In Iowa, It’s Workplace Misconduct to Sleep With Your Boss’s Spouse

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On Tuesday, the Iowa Court of Appeals came down with a fairly common sense proclamation:  don’t have an affair with your boss’s spouse.

Or, more specifically, if you have an affair with your boss’s spouse, and you are a police officer, this will constitute misconduct, sufficient enough to warrant your discipline or termination.  It’s a short opinion at seven pages and a quick read.

But, what’s the point, you ask?

Why Misconduct Matters

Good question.  Misconduct isn’t always easy to define, and employers aren’t always “right” in the eyes of the law when they try to identify it.

Sometimes Often, an employer’s termination for what the employer believes is “misconduct” is the beginning of a long and tortuous road to some form of wrongful termination lawsuit.

This appeal was based, in part, on the employee’s argument that his affair with his boss’s wife was not misconduct.  I’ll admit, at first blush, this argument sounds boneheaded.

The employee noted, however, many other officers in the department had been parties to affairs but were not disciplined.

The employer argued this case was different.  The terminated employee’s affair was not just with anyone, but with his boss’s spouse.

The Court considered the supervisor/subordinate relationship between the two.  The affair upset the trust and cohesiveness required with police departments.  The employee’s peers may not want to work with him, the Court reasoned because the boss might target him for dangerous assignments.  Or, the boss may not be able to be fair with work assignments, discipline, and so on.

It’s a pretty good argument and makes perfect sense, really.

The next time you have a misconduct issue, especially if sufficient to warrant discipline or termination, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Has this conduct been sufficient to warrant discipline/termination in other situations with other employees?
  2. Does the employee’s misconduct implicate some form of legally “protected conduct?” (I’ll take this one up in a companion posting).

Stay proactive.