Office Romances – Not For the Fainthearted
It can start with a flirtatious look or longer chats by the office water cooler. Maybe it comes as an invitation to happy hour after work or to grab coffee during lunch. Once sparks fly, it can only be called one thing…an office romance. Before you lower the HR hammer on the lovebirds by prohibiting all contact between them, know that by doing so, you may create awkward situations where employees try to hide their workplace relationships. Instead of fighting human nature, you are better off managing it with these effective HR best practices.
Have a Written Company Policy on Workplace Relationships and Follow It
Instead of implementing a policy that prohibits romantic workplace relationships, develop one that describes acceptable conduct and behavior during working hours and while on company premises. Consider appropriate conduct that protects your company’s brand and reputation and aligns with your company’s corporate culture. Outline the company’s procedures for disclosure and documentation that will apply when a romantic relationship develops.
Your policy must also address the one time an office relationship is strictly prohibited, when it is between supervisor and subordinate. Not only can this type of relationship cause potential favoritism (and fallout), but it can create an uncomfortable environment for the whole office. A supervisor/subordinate relationship can also cause havoc even after it is over. An employee may leave the company after the workplace relationship has ended and come back to claim sexual harassment occurred while employed at your company. Your policy should encourage supervisors to disclose any romance with a subordinate so the company can adjust the chain of command to avoid potential liability.
Finally, the policy should reserve the company’s right to take any and all appropriate corrective actions needed to minimize disruptions and conflicts created by workplace romances. Some potential actions could be transferring or reassigning the employees, issuing written or verbal warnings for policy violations and suspension or termination if necessary. As with all policies, it should be included in your employee handbook.
Meet With the Employees Involved in Workplace Relationships
Once management is aware of a relationship, the employee’s supervisor should notify HR and schedule a meeting with the employees involved. At the meeting, the supervisor should remind the employees of the company’s policy on workplace relationships, review the employees’ job responsibilities and the consequences of a drop in performance due to the relationship. Depending on the circumstances, HR should consider whether to initiate an investigation to determine the impact, if any, on other employees and workplace operations.
The employees should be reminded that workplace romances often cause tension and discomfort for others in the workplace and, in some cases, can lead to complaints of a hostile working environment. Discussing the potential repercussions of workplace romance will help the couple understand what is at stake and reinforce expectations regarding their workplace behavior. It’s important to reach an agreement with the employees that shows they understand and are willing to comply with your requests and ensures the workplace relationship is welcome and consensual.
Document the Meeting
At the conclusion of the meeting, the employees should sign a written statement that confirms their consensual relationship that should be kept in both employees’ personnel files. The statement can be useful if needed to rebut assertions that may later be raised in a hostile work environment or sexual harassment claim.
HR should also include in the employees’ personnel files documentation about what was discussed and agreed upon during the meeting.
Monitor the Situation, Stay Focused on Employee Performance
Monitor the couple’s compliance with the agreement reached at your meeting. Also watch for signs that the workplace relationship is affecting other employee morale and productivity. Employees may claim favoritism and feel demoralized over the relationship. Anticipate that if the relationship goes bad, one of the parties involved in the relationship may leave the company.
Train Managers and Employees on the Company Policy and Laws Prohibiting Sexual Harassment
Provide training for all employees about the company’s policy on romance in the workplace and the laws prohibiting sex discrimination and harassment. Supervisors and managers need to know how to handle office romances when they arise and how to implement applicable company policies. They also need to know how to manage and respond to the gossip that will inevitably surround the relationship and potentially affect workplace productivity. Including information on pertinent laws prohibiting sexual harassment is critical to supervisory training.
Smart HR Can Help Manage Workplace Relationships
When love is in the air at work, you may need guidance on how to manage it. A Smart HR consultant can develop and implement a policy that covers all your bases. Our knowledgeable and seasoned trainers can develop a training module for your supervisors and corporate leadership that addresses how to minimize your legal liability when employees begin a workplace relationship. Contact Smart HR today for more information.