coworker is pregnant with my boss’s baby, rejection email insulted me, and more

I’m off today to deal with family stuff. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. My coworker is pregnant with my boss’s baby

I’ve run into a strange situation that honestly borders on a soap opera storyline. I’m an personal assistant and my boss is one of the higher most people in the company. Let’s call him Fergus. My desk is right outside of his office and I take his phone calls, make his appointments, and run errands for him. The woman whose desk is closest to mine, let’s call her Jane, is several rungs lower on the ladder than Fergus. Fergus and Jane are both married and have kids but are engaging in an affair. I am 100% percent sure that they are together because I can hear their conversations, have delivered messages to them, and Jane talks to me about Fergus. Jane’s family is from India and she is in an arranged marriage and has told me how much she wishes she could be with Fergus instead of her husband.

Well, last week Fergus sent me to look for something in his office, and instead of finding the files I found a positive pregnancy test and a note from Jane. It basically said something along the lines of: “I’m pregnant and it’s yours.” I was shocked, of course. I immediately showed it to him and then I heard them fighting in his office. When she came out of the office, she told me that she had left her husband and kids for him, but Fergus has refused to leave his family.

It’s been about a week and she is still in the office. He can’t fire her because if he did then HR would find out he had a relationship with someone below him, which is against the rules. So what do you suggest I do to get out of this drama? Because she confided in me and because he’s my boss I’m right in the middle of it. I like my boss but this is too much. Should I keep quiet or report it to HR?

It’s highly likely that HR is going to find out about this at some point. You’d be entirely justified in reporting it to them; your boss abused his power by becoming sexually involved with someone he manages. There should be consequences to that, and you don’t need to protect him from those. (And when you say “he can’t fire her because then HR would find out” — that’s a good thing. You do not want to work for someone who sleeps with an employee and then fires her when it gets messy for him. If anyone’s getting fired here, it should be Fergus, the manager.)

That said, if you don’t want to go that route and just want to stay out of it, you can attempt to refuse to discuss the situation with either Jane or Fergus. If one of them tries to talk to you about it, say something like, “I don’t want to be involved in this so please don’t talk to me about it.” But as Fergus’ assistant, and given the location of his office, I don’t know that you’ll be able to avoid it altogether.

I’d start thinking about what it will mean for your job if Fergus gets fired. Will there still be a spot for you in your company? Or should you be looking elsewhere? It’s very unlikely that this is going to end quietly, and you’ll want to be prepared for that.

Read an update to this letter here.


2. Employer had me take typing and spelling tests for a director-level position

I am currently unhappily employed, and so have been applying for jobs lately. I received a call about a position that would be a promotion for me at a company in my area. They invited me for an interview and asked me to come by the day before for “testing.”

Now, to put things into perspective for you, I currently make six figures and have an MBA. I work in marketing (not sales).

Today, I showed up for the “testing“ and discovered that I was expected to take the following tests: typing, proofreading, spelling, and writing a cold open email. These tests were expected to take upwards of three hours. I finished in less than two.

Am I crazy to think that this company is out of touch at best and clueless at worst? I have never been asked to take these kinds of tests before. Think of a director of marketing taking a typing speed test. That’s what this was. I almost walked out several times, but I figured, “what the hell, at least it’s a good story.” I am now so turned off by this company that I am considering canceling my interview tomorrow. It feels like they just wasted my time, and it’s sending up crazy red flags for me. Is there a reason I shouldn’t? Am I overreacting in seeing this as a sign of larger issues with the company, or at least with HR?

Yeah, that’s ridiculous. Best case scenario, the early stages of their hiring process is run by incompetent HR people but now you’re through their gauntlet and will be dealing with more sensible people. Worst case scenario, they’re about to waste more of your time because this job is not at all what they’ve told you it is and/or they just suck. Either way, it’s not great. If you’re okay with the possibility of having your time wasted, you could go to the interview and learn more … but it’s not a fantastic sign about them or the role.

By the way, once you saw the tests, you would have been justified in saying something like: “I want to make sure we’re talking about the same position. These are spelling and typing tests. I’m applying for a marketing director position — are these the right exercises?” And if they said yes, you would have been justified in saying, “I don’t think this makes sense for me to do. I’d love to talk about the work I’ve done and how I’d approach the position you have open, but this seems like you’re seeking a much more junior candidate. Best of luck in filling the position” … and then left. Obviously you can’t do this if you still want to interview for the position, but if you have options, this might be a time to exercise them.

Read an update to this letter here.


3. Rejection email called me “shite” and said I should work in fast food

I sent in a resume for a telesales position on and I received this email in response:

Thanks for your interest in the Telesales Agent position at ____. We have reviewed your application. Unfortunately, you look shite and we wouldn’t want to waste either of our time.

I am sorry for the disappointing news. I wish you every success in your career in milling Big Macs!!


What do I do?

Wow. This dude included his full name (I redacted it and the company name above); he’s remarkably confident that this won’t come back to harm him, I guess.

You certainly wouldn’t be in the wrong if you chose to track down his boss and forward the email along to her. Nor would you be in the wrong if you chose to share the email more broadly.


4. My office has constant free food, and I have an eating disorder

I started a new job in September, and I mostly love it. I enjoy the work I do and my coworkers (both in my immediate team and the office at large) are great. It’s a bit of a change of pace for me: I’m an animator, and used to working at tiny studios with mostly nonexistent in office amenities. I now work at a large tech/media company, which comes with a fully stocked kitchen with an endless supply of snacks. We also have a million different brand partnerships and our office manager brings in meals constantly (I literally just had a surprise breakfast crepe).

This is all intensely triggering for me: I’m in partial remission/recovery from a very severe eating disorder that involved a lot of binging and purging. When free food is offered, I have a very hard time saying no (I really didn’t want that crepe) and it spirals from there. This is really negatively affecting my mental health but I don’t want this to ruin my time here – I truly love this job.

Beyond freaking out about this to my therapist (which I already am), is there anything you might recommend doing?

You’re already doing the thing that’s going to be most effective here, which is working with your therapist to build strategies for handling it. That’s going to be the bulk of how you manage this, since you can’t really ask that your office get rid of the snacks.

However, you could certainly have a quiet word with the people who offer around food the most often (sounds like definitely your offer manager, but maybe others too). At a minimum, you could say something like, “Your food is always so delicious and it’s so nice of you to offer it. But could I ask you a favor? I know this might sound silly, but can you skip me when you’re offering it to people? I’m trying to make different food choices, and it’s hard to turn down treats when you offer them.” Hopefully this will be effective, but unfortunately some people will respond to this kind of thing by urging you to “indulge,” or “treat yourself,” or other unhelpful responses. If that happens, you could say something like, “This is actually for medical reasons. Thanks for helping me out.”

Still, though, people are weird about other people’s food choices, so again, working on strategies with your therapist is going to be the strongest plan here. Good luck!


5. I worry I’m asking my coworker too many questions

I work as, let’s say, a teapot tester working specifically in teapot handles. I’m one of two handle testers. I’ve only been doing this job for a year and a half, and right now I’m working on testing how the teapot handle interacts with the teapot lid. I often don’t know how to test some of the requirements. The other handle tester doesn’t always have the answer and she’s super busy on a different project.

So I have to keep reaching out to Fergus, who works in manufacturing the teapot lid. Maybe it’s a bit of imposter syndrome, but I hate having to ask Fergus questions! I feel like at some point he’s going to get fed up with me. I know that testing this stuff is important, and that Fergus is the right person to ask, but I’m worried I’m going to bug him to the point he stops helping because it’s not his job to help me. How do I make myself less annoying and/or tell myself I’m not being annoying?

