No. Asking an employee out is not sexual harassment, unless she has made it clear she is not interested. Then is could become a problem. However, it is a recipe for disaster. It is a terrible idea to mix business with pleasure with your secretary. You are in a position of power over her job. If anything should go wrong, or even if nothing goes wrong, it can create a very uncomfortable working relationship and may prevent you from being an effective boss. These kinds of relationships often do turn into lawsuits if the employee is terminated or perceives they are being harassed or retaliated against later.
Also, if you work for a company, check its policy on dating in the workplace. If their is a policy against it, you could both be fired for violating company policy.
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Mr. Kirschbaum hits the nail squarely on the head - it may be legal under some circumstances but it is a bad idea under all circumstances. By analogy, lawyers are not barred simply from impropriety, they are barred from the appearance of impropriety.
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This has disaster written all over it. The apparent requirement for a writing is troubling.
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Not to belabor the point - but as my esteemed colleague, Mr. Kirschbaum, pointed out, while the mere act of asking your secretary out by itself may not constitute sexual harassment (e.g., as long as she has not previously made it clear she is not interested), such relationships have a great potential of becoming future sexual harassment lawsuits -- not to mention how it would effect the work environment and your effectiveness.
What we commonly see in such situations is, for example, the supervisor is in a relationship with a subordinate that started consensually, but then the subordinate later feels that if she breaks off with the supervisor, his/her job could be in jeopardy. Or if the subordinate is terminated or otherwise disciplined at any time after the relationship is over, it can be perceived to have been because he/she broke off the relationship. So there are a number of scenarios which give rise to sexual-harassment claims that relate to these relationships.
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In addition to the other excellent responses and warnings you received, consider that despite what your secretary told you, she might feel coerced into telling you what she thinks you want to hear. You are in control of her very livelihood. You can cause her to lose her income, her home, her ability to support her family and her social standing. Do you really believe she feels absolutely free to tell you if she does not want a personal relationship with you? Especially if she knows you are interested? The relationship between a boss and a subordinate is inherently unequal and inherently coercive. You, your secretary and the employer would have to be extraordinary for this situation to turn out fine.
*** All legal actions have time limits, called statutes of limitation. If you miss the deadline for filing your claim, you will lose the opportunity to pursue your case. Please consult with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible to better preserve your rights. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer provides information on Avvo as a service to the public, primarily when general information may be of assistance. Avvo is not an appropriate forum for an in-depth response or a detailed analysis. These comments are for information only and should not be considered legal advice. Legal advice must pertain to specific, detailed facts. No attorney-client relationship is created based on this information exchange. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer is licensed to practice law before all state and federal courts in California, and can appear before administrative agencies throughout the country. She is eligible to represent clients in other states on a pro hac vice basis. ***
I have heard of employers drafting "romantic contracts" for key employees in your situation, so that the employer is protected if the romantic relationship sours, but I have never actually seen one of these and cannot advise you on it.
Just food for thought.
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Mot sexual harassment but not a good idea. Very dangerous in a legal sense.
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To add to the other comments, if you choose to ask your secretary out and she agrees, have her first sign a contract in which she agrees that your relationship is consensual and that either of you can end the relationship at any time and the other will respect the decision of the other and not cause problems at work due to the relationship. If the relationship does not work out, you want to do all you can so that she doesn't later claim that you required her to date you or lose your job, etc. I have drafted these types of agreements before. Be smart about your decision!
I would simply equate it to one having unprotected sex- it could be great, but might have significant repercussions. Neither are illegal, but both could end up bad.
So many really terrific responses from talented employment lawyers across this country ...but for brevity ...Harry Hudson has my vote. As for the "asker" ...have you considered finding your love interest outside of your place of employment? The mere fact that your question has elicited so many responses should be answer enough for you. But if you are determined to abandon common sense ...or if you are independently wealthy ...or ready to retire ...or judgement proof ...ignore these warnings and go for it. Good luck and best regards, Rob Fortgang - Employment Law Attorneys
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