Office Romances

Will you be my (office) Valentine? February is known as the month of love, and because of this we wanted to dive into office romances, the good, the bad, and the ugly. In today’s post we will look at some recent statistics, the pros and cons of workplace dating, options you have as an employer, and the basics of consensual relationship agreements.

Let’s start with statistics. CareerBuilder and Vault.com each did surveys recently on romances in the office. While their findings differ some, they both justify how common workplace relationships are. According to CareerBuilder.com:

  • 37% of workers have dated somebody in the company.
  • 33% of office romances led to marriage
  • 17% of office romances involve a party who is married
  • 23% of office romances involve a party who is higher up in the organization
  • 33% of office romances are kept secret

According to Vault.com:

  • 50% of respondents admitted to having had some sort of a fling with a colleague
  • 23% of respondents have dated a subordinate (32% men, 12% women)
  • 16% of respondents have dated a supervisor  (13% men, 20% women)
  • 32% of respondents have had some sort of at-work tryst

With those statistics in mind let’s consider the pros and cons of dating in the workplace.

PROS:

  • Potential for greater company stability and loyalty
  • Friendly collaboration and workplace harmony

CONS:

  • Potential for office gossip and disharmony
  • Inappropriate display of affection
  • Decreased productivity
  • Improper sharing of confidential information
  • A risk of sexual harassment claims

What options do employers have?

  1. Although our HR experts do not recommend this, you can have no policy pertaining to office romances. Office romances can affect employee performances and moral. They can also conflict with company culture, and increase your risk of liability. At a minimum you would want to prohibit sexual behavior in the workplace and probably relationships between supervisors and subordinates.
  2. Permit dating of colleagues but require the signing of a consensual relationship agreement. In a consensual relationship agreement, the employees acknowledges that their relationship is voluntary and consensual, and that neither their relationship nor its termination will adversely affect job performance, violate company policy, or create any conflicts of interest. The agreement doesn’t prevent harassment claims or lawsuits, but it documents that the employees understand that it is their responsibility to maintain a professional working relationship.
  3. You as an employer can choose to only prohibit dating between supervisors and subordinates. Romantic relationships between supervisors and subordinates may be consensual, but none the less run serious risks. They can establish a conflict of interest, result in harassment, create the perception of favoritism, and even ruin careers. The imbalance of power in the relationship enables the supervisor to make continuation of the romantic relationship or acquiescence to certain behaviors a condition of employment.
  4. Prohibit all dating. Some companies prohibit all romantic relationships among employees, but our HR experts recommend against this policy. Office romances are a natural effect of people working long hours in close proximity. Prohibiting these relationships does not actually stop them from forming and often only serve to encourage secrecy.

What is a Consensual Relationship Agreement?

In consensual relationship agreements, the romantically involved employees typically acknowledge the following:

  • The relationship is voluntary and consensual
  • The involved parties are at liberty to terminate the relationship individually or collectively at any time without fear of retribution
  • Entering into or staying in the relationship has not been made a term or condition of employment
  • The involved parties have received, read, and understand the conditions of the company’s sexual harassment policy
  • Their relationship doesn’t violate this or any other company policies
  • If the relationship involves persons in supervisor or subordinate roles, one or both parties must be required to move to a different job or department, and if not other jobs are available the parties will be given the option of terminating their relationship or resigning from the company.
  • Lastly they will not allow an end to the relationship to adversely affect job performance

By signing a consensual relationship agreement, the employees acknowledge that they understand the company expectations and requirements, and should any complaints arise from either party in connection to the workplace romance, the agreement shows that the employees understood it was their responsibility to maintain a professional working relationship.

The option or options you choose might ultimately come down to the company culture you have or want to have. Please note however that outright no fraternization policies have the potential to violate Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act which protects employees’ rights to engage in concerted activity. Employees have the legal right to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment without an employer’s interference. Courts have found that the use of the word fraternize without additional explanation could discourage employees from exercising their rights. Whatever option you choose, you definitely want to have an environment of trust.

Romantic relationships can form unexpectedly between colleagues or between supervisors and subordinates. Given romances unpredictable nature, it helps to have an open work environment in which employees feel comfortable bringing any news of relationships that may affect the business. Steps may need to be taken to remove conflicts of interests. You also don’t want one dating employee entrusted with making decisions regarding the other on matters like performance management, promotions, compensation, or termination. If employees are afraid to make their relationships known, they will be more likely to date covertly, hiding situations and incidents that could increase your liability.

 


 

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