I’m supposed to fire my husband’s ex-wife

A reader writes:

I have recently accepted a job I am excited about. I have been working a long time to get to this level of position. I am taking a week off before starting my new position.

While I was interviewing for the new position, they mentioned that one of my potential direct reports, Maude, had only been at the company for three weeks and they were discovering she is a bit more “self-taught” than she and her resume indicated, and that I would likely need to give her a lot of coaching/direction and possibly let her go. They mentioned this because if she is going to be go, they want it to be in her 90-day probationary period, which would give me about a month to assess and coach her.

When I went for my second interview, it really was just so I could meet all team. Maude happened to be out that day, so I didn’t meet her.

Today a VP was in town and asked if I wanted to meet at the office and go to lunch since she will be back at her home office on my first day. Over lunch, she mentioned again that Maude was not able to do the work at the level they were expecting, and she feels strongly that Maude is going to have to go. As we returned from lunch and were saying our goodbyes I noticed through the glass doors some of the people I had met who would be on my team, and saw another woman walking with them.

That woman is my new husband’s ex-wife.

As soon as I got home, I did a little digging, and she is Maude. She is the person who will be reporting to me who is “self-taught.” I know her entire resume is a lie — my husband told me, and I know her job history has been a lot less stable than her online resume and LinkedIn profile indicate.

What do I do? I don’t think it is appropriate for me to be the one to coach her, manage her, and certainly not fire her. I would be 100% able to give her a fair shot, but if I do have to let her go, it is going to be perceived as some sort of … crazy new wife thing!

What and when do I tell my new company? I would be willing to postpone my start date by one week, but beyond that…? I don’t think it is fair to show up on day one and have Maude find out then I am her new boss, and I don’t want to be the one to tell her.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 77 comments… read them below }

      1. FricketyFrack*

        Probably because they’re waiting for the new person to start to fire someone they already know needs to go instead of handling it immediately?

        1. Observer*

          Except that the LW clarified that this is not the case.

          They hired someone even though they didn’t have the expertise to evaluate that person and can see the something is wrong. But since they don’t have the knowledge to properly evaluate her, they don’t know if they need to fire her or she can be brought up to speed. That’s what they want(ed) the LW to evaluate.

          Now, it happens that due to her expertise, the LW is pretty confident that the employee would need to be let go, but I can see why the company didn’t see that up front.

          1. PotatoRock*

            And I can see how the timeline is evolving – if LW is starting at ~day 60 for Maude, it’s completing likely that when they first started interviewing Maude she was only a few weeks in – it’s not like they’ve known for sure for ages that she’s not going to work out but have just been hoping to pawn off the hard conversation on someone else

      2. HonorBox*

        Assuming that the comment is directed at the fact that if they want Maude gone, they should just do it and not wait around for the new person to have to. But I don’t think that’s cowardice exactly. I think they’re probably thinking it is giving her a shot and allowing the new manager to provide some input before severing the ties.

        1. Persephone Mulberry*

          The OP addressed this almost exactly in the comments on the original post. (link is in moderation)

          “They wanted me to evaluate her skills to see if she could really do the job. They have never had that position before, and the people who hired her didn’t really know what to look for, or how to evaluate someone’s skill level in that kind of job.”

          1. anon for this - long story why*

            Yeah, the letter also says VP “feels strongly that Maude is going to have to go.”

          2. Full time reader, part time commenter*

            Am I the only one who does not know how to find the original post and therefore the follow up? Boy, is my face red!

            1. porridge fan*

              You can use the search box near the top of the page (just below the banner, on the right). Put in the headline of this article and it should pop right up. It’s from December 2018.

              I’m not going to put the link in this comment, because then it will automatically go into moderation, and you won’t be able to read it until/unless AG lets it post.

        2. MCMonkeybean*

          Yeah, it seems like they had a specific and reasonable timeline in mind during which they were reasonably assessing her and it just happened to fall awkwardly around when OP’s hiring was. It doesn’t seem like up to this point anything was poorly handled (Except for I guess the ex-wife lying on her resume to begin with! But it seems only OP knows for sure they are lies and the company was not certain of that)

      3. Blarg*

        I assume cause … they should just let Maude go. Everyone at every level thinks she isn’t up to snuff and is more self taught than they thought (aka she lied) so why are they waiting for the new person? Do they really think the brand new employee can get her feet under her and adequately and appropriately coach a floundering also-new hire in less than one month?

