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February 14, 2012

Cupid is Lurking in the Cubicles: Romance in the Workplace

Filed under: Employment Law,Management Practices6:30 am

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Love is in the air – and you may not have to go too far to find it.  If you’re like nearly 40 percent of workers, you have dated a co-worker at some point in your career.  Careerbuilder’s Annual Valentine’s Survey asked over 7,800 workers about romance in the office.

While most office romances blossomed among workers with comparable job levels, 28 percent said they had dated someone who was ranked higher in the organization, with one out of five saying they had been in a relationship with their own boss.

The most problematic romantic relationship for employers is one in which an employee is dating his or her direct subordinate.  In addition to the inherent imbalance of power at work, it carries with it the highest risk for claims of quid pro quo sexual harassment down the road.

A less obvious concern is the potential effect the office romance can have on the couple’s co-workers.  They might argue they have been affected by the relationship and could find themselves in a strained relationship with the former couple after a breakup.

Although adopting a strict “no dating” policy may seem like the answer, it is likely to be difficult to enforce.  Think of Romeo and Juliet – did they listen when everyone told them they couldn’t be together?!  Employees could consider this policy too restrictive and intrusive into their personal lives.

When drafting a policy on office relationships, consider these alternatives:

  • Romantic relationships are forbidden among members of management and subordinate employees.  There are a couple of ways to do this: either prohibit relationships between all supervisors and employees, or only relationships between supervisors and their direct reports.  Make it clear the consequences of this type of relationship.  Will the employee be transferred to another department?
  • Co-worker relationships are allowed outside of work, and public displays of affection are forbidden at the office and during working hours.  This policy is most likely more appealing to employees.  Be aware this type of policy will not eliminate risk of sexual harassment claims, but it should reduce the likelihood of allegations.
  • Dating co-workers must inform their supervisors and enter into a “love contract.”  This is a written agreement that states the employees have been reminded of the company’s harassment policy and agree their relationship does not violate the policy.

So, which industries ranked in the top five for office romances?

  1. Hospitality – 47 percent dated a co-worker
  2. Financial Services – 45 percent
  3. Transportation & Utilities – 43 percent
  4. Information Technology – 40 percent
  5. Healthcare – 38 percent

Office romance can happen no matter how big or small the company may be.  Much like Jim and Pam on The Office – although not as drawn out and probably not as dramatic – HRN recently celebrated the engagement of two of our employees. (Wishing them many congratulations!)  They’re in good company – 31 percent of respondents said their office romance led them to the altar.

No matter where you found love, I hope you have the opportunity to share some time with those you love the most!

Careerbuilder Valentine’s Survey: Watercooler for Two


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