“Is it discrimination when a boss favors an employee he is dating?”

Question: My colleague at work is having a sexual relationship with our boss. I know that is the case because I have been at her apartment and have seen them together. I expressed my concern to my friend, but nothing changed. Then I took it on myself to talk to our boss, telling him how I feel and how their relationship was hurting morale at work.

Shortly after that, I took a cut in pay, and was assigned a position I had no experience for. Shortly after that, my boss hired his brother-in-law to take over my new position. Considering how hard my other colleagues and I work, and how unfair this has become, I want to know if what I am experiencing is discrimination. 

A Citizen
Pleasanton, California

Answer: Dear Citizen:    

Though I have not received too many letters like yours, I am convinced that many people are in your exact situation. I think you and many others will find my answer surprising.

1. It is not illegal discrimination for a boss to treat someone better based on the relationship with the two of them, even if that relationship is a sexual one. I am certain many people will find that difficult to believe, but it is true. It is illegal discrimination to tell someone “You must have sex with me to keep your job.” It is also illegal discrimination to say to someone “If you don’t have sex with me, you will lose your job.” It is also illegal discrimination for a boss to hire or fire a person based on that person’s gender – being male or female. But it is not illegal to treat someone better than you treat others because (a) you like them, (b) they are a friend, (c) they are a relative, (d) you are in love with them, or (e) they have sex with you.
 
2. That is because Courts can’t get involved in every work decision, or personal relation. Many, many courts have said, in effect, that “People will always like or love some people more than they like or love others; we will never be able to stop that. And some of those people will be friends, some will be relatives, and some will be sex partners. And the courts cannot get involved in every situation to see if a decision at work is based on this.” If someone owns a company, they may decide to make their son – even if he is lazy, stupid and dishonest – the company President, out of parental love. If someone owns a company, they may decide to fire the best employee in the company, due to a personal dislike. Such conduct is not illegal, and the Courts have said so, many times. It is legal essentially because it is human. 

3. It is very possible that what you describe violates your employer’s Company Policies. While the conduct you describe is not illegal, it might violate your employer’s Company Policies. You see, many companies think it will hurt their interests, by damaging employee morale, to permit bosses to act based on who they sleep with, and who is their brother-in-law. And many, many companies have a policy against retaliation against an employee who objects to, or reports, a violation of Company policy. From your letter, I cannot tell if you work in a small company, or a large one; it’s the larger ones that more often have written policies on these things.

4. If your employer does have policies against such dating, or against retaliation, file a written complaint with Human Resources or the  Company’s CEO. If you work for a larger company that has such anti-dating and anti-retaliation policies, you should file a written complaint describing what happened to you. Notice I use the word “written.” That is because what you say can be forgotten, lied about, accidentally misconstrued or even deliberately mischaracterized, but “an email is forever.”€Don’t hesitate; from my experience you may soon lose your job altogether.

If you would like to obtain a Model Memo Objecting to Retaliation on the Job, simply [click here].

Sorry to hear of your terrible situation. I hope you will now stand up for yourself for what is happening to you, or, perhaps find a new employer who will reward hard work, honesty and loyalty more than personal feelings.

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Best,
Al Sklover 

To obtain a Model Complaint of Age Discrimination to HR or Management, for your adaptation to your facts and situation, just [click here.]

P.S.: If you would like to speak with me directly about this or other workplace-related subjects, I am available for 30-minute, 60-minute, or 120-minute telephone consultations. (Even 5-minute “Just One Question” calls). Just [click here.] Evenings and weekends can be accommodated.

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.