Q. At a recent office get-together, two members of my staff announced they were officially dating. Our company has a strict policy that prohibits dating between a supervisor and a direct subordinate, but our handbook is silent as to relationships such as this one between co-workers. Are there any steps I should take to protect the company from liability?
A. While we all are aware of the social significance of workplace romances, the legal and practical risks involved often get overlooked. While the courts generally reject employees’ claims of discrimination, harassment and retaliation arising out of a consensual workplace romance gone wrong, employees nonetheless continue to file such lawsuits, resulting in significant legal costs to employers even when the suit is ultimately unsuccessful.
The first step for any company looking to get a handle on workplace romance is to draft and apply uniform policies and rules to deal with such conduct at all levels. While your company currently prohibits supervisor/subordinate relationships, it sounds as though you need a co-worker fraternization policy.
Additionally, look into creating a “love contract.” While not necessarily enforceable at a legal level, a document signed by both parties to an office romance and agreeing to abide by all company harassment policies can certainly act as a psychological disincentive to later legal action. Be sure to document everything.