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Dear Workforce How Do I Pre-empt a Workplace Affair?

One of the members of my department is having sexual relations on company property, during working hours, with a co-worker in another department. I don’t care that they are having an affair; I just don't want them to be doing it on my time. How can this be addressed?
May 5, 2009
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Related Topics: Miscellaneous Legal Issues, The HR Profession, Policies and Procedures, Dear Workforce, Legal
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Dear Ticklish Situation:
I had to deal with similar situations in two of the three companies at which I served in human resources. At one, an HR manager was the guilty party.
With that as an opening, I do empathize with you. There are several issues you need to address.
1) Expectation of professionalism at all times by all employees—especially HR.
2) Performance issue (productivity during working hours).
3) Hostile environment for other employees who know of or see the activities.
4) A total loss of credibility of the two perpetrators among co-workers, bosses, subordinates and internal clients, which makes it difficult for either to be effective in their job.
5) Total lack of using good judgment—a career-ender in most companies.
So with five reasons on your side, I recommend pulling each one into your office individually. I'd have the other in a holding cell (other office/conference room). With the best straight face possible, make strong eye contact and tell each one what you know.
Explain the impact on the five areas listed above. If one of the parties works in the HR department, I recommend termination immediately.
HR is charged with setting the bar high for employee behavior and performance. HR is expected to be the role model for professionalism. Having an HR person behaving in such a way is very damaging to the department's credibility.
To make it easier for everyone, you might explain the issue in clear terms and ask the HR person to voluntarily resign.
For a non-HR person, explain that this is the one and final warning and it is being documented and placed in the person's file. The next occurrence of behavior, with the slightest lack of professionalism of any kind, will result in immediate termination.
If you feel the need to confirm your knowledge, I have in the past started the conversation with a smile and a wink with an "Aw shucks, I'm embarrassed to bring this up but ..." face. The guilty will smile a guilty smile. Their smile disappeared when I changed the tone and got to business.
It is important they understand the five points listed above. If they are worth keeping in the company, spend 30 minutes lecturing on the five areas (a mini personalized workshop/lecture). If they aren't exceptionally valued, give them the lecture in short form (preferably in the morning) and return them to work.
Having the meeting in the morning allows you to visit their work area a couple of times during the day to monitor their behavior and the behavior of those around them. Expect them to complain to their closest allies. During your work area visits, I recommend using an "all business" body language. If there are giggles, they will disappear after the second walk-through.
Your attitude should be "anyone with enough time to have a personal encounter on company time isn't very busy, and that needs to change."
Here's a final thought for any "guilty" HR person reading this: Wake up. People know what you are doing.
SOURCE: Carl Nielson, managing principal, The Nielson Group, Dallas, April 21, 2009. The Nielson Group equips leading organizations with tools, research and expertise that foster leadership growth and create more effective organizations.
LEARN MORE: Incidents like the above point up the need for strong and well-defined policies on workplace romance.
The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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