When Love is in the Air At Work

By Kathleen J. Jennings kjj@wimlaw.com)

Happy Valentine’s Day! This holiday is good time for companies to check their policies on workplace romance and see how they are working.

What are the essential elements of a workplace romance policy?

First, transparency. Workplace romance is going to happen, and the employer can better manage workplace relationships when it knows they exist. A good policy will require employees, particularly upper managers, to disclose romantic relationships with other employees. Why is this any of the company’s business? Because the company needs to ensure that someone is not in the supervisory chain of command of an employee he or she is dating. When an employee has authority over an employee that she or she is dating, that differential in power may be portrayed as sexual harassment when the relationship fails. There may also be risk of disclosure of company confidential information to a subordinate or employee who is not authorized to receive the information during “pillow talk.”.

Because transparency is important, there should be real consequences for employees who fail to report workplace relationships. For example, it has been reported recently that Bridgewater Associates, the $160 billion investment, fired a senior manager for failing to disclose a relationship with a colleague in accordance with company policy.

Second, the policy should make it clear it is not acceptable for a supervisor to date a subordinate employee over whom he or she has authority.

Third, the policy should remind employees who are dating that their behavior at work should always remain professional. No PDA in the workplace, please. Also—no hanging around your boo’s office all day long.

Fourth, the policy should also remind employees of the company’s policy against sexual harassment, and that they may report conduct that they consider to be unwanted and inappropriate.

Consider this: some estimates suggest that 70% of workers have had an office romance, with as many as 25-50% turn into marriage (as cited in Wilson, 2015). Employers cannot prevent romance in the workplace, but they can manage it so that it does not undermine employee morale and productivity.

Kathleen Jennings, Principal is a principal in the Atlanta office of Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Schneider, & Stine, P.C. She defends employers in employment matters, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, Wage and Hour, OSHA, restrictive covenants, and other employment litigation and provides training and counseling to employers in employment matters. She can be contacted at kjj@wimlaw.com.

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