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Do you have an office valentine?

February 13, 2019

By Heather Nezich, courtesy SBAM Approved Partner ASE

One out of every three American adults currently are or previously have been in a workplace romance, according to a new poll released by SHRM—the Society for Human Resource Management.  To help deal with the complications of workplace romance, many organizations implement love contracts.

A love contract is a consensual agreement signed by two employees involved in a romantic relationship at work.  The agreement acknowledges the relationship and company harassment policies.  It is meant to remind employees who are dating of the policies and laws surrounding sexual harassment.  These agreements are in addition to having a solid sexual harassment policy for the whole organization.  They typically contain provisions that attest that the relationship is consensual and acknowledge that either party is allowed to leave the relationship at any time without fear of retaliation.
In addition, love contracts often prohibit relationships between supervisors and subordinates. Approximately 30% of workplace romances involve a superior according to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey. These relationships are breeding grounds for claims of sexual harassment or favoritism, divulgence of confidential company information, gossip, and other disruption in the workplace. For these reasons, even companies that allow employees to date often do not allow romantic relationships between supervisors and subordinates.  

Keep in mind; however, that contracts such as these are not typically legally enforceable.  While it is virtually impossible to ban all interoffice romances, it is important to have policies in place.  It’s recommended to have a Code of Conduct in place so that employees know their boundaries.  Employees should know exactly what behaviors are not acceptable to the company.  Having an official Code of Conduct also allows the employer to discipline employees when it is not being followed.  In addition, any policy related to office romances should request full disclosure of the relationship.

50% of sexual harassment suits arise from relationships that began as consensual.  According to the SHRM survey, 17% of those who never have been in a workplace romance said they refrained due to concerns of potential sexual harassment claims. More men than women named this concern as a reason to not participate in workplace romances.

Employers should be aware of sexual harassment complications and potential conflicts that may arise due to an office romance.  Sample policies regarding workplace fraternization/dating can be found here. Employers should ensure that all supervisors are trained on the policy and how to handle a situation should it arise.

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