Q: I have a secret: For the past three months, I’ve been attending a local Jacks club (a men-only masturbation event). As someone recovering from sexual abuse, I find the party to be safe, therapeutic, and just sexy fun. I feel like I need this! Unfortunately, I spotted one of my employees at last week’s event. Although I’m openly gay at my workplace, being naked, erect and sexual in the same room as my employee felt wrong. I freaked out, packed up and departed without him seeing me (I hope). I’m his manager at work, and I feel that being sexual around him could damage our professional relationship. It could even have dangerous HR consequences. I realize he has every right to attend Jacks, as much right as me, but I wish he weren’t there. I want to continue attending Jacks, but what if he’s there again? Frankly, I’m terrified to discuss the topic with him. Help!
– Just A Cock Kraving Safety
“I hate to say it, but now that JACKS knows his employee attends these events, he really has to stop going,” said Alison Green, the management consultant behind the popular Ask a Manager advice column (askamanager.org
) and the author of Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work
And why do you have to stop going to your beloved JO club?
“In an employment relationship where he’s in a position of power,” said Green, “JACKS has a responsibility to avoid any remotely sexual situation with an employee.”
Green also strongly advises against pulling your employee aside and working out some sort of shared custody agreement – you get Jacks to yourself every other week – because initiating a conversation with a subordinate about when and where he likes to jack off would be a bad idea. She also doesn’t think you can just keep going in the hopes that your employee won’t be back.
“If he continues to attend and it got back to anyone at their workplace, it would be really damaging to his reputation – not the fact that he was at the event to begin with, but the fact that he continued to attend knowing an employee was also participating,” said Green. “It would call his professional judgment into question, and it’s highly likely that HR would freak out about the potential legal liability that arises when you have a manager and a subordinate in a sexual context together.”
Okay, wait a minute. If it gets around the office that JACKS attended a JO party, that would mean the employee was gossiping about it at work. Why would a manager get in trouble for that and not the gossipy asshole he was supervising? Why would JACKS’s “professional judgment” be called into question and not the judgment of the employee who spread the news around the office?
“Gossiping about it definitely wouldn’t make the employee look great,” said Green. “The employee would look like a jerk for gossiping about something that the boss has the right to expect privacy around. But the boss is held to a higher standard: It’s part of his job to understand the boundaries he needs to have with the people he manages, to navigate the power differential appropriately, and to not create potential liability (legal or otherwise) for the company. So for the employee, it’s going to reflect badly on him personally (he’s a gossip)—but for the boss, it’s going to reflect badly on him as a manager.”
It seems crazy unfair to me that you should have to stop going to parties you not only enjoy, JACKS, but that have aided in your recovery. And Green agrees – it isn’t fair – but with great power (management) comes great responsibility (avoiding places where your employees are known to jack off).
“It’s never going to feel fair to have to drop out of a private, out-of-work activity just because of your job,” said Green. “I’m hoping it’s possible for JACKS to find a different club in a neighboring town. Or he could start his own club and offer a safe haven for other managers hiding out from potential run-ins with employees – Jacks for Middle Managers or something!”
While I had Green’s attention, I asked her about other sorts of gay social events that might toss a manager and an employee into a sexual context – think of the thousands of men who attended the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco last month. Gay men (and others) walk around in various states of undress or dress up, and a lot of flirting, groping and more goes down. Should gay men in management have to skip events like Folsom lest they run into men they supervise?
“Public events are different from private clubs,” said Green. “A private club is more intimate, and a public event is, well, public. And it’s not reasonable or practical to expect managers to entirely curtail their social lives or never attend a public event. But a private club that’s organized specifically and primarily for sexual activity is in a different category.”
However, gay managers who run into employees at events like Folsom or circuit parties shouldn’t ogle, hit on or photograph their employees.
“If someone who reports to you is in a sexual situation,” said Green, “you should keep moving and give them as much space as you reasonably can.”
I’m going to give myself the last word here: You’ve been attending that JO club for months and saw your employee there only once, JACKS, so I think you can risk going back at least one more time. I would hate to see you deprived of release (and see your recovery set back!) if your employee was there only that one time.
Follow Alison Green on Twitter @AskAManager