By Chad Taylor
A: One tried-and-true idiom that everyone has heard is “don’t dip your pen in the company ink.” On the surface, workplace romances can seem like a bad idea because of the animosity they can cause when they end. This is especially true for smaller companies, where employees are more likely to share duties and work information and will spend more of their time working directly together. However, studies from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) have shown that allowing workplace romances may actually improve morale and performance. Not only are employees who find themselves in healthy, long-term commitments generally happier and more productive, but also a workplace that tries too hard to clamp down on employee dating is often seen as meddlesome and overbearing.
However, guidelines should be set for potential workplace romances. When the SHRM conducted a survey of 1,000 HR professionals in 2013, it found that virtually all of them (99 percent) had some form of workplace romance policy. The most common guideline set was the banning of relationships between superiors and subordinates, which was featured in every response. Other guidelines included forbidding relationships between employees of significantly different rank, regardless of direct working relationship (45 percent of respondents), and forbidding HR employees from dating anyone outside of their department (33 percent). Additionally, slightly more than one in 10 (12 percent) of the respondents said their company would not allow relationships between any two departments.
All of these guidelines are intended to protect the company in the event of a relationship that goes sour. If a supervisor and subordinate date and things end badly, the company could be opened up to a sexual harassment claim or complaints of discriminatory treatment or retaliation. Despite these concerns, the survey shows that only 5 percent of organizations require employees to sign a “love contract,” which indicates that the relationship is consensual, and the pair won’t engage in favoritism or take legal action against the employer if the relationship ends. The low-usage rate of such contracts is most commonly attributed to the perception among most HR professionals polled (75 percent) that the contracts themselves are ineffective and simply encourage employees to hide their relationships.
Q: What should I do if employees violate our dating policy?
A: Survey respondents said that the most common methods of discipline for violating policies on workplace dating have included transferring one employee to a different department (34 percent); sending the couple to relationship counseling (32 percent); drawing up a formal reprimand (21 percent); firing the offending workers (20 percent); removing a worker from a supervisory position (12 percent) and suspending the employees (8 percent). In all cases, however, it is important to have some form of dating policy clearly outlined within your employee handbook or training materials first and to have each employee sign a form indicating receipt and understanding of those policies, as any attempt to retroactively legislate a relationship can open the company up to legal action. n
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