Is it Sexual Harassment for a Co-Worker To Be in Relationship With a Family Member of Mine?

Question:
A coworker of mine had a sexual relationship with a family member of mine.  Is that considered sexual harassment?

Response: I can understand that such a situation as you describe could be uncomfortable at work, especially if the coworker and your family member have broken up or if there were bad feelings between them at some point. It would also be uncomfortable if some aspect of the situation was problematic—for example, if one or both of the people were already married to someone else.

However, the purpose of sexual harassment laws and complaint processes, is to help employees at any level who have had inappropriate and unwelcome sexual advances made to them or who have felt they must submit to sexual advances to avoid being fired or otherwise having their career harmed. That doesn’t seem to be happening in your situation.

Another aspect of sexual harassment is when conversations and activities at work are often about sexual matters or when crude or offensive language is frequently used to make people uncomfortable or unwelcome. You might be able to claim sexual harassment if your coworker knows you don’t want to talk about the details of his or her sexual activities, but he or she continues to do so. The conversation would have to be detailed and sexual for it to fit that category.

Even without there being sexual harassment, maybe you can find a way to not have to work around the person who was involved with your family member. Or, perhaps you will just need to put it out of your mind at work and figure it is his or her private life and you don’t have to be involved with it. Don’t talk about it with your coworker and if your family member wants to discuss the coworker, tell him or her that you don’t want to mix work and home.

There may be some aspect of the situation that you haven’t explained. If so, let us know and we’ll respond to that new information.

Best wishes to you.
Tina Lewis Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors

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.