my coworker is living in my boss’s house — and we all work there too

A reader writes:

I have bizarre and sensitive situation, and I just don’t know what to make of it, and what (if anything) I should do! I work in a very small business. There are five employees (three part-time, two full-time) plus our owner, and our work happens in our boss’s house (which has been remodeled to meet our industry regulations and serves the business’s needs well).

Our newest employee, Fergus, is part-time, and also drives for third-party delivery services in his off time. I had wondered vaguely whether Fergus might have some housing insecurity based on some comments from him and my boss, Jane, but it hasn’t affected his performance. He hasn’t mentioned anything besides general anxiety around money, and it didn’t feel like any of my business, so I wasn’t particularly concerned (beyond general concern for a nice human who might be having a tough time).

Lately, Fergus has had some car problems and worked out a solution with Jane to use her car for his deliveries when it doesn’t interfere with our work needs. Kind of weird and something I’d be uncomfortable with if I were Jane, but whatever. Doesn’t affect my ability to do my job; not my business.

But.

Last week, I was using the office computer, and Jane’s to-do list was on a post it right by the keyboard. I wasn’t trying to snoop, but noticed when I glanced at it that one item was “prepare Fergus’s room.” I thought it was strange, figured Jane and her husband might be going out of town and having Fergus housesit or something, and got back to work.

Th nature of our work means I arrive very early in the mornings. When I got to work this morning, before sunrise, Jane was already working. After I’d been there for a little, Fergus came downstairs. He and Jane were both totally nonchalant, so I followed their lead—but Alison, one of my coworkers is living in my boss’s house! Which is also our workplace! And I’m supposed to just … not have questions about it? This seems completely wild to me and I don’t understand why they just acted like it was nothing at all?! Fergus’s housing isn’t my business, but I am so weirded out that they didn’t mention anything.

For context, I should add that Fergus is kind of a frustrating coworker. I like him as a person, but he regularly forgets things he’s been trained on, is not efficient, requires extra attention and follow-up from the rest of us to make sure he stays on task and is doing things correctly, etc. Maybe this is clouding my interpretation of the situation, but still.

Am I nuts? It’s weird that Jane hasn’t mentioned anything and that she and Fergus acted like it was totally normal, right? I don’t want to say anything to my coworkers because I don’t want to be a gossip, but should I say something to Jane? I had been planning to say something at our next check in about Fergus’s work performance and how THAT affects my ability to do my job effectively, but now he’s living with her, so I don’t know if or how to approach that issue, either.

Eek. Help. Thanks!

P.S. Jane is married and her husband is presumably on board with this arrangement; Fergus is gay; nothing makes me think there’s anything sexual or romantic happening.

If Fergus is staying in a room in Jane’s house for a very short period of time because of a housing emergency, it’s not ideal but it’s not the worst thing in the world. Who knows, maybe he was in a really tough situation that she was able to solve with the offer of a short-term spare room. It’s not ideal for a whole bunch of reasons (the power dynamics, the optics to the rest of you, the need for Jane to be objective when giving potentially critical feedback to someone she might run into in the hallway at home at 2 a.m., etc.) — but that might be trumped by helping out someone in an emergency.

On the other hand, if Fergus living there is a long-term plan — months or longer — it’s highly problematic. In addition to the issues above, it sets up a serious conflict of interest for Jane. For example, if she were to need to, say, fire Fergus, is she really going to be able to do it, knowing that he is living in her house? Will the rest of you feel comfortable coming to Jane with concerns about Fergus, knowing that they have what looks like a close, personal relationship? If she decides she needs to kick him out, how will they both keep that from affecting their work relationship? And on and on.

As for not mentioning it to the rest of you, if it’s just short-term (like a few days or so) I’m not incredibly bothered by that. It’s not how I would have advised Jane to handle it, particularly when you are all working from the space in question, but there isn’t necessarily a need for the rest of you to know if it’s really short-term, and Jane might have figured it would be more awkward to announce it. But that reasoning falls apart if you’re going to be able to figure it out, as you did — at that point it gets a lot more awkward than if you’d been told up-front. Having people speculate and piecing it together on their own makes it significantly weirder and more disruptive. (And of course that’s pretty likely to happen when you’re all working in the place where this cohabitation is occurring.)

As for what to do from here … there’s no reason you can’t say directly to Jane, “Is Fergus living here?” And then, if you have a relationship with her that allows you to be pretty candid, you might consider saying, “I’d been planning to talk with you about some concerns that involve Fergus — stuff that’s been affecting my work — but I feel really awkward about doing that while he’s living with you. How do you want us to handle that kind of thing?” She will presumably tell you it’s fine to share whatever’s on your mind, but this is about flagging for her that living with Fergus poses that sort of issue for people. From there, it depends heavily on what your boss is like — if you know her to be fair and objective and able to hear things she might not like, it might make sense to go on and share your Fergus issues. On the other hand, if you know her not to be those things, this gets a lot more complicated (reason #543 why this was a bad idea).

{ 238 comments… read them below }

  1. Thistle Pie*

    I worked in a small office several years ago and my boss rented a room in his home to me short-term because finding housing was very challenging with my situation, plus I often cat-sat for his family. It would have made it weird to formally announce to the office that I was living there, but we also didn’t hide it, which is what it sounds like Fergus and Jane are doing. I think Alison’s advice is spot on. It really only affects OP if they have concerns about Fergus’ professional performance and feel that they can’t communicate it due to conflict of interest.

    1. KateM*

      Jane had a post-it with “prepare Fergus’ room” right next to the keyboard of office computer. That doesn’t sound like hiding to me.

      1. Jean*

        I think Thistle Pie is saying that Jane and Fergus are also not formally announcing it but not hiding it.

        1. pancakes*

          Yes. I agree that it would be weird to make an announcement about it, and agree with the rest of Thistle Pie’s take as well fwiw.

      2. June*

        No. And this is strictly between Jane and Fergus. I would just go to work and do my job. It’s not my business who lives where and why.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          …except that OP has issues with Fergus’s work! And there’s obviously a connection between the boss and Fergus. She might have “taken him under her wing” as an earth mother (since there’s no romantic connection), feeling sorry for him because he’s down on his luck as a gay guy, maybe in a conservative area, and the affection is clouding her judgement so she doesn’t realise that what he presents to her as bad luck is actually a poor work ethic and a string of poor decisions.

    2. blood orange*

      Unless I’ve missed that your workspace was also your boss’ home like OP, then I do feel this is different. It would be jarring to see a coworker is living in your workspace which is also your boss’ home, and not discuss it. It seems like it might have been prudent for Jane to acknowledge the situation to OP.

    3. Me*

      To me, it’s not that much different than if the owner was having her son, who lives in her house, work for the company. Could this be problematic for the co-workers? Yes. Can the co-workers do much about it? Not really.

      1. Vio*

        I think the main difference would be that you’d know that you’d have to be delicate raising any concerns about their son (unless of course it wasn’t apparent that they were related) whereas in this situation the OP (and presumably any co-workers who’ve noticed the situation) are uncertain just how delicately they need to step. there’s also “do I alert my colleagues that raising concerns about this guy could open a can of worms they’re completely unprepared for?”

  2. Dr. Prepper*

    What if Jane is charging Fergus rent? Talk about a hornet’s nest when a landlord-tenant relationship becomes embroiled in a boss – direct report relationship.

    1. Poffertjies!*

      Oof. My boss owns a few properties and one of the tenants worked with us for a bit. He was not a great worker and him also renting from the boss….it wasn’t good.

    2. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      my upstairs neighbor was the employee of our landlord (now former landlord as he sold the house). From the sounds of it he guilted her into a lot (she was going to get a new job, he talked her into staying). But there was also stuff from her that caused problems, such as she thought she could do anything she wanted because she had an “in” with the landlord. (smokes weed in the house and we can smell it downstairs -it is illegal in my state and makes me sick, tried to take over mowing, etc in the yard but that is my responsibility. Then getting pissed off because the mower died while she was using it.)

    3. hamsterpants*

      Maybe Jane will also start stocking groceries that Fergus can use as long as he pays her back. And to skip the middleman of salary, payroll taxes, and income tax, Jane can just directly pay Fergus in JaneBucks that he can directly use on rent or those groceries.

      Yes, I’m exaggerating for comic effect, but at the same time, history has shown that too much interdependence between employer and employee doesn’t always work out well for the employee.

      1. JustaTech*

        Years ago my brother was working at a weed farm in the middle of nowhere, so he had to rent a room/apartment/trailer/cardboard box from his boss. At city rates, because it was the only option. OK, that’s not great.

        Then one time my brother goes to deposit his pay at the bank (all cash business) and it turns out that one of their customers had paid them in counterfeit bills. The bank has to call the Treasury department, so the Secret Service is going to come out to talk to everyone (yes, them, they do the Treasury department too), and my brother’s boss tells him to *lie* to the *feds*. My brother may make a lot of really bad decisions, but even he knows not to lie to the Feds.

