As the calendar year comes to an end, there will be holiday parties and other social gatherings amongst co-workers. Whether it is an employer-sponsored holiday party, a social gathering of co-workers at one of their homes, or merely going out to a local restaurant to catch up, it is important for workers to understand that what happens outside the office does not stay outside the office and their interactions with co-workers can directly affect their job. New Hampshire is an employment-at-will state which means that both the employer and employee may terminate the employment relationship with or without cause and/or notice and while there are exceptions to that rule generally estranging a co-worker outside the workplace can cost you your job or derail your promotion track.
While we spend a lot of waking hours at work, the workplace is not the best place to find your romantic partner. This is especially true if that potential romantic partner is a subordinate or supervisor of you. Entering a romantic relationship at work is generally not prudent. Further, no matter how many rom coms or Hallmark movies you watch, the reality is that persistence in seeking a romantic relationship with a co-worker can cross the line into sexual harassment. It may not be at the level of sexual harassment that ends your employment relationship, yet may result in a warning in your file that could jeopardize your promotion track.
During co-worker gatherings, workers should be respectful of their co-worker’s political, religious, and other personal beliefs and not look to prove to the other co-worker that their beliefs are better. If a co-worker at a social gathering is espousing her strong feelings as to the President of the United States, you chiming in with a counter opinion may damage the working relationship with that co-worker in the future. While you do not have to agree, you can redirect the conversation.
Both in the private workplace and outside the workplace political speech is not protected under the First Amendment. The First Amendment restricts governmental interference with speech and a private employer deciding to fire you because of your political speech can occur. Of course, it would be very imprudent for a boss/owner to fire a worker because that worker does not believe in his/her political beliefs since that would negatively affect employee morale. However, if a worker espouses her political views in such a way as to antagonize or estrange her fellow co-workers even if it is at a social gathering, that relationship deterioration may cause the worker to lose her job or decrease her future opportunities within the company.
Having said the foregoing, speech about work conditions can be protected. By way of example, if a worker, whether at work at a social gathering, shared her views with a co-worker as to why she thinks a particular supervisor is inept and that is why their division looks bad, that is likely considered a concerted activity as protected under the National Labor Relations Act. Also co-workers can discuss amongst themselves what they each make in compensation. That said, as a practical matter, criticizing your boss in public or talking about your pay with others is not a good career move.
In conclusion, gatherings amongst co-workers outside the workplace can be a very positive time to solidify bonds among co-workers as a team. It is best to consider your co-worker is a team member rather than a family member. Stay sober at these gatherings and act like a professional.
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].