As we approach Valentine’s Day, many of our thoughts turn to hearts and flowers. But it’s also a time to think about the implications of office romances. They’re bound to occur as many of us spend umpteen hours at work. Unfortunately, romances can sour, resulting in some not so romantic results. Here are some of the concerns for business owners, and what they can or should do.
Dating co-workers can impede productivity, if couples spend work time together rather than doing their jobs. While loss of productivity isn’t a given, it’s certainly a concern.
If the breakup is uncomfortable for one or both of the partners, one of the partners may decide to quit. This leaves the company with turnover that is costly (finding and training a replacement). In the least, it is disruptive to the entire staff.
If one of the partners in an office romance is in a position of authority, that person can exercise favoritism. From a legal standpoint, this can be discriminatory action that exposes the company to liability.
If a romance goes bad, one of the ex-lovers may seek regress against the company for:
- Sexual harassment. Legal actions for sexual harassment are explained by the EEOC.
- Retaliatory behavior. One ex-partner may spread rumors, or even worse, taken unfavorable actions (e.g., decline to promote or give a raise to the other partner). Legal actions stemming from retaliation are explained by the EEOC.
Technically, the laws in most states give employers latitude to prohibit workers from dating each other. However, employers who rely on state law to restrict office dating may be impinging upon employees’ privacy. A better strategy for employers that want to limit problems from office romances can create a dating policy. Some reasonable restrictions may include:
- Banning dating between anyone with authority over another (e.g., a supervisor and subordinate).
- Restricting dating within a department.
- Requiring disclosure to protect the employer. For example, consider having the parties sign an acknowledgment (love contracts?) that the relationship is consensual and that they will not hold the company liable for sexual harassment.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has an employee dating policy and template for a consensual relationship agreement that you can review and tailor to your needs. Be sure to have an employment law attorney review any policies or contracts you want to implement.