Developing a Policy on Office Relationships

Developing a policy on office relationships can preemptively clear up any confusion that might arise when coworkers become more than friends. In an office setting, where coworkers spend 40 hours or more together each week, peers are bound to socialize and forge friendly relationships. Managers can benefit from fostering a convivial environment, but office dating can cause problems. Each company's dynamic is different, so handling dating situations must be tailored to the personalities of the staff.

Romantic relationships in the office are not inherently problematic, but they can quickly devolve into a managerial nightmare. Peers who have a falling out can reduce productivity and morale not only for themselves, but for everyone around them. Even more fraught with problems is a supervisor dating a subordinate. There is a risk of legal action for claims of sexual harassment or discrimination that can be quite costly and damaging to the company, not to mention discontent among other staff members who perceive favoritism.

A policy regarding office relationships does not have to be an outright ban. Regulating people's personal lives outside of work is not only impossible to enforce, it can also become an invasion of privacy. Work with your human resources personnel and company attorney to develop a policy that suits your office environment without overreaching.

Managerial Approaches to Office Relationships

Some managers choose to ignore office relationships until they become a problem. Others eliminate all questions of impropriety by placing a blanket ban on office dating to help avoid having to terminate a worker. In between these options are a number of approaches that relieve the company of liability while allowing employees some autonomy.

Every company, regardless of their office relationships policies, should broadcast its sexual harassment policy. Every employee should know what behaviors constitute sexual harassment, how to report improper behavior and that reporting such behavior will not negatively impact their position at work. When this policy is widely known, claims that employees were unaware that their actions were improper can be quelled. To reinforce the importance of the sexual harassment policy, hold seminars and training sessions to address lingering questions. For instance, a seminar would be the place to assure employees that asking a coworker on a date is appropriate, but persisting when the coworker declines is harassment.

If you choose to develop a policy that restricts dating among supervisors and subordinates, make clear your expectations. This language can mirror that of an anti-nepotism policy if one exists. If might specify that an employee cannot be in a reporting relationship with a relative or significant other, and an employee cannot work in the same division or department as a relative or significant other. The policy should also include a catch-all statement that the company will not tolerate conflicts of interest, perceived or actual.

Once way to enforce office relationship policies is to require a consensual relationship agreement. When coworkers begin a dating relationship, they must sign a form with human resources stating that both parties are entering the relationship willingly without promise of work-related rewards. This contractual agreement makes the relationship transparent, which can reduce morale-lowering gossip. By signing, both parties also agree that the relationship was not begun on a basis of sexual harassment.

Your office relationship policy should also include contingencies for when the relationship becomes disruptive. If the relationship is affecting productivity or morale, or if it ends badly, one party may need to be transferred. Under a zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy, any employee who violates those rules should be immediately dismissed. Finally, be careful that your policies are worded so as not to imply sex discrimination.

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