This was done during an investigation of a training session.

Is it legal for a representative of a company to ask an employee if they have a personal relationship with another employee outside of work? There is no company policy against this.


3 answers  |  asked Aug 4, 2005 6:36 PM [EST]  |  applies to Texas

Answers (3)

Margaret A. Harris
Answering Questions About Private Matters

Non-governmental companies may ask tons of private questions of their employees without breaking the law. There are some exceptions -- and some questions should set off alarm bells for the HR Department.

While the answers to most of those questions should be none of their business, they can get away with asking the questions -- because they have the right to fire people who do not answer the questions.

Some questions may not be illegal just because they are asked, but they sure can give an indication that there might be some unlawful discrimination in the air. For example, if a supervisor is asking "when are you going to retire?" that might be an indicator that the supervisor is paying too much attention to your age rather than your abilities. Or, if a supervisor asks, "when are you going to start having children?" that may indicate that the supervisor is making decisions based on stereotypes of whether a "working mother" can handle certain jobs.

For many personal questions, there might not be an answer. So, you can respond with, "Gee, I hadn't really thought about that -- and I don't have an answer. Why do you ask? Is there some decision that you are going to make that depends on my answer to that question?"

At the same time, some questions may be legitimate. You were asked if you were romantically involved with another employee. That question could have been designed to help HR figure out whether you are voluntarily involved in a relationship -- or if you are being sexually harassed. And many companies also just do not want people who have close personal relationships to be supervising one another or in the same business group. That is not a bad practice, it can avoid favoritism -- and the appearance of favoritism.

posted by Margaret A. Harris  |  Aug 6, 2005 6:04 PM [EST]
Christopher McKinney
Employer asking personal questions

Yes. Unfortunately, it is legal for an employer to ask if you have a social relationship with another employee outside of work. Whether or not you choose to answer the question is up to you however (1) if you refuse to answer, the employer will assume the answer is "Yes"; and (2) if you refuse to answer your employer may fire you for insubbordination.

This is the sort of thing that exists because employees to not have "for-cause" employment protection as a general right. As long as the corporations and the republicans control the government, this is how things will stay.

Take care.

posted by Christopher McKinney  |  Aug 5, 2005 09:03 AM [EST]
Trey Henderson

Yes, the employer can ask if you have a relationship with another employee outside of work. Of course, you do not have to answer the question.

posted by Trey Henderson  |  Aug 4, 2005 7:14 PM [EST]

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