If a friend asked you for advice about starting a workplace romance, chances are that you would advise against it. You might caution against potential claims of sexual harassment or sex discrimination. But would your friend listen? Despite the risk, it seems office romances continue to happen between employees at all levels.
Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn recently left the company after allegations surfaced of his relationship with a 29-year-old female employee. At least one written complaint about the relationship prompted an internal investigation, which reportedly concluded that Dunn had shown extremely poor judgment and a lack of professionalism.
Office romances may not technically violate federal or state laws against discrimination. Often, however, they can contribute to — or be a reflection of — a hostile work environment. For that reason, many big companies have internal policies that prohibit top level managers from getting too close to subordinates.
Harassment charges can become a public relations nightmare for corporations. The law suit alone may cost several thousand dollars to defend, and an unfavorable judgment can have repercussions in the stock price and in employee morale.
Intimate relationships at work also have the potential to transform into employment discrimination after they go bad. According to one source, once dating no longer becomes consensual, the employer may be exposed to claims of harassment, which is illegal under various federal and state laws.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), it is unlawful to harass an applicant or employee because of that person’s sex. Unfortunately, subordinates might feel pressured into having a relationship with a manager.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 typically requires that a complaint of discrimination be filed with the EEOC within 180 days of learning about the injury. For that reason, if you believe you are the victim of sexual discrimination or harassment in the workplace, you should consult with an attorney as soon as possible to avoid losing any of your protected rights.
Source: MPR News, “Romance in the workplace can be a minefield,” Martin Moylan, May 15, 2012