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Employment Law Blog

Friday, October 21, 2005

Is your Employer “Big Brother”?

An employer’s ban on fraternization among its employees, on-duty or off-duty, has recently made news reports.  Guardsmark, LLC, a company that provides uniformed security personnel to commercial entities, has a policy that states that its employees must NOT “fraternize on duty or off duty, date or become overly friendly with the client’s employees or with co-employees.”  The National Labor Relations Board considered whether this policy (and others) violates the National Labor Relations Act, and concluded that it does not.

Some writers seem appalled that an employer would seek to regulate employees’ off-duty conduct to the point of banning fraternization.  One asks, “What if your boss could ban happiness”?  But is this not a natural, defensive response to the burdens we continue to place on employers.

Our society and our legal system have increasingly held employers liable for off-duty conduct of their employees.  ?Quid pro quo? and hostile work environment sexual harassment claims often arise in after-hours contexts.  Employees seem to expect their employers to provide more and more ?protection,” even in situations that arise from domestic conflicts.  Employee dating also gives rise to claims of sex discrimination, including claims by ?other? employees who perceive favoritism resulting from the dating relationship as well as claims from those involved in dating after the dating relationship goes sour.

Can you blame an employer for trying to protect itself from becoming entangled in domestic situations, and having to be both ?parent? and ?police? in conflicts that arise from romantic entanglements?  Some say Guardsmark?s policy goes too far, even banning an after-work softball game or happy hour among coworkers.  Let us not be na?. . . .  How many romantic relationships have begun at after-work happy hours, and where should an employer draw the line?the first flirt?  the first kiss? first base? something else?

Do not get me wrong here.  I do not like employer-imposed rules on personal relationships any more than the next person.  My guess is the employers do not like the rules either and do not want to be involved in their employees’ personal lives.  But if we are going to hold companies responsible for ?hurts? that arise from off-duty personal contact, we should not be surprised when those employers exercise what control they can over that contact.

Posted by Patrick Della Valle on 10/21 at 06:38 PM