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Because the new person has the expertise and was hired into the position that does that, and they want to make sure they’re correct that Maude needs to go and aren’t setting her up for failure by something that they aren’t seeing. I really don’t think this is that weird.

          1. Sandman*

            yeah the weird part is the ex-wife part, which came out of left field for everyone

            1. Dust Bunny*

              Yeah, that’s something that is statistically unlikely but, nope, not impossible, especially if this is an area with a limited hiring pool.

      4. Jlv*

        they should just fire her now. why burden it on the new person? awful way to have to start a job.

    1. soontoberetired*

      Yes. I’ve known a few cases where a new manager was just hired or moved into an area to fire someone. It’s never made sense. Take care of your problem employees!

      1. Kevin Sours*

        There is no real indication that’s what’s happening here. It sounds like a new manager getting hired into group with a difficult and evolving situation. One that is probably not getting the attention it deserves because the person who should be managing isn’t there and people are covering. It mostly seems like they expect OP to fire Maude because falls under the responsibility of the job they were hired to do. They don’t know about the personal relationships involved.

        Is that a lot to dump on a new manager? Yeah. But sometimes, especially if you are senior, part of the job it’s to step in fix stuff that’s been falling apart because nobody has been there to take care of things.

        1. Toxic Workplace Survivor*

          I agree. Two months into a three month probationary period, you may know someone isn’t working out but if you created the role and a new manager is coming in, it is reasonable to want input from that person about their assessment, and how they want to handle the situation. I wouldn’t be overly thrilled to know someone had been let go from my team just before I arrived (though obviously the impending deadline changes the dynamics a little here).

    2. AngryOctopus*

      They don’t know that she’s the ex-wife of their new hire’s husband. They just know that they hired someone who is turning out to be a poor performer, and they want the new head of the department to weigh in on “Yes, I think she can be coached let’s keep her” vs. “Oh, no, she can’t do the job for reasons X, Y, and Z that I’ve seen”. It’s a tight deadline because they’d like to make the decision still in the probation period. But if the LW didn’t know this woman at all, it would be a perfectly fair situation to encounter in a new job.

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Although in this case, she does have knowledge that the person doesn’t have the skills. I think she needs to go to her future boss and say what she knows and how she knows it. Then have the company fire Maude before she gets there.

        OP does owe her new company some loyalty and it is something that is going to affect her work. All good reasons the company needs to know. Besides the terrible optics of coming in and firing her husband’s ex. It will look like spite instead of a business decision.

        1. Beany*

          Yeah, she knows this … but not from first-hand experience. It’s hearsay from her husband, which makes it a bit ickier IMO.

          If I was upper management hearing that the new employee had lied on her resume, I wouldn’t want my evidence to be the current wife of the ex-husband of said employee. If LW can’t put her hand on her heart and say “I worked with/supervised this individual before and can verify that she lied in her account of her prior experience”, then I’m not sure she should say anything.

    3. NerdyKris*

      The original post includes more information in the comments. They did not have anyone who could properly evaluate her skill set, that’s what LW was supposed to do. They weren’t sure if it was something that could be fixed with training.

    4. Smithy*

      From the OG OP’s comments for the original letter – it sounds like they were hiring someone for a position they’d never had before and didn’t know how to evaluate her skills properly before hiring.

      In bringing on a new manager to then immediately let someone go, depending on how it wasn’t working, I can also see a benefit to a new manager seeing the bad hire and then better being able to explain why it happened. In a more good faith case, you might have hired someone at a junior level to do work typically handled at a more senior level. Or where they hired someone with copy editing skills when the job itself needed someone to write copy.

      Depending on the degree of the good faith misalignment, perhaps the OP would have had other ideas. But clearly it seemed over time to just be a bad hire as opposed to good faith misalignment.

    5. Just Thinkin' Here*

      Right? Why are they waiting for the new manager to do this? Especially if someone is in their probationary period, there shouldn’t be hesitation by the OP’s manager… wonder what else they want her to clean up?

    6. Spero*

      I’ve been the manager brought in to shape up or fire someone before! In my case, the underperformer was supposed to be making say 40 teapots a day and no one else besides lower ranked colleagues and the open manager position even had access to the system that tells how many teapots were completed. So the C suite had a *feeling* she wasn’t doing enough and had heard ‘ugh, her’ kind of comments from the partners who were supposed to be receiving the tea pots, but they had no actual data she wasn’t making 40 a day. I came in, learned the tracking system, and was able to identify she was only making 20 a day within a few weeks. She told me it was happening due to external partner issues, it took me another 2 months or so to clean up the minor issues they were in fact having and then verify that she still wasn’t performing even with those issues gone. Then it was a warning, 2 or 3 month period where she did meet the goal during the low season before slacking again, and adding a PIP before letting her go. By contrast her other teammate the C suite felt similarly about was actually performing but vocally complaining more about the partner issues, once partner issues were gone she became a solid overperformer, now trains others on her tasks, and is still on my team 7 years later. So if they had fired her before I came on due to nothing more than vibes, it would have been a huge disservice to the company.