        But, the cherry on top of this whole mess is that the boss still wants his rent – even though my brother now has no money because the boss paid him in bad bills.

        Moral of the story? Don’t work for sketchy dudes, and if you do, don’t rent from them too!

    4. Cera*

      My brother’s ex boss owns several rental properties and several employees, including my brother, live in them. Somehow he has managed to keep the two items at arms length; including firing my brother who has continued to live there on good terms for years afterwards.

      I guess if everyone goes into it knowing these are 2 seperate interactions it can work put.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        I think it would be another level of awkwardness if the employee you fired was living in your house! But fair play to your brother and his ex-boss for managing their situation so maturely.

      2. Leenie*

        My boss has also rented to two of my coworkers. I kind of freaked out when he told me about the second one and asked if he was going to start paying them in scrip next. We work for a pretty large company and it seemed really problematic to me on many levels. He told me not to worry, he’d keep it separate and weirdly, he really did. One of them went to work for a competitor and is still living in his unit. The other is still working with us, but was eventually able to buy a house. It’s a really tight market where I am and finding nice places can be difficult. So they benefited in that way, but they didn’t actually pay materially less than market. He also could have filled the units with non-employees in minutes. And I don’t think a lot of people knew about it. So there really was no favoritism or even appearance of favoritism. But I feel like the examples of this arrangement that didn’t go sideways in a significant way are probably incredibly rare, even though we’ve both seen it.

    5. JESUS IS THE MAN!*

      It’s completely normal in my profession, has been for centuries in some places, but it’s still weird if I think about it too hard.

      (I live in a parsonage.)

  3. L.H. Puttgrass*

    When I saw the headline, I thought this was going to be a rerun. Haven’t we seen at least one letter about a boss who decided that they wanted everyone to work from their house instead of paying for office space?

      1. Mid*

        There have been a few letters about managers who live with coworkers/direct reports, and some letters about people working from houses, but I think this is a new intersection of living and working from the bosses house!

    1. Always a Corncob*

      I remember that too! Found it — #2 in a post from January 25, 2022 titled “being an environmentalist at a fossil fuel company, boss wants us to work from his house, and more.” I’ll put the link in a reply.

    1. Tuesday*

      Well, for the reasons Alison mentioned. OP has concerns about Fergus’s work, but this new dynamic makes it hard for her to raise those concerns. If Fergus is genuinely bad at his job, this is only going to impact the OP’s work even more in the future.

    2. Jennifer Strange*

      Well, as mentioned in the letter the OP has issues with Fergus’ work that they now feel uncomfortable bringing to their boss because of the living situation. That is a problem.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          The boss might very well have some kind of mother-son affection for Fergus so her judgement is clouded and she’ll make excuses for him instead of talking to him as she would any other employee. OP has to tread carefully here.

    3. EPLawyer*

      Because she ALREADY has concerns about how to raise WORK related issues with the boss about Fergus. She says right in her letter she planned to raise issues with how Fergus’ work is affecting her. Now she is uncomfortable about doing it since FERGUS IS LIVING IN HER BOSS’ HOUSE.

      So yeah we are at one of the things Alison mentioned as to why its a problem. If people cannot raise work issues with the boss because she might not be objective given FERGUS IS LIVING WITH HER, that is a huge problem for OP and everyone else.

      Just because someone might have housing insecurity does not mean you turn the whole workplace upside down to accomodate them.

      1. londonedit*

        Yep – and call me paranoid, but if I was the OP I’d be concerned about Jane and Fergus chatting about work over dinner or breakfast, and leaving me out of those conversations. Even if it wasn’t intentional, the fact that they’re living in the same house would give Fergus more access to Jane and more downtime where they could easily just chat casually about whatever work issue, then Fergus comes up with an idea, and Jane says ‘Oh, that’s great, let’s do that tomorrow’ and OP doesn’t get a look in.

        1. Tuesday*

          I agree. There’s certainly the potential appearance of favoritism, which a manager should try to avoid even if there’s no actual favoritism happening. But if they life together and get along, that could lead to actual favoritism! If it’s just a short-term thing as a kindness to Fergus, that’s one thing, but them living together long-term is a big red flag for me.

        2. Rapunzel Ryder*

          Having been a person who lived with my boss previously (we had lived in separate apartments in the same complex that was going downhill quickly so moved into a house we rented from our employer and each paid the rent to our employer), we did talk about work things if we found ourselves in common space. But usually this was about stuff that only concerned unique things I did. Though before we even thought about becoming roommates, we had an open honest conversation with our full office about how they felt and made it clear that if anyone was uncomfortable, we would not move forward. We were a family in a good way so everyone was cool and we talked about the pros and cons and since one of the office ladies suggested it in the first place, they were good with it. We set up stuff with HR and had a roommate contract to ensure the power dynamics and work/home issues were somewhat mitigated.

        3. pancakes*

          For me that would really depend on the type of work they do. The more different their roles, the less urgent that concern is, in my view.

          Fwiw I assume this arrangement is going to be shorter rather than longer in duration, because if Fergus is like most people he won’t want to live with his boss for long, he’ll want to move on as soon as he’s able to. Being relatively forgetful about or unfocused on work tasks isn’t necessarily a measure of whether he’ll get his act together in terms of finding a more suitable place to live. In theory. Maybe I’m being too optimistic since I don’t know Fergus or the boss.

        4. Irish Teacher*

          I don’t think that’s paranoid. I think it’s almost bound to happen, even unintentionally. Say there’s a really difficult project coming up and Fergus has just been chatting to Jane about how his mother is ill and he’s just started dating this new guy and they have no time together, she may well feel, “hey, can’t give Fergus the tough project now. He’s got so much going on. I’ll give it to LW instead.” Who may well have just as much going on, but Jane wouldn’t know about it. Or there’s a really cool project coming up and Fergus just happens to have mentioned having an interest in the area. Jane may not even know the LW has an interest too. I mean, it would probably only be minor things.

        5. Elsajeni*

          And in a situation where I’m already feeling like Fergus’s work isn’t up to par, I would have concerns about that kind of downtime chat, too — the boss may be hearing Fergus’s side of any workplace conflict more often and earlier, and that might prime her to take “here are the actual work problems Fergus is causing” less seriously and think of the story more as “OP has unreasonable expectations of Fergus” or “oh, this is a personality conflict” or whatever.

    4. Cat Tree*

      At a dysfunctional workplace I used to work at, my direct manager had his little clique of buddies. They went out to lunch every Friday without the rest of the group. Not that I actually wanted to spend my lunch time with that particular boss, but it was pretty obvious that I would have two work twice as hard as those in the clique to get the same recognition and opportunities. Fortunately my grandboss was looking out for me so that mitigated it somewhat. (Also I’m a woman in a male-dominated industry so I’m just sort of used to working twice as hard for half the credit.)

      But yeah, favoritism sucks for those who aren’t the favorite. Being roomies like this is really the most extreme form of favoritism short of romantic involvement. Of course managers can have friends but they need to handle these things correctly.

      1. Beep*

        Maybe it’ll turn into something like this, maybe it won’t. How about OP stops borrowing trouble.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          There is already a problem in that OP wanted to mention issues with Fergus’s work.

    5. RagingADHD*

      It doesn’t.

      People feel uncomfortable about raising work issues for all kinds of reasons. Neither Fergus nor the boss are responsible for LW’s feelings.

      LW should address the work issues just the same as if Fergus were living anywhere else.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I see What You’re saying, OP may be borrowing trouble. It will come down to how reasonable the Bosses Are.
        If the Boss treats Fergus’ tenancy separately from work, no issues. If OP raises a concern and boss comments that they were discussing it over Dinner or makes an excuse for Fergus, that’s an issue.
        Final but here- if the boss is going to do that, whether Fergus lives there or not, the Boss has boundary issues.
        (again, iphone Capitalizing-omg. It capitalized that! Anyone know of a Setting i can fix?)

        1. Lime green Pacer*

          I wish! I have the opposite problem— iOS insists on randomly “correcting” uppercase letters to lowercase ones, especially at the start of sentences.

        2. RagingADHD*

          Exactly. Nothing has happened yet. The boss has not refused to deal with Fergus’ work issues because LW hasn’t said anything.

          There are a million reasons NOT to do something. This housing situation is not a problem because at this point absolutely nothing is different about LW’s situation. It’s all might be or could be or maybe. Yeah, it might turn into a problem. It also might not. You might get hit by a bus tomorrow. You might get abducted by aliens.

