There are plenty of statistics about office romance yet little direct advice.
Office romance happens. People spend more time at work than anywhere else. Few people can argue that work is a great place to meet people with similar interests and values. OfficeClick.com’s survey indicated 66% know of a relationship that started at work. CareerBuilder.com found 40% of those surveyed dated a coworker and of those, 29% ended up marrying the coworker. Vault.com had similar findings; 47% of 1000 surveyed had been involved in an office romance with roughly 24% resulting in a long-term relationship or marriage.
Though romance seems private; Human Resources cannot ignore it. Employers have the right to establish reasonable rules which may impact employees’ privacy, especially when company property and equipment is used or personal actions influence productivity. OfficeClick.com’ssurvey reported half of their respondents considered office romance a distraction that impacts productivity. Public displays of affection at work impact the business’ credibility and must be addressed. A romance between a supervisor and subordinate is potentially the most destructive. If the romance thrives, coworkers sense favoritism. If it ends, management may be faced with a quid pro quo sexual harassment allegation.
Few companies have a written policy. Vault.com found 70% of the companies surveyed had no policy; The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found 72% had no policy. 14% of Vault.com’s respondents said though no policy existed, the rules were widely understood; SHRM’s results indicated 7% had a verbal policy.
The purpose of policies vary. SHRM’s survey indicated 88% of the companies with policies said they were designed to protect the company from sexual harassment claims. 75% were concerned about retaliation claims should a romance end and co-workers’ morale was also cited. Perceived favoritism and conflict of interest may impact morale and productivity.
The character of the policies differ. Some companies only prohibit romance between supervisors and subordinates; or between co-workers in the same department, or with customers. Others only prohibit public displays of affection. Some polices regulate consensual relationships with love contracts where the employees are required to reveal their relationship, affirm their relationship is consensual, their awareness of the ethics and harassment policies and agree to follow the policies. Consequences for violating these policies range from job reassignment or transfers, formal discipline and termination. Few have zero tolerance policies in place.
Policy or No Policy?
Having a no-fraternization policy will strengthen your company’s defense to Title VII harassment claims, but only if it is enforced uniformly. Your company’s culture is the key to determining whether or not you need a policy and what character it will possess. Consider the following: