Employers’ potential liability

Concerns about invading individuals privacy, and that human nature being what it is, people are going to become involved know matter what the company policies are. Most employers are trying to remain hands off, they do not want to become involved in policing what goes on inside people’s bedrooms. It is unrealistic to expect that employers’ potential liability can be entirely eliminated. The company can still mitigate their risk in dealing with an ongoing romance. The company can introduce a strong anti-sexual harassment policy and good management training.

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According to a 1998 survey of 317 organizations by the Alexandria Va. Based society for human resource management, 24% of the employer respondents have had a sexual harassment claim filed against them as a result of a workplace romance. The fact is many of these romances fail but the employees must continue to work together. An example of a failed romance in California cost a company a half a million dollars. A male employee of the company had ended an affair with a coworker. She was upset and began stalking him.

He obtained a restraining order against her and expected the company to fire her. The company refused to fire her; he sued and eventually settled for $500,000. The fear the company faces in dealing with office romance are certainly not unwarranted. Sexual harassment fears can really come into play when a relationship develops between a supervisor and a subordinate. The relationship affects more than just the two people involved but everyone in the entire department. It was in the 1970’s and 1980’s when many employers dropped their no dating rules.

They felt it was too difficult for the company to dictate the conduct of their employees’ personal lives. The employees would simply continue their behavior secretively. This would create more of a problem than if everyone was open about it. According to a SHRM survey only 13% of companies have a written policy on office relationships and 14% have said they have unwritten policies that are understood that prohibit these relationships. Most employers now realize that it is basically impossible to eliminate office relationships because of human nature.

Accepting this fact they are creating strategies to mitigate the problems they may encounter. As mentioned before many companies are adopting a strong anti harassment policy. They also teach employees the ramifications of an office romance. They also create a policy that states that the subordinate is not always the one to be transferred out. In most cases this person is likely to be a woman, and the policy could be seen as anti – female. In the past several years’ companies trying to mitigate their own liabilities have created a contract in case something does go wrong in an office affair.

In order for companies to protect themselves they have employees sign agreements or what is called “Love Contracts’, stating that if a does go badly the company will not be liable for any sexual harassment charges. Some companies in the attempt to inhibit relationships from forming adopt a non-fraternization policy. Few companies have this policy because it is hard to enforce and also due to the difficulty in policing human behavior. The majority of larger companies are training employees the subtleties of sexual harassment. They also strictly prohibit relationships between manager and subordinates.

The best policy is to make sure employees conduct themselves in a professional manner at work and if people do become involved it should be no concern of the employer. Romance in the office is happening and it is going to continue, the company has to deal with it. In a Dec. 1994 American Management Association survey of 485 managers, nearly 80% of respondents had either been aware of or were involved in an office romance. Employers are keenly aware that relationships between fellow employees particularly that between supervisors and subordinate, have at least the potential to create serious problems for the employer.

Within any workplace romance there are several consequences to those involved. There is first the risk to ones career. The issues concerning ones career becomes increasing difficult when there are hierarchy differences involved. These complications extend from those involved in the romance to fellow employees. Others in the organization quickly become aware, and wary about future placement and promotions. When career advancements are made and the partner of a higher level employee receives the promotion, even if not the case, other tend to lose respect for their superiors.

The relationship steps into the tracts of potential problems with favoritism and biases taking importance over worker performance and competence. There are as well several reasons why employers are concerned about romance involving their employees with in the workplace. The role of the workers can become distorted. There is a conflict between the way in which employees behave at home in the private lives and in the office. As relationships grow closer, the differences between a person’s roles are intertwined. This can effect the entire workplace.

Factors such as mood and moral as well as favoritism start affecting people differently as they did in the past. Controlling workers productivity in a negative way. As problems arise in the relationship, and they, will those involved tend to lose a sense of escape from their partner. The roles of home and office life become so closely entangled that people find little freedom and both sides are expected in the same situation even when they don’t apply. Trying to juggle these problems are inflated in workplace romances.

With these new issues there is an increased chance for intra- group conflict. There tends to be an impact with the individuals involved and those around them. Survey research, has indicated that negative outcomes such as distorted communication, hostility in the work group, reduction of output and productivity, and decreased grade of decision making tends to outweigh the positive repercussions. The problems are created as the norms of the workplace begin to change. Norms such as the obvious way that the couple interact with each other.

Sometimes creating a conflict in the way others communicate with the two. The communication tends to close off a little, others may fell that what used to be consistent normal conduct between the individual members now result in accrued situations. Trying to avoid the personal business between the two can become confusing, due to the intrusions of the relationship into the office. Things take a higher degree of consequence as the organization enters the environment of the law. Workplace romance has the potential of exposing a firm to charges such as sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual conduct within the workplace that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment. Different forms of harassment include: offensive sexual innuendoes, physical contact, sexual remarks and sexual demands to keep their job or obtain a promotion. These charges are most likely to arise when in workplace romances the relationship begins to fall apart and tension between those individuals invades further into the office environment. Management can suffer as lawsuits become directed towards the organization.

As employee interact with each other, it is the task of management to insure the workers are in a reasonably comfortable and safe environment. This arises the issue of to what extent, if any involvement of management should have on the personal interactions of there employees. As involvement of two employees begins to lean towards a relationship, there conduct increases the changes of the organization falling into law suits. Most sexual relationships tend to fail in the sort term, before they reach a long-term relationship. As they do fail individuals involved usually experience negative feeling towards their ex-partner.

As jealousy and anger increases, sometimes in revenge there is the result of sexual harassment charges filed against an employee and the company as well. Even when there is no relationship, simple complements and friendly gestures can be misinterpreted as a sexual offence. These situations can result in the responsibility of the organization. It is totally dependent on the knowledge that management has in order to defend themselves. For example if a supervisor happen to witness two employees in what appears to be flirtatious behavior, they may think nothing of it.

Simply leaving it with the privacy of the two. However two weeks later the woman files a sexual harassment charge against the man involved and the organization. Her argument is that she was harassed and management did nothing to take action even with knowledge of her predicament. This is were the problem arises. Management may have been aware of that seemed to be friendly conduct between two people but in actuality was sexual harassment. The conflict between controlling the workplace atmosphere and invasion of privacy is a major concern in these situations.

It is the job of management to find equilibrium between their employee’s private lives and communicating awareness towards potentially inappropriate behavior. In conclusion today’s workplace has produced a working environment were people are interacting with one another more and more. With the longer hours and increased number of groups and teams working together, employees are forming stronger relationship with their co-workers. Organizations have been trying to deal with the inevitable tendencies for relationships to form. The struggles between maintaining a productive environment, respect from employees and privacy have been difficult.

Organizations are spending time and resources trying to educate both employees and management about the problems that can arise. Things such as disturbances between employees groups, decreased employee productivity, controversy in job placements and promotions, as well as sexual harassment charges can occur when the romances interfere or fall apart. It is the jobs of management to provide a comfortable workplace were employees can interact and perform their jobs with a reasonable degree of privacy and respect. However maintaining a level of awareness of the conduct of there employers to help protect the organization and its workers.