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Boston Celtics Head Coach Suspended for One Year Following Relationship with Subordinate Gone Bad

Boston Celtics Head Coach Suspended for One Year Following Relationship with Subordinate Gone Bad

Dating in the workplace is something that is all too common in the 21st century. Indeed, according to a vault.com survey, 52% of employees surveyed admitted to participating in a workplace romance. Such romances range from one-night stands to committed relationships (in some cases leading to marriage). It is clear that no matter what steps employers take to prevent their workforce from dating, those steps either a) can have a negative impact on workplace culture as a whole; and/or b) are not being followed. In any event, there are significant risks in play for employers and supervisors alike when a workplace romance goes south.

Coach Suspended After Allegations of Misconduct Become Public

Ime Udoka, head coach of the NBA’s Boston Celtics, was involved in a consensual relationship with a subordinate team staff member. According to multiple reports, Udoka was suspended by the team on September 23, 2022 for a full year after allegations made by the staffer that the coach had made unwanted sexual advances toward her went public. Such a suspension is rare in sports, as most athletes and other team employees are suspended when there is an investigation occurring that may lead to criminal activity. In this case, the team took swift action when a member of its staff accused Udoka of misconduct amounting to workplace sexual harassment.

The Celtics’ action is a sign that employers are beginning to listen up and take action when employees speak up, and complain of misconduct in the workplace. In this case, it is difficult to say what action would have been taken by the team had the allegations not become public, it is clear the team quickly conduct an investigation and found enough evidence to warrant a suspension for Udoka’s alleged misconduct.

Even Consensual Relationships Pose Issues for Employers

What makes the Udoka situation difficult for the employer is the fact the employees were involved in an admittedly consensual relationship. For many employers, the fact Udoka and the female staffer were in a relationship would be enough to erroneously conclude nothing needs to be done. However, this would be the incorrect action given inappropriate sexual comments have no place at work no matter the situation. Workplace romance is a tricky situation for employers to deal with, and different cultures have different stances on the issue. However you choose to handle your workplace romance policy (and you should have one), the critical element is treating everyone equitably and in line with the policy and taking action when misconduct is reported.

People at work are around one another (physically or virtually) for a great deal of time. Often co-workers grow fond of one another’s work and/or physical appearance, and relationships blossom. While many of these relationships remain harmonious beyond the time spent working for the organization, often such relationships (especially one-night stands fueled by alcohol) fizzle and create an uncomfortable situation for the employees involved and the employer tasked with keeping everyone happy and free of an environment conducive to workplace harassment. Further, the legal implications of a relationship such as Udoka’s (where there is a power imbalance) has the potential to lead to claims of quid pro quo harassment in the event the subordinate leaves the organization.

Listening Up is Critical to Handling Issues Arising from Workplace Romance

Whatever route your organization takes to protect itself from misconduct arising from workplace relationships (whether it be “love contracts,” the prohibition of workplace romances, the prohibition of power imbalanced relationships, or other form of policy), the critical lesson from the Udoka suspension is that your organization listen up and take action when a report of misconduct is made. Syntrio has developed a wide variety of courseware aimed at empowering your employees to speak up about their concerns and to educate your leadership on how to listen up and take action when a concern is made. We welcome the opportunity to discuss how our courseware and communication tools can help you take the appropriate corrective action when a situation such as the one described here arises.

Since 2007, Jonathan has practiced labor and employment law on behalf of management. Jonathan focuses his practice on advising employers on the prevention of harassment and discrimination issues, with an emphasis on providing in-person harassment training programs to companies of all sizes. Jonathan is licensed in California, Illinois, and Wisconsin, and maintains a national advice practice.

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