          Come back when/if you actually speak up and actually get shot down or ignored. Then it’s a real problem instead of an imaginary one.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            or write in, and get Alison’s suggestion to frame her issues as awkward before even listing them, so that the boss does realise just how awkward OP feels about bringing up issues with the work of the person the boss has just invited to live with her? I’d say OP is doing the smart thing, getting ahead of a possible issue, rather than just not saying anything and letting things fester until Fergus is completely unmanageable,

            Not to mention the possible plot twist that in fact he’s the boss’s husband’s lover or part of a polyamorous threesome, which would then throw an extra spanner in the works.

    6. Ethel Beavers*

      I’ve been in a similar situation – my coworker moved into our grandboss’s house (grandboss had horrible boundaries, as did coworker) and it was incredibly uncomfortable for everyone on the team. It was clear favoritism was shown towards this employe and we all ended up knowing things about the employee and the grand boss that we REALLY did not want to know (details sex toys in the dishwasher, for example). So there are a lot of reasons an employee should care if their coworker is living with their boss. It can make for a really bad work environment for everyone.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Even without a live-in employee, finding sex toys in the dishwasher might be quite the distraction of a Monday morning!

      1. Lydia*

        It really is if it’s impacting how comfortable OP is with approaching boss about Fergus issues because of the living arrangements. That is exactly why these situations are problematic and unwise.

        1. pancakes*

          It doesn’t sound as if anyone is unaware of the issues with Fergus’s work performance, which I think is a point in favor of this not being the letter writer’s business just yet:

          “he . . . requires extra attention and follow-up from the rest of us to make sure he stays on task and is doing things correctly . . .”

          By the nature of the issues and the fact that it’s a small workplace, everyone seems to know about the existing Fergus issues.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            except perhaps the boss… like the spouse, they are often the last to know!

            1. pancakes*

              Maybe, but the rest of them don’t need to wait to bring it up if it’s a real pattern, and that would be true if he lived elsewhere instead.

    7. MK*

      I disagree that this isn’t the OP’s business, and it could very well become her problem for all the reasons other commenters listed above. BUT, I don’t actually see what the OP can do about it. Jane is running a small business from her home, so on some level she is comfortable with mixing her personal with her professional life. Having one of her employees live with her just amplifies this, but apparently she is ok with it. She is the owner, so there is no one above her to bring this to.

      1. MR*

        Yeah, at some level it kind of feels like OP is already in a weird work situation in general, and this is the kind of thing that may happen in such situations where it’s a small business. It’s also hard not knowing what the nature of the work/business is, what Fergus’ position is vs OP, etc. since those are kind of relevant to how much this kind of thing would effect a work environment. I mean, the reality is that, especially in small, “family” businesses, it can be common for folks to work with family, best friends, partners/spouses, etc. Yes, it can create problems, but it’s not unworkable either. If OP doesn’t want to work in that kind of environment, then work for a larger employer with a fancy office and an HR department.

        1. GythaOgden*

          Many small businesses make do with interesting setups. The first few weeks of a job my husband was at, he worked out of the owner’s garage as office admin/manager. They were moving into a converted barn on a still-working farm, and Hubby’s Boss had, I guess, needed someone and somewhere to expand his business as a whole, but it was also not unusual. As a freelance typist for a while, I too worked out of home offices.

          NGL, you do come across some weird situations and some situations where the set up is less than ideal. You often have to put up or shut up — accept it and manage it or get something else.

  4. Essentially Cheesy*

    Working for such a small business in a residential house? No thank you. That is something that gives me red flag warnings. Maybe it’s just me being sensitive.

    Whatever is set up between the boss and Fergus is between them. Fergus may genuinely need the help and might have life circumstances that make it difficult to remember everything. Give him a break.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      I wouldn’t say it raises a red flag, but I do have questions about the logistics. What happens if boss is sick one day? Do they just work in her house with her up in bed? What if boss and her husband go out of town? I’d feel weird working in my boss’ house while she was out. Granted, I’ve never worked in this kind of set up so maybe there’s something I’m missing.

      1. Siege*

        Well, for one thing, it’s been remodeled, so it’s not like they’re just working in someone’s living room complete with recliners and grandma’s handmade antimacassars on everything. I know there are beauty salons and therapy offices that operate out of converted houses – I’ve been to quilt and craft shops that were ex-houses, for that matter. My belief, which may be wrong, is that the upstairs is the residence and the downstairs is in compliance with the business’s needs and standards as would be the case in a purpose-built commercial building, so while the layout may vibe “converted house” it’s not quite the same as “plain house”. You can make the mental separation between “living space” and “working space” because they’re on separate floors. That would make it easier for me to have an out-of-sight-out-of-mind about it, because I wouldn’t expect to be “in the house” while working.

        1. GythaOgden*

          My husband worked out of his boss’ shed for a month before they moved into a barn conversion elsewhere. Also, many, many people live where they work and serve clients — I stayed in a B&B once where it was almost an AirBnB while the family was still there. They ran a

          Meanwhile in the earlier post-communist days, people in Eastern Europe would accept guests at their homes for a price well below that of a hotel. It was awkward — my host in Krakow didn’t speak English and at that point I didn’t speak Polish, meaning we communicated in gestures and the tiny bit of German I had left over from school — but it was simple to keep boundaries between the guest facilities and their own home turf. I’ve also worked out of people’s homes, being hired to literally type up stuff that they were too swamped to manage on their own.

          In the world beyond office work, there’s a lot of different set ups and while yes, it requires a bit of boundary-setting, it’s perfectly possible and often necessary for this kind of economy to exist. I saw a meme the other day where they had pictures of four separate garages where four separate multinational companies began. It happens.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          OP does say Fergus came downstairs, so that kind of validates what you’re saying.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      .. but Fergus is living in the boss’s house. Knowing that (and the LW can’t unknow things), it makes it much more awkward to discuss where Fergus’s work shortfalls impact the LW. How can the boss not begin to favor someone she’s spending nearly all of her day with? It sure seems like to the LW and me that they’re becoming closer and friends and that’ll make it hard for the LW to provide negative feedback on Fergus.

      (OK maybe if he’s a bad/annoying housemate, maybe it’ll be bad for Fergus.)

    3. Charlotte Lucas*

      I’m hoping this is some sort of mixed-use building, where the business is in the garage or downstairs, & the living quarters are entirely separate.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Clearly none of ya’all watched Designing Women. The business was the grand ground floor of Julia Sugarbaker’s home. It was clear she lived in the upper levels and would come downstairs to go to work. Everyone had a key to the front door and would just come and go.

        1. Blarg*

          Gilmore Girls, when Lorelai forgets the diner is open so early in the morning and goes downstairs from Luke’s apartment…

        2. Meow*

          It’s a really common setup in some countries. I’m guessing US zoning laws are what prohibit it from happening here very often.

          1. pancakes*

            Common in some areas of the US as well. In Maine in particular, especially along route 1, there are all sorts of businesses people run out of their homes, some seasonal and some not. Hairstylists, dog breeders, dog groomers, craft supplies, blueberries in season, etc.

            I loved Designing Women and it’s on Hulu, FYI, seasons 1 – 7. (I assume that’s all of them?)

      2. Jennifer Strange*

        I’m hoping that too, but based on the fact that the OP could tell that Fergus was living there (and not just arriving for work) I’m guessing that’s not the case.

      3. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

        that’s what i’m thinking. Especially since the OP says Fergus “Came downstairs”. So I’m thinking like a split level and the office is in the basement area that has like garden terrace where you can enter from outside, but if you go upstairs that’s where the main living area is. (Sorry about the language I’m not familiar with housing terms).

          1. pancakes*

            It was a great living room. I’ll link to an article / appreciation of it I just found with a couple pics of it.

            I can’t remember whether Edna Garrett on The Facts of Life had her shop or Edna’s Edibles downstairs from her home?

      1. DivineMissL*

        My ex had a home-based business setup like this. The house looked like a normal house from outside. Downstairs was set up like offices except the kitchen looked like a normal house kitchen; upstairs was his office and the rest was his living area. His assistant would have to come upstairs and walk through his living room to get to his office. If he was sick, he would stay in his bedroom and the workers would work downstairs. If he was traveling, the workers were still there in his house; they all had keys and the alarm codes. I thought it was really unsettling; there was a weird overlap of professional and personal boundaries (did I mention he is an ex?).

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          I see What You’re saying, OP may be borrowing trouble. It will come down to how reasonable the Bosses Are.
          If the Boss treats Fergus’ tenancy separately from work, no issues. If OP raises a concern and boss comments that they were discussing it over Dinner or makes an excuse for Fergus, that’s an issue.
          Final but here- if the boss is going to do that, whether Fergus lives there or not, the Boss has boundary issues.
          (again, iphone Capitalizing-omg. It capitalized that! Anyone know of a Setting i can fix?)

