my employee’s controlling spouse won’t let her travel for work

A reader writes:

I work for a company with multiple offices nationwide. Our team is based in City A, but we have one employee (Sally) who works remotely at our offices in City B. For the past 12 months, we have required Sally to travel to our city every other week for an overnight stay. The reason we do this is so she can meet clients, attend meetings, and generally build interpersonal relationships with the team (we work in the sort of industry where relationships are really important). We pay all her travel and expenses, and when we first suggested it last year she said it would be completely fine. We don’t live in a very big country, so logistically it isn’t that big of an undertaking (although she does still need to stay overnight because the two cities are just far enough that she can’t comfortably commute back and forth in one day).

However, since the very beginning it has been … difficult to get her to stick to the trips. There has been sickness, unforeseen circumstances, and a series of increasingly weird-sounding family emergencies. I’ve tried to be flexible, but it’s getting to the point where we’re losing money on the hotel rooms (because she’s cancelling last-minute), and we can’t make plans for certain things because we can’t rely on her actually being there.

But here’s the thing. I scheduled a 1-to-1 with her to try and understand what was going on. The excuses had gotten so outlandish that I suspected there was more to it, and I wanted to open a conversation about it. She ended up confiding in me that her spouse isn’t “comfortable” with her spending one night away, because he “gets anxious that she’s not actually working.” I’m not entirely sure what he thinks she is doing, but I suspect there’s a sizable trust issue there.

She didn’t outright say he was abusive/controlling, but she said enough that I have serious alarm bells going in my mind. I have experience of friends being in abusive relationships, and a lot of what she said by way of justifying his behavior was familiar to me. As a side note, I have noticed he calls A LOT when we’re in the office working or at client dinners. She gets very anxious if she misses the call or is unable to answer.

All that said, I don’t really know what to do about it. I don’t really want to say she doesn’t have to do the trips just because her spouse says so; I feel like it’s leaning into (and justifying) some seriously worrying behavior. But the last-minute cancellations are starting to become very difficult to manage within the team, and I don’t know how to balance explaining that to her without looking unsympathetic to her situation. I also don’t know if it would be appropriate for me to point out that this is some seriously controlling and worrying behavior, and to offer help if she needs it. I feel like it would be overstepping the mark, but I can’t quite bring myself to ignore it altogether.

First things first, please read this advice to a manager whose employee was being abused by a partner. Follow all of it, especially about the policies you should have for your workplace (not just for Sally, but for others who may be in unsafe situations at home too) and the resources you can offer.

You could also say to Sally, “I’m really concerned by what you told me. That doesn’t sound like a safe situation for you, and I want you to know that we have resources to support you if you need them.” Depending on her response, you might offer referrals to organizations that can help (including an EAP if you have one and local crisis center info), protected leave if your organization offers it for people in crisis situations, a phone or other technology that her husband can’t track, and security measures if she does visit your office. As that previous post talked about, you do need to be sensitive to coming on too strong here — take your cues from Sally, but at a minimum name that what she described doesn’t sound normal or safe and try to connect her with resources if she lets you.

From there, you’ve got to deal with the practicalities around her job. What would you do if Sally were unable to travel for a different reason — if she were a single parent with little kids, or had a health issue that made travel difficult, or otherwise just couldn’t do it logistically? How much of an obstacle would it be for her success in the job? If the answer is that it’s not ideal but you’d make it work … does it make sense to mentally move Sally into that category now? (It’s possible that it would get more workable once you’re not losing money on last-minute cancellations and being unable to plan around whether she’ll be there or not.)

But if not traveling would truly prevent her from doing the job at the level you need it done at, then you’ve got to have an honest conversation with Sally and lay that out. You could say, “I hear you about travel being difficult. I want to be up-front with you that it’s really crucial to being able to do this job well. We do need you to travel because of XYZ, and the last-minute cancellations are wreaking havoc on our budget and ability to plan. Knowing that, what makes sense from here?” Be honest, too, about what it means if her answer is no.

Alternately, is there a middle-ground option, like doing fewer trips as long as she commits to the ones that she does schedule? Is it the kind of situation where she could stay in the job without traveling but it would hold her back in regard to promotions/raises/other things people care about? She might be willing to make that trade-off, so be honest about that if it’s an option too.

Ultimately, be honest and open about what you need, creative about how you both might be able to make it work, and clear you’re not judging her — because the less you judge her, the more likely she is to seek help if she needs it. (For more on that, read this.)

You might call your local equivalent of the National Domestic Violence Hotline to get their advice too (in the U.S., that number is 800-799-7233).

{ 220 comments… read them below }

  1. Connor*

    Not solving the bigger issue, but you could start paying extra for the refundable hotel option

    1. Hazelthyme*

      This. My job involves a lot of travel (though much less than pre-COVID) and we always book the changeable/refundable option. Yes, it costs a little more, but it only takes a few last minute cancellations (because someone got sick or had a family emergency or the client’s needs changed) for it to be worth it.

  2. Love to WFH*

    Ugh. I love working remotely, but this letter makes it clear how supporting a employee who is being abused is harder at a distance.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      This was a huge topic of conversation with at home schooling – social safety net and whatnot. It’s definitely not one we have enough about adults and the ongoing virtual/hybrid challenges.

      Which isn’t to say WFH is bad or dangerous. But it has drawbacks we should think about how we want to address as a society. This being a big one.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Sadly, my friends in education saw this during remote schooling, also. Kids that used to be able to escape during the day and have a separate safe place with food and caring adults were now trapped at home with potentially abusive parents or guardians, which would not have been so evident to the teachers involved before at-home schooling.

      2. Ho hum drum*

        I mean there are absolutely a contingent of parents who homeschool specifically to avoid CPS being called on them for negligent and/or abusive parenting. Some of them brag about it, usually wrapped up in religious dogma.

        (obviously not everyone, I know a few wonderful homeschool families as well, no need to defend homeschooling to me)

        But a key difference there is that we as a society have made rules about protecting kids- teachers and others who work with children are mandated reporters. It’s irrelevant what the kids in that scenario want, if you suspect a child under your care is being abused you are required to do something about it. Hence why certain parents hate schooling and want to keep kids at home.

        But adults don’t have that, whatever we might think about it. I’m a hater of wfh (for myself personally, not for others) but I don’t think you can connect it to homeschooling in that way. If an adult wants to live more isolated they get to decide that, and we assume they understand the risks involved. And honestly an abuser can control you even if you’re at work every day, I think the WFH aspect is not particularly key here. If she worked in person it sounds like her partner would still forbid work trips.

        1. Cat's Paw for Cats*

          “If an adult wants to live more isolated they get to decide that, and we assume they understand the risks involved.”

          And I have to disagree with that. I don’t think this is as volitional as you suggest. Isolating an abuse victim is a powerful tool in the abuser’s box. Spending time away from the abuser in the workplace increases the victim’s exposure to healthy people and relationships and can even provide relationships that allow the victim to seek help at some point. WFH is absolutely a high-risk situation for abuse victims.

          1. Ho hum drum*

            Right, I am not denying that isolation is the first tool in an abuser’s toolkit, I am saying that society/other adults can’t decide for an adult what would be best for them and revoke wfh to protect them without the victim’s consent the way you might do with a child victim. I think comparing IPV and child abuse is not a great comparison for that reason, though I do believe all abusers use the same playbook.

            If I suspect a child in my class is being abused I report it, regardless of whether that child wants that or even if I personally think it’s a good idea to involve the state- it’s mandated reporting. If I think my colleague is being abused it’s just a lot more complicated. I do not think employers should use potential for abuse as a way to assess wfh policies, that’s outside their purview and an overstep. But schools are a different story, and refusing to recognize an adult victim’s autonomy is…not helpful. That’s what I’m saying.

            1. Distracted Librarian*

              “Society/other adults can’t decide for an adult what would be best for them” – this. We need to take DV more seriously (for example, I’m amazed at the contortions people go through to NOT address a history of DV and misogyny in mass shooters), but taking away an adult’s autonomy “for their own good” is not the answer.

          2. ferrina*

            No one goes into an isolating/abusive relationship saying “yep, that looks like a good choice!” If the abuser acted that way on the first date, we’d dump them.
            Often the abuse creeps in over time. It starts with one boundary being crossed, then that violation is downplayed. They find ways to punish you for having boundaries- making you feel guilty, telling you that it’s cruel, they just love you and want what’s best and clearly what they want is best. It starts with something small so you feel silly for complaining, and they treat you like you are dramatic for your complaint. Then you accept that one thing. Then they do the next thing. Cycle repeats.

            My ex liked to isolate me through a combination of guilt and social narcissism. He would claim that he missed me any time I left. At first it was cute. I assumed it would taper off with time. But it got worse every time. Before I went on a trip, I would spend the week prior consoling him about how much he would miss me. I’d have to call him regularly while traveling. While I got back, it was another week of hearing about how hard it was for him when I was gone. It became when I did a thing on my own for a few hours- if I didn’t let him join, that would be so rude of me and he’d guilt me. If I did let him join, he’d make it about him. He’d argue it wasn’t controlling, it was just that he loved me and missed me. Though he didn’t miss me when he was hanging out with his friends, just when I was hanging out with my friends.

