I walked in on the company owner having sex in his office

A reader writes:

I started a new job last Thursday at a small consulting company. I’m very excited about the company and the role, and it’s a better fit than my previous opportunity. It’s an eight-person team, consisting of the owner, two VPs who report to him, an executive assistant who reports to him, and four junior/mid-level staff, with two of us reporting to one VP and two of us reporting to the other.

Anyway, my first two days of work went very well. I’d briefly met most of my coworkers during the interview process but had a chance to talk with all of them more, and also by chance met the owner’s wife on Thursday when she stopped by for lunch. Everyone’s been very kind and welcoming and I couldn’t be more excited.

My problem is, when I got home last night (Friday), I realized I’d forgotten to bring with me some materials I’d planned to read over the weekend. So I drove back to the office to get them. When I went inside, I went to my office and grabbed the materials, but as I was walking out I noticed that the light was still on in the owner’s office and the door was wide open. His office is pretty large so you can’t actually see his desk until you’re in the doorway and you turn all the way to the right.

I decided to walk down to say hi, figuring he might have heard my footsteps anyway and thus been wondering who was still around. When I walked into his office, I looked over toward his desk and to my great surprise, he was in the middle of intimate relations with someone who was not his wife that I’d met on Thursday!

I freaked out in the moment and didn’t know what to do, so I just blurted out “ohmygod I’m sorry I came back to pick something up and just wanted to say hi have a great weekend!!!” and then I ran out and went home. They were of course caught by surprise too when they saw me, but didn’t say anything since I just made the above comment and left so quickly.

So what do I do now? On the one hand, I’ve been there for two days and don’t know any of the specifics of the owner’s personal life beyond that he’s married. Maybe his wife already knows? Maybe it’s an open marriage? I’m inclined to just stay quiet and focus on doing the best job I can. My secondary thought was to approach my direct boss (one of the VPs) and ask what to do, but I realized they might not be aware of all of this and it’d open a can of worms.

What do you think? My boyfriend and my family agree I should just keep quiet and possibly accept that I’ll need to find another job if it’s just too awkward all-around.

Ugh. I’m probably going to advise saying nothing, but I have some caveats.

First, though, you don’t need to speculate on whether he has an open marriage or not. It doesn’t matter. (I mean, it undoubtedly matters to his wife, but it isn’t something that should impact you how proceed.)

Okay. So, at least in my opinion, ideally everyone involved would look at this as: you walked in something private, you left, end of story. And in that case, it doesn’t make sense to bring this to one of the VPs, since that would make it a bigger thing.

To be clear, that doesn’t mean that what happened was okay! It’s not okay for people to have sex at work (with the door open, WTF?) where others might see them, even after hours. But I’m talking practicalities here, and given this particular set of facts — new to the job, after hours, no one expected to be there — “whoops, that was private, wiping it from my mind” is probably the smartest approach.

However, what we don’t know is how the owner is going to handle this. Maybe he assumes you’ll chalk it up as none of your business and that’ll be the end of it. Or you might be in for a very awkward apology this week, who knows. (Or, for all we know, maybe he doesn’t even realize that you saw enough to know it was him. Or maybe he didn’t see enough to know that it was you.)

But there’s also a chance that he’s going to be uncomfortable around you now and that’s going to affect you at work, or possibly even end in you being pushed out. And if that’s the case, alerting someone to what happened could give you some protection … although in an eight-person firm, if the owner wants you out, you’re probably getting pushed out. (It’s also worth noting that the company isn’t large enough for federal sexual harassment protections, including retaliation provisions, to be in place. The threshold for that law is 15 employees. Some states have protections that kick in at lower numbers, though, so you might look that up for your state, just so you know.)

I think there’s a good chance that you can just move forward and it’ll be fine. But the other possibility is there (and it’s especially hard to predict since you’re new and don’t know him)

There’s also the question of how you feel. Can you work with this guy comfortably? Some people would be able to move forward without this looming in their minds, and some would feel forever uncomfortable.

So where does all that leave you? If you’re comfortable continuing to work there as long as he’s not weird about it, I’d see what the next week is like. Gather more data, basically. If it feels like you can just move forward, okay. If you’re getting the sense that you can’t (or he can’t), you’ll have to cross that bridge at that point.

None of which is a very reassuring or precise answer, I realize. But I think that’s where you are.

(Don’t have sex in the office, people!)

Read an update to this letter here

{ 432 comments… read them below }

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Yep. My first reaction:
      Oh nooooooo!
      Second reaction:
      WTF! Noooooooooooo!
      Third reaction:
      OMG LW, noooooooooo! I am so sorry this happened

      1. John Smith*

        Mine would have been “oh…. more tea, vicar?”. Seriously though…

        I’d carry on as though nothing had happened, but make it obvious in a not so obvious way. If the owner sees you’re “protecting” him, I’d hope he’d appreciate it. But then again, if he’s cheating on the missus….

    2. PinaColada*

      I know it, so brutal! One thing I’m curious about, that didn’t get addressed in the the answer but could impact the situation, is this line: “…someone who was not his wife that I’d met on Thursday!”

      It sounds like they met most of their coworkers during the interview process, so was this a vendor? Client? Coworker they haven’t met yet?

      To me that’s what makes this especially problematic. Since now you know that they have a relationship that will affect the work environment, even if other people don’t know about it.

      1. marvin the paranoid android*

        I think the “that I’d met on Thursday” is actually referring to the wife–it’s just an explanation of how the OP knew this wasn’t the owner’s wife.

        1. PinaColada*

          Ohhhhh, I see now! Okay so a random person. That makes it…a little better? Lol since I just can’t imagine sitting in a meeting with the owner, my coworkers, and a client that I knew the owner was getting down with, and pretending nothing has happened!

            1. Kevin Sours*

              It is absolutely OP’s business to say something. It’s is just almost certainly not in there *interests* to say anything.

              1. Nobby Nobbs*

                Yeah, OP may not be obligated to rat this jerk out to his wife, but he’s not obligated to protect him either. I’d advise keeping quiet, but that’s out of concern for the letter writer’s own interests, not a moral imperative to mind his own business.

            2. PinaColada*

              I’m talking about how tenable the situation is for the OP, which (for me) would directly related to how uncomfortable it feels.

            3. somanyquestion*

              No, that’s not true. No one should be subjected to having to see someone in their workplace having sex. It’s not their business to take this to the wife, but it’s absolutely their business that this happened.

              Dude had his DOOR open. And was in his WORKPLACE. He has no right to expect privacy and he also should expect potential legal ramifications from something so monumentally stupid. Get a freaking hotel room.

              I would like to know why you think LW doesn’t have standing to say anything. Why you think it’s OK for someone to subject their coworkers to seeing them having sex in the workplace. How it’s no one else’s business.

    3. The Dogman*

      Yes, I would advise the LW to start job hunting now just in case.

      I know people who got fired for seeing this sort of thing. It depends on how much the boss wants to hide it, and I suspect that given it was not the bosses wife that the boss will find it easier to cut his losses and fire the LW.

      1. Whimsical Gadfly*

        Although were I caught in an affair I wanted to cover up I don’t know if immediately firing the person who witnessed it, possibly inspiring vindictivness, would be the best call…

        Once you have nothing left to lose, and if it gets around you were let go so fast, why not share your side?

        1. Fran Fine*

          Right, but you’re thinking like a person who uses common sense. If you’re the owner of a company having sex with a random in a wide open office on a workday, common sense is not your strong suit, you know? Lol

            1. Fran Fine*

              And that matters because why? It was still sex in the workplace with a door open, which doesn’t bode well for this man’s judgment.

            2. Bland Ranch*

              This is a disgusting take. What if the cleaning crew had to deal with sexual bodily fluids?

              What if… oh, I don’t know… people don’t want to work with people who mix their personal sexual lives with their places of work?????

      2. Artemesia*

        I think some protective action needs to occur and I am not sure what it is. I might write it out and make copies and then mail several to myself making sure they are postmarked, so that if retaliation occurs I can make the story available — perhaps to his wife.

        She is so vulnerable. Yes. Pretend it never happened. And hope things go fine. (too bd she said anything other than ‘excuse me’). Start a job search in case they don’t. Make sure there is some evidence of the event in case she needs it. Like he makes up an excuse to fire her a few weeks in.

        What a bummer to have this happen.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      This seems like something that will shake out quickly one way or the other so I’m with you

    2. Random Internet Stranger*

      Yes, please. This one and the one last week from the LW who caught a co worker masturbating in his office. I personally don’t like working from home, but it does prevent weird shit like this from happening…

      1. Been there, done that*

        Weeeellll…not necessarily. My daughter was in a college zoom class last year and someone had apparently signed into the class before it started believing that her mic was off or forgetting that she had logged in or whatever… The whole class was treated to a very graphically loud sexual experience. The professor was initially in shock and not very technically savvy and was having a hard time removing the person from the zoom call. It was very awkward for everyone to say the least. My daughter took a screen shot of the look on the professor’s and all of the students’ faces and it was a classic.

        1. SleepyKitten*

          Yeah the amount of exposure to nudity and sexual content night even have gone up while working from home, with people (or their housemates/spice) not realising that the camera is on

          1. Uranus Wars*

            I was actually reading the dress code of a local high school and they had an amendment that stated “when in virtual learning everyone on camera must be fully clothed, including those not in the class”.

            1. La Triviata*

              I saw something about a school that’s completely virtual, but they insist students wear pants and not pajama pants or shorts. Which led to the questions of (1) How would they know? would they have kids stand up to show that they’re wearing real pants? and (2) What would they do? send the kid home?

              1. NoNotNan*

                I read one where a teacher wanted to mandate that students be completely dressed down to wearing shoes and thought that since their virtual classroom now extended into the students’ homes that it would override the families’ no shoes in the house policy. Whatever forum it was on was summarily shouted down.

        2. Random Internet Stranger*

          hahaha, what was I thinking when I made my comment? Of course, it didn’t help one bit.

        1. Le Sigh*

          I was about to jump in to say exactly this, but I figured someone already had.

          I still have questions about that situation that I never want answered.

  1. Sara*

    oh boy. That’s terrible, I have no advice but I feel your pain so hard. Maybe just stick with a flat “your personal business is not my business” if the boss tries to talk to you about it?

