Written by: Bethany Williamson, HR Business Partner
Workplace romance is very common, we spend a lot of our time at work and we often work with people who have the same values and goals, romance is bound to happen! So how do we keep these relationships from devolving into problems for employers in light of the #MeToo movement and other harassment issues?
First, do not try and ban these relationships, that will only push them into secrecy. If these relationships are happening, you want to know. Best practice is to have a workplace relationship policy that says supervisors/managers cannot have romantic relationships with subordinates under any circumstance. The danger here is the perception of coercion or force by the manager/supervisor. The subordinate may think they must say yes because the person asking has power over their job. Enforcing this kind of policy keeps your workplace safe and makes it a place where reporting this kind of behavior is encouraged.
Second, have a notification policy. When people do become involved, they are required to let Human Resources know of the relationship. When the couple lets you know, you then can talk to them about proper behavior at work, what happens in the workplace if they end the relationship and the company’s expectations of how it would be handled as far as work is concerned. This notification assures the company that the relationship is consensual and not harassment. Some companies go as far as to have an agreement that both parties sign about the company’s expectations.
Third, have regular anti-harassment trainings for your entire staff, executives included! These trainings should include information on what can be considered harassment in a workplace, such as repeatedly asking out a co-worker who refuses the dates or leaving anonymous notes and gifts for a coworker under the guise of secret admirer. The person on the receiving end of these repeated attempts at romance may perceive them as harassing or even frightening, so we want to be sure our people are given the tools to help prevent this from happening. The training should also include information on the supervisor/ manager role in preventing harassment, as these employees can be held personally responsible if harassment happens on their team and they either did not know or did not step in.
Be sure that your employees are all familiar with the policies you do have, and understand that breaking them can mean disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment. The most important thing is that we abide by the policies we have, that we don’t treat any one situation any differently than another and that our employees trust us to do the right thing to protect them. We want an environment of trust, so when harassment happens, it is reported and dealt with right away. Hopefully when romance blossoms, you will be ready to deal with any eventualities!