CSG Law Alert: How To Shield Your Workplace From Cupid’s Arrow
With Valentine’s Day around the corner, employers should be thinking about how to protect the company from office romances that may result in legal liability. According to a 2023 Society for Human Resource Management Workplace Romance & Relationships Survey, 27 percent of U.S. workers are currently in a workplace romance or have been in one before, and more than two in five U.S. workers (41 percent) know someone who is currently involved in a workplace romance or has been in one before.
While it may be tempting to ban office romances altogether, workplace romances are clearly inevitable and forbidding them is not realistic. So, what can employers do? Fortunately, there are measures employers can take to protect themselves from the potential pitfalls that can arise from their employees falling in – and out of – love.
♥ To avoid the risk that an employee in a consensual workplace romance will later allege the relationship was involuntary, employers may require employees to disclose any workplace romance and enter into a consensual romantic relationship agreement, also referred to as a “love contract.” This is a written acknowledgement by the employees confirming the voluntary nature of the relationship. The love contract should affirm that both employees will comply with the company’s anti-harassment policies and that entering into the relationship has not been made a condition or term of employment.
♥ Employers can also implement personal relationship policies to reduce office romance-related issues. These policies vary depending on an employer’s specific needs and goals. For instance, some companies allow employees to only ask a colleague out on a date once, but no more than once if rejected the first time, in an effort to avoid harassment allegations. These policies should require employees to maintain clear boundaries, including prohibiting employees from engaging in physical contact or other displays of affection in the workplace (including at offsite company events) that could make others feel uncomfortable.
♥ Employees must be prohibited from engaging in romantic relationships with any employees over whom they make decisions regarding terms or conditions of employment. Employers may choose to preclude employees in a consensual social relationship from working within the same department and reserve the right to transfer or terminate either employee to avoid any potential conflict of interest or allegations of favoritism because of the relationship.
♥ Be clear that your workplace romance policy also applies to employees working remotely. For example, sending a flirty note or emoji over email, text or messaging apps (i.e. Slack, Teams Chat, etc.) to your workplace sweetie, or anyone else, is not acceptable and is a violation of policy.
♥ Make sure to provide regular employee training on all your policies, including your harassment policies and relationship policies.
♥ If you become aware of any of these issues in your workplace, comply with your obligation to promptly initiate an investigation or contact counsel.
Although you may not want to play “love police,” the potential cost of litigating these issues is far more expensive than overpriced roses on Valentine’s Day.