Spring is in the air, which means love is in the air, and we are fast approaching the official wedding season. It is estimated that roughly 1/3 of romantic relationships begin at work. This isn’t hard to understand when you consider “…the average American spends 46 hours per week at their job, and 38 % spend more than 50 hours per week on the job,” according to the National Sleep Foundation. The workplace is the new dating arena, making it more likely that romance between employees may blossom. What does that mean for employers?
Workplace romances can be a nightmare for most employers, fraught with potential sexual harassment claims, cries of favoritism, and reduced morale and productivity on the job. Romance between an employee and a customer/client presents another set of problems in the workplace. It is best to not just let cupid run amuck at work, but instead assume a workplace romance will happen, and plan for it.
Outright prohibition of all workplace romances is not generally favored. It can be hard to define the difference between dating and “just friends,” and could invite an invasion of privacy claim, or a discrimination claim based on marital status. The better choice is to proactively advise employees about work expectations concerning romances through your employee handbook. Cupid is not the only one with arrows in his quiver.
Consider the following:
- Place limits on supervisor-subordinate romances as these relationships are the most likely to result in a harassment claim, if the relationship turns sour. A policy should spell out this type of relationship will require one member of the couple to transfer or resign.
- Spell out professional expectations of all employees at the workplace. If a romantic relationship creates a conflict of interest or dissension amongst employees, then a transfer or resignation may be necessary.
- Require employees to notify Human Resources of a dating relationship at work, and include a penalty for not reporting. This will afford an opportunity to have a discussion with the romantic couple about professional expectations, and to document the relationship.
- Outright prohibition of an employee/customer dating relationship is different than prohibiting employee-employee romances. It is easier to identify a legitimate business need to support the prohibition of a romantic relationship, when an employee wants to date a customer/client. The employee handbook should be clear on the issue, and state employees are prohibited from dating clients or customers.
An interesting arbitration case in the public sector ruled an employer can restrict a supervisor-subordinate romantic relationship through policy, even if the policy was initiated after the relationship had begun. The case dealt with a City of Champlin police sergeant, who started a relationship with a female officer under his command. It seems looking for love in all the wrong places can even lead to a demotion. Cupid can be managed with a little bit of planning.