    4. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      Well it sounds like the house has been remodeled to abide by industry standards. And it seems to be that the living area is separated from the working area. I actually was looking at houses not long ago and there was a house that was remodeled to be a work area. It actually had exit signs and everything, but from the listing it was also a residence. It was still coded as a residential area. So it’s not really a red flag. It may be not be super common but I don’t see it as a red flag. Especially if its a rural area (I can think of a few places like this from my hometown area).

      1. Elizabeth West*

        This was the case with a lawyer a friend of mine in OldCity used to work for. It turned out to be a horrible job for other reasons, namely because the boss was bonkers, but the setup didn’t contribute to that.

      2. Delta Delta*

        I used to get my hair cut at a place like this in a very small town. The owner converted the front half of her house into a salon and the back and upstairs were her home. There were 2 employees and it was all pretty normal.

        1. Blarg*

          My stylist did this when she had her first kid and wanted more flexible hours. Husband built out the basement, which had a walkout, and she eventually had another stylist working there, too. It was great; she’d see clients after she put the baby down, and just have the monitor there just in case. Everybody won.

      3. Esmeralda*

        I’d guess it’s more common than you’d think. Just driving around my medium sized city, there are houses that are both residences and: daycare, children’s day camp, hair salon, nail salon, exercise studio, yoga studio, lawyer, accountant, real estate agent, mental health professional, organic meals distributor, cafe, restaurant.

      4. Felis alwayshungryis*

        My late FIL had a setup like this. Imagine two wings to the house: you’d walk in the front door and turn left for the offices and right for the rest of the house. All the doors could be closed, so if he or anyone else in the family was home sick the staff would barely know. The office had everything – offices, kitchenette, toilet, meeting room – so there was barely any need for the spaces to cross over.

    5. A lawyer*

      I’ve actually seen this a few times, maybe because of the cost of living in Los Angeles. In one instance it seemed to work out fine, the woman who owned the house was running a nonprofit and I guess it kept costs lower. In the other instance, the owner of the house was being hit with multiple sexual harassment lawsuits because it turns out it’s not OK to give orders to your employees when you’ve just stepped out of the shower and are only wearing a towel (omg omg omg I had forgotten about this for years).

      1. River Otter*

        “it turns out it’s not OK to give orders to your employees when you’ve just stepped out of the shower and are only wearing a towel (omg omg omg I had forgotten about this for years).”

        so I’ve been doing it wrong all this time?

    6. KateM*

      In old books, it seems to be very common to have office at ground floor and the living quarters of owner upstairs.

      Actually our child was for a year in a private daycare which was just like that – ground floor for daycare and family living upstairs (separate front doors next to each other). I was a lot with her there for first couple of weeks but the only time I saw family was when I happened to get my child the exact same time one of family’s children returned from school.

    7. Nanani*

      It’s not that weird inherently – think shops where the shop is on street level and there’s a flat (that may or may not be home to the owner) upstairs.
      I’ve lived above shops and restaurants myself.

      It’s not the location that makes it weird, it’s the dynamic where Fergus has a much closer relationship with the boss than everyone else.

      1. Not your Admin Ass(t)*

        Yeah, it’s not an everyday thing, but it’s not unheard of either! I worked for a veterinary clinic that had the office on the ground floor, and the upstairs was an apartment the doctor-owner rented out to someone (who didn’t work there, I should point 0ut.) It was 100% a toxic job that I got the hell out of after only six months, but it wasn’t living/business areas sharing a building that were the problem, since the people living there were not the people working there.

        (There WERE other problems, though. The vet kept feral cats that were allowed to run loose and lived–and did their business–in the air vents. Which meant sometimes the renter ended up with terrified feral cats running around her apartment if they escaped the vents in the wrong part of the building! I feel sorry for whoever had to clean that building out when the doctor retired and sold it off.)

        1. Not your Admin Ass(t)*

          Not an everyday thing where I live, I should add. I’ve seen it much more in some large cities I’ve been to/lived in.

      2. Silenus Wallbinger*

        No one has considered that Ferguson might be a family member or somehow related to a close friend. Seems like he’s the type to struggle a bit.

    8. Kippy*

      I have a friend who’s a baker and has a set up like this. Large kitchen/prep area downstairs, living space upstairs. Part time workers who have to get there very early in the morning make me think it’s more likely a food based business (custom cakes, caterer, prepared meals) than an accountant or other type of white collar office job.

      1. Federal Contractor*

        I was thinking food-based business as well–bakery or coffee shop–especially since there seems to be only one computer for all of them to use.

        Also, I’ve been in a few and driven past many businesses in the basement or ground floor of a house, the rest of which is a private residence. It doesn’t seem the slightest bit strange to me.

    9. MK*

      There is nothing inherently wrong with the setup, it used to be very common; and I am guessing that with the trend of WFH and many people staring side businesses, it might become again. I wouldn’t want to live in a such a place if there was no firm barrier between workplace and home, but I wouldn’t have an issue living in a contained flat in the same building that the business is in.

    10. Mary*

      Not that unusual for houses to be converted to medical offices. I used to work in one that had a tenant in the second floor apartment and a dentist office I used to use was the first floor of a house.

    11. Double A*

      A lot of child care is provided in set ups like this, though it doesn’t sound like that’s what this business is. My daughter goes to a daycare that is also a house. There’s just part that’s the day care and part that is the private rooms.

    12. EL*

      My next door neighbors operate a hair salon out of their house. It’s the two of them and one other employee. They live upstairs, the business is downstairs. Mixing residential and commercial use is very common here in New Orleans — my place was an art studio before I moved in.

  5. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

    Wow this is so awkword. I’m hoping that Fergus is just staying there for a few days Like he had to be out of old place by the 25th but can’t move into the new place until the 1st.
    OP Please update!

  6. Patty*

    OP, are you sure Fergus has no other pre existing relationship to your boss, like maybe he’s her nephew or cousin or something? Maybe this is the case and she didn’t mention it because she thought that in itself would cause things to be awkward. I don’t know if it’s relevant, just a possible explanation for why she seems to be giving him a leg up.

    1. Hello From NY*

      This is an interesting thought. Maybe Fergus is a cousin of Jane’s husband, or the brother of Jane’s best friend. Some relationship that isn’t particularly obvious from the outside.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        or Jane’s husband’s lover, since he’s gay. It’s not like you’d announce to your employees that you have an open relationship is it.

  7. Ted*

    I’m not sure why op felt the need to include that Fergus is gay. I’m not seeing how sexually comes in to play here. I did see that the OP is saying that she doesn’t believe anything sexual is going on but how would him being gay or straight rule anything sexual out with a Hetro couple?

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      I’m guessing to head off someone in the comments writing fanfiction about how Fergus and the boss are secretly lovers.

    2. Loulou*

      I mean, if OP hadn’t mentioned that he was gay, absolutely we would have comments speculating that he is having an affair with Jane and I assume OP wanted to head that off.

      1. AnotherOne*

        well, now someone can suggest that Fergus and the Boss’s husband are having an affair.

      2. A Simple Narwhal*

        Yes, this 100%. Even if OP just said “I am without a doubt absolutely positive Fergus and Jane are not having an affair” there still would probably be several comments along the lines of “well you never know!”. So I definitely believe that it was a preventative measure.

        (I will now wait instead for the comments speculating that Fergus is having an affair with Jane’s husband.)

    3. KoiFeeder*

      Because, unfortunately, “it is unlikely that there is anything sexual/romantic happening and nothing in the present situation makes me suspect it” is not enough to head off commentariat fanfics.

    4. Tobias Funke*

      The comment that they’re having an affair has already been made down thread. Presumably OP didn’t want to spend the entire thread refuting an affair as the most likely situation.

    5. Ted*

      Maybe I’m still missing something but if OP was straight then there could be potential for an affair with the wife but if OP is gay then there could be an affair with the husband. I get including that he isn’t having anything sexual going on with the husband and wife to avoid speculation but his sexuality by its self wouldn’t rule anything out gay or straight. With that being said, this circles us back around to my original question. Why are we including this? I know that information on the gender of the people in previous posts usually has some significance behind it even if not readily apparent on the surface. I’m really trying to assume the best here but I’m struggling to especially in light of the last few days.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        Yes, Fergus being gay could potentially open the door to him having an affair with the husband, but given that his pre-existing relationship is with the boss (not her husband) and that it is most likely that she would have been the one to suggest/approve Fergus moving in, people are going to be more likely to jump to the conclusion hat she and Fergus would be the ones to have an affair rather than him and the husband. OP included that he was gay to head that off (which didn’t help since someone down thread is already making that claim).

    6. Delphine*

      Because the two parties of concern here are Jane (the boss) and Fergus (the employee). OP is indicating that she does not suspect that they are involved in an affair together because Jane is married and Fergus is gay. There’s no point in speculating about whether Fergus is having an affair with the husband because it’s not relevant to the question at hand.

