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Don't Let Cupid Be the One to Manage Office Relationships

February 10th, 2020

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With Cupid making his annual appearance in just a few days, this is a good time for HR professionals and managers to remind workers that the rules about relationships among co-workers apply as much on Valentine's Day as on any other day.

Far from rare, romantic relationships in the workplace are common and become more so as careers progress. A Vault survey last year found 58% of all workers have had an office romance. Among workers over 50, it's 72%. Another survey found 14% of married couples found their significant other at work.

However, for every success story, there are many more relationships that end uncomfortably. Even under the best of circumstances, these entanglements affect the rest of the office, fueling gossip and, should a manager be involved, charges of favoritism.

"Workplace romances can adversely affect employee morale and productivity by distracting the romantic partners and their co-workers," Dana Chang Dikas, an attorney with labor and employment law firm Fisher Phillips, told BusinessDaily. "They also may lead to conflict and claims of disparate treatment or sexual harassment."

Employers may not be able to keep romance from developing, but having a clear set of policies and reminding employees what they are can do much to mitigate the negatives. Valentine's Day is not, workers should be told, an opportunity to make advances or express desire. Sending a card, flowers or other gift to a co-worker may be seen by the recipient as an unwanted sexual advance.

A smart company policy is to require couples involved in a romance to disclose it to HR. More and more employers are also requiring these co-workers to sign "love contracts." These contracts typically require the individuals to acknowledge the relationship as consensual, waive employer liability for the consequences of the relationship and require them to refrain from inappropriate or amorous behavior at work. They also incorporate the company policy on such conduct as well as the anti-harassment policy.

While it's impractical to impose a blanket "no-dating" policy, it is appropriate to expressly prohibit supervisors from becoming involved with a subordinate. Some companies enforce the policy by termination; others by reassigning. In all cases, experts say, the hammer should fall more heavily on the supervisor.

Whatever your specific policies are about office romances, be sure all employees know what they are. They may be in the handbook, but taking the time now to spell them out clearly will make sure Friday that Cupid hasn't suspended the rules about appropriate workplace behavior.

Image by Karen Arnold from Pixabay.

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