It’s been one week since we learned that Tavis Smiley’s nightly talk show was suspended by PBS. It happened after an investigation was conducted, and he was accused by the station of sexual misconduct.
Since then he’s been going on a mini-press tour to defend himself and sat down with media outlets like ABC and Fox News.
According to Smiley, PBS conducted a sloppy investigation before suspending his show, and he was unaware that he was being investigated in the first place.
“I’ve never groped, I’ve never coerced female staffers into sexual relations in 30 years over six different networks,” said Smiley emphatically. “I celebrate and applaud these women who had the courage to come out .. [but] people end up being guilty simply by accusations.”
“[I can prove my relationships were consensual] with letters, cards, gifts and, certainly, photographs,” he added. “I certainly understand people can have a viewpoint that any consensual relationship in the workplace is wrong, but there are also other points of view on this. While we don’t encourage [workplace romances], we don’t forbid them.”
Smiley also went on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and said he didn’t see anything wrong with workplace relationships, especially in his industry where people work extremely close together and for incredibly long hours.
“Let’s face it, nobody is working 40-hour weeks anymore. We are working 40-, 50-, 70-,80-hour weeks. Where else are you going to meet people in this business?” Smiley asked. “Our business itself is full of people, producers and talk show hosts who met on the job.”
PBS has since responded to the “Good Morning America” interview and said Smiley contradicted what he said on his Facebook page.
“First, today on ‘Good Morning America,’ Mr. Smiley acknowledged he has had multiple sexual encounters with his employees, then struggled to recall the number of current employees with whom he has had sex,” wrote a PBS spokesperson.
“This contradicts his Facebook post from last week, where he cited only one previous relationship with an employee,” the statement continued. “Mr. Smiley even told viewers, ‘I don’t know where your heart’s going to lead you.’ PBS is certain that it should not lead to multiple sexual relationships between the owner of a company and subordinates over many years, particularly where employment decisions may be linked to sex.”
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Despite there being a perpetual gray area about office romances being okay or not, a lot of people don’t seem to mind engaging in one.
According to a survey conducted by CareerBuilder, 40 percent of employees said they’ve dated a co-worker, and 30 percent said they got involved with someone who was their higher-up, meaning a boss or supervisor.
The survey also showed that 30 percent of women dated someone with a professional higher ranking and only 23 percent of men did the same.
So the question remains: Is it ever okay to get involved with someone who’s your higher-up?
According to Dr. Aaron Turpeau, a relationship expert who focuses on Black couples, the answer is no and it should never happen.
“I think what we have to take caution of is to make sure that those workplace relationships don’t go in your downline,” he told Atlanta Black Star. “Because that’s when it becomes problematic, and so you need to be very weary of making sure those workplace relationships don’t [take place]. My advice is that you don’t have romantic relationships in your downline because you can become abusive with your power.”
But Turpeau said it’s ok if two employees, who are on an equal professional footing, want to engage in a workplace romance.
“In my opinion, workplace relationships in a lot of ways are inevitable, because you got male and females” said Dr. Turpeau, whose practice is based in Atlanta. “People don’t stop being male, they don’t stop being female when they enter into the workplace. So when you have the chemistry going on, the dynamics between men and women, it’s unrealistic to think those dynamics aren’t going to play out in the workplace. Yes, it’s okay when it’s mutual.”
As far as how to properly pursue a workplace relationship, Dr. Turpeau said the same rules apply whether a romance takes place in or out of a professional setting.
“You would go about it the same way, respectful, professional,” he stated. “You don’t need to be displaying your public displays of affection in the workplace. I would recommend that you keep that type of relationship after hours.”
With all of the sexual misconduct allegations that have surfaced in entertainment, Dr. Turpea said workplace relationships will now be heavily frowned upon.
“It’s going to scare people, and it’s going to be even more of a taboo than it already is … Down the road, I think we’ll probably go back to being more accepting of it, but for right now I think it’ll definitely be frowned upon.”