To Ban or Not to Ban? – Handling Interoffice Relationships

With the year’s most romantic day right around the corner, it’s time to brush up on the romance lingo and give some thought to rules and regulations of workplace amour.

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Should management stay out of affairs of the heart or conversely, instituted clear written workplace romance policies? Should it endorse office relationships and foster the idea that workplace is a great place to find true love ( After all, According to CareerBuilder’s 2012 annual office romance survey, 38 percent of respondents have dated a co-worker at least once in their career, and one-third of them ended up married.) or quite the opposite, ban relationships within a specific chain of commands/ departments or dating altogether ? And finally, do love contracts help to reduce risk of harassment or unfair treatment lawsuits, or are they ineffective and simply cause employees to hide their interoffice relationships?

According to a recent survey of employees and HR professionals conducted by SHRM, the number of company policies addressing office romance have significantly increased in the last 8 years.  42%, of businesses had established either written or verbal workplace-romance policies (In 2005, 20 percent of respondents had such policies). To explain this increase Christine Amalfe, an attorney in Gibbons P.C.’s litigation and employment and labor law departments, said:

“More and more companies have implemented policies because they realize they aren’t going to stop people from having romantic relationships (…) They want to best protect the company from a claim of sexual harassment and ensure there’s no favoritism or conflict, which could hurt productivity and impact morale.”

According to the survey, the most common workplace-romance policy (99% in 2013, up from 80% in 2005, and 64% in 2001) forbids  love matches between supervisors and subordinates. Almost half of these policies (45 percent) forbid romances between employees of significantly different rank. Typically, these prohibitions are designed to protect the company from sexual harassment lawsuits if the subordinate claims the supervisor or higher-ranking colleague is making unwanted advances. Supervisor-subordinate romances are also problematic because they can spark complaints of favoritism, contribute to an unhealthy work environment by creating unnecessary gossip, and reduce productivity.

What’s sticking however, is  that plenty of companies ban intimate relationships even  when they aren’t supervisory:  between coworkers who report to the same supervisor, an employee and a client or customer, or even between their employees and those of competitor organizations. By establishing such strict laws, businesses seem to be trying to achieve the impossible –  control human nature – and  send a negative message by distastefully imposing themselves into employees personal lives.

This my be the reason why most  of the surveyed HR professionals (75%!) consider these contracts “ineffective and say that it actually encourages workers to hide the relationship from peers.”.

The subject for workplace romance poses a very difficult question to HR professionals: where should we draw a line between work-related issued and employees personal issues and does a consensual relationship between two employees cross that line? Because the answer to this question is rather ambiguous, most companies choose to stay on the safe side and officially

prohibit such conduct rather than risk potential consequences.

For more details about the results of SHRM survey, read Dana Wilkie’s article Forbidden Love: Workplace-Romance Policies Now Stricter 

 

 

 

 

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