By: Ralph R. Smith, 3rd, Esq.
A question that I frequently receive in my practice is: should a company implement any sort of dating policy for employees, or even go so far as to actually ban such relationships totally among its employees?
As hard as it might be to believe, it was not long ago when such policies prohibiting dating amongst employees were common in many workplaces. Over the years, with the recognition that employees are spending so much of their time at work today, employers began to acknowledge the practicalities that romantic relationships can often develop between employees spending so much of their waking hours around one another. Ultimately, most employers came to accept the realities of such workplace romances.
At their root, these prohibitory policies were designed to control (in some way) the potential damage that could occur to the “business” relationship between such employees if the romantic relationship fizzled and ended. Such policies were also designed to eliminate the always thorny situation of a supervisor becoming romantically involved with a co-worker over whom there was supervisory responsibilities. In today’s current business climate where we are seeing an increase in sexual harassment complaints, should companies bring those discarded anti-dating polices back as a further means of preventing possible harassment claims in the workplace?
As I frequently advise my clients, the difficulties of enforcing anti-dating rules in the workplace today make me question the wisdom of implementing an outright ban on such dating. Nevertheless, employers are wise to adopt a policy alerting employees to the fact that, while workplace relationships are not prohibited, the company’s anti- harassment policy still applies to protect employees when romantic relationships are pursued by a co-worker that are unwelcome. Employees should likewise be reminded that the right to say “no” is to be respected, and when it is not, there will be consequences under the Company’s anti-harassment policy. Finally, it is also beneficial for employers to let employees know that, in cases where there is a supervised-supervisor romantic relationship, the supervised employee will be reassigned to another supervisor in order to eliminate potential claims by other supervised employees of favoritism and the possible negative fallout and tension that could happen when the romantic relationship ends.
While it might be hard to stop romantic relationships from happening in the workforce, implementation of a sound dating policy can assist in controlling any negative impact that such relationships could have on your business.
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