Romance in the mayor’s office created a conflict

Sunira Chaudhri

Sunira Chaudhri

Toronto Employment Lawyer

While many will disagree with me, including my friend and fellow columnist, Jerry Agar, a power imbalance always exists between a subordinate employee and superior. It is even easier to imagine when your boss is the mayor of one of the biggest cities in the world.

Much has already been written about the resignation of Mayor John Tory and the implications that his resignation may have for the workplace at City Hall. 

 

Admitting to an intimate affair with a subordinate former employee, after the fact, suggests, there is nothing to be done. After all, the employee has moved on to another job, there is no ongoing power imbalance, and no conflict (real or apparent) to tackle.

 

But the fact is, intimate relationships in the workplace live on, and on.

 

While many will disagree with me, including my friend and fellow columnist, Jerry Agar, a power imbalance always exists between a subordinate employee and superior. It is even easier to imagine when your boss is the mayor of one of the biggest cities in the world.

 

The power imbalance is particularly clear when romances dwindle or take a turn for the worse at work. It is easy for the ex-lover of a powerful boss to feel embarrassed, disregarded, and subject to retaliation. Subordinate employees are left powerless, often outcasts with their colleagues, and fail to see career advancement. 

 

Of course, there is the argument that consenting adults enter work romances with their eyes wide open, but it is very difficult to navigate how the dissolution of a relationship can impact a workplace, not to mention the experience of coworkers.

 

A romantic relationship in any workplace can be fraught with tension and toxicity for everyone.

 

Consider the mayor’s office, where public perception is a highly valued currency. Protecting a workplace relationship from the peanut gallery — and one that must be cloaked with intense secrecy — could surely breed toxicity in that office.

 

Colleagues could have felt pressure to show loyalty or turn a blind eye. 

 

In his resignation announcement, Tory referenced working with the integrity commissioner as a result of admitting his workplace affair. Workplace romances, at their core, prevent bosses from treating employees fairly and consistently as among their peers. It is close to impossible to expect a spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend to be treated with absolute neutrality.

 

Even if Tory was able to remain fair and unbiased in his dealings, most of us have been left wondering if his former staffer did confer some benefit, receive some promotion, or opportunity that wouldn’t have crossed her desk but for the relationship.

 

There is no evidence to suggest that this happened, and even if it didn’t, Tory gave himself the appearance of bias, placing himself straight in the middle of the conflict, creating an irreconcilable snag for any leader. 

 

While it is very plausible that Tory was at all times a statesman in the workplace, creating the stark appearance of bias was the one risk he should never have taken. 

 

Have a workplace issue? Maybe I can help! Email me at sunira@worklylaw.com and your question may be featured in a future column.

 

The content of this article is general information only and is not legal advice.

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