It would appear that we’re heading back to the office. It won’t happen all at once, but slowly, very slowly, our office wardrobes are going to switch over from Crocs and sweatpants to heels and ties. We will be in each other’s company again. Business lunches!  Afterwork drinks!  The return of water cooler gossip! Well, hallelujah … and here comes trouble.

Photo by StudyFinds.

… now would be a good time to reacquaint oneself with the policies associated with office romances.

According to employment lawyers, now would be a good time to reacquaint oneself with the policies associated with office romances.  Although there’s no Canadian law or legislation prohibiting office romances, they can easily derail a career.  And they certainly provide more grist for the gossip mill at that water cooler. Jeff Zucker, head of CNN Worldwide, found out the hard way.

Mr. Zucker had maintained a long term relationship with a subordinate, Allison Gollust.  Ms. Gollust is CNN’s executive vice president and head of marketing.  She and Zucker had worked together for 20 years. Yes, she was his subordinate, but that’s the trouble with being the Big Cheese: everyone at CNN would qualify as a subordinate to Zucker. Although it was a completely consensual, public relationship, they both failed to report the nature of their relationship to Human Resources at CNN, as per company policy. 

CNN is a huge company with lots of moving parts plus lots of big personalities, not to mention, big plans. That CNN is merging with Warner Bros Discovery may not be an insignificant aspect in Zucker’s resignation. Ostensibly, both Zucker’s and Gollust’s role in all things Cuomo triggered the ouster but the scuttlebut is that there were even larger issues at play that forced Zucker’s resignation. 

The pathway to the Zucker resignation starts with the investiagation of CNN host, Chris “Let’s Get After It” Cuomo, who appeared to have overplayed his hand in coming to the aid of his brother, Andrew Cuomo, in the sexual harassment charges that resulted in Andrew’s resignation as Governor of New York. 

As lawyers retained by CNN investigated Chris Cuomo, it became apparent that, although the Zucker/Gollust relationship was no secret,  Zucker had flouted CNN Human Resources policy on office romances.

… office romances provide a mechanism for a power play. 

And there’s the thing: office romances provide a mechanism for a power play.   Boom.  Ms. Gollust, as the subordinate, remains in her role with CNN, but Jeff Zucker cleans out his desk.

In practise, it’s almost impossible to enforce company policies on office romances. To begin with, policies differ from company to company. Some companies only require notification of the relationship once the relationship clears the two month mark. Other situations only require HR to be advised if the parties are separated by two or more levels of seniority.  Office romances are actually trickier to deal with than sexual harassment cases. There are clear laws that deal with harassment. Canada’s Occupational Health and Safety Act  (OHSA) protects provincially regulated workers from sexual harassment and federally regulated workers are protected via the Canada Labour Code.  

Office romances are actually trickier to deal with than sexual harassment cases.

As common as office romances are – some statistics claim as many as 79 percent of people have dated a co-worker – they’re a minefield, to be sure.  OHSA and the Labour Code aside, nothing really protects the romantic pair from the fallout, conjecture and tension that can accompany an office romance.  Productivity can also be hampered.  Anecdotally, more women than men report that their office romance had a negative impact on their work relationships.  All of which brings high school to mind. It was bad enough having to show up on Monday morning after breaking up with your main squeeze on Saturday night, but having that person, perhaps, hold sway over your success at work?  More than awkward.

… she fears she’s lost the knack of getting dressed.

So, we’re heading back to cubicles and corner offices; back into elevators and lunch rooms … and back into romantic entanglements. A friend is mulling over this return to the playing field. She’s looking forward to it, however, she fears she’s lost the knack of getting dressed. She likes dressing down. She claims to have perfected the business jacket/fancy scarf over dirty T-shirt/sweatpants camouflage required for Zoom meetings and doesn’t want to surrender this skill set. Me? I work in pyjamas from my kitchen table with zero romantic prospects to impede my meteoric rise to the C suite. 

I pat her knee and tell her there’s an upside to dressing like a nine year-old boy or an invalid. We just may be dodging a bullet. 

This week’s question for readers:


Now, in return, will you do something for me? Will you sign up for The Plain Jane, my newsletter? You can ignore it, if you want, when it shows up in your inbox every few weeks, but my rotten kids will think I’m a star if I have a decent subscriber list. 

