For Valentine's Day, here's a roundup of answers to four questions from readers about the intersection of romance and work.
1. My employee is having an affair with a client's spouse
I have a very difficult question about an employee who is having an affair with a client's spouse. This employee happens to be a personal friend, which is why I know about the affair. However, a scorned spouse could cause ramifications to my business in a small town.
I have already told my employee that I do not approve of the relationship (as a friend), and I feel that I may need to fire her to protect my business. What legal ramifications could occur if I do fire her, or if I don't and the spouse finds out?
You can have a policy that employees can't date clients or clients' family members. Many businesses have that policy, because they know that they'd risk losing the client if the relationship goes south. Your employee is showing awfully bad judgment here, and a total lack of concern for how her actions will harm you and your business. It would be reasonable for you to explain that she's putting your relationship with the client in jeopardy and that you can't keep her on your staff (if indeed that's what you decide). If she has trouble understanding this, ask her if she'd continue to employ, say, a housekeeper who slept with her husband.
Unfortunately, it sounds like it may be past the point where she can salvage the situation; even if she broke off the affair now, the damage has been done.
2. I'm newly engaged and totally distracted at work
I just got engaged to be married a few days ago, and my fiancé is marvelous, and I'm walking around in a fog of gratitude and bliss. And distraction. My work is suffering; I get about five minutes of actual work done before I'm sighing over a wedding dress or Googling how much XYZ Venue rents for.
I'm already blocking all the websites I tend to spend too many hours on and have been adding wedding blogs to the blocked-site list. What else can I do to stay focused in a time of very distracting happiness?
Blocking sites is good. So is thinking about any co-workers you've had in the past who allowed their personal lives to distract them past the point of what's reasonable, and how much respect you probably lost for them -- you don't want to be that co-worker.
Treat wedding planning like any other activity that you actively enjoy but would never let yourself seriously indulge in at work -- like reading novels or watching trashy TV or quilting. You can love something and look forward to doing it, but still understand that your professional obligations and integrity mean that you do it on evenings and weekends, not when someone is paying you to work. Just because this particular activity can be done at your computer doesn't make it any different. If it helps, picture my scowling face staring down at you.
3. My colleague wants to give flowers to all the women for Valentine's Day
I have a question about Valentine's Day at work. I have a colleague, "Martin," who works overseas in London, and he recently visited one of our U.S. locations and met several people in person for the first time. I work in a different office and have never met him in person.
Martin messaged me on our work IM asking me what I thought about his idea for Valentine's Day -- he wants to send flowers to all the women he met at the U.S. office he visited. I didn't think his idea was a good one, mainly because I feel like there's a bit of a sexist undertone to singling out the women for gifts on a day associated with love and romance. Why isn't he sending the men flowers? Why does he feel that women alone need some kind of present on February 14th?
He said his intentions are harmless and compared it to sending someone a birthday gift, but I don't see how that's related at all. I suggested sending chocolates to the entire office instead, but he seems pretty adamant that his flowers-to-the-ladies is the way to go. What do you think?
Yeah, tell him not to do that. Since he doesn't see how it's sexist, you might have more luck just explaining that a lot of women will find it icky and patronizing.
Generally, when you're treating people at work differently on the basis of gender, you're on the wrong path.
4. Can I use my ex as a job reference?
I'm in final interviews for a job I'm really interested in, and I've been asked for three references who are not relatives or former employers. I would like to use my ex-wife, but I am concerned about whether that would be acceptable. I am not one who normally keeps in contact with former co-workers or even long-term friends. My ex, whom I have known nearly 20 years, is very professional and would give me an excellent reference despite our marital problems. She is well aware of my work ethic and technical abilities. What are your thoughts?
Don't do it. Using an ex will look unprofessional and could raise questions about your judgment. It's also assumed that she'll be biased in your favor, so any reference she provides isn't useful.
Frankly, I don't get the point of asking for references that aren't professional ones -- I think "personal references" are just about worthless when you're evaluating someone for a job -- but since they're asking for non-employers, you should give clients, non-manager colleagues, or people who know you in your community.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.