Office Romances: Trends, Laws and Guidelines

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Workplace romances are quite common. After all, we see our co-workers day-in and day-out, so it would be surprising if sparks didn’t occasionally fly.

According to a 2011 study, 40% of workers admit to having dated a co-worker at some point, and 30% say they ended up marrying someone they met on the job.

Just because such romances are common, however, doesn’t mean they’re easy or trouble-free. It’s important that businesses take such relationships seriously, in order to avoid suspicions of favoritism, loss of employee morale, or even potential accusations of sexual harassment.

For businesses that want to be prepared in case cupid’s arrow strikes among the cubicles, here are a few guidelines: 

1) Develop an Office Romance Policy

office romance

Whoa whoa whoa, you met where?! Flickr/Teeejayy

When it comes to office romances, it’s important for businesses to put together a clear and coherent policy. Many managers and employers, however, assume that office romances won’t be an issue and that they don’t need a policy. Indeed, according to a 2006 poll regarding workplace romances conducted by SHRM, over 70% of organizations do not have a written or verbal policy regarding these relationships.

Romances will happen whether businesses know about them or not, and writing a policy is a first step to preparing for the inevitable. Make sure that the policy is comprehensive and that it spells out the company’s stand on office romances.

While some companies ban office romances entirely, that’s becoming increasingly rare. A wiser policy might allow for these romances, but set clear guidelines. Some of these guidelines might include prohibiting relationships between supervisors and subordinates, requiring that a supervisor change jobs if such a relationship develops, or requiring disclosure of relationships when they do develop.

Policies needs to be comprehensive, unambiguous and easily accessible by all employees.

2) Create a Written Agreement

One way to deal with office romances is to have the parties sign a written agreement that spells out the terms of office romances, the company’s policy on these relationships, and how the employees will be expected to behave if or when the relationship ends.

This agreement will serve as evidence that this is a voluntary relationship between adults and is not sexual harassment. Though it might not completely protect the company or the employees from future sexual harassment claims, it’s a good step in that direction.

3) Offer Education to Employees

Employees need to understand what they can and cannot do, and they also need to understand how to conduct themselves if they do find themselves in an office romance. Employees can be taught to be discreet, set rules, be honest, stay within the law, and not let their romances interfere with work. Workshops can be fun a helpful addition to this and other company policies.

Office romances aren’t all bad. In some cases, they can actually boost morale, productivity, and collegiality. Whether they’re a problem or a plus, however, these relationships will happen, so smart businesses must plan ahead, and know how to respond when love inevitably blossoms.


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