my boss made me fire my boyfriend … and then hired her cousin

A reader writes:

I have worked at a nonprofit as an executive assistant for more than three years and was hired right at the beginning, when there were only two employees. The founder is the CEO and oversees everything. This is her passion project so she’s very much involved in the operations. She’s also the kind of boss who likes to be friends with her employees. Within the first year, we realized we needed to bring in an accountant or financial manager. Because of my close relationship to the founder and the small team, I recommended my boyfriend, who I live with. He met the founder and she was thrilled and hired him. We were always clear about our relationship and how we worked together as a couple.

Today, the foundation has grown exponentially, and we’re now at the stage where the team is so big I no longer know everyone. Last month, during one of our first in-person meetings, my boss told me she was no longer comfortable with my boyfriend handling the finances. I guess she considered that my insider knowledge as her EA, plus his knowledge of the financial situation of the nonprofit, put us at an unfair advantage. I agreed it was a conflict of interest and my boss told me my boyfriend was being let go, but not when. I was put in charge of telling him, which of course made me quite upset. It was a tough position to put me in. But I did it and he was of course disappointed, but we’re handling that privately because we have always strived to be professional.

Now, my problem is that very shortly after this happened, we hired a new HR manager (which we had never had and were all thrilled to have). The hired person turned out to be the founder’s cousin, who she’s very close with. I’m incredibly upset because I feel this is a very hypocritical move. Is that not also a clear conflict of interest? I really want to bring this up to my boss but I’m not sure if it’s gonna look petty. My goal is not to get my boyfriend’s job back, but to have someone in HR who we can actually talk to. With her cousin in that position, we’re all certain she’s gonna go right to the boss and take her side any time. Should I try to tactfully address it or just let it go?

P.S. I’m already on the hunt for a new job. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened, where my boss blurs the lines to her convenience.

Your boss sucks.

She made you fire your boyfriend, when you’re not his boss or — it sounds like — in a job where firing people is part of your role. If she wanted to fire your boyfriend, she should have been the one to do it, rather than taking advantage of your relationship with him to make you do it for her. That’s wildly inappropriate.

But it’s also not surprising, given the entirety of your letter. Your boss sounds like she blurs boundaries whenever it suits her and then pretends to have them again when it doesn’t.

What exactly was the “conflict of interest” your boyfriend presented? It sounds like she just didn’t like the two of you combined having a significant amount of information about the organization, but that’s not inherently a conflict of interest. Any chance the “interest” in this “conflict of interest” was her interest in doing what she wants without a lot of accountability?

And then hiring her cousin to manage HR right afterwards? This is not someone who really cares about conflicts of interest.

I don’t think there’s much point in addressing it with your boss, though. She’s shown you she sucks, she’s unlikely to change, and she’s the founder and CEO. She presumably reports to a board of directors and in theory the staff could escalate some of this to them, particularly the cousin-as-HR … although (a) based on the details in your letter, I’d bet money this board was hand-picked by the founder to rubber-stamp her decisions and (b) even if the board did intervene on the cousin (already a big “if”), you’ll still be stuck dealing with all the other problems with the way this woman operates.

Sometimes a board is willing to take real action about fundamental management problems (either through sustained pressure on the leader to change, with real accountability to ensure they do, or by moving them out of their role altogether) so I don’t want to fully discount that possibility — but those outcomes tend to be the exceptions and they’re generally accompanied by a lot of staff turmoil, as well as risk to whoever escalates the issues.

If you’re really committed to the aims of the organization and you believe the board is one that would act, you could try it. But in most cases, you’re better off just focusing on getting out.

(Also, don’t recommend your boyfriend for jobs where you work in the future! There’s too much risk of mess.)

{ 133 comments… read them below }

  1. Xavier Desmond*

    Early candidate for worst boss of 2022. Making you fire your boyfriend when you don’t manage him?! That’s so disgusting

      1. lcsa99*

        I first read this as them actually meeting – like hosting a cocktail party in December for the worst bosses. Oh boy!

        1. Elizabeth West*

          My mind went to Boss Fight Club, which led to boss fight, and then straight to the end of Final Fantasy X. Here you must battle through monsters galore, blitzball (ugh), and Seymour the creepy barechested temple mage, to confront Yu Yevon, the Final Boss, who looks an awful lot like *pause*. . . a tick.

          A tick is exactly how I’m viewing this boss. Annoying and bitey.

      2. supertoasty*

        Very generous use of the word “winners” in this contest. With these people, there are no winners.

    1. Artemesia*

      This is also a red flag that working for this terrible boss has distorted your own perceptions of work. You should have insisted SHE fire him; it was grossly unprofessional to have you do it. There is also no conflict of interest here on your and your boyfriend’s part but a serious one on hers.

