February 14th is almost here
A day that many Valentines hold so dear
But employers out there should beware
Valentine’s Day can cause quite a scare
Workplace relationships and love can go awry
And leave an employer out to dry
So what steps can be taken? What’s a savvy employer to do? Follow these six key tips and you will remain true:
1. Recognize the Dangers of Workplace Romance
Love and romantic relationships at work may lead to decreased employee productivity, inappropriate sharing of confidential information, and have a negative effect on workplace morale. Lovers may engage in inappropriate behavior making others feel uncomfortable and resulting in a hostile work environment.
Even worse, an employer may face sexual harassment or discrimination lawsuits because conduct once welcomed during a relationship becomes unwelcomed when it ends.
Risks are heightened when it comes to relationships between supervisors and subordinates and the employer may face claims of favoritism, preferential treatment or discrimination by co-workers. Also, an employer may be strictly liable for any supervisory harassment or retaliation after the relationship ends regardless of whether the employer knew about the harassment.
2. Consider Implementing a Workplace Dating Policy
An employer should consider implementing a dating and workplace relationships policy setting forth parameters and guidelines for workplace relationships. The policy should outline what is considered acceptable and unacceptable workplace conduct and may require individuals who are dating to notify management and disclose their relationship in order to ensure that no inappropriate workplace behavior occurs.
3. Institute Special Rules for Supervisors
An employer should prohibit supervisors and subordinates from entering into workplace romances. Consider changing reporting structures if the employees who are dating are in the same reporting line. If an employer allows such relationships, be sure to closely monitor the situation to prevent any discrimination or unfair treatment. Otherwise, trouble is bound to ensue.
4. Monitor Dating Employees
An employer also should monitor other co-workers who are dating to ensure fair treatment and make sure discriminatory treatment and favoritism does not occur. If needed, advise employees to cut down on having couple time interfere with work time. This includes making sure individuals who are dating do not engage in unnecessary and unprofessional public displays of affection.
5. Use a Love Contract
An employer should consider having dating employees sign a love contract indicating that the employees are voluntarily engaged in a romantic relationship, that the relationship will not affect the workplace, and that the participants are aware of the employer’s sexual harassment policies. This will memorialize the consensual nature of the relationship so as to protect the employer from future harassment claims. In addition, it will limit employer liability in the event that the romantic relationship ends and also set guidelines on appropriate workplace behavior.
6. Respond to Complaints
If your organization receives a sexual harassment, discrimination or favoritism complaint arising out of a romantic relationship, it is important to comply with your policies regarding discrimination, harassment and retaliation and be sure to follow up by conducting an investigation to find out if any wrongdoing occurred. It is also critical to take all reasonable steps to end or prevent further harassment from occurring and impose discipline if needed.