  8. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    I’m watching the Wedding episode of “Raising Hope” on Hulu. Didn’t spring for the ad-free version, so i started reading this during the commercial.
    If anyone ever watched that show, you understand the level of chaos it would take to outdo the wedding.
    Congratulations, OP. Your workplace outdoes a Fox sitcom

    You dont have to get out. But I suggest you focus on you. Be matter of fact of fact about Fergus. Don’t Ley Your Boss’ “we’re a Family” or “save the lost souls” mentality affect you.

    PS: Not Sure why iphone Is capitalizing random words, but I quit fighting it.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      It’s like you’ve gone through the stages of grief with your iPhone’s capitalization mishaps, and are now finally at acceptance. All here in the comments of one post.

    2. Howard Bannister*

      The cherry on top of your capitalization issues is when the iPhone didn’t bother to give *itself* its own idiosyncratic capitalization (something you might expect from it!) but did decide the word directly after it needed a capital.

  9. Emm*

    The situation seems less than ideal and a potential conflict of interest for the reasons Alison points out, but it doesn’t raise major red flags for me. It sounds like Fergus might have been in a difficult situation and Jane stepped in to help.

    The fact that the house/property is already set up for the business makes this less weird to me. There’s already been a blurring of lines that is presumably able to maintain professionalism for the work you do. I can see how it might feel like not a big deal to invite an employee to stay at the house if they need to, given that they already work in that location. If this is one time thing for an emergency or a short period of time, I think it’s best to ignore it.

    1. MR*

      Yeah, like we are living in a time where rent in some places is going sky-high, and a lot of people are facing eviction/homelessness because their jobs are no longer paying them enough to afford housing. Even though it was a bit odd for OP to mention Fergus being gay, it does make me think about how a lot of LGBTQ people do not have the privilege of a family support network to fall back on in such situations, and statistically are much more likely to face homelessness as a result. I would much rather have my boss rent a room out to a coworker than to see that coworker become homeless. OP is still free to raise concerns about Fergus as an employee. At this point they are working entirely off of assumptions of favoritism.

    2. GlowCloud*

      I think the biggest Red Flag is that it puts Fergus in an extremely vulnerable position where his ability to earn money is very closely tied to his housing situation. He is living under his boss’s roof! If that relationship should sour, he’d be homeless and jobless at the same instant. He could easily be exploited.

      I don’t agree with this framing where Jane is kind and generous and helping her employee out. This sounds like a safeguarding nightmare for Fergus.

  10. L-squared*

    This is a bit weird, but I guess I just don’t understand why you feel this is something you needed to be told up front. Unless fergus is coming down in his underwear or something, I’m not really sure that your entitlement is warranted here.

    Also, I love when people write “I couldn’t help but read…”, like, no, you may not have intended to snoop, but you saw Fergus’ name and actively choose to read about it.

    Until the living situation impacts your work, I’d just ignore it. If you have other problems with Fergus, then bring it up.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      Also, I love when people write “I couldn’t help but read…”, like, no, you may not have intended to snoop, but you saw Fergus’ name and actively choose to read about it.

      “Prepare Fergus’s room” takes one second (literally a quick glance) to read and comprehend. It’s not like this was a paragraph about Fergus that the OP decided to read through.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        Yep. You actually wouldn’t know it was none of your business until you got to the last word.

        Also, as far as I can tell, it was a to-do list sitting out for all to read.

      2. The Prettiest Curse*

        Yeah, it’s not like stumbling across someone’s HR file and “accidentally” reading the whole thing.

      3. many bells down*

        Yeah I am a REALLY fast reader, and I can read upside-down almost as quickly. I have often seen information I probably wasn’t intended to see just by glancing at a paper on someone’s desk.

        1. MEH Squared*

          Ditto. By the time my brain registered that I shouldn’t be reading something, it’s already read especially with something as short as three words.

    2. ecnaseener*

      Many, many people automatically read written words at a glance. It doesn’t take “active choice,” it’s what your brain does when you glance at something that has words on it. (This was a total of 3 words, after all.)

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        TBH, I think this applies to just about everybody. Our brains do all sorts of things automatically. Imagine if you had to make a conscious choice whether or not to read every single thing with words on it that you encounter! I mean, try to keep yourself from reading something that you see; it’s impossible.

        I agree that sometimes “I couldn’t help but read” means that they chose to snoop. This really doesn’t seem like one of those situations. Especially when OP probably looked at it to figure out what it was so they could figure out what to do with it.

        1. bamcheeks*

          I still remember when this clicked for my 6yo– we were walking home one day last summer and she said out loud, “Peters – gate – Church– wait, I didn’t MEAN to read that! Those words just jumped into my head!”

        2. EPLawyer*

          It was a post it on the computer monitor. It’s kinda hard to NOT see it. this is not a “I was going through my boss’ desk and ran across a pregnancy test.” This was right out in the open on the presumably shared computer. OP did nothing wrong by reading a note stuck on a computer. That’s hardly an indication that its private.

    3. Elenna*

      Meh, I’m not saying “couldn’t help but read” never means “wanted to read”, but personally when I see a short piece of text (like, a sentence or less) I really do read it fast enough that the reading happens before I think about it. I could definitely see a situation where a piece of paper with my coworker’s name catches my eye and I read a line or two automatically before my brain catches up to “wait, this is personal”.

      As for the question itself I initially agreed with you that LW didn’t need to know, but after reading Allison’s response I’m inclined to agree with her instead that Jane should have said something if it was going to be long term.

      1. L-squared*

        I mean, but we don’t know that it is long term, that is the thing. So I’m not sure OP still is warranted to have this info

      2. londonedit*

        Yep – I discovered recently that this a thing that not everyone does. It has nothing to do with reading ability – some people’s brains are just wired to read and understand words individually, whereas with other people if they see a collection of words together then *whoomph* the whole thing goes into their brain as one. I’m one of the second group – if I saw a post-it with ‘Prepare Fergus’ room’ on it, that would go into my brain the minute I looked at it. Nothing I could do about it – it’s not an active choice.

        I agree that if it’s just a night or two then the OP doesn’t necessarily need to know about it. But if it’s something long-term then absolutely, it’s going to have the potential to affect all of their working relationships and Jane should have said something.

    4. in the air*

      I read short text at a glance if it’s right in front of me and it’s not something I can actively turn off. Choice doesn’t come into play. I have learned that’s not necessarily the case for everyone! But I would take the OP at their word that they weren’t snooping and reading it was incidental (and Jane shouldn’t have left the post-it note out in full view beside a shared office computer).

    5. A Simple Narwhal*

      I don’t think you can really call seeing a three word sticky note stuck prominently on a shared computer snooping.

      I’m not disputing your point overall, but this isn’t quite on the same level as someone reading an open email on a private computer or an HR file laying open in a private office.

    6. Lynca*

      I don’t think you can call it snooping since it was a post it note left next to a shared computer keyboard. Snooping requires an active intent to find this information out. OP just saw the post it note.

      Most people are going to notice what it says just by glancing at it.

    7. Be kind, rewind*

      You know, it is possible to accidentally see things. Ffs, people, give it a rest.

      1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

        Yeah. I get that the news cycle and human society lately have been especially doomy and gloom. But the way people have been coming into the comments on AAM more recently to nitpick and start Internet slapfights what feels like every single word people say? It is f***ing exhausting. Lay off, y’all, seriously. Go do something that makes you happy (and doesn’t involve being a jerk to people that don’t deserve it) and get some new perspective.

        1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

          I saw the unclosed italics tag after “word”–but not in time to stop the message going through so I could fix it! It’s been…a week today. :) And I have two more weeks until the long July 4th holiday weekend starts.

  11. Freya*

    I don’t necessarily think that OP should worry about how Fergus living with Jane affects her until she can see if it continues to be a problem.

    She says his work has been unreliable, but experiencing housing and financial insecurity will do that to you. It can cause massive amounts of stress that don’t allow the brain to retain new information or focus.

    I would suggest she wait and see if Fergus improves before mentioning anything to Jane.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      That’s a good and very compassionate point. High levels of stress aren’t great for making ideal choices, learning, or thinking things through. The last 2 1/2 years have been super stressful; I know I’m not at my best with basically anything these days because I am super worn out and getting to the end of my ability to be “resilient.” Add in insecurity about whether you’ll be able to meet your basic needs for survival and it’s a recipe for problems.

      It may make sense to mention the challenges to Jane, but more as an opportunity to figure out what supports Fergus might need to become more effective at the job. It definitely sounds like a frustrating situation for you, OP, but I hope that with some tweaks things could really get better. (And I think this is what you were getting at in your letter).

