Last week, CareerBuilder released a survey that revealed employees are increasingly comfortable with openly dating other workers. In fact, three out of ten employees surveyed ended up marrying their workplace sweethearts. So finding love in the office is not necessarily a bad thing. Nonetheless, tales of workplace romances gone bad are legion. As are the resulting HR headaches: claims of harassment, favoritism, retaliation, bad morale, and bad PR. So what is a prudent employer to do? Our advice is to simply set up some ground rules and make sure everyone understands them. Our top 5:
1. Have a policy that sets forth the do’s and dont’s of workplace dating.
2. Emphasize that professionalism is to be maintained at all times (i.e., no public displays of affection at the water cooler).
3. Provide that if the paramours find themselves in a supervisory relationship, they must disclose this fact to HR or another designated source, so that the reporting relationships can be altered.
4. Train all managers and employees on the policy. It should be included in your harassment training, and should include as many specifics as possible (for example, “no” means “no” at work, even if at the bar on Saturday night you are inclined to think “no” means “maybe”).
5. Make sure to warn against retaliation, both in the policy and in the training. If things don’t work out, both parties must agree to maintain a professional working relationship.
Now some experts advise that employers prohibit intra-office dating altogether. Others suggest requiring the employees to sign a “love contract,” attesting to the consensual nature of the relationship. Both are legitimate approaches. But in our view, respecting individual choices and privacy interests sends the better message.