Workplace romances: More regulated in #MeToo era

WASHINGTON • Romances at work may be fairly common, but they are becoming more regulated in the US amid the #MeToo movement.

US companies, particularly the larger ones, have had codes of conduct for their employees for years, and more firms have been adopting them recently.

At McDonald's, for example, "employees who have a direct or indirect reporting relationship to each other are prohibited from dating or having a sexual relationship".

As the fast-food giant's chief executive, Mr Steve Easterbrook was in charge of enforcing what were known as the "Standards of Business Conduct".

He fell afoul of those rules and was forced out on Sunday for demonstrating "poor judgment involving a recent consensual relationship with an employee".

However, he was allowed to keep stock awards worth more than US$37 million (S$50 million) as well as US$675,000 in severance and health insurance benefits.

Mr Easterbrook, 52, will also get to keep unvested stock options worth about US$23.5 million and possibly benefit from grants of restricted shares tied to the company's performance that are worth roughly US$13.8 million at their target payouts, according to calculations by Bloomberg. And he is also eligible for a pro-rated bonus for his work in this fiscal year.

Besides Mr Easterbrook, Mr David Fairhurst, who was global chief people officer, also left the company, according to an internal memo sent on Monday by newly minted CEO Chris Kempczinsk.

Mr Fairhurst had been with the chain for 15 years, and was promoted to the top HR job in 2015. The company declined to comment on the nature of his departure.

Mr Easterbrook is just the latest in a long line of top executives who have resigned or been dismissed for violating company guidelines surrounding relationships.

Mr Brian Dunn quit as chief executive of consumer electronics chain Best Buy in 2012 following the revelation of his "close personal relationship" with a 29-year-old female subordinate.

Mr Brian Krzanich, CEO of semiconductor giant Intel, stepped down last year for violating the firm's non-fraternisation policy.

The list goes on - and it is not limited to boardrooms, or to men.

Ms Katie Hill, a Democratic member of the US House of Representatives from California, resigned last week after acknowledging that she had a relationship with a staff member on her election campaign.

The Society for Human Resource Management says 42 per cent of US workers in 2013 were employed by companies that had policies regarding workplace romances. The goal of such policies is to prevent not only sexual harassment, but also favouritism or conflicts of interest.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2019, with the headline 'Workplace romances: More regulated in #MeToo era'. Print Edition | Subscribe