      Hope you find something soon and can not drag these bad habits and perceptions from the crazytown you work in now.

  2. Important Moi*

    I get feeling that the Founder was ok with cousin and should be okay with LW’s boyfriend. But no.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      I get the feeling LW was fine with BF working at the same company so should be okay founder’s cousin.

      Yeah it’s pretty hypocritical what the boss did, but it’s hypocritical for the LW to focus on the cousin as the straw that broke the camels back.

      LW you should leave. Boss never should have made her EA fire anyone they did not supervise. Hiring your BF was not a good idea at all, but suddenly firing him for something she’s known about all along isn’t great; PLUS she made you tell him!

      It’s a disaster for many reasons you articulated. Get out. But don’t get hung up on her cousin being hired. That’s the equivalent to something you were a fan off when it was your BF.

      1. Lacey*

        It’s not that the cousin couldn’t work there – it’s that if there was a conflict of interest with the boyfriend there’s an a much larger one with the cousin.

        1. Colette*

          But the OP is as hypocritical as the boss if she’s OK with the boyfriend but not the cousin. I don’t think hiring the cousin is worse than the boyfriend, but … people lie, and the boss likely had another reason for firing the boyfriend. (Too much dependency on one couple? Afraid that if they broke up it would make a mess of work? Wants to put the salary she’s paying the boyfriend into something else possibly including hiring the cousin? Found out the boyfriend wasn’t doing a good job but didn’t want it to be messy since her EA is dating him?)

          1. Cj*

            The cousin is worse than the boyfriend because she is HR. The OP is right to be afraid that the cousin will not keep what employees tell her confidential from the CEO, and will take the CEO’s side in any conflict.

            1. Colette*

              I disagree.

              HR’s job is to make sure the organization is protected. It’s not their job to keep things the employees tell them from the CEO, or to take the employee’s side over the CEO’s unless the employee’s side is better for the business.

              1. Yorick*

                This is what HR functionally does in some organizations, but it is not what we should expect from HR. People go to HR with very sensitive info and should feel safe that it isn’t being shared with the CEO. Also, people go to HR when the CEO’s bad behavior affects them, and that shouldn’t be the CEO’s cousin.

              2. Librarian of SHIELD*

                Yes, part of HR’s role is to make sure the company is protected. But what if the thing that’s endangering the company is the CEO? If an employee goes to HR and reports that the CEO engaged in illegal discrimination, where does the cousin’s loyalty lie? Staff have no way of knowing if their boss will be held accountable by this HR director and that’s a massive problem.

              3. Candi*

                We’ve had cases on here before where HR was the relative, friend, pet, etc., of the CEO.

                It never, ever works out.

                This type of HR has told that type of CEO about information they had access to as part of their job as HR, but that the CEO did NOT -repeat, DID NOT- need to know about, including medical information.

                The CEO then used that information to harass, persecute, and push out people, often replacing them with more pets.

                Or the CEO has used that information to exercise control over their employees, saying “I could fire you because X but I won’t because I’m just so nice. By the way, here’s another 10 hours of work to do on top of the 50 you’re already doing”.

                This kind of HR does not protect the organization. Their relationship to the CEO is a hindrance to professional operating and damaging to the organization, both directly through the abuse and indirectly as people bail and the organization’s reputation worsens.

                1. Aunty Fox*

                  ‘pet’ made me lol, but then I thought, my cats are excellent judges of character but very bribable, so ultimately untrustworthy in this role.

              4. Sleeping Late Every Day*

                The best HR person I knew represented the company to the staff – but also represented the staff to the company. She was as neutral as humanly possible. The worst was her replacement, who snitched on all the staff, fought to us on benefits and legal matters if he could save a dollar for the company, and was basically the Mouth of Sauron.

            2. Person from the Resume*

              It’s not HR’s job to keep things confidential from the boss/CEO. HR works for the company/organization. HR is not supposed to be unbiased especially not for the employee.

              1. Cj*

                What if it’s the CEO that is accused of sexually harassing somebody and it needs investigating? Or the CEO is trying to push somebody out because the are a minority or belong to an otherwise marginalized group? It’s certainly not in the best interest of the organization for HR to be on the side of the employer in those cases.

                1. Colette*

                  You understand that HR often reports into the CEO, right? Being her cousin doesn’t add a lot of extra risk.

                2. Cj*

                  I ran out of the reply thread to respond to Colette’s comment below this. Yes, I understand that HR often reports to the CEO. But if the CEO is being accused of something inappropriate or illegal, I would hope they would go to the board of directors instead. That’s not going to happen in this case.

