Office Romance, Favoritism and the Latest Claim Statistics: Why EPLI Is a Must-Have

February 13, 2017| Von Mindy Pollack | EPLI | English

Region: North America

Valentine’s Day always casts a light on office romance, claims and the value of Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI). We share the latest statistics and scenarios, such as this one…

After a new hire joined the department, the sparks began to fly with her supervisor. They tried to hide the budding romance, but the rest of the office noticed that something was going on. Some months later a promotion opportunity arrived, and the supervisor gave the coveted position to his paramour over several more experienced staff. Sparks of a different kind then began to fly. Angry colleagues complained to management about the relationship, and that they were being discriminated against. A lawsuit followed, and all the details became public knowledge.

Claims like this one of “paramour favoritism” happen all across the workplaces of America. We tend to focus on the two principals in the romance, but what about the other employees? It’s no bed of roses for the rest of the team who feel adversely affected by the relationship. Did the paramour get a better review and higher bonus than justified by work product? Did others get less than they deserved?

Chances are you have heard about scenarios like this one given these statistics:1

  • More than half of all employees have had an affair with a colleague
  • 23% of those employees in work relationships dated a subordinate
  • 16% in work relationships dated a supervisor

And consider this last one:

  • Almost one-third of surveyed employees felt that a co-worker gained a professional advance because of a relationship with another co-worker or supervisor

Do these discrimination claims succeed? You might be surprised that the majority do not.

Most courts do not view paramour favoritism as sex discrimination because both men and women outside the relationship are denied fair treatment. However, should the favoritism move beyond isolated behavior to be widespread or frequent, it may create an actionable hostile work environment. An isolated instance of favoritism may be unfair, but it is not sex discrimination. There are exceptions to this general rule, such as where the behavior becomes a condition of employment and an “implied” quid pro quo sexual harassment is found.2

Unfortunately, without an EPLI policy, a winning case can turn into a losing proposition. The insured must incur defense costs that typically top $10,000, even for nominal claims. There is no Risk Management Website for employment policies and guidance that address situations like this. And there is no Legal Hotline where a quick (and free) phone call to an employment attorney can get an employer on the safe track. All of this comes with an EPLI policy in addition to coverage for the actual loss.

A small business might never be sued by employees such as the ones in our example, but the likelihood of a lawsuit is growing. Over 90,000 total discrimination charges were filed with EEOC in 2016, and that is 2.4% more than were filed the preceding year.

We hope that you enjoy this Valentine’s Day with your favorite paramour and, of course, an EPLI policy. We can help with the latter! Call to learn more about our turnkey EPLI products and reinsurance.

  1. Vault 2016 Office Romance Survey Results, Vault Careers, February 2016.
  2. "When Paramour Preference is Problematic," CEB blog, February 2014.


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