  1. Number Blocks*

    This is a blessing in disguise for the LW and a silver lining on a gray cloud for Maude. I’m sure Maude would hate working for the LW (through no fault of the LW). Of course no one wants to be fired, but no one wants to be managed by their ex’s new wife either. Both the LW and Maude can get a fresh start.

    1. Wendy Darling*

      The only thing worse than having to fire your new spouse’s poor-performer ex having to manage your new spouse’s poor-performer ex!

  2. starsaphire*

    Nope. Nope nope nope.

    Whether it’s your partner’s ex, your ex’s new partner, your cousin’s ex, whatever – nope. HR or your own boss need to find a way through this that does not involve you.

    I’d love to know if there was ever an update to this.

    1. jane's nemesis*

      It doesn’t look like it, sadly. Maybe the re-post on Inc. will prompt an update from the OP!

      1. Persephone Mulberry*

        The OP commented on the original post. I’ll reply with it, but it’ll have to go through moderation.

        1. starsaphire*

          Wow, yeah, glad the SVP was on board with her nopeing out.

          Thanks for the links!

    2. MigraineMonth*

      I think I could fairly manage my cousin’s ex. I’m not that close to my cousin.

  3. jane's nemesis*

    oooh actually, it looks like there was an update from OP in the comments! Search the original post for comments by “WifeAVP*”

      1. Bruce*

        Thanks for the link… just a warning that if you search for “WifeAVP” using the google search tool on the AAM page it assumes you are searching for a very different term that is kind of NSFW

      2. Alan*

        Unfortunately, there’s no conclusion. We don’t know how it actually ended up. I wish that “WifeAVP” would provide an update here.

        1. The Other Sage*

          They agreed to postpone her starting date by one week, so they had time to fire M. before OP’s starting date.

  4. HonorBox*

    OOF. I really hope that the LW was able to navigate this and the new company was open to a delay or terminating Maude prior to the LW starting. Trying to put myself in the LW’s boss’s shoes, or the shoes of HR, I would want… no, need… to know this information. Someone else needs to step in and handle this.

  5. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    Here’s the update! https://www.askamanager.org/2018/12/im-supposed-to-fire-my-husbands-ex-wife.html#comment-2253310

    LW here. I called my SRVP yesterday afternoon and we had a good talk. When I told her M is my husband’s ex-wife her response was “NO f’in way!!”
    We have postponed my start date for another week so that they can deal with the situation before I arrive. I told the SRVP I could wait for an additional week if she felt that allowing more time from M being let go and me starting would be better for the team. She will let me know later this week.
    To answer a few questions posted: I did not mention to SRVP anything about what I know about M’s resume or skills, I do not want there to be any perception of malice or motive.

    M is still in the 90 day probationary period. They wanted me to evaluate her skills to see if she could really do the job. They have never had that position before, and the people who hired her didn’t really know what to look for, or how to evaluate someone’s skill level in that kind of job. She taught herself to use the software, which isn’t that hard to learn, but she doesn’t know the theories, models, or the fundamentals of the work- she can technically use the software, but that’s it.
    When I am hiring for the position I provide the candidate with an assignment which should take about 35 minutes to complete, and have them bring it to the interview.
    SRVP next steps are flying back into town today to meet with HR and to come up with a plan. I think they have enough information on their own and because it is still their 90-day probationary period they won’t need a formal PIP, they can just let her go. I asked several times if she felt like they would want to keep M on, and she reassured me that from what she has seen M does not have what they need in that role. Her work to date has left a lot to be desired.

    I am sure it will come out sooner or later that I now work for the company she was let go from, I am keeping a tight lip about the whole thing to any friends who also know her. Hopefully, she wasn’t at the company long enough to make any good friends. I have also blocked her from LinkedIn, as she looks at my LinkedIn often and reads my professional blog (I am assuming because she has been trying to break into my line of work.) I am feeling a bit of anxiety about what kind of drama she could cause, either personally or at the new job. She isn’t crazy by any means, but she has shown some boundary issues over the last few years.