Well, if this is part of the job and he’s the right person to ask, this is probably perfectly appropriate for you to be doing. Sometimes part of the job is asking someone else a lot of questions! That is often very, very normal.

But why not ask him directly? As in, “I feel like I’m bugging you with a lot of questions. Is it too much, and if so, is there a better way for me to get this information without taking up so much of your time?” (It’s important to include that last part because if Fergus happens to be a bit of a grouch, you don’t want him to just be able to say “yes, it’s too much” and then leave you with no way to get questions answered.) If he’s receptive to this conversation, you could also ask him, “Are the things I generally ask you things you’d expect me to need to come to you for, or would you expect to already know more of this?” If it’s the latter, that’s good information for you, and you could start thinking about how you might be able to shore up your knowledge. But there’s a good chance you’ll hear that this is all normal and expected.


{ 205 comments… read them below }

    1. cackles*

      Right??! After the first two letters had updates I got very excited waiting for the update link on number 3. Oh well. My imagination will make up for it.

      Fake update from OP#3 “I subscribed the a$$hat to every sanitary waste magazine I could find and created a fake CV for him and submitted it to every McDonalds in the country.” *cackles*

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        Better yet: “I forwarded the email to the offender’s boss, per your advice. I guess she didn’t like it, because a few weeks later I ran into the offender behind the drive-through window at my local McDonald’s! I wished him well in his career milling Big Macs and drove on with my lunch.”

      2. Chriama*

        > After the first two letters had updates I got very excited waiting for the update link on number 3.

        OMG, same! I was primed for an update and scrolled down to utter disappointment.

        I suspect the real update is that OP never followed up on it, but the real reason was likely either someone too inexperienced to realize this wasn’t funny, some sort of prejudice against OP (either due to discrimination or something like not the right school), or the guy was a “self-made” CEO who thinks this is an example of their dynamic personality.

        1. Junior Assistant Peon*

          My money is on “self-made CEO.” This sounds like something that would happen when a small business owner is exercising his power to do whatever the hell he wants with no HR department telling him not to do things. I worked in a small company with a volatile owner once, an I could see him writing an email like this if he was in a crabby mood.

          1. Chriama*

            Yeah, the kind of people who write articles about their business practices for Forbes (which, I realized, is run by people with no understanding of labour law or the real world) or Medium (which is the Wild West of media).

            1. whingedrinking*

              I used to be on the staff of an undergraduate philosophy journal, and so I had the dubious pleasure of reading a lot of undergraduate philosophy papers. No submissions were ever going to be earth-shattering, but you typically got a range from “this would get an A in an upper-level seminar” to “this is unpublishable even by undergrad standards”. And then there was this guy.
              As I recall, the topic of the paper was meant to be something like “is it morally acceptable to eat animals” – typical first year ethics stuff. The author decided that rather than reference Singer and Regan, he would start rambling on the topic of “but if it’s wrong, should we care?” and “what does ‘wrong’ even mean, anyway?”
              There was a mostly-joking discussion about whether we should inform him that we had burned his submission and he should drop out of philosophy and never write anything ever again.
              Obviously, we did neither; we just sent him the standard “we regret to inform you…” message. But the thing is that if four 20-something philosophy students who were only barely an editorial board can figure out that it’s not nice to say stuff like that, how on earth does anybody get to the point of being in charge of other humans and think, “Yup, the best use of my time is to tell someone they’re worthless. That’ll improve my life dramatically”?

    2. John Smith*

      I’m very intrigued about this and would love an update too. Is the expletive used common in the US, as it sounds very British (I’m not trying to narrow down the organisation or where the OP may be). I’m wondering whether the sender thinks they’re some kind of maverick or if they are so off base that they think this kind of language is acceptable in business communications.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        They said it was on the website indeed dot ie so I’m assuming it is Ireland. As for why they wrote this… I can only think that this is the first (and if so, hopefully last!) time they’ve been asked to review applications and didn’t quite get the gravity of what that entails. Or someone else somehow wrote it from their account, like if they left their computer unlocked.

        1. Irish Teacher.*

          Looking from Ireland, that surprises me, as I would think that generally we tend to err in the opposite direction, probably because the country is so small and there is a very good chance that if you insult somebody (seriously; insulting people for humour is very common but this…is clearly not humorous), it will come back and bite you. The odds of them knowing somebody working in your company or a client or even a local TD (member of parliament) is pretty high. Generally, the problem here would be more getting anything other than “ah, you were great. We were very impressed but just had one candidate that had more experience in the area” for feedback.

          Given that this is a country where people have literally tried writing letters with a name, a town and random description on the envelope, like “Johnny Murphy, the lad with the PhD in engineering for X university, Y town” and it’s gotten to him, no bother, I can’t imagine how this person could be confident that giving their full name and company WOULDN’T come back to bite them. Heck, I’m surprised this wasn’t phoned in to Joe Duffy (or maybe it was; I don’t listen to his show), a radio presenter who is noted for taking calls about things like this. The odds of somebody calling their local radio show with this in Ireland is sky high and it would be read out.

          1. Le Sigh*

            “like “Johnny Murphy, the lad with the PhD in engineering for X university, Y town” and it’s gotten to him, no bother.”

            I love this and it is very charming. Meanwhile in America, my dad once sent me something time-sensitive but failed to put my apartment number on it b/c he couldn’t remember it, and assumed the postal person would just leave it with the building’s main office and I could come pick it up. Dad, no, that is not at all how that works they just sent it back. Sigh…

      2. The Prettiest Curse*

        It’s predominantly used in Ireland, but I have heard it used in the UK too. OP says they applied via, so the job was posted in Ireland.

    3. Mairead*

      I’m wondering if that was a mail merge gone wrong rather than anything personal. Reminds me of a story I saw somewhere about a bank who sent a letter to their most valued customers which started with something along the lines of ‘Dear Rich Bastard’.
      Or maybe he’s just an arrogant *******

      1. BubbleTea*

        But for a mail merge to go wrong with those specific words someone had to include them in the database or template. Sure, think your private thoughts about the recipients, but don’t put them in writing even if you’re confident no one will see!

        1. ecnaseener*

          Right, if you’ve got some sort of candidate notes template and you know the mail merge will pull from your “reason to decline” field, you don’t type “a bit shite” in there!

          1. ecnaseener*

            (just shite, that is – i guess I made up the “a bit” part, as if that would’ve helped)

        2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          Reminds me of a telemarketing job I had in HS (why oh why did ANY company let 15 yo kids cold call their customers???). There were client notes in the database made by the salespeople, some of which were not fit for public (or private) consumption. One day my coworker points out the notes on his next call: “Sounds like a r****d but really knows his s**t”. Coworker calls, asks for “Mr. R****d” because his brain is still stuck on that note. It is the client. Coworker panics and hangs up. We wait an hour and I call and make sure I am staring at the client’s name that is on a post-it on my desk. Once again it is the client who had some sort of communication disability (my frame of reference then was limited so to me he sounded like 1990s Stephen Hawking”). I felt so bad for the note and the first call.

          1. Junior Assistant Peon*

            I once started a new job at a company that was a supplier of my previous employer, and saw the client notes on myself. There wasn’t anything bad in there, but it was an important lesson that if I were to write “so-and-so is a jerk” in the database, there’s a chance the person might see it!

            1. EvilQueenRegina*

              I’d forgotten about it until just now, but I do remember a story about someone’s social care records being looked at in the case of a complaint, and someone had made a note referring to this person’s next of kin as an effing bee. By the time it was discovered, the person in question had left; I don’t know what the consequences would have been had they been still employed.

