What’s Love Got to Do With It?

On February 14, 2014 by Alix R. Rubin, Esq.

Romantic love and work are not good bedfellows, despite what you’ve seen on “Mad Men,” “Boston Legal,” and “The Office.” For example, allowing your supervisors to date their subordinates may lead to an affair you would prefer not to remember.

Take the case of Marino Roa, who was romantically involved with two female subordinates. One of those women gave him a Valentine’s Day gift. And guess what?

Marino’s wife found the gift and confronted him. So he asked his brother and subordinate at work, Fernando, to tell his wife that the gift was for him. Fernando agreed but later revealed the true story to Marino’s wife.

So what did Marino do? Apologize to his wife, end the affairs, and thank his brother for helping him save his marriage? Guess again.

Marino made Fernando’s life at work miserable. Fernando then complained about Marino’s sexual harassment of the two women he was involved with to the company’s owner. (Why Fernando didn’t complain about Marino’s harassment of him is anyone’s guess. Perhaps brotherly love?)

Marino’s harassment of Fernando intensified. His employment was terminated later that year. Fernando sued the company and Marino (no more brotherly love) for unlawful retaliation, among other things.

Key lessons you can learn from this case, which went all the way to the New Jersey Supreme Court:

1. Strongly discourage your managers from dating their subordinates, whether or not they are married to someone else.

Tip: If you encourage your employees to have a life outside of work, they’ll be less likely to date one another.

In addition, an office dating policy that incorporates the use of love contracts will go a long way toward saving yourself from these headaches that can lead to lawsuits:

• The supervisor won’t take “no” for an answer to his sexual propositions.

• The relationship goes sour, and the subordinate claims it wasn’t consensual all along.

• The relationship goes sour, and the supervisor retaliates against her former lover.

• The relationship never gets off the ground, and the supervisor disciplines the subordinate for legitimate reasons, but the subordinate perceives the discipline as retaliatory.

• Other employees complain of “paramour favoritism.”

• The couple’s hugs and kisses make other employees uncomfortable.

2. If at all possible, do not permit relatives or lovers (see number 1) to be in a reporting relationship at work.

Your office dating and conflict of interest policies should cover this.

3. Do not tolerate retaliation, period, particularly if the employee affected has complained about a supervisor’s misconduct.

Your sexual harassment complaint policy should emphasize zero tolerance for retaliation. For the fifth consecutive year, retaliation-based charges were the most common received by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during fiscal year 2013. And sexual harassment charges were the most likely to result in an initial finding in favor of the employee.

Most importantly, none of these policies are worth a box of chocolates unless you educate your employees about them and train your managers to enforce them uniformly.

 

 

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