Love is in the Air and in the Office
It’s Valentine’s Day and love is in the air! Many people meet their significant other in the workplace. However, according to Pat Benatar in her famous rock song, Love is a Battlefield. So, how can employers avoid getting caught in the battlefield of cupid’s crossfire?
Not surprisingly, surveys repeatedly show office romances run rampant in the workplace. In fact, SHRM estimates half of all employees admit to having been involved in a relationship with a co-worker or manager. What options are available to employers?
Traditionally, it was common for employers to maintain anti-fraternization policies that forbid relationships among members of the workforce. The idea behind these policies is sound—failed relationships can easily lead to sexual harassment complaints.
Such broad-based anti-fraternization policies are difficult to enforce. I have seen many employers choose not to enforce them.
Broad anti-fraternization policies may not be the best choice. Instead, employers may want to implement limited anti-fraternization policies that prohibit relationships between employees and members of management, or relationships that lead to potential conflicts of interest. Such policies should not seek to punish offenders but instead to eliminate the conflict through reassignment or transfer. The policy should also encourage open communication.
The “Love Contract” is fairly new to the employment realm. Gaining in popularity, love contracts require employees to agree to certain terms, including that their relationship is consensual; the pair will not engage in favoritism; and they will promptly notify management of any behavior from their partner that they deem inappropriate. They may also agree to avoid public displays of affection and other similar behaviors.
Employment manuals should likewise require employees to disclose relationships and advise that they may be asked to enter into a Love Contract.
Even better than anti-fraternization policies and Love Contracts is an employer that cultivates a culture of compliance, understanding, and mutual respect. Employers should have sound, detailed, and easy to understand sexual harassment policies that are frequently reviewed and updated. Employers should also conduct regular training on their sexual harassment policies. And most importantly, employers should work hard at investigating complaints quickly and thoroughly. They should always be working towards eradicating harassment and discrimination from the workplace.
If an employer is aware of an interoffice relationship, especially with a manager and subordinate, they should consider consulting with an experienced employment law attorney to draft a Love Contract and related policies. Attorneys can also provide harassment training and conduct investigations into any allegation of harassment or discrimination.
About the Author: Alejandro Pérez is a partner at the Phoenix law firm of Jaburg Wilk. He assists clients with employment law issues including hiring, termination, employee discipline, paid sick time, leaves of absence, wage and hour compliance, and whistle-blower liability.