            Over time he made sure I didn’t have my own friends. When we blended friends groups, he immediately claimed all the friends that were his first because they had longer ties. If I started to make a new friend, he would want to join me on our hangouts (his excuse was that he has social anxiety, so if I make a friend it would be so mean of me to exclude him). He was extra nice to new people so they’d like him more than me. He’d literally talk over me so I wouldn’t get to meet new people (it got to the point where it happened ever time- someone would ask me and he would literally move in front of me to answer). All small things on their own, but over time it really adds up.

            It happens slowly so you don’t see it happening. He puts on a good face so to the outside he looks wonderful and everyone tells you how great he is. It’s awful.

            1. Belle of the Midwest*

              Ferrina, I hope you are safe and have all the friends and love you want/need. I’m sorry you had to live through that garbage.

              1. ferrina*

                Thank you! I’m safe and doing well. I’m still rebuilding my friends network- he got the friends when we split (though I don’t know how many of them still talk to him), so I started over from scratch. It’s been interesting to learn that I actually am likeable and good company on my own! (and sad to learn that I subconsciously thought I wasn’t)

                1. Carol the happy elf*

                  Looking back, can you see any red flags in the rearview that you missed right up front?
                  I’ve seen several abusive relationships in my long years, and from the outside they often start by looking just like a fairy tale, but with an “off” feeling. To me, it’s just a hint of surreal, or a single bad note that keeps being played in a concert.

            2. Daisy*

              Yes, this. It took me over 30 years to get out. I didn’t have close friends or extended family left, for a very long time during the relationship I didn’t have a job. I couldn’t even buy a paperback book while he had a country club membership (that the kids and I weren’t allowed to utilize unless he gave permission beforehand even tho it was a family membership).
              It took me about 10 years to get to a place where I could even afford to live on my own. Abuse isn’t only physical, and the mental/emotional is a lot easier to hide.

              1. Carol the happy elf*

                It’s also a lot easier for the abuser to deny. “I never laid a hand on her, she’s just sometimes a bit crazy!”

          3. bamcheeks*

            I think the thing with all of this kind of stuff is that there’s a limit to the amount of forced stuff the state or an employer can do to avoid abuse. Some people can work, keep their skills up and earn their own money BECAUSE working from home is an option: that gives them more options than someone who is forced out of the workplace because they’re not allowed to leave the house. It’s the same conversation that goes around and around when a state or an employer bans niqab or hijab: for some people it’s having multiple options that enables social participation and a level of independence. All abusers and controlling spouses are after all working in the same system and they’ll work out how to isolate their victim within the context of whatever system they are in.

            The thing that works consistently, of course, is solid financial, housing and social care systems which enable people to leave abusers without becoming destitute or homeless.

      3. Nightbringer*

        I just had my mandated reporter training (I work with kids) and they actually added a whole section on only seeing a child virtually. It was very comprehensive. It went over step by step how to look for signs of abuse and maltreatment and what to do if you suspect. I was very happy that they added that section. It was new this year.

    2. Not Working*

      I don’t think Sally works from home though. She doesn’t work in the same office as the rest of her team, just one of the company’s other offices. Which can still make it more difficult for her manager to get involved, but doesn’t carry all the same risks as WFH would in her situation.

  3. Rowan*

    I’m torn about this option, because it’s giving into the controlling spouse in a way, but would it be okay for him to stay in the hotel room with her? (Not come along to the business stuff, but spend the night with her.) It doesn’t usually cost extra to have one person along.

    It might offer a middle path where she gets to keep her job while placating her spouse somewhat. Not awesome, but better than losing her job altogether?

    1. The Person from the Resume*

      I feel like this does not require the company agreement, but I do think it is an option that may allow the employee to travel for work.

      Perhaps not if there are kids or pets and someone needs to stay with them.

      And I don’t love giving in to terrorizer’s wishes, but if it’s the only way for the employee to keep her job…

      1. I'm fabulous!*

        It’s definitely an idea to consider. I think it’s also making sure that she is able to do her job while he’s traveling with her, without him causing any problems.

        1. Carl*

          Yes, but it’s not about what it’s about. This in all likelihood will not placate controlling partner. Abuser will just complain about being unconvinced by long car ride, being alone in hotel all day, not having lunch together, missing his/her other “obligations”(that are in abuser’s mind more important of course, even if it’s it a job and is just SVU reruns, etc.), what partner wears out of hotel in the morning, why didn’t partner answer call at 10:55 am MUST HAVE BEEN UP TO SOMETHING and also should partner should know abuser is alone in hotel waiting and maybe the tv wouldn’t work and how could partner be so inconsiderate and do that to abuser?!
          There is no winning with these people. (Sadly, I speak from experience.)

      2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        That’s the tough part. Abusers want to isolate their victims. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was doing this so she would lose the job and be more dependent on him / have a harder time leaving if that’s what she wants to do. Can we reframe this as giving options that Sally can choose (or not choose)? In a way, being reasonably flexible and supportive (however that manifests in the OP’s organization) is thwarting any plans he might have to isolate her.

      3. goddessoftransitory*

        On one hand this may be a realpolitik type of solution in the short term, but frankly I would be wary, even scared, of having this kind of controlling spouse in my workplace (and a work trip is just that.)

        What if he insisted on coming to all colleague dinners? Or accompanying Sally to all her meetings? Or decided Bob is “paying too much attention to her” and becomes threatening towards Bob or the team in general?

        He probably wouldn’t start out at that level, but coming along with Sally might signal to him that escalation is just “normal” and what he has a right to expect from her and her workmates in order to feel “secure.”

        1. CommanderBanana*

          ^^ This. Having colleagues in abusive relationships is a huge risk factor for workplace violence. You also have an obligation to your other employees, not just Sally.

      4. Mark the Herald*

        I guess I would worry about normalizing this kind of behavior or, worse, rewarding it. It feels important to me that Sally’s coworkers are not judgmental but are also clear that the controlling and abusive behavior is not normal or okay. You don’t want the normal parts of her life pulled into the abuser gaslighting/normalizing whirlpool too.

    2. Sloanicota*

      Oh I feel like this is the worst scenario, personally. Selfishly I wouldn’t want the abusive spouse to be more connected to my workplace and more likely to show up there, but I don’t want him to feel more entitled to encroach on her work.

      1. Sloanicota*

        In retrospect this is obviously not the *worst* scenario, that was a poor choice of words. I do agree that it’s good to offer Sally options and let her decide what will work best for her.

      2. Wintermute*

        Absolutely 100%. This is terrible for a host of reasons–

        First it’s opening the door for him to become more involved in the workplace by “legitimizing” his interference.

        Second, there’s a risk here, abusive people are a high violence risk. Depending on the nature of her travel and the places he stays, plus local laws, it could even be a liability risk if he acts violently because a reasonable person should have known he was a danger. It’s essentially negligent hiring, of a sort.

        Third, him being there might lead him to interfere further in the moment, prevent her meeting clients or partners as scheduled because he objects to her being with a man, at a dinner, in that part of town, out after a certain hour or however else his control desire manifests.

        Fourth, it’s inviting him into the workplace, if he hurts someone there (again, high violence risk) you have both total moral/ethical responsibility for that but may have legal liability.

        Fifth, it risks his abuse becoming a “missing stair” situation where everyone learns to dance around it and that dancing and learning to see and forget what you’ve seen makes the entire environment dysfunctional.

        Sixth, it’s a LOT to ask of coworkers to see abuse and ignore it, let alone shove it in their face and force them to interact with it more than is absolutely necessary. It’s not only a lot to ask but it could be very traumatizing.

        And last of all, it probably doesn’t do anything to make her any safer and might put her in greater danger by supercharging his control escalation. If he’s allowed to trample over workplace boundaries he is likely to escalate. If his desire is to drive her out of the job not holding a basic boundary means that he will have to resort to more drastic measures.

    3. Siege*

      And the other side of it is if Sally does decide to leave him, this is a prime opportunity to make arrangements (which is undoubtedly something he’s aware of). Giving a suspected abuser more time to control his victim isn’t great, and if she feels she needs to accept to keep her job it makes the situation worse, plus opens up the topic to others who are aware of the irregularity, assuming other spouses aren’t traveling on the company’s money. It could create the perception of the precedent that the company will foot the bill for family travel, or the perception that the company will support the abuse of its employees as long as the job is getting done. I wouldn’t put it on the table, frankly.

    4. NotBatman*

      I had a colleague in a similar situation a few years ago, and that was the compromise he reached. He had to travel for his job, and reacted to the idea of traveling with female colleagues with “I have a wife!” which on further pushback became “My wife isn’t okay with me being away.” So our manager helped to arrange for him to bring his wife on work trips. Not a perfect solution (the wife had 0ther controlling behaviors from what I saw) but one that allowed him to keep his job.

      1. Nina*

        I have (obviously) never been in that kind of situation and just wanted to offer my 2c – where I come from, a ‘normal’ level of partner interest in work trips is that it was perfectly fine for me, a youngish woman, to go with a group of male colleagues (who I knew well and trusted, and who my partner had never met, and about half of whom were married or otherwise in a long-term relationship) to a job site where the accommodation was a large shared house in a very remote area with patchy phone signal, with no firm return date set when we left. My partner texted me good night and good morning every day and I called to say hi every couple days (usually at strange hours because of the nature of the work). And that was it.

