Should I Implement an Employee Dating Policy?
Your employees are likely spending at least 40 hours per week in the workplace, so socializing is bound to happen. Often that socializing turns to romance. Office romance can be tricky to navigate from a management standpoint. Coworkers who date can remain productive and professional, but a relationship gone sour can affect work performance. Even more of a concern are the legal ramifications that can result from dating among supervisors and their subordinates.
Many companies have implemented some form of employee dating ban, but some are moving away from those stringent policies. They are nearly impossible to enforce, and work policies that infringe on employees' personal lives lower morale. Most companies trust their employees to cooperate and date their peers without it interfering with work. Implementing a broad employee dating policy is more cumbersome than it is effective, and simply stressing that professionalism is paramount will quell any budding problems arising from employees' private romances.
Dating among peers is probably not worth HR's efforts, but supervisor-subordinate relationships can pose an HR minefield. Other employees might complain that the supervisor is giving his or her mate preferential treatment, even if he or she is deserving of that raise or promotion. If the relationship goes south, the subordinate could bring claims of sexual harassment, that he or she felt pressured to date the supervisor to avoid repercussions at work. Any future negative performance reviews, demotions or any form of discipline could be construed as retaliation for a romance gone bad.
There are several solutions to these liabilities. One, of course, is to implement a no-dating policy across the board to eliminate any gray area. Variations of such a policy could restrict supervisor-subordinate relationships or relatives working together. Some companies require consensual relationship contracts, whereby both parties must declare that they are dating and agree that the relationship will not affect work performance. This prepares HR to deal with any bumps down the road.
Protecting Your Company Interests
A full-scale dating ban, as mentioned before, might prove to be a waste of time and effort. It is difficult to enforce, and employees could even argue that it is an invasion of their privacy. Methods to skirt such a broad ban include adding a clause to the employee handbook regarding conflicts of interest. If your company, with help from the company attorney, can argue that supervisors dating subordinates is a conflict of interest, you can avoid liabilities arising from such relationships.
A notification policy or consensual relationship contract also protects the company from unforeseen sexual harassment claims or favoritism complaints. These are also difficult to enforce, but employees might be more willing to comply since this gives more leeway that a no-dating policy. The contract should state that the relationship is voluntary between both parties and that no one has been promised a promotion, raise or other preferential treatment as a condition of the relationship. Work with your attorney to ensure this contract is binding in some way without being discriminatory or in violation of privacy laws.
Employee dating policy or no, effectively regulating employees' personal lives is usually a losing battle. Implement other methods to reduce your liability if your employees do choose to date. Disseminate the anti-harassment policy to all employees, and have a copy in an easily accessible place. Hold regular seminars on the hazards of office relationships and how to spot and avoid sexual harassment. Finally, simply expressing your concerns about intra-office dating to supervisors and managers can have more impact and better outcomes than implementing a stringent policy.
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