As the end of 2010 approaches, many of us will attend social gatherings with fellow workers, whether it is a company holiday party or informal get-together. Such gatherings are an opportunity to get to know your fellow workers in a more casual setting, not a time to get drunk, pry into others’ personal lives, tell dirty jokes or disparage co-workers. Most workers are at-will employees so they can be fired with or without notice, with or without cause. There are exceptions to this rule, but your boss not liking you because of your behavior can be a legally valid reason for you to be fired. Even if you are at a private party and you believe your boss should have no right to fire you for actions or statements outside of the office, none of us would like to be in a position of being out of a job and analyzing that claim with a lawyer.
At these social gatherings you should, while keeping friendly, stay clear of any suggestion of romantic intentions to a co-worker in that the fallout can range from awkwardness in working with that individual in the future to becoming the target of a sexual harassment claim. Furthermore, subordinates who have a romantic interest in their supervisors should also consider that there is legal precedent that if a supervisor fires a subordinate because of their prior romantic relationship this may not be illegal sexual harassment. The reasoning is that the firing was not because the subordinate spurned her boss’ sexual advances, but because the two of them can no longer work together as a result of the failed romantic relationship. In such circumstances, if one of the workers needs to go, frequently the company will fire the subordinate considering the supervisor as more critical to the company’s operation. The legal issue then may be whether the romantic relationship was truly voluntary or was the result of the subordinate being pressured into the relationship by her boss. Avoiding this legal mine field is best for the supervisor, subordinate, and company and therefore many companies establish non-fraternization policies prohibiting romantic relations at a minimum between subordinates and their supervisors.
“‘Tis the season to be jolly”, but still professional at company social gatherings with your co-workers. Being friendly, but also professional at such gatherings enhances your job security.
J. Daniel Marr is a Director and Shareholder at Hamblett & Kerrigan, P.A. His legal practice includes counseling businesses and individuals on a variety of legal issues and advocating on their behalf. Attorney Marr is licensed and practices in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Attorney Marr can be reached at [email protected].