    5. WellRed*

      He’s already encroaching on her work with his incessant phone calls. And if he’s weird and controlling it’s bound to creep in further.

      1. Petty Betty*

        Yeah. Just based on my own abusive ex, I can 100% see him going from “staying in hotel” with her to “accompanying on client dinners” because he doesn’t trust how male clients may behave with a single-seeming woman at an after-hours dinner. Then he’ll start interjecting and adding his own opinions, then taking over…

        Don’t let him go to on the trips.

    6. Observer*

      but would it be okay for him to stay in the hotel room with her?

      I’m with the others that it’s probably a bad idea. What is *definitely* a bad idea is offering or suggesting it. Because no matter what words you use when you bring it up, it is definitely going to be heard as somewhat justifying or normalizing his “oversight” of his wife. Not good.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Yeah, I feel like there’s the possibility that, if work is ‘the bad guy’ who says she has to travel and he can’t come, there may be a crack there she can use – and it’s not her fault. If work says maybe he could come, she’s lost the ability to gain that crack. Yes, many abusers want to get their victims fired, but others may value the paycheck more.

    7. Momma Bear*

      I suspect the spouse would meddle and interfere and not allow her to do the face time she needed with customers. I would not encourage it.

      I’d actually look for a role within the company where travel was not required. If she can’t travel for whatever reason, this isn’t a good role for her, whatever her husband is doing aside.

  4. Margaret Cavendish*

    Please make every effort to keep her employed – if she genuinely can’t do this job without the travel, is there anything else she could do for your company? Abusers go to great lengths to isolate their victims, which often includes making it impossible for them to work. If Sally loses her job with you, I’d be very worried that she wouldn’t get another one. As much as she needs your emotional and logistical support, she also needs the income if she’s ever going to get away from her husband.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Totally agree. If this role doesn’t work with someone who can’t travel a lot / reliably, is there another role that Sally could do in the company?

    2. Erin*

      Omg yes to this! I was Sally many years ago, and my very kind manager made me feel very comfortable approaching him with my situation at home. We had a few conversations, and he let me know that he was committed to my safety and to finding a solution. What a relief.

      My role ended up changing in that company, and it didn’t limit my career progress. That manager was such a blessing to me when I needed it. Please try to keep Sally employed, even if she needs to change roles, limit travel, etc. My job, and a few lies about my salary (I needed to divert some to a savings account to get out and not be broke) were the only things that enabled me to leave.

      1. Bruce*

        Wow, glad you escaped. I’ve not knowingly had an employee in that situation, but a friend had to help someone get away…

    3. Kella*

      Agreed. One of the things that I find concerning about this story is that all the cancellations are happening at the last minute. It could just be that it’s easier to come up with emergency excuses that are inflexible if it’s last minute. But it could also be that Sally is genuinely planning on going on the trips, each time, but then her husband bullies her into canceling at the last second.

      This is something that my abuser did to get me to cancel all kinds of commitments. It tanks your relationships with others and in this case, is likely intended to try to force Sally to quit her job or be fired from it,

      1. Momma Bear*

        Agreed. I bet she knows how important the travel is and tries to make it work until the last minute or he pretends that it’s OK until right at the end when perhaps his anxiety (abusers can still have it) ramps up or he deliberately sabotages her trip, kind of like people who pick fights before holidays. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s trying to get her fired.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          I think this is it: making her cave in with short notice to the employer increases the chances of her getting fired. Which then means no more problem trips, where she might get too independent, or relaxed, for him to worry about.

    4. Madame Arcati*

      On this note; Alison mentions framing it like you would for a person with caring responsibilities or a disability meaning they couldn’t travel (as much). I’d expand on that because if those caveats were in place to start with then they wouldn’t have agreed to the travel in the first place. I think this is more like, the circs have changed; what shall we do now? An employee has had a surprise pregnancy and the other parent is not in the picture; would childcare be realistic once a month where fortnightly would not? An employee has an injury that disabled them and leaves then unable to drive – is there a prospect that they may in time be able to obtain an adapted vehicle so the lack of travel is temporary? Am employee’s elderly parent declines suddenly – combo of both temporary measures or less often according to what help with care can be obtained and how long it takes.
      I feel like ignoring what was agreed to (assuming Sally was originally in good faith about her ability to travel when taking on the role) and working with her to find a solution that works right now, might be most helpful.
      It’s difficult though because ultimately the problem seems to be Sally’s spouse and that’s not something OP, or anyone else, can solve. All that can be done is to try to offer what tools they can to enable Sally to fix the problem herself. (That sounds like I am advocating Sally hitting her spouse with a spanner which is tempting but of course not advisable).

    5. Not giving my name this time*

      This entirely. My unsupportive workplace did the opposite – they basically wanted to wash their hands of the problem.
      As with the LW, phone calls were one of my ex’s key tools of abuse. I got the whole “talk”: your partner makes too many phone calls throughout the day, we need you focused on the needs of the business and to get this to stop, can you do that… blah, blah, blah.
      So the conversation went: Darling, the number and length of calls from you have been noted at work, and it’s not reflecting well on us and our relationship. Could you at least try to cut that back before someone starts building a paper trail?
      What he heard: Ah ha! So my phone calls are clearly interrupting *something* where someone at that place where someone wants to mess with my missus. I’d better start checking in even more proactively.
      The saddest thing of all was that in the four years I worked for that company before being “made redundant”, their initial “this is what we need to see from you” descended into bullying by a little cadre of partners and the HR manager. Bullied at work because I was being abused at home. They played right into his hands.

  5. Silver Robin*

    Goodness that is a rough situation. Poor Sally. I hope LW has a strong enough relationship with her that their attempts to help land well.

    I am not an expert, but is it useful that Sally has regular days away from home due to her job? It definitely seems like a helpful thing because it gives her space and potential time to plan an escape. But so much of these kinds of situations is unintuitive, and he seems to increase pressure around those trips.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I would guess it is and it isn’t: Yes, she’s away from him, but he’s apparently calling constantly and probably punishes her when she gets home, so . . .

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Yes, she does have regular days away from her job. But he sabotages them and she scrambles to find a plausible excuse. When she does go, she is tied to her phone, with his constant* calling/texting.

      So they are not working as a gift to her, but a burden. I wish she had space and time to plan, but it seems like she has time to work and assuage his concerns. I wonder if he calls her throughout the night making sure she’s alone in bed.

      This is just awful.

      *don’t know if constant is true. Maybe just “regularly.” She seems upset when she misses her “check in.”

      1. Anon for this*

        I was in a bad relationship with someone who was controlling in this way. Leaving the house alone was a welcome escape from their bad temper, but it often ended up causing me more stress because of how they would react when I got home. When they knew I had something big planned that I was looking forward to, they always seemed to have some sort of last minute emergency come up. To outsiders, I appeared very flaky for a while because of this. The friends who were the most supportive and helpful during this time were the ones who didn’t put pressure on me—who regularly extended invitations to me, but understood that often I’d cancel last minute, and didn’t hold that against me because they knew what I was dealing with at home. I realize that’s harder in a job environment, where you really need the employee to show up, and there’s a cost to the business when they don’t.

      2. Sad Situation*

        Sadly, I am aware of a situation where the abusive partner required the person to sleep with the phone camera on a nightly facetime call to prove that they stayed in bed, alone. These tactics are heart-breaking and terrible.

    3. Budgie Buddy*

      He may be increasing the pressure because the trips are an escape for the employee :P

      1. Silver Robin*

        that is exactly what I think his logic is, and it is frustrating that he manages to screw it up for her so easily.

      2. Sloanicota*

        Yeah, admittedly this is speculation, but how I’ve seen it play out is that consciously he says he’s concerned about infidelity (often claiming that past women have been unfaithful and this is why he’s like this now, even if this girlfriend has never been unfaithful) – whereas either consciously or unconsciously, he’s actually just trying to ensure control over the person, which he feels he is losing if she’s away from him that long. Abusers often try to restrict their victims from accessing people and situations that might help them realize this isn’t normal or give them alternatives.

        1. Random Dice*

          I sometimes wonder what made-up crimes my abusive ex is now laying at my door, to current girlfriends.

          I heard so much about his exes’ violations – that all required me to change my behavior, to reassure him I wasn’t like them. Funny that.

          I worry about those poor women.

          1. Sloanicota*

            Yeah I think it was in Gavin De Becker’s book that he talks about finally meeting the “crazy ex girlfriend” of your abusive ex, the one who hurt him so bad and messed him up bad, ready to confront her for ruining him for you, and finally realizing – she’s fine, it’s him, it was always him.

            1. Polaris*

              Oh man, I had the misfortune of not realizing she was fine (she was the opposite of fine), but yes, he was a right piece of work on his own so at least that part stayed the same I guess?

              I’d at least hoped he’d lied about her; but nope, she was definitely what he said she was. Didn’t make him any better though, and I hope he’s having the life he deserves.

