The office next to mine is empty, and my ex wants to fill it.
March 21, 2014 4:02 PM   Subscribe

My ex boyfriend, the subject of a previous askme, is applying to work in my current work group. I would rather quit than work with him, but that would be crippling to my career as well as seriously unfair considering the damage he did to me. How do I talk to my boss or HR without sounding just sounding like a crazy ex girlfriend?

To get away from that relationship, I WOKE UP to the million ways that he had destroyed my mind and ended up moving halfway across the country. Both the ex and I work in a VERY small specialty industry with little opportunities but I found a new job that is very desirable. Hence.. he has now applied to work in my current group since there is a very nice opening that he fits the bill for. Everyone in my group, including my boss, knows who he is. I am a professional and private person so I have not talked about why we split, just that it didn't work out, so they have no idea that it was because he was a sexual creep who made me suicidal. He on the other hand, told people that the reason we broke up was because i cheated (no) because until the end he still wouldn't admit that he had done something bad enough for me to leave him.

I have been in therapy to deal with the abuse I put up with from him and making great progress.. but the idea of having to see him everyday and hear his misogynistic bs, and hearing my coworkers laugh and chat with him, gave me a panic attack when I heard that he had applied to our group. I hate him so much and I think my productivity would really suffer, and quality of life, to have to see him and see him doing well and not being able to slap him every. single. day.

I am prepared to quit if he is hired because life is too short, but I want to tell my boss first so that maybe I won't have to? I would take a HUGE, potentially ruinous hit to my career by straight up leaving this job, so I want to really make my case. Just telling him that I don't want to work with my ex seems weird and dramatic, but I really don't want to have to go into details.

I heard about this from my colleague, and it is a confirmed actual happening. The ex, of course, was not considerate enough to inform me, and I will NOT call him.

How should I talk to my boss about this? In person? In email? In a meeting with HR? Is this even an issue that I should bring up? We are a tight knit group and most issues are worked out pretty informally here, so just scheduling an appointment with HR (who in HR handles this type of stuff?) would probably hurt my reputation and make them regret hiring me last year. I don't want any drama. I don't want my colleagues to see me cry.

Bonus level of difficulty: I am the only person who is under the age of 35, unmarried, and female in my working group of 8. Everyone else is an older, married, very conservative man. I stand out as different and already have trouble fitting in as one of the main bonding activities in the group is talking about women in an objectifying manner (one of the many noted problems with some STEM jobs). I like my job though, and will not be driven out because of that alone, but working with that particular ex would really be too much to bear. HELP!!!!!!!!
posted by cakebatter to Human Relations (41 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know what you should do but I know what you should never, ever, ever do and that is tell HR he's a sexual deviant who made you suicidal. Or talk about your personal life at work really at all, given the makeup of your group.

Honestly they probably think it's a little weird that he's applying for a job across the country at the same place his ex works. An ex that does not ever speak about him and who moved far away. I certainly would raise an eyebrow at that if I knew the backstory. You may not have to do anything here, they might already have quietly shelved his resume.
posted by fshgrl at 4:11 PM on March 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you have regular meetings with your Boss? I would probably start with it there -- and (relatively) casually say that you heard he's applying, and you don't want to bring personal drama into the workplace but it would not be a comfortable situation for you if he were hired. That's it. You definitely don't need to raise a stink or anything, especially not at this point -- any sane employer would just drop his resume into the circular file at that point.
posted by brainmouse at 4:16 PM on March 21, 2014 [29 favorites]

It sounds like she's working with upper-middle-aged engineers or something. I wouldn't rely on the subtlish "not a comfortable situation for me" comment -- they're likely to think "well, we all do things that are uncomfortable sometimes". Just saying.

If the OP said something like "[After we dated, ] I moved halfway across the country" (quoted from previous thread), it might make the point vividly without needing a lot of details.

That's just an idea; you know your coworkers/boss, OP, so choose whatever seems best. Good luck.
posted by amtho at 4:21 PM on March 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

"He was abusive and I cannot work with him." Don't go into details. Yes, tell both your boss and HR.

If they still decide to hire him, well, then you know how little they value you and should be looking for a new job anyway.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:21 PM on March 21, 2014 [34 favorites]

"He was abusive and I cannot work with him." Don't go into details. Yes, tell both your boss and HR.

