Supervising the boss's wife is an awkward, no-win situation.

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Q: One of my employees is married to my boss. Because “Sarah” has difficulty with certain tasks, I reorganized my group to compensate for her shortcomings. When my manager learned that I had changed Sarah’s duties, he got angry and said I should have talked with him first. I felt that involving him would be a conflict of interest. Should my manager participate in decisions about his wife?

A: Sadly, this is where we learn the difference between how things should be and how they really are. In an ideal world, you could manage your boss’s wife like any other employee. But in reality, unless you wish to commit political suicide, you should consult him about any move which may upset her. Otherwise, he’ll get an earful at home, then share the pain with you at work.

That being said, you should never have been put in this awkward position. Supervising a close relative of the boss is virtually impossible, so well-managed organizations prohibit these arrangements. When such configurations are unavoidable, as in a small family-owned business, there should be a clear understanding of how these convoluted relationships are going to operate.

Unfortunately, as your dilemma illustrates, those conversations typically never happen. So if you’re stuck in this uncomfortable situation for the foreseeable future, ask your manager what role he prefers to have in issues affecting his wife, then abide by those wishes. At the very least, this will save you the embarrassment of having your decisions overridden.

Q: I have a co-worker who curses loudly whenever he gets upset. “Nick” uses highly offensive language describing various sexual acts and bodily functions. Because we work in a large cubicle farm with five-foot walls, Nick’s ranting can be clearly heard by everyone. To make it worse, customers routinely pass through this area on their way to meetings.

I have personally warned Nick that his salty language could get him in trouble, and others have talked to him as well. Each time, Nick tones it down for a couple of days, but then the swearing starts up again. Should I keep trying to convince him or just give up?

A: Nick’s obscene outbursts would be inappropriate under any circumstances, but the fact that customers witness these tirades makes them an even more serious problem. Since confronting Nick directly seems to have no effect, it’s time to have a talk with his manager. If possible, take along a colleague to verify your observations.

For example: “We’re afraid that Nick may be giving customers a negative impression of our department. Whenever he gets upset, he begins yelling obscenities which many of us find offensive. If a customer were to complain, that would make us all look bad, so we would appreciate your talking to him about this.”

If you are reluctant to rat out your cursing colleague, remember that you may actually be doing him a favor. A customer complaint to higher management would undoubtedly produce much more dire consequences.

Submit questions to Marie G. McIntyre at