This week we answer a question from a woman who slept with her boss and is now facing the consequences at work.
I did the big NO.
I slept with my boss.
At first it was exciting, and then it got old, but I didn’t know how to end it. Turns out, I didn’t need to. Someone spotted us coming out of a restaurant and necking in the parking lot afterward. She took the story to Human Resources. Now my boss is gone, fired, and I’m still here. And everyone’s looking at me as if I shagged him to get ahead.
What do I do? I don’t want to quit. How do I live this down? My company is leaking gossip like an old boat, even though it’s none of everyone’s business. Also, while my company can’t take away the bonuses I got in the last year, it’s clear I’m not going to get any more.
When you sleep with the boss, it quickly becomes everyone’s business. They speculate. What does your special relationship mean for you and for them, and will you get the lion’s share of promotional opportunities? They gossip about your motivation, discussing whether you’re attracted to your boss or simply easy or opportunistic. As you and your boss just discovered, corporate management may feel it necessary to act swiftly to protect itself from a charge of unlawful sexual harassment.
Of course you think it’s only your business; however, what if sleeping with your boss became “old” for you but increasingly meaningful for him? How would you have handled that? What if the reverse happened and he tired of you? Would you have felt used and felt he dumped you in a particularly uncaring manner? Would you have gone to HR yourself?
Now you’re left with three options.
You can “rise above this” and redouble your efforts to do a great job to prove to your employer and peers that any opportunities you’ve received have come from your talent and not special favors.
You can ask HR to intervene to quell gossip, as some of the comments now made about you may constitute illegal sexual harassment, particularly if they’re graphic and frequent.
You can negotiate an arrangement with HR for a glowing reference letter, as they may want you to leave as well. According to former attorney-turned-HR-consultant Rick Birdsall, “You have a good opportunity for a friendly departure, in which you negotiate a severance package in return for a waiver in which you relinquish any possible legal claims against your employer. You thus gain support while moving on with your career.”
Finally, after you’ve chosen the option you prefer, if you truly believe your reputation is tainted and your future bonuses are compromised, you may want to couple it with looking for a new employer.
© 2016, Lynne Curry. If you have career questions you’d like Lynne to answer, write her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lynne is an executive coach and author of Solutions and Beating the Workplace Bully, AMACOM. You can follow Lynne through her other posts on sheknows.com, via www.workplacecoachblog.com, www.bullywhisperer.com™ or @lynnecurry10 on Twitter.