Does your handbook and employment policy specify that supervisors and subordinates shouldn’t develop personal, romantic or sexual relationships? If not, consider adding such a provision.
It can go a long way to avoiding potential lawsuits when those relationships go bad. After all, it’s likely that after a relationship ends, the supervisor may be called on to discipline the employee—and that creates potential for a sexual harassment or retaliation lawsuit.
Recent case: Alshafi Tate, who was married and worked as an office cleaner, began a consensual sexual relationship with his supervisor shortly after taking the job. About a year later, he called off the affair after the supervisor called him at home, upsetting his wife. An argument followed between Tate and his boss, and she fired him for insubordination.
Tate sued for harassment and retaliation. He claimed telling his boss he was calling off their relationship was a protected activity. Therefore, he argued, she retaliated when she fired him.
A jury said Tate hadn’t been sexually harassed, but had been retaliated against. The company appealed.
The 7th Circuit reversed the jury award, reasoning that simply telling his lover he was calling it quits was a personal thing, not a protected Title VII complaint. (Tate v. ExecutiveServices, No. 07-2575, 7th Cir., 2008)
Final note: The entire lawsuit—from beginning through trial and appeal—was expensive. The mess could have been avoided if the employer strictly enforced a no-fraternization rule.
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