                3. Candi*

                  HR protecting the company means they will at times be at odds with the CEO. CEOs are human. They screw up.

                  The cousin being HR blurs the boundaries between family and working professionals.

                  We’ve seen repeatedly on this site that family (friends, pets) will be put before professional actions in cases similar to this.

                  I’ll also argue that in some cases, it is HR’s job to not to tell the CEO things. The CEO doesn’t need to know about many accommodations, why an employee is using FMLA, that the leave an employee is using for bereavement.

                  But when the CEO and HR are this close, they find out anyway. The results are usually bad.

            3. Cremedelagremlin*

              Exactly! At [former dysfunctional workplace], the owner’s wife was starting her own HR company, and we became one of her first clients…nobody is going to go to the owner’s wife to complain that (for example, totally pulling this one out of thin air…) they aren’t getting paid on time. Especially not when the owner has previously demonstrated bizarre paranoia about employees being “out to get” him…and also not when he routinely shuts her down in meetings.

              I’m not sure it’s possible to have a less effective HR person than a loved one of the owner. Unless they’re literally just there to do payroll and paperwork?

          2. Spencer Hastings*

            “But the OP is as hypocritical as the boss if she’s OK with the boyfriend but not the cousin”

            I totally disagree. As other people have said, the cousin is HR (executive + HR being related is a bigger potential problem than accountant + EA). And the LW’s position is not that the cousin isn’t OK; it’s that *if* the boyfriend is not OK, then the cousin is definitely not OK. The conditional is important there, since LW always thought the boyfriend was OK. The boss thought the boyfriend was OK too, until she suddenly changed her mind.

          3. Starbuck*

            No, OP is not as hypocritical because they’re not the one who initiated the about-face contradiction and resulting inconsistency. Boss is also at the top of the org chart so the expectations on them are rightly higher. Boss is clearly in the wrong here – the reasons you’ve listed would not make things any better even if they were true! Boss taking the boyfriend’s salary and using it to pay for a position for their cousin is possibly the worst of all, I don’t know why you’d list that as something that would make boss’s actions more reasonable.

            1. Colette*

              I’m not saying the boss was reasonable; I’m saying it’s possible that “conflict of interest” was a lie.

              1. NeutralJanet*

                It’s really not a great idea to lie about why you’re firing someone, particularly when you’re pretending to fire someone for something that you don’t actually consider a firing offense–that can be an invitation for wrongful termination lawsuits, as my mind would probably jump to “boss is lying because she fired me for illegal reasons”. I’m not saying that the boss necessarily fired OP’s boyfriend because of his membership in a protected class, of course, as that doesn’t seem substantiated by anything in the letter, but if the boss were lying about why she wanted OP’s boyfriend fired, that would honestly make it worse that she doesn’t necessarily have unbiased HR.

          4. LizM*

            I disagree.

            There can definitely be complications when managing a couple, but if they’re not in each other’s chain of command, and you put adequate checks and balances in place (i.e. he’s not the only one signing off on her requests for reimbursement), there’s not an inherent conflict of interest.

            Having a family member reporting directly to you is a conflict of interest. It may be a conflict that some business owners are okay with, but it’s a conflict of interest, especially in a position as sensitive as HR.

            1. Snow Globe*

              CEO’s cousin heading up HR is obviously a bad idea, but Executive Assistant’s boyfriend as CFO could also be a really bad idea, depending on OP’s duties. If OP makes purchases on behalf of her boss, which are approved and paid by the CFO, there is definitely a potential risk of embezzlement. With someone in finance, being in the “chain of command” isn’t the only issue.

          5. ArtK*

            OP is not a hypocrite, the boss is. The boss made the OP fire the BF due to a “conflict of interest,” but then brought someone in with an equally bad (or worse) conflict. It’s *that* hypocrisy that the OP is bothered by, not the simple fact that the boss hired her cousin.

          6. Librarian of SHIELD*

            The cousin IS more inappropriate than the boyfriend, though. With the boyfriend, we’re talking about two people who have a personal relationship whose roles at work probably rarely intersect. I’ve worked with multiple couples in those kinds of circumstances and it’s been fine.

            With the cousin now being in charge of HR, we’re talking about a role in which staff need to trust that they can bring important issues, which may sometimes involve the company not being in compliance with regulations, and now knowing that the person handling that role is in the CEO’s pocket.

            This is not a “good for the goose, good for the gander” scenario. This is comparing tortoises and turtleneck sweaters.

      2. I'm just here for the cats*

        I don’t think its hypocritical at all. I think its more that the cousin will be in an HR role and so people will not feel comfortable talking confidentially to the cousin because they may not feel she will keep confidences. The cousin is going to know all sorts of information (ADA, etc) that may get back to the EA.

