According to various surveys, anywhere from about one-third to more than half of employees have dated someone they work with. But for HR professionals, dealing with workplace romances can be tricky.

of male workers have dated a co-worker with higher rank
of male workers have dated a co-worker with higher rank

Should your company put a damper on employee dating, or let love bloom – carefully? There’s no one correct decision. However you decide to proceed, setting down a clear policy both protects your company and better serves employees. While you should always involve expert legal help in shaping your employee dating policy, this article can give you an overview of issues to consider.

Know what the law says

33% of female workers have dated a co-worker with higher rank
of female workers have dated a co-worker with higher rank

Colleagues who decide to start a romantic relationship aren’t violating any federal law, even if one person is higher ranking than or the supervisor of the other. But some situations that can arise when a manager dates a lower-ranking employee are against the law. For example, it’s illegal for a manager to give a worker she is dating perks that other employees don’t get, like extra time off or a special parking space. There’s also the risk that, if the relationship ends, the employee could claim retaliation if the manager then gives him a poor performance review.

Set rules on supervisor-employee relationships

of workers dating a co-worker are not hiding their romance
of workers dating a co-worker are not hiding their romance

Because of that risk, one of your priorities for an employee dating policy should be determining rules for supervisors and employees. You don’t have to prohibit manager-subordinate relationships, but such a ban is common in policies on employee dating, according to HR professional Jennifer Burton writing for thenest.com.

If you choose to allow such relationships, you should consider other precautions, such as requiring the manager to disclose the relationship to HR or to her own supervisor, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Having a third party aware of the relationship can help head off any potential problems. To further reduce the risk of future lawsuits, you could also mandate that employees (at any level) who wish to date must sign a consensual relationship contract. By signing the contract, the employees confirm that the relationship is consensual and that they understand your company’s sexual harassment policies and what happens if they don’t follow them.

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Determine whether peers can date

of workers have married a co-worker
of workers have married a co-worker

Besides supervisor-employee relationships, your policy should also cover whether peers at your company can date, and what rules they must follow if they do. Many workplaces have policies about staff members from dating each other. Some even prohibit it. The question is, though, whether you want to go that far.

A dating ban has pros and cons. According to HR Daily Advisor, a variety of problems can arise when peers date. As with supervisor-employee relationships, sexual harassment lawsuits are a risk. Employee couples might have decreased productivity if they’re focused on their romance instead of their tasks. And they could impede the productivity of other employees if their relationship becomes a distraction.

While a no-dating policy might reduce the risk of those problems, it opens up the potential for others. For one thing, you have to define exactly what “dating” entails. (Is meeting for a drink off limits? What about spending a lot of time one-on-one at the company picnic?). HR Daily Advisor also points out that dating bans can lower employee morale because staffers feel that the company is encroaching on their privacy. Additionally, a ban has the potential to drive away quality employees if they’re forced from the company because of their relationship — or if they opt to leave the company rather than end the relationship.

 

of workers have dated a co-worker
of workers have dated a co-worker

 

Of course, there’s a big middle ground between totally disallowing peer dating and having no rules at all. Consider this sample policy on employee dating created by the Society for Human Resource Management. The policy allows co-workers to enter romantic relationships, but it sets out some guidelines. For example, dating colleagues must conduct themselves in a way that doesn’t distract others or make them uncomfortable.

Enforce your new policies fairly

Image of heart shaped keyAs you shape your employee dating policy, add some provisions that will make it easier to enforce if or when the time ever comes. First, it should be clear what happens when potential problems arise. Take SHRM’s sample policy: It states that when two employees are in a disclosed romantic relationship and problems arise,  the company may reallocate duties or transfer one of the employees.

Consequences should also be spelled out and followed consistently – or your company could be opening itself to legal trouble. For example, if you consistently penalize women more harshly than men for violating dating policies, employees could claim sexual discrimination.

And as with any policy, spread the word among your HR team, company managers and employees so that your rules on dating can be applied consistently.

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