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Office Romances Can Get You Sued

Posted by: on February 14, 2018 in employee relations Human Resources


imageIn the current climate around sexual harassment, employers should be especially cautious about office romances. The most recent Annual Valentine's Day survey from CareerBuilder founds that 36 percent of workers reported dating a co-worker, and 30 percent reported dating a superior. While on one hand, many office romances are mutually agreeable and end up not affecting the company in any way, there can be serious ramifications when an office romance does go sour.

Some employers prefer not to be in the business of policing romantic relationships, or believe that their company’s sexual harassment policies will handle and issues that may stem from office romances. However, legal experts suggest that employers have some sort of clear, written policy regarding fraternization in order to help safeguard against liabilities resulting from an office romance gone wrong.

Pros & Cons of Office Romances

One positive aspect of a successful office romance is that it can increase the morale of the involved employees. The employer may see an increase in their productivity and overall wellness.

The downsides of office romances are a bit more plentiful. Employee relationships can spur rumors that may disrupt the office and can even negatively impact the company’s reputation with their customers or clients. This type of office behavior can lead a couple to feel harassed, possibly leading to workplace harassment claims.

Additionally, in-office romances between employees where there is a power differential (i.e. manager and subordinate) carry the additional liability of sexual harassment and “quid pro quo” claims. Many employers explicitly prohibit this type of relationship.

In the event an office romance ends badly and the employees are unable to continue to work together, they may quit or request to be transferred. In some extreme cases, an employee may even engage in retaliation or violence, which can affect everyone in the workplace. The most common downside, though, is the chance that an employee will file a claim of harassment, sexual or otherwise.

Office Dating Policies

Implementing a dating policy can also be tricky, because certain prohibitions can infringe on employee rights and open employers up to lawsuits in that sense too. When creating a fraternization policy, employers should consider some of the following points:
  • Lifestyle discrimination laws may hinder employers from prohibiting certain activities. Employers should review discrimination laws and marital status protections before putting together any dating policy.
  • Policies should clearly list the specific protocols employees need to follow in order to report their workplace relationships to a supervisor or HR representative.
  • Consequences of non-adherence should also be clearly spelled out and consistently enforced for every employee regardless of their seniority.
  • Policies should also highlight potential issues for employees that can stem from workplace relationships, such as sexual harassment. Employers should also offer employees information on how to report such incidents.
  • The policy should conclude with a statement of acknowledgement for the employee to sign after they’ve reviewed it.
In addition to having clear and consistent policies surrounding dating and fraternization in the office, employers should be sure that their employees are fully trained on the topic of sexual harassment and well-aware of how to report any incidents. There’s no way to completely stop employee romances from developing, but by ensuring that employees are aware of the policies and protocols surrounding workplace relationships, employers can protect themselves against potentially costly harassment claims.

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