People spend a lot of time at work and even more time at office lunches and happy hours, so it is not uncommon for workplace relationships to evolve into intimate relationships. When romantic relationships enter the workplace, the relationship is no longer just between two people, but can affect coworkers, supervisors, and the public.
Relationships Between Supervisors and Subordinates While any relationship between employees may cause problems in the workplace, the level of exposure to employers increases when a romantic relationship develops between a supervisor and subordinate.
Such relationships can have actual and resonating effects on the workplace because of the power inequalities in the positions and the insecurity the relationship may create for other employees, especially those who report to the supervisor.
County Board of Commissioners. Indeed, relationships that begin as consensual between supervisors and subordinates may later form the basis of a lawsuit. Sexual Harassment If employers do not take swift, proper action upon discovering a romantic workplace relationship, they may be faced with claims of sexual harassment. There are two types of sexual harassment. In one example of a workplace relationship forming the basis of a sexual harassment claim, Allan Samson hired Joyce Chan as his legal secretary and the two dated for two years.
She alleged that soon thereafter, Samson retaliated against her by changing the terms of her employment. Sexual Favoritism Employers must also be aware of any sexual favoritism that may result from romantic relationships. Third party employees who are not involved in the relationship may be motivated to bring claims of sexual favoritism if they see a coworker receive job benefits as a result of being intimately involved with a supervisor.
Miller Anti-Nepotism and Anti-Fraternization Policies There are several steps employers can take to set standards of conduct for workplace relationships and manage office romances.
Federal and state laws, as well as the California Constitution, generally prohibit employers from making employment decisions based on marital status. Anti-nepotism and anti-fraternization policies, however, are permissible. If a personal relationship in the workplace would affect supervision, efficiency, security, or morale, an employer would have a strong argument for implementing and enforcing anti-nepotism and anti-fraternization policies.
These policies should require employees to immediately disclose romantic workplace relationships to a supervisor or manager. By requiring disclosure, employers can red flag romantic relationships between supervisors and subordinates or relationships that create a conflict of interest.
Household Automotive Finance Corp. Once an employer learns of a romantic workplace relationship, the employer should immediately explore all options and take non-discriminatory corrective action. Pursuant to a policy, employers can reassign or transfer one or both of the employees. If an employee violates the anti-nepotism or anti-fraternization policy despite notice of the policy, an employer may choose to take disciplinary action against the employee.
This may be the right decision if an employee has a pattern or practice of engaging in office relationships that disrupt the workplace. Employers should uniformly enforce anti-nepotism and anti-fraternization policies. They should not ignore some relationships while taking action against other relationships. Employers should regularly circulate policies with their personnel rules or memorandum of understanding.
Employers with represented employees should also remember that they should negotiate anti-nepotism or anti-fraternization policies with employee organizations through the meet and confer process.
Love contracts are less common today because employers rely on policies to address and manage romantic workplace relationships without having to resort to contracts. Employee Privacy Regardless of any policy about dating in the workplace, an employer ultimately may not be able to prevent two employees from engaging in a personal relationship outside of the workplace.
Also, employees can in some circumstances make arguments that they have an expectation of privacy in their personal off-duty relationships. While employers may not be able to completely prevent or prohibit office romances, an employer can establish policies that require disclosure of romantic relationships and give the employer the discretion to take appropriate corrective action.
Furthermore, employers should implement and enforce state-of-the-art sexual harassment and retaliation policies. By taking these steps, employers reduce the odds that they will be hit by a lawsuit if an office romance goes awry.