Nearly one-fifth of married employees met their mates at work—so it’s a good bet that plenty of your organization’s workers are dating, flirting or at least friending each other on Facebook. Accept that, and then create a fraternization policy that lets employees know exactly what relationships are and are not acceptable. A good policy has these four sections:
- Purpose: Let employees know that a policy is necessary to prevent managers from playing favorites and protect the organization from sexual harassment claims.
- Parameters: Spell which relationships the organization will tolerate and which ones it won’t. Are bosses permitted to socialize with subordinates? What about relationships that could create conflict of interest, disrupt work or make others on the team uncomfortable? Explain your limits.
- Procedure: If you allow romantic liaisons, consider asking each half of the couple to sign a “love contract” attesting that the relationship is consensual and that both parties understand your sexual harassment policy. Written documentation will come in handy if your organization is the target of legal action.
- Punishment: Decide the consequences for employees who ignore your written policy on office romances and friendships. Specify the discipline in your policy. Some options: Transferring participants to different departments; terminating if a relationship sours and veers toward harassment or retaliation.
Advice: Enforce your policy uniformly. Punishing one couple but not another for violating the policy will appear unfair and could increase your legal liability, especially if a supervisor is involved.