LITIGATION VALUE: $200,000 (should Hunter lose interest in Jan and sue); $30,000+ (in emotional distress for those who had to witness Jan’s “love dance”).
You know it’s a funny episode when you laugh out loud, even though you are all by yourself — and you’ve seen it before! For the second time, “Dinner Party” does not disappoint. Tonight’s episode of The Office introduces us to yet another surreptitious hook-up: Jan and her former assistant, Hunter — who has recorded a CD titled, “The Hunter.” His song about “that night” could have been a harmless-enough love ballad, except that we see Jan enraptured by its sound when she plays the song for her guests. She was having such a time of it that I was embarrassed for her (forgetting for a brief moment that this is just a show). By all appearances, “The Hunter” caught himself a real cougar.
As we all know, office romances — especially between a supervisor and a subordinate — are very problematic and plant the seeds for sexual harassment claims when things sour, which they almost always do. The employees generally claim that they felt compelled to continue in the relationship with the supervisor — or it would be their job on the line. Here, Dunder Mifflin is lucky to have Hunter’s ode to Jan, which will be very useful in refuting any claim that Jan’s advances were unwanted — please! But most of us can’t count on (nor do we want to listen to) that type of evidence. Instead, we have to turn to policies and enforcement. Crafting a thoughtful policy on employee dating should help us sleep a little sounder at night. But the key to any policy is the proper enforcement behind it. We definitely don’t want to create a policy that we’re not going to enforce or just enforce parts of; that just makes the policy empty and could create other disparate-impact claims.
So, knowing that inter-office relationships are just going to happen (hopefully not quite like at Dunder Mifflin), we need to sharpen our pencils and think about what our realistic parameters are going to be. Is a straight ban workable? Or are we going to require that employees report, and we resolve any issues with the reporting structure? The answers to these questions will differ with your company’s needs. But the main thing that you need to do is make sure that you’re willing to enforce what you write! Otherwise, the “hunters” and “cougars” in your office will be roaming free — exposing your company to liability.