In this Essay written for the symposium on "For Love or Money? Defining Relationships in Law and Life," I extend my previous consideration of friendship to the specific context of the workplace, analyzing friendship through the lens of the ties that arise at work instead of those assumed to arise within the home. Many adults spend half or more of their waking hours at work, in the process forming relationships with supervisors, co-workers, subordinates, customers, and other third parties. Although such relationships are at times primarily transactional, at other times they take on intimate qualities similar to those of family relationships or friendships. Workplaces are thus often sites of both intimacy and production, much like the home is a site of both intimacy and production, even though the law assigns production to the workplace and intimacy to the home.
This combination of intimacy and production means that workplace ties are often a component of workplace success rather than a simple byproduct of that success or a negative distraction from it. Workplace friendships foster connections that may lead to promotions and higher status, and such connections may also provide care and support to workers in increasingly uncertain and competitive workplace environments. Some legal scholars have categorized these effects as favoritism and have considered ways to eliminate that favoritism in order to promote meritocracy and antidiscrimination goals in the workplace. This Essay takes a different tack, examining relationships in the workplace to challenge legal understandings of both work and family, particularly the assumption that purported merit-based success can be separated from intimacy or care. Part I examines the ways that current legal analysis largely ignores relationships at work or constructs them solely as threats to workplace equality. Part II draws on social science literature to illustrate that personal relationships are neither irrelevant to the workplace nor always at odds with antidiscrimination goals, even as they may replicate patterns of inequality not currently addressed by antidiscrimination law. Part III then sets forth an agenda for future legal consideration of affective bonds at work that does not collapse work relationships into family, or define them against family, but instead examines the flow of intimacy in and out of the home, the workplace, and other spaces both public and private, and productive and intimate.
Laura A. Rosenbury, Working Relationships 35 Wash. U. J. L. & Pol'y 117 (2011), available at http://scholarship.law.ufl.edu/facultypub/719