June 28, 2012

Most people would agree that employers have no place in the bedrooms of the workforce. But employers may need to intervene when co-workers engage in romantic relationships, especially when these relationships sour and affect collegiality, productivity and, sometimes, safety in the workplace. However, the appropriate form and scope of intervention is difficult to determine. Can employers institute codes of conduct prohibiting romantic relationships between co-workers? How can an employer tell when a consensual romantic relationship has ended and an employee is experiencing sexual harassment by an ex? How should an employer respond to office or online gossip? What obligation does an employer have to make sure that employees are safe from domestic violence spilling over into the workplace? Lancaster’s panel of experts will address these and other questions, including:

  • Office Policies: Are employers legally permitted to institute workplace rules/policies that prohibit romantic relationships between co-workers? Can they implement a code of conduct for employees in relationships? Should an employee have to disclose to the employer that he or she is romantically involved with a co-worker? Can workers be disciplined for dishonest conduct if they do not disclose their relationships? What about policies prohibiting relationships between managers and their subordinates? How can employers prevent conflicts of interest, favouritism and nepotism when such relationships exist?
  • Sexual Harassment: What conduct constitutes sexual harassment? When will innocent friendliness or flirtation become sexual harassment? Can sexual harassment still be established if an employee welcomed or did not voice objection to past sexual comments? Do employers have a duty to proactively investigate certain behaviours to ensure that they do not constitute sexual harassment? If so, how can employers do so without unduly intruding upon employees’ private relationships? What role should the union play when one union member accuses another of sexual harassment? What about complaints of online harassment through e-mail or social networking sites? How should unions and employers respond to ‘sexting’ that comes to their attention? How can employers and unions respond to such complaints when two co-workers are involved but the conduct complained of occurs outside working hours and does not use workplace equipment? What policies are employers legally required to put in place to prevent and deal with sexual harassment?
  • Other Forms of Harassment: Can workplace gossip about the relationship of two co-workers constitute harassment? Would it be sexual harassment or some other type of harassment? Can employers respond to co-worker gossip that takes the form of social media posts that occur when workers are off-duty? What policies are employers required to put in place under occupational health and safety and human rights legislation?
  • Domestic Violence: What obligations do employers have under health and safety legislation to protect employees from domestic violence, or from a violent or threatening partner, former partner, or co-worker with whom they have or have had a relationship, in the workplace? How do the obligations in different jurisdictions compare? How should employers respond to situations in which an employee claims that he or she is being stalked or that he or she has become afraid of, or fears violence from, that person at work? What remedies or avenues of redress are available to an employee who finds him/herself in this situation? What interim or other immediate measures should an employer take to protect an employee while the situation is being investigated and an appropriate response formulated?