It’s February, and many spent a lovely Valentine’s Day with their special someone. For about a third of Americans, either their current or a past special someone was a co-worker. Spending hours together working toward the same goal brings about romantic feelings in many workplaces. However, as many of us are all too aware, not all of these relationships are happily-ever-afters. Office relationships can cause problems in the workplace both during the romance and after its potentially messy end.

Some office romances do end in happily-ever-afters. According to a survey performed by Careerbuilder, 31% of office romances result in marriage. But for every Jim and Pam there’s Pam and Roy, Angela and Andy, or Michael and Jan. But that leaves 69% which end less than happily for a variety of reasons. A common theme is a perceived power imbalance in the relationship. 35% of women and 25% of men involved in office relationships dated someone at a higher level in the company than themselves. Those numbers include 27% of women and 16% of men who were romantically involved with their direct supervisor. These relationships can cause headaches for companies, as there is potential for intimidation, retaliation, or sexual harassment. Other employees can also perceive these relationships as fostering favoritism in the office, sowing discord amongst employees.

So, what should a company do? One approach is a flat ban on any and all office romances. But considering the numbers, all a policy like this will do is force employees to keep relationships secret, as office romances are an inevitability in many cases. Some major companies enforce a “One Chance” policy, where an employee is only allowed to ask a co-worker on a date once, and if the answer is no they are not allowed to follow-up. Large tech companies such as Facebook and Google have policies such as these in place. Another common approach is no limitation on the romances themselves, but a disclosure to management once a relationship begins.

Whatever approach a company decides to take, the approach needs to be documented in an easy-to-understand policy. This helps employees know what is expected of them and helps supervisors know how to handle a romance that begins on their team. Some points to consider for your office romance policy can include:

  • Potential limitations on the relationships themselves, e.g. not allowing supervisors to date their direct reports, or not allowing relationships among those in the same department
  • Clear requirements for reporting romances, e.g. when the reporting must occur and to whom
  • Potential requirement for employees to sign a consensual relationship agreement, which would state such a relationship does not violate the company’s policies and the relationship was not a term or condition of employment
  • Clear consequences of non-adherence to policy—including tiered discipline and potential termination
  • Clear expectations regarding public displays of affection

A clear policy considering the above factors will help employees know where they stand regarding office romances and can protect the company should a claim arise due to a failed relationship. A review of anti-discrimination laws applicable in your state is necessary to ensure the policy doesn’t potentially create more problems than it solves. Companies should work with their attorneys to ensure their policies regarding office romances comply with current law.

For any questions regarding these rules, contact our Sioux Falls, Sioux City, or Omaha office today!


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