    4. ferrina*

      I had an overbearing partner who liked to “check-in” on me. Not to the degree of Sally, but to the degree that I always had to factor in his anxiety into every time I left the house. The time away always came at a cost- stress and soothing leading up to the event, checking in during the event, knowing there would be a barrage of guilt about how hard it was for him to have me away (even if it was just for a few hours).

      The time away was good and essential, but it was often spent just processing the emotional damage I was going through without making headway. It didn’t create a long-term solution.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Yeah, one of my friend’s partners was like this, and it was hard to watch how he managed to add friction to her day any time she wasn’t with him. Just enough friction that she might decide it was better off to either insist he get to come out with us, or decide it wasn’t worth it to go out herself. It was sad.

      2. Silver Robin*

        yeah, I was wondering about the balance; unfortunate that it likely skews in the abuser’s favor

      3. There You Are*

        My ex was like that. If we had a departmental happy hour, that would be the night he would make my favorite dish then call 13 times in the course of 2-3 hours to ask when I’d be home, and then be very, very angry that I wasn’t able to eat the food fresh out of the oven.

        I fell for it the first few times but eventually clued into the pattern and was able to say, “I’m so sorry that you purposefully chose an evening when I’d be away to make something special for me. It would be more special if you made it when you knew I’d be home. These departmental outings / dinners with friends are planned far in advance.”

  6. Zephy*

    The thing that I keep getting hung up on is, how necessary, really, is it for Sally to travel every other week for one working day? Obviously Sally is not in a great situation and I hope she’s able to get out safely and soon. But that has almost nothing to do with this weird travel requirement. As far as her job goes…if the face-to-face aspect were SO VITALLY IMPORTANT, wouldn’t Sally need to be in the office more than 10% of the time? Which one of these is the actual problem, LW – that Sally is playing havoc with your travel budget, or that she is experiencing abuse?

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Take the LW at their word. Explaining why the trips are necessary may require more identifying details than they care to share, but there are plenty of industries where this may be true – particularly right now, in the hybrid transition.

      1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

        This. I think it’s very clear from the letter that LW’s primary concern is Sally’s safety.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Some jobs are like that, and of those jobs, somebody has to do it. If this is a job that requires it, can we just take the LW’s word that it does?

    3. HonorBox*

      We are to take letter writers at their word. So while we might think the travel requirement is weird, it is part of the agreement the LW has with Sally and part of the job requirement. Perhaps it would be better for her to be in more, but 1 day every other week is the agreement that was made so she can work remotely.

      The problem isn’t that you have a budget problem or she’s experiencing abuse. One is causing the other, but it isn’t an either / or situation. It is a both situation.

      Unfortunately, I think the best solution is to show kindness to Sally, open doors of support for her, and provide resources. I wouldn’t suggest anything drastic at the moment because you don’t want to reduce her outside contact or limit her ability to escape at whatever point she determines that she can. She’s going to need to be involved in the discussion to determine what works best for her.

      1. Lexi Vipond*

        And she’s not remote in the sense usually meant here – it’s something like a team based in a London office, with one member in a regional office in Edinburgh or Glasgow. (Although more like Edinburgh-Inverness in terms of travelling, where it’s 4 hours on the train, but not far enough to fly. Not that I’m trying to figure out where the OP is, just trying to put it in my context.)

        1. MsSolo (UK)*

          Yes, I’m assuming the travel is by public transport, just because that’s the norm in the UK and other European countries I’ve been to when it comes to travelling for work. You can work on the train in a way you can’t in a car (or most planes), but it can create issues, like I can get to London at almost any time of day, but I can’t get home from London after about 7 in the evening, which would be an issue if I had to attend client dinners.

    4. Lexi Vipond*

      She is in the office – in an office in City B. It’s quite possible that she’s the person doing for the smaller region containing City B what the rest of the team are doing for the larger region containing City A, and is regularly meeting with clients and so on from that area.

      1. Uranus Wars*

        Yes, I have a job set up similar. I live in City B, but most of our clients I work with are in City A (about 3 hours away). 1-2 times a month I go for an overnight and set up our in person meetings for that time. It was the trade off I agreed to so that I could live in a more desirable (to me) area of the state. I figured Sally was in a similar situation.

    5. Jellyfish Catcher*

      What came to my mind was, whether Sally would ever get an opportunity to transfer to the other office.
      It’s another country, I’m guessing in the EU, but just a thought.

    6. Zap R.*

      Someone in an upsetting situation has come here asking for help in good faith. Questioning their motives doesn’t help LW or Sally.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        I don’t think they were questioning motives – I was also wondering the same since this has been (I think?) going on for a year.. So if Sally hasn’t been to any of these in person visits in that long, and the clients haven’t revolted, maybe it’s worth revisiting – at least the frequency of the visits

        1. Zap R.*

          “Which one of these is the actual problem, LW – that Sally is playing havoc with your travel budget, or that she is experiencing abuse?” is a literal question about motives.

            1. Feral Humanist*

              Except that that line, in particular, is not saying that at all. They are questioning whether the LW is *actually* concerned about Sally being abused or *actually* concerned about their travel budget and they are implying that they are using the former as a smokescreen for the latter. It’s pretty rude and unkind!

              1. Hiring Mgr*

                If that was how it was meant, I agree with you! The rest of the letter doesn’t seem to track that way though. Either way, it’s a very difficult situation

    7. Not Anthony Bourdain*

      how necessary, really, is it for Sally to travel every other week for one working day

      The horror.

      Some of us picked our jobs precisely because they give us the opportunity for travel. I spent about 50% of my time on travel, mostly foreign travel, before the pandemic. It’s slowly returning to that level, for which I’m grateful.

    8. UKgreen*

      Not a weird working arrangement at all. I work remotely, but I go to the office once a fortnight for one working day because there’s something I and my team do that is better in person.

    9. Tiger Snake*

      I’ll acknowledge that until we got to the OP’s actual concern, I wondered whether this was that the actual cause was that a two-day trip every fortnight was becoming too impactful to Sally and her family, or whether she was using her husband as a scapegoat because she wasn’t comfortable confronting that on her own.

      But with the rest of the letter, what the OP is asking “how do I do my job while giving Sally the help she needs”. As you yourself acknowledge, they’re conflicting goals, but that doesn’t make the help she wants to offer any less sincere.
      Acknowledging that she cannot burn her workplace to the ground in a heroic rescue doesn’t mean her motivation is somehow in disrepute.

  7. DarthVelma*

    Could be abuse. Could also be that she doesn’t like travelling so damn much for work and is using her husband as a way out. This travel schedule is kind of ridiculous and I personally would have quit months ago if I was her.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Also I think we need to not derail on the travel aspect – this is clearly not in the US, they’re not flying thousands of miles to do this. Travel is easier in a lot of places, and the employee agreed to this when taking the job.

        Different jobs require travel for different reasons. Some people travel semi-constantly for work. OP says this is normal and required, getting off track about whether or not we would prefer this set up isn’t going to help answer the question.

        1. higheredadmin*

          Seconding this. When you live in a small country, your view of what is a long distance to travel is different than if you live in the wide expanses of the US.

        2. Sharkie*

          Yes this! I have a friend from the UK that was sad her brother moved 45 minutes away from their parents because they wouldn’t get to see him as much, only on holidays. My commute to high school was 30-45 minutes. Countries are different. Can we stop derailing about the travel? I think that it is taking away from the giant red flags

          1. GythaOgden*

            Hah yeah. I’m looking at new jobs because my commute — with waiting periods baked in for buses and trains — is two hours each way. Public transport in the UK is quite good between major cities, but between neighbouring towns like mine it can actually be rather tough. But for a long time my job was worth it — it just isn’t nowadays.

          2. londonedit*

            Yep. In London a standard commute on public transport can be 45 minutes or an hour, because you’ll probably have to walk/bus to the station, tube/train into town, then walk/bus the other end. Where I grew up, a 45-minute or 1-hour drive takes you to the nearest city, and it was a Big Deal going there because it was so far away.

        3. Antilles*

          Honestly, even in the US, there’s plenty of travel arrangements which could fall under this sort of deal. Travel from one big city to another within the same state can easily be a couple hours each way, all highways, very simple drive…but still something where you’d usually want to make it an overnight trip rather than the 14-hour single day grind of leaving at 5:30 am, driving 2.5 hours, working from 8 to 5, then driving 2.5 hours back home.

          1. Allornone*

            Exactly. I live in Miami, Florida. If you wanted me to drive to Fort Lauderdale, no problem. But a trip four/five hours away to Orlando? I’d require a hotel. It’d still be a very reasonable ask if stipulated upfront, even once every couple of weeks (my mom actually made a similar trip once a week before she retired), but even in the US, travel like this is not unnecessarily unreasonable.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            I’m in Texas. The next sizable city is not that far away and is almost contiguous due to small towns filling in in between, and I’d still consider staying over just to avoid traffic. The next closest city to that is two and a half hours away.

            1. Quill*

              Also if Main Office is in a major metropolitan area, it may just take a stupid amount of time to get there during the main working week, at normal commuting times, because of traffic.

              I used to do a trip that lasted 1.5 hours one way and 30 minutes the other to go into Chicago for supplies for a job. The traffic was literally the only difference.

        1. Random Dice*

          Exactly. The employee herself confessed that the excuses were due to her husband’s discomfort, and the manager said that her own observations rang the abuse alarm bells.