      1. Hazel*

        I agree, too, and I think if it were me, I’d add a cheerful “good morning!” or “hello!” when you see the boss, as though nothing had happened. I feel like that might ward off any efforts on his part to discuss the matter (which no one wants!!!).

    1. Morning reader*

      I don’t disagree with the general rule “don’t have sex in the office.” However, I might add a corollary “if you’re going to have sex in the office, shut and lock the door, even if you think you’re alone.”

      From the owner’s point of view, I don’t think it is necessarily that bad. They own the office, they run the office, they have a reasonable expectation that no one else would be around. Especially if they are having sex with someone other than the person they have sex with at home, it’s a convenient location, more private and cheaper than a hotel. I’ve never done this, but if I were a business owner having a relationship with someone I didn’t live with, it doesn’t seem like much of a reach.

      From this new employee’s s point of view, it’s definitely a red flag, a sign of all kinds of potential small business dysfunction. Too much work/life boundary blurring. But it might be a one-off and if the employee makes a point of not going to the office after hours ever again, it could be ok. As Alison says, gather more data and be ready to get out if it all goes south.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        You really should have stopped at “don’t have sex in the office”. Owner was completely out of line. Full stop.

        1. SlartieB*

          Indeed. But it is his business and there’s nobody to escalate to. The only thing OP can control in this situation is the ability to remove themselves from it.

      2. Ellie*

        Its more than just one red flag. The owner shouldn’t be having sex with an employee, and if they are, then they definitely shouldn’t be having sex in their office. Then we get to the open, unlocked door and the lack of taking any kind of basic precautions, the cheating on the wife angle (probably), and the problems around mixing boundaries like this in an office with only 8 people in it. I could speculate further as to how the relationship developed, and whether they essentially hired their mistress, or if there was any pressure, etc. exerted afterwards. Its all bad.

        I’m really sorry OP, but I’d start looking for a new job right now. Its very likely he’ll want the witness removed, and even if he doesn’t, do you really want to work there?

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, I’d say start looking for a new job now, and with a bit of luck you can leave this one off your resume without leaving a gap. Sure, these days employers are hopefully a bit more understanding about employment gaps, but in this case, a few weeks or months probably won’t even make the interviewers ask about the gap.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          And I think that letter is one of the links under this letter!

          A commenter saying “Quack!” will never not make me laugh.

    1. Observer*

      For anyone who is confused, click on the link above to “I walked in on employees having sex — and I think there’s a sex club in my office”.

      1. English Rose*

        Thank you – one of the unfound gems from this site that I hadn’t previously seen! Good lord!

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      Because it’s been a long day, my first thought was “why does this comment mention the letter from the employee who was annoyed at having to look after her company’s ducks?” And then I looked at the other comments and remembered the, er, office club with duck-related terminology.

  2. Meep*

    I am going to be hopefully optimistic and say he is probably a porn star on the side and rents out his office to keep the company afloat. Can we go with that?

    1. Wednesdays we eat chicken*

      I’m pretty sure he has an identical twin who stole a key to his office and has been using it for late-night romance. It’s the most logical explanation.

      1. Anononon*

        Lol, my old boss had an identical twin, and while I never met the twin, if he was anything like his brother…I wouldn’t be 100% surprised. So, it could be possible!

          1. many bells down*

            Once ran up to and hugged a friend of mine in public… only to discover that it was actually his identical twin that I didn’t know existed. He had no idea who this lady hugging him was. So embarrassing.

            1. MusicWithRocksIn*

              I went to HS with a set of identical triplets and didn’t realize there were three of them until senior year. I think in Junior year I saw two standing next to each other and thought there were twins, but it wasn’t until four years into going to school with them that I realized there were three. Sherlock Holmes I am not.

              1. secretly two raccoons in a cardigan*

                I was in a sorority in college with a set of identical twins. I wasn’t close to either of them and only saw them/chatted in passing at events and such, and I never did learn who was who! Even when I was on the exec board, I was never sure unless it was just one of them there and context told me who it was.

            2. GammaGirl1908*

              I read a book once where a similar situation of not being able to distinguish twins was integral to the plot.

            3. Winter Sky*

              Same thing happened to me! I ran up to the person and exclaimed “you got your hair cut! It looks great!” They gave me a blank look and a “who ARE you??” I bet identical twins get this a lot.

            4. Anononon*

              One of my best friends has an identical twin, and we sometimes all get together. I have very mild facial blindness (or I’m just not that observant, lol), and I’m terrified that one day I’ll get the two confused when they’re together.

              They live in the same city, and they’ve told me that there have been numerous times where someone greets one of them thinking it’s the other.

              1. Bagpuss*

                I have a significant degree of face blindness and would not have a hope of telling them apart. (although if either of them was identified by name I’d then use clothing / hairstyle to distinguish them during that particular meet up)

                I used to work with two sisters who looked alike. (they were not twins) I worked with them for about 6 years and NEVER managed to tell them apart. Fortunately for me they were also practically joined at the hip so it was very rare to see either of them alone, so I would just use the name of the one i needed and see who responded!

              2. BubbleTea*

                My mum is an identical twin (so is her sister! [My favourite joke]) and I’ve briefly confused them before. Their phone voices are very similar too.

                1. FreakInTheExcelSheets*

                  My sister and I are nearly 2 years apart but we used to get mistaken for the other all the time. Oddly it happened more as pre-/teens when my sister (oldest) was further along in puberty so I would think we would look less alike (but a lot of that came from guys in their teens/20s so mostly was probably the creepy twin fantasy). I think we look much more alike now but we hardly ever are told how we look the same. We are also part of what we call the ‘creepy cloning experiment’ where photos of us, our mother, and our grandmother at the same age are distinguishable only by fashions of the time (and not even always that as I had a very 50s look for my high school senior portrait, which we of course had done in black and white and display next to my grandmother’s from 1958).

                  Our voices are all the same too, and even I have a hard time telling people apart, especially my mom and sister (as she’s now nearly 81 my grandmother has a little of that quavering-old-lady voice sometimes so I can normally tell when it’s her). If we’re all together, my dad has been known to call the house and say “[MIL name], [wife name], [child 1 name], [child 2 name] – whoever it is tell my wife [message].”

              3. Zombeyonce*

                This would come in really handy even if the person got it right and they just didn’t feel like talking to them. Just pretend to be the wrong twin.

            5. Greg*

              My mom is an identical twin. Don’t feel too embarrassed about the hug; those kind of incidents come with the territory. I guarantee that had happened to your boss’ brother in the past.

              1. Distracted Librarian*

                Hugging the “wrong” identical twin would be a great premise for a meet-cute in a rom-com.

          2. Anononon*

            We would joke in the office that our boss should swap with his brother one day and not tell anyone. :) So maybe it did happen!

        1. Goody*

          I believe we had a letter where a pair of twins were sharing a job. And we’ve definitely had lots of comments (jokingly) suggesting twins a an explanation for particularly odd behaviors. It’s hard to search, though, because a regular commenter uses “twin” in their name and the results are flooded with their replies.

          1. Rachel*

            Can you exclude the commenter with a boolean search “NOT” added to the search? I did a quick search and only found a letter from last November asking what to do if the OP thought someone was impersonating their coworker, but I want to hear the story of the job-sharing twins ;)

            1. Machine Ghost*

              That excludes all post which the poster commented on, including those about twins. But if you put “twins” in quotation marks it works, because of the hidden * at the end of every poster name (and twin is the last word of the poster’s name).

      2. ohhey*

        His house was broken into, and his wife confronted the burglar and then she had to go have eye surgery and then their son had to go over and help and then their son he rolled over his car five times on the way home.

      1. Carol the happy elf*

        I saw this when I was a teenager doing a summer “pre-pro” job (internship these days).
        I went home, traumatized and mind-blown, and told Mom that I had seen something…weird. She asked a few questions, and said,”Pay very close attention, here’s how it gets fixed.”
        She called my employer the next day, and said, “Carol had left her glasses at work, and needed them right away. When she went backin to get them, she saw a light on in your office, and from what she described, I think she interrupted a couple of the cleaners, using your office for an ‘assignation’. She’s pretty shocked about it, and since she hates wearing her glasses, she wouldn’t be able to describe either of them, but you might want to give your office a lookover to make sure they didn’t take anything. I’m keeping her home for a day so you can deal with the cleaning company.”
        (Mom was Belgian, which is very close to French. She was born in pre-war 1930, so not much fazed this girl.)
        Maybe OP can wear glasses for a few days and then “switch to contacts”?

          1. Carol the happy elf*

            Right now, our muzak is playing “La Vie En Rose”.
            That and “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” always mean she’s in the room.

          2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Can confirm. When kids lived with me, one morning I supposedly walked in on one of them and their partner. I say supposedly, because I did not have my glasses on, and saw absolutely nothing. Like I would not have even known that there were people in that room. Took several years to get them to believe it, though. It is hard to explain minus 6-7 vision (as in needing glasses that have a power of minus 6 or 7) to someone who never had that.

        1. OhNo*

          Ha, what a smart solution! Even if faking glasses aren’t an option, saying “I didn’t have my contacts in” or something would work pretty much the same.

          Heck, even deliberately saying “I am so sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude on you and your wife,” or “Please accept my most heartfelt apologies, and pass them along to your wife as well,” or otherwise hinting that you didn’t get a good look at his paramour and are just assuming it was his wife, might be enough to get you in the clear. Just a little white lie to smooth things over and make it Not Your Problem could be helpful here.

          1. Robin Ellacott*

            Implying you thought it was his wife is very clever! It’s still gross, but hopefully that makes it feel less likely to threaten your job.

            1. Jen in Oregon*

              Nope, it. Ould work if OP says it exactly as Oh No worded it above, but add “so I can put this out of my mind and never speak of it again.”

              1. OhNo*

                Oh, you’re right, that’s an excellent addition. Something like, “I’d apologize myself, but I’m sure that would make her uncomfortable so I’d rather just pretend it never happened,” might mitigate that issue.

          2. Winter Sky*

            That might scare him worse! Because he might worry that you were going to apologize to his wife as well, at the first opportunity.

        2. Jean (just Jean)*

          Re Carol’s mom: impressive. And brilliant. She should be a spy or a diplomat. Or both.

        3. The Prettiest Curse*

          This is possibly the only 100% valid and useful intervention ever made by a parent in their kid’s work. Your mother sounds awesome.

