What do you do when two employees have an affair with each other? And even worse, sometimes on company property? A Love Triangle like this is something that no employer ever wants to encounter.
When two employees begin having an inappropriate relationship, the situation itself is bad enough. Then you pile on getting together on company property, and you have a lot bigger mess to clean up. Most importantly, the situation does not set the right example for your workforce. So let’s be prepared and knowledgeable for when and if the problem arises for your company.
Suppose you have two employees engaging in an inappropriate relationship at work. One employee could be in a leadership position over the other. In that case, this mess will likely get much ‘muddier.’ There is also a high chance that the relationship between the two will go south. Along with that high chance comes a likelihood of sexual harassment claims and other claims when the relationship does take a turn for the worse.
What do you do?
The worst thing you can do is turn a blind eye. The first thing you should do as an employer is perform an internal investigation to confirm that the situation is truly happening as reported. How do you begin this process? Call My HR Professionals! We will assist you with the investigative process.
What does this process entail?
- You will receive investigative questionnaires for all persons involved to fit the situation.
- My HR Professionals will review the information you have already gathered and determine if there is enough support to confirm the claims.
- We then work with you to develop the plan of action that is right for your business.
If you do not have this service and would like to add this, please contact your Client Advocate to add this service at any time.
“But I want to keep this within the company.”
If you prefer to take this on alone, keep in mind that you are required to have support documentation that confirms any allegations. As well as have statements gathered from the involved person(s). Suppose any accusation or action is taken against employees before this information is collected. In that case, you as an employer will likely end up in a legal mess. Accusations or actions can never be based upon rumors or gossip.
Note the word: “required.”
Who requires this? Everyone! From the Unemployment claims perspective to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
“Shouldn’t I, as an employer, be able to just fire the employees because of what I know?”
Absolutely, but what if someone questions what you know? Do you have the proof? Or is it speculation on rumors and gossip or your personal bias? This grey area is where the world and a court of law will judge you, and frankly speaking, we all have bias. Not everyone has ‘relationships’ that involve sexual misconduct that violates policy. That is why your business should conduct a thorough investigation before assuming the worst.
Begin by asking yourself the following questions:
Who reported this? The saddest experience is to get a report from a spouse, girlfriend, or another family member.
Why are they bringing the situation to the employer’s attention? It could be because they have already determined that something is wrong in their relationship, and they are now making it your problem.
But is it, and should it be? Possibly, this is where an investigation is critical. Ask some questions but don’t get into the romantic or explicit details.
Now ask the follow-up questions.
- How did they come by this information?
- Do they have details, photos, text messages, or other evidence?
- Has anyone found evidence which confirms a relationship lying around? Evidence such as a card or a Facebook announcement that they are in a ‘Relationship’ with that person specifically?
- Do you have video or photographic images of them entering a room together, adjusting clothes, or actually ‘in the act’ – whatever that may be?
- Do you have a written statement from someone who witnessed the two together? How many do you have?
Determining Appropriate Actions.
Once you believe you have confirmed the relationship’s existence, go to your policies and procedures to determine appropriate actions.
- What is the working relationship between the two parties?
- Has the relationship violated any morals/ethics clauses within contracts or policies?
- If you have an Employment of Relatives, Fraternization, Harassment, Employee Relationships, or Conflicts of Interest policy
- Did either party fail to disclose the relationship to the company?
- What do these policies layout as possible consequences?
- Did they sign the Employee Handbook, individual policies, or the contracts?
- Were the parties required to report the relationship to the company?
- Did you conduct Harassment Training?
- Did both parties attend if so?
- Can you prove it?
- Did they sign the training sheet or receive a certificate of completion?
Once you have answered all these questions, you will be better prepared to look at everything calmly from a 360-degree angle. Then it is time to speak with each employee involved separately to determine the dynamics of the relationship. Is the relationship consensual? If so, you can document the existence of a consensual relationship by having them both provide a written statement for the investigation that they are in a personal relationship. Have all written statements signed and dated.
If it is not documented, it did not happen.
The dynamics and claims of a relationship can always change. One party may not believe they were a willing participant after they have been dismissed. Now, after dismissal, they must explain why they lost their job to the unemployment office or, worse yet, their family. Suppose one person claims they were not a willing participant and someone made promises of a better position or a raise. In that case, you may have a situation of ‘quid pro quo harassment. Once this information has been gathered, you will be better positioned to look at the problem from all angles.
What do you do with the big mess?
So now the big question is what to do with the big mess? If it is a consensual relationship, the most straightforward answer is to discipline both employees. If you confirmed they engaged in inappropriate behavior on company property during work hours, the cleanest move might be termination. Employment termination should never be taken lightly; it should be an absolute last resort. But in this case, taking the strongest action will send a clear message to other employees that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated at all. Your remaining staff will have much respect for you. Others will not consider the workplace as a playpen for future’ attractions’.
Quid Pro Quo Harassment
If your investigation determines there was ‘quid pro quo harassment, you have a dire situation. You need to immediately do whatever it takes to protect and provide care for the victim of such behavior. Consider these options:
- remove the harasser from the premise as soon as possible
- offer the remaining employee contact information for the Company’s EAP
- make sure they know the resources available for counseling (if that is their choice)
- work with professionals to determine what created the situation. Such as financial worry, low self-esteem, or low professional esteem.
- put systems into place to avoid these situations in the future.
The remaining employee may be going through many emotions related to the situation and its effect on their family life or professional life. They may want to run away and hide or leave the company. Especially if the rumor mill has been working overtime creating embarrassment and ridicule for all. The company should show compassion and empathy, seeking to repair the person, not ‘pay off the problem, and hope it goes away.
In reality, this is a ‘sue happy’ world we live in. Some people will go straight to a lawsuit to get a big payday out of Corporations or individuals they feel may have deep pockets. Or an alleged victim may go to EEOC first instead of working through the Company process because they thought no one would believe them. An employer and their legal counsel will know quickly if their claim is a scam to blame someone else or if they have genuinely been victimized. If it gets to this stage, DO NOT attempt to go it alone!
Your best friend in this situation will be supporting documentation for all actions and inactions. Your next best friend will be a support system of My HR Professionals and your legal counsel. Together we can make a difference. So ask yourself this question, as a business owner, why go it alone? Why not Partner with the Pros at My HR Professionals!