        I also don’t think its hypocritical because if the LW’s boyfriend (who did not report to her) was not allowed to work there because of a conflict of interest because of their relationship, how can a the EA’s cousin work in HR and not also be a conflict of interest.

      3. Language Lover*

        This isn’t even close to the same situation.

        1 LW was not her boyfriend’s supervisor.

        2 The CEO is the boss of everyone. And HR is a crucial role that calls for someone as impartial as possible.

        The position and power of the roles aren’t comparable and so hypocrisy doesn’t apply here.

      4. Bones*

        Gonna have to disagree with the assertion that the OP is being hypocritical here. It sounds like the organization was much smaller (and perhaps OP was less developed in professional norms) when the suggestion was made to hire the BF. Once the organization grew and the CEO brought it up, OP readily agreed that it was a conflict of interest (which, it isn’t, but that’s a different thread) and conceded to the “necessity” of letting him go. And, yeah, HR’s job is in part making sure the organization is protected, but part of protecting a whole is protecting its constituent parts. And I don’t think anyone could argue that good, happy employees aren’t the lifeblood of any organization, so they should have a safe space where they feel their concerns/needs can be heard by an impartial party. So, the CEO hiring her cousin is a much larger abuse of power and textbook hypocrisy in this context.

      5. Not So NewReader*

        Barring any written conflict of interest policy or any policy regarding degrees of relationship between cohorts then no one is in the wrong, technically speaking. OP was not wrong for working with her bf and the boss was not wrong for hiring her cousin. If there is no policy in place regarding conflict of interest and/or hiring relatives then it’s a free for all. I think the boss is soulless but that is not relevant here, except to know to move away from this person.

        What I see is a story that we have seen many times. People figuratively cut off their right arm or sell their soul for a place and then the place bites them in the butt as a way of saying thank you.

        OP you gave too much to that job and the icing on the cake was when you got snookered into firing your bf for this [sputter, sputter] PLACE.
        I had a prof in school who worked for Big Company. His job was to go around and fire people. He did all the firings he was supposed to do. In the end, he got a big surprise when Big Company fired HIM. Sure, he did all their dirty work and they ran out of dirty work for him so out the door he went. The guy was gutted. I doubt he ever fully recuperated from that trauma, his ability to trust was shattered beyond belief. Don’t fire any more people, OP. I think you’re set on this idea but it’s worth saying out loud anyway.

        Please also look at your definition of professionalism. Professionalism does not mean absorbing any abuse the boss dishes out. Professionalism does not mean doing absolutely anything the boss asks. Professionalism does not mean forgetting you are a human being with a full set of emotions. And last, professionalism does not mean you have to swallow the impact of everything that happens and go on as if nothing happened.

        I hope you leave the job today and never return. In reality, I do not see how you can NOT think about what the boss did every time you see the cousin. Your boss is a user. She uses people until she is done with them.

  3. Dust Bunny*

    This whole situation sounds like a disaster: Boundary-violating CEO with far too much power; “we’re like faaaaamily” (or we are family) levels of involvement among employees; the works.

    Your boss sucks, LW, but I also feel like none of this should have been a surprise given all the information you gave us leading in–that she’s overly familiar, that this is her passion project, that she has no sense of boundaries, that her reasoning is questionable at best. I’m not saying you need to quit, but I am saying that I think you need to step back and take a less-naive and more-honest-with-yourself accounting of what kind of organization this actually is. Recommending your boyfriend was cozy and I guess seemed like a good idea at the time, but was honestly buying hard into the office-cest here. Don’t do that again, and be glad he’s out and you can have some aspect of your lives that isn’t tied to your shared jobs.

    1. BethRA*

      Or the non-profit blue-ray edition of “but we’re faaaamily”: “but we’re doing it for the (insert perceived-as-needy, sympathy/guilt-generating group or population)….”

  4. anonymous73*

    I was going to bring up the fact the your boss should have never hired your BF in the first place. Even if you weren’t his supervisor, in a small company it’s just bad practice no matter how professional the 2 of you are in the office. But I see Alison addressed in teeny tiny print at the very end.

    I wouldn’t bother bringing this hypocritical behavior up to anyone, because it’s unlikely to do any good. Keep job searching and get out as soon as you can.

    1. Persephone Mongoose*

      I’m honestly surprised that point was relegated to tiny print when I feel like that point should’ve been front and center in the response. “Don’t crap where you eat” is a pretty cardinal rule when it comes to coworkers and I hope the LW takes that lesson to heart.

      To be clear, this does not in ANY way excuse or absolve what the boss did, at all. But there is definitely more than one lesson to be learned from this situation.