    2. Legal Rugby*

      Ugh. When I was in law school, a small local firm had a huge scandal when the junior partner went over the books and started investigating some comped work. Turned out the senior partner had been offering severely discounted rates/free legal rep in exchange for having sex with him on video. They found all the videos on the firm’s server, and the “contract” he was making women sign to state they were “consenting” to it. All the videos were shot in the firm’s office.

      1. Empress Matilda*

        Good grief, some people. First of all, don’t coerce anybody into sex, for any reason, ever. But even assuming it’s consensual, here are some handy rules to follow:

        1. Don’t have sex in the office.
        2. If you’re going to have sex in the office, don’t put it on video.
        3. If you’re going to put it on video, DO NOT LEAVE IT ON THE COMPANY SERVERS FFS.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          This guy wanted to get caught. He did everything but leave a trail of actual red flags. You can tell them all day, but when they want to get caught they will do this.
          Sounds like a psychiatrist’s dream…

      2. EPLawyer*

        UGH. This is why the Ethics Rules SPECIFICALLY now spell out you can’t have sex with clients.

        Yes they had to specifically spell it out because some guy argued the catch all “bring disrepute to the profession” didn’t make it clear that coercing clients into sex in exchange for representation was wrong. Apparently this guy is right up there with that guy.

        1. jy3*

          I’ve followed a live-read of a legal thriller where the only objections any of the lawyers can imagine to sleeping with clients are “she’s married” and “she’s ugly”. This book was written by a currently practicing lawyer.

        1. A lawyer.*

          I highly doubt they were disbarred. Practically the only way to get disbarred in my state is to abscond with the client’s money. They didn’t even disbar a lawyer who had planted a camera to take upskirt photos of his secretary!

  3. Czhorat*

    If the kids’ fundraiser was a 6 on the awkwardness scale, this is a 947,898

    I don’t have anything to add, but I’m SO sorry that your job started off like this, OP.

    I’m with Allison; don’t have sex at work.

    1. Xavier Desmond*

      Unfortunately, that may not be the case if the OP is gay (they mention their boyfriend in the letter). And fyi i feel incredibly gross typing that too.

        1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          That sort of thing seems to happen a lot on this site. I suspect there may be a bug somewhere in the software.

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      Yeah, if I saw a colleague doing the deed in my brand new job, I’d probably be too mortified to ever go back.
      Also, as a former cleaner, can I just say – please don’t ever have sex in the office. Someone has to clean the desk on which your naked arse rested. If you can’t manage that, at least dispose of your used condoms yourself. Cleaning those up is really not pleasant.

      1. allathian*

        Well, at least they used condoms! Obviously cleaning up someone else’s used condoms must be horrible, but at least it eliminates the main reason for me to even consider telling the spouse, so they can get checked for STDs.

  4. beaglemama*

    This happened to a colleague at one of my first jobs. Very proper, raised Catholic, walked into the CEO’s office to find him getting, ahem, orally serviced, by the COO while they were supposed to be on a conference call.

    Short story, she got a huge raise and bonus in exchange for keeping her mouth shut, although obviously a few of us knew about it.

    This place was toxic to say the least – when I look back on interactions with my own boss (he showed me pornographic pics among other things) it was one big law suit waiting to happen.

    Note: I was in my early 20’s – this was back in 1997 so hopefully things changed.

          1. Mockingjay*

            I just spat out my lunch!

            (and the memes keep coming…)

            (and I have GOT to get my mind out of the gutter…)

    1. It Happened to Me*

      Something like this happened to me. Well, it didn’t happen but I saw it at my first full-time job

      Late in the day, had to deliver papers to the boss. Walked in on him servicing a saleswoman. It was 1973. I was young and naive.

      1. Sharpieees*

        My mother had this happen at her very first job out of high school in 1960. Walked in on the married boss with an employee (who was not his wife) in a back closet. She quit that day. She hated the place anyway and this was the last straw.

        1. The Original K.*

          Someone said in a previous thread that their mother had been an assistant in the 60s and part of her job was keeping the boss’s wife & mistress(es) from finding out about each other.

          1. NotMyDayJob*

            I was a PA at an unnamed but now defunct investment bank in the 00s and that was part of my job then!

            1. allathian*

              Yeah, well, that doesn’t surprise me. Investment banking seems to attract a particularly predatory type of people.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I also had the thought this could end up working out in the OPs favor. Which, gross, but probably the better case than being fired for having to deal with this. (Best case being no acknowledgement ever)

    3. Jules the 3rd*

      This is my concern – that it’s a red flag and LW should keep their eyes open for signs of other problems. If anyone there has said they’re like a family, just start the job hunt again asap.

      1. Greg*

        If they say they’re a family AND they’re having sex with each other in the office, that’s like the biggest red flag there is. #ewwwww

    1. Van Wilder*

      Yes, sorry I’m late to the party. But this the CEO of a tiny company who thinks it’s ok to have sex in his office. I would be very surprised if he didn’t show poor judgment and inappropriate behavior in other areas. Be lucky this happened in your first week and GTFO.

  5. Red*

    Omg no no no that’s horrible. I’m so sorry op. I’d be looking for a new job on the sly cause if he’s having an affair you’re a threat to the secret and he’s most likely always going to think of you as a threat and be uncomfortable with that leverage over him. Until he comes out and leaves his wife and announces the affair person is his lover you’re a threat. (Small caveat unless it really is an open marriage. If you intel gather and find that to be the case you’re safe. Otherwise I’d be looking for a new job on the downlow.)

    1. Rose*

      I actually sort of feel the opposite. You now know he’s likely having an affair. I assume he feels awkward and not angry, but if he fired you over feeling either, you could pretty easily find his wife and let her know, or email both VPs and tell them what you saw, etc. It’s not like this is a company you’d get a reference from if you left now. Boss has lots to loose (potentially relationship, deff professional reputation), and OP has relatively little, unless it’s an industry that OP would have a really hard time finding another job in.

      I hope OP takes some comfort in the fact that they have some power in this weird horrible situation.

    2. Hannah Lee*

      I’m thinking LW should look for a new job because just the dynamics of “owner sleeping with one of my 6 co-workers” just sets up a weird, dysfunctional dynamic for the company. Will the owner automatically side with this person in discussions, decision making? Will decisions about compensation, perqs, bonuses get made based on business needs, employee contributions, and not employee “contributions”? What if the 2 have a quarrel, break up? And that’s before you get into weighing the fact that the owner and other co-worker have such bad judgement that they are having sex in the office in the first place, in room with the door wide open.

      Sure, all that could be going on at any company and employees just don’t know about it. But knowing about it, and working at such a small company, I’d lean heavily into “this isn’t the best company to work for” Maybe see how it goes for a week or three, but I’d at the least keep my resume polished and my feelers out for other opportunities.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It wasn’t another coworker. (Which I know because the OP included this PS with the letter: My boyfriend gave me a good laugh last night when I told him I was gonna write to you. He said, “just imagine if you’d caught the owner with another one of your coworkers! You could have stumbled into the duck club. Quack quack!”)

          1. NerdyKris*

            I will never not think of Howard the Duck and Lea Thompson. (Although I guess now it’s Kat Dennings after that What If? episode)

        1. PinaColada*

          Oh interesting, yeah I’m curious because they met the person on Thursday, it sounds like it was at the office. So to me I’m thinking vendor, client, etc. I think this could impact the situation because if the other party is someone you’re going to see on a regular basis…well, I cannot even imagine! Lol. Much harder to forget if you have to interact with both of them on a regular basis. Especially if you see it impact in any business decisions.

          1. Myrin*

            The person OP met on Thursday was the owner’s wife; the owner’s canoodling partner is an unknown.

            He says “I’d […] by chance met the owner’s wife on Thursday when she stopped by for lunch.” and later referred back to that information by saying “he was in the middle of intimate relations with someone who was not his wife, [who was the person] that I’d met on Thursday!”.

    3. Bess Marvin*

      I can’t even imagine how one would gather intel as to whether one’s boss has an open marriage. Anything I can think of saying that would bring up a conversation even remotely in the general area is… not anything I would say conversationally to a colleague.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        “Hey I saw Boss ****ing someone on his desk that’s not Becky what’s their deal”

        “Oh I figured if they were doing it here where anyone could catch them it wasn’t a secret!”

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      My mind also immediately went to “Oh no, the owner is now going to think OP knows too much and cannot remain in the office”. But who knows? The owner doesn’t seem to care, seeing as the door was open. (And I guarantee they’d heard OP coming back, doors opening and closing, footsteps etc, and were like “eh, let’s keep the door open”.)

  6. Capt. Dunkirk*

    I feel like a lot of unfairness is coming your way, LW. It totally sucks and not deserved, but you should probably start looking for a new “new” job just in case.

  7. Bee Eye Ill*

    Was the “other” also an employee there? That would make a difference here. I’d probably be looking for another job, though.

    1. PT*

      I would also start applying. There’s simply no harm in it. Best case scenario, you find a better job and can remove yourself from an uncomfortable situation, or everyone just pretends nothing happened and you can keep your current job. Worst case scenario, you get fired from this job but you’re already lining up interviews and can seamlessly jump to another job.

      (This is, of course, assuming you have the sort of resume where getting jobs is easy for you.)

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I agree with this question. If the boss is having an affair with a colleague and you have to work with both of them, that will be exponentially more awkward than if boss is having an affair with some rando.

  8. Ask a Manager* Post author

    One thing that might be relevant — I think (based on the OP’s email) that they’re a man. I feel gross saying this, but I think there’s a chance a man will be in less danger in this situation, if the owner assumes there’s some sort of bro code in play.

      1. Capt. Dunkirk*

        Yeah, there definitely will be some amount involved.
        I worked in a toxic job with a bunch of older guys who just by default, assumed I was as lecherous and gross as they were just because I was also a guy.

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          I will add my voice to this chorus. Especially because I used to be active duty military, it’s shocking the things I’ve been expected to turn a blind eye to, just because the perpetrator was male and so am I.

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I can see that opening a whole different kettle of ick and the boss “bonding” with the LW over seriously inappropriate stuff as “locker room banter”

    2. Person from the Resume*

      I agree. I feel like (assuming this is an illicit affair), the boss might feel a woman is more likely to go to his wife (because female solidarity) whereas a man may not. It’s possible the boss is of the opinion boys will be boys and be horny and cheat if possible so a fellow man may not “rat him out.”

