HR Question of the Week – August 15, 2015

Question:

One of our managers and an employee in his division were dating for over five years. They broke up a few weeks ago. Since then, I have had reports from the employee that the manager has cut her hours and has been very passive aggressive in his interactions with her. What should we do to address this?

Answer:

You have a duty as an employer to make sure that any behavior that may constitute unlawful harassment, bullying, or workplace violence is investigated and stopped immediately. Failure to do so could expose you to liability since you knew about the inappropriate behavior. Taking negative employment actions based on a break-up would qualify as harassment as it implies a quid pro quo situation in which the manager would treat the employee more favorably if she dates him. Immediately investigating and taking steps to stop any unlawful or inappropriate behavior in the workplace show good faith on your end. Taking these steps and documenting your efforts may provide you with protection should you ever be challenged in regards to your actions against this employee.

You should first interview the employee, followed by any witnesses, and then the supervisor, in that order. It will be important to monitor the situation during the investigation and remind the supervisor that your organization absolutely prohibits unlawful harassment and prohibits any form of retaliation.

While you should be sure to investigate the allegations of improper and harassing interactions through your interviews, the primary focus of your investigation will likely be the fact that the employee’s hours have been cut since she and your manager separated. When you speak to the manager, ask him to provide a business-related justification for the decrease in hours. Remember that if the employee were to take legal action on this claim, you would bear the burden of explaining a justifiable non-relationship based reason for the reduction in hours. As you assess your manager’s explanation, it can be helpful to ask yourself, “Would a neutral third party find this reason to be compelling?” In addition to interviewing the relevant parties, you should collect any documentation that would show what the employee’s hours were prior to and after the break-up.

Be sure to document each step of your investigation including all discussions with any employees involved and any actions that you take and why. Documentation is critical in case you are ever challenged in your actions.

If you find that unlawful harassment has occurred, the employee should be immediately returned to her previous hours or terms of employment. The manager in question should be disciplined according to your policy. After the investigation and follow-up have been resolved, you should communicate the results to all parties.

Generally, we recommend against employers allowing romantic relationships between supervisors and employees who report to them as there is a risk of situations such like this one occurring when the relationship ends. You should consider implementing a policy that outlines when romantic and familial relationships are and are not allowed. We feel that, in most instances, the best practice is to not prohibit relatives and romantic partners from working in the organization, but simply to make it clear that romantic and familial relationships are not allowed when there is a direct reporting relationship.

Source: HR Support Center | Copyright © 2017 AdvaPay Systems, LLC