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Consenting Relationship Turns to Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

 

A sexual harassment lawsuit can start out innocently enough

Yes, I admit I ripped off this “consenting” phrase from sexual harassment prevention training I recently went to, but I couldn’t agree with the point more. Just a short time ago, another high-profile sexual harassment case arose from the same set of facts. The article summarizing the case stated: “…Kenya Burks, who was employed as the Chief of Staff with the city of Vicksburg, initially had a consensual sexual relationship with Mayor Paul Winfield. Ms. Burks alleges in her complaint that during her employment that she attempted to end the consensual sexual relationship with Mayor Winfield after he became physically abusive; however, Mayor Winfield continued his sexual advances toward Ms. Burks even though she had informed him that they were unwanted on numerous occasions. Finally, the complaint alleges that Mayor Winfield terminated Ms. Burks and threatened frivolous criminal charges against her in retaliation for her refusing to continue the sexual relationship with Mayor Winfield.”

A workplace relationship is one of the most common beginnings of sexual harassment lawsuits

This story is so commonplace that I’m sure it must be the number one way that sexual harassment lawsuits come to pass. So beware: today’s consensual, innocuous workplace romance can become tomorrow’s workplace headache. How can you protect yourself? Have a no-dating policy in place, and if employees insist on dating, have them sign a dating waiver that outlines the risk they are taking, waives liability for the company, and articulates ways in which consensual relationships can become non-consensual. This is particularly important for supervisor-supervisee relationships.

A sample waiver that may help prevent a sexual harassment lawsuit might say this:

A. As of Effective Date, Employee A and Employee B acknowledge again that they have a voluntary dating relationship and that they are equal co-workers. They acknowledge that they entered into this relationship voluntarily, without duress, and are engaging in the relationship purely for personal reasons.

B. Neither Employee has requested or expects work-related favoritism from the other or from Company as a result of this dating relationship.

C. As of the Effective Date, Employee A and Employee B are not aware of any conflicts related to their dating relationship; however, they acknowledge the potential for conflicts to arise.

D. As of the Effective Date, Employee A and Employee B are not aware of any conduct that they would consider to be wrongful on the part of the Company, its employees, or other affiliated entities and waive any claim potentially related to same.

E. Should Employee A or Employee B consider the other’s conduct to be sexually harassing at any time, they will immediately inform ___of this.

F. Any such continued employment does not limit Company’s rights to terminate the at-will employment of either Employee A or Employee B, to request that one or both of the employees leave their current position and interview for a new position at Company (with no conflicts of interest), or to leave Company altogether.

Keep in mind that such a waiver will not erase the company’s liability, but it will go a long way toward bringing potential problems out into the open before they become lawsuits.