Love is in the air, but what happens when it’s in the office? Employers may prefer that their employees refrain from dating one another, but relationships among employees are common. According to CareerBuilder’s Annual Valentine’s Day Survey, 36 percent of workers reported dating another co-worker. Employers may not always be clued into the romances occurring in their workplaces either, 41 percent of workers have reportedly kept their relationships a secret.

While these romantic relationships are prevalent, so are the potential problems they can create. Most significantly, romantic relationships in the workplace increase an employer’s risk for sexual harassment and retaliation claims, especially if the relationship is between a supervisor and a subordinate. Despite the high risk associated with supervisor/subordinate relationships, according to CareerBuilder’s survey, 22 percent of workers have dated their boss.

So, what steps should you take as an employer to effectively manage relationships among your employees?

Create a Written Dating Policy

It may be tempting to institute an outright ban on dating in the hopes of avoiding any potential issues associated with workplace romance, but this type of policy is difficult to enforce and can be counterproductive. Blanket bans will do little to prevent employees from dating and lead employees to keep their relationships a secret.

Instead, create a fair dating policy that clearly establishes what behavior is acceptable and what is not. When drafting these policies, consider the company culture and the working environment you want to provide for your employees. You may want to prohibit supervisors from dating any employees who report to him or her. The policy should also state that you expect the couple to behave professionally and refrain from public displays of affection while at the workplace.

Communicate the Organization’s Sexual Harassment Policy

Establish a formal, written sexual harassment policy and include it in your handbook. Require employees to sign off that they have received and read the policy. The policy should define sexual harassment, state the organization’s zero tolerance policy for harassment, include anti-retaliation provisions, and address how sexual harassment claims will be handled. Ensure that the process for reporting sexual harassment and retaliation in the workplace is accessible and provides employees with multiple avenues to report any inappropriate behavior. Organizations should ensure that all employees are aware of and understand the policy.

Education and Training

Regularly provide sexual harassment and anti-retaliation training to all employees, and cover your organization’s workplace dating policy during the training. Training should address what sexual harassment and retaliation are, how to recognize the behavior, and how to report any instances of harassment or retaliation. Ensure your team understands the difference between sexual harassment and consensual romantic relationships. You should also provide additional training for supervisors and managers on how to handle relationships in the workplace and enforce organizational policies.

Consider Consensual Relationship Agreements

An option to consider is to have employees who are romantically involved sign an agreement which states that their relationship is voluntary and consensual. Before you ask a couple to sign an agreement, you should meet with both employees independently and determine whether there is any possibility that the relationship is not consensual. During this conversation, you should: 1) make sure that the employee understands the company’s sexual harassment policy; 2) emphasize that the employee will not be retaliated against for reporting sexual harassment; 3) explain the procedure for reporting sexual harassment; and 4) document the employee’s file with a summary of the interview, the information provided to the employee, and the reasons why the employee appears to consent to the relationship.

For more information, tune in to our podcast episode on Raising the HR Bar.

If you need help drafting dating, sexual harassment, or other workplace contact an HR Consultant today.

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