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Trying to avoid romantic trouble? Make sure transfer doesn’t look like punishment

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in Career Management,Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources,Workplace Communication

Although there is no blanket rule against transferring someone who has been involved in a romantic relationship with a co-worker, make sure the transfer benefits the transferred party and can’t be viewed as punishment. Otherwise, the transferred employee may claim retaliation.

Recent case: Julieann Fox worked as a county park ranger and was involved in a romantic relationship with a co-worker. After the relationship ended, the male co-worker was promoted to a managerial position where he might have supervised Fox. To avoid problems, the county found Fox another position that offered her additional law enforcement duties—career development she had sought out. Even so, she quit and charged sex discrimination.

The court dismissed the case, reasoning that Fox couldn’t point to a single reason why the transfer could be considered punishment.

Instead, the move was a reasonable one designed to prevent the possibility of sexual harassment down the line. Plus, it was easier to find another position for Fox than for the manager. (Fox v. Lorain County, No. 07-CA-009134, Court of Appeals of Ohio, Ninth Appellate Division, 2007)

Final note: In this ruling, the earlier relationship didn’t involve a supervisor and a subordinate, which might have made it a closer case. Always have an attorney review any transfer involving romantically involved employees. Advice from competent legal counsel can help you reach a solution that makes everybody happy.

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