Eventually, someone will confront you. Panic will set in because you will have no idea what to do about it. There are really only two possible outcomes when you date an employee.
Not Every Date Is Sexual Harassment
One is that you will fall in love and live happily ever after. The second and most probable outcome is that you will break up. How difficult is this to deal with? Think about the worst breakup that you've had with a significant other. Pretty bad wasn't it? Now picture that happening in front of everyone at work. At best, you'll be pitied by the staff members who are sympathetic. At the worst, you'll be the villain. And nevermind the potential for humiliating or embarrassing "episodes" To make matters worse, the employee could go to your general manager or corporate manager and accuse you of sexual harassment.
She or he could say that she was only going out with you because she feared she would have been fired if she didn't.
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Even if your relationship was totally consenting, you will most probably lose the sexual harassment lawsuit. Think about it; once you start dating, your employee could also claim that he or she feared losing his or her job unless you kept seeing each other. Think about what that will do to your credibility and all of your hopes and aspirations of promotion. When I was vice president of operations of a regional restaurant chain, this sort of scenario played itself out twice.
In the first instance, a female server faxed a letter to the corporate office describing a situation where an assistant manager was giving preferential treatment to another server.
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She wrote that all the servers knew about it and were tired of it, and wanted to know what were we going to do to stop it. This turned out to be particularly bad because the manager in question was married, and not to this server. Soon after, she had a one-time sexual encounter with her supervisor, Scott Lancaster. After they were intimate, Cornella decided not to continue the relationship because Lancaster was her superior.
Dating Your Employee: When is it Sexual Harassment?
According to the lawsuit, Lancaster originally agreed with her decision, but then began harassing her at work. A couple of months after their conversation, he began making sexual advances against her. She refused him and "[h]e then stormed out of her office, enraged. He would not, he said emphatically, be ignored. He retaliated against her at work, calling her a "porn queen".
Dating Your Employee: When is it Sexual Harassment? | E & B
Cornella requested a transfer, but instead Lancaster was transferred temporarily. When the two ended up back in the same facility, Lancaster's sexual harassment intensified "to the point of obsession. When she complained to the head of the Department of Corrections, an internal investigator said there was nothing to be done because the original encounter between them was consensual. The difficult job of managers, supervisors, and human resource experts is to ensure that consensual dating doesn't end in sexual harassment claims.
Some businesses adopt policies against employee fraternization, hoping that prevention will shield them from the risks. Even when these policies are in place though, sexual relations outside the office can sometimes find their way into a person's work life. Employers and employees alike should be on the lookout for certain tell-tale signs that a relationship has gone too far and become sexual harassment:.
When these things begin to happen, it becomes more likely that you have gone beyond dating your employee and may be looking at a sexual harassment claim.
The fact that you once engaged in a consensual relationship doesn't mean you have to tolerate being sexually harassed at work. But a lot of companies don't let the rank and file decide--they adopt policies that ban or limit workplace dating--all in the name of lowering liability.
Enforcing these policies can take their toll on a company. Just last month, Gary Friedman, the chief executive of Restoration Hardware, stepped down in the middle of the company's public offering. Friedman was not married, so there was no affair. She didn't even work there anymore! Earlier this year, Best Buy's chief executive, Brian Dunn, stepped down after an investigation by the board discovered he had shown "extremely poor judgment" with a year-old female employee.
A couple years ago, Hewlett-Packard's chief executive, Mike Hurd, resigned amid accusations of falsifying expense reports to hide a personal relationship with an independent contractor. As companies grow and add employees, you will often see signs of budding workplace relationships. This can be especially true in high-growth companies that demand long work hours and tend to hire more single employees. When your routine is work-sleep-work, going out to date does not seem like a real option for many. According to the CareerBuilder survey, some industries are more prone to inter-office dating than others.
Hospitality, Financial Services, Transportation and Utilities, Information Technology, and Health Services all topped the list as having higher than average office dating.
As a business owner, you might ask: The legal issue is what I like to call the "amplification" of potential liability that always exists around the employer-employee relationship. There will foreseeably be claims of favoritism, or even discrimination or harassment. When a workplace romance sours, it can expose the company to increased liability, since the connection between alleged actors is easier to establish--essentially giving the plaintiff some good ammunition for his or her case.
Relationships between supervisors and subordinates create even more potential problems. In a better scenario, coworkers would find it easier to claim that an employee received preferential treatment from a supervisor he or she is dating. In a poorer scenario, the relationship would end badly, one of the employees could claim that the relationship was non-consensual, or that sexual harassment existed.