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ROMANCE AT WORK

3/21/2005 - “There’s nothing cold as ashes, after the fire is gone” – Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn.

Bill was the General Manager of a medium sized company somewhere in America. He had worked hard all his life and, in the last several years, had reached a high mark in his profession, performing an important and interesting job and earning a good salary. Beth Anne was a department supervisor in the same company, reporting to a Division Manager, who in turn reported to Bill. During the course of work, Bill and Beth Anne had occasion to be in a number of meetings together and it soon became apparent to both of them that they had an interest in each other that extended beyond the job description. One day, Bill asked Beth Anne if she would like to join him for dinner. Beth Anne happily accepted and soon a romantic relationship began to develop. Before long, the entire company knew that “Bill and Beth Anne were seeing each other.”

One day, a higher management job opening occurred for which several employees were qualified, including Beth Anne. When Beth Anne was ultimately chosen for the position, the other people “knew” it was because she was involved with the boss. Later, one of the candidates who was not chosen filed a sex discrimination law suit. Beth Anne worked on her new job for about six months before it became apparent that she was not able to perform at a satisfactory level. In the meantime, Bill had cooled in his romantic relationship toward Beth Anne. Later, when the Division Manager demoted Beth Anne, she thought the decision was unfair and promptly filed a sex discrimination law suit against both Bill and the company, on the basis of sexual harassment. Such are the vicissitudes of romance at work.

These stories are not uncommon in business today and they occur involving both men and women and women and men. In a recent example, the President of the Boeing Company was forced to resign because, it is reported, that he had an “affair” with another employee (Orlando Sentinel, Tuesday, March 8, 2005). Today, managers must take extraordinary precautions to avoid both the reality and the appearance of impropriety at work. Here are our recommendations.

First, we recommend that no managers or supervisors be permitted to date or have a social or romantic relationship with any employee under their supervision, directly or indirectly. If a manager has a romantic relationship with a subordinate, this is trouble waiting to happen. Management has the right – one might argue, also the responsibility -- to prohibit activity that affects the image, reputation or services of the employer, regardless of whether the behavior occurs during or after regular work hours.

Second, management must educate all managers and supervisors in preventive maintenance, in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety, even if actual impropriety does not occur. One way to accomplish this goal is to conduct sexual harassment awareness training in which you teach managers the do’s and don’ts of what you say, how you act and what you do, in so far as the opposite sex is concerned.

Third, if a manager or supervisor is involved in a romantic relationship with a subordinate or co-worker at this time, have a counseling session with the manager and require him or her to cease the relationship immediately. Remember, in virtually every case, you must deal with the higher of the positions, because that is the one with the authority. In most cases, it is very difficult to discipline the subordinate, because of the danger of a sex discrimination lawsuit, on the basis of retaliation.

Fourth, develop a firm policy on “Social And Romantic Relationships at Work,” in which you clearly specify the professional behavior that the employer expects of all employees and managers and communicate this policy in your management meetings. We’re enclosing a sample policy that we recommend.

If you have an issue with a supervisor or manager having a romantic or social relationship with a subordinate or co-worker, and would like to talk about it, please contact your Seay Management consultant to discuss it. We’ll be glad to “peel the onion” and help resolve this very difficult, delicate and volatile area of potential exposure.

POLICY ON SOCIAL AND ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS AT WORK

In the course of business operations, we have found that work relationships are usually more productive and rewarding if these relationships remain professional in nature and business oriented. If a sound and secure business relationship is impaired by emotional or personal involvement, all of us can be affected adversely -- employees, managers and customers (or patients or clients). For example, a manager dating another employee could be viewed by others as favoritism or discrimination and could provide a basis for a serious employee morale problem. For these reasons, we have established a policy on social relationships at work which states that no officer, supervisor or member of management is allowed to date or maintain a social or romantic relationship with any employee under his or her direct or indirect supervision. In addition, no officer, supervisor or member of management should date or maintain a social or romantic relationship with any employee whose duties could create a real or apparent conflict of interest. For example, an accounts payable employee dating a purchasing manager might fall in this category and would therefore be prohibited. Should a social or romantic relationship develop, it is the responsibility of the supervisor or manager to immediately put a stop to it. Violation of this policy may be grounds for disciplinary action up to and including dismissal from employment.



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