When Office Romance Goes Bad, Lawsuits Can Follow
Soon after he hired her as a new assistant, they began dating. For three months they met in secret. No one in the company knew about their relationship. Suddenly, she broke it off and he was devastated. He began spying on her inside and outside of the office. It didn’t take long before he discovered her new romantic interest – and less time for him to fire her. She sued.
More than one-third of all employees have dated a co-worker.1 Many such relationships have blossomed into marriage. I see some examples where I work and realize that my parents met that way, too. Add to that the Gates, Obamas and many more well-known couples.
The tricky part arises when a manager-subordinate relationship is involved. Recent surveys suggest that such romances could become more common. Young workers - Millennials - are twice as likely as their predecessors to date a co-worker. More to the point, 40% of Millennials see no issue with dating their supervisor, compared to 10% of Boomers.
When have office romances or rejections bloomed into lawsuits instead of happy endings? Here are just a few examples:
- After a married boss ended an affair with his assistant, she threatened to tell his wife and he fired her.2
- Co-workers sued after their manager promoted a less experienced staff member with whom he was having a secret relationship.
- Angry at multiple rebuffs to his advances, a supervisor cut the hourly pay and benefits of a subordinate.
Employers cannot - and need not - stop all budding relationships at work. They will happen, and vive l’amour.
Employers can - and should - discourage such relationships between managers and subordinates. Employers should also have an insurance policy to protect themselves - EPLI (Employment Practices Liability Policy Insurance) is designed to help employers prevent such claims and then protect them if it happens. Businesses and agents only need ask their insurers about it. The vast majority of romances, break-ups and rejections do not become lawsuits, of course. Time heals all wounds - well, at least most of them.
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1. The statistics in this article were reported in articles and surveys found at our proprietary EPLI website, www.workplacerisksolutions.com.
2. For Boomers and movie buffs, you might recognize the plot line to The Apartment, a 1960 award-winning movie. Some things do not go out of date (so to speak).