Even though the number of romances blooming in the workplace may not have increased much in the past eight years, polices addressing them have according to a new survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
According to the same survey, 43 percent of human resource professionals reported romance in the workplaces and more than half of HR professionals reported employees getting married or becoming long-term partners as a result of workplace romances. Another survey conducted by Careerbuilders.com indicated that 34 percent of employees have dated a more senior-ranking person within the company (among which 42 percent have dated their direct supervisor).
Take care your policies don’t lead to harassment claims
Although some office romances do lead to marriage, others can lead to claims for sexual harassment. Because workplace romances are so common, companies should take proactive measures to avoid love turning into litigation.
One suggestion would be to draft and enforce realistic office romance policies. Employers should first have a sexual harassment policy that includes a complaint reporting procedure, conduct training on the policy and should ensure that it is enforced. In addition, employers should consider executing a formal office romance policy.
An effective office romance policy should include the following guidelines:
- Limitations or prohibitions regarding supervisor/subordinate romantic relationships, internal department romantic relationships or any kind of on-the-job romantic relationships;
- Disclosure of the relationship to human resources;
- Proper behavior expected from employees
- Potential consequences for violating the policy
All employees should receive a copy and sign an acknowledgement that they have read and understood the policy. Supervisors and managers should avoid workplace romances with subordinates and should understand the need to immediately report any inappropriate behavior to human resources.
Consider consensual contracts
Another suggestion would be to consider a love contract. These are basically agreements signed by both parties engaged in the relationship to disclose it as consensual. An effective love contract should include the following guidelines:
- Mutual consent of the participants;
- Acknowledgement of related company polices;
- Appropriate conduct in the workplace;
- No favoritism or preferred treatment; and
- Retaliation will not result if the relationship is terminated
Although love contracts do not necessarily release the employer of liability, some employers are using them in an effort to reduce liability should a lawsuit arise later.
Employers would be prudent and take proactive steps to help prevent possible litigation in the event that an office romance doesn’t end in a “happily ever after.”
Lisandra Quinones, Human Resources Administrator