Under California law, a supervisor’s affair (and presumed favoritism) with a subordinate may be grounds for a hostile work environment claim by other subordinates. You could find yourself being sued if:
- Employees come to believe they can receive favorable treatment by becoming romantically involved with a supervisor based on what they observe
- An affair is conducted so indiscreetly that the conduct itself creates a hostile work environment
- The supervisor having the affair has engaged in other behavior that creates a hostile work environment.
Recent case: Yolanda Negrete worked for Meadowbrook Meat Co. and took considerable time off to deal with complications from diabetes and to care for her ill husband.
After being terminated, she sued. Among her many claims was that she had worked in a sexually hostile work environment.
Negrete told the court that she was often asked how she felt about monogamy. Plus, she said co-workers nicknamed her “Lucy,” allegedly to poke fun at her reputation for chastity.
She claimed she knew some of her co-workers were having sexual affairs with supervisors, including her own boss. Negrete suspected that the women engaging in affairs got preferential treatment from their paramour supervisors.
The court said her case should go to trial. (Negrete v. Meadowbrook Meat Company, No. 11-1861, CD CA, 2012)
Final note: Should you ban all romantic relationships at work? Before you do, consult your attorney. California recently passed a lifestyle discrimination law that bars punishing employees for legal conduct that occurs off premises. It is unclear yet whether the law covers sexual relationships between supervisors and subordinates.
See also "Firing OK for breaking no-dating policy?" for more information.