The OP could be sued for that if he found out. Which he almost certainly will eventually.
posted by fshgrl at 4:24 PM on March 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

If this is happening, I'd handle it like this. I'd confirm with my boss that yes, my ex is coming, that yes they will be in the office next to me. Then I'd state that there is a history between the two of you, and you wound up ending the relationship including a move across the country for this job. Let them know that while you intend to keep things professional, you did not intend to ever have to deal with this person again, they were abusive, and while your intentions are to keep the past the past that there is a strong reality that you will not feel comfortable around this new employee. Let them know that your biggest fear is that this winds up being a choice for your employer a few months down the line as to which of the two of you is there.

That pretty much gives HR the green light to make sure this guy stays the heck away from you and that your current co-workers will treat his first 90 days with a strong skeptical eye favoring you.
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:25 PM on March 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Arrange a private meeting with a person who has a hiring veto and who is the (or a) person that puts weight on factors like company/office culture, productivity, and the work environment. (This might be HR, but it's probably a boss or manager or owner). In other words, a person who cares whether a potential new hire will fit into the office environment or damage it.

This potential new hire will not fit into the existing environment, and any manager worth a fraction of his salary will dodge that bullet if given half a chance. I do not know if you have a toxic workplace or incompetent people deciding who gets hired, but you should be able to get the application vetoed without going into details or threatening to quit. Just say that you know this person, and you know from experience that you will find them difficult to work with, and you would prefer that a different candidate be chosen.

If pressed for details, it should be ok (and professional!) to reply that you prefer not to go into detail. Don't paint him as a bad guy or incompetent, you assume he will be a competent professional in other settings, but you know from previous dealings that the two of you will not be able to work together productively, and you think the people considering who to hire would want to know that.
posted by anonymisc at 4:25 PM on March 21, 2014 [19 favorites]

I am leaning toward it being too soon to say anything to your boss (who I assume would be his boss and/or involved in hiring decisions), or HR. Your ex hasn't even been interviewed yet. It may go nowhere. You don't want to undermine yourself by jumping the gun, particularly with a group that may not be sympathetic.
posted by sm1tten at 4:28 PM on March 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

I agree to wait until when/if he's interviewed before saying anything to anyone.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:29 PM on March 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Was the abuse physical at all, or were you able to get it documented in any way? (Police reports, hospital reports?) His applying to your current workgroup sounds to me like a way to intimidate or stalk you, and I'm wondering if you could start building up a paper trail to get a restraining order? It may be worthwhile researching employment law for domestic violence/intimate partner violence in your new state -- more states are enacting legislation that will keep employers from firing someone who's having workplace difficulties stemming from stalking or IPV, and that might be good knowledge to have in the back of your mind if you start feeling that your ex's actions are making you look like a "problem employee" to your co-workers or supervisors.
posted by jaguar at 4:32 PM on March 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

You might find this post at AAM useful, the situation is very similar.

I would hope that any HR person or any supervisor worth their salt wants to avoid interpersonal drama in the workplace. And you are a known quantity, whereas the ex-boyfriend is not.
posted by suelac at 4:49 PM on March 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

For all you know, he might bomb the interview or your workgroup might hate him. Don't say anything until/unless he gets further along in the hiring process.
posted by yasaman at 4:52 PM on March 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

He was abusive -- stand up tall and let every concerned party there know it. He was your abuser; that means you have the facts on your side. Don't over explain with the level of detail you included here. Why would you be worried about being sued for stating what happened?
posted by Kruger5 at 4:54 PM on March 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Don't say anything to anyone - especially at your workplace. HR is not your friend.

Consult with a competent attorney who specializes in employment law.

Follow your attorney's advice.
posted by Pudhoho at 5:03 PM on March 21, 2014 [12 favorites]

That Ask A Manager question had a happy ending.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 6:40 PM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, I don't think there could be any legal repercussions to saying something like "A is my former boyfriend, the relationship did not end well, and it would be extremely uncomfortable for me to work with him." Can he possibly be the only person suited for the job such that they would take a chance on horribly strained working relationships or having to replace you?
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 6:47 PM on March 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'd get a restraining order.

Then tell your boss you have an active restraining order.

Alternately, if you'd rather not go all the way to a restraining order, simply inform your boss that you moved across the country after breaking up with him so as to avoid needing to get a restraining order.

posted by arnicae at 6:58 PM on March 21, 2014 [19 favorites]

There is no reason not to tell HR and your boss and all your co workers that he was abusive and that you'll leave if he's hired.

Those are two facts.

