'The Office,' Letterman Spotlight Workplace Romance

Workplace affairs gain new attention with "Office" wedding, Letterman scandal.

Oct. 9, 2009 — -- The on-again, off-again workplace romance involving an office "funny" man finally blossoms into marriage. The man in question eventually walks down the aisle with his long-time love, but only after he has had at least one other sexual affair with a co-worker.

If that relationship history sounds a little like David Letterman's, it's not. It's the story of fictional paper salesman Jim Halpert (potrayed by John Krasinski) on NBC's "The Office" who married the office secretary, Pam Beesly (Jenna Fischer), on the popular sitcom's Thursday night episode. Beesly, by the way, also had at least one other sexual relationship on the job, with a warehouse worker. And don't forget Dunder Mifflin manager, Michael Scott (Steve Carell), who had a sexual relationship with his boss and a subsequent fling with a subordinate.

With the Letterman scandal and "The Office" wedding buzz both in the news, it seems everyone's dissecting workplace relationships these days.

"People are going to date and have affairs in the workplace. Most employers recognize that they can't stop it," said Ashley Brightwell, a partner at the Atlanta-based law firm Alston and Bird, and a specialist in workplace sexual harassment claims. "But it really becomes problematic from an employer's perspective when the two people involved are a subordinate and her superior."

And a boss sleeping with a staffer seems to be what was going on over at "The Late Show with David Letterman."

The late-night comic admitted to having "had sex with women who worked on the show." He did not make it clear how many women or when he had sex with them. (Although an official at Letterman's World Wide Pants production company told ABC News the affairs ended after his March 2009 marriage to Regina Lasko).

David Letterman's Life Imitated in Art

Still, that admission is coming back to haunt Letterman, not just on a personal level, but on a professional one as well. Terry O'Neill, president of The National Organization for Women, called Letterman's actions in the wake of the scandal "clueless ... don't go making jokes about it, don't go beating your breast as a victim."

And she doesn't intend to let the issue drop.

O'Neill released a letter today addressed to Les Moonves, the president of CBS, the network that airs "Late Night with David Letterman," and to Rob Burnett, president and CEO of Worldwide Pants. In the letter, O'Neill asks for a meeting with the two men to "discuss respect for women in the workplace." The letter continues: "When a powerful boss like Mr. Letterman has sex with his subordinates, it infects the work culture with uncertainty, gossip, and in some case, hostility."

O'Neill is requesting a major personnel shift in upper management at both CBS and Worldwide Pants. The letter reads: "About 50 percent of the people with real power and authority should be women."

The workplace reputation of Letterman's alleged extortionist, Robert "Joe" Halderman, a highly regarded, long-time producer on the CBS show "48 Hours," is also coming to light in the wake of the scandal. Halderman seems to be well liked by many of his colleagues. Former CBS correspondent Bill McLaughlin described Halderman to ABC News as a tireless worker who had a "charming animal house frat boy air to him."

But in a column posted on The Daily Beast, Halderman was also described as a "womanizer" who "was famous for carrying on workplace affairs, bouncing from woman to woman."

Workplace affairs involving two co-equals are less legally problematic for employers, said Brightwell, but not completely problem-free.

"It might not be as clear cut and certainly could be harder to prove," Brightwell contended, "but when any relationship goes sour, one party can feel wronged and make a claim (of sexual harassment)."

Employers Request 'Love Contract'

To pre-empt that, some employers are requesting employees involved in relationships sign a so-called "love contract." The contract would acknowledge the relationship in writing and confirm that it was consensual said Brightwell, who has written several love contracts at the request of employers in the past.

The signing of a love contract was a plot point on "The Office" as well. Jim and Pam wanted to sign a love contract but Toby, the human resources manager who was in love with Pam, told them it wasn't necessary.

At least on "The Office," there was a happy ending. Pam and Jim got married. Over at CBS and on "The Late Show with David Letterman," the fallout is just beginning.