Today’s question is “What do I need to consider as an employer when it comes to romantic relationships in the workplace?”
Hello! Thank you for joining me for another episode of Ask an HR Expert. My name is Katie Stewart. Today’s question is “What do I need to consider as an employer when it comes to romantic relationships in the workplace?”
What a great question for Valentine’s Day! Regardless of what we communicate to our employees or attempt to prevent in the workplace, romantic relationships in the workplace are going to happen. Twenty-seven percent of employees say they are open to having a romantic relationship in the workplace. Twenty-two percent of married couples in the United States today, met at work. So, we know it’s going to happen, right?
The downside is that these relationships can lead to gossip in the workplace, hurt feelings, loss of productivity, reputation damage or even a lawsuit. Let’s talk about lawsuits for a minute. Sexual harassment claims can come out of romantic relationships in the workplace. It doesn’t even have to be between the two individuals in the relationship. For example, if a coworker observed inappropriate behavior in the workplace, they can file a claim for sexual harassment.
You may also run into issues regarding the relationship being consensual. At the beginning, you may speak with the individuals and they may tell you that the relationship is consensual. However, if the relationship goes south, will they still say the same thing? Or, what if you need to terminate an employee that you once had a romantic relationship within the workplace? Will that look like discrimination?
If it’s going to happen, what can employers do to protect their business and their workforce when it comes to romantic relationships in the workplace?
Adopt a fraternization policy and put it in your Employee Handbook.
It should outline your expectations of workplace behavior. Train all employees in the new hire orientation on this policy.
- Any restrictions when it comes to romantic relationships. For example, are managers allowed to date subordinates? What about someone with purchasing power dating a vendor or someone in a sales role having a relationship with a customer? Consider any relationship where it might affect someone’s ability to make decisions with the company’s best interest in mind.
- Require a couple to disclose a relationship to management so the company can determine if there are any conflicts of interest.
- You may wish to consider creating a ‘love contract’. A majority of HR professionals agree that this type of contract may not help you out if it does come down to a lawsuit, but they are pretty popular and can serve a reminder of the policies. A ‘love contract’ might include a reiteration of the sexual harassment policy, a declaration from each party that the relationship is consensual, and a commitment to stay away from making any decisions within the relationship that involve work. The contract should state what will happen if a conflict arises. It can include one party moving to a different department or even demotion.
Conduct sexual harassment prevention training at least once every two years with all of your staff in order to make sure they understand what sexual harassment looks like and what they should do if they are being sexually harassed.
Some states do require this type of training to occur more often than once every two years, so definitely check your state laws.
I hope you enjoyed this session of Ask an HR Expert. Thank you for joining us. We’ll see you soon!
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