Without a quid pro quo, its not sex discrimination

by on December 12, 2008 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

You can fire a worker for dallying with a supervisor

What do you do when a supervisor and an employee engage in a steamy relationship that’s against policy or otherwise disrupts the workplace?

Tough question. You’ll have natural concerns that disciplining one party or the other (especially the subordinate) will lead to a sex discrimination lawsuit that you’ll lose.

A recent case out of Iowa suggests you may have more leeway than you might think. In it, a court ruled a female employee fired over willing sexual conduct with a supervisor did not suffer sex discrimination. (In this case, the “supervisor” wasn’t fired because he was a part-owner of the company.)

The court said in the absence of quid pro quo sexual harassment – where a supervisor coerces sex through threats of discipline or enticements of promotion – it’s not discrimination for a boss to fire a subordinate for engaging in an affair with a superior.

That’s because the discipline is a result of the employee’s conduct, not his or her gender.

It could be sex discrimination, the court noted, if one gender is consistently fired and the other isn’t in cases of office romance gone wrong.
(Note: You may want to discipline both parties equally to stay away from sex discrimination lawsuits.)

Dating policy needed
This case points to the need for employers to have a policy on dating.

In drafting it, you may want to prohibit supervisor-employee social relationships outright.

Or warn of the consequences if the relationship interferes with business, and point out that either or both parties may be disciplined depending on the situation.

Cite: Tenge v. Phillips Modern Ag, No. 05-2803, 8th Cir., 4/28/06

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