Written by Dr. Jerry Osteryoung, Business Consultant Sunday, 29 July 2012 10:06
“The perfect love affair is one which is conducted entirely by post." ~ George Bernard Shaw
As people are spending more and more time in the workplace, this close proximity becomes a catalyst for office romances. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 46% of the work force is made up of women and that 1 in 10 Americans work more than 60 hours a week.
Younger employees are looking for companionship and friendship. Additionally, there are many successful marriages that are the result of these romances. However, there are a few serious problems with office romances.
While there is no law that prohibits dating or affairs in the workplace, businesses need to have a pretty strong policy included in the employee manual about this issue. This is probably most egregious when a boss is dating his or her subordinate, and this should be prohibited. While it's natural that people who work very closely together can possibly become romantically involved, there are multiple reasons why this should not be allowed or tolerated in any way.
Following are three cases that demonstrate these points: A boss started to date his assistant (they were both married) and it developed into a full-scale affair. They spent much time together, including time in his office with the door closed which is something that he, in the past, never did. As anticipated, the affair wound up going bad with a few screaming matches in the office. Finally, the boss had his employee transferred to another job in the firm.
The employee was so upset she sued both the business and the boss for sexual harassment. It was very expensive for the firm to settle the suit, and it could have been avoided if there had been a policy in place pertaining to romantic relationships in the workplace.
In another case, a manager was having an affair with her subordinate. She gave her subordinate special privileges, including the ability to come and go as he pleased and frequent raises. The morale of her department plummeted with accusations of favoritism running rampant in and out of the department. While they did eventually get married, the morale in this manager’s department suffered and top management again had to move this employee away from the supervision of his wife.
One final example is a manager who was having an affair with a subordinate. When approached by other staff members about the inappropriateness of this behavior, he threatened firing any employee who said anything about this. This type of retaliation brings about other law violations and other lawsuits.
The bottom line is that affairs of any kind between a supervisor and her/his employee should not be tolerated and consequences need to be felt by both parties. Some firms have gone so far as to demand that any employee having an affair in their company sign a “consensual relationship agreement” to ward off any sexual harassment charges.
One of the best things an employer can do is have an effective anti-harassment policy, as this seems to ward off sexual harassment charges.
By far the worse thing you can do is not to do anything, as this basically is an acceptance of this behavior, which cannot be tolerated. Like most things, a problem ignored just grows and grows.
Now go out and make sure that you have both an anti-harassment policy in place as well as a policy concerning employees dating one another, especially where the employees are managers dating employees. Clearly consulting both the HR department and a great HR attorney is very critical in these situations. While this is not a pleasant topic to deal with, it must be done, otherwise it could cost your business a lot of money.
You can do this!!
Jerry Osteryoung is a consultant to businesses - he has directly assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of The Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His newest book co-authored with Tim O'Brien, "If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book," is a bestseller on Amazon.com. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
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