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When Office Romances Cannot Achieve Their Happy Endings
A Look into Company Policies Regarding Dating
Office romances are not new to us. It is a trend that has been happening for many decades now. Depending on the viewpoint, it is something that benefits or causes harm to both the employer and the employee. In issues that have baffled companies regarding intra-office dating or consensual relationships between co-workers, careers have been destroyed and companies have been sued. And even with the intentions of sustaining a positive atmosphere for all their workers and maintaining the wholesome image of their companies, institutions have failed miserably to prove their means for achieving these aims. In the following paragraphs, the company policies regarding dating shall be reviewed and problems arising from it shall be discussed.
Laural Allen and Samuel Johnson's romance was something that rocked Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the U.S., upholds a policy which forbids any of its employees from dating another married employee. The two were no exception since although Ms. Allen was separated from her husband, she was still legally married. The relationship that started in the sporting goods department of a Wal-Mart in New York ended tragically when both of them were dismissed from work.
According to Attorney General Robert Abrams, the “no dating” policy of Wal-Mart is illegal since the former employees were participating in a “lawful” activity. While the two sued Wal-Mart on their own with the claims that they had been “wrongfully” discharged and were inflicted “emotional harm” with what happened. (Steinberg, 1993)
This is a clear example of how company policies go overboard. The relationship, which may seem inappropriate to some, should not be decided as so by mere observance. What's more is that the company has no say whatsoever as to how employees should live their lives as long it's not interfering with their job performance.
And although the 1989 edition of “Fraternization,” the said company's handbook, cautions its sales associates to maintain “sound business relationships” with their coworkers, the company still has no jurisdiction whatsoever over the personal actions of their employees. (Steinberg, 1993)
The handbook also said that an employee dating a married employee is not allowed because it goes against their beliefs. The problem here is that these beliefs are not words from the bible for their employees to follow. However you look at it, to fire an employee on the basis of one's conduct outside of work which in no way affects his/her job performance, is irrational.
A company's intrusion into the private lives of the people who are serving them properly is unethical. Although some companies may think that love is irrelevant or unimportant in comparison to the welfare of their stocks or image, it doesn't change the fact that the driving force of their company is the bulk of their employees.
And if we were to apply terms that could more properly describe a company dating policy, it would be: a violation of personal freedom. (Porter, 2006) Of course the reasons why companies impose such policies are not wrong altogether, it's just that there is always a way to handle and solve things administratively with employees without stepping on anyone's rights.
Nowadays, employers have the habit of thinking that they have control over their employees' actions just because they are paid by the company. This was IBM's thinking, they were wrong.
It took a law suit for IBM to realize that they could not terminate an employee just because of who he/she is dating. The female manager who had a relationship with a manager of a rival firm, emphasized that there was a clause on her contract that said their private lives would not be taken into account as basis for termination unless it affects their performance at work. (Kilborn,1994)
IBM was afraid that the two were exchanging trade secrets about each other's company, something which they weren't doing. America gives rights to employers to hire and dismiss employees at will, but it also gives employees personal freedom. Now, although the American Constitution protects a person's right to privacy, this is just when it comes to government, not employer intervention.
It is actually hard to defend against professional forms of intrusion. “Banks can examine the police records of applicants for teller jobs to bar convicted embezzlers. Government-mandated scrutiny of off-the-job drug or alcohol abuse by airline pilots and interstate truckers is widely accepted because the public's right to safety supersedes the individual's right to an otherwise legal martini.” (Kilborn,1994)
But there is a big difference between intrusions that are prerequisites for proper functioning during job duty and intrusions that are violation of employee privacy and freedom. Termination on the assumption that an employee is exposing company secrets to a rival company just because she is dating the person employed there is too rash and irresponsible.
First of all, it wasn't proven that there was any leakage of company secrets. Second, there was no fluctuation of performance from the female manager during the time that the two were dating. And most importantly, the company has no say whatsoever regarding the private lives of their employees.
Attorney Craig M. Cornish, an expert on workplace privacy from Colorado Springs, made an excellent point. He said that employers should simply monitor their workers' work, not their private lives. If there is any sign of decrease in output or service, then that can be grounds for enforcing action. Cornish added, "We ought to be focusing on the performance of employees and stop making predictions based on something they're doing off duty." (Kilborn,1994)
In the end, whatever relationships employees have, may it be with their co-workers, rivals or even superiors, it should not be questioned nor should it be used as a basis for dismissal if it doesn't affect their work performance in any manner possible.
Wannabe Big Brother
In this day and age of the Internet, the use of electronic mail or e-mail is a common practice. For organized companies, they provide e-mail services to their employees in order to facilitate intra-company communication and outgoing communications too.
The efficiency that e-mail brings to the workplace is because it is simple and inexpensive in nature. It also decreases the use of paper in the office. One matter that again causes concern regarding the said technological advancement is the issue of privacy.
This matter is due to the fact that when in use of a company e-mail system, any authorized personnel may access the e-mails of any employee or subordinate for any legal or administrative purpose that he/she may want to use. And this is how e-mail monitoring is done. As another violation of worker privacy, this one falls into the area of having no common rules about. This is primarily because since the account being used if the company's, it should be understood that the company has jurisdiction over the company-related account.
According to Duke Law & Technology (2001), companies usually monitor e-mails for:
- Maintaining the company's professional reputation and image;
- Maintaining employee productivity;
- Preventing and discouraging sexual or other illegal workplace harassment;
- Preventing "cyberstalking"7by employees;
- Preventing possible defamation liability;
- Preventing employee disclosure of trade secrets and other confidential information; and
- Avoiding copyright and other intellectual property infringement from employees illegally downloading software.
Regarding monitoring through the use of other electronic or recording devices, it is also the same with e-mail monitoring in the manner that it too is a new technology which has little common rules about. Also, the boundaries for employee privacy are also blurred when one is in the walls of the office. And since many employees are using new communication devices and systems, employers are also eager to monitor these. It was probably the same when the methods were old school like listening on an employee's conversation or opening an employee's mail.
The truth is, all these methods of monitoring are on the verge of violating employee privacy but it doesn't mean that the employer or company does not have the right to do these things because actually, they do. Is something is done or communicated through company e-mail, company phone or the company office, the employer has the right to inquire about it, not necessarily intervene. And as long the employer is not interfering with the personal life of the employee, everything should be fine.
Duke Law & Technology (2001). Monitoring Employee E-mail: Efficient Workplaces vs. Employee Privacy. Duke Law & Technology Review. Retrieved June 28, 2008 from http://www.law.duke.edu/journals/dltr/articles/2001dltr0026.html
Kilborn, P. (1994) The Nation; The Boss Only Wants What's Best for You. New York Times. Retrieved June 28, 2008 from http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9501E7D81439F93BA35756C0A962958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all
Labowitz, K. (2000). Privacy in the Workplace: On the Frontier Between the Rights of Employees and Employers. American Bar Association. Retrieved June 28, 2008 from http://www.bna.com/bnabooks/ababna/rnr/2000/rnrpriv.pdf
Porter, J. (2006) Saying No to the Company No Dating Policy. Associated Content. Retrieved June 28, 2008 from http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/17678/saying_no_to_the_company_no_dating.html?page=2&cat=3
Steinberg, J. (1993) Fraternization and Friction in the Store Aisles; New York Challenges Wal-Mart Over Dismissal of Two Who Dated Against the Rules. New York Times. Retrieved June 28, 2008 from http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F0CE7DE163CF937A25754C0A965958260