Love is in the air. Can you feel it?
Is it lingering around your office? According to Vault.com’s annual Office Romance Survey, half of American professionals say they have participated in an office romance. This may not be a shocking statistic if you stop to consider a full-time employee spends at least half of his or her waking hours on the job. Relationships are bound to form. As managers and organizational leaders, what precautions can we take to ensure that personal relationships minimally affect the workplace?
Consider these 5 strategies on romantic relationships to keep your business compliant and minimize liability.
1. Annually review your policies. This is always good practice for compliance purposes, but fraternization and sexual harassment policies need to evolve as your culture changes. Interoffice dating may not have been on your radar when starting up your organization, but as you grow your staff, you will need policies in place. Many companies have this hot topic on top of mind due to all of the sexual harassment claims circulating in the media today. If you haven’t reviewed your policies in a while, today is a great day to start!
2. Whether you implement a non-fraternization policy or you openly accept workplace relationships, you should never allow a romantic relationship between a manager and a direct report. It can leave your organization open to discrimination liability should the manager display favoritism or if the relationship does not end well.
3. Address romantic relationships directly. Do not skirt the issue or leave gray areas. Determine your fraternization (or non-fraternization) policy, announce it, and stick to it. Include procedures for when a relationship does develop, whether permitted or not. For example, if your policy prohibits a manager from becoming romantically involved with a direct report, what should they do if a relationship unintentionally develops? They could keep it a secret. Alternatively, you could ask them to divulge the information, so you can come up with a viable solution before any issues do arise. Some companies chose to institute a “love contract” when employees desire to date. This document, signed by the couple, outlines acceptable office behavior and confirms the relationship is consensual.
4. Perform annual or bi-annual sexual harassment training. Focusing on sexual harassment – the behavior, versus relationships, will lay out expectations for what is not tolerated in the workplace. Ensure the process for employees to file sexual harassment complaints is clear and updated, and that all employees have signed off on the policies.
5. If you find that romantic relationships are common in your organization or industry, and you are not against them, consider hosting a training session on navigating romantic relationships in the workplace. Professional trainers can cover topics like appropriate workplace behavior, disclosure about the relationship, personal issues in the workplace, and public displays of affection.
Whether you like it or not, romance in the workplace will occur on occasion. Be prepared to address it through your organization’s policies and training efforts. Consult your human resources department with any questions concerning office romance or sexual harassment. If you do not have an HR professional on staff, Tandem HR would love to help you.
Tandem HR is a certified Professional Employer Organization (CPEO) providing hundreds of businesses with high-touch and custom HR solutions. We provide payroll, benefits, risk management, employee relations and much more. Visit TandemHR.com or call 630.928.0510 for more information.