Lynne Curry: Worker seeks romantic relationship with boss

THE WORKPLACEAugust 11, 2013 

Q. I'm terribly attracted to my boss, and I sense he's attracted as well. Things were progressing rapidly until our company put on three days of mandatory sexual harassment training. All the supervisors here, including mine and another who's having an affair with a woman in the office support team, are scared to death.

I'd let it go but it's hard to find a great person and we're both single. Should I arrange a lunch and tell him my feelings and see if he's OK with the risk? What else can I do if I want to pursue this and he's too scared to make the first move?

A. Instead of acting on an attraction that could flare and fizzle or be prematurely squashed by reasonable fears, continue a neutral work relationship and get to know your supervisor as a person. After you build a base of knowledge, your initial attraction may lessen or strengthen.

If it lessens, you can continue your work relationship without the potential embarrassment an unwanted pursuit might have created.

If your attraction strengthens, and his appears to as well, let him know you like him a lot and talk about a "love contract."

Two individuals within an organization can use a love contract to reassure both parties and their supervisors that mutual consent rather than potential harassment defines their relationship. In such a contract, two individuals write and separately sign a statement that: they individually feel a potentially romantic attraction to the other; they intend to explore that interest by mutual consent in a private, outside relationship; and they pledge to keep all aspects of the relationship outside the work environment -- even if one is the other's supervisor. They also agree to a no-fault dissolution of the relationship should either party realize he or she no longer wants to pursue it. Both agree to work together productively and without any unwanted behavior should the romantic relationship end.

Finally, I'll add that it's good news the training showed the supervisor -- with the known or rumored affair -- the risk he unwittingly took -- so he can decide how to handle it.

Q. I work for a devout Mormon. During and after Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, he annoyed all of us with regular briefings on the Mormon religion because he felt others' "ignorance" led to religious bias against Romney and precipitated his electoral struggles and defeat.

I find it especially irritating that his religious beliefs have become part of my daily work life because he puts quotes from the Book of Mormon in his email signature line. One of my co-workers was brave enough to say she'd rather not see these and he responded, "Don't read it, if you don't like it." Several of the rest of us have simply removed the inspirational quotes we used to have below our signatures. It's become tense. Any suggestions?

A. Your supervisor has the right to believe in and express his religion. He doesn't have the right to force his religion on you or other employees.

Religious conduct becomes harassment when it's unwanted and affects an employee's working conditions. Common rules of thumb include:

• A supervisor may briefly explain to employees what he values about his religion. If he repeatedly educates, he steps over the line.

• A supervisor or any other employee may keep a Bible, Book of Mormon or Koran on his desk or wear a cross or other religious symbol around his neck. He can't, however, make his employees feel forced to participate in his religion. This doesn't preclude a supervisor from inviting an interested employee to attend his religious services on a one-time voluntary basis, though a supervisor who does so needs to make absolutely sure the employee feels comfortable saying "no thanks."

When one of his employees mentioned discomfort with his signature lines, your supervisor needed to take the complaint seriously. Because employees have to read a supervisor's emails to do their job, his quotes may constitute harassment, which is defined as unwelcome conduct related to a protected category that affects an employee's working conditions. To be legally actionable, the conduct must be frequent or severe.

Finally, your supervisor needs to realize that he best shows the positive qualities of his religion's values by living them, not by talking about them.

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Co. Inc. Send your questions to her at lynne@thegrowthcompany.com You can follow Lynne on Twitter @lynnecurry10 or through www.workplacecoachblog.com.

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