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SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS IN THE WORKPLACE
By Sandy Seay

8/28/2012 -

“Because you’re mine, I walk the line – Johnny Cash, c. 1956 A.D.”

Aphrodite spoke and loosened from her bosom the embroidered girdle of many colors into which all her allurements were fashioned. In it was love and in it desire and in it blandishing persuasion which steals the mind even of the wise.” -- Homer, c. 700 B.C.

One of the toughest jobs for many managers, supervisors and professionals these days is walking the line between being the boss and being friendly to employees. On the one hand, most of us want to be thought of as friendly; on the other hand, we must remain in authority. In today’s working environment, both men and women must use a good dose of discretion and good judgment in order to discern proper behavior at work, primarily owing to the sexual harassment regulations. In large measure, it is the harassed person who determines whether an action is sexual harassment. Someone once said, “Sexual harassment is your most sensitive employee at his or her most sensitive moment.” According to the regulations, an act is sexual harassment if it is (1) sexual in nature and (2) unwelcome. Thus, those persons in authority should engage in no action, language or behavior that could be perceived as sexual harassment by another party. That’s a pretty tough order but it’s the landscape today with these regulations and in this society.

In the view of our firm, we recommend that every employer should have a policy, published in the employee handbook, prohibiting management from engaging in a social, dating or romantic relationship with non-management employees. This includes virtually all persons in authority such as managers, supervisors, professionals and others. Otherwise, this is Trouble Waiting To Happen (TWTH). Here are some principles that might be helpful:

1) Management should not date or have a social or romantic relationship with non-managers, on or off the job, or with other persons, like vendors or suppliers, where a potential conflict of interest might develop, or where onlookers might sense a perception of favoritism or preferred treatment.

2) Management should not hire persons with whom they are having a social or romantic relationship because this is TWTH.

3) Management should refrain from language or actions that might send a romantic message to another non-manager. This could occur in person, by phone or by email or text. Imprudent emails have been the downfall of many a person in authority.

4) Persons in authority should not go to lunch or dinner with their employees or other workers who are not at the same employment level, unless the lunch or dinner has a clear and necessary business purpose.

5) Revealing or immodest attire worn by one party is not a carte blanche invitation to impropriety by another party.

6) If a romantic relationship develops between a person in authority and another employee, the relationship cannot be allowed to continue, as this is TWTH.

7) The person in authority is the person who is held responsible and accountable for proper and prudent behavior and, in most cases, will be the person to suffer the consequences of an ill-conceived action. If a person in authority is the recipient of suggestive language or innuendo by an employee, the person in authority must put a stop to it.

8) In most cases, employers should not take disciplinary action against the person who is not in authority, as this could lead to a charge of “retaliation,” which is a separate charge, standing alone, even if no other discrimination or harassment has occurred.

Please contact Sandy or your Seay Management Consultant if you have any question about resolving these kinds of important but sometimes sensitive management issues.



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