Understanding and Mitigating Liability for Workplace Romances


Originally published in the New York Law Journal on December 26, 2012.

The recent life-imitating-art headlines featuring illicit romantic affairs involving senior corporate and governmental leaders remind us that there are legal implications to workplace romances. Once they become unpleasant or end (as some inevitably do), the former pair must continue interacting in the workplace, which may create an environment ripe for a sexual harassment claim.

To understand the legal risks associated with a soured workplace romance between a supervisor and a subordinate—that is, when the mutual attraction between two employees of different organizational statuses ends—it is important first to understand the two main forms of sexual harassment in the workplace—quid pro quo, and hostile work environment. Claims for quid pro quo harassment (“a favor for a favor”) require proof that a request for sexual favors, sexual demands or conduct of a sexual nature is used either explicitly or implicitly as a basis for an employment decision.

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