Can my employer prohibit workplace relationships in Texas? Sexual harassment lawyer answers

Sure. Employers in Fort Worth and Dallas generally can prohibit amorous and sexual relationships between coworkers. It is extremely common for employers to prohibit workplace relationships in some form or another. Most companies establish these policies to deter sexual harassment, maintain professionalism and prevent unfair treatment (either favorable or unfavorable). These policies are also enforced to various degrees. A prohibition against superior-subordinate relationships is typically the most stringently enforced. It is most likely to produce unfair treatment against the subordinate in the relationship. This is a common issue in employment.

Texas employer workplace relationship policies

Employers tend to build these anti-relationship policies into employment contracts and employee conduct policies. It is almost always enforceable as a legitimate justification for disciplinary action, including termination. However, these policies lend themselves to inappropriate conduct on the part of the employer.

Because relationships exist primarily outside of the workplace, there is only so much the employer may do to discover a relationship outside of the work premises. Employers most likely run into privacy violations by snooping around employee homes, picking up employee personal phones and snooping around, etc. Employers, however, may be able to send out private investigators (if ever necessary) and certainly if somebody sees something in public they are free to report it to their employer.

Texas employer control over workplace conditions under employment laws

Within the workplace, the employer has substantial access to what occurs. There may be cameras or microphones documenting conversations and activities. They can review instant messaging, internet activity and email. They can observe people and ask questions. However, there is a line. Directly inquiring whether somebody is in a prohibited relationship is one thing, but it is another to harass an employee with sexual questions or asking in other offensive ways. This may fall into sexual harassment.

Furthermore, how the company enforces the policy can give rise to various forms of discrimination. For example, if the company turns a blind eye to relationships clearly known for younger employees but disciplines older employees for it, that could give rise to a claim of age discrimination. More likely, the company may ignore when a male supervisor engages in sexual conduct with female subordinates but promptly disciplines female supervisors for doing the same with male subordinates. That would most likely create a legitimate claim of sexual discrimination. There is a very fine line a company seeking to aggressively enforce such a policy must walk. Often the best policy is to enforce the policy uniformly but conservatively.


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