Help! Underhanded Colleagues Are Framing My Boss for Sexual Harassment.

Advice on manners and morals.
Oct. 27 2011 7:20 AM

Indecent Proposal

My colleagues are framing our boss for harassment. Should I expose their evil plot?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudie,
I work at a small company and love my job. We have a controversial CEO who has made several enemies over the last few years. It has come to my attention that there is a plot to get him ousted with a false claim of sexual harassment. One of the conspirators is a colleague who the boss dislikes. I know the claim is false because another one of the plotters, a friend who works in human resources, has essentially told me as much. I told my friend that what they are doing is wrong and dangerous. She will not retract her claim because she thinks it is for the good of the company. The conspirators have been in contact with a lawyer, so I think there is no turning back. Obviously, I can’t go to HR with this information. I feel powerless and sad for my boss, whose personal and professional life could be ruined. Should I warn him of this plot? Or should I just hope the truth will prevail?

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—No More Drama

Dear Drama,
Your friend in HR must have studied at the Borgia School of Management. So two of your disgruntled co-workers have concocted a scheme to make false accusations and thus destroy the CEO. You’re right that this is wrong and dangerous. Unfortunately, once you get involved in this intrigue—even to try to expose it—there is not necessarily a safe path for you. I spoke to employment attorney Philip Gordon, and he laid out some of the minefields ahead. Let's say you come forward and tell your boss what's up, then he takes action against the conspirators. That could result in two women in the company, one in HR, saying they've been slandered by you. On the other hand, if you don’t say anything and wait for the truth to vindicate your boss, he could end up hustled out the door and the reason for his ouster kept quiet. Gordon said he always advises clients weighing such quandaries to assess their own moral compass and capacity for risk. Maybe you have financial and personal obligations that mean you cannot put your job in jeopardy, and you just have to find comfort in the fact that you’ve done what you could by warning your friend to back off. Maybe you can’t live with knowing an injustice might be done, and you have to act. If you fall into the latter camp, this is a case in which the anonymous letter may be the best way to go. You could write to the boss (or the board, if there is one) and let him know, without even naming names, that there is a plan afoot to smear him. This could give him some protection. And since an investigation would likely ensue, word of it might quash the plans of the conspirators. So the boss may be saved. But if you're the only confidante of your pal in HR, she could still know you were the tipster. Gordon said that besides the tawdriness of trying to influence company policy through character assassination, if your colleagues go ahead, they could end up destroying what they think they’re saving. He said that if the CEO is ousted, then it comes out that HR was behind a plan to tar an innocent man, he’d love to have your boss as a client because your firm would be facing some colossal liability.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Charitable Conundrum

Dear Prudence,
My husband is the youngest of five siblings and the most together and fiscally responsible of all. His brothers and sisters are all in debt due to poor choices. They constantly withdraw from the Bank of Mom and Dad, and my in-laws pay for everything from their mortgages, to the grandchildren's private schools, to the cable bill and groceries. My husband and I were so disgusted with all this that we moved 2,000 miles away. A year later his parents finally came to visit. After they’d spent two days here, one of his sisters called to say she needed money to pay her electric bill, and another texted to say she needed them to buy clothing for her kids. My in-laws left immediately to drive across the country. There's the matter of the financial inequalities, and my husband was hurt that they chose his siblings over him. We've tried talking to them in the past about this, but they don't get it. I’m angry to see my husband cast aside for his messed-up siblings. What do we do?

—Can't Get Over It

Dear Can’t,
It was your husband’s good fortune that besides having his own personal sense of grit, his parents possibly were so worn out by the time he came along that they didn’t indulge and disable him like the rest of the brood. Of course it hurts to see his parents favor a bunch of deadbeats.  But recognize that his parents’ love is proportional to each child’s weakness, and that you two have the satisfaction of being self-supporting. Appreciate the painful fact that their lack of attention to him is a sign of his strength. It’s likely that one day the Bank of M&D will be insolvent. There’s no doubt it eventually will close. Then his incompetent siblings will be cast into a world in which they have to purchase their own food and pay their own utility bills. If they then turn to you to take over the welfare payments, it will be your gratifying duty to tell them they’re on their own.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I have been invited to spend Thanksgiving at my best friend "Leah's" home with her husband and son. Another close friend of mine, "Sarah," has asked me to spend Thanksgiving with her. Like me, Sarah's parents passed away at a relatively young age and I know if she is not with me, she will be eating turkey (or Chinese takeout) alone. Sarah asked me at the last minute last year, and I told her that I'd already made plans to be at Leah's house. When Leah heard, she suggested I invite Sarah. But Sarah is not as close to Leah as I am and declined. I am having surgery the week before Thanksgiving, and I'll be convalescing at Leah’s house. I know if I invite Sarah for dinner, she will give her regrets because she feels left out when the three of us are together, despite everything we do to include her. I can stay at Leah's through Thursday and spend the weekend with Sarah, but that leaves Sarah alone again on the holiday and me feeling guilty. Is there a solution to this that doesn't involve hurt feelings?

—Turkey Dilemma

Dear Turkey,
Thanksgiving is not traditionally the holiday where you pair off and decline to spend time in groups. You have extended a gracious invitation to a friend to join in a welcoming family celebration. Sarah sounds overly needy. Of course it’s sad she lost her parents, but you can’t be the only person in the world she can turn to for holiday solace. If she can’t spend the day with her extended family, being part of Leah’s celebration sounds like the perfect solution. Explain to Sarah that you’re going to be recuperating at Leah’s, her family is lovely, and Thanksgiving is a great occasion for all of you to get to know each other better. If she won’t bite, then Chinese takeout is certainly not her only option. For one thing, she could join the many people who volunteer at soup kitchens that day. If by Friday you feel you will be wearing out your welcome at Leah’s, and you’ll be sufficiently recovered to spend the weekend with Sarah, fine. But you’re not responsible for Sarah’s choice to chew on some turkey jerky by herself.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
Two months ago my friend stayed overnight and slept on my couch. The next day the couch had an odor of urine. I own cats and they have never peed on my couch or anywhere else in my house. I mentioned to her that someone had peed on the couch during the night and asked if she noticed anything. She got very angry and defensive and has not been over since. It cost me $155 to clean my couch. I really think she did it by accident, and I would have accepted her apology. She used to stay over quite often and I am somewhat relieved that she isn't anymore. There have been no more accidents since this occurrence. How could she not have noticed a wet spot on the couch during the night?

—Ruined Couch

Dear Ruined,
Perhaps in response to your query, you expected your friend to say: “Actually, in the middle of the night someone came in, tossed me off the couch, urinated on the cushions, then left. I didn’t mention it because I thought it might upset you.” Sure, the stain might have been left by your friend. But cats can be so finicky about any change to their environment that one can’t ignore the possibility that a kitty left a message for you. Translated into lolcat, it might read: “Iz no want lady on couch. Iz make sure she gone.” But let’s say your friend had a mortifying accident. If she was aware of it, she was unwilling to own up. You can imagine that when you questioned her she found it hard to form the words, “About my incontinence …” You salvaged your couch for $155 and say you’re delighted your friend hasn’t been back. In the end, instead of being pissed off, conclude that you’re in luck to have this leaky guest out of your life.

—Prudie

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Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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