Thursday, November 29, 2007

Workplace Affairs Still Cause Problems

I have written about workplace romance before, but it appears SOME people are not paying attention.

Take the case of the American Red Cross recently dumping President and CEO Mark W. Everson after it was learned he'd had an affair with a female subordinate.

This kind of hanky-panky has been going on in the workplace since, well, forever, but there is a lot less tolerance of on-the-job romance in some cases. Boeing CEO Harry Stonecipher learned that lesson the hard way when he had to resign because he had a love affair with another female executive. And now Everson can join that list of people who think the rules apply to someone else.

Companies -- and even nonprofits like the Red Cross -- cannot afford to have their images tarnished by tawdry affairs that cast their public reputations into the mud. That means that those with lesser titles, including everyone from a senior vice president to the newest employee, need to be even more vigilant about making sure workplace dating complies with any guidelines set up by the organization. (And keep in mind that the rules may be even more strict regarding dating someone else if you are already married, and still apply even if you fool around while on a business trip.)

While those workplace dating rules may be written in an employee manual, they may not be. But before you even think about becoming romantically involved with someone at work, make sure you clearly understand the rules and follow them. Ask your boss or your personnel department to clarify the guidelines on workplace dating. If they don't seem to have a clue, here are some general rules that will help keep you from getting into trouble:

1. No dating the boss. This is always a bad idea because the boss can be fired for dating a subordinate, and your job and reputation can be trashed as well. But let's face it: the boss probably has many more connections than you do, and stands a better chance of landing on his or her feet. You could be looking for a decent job for a long time to come. If you are the boss, keep in mind that you could face a sexual harassment charge from the subordinate if the love affair takes a bad turn.

2. Keep it private. No canoodling in the hallways, supply closet or elevators. Never send anything smacking of private thoughts via e-mail to the other person while at work. This can easily be used against you (this is how Stonecipher got caught), and lead to your firing on the basis that you're using company property for your personal use. If co-workers do find out about it, refuse to be drawn into any discussion.

3. Set some ground rules. Always make it clear to the other person that you want the dating kept private, and that you don't want to jeopardize your job in any way. If you believe the other person can't or won't honor that, then you may want to decline anything other than a working relationship.

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