Ft. Lauderdale, FL- Countless romances grow out of the workplace, it’s only natural since coworkers spend so much time with each other. Psychology Today recently conducted a study about workplace romances, and found that 47 percent of respondents admitted to dating or having a relationship with a coworker at least once.
Employers have varying views, some companies have a strict policy against dating a coworker. Other employers could care less and don’t bother with an official policy. But what happens when that relationship goes south and animosity creeps into the workplace? Is an employer vulnerable to sexual harassment claims?
Sometimes those office romances last and, if the two involved parties are mature enough, the drama of a breakup won’t spill into the workplace. That’s the perfect situation. However that isn’t always what happens. When two peers in the workplace split up there is less danger a sexual harassment allegations.
If a peer relationship doesn’t work out, an employer may have to deal with some tension between the two parties, but that could be the extent of breakup. That isn’t always the case. If one of the parties, makes inappropriate comments about their ex’s body. Or, if they grope, touch or continue to ask for a sexual relations, and the employer doesn’t take the necessary actions to correct the behavior, they could face a sexual harassment suit.
The greatest risk of sexual harassment allegations arising out of a workplace romance is when one the relationship involves a supervisor and a subordinate employee. If the supervisor uses their position and power to coerce a subordinate employee into continuing a physical relationship, by threatening to let them go. Or, denying their ex from getting a raise or a promotion, is called quid pro quo harassment.
The phrase “Quid pro quo” is a Latin term, meaning “this for that.” Victims of this type of harassment are lured into accepting sexual harassment or continuing a sexual relationship by their former boyfriend/ girlfriend, in exchange for favors or special benefits. Should an employer encounter this problem, they must make swift corrective actions, otherwise the harassment victim will have reason to speak with a sexual harassment attorney.
A recent case serves as good example of quid pro quo harassment. In July, Nan Shi, engineer working for Yahoo in California accused her supervisor Maria Zhang of coercing her into a sexual relationship by promising her a lucrative career at the tech giant. Shi consented to the relationship for a while but when she tried to end it, Zhang allegedly threated to take away the Shi’s benefits such are vacation, stock options and retirement, according to USA Today.
In addition to being coerced into an unwanted relationship, Shi said in her lawsuit that Zhang forced her to move into the company’s housing and compose emails after their sexual encounters. Zhang allegedly made Shi work “grueling hours.”
Shi’s suit also alleges that Zhang forced her to move into company housing in Sunnyvale, California, and required her to work long, “grueling” hours. Sometimes, Zhang required Shi to compose work emails on the weekends after the two had sex.
Once Shi refused to continue the relationship, Zhang gave her poor performance received poor performance reviews and was eventually placed on unpaid leave until she was ultimately fired.
It’s really up to an employer to decide what policy they need to have in respect to workplace dating. But if allegations of sexual harassment arise, an employers doesn’t have the option to ignore it.