    I am so thankful I saw her before I walked in on day 1, can you imagine how even more awful and awkward that would be!
    Thank you all so much for the comments and support, I will give an update after I start the new job if anything else comes up.

    1. lbd*

      I feel like in a position like this one, it would be reasonable to give them a heads-up to dig deeper into the resume. I don’t think it is malice or ill will to tell them what to look for in their evaluations of this problem employee, and it is information that has been made available to them by the ex herself.

  6. BellyButton*

    Can you imagine walking in on your first day to meet your brand new team and coming face to face with your new husband’s ex-wife. AWKWARD. It is amazing that by pure chance she happened to see her before she started.

    1. Madre del becchino*

      Or walking in to work to meet your new boss and finding out it’s your ex’s new wife? Not good either way!

  7. umami*

    Oh wow, yeah, you need to get ahead of this right away. This is an untenable situation for LW (and for Maude, frankly). I wouldn’t be surprised if Maude knows exactly who the new hire is and was avoiding meeting her at the second interview in hopes she wasn’t selected for the job. But the company needs to know immediately that there is a major conflict of interest here.

    1. BellyButton*

      Yeah I wonder about that too. Every time I have been on an interview panel I have been given the resume, same as the hiring manager.

  8. RVA Cat*

    Would it have been smart for the letter writer’s boss to fire Maude but pay her through the end of her 90 days?

      1. Bruce*

        Yes, they can justify it as partially being their lack of experience in the screening for the job (if they want to be humane about it, which would be a good thing).

    1. Antilles*

      Legally, it’s not necessary. New hire probationary periods are usually explicit that they can let you go at any point during that period, at the company’s sole discretion, for any reason whatsoever, with nothing further due, so on and so forth.

      But practically speaking, with the particular scenario involved here, I agree it would be smart to buy Maude’s silence via a severance agreement with a non-disparagement clause attached.

    2. ApplesNOranges*

      It would be rare to pay severance for 90 days (or the balance of the probationary period) it would be more common to pay a week maybe 2 in lieu of notice. Even with a layoff 1-2 weeks per year of service is typical. This assumes no employment contract or law concerning termination circumstances.

      I had a case where an employee was well outside of their 90 days but it was decided to terminate without a PIP but with 2-3 weeks severance He had been there ~2 years (long story but she did not have the skills for the job and it would have been impossible for him to pass a PIP… it would have been kinder to not to have put him through it).

      It became a moot point because she was found to not be working and not adhering to a strict office policy so in the end she was terminated without severance.

  9. Gimme all you got*

    If you or your new bosses know for a fact that Maude’s resume is totally fabricated, I don’t think you need to beat around the bush – she can be let go asap which I think would be a good idea.

    I do agree OP should stay out of it though – let the existing managers take care of things

    1. BubbleTea*

      I was surprised this wasn’t addressed (maybe it was in the original letter, I know inc sometimes trim).

  10. Shelby*

    I totally agree with Alison here and will say one more thing: if LW follows Alison’s advice and they don’t listen to them, if this new company still tries to force LW to let this person go, LW is ethically obligated to rescind their acceptance of the offer and go back on the market.

    No employer should be forcing a new manager to terminate someone during their first month. This is an enormous red flag.

    1. BellyButton*

      I would not have a problem terminating someone in their first month (as long as it wasn’t my partner’s ex!), especially with the detail the OP gave in the comments of the original post. She stated they had hired the person without knowing how to properly assess her skills, the OP was being hired as head of that department and because of her expertise she had the ability to assess skills and potential to learn the skills.

    2. YetAnotherManager*

      This seems like a rather extreme position!
      At higher levels of management, it’s pretty normal to be called in on personnel decisions right off the bat, ESPECIALLY if you’re stepping into a role that has been vacant for a while.
      Firing always needs to be handled delicately for morale and optics, but given the timing, I would consider it completely reasonable for the company to want a high-level subject matter expert to weigh in on whether a floundering new hire is salvageable or not. The alternatives are to pre-emptively let someone go (even if they might potentially have been trainable) or to keep an underperformer past their probationary period, when it gets much more complicated and messy to terminate employment.
      Not a red flag for me—not even a yellow flag. From the update, it sounds like the company reacted 100% appropriately when they learned about the extenuating circumstances.

    3. Manager*

      It really isn’t a red flag.

      Managers get brought in with a mandate to evaluate/sack/make people redundant all the time.

