May 19, 2019

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Corporate Divorce Series: Online Dating, The Bachelor, and Predicting Successful Employment Relationships

If there is a predictive model for dating, why can’t the same model apply to the employment relationship?

I was fascinated to learn recently that eHarmony, the online dating site, had launched a career site called Elevated. The site advertises that your “Job Can be Your Happy Place.”

The new site claims to be based upon the “predictive” model of eHarmony’s matchmaking success and focuses on matching skills, core values and the workplace environment.

As an employment lawyer, I know that there is no magic formula for a successful employment relationship. There are just too many human variables at play, and too many laws that lead employers and employees astray.

But since we are on the topic of predicting a successful relationship (whether personal, or as Forbes so astutely observed recently, one’s career), it occurs to me that the reality dating show, The Bachelor, also provides some insight into the predictive model of a successful relationship.

If you are familiar with the Bachelor (and are brave enough to admit your fascination with the show), you know that a single individual is tasked with multi-dating potential mates and winnowing down the field in a very public way over the course of the show’s episodes. The hope, of course, is that at the end, the individual actually selects a mate who in turn accepts a marriage proposal. It is a formulaic happy ending except for the contestants who are dramatically eliminated along the way.

So what do these dating models tell us about predicting successful employment relationships?

The law regulates the employment relationship far more rigorously than it regulates the marital relationship.  Frankly, anyone can get married if they are single, old enough, and far enough away in blood relation. They just need a marriage license.

An employment relationship, on the other hand, frequently necessitates dozens of forms, somewhat burdensome government reporting, and (we hope) careful documentation.

And here is where online dating, television drama, and reality diverge. In the dating realm, there are no legal constraints on investigatory mate selection. In this sense, The Bachelor is a poor example of a predictive model because a third party (the producer) selects the potential mates using criteria having nothing to do with being an ideal match but instead having everything to do with television ratings.  And online dating likewise doesn’t provide sound comparison because people are unconstrained by the legal system (except perhaps stalking and defamation laws). Instead, anything goes. Do you desire a mate who is a male, at least six feet tall, who is a vegan atheist, and between the ages of 34 and 36? Your imagination is the only constraint.

Unsurprisingly, the laws governing the employment relationship do not operate in this manner. Employers are severely limited in what they can and cannot ask of job applicants.  And those constraints cover so many things and categories – obvious ones like age, gender, religion and race – and much less obvious ones (at least in some jurisdictions) such as credit history, criminal convictions, and even the fact an individual is unemployed at the time they apply for a job.

The point, of course, is that you can actually ask very few questions of job applicants that are not strictly related to one’s ability to do the advertised job, such as relevant job experience, educational background, and specialized training or academic degrees.  And yet – here is where the frustration comes in – based on the very thinnest of information (most of which you hope is true) a relationship is created that, while not permanent, is certainly significant.

Some employers use probation periods – sometimes referred to as “extended job interviews” –  to determine if an employee is a good fit. This is more like The Bachelor-type approach, where you dive into the relationship, foster it, invest in it, and then tell the next-to-last person standing that you were actually in love with another person the entire time. And then you fire them.

So while I think it was a fair question to ask if we can predict a successful employment relationship, I think the answer is that just like the dating and marriage metaphor, luck must have something to do with it. While online dating allows individuals to construct their ideal mate, those criteria are prohibited in the workplace. And while the extended job interview that a probationary employment period provides is helpful, it isn’t always ideal and frankly can’t prevent the legal fallout from an abbreviated but disastrous employment relationship. Luck? Perhaps that word should appear at the top of everyone’s resume.

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About this Author

Jennifer Rubin, Labor, Employment, Attorney, Mintz Levin, Law Firm

Jennifer helped launch Mintz Levin’s greater metropolitan Employment, Labor & Benefits Practice 10 years ago. She regularly handles significant employment litigation matters, including trial, administrative agency, and appellate work relating to Fair Labor Standards Act collective actions, wage and hour class actions, discrimination matters, privacy litigation, noncompete litigation, and trade secrets work.

She leverages her first-seat trial experience to deliver practical employment advice to the corporate community. Jennifer also represents C-level executives and corporations...