♥ WORKPLACE LOVE AFFAIRS ♥
♥ WORKPLACE LOVE AFFAIRS ♥
Workplace ‘spouse’ relationships, where employees have a close working relationship is one thing, but what about when workplace relationships blossom into a Cupid Romance – what liability does the employer suffer?
Results of a Society of Human Resource Management survey conducted earlier this year showed that sixty-nine percent of those taking the survey had dated someone from work. Of those that dated someone at work, 76% had dated a peer, 27% dated a superior and 21% dated a subordinate.
Workplace romances risk claims of sexual-harassment, hostile workplace, conflict of interest, gender bias, retaliation, favoritism, and more. Those types of claims can result even if the romance does not go sour. And the claims emanate not just from the romance parties, but also other employees that feel (or are) treated differently because they are not in a relationship.
Employers that attempt to forbid workplace romances are naïve. So, what can employers do to address the realities of romance? First, romance policies and guidelines should apply equally to everyone from the top to the bottom and from the founders to the newest employees. Second, the employer’s culture should be reflected in any policies or guidelines. Third, those policies should be communicated clearly and consistently, preferably with each employee acknowledging agreement in writing. Fourth, employees that do not romance responsibly, need to be held accountable, preferably before the claims start flying.
Guidelines prohibiting sexual harassment and workplace discrimination are typically where the company’s workplace ethics policies on romances fall. Once a relationship blossoms, some employers require the employees to sign ‘Love Contracts,” you read correctly – Cupid agreements for work. Others outright prohibit relationships between a manager and those that person manages. But, upon being informed of the relationship, the employer (usually HR) should consult (separately) with the love parties, affirm expectations, and the consensual nature of the relationship, and document the HR files for both valentines. Some employers reorganize the reporting structure so as to not allow a manager/subordinate relationship.
Problems begin when people act differently because of the workplace relationship. Other employees may complain of not getting the seemingly favorable treatment that the love bird receives. If the relationship is not or does not stay truly consensual, harassment and quid pro quo claims often arise.
Don’t think that working from home during the pandemic insulates the workplace from love affairs. To the contrary, the isolation and ongoing social distancing can promote virtual workplace adorations. Now, remote-dating can happen at work on whatever platform the company uses to communicate, albeit Zoom, Bluejeans, Slack, Teams, etc. Those platforms are company property, however, and employees should understand from company policies that nothing, nothing, is private.
Most employers do not require employees to disclose workplace relationships and even when there is a policy to disclose, most employees don’t. So, secret lovers pose an ongoing risk to employers and the best an employer can do is have a policy, communicate the policy, enforce the policy, and be even handed in doing so.
For more information feel free to contact Dawn: firstname.lastname@example.org.
EPPS & COULSON, LLP
Attorneys admitted to practice in
California, New York, Colorado, Texas, Oregon and Hawaii
Information contained in this memo is intended for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney. It is considered advertising under laws of some states. Epps & Coulson, LLP encourages you to call us to discuss these matters as they apply to you or your business.