Labor: The Workplace as a Restricted Singles Bar

Some incidents are teaching tools that give and keep on giving. Previous columns focused on the events that eventually cost Mark Hurd his job as CEO of Hewlett Packard. Hurd apparently developed a personal relationship with a female independent contractor. If HP's Board is to be believed, Hurd didn't sexually harass her, but he did try to cover up the relationship by not listing her as being present at dinners and other events on his expense reports. It seems worth asking whether things might have gone better for Mr. Hurd if HP had in place a non-fraternization policy and its CEO had acted as if it applied to him.

Non-fraternization policies prohibit executives and managers from becoming romantically involved with anyone they supervise, or whose terms and conditions of employment they could influence. The Hurd situation is a reminder that any such policy should also cover contractors whose retention the executive can influence. The policy should define what "fraternization" is prohibited - dating, romantic involvement, sexual relations and the exchange of affections - where there is a direct or indirect reporting relationship, or where the power disparity between the employees is huge, such as when a C-Suite executive is involved.

Christopher H. Mills

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