What to Do If Employees Are Dating

Employee dating may not be as cute in real life as in the movies.
Employee dating may not be as cute in real life as in the movies. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Dating among employees can be romantic, but also disastrous. A bad break-up can poison the office atmosphere, for instance. Worse still, if one of your supervisors harasses a subordinate for a date, your company could be legally liable. Some companies avoid the problems by banning workplace dating; other businesses set guidelines for it. A third approach is to do nothing unless harassment or other problems arise.

When It's Harassment

If you find out, say, that one of your supervisors is trying to coerce or bribe his subordinate for a date, you have to act. Ignoring harassment makes your company as liable as the perpetrator. If you have a written policy for those situations, follow the written procedure. If you don't have a policy, harassment is still illegal, and your company's still at risk for a lawsuit. Talk to your attorney about how to deal with it.

Ignore Dating

If everything about the relationship is consensual and legal, the simplest solution, at least in the short term, is to do nothing. Let your staff members date as they choose. According to Inc. magazine, most small companies go this route, as it saves them from having to develop and enforce a relationship policy. You can simply say that you'll intervene only if, for example, it hurts the couple's job performance, it affects office morale or one of the workers involved reports harassment.

No Fraternization

The extreme solution to dating problems is to ban all "fraternization" between employees. Inc. says this standard used to be widely accepted in business, but 21st-century employees are open to dating co-workers. Managers and staff are also more accepting of workplace relationships. If you decide to stop fraternization, you'll have to define your terms. For example, you have to decide if dating covers one-time hookups, friends with benefits or platonic friendships. An alternative to a complete ban is to forbid supervisors to date anyone they have authority over.

Draft a Policy

Rather than impose a ban, you can draw up guidelines on what behavior is acceptable. A dating policy can spell out exactly what public displays of affection are acceptable on company property or what happens if a couple start fighting on the job. How they act away from work is their own business. You can require employees who date to sign an agreement acknowledging they've read your policy or affirming the relationship is consensual. The guidelines should also spell out your disciplinary policy for anyone who breaks the rules.

Taking Action

If an employee does violate company relationship policy, you have to follow your disciplinary procedures. This may not happen often: Workplace Magazine says the majority of employees can handle relationships discreetly, without causing problems on the job. If problems do come up, you have to manage them consistently. If an employee finds you discipline women more harshly than men, for instance, she might have grounds for a discrimination lawsuit. Enforcing policy fairly doesn't immunize you against lawsuits, but it helps.

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