          I’m not gonna second-guess both of them.

          (Even though I too would hate to travel overnight 10-15% of the time.)

      2. Lady_Lessa*

        I agree with you both. The 1 day every other week sounds like a lot. But the missing phone calls and being anxious about them is a major red flag.

        I wonder if a 2 day stay once a month would work for the company, but if suspicions are correct that would make it worse for Sally.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Then she could quit?

      Some jobs require travel and the solution is to find something else, not to keep sabotaging your employer’s schedule and budget and avoiding the work you were hired to do. I wouldn’t like that schedule, either, so I do a job to never requires travel.

      (But I don’t think that’s what she’s doing–I think she’s married to a controlling freakshow.)

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Exactly. And none of this really changes the advice I’d give to the OP about thinking about whether Sally can continue in the role if she cannot travel much, whether there is another role in the organization that might be a better fit, and gently talking to Sally to try to find a solution that works for both of them. Part of that includes being mindful that Sally’s spouse may be controlling and abusive and giving her as much agency as possible to make decisions.

    2. MissGirl*

      Then don’t take a job that requires travel. Just because it’s too much for you doesn’t mean it’s too much for other people (me for instance). I don’t see how this helps the OP. I hope they’re able to find a solution that meets the company’s needs and keeps the employee employed and safe.

      1. LawBee*

        Well, this stance doesn’t allow for an employee’s later realization that what sounds tenable and manageable on paper actually is a massive PITA in practice.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          But the way to handle that wouldn’t be to make fake excuses, especially ones which raise serious red flags about your relationships.

          It would be to use mature words and negotiate whether it can be done another way (reduced to once a month, a week’s stay every 2 or 3 months…)

          Which is why it makes more sense to assume the red flags are real and the situation is as described, and the employee doesn’t think the travel is the PITA.

          1. LawBee*

            Oh, I totally agree with you. Just saying that saying not to take a travel job if you don’t like it kind of requires the employee to know whether or not the amount of travel required will work even if it’s an amount of travel they haven’t had before. Some things sound awesome and manageable, but when you start doing it, it’s not—but you wouldn’t necessarily know it until you’re in it.

            For all we know, husband agreed to the amount of travel when Employee was applying and changed his mind. (This wouldn’t surprise me, tbh.)

            1. Allonge*

              In which case, in a (hypothetical) healthy relationship, husband could say: Sally, dearest, I am tired of not seeing you so much and I see you are tired of all this travel. Would it be an idea for you to look for a job that allows us to spend more time together?

              And Sally could say yes or no, because it’s her job and livelihood.

          2. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

            Yeah, exactly – it’s totally fine for someone to realize the level of travel they’re required to do isn’t sustainable for their lifestyle. I think the fact that LW pulled Sally aside specifically to figure out what’s going on, and Sally told her in this context, means LW needs to take Sally at her word. This depends on industry, too – mine is one where travel is normal, so “lying to get out of travel” would be a wildly out of pocket thing to do, let alone to accuse someone else of doing.

            Like, sure, there are people who are communication-averse and might make up embarrassing-at-best lies about their spouse to avoid being honest about their childcare arrangements or burnout or just hating the trip or whatever. I just don’t think it’s fair to consider that Sally might be one. Like, blowing off work engagements last-minute because you don’t like doing them can be job-jeopardizing, and treating your staff as if you expect them to lie to you sucks. If Sally is otherwise a good and honest employee, she doesn’t deserve that kind of scrutiny after she was vulnerable with LW.

            1. GythaOgden*

              Definitely in this boat here. While my job was energising and engaging it was no big deal to have a two hour commute each way. Most of the good stuff vanished with the pandemic, so I’m trying hard to move on.

    3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Could be. I wouldn’t have lasted a month. I HATE TO TRAVEL ANYWHERE. With that said:

      It seems like some Gillian Flynn level manipulation to let your boss think your husband is abusing you rather than admit the job is a bad fit. Does she have an app that rings showing her husband’s name though out the evening so that she can look at it nervously?

      It’s one thing for the LW from “My Needy Boss Wants me to Adopt Her” to blame her husband, “Romantic as a Box of Hammers” Bob for not wanting Boss to join them at the at the theater on a Saturday night; it’s is a-whole-nother thing to imply that he is abusive-level controlling to get out of a weekly trip required for her job.

      1. Observer*


        And for anyone who isn’t familiar with this one, that OP write in about a boss who was crossing every boundary in the book and was REALLY, REALLY infringing on the OP to the point that she was afraid it was affecting her marriage. One of the things she did to hold it at bay was to claim that her “romantic” husband wanted her “all to himself” when they went on vacation. And if that sounds bizarre, well YES, it was very bizarre.

        Pretty much the reverse of the situation here. This one sounds more like the guy who wrote to complain that his GF’s boss “infringed” on their relationship.

        Links to follow.

      2. Observer*

        Original post

        First followup (which the part about her husband)

        Final update:

        The Guy who complained about his GF’s boss

        There are a bunch of other ones that this letter brings to mind

    4. NLSSMC*

      If it’s not abuse (I certainly hope so but I doubt it), treating it as if it is abuse regardless of whether it is or not is a good plan.

      Setting tools for DV victims in place and showing concern for Sally is the right thing to do, even if it turns out that she won’t need the help.
      I’d much rather make a 100 mistakes like that if it helped one victim survive and eventually thrive.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        100%. The best way to handle this is to have some conversations with Sally to try to come up with a workable solution.

    5. AnonForThis*

      If this is the case, I think the actionable suggestions in the letter still apply: Having a process set up for people in domestic abuse situations is helpful in a workplace, since you won’t always see the red flags. If she just doesn’t want to travel, having her options spelled out for her explicitly by the boss (including “You can keep this job without traveling, but it will hurt your prospects for career advancement”) lets her make an informed decision whether to tough out the travel, change her job scope, or hunt for a new job.

      In the past, I struggled with very severe social anxiety, to the extent that I had a couple of people concerned that my spouse was controlling me. It was actually that in some social settings, I would have panic attacks if I didn’t have them there to help me regulate my emotions. People trying to intervene actually helped my anxiety, as it was a reminder that people loved me and cared about me, at a time when I felt like people were just tolerating me to be polite, and it helped me to seek out the professional help I needed. If it’s a scenario like this, I don’t really see a downside to the boss taking the advice here either.

    6. HonorBox*

      It sounds like the travel schedule was an accommodation for Sally to be able to work remotely most of the time. But also your comment is wildly inappropriate. You’re suggesting that someone who is very likely being abused is making it up because they don’t like the travel schedule that they seemingly agreed to… yeah, not helpful.

      1. DarthVelma*

        I don’t think it’s out of order to point out there may be alternative explanations for the LW to consider. It could be she’s being abused. It could be the travel eventually wore her down. It could be she comes home to a mess every other week. It could be, like with my partner and I, they have each other’s permission to use each other as an excuse to get out of stuff they don’t want to do. I think it’s worthwhile for the manager here to dig a little bit more to figure out the right way forward with this specific employee.

        That said, making sure employees have the resources they need if they are being abused is worthwhile on its own, whether it applies to this specific case or not.

        1. Antilles*

          It could be, like with my partner and I, they have each other’s permission to use each other as an excuse to get out of stuff they don’t want to do.
          Huh? Yes, people do use their partners as an excuse for dodging events (my wife and I sometimes do too; pretty sure all couples run this play occasionally). But that doesn’t apply here for several reasons:
          1.) This isn’t some one-off thing, it’s a regularly occurring expectation every two weeks, from now until the end of their tenure with the company. Using your spouse as an excuse for a one-off event works just fine; using it every 14 days is a totally different thing.
          2.) This is a job related task. Do you use your partner to justify why you can’t write your weekly progress report? Why you can’t attend the bi-weekly meeting? Why you can never visit a client’s office? I’m guessing not.
          3.) Claiming your spouse is feeling sick or has a doctor’s appointment or other similar life things is far different than saying “he gets anxious about me not working” and raising all sorts of red flags about him being controlling.

          1. Lenora Rose*

            Also, she kept making up *other* excuses first before she admitted it was her husband, which is not how it works when you want to use your non-abusive spouse as the excuse.

        2. HonorBox*

          And approaching this with the idea that it IS abuse and using additional information to disprove it is the better bet than it is to assume that it ISN’T abuse to start with.

        3. Happy meal with extra happy*

          What is it with this specific employee that you think OP should dig more to see if OP can prove abuse or not? Or, do you think that this digging should be done in every case but you’re just saying “specific employee” here to try to appear more reasonable.

        4. anon today*

          You make up bizarre excuses to cancel prepaid work trips then pretend to have a controlling abusive spouse when asked about it rather than just say you’d like to reduce the travel frequency?

          You are why victims are not believed. You are why victims don’t get the support they need. Part of the reason abuse is so hard to address is that victims feel obligated to hide it – after all, they might encounter someone like you who assumes they are lying even if they have the courage to show someone a peek at their world.

          1. DarthVelma*

            The presumptions of bad faith here are astounding. You don’t know a damn thing about me. I’ve helped multiple people leave abusive partners/family situations. If the employee in this letter came to me we’d be having a conversation about what is going on and the best way to help. But I wouldn’t assume anything about her situation without asking.

