What to do when coworkers break up?
Q: Two of our employees were dating, but now they’ve broken up and we’re worried about the impact it may have on the workplace. What should we do?
A: The first thing you need to do is assess the situation. When employees stop dating, hurt feelings, jealousy and uncomfortable situations are bound to boil over into the workplace. But you don’t always need to get involved. Pay attention to how the individuals interact with each other and whether their work performance is affected by the breakup. If everyone is getting along and there’s no indication of a problem, stay out of it. But if you notice hostility or inappropriate touching or comments going on between the employees, it’s time to take action. Even if those actions were welcomed or acceptable to the individuals at one point in time, the situation has changed and allowing it to continue could lead to a harassment claim. Sit down individually with each employee to discuss your concerns and your expectations going forward. If necessary, conduct a harassment investigation and take the appropriate steps to protect the victim. Also be aware of any domestic violence issues that may creep up; if one party has been abusing or stalking the other party, you may have a heightened obligation to protect your employee’s safety.
Need to discuss a particular situation? Your Vigilant staff representative would be happy to help. Also see our Legal Guide, “Harassment in the Workplace: Avoiding Liability” (3288).