Dear Prudence

Help! My Husband Insists on “Supporting” His Younger Employee by Following Her NSFW Instagram.

In We’re Prudence, Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. The answer is available only for Slate Plus members.

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Photo illustration by Slate. Images via Reinkefox/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Prostock-Studio/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Every Thursday on Twitter @jdesmondharris, Dear Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. She’ll post her final thoughts on the matter on Fridays. Here’s this week’s dilemma and answer:

Dear Prudence,

One of my husband’s employees freelances as a lingerie model and has an active social media presence dedicated to her beautiful and intentionally racy photos. She brought this to his attention out of caution (as it’s a very different industry from their work), and he said it’s her business, which was the right response. He also follows her from his personal account. That part is weird, right? We’re all lefty sex-positive people, and I guess he sees it as a friendly/supportive gesture.

As far as I know, that’s all it is. But she’s also 15+ years his junior, and he’s her immediate supervisor. My impression is that she’s cool with it, though I remember being in my early twenties and being “cool” with a lot of work-related interactions that in retrospect were not OK. I’m not worried about him pursuing her, but at the same time, being supportive of your employee’s side hustle doesn’t mean choosing to look at their tits on the daily, right? Is he destined to become yet another story about a male boss crossing the line? What are the rules anymore?

—Too Much Drama

Dear Too Much Drama,

There is a difference between being a sex-positive supportive person or a sex-positive supportive friend, and a sex-positive supportive boss. And that difference has been lost on your husband. You are absolutely right that “being supportive of your employee’s side hustle doesn’t mean choosing to look at their tits on the daily.” I—and just about everyone who read your letter—agree. But being right doesn’t help you here. What do you, as his wife, do with this (obvious) information?

You put aside any concerns about appearing jealous and speak to him about the potential consequences of his choice… I don’t know what your husband does for a living (except that it’s not lingerie modeling) but I’m going to take the fact that he has employees as an indication that he has achieved some level of success in his field and that he values his status and reputation. So I think @Jen_Jaw had the right idea when she said, “I feel like appealing to his sense of self-preservation is a solid bet; there are so many ways this could backfire and I don’t see any benefit. Plus, he doesn’t actually know how his employee feels about him following her; she could be uncomfortable, but power dynamics, you know?”

In other words, when you go to him to talk about this, don’t focus on the weird-older-guy-following-a-young-woman factor. This is about a boss and an employee. Let him know that it could end poorly (whether that’s a lawsuit or a hit to his reputation) in a way that is bad for him and his job. And point out that, as several readers said on Twitter, many workplaces have rules against supervisors following their employees (even their fully dressed employees!) for this very reason.

I spent only like two seconds practicing employment law, but this letter made my eyes widen. Bad judgment but fixable. —@shipitsyna

All kinds of opportunities for future lawsuits. There are reasons companies have rules against this. —@AprilisStormy

I think the lingerie modeling is a red herring, no supervisor should follow their employee on any social media except LinkedIn and maybe Twitter in certain industries. Instagram/Facebook and anything else with personal photos should be off limits no matter what the photos are. —@NYCJessa

I would frame it as a concern from an HR perspective rather than anything else, because that helps to eliminate any attempts to make it about jealousy or projection. Also, don’t expect my support if you get fired for being a moron —@Blkhealedwhole

“But,” he might say, “I really want to show her support. I don’t want to make her feel like there’s something wrong with her side hustle! It’s important not to be weird about this. First this, next I won’t be allowed to have lunch alone with female colleagues, like Mike Pence, and that’s actually really bad for women in the workplace!”

That’s when you remind him that there are better ways for a boss to support an employee than giving her one more Instagram follower. He was on the right track when he told her the lingerie stuff was her business. Beyond that, he can plan to stand up for her if anyone tries to make the account a thing and get her in trouble for it.

This smells like a dangerous situation. LW should urge her husband to un-follow his employee, and to do so immediately. She’s being very reasonable in asking this. It doesn’t really matter whether the employee is cool with it. He can be supportive in so many other ways. For example, he can make sure she has appropriate vacation days. He can back her up if colleagues get weird about things. If she says “I’ve got a photoshoot this weekend” he can say “Cool! I hope it goes great!” —@ektastrophe

 Yeah, supporting her looks like having her back if customers or coworkers complain, but if he wants to follow lingerie models on Instagram he should definitely look for other ones that aren’t his direct reports instead —@christinaemoss

If he doesn’t unfollow her, this is a much bigger problem. The appropriate way for him to show support as her boss is to go to bat for her if someone else in the company has an issue with her side gig. The professional risk is too high. If he can’t see that, something else is up. —@robynrobotron

Finally, @elaitch asked, “is there such a thing as Sexual Harassment insurance? She could demand he get it to protect their income considering this could be considered seriously dangerous for his continued employment.” That was a joke but that advice gets to the core of what you should do, in a big picture sense. I want you to prepare yourself practically, emotionally, and financially for the consequences of being married to a man who has shown that he struggles with knowing what’s appropriate at work. Hitting unfollow is a great first step, but it won’t give him self-awareness or good judgment in other situations.

Classic Prudie

My wife was in a very stressful situation about a month ago when she was at a park in our hometown. After trying to balance a full-time job while caring for our three children for four months, she honestly just kind of lost it. She snapped. My wife is now the subject of a “Karen” video that made the rounds last month in our town (luckily it didn’t spread beyond that). She was, and still is, horrified by her behavior. She is seeking counseling for both the “snap” and the underlying thoughts and attitudes that came out in the video.