Without question, some of the nastiest cases we've handled have started with office romance gone bad. It makes perfect sense; two people break off a romantic relationship but are then expected to get along in the same workplace. One may feel jilted - the other, harassed. Co-workers sense the mounting tension, and they take sides. The problem is even worse when the romance involves a supervisor and subordinate, for that often results in allegations of favoritism by co-workers and / or retaliation by the subordinate. Eventually, it devolves into claims of discrimination, harassment and retaliation.
So, with Valentine's Day just around the corner, it seems like a good time to remind everyone that office romance is generally a very bad idea. Of course, there are examples where office dating blossoms into healthy relationships. However, no one can predict where a new romance will lead.
This does not mean that office romance must be always be banned. Indeed, one could argue that given human nature, banning it altogether would be impossible. Thus, to strike a balance, employers could consider adopting office relationship policies as part of their sexual harassment policies. Such a policies cover topics such as:
- The impact of such relationships on the work environment;
- The types of relationships that are allowed or prohibited;
- The right to say "no" if the relationship is or becomes undesired;
- Employee's options if feeling pressured to start or continue such a relationship;
- Consequences if the relationship is between a superior and subordinate;
- Employer's options to change or end the working relationships of employees who are involved in romantic/dating relationships.
Office relationships can develop into romance, and when they do, they can be very difficult to manage. Employers can prevent or ease the heartache by being proactive and implementing an appropriate workplace relationship policy.
For more information about this or any other employment law matter, please contact Tom Jacobson. Tom is an MSBA-certified Labor and Employment Law Specialist with over 28 years of experience.
Disclaimer: This article is for general information purposes only and is not to be relied upon as legal advice. For legal advice regarding your particular situation, please consult with a competent attorney.
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