How Employers Can Prevent a Budding Workplace Romance from Becoming a Thorn in Their Side

Spring will soon be in the air, and, with that, love may be too. Employers have always shuddered at the thought of blooming workplace romances and the impact they could have on office morale and productivity. In light of the #MeToo movement, employers are now particularly concerned that, should a workplace romance fizzle, they could also face a potential harassment claim.

While it may sound tempting to ban office romance altogether, workplace romance is inevitable and forbidding it is simply not realistic. In fact, according to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey, 36% of employees admit to having dated a coworker. So what can employers do? Fortunately, there are measures that employers can and may want to take to protect themselves from the potential pitfalls that can arise from their employees falling into – and out of – love.

To avoid the risk that an employee in a consensual workplace romance will later suggest that the relationship was involuntary, employers may require employees to disclose any workplace romance and to enter into a love contract, more formally referred to as a consensual relationship agreement. A love contract is essentially a written acknowledgement by two employees confirming the voluntary and mutual nature of the relationship. Love contracts aver that the employees are both free to end the relationship at any time without fear of retaliation. The love contract should also affirm that both parties have received and reviewed the company’s anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy, that the relationship does not violate the policy, and that entering into the relationship has not been made a condition or term of employment.

Some employers also choose to implement personal relationship policies or employee dating policies in addition to their sexual harassment policies to help reduce office romance-related issues. These policies vary greatly from employer to employer. For instance, Google and Facebook have implemented policies that employees are only allowed to ask a colleague out once in an effort to avoid harassment allegations. Employers may also require employees to maintain clear boundaries between employee personal and business interactions. This would include prohibiting employees from engaging in physical contact or other displays of affection on company premises that could make others feel uncomfortable.

Many employers prohibit employees from dating subordinates or participating in any company decision-making processes that could affect the other’s 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.

With the rise of #MeToo and related movements, now is a good time for employers to review their anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies as well as to determine whether or not they should implement any additional policies or procedures to address workplace romance. Employers should also consider conducting training on how to address romantic relationships in the workplace.

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