Workplace Dating and Power Imbalance in New Jersey

Written by Sattiraju Law Firm on November 25, 2019

Americans spend increasing amounts of time at work. For this reason, it isn’t surprising that many people look to work when trying to find a date.

But dating at work is rife with legal problems, especially when there is a power imbalance. Our New Jersey employment lawyer takes a closer look at romance in between the cubicles.

What’s Wrong with Workplace Dating?

Nothing really—but potentially everything. For one thing, federal and state laws prohibit discrimination, which includes sexual harassment. Asking someone out for a date is not, by itself, harassment. However, problems can crop up:

  • Are you asking out someone you supervise, or are you a supervisor in another area? If the person you ask turns you down, you can’t retaliate in any way. But the fact you asked them out and was rejected could come up later, as proof you had a reason to not promote someone or to discipline them.
  • Do you hope to become a supervisor one day soon? Or are you on your way to promotion? If so, then the same power imbalance could quickly arise if you begin dating.

Of course, it is illegal to condition employment on sex—the old quid pro quo. But problems can arise even if both people get into a relationship voluntarily but one is in a position of power over the other.

For this reason, many employers have written policies that define unacceptable romance at work. A report by SHRM found that these policies almost always prohibit supervisor/subordinate relationships; however, many also limited the ability of employees to date vendors, clients, and each other. If you violate this policy, you can be punished simply for breaking your work agreement.

Can We Flirt?

Sexual conduct that is welcome is not sexual harassment by definition. Nevertheless, it is often difficult to gauge whether someone enjoys playful banter. They might be seething and complaining to Human Resources, which can endanger your job.

When sexual comments, innuendo, jokes, and gestures become sufficiently pervasive or severe, then the workplace can become hostile. An employer can be liable in some situations for a hostile environment, so don’t be surprised if Human Resources acts quickly to punish you. It’s important to realize that you do not need to be in a position of power to harass a colleague. You can both have the same job description. But if your flirting crosses a line, you could lose your job.

Not Dating My Boss in New Jersey – Recourse for Retaliation

If you have turned down your boss’ advances and are disciplined, demoted, or suffer some other adverse employment condition, then you might have a claim for sexual harassment. The same is true if colleagues, clients, vendors, or anyone else is harassing you at work in a sexual manner that offends you.

This is a complex area of law. Currently, the law allows dating and flirting so long as it is consensual. As a result, those who claim to have suffered harassment can expect their own actions put under a microscope to determine if they in any way encouraged the behavior.

It is best to meet with an attorney right away if a romantic issue crops up at work. Sattiraju Law Firm has built its reputation providing quality representation to workers and companies alike. Let us advise you.

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