Drawing the Line for Relationships in the Workplace

Before you begin a new job, consult your employee handbook to determine whether romantic relationships between members of the company are permitted and if so, any requirements placed on them. For example, a company has the right to require that all employees engaged in romantic relationships with each other disclose their relationships to the company along with written proof that the relationship is consensual. This is to protect the company and the individuals in the relationship from potentially facing sexual harassment allegations. A company may also enforce restrictions on the actions individuals may take during the workday and at work functions, such as prohibiting any form of physical affection. These restrictions are known as non-fraternization policies.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace is Illegal

Quid pro quo sexual harassment can involve favorable treatment of an employee in exchange for sexual or romantic favors. Employers often have specific rules about dating between individuals within the same department or those separated by a chain of command to prevent allegations of this type of harassment.

Can an Employee File a Harassment Claim if He or She Does Not Approve of a Couple’s Behavior in the Workplace?

Yes, but the claim must demonstrate that the couple’s behavior was persistent and caused the employee to suffer financial damages as a result. For example, if an individual is frequently subjected to sexually charged conversations and public displays of affection between his or her dating colleagues that causes him or her to suffer emotional distress or pick up the slack from the work they do not perform, he or she can file a sexual harassment claim.

Can I File a Retaliation Claim if I am Fired for Having a Workplace Relationship?

If your relationship violated your non-fraternization policy, you do not have grounds for a retaliation claim following your termination. In most cases, proving that you were fired because of your relationship is difficult and it can be impossible to recover damages through a retaliation claim this way. You are employed at will, which means your employer can terminate your position at any time, for any legal reason. If you are a contracted employee and the termination is a breach of your contract, you could have grounds for a breach of contract claim.

A termination for a workplace relationship could also be a discrimination issue. For example, if an individual is terminated for having a romantic relationship with a colleague of the same sex, yet those involved in heterosexual relationships were not terminated, the individual may have grounds for a sexual orientation discrimination claim.

Work with an Experienced New Jersey Harassment Lawyer

Workplace relationships can be tricky. If you feel you faced unfair discrimination because of your relationship in your workplace, talk to one of the experienced employment lawyers on our team at The Sattiraju & Tharney, LLP Contact us today to set up your initial consultation in our office. As one of New York and New Jersey’s premier employment law firms, we have secured millions of dollars for our clients.