How to Regulate Romance in the Workplace: 3 Questions to Ask

Workplace romances may be sweet, unless they turn sour. According to a 2013 survey conducted by CareerBuilder, 38% of U.S. workers have dated someone who worked for the same company. This seems unsurprising given how much time full-time employees spend at work. Before instituting a workplace dating policy, however, a company should consider the legal ramifications and impact on employee morale.

Is there potential for sexual harassment?

The first thing an employer should consider with respect to workplace dating is the potential for sexual harassment. Direct supervisors, managers outside of the chain-of-command, and co-workers can commit sexual harassment. The line between sexual harassment and asking a co-worker for a date is not always clear. To constitute sexual harassment, the conduct must be so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or the harassment results in an adverse employment decision, such as discipline, a demotion, or termination of employment. One option is for a company to have a consensual relationship form attached to the sexual harassment policy. The HR managershould speak with the employees individually to ensure that the relationship is, in fact, consensual.

Will flexible policies work best?

If your company does implement a dating policy, the next question is regulating who may date. State laws regarding employee privacy rights vary and are different for private and public sector employees. It seems clear that is not advisable for a supervisor to date a subordinate, but depending upon the size of the company or the nature of the employee’s job, a zero-tolerance policy may not be workable. For example, a dating policy may require flexibility to ensure that it does not negatively impact the subordinate employee’s opportunity for growth. In addition, consider the age of your workforce. If your employees are mostly young adults, prohibiting dating may hurt employee morale. Before drafting a new policy, consider whether some flexibility is needed for your work environment.

What defines dating?

Another question that you may consider is what constitutes “dating.” Once again, state laws vary with respect to privacy rights. Investigating into employees’ personal relationships when they are not at work may be illegal and certainly not recommended. In deciding on this definition you want to consider whether you want employees to come forward when they believe they are in a relationship, or if you determine that there is a certain level of socializing that merits the implementation of your policy. In the latter case, consider whether anti-socialization policies result in sex discrimination. For example, prohibiting predominately male managers from socializing with female employees may negatively impact their ability to network and advance at the company.

Dating the workplace can be an HR disaster. Given its regularity, your company should make a decision regarding whether or not a dating policy is needed. If you decide that a dating policy is right for your company, review your state laws and build in flexibility.

Do you want help drafting a workplace dating policy? Contact MBA today

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