    2. TransmascJourno*

      This was my first thought, too. Years ago, I briefly experienced both housing insecurity and financial insecurity, and it negatively affected my ability to do almost everything—it was only after I was able to stay in one place for more than a few nights that I was able to achieve stability in other facets of my life.

    3. Calpurrnia*

      I’ve been there, at a previous job – when I was in the middle of leaving my jerk ex and trying to move out of his house ASAP, I spent a couple of weeks in a hotel while looking for a new place, and then sublet a room from a coworker for a month until the new apartment became available. My work was total crap during that period; I had to spend significant chunks of my workday away from my desk, either on my phone making calls or taking long lunches to go to leasing offices (because they’re all only open during business hours), and it was hard as heck to retain info, keep track of tasks, or focus at all. A month after I moved into my new place I ended up getting fired, which really sucked for the housing situation even more, but I can hardly blame my boss or company for it considering how useless I was at the time. (It worked out okay in the end, but I had to break the new lease, move across the country, and spend a while looking for a new job before I got to that point…)

      I think moving in with my boss would’ve been over the line, but that’s easy to say from outside. In the middle of all of that stress and worry, if it’d been my boss and not my peer who offered to sublet me a room so I didn’t have to live in a hotel for a month and a half, it’s very possible I’d have taken her up on it.

      None of this is directly useful to the LW, just wanted to shed some light on how someone could end up in a situation very much like this.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      This is very true. If I’d been working in late 2020 and early 2021 while everything was blowing up at the same time I was trying to study for a PM certificate, I imagine my performance would have been less than stellar. I’m also sure that without all that extra stress, my score on the PM test would have been higher than it was—in fact, it’s amazing I managed to pass at all.

      As Freya says, I would wait a little bit and see if Fergus improves once his situation is less unstable.

    5. Delia*

      That was my first thought as well – if you’re working a second job to make ends meet and then lose your car (and the ability to do the second job) and then are desperate enough to accept the offer of a room from your boss, you’re going to be stressed and not at your best. This might actually be a really good thing for his work performance!

    6. Moira Rose's Closet*

      “She says his work has been unreliable, but experiencing housing and financial insecurity will do that to you. It can cause massive amounts of stress that don’t allow the brain to retain new information or focus.”

      This was my first thought, too. I think OP needs to put this aside for now.

    7. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I thought this as well – if he is (before renting a room from Jane) worried constantly about whether that will be the day his eviction notice turns up etc..it’s going to be hard to focus and retain information.

      I almost wondered if it’s partly that Jane feels guilty she can ‘only’ offer him part time work.

  12. kittycontractor*

    The working in the house doesn’t boater me, especially since it’s been modified to suit the business needs (and sounds like the office is kept separate from the living quarters). I do think the issue of Fergus living there is weird, hopefully it’s just Jane and her husband being kind people to help someone out who’s in a short-term desperate situation, but it’s still kinda weirs, however no way would I say something, nit even in passing. It’s just info I would file away internally in case it becomes an issue later on.

  13. cardigarden*

    Also, Fergus using Jane’s car for his delivery service presents a pretty big insurance issue for Jane if there’s an accident while he’s on a route.

      1. cardigarden*

        Jane’ll be the one who gets in trouble for not having commercial vehicle insurance because she’s the policy holder. Which, sure, if you’re doing DoorDash or something like that it’s not something you think of needing because you figure you have your individual policy, but it’s a great way to get your claim denied.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      Sure, but that’s got even less to do with OP than does the living arrangements.

      1. Chris*

        If there’s an uninsured accident, that could pose a risk to the stability of the business, and hence OP’s job. Quite aside from the financial aspects, Jane’s attention being focused on a potentially ruinous lawsuit means attention NOT focused on her business.

        1. TechWorker*

          This is a huge stretch – Jane’s attention on a divorce or family crisis would also mean less time spent on the business but that still wouldn’t make them any of OPs business!

          1. MR*

            Seriously. Being an employee does not make absolutely everything effecting/that could effect the company/your boss your business.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I think in OP’s shoes, I’d feel like there was nothing much to be done about it, but I’d certainly be carefully watching the development of relationship between Fergus and the boss. Jane is not only employing him, she’s housing him and giving him use of a car! She could hardly do more for him if she were his mother. I’d be trying to work out if Jane is just wonderfully generous, or whether Fergus was actually a relative or family friend. Even if Jane is just a wonderful person, I don’t see how she will be able to prevent rooting for, and becoming closer to Fergus and blurring the employee/employer lines while he is in her house. I do like Alison’s script but I think the OP’s Spidey senses have been telling them for a while that it’s not wise to complain too bluntly about Fergus.

    3. Lizard on a Chair*

      Yeah, that’s really not OP’s problem but the lawyer in me cringed! So much potential liability for Jane. When you add in that she is Fergus’s boss *and* he lives with her, it reaches a level of enmeshment that raises questions about the potential professional impact on OP. It looks to me like Jane is way too involved in Fergus’s life to have a chance of being able to manage him objectively and effectively, and I would be questioning Jane’s judgment for allowing it.

  14. Student*

    Years ago, my manager decided to rent one of his houses out to my co-worker, who was also his direct report. My co-worker bragged quite a bit about getting it at well below market rates.

    I regret not reporting it to our company’s ethics folks, because it definitely contributed to all sorts of favoritism in the workplace. They weren’t living together, like in this letter, but just the rent money changing hands definitely influenced how my manager treated him and which assignments he got.

  15. Khatul Madame*

    Fergus had performance problems before this living situation came about. No reason to mix the two.
    I agree that the owner is making a bad choice, but I just don’t see in the letter whether it had any impact on OP’s work.
    LW – leave it alone, do your job, and pretend that you are watching a play. I predict that there will be further interesting developments and hope we’ll get an update.

  16. ScruffyInternHerder*

    AACK! Personal take on this, as someone who has seen more than one small business employ a Fergus or his brother Joaquin (doesn’t necessarily live at the boss’s house, but employer covers other things that aren’t covered for every employee): Nothing good comes of this situation from where I sit. Nothing. It has always ended very, very, very poorly for everyone.

    Employee/Employer vs friend (even platonic, completely non-sexual friendship) gets blurred.
    Appearances of favoritism.
    And heaven help you if the employee does something decidedly bad/illegal and its traced to your boss’s property/home. Its a mess.

    That all said: if it impacts your work, talk to the boss. And since you’re uncertain how to handle the situation with concerns about their work because he’s living in the boss’s house, it impacts your work.

    1. Selena*

      …And since you’re uncertain how to handle the situation with concerns about their work because he’s living in the boss’s house, it impacts your work…

      This.
      Jane might not realize it yet, but the situation got messy as soon as another employee found out about the cohabitation.

    2. Sylvan*

      Yeah, I’ve also seen this play out badly. The employer became too demanding because the employee was indebted to them, and when this got very bad, the employee had to quit and find a new home on the same day. I also quit around the same time for this and other reasons.

    3. TechWorker*

      A few years back I lived with my then boss for 6 weeks (in between houses, was meant to be 2 weeks but timing didn’t work out); it did not end ‘very very badly for all involved’. It was mildly awkward and I couldn’t remotely relax there/was basically ‘out’ as much as possible; but we did not magically become close friends, and I moved teams/reporting lines a while after anyway. Would I do it again? No, but I was in a pinch and it wasn’t a disaster.

      1. ScruffyInternHerder*

        I probably should have mentioned the caveat that “none of what I’ve witnessed has been of the in a pinch, defined very short duration due to a gap in leases or whatever”.

        I am glad that it worked out okay in your case though :)

  17. Selena*

    On the one hand this sounds weird and unprofesional.
    On the other hand it sounds like Jane is just trying to help out Fergus

    1. morethanbeingtired*

      With the current housing crisis in many metro areas of the U.S., I think we’re going to hear about things like this more and more. I wouldn’t want a co-worker to live with me but if the alternative was them living on the streets or in a shelter, I would absolutely do it. Does it have the potential to end badly? Yes, but I’d rather the risks of the landlord situation than the risks of the coworker having no housing at all. I just hope the boss is otherwise giving Fergus hours and pay that will help him get back on his feet and not taking advantage of the situation.

      1. MR*

        Yeah I totally agree that we’re going to start seeing things like this happening more and more. Especially given that this situation sounds like a small business without a formal HR department to answer to. I agree that the situation absolutely can lead to problems, but I’ll take the *potential* for issues later on over having a coworker wind up homeless. To me, that’s a no-brainer. Sometimes I worry that the demands of professionalism/capitalism has completely destroyed our sense of humanity and care for others. You can’t be a good employee if you are experiencing a crisis with your basic needs.

    2. Gerry Keay*

      Yup. Housing is a nightmare and only getting worse in this country. I’d rather a coworker live with our boss that be without housing. It’s not great but it’s not exactly like there are a plethora of affordable housing options out there.

