What is my protection under harassment laws?

I had an affair with a married colleague who then became my boss. I worked for a non-profit to which this colleague, a man, was a consultant. His business partner offered me a job, without knowledge of the affair, and I accepted under the promise I would learn valuable skills to move ahead in my career. Once my former colleague became my boss, we mutually agreed to end the affair which was cordial and without drama. I have been excelling at the job and very happy there for the past month. However, my now boss’s wife found out about the affair after it ended and is now demanding that I be removed from the workplace. Although they have not fired me as of yet (this all just happened 3 days ago), they are trying to come up with a work from home solution or something similar. By being removed from the main office, I will most likely not receive the training I was promised. And it will be pretty hard to perform my job if I can have no contact with my boss. I live in a right to work state and I don’t know if there are any legal protections for me in this unfortunate and regrettable scenario.

Asked on September 4, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, Virginia

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

What you may be thinking of are laws regarding a "hostile" workplace enviornment. They pertain to unfavorable treatment against an employee to the point that they cannot adequately perform their job duties based on their race, religion, nationality, age (over 40), disability, gender, etc. However, such does not appear to be the case here. Your treatment is not based on the fact that you are a woman but rather that you had an affair with an employer before they became your employer. Accordingly, unless your treatment violates the terms of a union/collective bargaining agreement or employment contract, it is perfectly permissable. In an "at will" work relationship, a company can set the conditions of employment much as it sees fit. This includes where an employee is to work or if an employee is to continue to work at all. The fact is that a worker can be fired for the reason that you give, or for any reason or for no reason at all, with or without notice.

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

Only if you could show that your colleague, at the time you had the affair, used his power or position to pressure or coerce you into the affair would you likely have recourse under the laws prohibiting sexual harassment. If it was a truly mutual affair, however, there was no harassment or impropriety; and if not, then since employment is employement at will ("right to work"), the employer can terminate you or do anything short of termination to prevent a potentially disruptive situation.


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