When the love bug bites two employees, it’s often left to managers and HR personnel to deal with the consequences of the office romance. It’s not an uncommon situation. A CareerBuilder.com survey revealed that nearly 40% of participants had dated a co-worker, and 18% admitted to having at least 2 inter-office relationships. What does all that dating at work mean for employers?
It’s true that not all employee romances create problems for managers, but when dating at work relationships sour, they create the potential for anything from low morale to litigation. Here are examples of how the office romance may affect your workplace:
- Love blooms between a manager and a subordinate, creating ill feelings among other team members.
- Excessive public displays of affection (what we called PDAs in high school) cause other employees to feel uncomfortable.
- A bitter worker in an office romance gone bad files false sexual harassment claims.
- A manager who is a serial office dater creates the perception of favoritism for those he or she dates.
So what’s an employer to do about staffers who begin dating at work?
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Although you know you have a responsibility to provide a workplace free from sexual harassment, you may question how far you can go in dictating how employees engage in office romance. Consider incorporating one of these three workplace romance policies used by other employers:
1. Non-Fraternization Policy: These workplace romance guidelines prohibit romantic relationships between employees. This can seem like a good, no-frills solution to love in the workplace problems, but there are challenges. For example, it can be tricky to monitor for compliance, casting managers and HR personnel as office anti-Cupids charged with policing illicit relationships. What’s more, some workers may argue that a non-fraternization policy tramples on their constitutional right to privacy. The state of California actually prohibits employers from restricting off-the-clock activities.
2. Conflict of Interest Policy: Another example of workplace romance policies is one that prevents conflicts of interest between managers and subordinates. It might prohibit any close personal connection, whether it’s a family relationship or an office romance. One solution to a manager/subordinate relationship with a conflict of interest would be to reassign one of the employees.
3. Informed Consent Policy: An informed consent policy ensures both parties involved in an office romance are aware of and comply with the employer’s sexual harassment policies. For example, you might ask both parties to sign what’s sometimes called a “love contract,” in which the employees acknowledge they are aware of the sexual harassment policy.
When it’s time to implement workplace romance policies, you’ll also need to consider how the company will inform and train staff and management about the new guidelines.
Of course, some companies default to having no policy for dealing with love in the workplace. This might seem like an easier option than hashing out a new company policy, but the reality is that the no-policy approach could cost you in time and litigation down the road.
Navigating the repercussions of an office romance can be challenging for business owners and managers. Protect yourself and the company by considering if workplace romance policies are right for your workplace.
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