Office Relationships: Recognizing Severity and Appropriate Responses

Nov 22, 2019

Office relationships are far from uncommon, however, with the rise of #metoo and the scrutiny this has placed on workplace relations, it is crucial Human Resources professionals are able to respond appropriately to each instance. Both the failure to act and enforcing an action when none is warranted can prove costly through ligation.
Recognizing When Action is Necessary:
In assessing whether an office relationship warrants a corrective measure, job duties in relation to the workplace relationship must be analyzed. Simply put, if the workplace relationships is incompatible with either employees’ duties, then implementing a corrective measure would be appropriate. This usually applies where a direct report is involved. An example would be a supervisor pursuing a romantic relationship with an employee under their supervision. In this instance, the supervisor’s ability to assess the employee’s performance fairly would be compromised, therefore rendering the relation incompatible with the supervisor’s job duties. An appropriate corrective measure here could be changing the reporting structure or warning the supervisor that continuing the relationship could result in their termination.
Pitfalls to Avoid:
In light of recent attention to office relationships, one pitfall to avoid is reacting too quickly; terminating an employee without just cause will prove costly. Even if a workplace policy places a blanket prohibition of romantic relationships, this would not establish a justification to terminate employees found to be romantically involved. Each instance must be analyzed on its own, and in accordance with the employees’ duties, with proportional corrective action, if necessary.
Human Resources professionals must also be aware of the human rights grounds that may come into play with office relationships. There may be an intersection with family status, for instance, if it is discovered that an employee is also the spouse of his/her immediate manager.
Conversely, if an employee is in a relationship with a superior that is in a position to grant or deny benefit, human rights law can also come into play. If the employee claims that the relationship was not consensual a valid human rights claim can be made, even if it appeared to be consensual on the surface. Organizations must ensure that the proper education, training and reporting mechanisms are in place in order to be proactive regarding such scenarios.
It is best to seek consultation from an employment lawyer as the legal landscape regarding office relations can be complex; the #metoo movement further adds to the complication as companies failing to be proactive in policy, education and reporting mechanisms will be looked upon unfavorably during any potential litigation or legal proceedings.
With years of experience providing reliable legal counsel to both corporate and individual clients, we at Whitten & Lublin concentrate on providing tactical solutions to employment issues in the workplace along with the representation of our clients’ best interests. If you’re looking for employment lawyers and would like more information about what Whitten & Lublin can do for you, please contact us online or by phone at (866) 658-6811 or (416) 640-2667 today!

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