a DNA test revealed the CEO is my half brother ... and he's freaking out (2023)

a DNA test revealed the CEO is my half brother … and he’s freaking out

by Alison Greenon January 30, 2023

A reader writes:

My dad gave the whole family DNA ancestry kits for the holidays, and it turns out the CEO of the company I work for is my half-brother.

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Dad’s not the kind of guy to gift everyone DNA kits as a way of telling us he had a secret love child, so I don’t think he knew he had another kid. We’re all grown-ups and know where babies come from and that things aren’t always what we expect, so I have a feeling this is a shock to everyone. The CEO’s company bio says he’s a “proud Texan, born and raised.” Dad was stationed in Texas ten years before he met and married my mother. The timeline all fits and so do the genes, I guess.

None of my siblings have initiated contact and neither has Dad.

I’ve met the CEO a few times but he works out of the corporate headquarters across the country from the smaller division where I work. About a week after I got my results, an email went out from the head of HR stating that all staff had to take a refresher training on nepotism. The training also included a new clause that said something like “staff are not entitled to privileges personal or professional if familial relation by genes or marriage to executive or management staff is known or unknown or discovered during employment.” Other than being clunky verbiage, I felt like it was aimed at me. I found out no other branch had to retake the nepotism training and the email only came to our office. My manager later pulled me in personally to ask if I had any questions about the policy. She was vague and uncomfortable, and I said I wanted to know why nobody else was brought in 1:1 to talk about the policy and why no other branch had to do the training. She just kind of ignored the question and said she was just following instructions, so now I think this was aimed at me.

I’m happy to drop the whole thing. I’m sure he feels as uncomfortable as I do about this, but to weaponize HR and make my coworkers waste a whole day on mandatory training just to put up a boundary seems messed up. A simple personal email of “Hey, I saw this. I don’t know what to make of it. Please give me space and don’t bring it to work” would have sufficed. Even ignoring it would have been fine by me too since I wasn’t sure I wanted to be the one to initiate a conversation about this without having talked to my dad first. Dad has gotten his results back, obviously, and he’s avoiding the conversation. This is a big elephant in the room made a little harder by the fact that I work for this guy.

What bothers me the most is that weaponizing HR with the intent to make sure I know not to ask for perks feels messed up. I’ve been with the company for five years and have a great reputation. At least I did. What do I do?

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I wrote back to this letter-writer and asked, “To make sure I understand, would the CEO have been alerted to these results too, and been able to see your name and connected it to you? Is the company small enough that he’d even make that connection?

Yeah, the company is about 200 full-time employees mostly in our two states. He follows a lot of employees on LinkedIn and I’m in a marketing role so my team is in touch with corporate a lot. I’ve only met him in person a few times, but some projects bring me in close proximity to him and his direct staff. The DNA test has an app, and you get notifications regularly via email and I think push notifications on your phone if you opt-in. I have no way of knowing what he opted into, so I assumed he didn’t know until the weird training.

He has now blocked me on LinkedIn and all social media, and has blocked all my siblings and my parents. I think the jig is up. How do I make sure my job is secure?

Oh no. What a situation.

And what a reaction from the CEO! I mean, yes, this is awkward, but to handle it via a nepotism training targeting only your office and pointedly remind you that you’re not entitled to any special privileges (including “if a familial relation … is discovered during employment”?!) and then having your manager do that weird one-on-one meeting with you to make sure you didn’t have questions?

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As if you were about to start demanding a raise and a promotion and your own private bathroom because you share a father. Without even talking to you first.

I don’t want to come down too hard on him because he’s obviously freaking out (and who knows, he might be reeling from learning someone he thought was his father is not his father and maybe he sees you as the walking embodiment of that) … but this is a bit bananas.

I think you’ve got two options. The first is to ignore it. Demonstrate through your very pointed lack of response and lack of requests for special treatment that nothing has changed on your side at work. Figure that maybe his frenzy of self-protective activity will die down in the next few weeks as he adjusts to the news.

The other option is to send him a note that says something like, “I want you to know this isn’t something I plan to follow up on in any way and as far as I’m concerned, it’s your private business. Please don’t worry about it coming up at work.”

The tricky thing, of course, is that a note could make things worse — now you’re confirming you got the news too and you are speaking of it, which can upset people who are working hard to forge boundaries against ever discussing a thing. Or it could make things better — if he’s been worried that you’re going to show up in his office wanting to bond as siblings or that you’ll gossip about the situation at the office, here’s assurance that you’re not. It could set him at ease. There’s no knowing.

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The flip side of that is that if you ignore the whole thing, there’s no guarantee that will set him at ease either. He could remain horribly uncomfortable and look for opportunities to push you out, or might hold you back professionally. (Like if you’re up for a promotion that would have you working more closely with him, will he squash that? Will he subtly discourage others from working with you? Reveal a discomfort when your name comes up which makes other people assume there’s something unsavory about you?)

He seems so freaked out right now that personally I’d go the note route; I’d just feel better having said something. But that’s not necessarily the right course of action.

In theory, a third option could be to talk to HR and tell them you’re worried about repercussions to the CEO’s discovery. Interestingly, there’s a law that could be in play here — the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), which prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of genetic information, including info about an employee’s genetic tests or the genetic test of a family member. GINA would make it illegal for the CEO to fire you based on what he’s learned. HR would presumably care about that. In reality, though, if the CEO wants you gone for personal reasons, it’s probably going to happen at some point — and even if it doesn’t, there are still ways for his discomfort to harm your career, even if he doesn’t intend it to (see examples above).

Honestly, and I’m sorry to say it, I’d start putting out feelers at other companies. I’m not saying to quit tomorrow — you can give this some time and see how it plays out — but you’ve been there five years, it’s not an unreasonable time to start looking around anyway, and it wouldn’t hurt to have already done some groundwork if you do realize at some point that you’re better off moving on.

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