Finding love can be a daunting task — almost as challenging as finding a job. But what happens when the two worlds collide, and amidst the sparks, a romance ignites within the workplace? This is a question that more and more employers are asking themselves. Welcome vs. unwelcome behavior, sexual harassment and favoritism are among the many issues companies must consider when contemplating the risks of workplace romance.
So what’s a company to do?
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal notes that in an attempt to mitigate potential risk, “companies are teaming up with employment lawyers to craft employee dating policies.” In recent years, some employers have resorted to using love contracts (signed by both involved parties) as an “acknowledgment and waiver of claims.” While both a dating policy and a love contract may prove useful, Lisa Friel, vice president of Sexual Misconduct Consulting and Investigations at T&M Protection Resources and former chief of the sexual crimes unit in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, noted in a recent Forbes.com article that employers should primarily focus on good training.
When members of our ACC Employment & Labor Law group were asked to share their thoughts on the subject, several respondents felt that a “love contract” could potentially do more harm than good by elevating the risk rather than reducing it by encouraging employees to push the relationship underground. Instead, respondents suggested a policy of disclosure and approval (i.e., a “Dating Policy”) that would clearly state requirements, procedures and dispute resolution for employees that enter into close personal relationships. This information will better equip the employer should an issue arise following the termination of a romantic relationship.
With employees spending a substantial amount of time in the office, a budding workplace romance is very likely. A 2011 survey by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics notes that on average, during a 24-hour period, an employed person between the ages of 25 to 54 spends more time at work/doing work-related activities than doing any other activity. When asked on a 2011 Vault survey, 59 percent of employees responded that they have participated in an office romance. Sixty-five percent of employees reported that the shaky economy has no effect on their willingness to take romantic risks at work. As employees continue to take a chance at love in the workplace, employers must arm themselves with policy and procedure.