Owner/Staff Affair(s)

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about affairs: I recently discovered and confirmed that the owner of the company is having simultaneous affairs with at least 2 of our staff.

I am the #2 person in a small-40 person, creative services agency. One of my responsibilities is HR. I recently discovered and confirmed that the owner of the company is having simultaneous affairs with at least 2 of our staff. Obviously these are subordinates; however, one is 15 yrs. younger and in an entry-level position. The owner is married w/kids. My responsibility is to protect the company/staff, but I’m not sure how to handle this situation.

Signed, Witness To Double Trouble

Dear Witness To Double Trouble:

Yes, your responsibility is to protect the company/staff. Is there anything you can do? Adults are adults and consensual affairs are assumed to be their own private business. But an owner/executive having an affair and/or affairs with subordinates is explosive and as you imply can hurt your company as well as spouse and kids. Should one or the other or both of these affairs sour your company owner could be sued for sexual harassment. Or if other employees charge that these affairs show favoritism, you have a hostile work environment.

Moreover, if the owner’s spouse learns of the affairs, she/he could add to the explosion but suing the owner for half of the company. You have two options: to do nothing or to play your HR role and confront the owner that these explosions are waiting to happen. How? Do nothing should not be dismissed. The company could suffer; however, if it is a business that produces good products/service, those of you who do the work could negotiate an ESOP should the owner philandering force him/her to find a way out.The second option argues you are not a disinterested party.

Human Resources has a right and a responsibility to investigate complaints and to alert the owner of them–of rumor/fact that the affairs have potential serious consequences. HR can mitigate sexual harassment should it take reasonable action to correct sexual discrimination/hostile environment once it is known. What the owner will choose to do, of course, is not up to you, but hopefully, you can help her/him realize that the welfare of the company is at stake. I’ve shared you question with two HR managers, if either responds I’ll forward their advice. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and in your case you are now challenged to do what it takes.

Dan Kearney, a HR Manager, adds a perspective that sides with do nothing unless there is a complaint: Here’s a quote from an article I read on this very subject: “Managers do need to tread carefully where office relationships are concerned. Points to consider should include: –If a “no office relationships’ policy exists, employees should be made fully aware of the rules and the consequences –Think very carefully before dismissing an employee over an office relationship; this can be end up as unfair dismissal –If couples do fall out the manager should never take sides or lay blame as this will not bring about a solution –Remind employees that the office is a place of work and not a place to bring personal or home life problems

–Managers who feel out of their depth should be able to consult the Human Resources department for advice

–Relationships between employees should not be viewed by managers as a problem waiting to happen. In a lot of cases employees are mature enough not to allow any personal disputes to affect their work life. Managers may find that having an encouraging attitude rather than frowning upon office relationships will produce positive results.”http://www.workrelationships.co.uk/how-managers-should-handle-office-relationships.htmlGranted:

This behavior is wrong, but it is HIS company not yours. Two, unless one of the parties involved complains, there is really nothing you can do. You cannot put your moral values in judgement of others.”

Follow Up: Thanks for your response. I have recently provided the owner with ample information as to the “potential serious consequences” of an office affair with a subordinate…and that if anything is going on it needs to stop. He assured me that he understands the risks, both professionally and personally. He also assured me that there is nothing inappropriate happening.

That said, I began checking email activity shortly after the rumors began, and after seeing an unusual amount of texting activity on our corp. cell phone acct. Needless to say, using corp. resources only adds to the issues we’re dealing with here. I have yet to confront him with the multitude of emails that I’ve retrieved from our office server, and I don’t know if I will.

This is a truly a precarious position to be in. The fact is…he naively believes he is “entitled”, invincible, can do what he wants, consequences don’t apply to him, etc.. I’m certain you know the type. He’s also volatile and unpredictable. Interesting times… Thanks again.

Dan Kearney & Wm. Gorden