      1. Ted*

        How does including his sexuality rule out an affair? If he straight then he could be having an affair with the wife. If he is gay then he could be having an affair with the husband. Am I missing something here?

        I feel like we should be responding with the assumption that there is nothing like that going on here because that’s what the OP said.

        1. Raboot*

          You feel like we are taking OP at their word? Good, that is what the site rules require of the comment section.

          1. Raboot*

            Oops I misread “we should be” as “we are”. In which case I don’t actually understand what we’re objecting to. People coming to the “right” conclusion for the “wrong” reason?

    1. Lab Boss*

      This is just shock-value speculation. OP goes out of her way to explain why it’s not likely, and even if it were true it wouldn’t really change the advice- that the boss has created a too-personal relationship with one employee that blurs boundaries and makes it hard for all the others to function properly.

    2. Nanani*

      1) Grow up

      2) Please do some serious self-reflection about why you think the only reason a woman boss could do anything is sex. This is an aspect of a deeply ingrained streak of cultural misogyny that you need to work on uprooting.

  18. CAinUK*

    OP, I appreciate your earlier comment about being concerned for another human in a tough situation. I agree with Alison’s input 100%–but for whatever reason, this letter strikes me differently than other “this business is full of bees, get out!” situations. You identified Fergus might have been unhoused, he is obviously financially struggling and working multiple jobs, and a lot of those stressors could also be impacting his work productivity/attention. None of that means your concerns and Alison’s advice are not valid–but this could be a situation where offering some grace for a month makes a lot of sense. Times are REALLY tough for people right now. If it seems to be dragging on, of course Alison’s advice holds.

    1. Zan+Shin*

      I agree. If you wouldn’t have discussed his poor work affecting you prior to this discovery just leave it alone. If you are thst uncomfortable start seeking another job, because in any tiny biz like this there WILL be high potential for friendship/favoritism – real or perceived – on the part of the owner.

      1. Dr. KMnO4*

        The LW says, though, that they were planning on bringing up Fergus’s work performance before finding out that he had moved in: “I had been planning to say something at our next check in about Fergus’s work performance and how THAT affects my ability to do my job effectively, but now he’s living with her, so I don’t know if or how to approach that issue, either.

        While it’s true that the stressors you mentioned could have an impact on Fergus’s work productivity/attention, that doesn’t mean that OP shouldn’t still bring the performance issues up with their boss. It’s not as though OP wants Fergus to be fired, they want their boss to be aware of how their work is being impacted. What Jane chooses to do with the information is up to her, but she can’t do anything to help the OP if she doesn’t know about the work issues.

        It’s also important to think about this: if OP can’t do their work effectively, will that affect their performance reviews (if they occur)? If Jane doesn’t know that part (or all) of the reason that OP’s work is suffering is because of factors outside of their control, Jane might assume that OP is the problem.

        1. MR*

          Yes, and there is nothing actually stopping OP from bringing any of these concerns to their boss.

          Also I seriously doubt this is a situation where there are formal performance reviews when they are working in their boss’s home and there are 5 employees.

    2. Very Social*

      I don’t disagree that grace should be extended, but I think that’s up to Jane. The OP should follow Alison’s script, and then I would expect Jane’s response to be something along the lines of “Fergus is going through a difficult time right now and we should all extend him some grace.” The OP can accept that, but go back to the boss if Fergus doesn’t improve.

  19. RuralGirl*

    When my current company was first founded, the boss’s EA lived in her house for two months while she looked for a job. At the time it was only the two of them working at the company, and the arrangement worked for them. Despite the fact that this is no longer the living situation, and it never affected me, the fact that I know this story still weirds me out. I would never be comfortable with this kind of an arrangement. If I had to arrive at that same house and see one of my colleagues saunter downstairs, I would be beyond uncomfortable. This decision doesn’t just affect Jane and Fergus, it affects every employee of this organization. At minimum, Jane needs to be transparent about what to expect. However if I were another employee and saw this kind of boundary crossing, I would not be comfortable working there long term.

    1. TechWorker*

      Tbh I suspect this is very very common in small companies and startups… perhaps it doesn’t weird me out because I know a whole bunch of my colleagues used to live together; because when they started at the company they were in their 20s and didn’t know anyone else in the area. It’s certainly no weirder than working for a family owned business and there’s a whole tonne of those around.

  20. RC+Rascal*

    The only place I’ve ever seen this kind of thing be at all normal is in the horse industry among trainers and aspiring trainers and pro riders. It’s a pretty itinerant lifestyle; and some of those folks also live in trucks and barns.

    I’ve never seen this in an office environment.

  21. RagingADHD*

    Here’s what I’m curious about: how long was LW having issues with Fergus’ work, and why didn’t they address it before? Why *this* check-in meeting, immediately after discovering the living arrangement?

    I am very familiar (both as an observer and a participant) with the pattern of procrastination where someone was “just about to…” do something that they could have / should have done long before. Conveniently, they / we were always, always, “just about to do” the thing at the exact moment we discover an excellent reason not to do it at all.

    I suspect LW was already uncomfortable addressing work issues with Fergus just because it’s an awkward conversation that nobody likes to have. So they put it off and put up with problems because they could make excuses that it wasn’t a big deal.

    And now, lo and behold, it’s somebody else’s fault that the situation is uncomfortable.

    If Fergus’ issues are enough of a problem that you need to address them, go ahead and do it. The living situation is irrelevant.

    And if they weren’t worth addressing before, the living situation isn’t changing Fergus’ work. Leave it alone and MYOB.

    1. Moira Rose's Closet*

      I agree with your conclusion, RagingADHD. I think a bit more empathy is in order here. And I think OP should just bring up the work issues if they want to do that, regardless of whether Fergus is living there temporarily or not.

    2. Esmeralda*

      Maybe the check in meetings are scheduled biweekly or whatever. It’s a problem for the OP, but they didn’t feel it needed to be addressed immediately. Important, not urgent. So it could wait for the formal checkin, where OP updates boss on progress with OP’s work, discusses obstacles/problems, etc. My boss is a busy person — for important but not urgent, I will wait for our scheduled check in. Because sometimes it’s very urgent or extremely important — I’ll interrupt him for those and not wait for our check in.

      Here’s the thing. People f up at work for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes we need to have compassion for those reasons. I have been the person f’ing up and making my colleagues’ work life difficult, for personal reasons they all knew and, most of them being kind and compassionate people, they were in real anguish about talking to the boss about it. But it was affecting their ability to get things done, so they had to. Boss talked to me about it. I was given a lot of grace, but I was also expected to step it up in certain ways.

      That was over a decade ago, and I’m still deeply grateful that I wasn’t fired. Because that would have been a reasonable business decision.

      Fergus may have good reasons and Jane may offer him grace, but it’s still affecting OP’s work and OP does need to get it on Jane’s radar. Jane may have solutions OP isn’t thinking of (because OP is not the owner/manager). I don’t think we need to get testy with the OP and insinuate that they’re being a busybody or mean and heartless. Offer the OP some grace and kindness too. (that’s the rule here on this site)

      1. RagingADHD*

        Well, here’s the thing – we have no idea how long Fergus has been there. He’s the “newest” employee, and the LW says:

        “he regularly forgets things he’s been trained on, is not efficient, requires extra attention and follow-up from the rest of us to make sure he stays on task and is doing things correctly…”

        If, by your suggested timeline, he’s been there less than 2 weeks (since the last check in) this is just normal onboarding, especially for a part-timer. So again, how long has Fergus been there, and how long have these problems been going on?

        This really doesn’t sound like an urgent issue that is causing major interference, since LW also said earlier in the letter that Fergus’ issues *didn’t* affect their work. The “shocking” discovery that the boss has a lodger and it’s Fergus hasn’t really changed anything.

        1. LW*

          LW here: Fergus has been here for about 2 months, and our check ins are monthly. As commenters have said, a lot of the issues I mentioned are normal onboarding and training things; that’s why I’ve held off on mentioning anything until our next check in, which will be in a couple weeks.

  22. Fluffy Fish*

    OP – living arrangements aside – a little note on your frustrations with Fergus.

    Major stressors of all kinds tend to really affect how well our brains work. So for Fergus, things like being unhoused or being unable to make ends meet fall in that category.

    That doesn’t make your frustrations invalid. But it might help you reframe them where they make you less want to scream and more just shake your head.

    That also doesn’t mean if it’s things seriously affecting your or anyone else’s ability to get work done, or negatively affects clients, that you shouldn’t bring them up with your boss. But go into it knowing your boss seems pretty willing to give him a lot of leeway and you may not get the response/result you’d hope for.

  23. Darkwing Duck*

    This is weird and reminds me of a podcast episode I listened to a few weeks ago with a similar situation. Podcast: Normal Gossip, Episode: Season 2, Episode 2, the not-quite-magicians.

