Workplace Dating - Not for the Faint of Heart

James R. Becker, Jr.

February 7, 2018

I was born in 1969 and I freely admit that I have done my fair share of grousing about millenials.  However, when it comes to dating or social interactions in the workplace, the world was much more simple when I was first venturing into it than it is today.

Sexual harassment has been illegal in the workplace has been "technically" unlawful since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Prior to that there were no rules creating liability for workplace harassment.  However, it was not really recognized until 1980 when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission first announced that it was a form of sexual discrimination and would be considered illegal.  It was not until 1986 that Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court that sexual harassment was given universal recognition as something that was actually going to cost an employer money if it occurs.  Suddenly, there was a reason for employers to start banning relationships in the workplace.  Then in 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court again weighed in on the issue of sexual harassment with what was known as the Faragher-Ellerth decisions.  In those cases, the Supreme Court established a system by which an employer could defend itself against liability for sexual harassment claims.  These decisions created a wave of work for employment lawyers crafting anti-harassment policies and, at least at the surface, provided a means for reporting harassment in the workplace and curtailing it.  They also created a mechanism by which consensual relationships in the workplace could occur.

Then came #metoo and a renewed focus on workplace relationships and their darker side sibling, harassment.  Now, an employer may escape liability for harassment by following what the law dictates, but there is no escape from the stigma that is starting to come along with a culture of harassment.  Stepping into the void are creative human resource professionals and lawyers trying to address these issues.  Consequently, there is no consensus for how to deal effectively with workplace relationships.  Employers are covering the gamut from prohibiting relationships (probably not effective) to "love contracts" (probably silly) to reporting requirements.  It's a fact of life that when you put people together for work, they won't always limit their interaction to just work.  In a world controlled by machines that may happen, but not on this planet.  How you (or your employer) deal with it is of growing importance and having a solid plan is even more important than ever.