    2. Important Moi*

      I noticed that too.
      I also noticed it seems to be an insignificant point to many others.
      Others have articulated it better than I.

      The comments that present LW and the BF as a potential Crime Fighting Dynamic Duo or Power Abusing Duo have been interesting.

      1. Meep*

        And here I am just shocked they lasted long enough for him to be fired and wondering if they will last much longer. Since, ya know, she fired him.

      2. Insert Clever Name Here*

        I think Alison didn’t make a big deal of it because it’s no longer relevant — the boyfriend is no longer employed there — and not the question. The question wasn’t “is it a good idea for my boyfriend and me to work in the same place” it’s “if it’s a conflict of interest for my boyfriend and me to work in the same place, isn’t it also a conflict of interest for my boss to hire a family member?”

        1. Important Moi*

          “if it’s a conflict of interest for my boyfriend and me to work in the same place, isn’t it also a conflict of interest for my boss to hire a family member?”
          Yes.

          This still seems more like a FEELINGS letter than a “please tell me what my next steps should be” letter.

          1. Random Bystander*

            Well, it may also be a “do I need to recalibrate my thoughts?” sort of letter from someone working in a workplace that is (and perhaps always has been, just more sub rosa before) a toxic workplace.

        2. anonymous73*

          It may be irrelevant now, but it’s still a good point to mention, which is why it’s probably in small print. And I don’t fully agree with it either. If the company is large enough, and they won’t be working on the same team, it’s fine to refer him as an employee.

    3. Meep*

      When I read that part I went back and saw she had been with the company for three years and was impressed they hadn’t broken up. I know people who have met via work and are still together after decades. I have known many more who dated while working and then had an awkward breakup while still working together. Never would I recommend my best friend to work with me. I trust her professionalism, but I am not tying our careers together like that. What happens if her boss just simply doesn’t like her? Does that mean I will be disliked by extension? And what if we end up in a massive fight? Adding romance to it? Ick.

      It sounds like both LW and boss’s judgments are skewed.

      1. MissBaudelaire*

        Yeah, I think a lot of not so wonderful choices, and LW had to live with some of the consequences of them. I guess it is at least a lesson learned.

    4. A Person*

      Honestly I was a bit surprised that Alison was so clear on never referring your boyfriend. Obviously for a small company it’s a terrible idea, but there’s a huge difference between working with a significant other on the same team or in a small company and referring them into some giant company where you don’t even work in the same building.

      1. Pennyworth*

        Probably a good idea not to refer him as long as his/her old boss might be used as a referee. If she ever mentions he was referred by his girlfriend and it didn’t work out, he needs to be completely clean.

    1. NervousHoolelya*

      I could see maybe being in charge of firing non-executive admin assistants (I’ve worked in a few places where an executive assistant managed other assistants, which presumably included firing one when necessary), but not the financial manager.

      1. introverted af*

        Yeah, at my old job there were a couple “admin” roles that supervised the front desk receptionists and they would presumably be responsible for hiring/firing decisions on those roles but not just generally

    2. ThatGirl*

      No, but this company also doesn’t seem to have had an HR manager before, so obviously things are a little unusual.

    3. mf*

      Not normal in a small organization. In some cases, there may be a senior EA who supervises a team of admins and is therefore also a people manager. But I’ve only seen that structure in larger corporations.

    4. Chickaletta*

      No, we don’t, but could be a perk given some of the bs I’m aware of, LOL! (Just kidding, in reality, I would hate it and most of the people I work with are pretty awesome).

  5. Goldenrod*

    Totally agree with Alison’s advice! OP, I am glad you are already job hunting because this is one of those “you just have to leave” situations.

    I would say nothing at all to the boss, and just quietly leave. She hasn’t earned your authentic response (even if she wanted it). You can do better!

    1. Sara without an H*

      This. OP, talking with your boss would be pointless. I know it’s tempting to think that, if you can just find the right words, people will suddenly Get a Clue, but that rarely happens.

      Review the AAM archives about resumes, interviews, and job search strategy and find another position as soon as you can, and send us an update when you do.

  6. Ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    This brought me back to my job in the mid-90s where the president was the brother of the HR director. And their siblings also worked there as well as most of their cousins. On top of that, there were several other staffers whose children also worked there. And others who were dating or married to one of the siblings or many cousins. Fun times.

    In retrospect, I’m glad I never had a human resources issue. I have no sense if it would have been fairly handled or not.

    Your boss is a jerk. Move on – you’re worth it.

  7. Justin*

    “Any chance the “interest” in this “conflict of interest” was her interest in doing what she wants without a lot of accountability?”

