With around 60 million single people in the U.S. labor force, interoffice romances are a fact of workplace life. According to one recent study, nearly half of respondents had taken part in an on-the-job romance. What’s more, 85 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they would be willing to get romantically involved with a colleague.
Regardless of your company’s size and demographics, it makes good sense to develop a policy on interoffice dating. Some companies ban it altogether, but others see that as unrealistic; they instead codify what is – and isn’t – acceptable behavior to protect productivity and limit liability. Attorney Karen Sutherland, chair of the Employment and Labor practice area of Ogden Murphy Wallace in Seattle, Washington, suggests creating two policies: a Harassment-Free Workplace Policy and a Dating and Relationship Policy. Require any staff members who start dating to inform their supervisors or the HR department, she advises.
Both people involved in the relationship should then be asked to read the Harassment-Free Workplace Policy – explaining what qualifies as sexual harassment and stating that the company doesn’t tolerate it – and sign a copy stating that they understand it.
Next they should read and sign a contract stating that they have entered into their relationship voluntarily, it will not negatively affect their job performance, they will avoid public displays of affection, and they will treat each other professionally at all times and continue to do so if their relationship ends.
Even when dating among employees is allowed, it’s wise to prohibit dating within the chain of authority. When bosses date subordinates, it gives rise to accusations of favoritism and to potential harassment suits after a breakup.
Whatever your policy, be sure it is clearly written and expressly communicated to your entire team.