I fought with my husband’s coworker over their affair, asking a coworker not to eat onions, and more — Ask a Manager

I’m on vacation. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. I got into a fight with my husband’s coworker over their affair

My husband works at a restaurant, I caught that he was having an affair with one of his coworkers. I saw the all their text messages and confirmed some of it from their friends. Though I don’t know if they have a sexual relationship, I do know that they were hiding it from me and the coworker’s husband (part of the messages were “delete this conversation” or “you can’t text me right now because I’m at home”). I confronted my husband.

After three days, the girl texted me saying she was sorry, but of course I replied angrily and told her was going to tell her husband, to which she replied that if I wanted to fight, she’s down and she’ll be waiting for me at the restaurant. I told the business owner, but he did not do anything about it. I was pregnant at that time. After sometime, I went to the restaurant to eat and drink a little. We got into an argument outside and she pulled my hair and I pulled hers as well.

Can my husband be terminated because of that? It was his day off that day, and he was not there. Can she file charges against me because she’s saying I provoked her? Or can I file charges against her because I am still a customer when I was there and not just an employee’s wife?

Yes, your husband can be fired for that, and the restaurant manager might reasonably decide that she doesn’t want this kind of drama brought to work. It doesn’t matter that you were there as a customer. (And really, you can’t really credibly claim that you were just there as a customer when you’d already tried to bring the business owner into the situation anyway.)

Drop the idea about filing charges — which would be more drama — and stay away from your husband’s workplace. This is between you and him, not you and his coworkers.


2. How to politely ask a coworker not to eat onions in the office

We have recently added a new member to the team on the floor I work on. We mostly work in the typical open cubicle format, with only a few offices, and she happens to sit in the row of cubicles directly next to mine. She brings in strong smelling food several times a week — bacon in the morning, and often onions around lunchtime. I’m normally pretty tolerant of smells, even smelly things, as long as it doesn’t linger too long.

The problem is I’m pregnant (with number 4), and the smells absolutely make we want to vomit. I’ve had this issue with all of my pregnancies, and I know it will last a while longer. It’s so bad I have to leave my desk and go into the hallway to breathe. I’ve been dealing with this for several weeks now, and quite a few other people in the office dislike the smells as well, but won’t say anything to her. I have yet to disclose to my manager that I’m expecting, as I want to get past week 12, but I do not think I can tolerate the onion smell much longer. My husband suggested I talk to my manager or her manager about it, but I feel it is generally best practice to talk to people directly.

Is there some sort of polite script you might recommend about the onions? I don’t work with her or her group too frequently, though everyone in the office is on a fairly cordial basis.

“I’m so sorry to ask you this and I realize it’s an inconvenience, but I have a temporary medical condition that’s making me really sensitive to certain smells. Bacon and onions are particularly rough on me — they’re making me nauseous to the point that I have to leave my desk. Is there any way you’d be willing to hold off on bringing those into our cubicle area for the next couple of months? It won’t be forever — but it would really help me get through this period.”

If she’s someone who tends to be defensive or prickly, one trick to keep in mind: With people like that, often the more you can make it about asking them for a favor — a generous favor that you’d be so grateful for, rather than implying there’s any obligation on their part (even though there should be) — the happier they are to oblige.


3. Returning to an old company where I was a jerk to people

After a bit of a job search, I have just accepted a role to return to a company I last worked at a few years ago. It’s a new role working directly with a team that I supported the last time around. While my job performance there was undeniable, I was also undeniably kind of a jerk to some of my former colleagues. As a result, they have expressed their concerns to my manager-to-be about my candidacy. My new manager is moving forward with me for the position, but he made it clear that he wants me to mend any/all relationships that may be less than stellar from my last time in the office.

As it happens, I would really like to do that, too! I think that when I worked there, I was a jerk. While I never did anything that crossed an HR line (so no harassment, discrimination, bullying, etc.), I was picky, difficult to work with, temperamental, and generally unpleasant. I feel like I have really improved as a person since I have last been there, and I want to make a sincere effort to show them that.

My question is: how exactly do I do that? I’m wary of trying to force anything on them. If they don’t want to talk to me, I feel like I should respect that. I won’t actually be working with the people that do not like me. My new role means there will be zero overlap, so there won’t be opportunities to just demonstrate how I am different through my work.

The most convincing way to show it is indeed by just demonstrating it by being noticeably different. But if there won’t be opportunities for them to see that — and especially since your boss is telling you that you need to mend those relationships — I’d go with a very direct, very humble apology. As in, “I want to apologize to you for my behavior the last time we worked together. I was unreasonable, unpleasant to work with, and frankly at times a real jerk. I’ve thought about that a lot since I left, and I’ve worked to change. I hope you’ll see those changes in me, and I wanted to let you know how sorry I am for behaving that way.” Depending on the specifics of your behavior with each person, there may be more you need to add, but that’s the core of what you should say.

Do this right away. If you wait a couple of weeks after starting, it might seem less sincere — at that point, they could figure that you’re only doing it because you’ve seen that their dislike of you is causing problems for you. Frankly, it still might not seem totally sincere (it might seem like you’re only apologizing because you kind of need to now that you’re coming back), but hopefully they’ll see over time that you do indeed mean it.


4. How can I avoid a boorish coworker on my bus route?

I share the same bus route with a coworker for roughly an hour long journey in. We used to work in the same department, though I now work in a different area of the company. I don’t like this person, though he is entirely unaware of this. I find him extremely boorish: he mansplains, constantly turns the conversation onto himself, and feels compelling to offer unsolicited career advice that is either dubious or incredibly obvious. Conversation with him is a chore, and I like my commutes to be spent alone, listening to music and either reading or playing a handheld video game. When I’m not able to do this, it starts my day off with on a sour note.

This is complicated though by the fact that we share a circle of friends who like him for some reason, so I’m not able to freeze him out without making things very awkward elsewhere. I’ve tried shifting my commute times around, sometimes significantly, but like a bad penny, he always reappears. Is there any reasonably polite way to rebuff him and take back my alone time? Or should I just grin and bear it?

No, don’t grin and bear it! It’s reasonable to simply explain that you prefer to use your commute time for other things. You just need to be willing to be assertive about saying, “I’m going to read now” or “I’ve started listening to podcasts on my way in so can’t chat” or “I like to zone out/decompress on my commute, so I’ll see you at work!”


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