When Dealing with Office Romances
Prevent Disruption in Your Business
Professionals are judged for their professionalism. Well, at least they should be. But when it comes to workplace romances, sometimes colleagues judge each other based on who’s dating the boss.
|“Sexual harassment does not include voluntary or consensual sexual contact between employees but “the Supreme Court has stated that managers who involve themselves with employees do so at their peril, as employees may later indicate that they felt coerced into the relationship even if that was not the manager’s intent.”
— From the Manitoba Civil Service Commission’s
A Love Contract?
A few companies have adopted love contract policies, usually for top-level executives, CEOs, officers and, in some instances, directors.
“Employees flirting with each other, or becoming involved in a romantic or sexual relationship, are not harassing each other, as long as the relationship is consensual. If one of the employees changes her or his mind, and the other person persists in trying to continue the relationship, this is harassment.”
— From the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s
In the past, some companies simply banned intra-office fraternization. But that often turned out to be largely unworkable. Thechemistry of human attraction has its own rules, and with long hours, long commutes and limited social lives, for many people these days, the workplace has become a natural environment for making friends and finding romance.
So much so that in one survey of Canadian employees, 63 per cent of respondents said they had been romantically involved with a co-worker. Another survey found that 17 per cent of working Canadians met their “significant other” at work.
But while workplace relationships may spark improved attendance, higher productivity and reduced illnesses, when those relationships turn sour, the fallout can disrupt the smooth flow of business.
Conceivably, the most destructive relationships are those between a manager and a subordinate. Most experts agree that these couples can promote jealousy and low morale among colleagues and open a company to charges of sexual harassment if the relationship ends badly. Moreover, such relationships can weaken a company’s credibility and destroy trust if co-workers start to think promotions depend more on who you know than on performance.
Fewer than one-third of Canadian companies have a romance policy. Instead, most take the position that relationships are private and inevitable given the long hours spent at work and that they are private. In general, businesses try to restrict activities that can harm business.
If your business is looking to institute guidelines for workplace dating, you want a policy that allows people to make decisions about their personal lives while limiting the possibility of sexual harassment litigation, conflicts and disruptions in the workplace. Here are four considerations:
1. Spell out standards for behaving responsibly with each other and with colleagues. Stress that “corporate couples” are expected to behave professionally at all times when they are on company business.
2. Clearly note that romance between a boss and a subordinate is inappropriate and subject to corrective action. The ethical move would be for the couple themselves to seek a change in the structure of their work relationship. While you don’t want to fire a manager for dating a staff member, you might want to transfer one or both of them to different departments.
3. Discourage displays of affection, sexual innuendo, suggestive comments and sexually oriented joking. As an employer, your business is legally bound to do everything possible to prevent sexually harassing behaviour.
4. Be clear that if an employee is not interested in, or receptive to, an advance from another employee, it should end there. Flirting and other acts of affection can be preludes to dating, but only if the receiving party is comfortable with them. They can also be preludes to sexual harassment claims.