Love Hurts (in the Workplace)

Despite the #MeToo movement and the plethora of individuals who have been caught in sex scandals at work, employees still engage in workplace romances. Some companies adopt extreme policies prohibiting all employees from dating each other. However, that’s the exception rather than the norm. Those types of policies are difficult to administer and lead to employees trying to hide their relationships.

A prudent employer will take steps to minimize the effects of the relationship on the work environment.

1. While it’s difficult to control employees who date each other, the company can (and should) prohibit supervisors from dating employees whom they supervise (either directly or indirectly). These types of policies are fairly common and are easier to enforce than a blanket prohibition on dating. It should also be noted that there are certain positions that should never engage in workplace relationships: Human Resources, Controllers/Accounting Managers, and C-suite executives. Although it happens, these relationships make an employer extremely vulnerable to sexual harassment lawsuits when they sour.

2. Remind employees regularly of your policy against harassment. This should include annual training for both employees and supervisors and a review of the company’s complaint procedure.

3. Recognize that conflicts do arise in relationships and address those conflicts that spill over into the workplace immediately. Address the specific behaviors that are affecting the workplace and tell both parties that they are expected to treat their romantic partner professionally while at work. If they can’t keep their problems out of the workplace, let them know that the company will have to take further action up to and including termination if they continue to allow this to affect work behavior or performance. However, in addressing these issues, don’t take sides.

4. Understand relationships do end and there will be hard feelings. Again, set the expectation for how you expect both parties to treat each other in the workplace. If necessary, consider transferring one of the individuals involved into another department, if possible.

5. While “love contracts” were all the rage several years ago, they aren’t as popular anymore. Additionally, all they do is acknowledge that the individuals are in a consensual relationship at the time it was signed. It does not prevent harassment lawsuits when the relationship sours and one party continues to harass the other after the relationship ends.

Managing employee behavior and addressing conflicts that arise from romantic relationships is critical to maintaining morale and reducing the likelihood of a complaint of harassment or discrimination occurring.

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