Don’t be afraid to terminate if manager can’t manage personal relationships

Some people have more trouble than others managing personal relationships. When such a person has a supervisory role, the result can be disastrous.

At the very least, the workplace can become chaotic and unharmonious. And that certainly isn’t good for productivity, customer relations and a host of other important business goals.

Don’t fear discharging a lousy manager based on what you observe or find out following an investigation. The fact is, you don’t have to verify every detail or be 100% certain about every argument the supervisor may have had with co-workers or subordinates, as long as you conducted your investigation in good faith.

Harmony is important, especially today when many employees are being asked to pick up the slack for employees lost to a downsizing. Don’t let a poor manager make the problem worse.

Recent case:
Aubrey Goodwin, who is black, worked for a minority-owned company that provides housing management services for federal government agencies.

She developed a personal relationship with another manager, but soon broke it off. Then the company hired a white woman who apparently soon developed a personal relationship with the same manager Goodwin had dropped. Goodwin and the woman, whom Goodwin supervised, did not get along.

When the woman was seen crying and chasing after the manager with whom she had the relationship, Goodwin reported it to upper management.

The company conducted a short investigation and concluded she was unable to manage her staff effectively.

The report noted that Goodwin had admitted in writing that her earlier relationship with the manager was inappropriate at work. Management said that her prior relationship had been unprofessional and might be one of the reasons she wasn’t effectively managing the new employee. It fired Goodwin.

She sued, alleging she had really been fired because she wanted to discipline a white employee.

The court said Goodwin hadn’t proven that the company’s stated reason—her inability to manage her workforce—was a pretext for retaliation. It dismissed the case. (Goodwin v. Harrington, Moran, Barksdale, Inc., No. 3:07-cv-334, WD NC, 2009)

Trouble looms when Cupid’s among the cubicles

We don’t know, of course, what happened to the other manager and the new employee who were having the relationship. But chances are, if they are still working for the company, Goodwin’s dismissal didn’t solve the workplace problems.

Smart employers avoid problems by banning these sorts of relationships altogether. At the very least, you should forbid romantic relationships between supervisors and anyone in their direct line of authority. Not only can supervisor-subordinate relationships lead to sexual harassment complaints, they are disruptive and can cause poor employee morale if co-workers suspect favoritism.

Spell out your relationship policy in the employee handbook. Put it in the sexual harassment and discrimination section. You may want to explain why the policy exists and provide some examples of what can go wrong when romance blooms at work.