If I have been put on administrative leave for “violating a co-worker’s personal space”, am I risking being fired?

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If I have been put on administrative leave for “violating a co-worker’s personal space”, am I risking being fired?

I just complimented her for her perfume and asked if I could smell it. She said OK and never told or showed me she was offended. This all happened in front of other people. Next thing I know she obviously reported me and HR puts me on leave. Is there something I can do?

Asked on April 11, 2012 under Employment Labor Law, Massachusetts

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Do you have an employment contract (including a union or collective bargaining agreement)? If you do, and it addresses discipline or termiantion, its terms are enforceable, and you may only be disciplined or terminated in accordance with it.

However, without a contract, you are an employee at will. An employee at will may be disciplined, demoted, suspended or put on leave, or terminated, at any time, for any reason--including "violating a co-workers personal space." Legally, there is nothing you could do if the employer chooses to terminate you over this; practically, one would assume that a show of contrition and being 100%  professional at work would be likely, though not guaranteed, to help.

For the record: what you did could easily be regarded as sexual harassment. One should *never* ask to smell a co-worker.


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