    Alison wearing glasses and smirking while boys react loudly around her.gif

  8. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    Totally agree with Alison here. I don’t see an actual conflict of interest, since it doesn’t sound like either of you had the power to give the other any preferential treatment in the workplace. It’s much more likely that the boss is worried that the two of you together would have too much information. What are the odds that something hinky is going on and that if you two compared notes, you could figure it out? Is what you’re hearing from her consistent with what your boyfriend was seeing in the financial statements?

    Though it’s probably more likely that this is a “knowledge is power” situation. In general, are people in your organization kept in the loop? Does anyone except the founder have enough information to have a good big-picture view of the organization’s operations and whether objectives are being achieved? There are definitely people out there who will deliberately keep others in the dark so that they have the knowledge power. And they refuse to recognize that they’re not doing anyone or the organization any favours.

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      “What are the odds that something hinky is going on and that if you two compared notes, you could figure it out?”

      That’s where my mind went, too.

    2. Starbuck*

      Yes, it could just be your typical incompetence and lack of professionalism, but I’d probably be wondering too if it was an attempt to keep them from connecting the dots on a more serious issue with finances.

    3. Just Me*

      I agree–it’s totally bizarre that she decided it was a conflict of interest AFTER he’d been hired and was working there. I would really like to hear an update about this because it seems like something is up with this org and she’s more concerned about loyalties than conflicts of interest.

  9. Cadmium*

    With how comfortable the boss is with blurring lines, I wonder if she’s blurred some financial lines that the boyfriend noticed or was about to notice. Either way, it’s time to find a new job!

  10. Rolly*

    “I guess she considered that my insider knowledge as her EA, plus his knowledge of the financial situation of the nonprofit, put us at an unfair advantage.”

    Unfair advantage for what?

    1. Sherm*

      That’s what I was wondering. What is the CEO afraid of — that the two of them would somehow dominate the other employees? Throw a coup? It doesn’t make much sense.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Idea for Alison’s next vacation: Letters that made you wonder about what the heck the background is, and people spin their theories where the boss/coworker’s weird behavior makes perfect sense. Rappelling into a nuclear plant and secret volcano lairs should feature prominently.

    2. MissBaudelaire*

      I was wondering about that! Unfair advantage for what? To whom? I don’t understand. Unless she’s being a sketchy little kumquat, then who cares?

  11. Just So Tired*

    Yeah not seeing any conflict of interest here unless she’s doing something that she shouldn’t be

    1. Starbuck*

      If it was a conflict of interested for OP and boyfriend to work together, why would it not be a conflict for the CEO to preferentially hire their own cousin? The inconsistency and hypocrisy is also a problem.

  12. Martin*

    When I was a commercial credit analyst I saw a few non-profit founders list the org’s assets on their personal balance sheet. Some founders see the org as an extension of themselves, regardless of it’s separate legal status.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if your boss was keeping you and your BF from connecting some dots.

    1. Cj*

      If boyfriend was only taking care of the non-profits books, and not the founders personal records, he wouldn’t know about it even she did that.

      I don’t know if it is true of all non-profits, but for all of those that I do tax returns for, they need to make those returns public, so the OP could find out a lot about the finances even without the boyfriend telling her.

    2. Cj*

      Like the kind of foundations that get find over two million dollars for paying political expenses of the founder?

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, she’s doing something that OP and BF could figure out if they put their heads together. But if she asks OP to fire the BF then she can figure on the two of them fighting and that lessens the chance of them figuring anything out. Disgusting.

  13. Madtown Maven*

    I think it’s safe to say that the cousin has bad professional boundaries and integrity issues, too. No >good< HR leader would take a job where their cousin is the CEO of the organization.

  14. BadBossesSuck*

    It’s called “founder’s syndrome.” I worked for a boss like that in a non-profit. I agree with the advice to continue your job search.

  15. Critical Rolls*

    I don’t want to veer too far into the realm of speculation, but the combined knowledge of an EA plus financial person is something I’d have a problem with if I were doing/planning something shady and wanted to keep the puzzle pieces away from each other.

    1. Kate in Colorado*

      This! It just seems shady… OP, please update us when some pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place. Good luck with the job search!

    2. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I’d also hire somebody for the job of making sure I’m not violating laws who will for sure be on my side and not want to investigate too deeply…

    3. Snow Globe*

      True. But if I were trying to run an ethical company with strong internal controls around finances, I would also not want the CFO to be in a relationship with an employee who may be authorized to make purchases for the company.

      1. Chickaletta*

        This doesn’t make sense because often the CFO has purchasing and contracting power themselves. Also, any company large enough to have a CFO is going to have a finance department, an accounting department, an auditing deparmment, a legal department, maybe a contracting department… all those checks and balances would catch anything shady going on. It’s hard to hide stuff for long.

