We’ve all been there, watching the romance blossom. You’ve seen them trying not to look at each other, scoot closer to each other at the table, and ALWAYS end up at the coffee machine at the same time. Office romances happen. In the modern workplace, men and women work together for eight or ten hours a day; sometimes even longer. So it may come as no surprise when your employees begin to date.
Unfortunately, workplace romances don’t always have happy endings.
When a couple in an office breaks up, the atmosphere can become uncomfortable and hostile. Everyone and everything suffers as the ex-partners feud with each other. In some cases the firm may even have a significant financial exposure when love goes right OR wrong.
When they’re together, you have claims of favoritism. When they break up, then starts the possibility of retaliation or harassment. And you, as the business owner, are responsible for the fair treatment and well-being of all your employees. Did you know the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received almost 13,000 complaints of sexual harassment in 2016? And what if the couple hides the romance from everyone, so skillfully that no one ever finds out?
Employers who wish to avoid close, personal relationships with government investigators may consider several options:
* Some companies choose to not have an office romance policy. Rather they emphasize anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies.
* Companies can choose an outright ban on employee romances. While this may have some appeal, it can be difficult to implement. The forbidden behavior may be hard to define. Also, courts may not uphold such a ban.
* Some companies require employees who date each other to notify a company representative, such as the human resources manager, when the relationship begins and if it ends. This may protect the company from any sexual harassment claims.
* Many companies have policies against spouses working for the same company or policies against employees supervising significant others, spouses, or other relatives. This can make it less likely that other employees will perceive favoritism, but the company must apply the policy equally to members of both sexes to avoid discrimination claims.
* Some companies actually require employees in a relationship to sign contracts. These agreements state that the employees have entered into a voluntary relationship, affirm that they understand the company harassment policy, describe how to report complaints, and describe acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.
Human nature being what it is, there will probably always be workplace romances. You can do your best to try to stop them, but it’ll never be fool proof. Do your best to keep everyone safe and comfortable. But that will never be fool proof either. So be sure you buy a good, strong Employment Practices Liability Insurance policy. With preventive measures in place and risk financing in the form of a good insurance policy, employers can focus on their top priorities: Growing your business.