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Joe Salatino, President of Great Northern American Case Study

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Regulating Work Place Romances
By
At some time during your working life, you may have dated, or even married, someone you met at work. If you haven't, then the odds are that you know someone who has. A 1995 survey estimated that 80 percent of all employees have either observed or been involved in a romantic relationship at work.

1. The Problems with Employee Dating

Even though romantic relationships in the workplace are common, employers have legitimate reasons for concern about employee dating. The biggest fear is a sexual harassment lawsuit arising from either: 1) a supervisor who has a habit of asking subordinates out on dates; 2) an employee who files a lawsuit after a consensual relationship goes sour; or 3) the perception of co-workers that a supervisor is playing favorites with his or her "significant other."

Sexual harassment laws prohibit "unwelcome" sexual advances. Therefore, the participants in a truly "consensual" relationship cannot prove sexual harassment. The difficulty for the employer is proving that the relationship was consensual. Often, an employee will argue that he or she was an unwilling participant in a relationship that merely appeared to be consensual. Even a consensual relationship, if it goes sour, can result in unwelcome advances, stalking, or other predatory conduct.

In a consensual relationship between a supervisor and a subordinate, the subordinate often is the recipient of preferential treatment. Employees have asserted claims for sexual harassment based on the theory that they can't receive the same benefits because they are not "sleeping with the boss." However, most courts have rejected this argument because such a consensual relationship disadvantages both male and female employees equally. The exception, of course, is where a supervisor propositions many employees, and only those who acquiesce receive preferential...

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