  24. Programming glitch*

    I am trying to respond to EPlawyer and a few other people but the reply button seems to have gone missing.
    I’ve tried refreshing but it’s still not visible. I’m using Crome if that helps as far as troubleshooting.

    1. Ray Gillette*

      Alison has disabled replies in a couple of threads that include unhelpful speculation – if the comment you’re trying to respond to is in one of those threads, that would be why.

      1. Important Moi*

        I was today years old when I learned you could disable replies. This explains so much.

        1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          If you read previous columns, you’ll see that all replies are disabled after, hmm, a couple of weeks maybe? (Being able to disable just one thread is magnificent.)

    2. Antilles*

      Is it just those specific posts/threads? Or is it literally everything?
      If it’s just specific threads/posts, then that’s probably just that those particular comment discussions have been locked. Sometimes Alison will lock specific comment threads if those appear to be veering off-topic or derailing – e.g., a couple threads discussing OP’s mention of sexuality appear to have gotten closed off, presumably because OP very clearly stated that there’s no reason to think it’s romantic.

  25. Boom! Tetris for Jeff!*

    Work issues with Fergus aside, living in the same house as your boss is a bit weird. However, several years ago I moved from a BigCity to SmallTown. I learned quickly that there are very different boundaries between co-workers here. You just encounter them in so many aspects of your life outside of work, it’s impossible to have the same strict co-worker/friend/acquaintance separation that I held so dear in the BigCity. And while the potential for fraught interactions is way higher, so far, my experience has been enriching. So depending on where OP lives, Boss offering Fergus a room for rent may be less weird than it seems on the surface.

  26. Retired (but not really)*

    As someone who often encounters folks couch surfing while looking for a new place to live, I don’t find the situation nearly as odd as many of you seem to.
    Granted the fact that Fergus seems to also be having difficulty concentrating at work muddies the waters, but as others have mentioned, that very well may be tied in with the whole situation causing him needing a place to stay.
    We could come up with all kinds of scenarios to guess why the whole thing is happening the way it is, but really none of it is any of our business unless we are actively seeking to help Fergus. The boss is actively trying to help him. If it were me I would ask the boss how I could help Fergus improve his work issues and probably also ask if there’s anything else I could do to help him get back on his feet – offer to keep an ear out for inexpensive housing nearby for instance. I find it a bit disappointing that there seems to be an adversarial attitude in many of the comments.

  27. fine tipped pen afficionado*

    Living with your boss seems very weird to me but I have discovered it’s fairly common in small general contracting businesses and the like. I’m sure it’s not that unusual for small businesses in many other fields. Personally there is no amount of money I could be offered to live with a supervisor or office out of their home, but I agree with most other commenters that this is not really your issue LW.

    Build up your bravery and address what’s truly bothering you; that will be a lot more effective than using this as cover.

  28. Southern Gentleman*

    I’ve been reading through the comments and I like the bit about OP “borrowing trouble.” I suppose I’m in the minority, but it’s the boss’ house and the boss’ business and this isn’t something other people should be prying about.
    I understand the curiosity, but (and I’m struggling to find a more effective way to say this) it doesn’t have anything to do with anybody else.
    The company owners sound like fine people who are doing something kind for an employee. That’s it.

  29. CleverUsernameGoesHere*

    I have a meta question about this site.

    What’s the age threshold for commenting on a thread? If commenting on a post that’s more than X days old, or hasn’t had comment activity in Y days, is against the accepted norms, what are the approximate values of X & Y?

    I realize this might be weird to ask, but I’ve not been around here much and I’d rather look silly for asking than get hit with the ban hammer for commenting on a post that’s a little too old.

    Thanks!

    1. TechWorker*

      I don’t think you would get banned, just no-one is likely to reply or read it after a couple of days. I’m sure there is some time at which the ‘reply’ button no longer becomes available, but up until that point, knock yourself out – just don’t expect engagement :p

      I think because there is a decent volume of new posts, comments tend to be concentrated there rather than on old ones.

    2. Bee*

      I don’t know what the threshold is exactly, but posts old enough that you shouldn’t comment on them have comments turned off!

      1. pancakes*

        Right, if the comments are turned off you’re not going to be able to leave one, let alone be banned for it.

        That would be a rather extreme reaction to someone leaving a comment on a older post still open for commenting, and I don’t see any particular reason to expect it.

    3. RagingADHD*

      The weekend thread is still open but the Friday threads are closed. I’m not sure if everything closes / resets on Fridays, or if everything stays live for 4 days.

      Regardless, comments on threads more than 1 day old are unlikely to be seen except by the occasional future binge reader.

      There is no rule against “zombie” comments as on forum posts. It doesn’t bump the reading order so it doesn’t matter.

    4. Arthenonyma*

      If the post is too old to comment on, the comments will be turned off (this usually happens after a week or so I think). If you can still comment on something it’s fine.

    5. EvilQueenRegina*

      It did change – it used to be possible to comment on posts for months afterwards, but now seems to be about a week. I don’t think people ever got in trouble over commenting on old posts, but they were unlikely to be read.

  30. 4himarks*

    When I was in college, I had a work-study type job in the college print shop. One summer, I worked there full-time and rented my boss’s basement as I couldn’t live in the dorms when class wasn’t in session. No one found it weird at all.

  31. I Faught the Law*

    You already noticed that Fergus was having financial difficulties and speculated that he might be experiencing housing instability. For Jane to open her home to an employee is incredibly kind, and she sounds like a wonderful person. You need to leave this alone.

    Especially in the current economic climate. I mean, seriously. Read the room.

  32. Alexis Rosay*

    It sounds like Jane is just trying to help Fergus out, and is generally trying to be a good person. That’s great! It may help OP to reflect on what this says about a kind and empathetic boss.

    However, this sentence rings very true as well:

    “Having people speculate and piecing it together on their own makes it significantly weirder and more disruptive.”

    I’ve encountered many things in my working life that could have been No Big Deal if addressed openly and matter of factly, but end up festering and seeming semi-scandalous when hidden. This sounds like one of them.

  33. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

    Honestly this seems like none of the OP’s business. Fergus might be frustrating but those seem like pretty vague complaints and I get the feeling the OP was trying to think of reasons to justify bringing this up with the boss. It’s a little bit weird, sure, but as stated it doesn’t seem like there is any reason to bring it up.

  34. Bridie*

    I had a job once as a student where the other student employee was living in our supervisor’s house (we all had two more bosses above him). In fact, when this coworker moved to a new job, her replacement (the supervisor’s fiancee’s sister) also took over her space in the house! As I pieced this together, it definitely made me a little worried, but it never turned out to affect me or my job. Maybe because the other student and I covered the same role, so we were never there at the same time. But that office was lovely all around. Everyone was so kind and friendly, and respectful of people’s need for time off or illness. One of my all-time favorite jobs, despite the potential for weirdness!

    On the other hand, my partner once also had a job where a coworker was living in a rental property owned by the manager. The other coworker was an obnoxious person with poor judgement (offered to sell my partner adderall on the job), was way too close with the 19 year old female workers (he was in his 30s), and bad at the job. Yet he got sort of promoted to assistant manager and when my partner raised concerns about this and other issues, he (my partner) got fired. So you never know how it’s going to go.

  35. Just Me*

    I was an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer right out of college, and I had a great rapport with my supervisor because she had also been an AmeriCorps a few years before, working with our then-CEO at a different organization. She was miraculously intelligent and when I became CEO of our current org, he brought her along. I noticed that the two of them had a remarkably close relationship, and it sometimes seemed a little odd given that she was a woman in her late 20s and he was a married man in his mid-forties, but I always brushed it off. Then I found out that when she was an AmeriCorps, she lived with him and his family for her two year contract. Someone else explained that it “wasn’t weird” because he and his wife had four daughters and were foster parents so they had tons of space/accommodations, it was a rural area so there wasn’t much housing, etc. but it was still VERY weird for me. They were always professional, but there was once an investigation into potential malfeasance and the potential for a conflict of interest between them was officially brought up, and I had to tell the board-appointed investigator everything I “knew” about their relationship. Ugh.

  36. yeah, I did this once*

    I hired someone once for a PT position, 20 hrs/week. They lived close to 4 hours away, but were committed to moving to my area of the state. So I let them stay in my spare room as needed between work shifts until they were able to find a place. It didn’t last long, my upchain bosses knew, we didn’t hide, but didn’t announce, it.
    And they turned out to be one of the best hires I’ve EVER made and have gone on to do good things in the industry. Which probably would have taken longer if I hadn’t been able to do that.
    However, had there been issues with performance or lasted longer than several weeks (maybe a month?), I would have stopped it ASAP.
    I also would have been able to separate the supervisor from the crashpad owner.

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