        3. Allornone*

          Oh man, my dad once asked me what “911 Problem Customer” on top of his restaurant receipt meant. I had to tell him what he kind of already knew, that the waiter had probably deemed my dad and stepmom as difficult customers, put an internal note to warn other waiters and it somehow wound up on his receipt. I’ve seen my parents at restaurants- they don’t mean to be fussy and genuinely are good people, but it’s entirely possible they were difficult to serve and made this warning understandable. But someone farked up good when the note made it to the receipt. I’ve worked customer service. That really just should not happen.

          I don’t think my dad followed up on it (I think he was too embarrassed and didn’t want to prove the note right), but he would have been in his rights to.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            Staff at a library where I used to work made up an acronym to use in customer accounts: LLPOF stood for liar liar pants on fire. I think it started with a customer who repeatedly returned damaged books and insisted they were like that when he checked them out, which is believable for certain kinds of damage but not the water damaged books that were still wet when he brought them back.

            But since library records are subject to FOIA requests, the library director forbid the use of the term, which is probably for the best.

            1. Princesss Sparklepony*

              LLPOF is pretty mild and it sounds pretty truthful. You all should have come up with another group of words it stood for that would pass standards. But I love a good call out on liars.

            2. Liz*

              My BFF, in her first job, had a horrible boss. Everyone who reported to him hated him. So all his direct reports came up with an acronym for him “BUFF”
              which, and I don’t condone this at all, but it was a bunch of recent 20-something grads, stood for “big, ugly, fat…and an unmentionable word” The sad part was, he thought it was a cool nickname they came up with for him!

        4. Elizabeth West*

          It could have been placeholders they forgot to delete, but I’m guessing this person is just an arsehole.

      2. EvilQueenRegina*

        There was a story in the UK last year of someone who thought they were using a test system for training on approving/rejecting planning applications, and typed in a load of rubbish like “This application is whack, proper whack!” and “Incy wincy spider” – turned out it went live, and the news coverage at the time was saying these fake decisions actually legally stood and would have to go through a process to get overturned!

        At my old temp job ages ago, before I’d started, the team had had some training on a new system and had been putting in fake names, but using real local addresses, and the test records hadn’t been deleted when a big mail merge got sent out. Some man rang up very confused about why he’d been sent a letter addressed to George Clooney.

        1. SixTigers*

          “Oh, I’m sorry, sir, we had understood that Mr. Clooney was renting a room from you. Our apologies! We’ll fix the database immediately.”

        2. Mr. Shark*

          Nice! The man should’ve been upset that George Clooney didn’t live at his house, it probably would’ve been a much nicer house than he had if Clooney lived there.

      3. Ama*

        I suppose to be *really* generous, if they were testing a new application system that sends out form emails on a particular template, someone could have written that as a joke for testing and then forgot to go back to take it out (or didn’t clearly label it as TEST ONLY and someone who didn’t realize what it said mistook it for the real rejection template — in a lot of these systems you can just select the template you want to use and send replies without ever previewing the message). But that’s exactly why you don’t put stupid jokey things in a test template.

        1. Le Sigh*

          I actually think there’s a reasonable chance something along these lines explains it, either a system test gone wrong or some other process where a joke letter got out. I have worked in various forms of comms for years and have witnessed, on more than one occasion, stuff get published or sent when it was never meant to see the light of day. If you’re lucky, it’s just placeholder text but if you’re being stupid and writing joke copy, well…have fun cleaning that mess up. And yes, this is why joke copy is a bad idea!

          1. Loredena*

            This. I used to use song lyrics in my tests and while none mistakenly went live a few were seen by internal customers who were unhappy

      1. La Triviata*

        In the early (EARLY) days of mail merge, a letter went out to the church of something or other Christ. The salutation was “Dear Mr. Christ”.

        1. Anonymous Bosch*

          Well, the former governor of and a current representative from Florida is named Charlie Crist, so almost anything is possible.

  1. Laure001*

    It feels like a prank, not against the OP but against the person who was supposed to send the rejection email. Maybe “Fergus” has written a perfectly polite email, left his computer open and Gordo who had a little too much too drink swooped in there and changed a few words before sending it. Or Fergus had too much work, he asked Gordo to write the email, Gordo who, again, had a little too much too drink thought it was an opportunity for him to be hi-la-rious.
    Something of the kind.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        This letter always cracks me up and is a great reminder to lock your keyboard lest your cat’s ass decides to type assassassassassasssaaaassss in the middle of you grant report

        1. EvilQueenRegina*

          Or the previous cat whose owner’s boss asked “So what do you think of the new X training?” and the cat managed to reply with “poop” – luckily the boss thought it was funny and said he agreed with the cat!

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Alison, do you alert people when their questions are reposted the same way you do with original postings? Totally makes sense if you don’t it would just be interesting to have OP3 resurface with an update!

    1. londonedit*

      Yeah, something like that or it was the guy’s last day and he decided he couldn’t give a…shite…about doing his job properly anymore.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

        Yes, it’s so awful I was also wondering if he wrote it. Only in my mind it’s from an employee he’s trying to replace, or who was turned down for promotion.
        All it would take is for him to forget to cancel a problematic employee’s rights to read & reply to his email. And there he is wondering why his best candidates are ghosting him.

      2. Virginia Plain*

        I wondered that too – maybe he was about to dramatically flounce-quit and decided to burn his bridges by sending out offensive emails, thinking he’d be down the pub by the time it all came home to roost.

    2. Dinwar*

      I could just as easily see it being someone who’s completely disengaged. After a few dozen people they think they “know” the person will never read the rejection email, and even if they do no one will ever respond. So the person writing the rejection letter got lazy, sloppy, and a bit silly (in a petty, vicious way).

      1. londonedit*

        Thinking about it I can see someone who was totally disengaged/hated their job typing up something like this as a personal joke/f**k-em sort of thing, just to take the edge off a bad day, and then actually sending it by mistake. Proof of how you should draft any rage-filled/sarcastic emails in Word rather than directly into an email, just in case you accidentally manage to send it…! It reminds me of those stories where people have named project folders with ‘Stupid project my stupid boss wants me to do’ and forgotten to rename before they present it to the boss, or put ‘Blah blah say something intelligent here’ in the middle of an essay and forgotten to actually go back and say something intelligent before they submit it. You’d have thought they’d have realised their mistake and sent a mortified reply, but maybe they didn’t notice? Maybe they were just too mortified to respond?

        1. Mr. Shark*

          We had to live update on a conference call a report to send our boss. The guy who was doing the actual input into the report would once in awhile put some smart aleck comment, and I’d always caution him that he’d better be careful and not send it to our boss. Luckily he always remembered to edit it, and never sent those comments with the report.

        2. tangerineRose*

          ‘say something intelligent here’ in the middle of an essay might be pretty funny.

  2. Lirael*

    I hope OP4 managed to get strategies that worked. Sounded like such a hard scenario for them :(

    1. tamarack and fireweed*

      I was thinking, 2017 is only 5 years ago, but my feeling is that we’re slowly shifting towards a more take-charge, bolder style of handling situations like this. The snacks-in-the-cupboard part isn’t going to go away, for sure, but spreading the word that offering food should be off the table. Not that the LW has any obligation to give anyone at work insight into their eating disorder, but (selectively) coming out about it can actually help. Maybe to an ally or two, or someone with a “diversity officer” hat or something. It should not be up to the LW alone to fight this fight and clamp down on persistent food offerers! People can be weird and incredibly rude with no bad intention, just a lack of awareness of what other people are dealing with (I’m avoiding the P-word here).

