Workplace Relationship Break-Up

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about coworkers’ breakup:

Two of my coworkers were in a romantic relationship for two years. They have just had a bitter breakup. The male coworker gave lavish gifts, including a car, furniture, jewelry, etc to the female coworker. He is trying to get his stuff back but has been told by management to stay away from the female coworker during work hours. The female coworker will not speak to him about all the stuff he gave her. Does he have any rights to all the stuff he purchased?

Signed, Wondering

Dear Wondering:

Your coworker’s managers are correct to tell him to stay away from his former girlfriend. They–as well as he–could be held liable if he creates problems for her. In addition, it creates problems for everyone in an office when there is tension and conflict of that nature. And, as you know, sometimes what starts out as a verbal altercation, ends up being much more.

As for the gifts, unless there was a written agreement that gifts would be returned I doubt the girlfriend will give them back or could be forced to. If they are truly large, large gifts, he might want to contact an attorney and ask for a free consultation to find out if he can take civil action in court. Sometimes the threat of that action will encourage someone to give back and least part of the gifts.

I will say this though, from a completely un-legal viewpoint–just the viewpoint of someone who has been an observer of this type of thing many times: When someone gives “lavish” gifts in a dating situation there is often something problematic about the gift-giver or the relationship. Nearly always when there is a break-up the lavish gifts become a source of bitterness. I’m not saying that is true in this situation, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

This will probably end up being a very expensive lesson about setting limits on gifts–both gifts given and gifts received. But, at least your coworker wants to conclude this without losing his job. He also wants to show some class about it, rather than showing his anger and disappointment to everyone else. If you are writing on his behalf, please be sure to advise him to keep his cool and avoid further problems.Best wishes!

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.