  16. RagingADHD*

    I am intensely curious as to what sort of “unfair advantage” the LW and her boyfriend supposedly had because they (rightfully) had a lot of information about the organization’s inner workings?

    Advantage implies competition or conflict. For what possible reason would the financial manager of a nonprofit and the CEO be in competition? If there is conflict or disagreement about something, why would having all the information needed to do their jobs be unfair?

    The least-bad interpretation I can come up with is that the CEO doesn’t want their EA to have access to everyone else’s salary information without their consent. Which a) she probably does already in the course of her job if the CEO is heavily involved in operations, and b) if she didn’t, still isn’t a real problem as long as the boyfriend understands professional boundaries and confidentiality.

    But this wording implies that the CEO might be keeping secrets (or intending to keep secrets) from the financial manager, which is just all kinds of !!! and XXX and violates every principle of good governance.

  17. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    I do hope that this boss remembers this incident when she, like so many employers today, is bemoaning the tendency of good employees to quit and of so few qualified applicants to be lining up to work for her.

  18. Lady Pomona*

    I do hope that this boss remembers this incident when she, like so many employers today, is bemoaning the tendency of good employees to quit and of so few qualified applicants to be lining up to work for her.

  19. animaniactoo*

    I think it’s possible that the boss didn’t force you to fire your bf… she simply put you in an extremely uncomfortable position that you should not have been in.

    i.e. She gave you the head’s up because she didn’t want you to feel sideswiped when it happened. But because there was no timeline, that puts you in the uncomfortable position of having knowledge about his job – in a way that impacts his livelihood – that he doesn’t have.

    And it may well be that she told you with the expectation that you would tell him, and maybe he would just fire himself and go look for other jobs and she’d never have to have that uncomfortable conversation herself. But it’s also possible that she herself would be capable of keeping that info to herself in a relationship and was oblivious to the fact that a lot of people would not be.

    1. Starbuck*

      “my boss told me my boyfriend was being let go, but not when. I was put in charge of telling him”

      That is telling LW to fire boyfriend. I think they were pretty clear and we can take them at their word on this one.

  20. LKW*

    The only unfair advantage I can see is that the LW might hear or see discussions around promotions and salary and the BF would have budgetary knowledge. As in “We simply can’t afford to give you a $5,000 raise” while the BF is processing a $30K raise for the CEO.

  21. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

    I guess she considered that my insider knowledge as her EA, plus his knowledge of the financial situation of the nonprofit, put us at an unfair advantage.

    Advantage of what is my question?
    Hostile takeover?

  22. STG*

    Hopefully they have other checks and balances in place but I would think that a financial director and an EA with the right info/rubber stamps could be a problem if they had nefarious motives. A long time ago, I worked at a bank and we ended up rejecting a job candidate because his brother worked in one of the financial/accounting positions of the bank and there was concern of vulnerability although he was perfectly qualified. Probably different situation since banks under different regulations but I could see it being questionable.

    1. STG*

      Of course none of that matters when it comes to the owner’s next decision on HR or the other issues mentioned in the letter.

    2. Evonon*

      Not too far off since a non profit’s funds are particularly vulnerable and have to be heavily monitored for tax purposes. OPs BF should not have been hired in the first place but making the call after the fact and with a shaky reason that was thrown out so the cousin could be fired is super weird

  23. I Want to Leave Scathing Reviews*

    I understand why it’s not, but I often wish this was a platform like r/antiwork where people can name and shame these terrible companies/orgs. This one and the one with the used pregnancy test are two major examples.

  24. Evonon*

    I work in a two person non profit and I would hope OP’d BF sues for wrongful termination. I work closely with our finance department as an admin since every dime has to be accounted for (especially since I’ll do transactions for the founders personally every now and then) and not a penny passes by without a paper trail approving each transaction. This is so sketchy and the HR cousin is even weirder since HR protects the organization not the worker…and the CEO is also the founder so…

    1. Public Sector Manager*

      If the OP is in the United States, and assuming the BF was an at-will employee, there is nothing in the OP’s letter that would support a wrongful termination case. Does the boss suck? Yes. Is the boss a hypocrite? Yes. But a boss is allowed to be those things is most jurisdictions.

  25. Quartz Rose*

    In high school my brother and I worked a minimum wage job at a gas station as stockers. We kept the shelves stocked, cleaned, and did general tasks around. We worked alternating shifts and never on the same evenings.

    Our boss sent me home at the end of my shift one night to fire my brother. I went to my mom in tears cus I didn’t know what to do. It might be one of the worst work things that has ever happened to me.

    My biggest regret is not quitting on the spot.

