No Time for Love, Dr. Jones

January 7, 2011

Beth Israel chief Paul Levy resigns.

In my welcome message, I noted that many people find love in the workplace.  It should not be unexpected, especially as the most opportunity to interact with potential romantic partners occurs at work.  Unfortunately, a number of problems can arise and they should be contemplated before engaging in such relationship:

1)  Is there an Anti-Fraternization policy?

Some companies prohibit employees from engaging in romantic relationships with other employees, although marriages are often excepted from this rule.  [However, nepotism rules may come into play.  Additionally, if marriages are not excepted, such prohibition may run afoul of laws in some jurisdiction, such as the District of Columbia, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of familial status.]  Thus, engaging in a romantic relationship with a co-worker may lead to termination and a denial of unemployment benefits.  Check all handbooks, manuals, policies, etc.  Sometimes, the prohibition is only for those in supervisory relationships.  As a side note, many of the objections to homosexual persons serving in the military were unfounded because the military still prohibits fraternization between members.  Such will survive the repeal of DADT.

2) How does Sexual Harassment/Discriminal Law come into play?

It can come in two different ways.  First is the obvious:  the relationship goes sour and one employee accuses the other or the company of sexual harassment.  This can be because the other employee continued to try to restart the relationship or kept bothering the employee.  Or, perhaps, a subordinate may accuse a supervisor of denial of promotion because they are no longer dating.  The second is less obvious:  other employees may complain that they didn’t get the promotion because they didn’t sleep with the boss.  Both the employees and the employer need to give serious consideration to both effects before endorsing it.

3) How can Employers/Employees protect themselves?

Every so often, there is reference to a “Love Contract” in the movies, television, or other media.  Essentially, it is an agreement between the employees who intend to engage in a romantic relationship and the employer, outlining how supervisory matters between the employees will be handled and what should be expected if the relationship ends.  This should be reviewed with an attorney, as rights to file claims in the event of egregious misconduct may be waived.

Unfortunately, there is no easy solution and every case is different.  Despite best attempts, problems may still arise.  But, though the attorney in me suggests they should avoid this scenario at all costs, the romantic hopes for the best and is happy for the new couple.