Do You Need an Office Romance Policy? Tips for Navigating Workplace Relationships

Need to craft a workplace relationship policy? Here’s tips on how HR should handle office romances.

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HR headaches_Romance at work

Did you know that 1 in 4 employees would be open to an office romance, while 58% of employees have engaged in office dating at one point or another? Whether you’re thinking about this or not as an HR professional at your company, it’s important to get ahead of romantic relationships at work and consider the implications that office romance has on your organization and culture.

The state of Romantic Relationships in the Workplace 

ADP’s Romance in the Workplace Insight Study found that one-third of respondents are or have been involved in a relationship with a colleague, and approximately 10% of respondents had been in relationships with colleagues in senior positions.
While coworkers dating is seemingly common, almost half of respondents (45%) kept their relationships secret from someone in their lives. Still, statistics show that the days of opposition to office romance are largely behind us, as 83% approved of or were open to workplace romance. However, workplace romance policies remain murky in many cases. A full 49% of respondents claimed their organizations didn’t have formal policies addressing relationships at work.

Statistics show that the days of opposition to office romance are largely behind us, as 83% approved of or were open to workplace romance.

1. Understand your objectives 

When thinking about your office romance policy, what are you hoping to achieve? Perhaps you want to:

  • Stop office romance from happening all together
  • Set a formal policy
  • Protect and support employees who are in a relationship
  • Protect the company in case of a sexual harassment claim

Should you ban office romances?

Doing this may stifle culture seriously and with consequence, as it can be viewed as a form of control and micromanagement. It may also lead managers to terminate otherwise very strong and valuable employees, employees feeling they are not free to express themselves and have open inter-personal relationships, and general malaise.

As a matter of fact, in the state of California, you may not legally terminate someone because of an office romance. Thus, you won’t actually be able to follow through on any repercussions.

So before you slam down an anti-office coworker romance policy, make sure you’ve done your research and thought through the long-term implications it could have on office morale and retention.

If you force work romances “underground,” you could also be jeopardizing the welfare of your employees and could be liable for mental health and other issues that arise. Think carefully before any generic ban on relationships.

Sample Workplace Relationship Policy

  1. “[Company Name] strives to provide a work environment that is collegial, respectful, inclusive and productive. This policy establishes rules for the conduct of personal relationships between employees, including supervisory personnel, in an attempt to prevent conflicts and maintain a productive and friendly work environment.
  2. A “personal relationship” is defined as a relationship between individuals who have or have had a continuing relationship of a romantic or intimate nature.
  3. [Company Name] reserves the right to take prompt action if an actual or potential conflict of interest arises concerning individuals who engage in a personal relationship that may affect terms and conditions of employment.
  4. Employees agree to treat each other with respect and the same as other staff during work hours and follow all company codes of conduct. Employees agree that the relationship will not affect their work, their coworkers, or other participants in the day-to-day duties. Employees who disregard these guidelines could be subject to disciplinary action, at the discretion of the manager or HR.
  5. When a conflict or the potential for conflict arises because of a personal relationship between employees,  it is the responsibility and obligation of the employees involved to disclose the existence of the relationship to the department director or manager, as well as the nature of the conflict.

This is a good framework which to begin with, and you may want to add in the below options and policies baed on your particular work environment.


2. How will you enforce these workplace romance policies?

One common way to handle romances is to disclose them. They could sign a contract which stipulates that the relationship is mutual and consensual. This can help prevent a situation where one employee makes legal claims against the other or the company.

Laying out the plan for reinforcement will also help guide employees on what they need to do should the relationship end, and if and how they should need consultation on how to proceed or get help.

Another point to consider is how you’ll enforce the rule across different levels of seniority. Whatever rules you set forward, must be fairly applied across the board.

With everything happening in the world, and the changes from remote working, consider how the policy you create translates to virtual work and what avenues you’ll create in order for employees to come forward virtually should they require.

3. Outline the boundaries of specific behaviors and org status

In some cases, your policy may outline what the realities of appropriate behavior looks like. For example, when you’re in the office, how are employees in a relationship expected to act around one another? Lay out clear guidelines so there is no grey area. You might say that it’s appropriate to display general affection, while it is not appropriate to have a personal argument with your partner in front of colleagues.

Another point to consider are the reporting structures. Are superiors allowed to have relationships with their subordinates? If this does happen, are the two allowed to continue working together? Set clear rules for org-chart centric romances so everyone understands.

Examples of boss-t0-direct report romantic relationship rules could be:

  • If a boss and direct report are in a romantic relationship, both sign a hold-harmless agreement with the company
  • Rules can be set as to how to disclose the relationship to other members of the team
  • Make sure the company is aware of promotions, raises, and other perks, to make sure that they are equitably distributed amongst the team so there is no hint of favoritism.

4. Set the ground rules

Whether these policies live on your intranet, an employee handbook, or are discussed early on in a new hire’s onboarding. It is important to let people know early on about these policies. If you do know that an office romance is happening, be sure to sit down and have a conversation with these employees to make sure they understand the policy, and support available for them.

While very few harassment claims stem from romantic relationships, it is still important when defining appropriate behavior in the workplace to have an anti-harassment policy in place to make sure that all your staff are protected against inappropriate behaviors.

Whether you’ll like it or not, love will always be in the air when people fraternize at work. Have a plan in place to help you set clear expectations with your employees.

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