Meryl Mills, Employment Law Services
It’s Valentine’s Day, which means love is in the air and Cupid may be working his way through the cubicles in your office. Workplace romances present a variety of problems for employers. This article provides guidance on how HR can respond.
Some states, like Colorado, have laws making it unlawful to terminate an employee for engaging in legal off -duty conduct, absent a conflict of interest. As such, an employer could not terminate employees for being in an office romance. Instead, employers must evaluate its effect on the business. Conflicts of interest are apparent where a manager dates a subordinate. Managers are responsible for assessing the work of their subordinates, and this is compromised by a personal relationship. Managers also have a duty to prevent and correct harassment. Accordingly, many employers prohibit managers from dating subordinates. Other employers have developed “date and tell” policies, where managers are required to disclose romantic relationships with subordinates. HR then decides whether transfer or separation is necessary. Some employers have gone so far as to require employees to sign “love contracts,” where employees agree that their relationship is consensual, and that it does not run afoul of the company’s harassment policy. It is unclear, however, whether and to what degree such agreements will stand up in court.
Here are some tips to help guide HR’s response to the office romance:
– Consult your employee handbook. Consider whether the relationship violates any company policies or creates a conflict.
– If the relationship does violate company policy or create a conflict, if possible, let the employees decide which of them will be transferred or leave. This may deter discrimination claims.
– Talk with the employees to assure the relationship is consensual.
– Remind the employees of your harassment policy. It applies not just to their relationship with each other, but also to how their relationship affects others, particularly with respect to public displays of affection.
– Educate employees about the company’s expectations and incorporate them into periodic harassment training.