They are both legitimate, neither reflects negatively on your professionalism in any fashion whatsoever. Quite the opposite - it's very professional to let them know as early in their candidate search as possible if one potential decision would have this consequence.

You have nothing to hide or be ashamed of, and every right to expect your work environment to remain free of foreseeable interpersonal hostility.

I don't mean revealing personal details; "This person abused me, I won't work with him for my own safety" should be adequate.

If I were you I would tell that to everyone, as the more people who know, the greater chance there is of someone putting a stop to his candidacy as early as possible.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 6:58 PM on March 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

All the people talking about restraining orders and reporting him as abusive - he sounds like a really terrible romantic partner who did some real damage to the OP, but please read her previously-asked question (linked at top) before encouraging her to tell others that he was abusive.

There's no info about how he treated her at work, or outside the specific context of that previous question, so that's probably useful to consider.
posted by amtho at 7:19 PM on March 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

I like arnicae's answer: Tell your boss that you moved halfway across the country in order to avoid getting a restraining order against this guy.

That says it all without using a word like "abusive," which can be a trigger word in that it covers so much territory it essentially says a lot about nothing. What kind of abuse becomes the next question - IOW, did he just bad-mouth you or did he do things to you that would have made the newspapers? The person hearing the word "abusive" doesn't know what to think.

But if you use arnicae's idea, that should explain just enough that the right idea comes across and there's no real need for detail.

Now - YAY FOR YOU for dumping this jackass! Way to go!

I've been out of the working world for a number of years, but I was on the wheel for 31 years and I don't think I've ever been in a situation where the boss wouldn't seriously consider what I revealed to him in confidence in a quick personal visit. And I agree with everyone above that no boss in his right mind wants to put his business and his employees into a situation like this - his priority is keeping things running smoothly and productively without drama.

Don't wait - talk to your boss now - and not to HR - let him do that if he thinks it's necessary.
posted by aryma at 7:23 PM on March 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

Just wanted to add, even in a "boys club" environment, the "boys" are generally aware that hiring a someone that's an a-hole likely makes them a-holes by association. Plus, driving the only woman away in a group is not only bad for corporate stats, but probably indicates some massive gender sensitivity training is going to be mandated down from corporate. Then there's paperwork, this whole thought of if she's uncomfortable were her concerns addressed appropriately... basically that guy in question would have to be shitting rainbows and lollipops during his interview. Even if the interview had been scheduled, it would pretty much end the likelihood that this guy would be a realistic candidate. Respected in his industry or not - is your entire department the sort that would really want to have to go through potentially hours of training, be looked at questionably from other areas of your company, have created bad blood with you - who would be external to the job but likely still in the field, and otherwise have to deal with a mess?
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:37 PM on March 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think it's reasonable to tell your boss that you used to date him and while you don't want to get into the details, suffice it to say that things ended badly enough that you would not recommend hiring him, and that you would rather quit than work with him. Unless he's incredibly awesome and they really don't like you much, a bird in the hand is worth the one in the bush. I wouldn't say "abusive" unless you absolutely had to (especially if he doesn't act that way at work), but they should be able to figure out that he might not be a great hire. Good luck.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:44 PM on March 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

Yes, you should bring it up to the hiring manager (that is, whoever will be making the decision)* as soon as is practical. Remember, companies don't do interviews to test the person's ability to do the job -- they do them to see whether they like the person, because they will have to work with that person for eight hours a day for the foreseeable future. If they know for sure that someone currently on the team will not be able to work with him, that is a massive factor in whether to hire him.

At least, at good companies with competent managers, it is. You're better equipped than we are to tell whether that's the case here.

* -- Or whoever you can get to in order to pass along such a message; that may be your actual boss if he's not the hirer.
posted by Etrigan at 7:52 PM on March 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

You can't be successfully sued for telling your own boss that a candidate being considered for a role isn't someone you'd ever want to work with. If that were true, there would be no such thing as an internal reference check.

Tell whoever the hiring decision maker is that you moved across the country so as not to have to file a restraining order against this guy. That should be all it takes. I wouldn't get into anything as personal and specific as an abuse accusation.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:57 PM on March 21, 2014 [11 favorites]

Definitely agree with those that suggest informing HR and/or the hiring manager about the situation. Don't lie, but don't sugarcoat the truth either. If they don't take you seriously now, then they won't take you seriously if and when things escalate down the road.
posted by Aleyn at 9:30 PM on March 21, 2014

This sounds quite stalkerish, and you have every right to be concerned. You may be in danger, the employer should be given some idea, not necessarily all details.
posted by scottymac at 10:40 PM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you are going to quit if he gets the job anyway and you believe there is a likelihood you will get the job, I think you should both tell your boss who will make the hiring decision and let HR know. Speak to the hiring manager so he won't hire the guy. But speak to HR in case the hiring manager tries to hire him anyway, HR will probably say so. It frankly would help too if your hiring manager is male but HR has a female you can talk to.