      IDK the boss might not be grossly sexist that way. Unfortunately the LW doesn’t know much either being there for only a few days now.

    3. Rose*

      I agree, partially because bro code, and partially because I think there’s an assumption (likely wrong for MANY men) that seeing this (a penis, sex) would feel like sexual harassment to a woman but feel less violating to a man, and a man would be less upset by a man cheating on his wife.

      I hate everything I just wrote. Ew ew ew. OP, you have my sympathy.

    4. Regina Phalange*

      Is the “bro code” just as strong with gay men (assuming OP is out?) (Going by his reference of a boyfriend…)

      I don’t know how all that grossness works.

      1. Bex*

        No way to no if the owner is aware the OP has a boyfriend. If he is, my instinct is that would weaken the bro-code effect but still but the OP in a better position than if they were a woman.
        Ugh, I feel gross having opinions about this.

        1. Rose*

          Idk, gay men are often perceived as hyper sexual/into casual sex so it might just about net out?

          Once again I hate everything I’m writing and I’m sorry to even write out these insane and disgusting ideas. Just thinking through OPs situation, and I hope this gives him some hope if he even wants to stay.

      2. OhNo*

        Based on my experience, depends on how homophobic the person in question is. Some particularly virulent homophobes view gay men as being in the same category as women, which negates the “bro code”. Someone who’s relatively accepting, though, might extend the “bro code” even to those who are not “bros” (e.g.: lesbians, nonbinary & trans folks). It’s a bit of a mixed bag.

        Might be worth it to the OP to consider that aspect of it, in case it makes a difference.

        1. OhNo*

          (Source, for anyone curious: I’m a trans man, and have had some truly wild interactions with other men in re: the “bro code” and being LGBTQ. If you ever want to study cognitive dissonance, that’s your ideal experimental group right there.)

        2. Bex*

          I think the most likely possibilities here are either:
          -OP is not out.
          -OP is out and Owner is, at most, only slightly homophobic – I’d think a company this small, if it were owned by a virulent homophobe, would be unlikely to hire an out gay man.

          So hopefully, assuming Alison is right about OP’s gender, he gets at least a little bro-code protection.

          (All of this is still gross. But I’m hoping it’s gross in OP’s “favor” in this case since they’re certainly not the problem here.)

      3. STG*

        As a gay man, bro code doesn’t typically apply once they know you’re gay. If you are ‘passing’ as a straight male, that’s another story but once they know, there tends to be a wall that goes up.

    5. The Dogman*

      “if the owner assumes there’s some sort of bro code in play.”

      I don’t think I have ever seen a “bro code” when the two men were not already friends.

      Most men are similar I think, we would not assume another man will stay silent on this sort of thing.

      I suspect the boss is planning on firing our LW ASAP. I think it would be safest for the LW to assume he is getting fired tomorrow.

      In my experience men do not have automatic loyalty to other men just because we are men.

      Personally I judge male bosses very harshly for this sort of thing, prob would judge women bosses harshly too but I have never heard of one doing this… maybe the lady bosses shut the doors?

      1. Black Horse Dancing*

        I doubt this for the simple fact many men know rapists and harassers (they have to–math) and they do nothing. I can absolutely see boss thinking OP will simply ignore this. Look how many men won’t say or do anything when a woman is being harassed/groped, etc.

    6. Valkyrie*

      It sucks and I agree, but I don’t think you are being gross because you’re naming the realities of sexism and what not and how it disproportionately hurts women. The gross thing is that this is a real possibility and it sucks it’s even something we have to name.

      1. Anon for This*

        I think there’s a line that is crossed when it is suggested, even implicitly, that one should use some type of privilege in any way. In this case, Alison is suggesting that the OP should feel less threatened about the situation because he is a man. While the statement itself is true, I would never point out to somebody who has some type of privilege that they can use it to reassure and/or otherwise help themselves. I would let it go unsaid and let them figure it out if they want to. If I was giving advise to somebody without such privilege, then I would be more comfortable in saying it out loud.
        I think the reason Alison feels “gross” is that the statement does cross the line into endorsing the use of privilege in some fashion, even if it is just so that the OP can reassure himself.

        1. Observer*

          Alison is not “endorsing” anything. And it’s not like someone is going to be harmed by the OP factoring in this added layer of grossness into his thinking about whether he needs to start looking for a new job or not.

        2. rototiller*

          Ehh, I dunno. I think privilege is like salaries – talking about it can be upsetting, but avoiding the topic only benefits the bosses. Keeping this stuff invisible and unspoken makes it harder to change it. And FWIW, in my experience people who are unaware of their own privilege are the ones who exploit it in the most damaging ways.

          1. miro*

            Totally agree.

            Anon for This, you said “If I was giving advise to somebody without such privilege, then I would be more comfortable in saying it out loud.”
            And look, I get it. Talking about privilege to/with people who are on the more privileged side of a given identity (gender, in this case) can be super awkward. But I actually think that this mindset is a real problem, and something I’m trying to work on myself for the reasons rototiller gave. I think that when privilege is only talked about to/among/in relation to marginalized people, you’re missing a key part of the conversation–after all, privilege is relational.

            It’s not about OP being directed to use privilege in some sinister way, it’s acknowledging the reality that gender absolutely can impact this situation (and, likely, the advice people give someone dealing with it).

          2. DJ Abbott*

            Completely agree!
            As a 59-year-old woman, it’s only in the last 10 years that I’ve really been able to see all the interconnected ways elites oppress us.
            IME most people are in denial most of the time. No one wants to think their employers and possibly their romantic partners are just using them as objects.
            Young people are trying not to see this because it’s too horrible to deal with, and elites don’t go out of their way to let us know. They act all kind and supportive with one hand while they pay inadequate salary and benefits on the other, and if anyone calls them out they pretend they didn’t understand what they were doing.
            Silence and denial is the reason they’ve gotten away with it so long. IMHO we need to call it out at every opportunity loudly and proudly and make sure it changes.

            1. A Zennial*

              If it makes you feel any better, young people definitely see this kind of stuff and are calling it out! That’s why the ‘depressed late millennial/early gen Z’ trope is doing the internet rounds at the moment. It’s the twenty-something ‘Zennials’ who picked up the idea from older people and ran with it, hence why you’ve been seeing a lot of it in the last ten years. Teamwork!

        3. miro*

          Wait, what? I’m not sure how stating that the realities of sexism mean that a man might be less likely to go after/fire another man in this situation than they would be to fire (or otherwise make life harder for) a woman is “endorsing” privilege or telling OP to “use” male privilege. Maybe it would help to look at this from the other direction–that is, what would it mean for OP to NOT “use” his privilege in this situation? If OP is a man, the boss is going to apply his expectations for men onto OP probably regardless of how OP feels about it.

    7. Chickaletta*

      I agree with Alison, but I think this may also be true if both the owner and employee were women.

  9. Blue*

    Wow we are seriously making up for lost time around here re: letters about people who have completely lost their minds!!!!

      1. Elenna*

        And if, for some probably-nonexistent reason, you absolutely *must* have sex in the office, at least close the frickin’ door first!
        (Kinda makes me wonder if there was some exhibitionist kink involved. Not that they could have known OP would see them, but there’s definitely people who would be turned on by the “harmless” exhibitionism of leaving the door open so they could be seen, while thinking that it doesn’t matter because they “know” nobody will actually see them. Regardless, still should not be done in the office!)

        1. Winter Sky*

          Maybe they had a whole scene planned where the wife was scheduled to walk in, “discover” them, and join in. That sort of thing DOES happen.

        2. Daisy-dog*

          I can see someone mentally justifying it if they are trying to conceive and it’s the ovulation window. But like there are other solutions there – even if traveling or during a busy work period. And highly unlikely in this case as it isn’t the wife.

        3. JustaTech*

          There were rumors at my work of a previous CEO who *did* bother to close the door. But then accidentally turned on the video conference calling system. This was back when there was only one conference room in the entire building with video conference capability.

          Some other members of the C-suite got an eyefull.

      2. Carol the happy elf*

        My friend was a resident, and in the crash room, along with a few sets of bunkbeds, there was a “circle/slash” sign with 2 dogs um, playing leapfrog. One woman embroidered that on pillows for the couch.

        The boss got really mad because the signs kept getting stolen. Can’t imagine why anyone would want one (but I have one in my attic….)

    1. J.B.*

      Maybe an argument for continued remote work? Well, except there was Jeffrey Toobin. People are just gross.

  10. Robin Ellacott*

    Oh no… what a horribly awkward situation.

    It really depends what the owner is like. For many, if you had a few normal, professional interactions after that it would reassure you both that you had mutually chosen to pretend it didn’t happen. But if he blusters or is visibly weird about it, it does look like a potential work problem for you, and because he is the owner that might mean things are too difficult to stay.

    I agree with Alison… see how the next few interactions are and rehearse until you can make them normal and unflustered on your end. And ugh, I’m sorry.

  11. Sleet Feet*

    Ew. Can’t imagine having a meeting in his office or being asked to grab papers from his desk. Yuck!

    Honestly I would leave, because obviously the owner has terrible boundaries and judgment as well as a perverse view of power. Not someone I want in leadership or in a position of power over me.

    1. Snow Globe*

      I agree with this. Even if the CEO is willing to pretend this never happened, and does not retaliate, this is not someone who inspires confidence as a leader.

  12. Two Chairs, One to Go*

    Wow. This is your first week and you found out the owner has sex in his office after hours! It makes me wonder what else happens there that crosses boundaries. Personally I’d look for another job because it makes me question the owner’s judgment.

    1. Generic Name*

      Bingo. I’d be looking for another job. You now know that the owner lacks judgement, has warped boundaries, and is likely severely lacking in character (because they are likely cheating, and cheating requires lying and deceit in addition to breaking vows and all that).

  13. Me*

    Oh wow do I feel for you OP. I personally would pretend nothing ever happened as I quietly searched for new jobs.

    Regardless of how the owner acted I would always feel awkward internally every time I had to deal with him. Not how I want to feel at work.

  14. animaniactoo*

    Lay low, act like everything is normal and pretend you never saw it. If that doesn’t work, that office setup has a bigger issue than the fact that the owner is using it as a secondary loveshack after hours.

    1. Moira Rose*

      And if the owner mentions it, just say, “Don’t worry about me, I didn’t see anything.” No reason to get into it further.

