How to Handle Dating in the Workplace

Is there a difference between dating a coworker and a superior? Where is it illegal to ban workplace romance? Here’s how to handle dating in the workplace.

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For HR professionals, dating in the workplace can be a tricky topic. It’s a problematic intersection between protecting employees from sexual harassment and remaining respectful and avoiding overbearing rules. Follow these best practices for regulating dating, setting boundaries, and maintaining a professional work environment.

Can employers regulate workplace romance?

Employers can regulate workplace romance by implementing a formal relationship policy. Most HR professionals advise against prohibiting dating in the workplace. Strict, zero tolerance policies can cause frustration at best or encourage employees to leave at worst.

Studies show it’s best to regulate office romance with established guidelines and procedures. Having a formal process in place keeps staff safe from harassment and other potential hazards of dating in the workplace. Follow these guidelines to help you establish dating rules for your organization.

Encourage Transparency

If two employees start dating, ask that they notify their managers. Being open and honest should be the first step to establishing a workplace romance policy. Once leadership is aware of the relationship they can ensure both employees abide by the company rules.

Heather Huhman, a workplace expert, recommends disclosing the relationship from the beginning. Transparency helps to maintain trust between all members of the organization

Maintain Professional Behavior

Employees who engage in interoffice relationships need to remember that they are at work. This entails refraining from public displays of affection, flirting, and other dating behavior while at the office. It’s important to act professionally in the work environment.

Define Sexual Harassment

All workplace romance policies need to address sexual harassment. As an HR manager, this is one of the biggest concerns about dating in the workplace. It’s your job to keep staff safe. Make sure your policy identifies the signs of sexual harassment and how to deal with conflict.

Some organizations are even using anonymous harassment reporting apps to stop bad behavior. “Organizations are realizing that the investment in hotlines is simply not generating the return they need to protect them from the significant financial and reputational risks that come with behavior-based incidents,” says Todd Schobel, CEO of STOPit.

Host Regular Training Seminars

Google believes that properly training leadership teams on how to manage dating in the workplace is essential. Once your HR team has set rules and procedures for office romance, make sure staff know how to execute them.

Team training should address recognizing and resolving sexual harassment issues, enforcing safety, and managing tricky situations.

Can an employee be fired for dating a coworker?

If the company’s written policies prohibit workplace romance, management can terminate an employee who is found breaking these rules. This occurs most commonly with employees who are at different levels of the organization. For example, when a junior level employee dates a manager. The lower level employee might be accused of dating a superior for professional gains, such as a promotion.

This is considered unethical, which is why employees aren’t typically permitted to date their superiors. Although it’s less common for employees to get fired for dating someone at their same level, it can happen depending on the organization’s rules. If company policy clearly states no dating, management can terminate the employee.

However, there is an exception to this rule. California instituted a Labor Code that protects an employee’s right to privacy outside of work, which includes dating.

Is dating a coworker illegal?

Companies outside of California have the right to implement a “No Fraternization” policy, which prohibits coworker dating. If an employee is caught in an office romance they “could get fired on the spot,” says Marissa Levin from Inc. Although workplace relationships are a common trend, employees need to refer to their company policy before dating a coworker.

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