Bus 520 Assignment 1
Consensual Relationship Agreements By: Vickie Gonzalez Bus 520 – Leadership and Organizational Behavior Professor: Dr. Marilyn Carroll October 24th, 2012 Workplace romances are now one of the challenges that organizations of all sizes have to address. How they address them varies from organization to organization. Some businesses and organizations strictly prohibit them in any form or fashion, while others prohibit them when the participants are in certain roles within the organization.
Some companies have chosen not to address the issue at all and others are using a more formal method of documenting and mitigating the risk they feel these relationships pose. One of the methods of documenting, and potentially mitigating, this risk is known as a consensual relationship agreement or CRA. In the text that follows I will argue for the use of CRA’s in the workplace. Secondly, I will present a counter argument for the use of CRA’s. Then we will then look at the ethical principles involved in the use of CRA’s. Lastly I will present another option that may be available for addresses these consensual relationships.
First, let’s look at what brought about the need for CRA’s. On June 28th, 1914 Gavrilo Princip, of Sarajevo, assassinated the Archduke and heir to the throne of Austria, Franz Ferdinand (Collins, 2008, p. 9). Thirty-seven days later World War I began, and with it, so did what some see as the beginnings of women entering the workplace. The Munitions of War Act of 1915 moved twenty-one percent of Britain’s wives, sisters, mothers and daughters into the workforce (Woolacott, 1994, p. 17). Factory workers became soldiers and the women in their lives became factory workers.
By 1941, and the United States’ entrance into World War II, 18. 9 million American women had entered the workforce as well (Weak-Baxter, 2010, p. 14). Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor and patriotism was welling just as strong in American women as it was in American men. Now, according to the US Department of Labor, there are 72 million women in the civilian labor force alone (2012). The years following World War II were a time of challenge, adaptation and diversification for business, and revolution and exploration for women. Harassment, specifically sexual harassment, is one of those hallenges faced by businesses and employers as of a result of workplace diversification. Inappropriate conversations, unwanted advances and uncomfortable physical contact are some of the ways sexual harassment can occur. According to Hellriegel and Slocum, “Sexual harassment refers to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. ” (p. 52). To be clear, sexual harassment can, and has, affected both women and men over the years however up to half of all working women have reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment in the career (Vijayasiri, 2008, p. ). It wasn’t until 1986 though that the Supreme Court recognized sexual harassment as a violation of Title VII in the case of Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson (O’Brien, 1994, p. 1). Before the high court’s ruling, however, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had begun to address the issue by drafting hostile work environment guidelines that included sexual harassment (O’Brien, 1994, p. 4). These guidelines would serve later to guide the high court’s decision. There are many more cases like this one we could look at.
In 1991, sexual harassment became a household term as Anita Hill testified before congress stating she was sexually harassed by a current nominee for the Supreme Court. In her statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee Ms. Hill stated, “It is only after a great deal of agonizing consideration, and sleepless, number of , great number of sleepless night, that I am able to talk of these unpleasant matters to anyone but my close friends” ( Black Scholar, 1991, p 1). For many American this was the first time they had really thought about or discussed sexually harassment.
It was on our televisions, out in the open, for the whole world to see. As a result of brave employees like Ms. Hill and many others sexual harassment is no less tolerated in the workplace and employers are required to have specific policies addressing it. Now what happens when the relationship between two employees is consensual? No harassment has occurred. Romance is in the air. Some organizations have policies that prohibit workplace relationships of any kind and participating in one is grounds for termination. Other businesses only prohibit these relationships in the event that one party reports to or manages the other.
More and more firms are using consensual relationship agreements or CRAs. A CRA is a written agreement or contract in which the involved parties agree to specific guidelines in the workplace (Hellriegel/Slocum, 2011, p. 65). This is one of the practices or policies an organization can use to mitigate the risks associated with workplace relationships. In this agreement the parties involved state that the relationship is voluntary. They agree to abide by any and all anti-harassment or anti-discrimination policies the business has in place, including reporting any violation of these policies that may occur.
They also agree to behave professionally at all times which includes avoiding even the appearance of favoritism. There are proponents and opponents of the use of these agreements in the workplace. I agree with the proponents of the use of CRAs in the workplace. Hellriegel and Solcum mention several arguments in favor in CRAs in the workplace in our text. I would like to look at three of these. The first argument that Hellriegel and Solcum mention is that CRAs help mitigate the risk of any sexual harassment litigation (p. 65). I have to agree with this argument. Office relationships can be wonderful.
I know several happy couples who met at the office. They manage their personal and professional lives well. However this is not always the case, and when the relationship fails, things may change. This can be especially true if this relationship involved one part that directly, or even indirectly reports to the other. The employee may suggest they were pressured into the relationship by their manager. The manager may resent the employee and treat them unfairly. Both of these scenarios, and many others, open the doors to litigation. The employer in both of these cases could be found liable in a sexual harassment suit.
Damages awarded in these cases can be punitive and compensatory. In 1997 large corporations spent more than 6 million for each sexual harassment suit they defended themselves against and/or settled (Vijayasiri, 2008, p. 2) Employers can protect themselves from this risk by ensuring they have a very clearly stated workplace relationship policy that, in my opinion, should involve the use of CRAs. The second argument is favor of the use of CRAs is that they help to reduce the appearance of favoritism in the workplace (Hellriegel/Slocum, 2011, p. 65).
Ensuring that there is not even the appearance of favoritism in the workplace is not just a matter of fair policy. In many cases a third party can sue their employer for sexual harassment if they feel they are being discriminated against as the result of a workplace relationship. Employees are human and emotions and perception are part of being human. No employer can predict what behavior will be acceptable to one employee and offensive to another, A CRA requiring both participants in the relationship to behave in a professional manner can help minimize this risk of offending a third party.
In 2001, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld a verdict in favor of Diane Leibovitz for $60,000 against the New York City Transit Authority or NYCTA for what the court determined to be a hostile work environment (Leibovitz v. NYCTA, 2001). Ms. Leibovitz sued the NYCTA for sexual harassment and emotional distress after confronting her employer regarding the sexual harassment of 3 other female co-workers. Ms. Leibovitz’s job was threatened if she did not remain silent.
As a result of these threats she suffered from depression and sleep deprivation. Ms. Leibovitz was not the victim of any sexual advances or misconduct, however, witnessing it and her employer’s inaction created a hostile work environment and a $60,000 judgment on her behalf. The third agreement presented in the text in favor of the use of CRA’s is that they create a forum where human resources can talk openly with employees about the responsibilities and ramification that come with an office romance (Hellriegel/Slocum, 2011, p. 5). This is simply an opportunity for the employer to remind the employee what behavior is and is not appropriate in the workplace. The employer can also restate the company’s commitment to preventing sexual harassment. This is the time for open and honest discussion in the hopes that awareness and understanding may prevent litigation. Those who argue against the use of CRA’s in the workplace argue that they are a violation of the employee’s privacy and in-effective.