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How to Minimize Damage Caused by Office Romance

If you’re employed, you probably spend many of your waking hours at work.  Given that the amount of time is spent in close proximity with co-workers, it’s no surprise that office romances between co-workers may blossom.  In fact, according to a CareerBuilder survey, one third of employees admitted to dating a co-worker and surprisingly 25% of those relationships led to marriage.  Of those surveyed, only 18 percent dated their boss.

However, romantic relationships between co-workers can create a complicated dynamic in the workplace environment – including the two people involved in the relationship, co-workers and their employer.  Unfortunately, failed romantic  relationships between coworkers may lead to problems with work performance, decreased job satisfaction, a climate of discord and domestic disagreements,  and claims of harassment.

First and foremost, employers have a legal obligation to provide a safe workplace free of sexual harassment.  Workplace morale also plays a huge role in job satisfaction and performance, and savvy employers who want to retain a talented workforce should focus on creating a positive work environment.  It is impossible for an employer to bar all social and romantic interactions between their employees.  Generally, employers cannot dictate their employees’ actions outside of a work setting.  

So given those circumstances, how can employers keep up morale and minimize potential damage caused by office romance?

As an employment attorney, I recommend that employers integrate “fraternization policies” into their existing office guidelines and work place policy manuals.  Generally, most fraternization policies do not forbid office romance, but do provide guidance on what the employer deems appropriate behavior for employees who are in a romantic relationship with other employees.  For example, office policies may:

  • Discourage consensual romantic relationships between officers, managers or supervisors and their subordinate employees
  • Require employees to report the existence of a romantic relationship with co-workers to Human Resources
  • Prohibit employees involved in a romantic relationship from working directly together on projects or day-to-day matters
  • Set expectations that employees should always conduct themselves professionally while at work, and outline disciplinary action that may be taken if the relationship negatively impacts their own work, the work performance of other co-workers, or the overall work environment.

One reason employers need to carefully consider implementing policies regarding workplace romance is to mitigate damage when the romance is over.  A bitter break-up is hard no matter what the circumstances;  however, having employees who are embroiled in a domestic dispute at the workplace can be especially toxic among co-workers.  In some cases, an employee’s unwelcomed attempts to rekindle a romantic relationship with a co-worker may be defined as sexual harassment in the workplace, and the employer must respond to the harassment complaint appropriately, or face liability for failing to do so. Requiring both parties to disclose their relationship to HR early in the relationship can help mitigate sexual harassment litigation. However, a romantic relationship disclosure policy is not a substitute for employee training, workplace policy enforcement, and for the employer cultivating an atmosphere of mutual respect for all employees in the workplace.

If you have questions regarding office policies or other Employment Law issues, contact Lajuana Ransaw at lransaw@smithwelchlaw.com or 770-957-3937.

 

 

Any representations regarding the law in this Blog is made available for educational purposes only as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog publisher. The Blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

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