Articles Posted in Workplace Relationships

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Leah Kessler

This March we celebrate Women’s History Month (WHM) – an annual event highlighting the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. Congress designated March as National Women’s History Month in 1987, seven years after the National Women’s History Project (NWHP) was founded in Santa Rosa, California. The first observance of a Women’s Day, however, was celebrated on February 28, 1909, here in New York. A year later, March 8 was suggested by the 1910 International Socialist Woman’s Conference to become an “International Woman’s Day.”

According to the NWHP, “Today our aim is as clear and simple as it was 25 years ago: to teach as many people as possible about women’s role in history.” And while this goal of accrediting exceptional women for piloting reforms in a society obstructed by its own hatred and exclusionary practices is worthwhile, limiting this praise and tribute to one month out of the year does not feel like enough. This is perhaps due to the fact that this year, WHM comes on the heels of numerous, high-profile sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations—many, if not most, of which occurred in the workplace (see a previous blog on this topic here).

Published on:

Leah Kessler

On December 9, 2017, The New York Times published an article titled “The Steeper Obstacles Faced by Women in Medicine,” which examines workplace conditions for female physicians. As the author, Dhruv Khullar, elucidates, gender discrimination not only manifests in hostile remarks, but is embedded in the structural and systemic foundations of the workplace. Moreover, Khullar’s article should compel us to examine and critique working conditions in general: While the status quo advantages men over women, the current workforce, and the conditions we currently espouse, have a long way to go.

Khullar’s article highlights a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine, conducted by Dr.  Constance Guille and his colleagues, who researched gender-based differences in depression among physicians. According to the study, men and women had similar levels of depressive symptoms before starting residency, but after six months on the job, both genders experienced a sharp rise in depression scores: One-third of residents experienced symptoms of depression, and more than ten percent of medical students reported having suicidal thoughts. These results, however, were more pronounced among women.

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Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

“Dating on the job is like eating at your desk: Invariably, it’s going to get messy,” said Mark Oldman, co-founder and director of Vault.com. Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of such individual’s sex. In Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized sexual harassment as a type of sex discrimination. “[W]hen a supervisor sexually harasses a subordinate’s sex, that supervisor ‘discriminate[s]’ on the basis of sex.” Under Title VII, there are two cognizable claims of sexual harassment: hostile work environment and quid pro quo. A sexually hostile work environment occurs where the harassment is so severe or pervasive that is “alter[s] the conditions of [the plaintiff’s] employment and create[s] an abusive working environment.” Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs where a boss coerces a subordinate to participate in a sexual relationship or retaliates against her by punishing her for refusing sexual advances. But what about a consensual sexual relationship between a boss and a subordinate? Is that permissible under Title VII?

Although co-workers in sexual relationships may knowingly or subconsciously give each other preferential treatment, favoritism is not usually sex-based discrimination, even if it is bad for business. A “paramour” claim occurs where a supervisor promotes their in-office lover before other more qualified employees, raises their salary, or otherwise grants them benefits not awarded to other employees. However, almost universally, courts have held that a co-worker that is disadvantaged by an employer’s in-office sexual relationship cannot bring an action against that employer for the simple reason that such discrimination is not because of “sex” within the meaning of Title VII. Instead, it is because of a personal relationship; therefore, it is not actionable.

Published on:

Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

Working Americans spend a significant amount of time at work; in many cases, workers spend more time with their co-workers than with family and friends. It should be no surprise, then, that among millions of workers spending billions of hours a year with their co-workers, workplace romances are not uncommon. Numerous studies bear this out: A study released in 2006 by the Society for Human Resources Management and CareerJournal.com found that forty percent of employees had reported being in an office romance; in a highly publicized 2012 study by CareerBuilder.com, thirty-nine percent of employees surveyed said they had dated a co-worker at least once and (of those thirty-nine percent, nearly a third went on to marry a co-worker); and in a more recent study by Vault.com, half of the respondents had engaged in office romance. The research makes clear that office romances exist throughout the country, though they are more prevalent in some sectors than others. The Vault.com survey found that employees in hospitality and tourism were the most likely to have engaged in an office relationship (sixty-one percent), while biotech and pharmaceutical workers were the least likely (twenty-four percent).

Deborah Keary, director of human resources at the Society for Human Resources Management, says, “The workplace is the new neighborhood. People spend an enormous amount of time in the office, and if romance is going to happen, it will happen there.” As the average age of marriage is increasing, young employees are more likely to be single. As women continue to join the workforce and rise through the ranks, they are more likely than ever to be working shoulder to shoulder with men. Longer work hours and popular culture celebrating office dating add to the phenomenon.

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