It’s perfectly legitimate to try to prevent sexual harassment and allegations of favoritism by instituting a policy that bans romantic relationships between co-workers. You can even require one spouse to resign when co-workers marry.
Recent case: Dollie Ayers-Jennings, who worked for discount retailer Fred’s for many years, met and married another Fred’s employee. When they returned from their honeymoon, a supervisor who hadn’t known about their relationship or wedding called them into his office. There they learned that one would have to resign in order to avoid violating the company’s nonfraternization rule, which said that married couples could not work in the same division.
Since Dollie Ayers-Jennings earned less than her husband, she quit. Then she sued, alleging that she had been singled out because she and her husband are black.
She pointed that three white couples continued to work for Fred’s after their weddings.
But Fred’s argued that those couples didn’t work in the same division, nor did one spouse supervise the other.
The court said that since the policy was specific, and since there were no open jobs that either Dollie or her husband could transfer into, the company was within its rights to request a resignation. (Ayers-Jennings v. Fred’s, No. 10-6228, 6th Cir., 2012)
Final note: A carefully tailored rule evenhandedly enforced is best. Here, the company’s rule was specific enough to prevent harassment and other problems, but broad enough to allow for reasonable exceptions.
- How to Fire an Employee the Legal Way: 6 Termination Guidelines
- Workplace detective: 10 investigation mistakes to avoid
- Employee enrichment retains talent, boosts productivity
- When employee complains of bias or harassment, beware acting in ways that look like retaliation
- If worker is out on FMLA leave, can we modify her job?