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Too hot to handle? Office romances need careful HR TLC

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in Discrimination and Harassment,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Love is in the air. Chances are, it's in your workplace, too.

Interoffice relationships can be a tricky HR issue. While few employers want to involve themselves in employees' personal lives, romances between co-workers can create disruptive situations and even rope your organization into a sexual harassment claim when things turn sour.

Only 20% of employers establish any kind of formal policy on interoffice dating, according to a Society for Human Resource Management survey. Among employers that do set such policies: 

  • 64% but discourage dating between co-workers. 
  • 28% permit dating. 
  • 8% prohibit it. 

Our advice: Don't completely ban dating among co-workers. Such a policy is extremely difficult to enforce and can actually do more legal harm than good if it's not enforced consistently.

Instead, consider requiring supervisors to tell you, or some other organization officer, whenever they become involved in a "power-differentiated" relationship (i.e., with a staff member). That may precipitate moving the staff member to work under a different supervisor. Other tips: 

  • Set behavior guidelines. Discourage public displays of affection, for example. 
  • Communicate employer needs. While most employees try to keep their relationships secret, the rumor mill quickly catches on. As soon as a relationship becomes common knowledge, it's a good idea for the employees' manager or an HR rep to sit down with the pair and explain that the relationship must not interfere with their work. 
  • Steer clear of "love contracts." To protect against potential sexual harassment lawsuits, some employers ask dating co-workers to sign a "love contract" stating that the relationship is consensual and absolving the organization of any resulting harassment claims. The problem: These contracts can be intrusive, and legal experts doubt whether they'll stand up in court. 
  • Don't discriminate "after the fall." Urge managers and supervisors to deal cautiously with the after-effects of a split. To avoid discrimination claims, base any decision to fire or reassign one or both of the employees on solid business reasons. 

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