      I’m so morbidly curious about what exactly OP *saw.* Like, are we talking the owner snuggling on a couch with another woman, or full-on NC-17 penetration, or something in between??? I think that would affect how I reacted.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Ugh. Flashback to one of my crappy HS food service jobs when I was 15. Walked in on the owner of the cafe in full on XXX penetration mode with a coworker who was all of 16. I backed out of the room like Homer into a hedge. To this day I am not sure if they know I saw and I don’t want to know

        1. Elizabeth West*

          That reminds me of working at the Golden Corral when I was in music school (it was so long ago it was still a steakhouse with a salad bar). The owner’s girlfriend was one of our coworkers and no more than 20 tops. He was pushing 60, just this little round guy with a little round head. None of us could figure that one out.

      2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        I’m tempted to suggest pretending you don’t know what the owner is talking about, if the owner is clever enough to be vague.

        Owner: So, about the other night, when you may have seen something…odd.

        Employee: (confused look) Um, sorry, what are you talking about? (Beat) Oh, but I wanted to ask you about that one client report…

        Just…brush it under the rug and pretend like it didn’t happen if it ever comes up.

        For what it’s worth, the owner is gross and inappropriately mixing personal and professional.

      3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I’m with analytic tree hugger below. Don’t offer “I didn’t see” just act like it didn’t happen at all

        Boss: so about the other night, and what you saw…”
        OP: Oh, yeah. I did come back to office to pick up some papers to read over the weekend. I got some good ideas about X before I met with Jim about it. He’s been a great resource getting started here. Thanks.

  15. Butterfly Counter*

    Oh, yikes. I’m sure my first instinct would have been to run and hide and do anything I could not to be recognized by either participant, mostly because I wouldn’t want either of them to know I’d seen their secret and what that might mean for me in the long run. But I guess that ship has sailed. :-/

    I’m going to have to agree with Alison and just pretend you were sleepwalking that night and have no idea what was going on if it is ever brought up to you by anyone. It probably also wouldn’t hurt to maybe consider looking for a new job. If this happened in your first week… yikes again.

  16. BayCay*

    Man, I hate gross people.

    Anyway, I think it kind of matters how much you see the OP sees the owner on a daily/regular basis, how much they’re in touch. If it’s not much and you’re kind of distanced, then it could be fine and just proceed with the job while knowing that the owner is kind of gross, possibly a cheater, but eh, none of our business. But like Alison said, if he did recognize you and you see each other a lot, it could just be a permanently awkward situation. I think only time will tell if you’re both willing to pretend it didn’t happen. Woof.

    1. BayCay*

      Just noticed Alison’s comment that she thinks the OP might be a man. In which case, totally agree, the owner might be less concerned. I hate that if the OP was a woman, I believe she’d feel more threatened and/or possibly in danger of repercussions, etc.

  17. liquidus*

    And if you need to have sex in the office, definitely do NOT do it in a video teleconference suite where the equipment automatically activates for pre-scheduled conferences.

    1. Butterfly Counter*

      I know I read this somewhere too. Maybe on this site? I think it was one of those “Alison Asks Commenters About” mishaps with Zoom in this new technical age and someone wrote that they had been on an international video conference call and one of the offices (not officially on the conference call but still dialed in?) somewhere where the time difference had them after normal business hours was being used for a tryst. Everyone else on the video call saw everything.

      I swear that I read that here, but can’t find it using the search.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      And, please, please, please don’t do it in the 24/7 monitored server room at 8pm.

      (I didn’t see it, but the monitoring team up near Manchester did! Seriously, a server room? Those things are COLD)

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Well, suppose we should be grateful they didn’t decide to incorporate network cabling into their…ahem…’hard drive dock’

  18. Chairman of the Bored*

    This all seems like something that will only be a problem for LW in the unlikely event that the owner chooses to make it a problem. Until such a time as there’s any indication of that occurring I recommend LW carry on as normal.

    Odds are it will never come up again.

    Certainly don’t rope other people into this.

    1. qtippyqueen*

      I agree. I would just act like I never saw a thing…but also keep my eyes out to look for any signs of disfunction in the office.

    2. Cj*

      I can see the owner trying to push the OP out. On the other hand, the boss may worry that if he does that, it will give more incentive to the OP to tell his wife or co-workers what they saw.

    3. marvin the paranoid android*

      Maybe not, but I don’t think I’d be thrilled to keep working there if it was me. Every time I walked into a room I’d be wondering what I was in for.

  19. Pants*

    Am I the only person who just assumes there are cameras everywhere in office buildings? I cannot imagine ever being comfortable enough for naked time at work.

    1. Waiting on the bus*

      Well, he’s the owner so he would know if he put cameras in his office.

      But for employees, yes, always assume there’s cameras somewhere. It just saves you so much hassle.

      1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

        Back when I worked at my most horrible job, the manager became obsessed with the idea that one of our leasing consultants was having sex in the model apartment. That was the very start of her hidden camera and microphone obsession–I guess when she caught zero naughtiness going down in the model apartment she decided to expand into more generalized spying.

    2. allathian*

      This is a tiny company, less than 10 employees. So it’s more likely they don’t have security cameras than it would be for a bigger company. But yeah, offices are basically public places. Sure, some people enjoy the risk of getting caught, but I’ve never been one of them.

  20. Badasslady*

    My assumption is that as long as you don’t say anything and act normal, it would be fine, and any awkwardness would subside. But… I have to say it’s a very bad sign that the company owner is having sex in his office, with the door open, with one of his employees. Regardless of the particular situation you’re in as a witness, I would be very concerned about lack of judgment, favoritism, and generally speaking toxic work culture. To me, this is a huge red flag.

    1. Cj*

      I don’t think it was one of the employees. The letter doesn’t say that, unless I missed it twice, and I think that would be relevant to how the OP would feel about working with that employee and would have mentioned it if that was the case.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        OP says the person with the owner was one of the people they met on day one of the job, which is when OP met all of the employees. The inference seems clear that this is an employee.

        1. The Original K.*

          OP says the person Owner was with was “not [Owner’s] wife that [they] met on Thursday.” I think that means OP met the owner’s wife on Thursday and the woman Owner was having sex with in the office was not the wife (wife = woman OP had already met).

        2. Alexander Graham Yell*

          I think “that I met on Thursday” in the letter refers to the owner’s wife, not the person in the office Friday night. So if if were slightly rephrased it’d be “someone who was not his wife, who I met on Thursday, was in there with him”.

        3. Myrin*

          The person OP met on Thursday was the owner’s wife; the owner’s canoodling partner is an unknown.

          He says “I’d […] by chance met the owner’s wife on Thursday when she stopped by for lunch.” and later referred back to that information by saying “he was in the middle of intimate relations with someone who was not his wife, [who was the person] that I’d met on Thursday!”.

  21. The Smiling Pug*

    While I consider myself to be a sex-positive person, I agree with Alison. Please don’t have sex at work.

      1. The Smiling Pug*

        Very true. Also, if OP’s boss thinks it’s fine to have sex on his desk, I’ve found that this is a symptom of deep disfunction, if not outright toxicity, in a workplace.

  22. J*

    I agree with keeping it private, except I think it might be a good idea to document the details in writing with a provable date. Again, keeping that document for your eyes only. Then, in the future, if something retaliatory happens and you need to “prove” that the story wasn’t made up retroactively, you would have it.

    1. Moira Rose*

      I 100% agree with this — can anyone clever speak up to give an indication how that might be accomplished? Do you mail it to yourself with certified mail and not open it unless there are legal problems??

        1. Sparkles McFadden*

          Work email is not private. That cuts both ways. If one is concerned about someone higher up seeing such an email, don’t do it via work email. If you want a record on the office’s system (or record of a removal), then use work email.

        2. Rose*

          Dear lord do not put this in your work email when you’re already in such a precarious position! An email you write yourself won’t really “prove” anything, but his email to Alison would prob be as good as any?

      1. Myrin*

        I think in this particular case that’s already a done deal because, well, OP wrote to Alison so the proof is right there for anyone to see (OP might feel hesitant to bring this up, of course, but I’d imagine that if push came to shove and he were in such a situation where he’d have to prove this kind of thing, he might as well).

        But for others who haven’t happened to write about their situation to an advice columnist, I think Eldritch’s advice of emailing it to your personal account is solid.

      2. Sparkles McFadden*

        I loved my long-time workplace but it was sometimes…crazy. My first year, I started keeping a running log. At one point, I spoke with an employment attorney and he said that my work diary with dated entries would be acceptable in court/arbitration.

        I have also sent emails a good friend who kept a file folder in case I ever needed it. If you have spoken to someone at the time of the event, it supports your account.

      3. S*

        Email yourself. (In this case, his outgoing email to Alison is already a good contemporaneous document.) That’s the simple answer for almost anything that requires a timestamp

      4. Goody*

        When I worked in a law firm and was having trouble cancelling a personal service, my boss suggested that I send three copies of a letter requesting cancellation before he got officially involved – one regular mail, one certified with return receipt, and a third to myself with a photocopy of the certified envelope and postage metered date. He said to leave the envelope to myself sealed, and to attach the return card when it came back. He also gave me some tips for the letter itself, including a threat of legal action, and told me that if it came to that, my sealed copy of the letter and receipt would be evidence of my attempts to close the account.

        That said, I think this is overkill in THIS situation. An email to himself – and I would not use the office email at all here – should be enough for documentation with timestamp.

    2. The Original K.*

      This would be my take. Keep quiet, if boss mentions it I’d say I hadn’t seen anything, but I’d email myself from my work email to cover any bases in case of any retaliation.

  23. Funbud*

    Oh man, flashback to me and the VP in the stockroom at my first office job. And in the men’s room, on one occasion.
    Granted it was the late ’70s…but what was I thinking? My only excuse is I was nineteen and a very bad boy.

    1. DJ Abbott*

      The having sex for a fun thing never worked for me, but I am glad you and others enjoyed it! Especially if you survive with nothing worse than losing a job. :)

  24. Yikesoclock*

    I vote that at the very least you email yourself on your work email an account of what happened so if he does retaliate you have that email

  25. Hiring Mgr*

    Agree with the advice just to ignore for now…. But is this much different than the guy last week who was doing it solo, other than that that guy wasn’t the boss?

