Fired For Kissing In Workplace?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about kissing at work:

A male was caught kissing/groping a female workmate in the canteen area during a break. They are both now being disciplined by the HR department for inappropriate behaviour. Can they be fired over this or what would be the normal procedure?

Signed, Concerned

Dear Concerned:

What happens about this will probably depend upon many things, unless there is a policy in place that requires certain sanctions automatically. (I doubt that there is for something like this.) Here are some of the things management will likely consider:

1.) Was the situation consensual or did one of them push it on the other one? (That is probably the biggest issue of all.)Tied in with this is the prior relationship of the two.If they are known to be dating, obviously that would be different than if their relationship is a secret.

2.) Are both of them the same work status or is there a wide range of difference in their work grade, tenure or standing in the company? (To determine if one felt they had to go along, etc.)

3.) Has this happened before and one or both have been warned about it?

4.)Were the actions minor or were they lewd and lascivious? (Difference between kissing and touching versus hand down or up clothes, graphic sexual contact, etc.)

5.) What has been the prior performance or behavior of both? (The reality is that someone who has never been in trouble might be viewed differently than someone who has been in a lot of trouble already.)

6.) What is their marital status? (Another reality issue. Two married people, two single people, one married and one single, status of children, etc., each situation is viewed somewhat differently by most people, including decision makers.)

7.) Who observed them and reported them? (Accurate reporting is important, since that could make a difference in how the situation is viewed. Also, the effect on others is a key issue. So, someone who is terribly shocked would likely report it differently than someone who thought it was inappropriate but toned it down a bit in reporting.)

8.) What was the demeanor of the two when they were confronted about it and since then? (Often a bit of contrition helps but an angry response to HR or others gives the feeling that there is no admission of inappropriateness or wrong doing.)

As you can see, there are a lot of things to consider! An employer can fire someone for anything, really. However, most businesses have a process they go through that prevents frivolous firing and potential lawsuits about bias. Thus, firing is not inevitable but it is something to worry about. If one or both of them are married it is particularly a problem because it will be almost impossible to explain away. A doubly sad situation! If the two people involved simply used poor judgment and the scene wasn’t extreme, I hope they’ll only be sanctioned in a mild way and that they can move forward. It will be a long time before this is forgotten (if ever!) but it doesn’t need to ruin their careers or work future.

Tina Lewis Rowe