By: Amanda K. Hall
The recent allegations against Bill O’Reilly and news of significant settlements in multiple sexual harassment lawsuits demonstrate the danger of romantic interactions between supervisors and subordinates. In the case of Mr. O’Reilly, a former guest commentator claimed Mr. O’Reilly was “hostile” to her and that her guest segments were put on hold because she rejected his invitation to accompany him to a hotel suite after dinner.
Assume a manager attempts to date a subordinate and he/she refuses the advances. If that same manager now disciplines the same subordinate, or chooses another candidate over the subordinate for a promotion, the manager has opened the door to a potential claim of quid pro quo sexual harassment with respect to the employer. Quid pro quo (or “this for that”) sexual harassment claims, as distinguished from hostile work environment claims, typically involve allegations that a supervisor has taken a tangible employment action – for example, a demotion, a reduction in pay, or a termination – against a subordinate because he or she has failed to acquiesce to the sexual demands of the supervisor.
Even if the subordinate accepts the manager’s advances, and the relationship appears to be consensual, these situations have the potential to lead to sexual harassment claims. While the subordinate and the manager may fall in love and/or marry, it is also possible that the relationship will end and the employer may be exposed to liability. If the relationship ends, the subordinate may contend that he/she is being unfairly counseled or not promoted because he/she ended the relationship. Or, an employee may contend they dated a manager only because he/she feared for the job. Similarly, the employer is open to potential claims from other employees (or comparators) who could potentially allege that they received less favorable treatment because they were not dating the boss.
The bottom line? Workplace romances, particularly between managers and subordinates are not a good idea. And, because of the potential issues that can result from such romances, employers should be wary of permitting workplace fraternization, particularly between supervisors and subordinates. To that end, employers should carefully consider their stance on workplace romances and adopt and/or review their policies on workplace fraternization accordingly.
For any questions, please contact Amanda Hall at [email protected].