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When workplace romance goes bad, fall back on sexual harassment policy for discipline

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

It’s bound to happen eventually: Two of your employees will have an affair. Then one of them will break it off, leaving the other hurt, angry and perhaps vengeful. It’s all a recipe for disaster—and HR will have to manage the situation.

Of course, it’s easier if you have rules prohibiting intraoffice dating. You can punish them both, assuming they are merely co-workers.

But if your rules aren’t very specific, you’ll have to be careful. In the following case, the employer did every­thing right.

Recent case: A female employee referenced in court documents only as S.A. had a year-long affair with a married co-worker, M. Then M told S.A. it was over.

S.A. didn’t take it well and kept calling M’s house. M and his wife reported the harassment to the police and to HR. In turn, S.A. was informed that she should leave M alone or face the possibility of discipline for sexual harassment. The calls continued.

HR concluded that because S.A. kept phoning M, she was guilty of sexual harassment and ordered her to take a sexual harassment refresher course. She got angry and threatened the HR rep, so she was reprimanded.

S.A. then sued for sex discrimi­nation. However, the employer had no trouble persuading the court that S.A. had been appropriately disciplined. Her lawsuit was dismissed. (S.A.  v. New York City Department of Information Technology, No. 09-CV-2436, ED NY, 2011)

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