I would say that it's uncomfortable to discuss as you want to keep your personal life out of your job, but you had heard your ex was interviewing for a position at the firm. Explain that it did not end well, he had some abusive tendencies, you moved away from him for a reason and that it raises red flags for you that he is trying to get a job at your firm in a completely different part of the country. They should hear that and think he's a crazy stalker. But I would also add, something like, it's their decision, but you are explaining this only to be up front and advise them that if they do decide to hire him, for your own personal safety and well-being, you will be forced to resign.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:31 PM on March 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

When dealing with really conservative folks,all you need to say is that you understand that he may apply, you know him well and that consequently you are in a good position to say he would not "be a good fit" with the group. This is corporate speak for saying he's crazy. No need to say more.
posted by zia at 2:02 AM on March 22, 2014 [8 favorites]

Telling someone important "I moved across the country to get away from this guy" is a good way of communicating how serious this is for you without sounding crazy. I think over sharing and/or getting emotional carries a real risk of looking crazy, but that is not over sharing.

This should be a short conversation. This shouldn't be an emotional conversation. There should be no risk of crying. You are imparting information relevant to keeping the workplace running smoothly. It is serious, and it is important, but you are sharing only what they need to know, and keeping the rest your private business. Saying "I thought you needed to know this but I do not want to get into any more details than that" is perfectly appropriate and IMO the right tone for the discussion.

I don't know who the important person to talk to is. I'd be inclined to say your boss and not someone in HR, but you want to get this guy deep-sixed while he's still just a name on a resume, before he's had a chance to charm anyone in your org. So whoever is in a position to do this.

I definitely would not wait around before saying something, the further things get the harder it is to reject him out of hand. Also, if you say something now, and he gets called in for an interview anyway, that tells you something and gives you some extra space to react.
posted by mattu at 6:52 AM on March 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

Waiting for the interview to happen could be risky. Its not too unusual for a company to extend a job offer at the end of an interview, or at least verbally commit to do so. If that happened, your input would be given less weight.

Besides, if they're going to pay for his travel expenses to bring him in, I'm sure they'd rather find out before having spent that money.
posted by Hither at 8:24 AM on March 22, 2014

As I was reading your question, I was thinking all about the same things that folks here are saying: talk to your boss, phrase it just so, etc. But when I got to this: I stand out as different and already have trouble fitting in as one of the main bonding activities in the group is talking about women in an objectifying manner it made me think that if you gave them an ultimatum of him or me, I really think they might choose him, even sight unseen. This might be just the thing that allows them to get rid of the person who doesn't really fit in but wouldn't go away.

If I were in your shoes, I would talk to an employment lawyer to find out where you stand, what your options are, and what they think would be the likely outcome in this situation. Not necessarily to initiate any legal action, but maybe just to get advice from someone more experienced in how this kind of stuff works out.
posted by CathyG at 8:48 AM on March 22, 2014 [9 favorites]

Ha, if I got sued for saying he was a jackass, I would instantly set a plethora of sexual harassment suits into motion for the unprofessional crap those guys spew every day.

Thanks for all of your answers. I think I am going to have a quick conversation with my boss and let him know that I heard x was applying and that I would feel very uncomfortable working with him to the point where I would seek other employment if he came on board. If they hire him anyway, I think that my time in this industry needs to come to a close for my own good (sorry industry statistics, there is a reason the women drop out and it's not up to me to fix it at my own expense).

If things escalate, or my time with x has to overlap, I will consult with a lawyer.
posted by cakebatter at 9:50 AM on March 22, 2014 [13 favorites]

So I guess it boils down to, are you scared of this guy, or just hate his guts? Clearly he was a douchebag boyfriend. It definitely shows lack of judgement on his part to be applying to work where you are.

If you are scared of him, then you need to do whatever makes you feel safe.

If you are not, then you are left weighing your leftover feelings towards him against your desire to not torpedo this career.

