Hollywood loves to depict couples meeting and falling in love in the workplace. There are literally hundreds of examples to choose from. Think Sam & Diane from Cheers, David & Maddie on Moonlighting, or Mel Gibson & Helen Hunt in What Women Want.
Rules against supervisors and subordinates dating are largely non-existent or ignored (Grey's Anatomy). Relentlessly pursuing someone or making dramatic gestures in the office are just romantic, not inappropriate (Scandal). If someone loses their job (Love Actually, Bridget Jones' Diary) or behaves unprofessionally in response to a broken heart (The Good Wife, House M.D.), those are just obstacles for the couple to overcome before their happy ending. Oh yeah, and there never seems to an HR department asking any questions.
Office romance in the real world
Office romances have the potential to complicate business operations. Serious risks such as workplace violence and sexual harassment could become an issue. As well, lowered employee morale, accusations of favouritism, excessive gossip, and decreased productivity are potential complications.
Clear Path HR consultant Margaret Sullivan Williams has this advice:
"Folks engaging in workplace romance should consider the potential for issues to arise both during and after dating. Even if they don't share a reporting relationship (which may lead to awkward and legally difficult situations such as accusations of sexual harassment), things may sour and become quite complex during and post-relationship."
Any attempt to “ban” office romance is likely not going to succeed and may drive employees to take actions in secret. Your best defence is to outline clear written policies that define the parameters of workplace romances in your organization as well as what behaviour will be considered sexual harassment.
Clear Path's president Anna Aceto-Guerin states:
"Written policies will send the message that employees should not let romantic relationships affect the professional work environment. They will also clearly define what type of behaviour is inappropriate and what they should do about it if they are being harassed."
Margaret Sullivan Williams concurs:
"Employers should have policies to communicate their expectations about workplace romance that clearly identify when romance may become a problem. For example, if two employees suddenly need to frequently work in the same area, are secretive around others or are found spending inordinate amounts of time together at work, coworkers will notice. Rumours will begin and both employees may be perceived as less professional and less productive.
Importance of disclosure:
Employers should require employees to disclose to their manager when they have entered into a consensual romantic relationship. This allows for confirmation that the relationship is consensual and offers the opportunity to inform the two parties of your workplace harassment/sexual harassment policies, how to report complaints and most importantly expectations around conduct while in the workplace environment.
Clear Path HR consultant Michelle Strassburger agrees:
"It's all about disclosure. Office romances don't always cause a conflict. However, ensuring that a reporting relationship does not exist is paramount to guarding against potential complaints of preferential treatment or sexual harassment."
More information: You may wish to check out the interesting infographic on Office Romance from the team at OnlineBusinessDegree.org by clicking here.
Avoid the legal ramifications often associated with workplace relationships by planning ahead and providing your employees with guidelines and education on the topic of office romance in your workplace before Cupid’s arrow strikes.
Looking for advice on how to handle an employee situation or how to establish HR policies for your workplace? Contact us today.
Tongue-in-cheek video from Saturday Night Live
Of course, the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious topic. But we came across this amusing sketch from Saturday Night Live, featuring Tina Fey, Fred Armisen, Amy Poehler, and 2015 Super Bowl champion Tom Brady that we thought you might enjoy. It is in the style of an awkward 1950s era educational film and tries to humourously display how the actions of an attractive co-worker may be received quite differently than the same actions by a less attractive person. We share this video for entertainment purposes only and do not suggest that sexual harassment is ever appropriate or desired. We hope you have a chuckle:
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