You’ll never be able to completely eliminate romantic involvement between co-workers, but you can and should take steps to ensure peaceful coexistence in the workplace once a relationship ends. Otherwise, you risk a potential sexual harassment lawsuit from one or both of the former lovebirds.
Just make sure you enforce the rules evenhandedly against both males and females. Don’t rely on stereotypes and automatically punish men more harshly than women.
Recent case: Forrest Cupil ended a sexual relationship with a co-worker at a post office where he was a maintenance engineer. The two former lovers exchanged harsh words while at work, and their supervisors sent them both home. The supervisors warned them not to violate the U.S. Postal Service’s zero-tolerance policy that prohibits making threats, to avoid talking with each other and not to threaten anyone else.
The post office later suspended Cupil for acting in a threatening manner while speaking with a supervisor. He evidently thought the supervisor was jealous of his prior relationship with the co-worker. Cupil sued, alleging his supervisor engineered ways for him to be punished. He also claimed sex discrimination.
But Cupil couldn’t point to a single way in which he had been treated more harshly than his former lover—or any other employee who had made threats. The court dismissed the case. (Cupil v. Potter, No. 07-1885, 7th Cir., 2007)
- How to Fire an Employee the Legal Way: 6 Termination Guidelines
- Never tolerate co-worker sex harassment, even if harm comes from words, not deeds
- Simple culture of civility and respect can wind up saving sky-high legal fees
- Working overtime can be an essential function of the job
- Always investigate harassment before firing