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      It’s a good question. Being new/not job secure makes it different, it being the boss certainly makes it different in terms of the amount of obligation the OP has to report. I think that’s the biggest thing. The other OP was higher up the chain. It being during the workday when people are around makes it different.

      Again neither are good but besides the core behavior I think the situations are apples and oranges.

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah I think the main difference is that it seems likely the boss in this situation thought they were alone in the office after hours, and it doesn’t sound like they could be seen from the door of the office, whereas the bloke from the other letter was doing it in the middle of the working day and in a place where he could be easily seen by people walking past. Of course, neither situation is great, but this seems more like a ‘got caught having sex in the office after hours’ rather than ‘is masturbating in full view of his colleagues’.

        1. t-vex*

          I think it also matters that this guy is not just the manager but he owns the company (and maybe also the building?). It’s his place to go to whenever he wants. Should he be using it for that, of course not, but I can see why he thought it was an option when considering locations for extracurriculars.

    2. CBB*

      One difference in this case is that it probably won’t happened again. The boss will likely from now on close his office door before doing private stuff.

      In the other letter, there were some reasons to think that it might happened again, either to the LW or to LW’s coworkers, so it seemed more urgent that LW should take steps to prevent that.

      (Which isn’t to say that both aren’t serious examples of hostile work environment.)

    3. Rose*

      The advice is different because in this story OP is super new and the offender is the owner of the company. There’s really nothing he can do and no one he can go to.

  26. Who Does This?*

    I speaks very highly of Alison’s character that blackmail was not anywhere in her response.

    1. irene adler*

      Cuz that was the very FIRST thing I thought of when I read this.
      In fact, I’m thinking, if anyone needs to lay low here, it’s the owner- not the LW.
      Guess that makes me bad. Very bad. So very bad.

    2. Goody*

      I wasn’t thinking blackmail. But I was thinking “insurance policy against retaliation”. Which I suppose could turn into blackmail eventually.

  27. What in the world?*

    I would simply perish. On the spot. Just… cease to exist. *poof*

    Once I reappeared, I would immediately start looking for another job. I couldn’t work for someone whose judgement was this bad, nor could I trust myself to person properly around him. If he tried to address it with me… Y I K E S. I would probably have to be brutally honest and say I wasn’t comfortable discussing it or working with him any longer. And then I would explode from the embarrassment.

  28. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

    Interesting the different responses to this vs the private office masturbator. This is worse in my mind than that was. Everyone (including Alison) was all report him! Run him out of town on a rail! This guy? Pretend you didn’t see it.

    What’s the lesson here? Only have sex at work if you’re the boss? Only have sex at work if you are the boss of a company too small for proper HR and sex discrimination protection?

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      There are two big differences that I can see. First is that in the other letter, the OP was in a position of authority while this OP is very much not. Second is that the other incident happened during the work day when anyone could have seen, while this happened after hours when the boss thought the office was empty.

      As much as we would all like there to be a set of black and white rules about workplace ethics and behaviors, the reality is that we live in a flawed society and the amount of power you have relative to the person behaving unethically will have some bearing on what you will be able to do about it.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I mean the lesson is people need to pay their bills and that OP was established and higher up and didn’t see the boss. It’s worth reporting but only if you’re not risking your job to do so.

    3. Clorinda*

      It was after hours and the boss reasonably expected that nobody would see–it was just everyone’s bad luck that OP happened to enter at that time. Whereas the other one was right out in the open during the work day, expecting and maybe even wanting to be seen.

    4. Esmeralda*

      I think the size of the company and thus federal law makes a difference. There’s some protection from retaliation at one w more employees.
      Also, the masturbator was during working hours, which might make a difference, I don’t know.

    5. OrigCassandra*

      I think it’s a function of what recourse is actually available. In the private-office situation, there was HR and the culprit had a boss.

      Here, there isn’t and he doesn’t. Doesn’t make this any more acceptable — does sharply limit what the OP can actually realistically do.

    6. KaciHall*

      Only have sex at the office if you’re the boss, it’s after hours, AND no one else should be there. But still don’t have sex at the office.

    7. anonymous73*

      I don’t think this situation is worse than the dude who was caught pleasuring himself, but ONLY because this scenario happened after hours. But unlike the majority of the comments, I would say something to my manager (for CYA purposes and to gauge their reaction) and start looking for another job. If the owner thinks this is okay, what other boundaries are crossed work-wise?

    8. Hiring Mgr*

      I agree 100%. There’s something not sitting right with the average Joe getting called on the carpet for this but the CEO skating.. Yes there may be some surface level differenes between the two cases but come on…

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        How exactly would you suggest OP call the owner of the company on the carpet? There’s nobody to report him to. We’re not recommending the OP keep quiet because we don’t think the owner did anything wrong, it’s because logistically, there’s not much OP can do here without blowing up their employment.

        1. Hiring Mgr*

          I agree with all that, personally i’d have kept quiet in either situation. Not saying i have a solution, just that it rubs me the wrong way (no pun intended) that power and privilege seem to make the difference here

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Owner of a company that is too small to have federal protection, after hours, and the LW works the owner for vs. during work hours, as an employee who is farther down the food chain from the LW in a company that had HR and is big enough to fall under federal protections are more than surface level differences. Mind, I don’t think either should have been having sexy times with themselves or others in the workplace, but the differences in the circumstances are pretty huge.

      3. DJ Abbott*

        This is an example of the country we live in. People with power and money get away with anything and they punish people who try to change that.

    9. S*

      Don’t do sex things where you can reasonably expect your coworkers to see you.

      Had this boss been doing the same thing during the work day, or had asked the OP to come into the office, it would be a Defcon 5 Creeptastic Creep alert. If masturbating coworker had been doing the same thing at 8 at night after everyone else had gone home, or had closed the shades and locked the door, it’d be something you pretended not to see.

      1. Rose*

        Ew. Strongly disagree. Don’t masturbate at work, no matter what. The difference is that OP has absolutely no recourse in this situation. There is nothing to tell him to do. He can’t go fire the owner of a company where he’s brand new.

    10. marvin the paranoid android*

      The lesson is that if you’re the owner of a small company, there isn’t too much a new employee can do if they catch you doing something inappropriate at work. I wouldn’t mind reading the alternate universe Ask a Manager where Alison tells people what they could do if they wielded the power of divine justice, but it might not be as helpful.

    11. Ha2*

      The difference is the authority.

      There’s nobody to report this boss to. He’s the owner, company’s too small for any federal protections to apply. If this gets out, it’s OP that ends up out of a job. There’s nobody for OP to report this to that could do anything.

      In an ideal world, there would be. But it seems there isn’t.

    12. JB*

      Alison outlined the differences pretty clearly in both letters.

      LW who witnessed the masturbator was at an equal level to him in the company. It’s still risky to report, but LW has an obligation.

      In this case, the guy is the business owner. LW gains nothing and risks a lot by reporting him.

      Very odd that you’re looking for the lesson here for people who have sex at work. In neither case was the LW the one engaging in sexual activity at work. If that’s the part you’re concerned with, the lesson is to not have sex at work, period. It might work out for this boss this time because LW isn’t in a position to do anything about it, but it’s certainly affected how LW sees him – and next time he’s seen it might be by someone who can impose much more severe consequences, either professionally or personally.

      1. Rose*

        There’s really no one to even report him TO. I’m not sure what exactly Cheesecake is even suggesting? Tell his boss’s boss/owner of this tiny, HR-less company that he’s in the wrong? Nothing he says is going to make a difference. The owner will either be horrified and make sure this never happens again, or he’s shameless and he won’t. OP getting himself fired or not will make no difference.

    13. Nanani*

      Did you not finish reading the response?
      Quote: “Don’t have sex at work”

      The response is about practicalities, which are worlds apart for a new hire seeing the boss have sex (LW has no pwoer) vs the masturbator letter where the person walking in DID have authority to put a stop to it.

    14. Rose*

      The lesson is pretty obvious: report it if there is someone to report it to and you have the power to do so. Clearly it would be ideal if OP could report this, but he can’t. There’s not some public, communal HR he can report it to. Is he supposed to loose his job for the honor of calling out his boss’s boss on having done something gross? What exactly would that accomplish?

      People in positions of power can break the rules with fewer consequences, be it at work, in the government, in kindergarten, whatever. I think we all knew that before this letter.

    15. Koala dreams*

      There is some symmetry. In that post, one of the arguments was that as a manager on the same level you should report it because an employee lower in the hierarchy or new to the company might not feel that they can. And here, we have the perspective of the employee who don’t feel they can do anything.

      It’s also different with owner compared to manager. You can escalate above the manager, but not the owner.

  29. Joan Clayton*

    I had a similar situation happen at my first non-retail job. I walked down the hallway to my boss’s office to get signatures, and the entire office was locked (it’s never locked during business hours). I walk back to my office and say to my Assistant (who is close to my boss and his assistant), “Jon’s office is locked, is he gone for the day?” My Assistant says, “No he shouldn’t be, I’ll call his extension.”
    The OBVIOUS call goes “Hey! Joan needs your signatures on some documents… uh-huh… ok… JOAN is walking down the hall NOW.”
    I get back to the office and the door is now unlocked and his assistant is fixing her skirt and brushing her hair, as he standing behind his desk moving files from one side to the other…
    I roll my eyes and get my signatures and left for the day. At this point, I ramped up my job hunting because this was just one incident in that toxic environment.

  30. Late Night Lentil*

    I had a boss like this once. And it was very much a case of “you hired me to help you run your company, not your private life” because his “habits” were very much an open secret.

    But, ewww. I was so glad to be out of there.

  31. AndersonDarling*

    I know a small business owner and he thinks of his office as his apartment. He has personal parties in the office on the weekends, sleeps there if he was partying in the neighborhood. He even moved in for a few weeks while construction was going on in his regular home.
    Everything about the letter is terrible, and I don’t want to diminish what the OP had to see. But as a warning to anyone else who works for a little company where the owner personally built the office, be careful going in after hours. Those owners don’t think of the office the same way the rest of us do.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      My boss at LabJob was based in another state. In our facility, he had a Murphy bed in his office. There was a bathroom in the basement with a shower and a fridge and microwave in the break room. When he, or he and his wife, were in town, they stayed in the office overnight to save money (he was notoriously cheap).

