Ah Valentine’s Day! That special day of the year when we celebrate the love all around us. For business owners, this can create a special kind of challenge – managing the office romance. This article is NOT about the #MeToo movement or acts of sexual harassment. Instead, it concerns consensual office relationships and the effect they can have on the workplace. By no means am I advocating office romances. They are a huge distraction to the participants, and third party co-workers who spend too much time gossiping about them. Even more troubling, such romances, when they go bad, inevitably lead to claims of sexual harassment and other clams of unlawful acts. However, they do exist and there needs to be clear cut guidelines to address the issue.
Love at work was once taboo. But no longer. The reality is that office romances are alive and prospering. In a recent study, 71% of millennials believe that a workplace romance has positive effects and improves performance and morale. A startling 40% of those millennials wouldn’t have a problem dating their supervisor. Clearly workplace values are changing and employers need to be aware, through policy and action, to incorporate that reality.
Gone are the days when a company had a chance of a strict “No-Fraternization” policy or any attempt to tell employees who they could date. Also, ineffective are policies that only forbid supervisors from dating direct reports or prohibit employees at higher levels from dating those at lower levels. Such policies only encourage secret rendezvous that reveal themselves during damaging allegations in a legal process. Employers would be better off creating policies such as consensual relationship agreements, more commonly known as “Love Contracts.”
A Love Contract is designed to take the stigma and sting out of a clandestine office tryst, by requiring that both co-worker parties: (1) voluntarily admit the relationship; (2) read and affirm their understanding of and compliance with the company’s anti discrimination/anti harassment policies; (3)pledge to keep their workplace interactions professional, limiting affectionate displays and romantic expressions while at work; (4) pledge to report termination of the relationship; and (5) affirm their duty to promptly report any act or statement they find offensive or harassing by their partner, even if the relationship is still ongoing. Both parties should also affirm that failure to abide by the terms of the Love Contract can lead to discipline, up to and including termination.
In the case where one lover/worker is in a direct reporting relationship with the other, a critical part of the Love Contract is an agreement to mandatory reassignment, so there can be no manager/subordinate working relationship. By removing the ability for one participant to “climb the ladder” through personal means, companies can lessen, if not eliminate the ability for anyone to claim that favoritism played any role in work achievement.
Employers should remember, ONLY “YES” MEANS YES! Even a consensual relationship can end. At that point, an employer should rely on well established anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. Whether a relationship has ended for one of the parties, or the asker continues to approach the askee for dates, the company’s best defense is to make sure all employees know and understand that at any stage of a relationship, if the response to an advance is anything but a “yes”, both the askee and the company demand and expect an immediate halt to romantic requests of any kind.
Love Contracts are not a panacea for all situations that can spring from romance at work. Though not quite love itself, companies show a measure of respect for their employees by providing a safe and effective environment for individual expression, which can help protect against negative consequences when/if love goes wrong, and may further protect the company if love should turn to hate.
With over 34 years’ experience in advising employers and employees on workplace issues, let Boznos Law work with you to ensure you are ready to meet the challenges posed by the changes to the employment laws. Call Bill Boznos today at (630) 375-1958 or contact us at www.boznoslawoffice.com/contact-us through our website.