Workplace Romance, Rejections and Lawsuits: There’s Insurance for That
The young waitress was not happy working the night shift. The evening cook repeatedly made sexual comments and inappropriate physical contact, and pestered her for dates. She told him to stop but the behavior continued unabated. Finally, she complained to the restaurant owner. It was apparently easier to find a new waitress than a qualified cook because she was fired by the owner the next day. However, she took her retaliation claim to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the tables were turned; the owner ended up paying $75,000 to settle the claim.
There is nothing romantic about this scenario, yet similar sexual harassment and retaliation happen to employees of all ages in just about any type of business. Of course, many romances do bloom at work. Over one in three employees say they are currently dating or have dated someone at work, though management does not always know about it. Roughly 35% of those dating a co-worker said they kept it secret. In some cases, the boss may be the person whom the subordinate is dating, which is a clear violation of most workplace policies.
So where do the lawsuits come in? Like the young waitress experienced, workplace break-ups and rejections can lead to retaliation and other unwanted behavior. Consider these findings:
- 40% of co-workers complained of favoritism
- 23% claimed sexual harassment
- 22% complained of retaliation after the romance ended
- 17% complained of stalking after the romance ended
Retaliation can take many forms other than employee termination. Changing a shift, moving a work site, pay cuts and other adverse action has been found retaliatory as well. Retaliation claims are generally easier to prove than discrimination and sexual harassment, and perhaps that is why the claim volume has risen. During the past 10 years, retaliation claims grew 70% and now represent the single most common type of complaint with the EEOC.
The good news is that if things go bad, Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) covers claims just like the one our restaurant owner faced. Protection is available with the purchase of an EPLI endorsement to a small business commercial policy. In our EPLI program, risk management resources can also help a business establish clear workplace romance guidelines and a hotline to an attorney if questions arise.
If 35% of dating workers keep the relationship a secret, can you say for certain that there is no romance - actual or attempted - in your company? Many will lead to marriage or uneventful breakups but some will not. The exposure to lawsuits is real even if you don’t see it.
So check your insurance files or call your agent or insurer about getting EPLI protection. It might not be a romantic way to spend Valentine’s Day, but it’s better than getting served with a lawsuit.