May 17th, 2012

You have likely heard about the challenges facing the Twin Cities based Best Buy Corporation. Among other issues, a scandal involving reports of a relationship between the former CEO and a 29-year-old female employee. This situation and the manner in which it was handled apparently involved such a lack of professional and good judgment that both the CEO and the Board Chairman have lost their positions.

Romance in the workplace can be a difficult situation for employees. Some co-worker relationships are not uncommon. Where there is a consensual relationship no power differential it may not cause any issues for the employee. But when a manager or executive pursues a romantic relationship with an employee over whom they have the power to take a negative employment action, that employee faces a troubling dilemma.

An employee may legitimately fear that if they turn down unwanted advances from a supevisor, they may be retaliated against or simply passed over for promotional opportunities. While it is difficult to enter into a truly consensual relationship with a subordinate or supervisor, even if this was the case, the professional relationship may sour when the relationship ends. A supervisor has the power to create a hostile environment for a former romantic partner.

Too many companies fail to create and enforce internal policies to protect workers from this sort of harassment by their supervisors. It may be that the person to whom the employee is supposed to report improper behavior, is the same person who acted improperly towards the employee.

Source: MPR News, “Romance in the workplace can be a minefield,” Martin Moylan, May 15, 2012.

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