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I couldn't find it in the Oxford Idioms Dictionary, but I've heard it a couple times from people who'd been unjustly favored over, and who possibly didn't mean to imply a sexual relationship:

-Why did he get promoted? You're so better than him.
-That guy is sleeping with the boss.

I know that as a metaphor, this expression is well capable to convey favoritism. What I want to know is whether it's commonly used in that sense, i.e., whether it's a well known idiom or not.

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    I've only ever heard it in the sense of an actual sexual relationship. To suggest favoritism, another common phrase is "has his nose up the boss's [you know what]" – cobaltduck Dec 14 '15 at 13:11
  • @cobaltduck Well, this is just a more graphic way to say "he's sleeping with the boss"! – Færd Dec 14 '15 at 13:19
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    I'm quite used to metaphoric in bed with, but metaphorically sleeping with TPTB is a new one on me. I kinda doubt it'll catch on. – FumbleFingers Dec 14 '15 at 13:29
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    "be sleeping with a person in charge" is more likely to be taken literally than metaphorically. – candied_orange Dec 14 '15 at 14:05
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    But you could employ the phrase jokingly even when you know it’s not true: ‘I don’t know how he got that promotion. It’s almost like he was sleeping with the boss or something.” – Jim Dec 14 '15 at 14:09
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At one time a common slur against women in the workplace who had been promoted was that they were "sleeping with the boss" (i.e. in a sexual relationship with, or providing sexual favors to their supervisor). Although it might occasionally have been literally true, it was more often just an expression of jealousy and/or misogyny by the unpromoted male coworker, who may have been unused to a gender-integrated workplace.

Now that the expression is less often used seriously, my read of this situation is that it's shifting towards usage as an ironic joke --which is to say that's being consciously used as an expression of empty jealousy.

I wouldn't guess that the actual meaning of the idiom has shifted, it's just being used more humorously and less seriously.

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  • The rest of what I quoted in the original post is : "It's all political!", So on that occasion it actually was about favoritism (or literal sex, I'm not sure). The other occasion is this. I like your answer, but apparently it could be more than just an empty joke too. Based on natives' responses to my question, I figure it's a valid metaphor, but not a common idiom for favoritism. – Færd Dec 14 '15 at 17:25
  • When I have had recourse to using this phrase my understanding was that the promoted person does not obviously meet the criteria for promotion therefore there is some hidden reason. The phrase is used to identify one possible reason (intended ironically) (and boy was I embarrassed when it turned out it WAS the reason). – Arluin Nov 16 '17 at 17:48

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