Valentine’s Day is coming up fast—the perfect time to revisit policies regulating romance in the workplace. Start with this simple proposition: You’re better off managing relationships between co-workers than banning them. Then follow these five tips:
1. Establish a policy that bans relationships between supervisors and subordinates. At the very least, require supervisors to notify you if they become involved in such a “power-differentiated” relationship.
2. Spell out what the consequences are. Your romance policy should list behaviors and progressive consequences. For example, if a supervisor and a subordinate become romantically involved, simply transferring the subordinate to another supervisor may solve problems before they arise. If romantically involved employees’ behavior causes problems with job performance, productivity, communication or—or leads to complaints from co-workers— may be necessary.
3. Focus on behavior. Require professional behavior at all times. One recent case showed that public displays of affection could help produce a hostile environment claim. Be specific when describing permitted and prohibited conduct.
4. Investigate complaints about love affairs. If co-workers are bothered enough to complain, it’s time to intervene. Talk with the couple involved, focusing not on the relationship itself, but how their behavior is affecting the workplace. Remind them of the policy and explain that if the relationship interferes with work, one party may be transferred or dismissed. Stay positive, and document the meeting.
5. Consider consensual relationship agreements. Some companies ask employees involved in a workplace relationship to sign “love contracts,” stating the relationship is consensual and holding the company harmless for any fallout. Such agreements may stipulate that the relationship will not interfere with the employees’ work.