David Letterman’s announcement to his studio audience on October 1, 2009 that he had been the subject of an extortion plot – arising out of sexual relationships with female members of his staff – has become one of the most-talked about "pop culture" events of the year. The announcement also provides an ideal real-life situation to remind employers about issues that may arise with workplace romances.
In true Late Show tradition, the following is a "top five" list of lessons from the David Letterman scandal:
1. A variety of legal claims can arise out of seemingly consensual workplace relationships, particularly those between supervisors and subordinates. Subordinates may claim that they were pressured into relationships or that they were retaliated against for ending a relationship. Other employees may claim unfair favoritism showered upon those subordinates who carried on such relationships or that an unlawful sexual quid pro quo was required in order to advance in the workplace.
2. To proactively address such legal claims before they arrive as formal complaints, employers should consider implementing non-fraternization policies barring, at a minimum, relationships between supervisory personnel and those who report to them.
3. Employers should have written sexual harassment policies to ensure that every employee, whether in a position of authority or not, is aware of the employer’s policy prohibiting illegal sexual harassment and of the employer’s commitment to preventing such activities.
4. Employers should conduct regularly scheduled anti-harassment training sessions.
5. Employers should investigate fully any claims of sexual harassment, retaliation, or favoritism arising out of workplace relationships and take prompt remedial action to address any issues.