Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Office Romance

Lou Michels of Suits in the Workplace writes about the legal perils of office romance:
Given the expansive definitions of hostile work environment contained in recent California cases, and the normal concerns about favoritism/nepotism, there would appear to be very little upside for an employer that doesn’t pay attention to the romantic liaisons in its workforce. Especially crucial are relationships between management and subordinate employees, even where no direct superior-subordinate relationship exists. My experience is that coworkers will always believe that any benefit received by the lower-ranking employee in such a relationship is always a result of the relationship, and not job competence. This perception obviously creates larger problems for everyone as a relationship continues. I regularly counsel my clients to require disclosure of these kinds of relationships at a minimum, and, if possible, prohibit them.
This gets especially tricky when the CEO is a party to an office romance. Everyone else in the company (including the romantic partner) is a lower-ranking employee and therefore off-limits to the CEO -- according to policy. But a CEO may simply choose to carry on, heedless or ignorant of the effect of his or her actions on the morale of other employees and on the company's exposure to legal action. That's when the VP with responsibility for HR must step in and counsel the CEO. It would be dereliction of duty not to step in.