Office Romance: Protect Your Company and Employees with a Strong Policy

February 16th, 2012 by

With Valentine’s Day taking place earlier this week, reviewing your company’s policy on office relationships is a good idea. People spend the majority of their week working, so a workplace relationship is not an unusual phenomenon. CareerBuilder’s recent survey on love in the workplace indicates that 38 percent of employees have dated a coworker.

Realizing the potential dangers of an office relationship, such as abuse of power, favoritism and low morale, is imperative for employers that want to protect their organization and people. Banning relationships all together is not advised by many labor and employment lawyers and HR professionals.

Attorney Mark Kluger of Mandelbaum Salsburg  told Bloomberg Business Week that creating a policy that prohibits workplace romance is problematic for two reasons:

“…it sends a negative message to employees about your company’s willingness to impose itself into their personal lives. The other thing is that you don’t want to create a Romeo and Juliet situation. If there’s a policy against workplace romances, people will feel they must lie and sneak around, and that’s the last thing you want.”

Instead of forbidding workplace relationships, draft a strong policy that specifies your organization’s expectations for coworkers who date. Below are a few topics that should be addressed in your policy:

Secure the Work Environment:

Explicitly state that your company has no tolerance for and prohibits favoritism and abuse of any kind. Include information on your sexual harassment policy as well. These two details will help maintain a positive workplace environment for all employees.

Outline Consequences:

Make it clear that you take this issue seriously. Inform your workers of the consequences they’ll face if they decide to act against the established policy. Taking this step will make people less likely to break the rules. It will also show your employees that you respect their right to be safe and will punish those who don’t.

Make the Complaint Process Easy:

As an employer, you have a responsibility to your workforce to investigate each claim that implies an employee acted against policy. Develop a complaint procedure that encourages staff members to speak up if they feel like a coworker has violated their rights. Whether the claim is accurate, taking the time to investigate any suspicious activity will be advantageous if a lawsuit occurs. 

Set Ground Rules:

You can’t dictate what your employees can and can’t do outside of work, but you can make your expectations for the workplace extremely clear. You can prohibit public displays of affection, lovers’ quarrels, or anything else that can potentially make other staff members uncomfortable or distracted during workplace hours. Employees involved in a workplace relationship owe you and their coworkers professionalism while they are at work.

Your tailored policy can help you avoid a potential lawsuit if an office relationship turns for the worse, so review your policy annually to make sure it continues to fit the needs of your organization. Additionally, make sure all employees receive the policy and understand the points that are addressed.

For more information on handling office relationships or creating a workplace policy, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel Team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo Source: epSos.de

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