  26. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

    Glad to hear you are working to get out of there. I complely agreed with Alison’s response, especially the likelihood of a hand-picked board. Unfair advantage is very weird phrasing. Unfair how? You’d know other people’s salaries and ask for raises? It’s much more likely that she is up to financial shenanigans (theft). If your agency has grants, funds are contractualy obligated to be used for very specific line items. If you think she is misusing them or lying about low outputs or outcomes, you should go directly to the foundation or government agency that awarded the grant.

  27. ???*

    While it’s wrong the boss made you fire your boyfriend, the boss was right to let him go.
    If you are like most EAs then you have the ability and authority to make purchases on behalf of the company. If your Boyfriend worked in the accounting department, then in theory he would be able to hide any fraudulent purchases you would make.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if the Board asked the Boss to remove one of you, because it increases the chances of fraud occurring. You can’t have someone with the ability to make purchases also recording the purchase being made.
    (I am not suggesting LW or her boyfriend would steal from the non-profit, but since other people in similar situations have, the good people get punished too.)

  28. Jaydee*

    I can see three possible issues with the EA and finance person being romantic partners:

    – The amount of combined knowledge and access could make it easier for them to conspire to do something shady, like embezzling funds. Of course this could happen regardless of their relationship. And there are some pretty simple ways to reduce those risks. Have a second signor on any expenditures over a certain amount. Hire an external party to do audits. Divide up some of the finance responsibilities between BF and another employee. If this is the type of risk that CEO was concerned about, then hiring her cousin as head of HR was a strange move.

    – The amount of combined knowledge and access could make it easier for them to uncover shady things the CEO is doing. “OMG, babe I need to tell you the funniest story. So Cruella was in Vegas q couple weeks ago for her sister’s birthday, and they went to this club…” “Wait, she was in Vegas for a birthday party? When I asked her about the charges on the organization credit card, she said she was there for some foundation directors networking retreat.” “For a what now? No…oh shit! Did she charge her trip on the org card?” If this was the type of risk the CEO was worried about, hiring her cousin as head of HR is a totally consistent move.

    – The amount of combined knowledge and access could make it easier for them to try to take control of the organization. This seems pretty unlikely if there’s a board and the organization is run in an even semi-effective manner. But it also seems like the type of thing a person who very much identifies personally with the organization would fear. If this was the type of risk the CEO was worried about, hiring her cousin as head of HR might be consistent with trying to ensure personal loyalty of key employees (it also might totally backfire because family drama can bleed into the workplace).

  29. I know where they buried the bodies*

    Any entitity tht is a non-profit needs to very careful to avoid conflicts of interest beteween staff people.

    I worked for a church’s central office in a HR adjacent function for a few years and got to see a slice of what went on behind the scenes. There were periodic audits of the remote locations but a new department head started looking more closely and eventually brought in an outside audit specialist. The new auditor consulted with me as part of his prep work before going out to to a location since I had a lot of contact with their admin staff members and my work involved financial transactions. One place audited had a woman as the bookkeeper and her husband was the part-time accountant. From what I know, no wrongdoing was suspected but the relationship was not viewed favorably. They took a planned retirement not long after.

    Another location in a wealthy area had been giving me some issues with late paperwork with the excuse that the admin/bookkeeper was frequently out sick and working from home (before it was a thing). There were people on staff with higher than usual salaries, a couple of dubious positions like a full-time cook and gardener (not a groundskeeper, I was told!), and some unusual staff perks. The location was paying a large salary to a full time administrator to run the location and it just so happened that he was married to the bookkeeper. The outside auditor and I had a chat before he went out to the location where we reviewed staffing and salaries. A couple of months later, the auditor gave me an unofficial summary of the audit’s outcome. The site was heavily dinged for the excessive salaries and perks and they were told that the cook and the gardener were not a good look and should go. The real prize were the discoveries that the admin and bookkkeeper had two sets of books to hide that they were using the “company” credit card for their own purchases. The couple was asked to resign. I don’t know for a fact, but it was likely in lieu of prosecution to avoid publicity. The location’s head clergy was transferred to a new place with a notably less affluent congregation.

  30. K in Boston*

    My eyebrows jumped very high when I got to the point that she made YOU — her executive assistant who presumably doesn’t have any management duties over anyone, let alone a financial manager — fire your own boyfriend. Jeebus.

  31. Kate*

    HR works for the company, not for the employees. It’s a mistake thinking the cousin will take the CEO’s side “because it’s her cousin”, when you should ALWAYS ASSUME HR IS NOT YOUR SIDE when you are an employee. Having a head of HR that’s especially close to the CEO makes this even more problematic than usual, but it would be a mistake to think any other HR person would be on the side of the employees.

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