Relationships in the workplace are on the rise. Recent research from the Discovery Health Channel suggests that nearly half of modern professionals now meet their future spouses at work and over 80% of professionals below the age of 30 were found to have no problem with the idea of dating their coworkers. This makes perfect sense. We spend a lot of time at work and the people we’re closest to are often those we work with. Long hours, group projects, and the fact that you chose the same or similar careers are all recipes for accidental romance. But businesses usually don’t see it this way.
Office Romance From the Employer Perspective
While finding romance in the workplace is an unavoidable part of modern life, the relationships and aftermaths of said relationships can wreak havoc for your employers. Supervisors dating subordinates can lead to favoritism or coercion. Any breakup can result in nasty accusations of sexual harassment, and even couples who are happy together can cause distractions and lowered productivity. While most employees can be sympathetic to an employer’s desire to avoid these risks, the way an employer responds to the inevitable romance situations is really what matters.
Office Dating as a Firing Offense
One of the most controversial HR policies that is still in practice all over the world is a firing policy for dating coworkers. Many employers make it a blanket-policy that zero workplace relationships are allowed no matter how separated when actually in the workplace. Some force employees to sign no-love contract, others simply mention it in the employee handbook, but the policy stands. In a surprising number of workplaces, any ‘fraternization’ proven or suspected is met with firing one or both parties.
Sometimes there is a probationary period, sometimes there’s not. There might be warnings or reprimands, but some employers will simply tell you to get your things and leave.
Is Firing for Office Dating Legal?
Employers are allowed to employ or not employ whoever they choose. While the patterns of their decision-making mater in relation to discrimination and equal opportunity, they can hire or fire any employee at-will with little or no provocation. They can fire you for breaking a rule in the employee handbook, for disobeying a reasonable order from a superior, or just ’cause. This applies as long as the firing doesn’t follow a discriminatory pattern or seem to be based on legal discrimination. Because employers have the right to fire people for, say, wearing the wrong color hat to work, they can also fire you for dating.
With one exception in the state of California. The California state laws have established that an employee’s personal life outside of work is protected and employers are not allowed to make disciplinary decisions based on off-hours activities including who you date.
When is Office Dating Protected?
Here in California, there have been a lot of employment disputes over the last several decades and one of the important victories to be noted is in the realm of office dating. Employers are allowed to fire you for interfering with work, for supervisors dating subordinates, and for making your romance a distraction in the workplace. However, due to a protection of employee privacy and your right to a private life (in California only) they cannot fire you for having an off-hours relationship with someone who happens to be employed by the same company.
What Can I Do If I’ve Been Fired for Office Dating?
If you have been fired for office dating in California but kept your relationship off-hours and away from your work, your employer has acted illegally. They may think they were within the law and will surely argue this fact but the more private your relationship has been, the more protection you have. Here at Aiman-Smith & Marcy, we specialize in helping wronged employees get the respect, compensation, and opportunities they deserve. If you have been unlawfully fired for an office relationship, please contact us today!