katie or you don’t, and she believes you or she doesn’t.

    Even if you leave, if Katie finds out and thinks you knew before she did, her feelings will almost certainly be hurt and there’s a chance she’ll displace some of her anger onto you. People have pointed out scripts for how to talk to her about that if it happens, but even with a good reason for not telling her, it may take some time to patch up your friendship and for her to come around, because it’s going to be a highly emotional and difficult time for her. She’ll have every right to be incredibly hurt and be in a lot of pain.

    I say this from experience. Years ago I had a friend who introduced me to their partner, and we became friends also. A few years later my first friend started cheating, being incredibly blatant about it in front of me. There was no way I could _not_ know what was happening. I did what I thought was best to try to first stay out of it as none of my business, and then to try to tell the partner they were being cheated on. None of it worked. When everything came to light, there was so much anger and hurt to go around, no one was untouched by it. There were a lot of long friendships and relationships that were never the same. The partner and their friends blamed me specifically for “helping” cover up the affair, and some of those friends never forgave me and we never spoke again (the partner and I actually are still friends, but that took years).

    Because of that, I’ve got some deep psychological hangups about cheating and affairs, so you really don’t want to do what I would do, it’s a real burn the bridge while you’re still on it kind of mentality I’ve got going on.

  123. Raida*

    My advice is an honest convo with him, over lunch maybe.

    “I need to let you know that I’m looking at job opportunities at the moment.”
    he says “why”
    you say… “John, because of you. You need to hear this John – your leadership is going downhill and so is office morale. You refuse to listen to work concerns, hired an unqualified person into an admin role and then got pissed at us for expecting them to do the job.
    And really John, really. Everyone thinks you two are hooking up in your office or to and from work. I’m not going to call Katie and say *gosh I wish John would get an assistant who does the job instead of a young pretty one who he protects from doing work while having locked-door meetings with her* but John, man I have thought about it.
    And that is the straw that broke the camel’s back John. I can work in an average office, I can work with a crappy boss. But to watch this business go downhill like this, and on top of that have a weight around my neck about if I tell a friend about a possible affair? That’s too much John. Far too much.
    You’re going to start losing staff, entirely due to your performance as owner/ceo. It started when she was hired, and she is definitely a cause of issues which you are not addressing as the boss.
    I’m sorry John, I really believe in the business and I hope it succeeds but I am going to keep looking for a new job.”

    you don’t threaten to tell his wife, but you make it clear that HE is responsible for upcoming issues within the business, and the breadth of them.

    1. allathian*

      This is far too risky and could blow up in the LW’s face. I wouldn’t even hint that I suspected anything was going on until I had a new job.

  124. Ellie*

    You were friends with his wife before you got the job. If it was me, I’d tell her, and damn the consequences. But if you have to stick it out for financial reasons, then its going to be easier if you can avoid seeing her much in the interim. Then you can organise to meet her for lunch or something after you’ve got your new position, and fill her in then.

    An alternate way to handle it would be to confront your boss on his behaviour, say that it’s obvious he’s having an affair, it is destroying his reputation at the company, and putting you in a very difficult position as her friend. But I’d only bother with this if you were closer to him than to his wife, and it doesn’t sound like you are. It’s likely to make him angry, but if he’s at all sane then he’ll realise that he has to get rid of her. But he’d likely get rid of you too shortly after.

    You’re her friend, and multiple people already know about it. Don’t leave her in the dark.

    1. allathian*

      She isn’t really a friend, more like an acquaintance from a hobby group. They were friendly enough that Katie gave the LW a heads up that John was hiring when she needed a job.

      There’s also no concrete evidence of an affair, but John is certainly being a bad boss and morale is tanking because Tammy isn’t doing the job she was hired to do, and with John’s approval.

  125. AnonymousGal*

    As someone who has been cheated on by their spouse, I wish somebody would have tipped me off. My spouse and I worked for the same organization and he was cheating on me with our mutual coworkers. People that knew or suspected things and knew us both said nothing to me. I already had my suspicions and if anybody had even anonymously tipped me off, it could have saved me a few years of staying with a man that had no respect for me or our marriage.

    I think there’s a delicate way that you can bring this up with your friend without outright accusing John of having an affair. Tell her that it may be completely innocent, but that you’re bringing her your observations because you’d hope somebody would do the same for you. She can decide what to do with it. If you know her to be a kind and reasonable person, she’s not going to ‘shoot the messenger’. She may be skeptical and upset, but that’s ok. Her husband is putting her health at risk and she has a right to know.

