Sex in the Office

As David Letterman's scandal shows, even when it's consensual, office affairs are risky.
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Sex in the Office

As David Letterman’s scandal shows, even when it’s consensual office affairs are risky.

-Jane Farrell

Office romance

David Letterman is getting a lot of laughs this week as he talks about the $2 million extortion attempt that was prompted by the affairs he had with women on his staff.

“Did your weekend just fly by?” he said sarcastically to his audience, clearly referring to the grueling weekend he himself spent explaining the affairs to his wife, Regina Lasko. The audience clapped and cheered appreciatively.

But for millions of people in this country – both men and women – workplace affairs aren’t the least bit funny. Instead, these involvements usually lead to derailed careers, firings, sexual harassment complaints and broken marriages. Letterman, who got serious after his monologue, told his audience “I got my work cut out for me” in repairing his marriage. (The two have a son, Harry, 5.)

David Letterman with his wife and sonA CBS producer, Robert Joel Halderman, who has been involved with one of Letterman’s ex-girlfriends, Stephanie Birkitt, has been charged in the blackmail attempt. According to the New York Post, Halderman staged the attempt after reading in Birkitt’s diary that she was still having an affair with Letterman and that she had spent time at the TV comedian’s ranch last December. Letterman married Lasko, his longtime girlfriend, last March.

Kathleen Neville, whose New York City-based firm, Neville Consultants, specializes in sexual-harassment issues for companies, says that even if sex in the office is consensual, both sides are taking “a huge, huge risk.”

“Nine out of ten times the relationship ends,” she tells “You, women in particular, could be finished there.” Neville, the author of Internal Affairs: The Abuse of Power, Sexual Harassment and Hypocrisy in the Workplace, cites the case of a woman in her early 30s who was having an affair with her married boss. Ultimately, he gave her a mediocre job review. When she asked why, he said, “Because I had to make sure I didn’t seem biased.” Her career suffered; he moved on.

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