Happy Valentine’s Day!
Chances are that at least a few of the readers of this entry are having an office romance – or had one – or have employees “so involved.” I read in the Dallas Business Journal this week that 59% percent of respondents to a recent survey by Vault.com had participated in an on-the-job romance, and 63% of those who had been involved with a co-worker said they would be willing to do so again.
So, is this bad, or good? Anyone who has sat through California’s mandatory sexual harassment prevention training for supervisors knows that office romances can become very, very bad for the employer. It would seem then, that this article should admonish employers to prohibit office relationships, right? Classic lawyer response: It depends.
It can be a good practice to prohibit relationships between people who have a reporting relationship to try to avoid the classic “if you sleep with me, great things will happen for you here at the company” claims. But some employees bristle at being told what they can or cannot do on their personal time. And some employers don’t want to take that position, either.
I also don’t often suggest a ban for peer relationships. Your employees spend a huge portion of their lives at work. Now that they’re no longer in high school or college, where are they supposed to meet potential partners? Often, it is at work. And having a policy that prohibits office romances doesn’t mean they won’t happen, it just means the parties will try to hide it. And it’s usually the hidden office romances that are the problem.
The key then, is to create and publicize policies that help everyone know what the rules are and how all employees are protected from harassment.
For example, when an employer learns of a relationship, I often recommend that the employees involved sign a “love contract.” The purpose of the document is for each employee to separately affirm that the relationship is consensual. The document also reminds employees what is expected of them in the workplace. Basically, this means clear instructions that no part of their relationship should be apparent in the workplace — good (touching) or bad (arguing). Finally, the employees are reminded, in writing, of the company’s anti-harassment policy.
While such a policy can’t guarantee that an employer won’t face a harassment lawsuit after an office romance goes sour, the process of having the employees sign the love contract may help reduce or minimize some risks.
This is one of those topics that can quickly become a long article, rather than a blog entry – each workplace is unique and the employer may have different views on how it wants to approach the office romance question. At a minimum, employers should create policies and train employees to follow the policies.
All of the employment law partners at McPharlin Sprinkles & Thomas LLP conduct effective, interactive and actually enjoyable harassment prevention training programs that satisfy California’s AB 1825/Govt Code § 12950.1. The training must be conducted every two years. Please contact us if you’d like to schedule one!