When is… Dating Your Employee: When is it Sexual Harassment? October 2nd, Tweet Is dating your employee ever okay? Or is office romance always a recipe for disaster? What happens when a consensual relationship to turn into a sexual harassment problem? In this blog post, I will discuss the case of a Colorado correctional officer whose sexual encounter with her superior escalated into alleged sexual harassment.
I will explain what makes romantic advances illegal, and explain what harassed employees can do to escape the hostile work environment. Not Every Date Is Sexual Harassment It is not automatically illegal for a manager or supervisor to date his or her employee. Consensual relationships happen in the workplace every day. But employers and supervisors need to carefully consider the consequences before taking that first step toward asking a direct report on a date. The law covers unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other words or actions that create a hostile or offensive work environment based on a person's sex.
Just because you ask a co-worker out doesn't mean you are lining yourself up for a sexual harassment lawsuit. Isolated incidents, teasing, offhand comments and even consensual flirting are allowed under the statute.
The problem is when those relations cross the line and cause serious offense. Colorado Correctional Officer's One Night Stand Turns Ugly That is exactly what one female Colorado correctional officer says happened to her in a lawsuit filed recently in federal district court.
According to the complaint, Leticia Cornella took a job as a corrections officer in September Soon after, she had a one-time sexual encounter with her supervisor, Scott Lancaster. After they were intimate, Cornella decided not to continue the relationship because Lancaster was her superior. According to the lawsuit, Lancaster originally agreed with her decision, but then began harassing her at work. A couple of months after their conversation, he began making sexual advances against her.
She refused him and "[h]e then stormed out of her office, enraged. He would not, he said emphatically, be ignored. He retaliated against her at work, calling her a "porn queen". Cornella requested a transfer, but instead Lancaster was transferred temporarily.
When the two ended up back in the same facility, Lancaster's sexual harassment intensified "to the point of obsession. When she complained to the head of the Department of Corrections, an internal investigator said there was nothing to be done because the original encounter between them was consensual. It is the rare case in which a sexual encounter between a supervisor and his or her underling leads to a stroll into a romantic sunset of marital bliss. More often, the results of such an encounter leads to what has occurred in this case: When Dating Crosses the Line to Sexual Harassment The difficult job of managers, supervisors, and human resource experts is to ensure that consensual dating doesn't end in sexual harassment claims.
Some businesses adopt policies against employee fraternization, hoping that prevention will shield them from the risks. Even when these policies are in place though, sexual relations outside the office can sometimes find their way into a person's work life. Employers and employees alike should be on the lookout for certain tell-tale signs that a relationship has gone too far and become sexual harassment: Hiring decisions are based off of the existence or denial of a romantic relationship Conduct escalates to a point that a reasonable person would be offended Protests and complaints about the conduct are ignored or downplayed The targeted employee requests a transfer or time off of work When these things begin to happen, it becomes more likely that you have gone beyond dating your employee and may be looking at a sexual harassment claim.
What To Do If You are Sexually Harassed at Work The fact that you once engaged in a consensual relationship doesn't mean you have to tolerate being sexually harassed at work. If your relationship has ended or your partner's conduct is interfering with your work you need to: Make it clear at work and before witnesses that you do not welcome the advances Document your objection by filing a complaint with your HR department or employer Object every time the person disrespects your wish not to be harassed at work Request that the person be transferred or that shifts and duties be reassigned to separate you File a union grievance if your supervisor fails to respond to your complaints and requests If your employer will not stand up against your ex-partner's sexual harassment, you may need to take the matter to the EEOC or to the courts.
Don't wait until sexual harassment is making you ill.