You may also be making too many assumptions about how well he'd fit in, if he even got the job. He might be their best bud, but he might also be someone they roll their eyes at because he's a fuckup. I mean, maybe he is a Hannibal-level psycho who will turn everyone against you out of revenge, but those are rare. Most likely he's just a jerky ex-boyfriend who will act weird around you and whom you will have to struggle not to slap for a while.

Eventually, either you and/or he will get another relationship, and this one will become part of your past. If you can grit your teeth through this rough period, at some point all of this drama will be ancient history...and you'll still have your career.

There's no rule that says you have to do that, but it may be do-able. And you can think of yourself as a woman making a toehold in a place where women have not been able to get to before. Which makes you the better person, by a million miles, than a douchebag who gets by on his privilege.

I guess I would just tell you not to panic and assume the worst. First he has to get the job. Next he has to cause problems for you at the job. Neither of those has happened yet. You can always leave at any point, but try to make your career moves strategic and less panic-driven. There's a lot at stake here; it's a rough economy and your lifelong income will take a hit if you have to start over in another profession. And you will have let a douchebag win.

Sometimes, that's what we have to do to survive, but if you don't have to, you have a lot to gain in the long run.
posted by emjaybee at 10:53 AM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

You need to say something now. I would go to HR and say that you would not feel safe in your work environment if they hire him. That's ALL you need to say. Perhaps you can refer them to your therapist to confirm this is true? That might help.
posted by xammerboy at 11:05 AM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ha, if I got sued for saying he was a jackass,

Say he's a jackass or you dislike him and he was a terrible person all you want but saying he's abusive is totally different in this context. It implies a crime, physical abuse, which you acknowledge didn't occur. You would be very foolish to do that.
posted by fshgrl at 12:39 PM on March 22, 2014

Fshgirl, I would not make that allegation in my professional life. There are many details I did not spell out here so I don't understand why you have a firm stance on something I did not describe here. This question is about how to appropriately voice my opposition on this candidate.

Ps abuse is a broad term, sexual and emotional abuse are real things too.
posted by cakebatter at 12:47 PM on March 22, 2014 [8 favorites]

And nowhere did I acknowledge that abuse did not occur.
posted by cakebatter at 12:48 PM on March 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

cakebatter, if he was abusive/threatening, then definitely, you are in a different position than if he's just someone you'd rather not ever see again because of an ugly breakup--that was the only confusion on my end. It sounds like you've got a good strategy planned regardless. Good luck and let us know what happens.
posted by emjaybee at 1:31 PM on March 22, 2014

If you end up leaving your field, I hope you will write about it somewhere public. Not necessarily to dissuade other women, or to get revenge, or even to teach the guys how to behave -- but maybe to help others be prepared for what they might encounter and to let them think productively and creatively about how to handle it, before they encounter a stressful, time-critical situation.
posted by amtho at 2:01 PM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

you would not recommend hiring him, and that you would rather quit than work with him.

I'd strongly lean towards not saying either of these things. As a hiring manager, I would not appreciate hearing either of them from an employee - you saying you "would not recommend" hiring him is weird, and I would find it hard to parse, but saying you'd quit rather than work with him would make me immediately read this as you threatening to quit.

As someone that has on one occasion threatened to quit a job and regretted it (don't threaten, if you're doing it, just do it) it will do you no good professionally or personally to phrase it this way.

Best of luck. I'd strongly suggest sticking with an ambiguous "I moved across the country to avoid having to get a restraining order". Based on what detail you did share (understanding that it is incomplete) about the relationship - that seems entirely reasonable.
posted by arnicae at 2:26 PM on March 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Ok, I have some advice, having been in a similar situation. My abuser worked with me. We work from home mostly in our line of work but I still saw him occasionally (8-10 times) before he moved far away a year after I left him (praise the Lord, him leaving town has been great). Like you my abuse was largely emotional but there were some physical episodes too.

I consulted legal aid provided by my shelter and decided to tell my boss. It was ok. She was kind but didn't offer much in the way of help. She said she hoped that I would take care of anything if things got bad, and basically said it was my responsibility to make sure things didn't escalate.

So nothing happened. When I saw him he ignored me and acted like I didn't exist which was great. In hindsight I wish I hadn't told my boss - i wonder if it's impacted our relationship but I can't tell - but it's easy to say that now knowing that nothing happened.

Anything you do is probably not going to feel optimal. I'm sorry you're in this position. I was there and it was rotten. I hope your path is lucky and easy as mine was in this regard. All the best.
posted by sockermom at 2:38 PM on March 22, 2014

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