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Romance at Work

  • Photo: “Valentine (36)” by M.aryam is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

A noticeable number of people have met their soul mate at work.

Some may say there can never be enough love in this world.

Becoming romantically involved with someone you work with is not illegal.

However, some workplace relationships are inherently problematic. This is especially so if a power imbalance is involved.  When a superior has a relationship with a subordinate, concerns arise that it may be a form of harassment and abuse of power rather than a genuine consensual relationship.

Such a romance may give rise to favoritism or other conflicts of interest. Morale or performance problems may arise.  

If the relationship breaks down, this can obviously lead to problems.

Allegations of sexual or gender-based harassment in the workplace are not uncommon, particularly in the wake of the #MeToo movement. 

Sometimes the allegations are well founded.  Sometimes they are not.

Sometimes an ambitious employee intent on climbing the corporate ladder makes unfounded allegations about a supervisor, as an internal political maneuver.

Employers have legal obligations to foster a harassment free workplace. 

When allegations of harassment of any type are made, the employer may be liable for discrimination or harassment.  When these allegations arise, the employer must properly investigate them.

Harassment investigations can be tricky. They tend to be rife with many legal issues which must be approached carefully in order to assure the integrity of the investigation.

In van Woerkens v. Marriott Hotels of Canada Ltd., the employer dismissed a senior sales and marketing executive for inappropriate behavior at a company Christmas party.   He had touched a female subordinate who he knew was drunk, and propositioned her after the party, the next day and a month later.  When questioned about it during the employer’s investigation, he was dishonest. The B.C. Supreme Court upheld the dismissal.

In one Ontario case, a man in a senior management role and a female subordinate were involved in a consensual relationship. They were both married. The husband of the subordinate discovered the relationship and reported it to the employer. The male was dismissed. The court upheld the dismissal.

Not all employers are this fortunate. It is not uncommon for employers to either not investigate, or to investigate poorly. They may unwisely seek advice from their regular counsel. Making these errors can mean the employer will not be able to use the investigation as a basis for disciplinary action or dismissals.

A supervisor who engages in a romantic relationship with a subordinate may well find him or herself out of a job. Worse yet, a reputation earned over decades can be destroyed in a flash.

Sometimes, an employer jumps to the wrong conclusion without a proper investigation. If an employer acts prematurely or in haste, or did not conduct a proper investigation, it may be on the hook for substantial wrongful dismissal damages to the dismissed employee.

If an employer acted prematurely or in haste, or did not conduct a proper investigation, it will be unable to rely on its investigation to defend its decision. It may be on the hook for substantial wrongful dismissal damages to the dismissed employee.

In an attempt to avoid these issues altogether, some employers have policies that prohibit workplace relationships.

Others require relationships to be disclosed to the employer.

Still others require conflicts of interest to be disclosed.

Merely expressing a romantic interest in a subordinate, even without a romance ensuing, can also lead to problems.

Whether you are in a supervisory role and thinking of showing romantic interest in a subordinate, or you are on the receiving end of advances from such a person, know your rights. 

This is a slightly modified version of an article that is appearing in the Kelowna Daily Courier, the Kelowna Capital News and other online publications on or about February 14, 2020. The content of this article is intended to provide very general thoughts and general information, not to provide legal advice. Advice from an experienced legal professional should be sought about your specific circumstances.  We may be reached through our website at