      It’s part of the job.

  11. Lady_Blerd*

    I’m glad OP had a resolution to her predicament. I had a situation similar to this, except that I was the ex and had to evaluate my ex’s new partner’s profiency in Elvish because she was going to be an interpreter. We were looking for hobbits who self-declared their proficiency because it is not a language commonly spoken in the Shire. Unforturnately her skills were lacking and I could not select her. Thankfully I was aware of the optics back then so I brought in a someone who had a higher standing, he reevaluated her and made the call to reject her application.

  12. Space Needlepoint*

    I was so glad to see there was an update and this didn’t have to happen.

    I would have been all over Google Translate to see how many languages I could say, “No,” in. It was beyond inappropriate to ask.

  13. CubeFarmer*

    Technically, LW hasn’t met and or confirmed Maude’s identity.

    LW could “suddenly” realize who Maude is on the first day, and then ask for HR reinforcements because of this situation.

    Hey, that company is playing dirty with LW (like, fire your poor performers before you make the new kid do it,) so I think LW should play dirty right back.

  14. handlebar*

    Did the LW ever show up in the comments of the original letter to provide additional context? Or an update? Because if not, I am calling “Things that never happened for $500, Alex” on this.

    1. Tobias Funke*

      If this is unbelievable for you, you will LOVE the duck club posts and comments. It’s a bunch of rule followers earnestly giving advice to a “manager” who has “uncovered” a sex club in an office environment where everyone says “quack” to each other and they go have sex for “points”. The supposed question is something along the lines of whether they can discipline their staff for having sex in a copy room while off the clock. It’s truly a wild ride as probably 3/4 of comments answer the question with total seriousness.

    2. metadata minion*

      Yes, see comments earlier in the thread. This seems like a fairly mundane kind of coincidence; why would it be unbelievable?

  15. learnedthehardway*

    Counterpoint – I think that the company was trying to be fair to Maude – I mean, they suspected that she didn’t have the skills/experience, but were willing to wait until someone who DID could evaluate her work. It’s possible that a new manager may have come in and said that Maude didn’t have the right tools to do the work (eg. maybe the company uses a really old/new software version or its software is so buggy that it can’t be changed easily, etc.), or that Maude over-estimated her skills, but has great potential with the right training and management.

    These possibilities don’t happen to be the case, but at least the company is giving Maude the chance of being evaluated by a new manager, rather than simply being fired. I think it’s a mistake on the part of the company, mind you – but I don’t think they’re necessarily evil.

    It kind of sucks for a new manager to be put into that position, but at least management was giving the new manager the power to make decisions for their team. I’ve seen the opposite, where a new manager finds that some people need to be removed, but can’t get the approval to do so.

  16. Raida*

    What do you do?

    You call the person that you clicked with the best, who’s already stated they don’t believe she’s going to last and is going to eat up your resources to attempt to train her before firing her.
    You ask them if Maude is “Specifically Maude X XXX?” and when they confirm you say “That is my husband’s ex-wife. Do you still want me to manage and then fire her? Or is it clear she’s not a good fit and [Person A] could manage the termination prior to my starting?”

    No “Oooh how do i go about this?” just straight out “Look she’s getting fired according to you, so who is doing it, you or me? I don’t think it should be me, especially just after starting. I think that’s gonna look bad on me professionally and personally and it’s going to look bad for the business too.”

  17. Jack McCullough*

    They’ve already decided that Maude can’t do the work and “will have to go”.

    How does it benefit anyone to let this drag out any longer? They should fire her now.

    An organization I know was hiring a new executive director and he told them that any housecleaning they needed to do needed to be done before he started. When he got there on his first day they told him his first job was to fire someone who had been a problem for a long time.

    He was out the door immediately.

    You can just imagine what Maude is going to be saying to her lawyer. “Things were going just fine. Nobody ever told me there was any problem with my work, but then they hired my ex-husband’s new wife, who I suspect he was having an affair with and actually broke up our marriage, and then she fired me. This is sex discrimination, or marital status discrimination, or something!”

    Will she win that case? Probably not.
    Does the company want to deal with it? Absolutely not.

  18. Scandinavian Vacationer*

    And this is why organizations should HIRE THE MANAGER FIRST, then let them hire their staff. The ex-wife is an unusual twist but hiring poor performers and/or the wrong fit for the role happens all the time. The manager walks in and has to deal with weak hires who’ve been there a short time. Absolutely could have waited for the manager to hire.

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