Workplace Romances Can Be a Monster of a Problem

Another one of Pixar’s gems, Monsters, Inc. may not necessarily strike you as a “workplace” movie, but it’s full of lessons for anyone paying attention, whether you’re nine or 90.  So, what can Monsters, Inc. teach you about avoiding problems in the workplace?

In the movie, Mike, the lovable one-eyed character, dates Celia, a snake-haired receptionist for Monsters, Inc.  At first blush, a workplace romance doesn’t seem like much of a problem because Mike and Celia are happy.  It doesn’t take long, though, for things to get a little ugly when Mike runs off during a romantic dinner and Celia gets picked up by the Child Detection Agency.  Things escalate rapidly from there, and there are two different loud, angry instances where Celia angrily confronts Mike at work.

Unfortunately, workplace romances often start out fine, with no one considering the consequences if (and when) a workplace relationship ends.  Not only can a workplace romance lead to the possibility of ugly (see also: embarrassing, awkward) scenes as the former paramours argue/fight/try to kill each other in the office, but legal issues may arise.

In Monsters, Inc., Mike and Celia worked in different departments, which presents the least likelihood for trouble.  However, trouble and liability issues multiply if the relationship is between a manager and a subordinate. 

First, you run the risk of alienating other workers, who may assume that the relationship resulted in special treatment.  In addition, the subordinate may end up filing a sexual harassment lawsuit.  It is unlikely that banning workplace relationships will work, because employees will just hide them.  However, you may be able to protect your business and limit liability by requiring employees to inform HR of a relationship and require each party to a romantic relationship to sign a waiver.  Additionally, any ugly scenes that arise should be dealt with and quickly quashed, to prevent escalation and show other employees that such behavior is not acceptable.

Movie takeaway:  Workplace relationships can cause ugly scenes -- and possibly legal issues -- and steps should be taken to limit both the in-office incidents and any liability.


"HR Cinema" is an ongoing feature at The Employer’s Lawyer.  It combines Casey’s love of movies with his passion for human resources and employment law.  To read the full version of this post, click here, and to visit The Employer’s Lawyer, please click here.


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