My cofounder is sleeping with an employee and lying to me about it.

A couple of months ago I noticed my cofounder was too protective of a new employee – who was in all fairness doing a good job but not flawless. In fact, the flawed part is hard to swallow for me: I have caught her lying, blaming coworkers for her shortcomings, being careless with money (so much so that we removed any money-related responsibility from her hands) and acting as her coworkers boss when she actually isn’t.

I realized almost immediately there was this high sexual tension between them and confronted my cofounder about it. I’m all for responsible adults being free to have sex with each other, but this was clearly not the case. Whatever was going on there had more to do with this employee stepping well beyond her boundaries and him being a damn fool. Anyway, he ended up admitting there was tension but that he hadn’t and wouldn’t do anything about it. We kept the employee on because she is the best person we’ve had in her job since we opened, by far. We removed some power and gave her some feedback, and everything seemed to be going well.

Until a few weeks ago when she started acting like she’s the boss or something, choosing her own responsibilities and lying through her teeth to get more power. Her manipulative behaviour is somewhat ridiculous – when she realizes she got caught doing something wrong, she’ll act almost childlike, trying to get people to pitty her, or worse: she’ll hit on people. And I don’t mean she’ll flirt harmlessly, I mean she is on a mission. She hits on my other cofounder too, but with little effect as he is married and not interested apparently.

I started noticing her overconfident behaviour and realized she and my cofounder are having sex. There were particular situations in which I realized they were lying right to my face about it. I have no concrete evidence to “incriminate” them, but I have seen subtle non-subjective signs of her presence in his house for instance, among other clues.

But what really tipped me off is that he’s become completely lenient regarding her bad behaviour – something we talked about in the past and he agreed was something we had to work hard on to deal with. In the past week I caught her lying A LOT, badmouthing coworkers to management unfairly, throwing coworkers under the bus for her own mistakes AND flirting with the financial guy to get “forgiven” for a budget she disrespected (spent more money than budget given). In every situation I called her out on it (professionally as upper management) and she had the worst reaction. Instead of taking the feedback and retreating, she got pissed off and said some really unprofessional shit.

My cofounder’s reaction was to think she’s just “a bit crazy”.

Now, I’ve had successful workplace relationships but man… don’t fuck someone you work with just because they’re hot. It really makes you a moron. I’m not at all worried about the employee or the cofounder as I will deal with it in whatever professional manner is required. But I have lost a lot of respect for the fools in this story going through all this blindness for a lousy lay.

 


  • That’s a tough situation, but it takes two to tango. One of them has to go before it gets beyond toxic. With all of the shit that you have to deal with on growing a business, that’s the last thing you need.

    Get your board involved if need be, but I would resolve the situation STAT.

  • He won’t admit to me that he’s having sex with her and I have no evidence. What do I do? Everyday I’ve been bringing to light the fact that she’s lying, overconfident and prejudicial to the rest of the staff, and I’ve been trying to make him and my other cofounder see that he’s also responsible for her thinking she can act that way. He just dismisses everything and pretends her actions are harmless when he knows we have fired people for much less.

  • Do you have any friends or peers who have experience with talented but toxic employees? If so, maybe have beers with that person and your cofounder and have them recount their experiences. Toxic employees like that will kill your company by destroying morale and making ‘psychological safety’ impossible (the most important thing for a high performing team, according to google – https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/what-google-learned-from-its-quest-to-build-the-perfect-team.html).

    • Interesting article! We recently fired a person everyone liked socially but who was making everyone miserable work-wise. We could see the look of relief in people’s eyes in the following team meeting, and people forgot all about her in two days. She was a fun and nice person but I had never seen such relief for someone leaving.

      In the case of the employee my cofounder is sleeping with, people tend to run from her. I’ve noticed she’s been very lonely, not getting much rapport from anyone in the team. I think they are shutting her out because they feel the toxicity. One particular employee gave me very poor feedback on her which included her lying and power struggles, and asked not to be involved in any projects with her.

  • An update: got a confession. They did sleep together on occasion but are not sleeping together as in developing a relationship. He went from pretending it wasn’t a big deal from agreeing to fire her from pleading forgiveness (I didn’t ask for it, guess it was guilt) within an hour of the confession. I want to do the right thing and leave no casualties behind. Any ideas?

    • I think you need to fire the employee and draft a legal agreement between you and your co-founder to minimize your liability. Definitely get your attorney involved before making any decisions, just to be sure you’re not dealing with any wrongful termination BS.

  • Just fire her, and talk to your co-founders the same as you wrote here, to clear things out. If your co-founder is against that decision, maybe he should leave too. Don’t waste time on this, be effective and move on – it happens constantly when recruiting/managing people. Simply focus on your startup growth, and the ones who don’t focus 100% on that, shouldn’t be part of the journey.

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