      I, for one, are totally happy to do the dirty work of explaining slowly and seriously to a repeat offender the idea that “no, Finn REALLY wants no food offered – this is quite important to them, and a matter of respect & making life easier for them at work here”. Or whatever wording is fine.

  3. JM in England*

    Re #3

    This email should be shared as part of a Glassdoor review on the company!

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

    I read LW1’s update and ooooohhhhh nooooo. No no no no no. And it didn’t help that people here piled on LW1. I don’t know if the last two years have turned me into a bit of a germaphobe, but I’d freak out too if I saw a pregnancy test on someone’s desk (for different reasons).
    Also, I can’t help admiring my grandboss, who manages it so professionally you wouldn’t know her husband works in the same department until you see him in the background when her camera is on.

      1. Lance*

        Yes, she ‘liked’ being in the know so much that she quit over not wanting to deal with any more of what was going on, without a job lined up.

        Alison asks us to be kind to LW’s, and this is a rather unfair take right here.

      2. Moonlight*

        I think that OP got sucked into a really weird, really dysfunctional situation. Just because she “should” have stayed out of it doesn’t make her some how the “bad guy” here because she had an imperfect response to a messed up situation. Had she reached out sooner, I am sure that Allison would have told her “not your circus, not your monkey’s”, but she probably didn’t even realize how messed up things were until this point and was trying to figure out how to respond better/differently. Can you seriously fault OP for finding herself if a messed up situation? It’s easy to judge from the outside.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Yep. Especially as the personal assistant to the boss – it probably did feel like her monkeys to some extent (she mentions in the update being worried someone else would see the test)

          It’s so easy to judge a panic response from the outside but people don’t always act perfectly in the moment.

          1. quill*

            It sounds like her job had been so overrun by Fergus’ monkeys at that point that it wasn’t immediately obvious where the line was.

          2. Clorinda*

            Isn’t it literally part of a personal assistant’s job to deal with any random and unexpected communication that pops up? She was clearly enmeshed and maybe didn’t make the best decision, but who among us would not have lost their marbles at some point in that situation?

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          She was Fergus’s personal assistant – and given that he was having affairs, I bet he also was blurring the lines from the minute OP started working for him by having her do personal errands for him as well as the work related tasks she was hired to cover. Given the power disparity that probably existed, let’s be kind – OP may have felt they had no choice when they first saw lines being blurred.

        3. Smithy*

          Yes to this.

          Not just in the world of AAM, but in the larger world advice of peanut gallery comments (be they on advice message boards or in our communities) there’s often a lot of conflicting input on what to do if you know someone is cheating. And people can have very strong opinions about what is right and what is wrong to do.

          Because while saying something/speaking up can get disparaged as engaging in drama – being quiet can just as easily be disparaged as quietly condoning the cheating. So beyond the world of AAM, I can only image the levels of conflicting advice the OP may have been receiving. Add on top of that, an idea that HR might have protected her in this job….given that at that point neither her boss nor Jane were retaliating but rather making things uncomfortable with their personal lives….

          The OP’s choices wouldn’t have been mine, but totally strike me as getting a lot of conflicting and intense advice for a very dysfunctional situation.

        4. Mental Lentil*

          Agreed. When you’re that close to the edge of the whirlpool, it’s hard not to get sucked in, no matter how hard you swim.

          And she did ask Jane to keep her out of it, but Jane just lassoed her back in. Ugh, I’ve worked with a Jane and a Fergus and it took me three years to get out of there and into a much better job.

      3. Anonys*

        How exactly did she get involved? She just told her boss that the pregnancy test was there.

        Her boss and his girlfriend were the ones who were involving her and confiding in her. And especially if you are in the position of a PA, it is very difficult to say to your boss “Please keep me out of this, it’s private”

        1. Moonlight*

          Also telling the boss it was there possibly saved a ton of other drama/gossip so that other people didn’t see it.

          1. londonedit*

            Absolutely – surely a PA having a private word with their boss and letting him know what’s going on is better than just leaving it there and risking a) other people seeing it and causing a huge scene and b) Fergus finding it and going off on a ‘You must have known this was there, how can you not have told me, how could you just leave it there for anyone to find, you’re meant to be my PA, you’re meant to support me’ rage at the OP. Especially in a workplace as dysfunctional as this one. I didn’t read it as OP scuttling off to Fergus and gleefully saying ‘Oooooooh, Jane’s left a pregnancy test and a letter on your desk’. I don’t think many people would immediately know what to do in that situation, and the OP decided in the moment that telling Fergus was the best course of action. In all likelihood it’s one of those ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ things.

          2. Office Lobster DJ*

            It also saved Fergus the additional panic of needing to figure out if OP had seen it, kicking off a long and painful process for everyone.

            Passing messages between them feels like more unnecessary involvement than hissing “Fergus, you’re going to want to get in here NOW.”

          3. Zombeyonce*

            This is such an important point, because someone walking by and seeing a pregnancy test without getting close enough to read the note probably would have started rumors about OP being the pregnant one. It’s an awfully gossipy office and people were suggesting she was having an affair w/the boss when she left, too, so it’s definitely not a stretch to say that OP saved herself from an unsavory situation by dealing with the test.

        2. JSPA*

          It’s…on his desk. On top of his papers.

          Telling him it’s there isn’t like telling someone, “you have a spot on your shirt.” It’s like telling someone, “you’re wearing a tie today!”

          Not a notification at all, but rather, a way of letting them know you noticed a “them” thing.

          Notification would maaaybe be, “there seem to be things piling up on your desk.”

          1. Lab Boss*

            Except someone presumably already knows they’re wearing a tie. This is much more like the spot on the shirt or the spinach in the teeth or the unzipped fly- something that’s eventually going to be super obvious, but then they’ll wonder how many people noticed and didn’t say anything.

            The rule I like is that it’s only worth telling someone about a problem if there’s something they can do about it. The Boss absolutely needed to know about this to get back and deal with it immediately. Using passive language about things piling up wouldn’t make sense until he returned- and then it’s going to be really obvious that LW knew about this Very Big Deal and chose to let it sit there in plain sight.

      4. Falling Diphthong*

        A whole lot of people respond to awkward office confidences by saying “Mmm. Uh huh. Tsk. Well.” Rather than leaping atop their desk and shouting “NO!! I SHALL NOT PARTAKE IN ANY PETTY GOSSIPINGS! BEGONE!!!” and brandishing a highlighter at the miscreant.

        And alerting your boss to a huge problem awaiting him in his office is a normal thing, even moreso if burying one’s head in the sand (from the assistant) would lead to a client finding the unwelcome surprise and a whole lot more parts of the business pulled into the drama.

        1. SixTigers*

          I would pay good money to watch someone do that. Especially if they used the term “miscreant” somewhere in the banishing!

      5. Hobbling Up A Hill*

        I feel like ‘hey, there’s something somebody peed on on your desk’ is probably a good thing to tell somebody. And looking at the note could have told her whether it was there intentionally or merely a horrifically embarrassing accident on the part of someone else who might want to correct it before Fergus saw it.

    1. Moonlight*

      I also REALLY don’t understand why people piled on her for being freaked out by the pregnancy test too. I think many, many, many of us would have been (a) kind of grossed out cause it’s basically a urine stick! (b) and then been like WTF?! and took a quick peek to see why the hell it was there. ALSO (c) given that OP was very much involved with everything going on with her colleagues (e.g., being able to overhear the conversations) it’s even hard to argue that it’s not her business because it sounds like she was almost a third wheel/bystander/unwilling witness into a super dysfunctional situation; I really don’t think that being grossed out by the pregnancy test/reading the note is the worst of the offenses (none of which were committed by OP). Sheesh… the whole situation sounds like a story straight out of a TV drama like Grey’s Anatomy, Suits, etc.