            This kind of crap is why I have to take periodic breaks from this place. I’m out.

        5. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

          To be clear, you’re saying you think it’s reasonable for LW to explore whether Sally took a job that requires a partial in-office presence, found she didn’t like the travel schedule, decided to handle it by throwing her partner under the bus by insinuating that he’s controlling and insecure, and committed to the lie to the point that she fakes being anxious over missing his phone calls at client dinners? That’s seriously your angle here?

        6. DisgruntledPelican*

          Your partner is okay with you telling other people he abuses you in order to get out of stuff? That’s weird.

    7. Decidedly Me*

      It’s not a ridiculous schedule if that’s what’s needed and that expectation was set. It’d be ridiculous to accept that as a condition of your job and then make up a ton of excuses to get out of it.

      A lot of people travel more than that for work with no issues and others would hate it. There’s nothing wrong with hating work travel, but then you don’t take or keep that job.

    8. mreasy*

      I used to travel almost a full week every month for work and was fine with it – there is nothing in the letter to imply that this is a problem for Sally beyond her controlling spouse.

    9. Observer*

      Could also be that she doesn’t like travelling so damn much for work and is using her husband as a way out.

      The idea that she’s willing to make her husband look so bad just to avoid travel is pretty wild.

      This travel schedule is kind of ridiculous and I personally would have quit months ago if I was her.

      Which is all good and fine. But not everyone thinks the way you do. And more importantly, most people wouldn’t imply abuse to get out or travel!

      And that doesn’t even touch the other pieces that the OP is describing.

    10. Temp Anon*

      There are lots of jobs that require travel, or require a remote employee come in to the office 1-2 times per month, for lots of reasons. To me it seems kind of ridiculous to call this ridiculous.

      The travel requirement was explained up front during the interview. She accepted the job, and is giving more and more preposterous excuses to get out of the travel portion of it at the last minute. It’s costing the company money, both in wasted hotel rooms and in not building the relationships/having the meetings necessary.

      I’m sympathetic that she might be in a bad relationship with someone who’s controlling, or even abusive, but the fact remains she is not doing her job. There is a limit to what an employer can do to help in this situation, and some of these suggested accommodations (have her husband travel with her, exempt her from the travel component, get her ANOTHER job) seem to dance around the issue that she’s not doing the job.

    11. elle *sparkle emoji**

      If the issue really was the frequency of the travel OP’s discussion with Sally would have been a good time to address that. Instead, the employee said her husband was pressuring her to cancel. I don’t think the letter suggests any reason why Sally would lie about this. The letter writer asked for help dealing with that, not the possibility that Sally is using abuse to avoid bothersome travel obligations, so let’s stick to their question.

    12. Nespresso Addict*

      I’m late to chime in here but I don’t see this perspective shared already so thought it might be useful –

      When I was in an abusive situation at home, I specifically sought out opportunities for work travel because they gave me a desperately-needed break from my home life. Despite the berating before each trip and the punishment I took when I got back each time, it was worth it to me because those brief trips away were the only time I was able to feel somewhat “normal” and see for myself that what I was experiencing at home was not tenable for my mental health. I cherished the travel requirement at that job for this reason – every time my plane touched down in another city, I felt myself exhale and relax.

      And in my case, the opposite of what you’re insinuating was true — I used my *company* as the bad guy to my abuser. Admittedly I took on more work travel than was strictly required but I never let him know that; I let him think this amount of travel was absolutely required for me to keep the job, and fortunately we needed the paycheck enough that while he made it miserable for me each time I left and came back, he didn’t force me to quit.

    13. Ellis Bell*

      Except that she didn’t blame her husband, she used every other excuse she could think of, to avoid doing that. OP knows that’s what the lyrics of the abuse soundtrack starts off with, so she drilled into the illogicality of the excuses until her employee had to confess it had something to do with her marriage. Importantly, the employee still didn’t blame her husband, she referred to the justifications and denials of this being a reasonable accommodation for a married person to consider their partner, the same denials that abuse victims use to prevent total fear taking them over. Having heard it before, OP knows that’s the chorus of the abuse soundtrack. So do all of us who’ve had friends in abusive situations, or been controlled by them ourselves. It’s a very common thing, with very clear signage posts; not some fantastically weird situation deserving of cynicism. Obviously the OP can’t know for sure, but the idea of an employee falsely pretending to deny that their partner controls them is significantly more outlandish than it being a true state of denial because of the control over them. Also, I have to agree with Nespresso Addict that the travel would have been incredibly attractive to someone in this situation, back when the partner was still just a wee bit too clingy. A regular day apart would have worked to give her a break without breaking up with him. She couldn’t have predicted that he was going to ramp up and prevent her from doing her job.

  8. JSPA*

    LW, is your health care good enough that it covers spousal mental health?

    “Based only on what you’re telling me, it sounds like [SpouseName]’s anxieties or history of trauma are interfering with your job. Anxiety or trauma that interferes with daily life is commonly addressed as a pressing health issue. So I want to remind you that spouses are covered for / at [details of what your coverage offers for health in general and for mental health in specific]. As I’m not a doctor, and don’t know Spouse, I’m of course not making any sort of diagnosis. I only want to reassure you that an assessment would be a very normal thing to do in this circumstance. To be very clear about it, Spouse’s behaviors–regardless of why he feels he needs to retain such an unusual level of control–are becoming career-limiting for you, and broadly worrisome. If there’s a treatable component, we would all be better off if he were willing to get a diagnosis and treatment. If he’s resistant to seeking treatment, I hope you’ll let me know if the behavior ever makes you feel unsafe or undermined.”

    1. lucanus cervus*

      Sounds like this is not the US (a ‘small country’ according to the letter) so quite likely employer-provided health insurance is not much of a thing.

      1. lucanus cervus*

        (Which is not to say that Spouse doesn’t need a ton of therapy, just that it wouldn’t be typical for an employer to comment on family health stuff in such a way when your healthcare and your job are completely separate.)

      2. Lenora Rose*

        Actually, even in some countries with subsidized health care systems, there is *also* health insurance which helps defray costs for added extras — like mental health. So it can actually still be relevant even in a system that doesn’t charge for what it sees as normal care, and where Insurance doesn’t control your ability to see anyone at all, as it does for many Americans.

        (Example, here in Canada, my health care plan covers most but not all dental costs, many prescriptions, and allows for massage therapy and physiotherapy without a specific referral or diagnosis from something like Worker’s Comp.)

        1. lucanus cervus*

          Ah OK – does your insurance still come via your employer? I’m UK based and here it’s not totally unheard of for companies to pay for private health insurance as a benefit, but it’s very far from standard – so I’d be really surprised if an employer started trying to discuss my spouse’s health and possible treatments with me at all. The overlap is just zero, it wouldn’t be something for them to raise in any way.

          1. Irish Teacher*

            Can’t speak for Canada, but in Ireland where we’ve a sort of hybrid system, it is generally more common for us to buy our health insurance ourselves, usually just by going on the website of one of our health insurers. There are companies that offer health insurance as a benefit, but I’m not sure how common it is. Given the encouragement a few years ago to sign up for health insurance because a lot of the country didn’t have it, I suspect it’s more common to do it personally.

          2. Lenora Rose*

            I get it via my employer (okay, I had the option but we went with my husband’s employer), but there are private options.

            And yes, it would still be *very* weird to say anything like JSPA suggested, even about the employer-provided benefits.

          3. Magenta*

            It wouldn’t be surprising if the employer did provide cover though.
            I’m in the UK at a company that provides health insurance and have spoken about the fact that employees and their family could contact our provider because the cover we have is amazing and they would be able to get help. They didn’t realise the extent of the benefits they had and were pleased to get the information. HR does a presentation on the benefits every year but it is surprising how many people pay no attention to it and still end up on NHS waiting lists when they don’t need to.

      3. Bébé chat*

        In France we have employer provided private health insurance in addition to state health insurance, so it can very much be a thing.

      1. Aelfwynn*

        Yeah, I don’t think Sally going home to an abusive spouse with this suggestion would be extremely dangerous.

        You can’t fix an abuser. You can only get out (safely).

        1. Aelfwynn*

          Sorry – I think Sally going home with this suggestion WOULD be extremely dangerous. Needed to proofread that.

      2. Sarah*

        agreed. Also, therapy doesn’t often work for abusers and can provide them additional ammunition and they can co-opt the language of therapy in damaging ways

    2. Kel*

      This seems wildly out of line for the LW. I think they can and should focus on Sally and what the employer can do for her, tbh, as Alison suggests.

    3. Magpie*

      Reminding an employee of specific benefits is one thing. Speculating about an employee’s spouse’s mental health or past emotional trauma is crossing a line and would make most employees feel pretty uncomfortable.

      1. JSPA*

        The employee brought up a spousal history of anxiety. Anxiety can be a disorder, But in everyday speech, it’s a day-to-day descriptor, not a diagnosis. Reflecting someone’s own words back at them is rarely an overstep, IMO.

        I thought I had seen additional information about the anxiety being explained in terms of trauma (and there are places where, “a loved one was killed while I wasn’t there to help” could certainly be in play, and express itself in overzealous need for contact). But searching the thread, I can’t find it again. Maybe that was also speculation, or a complete misreading on my part.

