Q. We recently defended a workplace harassment lawsuit against our company involving two co-workers who broke up. To avoid future problems, can we impose prohibitions against co-workers dating to avoid future problems?
A. It is difficult to keep employees from dating co-workers. Even with a policy, enforcement is nearly impossible. A federal appeals court recently held that policies prohibiting fraternization among co-workers may violate the National Labor Relations Act. So any policy must be worded carefully.
To limit future exposure, explicitly prohibit dating between a supervisor and any employee who reports to that supervisor, since there is potential for sexual harassment in a relationship where individual power is unequal. Supervisors should disclose when they are dating a subordinate so that can address the situation.
Any policy should be gender- and sexual-orientation-neutral. And all employers should craft an anti-harassment policy that prohibits harassment based upon protected characteristics.