      1. Anonys*

        Yes, I didn’t understand the pile on back then and I don’t understand why some people are seeing OP in such a negative light again now. I think some of her ways of expressing herself in her letter maybe weren’t ideal but I think it’s very clear this was a situation she was dragged into and not drama she sought out.

        People were also questioning why she saw the stick and read the note but from the letter it sounded like the stick was right on top of the desk with the note alongside it – I would have reacted the same way to be honest.

        1. Esmeralda*

          Right. And she’s the boss’s asst — it’s literally her job to read his memos etc.

          1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            Exactly. It is right there in her title, “Personal Assistant” and lots of bosses lean-in to that description and treat their PAs as a combination of personal servant/therapist with some admin tasks on the side. Fergus certainly did and Jane followed his lead.

          2. SixTigers*

            From her description of her duties, she was combination office assistant and personal . . . assistant. ( I keep thinking there’s a better term for that, but I’m not coming up with it.) Screening his phone calls? Making appointments? Running assorted errands for him? Getting files and such from his office for him? Yes, it’s her job to know what’s going on in his life.

            And she wasn’t in his office for some random snooping around, for heaven’s sake — he asked her to get something for him from in there.

            I don’t see how anyone could have overlooked that pregnancy test and note. I also don’t see how anyone could have seen that and *not* freaked out some.

        2. socks*

          Yeah, I’m skeptical of the people who claimed they NEVER would have read the note. A pregnancy test with a note is super eye-catching! Unless the note was really wordy, it would be easy to get the gist before fully processing the situation. And given that OP was the boss’s assistant, there’d be no reason to suspect the note wasn’t OP’s business until after she read it.

          1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

            And often reading something is not really a choice. If it’s really right in front of you and your eyes land on it, the reading is pretty instantaneous.

            1. londonedit*

              Apparently some people don’t read like this, but for me if I see a few words on a page or a sign then *whoomph* they go into my brain and I’ve read them. I don’t have to stand there and read the whole thing word by word, the message just goes in (this has absolutely nothing to do with reading ability or intelligence, by the way, it’s just brains working in different ways). So if I saw a note like this, assuming it was just out on the desk and not folded up or anything, I wouldn’t be able to help taking in the message even if I only looked at it quickly.

              1. socks*

                Yeah, I didnt bring it up in my original comment because not everyone reads like that, but I’m like that too. I could probably avoid reading the note if I planned in advance to Not Notice anything on the desk…but why would an assistant do that?

                1. quill*

                  If it’s legible, I’ve already read it. Bit of a problem with internet ads, but there you go.

              2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

                That is interesting to know! Obviously, I’m a read-the-whole-thing person, but it helps me understand why people treat reading something like that like an active choice.

            2. Critical Rolls*

              Especially such a short, clear message. I’m sure she would have unread it if she could!

              1. SixTigers*

                Oh, yes. There are certain things you DON’T want to know!

                And I’d put “my married boss just knocked up my married coworker” as being one of them.

        3. Loulou*

          This might just be me, but I had a pretty negative reaction to OP tossing in that their boss couldn’t fire Jane because then HR would know about the affair, as though that would otherwise be the perfect solution. It didn’t leave me with a ton of regard for OP.

          That said, I agree that all the “OP loves drama!!!!” comments are harsh and not really based on fact.

          1. Lab Boss*

            That definitely read as a bad take, but it struck me as someone with a misplaced sense of loyalty, who sees loyalty to their immediate boss as more important than loyalty to the company’s wellbeing as a whole, or loyalty to the broader concepts of a fair workplace. Especially for someone without a ton of experience, it could be very easy to get sucked into that kind of a culture as a PA.

            I didn’t see any of it as “loving drama,” I saw it as “PA sees it as their duty to help/protect/assist their boss, including letting him know about this personal problem ASAP.”

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Honestly it read to me that it was more of a “primary loyalty is to the person who authorized my paycheck” in a really dysfunctional job situation.

          2. Zombeyonce*

            Except that OP never said she thought that was good or bad or that she thought it would be the perfect solution, just that that’s the likely outcome. She could have chosen a different way to say it, but it still could mean that’s what she thought the boss would do rather than that’s what she thought he should do.

        4. Zombeyonce*

          OP could have not even read the note but it would have been hard to miss seeing the name “Jane” written on it by accident, as it’s natural to recognize names of people you know on paper without actively reading.

      2. kittymommy*

        Same. As an EA (not a personal assistant, though that line gets blurred a lot) I would have immediately told my boss as well. One because it’s gross, two because I’d rather give them a heads up, but mainly because I need to know what the hell they want me to do as other people may enter the office to leave documents, etc. before they get back (and I may have stepped out for a moment for lunch or bathroom).

    2. Cat Tree*

      The physical test isn’t valid after 10ish minutes anyway, because a negative test could eventually show evaporation lines or a positive test could fade. Take a photo and throw the test away.

    3. yala*

      Yeah, I hit the comments and was BAFFLED. Folks seemed to be bending over backwards to find some kinda way to make OP a villain in the story.

      (tbh, there was a lot of things being thrown at Jane that felt icky as well. Cheating sucks, but she still seems a bit like the victim, given the circumstances)

    1. Forrest*

      “How do I handle my boss getting my co-worker pregnant” is a boundary that absolutely nobody is prepared for in real life, though! I can forgive anyone for not having adequate war-gamed that out.

      1. Dinwar*

        The fact that the LW is the boss’s personal assistant also plays a role in this. The boundaries are a bit fuzzy for this role to begin with, and they’ve been involving the LW in this affair for a while–running notes, being a confidant, and the like. This isn’t coming out of the blue. And running notes to people isn’t exactly something the LW likely could refuse. There are ample legitimate business reasons to send a note to someone else; it would be a weird boundary to set.

        If the LW were Jane from Accounting and happened across a pregnancy test and a note, they’d be well within their rights to say “Nope, not my business, let them deal with it.” If I were to find out my boss got a coworker pregnant that’s exactly what I’d do–maybe let HR know, but after that keep my distance. But the fact that the LW was involved means that they need to prepare for this to blow up. They WILL be caught in the explosion, and they need a plan.

        1. Lady_Lessa*

          If you read the update, she was, and ended up quitting without another job. The drama was just too much for her. It didn’t help that HR had one or more loose lips.

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

            Talk about companies burning bridges with employees.

        2. Smithy*

          Absolutely this.

          There are some jobs where having greater comfort with ambiguities is important. And normal mismatched ambiguities in personal boundaries, I think of the letter with the live-in nanny during COVID who wasn’t retiring to her personal space during evening hours when the LW would have preferred. The LW was not looking to prescribe a completely firm boundary on the personal and professional, but did want to have more of a boundary than what currently existed.

          And while I’m sure there are some personal assistants who may more regularly deal with the personal shenanigans of their employer, for the majority of PA’s I can’t imagine thinking of this as an expected part of the job.

        3. Zombeyonce*

          OP definitely needed a plan because she was herself caught up in the drama even after she removed herself from the situation: rumors were spread that she might have had an affair with the boss, too, after she quit. In an office that gossipy, she was just trying to protect herself.

    2. Lynca*

      I don’t think she’s a ‘drama queen’ and it’s a pretty unkind accusation. She’s an assistant and while she should have had stronger boundaries, people aren’t always good at that. It’s easy to read this from the outside and say “you should have done X.”

