Dear Annie: For the past seven years, I’ve worked for “Joe” and his assistant, “Nancy.” Nancy recently took a four-month leave due to stress and anxiety. During her absence, Joe and I went to lunch a few times and dinner on one occasion. Nothing romantic happened. I planned to let Nancy know at the time, but didn’t think it was important enough to send an email. I left her a voicemail to call me and hoped we’d get together during her leave. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance.
When she came back, Nancy accused me of “swooping in” and taking over Joe. I have tried talking to her, but she’s angry that I didn’t tell her during her leave. I explained that I tried, but she never called me back. She claims I crossed her territory and now can’t be trusted. She believes I was plotting all along. I also suspect that she is spreading rumors about me, saying I want to sleep with Joe. That’s not true.
I am trying my best not to let this bother me. Joe has spoken to her, but I don’t have any idea what he said. The problem is, it is extremely uncomfortable in the office now. Although I love my work, I may need to look for a new job.
It upsets me that someone could be so cruel, even though I tried my best to be supportive during her leave. Any suggestions for coping with Nancy? – Co-worker
Dear Co-worker: Nancy seems very proprietary toward Joe, and unless they are a romantic couple, he should set her straight. Her behavior is unprofessional and disruptive. But you are not entirely blameless. Having lunch and dinner with your boss could be misconstrued, and you were well aware that this would bother Nancy. You should have made a greater effort to speak to her during her absence.
Apologize sincerely for unintentionally stepping on her toes, reassure her that you have no interest in Joe, and then let her make the next move. If time does not alleviate the situation, you may opt to take it up with human resources.