        To simplify, “some of what you’re talking about is a bit extreme and unusual. If spouse also has some sense that it’s extreme, but can’t find a way to overcome it, I’d like to point out that our benefits cover [whatever they cover], and that you don’t have to be certain that something is medical to get a medical assessment. If they are on the fence, feel free to point out that this is creating a career-limiting situation for you, as dependable ability to travel is part of your job description. If spouse thinks that their behavior is normal, but you ever become uncomfortable with the situation, there are safety resources available to you [with whatever light details seem reasonable].”

        I want to add that I was on the sidelines for a situation where a spouse was doing this on mutual agreement with an employee, because the employee had a tendency to spiral mentally in the mid afternoon, had lost a previous job due to clandestine drinking in the office (in response), and had occasional late-night panic drinking binges that had led to blackouts. Which is to say, just as rollerderby can look like you took a beating, this level of checking in can be something other than abuse.

        Neither one means that you ignore the possibility of abuse. But at the same time, it’s inappropriate to insist on abuse as the only possible / plausible explanation.

        Abuse is shockingly common; anxiety disorder, trauma and hidden substance abuse are also (collectively) common. So, while there’s very likely something going on here that could benefit from some sort of further support, it’s appropriate to keep an open mind and pass along relevant information for more than one sort of support.

        Especially in countries where health care is not necessarily (or not commonly) tied to the employer, if there is such a benefit, an employee can very well not happen to think of that as a possibility‐‐and it’s even higher priority to mention that it is the case.

        Also… I most certainly did not suggest couples’ counseling (I mean…seriously?!?) which is something entirely different from getting a medical assessment.

    4. Liz the Snackbrarian*

      Mentioning specific issues spouse may be an overstep. I would reframe the first two sentences to be vaguer. “I understand spouse’s may have mental health issues may be disrupting your daily life. I don’t mean to pry or imply that you need to disclose spouse’s issue, I say this out of concern. That said, I wanted to remind you…”

    5. ThisIsNotADuplicateComment*

      I like this. It points out that what’s going on isn’t normal in a non-accusatory way so Sally won’t have to feel defensive (and it points out how this is an issue for her in case this really is just making up excuses because she doesn’t want to travel as two! people! have already suggested). The only things I would add would be something about you not needing to know anything about his medical situation and that you’re willing to work with her to find a workable solution. You don’t want Sally thinking “oh there’s no way he’ll get an assessment and who knows how mad he’d be if I suggested it, guess I’m going to be fired.”

    6. ferrina*

      This is very unlikely to work. Someone needs to want to change in order to change. We have no evidence that the spouse wants to change (or even recognizes that their behavior is a problem).
      Indeed, therapy/treatment can sometimes make things worse. An abusive spouse that is dragged to couples counseling can often find ways to paint the non-abusive spouse as the bad guy (adding to the gaslighting). Or else they apologize just enough to get out of trouble, but don’t make any real change. Or they get diagnosed but use that as a weapon- “it’s not my fault, it’s just a symptom of my condition! You’re treating me badly for something I can’t help!” (spoiler alert: if they had any interest in changing, they’d be apologizing without you cajoling them and taking action to try to stop the thing from happening again)

      1. Sloanicota*

        I know they say couple’s counseling doesn’t work in the case of abuse and can in fact be more harmful, since some of the principles are like, starting fresh, recommitting to each other, and prioritizing the needs of the relationship more.

        1. Fishsticks*

          Abusers are also excellent manipulators and often great at acting for short bursts of time – perfect for the length of a therapy session. My friend who escaped an emotionally abusive marriage struggled to find a therapist who wasn’t easily fooled by the ex managing to put on a poor sad face for an hour once a week.

          Suggesting therapy could just give him another weapon.

      2. MsSolo (UK)*

        Generally, where there are examples of abusers changing their behaviour, it’s usually when they’re single. Sometimes being left can be the prompt an abuser needs to recognise that they need to make significant changes. And sometimes it’s the prompt to be even more controlling next time.

      3. anon today*

        My ex’s therapist told me that I shouldn’t make him so mad and that his explosive reactions were my fault. The therapist labelled me as the bad one who wasn’t commited/supportive enough. Therapy is the reason my ex escalated from verbal to physical. Partly because his therapist didn’t bat an eye when he admited to purposely hurting a previous girlfriend, so he took it as approval to behave the same way with me.

        1. Aelfwynn*

          WOW. That therapist is terrible and should lose their license. I’m sorry you went through that!

        2. Happily Retired*

          Good Lord. Did your ex’s therapist tell you this to your face, or was your ex (supposedly) quoting them?

          Because if the former, that’s grounds for disciplinary action.

        3. ferrina*

          What the WHAT?!

          That therapist deserves to lose their license. Any decent therapist will tell you that each person is responsible for their own actions and choices, and how someone handles anger is a choice.

          I’m glad that bleepity-bleep is now your ex! I hope you’re doing well

    7. Fluffy Fish*

      I know you mean well but this is a huge overstep.

      OP should not in any way shape or form be offering a diagnosis of any employee or spouse. Saying youre not doesn’t negate it.

      OP should not be commenting on the situation accept as it
      1) relates to the job in regards to the employee – so how does her being unable to go affect the job – not how does her spouses behavior affect anything
      2) in general mentioning what she has said is concerning and offering the resources (without ANY kind of editorializing as to what is going on and what the spouses motivations are)

    8. theletter*

      That script would probably read as a major boundary violation, but if Sally continues on an assertion that he has anxiety, putting the response in terms of ‘that’s his problem to fix, not yours to accomodate’ might help.

    9. anon today*

      This is horrible advice. You are justifiying the abuse and have now escalated it by claiming he has “trauma”. You are effectively gaslighting Sally. If her spouse has anxiety, then she won’t feel like she can blame him, she’ll try to manage the anxiety. By giving the spouse the excuse of trauma, Sally definitely would feel like a terrible spouse if she wasn’t supportive of her spouse’s trauma!

      Plus you’ve added to the guilt trip by saying “we would all be better off” – poor Sally’s spouse, Sally really needs to get him into treatment because his lack of treatment is hurting her boss now too. Now she’s worried on multiple fronts!

      I’m of course not making any sort of diagnosis

      This is such a BS statement to try to CYA in case Sally has the courage to report you for overstepping. Now her boss is being wildly inappropriate but has said the magic words so that she can’t actually get mad at them and has to fight a battle on two fronts.

    10. JustKnope*

      This is a BONKERS overstep for a boss to be talking about their employee’s spouse’s potential anxieties or traumas!! Absolutely not! OP shouldn’t go any further with her employee than just naming her concerns about the controlling behaviors, not speculating about the source of them.

    11. Samwise*

      Can we trust the OP that the travel is needed? OP explains exactly what Sally needs to do in-person that’s not getting done.

    12. Lime green Pacer*

      My spouse was diagnosed with anxiety disorder almost 20 years ago. I could see him behaving like this out of genuine anxiety. (Abuse is a very legitimate concern, but many have addressed that already.) We have cancelled social appointments last-minute because when the time came, he was too anxious to attend. Therapy and medication have helped, but he is still anxious whenever I leave the house and sincerely asks me to be careful.

      Aside from hospitalizations (his, and my mom’s), we haven’t spent a night apart in 30-some years.

      For the LW, genuine anxiety vs control/abuse is probably a distinction without a difference, as the end result is the same: Sally isn’t able to do this travel because of her spouse.

      1. Magpie*

        Given everything you’ve laid out, I’m assuming you wouldn’t then sign on for a job whose requirements up front included overnight travel every other week. Sally took this job knowing this was a requirement and even booked trips that were then cancelled last minute. If she has a limitation that truly prevents her from traveling overnight, she either needs to work with her boss to find a solution or she needs to find a different job that doesn’t have a travel requirement.

    13. Chrisssss*

      According to “Why Does He Do That” from Lundy Bancroft, therapy for the abuser would only give him new weapons.

      Plus such abusers don’t abuse because of mental health problems, they do it because of their ideology. Lundy Bancroft also explains that part very well.

  9. Hiring Mgr*

    It sounds like Sally has been there twelve months and hasn’t yet gone on one of these in person visits that are supposed to be happening every other week?

    If Sally’s work is ok despite this, maybe it’s not truly necessary (at least that frequency of travel)?

    This isn’t to disbelieve the LW, just curious because this is what’s happening already anyway

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I didn’t read it that way. OP is able to comment on her being in the office or at client dinners, so I got the impression she’s making it at least some of the time.

  10. Mm*

    I can’t tell if the overnight component of this is really necessary. It sounds like commuting there and back in one day isn’t ideal, but is it doable? For example, a 2 hour drive each way may feel like a huge burden for an employer to place – but if Sally would prefer it then it may be a better option.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I agree it might be good to offer Sally a suite of options like this and ask her what she thinks might be best. A lot of the advice around supporting victims of abuse is about empowering them, because the abuser is always offering the opposite.

    2. Sharkie*

      I mean it sounds like some of the reason why Sally is there is for client entertainment reasons. If these events are going on into the evening after working for a full day, or a multi day event it would make sense to stay over.