      I think the whole workplace sounds like A MESS given the update and that may have played a large part in why this happened the way it did. Dysfunctional workplaces can really skew your priorities.

      1. AGD*

        This is how I reacted too. Let’s not blame the OP for reacting to wild nonsense that should not have been happening.

        1. yala*

          Right? It’s wild that folks are called drama queens for…being in a dramatic situation? Like, she was not overreacting or cultivating drama or anything.

        2. tamarack and fireweed*

          This is one of the more common fails I see on here – putting more blame on the person who deals with a shitty situation than on the one who created the shitty situation in the first place.

          In this case it’s so obvious because really I see no reason whatsoever to criticize the LW. She was the boss’s PA – it’s her job to manage the messages that are there for him, as well as his public image (ie, embarrassing things on this desk). It’s not as if she was an accountant – but even if she had been, given that looking at what’s on his desk top was 100% compatible with her job, acting in panic when something dramatic, private and embarrassing is visible on said desk doesn’t mean she’s in any way seeking drama.

      2. Moonlight*

        Literally this; the client was dealing with a really dysfunctional situation and was probably doing her best, even if those of us on the outside were like “oh sweetie, no, here’s how you handle boundaries”

      3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        This was a dysfunctional job, the OP’s direct boss (remember they were a Personal Assistant) apparently absolutely stunk at boundaries, it’s no wonder that OP was blindsided by what ended up happening.

        And HR blabbing was just the icing on the dysfunction cake. There was really only bad choices for how to get out of that mess.

    3. Helvetica*

      This is incredibly unkind and unhelpful to LW.
      I’ve been a personal assistant and my instinct in this situation would be definitely to alert my boss to the fact that there is something on their table they would not want anyone else to see. What if Jane had ignored it and boss had had a meeting with someone in his office, with the pregnancy test on the table and completely unaware of it? An assistant is there to make sure their boss is “in the know” and in this case, I strongly feel that due to her position, LW did exactly what she was supposed to do.

    4. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      Not knowing how to manage boundaries is not the same as loving drama. +10 for the boundaries being with your boss and +100 for situations with people who are wildly disregarding boundaries. I’ve had to deal with people acting in ways that are just in violation of all social norms and it was quite confusing at first, and took a while to get my bearings.

  5. ecnaseener*

    Without any sort of intro text to say that these were old letters, I thought I was just having the world’s strongest deja vu reading that first letter until I got to “2017” at the end!

    1. Happily Retired*

      +1 I finally saw the “2017” additions about the time that my coffee kicked in.

    2. Phony Genius*

      Definitely could have used an explanatory intro, like Alison usually does with reruns. I missed the 2017 note, so I was wondering how a new letter already had an update.

      1. Loulou*

        But the note saying 2017 was directly under the link to the update! And when you read the update, it would have been dated some time in the past. It’s fine that you missed it but I don’t think that’s Alison’s fault.

  6. Be kind, rewind*

    Whoa. What is up with the comments in the update for #1. I see not much has changed, since there is already someone calling the OP a drama queen.

    Dude. The boss and subordinate having an affair are creating the drama. Not the assistant who’s caught in the middle. What’s wrong with people?!

    1. ecnaseener*

      The audacity, to ask an advice columnist for advice about an unusual situation that you realize you need to deal with differently!

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Same feeling, both times.

      OP, you did as well as could be expected in a situation that two people with more power were doing their best to make awkward and difficult and drag in more members of the office. (Coworker has “more power” as the boss’s mistress, whatever the org chart says about her power outside of that role.)

    3. Lab Boss*

      Because as helpful as the commenters here can be, it seems like there’s a skew towards more experienced and more “professional” people with a tendency to view workplace situations as problem-solving exercises that always have a right and wrong answer. It leads to a mindset where we think everyone should deal with every work problem in a clinically detached manner, and any kind of emotional reaction or motivation gets shredded.

      1. Smithy*

        I do also see a significant number of commenters have professional experience in jobs where professional boundaries can lean towards the traditional and less ambiguous.

        In many situations I think this can be very helpful, particularly given that so many letters come from people looking for a gut check that a situation is in fact beyond the pale and that their workplace is in fact now full of bees. However for jobs that include more ambiguous or less traditional duties, such as a personal assistant who is inevitably supporting their manager with aspects of their personal life, that experience can be really different than the professional background of commenters.

        I always think about the norms for business travel and what an employer should/shouldn’t be expected to cover. And then the caveats for academia or nonprofits. As a long time nonprofit employee my #1 piece of advice with travel coverage is to make zero assumptions and no question is a dumb one. I’ve had nonprofit employers where our travel was heavily covered upfront and quite comfortably, and others where there were a lot more soft rules in play in addition to the traditional guidelines. But I can easily see coming to the AAM commenters and getting a lot of reasonable advice that ultimately wouldn’t be helpful for me.

      2. pancakes*

        Emotional reactions are often unprincipled. It’s fair to question what’s important about airing them, and particularly fair for people to question the wisdom or utility of responding emotionally to something we’re all reading online, which is almost always going to be something that can be walked away from. There’s no urgency. Do you think there are downsides to taking a little time to think about a sensible response? I’m not sure I follow what you mean by “clinically detached.”

        I wouldn’t say there’s one right answer to every workplace problem (and don’t know that many people would, fwiw), but there are definitely numerous wrong answers – reacting disproportionately intensely without taking care to understand the facts, for example, or reacting in a way that other people find threatening.

        1. Lab Boss*

          To be clear, I’m talking about many commenters here faulting the Letter Writers for having an emotional investment in their jobs, not about commenters saying other commenters are too emotional. We can walk away from the computer and come back later- when your boss’s affair is going public in real time you have to act immediately. A lot of commenters (especially on the original post) were calling the LW a “drama queen” because she told her boss about the test and then was worried about how things were going to turn out, and that she should have just pretended she had no idea about any of it.

          Another one I flag a lot on here is how often people say “start job searching” as a response to problems. On paper you can make the argument that if your job has a problem you get a new job- in real life it’s a lot harder than that for many people to switch jobs.

            1. Lab Boss*

              Understandable :) I try not to be too wordy and sometimes edit myself so far I’m unclear!

      3. Nina*

        Yeah, I work in an industry where being yanked back into work last thing at night on Christmas Eve is a thing that happens, emergencies happen, being sent to the other side of the country for a month on a day’s notice happens, doing your karate kata practice in a quiet corner of the worksite wouldn’t raise eyebrows, telling people to their faces that you don’t trust their competence in doing a task is normal and in fact a safety requirement, taking a nap on the clock while you wait for it to be safe to do your task is not unheard of…

        Alison is amazing, the commentariat doesn’t necessarily have advice that works for my situation.

    4. Tirving*

      I still fall into the ” OP is a drama queen ” camp. She has fully inserted herself into this drama. She states while rummaging for some papers she just happened to find the pregnancy test and rather than minding her own business felt the need to be the one to tell her boss about it. Then uses the excuse that someone else might have seen it. Who else would be rummaging through her high level boss’s desk when he’s not there? She’s apparently the other woman’s confidant when she could simply tell everyone to leave her out of it. Running to HR over this again seems over the top.

      1. ecnaseener*

        You seem to have missed the “Fergus sent me to look for something in his office” part – she wasn’t snooping, she was doing what he asked her to do. Also, if you look at the update, she says it was visible from the doorway.

      2. Very Social*

        She did tell them to leave her out of it–they did for a week, then dragged her back in.

