Do you sense a feeling of romance in your office this Valentine's Day? According to CareerBuilder, 37 percent of employees have been in a workplace romance, 33 percent have to keep their relationship a secret at work and 5 percent of those individuals have left their jobs after the relationship ended. Why are employees leaving? It could be because there was no official romance in the workplace policy.
After a breakup, it's possible that employees could experience sexual harassment, feel unsupported by HR or simply want to start over as far away from a former partner as possible. But not all relationships that develop in the workplace have to end in chaos. In fact, CareerBuilder reports that one-third of work relationships lead to marriage. With so many varying experiences, should you be concerned about dating in your organization? There are many routes HR leaders can take to determine what type of policies, if any, are necessary to prevent litigation and protect employees.
Romance in the Workplace: Policy Options
1. The Zero Tolerance Policy
Businesses, like political organizations, may enforce a zero tolerance policy on workplace relationships. However, even in the most strictly enforced operations, employees can still ignore rules and date anyway, which is why consequences should be in writing. A policy needs to indicate what will happen if an employee chooses to break a ban. And remember, consequences need to be fair across the board. A CFO and a secretary should be held to the same standard in a zero tolerance policy. If termination is a consequence, both parties should be let go regardless of title.
2. The Tolerant Policy
If zero tolerance for romance in the workplace policy is too strict for your organizational culture, but you still want to protect yourself from possible litigation, consider requiring employees to sign a consensual relationship contract when they enter into a relationship. The agreement should make employment counseling required in the case of a breakup, with options to change positions or physical locations so you can retain both employees. Make it clear that your door is always open for help to address any concerns, especially how to handle the working environment after a breakup.
3. No Policy Needed
While a romance in the workplace policy helps to mitigate the risks of office relationships, some organizations don't want to commit to any type of dating policies. They prefer to invest time and money in education, including topics on sexual harassment, retaliation and favoritism. If this is your organization, position yourself as a resource that employees always have access to.
Update Your Romance in the Workplace Policy
CareerBuilder notes that one-fourth of employees have dated someone in a higher position than them. This could lead to favoritism — whether perceived or real — and when relationships end, the less senior employee may feel retaliated against even if they were the party requesting a change in position. Similarly, advances by a superior may come across as sexual harassment to a disinterested employee. If you've created a policy, make sure to include a supervisory clause. If not, it's worth considering creating one tailored to supervisors, as this type of relationship could be the biggest threat to your organization.
Consider Valentine's Day as a loving reminder to review your organization's policy on workplace dating. If you don't have one, now's the time to put something in writing. If you do, make sure the verbiage is current and thorough. This time of year is also perfect to schedule an annual sexual harassment training and redistribute your romance in the workplace policy.