A man and a woman work in the same department of a bank. They begin dating, and one gets promoted to be the other's supervisor. What does the bank do?
It's a tough question, and representatives of nine big banks said it's addressed case by case. But seven of the nine forbid supervisors to date their own subordinates, for fear of sexual harassment or favoritism charges.
With employees spending more and more time at work, the office has become a popular place to meet people and begin a romance, said Lisa Troyer, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Iowa.
Ms. Troyer, an expert on workplace relationships, said employers are well aware of office romances but have been cautious not to be overly intrusive.
It's certainly not a new issue, but the cases of two prominent Air Force officers-1st Lt. Kelly Flinn and Gen. Joseph Ralston-who recently saw their careers destroyed as a result of sexual relationships have spotlighted it once again.
"Clearly, this is motivating lots of consideration on how you deal with these kinds of situations," Ms. Troyer said.
Banking companies have taken various positions on fraternization. The three largest U.S. banks, for example-Chase Manhattan Corp., Citicorp, and BankAmerica Corp.-have very dissimilar approaches.
Chase, which has 64,000 full-time employees, has no formal guidelines, said spokesman John Stefans. However, "this can get over into the area of sexual harassment." Repeated requests to a co-worker for dates are discouraged, he said, but no policy prohibits a supervisor from dating a subordinate.
BankAmerica, with 78,000 employees, doesn't bar employees from dating their colleagues, but it does prohibit managers from dating subordinates.
Citicorp, on the other hand, has a detailed policy on personal relationships in the office. A Citicorp employee who becomes involved with a co-worker has to disclose this to his or her boss. Employees who don't follow the guideline can be fired, said spokesman John M. Morris.
"With 90,000 people, you have a lot of situations that come up," he said. "Our policies are designed to create a workplace that is open and friendly and anticipate situations that could destroy that environment."
At Citicorp, relatives, spouses, or partners cannot work in the same department, Mr. Morris said. For two related people to go to work at Citicorp, approval would have to be obtained from both prospective supervisors. If someone becomes involved romantically with a co-worker, then the couple's supervisors must be told.
Adultery is another issue altogether.
Ms. Flinn, the first female B-52 bomber pilot, was discharged from the Air Force last month after being charged with adultery, lying to a superior, and fraternization. Mr. Ralston last week withdrew his name from consideration for the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff after it was learned he had had an adulterous relationship some years ago.
But most companies have no formal dictates on adultery. At Citicorp, if an affair occurs in which one or both people are married, "you'd have to realize you're putting yourself under scrutiny, and the supervisor would have to make sure it's not affecting work," Mr. Morris said.
At many other companies, the rules are ambiguous. First Chicago NBD Corp., for instance, has no written policy on dating co-workers. "We let common sense take over," said spokesman Thomas Kelly. Spouses aren't allowed to work for each other at First Chicago, but most other situations, if they cause a disturbance, are handled case by case, Mr. Kelly said.
A similar policy is in effect at banking companies like Norwest Corp. in Minneapolis, Comerica Inc. in Detroit, and First of America Bank Corp. in Kalamazoo, Mich. Hibernia Corp., New Orleans, has no ban on dating and doesn't prohibit supervisors from dating employees, but Banc One Corp., Columbus, Ohio, "strongly suggests" managers not date their subordinates.
"In general, some organizations have been successful," said Ms. Troyer, "not putting policies in place."