      3. Observer*

        She states while rummaging for some papers

        No, she never uses the word. She also explicitly says that she was “sent to find something”. Which is to say that she was NOT snooping around.

        rather than minding her own business felt the need to be the one to tell her boss about it.

        Considering that she was his PERSONAL assistant, it makes sense that she told him about a rather important item that she found. That’s not “fully inserting herself”, it’s called reacting on the fly to a ridiculous situation. Maybe imperfectly, but totally normal.

      4. Mannequin*

        Nobody was “rummaging through” anything- it was on top of the desk and visible from a distance.

        And OP was in there, looking at the desk, on a direct order from her boss, not just perusing the contents for no reason.

      5. tamarack and fireweed*

        She’s his PA. It’s her job to “insert herself” to what’s on his desk. End of story.

    5. Observer*

      c The boss and subordinate having an affair are creating the drama. Not the assistant who’s caught in the middle.

      Then add in HR who don’t know how to keep their mouths shut? Yeah, the OP was not the problem in the least bit.

    1. Global Cat Herder*

      My company’s policy requires both affair partners to disclose a relationship within the chain of command. You can fraternize but not in secret. My guess would be they were both fired for failure to disclose, and he also for opening the company up to sexual harassment suit.

      1. pancakes*

        I don’t know how common that type of policy is, but it seems unfair to hold the person on the lower end of a power-imbalance workplace relationship to the same responsibilities as the one with more power.

      2. LifeBeforeCorona*

        Years ago a married senior person got a junior person pregnant. He got a transfer and left town with his family. She stayed behind in the same job and had the baby. I have no idea if there was any policy in place at the time or if this was the policy.

    2. WellRed*

      Firing both was appropriate. The power differential between Jane and Boss is a problem but doesn’t have anything to do with Janes choice to involve OP or drop the pregnancy stick on his desk. Keep the drama, the sex and the test results out if the office are words to live by.

    3. Critical Rolls*

      I have questions about that, too. But I don’t know the full scope of Jane’s behavior, so it’s hard to say if she took actions that could reasonably have led to a firing, such as pressing coworkers to “take sides.” I can’t speak to the power dynamics between Jane and Fergus, but Jane refused to leave LW out of things when asked, so that’s a red flag about Jane.

    4. Nanani*

      It’s the same reason the bullied kid and their bully both get detention.
      Easier on the people with authority to enforce consequences, even if it’s super unfair.

    5. SnappinTerrapin*

      An interesting topic for philosophical discussion, but no matter what solution we recommend for that problem, it would have no utility for LW, who asked for advice about issues related to her own employment.

      In theory, it might be satisfying to see the manager receive a harsher sanction than Jane did, but a reasonable employer could conclude their business would function more smoothly if they terminated both. Come to think of it, it might also be reasonable to terminate one or more of the HR employees for mishandling the situation before the dismissals. And we don’t have the identities, much less adequate details, to assess which other gossiping employees should be disciplined, much less what their relative degrees of culpability might have been.

      But it could be fun to speculate and offer advice on those issues, too.

  7. Karia*

    LW1: This letter makes me so uneasy. I’m glad Allison mentioned the power dynamics involved.

  8. Elsa*

    #1– I can’t imagine finding the note and pregancy test and giving them to Fergus rather than to Jane.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      How would that help, though?

      Unless Jane realized “OH, right, this is wildly unprofessional of me and I should deal with it in a discrete manner outside of the office!” but I would put the odds on that below 10%.

      More likely a) Jane puts them back on Fergus’s desk, this time with some stork balloons; b) Jane storms into the meeting Fergus is currently having to tearfully announce that she is having his child and OP spoiled the special announcement; c) Jane and Fergus come up with something I can’t even imagine from here.

      1. Elsa*

        It’s a matter of privacy.

        People LW1 can be sure have already seen the pregnancy test results and the note: Jane.
        People LW1 can’t be sure whether or not they have seen the pregnancy test results and the note: Fergus, and the rest of the earth’s population.

        Therefore, only decent thing to do: Give them to Jane.

        1. Leenie*

          But Jane left it for the boss. I really don’t understand this argument. She didn’t share it with the rest of the earth’s population, only with the intended recipient.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Really? Returning the note to sender seems more like an overstep to me. Jane clearly wants to the note to get to Fergus, so giving it back to Jane is injecting yourself into the situation and trying to alter the course of events – and who knows what Jane does in response.

      Giving something that was in Fergus’s office waiting for him to Fergus on the other hand just hastens the inevitable course of events and makes sure no one else sees it in the meantime, which seemed to be one of OPs primary concerns in the update.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        The mess that Fergus and Jane had made left such a mess for the OP that there was really no good way for OP to get themselves out of there… this point it was about trying to make the best of a gigantic mess of drama.

      2. Elsa*

        I couldn’t tell from the post where the note and the pregnancy test– only that LW1 was sent to look for a file.

        If they were left where Fergus could see them, and if it was clear they had not been seen yet, there was no reason for LW1 to do anything.

        If they were left somewhere else, then yes, return them to Jane. There’s no way of knowing where the items were in their journey at that point: Had they been read and tossed? Left by Jane somewhere else, perhaps by accident? In that case I’d want Jane to have them back. And depending on my relationship with her I might add “I’ve got some manila envelopes if you need one.”

        1. Critical Rolls*

          “last week Fergus sent me to look for something in his office, and instead of finding the files I found a positive pregnancy test and a note from Jane.” There you go.

          As Fergus’s P.A. I don’t think a notification that there was a pregnancy test and incriminating note in his office, in plain sight, was out of line, especially when surprised and taken off-guard.

      3. londonedit*

        Yeah, I agree. I feel like giving the things back to Jane would have come across as the OP getting even more involved with the whole drama. Either it would have come across as the OP making a judgement about Jane’s actions, or as the OP somehow taking Fergus’s side, or…at any rate, getting way too involved in something that doesn’t involve them. I think given the fact that the OP was Fergus’s PA, letting him know what was going on was really the only thing they could have done.

      4. Gigi*

        Not to mention it was surely left somewhere where he would immediately find it, meaning anyone else who wandered into his office could have potentially seen it too. A pregnancy test is something people will notice sitting on a keyboard or wherever, it’s not just another piece of paper you’d gloss over. As his assistant she probably felt a lot of pressure to do *something* with it, right or wrong

    3. Nia*

      What, why? It was in Fergus’s office and Jane clearly wanted him to have it. What would giving it back to Jane accomplish other than further involving OP in their drama.

      1. Elsa*

        I didn’t get that from the post at all. It was completely unclear where LW1 found the note and the pregnancy test and who had already seen them.

        1. jane's nemesis*

          Why would Jane have left a note addressed to Fergus and a pregnancy test anywhere other than sitting out for him to find? There’s nothing in the post to indicate that LW went digging for them, and there’s nothing to indicate it wasn’t a surprise (and the first time he’d seen it) to Fergus – the letter indicates Jane and Fergus immediately started fighting in his office.

          I’m not sure why people are digging to find reasons LW did wrong here, it’s just not supported by the letter.

        2. Observer*

          Yeah, you don’t seem to have read the letter. Because that’s pretty much the only way it could be “unclear” where the OP found the note.

    4. Nanani*

      LW1 was Fergus’s personal assistant. It’s not like she randomly wandered past, it was her job to handle his communications.

    5. Observer*

      I can’t imagine finding the note and pregancy test and giving them to Fergus rather than to Jane.

      Well, then you have a very limited imagination. And you apparently have no idea of how Personal Assistant’s generally interact with their bosses.

