Workplace Romance: Forbidden Love or No Big Deal

According to a recent survey by the Society for Human
Resource Management (SHRM), more companies are starting to
address the issue of workplace romances with stricter
policies. The survey showed that 42% of respondents had a
written or verbal policy dealing with workplace romance,
as opposed to 20% of respondents in a 2005 SHRM survey.

While the number of organizations with such policies has
increased, the majority of respondents (67%) said that the
number of romances among employees has stayed the same.

Almost every company (99%) that had a workplace-romance
policy has a prohibition against romances between
supervisors and direct reports. In the 2005 survey, 80%
of companies reported such a prohibition.

Almost half of these policies (45%) forbid romances
between employees of significantly different rank, a
significant jump from 16% in 2005.

Why are more companies putting these policies in place?

Policies are often put in place to protect the company
from sexual harassment lawsuits if the relationship ends
and the subordinate claims the higher-ranking colleague or
supervisor was making unwanted advances. Another reason
companies cite for these prohibitions is that these
romances can result in complaints of favoritism.

Many companies even forbid romantic relationships beyond
the typical supervisory – subordinate relationship.
Approximately 1/3 of organizations prohibit romances
between employees who report to the same supervisor or
between an employee and a client or customer, both up from
13% in 2005. Additionally, 12% of companies won’t even
allow workers in different departments to pair up.

For the non-supervisory relationships, respondents said
they worry that office romances could lead to:
*Public displays of affection.
*Less productivity from the couple.
*Inappropriate gossiping among co-workers.
*Inappropriate sharing of confidential company information
between romantic partners.
*Damage to the organization’s image because the pairing
may be seen as unprofessional.

Despite concerns about office romances, 81% of companies
in the survey noted that they don’t train employees on how
to manage workplace romances.

Only 5% of organizations ask those in a romantic
relationship to sign a “love contract,” which indicates
that the relationship is consensual, that the pair won’t
engage in favoritism, and that neither will take legal
action against the company or each other if the
relationship ends.

HR POINTER: What should managers do if workers break an
organization’s policy and form a romantic relationship
anyway? That will likely depend on the individual
circumstances and the prohibitions of the company’s
policy. Some possible responses would be:
*Initiate a love contract.
*Take disciplinary action.
*Fire one or both of the workers.
*Transfer one employee to a different department.
*Demote the supervisory person in the relationship.

The appropriate response will depend on what your policy
includes and what types of behavior it prohibits.

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