do I need to work with the woman my father had an affair with?

A reader writes:

I am employed by a nonprofit that works with low-income students. I love my job and think my doing it has a positive impact on others. I like my boss and coworkers. We also have an employee who kind of works as an assistant who does data input and organizes our lecture schedules.

We are hiring a new person for that position and our manager sent us a shortlist of people she was considering. She asked us if we had any input/prior interaction with the candidates. The problem is, I do, and I don’t know how to broach it with her.

I don’t think I can work professionally with one of the candidates — let’s call her Cersei. We used to be friends and she was my roommate for a brief time, including when I was hired by this organization — so they know I know her.

However, a few months ago I walked in on Cersei and my father having sex. It turned out that they had been having a full-blown affair for as long as we’d been roommates. Apparently one of the reasons she’d moved in with me was to be closer to him.

I’ve completely cut Cersei out of my life (my father is obviously also complicit, but my mom is staying married to him, so). I don’t really trust myself to interact with her without going all Septa Unella SHAME on her — and now there’s a chance she’s going to be hired into a position I’d have to frequently work with her in.

My questions are these: the manager asked us to tell her if we had any input on the hiring decision. What do I say? Do I have the grounds to say anything? Because I actually think Cersei’s a decent fit for the position but there’s no way in hell I can work with her. If Cersei is hired, how can I work with her? Because I love this job and don’t want Cersei to be the reason I quit.

You can absolutely say something to your manager, and you don’t need to divulge the entire situation (unless you choose to).

If I were considering hiring someone, I’d sure as hell want to know that it was going to make one of my existing employees so uncomfortable that they’d need to quit — and I’d want to know that before I made any hiring decisions, not after.

Sometimes in this situation people feel like there’s something fundamentally unfair about “preventing” someone from getting a job for personal reasons like these. But managers consider interpersonal issues all the time in hiring. It’s not uncommon to take into consideration that there’s tension between a candidate and a current employee, or that they have a bad history, or that something about the relationship might introduce weirdness that your workplace would be better off without. Hell, even when there are no negative emotions in play, relationships can still be relevant — like you might choose not to hire someone onto a small team where their spouse already works, or even their sister-in-law or so forth. We are humans, and relationships matter at work — often deeply matter.

So if your manager is decent, she’ll want to know that you don’t feel you can work with Cersei. What’s more, she’s asking you for your input!

There are a few different ways you can say it, depending on how much you want to disclose.

One option is to say, “Cersei and I had a serious falling out, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable working with her. If you’re seriously considering hiring her, would you talk to me first?” That way, if she doesn’t end up a finalist, you don’t have to get into any details — but if she does, you’ll have flagged that there’s more you want to say before any decisions are made.

Another option is to say, “Cersei did something that really hurt me and members of my family and caused a lot of pain. I’ve had to end all contact with her, and she’s not someone I could comfortably work with.”

If an employee said that to me, that would be all I needed to hear — and doubly so with a fairly low-level position like this one where it’s unlikely that good candidates are scarce.

But if your manager seems to need to hear more, there’s nothing wrong with briefly filling her in, if you’re comfortable doing that. “She had an affair with my father, and apparently moved in with me as a tactic to be closer to him” is and should be damning.

If your manager is willing to hire Cersei after hearing what a major problem it would create for you and why … well, that’s a crappy manager, and I bet it’s not going to happen.

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