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Deflecting cupid’s arrow: Should you even try to prevent interoffice dating?

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

“Love is patient, love is kind …” but often not when it occurs between employees. Office romances may start off hot, but they can quickly cool down into disputes, hard feelings and even lawsuits.

Don’t put a complete ban on romantic relationships between any co-workers. It’s unrealistic and impossible to police. Instead, prohibit dating between employees who report directly to one another. And shift the burden to the couple to inform the organization of the relationship. 

Finally, as the following case shows, it’s vital to enforce your policy consistently with all employees.

Recent case: Gerald Ellis, who is black, worked for UPS for 21 years, successfully rising from driver to management. He began dating a white, female hourly employee in the call center. They kept it secret for three years because of the UPS policy that makes it a firing offense for a manager to engage in a romantic relationship with any hourly employee, even if there’s no direct reporting relationship. Then, they secretly got married.

Ultimately, the company found out and fired Ellis for violating the nonfraternization policy and for “dishonesty.”

Ellis sued for race discrimination under Title VII, claiming UPS only sporadically enforced the policy. But the court tossed out the case, saying Ellis had no proof that other couples were treated differently. (Ellis v. United Parcel Service, No. 07-2811, 7th Cir.)

The court did add this interesting side note to the end of its ruling: “Although UPS, for the reasons we have stated, comes out on top in this case, love and marriage are the losers. Something just doesn’t seem quite right about that.”

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