Thursday, May 13, 2010

What Does David Letterman Mean for Workplace Romances?

The David Letterman scandal has been dominating the news as of late.  On October 1, 2009, Letterman announced live on his show that he had affairs with several women who worked in his office.  Letterman claimed that the relationships were consensual, and so far, no one has stepped forward to say otherwise.

What was the reason for this sudden admission?  Letterman was a victim of an extortion plot orchestrated by Joe Haldermann, a CBS producer.  Haldermann threatened to release a tell-all book and screenplay if Letterman did not hand over $2 million.  Instead of paying up, Letterman contacted police, Haldermann was arrested, and Letterman confessed all on his late-night show.

This incident has sparked much discussion in the world of workplace relationships.  Even though the relationships appeared to be consensual, does that make them ethical?  In this situation, Letterman was obviously in the "supervisor" position, while the women involved were subordinates. Experts state that even if both parties agreed to the relationship, co-workers could accuse the supervisor of favoritism towards the employee involved in the relationship. Furthermore, the employee could feel as if they have to remain in the relationship to avoid retaliation from the manager/supervisor.  Many observers of the case, including Kathie Lee Gifford and Ann Curry, wondered if the relationships could have created an unfair working environment. 

Many companies have policies banning relationships between supervisors and subordinates.  However, in the case of Worldwide Pants, they do not have a policy prohibiting sexual relationships between supervisors and subordinates.  Whether or not what Letterman did was "right" or ethical, it has caused many companies to revisit their workplace relationship policies, especially those involving supervisors and subordinates.  

What are your feelings on relationships between supervisors and subordinates?  Should they be acceptable as long as they do not disrupt productivity and fairness and are reported appropriately to the human resources department?

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