Cupid’s Arrow Doesn’t Have to Sting: Sensible Approaches to Workplace Romance

January 27, 2017

With Valentine’s Day approaching, now is a good time to consider the potential risks associated with workplace romances.  These relationships can expose employers not only to practical problems such as low employee morale and ethics challenges, but also to legal risk such as sexual harassment claims. Accordingly, lawyers should encourage their clients to create and maintain a policy on romantic or dating relationships between employees.  Such a workplace romance policy can help employers:

  • Communicate standards of acceptable behavior to employees concerning romance in the workplace.
  • Notify employees about anticipated employer responses to office relationships.
  • Manage risks presented by relationships between employees.
  • Strengthen legal defenses in sexual harassment litigation should the need arise.

Which Relationships Present the Most Risk?

Relationships between more senior and less senior employees, particularly supervisors and subordinates, are more troublesome for employers than relationships between colleagues of equal standing in the reporting hierarchy. A more junior employee may feel pressured into engaging in a romantic relationship by a more senior employee. Also, employees outside the relationship may feel that the romance gives the object of the supervisor’s affection (also known as a paramour) an unfair professional advantage. Relationships between more senior and less senior employees therefore give rise to more legal claims than other kinds of workplace romantic relationships.

What Are Options for Restricting Workplace Romance?

 Although romance between employees at equal levels is less likely to create problems, employers may want to eliminate the distraction and potential impropriety of romance on the job. Employers have options when considering workplace romance policies governing office romance, and may impose:

  • A complete ban on all romantic or dating relationships between employees.
  • A limited ban, prohibiting romantic relationships between:
    • supervisors and subordinates; and
    • employees and persons who could influence their employment terms and conditions.
  • A limited ban, prohibiting romantic relationships between:
    • supervisors and subordinates;
    • employees and persons who could influence their employment terms and conditions; and
    • any employees working in the same department.
  • No ban on romantic or dating relationships, but adherence to written policy protocols.

Ready to take (or help your client take) the next step?  Start with the Practical Law Romance in the Workplace Policy, a model employee policy that outlines protocols for workplace romance with alternate clauses, drafting notes and helpful explanations.