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Lynne Curry: What happens if romantic drama comes to the job?

Lynne Curry

Q. I manage a downtown restaurant. Several of our wait staff have romantic liaisons with other staff and occasionally with customers. I've grown tired of the constant romantic dramas and so I've made it a rule that any staff who get into it with another staff member or a customer needs to immediately clock out and go off shift for 24 hours.

Several employees have gotten upset about this, but I'm assuming I'm completely within my rights as an employer to want employees to show up "fit for work" and to keep their full attention on work all shift long. Correct?

A. If you think your employment law risk ends the moment your employee goes off shift, you're wrong. Because you manage a restaurant, you owe your customers protection -- particularly if you send employees out the door because you see trouble brewing.

When 15-year-old Michael Foradori Jr. walked into a Captain D's seafood restaurant and flirted with an off-duty employee's girlfriend, a shouting match resulted. The manager restored order by kicking Foradori and the off-duty employee out.

Once outside, a cook who'd also clocked out for the evening entered the fray and pushed Foradori. Foradori hit the pavement with enough force to break his neck.

Foradori sued the restaurant for negligent supervision and for not controlling its employees, winning $20.8 million. According to the court, employers have a duty to intervene in trouble on behalf of customers if the trouble starts on the employer's premises -- even when the problem starts with off-duty employees. Although Captain D's appealed the verdict, they lost their appeal.

The bottom line -- though you have an employer right to expect your employees to focus on work, at work you can't simply send trouble out the door if it places customers at risk.

Q. I handle Human Resources for my company. A co-worker and I share a small office. She feels it's alright to go through papers on the top of my desk. She even looks for things in my desk drawers.

Last week I walked in on her reading a confidential paper I left on my desk. I was furious. I informed our mutual supervisor.

My co-worker apologized to me and later told me our supervisor talked with her as well. Is this apology enough or do I need to change offices? Or is it best for my career if I quit?

A. As your company's HR representative, you're responsible for maintaining confidential employee information. Neither you nor your supervisor can afford giving a nosy coworker access to many of the records in your charge.

The solution starts with you. Lock up confidential material -- including your computer -- when you leave your work station.

Next, your coworker needs to realize she shouldn't read the papers left on anyone's desk nor go through anyone's desk drawers. Because you handle HR, you have a double obligation here -- to protect your records and to change a snoopy individual's habits so she doesn't create future problems with others. Occasionally an employee may go into another worker's drawer looking for something such as a highlighter; however, most of us expect to be asked first. While your co-worker may have learned her lesson, she's not an ideal office mate for anyone tasked with HR.

Third, your supervisor needs to realize how serious this is, because HR personnel can't do their job without others' trust. If the individual tasked with HR can't keep employee records confidential, how can employees trust that person with their information? In other words, the answer isn't simply changing offices, it's changing ways.

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. Follow Lynne Curry on Twitter @lynnecurry10 or through www.workplacecoachblog.com.


Lynne Curry
THE WORKPLACE