      Regardless, the idea that someone reacted differently than you assume you would react somehow “proves” that they were trying to stir up trouble or that they “deserve” the problems that came later is gross. It also makes me honestly wonder whether incredible naivete, willful ignorance, or deflection is at play.

    6. tamarack and fireweed*

      She works for Fergus, not for Jane. She’s in charge of passing messages to him. She’s concerned with his public appearance. It’s a message to him.

      Taking the note and returning it to Jane – THAT would be inserting herself into the situation.

  9. Phony Genius*

    On #1, can a company have a “duty to report” policy if you find out about something like this? Obviously, they could for managers, but how about lower-level employees?

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      In theory yes but it would be difficult to enforce and put employees in awful positions being stuck between their manager and HR

      1. Koalafied*

        Agreed, with this kind of scenario you’d get better results with a robust whistleblower policy than a mandatory reporting order. Most people who stay silent are probably doing so because they fear retaliation from their superiors. The ideal solution is not to try to make them more afraid of a different negative consequence, putting them between a rock and a hard place. It’s to address the fear of retaliation.

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

      There’s no corporate policy that could prepare me for that.

    3. tamarack and fireweed*

      It would be illegal in some countries, I’m sure.

      And in general I don’t think much would be won by that. What should be the duty is to not drag the LW into the middle here as both Fergus and Jane have done.

  10. A Simple Narwhal*

    Ugh, I feel so bad for LW#1. She got piled on in the original letter, she got piled on in the update, and it looks like she’s getting piled on again. No one is saying she reacted perfectly, but it’s really unkind to just keep saying that the problem was all her fault and she was asking for it. It sounds like she worked in an unprofessional office with a bunch of unprofessional people and got caught in the crossfire. Plus she was her boss’s personal assistant! They are so much more personally involved with the lives of their boss, it’s literally in the title.

    I swear, people were nicer to the person who bit their coworker.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed – I felt bad then and still feel bad today for OP1 – Fergus and Jane were unprofessional messes and turned OP’s job into collateral damage. There were really no good choices there – just less bad ones.

    2. EmmaPoet*

      Agreed. Younger!Emma would have been so weirded out by this, too. And I don’t know what Current!Emma would do, honestly.
      And the LW isn’t the one having the affair here, she’s the unwilling bystander who tried to get out the drama she got sucked into and couldn’t escape it till she quit the job.

  11. Purple Cat*

    Hope everything’s okay Alison!
    The intro wasn’t there when I first logged on and was shocked/horrified that the baby boss drama was happening again to somebody else. Glad it was a “rerun”.

    My take on LW3 is that the sender has completely checked out of their job and is out of F’s to give. It’s a shame that they took it out on the recipient though.

  12. Bernice Clifton*

    A lot of people have made good points about LW 1 being an assistant and how it’s not the same thing as delivering notes for two random coworkers. Telling an assistant that she should refuse to deliver notes to and from her boss is like telling a LW they should refuse to hire their CEO’s niece.

    One point that hasn’t been brought up is that if the LW’s boss was fired, she may have been laid off if there wasn’t a lateral position open, or the LW may have been afraid of that possibility. Because even though she ultimately quit, it’s easier to job search and say that you resigned than have a potential employer wonder if you were laid off for performance.

  13. Anon for this one*

    OP2 – director of marketing being asked to take a typing speed test – I experienced something kind of similar in that the expectation was out of whack with the position itself, only it was after I had the job!

    I was recruited as a process analyst, systems specialist, “improver/automater” sort of role. I had to deploy updates out of hours and stuff, essentially a senior IC in an IT-adjacent role. This kind of work is exempt and i was paid a (fairly large at the time) salary. However I was aligned organizationally with the manufacturing function, so I was assigned to “Shift B” where my hours would be 8.30 to 6.00 or whatever it was, I had to clock in and out, had to take my tea break at exactly 10-10.15 and clock in and out for that, etc.

    Any deviations had to be accounted for and explained to my “production manager” and authorized in the system as exceptions that they had excused. Missed my “tea break” due to a meeting, spoken to about ‘forgetting’ to clock out for unpaid breaks. Late leaving, conversation that “overtime” isn’t payable and has to be pre-approved, etc.

    Went off site one day for a vendor meeting, marked in the system as no call no show due to not having clocked in that day and deemed AWOL.

    Had to put my phone in a locker and hand over any medications to management. The phone rule was only overturned because I used systems that require MFA (where the login process sends something to your phone to “approve” in addition to a password).

    The irony with all this is that part of what I was recruited for was operational improvement and streamlining, recommending on a “consultancy” sort of basis ways they could improve business efficiency. Can’t think why it was needed….

    1. Selina Luna*

      If they’re misclassifying many people the way they misclassified you, I can see why they were inefficient. Also, it’s weird that an employee would need to “turn in” medications to management. If I need an epi-pen, I need it NOW and I can’t wait until whoever is in charge of the medication can get it to me.

      1. Mannequin*

        I would never hand over my medication to anyone else, and certainly not a boss or school!

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “Had to put my phone in a locker and hand over any medications to management.”

      That feels illegal. I can’t guarantee it’s illegal but it sure feels illegal.

      1. whingedrinking*

        It seems like it would be a violation of the ADA or local equivalent.
        Also, I can’t imagine why any workplace would need such a policy other than an unslakeable thirst for control.

    3. Observer*

      The irony with all this is that part of what I was recruited for was operational improvement and streamlining, recommending on a “consultancy” sort of basis ways they could improve business efficiency. Can’t think why it was needed….


      Were you able to get any meaningful changes made?

  14. No_woman_an_island*

    So sorry LW4. Why are people so weird about pushing food at work? I have seen new, young coworkers chastised for not joining everyone in eating cake. I have had sweets pushed on me and have been asked intense personal questions following my declining them. It is so bizarre that people’s emotions are wholly wrapped up in whether or not you accept their unhealthy food.

    1. JustaTech*

      One of the only things I appreciate about my office renovation is that we have a “kitchen” area on every floor so if people bring in food they just put up a little sign or send and email or something that says “snacks in the 4th floor kitchen”. It’s not in the office area anymore, and no one ever wanders down the hall with plate saying “have a cookie!”.

      And as summer comes it’ll be fewer “cookies on floor 3” and more “please take some eggs, the chickens have gone wild” or “please, please, take a zucchini!”.

        1. JustaTech*

          Here it’s plums. One year someone’s tree went bonkers and I got enough to make a cake. But I never figured out who’s tree it was so I just brought in the cake for everyone!

  15. Leenie*

    My favorite part of the LW1 update is the commenters insisting that they would see a pregnancy test with a note on someone’s desk and avert their eyes in a flash before they got the measure of the situation. I know that some people honestly believe that’s what they’d do, and that’s certainly what they’d like to do, so I’m not doubting the sincerity. But my inner reaction is: Sure, Jan. You’d totally do that.

    I’m in my 40’s, drama averse, hate reality TV, but know with certainty that I would read the note because it seems like the most natural reaction to such bizarreness. I’d actually probably read and absorb it before I even knew what was happening because that’s how I read. But even if reading were a conscious effort on my part, I think not looking at the note would be outlier behavior.

    1. Kit*

      Exactly! Best case scenario, my brain would have jerked to a halt and gone “that can’t have been what it looked like, can it?” and urged me to look again, just because it’s so bizarre in this context. Out-of-context problems often throw people for a loop, it’s terribly uncharitable to pretend otherwise.

  16. Flash*

    #1 I feel bad for Jane. I also feel bad for Fergus’ wife and family. I also think the wife was badass to serve him divorce papers that quickly. Fergus sounds like a total tool,

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