As this weekend approached there seemed to be an uptick in people arriving at this blog through searches like these:
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There is no easy answer to this question since people are going to feel what they feel regardless of what they “should” do, and it is very difficult to suppress those feeling over the long term when the people involved work side-by-side day after day. Popular culture provides numerous, albeit fictional, stories of workplace romances that end wonderfully, even those between managers and the managed such as in the recent movie, The Proposal.
However, there are many, many good reasons not to engage in such a relationship. It is almost certain it will affect your professionalism and your objectivity. The problems associated with such romances are not particularly specific to law offices, so websites that address the issue for all workplaces provide good guidance for paralegals. Many deal with it from the perspective of the employee or the manager. Today, I ask you to consider it from the perspective of your employer because, depending on the circumstances and the employer, it could cost you your job.
Workplace Answers makes several good points in this regard:
Inter-office romances can lead to problems with employee productivity, retention and motivation and there may be legal implications as well. Such romances can lead to sexual harassment claims, particularly when the relationship involves an executive and a subordinate.
Finally, the third “non-fraternization” policy is the most common and most recommended. “This policy prohibits supervisors from dating subordinate employees who are in the supervisor’s direct chain of command,” said Lieber. “There is an inherent conflict of interest in a supervisor dating a subordinate. The supervisor will not be able to maintain objectivity when giving the employee evaluations or discipline. Even if the supervisor can maintain a neutral position, other employees could perceive favoritism stemming from the relationship and bring a lawsuit (in some jurisdictions) if they are passed over for a promotion or their employment is otherwise negatively impacted by their supervisor’s personal relationship.”
If you decide to engage in such a relationship, please keep these points, also from Workplace Answers in mind:
Employer’s access to workplace computers. “Employers generally have unfettered rights to access employee email and computer and phone systems if the employer has adequately reduced employees’ expectation of privacy in electronic communications,” said Lynn D. Lieber, Esq., an employment law attorney. “Employers reduce employees’ expectations of privacy by having policies, handbook statements or other documents—written or electronic—which notify employees that all electronic communications are owned by the employer and that employees do not have privacy rights to those communications.”
Both you and your employees might be surprised to learn that employee’s personal emails could be subject to disclosure in the event of litigation. This is exactly what the Wal-Mart case has brought attention to. “The laws regarding what evidence is “discoverable” in lawsuits are very broad—generally litigants are permitted to request anything relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending action,” said Lieber. “An employee’s personal emails would be subject to discovery if the employee brings suit against their employer, the employer sues the employee or even if the employee is a coworker who sends or receives personal emails to another employee who is a litigant.”