Letterman Scandal Raises Questions About Sex in the Workplace

Letterman scandal raises questions about workplace relationsips.

October 02, 2009, 8:05 PM

Oct. 3, 2009 — -- David Letterman's admission that he had sex with women who worked for his show raised questions about sex and romance in the workplace.

Is it possible to have an appropriate romance at work? Can a relationship with your boss ever be completely consensual?

"GMA" workplace contributor Tory Johnson, founder and CEO of Women For Hire, gives some advice on romance in the workplace:

Q: Is workplace romance ever a good idea?

Tory Johnson: Romance is complicated enough, even outside the office, so in an ideal world, we wouldn't have romantic workplace relationships. But we spend so many hours on the job -- sometimes working very closely, especially when there's such a huge emphasis on teams, partnerships, and collaborations, plus long, intense hours -- that it's unrealistic to assume that people won't or don't become attracted to one another. It happens.

Sometimes it works out wonderfully -- and two employees get married and live happily ever after.

But it doesn't always work out that way. And when it doesn't, there are some very real risks that can cost you both your jobs.

There are three key considerations.

UNCOMFORTABLE ENCOUNTERS: As the song says, breaking up is hard to do. You dump your date -- or you get dumped -- and you never want to see or speak to that person again. When they're in the next cubicle, that becomes quite a challenge. It makes for a very uncomfortable environment -- one in which I wouldn't want to work.

SOURCE OF GOSSIP: There are absolutely no secrets at work. It just doesn't exist. So would it be OK with you if everyone knew who you were dating? How would it impact your reputation among colleagues? Whether it works out or not -- depending on where you work -- there's fallout that can hurt you.

TERMINATION: Obviously, we know sexual harassment is illegal, but some consensual relationships may also be against company policies. Some employers spell out clear parameters about what's acceptable and what's not, especially between the boss and a direct report. Before you get in bed, open that policy book -- and be clear on the risk you're taking.

Q: Can a relationship with your boss ever be truly consensual?

Tory Johnson: This isn't black and white. Hopefully you don't start a relationship or sleep with the boss because you're eyeing a promotion -- and similarly, not every romance that sours means you can kiss your job goodbye. Even if things don't last, it doesn't mean the boss will automatically be vindictive. One thing is sure: The potential power struggle or fallout may not be something anyone can predict in advance. Love and lust are crazy things. But when you're messing around at work, these are absolutely the things you've got to think about.

Q: What should you do if you boss expresses interest in you?

Tory Johnson: It absolutely depends on the work place and your personal circumstances. If you are married or your boss is married, that is more inappropriate than two single people. Sometimes, you're interested and sometimes you're not. If you aren't, you can instantly say, "I'm not interested," or, "I'm in a committed relationship." And most times that can nip it in the bud. If it persists, then that crosses the line. You can continue to say no, tell them again and if it continues, then you can go to HR. And make sure you document it.

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