The Employment Law Alliance (ELA), the world’s largest network of management-side labor, employment and immigration lawyers, releases its first “Employer Pulse” survey. The inaugural poll examines labor and employment concerns related to office romance in advance of Valentine’s Day.
The survey was open to ELA member firms throughout the U.S. and Canada with responses from 38 states and seven Canadian provinces.
The major takeaway from the results is that technology has greatly impacted the dynamics of office relationships. More than 81 percent of responding employment lawyers cited the emergence of communications channels, such as instant messaging, email and Facebook, as having a “moderate” to “major” impact.
Scott C. Beightol, a partner with Milwaukee-based Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, commented:
Social media and IM are just another communication channel, and they offer both a conduit for and an evidentiary trail of a personal relationship beyond work. It is still surprising, although we all know these messages are a record and traceable, how relaxed the communication is. And the amount of work time that is wasted pursuing these private interests is still a problem. Love (or lust) has no bounds.
The survey also revealed that it is becoming commonplace for employers to address office relationship issues in employee policies or handbooks. ELA members reported that more than 72 percent of the companies for which they work have promulgated such policies.
However, requirements that employees disclose relationships are not universal, with survey respondents split, citing concerns such as employee privacy.
“Most employers will implement policies that attempt to restrict office relationships, but will make clear provisions for transfer/department change in the event of an actual or perceived power relationship,” said Shana French of Toronto-based Sherrard Kuzz LLP.
ELA attorneys were also split on the question of whether office relationships are more or less prevalent than 10 years ago.
Stephen J. Hirschfeld, CEO and Founder of the ELA and partner at San Francisco-based Hirschfeld Kraemer LLP, responded that he observed an increase in office relationships and offered, “People work harder today and spend more time at the office than ever before. So their social life and work life are much more entangled.”
While less-than-half of ELA members polled pegged the percent of employment claims they handle involving office romance issues in the “5-25%” category, four percent responded that “more than 25%” of the claims they handle touch on this issue.
The data suggests that, overall, office romance remains alive, but in flux. For some employers it is not an issue, while for others it is a major concern.
Overall, the survey indicates that the dynamic of office relationships has adapted to modern times. Technology has created new avenues for coupling, posing a challenge for employers, as well as an opportunity, as misbehaving employees are now leaving behind far more traceable digital trails.
As Carl Crosby Lehman, principal and Employment and Labor Chair for Minneapolis-based Gray Plant Mooty observed, the issue is truly evergreen, “As long as there are employees there will be employees dating each other.”
About The Employment Law Alliance:
The Employment Law Alliance is the world's largest network of labor, employment and immigration lawyers. With specialists in more than 135 countries, all 50 states and each Canadian province, the ELA provides multi-state and multi-national companies with seamless and cost-effective services worldwide. On the web at: https://www.ela.law.
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