Personal Relationships Complicate Workplace

Article excerpt

Byline: Bureau of Labor & Industries in The Register-Guard


Question: I own and operate a family-style restaurant. We want to maintain a family-friendly atmosphere.

Three months ago, I hired Helen, a new waitress. She does her job well, but it's obvious that she and the manager, Bob, are attracted to each other. I've seen them giggling and touching when they pass each other and one of my employees said he saw them "making out."

This certainly does not fit the family-friendly atmosphere we are trying to create. It also hasn't escaped my notice that Bob seems to be scheduling Helen for some of the more desirable shifts, where she's more likely to get good tips.

Should I be concerned? It seems good for employees to feel positive about their co-workers. Also, I don't want to get involved in anyone's personal life.

Answer: You are right that in general, it's not a good idea to get involved in employees' personal lives. It's also usually not appropriate for an employer to regulate employees' behavior when they are off the clock.

Such intrusions could certainly lower employee morale as well as leave you vulnerable to invasion of privacy claims. But the fact is that their personal lives are now interfering with your business. It is thus not only appropriate - but your duty - to get involved.

Here's why: Bob is a manager, and state and federal laws provide that actions of a manager are generally considered to be the actions of their employer for purposes of liability. Bob may already be scheduling Helen so she can make better tips than other employees. He also may have influence in determining who gets promoted. Any favoritism by Bob toward Helen is unfair to the other employees.

Oregon law provides that there may be employer liability when employment opportunities or benefits are granted because of an individual's submission to an employer's sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other sexual harassment, and other individuals were qualified for but denied that opportunity or benefit. …