3 things employers need to know about office romances

Genesis - office romances

When I first started thinking about this article, I found a hilarious and apropos article called Songs For Ill-Advised Office Romances. While the story made me chuckle, it also made me pretty uncomfortable—and it highlighted why I needed to write this article.

We’ve heard that all you need is love, but is the office the right place to try and find it? I don’t think so! Here’s what you should know.

1. Workplace relationships can cause drama.

Maybe you’re thinking, “A policy keeping my employees from dating each other is so old school. It’s 2017! What will a policy like this say about our company culture?” According to a Workplace Options survey featured in Inc.:

“…Nearly 85% of 18-29 year olds would have a romantic relationship with a co-worker, compared to just over 35% for 30-46 year olds and about 30% of 47-66 year olds. Even more shocking is that 40% of those 18-29 year olds would date their supervisors.”

But keep in mind that being “welcoming” to the idea of office romances won’t necessarily benefit your company or your employees. Think about relationships you’ve seen end, and then imagine what it would be like if those former couples were forced to be in the same area eight hours a day, five days a week. That’s the situation you could potentially find yourself in if you condone (or do nothing) about office romances.

On the other hand, if a workplace relationship goes well, your company could be vulnerable to issues (real or imagined) of favoritism. There’s potential for awkward situations and unhappy employees whether relationships go sour or blossom.

2. They may lead to legal ramifications.

In addition to “workplace disharmony,” this article from The Balance says romances could lead to the following serious issues:

  • Potential sexual harassment claims.
  • Retaliation.
  • Claims that a relationship was not consensual.
  • Civil suits.

I think this quote is spot-on:

The legal issue is what I like to call the “amplification” of potential liability that always exists around the employer-employee relationship. There will foreseeably be claims of favoritism, or even discrimination or harassment. When a workplace romance sours, it can expose the company to increased liability, since the connection between alleged actors is easier to establish–essentially giving the plaintiff some good ammunition for his or her case. Relationships between supervisors and subordinates create even more potential problems. In a better scenario, coworkers would find it easier to claim that an employee received preferential treatment from a supervisor he or she is dating. In a poorer scenario, the relationship would end badly, one of the employees could claim that the relationship was non-consensual, or that sexual harassment existed. An employee could even make a case for unlawful retaliation if he or she receives a poor performance review from a former lover (or if a co-worker receives a better evaluation from his or her boss). Chas Rampenthal, Is Workplace Dating Really Off Limits?

All of the managers, CEOs, and HR people I know have enough work to keep them busy—they don’t need the drama and legal risk of office romances on their plate as well. And they certainly aren’t interested in dealing with the fallout if their company is taken to court and loses.

3. You need a written policy about workplace relationships.

Stop worrying about whether or not a firm stance on workplace relationships makes you look less cool. This issue is way too important to risk not having any policy in place.

So, if you don’t have a written policy in place right now, create and implement one. SHRM has an excellent template available for free. It outlines the objectives of the policy and the procedures employees and employers should follow, and it’s a great place to get started.

Resources

These articles may also be helpful for you as you think through an employee dating policy:

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