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Workplace Romance: Can A CEO Date Employee?

A Legal Perspective By Opatola Victor

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Workplace Romance

Relationship in the workplace is common. Workplace romance has remained a hotbed, for employees and even the company, in regards to liabilities.

The issue of whether or not such employee’s job can be terminated and how it can be terminated to minimize liability has been a legal issue. Risk of the company can range from sexual harassment suit to unfair termination suit.

Employers can be held strictly liable for sexual harassment of an employee in the firm as seen in the locus classicus case of Ejike Maduka v. Microsoft & Ors, where the court, in respect of workplace sexual harassment, held liable,  both the sexual harasser and also the employer and the company liable for vicarious liability for sexual harassment perpetrated against its employee.

Can a company regulate workplace romance?

Businesses and companies are looking for ingenious ways to limit work place romance, especially where such relationship muddies the water of professionalism and fetters the discretion of employees; most especially where it opens the company to sexual harassment lawsuit or any other form of discrimination lawsuit. 

As ironic as it seems that an employer company  who is not even directly involved or partook in a sexual harassment can be held vicariously liable for the acts of its employee. 

There are numerous ways in which a company can regulate workplace relationship/ employee dating policy, such as creating a work place dating/relationship policy.

Where a company has a written Policy on Employee dating, then an employee’s job can be rightly terminated by the company for the violation of the policy.

Does your company need an employee dating policy?

Let’s face it; work place romance can be dirty if not handled properly. The drama, the emotions, bickering, drop in productivity and bad publicity makes it not always succeed and it is sometimes bad for company image and business, especially when it gets messy.

Work place romance policy is guidelines for employees to follow when they are romantically or sexually involved with a colleague.

 The policy does not mean that employees cannot date each other – that will be futile. It sets a company standard for acceptable behavior and company culture when colleagues in a company date each other

The purpose of this policy is not to create unnecessary clog for colleagues to date each other but to limit problems and liability of the company. The policy provides for acceptable behaviors when dating an employee and after they stop dating.

Work place Romance Policy makes it easier for the company to lay off a staff, when it is proved that such employee engaged in such romance in contravention of the policy.

Legal Conflict: Employees Right to Privacy and Employers interest

In Nigeria, right to Privacy is constitutionally backed. The legal position on Company dating policy can sometimes clash with employees’ constitutional right to privacy in not properly drafted.  Section 37 of the 1999 Constitution.

The provision of this Section can be a wide net, employers are caught by the provision of this section and they are to respect the right of privacy of employee to his personal life. The argument is that employee’s dating and romance life is his/her private business and that the company has no power to regulate it in any way.

That if an employee has a right to engage in private sexual activity, then a relationship with a co-worker is a private activity and is protect under his right.    The employer’s argument is that truly, the employee has right to his personal life only to the extent that it does not interfere with the company’s business or cause liability for the company; and the company’s dating policy does not ban workplace dating or romance, it only regulates it as to how it should not affect the business of the company.

The solution lies in the skillful drafting of such company dating policy to ensure that it doesn’t encroach of the right of the employee to privacy.

Opatola Victor

adeopatola@gmail.com

09041815408

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