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Happy Valentine’s Day! Time for Review of Effective Inter-Office Dating Policies

February 7, 2020

By Michael Burns, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

With Valentine’s Day coming up in just over a week, what better time to gaze at employer policies addressing relationships as well as review non-discrimination policies that employers passionately hope will keep them out of trouble. Surveys have found up to 85% of 18 to 29-year olds would consider having a romantic relationship with a co-worker. A CareerBuilder survey found that 38% of respondents had dated a co-worker at least once, and 31% of them reportedly went on to marry the co-worker.

Employers are advised to evaluate their position on where they want to be on employee relationships. What is the company’s culture? Is there a state law against policies prohibiting otherwise lawful off-duty conduct? (Michigan does not, but other states do) Is the company risk averse to any legal fallout from relationships that take place at work?

Starting with well written and communicated policies addressing discrimination and harassment, is a policy more directly focused on voluntary relationships (no fraternization) needed? Going further should there be a policy on office decorum telling employees please refrain from displays of public affection while on duty and on company premises? Employers that find out about relationships in the workplace should determine if a conflict of interest may also be present and in other relationship circumstances remind supervisors not to engage in any favoritism. A policy addressing workplace relationships may want to require the employees disclose any romantic involvement to HR or management to allow the employer to determine if any conflicts of interest need to be resolved.

In all cases, the employer should have an effective discrimination and harassment complaint process so employees can report any inappropriate conduct to management for immediate investigation and redress. Supervisors need to be trained on how to respond to any incidents of harassment or discrimination complaint.  

Below are some important fraternization policy content points that address workplace romantic relationships.

“A fraternization policy needs to have multiple components. It must:

  • Prohibit romantic relationships between a manager and a reporting staff member

  • Prohibit dating relationships between employees who are separated by two levels in the chain of command, regardless of the reporting relationship or department

  • Define the romantic and friendship behavior that is acceptable and what is not acceptable

  • State the potential consequences of breaking the policy.” – The Balance Careers Fraternization Policy Sample Susan Heathfield 11/25/2019

  • Provide courses of action that leave an employee with opportunities to understand and follow the policy

A fraternization policy, although not a common policy for all employers, does make sense given the potential legal and employee relations problems that can arise when employees take relationships beyond professional.  Let’s remember what the Dalai Lama said about love, because it is the closest that I was able to find addressing all the elements involved in work and love: “Give the ones you love wings to fly, roots to come back, and reasons to stay.” Happy Valentine’s Day Employers!

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