Workplace Relationships

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Can a Workplace Relationship Be Considered Harassment?

For a very long time, workplace relationships tended to be governed by the policies of the employer. Until fairly recently, it was uncommon for a romantic relationship in the work place to give rise to any legal issues. However, the law is increasingly involved in many aspects of the workplace, and a romantic relationship can give rise to legal issues, possibly even creating liability.

There are a few common ways that a workplace relationship can create liability – it could result in claims for sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and conflict of interest.

For example, if there is a voluntary romantic relationship between a supervisor and a subordinate employee which ends, it would be quite easy for the spurned employee to claim that the relationship was not, in fact, “voluntary,” and that it was the result of coercion by her boss.

If there is a workplace relationship between a supervisor and a subordinate employee, favoritism could result. If this causes a long and pervasive pattern of discrimination and/or harassment, other employees could claim that the supervisor, by being in a relationship with another worker, has created a hostile work environment.

The workplace relationship may also create conflicts of interest. If it appears that work is being allocated inappropriately, or that the boss is playing favorites because of a workplace relationship, liability could result.

With all of this said, good company-wide policies should prevent most of these problems, as long as they are clear, and uniformly enforced. These policies may include annual sexual harassment awareness training, some of which may be mandated by a state employment law. If you are having issues in your office or workplace with another co-worker that can not be resolved internally by the company's human resources department, you may need to consult with an employment lawyer to learn what options are available.

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Last Modified: 08-16-2013 07:50 AM PDT

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