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Workplace Relationships

FAQ: How to Handle Workplace Relationships

It should come as no surprise to employers that the workplace can facilitate more than just business relationships. It turns out it’s also a great place to spark romance.

“Colleagues start with something huge in common, which is the work,” says Susan Heathfield, a management and organization development consultant. “They tend to be educated about the same, and they tend to be within driving distance.”

But when people in the same workplace become romantically involved, it's not just about their personal life, it affects the whole workplace. It can change how happy employees are and whether the company follows all the rules. For instance, when team members start dating, it can lead to rumors and gossip, which might make others uncomfortable or affect team dynamics. Moreover, if the relationship ends badly, it could lead to tension and conflict at work, impacting productivity and job satisfaction.

So, what should employers keep in mind about workplace romance to make sure everyone is harmonious and remaining compliant? It's essential for employers to establish clear guidelines and policies regarding romantic relationships in the workplace. By setting expectations early on, companies can create a respectful and inclusive work environment where everyone feels valued.

How common is romance at work?

Romance in the workplace is more prevalent than many might realize. Surveys indicate that a significant portion of adults have experienced romance in the workplace. In fact, statistics show that about 60% of adults have been involved in a workplace romance at some point in their careers.

Moreover, it's interesting to note that workplace romances aren't just casual flings. Surprisingly, around 43% of professional relationships have led to marriage, highlighting the depth and significance of relationships that develop in professional settings.

The driving force behind workplace romance often lies in the comfort and familiarity that team members share. A staggering 65% of respondents indicated comfortability as the main factor contributing to workplace romance. This sense of ease and connection within the workplace can pave the way for deeper relationships to develop.

What are the main risks inherent in workplace dating?

Workplace romances, while they may seem appealing, can pose significant risks and challenges for both individuals and businesses. Here are some main risks:

  1. Sexual Harassment Claims. Workplace romances can blur the lines between professional and personal conduct, leading to potential allegations of sexual assault or harassment in the workplace. What may be perceived as consensual by one party might be seen as unwelcome advances or coercion by the other.

  2. Retaliation. In the event of a breakup of a relationship, there's a risk of retaliation. This can reveal itself in various ways, such as negative performance reviews, exclusion from projects, or even termination, creating a hostile work environment.

  3. Favoritism. Workplace relationships can create perceptions of favoritism, where one partner receives preferential treatment over others. This can lead to resentment among team members and damage team cohesion and morale.

  4. Workplace Violence. In extreme cases, office romance gone wrong can escalate to workplace violence. Emotions running high, coupled with unresolved conflicts, can result in disruptive or even dangerous behavior in the workplace.

What is a workplace relationship policy?

A workplace relationship policy, also called a dating policy, is a set of rules about romantic relationships at work. These policies detail if dating coworkers is allowed and what to do if they're in a relationship. The policy also explains the behavior expected from employees in romantic relationships.

HR managers should include workplace relationship policies in the employee handbook. Employees need to read and understand the rules set in place. In doing so, this helps prevent issues and keeps the workplace fair and friendly.

Should companies have formal workplace romance policies?

The quick answer is yes! Although this may look different from business to business. Research conducted by SHRM suggests that around half of U.S. companies have established formal dating policies. These policies offer clear guidance on how to manage romantic relationships in the workplace.

Some companies opt to restrict employees from dating coworkers, vendors, customers, or suppliers based on their company policies. This helps prevent potential conflicts of interest and maintains a professional work environment.

Do workplace romances break employment laws?

A consensual relationship between colleagues typically doesn't breach employment laws on its own. However, if the relationship leads to claims or favoritism, harassment, discrimination, or a hostile work environment, it could infringe upon various laws and put the employer at risk of liability. For instance, Title VII mandates that employers be held liable when sexual harassment by a supervisor results in tangible employment repercussions.

What laws regulate workplace relationships?

Laws overseeing workplace relationships differ depending on the location and can include federal laws, state, and local regulations. Key legal aspects include anti-discrimination laws, harassments policies, and conflict of interest statutes. Certain industries, like healthcare and finance, may have specific regulations concerning relationships between supervisors and subordinates. It's crucial for employers to stay updated on these laws and create policies that promote a respectful and inclusive work environment.

What are reasonable requirements to place on workers regarding dating colleagues?

Many businesses – nearly a third – outright forbid relationships between managers and direct reports. Many employers also require employees to disclose any relationships to HR and sign a “love contract.” This is an agreement that establishes:

  1. The employees understand workplace policies regarding romance and sexual harassment;
  2. They pledge not to engage in preferential treatment
  3. They agree to hold the employer harmless if the relationship ends
  4. They recognize the employer’s right to make personnel changes (e.g., a transfer) if a conflict of interest arises.
  5. They agree to uphold professionalism and avoid allowing personal relationships to interfere with their work duties or the work environment.
  6. They agree to respect the privacy of their colleagues and refrain from discussing their relationships or personal matters unless it directly affects their work or violates company policies.

CoAdvantage, one of the nation’s largest Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs), helps small to mid-sized companies with HR administration, benefits, payroll, and compliance. To learn more about our ability to create a strategic HR function in your business that drives business growth potential, contact us today.