    3. A thought*

      I was thinking this too. If she wants to leave her house at 5am and get back at midnight once or twice a month, I wouldn’t bar her from doing so.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I mean, realistically, he’s probably not going to let her do this either because he’s not actually reasonable or acting in good faith; if he was, sure, she could try to adjust to his concerns/needs and it would actually work – but he’s going to be just upset when she tries to leave him all day, or at least it’ll shift to that over time. But it’s worth a try.

  11. Emily*

    The biggest thing you can give Sally, as her manager and not her friend or therapist, is clarity about how this is affecting her ability to do her job and what the consequences will be. Because even if you find a way to no longer need her to travel, he’s going to control and sabotage her about something else, and you can’t manage that situation for her. The point is not the travel, the point is the control.

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      I agree with this. As long as thing remain at a “certain level” of bad, they can normalize shockingly quickly. Sally’s desperate finagling and workarounds are her balancing act trying to maintain a sheen of “reality” over a terrible situation, and since it’s working (kind of) she’s stuck feeling like she has to keep going in order for things not to get worse.

      Having a conversation where it’s outlined for her that this isn’t okay or normal, and it can’t continue without hurting her professionally, may be the vine that she can grab to help start hauling herself out of this quicksand.

      Make it clear you are 100% on her side, LW, but that you also are on her side as her manager who wants her to succeed at her work and career, in order to keep her and your heads clear and focused on what you can and can’t accomplish in those specific roles. Her home life is her business, but it is glomming and sliming its way all over her job, and it has to be scraped off in that context.

  12. Rachel*

    Such a difficult situation. Something to consider is that most abusers also coerce and control their victim’s finances. Even people with ‘good jobs’ may not have access to the money they’ve earned. Provide updated information about any and all employee financial incentives (small loans, company discounts at retailers, etc). Model informal assistance, too. My old job had a Slack channel for ‘free to a good home’ offers. My former coworker, who was being abused by her ex-husband, ultimately left him, in part, because she had a coworker who offered to help her move and received free, used furniture from the company president’s mom. If travel is required for this job, offering a longer job transition time frame (for example, 4 weeks paid, in-office work only while they job hunt), could also really make a difference in the employee’s health and safety.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yeah there was a Slate letter (I think it was Pay Dirt) where the woman was the breadwinner but her husband had her paycheck auto-deposited into an account she couldn’t access! Literally didn’t have the passwords.

  13. LawBee*

    Setting the question of abuse aside, because I am zero percent qualified to speak to that—this is a LOT of travel you’re requiring for a remote employee, especially for a meeting that is only one day. Two days away from home every other week for things that I suspect were not done in-person in 2020-2022 is a heck of a burden. I’ll take OP at their word that in person relationship building is important but I suggest taking a really hard look at what is actually being accomplished in those visits, with the goal of reducing the number of those trips.

    Context: I had a job where I spent every other week at our HQ in a different state to “build relationships”, and I did this for months, and it was a massive waste of my time and company money.

    1. Uranus Wars*

      I commented above on the travel aspect, but I agreed to a similar set up at work. I either do 2 1-night stays a month or one two-night because I work in City B and my clients are in City A and prefer in-person collaboration (as do I). Doing the 3-hour trip a couple of times a week was (for me) desirable because it allows me to live in an area I love much more but still have a job I enjoy and like.

      I fully realize it’s not for everyone and can be job specific, but I don’t know that our own opinions on travel help the OP with her question – changing the schedule doesn’t change the advice until it’s what Sally asks for. And it might not be what Sally asks for when given options.

    2. Anon for This*

      My spouse used to have to do something similar, though he wasn’t working remote – he was working in a branch office. Every Friday had to be in person at HQ. So flew out Thursday evening meetings all day Friday, then home. He complained about it, and every-other-week probably would have sufficed, but the in person meetings were important for concluding business and even he agreed they needed to be done. It is actually rather common.

    3. nodramalama*

      a lot of people have work situations like this. In Australia we often call them fly in fly out arrangements

  14. stunning and brave*

    Does Sally have to work remotely in City B? If she can keep her job and move to City A, if you let her know that is an option could help her to be able to leave her husband. Even just casually reminding her, “You know, if you ever want to join the rest of the team working permanently here in City A, we can definitely make that work.”

    1. HonorBox*

      This is a great way to open a door for someone to walk through at whatever point they decide is right. Knowing that the work/income remains stable amid other possible instability might be just what Sally needs.

  15. SleeplessKJ*

    I 100% agree with Alison’s advice and while I also agree that this employee’s partner is at best, “controlling” perhaps one other option would be to give her permission to have him accompany her on these trips. He’d be barred from work activities of course but maybe it would help him feel less *cough* “concerned” that something untoward is going on if he knows he could go with if he wanted to.

    1. Zap R.*

      I don’t think the abusive husband is operating on logic though. He’ll just find something else to terrorize Sally with.

      1. Aelfwynn*

        That’s exactly right – you can’t appease an abuser enough to stop the abuse. It always escalates because it’s not rational behavior.

      2. Aggretsuko*

        He’s going to terrorize her anyway :/ But at least that way if he’s in charge/in control, he’ll “let” her go on the work trips instead of having to “fake sick” at the last minute. I think that’s the logic behind this one.

    2. Lime green Pacer*

      If it truly is anxiety, that could work. However, his anxiety may prevent him from travelling, even with her. Flying is particularly anxiety-inducing.

  16. lunchtime caller*

    I work in an industry where it’s normal for high up people to be traveling 4+ times a month, sometimes all around the world in order to meeting with contacts in various locations, sometimes just because they wanted to live a plane ride away and the office needs them here most of the week, so they see their family on weekends. Which wouldn’t be my own personal choice, but giving more context for commenters who think a single overnight trip (probably by train) every two weeks is so much to ask of someone who knew full well the job requirements when they accepted it. Not all industries are the same, and knowing you wouldn’t have enjoyed this job does zero for the LW.

    1. Zap R.*

      Can we please just take the LW at their word? If we keep picking apart everyone who writes in with a similar problem, people are going to stop writing in about it.

    2. Allonge*

      The work is not done, so someone else needs to go and pay for the hotel room again?

      Also, OP’s main concern is clearly Sally’s wellbeing, so this is a really disingenious take.

  17. Aelfwynn*

    Besides the issue of not taking the LW at their word that travel is necessary for the job, another problem with pointing to the travel as being the problem and trying to find ways to minimize that is it enables the controlling behavior. Cutting down the travel because the spouse is not comfortable (coupled with his other controlling behavior) can make his objections and behavior seem reasonable and rational when it’s not. This normalizes the behavior, which is the exact opposite of what folks surrounding Sally should be doing.

    It’s also good for victims of abuse like this to be out in the world, building connections, and having a life outside of their relationship. This is the exact thing that the abusive partner wants to prevent because it makes it easier for the person they’re abusing to get out.

    It may be easier to focus on the travel than the abuse, but it actually will not solve anything for Sally.

  18. Observer*

    Alison’s advice is great.

    OP, I realize that this set up makes sense for you and has probably worked for you in the past. But it might be worth thinking about whether, given the current circumstances, it could be changed. Does the travel need to actually be weekly, can Sally move to your city, can she commute on the day even though it’s not comfortable? It’s worth thinking about this before you talk to Sally, so you’ll know what you can (or cannot) offer in this respect when going in to the conversation.

    Assuming that you are not going to be able to make major changes, though, I think that what others have said about seeing if you can find a different position for her, so she doesn’t lose her job, is a really good idea. It sounds like she’s a good employee, it would still be a benefit to you as well.

  19. OP*

    Hello everyone,

    I just wanted to clarify something on the travel aspect of my question, because I think it’s caused some confusion…

    The job itself is not remote per se, it’s just that my company is very supportive of hybrid working. I live in a country with a fair amount of regional inequality, and the idea is that offering people the chance to be hybrid (please note that the stress is *hybrid* not *remote*), it allows people opportunities in offices or cities that they wouldn’t normally have a hope of working in. It also benefits the company because it allows for diverse voices and viewpoints across the workforce.

    So Sally works in a city with a small regional office and commutes to “the big house” every two weeks. She gets to attend the more exciting meetings and meet the execs who are based here, and it’s just generally good for both us and her (or at least it’s meant to be). It’s very normal for my industry /country and I don’t have a concern that she’s making up an excuse to avoid coming down. I mean, she might be, but it’s just such a normal aspect of our industry so I don’t think it’s that.

    1. Observer*

      Thanks for clarifying.

      What you say definitely makes sense. I hope you can find a way to be helpful to her.

  20. DJ*

    Fantastic you’ve picked up on the situation, am concerned and wanting to help. Worst thing that can happen is for the victim to lose their job.
    Given it is a distance between the 2 offices could she commute a short day per fortnight to allow time for travel time. However obviously would be better to have her for two reasonabled length days including evening client dinners per fortnight.

  21. Jack McCullough*

    Thank you for this.

    When I read this post I brought it to the attention of all the other project directors at my nonprofit law firm, and we are now going to proceed with formalizing what has been an informal practice for years. We regularly represent abused spouses, but it hadn’t occurred to us to build something like this into our policies.

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