Dangerous Liaisons at Work


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According to a recent survey produced by job site Vault.com, 58% of employees have engaged in a romantic relationship with a colleague. And 72% of them would do it again if opportunity knocked. 

29% of respondents admitted to cheating on their partner with a colleague at work, while a surprising 44% of employees have known colleagues who had affairs at work or on business trips. 

So it’s evident that workplace relationships are still very much in style. But what happens when an office affair fueled by addiction threatens to spiral out of control?


The following is a true story. Names have been changed to protect identities.

On the tail end of a long day, Fred Fiction, General Manager at Melodrama Construction, was putting the finishing touches on a bid proposal. Giving the package a final once-over, he scanned for grammatical errors and reviewed the contract terms. Experience had taught him that proposals are often won or lost on the completeness of minute details, explaining why every major proposal crossed his desk before final submission.   

Confident that all the bases were covered, he positioned the mouse cursor above the Send button and let out a deep breath. Man we could really use this one.

Squinting at his watch through blurry eyes, he scolded himself for losing track of time. Working long hours was just part of the gig, and truth be told, he wouldn’t have it any other way. But tonight he had a supper date with his very patient wife, so it was high time to hit the road. Fred grabbed his truck keys and made a b-line for the front door.

Hitting the lights on his way out, eager to get home, he suddenly paused before arming the office alarm. It was standard procedure to sweep the building for stragglers before locking up, but tonight an exception could be made. Forget about it, he told himself. Everybody’s long since gone. 

Yet the nagging feeling of guilt persisted. And the spider sense that was correct 9 times out of 10 was tingling. He let out a sigh. Fine then, do a quick round, but make it snappy.

In fewer than twenty paces Fred realized his imagination wasn’t playing tricks.

There was someone in the building.

He froze to get a fix on the sound. The muffled noises seemed to come from an adjoining hallway. As he moved that direction, a faint sliver of light began to resolve from below the estimating manager’s office door.

Shane must be working late—I’ll tell him he’s the last man out.

Coming to a stop at Shane’s door, he nudged it open while quietly announcing himself.

And there they were, in full display, locked in a sweet embrace atop the office desk. Fred Fiction was rarely at a loss for words, but there he stood, and there they lay, the three of them frozen by shock. There was no time to think, only act. In the deafening silence he heard himself tell the canoodling lovebirds to take the after-party someplace else.

Consenting adults 

As Fred drove home, it became clear that he had multiple problems on his hands. Earlier in the day he was informed that Stacey, Shane’s love interest and underling, apparently has a serious drug addiction. That seemed to make sense based on her erratic behavior—euphoric one minute and aggressive the next. Stacey had been with Melodrama for less than three months, and already she’d made quite a name for herself. The fact that Fred had just met Stacey’s husband at the company Christmas party made things all the more awkward.

The following morning, the HR manager assured Fred that company policy didn’t, and couldn’t, prohibit office romance. However, what did make this situation sticky was the superior/subordinate dynamic between Shane and Stacey. Besides the after hours office tryst, they did seem to be managing the relationship discreetly. But how long until the love triangle made front page news? Shane was a 20 year veteran of the company and was practically irreplaceable, a key guy Melodrama could scarcely afford to lose. Stacey on the other hand was a new hire who’s presence was dragging Shane down.  

An employment lawyer’s perspective

“Many corporations have long had rules prohibiting superior-subordinate relationships. Such relationships create a significant potential for sexual harassment complaints and, more ominously, in the view of some courts, no superior/subordinate relationship can ever be consensual. Even if it ostensibly is, it may retroactively be viewed otherwise by the subordinate party when the relationship ends.

As well, no one should be in a position to evaluate or confer benefits i.e. bonuses, better assignments, etc., on someone with whom they are romantically involved. Companies could also reasonably expect their employees to act objectively and dispassionately in the interest of a business without letting the tugs of love or lust intercede.”  Howard Levitt, Levitt Law.

The drug problem

As an informed manager, Fred was well aware that addiction is considered a disability. He had planned on sitting with Shane to discuss Stacey’s poor performance and erratic mood swings. The hope was that Shane might also have information about the suspected drug use. But now there was a love triangle to consider, and there was no telling how Shane would react to Fred pulling rank. Fred couldn’t let Stacey’s bad attitude, suspected addiction, and late night escapades go unanswered, nor could he place trust in Shane’s objectivity. 

Back in his office and deep in thought, Fred leaned back in his chair and turned toward the window, gazing out at the gathering storm clouds.

Never a dull day. 

Happy ending. This time.   

In the end, Stacey was referred to XYZ’s third-party rehab service. That action effectively ended Shane and Stacey’s brief relationship, but rehab enabled Stacey to confront her disability and put her life back together. Meanwhile, absent Stacey’s influence in the office, Shane soon rebounded with the support of Fred and his coworkers. Although Stacey didn’t return to XYZ, Fred’s intervention ensured she got the help she needed, while very likely preserving Shane’s employment in the process.  

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The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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About Me

Ben Barfett, Principal and Consultant, has spent his life in the construction sector, specifically heavy civil, enviro, commercial, and energy. Having held senior roles in business development, technical advisory, and regional management, he earned his stripes in the field and in head office. Conscious of the interplay between commercial, legal, and execution aspects of construction, his business insights are informed by expertise in WCB policy and enhanced with disability-specific training.

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