We’ve all heard those stories: woman meets man at the workplace watercooler, man asks woman out, they get married and it’s happily ever after. I’m right there with you, “awww”-ing along. Those stories are heart-warming and are as cute as they get, however, they can also cause heartburn for HR professionals. 

Romance in the workplace is great when it works out, however, what about the times they do not?

It’s not unusual for office romances to happen nowadays, seeing how we spend so much time with our coworkers. It’s literally most of our life.

Ideally, everything goes smoothly, and there are no issues, but we all know it doesn’t always happen that way.

  • What if an employee feels harassed?
  • Or, what if a gesture turns into outright sexual harassment or sexual assault?
  • And, what if this happens on the company elevator?

There are a lot of things for an HR department to consider when it comes to setting up guidelines for romantic relationships in the workplace. If you downright ban it, you run the risk of things happening, and then people feeling like they can’t get assistance from HR that may be necessary for protecting them.

You have to ask yourself, would you rather have it out in the open with a plan for rules regarding conduct, or prohibit it and have people fearful of losing their jobs if they speak out?

If you do consider setting up rules, you rightfully want to make sure the company is protected from any liability, and employees are protected from unwanted suitors.

Here are some common considerations before allowing Romantic Relationships in the Workplace.

Well Known Policy.

If you are going to allow fraternization, there should be a well-known, well understood policy in place. This should outline what exactly counts as a romantic relationship, as well as any rules you may have about who can be romantic with whom (…I know, it kinda takes the romance out, doesn’t it?).

Also make it clear that “no means no”, and where the line can be crossed, along with any repercussions that can arise from harassment. Make sure there are rules in place regarding public displays of affection, as well.

Hopefully, everyone will stay professional, but you don’t want complaints because they’re playing ‘kissy-face’ in the cafeteria, or God-forbid a meeting. Lay it all out there in your policy.

Signed Contracts.

It’s a good idea to enforce contracts if people are involved in romantic relationships in the workplace.

As a company, you’ll want to protect yourself by having the individuals acknowledge that they are entering into this relationship on their own terms, and the company is not responsible for what may happen within their relationship or because of their relationship. This is especially important if things go sour and you will want it recorded that you are not liable.

Disclosure.

Have a rule in place that a couple needs to disclose their relationship to their manager, and possibly teammates, especially if the two involved are on the same team. More than likely the parties involved will keep things low key, but people are apt to pick up on a change in the chemistry around them.

This is important, as team members may have questions or concerns regarding how the relationship affects them, and whether or not special privileges will be given. This is a good step in helping everyone stay professional about the matter, and can lessen any tension that might arise.

Rules around Hierarchy.

Right up there in your policy is where you should also lay out rules around dating within the hierarchy.

  • Can someone date their manager?
  • What about a VP or the CEO?
  • What if the employee doesn’t directly report to them, but is a few people below their position?

This should be well established, so other employees can’t hold it against your company that someone was promoted because they were, well…sleeping with their boss.

You should state if someone would need to move teams, and how soon after coming out that should happen. It should be made clear that no promotions or performance reviews that would be approved by either party should occur until the proper shifts have been made.

Conflict Resolution.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always end with “happily ever after”, and things can end awkwardly. The next thing you know, there’s a “he said/she said” at the coffee pot and the work chat is blowing up with gossip.

Decide early on if you will offer conflict resolution for office place romances, should things not work out. There is a perk to this, especially if each employee is a valued member of their teams, and are otherwise great producers for the company.

The risk is that one will leave after a breakup, and the office mood can shift rather abruptly. The goal to this would not be in regards to their personal relationship, but rather how they can work together going forward (or avoid making it awkward for fellow bystanders caught in the crossfire of angry glances).

Basically, romantic relationships in the workplace will occur, and you probably have a few going on right now. The goal is to make sure you and the company are protected, and that the employees involved know what to expect, and what steps they can take to protect themselves, should they need to.

© Human Resources Global


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