Last week’s televised revelation by David Letterman regarding his affairs with former staffers has brought considerable attention to the issue of workplace romance – and all of the problems that come along with it. But from a legal perspective, how should you, the employer, be handling this thorny issue?
Statistics indicate that the trend towards relationships in the workplace is increasing in both small and large businesses. The likelihood that the issue is one that you will have to address (if you haven’t already) is rising. There is, however, only anecdotal evidence as to the cost of this trend to the businesses themselves. What is certain is that a failure to plan will be costly.
The potential exposure is obvious – claims against the employer for taking aggressive action in either forbidding the inevitable relationship or in trying to limit its effects, sexual harassment claims against senior employees, the loss of real dollars in terms of diminished productivity, the secondary effects in the workplace of an affair gone wrong…the list is endless; there are myriad ways in which workplace romance can harm the bottom line.
On the flip side, relationships are part of the human experience, and even this skeptical lawyer can see that there is a potential bottom-line benefit to a workplace that has a positive, but professional, attitude towards office romance. The key to a favourable outcome in all cases is the appropriate management of the issue. Not to be confused with the appropriate management of the relationship, management of the issue will ensure that key players in the workplace are well versed in the dos and don’ts of office relationships. Proper management will not play Cupid; nor will proper management transfer amorous employees to the corporate outpost in Anchorage. Proper management means considering the business and legal effects of each situation on its own merits and acting, or not acting, accordingly.
If in doubt, speak to us to ensure that your Code of Conduct, if you have one, is appropriate for the circumstances and doesn’t overreach its intended goal. Make sure that your managers understand their obligations and the limits of their legal (and moral) authority. Review your internal conflict resolution procedures with us. We’re here to help.
Scott R. Young