      We never walked in on anything, thank goodness—they were older and always were dressed and presentable when we arrived in the mornings. But yeah, blurred lines in these settings for sure.

  32. Chris too*

    Back in the seventies my husband was a night security guard for a medium sized regional airline. The executive whose duties included overseeing security was very strict for the times. His rules were that if a guard found anybody anywhere outside of their normal work space, or in the case of the office staff, outside their normal work hours, the guards were to stop them and physically check their ID, no matter how well they knew them. No exceptions were to be made. Not ever! Fair enough, but the guy was apparently really nasty and verbally abusive to the guards.

    It probably wasn’t the wisest move for this executive to have sex with his secretary in the executive office at one in the morning after the Christmas party, when my husband was doing his rounds. My husband made them show their IDs. The executive was screaming at him but my husband politely stood his ground and pointed out there were to be no exceptions allowed to the rule.

    The next day the post orders changed to make the office patrols, previously required, now forbidden.

  33. Chumped*

    Different and likely unpopular opinion.

    Start looking for another job.

    Tell the wife what you saw. She’s the innocent party in this and should know so she can take whatever actions to safeguard herself.

    1. anonymous73*

      You had me until you last paragraph. It’s not OP’s business to get involved in the owner’s marriage.

    2. Esmeralda*

      Yep, I agree with this. If it’s an open marriage, she won’t care. If it’s not (much more likely), then she needs the info to at the very least go for STD testing.

    3. The Original K.*

      Totally disagree with the advice to tell the wife. No good can come from getting deeper involved in his boss’s (actually, his boss’s boss’s) personal life.

    4. JB*

      How would LW even go about contacting the wife – who he has met once? Do you think he exchanged contact info with her?

      It baffles me, the extent to which monogamous people expect everyone else to actively police their relationships for them. If he is cheating (which, yes, seems likely, given the facts) that’s a shame, but it’s not anyone else’s responsibility to track down his wife and tattle on him.

  34. anonymous73*

    Personally I would not feel comfortable working with this person. There are some things you just can’t unsee. If you can put this out of your mind and pretend nothing happened, I applaud you, but I couldn’t do it. And I would start looking for a new job now. In such a small company, the owner thinking it’s appropriate to engage in sexual activity in the office (even after hours) would make me wonder about potential questionable practices with work related things.

  35. Mx Burnout*

    Please create some kind of dated documentation of this, even if you just make a note to yourself via e-mail, or in your day planner or something!

  36. Sean*

    Man, that headline wrote a check and the letter cashed it. From a purely rubbernecking-on-the-highway point of view, this is fantastic. (I mean, it’s horrible. But as a mid-day distraction from work: zowie.)

  37. Lobsterman*

    This is such a gigantic red flag. Yes, OP can probably ride it out. But this is indicative of such grossly terrible judgment, carefully carried over into work, that this place is probably going to be a hellhole.

    I’m torn between “Polish your resume and ride it out, the market’s good right now,” and “Ask for 3 months’ severance and gtfo.”

  38. Stitch*

    I’m with your boyfriend/family. You should maybe keep applying to jobs as someone with such poor judgment and boundaries may ice you out for discovering him.

  39. WulfInTheForest*

    *Opens Wattpad to start writing*

    But no, seriously, what’s up with all these crazy stories lately?!?!

    1. Symmetry Analysis*

      Lots of people have started going back into the office, and that’s where all the wild things are.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, and just one more reason to prefer WFH, if you ask me… Of course, those sorts of things wouldn’t happen in a decent office where people have reasonable boundaries and respect other people’s boundaries.

  40. George*

    Was that wrong? Should the boss not done that? I gotta plead ignorance on this, because I’ve worked in a lot of offices, and I tell you people do that all the time.

    1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      Yes, it was wrong. This is way, way over the line of inappropriately mixing personal and professional. I understand that *you* have seen this a lot; please understand the fact that the vast majority of people would see it as wrong (as reflected in the comments here). And I suspect that’s true across country borders.

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          Ah, sadly, I missed the Seinfeld era and I fear I would experience the “Seinfeld isn’t funny” trope if I went back now. Thanks for clarifying!

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Oh it’s not! I literally started watching it to start getting these jokes hahaha

  41. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    It would be bad enough if you’d been there for a few years. But to see that on your second day? Yowza.

  42. QuinleyThorne*

    I will never understand the thought process of people who mix their sex life with their work life. There is nothing remotely titillating about being employed (Sex work notwithstanding, but even then, it’s still work).

    1. James*

      From what I’ve seen it’s fairly easy. When you’re working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, you don’t have many options for interaction outside the office–you’re more or less only interacting with coworkers. When you limit romantic options in such a way, you tend to find someone in the available pool of potential mates. People who work together build relationships with one another, often extremely close relationships; poor skills at setting and maintaining boundaries, plus the above, can lead to lines being crossed. Add any sort of travel and it gets worse. The boundaries between “work” and “not work” are much more blurry when you’re on the road, and it’s really easy to cross that line. And each time you cross it, it becomes easier and easier to cross it again, and to cross more lines, even when you’re back in the office.

      I’ve seen it happen a fair number of times. Never did it myself–I got married two weeks after getting my first “real” job, and had been engaged for two years before that–but I’ve seen it often enough. One reason I haven’t done it is because I’ve seen what it does to the people in the long run. It’s fun, sure, but six months later you’ve lost your family, house, car, and job. Just not worth it.

      Please note that explaining something does not mean I condone it. I understand, but do not approve.

    1. James*

      There could be a lot of reasons. It’s really easy to say “Get out!!” when you don’t face any of the immediate consequences. Unless the OP has a job lined up leaving could put them and their family in significant financial hardship. The person involved could be a big player in the OP’s industry, meaning they may have to change careers all together. The ability to simply walk away from a job is one that not everyone has.

      And it could be that there are other aspects of the job that make it worth it. What that would be is up to each person, of course. I’m not saying I’d cover up anything, mind you–I’m merely saying that for some people, the job’s value to them may make them more concerned about the legal ramifications and potential blowback on the company than personal trauma, meaning this warrants a very serious “How will we make sure this never happens again?” conversation rather than quitting over it.

  43. Weird spelling*

    I almost walked in on something similar years ago (saw it through the window and left, also it was a part time employee not the boss), I always yell, “Hey! I’m in the studio.”

  44. PrairieEffingDawn*

    Ughhhhghghh. Though I’m aware there are benefits to working for a smaller company, I’ll never again work for an org without HR for reasons like this.

  45. Typing All The Time*

    OP, I hope you’re okay. I would work on your resume and apply to jobs as a backup plus get your list of references in check. And stay professional and emotionless with your boss.

  46. Sara without an H*

    I think this is a fairly common fantasy. (Anybody else here old enough to remember the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal?) But it’s a fantasy nobody should try to act out in real life.

    As to what OP should do, I think Alison’s advice is basically good–play it cool and see what happens. But I would also advise writing up an account of what happened documenting any other behavior on the owner’s part that would suggest retaliation. (NOT on the employer’s computer or server.) The OP may never need it, but it’s good to have it.

    And yes, it would be a good idea for the OP to update their LinkedIn profile and work their contacts. Small organizations can be weird and, while this incident may resolve itself, it’s not a great indicator for managerial rationality.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Someone put a very cushy red sofa on our floor at Exjob that had been in another building somewhere, along with a little coffee table, to make a sitting area near the front windows. Every time I went by I wondered if anyone had stayed late and done the deed on the sofa.

    2. allathian*

      Yeah, I remember. I’m about the same age as she is, and we also look similar, or at least did so at the time, before I got fat. Granted, she’s hardly a doppelgänger, but at the call center job I had when the scandal broke, a few guys called me Lewinsky. I suspect that at least one of them was looking for sexual favors from me, which I really didn’t appreciate. I guess I’m lucky when I get to say that that’s the closest thing I’ve ever come to sexual harassment at work. Not that I saw it as such at the time, even if it made me really uncomfortable. I solved the problem by getting a really short pixie cut, and after that they didn’t call me Lewinsky anymore.

  47. Dragonfly7*

    I’m starting to want to make a list of all of the federal protections and threshold levels that don’t apply for small businesses. I know there are exceptions to minimum wage (my first job as a teenager was one) as well as the size of business required to provide a place for employees to pump breast milks, but the sexual harassment one is new to me. :(

    1. Black Horse Dancing*

      I don’t see how anyone could claim this as sexual harassment in the slightest. OP returned to work after hours, walked into an office that wasn’t his office, and saw boss canoodling with someone not the boss’s wife and not an employee. It’s awkward, weird, uncomfortable but not illegal. Do remember OP was not seeing this during working hours, it wasn’t on OP’s desk, etc.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        Are you a lawyer? Because I’m pretty sure that being exposed to sexual activities at your place of work while engaging in work activities is treading very close to the line of unlawful. There is no indication that OP was violating policy by being there after normal hours, nor does it appear that the building was locked or other attempts to prevent employees from being present were taken.

        1. Black Horse Dancing*

          But it wasn’t work activities. OP returned because he had forgotten something. IANAL but we have no idea if OP used a lock code, key, the door was open, what. As another commenter mentioned, many small business owners treat their office more like a home.

          1. Kevin Sours*

            “I’d forgotten to bring with me some materials I’d planned to read over the weekend”
            Grabbing work documents to review at home is a work activity. If there wasn’t an explicit policy prohibiting being there after hours and they had physical access they were legitimately there. I think it’s reasonable to assume that OP didn’t break in.

            The fact the small business owners treat their office as a home doesn’t mean they are right to do it.

            Sexual harassment is still a serious problem in a large part because people keep making excuses for it.

  48. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    Makes me remember when I found sexy times… accessories at a previous job. I’m still shaking.

    1. The Original K.*

      My coworkers and I found condoms in our former boss’s office when we were cleaning it out after he’d quit.

  49. Purely Allegorical*

    A bit surprised Alison didn’t address one angle, and I don’t see it in the first couple comments either so I’ll throw it out there —

    The fact that the boss was having sex with one of OPs coworkers makes this all a bit worse. At best it signifies that Boss… isn’t a good Boss and has warped views about what’s appropriate for a manager to do… and at worst could indicate some potential future favoritism toward his sex partner. Something to be aware of for the OP. I know OP is very new, but are there any indications of that so far? Any other signs that office politics are warped in this office?