Here’s further incentive to sign up: PRIZES!!!

Submissions to last week’s question:

Care to share a cringeworthy moment? If it’s so bad that you don’t want your name published – all the better!

My boyfriend (now husband) and I were attending a funeral. The funeral was for my parents’ best friend’s mother. The funeral took place at the church followed by a chosen few going to the graveside. My husband and I were the youngest invited to the graveside. Of course, being young and driving a little faster than the older mourners and it being summertime, we arrived first to the cemetery. We blazed in there with the sunshine beaming through the open windows of our little sports car. We parked right next to the open grave. 

The service finished and my husband and I hurried to our car to enjoy the rest of the beautiful day. Callous? Yes. But we were young. We jumped into the car, windows still down so the car didn’t heat up during the service. My husband turned the key and suddenly the radio, turned on high for the ride over, blared through the speakers.  Everyone turned to look at us. What was blaring from through our open windows, right next to the grave and gathered mourners? Queen’s, ‘Another One Bites The Dust’!

If looks could kill, they would have buried me that day, too.

Mary G.

Here is my cringeworthy memory. One fine June day I was walking the seawall and was passing the Vancouver Rowing Club. I had a dim memory of reading about them hosting an open house and I noticed a well-dressed couple acting as greeters. I was rocking summer wear:  shorts, T- shirt, sneakers, etc.

Upon entering I saw a sandwich tray, so helped myself and walked around the reception room. At some point I thought it odd that everybody was suited up for an open house, then I saw a couple seated at a table with a framed photograph of a young woman. Finally, the penny dropped. This was NOT an open house, it was a wake!

I’d crashed parties in my youth, but never a wake! Of course I profusely apologised and departed as gracefully as I could, but the memory remains, especially whenever I walk that section of the seawall.

Tom King

My cringeworthy moment happened to me around 40 years ago and I still cringe at the thought of it.

I took my two young sons ages ten and 12 years-old to the waterslides. My two sons were excited for me to go down the tube ride. We each had our own tubes.

It sounded like fun! As we went down the rapids, we came to a hill.  My sons went down first and waited for me in a little pool of water at the next level.  As I went down my tube flipped over and I found myself underneath it.  I popped up from under my tube standing in the water. My two sons were sitting in their tubes gaping at me with their mouths open and utter shock on their faces.  Little did I realize that my bathing suit top had slid off and I was standing there topless!  To say cringeworthy is an understatement.  My sons have been gracious enough to share this incident with my grandchildren.  Double cringeworthy!!

J. T. (Name withheld by request)

Dropping off my teenage daughter at her friend’s house, we were greeted warmly by one of her parents. Taking the outstretched hand, I said, enthusiastically, “You must be Jane’s father.” 

“No, I’m Jane’s mother.” was the response.

Rose Dudley

In the early 1960s I was a young, inexperienced stewardess with a major US airline.  We had legendary crew parties in those days.  At one such I was retelling (and embellishing) gossip about a certain other stewardess who had a reputation for somewhat wild behaviour fueled by alcohol.  I was delighted by the rapt attention of everyone, and too naïve to sense a certain undercurrent.  When I had finished my story, one of the pilots said quietly, “It didn’t happen quite like that.”  Sensing the floor about to open, I asked, “How do you know?”  His reply: “I married her.”

Sara Shadbolt

Here’s one I’d definitely rather forget, but have turned it to good. 

I had an appointment with my financial planner at the bank. When I arrived I was told it was cancelled because he had a personal emergency. I blew a gasket and reamed out everyone in the branch because my time was important and why did no one call me. The next day I found out he had been in an accident and was brain dead. His family were in the process of donating his organs so others could live before they pulled the plug. I was completely disgusted with myself. From that day I have kept my vow to ensure every retail worker hears from me how much I appreciate their hard work. 

V.H. (Name withheld by request)

Just thinking about this makes me cringe.  Thank goodness I don’t have to see him any more.

I was on the back deck, thinking I was alone and let out a huge fart. A natural occurrence right? Even the queen has to occasionally. The neighbor must have been right by the fence.  He poked his head up and said, “Nice one!” I nearly died. I cringed every time I saw him.  We moved eventually. 

Please don’t use my name. 

He may read the paper 

 S.P. (Name withheld by request)

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