On June 21, 2018, Intel's CEO, Brian Krzanich, resigned after conducting a past consensual relationship with a fellow employee. Ordinarily, this kind of story would not be reported by a major news outlet like CNN because, as a rule, this kind of occurrence happens all the time. What makes this story different is that it involves a high ranking corporate officer at a New York Stock Exchange-listed company who defied his own company's express policies against dating employees. Once the news broke, Intel's stock dipped almost two percent. Intel is now reviewing its policies to determine whether those policies went far enough. In Intel's case, it did everything possible to prevent this situation from happening. It had a strong company policy against management dating employees and had conducted various seminars and training sessions with management to reinforce its anti-fraternization rules.
The fact that Intel had a policy in place and it was ignored by their former CEO is no reason for your company not to have comprehensive anti-fraternization or dating policy. There will always be employees, even a rogue CEO, who will find a way to violate a rule when they otherwise want to find a way to violate a rule by abusing their power. The fact is that where Intel had anti-fraternization policies in place might be able to help shield Intel against a future lawsuit by either Krzanich or the employee he was dating. The fact that the Intel anti-employee dating rule was not followed does not make the rule any less important. If you are a small to medium-sized business and have faced these issues you can begin to manage this potential problem by adding the following policies to your employee handbook or manual:
1. Make sure that you properly explain to your employees why the adoption of anti-dating policies is important to the welfare of the company.
2. The policy must make it clear that any employees who are otherwise considered part of management be absolutely prohibited from dating any non-management employees and that no exceptions to this rule will be tolerated. The application and subsequent enforcement of this rule will go along way in preventing lawsuits by spurned non-management employees against the company for sexual harassment, wrongful termination, and discrimination claims.
3. Within the policy of prohibiting management employees from dating non-management employees, at the Katz Law Group, we have found that the prohibition against dating should extend to at least two levels apart in your company's hierarchy. Not all employers include this prohibition in their policies but such a rule restricts fraternization between ALL managers and subordinates across the organizational structure and not just between managers and their direct reports.
4. In your policy, it is incumbent upon your organization to state what specific behavior is unacceptable with the reach of the rule applying to all employees. To best demonstrate what is unacceptable includes visible demonstrations of affection. Romantic liaisons that result in long, non-work related phone conversations, late lunches, and chronic absenteeism are examples of employee conduct that demonstrate employee dating. Supervisors and managers who are entrusted with enforcing these rules should be adequately trained in picking up the signs and signals of when employees are engaged in dating relationships.
5. Strongly consider creating an employment policy that reflects the reality of employee dating with regard to those non-management employees. Technically, an employer could have an anti-dating policy for all employees but that, as a practical matter, would not work in the real world of 2018. Such a policy could ultimately force "star" employees to leave your company's employ. Should you decide to go this route, your company should encourage those non-management employees who decide to date to report the same to the company.
A well thought out strategy and policy to cover this kind of scenario is crucial particularly when employee dating is a frequent occurrence in today's modern workplace. To disallow dating altogether would not be a wise idea either. So, rather than fighting the reality of employee dating, it would serve your company well to work within this reality. In many cases, employers who allow employees to date are having those employees enter into "love contracts." These contracts or agreements acknowledge that two employees are dating and the consequences of any such dating to each employee. This is but another way for an employer to shield itself from potential liability if and when that relationship goes south.
6. The policy must set forth consequences for violation of the policy. Penalties might be some of the same ones that apply to other policies such as termination, demotion, departmental transfer, and involuntary resignation. If you have a policy, it is incumbent upon the company to have enforcement procedures in place and to be uniform in the application of those enforcement procedures.
7. As in situations of combating sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, establish an anonymous reporting process. This allows employees to report situations where two employees (particularly non-management and management) are conducting a relationship.
When Cupid knocks on your company's front door, you want to be prepared for his arrival. At the Katz Law Group, we have worked with many employers of all sizes to create policies that fit well with a company's particular needs and culture. Please call us to discuss your particular legal needs in this area at 508-480-8202.