Q. I work for a midsize law firm in a suburb of Boston. A couple of years ago, it came to light that one of the equity partners was having an affair with one of the non-equity partners. Both are married, and he is her supervisor. This situation has caused no end of problems in our office, because this man continues to favor his paramour and has given her more power over others. Morale has deteriorated to the point where long-time loyal employees are leaving in disgust, and the firm is actually splitting into two as a result of the fallout of the affair.
Throughout the turmoil and stress, I have turned to my best friends to vent and to mourn the loss of beloved co-workers who have quit (or were forced out because they knew too much). I have been grateful for my friends’ support, but there is one issue I have not been able to resolve. Without exception, my friends feel that the boss’s wife deserves to be told. But as painful as this situation has been for all of us in the firm, I just don’t know whether this is the proper thing to do. The wife is a lovely person (also a lawyer) whom we all know and like, and no one wants to see her or their children hurt. I know women who admit to having been the “oblivious wife” and swear they wish someone had been brave enough to tell them. Are we being kind by keeping quiet or just being enablers and cowards for not letting her know? What is the right thing to do?
A. In the particular case you describe, I would be in favor of telling the wife — though she may already know, because these things often work that way. (While she might’ve chosen to ignore what she knew, it becoming an issue for her husband’s employees would likely change her mind.)
My reason for blowing the whistle is that the romance is having a negative effect on the office — the place where you and several others spend the workday. If Lothario the Lawyer hadn’t favored the non-equity partner and no one had quit, then my advice might have been different. If there is a domestic flare-up, so be it. You all will not have made it happen. That distinction will go to the brazen lawyer, who clearly made the subordinate lawyer the living and breathing object of habeas corpus.
Q. Here’s something that has come up before, and it has come up again. My neighbor’s mother passed away. I looked in the obituary to see what charity is listed for those who want to make a donation “in memory of...” I flinched. The “charity” is the family’s endowment fund. I’ve run up against this in the past, and it makes me quite uncomfortable. This says to me that the family will know exactly how much money I’ve given, and this seems completely wrong and not at all what a donation is supposed to be.
A. No offense, but your way out of this discomfort is quite simple: It is not to make a donation to their “endowment fund,” whatever that is. (I don’t know whether it’s a family foundation or a kitty they have created.) If you wish to make a donation as a gesture of sympathy, choose a charity that has to do with the illness of the deceased or one whose work you admire.