What to Do When Romance Blossoms in the Workplace

What to Do When Romance Blossoms in the Workplace

More than half of U.S. workers (51%) have been part of an office romance, according to the 2015 Office Romance Survey from Vault, which produces workplace rankings and reviews. Most of these are just casual romances, but 10% actually found their spouse or partner at work!

Unfortunately, workplace romances introduce a host of potential personnel issues for employers.

Favoritism, for one, is a major concern, particularly if a worker is dating a superior. Almost a third of respondents to Vault’s survey believed that a colleague gained career advantage through their workplace romance. Then there’s the flip: the hostile work environment. What happens if the romance sours?

According to CareerBuilder, 5% of people who have had an office romance went so far as to kiss their job goodbye after the relationship ended. Others may find their productivity and personal well-being compromised if the two parties cannot get along after a break-up. Then there’s always the third tricky scenario: what if only one party wants a relationship, and they cross a line into harassment or retaliation when the other party isn’t interested? 

Here are Four Best Practices for Preparing for, and Reacting to, Workplace Romance:

 

Articulate, communicate and enforce a dating policy.

Make sure your dating policy isn’t dated. Employers need not prohibit all relationships, but certain types – particularly between supervisors and subordinates – should be disallowed. Of course, that’s likely just to push the relationship underground (CareerBuilder says 36% of workplace romances were kept secret), but you should still have consequences spelled out for those who are discovered to discourage them. Disclosing their workplace romance in the first place should be part of the policy.

Buff up your sexual harassment policy.

While you’re revisiting policies, take another look at this one too. It’s all too easy to imagine: one worker wants to break things off – or was never truly interested in the first place – while the other person goes too far and behaves inappropriately. That can make other workers uncomfortable – and potentially result in sexual harassment that can leave the employer vulnerable to legal action. Have a clear sexual harassment policy and train employees at regular intervals; offer a clear and straightforward complaint procedure; and when complaints are made, take (and document) action immediately. 

Utilize a “love contract.”

One of the risks of a workplace romance is that the employer can become embroiled in legal claims. A so-called love contract is simply a statement that both parties consent to the relationship. It might also include an agreement that the relationship will not affect the workplace or individual performance. Rules around the use of these documents can vary from state to state, but such documents can help to protect employers against later claims.

Have a heart-to-heart when needed.

If there are any signs that a workplace romance is fostering problems, or that a failing romance is festering, address the issue directly. Yes, these can be uncomfortable conversations, and you’ll probably want to have HR at hand; but legal liability results from inaction just as often as from the wrong action. The key here is to stick to the facts and know which conversation to have: company to employees, manager to employee, or employee to employee.

Need more guidance in HR policies and compliance? CoAdvantage, one of the nation’s largest Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs), helps small to mid-sized companies with HR best practices, risk management, payroll and benefits. To learn more about our integrated HR outsourcing solution, contact us today.