Can A Physician-Employer Legally Date An Employee?

Question:

This is an issue a friend of mine is experiencing. Can a manager legally release an employee of a physician’s office for having a relationship with the physician? Is there any law concerning this issue, or is this strictly left up to office policy. As of now there is no office policy on this issue.

Signed,

Need Advice!


Answer:

Dear Need Advice!:

In answer to your question of whether an employer can legally have a relationship with an employee: Yes, because there are no laws about such activities. Can the employee be fired for doing it? Or, as you likely meant, can the employee be fired without the organization violating a law or being sued over it? That depends on several issues related to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1991. The application of those laws may be affected by the number of employees, employment status of the employee and other issues.

That’s why we always suggest that a local attorney be contacted about specific cases. Getting legal advice would be worthwhile, whether you are asking from the viewpoint of the organization or the employee.

However, we can make some general, non-legal observations that might be helpful:

If there is no policy about dating or “relationships” between employees, or between employees and employers (physicians, in this case)it seems unfair to fire anyone for doing it. If the two people were out in the open, someone should have warned them when it was first a matter of office knowledge. If, on the other hand, the couple were sneaking around about it, they both apparently knew they would get in trouble, so whether or not there was a written policy, there was a general understanding that it was inappropriate. If one or both were married, that adds another element.

There is also the issue of firing the employee but not firing the physician. That certainly seems inequitable and discriminatory–one of the reasons civil or legal action might be a possibility. This situation involves the serious result of someone losing her job. Certainly the organization should not fire her as an immediate reaction, without ensuring they are on solid legal ground. Neither should the employee accept the firing without checking on her legal and civil rights. She may find that the situation is so uncomfortable she wants to leave, no matter what is decided. If that is the case she should at least makes sure she tries to leave with some severance pay and the assurance of a good reference, if her work was acceptable. For that, she may find an attorney very helpful.

Best wishes to your friend. I hope this has provides a basis for her decision-making.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.