    Regardless of what happens in the short term, for the long term I think OP should start a quiet job hunt so s/h/they have some options, should this all blow up.

  50. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    From now on when I go back to retrieve anything after hours I’m going to have a hacking cough from hell the whole time. Maybe even a sneeze. Enough time for somebody to swing the door and lock it (hopefully). Blehhhh….

    This is awful, and if it were me and I had the ability, I’d just quit. I really hope for an update for the OP, and mostly that the OP is ok.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Yep…maybe I should stop trying to bresk my annoying “whistlemail while I walk” habit.

    2. Kevin Sours*

      I wouldn’t go back after hours. “I meant to review the Jones file this weekend but (pointed look) it was already after hours when I remembered I needed it”

  51. Bob-White of the Glen*

    Did we ever get a follow-up on this one “HR questioned me for hours about a sex injury”? If not, can I still put it in the follow-up list? Am so hoping OP got a lawyer on that one.

  52. Davina*

    One time I was in a meeting with my boss (just the two of us) and I asked him to look at something on our website. I could clearly see his computer screen and he began minimizing multiple open browser windows, presumably to get back to the internet button on his desktop to open a fresh screen. Well, as he was minimizing, a full-screen d*ck pic appeared. We both froze for a second and then he quickly minimized it. We carried on with the conversation as if nothing happened, and he never said anything to me about it. I continued working there for another 6 or 7 years. Another employee also walked in on him in a very similar situation to what OP described (also after hours). Nothing was acknowledged there either. (It is worth noting that he was the ED, so he didn’t have anyone over him except the Board.) It totally depends on the person’s comfort level, but in my particular case I was able to move on and we just pretended like it didn’t happen. Not sure how healthy that is, but I didn’t lose my job (and neither did my coworker).

    1. Observer*

      Well, a Board could definitely do something about this kind of behavior. But I can see why no one reported this.

  53. Elsewhere1010*

    The assumption we all seem to be making was that the boss was having sex with a woman, an assumption which may not necessarily be correct. And a woman could be married to another woman. OP does not specify the genders involved and we can think one scenario more likely than another but I think we don’t actually know.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      We know “his” for the boss and “wife” for the spouse but yes we don’t know the gender of the partner. It doesn’t fundamentally make a difference though.

    2. JB*

      OP used he/him pronouns for the boss.

      It’s true the boss may have been having sex with someone other than a woman, do you feel that that significantly changes any of the advice being given here?

      1. Elsewhere1010*

        Not really, it was more a comment on how minds work. Sorry though, I missed the boss/he/him bit.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        There has to be a joke about Social Distancing in there somewhere, too.

  54. GermanGirl*

    I thought I’ve had all the wtf moments with how employees rights work or don’t work in the US, but sexual harassment protection not kicking in until 15 employees is a new wtf for me.

    Who in the universe would think that this is sensible in any way?

    I mean, from a German perspective it’s crazy that FMLA doesn’t kick in until 50 employees – why should employees at smaller companies have less rights and protection than those at medium sized or bigger companies?! – but I get it from an employer’s standpoint that the smaller you are the more difficult it is to cover for someone, especially if you don’t get any government assistance for doing so.

    But who in their right mind could make such an argument for excusing small businesses from sexual harassment protection?!

  55. Jean*

    Who ARE these people who get all turned on and in the mood at their workplace? My office is one of the least sexy places I can think of. It’s like getting randy while standing in line at the DMV. Y’ALL WEIRD.

    1. Late Night Lentil*

      Right? I just don’t get this. It’s work. Nothing sexy about it.

      I suppose some people are just married to their work and shouldn’t be. Or shouldn’t be married at all. “Y’all weird” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

  56. pickaduck*

    Here’s an idea – talk to the boss and say, “I thought you should know that someone was using your office for what seemed to be a tryst. I didn’t get a good look at them, unfortunately.”

  57. Black Horse Dancing*

    This may be more of an Alison question but where are people getting this is sexual harassment?
    OP returned to worksite AFTER working hours
    OP went to bosses office himself–he was not called there, etc.
    Boss is with another person. This person does not work for the company that OP is aware of nor is it Bosses wife.
    Boss is knocking boots in his office after hours/no one else is there (or supposed to be). Kind of EWWW but really, not sexual harassment at all and best thing OP can do is pretend he didn’t see it and brush up their resume again.

    1. James*

      This is where I’m landing. It’s not ideal, sure, and obviously it’s a potential problem. There’s a difference between someone who’s obviously making an attempt at keeping things private and someone who’s obviously trying to make them public–the latter is sexual harassment, the former is terrible judgment. And I’m not convinced it’s as traumatic as people are portraying it. I think a good portion of the response is the typical result of internet anonymity; I doubt half the people would actually walk away from the job if this would happen to them. I mean, look at vaccines–something like 5% of people actually do walk off a job over vaccine mandates.

    2. Kevin Sours*

      Nobody was expected to be there. There is nothing in the letter to suggest that nobody was *supposed* to be there. The fact that the door was apparently unlocked strongly suggests otherwise.
      OP went to his place of business for a work purpose and was exposed to sexual activity they didn’t want to see. The fact that it was after normal hours and they weren’t explicitly required to be there is pretty irrelevant.

    3. marvin the paranoid android*

      I couldn’t say whether it would actually meet the legal definition of sexual harassment (although I’m guessing likely not in this instance because it was after hours) but I do have to wonder why he wouldn’t even shut the door unless he was hoping to be walked in on. If I were the OP, I’d be concerned about how much that lack of judgment/boundaries will bleed into the workday.

      1. Black Horse Dancing*

        Eh, if it’s the boss’ building and boss isn’t expecting anyone, I can see having it open. Kind of like people in their home having a good time in their bedroom with the door open and someone who doesn’t live there walks in.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          *Its* *An* *Office*. It’s not the bosses or anybody else’s private space. And OP wasn’t some rando walking in where he didn’t belong. He was an employee dropping into *his* workspace after hours for a work reason.

          This is abysmal judgement on the part of the owner and *extremely* concerning behavior.

          1. James*

            “It’s not the bosses or anybody else’s private space.”

            YOU understand that. *I* understand that. But does the boss understand that? Trust me, when you work somewhere 12+ hours a day in a high-stress position your entire life gets wrapped around your work, and the office starts feeling more like home than your home does. Most of us are reasonable people and understand there are still hard lines, even if they’re different from most, but it’s really easy to fall into thinking that your office is your own private space, especially if you have a fair amount of power in the situation. I mean, for a sole proprietorship the company is private property; the lack of distinction between “personal” and “private” in this situation is one of the things that lead to the creation of the corporation (it was a means to shield business owners from the risks should the business tank).

            1. Kevin Sours*

              The fact that he doesn’t understand that is a *massive* red flag. The behavior is inappropriate and I’m not going to make excuses for it.

  58. Nikki*

    Just commenting to say how much I hate it that federal protections don’t kick in until 15 employees. I’m sure this wasn’t the intent behind the limit, but it sends the message that it’s ok for toxic behavior and discrimination to happen at small companies.

    1. James*

      Well, to a certain extent, it WAS the intent to protect certain toxic behaviors. Certain behaviors only become toxic at certain scales. For example, nepotism–in a company with five employees it’s practically necessary, while in a company with 5,000 employees it’s extremely inappropriate. I’ve also seen small companies where payment is not as consistent as most of us would like. They get around it in various ways, but ultimately it’s because they’re tiny and everyone has a much larger stake in the company than would be the case for a huge corporation so everyone tolerates it. This is one reason why companies often struggle as they expand–there’s really not a hard-and-fast rule for when these behaviors become toxic, and a lot of people struggle to realize these behaviors are no longer appropriate. On the flip side, requiring a two-person company to comply with the employment regulations of a multinational company is just about the surest way to eliminate small businesses that I can come up with short of outright outlawing them.

      Sexual harassment should be different. There’s really not a circumstance where it’s appropriate. Even in a company were everyone is in an adult relationship with one another (a joint partnership between two spouses would be the most common example) that sort of behavior should be kept separate from work, assuming it’s not related to one’s work of course, in which case the concept of assumed risk comes into play (I don’t believe you can sue a strip club for sexual harassment, for example).

  59. Bland Ranch*

    Good heavens!!!

    I’m my tech office this would have been global company knowledge via Slack the very next day. I wish more businesses were like that. (Unafraid to speak up — not the sex at work part!)

    1. Kevin Sours*

      It’s an eight person company, the perpetrator is the owner, and OP is brand new. That’s a hell of a power imbalance. A company with a Slack channel is a different sort of place.

  60. Jack (OP)*

    OP here giving an update. Unfortunately it’s a boring one. The owner has only been in the office a little bit this week so far, just on Monday morning, and we didn’t interact during that time. So I’m still semi-anxiously awaiting the next time we interact, while simultaneously trying to dive into my new job and get to know my coworkers. Thanks so much to Alison for posting and to everyone in the comments for your encouragement! Will keep everyone posted!

    1. Caroline*

      I hate to be negative, but I would strongly suggest you start applying to other jobs just in case. The fact that he was the owner is a bad sign for your future there, I think. Even if he doesn’t fire you, is he really going to get over this enough to promote you in the future? Hope things go well.

  61. Never Boring*

    I have totally decided not to apply for an open job in my field because I knew someone else who had worked there and reported that the owner would have sex in his office with women other than his wife. It’s a field where ethics are particularly important, but even if that hadn’t been the case, I knew I would never be able to stop thinking about it.

  62. Popcorn enthusiast*

    ‘And I chimed in with a ‘Haven’t you people ever heard of, closing the GD door. No? It’s much better to face these kinds of things , with a sense of poise and rationality”

  63. Too Cheap to Pay for News*

    If you feel the need to say something you should pretend that you don’t know that the lady he was with wasn’t his wife. “Oh I’m so sorry I saw you and your wife together that night”. etc. Maybe he doesn’t know you’ve already met her.

    Normally I’d be all gung-ho for outing a cheater. But your job may be at risk. Play dumb.

  64. LV*

    I am also in consulting & this is one reason I’ve avoided working for one of these tiny boutique firms.
    I need to be protected from a sexualized workplace & there aren’t protections for employees at these under 15 person firms.
    It’s just upsetting – I can’t imagine seeing that at work.

  65. Kay*

    I wonder if it would be smart to possibly email herself with a description of what she saw as some sort of protection in the event he does try to push her out the company.

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