Everyone makes friends at work, and it's natural for some friendships to develop into romantic relationships. In the past, this was considered totally fine. But these days, that's not the case. Workplace environments have changed as the #MeToo movement combined with headline-drawing workplace scandals have cast a bright spotlight on workplace conduct. This is just as true for colleges and universities as anywhere else. Educational institutions are on the watch for inappropriate relationships that could potentially harm the school's reputation–including faculty-student relationships, faculty-staff member relationships, and supervisor-subordinate relationships. As a result, young adults who might have previously socialized freely with professors and university employees are now considered off-limits. Schools don't want to risk the possibility of negative headlines, sexual-harassment lawsuits, and federal Title IX penalties.
To avoid any of this, colleges and universities have established guidelines regulating employees' relationships with students and subordinates. Faculty and staff members who violate the guidelines risk demotion, loss of their jobs, and possibly destroying their careers.
Employees who become involved with a student or a subordinate must walk a tricky line because some relationships are considered acceptable, and others aren't. University employees have a duty to educate themselves about the school's official policies, which are generally spelled out explicitly in employee handbooks.
Joseph D. Lento Can Advise University Employees About Fraternization Issues
University employees in sensitive romantic relationships who haven't been called out by their employers can to seek advice from the Lento Law Firm so as to preclude any possible trouble down the road.
Employees who have been notified of a complaint about a relationship will certainly want to contact the firm. Employee-defense advisor Joseph D. Lento has a long record of assisting those in trouble for fraternization or inappropriate relationships with subordinates or students. Members of the Lento team have helped many university and college employees successfully resolve such issues and save their jobs. Mr. Lento knows how to reach out to university administrators and help an employee settle an employee-fraternization matter in a low-key manner.
Some types of university romantic relationships are not considered a problem. For example, many schools consider it acceptable for a professor to become involved with a graduate student as long as the student is in a different program that is not supervised by the professor.
Likewise, situations where the people employed by a college or university are peers or work in different departments may be relatively easy to handle, as long as they inform their supervisors. Many colleges require employees who are dating to notify college officials of the relationship and then sign an agreement, informally known as a “love contract,” acknowledging that they are in a consensual relationship. The school will keep it on file to use in case anyone should later make a claim of sexual harassment or accuse the school of creating a hostile environment.
Students and Professors
The situation is different when one of the two people is enrolled as a student. Such relationships are strictly frowned upon. For example, Brown University's Non-Fraternization Policy expressly prohibits a romantic or sexual relationship between faculty or staff and undergraduate students or with graduate students “where the faculty or staff member has power or authority over the graduate student.” The rationale is that the perceived power imbalance may raise questions about the mutuality of consent.
Likewise, the University of Michigan prohibits romantic and/or sexual relationships between employees and students if the employees are in a position to assist the student. Such relationships must be disclosed to school administrators so that they can resolve the conflict, perhaps by transferring one of the two parties into a position where no conflict will exist.
The University of Pennsylvania forbids any sexual or dating relationships between faculty members and undergraduate students. With graduate students, the school prohibits relationships when the faculty member is teaching or supervising the grad student and strongly discourages them even when that is not the case.
Rutgers University's policy on consensual relationships states that consenting adults associated with the University “should be free to enter into personal relationships of their choice. At the same time, such relationships must not put at risk the fundamental interest of every member of the University community to participate in University programs free from conflicts of interest, favoritism, and/or exploitation.” Therefore, academic supervisors are prevented from engaging in consensual relationships with anyone under their supervision.
Consequences of Violating Employee-Student Fraternization Policies
University employees charged with violating fraternization policies risk being demoted, transferred, suspended, or even permanently terminated. Once fired, they may find it difficult or impossible to be hired for a job of comparable stature and salary: Even if the university does not disclose the reason for separation, leaving a position on bad terms with the employer can cast a shadow over your job prospects for years to come.
University Procedures for Handling Violations of Fraternization Policies
If someone should file a complaint with the administration about an inappropriate relationship, university policies require that the employee receive due process. Schools generally don't fire people for this sort of behavior right away. They want to be sure to follow proper procedures so as to prevent a wrongful-termination lawsuit. Since the process is fairly long and drawn out, an employee charged with an inappropriate relationship is more likely to resolve the matter satisfactorily if they consult with an experienced attorney advisor who is familiar with the way these processes work. That's why any faculty member or employee who suspects they may be subject to disciplinary action should retain Joseph D. Lento as early as possible to help them explore their rights and responsibilities and to determine how best to resolve the situation as successfully and amicably as possible.
You can reach the expert team at the Lento Law Firm by calling 888.535.3686 or going online now.