Valentine’s Day is coming and love is in the air—or is it the flu? It’s probably a little bit of both. But for now, let’s assume it’s love. When love finds its way into the workplace, there are several employment law issues about which Cleveland area employees should be aware.
The first issue is an obvious one: sexual harassment. Whenever there is an office romance, Ohio employers have to ask themselves whether the romance is truly consensual, or whether sexual harassment is involved. Conditioning job benefits on accepting sexual or romantic advances is a type of unlawful sexual harassment under both Ohio and federal law. This type of sexual harassment is commonly known as “quid pro quo” sexual harassment. Where one employee in the relationship reports to the other, the risk can be particularly prevalent, as the subordinate employee may feel compelled to be in, or to continue, the relationship. As a result, some employers require employees in a workplace romantic relationship to sign a “love contract,” which acknowledges that the relationship is consensual.
A related issue is the rights of other employees when a supervisor shows favoritism in the workplace towards his or her paramour. Such situations might raise a potential sex discrimination claim under Ohio or federal law brought by an employee excluded from the benefit given to the paramour. However, several courts have rejected these “sexual favoritism” claims.
Another important employment law issue arises if the employees are married. One of the ways the rights of married employees change in the workplace is under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Under the FMLA, an eligible employee is ordinarily entitled to twelve weeks of job-protected leave in a given twelve-month-period for a variety of reasons, including childbirth, the employee’s own serious health condition, or the serious health condition of a parent, child, or spouse. If two otherwise-eligible married employees work for the same employer, however, they are entitled to only twelve weeks of leave combined. This means that if one employee gets sick and needs leave, the married employees only get twelve weeks of leave total, even if the other spouse is needed as a caregiver.
These are just some of the numerous employment law issues raised by office romances. Other situations might raise other issues of course, including pregnancy discrimination and discrimination based on the cost of healthcare benefits, just to name a few. In the meantime, though, go ahead and exchange candy and flowers at work this Valentine’s Day. Just don’t sexually harass anyone.