We are all familiar with obvious sexual harassment scenarios – the blatant, overt dirty jokes and “cat calls” or unwanted advances. But there is another, more covert type of sexual harassment that you need to be aware of and watch out for. This kind of harassment comes from seemingly consenting parties “hooking up” at work and should be covered by a fraternization policy. We do not suggest that you outlaw dating among employees, but rather that you ensure that when it is happening you have policies in place to protect you from future sexual harassment claims.
Consider what you would do in the following scenario:
You have a long-term employee who is at the executive level. This is an individual with a stellar reputation. You are aware that the employee recently divorced her spouse. You find out that her assistant is in the middle of a divorce and there are rumors of an affair between the executive and her assistant. Under direct questioning they admit to the affair and to the fact that they are now in a mutually consenting relationship.
There is gossip around the office about the affair that includes allegations of favoritism, special treatment and extra monetary perks because the assistant has recently come to work in designer clothing and driving a nice new car that others in his salary range know he can’t afford.
What actions need to be taken to protect you from litigation? In addition to worrying about a potential lawsuit, what do you need to do or say in order to demonstrate a strong moral compass to other workers who are surely aware of the situation?
- Immediately remove the assistant from his position and reassign him to a different direct supervisor?
- Acknowledge the affair and ask questions of the assistant to make sure he was not coerced into the relationship?
- Conduct damage control with team/employees/board of directors, etc. and acknowledge the situation and give general information (without invading the privacy of the people involved) about how the situation is being handled?
- Make sure your fraternization policy is up to date and written to avoid situations of sexual harassment?
- Ensure all managers and supervisors receive annual sexual harassment training and that all employees are well versed in the policies as well as how to report/what to do?
- Perform an audit of the assistant’s wages, responsibilities and perks to ensure that he was not given undue raises or benefits based on his relationship with his supervisor?
What would you do?
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