  126. good morning*

    You absolutely have to tell Katie.

    You can’t consent for someone else. You can’t make risk calculations for someone else. If you’re her friend, tell her.

    1. good morning*

      Also, in terms of not being in the middle: you’re already in the middle. It’s your choice what to do when you’re there, but by keeping silent, you’re siding with John. There’s no neutrality, silence is like agreement.

  127. Erin*

    Huge +1 to what Litorally commented.

    Stay out of it. You are in the uncomfortable position of being the only reasonable informant to Katie, and this information could interfere with your ability to make a living.

    Act normal to everyone and concentrate your energy & efforts on getting out of that company. If/when Katie finds out about the affair and tells you about it, you will have been so busy with your job and other personal development things (ie job searching) that you have not had time to pay attention to her husband beyond the work you do with/for him. You can be an empathetic friend to Katie as she navigates how to handle her husband’s infidelity, but you don’t need to risk your career for it.

  128. I'm Not Phyllis*

    I don’t know how I’d handle the friend/wife part of it honestly – that’s a tough one.

    But I’d outline a case about why your team needs their own assistant. Whatever he has got her busy with (even if it’s nothing business-related) obviously doesn’t leave her with time to do what your team needs. So you need another assistant. That’s a work problem that he should be able to address (I mean, really he shouldn’t be employing his mistress especially if she’s not actually being expected to work but I’m not sure what you can do about that unless you want to risk going over his head to the Board – assuming there is one).

  129. Despachito*

    Am I the only one who finds it very awkward to criticize my job (no matter if the criticism is 100% justified) to the wife of my boss?

    I would probably not mention Tammy and her poor performance in front of Katie even if there was no affair between her and the boss,, not to embarass her (what would she be expected to do about that?)

  130. Lifeandlimb*

    It sounds like you’ve been job searching, so keep that up and stay patient. You will find something else. Then tell your friend when you leave.

    Just my two cents, as well, if/when you tell Katie: be careful not to jump to conclusions for her. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but unless you’ve seen them kissing or having sex, then what you’ve noticed is a set of unusual circumstances where you’ve joined the dots. You don’t know for sure how Katie will react if you tell her, so don’t create the story for her; just stick to the facts and let her decide for herself.

    I’m sorry you’re in this situation. It’s a tough one.

  131. Despachito*

    Let us be realistic – LW is under no obligation – moral or whatsoever – to spill the beans to Katie if she does not feel that this something she REALLY WANTS to do.

    If she does not tell, how can it be reasonably held against her? She can always deny she noticed anything (and some people genuinely won’t).

    The only proof she knew would be if she gossiped around, and I would strongly advise against that, but otherwise?

    I disagree with blaming “those who knew” for not telling the cheated person. Who can tell for sure they even noticed? To be oblivious is neither a crime nor a treason.

    I would definitely hold against the one who knew if they gossiped around, or if they actively helped to cover for the cheater, though. But for merely not telling… they could have had a million reasons (they are not sure, they saw such a situation backfire badly in the past), and, after all – not their monkeys, not their circus. It is unfair to make them responsible for something they did not create and just happen to be thrown in the middle of it.

  132. Tomalak*

    I say this not to dismiss ethical concerns about adultery and about making everyone’s jobs harder – they are real concerns. But he is also defrauding the company’s shareholders setting up his mistress as a fake employee and siphoning off shareholders’ money to her. If your company is large enough to have an audit committee/require an annual audit, I would consider tipping them off anonymously.

  133. Janet*

    I would just keep quiet. If the affair comes out and the wife confronts you about it, tell her you didn’t know. And you may need a recommendation from the boss for the next job.

    1. Athena Nicole*

      Janet I think this is succinct and wise advice. I’m not going to discuss the employer / employee side of things as the supreme issue here is the husband / wife – friend relationship. Besides, just because it looks like they are having an affair doesn’t mean it’s your obligation to voice the assumption. Do you really want to get mixed up in all that? The wife and husband relationship is complex and it is dangerous territory to meddle in. Who’s to say the wife doesn’t already know? And if she doesn’t and finds out she may not come to you at all. Or if she does just like Janet said, you don’t have to tell her this is what you suspected all along. Seriously. This situation involves extreme tact and compassion for all involved. There are two schools of thought re: relationships. (1) Expose everything at all costs to the family in the name of honesty – like we tend to do in Western cultures or (2) Cover up everything at all costs to keep the family together – like we tend to do in more collective cultures. This is one of those fine line things.

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